Setting: the magic of a place

As book lovers, we know about how the setting of a book can sweep you away to far-away places. Whether it’s the way that Anne Ursu pulls us into the magical winter landscape of the Minnesota woods in Breadcrumbs or the way Jennifer Holm makes us feel the dirt between our toes as we walk barefoot with the Diaper Baby Gang from Turtle in Paradise, setting is a critical part of the books we love. But there’s another magical part of setting – and that’s the magic of the place where we read and fall in love with books.

I find a visceral attachment to the place I’ve read my favorite books. Whenever I think about reading Rebecca Stead’s amazing When You Reach Me, I think about the dark summer night I spent on the couch in our mountain cabin – all alone in the wee hours of the night, getting to the ending and wanting to start right back over again. In this very same place just last week, I was able to indulge in reading Bigger than a Bread Box by the magical Laurel Snyder, and The Summer I Learned to Fly – a wonderful coming of age story by Dana Reinhardt. My father built this mountain cabin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and I’ve grown up going there in winter and summer. There’s something deep inside that makes this connection between place and story.

We bring books wherever we travel. My children laugh and tell stories about how their suitcases are so heavy because, “Mom insists on bringing 15 books on our summer vacation.” But just look at the fun I had with my youngest daughter reading Marty McGuire on our summer hike in the Sierra Mountains! Kate Messner had us both completely hooked, laughing and giggling at Marty’s adventures. Summer vacation is one of the best times to read whatever you want, grabbing time whenever you want to fall into a great book.

Will digital books change this experience? Yes, perhaps, but not really (how’s that for a wishy-washy answer?). I stash a paperback into my hiking backpack and don’t really mind if the water bottle leaks on it or the PB&J smooshes onto it. I’m not sure I can see bringing an expensive device on hikes like this, but loading up an iPad or Kindle is so much easier than stuffing suitcases with heavy books. My children have gotten swept away reading digital books just as much as reading hard copies – for them, it’s about whether they connect with the story.

Yes, above all, it’s story – and setting – that connects me with the books I love. The story must sweep me away into a different time and place, and I must connect with the characters and their journeys. But the place I read these stories will always be an integral part of my memory, of my experience falling in love with these books. As so many people have said, the magic of a book is that half of the experience is brought by the author bringing the story to life, and the other half of the experience is the life the story takes on in the mind of the reader.

I am indebted to friends near and far who are members of the Nerdy Book Club. My life is so much richer because of my ability to share my love of books, in my book club, on Twitter and with my Goodreads friends. Thinking about the power of place really came from two special people, specifically John Schumacher – a.k.a. Mr. Schu – taking pictures of his rampant love of books wherever he goes, and Laurel Snyder encouraging me to think about the View from Here. And, of course, a special thanks must go to Colby Sharp for his unending enthusiasm starting The Nerdy Book Club, and giving us all a place to call home.

Mary Ann Scheuer


Mary Ann Scheuer is a librarian, teacher and mom of three children. She is the librarian at Emerson Elementary School in Berkeley. She is passionate about helping children and families find books that make them excited about reading. Please come her blog Great Kid Books, and share your love of reading.