Tag Archives: books

Little Free Library

Little Free Library
Between 1888 and 1929, Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-American businessman, provided the money to build 2,509 libraries in the world. The first Carnegie Free Library in the United States was built in 1889 in Braddock, PA. The people of Little Free Library would like to continue that philanthropic tradition and make it accessible for people without Carnegie’s wealth. So they sell birdhouse-sized libraries that you can fill with books that people in your neighborhood can read.

Little Free Library

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A Country Without Libraries


“I heard some politician say recently that closing libraries is no big deal, since the kids now have the Internet to do their reading and school work…Yes, reading books is a slow, time-consuming, and often tedious process. In comparison, surfing the Internet is a quick, distracting activity in which one searches for a specific subject, finds it, and then reads about it—often by skipping a great deal of material and absorbing only pertinent fragments. Books require patience, sustained attention to what is on the page, and frequent rest periods for reverie, so that the meaning of what we are reading settles in and makes its full impact.”

From A Country Without Libraries by Charles Simic in The New York Review of Books

The Decline of Book Making

About 1860, it was noted that printing quality was suffering in the throes of the Industrial Revolution.

Pennyroyal Caxton Bible

Henry Stevens, a Vermont-born rare-book seller in London and recognized proponent of fine printing wrote, “The disagreeable fact that our books are deteriorating in quality is assumed for the present and taken for granted. The fault exists and is daily becoming more and more manifest…”

“Our printing presses are teeming and steaming with books of all sorts (with some striking exeptions) not up to the mark of the high calling of book-making. It is no excuse to say that the rapidity of production has been largely increased. That amounts merely to confessing that we are now consuming two bad books in the place of one good one…”

“It is not the amiable public that is so hungry for cheap printing and cheap books, but the greedy provider of cheap and cheaper books with which the public is crammed like Strasburg geese, that are in fault. This downward tendency is not so much the fault of the consumers as the manufacturers. The manufacture of a beautiful and durable book costs little if anything more, it is believed, than it does to manufacture a coumsy and unsightly one.”

“Good taste, skill, and severe training are as requisitie and necessary in the proper production of books as in any other of the fine arts.”

Henry Stevens was engaged by the librarian of the British Museum, to collect historical books, documents and journals concerning North and South America; and he was purchasing agent for the Smithsonian Institution and for the Library of Congress, as well as for James Lenox, of New York, for whom he secured much of the valuable Americana in the Lenox library in that city, and for the John Carter Brown library, at Providence, Rhode Island. He became a member of the Society of Antiquaries in 1852, and in 1877 was a member of the committee which organized the Caxton Exhibition, for which he catalogued the collection of Bibles.

Image: Pennyroyal Caxton Bible

Blemished but Brilliant

Anna Karenina“There was a lot wrong with it and it was flawed in many ways…almost nobody liked the ending.”

Not the words you would expect to hear from the chair of the judges awarding a prestigious literary prize. But that is exactly what Times columnist Matthew Parris said, after he had handed over the £25,000 cheque for the Costa Book of the Year earlier this week.

In the end, Matthew Parris explained, many great books are also flawed in their own way, saying that even Shakespeare’s play The Tempest has a bad ending.

The Today programme asked two distinguished writers, to nominate some great, but flawed, works of literature.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Magnificent, but it does go on… many, many whale-related digressions. Only its terrific drive and characterization carry you along.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. That famous opening, but no one seems to remember the way Dickens goes on to hammer away at every possible subsequent variation on a theme of – it was the tallest, it was the shortest, it was the driest, it was the soggiest, it was the creamiest, it was the grittiest…

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy Wonderful book, but possibly marred by all those digressions into agricultural theory and the incident when Vronsky accidentally snaps his horse – a slightly unlikely passage that no one ever seems to remember.

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller Great concepts and characters, but the humour does tend to fall into a repeating pattern.

Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow by Peter Høeg. Again, a fine book – the giant sea worms at the end appearing like a dead weasel on the face of a much-loved friend.

More at BBC News

What Is Stephen Harper Reading

Yann Martel’s brilliantly entertaining blog, What is Stephen Harper Reading, is a treasure trove for booklovers.

If you are a writer in a country run by a man who does not care about the arts – and certainly does not give them enough money – how do you change his mind? Lobbying would be ineffective. Whiny columns will be predictable. And megaphones and placards are dull to a novelist who can dream up an ocean-going Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Yann Martel, whose Life of Pi won the Man Booker prize, has come up with his own form of direct action: every second Monday, he sends a book to the Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper. If the PM will not follow the arts, the arts must come to him – by post.

These are not just any books, mind; Mr Harper is a busy man, so what he gets is short and accessible. As light reading, they can still be pretty heavy: Tolstoy, Hindu scriptures, Strindberg. Such texts, the writer says, “expand stillness” – just what a head of state needs after an infernal day’s politics.

