- Series: Directions
- Hardcover: 192 pages
- Publisher: National Geographic; First Edition edition (September 7, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0792265610
- ISBN-13: 978-0792265610
- Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.8 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 19 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,582,468 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Imagined London: A Tour of the World's Greatest Fictional City (Directions) Hardcover – September 7, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
This latest entry in National Geographics series of famous writers on famous cities is like the British dish bubble and squeak: a hash of thrown together bits and pieces that might be tasty but isnt very filling. An avid reader, Quindlen (Living Out Loud, etc.) developed an acute case of literature-induced Anglophilia at an early age. As a precocious youngster, she was enchanted by the terrace houses, green squares and horse-drawn carriages of the written worlds of Daniel Defoe, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens and Henry Jamess London. Later swept away by Virginia Woolf and the Mitford sisters, Quindlen doesnt actually visit London until her mid-40s while on a trip to promote one of her own books. Quindlens narrative essays, while thematic, lack enough specific locations to make them consistently interesting. While she comments on the extraordinary fact that one can still find ones way around London based on 18th-century literary plot points, she doesnt take explicit literary tours herself, leaving readers to wonder to what extent the expectations of a lifelong love affair with the London of her mental library are met. Instead, Quindlen shifts the focus away from herself and toward her experience of traveling with her 20-something writer son, comparing and contrasting their generational impressions of the city. Map not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Best-selling novelist and Newsweek columnist Quindlen has always been an "indefatigable" reader, and British novels set in London, "indisputably the capital of literature," have been a particular passion. Quindlen acquired a vivid impression of the city from absorbing Dickens, Eliot, Galsworthy, Doyle, Woolf, and Lessing, writers for whom London was as much a living character as their indelible protagonists. But she admits she was reluctant to travel there and obliterate the imagined with the actual. Finally, a book tour sends her to this fabled place, and she does revel in London's evocative complexity as she undertakes pilgrimages to literary landmarks. Deftly contrasting "the London frozen in the amber of great fiction" with today's city, Quindlen discerns the key lesson of English literature: the "unvarying nature both of social problems and personal dramas." The continuity that links, for instance, characters and predicaments in Monica Ali's Brick Lane (2003) to those in Dickens' works. A consistently enlightening and enjoyable writer, Quindlen presents a smart, bookish, wry, and stimulating portrait of the most literary of cities. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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This book reminds me of Helene Hanff's The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street in that it focuses on literary London, but like that book, Imagined London appeals on many levels. A visitor to London can use it as a walking tour guide, for example. Even those who will rarely or never visit the city will find the elegant writing and deft descriptions are to be treasured.
My only complaint about Imagined London is that it is far too short! Had it been two or even three times as long, I would still savor every word!
Quindlen visits London (finally as an adult) and revisits much of what she's read while she's there. Heavy on Dickens, Waugh and Trollope, there is plenty here for everyone. I myself love Forster and Austen (both mentioned), and there is a smattering of Shakespeare, Maugham, James (PD and Henry), Eliot(both George and TS), Chaucer, Browning, Woolf...she covers many a haunt..you may not have read them all, but even if you haven't, you will be encouraged to after this travelogue.
Quindlen's ramblings about her most favorite literary city and telling and warm, even when the city is not so friendly itself. She is obviously quite fond of the place, and reading this gave me even more of a hankering to visit there. It also added a few authors and books to my TBR pile. Charming, quirky adn quick, this book also shows off the immense talent of Quindlen as author and journalist, able to really express a feeling in one short sentence. I love her use of unusual and archaic language, which in the writings of others might come off as pretentious or overly scholarly, but in Quindlen's work, seems natural and the vocabulary of a great reader. I truly admire that. Neat little book.
Of course, it's not quite like being there. As Quindlen states, "Perhaps in a small way he wanted to drive home what is always a valuable lesson, when we insist on learning the world through books: that accuracy and truth are sometimes quite different things." True enough, I suppose. But, on a personal basis and having once visited London myself, her book brings back an "accuracy and truth" that was much better than my memories of London.
Anyone reading this is obviously a literate person; on that basis, Quindlen offers a fine tour of the literary highlights of one of the world's great cities. Why is London great? She says, "A third of London . . . is grass or gardens." She appreciates the people, places, writers and words of London and how they came to hold such a powerful place in literature.
In a world where Quarter Pounders with Cheese and Gap jeans are as ubiquitous as Burberrys and Harris Tweeds, London is distinctive. New York, like Phoenix and many American cities, was planned with a mathematical rigour that is as user-friendly as a straight jacket. If New York streets are a Mondrian painting, and Phoenix a Rorschach cookie-cutter test, then London is the genius of a Picasso. London just grew, and nothing from the collapse of Londinium to the Great Fire of 1666 to the Blitz of World War II has persuaded Londoners to destroy its human appeal.
A city this good deserves an author with the sensitivity and insight and perception of Quindlen; every reader of this book will be delighted she turned her loquacious talents to lovely London and its wonderful charms, its quirks and oddities and normalities and routines which create a city worth remembering. Quindlen is truly an author worth reading.