Wednesday, November 26, 2008
The Most Wonderful Book
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith might be the most wonderful book, I think. I've just read it for the second time and I could begin again right now. Francie Nolan is one of the most appealing heroines in all of literature. She is smart and book-loving, sincere,truthful, and hardworking, and despite everything she goes through in her life, she remains hopeful and engaged. The story begins when Francie and her brother Neely are young, living in the slums in Brooklyn in 1912. They collect trash to sell to the junk man, fight crowds for stale bread and broken pies, they live an existence in which each penny that comes in has already been appropriated for something and nothing is taken for granted. We get to know Francie's family, follow her to the library as she reads her way though the alphabet, and finds herself a better school. Because somehow, Francie knew early on that knowledge would be her ticket for a better life. There is tragedy and sorrow in this story alongside little happinesses and moments of joy. It is a human story and this is why perhaps this book is considered a classic. It is so difficult to explain what is so very special about this book, it tells a tale that so many people lived, but in such an eloquent and direct way.
I couldn't recommend this book any more highly. I've also enjoyed Smith's book Joy in the Morning and have a copy of Maggie Now which is out of print and I'm saving for a rainy day.