In the 1992 comedy Wayne’s World, Wayne Campbell makes a wise observation about the comparisons made between sparkling wine and champagne. “It is a lot like Star Trek: The Next Generation,” he notes of sparkling wine. “In many ways it’s superior, but will never be as recognized as the original.”
Wayne was right about many things, but even he couldn’t have foreseen the cultural impact of Next Gen from his vantage point in 1992.
The original Star Trek series, starring the likes of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, was great, and the Star Trek films were intermittently so too – all following a crew of spacefaring idealists exploring the universe and having velure-ensconced adventures. But in 1987 the story of Star Trek recommenced with a new series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, which skipped a century ahead and charted a fascinating new course with an all new crew on a new and improved USS Enterprise, a ship with a continuing mission to explore the universe under the steady hand of the uptight but charming Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart).
If you proposed it now, at any town council or city hall meeting, you would be laughed from the room. The concept is almost unthinkably indulgent, in our austere times: an institution, open for free to anyone, that sells no products, makes no money, is funded from public coffers, and is dedicated solely to the public interest, broadly defined. And it’s for books.
If the public library did not already exist as a pillar of local civic engagement in American towns and cities, there’s no way we would be able to create it. It seems like a relic of a bygone era of public optimism, a time when governments worked to value and edify their people, rather than punish and extract from them.
In America, a country that can be often cruel to its citizens, the public library is a surprising kindness. It is an institution that offers grace and sanctuary, and a vision of what our country might one day be.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, a key part of its strategy was to destroy historic libraries in order to eradicate the Ukrainians’ sense of identity. But Putin hadn’t counted on the unbreakable spirit of the country’s librarians
The morning that Russian bombs started falling on Kyiv, Oksana Bruy woke up worried about her laptop. Bruy is president of the Ukrainian Library Association and, the night before, she hadn’t quite finished a presentation on the new plans for the Kyiv Polytechnic Library, so she had left her computer open at work. That morning, the street outside her house filled with the gunfire of Ukrainian militias executing Russian agents. Missile strikes drove her into an underground car park with her daughter, Anna, and her cat, Tom. A few days, later she crept back into the huge empty library, 15,000sqft once filled with the quiet murmurings of readers. As she grabbed her laptop, the air raid siren sounded and she rushed to her car.
Agatha Christie was sitting quietly on a train when she overheard a stranger saying her name. In the carriage, she said, were “two women discussing me, both with copies of my paperback editions on their knees”. They had no idea of the identity of their fellow passenger, and proceeded to discuss the most famous author in the world. “I hear,” said one of the ladies, “she drinks like a fish.”
I love this story because it sums up so much about Agatha Christie’s life. They both had her paperbacks. Of course they did. Christie wrote more than 80 books, outsold only by Shakespeare and the Bible, so the cliche runs. And she wasn’t just a novelist, either: she remains history’s most performed female playwright. She was so successful people think of her as an institution, not as a breaker of new ground. But she was both.
And then, in the railway carriage, there’s the watchful presence of Christie herself, unnoticed. Yes, she was easy to overlook, as is the case with nearly any woman past middle age. But she deliberately played on the fact that she seemed so ordinary. It was a public image she carefully crafted to conceal her real self.
I used to dream of owning a home with a library like the one in Beauty and the Beast. A ladder that glides along the impossibly high shelves filled with more books than you could read in 10 lifetimes. That was before I understood that the idea that you would have one house that you were able to live in for many years (and god forbid, add shelving) would itself be a fairytale.
Packing up these books, disassembling their low-grade flatpack bookcases, hauling them across the city and interstate, and trying to reestablish this budding library time and time again has made me thoroughly fall out of love with my old dream.
I do not wish to rid myself of every book, but I no longer wish to keep every book. At some point, I crossed the line from reader to hoarder and I need to go back. These are the books that do not pass the Marie Kondo test.
These books spark no joy. If anything, the many bookmarks still stuck less than halfway through them conjure embarrassment. I know I’m never going back to finish them. They know I’m never going back to finish them. It is time to end this charade.
From efforts to map Odysseus’s journey to Borges’s commentary on map-making in On Exactitude in Science (where the only sufficient map is in fact as large as the territory it depicts), fictions and maps have long maintained a complicated, entwined relationship.
While the right map can uniquely resonate with a literary text, this resonance exists amid an undeniable tension: a concern that the map might demystify or oversimplify a story, at worst imposing a single, reductive viewpoint on something that should be open and unbounded.
A Victorian Valentine. Hindu gods, Aztec rites, Blondie hits … why the heart is our eternal symbol Read more Exploring this tension, while also charting the ways that the relationship between maps and literature has changed through eras and genres, the Huntington’s new exhibit Mapping Fiction brings together literary maps from hundreds of years of literary history. Drawing from the Huntington’s archives of rare literary texts, the exhibition goes back to the early days of modern literature with texts like The Pilgrim’s Progress and Journey to the Center of the Earth (not Jules Verne’s version but rather a 1741 book written by Norwegian writer Ludvig Holberg), continuing up to the contemporary era with mappings of Octavia Butler’s life and works and artist David Lilburn’s 2006 mapping of James Joyce’s Ulysses.
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