The National Emergency Library Makes 1.5 Million Books Free to Read Right Now

The coronavirus has closed libraries in countries all around the world. Or rather, it's closed physical libraries: each week of struggle against the epidemic that goes by, more resources for books open to the public on the internet. Most recently, we have the Internet Archive's opening of the National Emergency Library, "a collection of books that supports emergency remote teaching, research activities, independent scholarship, and intellectual stimulation while universities, schools, training centers, and libraries are closed." While the "national" in the name refers to the United States, where the Internet Archive operates, anyone in the world can read its nearly 1.5 million books, immediately and without waitlists, from now "through June 30, 2020, or the end of the US national emergency, whichever is later."

"Not to be sneezed at is the sheer pleasure of browsing through the titles," writes The New Yorker's Jill Lepore of the National Emergency Library, going on to mention such volumes as How to Succeed in Singing, Interesting Facts about How Spiders Live, and An Introduction to Kant’s Philosophy, as well as "Beckett on Proust, or Bloom on Proust, or just On Proust." A historian of America, Lepore finds herself reminded of the Council on Books in Wartime, "a collection of libraries, booksellers, and publishers, founded in 1942." On the premise that "books are useful, necessary, and indispensable," the council "picked over a thousand volumes, from Virginia Woolf’s The Years to Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, and sold the books, around six cents a copy, to the U.S. military." By practically giving away 120 million copies of such books, the project "created a nation of readers."

In fact, the Council on Books in Wartime created more than a nation of readers: the American "soldiers and sailors and Army nurses and anyone else in uniform" who received these books passed them along, or even left them behind in the far-flung places they'd been stationed. Haruki Murakami once told the Paris Review of his youth in Kobe, "a port city where many foreigners and sailors used to come and sell their paperbacks to the secondhand bookshops. I was poor, but I could buy paperbacks cheaply. I learned to read English from those books and that was so exciting." Seeing as Murakami himself later translated The Big Sleep into his native Japanese, it's certainly not impossible that an Armed Services Edition counted among his purchases back then.

Now, in translations into English and other languages as well, we can all read Murakami's work — novels like Norwegian Wood and Kafka on the Shore, short-story collections like The Elephant Vanishes, and even the memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running — free at the National Emergency Library. The most popular books now available include everything from Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale to the Kama SutraDr. Seuss's ABC to Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (and its two sequels), Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart to, in disconcerting first place, Sylvia Browne's End of Days: Predictions and Prophecy About the End of the World. You'll even find, in the original French as well as English translation, Albert Camus' existential epidemic novel La Peste, or The Plague, featured earlier this month here on Open Culture. And if you'd rather not confront its subject matter at this particular moment, you'll find more than enough to take your mind elsewhere. Enter the National Emergency Library here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Spring Break vs. COVID-19: Mapping the Real Impact of Ignoring Social Distancing

Yesterday, the United States surpassed China, becoming the world leader in COVID-19 infections. It's not hard to understand why. Social distancing remains very uneven. Domestic travel continues unchecked. Asymptomatic carriers stay on the move. Starting on the coasts, COVID-19 is now moving inexorably across the nation, coming to a city or town near you.

If you want to get a glimpse of how COVID-19 can spread, watch this clip from Tectonix GEO. It uses data from anonymized mobile devices to trace the movement of Spring Break partiers who congregated at one single Ft. Lauderdale beach, then moved back across the United States, in each case potentially bringing the virus with them. It's a quick case study showing how an infectious disease can spread through a country that wants to remain mobile come hell, pandemic, or high water.

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Watch a Sweet Film Adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Story, “Long Walk to Forever”

Shame, shame to have lived scenes from a women’s magazine. —Kurt Vonnegut

In his introduction to Welcome to the Monkey House, a collection of his short fiction published in 1968, Kurt Vonnegut shows no compunction about throwing its most mainstream entry under the bus:

In honor of the marriage that worked I include in this collection a sickeningly slick love story from The Ladies Home Journal, God help us, entitled by them “Long Walk to Forever.” The title I gave it, I think, was “Hell to Get Along With.”

The simple tale, published, as noted, by Ladies Home Journal in 1960, bears a lot of similarities to events of Vonnegut’s own life. After WWII, having survived the bombing of Dresden as a POW, he made his way back to Indianapolis, and invited Jane Cox, the friend he’d known since kindergarten, who was engaged to another man, to take a walk, during which he suggested she should marry him instead.

Director Jessica Hester's recent, Kurt Vonnegut Trust-sanctioned adaptation, above, plays it pretty straight, as do several other unauthorized versions lurking on the Internet.

She ups Newt’s rank to corporal from private, and replaces the glossy bridal magazine Catherine is thumbing through when Newt knocks with a coterie of attentive bridesmaids and little girls, apparently getting a jump on their nuptial fussing.

