It’s a London Thing is our series in which we turn the spotlight on a unique aspect of London – perhaps a curious shop, sometimes an eccentric restaurant, a hidden place, book or oddity. The subject matter will be different every week. The running theme, however, will remain constant: you have to come to London to enjoy it. It’s A London Thing.
Don't get us wrong: We are all for new technology here at The D.C - in fact we're composing this post on an i-Pad "out in the field" at this very moment.
But with every technological advancement, something changes. Sometimes we have to give something up – something that we have grown rather fond of – to make way for the new stuff. And that's what is currently happening on our Underground trains as we move over in ever-greater numbers to e-readers.
Bookspotting on the London Underground is becoming an endangered pastime.
As I glance along my carriage right now I can see three e-reader devices. Many of my fellow passengers are reading Metro, the free newspaper. But the books on display are still revealing and surprising.
At the far end of the carriage, a 20-something guy is reading a Terry Pratchett paperback (from this distance I can't tell which one, but it is predominantly blue in colour so may well be the very funny Mort). No surprise here as Sir Terry is almost as ubiquitous as Dan Brown on the Underground and was also once listed – dubious distinction, this – as the author most likely to be stolen from libraries.
Next to Discworld Boy, a 20-something woman is reading a battered Penguin Classic (an olive green one from the 70's or 80's). Two seats along from Green Penguin, a woman is fanning herself with a chunky potboiler. (I am rather snobbishly assuming it is a potboiler because it has shiny, embossed lettering on it although I can't actually see the title because she is wafting it quite vigorously.) When she stops wafting, I can see that it is Edward Rurtherford's Dublin. I make two mental notes: one, to re-read his excellent London, and the other… not to be so sneering about books with shiny, embossed lettering.
At Shiny Embossed Woman's shoulder is a man in a suit with a walking stick and he is reading something called Interpret the Earth: Ten Ways to be Wrong. Sounds intriguing, and I jot down the title for future reference.
Next to Serious Book Man I see The Invisible Man – okay, I didn’t “see” The Invisible Man, ha-ha, I saw someone reading a newish Penguin edition of H.G Wells’s classic. A few Metro newspapers along from him there’s Ian Rankin’s Tooth & Nail – in which Rankin’s Edinburgh cop Inspector Rebus comes to London, and next door there’s the inevitable Dan Brown – a paperback Angels & Demons. (Editor's note. Remember this post dates from 2011 – today, replace Dan Brown with 50 Shades of Grey.)
I’ve lost count now of the number of times I’ve been inspired to buy a book having seen someone reading it on the Underground – the last time was the graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It was my first graphic novel experience and I doubt that I would have thought of it without having been “prodded” by my fellow passenger.
My Book Snob self can see the advantage in an e-reader: I can now read trashy fiction in public without fear of judgment from others in the Book Snob community (and we are a very judgmental bunch, dontcha know).
But as the e-reader slowly, but surely, spreads through the carriages of the London Underground, I’m enjoying the tail-end of an era. Someone’s just got on at Highgate clutching a copy of Marx for Beginners. Very Highgate.
Bookspotting on The Underground: It’s a London Thing.
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A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at www.walks.com.