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Traveling Makes Books Better

While I was in Berlin, I started listening to the audio versions of Neal Stephenson's great Baroque Cycle. Set in the latter decades of the 17th Century, these books encompass the major historical and scientific figures of the age, from Newton and Leibniz to Louis XIV and William of Orange. I read them in paper form when they came out, but I'm loving them again on audio.

Much of the action takes place in London, and having now spent a couple weeks tromping around the city, I think it makes all the difference in how much I appreciate the books. Having physically walked the length and breadth of the city center several times, I have a sense memory for place and distance and geography that adds a whole dimension to the story for me. Stephenson certainly seems to have done his research (something I never doubted of course) and so it all works for me. I can imagine it would feel very different if he was playing very fast and loose with the facts. For instance, the movie Run Lola, Run jumps all over Berlin in the course of it's heroine's racing about and is thus kind of disorienting if you know the places Lola's running past.

I just got to a part in the books where Daniel Waterhouse enters the Tower of London via the river through the Traitor's Gate. I've been there. I've got a picture of it right here:

OK, it's not quite as intimidating in daylight with all the tourists hanging about, but still, it made that scene pop and resonate in my imagination in wonderful ways. It's part of why I love setting my own books in as many real places as possible - I'm almost addicted to that blurring of the lines between story and memory.

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