Bill Gates Recommends Five Books for Summer 2017

Summer just officially got underway. So that means it's time for Bill Gates, once again, to serve up a new Summer Reading List. This list will help you "think deeper about what it means to truly connect with other people and to have purpose in your life." Or "what it’s like to grow up outside the mainstream: as a child of mixed race in apartheid South Africa, as a young man trying to escape his impoverished life in rural Appalachia, or as the son of a peanut farmer in Plains, Georgia."

So, with no further ado, here's Bill Gates' five recommended reads for the summer. In what follows, this is all Bill speaking:

Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah. As a longtime fan of The Daily Show, I loved reading this memoir about how its host honed his outsider approach to comedy over a lifetime of never quite fitting in. Born to a black South African mother and a white Swiss father in apartheid South Africa, he entered the world as a biracial child in a country where mixed race relationships were forbidden. Much of Noah’s story of growing up in South Africa is tragic. Yet, as anyone who watches his nightly monologues knows, his moving stories will often leave you laughing.

The Heart, by Maylis de Kerangal. While you’ll find this book in the fiction section at your local bookstore, what de Kerangal has done here in this exploration of grief is closer to poetry than anything else. At its most basic level, she tells the story of a heart transplant: a young man is killed in an accident, and his parents decide to donate his heart. But the plot is secondary to the strength of its words and characters. The book uses beautiful language to connect you deeply with people who may be in the story for only a few minutes....

Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance. The disadvantaged world of poor white Appalachia described in this terrific, heartbreaking book is one that I know only vicariously. Vance was raised largely by his loving but volatile grandparents, who stepped in after his father abandoned him and his mother showed little interest in parenting her son. Against all odds, he survived his chaotic, impoverished childhood only to land at Yale Law School. While the book offers insights into some of the complex cultural and family issues behind poverty, the real magic lies in the story itself and Vance’s bravery in telling it.

Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari. I recommended Harari’s previous book Sapiens in last summer’s reading list, and this provocative follow-up is just as challenging, readable, and thought-provoking. Homo Deus argues that the principles that have organized society will undergo a huge shift in the 21st century, with major consequences for life as we know it. So far, the things that have shaped society—what we measure ourselves by—have been either religious rules about how to live a good life, or more earthly goals like getting rid of sickness, hunger, and war. What would the world be like if we actually achieved those things? I don’t agree with everything Harari has to say, but he has written a smart look at what may be ahead for humanity.

A Full Life, by Jimmy Carter. Even though the former President has already written more than two dozen books, he somehow managed to save some great anecdotes for this quick, condensed tour of his fascinating life. I loved reading about Carter’s improbable rise to the world’s highest office. The book will help you understand how growing up in rural Georgia in a house without running water, electricity, or insulation shaped—for better and for worse—his time in the White House. Although most of the stories come from previous decades, A Full Life feels timely in an era when the public’s confidence in national political figures and institutions is low.

via Gates Notes

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The Art of the Marbler: An Enchanting Film on the Centuries-Old Craft of Making Handmade Marbled Paper

The current mode of scandal in business and politics involves email and tweets rather than memoranda. But we do not yet live a paperless world, even if you haven’t dusted your printer in months. Book production and sales continue to rise, for example, defying predictions of a few years back that eBooks would overtake print. Even if we have to someday make paper in laboratories rather than forests and mills, it’s hard to imagine readers ever letting go of the pleasures of its textures and smells, or of simple, yet satisfying acts like placing a favorite paper bookmark in the creases.

We do, however, seem to live in a largely stationary-less world, and we have for some time. As the fine art of making artisanal papers recedes into history, so too does the printing of books with marbled covers and pages.

Yet, if you have on your shelf hardback books anywhere from 30 to 130 years old, you no doubt have a few with marbled patterns on them or in them. And if you’ve ever wondered about this strange art form, wonder no more. The 1970 British educational film, “The Art of the Marbler,” above, offers a broad overview of this fascinating “material which has covered books for many centuries.”

