Librarian Honors a Dying Tree by Turning It Into a Little Free Library

And then she said to Annika, "Why don't you feel in that old tree stump? One practically always finds things in old tree stumps." 

- Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren 

Remember that other classic of children's literature, wherein a boy runs from the city to a secluded mountain, taking up residence in an old tree he hollows into a cozy shelter?

Public librarian and artist Sharalee Armitage Howard’s Little Free Library is a bit like that, except there was no running involved.

When the venerable and ailing cottonwood in her Coeur d’Alene front yard began dropping branches on cars parked below, Howard faced the inevitable. But rather than chop the tree even with the ground, she arranged with the removal crew to leave a considerable amount of stump intact.




Then, in a Pippi Longstocking-ish move, she filled it with books for her neighbors and strangers to discover.

The interior has a snug, woodland vibe, worthy of Beatrix Potter or Alison Uttley, with tidy shelves, soft lighting, and a shingled roof to protect the contents from the elements.

Ever since December, when Howard posted photos to social media, the fairytale-like structure has been engendering epic amounts of global goodwill.

What a beautiful way to preserve and honor a tree that stood for well over a century.

One of the few naysayers is Reddit user discerningpervert, who is perhaps not giving voice to the Lorax, so much as Thalia, Muse of Comedy, when he writes:

It's like a house of horrors for trees. Inside the corpse of their former comrade are the processed remnants of their treebrothers and treesisters.

A literal Treehouse of Horror...

Visit Howard’s Little Free Library (charter #8206) the next time you're in Idaho. Or install one of your own.

(Those with trees to throw at the cause may want to begin with the stump hollowing tutorial below.)

via Twisted Sifter

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Growing Up Surrounded by Books Has a Lasting Positive Effect on the Brain, Says a New Scientific Study

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City in February as host of  Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A New Edition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 That’s Only Readable When You Apply Heat to Its Pages: Pre-Order It Today

Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, a novel of a nearly bookless dystopian future in which "firemen" go around burning any last volumes they can find, lends itself well to highly physical special editions. Last year we featured an asbestos-bound, fireproof version, 200 copies of which were published at the book's first printing in 1953. The year before we featured an experimental edition perhaps even more faithfully reflective of the story's premise, one whose all-black pages only reveal the negative space around the text with the application of heat.

"Graphic design studio Super Terrain’s edition of Ray Bradbury’s sci-fi classic Fahrenheit-451 took the internet by storm," writes Electric Literature, "thanks to a video showing how its all-black pages become readable text when exposed to an open flame."




Now, "for only $451  —  get it?  —  you can preorder one to keep on a specially-heated shelf in your home!" As noted in that post, you could also expose its text using something other than an open flame (a hair dryer, for example), but that would hardly put you as much in the mind of the novel's "firemen" with their book-eradicating flamethrowers. Whatever you use to heat up the pages, they revert right back to their carbonized-looking black as soon as they cool down.

In Fahrenheit 451, says Super Terrain's manifesto for this unusual edition of the novel, Bradbury "questions the central role played by books in culture and exposes the possible drifts of a society ruled by immediacy. This tyranny of happiness prevents any form of contestation that could be nurtured by reflexion, memory or culture in books or works of art." This black-paged book "could be part of Bradbury’s fiction as a trick to keep and hide away the books from the pyromaniac firemen. By setting the book on fire, the reader plunges into the novel and becomes the hyphen between reality and fiction." How relevant has all of this remained in our "time of continuous flow of images, selfies, fake news, tweets and other 'digest-digest-digests'"? Strike a match, flick on your lighter, or power up your hair dryer — all, of course, under adult supervision if necessary — and find out for yourself.

via Electric Literature

Related Content:

To Read This Experimental Edition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, You’ll Need to Add Heat to the Pages

Ray Bradbury Reveals the True Meaning of Fahrenheit 451: It’s Not About Censorship, But People “Being Turned Into Morons by TV”

Father Writes a Great Letter About Censorship When Son Brings Home Permission Slip to Read Ray Bradbury’s Censored Book, Fahrenheit 451

An Asbestos-Bound, Fireproof Edition of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

Hear Ray Bradbury’s Classic Sci-Fi Story Fahrenheit 451 as a Radio Drama

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.

