Monday, September 15, 2014

The World At My Fingertips and How It Has Changed How I Read Books

Recently I noticed something has changed in the way that I read books and I’m wondering if it’s changed for you as well or if it has and you just haven’t noticed it yet.

***Note - You Kindle people will laugh at this post as you've been doing what I'm going to talk about all along, but humor me ok?***

I notice it now that I am reading The Underground Girls of Kabul for my online book group, From Left to Write, but I believe it started with a book I read about two books ago called Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly.

The story in the book Revolution is set mostly in Paris and in the book, (which is quite descriptive) the main character Andi Alpers visits many places in Paris that I have never seen, since I've never been to Paris!

The description the author gives of the places is very detailed but at one point Andi is in the Catacombs of Paris and she’s describing what she sees and I just can’t picture it, no matter how well it is described. Plus it's really making me curious to know exactly what she's seeing.

Since I was on my lunch hour at work when I read this portion and sitting in front of my computer I Google the Catacombs of Paris and found the official website Les Catacombes. I was mesmerized by the photos and suddenly I felt like I was right there, in the Catacombs with Andi!

Photo Credit - Wikipedia

There was even a photo to the Entrance to the Catacombs which Andi waits at and describes in the book.

Photo Credit - Wikipedia
Later on in the book Andi is out touring the city with her love interest in the book and they sit to eat and he pulls out a dish his mother made him for lunch called Bistilla, which is a Moroccan Chicken Dish. She mentions how it is her favorite dish and she used to eat it back in the states in New York and they made it with raisins and cinnamon. A dish with pastry and chicken and raisins and cinnamon caught my attention, so I Googled that as well and found a great picture and a recipe.

Photo Credit - SBS Food

I could go on and on naming things that I didn't know of in the book or was just interested in, like the history and paintings of various kings and queens she mentions in the book. It was just so much more fun and educational to look up all these things while I was reading! It helped me to be in the moment, in the book, with Andi! That is something that I had never experienced before!

So now I'm reading The Underground Girls of Kabul and first thing I did was search for Afghanistan to see where it was in relation to Iran and Iraq and to the United States. Have you heard the country western song by Alan Jackson called Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)? I've provided a youtube video so you can listen to the song, it's beautiful and it's the song Alan Jackson wrote in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Here is a portion of the lyrics that I've heard several times but never really thought of them:

"I'm just a singer of simple songs
I'm not a real political man.
I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can
tell you the difference in Iraq and Iran.
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
and I remember this from when I was young,
Faith, Hope and Love are some good things he gave us
and the greatest is Love."

I realized that I too don't know the difference between Iraq and Iran or where Afghanistan is, so I googled it! Now I had a frame of reference and while I was reading about the history of Afghanistan and some of the places the author mentions I was able to see it on the map. It was a whole new way of reading a book and opening my eyes up to the world!

Photo Credit -
I think of all the books I have read in the past where I really just used my imagination, which is also a great thing and I'm sure I will continue to do so when an author is speaking of something that can't be googled, but I missed out on so much in not being able to just have the world at my fingertips for all those books! Things will be changing now!

This post was inspired by The Underground Girls of Kabul, a book by journalist Jenny Nordberg, who discovers a secret Afghani practice where girls are dressed and raised as boys. Join From Left to Write on September 16th as we discuss The Underground Girls of Kabul. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes. 



  1. Alicia, I find the same experience. It's so easy to look things up now and I regularly take advantage of the tools at my fingertips. This is a great example of how helpful it can be.

    1. Thanks Alison. I'm really looking forward to finishing the book. I only got a few pages in when I already knew what I was going to write about, but already I've looked up burka and the dish with the green jello, don't have the book with me but that was interesting as well. Such a great big world out there! Thanks for commenting!

  2. Making connections with books is always wonderful, but so is having one's eyes opened to something new in the world, too!

