Authors Who Do and Don’t Set Their Fiction in One Place

A writer’s imagination can travel the world or stay mostly in a specific locale. And readers like both approaches.

Some authors are known for situating many of their novels and stories in one town, city, region, or state. Charles Dickens: London. James Joyce: Dublin. L.M. Montgomery: Prince Edward Island. Stephen King: Maine. Nathaniel Hawthorne: Massachusetts. Edith Wharton: New York City. Anne Tyler: Baltimore. Anne Rice: New Orleans. William Faulkner: Mississippi (the fictional Yoknapatawpha County inspired by the real Lafayette County). Of course, those and other locale-centric authors occasionally vary their settings — as did Dickens with his mid-book sending of Martin Chuzzlewit to America, Hawthorne when he put The Marble Faun in Italy, and Wharton when she focused on Massachusetts resident Ethan Frome.

There are also writers who set many of their novels in either of two places, as Fannie Flagg does with small towns in Missouri and Alabama (where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — born on this date, January 15, in 1929 — first became widely known during the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott).

Other authors bounce around to lots of locales in their fiction. A prime example is James Michener, who wrote novels titled Alaska, Caribbean, Hawaii, Mexico, Poland, Texas, etc. Henry James set much of his fiction in the U.S., England, France, or Italy. Terry McMillan has placed her novels in places such as Michigan, Phoenix, Jamaica, and San Francisco. And, in different books, Lee Child’s roaming Jack Reacher character visits Georgia, Texas, New York City, Colorado, South Dakota, Nebraska, Virginia, France, and elsewhere.

The toggling can be in one novel, too, as when Donna Tartt places The Goldfinch protagonist Theo Decker in New York City, Las Vegas, and Amsterdam — even as her previous book, The Little Friend, stays in Mississippi.

Some advantages of different settings? Many readers relish “seeing” new places, and authors might be refreshed and invigorated not to be in a geographical “rut.” Heck, the plot, prose, and characters can end up being less predictable because of the new locales. And readers can be nicely surprised — I know I was when Wilkie Collins yanked A Rogue’s Life protagonist Frank Softly out of England and put him on a ship to Australia.

Among the advantages of using the same place in multiple books? Authors know the terrain well and thus their fiction can seem more authentic. Also, they’re able to spend more time on plot, prose, and characters instead of countless hours researching and visiting new locales. Meanwhile, the better writers who focus on one place are obviously “traveling” in other ways — through the realm of human emotions.

Of course, the further back in time authors lived, the harder it was for them to get to other places and to do research. From what I’ve heard, there were few computers or jumbo jets available to Jane Austen…

Who are your favorite past and present authors who have repeatedly used one locale, or who have used different locales in different works? Any other thoughts on this topic?

(There are no California references in this blog post because I recently wrote a piece about literature set in that state.)

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My new book Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia will be published soon.

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113 thoughts on “Authors Who Do and Don’t Set Their Fiction in One Place

  1. I also thought of authors such as Michael Dibdin who chose on place, Italy, and varied the tone of the novel according to the region, such as _Ratking_ in Umbria, _Dead_Lagoon_ in Venice, _Back_In_Bologna_ in Emilia-Romana. Each of these uses a feeling for a specific location to inform the mood of the book.

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    • Thank you for the comment, Dennis! I hadn’t been familiar with Michael Dibdin, but, from reading your comment and checking him out on Wikipedia, that’s a fascinating approach to writing novels in a variety of ways.

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  2. Hi Dave, I know I did not contribute anything this week, it was a tough week for family plus DT whom Jane Fonda appropriately calls Predator in Chief.

    Jack Reacher of Lee Child as you already have mentioned, is a nomad with no possession without any particular destination, travels in different States by hitchhiking with a toothbrush and recuse anyone who happens to be in trouble and moves on cutting that attachment cord.

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    • No problem, bebe! It was indeed a VERY tough week for the country. And sorry you had a tough family week, too.

      Predator-in-Chief is one of the best Trump nicknames.

      Yes, Lee Child might be the ultimate example of an author who puts his protagonist (and the protagonist’s toothbrush!) in a different place every book (though Reacher has revisited a few places here and there). I wonder if there’s any series character quite as well-traveled — except for sci-fi characters who leave Earth. 🙂

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  3. What a day Dave!

    I feel shellshocked. More than one location… does Jonas and the whale count? The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy?

    Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, to me fits the bill for the single/multiple location because come on it’s Europe 🙂 I think the story would have been different if written today because we have blue pills.

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    • I hear you, Jack. Having Trump now actually president shell-shocks any right-thinking person (but not any far-right-thinking person). The massive Women’s March on Washington and today’s other protests elsewhere are more positive to think about.

      Funny lines by you about Jonah and the whale, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” and “The Sun Also Rises”! If that blue pill had existed back then, Hemingway wouldn’t have had to write “A Farewell to Pharmaceuticals”…

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    • ” I think the story would have been different if written today because we have blue pills.”

      As I recall the problem, it wasn’t so much that Jake couldn’t with the equipment he had, but rather, he no longer had the equipment.

      Of course, this is not explicitly stated anywhere in the novel, but there is a bit early on in which a colonel states that Jake “[has] given more than his life” in battle, which seems like mutilation/disfigurement had occurred, because mere impotence would have left no mark, and no one who was not intimate with the man could know of his condition– had that been his condition.

      On the other hand, I know you were making a joke, and a pretty good one!

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  4. Howdy, Dave!

