08 December 2007
a tree grows in brooklyn--read it!

Trees and Brownstones Grow in BrooklynThanks to The Sisterhood of Traveling Books, I recently finished Betty Smith's classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

I can't get Francie, Neeley, and the gang out of my head, and that, my friends, is the mark of a book that's bound to be one of my all-time favorites.

This isn't a story of wild action and soap opera-like plot twists and turns; it's the simple, honest, pure portrayal of what it was like for a young girl to grow up in the Williamsburg slums of Brooklyn around the turn of the 20th century.

I took my time with this book and savored every one of Smith's words--not only because they are so beautifully and perfectly chosen but also because it made me feel that much closer to my immigrant ancestors who were living similar lives in the middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania around the same time.

And I think of Francie, and I remember the women in my family from that generation, and I am amazed and humbled to be where I am today, living the life that I have--all thanks to their hard work, determination, and good old-fashioned grit.

I could fill many posts with quotes from this book where I've dog-eared the pages, but I'll offer up my favorite and encourage you to find a copy and read it for yourself.

This part comes just after Francie finds out that World War I has begun; she wants to remember the moment forever, so she clips a lock of her hair and puts it in an envelope, seals it, and marks the front "Frances Nolan, age 15 years and 4 months. April 6, 1917."

Then she prays:

"Dear God . . . 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."

Let me be something every minute of every hour of my life.

May we all be so blessed.



Blogger Jeni said...

It's been so many years since I read "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" that I can't recall a single thing about it other than it's about the girl growing up in Brooklyn. That's it, all I remember other than that I know I enjoyed it as I've remembered the title all these many years - probably read it in high school which was 45 plus years ago, ya see.
I'm a day late doing my rounds - busy day out and about yesterday, so I have to play catch-up here and hie tail it off to catch the last of the recipes too ya know!

Blogger Maddy said...

Can my 'booklist' expand to encompass this one too? Can the nightstand bear the strain?
Many thanks

This is my calling card or link"Whittereronautism"until blogger comments get themselves sorted out.

Blogger homebody at heart said...

I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn when I was a girl and it was always one of my favorite books. I remember thinking that I was glad I didn't have to grow up during those times because your life always seemed to be in the hands of some stern or cruel boss, landlord, etc.

On the other hand, I always wished I had lived in the times of the Little House on the Prairie books (but not the TV series) because you had to be self-sufficient and could live off the land.

That is, of course, since I couldn't be Miss Bianca, the adventurous and glamorous mouse extraodinaire with her faithful sidekick, Bernard.

Blogger Madelyne said...

love the quote

Blogger Ninotchka said...

Let me be something every minute of every hour of my life.

WOW. Based on that quote and that quote alone, I know this is definitely a must read for me. Thanks for the head's up!

Blogger moonrat said...

that's right. best book in the WORLD.

Blogger The Daily Rant said...

I completely love the "Let me be something every minute of every hour of my life."

Love it.

Words to live by.

Blogger cheeky said...

I'm hooked. I'm in! My immigrant family came to Ellis Island and remained in New York. My Hungarian uncle and his Italian wife raised there family in Brooklyn, and died there. I ate many a meals in that household, and I never ate enough according to my aunt.
I have such fond memories of Brooklyn. I'm also really interested in that time period and what a fascinating character does Francie seem to be.
That's a motto we could all stand to live by.

Blogger sognatrice said...

*Jeni, I probably wouldn't have appreciated this when I was in high school, so I'm so glad it wasn't one I was forced to read. Reminds me, I should really pick up "A Tale of Two Cities" again ;)

*Maddy, I know how you feel, but it's just one more spot!

*Homebody, funny that the Little House thing never appealed to me, and yet I have more of that life than anything now....

*Madelyne, just timeless, isn't it?

*Nino, I was blown away when I read it too.

*Moonrat, it's definitely in my top 10.

*Salena, I knew you'd like that ;)

*Cheeky, reading this book actually makes me want to go to Brooklyn--during that time and also in the present. You'll love this book :)

I really like her prayer...and your review. :-)

Blogger Shameless said...

Thanks for the reminder ... I've been meaning to order this for ages. :-)

Anonymous Janie said...

I love that quote! Thanks of reminding me of this great book.

Blogger Fango said...

Lovely quote from what sounds like a lovely book. Thank you for the recommendation - a good literary focus for a pensive rainy Sunday (here at least). As for Dickens... I read "A Tale of Two Cities" after college and think that you could find other books more worthy of rereading/first reading.

Blogger Greg said...

...a worthy prayer for a rich and meaningful life.

What a powerful quote.

Anonymous Robin said...

