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Supporters Save Bookshop

Book lovers saved an indy shop in Detroit.

When a community really loves a threatened business, people will pull together to help it survive. Where I live, we had a flash mob event that kept one business going several more years. But it’s up to the owners after that.

Sydney Page reports at the Washington Post, “A small bookstore opened in Detroit just over a year ago, and as a locally owned business, 27th Letter Books had to keep a close eye on its finances. The owners were pleased when they started getting large online orders for textbooks from a new customer.

“ ‘The name they provided matched with a professor,’ said Erin Pineda, 31, who co-owns the bookstore with her husband, Drew, and another couple, Jazmine Cooper and Jake Spease. ‘As a new business, we were trying to build a relationship with someone we thought was a customer.’

“The individual placed several different orders, amounting to $35,000 worth of medical and engineering textbooks, each costing between $100 and $200. Then, in late May, staff received a notification from the store’s merchant service provider, flagging a credit card the person used as fraudulent.

“The bookstore co-owners went through the individual’s purchases — all of which were shipped to the same address outside Michigan — and quickly realized that the person had placed every past order using a stolen credit card, as well.

“ ‘That’s when we started to consider closing,’ said Cooper, 28.

“They contacted law enforcement, their insurance provider and different banks, hoping for a reprieve from the serious financial toll they knew the scam would take on their small company. The cost, they were told, would probably fall entirely on them — which would put them out of business.

“ ‘We heard we were unlikely to get any funds back,’ Erin Pineda said, adding that she and the co-owners spent several weeks trying to remedy the situation, but only hit dead ends. …

“The textbooks were shipped outside the state, which further complicated the matter from a legal standpoint.

When merchants are victims of credit card fraud, liability usually falls on the merchant or the credit card company, depending on the circumstance. Often, the merchant is accountable for covering fraudulent online transactions.

“As a relatively new and fragile business, 27th Letter Books was left with only two options: shut down or seek support.

“ ‘We realized we needed to ask for help,’ Erin Pineda said.

The store co-owners started a GoFundMe campaign, and within 10 days, they surpassed their goal of $35,000. They were stunned by the generosity

“ ‘We’re just blown away by how the community responded and lifted us up in a really difficult situation,’ Erin Pineda said. ‘It was incredible.’

“ ‘The response was not only overwhelming because of the amount, but also because it was so quick,’ Cooper said. ‘I felt that the community really wanted us as part of their community. It was just affirming to me that what we’re doing is worth it.’

“The bookstore emphasizes inclusivity and offers a diverse selection of literature. It also hosts events that aim to bring the community together. … The store runs story-time sessions for children on Saturdays, as well as book club meetings and open mic nights. Additionally, local authors and artists showcase their work.

“Nicole Miazgowicz is one such artist. She had a solo show at the bookstore in April.

“ ‘They just bring so much to the community, and I’ve been really impressed by their kindness and openness,’ said Miazgowicz, 38. ‘It’s kind of like a little family that I’ve found in the community here.’ …

“Miazgowicz held an auction of some of her artwork and donated the proceeds — which totaled $425 — to 27th Letter Books….

“Hank Moon, a Detroit resident, is also a fan of the bookstore. When he found out that it could be closing, he contributed to the campaign and spread the word on social media, encouraging others to do the same. …

“ ‘Yes, they are a bookstore, but they’re a lot more than that,’ he said. ‘It is an incredible community space, and they work really hard to bring in books for a diverse audience of people.’

“More than 400 people contributed to the cause, most of whom live locally, the store owners said. Along with the much-needed funds, messages of support poured in, too.

“Our community needs more businesses like yours. Thank you for all that you do,” commented someone who contributed $200.

The store owners said they are touched by their community’s support and more motivated than ever to keep their doors open.

“ ‘It’s wonderful that people are willing to pay it forward because of what they’ve seen us provide to the community,’ Erin Pineda said. ‘It creates a beautiful reciprocity of gratitude between the people there in our neighborhood and us as a business, and a team of four people who care deeply about southwest Detroit.’

“With the help of their community, 27th Letter Books was able to recoup its losses and remain open. The owners are implementing new procedures to prevent future fraudulent activity.

“Beyond further securing their business and staving off scammers, the owners said they learned another valuable lesson.

“ ‘I would tell other small businesses not to be afraid to reach out to their community,’ Cooper said. ‘They will fight for what they want.’ “

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal.
Mary Taris poses with Blended In Or Faded Out, by Colonese M. Hendon, at Strive Bookstore in Minneapolis on July 15, 2022. 

A Black educator and mother in Minneapolis saw a problem. There were few books with characters her students grandchildren could relate to. So she took action. And in the process, helped her own family and many others.

“When Mary Taris was raising her four children in north Minneapolis,” writes Noor Adwan at Sahan Journal, “she knew she needed to give them books more representative of their identity than the ones she’d had as a child. 

“ ‘I always had to spend extra time and money to find books that our Black children could relate to,’ she said. ‘At a certain point, after years of being frustrated, I just decided I needed to do something about it.’ …

“In 2018, Taris founded Strive Community Publishing to carve out space in the publishing world for Black authors. It has published fiction and nonfiction works for adults and children from 20 authors and five illustrators, and recently opened its first store at the IDS Center in downtown Minneapolis.

“Strive Bookstore’s grand opening [July 20 featured] Anthony Walsh, author of Hockey Is for Everybody. …

“ ‘We’re hoping that at the grand opening we can get to know some of the people who live in the downtown community and find out what they would like to see in a bookstore,’ Taris said.

“Taris’ experiences as a reader, educator, and mother all contributed to her aspiration to provide children with culturally relevant books. When she was a child growing up in north Minneapolis, reading was a reprieve from a chaotic home life.

