Literary Places: a Book Review

The warm weather we have been experiencing in the UK for the last week or so has really helped me move along with my non-resolution plan to finish my Christmas book haul. There is nothing like sitting in the garden in the sun with a good book to while away an hour or seven!

After much deliberation, I settled on Literary Places by Sarah Baxter (artwork by Amy Grimes) as my next choice of book. The wife had read this ahead of me and had been telling me to read it since she had finished it. The fact it was on the top of my pile had nothing to do with it being chosen I am sure…

For my next book, I am sticking with non-fiction (I have little choice really) and have chosen the rather enigmatically titled How many friends does one person need? I’ve purposefully not read the blurb on this book as I want to keep the contents a surprise, but I’m guessing it has something to do with Maths so I am looking forward to diving in. First though, my latest book choice.

Literary Places

My rating: ⭐️

You can probably guess from my rating I did not like this book and was tempted to not post this review at all as I am struggling to think of much which is positive to say. After repeated recommendations by the wife I was expecting better things and was left sadly disappointed. Ostensibly a merging of a travel and literary guide into one handy book, I feel it unfortunately fails to be much of either.

Taking twenty five well know books (most of them now considered classics), Baxter sets out to give a guided tour of the most prominent setting within each book. Covering no more than three pages per book/city, the brief description of the place and book is accompanied by a smorgasbord of related illustrations by Grimes.

I have read about a third of the books covered, and been fortunate enough to visit a third of the locations included. If a travel guide or literary review is supposed to leave you wanting to visit the place or read the book, I was left wanting neither, and I think this is rather telling. At points the book feels more like an assignment set in a creative writing class than a travel guide, and if it had not been a short little book I would have almost certainly given in part way through.

Oh, and I should probably mention this book is spoiler heavy. If any of the books covered are on your TBR pile, I would definitely give Literary Places a miss.

What I really liked

  1. Really only the illustrations by Grimes stood out as a win for this book. One of the reviews on Goodreads felt it would have been better with photos but I have to disagree. I think the images set an appropriate tone and complimented the text well. It’s just a shame the text did not live up to the drawings…

The less good bits

  1. The book felt like neither a travel guide nor a literary review. If anything it felt like a whole lot of not very much.
  2. Each book was covered so briefly it did not allow for a better exploration of the places being described nor the books which were set there. Even the places I have visited or the books read felt entirely unconnected to Baxter’s text.
  3. The choice of books felt unimaginative and clichéd. I suspect the choice of books is related to places the author had already visited prior to this book being commissioned, and picking from the classics and Nobel Laureates is a sure fire way to hit on a good book. It just felt lacking in imagination, and did not leave me with new books to consider which I had not heard of or was aware of before.
  4. While I loved the illustrations, they dominate this book, with many chapters having more pages of illustrations than text. The drawings were good, Grimes is a great illustrator, they should probably have tried cutting down the number to give more space to the writing.

Summary

Literary Places feels like neither a travel guide nor literary review, and had it not been so short I imagine I would have given up on it early on.

Who should read this book? I struggle to think of anyone this would be a good choice for. Maybe people who want to get an idea of the plot of classic books without reading them, but if that is the case you could just take a look at Wikipedia…

Have you read Literary Places or got it on the TBR pile? Have I been overly harsh in my review? Did you think the illustrations carried the text more than they should have to? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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