I’m planning a bit of a personal readathon. As many of you know, I am moving to London in September. London is a city that has always fascinated me. When I was younger, I was enraptured by the descriptions of dense fogs and murderers as in the Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens novels. When I discovered diverse books, I threw myself into the worlds of Zadie Smith and Hanif Kureishi. Now that London is becoming my home, I want to learn even more about this frightening, fascinating, and BLOODY HUGE place.
Of course, because I am a diverse book blogger, I am going to try my best to ensure that at least half of the books I read will be diverse. There’s no one defining experience of London, after all, so why would I just read books about straight white people gallivanting in London? So, without further ado, here are a couple of the books that I’m planning on reading:
Queer City by Peter Ackroyd
In Queer City Peter Ackroyd looks at London in a whole new way – through the history and experiences of its gay population.
In Roman Londinium the city was dotted with lupanaria (‘wolf dens’ or public pleasure houses), fornices (brothels) and thermiae (hot baths). Then came the Emperor Constantine, with his bishops, monks and missionaries. And so began an endless loop of alternating permissiveness and censure.
Ackroyd takes us right into the hidden history of the city; from the notorious Normans to the frenzy of executions for sodomy in the early nineteenth century. He journeys through the coffee bars of sixties Soho to Gay Liberation, disco music and the horror of AIDS.
Today, we live in an era of openness and tolerance and Queer London has become part of the new norm. Ackroyd tells us the hidden story of how it got there, celebrating its diversity, thrills and energy on the one hand; but reminding us of its very real terrors, dangers and risks on the other.
When We Speak of Nothing by Olumide Popoola
Best mates Karl and Abu are both 17 and live near Kings Cross. Its 2011 and racial tensions are set to explode across London. Abu is infatuated with gorgeous classmate Nalini but dares not speak to her. Meanwhile, Karl is the target of the local “wannabe” thugs just for being different.
When Karl finds out his father lives in Nigeria, he decides that Port Harcourt is the best place to escape the sound and fury of London, and connect with a Dad he’s never known. Rejected on arrival, Karl befriends Nakale, an activist who wants to expose the ecocide in the Niger Delta to the world, and falls headlong for his feisty cousin Janoma. Meanwhile, the murder of Mark Duggan triggers a full-scale riot in London. Abu finds himself in its midst, leading to a near-tragedy that forces Karl to race back home.
Bedlam: London and Its Mad by Catharine Arnold
‘Bedlam!’ The very name conjures up graphic images of naked patients chained among filthy straw, or parading untended wards deluded that they are Napoleon or Jesus Christ. We owe this image of madness to William Hogarth, who, in plate eight of his 1735 Rake’s Progress series, depicts the anti-hero in Bedlam, the latest addition to a freak show providing entertainment for Londoners between trips to the Tower Zoo, puppet shows and public executions. That this is still the most powerful image of Bedlam, over two centuries later, says much about our attitude to mental illness, although the Bedlam of the popular imagination is long gone. The hospital was relocated to the suburbs of Kent in 1930, and Sydney Smirke’s impressive Victorian building in Southwark took on a new role as the Imperial War Museum. Following the historical narrative structure of her acclaimed Necropolis, BEDLAM examines the capital’s treatment of the insane over the centuries, from the founding of Bethlehem Hospital in 1247 through the heyday of the great Victorian asylums to the more enlightened attitudes that prevail today.
Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.
Because this is me, I’ve stuck to a relatively small TBR, three of which I already own. I’m such a mood reader, but I think because this readathon is so wide, that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. If this goes well, I was thinking about maybe trying to read about other cities – cities that I’ve visited, such as Paris, New York, and Florence, but also cities I’ve never seen before such as Los Lagos, Cape Town, and Beijing.
What do you think of this idea? I’m still trying to come up with a hashtag where you can follow my London reading, and general London adventures – any help would be greatly appreciated!