Sheltered place of potential

Interesting concept.  On the streets of New York City, architect John Locke (not the English philosopher) has re-purposed phone booths into communal libraries or book drops, installing bookshelves within the structures filled with books for residents to take, borrow, or exchange.

According to Locke:

As a book lover, books are something I enjoy sharing with friends or neighbors, the question was just to find the right delivery method, and once I looked at how the kiosks are structured, it seemed pretty simple to attach a shelving system to create a mini community library, and try to make a sheltered place of potential, somewhere to come together and share a good book with your neighbors.

Via designboom

For more from MadSilence on books & libraries

books need to get better

“I think that books need to get better. Publishers need to explore ways to continue to add value to the books they make. In some instances that might mean returning to some of the design values of the past, in which a book was designed to help enhance the vision of the author and to reflect the beauty and the import of what the author was trying to say.”

–Allan Kornblum, founder of Minneapolis-based Coffee House Press, an award-winning, nonprofit literary publisher dedicated to innovation in the craft of writing and preservation of the tradition of book arts.

Source:  The Business of Books: Behind the Scenes at Coffee House Press and Narrative by Paulette Beete
NEA Arts Magazine, 2010 Number 1

As an avid reader, my search for the next good read is unending.  I have to agree with Kornblum that “books need to get better” in both format and content if they are to maintain their appeal.  Alternate media have become highly competitive: e-books, movies, television, and social media.  While some value book design highly, I’m more into content and language, the beauty of the written word, plot and characterization.  Some recent reads:

The Inspector Rutledge series. Only recently discovered, these well-written books are the product of a mother and son writing team.  Well-written and intelligent, the protagonist is a British WWI veteran, haunted by the ghost of a soldier killed in the war, a constant hidden voice and critic.  Surprisingly, the concept works well.

The Temeraire series. I discovered this series via a free offer from Amazon for my Kindle.  The offer probably back-fired; instead of buying further Kindle books in the series from Amazon, I turned to my local library for author Naomi Novik’s books.  A historical fantasy series set in the Napoleonic era where armies battle with flaming dragons, this alternate history series is imaginative and spellbinding.  The value added: an engaging premise that the author makes to work.

Finally, for the WWII buff, there is the Billy Boyle World War II mystery series.  Author James R. Benn has created an engaging character, Billy Boyle, a former Boston cop now a soldier during WWII, who’s Uncle Ike embroils him in crime investigations that span the WWII battlefield.  An easy read, Benn’s interesting plots and engaging characters raise more profound questions concerning the use of force as a political tool.



The Art of Australian Poetry – National Literacy Day


UNESCO International Literacy Day

Tuesday, September 8th is UNESCO International Literacy Day!

On International Literacy Day each year, UNESCO reminds the international community of the status of literacy and adult learning globally.

September 8 was proclaimed International Literacy Day by UNESCO on November 17, 1965. It was first celebrated in 1966. Its aim is to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. On International Literacy Day each year, UNESCO reminds the international community of the status of literacy and adult learning globally. Celebrations take place around the world.

Some 774 million adults lack minimum literacy skills; one in five adults is still not literate and two-thirds of them are women; 72.1 million children are out-of-school and many more attend irregularly or drop out.

In honor of Literacy Day, I’d like to introduce one of my favorite poets, whom I recently discovered through my Australian friend.  Woohoo, that’s a big one, poetry and Australian lit in one go!  The man I’m talking about is Banjo Paterson, a man who lived through some turbulent times (1864-1941) and used words to express his love for his country and the amazing people and natural landscapes that make it unique.  Born in the bush, riding horses and working his uncle’s farm as a kid, he had many jobs including war journalist, soldier, jockey, lawyer and of course husband and father.  He’s the man who who wrote the poem “Waltzing Matilda” which was eventually set to music and became one of the most quintessentially Australian songs ever.  Here’s the Dubliners version, it made me run for the tissue box the first time I heard it:

The other poem he’s most famous for is “The Man From Snowy River:”

There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around
That the colt from old Regret had got away,
And had joined the wild bush horses – he was worth a thousand pound,
So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.
All the tried and noted riders from the stations near and far
Had mustered at the homestead overnight,
For the bushmen love hard riding where the wild bush horses are,
And the stock-horse snuffs the battle with delight…

The poem is actually really long, so you can find the full version here.  “The Man from Snowy River” actually became movie in the 80′s.  If you’ve never seen any Australian films (aka anything by director Baz Luhrmann) I’d really suggest hunting this one down, it’s a classic and absolutely beautiful.  The first 5 minutes of the movie is this poem.  I like listening to it even better then reading it…

I’d really suggest reading more of his poetry, but you might need a dictionary of Australian slang to understand it!