“ ‘I would just be in my room reading anything I could get my hands on,’ Taris, 58, said recently during an interview at Sistah Co-op, the Black-woman focused business collective in the IDS Center where Strive is also located. ‘It was like reading for escape, and wishing I was somewhere else.’

“But she never felt represented in the books she read as a child. … It wasn’t until Taris was in her 20s that she read something that she could see herself in. One of her coworkers, an older Black woman, had stepped in. 

“ ‘Girl, you need to be reading some books by Black folks,’ Taris recalled her coworker saying. She loaned Taris Disappearing Acts, a novel by Terry McMillan. …

“Taris said the straw that broke the camel’s back came during her final few years of teaching. Her school, located in the Robbinsdale school district, had received an arts grant, and she was encouraged to put together an arts-integrated lesson plan.

“At the time, her class of predominantly Black fifth-graders was busy learning about autobiographies and biographies. But there were only a handful of Black biographies in the school’s library.

“To fill that void, Taris planned to have her students pretend to be adults, and write and illustrate their own autobiographies.

She put in a budget request for blank books and markers for her students. Her request was denied.

“ ‘That was it for me,’ Taris said. ‘It’s like, “I’m just gonna start my own business and I’ll spend my money on what I want for our kids.” ‘ … 

“When Taris founded Strive, she was supported by a circle of writers she calls her founding authors.

“ ‘I give them that distinction because they had to go through the learning process with me,’ Taris said. She said she felt fortunate that they trusted her – and Strive – with their stories.

“ ‘One thing that’s key in publishing is to be able to have the trust of the authors, especially authors who are marginalized like Black authors are, because they have been writing their stories for years,’ Taris said. ‘By the time it gets to me, they’re handing over their baby.’

“Donna Gingery, a 61-year-old Black woman and one of Strive’s founding authors, said one of her favorite parts of working with Strive was the support and encouragement she received throughout the writing process.

“ ‘There’s a lot of things I like about Strive Publishing,’ Gingery said. ‘The encouragement of the writer, the respect that you’re getting from the publisher, and not trying to change the narrative of your book. I think that’s really important.’ 

“Taris said that Strive does its best to hire Black editors to look over their books. …

“Taris’ vision for Strive doesn’t end with the IDS Center location. ‘We do have plans for growth and a possible second location,’ she said.

“In the meantime, she wants to focus on serving the downtown community. ‘We’re really striving to connect across cultures,’ she said.

“Part of that, she said, is portraying the Black community and all of its richness and diversity of talent in a positive light. Readers are already responding.

“ ‘This is a cultural exchange,’ Shimelis Wolde, 70, said recently as he browsed the co-op. ‘It’s important for the new generation.’ “

More at Sahan Journal, here. You can also read summaries of five new books available at the bookstore.

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Photo: Reuters.
An inmate reads the Bible in prison, where she and fellow inmates have access to a small library as part of a La Paz, Bolivia, program to spread literacy and offer the chance to get out of jail earlier.

Sharing stories like today’s, I can see why someone could accuse me of being a Pollyanna. But it’s not that I think people convicted of crimes will be completely transformed if shown a little kindness. It’s more that I see no harm in testing how small kindnesses might add up, especially for people who may have experienced few kindnesses.

In 2017, Philip Reeves at National Public Radio conducted an interview in a Brazil prison about a program that Bolivia is now testing.

“Brazil’s prisons are dangerous places,” Reeves, noted, “blighted by overcrowding and drug gangs. But literacy is offering a way to shorten some inmates’ sentences: Read books, reduce your time behind bars. …

“REEVES: About 30 men are sitting behind desks in a classroom. They’re writing with pens and paper. The teacher is standing up front issuing instructions. … We could be in any school anywhere but for a couple of details. One, a wall of iron bars separates the teacher from her class. Two, the paper each man’s writing could win him a little bit of his life back. … These are inmates in a giant penitentiary in southern Brazil called the Casa de Custodia de Piraquara. …

“MARILDA DE PAULA SOARES: (Through interpreter) I am an educator. I really believe people can change.

“REEVES: Marilda de Paula Soares is the class teacher. Her students are participating in a project pioneered by the southern Brazilian state of Parana. Prisoners get four days lopped off their sentences for each book they read. To get those days of freedom, they must write a short paper about the book. They’re doing that now. Soares says each prisoner’s paper must explain …

“SOARES: (Through interpreter) … what’s caught their eye, a specific character, the language, the theme …

“REEVES: … in sufficient detail to ensure that cheating is … impossible. Douglas Seixas, an inmate here, says it’s true. You really can’t skip the reading. …

“SEIXAS: Because we need to read a book to understand. If you not read the book, no, no way.

“REEVES: Only certain books qualify under the reading program, including foreign and Brazilian classics and kids’ books for prisoners learning to read. Books with very violent themes are banned. … There’s a maximum of 12 books a year. That adds up to a month and a half remission. Admilson Rodrigues is doing 10 years for drug trafficking but is steadily whittling down his sentence by reading. … Rodrigues said he loved Gone With The Wind and also Les Miserables. Les Miserables seems particularly popular here. Rodrigues believes that’s because it’s about an ex-con who’s trying to create a new life on the outside. …

“REEVES: Is this project window dressing by Brazilian officials? Are they trying to put a gloss on a dysfunctional penal system where inmates sometimes wait years before being tried? It’s hard to know. Yet, prisoners here do seem to be benefiting. Edson Reinehr says he’s on his fourth book, which is about the adventures of Mowgli the wolf boy.

“EDSON REINEHR: Helps a lot because to keep the mind — occupied mind inside the cell instead of thinking about other bad things.

