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Photo: Nederlandse Spoorwegen
A special book given out as gift to readers during National Book Week is accepted instead of a ticket on the train.

The Dutch seem to be ahead of the curve on many things. I’ve posted about their friendly communities for people with dementia, about their environmental innovation, about their biking culture. This story is on their support for reading books.

Jon Stone writes at the Independent, “Dutch book lovers got free rail travel across their country’s entire network [in March] as part of the Netherlands’ annual book week celebrations.

“Every year since 1932 the Netherlands has encouraged reading with Boekenweek – a celebration of literature marked with literary festivals and book signings across the country.

“Traditionally, a well-known Dutch author writes a special novel – the ‘book week gift’ or Boekenweekgeschenk – which is given out for free to people who buy books during the festivities or sign up to a library.

“But the special book – this year the novel Jas Van Belofte by celebrated author Jan Siebelink, can also be presented instead of a rail ticket on every train in the country on the Sunday of book week.

“Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS), the Dutch state railway company, has long been a sponsor of the annual festivities – and even organises book readings signings by top authors on its trains.

” ‘It is good to see all those happily surprised faces of travellers,’ author Jan Siebelink said after boarding a train for the city of Utrecht to meet passengers and read his book. …

“This year the book week gift was given out by bookshops to anyone who spent €12.50 on Dutch-language books.” More here.

And check out this cool article by Feargus O’Sullivan at CityLab, in which he describes a wide array of unusual ways to pay fares — ideas from all around the world.

Because of a problem with rail passes, he writes, England’s Virgin Trains let people pay with an avocado for a while. And “Indonesia’s second city, Surabaya, came up with a novel way of clearing its streets of plastic waste last autumn: It has been encouraging passengers to trade in trash for bus tickets.”

Among other creative approaches, Russia promoted the Winter Olympics by offering passes for doing a certain number of squats, Berlin partnered with Adidas to offer sneakers with a pass in the tongue, and Japan started experimenting with cryptocurrency.

Can you think of other ideas cities should try? Maybe on Giving Tuesday, transit systems could allow free travel for proof you gave to a charity.

 

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Oh, I do love kindhearted stealth projects. This worldwide campaign promotes reading. Chayanit Itthipongmaetee filed a report about it at KhaosodEnglish in Thailand.

“ ‘A Little Prince’ was hiding at BTS Siam [Bangkok Transportation System, or Skytrain]. A ‘Cat in the Rain’ was discovered at BTS Sala Daeng. …

“Fairies hid copies of these books and more in public places [in early August] as a local launch of The Book Fairies project, an international initiative in which people leave texts for others to discover in cities around the world. After readers finish a book, they are supposed to pass it on to others.

“One of the Bangkok book fairies said she learned about the book-drop project a few days before attending Saturday’s TedxBangkok. At the event held inside the KBank Siam Pic-Ganesha Theatre, she sneakily dropped five copies of best-selling memoir ‘Tuesdays with Morrie.’

“ ‘I was really excited for my first book drop, hiding one book at a time, mostly on breaks throughout the event,’ said the woman. …

“She was delighted to hear from one of her book beneficiaries a day later.

“ ‘Dear #bookfairies, I found this at #TEDxBangkok and took it home with me. I don’t know who you are but thank you for passing it on,’ wrote Facebook user Awm Has Standards. …

“Asked what kind of books she wants Thais to read more, the Bangkok book fairy said it would be literary publications for youths.

“ ‘This might sound strange, but I would love to recommend everyone to read English children’s books. … They are doors to creativity, language learning and life lessons. With or without pictures, the exciting stories for children always allow you to be free with your imagination and color them wild. They are also a good start for those who want to practice English.’

“The Book Fairies campaign was originally launched March 8 on International Women’s Day. The campaign became world-famous when British activist and actress Emma Watson, best known as Hermione Granger in the ‘Harry Potter’ film franchise, left copies of books with feminist themes around cities such as London, Paris and New York.”