    — Who are your favorite past and present authors who have repeatedly used one locale, or who have used different locales in different works? —

    Ian Fleming is one of my favorite authors who has done both, with his most famous character, James Bond, also known as British Secret Intelligence Service Agent 007, bouncing between the U.K. and a host of comparatively exotic locations, such as France in “Casino Royale,” the Caribbean region in “Doctor No,” Turkey in “From Russia, With Love,” the Caribbean region (again) in “The Man With the Golden Gun,” the U.S. in “The Spy Who Loved Me” and the Bahamas in “Thunderball,” as well as Jamaica in “For Your Eyes Only,” the Bahamas (again) in “Quantum of Solace,” Italy in “Risico” and Seychelles in “The Hildebrand Rarity.”

    With the air temperature around 5 degrees Celsius here in The Town So Nice They Named It Twice this cold morning, I happily join the author — and the character — in being counted among the some who like it hot. Alistair MacLean, you can keep your “Ice Station Zebra”! And Kim Stanley Robinson, you can do likewise with your “Antarctica”! (It is no coincidence I have not read either of those two books while I have read all of the above-referenced novels and short stories written by Fleming, who had the foresight to place them in sensible settings.)

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

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    • James Bond did get around, J.J.! Great mention! Agents rarely stay in one locale…

      Ha! Yes, warm settings can be appealing to read about in the dead of winter. Or sometimes not so appealing. Examples of both? Let’s see…”Prodigal Summer” (Barbara Kingsolver), “As I Lay Dying” (William Faulkner), “Desert” (J.M.G Le Clézio), “The Sheltering Sky” (Paul Bowles), “The Mosquito Coast” (Paul Theroux), and “Typee” (Herman Melville), among others.

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      • — Yes, warm settings can be appealing to read about in the dead of winter. [ . . . ] —

        . . . Especially when each successive one sets a new awful standard as “The Winter of Our Discontent,” a phenomenon John Steinbeck appeared to sidestep by setting many of his pieces in the central section of the state that dare not speak its name, at least this week.

        (Meanwhile, I would argue it gets pretty chilly at certain times in the desert under the likes of “The Sheltering Sky” of Paul Bowles.)

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          • That Gloucester speech from which the phrase derives seems to contain a few lines about the triumphal Trumpista March in Washington tomorrow:

            “Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
            Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
            Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
            Our dreadful marches to delightful measures…”

            We’ll know after a while whether or not if it’s better for the rest of us when they’re merry. At least the merriment, while it lasts, might preclude more dreadful marches.

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    • I happened on a copy of Thrilling Cities some years ago, leafed through it, and gave it away to an enthusiast of all things Fleming. It’s a compilation of the travels he undertook for the London Times, plus a bit added and some things that had been in the paper edited out.
      from wikikpedia:

      “In 1959 the features editor of the The Sunday Times, Leonard Russell, suggested to Ian Fleming that he take a five-week, all-expenses-paid trip around the world for a series of features for the paper, pointing out that Fleming could also get some material for the Bond books in the process.Fleming took £500 (£9,442 in 2017 pounds of travellers cheques for expenses and flew BOAC to his first stop, Hong Kong. He was guided around the city by his friend Richard Hughes, the Australian correspondent for The Sunday Times;Hughes was later the model for the character Dikko Henderson in You Only Live Twice, as well as for “Old Craw” in John le Carré’s The Honourable Schoolboy.[6] Fleming stayed just three days in Hong Kong, before he and Hughes flew to Tokyo where they were joined by Torao Saito—also known as “Tiger”—a journalist with the Asahi Shimbun newspaper group. Saito later became the model for the character Tiger Tanaka in You Only Live Twice.”

      So even though Thrilling Cities is a travel book, it is by definition full of Bond settings, a couple of his guides being, as noted in the quote above, also inspirations for characters in later Bond books.

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      • Howdy, jhNY!

        — I happened on a copy of Thrilling Cities some years ago, leafed through it, and gave it away to an enthusiast of all things Fleming. It’s a compilation of the travels he undertook for the London Times —

        I am completely unfamiliar with “Thrilling Cities” and mostly unfamiliar with thrilling cities other than our own. But you remind me that I generally like travelogues less in the media of books, magazines and newspapers and more in the media of films, television shows and even music videos:

        J.J.

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        • “I am completely unfamiliar with “Thrilling Cities” and mostly unfamiliar with thrilling cities other than our own.”

          I am similarly experienced, except as a person passing through other places, interested in the sights around me, more interested in getting home.

          For an even more militantly mono-metropolitan stance than ours, I like Samuel Johnson’s:

          “Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

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          • — I am similarly experienced, except as a person passing through other places, interested in the sights around me, more interested in getting home. —

            And yet I booked this very day a two-week expedition to the wilds of Chiberia next month. Go figure.

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            • It’ll probably be a balmy 50 when you’re there rubbing shoulders with those whose are large. Up is down and vice versa now.

              Hope you have a swell time and The Hawk stays in his nest.

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                • Did you ever see Rizzuto’s extemporaneous musings on air scanned into poetry? I think somebody made a little book, maybe in the 1990’s, and from what I remember, some of it worked pretty well!

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                  • — Did you ever see Rizzuto’s extemporaneous musings on air scanned into poetry? —

                    Nope, but I heard plenty of his spontaneous bop prosody, as well as his classic contribution to Meat Loaf’s original version of Jim Steinman’s “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.”

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                    • I also never saw that interesting poetic version of Rizzuto, jhNY, but — as you mentioned, J.J. — I well remember Phil’s contribution to that Meat Loaf song. I also vaguely recall that Rizzuto claimed he wasn’t totally aware that the song he was contributing to would be that “risqué” (risqué at least for mainstream pop music).

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                  • Field of Butterflies

                    Absolutely!
                    If you don’t get a little,
                    A few butterflies,
                    No matter what you do,
                    On the first day of anything,
                    You’re not human

                    April 21, 1991
                    New York at Kansas City
                    Storm Davis pitching to Steve Sax
                    First inning, no outs, bases empty
                    (First batter, opening day)
                    No score

                    My Secret

                    When I’m driving
                    To Yankee Stadium and back,
                    I do it so often.

