Why I chose this post title, I don't know. It just floated into my mind. And it seemed to fit. Here's how: For the past several years, I've rubbed shoulders with the title of the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I had several students ask me if I'd read it and push it on me, because I hadn't. Although the title was familiar from long ago, I'm sure I'd never read it. But I recently put it on my want-to-read list and requested it from PaperBackSwap. When it became available and arrived, I shelved it with all the other recently received PBS books waiting to be ordered onto my bookshelves.
After finishing a planned book, I decided to start A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, even though it wasn't on my list yet. I can get a little OCD about doing things out of order. The first night I was tired and only read about fifteen pages. It was ho-hum, nothing grabbed me and told me this was as good of a book as everyone lets on. Sunday afternoon, I picked it up again for a few more pages to see if maybe there was a yes-I've-got-to-read-this-book sign. Nope. But I did finish a couple of pages before naptime overcame me, and I was up to the beginning of chapter two. Picking it up again later that night, I silently told myself that if I wasn't grabbed after this nightly dose, back on the shelf it goes. I had far more books I knew were waiting, and I couldn't afford a time-waster, even if I do have a 50-page rule. (The 50-page rule is to try my best to get through fifty pages, and if nothing grabs me to finish, I give myself permission to put the book aside.)
Well, here was the curve ball. An unlikely throw that not only grabbed me but knocked it out of the park for me. If you've never read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, bear with me and read all of this quote, delighting in the words and thoughts:
"The library was a little old shabby place. Francie thought is was beautiful. The feeling she had about it was as good as the feeling she had about church. She pushed open the door and went in. She liked the combined snell of worn leather bindings, library paste and freshly-inked stamping pads better than she like the smell of burning incense at high mass.
"Francie thought that all the books in the world were in that library and she had a plan about reading all the books in the world. She was reading a book a day in alphabetical order and not skipping the dry ones. She remembered that the first author had been Abbot. She had been reading a book a day for a long time now and she was still in the B's. Already she had read about bees, and buffaloes, Bermuda vacations and Byzantine architecture. For all of her enthusiasm, she had to admit that some of the B's had been hard going. But Francie was a reader. She read everything she could find: trash, classics, time tables and the grocer's price list. Some of the reading had been wonderful; the Louisa Alcott books for example. She planned to read all the books over again when she had finished with the Z's."
Now, that grabbed me! As I read those words, my mind pictured my own little hometown library inside the noisy old building of hardwood floors that resounded with amplified bouncing basketballs every time you entered. But once you turned the large brass doorknob on the old half-glassed door and pushed it open, you entered into a different world. A quiet world, save the creaky floorboards as you walked in. Closing the door quietly, and almost tip-toeing in if you were wearing hard shoes (which all of us did back then and in the day when libraries encouraged quiet), you entered the juvenile fiction section of the library. I distinctly remember this was where all the Little House books were. This short entry hall led to the library's main desk. It was set up high and unreachable for anyone in early elementary grades. I remember those smells too. And they were lovely and comforting smells. The children's section was small and crammed up close to the library desk and divided from a couple of tables, the card catalog, and the rest of the library by a half-sized bookshelf. This library was not one that offered comfortable chairs to read in. It was one where you came, did your business, and left. Maybe all libraries were like that back in the 60s, but this is the only one I was ever in then.
I loved being in this place of solace. I liked one of the librarians too. She was an older lady; of course, she was probably the age I am now. She was kind and helpful, but not overpowering so. Yet, she didn't offer guidance with books and show me ones that she thought I'd enjoy. I guess she thought I didn't need help. But she was wrong. I did need help because, as many of you know, I did not grow up a reader with books in the house. And my school did not encourage reading. Or even require reading. I didn't know one book or author from another. But I loved books. And libraries that smelled rich with wood and book-smell. I wanted to read those books. I wanted to be like Francie.
It would take me years to become her though. It would take having my own children to become her. And then, I became that librarian-who-pushed-books-on-people.
So, I've caught that unlikely and unexpected curve ball thrown by Betty Smith. Yes, Francie, I'm going to read all about your next few years of life. And I think A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is going to be one of those books that leaves me forlorn when I finish the last page. I don't relish that feeling. It is bittersweet: glad to have completed the book but sad to bury the character lives in the past.