I've been revisiting my childhood recently. At least so far as the literary aspects of my childhood. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas I picked up a book on CD that I remembered fondly from about the 6th grade or so. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. And the past two weeks I have been listening to another childhood classic, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith.
I wondered at first if I would really enjoy listening to Little Women, because I remembered it so well. I must have read that book a dozen times and watched the movie adaptations another dozen times. But I rediscovered whole sections of the book that I did not remember. You know how it is. When you re-read books, you end up skipping the long descriptive parts and skip ahead to the good parts. I'm so glad that I re-experienced the entire book as an adult. I can appreciate those long narratives now. Louisa May Alcott was a gifted writer.
I was a little hesitant to re-experience A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I did not remember it as clearly, but I did recall that as much as I enjoyed the story, it was frequently depressing as Francie Nolan comes of age in the squalor and poverty of New York slums. But I have found myself enthralled anew with the imagery and characterization that Betty Smith created. I realize why I was so drawn to the book when I first read it way back when. I saw myself in the character of Francie. I, like Francie, always felt like an outsider in school. I, like Francie, discovered that books allowed you to escape your boundaries and experience other worlds. I, like Francie, found it hard to make friends. We both were especially close to our younger brothers and felt obliged to watch out for them. I guess the best books are those where you find yourself.
How nice to discover that books of your childhood are every bit as good as you remember them. And how nice to listen to the stories from an adult perspective. You catch so many more nuances of the writing.
I wonder if young girls these days read Little Women and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I hope so. It would be a shame to miss such well-crafted novels. They are works of art.