British phone box libraries

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Books and bookshelves in a famous red British telephone box. Photo credit: Steve Muir via Flickr.

Across the UK, people are turning famous British red telephone boxes into micro libraries – casual book exchanges where there is no registration, and no fines. Anyone is free to take home a book, provided they bring it back or replace it with another.

It’s a novel, if simple idea, and one that has sprung up in response to a sustained threat facing the UK’s public libraries. The first such telephone box library was set up in Westbury-Sub-Mendip in Somerset was founded in 2009 after the local council cut funding for the area’s mobile library.

The parish council purchased the box, a Giles Gilbert Scott K6 design, for £1, and residents in the Somerset village of Westbury-sub-Mendip put up wooden shelves inside and donated their own books.

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The phone box now houses titles from cooking books to the classics and blockbusters to children’s books

A similar story can be found in South London, where a local man named Seb Handley purchased a run-down telephone box from BT for £1, then used his own money and handyman skills to renovate the box and turn it into one of London’s smallest libraries.

“It’s definitely given people an excuse to stand around chatting,” Seb told Londonist magazine, “and in that sense, I suppose it’s really failed as a library.”

The micro-library exchanges operate on a system of trust. In local villages across England, where everybody knows everybody, this seems to have been a relatively simple sell. In some larger cities, however, the micro-libraries have on occasion had to rely on the local community to step in when the libraries have been vandalised.

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This is a concept familiar to library curators across the globe. As Anne Beate Hovind, curator of the world famous ‘Future Library’ project, told us in an interview: “It’s all about trust […]I have no choice other than believing in the project. And there’s also trust the other way – because the coming generations have to trust us that we do these kinds of thing for them. They have to trust that we will do things that take care of the planet – that we create work of arts for them.”

Little free libraries

The entire ethos behind these libraries bring to mind the global phenomenon of the ‘little free libraries’, set up by a Wisconsin man named Todd Boll, who sadly passed away in October this year.

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As a tribute to his mother, Boll made a small wooden house, just large enough for 20 books, and put it on a post at the end of his drive. Above it he wrote: “Free Books”. Before long, his idea became a book-sharing movement across the US and now little libraries appear all over the world.

While BT have said they will not be selling any more of their famous red telephone boxes for the foreseeable future, people looking to do something similar and set up their own mini-libraries can look to Boll’s legacy and create their own little free libraries. There’s even handy instructions on how to create your own library box on the Guardian.

Happy reading, comrades!

 

 

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Donald Trump poetry

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My name is Donald, no, I’m not going bald; that’s not a toupee, what a rude thing to say.”

Donald Trump’s often bizarre and frequently unsettling use of language has been a source of both amusement and horror to onlookers around the world. Yet, like many egomaniacs before him, his words have a strange aesthetic quality that seems to lend them to the form of poetic verse.

For a man who spins his own fictions and creates his own realities, moving into the world of poetry may not be a surprising career move for Donald (although, considering this is the man who moved from reality TV star and frequent failed businessman to become President of the United States, no career move should really be surprising). Yet it must be admitted that his creative writing ability may be impaired by his extremely limited vocabulary and the fact he thinks he can use “schlong” as a verb.

Within Trump’s crude and simple use of language, however, lies a natural poetic lilt. He speaks in compact, distilled phrases that tell you a lot about who he is – often in only a handful of words. His frequent use of declarative sentences and severe lack of complexity gives both his speeches and his tweets a natural staccato rhythm.

Like a child first learning to write and speak, Trump also repeats words and phrases again and again. While this primitive use of language may amuse many – particularly within the liberal metropolitan elite – these are the same linguistic qualities that give Trump’s words power.

By using simple sentences and phrases again and again – accompanied by sweeping generalisations and categorizing his ideas into simple groups (mostly “winners”, “haters” and “losers) – Trump is in some ways a natural communicator to the masses. People remember what he says and take away messages from what he says in a way they seldom do during the triangulated, euphemism-filled speech of most other modern day politicians.

How do we approach this power? How do we deconstruct Trump’s aggressive, misogynistic, racist, and, ultimately, stupid, turns of phrase into something else?

Well, here the best approach seems not to deconstruct it (spending too much time analyzing the babblings of an unhinged idiot is about as fun as trying to remove an ingrowing hair from your crotch with a pair of rusty tweezers).

Instead; it seems we may be best to reconstruct his words – keeping the same natural structures in his choice of phrasing, but mixing his quotes up, in a form of poetic collage, to create new poems and poetry.

We have done just this, exploring the aesthetic power of Trump’s nonsensical babblings about covfefe, and turning them into new forms.