The magazine's omission is unfortunate.

In the story, Newt asks to see “the pretty book,” forcing Catherine to bring up the impending wedding. Its physical reality then offers Newt a handy emotional refuge, from whence he can crack wise about rosy brides while pretending to read an ad for flatware.

Without that prop, he's preternaturally aware of the names of silver patterns.

And as an Indianapolis native who went to school in the orchard where the story is set, and who can confirm that it's in earshot of the bells from the Indiana School for the Blind, I found it jarring to see the action transposed to New York’s Westchester County. (For those keeping score, it was shot on location in Croton State Park and the Rockefeller State Park).

(Breaking Away’s rock quarry aside, the Hoosier State just doesn’t have those sorts of high-up water views.)

Hester honors Vonnegut’s dialoguenearly everything that comes out of the characters’ mouths originated on the page, while providing a young female director’s spin on this material, half a century removed from its publication.

As she describes it on the storytelling platform Feminist Wednesday, the film gently satirizes the institution of matrimony and the importance placed upon it. It is also, she says:

...a story about courage, as the female has to face herself, her ideas, and her values… Catherine’s journey is so raw, terrifying in the most honest way, and heartfelt yet extremely funny because it is so relatable. 

Something tells me the author wouldn't have put it that way … his Monkey House intro, maybe.

But his admiration for his less-than-traditional muse, avid reader and writer Jane Cox, from whom he split after 26 years of marriage, was immense.

Ginger Strand’s profile in The New Yorker quotes the household constitution Cox drafted after their 1945 marriage:

We cannot and will not live in and be hogtied by a society which not only has not faith in the things we have faith in, but which reviles and damns that faith with practically every breath it draws.

Hester’s crowd-funded film, which the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library included as part of a COVID-19 crisis Virtual Vonnegut Fun Pack("Have a box of Kleenex at the ready!")was shot in 2014.

Had production been delayed by a few years, one wonders if the filmmakers would have come under  intense pressure to frame Newt’s refusal to take Catherine’s rejections at face value, his insistence that she continue the walk, and that unvetted kiss as something pernicious and intentional.

If so, we’re glad the film made it into the can when it did.

And we confess, we don’t really share Vonnegut’s avowed distaste for the story, though New York Times critic Mitchel Levitas did, in an otherwise favorable review of Welcome to the Monkey House:

This Vonnegut is obviously a lovable fellow. Moreover, he's right about the story, which is indeed a sickening and slick little nothing about a soldier who goes A.W.O.L. in order—How to say it?—to sweep his girl from the steps of the altar into his strong and loving arms.

Here's to future adaptations of this Ladies Home Journal-approved story by one of our favorite authors. May they capture something of his tartness, and forgo a sentimental soundtrack in favor of a chickadee whose cameo appearance after the School for the Blind’s bells prefigures Slaughterhouse-Five’s famous “Poo-tee-weet?"

"*chick-a-dee-dee-dee*," went a chickadee.

This adaptation of  Vonnegut's “Long Walk to Forever” will be added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain is on COVID-19 hiatus. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Nine Inch Nails Releases 2 Free Albums: They’re Now Ready to Download

Image by via Wikimedia Commons

FYI: Nine Inch Nails has released two new albums to help you weather the global storm. Download them for free here.

The offer comes prefaced with these words from the band...









Patrick Stewart Is Reading Every Shakespeare Sonnet on Instagram: One a Day “to Keep the Doctor Away”

He is a “geek cultural icon”: Captain Picard and Professor X. We’ve heard him gamely voice a ridiculous animated character in American Dad. We know him as an advocate for victims of domestic violence, a tragic reality he witnessed as a child. There are many sides to Patrick Stewart, but at his core, Shakespeare nerds know, he’s a Shakespearean. Maybe you’ve seen him in 2010’s Ceaușescu-inspired Macbeth or the 2012 BBC production of Richard II, or as Claudius in 2009’s televised Royal Shakespeare Company Hamlet, with David Tennant in the title role?

Only the most enviable nerds, however, have seen him live on stage with the RSC, in any number of roles, minor and major, that he has played since joining the company in 1966. He’s as august a Shakespearean actor as Olivier or Gielgud. So, imagine Olivier or Gielgud reading a Shakespeare sonnet to you every day, right in the comfort of your own home. Maybe even better (some might say), we have the mellifluous Stewart delivering the goods, to soothe us in our days of isolation.

