I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy because I love it when books take me to new worlds or imagine new realities, but there’s something to be said for writing that connects you with the places you already know. Few things delight me more as a reader than picking up a book and discovering the action is set in a city I’ve been to in real life—or even better, in the city where I live. Unfortunately, I currently reside in New York City, where no books are set. 🙁
I am, of course, JK; roughly 75% of modern literary novels take place in Brooklyn or Manhattan; finding a book set in my city is as easy as closing my eyes and picking a title at random off of the buy-one-get-one-half-off table at Barnes & Noble. But what about those of you not blessed to live on this island of loose garbage? How can you find a book set in your corner of these United States?
Enter Books Around America, an interactive tool created by Crossword-Solver.com that allows you to enter your zip code or city to search for books that take place (more or less) near you. I tested it out by searching for books set in my current neighborhood in South Brooklyn, and the results were fairly accurate:
Of those top three results, I’ve read one, and can confirm that much of the action of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay unfolds in the identified neighborhood of Flatbush. And while the location for Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation (which I haven’t read) is more generally “Brooklyn City” (no one calls it that), I’ve read the author’s subsequent novel, Weather, and been able to identify an elementary school she describes therein—a school located a block from where I once lived.
But how does the site do with books that don’t take place in the most popular literary setting? I searched a few of my former zip codes and the results were decent, if a bit less exact. For example, during college I lived in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood, and the top match for that zip code was something else I’ve read—Adam Langer’s utterly delightful Crossing California, a novel so place-specific its first pages include a map of the streets I used to walk every day. More far-flung searches also returned reasonable matches—I entered my hometown zip code (in a semi-rural area of Illinois) and was suggested novels set in the closest larger city, located about 20 minutes away.
As with any tool like this, the results will only be as good as the data generating them. The site notes everything is sourced from the book-centric databases of Goodreads, and not every book ever written has been so thoroughly catalogued on that site—but if you’re looking for a novel that will give you a taste of home, it’s a start.