Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Books and Places

RITING UPDATE: Oooh, look! A cloud!

As you might have gathered from This Post, I tend to associate certain books rather strongly with certain places.

I love London. This may be reasonably clear. And when I go to London (as often as I can manage), I like reading books set in London to really underscore the whole Londony-ness of it. I like to see the same world when I look up from the book as when I look down at it. Also, when you're stacked over Heathrow, it's nice to have something to read that reminds you that being stacked over Heathrow is worth it.

My primary London books are 84 Charing Cross Road and Forever Amber. Helene Hanff and Amber St Clare are almost as fond of London as I am. I also like I Capture The Castle, my ultimate comfort read, because of Cassandra's two trips to London - she doesn't have as much fun as I aspire to while I'm there, but I love the book so much that I can deal with it's questionable London-ness.

I was in Prague last month. The only thing I can say in Czech is 'Mluvite anglicky?' ('Do you speak English?') and to my immense shame, I discovered I'd been pronouncing it wrongly all week after I came home. I'm tempted to fly back and apologise. For the last day and a half of the trip, I was there alone, and not speaking the language, I couldn't even have the briefest of conversations. It was a nice day and an interesting experience, but it did drive me back to the Big Ben Bookshop, an English bookshop behind the Tyn Church.

I picked up a copy of 'Me, Myself and Prague' by Racheal Weiss, with the intention of starting it over dinner that night and reading it for the trip home. This is from the back cover copy:

I tripped across the Charles Bridge just before first light, all alone apart from a sleepy pickpocket just clocking on for the morning shift, my heels clacking on the cobblestones, the early morning sky a beautiful deep blue.

Armed only with a romantic soul and a pressing need to escape her overbearing family, Rachael Weiss heads for Prague in search of her Bohemian roots, with vague plans to write the next great Australian novel and perhaps, just perhaps, fall madly in love with an exotic Czech man with high cheekbones.

They make it seem so easy, those other women who write of uprooting themselves from everything they know, crossing the world and forming effortless friendships with strangers, despite not understanding a word they say, while reinventing themselves in beautiful European cities. So it's not surprising that Rachael is completely unprepared for the realities that confront her in her strange new world. Initially starry-eyed, she quickly has to grapple with perplexing plumbing, extraordinarily rude checkout chicks, and the near-incomprehensible Czech language.

In this warm and witty tale of life in a foreign land, Rachael, somewhat to her own surprise, finds herself gradually creating a second home in Prague, complete with an eccentric and unlikely tribe of extended family and friends; and realises along the way that while she's been striving so hard to become someone else, she has inadvertently grown to rather like the person she has always been. Me, Myself & Prague is a sweet and surprising memoir of discovering hope, self, family and friendship, Czech-style.

I love travelling but am slightly terrified by it, and I think this is one of those books that I was desperate to read but just hadn't found yet.

But I didn't start it, and it sounds like it should have been the perfect trip-book.

The reason was that, after a week in the city, I was starting to get to know it. I had a favourite cafe. I had shops that I wanted to go back to, and could reliably find. I felt I was nearing a breakthrough in my quest to figure out what they say at every tram stop. But I wasn't quite comfortable enough there to be able to read about the city from the point of view of a total outsider.

It's a good excuse for a return trip to Prague, though. I have a book I feel I must read there.

My New York books are easy. Anything by Dorothy Parker - although any time, any place and any mood is perfect for Dorothy Parker. And the next time I go - although it could be a while - I have my books picked out. August by Judith Rossner (about psychoanalysis in New York in the 1970s) and Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments trilogy.

Here's a curiosity, though - I don't have any Dublin books. They would be very useful for softening the coming-home blow. Now that I think about it, my favourite Dublin book is probably The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle, but it's bloody depressing for arriving back from a holiday.

Anyone have any other books that are best read in particular places?

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