More here.

Photo: The Book Fairies Thailand / Facebook

littleprince-420x420

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Image: NPR Multimedia/AP Photo
Purple, Prose: The new book Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve subjects thousands of books to statistical analysis.

Nabokov’s favorite word is mauve. That is actually the name of a book by statistician Ben Blatt.

Glen Weldon reviewed it at National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. Blatt, he reports, “loaded thousands of books — classics and contemporary best-sellers — into various databases and let his hard drive churn through them, seeking to determine, for example, if our favorite authors follow conventional writing advice about using cliches, adverbs and exclamation points (they mostly do); if men and women write differently (yep); if an algorithm can identify a writer from his or her prose style (it can); and which authors use the shortest first sentences (Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Mark Twain) versus those who use the longest (Salman Rushdie, Michael Chabon, Edith Wharton). …

“Blatt’s book isn’t terribly interested in the art of writing. What it’s fascinated by — and is fascinating about — is the craft of writing.

“Technique. Word choice. Sentence structure. Reading level. There’s something cheeky in the way Blatt throws genre best-sellers into his statistical blender alongside literary lions and hits puree, looking for patterns of style shared by, say, James Joyce and James Patterson. …

“Blatt looked for the specific words that authors use much more frequently than the rate at which those words generally occur in the rest of written English (i.e., compared to a huge sample of literary works — some 385 million words in total — written in English between 1810 and 2009, assembled by linguists at Brigham Young University). …

“Here’s some that jumped out at me. Jane Austen: civility, fancying, imprudence … Dan Brown: grail, masonic, pyramid. … Truman Capote: clutter, zoo, geranium. John Cheever: infirmary, venereal, erotic … Agatha Christie: inquest, alibi, frightful. F. Scott Fitzgerald: facetious, muddled, sanitarium. Ian Fleming: lavatory, trouser, spangled … Ernest Hemingway: concierge, astern, cognac … Toni Morrison: messed, navel, slop.”

For many people, doing this to literature would be off-putting, but to me it is interesting. And fun. One of the reasons a favorite mystery writer, Eliot Pattison, stopped being my favorite was that I got bored with everyone who got hurt “moaning.”

Check out Weldon’s favorite findings from the book at NPR, here.

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We had just enough snow yesterday to top off the cross-country trail my husband likes, but he’s pretty sure today was his last day skiing this season.

Before winter is entirely gone, check out a charming children’s book called Once Upon a Northern Night.

In the words of Maria Popova at BrainPickings.org, “Writer Jean E. Pendziwol and illustrator Isabelle Arsenault weave a beautiful lullaby in Once Upon a Northern Night (public library | IndieBound) — a loving homage to winter’s soft-coated whimsy, composed with touches of Thoreau’s deep reverence for nature and Whitman’s gift for exalting ‘the nature around and within us.’ …

” ‘Once upon a northern night
a great gray owl gazed down
with his great yellow eyes
on the milky-white bowl of your yard.
Without a sound
not even the quietest whisper,
his great silent wings lifted and
down,
down,
down,
he drifted,
leaving a feathery sketch
of his passing
in the snow.’ “

More about the book here.

Popova recommends that you complement Once Upon a Northern Night with Tove Jansson’s Finnish “classic Moominland Midwinter, then revisit the best children’s books of the year.”

My local indie bookstore is getting a lot of extra business because of Popova’s reviews of children’s books. In fact, I told the shop manager yesterday he should follow Brain Pickings, but there was a long line at the register, and I don’t think he wrote it down.

Art: Isabelle Arsenault/Groundwood Books
Once Upon a Northern Night

 

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Adele Peters writes at FastCoExist that some schools, “like Ward Elementary in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, are starting to fill classrooms with exercise bikes, so students can work out while they learn.

