“Then it came to me: Zola had said: ‘To have a child, to plant a tree, to write a book.’ That, he said, was a full life!” – Betty Smith
What I love about being a book reviewer is the constant discovery of new things. Picking up books I may have never had the opportunity to read, and learning from those books – not how to write better necessarily, but – what kind of writer I want to be.
Book reviewing has also required me to read things more closely, not just the way I would for school, but in a more personal way as well. It’s not just about finding the literary value, it’s not just about liking or not liking, it becomes more and more important to be able to people and my readers why I loved a book. What moved me to passion? What is so relevant about this story to my own life? In doing that, it makes me dig deeper into myself, deeper into my library, and deeper into the art of research.
I’ve slacked off the last few weeks about publishing a literary journal post, but I haven’t stopped reading the literary journals. I meant to write this yesterday, it’s been dancing around in my head the last few weeks as I’ve alternated between picking my way through McSweeney’s issue 18 and researching to see if anything was written about Betty Smith. I’ve been scouring the internet for evidence of things written about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or perhaps a long buried article or story she may have had published before infamy. I didn’t know a lot about her, so it’s been an educational endeavor.
I started with what was available in the back of the Harper Perennial Modern Classics edition that I read the book from. The little extras this edition provides are wonderful, including the first piece Smith ever published: a bit of prose called “Winter” when she was 8 years old and still in grade school, under the name Elizabeth Wehner.
I enjoyed reading the article from This Week that she wrote called “Fall in Love With Life.” It’s a beautiful glimpse into her mind and life and what led her to know that she had had a full and marvelous life. It was refreshing to read, after feeling like a failure on most days, knowing I’ve had a child, planted a tree, and written book, changed my outlook on my life at 30.
Of course, the research continued and in my searching I found this: http://web.njit.edu/~cjohnson/tree/context/context.htm
I also found this and am pretty disappointed that I can’t find a copy of “On Discovering Thomas Hardy” anywhere: http://www2.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/s/Smith,Betty.html
If anyone knows of any publications or articles written on or by Betty Smith, please share. I’d like to discover them too.