“REEVES: Staff here say the project’s about much more than just helping prisoners pass the time and get a little remission. Teacher Agda Ultchak says it’s about fundamentally changing lives.

“AGDA ULTCHAK: (Through interpreter) We hope to create a new perspective on life for them. This is about acquiring knowledge and culture and being able to join another universe.”

Meanwhile, at Reuters, Monica Machicao reports on a version of the program that was launched recently in Bolivia.

“The state program ‘Books Behind Bars’ offers detainees a chance get out of jail days or weeks in advance of their release date.

Bolivia does not have a life sentence or death penalty, but pre-trial detention can last for many years due to a slow judicial system.

“The program has been launched in 47 prisons that do not have resources to pay for education, reintegration or social assistance programs for prisoners, the Andean country’s Ombudsman’s Office says.

“So far, 865 inmates are sifting through prose, improving their reading and writing skills. One of them is Jaqueline, who has already read eight books in a year and has passed four reading tests.

” ‘It is really hard for people like us who have no income and who do not have family outside,’ she said. ‘There are people here, for example, who are just learning how to read and write.’ …

“With a daily salary of 8 bolivianos ($1.18), incarcerated Bolivians are forced to work to be able to eat and pay the high court costs to be released. The country’s prisons and jails have long suffered from overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, with some detainees staging protests over the lack of health care, according to Human Rights Watch. …

“Said Mildred, an inmate at the Obrajes women’s prison in the highland city of La Paz, ‘When I read, I am in contact with the whole universe. The walls and bars disappear.’ “

More on Brazil’s program at NPR, here, and on Bolivia’s at Reuters, here.

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Photo: Jordan Salama.
Luis Soriano and Beto, one of his two burros, set out into the Magdalena countryside with books for children who live on isolated farmsteads in Colombia.

Hannah, a friend since preschool, knows I love stories about unusual libraries. (Search on the word “library” at this blog, and see what I mean.)

I love the feeling I get that libraries have a mind of their own, that they reach out to people because we need them. This week Hannah sent me an article about a burro library. Atlas Obscura adapted it from Jordan Salama’s new book, Every Day the River Changes: Four Weeks Down the Magdalena.

“Luis Soriano was born so premature that when he arrived into the world, everyone was sure that he would die. He was born in 1972, in the very same Colombian village of La Gloria (Magdalena Department) where he grew up and made his life. His father was a cattle rancher, and his mother sold fruit and milk on the side of the road. They were hardworking campesino parents who emphasized to their many children the importance of an education over everything else.

“Luis grew up playing in the rolling fields of the Magdalena valley. La Gloria was set inland from the river by about one hour, yet the river wielded great influence upon the town. … It was said that the Magdalena dictated the rains and the floods of the nearby lowlands, which influenced the rains and the floods in La Gloria, and during droughts, the town felt the river’s pain. The river’s beaches and sandy islands yielded the yucca, plantains, and beans of the Caribbean diet — La Gloria is nearly 100 miles from the nearest Caribbean seaside town, but yes, its people will tell you, it is indeed a Caribbean place.

“Raised in the countryside, Luis learned things from the land that people from the city never understood. In the hot, humid afternoons, a line of ants hurrying across the path meant that the skies were about to open and intense rains would fall and freshen the air; at night, the sudden silence of the frogs and the toads meant that another person was approaching in the darkness. From watching the birds, he gathered certain observations about their daily routines, like which of the trees the flocks of red-and-green macaws preferred for their nightly roosts and at what hours of the day the sirirí sang its lonely song. …

“But Colombia’s escalating violence in the 1970s and ’80s meant that Luis would not be able to stay. When the paramilitaries and other criminal groups plagued La Gloria and the surrounding countryside, Luis’s parents sent him and his siblings to live with family in Valledupar, hours away. His life playing among the animals was replaced by the loud, gritty streets of a valley city.

“By the time Luis finished high school and returned to La Gloria, he decided, maybe as a product of all of this learning and absorbing in his own life, that he wanted to become a schoolteacher. He got a job in a small, rural primary school in nearby Nueva Granada, where he taught reading and writing. At the same time, he completed a remote degree from the Universidad del Magdalena.

“None of his students did any of their schoolwork or seemed to make any progress in the first few years, and Luis blamed himself for it. He thought he was a bad teacher [but] he realized that many of the children, living on isolated farmsteads that were several miles along narrow dirt paths from the nearest school, couldn’t practice reading at home because they didn’t have access to books. A teacher with limited resources himself, he decided to do the only thing he could: bring his own books to them.

“And so, before dawn one day in 1997, he took one of his donkeys and a stack of books and set off across the countryside. Covering several miles of difficult terrain, he stopped at the homes of each one of his students and read with them, before lending them the book and telling them he’d be back the next day to pick it up. And in this manner, he returned day after day, in the early hours of morning, well before school started, for he knew from experience that families living in the fields rose with the first song of the sirirí and the crows of roosters in the dark.

“More than 20 years on, he hasn’t stopped.

‘At first, people saw me as nothing more than a half-insane teacher with some books and his donkey,’ Luis liked to say. ‘Without realizing it at the time, I’d created the very same rural traveling library that the world now knows as the Biblioburro.’

“Biblioburro started out with just seventy books, all of them Luis’s own, and only one donkey. He quickly added a second donkey, affixing wooden bookcases to both of their saddles for ease of transport, and named the two animals Alfa and Beto (alfabeto, alphabet in Spanish). He started extending and diversifying each day’s route to reach more children in the area. When the beloved Colombian national radio broadcaster Juan Gossaín got wind of the Biblioburro story in 2003 and shared it with his listeners, book donations from around the world started pouring in — today, Luis boasts a collection of more than 7,000 titles.

