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In the Guardian, Lucy Mangan called it “the bookcase you’ll want to live in.” The Ark is a “free-standing, multi-storey wooden tower comprising a spiral staircase and walls composed of open shelves lined with 6,000 books. The brainchild of Scandinavian architects, Rintala Eggertsson, the Ark was conceived for the special 1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces exhibition, currently running at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.
Working on the theme of refuge and retreat, the V&A Museum approached nineteen different architects inviting them to propose design solutions at various spots around the museum, all of which were selected for their obvious confinement. The space occupied by the Ark was a cramped stairwell that leads up to the V&A’s National Art Library.
All of the 6,000 books in the Ark have been purposely positioned so that their spines face inwards, revealing nothing to the viewer from the outside of the tower. It is only when one enters the tower and begins ascending the staircase that the nature of the books is revealed (the exhibition video offers a great first-person impression of what it’s like to ascend within the tower itself). If you’re lucky enough to be in or around the V & A Museum anytime in August, you can pop in to see the Ark for yourself, and ascend the stairway to bookish heaven. The exhibition is free and runs until August 30th.
Robert Seymour was one of the most prominent illustrators of the early 19th century but ended up an unfortunate footnote in Dickens’s career.
His name is set to be restored to prominence when the Charles Dickens Museum unveils a commemorative plaque and puts his tombstone on display next week.
The stone was discovered by Stephen Jarvis, who is researching a biography of Seymour, in a giant collection of tombstones in the crypt of St Mary Magdalene Church in the London borough of Islington.
Mr. Jarvis said: “Everybody said the tombstone was missing.” Even church regulars thought it had probably been destroyed. But Mr Jarvis found a single line reference to the church’s crypt in papers at the Islington local history centre and went to investigate. After hours of trawling by torchlight through “thousands of tombstones that were just crumbling away in this spooky church crypt,” his wife, Elaine, spotted the 4ft-high stone. They have spent the past four years seeking permission from the Church of England to move it to the Dickens museum, where it will be unveiled next Tuesday.
Mr. Jarvis hopes it will restore the name of Seymour, who dreamt up the idea of a new monthly serial, the Nimrod Club, with sporting illustrations linked with sketches. A young Dickens, then writing as Boz, was approached by publishers to write and insisted on taking control of the project. The Nimrod Club became the Pickwick Club of The Pickwick Papers and propelled Dickens to international fame. But his success came at a price for Seymour.
Two days after visiting Dickens at home in April 1836, distressed that his idea had been usurped, Seymour was found dead: he had shot himself after completing a final Pickwick drawing. His widow claimed Dickens had effectively murdered him.
Mr. Jarvis said: “Everyone benefits from The Pickwick Papers apart from Robert Seymour, whose family was reduced to poverty by his suicide. Yet here was a man who was almost certainly the most prolific cartoonist of his time, the Shakespeare of caricature’. His tombstone is an incredibly resonant object.”
When John Steinbeck departed Stanford University for the final time in 1925, he left his roommate a note: “Gone to China. See you again sometime.” His plan was to make like adventure writer Jack London and sail to the Far East on a freighter, but that voyage didn’t pan out. He had plenty of other adventures throughout this life, though, like serving as a newspaper correspondent in northern Africa during World War II, following in King Arthur’s footsteps through Somerset, England, and famously trekking across the U.S. with his French poodle, Charley.
Steinbeck’s globetrotting is the focus of the 30th Annual Steinbeck Festival, sponsored by the National Steinbeck Center and taking place in and around Salinas, California, August 5 – 8. (Check the website for ticketing info.) This year’s theme is “Journeys: Steinbeck Around the World.” Highlights include a tour of the Salinas Valley wine region and tastings of international vintages at the opening night reception, lunch at the Victorian-era Steineck House, and speakers on topics ranging from Steinbeck in Mexico and Japan to his foray behind the Iron Curtain. Thomas R. Hummel and Tamra L. Dempsey, the writer/photographer duo behind the book A Journey through Literary America, will be on hand as well. And our favorite event in the line-up: a Charley dog look-alike contest.
If you love Mark Twain, food or American history, look no further for your summer beach read than the newly published book Twain’s Feast: Searching for America’s Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens. The author uses the palate of America’s great humorist to celebrate and explore native foodstuffs. Naturally, Twain was a very well-traveled person–but having eaten his way through France, England, Germany and other places on his Grand European Tour, Twain professed himself thoroughly bored with local fare and composed a wish list of American foods his palate most missed.
A few of those dishes such as steak, turkey, and corn on the cob continue to appeal to contemporary palates, but others on the list, such as possum, frogs, and turtles, shock our modern sensibilities. Though the author follows Twain’s life and literary works along loosely chronological lines, he intersperses his own firsthand experiences, such as observing Illinois prairie chickens in mating season and attending an Arkansas raccoon supper. The result is an engaging look at food, history, storytelling and of course the work of Mark Twain.
The play that destroyed the first Globe theatre when a shot from a stage cannon set fire to the thatched roof in 1613 is being performed this summer for the first time ever in the modern recreation of the venue. Director Mark Rosenblatt said there is still an explosion in his production of Henry VIII at the same point the old Globe caught fire–during Act I, Scene IV–to announce the king’s entrance, but he cited the theatre’s modern-day sprinkler system as a fail-safe against history repeating itself. On the day the play opened last week, the cast and crew led a ceremonial soaking of the outer walls of the theatre before the performance.
The poet Sir Henry Wotton recorded the 1613 fire, describing how “being thought at first an idle smoke, and [the crowd’s] eyes more attentive to the show, it kindled inwardly and ran around like a train, consuming within less than an hour the whole house to the very grounds.”
When the Globe reopened in 1996, it was the first thatched building in London since the Great Fire of London in 1666. The performance of Henry VIII runs until August 21.