Top Ten Tuesdays – Most Vivid Worlds/Settings in Books

24 Jul

Time for another Top Ten Tuesday from the folks at Broke and Bookish! This week the theme was to the most vivid worlds and settings in books you’ve read. Here are my choices!

  •  The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

So, let’s get the obvious one out of the way first, shall we? J.K. Rowling knows how to create a world, down to the teensiest detail. Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade, the Burrow, the Sirius family home…and Hogwarts. Oh, Hogwarts. Who wouldn’t want to live there? The paintings are alive, the staircases move, there are hidden rooms and secret passageways! Divine!

  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck 

Dust. Dust and sun and poverty. The Grapes of Wrath gets to you with all of these. When the Joads are living on the road, you feel like you’re with them. You are part of the chaos in the migrant worker camps. It’s almost too real.

And how can you doubt the amazingness of a book that contains such setting descriptions as this:

“A large drop of sun lingered on the horizon and then dripped over and was gone, and the sky was brilliant over the spot where it had gone, and a torn cloud, like a bloody rag, hung over the spot of its going. And dusk crept over the sky from the eastern horizon, and darkness crept over the land from the east.”

  • The Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The reason the Little House Series works as well as it does is Wilder’s attention to setting details. The emptiness of the American prairie, the terror of a prairie fire, the little conveniences of home — they all come through clearly in her writing, and they are what keep kids interested in this world.

  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Whether in an upscale, preppy university in the snowy, frigid winter or in a rambling, dilapidated country estate in the steamy summer, this novel really brings the reader in to a mysterious, sinister world. This is certainly a place I wouldn’t want to live in, but it really does stay with you.

  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett


The moors! The creepy estate! The garden in spring! Oh, how I wished for my own secret, walled garden after reading this book as a child. I still want that!

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald


Maybe the settings of this book stick with me more than others, since we had  to go through them over and over again in high school as the teacher tried to knock the ideas of symbolism and the American dream and tragedy into our heads. Still, the glittering but sad world of jazz era riches and parties has always stuck with me.

  • American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis


The meticulously drawn setting is one of the reasons American Psycho is so incredibly disturbing. Ellis denotes 1980’s yuppie NYC in perfect detail, down to restaurant names and menus. It seems so real, which makes the torture scenes jump off the page even more. Terrifying, but effective.

  • Room by Emma Donoghue


And another disturbing book! Room’s setting is special, as a full half of the novel takes place in one room, as a woman and her child have been locked there. Through the child narrator’s eyes, you really get to see what it would be like to grow in up in such a restricted environment, without ever knowing what else lay beyond those walls. The room becomes all-encompassing. Tragically, the room is all there is.

  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell


For a historical fiction novel to have a vivid setting, the author needs to put in the work to get all the details right. And, geez, David Mitchell certainly did his homework. This novel takes place in 1799, in Nagasaki Harbor, where there is a walled city where foreigners are allowed to live and trade with the Japanese. While reading this book, you feel the crush, the bustle and, every so often, the peace of a Japanese garden.

  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare


And to end with a dorky English major recommendation, let’s throw in a little bit of Shakespeare. Because Shakespeare was writing for the stage, in which there wouldn’t always be lots of set pieces, he really had to have his language do the work in setting the scene. The wild, summer-y, lustful world of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a perfect example of his skill in world making.

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamell’d skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in:
And with the juice of this I’ll streak her eyes,
And make her full of hateful fantasies.



8 Responses to “Top Ten Tuesdays – Most Vivid Worlds/Settings in Books”

  1. renee July 24, 2012 at 11:51 am #

    Ooh good choices! I wish I’d thought of your secret selections (The Secret History, The Secret Garden) when making my own list. I just read The Secret History and it definitely had an evocative setting: the Hampden College, the cold winter in the hippie’s barn, the country house, and (of course) the ledge in the woods.

  2. April C (@booksandwine) July 24, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    Harry Potter and John Steinbeck? You are a blogger after my own heart.

    I really need to get on reading The Secret History, I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.

    I also quite like your description/reasoning for Little House On The Prarie, I think Ingalls-Wilder did a great job with atmosphere.

    My TTT

  3. Laura July 24, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    Oooh, you’ve just reminded me that The Secret History actually made me shiver, you know when whatshisface is living in that place that doesn’t have enough heating and stuff? So, yep, awesome world building! Also The Grapes of Wrath! Yes!

  4. megan July 24, 2012 at 4:36 pm #

    I wanted to be Laura Ingalls when I was younger. I could so easily imagine myself living in her little log cabin. Great pick!

  5. Megan July 24, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    What a great list – you’ve got a ton that I never even thought about, but as soon as you mentioned them I was, like, “Oh yes, THAT!” The Secret Garden for sure, but it’s been so long since I read it that I almost forgot. And The Grapes of Wrath, of course. I thought the intervening chapters, the ones that weren’t specifically following the Joads, actually did an incredible job of giving you a sense of the setting.

  6. themisanthropologist July 24, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

    Loved your picks! All great books, imo (Ok, except The Secret History, which I wasn’t really crazy about, but still….) All from different genres, but equally brilliant!

  7. The Bookworm Belle July 24, 2012 at 7:24 pm #

    Midsummer Night’s AND Gatsby = I love this list no matter what the other choices are. Way to hold it down for the classics!

    • shadowoperator July 25, 2012 at 6:27 am #

      Yes, these two items on the selection do “hold it down” for excellent language in writing as well as gripping plot.

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