Marie Kondo v. Tsundoku: Competing Japanese Philosophies on Whether to Keep or Discard Unread Books

By now we've all heard of Marie Kondo, the Japanese home-organization guru whose book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up became an international bestseller in 2011. Her advice about how to straighten up the home, branded the "KonMari" method, has more recently landed her that brass ring of early 21st-century fame, her own Netflix series. A few years ago we featured her tips for dealing with your piles of reading material, which, like all her advice, are based on discarding the items that no longer "spark joy" in one's life. These include "Take your books off the shelves," "Make sure to touch each one," and that you'll never read the books you mean to read "sometime."

But as a big a fan base as Kondo now commands around the world, not everyone agrees with her methods, especially when she applies them to the bookshelf. "Do NOT listen to Marie Kondo or Konmari in relation to books," the novelist Anakana Schofield posted to Twitter earlier this month. "Fill your apartment & world with them. I don’t give a shite if you throw out your knickers and Tupperware but the woman is very misguided about BOOKS. Every human needs a v extensive library not clean, boring shelves." Furthermore, "the notion that books should spark joy is a LUDICROUS one. I have said it a hundred times: Literature does not exist only to comfort and placate us. It should disturb + perturb us. Life is disturbing."




Washington Post book critic Ron Charles criticizes Kondo's book policy from a different angle. "I have a single cabinet full of chipped mugs, but I have a house full of books — thousands of books. To take every single book into my hands and test it for sparkiness would take years. And during that time, so many more books will pour in." That phenomenon will be familiar to readers of Open Culture, since we've previously featured tsundoku, a punnish Japanese compound word that means the books that amass unread here and there in one's home.

Though they might have emerged from the same wider culture, the KonMari method and the concept of tsundoku could hardly be more directly opposed. But now that Schofield, Charles, and many others have voiced their perspectives, the battle lines are drawn: must books spark joy in the moment to earn their keep, or can they be allowed to pile up in the name of potential future usefulness — or at least useful disturbance and perturbation?

Related Content:

Change Your Life! Learn the Japanese Art of Decluttering, Organizing & Tidying Things Up

Organization Guru Marie Kondo’s Tips for Dealing with Your Massive Piles of Unread Books (or What They Call in Japan “Tsundoku”)

“Tsundoku,” the Japanese Word for the New Books That Pile Up on Our Shelves, Should Enter the English Language

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.

The Books That Samuel Beckett Read and Really Liked (1941-1956)

becket list 1

Samuel Beckett, Pic, 1" by Roger Pic. Via Wikimedia Commons

Clad in a black turtleneck and with a shock of white hair, Samuel Beckett was a gaunt, gloomy high priest of modernism. After the 1955 premiere of Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot (watch him stage a performance here), Kenneth Tynan quipped, ''It has no plot, no climax, no denouement; no beginning, no middle and no end.'' From there, Beckett’s work only got more austere, bleak and despairing. His 1969 play Breath, for instance, runs just a minute long and features just the sound of breathing.

An intensely private man, he managed to mesmerize the public even as he turned away from the limelight. When he won the Nobel Prize in 1969 (after being rejected in 1968), his wife Suzanne, fearing the onslaught of fame that the award would bring, decried it as a “catastrophe.”




A recently published collection of his letters from 1941-1956, the period leading up to his international success with his play Waiting for Godot, casts some light on at least one corner of the man’s private life – what books were piling up on his bed stand. Below is an annotated list of what he was reading during that time. Not surprisingly, he really dug Albert Camus’s The Stranger. “Try and read it,” he writes. “I think it is important.” He dismisses Agatha Christie’s Crooked House as “very tired Christie” but praises Around the World in 80 Days: “It is lively stuff.” But the book he reserves the most praise for is J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. “I liked it very much indeed, more than anything for a long time.”

You can see the full list below. It was originally published online by Cambridge University Press in 2011. Books with an asterisk next to the title can be found in our collection of 700 Free eBooks.

Andromaqueby Jean Racine: “I read Andromaque again with greater admiration than ever and I think more understanding, at least more understanding of the chances of the theatre today.”

Around the World in 80 Days* by Jules Verne: “It is lively stuff.”

The Castle by Franz Kafka: “I felt at home, too much so – perhaps that is what stopped me from reading on. Case closed there and then.”

