Friday, January 06, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment 1/6/2012

Today is Epiphany, the official last day of Christmas.  It's back to work and no more fun and games for a while; the perfect time to begin an ambitious reading project.  This week's assignment is London: The Biography by Peter Ackroyd.  At 779 pages, it will keep you occupied until spring.

Unless a couple of layovers at Heathrow count as having "been to London" (which I'm sure most people will say don't count) I have never been to London.  However, if you made a stack of every book I've read that was set in London, you would have a very, very tall stack.  From all that reading, I do feel somewhat acquainted with the city, at least more so than with, say, Berlin or Oslo.  It's definitely near the top of the list of places I want to visit.

London: The Biography is not a linear history of London, but instead is divided into sections describing various aspects of London:  its criminals, its prisons, its architecture, its vices, its underground life.  The parts I found most fascinating were those that discussed the organic nature of London--its origins as part of the sea, its rivers.  Most of London's rivers were covered up long ago and now flow underground.  Ackroyd notes that most London houses believed to be haunted are built near the course of these buried rivers.  There's the curious way that the same activities have been happening in the same places since prehistoric times.  For example, churches that exist today were built on ancient pagan holy sites.  London burned and was rebuilt numerous times in its 2,000 year history, but even in the face of attempts to create a new city, the old lanes and economic pursuits persist in the same areas.  It's like the city itself has a life of its own and can assert itself.


  1. I love London, even though I only visited it for a week. The funny thing is I didn't expect to love London, had no great fancies of it, I would have rather visited Paris or Berlin. But I fell in love with the city on day one, even as we witnessed a stabbing on the train and had to wake up all disoriented and run off along the train tracks... but that's a story for another day. It's a fascinating city, and if you can do it, take advantage of one of those seat sales and go. You won't regret it.

  2. I adore London--I've been lucky enough to visit twice and would return in a heartbeat. That said, I think I need to read this book.

  3. Thanks for the tip. I mostly like Ackroyd's writing, and London is a fasciniating city, so I'll look for this book.

    I'll also say that I worked and stayed there for about 6 months and while it's a great place to visit, I would never, ever wish to live there permanently.

    Paris is a different story. Paris captured my heart.

  4. I love London. In fact, I like it a lot more than I like Paris.

    Thanks for the book recommendation. I just put it on hold at the library and can't wait to read it.

    Now here's my recommendation for you: "London" by Edmund Rutherford. If you haven't read it, I'll lend you my copy. It makes my top 25 of all time favorite books.

  5. it is indeed a brilliant many stories every street can tell.......I am very lucky to live here!!

  6. Long ago I had a copy of this book, but I passed it on before I read it. A friend was going to London and I thought she was more into it at that moment than I. But after reading this, I think I would like to go back and read it now.
    So many books to read.....

  7. Long ago I went to school in London. I found it to be sprawling and interesting to explore but very dank. My bones hurt all the time from the dampness. It had lovely music stores and eclectic book stores and the most God awful food in the known universe.

    One memory that makes me smile: on a sunny day in June it was about 60 degrees (f) outside and people were saying things like, "Oh God, I am going to faint from the heat!"