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Book Business, Reflection

Literary Tour of Edinburgh

Last April my family and I spent 4 days in Scotland. Half of the time split between Glasgow and Edinburgh. It was still very cold at 9 degree Celcius then. The city was shrouded in sea mist and it rained most of the time. Upon reading up, I discovered many famous publishing writers originated from this part of the world and drew their inspiration from the Highlands, the castle and the weather, most notably the Harry Potter series, which I have read them all!

Early pioneers
During the late 18th and 19th centuries, Edinburgh’s bookselling and publishing industries rivalled those of London, as the city busily preened itself in the wake of the success of its biggest national export the Scottish Enlightenment. The city is responsible for publishing the first Encyclopaedia Britannica. The most influential literary figure of this period was Sir Walter Scott, who comobined his legal career with a prolific sidelines as a writer. His blockbuster novels The Heart of Midlothian and Rob Roy, communicated the writer’s deep knowledge of and love for his Scottish heritage to the literary world of the early 19th century. Robert Louis Stevenson, another Scottish wrote The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Treasure Island and Kidnapped. Although the book is set in London, the topography it depicts is undeniably that of Edinburgh.

Arrivals and departures
Like many Edinburghers during the 19th century, Stevenson had a love-hate relationship with the city, finally abandoning its keen winds for the sunnier climes of Western Samoa in the 1890s. National treasure Muriel Spark also left the capital, although not before taking inspiration from James Gillespie’s High School, her alma mater, while devising the setting for her 1961 novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Spark’s old school sits near the leady surrounds of Morning side, but the book’s shrewd take on Edinburgh’s tempestuous religious history and schism between Calvinism and Catholicism takes its backdrop from Tolbooth, Sit Giles Cathedral and, of course, John Knox’s house on the High Street.

National Pride
The University of Edinburgh has educated many notable writers. Among them are JM Barrie, best known for his young creation Peter Pan, and Edinburgh-born Sir Arthur Conan Dolye, who took inspiration from his professor, Dr Joseph Bell, as he went about devising the character of Sherlock Holmes. More recently, Alexander Mc Call Smith, author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, studied at the university and went on to become a professor in medical law at the institution. I read every book in the series, except this year’s!

The Modern World
Despite McCall Smith’s success, the city’s two most notable contemporary novelists are probably JK Rowling and Ian Rankin, a pair of writers who embrace the city’s taste for the gothic in very different ways. But the novelist who most radically changed the outside world view of contemporary Scots literature has been Leith-born Irvine Welsh, another in a long line of writers keen to expose an urban underbelly that the city fathers would rather conceal. In novels such as the Acid House and Trainspotting, Welsh writes of a town guilty of self-gentrification and pushing its predominantly working-class inhabitants into an outer ring of ‘problem’ housing schemes.

The prose of Scott, Park, Rowling, Rankin and even Welsh earned Edinburgh the title of UNESCO’s first city of Literature in 2004.

It’s interesting to know so many classics authors of yesteryears and today are from the city of Edinburgh.

The Scott Monument

In Princes Street, you will not miss the Scott Monument. Scott Monument is 200 feet high and erected in the memory of prolific author and patriot Sir Walter Scott within a few years of his death. The largest monument in the world to a man of letters, the elaborate Gothic Spire was created by George Mikle Kemp, a carpenter and joiner whose only building this is; while it was still under construction, he stumbled upon into a canal one foggy evening and drowned.

The architecture is closely modelled on Scott’s beloved Melrose Abbey, while the rich sculptural decorations shows 16 Scottish writers and 64 characters from Scott’s famous Waverley novels. On the central plinth at the base of the monument is a status of Scott with his deerhound Maida, carved from a 30-ton block of Carrara marble.

Inside the recently restored memorial, a tightly winding spiral staircase climbs to a narrow platform near the top, where one can enjoy some inspiring, if not vertiginous- vistas of the city below and hills and firths beyond.

