I love to read but I have never been able to pinpoint my absolute favorite book. I must admit that lots of them run together for me--I have bachelor's and Masters degrees in English, so during my college and grad school years I was almost always reading at least three books at one time! But I got the hang of it and now I get a little bored if I'm only reading one book. I paint like that too. It takes me a while to finish a book or to finish a painting because I'm always jumping around and working a little here, a little there. (Unfortunately, I do housework this way as well, so most of the time all of my chores have been at least started and then are only "half" finished.)
But this spring it happened. I think I must have been reading just the right novel at just the right time, a time in which I was adjusting to living in a new land . . . and the conditions were right for me to find "home" in a book.
This book isn't specifically about art, but it inspires me as an artist and writer because it is about seeing, about relishing the beauty that is all around us even during hard times. And it's a book about overcoming the toughest obstacles to blossom like a tree whose roots grow strong and deep (even in the concrete and rank soil of an urban gutter).
Francie, the main character in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, is a sensitive and contemplative little girl growing up very poor in the Brooklyn of the early 1900s. Like all of the children in her situation, she must grow up too quickly and become almost as self-sufficient as an adult. But Francie clings to her imagination and manages to maintain a childlike innocence and wonder even in the face of life's harsh realities.
She vows to read one book a day for the rest of her life plus a page from Shakespeare and a page from the Bible every night. She is also a writer who struggles under her teachers' insistence that "nice" compositions are about trees and flowers and butterflies, not about the games her mother invents to keep their minds off being cold and hungry, nor about her musically gifted, story-teller father who is also an alcoholic.
I feel a kinship with Francie that I have never felt with any other literary character I have ever met--she is determined to grasp hold of life's magical moments and never to let them slip through her fingers. And her prayer is my prayer--to live life intentionally and with passion:
"'Dear God,' she prayed, 'let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me be gay; let me be sad. Let me be cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry . . . have too much to eat. Let me be ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere--be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.'"