Those who know me will tell you, I love a quest. Actually anyone who’s read this blog and seen my list and my world map will probably agree with that statement. So when I heard that some utter genius had come up with the idea of decorating benches to look like books and positioning them all over London, how exactly was I supposed to keep myself from tracking them all down?!
Happily my mum was paying me a visit last weekend and being a fellow book-lover she was more than happy to accompany me on this madness. Even more happily, the books are set out on proper trails and with the help of a few downloadable maps they’re pretty easy to find.
There are 50 in total so I’m not going to add photos of them all to this post but I am going to give you a taste of my favourites. Hold on to your hats, it’s going to be a whirlwind!
Let’s begin at the beginning (a very good place to start or so I hear). The first bench we found represented The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis and had a magnificent view of Aslan on the back:
If you notice the background to this picture you’ll probably think that a cemetery is an odd place to put such a thing. Well prepare yourself for my finest London fact: most of the parks and little green squares in London used to be graveyards and if you look closely you can still see gravestones around the sides of many of them. This one (St George’s Square) just happens to be more honest than most about its history.
Next I’m going to whisk you across to the other side of the Thames and one of my all-time favourite books: War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. Long before it was turned into a West End hit and a Stephen Spielberg BAFTA winner, the story of Joey and Albert brought me to tears and taught me about the human (and equine) cost of World War I. And now it’s been turned into one of the simplest and most beautiful benches in London:
Now for another bout of nostalgia. As a child I loved E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children (book and film), I was heavily into trains as a tot but long after I outgrew that phase, something about this book spoke to me and there was a magical quality that captivated me time after time. This bench shows a key scene from the book in which Bobby saves the day (photo credit goes to my mum because mine didn’t work properly):
Where now? Let’s stick with the theme of children’s books and consider the J. M. Barrie classic, Peter Pan. Two artists had taken this on, with significantly different outcomes:
I don’t know about you but I much prefer the second interpretation except for this little detail on the first bench:
This post is starting to major on the children’s literature but there’s a couple more that I have to mention. First of all, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen. Partly because finding it was a mission worthy of the book itself.
We couldn’t go over it, we couldn’t go through it. We couldn’t go under it, we had to go ROUND it!
And speaking of bears, what list of children’s books would be complete without a dear friend from deepest, darkest Peru? Not this one that’s for sure!
Alright let’s grow up a bit. How about I show off my mature side with an appropriately arty shot of The Day of the Triffids? Alright then:
I think now is a suitable moment to pay homage to two of London’s greatest literary sons. First of all, the man who defined the English language by cataloguing the whole thing so that we never need by stuck for words again. I’m referring of course to the great Dr Samuel Johnson. Even he did have something against aardvarks (major cool points for anyone who gets that reference).
And secondly, the man who created more of our words than you would believe and used them to create some of the finest works ever published in the English tongue. The one, the only, William Shakespeare! Shown here with some of the landmarks of his beloved London as it was in the 16th century:
I’d love to show you so many of the others but this post has already run on far longer than I’d planned so I’m going to leave you with two final images which I think sum up my life and which will feel familiar to many of you I’m sure. The book being represented is The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole by Sue Townsend but the artist has entitled it Girl Engrossed and it actually showing herself as an avid young reader. The front panel represents a typical day in her life, surrounded by clutter and lost in a book:
Familiar to anyone?!
I’d love to know if anyone else is visiting these benches over the summer (they’re here until September and will be auctioned off to raise money for the National Literacy Trust on 7th October) and if you are which are your favourites?