West on Books: A Bibliomanic’s Appreciation
As surely as Hardy follows Laurel, the most attractive books that cross my desk year after year come from Haus Publishing’s The Armchair Traveller series. It’s not just their beautiful endpaper maps, Claude Garamond’s elegant typeset, or the fine writing, no, it’s also their distinctive size and colors: always a slim-and-trim 8 1/2 x 4 ½ inches, bound in red linen cloth with white titles above and below prints of the painted subjects. If I still wore a suit, each would fit snugly in my inside jacket pocket.
“The format for the red books came from one of our authors, Klaus Wagenbach (the author of Kafka: A Life in Prague) who himself publishes a series called Salto in Germany (though the “a” in their logo is upside down). We decided it would be perfect for this series, both as it would separate them from the rest of The Armchair Travellers, and because they would make beautiful books to hold and—we hope—a series to collect,” emailed editor Ed Gosling.
And what luck! As you must know by now, February 7, was Charles Dickens’s 200th birthday and their latest offering is Peter Clark’s Dickens’s London, a brilliant walkabout guide based on Clark’s five walks about central London. You become familiar with the format in the first ramble—“From Trafalgar Square to Lincoln’s Inn Fields”—a map with the boldface route and throughout the text boldfaced words of Dickens or his characters.
“Looking at Whitehall, sir—fine place—little window—somebody else’s head off there, eh, Sir?—he didn’t keep a sharp look out either—eh, Sir, eh?” That’s the signature telegraphese spoken in “The Pickwick Papers” by Mr. Jingle, pointing out the room on the first floor of Whitehall Palace’s Banqueting Hall where King Charles stepped out for his execution.
Mr. Clark, of course, takes you to the Charles Dickens Coffee House (26 Wellington St., Covent Garden); the infamous blacking factory where young Charles slaved with a colleague named Bob Fagin (corner of Bedford St. & Chandos Pl.); and around the corner to Rules, 35 Maiden Ln., London’s oldest restaurant (est. 1798) with its Dickens Room with playbills of great writer’s productions and other memorabilia. Above it, the office that was All The Year Round, the magazine published by Dickens from 1859-70.
As you walk and discover the milieu of Dickens’s fiction and non-fiction, you’ll also discover your favorite Dickens’s quotes:
…”Missus, I wants to make your flesh creep.” (Joe the fat boy, The Pickwick Papers).
…”All is gas and gaiters.” (The gentleman in small clothes, the Nicklebys’ neighbor at Bow).
…”My essential juice of pineapple.” (Mr. Mantalina, talking of his wife in Nicholas Nickleby).
Dicken’s London, Peter Clark, The Armchair Traveller, 2012.
For more information, visit The Armchair Traveller
Richard West spent nine years as a writer and senior editor at Texas Monthly before moving to New York to write for New York and Newsweek. Since then, he’s had a distinguished career as a freelance writer. West was awarded the National Magazine Award for Reporting in 1980 and is a member of Texas Arts & Letters.