Archive for June, 2012
In a personal tribute to the Pennine ‘Mutterland‘ that informed so much of what he wrote W. H. Auden outlines an itinerary for a six day tour of Britain from London to Edinburgh. Most of the time is spent between Keighley and the Scottish Border in the comparatively little known Pennine Dales. The itinerary which was printed in American Vogue‘s 15th May 1954 edition was printed in Britain for the first time in 1999 in W.H. Auden: Pennine Poet. Robert Forsythe reacreates the route, and leaves these notes as guidance for anyone contemplating the idea in the future.
#1 Selexyz Dominicanen
It’s tough running an independent bookstore. To make such a business successful it helps having God on your side.
Perhaps that’s what the proprietors of the Selexyz Dominicanen Bookstore were thinking when they decided to house their establishment in a 13th century Dominican cathedral in the center of Maastricht, Holland. Though, in truth, the cathedral hasn’t been a center for worship since Napoleon put the kibosh on services after he invaded Maastricht in 1794. Since then the cathedral has been alternately abandoned, used as a warehouse and turned into what was probably the world’s most sanctified indoor bicycle parking lot.
Despite the fact that the cathedral hadn’t been a working cathedral for more than 200 years, turning the space into a bookstore was an enormous challenge for Selexyz Dominicanen’s architects. A city ordinance required that the cathedral be completely preserved, meaning that no permanent modifications to the building of any sort were allowed!
So how do you create a three-story bookstore in a cathedral when you can’t drill any holes into the building or attach anything load-bearing to its walls? Selexyz Dominicanen made ingenious use of free-standing black steel scaffolding. This scaffolding completely supports all the bookshelves and the catwalks to them. The shelves and scaffolding are close to the cathedral’s walls but scaffolding never actually touch them.
Add to that a tasteful use of religious iconography (check out the cross-shaped reading table in the pic, above), a nice cafe located where the church choir once sang, and a slew of inviting nooks and comfy reading areas and the result is a bookstore that’s absolutely divine.
#2 Poplar Kid’s Republic
What a cool design concept: Start with an all white bookstore interior—white floors, white ceiling, white walls, white stairs, white bookshelves, white everything—and to that liberally add rainbow splashes of bright color. Stock your shelves with a huge multi-language selection of kid’s books, add reading cubbyholes and padded activity areas, and you have Beijing’s Poplar Kid’s Republic, our favorite children’s bookstore in the world. (Sadly, our previous favorite children’s bookstore, the Cheshire Cat outside of Washington, DC, closed down several years ago—we hope endowing our current favored status upon the Kid’s Republic won’t condemn it to the same fate). Our photo below doesn’t really do this huge store justice so check it out yourself next you are in Beijing. Kid’s Republic also has a branch, nearly as cool, in Shanghai.
#3 Livraria Lello
Think a profitable store can’t be lush, rich and somehow homely? The velvety Livraria Lello in downtown Porto will change your mind. Not so much the art nouveau exterior as the gold-accented interior with its red carpets, stained glass, wood paneling and flowing central stair case. Walking into this bookstore, we had an insatiable urge to light a cigar (and we don’t smoke) because, well, this is the sort of place it seems like one should do that. And, indeed, this is the sort of place where one can do that. Cigars are sold in the Livraria Lello’s upstairs four-table coffee shop along with port, coffee (obviously) and baked goods.
#4 El Ateneo
Quiz question: Where and when was the first ever movie with sound shown to a public audience?
The answer: The El Ateneo bookstore, 1929.
Of course, this gorgeous building in central Buenos Aires wasn’t always a bookstore. It started its life in 1919 as the Teatro Grand Splendid; more than 1,000 patrons would fill the theater to watch operas and tango performances. In 1928 this space was converted into a cinema. It has been a bookstore since 2000. Happily, the El Ateneo architects included many homages to the building’s theater days including curtains and stage lighting. There’s also a wonderful cafe up on the “stage.” Add to that plush seating areas and a huge selection of literature and you have what is by far the best bookstore in South America, arguably the most luxurious in the world, and #4 on coolest-looking bookstore list.
#5 Shakespeare & Co. Antiquarian Books
If you’ve seen the movie Before Sunset you’ve seen the inside of the Shakespeare & Co. Antiquarian bookstore—this is where Julie Delpy’s character reunited with Ethan Hawke’s during a book signing.
If you’ve read Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. (and if you haven’t you should) then you are intimately familiar with this bookstore. Time Was Soft There is the lusciously-written memoir of a homeless man who was allowed to sleep overnight in Shakespeare & Co by the store’s communist-leaning owner and then refused to vacate when times turned more capitalist. His bed is still there (see pic, below).
But even if you’ve never seen the Shakespeare & Co. Antiquarian bookstore in the movies, or read about it in books, you’ll step through the store’s doorway and sense that this is the sort of quaint, quirky place that should be in cinema and literature. The isles are piled with books. The writer’s room has a working piano for patrons to play. Poets regularly read their work in one of the back rooms.