    1. That is what I realized. I've read so many books where I didn't even know the area of the world they were taking place in but for some reason never thought to look up the area and I've been a lover of Google and computers and technology since 1993! You would think at some point I would have thought to use the tools available while reading!

  3. I loved that you did this! I know very little about that part of the world and should have looked it up too.

    1. Yes, I was kind of embarrassed about how little I knew! History and Geography have never been my favorite subjects but still...I should at least have a general idea of where these places are!

  4. Wow! The catacomb are cool...neat photo. One of the thing that I really like about the Kindle is the ability to write notes, it works very well with Kindle for Mac or PC. When I run into a cool supporting site like this I will copy and paste the URLs of the site or photos in the note. The Kindle allows you to search these notes with ease.

    Another cool thing is Google satellite images and Google street view. In the second book of the girl with the dragon tattoo series, The Girl Who Played with Fire, Steig Larrson provides very accurate street descriptions of Stockholm. Members of a motor cycle gang accost Lisbeth outside her apartment.

    Here is the quote from the book:

    Blomkvist stood paralyzed, his mouth agape, when the attacker suddenly dashed after Salander. He looked like a tank chasing a toy car. Salander took THE STEPS TO UPPER LUNDAGATAN two at a time. At the top of the stairs she glanced over her shoulder and saw her pursuer reaching the first step. He was fast. She noticed the piles of boards and sand where the local authority had dug up the street.

    Larsson, Stieg; Reg Keeland (2009-07-20). The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium Trilogy) (p. 153). Vintage. Kindle Edition.

    Those steps actually exist. I put this note in the book:

    Steps to the upper Lundagatan

    Type in 49 Lundagatan Stockholm Sweden in Google maps street view to see the steps.

    Or use these coordinates;

    59 19.085 N 18 2.649 E

    If you copy and past those coordinates into Google Maps, then zoom in on the red balloon, and drag the little man on top of the zoom slider and place him on the street a little bit east of the balloon (street view), you can see the steps that Lisbeth took in the above passage on the north side of the street. If you face west and look down the street, you will see the spire of Hogalid Church to which Larrson frequently refers. Stuff like this is really cool.

    Another book I read, The Wheel of Fortune by Susan Howatch, described a potential murder that took place on a natural feature, The Wormshead, on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales. Using Google satellite view, I could follow the paths out on the Wormshead as the book described the individuals walking on them. Pretty cool. We live in interesting times.

    Very good post Alicia, and it didn't give me heartburn.

    1. Ha! I'm glad you didn't get heartburn, but that's probably because I didn't describe the Bistella dish in detail. Someday I plan to make it. Just as soon as it's not 150,000,000 degrees! My gosh it's been hot here. But anyway, I checked out those coordinates and wow, it's lovely! I see the steps and the spire just as you describe. Isn't this excellent? To be able to see places in books that before we could only use our imagination? We do definitely live in interesting times! Thanks for stopping by, always a pleasure!

  5. This is not appliable only to books but also to news.When the disappearance of the Malaysian jet MH370 was reported, every new theory sent me straight to Google and its maps, to evaluate positions and distances of places mentioned in the news. I felt involved; My mind was working like that of a detective trying to find the solution to the mystery. That's great.

    1. That is so true! I hadn't thought of that! I know I check google often to find out weather in places where I have friends, things like that but I had not considered using it during news broadcasts! Another way I use it is to locate businesses when I know where it is but forget the name, I just go to google maps and locate a street closeby and drive on my computer down roads I know until I get to the place and then can see what the name of the business is! We live in amazing times!

  6. Yes, yes, yes! I'm an English teacher, and have found that we use technology on a daily basis to learn about things that spark our curiosity. I often search for a video clip or photo to help my kids start to visualize what they're reading or some sort of detail...I should start keeping a log of what they ask - sometimes it's crazy what they think of! Thanks for sharing!

    1. I can imagine they ask some pretty wild things! Yes, keep track and then do a blog post on it, that should be interesting! :)


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