Check It Out
Courier Article by Becky Browning
Sunday, December 5, 2004
Mom's Favorite Books Taught Joy of Reading
I would like to dedicate this column to the memory of my mother, Marjorie Brumfield, who read to me, took me to the library and passed on to me the countless joys to be found in a good book.
The following were some of her favorites:
The Dollmaker by Harriette Arnow (Macmillan, 1954).
With the publication of this novel, Arnow gave the Appalachian culture and its people the recognition and respect that had long been overdue.
Gertie Nevels, a woodcarver, is uprooted from her Kentucky home when her husband takes a job in Detroit during the final years of World War II. Forced to live in a dismal and depressing housing project, Gertie's rural values quickly conflict with urban culture.
Trying desperately to fit in, the family begins disintegrating, forcing Gertie to prostitute her art by turning out cheap, ugly dolls.
Depending upon the reader's interpretation, there is a final, violent act that may be either redemptive or damning.
This is a quintessential American novel with Gertie unparalleled as one of the most intriguing and interesting characters ever portrayed in fiction.
The Believers by Janice Holt Giles (Houghton Mifflin, 1957).
When this book was published in 1957, religious fundamentalism was not the buzzword it is in today's world.
The only world 17-year-old Rebecca Fowler knows revolves around her young husband, Richard.
All is newlywed bliss until their first child is stillborn. Slowly, Richard begins to change and become drawn to Shakerism.
Dutifully following her husband into the community of "believers," where husbands and wives live apart, Rebecca tries to assimilate, but instead discovers that religious dogma suffocates rather than liberates, and that utopia is only to be found in one's imagination.
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (Grosset & Dunlap, 1935).
Richard Nixon may have been the first U.S. president to visit China, but Buck was the first author to introduce the Chinese people to America.
Although the worldview of "us" and "them" now seems incomprehensible, when this book was first published in 1931, China may well have been Mars.
What made The Good Earth so appealing was Buck's ability to transgress cultures and portray the Chinese as Everyman. The simple and direct narrative style, at times reminiscent of biblical texts, tells the story of a Chinese peasant family's rise to wealth and prosperity in the midst of an emerging China.
When I chose this book, I had no idea that Oprah Winfrey had also chosen it as one of her "classic" picks. Maybe Winfrey will be able to reintroduce Buck's wonderful novels to the reading public.
Vein of Iron by Ellen Glasgow (Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1935).
Ellen Glasgow often used the term "vein of iron" to describe the spirit of fortitude exemplified by the manners, habits and customs of the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians who settled the upper reaches of the James River. The Fincastles are an impoverished but close-knit family scrabbling out an existence in a small village surrounded by the Virginia mountains.
Ada, the central character, lives in the family's ancestoral manse with her de-frocked minister/philosopher father, sickly mother, spinster aunt and indomitable grandmother.
World War I and the Great Depression provide the backdrop for the latter part of the novel when the family moves to Richmond, where Ada comes into her own as a woman of stability and strength.
The Trees (Knopf, 1940), The Fields (Knopf, 1946), The Town (Knopf, 1950) by Conrad Richter.
The Awakening Land trilogy is Richter's historical tribute to this country's "westering" pioneers.
Short on sentimentality and filled with striking images of "death and birth, grub and harvest, rain and clearing, winter and summer," these books vividly portray the essence of how a frontier wilderness is transformed into a thriving civilization.
Richter, like James Fenimore Cooper, was conflicted by the duality inherent in conquest, but was more concerned with giving our forefathers their due.
Becky Browning is a readers' advisor at Oaklyn Branch and an avid reader.