“Brooklyn! It’s a magic city and it isn’t real.”
These words are spoken by Francie Nolan and her brother Neeley toward the end of Betty Smith’s beloved classic, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. And while we tend to agree with Francie that there is no other place like Brooklyn, we actually think that the appeal of this borough lies not in any ephemeral magical quality that it possesses, but in its reality; Brooklyn’s beauty is in its cracked sidewalks, its towering church spires, and its stalwart, century-old brick buildings which line the streets. And so when we’re reading a novel that just happens to take place in Brooklyn, we can’t help but enjoy the moments when we recognize a street name, or figure out what bar a character is drinking in, because these places are a part of our reality. We can orient ourselves in a fictional world because the intrusion of the Brooklyn we know grounds us as readers and allows us to invest ourselves in these novels in a different, special way.
But not every spot mentioned in literary Brooklyn is easily recognizable; not every place is the Brooklyn Bridge or Green-Wood Cemetery. So we thought we’d take you on a short, real-life tour of fictional Brooklyn and visit some of the places mentioned in Brooklyn novels both iconic and less well-known, so that the next time you pick up one of these books, it will be easier to conjure up the places mentioned and lose yourself in the liminal world of fiction and reality, which, really, is one of the best places to be.