“The Read and Ride program at Ward began five years ago. One classroom is equipped with enough exercise bikes for a full class of students, and teachers bring students throughout the day to use them. As they ride, they read. The combination burns calories, but it turns out that it also helps students learn better. As the elementary school analyzed testing data at the end of school year, they found that students who had spent the most time in the program achieved an 83% proficiency in reading, while those who spent the least time in the program had failing scores–only 41% proficiency.” More here.

The concept, which I learned about at Andrew Sullivan’s blog, is interesting. I hope most such efforts are in addition to recess, not instead of, but I know from experience that physical motion can helping with learning. And if the kids like it, so much the better.

Photo: Read and Ride

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Art: Vita Wells
‘Flights of mind,’ 2007. Book, hair, lights, fan, key, screws, hinges, glue.

Maria Popova’s website, Brain Pickings, is a never-ending source of inspiration, and my only regret is that when her e-newsletter arrives each week, there never is enough time to savor it.

In a recent one, she was a reviewed Art Made from Books: Altered, Sculpted, Carved, Transformed, which she got at the library. The pictures are terrific and remind me of other items we’ve featured. (Remember the lead from Asakiyume about the stealth artist in Scotland who made sculptures from books and left them in libraries? I wrote about that here.)

“As a fervent lover of papercraft, book sculpture, and creative repurposing of physical books,” writes Popova at Brain Pickings, “I was instantly taken with Art Made from Books: Altered, Sculpted, Carved, Transformed (public library) — a compendium of extraordinary artworks from the around the world, using the physical book as raw material for creative contemplation and cultural commentary.

“Sensual, rugged, breathtakingly intricate, ranging from ‘literary jewelry’ to paperback chess sets to giant area rugs woven of discarded book spines, these cut and carved tomes remind us that art is not a thing but a way — a way of being in the world that transmutes its dead cells into living materials, its cultural legacy into ever-evolving art forms and creative sensibilities.”

Read more here, and be amazed by the other pictures of book art.

Art: Jennifer Khoshbin
“Prove It,” 2009, cut book.

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Photo: 1Funny

Funny thing about memory. I went on Google to find a children’s book my mother liked to read to the children. I thought it was called Gabriel Churchmouse, but in fact it was Peter Churchmouse. It was the churchkitten who was called Gabriel.

Other people on the Internet  had similarly fuzzy memories. One person thought the phrase “I could listen and listen and listen” referred to words that one character heard another say, but I am reasonably sure the phrase was what Gabriel said to Peter when the churchmouse played the organ (or maybe when Peter sang; a picture comes back to me of Peter raising his eyebrows when he sang).

Amazon describes the book thus: “Cute story about Peter, a churchmouse who was so hungry he ate the hymn books. A cat was brought to get rid of him as he was thought to be a rat. When Peter found out the cat was a kitten and the kitten found out the rat was a mouse they grew into a close friendship!”

Peter was eating hymnals to alert the parson to the existence of a hungry churchmouse. He knew that every parson loves a churchmouse. But Parson Pease-Porridge, who was given to exclaiming, “I’ll be twitched!” and was in  need of decent glasses, thought the large bites must belong to a rat.

Here’s a description from an Amazon customer: “Beautifully illustrated, tenderly told stories about a soft-hearted, near sighted, sleepwalking parson, a Churchmouse (not rat!), church kitten and (puppy) dog all learning to live with, and despite, each other. The stories will teach tolerance to young children, and are amusing and witty, too, for older readers, including adults. I read these stories to my daughter 30 years after my mother read them to me and I suspect my daughter will be reading them to her children as well.”

Well, that would be if she can find a copy. The series, by Margot Austin,  is out of print. Read about Austin (1907-1990) on Wikipedia, here.

An animated 1944 short film about another book in the series, Gabriel Churchkitten, lacks Austin’s adorable illustrations, but has the benefit of reminding me that Gabriel had a thinking cap and that there was a churchpuppy called Trumpet.

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