How to Read Many More Books in a Year: Watch a Short Documentary Featuring Some of the World’s Most Beautiful Bookstores

You don't have enough time in life to read all the books you want to. But if you change your habits just a bit, you'll be able to read many more books in the time you do have left than you otherwise could have. Filmmaker Max Joseph learns these and other lessons about reading in this short documentary, Bookstore: How to Read More. In it he travels in search of not just the advice of some of the world's most expert readers (or at least some of the most expert readers in America), but also in search of the experience of the most beautiful bookstores in the world (or at least in western Europe and South America).

Wait But Why blogger Tim Urban tells Joseph he would need to read for only half an hour per day to have read more than a thousand books by the end of his time on Earth, versus the single shelf he might read through with his current habits.




Eric Barker of Barking Up the Wrong Tree suggests that Joseph redirect his social media-viewing instincts toward whichever book he feels most excited about reading in the moment, and that he begin by setting his daily reading goal so low at first — say, just one page — that it's practically easier to meet it than not. (To quote from Moby-Dick, "What cannot habit accomplish?") Then Howard Berg, who holds the Guinness World Record declaring him the fastest reader alive, breaks down the techniques that can theoretically make each page go by in seconds.

But how fast do we really want to read? For counsel on the what and the why, Joseph visits the office of Ruth J. Simmons, president of Prairie View A&M University and former president of Brown University. She emphasizes the importance of reading not just frequently but widely, a condition that shouldn't be terribly hard to fulfill given Joseph's travel and shopping habits: in the video we see him visit a variety of highly Instagrammable (and drone-filmable) bookstores everywhere from Brussels and Maastricht to São Paulo and Buenos Aires. One of them, Lisbon's Ler Devagar, tells him to "read slowly" with its very name, echoing Simmons' description of reading as "forced meditation." That framing is apt, but just like visiting a new bookstore, meditation makes the true bibliophile think of only one thing first: all the volumes out there still to be read.

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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, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

A New Photo Book Documents the Wonderful Homemade Cat Ladders of Switzerland

There are days when Calgon is not escape enough

Days when one longs to be a cat, specifically a free-ranging feline of Bern, Switzerland, as featured in graphic designer Brigitte Schuster’s forthcoming book, Swiss Cat Ladders...

Some American cats come and go freely through—dare we say—doggie doors, those small apertures cut into existing points of entry, most commonly the one leading from kitchen to Great Outdoors.

The citizens of Bern have aimed much higher, customizing their homes in alignment with both the feline commitment to independence and their fearlessness where heights are concerned.

As Schuster documents, there’s no one solution designed to take cats from upper residential windows and patios to the destinations of their choosing.

Some buildings boast sleek ramps that blend seamlessly into the existing exterior design.

In others, surefooted pussies must navigate ramshackle wooden affairs, some of which seem better suited to the hen house.

One cat ladder connects to a nearby tree.

Another started life as a drain spout.

Humans who prefer to outsource their cat ladders may elect to purchase a prefabricated spiral staircase online.

Pre-order Swiss Cat Ladders for 45 € using the order form at the bottom of this page. The text, which is in both German and English, includes diagrams to inspire those who would cater to their own cat’s desire for high flying independence.

All photographs © Brigitte Schuster

Via Colossal

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City this June for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. And congratulations to her homeschooled senior, Milo Kotis, who graduates today! Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Street Art for Book Lovers: Dutch Artists Paint Massive Bookcase Mural on the Side of a Building

Bookcases are a great ice breaker for those who love to read.

What relief those shelves offer ill-at ease partygoers... even when you don't know a soul in the room, there’s always a chance you’ll bond with a fellow guest over one of your hosts’ titles.

Occupy yourself with a good browse whilst waiting for someone to take the bait.

Now, with the aid of Dutch street artists Jan Is De Man and Deef Feed, some residents of Utrecht have turned their bookcases into street art, sparking conversation in their culturally diverse neighborhood.

De Man, whose close friends occupy the ground floor of a building on the corner of Mimosastraat and Amsterdam, had initially planned to render a giant smiley face on an exterior wall as a public morale booster, but the shape of the three-story structure suggested something a bit more literary.

The trompe-l'oeil Boekenkast (or bookcase) took a week to create, and features titles in eight different languages.

