Around the World in 80 Books ~ Chapter One

imagesHard on the heels of a bookish weekend in Stratford came the Library of Birmingham’s Around the World in 80 Books day – a day so full that there is no way that I could possibly begin to tell you about it in just one post.  So, over the next week I’m going to put together a number of different reports and hope that by the end of it you will all feel that you had as good a time there as I did.

The day had been organised in conjunction with Oxygen Books and Malcolm Burgess opened proceedings by talking about the impetus behind the company and the city-pick collections that are their speciality. I don’t know if you remember the time when The Bears suddenly decided that we were emigrating to New York. (It was after a particular fine New York Phil Prom and it was only when I showed them that there were no subscription tickets left for the orchestra’s forthcoming season that I was able to persuade them to unpack their suitcases.)  As a sop to their ardour I asked for suggestions for books set in New York so that we could at least visit in proxy.  Well, had I known about city-picks, I would have had no need to canvas for ideas.

City-picks came about after the company’s founders searched in vain for fiction that would tell them about Athens while they were on holiday there.  So disappointed were they that they decided there must surely be a market for publications that brought together examples of literary writing about individual cities in order to give the traveller some idea of where they were going and how other people had responded to their destination before they arrived.

There are now nine books available, one each on:

New York

St Petersburg








I would have thought this an excellent idea even if Malcolm Burgess hadn’t provided us with lists of some of the material to be found in five of these books.  Here, for example, is a selection of what is contained in city-pick Paris.

Andrew Hussey, Paris: The Secret History (2007)

Muriel Barberry, The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2006)

Adam Gopnik, Paris to the Moon (2000)

Irène Némirovsky, Suite Française (2004)

Janelle McCulloch, La Vie Parisienne (2008)

Faïza Guène, Just Like Tomorrow (2004)

Ernest Hemmingway, A Moveable Feast, (1964)

Edmund White, The Flâneur, (2001)

Simone de Beauvoir, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (1958)

Simone de Beauvoir, The Prime of Life (1960)

Julian Barnes, Metroland (1980)

Colette, Claudine in Paris (1901)

Claude Izner, Murder on the Eiffel Tower (2007)

Julian Green, Paris (1983)

Jeremy Mercer, Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs (2005)

Cara Black, Murder on the Île Saint-Louis (2007)

Much as I’d like to re-visit Paris, I know that at the moment it isn’t a realistic possibility.  However, working my way through a reading list like this would be a very acceptable second best, and having relevant passages preselected for me and neatly packaged up into one book, the cherry on the top of the Eiffel Tower.

As a friend said to me, she could feel a Summer School coming on and given that we haven’t yet selected our theme for this year’s gathering I’m certainly going to give some thought to suggesting that we pick a destination and then mine the Oxygen Books lists for specific titles.

In the meantime I’m looking out for a copy of the New York city-pick to see if there are any books included that we didn’t read the last time round – just in case The Bears get any more big ideas about packing up house and home and ferrying us all across the Atlantic.

10 thoughts on “Around the World in 80 Books ~ Chapter One

    1. I only had chance for a quick flick through on Saturday, Susan, not being one of the lucky couple who won a complete set. I’m definitely going to treat myself to the New York book, though.

    1. He read a small piece from the McCulloch about Autumn rather than Spring being the best time to be in Paris, so maybe I won’t feel so bad about not being able to take a trip there at the moment.

  1. What a brilliant idea. Now if I asked them ever so nicely would they put one together for my upcoming holiday to Italy? I’m looking forward to hearing about all the other wonderful talks that I missed on Saturday….

    1. It sounds like it was a great event and I think the connection between books and place such a powerful part of what fiction has to offer. Not just cities of course – just think of Hardy and Faulkner. Personal favourites include the Orkneys of the stories and novels of George Mackay Brown and the Guyana of Roy Heath.

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