Brooklyn Books: Part One

I came of reading age, of every age, in Brooklyn, and, like most constant readers, I am incredibly non-monogamous. One day I want to read far away: Antarctica! Mars! Nigeria!

The next day, I want to read of home—especially if it’s a home I never knew.

Ah, Brooklyn books.

Tin Wife by Joe Flaherty

But kids never think their parents were every young. Just someone to put the food on the table and the clothes on their backs. Like they were so special God gave them a maid and a butler at birth.

“What an extraordinary woman she is, this romantic mythologizer from the Flatbush section of Brooklyn who ends up making the world pay through the nose for shattering her illusions. What a vehicle she is for the author’s passionate, funny views on everything from ethnic rivalry to the women’s liberation movement as seen by working-class housewives to why the Brooklyn Dodgers fled Ebbetts Field for California.”  New York Times Book Review, 1984.

I don’t know why this wonderful book isn’t a classic of Brooklyn books. It was published posthumously when author, journalist, Joe Flaherty died at 47. It is a slice of Brooklyn (an Irish wife of an Irish cop) rarely heard from, and an example of a male author nailing a female voice.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

The library was a little old shabby place. Francie thought it was beautiful. The feeling she had about it was as good as the feeling she had about church.

“’A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” published in 1943, was an immediate best seller, and since then has become for its devoted readers a

treasured rite of passage. A friend told me it was where she first learned at 12 about sex. Another reader was dismayed to realize that her mother had purloined incidents from Francie’s childhood and made them her own, telling her daughter tales from the book as if she had lived them herself.” New York Times on the web, 1999

I never went to church as a little Jewish girl growing up in Brooklyn but like Francie, I worshipped at the altar of the library. Francie was my first clue that I wasn’t the only confused and unhappy little girl in Brooklyn.

The Great Man by Kate Christensen

It’s amazing how well you can live on very little money,” said Teddy St. Cloud to Henry Burke over her shoulder as she strode into the kitchen of her Brooklyn row house. She hoped he was noticing that her hips and waist were still girlishly slender, her step youthful, and that he’d describe her accurately instead of saying she was “gaunt but chipper,” like that sour-faced squaw with the crooked teeth from The New Yorker who’d written the profile of Oscar a few years ago. “I hope you’re a Reform Jew,” she added. “I got prosciutto.”

Oscar Feldman, the renowned figurative painter, has passed away. As his obituary notes, Oscar is survived by his wife, Abigail, their son, Ethan, and his sister, the well-known abstract painter Maxine Feldman. What the obituary does not note, however, is that Oscar is also survived by his longtime mistress, Teddy St. Cloud, and their daughters. (Publisher’s description)

“These characters are wonderfully developed and break the stereotype of the aging female protagonist.” USA Today

This complicated and insidiously funny book warrants at least two reads.

Diamond Ruby by Joseph Wallace

Ruby Thomas had never seen anything half as beautiful as Ebbets Field, with its brick exterior and half-moon windows that reminded her of slices of jelly candy.

” At its heart, Diamond Ruby is the story of an unassuming, courageous young woman who uses the national pastime to become a pioneering heroine in a man’s world.” Howard Frank Mosher, The Washington Post

This story drew me in, then captured me and then rocketed to an intense ‘gotta know,’ until I put everything away until I finished the story.

Next week: Brooklyn, part two.

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