Head on over to Art and Object and read all about how NFTs are rocking the art world, plus some pointers on how to collect these digital pieces.
I don’t know about you, dear readers, but it’s been nothing short of a miracle for me to focus on much other than the parade of horribles happening right now. Apparently it’s called doomscrolling? Who knew–probably most of you, right? In that vein, I needed something light and frothy for this post, something downright bubbly and comforting. Well, I think I found it (and feel free to email me if you feel otherwise): a paper story coming to us courtesy of Pulpex, a venture capital-funded endeavor that launched what’s being billed as “the world’s first ever 100% plastic free paper-based spirits bottle, made entirely from sourced wood.”
Pulpex founding partner companies include Diageo, Unilever and PepsiCo, with a stated goal of moving products away from plastic packaging. Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky will be sold in food-grade paper bottles starting in 2021, free of thermoplastic polymer resin known as PET, and will be totally recyclable. TetraPaks, by contrast are manufactured with thin layers of polyethylene wedged between the paper and aluminum, which makes these packages difficult to recycle. Pulpex products aim to avoid that. As we all know, paper and liquids don’t always play well together, so getting this technology to work at scale will go a long way to reducing the amount of plastic floating around. Why not just stick with glass? It’s heavier than cardboard and so carries a larger carbon footprint.
In addition to Johnnie Walker, look for non alcoholic beverages from PepsiCo and personal and household care items from Unilever to appear sheathed in paper in the near future. And not a moment too soon: Diageo, the parent company of Johnnie Walker, uses plastic in 5% of all its packaging, but PepsiCo and Unilever rank among the world’s top plastic producers. Let’s all pour one out in the hopes that this is a success.
*This story first appeared on the Fine Books Blog on June 22, 2020.
Photo courtesy of Diageo
“If we didn’t already have libraries, they would now have to be invented. They are the keys to American success in fully exploiting the information highways of the future,” wrote James H. Billington in the winter 1994 issue of Media Strategies Journal. At the time, the thirteenth Librarian of Congress was reminding a nation enthralled with the nascence of the internet that libraries would be as important as ever in the electronic age, as preservation repositories, testing grounds for experiments in digitization, and strongholds where anyone could freely access humankind’s various written efforts.
Billington wasn’t just offering his opinion; he was engaged in what would become a battle to preserve the mission of the Library of Congress (LOC).
In 1995, a report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) suggested, in an effort to streamline operations at the LOC, that the library’s $350 million annual operating budget be slashed to practically nothing and turn its focus to “increasing revenue” (whatever that means) rather than building and sustaining the country’s knowledge hub. Luckily, Congress committee members charged with reviewing the document rejected the plan. As Billington noted in Patience & Fortitude (Basbanes, 2001), the attempt to undermine the LOC’s mission was hardly noticed by the national media. “The Messiah could make a personal appearance in the main reading room, and the chances are fifty-fifty that it would get any attention from the press,” he said. But the GAO’s report, if acted upon, would have had serious consequences for the future of America’s library, and Billington “went after it tooth and nail….because it was a cautionary issue of no small significance.”
Indeed, what was at stake, as the career humanist realized, was whether the world’s largest library–charged with, as he put it, “stockpiling information”–could continue to ensure that anyone could browse the LOC’s unique treasures.
And yet, Billington did not shy away from the new digital medium. In fact, he embraced what this technology could offer. During his tenure from 1987 to 2015, Billington oversaw great change at the LOC, ushering in dozens of free digital initiatives like the online American culture resource for K-12 education now known as the National Digital Library; thomas.gov, a free portal to U.S. federal legislative information; National Jukebox, which provides free access to over 10,000 out-of-print music and spoken word recordings; and a digital talking books app. He also established programs like the National Book Festival and the Veterans History Project.
And though cost-cutting was often on the wish-list of many political agendas, over the years, Billington raised over half a billion dollars to supplement Congressional financial support no matter who was in office.
Billington faced the future of book culture with steely-eyed awareness and an understanding that far surpassed many contemporaries. He welcomed the Internet age as a liberation of physical books from the cumbersome task of storing facts and figures. “With the move to electronic formats, what I believe you will now see is that books containing data will be online, and the serious kind of traditional literature that has always been in book form will continue to appear in book form. The book, in my view, will be freed from a very heavy burden that it has to bear all these years,” he explained in Patience & Fortitude. “It will be allowed to flourish anew.”
For many of us, the next few weeks will be a flurry of holiday parties, last-minute gift runs, and the chance to see family and friends. In a bid to remember why we go through so much trouble to be with loved ones this time of year, consider picking up the third literary anthology in the Freeman’s collection entitled Home (Grove, $16). Thirty-seven writers from around the world focused on the idea of home, each bringing a new perspective and interpretation.
In the narrative nonfiction piece “Vacationland,” author Kerri Arsenault returns to her hometown of Mexico, Maine, which sits on the banks of the Androscoggin River. Now a derelict relic of a bygone era, the townspeople’s former prosperity came from toiling in the paper mill in nearby Rumford. “That’s money coming out of those smokestacks,” Arsenault’s father used to say, but there was plenty else coming out of those stacks, too–dioxin, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, and other by-products of contemporary mass-produced papermaking, slowly poisoning the surrounding environment and its inhabitants. (Read “At the Crossroads” in On Paper for a look inside the modern commercial papermaking experience.)
