When it comes to vacation preparations, everyone has their rituals. Some people study maps and guides, some purchase new underwear and others lay in supplies of granola bars and other snacks for the inevitable airport delays.
I buy way too many travel-size toiletries, (Christmas Tree Shop has one of the most extensive selections around); research outlet stores in the areas I’ll be visiting, and — most important — organize my recreational reading.
My favorite getaway tomes are “location” novels — stories set right in the spot I’m visiting. I discovered the fun of “booking” my travel when I visited Sanibel Island, Fla., and picked up a mystery by local author Randy Wayne White. The sense of place White created was so strong, I expected to bump into his characters any time I was out and about.
Fran Keitly, owner of Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington, Ct., says books set in tourist destinations are extremely popular during summer.
“These types of books enhance the travel experience,” says Keitly. “They give a unique view of the location and bring places to life. Sometimes people read ‘destination’ books before they travel to get a sense of where they’re going and sometimes they’ll read them after to extend their adventures. But mostly, they come in looking for a book that will reflect what they’re experiencing when they’re vacationing.”
Like Donna Leon mysteries set in Venice. The London Sunday Telegraph called her books, “A splendid series . . . with a backdrop of the city so vivid you can almost smell it.”
“Her books provide great atmosphere,” says Keitly. “People going to Venice love them.”
Keitly also recommends author Cara Black’s Paris-based mystery series for those traveling to France; “The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America” by Erik Larson, for anyone heading to Chicago, and “Travels with Epicurious” by Daniel Klein for anyone lucky enough to be off to the Greek Islands.
And there are plenty of choices for New England travelers. Like Archer Mayor’s mysteries, set in Brattleboro, the Northeast Kingdom and other areas of Vermont. Cynthia Riggs’ Martha’s Vineyard mysteries, featuring an nonagenarian sleuth and an insider’s knowledge of the Massachusetts’ island. “Blackbird House” by Alice Hoffman, set on the Cape and “The World Without You,” by Joshua Henkins, which unfolds in the Berkshires.
Author Leila Howland placed her debut young adult novel, “Nantucket Blue” on the picturesque island 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod. (The book was released last month.) Howland, who grew up in Providence, drew on her experiences as a teenager working summers as a chambermaid at a Nantucket bed and breakfast.
“Nantucket is an extraordinary place and the island setting is a big part of the story,” says Howland. “Reading about it when you’re there provides another dimension to your trip and being where a book is set brings another dimension to what you’re reading. One enhances the other.”
Sometimes, the sense of place created by an author is so strong it draws travelers to the featured locale. Fans of Stieg Larsson’s “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” books head to Stockholm, Sweden, to experience the landmarks and areas featured in the popular books. “Da Vinci Code” readers sign up for Paris tours that allow them to follow the adventures portrayed in Dan Brown’s international bestseller.
Curious travelers explore Savannah, the city that John Berendt details in his book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” And visitors to the Big Apple can choose from a number of “Sex and the City” tours that visit the bars, clubs and shops frequented by the Carrie and the other characters in the books by Candace Bushnell.
Most booksellers and librarians can offer suggestions for locale reading. Goodreads.com features lists of books set in France, Florida, Cape Cod, New Orleans, Connecticut and many other destinations. Readers on Amazon.com have created lists of destination books under the “Listmania” section. At www.Italian-mysteries.com, visitors click on spots on a map of Italy and get a list of books set in that area.
“You’re seeing an environment through your own eyes, and at the same time, through the author’s,” says Howland. “It’s a unique experience.”
Editor’s note: This story has been edited from an earlier version to correct the setting of John Berendt’s book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”