Inspirational Libraries Around the World

Recently, I’ve been checking out more books from my local library. In honor of my transition from used books to temporarily free ones, I’ve been researching some of the most unusual yet inspirational libraries from around the world. Here are my top favorites:

The graveyard library

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The open library in the Jewish cemetery Krems was a project developed to remember those that were lost during the Holocaust. Although this cemetery was desecrated, it has been restored and contains this project by artists Michael Clegg and Martin Guttman. It consists of three gravestone shaped bookshelves containing books about Jewish history and the philosophy of death.

Books delivered by donkeys

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This project was the brainchild of elementary teacher Luis Soriano. His Biblioburros named Alfa and Beto have brought books and hope to children in worn-torn rural Columbia for years.

The largest occupied sculpture in the world is a library!

Talk about impressive art! The administration of this public library in Nice, France is housed inside this giant sculpture of a blockhead. Artist Sacha Sosno who sadly passed away in 2013 designed this structure as the world’s largest occupied structure. I love this one as it combines two of my passions, books and art!

A library cataloged by emotions

Containing 3,500 books, the Levinski Garden Library in Tel Aviv is a completely outdoor library with an unusual method of categorizing books. Rather than by genre, the books are in order by the emotions they elicit in their readers. Each time a book is read, that person will mark the emotion they felt using colored tape. Books often move from one category to another as two readers might experience different emotions from the same book. As a therapist, I found this particular library to be so fascinating.

Little free library

Another great community building project is the Little Free Library which was designed with the idea to give children access to more books. The idea is to “take a book and leave a book” most commonly done through small wooden boxes like the picture above. It’s a great feeling knowing real people in different communities are sharing some of their favorite books with each other. This has been a tremendously successful project in areas where access to books are limited.

This is just a snapshot of some of the great library projects out there. It’s really good to know that beautiful projects like these exist in the world. I hope this post brightens someone’s day and inspires. Never stop reading.

Have you come across some inspirational library projects? Perhaps just a book-related story of inspiration. Please comment below!

 

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Writing Advice from a Nobel Prize Winner

November is National Novel Writing Month. Each year, aspiring writers participate in NaNoWriMo with the hopes of completing a 50,000 word masterpiece. Once you sign up, the idea is to just write each day and track your word count. You can actually set your own word count goal if you feel that 50,000 just isn’t doable. I participated one year, and my best friend is actually taking part this year so I thought I would write a little motivational article for him (and all you aspiring authors out there). In order to illustrate my points, I turn to recent Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro and his ability to pen a best-selling novel in less than a month.

Photo Credit: Francesco Guidicini

The idea of penning a novel seems like a fairly tall order. It requires lots of time, patience, and lots of revisions. While four weeks does not seem to be enough time to complete a work of the highest order, this dream is actually achievable. During my internet wanderings, I came across this excellent article on how Ishiguro’s masterpiece The Remains of the Day was actually penned in four weeks! Let’s take a moment. A novel that sold millions of copies around the world and launched Ishiguro into rock star status was actually drafted in one month!

It was interesting to read about the process Ishiguro undertook to complete the first draft of the book. Basically he committed himself to writing the entire day (allowing meal breaks) Monday through Saturday. Obviously, he had quite a lot of discipline to keep up this rigor even if it was for one month. I really liked what he said about how this schedule affected his state of mind:

In this way, so we hoped, I’d not only complete more work quantitively, but reach a mental state in which my fictional world was more real to me than the actual one.

I love how he allowed himself to be totally immersed within his fictional world, making it a part of his normal life. The reality is most of us cannot do this as we have to take care of little nuisances like going to work, paying the bills, caring for our children. However, I agree with the importance of making that time to write. Whether it’s an hour, or even fifteen minutes a day, time has to be set aside as part of a regular routine. Also, Ishiguro turned off all distractions, no contact with the outside world, no television, no phone calls.

