Saturday, December 9, 2023 -
Print Edition

What’s in a place?

Has an author’s description of a place ever been so vivid that you’ve planned your vacation around it?

California wine country wasn’t my original choice for a vacation destination this year, but it’s long been on my list. Not because I’m an oenophile. Far from it. But because at some point I read a novel about a family vineyard, and the author’s descriptions of the Russian River Valley left me entranced.

As my original summer plans were falling through, I happened to be watching a series based on a novel I’d read, about which two things — and two things only — remained in my memory: One, Sausalito’s floating houseboat community. Two, Austin’s Congress Bridge bats. Both were almost magical in my memory, as if I couldn’t pinpoint whether they were real or imagined. I found myself googling Sausalito, as the imagery on screen was as enchanting as author Laura Dave’s descriptions (The Last Thing He Told Me, if you’re curious). Lo, a trip to Northern California was in the works.

Here’s what’s really funny. After I arrived in California I remembered that the novel about the family vineyard — it was also by Laura Dave!

Some authors — Dave one of them evidently — have a way of weaving a location into a story in such an evocative way that the place becomes an essential part of the narrative, in some cases so that it almost becomes a character itself.

One of the best “highbrow” examples I can think of are the West Yorkshire moors in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, their dramatic and dangerous topography a metaphor for Heathcliff. (Aside: Getting caught in a storm atop Kinder Scout, a moor in England’s Peak District, was like a dream come true.)
Summer beach reads do this incredibly well, exemplified no better than by the queen of the genre, Elin Hilderbrand, whose novels almost exclusively play on Nantucket. Indeed, she should be on its Chamber of Commerce’s payroll because her books serve not only as guides for the island, but as advertisements. So central is Nantucket that she’s sometimes even cast it as a sort of omniscient narrator.

Every year when I read her newest offering, I dream of visiting Nantucket. Maybe next year.

My second-most recent vacation took me to Deep Valley, a.k.a. Mankato, Minn., the setting of the Betsy-Tacy series. Book-inspired holidays are seemingly becoming my norm.

Shana Goldberg may be reached at [email protected]

Copyright © 2023 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Avatar photo

IJN Assistant Publisher | [email protected]

Leave a Reply