The world is a book...
by Laura Gelder | 01 March 2017
…and those who do not travel read only a page – so goes my favourite quote. On the 20th anniversary of World Book Day, VisitEngland has released research which shows that more than half of British holidaymakers would visit a literary attraction on holiday in England.
This doesn’t surprise me as I’m one of them – I’ve played Pooh Sticks in Ashdown Forest, wandered through the rooms of Jane Austen’s house in Hampshire, fancying myself watching the rain from her writing desk, and stalked the wilds of Bodmin Moor imagining the bleak world of Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn.
I’ve always thought that reading about travel is the next best thing to doing it and I travelled to many of my favourite places on a page, long before I set foot in them. My love affair with Asia started nearly 20 years before I arrived there, in 2006.
My obsession with China, in particular, probably started with Arthur Ransome’s Missy Lee – a story about children kidnapped by Chinese Pirates. I loved the mystical-sounding names – like Tiger Island and their fierce captor Taicoon Chang. The tale of daring escape, sailing through a dangerous gorge aboard a Chinese junk called Shining Moon, made me long to see the emerald waters of the South China Sea myself.
When I finally touched down in the frenetic neon smog of Shanghai in 2012 it wasn’t quite the same vision that Arthur Ransome had penned in the 1930s. But I consider myself lucky to have travelled to two very different Chinas.
There are some places which look like they’ve leapt straight out of the pages of a book – like Monroeville in Alabama. Harper Lee’s home town is very similar to her descriptions of Maycomb, the setting for To Kill a Mockingbird. The streets are no longer dusty but the courthouse, which sits on the crossroads at the centre of the town, is still filled with rows of shiny wooden benches and the judge's pulpit backed by an American flag.
It doesn’t really matter if a place resembles its literary incarnation or not. The high-tech toilets and cat cafes of modern Japan are far removed from the sliding screen doors and tea ceremonies depicted in Memoirs of a Geisha, but it still helps you understand the formal rites of Japanese culture today, and if it inspires you to go somewhere then it's done its job!
VisitEngland has named 2017 the ‘Year of Literary Heroes’ in recognition of this year’s milestone literary events including the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and 75 years of The Famous Five.
England is home to more than 50 literature-related attractions including authors’ homes, museums and famous libraries dedicated to authors ranging from William Shakespeare and the Bronte sisters to Beatrix Potter and Agatha Cristie. You can see a literary map of England here.
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