Since I can remember, I’ve loved books.
I read everything I could get my hands on growing up. The release of being able to completely immerse one’s self into another existence completely has always drawn me in. As a child, a few of my favorites were (& still are) Roald Dahl, ANYTHING by S.E. Hinton.. the list is too long to count. But I guess in the past few years especially, you could say I’ve gotten pretty lazy when it comes to reading. I read articles on the internet. But I tend to forget the difference in reading an actual, tangible book and something on a screen. Always on screens! It’s important to recognize & take breaks from.
Anyway, in 2015, I made an effort to dedicate more time to reading. I did pretty good. (2016 will be better.) I wanted to write about some of the books I fell in love with. Also, take a moment to check out the authors’ websites linked to below.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
by Betty Smith
To begin, let me say that this book damn near saved my life, and that’s the honest truth. (As cheesy as it sounds, I care not.) I found this book at a very deep blues type of time in my life, and though it took me what felt like forever to complete it, I did. And it was amazing. Also, I think I was mostly because I was afraid of it ending after it had gotten me through so many hard days… so I may have drawn it out a bit.
The main character of the book is Francie, growing up in Brooklyn at the turn of the 20th century. Her father is a song-and-dance man, known for being an alcoholic. Not able to support his family, Francie’s mother steps in as the hardworking, ever-supporting mother. The book follows Francie from her early years into early adulthood. It’s just really an amazing book. Betty Smith reaches deep into the hearts and souls of her rich, well written characters.
Quotes from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
“Who wants to die? Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way.”
“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.”
“Sometimes I think it’s better to suffer bitter unhappiness and to fight and to scream out, and even to suffer that terrible pain, than to just be… safe. At least she knows she’s living.”
A Garden of Earthly Delights
by Joyce Carol Oates
A Garden of Earthly Delights is one of the four novels in Joyce Carol Oates Wonderland quartet, each prodding the inner lives of various American every-man/woman heroes and heroines. In this book, we meet Clara, one of Joyce Carol Oates most memorable female characters and to be honest, probably my favorite of all the books of hers I’ve read. But, that’s not to say the characters are great people, or worth looking up to- in fact quite the opposite. They have flaws, they’re tough people living in an even tougher world. But then I’ve never been a huge fan of perfect, shiny happy endings.
Quotes from A Garden of Earthly Delights
“Someone had once told Clara that God was watching here, or maybe Christ, someone was with her all the time and watching her. She hadn’t bothered with it because it didn’t make sense. It might or might not have been true, like many complicated things, but since it didn’t make sense she forgot about it. But tonight when the minister said the same thing, it struck Clara that if God was watching anyone, it was not the people here. He was probably watching other people who were more interesting. Clara knew that God would never bother with her and she thought this was a good idea.”
“The day Clara took her life into control was an ordinary day. She did not know up until the last moment exactly how she would bring all those accidents into control, like a driver swerving aside to let a rabbit live or tearing into it and not even bothering to glance back: he might do one or the other and not know a moment before what it would be.”
Blackout: Remember the Things I Drank to Forget
by Sarah Hepola
The voice & tone that illuminates from Sarah Hepola’s book Blackout is one that doesn’t just shake me, it erupts- as though it were coming from my own being. I’ve read many books on the subject of women struggling with alcoholism for what I suppose are obvious reasons, but there is something about this book that of all of them resonated with me the most. I laughed. I cried. And most importantly, I found a little bit of strength in those pages.
Essentially the book follows her battles over a period of years in trying to get her binge drinking under control. She delves deep into what it means to blackout when you drink- and it’s eerily and terrifying real. With binge drinking having taken such a dramatic rise in the past decade, among women in particular, it’s a book I’m sure many can relate to on one level or another.
Quotes from Blackout
“Not taking a drink was easy. Just a matter of muscle movement, the simple refusal to put alcohol to my lips. The impossible part was everything else. How could I talk to people? Who would I be? What would intimacy look like, if it weren’t coaxed out by the glug-glug of a bottle of wine or a pint of beer?”
“What I told her at dinner was true, though. I did not know what I wanted. Or rather, I knew exactly what I wanted, which was to never face a day without alcohol and to never have to face the consequences of keeping it in my life. I wanted the impossible.”
“I was embarrassed by my aggressive sexuality when I drank. It didn’t feel like me. And after a blackout, I would torture myself thinking of the awful things I might have said or done. My mind became an endless loop of what scared me the most.”
by Mary Karr
Oh Mary Karr, Mary Karr, I have loved her writing for too many years to count now. Ever since I first read The Liars Club, I was hooked. I’ve read all her memoirs up to now, and each of them has echoed true with my own life in a startling way that really helps me sleep at night. Cherry, her teenage memoir, when she ran away to California? I did that too, at the age of 16. What a strange world it is.
Similar to Blackout, Lit chronicles Karr’s bouts with over-drinking throughout the years. Lit is ripe with the core wit and refreshing honesty at the heart of all of Mary Karr’s books: rich and deeply personal. I so completely identify with her sneering, angry with battle with her most demanding demon, alcohol. It’s not an easy fight, the battle against addiction, and for that reason I think Lit is a good read not only for people who struggle with alcohol abuse issues themselves, but also those who have loved ones who do. It’s an illness that’s difficult for many to understand- like any addiction, really. She pulls it off eloquently & yes one book I that totally made me cry. (Maybe once, no big deal, pffft.)
Quotes from Lit
“I keep setting fire to my life.”
“You were saved for something, she says. Don’t die before you find out what. What’s your dream for your life? The very concept makes me sag. I tap a smoke on the hard pack and light it. Why’s that such a foreign question? she wants to know. Poets are dreamers, right? I exhale a highway of smoke and stare down it, then say, Each day has just been about survival, just getting through it, standing it.”
“I feel flying through me like a hard-hit ball David’s phrase; I have a disease whose defining symptom is believing you don’t have a disease… but I’m not ready to stop listening to the screwed-up inner voice that’s been ordering me around for a lifetime. My head thinks it can kill me […] and go on living without me.”