New Books for a New Year MadMeme!

I’ve been looking back over 2008 and realized just how many new books I’ve been exposed to this year.  Truly I’m a reader of habit – I find series and authors that I like and I read them over and over again – but living in a country with an extreme lack of books in your language forces you to take what you can get, even if it’s completely different from your normal reading fare!  I’d like to share with you my favorite of this past year, so if your resolution’s “try new books!” I hope you’ll dig into some of these!
Marcus Didius Falco Mystery Series (starting with The Silver Pigs)"The Silver Pigs" by Lindsey Davis

A fun mystery series by Lindsey Davis.  Marcus Didius Falco, handsome, witty informer in Ancient Rome, solves mysteries and murders in the ancient world.  Witty, well-written and engaging.  How good you ask?  I’m still reading after the first 12 books!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Nazi Germany.  A small girl’s escape from death and the beginning of an adventure with words of all kinds, narrated by Death himself.  A breathtaking story of life, death, kindness and cruelty.

The Book Thief by Markus ZusakMFK Fisher’s Serve It Forth

MFK Fisher is one of the staples of the food writing world.  She wrote many books on food, eating, and cooking starting in the 1920′s.  A strong character with her own ideas of freedom of lifestyle and freedom of cuisine.  Her books are usually collections of short essays about her life around the world and the foods that she discovers while traveling.  I love her introspective, almost melancholy writing style, which covers the iron will she had as a self-motivated woman in the early years of women’s independence like a velvet glove.  Serve it Forth is a brief food history interspersed with other interesting stories.

Serve it Forth by MFK FisherHeat:  An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford

Highly-placed writer/editor Bill Buford decides to take some time off from his desk job to do research for an article about  Mario Batali – from behind the front lines.  He takes his place as a kitchen slave in the three star restaurant and the transformations begin.  A slightly disturbing (soup from garbage?!) but unusual look at what really happens behind kitchen doors, spiced up with lots of wry wit and a twist of personal transformation.

Heat by Bill Buford


So now the big question is, what have you been reading?  Post this meme on your blog with a link back!

~MS the Younger

The art of the miniature book

Image source: An exhibition of a private collection displayed at the Library of Castilla in Toledo, via the Miniature Book Society

Miniature books, most of which are less than three inches tall and some of which are smaller than a penny, have delighted readers for centuries.  Popular because they are easily carried or concealed, these delightful books range from Shakespeare’s classics to tiny Holy Bibles, politics to presidents, illustrated children’s books and more…

Image source: 4000 Years of Miniature Books, online exhibition, Indiana University

What Is a Miniature Book?
According to the Miniature Book Society, Inc., in the United States, a miniature book is usually considered to be one which is no more than three inches in size–height, width or thickness. Some collectors do occasionally acquire slightly larger books. Outside of the United States, books up to four inches are collected as miniature books. Miniature books continue to be published and collected today. Go here for a Gallery of Books from Modern and Contemporary Presses.

Books the size of a playing card, a postage stamp or your thumbnail have beguiled Julian Edison since his college days. Today he has a library of many thousands of these remarkable miniatures spanning 4,000 years, almost all 3 inches high or smaller, which fill bookshelves in his library. Some might be hard to see: His smallest book is less than 1 millimeter high, printed by the Tokyo-based Toppan Printing Company in 2000. “Miniature books have been produced for reasons of practicality, curiosity and aesthetics,” he says. “Many people think of these as novelties which can’t be read, and for the most part nothing could be further from the truth. Most of them don’t require a magnifying glass to be read. The type size and the size of the book don’t necessarily correspond.” Harvard’s Houghton Library held an exhibition of highlights from the collection in 2005. In 2007, the Grolier Club in New York held an exhibition of highlights from it, to coincide with the publication of Miniature Books: 4,000 Years of Tiny Treasures (Harry N. Abrams Inc.), which Edison co-edited with Boston rare book dealer Anne C. Bromer.