Produced by Bedfordshire Record Office of Cockerell Marbling and directed by K.V. Whitbread, the short film is a marvel of quaintness. It effortlessly achieves the kind of quirk Wes Anderson’s films strive for simply by being itself. We learn that every marbled paper, unlike Christmas wrapping paper, is a “separate and unique original.” And that the process is precious and specialized, and nearly all done by hand. Lest we become too enamored of the idea that marbling is strictly a historical curiosity these days, the mesmerizing video above from 2011 by Seyit Uygur shows us up close how his parents perform the art of Ebru, Turkish for paper marbling.

Marbling, the “printmaking technique that basically looks like capturing a galaxy on a page,” as Emma Dajska writes at Rookie, became quite popular in the Islamic world, where intricate patterns stood in lieu of portraits. But the process originated neither in England nor Turkey, but in China and, later, Japan, where it is known as Suminagashi, or “floating ink.” The Japanese technique, as you can see in the video tutorial above from Chrystal Shaulis, is very different from British Marbling or Turkish Ebru, seeming to combine the methods of Jackson Pollack with those of the Zen gardener. However it’s done, the results, as “The Art of the Marbler” tells and shows us, are each one a “unique original.”

"The Art of the Marbler" will be added to our list of Free Documentaries, a subset of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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

Free Libraries Shaped Like Doctor Who’s Time-Traveling TARDIS Pop Up in Detroit, Saskatoon, Macon & Other Cities

Image courtesy of Dan Zemke.

If you live in a major American city — and maybe even if you live in a major non-American one — you may well have come across a Little Free Library, those boxes of books open to the public for whomever would like to take one or leave one. Most Little Free Libraries, often put up on private property by the residents of that property, tend to look like oversized birdhouses, but none of the program's rules requires them to look that way. A Tokyo subway station, for instance, built one to resemble a subway car. Other industrious Little Free Library members have used the opportunity to pay tribute to their obsessions, and few obsessions run as deep (deeper, even, than the obsession for trains in Japan) as the one for Doctor Who.

The English genre-bending speculative-fiction show has, since its debut on the BBC back in 1963, followed the titular Doctor (just "the Doctor," not "Doctor Who," and certainly never "Dr. Who") through many dramatic changes of settings, and even more notably changes of actors, as he falls into adventures with the various Earthlings he encounters. Always on the move, the Doctor gets around by means of a machine called a TARDIS, which stands for "Time And Relative Dimension In Space." Theoretically able to change its shape depending on the period of time it lands in, the TARDIS — in a neat demonstration of the creativity that arises from constraints, in this case a severely limited production budget — gets permanently stuck in the shape of a London police call box, thus repurposing one of the best-known icons of English cities into one of the best-known icons of English television.

The best-known TARDIS-shaped Little Free Library, which appears at the top of this post, entered service in a vacant lot in Detroit, a place by now well used to making urban improvements by hand. The father and son behind it "began work last Labor Day, and were aided by an online building community called Tardis Builders," writes The Verge's Andrew Liptak.

"The final structure stands almost 10 feet tall, weighs almost a ton, and its front shelves holds around 140 books." These videos show off other book-lending TARDISes in North America, from Bloomington, Indiana to Macon, Georgia to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan — all standing evidence of how far Doctor Who's appeal has spread beyond its native culture.

As much as it may seem like nothing more than the proudly nerdy pursuit of worshipful fans, building a Little Free Library (or in most of these cases, a not-so-Little Free Library) in the form of a TARDIS has a certain conceptual validity in and of itself. As every Doctor Who viewer knows, the TARDIS, not just a device enabling travel to any point in time-space, accomplishes another kind of spatial feat by having an interior much larger than its the exterior. “We thought it would be cool to fill the TARDIS with items that are large on the inside, like books that hold whole literary worlds,” says Dan Zemke, co-builder of the one in Detroit, in Parade article. Borges, as well as all the other most brilliant speculative minds before Doctor Who and after it, would no doubt approve.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Hayao Miyazaki Picks His 50 Favorite Children’s Books

Once upon a time, books served as the de facto refuge of the “physically weak” child. For animation legend, Hayao Miyazaki, above, they offered an escape from the grimmer realities of post-World War II Japan.

Many of the 50 favorites he selected for a 2010 exhibition honoring publisher Iwanami Shoten's "Boy's Books” series are time-tested Western classics.