Look closely and you’ll notice both artists’ names (and a smiley face) lurking among the spines.

Design mags may make an impression by ordering books according to size and color, but this communal 2-D boekenkast looks to belong to an avid and omnivorous reader.

Some English titles that caught our eye:

Sapiens

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Keith Richards’ autobiography Life

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime 

Pride and Prejudice

The Little Prince

The World According to Garp

Jumper

And a classy-looking hardbound Playboy collection that may or may not exist in real life.

(Readers, can you spot the other fakes?)

Boekenkast is the latest of a number of global bookshelf murals tempting literary pilgrims to take a selfie on the way to the local indie bookshop.

via Bored Panda

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City this May for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Discover the KattenKabinet: Amsterdam’s Museum Devoted to Works of Art Featuring Cats

Image by T_Marjorie, via Flickr Commons

There’s been quite a bit of barking in the media lately to herald the reopening of the American Kennel Club Museum of the Dog, relocating from St. Louis to New York City’s Park Avenue.

What’s a cat person to do?

Perhaps decompress within Amsterdam’s KattenKabinet

In contrast to the Museum of the Dog’s glitzy, glass-fronted HQ, the Cat Cabinet maintains a fairly low profile inside a 17th-century canal house. (Several visitors have noted in their Trip Advisor reviews that the 3-room museum’s grand environs help justify the €7  admission.)




The Museum of the Dog’s highly toted “digital experiences”  and redesigned atrium suggest a certain eagerness to establish itself as a major 21st-century institution.

The KattenKabinet is more of a stealth operation, created as an homage to one J.P. Morgan, a dearly departed ginger tom, who lived upstairs with his owner.

The inaugural collection took shape around presents the formidable Morgan received during his 17 years on earth—paintings, a bronze cat statue, and a facsimile of a dollar bill featuring his likeness and the motto, “We Trust No Dog.”

In spirit, the Kabinet hews closely to America’s eclectic (and fast disappearing) roadside museums.

No apps, no interactive kiosks, a stolidly old fashioned approach when it comes to display…

It does have a gift shop, where one can purchase logo t-shirts featuring an extremely cat-like specimen, viewed from the rear, tail aloft.

While the KattenKabinet’s holdings include some marquee names—Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Rembrandt—there’s something compelling about the collection’s less well known artists, many of whom embraced the museum’s pet subject again and again.

Museum founder Bob Meijer rewards virtual visitors with some juicy biographical tidbits about his artists, cat-related and otherwise. Take, for example, Leonor Fini, whose Ubu glowers below:

Fini had a three-way relationship with the Italian diplomat-cum-artist Stanislao LePri, who, like Fini, was difficult to pin into a certain style, and the Polish literary writer Constantin Jelenski. The two men were not, however, her only housemates: Fini had dozens of Persian cats around her. Indoors you rarely see a photo of her without a cat in her arms. In the Cat Cabinet you can find many of her works, from cheerfully colored cats to highly detailed portraits of cats. The women depicted in the paintings have that iconic mystique characteristic of Fini's work.

Tsuguharu Foujita, whose work is a staple of the museum, is another cat-loving-artist-turned-art-himself, by virtue of Dora Kalmus' 1927 portrait, above.

Hildo Krop is well represented throughout Amsterdam, his sculptures adorning bridges and buildings. Two Cats Making Love, on view at the Kabinet, is, Meijer comments,” clearly one of his smaller projects and probably falls into the category of "free work." One of his most famous works, and of a different order of magnitude, is the Berlage monument on Victorieplein in Amsterdam.”

In addition to fine art, the Kabinet showcases other feline appearances—in vintage advertising, Tadaaki Narita's Lucky cat pinball machine, and in the person, er, form of 5 live specimens who have the run of the place.

Those visiting in the flesh can cat around to some of Amsterdam’s other feline-themed attractions, including two cat cafes, a cat-centric boutique, and the floating shelter, De Poezenboot.

And let’s not forget the other cat museums ‘round the globe, from Minsk and Malaysia to Sylva, North Carolina’s American Museum of the House Cat.

Begin your exploration of the collection here.

via the BBC

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain, this March. Follow her @AyunHalliday.E

A Beautiful Short Documentary Takes You Inside New York City’s Last Great Chess Store

Chess Forum in Greenwich Village is, like Gramercy Typewriter and the Upper East Side’s Tender Buttons, the sort of shop New Yorkers feel protective of, even if they’ve never actually crossed the threshold.