“Yet for all the international attention, it remains a humble operation. When Luis sets off on a Biblioburro visit, he does it alone, quietly, with his two trusted donkeys. Often, he won’t encounter another person for hours as he makes his way across the rugged, lonesome terrain — an uncomfortable ride, and an even more arduous walk, beneath the merciless sun. But the children who live in these lonely places await the arrival of the Biblioburro and its stories with great fervor, running wide-eyed toward Alfa and Beto when they spot them on the horizon.

“Perhaps, in the children he serves, Luis Soriano sees some part of himself. He sees that they can beat the odds — for while Luis has easily become the most famous person to ever come from La Gloria, at the moment of his birth, you would have been hard-pressed to find anyone who imagined he would have resurged from his situation as well as he did.

“Except for one person, that is. As the story goes, his parents called upon an older woman, who was very respected in town, to come examine the child and give him her blessing. Minutes after Luis’s birth, she made her way over to the house and stood over him, looking his tiny body up and down, seeming to ponder whether he would be destined to live as long as she had. After several moments, she spoke. ‘This little one, he isn’t going to die’ was what the old woman said (though who knows if she actually believed it herself). ‘He is going to grow up and become a doctor, and he will save this town.’ “

He did not become a doctor, but whether he saved his town, you can decide after reading more at Atlas Obscura, here. P.S. I just noticed I had a short post about the burro librarian in 2015, here!

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Photo: Book Aid.
Says Book Aid International, “With very little to do in the camps, many [refugees] enjoy coming to the library to read.

Having learned from the Guardian in early 2020 how Greek refugees were enjoying the services of a mobile library, I was happy to find a post from this year that says it’s still going — despite Covid challenges.

Book Aid reports, “ECHO is a mobile library based in Athens, Greece. Founded in the summer of 2016, its mission is to provide people seeking asylum with books, learning resources and a shared community space whilst they live in the camps. …

“We spoke to one of the coordinators of ECHO, Becka, about the library, the people who use it and the ways it impacts the many lives it reaches. 

People often say, ‘If the library wasn’t there, people would still be living,’ and yes, they’d be alive, but they’d be existing.

“ ‘The educational services within the camps are extremely limited, the WiFi is patchy or non-existent and these camps are not safe places. There is no neutral community space, nowhere you can just relax that’s warm and comfortable, like a library. If we wanted to set up permanent library spaces it would be extremely challenging, so we bring in our lending library service once a week. Even though it’s just once a week and it’s an outside space, which isn’t ideal, we have a rug for children and we have spaces for adults so people come to us to relax and learn. 

” ‘There’s very little to look forward to in these camps, and one of the very few things you can actually do is sit and read a book, either for study or for the sake of exploring a different world. With the pandemic affecting our access to the camps, it’s clear that people notice when we’re not there. Covid-19 has exacerbated a situation which was already very bad. …

” ‘Thanks to Book Aid International, English books are fortunately one of our less stressful things. These are one of our most used resources because they support people who are learning English. Greek is a very challenging language, and not everyone living in the camps will settle in Greece for life.

” ‘There is no effective long-term integration programme or much holistic support for refugees. Most people imagine Greece as a sort of stopping off point; so learning English can be a useful tool for the future. It’s part of building up self-reliance and self-confidence to be able to support yourself in a new life in Europe. Without access to books that becomes really difficult.

” ‘For many people, like young mothers, grappling with the alphabet and being able to start to have basic conversations in English can be extremely empowering. It’s almost like repairing that sense of “I am capable, even in really terrible situations, of taking control of my own learning to benefit me and my children for the future.” …

” ‘People like new books… who doesn’t!? It makes a difference seeing something that is not battered and torn. It’s like, “this is for me. Everything else in this camp and this life is old and horrible. But here is a new book that they brought for me to use.”  

“I think people often say, “If the library wasn’t there, people would still be living,” and yes, they’d be alive, but they’d be existing. For our library users and friends in the camps, books are invaluable.’ ”

Read more at Book Aid, here, and at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Robert Klose.
This shop in a low-income neighborhood of Bangor, Maine, has had the same owner since 1980.

People in my town love our independent bookstore, which seems to have been able to weather the pandemic so far. If I bought a book there before I was vaccinated, the staff would either mail it or offer curbside pickup. Now at last I feel comfortable going inside. Does your town have an indie?

Robert Klose wrote recently for the Christian Science Monitor about an indie bookshop in Maine. “The Dutch Renaissance humanist Erasmus of Rotterdam once wrote, ‘When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.’

“This thought came to mind as I drove through one of Bangor, Maine’s poorest neighborhoods en route to a small, offbeat, secondhand bookstore that distinguishes an otherwise careworn street and bears the lofty moniker Pro Libris Books. …

“What a wonderful, wonderful thing to have a bookstore in one’s midst, especially in a place where other needs may incessantly intercede, and in an electronic age when so many bookstores – whether of the small, independent, mom and pop variety, or mega-outfits like Borders – have evaporated from our communities, seemingly overnight.

“Pro Libris Books is an unassuming but well-ordered cave of a shop occupying the ground floor of a peeling-paint clapboard building. … The owner, Eric Furry (is there a more appealing name for a bookseller?), has plied his trade since 1980 and, happily, still turns a profit.