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This is an area where I have struggled time and again. I tell myself that I’m going to get some writing done and never get it completed. Rule one is that writing has to become routine. You have to set down some time for the art of writing. I think it’s best to start with a simple goal of writing for half an hour or say I’m going to write 500 words daily. As with any goal, baby steps are needed to make this part of daily practice.

Another area where I trip myself up is my own inner critic. When I’m actually sitting down writing, I will sit down and stare at a blank screen waiting for the perfect words to come to me or I write something down and quickly regret it. We have to silence our inner critics. They are merciless and will rip us to shreds without mercy. That’s the beauty of NaNoWriMo. You are not expected to make corrections or do any type of revisions at all. Just sit down and write! Here’s what Ishiguro said about the month-long process of composing The Remains of the Day: 

The priority was simply to get the ideas surfacing and growing. Awful sentences, hideous dialogue, scenes that went nowhere – I let them remain and ploughed on.

I remember reading a book on writing from author Natalie Goldberg who talked about the importance of just writing with no cares towards being awful. I liked her technique, which was to purchase the cheapest writing pads she could and just sit down and write whatever came into her mind. She would fill up notebook upon notebook, and some of it was salvageable.

Basically kids, in order to create good writing, you have to be ready to write tons of bad writing.

The other important lesson I gained from the Ishiguro article is on the importance of little moments from life that can add depth to your writing. Whether it’s a scene from a film or a song that truly moves you, these times can help spring inspiration into your writing. For example Ishiguro heard a song by Tom Waits that helped him decide the right time to create an emotionally powerful scene in his novel. It doesn’t even have to be music or film. Our interactions with others in our lives create memories that we can use in our writing. After all, the old saying is write what you know.

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Hopefully, I’ve shared some decent advice when it comes to the act of writing. For those of you participating in NaNoWriMo, or just writing in general, good luck and get to work!

Any writing advice you would like to share? What do you think is the most valuable advice you have ever received? Please comment below!

Can One Own Too Many Books?

If reading if my favorite activity, then buying books is a close second. I love spending my weekends going to bookstores literally getting lost among the thousands of choices. Shopping only becomes fun when it becomes about book shopping! I remember starting my collection as a child, taking a sort of perverse pride in owning so many books. As I became an adult, I would love spending my free time perusing bookstores and coming home with five or six more to add to the collection. When friends came over, they would sometimes comment (with either envy or disgust) the number of books on the shelves. It’s definitely a fun hobby. However, there is a dark side to the extravagant world of book buying!

As I sit here writing this article, I turn around to look at my shelves and the clear lack of further space. Books lay stacked on top of once were very neat shelves. There is a lovely pile next to my side of the bed. I think I even have one or two books in my car that I haven’t brought in yet (hey emergencies happen). If I were to think about how much debt I have accrued simply for the love of books, I might pass out. Yes, there is a downside to owning so many works of literature. Perhaps I need professional help! Can one possess too many books? When is enough enough?

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MUST…..HAVE….MORE

This affliction is actually quite common among book lovers. This recent article from the Guardian explores the phenomenon known as “bibliomania”. In the 19th century, obsessive book buying became the pursuit of gentlemen who desired a large library. There was even a book written by English cleric and bibliographer Thomas Frognall Dibdin called Bibliomania, or Book Madness: A Bibliographical RomanceDibdin developed a list of symptoms based on the types of books sought, such as first-editions, illustrated copies, or editions made with unique binding or covers. I say if this is good enough for the upper-class English, then why not right?

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I found a couple of points very interesting in the above article. First, that book collecting of this magnitude was viewed as very antisocial. The buyer was considered to be someone who refused to contribute to the masses by not sharing books with anyone else. Second, that the innuendo used by Dibdin was considered “sexual innuendo.” Here’s some example dialogue from Dibdin:

“Can you indulge us with a sip of this cream?”

“Fortunately it is in my power to gratify you with a pretty good taste of it.”