After receiving a very enthusiastic response when he “randomly and elegantly recited Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 to his fans on social media,” writes Laughing Squid, Stewart “decided to read one Shakespeare sonnet aloud each day in hopes of ‘keeping the doctor away.’” Think of it as preventative medicine for the itchy, cooped-up soul. On his Instagram, Sir Patrick shows up lounging comfortably in casual clothes, furthering the illusion that he’s joined us in our living rooms—or we’ve joined him in his.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Patrick Stewart (@sirpatstew) on

Where the intimacy of celebrity social media can sometimes feel cloying and insincere, Stewart seems to feel so genuinely at home with his setting and his text that we do too. The actor occasionally adds some brief commentary. In his reading of Sonnet 2, above, he says before beginning, “this is one of my favorites.”

When forty winters shall besiege thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field,
Thy youth's proud livery so gazed on now,
Will be a totter'd weed of small worth held: 
Then being asked, where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days; 
To say, within thine own deep sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame, and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserv'd thy beauty's use,
If thou couldst answer 'This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count, and make my old excuse,'
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel'st it cold.

Maybe we all feel we’re growing old in the boredom and anxiety of our new siege-like conditions. The poet urges us to make the most it. Sure, plenty of people are already engaged in making children, without any help from Shakespeare or Patrick Stewart, but those who aren’t might decide to work on other legacies that will outlive them.

Stewart tells Variety that his only regret during his time with the RSC is that he “might have perhaps been a rather bolder, pushier and more extravagant actor.” But it’s his understatement and subtlety that make him so compelling. He also says that his first year with the RSC was, “at that point, the happiest year of my working life,” though he was only cast to play small roles until he was made an Associate Artist in 1967, just one year after joining.


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A post shared by Patrick Stewart (@sirpatstew) on

He worked alongside a “new nucleus of talent” that included Helen Mirren and Ben Kingsley and remained exclusively with the company until 1982. (See a young Stewart as Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream production from 1977.) Stewart returned to the stage with the RSC often, and while his Instagram readings are hardly comparable in scope and intensity to his Shakespearean work on stage and screen, they have proven a true balm for lovers of Shakespeare's poetry, as read by Patrick Stewart as a loveably bookish homebody, which turns out to be an unsurprisingly large number of people.

If you’re in dire need of such a thing—or just can’t miss the opportunity to see one of the greatest living Shakespearean actors read all of the Sonnets in his sweats—check in with Stewart’s Instagram to get caught up and for the latest installment, and follow along with poems here. For even more Shakespearean Stewart geekery, read his recollection of his 1965 Royal Shakespeare Company audition—in which company co-founder John Barton had him perform Henry V’s famous Agincourt speech four times in a row before inviting him to join.

via Laughing Squid

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

How to Teach and Learn Philosophy During the Pandemic: A Collection of 450+ Philosophy Videos Free Online

The term philosophy, as every introductory course first explains, means the love of wisdom. And as the oldest intellectual discipline, philosophy has proven that the love of wisdom can withstand the worst human history can throw at it. Civilizations may rise and fall, but sooner or later we always find ways to get back to philosophizing. The current coronavirus pandemic, the most frightening global event most of us have seen in our lifetimes, doesn't quite look like a civilization-ender, though it has forced many of us to change the way we live and learn. In short, we're doing much more of it online, and a new collection of educational videos free online is keeping philosophy in the mix.

"In order to aid philosophy professors during the pandemic as they transition from in-person to online teaching, Liz Jackson (ANU) and Tyron Goldschmidt (Rochester) created a spreadsheet of videorecorded philosophy classes and lectures," writes Daily Nous' Justin Weinberg. At the time of Weinberg's post on Monday, the spreadsheet, available as an open Google document, contained more than 200 videos, a number that has since more than doubled to 457 and counting.

You'll find an abundance of introductory courses to the entire subject of philosophy as well as to subfields like logic and ethics, and also specialized lecture series on everything from Hume and Nietzsche to Stoicism and metaphysics to death and the problem of evil.

Weinberg adds that "anyone can add their own videos or ones that they know about," so if you're aware of any video philosophy courses that haven't appeared on the spreadsheet yet, you can contribute to this ongoing effort in at-home philosophy by inserting them yourself. Even as it is, Jackson and Goldshmidt's course collection offers more than enough to give yourself a rich philosophical education in this time of isolation — or, if you're a philosophy professor yourself, a way to enrich any remote teaching you have to do right now. Putting as it does so close at hand lectures by such figures previously featured here on Open Culture as Nigel Warburton, Michael SandelPeter Adamson, and the inimitable Rick Roderick, it reminds us that the love of wisdom is best expressed in a variety of voices.