“How can it still exist?” is a question left unanswered by "King of the Night," Lonely Leap’s lovely short profile of Chess Forum’s owner, Imad Khachan, above, but no matter. We're just glad it does.

The store, located a block and a half south of Washington Square, looks older than it is. Khachan, hung out his shingle in 1995, after five years as an employee of the now-defunct Village Chess Shop, a rift that riled the New York chess community.




Now, things are much more placid, though the film incorrectly suggests that Chess Forum is the only refuge where chess loving New Yorkers can avail themselves of an impromptu game, take lessons, and buy sets. (There are also shops in Brooklyn, Harlem, and the Upper East Side.) That said, Chess Forum might not be wrong to call itself "New York's last great chess store." It may well be the best of the last.

The narrow shop’s interior triggers nostalgia without seeming calculation, an organic reminder of the Village’s Bohemian past, when beret-clad folkies, artists, and students wiled away hours at battered wooden tables in its many cheap cafes and bars. (Two blocks away, sole survivor Caffé Reggio’s ambience is intact, but the prices have kept pace with the neighborhood, and the majority of its clientele are clutching guidebooks or the digital equivalent thereof.)

Khachan, born in Lebanon to Palestinian refugees, gives a warm welcome to tourists and locals alike, especially those who might make for an uneasy fit at tonier neighborhood establishments.

In an interview with the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, he recalled a “well-dressed and highly educated doctor who would come in wearing his Harvard logo sweater, and lose repeatedly to a homeless man who was a regular at Chess Forum and a chess master.”

The game also provides common ground for strangers who share no common tongue. In Jonathan Lord’s rougher New York City chess-themed doc, Passport Play, Khachan points out how diagrams in chess books speak volumes to experienced players, regardless of the language in which the book is written.

The store’s mottos also bear witness to the value its owner places on face-to-face human interaction:

Cool in the summer, warm in the winter and fuzzy all year long.

Chess Forum: An experience not a transaction

Smart people not smart phones.  (You can play a game of chess on your phone, Khachan admits, but don't fool yourself into thinking that it's giving you a full chess experience.)

An hour of play costs about the same as a small latte in a coffeehouse chain (whose prevalence Khachan refers to as the Bostonization of NYC.) Senior citizens and children, both revered groups at Chess Forum, get an even better deal—from $1/hour to free.

Although the store’s official closing time is midnight, Khachan, single and childless, is always willing to oblige players who would stay later. His solitary musings on the neighborhood’s wee hours transformation supply the film’s title and meditative vibe, while reminding us that this gentle New York character was originally drawn to the city by the specter of a PhD in literature at nearby NYU.

Readers who would like to contribute to the health of this independently owned New York City establishment from afar can do so by purchasing a chess or backgammon set online.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City through December 20th in the 10th anniversary production of Greg Kotis’ apocalyptic holiday tale, The Truth About Santa. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Download Digitized Copies of The Negro Travelers’ Green Book, the Pre-Civil Rights Guide to Traveling Safely in the U.S. (1936-66)

As an American living outside America, I'm often asked how best to see my homeland by people wanting to visit it. I always suggest the same method: road-tripping, preferably across the entire continent — a way of experiencing the U.S. of A guaranteed to at once to confirm and shatter the visitor's pre-existing perceptions of the country. But even under the best possible conditions, such road trips have their arduous stretches and even their dangers, a fact understood by nobody better than by the black travelers of the Green Book era. Published between 1936 and 1967, the guide officially known as The Negro Motorist Green Book informed such travelers of where in America (and later other countries as well) they could have a meal, stay the night, and get their car repaired without prejudice.

You can learn more about the Green Book (which we've previously featured here on Open Culture) from the Vox explainer video above. Then, to get a fuller idea of the books' content, head over to the New York Public Library's digital collections, where you'll find 23 issues from the Green Book's more than 30-year run.




Digitized by the NYPL's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, they're free to read online and download. Data drawn from this archive and released into the public domain has also given rise to projects like "Navigating the Green Book," where you can explore its recommended places laid out on a map and even plot a trip between any two cities in America according to the Green Book's 1947 or 1956 editions.