Loners and orphans--The Little Prince, The Secret Garden--figure prominently, as do talking animals (The Wind in the Willows, Winnie-the-Pooh, The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle).

And while it may be a commonly-held publishing belief that boys won’t read stories about girls, the young Miyazaki seemed to have no such bias, ranking Heidi and Laura Ingalls Wilder right alongside Tom Sawyer and Treasure Island’s pirates.

Several of the titles that made the cut were ones he could only have encountered as a grown up, including 1967’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and When Marnie Was There, the latter eventually serving as source material for a Studio Ghibli movie, as did Miyazaki’s top pick, Mary Norton’s The Borrowers.

We invite you to take a nostalgic stroll through Miyazaki’s best-loved children’s books. Readers, how many have you read?

Hayao Miyazaki’s Top 50 Children’s Books

  1. The Borrowers -- Mary Norton
  2. The Little Prince -- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  3. Children of Noisy Village -- Astrid Lindgren
  4. When Marnie Was There -- Joan G. Robinson
  5. Swallows and Amazons -- Arthur Ransome
  6. The Flying Classroom -- Erich Kästner
  7. There Were Five of Us -- Karel Poláček
  8. What the Neighbours Did, and Other Stories -- Ann Philippa Pearce
  9. Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates -- Mary Mapes Dodge
  10. The Secret Garden -- Frances Hodgson Burnett
  11. Eagle of The Ninth -- Rosemary Sutcliff
  12. The Treasure of the Nibelungs -- Gustav Schalk
  13. The Three Musketeers -- Alexandre Dumas, père
  14. A Wizard of Earthsea -- Ursula K. Le Guin
  15. Les Princes du Vent -- Michel-Aime Baudouy
  16. The Flambards Series -- K. M. Peyton
  17. Souvenirs entomologiques -- Jean Henri Fabre
  18. The Long Winter -- Laura Ingalls Wilder
  19. A Norwegian Farm -- Marie Hamsun
  20. Heidi -- Johanna Spyri
  21. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer -- Mark Twain
  22. Little Lord Fauntleroy -- Frances Hodgson Burnett
  23. Tistou of the Green Thumbs -- Maurice Druon
  24. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes -- Arthur Conan Doyle
  25. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler -- E. L. Konigsburg
  26. The Otterbury Incident -- Cecil Day-Lewis
  27. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland -- Lewis Carroll
  28. The Little Bookroom -- Eleanor Farjeon
  29. The Forest is Alive or Twelve Months -- Samuil Yakovlevich Marshak
  30. The Restaurant of Many Orders -- Kenji Miyazawa
  31. Winnie-the-Pooh -- A. A. Milne
  32. Nihon Ryōiki -- Kyokai
  33. Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio -- Pu Songling
  34. Nine Fairy Tales: And One More Thrown in For Good Measure -- Karel Čapek
  35. The Man Who Has Planted Welsh Onions -- Kim So-un
  36. Robinson Crusoe -- Daniel Defoe
  37. The Hobbit -- J. R. R. Tolkien
  38. Journey to the West -- Wu Cheng'en
  39. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea -- Jules Verne
  40. The Adventures of the Little Onion -- Gianni Rodari
  41. Treasure Island -- Robert Louis Stevenson
  42. The Ship that Flew -- Hilda Winifred Lewis
  43. The Wind in the Willows -- Kenneth Grahame
  44. The Little Humpbacked Horse -- Pyotr Pavlovich Yershov (Ershoff)
  45. The Little White Horse -- Elizabeth Goudge
  46. The Rose and the Ring -- William Makepeace Thackeray
  47. The Radium Woman -- Eleanor Doorly
  48. City Neighbor, The Story of Jane Addams -- Clara Ingram Judson
  49. Ivan the Fool -- Leo Tolstoy
  50. The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle -- Hugh Lofting

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  She’ll be appearing onstage in New York City this June as one of the clowns in Paul David Young’s Faust 3. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Download 200+ Free Modern Art Books from the Guggenheim Museum

For at least half a decade now, New York's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has been digitizing its exhibition catalogs and other art books. Now you can find all of the publications made available so far — not just to read, but to download in PDF and ePub formats — at the Internet Archive. If you've visited the Guggenheim's non-digital location on Fifth Avenue even once, you know how much effort the institution puts toward the preservation and presentation of modern art, and that comes through as much in its printed material as it does in its shows.

