Review: The Underground Storyteller

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The Underground Storyteller by Alex Day. Alex Day, 2014.

The concept of this book can be summed up very quickly: A guy decided that he wanted to stop at every single station on the London Underground and wrote a book about his experience.

As you may or may not know, Alex Day is a famous British Youtuber known for his music, sarcastic humor, and rantings about anything from Twilight to “Doctor Who.” As you also may or may not know, he was blamed for sexual manipulation/coercion last year, which caused him to lose his book deal. He went ahead and self-published the book anyway, which you can order from his website. I wanted to quickly address this issue before I continue with my review, just to make it known that I am aware of all of this information and decided to go ahead and buy the book anyway. I do not want to spend much time writing about this, so just to put it simply: I am a person who separates the art from the artist. I still love and adore Ender’s Game despite the fact that Orson Scott Card is a bigot, and hell, Ernest Hemingway was a notorious womanizer who probably cheated on all 4 of his wives. This doesn’t devalue their literature.

Now that that’s out of the way (PS – I’m also not saying that Alex Day is the next Hemingway by any means!), I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. So much so that I had a really hard time putting it down, to be honest. I stared reading it on a train (apropos) to my parents’ house and finished it within the next day. The first thing that pulled me in was the concept and the fact that I am a sucker for all things British. I visited London 2 years ago and vividly remember my experience on the London Underground, so I immediately knew this was a book for me.

The book begins not on the London Underground, but with a history of locomotive travel in Britain, which actually began in Wales. Each successive chapter is then named after one of the 11 lines of the Tube and recounts Alex Day’s journey along each. What was wonderfully surprising about this book was the research Day did to inform the reader about the quirky past of the London Underground system. Many of the 270 stops Day describes have interesting histories behind them which Day recounts with intrigue and humor. So as the reader travels on the Tube with the author, s/he not only gets Day’s personal experience, but an entertaining history lesson on the Underground and the city itself.

Many of the negative GoodReads reviews for this book point out the same factor: that Alex Day’s writing is jumbley and unorganized. He tends to jump from topic to topic without warning and without any apparent connection to anything in the story. I disagree. Day does jump abruptly from topic to topic, but everything he writes about is relevant to the message of the book. Plus, with 270 Tube stations, it is impossible to have something original to say about every single one of them; many of them are bound to be uninteresting. So the author must embellish and stray off-topic at times, or else the book would be extremely dull. And Alex Day is just the man for this job. His humor is spot-on when it comes to making witty observations about his surroundings, which is necessary to make this sort of a book entertaining. Even when nothing of particular interest happens at a stop, he is still able to make some sort of joke about it, even if that joke seems far-fetched. I think many of the people who disliked Day’s style were not used to it in the first place. This was easier for me because 1. I like British humor, and 2. I “know” Alex already from watching his YouTube videos. I can tell when he is being ridiculous for humor’s sake, and more importantly, I can make the connections between his seemingly far-fetched rants and the message he is trying to convey. Unfortunately, if you knew absolutely nothing about his humor and decided to pick up the book, you might be a bit confused or think his style is unfocused. Ultimately, I think one really quick and easy fix could clear up this problem: chapter breaks. There are no chapter breaks in the book, and I really think there should be, considering just how much content is in each chapter and how much (literal) ground Day has to cover.

Witty, educational, and entertaining, I give it 4/5 stars.

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