11 Books That Remind Us There’s No Place Like Home

As Off the Shelf writers, and book lovers, we spend a lot of time immersed in fictional worlds. But every once in a while we’ll finish reading a book and then long for a more familiar place—our hometowns. Whether we were born and raised there, or took such a liking that we chose to call it our second home later on in life, these 11 books are set in the many places that we call home.

The Bastard of Istanbul
by Elif Shafak

Complex and vivid, I feel at home in Istanbul, in all the good ways of that word: warm, content, and comforted. In Elif Shafak’s equally complex and vivid THE BASTARD OF ISTANBUL, my adopted hometown is as important as the foibles of the human characters. When it was published, Shafak’s portrayal of the Armenian genocide prompted her arrest for “public denigration of Turkishness.” This is an enlightening, yet entertaining, read. —Allison (Istanbul, Turkey)

Commencement
by J. Courtney Sullivan

This debut novel from fellow Smithie alumna, J. Courtney Sullivan, was a comfort when I was struck with post-grad homesickness for hallowed halls, late-night riot grrrl discussions, and classrooms filled with bright, challenging women (and usually a nose ring or five). COMMENCEMENT follows four women as they bond through their unique Smith experiences and tracks their changing friendships, loyalty, and deep secrets as their lives progress. —Elizabeth (Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts)

The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

For most, THE GREAT GATSBY calls to mind the mansions of Long Island—but for me, Fitzgerald’s masterpiece brings me to my hometown of Astoria, New York. Whether he’s racing over the Queensboro Bridge or weaving between the girders of the elevated subway, Nick views Astoria as a dreamlike world between Long Island and Manhattan. —Kerry (Astoria, New York)

The Secret History
by Donna Tartt

Though I grew up in New York, I spent a lot of time (and still do) in the Green Mountain State. Donna Tartt’s campus classic, THE SECRET HISTORY, is set at an elite New England school, where a group of friends meet and, under the questionable influence of their charismatic professor, begin to misbehave. If you’re in the mood for a darker DEAD POETS SOCIETY, this one is for you. —Julianna (Vermont)

Empire Falls
by Richard Russo

I will never not recommend this book, and what a perfect excuse again! The winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize, Richard Russo’s novel EMPIRE FALLS follows Miles Roby (the owner of the Empire Grill), his family, and his friends in the small, blue-collar, and slowly bankrupting titular Maine town. —Julianna (Maine)

Brain on Fire
by Susannah Cahalan

My hometown of Summit, NJ, is shared by author Susannah Cahalan, who spends time there during the harrowing medical ordeal detailed in her memoir. In a swift and breathtaking narrative, she tells the true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen. —Sarah Jane (Summit, New Jersey)

Election
by Tom Perrotta

Tom Perrotta’s first novel, which is also a movie starring Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick, is set in my home state of New Jersey and revolves around a high school student election. In my high school government class I was elected president on a platform of stopping the rise of machines, and I lifted my speech from the first Terminator film. Somehow, I was able to get a key demographic—the pity vote. —Chris (New Jersey)

The Glass Castle
by Jeannette Walls

Finding the great Phoenix novel appears to be an impossible task, but I can’t really complain, considering we can claim Jeannette Walls as our own. This memoir of Jeannette’s unconventional childhood takes place in various Southwest desert towns, but for a time, the Walls family resides in a house on North 3rd Street in Phoenix before moving to West Virginia. While the heart of this story lies in Jeannette’s eccentric parents and her determination to find a successful life for herself, it also provides a complete portrait of 1960s and 1970s Arizona. —Erin (Phoenix, Arizona)

Goodbye, Columbus
by Philip Roth

Philip Roth’s GOODBYE, COLUMBUS is set mainly in Newark, New Jersey—two towns over from where I grew up. I first read it as a child long before I could understand the intricacies, but Roth’s descriptions of the library and a well-stocked fruit fridge hooked me. I’ve loved it ever since. —Allison (Newark, New Jersey)

Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist
by Sunil Yapa

The lives of seven disparate strangers are changed during the dramatic and historic 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. Vivid, electric, and brimming with heart, YOUR HEART IS A MUSCLE THE SIZE OF A FIST explores the power of empathy and how far we will go for family, justice, and love. —Taylor (Seattle, Washington)

Blood Done Sign My Name
by Timothy B. Tyson

A 23-year-old black veteran was beaten to death by three white men in the streets of Oxford, NC, in May of 1970. Enraged by the murder, young African Americans took to the streets and torched the town’s tobacco warehouse in retribution while the Klan raged in the shadows. Riveting and harrowing, BLOOD DONE SIGN MY NAME is an essential portrait of a town facing its bloody racial history. —Taylor (Oxford, North Carolina)