Gotta love an airport that has one of these out front of it
Parked ourselves at the AC Hotel Carlton Madrid, Paseo de las Delicias, 26. A good choice. Close to the train station: we were able to walk from it to the hotel, pulling our luggage, in about 10 minutes. It’s right downtown, a similar ten minute stroll to the Prado, where, across the street, you’ll find loads of good tapas restaurants. Not far off there’s Cervantes’s
burial place, and around the corner from it, a museum located in the house where Lope de Vega lived. Back to the hotel: the breakfast buffet is unbelievably good.
Making our way past the train station toward the Prado we came to the bottom of Calle de Claudio Moyano, off Paseo del Prado (one of the most beautiful streets in Madrid). The former is lined with vending stalls, most of which sell
Literary Tourist on the road in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and New York State
If you take the northern route between ground-zero (in this case Montreal) and Minneapolis through Algonquin Park, crossing over at Sault Ste. Marie and then along past Green Bay, there’s pretty well nothing of literary interest to see. Nothing unless you count this
in, yes, rural Wisconsin. One consolation: we came upon a coffee drive-thru that had a pretty good name.
As usual, once my wife, Caroline, had thoroughly planned out our dates and destinations, I tapped the Rolodex to solicit suggestions of bookish people on-site who might give-up engaging interviews. This time round I asked John Randle, proprietor of The Whittington Press for his thoughts. I’d interviewed John years ago at his sheep-surrounded studio near the cathedral city of Hereford (with its famed chained-library), not too far from Hay-on-Wye, the Welsh booktown.
John publishes beautiful fine press books, and Matrix: A Review for Printers & Bibliophiles, a gorgeously printed annual. #31 had just dropped. I dug deep and bought a copy, first to commemorate my visit and our conversation (Listen here):
Second, because it contained an article by David Godine and one on Rocky Stinehour, both of whom I’d interviewed for the Biblio File podcast. The Whittington Press archive also happens to be at the University of Minnesota’s rare book library, along with an important collection of African-American literature and one of the world’s great Sherlock Holmes collections. Curator Tim Johnson is definitely on my interview hit-list.
John recommended I interview Phil Gallo, a well regarded printer, and visual/concrete poet. Phil and I teed up a meeting at his apartment in St. Paul. We met for a chat early one afternoon several days before Christmas. The first thing I noticed – after Phil poured me a stiff shot of bourbon – was several shelves full of books on typography. A lot of them are type specimen books.
Phil is the proprietor of the Hermetic Press, which kicked off in the mid-1960s. He purposefully doesn’t do much promotion.
It had only recently opened. I didn’t find anything – most of the stock was geared, naturally, toward readers. I did have a good gab with the young owner however, and wished him well.
Then it was back to home-base, in Eagan, a bedroom community near Minneapolis. Our dear friends Jeff and Laura Spartz live here. We’ve visited them often over the years, mostly at Christmas time. Jeff runs a food-bank for the local crow population (you can see how successful this is)
Laura knows everything that is humanly possible to know about Jane Austen and the Regency period. The two are the nicest, most welcoming, well-travelled, smartest, politically-engaged people you can imagine – exactly the kind who give Americans (most of them, anyway) a good name. We’re lucky to be able to call them, and their families, friends.
I arrived at Rod and Joanne’s place in Welland, Ontario just in time for supper (there’s a name for people who do this: smellfeasts); and a delicious one it was at that.
Rod (Morris) and I worked together very successfully throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s in the feature news distribution and magazine contract publishing business(es). As Sir Stanley Unwin put it in his book, The Truth About Publishing, “Publishing is an unusually difficult occupation. It is at once an art, a craft, and a business, for which a curious and unusual combination of qualifications is desirable.” This holds as true for magazines as it does for books.
Early on I knew that Rod possessed the right qualifications. He is a great magazine publisher, and I’m lucky to call him a friend.
I love Rod as much as anything, for his fluffy french-toast – a substantial helping of which I consumed the next morning. Then it was out the door, into downtown Welland, and over to the home of one of Canada’s most knowledgeable, respected antiquarian book dealers.
Now here’s the thing – because they appear later on in the Dance to the Music of Time series – after it had become popular – my volumes aren’t as scarce as the ones preceding them. Not that they aren’t worth anything; they are: $50 – $75 each. Problem is, Steven and most other dealers, will only give me 20-25% of this amount (in Steve’s case, paid out in cash). In other words, about $15 each – which is roughly what I paid for them in the first place. While there might be a little profit here, it’s hardly worth all the effort.
I resolved to hold on to them – to play custodian for a while – and try my luck elsewhere, perhaps in the States where I’ll benefit from the exchange rate and the fact that they don’t see British editions down there all that often.
With this business out of the way, Steven and I got to rapping about his passion for finding and identifying lost Canadian literature – books that few others know about. It’s a fascinating project. You can learn more about it by listening to our conversation here:
The adventure began in my book-filled storage cave in Ottawa. This picture was taken after twelve boxes full were removed and crammed into my car. A local bookseller, Bill Cameron, had told me about Attic Books several years ago.
