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Farewell, Britannica

This makes me quite sad: Bye Bye Britannica!

I used to skip phys ed in high school and read poetry or the encyclopedia in the library. My aunt had a 1955 version of the Encyclopedia, in a special two-shelf bookcase, with a slot in the back where a huge atlas stood. It looked exactly like this, except that the wood was darker (see farther below):

My beloved Britannica

I loved my aunt’s set with a mad love. And then one day — she gave it to me.

I was deliriously happy. I moved several times over the years, and that set went with me everywhere. Even though by the time she gave it to me, of course it was long out of date. Who cared? I loved it.

And then, twelve years and three weeks ago — I moved to Toronto. I gave away a ton of stuff between the Near Year and March 1st, when I was to fly, and packed up the rest and put it into a rented storage compartment. And my beloved encyclopedia set didn’t fit.

I tried everything I could think of. No library would take a set that old. No second hand bookstore was remotely interested. I didn’t have a vehicle, so I couldn’t try to take it farther afield.

In the end, on the day that I left my apartment for the last time, there was only one option left. The entire set went into the dumpster. It absolutely broke my heart, but there was nowhere else I could put or take it. It was devastating.

And now the hard copy of the dear Encyclopedia Britannica will be no more, at all. More than ever, I miss my old set and wish it had been humanly possible to keep it and preserve it. 🙁

Encyclopedia Britannica

Encyclopedia Britannica, I miss you

I love the idea of the Little Free Library

I just discovered the concept of the Little Free Library, and I am absolutely thrilled by it! People build a small box (weather proof!) in which they place about twenty books, and people can take one of the books as they leave another. The libraries look like big bird houses or small dog houses, some of them sitting up on posts, others on the ground, and others hanging on walls inside places like cafés.

Todd Bol and Rick Brooks of Wisconsin decided to “endow” these little libraries, reasoning that they could help build community and enjoyment for local people. So they founded Little Free Library, and people sign up to install and maintain a library of their own. They can order one from the original makers, or build their own.  (There’s now a Facebook Group devoted to these Little Library builders.) And they can decorate these small libraries and make them beautiful: have a look at some great examples on the original art page!

Isn’t this just the greatest idea? It reminds me somewhat of Book Crossing, the program where you label a book and record where you left it on the website, and then wait for someone to find it and — hopefully — post that they found it, read it, and are passing it on. (The site describes the process as “releasing” a book into the wild, where hopefully someone “catches” it before “releasing” it again.)

Bol and Brooks started in Madison, Wisconsin, but now things are expanding. There are a few in Chicago, and they’re talking to Long Island, New York as well as other places. Hm…I wonder what would happen if some versions of the Little Free Library started showing up in Toronto!


Comic Book Non-Fiction: Who Says Adults Can’t Read Comics?

I remember hearing that some non-fiction and semi-reference books were appearing in graphic form — you know, like the Bible and The Communist Manifesto — but now there are a whole lot more great non-fiction works coming to a graphic book near you. Many of these aren’t simply graphic interpretations of existing works either; these are adult reference books designed explicitly for the graphic form. The Brain Pickings site described a bunch of them a few days ago — Comic Books for Grown-Ups: 10 Masterpieces of Graphic Nonfiction.

Graphic novel - New Orleans After the Deluge Some of them are rather disturbing, as you can imagine from a title like A.D.: New Orleans after the Deluge. Just a glimpse of a few of the drawings really sobers you up. But this is a forceful way of giving people even a remote idea of what it was actually like in New Orleans after Katrina — and helping to understand how the right-wing federal government itself caused much of the damage, both by not keeping up with repairs on the means of prevention, and by giving help only to certain approved people afterwards.

Graphic book - Edible SecretsBut you’ve got other books that deal with history, like The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography (isn’t that great??) or Burma Chronicles. But there are two that I particularly want. One is Edible Secrets: A Food Tour of Classified Us History, which describes how (you just can’t make up this stuff) governments have tried to use food to alter history and defeat enemies, even to the point of assassinating them with it.

And of course, as an editor, the graphic book I want most of all is The Elements of Style Illustrated. Unlike other editors, I don’t actually like the original book (I find something like Eats, Shoots and Leaves a much more coherent mini grammar and writing guide), yet I would squeal in glee if I got the illustrated version of the old Strunk & White book. It’s illustrated by Maira Kalman, and the few illustrations I’ve seen are delightful.

I’m a manga fan, though only a beginner, but I’m really enjoying the creativity of this new/old graphic form. These books look like they are packed full of great information, so they aren’t mere “picture books” substituting for books of substance. Imagine where they’re going to go next! Who says you can’t read comics as an adult??

Graphic book - The 14th Dalai Lama


Penguin using heavy social media ploy for “Likes” on anniversary

Well, you can’t say Penguin isn’t aiming for the younger crowd. (And they’re using social media so blatantly that I’m rather cynical about it.) Their Penguin Classics line is turning 65, so the company is starting a contest. As described in this USA Today Books article (Penguin Classics rolls out skateboard photo contest for 65th anniversary), it’s all about contestants posting a photo of a Penguin Classic book posing with a skateboard.

Fans can post the photos on Penguin USA’s Facebook contest page.  The three prize winners will get skateboard decks with Penguin-themed designs on them. First prize will receive  an Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Graphic Classic skateboard deck; second prize wins a Dharma Bums Graphic Classic deck; and third prize gets a We Have Always Lived in the Castle deck.

Penguin themselves won’t be deciding on the winners, though. This is a pure social media contest. Winners will be decided by public vote — that is, by visitors to the site expressing their vote on the page. So in essence, it’s not really a contest for the best photo of a skateboard and a Penguin Classic. Rather, it’s a contest to see how many people each entrant can drag over to the page to “Like” Penguin and vote.

You’ve got to admit, this is a prime marketing use of social media. It’s all about the number of “Likes” of the PAGE rather than about a) genuinely good contest photos; or b) the number of people who have actually heard of Penguin and really like Penguin BOOKS. They may get a few new book fans this way, but I suspect this will be more like a quick flash mob, hordes of younger people trying to help their friend get a skateboard, and then a ton of “Unlikes” after the contest is over.

Ah well. You do what you have to, I guess.

One thing to note, though, if you’d like to enter the contest because you love books, and you have a ton of bookish friends who will vote for you — the last day to enter the contest is July 31st, 2011. So you don’t have very long.

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