5 fascinating books in London
1) Nairn's London
Architectural writer and critic Ian Nairn’s masterpiece is a collection of observations on London buildings and districts. “A record of what has moved me between Uxbridge and Dagenham”, it’s an idiosyncratic and intensely subjective meditation on the city, featuring railway stations, synagogues, markets, churches, monuments, and 27 pubs. The writing is a work of literature.
Subtitled ‘Journeys of a London Cycle Courier’ this book is a portrait of London from the unique perspective of the saddle, and an essay about the bicycle and its role in the collective imagination. Day spent five years cycling hundreds of miles a week. Imbedded in the courier sub-culture, he was able to gain illuminating insights into the psychogeography of the city.
3) Portobello Road: Lives of a Neighbourhood
This is a fascinating portrait of one of London’s most famous streets and the people who have lived there over the last 50 years. Mash combines his own experiences of working in the area with interviews of over 60 Portobello residents – market traders, film-makers, shop- keepers, punks and poets – to portray the real character of the street, its history and its people.
4) On Brick Lane
Brick Lane is one of east London’s most fascinating and historic streets. Lichtenstein spent ten years researching its history by talking to the people who live there and the families of previous inhabitants. It’s a complex and engaging story that relates the experiences of immigrant populations and the more recent arrival of artists and creatives in the area.
One of the best London novels in recent years was written by a journalist who covered the 2008 financial collapse. This moral fable is set in a fictional and rapidly gentrifying Clapham street in the run up to the crisis. It’s a dramatic portrayal of London’s fragmentation told through the precise observation of archetypal characters – bankers, shop workers, families, asylum seekers.
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