The Steeper discussion of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was great! Initially we had about 5 people show up and Meghan, the member who chose the book since it is her “very favorite of all time” was feeling like her book wasn’t getting much love. Then 4 people who never before attended a meeting showed up simply because of the book choice! She was very pleased and we all loved having new voices adding to our discussion.
The majority of our attendees finished reading the book, I, however, failed in my quest to finish each of our books for this year. I will finish A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I just couldn’t before our meeting. The others who didn’t complete the read also agreed, which I think does say quite a bit about a book.
Our discussion began with a quote Meghan had once read about the novel being “a book about nothing.” So is Betty Smith writing a precursor to Seinfeld or is there actually much more going on that the “nothing” critic didn’t acknowledge? Yes, this is a coming of age story about Francie, but all of her somethings are something, even if it’s only important to her. One of my favorite quotes from my personal author Jane Austen has her describe life as “a quick succession of busy nothings.” In Francie’s case, these are the nothings that will usher her into adulthood, so that’s something!
The steepers enjoyed the omniscience of the narrator, especially some of the little foreshadowing hints that are prevalent throughout the novel. We appreciated how well rounded and complete the female characters were and noted that Francie’s brother is a little vague and could have been better developed. Of course, I took great umbrage with the description of the nasty librarian. It’s funny that most of the female educator characters are described as being terrible, especially when you consider how passionate about learning Francie is . . . several of our Steepers who are from a pre-Gen-X generation said that their female teachers growing up were all spinsters and they could identify with some of the unpleasant educational experiences that Francie goes through.
Mostly, our group discussed how this novel has much to do with being loved vs being needed. We felt the characters have a real-world struggle with so much more than poverty. Many of their interactions are dependent on whether they need or love specific characters and since I’ve continued to read post the meeting, being aware of this has definitely informed my reading of the novel.
There are parts of Betty Smith’s novel that we feel have not withstood the more than fifty years since it was published. Some of her descriptions of racial and other relations can be jarring to a current day reader, but her descriptions of the difficulties of growing up with very little or being attached to a person who is a financial or mental drain were right on point. We appreciated Ms. Smith’s unknown adherence to the Read It & Steep mantra: Horrors! Horrors!
We also enjoyed brief conversations of the film adaptation as well as a few members memories of Mama’s Bank Account and I remember Mama. Best quote of the night definitely goes to Melissa and George:
George: “There is a real difference in the relationship between a mother and son and a husband and wife.”
Melissa: “I should hope so!”