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Photos: Sian Cain/The Guardian
Where libraries are scarce, Indonesians have risen to the challenge. Sutino ‘Kinong’ Hadi, above, runs the Bemo mobile library in a Jakarta suburb.

Books are important for children, but there are many places around the world where books are scarce. Caring adults do what they can to fill in the gaps, sometimes even going without food in order to buy more books.

Sian Cain writes at the Guardian, “With a great heave, a young man pushes the ancient, three-wheeled rickshaw down a ramp and it splutters to a start. The driver, Sutino ‘Kinong’ Hadi, laughs as he putters his tiny Bemo in a loop outside a preschool in Tanah Abang, in central Jakarta. It’s all the signal the children need; around 20 flood out to envelope the car, pulling at hangings, clambering into the front seat. It’s an exciting time: their library has arrived.

“Kinong is one of thousands of Indonesians who have opened their own library in their own communities. Estimates suggest there are thousands of such libraries in Indonesia, started by ordinary people with great initiative to address the lack of books in their area and funded by occasional donations.

“There is the Perahu Pustaka, a library boat that sails around West Sulawesi. There are libraries on the back of vegetable carts, shelves lugged around by horses in Serang and in West Papua. Across Banten, a 200-strong motorbike gang called the Komunitas Motor Literasi (Moli), brings books to homes from a box attached to their vehicles, delivered with the ease of a takeaway. …

“The persistent myth that Indonesians aren’t interested in reading still pervades; last September, Jakarta governor, Anies Baswedan, told the Jakarta Post: ‘We are challenged to improve our reading interest, particularly in an era where people are far more interested in reading WhatsApp [chats] than in reading books … People nowadays prefer to skim rather than read.’

“But civilians argue that interest isn’t the problem, it’s the lack of infrastructure. ‘Reading appetite isn’t low in Indonesia, it’s just hard to get books,’ says Laura Prinsloo, a publisher … ‘A lot of the people operating these libraries don’t have an education, which makes it hard in a place where it’s about who you know. So if you don’t know anyone, you just do it yourself.’

“Like Andri Gunawan, a wiry young man who heads up the Komunitas Motor Literasi. He never had a library in any of his schools and only became a voracious reader as an adult. ‘Contrary to what a lot of people say, it’s not that there is no interest in reading, it is that there are no books,’ he says. …

“Or Kiswanti, a 52-year-old woman who started out delivering books door-to-door for free on her bicycle. Now, her library and school Warabal, found in Parung, Java, is 21 years old and houses 15,000 books, looked after by 25 volunteers for 1,700 members. …

“ ‘My father apologised as he couldn’t send me on to further education’ she says. ‘But he told me, if I wanted to be smarter, I had to read.’ …

“When Kiswanti opened Warabal in 1997, she even began fasting 10 days each month to buy more.

‘I needed 3,000 rupiah (16p) to eat a day,’ she explains. ‘If I didn’t eat, I can save 30,000 (£1.66) in 10 days – so I could take our best students by taking them to bookshops and buy them any book they want.’ …

“ ‘Reading transports me and introduces me to new worlds – I want to give children that.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here. For similar stories on seat-of-the-pants libraries around the world, search the blog on the word “library.”

This mobile library has been running since 2013. The children are eager for books, but Hadi has found it’s not advisable to let the books go home if  he wants them back.

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Photo: University of York
A UK lab is learning what the DNA in old books has to tell us about the past. Even the beeswax used in seals is rich with data, including the flowers that grew in that region year to year.

Do you know what set you on your career? As an oldest child, I spent a certain amount of time explaining things, and I liked making a school for my dolls. Although I ended up as an editor for many years, I started my worklife as a teacher and am now back to volunteer work as a teacher.

The scientist in the following story got launched on his passion after watching the movie Jaws.

Sarah Zhang writes at the Atlantic, “It was in the archives of the Archbishop of York that Matthew Collins had an epiphany: He was surrounded by millions of animal skins.

