Last week, I found another old favorite in a local bookstore: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I haven’t read Betty Smith’s novel since I was the same age as Francie.
I am half-way done. Now I remember why this book has stuck with me.
I didn’t grow up poor like Francie or in Brooklyn. My father didn’t drink. I didn’t have to collect junk for spending money. But like
Francie, I loved to read and visit my hometown library. I believe at one point I was inspired by her to read every book in the library but didn’t get too far.
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is a classic although Smith’s writing style seems dated. There is a lot of “tell me, not show me” many critics frown upon these days. Likewise we know what most people are thinking even though the story is supposed to be about Francie.
But the book still works for me. I was even surprised by a scene I had forgotten.
Shortly after Francie’s birth, her grandmother, Mary Rommely, visits. Mary could neither read nor write, but she saw the value in
both. She urges her daughter, Katie Nolan, to read aloud to her child from two great books: the complete works of Shakespeare and the Protestant Bible. One page a night from each. Then, when Francie could read, she would do the same.
Mary also asks Katie to tell Francie fairy tales from the old country — Austria. Here was her reasoning: “Because the child must have a valuable thing which is called imagination.”
Reading, writing, imagination … no wonder I loved this book.
One last thing: I bought A Tree Grows In Brooklyn at the Brodsky Bookshop in Taos for five bucks — the original price stamped in the back page was $2.75. It’s a fourth edition printed in 1943, no book jacket, and certainly not in pristine condition. It was well-read I would say.