July 06, 2007

Get London Reading

Giant posters featuring novels and authors are plastered brightly against the grey cement walls of most London underground stations. A few heel clicks away, I usually find a WHSmith. Because the city is so reliant on public transportation, there's a bit of extra time to read. Every morning, well-suited Londoners sit quietly on the tube with their heads down in a book, flipping pages until it seems their 6th sense kicks when they've reached their stop. I know mine always does.

In 2006, the first Get London Reading Challenge was launched by Booktrust in an effort to encourage the city to read more. Browsing earlier, I happened upon their Web site. Here, I learned that Kensal Rise Library, of which I am a member and walk past every morning, was opened in September 1900 by the American author Mark Twain. Other interesting literary information is available on the site for each of London's boroughs.

Maybe even more interesting is that you can look up your borough and it will tell you which books were written in that setting and where your local bookshops can be found. The site lists a number of books based in London, as part of the campaign. And, a random tidbit, speed dating in libraries came about in the 2006 Challenge. Hm.

I dragged my friend Danny to the London Literature Festival 2007 last weekend. (It's still on until 12 July in and around the Southbank Centre near the permanent outdoor book fair and the skateboarders.) Here, we were given free books about London as part of a project to read and pass along. 1,000 books are to be given out.

My book is White Teeth by Zadie Smith and Danny got his hands on The London Pigeon Wars by Patrick Neate. Each book has a special tracking number than can be registered online so its journey can be followed. Granted my to-read pile comes up to my waist, but I'm always happy to add to the collection. I picture myself in the future living in a grand old English house with a rustic library that has a fireplace and shelves extending to the ceiling on every wall. All full. Today, I bought three novels at the Marie Curie charity shop on my lunch break for a grand total of £2.80. Glorious.

10 novels based in London:
Brick Lane by Monica Ali
A best seller that has had resounding praise and also caused a stir in the Bangladeshi community around Brick Lane.
Only in London by Hanan al-Shaykh
She “writes in Arabic and, although her novels were initially banned in many Arab countries for their sexual explicitness, her work has been translated into sixteen languages and is now published around the world.” - Bloomsbury
Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
(Read online here) "A writer who can - and must - be rediscovered in every age" - Irish Times
Mr Phillips by John Lanchester
A Former Deputy Editor of the London Review of Books, "His writing has the clarity and zing of fine cut glass." - USA Today
Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller
This author is a London-born, Oxford and Columbia-educated journalist who now lives in New York. Her book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2003.
Londonstani by Gautam Malkani
“Laden with vernacular and violence, Gautam Malkani's debut novel Londonstani follows four South Asian teenage kids in London's rough-and-tumble Hounslow borough.” - NPR (Read an excerpt here.)
London Noir by Cathi Unsworth
"A-Z of everything that's evil but inescapably seductive about the city. Just don't go south after midnight.” - Dazed & Confused
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
A classic. Download the free ebook here.)
How to Lose Friends and Alienate People by Toby Young
This memoir got many mixed reviews, causing a commotion in both England and America, but I thought it was quite amusing.
A Special Relationship by Douglas Kennedy
“Kennedy really can tell a story... The twists in the plot are perfectly timed to keep the pages turning.” - The Times

No comments: