Tag Archives: maps

Top 10 Places in Western Literature

Definitive, relevant literature is able to capture the imagination of readers, take them to a place they’ve never been and enable them to empathize with characters they care about. Think about Charles Dickens’ London or Dashiell Hammett’s San Francisco. Good authors use place as a character to provide physical and emotional context to their stories.

As a co-founder of PlacingLiterature.com I’m constantly wondering what makes a good literary place. In honor of our relaunch this month, I put together a list of the Top 10 Literary Places in Western Literature (in no particular order). It’s impossible and presumptuous to boil the entire Western Lit canon down to 10 places, but I gave it a try, knowing that there’d be universal disagreement. Make your own list. Map places that are missing on our site (it’s free and easy!). Join the Placing Literature community.
Twain1. Aunt Polly’s House – Hannibal, Missouri

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Mark Twain is the quintessential American writer, and nothing conjures up life on the Mississippi River more than the image of the scallywag Tom Sawyer tricking the neighborhood children into white washing his aunt’s fence for him. The straw hat, the overalls, the long piece of grass sticking out of his mouth, the white picket fence. You don’t get any more Twain than that.

NotreDame2. Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris – Paris, France

The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo

The disfigured Quasimodo is left for dead on the steps of the famous Parisian cathedral and is raised by the archdeacon who gets him to do his evil bidding. Vilified for his looks despite having a kind heart, Quasimodo is synonymous with Notre Dame’s chiming bells, at one point swinging down the ropes to save his beloved Esmeralda from a murderous mob.

Ducklings3. Public Garden – Boston, Massachusetts

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

Children around the world have a place in their hearts for Mr. and Mrs. Mallard who decide to make a new home among Boston’s residents on an island in Boston Public Garden. There they brave speedy bicyclists, snapping turtles, the strange swan boats and a cadre of policemen. Today, a statue stands in the park memorializing the Mallards and their eight ducklings: Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack.

Dickens4. Fagin’s Den, London, England

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

No list of literary places could be complete without at least one Dickens’ reference, and here is his most vivid location. As the Artful Dodger leads Oliver to Fagin’s den in London’s Saffron Hill neighborhood, you can see, feel and smell the squalor and filth that line the street–a potent use of place in literature that eventually led to social change for the city’s poorest residents.

Kerouac5. Six Gallery – San Francisco, California

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

The reading that sparked the beginning of the Beat movement is memorialized in what many consider Kerouac’s best novel. Based on real events, Ray Smith (Kerouac) hypes the crowd by sharing a jug of wine and shouting “Go! Go!” as Alvah Goldbook (Allen Ginsberg) performs his poem Wail (Howl) for the first time at a small art gallery on Fillmore Street in San Francisco.


6. Central Park Carousel, New York, New York

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Tourists line up to sit on the exact bench where Holden Caulfield watches his sister ride the carousel while fruitlessly trying to grab the golden ring. Her dogged determination and childish innocence gives him joy but reminds him that his childhood is over and he will never have that feeling again.

Photo from Central Park Conservatory

Sherlock7. Reichenbach Falls, Shattenhalb, Switzerland

The Final Problem by Arthur Conan Doyle

Choosing 221B Baker Street would have been the obvious choice but our users are more clever than that. Reichenbach Falls lies on the Via Alpina, a backpacking trail that traverses the Alps, and is the scene of an epic battle between Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty. As you crest the hill and catch a glimpse of the falls you can just imagine the two Victorians in hand-to-hand combat in a driving rainstorm, their silhouettes illuminated by periodic flashes of lightning. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at his best.

Gables8. Prince Edward Island, Canada

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Little girls beg their parents to take them on pilgrimages to the Canadian province so they can see where Anne’s imagination so often got the best of her. While the farm, Avonlea, the schoolhouse and the Lake of Shining Waters are fictional, Lucy based the book on places she knew well while growing up on PEI.

verona9. Verona, Italy

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Most playwrights leave stage setting to the director, but the greatest of them all was a master of creating place as a character. Who can forget the town of Verona in mid-July, hot and the mad blood stirring, the Montagues and Capulets out and about looking for trouble? Immediately, the reader is thrown into a dangerous place, great tragedy just a single misstep away.

10. Bonus: CAD-FACE/The Silo, Outside Atlanta, Georgia

Wool Part One (Silo series Book 1) by Hugh Howey

Given the state of publishing today–and the fact that this post is appearing on IndieReader–it’d be remiss not to mention at least one location from an independently-published novel.

Written by the high-profile and commercially successful indie author, Hugh Howey’s Silo series mainly takes place underground in a post-apocalypse world where humanity clings to survival in the Silo, a subterranean city extending 144 stories beneath the surface. The series jumps through time around the event that triggers man’s demise, but is centered at this secret location outside of Atlanta, Georgia.