“Another person might say they were surrounded by books and manuscripts written on parchment, which is made from skins, usually of cows and sheep. Collins, however, had been trying to make sense of animal-bone fragments from archaeological digs, and he began to think about the advantages of studying animal skins, already cut into rectangles and arranged neatly on a shelf. …

“In recent years, archaeologists and historians have awakened to the potential of ancient DNA extracted from human bones and teeth. DNA evidence has enriched — and complicated — stories of prehistoric human migrations. It has provided tantalizing clues to epidemics such as the black death. It has identified the remains of King Richard III, found under a parking lot. But Collins isn’t just interested in human remains. He’s interested in the things these humans made; the animals they bred, slaughtered, and ate; and the economies they created.

“That’s why he was studying DNA from the bones of livestock — and why his lab is now at the forefront of studying DNA from objects such as parchment, birch-bark tar, and beeswax. … With ample genetic data, you might reconstruct a more complete picture of life hundreds of years in the past.

“Collins splits his time between Cambridge and the University of Copenhagen, and it’s hard to nail down exactly what kind of -ologist he is. He has a knack for gathering experts as diverse as parchment specialists, veterinarians, geneticists, archivists, economic historians, and protein scientists (his own background). ‘All I do is connect people together,’ he said. …

“Collins began his scientific career studying marine biology, thanks to a formative teenage viewing of Jaws. He specialized first in marine fossils and, later, in the ancient proteins hidden inside them. This turned out to be a dead end. For the most part, the fossils were too old and the proteins no longer intact enough to study. He was forced to look at younger and younger material, until he crossed from paleontology into archaeology. He applied the techniques of protein analysis to pottery shards, in which he found milk proteins that hinted at the diet of the people who used those pots.

“Collins quickly realized that DNA held even more potential than ancient proteins, which can be ‘a blunt tool compared to DNA.’ The DNA of any single animal is, after all, a library coding for all the proteins their cells can make. …

“When Collins embarked on the parchment project, he gathered a team that included geneticists as well as archivists, bookmakers, and historians.

“It didn’t take long for the group to hit their first culture clash. In science and archaeology, destructive sampling is at least tolerated, if not encouraged. But book conservators were not going to let people in white coats come in and cut up their books. Instead of giving up or fighting through it, Sarah Fiddyment, a postdoctoral research fellow working with Collins, shadowed conservationists for several weeks. She saw that they used white Staedtler erasers to clean the manuscripts, and wondered whether that rubbed off enough DNA to do the trick. It did; the team found a way to extract DNA and proteins from eraser crumbs, a compromise that satisfied everyone.”

Read how the research evolved, here.

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Photos: Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times
Comfortable easy chairs tempt customers at Lake Forest Park’s Third Place Books near Seattle. Some independent bookstores aim to be an extension of your living room.

The demise of the bookstore keeps being predicted, but independent shops flourish here and there. The survivors are the ones that provide more than a book.

Moira Macdonald reports for the Seattle Times, “If you walk through the entrance of Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park — right past the signs by the door that say EAT SLEEP READ — on a random weekday afternoon, you might find something nobody could have predicted a decade ago: a neighborhood bookstore, busy and thriving. …

“Ten years ago, when the recession hit and Amazon’s deep discounts seemed to sound a death knell for independent bookstores, such a picture might have seemed like the most fantastical of fiction. Beloved Seattle bookstores were closing their doors throughout the aughts, and those who remained open seemed to face an impossibly uphill task — who would pay full price for a book when you could buy it for less online? But there’s more to an indie bookstore than the price on a book’s cover. …

“Founded in 1998 by visionary developer Ron Sher, Third Place Books got its name from sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s theory of the necessity of a third place; one that isn’t home or work but somewhere we can connect with a community. …

“While far from the oldest bookstore in Seattle, Third Place is the only one that in recent years has expanded to three locations, opening in the Ravenna neighborhood in 2002 and Seward Park in 2016. All offer a mix of new and used books, … a comfortable place for coffee or a meal, friendly booksellers eager to recommend a new favorite, a busy schedule of author readings and special events — in other words, offering not just books, but an experience. …

“In their three very different locations — a suburban shopping center north of Seattle; a quiet residential neighborhood near the University of Washington; a south Seattle neighborhood with one of the country’s most diverse ZIP codes — Third Place is offering ways to find community.