                    I don’t remember passing lights.
                    I don’t remember paying tolls
                    Coming over the bridge.

                    Going back over the bridge,
                    I remember…

                    August 19, 1992
                    Oakland at New York
                    Mike Moore pitching to Mel Hall
                    Fifth inning, one out, bases empty
                    Yankees lead 4-1

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              • — It’ll probably be a balmy 50 when you’re there rubbing shoulders with those whose are large. Up is down and vice versa now. —

                You called it — plus 10 degrees or so: The current forecast calls for air temps in the 60s next weekend. Yet another sign of the apocalypse?

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                • “Yet another sign of the apocalypse?” If nowadaze was a road, you’d see ’em popping up like the Burma Shave signs of yesteryear, which to employ a callback, were occasionally poetic in that they often rhymed, but lacked the unknowing sublimity of the Bard Rizzuto.

                  Take in a beach day at Lake Erie!

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  5. Hi Dave,

    When I saw the title of this week’s blog I thought Stephen King and Maine might get a mention. I may have commented here that I treated myself over Christmas by allowing myself another reread of his “Dark Tower” series. Mostly it’s set in the very fictional Mid-World however parts are also set in our world. I literally just finished a chapter where some magicky stuff sent two of Roland’s group through time and space so that they were in Mid-World and New York at the same time. And then I read your blog which kind of freaked me out a bit. Sometimes it seems that you must be reading over my shoulder!

    Kat Lib, see above. Caught up in another reread of “The Dark Tower” I didn’t quite make it to the Dostoyevsky or the Moriarty that I was going to read over the Christmas break. “Three Wishes” is definitely on top of my list for when I’m finished with Stephen King though. And I’ll be more than ok to tell you if I don’t like it. There would be no point for blogs like this if we all read the same things and agreed with everybody. I’m glad to hear that you and your sister can have differing opinions but still be friends. We all love reading, right? That’s the bit that matters 🙂

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    • Thanks, Sue! I guess we both had Stephen King on the brain. 🙂 And your comment shows that even authors like King who often set their work in one place don’t ALWAYS set their work in that place. The “Dark Tower” series DOES sound great.

      As for the wisdom-filled second half of your second paragraph, I’ll add to Kat Lib’s future response that loving reading is indeed what matters, and it’s fun/interesting to have differing literary tastes and opinions. Things would be boring if we didn’t!

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      • Sue, I absolutely agree with you about what you said regarding people having differing opinions of books, or any other art form for that matter. I also know that even if I’ve got the best intentions, I’ll often switch around what author or type of books I most want to read.

        I’ve mentioned before, I think, about my immediate family of eight and how we all were great readers, with somewhat different tastes. My mom’s favorites were art books and cookbooks, Dad’s went from the Civil War and Michener to later in life reading Clive Cussler, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and westerns. My eldest brother was also a Civil War buff, and last time we talked about it he was most interested in Japanese literature (his wife is of Japanese descent, born in Hawaii). My eldest sister loves historical romance, and my middle brother is another crime fiction aficionado (his favorites are the Reacher novels, Ian Rankin and many of the Scandinavians we talked about last week). My youngest brother, who died 40 years ago, once gave me a list of books he thought I should read, including those by Albert Camus, Hermann Hesse, Carson McCullers, and Nikos Kazantzakis, as well as poetry. The sister I most often refer to is also a fan of some mysteries, but nothing that I’d consider too graphic or hard-edged, modern novels especially by women, and memoirs. Is it any wonder why I turned out to have such eclectic tastes? Though I read more non-fiction, classics and science fiction than most of my family, it was a great experience to be exposed to so many different genres, with no one belittling the choices of others. The same goes for music!

        P.S. Sorry for the family history, but I’m trying very hard to not mention or even think about what’s going to happen Friday. Oops, I guess I just did! 🙂

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        • Thanks for sharing your family reading habits. Considering how diverse your tastes are, you and your family could almost start your own blog! I’m curious about where you sit in the 8? Are all of your siblings older? They must have provided such great reading inspiration! Attending book groups in the past has opened my eyes to some books and authors that I wouldn’t have otherwise known about, as has reading Dave’s blog. And it’s wonderful to be able to share common interests and opinions with people, but I think it’s almost as much fun to disagree. You learn so much more hearing from people who don’t think the same way you do.

          However, I do completely agree with the thought that we should all erase Friday from our calendars.

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          • Sue, I happened to be the baby of the family, and my middle brother once said that I “was like a little puppy that everyone petted and spoiled.” One of the things that I wasn’t thrilled about in this place in the family hierarchy was that I was the recipient of some clothing hand-me-downs from my two sisters (although my mom made quite a few of my clothes, and among her many talents was being a great seamstress). But the best part was having a ready-made library of books to read from, or read to me, as far back as I can remember, starting with a collection of The Little Golden Books.

            Dave, my mom also took my sister and me to the library Saturday mornings so we could pick out five or so books a week. I made the comment earlier about McCall Smith’s novels being so evocative of setting. Is it OK to mention that I still today can remember the smell of those books, which evokes in me the nostalgia and wonder of being in a special place with something I love dearly?

