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.