Imagined London by Anna Quindlen

August 10, 2010 at 12:00 am 9 comments


Anna Quindlen’s Imagined London has one of my favorite premises ever: an American reader who intimately knows and loves London through literature but has never actually visited the city finally does so. Once there, she immerses herself in both discovering the London of reality and reconciling it to the literary and historic London she has always imagined.

Unfortunately, perhaps, after the initial explanation of said reader’s (Quindlen’s) presence in London and the requisite descriptions of Quindlen’s unusually bookish youth wherein she came to love London, the book flags. It starts to feel like any other literary guide-book to the city. Fortunately, however, Quindlen is one of those writers whose tone never fails her readers even if the topic at hand does. She writes with a lovely combination of eloquence, chattiness, and encyclopedic knowledge of the literary canon that makes even this short guide-book of sorts pleasurable to read.

My favorite parts were definitely the first two or three chapters where the premise is explained and Quindlen relates her first actual moments in her long-loved city (it inevitably involves a skeptical cabbie and the Groucho Club). Chapter Two’s breathless recital of how long and how much Quindlen loves London is endearing more than informational, but quite enjoyable. It’s the later chapters that feel less like a eager dash and more like a trudge. Much like a day spent as a tourist, the longer you’re out there, the more tired you get.

This is also one of those books that, no matter how many books you have read, makes you feel terribly illiterate. A throw-away line about her son helping her to gather quotes about London for this book made me feel slightly better—Aha! She doesn’t have an encyclopedic and possibly photographic memory of all the books she’s ever read!—but it still made me want to read even more than I do just to keep up. Not a bad effect of reading Imagined London, to be sure!

It also made me quite eager to go there and get a better grasp of the city geographically. It’s all well and good to know a city intimately from words, but it is quite another to put it all together like a huge, physical jigsaw puzzle. I look forward to doing so with Imagined London in hand. This is definitely a good book to read either just prior to going to London or, even better, directly upon arriving. Quindlen is an excellent travel companion.

–Corey

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Entry filed under: Non-fiction. Tags: , , , .

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kate  |  August 10, 2010 at 7:01 am

    Ah, I should read this! Visiting London after having read so much about it was so surreal, both exactly what I expected and not even close. Did you find that when you went, or has the disparity lessened now that you’ve been there a few times? If you’re still there when I get my full-week vacation next summer, I definitely have to visit :)

    Reply
    • 2. Corey  |  August 13, 2010 at 5:15 pm

      You definitely should! Being in London always feels surreal for me, but more because of my awe for the history of the place rather than because of any literary connections. I loved Quindlen’s imagined view of London but honestly can’t say I’ve ever had such a strong one. I’ve read a lot about London, but I imagine it in its fictional time and place so it doesn’t intrude much (if at all) upon my actual visits to London. Having now read this book, though, I think my experience may change once I get there in September!

      And heck yeah! Visits are awesome! There’s a piece of Hawkridge House floor with your name on it if you want to come. *grin*

      Reply
  • 3. Iris  |  August 10, 2010 at 7:27 am

    I love that premise! I am sorry to hear that it doesn’t turn out to be quite as interesting as it sounds..

    Reply
    • 4. Corey  |  August 13, 2010 at 5:15 pm

      It’s really not that bad, but I (obviously!) agree that the premise is fantastic.

      Reply
  • 5. Britney  |  August 10, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    Have you read 84, Charing Cross Road (and the sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street) by Helene Hanff? The first is about a woman who has extensive correspondence with a bookstore in London and the second about her inaugural trip there to meet the bookstore staff and see the sites. I loved that these two books combined things that I love – books and London – into two slim, delightful volumes.

    Reply
    • 6. Corey  |  August 13, 2010 at 5:16 pm

      Ooo, they sound lovely! I have not read either sadly. Are they nonfiction?

      Reply
      • 7. Britney  |  August 13, 2010 at 6:37 pm

        Yep, nonfiction and possibly out of print. 84, Charing Cross Road was also made into a movie that I see frequently recommended to me on Netflix.

        Reply
  • 8. silverseason  |  August 12, 2010 at 8:00 am

    I have been to London several times and it has never disappointed me, although on the last visit, I did get a little hungry. Prices are very high and my friend and I lived mostly on sandwiches we picked up from the Sainsbury.

    When you go, try something called London Walks. This group offers walking tours, many of which are literary. They are inexpensive and the guides have all been excellent in my experience.

    Reply
    • 9. Britney  |  August 13, 2010 at 7:03 am

      I haven’t done this in London (though I did do the Jack the Ripper walking tour! very fun!) but when I was in Dublin we did a literary pub crawl, which was fun. We learned about Irish writers and visited a bunch of pubs.

      Reply

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