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Posts Tagged ‘books

“When in doubt, go to the library”*…

 

libraries

 

Two great champions of reading for pleasure remind us that it really is an important thing to do – and that libraries create literate citizens: “Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell on why we need libraries – an essay in pictures.”

* J. K. Rowling

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As we browse in bliss, we might recall that it was on this date in 1779 that Sir Frederick Haldimand, Governor of Quebec, asked British dramatist Richard Cumberland to select books for the first subscription (public) library in Canada.

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The library of the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, which incorporated the collection of Haldimand’s library in the mid-19th century.

 

Written by LW

September 13, 2018 at 1:01 am

“A town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.”*…

 

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It was in Athens in the 4th Century BC that a man named Zeno walked into a bookshop. He had been a successful merchant, but suffered a terrible shipwreck on a journey out of Phoenicia, losing a priceless cargo of the world’s finest dye. He was 30 years old and facing financial ruin, but this catastrophe stirred his soul to find something new, though he didn’t quite know what.

One day, immersed in browsing a bookstore collection, many volumes of which have been lost to history forever, Zeno heard the bookseller reading out loud a passage from a book by Xenophon about Socrates. It was like nothing he had ever heard before. With some trepidation, he approached the owner and asked, “Where can I find a man like that?” and in so doing, began a philosophical journey that would literally change the history of the world. That book recommendation led to the founding of Stoicism and then, to the brilliant works of SenecaEpictetus, and Marcus Aurelius — which, not lost to history, are beginning to find a new life on bookshelves today. From those heirs to Zeno’s bookshop conversion, there is a straight line to many of the world’s greatest thinkers, and even to the Founding Fathers of America.

All from a chance encounter in a bookshop.

It would be an understatement to say that great things begin in bookstores, and that countless lives have been changed inside them…

 

Why spend time amongst the shelves? “Good Things Happen in Book Stores.”

* Neil Gaiman, American Gods

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As we browse in bliss, we might spare a thought for Benjamin Jonson; he died on this date in 1637.  A poet, actor, literary critic, and playwright (he popularized the comedy of humours), he is best remembered for his satirical plays Every Man in His Humour (1598), Volpone, or The Fox (c. 1606), The Alchemist (1610), and Bartholomew Fair (1614), and for his lyric and epigrammatic poetry.

Eclipsing Christopher Marlowe, Jonson is generally regarded as the second most important English playwright during the reigns of Elizabeth I of James VI and I (after Shakespeare, with whom Jonson had a professional rivalry, but on whose death Jonson wrote “He was not of an age, but for all time”).  Indeed, while Shakespeare’s impact continues apace to this day, Jonson’s impact was arguably even bigger in the relatively-more immediate timeframe: he had broad and deep influence on the playwrights and the poets of the Jacobean era (1603–1625) and of the Caroline era (1625–1642).

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Written by LW

August 16, 2018 at 1:01 am

“My best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read”*…

 

The books were a big deal. Nobody had books on death row. They had never been allowed, and it was like someone had brought in contraband. Only six guys were allowed to join me in book club, but every guy on the row was now allowed to have two books besides the Bible in his cell. Some didn’t care, but others made calls out to family and friends to let them know they could send in a book or two. It had to be a brand-new book and be sent directly from a bookstore to the prison. It was like a whole new world opened up, and guys started talking about what books they liked. Some guys didn’t know how to read, others were real slow, almost childlike, and had never been to school beyond a few grades. Those guys didn’t know why they were on death row, and I wondered about a world that would just as soon execute a guy as treat him in a hospital or admit he wasn’t mentally capable of knowing right from wrong.

The very first book club meeting consisted of Jesse Morrison, Victor Kennedy, Larry Heath, Brian Baldwin, Ed Horsley, Henry, and myself. We were allowed to meet in the law library, but we each had to sit at a different table. We couldn’t get up. In order to talk to everyone at once, you had to kind of swivel around in your seat so no one felt left out. If someone wanted to read something out of the book, we had to toss the book to each other and hope that the guy caught it or it landed in reach of someone because we weren’t allowed to lift our butts up off the seats. The guards seemed nervous when they walked us to the library. We weren’t planning a riot or an escape; we were five black guys and two white guys talking about a James Baldwin book. Perfectly normal. Nothing to see here…

When Anthony Ray Hinton was sentenced to death for two murders he didn’t commit, he used his time to create a book club for death row inmates: “The Death Row Book Club” (excerpted from Hinton’s new book, The Sun Does Shine).

* Abraham Lincoln

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As we celebrate close reading, we might recall that it was on this date in 1943 that Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann discovered the psychedelic properties of LSD.  Hofmann had synthesized the drug five years earlier, but its hoped-for use in treating respiratory problems didn’t pan out, and it was shelved.  On this day, he accidentally absorbed some of the drug through his skin (as he touched its container).  He became dizzy with hallucinations.  Three days later he took the first intentional dose of acid: 0.25 milligrams (250 micrograms), an amount he predicted to be a threshold dose (an actual threshold dose is 20 micrograms).  Less than an hour later, Hofmann experienced sudden and intense changes in perception.  He asked his laboratory assistant to escort him home and, as use of motor vehicles was prohibited because of wartime restrictions, they had to make the journey on a bicycle… which is why April 19 has been celebrated (since 1985) as “Bicycle Day.”

