We can't declare it with absolute certainty, but it's a fair bet that Dame Barbara Cartland and Diamond Geezer have never before snuggled up between the same covers. City-Lit London, out this week from Oxygen Books, places these strange bedfellows alongside Will Self, Virginia Woolf, Alan Bennett and sixty others in a frenzied orgy of London writing. You'll love it.
This divinely orange book contains excerpts from London novels, travelogues, websites and guide books and follows in the footsteps of City-Lit Paris, New York, Mumbai and others. It's broken down into categories such as transport, East End and the weather, each containing short extracts from leading writers of both fact and fiction. The dainty digest opens with a peach of an Introduction by Time Out's Peter Watts before racing through 250 pages of choice London cuts.
Anthologising London writing isn't exactly a new concept. Only a few months ago, London: the Autobiography set out to tell the story of the capital through eye-witness reports, itself an updated, better-produced version of 2004's A Traveller's Companion to London. But this new volume is a winner on three counts: the selection of material is diverse, with novelists, bloggers, DJs and diarists competing for attention; excerpts are short, to keep those pages turning; and the non-chronological pick and mix of styles and periods brings the book to life in a way not seen in similar volumes.
Jumping through time and space in this way allows comparison of different authors on a similar theme. In the Thames chapter, for example, Sukhdev Sandhu's silky prose blows the stodgy Joseph Conrad out of the water, while the subtle belles-lettres of Iain Sinclair contrast with the no-nonsense fact flourishing of Ed Glinert. And it's hard not to fall in love with Virginia Woolf when she's chopped into manageable chunks.
Our only grumble is the lack of rigorous referencing. The reader must consult the Acknowledgements section to find out when each piece was written (and even then it's not always stated). But this is a minor niggle that shouldn't detract from enjoyment of the bounteous flair and diversity on offer in one volume.
City-Lit London is published by Oxygen Books on 16 June. You can meet some of the authors (probably not Virginia Woolf or Barbara Cartland) at the two launch events on 16 and 18 June. Further details here.