My Dad moved house towards the end of last year which caused me a bit of a crisis.
Nope, nothing to do with the man or the move. But as he was “downsizing” he told me was clearing out some bike stuff, his old maps and some of his bike books. I cannot imagine losing one of my books, in any shape or form, I keep them all. If you need a cycling guide to Belarus written in Russian I can oblige, not to mention a volume on cycling in Taiwan in Mandarin.
I can’t read them, but they were given to me by fellow cyclists and I convince myself that on some occasion I can look at the pictures and daydream.
Dad has accumulated a lot of stuff over the years and some of it is unique, and probably collectable. At minimum I would want it to go on Ebay so anyone with an interest can pick them off. However that’s not exactly Dad’s area of expertise and definitely not the thing to start when in the throes of a house move. In that situation the book collection was destined for the local charity shop where it probably wouldn’t sell and would end up in a skip. This was indeed a crisis.
I made a dash over to Bungay a couple of weeks before his move was due and “saved” a part of the collection, in particular the books. We sat together and I worked through the pile until I had identified about 20 items that I felt were impossible to miss.
It was a diverse selection. Firstly there were the recent books that I surprisingly had not accumulated myself or had read and passed on. These included Ned Boulting’s entertaining “How I won the yellow jumper”, the bicycle passion of Rob Penn’s “It’s all about the bike”, David Byrne’s pedalling philosophy and wry observation in “Bicycle Diaries” and the book I think is the most best autobiography of a pro bike rider I have ever read, Laurent Fignon’s “We were young and carefree”.
Then there were some absolute classics of their kind that are far too collectable to be dumped. In particular there were several of the wonderful 1940s Harold Briercliffe touring guides to England which inspired a modern BBC TV series “Britain by Bike” by presenter Clare Balding and a reissue of the books, but these are originals.
And who could not love a volume that is priced in proper old money, three shillings and sixpence, and features pictures of people doing “Scientific Cycle Training” with weights in gym clothes. Without their bikes? I bet that didn’t sell too many copies at the time.
Collecting the books was fine until I got home and contemplated my own situation.
The existing collection of about 40 books that has occupied its own dedicated space for the past few years and adorns the top of my rarely updated “Library” of book reviews page on the blog. (That ignores the shelves of travel and tourism books and the cupboards full of maps, which is quite another story!)
However doing a lot of cycling visits means that volumes like the guides to Belarus and Taiwan are not the only books I have picked up. I have accumulated a shelf overflow in the last couple of years that were piled all over the place. Together with the collection from Dad’s place it was time for an accompanying new bike book shelf.
I was a bit surprised to discover that a quick tour round the house found another 20 volumes and the new shelf is itself almost full. Which leaves me the prospect that I either start accumulating e-books, or I have to find another 40 books to justify the next shelf. What would you do?
Since I collected the books I have read and browsed a few of them. Here are two in particular that I have thoroughly enjoyed and are already inspiring thoughts for the blog.
“It’s all about the bike” Rob Penn
I mentioned this a couple of times in my recent blog posts about my own bike restoration project, so I won’t repeat the way the book helped me frame those posts.
What I really liked about this book is the feeling of travelling with a kindred spirit, someone who cares quite a lot about bicycles, but cares far more about the spirit, passion and craftsmanship of the people who make the machines we might take for granted. This is writing about manufacturing as others write about art, his description of legendary builder Gravy lacing a wheel in California evokes the sense of a musician tuning the finest of violins. If you think this is about bike parts you have missed the point.
“Bicycle Diaries” by David Byrne
If your affinity to cycling is a sort of urban cool then David Byrne could be your adopted high priest, as he is for many cycling advocates in the US. His band “Talking Heads” combined a really eclectic mix of musical influences from the mid 70s to the 1990s as well as making a concert film “Stop making sense” that highlighted their experimental styles.
Byrne himself was the band’s lyricist and front man together with working in film, on the stage, producing World Music artists, painting, drawing and creating installation art. In the New York arts and music scene he can only be called a powerhouse.
And all that time he was riding his bike, during a period when he was probably one of the very few cyclists in New York. Now he is feted for his commitment to the cause and was invited by the city to design some cycle parking stands that reflected places in the city including his dollar sign for Wall Street. Last year I discovered his lovely “Poem for Cyclists” which is a lovely short film connecting lots of cycling clips, I cannot watch it without smiling.
That is the background to “Bicycle Diaries” from 2009 which is a collection of writings inspired by his bike rides around the world. To me it reads just like my favourite cycling diaries and blogs. It isn’t really about the cycling. It is full of the thoughts that actually go through his head while riding. Musings on society, urban development, architecture, transport, philosophy and culture flow from rides around various places in the US, London, Istanbul, Berlin and many other cities. Occasionally he comments on how bad a city like Istanbul can be for cycling, but clearly after New York he isn’t fazed by much so he is willing to ride everywhere.
It is particularly fun to get his take on cities I have visited and see how he picks up feelings about the city from his bike too, so this book must rate as a particularly good addition to my new bookshelf, a and one I can see myself dipping in to for city writing ideas again and again.
Those two make such a good start to the new collection. Many more reading days to come.