Monday, October 31, 2011

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn

This is the latest in a series of books that were the perfect thing for me to be reading during what was going on in my life in New York right then. Since my second week here, almost two years ago, I had worked at a social services agency in Bushwick, Brooklyn, a working-class, largely Hispanic community where a lot of young people from outside New York are moving for affordable rents and access to the L train. Ten or fifteen years ago, those same kids would have moved to Williamsburg, which is also along the L train, closer to Manhattan. Parts of Williamsburg are becoming expensive, but some of the housing projects and ratty old large apartment buildings look pretty much the same as I expect they did 50 years ago, and in the case of the apartment buildings, maybe more.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is set in Williamsburg, just north of Broadway off the J train (it's referred to as the El in the book, a reference to it being an above-ground train I think). Then as now, the parts of Williamsburg off the J train are poorer than the L train regions, teeming with immigrants, overcrowded apartments and small shops.

Several of my coworkers grew up on Williamsburg's south side, as some call it, the children of poor immigrants just like Francie, the main character, and her family. The immigrants are largely Puerto Rican (they're not technically immigrants but still need to learn English) and Dominican now, but the Jewish and Italian neighborhoods in the book are still semi-intact to this day, although few recent immigrants live there anymore.

Point being, the book helped me reflect on everything I had learned in the last two years, how New York changes constantly, but at the same time, some things never change. It's a classic of young adult literature about a bookish girl finding her way in the world and about the struggles of a poor urban family in the years before World War I when the world, as was New York, was becoming a different place.

I finished A Tree Grows in Brooklyn yesterday. Tomorrow I start a new job in the Bronx.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

This Land is Their Land, by Barbara Ehrenreich

Published three years ago, this book's title and theme feel very current, with references to the 1% cropping up everywhere these days. I love Barbara Ehrenreich, but this isn't her best work. It's a collection of short essays and I guess newspaper columns; the shorter format doesn't seem to be a good showcase for her writing, which is characterized by a curmudgeonly tone, old-fashioned liberalism, and, usually, reliance on facts and empirical reason. In the shorter format, though, she kind of glosses over the "fact" stuff, replacing it with a punchy humor that sort of falls flat a lot of the time.

But there are still some great moments, like when she says she was caught trying to spread a rumor that Disney's "princess" line of toys are contaminated by lead, or when she honestly discusses why women, including herself, choose abortion. Still, if you haven't read Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed is definitely a better choice, and Bright Sided, better still.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World

I haven't left for D.C. yet, but I started reading yesterday. Today I read this exchange, on page 58, in a story about the author, Michael Lewis, visiting a Greek monastery:

... he pauses and asks, "But what is your religion?"
"I don't have one."
"You believe in God?"

Thanks for including that, Michael Lewis. I like his work either way, but now I'm adding him to my list of favorite "out" atheist writers and media personalities, along with Sarah Vowell and Ira Glass.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World

I purchased this today with some of my 32nd birthday money, but I like to think of it as a gift to myself.

Early Saturday morning, I'm taking the subway to Penn Station, and then Amtrak to visit my sister in Washington, D.C. I'll settle into my seat with a nice big cup of coffee on what will no doubt be a perfectly crisp fall morning, and maybe when the train stops and the cool air drifts in, a little steam will roll off the top of my cup. I'll be reading Michael Lewis's latest with my knees up against the seat in front of me, enjoying the fact that this is my life, educating myself about the global financial meltdown while on my way from one global city to another, a girl from Bradford, Pennsylvania, taking trains up and down the east coast like some sort of European or something, like it's nothing.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Influencing Machine, by Brooke Gladstone

I reviewed this book quickly on Goodreads. I think it's viewable to non-users.

Similarly, I reviewed Little Bee recently. My opinion can be summed up as: pretty okay book for the first seven chapters, although Little Bee's voice sounds more like a movie voiceover than an actual person. After that, it makes no sense. The end.

I anticipate doing less reading in the next few weeks. I have been traveling a lot on weekends, celebrating my 32nd birthday (next week!), and just got a new job, which I start November 1. Though when that begins, I will be spending a lot more time on the subway. Maybe it's time to give audiobooks a try ...