My good friend Anne called to me as I walked by her office today. "Hey, I have to tell you something real quick about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn."
I gave Anne a copy of Betty Smith's novel for Christmas when she mentioned earlier in the year that she had never read it. I am of the firm conviction that all readers (and by "readers," I mean avid, crazed without books, individuals who will read cereal boxes if nothing is at hand) should read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn at least once in their life. (Confession: I've read it some two dozen plus times.)
Anne is a reader. I love Anne because she is bright and witty and attractive and reminds me so much of my daughter-in-law Alise at times that I get homesick for Alise (who is also a reader). Anne had to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
So this morning Anne told me her mother was pleased that Anne was reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn because she had read it and it was a good book. Then Anne's mother said she had read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn because her mother, Anne's grandmother, had read it and then given it to her daughter to read.
Anne's grandmother had only an 8th grade education but clearly did not let her lack of formal education keep her from expanding her horizons through reading. When Anne told me that about her grandmother, I immediately thought of Francie Nolan, the protagonist of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, and of how Francie's struggles for an education despite not being able to attend high school must have resonated with Anne's grandmother.
I love the thought of Anne's family reading this book through three generations. It personifies Will Schwalbe's lyrical reflections in The End of Your Life Book Club: "I will never be able to read my mother's favorite books without thinking of her—and when I pass them on and recommend them, I'll know that some of what made her goes with them."