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        • Dave, even though I didn’t watch TV today, I did check in at HP, Salon and DailyKos for updates, which was bad enough. My sister said his speech was awful, as was to be expected. He used the phrase, “America First,” that goes back to those before WWII (led by Charles Lindbergh) of those who didn’t want to intervene in WWII, and it came to be seen as an anti-Semitic slogan. Here are some of the words he used, as detailed by Slate:
          “Poverty”
          “Rusted Out”
          “Tombstones”
          “Gangs”
          “Drugs”
          “Carnage” (apparently the most looked-up word)
          “Depletion”
          “Disrepair”
          “Decay”
          “Ravages”
          “Destroying”
          “Bleed”
          “Blood”
          Ugh, what a dystopian vision of “America First” and making “America Great Again”! Do you think his supporters were somehow inspired by this rousing speech? Probably so, which is even more depressing. I’ve been listening to Renaissance this afternoon, and “Mother Russia” and “Ashes are Burning” seem quite appropriate to a gloomy and dark Inauguration Day. As my best girlfriend, said to me last night, “Light a candle,” which I’m getting ready to do.

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          • Kat Lib, I also didn’t see Trump’s
            speech or read much about it. Will do so tomorrow. Not shocked that his speech was awful. He is a man with no eloquence or compassion, and that’s reflected in his words. From the depressing words Slate cited him saying, maybe he should be nicknamed Dystopian Donald. With a touch of anti-Semitism. (I think his racism and misogyny are much worse than some of the tone-deaf terms he has used that might be slurs against Jews.)

            You’re right, some of Trump’s supporters might be inspired by his drivel.

            Coincidence! I was also listening to “Mother Russia” and “Ashes Are Burning” today when I picked up my daughter from an after-school class! Just parts of each song — it’s a short drive. 🙂 Music can indeed make us feel a bit better during times such as this Inauguration Day nightmare.

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            • “He used the phrase, “America First,” that goes back to those before WWII (led by Charles Lindbergh) of those who didn’t want to intervene in WWII…”

              Charles Lindbergh Sr.,Lucky Lindy’s father, was a US congressman (R, Minnesota, 1907-17) and passionately detested the Federal Reserve banking system, and the war profiteers he believed were leading the nation into an unnecessary and disastrous war in Europe– that war was World War One.

              The apple fell not far from the tree, though tree and apple might have disagreed on particulars, had tree lived long enough to see preparation for another war.

              Somewhere in my vast repository of forgotten lore, I have a volume written by Lindbergh Senior on the topics of his concern.

              “From now on, depressions will be scientifically created.”
              — Congressman Charles Lindbergh, 1913, speaking about the creation of the Federal Reserve

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                • A free thinking guy, that Senior Lindbergh– which earned him a confiscation of printing plates by Woodrow Wilson when he published “Why is Your Country at War?” in 1917.

                  Here’s another quote:

                  “To cause high prices, all the Federal Reserve Board will do will be to lower the rediscount rate…, producing an expansion of credit and a rising stock market; then when … business men are adjusted to these conditions, it can check … prosperity in mid career by arbitrarily raising the rate of interest. It can cause the pendulum of a rising and falling market to swing gently back and forth by slight changes in the discount rate, or cause violent fluctuations by a greater rate variation and in either case it will possess inside information as to financial conditions and advance knowledge of the coming change, either up or down. This is the strangest, most dangerous advantage ever placed in the hands of a special privilege class by any Government that ever existed. The system is private, conducted for the sole purpose of obtaining the greatest possible profits from the use of other people’s money. They know in advance when to create panics to their advantage, They also know when to stop panic. Inflation and deflation work equally well for them when they control finance.”

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          • A very interesting novel: Phillip Roth’s “The Plot Against America”. This is an alternate history novel in which Charles Lindbergh becomes President, defeating Franklin Roosevelt in his 1940 re-election attempt. The story is told through the perspective of a young Jewish boy from northern NJ. This novel was written well before “he who shall not be named” contemplated a presidential run.

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              • Thanks, drb! I’ve had “The Plot Against America” on my to-read list for a long time. It DOES sound very relevant to what’s happening now, as does Sinclair Lewis’ 1930s “It Can’t Happen Here” — which, as you probably know, is about a man with strong fascist tendencies becoming U.S. president.

                “He who shall not be named” — yes, hard to write that guy’s name. Plus I’m not sure if it’s DT or Lord Voldermort… 🙂

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                • “The Senator was vulgar, almost illiterate, a public liar easily detected, and in his “ideas” almost idiotic, while his celebrated piety was that of a traveling salesman for church furniture, and his yet more celebrated humor the sly cynicism of a country store. Certainly there was nothing exhilarating in the actual words of his speeches, nor anything convincing in his philosophy. His political platforms were only wings of a windmill.”
                  ― Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here

                  “I know the Press only too well. Almost all editors hide away in spider-dens, men without thought of Family or Public Interest or the humble delights of jaunts out-of-doors, plotting how they can put over their lies, and advance their own positions and fill their greedy pocketbooks by calumniating Statesmen who have given their all for the common good and who are vulnerable because they stand out in the fierce Light that beats around the Throne.”
                  ― Sinclair Lewis, It Can’t Happen Here

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                  • Wow — how relevant that novel is for 2016-2017! The idiocy of Trump, his hatred of the press, etc.

                    Of course, Trump owes the mainstream media big time for all the newsprint and airtime he got during the presidential campaign. And I was reading today that The New York Times ombud wrote that the NYT (pre-Election Day) could have reported more on Trump’s Russian connection — which might have led to coverage in other media outlets and a Hillary victory. Trump should give the corporate media a big kiss (but hold off on the groping).

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                    • The Ruby Principle: a teevee show titled Supernatural, in its early seasons, was basically the battle between demon-hunters and demons who heralded and worked for the return of Satan to the earth. A witch named Ruby befriended the brothers who were the chief demon-hunters, and eventually, over many incidents of mortal danger, she proved, to their satisfaction, her loyalty to their cause. But when the last seal was broken, and Satan was allowed to rise, it was Ruby who made it happen.

                      She proved her loyalty in many small ways previously to the boys, but at the most crucial moment, Ruby betrayed her demon-hunter pals, for her real boss, because, after all, those small acts she had undertaken only to convince those she would later betray– when it mattered most.

