A Tree and a Book Fair Grow in Brooklyn

It’s never too early to mark your calendars for the next exciting book and paper happening! From Friday, September 9th through Sunday, September 11th, Brooklyn, New York plays host to the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair. This event, held at the new Brooklyn Expo Center, features over 100 quality rare book and ephemera dealers from all across the US, as well as Canada and Europe. 

Many famous authors, as well as plotlines, have strong connections to Brooklyn.  For many baby boomers, just the mention of Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows In Brooklyn brings not only a smile but a sense of nostalgia or perhaps even a flood of memories.  This five-part novel, written in 1943, tells the story of Francie Nolan, the oldest daughter of two immigrants who arrived in the United States at the turn of last century.  The plot traces the ups and downs of her growing up years, most which were spent in absolute poverty in a small apartment in Brooklyn, New York during the first two decades of the 20th century.  Over the course of the book, Francie faces a huge range of adult issues, including death, alcoholism, prejudice, inequality, violence, and disappointment, among many others.  However, despite all of these immense challenges, she still - for the most part - sees the glass half full and remains positive and ambitious even under dire circumstances.  Her love of reading and a commitment to education help keep her dreams alive.  The title of the book is a reference to a species of tree called “The Tree of Heaven,” a type of rapidly growing tree that is practically indestructible.

Like many middle aged readers, this blogger was given a copy of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn as school vacation reading when she was in her early teens.  That same summer, she made her first solo trip from the east to the west coast to visit with the “other” family.  The book, of course, was her airplane reading in both directions, as well as her companion during downtime with the cousins.  It is interesting to note that many of the things she experienced for the first time in those few weeks in California in the 1970’s remain steadfast favorites four decades onward - including sushi, Birkenstocks, cut-off shorts, and of course, this coming of age book by Betty Smith.

Smith penned A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in the early 1940’s in North Carolina, where she lived with her second husband, Joseph Jones.  Smith herself was born and spent her childhood in Brooklyn, New York.  Her biography suggests that she had many similar characteristics and priorities as her protagonist Francie - including the immigrant experience and a passion for reading and learning.  This book was an immediate sensation upon its introduction and remains popular more than 70 years later, most likely due to its beautiful storytelling, universal themes, and timeless and inspirational message.  In 1945, the book was made into a film which subsequently won two academy awards.  It was also produced as a Broadway musical in 1951; this show ran for over 250 performances.  The story had its final telling (to date) as a “made for TV” movie in 1974.   Smith’s other books included Tomorrow Will Be Better, written in 1947; Maggie-Now, written in 1958; and Joy in the Morning, written in 1963.

Fine, early copies of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn are quite desirable and generate much interest from the enthusiasts’ perspectives.  Current online sales listings on AbeBooks show first editions priced as high as $12,000.  Several Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair dealers will be bringing collectible-caliber examples of this “native daughter” tome to the show in September.  Be on the lookout for…

Lorne Bair Rare Books, from Winchester, VA, who has a first edition from 1943 which is priced at $2,750.  It is described in part as, “Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York. An attractive copy of Smith's first novel, a cheaply manufactured wartime production that is usually found badly worn; jacketed copies in presentable condition, such as this one, are most uncommon… First Printing. Octavo (21cm); bound in green linen, white spine label with titles printed in black; dust jacket; 443pp. Hint of a lean, with subtle fading to spine ends and upper and lower boards edges, with previous owner’s name roughly erased on front endpaper; Near Fine otherwise, and clean throughout. Dust jacket is unclipped, with the $2.75 price intact. Some wear to the extremities with a few short tears, light soiling to the rear panel, with very minor rippling to the same, noticeable only on the verso; Very Good+.”

Between the Covers-Rare Books, Inc., from Gloucester City, NJ, has two examples of note.  The first is a signed by the author reprint from 1943 which is priced at $700.  It is described in part as, “Harper and Brothers, New York, 1943. Hardcover. Reprint. Stated "Twenty-Third Edition." Modest wear, a very good plus copy lacking the dust wrapper. Inscribed by the author: "To Muriel Eastlack with regards, Betty Smith." A huge bestseller which went through innumerable printings. Basis for the first film directed by Elia Kazan, which featured Dorothy McGuire, Joan Blondell, and Oscar winners Peggy Ann Garner and James Dunn (who touchingly brought his considerable experience as a real alcoholic to the screen).”

The second has a noteworthy provenance probably worthy of a discussion of its own.  It is a signed-by-the-author first edition from 1943 which is priced at $4,000.  It is described in part as, “Harper and Brothers, New York, 1943. Hardcover. First edition. Bookplate of Kathryn Cravens on the front pastedown, slight fading to the cloth, and some smaller stains on the front fly and edges of the following few leaves, an about very good copy in worn, good first issue dust wrapper with chipping, mostly at the spine ends and bottom of the front panel. Inscribed by Smith in the month after publication: "For Kathyrn Cravens with regards Betty Smith. September, 1943." The recipient, Kathryn Cochran Cravens, 1898--1991, was a radio personality, actress, and writer from Texas was the first female news commentator to be broadcast from coast to coast. *Pursuit of Gentlemen*, her only novel, was published in 1951, the manuscript for which won first prize from the National League of American Penwomen in 1948. The novel is a fictionalized version of her adventures as a trailblazing woman with humble Texas beginnings finding her way through New York society.*A Tree Grows in Brooklyn* is the much-beloved story of Francie Nolan, growing up in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. A huge bestseller, copies of the first edition (poorly manufactured because of wartime restrictions on materials) in presentable condition have become very uncommon.”

Go out on a limb and check out these remarkable examples of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - and many more highlights in all subjects - at the third annual Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair!  This highly anticipated event, featuring over 100 world-class dealers, will be held at the Brooklyn Expo Center, on Friday, September 9th from 6-9pm; Saturday, September 10th from 11am-7pm; and Sunday, September 11th from 11am-5pm.  A variety of ticketing options are available ranging from $7 for a Sunday only ticket to $25 for the preview opening to benefit 826NYC , a program which teaches children how to write creatively; for more information and to purchase tickets please click here.  

The Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair is sponsored ABEBooks and brought to you by Book and Paper Fairs.  The Friday benefit preview opening will be catered by Jessie's Pastries, known for her home-made fresh Peruvian Empanadas and Alfajores, Peruvian cookies whuch Huffington Post calls the best cookie you've never heard of. Book and Paper Fairs produces the top book and ephemera fairs in the Northeast US.  Our professionally managed events have a long history of bringing together the finest buyers and sellers in the industry, and are held in major locations including Boston, New York City, Brooklyn, Concord, NH, and Lexington, MA. For more information and a calendar of our shows, please visit www.bookandpaperfairs.com.

 series of 4 limited edition event posters

series of 4 limited edition event posters