Does Knowing A Place Featured In A Book Affect Your Reading Experience?

15 October 2014

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I want to stick on the theme of travel my discussion post this week. This is in fact a discussion post I thought of whilst I was on holiday in New Orleans, I was on a river boat, one of those with the paddle thing, and I just randomly started thinking about how New Orleans was very different to what I expected in many ways. I’ve read books where the city features, I’ve seen TV shows and films with it in, but nothing really prepares you for actually visiting a place.

I’m not a great traveller, I’ve not really been all that any places. I know people will think that because I live in England I will be able to relate to all those books set in London, but I am not a fan of London as a place (probably because I’m British and didn’t grow up there, that place definitely appeals to foreigners and those who who are originally from there) and so avoid it at all costs, so I actually don’t know the city at all. When I read books most places are completely unfamiliar to me and so I can fully take the author at their word about what a place is like. It’s great when you can do that, immerse yourself in the authors descriptions and accept them at face value.

Does knowing a place or setting affect your experience of a book though? I mean, is a welcoming, like seeing a place you know so well give you the warm and fuzzies, or does it make you critical as you expect the author to get it right?

As I said, I’m not a great traveller and I don’t usually see a place feature in a book that I’ve been to before because, surprisingly, there aren’t that many books which I read that are set in the West Midlands. I only get the experience of going to places after reading about them in books. So, I’m always visiting places with certain expectations of them, having read about them and felt like I’ve visited them already.

I think that’s sort of what happened with my experience in New Orleans, it wasn’t disappointing, it was awesome, but I had this whole romantic image of the place. I imagined lots of cool and quirky shops and bars and of small side streets and historical buildings and amazing architecture and what I witnessed was tourism. There were people from all over, there were bars appealing to people wanting cheap drinks and a good time. Everywhere you went you saw people trying to show you the classic New Orleans experience, but the one everyone hears about of Mardi Gras and that, and it wasn’t what I expected.

I think when you read about a place in books you are getting the locals experience, and also there is such a thing as creative license. You get a romantic view so whatever you see cannot fully match your expectations. I loved my time in New Orleans, but from everything I’d seen and read about the place, it was surprising how different my time was there than what I expected. I think that’s what I’m getting at, have you ever read about a place and felt like you knew it, and then visited and had it be completely different to your expectations?

Tell me about your experiences of books and places you know featuring in them, I’d love to hear your thoughts because this post is essentially my rambles, my unfiltered thoughts really.
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