                      See also the New York Times.

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  6. Authors and settings, eh?

    George Herriman, author/cartoonist of Krazy Kat, my favorite comic strip ever, set his tales of unrequited love and its billet briques in a real county, Coconino, AZ, though he did drag in bits of Monument Valley and surrealistic shapes from his imagination to gussy up the place a bit. Given the hazards of love thereabouts, one should stoop low whenever they hear “Duck!” though the speaker may be referring to Mock or Peking, citizens of the county, and not what’s often hurtling head-height, through the desert air.

    The NYT is running a review of a new book Herriman, which focuses on his Black ancestry (the family is Creole, out of New Orleans)– a fact he kept hidden so long as he lived!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY!

      I remember interviewing a cartoonist (now deceased) in 1993 after he wrote a book on cartooning. He had met George Herriman in the 1930s, and said it was known among some in the industry that Herriman was partly of African descent. But it apparently never affected Herriman’s career, partly because he was so light-skinned (as the review-accompanying photo shows) and maybe partly because William Randolph Hearst, who owned the syndicate (King Features) that distributed “Krazy Kat,” was a huge fan of the comic and perhaps a protector of Herriman.

      And, yes, the backgrounds in “Krazy Kat” were so evocative and definitely had that Southwest look.

      Great comment!

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      • As a New Orleans native, I wonder if Herriman enjoyed early jazz, or its ragtime predecessor, or whether his care to keep away from his past precluded such chance-taking. Of course, I also wonder about a lot of things I’d love to hear about from the man himself…

        Lucky you, who spoke with someone who knew him!

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        • Good question, jhNY!

          The cartoonist I spoke with was Jud Hurd (1913-2005), who worked on some not-that-prominent comic strips but was best known in the biz as the editor of a magazine he created called “Cartoonist Profiles.”

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      • At last I know why I had a nagging feeling about jazz and Herriman– I just remembered, only a week late, that there is actually a song titled Krazy Kat by Frankie Trumbauer and His Orchestra on which my old idol Bix Beiderbecke played cornet!

        So, although I don’t know if Herriman loved early jazz, I do know a group of early jazzers that loved the strip!

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        • Please change the last word to ‘strip’ from ‘strop’– as things stand now, it looks like I’m saying something about s+m and jazz players, which, if they’re only in it for the money, would be true, though unintended.

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          • Yes– on youtube there are also film cartoons of Krazy Kat, made from the looks of them in the 1930’s. A few, which must mean they were not popular enough to warrant many.

            I am not yet prepared mentally to view them, as I love the Herriman line too much to see it in less talented hands. But one day soon, I’m sure I’ll be inspired, as Krazy has so often been by means of a flying brick, to take a look,

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  7. This comment could apply toward the previous mystery blog as well as this week’s. I don’t know if anyone has ever mentioned James Lee Burke on this blog. He’s from Louisiana and is primarily known for his series of novels featuring police detective Dave Robichaux. Dave is a very flawed character (of course). He’s a recovering alcoholic, a Vietnam vet and he sometimes resorts to unconventional methods and has a talent for walking into unfortunate situations that at least on one occasion get him placed on indefinite suspension. I had read two of the novels in that series a few years ago when some co-workers recommended him. This past Christmas when I was visiting my brother he claimed that Burke is one of the greatest living American writers. He recommended reading the Robichaux books in order. So I started with the first, ‘The Neon Rain’. I’m about half way through with it now.

    Anyway, James Lee Burke, as I said, is from the New Orleans/Louisiana region and his family goes back several generations as well. He began writing mainstream novels before turning to the crime genre when his books were mostly out of print in the 80’s. He’s even written a historic novel, ‘White Doves at Morning’ set in the years leading up to the Civil War, that features two of his ancestors as leading characters. He is flawless at setting scenes. His novels drip with atmosphere. You can feel the humidity of the bayous and you almost itch from mosquito bites from reading him. ‘The Neon Rain’ is the third of his novels I’ve read so far (the previous ones are ‘Purple Cane Road’ and ‘In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead’–Burke indulges in a bit of magic realism here where Robichaux encounters the ghost of Confederate general James Bell Hood). Needless to say, the novels are usually quite violent and there are assorted low lifes, criminals,mob figures, pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, a veritable gallery of underworld denizens that are sprinkled throughout the series. I recommend that anyone try reading Burke if they haven’t already. He lives in Montana now so I know some of the novels are set there as well. However, he is best known for the novels set in that Louisiana bayou region.

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    • I’m not sure if James Lee Burke has ever been mentioned here, bobess48. Maybe once? Sounds a tiny bit familiar.

      Anyway, thanks for the evocative/descriptive comment about him and his work! Sounds like an amazing author who imbued many of his New Orleans/Louisiana-set novels with a real sense of place.

      Will look for him in my local library.

      Like

    • I’ve read a couple of James Lee Burke Robichaux books, early ones,and I think he’s good at what he does, though I also think that praise for him as a writer transcending the genre in which he works went to his head and made him try a few writerly things he might not have, and maybe should not have, if not for the praise. Still, that quibble aside, he’s certainly worth reading, and he does make his Louisiana places live, skeeters, nutria, barflies and all.

      I’ve also seen a movie made from a Robichaux book, Heaven’s Prisoners, not particularly good as a whole, but good enough– and in it Eric Roberts, as a cornrowed gangster, as he is so often, is unforgettably creepy. Robichaux is played by Alec Baldwin, before, in the words of Billy Sol Hurok, he blowed up real big.

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      • ‘Heaven’s Prisoners’ is not a very good film and Alec is far more convincing as Trump than he was as Dave Robichaux, with his generic South Louisiana accent, as I recall. Alec is significantly younger though so we who associate him in his middle age may not be as familiar with the younger version.

