Smith, Betty. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2005.
Reason read: I needed a book for the Portland Public Library 2022 Reading Challenge in the category of “A book that makes you feel hopeful for the future.” I don’t know why, but this one does.
It was pointed out that in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn nothing happens. There is no over-the-top drama involving sex, violence, or rock and roll. Instead, A Tree is a simple and honest story about what it means to be human. Harsh realities about poverty, crime, alcoholism, life, and death are not ignored or sugarcoated. I would argue that something does happen in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. A little girl comes of age. In the summer of 1912 Francie Nolan was a scrappy eleven year old. At the time, her best friend was a tree that seemed to like poor people. By the end of the story, Francie has lost her father, gained a baby sister, managed to find her way to college, and started to date. It is a story of hope.
One of my favorite moments was when Francie understands for the first time she can read and the fact she would never be lonely again. Books would be her companions for any circumstance. Another favorite scene was when Francie graduates and she receives roses from her deceased daddy. It broke my heart.
Confessional: The scene when Katie is playing the piano with the children bothered me. Neely starts to sign and it is noted his voice is starting to change. It is then that Francie remarks, “You know what Mama would say if she were sitting here now?” Where did she go? She was just playing the piano. I think Smith meant Johnny. Johnny was the one who was missing from the scene.
Signs of the times, “He was a boy, he handled the money.” The candy store was a boys store and Francie had to wait outside while her brother bought her candy.
Phrasing I adored, “ground-down poor” and “helpless relaxation.”
Author fact: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has such clarity it is impossible to ignore its autobiographical nature. Rumor has it, Smith originally wrote the story as a memoir but her publishers urged her to fictionalize it to reach a wider audience. Could they not handle the truth?
Book trivia: My edition had a foreword by Anna Quinlan. She compared Francie to Jo March, Betsy Ray, and Anne of Green Gables. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was also published in an Armed Services edition. The wartime copy was specially sized to fit in a soldier’s rucksack.
Playlist: because Francie’s father is a singing waiter there were lots of great tunes mentioned in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: “There are Smiles That Make You Happy,” At the Darkstrutters’ Ball,” “When You’re a Long, Long Way From Home,” “My Wild Rose,” “Hello, Central, Give Me No Man’s Land,” “You’ll find Old Dixieland in France,” There’s a Quaker Down in Quaker Time,” Ted Lewis’s “For When My Baby Smiles at Me,” “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” (a song I can remember my mother singing while she vacuumed), “Molly Malone,” “The Soldier’s Chorus,” “When I Get You Alone Tonight,” “Sweet Rosie O’Grady,” “She May Have Seen Better Days,” “I’m Wearin’ My Heart Away for You,” “Ave Maria,” “Beautiful Blue Danube,” “At the Devil’s Ball,” “Sweet Adeline,” “My Sweetheart’s the Man in the Moon,” “Kerry Dancers,” “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” Harrigan, That’s Me,” “The River Shannon,” “Holy Night,” “Star Spangled Banner,” “Schubert Serenade,” “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Call Me Up Some Rainy Afternoon,” Handle’s “Largo,” Dvorak’s “New World Symphony,” Verdi, Walter Wildflower, “O, Sole Mio,”
Nancy said: Pearl called A Tree Grows in Brooklyn a “classic coming-of-age” story.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Girls Growing Up” (p 101).
Vuong, Ocean. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. New York: Penguin Press, 2019.
Reason read: Are you holding onto your hats? Are you sitting down? I’m going off the Challenge list for this one. Why? Basically, I will read everything my sister recommends. Why? She’s cool and she doesn’t waste her time with boring books.
Is it enough to say that On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is heartbreakingly beautiful? I could go on to elaborate: the language is harsh yet poignant, stark yet lush, truthful yet magical. Little Dog writes a letter to his mother to…what? Explain his choices? Tell her how her life has shaped his? Make a declaration of love to the world around him? His motives are unclear, but the language stirs the heart. For example, the imagery of a lighthouse: seen as both shelter and warning. Could a woman be both monster and mother?
Lines I loved: “We sidestep ourselves in order to move forward” (p 53). If I were a lecturer and I had actually coined that phrase I would repeat it and ask the audience to let the words sink in. There is more truth in those eight little words than I care to admit. One more to quote, “Maybe we look in mirrors not merely to seek beauty, regardless of how illusive, but to make sure, despite the facts, that we are still here” (p 138).
