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.