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Photo: Lucy Young/Evening Standard
Jonathan Privett, co-owner of Word On The Water inside the barge.

I love stories about unusual libraries and unusual bookstores. Here’s one from the New York Times about a bookselling endeavor powered by the famed eccentricity of Englishmen.

Rod Nordland writes, “The two men who run London’s only floating bookstore, Word on the Water, are living proof that there really is something you can do in life with an English lit degree, other than teach English literature.

“The store — a 50-foot-long canalboat stuffed to its bulkheads and overflowing onto the towpath with books — has a permanent berth on the Regent’s Canal, around the corner from the British Library. This comes after years of its owners staying one step ahead of eviction from the canals, by relocating fortnightly.

“It is doing so well that Paddy Screech, 51, an Oxford-educated Cornishman with a close-trimmed beard and a soft-spoken manner, and Jonathan Privett, 52, a gaptoothed Yorkshireman who has trouble staying still for long (except with a book), finally took their dream vacations this year. …

“The men got the idea for the store from a book, of course — ‘Children of Ol’ Man River,’ in which Billy Bryant recounts how his British immigrant family arrived on the Mississippi River, homeless, living on a floating board, which they built into a theater, and then into the showboat craze of the late 1800s.

“When they met, Mr. Privett was living on a canalboat, part of a subculture of boat dwellers who berth on London’s canals for free — as long as they keep moving periodically. Mr. Screech had been working with homeless people and drug addicts, while caring for an alcoholic mother at home. ‘Overnight, she stopped drinking and turned into a little old lady who only drank tea,’ he said. …

“Mr. Privett had the book-business experience. Before settling on his canalboat, he had at times been a homeless squatter who supported himself selling used books from street stalls.

“A French friend, Stephane Chaudat, provided a boat big enough to be a store, a 1920s-era Dutch barge; he remains their partner.

“Mr. Privett had a stock of used books. Mr. Screech borrowed 2,000 pounds from his then-sober mother as capital, and their business was born in early 2010. …

“Things went downstream fast. Forced by the berthing laws to move every fortnight, they often found themselves on parts of the nine-mile-long Regent’s Canal with industrial buildings and no customers. …

“Mr. Screech said. ‘For years, it just felt like it was going to sink.’

“Then it did. A friend used the sea toilet on the book barge and left an inlet open, and the boat sank to the bottom; even their prized copy of ‘Ol’ Man River’ was lost. Shortly later, the boat Mr. Privett lived on sunk as well, and he lost all of his family photographs.

“ ‘[We] were just sitting there on the towpath, crying,’ Mr. Screech said. …

“As the canal trust peppered them with legal notices, fines and threats to have the boat barge lifted out of the water and broken up, their supporters got busy, too. One rallying cry of a Twitter post, from the science-fiction author Cory Doctorow, was retweeted a million times, Mr. Screech said.”

Read the whole saga here.

As small blurbs filling out New Yorker magazine columns were once titled, “There’ll always be an England.”

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Photo: Getty
Auckland Libraries in New Zealand figured out why their books were going missing and came up with a win-win solution.

If you know how to read, you want to read, and librarians want you to read. But not everyone has easy access to books. That is why some readers in New Zealand were sneaking books.

Mark Molloy writes at the UK’s Telegraph, “A New Zealand library has finally solved the mystery of why some books were going missing from its shelves.

“Auckland Libraries staff were bewildered after finding some books were being hidden in random places. They initially thought kids playing pranks were to blame, but later discovered it was the city’s rough sleepers who were actually stashing the books so they could return the next day to continue reading.

“ ‘A lot of our street community were wanting to put them underneath the couches or underneath book shelves and kind of hiding them in various places,’ librarian Sean Taylor told TV NZ. … Without a permanent address they were unable to sign up for a library card that would allow them to take the literature away.

“As a solution, Auckland Library created a new section where books can now be left overnight and picked back up again the next morning. …

“ ‘They are really well read. We’ve got a guy who I’ve had a discussion about the meanings of words and we’ll talk about the reference section and it’s the kind of intellectual conversation you’d expect from an academic.’ …

“Auckland Library says it sees itself as a ‘home for the homeless’ and holds regular cinema screenings and a book club for those sleeping rough. …

“ ‘One guy told me he moved to the city several years ago, and that none of his family back home knew he was homeless,” [said Rachel Rivera, manager of Auckland Libraries]. He used our computers to keep in touch with them. It was his lifeline to his family,’ she said.

