I recently saw in the news that librarians in the African city of Timbuktu are stashing away ancient books to prevent rebels from looting and burning them. Just think about it. These folks are putting their lives at risk for books. That’s awesome.
I nabbed this photo from Arab News. Click on the picture to view their article.
For those of you who don’t know (and I was one of them) Timbuktu is dead center in Mali.
This area has a long tradition of hiding texts. People first hid early Islamic works from Moroccans, then the Europeans. So these folk know what they’re doing. The main library that’s been affects is the Ahmed Baba Institute. It houses all sorts of delicate, museum quality text.
Don’t know who Ahmed Baba is? Neither did I. This fella is the greatest medieval West African writers. He lived from 1556 to 1627, making him a contemporary to Shakespeare (though he didn’t get to run a playhouse). He was a major scholar in the Songhai Empire, which ruled most of West Africa. Too bad that the Arabs rushed in and destroyed the empire, imprisoning all the teachers, including this fella. After everyone, I mean everyone, petitioned for his release, Ahmed Baba was able to head back to Timbuktu. Check out his picture.
I’m sorry, but when I look at this, only one thing comes to mind.
Just like the character Jules (at the end of the flick), Ahmed Baba was soft spoken and gave credit to the Almighty. It seems the current librarians in Timbuktu are taking a cue and busting some ass to protect priceless works of literature.
I love everything that has to do with books. Most of my love exhibits itself in clever sayings or aphorisms about reading and books. At incidental comics, I stumbled upon an amazing comic about adopting books. Check out Stray Books:
I makes me want to adopt books. Now, how about books as a wall. In 2005, Swiss artist Jan Reymond began constructing elaborate installations each year, made of the old, unsold books as a last hurrah for the soon-to-be discarded objects. He also made a tree out of books. That’s dedication.
Then I found a photographer Kirsty Mitchell. Following her mother’s death from a brain tumour in 2008, Kirsty channelled her grief into her passion for photography. She retreated behind the lens of her camera and created Wonderland, an ethereal fantasy world.
Below is The Storyteller: A reference to Kirsten’s English teacher mother, a model sits elegantly on a carpet of bluebells enveloped by books.
Finally, we have artist Robert The (yes, that’s his name). He takes books and then cuts them up to create new symbols. A lobster. A broom. A cake. And yes, a gun.
I still love to read books too. Now, mostly ebooks. But sometimes there’s something special about glue and paper. If the picture below doesn’t make you shiver with excitement, then real, physical books, aren’t for you.
You have to know yourself as a reader. Which type of fiction do you lean toward? Knowing the different kinds of fiction can certainly help. I get totally into this—my Master’s thesis being on genre studies. But I’ll save wordy for a doctoral thesis and give you the reader’s perspective.
Realistic or Literary Fiction
These are the books that deal with real life. They’re usually called literary fiction in bookstores, but I also lump in realistic fiction, because that applies better to young adult books. Basically these books focus more on characters and their personal problems over plot. There is a line that divides literary form realistic. Literary can often be very self-absorbed and even be devoid of plot. Realistic fiction typically has some semblance of a problem and resolution.
Some good examples (pulled from my favs) are:
These books are defined by their plot structures. Characters can be secondary and will sometimes follow stereotypes. Readers return to these books because we know what to expect. Certain situations and settings reoccur over and over. There are many different types of genres, such as: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Thriller, Romance, and Mystery.
Some more favs:
This is where things get interesting. Since the 1980s, films had run the gamut of genre and began mashing them up. Books are doing the same. One of the most popular pastiches is paranormal romance (horror and romance). This allows readers who love genre, to mix things up.
Final set of favs:
- Horror + Realistic Fiction: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
- Science Fiction + Fantasy: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
- Fantasy + Realistic Fiction: Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Next time you look for a good read, think about the type of read you are. Choose your book based on your tastes. If you have a writing bent, then check out how to write for each genre.
Some folk lament the fact that physical bookstores, with their collections of paper and glue, are vanishing. Heck, my city has only one bookstore. I relate. I love wandering the aisles of the bookstores, just picking something up and giving it a page through. But I’ll tell you a secret. Often, the books I pick up and then buy from a bookstore are not the ones I really love. I’ve been disappointed more than once.
What I do relish in bookstores are the recommendations by the employees. These people have read and loved these books and want you to read them too. Ignore the tables with the covers all facing up. The book placement there is often paid for by the publisher.
Alfred Hitchcock enjoying Tom Prideaux’s Love or Nothing: The Life and Times of Ellen Terry.
You can get that same sort of recommendation in the digital age. Often, I look up a book I’ve already read and loved on Amazon. Then I see what else the site recommends. Or I ask my reading friends (on Facebook or Twitter). The best part, I can download a sample of the ebook and read enough to get hooked (or bored).
The final resource for book hunters is book blogs. Check out these three blogs to help find your next read.
SPA Middle School Blog: This site shows recommendations from actual seventh and eight graders. Awesome to know I have similar tastes.
Young Adult Books Central Blog: This place is massive. It reviews books as well as tracks reader reviews. You can sort books in many ways with plenty to choose from.
We Need Reads Blog: A great review blog by a pair of avid readers. Their review of Speak says it all.
Every time I pick up a book from the earlier part of the twentieth century (heck all the way up to the 80s, really), I think: Damn, this whole thing was written on a typewriter. That’s takes patience. And plenty of carbons.
I thought I’d give it a go, on a small scale, mind you. Here’s the results.
If you have as much trouble as I do reading this, here’s what it says:
Typewriter. Why do I love it so? There’s plenty of great writers who composed their whole work on this machine. Seems impossible by today’s standards. As you can see, mistakes happen. Some letters are hardly visible. What a way to run a railroad. This process is exhausting. How did folks do it? No delete. No spellcheck. Yet different thoughts emerge as I type. Things that wouldn’t surface if I were keyboarding.
It took me a few drafts to realize where the apostrophe was. Also, as you notice, I realized I needed to switch to double spacing after periods (rather than the now accepted single space).
Here’s the machine I worked on: The Royal Quiet De Luxe.
One interesting outcome that you’d never see with modern printers were the dents. I had to strike the keys so hard, they dented the paper. In a few spots they even created holes. Here’s a picture of the backside of the paper.
Trippy, isn’t it?
One last picture to round out my typewriter love. This isn’t mine. Rather it’s from photographer Todd McLellan. This is from a series called “The Way Things Work.”
The Way Things Work by Todd McLellan