Though the Green Book ceased publication not long after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, interest in the America they reflect hasn't vanished, and has in fact grown in recent years. Academia has produced more studies of Jim Crow-era travel over the past decade or two, and this Thanksgiving will see the wide release of Green Book, Peter Farrelly's feature film about the friendship between black pianist Don Shirley and the chauffeur who drove him through the Deep South in the 1960s. "To flip through a Green Book is to open a window into history and perhaps to see, the tiniest amount, through the eyes of someone who lived it," writes K Menick on the NYPL's blog. "Read these books; map them in your mind. Think about the trips you could take, can take, will take. See how the size of the world can change depending on the color of your skin." 

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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.

Pianist Plays Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Ravel & Debussy for Blind Elephants in Thailand

Romsai the elephant wore a red rope around his neck to warn approaching humans that he was a danger to both them and elephants. A dark patch on his head from a temporin secretion indicated that he was in the musth cycle, which only heightened his aggression. His mahouts at the ElephantsWorld sanctuary in Kanchanaburi, Thailand observed that the old, blind elephant was growing more dangerous with age.

And yet, he is the personification of sweetness, as pianist Paul Barton serenades him with a performance of Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique, repeating the melody section several times “as he seems to like it.”




In lieu of applause, Romsai places his trunk over the top of Barton’s upright piano again and again, in no way aggressive, more the gesture of a grateful audience member.

As Barton, a Yorkshireman who went to Thailand over twenty years ago for what he thought would be a short piano teaching stint only to wind up marrying a local artist and animal rights activist, said in an interview with YourStory:

All animals like music. Dogs, cats, etc. But elephants are the closest to human beings in the sense that they have the same neurons in the brains as us. Also they have a very good memory. If you are treated badly as a child, you are going to remember that all your life. It’s the same with elephants. The elephant shares that part of the brain with us which has flashbacks. They can never forget the terrible things they have seen and suffered… If you play classical music to an elephant, something soft and beautiful, something that human beings have been listening to for hundreds for hundreds of years, something that is timeless—and you play that to an elephant that is blind and they've never heard music before—the reaction is priceless. There is a special bond between you and the elephant. You are communicating with them in a different language. That language is neither ours nor theirs. There is something infinitesimally wonderful in a piece of Beethoven that connects me to that elephant and that feeling is otherworldly.

The impulse to play live concerts for Romsai and other blind sanctuary dwellers was partly born from seeing the positive effect music had on some blind children with whom Barton worked.

He also wanted to make amends for the deforestation of the elephant’s homeland, and the way the teak industry exploited their labor. It was while thus employed that many of them suffered scratched corneas and other eye injuries that blinded them, rendering them doubly vulnerable when the Thai government enacted a ban on commercial timber logging in 1989:

The elephant has worked for humans for too long. It was used in wars, it was used to deforest its own home. What is the little thing I can do as a human to say sorry, for my species for what we have done to them? I'll carry this heavy thing myself and play some music for the elephant while it is having some breakfast.

Removed from the plush seats of a concert hall, Ravel feels right at home. A rooster crows, a nearby child pipes up, and Romsai wanders in and out of the frame, at times appearing to keep time with his trunk.

Cicadas underscore Schubert’s Serenade.

Another ElephantsWorld resident, Lam Duan's (aka “Tree with Yellow Flowers”) stillness as she listens to Bach is reminiscent of Barton’s first musical outing with the elephants:

Elephants eat a lot of food. A lot. It is exhausting trying to procure that much food for so many elephants. When an elephant gets to eat, it’s a bit like a dog. A dog will eat its food so quickly because it’s not sure if it will ever eat again. And elephants are the same. Once they get their hands on some juicy leaves, they will eat and eat and nothing can tear them away from their food. That morning I brought the piano in early to the sanctuary. Pla-Ra was taken to a field full of juicy bamboo shoots and she began eating with a single minded dedication. I started to play Beethoven and she stopped eating. There was this half eaten bamboo shoot sticking out of her trunk while she stared at me. That was a reaction never seen before. An elephant stopped eating because of music.

Barton’s latest recording features 80-year-old Ampan, blind in one eye and near blind in the other, enjoying Debussy’s Clair de Lune.

Support Paul Barton’s Patreon here. Learn about volunteer opportunities or make a donation to ElephantsWorld here

via Laughing Squid

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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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