i have never quite understood the modern publishing idiom and sadly i have been unable to find anyone who will explain it to me. if you'll allow me to elucidate; with few exceptions newly released books tend to arrive in hardback format, yet most of us are aware that within the year, that same book will be published in paperback at around half the price. logically, the bulk of the sales will be in the latter category, so would it not make better sense to open with the cheaper and arguably more practical option? perhaps the hardback could be released simultaneously for those who prefer their bookshelf contents to be more robust.
however, the fact that it has been hardback first, paperback second for as long as i can remember presumably explains why i write this stuff rather than filling my days as a high-powered publishing executive.
notting hill editions may possibly be one of the few exceptions to my seemingly more pragmatic suggestion. jon day's cyclogeography is presented as a compact and bijou volume erring heavily on the side of (dare i say it) exquisite. featuring a magenta cloth hardback cover, the title and quotes are debossed in both white and metallic blue, also on the thin spine. the text employed on the back cover appears to have been screenprinted onto the cloth finish. though we have been implored for many a long year not to judge a book by its cover, in this case (and in the case of all their other publications, as far as i can see), the cover provides every bit as much satisfaction as its contents.
the book's page layout, typeface and even page headings and page numbers are very finely judged, worthy of as much admiration as the ideas they exist to serve. and to quote from the nhe website "judging that the moment is right to reinvigorate the essay, Notting Hill Editions is devoted to the best in essayistic nonfiction writing." if it is possible to verify the veracity of that statement from the pages of a single publication, they have succeeded, if not exceeded in their mission.
author jon day spent several years as a bicycle courier, and while there is no visual evidence in cyclogeography to suggest he did or did not emulate the careworn, rough and ready appearance and demeanour for which bicycle couriers have become renowned, there's certainly no doubt that the man can write. though this ability is presaged in the brief biography on the opening page (he currently teaches english literature at king's college, london), the pages following are every bit as good as the cover would predict.
the city of london is explored in detail through many of the facets which present themselves to the observant and erudite rider. naturally enough, his career as a courier predominates throughout this series of essays, a factor that provides the glue that holds all together. in fact, testament is paid to cyclogeography being a thematic series, finely curated by the acknowledgment that several of these instances were first aired in the london review of books. it could be successfully argued no doubt, that any book of non-fiction is simply a series of essays conjoined by sequential chapter headings; such a categorisation is not always helpful, but in this case, perfectly true.
the author's approach to bicycle couriering was, as it seems to have been for many, as a result of dissatisfaction with the more regular application of the daily grind. it may also have been his apparent inability to fit into a pre-determined mold."Three months as a runner at a TV production company were enough of a taste of office life. Days spent tea caddying, photocopying and washing up left me cold. I couldn't drive, and my bosses told me I needed to learn if I wanted to get ahead in television. I arrived early and left late. Men carrying clipboards with radios strapped to their waists often shouted at me. I couldn't work the telephone system. I spent my afternoons shredding endless scripts on a temperamental shredder."
there's an undeniable rhythm to day's narrative, a factor that not only encourages a comfortable pace of reading, but almost invisibly guides the reader through a series of apparently unrelated subjects. as an example, day compares the number of poets concerned with the bicycle disfavourably with those more occupied with the activity of walking, quoting oulipo stalwart paul fournel (with whom the author has a meeting in a later chapter) as evidence.
in a prime example of the essayist's milieu, the chapter entitled 'race' opens with a graphic description of an alleycat courier race, a narrative that, prior to the meeting with fournel, digresses through the subject of doping and how long it has been an intrinsic and almost inseparable part of cycling's competitive stage. "When Fausto Coppi won the Tour in 1952 he rode up mountains as though they were hills." those mountains also form a specific part of the chapter while discussing the terrain and topography: "Unlike football or tennis, sports that take place on standardised fields of play, cycling takes place in the real world. Its verisimilitude is its virtue: it celebrates the actual. [...]The great road races become exercises in applied topography."
it would be futile of me to list each and every topic in isolation, for it is their interweaving that provides the book with its magic. unlike many first-time reads, there would be no iniquity in immediately re-commencing at chapter one the minute the end is reached, something i have every intention of doing. much like riding the same road when the weather changes, there will be many more things to see, second (and probably third) time round.
cyclogeography treats the bicycle in a manner first described by the tardis in dr who. it is a means of transportation considerably larger on the inside than it is on the outside; the bicycle inhabits a deceptive simplicity yet its influence stretches across several conjoined dimensions. each of us inhabits a few of these if we're lucky, but it takes the perception and perspicacity of an author such as jon day to make sense of their affiliation each with one another. aside from the aforementioned beautiful simplicity of the book's presentation, there is much to appreciate within its 163 pages.
though the contents page truly gives little away as to the nature of those contents, each chapter is annotated with specific and comprehensive references at the back should the reader be sufficiently enthused to read further.
"As a courier the ride I loved best was the last of the day, the ride home, when your legs had gone through weariness, stiffness and fatigue, and finally felt unburdened: light and easy. Then you felt like you weren't riding the bike but being drawn along with it."
a small and perfectly formed masterpiece.
sunday 24 may 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................