Oh my! This is an interesting argument that being a book hoarder could be an equivalent to sexual addiction. I may have more problems than I thought! I also found it fascinating that collecting books was considered an effeminate hobby. Personally I think women find sex appeal in the fact that I have a massive….book collection.

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Here’s a more recent article on the millennial book-buying boom.The article explores how even in the digital age, there has been a resurgence in buying physical copies of books. I’ve read a couple of books electronically, and I have to admit that I don’t particularly care for it. There’s just something about holding a physical book in your hand with its weight and the smell of paper.

“Tech-obsessed younger people are finding that holding a book in their hands can “fill an important void,” said American Booksellers Association Chief Executive Officer Oren Teicher.”

The article goes on to talk about how bookstores and the art of buying books are becoming more of a social experience. Who says readers are antisocial misfits? I mean not all the time anyway.

One doesn’t buy as many books as I do over the years without picking up a trick or two. Buying books doesn’t mean breaking the bank. I typically only buy used books. Within the past five years, I’ve purchased only a handful of books brand new. I usually do all my obsessive book buying at thrift stores and one particular used bookstore that has become my favorite. This particular store has thousands of books, and I almost always end up with at least one or two more. Sometimes lots more.

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Why stop at just one or two right?

There are other ways to be thrifty as well. Bookstores often offer discounts or membership deals. I’ve often received books as gifts on my birthday and Christmas. Of course, there is always the public library (you do have to return those).

I don’t think my book buying will stop anytime soon, probably not ever. At certain times, I would impose a temporary ban from buying more books. Sadly, this is usually short-lived. I supposed there are worse addictions out there.

Are you a book-obsessed shopper? What do you think about owning too many books? Comment below as I would love to hear your thoughts. 

 

 

My Experiences Reading Kazuo Ishiguro

Last week British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature. This excites me to no end because not only is Ishiguro one of my favorite authors, but I also had to honor of meeting him several years ago. It was such a pleasure hearing him speak and having him sign my copy of Never Let Me Go. I found him to be both humble as well as funny. At a recent news conference, Ishiguro expressed his genuine surprise stating “If I had even a suspicion, I would have washed my hair this morning.”

Kazuo Ishiguro
Photo taken from steemit.com 

I have had the pleasure of reading four of Ishiguro’s novels. Three of them I enjoyed immensely, while one was a bit of a letdown. Here are my experiences with Ishiguro:

The Remains of the Day

Interestingly, my first experience with Ishiguro is also the most famous of his works. The Remains of the Day is the story of Stevens, an English butler in the service of a wealthy American who prides himself on his dedication and work ethic. Steven looks back on his life under his previous employer Lord Darlington and remembers his relationship with the housekeeper, Miss Kenton. Several themes run through this work with the most important being having a sense of dignity. Despite stressful situations occurring both in the world and within himself, Stevens holds a strong sense of calm dignity which actually interferes with other aspects of his life such as social situations, politics, and interpersonal relationships. This is the perfect novel to begin your journey with Ishiguro. His calm and detached writing style works perfectly with having a protagonist like Stevens. It is beautifully written and quite a heartbreaker to boot.

As with all of Ishiguro’s works, another theme of this novel is memory and perspective. His books always feature first-person protagonists who is looking back on important events in their lives. A recurring motif is the flaws in our perspectives and how often we can be unreliable in our recollections of the past. Also, we tend to view events quite differently after so much time has passed.

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Despite being nominated for several Academy Awards, the film version of ‘Remains of the Day’ sadly won none. 

A Pale View of Hills

I went back to Ishiguro’s first novel for my second experience. Despite not being quite the emotional masterpiece of Remains of the Day, there is actually quite a lot to enjoy in this little work. A Pale View of Hills is the story of Etsuko, a middle-aged Japanese woman living alone in England. The novel opens with a discussion between Etsuko and her younger daughter regarding the recent suicide of Keiko, Etsuko’s oldest daughter. This leads to Etsuko remembering her time in Japan and her friendship with a lady named Sachiko who had a daughter of her own. Etsuko recalls that her friend’s daughter was very antisocial and solitary. As further details of the friend and daughter are told, we see that their story mirrors that of Etsuko and Keiko.

