Meeting The Bookseller, Browsing Bookshops, Quoting Geoffrey Faber, and Rapping with James Daunt

Literary Tourist in London, England. Day 2

The cold (English cold I should say, not Canadian) fresh air slapped my face as I exited the apartment. I didn’t feel like walking, but nonetheless, nutted-up and strode for 15 minutes over to the Thames, where the Houses of Parliament (Palace of Westminster) fairly sparkled in the morning sunlight.

The Bookseller magazine‘s offices are across the river from it. A 15 minute walk West gets you to the Tate Britain. Twenty minutes on foot in the other direction, along the Thames, and you’re at the Southbank Book Market.

Given that it was late October, there weren’t too many vendors out. I suspect there’s a lot better selection in the summertime.

In case you’re interested M16’s HQ is a short trot up the road from The Bookseller’s offices. And just so you know, the surrounding district is called Lambeth – as in Liza of Lambeth,

Somerset Maugham’s first novel about the travails of a young factory worker who lives near Westminster Bridge, written while Maugham was a medical student. Lambeth is also the place where John Milton lands after cometing his way down from heaven in William Blakes’ Milton: A Poem in Two Books.

I was here to interview The Bookseller’s chief executive and owner, Nigel Roby.

The magazine goes way back, to 1858, when Joseph Whitaker founded it in order to inform London publishers and booksellers about the latest books, launch dates, and various comings and goings in the trade. It has filled this role faithfully ever since – even published during the Blitz – only today, the coverage is global. Listen below as Nigel (Beale) talks with Nigel about the magazine’s past, along with current topics of concern to the industry. Brexit, which came up in virtually every interview I conducted during this visit to London, was certainly one concern. The uncertainty created is agitating everyone in publishing.

As members of the EU, the Brits have for many years had the English-language market on the continent all to themselves. With the ‘leave’ vote, this could change dramatically. A potential battle looms with American publishers. Britain is currently the largest book exporter in the world (Canada is one of the largest importers). Sales are close to $7 Billion a year, half of which comes from the EU. The U.S. is hankering for an invasion.

The British book business employs 30,000 people. If the country pulls out of the EU, and walls go up, literary culture is likely to become more isolated, a shrinking economy would mean less money spent on books, and writers could lose their generous Euro grants. No wonder it comes up in conversation. There’s much at stake.

***

I’d agreed to meet Henry Hitchings downstairs outside the building. There he was, right on time. We hiked briskly back to Airbnb HQ talking all the while about theatre (Henry is the critic for the Evening Standard), Samuel Johnson, and, yes, Brexit. Listen here as we nerd out about the smell of books and stories that can be told around buying them (books not smell), and a book Henry edited called Browse: The World in Bookshops.

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London’s Rich Store of Publishing Houses and Bookshops

Literary Tourist in London, England. Day 1

I love London. Love being surrounded by English accents, and striking architecture,

old


Traitors’ Gate? Prisoners were ferried along the Thames under London Bridge upon which the heads of recently executed prisoners smiled down on them. Sir Thomas More, among other notables, entered the Tower by Traitors’ Gate

and new.


(not sure what this building’s called, or the battleship for that matter, but I’m feeling it).

The combination really enriches a place.

Intrigued by the steeples of London churches and the masts of tall ships depicted by the 18th-century Venetian painter Canaletto, Renzo Piano designed The Shard as a spire-like sculpture emerging from the Thames.

Then there’s The Tate. The Royal Shakespeare Company. The British Library. Jermyn Street. But most important of all, there’s the fact that London is where so many great British book publishers and booksellers first set up shop: John Murray, Faber & Faber, Michael Joseph, The Hogarth Press, Jonathan Cape, Heinemann. Maggs Bros., Bernard Quaritch, Hatchards (complete with insufferable attitude), Henry Sotheran, Waterstones, Daunt Books .

I was here to connect with this.

***

Off the tube, on day one, at Green Park Station, and this lovely fountain

en-route to Maggs Bros. bookshop,

Maggs Bros.

where I encounter Ben Maggs. Had hoped to interview his father for The Biblio File, but hadn’t heard back. Ben indicated that this wasn’t entirely unusual, so my nose slowly made its way back into joint. On the plus side, he told me he’d heard of my humble podcast. Then we settled into an interesting discussion about fine press books and communicating with the dead. I complimented him on the pleasing presentation of his books.

The doing of manager

Bonny Beaumont he told me.

***

Next it was off to interview Will Atkinson in Bloomsbury.

Will is Managing Director of Atlantic Books, U.K, publisher of Tim Waterstones’s recent memoir The Face Pressed Against a Window. Prior to Atlantic, Will was for many years with Faber & Faber, serving as Director of Sales & Marketing. During this time he spearheaded the Independent Alliance, a very successful sales organization that comprises some of the U.K.’s leading independent publishers, including Granta and Canongate.

Listen here as we talk about the secret to his sales success:

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Of French Book Towns, Experimental Presses and Pouilly-Fumé

Literary Tourist near Paris

After a brief look at publisher Alain Gründ’s library, and some delightful Edition Gründ kid’s books

we headed off for La Charité-sur-Loire, about two and a half hours south of Paris, where I was to interview John Crombie on his famed Kickshaws Press. Along the way we stopped at Caroline’s cousin’s place and stayed the night. I arose early the next morning and went out into the garden to find this

Sarah Crown, books editor at The Guardian back when I used to contribute, had tweeted out a beautiful flower photo a few days earlier; I fancied a little war of the roses. Didn’t last too long – only amounted to a friendly skirmish. Nonetheless, I figure there’s always room for flowers on Twitter, it being such a bilious platform and all.

After gingerly navigating our way out of the narrow driveway, we hit the road for Charité.

Charite sur loire, france, books, booktown

It’s still known as a “book town,” despite the fact that there don’t seem to be many bookshops around. We only saw a handful. A lot seem to have gone out of business. Words were more evident. We saw quotes all over the place, written on windows and walls. I picked up a program (62 pages long!) from the Festival du Mot that had just taken place in June. Quite a lineup of writers. Impressive for a small town. There’s also an antiquarian book and ephemera fair that takes place in July, a “book night” in August, and a book market on the third Sunday of each month between October and March. So, despite a rather unsanguine appraisal from John, the town does at least seem to be trying to uphold it’s claim to be bookish. Downsizing from the book to the word, in difficult circumstances, seems to me to have been a pretty smooth move.

We had time to grab Continue reading “Of French Book Towns, Experimental Presses and Pouilly-Fumé”