Five years ago, I lived in London for a summer when I worked for a magazine publishing company, Dennis Publishing. Not a whole lot of time when you boil it down, but wow was it transformative. The summer I lived in London, 2010, was the hottest, driest summer the city had seen in decades. It was incredible. I was able to scoff at anyone who told me that I was in for a summer of dreary, rain-filled days on the Tube. WRONG. I was able to walk the 1.5 miles to work from my flat almost every day! It was wonderful.
I’ve spent a lot of time since I came back daydreaming about my next visit. Finally, that visit is here. Today, my other half and I are going for a 10-day visit to my favorite city in the world. Wahoo! We’re visiting his friends, and I’ll even get to see my boss from Dennis. It’s the trip I’ve been waiting for since 2010.
But, as you can imagine, it’s been a long time coming. Flying from the USA to England is not cheap. At all. In any capacity. As much as I’ve wanted to visit in the past 5 years, I knew I couldn’t. So I turned to books to help me remember a city I fell in love with.
London is a city I’ve always been intrigued by and enamored with, even before I went for the first time. When I went to write this post, I thought to myself “I don’t know any books set in London!” But of course I do. There are tons and tons of books set there. Once I stopped overreacting, and did some research, I realized that yes, I was wrong. I HAVE read books set in this amazing city. These are some of my favorites of the ones I’ve read:
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson
Fun fact: During my London adventure, I traveled to Edinburgh for a weekend visit. While there, I went to the bar, Deacon Brodie’s, named for the REAL PERSON upon whom Robert Louis Stevenson based his famous character(s). I actually didn’t read this story until I had graduated college a couple years after I went to England. Since I’d gone to Edinburgh and learned about Deacon William Brodie’s double life – as a Deacon (clearly) and a gambler/thief, I’d been even more intrigued to read Stevenson’s thrilling tale. It certainly didn’t disappoint. Despite already knowing the big plot twist in the story, it still manages to be insanely suspenseful. While it doesn’t present the most lovely picture of people in London, there is a certain beauty in the way the weather is described – especially because of how eerie it’s meant to be. The story utilizes the “typical” London weather to its advantage, plying up foggy nights and dreary days. Reading it made me pretty happy I didn’t experience that weather all that much, but also gave me a glimpse into what a “usual” time in London would entail. It also, however perversely, reminded me that a big city like London isn’t to be messed with. I had a great time when I was there, but I was really lucky to have been safe the whole time.
The Name of the Star
This is a book that, if you read the blog often, you’ll know I only read for the first time this year. And that’s okay! Rory’s story is one that I felt I knew – minus the whole ghost Jack the Ripper part, of course. When she talked about London, it felt as though I was walking in her shoes, seeing the city through both of our eyes. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside, just thinking of the fun I’d had when I lived there. In this story, Johnson makes sure London landmarks are mentioned, and it’s something I appreciate, because these landmarks exist and it’s better when they do. Being able to read about London through the eyes of a teen (aka someone close-ish to my age) really transported me back and just gave me an opportunity to remember all of the fun I had, as well as everything I’d learned.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Conan Doyle
I’m putting the series as a whole here – despite that many of the stories aren’t necessarily set in the city of London – because obviously London is present in most stories and also because this is about feeeeeeeeeeelings. And these stories are perfect representations of what being in London was like for me. I was so curious. I wanted to explore all of what London was – its history, its architecture, its culture – but I really didn’t have the time. Even going as a tourist now gives me the ability to push that knowledge further, to solve my own “London” mystery in the way Holmes and Watson solved theirs. What was my London mystery? Well, to be honest I have no idea. But when I was there, I felt that I was “there for a reason.” And really, my trip to London has permeated my life in ways I didn’t even realize. It’s impacted all of my big choices since. It may not have been a real mystery I need to solve, but it opened up my eyes to so much more of what was ‘out there’ in the world. And Sherlock, with his infinite intelligence, probably could’ve told me that from the start.
Okay, so I may be cheating very slightly with this one – since the setting really isn’t just London. BUT. It’s one of my favorite books of all time, and I think it fits in this post. I honestly don’t remember when I first read this book, whether I was in high school or college, if it was before or after my first trip to London. I believe I was in high school, which means it would be before. And that would make sense, because this book truly sparked in me a curiosity of other cultures and places. Honestly, if you read it and don’t want to travel the world after, well, then you’re crazy. For a long time, I considered this book to be my favorite. Full stop. I’ve learned over the years that my “favorite” book changes like the tide, simply because I love so many, but the story of Phileas Fogg and Passepartout (not actually sure the ‘correct’ pronunciation of that one…) is one that makes me smile. It’s gutsy, adventurous, scandalous and so much more. It showcases a bunch of different ways to travel, and teaches you a little something about the International Date Line in the process. London is the place that I’d always wanted to go see, it’s where Phileas began his adventure around the world and, really, where I began mine too.
This may seem like a strange choice to put on here, since it’s not exactly a happy story that showcases its characters or the city in a fabulous light. But I love this book. Love it so much. And while it may not seem like a happy version of London the way I think of it, it does still represent a bit of the London I know and have always wanted to know: it’s beauty. Now, again, I know in Dorian Gray, Wilde doesn’t exactly make beauty an endearing quality. Dorian’s wish to remain beautiful forever curses him – and he certainly doesn’t do very nice things to the people who care for him in his life after that. But, that’s okay. Not everything needs to be so literal! I remember visiting Paris when I was on my trip, and feeling as though it was as “home” as London was. Sure, it was grand and gorgeous, but the beauty of ‘my’ city wasn’t there. And London is beautiful – don’t let anyone ever tell you differently. The parks, the castles, the cathedrals, the bridges. They’ve all contributed to an ancient, wonderful city that I truly saw the beauty in every day. In Queen Mary’s rose garden in Regents Park, there’s something like 200 different kinds of roses. (That may be an exaggeration). You can walk through the rows and rows of roses and other kids of flowers, and feel like you’re in a fairy tale. Sure, some of their modern buildings look a little strange, but can anyone tell me Westminster Abbey and Big Ben aren’t beautiful structures? Sorry, I don’t believe you can. Big Ben, truly, is my favorite piece of architecture in the world. And despite the negatives, Dorian Gray reminds us that beauty and elegance is possible in London – even when the weather is dreary.
So, lovely readers, while I’m away, tell me what your favorite London-set books are! Or do you have another city that is your favorite? Cheers!