Too Many New London Books!

London

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A wander into Waterstone’s Piccadilly reveals an avalanche of new London books in time for Christmas; so many specialist subjects and being broken down and explored through the prism of the city. I and my pocketbook have abandoned the idea of trying to keep up with them, but I can recommend three more which are worthy of your attention;

I’m surprised that no-one has thought of this one before. ‘London, a History in Paintings and Illustrations’ is a lovely little book by Stephen Porter that’s packed with pictures of people and places from almost every era of the city’s existence. It’s nice to see some more recent depictions painted, too, although there are no abstract versions of London scenes and no depictions of London through graphic art – but that’s probably another separate volume right there. My only cavil is that the book’s awkward shape doesn’t best present all of the illustrations.

A modest little volume by Helen East called ‘London Folk Tales’ caught my eye, and I’m glad it did. Ms East has collected together a great many stories which were unfamiliar to me, gathered via a tradition of oral folk-tale telling, and her style is pleasant and easy to enjoy. Here are Boudicca, Thomas A Becket, Dick Whittington and the Lambeth Pedlar, but also tales of inns and ghosts, bridges and witches; it’s the sort of lovely volume that gets lost behind all of the big glossy productions, and deserves a wider readership.

Houses are featuring a lot in London books at the moment, with ‘London’s Houses’ by Vicky Wilson, ‘Great Houses of London’ by James Stourton, and ‘Open House London’ by Victoria Thornton all taking peeps inside the grand and modest and plain odd homes and buildings of the city. ‘The London Square’ by Todd Longstaffe-gowa looks at the history of our quiet garden squares, many of them sadly locked for residential use only, which is a terrible waste as their key holders often live overseas.

London is still, surprisingly, one of the greenest cities in the world compared with other cities of its size. There are around 400 green spaces in the City of London alone and over 1,000 in Greater London, and new books on the histories of its green spaces abound. I’m not sure my creaking bookcases can handle too many more of these right now, though.

Meanwhile, here’s one not strictly about London (although it features many London characters).  Brian May from Queen was the last person I expected to produce a superb volume of antiquarian rarities, but he did so with ‘Diableries’, which gathered together hundreds of odd stereoscopic tableaux. Now its sequel, ‘The Poor Man’s Picture Gallery’ has appeared, and concerns 3D pictures from the Victorian era. Like its predecessor it contains a sturdy stereoscopic viewer through which to view the pictures, and is even more enjoyable than its predecessor because this time the scope is wider, and explores the kind of paintings ordinary people owned in reproduction in their houses. These were very different to what you’d find in a gallery – no high-minded saints and angels here, but domestic scenes with coy titles.

My grandmother had one such picture on her wall featuring a regency lady winding wool and two young beaux helping her, while vying with each other for her attention. The punning caption was; ‘Two strings for her bow.’ Enchanting stuff (that cover of Chatterton is lenticular – nice!)

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