Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

At the Berryville Library this summer, we’re all busy reading the books on the Great American Read list and pondering which ones we’ll vote for in the Great Berryville Read. When I mentioned the Great American Read to my friend and one of my former English professors Elise Bishop, she mentioned really enjoying A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Well, that was one I hadn’t read, so I was determined to make it one of my selections. I’m glad I did because I really enjoyed it! (Thanks again for the great suggestion, Mrs. B!)

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Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove

lonesome-dove

We’ve been chatting a lot about our “first favorites” for the Great American Read and Great Berryville Read. Those are the first books on the list of 100 books that jump out at you as automatic favorites.

I had 3 instant picks, and the one I have been leaning toward the most is Larry McMurtry’s modern classic Western Lonesome Dove. I’ve discussed my love of Westerns before, but I really don’t think you can get much better than this one. (As far as Westerns go, the only thing that I think ties with it is possibly Ron Hansen’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, another personal favorite. But it didn’t make the list!)

Trying to summarize the plot doesn’t do this novel, which is rich in characters and themes, justice. But at its heart, it’s the story of two former Texas Rangers, bored and burnt out with retired life, setting off on a cattle drive from South Texas to Montana. Along the way, they encounter psychopathic killers, stampedes, storms, snakes, sorrow, and more.

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Lisa Wingate’s Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours

Growing up in the Great Depression in a houseboat on the Mississippi River isn’t easy, but Rill Foss and her siblings know no other life. And despite the hardships, the life they do have with their parents and each other is exciting, loving, and even magical, at least to hear her father’s stories. That life comes to a grinding halt when the siblings are abruptly separated from their parents and sent to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in Memphis. At the time, the orphanage was seen as a place for wealthy, prominent couples to acquire orphans from “good” backgrounds. But it’s now well-known as a nightmarish place that kidnapped poor children and adopted them out.

Interwoven with the story of the Foss family is that of Avery Stafford, a contemporary woman from a prominent South Carolina political family. Despite her ostensibly happy life as a successful prosecutor with a promising political future, she is troubled by the poor health of her beloved father and grandmother and her own uncertainty about her future. A chance meeting at a photo op in a nursing home unnerves her, piques her curiosity, and leads her onto a collision course with the Foss family’s tale. . . .

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Larry Campbell’s Rollin’ Down The River (2017)

Rollin Down the River

For two months in 2016, Larry Campbell conducted an epic solo road trip, following the Missouri River from Montana down through the Dakotas, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri. And in this gorgeous coffee table book, you can follow along, as he recounts the places and faces he met along the way.

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Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

Caitlyn Doughty is a lot more famous than your average mortician. She’s the author of two books, hosts a YouTube series where she answers viewer questions, and is an advocate for reform in the funeral industry. Late last year, she released her second book, From Here to Eternity, which looks at funeral practices around the world, and that’s gaining a fair amount of buzz. But at the library, we’ve also been buzzing about her first book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. Jen suggested it to me a few weeks ago, and it’s an excellent, thought-provoking read! (Thanks for the great suggestion, Jen!)

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David Carlson’s The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry

The Hunting Accident

Charlie Rizzo has spent his life thinking his father was blinded in a hunting accident as a child. Not that it has stopped his dad from living his life or enjoying one of his greatest hobbies — studying poetic masterpieces of world literature. It’s an unusual hobby to have in their 1960s working-class Chicago neighborhood, but Charlie never suspects anything out-of-the-ordinary with his dad. That is, until Charlie finds himself in trouble with the law. He then learns that his mild-mannered father was blinded in a botched robbery and did time for it in the Illinois State Penitentiary, where he was cellmates with Nathan Leopold. As in, Nathan Leopold of Leopold and Loeb thrill-killing infamy.

I had this book (a nonfiction graphic novel that combines true crime and poetry appreciation) recommended to me recently by one of my undergraduate English professors. I always enjoyed the books I read in her classes, so her suggestions are ones I always try to follow up on. And I was not disappointed. Thanks so much for the great suggestion, Leslie!

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Gabrielle Zevin’s Young Jane Young

Young Jane Young

Aviva has a seemingly bright future ahead of her, circa 1999/2000. She’s doing well in her classes at the University of Miami, working toward a degree in political science and Spanish, and has recently been promoted from her position as an unpaid intern to a paid job working for her local congressman. It’s all going so well — until her affair with said congressman is made public. Aviva quickly finds herself with no job, no friends, and no prospects. Years later, she has made a life for herself, far away in Maine under a new name, working as an event planner, when she decides to run for mayor. But in the online age, her old scandal is just a Google search away. . . .

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