Traveling the World in Books

bridgeofsighs Most of us have probably seen some variant of those library posters telling us that we can travel the world in books. It’s certainly true, but sometimes the experience can be more concrete than that. When I was in middle school, I spent a wonderful summer vacation in Charleston, South Carolina. By chance, I happened to bring along Sabrina by Candice F. Ransom with me. For those not familiar with the Sunfire series, this book has Revolutionary War Charleston as its setting. As I toured the city with my friend and her family, I could imagine myself back in the late 18th century with the threat of the British ever present. As we drove into the rural areas outside of town, I could imagine Frances Marion, the Swamp Fox himself, sneaking through the swamps on his missions. Reading a book set in the place I visited brought a whole new dimension to my trip and I loved it!

Since then, I’ve always tried to take books on trips with me that feature the settings of the places I visit. I have a weakness for books set in Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia since the chances of me knowing the places characters visit is fairly high. When I went to Italy this past fall, I couldn’t resist packing along some books with Italian settings. Room With a View came out for the Tuscany portion of my trip and the experience of rereading Lord of the Night in Venice made the city unforgettable. I got to walk the Bridge of Sighs, walk the alleyways and piazzas, and ride along canals and as I did so, there were times when I could close myself and imagine that we stood in the 16th century Venice of the doges. I could almost envision Sandro and Laura falling in love and going about their adventures in the city.

And then there was Rome! That experience was a bit of an odd dichotomy for me. On the one hand, I had brought along The Gladiator by Carla Capshaw for a re-read as well as The Gladiator’s Honor by Michelle Styles, so I could walk among the various ruins or around the Coliseum and see long-remembered characters of Ancient Rome in my mind. However, I also had a little stash of Italy-set Harlequin Presents with me, so alongside the gladiators and Roman aristocrats, I could picture billionaires sweeping timid housekeepers and governesses off their feet. Quite the vivid experience!

My trick of taking along books set in my travel spots has only failed me once. When I lived in Austria in college, the only Austrian set books I could find to take along aside from the Thoenes’ excellent Vienna Prelude were some Barbara Cartland novels. Maybe I’m a little harsh, but I just didn’t want to wander the back streets of Vienna, bicycle in the Prater Park or linger near Stefansdom while allowing myself to be haunted by visions of stammering, wide-eyed twits and their overbearing Duke of Slut suitors. And don’t get me started on the books that romanticized Gypsy culture. I thought I would need bleach to get that out of my brain.

My next trip will be to Las Vegas with friends and I’m already putting together books in anticipation. I’ve watched CSI for years, so I’ll have all of that floating in my mind. In terms of books, I have the Girls’ Weekend in Vegas series from Harlequin sitting in my TBR, but that’s about all I can think of for reading material.

I love using books to enhance my travels and as soon as I know I’m going somewhere, I start seeking out novels set in that locale. What about you? And if you know of any good books set in Vegas, let me know. ;-)

– Lynn Spencer

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18 Responses to Traveling the World in Books

  1. I don’t do this, actually. However, on my recent trip to Spain I happened to have a number of books set in California and all the descriptions of hot, dry places did feel a little more evocative so yes, I think I might try this in future.

  2. Kathy says:

    Oh, I LOVE the Sunfire series! I still have every single one of them, waiting on the shelf for my daughter to be old enough to enjoy them. As for travel, I will never forget visiting Prince Edward Island with all the images from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery in my head. And I have very fond memories of reading Hawaii by James Michener while on my honeymoon in Maui. A good reminder for me to try to coordinate books and setting more often!

  3. Leigh says:

    Deborah Coontz

    What a great ideal. Lee and I were just talking about how Susanne Kearsley’s book make the locale come alive but I don’t think is has a Vegas setting

  4. Leigh says:

    Coonts instead of Coontz.

  5. Julie L says:

    I love this idea and am doing this myself next month going to the Scottish Highlands and Edinburgh. There are several Outlander locations I’m eager to see as well as Ciji Ware’s Island of the Swans and the zillion highlander romances I’ve read that take place in Skye. I wanted to go to Slains Castle (from S. Kearlsey’s the Winter Sea) but it’s barricaded off at the moment :( so you can no longer visit it any longer.