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: “I liked it very much indeed, more than anything for a long time.”

Crooked House by Agatha Christie: “very tired Christie”

Effi Briest* by Theodor Fontane: “I read it for the fourth time the other day with the same old tears in the same old places.”

The Hunchback of Notre Dame* by Victor Hugo

Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline

Lautreamont and Sade by Maurice Blanchot: “Some excellent ideas, or rather starting-points for ideas, and a fair bit of verbiage, to be read quickly, not as a translator does. What emerges from it though is a truly gigantic Sade, jealous of Satan and of his eternal torments, and confronting nature more than with humankind.”

Man’s Fate by Andre Malraux

Mosquitoes by William Faulkner: “with a preface by Queneau that would make an ostrich puke”

The Stranger by Albert Camus: “Try and read it, I think it is important.”

The Temptation to Exist by Emil Cioran: “Great stuff here and there. Must reread his first.”

La 628-E8* by Octave Mirbeau: “Damned good piece of work.”

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in March, 2015.

via Cambridge University Press

Related Content:

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Rare Audio: Samuel Beckett Reads Two Poems From His Novel Watt

Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of badgers and even more pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

The Largest J.R.R. Tolkien Exhibit in Generations Is Coming to the U.S.: Original Drawings, Manuscripts, Maps & More

"I first took on The Lord of the Rings at the age of eleven or twelve," writes The New Yorker's Anthony Lane. "It was, and remains, not a book that you happen to read, like any other, but a book that happens to you: a chunk bitten out of your life." The preteen years may remain the most opportune ones in which to pick up the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, but whatever the period in life at which they find their way in, most readers who make the journey through Middle-earth never really leave the place. And it hardly requires covering much more ground to get from hungering to know everything about the world of The Lord of the Rings — one rich with its own terrain, its own races, its own languages — to hungering to know how Tolkien created it.

Now the countless Lord of the Rings enthusiasts in America have their chance to behold the materials first-hand. The exhibition Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth, which runs from January 25th to May 12th of this year at New York's Morgan Library and Museum, will assemble "the most extensive public display of original Tolkien material for several generations," drawing from "the collections of the Tolkien Archive at the Bodleian Library (Oxford), Marquette University Libraries (Milwaukee), the Morgan, and private lenders."




All told, it will include "family photographs and memorabilia, Tolkien’s original illustrations, maps, draft manuscripts, and designs related to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion."

Mental Floss' Emily Petsko also highlights the presence of "original illustrations of Smaug the dragon (from The Hobbit), Sauron's Dark Tower of Barad-dûr (described in The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion), and other recognizable characters," as well as that of Tolkien's draft manuscripts that "provide a window into his creative process, as well as the vivid, expansive worlds he created." You can see more of the things Tolkienian that will soon come available for public viewing at the Morgan in the exhibition's trailer at the top of the post.

"The Lord of the Rings has remained comically divisive," Lane writes. "It is either adored, with varying degrees of guilt, or robustly despised, often by those who have yet to open it." But after seeing an exhibition like Tolkien: Maker of Middle-Earth, even Tolkien's harshest critics may well find themselves persuaded to acknowledge the scale and depth of the books' achievement, as well as the dedication and even bravery of its creator. As Lane puts it, "The Lord of the Rings may be the final stab at epic, and there is invariably something risky, if not downright risible, in a last gasp." But "Tolkien believed that he could reproduce the epic form under modern conditions," the fruit of that belief continues to enrapture readers of all ages more than 60 years later.

via AM New York and Mental Floss

Related Content:

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Hear J.R.R. Tolkien Read From The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit

Map of Middle-Earth Annotated by Tolkien Found in a Copy of Lord of the Rings

An Atlas of Literary Maps Created by Great Authors: J.R.R Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island & More

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.

Bill Gates, Book Critic, Names His Top 5 Books of 2018

Before we get too far into 2019, let's quickly recap the five books that made it to the top of Bill Gates' reading list in 2018. Over on his blog, Gates Notes, the Microsoft co-founder offers up these picks. He writes:

Educated, by Tara Westover. Tara never went to school or visited a doctor until she left home at 17. I never thought I’d relate to a story about growing up in a Mormon survivalist household, but she’s such a good writer that she got me to reflect on my own life while reading about her extreme childhood. Melinda and I loved this memoir of a young woman whose thirst for learning was so strong that she ended up getting a Ph.D. from Cambridge University. [More here.]