        A somewhat better film was made of ‘In the Electric Mist’, with Tommy Lee Jones as a much older Dave Robichaux. Of course, this novel is about the sixth or seventh in the series rather than the second, which ‘Heaven’s Prisoners’ is, so if it occurs in something approaching a realistic chronology, he would be somewhat older. Incidentally, the ghost of John Bell Hood (I think I mistakenly referred to him as ‘James Bell Hood’ in my previous comment) is played by the late Levon Helm, also late drummer for The Band.

        Burke does have some writerly flourishes although I think most of the time he can pull it off without sounding too pretentious. Of course, William Faulkner had multiple writerly flourishes and we forgave him for most of them. He was also a somewhat greater American writer than Burke as well so there’s that.

        Dave Robichaux is definitely in the tradition of rule-breaking cops/detectives in literature. It seems like they’re more interesting if they have flaws AND they flaunt authority in order to get the real job done. He’s kind of a knight errant, much like Phillip Marlowe, a bit idealistic.

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        • Will look for that TLJ movie, and look forward to the sight of Levon Helm, though Hood has always been a charged figger for us who grew up in Nashville, in that he might have won there had he decided he had one more river to cross.

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    • I think I read one of his books a while ago, but he is better known to me as the father of Alafair Burke, who writes two crime fiction series, Ellie Hatcher in NYC, and Samantha Kinkaid in Portland, Oregon. Interestingly enough, she became fascinated with crime when she grew up in Wichita, Kansas, where there was a serial killer on the loose in the 70’s. At that time her father was a Professor of English in Wichita. I’ve enjoyed Alafair’s books — not exactly a favorite but quite enjoyable, and I love books written about strong, intelligent women.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Yes, Austen thought extremely well of the Royal Navy, especially because she had two brothers who served in it and eventually became admirals. I think the novel you refer to is “Mansfield Park,” in which Fanny Price’s beloved brother William served in the navy and once visited her at the Bertram estate. Otherwise, you also know how important it was in “Persuasion.” The men serving in the navy, including Captain Wentworth and Admiral Croft, were so much more admirable than the odious and narcissist Sir Walter Eliot, as well as his heir. There is actually a book entitled “Jane Austen and the Navy,” by B.C. Southam, and no, I haven’t any intention of doing so, as it sounds rather boring to me. 🙂

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    • Oh dear, I’ve not put this comment in the right place, but I’m sure, Dave, that you’ll figure it out.

      But anyway, I might start a different comment on one of my favorite modern authors, Liane Moriarty, who lives in and sets all of her novels in Australia, mainly in or near Sydney. I’ve always been in awe of the Sydney Opera House, which was actually designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, the Outback, and The Great Barrier Reef. I also enjoyed the non-fiction/travel book by Bill Bryson, “In a Sunburned Country.”

      Sue, if you join in on this thread, did you ever read “Three Wishes,” by Moriarty? If you did and didn’t like it, that’s OK, I won’t be offended. If such things bothered me, my sister (who loves books as much as I) and I wouldn’t be on speaking terms!

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      • Kat Lib, my local library stubbornly refuses to stock Liane Moriarty, so I haven’t had the pleasure of reading that author yet. I’ve certainly read and enjoyed some novels set in Australia — with recent ones including “The Light Between Oceans.”

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    • No problem with your comment being here, Kat Lib. 🙂 But to make it more clear for other readers, this is the part of my previous comment you were responding to: “I’m forgetting which character(s), but I believe at least one of the men in Austen’s writings traveled far and wide in the British navy. Mentioned but not depicted on ship and not depicted in the places the ship visited.”

      Yes, it must be “Mansfield Park” and/or “Persuasion” I was remembering!

      One can definitely see how the Royal Navy experiences of Austen’s brothers sailed their way into a couple of her novels.

      And Sir Walter indeed gets on one’s nerves.

      I don’t think I would read “Jane Austen and the Navy,” either. Maybe “Jane Austen and the Navy and Zombies”…

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  9. As is so often the case, your topic fits in perfectly with the novel that I am currently reading: Thomas Hardy’s “Jude the Obscure”. This is the third Hardy novel I’ve read in recent years, the other two being “The Mayor of Casterbridge” and “Tess of the d’Urbervilles”.

    All of these novels take place in the fictional Wessex region, which is a surrogate for his native region in the southwest of England. These stories were written in, and take place in, the late 19th Century. The characters that populate these novels are typically rural folks that are becoming somewhat disenfranchised by the changes taking place in this era. In “Jude the Obscure”, the protagonist is really trying to find out how to make meaning of his life, after being disappointed in his lofty childhood goal of getting a classic education in the town of Christminster (Oxford), after questioning some of the hypocrisies of his Anglican faith, and after succumbing to a miserable marriage. I don’t know how the book ultimately turns out, but I guess the title gives a strong hint.

    In all of the Hardy novels that I’ve read, he uses this provincial, agrarian region not merely as a backdrop setting. The characters are not just “in” the region, they are genuinely “of” the region, much like Faulkner’s characters in your aforementioned Yoknapatawpha County. Their struggles are universal, (struggles against class, a rapidly changing Industrial, post Darwinian society, etc) but all the more exemplified by the setting.

    I fear my comments make these novel sound somewhat bleak. They are not. I have very much enjoyed riding along with these characters in their journeys. They are fun to read page turners.

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    • That’s right, drb — Thomas Hardy IS very place-centric. Thanks for mentioning him in your great, descriptive comment! I’ve read the three novels you named, and a couple of others by Hardy, and they are indeed “deep,” entertaining, and readable amid their “limited” geographic reach.

      There is at least one Hardy novel — “The Hand of Ethelberta” — that’s partly set in London. Might be others, too, but, besides “The Hand of Ethelberta,” my Hardy reading was long ago.

