I’m not sure if I have shared the degree to which I reread books. It’s embarrassing. I think I’ve read all the Harry Potters about, I don’t know, two hundred times. I think I’ve read The Namesake even more times than that. This is mainly due to the fact that I read obscenely and incorrectly fast and thus have somewhat of a need to reread things as well as a desire to—there are always details I missed the first time. Naturally, the books that I have reread the most are the ones whose details I have loved the most.
And no book’s details can compare to those in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I devoured this book the first time I read it. Telling the story of a poor Irish family in turn-of-the-century New York, it is plainly and wonderfully rich; published in the forties and written earlier than that, it’s demure and totally frank in that Cheaper by the Dozen, All-of-a-Kind Family way. I missed this book so much that I got my mother to send it to me in Kyrgyzstan, and it’s weirdly been a comfort. The main character Francie is an oldest child who loves to read, tries to write, and has to grow up to meet the circumstances of her life, and I might not have realized until typing that last sentence how much I used to identify with her as a kid. There’s just a lot of straightforward strength in the characters in this book, and I guess it makes sense that I still love it; I wrote my college thesis on contemporary immigrant literature and this book is just a decades-old version of that, with that good old whitewash factor that draws me to watch The Christmas Story for half a day every Christmas when it comes on TBS.
“She walked back home down Graham Avenue, the Ghetto street. She was excited by the filled pushcarts—each a little store in itself—the bargaining, emotional Jews and the peculiar smells of the neighborhood; baked stuffed fish, sour rye bread fresh from the oven, and something that smelled like honey boiling. She stared at the bearded men in their alpaca skull caps and silkolene coats and wondered what made their eyes so small and fierce. She looked into tiny hole-in-the-wall shops and smelled the dress fabrics arranged in disorder on the tables. She noticed the feather beds bellying out of windows, clothes of Oriental-bright colors drying on the fire-escapes and the half-naked children playing in the gutters.”
It’s just so nice to read! I really am not into “wholesome” as a value, but I really can’t think of a book that’s so rich as well as so purely, honestly wholesome. If you have by chance never read this book, I’d do it.