The world of books is never boring. Every week (well, most weeks) I’ll discuss a different topic related to books, often inspired by or in response to what’s going on in the online book community (or something I’ve seen another blogger talk about). I call this Book Thoughts on Thursday. Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, or even write your own post on the topic and share the link with me!
One of the most wonderful things about reading is how it transports you to another time or another place. I’m a particular fan of the kind that take you somewhere you’ve never been, but make you feel like you can smell the air, feel the sun on your skin or the sand beneath your feet. I love imagining a place so different from those I’m familiar with and yet feeling like I have a sense for what it’s like.
Of course, this is even better when I eventually get to visit a place I’ve only read about and imagined visiting so that I might compare my imaginary version with reality. Like my most recent experience of reading Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City before visiting San Francisco.
And then there are the many places I’ve already visited and love reading new books set in the familiar locales (London is always a favourite of mine) and the many places I read about but have yet to visit. Literary tourism is some of the best reading out there, in my opinion.
I’ve been thinking about this lately because, as you know, I’m currently in New Orleans for the first time! I’m writing this before leaving, so I can’t tell you (yet) if my expectations match up with reality. But I have traveled to places I’ve read about in the past, and while they’re rarely exactly as I imagined, knowing something about the lives of people who live there, the culture, and the history has always made my visit a more rich one.
In anticipation of my visit I’ve not only been reading books about or set in Louisiana, but watching TV shows (most recently NCIS New Orleans and the New Orleans episode of the Foo Fighters’ show Sonic Highways) that happen to be set in or near the city. I still have no idea if the New Orleans of my imagination will match up with reality, but it has certainly heightened my excitement for my trip!
However, despite my own enjoyment of reading about places I plan to visit, I know there’s debate on this point. For some, reading about a place before visiting ruins it in some way, creating expectations that may ruin the experience of going there. Depending on the mental image, the actual place might either be a let down, or just be so different as to feel disconnected.
So I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Do you like reading about a place before you visit it? Or do you prefer to discover it with fresh eyes? Are there any trips that stand out in your memory as juxtapositions (favourable or otherwise) with your reading?