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      • I would beg to differ regarding the adjective ‘bleak’ with Hardy. His novels became increasingly fatalistic with poor Tess lying on Stonehenge like a sacrificial victim by the end of her novel. Jude Fawley has all the doors of opportunity in his world shut in his face so he is also one of those lost and forgotten denizens of an uncaring society. However, the bleakness adds a tragic power to these novels. They are like Shakespearean tragedies and they have a gloomy, intense power that is completely convincing as there is a sense that the fates of these characters is inevitable, similar to Lily Bart in ‘The House of Mirth’. Hardy captures the flavor of life in this fictional region perfectly. They are also quite compelling. I have read I suppose the ‘Big Five’ now: ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’, ‘The Return of the Native’, ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’, ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ and ‘Jude the Obscure’ and highly recommend all of them.

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        • I understand what you mean. However, I would use “tragic” instead of “bleak”. My point in saying that they were not “bleak” is simply that these characters are, in a sense, heroic. Hardy encourages the reader to empathize, and even root for, these protagonists. There is something noble in their intentions. The tragedy is that they are ultimately beaten down. (I know the Mayor and Tess are – and I assume it will be no different for poor Jude). In reason for saying that these are not “bleak” novels, is to not give the impression that they read like dirges. They are vibrant stories that end tragically.

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          • I agree with you 100%. They have a tragic power and the characters are heroic in their struggle. The most powerful screen adaptation of a Hardy novel for me is the 1995 film with Christopher Eccleston (who later played Doctor Who) as Jude Fawley and Kate Winslett (pre-‘Titanic’) as Sue Bridehead. It’s simply called ‘Jude’ and it’s hard to find except in an import edition but worth seeking out. It hit me like a sledgehammer and you’ve probably read enough of the novel to understand why.

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            • I will try to locate this movie when I have completed the book After reading “The Mayor of Casterbridge”, which I loved (my first Hardy novel), I watched the 2003 film starring Ciaran Hinds, an actor that I greatly admire. However, the movie was kind of “meh” after reading the book. This has made me reluctant to watch any of the “Tess” movies. But – I will certainly seek out “Jude”. It sounds like a nice challenge to try to find this film.

              Liked by 1 person

              • Hey Dave (as opposed to Hey Jude). If I am going to say that Ciaran Hinds is an actor I admire, I should at least spell his name correctly. Could you please correct my spelling?

                Liked by 1 person

              • drb, I’m also a fan of Ciarin Hinds, though I didn’t see the film you were referencing. The most memorable movie to me that he starred in was Jane Austen’s “Persuasion,” in which he played the quite dashing Captain Wentworth to Amanda Root’s Anne Eliot. I couldn’t believe when I looked it up that it was actually released in 1995. It’s my favorite Austen adaption that was made into a feature-length film, not counting a few BBC/AE productions that I loved as well.

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                • Yes – I’ve seen “Persuasion”, and enjoyed it very much. However, I’d have to say I liked “Sense and Sensibility” a little better. Loved the performance of Alan Rickman as the kindly, gentle Colonel Brandon. Such a contrast to his Snape character.

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                  • Yes, I agree that “Sense & Sensibility” was a great film, but it felt more “Hollywood” to me even though all the actors were British and it was filmed in England.. I just had a hard time with 35 year-old Emma Thompson as the Elinor in the book, and the very charming Hugh Grant playing Edward; it just didn’t ring true for me the way they were presented by Austen. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Emma Thompson, especially her having written the screenplay, Hugh Grant has had some great comic performances, the cinematography was gorgeous and the soundtrack was beautiful. Best of all, were Kate Winslet and, as you say, Alan Rickman, in a much more sympathetic role than usual, but I’d still put “Persuasion” ahead of it, perhaps because I didn’t have many preconceived notions of the actors involved. But, as I said before to Sue earlier in this thread, it is absolutely important that we can differ in our opinions about art, in whatever form it takes.

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                    • Clearly, you read the books prior to seeing the film. I had not read “Sense and Sensibility” when I saw the movie, so I didn’t make those same conclusions. I guess that it why I was disappointed in the film “Mayor of Casterbridge”. It just didn’t live up to the novel. That is what usually happens when I see a movie based on a book that I loved.

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            • When I first read your comment, I did not know what you were referring to when you said “hit me like a sledgehammer”. Just now, while reading, I discovered what you meant.

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  10. Patrick O’Brian springs readily to mind. His wonderful series of novels, in which the heroes Aubrey and Maturin travel the world, and yet remain anchored to home. I’ve learned that in order to really appreciate a place where you live you must leave it for a time.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, jwledbury! I read the first Aubrey-Maturin novel — “Master and Commander” — a couple of years ago and thought it was excellent. You’re right that there was a real sense of place before and after those two lead characters went to sea. And your comment’s last line is so true — certainly one reason “The Wizard of Oz” movie still resonates after nearly 80 years.

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  11. Hi Dave … Your mention of Fannie Flagg triggered a memory: I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. There was a local morning show during the 60s called “Tom York’s Morning Show” and Fannie Flagg was the co-host; she did hilarious weather reports, as you might imagine. My mother always had the show on and sometimes I’d catch snippets before going to school. Fannie Flagg was always a very smart and funny lady. Over the years, I’ve kind of felt as if I “knew her when”, lol 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Pat! That’s a great memory, and Fannie Flagg can indeed be VERY funny. It IS a nice feeling to have “known” a prominent person early in her or his career.

      I was aware that Ms. Flagg had a TV (and acting) career, but didn’t know about the show you mentioned. Reminds me a bit of Ms. Flagg’s Dena Nordstrom character and her TV career — eventually in New York City. And I love Ms. Flagg’s “Neighbor Dorothy” character and the home-based radio show she hosts in several novels.