“Mr. Furry, a small septuagenarian with an outsize crop of salt-and-pepper hair, touts his business as ‘A Reader’s Paradise.’ This seems to be enough to attract the rich variety of types I have observed there. …

“As I wander the stacks, dividing my time between titles and observing the other visitors, I note the interplay between patron and proprietor. Not everyone is there to buy. If I’m not mistaken in my interpretation of body language, my impression is that many are there to be – and I choose this word carefully – comforted. The familiar titles, the affordability of the volumes, the quirky touches (a coffin-turned-bookcase from the set of a Stephen King movie; a bumper sticker announcing, ‘Maybe the hokey-pokey is what it’s all about’; Mr. Furry’s roaming cat) return me to the consideration of what we need, of what is indeed essential. When I am visiting Pro Libris Books, I find myself siding with celebrated author John Updike, who once said, ‘Bookstores are lonely forts, spilling light onto the sidewalk. They civilize their neighborhoods.’ …

“When I broached the topic of necessity [of bookshops] with him, he recalled a woman who gave him a $20 bill for a $9.50 sale and told him to keep the change, remarking, ‘I just don’t want you to ever go away.’ And then there was the man who sent him $80 out of the blue because he was worried about how Mr. Furry was faring during the pandemic-induced lockdown. I asked about his survival secret. The answer: ‘Low overhead. And a loyal clientele.’ More here.

By the way, I never lose an opportunity to tell book lovers that https://bookshop.org/ has everything. Plus it gives a portion of sales to indies. Unless you think Amazon needs more money, please check it out.

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By Golly, it pays to read the alum magazine. The people I knew at grad school are no longer posting their achievements, but younger people are doing plenty of creative and interesting things! Consider a 2017 Syracuse University grad who launched a national campaign not far from where I live.

Brandon Dyer wrote about her initiative at Syracuse University Magazine. “When in-person instruction at her school was canceled for the rest of the year because of the pandemic, school guidance counselor Sarah Kamya ’17 decided to work from her hometown of Arlington, Massachusetts. Unlike her New York City apartment, her home in Arlington had enough room to accommodate a makeshift office.

“After her online workday was over, Kamya often tried to spend time outside. ‘I would go on a lot of walks every day, and I passed a few Little Libraries in my neighborhood,’ she says. The Little Free Libraries are part of a national network of outdoor, weatherproof, publicly accessible bookshelves that serve as a free book exchange in many communities. ‘I found that they were a great place to get or share books,’ Kamya says. …

“As an undergraduate majoring in child and family studies [at Syracuse’s] Falk College, Kamya had interned at a local middle school. Although she enjoyed her hands-on experience, it underscored the fact that people of color are still underrepresented in materials used to support the curriculum — an observation Kamya recalled from her own childhood as a book lover who rarely saw herself represented. …

“For the past year, Kamya has been working at Manhattan’s Public School 191, the Riverside School for Makers and Artists, where she has seen how important an inclusive curriculum is to the students, who are predominately people of color. …

“In the Little Free Libraries near her home office, Kamya saw an opportunity to enlighten her community. She began by placing books that offered full, relatable portrayals of Black characters. ‘It was a light bulb, and it just worked out with the timing of being home, the timing of the protests going on. … Why not take this opportunity to really spread awareness and open up people’s eyes to things that they hadn’t seen before?’

“Kamya says these books can potentially enhance awareness, providing access to literature that is new to many families and giving all children an opportunity to read stories that feature Black excellence. She believes books have the power to create change. ‘That change may be within ourselves or spread to others.’ She calls her project Little Free Diverse Libraries.

“To finance books, she started with a request on social media. She asked her family and friends to make a donation and promised all proceeds would be spent at Black-owned bookstores. This idea resonated with people, and she raised $10,000. Then, New York City author Eva Chen amplified Kamya’s message to her own 1.4 million followers and suggested a way to streamline the donation process. …

“ ‘People are really supportive of this project and have been helping me expand this further than I ever imagined.’

“To date, 28 different states have received or will be receiving books from Kamya’s collection. She filled 15 Little Libraries in her hometown of Arlington, and volunteers in Austin, Texas, filled five. Three Little Libraries in Los Angeles have received books like Undefeated, written by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Kadir Nelson, and Hair Love, written by Matthew Cherry and illustrated by Vashti Harrison. Other examples include Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, Michelle Obama’s Becoming, and Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?

“During her summer vacation, Kamya is spending a lot of time in her dining room processing the piles of books. She’s enlisted friends and her parents, calling the project a team effort. ‘I had to make my mom relocate her home office, but it’s okay,’ she says. When donations arrive, Kamya spends at least an hour unboxing everything. Each book is outfitted with individual stickers that say: ‘Black stories matter. This book was chosen with love by anti-racist educators. Please treat it with care and return it to the Little Free Library so that others can enjoy it.’

“Although her project is time consuming, the potential benefits for people of color inspire Kamya.

‘My hope is that these younger people and students will really feel motivated. Hopefully students of color can see themselves represented and go out there and make change.’ …

“Kamya’s goal is for these books to be accessible to all people and to inspire conversations. ‘I want the books to keep replenishing themselves. I want Black authors to keep writing books, and for characters that are minorities to be represented.’ ” More.

The original Little Free Library team also interviewed Kamya, asking, for example:

“What advice do you have for Little Free Library stewards who want to share diverse books in their libraries?
“My advice for Little Free Library stewards is to reach out to those in the community. When I started this project, I had people reach out to me saying they were a teacher or a parent, and they had some books they would like to donate, or their kid had outgrown the books and they were happy to drop off these books so the next person could have them. Sometimes people don’t even know what they have until they take a closer look at their collection!  I would also suggest thinking about your own community, who is represented, who is not represented and what books can you add to your library to welcome or educate those within the community. …

“Can Little Free Library stewards apply to receive books from you?
“I am continuing to send books, as long as I have the books and the funds. If stewards would like to receive books they can reach out to me via email, through the [Little Free Library stewards’ private] Facebook group, or on Instagram.

