Monday, June 7, 2010

To Kill a Mockingbird

I'm pretty sure my five year old boy thinks the book I was reading aloud to his daddy was about different ways to slaughter birds, but it's actually a warm, human, touching story that I fell in love with all over again when I read it as the last of my three-book reading spree, and then again to My Hero because he'd never read it.

Atticus, the father in the story, is the kind of man I hope my boys will be someday, and he actually reminds me some of my dad. Especially last night, when my dad was pitying my younger brothers, who are just 16 and 12, for having such an old father. When my older brother and I were growing up, he was younger than most of my friends' dads, but there are 20 years between my older brother and my youngest brother, and by the time the two youngest came along, my dad had more wisdom and experience than almost all the other dads of young boys out there. He joked that he had lots of experience, but he'd run out of energy. Atticus bows out of the more demanding athletic events available to him by saying he's too old, and his kids pity themselves for having such an old father. The irony, of course, is that he's the best kind of father a kid could have, as I'm sure they begin to realise by the end of the story.

I'm finding myself at a loss to talk much more about the story. I could give an outline, but that would be flat and empty. It's the characters and humor and depth of development that make the book so wonderful, and I can't recap that. Just know that if you're looking for a book to read or reread this summer, this one will not disappoint.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

That was the second book of my three-novel reading spree. Here's how I decided to read this one: I checked the Midday Connection Book Club page to see what book we would be reading next. It was a novel I had read in high school English and loved. Excited that I already owned a copy and knowing it was worth rereading after such a long time, I made a mental note. A few days later I went to my bookshelves to pick it out, and had a sudden confusion. Was the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or To Kill a Mockingbird? Both I head read in high school English, both I had loved... I debated for a minute, then decided it was definitely A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Part way through the book I returned to the book club page to print off the discussion questions, and saw to my dismay that I had begun reading the wrong book. The book club book was To Kill a Mockingbird. Not dismay about the book, because I loved it, but dismay that I might not have time to read both, and I was far enough into A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to be unwilling to set it down to start another story. I decided I would simply have to finish A Tree Grows in Brooklyn quickly and then read To Kill a Mockingbird. Turns out it really wasn't a problem finishing them both in the couple of weeks I had left before the book club discussion (to hear the discussion, including comments contributed by this shy but avid reader, simply click the listen link next to the To Kill a Mockingbird title.) Here's the kicker. At the end of the program they announced the next book club book to read during the summer: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Francie has far from ideal parents, but again I found myself closely observing the ways they dealt with their children, good and bad, especially Katie Nolan, Francie's mother. Francie's father is a charming, well-meaning man who can't hold a steady job and drinks too much. Katie shoulders the responsibility of the family, and she's described as made of steel. She has high standards, does everything as well as she can, works hard constantly, loves her children. I'm filled with admiration for her and feel irritated and impatient with Francie's father for his weakness and irresponsibility. But Francie loves her father better. I think there's a softness, and understanding in him towards Francie that Katie doesn't have.

The tree is a kind of tree that grows in the slums of New York. It grows where nothing else will, and in the end of the book, after men had cut it down to make room for electrical wires, it grew back, shooting up in a spot where it wouldn't be in the way, persisting, determined to live and thrive. It's a picture, I think, of the Nolan family, maybe Francie specifically.

There is so much richness in the characters and their relationships with each other I feel completely inadequate to describe or relate, but I feel strengthened, somehow, after reading the story. It's a story of survival, I guess, and hope.