April 21, 2024

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Read Your Way Through Edinburgh

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Sir Walter Scott has his own fantastically ornate monument on Princes Street: It looks like a mini cathedral. You can climb it, for a small fee, and look out over the vista of shops and gardens. Nearby, Waverley Station is named after his novels; you’d be hard pressed to find a more bibliophilic transport terminus. The High Street has numerous literary walking tours, including an Ian Rankin/Rebus one. The Scottish Poetry Library, off Canongate, has a wonderful collection and archive, as well as a very good cafe. And you can gaze upon Robert Burns’s writing desk and Stevenson’s riding boots at the Writers’ Museum.

Bibliophiles will never be caught short in Edinburgh. There are large branches of Waterstones and Blackwell’s, with wide selections of genres. The award for most beautiful bookshop must go to Topping & Company: It’s housed in an old William Playfair building and is a delightful warren of shelves and ladders, staffed by some seriously well-read booksellers. Golden Hare Books in Stockbridge is on possibly the city’s prettiest street, with an exquisitely chosen selection of books. It also has a wood-burning fireplace, so it’s a perfect place to sit and warm up with a book in your lap. The Edinburgh Bookshop is a must, occupying a corner of the bohemian Bruntsfield neighborhood; they are good at matching the right book to the right reader, and have a particularly great children’s section.

August, undoubtedly, when the incomparable Edinburgh International Book Festival takes over the College of Art for a couple weeks, running a fascinating and diverse program with hundreds of events and talks all day long. Miss it at your peril.

David Nicholls’s One Day needs a special mention for its perfect encapsulation of Edinburgh’s university experience. The novel takes place mostly in London but its two main characters meet as students here and almost — but not quite — fall for each other. Therein lies the tale.

Is there a child anywhere who hasn’t heard of Harry Potter? Edinburgh is intrinsically linked with the boy wizard: J.K. Rowling lives and writes here. You can visit The Elephant House, the cafe where she worked on her manuscripts (though it is currently closed until further notice because of a fire, which locals speculate was started by He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named) and you can walk about the nearby Greyfriars Kirkyard and spot the gravestones that gave her inspiration for names: McGonagall, Scrymgeour, Moodie, Tom Riddell, Cruikshanks and even a family of Potters are all buried here. And if you walk down the vertiginous, multilevel Victoria Street toward the Grassmarket, you might well get a few Diagon Alley flashbacks …

  • “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,” Muriel Spark

  • “Recovering Scotland’s Slavery Past: The Caribbean Connection,” T.M. Devine

  • “Kidnapped,” Robert Louis Stevenson

  • “The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner,” James Hogg

  • “Trainspotting,” Irvine Welsh

  • “The New Confessions,” William Boyd

  • “Knots and Crosses,” Ian Rankin

  • “One Good Turn,” Kate Atkinson

  • “One Day,” David Nicholls

Maggie O’Farrell, born in Northern Ireland, has made Edinburgh her home for over a decade. Her novels include “Hamnet,” winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and, most recently, “The Marriage Portrait.” She has also written a memoir, “I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes With Death.”

Maggie O’Farrell

2022-12-21 10:00:12

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