adventure, books, england, travel, vacation

Personal reading history

Happy Valentine’s Day! I’ve been hunkered down at home with a nasty virus, and the wintry mix outside isn’t doing much to make things feel more festive. So instead, I’ve been daydreaming about our summer honeymoon in England.

Josh and I have been studying guidebooks galore, making lists of places to see and trading visions of our 9-day trip. I’m such an Anglophile, and lately we’ve watched so much Downton Abbey, Sherlock, Marple, and Call the Midwife that Josh has turned over to the Union Jack side, too. It’s been great fun to page through books and websites, or even to see the London Eye in the opening credits to Sherlock and say, “We’ll be there!”

(Also, several researchers have found that people get the most enjoyment out of planning a vacation, rather than going on a vacation! So far we’ve definitely been enjoying the planning process.)

I discovered a funny thing while flipping through a guidebook one evening. On a map of Wessex I saw the detail “Quantock Hills” and sat up straight and gasped. Why? Because when I was in high school, I was totally obsessed with the series “Sisters of the Quantock Hills” by Ruth Elwin Harris. It was about four sisters growing up in the early 1900s, and a centerpiece of all four books revolved around the trip they made to the Quantock Hills. On some level I knew that the hills existed in real life, but it was so surprising and gratifying to see them on a map.

The same thing happened with other locations: Dartmoor and Exhampton reminded me of Agatha Christie’s The Sittaford Mystery, while Epping Forest recalled Lord Peter Wimsey’s investigations in Unnatural Death. I told Josh, only half-joking, that we could chuck it all and just make a literary pilgrimage. And that’s not counting Bloomsbury, or Jane Austen’s house, or Haworth…

It’s oddly satisfying to see your personal reading history written on a map. Such a small country, but one with so many writers who’ve produced so many long-standing works. It makes all those characters seem more real, somehow, and those works seem more like history than imagination. Now, if I can just convince Josh to go on a hike through the Quantock Hills…


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