Good Reading : October 2006
20 goodreading ı OCTOBER 2006 Edinburgh in August is a feast of festivals. The Edinburgh Inter national Festival, the Fringe Festival, the Film Festival, the Military Tattoo and the Edinburgh Inter national Book Festival tur n the city into a teeming mass of perfor mers, artists, musicians, visitors, readers and writers. To discover literary Edinburgh during festival month, I had to run the gauntlet of enthusiastic Fringe Festival perfor mers who thronged the streets of the city, trying their hardest to convince me to come to their stand-up comedy, drama, dance, music or unclassifiable perfor mance event. Even once I’d fought off determined street perfor mers and made it to the famous marquees of Charlotte Square, I faced some hard choices. Did I want to listen to Doris Lessing talk about her new futuristic novel, or Irvine Welsh read from his dark and hilarious Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs? Hear Scottish crime writer Quintin Jardine talk about the newest crisis facing his Edinburgh detective Bob Skinner, or science fiction writer Iain Banks give a preview of his latest work in progress? Extend my trip for another week to hear Booker- winner Roddy Doyle preview his new novel, or listen to Alain de Botton give a dazzling tour through The Architecture of Happiness? Gallivant on the literary pub tour, the literary bus tour, the Rebus tour or the Trainspotting tour? Or drop into the Scottish Storytelling Centre? A combination of time, money and planning will ensure you can fit them all in – and even if you can’t, a visit to Edinburgh is paradise for a book lover, which is why in 2004 it became the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature. According to Anna Burkey, administrator of the City of Literature Trust, the idea was initiated by four prominent local booklovers who wanted to share the literary culture of Edinburgh with the world. ‘UNESCO was looking for three things: a strong literary heritage, a thriving contemporary scene and vision for the future,’ she says. ‘Edinburgh has all of these. As well as the city’s incredible literary history, we are still home to many writers today. We have organisations like the Scottish Publishers’ Association, the Scottish Storytelling Centre and Scottish Poetry Library. And of course Edinburgh hosts the world’s largest book festival.’ I ar rived for a two-week visit in August eager to put this promise to the test. Exactly what does Edinburgh have to offer book lovers? A great starting place is to skip the ubiquitous guided bus tours of the city and join one of the special interest literary tours. In June this year the Scottish Literary Tour Trust launched the Edinburgh Literary Bus Tour, an offshoot of the Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour which has been running for 10 years. As the bus sets off from Waverley Station, tour guide ‘Reikie’ (referring to Edinburgh’s name of ‘Auld Reikie’ from Robert Fergusson’s 1773 poem) gives an engaging commentary on the Edinburgh of poets, philosophers, drunks and dignitaries. Even in August Scottish weather can be unpredictable, but more than half the people on my tour were prepared to brave the open air upper deck of the bus despite the threat of rain. In one hour Reikie guided us through the geography of Edinburgh’s literature, through the dark and winding cobblestone streets of the Old Town and the literature of buzzing with books Every August Edinburgh — the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature — buzzes with books as the Edinburgh International Book Festival flings open its pages and kicks up its heels. This year JESSE BLACKADDER was swept up in the general enthusiasm for all things literary. writers’ city The Writers’ Museum in the Old Town is dedicated to the works of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. The entrance to the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the largest in the world.