Saturday, June 26, 2010

London on foot

It's been a pretty good two weeks thus far. I got to the Kentish shore and put a hand in the English Channel, have read few interesting UK based books: Bill Bryson's Shakespeare and Jasper Fforde's Nursery Crime Division book on the death of Humpty Dumpty. Since this blog is associated with the course I'm taking I haven't posted anything about my visits to the British Library reading room where I worked on course book reviews and my dissertation--topics that are not exciting--even for me, to post about.

Yesterday, however, I decided to take a day off and wandered London from the London Silver Vaults at Chancery Lane down to Harrods in Knightsbridge popping into bookstores, cataloguing the pubs I passed, and having my fancy captured by the amusing signage on the way. The most amusing pub name was "The Porcupine" near Covent Garden Station. The others I saw on my 3 mile walk, once I decided to catalogue them, were Nicholson's, The Sussex, The Freemason's Arms, the Prince of Wales, and, my personal favorite, Cittie of Yorke, whose signage makes it appear to be Cittie of Dorke. That mistake should confirm modern decisions to use less ornate font for writing and printing.

On my walk I passed numerous bookstores, mostly older, out-of-print and used books. I am constantly reminded that being a librarian/archivist is a good choice when I enter a used book store and the aroma is more appealing that $100 an ounce perfume. The bookstores had mostly older out-of-print books from the 1930s through to the 1970s and I must admit that I did not venture too far into the stores for fear of losing myself.

I did enter one modern bookstore, Waterstone's. This is a chain store but it feels so different from our Borders or Barnes and Noble. The bookshelves are dark wood, the staff looks like they might be old enough to read, and the signage is attached to the walls rather than hanging at eye level. The Waterstone's on Piccadilly had a spiral staircase, wood counters, and was full of shoppers, despite the fact that one book, a paperback at that, can cost $16.00. Admittedly these are trade paperbacks: I saw no sign that the smaller size which I usually buy are available. Click Waterstone's for a look at their website.

Overall my impression is that Londoners read tabloid news or novels. There is a healthy non-fiction market and an assumption that people will be willing, at least in my estimation, to talk about authors as much as TV personalities. What is interesting to me is how few best-selling US authors have made names here: and that so few of the authors whose works look interesting in the UK bookstores have made a name in the US. For all our globalization our literary tastes do differ quite a bit.

Next week the course begins so I will be posting more regularly and the posts will be about site visits as much as observations.