Monday, September 27, 2010

London's Strangest Tales by Tom Quinn

London's Strangest Tales: Extraordinary But True Stories by Tom Quinn From Over a Thousand Years of London's History
Portico - Nonfiction/History
378 pages

I'm going to try to keep this review short and sweet because my butt is numb. I am actually doing my darnest to return to blog-hopping and man . . . I can feel the fat cells replicating. But, I'm having fun.

London's Strangest Tales is a book I purchased either from Waterstone's in Greenwich or Foyle's in Charing Cross (London). All I recall is the sensation that I wanted to take both bookstores home with me or, at the very least, get a hammock and move into Foyle's. They have plenty of room for campers. If you're ever in London, you must go to Foyle's. Your eyes will tear up with joy at the sight of all those beautiful books. Five floors!!! They have an entire 5-shelf section on climate change!!!

But, I digress. I purchased the book because I like to read about the places I visit, after the fact, in order to keep the escapist sensation of travel going. London's Strangest Tales looked like pure fun and a good dose of history. It is, in fact, not only extremely entertaining and informative but also a worthy book to read before traveling to London because one might find some interesting little sights to search for that would otherwise be easily overlooked.

Beginning with the tale of why Great Scotland Yard has remained Scottish territory since the year 950, the book progresses forward in time. There are tales of historical or unique buildings and cemeteries, the origins of various place names, the odd habits of royalty and other eccentric Londoners, how various businesses came into being and expressions (such as "robbing Peter to pay Paul") originated in London.

I enjoyed all of the stories, but found those that described places I've visited particularly fun to read about, such as why Trafalgar Square is permanently unfinished and how William Fortnum (a footman to Queen Anne who made a nice little sum of money selling candle-stubs from St. James Palace) and Hugh Mason (a shopkeeper and friend of Fortnum) combined their talents to create the wondrous Fortnum & Mason store.

On why Trafalgar Square is unfinished:

The unfinished bit is the empty plinth in the northwest corner -- this has been empty ever since the square was first built and though in recent years some bizarre sculptures have been placed on the unused plinth (including an upside-down see-through version of the plinth itself!) there are still no plans to erect a permanent statue here.

--from "Trafalgar Square -- Permanently Unfinished" in London's Strangest Tales, p. 193

I believe this is the unfinished plinth in question, with a temporary ship-in-a-bottle display:

Loads of fun and highly recommended. London's Strangest Tales would have been a terrific book to read on the plane home because I have a dramatically short attention span on planes (usually, I give up and watch a movie or sleep) but the brevity of each of the tales resulted in a book that lends itself well to reading in bits and pieces.

No other news, today, at least not that I'm willing to share because I need to open a window or two and breathe the cool air. Cool!!! Wahoo!!!!!!!

Bookfool, a wee bit excited about the Autumn thing

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  1. Oh my god.. 5 shelves on climate change? That's too funny.. I definitely have to go to that book store next time I am in London. I haven't been to London in about 10 years.. so hopefully soon! :)

  2. Yay Autumn! Yippee for cool bookstores! :)

  3. Allison,

    5 shelves! An entire bookshelf's worth! I deeply desired to take a picture of the climate change section, but there were signs forbidding photography in the store. 10 years is too long between visits. You must return. I insist.


    Wahoo! And, double wahoo! LOL You should go with me to London, sometime. We would have so much fun it would hurt.

  4. Wow 5 shelves that is amazing! This one sounds fun! I got a book on the one of the churchs history in Northern Ireland. I can't rememeber the title but it looked interesting as well as a devotional on one of the saint prayers again drawing a blank. lol It's fun to shop books from a certain region! :)


  5. Krista,

    Oooh, a history of churches sounds like an interesting read. London's Strangest Tales is just pure fun. I'm hanging onto it for a reread if/when I return.

  6. That sounds like an awesome book! I love reading about places that I've visited.

  7. Alyce,

    It's tremendously fun reading. I wanted to turn around and go right back to hunt for some of the places the author described (those that still remain -- many are gone and he was quite vocal about the tragic destruction of important landmarks).

  8. OK, I'm up for a trip to London. Where do I sign up?!

    Also, plinth was a word I had to look up from my listening to Neverwhere. Once I realized what they were saying, I knew the word, but it sure startled my ears with a 'HUH?'

  9. Care,

    Next time I go, I'll try to give you plenty of advance warning and you can tag along. It could be months or years, though. LOL

    I knew the word "plinth" but if you'd asked me to identify the thing with the bottle on it, I probably would have called it something else. It's certainly not in my regular vocabulary. I know what you mean. It sounded kind of funny when I first read that passage.


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