“Each store offers at least one book club; Seward Park, leading the pack, has five: Reading Through It: A Post-Election Book Club; Booze & Lasers (for science fiction/fantasy); Social Justice Syllabus; a teen book club; and a new Black Literature club, starting in January. Lake Forest Park’s three book groups include a general literary club, a nonfiction club and a Knitting Book Club (no, they don’t read books about knitting, but knit while they meet, discussing a variety of books).

“The Ravenna store takes advantage of its proximity to UW to present the monthly Black Jaw Literary Series, which features students and faculty members from the university’s creative-writing program. And it’s taken a creative approach to the author appearances that are the bread-and-butter of the bookstore business: Literary Luncheons. …

“Sometimes, creating community in a bookstore doesn’t involve books at all. Calendar events for the three stores include language conversation clubs, mahjong gatherings, live music (often at Third Place Commons, an open community space adjacent to but operated separately from the Lake Forest Park store) and Magic Mondays, a popular monthly demonstration by local magicians at Ravenna. …

“And the stores give back to the communities they serve, regularly supporting local schools. … Other charitable programs [include] single-day fundraisers — instigated by employees, and quickly organized. … The most recent [raised] money for legal services for refugees detained at the U.S.-Mexico border; business that day was up 75 percent.”

More.

A mother and son peruse a picture book at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, Washington. As traditional bookstores close, Third Place books has actually been expanding to new locations.

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Jaimee Leigh sells books at the Barrow Bookstore in Concord, Massachusetts, but during after hours, she makes literature-themed birdhouses designed for actual birds. 

Betsy Levinson was the editor of the Concord Journal for many years and was responsible for the majority of the articles, writing with exceptional grace and insight. Nowadays, she contributes as a stringer, and I see her byline most often on infomercials for local real estate, which don’t interest me as much. But in a recent front page article she did herself proud. And when I went to the locale to take pictures, I could see that other readers had been inspired to follow up, too.

This is what she reported for the Journal. “Jaimee Leigh sells books at her sister Aladdine Joroff’s shop Barrow Bookstore in Concord, but a talent for creating one-of-a-kind birdhouses keeps her busy during her hours away from the shop.

“The birdhouses aren’t just functional, either. Her creations are pieces of art, each one designed around a work of literature.

“For instance, the roof of her ‘The Hobbit’-inspired birdhouse has glow-in-the-dark lettering on the roof in the same original font that J.R.R. Tolkein made for his books.

“Then there is the suet bird cage, inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s ‘Civil Disobedience,’ which she noted was written from a Concord jail cell where he was ordered after refusing to pay taxes. Leigh inscribed words from the book inside. …

“It was four years ago that the idea of making a book-themed birdhouse came to Leigh. She was visiting her godmother in Sligo, Ireland, and attended a creative arts competition as a fundraiser for a storied estate there. She made a ‘memory box’ featuring seashells found in the area, photos and poetry. Though it wasn’t a birdhouse, it inspired her to create ‘similar things for the bookstore in Concord.’ …

″Each birdhouse ‘aims to summarize the essence of a book or story,’ Leigh wrote.

They are sealed from the elements on the outside, but she leaves the interior free of chemicals or noxious fumes that might hurt the birds.

