In February, my partner and I took a short holiday to London, Oxford and Cambridge. This was my second trip to the UK and I was excited to fit some bookish elements into our itinerary. My first time there, I was in London the summer before grad school. Despite the August heat and crowds of pushy tourists, it was everything that my tiny anglophilic heart desired: visiting historic monuments and museums, eating in pubs, and generally revelling in the stereotypical British culture that I had received second-hand through my maternal grandparents. This time around, I was on the lookout for lovely libraries, iconic bookstores, author haunts or statues, and definitely a book or two. We only had 10 days and needed to fit in other touristy activities, but I’m happy with what we managed to see and do in that time.
It feels like ages ago since we touched down in Heathrow airport, bundled in heavy winter clothing and excited for a new adventure despite the biting wind and chill air. A part of me has wondered if it was even worth blogging about the trip given the time since, self-conscious of being too late or irrelevant. The UK is a treasure trove of literary loci and we barely scratched the surface in the cities we visited. But I wanted to share because maybe you’re a reader who’s planning your own trip and are looking for a few ideas. I can talk myself into most anything if I think it would be helpful.
It seems to me that the best place to start is with what I read; the paperback that weighed down the purse on my arm as I passed through the turnstiles onto the tube. Because as any good reader knows, no trip is complete without at least one book in your carry-on.
What Did I Read?
This time around, I wanted to read a contemporary UK story and chose to re-read Zadie Smith’s NW.
NW’s characters navigate aspects of class, gender and race as they intersect in their lives and communities in London’s northwest neighbourhood of Willesden. Our path ended up overlapping at times with the character Natalie Blake’s as she studies law and begins her career as a barrister. As a law student, Natalie frequents Middle Temple Lane and the Seven Stars pub, not far from where we stayed for a few nights in Southwark. Later in her life, she commutes on the Jubilee line between Kilburn and Canary Wharf, the same we took as we travelled between accommodations and sights. It added an extra dimension to our time in the city and infused the novel with sights and sounds that would be harder to reproduce in my imagination if we hadn’t been in London.
Natalie Blake hurried up the steps and past the clerks’ room to avoid any other briefs. She stepped out into the slipstream of Middle Temple Lane. Everyone flowing in the same direction, towards Chancery Lane, and she fell in step, found two friends, and then two more. By the time they reached the Seven Stars they were too large a party for an inside table.