I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy because I love it when books take me to new worlds or imagine new realities, but there is something to be said for writing that connects you to the places you already know. There are few things I enjoy more as a reader than when I pick up a book and discover that the action is set in a city I’ve been to in real life, or better yet, the city where I live. Unfortunately, I currently live in New York City, where no books have been drafted. †
I’m JK of course; about 75% of modern literary novels take place in Brooklyn or Manhattan; finding a book set in my town is as easy as closing my eyes and randomly picking a title from the buy-one-get-one-half-off table at Barnes & Noble. But what about those of you who are not blessed to live on this island of loose waste? How do you find a book set in your corner of this United States?
Enter Books around America, an interactive tool created by Crossword-Solver.com that lets you enter your zip code or city to search for books that are happening (more or less) near you. I tried it out by searching for books in my current South Brooklyn neighborhood, and the results were pretty accurate:
Of those top three results, I’ve read one, and I can confirm that much of the action from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay unfolds in the identified Flatbush neighborhood. And while the location for Jenny Offill’s Department of Speculation (which I haven’t read) is more generally “Brooklyn City” (no one calls it that), I’ve read the author’s next novel, Weather, and was able to identify an elementary school she describes in it – a school that was a block from where I once lived.
But how does the site fare with books that don’t take place in the most popular literary setting† I searched a few of my former zip codes and the results were decent, if a little less exact. For example, when I was in college I lived in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, and the best match for that zip code was something else I read – Adam Langer’s utterly delightful crossing California, a novel so site specific that the first pages contain a map of the streets I used to walk every day. More distant searches also yielded reasonable matches – I entered the zip code of my hometown (in a semi-rural area of Illinois) and got suggestions for novels in the nearest larger city, about 20 minutes away.
As with any tool like this, the results will only be as good as the data they generate. The site notes that everything comes from Goodreads’ book-centric databases, and not every book ever written has been cataloged so thoroughly on that site — but if you’re looking for a novel that gives you a taste of home, is it a start.