Björk Presents Groundbreaking Experimental Musicians on the BBC’s Modern Minimalists (1997)

Experimental music, by its very nature, stays out of the mainstream. All styles of music begin as experiments, but most sooner or later, in one form or another, find their way to popular acceptance. But if one living musician personifies the intriguing borderlands between the popular and the experimental, Björk does: since at least the 1980s (and, technically, the 1970s), she has steadily put out records that constitute master classes in how to keep pushing forms forward while maintaining a wide fan base, seemingly giving the lie to John Cage’s dictum that making something 20 percent new means a loss of 80 percent of the audience.

Cage, an icon of minimalist experimental music who still caught the public ear now and again, doesn’t appear in the BBC’s Modern Minimalists [part one, part two], but only because he died in 1992, five years before it aired. But this Björk-hosted whirlwind tour through the company of a selection of innovative minimalist composers of the day actually feels, at points, a bit like Cage’s 1960 performance of Water Walk on I’ve Got a Secret: we not only hear them talk, but we hear their music, see them make it, and get an insight into the way they work and — perhaps most importantly — the way they think.

“When I was asked to do this program,” Björk says in her distinctive Icelandic inflection, “it was very important for me to introduce the people I think are changing music today.” That roster includes Alasdair Malloy from Scotland, Mika Vainio from Finland, and, most famously, Arvo Pärt from Estonia. Björk not only draws out their musical philosophies, but responds with a few of her own. “People have moved away from plots and structures, and moved to its complete opposite, which is textures,” she says over a series of postmodern landscapes, “A place to live in, or an environment, or a stillness.” And the role of the musician in that modern reality? “To take these everyday noises that are ugly, and make them beautiful. By this, they’re doing magic.”

via Network Awesome

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Neil deGrasse Tyson Presents a Brief History of Everything in an 8.5 Minute Animation

Patreon, a crowd funding site where fans can automatically tithe a set amount to their fave artist every time that person uploads content, is a great way for passionate, under-recognized individuals to gain visibility and a bit of dough.

So what’s astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson doing there? He’s already famous, and one would think his gig as director of New York City’s Hayden Planetarium, coupled with the proceeds from his books and dvds, would prove sufficient to any financial needs.

(Is it some sort of Amanda Palmer thing?)

Nope. Turns out Dr. Tyson is there on someone else’s behalf, narrating an episode of Harry Reich’s Minute Physics. The video series often employs whiteboard animations to explain such scientific phenomena as dark matter, wave/particle duality, and bicycles.

The latest Tyson-narrated episode, above, shoots the moon by cramming the entire History of the Universe (and some complimentary Stravinsky) into an 8.5-minute framework (a negligible amount when you consider phenomena like light years, but still many times the series’ standard minute).

Thus far, 1075 fans of Minute Physics have anted up, resulting in a take of $2,992.66 per video. (Click here to see how that amount compares to the various wages and salaries of Dr. Tyson’s coworkers at the American Museum of Natural History…it’s clear Reich devotes a lot of labor to every episode.)

If you’re feeling flush (or nervous about the upcoming school year), you can join these 1075 fans, earning admission to a supporters-only activity feed where you can ask questions, watch outtakes, preview upcoming attractions, and possibly even get your name in the credits.

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

How ABC Television Introduced Rap Music to America in 1981: It’s Painfully Awkward

Of all the various types of professional explainers out there, none may come across as more clueless than the television news reporter faced with a minority youth culture and trying to account for its existence—one he or she had previously been unaware of. Every description gets reduced to the broadest of judgements, easy stereotypes fill in for appreciation. The larger the media outlet, the more these tendencies seem to manifest; in fact a string of such sensualized reportage put together seems to constitute both the rise and the fall of a corporate news career.

All of the above should prepare you for what you are about to see in ABC’s 20/20 special “Rappin’ to the Beat” from 1981. Investigative reporter Steve Fox journeys into the world of rap music, a form—his condescending co-anchor tells us in a back-handed remark—“so compelling, you’ll never miss the fact there’s no melody.” “It’s a music that is all beat,” he says, “strong beat, and talk.” With the tone established, enter Fox to tell us that Blondie’s “Rapture” is the main reason rap caught on. It only gets worse. I suppose you could blame Debbie Harry, but she didn’t ask to be the first voice of rap we hear in a 20/20 special. That decision was the special purview of “Rappin’ to the Beat”’s producers.

