What is bookmapping? And other FAQs

What is bookmapping?
Bookmapping is simply mapping locations that appear in books or have literary significance in the real world.

Why would someone do this?
It’s fun.  Imagine going on a scavenger hunt, but instead of looking for things, you look for places, and instead of a friend making up the list, your favorite author does. Bookmapping can be satisfying on many more levels than a scavenger hunt though.

If you are able to visit the locations of your favorite books, you will connect with the works in new and likely meaningful ways.  Standing in the exact spot that a character from a book or a figure from history has stood, and taking a look around will link you to those stories and their authors in a powerful way.  Books will also begin to give you a deeper understanding of place.

I have talked to a lot of people about bookmapping over the years, and almost all of them have been surprised when they first hear the idea.  It seems interesting, but finding book locations in the real world does not seem like something many people do.  Ignoring for a moment the regular stream of pictures coming across social media that show people at Harry Potter’s Platform 9¾ in London, most readers, after a little prompting, begin to remember their own interactions with literary places.

If you are a reader, take a minute and think about the literary locations where you have been.  Maybe you specifically visited a location from a book, or were pleasantly surprised to realize you were in a place you had read about, or visited an author’s house, or knew about a place through a book or poem before you visited it. You may have already had more interactions with books and authors in the real world than you realize.

Ok, how do I get started?
Find a book that is set in the real world.  With all the digital maps and satellite imagery available, you could pick a book that is set anywhere, but it will probably be more fun if you pick one that contains places you can visit, whether they are near your home or in a location where you will be traveling.

For local books, check out your library or nearby bookstore.  Both will usually have sections dedicated to local works.  If you have a trip planned, reading books set in or near your destination is a great way to learn about the place before you arrive and will provide you with opportunities to seek out places that you already know something about.

Fiction and non-fiction books work, so choose whichever you like.

Then, start reading.  In a separate notebook, on sticky notes, on a note app on your phone or tablet, or anywhere, track the names of some important or specific locations that are mentioned.  Sometimes minor places from a narrative will be the most interesting, so jot down a range of place names.  Especially at first, don’t obsess over every location. You don’t want to ruin the pleasure of reading the book.

Once you have a list of a few places, do some research.  Wikipedia is a great place to start, but the quirky resources that will emerge when you search for specific, esoteric locations are sometimes more fun to read.

Even better, if you read about local places, go visit them.  This gives you the opportunity to see how well the author captured a place, and sometimes realize new details about a story that you didn’t grasp originally.  As you begin researching locations, you will often discover intriguing histories and details that will continually draw you in.

If you find anything interesting or have your own bookmapping stories, feel free to send them to booma@booma.us.  I will be writing more about my experiences in future posts and would love to hear about, and maybe share, your adventures too.

What is Booma?
Booma, whose name is a mashup of “Book Maps”, is a place for exploring bookmapping and sharing what you find.  I first started mapping books almost 10 years ago, and since then I have wanted to build a community around the activity.  With the help of many generous people, I have been able to start Booma.  While our goal is to create a mapping platform specifically geared toward tracking locations that appear in literature, Booma is also an experiment in bringing together literature and technology.  For now the site focuses on bookmaps, but there is room to share anything that uses modern tools to enhance narratives.

Can I contribute to Booma?
Yes!  If you like what we are doing there are a lot of ways you can become more involved and support the project.

Technical Contributions: Making a project like this work, relies on having a strong technical foundation. If you have skills in front end or back end development, we would love your contributions. Check us out on GitHub.

Don’t know an HTML tag from modulo operator but still have thoughts about how to improve the site or grow the community? Send your suggestions to booma+suggest@booma.us.

Don’t have technical skills, but want to start learning? Keep an eye out for future articles about coding.

Content Contributions: As the Booma platform develops, we will be making it easier to contribute to existing projects and even create new ones.  For now though check out our project page to sign up to be involved with upcoming projects, or recommend a new one at booma+project@booma.us.

Monetary Contributions: Our operating expenses are pretty low for the time being, so it doesn’t take much money to keep Booma online.  Basically, there are website hosting and email costs, and depending on how many visitors we have, additional data charges.  However, monetary support will keep the project growing.  I have had several people help me along the way and would like to be able to compensate them for their continued contributions as well as use money to focus on specific improvements and projects on the site.

While the site does offer book sales and is open to some relevant, non-intrusive advertising, it would great if Booma could survive on the support of its users and avoid the negative aspects of advertising dependency.

If you like what we are doing and have the means, please donate a few bucks on our Patreon page.

Social Sharing: Part of our expenses go to spreading the word about Booma.  If Booma interests you, the easiest thing you can do to help us grow is share our site with your friends and help us connect with everyone who loves books and travel.

I have more questions–what should I do?
Send me an email at booma@booma.us.  I would love to hear what’s on your mind, and I will do my best to respond directly or address your questions in future posts.