Charles Dickens would recognize the curve of the river and the placement of the streets -- but he would be surprised to learn that his “Bleak House” is right across the street from something called “Fight Club.”
The good folks at the British conceptual design firm Dorothy have crammed 600 books into a map of Victorian London. Their version is cleaned up, rid of all the actual place names, and filled with titles instead.
There are no author names to clutter to map (they are there, in teeny-tiny font, in a key at the bottom of the page). There are no publishers or book details. There are not even any real-life connections between the places on the map and the places named in the books.
There are plenty of maps of real places with the literary landmarks pointed out, like ours of Los Angeles. There are lots of elaborately done maps of grandly imagined fictional places, like Middle-earth. This is a map of fictions at their most abstract -- titles only -- combined to create a fictional place that somehow contains them all.
They really have little business being grouped together as they are, except that it’s fun to think of saying: Take “On the Road” and it’ll turn into “Wuthering Heights” -- stay on that until you reach “Middlesex.” Take a left there, and then turn left again on “Swann’s Way,” and that’ll bring you right to “Gorky Park.”
Other things that can be found on the map: Many book titles that include places, like “Murder at the Vicarage,” “Cold Comfort Farm,” “The Wind in the Willows” and “Wolf Hall,” mostly from British literature. There are American books like these as well, including “Little House on the Prairie” and “Telegraph Ave.”
Sometimes the titles are put to very specific use. “The Bridge Over the River Kwai” is indeed a bridge -- spanning a section of the River Thames renamed, on the map, the River Kwai.
The map deviates from the original city a little so that the bottom left corner can fill with the “Wide Sargasso Sea.” That’s where you’ll find “Treasure Island” and the skull-shaped archipelago “The Island of Dr. Moreau.”
Putting the contents of those books together can make your head spin. What happens when the creepy mansion of Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” meets the deflected ambition of the Indo-Trinidadian protagonist of “A House for Mr. Biswas” by V.S. Naipaul? What is Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” doing sandwiched between “Washington Square,” the 1880 Henry James novel, and Amy Tan’s 20th century story of Chinese American mothers and daughters in San Francisco, “The Joy Luck Club”?
The map poses these questions but blissfully makes no attempt to answer them. It is called, simply, the Book Map; it’s about 2 feet high by 3 feet wide and costs $42 plus shipping from the U.K.
Like passing notes in class; I’m @paperhaus on Twitter