Top Ten Tuesday: Vivid Settings

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week we will post a new Top Ten list that one of our bloggers here at The Broke and the Bookish will answer. Everyone is welcome to join.

This week I’m listing my top ten place books – books that had such a realistic setting that I felt like I was there, no matter when or where that setting was.  Whether or not I’d actually want to be there is a whole ‘nother issue.

1) The Arena, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.  Even more so than “The Hunger Games,” “Catching Fire” made me feel like I was struggling through the arena with Katniss.  The arena designed for the Quarter Quell is unique, terrifying, and scarily easy to visualize.

2) Paris, The World at Night and The Foreign Correspondent by Alan Furst. Atmospheric settings are Furst’s specialty, but he writes about Paris with a dark and aching nostalgia that stays with you.

3) New Crobuzon, “Perdido Street Station” by China Mieville.  This grimy mashup of Cairo and Industrial Age-London is built beneath the towering ribs of a giant dead creature.  It’s inhabited by eagle-people, bug-people, cactus-people, people-people, genetically modified people, crime lords, artists, prostitutes, totalitarian soldiers, and scientists.  It’s hot and smelly and sprawling.  How all of this came out of one dude’s head is beyond me.

4) Battle school, “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card.  Assuming you weren’t Ender, and you weren’t responsible for defending Earth from alien invaders, and no one was out to cause you terrible injuries, having organized battles in zero gravity would probably be pretty awesome.

5) Salinas Valley, “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck.  The valley’s varied colors, unpredictable weather, and precarious relationship with water make it a beautiful, timeless, and ever-so-slightly ominous setting.

6) Guernsey, “The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer.  The weatherbeaten, isolated island of Guernsey is made complete by its quirky, fiercely self-reliant inhabitants.

7) Mars, any Ray Bradbury.  Bradbury’s Mars begins as a planet much like Earth, inhabited by humanoids and sentient “fire balloons.”  It ends as a dusty, dead planet sprinkled with beautiful, collapsing cities of glass.

8) Shell Cottage, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by JK Rowling.  “Harry Potter” is full of memorable places, but I was always struck by Shell Cottage’s balance between keeping you cozy and putting you on edge.  The trio arrive there after a tragedy, and while the safety of the cottage was reassuring for a little bit, Rowling made it just uncomfortable enough to know that our heroes will never really be safe until the war is won.

9) Jackson, Mississippi, “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett.  The most impressive part about Jackson in this book is how its different regions complement the characters.  Aibileen lives alone in the run-down “black” neighborhood but tries to make the best of it; Skeeter lives with her wealthy family on what’s essentially still a plantation, but feels guilty about it and trapped by her family’s lifestyle; and Minny works for Celia in the ornate old mansion they both feel uncomfortable in.

10) Wherever they are in “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy.  The unnamed father and son walk through the desolate, ashy remants of the US, trying to get to the coast.  You don’t know what happened to the world – you only know that nearly everyone is dead, and the world is a horrible empty colorless cold place.  You want out, and yet you can’t stop reading.

What memorable settings stand out in your reading experience?

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14 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Vivid Settings

    • Thanks! After seeing what they did with the first movie I’m very curious (and terrified) to see how they interpret that arena for the second.

  1. Oh, nice picks! I loved Guernsey, Ender’s Game, and The Help… and you’re right, they all have quite vivid settings.

    • Thanks! I kinda had to think about “The Help,” but I realized that’s what made it so effective – it’s so real you don’t even have to think about it.

    • I haven’t read “The Road” for a few years, but I think I need a couple more to recover from how bleak it was. Yeesh. And yeah, all the horrible little tricks that got thrown into the Quell arena, and the creepy monkeys…yeesh again.

      (Apparently Philip Seymour Hoffman is playing the new Gamemaker in “Catching Fire,” and frankly, if he couldn’t play President Snow, he’s perfect for a Gamemaker. Dude is creepy.)

    • I think I know which Bradbury story you’re referring to – the one where it rains constantly and the whole world is just gray and dissolving from it? That one gives me the shivers every time.

  2. Haha, since I’m already thinking about this from the Favorite Places post…I’ve read a lot of vividly-set books recently, including Black Like Me (I’ve never been to the American South, but he paints it so vividly!) and Desperate Passage (about the Donner Party)–they’re both written so clearly, and maybe the fact that they’re both nonfiction gives them some extra oomph. Both of them give me the shivers, though.

    • Nonfiction settings seem like they’d give an extra dose of shivers, too, since you know they’re real. I felt a bit of that with the otherwise-not-so-great “The Red Scarf” by Kate Furnivall – her descriptions of the Soviet labor camp are even harder to read, knowing that they were real places where real people suffered.

  3. The Royal Library of Raine in Patricia McKillip’s “Alphabet of Thorn” — I was cold the entire time I read it, cold and damp, and I was pulled so far in it was almost under.

    Also, Seven Bay Island in Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Ring of Endless Light.”

    I love good placemaking, and I’ve got some new reading from your list.

    • “Alphabet of Thorn” sounds neat! I’m sad to say I never read “Ring of Endless Light,” and I think I missed out. :-/

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