Wednesday, December 7, 2011

He who is tired of London is probably tired of Samuel Johnson quotes too

You certainly don't have to look far for literary whatnot in London; the place is sickeningly thick with bookish sites (and probably cites, har har). I don't think I've ever deliberately sought any of them out - with the possible exception of the time I went with my high school English class, but that was a package thing. And the time I lived 2-3 blocks from Mr Holmes' flat in Baker Street - but that was coincidence. I think you're pretty much always in some sort of literary reference in London, but my point is, I've never sat down with a book and a map and gone to a place for the sake of seeing where some fictional character did something.

I have sought out the British Library, of course, for research purposes but mostly for the food. The catering is all by Peyton & Byrne (IIRC) and it's right up my street as they say. In fact, it has been my custom, on arrival at some awful early hour at Heathrow, to hustle into the city to the BL, where I settle myself on the terrace with a latte and some sort of pastry and watch the English Lit types collect before the main doors open.* Another creature comfort of the BL is the free wifi, which is a wonderful thing to put you on your feet before hauling your suitcase off to your digs.**

Coffee, bun, literary scholars.

So maybe this is shallow, but my mental literary map of London has less to do with "here's Where Nicholas Nickleby lived" or even "here's where Jane Austen stayed" but more to do with, "here's where they always have a big stack of Patrick O'Brian novels" and "this is the best place to sit with a book instead of going to the archive."

Why am I rambling on about this? Because in about a month I'm headed back out to spend a good six month chunk in the ol' Metrop. And right now I'm having a hard time thinking of it as anything but a huge stressor and disruption. A stressor, because it's obviously an enormous and expensive pain in the butt trying to work out banking, housing, etc (all in process, thank you). And a disruption, because one likes one's friends. One is rather inclined to think that one's social future is here, not there. And one is not immune from thinking that spending six months in a foreign country isn't likely to do one's love life much good. Given that this will be my eighth lifetime trip to London, is it so surprising that it's not quite my first choice for a European vacation anymore?***

What gets me through the funk (and the guilt produced by the funk) is thinking about books, oddly enough. Many of my most relaxing memories of the capital are book memories. And one of the purposes in starting this blog was to provide a communications channel and outlet, to make some of that reading less solitary.

So to keep that calm, happy energy flowing, I think I'm going to work up some lists of my personal literary relationship with London: bookshops and reading spots I guess, but maybe also books I've brought home, the books I've brought with, and the books I really, really wanted to buy but didn't. I hope you'll bear with me.

* This follows the cup of tea at the Costas in arrivals and the almost inevitable fumbling to reload the Oyster card - why do I always run that down before leaving?
** I mentioned this to a London grad student once who let loose a bitter rant against tourists and freeloaders who clog up the bandwidth people need to do research. Fair enough, but I am unrepentant, partly because I have a reader's card, na na na boo boo.
*** 1. Vienna, 2. Rome, 3... Ljubljana? Maybe? Anyway, this ain't vacation, it's work, so all my £££ are needed in London.


  1. YAYYYYY I'm always happy when you post, because I am assured of reading something non-dumb and interesting. Also I know and like you, so, BONUS.

    I can't muster up any sympathy for you, because I haven't been to London since I was six, and it's where EVERYTHING I LIKE IS. Except opera. I've heard their opera houses are none too nice. So, place to visit, not to work. But EVERYTHING ELSE IS THERE. Including a far too attractive George Eliot statue, about which I have plans (concerning posing with it).

    I WILL MISS YOU. But in the mean time, we are going to nerd out over LOTR. By which I mean you will nerd out and I will try to follow which elf is which.

  2. I guess it's always hard to appreciate the places we're really familiar with, but I'm reading some Conan Doyle now and thinking how lucky Londoners are to have such a rich literary history. I would gladly trade all these Los Angeles celebrity shenanigans for some good literary statues.

  3. Yes, I know, I'm really "pulling a Skeeter" here.