Musings on Place, Travel, Books, Literature, Poetry, Literary Criticism, Collecting, Media, Life and the Arts
October 31st, 2015 • Posted in Authors and Books

The Real George Orwell

June 9th, 2015 • Posted in Ireland

Timeline charting life journey of W. B. Yeats

William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) is without doubt one of Ireland’s greatest poets and his name and works are renowned all over the world. Yeats was born in Sandymount, Dublin but he spent large parts of his childhood in County Sligo in the west of Ireland, a place which was always dear in his heart.

In 1923, Yeats was awarded the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature, the first time an Irishman received such as accolade. In being granted the award he was noted for his “inspired poetry”. W.B. Yeats’ body of work lives on and today still resonates worldwide.
Yeats’ died in 1939 at the age of 73 and his burial place is in his beloved Sligo in the Drumcliff cemetery. His grave stone epitaph holds lines from one of his final poetic masterpieces “Under Ben Bulben”:

Cast a cold Eye
On Life, on Death.
Horseman, pass by!

This timeline from the Ocean Sands Hotel in Sligo charts the journey of W.B. Yeats’ life.

June 6th, 2015 • Posted in Authors and Books

Bookstores in Soeul

A friend of mine, Michel Gauthier who is, among other things, Executive Director of the Canadian Garden Council and Vice President of the International Garden Tourism Network, is also an avid photography book collector. He’s over in Korea right now and sends us these bookstore photos from Seoul:

June 2nd, 2015 • Posted in Authors and Books

Some notable books published 100 years ago

Here are some notable books published one hundred years ago in 1915

May 31st, 2015 • Posted in Cornwall

Finding the literary in a barren landscape

Reading the History of the Book in Canada Volume Three 1918 to 1980, I came across this in Randall Speller’s article ‘Book Design in English Canada’

Despite a large pulp and paper industry, only a few Canadian mills produced book papers before 1945> in Ontario, the Provincial Paper Company in Georgetown and the Howard Smith Paper Company in Cornwall both made Featherweight and Antique book papers, while in Quebec the Rolland Paper Company also produced fine book papers.

Living in Ottawa, just an hour’s drive away from Cornwall I decided yesterday to check out the above mentioned mill. First stop was the Cornwall Community Museum,

where Ian Bowering quickly informed me that the mill had been demolished years ago. According to Wikipedia the original mill was built by the Toronto Manufacturing Company  in 1881 and purchased by Howard Smith Paper Mills in 1919. The current site is now a brownfield. All that remains standing is a couple of smoke


So much for my hopes to explore an old paper mill in Cornwall. To make matters worse, there isn’t even a bookstore in town. Next best thing was to look through what was on offer at the Museum. Other than a few old photographs, some newspaper clippings, the odd paper sample book and some old deeds, there wasn’t much. Except for this, a folder containing mimeographed lessons from a course on pulp and papermaking conducted on site at the old paper mill itself.

and within this, this 

part of a quite wonderful little lesson on the art and science of rag paper making. Put me in mind of the tour I once took of David Carruthers’s St Armand Papers in Montreal. (Listen to here our Biblio File conversation about the making of rag paper).

Today’s lesson? Regardless of how barren the landscape, you’ll always somewhere find some interesting connection to the book, if you look a little. 

May 29th, 2015 • Posted in Movies

Discussion of Scorsese film about The New York Review of Books

Took in this book nerd’s delight last night.  The 50 Year Argument is filled with interesting footage and stimulating commentary on Occupy Wall Street, U.S. media coverage of Vietnam, and other anti authoritarian movements. Plus, Susan Sontag, Norman Mailer, Mary McCarthy, Isaiah Berlin and other influential authors and intellectuals. Say what you will about Mailer, he was always brilliantly entertaining.

May 28th, 2015 • Posted in Literary Tourism

How to attract Literary Tourists, by Nigel Beale

Herman Melville’s Arrowhead, Pittsfield, MA

A version of this article was first published at

I know there is a strong desire in many travelers to enrich themselves intellectually and emotionally. I feel this urge deeply myself. 

I’m a literary tourist.  For much of the past decade I’ve had the good fortune of traveling around the world seeking out and enjoying enriching personal experiences. As a result of wanting to share these experiences with other book-loving travelers – to make it easier for them to find the same – and to encourage cities to investigate, nurture and celebrate their literary heritage, I launched a website in 2010 at

Here then, from the perspective of a passionate, peripatetic bibliophile – and more recently a literary tourism booster -  are observations on how cities can best attract people like me.

