A lovely commercial for Bell’s Whisky, made in South Africa.
Neil Gaiman gave a wonderful lecture on behalf of the British Reading Agency last October, arguing for the central importance of reading and libraries to our society:
Another way to destroy a child’s love of reading, of course, is to make sure there are no books of any kind around. And to give them nowhere to read those books. I was lucky. I had an excellent local library growing up. I had the kind of parents who could be persuaded to drop me off in the library on their way to work in summer holidays, and the kind of librarians who did not mind a small, unaccompanied boy heading back into the children’s library every morning and working his way through the card catalogue, looking for books with ghosts or magic or rockets in them, looking for vampires or detectives or witches or wonders. And when I had finished reading the children’s’ library I began on the adult books.
They were good librarians. They liked books and they liked the books being read. They taught me how to order books from other libraries on inter-library loans. They had no snobbery about anything I read. They just seemed to like that there was this wide-eyed little boy who loved to read, and would talk to me about the books I was reading, they would find me other books in a series, they would help. They treated me as another reader – nothing less or more – which meant they treated me with respect. I was not used to being treated with respect as an eight-year-old.
But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.
I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.
The entire lecture is well worth a read.
In the current issue of Tin House, Robert Boswell recounts the story of how he met his wife, and explains a lot about how good fiction is crafted along the way.
Why are we drawn to stories about people falling in love? There are likely a host of reasons, but here’s a good one: marriage, when observed from a place of solitude, has the power of dream. Solitary people fall in love with couples, imagining their own lives transformed by such a union. And once the transformation finally happens, people need to talk about it, telling not only their families, friends, and strangers on the bus but also themselves—repeating it to make it real, to investigate the mystery of marital metamorphosis. And they get good at the telling. People who cannot otherwise put together an adequately coherent narrative to get you to the neighborhood grocery will nonetheless have a beautifully shaped tale of how he met she (or he met he, or she met she) and became we.
Such stories often have many literary qualities. They rely, almost by definition, on the revelation and transformation of character—the same elements that are the backbone of literary stories. The narratives have a mystery at the beginning: how the characters begin loving each other before they understand they’re doing it, the way sleep enters our bodies before we’re actually asleep; and like sleep, we fall into love, and fall deeper as we go. The narratives also have something like a built-in ending. A wedding, after all, is the traditional conclusion for comedies, and it is meant to indicate that the transformation has transpired. Passing through the ritual of the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom are irrevocably changed.
How I Met My Wife [Tin House]
I love these ads, which were taken out by International Paper in the early 1960’s. [click to embiggen]
In this shot dated October 8th, 1940, a boy reads amidst the ruins of a London bookstore following a Nazi air raid and exemplifies the now-famous poster.
In 1971, in an effort to attract as many children as possible to the newly-opened public library in Troy, Michigan, librarian mary Hart wrote to a number of notable people requesting letters of congratulation for the kids in the town. They received 97 responses, from authors such as Isaac Asimov (above) E.B. White, Hardie Gramatky and Dr. Seuss (below).
Great image from the archives of the LA Library, circa 1960:
Wrapped in Thought: Four-year-old Philip Ross finds ABC Easter Bunny more interesting than his guns and spurs. Son of Mr. and Mrs. Max Ross, 12605 Califa St., North Hollywood, he said he can’t read but ‘didn’t mind looking at pictures.’ Librarians at North Hollywood branch library said he is a frequent visitor.”