But like all archival film and video of emerging creative movements, these clips redeem themselves with footage of the scene’s pioneers, including a performance from a 22-year-old Kurtis Blow and some early breakdancing—or, as one NYC Transit cop calls it, a riot. The second part, above, gives us some insightful commentary from NYC radio DJ Pablo Guzman, folklorist John Szwed (who wrote the definitive biography of Sun Ra), and syndicated rock columnist Lisa Robinson, who reminds us of how “very black and very urban” rap is, then goes on to say, “people hated rock and roll 15 years ago.”

It’s certainly true that 15 years or so after this clumsy attempt at capturing the moment, rap and hip-hop became ubiquitous—at a time when punk rock also hit the suburbs. Punk also had its 20/20 moment in the late 70s (above); it symbolized, the announcer tells us, “the dreadful possibility of riot which has always seemed to cling to rock and roll.” Metal got the Geraldo treatment in “Heavy Metal Moms”—the examples abound. Which of them is more banal, condescending, or just painfully awkward is impossible to say, but they make fascinating windows onto the media’s consistently weirded-out response to outsiders they can’t ignore. As a counterpoint, check out the way Fred Rogers welcomed to his show a 12-year-old breakdancer or a couple of experimental electronic musicians, making no effort to be cool, knowledgeable, or detached, only kind and curious. It’s just my opinion, but I always thought TV news needed more Mr. Rogers and less…. whatever the journalistic approach in “Rappin’ to the Beat” is supposed to be.

via Mental Floss

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

Read Online Haruki Murakami’s New Essay on How a Baseball Game Launched His Writing Career

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For years, it was hard to come across Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball 1973, Haruki Murakami’s first and second novels, unless one wanted to pony up something between $250 and $400 at Amazon for their Kodansha English editions. The author has long dismissed them as juvenilia, though he was far from a juvenile at that time, and was actually managing a jazz bar on the outskirts of Tokyo with his wife and writing his first works at their kitchen table. He was searching for a style as a novelist, and it was once he wrote A Wild Sheep Chase that Murakami became the writer he envisioned.

On August 4, Knopf will publish both novels in a single volume with new translations by Ted Goossen, so readers can make up their own minds on whether Murakami is being too hard on himself. A lot of the familiar Murakami elements and themes are there: a nameless narrator who likes his beer and smokes, cats, music, literature, spaghetti, mysterious appearances and disappearances, loneliness, and his poetic observations of nature.

Now that Murakami has relented on the book’s publication, he has penned an introduction that explores the beginning of his writing career, chance decisions, his sometimes blind search for a style, and the baseball game that changed his life:

I think Hiroshima’s starting pitcher that day was Yoshiro Sotokoba. Yakult countered with Takeshi Yasuda. In the bottom of the first inning, Hilton slammed Sotokoba’s first pitch into left field for a clean double. The satisfying crack when the bat met the ball resounded throughout Jingu Stadium. Scattered applause rose around me. In that instant, for no reason and on no grounds whatsoever, the thought suddenly struck me: I think I can write a novel.

I can still recall the exact sensation. It felt as if something had come fluttering down from the sky, and I had caught it cleanly in my hands. I had no idea why it had chanced to fall into my grasp. I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. Whatever the reason, it had taken place. It was like a revelation. Or maybe epiphany is the closest word. All I can say is that my life was drastically and permanently altered in that instant—when Dave Hilton belted that beautiful, ringing double at Jingu Stadium.

After the game (Yakult won as I recall), I took the train to Shinjuku and bought a sheaf of writing paper and a fountain pen. Word processors and computers weren’t around back then, which meant we had to write everything by hand, one character at a time. The sensation of writing felt very fresh. I remember how thrilled I was. It had been such a long time since I had put fountain pen to paper.

Each night after that, when I got home late from work, I sat at my kitchen table and wrote. Those few hours before dawn were practically the only time I had free. Over the six or so months that followed I wrote Hear the Wind Sing. I wrapped up the first draft right around the time the baseball season ended. Incidentally, that year the Yakult Swallows bucked the odds and almost everyone’s predictions to win the Central League pennant, then went on to defeat the Pacific League champions, the pitching-rich Hankyu Braves in the Japan Series. It was truly a miraculous season that sent the hearts of all Yakult fans soaring.

You can read the rest of Murakami’s introduction over at Lithub. And pre-order the new translation of Wind/Pinball here.

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

The Delightful TV Ads Directed by Hayao Miyazaki & Other Studio Ghibli Animators (1992-2015)

Last week, we featured a trio of ridiculously cute commercials about a cat called Konyara. The company that made them was none other that Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki’s animation shop. Those commercials, drawn in an elegantly simple style that recalls traditional Japanese sumi-e illustrations, had the same meticulous attention to detail and fluid movements that are Miyazaki’s trademark.