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Written by LW

April 16, 2018 at 1:01 am

“There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion”*…

 

The ascent of the Prophet over the Ka’bah guided by Jibrā’īl and escorted by angels. (via the British Library)

The Miscellany of Iskandar Sultan is a book lover’s fantasy: a bespoke manuscript, hand-painted and hand-written by the greatest artists and calligraphers of its day. The patchwork book is pieced together from a wide range of texts, from epic poetry to learned disquisitions on astrology, medicine, and the interpretation of dreams. It is a fifteenth-century library distilled into a single volume and a relic of another world. In a time before copyright, texts could be borrowed, copied, and recycled into something new. In a time before mass-scale printing, a book could be a deeply personal affair, curated exactly to its patron’s unique set of interests. In a time before the internet, a pocket-sized library was the best way to carry a world of knowledge everywhere you went.

The Miscellany’s patron was Jalāl al-Dīn Iskandar Sultan ibn ‘Umar Shaykh, ruler of Shiraz and Isfahan and grandson of the world-famous conqueror Timur…

The remarkable story in full at “The ultimate bespoke manuscript“; browse the manuscript on the British Library’s Digital Viewer.

* Edgar Allan Poe

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As we contemplate comprehensiveness, we might recall that not too long after this exercise in collecting everything relevant to a single reader, there was a seminal move to make a single thing available to many, many readers: on this date in 1484, William Caxton, who introduced the printing press to England and was its first book publisher (see here and here), published his English translation of Aesop’s Fables.

The fable of the farmer and his sons from Caxton’s edition, 1484

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“A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking”*…

 

A market doubles as a bookstore in Obidos, Portugal

What makes a book town?

It can’t be too big—not a city, but a genuine town, usually in a rural setting. It has to have bookshops—not one or two, but a real concentration, where a bibliophile might spend hours, even days, browsing. Usually a book town begins with a couple of secondhand bookstores and later grows to offer new books, too.

But mostly, they have a lot of books for sale…

Tour some of the world’s best at “Book Towns Are Made for Book Lovers.”

* Jerry Seinfeld

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As we browse in bliss, we might send a combo birthday and St Patrick’s Day greeting to Catherine “Kate” Greenaway; she was born on this date in 1846.  Creator of books for children such as Mother Goose (1881), Little Ann (1883), & The Pied Piper of Hamelin (1889), she was one of the most the most accomplished illustrators of her time– and the inspiration for The Kate Greenaway Medal, awarded annually by the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in the U.K. to an illustrator of children’s books.

Greenaway’s illustration of the Pied Piper leading the children out of Hamelin; for Robert Browning’s version of the tale.

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Written by LW

March 17, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I cannot choose one hundred best books because I have only written five”*…

 

Fernando Sdrigotti, The Situationist Guide to Parenting

Since the arrival of twins, Spirulina and Ocelot, I have been indebted to my great friend and editor Fernando Sdrigotti for his invaluable parenting guide, inspired by the philosopher and alcoholic Guy Debord. No more awkward silences during the hours it seems to take the au pair to dry her hair — Sdrigotti’s guide provides no end of suitable conversation topics for bright 2 year olds, from Peppa Pig’s role in mediating social interactions between toddlers in the nursery to detourning the playground. Can’t afford another holiday abroad this year? Just remember, as Sdrigotti tells us, beneath each playpen lies the beach! The Situationist Guide to Parenting shifts the paradigm of the self-help genre, reinventing Sdrigotti as a Dr Spock for the modern dad.

It’s that time again– time for a cascade of “year’s best” lists.  Here, from 3:am Magazine, a particularly satisfying one: from the tantalizing title above to such interest-piquers as Sima Nitram’s I Fucking Hate Don XL, George Glaciate-Furbisher’s Flenge’s Dictum, and Diana Smith-Higglebury, Reclaimed Territory: A post-Brexit Britain Household Companion, a list of books that one needn’t feel bad for not reading…  as they don’t exist.  Hilariously ridiculous authors, titles, and critical precis– wonder at what might have been at “3:am books of the year.”

* Oscar Wilde

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As we turn to books that we should perhaps actually read, we might send closely-observed birthday greetings to Gustave Flaubert; he was born on this date in 1821.  Best remembered now for his 1856 novel Madame Bovary, (and his meticulous devotion to his style and aesthetics), Flaubert reportedly woke at 10am every day and promptly hammered on his ceiling, to get his mother to come down and talk to him.

Flaubert helped to introduce a new form of realism into fiction; as a consequence he and his work had considerable influence on later writers, from his protege Guy de Maupassant to Joseph Conrad and James Joyce.

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Written by LW

December 12, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us”*…

 

On the occasion of Banned Books Week– which begins today– a short film from the American Library Association on the Top Ten Challenged Books of 2016:

Read ’em or weep…

* Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas

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As we get out our library cards, we might spare a thought for Theodor Seuss Geisel, AKA “Dr. Seuss”; he died on this date in 1991.  After a fascinating series of early-career explorations, Geisel settled on a style that created what turned out to be the perfect “gateway drug” to book addiction for generations of young readers.

The more that you read,

The more things you will know.

The more that you learn,

The more places you’ll go.

– I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! (1978)

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Written by LW

September 24, 2017 at 1:01 am

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