“ ‘They value our service, like many of our communities do, for different reasons. But they don’t always feel safe and welcome, and that is something we can and should take steps to address.’ ”

More at the Telegraph, here. And look: Everything at the Auckland libraries website is in both English and Maori.

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Photo: DollyParton.com.

For years, country music legend Dolly Parton has been giving back to the community with an initiative to boost child literacy. It started small in Tennessee and spread across the world.

What’s interesting, writes Melville House editor Ryan Harrington at mhpbooks.com, is that the small Knoxville mailing service that her foundation tapped to help in the literacy effort has kept up with the demand.

“Way way back in 2012,” writes Harrington, “we wrote about the international impact of Dolly Parton’s child literacy initiative, Imagination Library. We offered this bit of background on the project:

Launched by singer/actress Dolly Parton, the Imagination Library is a literacy program run by Parton’s Dollywood Foundation that sends enrolled children a free book every month from the month of their birth until they enter kindergarten. Growing up in rural Sevier County, Tennessee, Parton had friends and relatives who were illiterate, which was part of what led her to start a literacy program in her home county. The Imagination Library has been reproduced in 566 counties in the US, across 36 states, as well as in Canada. …

“The story of Dolly’s project is one of non-stop growth — and the once-tiny Knoxville company contracted to manage the original mailings has kept up with an amazingly increased volume.

“Direct Mail Services began its relationship with the Dollywood Foundation twenty years ago, mailing 1,000 books per month to children around Sevierville. A few years later, the foundation announced that the program would be open to any communities across that US that wanted to participate, and Direct Mail Services’ business exploded. …

“The company is preparing for more growth, as the foundation remains committed to expanding its reach. [Cortney Roark reporting for the Knoxville News Sentinel says], ‘Five percent of the U.S. population younger than 5 years old receives a book through the program. The goal is to reach 10 percent by 2024.’ ”

I could easily imagine a small company crumbling under such sudden high demand, so congratulations to Direct Mail Services for rising to the challenge.

More at Melville House, here.

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Photo: Jason Koxvold

Question: What is halfway between the book-sharing Little Free Libraries that are sweeping the country and your town library? Answer: A personal library set apart from your home in a tiny house.

The Today show interviewed an artist whose friends helped him build one, perhaps also securing themselves a place to stay as a guest.

Christina Poletto reports, “In New York’s Ulster County, at the base of the Catskills Mountains, Jason Koxvold’s woodland home has a new addition to the property that is nothing short of stunning. There, tucked among the property’s forest of oak trees, sits a tiny one-room library which holds 2,500 books.

“Koxvold, a British artist based in New York, owns the property and was inspired to carve out a space specifically for solitude and escape. ‘I work from this location and was looking to make a quiet space for writing and reflection,’ Koxvold told TODAY.

“When there’s an overflow of visiting guests, the forest library also serves as an additional bedroom. …

“Koxvold desired a simple, singular structure that he could construct on his own using red oak from the property.

“Using already-felled trees left over from the construction of the main house, cut trees were planed on site into large log sections measuring 8 x 8 feet. After air drying the 12,000 lbs of milled red oak for several seasons, they became the shelving and cubbies that make up the the library’s interior.

“Koxvold was able to complete this structure with the help of eight different friends over the course of a year.

“While the monolithic shape and black exterior is shocking against the natural forest forms, the interior, heated by a single small wood stove, is as warm as it is cozy. A lone picture window looking into the forest is a source of natural light. …

“If you’re lucky enough to be invited as a guest, you’re welcome to leave a private message in one of the books on the shelves.” More.

Nice idea about leaving notes. In Suzanne and Erik’s Harlem apartment, an entire wall was available for written messages. Guests loved it.

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Photo: City of Asylum
City of Asylum Books specializes in translation and world literature. 

With Amazon opening retail bookstores in Greater Boston and elsewhere, the independent bookstores we all love are more threatened than ever. What new models will help them survive?

The Nonprofit Quarterly discusses one idea.

Louis Altman writes, “Conventional wisdom is that the goliath Amazon, the dominant and diversified Internet retailer of everything from books to 7-string zithers has, with unbeatable pricing and almost infinite selection, crushed all brick-and-mortar booksellers in its path. …

“The truth is that independent booksellers are thriving, with 30 percent growth in the number of these stores from 2009–2016, to 2,311 as of 2016. Between 2014 and 2015, independent booksellers saw their market share actually grow from 7 percent of all book sales in 2014 to 10 percent in 2015. …

