How do you picture it?

Think of the last book that you read?  What was the setting of that book?  Had you been there before? Wait, let me explain. I will be reading a book, any book, and within 1-2 pages I will have already formed an image of where the action is taking place.  Not just any image, and I am sure the writers would not want to hear me say this, but I picture each and every book I read, no matter the description of the surroundings in the same 5-6 different locations. Most of these locations are from my memories of places I knew well from ages 6-9.  Perhaps this has something to do with this being the period in my life when I was first doing reading on my own. All I know is that the most carefully described settings in the world cannot seem to supplant these grooves, these imprints in my mind that every book I read settles into.

I'll start with my favourite book of all time, which I read for the first time about 13 years ago, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.  The book takes place in India, and I was in India when I read it, but for some crazy reason, every time I think about that book I picture my piano teacher's house in Nova Scotia. (If you haven't read it yet, do so as soon as possible, it is great).

There are some books in my life that I have read and re-read several times over.  I know them so well now and they bring me comfort.  In my mind, Ramona Quimby was set in my neighbour's house and Busybody Nora takes place in another childhood friend's home.  The Shopaholic series?  A British book about shopping and travelling to NY and various exotic locales?  The library in my hometown.  A library?  How can you set a romantic comedy about shopping in a library, it makes no sense, but my brain pictures it all taking place in that building.  The novelist Carole Matthews (another British writer) writes books that I consistently place in my Aunt's house.

I have also pictured countless books in my great Aunt's apartment, my Grandmother's farm house and a small number of childhood friend's homes.  Now, that I think about it, it makes me realize that I must be reading the author's description of the setting and unconsciously forcing it to submit to the conforms of these childhood haunts.  Is this the reason I read, to return to those places? Or is it just inevitable that I'll never be able to picture a whole new setting without seeing it with my own eyes?  Even Room, the book I was talking about in my post last week Room enough, does not escape this treatment.  I was picturing the pharmacy where my mom used to work the whole time (without the drugs and greeting cards and stuff).  The light was the same, the bones of the Room were the same.

Of course, authors give a lot of thought and take a lot of care choosing how they describe the setting of their novels.  Do you start fresh with a whole new picture with each book you read or is there a setting just waiting for the story to fill with characters and scenarios? Tell me, where did you picture the last book you read?


  1. thats really such a lovely habit to have formed... you will have memories captured in such detail of all those narrative twists and turns and the true hallways of your childhood as well... very lovely.


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