L’amour et les belles, Paris 1818. Le petit chansonnier, Paris 1842. Plaisir et gaîté, Paris 1824. Miniature books from the collection of Julian I. Edison.


Tagged! Book Meme – Isabel Allende and Elizabeth Currid

We’ve been caught by Kirsten over at Now or Never, so here goes my (MS the Younger, that is) version of the Book Meme.

Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more. (No cheating!)

aphrodite cover

That would be Isabel Allende’s “Aphrodite: The Love of Food and the Food of Love.” I just got it two days ago and I’m practically done, very absorbing and classic food writing book recommended by Kel over at Kelly Speaks.

Find Page 123.

Find the first 5 sentences.

Hmm, the author is recalling a friend’s letter about a sensual meal and seduction in the wilds of Egypt with a darkly beautiful, smoky-eyed Egyptian man…

Post the next 3 sentences.

“Mahmoud insisted dinner was not over, we must have sweets. With great delicacy, he slipped a small pistachio and honey pastry into my mouth… Taste my sweet Turkish delight, he begged. It was soft, sweet, and perfumed of roses. Through the window I saw the moon lighting the Egyptian night. I chose another sweet, and bit into it, voluptuously…”

Tag 5 people.

Hmm, who would like this? Like Kirsten said, I’d love to see what other people are reading (inspiration!) so if you feel like it, let’s hear from:

Jafabrit, composeanalysis, monimania, swordfury, and Japanorama.

I wonder what book Dad has floating around?



Kirsten, here’s MadSilence the Senior’s contribution to the Book Meme:

Pick up the nearest book of 123 pages or more:

The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art, and Music Drive New York City by Elizabeth Currid.  2007 by Princeton University Press.  Comment: Quite an interesting book.  Currid has a Ph.D. in urban planning and discusses the relationship between the arts and the urban economy. 


Find Page 123.

Find the first 5 sentences.

Chapter 6, entitled Creating Buzz, Selling Cool, addresses NYC’s graffiti industry, and the commoditization of cultural goods, which allows graffiti to be sold in the global marketplace, and has led to graffiti artists who have clothing lines with Calvin Klein.

Post the next 3 sentences.

“Graffiti artists Futura 2000 and Lee Quinones, along with others such as Cope, have had business deals with Adidas, Nike, Converse, and Northface among other brands, leading to a certain “corporatization” of street culture—or rather these once subversive and  transgressive cultures are now part of a large corporate mass production.  Both Futura’s Nike and Lee’s Adidas special edition graffiti-inspired sneakers have sold for thousands on eBay.  IRAK, considered the most glamorous graffiti crew in New York City, boasts members like Dash Snow and Ryan McGinley, who have become world-famous artists and photographers, the latter documenting the lives of the [graffiti] subculture.  Even though most members of IRAK do not write graffiti anymore (mainly because, as one member put it, many are on probation, in jail, or in rehab), they are still selling the IRAK name and continue to meet for “business deals.”


The Art of Webcomics

I was browsing the web this afternoon when I was struck by the comic that had appeared in my inbox. Comics have come a damn long way since pen and paper!

A Look at Comics through Time:

Hokusai as father of modern manga? Matt Thorn’s take on “The History of Manga.


Signs of the time: holiday links

December has arrived. The weather has turned cold. Chestnuts are roasting. These and other signs are sure indications that Christmas is fast approaching.


To put you in the holiday mood the Met brings back its traditional 20-foot blue spruce, adorned with magnificent 18th-century Neapolitan angels and cherubs among its boughs and groups of realistic crèche figures flanking the Nativity scene at its base. Set in front of the 18th-century Spanish choir screen from the Cathedral of Valladolid, with recorded Christmas music in the background, the installation reflects the spirit of the holiday season.

I’ll admit that I haven’t participated in a Messiah sing-along for a number of years but I still keep the full score on my bookshelf. This magnificent oratorio by George Frideric Handel contains the Hallelujah chorus, one of the Christian world’s most popular musical works ever.  CyberBass allows you to practice your part on-line. 