A Pale View of Hills contains the familiar themes of loss and the act of remembering. I also really liked the comparisons between life in Japan with that in England. Although born in Japan, Ishiguro’s family moved to the UK when he was just five years old. It was nice to see him study and contrast the customs of both countries. Ishiguro said he wasn’t pleased with the way he worked the twist at the end, but personally I was fine with it. One of his shorter works, this is a great little gem.

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Photo Credit: Peter Laing

Never Let Me Go

One of my all-time favorites, this is the book I had Ishiguro sign. It sits proudly on my shelves (although apparently he was willing to sign as many of his books that you wanted to bring). Returning once again to a female narrator named Ruth, this is the story about her and her friends Tommy and Kathy at an exclusive school called Hailsham. As it turns out, this isn’t your typical kind of school as information slowly unfolds about what is actually happening. Kathy and the other students are being raised for a very specific purpose, which I’m not going to spoil here. Their relationships become even more heartbreaking once you realize the truth of their inevitable futures.

I love this novel so much, not only for its science fiction elements but also the careful way Ishiguro lays out what is actually happening. His subtlety in the writing is a stroke of genius. Not only does he grab you by the heart and squeeze all the life out of it, but he does it so carefully that you don’t even realize it until long after you are done reading it. I learned recently that a film adaptation exists, so I might have to watch it along with Remains of the Day just to see how many tissues I can go through in one sitting.

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My signed copy of ‘Never Let Me Go.’ Photo Credit: Natalie Getter

The Buried Giant

Unfortunately, The Buried Giant was more of a miss than a hit. I may have to reread at some point because I’m wondering if I didn’t appreciate it for what is was. I mean there is a knight, magical beings, and a dragon in it for crying out loud! This story is set in a post-Arthurian England where Britons and Saxons live side by side. The protagonists of the story are Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple who living in a communal village. After a mysterious encounter with a Saxon woman, the couple is persuaded to go visit their adult son, who they refer to as an important man in his village. The journey to see their son is fraught with perils. Also, there is a mysterious fog that covers the land that appears to be affecting everyone’s memories. In fact, often Axl and Beatrice question if they even have a son.

Once again, Ishiguro uses a different type of setting in order to convey a very personal story about loss and the nature of memory. I love how he has used different genre settings as vehicles to achieve this task. Ishiguro does craft this story well. It just doesn’t quite hit the same high note that works like Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day did. The characters are some of his most memorable as there is your classic warrior as well as a quixotic knight named Sir Gawain (yes that Sir Gawain of King Arthur fame). I also liked how the protagonists were an elderly couple, something you don’t see very often. This book actually sparked quite a lively debate regarding books and genres. In fact, reviews of The Buried Giant were almost overtaken by the arguments regarding what genre this book should be placed. “Let’s Talk About Genre” is a great conversation between Ishiguro and Neil Gaiman regarding the borders that exist between fantasy and literary fiction.

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Photo Credit: Carrie May

I just finished his short story collection Nocturnes and am currently reading An Artist of the Floating World so look for those reviews soon. Although it was not my intention to dive back into Ishiguro for a while, I decided that this recent event should push him back to the top of my to-read list. Hopefully, this post will entice you to give one of the most remarkable authors of the past century a try. I leave you with this awesome quote by Ishiguro:

“We all live inside bodies that will deteriorate. But when you look at human beings, they’re capable of very decent things: love, loyalty. When time is running out, they don’t care about possessions or status. They want to put things right if they’ve done wrong.”

Have you read any Ishiguro? Did he deserve the Nobel Prize? Please comment below!