As it turns out, Ghibli didn’t restrict its commercial endeavors to cartoon cats. Above are a bunch of commercials the company did over the years stretching all the way back to 1992. The ads range from ones about bread to banks to green tea. There are also quite a number of tie-ins from the studio’s movies, like an ad for Lawson’s convenience stores that features collectible dolls from Spirited Away. What is fascinating about these ads is the range of styles they exhibit. Many are done in a way that clearly recalls Miyazaki’s movies, others look much more minimal and much more gestural.

In other Miyazaki related news, it turns out that the master isn’t retiring after all. Following the release of his feature The Wind Rises in 2013, Hayao Miyazaki announced he was getting out of the animation biz. But as with his numerous declarations of retirement in the past, it didn’t take.

Miyazaki is reportedly making a 10-minute long animated short called Kemushi no Boro (Boro the Caterpillar). The director describes the short as “a story of a tiny, hairy caterpillar, so tiny that it may be easily squished between your fingers.” He has been developing on the idea for a couple decades now and, in spite of the short’s length, the film is projected to take three years to make.

What might be surprising is that the film will be entirely computer generated. Miyazaki is perhaps the world’s most famous proponent of hand-drawn cel animation. As a younger man, he railed against CGI calling the method “shallow, fake.” Over the years, however, his feelings evolved.

“If [hand-drawn cel animation] is a dying craft we can’t do anything about it,” he told The Guardian back in 2005. “Civilization moves on. Where are all the fresco painters now? Where are the landscape artists? What are they doing now? […] Actually I think CGI has the potential to equal or even surpass what the human hand can do. But it is far too late for me to try it.”

Apparently it is not.

Boro will screen exclusively in his Studio Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo, so if you want to see the master’s next work, be prepared to fly to Japan.

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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 vice presidents with octopuses on their heads.  The Veeptopus store is here.

Allen Ginsberg’s Top 10 Favorite Films

Before Netflix killed Blockbuster, Blockbuster killed the mom and pop video store. Maybe you had your favorite ma and pa shop, where under the surface of new releases you’d find the quirky, curated selections that reflected the mind of the owner.

When Allen Ginsberg lived in New York’s East Village, it was Kim’s Video, opened in 1987 by Yongman Kim. With so many artists frequenting its St. Marks Place location, Kim asked its more famous customers to share their lists of top ten favorite films. Ginsberg obliged. And you can now find his top 10 list online (in two parts: Part 1Part 2) thanks to The Allen Ginsberg Project.

Ginsberg’s oldest choice is Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 Battleship Potemkin, which you can watch above. One must wonder if it was the very poetic editing that drew Ginsberg to the film, or something else, perhaps, maybe the film’s revolutionary nature?

Many of Ginsberg’s choices reflect his interest in poetic realism, the French film movement that combined stories of real folks with sometimes very impressionist camera work. Three of its most famous proponents, Julian Duvivier, Jean Renoir, and Marcel Carné appear on the Ginsberg list.

Julian Duvivier’s Pépé le Moko (1937) is set in that most wonderful location for the Beat poets, Tangiers, and inspired Graham Greene to write The Third Man. Marcel Carné’s classic Children of Paradise (1945) makes the list, as does his 1938 film noir Port of Shadows. Jean Renoir’s The Grand Illusion, which still tops many top 10 film lists today, is here too.

Another Frenchman, Jean Cocteau gets on the list twice, with two films from his Orphic trilogy, The Blood of a Poet (1930) and Orpheé (1950). The mix of the dreamlike and the erotic make a perfect choice for the poet.

Ginsberg saves space for Beat cinema, a lot of which is still not on DVD. Ron Rice’s The Flower Thief (1960) is often called one of the main films of the Beat Generation, a largely improvised, low budget film about the artists and writers of San Francisco. It sadly remains unavailable on DVD, and one wonders if the film was even available at Kim’s, as it doesn’t appear to be on VHS either.

More available are his final two choices, Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie’s Pull My Daisy (1959), which was named after (and executed in a style similar to) an Exquisite Corpse-style poem written by Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Neil Cassady in the late ‘40s. Also largely improvised, the film involves bohemian party crashers who make life complicated for a man and wife trying to impress a respectable bishop who’s come for dinner.