So there you have it. PlacingLiterature.com’s Top 10 Literary Places in Western Literature. Discover more literary places from around the world at PlacingLiterature.com.

Andrew Bardin Williams is a co-founder of Placing Literature, a crowdsourced website that maps novels that take place in real locations. Map a scene from your favorite novel or explore the literature of a place at PlacingLiterature.com. Follow us at Facebook.com/PlacingLiterature and twitter.com/PlacingLit.

Unless otherwise stated, photos courtesy of Panaramio.com.

This article originally appeared on IndieReader.com and The Huffington Post.

RJ Julia Author Spotlight: Breena Clarke

Breena ClarkeBreena Clarke is our RJ Julia Author Spotlight for August. Breena just released her third novel, Angels Make Their Hope Here, about a young black woman who escapes slavery via the Underground Railroad and settles in a remote town in New Jersey. A mixed community of whites, blacks and reds, Russell’s Knob is not paradise, but it’s a place where Dossie feels she can lay down roots.

Breena’s first novel, River Cross My Heart, is an Oprah Book Club selection and takes place throughout Georgetown in the District of Columbia. Her second novel, Stand the Storm also takes place in Georgetown.

Russell’s Knob in Angels Make Their Hope Here is not a real town but is based on the highland region of New Jersey near Patterson. Breena and her husband took many drives around the area for location scouting, and Breena is confident that she has captured the essence of the time and place in the novel.

Breena talks about place on the Placing Literature podcast with host Tim Knox of InterviewingAuthors.com. Check out the podcast and Breena’s map as she continues to plot the places in her novels throughout August.

IndieReader Author Spotlight: CJ Lyons

We don’t toss around the term “map nerd” very often around here at Placing Literature headquarters. We reserve it for those who truly love geography and the innovative ways that maps allow you to deliver content. Whether it’s a map of languages spoken across India or a map of Hardee’s in the state of Texas, maps can convey data and information in a way that text, pie graphs and line charts never can. For us, loving maps is cool, and “map nerd” has become a kind of term of endearment around our office.

CJ Lyons, our IndieReader Author Spotlight for July, is a map nerd in every sense of the term. She grew up with maps lining her bedroom walls, marking places she’d been (mostly near her hometown in central Pennsylvania) and places where she wanted to one day visit. So when CJ left a career as a pediatric ER doctor to pursue writing full time she did what she knows best. She opened a map and started telling stories about the places she’d lived.

Now author of 21 novels and a New York Times and USA Today bestseller, CJ is considered the queen of the rust-belt thriller. For our international users, the rust belt runs along the edge of the Appalachian Mountains through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. It’s where much of the U.S. coal deposits are mined and home to a tough as nails type of American. Fittingly, it’s the perfect place to set her popular Lucy Guardino thriller series.

CJ is mapping the places from her novels over the next 30 days, and you can hear the excitement in her voice as she talks to Tim Knox in her Placing Literature podcast. She’s almost giddy talking about maps and the process of mapping her novels, and you get the sense that she would have eventually created Placing Literature if we hadn’t already had the idea.

Check out CJ’s map on PlacingLiterature.com and check back throughout the month to see more places that she has mapped.

IndieReader Author Spotlight: Brian Duncan

Brian Duncan is our IndieReader Author Spotlight for this month, and he’s mapping the places from his novel The Settler. Set in Rhodesia (Now Zimbabwe) and South Africa, the novel follows an Englishman and his American companion who are caught up in old colonial wars. Brian lived in the the region for 12 years and spent much of his free time scouting locations for the story that he always had in his head. Upon resettling in Gettysburg in the U.S., Brian pieced together the story based on his knowledge of the two countries and published his book in 2012. The Settler won an IndieReader Discovery Award in 2013 in the Historical Fiction category.

Tim Knox of Interviewing Authors interviewed Brian for our Placing Literature podcast. Hear Brian talk about his use of place in his writing and get a preview of his new book, coming out later this year.

And don’t forget to check out the places in The Settler on PlacingLiterature.com.

RJ Julia Author Spotlight: Corban Addison

International best-seller Corban Addison is our R.J. Julia’s Author Spotlight for June. Corban is a new breed of socially-conscience author, using fictional stories to highlight human suffering around the world. Corban’s first novel, A Walk Across the Sun spans three continents and two cultures while chronicling an unforgettable journey through the underworld of modern slavery and into the darkest, and most resilient, corners of the human heart. In addition to telling a captivating and heart-wrenching story, the novel sheds light on the underworld of global illegal commerce and provides additional information about how to learn more and get involved.

Corban’s second novel, The Garden of Burning Sand, combines the issues of child sexual assault and the plight of kids with intellectual disabilities in Zambia. The story follows the struggle of a young human rights lawyer and a local police officer as they try to bring justice for a young Zambian girl with Down Syndrome who is the victim of a brutal crime. Thwarted at every turn, they find themselves caught in a great clash between the forces of justice and power.

