I’m quite enjoying looking at my Novellas in November picture and seeing how many I’ve picked off already! I might not get to the Maya Angelou (but that’s not hard to reshelve if I don’t read it, a powerful reason to read all the others so I don’t have to fit them back in date of acquisition order!) but I’ve added yesterday’s Dyslexia book, I’ve just finished “White Fragility” at the time of writing this, and then only have three left to go! I’ve chosen to review these two books about London sights together as they fit together and I’m running out of days for reviews. I heartily recommend both of them, and can’t wait to get down to London again and do some touring around and photographing with Emma! I bought both of these books in this summer’s Christmas/Birthday book token splurge.

Joshua Abbot – “A Guide to Modernism in Metroland”

(24 June 2021)

This attractive small book (though the print, I will say, is very small) takes as its locations the outlying areas of London and the Home Counties known as Metroland from the expansion of the Metropolitan Underground line. The design of Tube stations themselves, municipal buildings, blocks of flats and private homes often (in decreasing amounts as you go down that list) adopted the Modernist / Moderne / International style – think round stairwells, blocks of windows with metal frames and white concrete. This was not always hugely popular, and certainly homes were built of brick and rendered rather than made of concrete, and quite a lot of the buildings faded away over the years, but there are certainly enough to make a book out of, from austere brick churches to Egyptian-style cinemas to cantilevered sports stadium terraces and the odd sparkling white block of a house.

Taking buildings in the style up to the modern day, the book is arranged by London borough, then county, with a map at the start of each section with the places marked, then a postcode for each building and a photograph for many of them. There’s a good book list in the back and an index. The book was published on the Unbound site, and I would definitely have contributed to the funding if I’d been on there when it was started! The author, Joshua Abbott, runs guided tours of modernist buildings, one of which Emma has been on, and recommends. His website is here.

Avril Nanton and Jody Burton – “Black London: History, Art & Culture in Over 120 Places”

(31 August 2021)

Before we get to the guide and sights, we find an introduction setting the book out as “a historical guide to black global history in London, as well as a compendium of information about things to see,” a history of the HMT Windrush (even though this is clearly not only a post-Windrush book), a note on the different London plaque schemes, an excellent and detailed timeline and a list of Black events in London. At the back is a good resource list, split into websites, fiction and non-fiction for adults and young people.

This excellent book covers the whole of London, split into Central & East, North, West, South and South-East, with a map and legend for each section, and has such a huge range of things to learn about and look at, from Cleopatra’s Needle to places commemorating the Black Lives Matter movement, recently installed plaques and statues and those that have been there longer, and street art by amazing artists (including one from Birmingham, Carleen de Sözer).

I left London in 2005 and it’s striking to see how much work has been done since then by boroughs and organisations (including the BBC History Project featured in David Olusoga’s “Black and British” series and the Nubian Jak Community Trust). It also reminds us of writers, bookshop owners, activists and artists who came before the current generations, so important to remember (although dispiriting that so many fights have to go on and on. This book has certainly made me want to return to New Cross Gate to see the New Cross Fire memorial and the murals celebrating the Battle of Lewisham in New Cross and of Bob Marley in Brockley. A wonderful resource that has so much to offer, with enough history and information to be informative but not overwhelming.

These were TBR Challenge 2021-22 Books 16-17/85 – 68 to go! I read them for Nonfiction November and they were also Books 11 and 12 in my Novellas in November reads.