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Archive for February, 2013

February 28th, 2013 • Posted in Ischia, Italy, Ontario, Peterborough, ON

The Literary is Everywhere

Petroglyph Provincial Park

Talking the other day with Kelly Jessup who works here, I was struck once again by Literary Tourism’s broad and beautiful dimension; Kelly suggested that the petroglyphs near Peterborough, Ontario might be an appealing destination for the literary tourist. Of course she is right. Petrogryphs have been described as precursors to writing…here’s Wiki:

“There are many theories to explain their purpose, depending on their location, age, and the type of image. Some petroglyphs are thought to be astronomical markers, maps, and other forms of symbolic communication, including a form of “pre-writing“. Petroglyph maps may show trails, symbols communicating time and distances traveled, as well as the local terrain in the form of rivers, landforms and other geographic features…Some petroglyph images probably have deep cultural and religious significance for the societies that created them; in many cases this significance remains for their descendants. Many petroglyphs are thought to represent some kind of not-yet-fully understood symbolic or ritual language.”

When you consider that much of what is thought best about typography came from the study of cursive writing, going back to the very beginnings can be hugely informative and enlightening for those who love letters, and printing and books.

This Peterborough connection reminded of a trip I took to Ischia several years ago. At the time I wasn’t quite sure how this Italian island might fit into the literary tourist’s itinerary. I knew that Auden had spent many summers here, that was one thing, but what else? Well, (once again with Wiki) this:

” The so-called Cup of Nestor from Pithekoussai is a clay drinking cup (kotyle) that was found by Giorgio Buchner in 1954 at excavations in a grave in the ancient Greek site of Pithekoussai on the island of Ischia in Italy. Pithekoussai was one of the earliest Greek colonies in the West. The cup is dated to the Geometric Period (c.750-700 BC) and is believed to have been originally manufactured in Rhodes. It is now kept in the Villa Arbusto museum in the village of Lacco Ameno on the island of Ischia.

The cup bears a three-line inscription that was scratched on its side at a later time, and it was later used as a burial gift for a young boy. The inscription is now famous as being one of the oldest known examples of writing in the Greek alphabet, side by side with the so-called Dipylon inscription from Athens. Both inscriptions are dated to c.740-720 BC and have been linked to early writing in the island of Euboea.

The text of the inscription

The inscription is fragmented, as some shards of the cup are lost. It is written in the early Euboean form of the Western Greek alphabet, written from right to left in three separate lines. This is usually transcribed as:

Nestor’s cup I am, good to drink from.
Whoever drinks this cup empty, straightaway
the desire of beautiful-crowned Aphrodite will seize.

The inscription has often been seen as a reference to the Iliad. Barry B. Powell calls it “Europe’s first literary allusion.” Other scholars, however, deny that the inscription refers to the Iliad, arguing that descriptions of Nestor’s Cup existed in mythology and oral tradition independent of the Homeric poems.”

Either way, here, without knowing it, I’d come across something of great literary significance.

The literary is everywhere. You just have to dig a little bit for it.


February 27th, 2013 • Posted in COUNTRIES, Germany

Celebrate Brothers Grimm Anniversary 2013 in Germany


Once upon a time, two boys named Grimm were born in Hanau. They would one day become very famous. Today Hanau remembers its sons, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, with two fantastic guided tours that explore local sites connected to their history, and invites visitors to enjoy some amazing scenery nearby where the Main and Kinzig rivers meet. At the market square, in front of the Baroque Neustädter Rathaus (town hall), stands the impressive Brothers Grimm memorial, which commemorates the famous sons and marks the starting point of the 373 mile-long Fairy Tale Route.

For almost 30 years, the Brothers Grimm lived in Kassel, which now plays host to the highlight of the Grimm 2013 Anniversary – the “EXPEDITION GRIMM” exhibition, located in the documenta-Halle. From April 27th until September 8th, some of the brother’s most precious manuscripts and personal mementos will be on display. The exhibition also sheds new light on who the Brothers Grimm really were: far from mere fairy tale collectors, they were language scholars, legal historians, and politicians.