“What are your top 10 favorite diverse children’s books?
“1. Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO by Dr. Tamara Pizzoli
“2. I Am Enough by Grace Beyers
“3. Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
“4. Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
“5.The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander
“6. Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
“7. The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad
“8. The Day you Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
“9. Hair Love by Matthew Cherry
“10. Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama”

More at the Little Free Library site, here. For a podcast by Kamya, click at Syracuse University Magazine. And check out the Little Free Diverse Libraries Instagram profile.

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Photo: AP
A child protection officer in Sri Lanka wanted to help out rural children who have plenty of hardships but no books. He brings them books in his off hours.

Everybody needs books, maybe especially children who are developing. But children living in poverty often lack access.

I’ve blogged several times about efforts around the world to get books into the hands of poor children. (This post, for example, is about doing it by boat. And here’s one about delivering books on horseback and another by camel!)

Singer and philanthropist Dolly Parton is probably the best known person getting books to kids in the United States. We do have poverty here. Parton grew up poor and knows the discomfort of admitting you need help, so she gives out books without regard to family income.

Bharatha Mallawarachi writes at the Associated Press (AP) about a guy in Sri Lanka who is not famous but is equally determined to fill a need for reading material.

“During his leisure time, Mahinda Dasanayaka packs his motorbike with books and rides his mobile library — across mostly muddy roads running through tea-growing mountain areas — to underprivileged children in backward rural parts of Sri Lanka.

“Having witnessed the hardships faced by children whose villages have no library facilities, Dasanayaka was looking for ways to help them. Then he got the idea for his library on wheels. …

‘There are some kids who hadn’t seen even a children’s storybook until I went to their villages,’ he said.

“Dasanayaka, 32, works as a child protection officer for the government. On his off days — mostly during weekends — he rides his motorbike, which is fixed with a steel box to hold books, to rural villages and distributes the reading material to children free of charge. …

“His collection includes about 3,000 books on a variety of subjects. ‘Boys mostly like to read detective stories such as Sherlock Holmes, while girls prefer to read youth novels and biographies,’ he said. …

“He began the program in 2017 with 150 books — some of his own and others donated by friends, colleagues and well-wishers. He bought a second-hand Honda motorbike for 30,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($162). He then fixed a steel box on the bike’s pillion seat. …

“Apart from giving away books, Dasanayaka also speaks to the children for a few minutes, usually under a roadside tree, highlighting the value of reading, books and authors. He then conducts a discussion on books the children have read, with the aim of eventually forming reading clubs.

“His program has spread to more than 20 villages in Kegalle. He also has expanded it to some villages in Sri Lanka’s former civil war zone in the northern region, more than 340 kilometers (211 miles) from his home.

“The long civil war ended in 2009 when government troops defeated Tamil rebels who were fighting to create a separate state for their ethnic minority in the north.

“Dasanayaka, who is from the ethnic majority Sinhalese, believes books can build a ‘bridge between two ethnic groups. … Books can be used for the betterment of society and promote ethnic reconciliation — because no one can get angry with books,’ he said.

“He also has established mini libraries at intersections in some of the villages he visits, giving children and adults a place to share books. These involve installing a small steel box that can be opened from one side onto a wall or on a stand. So far, he has built four such facilities and aims to set up 20 in different villages.

“While Dasanayaka spends his own money on his program, he is not wealthy, with a take-home income of 20,000 rupees ($108) a month from his job. He said he spends about a quarter of that on gasoline for his mobile library. …

“ ‘I live a simple life,’ he said. ‘No big hopes, and I am not chasing after material values such as big houses and cars.’ …

“Dasanayaka said he does not seek any monetary benefit from his program.’My only happiness is to see that children read books, and I would be delighted to hear the kids say that books helped them to change their lives.’ “

More at AP, here.

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Photo: Bryan Anselm for the New York Times
Co-managers Maureen Disimile and John D. Ynsua at the employee-owned Montclair Book Center in New Jersey innovate to keep the magic going.

Who doesn’t find a bookstore magical — especially an independent bookstore? It takes a certain amount of flexibility and creativity to keep one going and not get plowed under by a certain online billionaire. If we all look for books first at our local indy, we can help keep the magic alive.

In New Jersey, Montclair Book Center has found that employee ownership, ability to improvise, and independent-minded customers are critical.

Dana Jennings writes at the New York Times, “Montclair Book Center is 35 years old, going on eternity. A ramshackle throwback to a funkier, more literary time, the store has shelves handmade from raw lumber. And its customers and clerks are often just as eccentric as the shelves.

“I’ve been shopping and snooping there since 1995 and still haven’t exhausted all of this biblioscape’s labyrinths and warrens — some of which, I suspect, lead to C.S. Lewis’s Narnia or Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast. …

“I’ve stumbled across Italo Calvino limited editions, a hardcover of William Burroughs’s ‘Naked Lunch,’ and a stash of musty, black-and-white comics magazines from the 1960s and ’70s that included ‘Eerie, Creepy and Savage Tales.’ …

“The place is suffused with the sweet reek of ink, decaying pulp and vintage book dust — seductive scents that are like pheromones to book lovers.

“ ‘Unless you work at a bakery, you don’t get many customers talking about how good your store smells,’ said Pete Ryby, who has worked there since it opened in 1984 and is now the store’s primary owner. (Other employees own smaller stakes.)

“The pre-World War I building itself is so cockeyed that it looks set to pratfall down the street, as in some silent Buster Keaton two-reeler. … Still, the store is orderly if not antiseptic. Signs are hand-lettered; there are plenty of chairs for contemplation and ladders for climbing; and, whether by accident or puckish design, the crime section stops short at a fittingly dead end. …

“When I tell people about Montclair Book Center, I almost always mention Ynsua, a friendly 56-year-old filigreed with tattoos and earrings who started there in 1999 and who embodies its eclectic vibe. He owns five kilts and hundreds of vintage T-shirts — Count Chocula, the Emma Peel and John Steed ‘Avengers’ — and his passions as a bibliophile include comics, science fiction and pre-Renaissance European history. He’s also the store’s resident carpenter and a talented cartoonist who once studied at Joe Kubert’s cartooning school in Dover, N.J.

