I know I have mentioned it already, but I hadn't actually laid eyes on a copy then. Now that I have I am compelled to mention it again, because every once in a while a book just takes my breath away as I open the package.
It will need to pull off something spectacular to do that, there will need to be difference, and having been eagerly awaiting the arrival of my bought copy of Spitalfields Life by The Gentle Author I can't tell you how delighted I was when this thing of beauty was revealed.
It's the square bound spine and the sizing at 6" x almost 8" and 428 pages that all make it so satisfyingly chunky. With high production values, quality paper and illustrations by Mark Hearld (he of that grey doveflight fabric I am coveting) Lucinda Rogers and Rob Ryan (of papercut fame) and greyscale photos throughout I am utterly convinced this will become a book to treasure for me and for many out there. A silk ribbon bookmark (preferably of Huguenot origin) would have meant complete happiness but I can forgive and will make my own, because this is the most perfect book to keep to hand and read one chapter a day through the year as there are 365 of them, The Gentle Author's first year of blog posts.
I mentioned that I have been following Spitalfields Life since reading the recent Random Spectacular journal, and this book is a compilation of those daily blog entries which follow the life, history and culture of Spitalfields and environs, and at the heart of which must be the beautiful market.
But this book is not solely about history past because The Gentle Author includes the 'here and now' as well as the 'there and then'... an important record, the history of the future I suppose, the car washers, the rappers, the stall-holders I stood and watched on my walkabout all feature here, as does Tubby Isaacs who I was delighted to find is still there too..
Tubby Isaacs was a landmark when I lived in Whitechapel back in the 1970s, some things never change...namely the fact that there still exist those strange inexplicable people in the world, Bookhound being one, who adore jellied eels. His family are Bethnal Green born and bred, I suspect he may have been weaned on them.
Nicholas Hawksmoor's Christ Church, built between 1719 and 1729, is writ large on the Spitalfields skyline..
and seems to peek around every corner...this Brick Lane and Fournier Street...
First new I-didn't-know-that fact learnt from the book ... Spitalfields the name is a derivative of St Mary's Hospital Fields which used to be located here, and the history is fascinating as The Gentle Author tracks the legacy of the Jewish families, the Huguenots and the silk trade, the Irish weavers, those fleeing the Russian pogroms who had meant to go to America but stopped over in London and stayed. Then in the post-war era, as the Jewish people moved to more prosperous areas of London so the Sikhs, Pakistanis and Bengalis arrived and made Brick Lane the multi-cultural centre it is today.
Monica Ali's novel Brick Lane obviously came to mind as I I wandered around there last week and discovered a wonderful haberdashery emporium with the friendliest, most helpful man imaginable behind the counter....Mr Butt I presume.
Nothing was too much trouble as I browsed and tracked down webbing for bag handles at £1 a yard and then bought two scarves I couldn't resist at £2 each, having passed on the £30 ones in John Lewis the day before.
As The Gentle Author suggests, the acceleration of change in the East End is very rapid and Spitalfields Life aims to record those changes with a daily post to record that transformation, and through the medium of a blog (I like) with its 'nascent literary form... unique qualities and potential.'
But the book is the thing and Spitalfields Life evidence, were it needed, that though it is all there and free to read online, there is still something very special about the book in the hand, especially when it is a work of art in its own right. I will be cradling, stroking and reading this one, and commenting on it here throughout forever I expect.
I walked from Brick Lane to explore my old patch around The London Hospital and to seek out the hospital museum; who knew I could get quite so spectacularly lost around streets I thought I knew like the back of my hand... no one told me the whole place had been rebuilt while my back was turned, more soon.