Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book 152: Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns.

“Livin' is like pourin' water out of a tumbler into a dang Coca-Cola bottle. If'n you skeered you can't do it, you cain't. If'n you say to yourself, "By dang, I can do it!" then, by dang, you won't slosh a drop.” 

Generally speaking, I have a really good memory for books that I've read before. And before starting Cold Sassy Tree, it sounded familiar. And, as I began to read, I knew it was something I had read before-I just couldn't remember when! It was only after posting about my frustration on Facebook that a high school friend reminded me that it was one of the books we read as sophomores in our English classes. 

After that confusion was solved, I was content to just let the memories come back to me.

This is definitely one of the "modern" classics on my list, but that doesn't really matter. The novel just flows from one piece to the next, and it has an older charm that just sucked me in. I loved my reread, and while I remembered scenes and pieces, there were other parts that just blew me away.

First, this novel is absolutely hilarious. The antics of the characters had me laughing repeatedly (the scene where Will tells his friends that his aunt nursed a pig...oh, I was DYING). The scenes didn't feel forced, but seemed to be things that could actually happen in a slow, sleepy Southern town like Cold Sassy. In many ways, it made me wish that I had the opportunity to grow up in a close-knit community.

Coupled with the hilarity was that feeling of closeness. Cold Sassy is a small community, where everyone knows everything. Since I don't come from a town like that (my city is quite a bit larger), I've never had the feeling that everyone knows everything. I imagine it could be quite annoying, but in Cold Sassy, it made me chuckle. I love that the little old ladies have nothing better to do than spy on their neighbor and gossip. That kind of environment in a novel just makes me smile.

The episodic nature was also something I was drawn to. While there was certainly an over-arching storyline in the novel, you could feel comfortable reading a few chapters at a time to get through an episode before setting it aside (I didn't really do that since I was hooked, but you could!). The smaller stories really opened up the plot and gave you insights into the community and why it functioned the way it did.

But most of all, I loved the feelings I had when I read this. There were moments of poignancy that just hit me in all the right places. My entire experience of reading about Will Tweedy, his grandfather, and the town of Cold Sassy was just warm. I felt enveloped in the story for its entirety and I didn't want it to end.

I could also tell you about the wonderful Miss Love, who I just wanted to hug for the majority of the novel, or the sad fate of Lightfoot McLendon (who really did break my heart), or the scene with the automobiles in town. But you need to read this. It is a book full of warmth and insights of life in a small Southern town. It has that charm and heart that you only get by reading about a small community.

“To mourn is not the same as to be in mourning, which means wearing a black armband and sitting in the parlor talking to people who call on the bereaved. At first you feel important, the armband makes you special like having on a badge, but after a day or two it stops meaning anything. But to mourn, that’s different. To mourn is to be eaten alive with homesickness for the person.” 

I want to add that I looked into seeing if the school district still has this book on their approved curriculum, and they do (I teach in the same district I graduated from, but at a different school)! I found some old copies of the book in a back storage room, so perhaps at some point in the future, I can pull this into my American lit curriculum. It really is a great book, and one that I think a lot of my students would enjoy. It is a great balance between reflecting an American time and place and fun moments. 


  1. I read this a few years ago and I loved it. It is a beautifully written book.

  2. I've never even heard of this. I'm adding it to my to-read list.

  3. Wasn't it wonderful! There were so many great moments and the characters were so well drawn.

  4. I loved this book when I read it maybe 10 years ago and have recommended it widely to library patrons looking for something 'light' to read. Now that I actually write a few words on each book I read on Goodreads I not only have a list but I usually can remember the books better. Thank heavens for Goodreads -- if only we'd had it 30 years ago!

  5. I read this in high school too -- I don't remember much about the story itself, but I remember really enjoying it at the time. I later found out there was a follow-up book that Olive Ann Burns was working on when she died. It's incomplete, but it still got published along with the rest of her notes -- Leaving Cold Sassy. Might be worth checking out!

    P.S. I found your blog through the Classics Club & I'm looking forward to following your progress :)