You can read each of our poems below for free through the following links:

Nothing to hide 

So beautiful

Like, really smart

Humble pie

Thank you for listening

So that was my words

Extra Secret Podcast’s 99th episode features Nothing in the Rulebook

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Big news, everyone! The team here at NITRB are thrilled to announce we had the honour of making a special guest appearance on the fabulous Extra Secret Podcast.

Always keen to build bridges with fellow creatives around the world, this cross-Atlantic collaboration opportunity was far too good to miss. In the ESP’s 99th episode, NITRB drop some political thoughts on the tumultuous events that have taken place in the UK over the last few weeks.

It was the second time Professor Wu and Billy the Echidna have been on the show, and the timing seemed appropriate, given that the last time the gang got together (check out that ‘After Dark’ episode here) everyone was still reeling from the fallout of the US election.

The 99th ESP episode also features news about meth lab explosions, R Kelly, and the identity of the new Doctor Who.

Without further ado, you can check out the show now through this link, and don’t forget to subscribe to what is – we think – one of the best podcasts going right now.

For further reading, don’t miss our interview with the Extra Secret Podcast team; and if you’re thinking of starting your own podcast, catch up on their tips for podcasters, while you’re at it.

Download the podcast.

Subscribe

 

UPDATE

Professor Wu and Billy the Echidna have been at it again, collaborating with the team at Extra Secret Podcast for their special ‘After Dark’ episode.

The episode focuses heavily on the recent UK General Election, and can be listened to via the Extra Secret Podcast website 

Reading data: people from US states that voted for Trump less likely to read or be involved in the arts

 

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43.1% of US adults read literature, according to the NEA’s Annual Arts Basic Survey and the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts. Find the interactive map of the data here

In the fallout of Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections, a multitude of commentators – from mainstream media analysts through to social media users – have been keen to analyse, deciphering the results and reaching conclusions as to what the precise cause of Trump’s victory actually was.

The Guardian commentator George Monbiot, for instance, has attributed Trump’s victory to the neoliberal consensus that has gripped with globalised world since the late 1970s. The Spectator’s Theo Hobson, meanwhile, has tasked liberal democracy with being too “flawed” to function, and in its failure paving the way for Trump to ascend to prominence.

While we dissect the different voter demographics for clues and reason – is it simply the case that rich white people won Trump his election victory, as exit polling data indicates? Or perhaps it is simply the case that America has a problem with the idea of a female president, as Patton Oswalt neatly opined in a single tweet that read: “What I’ve learned so far tonight: America is WAAAAAAAY more sexist than it is racist. And it’s pretty f******g racist.”

With so many potential theses being thrown around the digital and traditional media spheres, we thought we’d throw our own into the mix. Given that we are a collective of creatives, bound by a single motto (“there’s nothing in the rulebook that says a giraffe can’t play football”) and focused on supporting artists and artistic endeavours of all kinds, you may not be surprised to hear that we believe the election of Donald Trump was due, in part, to a lack of literature – to a lack of inspiration, imagination, and art in general.

We might also argue that there are too few giraffes playing football in this day and age; although unfortunately the datasets we have on even-toed ungulate mammals playing sports of any kind is, at best, inconclusive.

Fortunately, we aren’t just postulating when it comes to the correlation between reading and art (or lack thereof) and Donald Trump’s election victory.

While Trump himself has said he doesn’t read books, it may not be the greatest surprise that areas in the USA that provided him with the greatest levels of support are also those in which the lowest number of people read books (either regularly or at all) or are inclined to get involved with creative or artistic projects.

Indeed, data pulled from the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) show that in places like Mississippi, where Donald Trump beat Hilary Clinton by almost 220,000 votes (almost 60%), only 21.7% of people from the state read literature, and only 38.5% of people personally created or performed art.

By contrast, those states with the highest rates of reading and artistic engagement were also the ones that polled most strongly for Clinton. Colorado, New Mexico, New York, California, Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire and Maine all scored at least 48% or above for literature reading levels, with the majority of these scoring closer to 60%. Indeed, some of the only outliers to this trend at New Jersey (voted Clinton), which had a 40.7% rate for literature and 44% artwork participation, and Pennsylvania (voted Trump), which had a 47.7% literature reading score, and 48.3% rate of art participation. Interestingly, Pennsylvania was among the closest run races of the election night, with Trump winning by a marginal 48.76% to Clinton’s 47.68%.

Fans of the Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders – who ran Clinton extremely close for the Democratic nomination earlier in the year – will be pleased to know that Vermont (Sanders’s home state) had the highest rate of literature readers – at 62.8% – and an impressive 64% of Vermont residence said they regularly created or performed their own works of art.

Of course, correlation can never be seen as causation, yet we would still make the case that a greater inclination towards creativity and art – as well as a passion for reading – are more likely to move people to vote in favour of progressive change, and intellectualism, as opposed to supporting a demagogue who has faced constant charges of racism and misogyny, and who has boasted about his inclination towards sexually assaulting women.

