With devices such as Kindles on the rise, and blockbusters by the likes of Steig Larsson and Dan Brown seemingly released every week, it appears that people are reading more than ever. Here is a look at some of the world’s top literary destinations, vibrant centres of writing that have given us some of the greatest books, ever written.
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Paris is perhaps the most literary city on earth, with a storied past that can recall names such as Stephane Mallarme, Gustave Flaubert and Marcel Proust, for starters. Early in the 20th century Paris even hosted the “Lost Generation”, a loose cabal of American authors who were fleeing the stifling conservative atmosphere of the U.S. at the time. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein all decamped to the City of Lights to live and write freely. And Paris’s writerly reputation has never dimmed since, with top philosophers and authors like Jean Paul Sartre, Jacques Derrida and Jean Baudrillard, amongst the greatest thinkers of the 20th century, living the larger part of their lives in this rigorously intellectual town. Today the literary atmosphere of Paris can still be discerned in the lively cafes of the Left Bank and the Latin Quarter, where budding authors and self-appointed thinkers still come to meet and discuss the great ideas of the day.
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While London was the capital of the British Empire for the 19th and early 20th centuries, the capital of Anglophone writing was always Dublin. A more artistic equivalent to the British capital, this city nurtured bards such as Brendan Behan, W.B. Yeats, Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde, while perhaps the brightest luminary to hail from the city on the River Liffey is James Joyce. Though he spent all of his adult years in exile, Joyce never strayed from writing about the city of his childhood, with a book of short stories, Dubliners, capturing the essence of the Irish capital. Joyce’s most famous novel, Ulysses, recounts a day in the life of Dublin, and every June 16th, affectionately known as Bloomsday in Ireland, Joyce fans come together in the city to celebrate his life and his work. Events hosted on this day include an open air breakfast on O’Connell Street, live readings of Joyce’s work, and even fancy dress parties.
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Across the Irish Sea in Great Britain, the Scottish city of Edinburgh was named as a UNESCO city of literature in 2008, and the bestowal of this grand title came as no surprise to literary locals. With contemporary talents such as Irvine Welsh, Alexander McCall Smith and Ian McEwan writing much of their best work in the Scottish capital, and authors like Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Sir Walter Scott hailing from this granite city, it has a rightful claim as one of the most literary places on earth. Edinburgh may even be the only city in the world to name its train station, Waverley, after a novel. Bookish tourists should make sure to visit during the month of August, when Charlotte Square in the city’s New Town hosts the annual International Book Festival. 2011′s event attracted writers such as Alberto Manguel, Roddy Doyle and Adam Levin. Harry Potter fans, meanwhile, should pay a visit to independent coffeehouse Elephants and Bagels, on George IV Bridge, to see the place where J.K. Rowling wrote the first of her bestselling series of novels featuring the eponymous wizard.
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The Indian city of Mumbai has always been a melting pot of various ethnicities, creeds and religions, with native Hindus, Muslims, Jains, Parsees and Sikhs mixing freely with British, Portuguese and Jewish migrants. As a result, it has long sustained a multicultural hothouse of ideas, each community intermingling with the other. Notable writers hailing from, or connected with, Mumbai include Salman Rushdie, Rudyard Kipling and Vikram Chandra. One of the best places in the city to experience literary Mumbai is the David Sassoon Library, an historic building dating from 1870 where Mumbai bookworms go to browse rare volumes and admire the Venetian Gothic architecture. Alternatively, bibliophiles can make a pilgrimage to the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, a large neo-classical library near Horniman Circle Gardens that houses one of only two known original copies of Dante’s Divine Comedy, as well as a 13th century manuscript of the Vasupujyacharita, a sacred Sanskrit text.
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Though many of the great writers in Italy’s past hail from ancient cities such as Rome, Florence and Siena, in the 20th century the undoubted literary capital of this peninsula nation was the industrial powerhouse of Turin. More famous for car factories and the famous shroud, the Piedmont capital was home to modernist writing giants like Primo Levi, Cesar Pavese and Italo Calvino, who wrote classics such as If This is a man, The Moon and the Bonfires, as well as If On a Winter’s Night A Traveller, right here in the city. Turin was also home, for many years, to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. His house on Piazza Carlo Alberto, where he also suffered a much publicised mental breakdown by throwing his arms around a horse that was being violently whipped, can still be seen to this day.
To visit many of the world’s most literary cities you do not even have to move at all; just find a comfortable seat, open your favourite book and be transported away.
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