I am a member of the Goodreads Ladies and Literature group, which reads selected books and then engages in cyber discussions. Our book for June is "White Oleander", by Janet Fitch, a book I first read upon its release in 1999. I remember having some issues with the book at the time, although it was years ago so I couldn't recall the specifics. So I was game for a re-read, so I could see if things were different this time out.
When I first read "White Oleander" I lived thousands of miles from California; I had never even visited the southern part of the state. I couldn't quite grasp the author's references to the Santa Ana winds, the formidable geography of the terrain, or the vastness of the valleys. For the last few years, however, I have lived in L.A. County, and even given poetry readings in Venice Beach, like Ingrid, the character whose actions are the starting point of the story.
Suddenly, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough - I was cruising along Sunset Boulevard, feeling the desert sun, squinting in that angled white light so peculiar to southern California. The story came alive for me, which poses the question: how important is place?
As a writer, I try to use place as a pivotal part of my work. But what role does it play for me as a reader? How much does it contribute to my enjoyment of a book? Is this applicable for all stories, all genres? After all, Privet Drive does not exist except in the mind, yet I was able to fly over its tidy houses with Harry and Hagrid.
What do you think? Does engagement with place reel you into a story which may not have interested you otherwise?