A northerner in exile, stateless and confused, hearing rumors of Harvey Nichols in Leeds and Maseratis in Wilmslow, the author goes in search of The North. Delving into his own past, it is a riotously funny journey in search of where the cliches end and the truth begins. He travels from Wigan Pier to Blackpool Tower, the Bigg Market in Newcastle to the daffodil-laden Lake District in search of his own Northern Soul, encountering along the way an exotic cast of characters while he battles with his own identity.
I do most of my reading in bed and started this book there as well. However, I quickly learned that this is a book to read next to one's computer or other internet source. It made me realize (to Maconie's point) how little I know not only about the cities and towns he discusses, but also their location in many cases. It took me longer than usual to read this because there was hardly a page where I didn't stop to look something up, whether it be the map of English counties, definition of British words and expressions, or people he mentions.
This all sounds like a lot of work, but I loved every minute of it! I learned so much, and Maconie makes it all very enjoyable. His sense of humor is just the kind I love and I frequently burst out laughing.
I have sticky flags on so many pages, but will only provide one quote with which most bookcrossers can probably identify:
Maconie is on a train heading for the seaside resort of Blackpool.
"It was a kind of a carnival on wheels. Less charitably, some might have called it a travelling freak show. Though maybe I was the freak. When I took out a book and began to read, the whole carriage looked at me as if I'd taken out a cuckoo clock or a lacrosse stick."
The only thing making it 9 stars instead of 10 is that there doesn't seem to be a real plan for his travels (or at least for his recounting them). He's all over the place in what doesn't seem to be a logical progession or itinerary; here the maps were especially helpful. In some cases his transitions from one place to another are not clear; in one paragraph he's one place and then halfway through the next he is talking about another. Or maybe it's just me. In any case, a very minor complaint.
I can't wait to find another of his books, Adventures On the High Teas: In Search of Middle England. Bet it will be another fun history and geography lesson!
The book arrived on this cold, snowy (!) day - many thanks! Sounds like a good one...
Later: I enjoyed the book very much, both for its travelogue aspects and for the author's style. He mixes the various prejudices and stereotypes about each town or region with details on historical monuments, museums, art galleries and music halls - and food! Some of my favorite bits had to do with his discussions of local specialties and childhood favorites; the chapter on the pies of Wigan made my mouth water...
From the rise of the Beatles to the Wars of the Roses, from Wallace and Gromit (who live in Wigan - fictionally) to romance-novelist Catherine Cookson (whose house is apparently a shrine for tourists), from battling sports teams to rival counties, it's quite a journey!