Corban bases his novels on real events, real people and real places, and he’s excited to share the locations where his books take place. We’ve also launched a Placing Literature podcast of which Corban is the first guest. Tim Knox of InterviewingAuthors.com is our host, and he will be talking to each of our Author Spotlights about their novels and the role of place in their writing. Take a listen to Tim’s conversation with Corban. It’s a fascinating tale of location scouting in the far reaches of the globe.

Explore the places in The Garden of Burning Sand and A Walk Across the Sun on Placing Literature.

Dead Author Society: Mary Shelley

We recently launched a new program on Placing Literature called the Dead Author Society. Each week we’ll posthumously highlight an influential author who has used place in interesting ways in their writing. Last week we highlighted Arthur Conan Doyle.

This week we’re celebrating Mary Shelley. In addition to the places in Frankenstein (Geneva, Orkney Islands), Shelley’s other novels also take place in real locations around Europe. Valperga, an historical fiction novel, took place during a war between two very real Italian city-states, and her post-apocalyptic novel The Last Man occurs throughout the Mediterranean. 

Help us map Mary Shelley’s novels.

Gentrification and Placing Literature

I recently had a spirited email conversation with a well-known and influential book blogger who I am trying to encourage to write about our site. While most people I talk to are excited about the concept of mapping literary scenes, this particular blogger had some doubts. He lives in an urban neighborhood that is becoming gentrified, and he’s concerned that transposition from the fictitious to the real to the digital doesn’t really allow him to understand that place in the real and will only serve to encourage tourists to come to these neighborhoods without truly understanding the people who live and work there.

And that’s a fair point. I lived in San Francisco for 12 years and saw first-hand the tech professionals moving into neighborhoods like the Mission, Potrero Hill and China Basin and displace the native populations through exploding rents, high-priced restaurants and bars and mass transportation issues. The very people who made these neighborhoods unique are now unable to live and do business in the area, changing the local culture of the places. Don’t get me wrong, change is inevitable, but people coming into a neighborhood need to be aware of the culture that exists, be respectful and contribute positively. The tech nerds with their VC funding are not doing that, and it’s pissing people off.

However, as I told the blogger, I fail to see how Placing Literature is part of the problem. Our goal is to get people to appreciate the places around them through literature. Someone coming to San Francisco for a visit may go to the Mission for one of its new, up-and-coming restaurants. They take a cab into the neighborhood, spend their money and leave, failing to understand the people and places that really make the Mission a great place to live and visit. But let’s say that the visitor first goes to Placing Literature, searches for literary places in the Mission and decides to read a novel that takes place in the neighborhood. Then, when they visit, maybe they decide to take the 14 Mission bus instead of a cab because a character in the book rides the bus every day, and they get that great mixture of BO, booze, tacos and marijuana smells that every local knows and loves. Maybe the visitor goes to a hole-in-the-wall taqueria that is the setting for a scene in the book. Maybe they meet someone who invites them to a house party and they meet all sorts of interesting people that give them a much better sense of the neighborhood than if they hadn’t had that connection through literature.

The important thing to realize is that our users aren’t just mapping Union Square, the Ferry Building, Fisherman’s Wharf and Washington Square Park. They are mapping restaurants, bars and cafés owned by locals, turn-of-the-century factory buildings, old schoolhouses—exactly the kind of places that give visitors (and people who live there) the real sense of a neighborhood. And by introducing people to the characters and stories from that place—they get a better appreciation and an incentive to protect and preserve.

Here’s another hypothetical example I’ve cited in media articles and on the radio: Let’s say that a turn of the century school building in the Upper East Side is slated for demolition to make way for some condos. As a neighbor you may support the project because of blight. But let’s say that you find out that the school is the setting for the popular children’s book Harriet the Spy. Suddenly, it’s not just another run-down school building. It has meaning. You may decide to galvanize the neighborhood to save the outer shell of the building and turn it into artist lofts. Or a community center. Or indoor public gardens. Who knows? But the fact remains that tying a place to a popular children’s book suddenly gives it meaning and helps create community.

The key will be to show people how to use our data respectfully. We just partnered with Espais Escrits to map places from Catalan literature, and we’ll be highlighting their project over the next several months. We’re also hope to work with a PhD student who is studying Russian novelists’ use of place and is using Placing Literature as a platform for his research. I plan to make outreach to Black Words, an organization dedicated to preserving and promoting Aboriginal literature in Australia. It would be great if they could use our site to introduce people to their history and struggle through literature.

The fact is, we don’t know how people are going to use our website and our data. We simply want to be a platform to collect location-specific literary information and let the public go wild with various applications—and hopefully, we help enhance the reading experience and encourage people to appreciate and preserve these wonderful literary places that are being mapped.

What’s your take?