‘I’ve tried not to work for corporations,’ Ynsua said. ‘I like bosses who own their businesses. I like jobs where I can improvise.’

“There’s plenty of that at the Book Center. Indeed, improvisation has helped the store stay in business. Since it started selling used vinyl in 2014, for example, the records ‘have brought in a lot of new customers and increased foot traffic,’ said the co-owner Maureen Disimile, who manages the music side of the business. …

“A quick look at the records revealed a healthy infestation of Beatles; ‘Together,’ by Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells; the musical ‘Hair,’ in the ‘version originale française”’; and even the 1960s British blues rockers Blodwyn Pig. There was also a strong dose of 45s.

“Still, the store comes down to what employees call ‘book people.’ ‘I like being around literature, art and music, and the people who like that stuff,’ said Ynsua, who doesn’t own a computer or subscribe to cable TV. ‘My brain isn’t calcifying here.’

“Lucas McGuffie, a clerk since 2014, added:

‘The attraction is the books, and the book people. They aren’t stupid. They’re more open-minded. They’re smart enough to know that they don’t know all there is to know.’ “

More at the New York Times, here. By the way, if you love vintage vinyl records like the ones at the Montclair Book Center, check out a great R&B collection on my nephew’s site, here. For listening only.

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Photo: Mohammad Ismail/Reuters
Afghan boys read books inside a mobile library bus in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Just when you thought the news was too depressing to turn on the radio or open a newspaper, here’s another story about good people making sure that books get to children who need them most.

Anne Cassidy writes at the Guardian, “Around the world, mobile library programmes are taking books, educational support and even counselling to communities in serious and urgent need.

“Every week, two converted blue buses stocked with children’s books carefully navigate the streets of Kabul, avoiding areas where deadly explosions are common. These travelling libraries stop off at schools in different parts of the city, delivering a wealth of reading material directly to youngsters who have limited access to books.

“ ‘A lot of schools in our city don’t have access to something as basic as a library,’ says Freshta Karim, a 27-year-old Oxford University graduate who was inspired to start Charmaghz, a non-profit, in her home city having grown up without many books herself. ‘We were trying to understand what we could do to promote critical thinking in our country.’ …

“In some cities public transport is being commandeered as means of getting books to communities that need them most. Vehicles are being reimagined and upcycled to not only to spread the joy of reading, but to educate and improve lives. …

“For Karim, buses were a cost-effective, efficient way to get books to children. Charmarghz rents them from a state-owned bus company. … The organisation is funded by donations from local business and communities, and also boasts a third bus that acts as a mobile cinema. Over 600 children visit the buses each day to read, socialise and play games. …

“On the other side of the world, in Tijuana, Mexico, another bus has been similarly transformed – this time for migrant children, whose families have come from countries such as Honduras and El Salvador to escape violence or poverty.

“The city is a popular destination on the migrant trail as it lies south of California where the courts tend to be more welcoming than in places such as Texas, so people have a higher chance of being granted asylum in the US, says Estefania Rebellon, founder of the Yes We Can World Foundation, which runs the bus school. …

“The school chose a location next to a shelter for families, as children make up 60% of the resident population. Many families remain at shelters for months waiting to apply for asylum.

“Rebellon was inspired to set up the school after volunteering at a Tijuana refugee camp. ‘I saw kids running around without shoes, just malnourished and not having anything to do,’ she says. ‘We needed a fast solution to an urgent problem. … The kids can’t be registered in schools because they don’t have a status.’ ”

Elsewhere:

• “Comic books were left on trains, buses, trams and underground systems in cities around the UK [in November] to mark 80 years of Marvel Comics.

• “A tram in Bucharest recently hosted an interactive poetry library where passengers were able to read poetry books written by Romanian authors and listen to jazz.

• “Carriages on two subway trains in Beijing were turned into audio book libraries where passengers could download books. …

• “People in the Netherlands get to travel on trains for free during the country’s annual book week celebrations. Passengers can present a novel instead of a rail ticket.

• “In the Greek city of Thessaloniki, the transport ministry installed mini libraries at bus stops to allow commuters to read as they wait for the bus. ….

• “Passengers on New York’s subway can download free short stories, poems, essays and book excerpts to their devices during the transport authority’s annual Subway Reads campaign, first launched in 2016.” More here.

Fresh off an hour or so of reading to my grandchildren, I know for sure that books mean a lot to kids. Adults, too. It’s important to learn to read, for sure, but maybe even more to let imaginations soar.

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Photo: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images
Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, from 1890. A new book describes one man’s hunt for Shakespeare’s library.

There are people I’m sure you know who get a bee in their bonnet about some topic, often to the point of wearing out their friends and relatives with a barrage of random facts. But although their enthusiasm can be wearing, there’s no doubt that their research provides benefits to many of us, whether their obsession is about an ancestor of ours or someone we all claim as our own, like Shakespeare.

This report is for Laurie, who is likely to appreciate the enthusiam of Shakespeare hound Stuart Kells.

Alison Flood writes at the Guardian, “In an autumn in which scholars have unearthed Milton’s copy of Shakespeare in Philadelphia and parchment fragments from the 13th-century epic Le Roman de la Rose in Worcester [UK], Stuart Kells, author of the forthcoming Shakespeare’s Library, would like to be clear: he has not uncovered the Bard’s book collection, despite what the title might suggest.

