Take me on a tour of words, to places you remember
November 14, 2014 11:43 AM   Subscribe

Someone recently told me that Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses and Tony Hillerman's Navajo Tribal Police mystery novels evoked a significantly New Mexico/Southwestern feeling to the point that these books helped them stave off homesickness when they were living elsewhere. What other novels and authors capture and portray a sense of place that makes you feel like you're back in a place that you remember? I know some authors are known for writing about certain settings, but which works really capture the place as felt by someone who lives or lived there?
posted by filthy light thief to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Going After Cacciato takes me back to a small private east-coast college. The Adventures of Beetlekin the Brave takes me back to suburban DC in the 1970s.

Those are not where either title was set. But for me, they're evocative. Not sure I'm doing this right.
posted by headnsouth at 11:50 AM on November 14, 2014

Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer felt very true to form in it's descriptions of the Puget Sound area. Plus it's just a wonderful book in general.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:55 AM on November 14, 2014

It's poetry rather than fiction, but A.E. Housman's Shropshire Lad is just so apt in evoking foggy autumn sundays in Ludlow and the Shropshire Hills.
posted by Middlemarch at 12:00 PM on November 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Those are not where either title was set. But for me, they're evocative. Not sure I'm doing this right.

For me, I'm interested to hear about anything that feels true to you, even if it doesn't match the intended location for the story. I'm sure I can find lists of books about places, but I'd like to find stories and novels that really evoke a sense of a place, and even a time, too, because places can change into something else over time.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:00 PM on November 14, 2014

Roddy Doyle for Dublin.
posted by Diablevert at 12:02 PM on November 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer.
posted by metasarah at 12:03 PM on November 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

She doesn't write novels, but the non-fiction and essays of Terry Tempest Williams (start with Refuge) are so firmly and beautifully grounded in Utah and the desert Southwest that I can almost smell it when I crack the books.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:09 PM on November 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Monster of Florence, by Douglas Preston, is a fascinating non-fiction book about a serial killer. Writing it resulted in banishment for Preston, and got the detective who aided him in researching the book arrested, it's a compelling read as well as really giving a feel for Florence (and Italian justice).

Pretty much anything by Carl Hiaasen will evoke Florida for natives like me --or at least the cynic in me. He's a former Miami Herald journalist and covered some pretty weird and awful stuff, a lot of which makes it into his novels, and does a good job describing Florida from an insider POV.
posted by misha at 12:19 PM on November 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I read David Egger's Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius after four months in France and it was like a blast of Bay Area hitting me in the face. His descriptions were such that I was guessing actual streets he might mean. I'm not sure it's an objectively great book, but it felt like home at a time when I needed it.
posted by chatongriffes at 12:20 PM on November 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Carl Sandberg's poems about Chicago are very evocative of the working class/immigrant parts of NYC.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:49 PM on November 14, 2014

I was born and brought up in coastal Western Australia. Anything by WA-born author Tim Winton can take me there in a minute, no matter where I am in the world. He has said himself that 'place comes first' when he's writing a novel; that he has to first establish a strong sense of place and then the characters and action follow.
Try 'Breath' and 'Dirt Music' particularly.

Robert Drewe's 'The Shark Net' is set in Perth in the 1950s. I recognise suburbs and streets on every page, and can almost smell suburban Perth in summer when I read it.

Orhan Pamuk's 'Istanbul'. Incredibly evocative (and beautiful). It made me long to go back to Istanbul (a city I've only ever visited twice).
posted by Salamander at 1:01 PM on November 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Dead Boys: Stories by Richard Lange is Los Angeles.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:04 PM on November 14, 2014

I was born and raised in NE Pennsyvlania. The book Whispers From The Ashes by Patricia Hester does this for me. I know the streets and areas she speaks of. I know the history of the place. Home.