“The answer may lie with niche-filling shops like Pittsburgh’s new City of Asylum Books, part of a nascent multipurpose cultural center on the city’s North Side called Alphabet City Center. Alphabet City is a consolidated space recently acquired by City of Asylum, a nonprofit arts organization providing sanctuary and forums of expression for exiled writers of all genres from other countries, introducing many unsung voices to the Pittsburgh public through literary community events. …

“The nonprofit bookstore opened … January 14th, offering some 10,000 titles on a wide range of subjects, specializing in translated works and world literature, in 1,200 square feet of space in the Alphabet City building, which includes a bar, restaurant and a venue for readings, performances and workshops. The bookstore sells everything from cookbooks to children’s books to poetry and harbors a giving library, where patrons can take—and give—books for free. …

“Kepler’s Books of Menlo Park, California, [restructured] as a community-owned bookstore, creating a ‘hybrid model’ maintaining operation of the for-profit bookstore, connecting it with a nonprofit arm housing and sponsoring local literary events and presentations for local schools and the community.” More here.

Whether the independent bookstore will find salvation in nonprofit approaches remains to be seen, but creative thinking is sure to be a requirement for longevity. I myself think independents will need to provide services that many used bookstores, particularly nonprofit used bookstores like the Bryn Mawr Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., provide — for example, tracking down out-of-print books for a fee.

My local independent doesn’t offer many extras. It won’t order self-published books for customers, so I am forced to use Amazon if I want one. “Self-published” can include popular books published in England but not yet available in the US through normal channels. Amazon will provide. Why not independents?

There are other issues with my local independent such as shelving two of my three ordered books when they are all the same title, not offering delivery for a fee, and having a website they know is not worth using. But I want the shop to survive, so I order anything from there that it is willing to get for me.

I’d be interested in other people’s experiences and advice for independents.

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Photo: Kate Holt for the Guardian
Juma’a Ali, 34, centre, a Christian from the Nuba mountains in Sudan, who fled to Malakal in South Sudan. Here, he is pictured in his bookshop in Malakal’s camp. 

Sometimes refugees take it upon themselves to improve life in the camps where they hope to live only temporarily. I have read in the past about adults who teach the children who are missing out on school. In fact, I once met a man who did that in a Nepalese camp in India. In this story, a refugee offers books.

Ben Quinn writes at the Guardian, “Juma’a Ali glances fondly at the ceiling-high stacks of titles in his makeshift bookshop, a collection that ranges from Virginia Woolf to Canadian Tax Law (1995 edition).

“Just over three years ago, carrying as many books as he could bring, he sought refuge in war-torn South Sudan following the persecution that he says he experienced as a Christian, across the border in Sudan’s Nuba mountains.

“The books were gathered along the way in Sudan and South Sudan. Most are second-hand copies from libraries in South Sudan and donations from abroad. He wasn’t a bookseller in his home country; he worked with his local church. …

“He sells the books at the camp for very small amounts of money, and is fiercely proud of his role as the bookseller of Malakal. His little shop stands as a source of education and distraction from the often unbearable conditions the camp’s residents live with on a daily basis. …

“Among the most sought-after titles by the more than 33,000 residents of the camp are the Bible and the Oxford English Dictionary, although collections of love poems also find takers. ‘Whenever there is conflict or war, people are reading books about politics and religion. When there is peace, there is also more love,’ says Ali…

“Some day, he says, he wants to leave the camp, adding: ‘Europe is a place I think about, but how to get there? It’s locked up and is closed off to us. I want to be positive and I hope for peace here some day. The problem is how to bring people together after so much has happened.’ ”

Although this story was published as recently at January 4, even more recent news about impending famine in South Sudan has me fearful for Ali and those he serves with his books. I will try to find a follow-up story.

More here.

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Here’s a story from Total Croatia News, which I am not quite sure how I found. Probably a link on ArtsJournal or Facebook or Twitter. I can’t claim to read it regularly.

Daniela Rogulj wrote back in December that with its open digital library, Croatia is the first Free Reading Zone. The top 100,000 digital books from around the world — both bestsellers and academic books — are available without any cost, card, or code.

You do need to be within Croatia’s borders, and you have to download the free “Croatia Reads” app on Android or IOS smartphones and tablets.

The concept was tested early last autumn at Zagreb’s Velvet Café, and it worked. The generous support of sponsors enables publishers and authors to be paid when books are read.

More at Total Croatia News, here, and at Publishing Perspectives, here.

Now I’m wondering what’s on the book list. (Asakiyume: Offer your book?)

Photo: Digital Media Diet
The digitizing of books has enabled Croatia to become the world’s first Free Reading Zone. If you are in Croatia, download the “Croatia Reads” app for access to 100,000 bestselling and academic books.

 

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