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.


Around the World in 80 Books

Library-Of-Birmingham-opening-21-5835412With apologies to all the rest of my readers, this is aimed particularly at those of you who live within easy reach of Birmingham or who might be interested enough to travel down and spend a night.  As part of the Library of Birmingham’s Cultures Season they are hosting a readers’ day on Saturday March 29th on the topic Around the World in 80 Books.  To quote their own publicity handout, speakers will include

Girl With a Pearl Earring superstar Tracy Chevalier, and Richard and Judy Book Club bestseller Beatrice Colin, along with a feast of other exciting writers and reading from across the world.

Discover some of the best books on favourite world cities and countries in the company of some of their most passionate enthusiasts!

Bestselling writers, publishers, translators, cultural officers with interviews, presentations, workshops, competitions, event bookshop, and goody bags to make this a truly unforgettable readers’ day …

You can see the programme for the whole day, which runs from 9.30am to 4.30pm, here and it looks particularly interesting, if very full.  I know that there are other readers out there who have, like Ann Morgan, set themselves the task of reading around the world and you in particular might find it interesting to hear how she has managed to locate novels from some of those more difficult countries that I know have given you grief.  Personally I’m looking forward to listening to the speakers from Peirene Press, whose catalogue always intrigues me.  I should perhaps at this point issue a warning.  There will be a bookshop on site!

I have been to similar days organised by the Library before and with one notable exception they have all been excellent, so I’m going to stick my neck out and say do come, you will have a great day.  If any of you do decide to attend then please let me know because it would be wonderful to actually meet up and have lunch together.  It’s the one thing that would make a whole day spent talking about books even better.