Lastly, Ginsberg names Harry Smith’s visionary cut-up animation masterpiece Heaven and Earth Magic (1957 – 1962), which you can see above. Smith was not just a superb filmmaker, but a great influence on the Beats through his interest in psychedelics and mysticism, as well as the man behind the American Anthology of Folk Music on Folkways records. A great friend of Ginsberg, Harry Smith gets the final tip of the hat.

via The Allen Ginsberg Project

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the FunkZone Podcast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

Jean-Paul Sartre Reviews Orson Welles’ Masterwork (1945): “Citizen Kane Is Not Cinema”

orson_welles_citizen_french_movie_poster_14a

You may recall our posting last year of Jorge Luis Borges’ review of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane — surely one of the most Open Culture-worthy intersections of 20th century luminaries ever to occur. Borges described Welles’ masterwork as possessed of one side that, “pointlessly banal, attempts to milk applause from dimwits,” and another, a “kind of metaphysical detective story” whose “subject (both psychological and allegorical) is the investigation of a man’s inner self, through the works he has wrought, the words he has spoken, the many lives he has ruined.” On the whole, the author of Labyrinths called the picture “not intelligent, though it is the work of genius.”

Not long after our post, the Paris Review‘s Dan Piepenbring wrote one that also quoted another, later review of Citizen Kane by none other than Jean-Paul Sartre:

Kane might have been interesting for the Americans, [but] it is completely passé for us, because the whole film is based on a misconception of what cinema is all about. The film is in the past tense, whereas we all know that cinema has got to be in the present tense. ‘I am the man who is kissing, I am the girl who is being kissed, I am the Indian who is being pursued, I am the man pursuing the Indian.’ And film in the past tense is the antithesis of cinema. Therefore Citizen Kane is not cinema.

The 1945 review originally ran in high-minded film journal L’Écran français under the headline “Quand Hollywood veut faire penser … Citizen Kane d’Orson Welles,” or, “When Hollywood Wants to Make Us Think … Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.” According to The Writings of Jean-Paul Sartre: A Bibliographical Life, “in re-reading this [review], which he did not remember at all, Sartre hardly recognized his style and expressed some doubt about the authenticity of his signature. On the other hand, he did find in it the ideas Citizen Kane suggested to him when he first saw it in the United States. After he saw the film again in France, Sartre had a slightly more favorable opinion of it, but he still thinks it is undoubtedly no masterpiece.”

But at the time, writes Simon Leys, “the impact of this condemnation was devastating. The Magnificent Ambersons was shown soon afterwards in Paris but failed miserably. The cultivated public always follows the directives of a few propaganda commissars: there is much more conformity among intellectuals than among plumbers or car mechanics.” Or at least the cultivated public did so in 1940s Paris; the mechanics of culture have changed somewhat since then, but as far as Citizen Kane goes, high-profile opinions about it have grown only more positive over time. Sure, Vertigo recently knocked it down a peg in the Sight and Sound poll, but that just makes me wonder what Sartre thought of Hitchcock’s masterwork — a film that might have had a resonance or two in the mind of an existentialist.

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

David Bowie Becomes a DJ on BBC Radio in 1979; Introduces Listeners to The Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, Blondie & More

Cast your mind back to 1979, a time before Internet radio, Twitter, Tumblr, and other social networks beginning with the letter T. And now imagine that you’d never heard the Velvet Underground, Talking Heads, Blondie, Roxy Music, hell, even Bruce Springsteen—all of whom were just beginning to break through to mainstream consciousness. Now imagine your introduction to these artists comes from none other than Ziggy Stardust himself—or the Thin White Duke—David Bowie, immersed in his Berlin period and recording a trilogy of albums that together arguably represent the best work of his career. That would be something, wouldn’t it?

Perhaps some of you don’t have to imagine. If you had tuned into BBC Radio One on May, 20 of that year, you would have heard David Bowie DJ his own two hour show, “Star Special,” playing his favorite records and jovially chatting up his audience. “There are some famous names here,” says an announcer introducing Bowie’s show, “some you’ve never heard of before.” Bowie laughs at his own jokes, and obviously takes great pleasure in sharing so many then-obscure artists. “You can hear that deep need to show,” writes Dangerous Minds, “to bring listeners something new, in every word Bowie utters.” He doesn’t mind bringing them his own new stuff either, playing “Boys Keep Swinging” and “Yassassin” from that year’s Lodger.