And if you can’t get to Paris personally then at least visit the store’s supremely well done website HERE — poking around it is almost as much fun as poking around the store itself.
#6 El Péndulo
Originally this post was envisioned as a list of five bookstores. We had to expand it to six in order to squeeze in Polanco branch of El Péndulo. This bookstore isn’t as amazingly stunning or history-filled as the above five selections are. But it is bright, spacious, huge and gloriously plant-filled. Plus the store (and attached cafe) isn’t shy about using air conditioning, which makes El Péndulo a wonderful literary escape on a hot Mexican day.
Q & A: Malcolm Burgess on his City-pick literary guide books, and the importance of Literary Tourism
The City-Pick series features a selection of colourfully covered books which separately contain some of the best words ever written on Dublin, London, New York, Venice, Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin, with more cities on the way.
They are the brain-child of Malcolm Burgess, who in addition to editing the series, has written plays for BBC Radios 3 and 4 and two best-selling books Forty-fied: How to be a Fortysomething and I Hate the Office.
The City Pick Guides provide delightful entrees into the cities they cover, easily digestible excerpts which nicely convey flavour and atmosphere. Great airplane reading material! Recently we asked Malcolm a few questions. Here’s what he had to say:
(1) What inspired you to come up with the idea of the city-pick series?
Well, basically we were on holiday in Athens four years ago standing in a very hot queue on the slopes of the Acropolis. The one thing we wanted – apart from a cold drink – was a really interesting but slim selection of writing about the city. We didn’t want a traditional travel guide that was probably also going to be out of date. The next day we searched local bookshops but couldn’t find anything and, once back in London, did the same thing. But we still couldn’t find what we were after so – rather madly – we decided to set up our own publishing company Oxygen Books with titles themed around city writing, past and present. Despite the global recession that broke just as we began, we’re still here and our eighth title, city-pick St Petersburg, is out this autumn.
(2) Tell us about your own background and passion for books, writers and travel
We are a small publisher – there are two of us, myself and my partner Heather Reyes and lot of other people whose brilliant skills we buy in to work with us. Both of us have a publishing and writing background although obviously the publishing scene is changing all the time and it’s a challenge/ exciting keeping on top of things here. Both of us just love cities – already over fifty per cent of mankind lives in one – and everything about them from their history and buildings to their people and of course their writing. Cities are the places where everything important in a civilization happens and even more so today. We’ve both always been interested in international writing and here in the UK there’s so much that passes under the radar because of the hegemony of the English language. We felt we wanted to do something about this by including as much writing in translation in our titles as we could, but at the same time making it fun and entertaining and not ‘worthy’. And, in answer to the last part of your question, we’ve always travelled, mainly in Europe and couldn’t produce a book about a city that we didn’t know and weren’t both passionate about.
(3) How important is literary tourism today? And what about the future?
From a UK perspective and with the current Cultural Olympiad with Shakespeare everywhere and the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens, the answer has to be very important. And even visiting the tried-and-tested literary sites here – although probably outside the Olympic period – can still be a wonderful and moving experience. We visited Anne Hathaway’s cottage in Stratford upon Avon last year and it was totally magical. Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London is also well worth a visit; ok it’s a recreation but what a recreation and you can watch an Elizabethan play as a groundling for the cost of a pint of beer! I think there are so many new opportunities for literary tourism in London alone that the mind boggles. It’s through the eyes and pens of artists that we truly see a place, plus we’re all that little better educated and are looking for original travel experiences that ‘add-value’. It might be worth mentioning too that we now have two UNESCO Cities of Literature, Edinburgh and now Norwich, here in the UK (Dublin has the same status) which is upping literary tourism in these cities hugely.
(4) Why are we all so fascinated to visit places and sites where writers have lived or written about?
Maybe because writers say the things we might feel about these places but, unlike them, we don’t have the talent to put it into words! I think we also like the way writers can give us a kind of ‘unofficial’ history of a place, good, bad and sometimes ugly and sometimes in quite surprising ways. In a very sceptical world and where perhaps writers have become like secular deities, we just trust their perceptions more, they’re more interesting and they can put a mean sentence together! It’s corny, I know, but I quite like having Simone de Beauvoir’s table in La Coupole pointed out to me.
(5) Do you have a current favourite literary place to recommend/ book?
Recently I finished Eric Hazan’s The Invention of Paris: A History Told in Footsteps which is an amazing and densely written history and guide to Paris as the walker will experience it. The power is in the detail, even for those parts of the city you think you know well. Hazan seems to know everybody and everything but wears his knowledge lightly. Paris is always our comfort zone literary city – unlike London they even name the metro stations after writers and philosophers!