Event Highlights:

Grimm Fairy Tale festival, Hanau (from May 1st – July 1st)
Brothers Grimm Museum in the Castle Bellevue, Kassel
Brothers Grimm Festival, Kassel (from July 18th – August 18th)

February 26th, 2013 • Posted in Literary Tourism

Let people know what’s on the local literary calendar

Nothing like a vibrant literary culture to make a city worth living in. But if no-one knows about it, what difference does it make…it’s like it doesn’t exist, right? Which is why there’s a category on Literary Tourist for Local Calendars: websites that tell the world about what’s going on locally literarily. Not too many have made themselves known to us yet, so please, if you’re aware of a good one in your town, send us the link. In Ottawa, for example, we’ve got a great one at

In fact, if cities are at all interested in developing themselves culturally they should get behind sites like these, or, if nothing’s shakin, set one up themselves. For example:

” is a legacy project of the 2005/06 TO Live With Culture campaign, a 16-month celebration of Toronto’s extraordinary arts and cultural communities. From September 2005 to December 2006, Live With Culture showcased the vibrant and diverse cultural activities happening in the city each and every day.

Originally conceived as an event listing portal — the result of a collaboration between the City of Toronto Culture Division and the Toronto Arts Council Foundation — the site was revamped in 2009 to become a blog about Torontonians living with culture. Our objective is to shine a light on every strata of the city’s thriving cultural sector. We talk to the stars of a show but also to the men and women in the trenches, working the lights, building the sets, planning the exhibitions.

Toronto’s Agenda for Prosperity recognizes creativity as one of the city’s most important economic drivers. Between 1991 and 2004, creative occupations in Toronto grew at more than three times the rate of the total labour force. More than 133,000 people earn their living in this sector, which generates $9 billion in GDP annually.

Live With Culture began as a key recommendation in the 2003 Culture Plan for the Creative City. The Plan called for the City of Toronto to catch the wave created by a number of Cultural Renaissance capital projects. It recommended that Toronto build on this opportunity through a celebration of creativity in 2006 to draw greater local and international attention to culture in Toronto. Financial support for the campaign came from all three levels of government.”

February 26th, 2013 • Posted in Literary Destinations

China Welcomes Literary Tourists

Here’s the latest adapted from :

Entrance to the Yueyang Tower, an ancient Chinese tower in Hunan province, was free of charge to visitors who, during the Spring Festival holiday, could recite Yueyang Louji, a piece of prose written in commemoration of the renovation of the tower during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Management at the tower plans to continue the practice during other national holidays, an idea that should be promoted nationwide, according to an article in the Guangzhou Daily. Furthermore:

Statistics show that during the first six days of the week-long holiday, some 6,000 tourists got to visit the tower by reciting the prose piece. Yueyang Tower is one of the oldest in China and has seen many changes. Tourists, says the paper, will appreciate  the tower and its history more by reading this prose piece before visiting.

Many important gathering places in China are featured in the country’s literary masterpieces. For instance, the Sansu Memorial Temple in Meishan, Sichuan province is featured in poetry by Su Shi written in Song Dynasty, and the Tengwang Pavilion in Nanchang, Jiangxi province, appears in The Preface to the Pavilion of Prince Teng, a renowned piece of prose by Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) author, Wang Bo.

By reciting ancient poems and prose, the article suggests, tourists get more than a free ticket, they learn about traditional culture and enrich their travel.

This practice in Hunan province, if carried out nationwide, could help promote both ancient Chinese culture and local tourism at a time when many attractions are little more than over priced commercial ripoffs.

February 26th, 2013 • Posted in Authors and Books

Ten of the Biggest Used Book Sales in the U.S. during 2013

Spring Mega Book Sale, Inverness FL 70,000 Mar 8-12, 2013

Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa Spring Book Sale, Des Moines, IA 100,000+ April 18-22, 2013

Friends of the Stone Ridge School Book Sale Bethesda, MD 125,000 Apr 19-22, 2013

Friends of Phoenix Public Library Book Sale Phoenix, AZ 250,000 Apr 27-28, 2013

Friends of the Alachua County Library Spring Book Sale Gainesville, FL 300,000 Apr 20-24, 2013

Friends of Tompkins County Public Library Book Sale Ithaca, NY 250,000 May 4-6, 11-13, and 18-21, 2013

AAUW State College Branch Annual Used Book Sale State College, PA 200,000 May 11-14, 2013

IMCPL Foundation/Secondhand Prose Indianapolis, IN 100,000 May 4-11, 2013

Friends of Lancaster Public Library Annual Book Sale, Lancaster, PA 250,000 May 20-22, 2013

