A Sense of Place

Books can take you places when you don’t have the money for a plane ticket or the time for a road trip. Sometimes these places don’t exist—but should. And sometimes the places are real and whet your appetite for a future trip.

For the latter, there’s Placing Literature, a site dedicated to crowdsourcing the places of all manner of books. There are kids books and books for adults. There are famous books and books you’ve never heard of. There are books on every continent save Antarctica (can you fill in that gap?). You can dive into a specific location to see what books are placed there, or you can just browse the map, picking and choosing as you flit across Europe.

I’ve used “place” rather than “setting” here because of one of the many interesting blog posts the Placing Literature folks wrote. They consider both halves of their name–Place and Literature–very seriously over there, as we do around these parts, so I’ve got a great appreciation for the thoughtful writing on those topics.

I’ve been brainstorming a few of my own favorite “place” books–those books that really give you a sense of where the story is. Tales of the City is maybe an obvious choice, although that reveals not just the place of San Francisco but also the times (and evolves with each book in the series). The Basketball Diaries was one of the books that shaped my view of New York before I’d ever set foot in it. The Sheltering Sky, although I don’t recall now if the book specifies where exactly in North Africa it takes place, gives you a perfect picture, through the characters’ eyes, of where they are. But the places don’t even need to be real. Who could have devoured fantasy books as a kid without knowing exactly what Narnia or Prydain look like?

What are some of your favorite place books? Have any of them ever inspired a real-life trip? Go on over to Placing Literature and add your pins to the map!

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