Posts Tagged 'Alexander McCall Smith'

Edinburgh: UNESCO City of Literature

By Sarah Chamberlain

Sometimes when I walk through Edinburgh, I feel like I’ve stepped into the pages of a storybook. The castle perched on the hill, the Gothic buildings in various shades of brown and tan,  the massive rock that is Arthur’s Seat looming over everything, all come together to create a city almost surreal in its beauty. It is no surprise then that this city that resembles something from a fairy tale has been the home and the inspiration for numerous great authors, from Robert Burns and Robert Louis Stevenson to J.K. Rowling. Other excellent authors that use Edinburgh as both real-life and literary stomping grounds include the mystery writers Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith (who has also written a superb serial novel, the 44 Scotland Street series, set in a tenement building in the New Town), and the novelist Muriel Spark. The literary associations don’t end there. During the Festival season in August, Edinburgh hosts the world’s largest book festival (this year’s guests include David Sedaris and Neil Gaiman), and the city itself was even designated by UNESCO as the world’s first City of Literature.

n1223875_35918469_8589All in all, Edinburgh is a very exciting place to be if you’re a bibliophile like me, and what better way to get some insight into the city than by reading books set in and inspired by the city? Here are a few of my particular favorites:

The 44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith: Even if the address itself doesn’t exist (and believe me, I’ve checked!), the neighborhood and the people living at 44 Scotland Street in the heart of Edinburgh’s New Town feel incredibly real. First published serially in the Scotsman, the novel chronicles the lives, loves, and small joys and disappointments of a variety of people living at the titular address. Reading the first volume of the series was what inspired me to choose Edinburgh for my year abroad, so I can’t say enough good things about it!

The Inspector Rebus novels by Ian Rankin: For a much darker and more sinister view of the Burgh, look no further than this series of detective novels, which follow John Rebus as he investigates murders and kidnappings, moving from the highest to the lowest levels of Edinburgh society. Rankin includes real-life Edinburgh locations in his books; Rebus’ favorite watering hole, the Oxford Bar, is a real pub in New Town, and his flat is on a real street in the southern neighborhood Marchmont.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark: While the previous authors are based in contemporary Edinburgh, the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie takes place in the 1930s, in a version of the city that is hard for me to imagine today. The story of the charismatic teacher Miss Brodie’s relationship with a small group of pupils is an engrossing one, and it draws a picture of the city that lies between well-chronicled history and the present day.

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