Monday, 22 June 2009
There is in London all that life can afford - Samuel Johnson
City-lit London ed. Heather Reyes
I love to travel and visit new places, often before I go somewhere new I'll try to read at least one book set in that location. Sometimes this is more of a success than others. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell was a great read just before going to Corfu, but Bill Bryson's Down Under just fed all of my underlying fears of the Australian wildlife.
Choosing what to read before visiting a new location can be hard. Sometimes very little has been written but sometimes there is so much to pick through that you are overwhelmed. It is for this latter category that Oxygen Books produce their fabulous City-Lit guides.
I am currently dipping in and out of their guide to London and already my list of books I'd like to read has grown by several pages.
This guide is split into ten sections all of which use quotes from various books to show a different side to London. Topics such as the River Thames, the weather and East Enders (the people not the soap opera) are explored by sixty different authors.
Some of the books used are recognised classics by Woolf, Dickens and Conrad but modern literature is also represented whether by literary authors such as McEwan or popular authors such as Maeve Binchy or Ruth Rendell. I am pretty certain that there is a new author for everyone to discover.
The passages have been selected with great care and give a wonderful flavour of London and you really feel that you are getting to know the city in a far more realistic way that you can by simply reading 'normal' travel guides.
Each quote is put into context with a short piece of witty text meaning that unlike many collections of excerpts and quotes you can either dip in and out or read it straight through from cover to cover.
This book gives a real taste of London through time without ever becoming a dry history text. In addition it introduces you as a reader to areas of London that you'd possibly never have considered visiting as well as introducing you to the works of 60 authors that you'd possibly never have considered reading without some prompting. I've been to London many times whether for business or pleasure but I now feel I know the city a lot better from reading this books than I ever did before.
This is not a guide book to London but rather a wonderful guide to the books of London.
So far there are guides to Paris and London available but there are similar works on Berlin, Dublin, Amsterdam and many more all in the pipeline. I think I'll be buying them all regardless of whether I'm visiting the locations or not.