I love the companionship that is born when reading a book set in a familiar place. I’m currently reading Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. It’s a novel that takes place not only in a familiar geographic region but also a nostalgic era of my life, with characters the same age as myself during that season.
There is pleasure in shared spaces and shared history, even if this author’s story is fiction, there’s something that delights us to hold a place in common with others. It’s the same feeling I have when someone says, “Oh, we vacation at that beach too!” or names a far-off city I visited once, or “no kidding, you’re from _________?! Us too! Small world!”
The same sensation overwhelmed me standing outside of Westminster Abbey, walking the halls of the Tower of London, all the strings of history that have been woven to arrive at this present day.
There’s so much more entangled in physical space. Memory presents its prickly burr and sticks, accumulating until a place is heavy with it. With Ng’s characters in Shaker I remember trips to Beachwood Place with friends and the collision of my very white upbringing with other ethnicities, I remember all the complications of being female and mother and teen girl. I was there. With Scott Russell Sanders I explore the wilderness of Northeastern Ohio. I was there too.
And on and on it goes, the local and personal turned into a sharp spark of connection that says we are not so alone in our experience here in this world. We are bound together in this humanity. These narratives draw meaning from the otherwise random chaos of experience. Me too. I was there too.