A book for any occasion. The perfect holiday mini-library.

August 24, 2015

With our writer, Nick Hennegan, taking 2 weeks in Wales to write, we thought this article from The Conversation by Andrew Tate, Reader in English at Lancaster University, might be appropriate.

Hell is not, as Sartre suggested, other people – it’s a holiday without books. Holidays, with their promise of carefree pleasure seeking, might seem like the most materialistic of activities. Yet the name has sacred roots: the holy day suggests a time set apart from the ordinary flow of life.

I can tolerate zigzag queues and disappointing hotel rooms but a lack of literature would ruin my trip. For some of us there is no greater pleasure, or more sacred thing, than the imaginative travel afforded by a good book.

Holiday reading fan.

The great philosopher Blaise Pascal believed that human misfortune was the result of other people’s inability “to sit quietly in one’s room”. I’m not sure where Pascal liked to spend his summer break – Disneyland Paris hadn’t opened its gates in the 1600s – but if forced to leave the tranquillity of his room for adventure and the promise of ice cream, it’s probable that he would have filled his suitcase with literature as well as factor 50. And, if he were to ask for a few suggestions, I might recommend this mini-library of my all-time holiday reading favourites. Take note, if you want a real break on your travels.

First chapter

Clive James’s absurdly funny and sad Unreliable Memoirs (1980) is the first book that I remember reading on a beach. I was 16 and should have been focusing on other things, like the exhilarating surf and real human beings, but this “novel disguised as an autobiography” snagged me and encouraged a lifelong belief that words placed in the right order are a kind of magic.

James’s rites of passage tales of suburban Sydney in the 1940s and 1950s are intense in their specificity, evoking a distant world and way of life. But his askew take on the ritual humiliations and surprising freedoms of childhood are so resonant that they might connect with anybody who remembers what it is to be young, awkward and excessively bookish.

In another world. Soloviova Liudmyla/Shutterstock.com

The family saga

This evocation of the idiosyncrasies of family life anticipates the fiction of James' fellow Australian, Tim Winton. I especially recommend Cloudstreet (1991), now widely regarded as a classic of world literature, which follows the fortunes of two families who are compelled by separate losses to share a house for two decades.

Winton writes with a distinctive lyricism about Western Australia but this is also a compelling family saga of the pious, industrious Lambs and their worldly, fortune-seeking peers, the Pickles. There are few better writers of landscape and this is a visceral narrative full of elemental detail, salty humour and raw feeling.

The page turner

Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London (2011) is likely to prompt less refined reader responses: fear, laughter and the need-to-know-what-happens-next are the big pleasures in the first of a rather Dickensian sequence that blends police procedural with the supernatural.

PC Peter Grant, a rare fictional detective who seems to be perfectly sociable, becomes a kind of wizard’s apprentice in the Met and investigates crimes that leave his peers clueless. The genre term “urban fantasy” may discourage but this is witty, smart contemporary fable that represents a mischievous rewriting of the rules of classic detective fiction.

Donna Tartt wants to know why you haven’t read The Goldfinch yet. Bas Czerwinski/EPA

The tome

A long break might create space to grapple with one of the big books of our time: Donna Tartt’s ambitious The Goldfinch (2013), which blends art, obsession and the search for home, is perhaps the closest thing to the experience of reading a 19th-century triple-decker published in recent years; it is rich with character, incident, plot twist and, yes, many pages. I found it utterly absorbing and the fact that it isn’t brief is part of the pleasure.

When homesick

Holidays might encourage escape from everyday life but they’re also a good opportunity to reflect on our understanding of home and belonging. Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead (2004), is a kind of hymn to the joys of not travelling: John Ames, a minister facing up to mortality, reflects on the ordinary mysteries of life in the titular mid-Western town in a series of letters to his young son.

Robinson, in common with otherwise very different novelists such as John Irving and Stephen King, is brilliant at world building. We might have little in common with a Calvinist minister living in 1950s Iowa but Robinson opens up his particular world in a way that encourages both thought and emotional connection. Gilead offers an alternative take on the velocity (and restlessness) of contemporary Western life.

In her brilliant poem, Questions of Travel (1956), partly inspired by Pascal’s defence of staying put, Elizabeth Bishop asks: “Should we have stayed at home, wherever that may be?” If you are similarly sceptical about tourism, I recommend this pile of books and the out-of-office reply as an alternative trek into new lands.

 

Summer.

August 20, 2015

It’s all a bit relative really.  Especially given our typical English weather. But we finished our one-woman ‘Henry V - Lion of England’ to great acclaim in June and August should be the month of slowing down, taking things easy and recharging the batteries for the winter.

Virtually impossible if you’re working in the arts, of course. And if you are, you might be interested in this book.  We’re re-releasing it with lots of photos and posters, reviews and raves and, mainly, a reprint ...


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Defying the norm? Hardly, the Edinburgh Fringe defines it.

August 9, 2015
This is interesting if you are performing or considering visiting the Edinburgh Festival.  We personally love it, but understand the sentiment expressed here, by Stephen Greer, Lecturer of Theatre Practices at Glasgow University.  Reprinted from The Conversation, with permission.


This year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe slogan – “defying the norm since 1947” – might make for good marketing. But it hardly reflects the role of the world’s largest arts festival accurately. Far from suppo...

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We've moved! The Fitzroy Tavern closes!

July 17, 2015
The roots of the Literary Pub Crawl lie in the Fitzroy Tavern. I was doing my Masters at the University of London and looking for a cheap pint.  My mate from Birmingham, filmmaker Andy Bloom, suggested I could get a cheaper pint at the Fitzroy, as the pub was run by the Sam Smiths Brewery and they were considerably cheaper than other pubs in the area.  He also told me about the Writers and Artists Bar at the pub, which certainly appealed.

So I was nursing my cheap pint downstairs and couldn't ...
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Fangs for the memories: death of Christopher Lee draws a veil over golden years of horror

June 12, 2015

Love at first bite. Hammer HorrorCC BY-SA

HAMMER STUDIOS HAD AN OFFICE IN SOHO. 

They say your first Dracula marks you for life and that you will forever associate the Count with the actor who played him. My first experience of the most famous vampire of old time was Christopher Lee’s performance for Hammer Studios – and it has definitely stayed with me ever since.

I still remember watching his imposing on-screen figure, a mountain of a man, halfway between the quaintly aristocratic and th...


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About Me


Nick Hennegan Hello. I started the London Literary Pub Crawl and most of the blogs on here will be by me. I've always written but my first theatrical success was an adaptation of Shakespeare's 'Henry V'. I founded Maverick Theatre in 1994. This pub crawl is really more a promenade theatre performance than a tour and I'm running it with Katie Merritt, who came on board to direct in 2014 and a bunch of enthusiastic local actors and writers. I love sharing my passion for the area and the artists. I also present a radio show on Resonance 104.4fm - London's Arts Station. It's called 'Literary London' and is on Fridays at 7pm (and repeated Weds at 7am.) If you haven't visited us in London yet, I hope you'll come soon. And feel free to leave comments or email me at nick @ LiteraryLondon.co - I reply to them all and I love to hear from you.

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