Sir Walter Scott

I hope you enjoy my little introduction to Scottish Literature greats. Here are pictures of the city’s famous landmarks, the St. Giles Church and Princes Street Park against the Edinburgh Castle as backdrop.

St Giles Cathedral

I hope I have the opportunity to visit the city again during the Edinburgh festival or in a better weather, it is indeed a very beautiful and cultured city.

Can you hear the bagpipe playing at the background? 😉

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About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.

Discussion

16 thoughts on “Literary Tour of Edinburgh

  1. Very interesting-the last time I was In London I thought about taking the train up to Edinburgh but sadlhy did not-if I went there I would for sure go to to the places dedicated to the memory of James Bowell, who when all ans siad and done is the most famous literary citizen of Edinburgh, in my opinion!

    Posted by Mel u | June 11, 2011, 10:05 am
  2. here is what I meant
    http://www.boswellbookfestival.co.uk/auchinleck-house

    maybe you can check on the Boswell Book Fair one day-I am a big Boswell reader!

    Posted by Mel u | June 11, 2011, 10:07 am
  3. Love your photos, Jo! Can’t wait to see Edinburgh 🙂 Can’t believe I still haven’t read Trainspotting!

    Posted by Bina | June 14, 2011, 12:27 pm
  4. great shots love edinburgh been a number of times and always find something new to see or visit ,all the best stu

    Posted by winstonsdad | June 14, 2011, 5:42 pm
  5. Edinburgh looks great! I wanna go! I think you’re forgetting Sir Iain Banks. People often mentioned him to me when asked about their local authors 😉

    Posted by meexia | June 15, 2011, 7:11 am
    • Meexia, go now! Edinburgh is great in Summer and during the festival. 🙂
      Ahh. yes Iain Banks too, I was told today that Irvine Welsh writes as he speaks, very Scottish…. I’m intrigued.

      Posted by JoV | June 15, 2011, 7:33 pm
  6. Beautiful post and beautiful pictures, Jo! I used to love Walter Scott novels when I was younger – I especially loved ‘Ivanhoe’, ‘Kenilworth’ and ‘The Talisman’. I am a big fan of Robert Louis Stevenson and have read most of his popular novels. Recently I discovered that ‘Kidnapped’ has a sequel called ‘Catriona’ and I want to read that now 🙂 I love Arthur Conan Doyle’s books – the Sherlock Holmes stories and the Professor Challenger series and others. My favourite character from Scottish history is Bonnie Prince Charlie, whose adventures I read when I was in school and who was a great romantic hero to my young mind. Two Scots from recent times that I like are Sean Connery – the first James Bond, Oscar winner, Mr.Cool extraordinaire (I am surprised that you didn’t mention him :)) and Alistair Maclean, my favourite thriller writer whose ‘HMS Ulysses’ and ‘When Eight Bells Toll’ are two of my alltime favourite novels (his book ‘The Guns of Navarone’ was made into a highly successful movie starring Gregory Peck).

    Posted by Vishy | June 16, 2011, 4:36 pm
    • Vishy, I’m at awe with your reading. You read so much! Now I remembered Sir Walter Scott wrote ‘Ivanhoe’ Shame on me I read neither of the books you mentioned. 😦 There were many famous Scots, like Annie Lennox, yes Sean Connery is another, James Watt, Adam Smith (ring a bell?) etc etc.. but my focus is the Literary Scotsmen and there are too many! 🙂
      Thanks for the extra suggestions on famous Scots!

      Posted by JoV | June 16, 2011, 8:43 pm
      • ‘Ivanhoe’ was also made into a movie starring the handsome Robert Taylor, the gorgeous Elizabeth Taylor and the beautiful Joan Fontaine. The movie is wonderful! Maybe you can try watching it sometime. After reading about Annie Lennox in your comment I read more about her in Wikipedia. She seems to be an awesome musician. I will try exploring her music in a little while. Thanks for writing about her 🙂 I didn’t know that Adam Smith was a Scot! Shame on me 🙂

        Posted by Vishy | June 17, 2011, 3:34 am

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Mockingjay
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City


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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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