Books and Places – Part 1

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Have you ever found yourself seeking out a place/restaurant/monument/park mentioned in a book you have loved? Has a place ever inspired you to read a book? This has happened not infrequently to me – aided, of course, but my delight in travel and discovering new places.

When I moved into the old town on arriving in Nice in September of 1999 and opened my windows wide from my first floor apartment, overlooking the central square, amongst the Babel of noise beneath me, two language groups dominated – the inevitable French-speakers and a vast and LOUD array of Italians. I was soon to make friends with an Italian polyglot, and my decision to add an extra language to my bow was cemented.

A couple of summers later I decided to take it to another level and signed up for a two week language course in Ostia Antica, the old Roman port. I had a blast (learnt a little Italian), ate a lot of pasta and gelato and visited as many historical sites as I could, including the very extensive ruins of Ostia. These archaeological remains are wonderfully preserved, easily rivalling Pompeii or Herculaneum. That was August.

In September I started my annual book list as school librarian and began browsing through various reviews, stumbling over a title that would have left me indifferent just a couple of months earlier. “The Thieves of Ostia” is the first in a long series of historical novels by Caroline Lawrence. It is set in Ostia Antica, the harbour of Ancient Rome in the last month of the reign of the Emperor Vespasian.  Flavia Gemina, a Roman sea-captain’s daughter, solves her first mystery, the disappearance of her father’s signet ring. She makes friends with her new neighbor, Jonathan and his Jewish family, and buys the African girl, Nubia, at the slave market (and promptly sets her free). This little group also manages to solve the mystery of the tragic slaying of Jonathan’s dog, encountering a mute beggar boy called Lupus. Each of these 4 characters, typical of the melting pot of the Roman era, is strongly developed and they, as well as the intriguing plot and historical depth, sold me quickly on the series, the Roman Mysteries. I appreciate that the author does not shy away from describing some of the horrors of the Roman period. Later books take the foursome to other famous Mediterranean locations of the day, like Ephesus,  Delphi or Rhodes. The four protagonists portray Roman civilzation from four very different cultural perspectives and facts are absorbed effortlessly as they are woven into the fabulous fictitious tale.

I so enjoyed the first story, that the following year I invited the Caroline Lawrence to do a presentation at our annual Book Week. I caught her at the beginning of her fame and I think now you probably need to make requests years in advance! You will see from her website that Caroline has a great rapport with her young fans and takes them very seriously.  Her website is also a formidable example for children’s book authors. She was a resounding hit with our primary school students, turning each hour she had back just under 2000 years and enticing us into a Roman mystery. Since this first book in 2001, Caroline has written 16 more in the series, which has also been adapted into a TV series by the BBC (haven’t seen this yet). Take some time to read what some of her fans have written on her website to see the extraordinary success this author has had. To think if I hadn’t made this summer trip I might have missed this wonderful opportunity to introduce a series to our library, which continues to inspire our middle graders. 






So, tell me, have you visited anywhere that has provoked you to read a certain book?

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9 Responses to Books and Places – Part 1

  1. The way you worded the question at the end of your post is certainly making me think! I have certainly visited places because of what I’ve read in books, making a “pilgrimage” to as many “Anne of Green Gables” sites as possible on my first visit to Prince Edward Island, for example. And I will be doing some of the same sort of “pilgrimage” during part of this summer. But has a place I’ve visited prompted me to read a book? I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

    You certainly write about books in a way that makes a person want to drop whatever they’re doing, find that book, and start to read! And I’m continually amazed, delighted, impressed, by the contacts you have made with writers over the years. What a fantastic opportunity both for you, and for the children in your school!

    • Joanna says:

      Thank you very much, Beth. In digging around for creative ideas for posts, I have realized how rich my years as librarian were. While I love being a guidance counsellor and this contact with the older students, I truly miss the possibilities and rewards that library work offers.

      I agree that most of my inspiration follows the order of read the book, visit the place.

  2. Patricia Tilton says:

    Read your post and I had to think about your question for a while. I enjoyed your post about the Caroline Lawrence’s Roman Mysteries — have never heard of them before! Looked up her website and the kids certainly love her work. I like that she responds to each message. I thoroughly enjoyed the information about the wonderful ancient cities you visited.

    I believe in high school reading Maria Von Trapp’s story about her life always made me want to visit the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, VT. I had read about Mary Martin’s visit there and had seen Maria on the Phil Donohue Show in the 60s. At that time it really was a music camp. But, it took me until 2001 to visit the lodge with my husband. We had a good time, and were there for outdoor concerts at night, met Maria, Agatha and the son. But, it had become so commercialized by then. I can understand why they chose Vermont, because of the beautiful mountains. We enjoyed ourselves in the luxurious lodge for five days.

    Always, wanted to visit Prince Edward Island, because of Anne, but have not done that. Read the City of Joy, about India. Because of Mother Teresa, and the International Mission of Hope, who helped us adopt our son from Pondicherry, I’ve always wanted to visit.

    • Joanna says:

      Pat, I read the Von Trapp Family Singers as a teen, but I think it brought the film to life for me even more (despite the poetic license taken). Thus I did the Sound of Music Tour in 1990. The Trapp family lodge would have been great to visit in the early days.

      I hope you manage to get to Calcutta and Pondicherry one of these. My experiences in Calcutta were haunting.

  3. Diane says:

    Gosh I have visited Salzburg 4 times since 1987 and have done the SOM Tour many years after seeing the movie. I bought and read the “Forever Liesl” Memoir of the Sound of Music by Charmain Carr, does that count?
    Otherwise I do go for biographys if I happen across one that moves me when I have visited a place, such as the one mentioned on my blog.

    • Joanna says:

      When I was a kid and my parents took me to visit many European nations, not just France, I would try and a) read up on non -fiction about the nation and then b) take a couple of books set in the country too. Maybe I shall do a part 3 about this 🙂

  4. Diane says:

    Cool, look forward to it.
    Often we would read up about where we were going before the start of our travels, but if I picked up a book when back home I would learn of some new, wonderful side trips,or cultural festivals that we could have gone to, so of course I want to return to the same place again.

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