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”

Visit the Paper Museum in Tokyo

Literary Tourist in Tokyo: 

Paper has a long and fascinating history, particularly in Japan. The Paper Museum in Tokyo traces this history  and highlights the enormous contribution that paper has made over the years to human “progress” and communication.

The Paper Museum was established in 1950 in Horifune, Oji, Kita-ku, Tokyo, where the first western style paper manufacturing company was founded in 1873. The museum moved to its current location  in Asukayama Park in 1998.

The new four-story building houses a collection of more than 40,000 historic items and approximately 10,000 books. Permanent exhibitions cover 2,000 years worth of paper history and include displays on traditional Japanese ‘Washi’ paper (Rembrandt used it!),  modern western style paper, and recycled paper. There’s also an exhibit that explores current paper-related environmental issues.

We were fortunate enough to be toured through the Museum by head curator Hiro Nishimura.

The Modern Paper Industry exhibition gallery showcases maps, charts,  raw materials and commercial and retail products that illustrate how paper is made and how it makes its way into our lives.

There are also large machines, tools and equipment on display that demonstrate exactly how paper is manufactured

The Learning Room for Paper features play stations for elementary school children focusing on paper structure, production and  recycling. There’s also a special computer quiz kids can take with Q & As all about paper.

Continue reading “Visit the Paper Museum in Tokyo”

Carve and Print your own Japanese woodblock in Tokyo

Literary Tourist in Tokyo:

Once you’ve nerded out at the bookstores in the Jimbocho neighbourhood of Tokyo, you’ll want to go to Asakusa (浅草). It’s the centre of Tokyo’s shitamachi (literally “low city”), where a bustling atmosphere of old Tokyo survives. Asakusa’s main attraction is Sensoji, a very popular Buddhist temple,

built in the 7th century. The temple is approached via the Nakamise, a shopping street that’s been providing temple visitors with traditional, local snacks and tourist souvenirs for centuries, if you’re hungry, there are tonnes of cool little open air restaurants lining the surrounding streets.

You’ll also find another major attraction here, one especially designed for literary tourists: Dave Bull’s Mokuhankan studio.

Stroll over, join a ‘print party, and make yourself some woodblock prints! While producing a print to take home – with the assistance of the young Mokuhankan printing staff – is the main activity at a Print Party, it’s not the only thing to do: at the other end of the building there’s a printer’s workroom that you can visit and watch the work in progress. Not all the people working here speak great English, but those who can are happy to talk about their work (don’t bother them too much though – this is how they make their living!). And you’re not limited to just one shot at the Print Party bench – nearly all Continue reading “Carve and Print your own Japanese woodblock in Tokyo”

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


© CEphoto, Uwe Aranas

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)

Go here for visitor information on Antwerp.

Another stop on your literary tourist bucket list

If you listened to my Biblio File conversation with Jean Louis Maitre, you’ll know that Christophe Plantin was born near Tours, France and moved to Antwerp in the mid-1500s where he founded a printing company. After his death, it was taken over by his son-in-law Jan Moretus. The Plantin Moretus Printing company was sold to the city of Antwerp in 1876. Within a year the public was able to visit the living areas and the printing presses. In 2002 the Plantin-Moretus museum was nominated as UNESCO World Heritage Site and in 2005 was inscribed onto the World Heritage list.

The Museum has an exceptional collection of typographical material, the two oldest surviving printing presses in the world, many sets of dies and matrices, and an extensive library. All sorts of typographic masterpieces originated here, including the Biblia Regia, the Bibla Polyglotta and Ortelius’s atlases.

By some miracle the museum, located only feet from the river, twice escaped destruction. First during the Spanish invasion of 1576, second in 1945 when V1 bomb exploded outside the building. It should be mentioned that during the autumn of 1914 the Brits dispatched troops to protect Antwerp, among them were volunteers including Rupert Brooke, Douglas Jerrold and Charles Morgan. Ford Modox Ford published a poem entitled Antwerp in 1915. You can read it here.

Visitor information on Antwerp can be found here.