The Best London Books To Read In Quarantine

By Londonist Last edited 31 months ago
The Best London Books To Read In Quarantine

In this new world of social distancing and self isolating, we're all going to be spending a lot more time indoors. That's why Londonist's team pulled together this list of some of our favourite London books. Should keep you occupied for a while.

London Belongs to Me, by Norman Collins (1945)

Could this be the great novel for the coronavirus crisis? Collins's wartime soap-opera-as-novel is a tale of disrupted home life, challenging circumstances, and continuation under pressure. It has its bleak moments, but Collins's light tone and loveable characters make for a pacy, uplifting read. I'd particularly recommend it for those who know the Kennington area, where it's largely set. Matt Brown

Mrs Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf (1925)

An obvious one, but Mrs Dalloway was the first book to spring to mind. I love it for its exquisitely detailed description of 1920s London street life, seen through the eyes of the eponymous protagonist as she walks from Westminster to Bond Street. It's a compelling snapshot of high London society during the interwar years, but it's also an exploration of more universal themes like time, loneliness, and disillusionment. Maire Rose Connor

Maps of London & Beyond, by Adam Dant (2018)

For those who've always gravitated towards books with pictures, allow me to recommend Maps of London & Beyond. Adam Dant has a different way of seeing London to the rest of us, and we have pored over his creations for hours. The ingenious illustrator draws and redraws London throughout history, and manages to be both delightfully informative and visually stunning. Harry Rosehill

Everything You Know About London is Wrong, by Matt Brown (2016)

I don't really read much about London (I know, the shame). So instead I'll give a shameless plug to a colleague and suggest Everything You Know About London is Wrong by Matt Brown. I've lived in London my entire life and this book made me realise how little I know about it, and how many false 'facts' I've fallen for. If I have any question about London, I ask Matt — it's like having your own London Wikipedia, except he's always right and is never short of a pun. Tabish Khan

Discriminating Guide to London, by James Sherwood (1977)

If you think Jay Rayner is the overlord of smashing restaurant reputations into smithereens like the proverbial finger jab into a stack of papadums, you haven't come across the work of James Sherwood. A £1.50 copy of his 1977 edition of Discriminating Guide to London called out to me from a bookshelf at the tumbledown Fifteenth Century Bookshop in Lewes last summer, but it wasn't till I later leafed through to the back pages that I discovered Sherwood's deliciously catty chapter of take-aparts, in which he dismisses dishes that taste like diesel oil and fridges, cheese boards that are 'a disgrace', and gets arsey with waiters for not helping him on with his coat.

Confusingly there is a book of the same name by an author of the same name — don't buy that by accident. If you want to wait until you can explore secondhand bookshops again, read my article, which picks out some of the tastiest insults, including "instant potatoes served by kind but undisciplined waiters." Meow. Will Noble

Mortal Engines, by Philip Reeve (2001)

For any teenagers out there I'd recommend Philip Reeve's young adult classic Mortal Engines. It's set in a steampunk dystopian London, and it's stuffed chock full of London iconography — the climax takes place at St Paul's Cathedral, for example. (Just be sure you don't watch the dreadful movie adaptation from 2018.) Maire Rose Connor

The Hand That First Held Mine, by Maggie O'Farrell (2010)

Of the books I've read that are set in London, one that really stands out is Maggie O'Farrell's The Hand that First Held Mine. A character runs away to start a life in London and it resonated strongly with me as I read it not long after I'd moved to the city seven years ago. Hannah Barron

Saltwater, by Jessica Andrews (2019)

I'm a born and bred Londoner, who works for a website dedicated to reminding people how wonderful the city is. That's a privileged position to be in, and reading Jessica Andrews' excellent debut novel Saltwater was a stark reminder that my experience of London doesn't necessarily chime with everyone else's. It might seem a tad counterintuitive to recommend a book whose lead character is resolutely not in love with the city, but it's worth reminding ourselves that this city isn't always the kindest to all its inhabitants. Harry Rosehill

London The Biography, by Peter Ackroyd (2000)

A history of London written not chronologically, but by theme. Ackroyd is like the clever bloke down the pub, full of anecdotes and unexpected comparisons (even if he does use the word 'noisome' a few too many times). The pages fly by. It's a well-known and obvious choice, but I have to include it. This is the book that first kindled my interest in our city's history and character. I went on to write about London for a living, and Ackroyd's tome was the fountainhead for all that. One of the pillars upon which Londonist was founded. Matt Brown

Got any favourites you'd like to recommend? Shout them out in the comments below.

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Last Updated 21 March 2020