When is he meant to read them? “Everyone can do a page at bedtime,” says Mr Martel. “Or his aide could get a book to him when he visits the toilet.” Each second-hand paperback has an introductory note from the sender (“Om Shanti” ends the letter accompanying the Bhagavad Gita).

An ice-hockey fan, the PM has not commented on his gifts. But to give is better than to receive, and the unrequited novelist will continue his campaign until Mr Harper leaves office. “If I knew he liked thrillers,” says Mr Martel, “I would send more of those – perhaps a Chinese thriller.”

Martel explains:

On March 28th, 2007, at 3 pm, I was sitting in the Visitors’ Gallery of the House of Commons, I and forty-nine other artists from across Canada, fifty in all, and I got to thinking about stillness. To read a book, one must be still. To watch a concert, a play, a movie, to look at a painting, one must be still. Religion, too, makes use of stillness, notably with prayer and meditation. Just gazing upon a still lake, upon a quiet winter scene—doesn’t that lull us into contemplation? Life, it seems, favours moments of stillness to appear on the edges of our perception and whisper to us, “Here I am. What do you think?” Then we become busy and the stillness vanishes, yet we hardly notice because we fall so easily for the delusion of busyness, whereby what keeps us busy must be important, and the busier we are with it, the more important it must be. And so we work, work, work, rush, rush, rush. On occasion we say to ourselves, panting, “Gosh, life is racing by.” But that’s not it at all, it’s the contrary: life is still. It is we who are racing by.

I was thinking about that, about stillness, and I was also thinking, more prosaically, about arts funding, not surprising since we fifty artists were there in the House to help celebrate the fifty years of the Canada Council for the Arts, that towering institution that has done so much to foster the identity of Canadians. I was thinking that to have a bare-bones approach to arts funding, as the present Conservative government has, to think of the arts as mere entertainment, to be indulged in after the serious business of life, that—in conjunction with retooling education so that it centres on the teaching of employable skills rather than the creating of thinking citizens—is to engineer souls that are post-historical, post-literate and pre-robotic; that is, blank souls wired to be unfulfilled and susceptible to conformism at its worst—intolerance and totalitarianism—because incapable of thinking for themselves, and vowed to a life of frustrated serfdom at the service of the feudal lords of profit.

The Prime Minister did not speak during our brief tribute, certainly not. I don’t think he even looked up. The snarling business of Question Period having just ended, he was shuffling papers. I tried to bring him close to me with my eyes.

Who is this man? What makes him tick? No doubt he is busy. No doubt he is deluded by that busyness. No doubt being Prime Minister fills his entire consideration and froths his sense of busied importance to the very brim. And no doubt he sounds and governs like one who cares little for the arts.

But he must have moments of stillness. And so this is what I propose to do: not to educate—that would be arrogant, less than that—to make suggestions to his stillness.

For as long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada, I vow to send him every two weeks, mailed on a Monday, a book that has been known to expand stillness.

~~ From the Globe and Mail, April 14, 2007

Booking on Success

Mabel\'s FablesWhen Heidi Hallett purchased Frog Hollow Books in Halifax’s Park Lane Mall a little over two years ago, she did so out of a lifelong love for literature. After almost a decade as a co-owner of The Coast, Halifax’s only independent weekly newspaper, she decided that it was time to turn the page on her profession.

“I have been a big reader ever since I was a little girl,” she says. “Books were my way of both escaping the world and making some sense out of it. I have always been a big supporter of Atlantic Canadian literature and believe that we have some of the best authors in the country here on the East Coast. I wanted to play my part in our great tradition of storytelling.”

Ms. Hallett is not alone in her struggles, as independent booksellers from coast to coast feel the pressure from the onslaught of deep-pocketed big-box stores, online purchasing, the high dollar and the cost of prime real estate.

Ms. Hallett is doing what she can to keep her dreams alive by spreading the word about regional scribes through book launches and in-store author appearances. “Local literature is a vital part of our culture here, and I am concerned that if more independent bookstores like mine start going under, we risk losing that history and heritage forever.”

Dave Hill is the manager of Munro’s Books in Victoria, one of the country’s oldest and most successful independent booksellers. He says that stores like Frog Hollow have to find and work with their core strengths. “The key is to focus her efforts upon the things that the big chain outlets or online sellers cannot offer their customers,” he says. “First and foremost, that means excellent service and expert advice.”

To that end, Ms. Hallett and her staff should always make it a point to engage their clients in literary chit-chat. “Bookstores are tailor-made for browsing and discussing ideas,” he says. “What she ideally wants is for the bookstore to become a point of destination for readers of all ages. Along with that literary expertise and those added personal touches, things like author readings and signings, special events, weekly or monthly theme sales, on-site contests, book clubs, having an activities area for children and even serving coffee and muffins will all add up to a higher volume of in-store traffic.”