Army of None, by Paul Scharre. Autonomous weapons aren’t exactly top of mind for most around the holidays, but this thought-provoking look at A.I. in warfare is hard to put down. It’s an immensely complicated topic, but Scharre offers clear explanations and presents both the pros and cons of machine-driven warfare. His fluency with the subject should come as no surprise: he’s a veteran who helped draft the U.S. government’s policy on autonomous weapons. [More here.]

Bad Blood, by John Carreyrou. A bunch of my friends recommended this one to me. Carreyrou gives you the definitive insider’s look at the rise and fall of Theranos. The story is even crazier than I expected, and I found myself unable to put it down once I started. This book has everything: elaborate scams, corporate intrigue, magazine cover stories, ruined family relationships, and the demise of a company once valued at nearly $10 billion. [More here.]

21 Lessons for the 21st Century, by Yuval Noah Harari. I’m a big fan of everything Harari has written, and his latest is no exception. While Sapiens and Homo Deus covered the past and future respectively, this one is all about the present. If 2018 has left you overwhelmed by the state of the world, 21 Lessons offers a helpful framework for processing the news and thinking about the challenges we face. [More here.]

The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness, by Andy Puddicombe. I’m sure 25-year-old me would scoff at this one, but Melinda and I have gotten really into meditation lately. The book starts with Puddicombe’s personal journey from a university student to a Buddhist monk and then becomes an entertaining explainer on how to meditate. If you’re thinking about trying mindfulness, this is the perfect introduction. [More here.]

Find other Gates picks from previous seasons in the Relateds below.

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Summer 2014

How a Word Enters the Dictionary: A Quick Primer

Given that you’re reading this on the Internet, we presume you'll be able to define many of the over 800 words that were added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2018:

biohacking

bougie

bingeable

guac

hangry

Latinx

mocktail

zoodles

But what about some of the humdingers lexicographer Kory Stamper, former associate editor for Merriam-Webster and author of Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, unleashes in the above video?

prescriptivism

descriptivism

sprachgefühl

etymological fallicist

(Bonus: bird strike)

And here we thought we were fluent in our native tongue. Face palm, to use another newish entry and an example of descriptivism. (It’s when the dictionary follows the culture’s lead, according novelty its due by officially recognizing words that have entered the parlance, rather than prescribing the way citizens should be speaking.)




To hear Stamper tell it, dictionary writing is a dream gig for readers as well as word lovers.

Part of every day is spent reading, flagging any unfamiliar words that may pop up for further research.

Did teenage slang give rise to it?

Was it born of business trends or tech industry advances?

Stamper is adamant that language is not fixed, but rather a living organism. Words go in and out of fashion, and take on meanings beyond the ones they sported when first included in the dictionary. (Have a look at “extra” to see some evolutionary effects of the English language and back it up with a peek inside the Urban Dictionary.)

Before a word passes dictionary muster, it must meet three criteria: it must have crossed into widespread use, it seems likely to stick around for a while, and it must have some sort of substantive meaning, as opposed to being known solely for its length (“antidisestablishmentarianism”), or some other structural wonder.

“Iouea” contains all five regular vowels and no other letters. The fact that it exists to describe a genus of sea sponges may seem somewhat beside the point to all but marine biologists.

What new words will enter the lexicon in 2019?

Perhaps we should look to the past. We set Merriam-Webster’s Time Traveler dial back 100 years to discover the words that debuted in 1919. There’s an abundance of goodies here, some of whose WWI-era context has already expanded to accommodate modern meaning (anti-stress, fanboy, superpimp, unbuffered). Readers, care to take a stab at freshening up some other candidates:

apple-knocker

buckshee

capeskin

cultigen

gametophore

interrogee

micromethod

neuroprotective

outgas

prereturn

putsch

scenarist

Related Content: 

The Largest Historical Dictionary of English Slang Now Free Online: Covers 500 Years of the “Vulgar Tongue”

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Dictionary of the Oldest Written Language–It Took 90 Years to Complete, and It’s Now Free Online

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City January 14 as host of Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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