Book trivia: this should be a movie. Seriously. For something completely random, Vuong thanked Frank Ocean. I am wondering if this is the same Frank Ocean Dermot Kennedy thanked for the song, “Swim Good.”
Author fact: According to the back flap of On Earth… Vuong lived in Northampton in 2019. I am not a stalker so I don’t know if that’s still true. If it is, this author is less than 30 minutes from me. Cool. In a more widely (undisputed) fact, Vuong is a poet which is abundantly obvious in On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.
Playlist: Khanh Ly, Neil Young, 50 Cent, Etta James, Curtis Jackson, Chopin, Justin Timberlake, Miles Davis, Black Eyed Peas’ “Where is the Love?,” Led Zeppelin’s “Get Rich, or Die Tryin’,” “His Eye Is On the Sparrow,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”
Petterson, Per. Out Stealing Horses. New York: Picador, 2003.
Reason read: Petterson is a Norwegian writer. An old friend of mine lives in Norway and was born in October. Read in her honor even though we haven’t spoken in a long time.
Trond Sander, at 67 years old, is a simple man living alone with his dog, Lyra, deep in the Norwegian woods. He likes the quiet. He loves the solitude. It’s as if he has run away from memories. In reality, he has done just that. Trond lost his sister and wife in one month three years prior. That was when he stopped talking to people. His silence is profound until he meets a stranger in the woods near his cabin. Only this stranger carries the very memories Trond has been trying to escape. Lars is a member of a family with entangled deep tragedies and Trond knows them well. Petterson is able to move Trond from past to present with remarkable grace. Trond as a teenager versus Trond, the aging adult in Norway’s breathtaking landscape. Like any good drama, there is violence, illicit love, abandonment, and atonement with surprises along the way. I hope the movie is as spectacular as the book.
Lines I liked, “When the record ends I will go to bed and sleep as heavily as possible without being dead, and awake to a new millennium and not let it mean a thing” (p 5) and “A shipwrecked man without an anchor in the world except in his own liquid thoughts where time has lost its sequence” (p 195).
Author fact: I am reading three of Per Petterson’s novels: In the Wake, In Siberia, and Out Stealing Horses.
Book trivia: Out Stealing Horses was made into a movie Just last year in 2020. It looks really good.
Playlist: Billie Holliday
Nancy said: Pearl had a lot to say about Out Stealing Horses. Along with the general plot she said the writing is spare and restrained. The plot emerges slowly and should not to be missed. She also mentioned the translation as being beautiful and the cover as evocative.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Norway: the Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162).
Voigt, Cynthia. Dicey’s Song. New York: Ballantine Books, 1982.
Reason read: to finish the series started in July in honor of Kids month.
When we catch up to the Tillerman family (after reading Homecoming) they are in Maryland living with the grandmother they never knew they had. Dicey is a teenager starting to come of age with homework and budding, albeit reluctant, friendships. Her two younger brothers, James and Sammy, are in thriving in school. Her only sister Maybeth is a musical prodigy. Her family is becoming self-sufficient. Everything should be great for Dicey as the eldest sibling. Her family is not on the run. They have a roof over their heads every night. They have food on the table at every meal. They have someone to look after them. They are all in school. But, for Dicey something is intrinsically wrong. For the longest time she had control over her family. Keeping them together and safe was all she knew. It is what she did best. When her siblings start exercising independence Dicey isn’t sure how to feel about it. Throughout the story she struggles to learn to let them go their own ways, together but apart. At the same time Dicey deals with the internal confusion of becoming a young woman without her mother’s guidance. My favorite moments were whenever Gram’s hardened exterior softened as each child reached for her love.
Author fact: Voigt has written over a dozen young adult novels.
Book trivia: Dicey’s Song is a Newbery Award winner.
Playlist: “I Gave My Love a Cherry,” “Amazing Grace,” “Who Will Sing for Me?” “The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” “Pretty Polly,” “Amazing Grace,” Beethoven, and even though they didn’t name the song, I recognized the story of “Matty Groves” (thanks to Natalie Merchant).
Nancy said: Pearl said nothing specific about Dicey’s Song.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls” (p 169).
Perrotta, Tom. Bad Haircut: Stories of the Seventies. New York: Berkey Books, 1994.
Reason read: June is short story month.
Comprised of ten short stories:
- The Wiener Man – Your past is never far behind you. A mother connects with an old friend.
- Thirteen – Coming of age is terrible when trying to help a best friend get the girl.
