An Alphabet of London
It’s hard to work out quite what I’d describe Christopher Brown’s Alphabet of London as. Memoir? Puzzle? Art? Design manual? Commentary? Reportage? It’s a bit of all of those things, and although it will probably just be filed under ‘London’ in bookshops it could easily be described as any of the above.
Artist Christopher Brown works with linocut – the sort of thing most of us do in primary school then forget exists. He must have got through entire kitchens’ worth of lino over the years but, as he tells us in a sort of ‘how-to’ at the end, he’s brought the medium up to date by combining Photoshop and Pantone colours with the more traditional gouging tools and tracing paper.
He’s exhibited all over the place, from the RA to the V&A, but An Alphabet of London is clearly a labour of love. He has poured his life and personal experiences into its creation, juxtaposing obvious things with stuff you need to spend a little time to work out and although the cover (and the title) make it look like a hip kids’ book, but it takes an adult to get all the references.
It starts out as a charming little memoir – Brown lived much of his early life in Putney and gradually learned to explore and love the rest of the city. But just as you get into the swing of the memoir format, the alphabet-proper begins.
Each letter gets a double-page spread, with one landmark and an array of things beginning with that letter which sum up London to Brown. I turned immediately to ‘G’ of course:
but although the Gherkin, Great Fire and Gilbert and George were there, I needed to turn to ‘O’ for ‘Observatory’, ‘Q’ for Queens House and ‘R’ for Royal Naval College to find Greenwich. It takes a while to work out what some of the entries stand for, which makes it a charming book to read snuggled up by the fire with someone else, perhaps a child, perhaps a lover.
An Alphabet of London is not the sort of book you buy for yourself – well, not the sort of thing I can usually buy for myself. It’s not a ‘must-have’ reference volume. It’s the sort of book you want to have; the sort of thing you purchase as a gift and hope someone buys for you in return.
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