Tag Archives: books

The Bleak House at 48 Doughty: Dickens House Museum

Don’t tell anyone, but museums bore me.

Maybe it’s all in the presentation. My Rick Steves-inspired tour of the British Museum will be posted soon, and it did have some fascinating moments. But artifacts set in polished glass cases, thousands of miles from where they originated don’t do it for me.

I like context. That’s why I love house museums. Add an element out of classic literature and I’m there.

So its not surprising the Dickens House Museum has been one of my favorite, if unexpected, experiences on this trip. For someone who isn’t looking for it, the museum is easy to miss. It’s one of a long line of undistinguished row houses on Doughty St., with only a sidewalk sign and small plaque to indicate its existence.

You enter the house into a long hallway that ends in the ticket counter/gift shop. The friendly staff takes your money and offers you the opportunity to view the orientation video on loop in the basement of the four story structure. Then you’re on your own.

The first room is a small dining room which has an oblong shape, which is quite interesting when you study it closely. Even the doors are rounded to fit flush when closed. Here, and throughout the house are busts of Dickens, when he was young, old and in-between. It makes you realize what a celebrity he was throughout his career.

Charles Dickens was the novelist who raised social commentating, as well as the “author reading,” to an art form. The Dickens House museum is his only surviving London home and it’s where he published and completed some of his most famous works, including The Pickwick Papers (the first book I ever read by him), Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby.

Upstairs is the “reading room,” commemorating his pioneering efforts to commercialize on his success through paid public readings.

Along the way are scattered paintings, rare books, manuscripts, original furniture. Even his toilet chair. My favorite part had to be his desk materials, neatly organized as he kept them: pens, inkwells and even a porcelain monkey he kept around for inspiration. Seems these organizational quirks are common to the writer’s pyche, no matter the century.

And just beyond it is an apparent bedroom converted for the exhibit “Ignorance and Want: the social conscience of Charles Dickens.” The exhibit explores the people and events behind the heroes and villans of Dickens’ writings. I found the story behind Nicholas Nickleby particularly interesting.

To get more of the history, check out the online tour, which details the house’s contents room-by-room.

FOWD: Holy Cheesophile! A presentation that’s practical

Hicks Cheesophile

For a while now, I’ve been trying to adopt the Beyond Bullet Points presentation style outlined in Cliff Atkinson’s book of the same name. Some folks call it the Web 2.0 style as well. It focuses on gaining audience buy-in by connecting them to the material through high-impact visuals. It’s essentially linear storytelling. In fact, Atkinson tells the presenter to outline the presentation in “Acts”–just like plays or television shows.

I don’t know if John Hicks of Hicksdesign knows of this concept, but he carried it out wonderfully. He took the audience through the process of redesigning a website–starting with the problems with the original, all the way through the redesign. Humorous and thoughtful, it was enough to keep me awake for the hour after my grease-laden lunch. Considering I had a severe case of jetlag as well, that’s saying something!

The best thing about Hicks’ style is that he talked about the underlying “whys” of the redesign put the super-geeky css talk in context and HELPED A NEWBIE “GET IT.” He could conduct a seminar series or write a university curriculum this way. What a service to help the web designers of the world use both sides of their brains!

I’m buying the Conference in a Box just for this presentation!

FOWD: Print is the New Web

Image via CrunchBase

As a public relations practitioner who does a good bit of design for both print and web, this topic intrigued me. Elliot Jay Stocks is one of the social media/web design deities of Carsonified (for the moment anyway) so this session was a must-see for me. He began by stating he came up with the provocative title and then shoehorned a presentation into it. Fair enough; it turned out well nonetheless.

He began by showing examples of print, such as book covers, and described how to find in them inspiration for web design. He then progressed to other print media and used a process of overlays to demonstrate how print design elements can be effectively ported into web design. It’s made me look at the process in a new way. I’ve already started scanning bookstores (since I’m in them all the time anyway) and magazine racks for great design ideas.

I twittered during this session about whether there is a conference out there that addresses a holistic view of print and web, allowing designers to consider both out the outset of a project.

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A new view on Pride and Prejudice

I’ve always really liked the story of Pride and Prejudice, but heretofore reading it was a little ambitious for me. With it’s stilted phrasing and long, looong speeches, I never could quite seem to read it all before moving on to a Western or a Star Trek novel.

I only got a good sense of the story from the old movie with Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson. Well casted and well acted, it’s in the top 10 of my favorite films. Also, PBS recently ran a new version during its Jane Austen film series. I don’t know the actors, but it was very good as well and had a little more depth than the 1939 version.

Well, I finally found a way to READ and enjoy Pride and Prejudice recently. There’s an online service called Booklit that allows you to read a book by e-mail. Each weekday, they send another portion of the book equivalent to what one can read in about five minutes. Perfect for my easily distracted brain.

A moment ago, I finished reading the 77th installment in a series of 149. Halfway through! Reflecting on these last couple of installments, I found myself enjoying them a lot more … almost savoring them. Granted, they were the emotional scenes when Darcy proposes to Elizabeth, against his better judgment, to which Elizabeth replies “get lost.” But there was more color there. I could hear their voices. Imagine the setting.

Without my realizing it, just BEING here among the streets and accents and structures here in London made small parts of the story suddenly explode with color in my mind.

It’s interesting to consider how important a sense of time and place are to a story. Indeed, my most favorite books feature those concepts as uncredited characters. But there must be something about being present in those settings that enlivens the story so much more.

I think that’s why heritage values are so important to me. All of our lives are stories. And when I see or touch something that has managed to stretch through and beyond the lives of us mere mortals, it’s some sort of affirmation that’s beyond my thinking to define.

I’m thinking objects but books definitely fit that category as well. Pride and Prejudice was written how long ago? And yet, someone like me can still experience it thanks to the talent of a writer and the value a society placed on preserving its context. Maybe I’ll have to put together a travel guide based on my favorite book list!