Margaret Atwood, Literary Tourist in Kingston

A Biblio File podcast interview, in which: I talk, in rather rushed fashion, to great Canadian author and “bad” feminist Margaret Atwood about literary tourism: ‘place’ and her novel MaddAddam, Harvard and The Handmaid’s Tale, and the Kingston Penitentiary and Alias Grace, also about: the real and the imaginary, the unreliability of eye witnesses, following the research, Samuel Johnson, Ernest Hemingway, food and underclothing, bodies, space and smell, plus the importance of plumbing – all of which took place at the Kingston Writers Festival 

several years ago, a wonderful literary celebration that occurs every September in the city of wind turbines 

…of my (and now my youngest daughter’s) alma mater, Queen’s University 

with its Jordon Special Collections Library, full of Lorne Pierce’s Canadiana,

…of Berry and Peterson’s bookshop, where I regularly visit John and Richard to get the latest and hottest antiquarian book gossip

and learn stuff about books etc., like for example that important early editions of Canadian Forum magazine are worth diddly-squat.

…of Morrison’s where I used to go 30-odd years ago for hungover breakfasts (now I hear from famed Canadian book designer Laurie Lewis [ listen to our conversation about her time at the University of Toronto Press with Allan Fleming here]

that it’s not the ‘go to’ place anymore, Peter’s on Princess is, but still this is a pretty damned good photo so I’m leaving it in anyway)

…of the Belvedere Hotel

where I once met my hero, Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee who signed about 25 of my/his first editions and after my yammering on for about 10 of the signatures I suddenly shut up, realizing that I don’t know J.M from Adam, and what the fuck am I trying to do here anyway? Convince myself that there is some sort of relationship when in fact there’s nothing? And why am I so obsessed with signed firsts editions anyway…

…of Chez Piggy where I’ve spent some stellar evenings shooting the breeze with friends about airy concepts out on the back patio, and

…of Pat Grew my best friend, and the best math teacher in the world. Okay don’t take my word for it.

You can visit Printing Museums around the World

Houston’s Museum of Printing History was founded in 1979 by Raoul Beasley, Vernon P. Hearn, Don Piercy, and J. V. Burnham, four printers with a passion for preserving their various printing-related collections and sharing them with the community. Chartered in 1981 the Museum had its official opening in 1982 with Dr. Hans Halaby, Director of the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany, cutting the ribbon. The mission of the Museum is to promote, preserve, and share the knowledge of printed communication and art as the greatest contributors to the development of the civilized world and the continuing advancement of freedom and literacy. It does this through an active, on-going exhibitions program, and a series of book arts workshops (The museum suffered a fire a year or two ago, but it appears that things are now back to normal).

I met with Museum Curator Amanda Stevenson to talk about the collection. During our conversation she delivers a very informative thumb-nail sketch of how relief and intaglio printing techniques work. Listen here

More recently I visited the tiny Musee de la Typographie in Tours, France. While it may be small, it’s full of all sorts of different kinds of old printing equipment and tools, typefaces, woodcuts and handmade paper. The owner/manager is incredibly enthusiastic about the enterprise. Muriel Méchin lovingly toured me through his museum, showing me, among other things, a compositor tool called a Moule à Arçon a hand-held individual character casting device that was a forerunner of the Monotype machine. He actually let me handle some of the exhibited items, something most museums forbid. Here’s my conversation with Jean Louis Maitre.

Printing museums, big and small, definitely rank high on many Literary Tourists’ ‘to do’ lists. Here’s a list of some you’ll find, mostly in Europe. And another that covers the rest of the world.

Audio: The Literary Tourist and the Flaneur


I interviewed Lauren Elkin about her new book Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London at her apartment in the Belleville neighbourhood of Paris. It was an interesting conversation. The more I think about it, the more the Flaneur/Flaneuse and the Literary Tourist seem alike, particularly when it comes to use of the imagination.

Literary Tourism in the air

Literary tourism is nothing new. Socrates, who trekking out to Delphi a millennia or two ago looking for truth, could be called a literary tourist; the beardless young Greeks who went to book discussion circles to hear him denigrate the Gods could also be called literary tourists. As could those who attended gigs by Homer, or poets like him, who recited crazy stories of sirens and men being turned into pigs.

More recently, in Victorian times especially, besotted fans would pilgrimage to favorite authors’ houses to soak up the vibe, introduce the imaginary to the real, or simply pluck a leaf from the garden, as George Eliot – or was it Virginia Woolf – once did from Wordsworth’s Rydal Mount.

Regardless, the pastime has long been popular. No more so, it appears, than right Continue reading “Literary Tourism in the air”

How to be a Literary Tourist

The literary tourist is a multi-colored bird. One species likes to visit places that help get them closer to characters or places found in novels. Another plays the pilgrim, paying respects to admired authors – contemplating in front of gravestones, touring childhood homes and museums, walking footpaths that inspired favorite poems. Others pay little mind to literary content – it’s the casing, the container that speaks to them. They haunt rare book libraries and (if the acquisitive type), antiquarian bookstores, thrilling to the touch of leather, the feel of letterpress printed pages, the look of woodcut illustrations. Many of these book-loving travelers also love Shakespeare, and good theatre. They seek out live stage performances.

As with other genuses, the literary tourist typically looks first for Continue reading “How to be a Literary Tourist”