I’d already carted a van-load of books down Highway 401 to London, Ontario, where Attic is located, and gotten what I thought was a reasonable deal for them ( I always go with trade). Owner Marvin Post likes to move books – buys and sells lots of them – turnover is good for business he says. What I love is that he doesn’t just cock his nose, sniff at your offerings and deign only to take a handful. No. Marvin – depending upon what you bring him of course – will take a whole whack: ten boxes worth this time round. Now granted, my books were pretty good, but most booksellers just wont do what Marvin does.
I arrived late. It’d taken two hours just to get from one frikin end of Toronto to the other on the clogged highway. Luckily I’d downloaded a bunch of book-centric podcasts – including some episodes of Eleanor Wachtel’s Writers & Co, (she’s one top-drawer interviewer). Of the many I listened to that afternoon, perhaps the best was with Diana Athill. Absolutely delightful. Listen here. She talks of Andre Deutsch, and of her experience publishing books over many decades. So glad I bought a signed copy of her Life Class a few years ago (from Dan Mozersky) (she died recently at the age of 101)
A bright and sunny morning. Perfect opportunity to bury ourselves in Winston Churchill’s bunker, the underground nerve centre where Winnie and his inner circle choreographed the Second World War. My wife had reserved tickets for 10am. At first sight, the prospects didn’t look good.
I hate lining up. For anything. Thanks to the tickets, however, we were ushered into a very short line that started to move directly through the entrance the moment we joined it. The timing was exemplary.
Lots here to take in. I liked the special bedroom set aside for Winston’s wife, Clemmie. Apparently the two couldn’t abide being apart for long. The exhibit, which focuses mostly on the war years, also covers much of the glory of Churchill’s long life. One thing it skips however, is his writing career. He published a prodigious number of words, and won the Nobel prize for literature. Some years ago I interviewed Ron Cohen, Churchill’s bibliographer. You can listen here.
Despite an absence of books, Churchill’s war rooms are still worth a visit – lots of authentic material to take in – film footage, letters, even the door of Ten Downing Street – plus there’s a gift shop filled with bulldogs,
cigars and this sexy navy blue and white number that Churchill favoured. Looks a mite big for a bow-tie.
From central command I surfaced and walked a short distance over towards Westminster Abbey to admire this bronze sculpture by Ivor Roberts-Jones
past this iconic statue-still symbol,
and onwards to Portobello Road via the tube and a short walk past this colourful curb-side grocer,
and these sun-dappled townhouses.
Sophie Schneideman led me to the back of her husband’s photography shop, where she keeps her fine collection of fine press treasures. It’s a cosy little nook, packed with beautifully printed books. Perusing some of her catalogues while she popped out, I noticed that they were designed by the revered Jerry Kelly (must interview). Her shelves supported books by Cobden-Sanderson, William Morris, Charles Ricketts and Gaylord Shanelic, who I’d recently interviewed out in Minneapolis, listen here.
Sophie was on a tight schedule, so we set to it. You can listen to our conversation about some of the great fine presses (Kelmscott, Ashendene, Doves, Circle) and how to go about collecting them, here
From Sophie’s I made my way back down to the tube station. Destination: Notting Hill
I wasn’t so much interested in Hugh Grant, as I was Hannah Knowles, senior commissioning editor with Canongate (I’m thinking Churchill would’ve liked that blouse).
After scouring the neighbourhood on foot and in taxi I eventually found her offices and was led into a slightly echoey boardroom. One of the walls was a beautiful choral colour, decorated with repeating purple foxgloves. Years ago I’d interviewed Hannah’s boss Jamie Byng at BookExpo in Washington, D.C. Listen here
Now it was time to talk to someone who really knew him. Actually we talk mostly about Hannah’s role, the freedom she enjoys, and how cool and eclectic Canongate’s backlist is. If that doesn’t arouse your interest, you might want to pay special attention to the part where she talks about a guy having sex with a cross-dressing lizard. Listen here:
From Hannah’s I made my way over to the British Library. Had an appointment to see a literary publicist just across the road. After 10-15 minutes pounding on the door to no response, and several unanswered telephone calls, I strolled back across the street to check out the free Treasures of the British Libraryexhibit. It included original Lennon and McCartney lyric manuscripts, complete with doodles. From here I walked past St Pancras station where you’ll find a statue of John Betjeman by sculptor Martin Jennings.
I decided to take a powder on Harry Potter’s train Platform 9 ¾ located in nearby King’s Cross Station, and headed straight for one of my favourite London bookstores, Collinge and Clark ( aka Black Books).
Favourite because it specializes in books on books, and private presses. Oliver lets me go down into the basement too – a rare privilege, despite appearances. I collect publisher’s histories. Didn’t find much this time round, but I did spot this:
Pretty obvious what Oliver collects. Next time I’m in town, I hope to interview him about this, and other hot collectible items.