In addition to the spreadsheet, can find many more philosophy videos in our collection, Free Online Philosophy Courses.

via Daily Nous

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Stream All 18 Hours of Ken Burns’ Baseball for Free on What Would Have Been Opening Day

Baseball season won't start today, on what would have been Open Day. So here's your next best bet. As Sam Barsanti writes at AV Club, "PBS and the world’s preeminent director of extremely watchable and extremely long documentaries have a special treat: The entirety of Ken Burns’ Baseball—over 18 hours—is now available to stream for free on the PBS website and all of its related apps."

It's no coincidence that Burns' documentary becomes free during COVID-19. On Twitter, Burns adds: "With events canceled & so much closed, I asked @PBS to stream BASEBALL for free so we can participate in the national pastime together. Watch at the link below or on any streaming device. And please look out for those with greater needs. Play ball."

What’s the Function of Criticism? Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #36 with Critic Noah Berlatsky

Do we need professional critics regulating our entertainment intake?  Noah has written for numerous publications including The Washington Post, The Atlantic, NBC News, The Guardian, Slate, and Vox, and his work has come up for discussion in multiple past Pretty Much Pop episodes.

He was invited to join hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt in spelling out the functions of criticism, the idea of criticism as art, ideological vs. aesthetic critique, and whether there's anything wrong with being negative about other people's art. While we talk mostly about film, Noah also writes about TV, comics, music and more.

First, read some articles by Noah about criticism:

Other authors speaking on the utility of critics:

Here are some examples of Noah's critical work relevant to what came up in the interview and our recent episodes:

Included here with Noah's permission, here's some criticism directed at Noah:

At the end, after Noah leaves, Mark lays out a taxonomy of criticism: supporter, decoder, taste enforcer, and hater. Noah practices all of these! Follow him on Twitter @nberlat and get scads of his writing by supporting him at

Watch Mel Brooks' depiction of the very first critic.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Free: Austin City Limits Opens Up Video Archives During COVID-19 Pandemic

Austin City Limits--an PBS music program recorded live in Austin, Texas--has decided to open its archives "as a gift to music fans during the current live music moratorium." They write: "Starting March 23, the perennial television series will make fan-favorite episodes from the recently broadcast Season 45 available for streaming, in addition to the entire slate of programs from the previous two seasons of the acclaimed concert showcase. Over 35 ACL installments will be available to stream free online at offering a wide variety of music’s finest from every genre. here’s something for everyone: an electrifying hour with guitar hero Gary Clark Jr.; an epic stage journey with 2020’s Grammy-winning global pop phenom Billie Eilish; supergroup The Raconteurs, featuring Jack White and Brendan Benson, in an all-out hour of pure rock and roll."

Get more information here, and stream episodes here.

Above you can watch Robert Plant on Austin City Limits during a show recorded in 2016.

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Take a Virtual Tour of the Paris Catacombs

The Paris Catacombs is “one of those places,” wrote photographer Félix Nadar, “that everyone wants to see and no one wants to see again.” If anyone would know, Nadar would. He spent three months in and out of the underground city of death, with its macabre piles of skulls and crossbones, taking photographs (see here) that would help turn it into an internationally famous tourist attraction. In these days of quarantine, no one can see it; the site is closed until further notice. But if you’re the type of person who enjoys touring necropolises, you can still get your fix with a virtual visit.

Why would anyone want to do this, especially during a global outbreak? The Catacombs have attracted seekers after morbid curiosities and spiritual and philosophical truths for over two hundred years, through revolutions, massacres, and plagues.

A stark, haunting reminder of what Nadar called “the egalitarian confusion of death,” they witness mutely, without euphemism, to the future we are all assured, no matter our rank or position. They began as a disordered pile of bones in the late 18th century, transferred from overcrowded cemeteries and became a place where “a Merovingian king remains in eternal silence next to those massacred in September ‘92” during the French Revolution.

Contemplations of death, especially in times of war, plague, famine, and other shocks and crises, have been an integral part of many cultural coping mechanisms, and often involve meditations on corpses and graveyards. The Catacombs are no different, a sprawling memento mori named after the Roman catacombs, “which had fascinated the public since their discovery,” as the official site notes. Expanded, renovated, and rebuilt during the time of Napoleon and later during the extensive renovations of Paris in the mid-19th century, the site was first “consecrated as the ‘Paris Municipal Ossuary’ on April 7, 1786” and opened to the public in 1809.

It is a place that reminds us how all conflicts end. To the “litany of royal and impoverished dead from French history,” writes Allison Meier at the Public Domain Review, Nadar added in his essay on the Catacombs “the names of revolutionary victims and perpetrators like Maximilien Robespierre and Jean-Paul Marat.” Ruminations on the universal nature of death may be an odd diversion for some, and for others an urgent reminder to find out what matters to them in life. Learn more about the fascinating history of the Paris Catacombs here and begin your virtual visit here.

via Boing Boing

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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