Where in the World Wednesday

I know I am not saying anything Earth shattering by stating that books can take us to places we have only ever imagined going. Even as the world gets smaller thanks to cable channels from countries all over the world, Flickr photos, blogs, tweets, Facebook “friends” we have never met – we are surrounded by ways to be touched by all corners of the planet. Ways that can visually show us, right before our eyes, Everest, Big Ben, The Hermitage, wherever your heart desires.

But there is still, at least for me (and I assume many of you if you are taking the time to read a book blog), a wonderful connection that books offer to our world (and beyond – but I’m not a sci-fi girl, even if I did see “Star Trek” and “Terminator 4,” and just finished The Host, well OK maybe I need to rethink if I am a sci-fi girl, but I digress). Anyway, idea of a book taking me to a location I haven’t been, or even showing me some place I have, but introducing me to another way to “see” this place – might be one of my favorite things about books.

I’m hardly fussy when it comes to books depicting different countries and cultures – I will give it all a whirl just so I can be transported someplace new. My first active foray into seeking out books like this took me to Asia and the Asian culture. I know I have Amy Tan to thank for that, once I read The Joy Luck Club, I wanted to know more, see more – even of the San Francisco I know and love so well. (This is why I love Lisa See too and just ordered Shanghai Girls and can’t wait for it to arrive so I can tear it open, my review will be up mid-July). I want to read more about the Middle East thanks to Jhumpa Lahiri (Interpreter of Maladies, The Namesake, Unaccustomed Earth) and Greg Mortenson (and David Oliver Relin) for introducing me to Pakistan in Three Cups of Tea. In every case, it is not just about their stories (whether fictional or not) but it is how they give me a plane ticket and stamp my passport to all these places that make me want to know more. Even books where I don’t particularly like the story, or maybe even the writing, I come away with knowing a little more about a different place and culture.

This is what makes reading magical to me.


Where in the world are you?

Right now, I have been reading a lot of books on, or based in, Eastern Europe. In fact the two I am reading right now actually focus on St. Petersburg/Leningrad (Crime and Punishment and The Madonnas of Leningrad). One of the things I find totally fascinating about this area (and believe there is so much I find fascinating) is how light it stays in the evening. Here are two passages from Debra Dean’s The Madonnas of Leningrad that highlight this:

“It is past midnight but still light enough to see without electricity. It is the end of June 1941, and this far north, the sun barely skims beneath the horizon. Belye nochi, they are called, the white nights.” (pg. 5)

“When they emerge from the restaurant, it is nearly midnight. The city is bathed in pastel shades of dusk, like a tinted postcard. The dome of St. Isaac’s Cathedral is burning gold. Above them, the sky is streaked with long purple shadows.” (p. 20)

So my question to you: Where has the book (or books) you are currently reading taken you (down the street, across the country, or someplace you need your passport)? And if you have it handy, share a sentence or two that describes the location, or something that makes that specific place in the world special.


5 Responses

  1. I agree about books that take place in the Middle East…I loved the Namesake and Three Cups of Tea. Have you read Reading Lolita in Tehran? That is one of my favorite books!

    My other favorite locale to read about is Charleston, SC. There are a few authors who write beach-read style books that take place there. Since it is one of my … Read Morefavorite places and I lived there for a bunch of years (and would love to move back) and visit annually, reading those books always reminds me of a beautiful, relaxing place with such amazing history and character.

    I just started reading a book that I think will ultimately take place in NYC…they are always fun to read because everyone sees the city differently and it is fun to see it through another person’s eyes.

  2. I’m reading Speak and it’s set in New York, but it’s taking me back to high school.

  3. I love this question!

    I am finishing up the last few pages of Luis Alberto Urrea’s Into the Beautiful North which weaves back and forth over the Mexican/Californian border. Because I’m mostly an East Coast gal I find it fascinating to be pulled into the opposite end of the country.

    I am also writing up a review for People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks which has near east components but reads a bit more like a backpacking-through-Europe guide.

    Both are good “passport” reads.

  4. I’m in Singapore. 😛 Reading a Heather Graham book based in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina came and left.

  5. I’m reading The Coronation by Boris Akunin at the moment – set in Russia at the time of the Coronation of Tsar Nicholas II.

    It’s got a kind of Sherlock Holmes feel, but the setting takes you into upper class Russian homes as well as revealing the other extreme with pickpockets and other criminals.

    It’s a great book, although I am being slowed down by all the long Russian character names. The book is narrated by the butler of one family, so he refers to everyone by their full formal names. Can get a bit confusing when several characters are in a scene together.

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