Also, Duma Key by Stephen King really talks about Casey Key, FL (where he lives/winters). My family used to winter there. He mentions places like the Casey Key Fishhouse (a family favorite) and quite a bit of Casey Key culture, landscape, scenery, local places that always helps me feel less homesick for the place.
posted by Sassyfras at 1:57 PM on November 14, 2014

Alamo House by Sarah Bird completely nails the student experience at UT Austin, at least in the 80s-90s. Sadly, a lot of those West Campus co-ops have been bulldozed for sky-rise condos.
posted by donajo at 2:25 PM on November 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am sorry to say that the dynamics in The Romantics, by Galt Niederhoffer, remind me very strongly of the atmosphere of reunions among kids who went to New England boarding schools. (This is not to say I recommend the novel, mind you. It's got problems. But it rings a lot truer than Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld.)
posted by artemisia at 2:27 PM on November 14, 2014

Praise and 1988 by Andrew McGahan for that authentic Brisbane/Queensland feel. Just in time for the G20! Yay!
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:33 PM on November 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Paul Auster's The Brooklyn Follies does what it says on the tin, while also capturing a certain frame of mind perfectly as well. Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore also perfectly captures its settings in various cities. Oh, and Douglas Coupland's Generation X absolutely captures its sun-beaten surroundings in Southern California.
posted by limeonaire at 4:00 PM on November 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat books nail it for LA in the late 70s/early 80s
posted by brujita at 4:07 PM on November 14, 2014

A narrow but very accurate slice of early 80s L.A.: Less Than Zero.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:21 PM on November 14, 2014

Archer Mayor has written a whole series of cop procedurals about Vermont. He lives in Vermont. I live in Vermont and the books seem very Vermont-y to me. That is, they're not just set in Vermont but they are in recognizable places and the people in those places are familiar and the ways they interact make sense. There is a lot of "Vermont culture" stuff going on up here and the book manages to get a sense of that as well as just good descriptions of places that you're familiar with. He's written a whole series of them. I feel the same way about Howard Frank Mosher's books, particularly A Stranger in the Kingdom and On Kingdom Mountain which are about the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont which is its own little place within the bigger place.
posted by jessamyn at 4:25 PM on November 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Robert Parker and Dennis Lehane for Boston. Laurie Lee for the Cotswolds.
posted by rtha at 4:59 PM on November 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Working class life in Northern England, the weather, the light, the back-to-back housing, the smells, the countryside, the coal, community mores etc: Sons & Lovers.
posted by glasseyes at 5:13 PM on November 14, 2014

John McDonald's Travis McGee books always made me a little nostalgic for a Florida that was gone long before I got there.
posted by Bron at 6:30 PM on November 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Flannery O'Connor captures a time & place in GA like no other.
For another time & place in GA, Tom Wolfe nails it in A Man in Full.
Wolfe: Bonfire of the Vanities gets NYC in the 80s.
posted by LonnieK at 6:59 PM on November 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ivan Doig for Montana, especially Ride With Me, Mariah Montana-absolutely evocative of my childhood there. Norman Maclean-River Runs Through It and Young Men and Fire-captured Montana beautifully as well.
posted by purenitrous at 8:06 PM on November 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Storming Heaven by Denise Giardina evoked the reality of my home state of WV as no other novel has for me.
posted by macinchik at 12:50 AM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Smilla's Sense of Snow has descriptions of Copenhagen that are in my view the main reason for reading that book. The accuracy of those descriptions leeds one to believe the more esoteric images later in the book. I don't really like Peter H√łeg's other books.
posted by mumimor at 7:59 AM on November 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ross Macdonald and Jonathan Kellerman are pretty good on LA. Ditto JDMc on Florida.
Also ditto Hillerman.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 10:26 AM on November 15, 2014

John Burdett's Bangkok thrillers take me straight back to Krungthep.
posted by cyndigo at 6:54 PM on November 16, 2014

Denis Johnson's Already Dead got my little part of Northern California better then anything else I have ever read.
posted by St. Sorryass at 7:25 PM on November 16, 2014

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