The Birth of Venus. I have that book (only because I forgot to return the damn selection-of-the-month form from The Quality Paperback Book Club several years ago) but I've never been that tempted to try it. In fact, it currently resides on my "D-list" shelf in the basement. I didn't even know what it was about until my friend described it. And then she said it takes place in 15th century Florence. Now, I am interested.
Why? Because to me 15th century Florence with the Medicis and Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo and the wars and crazy Savonarola's "bonfire of the vanities" is fascinating! Florence in the 1400s was pretty much ground zero for the Italian Renaissance, and as such, is very fertile literary ground. In fact, I'd go so far to say it's one of my favorite literary settings. I've read several books set there — including a biography of Leonardo, and Irving Stone's "biographical novel" of Michaelangelo titled The Agony and the Ecstasy.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? Since learning that, the idea that good writers make the setting as much a character as the characters has really taken root with me. To wit, I just bought a debut novel by a writer named Ida Hattemer-Higgins titled The History of History solely because it takes place in Berlin, Germany — an amazing city I was lucky enough to spend 10 days in last year. (Thank you, Icelandic volcano, for "sticking" me there for an extra week.)
Perhaps my favorite literary setting of all is New York City. The self-proclaimed greatest city in the world is also the greatest literary setting in the world, in my humble view. I actually wrote about this last year, including a Top 11 list of my favorite NYC books. It's certainly no coincidence that the center of the publishing universe is a common setting for novels. I'm glad things worked out that way.
A Palestine Affair by Jonathan Wilson, and By The Rivers of Babylon by Nelson DeMille because they take place in Israel. No matter your politics, you have to agree that Israel's just an absurdly fascinating place. I've read a ton about its history and a ton of novels set there — and the more I read, the more interested I am. David Grossman's To The End of The Land is up soon.
So what do you think — is this fascination with setting quirky or normal? Do you place high importance on the setting of a novel when book prospecting? Do you read novels solely because they're set somewhere you find interesting? Examples?