- Race Riot – Which side are you on? Racial tensions and peer pressure and a bad combination.
- Snowman – revenge is not as sweet as you think.
- Forgiveness – standing for the flag is a choice.
- A Bill Floyd Christmas – Bill loses his wife and latches on to another family to fill the void.
- You Start to Live – take chances in life.
- The Jane Pasco Fan Club – Dating in high school can be dangerous.
- Just the Way We Were – prom memories.
- Wild Kingdom – sometimes people can be animals.
Lines I liked: “The world was a still as a photograph” (p 61) and “She had that voice special tone of voice that she only used when she had company,” (p 119).
Author fact: Perrotta is from New Jersey.
Book trivia: all of the short stories are linked and are in chronological order.
Setlist: “We May Never Pass This Way Again,” Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” The Carpenters, Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Donny Osmond, Aerosmith, Grateful Dead, a couple of Jim Croce songs, “I’ve got a Name” and “Operator.”
Nancy said: Pearl called Bad Haircut “heartfelt yet unsentimental.”
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Near Novels: Linked Short Stories” (p 175).
Pipher, Mary. Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. New York: Ballantine, 1995.
Reason read: as part of a New Year’s resolution for a friend, I am reading this with a few other books about raising daughters.
Reviving Ophelia takes personal stories of girls and connects them to larger cultural issues. While written in the mid-nineties, and a little out of date in places, for the most part Dr. Pipher still delivers sound advice, often sharing tidbits about herself along the way. Pipher is a child of the 1950s, and even though the writing is over thirty years old, her stories still hold up. Who hasn’t been “untrue” to themselves, lying about their level of hunger, downplaying grades, pretending to like a style of music or fashion to impress someone else? Peggy Orenstein addresses eating disorders in Schoolgirls in much the same way as Pipher. At times, the stories of girls with overwhelming desires to be thin were so similar I would forget which book, Pipher or Orenstein, I was reading. Reviving Ophelia is different from Schoolgirls in that Pipher is drawing from actual therapy sessions while Orenstein visited two different middle schools and interviewed children in a different atmosphere.
Quote to quote, “My relationship with my mother, like all relationships with mothers was extremely complex, filled with love, longing, a need for closeness and distance, separation and fusion” (p 102). Sounds very familiar. One other line to like, “Strong girls may protect themselves by being quiet and guarded so that their rebellion in known only by a few trusted others” (p 266).
Author fact: Mary Pipher has her own website here. Her blog, while brief, is beautiful.
Book trivia: Pipher does not include photographs in her book.
Nancy said: Pearl said Pipher should be read with The Body Project (Bromberg), Schoolgirls (Orenstein), and Queen Bees & Wannabes (Wiseman) as they are all about “teenage girls’ problems with both society and themselves” (More Book Lust p 227).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Two, or Three, are Better Than One” (p 226).
Wiseman, Rosalind. Queen Bees Wannabes: Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boys, and the New Realities of Girl World, 3rd Ed. New York: Harmony Books, 2012.
Reason read: a woman’s new year’s resolution is to be a better mother. I’m not that woman, but she made me think of these books. Read in her honor.
Written for parents as a tool for understanding their daughters, Queen Bees offers insights from children and teens to supplement Wiseman’s sound advice. Wiseman’s first job is to offer suggestions for what kind of guidance a mother can give her daughter surrounding all kinds of situations, usually related to peer to peer friendships and other critical relationships in a girl’s life. Occasionally, she addresses the dads, too. More often than not, Wiseman will offer sample “scripts” of what to say in various situations. It is here that I found Wideman to be a little idealistic in more than a few places. See here: “Get inside her head and then you’ll understand where she is coming from and how to help her” (p 8). That is like saying create world peace and you will end gun violence. Don’t all parents want to know what is going on inside their child’s head? Wouldn’t knowing her true thoughts give parents at least some of the tools they need to help her? Additionally, some of the quotes from children seem a little suspect; a little too good to be true. Wiseman ignores the impact emotion has on an action. Sometimes logic is compromised by uncontrolled feeling; so much so that the right thing to say cannot come out. In truth, there are so many suggested dialogues that I found them a little tedious.
As an aside, I grew up with only two other girls in my entire school from 6th to 8th grade. and one of them was my little sister. I didn’t have the confrontations and drama that most girls in Queen Bees encountered. However, when I got to high school I had the social immaturity of a fourth grader. I was a pleaser and didn’t know how to voice my own opinion, or be my own person. I cringed to read about my own misguided actions and beliefs.