      During the past year or two, I’ve read most of Fannie Flagg’s books and enjoyed them all.

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      • Oddly, I’ve yet to read one of Fannie Flagg’s books, although I’ll probably remedy that in the not-too-distant future. On the other hand, I’ve seen the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes” so many times I can practically quote the whole movie!

        Liked by 1 person

        • I bet you COULD quote it, Pat! 🙂

          Never saw the movie, but I did read the “Fried Green Tomatoes…” novel and it’s excellent. Fannie Flagg’s best book, I think. But all the other novels of hers I’ve read are terrific, too — “Welcome to the World, Baby Girl,” “Standing in the Rainbow,” “A Redbird Christmas,”
          “Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven,” “I Still Dream About You,” “The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion,” etc. Several of them have the same characters — in major roles in some books, in minor roles in others. And she always manages to mix in humor, pathos, and social issues.

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    • In the 60’s living in Huntsville, I caught that Tom York Morning Show a couple of times and recalled Fannie on it. I knew she looked familiar when I saw her on network TV years later and had no idea until ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ came out about the novels. I believe that show was on WBRC Channel 6 (?). This was in the days before cable and for a few years my parents had a ‘converter’ so they could get the local channels for a while (we had a roof antenna which, to my child’s perspective, looked like a GIANT on top of our house.

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      • Brian, I forget if I credited you before, but your recent review of Donna Tartt’s “The Little Friend” convinced me to read that novel. Very absorbing book — though, as you alluded to, the end was a bit disappointing.

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      • You’re right, Brian; it was on WBRC … and we also had channels 10 and 13 (can’t remember the call letters) and channel 42 (when UHF arrived) … and a test pattern after midnight 🙂 … ps: the lead-in to The Morning Show was Country Boy Eddie – do you remember him? … that’s where Tammy Wynette got her start.

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        • Yes, I do remember him. In fact, the other day on Facebook someone mentioned him in some humorous comparison and I thought, “That’s the first time I’ve heard anyone mention him in 50 years!” Local and regional TV in the 60’s had a pack of small-time celebrities who never quite attained immortality. I remember getting Channels 4 and 5 out of Nashville and 6 and (sometimes) 13 out of Birmingham. The reception varied so it was a hit-and-miss as to how visible any particular show was at the time. Oh what antiquated times!

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          • And, of course, there was Pat Gray’s Late Show, which showed old movies and had interviews with actors/actresses who were in town to promote current movies. I remember one interview with James Farentino. He was so rude. He slumped in his chair and gave one-word answers to all of Pat Gray’s questions and comments. She was polite and classy through it all.

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            • I remember Pat Gray but saw her in the morning, with Tom York, I believe. I didn’t watch late night TV until I was in high school so missed anything they did in the evening. I do recall Tom’s afternoon show, ‘Dialing for Dollars’, where they’d show some B-movie and callers while callers were calling in with winning numbers. Pat would show up on that as well sometimes. I guess ‘Dialing for Dollars’ was sort of like Bingo over the phone. Whenever someone won, a weird little boinnnggg sound would go off. Once, while the movie was playing, it was a scene in which some guy was convicted and sentenced to the death penalty and he was very intensely claiming that he was innocent and was falsely accused. In the middle of that scene, we hear ‘boinnnngggg’. Someone got careless with the boing switch, I suppose, or was just playing a prank.

              Liked by 2 people

  12. Hi Dave, one of the authors I mentioned in last week’s column was Alexander McCall Smith, who has novels taking place in Botswana, Edinburgh and London. Every time I finish one, I want to visit each country or city, because they are so evocative of the place he is writing about. You’re correct about Jane Austen, who didn’t really seem to know much about England, other than the southern countryside, and a very few cities, such as Bath, which she didn’t have very fond memories of if I remember correctly. In one of the novels, “Persuasion,” she also takes her characters to Lyme, which is central to the plot. Bath also assumes importance to the story of “Northanger Abbey,” again not positively. The only novel I can remember at the top of my head taking a peripheral and perhaps a pivotal place in London was “Sense and Sensibility.”

    I suppose that I’ve read many more books about London (or other British cities) than anywhere else, becoming somewhat of an anglophile. When I was fortunate enough to visit London way back in 1969, I felt that this was the one city that was exactly like I had pictured it. Even down to the basic breakfast of eggs, toast, fried tomato and undercooked bacon! And going to enjoy a tea at Harrod’s was one of my favorite memories.

    The older I get the more it seems unlikely that I’ll be able to travel a lot, but going to experience different cultures (European or not) was illuminating and made me appreciative of being able to do so. My time in Sweden and the other Nordic countries was filled with warm and welcoming people, which makes me appreciate the fiction novels I’ve read through the years…though mostly murder mysteries, so what does that tell you about me? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Kat Lib! I greatly enjoyed your comment! Reading novels after visiting the places they’re set in can definitely heighten the regard one has for a book. For instance, I traveled to Marseille and the Chateau d’If fortress off of Marseille in 2007, and then reread “The Count of Monte Cristo” with new appreciation.

      I’ve only been to London once, too, and loved visiting there after having read so many British novels. Seeing Charles Dickens’ house and all the graves of the iconic writers in Westminster Abbey were definitely highlights. Unfortunately, my time Scandinavia was only in airports waiting for connecting flights.

      Ha — reading murder mysteries doesn’t mean someone isn’t a good person. 🙂

      And thanks for the mentions of Alexander McCall Smith and Jane Austen! Austen’s books did “get around” England — albeit a small slice of that country. I’m forgetting which character(s), but I believe at least one of the men in Austen’s writings traveled far and wide in the British navy. Mentioned but not depicted on ship and not depicted in the places the ship visited.

      Like

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