“She bores holes of different sizes to accommodate larger or smaller birds. Recently she started fitting inch-wide ’emergency egress steps’ inside the house in case the bird finds the inside too smooth and can’t get a toehold or clawhold to get out. Leigh’s careful about using a perch on the outside because sometimes predator birds can lurk outside. …

“She has shipped birdhouses to South Korea, Canada and Texas. Others are scattered around the floor-to-ceiling stacks of books at the shop. She has donated houses to local charities for fundraising auctions. Each one can take 60 to 80 hours to complete, she said. … For information, email Leigh at barrowbookstore@gmail.com, or visit barrowbookstore.com.”

More at the Concord Journal, here.

I took pictures of birdhouses featuring the Brothers Grimm, Dracula, and Great Expectations. Regarding the latter, note that Miss Havisham’s wedding dress is evoked by lace, and the clock is stopped at the moment her bridegroom ditched her, twenty minutes to nine.

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I’m reading Book Six of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle. The rings with the birthstones of my grandchildren are from Luna & Stella.

It’s always nice to learn that something you do anyway is good for your health. For example, I love to read. Now an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune tells me that reading books may help older folks stave off dementia.

Doug Williams writes, “If you want to live a long, healthy life, be sure to exercise, eat your veggies, get plenty of sleep and surround yourself with family and friends.

“Oh, and read a few good books each year, too.

“Several studies in recent years indicate that reading — especially reading books — is beneficial to health, wellness and even longevity.

“In 2016, research done by a team at the Yale University School of Public Health found that of more than 3,600 men and women 50 and older in a long-term health and retirement study, book readers — reading at least 3½ hours per week — had a 20 percent lower risk of dying over the next 12 years than non-book readers.

“Books, even more than long magazine or newspaper articles, seem to enhance quality of life, the researchers said.

“ ‘You have to engage more, hold on to information longer,’ says Avni Bavishi, one of the researchers and authors of the study done while she was completing her master’s in chronic disease epidemiology at Yale. …

“Bavishi, now a medical student at Northwestern, says regular book readers can find relaxation in reading. That can be an oasis — an old-school refuge — in this era of constantly changing stimuli from the Internet and 24-hour news cycle. Lifelong readers, too, may develop better critical thinking skills, vocabulary and empathy that can improve quality of life.

“The researchers believe books promote ‘deep reading’ that is a slow, immersive process. That cognitive engagement may help a reader over his or her lifetime to develop better skills for reasoning and concentration that can improve quality of life (better schools, jobs, income, standard of living). Plus, reading books can ‘promote empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence’ that can help create what they call a ‘survival advantage.’ …

“A study published in the journal Neurology in 2013 also cited the benefits of a lifetime of reading as a barrier to ‘late-life cognitive decline.’ It found that although there is no cure for dementia, ‘reading, writing and playing games’ can slow the progress of that affliction. …

“In a 2009 study at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, researchers found reading reduced stress levels by 68 percent, better even than listening to music or taking a walk. Stress reduction was indicated by a lower heart rate and reduced muscle tension.

“Other studies show reading — especially before bedtime — promotes better sleep. It also can enhance social skills and can boost overall intelligence and academic success. …

“In 2012, Stanford researchers — using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) — tracked blood flow to the brain of men and women critically reading excerpts of a Jane Austen novel. They found positive physical results, including increased blood flow to the brain in general, not just to the areas responsible for ‘executive function.’ ” More here.

FYI, I post mini reviews of all the books I read at GoodReads. You can email me at suzannesmom@lunaandstella.com about that.

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Photo: Dave Parkinson / The Tivyside Advertiser
Retiring owner of Bookends bookshop in Cardigan, Paul Morris, left, with new owner Ceisjan van Heerden.

Here’s another great story about people who love bookstores enough to try running one. This version is not about taking on the gig for one day, as the New York Times book critic did in this post, or doing it for a vacation week, as I reported here. It’s about completely taking over.

Alison Flood has the story at the Guardian. “The UK’s newest independent bookseller is gearing up to open his doors [November 5, 2018] – after winning a bookshop in a raffle.