1. “Focus on the Customer”  

Paul Nursey formerly of the Canadian Tourism Commission, now with Tourism Victoria, has suggested that strategic themes focusing on  “supply side verticals” – such as Cultural Tourists – have lost prevalence over the past decade, with tourism marketers now focusing much more intently on the customer  ( a strategy which, incidentally, has been employed par excellence by a company that could, perhaps more than any other, be blamed for eroding the unique character of communities across North America).  Amazon, with its CEO Jeff Bezos, has produced impressive results for shareholders during the past decade. Ironically, their success explains in part why so many locally owned brick and mortar bookshops have been closing their doors.

Tired of serving as show rooms for visitors who turn around and buy for less on-line, booksellers have, in number, been packing up their paperbacks and hard covers, escaping hefty rents, moving out of downtown, and setting up as Internet-only dealers. While it does little good to complain about Amazon’s successful new business model, it is worth taking a page from their book, and focusing, as Paul says, on the customer.

So, what does the the cultural/literary tourist want? Here’s what:

  • To browse well-stocked atmospheric used/antiquarian bookshops, and connect with knowledgeable owners and fellow book lovers.
  • To relax at ‘destination’ type independent bookstores. To enjoy a book, a coffee, a conversation
  • To attend stimulating author reading events and lectures, panel talks, writers and film festivals
  • To go to professional theatre productions
  • To visit authentic literary locales/library exhibitions/museums/landmarks. 
  • To learn from the experts, from smart, enthusiastic, well-versed tour guides and docents.
  • To participate in writing or book arts workshops
  • To get out on literary walking tours 

…all this and more, over and above a desire for good food, quiet hotel rooms, comfy beds and peaceful places where one can read and think.

By fostering, funding and encouraging these kind of experiences – and supporting local literary calendars and cultural magazines – cities will not only attract cultural/literary tourists, they’ll make themselves more interesting to their own inhabitants.


Businesses should be concerned about Return on Investment. Cities should be too, but their ultimate concern isn’t profit, it’s quality of life. How can they make things better for their citizens. What are cities here for? Ultimately, to help people lead happier more fulfilling lives. For, after the roads have been cleaned, the sewers inspected, the police and firemen equipped, isn’t it about enjoying yourself?

If this is the case, then shouldn’t it be about preserving what has value – buildings, landmarks, neighbourhoods, evidence of accomplishments from the past – and stimulating creative output and exchange in the present, both for the enjoyment of tourists, and for the lasting benefit of existing residents?

By incorporating, stimulating and celebrating ‘the imagination,’ cities, as they develop, will not only attract more visitors, they’ll bring in creative, imaginative people who want to get involved in urban life – exactly the kind of people that Christopher Forbes, Vice Chairman of Forbes, Inc. is after:

“The success of my family’s business” says Forbes, “ depends on finding and cultivating a creative and innovative workforce. I have witnessed firsthand the power of the arts in building these business skills. When we participate personally in the arts, we strengthen our ‘creativity muscles,’ which makes us not just a better ceramicist or chorus member, but a more creative worker—better able to identify challenges and innovative business solutions. This is one reason why the arts remain an important part of my personal and corporate philanthropy.”

Local culture is not just about ROI, or attracting tourists or making money. It’s about making places more interesting –  preserving and celebrating what has true value. The return is a richer more livable city.  While delivering exactly the kind of intellectual and emotional experiences that research identifies as being important to so many of us, exploring and sharing local culture helps us (at the fear of sounding a tad precious here) to discover who we are.

3 Authenticity

In all the articles on tourism marketing that I’ve read recently, ‘authentic’ is  the word that has appeared most often. There’s a reason for this. People – unless they’re going to Disney – don’t want fake, they want real. The real thing. The first edition, the original manuscript, the actual desk, the feather pen. Without these important source materials we risk bastardizing culture, imposing cheap experiences that grate rather than sooth, debase rather than celebrate.

Getting to ‘authentic’ requires serious study of the past, intelligent acquisition and sympathetic  presentation.  Lawrence Lande, one of Canada’s all-time great book collectors,  in his Adventures in Collecting (a beautiful book designed by Robert R. Reid in 1975) writes about how important source materials are to the process of learning about and understanding history. Addressing a room full of McGill University professors, he said:

“ … I would try to harness as much of the source material that I could lay my hands on which McGill possesses in her libraries and museums. For example, I would attempt to set up a room with furnishings from the time of Confederation in Canada, including the pictures on the walls and the journals of the day on the table. I would involve my students with the poetry and the literature that was read at the time and the popular music of the day; the clothing that was worn; the medical and social practices and the problems of the day, including alcoholism; and even the methods of transportation and so on ….”

