Mapping your way through a book

Looking for a Canadian book that takes place in your region, city, town?

Check out the 49th Shelf, an online interactive map that tags Canadian books to  geographic places. You can even add your own books.

Say you pick up Timothy Taylor’s Stanley Park. Maybe you’ve never been to Vancouver and don’t know where Stanley Park is. You can search for it on the map and it will come up.

Or maybe you’re going on a cross-Canada vacation and want to read books about the regions you’re going to pass through. You know, to “culture” yourself. Zoom in on an area of the map and see the variety of books you have to choose from — fiction, non-fiction, young adult, memoir, cookbooks, mystery – you name it!

Seeing the places you read about makes the text come alive in a new way. It offers orientation, familiarity. As great as maps can be, nothing beats seeing what you’re reading about in person though.

Here’s a passage from Canadian author Anne-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees showing a character’s diary entry about New York that really came alive for me because I had just recently been there. I’ve interspersed my own photographs at the appropriate moments in the text to show this spatial/textual relationship. If there’s no photo, well, that means I unfortunately didn’t get around to seeing it this trip (but here’s hoping to going back one day!)

On foot up through the Bowery, the Italian quarter — kids, carts, food, women in black, good-looking guys but don’t let them see you looking, opera verismo —

Greenwich Village, ladies and gentlemen,

Tenderloin — get hungry here, buy a pretzel, have lunch in Hell’s Kitchen – really! Why do they call it that? Seems perfectly nice . .

Up Broadway a bit tipsy – not used to beer –

the golden mile, Union Square,

Madison Square,

Herald Square, past the Met — genuflect —

promenade through Times Square,

Columbus Circle,

buy popcorn for the pigeons to keep them in the statue business (where they perform a valuable civic service by keeping the glorious past in perspective), into the Park,

zigzag through the immense chunk of countryside smack in the middle of the greatest show on earth, past the Pond,

the Lake, the Castle, skip the Reservoir it’s too big and too small, promise to go the Metropolitan Museum next time, Haarlem Meer (sit down and decide I’ve walked far enough) out onto Central Park North, up Lenox thirty-seven blocks to the Haarlem River. It’s night.

From being in NYC myself, I could follow the character’s footsteps through the city and understand the terrain, the proximity of places to one another, and the sights, sounds, and smells when you look around. I’d love to go to London and trace Clarissa Dalloway’s route home along the Strand, or Oliver Twist’s escapades through East London.

What places do you want to visit because of books you’ve read? Which characters’ footsteps would you like to follow?