"Because of the setting and story of the play, outside spaces are associated with the violence of toxic masculinity, whereas romantic love is confined to mostly secret, indoor spaces: the Friar’s cell, the bedroom, and the tomb."

It seems a foregone conclusion to state that every book, play, and poem ever written, whether obvious or not or intended or not, occurs in a certain place at a certain time. Often when a literary scholar assembles other literary scholars to discuss famous works, what they talk about more than anything else is plot and character. But educator and author Houston gathered two dozen of her well-versed contemporaries to reflect on something quite different: place and setting. Just how do specific locations and time periods affect the way we react to a story, how we feel about the individuals between the covers, or the lessons we’re left with once we close the cover? More than a hundred notable works—from Catcher in the Rye and Death of a Salesman to The Hunger Games and Romeo and Juliet—are given such treatment in this intriguing volume.

There is quite a bit about this curious discourse that’s extremely valuable for lovers of all literary forms, although it must be noted that much of it is only peripherally related to the book’s stated objective. Its premise is to explore the effect of location and setting on the achievements of a hundred writers and their prominent works. To an extent, that’s what it does. But in the course of reading the essays—which include synopses, lists of related texts, and more—readers may actually find themselves more engaged with plot summaries, the role of symbolism, and what they may have overlooked on the shelf. They may also find themselves asking a question that remains essentially unexplored: if these stories were set at different time periods in alternate locations, could they have been just as compelling? Still, the essays are short, informative, and highly readable, making the book worthwhile for all serious readers.

Winner of the 2020 Eric Hoffer Book Award Reference Category

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

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