When I came across the review for Evan Hughes’ Literary Brooklyn in the New York Times the other day, I jumped to read it. Despite that this was the first I’d heard of this book, the title alone was enough for me to get interested. While many of the authors discussed in Literary Brooklyn and this article never once have set a story there, their writing lives were still enmeshed in the distinctive borough. Of course, there are the mainstays in literature—both contemporary and historical—that would be entirely different stories if they took place anywhere else.
There’s more to my excitement about this book than pure literary interest in the lives and writings of good authors. Had Literary Brooklyn been written three years ago, I would have cared far less, but because I now call Brooklyn home, the connection to place has obviously been strengthened. I reread A Tree Grows in Brooklyn several months ago for the first time since my teens and marveled at my newfound ability to picture the streets Francie Nolan grew up around (albeit in a very different context and time). While an unfamiliarity with a book’s setting hardly detracts from one’s enjoyment of it, there’s a certain thrill and delight that arises from reading the names of places—specific streets or shops—that before had been common and everyday.
I’m hardly alone in this sentiment. It’s why books about specific states, towns or regions sell far better in those places than they do anywhere else. In the past, I’ve chosen to read books that I wouldn’t normally have been jumping out of my chair to get at simply because they took place near to my hometown, or later, in and around cities I’d lived in. The more localized the better. This connection to the author as well as anyone else who has or will read the book, though it only exists in my mind, heightens immensely my enjoyment of whatever the story may be.
I feel that this is true for everyone and I wonder how much being able to exclaim, “Oh! I know where that is!” affects literary judgment. It certainly helps local promotion for the book itself if the publisher and author can ground it firmly in a specific area. This sentimental attachment to place, no matter how many people can claim it, is a big attractor. I am clearly affected and am interested to know whether you are as well. Are there books you have read that you know you’ve enjoyed more simply because you were able to indentify with place?