diamond geezer

 Friday, March 08, 2013

Penguin Lines: For the 150th anniversary of the London Underground, twelve writers tell their tales, each inspired by a different Tube line. Some are personal, some are polemical; every one is unique, showing how we are connected, and how the space in which we live shapes us and our imaginations.

That's twelve books, one per Underground line, published yesterday for your delight and perusal. Look, they're here. Each costs £4.99, but Penguin are really hoping that people like you will buy the full boxset for £60 instead. You might want to pick carefully, because the books are all very very different. A Northern Line Minute is a set of personal stories, A Good Parcel of English Soil is a sort-of history of the Metropolitan line, and Mind The Child is an illuminating collection of tales from urban youth. Waterloo-City, City-Waterloo, on the other hand, is a collection of two-stop weirdness, which you'd probably only ever skimread once, while Drift looks like mostly cartoon scribble. Personal reminiscences take centre stage in Heads and Straights, focusing on the Chelsea corner of the Circle, while Earthbound is Paul Morley's brief meandering discourse about the Bakerloo. You get the feeling that some of these authors have written the book they wanted and slapped a tube line on the front cover, whereas others have focused more precisely on aspects of their allocated railway. Thankfully Peter York hits the target with The Blue Riband, discussing style along the Piccadilly, while Buttoned-Up does the same for East London - an illustrated essay focusing on a history of men's shirts. I picked up A History of Capitalism According to the Jubilee Line with high expectations, but put it back down again when I noticed the last line was "And then I woke up and it had all been a dream." I had greater hopes for What We Talk About When We Talk About The Tube, until I saw it was only 87 pages long, padded out at the end by 15 entirely blank pages. I then realised I'd already read more than a quarter of the book in the Guardian last Saturday (here's what 24 pages of it looks like) and felt a little cheated. You won't be buying any of these books for their length - they're more an impulse purchase, or for those who like a beautiful collection of spines along their bookshelf. If you only buy two, I'd start by picking either the Piccadilly or the East London. Then if you only buy one, I'm pleased to say you should go Central. Geographer Danny Dorling has written The 32 Stops about a journey east along the Central line from West Ruislip, which is obviously an excellent idea. He meets a representative local character or family at each station along the way, and throws in social commentary about how conditions change station by station. The map on the front cover is spatially awry, and he does stop short at Woodford, and 20% of the book is footnotes, but I read this one on the Central line last night and I'd vote it a winner. Just think twice before you buy the lot.

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