Among the more than 200 Guggenheim art books available on the Internet Archive, you'll find one on a 1977 retrospective of Color Field painter Kenneth Noland, one on the ever-vivid icon-making pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, and one on the existential slogans — "MONEY CREATES TASTE," "PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT," "LACK OF CHARISMA CAN BE FATAL" — slyly, digitally inserted into the lives of thousands by Jenny Holzer. Other titles, like Expressionism, a German Intuition 1905-1920From van Gogh to Picasso, from Kandinsky to Pollock, and painter Wassily Kandinsky's own Point and Line to Plane, go deeper into art history.

Where to start amid all these books of modern (and even some of pre-modern) art? You might consider first having a look at the books in the Internet Archive's Guggenheim collection about the Guggenheim itself: the handbook to its collection up through 1980, for instance, or 1991's Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collection: From Picasso to Pollock, or the following year's Guggenheim Museum A to Z, or Art of this Century: The Guggenheim Museum and its Collection from the year after that. But just as when you pay a visit to the Guggenheim itself, you shouldn't worry too much about what order you see everything in; the important thing is to look with interest.

Explore the collection of 200+ art books and catalogues here.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Read Vladimir Mayakovsky’s Children’s Book Whom Should I Be?: A Classic from the “Golden Age” in Soviet Children’s Literature

In the first decade or so of the Soviet Union’s existence, “avant-garde experimenters emerged from obscurity to benefit from actual state sponsorship," writes Harvard professor of Russian Literature Ainsley Morse. Their  "aesthetic radicalism jibed nicely with political turmoil.” Among these artists were Futurists and Formalists, poets, painters, actors, directors, and many who fit into all of these categories. Most famous among them—the rakish romantic poet, writer, artist, actor, playwright, and filmmaker Vladimir Mayakovsky—had already achieved a great deal of notoriety by 1917. After the Revolution, he threw himself, “wholeheartedly” into creating playful, optimistic agitprop for the Party and “became a foghorn for socialism.”

At least at first. “In hindsight,” Morse laments, it’s hard to see the careers of these early Soviet artists “without wincing: all of these artists and writers getting cozy with the state machine that would shortly bring about their mental and physical destruction: imprisonment, exile, starvation, and suicide.” Sadly, the last of these was to be Mayakovsky’s fate; he killed himself in 1930, as Stalin’s paranoid totalitarianism began to gain strength. Yet throughout the 1920s, Mayakovsky was “driven by ideological commitment,” as well as “financial exigency,” writes Robert Bird at the University of Chicago’s “Adventures in the Soviet Imaginary.” The wildly imaginative and idealistic poet “transformed the popular media landscape of Russia" under Lenin.

Though he was harshly criticized by other artists for his work as a propagandist, “under his pen Russian poetry began to speak with a more flexible and expressive (even anarchic) play of sound and rhythm." Maykovsky applied his talents not only to posters and poetry for adults, but to works for children as well. “The early years of the Soviet Union were a golden age for children’s literature,” notes the New York Review of Books in their description of The Fire Horse, an early example of Soviet pedagogy from Mayakovsky and fellow poets Osip Mandelstam and Daniil Kharms. The pages you see here come from the first edition of another classic Mayakovsky children’s work—a long poem called Whom Shall I Be?, first published, with illustrations by Nisson Shifrin, in 1932, two years after the author’s death.

In these verses, Mayakovsky exhorts his readers to choose their own path, “create their own identities,” even as the book channels their desires “into specific existing roles" predetermined by a seemingly very limited number of professional choices (all for men). Nevertheless, in final lines of Whom Shall I Be? Mayakovsky writes, “All jobs are fine for you: / Choose / for your own taste!” The book illustrates what Ruxi Zhang calls the “ineffectiveness of Soviet pedagogy” in its earliest stages. Lenin and his even more iron-fisted successor desired a “generation of faithful workers.” Instead, children’s books like Mayakovsky’s “overplayed Soviet fantasy,” often advocating for “freedom that fundamentally countered Soviet expectations for children to follow directions from the regime without questioning or interpreting them.”