Chris just got done reading it and loved it! I am in the middle of another *Sisterhood* book, so it will be next...glad you liked it!

My Melange

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is a maginificent book - and movie.
Every time I see it I cry and cry and cry.
Your review is beautiful my friend.
You know where you'll see it next ;)
Ciao Bella,

Blogger Tui said...

I will definitely put this book on my list. Thanks for the recommendation and the great quote. :)

Blogger Gill said...

Thanks for sharing, I am going to have to hunt this one down.

Blogger sognatrice said...

*Butterfly, thanks :)

*Shameless, it had been on my list for a long time too; so glad I finally got around to it!

*Janie, you're very welcome :)

*Fango, good to know I can skip that one (again) ;)

*Greg, NYC, agreed!

*Robin, happy reading :)

*Frances, ooh, I haven't seen the film...can't wait to see the post up again :)

*Tui, if you want it through the Sisterhood, just sign up and I can send it to you (there's no one after me on the list).

*Gill, same to you--join the sisterhood and we can trade books!

Blogger Tori said...

When I read this post I turned my head to make sure that my copy of this book was on the bookshelf right behind me. I haven't read it since high school and I loved it then, yet I imagine that it would mean so much more to me now.
Thanks for the tribute to this.

Blogger Mrs. G. said...

Amen, my friend. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is on my top ten list of favorite books...and that's pretty significant when you realize how many books I LOVE. Great post. Thanks for commenting on my blog, and I look so forward to coming back to yours. Uh, can I have your life?

Blogger Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Oh, I have to reread this. I read it several times when I was in my teens and early 20s. Wonderful book.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i actually just finished reading this book and it was AMAZING!!! kinda fell into a 'to kill a mockingbird' category for me. anyways, thanks for the recommendation! well, the kind-of recommendation, i saw it on your sidebar, and figured it would be something good! i really loved it. i really loved francie! (and i just started 'joy in the morning')

-k in cali

Amen. May we all be so blessed.

Thank you, that's a very poignant and honest prayer, one that - should it touch everyone who reads it or understands the passionate and insatiable hunger for life behind it - changes each one of us in a myriad of little ways.

I'm so glad you posted it.

Now then... you have been tagged with a Christmas meme!

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to you, P, Luna, Stella, and the puppies.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Blogger sognatrice said...

*Tori, I really need to reread a lot of the books I've read so long ago--would be so interesting to see what I get out of them versus what I did then.

*Mrs G, believe me there are days when I would love for you (or anyone) to take my life, please...like right now as I hear six puppies yelping at the top of their lungs ;)

*Jen, such a classic, isn't it?

*K, wow, glad to see someone pays attention to my sidebar ;)

*Scarlett, I love this tag--thank you so much for thinking of me :)

Blogger Italian Woman said...

I loved that book when I was a little girl, even thought it described a very different time and place from where I was living. But I took felt trapped and hopeful. I was determined to see the world. Thanks for bringing it back.

Blogger Audra said...


I've never read that book.. would absolutely LOVE to though.

Your post tickled me because now Williamsburg is a hopping, hip neighborhood.. gentrification at its finest!

Blogger Karen Cole said...

Loved it as well. The movie is a very good adaption of the book....BTW.

Since you are a "foodie" I will tell you I am currently reading a good book called "The United States of Arugala". It's about the changing style of eating in this county
since the early 20th century.

Blogger sognatrice said...

*Italian woman, glad to hear you enjoyed the book as well; I love reading about other times and places in history :)

*Audra, isn't it interesting? I can only imagine what the people from the old neighborhood think as they go back and visit....

*Karen, that book sounds awesome! I'm going to check it out on Amazon--thanks!

Blogger Taffiny said...

a quote of beautiful and inspiring words, in a post to inspire.

I have the book upon my shelf, but I haven't read it. Now I wont be able to walk past it, without it whispering to me, and without my wondering what lies within.

Blogger sognatrice said...

*Taffiny, I do hope you'll answer its call the next time you pass by....

Blogger SabineM said...

sounds fabulous. I just ordered it!
I have a huge line of books waiting to be read... this one sounds great!
Thank you

Who won the cook book contest? I participated but then on the 2nd traveled to Japan. Just got back. Love that Desert book! I ordered two to give out as gifts for Xmas!

Blogger The Food Hunter said...

This has been my favorite book since I read it for the first time at age 14. I'm glad you enjoyed it. It's one of those that I lnever get tired of reading. I think it's about time to read it again. Thanks!

Blogger sognatrice said...

*Sabine, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! The winner has now been announced--I hope you've seen it by now (check my post from December 12).

*Food Hunter, as this is one that I got in a swap, I just may have to buy my own copy so I can read it again and again...I know I'm going to want to.

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