  6. Dani says:

    When I was a kid, my family took a camping trip across Eastern Ontario, Quebec and the maritimes. At some point in Quebec, my parents picked up Anne of Green Gables which my mom read to us every night. When we got to PEI, we went to see the play and we all wept (even my Dad). We als visited any Anne of Green Gables attractions. This remains one of my fondest memories of childhood.

    There is a flip side though. In the 90s, I went to Germany and read too many WWII stories before going. It really made it hard to separate the past from where Germany was at the time (shortly after the wall came down). I was also reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being which isn’t set in Germany but deals with the reality of life in the Eastern Bloc so it didn’t help the vibe. Plus, we kept visiting WWII memorial sites and the Checkpoint Charlie museum – the whole thing made it hard to be open to the culture and the people the way I normally am when I travel. In that instance, the novels I’d read did not enhance the experience and actually did the opposite. It was definitely poor planning on my part. On a subsequent trip, I went to the southern part of Germany and didn’t read anything about the war and had a much more positive experience.

    Can’t really think of any great Vegas books though. Most of the ones I can think of are crime fiction and given the Germany experience, I’d stay away from those…

  7. JulieR says:

    The first time I was in Bath, England, I had a longing to re-read some of Georgette Heyer’s books that are set there. I eventually found a used bookstore that carried a couple, which I bought despite having copies of same back home. I so much enjoyed reading stories set in places I was actually seeing.

  8. DabneyAAR says:

    I am visiting Amsterdam as I write this. I recently read David Mitchell’s “The Thousand Autums of Jacob DeZoot,” a historical novel set on Dijima, the artificial island the Dutch built in Nagasaki Harbour in the 1700′s for the Dutch East India Trading Company. (It’s a fabulous book.)

    Having read the book has enriched mine and my husband’s experience of Amsterdam and the Netherlands. I didn’t read the book in preparation for this trip and I feel lucky that the two experiences have meshed so well.

  9. Victoria S says:

    I have never done that but as usual, you at AAR have given me something else to think about for the next time I travel. I live in New Jersey, not far from Trenton, and the Evanovitch “Numbers” books all take place in Jersey. They make me smile every time I recognize something

  10. Anna L H says:

    I made certain to re-read Mary Stewart’s “Wildfire at Midnight” before visiting the Isle of Skye, and it certainly made the trip more atmospheric. So many of her books are set in great travel locales, and her descriptions are second-to-none. I would highly recommend taking them along if her setting fits your destination.

  11. Jessica says:

    I loved the Sunfire books!! I stupidly gave them to the library during one of my book purges, and have been trying to find them ever since. I’ve found some of my favorites, but still have a ways to go.

    I haven’t really tailored my reading to my travels, but it’s a great idea (except when I’m traveling to Lubbock/very eastern New Mexico in October — I don’t think too many books are set there!!). I will have to try it :).

  12. Sonya says:

    I reread The Bronze Horseman on my second trip to Saint Petersburg. I don’t know whether it was good or bad that I stood at the top of St Isaac’s and was thinking, “This is where Tatiana and Alexander made out”!

  13. Judith says:

    Lynn, you might take Susan Andersen’s connected Vegas books – Skintight (1) and Just for Kicks (2). Not her best, in my opinion, but still good. And both are about “real” Vegas – the people who live and work there and make it fun for all of us tourists passing through….

  14. RachelT says:

    Lynn, you talk about a weakness for Washington DC, Maryland, & Virginia. Could you name a few as I will be travelling in that area in early Autumn. I read across all romantic sub genres, and would be interested in exploring ahead of our journey. I have also been stocking up on Amish books as we wil be staying in a part of Pennysylvania where there are Amish communities. Thanks Rachel.
    ps we’re going to San Fransisco as well!

  15. RachelT says:

    Sorry, I meant to say a weakness for books set in WDC, M & V, not the states themselves – although that may well be true!

  16. Lori j says:

    I live in the Tri-Cities, Washington and our local author Patricia Briggs sets her Mercedes series here. It’s a hoot to read all the familiar names of streets, parks and local businesses.

  17. Shauna says:

    Lady Luck’s Map Of Vegas by Barbara Samuel

    Not a whole lot of scenes actually in Vegas, but I really enjoyed it. And visit Boulder Dam while you are there. I would love to read a story set during the building of Boulder Dam. Such an interesting site.

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