Track listing

The Doors, “Love Street”
Iggy Pop, “TV Eye”
John Lennon, “Remember”
? & The Mysterians, “96 Tears”
Edward Elgar, “The Nursery Suite” (extract)
Danny Kaye, “Inchworm”
Philip Glass, “Trial Prison”
The Velvet Underground, “Sweet Jane”
Mars, “Helen Fordsdale”
Little Richard, “He’s My Star”
King Crimson, “21st Century Schizoid Man”
Talking Heads, “Warning Sign”
Jeff Beck, “Beck’s Bolero”
Ronnie Spector, “Try Some, Buy Some”
Marc Bolan, “20th Century Boy”
The Mekons, “Where Were You?”
Steve Forbert, “Big City Cat”
The Rolling Stones, “We Love You”
Roxy Music, “2HB”
Bruce Springsteen, “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City”
Stevie Wonder, “Fingertips”
Blondie, “Rip Her To Shreds”
Bob Seger, “Beautiful Loser”
David Bowie, “Boys Keep Swinging”
David Bowie, “Yassassin”
Talking Heads, “Book I Read”
Roxy Music, “For Your Pleasure”
King Curtis, “Something On Your Mind”
The Staple Singers, “Lies”

See a complete playlist of Bowie’s “Star Special” above, and hear the entire show at the top of the post. It’s a great listen even with the benefit of hindsight, but if you can put yourself in the place of someone who’d never heard Lou Reed mumble and moan his way through “Sweet Jane”—or for that matter never heard the still-obscure experimental punk band Mars—it’s even better. For other excellent examples of British rock stars as radio tastemakers, hear the Sex Pistols’ John Lydon introduce an audience to Can, King Tubby, Nico, Captain Beefheart, and more in this 1977 Capital Radio interview. (Lydon says he loves “Rebel Rebel,” but thinks Bowie is “a real bad drag queen.”) And don’t miss Joe Strummer’s eclectic 8-episode BBC Radio Show “London Calling” from 1998/2001.

via John Coulthart/Metafilter/Dangerous Minds

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

Listen to 188 Dramatized Science Fiction Stories by Ursula K. Le Guin, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard & More

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We here at Open Culture believe that, as far as science-fiction delivery systems go, you can’t do much better than radio drama. We’ve previously featured quite a range of it, from the classic 1950s series Dimension X and its successor X Minus One to adaptations of such classic works as Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and, most recently, Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. Now we’ve opened up another treasure trove of sci-fi radio in the form of the archives of Mind Webs, originally broadcast on Madison, Wisconsin’s WHA-AM, starting in the 1970s.

One old-time radio site describes Mind Webs as “not really audio drama in the strict sense of the definition,” but “readings of science fiction stories by some of the genre’s best writers [ … ] enhanced by music, periodic sound cues, and the occasional character voice.” As the collector who made his recordings of the series available to the Internet Archive puts it, Mind Webs “stands as a testament to not only some of our greatest speculative fiction authors, but just how well simple dialog and music minus major sound effects can convey stories so well.”

Which authors counted as great enough for inclusion into the Mind Webs canon? Some of the names, like Ursula K. LeGuin, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury, you’d expect to find in this archive, but others go farther afield: the series also features stories by the likes of Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, H.P. Lovecraft — writers who, each in their own way, bent the boundaries of all known fiction, science- or otherwise — and even such supposedly traditional storytellers as John Cheever and Roald Dahl who, in these selections, put their own spin on reality.

Listen to enough episodes of Mind Webs, and you may get hooked on the voice and reading style of its host Michael Hanson, a fixture on Wisconsin public radio for something like forty years. Back in 2001, just after wrapping up his career in that sector, Hanson wrote in to the New York Times lamenting the state of public radio, especially its program directors turned into “sycophantic bean counters” and a “pronounced dumbing down of program content.” Mind Webs, which kept on going from the 70s through the 90s, came from a time before all that, and now its smart storytelling has come available for all of us to enjoy.

The playlist above will let you stream all of the stories — roughly 88 hours worth — from start to finish. Or you can access the audio at Archive.org here.

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Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

School Teachers Turn Old Lockers Into Literary Works of Art

At Biloxi Junior High School, the teachers are spending their summer pretty productively. They’re taking an entire hallway lined with dull green (currently unused) lockers and they’re repainting each and everyone of them — 189 in total. By the time students return in the fall, each locker will look like the spine of a famous book, and the hallway will be known as the “Avenue of Literature.” One teacher told WLOX, “We want students to come back to school in August and … be absolutely amazed with what we’ve done and be curious. We want that to be the spark for reading in our classrooms… We’re hoping the students come and they become completely immersed in a collection” that contains everything from Watership Down and Johnny Tremain to books in the Twilight series, reports Electric Lit.

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