Quotes I liked, “There has never been an age limit on being mean” (p 5). Yup. First quote that really got me, “I had already learned that having a relationship was more important than how I was treated within it” (p 15). Been there, done that. Sadly. It’s called lying to yourself.
Author fact: Wiseman started off teaching young girls self defense and progressed to classes on self esteem and confidence.
Book trivia: Wiseman updates Queen Bees every five years. For example, this latest update included advice about emerging technologies.
Nancy said: Pearl said Wiseman should be read with The Body Project (Bromberg), Reviving Ophelia (Pipher), and Schoolgirls (Orenstein) as they all “address teenage girls’ problems with both society and themselves” (More Book Lust p 227).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Two, or Three, are Better Than One” (p 226).
Orenstein, Peggy. Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem, and the Confidence Gap. New York: Anchor, 1995.
Reason read: as part of a mother’s new year’s eve resolution I am reading this in solidarity.
Peggy Orenstein started her Schoolgirls project after reading a report by the American Association of University Women, “Shortchanging girls, Shortchanging America” in her daily newspaper. Inspired, she set out to probe deeper into this cultural chasm and ended up writing Schoolgirls.
Orenstein’s approach to her project was to visit two ethnically polarized middle schools and observe the behaviors of young girls, specifically eighth graders, from all walks of life. She even singled out specific children to learn more about their personal lives. She witnessed girls with declining confidence, girls with conflicting responsibilities: do I stay at home and take care of my younger siblings or do I go to school where I’m not learning much? Do I quit school to get a job to support my family? Orenstein shed light on challenges all girls face no matter their socio-economic backgrounds: self-image and eating disorders, sex, teen pregnancy, and harassment, cliques and bullying, and dipping academic success. One element of young girls’ lives not addressed was the advent of technology: texting, social media platforms, webcams.
Author fact: Schoolgirls has its own webpage here.
Book trivia: The re-issue of Schoolgirls features a new foreword.
Nancy said: Pearl said Orenstein should be read with The Body Project (Bromberg), Reviving Ophelia (Pipher), and Queen Bees & Wannabes (Wiseman) as they are all about “teenage girls’ problems with both society and themselves” (More Book Lust p 227).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Two, or Three, are better Than One” (p 227).
Brumberg, Joan Jacob. The Body Project. New York: Random House, 1997.
Reason read: Mothers have a special New Year’s Resolution. I’m not a mother, but I know one who has made some good promises to the new year. Read in her honor.
The Body Project is centered on female adolescence and body image. Probably the most fascinating aspect to The Body Project is Brumberg’s collection of diaries she used as research for the narrative. She could draw on the experiences of Victorian era girls as if she had interviewed them just yesterday. She is able to compare perceptions throughout the ages and the changing times. There is special attention paid to how mothers relate to their daughters. Take for example, menarche and menstruation. When mothers teach their daughters about the process they talk about how to “take care of it” meaning the bleeding, but rarely do they explain why the blood is happening in the first place. Brumberg cites a distinct disconnect between menstruation and fertility. Mothers even do not fully explain what is physically happening to their daughters’ bodies.
It’s as if Brumberg needs to be that mother figure for young girls. The Body Project has a whole chapter on acne: pimples and blackheads, calling it the plague of youth or a sign of poverty. Not only is the history of the treatment of acne covered, but how marketing took advantage of the plight of teenagers with unclear skin. Eye opening for me was when Brumberg addressed masturbation and the misconception it causes acne. I have to admit, I never heard of that. Wasn’t the theory you would go blind?
Another body project is more well known – the desire to be thin. One girl didn’t want to attend Mount Holyoke for fear of gaining weight. She had heard the food was quite good but her goal was to lose weight, not gain it.
A word of warning: Brumberg focusses mainly on middle class girls and all of her reporting is from mid-nineties statistics. Despite that, it is an interesting read.
As an aside, before I even cracked open the pages of The Body Project I said to myself, I bet you anything Brumberg is going to mention Madonna and within 50 pages, boom! There was Madonna.
Another aha moment, I did not know the Girl Scouts of America was the first group to systematically teach menstruation to young girls.
As another aside, Brumberg discusses the changing age of consent and the need for girls to be “sexy” at younger and younger ages. Kisa and I were watching a video from an emerging all-girl band and wondering how old they were. I predicted some of them hadn’t experienced menarche yet for they didn’t look a day over ten or eleven years old. Their seductive poses were well beyond their ages.
