The One that Almost Got Away

A recent post on Twitter was a heartening reminder that I am not alone in the world of bibliophiles. According to the post I read, there is a Japanese term for people who tend to acquire books but never get around to reading them -Tsundoku (“tsunde” meaning “to stack things”, “oku” meaning “to leave for a while” and “doku” meaning “to read” –

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was in one of my Tsundoku stacks at home, but thanks to the “The Great American Read“, and also CLP’s Adult Battle of the Books this past summer, I made a concerted effort to read more classics, as well as some of the books I had stacked around the house. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn fit both of those categories:  a classic I had purchased I don’t know how long ago, as one of those books I felt obligated to read but never had. Turns out it would have been a perfect book for the younger me who hungered for those young girl, coming-of-age stories, and I’m only sorry it took me so long to finally get around to it.

Betty Smith’s classic, while originally published in the early part of the 20th century, and has been tagged with that sometimes off-putting “classic” label, very much holds up in today’s world. Smith’s loosely autobiographical novel is about a struggling young family of immigrant stock, just trying to make ends meet, figuring out their individual roles within the family, but also where they fit in their broader role of community member. It is truly a universal, time-less story.

I encourage you to take a closer look at your stacks or lists of unread books you have you lying around wherever. You never know what you might find, and you just might discover that classic that could become your own next Great American Read.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

The American classic about a young girl’s coming-of-age at the turn of the century.

From the moment she entered the world, Francie needed to be made of stern stuff, for the often harsh life of Williamsburg demanded fortitude, precocity, and strength of spirit. Often scorned by neighbors for her family’s erratic and eccentric behavior–such as her father Johnny’s taste for alcohol and Aunt Sissy’s habit of marrying serially without the formality of divorce–no one, least of all Francie, could say that the Nolans’ life lacked drama. By turns overwhelming, sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, the Nolans’ daily experiences are tenderly threaded with family connectedness and raw with honesty. Betty Smith has, in the pages of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, captured the joys of humble Williamsburg life-from “junk day” on Saturdays, when the children of Francie’s neighborhood traded their weekly take for pennies, to the special excitement of holidays, bringing cause for celebration and revelry. Betty Smith has artfully caught this sense of exciting life in a novel of childhood, replete with incredibly rich moments of universal experiences–a truly remarkable achievement for any writer.