"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation." - Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


This is not a post about my first impressions of the UK because I've been here before. But even when one has traveled a lot, and to the same place, it's funny how disorienting it is to get on a plane, sit in the dark for 10 hours trying to sleep, and then step out onto a different piece of land. And it's funny how the little things get me every time - the license plates being yellow and oblong, the change of currency, and even, yes, the accents. I had to look down to hide my giggles as I walked through the airport, hearing people pattering on in odd accents as if it were entirely normal, which of course it is, just not to me.

So now I'm here, that is, in Oxford (I'm not going to school here, btw, just visiting). Miraculously, I seem to have brought the weather with me from California, and every morning so far my tired, jet-lagged eyes have opened to a very bright sun shining through the window. I keep forgetting to bring my camera when I go out, so unfortunately I don't have any pictures yet to share with you all, but you can imagine me strolling beside a calm river or threading through throngs of tourists or glancing frantically right and left and left and right every time I cross a street.

I've spent most of my time so far walking around and browsing through bookstores, and I've been noticing for the first time the differences between UK and US covers of the same books. I suppose it's because I've been paying more attention to current publications recently, so I can really see the difference between two editions that have been published simultaneously, instead of just chalking up the disparity to reprints over time. I think that designing book covers must be a fascinating job, because you get to essentially present your visual interpretation of the book, like a stage director, and see other people's as well. I suppose it appeals to me in the same way costume design appeals to me. But I wonder if you have to have a strong background in art or graphic design to get into that field.

But anyhow, so far I've resisted any book purchases because I'm sunk deep into Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, which I strongly recommend to anyone who likes historical fiction and anyone who doesn't. It's the story of Henry VIII's wife debacle told from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, an unlikely hero but an entirely captivating one. I'm only about a third of the way through, but I have no doubts it will continue to be excellent, especially since the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies is getting lots of praise as well. In this case, I have the American cover, which I like better - it's got little historical portraits peeking out from the 'o' of 'Wolf' and the 'a' of 'Hall', all set against a brilliant crimson background.

Tonight I'm seeing the Globe theater's production of Hamlet in the courtyard of the Bodleian library. Hopefully, I'll have time to write a bit about it tomorrow, before I head to Germany for the weekend.

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