Many a City Is 'Title Town'

07/07/2011 02:32 pm ET | Updated Sep 06, 2011
  • Dave Astor Author, 'Comic (and Column) Confessional'

Do you read so much fiction that visiting a city almost always reminds you of certain novels?

I seem to have developed this problem. For instance, I was recently in Detroit for a National Society of Newspaper Columnists conference, and book titles kept popping into my brain.

After arriving at the airport, I boarded a city bus to my hotel. The vehicle took such a meandering route and made so many stops that the trip lasted more than 90 minutes. Sure enough, I thought about John Steinbeck's The Wayward Bus -- though the bus I rode didn't end up in a ditch. Meanwhile, the Detroit driver and many passengers were so nice that the exiting of a friendly snack-food eater brought to mind the warmth of James Hilton's Goodbye, Mr. Chips.

My hotel wasn't far from Ford Field, the sight of which made me think not only of football's Detroit Lions but of Henry Ford. I quickly free-associated to E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime, in which the auto magnate is a character. I should have also thought of Ford Madox Ford, but I've never read him.

One conference event took place at the Detroit Institute of Arts, where Diego Rivera drew huge murals of working-class scenes almost 80 years ago. As I gazed at Rivera's marvelous wall pictures, I recalled how Barbara Kingsolver made the painter and his artist wife Frida Kahlo come alive as characters in The Lacuna. I'm not sure which seasons Rivera was in Detroit during his 1932-33 burst of mural frenzy, but there probably was a Prodigal Summer in there.

Of course, other cities also evoke books: When I visited Boston, Edward Bellamy's utopian Looking Backward came to mind. When I watched people eat meat in a Chicago restaurant, it made me think of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Phoenix... Terry McMillan's Waiting to Exhale. San Francisco... Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. Quebec City... Willa Cather's Shadows on the Rock. Toronto... Margaret Atwood books such as Cat's Eye. And that's just a few examples! You may have examples of your own for cities in North America and abroad. "Around the World in 80 Titles," anyone?

Even as novels bring pleasure to a reader's life, they add to the travel experience.

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