Friends of CH Booth Library Newtown, CT 150,000 Jul 13-17, 2013

February 26th, 2013 • Posted in Antwerp

Plantin Museum in Antwerp gets you close to Master Printers and their Ideals

I never visit the Plantin Museum at Antwerp without feeling that I have  come closer to the master-printers and their ideals. Here is the only great printing establishment of the past that time and the inroads of man have left intact. The beauty of the building, the harmony of the surroundings, the old portraits, the comfort yet the taste shown in the living-rooms, – all show that the artist-printer sought the same elements in his life that he expressed in his work. Entering from the Marche du Vendredi, I find myself face to face with a small tablet over the door on which is the device of Christophe Plantin, “first printer to the King, and the king of printers.” Here the familiar hand, grasping a pair of compasses, reaches down from the clouds, holding the compasses so that one leg stands at rest while the other describes a circle, enclosing the legend Labore et Constantia. Within the house one finds the actual type and presses, and designs by Rubens and other famous artists, that were employed in making the Plantin books. The rooms in which the master-printer lived make his personality very real. In those days a man’s business was his life, and the home and the workshop were not far separated. Here the family life and the making of books were so closely interwoven that the visitor can scarcely tell where one leaves off and the other begins.

William Dana Orcutt, In Quest of the Perfect Book ( Little Brown, 1926)

February 21st, 2013 • Posted in Literary Destinations

Talks to Cover Restoration of Library of Alexandria, Future of Libraries

Biblioteca Alexandrina (Wiki)

If you’re in Washington D.C. check this out:

Ismail Serageldin, director of Egypt’s national library the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, will give two public lectures at the Library of Congress on Friday, March 8.  The first  – at noon in Room 119 of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building at 10 First St., S.E. in Washington, D.C. – will be on “The Loss and Rebirth of the Library of Alexandria.” The second, in the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium on the ground floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building, will take place at 7 p.m. on the topic “The Knowledge Revolution and the Future of Libraries.” These lectures will be free and open to the public; no tickets are necessary.

The Library of Congress, the United States’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds more than 155 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats.  It serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its award-winning website at


February 21st, 2013 • Posted in Literary Destinations

What’s the Literary Tourist to do?

What does a literary tourist do when he’s in a city where there’s nothing literary to do? Why





collects things, doesn’t he.

In this case we’re in Cozumel, Mexico, and while the Cozumel Island Museum, right in downtown San Miguel,

is worth a visit, there isn’t much bibliophillic to be had here – one large replica of an 18th century German woodcut that references the island – but there are some interesting artifacts: a Blunderbuss,

Spanish helmets of the above


below water varieties, Mayan idols

a replica of a typical Mayan hut, plus some old photos of the town, a display featuring the barrier reef (admonishing us all to treat it with respect), plus some history – a sprinkling of Cortez, and some Wrigley’s chewing gum. There used to be books on the premises but I was told that they had just been carted six blocks away to the local library. When I arrived there of course no-one knew what the hell I was talking about, so I turned to photographing Volkswagen beetles. I have it on good (taxi driver) advice that these older models – which were manufactured and/or assembled in Mexico until the early 2000s (hence the abundance) – are highly sought after not only because they run forever, but because they’re easy to fix, there are plenty of spare parts to go around, and there are no finicky computerized bits that go on the fritz.

February 16th, 2013 • Posted in Authors and Books

James Wood throws out books with bathwater

Fed up with the inconvenience of having to dispose of his recently deceased father-in-law’s 4000 volume library, James Wood, in the last of his most recently collected essays (The Fun Stuff , Macmillan, 2012) angrily resolves not, after his death, to burden his children with such decidedly un-fun stuff.

This is but the cranky crescendo to a piece that clangs throughout with crankinesses about the ‘stupid materiality’ of books and the irresponsibility of those who leave them behind.

Methinks that this rash, all encompassing rancour, unfairly entangles the innocent with the guilty. Books do not deserve to be treated as bathwater.

Let’s try to dry them off and put them back in their proper place.

Books, James avers, are as meaningless as a stack of shirts; private libraries are ‘word-wreathed, untranslatable mausoleums’ that obscure rather than reveal the identities of those who build them. Books make those who collect them ‘smaller’, as if whispering ‘ What a little thing a single human life is – with all its busy, ephemeral, pointless projects.’ ‘Isn’t a private library simply a universal legacy pretending to be an individual one’, James queries.

