Monday, September 12, 2011

The Geography of Alice Munro (Literary mapping with Google Maps)

One of my goals this summer was to read Alice Munro's Selected Stories in sequential order, to get a better feel for her evolution as a writer.  Unfortunately, being an American, all the stories seemed to me to take place in that amorphous area called Canada—I imagined prairie-like towns with long winters and too-brief summers. Then I realized one day that perhaps I should look at an atlas to get a sense of how far her characters were traveling on trains, when they moved, etc.

Of course I was stunned at how far it is between Wingham, Ontario, town of her birth, and Vancouver, BC, where she moved with her first husband—a distance of some 2,500 miles*—and how different the terrain is between the two places. Also surprising—how close to the U.S. border many of these towns are. The book, Alice Munro: Writing Her Lives, was an excellent source for charting the real places in Munro's life, as well as cluing me in that Wingham is probably the town she fictionalized in many of her stories.

I wanted to dig a little deeper, to see what the streets, lakes, and mountains might have looked like to her characters, so I looked around to see if anyone else had created a visual representation of these places. Since I didn't find it, I created a quick Google Map marking some of the major sites in her life and fiction:

(Please realize that this is a work in progress).

You can click on most places and zoom in until you can get a street with all the businesses marked on it. If you're able to put the little golden man on the spot, he can show you geographic features, buildings, even people walking on the street. For example, if you click on Munro's Books, you can put the little Google man there on the street to find charming, European-style buildings, with mountains in the distance.

If there are other, literary, publicly available Google Maps available, I'd like to find them and will eventually list them here. I imagine, like everything else Internet, I am not the first to try do this. Soon, I imagine, nonfiction authors might create a public Google Map to use alongside a modern history or biography.

* I know this because I used the Google Map "Get directions" feature.

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