The end of the year is drawing near and I find myself rushing to finish my challenge. How many books do you have left?
Death Comes to the Archbishop By Willa Cather
I was anticipating a more plot driven novel but this is a beautiful episodic book; each chapter complete on it’s own and yet connected to the others. It is descriptive, nevertheless, the language remains sparse, sharp, and clear. I was struck by it’s almost cinematic clarity. It is a book of places, a portal to both the old and new world.
“He was overcome by a feeling of place.”
“Either a building is part of a place or it is not. Once that kinship is there, time will only make it stronger.”
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a candid coming of age story. It follows Francie Nolan as she grows up in urban America. Set in Brooklyn, this is another novel of place:
There’s a tree that grows in Brooklyn. Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps. It grows up out of cellar gratings. It is the only tree that grows out of cement. It grows lushly . . . survives without sun, water, and seemingly without earth. It would be considered beautiful except that there are too many of it.
It is also about the power of the imagination and education. These life-changing gifts shoot up in ordinary places yet Betty Smith portrays an everyday sacredness to them a type of grace poured out:
“The library was a little old shabby place. Francie thought it was beautiful. The feeling she had about it was as good as the feeling she had about church. She pushed open the door and went in. She liked the combined smell of worn leather bindings, library past and freshly inked stamping pads better than she liked the smell of burning incense at high mass.”
The theme of a meritocracy is at the center of the novel as well:
“A person who pulls himself up from a low environment via the bootstrap route has two choices. Having risen above his environment, he can forget it; or, he can rise above it and never forget it and keep compassion and understanding in his heart for those he has left behind him in the cruel up climb.”
We watch Francie, like the tree, rise from the filth and toward the sun. But we know it wasn’t through her own efforts. She is able to rise up through sacrifices, her grandmother’s, her mother’s, even by her alcoholic father’s love and her scandalous Aunt’s clever schemes. Yes, Francie Nolan grows and is able to overcome poverty but we are always reminded of her roots, her yard, her family, her city and the ordinary graces amongst the pain:
Part of her life was made from the tree growing rankly in the yard.
Brooklyn was a dream. All the things that happened there just couldn’t happen. It was all dream stuff. Or was it all real and true and was it that she, Francie, was the dreamer?
. . . It meant that she belonged some place. She was a Brooklyn girl with a Brooklyn name and a Brooklyn accent. She didn’t want to change into a bit of this and a bit of that.”
An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde
I love Oscar Wilde; his works are descriptive, funny, and plot- driven. An Ideal Husband is filled with Wilde’s eye for detail and oh, so quotable wit!
Lord Goring: I love talking about nothing, father. It is the only thing I know anything about.
Lord Goring: To love oneself is the beginning of a life long romance.
Wilde’s plays are extremely entertaining in fact, the confusion which ensues in his plays are quite Shakespearean. But don’t let the charm and humor fool you, like Shakespeare Wilde has heavier themes at play. Themes of honor, integrity, corruption, sin and redemption.
“It is not the Perfect, but the imperfect, who have need of love.”
Lord Goring: Everything is dangerous, my dear fellow. If it wasn´t so, life wouldn´t be worth living.
Sooner or later we all have to pay for what we do.
An Ideal Husband is a short play (just 80 pages) but every page engaging. I was quickly whisked away into high society and impressed with how much of societies’ problems were divulged within simple conversations:
Lord Goring: “But no man should have a secret from his own wife. She invariably finds it out. Women have a wonderful instinct about things. They can discover everything except the obvious”
Mrs. Cheveley: “I suppose that when a man has once loved a woman, he will do anything for her, except continue to love her?”
Mrs. Chevely: “How you men stand up for each other!”
Lord Goring: “How you women wage war against each other!”
The play was a treat to read and especially interesting to re-visit after reading his Fairy Tales last year*
*which are exquisite, perfectly sad and yet perfectly uplifting. They echo the gospels’ good news of redemption and everlasting life.
Mrs. Karl T. Cooper, Jr.