Men Explain Things to Me: A book about a topic you love

#MenExplainThingsToMe #RebeccaSolnit #Bookstagram 📖📚✈️

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This was an amazing book of essays that I finished in one weekend during our President’s Day weekend babymoon to Toronto! (And then I made Rob read it.)

Samantha, Daughter

1/20

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Madam Secretary: A book that is more than 500 pages

It took a while to read it but I finished Madeleine Albright’s memoir 20 years, to the day, after Madeleine K. Albright was sworn in as the first female Secretary of State–what a day to finish this book! A great read for anyone interested in foreign affairs or #WomenWhoLead!

“Women have to be active listeners and interrupters – but when you interrupt, you have to know what you are talking about.”

“I was taught to strive not because there were any guarantees of success but because the act of striving is in itself the only way to keep faith with life.”

What an accomplished life and this is a woman who was a two time refugee! She is my hero. It makes me want to name my daughter Madeleine.

 

Samantha, Daughter

14/20

 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: A book that was banned

I realized as I was looking a way to fit A Tree Grows in Brooklyn into the criteria that The Handmaid’s Tale was also a banned book. I almost thought I wouldn’t find a way to count The Handmaid’s Tale as one of these 20 books. Who knew so many books were banned?

Even after reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I’m not quite sure why it was banned. It was a great read and I wish I had read it as a child. It’s an excellent YA book. It is the story of Francie Nolan and growing up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn early in the 1900s. It is the story of every girl growing up everywhere at any time in history. Anna Quindlen echoed this in the foreword to A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: “That rare and enduring thing, a book in which, no matter our backgrounds, we recognize ourselves.” I can’t imagine anything from my comfortable childhood in Cottlesville, Newfoundland during the nineties relating to the extreme poverty of childhood in the tenements of Williamsburg in the “tens.” But somehow her voice spoke directly into my own experience. Francie Nolan is every girl.

She is a strong heroine without any single feat marking her as a heroine. The novel has an understated feminism. Perhaps it’s because it was written before feminism existed in the way we know it today. Betty Smith‘s daughter wrote that she likes to think of her mother as a feminist back in the 1920s and ’30s. (This quote is from a supplemental essay from Nancy Pfeiffer, Things I Want to Say About My Mother, published with the 2001 edition from Harper’s Perennial Modern Classics) and I would say that this is true. There is an empowering but humble power to this book that makes me want it to become prerequisite reading for life. Everyone should read this. And I’m confident readers would later thank me for that decree if I could make it happen. As Francie knows, people are always telling you things you’ll allegedly be thankful for later.

(Reading at Kennedy Park, June 2015).

This is a book about life and it’s so full of life, real life, not life as it’s often written. Francie prays to be something every minute of every hour of her life. “Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry… have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere–be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.” She longs for a full life; full of the bad and the good. There’s a sincere maturity with a wish like that. I want to be friends with a character like Francie.

The end of the book fit just right (not too big, not too small, like it was made for Goldilocks!). In a retrospective look back that echoes the past and looks forward, Betty Smith doesn’t get overly sentimental or create a larger-than-life finale. It’s a beautiful conclusion that shows the subtle progression Francie has made in the 400 pages since we set out on this journey together.

“She was surprised at how tiny it seemed now. She supposed the school was just as big as it had ever been only her eyes had grown used to looking at bigger things.”

I had to read that passage twice. It was perfect. It shows how nothing changes even if it feels like everything is different. I tell my husband as his newfound running slowly gets easier that it doesn’t get easier, he’s getting better. This fitness mantra was first illustrated by Betty Smith in this passage, and in my life, and your life… Inanimate things mean a great deal to us but those meanings change, while the objects are static. It’s funny how life changes a character (or a reader) and the environment that changes them remains the same. There’s something beautiful about that. There’s something beautiful about a novel that is filled with pain and hardship, but leaves your heart feeling full.

As Francie whispers on the last page: “Good-bye, Francie.”

While I loved the ending and the book was long and full, I’m still sorry to close the window.

Samantha, Daughter

15/20

P.S. This was the perfect book for me to check out during my first card-holding library visit in New York. It’s a true “library book!”