The coup de grace comes when he interprets as ‘wonderful’, the fate of critic Frank Kermode’s most precious books (they were accidentally removed by garbage men) -  a great, albeit unplanned, way, James believes, to abruptly lighten one’s descendant’s burden.

Now – first off – let’s acknowledge that 4000 books is indeed a great big bloody burden. I’ve just moved (okay packed and half unpacked) close to this number  (lifting the 100 odd boxes would have killed me).

But once they’ve been re-shelved I’ll have a big beautiful room wallpapered with my favourite reading material – a resource much deeper (at least in the fields I’m flush in) than a Google search result, just as accessible, and much more pleasing to touch, admire and read.

These books, though a pain in the ass to transport, serve as an extension of who I am – my brain, my self. A comforting crowd of close friends at my service whenever I feel the pull  to, for example, investigate – under literary biography – an author’s physical footprint: where he may have lived, dined, drank, studied, wrote, or killed himself; to read – under litcrit – the reviews of George Saintsbury; re-read the poetry of Daryl Hine; examine Martin Amis’s sentences; track William Heinemann’s career; admire Chatto and Windus dust-jackets; revel in Robert Reid’s private press editions.

A personal library is a living organism constantly shifting focus and emphasis in line with personal interests and tastes – a physical representation of where your mind has gone and where it wants to go; a source of inspiration, a resource for scholarship. It was not built to reveal my identity to anyone, save perhaps for myself.

As for legacies: while there may be an element of ego in their acquisition – the hope perhaps that a donated collection may immortalize a name -  a much larger portion of the motivation for library building, I’d say, is accounted for by  ‘the thrill of the chase’, the love of the topic.

Yes, life may be filled with ‘pointless little projects’, but they aren’t pointless if we choose to lend them meaning. If they provide pleasure, or solace, or satisfaction, clearly they’re worth something. Acquiring a personal library is a rewarding, exciting, meaningful project, particularly if part of it includes reading, studying, thinking and writing about what’s been collected. And besides – what is life, save for what we decide to make it?

But yes, a personal library will grow like wild weed if left un-pruned; and yes, if inadequately husbanded during a lifetime, it will become a big unruly headache for others who may not wish the responsibility. Which is where I rejoin Wood.

Long before death’s doorway creaks open, it behooves library owners to consult with their children – to tell them what they think may have value (in most cases, not much); to ask them what if anything, they’d like to keep.

Disposal – exit – plans should be a part of the overall library building enterprise.  Just as I don’t wish to burden my progeny while I’m here, neither do I want to do so after I’m gone.

When my father died he left an especially light footprint -  a few notebooks, art books – some drawings, paintings, photographs – three or four little clay/ceramic pots -  his exit was largely hassle-free –  for which we were grateful. The only weight felt was an emotional one.

So over the coming decades I’ll do my best to divest – auction houses and rare book dealers for the more valuable collections, perhaps a rare book library donation or two; e-bay or Amazon for items that might fetch a bit; the Salvation Army and thrift stores for the rest – those catches best released back into the ocean – then only those books that my soul and mind can’t live without, and those that’ll have a welcome home after I’m done, will remain.

Ideally, once the purge is complete, my children (and their spouses!) won’t then resent the simple wish I’ve had over the years to be surrounded, in – to use James’s words – a ‘visitable place,’ filled with books and knowledge

February 15th, 2013 • Posted in Authors and Books, Literary Tourism

From the turmoil of cities, to the peace of the countryside

Simone’s frontispiece of Petrarch’s Virgil has the poet seated in a flowery orchard, while near him a shepard and a vine-tender symoblize the Ecologues and the Georgics. For the first time since antiquity, according to Kenneth Clark, the pursuits of country life are represented in art as a source of happiness and poetry.

For his curiosity, his scepticism, his restlessness, his ambition and his self-consciousness, Clark and others name Petrarch as the first modern man. “He was probably the first man to express the emotion on which the existence of landscape painting so largely depends; the desire to escape from the turmoil of cities into the peace of the countryside. He went to live in the solitudes of Vaucluse not, as a Cistercian would have done, in order to renounce his life on earth, but in order to enjoy it the more.” (Landscape into Art, 1949)