Thursday, February 16, 2012

Armchair traveler

Armchair traveling has of course always been one of the pleasures of reading. I love to travel and discover new places, though I've done enough physical traveling that I don't mind kicking back in the comfort of my own home and exploring new places vicariously through books. It's why I signed up so readily to the Goodreads challenges related to geography -- the 50-State Mystery Challenge and Around the World in 52 Books.

It's possible just to sit back and let the writers' marvelous descriptions of scenery, places and people wash over you. But since I like maps and I enjoy refining my knowledge of geography, I also like looking these places up in Google maps and Wikipedia.

One recent mystery, Desert Wives, was set in the Arizona Strip. The author described it as being on the Arizona-Utah border (and supplied vivid descriptions of the Vermilion Cliffs). But a quick search in Wikipedia showed me exactly where the Arizona Strip was and explained that it had more affinity to Utah and Nevada because it was isolated from the rest of Arizona by the Grand Canyon.

I'm currently reading a really nice indie book (that I downloaded for free from Amazon), Revenge by Mark Young, which is situated so far in western Idaho, in the Nez Perce territory. So on Google maps I've located Orofino, which is not far from Pullman, Washington, where the protagonist teaches at Washington State University. (By an odd coincidence, I'm finding out via Facebook that an old friend from college currently lives in Ketchum, Idaho, in Sun Valley -- not particularly close to Orofino but I know a lot more about Idaho geography today than I did yesterday.)

Meanwhile, on the Around the World challenge, I'm taking a trip to the Negev Desert with Amos Oz's Don't Call It Night. This comes after a refreshing trip to Mykonos with Murder in Mykonos and a harrowing trip to Saudi Arabia with Eight Months on Ghazzah Street.

The point is, I guess, that armchair traveling via books can now be a multimedia experience. I can zoom down with the Google satellite to supplement the author's descriptions of actual places or slake my curiosity about these new places in Wikipedia. This is obviously the direction that enhanced ebooks want to go in, though I've yet to read one because publishers, typically, want to charge an arm and a leg for them.

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