And if you visit New York City you are obligated to see the tree at Rockefeller Center. Visit for a comprehensive list of New York City Christmas Shows and Events

Of course, if you’re walking the streets of Manhattan in the cold, nothing satisfies better than a bag of hot chestnuts. The sweet and rich nuts are delicious. Here is a simple recipe for this wintertime treat, also links to other recipes featuring chestnuts, such as marrons glacés, flambéed brandy chestnuts, and chestnut, leek, and mushroom tartlets. Courtesy of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 


A partridge in a pair of trees? If you’re like me you’ve confused the words of those favorite Christmas carols through sheer overuse. You can find the words to more than 120 different carols at the Christmas Carols Database.

Partridges aside, when the Junco appears in the backyard it’s certain the cold weather is here to stay. My backyard feeders, filled with black oil sunflower seed and suet cakes, attract Juncos, Chickadees, Cardinals, Blue Jays, English Sparrows, Mourning Doves, crows, grackles, and a variety of woodpeckers. juncos.jpg Visit the exceptional Cornell Lab of Ornithology to learn more. Then there’s the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Every year, more than 50,000 people participate in this all-day census of early-winter bird populations. 


My personal Christmas tradition includes an annual reading of A Christmas Carol. Written by Charles Dickens in 1843, the novel has become one of the most popular and enduring Christmas stories of all time. This eBook contains the complete text as well as the original illustrations. Enjoy.

By the way, check out the frontpiece from the first edition of A Christmas Carol.  Old Fezziwig could surely dance!


A positive light appeared to issue from Fezziwig’s calves. They shone in every part of the dance like moons. You couldn’t have predicted, at any given time, what would have become of them next. And when old Fezziwig and Mrs. Fezziwig had gone all through the dance; advance and retire, both hands to your partner, bow and curtsey, corkscrew, thread-the-needle, and back again to your place; Fezziwig “cut”—cut so deftly, that he appeared to wink with his legs, and came upon his feet again without a stagger.

Of course, many celebrations, both religious and secular, take place during or near wintertime. Visit Yahoo! Events for information about Holiday Traditions Around the World.

[Scrooge] had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

Related links:  Holiday dazzler from MadSilence 

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year, from MadSilence

Not with a bang, but a whimper

to-read-or-not-to-read.jpgThis is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a whimper. —T. S. Eliot

The Talmud and the Koran allege that a library existed before the creation of the world. The Vedas take this singular idea one audacious step further: a library existed before the creator himself. Such is the fabulous potency of the idea of the book.  —From The Economist

It is appallingly shameful that literature should die, not through the willful or careless destruction of books, but from neglect.

On November 19, 2007, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced the release of To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence, a new and comprehensive analysis of reading patterns in the United States. The story is a sad one.

From the preface:

The story the data tell is simple, consistent, and alarming. Although there has been measurable progress in recent years in reading ability at the elementary school level, all progress appears to halt as children enter their teenage years. There is a general decline in reading among teenage and adult Americans. Most alarming, both reading ability and the habit of regular reading have greatly declined among college graduates. These negative trends have more than literary importance. As this report makes clear, the declines have demonstrable social, economic, cultural, and civic implications.
How does one summarize this disturbing story? As Americans, especially younger Americans, read less, they read less well. Because they read less well, they have lower levels of academic achievement. (ie shameful fact that nearly one-third of American teenagers drop out of school is deeply connected to declining literacy and reading comprehension.) With lower levels of reading and writing ability, people do less well in the job market. Poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages, and fewer opportunities for advancement. Significantly worse reading skills are found among prisoners than in the general adult population. And deficient readers are less likely to become active in civic and cultural life, most notably in volunteerism and voting.

Among the key findings:

  • Americans are reading less – teens and young adults read less often and for shorter amounts of time compared with other age groups and with Americans of previous years.
  • Americans are reading less well– reading scores continue to worsen, especially among teenagers and young males. By contrast, the average reading score of 9-year-olds has improved.
  • The declines in reading have civic, social, and economic implications – Advanced readers accrue personal, professional, and social advantages. Deficient readers run higher risks of failure in all three areas.

Is there a positive message?  According to Sunil Iyengar, NEA Director of Research and Analysis, there may be some hope:

“This report shows striking statistical links between reading, advanced reading skills, and other individual and social benefits. To Read or Not to Read compels us to consider more carefully how we spend our time, since those choices affect us individually and collectively.”

Related links:
Report: Americans Reading Less from Time Magazine (11/19/07)
Libraries: Nasty, dangerous things from The Economist (10/25/07)
The Big Read from the National Endowment for the Arts



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