Escapism is one of the top reasons why I read: the opportunity to explore all kinds of worlds with varying degrees of removal from the one I live in. Sometimes I’m in the mood for something just a little different, other times I want a setting whose rules I can barely wrap my head around. But whatever you’re looking for, it probably already exists in some book somewhere — and if it doesn’t, you can always write it yourself.
In other words, book cities and worlds certainly make for great hypothetical summer vacation destinations; since I won’t actually get to go anywhere cool this year, I’m sort of living vicariously through fictional characters. Y’know, business as usual.
I know the following poem has been quoted excessively, but I love it very much and it seemed incredibly appropriate. So I’ve included it to kind of set the mood for this post, but you can of course skip it if you prefer.
There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,
Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry —
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll —
How frugal is the Chariot
That bears a Human soul.
– Emily Dickinson
10. Hogwarts (Harry Potter)
Okay, this isn’t a unique response, or technically a city or world. (I did consider putting “Wizarding World” to get around this, but honestly, I’m not all that interested in the other parts of it except maybe Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade.) That’s partly why it’s only #10 on this list and not any higher; the other main part is that it’s been a while since I’ve read, or wanted to read, the series — but I still wouldn’t pass up the chance to take a class with Professor McGonagall or Neville.
9. Janloon (The Green Bone Saga)
I’m currently reading Jade War so of course Fonda Lee’s setting is very much on my mind, especially with the lovely maps at the front of my ARC. Of course it’s not the safest destination, what with all the clan violence, but I imagine a tourist who made sure to stay aware of the territory boundaries and keep their head down should be fine?
8. OASIS (Ready Player One)
While I didn’t love the plot or main characters, RPO had fantastic worldbuilding. OASIS was literally built to be explored; though I certainly don’t have the 80s knowledge or the cutthroat ambition to win the Easter egg hunt, I would have a great time meandering around the virtual reality universe.
7. Sea of Knowledge (The Phantom Tollbooth)
“You can swim all day in the Sea of Knowledge and not get wet.” I love swimming and I love knowledge — enough said.
6. TropeTown (The Manic Pixie Dream Boy Improvement Project)
By virtue of being human I know I couldn’t actually visit TropeTown, and since I’m a writer I don’t think the Manic Pixies would like me very much. Still, their world is fascinating, and I’d love to peek at the other side of a novel-in-progress.
5. Basically any door (Wayward Children)
I can’t remember now whether the doors are specific to each child or they’re totally random, but finding my own has replaced receiving a Hogwarts letter as my impossible dream. (Because I’m no longer technically a child, not because I’m saying the doors and other worlds don’t exist!) Whatever awaits me in this hypothetical world, I’m down for an adventure.
Technically Caraval isn’t a city I guess, but I consider it a world. There’s a story (within a story, if we’re talking about the books), colorful cast, and so many interesting memories to be made. Of course there’s some danger here too, but that’s part of the fun … just remember, it’s only a game.
3. Oar’s Rest (Small Town Hearts)
Obviously there’s a reason vacationers flock to Oar’s Rest, just as there’s a reason the year-round inhabitants love it. (Well, multiple reasons in both cases, but you know what I mean.) It’s idyllic and welcoming, the epitome of a perfect summer destination — you know, assuming you like the beach and good food and friendly neighbors.
This is possibly one of the first fictional worlds I really wanted to explore, maybe because even as a child I was delighted by the book-within-a-book setup. In addition to all the places Meggie and Farid and Dustfinger (and the others, of course) pass through, the inhabitants of the Inkworld are positively delightful, even when they’re being mean. And, like Meggie and Mo, I feel like I know enough about the world and its workings to survive.
1. Le Cirque des Rêves (The Night Circus)
What wouldn’t I give to visit the titular setting of my favorite book? I want to look through all the tents (but especially the Cloud Maze and Ice Garden), taste the fantastically delicious cinnamon things and chocolate mice, meet other rêveurs. The circus is already in my mind and under my skin without my ever having visited it, so it would literally be a dream come true.
Is worldbuilding also a big part of enjoying a novel for you, or does another aspect take higher precedence? What book settings would you like to visit? Do you know of any real-life counterparts to any of the ones I’ve listed or that you’d like to explore?