"On the day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived."
-Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
For as long as I can remember, I have been a reader.
When I was a child, too young to read on my own, I would nestle next to my mother and beg her to read me snippets from whatever book she held in her hands. The thick, letter-filled pages mystified me. How could someone enjoy a book with no pictures? But then she would start reading. My small mind would weave her words into glorious pictures and in no time I would be lost in the stories.
I was reading "grown up" books long before I should have been.
I can still remember sneaking copies of my mom's "scary" books back into my bedroom. There, under the safety of my bed tent and covers, I would spend hours reading Dean Koontz novels by the light of a cheap, pink flashlight that was in dire need of new batteries. The dim light would flutter and then slowly fade out to nothingness. A few whacks on the palm of my hand would bring it back to life, and I would pray that it's light would last for just one more page, one more chapter.
The first book I ever purchased with my own money was "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn".
I can remember standing in front of it at the bookstore and thinking that it was an "important" book.
A book that I should own.
I just didn't know why.
It took everything I had to set down the copy of "The Babysitter's Club" book that I held in my hands and pick it up, instead. As I handed over my money to the cashier and she slipped my book into a bag, I felt a twinge of regret that lasted my whole way home.
What had I just done?
That regret lasted all the way through dinner and into the early evening.
By the time I had finished my chores and completed my homework, I had convinced myself that I had just made the worst mistake of my life.
I was furious. I had passed up on my favorite teeny-bopper series and bought a book that I knew nothing about!
That anger lasted right up until the moment that I sat down and opened my new book.
To think there was a time when I would rather have a copy of the "Babysitter's Club" instead of
"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" makes me smile. I am certain, that despite the love I had for Claudia and Kristy, it pales in comparison to the love I have for Francie Nolen.
Within moments of breaking the binding of my book, I was transported to a different time. Instead of lying in my own bed, I was standing next to Francie in a small, cold kitchen, falling in love with her father's Irish songs, and wishing that I had a penny to add to the money jar she kept hidden in the floor.
"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" travels with me everywhere I go. It's ink is smudged with my tears and it's pages are sun faded and oil stained from days spent reading by the ocean. Some pages are dog-eared, and entire paragraphs are highlighted and underlined and circled, because I wanted to be certain to never forget the way that those words made me feel. The cover to my book is torn and loose pages are stuffed back into place haphazardly, but it's appearance means nothing.
You can't judge a book by it's cover.
There are books that you read because you have to, and there are books that you read for pleasure.
And then, in a category all their own, there are books that you read that will change your life.
"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is one of those books.
If you haven't read it, I can't help but wonder what you are waiting for.
What's your all-time favorite read?