Wednesday, 23 April 2014

World Book Night No.5

Tonight is World Book Night.


World Book Night is an annual celebration of reading and books which takes place on 23 April. It sees passionate volunteers give hundreds of thousands of books away in their communities to share their love of reading with people who, for whatever reason, don’t read for pleasure or own books.

It is run by The Reading Agency - the charity with a mission to give everyone an equal chance to become a reader. Because everything changes when we read.

In the UK 35% of people don’t regularly read despite reading for pleasure being a globally recognised indicator in a huge range of social issues from poverty to mental health.

World Book Night is about giving books and encouraging those who have lost the love of reading – or are yet to gain it – to pick up a book and read. Line by line, paragraph by paragraph until they too have discovered the power of reading and the opportunities in life that reading can open the door to.

For World Book Night events in London visit the World Book Night Website www.worldbooknight.org





To mark the occasion, we're reblogging 24 classics (one every hour!) from our London Walks Reading List series…




The Great London Reading List! Essential London books that Londoners take away on holiday to remind them of home… books visitors should read before arriving in London… fact, fiction, poetry, all genres welcome. If you’re in the mood to recommend a great London bookshop, too, we’d love to hear it!  All suggestions to the usual address, please, or leave a comment below or get in touch via Twitter @londonwalks.







Soho in the Fifties
By Daniel Farson


A work that rattles along with all the élan of a great novel, Daniel Farson’s Soho in The Fifties is an account of London’s most forgiving and tolerant quarter. It is told by that most unique of all Soho-ites: a man who was both there and who can remember he was there.

“Soho,” writes Farson, the great-nephew of Bram Stoker, “has always been a state of mind rather than a boundary.” And the minds that populate his narrative (the main section of which is structured as a 24-hours-in-the-life-of-Soho documentary) are some of the sharpest of the mid-20th Century. Artist Francis Bacon and journalist Jeffrey Barnard swagger through the narrative, rubbing shoulders with a picaresque gallery of characters who, while less celebrated on the international stage, remain Soho legends. Characters such as Norman Balon of the Coach and Horses (the man styled by Barnard as the Rudest Landlord in London) and Muriel Belcher, the éminence grise of Dean Street and proprietress of the legendary watering hole The Colony Room.

Farson’s narrative even takes us a little further north of the 21st Century Soho, over Oxford Street to the area to which he refers to as North Soho (Fitzrovia today) to reveal licentious goings-on at the Fitzroy Tavern and in search of the painters Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde as they evade eye-watering bar bills all over W1. It’s a revealing insight: Soho has changed in shape as well as tone.

The great surviving characters of Soho are the pubs that serve as backdrop to the tale: The French House and the Coach and Horses remain in rude health in the 21st Century. “It’s ironic,” writes Farson of those Soho hostelries, "that Karl Marx and Logie Baird both lived in Soho, for politics and last night’s television are rarely discussed in Soho, though they are the mainstay in [most other] British pubs.”

Farson’s only oversight is the importance of music to this part of town. A forgivable omission given that the author moved in a world of letters and media; and one that is rectified with a peerless introduction by the late, great English jazz musician and writer George Melly. A rare treat: two great writers for the price of one.

(The edition illustrated is the Pimlico paperback from 1993)


And because World Book Night falls on Shakespeare's 450th birthday, here's the BRAND NEW episode of the London Walks Podcast: Shakespeare & London…











A London Walk costs £9 – £7 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.









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