“The unusual prize was dreamed up by Paul Morris, who opened Bookends in Cardigan [Wales] four years ago. The shop is profitable and would have made an estimated £30,000 in a sale, but Morris said he wanted to give someone else the chance to realise their dream of running a bookshop. Over the last three months, anyone who spent more than £20 was eligible to be entered into a raffle to win it.

“The name of the winner, Ceisjan Van Heerden, who is from the Netherlands, was drawn out of a hat containing 59 others at a ceremony last week, as Abba’s ‘The Winner Takes It All’ played to a crowd. …

“ ‘I thought about selling it, but I thought instead, let’s give someone an opportunity in life which they might not otherwise have had. The principle was to make sure the shop continues in good hands,’ he said. “[Ceisjan] is a regular customer and I’m really pleased it was him – he wants to run it.’ …

“Van Heerden told the Tivyside Advertiser that he was ‘so shocked’ when he heard he had won. ‘I love books and read a lot and just happened to be in the shop when a TV crew was making a film about Paul’s decision to raffle it off and I bought a ticket,’ said Van Heerden.

“He officially takes over the shop on 5 November and said he is planning to run it with a friend from Iceland, who is now moving to west Wales. Although the pair have been friends online for nine years, they have yet to meet face to face. ‘It might sound strange, but we are sure we can make it work. It is just an amazing opportunity,’ he said.” What could possibly go wrong?

More here.

 

 

 

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Photo: Bjørn/Book Towns
The book town of Fjærland, Norway. About 30 or 40 villages around the world have a high concentration of booksellers who are drawing visitors and building the local economy.

When I was writing my March post about Hobart, an upstate New York village that boasted five bookstores, I learned that the idea of being a “book town” wasn’t an entirely new concept. In fact, there may be as many as 40 book towns around the world.

Unsurprisingly, someone has written a book about them. Sarah Laskow interviewed Book Towns author Alex Johnson for Atlas Obscura.

“What makes a book town? It can’t be too big — not a city, but a genuine town, usually in a rural setting. It has to have bookshops — not one or two, but a real concentration, where a bibliophile might spend hours, even days, browsing. Usually a book town begins with a couple of secondhand bookstores and later grows to offer new books, too.”

Atlas Obscura: “What makes a good book town?”
Alex Johnson: “Well, they’re all very picturesque. That’s one of the reasons they generally get picked. They’re away from cities, so rents are low. … Often, they’ve been in places where economically things have been a bit slim, or the population’s been decreasing as the younger people move away into the cities. Hay-on-Wye, in Wales, was the first one, and it started in 1977.

“How have book towns changed over the past few decades?
“I think they’re actually quite similar to when [bookseller] Richard Booth came up with the idea. He started Hay as a book town very much to regenerate it — to provide employment, keep people in Hay, and provide an actual tourist destination. … Book towns are tiny little places, and people wouldn’t come to them otherwise. …

What does it take to set up a book town that will survive?
“They’ve got to be sensible about providing a large amount of bookshops. You can’t do it with one or two. You need plenty. You need to cover a range of things. Some of the most successful ones have been where it’s not just bookselling. There are publishers or printers or artists or designers. …

“Nearly all bookstore owners, especially secondhand ones, have their own interests. So they tend to specialize in things anyway. … A few places [have] quite a strong central group, but most of them are quite loose. They nearly all have booksellers associations, but it’s quite like a friendly cooperative. …

“If someone wanted to understand the range of book towns, what four or five would you send them to?
“I would definitely go to Hay. … Paju Book City in South Korea. There’s a huge number of publishers and printers there, as well as books. … Clunes, in Australia, has done a very good job of building themselves up. Originally it was a gold rush town, and they quite often shoot films there. …

“Wigtown, in Scotland, is a good example of a place that’s really regenerated. Twenty years ago, it was having a really tough time — shops and industries closing, people moving out. And they’ve absolutely turned it around.

More here.

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