In Mayakovsky’s earlier children’s story, The Fire Horse, several craftsmen get together to make a beautiful toy horse—which cannot be bought at the store—for a young boy who dreams of being a cavalryman. The book, writes Morse, is “transparently didactic,” explaining “in detail how the horse is made, and at the cost of whose labor.” Nonetheless, its story sounds less like an exemplar from the state's idea of a worker’s paradise and more like a vignette from anarchist, aristocrat, and naturalist Peter Kropotkin’s society of “mutual aid.” It’s only natural that Mayakovsky and his comrades’ children’s books would reflect their stylistic daring, individualism, and wit. “It wasn’t much of a leap” for Futurist artists whose “mainstay” had been artist’s books with “interdependent text and illustrations.” Eventually, however, avant-garde artists like Mayakovsky were purged or “tamed” by the new regime.

Bird demonstrates this with the pages below from a 1947 edition of Whom Should I Be? These correspond to the pages above from 1932, showing an engineer. In addition to the replacing of an enthusiastic adult worker with an obedient, dutiful child, “the abstract depictions of constructivist buildings are replaced by realistic renderings of neo-classical edifices.” In 1932, Socialist Realism had only just become the official style of the Soviet Union. By 1947, its absolute authority was mostly unquestionable. Browse (and read, if you read Russian) all of Mayakovsky's Whom Should I Be? at the Internet Archive, or at the top of this post.

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

What It Cost to Shop at the Grocery Store in 1836, and What Goods You Could Buy

Click here to view the image in a larger format.

Like many children in possession of a toy cash register, I was a big fan of playing store.

A short stint working retail in a 90’s era Chicago hippie clothing emporium cured me of that for the most part.

But looking over the above page from Roswell C. Smith’s 1836 Practical and Mental Arithmetic on a New Plan, I must admit, I feel some of the old stirrings, and not because I love math, even when it’s intended to be worked on a slate.

Coffee, 35 cents per pound. A self-sharpening plough, $3.50. A whip, a buck fourteen. And a gallon of gin, 60 cents, which was "about two-thirds of a day's wages for the average non-farm white male worker." (View the prices in a larger format here.)

But I'm less intrigued by the wholesale price of the various items Smith's hypothetical country storekeeper would pay to stock his shelves in 1836, though I do love a bargain.

It’s more the type of goods listed on that inventory. They’re exactly the sort of items that figure in one of the most memorable chapters of Little House on the Prairie---Mr Edwards Meets Santa Claus.”

Okay, so maybe not exactly the same. Author Laura Ingalls Wilder was pretty explicit about the simple pleasures of her 1870s and 80s childhood. Her family’s bachelor neighbor, Mr. Edwards, risked life and limb fording a near-impassable, late-December creek, a bundle containing his clothes, a couple of tin cups, some peppermint sticks, and two heart-shaped cakes, tied to his head. Without his kindly initiative, their stockings would have been empty that year.

Presumably, the Independence, Kansas general store where Neighbor Edwards did his Christmas shopping would've stocked a lot of the same merch' that Smith alludes to in the above fragment of a bookkeeping-related story problem. Online bookseller John Ptak, on whose blog the page was originally reproduced, is keeping page 238 close to the vest (coincidentally the last item to be mentioned on the inventory, almost as an afterthought, just one, priced at 50¢.)

Childhood recollections aside, perhaps there was something else in Mr. Edward’s bundle, something the adult Laura chose not to mention. The sort of hostess gift that could've warmed Pa and Ma on those long, cold frontier nights…

Some gin, perhaps…or wine? Rum? Brandy?

Smith’s shopkeeper would’ve been well provisioned, laying the stuff in by the barrel, hogshead, and pipe-full.

As for that “bladder” of snuff, a post on the Snuffhouse forum suggests that it wasn’t a euphemism, but the actual bladder of a hog, paced with 4 pounds of snortin' tobacco.

Of course, Smith’s shopkeeper would’ve also carried a healthy assortment of wholesome goods- hymnals, children’s shoes, calico, satin, whips…

Perhaps we should do the math.

via Slate/JF Ptak

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday

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