Reading With Google Maps

Reading With Google Maps

As a huge fan of Google maps, spending hours studying various roads and spheres around the world, I often use it as scene filler when I’m reading a book that has detailed descriptions of its setting.  I find myself desiring to experience the atmosphere created by the author first hand and honing in on the streets or buildings or topography not only brings the reading more to life, it brings me closer to the characters, the ideas in the book, and the author themselves.


The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima

The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima

Recently, I read The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima which takes place on Kami-Shima Island, 200 miles west of Tokyo.  This small island, navigable mainly by walking paths, has been mapped extensively on Google Maps: the same paths walked by the two main characters, Shinji and Hatsue.  Having these scenes brought into finer focus, seeing with my own eyes the world these characters were experiencing, and being able to feel these new-to-me parts of our world, gave me a unique perspective as a reader.  I highly recommend this tool as a way of awakening an even greater curiosity in the stories unfolding between the pages.

Shrine on Kami-Shima Island

View from lighthouse


The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

This Staff Favorite has an idyllic setting off the southern coast of Finland among the infinite islands that come alive in the summer months.  Tove Jansson and her partner also spent many a summer day on an extremely remote island in the Gulf of Finland named Klovharun which consisted of a single roomed house with four windows that looked out onto a rocky archipelago with no trees in sight!

Gulf of Finland:  One |  Two  |  Three

Tove Jansson’s island


Brother Robert by Annye C. Anderson

Brother Robert: Growing Up with Robert Johnson by Annye C. Anderson

Johnson’s step sister wrote this in her 90’s and her prodigious memory gives amazing details not only of her famous blues player stepbrother but of Memphis in the 1920’s and 30’s.  I used Google Maps extensively to find the streets and places Anderson speaks of in this super interesting memoir that dispels any myth about the man who met the devil at the crossroads.  

Robert Johnson's family home in Memphis


The Linden Tree by César Aira

The Linden Tree by César Aira

One of my favorite writers, Aira’s homage to his Argentine hometown is done in fine detail as you can literally walk down the streets with him as he reminisces on his origin story. 

Coronel Pringles (Aira's hometown)


The Walk by Robert Walser

The Walk by Robert Walser

See also: Walks with Walsner by Carl Seelig

Wasler was an eccentric Swiss writer known for his long ambling walks while he spent the last 30 years of his life in sanatoriums, especially near Herisau where he died on a walk on Christmas day.  His love of the landscape and his understanding of how movement can be the fuel for a writer’s thoughts is embedded in these reads.

Herisau, Switzerland countryside:  One  |  Two


Walden: Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau

Walden: Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau

One of the pillars of transcendentalism, Thoreau’s magnum opus reveals a philosopher willing to walk the walk with his experiment with intentional rugged living (even if his mom did do his laundry). 

Walden Pond


The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald

The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald

German expat Sebald takes us on a walking tour of the east coast of England while unearthing an endless stream of historical digressions and filling his book with pointed photographs.  Google Maps was an incredibly handy tool in bringing this area of the world alive!


Gunhill in Southwold

Bridge between Southwold and Walberswick

Orford Ness National Nature Reserve


Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

A book series with a beloved character and setting that spawned not only multiple imitators but an obscene amount of film, TV, stage, and radio productions as well as creating a major tourist attraction on Prince Edward Island. 

Green Gables Heritage Place on Prince Edward Island


Unclay by T. F. Powys

Unclay by T. F. Plowys

Powys' tale of Mr. John Death coming to a sleepy English village that feels very similar to the author's hometown will entertain and delight anyone. 

Manpower (Plowys's hometown)


Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Nothing needs to be said about this influential classic other than the real Vlad the Impaler’s castle is indeed terrifying, even during the daytime. 

Vlad the Impaler's castler


The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

After they made the films and kept the set from the Shire! Yesssss!

Hobbiton village


The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe

The Woman in the Dunes by Kōbō Abe

This psychological thriller based in an existential myth was also made into a Criterion Collection movie set at the largest dune complex in Japan.  

Tottori Sand Dunes in Japan