Quote worth quoting, “…A body is a proxy for the self…” (p 128).
Author fact: at the time of publication, Brumberg was a professor at Cornell University teaching Women’s History and Women’s Studies.
Book trivia: This is specific to my copy of The Body Project. It looks as though an animal chewed through a chapter for there are claw marks and several pages have gaping holes.
Nancy said: Pearl said to read Brumberg with Reviving Ophelia (Pipher), Queen Bees and Wannabes (Wiseman), and Schoolgirls (Orenstein) as they all “address teenage girls’ problems with both society and themselves” (More Book Lust p 227).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Two, or Three, are Better Than One” (p 226).
Brashares, Ann. The Second Summer of the Sisterhood. New York: Delacorte Press, 2003.
Reason read: to finish the series started in May in honor of Birds & Bees month.
Carmen, Tibby, Lena, and Bridget are back for another summer wearing “The Pants.” Carmen continues to be a brat. I think she is supposed to be seen as the fiery Puerto Rican. In The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants she threw a rock through a window because she was mad at her dad for having a girlfriend and starting a new family. In Second Summer of the Traveling Pants it’s her mom’s happiness she can’t bear to witness.
Tibby’s situation was a little more believable. Away at college and desperate forget a friend who died of leukemia, she shuns her old life and adopts the crappy attitudes of a couple of loner kids in her class. This, I know a little something about. Sadly, I am guilty of changing my personality to impress new people.
Bridget is away in Alabama, working for her estranged grandmother and trying to escape an unfortunate event in The sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Gram thinks Bridget is a lonely girl named Gilda and with Bridget’s weight gain and dyed hair Grandma is easily fooled.
Lena has the simplest yet most complicated story. After leaving Greece she couldn’t stand to be away from Kostos so she broke up with him. Doesn’t make sense, but that’s perfect teenage logic for you. Who hasn’t done something dramatic thinking it was the only choice? Kostos accepts the breakup until he sees Lena and professes his undying love for her…until something else happens.
All four girls have moments when The Pants don’t work for them. The magic just isn’t there and they have to rely on growing up to see the solution. the real magic happens when they begin to see their mothers as human beings.
Author fact: Brashares has also written nonfiction. None of it is on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: Second Summer did not do as well as Sisterhood. Sequels are a hard nut to crack.
Nancy said: Pearl included Second Summer of the Sisterhood in a list of “teen-pleasers.”
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 23).
Dangarembga, Tsitsi. Nervous Conditions. Oxford: Ayebia Clarke Publishing, 2004.
Reason read: March is African Writers Month.
Line I liked a lot, “She began to prepare me for disappointment long before I would have been forced to face up to it” (p 20).
As an adult recalling her childhood, Tambudzai remembers spending most of her formative years constantly questioning the right action to take, not only as a representative of her Rhodesian culture, but as a woman in a male dominated society. It is the 1960s and her missionary uncle has given her the opportunity to attend his school. He is the provider, the all-powerful headmaster, capable of shaping Tambu’s future or tearing it down on a whim. She recalls enduring endless lectures from him, nagging reminders of how lucky she was to be given the opportunity for mental emancipation. She wouldn’t have gotten the chance had his first choice, her brother, not died. Indeed, as soon as Tambu entered his household Tambu began to learn new things: how to hold a fork, the proper way to use a toilet, take a bath, or shut out a light. She endures a love-hate relationship with her cousin, a girl with the same restless desires to break free of societal trappings.
Favorite line, “Her seriousness changed from sweet, soft dove into something more like a wasp” (p 101).
Author fact: Dangarembga has written a great deal, but I am only reading Nervous Conditions for the Challenge. This is her first novel.
Book trivia: Nervous Conditions was Dangarembga’s first novel.
Nancy said: after Pearl wrote Book Lust people started to ask her about titles she had omitted. Nervous Conditions was one such title. Pearl called the opening line to Nervous Conditions “provocative.”
BookLust Twist: This is a popular one: from Book Lust in the chapter “African Literature in English” (p 16). Also in More Book Lust in two places, the introduction (p xi), and again in the chapter called “Lines that Linger, Sentences that Stick” (p 140).
I don’t even know where to begin with September. It was the month from hell in more ways than one. The only good news is that I was able to run twice as many miles as last month. That counts for something as it saves my sanity just a little bit more than if I didn’t do anything at all.
