Books of Place

Eudora Welty’s Mississippi. Stephen King’s Maine. Marilynne Robinson’s Iowa. Thomas Wolfe’s North Carolina.

I pick up certain authors when I’m in the mood for the particular place they conjure. Readers know better than anyone else how it’s possible to be homesick for a place you’ve never visited. But readers also know that they can visit a place–truly know it’s soul–through the pages of a book. In the mood to do some traveling from your favorite armchair? Here are three of my favorite books of place, set in places that I’ve visited that, when I think of them now, give me a very particular feeling–the lost-breath-butteflies-in-stomach-gut-punch feeling. You know the one?

There’s nothing better. Pick up these titles, if you, too, want to swoon.

1.) The Tender Bar by JR Moehringer–Manhasset, Long Island

This 2005 memoir tells of a young boy growing up in Manhasset, Long Island, a suburb of Manhattan. It’s the town Fitzgerald used for the backdrop of The Great Gatsby. Moehringer, without a father figure, grows up under the rough tutelage of the men who populate the venerated local bar, where his uncle serves as bartender. The bar still stands; you can visit it. I did, and wrote about it here. Read the book; you’ll find yourself homesick for the bar and Manhasset, too.

2.) An American Childhood by Annie Dillard–Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

When I first read An American Childhood, I had no idea that in less than two years, I’d be living in the city in which this memoir takes place. But, life is funny, and 1.5 years after reading Annie Dillard’s account of her formative years, I was living in the same neighborhood as one of my favorite authors–practically on the same street. Re-reading this little gem was a wonderful way to discover Pittsburgh, my newly adopted city. An American Childhood is written by an American original, about a truly American city.

3.) A Room With a View by E.M. Forster–Florence, Italy

There is no city more romantic than Florence, and a Room With a View is a book that will make you go weak in the knees. Does “what happens in Florence stay in Florence?” Lucy Honeychurch meets free-spirited George on vacation in Tuscany with her aunt. When he reappears in Lucy’s staid English life, she must choose between her head and her heart–i.e., George, or her betrothed, the (ridiculous) Cecil.  ARWAV has intimate conversation in centuries-old cathedrals, fainting in piazzas, stolen kissess in fields of violets–ahhhhhhh, love in Firenze. What more could you ask for?

Tell me: what are *your* favorite books of place?

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