Here from London Net are ten novels that will help you get a read on London:
Oliver Twist – Menacing, crime-ridden streets, the downtrodden Victorian poor: here’s Charles Dickens, London’s best loved author at full tilt. Also in the running: Bleak House, A Christmas Carol and Little Dorrit.
Mrs. Dalloway – Bloomsbury group star Virginia Woolf is a hugely important figure in world literature. Here we get one of her strongest, a ground-breaking stream of conciousness style story filled with shards of the relationship between an upper class socialite and a battle-bloodied war veteran.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes- Cool, logical detective hunts down criminals from his Baker Street HQ in Arthur Conan Doyle‘s portrayal of iconic wrong righter.
Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell’s anti-totalitarian masterpiece is set in soviet-style London. Passages about Hampstead Heath provide the only relief from the grey, depressing cityscape. See also Down and Out in Paris and London
London Fields Martin Amis’s masterpiece. Dickens with an edge. Rougher, sexier, more vulgar. In my opinion, funnier. Don’t miss Nicola Six
84 Charing Cross Road – Based on touching correspondence across the Atlantic between book buyer and seller. Helena Hanff’s novel a must for bibliophiles. Charing Cross Road, though depleted, remains the destination for used books in London.
The Buddha of Suburbia - Hanif Kureishi’s patchy, if influential, trawl through the hopes and fears of a group of suburbanites semi-detatched by location and lifestyle.
The Secret Agent Recently voted the 46th best novel of the 20th century by Randon House panel, Joseph Conrad’s spy classic, set 100 years ago, sends up the pretensions of both the London police and a terrorist group.
The Jeeves Stories – Many regard PG Wodehouse as the funniest writer ever. Jeeves lived in exclusive Mayfair and left London only for jolly weekend jaunts with the chaps
The Literary London Society was founded in July 2011 to “foster interdisciplinary and historically wide-ranging research into London literature in its historical, social, and cultural contexts, to include all periods and genres of writing and representation about, set in, inspired by, or alluding to central and suburban London and its environs, from the city’s roots in pre-Roman times to its imagined futures.” To meet those aims, the Society publishes a journal, runs an annual conference, and supports a reading group. As the society grows, it hopes to run further events, seminars, and other activities. Follow the links below for more information.
- Join the Society
- The Society’s Executive Committee
- Constitution of the Literary London Society (PDF)
- Contact the Society
Memorial to William Hazlitt, in St Anne’s church, Soho,London.
This memorial restores the text written on Hazlitt’s original gravestone:
Born April 10, 1778, Died 18 September, 1830
He lived to see his deepest wishes gratified
as he has expressed them in his Essay,
‘on the Fear of Death’.
‘To see the downfall of the Bourbons.
And some prospect of good to mankind’:
was driven from France 29th July, 1830).
‘To leave some sterling work to the world’:
(He lived to complete his ‘Life of Napoleon’).
That some friendly hand should consign
Him to the grave was accomplished to a
Limited but profound extent; on
These conditions he was ready to depart,
And to have inscribed on his tomb,
‘Grateful and Contented’.
The first (unanswered) Metaphysician of the age.
A despiser of the merely Rich And Great:
A lover of the People, poor or oppressed:
A hater of the Pride and Power of the Few,
As opposed to the happiness of the Many;
A man of true moral courage,
Who sacrificed Profit and present Fame
And a yearning for the good of Human Nature.
Who was a burning wound to an Aristocracy,
That could not answer him before men,
And who may confront him before their maker.
He lived and died
The unconquered champion
Truth, Liberty, and Humanity,
‘Dubitantes opera legite’.
Is raised by one whose heart is
With him, in his grave.
After a lengthy campaign led by Tom Paulin, Hazlitt’s gravestone was restored in 2003, and a Hazlitt Society was established.
A fashionable Soho hotel is named after Hazlitt. It is located on Frith Street in the last home William lived in. It retains much of the interior he would have known.
on the streets of
Love letterpress, and ladies? Then the second annual Ladies of Letterpress Conference is for you. It welcomes all lovers of letterpress to Asheville, North Carolina, August 2-5, 2012 with “some of the best practitioners, teachers, and experimenters working in the field today. The conference will include panel discussions, print shop tours, sports and diversions, plenty of print talk, a printer’s dance party,” and even a little time to explore beautiful Asheville.
Ladies of Letterpress is an international trade organization for letterpress printers and print enthusiasts. Its mission is to promote the art and craft of letterpress printing and to encourage the voice and vision of women printers. It works to maintain the cultural legacy of fine press printing while advancing it as a living, contemporary art form as well as a viable commercial printing method. Membership is open to both men and women.
The founders of LoLP are Jessica C. White and Kseniya Thomas. Jessica is the owner of Heroes & Criminals Press in Asheville, NC, where she also teaches printing and book binding workshops and is adjunct professor of book arts at Warren Wilson College. Kseniya is the owner of Thomas-Printers, a commercial letterpress and design shop in Carlisle, PA.