As a book blogger, you’d think that I thrive on book reviews. Quite the opposite. I know this sounds backward (and doesn’t exactly promote Big Little Literature), but I try to avoid spoilers and/or getting my hopes up when possible. But I struggled to stay away from one book in particular this year. Manhattan Beach hit me like a bang. From the mind of a best seller, this historical fiction novel made a huge impact on the reading scene in 2017. New York even included it on its anticipation index multiple times before it was released (probably because it took 13 years to finish), and I’ve seen it on many best-of-2017 lists so far. Let’s just say, it made some big conversation.
Of course, I made sure I put it on my library holds as soon as it was released. My favorite genre, a bad-ass author, and praise all over. I came home beaming the day I got it. I can’t say the smile stayed on my face for the book’s entirety. So here’s the truth from my red lips: A top contender for the best of 2017 didn’t make my list.
Somebody read my gift guide–thanks, Honey Bee!
Libraries are the ultimate encyclopedia. They contain all the information there is to learn. They provide us with literature to bolster our creativity and resources and services to make our everyday lives just a little bit easier. They were the world wide web before it became cool.
On Nov. 7, my home of New Jersey had the chance to further support its libraries. The 2017 election contained a ballot initiative for the state to issue $125 million in general obligation bonds. Revenue from this issuance would be used exclusively for libraries to help expand and modernize libraries. Thankfully, the initiative passed. This can only help our communities because the benefits of a library are endless. The limit simply does not exist.
My Jersey City library branch
- What: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
- Who: Betty Smith
- Pages: 493
- Genre: Classic literature
- Subgenre: Coming of age
- Published: 1943
- The lit: of 5 flames
Every New Yorker has his or her favorite neighborhood spots. While living in my first Brooklyn apartment, mine was the grilled cheese place that opened the same year. Erin had a knack for finding cute little coffee shops as well as a love for the Brooklyn Museum a few blocks away. Jamie’s was Ample Hills, named for Walt Whitman’s words. And we all reveled in the days we ate at Tom’s without an hour wait. It’s these places that we recall in our memories.
Francie Nolan had those places too. In early 1900s Brooklyn, it was McGarrity’s saloon, where her father fed his addiction. There was the shabby yet charming house that the Nolans falsely used as their address so Francie could transfer schools. Carney’s junk shop was where she and her brother, Neely, would lug their knickknacks to earn a penny. And of course there’s the library whose librarian didn’t look at Francie her entire childhood.
These places are remembered because they’re where we grew up; we all have them. It’s this connection of coming of age, as well as strong characters and a touching theme, that earned A Tree Grows in Brooklyn four flames.
- What: Modern Lovers
- Who: Emma Straub
- Pages: 353
- Genre: Contemporary adult fiction
- Subgenre: Chick lit
- Published: 2016
- The lit: of 5 flames
When a book takes place in a state, town, or neighborhood where I’ve lived, I always dive in (see my four-flame review for The Nest). I love the nostalgia that I feel and deciphering how accurate the author described the places I know so well. This is why I naturally gravitate toward novels set in New York. Outsiders might argue that too many stories have an empire state of mind. But the five boroughs are much too expansive and offer so many intricacies, odds, and ends that “too many New York stories” is just unfathomable to me. That’s like saying there are too many restaurants in the city. Just stop.
So when I read that Emma Straub’s third novel would take place in Ditmas Park, two blocks from and on the same street as my second New York apartment, I instantly put in a hold at the library. I shared a great three years with Brooklyn, and I wanted to see what perspective Straub would bring to my old ‘hood.
I have to say, she nailed the setting. The descriptions of the streets, residents, and vibes found in Ditmas Park resonated with me. It reminded me of the jokes my roommates and I would make of Church Avenue, of the Himalayan restaurant on Cortelyou that Brian discovered, of the giant Victorians that took you out of New York’s anxiety and speed. Nostalgia was about the only thing, however, that Straub nailed in my opinion.