The University of Toronto (UFT) holds an annual book sale every October at its prestigious academic and architectural landmark building Trinity College established in 1851. Founded in 1827 by the Royal Charter as Kings College, UFT ranks as Canada's most reputable university and remains among the world's most eminent centres of education and research. It was the first university of higher learning in the British colony of Upper Canada. Its motto is meaningful: 'As a tree through the ages.' And there I was one fine autumnal afternoon in 2017 meandering through the serpentine walkways over mini-downs of velvet green grass that provide a palette of contrast to fallen yellow and orange tinged leaves. My destination- the 42nd Annual Book Sale of The Friends of the Library, Trinity College.
The massive Seeley Hall, a haven for bibliomaniacs, is a literary oasis paying homage to the glory of the written word. Categorized by topic were rare books and those not so rare. Some 70 academic and popular categories are labeled. From Antiques and Decorative Arts to Drama and Stagecraft to LGBTQ to Occult, to Spirituality to Sport and Fitness; picking out only some of the more distinctive labels. The entire book sale is donated, sorted, sold and managed by volunteers, many of whom are UFT alumni bibliophiles. No mean input, nor output. Annual funds hover around CA$ 120,000 in recent years. The proceeds go towards maintenance and purchase of books for Trinity College's John W. Graham Library.
Every adage rings true. Never ever judge a book by its cover. In preparation for the 2013 book sale, volunteers were shocked to find a 1933 edition of Adolph Hitler's manifesto 'Mein Kampf,' 22nd edition among donated books. The outer dust jacket read 'The Holy Scripture of the Old Testament.' Inside was something else. Also found amongst the pages of 'Mein Kampf' was a folded article from an Austrian newspaper dated 1938 headlined 'Bismarck' plus a silk bookmark embroidered with Hitler's picture and signature. Price: CA$ 150.
My humble pick at CA$ 4 was 'Literary Lodgings' authored by Elaine Borish, published by Constable and Company Ltd., London, 1984 whose blurb notes: 'Elaine Borish introduces the reader to the delights of nearly forty hotels in Britain which were once the haunts of famous writers and where the reader can now actually stay.' Once upon a time these authors had spent a night, couple of nights, months and even years at cottages, manors, mansions, inns, pubs with rooms, homes, hotels. Guest accommodation with a literary past. These tales transport us back in time, reminiscent of lingering literary nostalgia. She offers the reader a delightful compilation of literary ancestry to entice the passionate traveller who wants to take in a selected author's landmark panoramic, personal and public, frequently venturing further away from Britain's urban areas, concentrates on geography as often a determinant of history. Happily, these literary legacies remain as a tacit acceptance of time; some of them time capsules. However, current owners of locales have resorted to respectful uplift reinforced with modernization. Contextually, Borish meticulously updates the reader and the potential occupants on modern built-in contemporary conveniences; attached bathrooms and some with even gyms, spas and play-areas.
For hard-core literary buffs in Britain, there are reading lists to tick off; bookstores to visit, an alert eye for smart buys and then there are literary havens. I had in my hand a bibliophile's potential dream stay-in reflective details, where the written word has taken on a momentum of its own making. You could head for London and the South East, South of England, Wales, West Country, Midlands, East Anglia, North of England and Scotland. The literary map of where to spend the night is yours for the choosing, profiled in detail for literature-minded pilgrims.
Marking the British literary lodging trail, the book is replete with anecdotes and insight into the author; their lives and life-style. Her criteria of choice? "Only buildings that once housed writers and exist today as hotels are included in this book. The rule for 'Literary Lodgings is that the hotel in Britain associated with an author must be alive, the author not." However, since Literary Lodgings was published in the last century, prior to setting off for the lodging of choice author; I would in 2018 first Google search the destination - to ensure that the lodging itself remains 'alive.'
Very much alive and prospering is the grand luxury The Savoy at the Strand in central London where not only did Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) stay but the hotel built in 1889 on the bank of the Thames was the basis for his novel Imperial Palace. A literary retreat with a commendable view. The Savoy honoured the writer by naming a favourite dish of his after him - a large open omelette made with smoked haddock - 'Omelette Arnold Bennett. Oscar Wilde (1854-1936) was arrested at the Cadogan Hotel on Sloane Street in London in 1895. The judge sentenced the writer to two years of imprisonment with hard labour. The charge: 'committing acts of gross indecency with various male persons.' Room 118 was Oscar Wilde's. "...with crystal chandelier, blue draperies over the windows and pink padded headboard over the bed..in such a bring and cheerful environment, it is difficult to visualise the dark events" writes Borish. His epigrams remain salient features of the English language: 'I can resist everything except temptation.' ' The last word was his. 'One can survive everything nowadays except death.' He died in Paris at the age of forty-six. Rudyard Kipling (1865-1937) although a global traveller; his fixed address in London was Brown's Hotel, Dover Street. Founded in 1837, it remains an upscale hotel. He was staying at Brown's when he had a violent hemorrhage and was rushed to hospital where he died on 17 January 1936. The Charing Cross Hotel built in 1864 as a premier railway hotel was booked by Edith Wharton (1862-1937). She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1920 for 'The Age of Innocence.' E.M Forster (1879-1970) stayed at the Kingsley Hotel, Bloomsbury near the British Museum. "It might be said that Forster bloomed in Bloomsbury...." In 'Room with a View' (1908), Forster relates his London accommodation to the novel's Italian setting: "And even more curious was the drawing-room, which attempted to rival the solid comfort of a Bloomsbury boarding-house. Was this really Italy?" After all, rooms with a view are there for the taking. Whatever you make of the view - is yours. Online verification declares all above mentioned hotels in the panoramic city vista of London to be very much 'alive.' (Continued)
Raana Haider is a literary pilgrim.