As I mentioned a few days ago, I found time during my crazy busy week to read Betty Smith’s classic, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I’d been meaning to read this book for years, but I’m glad that I put it off until after I had lived a year in Williamsburg/Bushwick, where the book is set. What was formerly a teeming slum down on Grand Avenue is now a playground for trust-fund hipsters, and the seedy area where I lived on Bushwick Avenue was decribed thus:

Bushwick Avenue was the high-toned boulevard of Old Brooklyn. It was a wide, tree-shaded avenue and the houses were rich and impressively built. . . . Here lived the big-time politicians, the monied brewery families, the well-to-do immigrants who had been able to come over first-class instead of steerage. They had taken their money, their statuary, and their gloomy oil paintings and had come to America and settled in Brooklyn.

Funny what a difference a hundred years makes. I was struck most strongly by Smith’s deep love and pride for her home city, evident even in the descriptions of the poverty, cruelty, and hardship that marked the early years of the 20th century in the poorer neighborhoods of Brooklyn.

One unfortunate side effect of the book’s popularity is how its title has entered our lexicon as a device for lazy journalists. I just did a quick Google search of “…grows in Brooklyn” and learned that quite a few other things can be found growing in our fair city:

A Fish
Hate
A Navy Yard
A Jew [this is a play]
A Plague
A Spa
A Crush
A Hotel
A Festival
A Cricket
A Key Lime Pie
A Boy
A Farm
A Corpse Flower
A Scam
A Tomato
A Fig Tree
An Exodus

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