No, this isn’t a blogpost about a daring escape attempt made by some of the flippered residents of London Zoo, as droll as that might be. Instead it’s to celebrate a series of books we think no self-respecting Londoner’s bookshelves should be without.
As part of London Underground’s 150th anniversary celebrations, the publishers Penguin have brought out 12 slim volumes celebrating a different line on the network. Written by a diverse cast, including the novelists John Lanchester and Lucy Wadham, music journalist Paul Morley and founder of the charity Kids Company Camila Batmanghelidjh, each essay takes you in different directions (boom boom).
You’ll learn a lot too, and your self-rated tube geekiness (every author is asked to score themselves out of ten on this vital dimension) will increase a lot too. You’ll learn about the phenomena that is doing up the top button on your shirt while not wearing a tie (this happens in East London by all accounts – and no, no one has explained why this line, which technically has now been replaced by the London Overground should still be written about), the crucial difference between the words ‘Tube’ and ‘Underground’, how Red Kites are now flying down into Smithfield and Clerkenwell, and much, much more.
Inevitably, in such a collective effort, some volumes work better than others, but there are some tremendous and unexpected gems too. Leanne Shapton’s illustrated meditation on the Waterloo and City Line is a wonderful act of ventriloquism, bringing to life the various different voices to be found in an Underground carriage. In a ‘A Good Parcel of English Soil’ naturalist Richard Mabey reminds you that, through the Metropolitan Line, so much of London is also wild in tooth and claw. And if you are at all of a nervous disposition when using the Tube, William Leith’s retelling of an incident that happened to him between Chalk Farm and Camden Town might not soothe your nerves, but brings the non-stop churning of an agitated mind vividly to life.
Collectively, these 12 books add up to a wonderfully askew portrait of London. A great birthday present for the Underground, and any daring penguins in your life.Google+