Speed Reading - London walking

As the days being to lengthen what better time to explore London armed with a book that gives a social and historical context, educates and entertains.

Iain Sinclair is a master at stripping back the familiar to reveal fresh layers of interest. In his latest book, Sinclair, accompanied by artist and film-maker Andrew K├Âtting, follows London's Overground network, the Ginger Line. As Sinclair remarks, “this novel fairground railway, Boris puffed, freighted with boasts… [is] a very old railway revamped.”

During the trek, Sinclair shares snippets of conversation and memories, recalls old literary haunts and the ramblings of other writers and connects figures “binding the territory together”. Sinclair delights in the surreal, describing the Kensal Rise pop up library, erected in protest at the intended closure of the original, as “anti-library: it doesn’t let books out, it gathers them in…a shrine to conspicuous altruism.”

In Rebel Footprints, David Rosenberg explores areas in London that from the early 1830s to the end of the 1930s were home to campaigning groups and individuals who agitated for political and social change. These range from the anti-fascist Battle of Cable Street to the suffragettes’ protests in Westminster. Given the current anti-immigrant rhetoric it is timely to read about past exploitation such as the East End “Sweatshops” dominated by “greeners” (new immigrants) working for depressed wages. Nine chapters conclude with a map and walk highlighting various revolutionary landmarks.

Those with a more literary bent will relish Matthew Beaumont’s Night Walking. Beaumont covers a vast period from the thirteenth to the mid-nineteenth century. His nocturnal study illuminates the history of English literature as well as revealing some of the city’s past secrets.

Originally published by The Tablet