Here are the books:
- In the City of Fear by Ward Just
- Jim, The Boy by Tony Earley
- The Shining by Stephen King
- Thank You and OK! by David Chadwick
- Foreign Correspondence by Geraldine Brooks
- Ayatollah Begs to Differ by Madj Hoomin
- Agony and Ecstasy by Irving Stone
- Tripwire by Lee Child
- Foundation and Earth by Isaac Asimov
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- My Life on the Line by Ryan O’Callaghan
Earley, Tony. Jim the Boy. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2000.
Reason read: September is back to school month for some.
There is a sweetness to the story of ten year old Jim Glass. In the prologue readers learn Jim was born a week after his father passed of a heart attack while working in the fields. Even though he never knew his father, young Jim is not without male guidance as he is surrounded by three protective uncles. His mother’s brothers keep an eye on Jim as well as their too-young-to-be-a-widow sister, Cissy.
Earley colors Jim the Boy‘s characters with real life angst and everything that goes with it. For Jim it’s immature prejudices and naive hubris amidst competition and companionship with classmates. Growing up in depression era North Carolina, Jim assumes that his house in town is better than those of the mountain boys yet learns differently when he visits a friend with polio. Meanwhile, his mother Cissy struggle to do what is right by Jim. In her heart she wants to remain faithful to a man dead ten years despite needing to give Jim a true father from which she feels he should learn life’s harder lessons.
One of my favorite parts of the story was when the uncles wake Jim in the middle of the night to witness electricity coming to their little town. While light bulbs chased away the shadows. At first Jim was excited but then he felt the change made the world a little darker; an interesting perception for a boy so young.
Author fact: Earley is also an author of a collection of short stories not on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: Jim the Boy is the first in a series about North Carolina boy, Jim Glass.
Nancy said: Pearl called Jim the Boy a coming of age tale.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Mothers and Sons” (p 160), and again the the chapter called “Southern Fiction” (p 222).
Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2000.
Reason read: In June there are overnight Suicide Prevention Walks around the country.
Frances McCullough’s 1996 introduction to The Bell Jar calls it a twin to Catcher in the Rye as it was published on Rye’s twentieth anniversary.
I think it is safe to say The Bell Jar is a classic. Haunting and hurtful, you have to almost flinch away from the mental illness that descends on protagonist Esther Greenwood. Every time she fixates on a way to commit suicide you wonder, does she actually go through with it this time? Does she succeed? Then when you discover The Bell Jar is autobiographical it all makes sense and you think you know the answer.
There were so many different lines I wanted to quote. Because I connected to them so deeply, here are a few of my favorites, “There is something demoralizing about watching two people get more and more crazy about each other, especially when you are the only extra person in the room” (p 29), “There is nothing like puking with somebody to make you into old friends” (p 53), “I thought if only I had a keen, shapely bone structure to my face or could discuss politics shrewdly or was a famous writer Constantin might find me interesting enough to sleep with” (p 87) and “I tried to speak in a cool, calm way, but the zombie rose up in my throat and choked me off” (p 129).
Author fact: Plath died at the young age of 30 on February 11th, 1963. She used the pseudonym of Victoria Lucas from time to time. The Bell Jar was published under the name Lucas,
Book trivia: The Bell Jar was rejected as being too juvenile the first time it was submitted for publication.
Nancy said: Pearl called The Bell Jar “painful.” I would agree.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Girls Growing Up” (p 102).
This has become a morbid joke but I’m not going to the island so there is no chance of me jumping off anything this month. There is time for books, though. Here’s the list:
- Book of Reuben by Tabitha King – in honor of June being the month when a lot of people (my sister included) like to get married.
- Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – in honor of Suicide Prevention Day being in June in some states.
- Sun Storm by Asa Larsson – in honor of Larsson’s birth month being in June.
- Soldiers of God by Robert Kaplan – in honor of Kaplan’s birth month being in June.
- From a Persian Tea House by Michael Carroll – in recognition of Khomeini’s death in the month of June.
- Because of the Cats by Nicholas Freeling – to continue the series started in May.
- Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the never-ending series started in January.
- Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope – to continue the series started in April.
- Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O’Brian – to continue the series started in May.
Short stories for National Short Story Month:
- “Shadow Show” by Clifford Simak
- “The Answers” by Clifford Simak
- “The Life and Times of Estelle…” by Sherman Alexie
- “What You Pawn I Will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie
- “Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield
- “At the Rialto” by Connie Willis