Essential Reading from the World's Top Literary Cities

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Where does one live if one is interested in the life of the mind? Do you hole up in a rural area or head to the city, where you can hope to meet like-minded aesthetes at gin-filled parties? If you prefer the latter, then we have a list of cities for your wandering, writerly craft to thrive. We’ve included a few writers famous for living in the cities below, as well as recommended reading for each place. As always, let us know what places or which authors we’ve missed in the comments section below.

Tokyo, Japan

Haruki Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto, and other Japanese Writers You Should Know have lived in this city of 13 million strivers. It’s home to the Imperial Palace, a slew of parks, electronics shops, and boutiques, as well as neighborhoods that one is meant to wander through and enjoy without necessarily having a final destination. It’s the economic center of Japan, but also an artistic one, which is why so many writers find themselves here.

Essential Reading: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

New York City

Is anyone going to attempt to argue with this one? The English-language publishing industry is based here, and you can’t throw a stone without hitting a writer in Brooklyn. (They hate it when you do that, by the way.) We rule the school! You can read Colson Whitehead’s complaint about it here if you enjoy lines such as, “We need more Brooklyn-based shrinks for our artistically capable but mentally delicate scriveners.” Famous, self-satisfied Brooklynites are even winning awards like “Most Annoying Performance by an Author in a Book Trailer.” Aren’t you jealous you don’t live here?

Essential Reading: Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

London

Have you heard of T.S. Eliot? Oh, you have? Well, then, what about a lady named Virginia Woolf? Well, then, you’re certainly on to the reading scene in London, though there have been some newcomers in the past seventy years. London is noisy, expensive, and filled with those annoyingly tall double-decker buses that tourists love. It is also filled with British people, but we really can’t help that, can we? What we can do, however, is enjoy its literary history. You might want to start with Charles Dickens, but we suggest the London trilogy by Martin Amis for a more contemporary view.

Essential Reading: London Fields by Martin Amis

San Francisco

Home to Dave Eggers’ publishing empire as well as a lot of unrepentant homosexuals, San Francisco is a literary haven for those who enjoy West Coast feelgoodism and really good sushi. If you enjoy The Believer, Wholphin, and McSweeney’s, then you’ve probably already read A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and might even be into Vendela Vida’s work. But don’t forget that Michael Chabon lives there as well, along with Chris Adrian, Michelle Tea, Ariel Schrag, and Alice Walker.

Essential Reading: Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

Mumbai / Bombay

Suketu Mehta, Manu Joseph, and Salman Rushdie all called Mumbai home at some point or another during their lives. Though it’s more than a little offensive to call Mumbai “the Indian writer’s New York” as the BBC does, we agree that it’s an important place for authors trying to get a break.

Essential Reading: Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta

Nairobi

You may or may not heard of Margaret Atieno Ogola, Charles Mangua, or Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, but you will in the years to come. These Kenyan novelists are pushing the boundaries of fiction and creating stories that go beyond what people dismiss as an “African novel.” Lately we’ve been really excited about Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s son, Mukoma Wa Ngugi, who wrote a fast-paced hard-boiled crime novel that manages to cover large topics like genocide, race relations, and what it means to return “home” when the word is just a concept (meaning: a set of stories, a fictionalized place). Nairobi Heat is out tomorrow, and we suggest you pick up a copy if you know what’s good for you.

Essential Reading: Nairobi Heat by Mukoma Wa Ngugi

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is home to the next generation of talented Spanish-language novelists, such as Federico Falco, Oliverio Coelho, Pola Oloixarac, and Matîas Néspolo, among others. If you don’t read Spanish, you can check out Granta’s “Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists” issue, which has been translated into the lingua franca for those too lazy to learn another language — English.

Essential Reading: “Conditions for the Revolution” by Pola Oloixarac in Granta

Iowa City

Laugh if you will, but all fiction authors aspire to live in Iowa at some point in their careers. It might not be a bustling metropolis, but it is home to The Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a two-year residency program for those wanting to seriously work on their writing and experience a couple of winters that could give them a nasty case of frostbite. Hey, it’s all part of the experience, right? Go Hawkeyes!

Essential Reading: The Workshop: 43 Stories, Recollections, & Essays on Iowa’s Place in Twentieth-Century American Literature by Tom Grimes

Edinburgh

Edinburgh is home to an International Book Festival in August, as well as a authors such as Alexander McCall Smith (No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency), Kate Clanchy, Sharman MacDonald, and Irvine Welsh. If you enjoy castles, fried candy bars, and enough pints to pickle the liver of even the heartiest of men, then you might consider spending some time in the Scottish capital.

Essential Reading: Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

Paris

Well, either you’ve dreamt of living in the City of Lights and wandering along the Seine with a cigarette in one hand and your unfinished novel in another, or you’d prefer to keep munching on those Freedom Fries (pass the catsup). Writers from Molière to Marcel Proust have called Paris home, as well as tenacious ex-pats like Gertrude Stein, Henry Miller, and Samuel Beckett. What’s not to love?

Essential Reading: You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik (who we featured in our post “Reading for the Conflicted: 11 Existential Classics“)