Readersforum's Blog

October 30, 2013

The Best Books on Writing, NYC, Animals, and More: A Collaboration with the New York Public Library

nyplbookpickings_fullby Maria Popova

A celebration of timelessly wonderful reads in an elaborate diorama of papercraft book sculptures.

As an enormous lover and patron of public libraries, I was beyond delighted when the fine folks at the New York Public Library asked me to curate a selection of books for their bookstore and gave me free range to do whatever I wished. My original thought was to do a single reading list around a specific theme, much like I had been doing for the TED bookstore. But my chronic maximalism soon kicked in — the single reading list swelled into four reading lists (wisdom on writing, great reads about New York City, heart- and brain-stirring books on pets and animals, and timeless treats for young readers) and the simple tabletop display became an elaborate installation in the bookstore’s main window. That’s when I reached out to the impossibly talented Kelli Anderson, with whom I’d previously collaborated on the Curator’s Code and The Reconstructionists projects, and invited her to bestow her singular gift for disruptive wonder upon the library as we both donated our time and resources to the project.

Kelli, with her own brand of idealistic maximalism, decided to turn the reading lists into a magnificent papercraft wonderland featuring oversized three-dimensional sculptures of each of the books amidst an intricate paper cityscape of the Manhattan skyline.

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May 8, 2013

E-Books and Democracy

By ANTHONY W. MARX

WRESTLING with my newspaper on the subway recently, I noticed the woman next to me reading a book on her smartphone. “That has to hurt your eyes,” I commented.  Not missing a beat, she replied, in true New York style, “My font is bigger than yours.” She was right.

The information revolution raises profound questions about the future of books, reading and libraries. While publishers have been nimble about marketing e-books to consumers, until very recently they’ve been mostly unwilling to sell e-books to libraries to lend, fearful that doing so would hurt their business, which is under considerable pressure.

Negotiations between the nation’s libraries and the Big Six publishers — Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Group, Random House and Simon & Schuster, which publish roughly two-thirds of the books in America — have gone in fits and starts. Today Hachette, which had been a holdout, is joining the others in announcing that it will make e-books available to public libraries. This is a big step, as it represents, for the first time, a consensus among the Big Six, at least in principle, that their e-books should be made available to library users.

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November 2, 2012

New Piece Added to Puzzle of Truman Capote’s ‘Answered Prayers’

By JOHN WILLIAMS
A small piece of Truman Capote’s famously unfinished novel “Answered Prayers” has come to light. The six-page story, “Yachts and Things,” found among Capote’s papers in the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the New York Public Library, is published in the December issue of Vanity Fair, out now in New York and nationally next week. The story will be available online in mid-November.

Issued three years after Capote’s death, “Answered Prayers” was composed of three excerpts that had been separately published in Esquire in 1975 and 1976. Full of the thinly veiled (and unveiled) rich and famous, including Peggy Guggenheim, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Gloria Vanderbilt, the book lost Capote many friends. Before his death at 59 in 1984, he spoke of several other fragments that have never been found or published.

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March 8, 2012

Was ‘Frankenstein’ Really About Childbirth?

By Ruth Franklin

“I have no doubt of seeing the animal today,” Mary Wollstonecraft wrote hastily to her husband, William Godwin, on August 30, 1797, as she waited for the midwife who would help her deliver the couple’s first child. The “animal” was Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, who would grow up to be Mary Shelley, wife of the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and author of Frankenstein, one of the most enduring and influential novels of the nineteenth century. But Wollstonecraft would not live to see her daughter’s fame: She died of an infection days after giving birth.

The last notes that Wollstonecraft wrote to Godwin are included in the exhibition “Shelley’s Ghost: The Afterlife of a Poet,” which began last year at the Bodleian Library in Oxford and has now come to the New York Public Library. On display are numerous artifacts both personal and literary from the lives of the Shelleys, including manuscript pages from the notebook in which Mary wrote Frankenstein (with editing in the margins by her husband), which have never before been shown publicly in the United States. But it was Wollstonecraft’s scribbled note, in which she referred to her baby as “the animal”— the same word that the scientist in Frankenstein would use to describe his own notorious creation—that gave me pause. Could the novel—commonly understood as a fable of masculine reproduction, in which a man creates life asexually—also be a story about pregnancy?

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June 20, 2011

New York Public Library Buys Timothy Leary’s Papers

By PATRICIA COHEN

Files from Timothy Leary's archive.

When the Harvard psychologist and psychedelic explorer Timothy Leary first met the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg in 1960, he welcomed Ginsberg’s participation in the drug experiments he was conducting at the university.

“The first time I took psilocybin — 10 pills — was in the fireside social setting in Cambridge,” Ginsberg wrote in a blow-by-blow description of his experience taking synthesized hallucinogenic mushrooms at Leary’s stately home. At one point Ginsberg, naked and nauseated, began to feel scared, but then “Professor Leary came into my room, looked in my eyes and said I was a great man.”

Ginsberg’s “session record,” composed for Leary’s research, was in one of the 335 boxes of papers, videotapes, photographs and more that the New York Public Library is planning to announce that it has purchased from the Leary estate. The material documents the evolution of the tweedy middle-aged academic into a drug guru, international outlaw, gubernatorial candidate, computer software designer and progenitor of the Me Decade’s self-absorbed interest in self-help.

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