“ ‘But I have confirmed its existence, clarified its scale and scope, and documented what happened to it,’ says the author, who has spent 20 years on the trail of Shakespeare’s personal library, and lays out his search in his new book. ‘It would be a very different book if I had gone out and discovered his library. No one has done that. It isn’t in one spot.’ …

“Kells is by no means the first person to have embark on a quest to find Shakespeare’s library during the last 400 years. As he writes, “for every species of book person, the idea of Shakespeare’s library – his personal collection of manuscripts, books, letters and other papers – is enticing, totemic, a subject of wonder.’ …

“Those not sold on his death, or destroyed or lost, ‘are sitting quietly, in cabinets and on shelves, in public and private collections around the world,’ he speculates. …

“ ‘There are things out there still being found and that’s part of the fun. … People are still finding chests of early letters, and there are volumes of multiple plays all bound together.

‘Play scripts were thought of as low literature for some time – they were slightly disreputable and weren’t taken seriously.’ …

“One of his tantalising findings is the potential former owner of a theologicial work by Agostino Tornielli. The book was published in Milan in 1610 and shipped to England, where it was bound in brown calfskin in 1615, the year before Shakespeare’s death. The cover panels on the book include an image of Pyramus and Thisbe, and the edges of the text block are decorated with elaborate patterning.

“The owner of the four bindings is not known, but there are a few hints.. … Writes Kells. ‘In tiny letters, the cover image is signed “I. S.” No one knows whether the initials are those of the block-maker, the bookbinder, the bookseller, the book’s owner, a patron or a dedicatee.’ … But the initials match those of Iohannes Shakespeare, William’s father, who dealt in leather hides – ‘no doubt some of them for bookbinding,’ Kells writes.

“Kells believes that one of the reasons for the disappearance of Shakespeare’s library is that the playwright was not an ‘avid inscriber of books,’ or much of a letter writer. ‘Practically minded and commercial, he does not seem to have been driven by abstract ideas of fame and posterity,’ Kells writes. …

“ ‘I’m quietly confident things are going to turn up,’ he says. “We now see the quarto editions as some of the greatest literary treasures in the world but, up until the 19th century, they were thought of in a different way. They are slight documents, little pamphlets, so it’s very probable they’re out there. We now have clearer eyes to search for these things and different ways of analysing them and dating things. We’re in a golden era of discovery right now.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here. I must say, it takes imagination to interpret the initials of Shakespeare’s father on a piece of leather this way, but it is surely imagination that will find and assemble the lost library.

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Photo: The Guardian
Mashed Mahjor says she started Book Cottage in Afghanistan because there children don’t have a lot of opportunities to talk freely and ask questions.

Today’s post is another in a series about what books mean to people. At least since the age of 10, I myself have found that getting lost in a book is about the most consistently comforting thing I do, and it seems that many other people feel the same.

Stefanie Glinski writes for the Guardian, “In a dimly lit room in west Kabul, stacked with shelves full of books, a small crowd gathers around the warmth of a gas heater. Books clamped under their arms, they are eager to share the stories they’ve read over the course of the week.

“Members of Afghanistan’s youngest reading club, the Book Cottage, range in age from four to 13. The club is just one of many reading circles that are springing up across the capital and reviving a book culture that, once lost, is now vibrant, liberal and expanding once again.

” ‘You have to start them young,’ explains the initiative’s founder, 25-year-old Mashed Mahjor. ‘The country is still at war, so children don’t have a lot of opportunities to talk freely and ask questions, especially girls. We have to bring our book culture back to life.’

“After starting the reading club six years ago, she now has up to 20 regular members – and hundreds of book donations from all over the world.

“But trends are shifting. In west Kabul, a neighbourhood with laid-back coffee shops, small startup businesses, a quick-growing dating scene and – at its heart – Kabul University, reading circles for all ages are expanding. They have started to provide a platform for Afghans to discuss, in a mixed-gender environment, issues not on the public agenda of a conservative society. …

“One such space is found in a basement room of one of the city’s universities, where a group of up to 20 book lovers meets weekly. Some travel the length of the city to participate.

“ ‘It’s worth it,’ says Attash Mashal, a civil engineer and government employee. ‘Most of the books we read can’t be accessed in Afghanistan, so we search for them online and print out copies. We read novels, poetry and philosophy.

“ ‘This one is censored though,’ he adds, holding a copy of Albert Camus’ The Fall. ‘We just found out.’ …

“It’s the translations that most people are after, as it can be difficult to read books in English or other languages. At Aksos, the city’s biggest and most diverse book store, people squeeze into the tight space, examining new titles, reading in corners, or taking selfies against a backdrop of bookshelves. Books are the new cool.

“Aksos holds anything from The Kite Runner – another book previously banned in the country – to The Daydreams of Ashraf Ghani, the country’s president.

“ ‘Once again, the city is boasting poets, writers and creatives pushing against the recent norm,’ says [Syeda Quratulain Masood, who has been researching Kabul’s book culture for her PhD at Brown University in the US].

“ ‘I think it’s because in book clubs, or when writing poetry, we can share our ideas and beliefs without restrictions,’ says Yalda Heideri, a student in her twenties who attends a university book club.

“ ‘Afghanistan has restricted us a lot, especially us women, so we found a way to have discussions that would be embarrassing or even impossible outside.’ But for Heideri, literature has also become an escape from daily life in a wartorn country where there were 3,804 civilian deaths last year, according to the UN assistance mission in Afghanistan.

‘When I get tired of it all, I escape into poetry. It’s a whole different world.

” ‘Kabul is improving and becoming more open, which makes me hopeful. But regardless of where peace negotiations are going, we have to find our own way to cope, and books are just that for me.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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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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