He adds that Frog Hollow must then use its in-house and front-of-store display space as effectively as possible. “A real emphasis should be placed upon specialty products, such as local and regional authors and books,” he says.

“Ultimately, however, Hallett is going to build her reputation in the community through word of mouth and referrals.”

Eleanor LeFave agrees. President of the Canadian Booksellers Association and owner of Mabel’s Fables Children’s Bookstore in Toronto says businesses like hers must make the most of their marketplace. “We will never be able to compete with the Chapters/Indigo outlets or the Amazon.coms of the world,” she admits, “but we can find a good niche for ourselves and make ourselves a vital and vibrant part of the neighbourhood.” That means reaching out to the local community as well. “Getting involved with local literary festivals, or bringing books or book discussion into the schools or libraries is always a great way to keep up visibility,” she says.

“Sending out a weekly or monthly e-mail is an effective and cost-efficient way for Hallett to keep her existing customers up to date on current and upcoming releases and events.” Ensuring that the store’s website remains fresh and dynamic is a vital component of the marketing mix as well. That technology can also help to cut costs in other ways. “It sounds tedious,” she admits, “but by establishing best-business practices through process streamlining, Hallett will be in a better position to keep an eye on cash flow, stay on top of special orders and monitor inventory. With such a low profit margin, there really is no wiggle room for any kind of systematic errors.”

Excerpted from the Globe and Mail, April 28, 2008

Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia

Turning Bytes Into Books

ScrapbookingThe first time Jeannet Leendertse, a freelance book designer, saw the software on the Blurb.com website that could automatically produce a book, she was more than a little sad.

The software could help anyone turn some text and photos into a bound book in a few minutes.

Soon after, though, she saw an opportunity. “I realized there would always be people who appreciate time and effort going into design. I decided to put myself onto their website.”

Today, Leendertse still turns a pile of pictures and paragraphs into bound books, but instead of working just for a roster of major publishers like MIT Press, she helps individuals create books. She is participating in an offshoot of the scrapbooking phenomena, the hobby of collecting and preserving photos and mementos.

What was once a pastime for mothers recording family memories for their children has blossomed into a new, fertile marketplace of collaboration. People with stories to tell are creating personalized books filled with pictures, blog entries and even business proposals. While some of these glorified scrapbooks are aimed at the world at large, many new titles were never intended to be sold in stores or marketed in any way.

The digital tools – the camera, scanner and word processor – have opened the field of book creation to the amateur as the hobby moves away from pasting buttons and rickrack onto pages. But sometimes the bookmakers need a little help. Leendertse recently worked with the filmmaker Robert Gardner, who told her: “This is the artwork that I have. This is my story. How do you think the artwork tells the story best?”

She said he gave her access to his archives and they worked together to create “The Impulse to Preserve,” a 384-page book on Gardner’s philosophy of creating films. She organized the content and arranged the pages of the book. Soon afterward, a publisher, Other Press, saw the design and agreed to publish her finished work.

Suzzanne Connolly, a San Francisco-based book designer at Picturia Press, says couples who want to bind the pictures from their wedding day come to her with elaborate plans. “We decide on the layout, the colour, the fonts and the style and the flow of each book,” she said. “We can find illustrators, photographers and writers for our clients if it is called for.”

One of her projects was a 52-page 7- by-7-inch soft-cover book with black-and-white photos of a man’s huskies, including one that had just died. In another project, she converted a mother’s blog into a 116-page hardcover book.

“She writes practically every day and takes lots of pictures,” Connolly said. “She wanted to convert her blog into a book so that when her children grew up they would have something wonderful to look at for each year of their lives.”

Book creators use Adobe Photoshop (about $650), but others find the simpler and less expensive Photoshop Elements (about $100) adequate. Some amateur bookmakers prefer focused scrapbooking software like Nova Development’s Art Explosion Scrapbook Factory selling for about $40. As the name might imply, the package comes with thousands of fonts, illustrations, templates and “photorealistic embellishments” like pictures of buttons, ribbons or charms.

Companies that print bound books also offer free programs. Blurb.com and Picaboo.com distribute free software with all the tools needed to start a book. They expect to make money when users upload the final versions to their websites and order printed versions. A 7- by-7-inch soft- cover book from Blurb.com starts at $13 for 20 to 40 pages, with extra pages additional. Bigger, fatter books like a 150-page 13-by-11-inch hardcover cost $85. There are volume discounts. Picaboo.com sells some 20-page soft-cover books for $10 and offers a variety of bound books including ones covered with linen or padded leather.

Eileen Gittins, the chief executive and founder of Blurb.com, says that her site is working on nurturing a culture around creating books by cultivating relationships between the amateurs and the professionals. “We’re finding that books are this very interesting way for people who want to meet up. People want to see each other’s books,” she said. “We realized we had the beginnings of a marketplace here.”

Excerpted from Globe and Mail