2013 sees the 150th anniversary of the London Underground, “the tube”, and Penguin books have brought out twelve small books (available either singly or as a boxed set), one for each tube line, commemorating the wonderfully eccentric tube line which serves the Britain;s capital.
I found this to be a fascinating collection with a wide range of styles and themes. The design qualities are excellent, as you might expect from Penguin with a consistent look and feel while allowing distinctive covers for each book. This is a very pleasing set of books – I am not a book collector in any sense of the word but I can see this set’s appeal to almost anyone for whom the tube is a daily habit (or ordeal).
I’m not going to go through each book but will give a few “honourable mentions” plucked not quite at random from this set. Firstly, John Lanchester’s What We Talk About When We Talk About The Tube, is a potted history of the tube system, describing how the tube in some ways defined London. Where the tube went London followed, with suburbs extending along the tracks and villages appearing where stations were built. John describes his personal history of the tube then writes about the experiences of being firstly a passenger and secondly being in the driver’s cab. If ever you want a short book about the tube, it’s history and what it means today then this is it.
John O’Farrell’s contribution is a short story – A History of Capitalism According to the Jubilee Line. A Tube train is stuck underground because the economy above has collapsed. The announcement comes through the public address system,
We would like to apologise while we are held in a tunnel. This is due to a crisis of capitalism. We’re just waiting for the green light and hope to be on our way again as soon as the owners of production, distribution and exchange have resolved the inherent contradictions in dialectical materialism.
John explores how this happened and wonders how the passengers will get out. Will they break the unspoken rules of the tube and actually speak to each other?
Philippe Parreno’s book Drift, based on the Hammersmith and City Line, is a book of drawings which try to form “a psycho-geographical map of a subway line”. In my view this one would have been better left in the authors notebooks and while as part of a boxed set it offers a small diversion it really wouldn’t stand on it’s own.
I liked Peter York’s The Blue Riband based on the Picadilly Line in which he writes about the well-heeled areas of Green Park, Mayfair, St James, Knightsbridge. It’s unusual for a wealthy person to talk so unabashedly about areas he frequents regularly, trying to describe for we less affluent types the attractions of the rarified atmosphere of exclusive enclaves. This makes for an interesting alternative view to John O’Farrells.
I liked Richard Mabey’s book, A Good Parcel of English Soil in which he writes of the London hinterland reachable by tube; the lower reaches of the Chiltern Hills, the gravel diggings along the River Colne, the banks of the River Chess at Chesham. London is an amazing place with so much variety at easy reach via it’s metro system.
I’ve enjoyed this boxed set very much – it would make a fine gift for a special occasion (a retirement gift after years of commuting perhaps?).
I’ve not been able to read much over the last week or so due to the inevitable demands of a family Easter, with people staying, young chldren running around looking for eggs and various trips out.
Like everyone else in Britain I’ve been looking for a touch of better weather, but have been disappointed. I went down to Birling Gap near Eastbourne on Saturday and took this photograph which sums it all up really.
I wish everyone a good week as they get back to work or whatever they have to do.