By stimulating creative output, rediscovering and developing venues, and encouraging the collecting, curating and presenting of source materials, cities will not only evolve into better more livable places, they’ll  ‘authentically’ transform the lives of visitors and inhabitants alike.  

May 27th, 2015 • Posted in New York

NY Art Book Fair, September 18 to 20, 2105


This looks like it will be amazing.

May 27th, 2015 • Posted in Bookstores, chilliwack

From The Bookman in Chilliwack, B.C. All about them Books

May 26th, 2015 • Posted in Franschhoek, South Africa

I don’t think black people are angry enough at Nelson Mandela

If what novelists and poets say, think and write about, often foretells the future, then South Africa looks to be headed for trouble. Here from Books Live, are some remarks made by writer Thando Mgqolozana at the recent Franschhoek Literary Festival

“I’m part of a group of writers that started Read SA with Ben Williams, Zukiswa [Wanner] and others, which was because we want to encourage South Africans, especially black South Africans, to read, and particularly to read South African literature.

We come from a history where black writers were banned and the stories that would most resonate with a black audience were suppressed. There have never been as many black writers as we have now, there has never been as much diversity in terms of voices and stories.

“But that campaign fell off because the literary infrastructure at the moment is in the cities, in white set-ups, like here, for example. It systematically excludes black people. So what is needed is the establishment of that infrastructure. That’s what we need. Not just campaigns. We need to get libraries in the black communities. There are some now, built by the democratic government, but they are fake libraries. The ones that are functioning there are functioning because they are sponsored by Canadians and Australians, and they bring books from there. For example, I went to Harare Library in Khayelitsha [for a conversation with Cyril Ramaphosa about a national book club - ed.] and it’s sponsored by Carnegie. We need libraries and bookstores with relevant, affordable books in the black community.

“I don’t think private individuals can fund the kind of infrastructure that’s needed. We need the government to step up. Between festivals we need other literary activities, book launches and all the kind of things we have here. And that is a massive project, but I would rather be focusing on that than come here and say the kinds of things that I’m saying, ‘please change, please change’. I don’t think it’s going to work. We’ve tried to do it. My greatest focus is going to be writing, and I’m going to try to make this kind of change through my writing.”

But I don’t want this literary festival to change any more. I feel that it was wrong for me to ask of it to change in the first place.

“It’s the same argument as the Rhodes Must Fall kids are making at UCT. They are not asking the university to change, because that would mean tweaking a few things and it remains the same, fundamentally. So now they are talking about the complete decolonisation, and that means a demolishing of the entire system, which would provide us with an opportunity to imagine something new, something different. For me, that’s what I wish and hope will happen to this system. Changing this and that would still not be comfortable for any black writer, I think.

That’s like asking to be integrated into a fire.

“What I’m talking about is not just literary festivals. It’s not just literature. I’m talking about this society, the way it is. But in order to do that I focused on this small point of literary festivals, in order to be able to say: what this society needs is a complete decolonisation…”

I don’t think black people are angry enough at Nelson Mandela.

I think in this country there is a moment that we missed; we should have unleashed our anger, which had been accumulating for centuries, and we didn’t.

“There were many things that we could have done but we chose to go through a Truth and Reconciliation process that didn’t work, which basically postponed the anger that people had and now they are starting to unleash. What black people are missing is that moment of victory. We didn’t have it. The elections in 1994 were not that.”

Several years ago I interviewed Jenny Hobbs, one of the founders of the Franschhoek Literary Festival (FLF). We talk a bit about the lack of black audience members (there doesn’t seem to be a lack of participating black authors), and efforts being made to change things.

As mentioned off the top, the anger coming out of this year’s Festival gives reason for concern. It also tells me that the FLF is doing what a writer’s festival should do, airing serious issues in a non violent environment. I only hope that leaders in the country are listening, and are able to take measures to diffuse this anger. Without some action taken to lessen racial tensions, increased violence will in all likelihood be the inevitable result, which will be a tragedy not only for South Africa, but for the world, for the world needs more than just one Canada. It needs more places in which differences are accommodated, exploited and celebrated.