This may well be because books so often contain within them the power to express important ideas in an engaging, thoughtful way – and can teach us truths about the world we may not otherwise see. Some scientific studies even indicate that reading literature is highly correlated with other kinds of behaviours, such as civic engagement and volunteering.

Indeed, as we’ve posted in previous articles, literature turns us into citizens of the world; makes us smarter; and encourages us to be kinder. And famous artists, scientists, politicians and astronauts have also told us of the importance of books, reading and literature. Neil Armstrong, for instance, said simply “the knowledge you gain from books is fundamental to all human achievement and progress.”

Likewise, a passion for art and creating new creative works speaks to an inclination towards the imagination: which, in order to flourish, grows from the idea that anything is possible – and that idealistic, wonderful things are within our grasp if only we choose to reach for them. Such an ethos seems to stand in stark contrast to the world of Donald Trump – a man who dismisses the science of climate change, who refutes the idea that it is better for human beings to co-operate with one another than oppose each other, and whose complete inability for nuanced thought means he thinks a potential solution to the trends of globalisation we have experienced in recent decades is to build a wall between the USA and Mexico.

Unfortunately, recent years have also seen an increase in the number of libraries closing across the USA – and with them a declining availability and accessibility of literature for many citizens. Simultaneously, cuts to public schooling and education – and increasing costs of higher education – mean that opportunities for young people to access art and literature are further diminished. Since our formative years are just that – formative – such disinvestment in education seriously threatens to undermine the power of literature and art to influence people, and encourage them to think in ways that create new possibilities.

Because, of course, Donald Trump – for all his talk of change – in many ways does not represent anything of the sort. He is not a man of new possibilities; but instead epitomises the private, corporate power that many of his supporters claim to have railed against, and which is in itself one of the core tenants of the neoliberal consensus that has been with us for so many years.

Literature and art, on the other hand, represent just this: the potential to create and imagine new worlds, new beginnings and possibilities; real change, in other words. To that end, the author Ursula K Le Guin has called on writers to imagine alternatives to the capitalist system.

Whether or not literature has the power to spark a revolution remains to be seen. What we do know is that human beings have within them the power to do incredible things – even those that were previously thought to be impossible. And we also know is that reading itself is associated with empathy and kindness and truth – not one of which Donald Trump stands for. This, if nothing else, should be cause to triumph the power of reading literature and creating works of art.

Encouraging people to consume more literature is therefore critical. As we try to digest and process Trump’s victory (you can listen to our conversation on this topic on the Extra Secret Podcast here), perhaps the first form of protest we can all participate in is one of the simplest: going to our local library, checking out a good book and then looking to get involved with a local or digital creative arts project.

If you’re stuck for ideas on which books to check out of your library, why not kick off with one or two of the titles on our list of essential reading for the Donald Trump Apocalypse? And if you’re looking to get involved with a creative art project, remember that we here at Nothing in the Rulebook would love to hear from you and feature your work – so do get in touch!

Until that end, comrades, do not despair; just keep reading, and keep your minds open to all the possibilities in the world.

 

What the world thinks about American literature

Literature of the America Colonies

America. The American Dream. Uncle Sam. Rapacious capitalism. An impossible yearning to own and know everything. The North/South divide. Slavery. Race. Oil. Music. Culture. Literature. The Beat Generation. Kerouac. Ginsberg. Steinbeck. Whitman. Hemingway. Twain. Are these just factions, individual, separate identities – or are they part of a greater whole? What that whole might be? Broadly, we might say they are elements of American culture – or, more specifically, of American Literature. But what exactly is American Literature? What is it about? Where is it? Who is it? How is it?

Of course, there is no single, simple answer here. But the suggestions and ideas and answers that we do have will inevitably be very different from within the United States and outside. Asking yourself how others see you, however, is a healthy exercise of any culture, and US books site Literary Hub has done precisely that. In order to celebrate American Independence Day, the site invited non-American authors to offer their thoughts and musings on American literature – and suggest what they saw as being the most quintessential American fiction titles.

From the responses they received – from almost 50 writers, editors, agents and publishers from over 30 countries – Literary Hub have compiled a list of 96 titles. It is a fascinating list, with the most cited writers being William Faulkner, Herman Melville, JD Salinger, F Scott Fitzgerald, and Mark Twain.

The subjects at the heart of these books, in theory, reflect how the rest of the world sees America and its Literature. They include the Vietnam War, the Great Depression, and the ‘Great American Road Trip’. They speak of “disillusionment” and “loneliness”; of “cheerful melancholy and demonic rage”, “Drugs”, “competitive sports”, “wild capitalism”, and “blood”.

Please do take a look at the full list to see all the suggested fiction titles.