Ten Summer Beach Reads

Throughout the year, my wife and I spend several holidays with her parents in Florida. They live only a few minutes from the beach providing me with ample time to enjoy the sounds and smells of the ocean. Of course being the obsessive-compulsive reader that I am, I usually take way more books than is logical to finish in one short week. However, I firmly believe that one can never be too prepared for leaving one’s precious library for such a long period of time.

I try to adjust my reading tastes to match the tropical setting and calm atmosphere of the beach. Leave it to me to “color coordinate” my reading selections to match my temporary surroundings. So in the spirit of fun, here are my top ten holiday beach reads.

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1. Beach Music by Pat Conroy

Hands down one of my favorite books of 2016! I was introduced to this beautiful novel by my best friend/brother. Pat Conroy ingeniously blends family tragedy with a great sense of humor. If you think your family is crazy, wait until you meet this one! The settings are beautifully described from Rome to the gorgeous beaches of South Carolina. Conroy is an underrated master of the craft. He even took home both the ‘Newcomer Award’ as well as ‘Best Original Read’ for my Book Awards 2016.

2. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

David Mitchell is another genius, and this book has to be one of my all-time favorites. This one is perfect for the summer holidays because it jumps all over the world-as well as all over time. Here you will discover six stories separated by both continents and centuries only to find that they connect to each other in surprising ways.

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3. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

I would definitely put this one as the best classic to take to the beach. Stevenson’s tale of dastardly pirates and hidden treasure is a fun read. I’m looking forward to reading Andrew Motion’s sequel Silver (probably during another holiday trip). Sure, it’s a boy’s adventure book, but who doesn’t love pirates? Maybe treat yourself to a pirate cruise after you have read this classic!

4. Dune by Frank Herbert

The first book of one of the greatest science fiction series of all time. Dune is set on the desert planet of Arrakis, where water is scarce but the spice known as melange is plentiful. There are conspiracies, assassinations, betrayals, and the awesome gigantic sand worms! I’m currently reading this one and plan to check out more in the series. There have also been a couple of film adaptations.

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5. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

This is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time. It tells the absurdly comical story of centenarian Allan Karlsson. On the day of the 100th birthday, he makes the spontaneous decision to run away from the nursing home that he is trapped in with no plans for the future. His subsequent decision to steal a suitcase from a mobster filled with a ton of money leads to connecting with several other downtrodden characters and one increasingly ridiculous misadventure after another. This is a fun read, as we are treated to Allan encountering one famous historical figure after another. If you want something light and ridiculous, give this one a shot.

6. Sandition by Jane Austen and ‘Another Lady’

If you are searching for something light, you can’t go wrong with Jane Austen. This unfinished work was completed by an anonymous author who does well in capturing Austen’s signature voice. Set in a resort village, it is full of the typical tropes that Austen fans can’t get enough of….love gone wrong, misunderstandings, and colorful characters. In order to get the full experience, one should read this on the beach with the sounds of the ocean washing over you. Apparently, there’s a modernization of this tale available online.

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7. The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

This charming little memoir is part travelogue and part philosophy. The author Eric Weiner travels to various countries to learn each one’s definition of “happiness.” His pursuit of this elusive concept is quite charming and a great read to take to the beach.

8. A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott

Perhaps you are wanting something a tad more exhilarating for your day at the beach. This early thriller by the scribe of Little Women involves a deadly chase through Europe by the ultimate gentleman stalker. Alcott does a great job of rendering some truly memorable and haunting scenes.

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9. The Martian by Andy Weir

Here is another great science fiction read. The Martian tells the story of a botched space mission and an astronaut who must brave the harsh Martian landscape alone with only his intelligence and sense of humor to aid him. This page-turner is a must read as Weir does an incredible job of describing the cruel terrain of Mars.

10. What I Didn’t See and Other Stories by Karen Joy Fowler

This fantastic collection from Karen Joy Fowler contains some of the best short fiction I’ve read in a long time. The opening story, “The Pelican Bar,” sets the perfect tone. There are stories that take place over a wide range of locations all over the world.

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What are some of your favorite beach reads? Please comment below!