Read more about the idea of home over at the Fine Books Blog.
The year-end fundraiser to keep Booklyn in Brooklyn is nearing its final days. Founded in 1999, the non-profit artists and bookmakers association has promoted, documented, and distributed artists’ books to the general public and educational institutions, dedicated to education through the exhibition and distribution of art books and prints. (For a thorough examination, read A.N. Devers’ piece about the nonprofit here, from the Fine Books & Collections Spring 2015 issue.)
Having long ago grown out of its 600-square-foot studio in Greenpoint, the organization has been on the hunt for a new home, and was recently invited to take up residence at ArtBuilt Brooklyn, a 50,000-square-foot art community at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. There, Booklyn will have a production studio, art gallery, event space, and an office to continue producing artists’ books.
images courtesy of Booklyn
On November 11th, a museum opened in Abu Dhabi. And as is fitting for a city known for its glittering skyscrapers and luxury accommodations, it wasn’t just any museum. A collaboration with the Louvre in Paris, the Louvre Abu Dhabi is being billed as a new culture hub for the Middle East.
Read all about this new desert art palace over at the Art & Object website.
image: © Louvre Abu Dhabi – Photography Roland Halbe
With the holiday season comes the winter auctions, and Christie’s December 5 books and manuscripts sale in New York is full of exquisite stocking stuffers for the collectors on your list. Among the items up for bid is a letter written in 1858 by Abraham Lincoln, at the time the Republican candidate for the United States Senate. Lincoln composed the letter in preparation for seven forthcoming debates with Democratic incumbent Stephen Douglas. (In 1858, senators were elected by state legislatures and these debates helped sway the Illinois General Assembly.) Addressed to fellow attorney Henry Asbury, the letter outlines how Lincoln intended to debate whether a territory had the right to exclude slavery even in the wake of the Dred Scott v. Sandford Supreme Court case stating that Congress did not have the authority to prohibit slavery in U.S. territories.
Read all about this letter and Lincoln’s wooden mallet at the Fine Books Blog.
Perhaps you already kicked off the holiday season with an impressive Halloween yard display. Others of you may consider Thanksgiving the traditional start to a seemingly never-ending buffet of open houses and cocktail parties. With that in mind, I humbly submit a little literary hors d’oeuvre: the Fall 2017 edition of Kitchen Work, a new, print-only quarterly journal focusing on what and how we eat and drink.
Read all about this tasty new treat and where to find it on the Fine Books Blog.
In January, bookseller Bernard Rosenthal passed away in Oakland, California, at the age of 96. Rosenthal was born in Munich in 1920 into a family of booksellers known throughout the industry as the “Rosenthal Dynasty.” Part of the massive exodus of Jewish antiquarian booksellers from Germany during the Nazi regime–the “gentle invaders” as Rosenthal called them–he ended up in New York, where he set up shop in the 1950s. Rosenthal eventually moved to Berkeley, where he focused on medieval manuscripts and early printed books. (For more on Rosenthal and fellow emigré booksellers of the early 20th century, read Nick Basbanes’ chapter “Hunters and Gatherers” in Patience & Fortitude.)
Rosenthal’s catalogs became the stuff of legend in the antiquarian world, in which he described easily overlooked details and craftsmanship that only came to light after careful examination of the item at hand. “We have committed the cardinal sin of the bookseller: we have READ most of these books…which has, however, brought some surprising results,” Rosenthal wrote in one of his early catalogs.
Fellow bookseller Ian Jackson recently wrote a biography on Rosenthal–read all about it at the Fine Books Blog.
In September, National Book Award winner Pete Hautman celebrated the release of his most recent novel, Slider ($16.99, Candlewick Press, 288 pages), with a hamburger eating contest at the Wild Rumpus bookstore in Minneapolis. The festivities were a fitting tribute to Hautman’s middle-grade story about David, a high-school competitive eater with a special-needs younger brother and a genius older brother. Stuck in the middle, David tries to balance family responsibilities with the general ups and downs that come with being a teenager.
Hautman’s crisp and nuanced prose offers great insight on doing what’s right while dealing with life’s slings and arrows. Whether he’s writing for young adults or middle-graders, Hautman has a knack for figuring out what his readers crave. When he’s not writing, he and his wife, the poet Mary Logue, hunt mushrooms with their dogs Gaston and Baudelaire near their home in Wisconsin. Earlier this month Hautman graciously fielded questions from Abigail and I about his research process, confronting uncomfortable truths, the judicious use of humor, and the challenges and pleasures of crafting great literature for readers of all ages.
Photo courtesy of Candlewick Press.
Abigail’s questions for Mr. Hautman:
What was your inspiration for writing Slider?
My family! I grew up in a family with seven kids, and it was crazy. I was the oldest, so in many ways it was easy for me to feel special. My younger siblings had to work harder—especially the middle kids. I wanted to write about the challenges of being a middle child.
Also, I think eating contests are bizarre, grotesque, and utterly fascinating. Eating 141 hardboiled eggs in eight minutes? Gross! But kind of amazing, right?
Before becoming an author, did you ever participate in a food competition? (Do you still complete if you do?)
I did not, although I did put myself to the test by eating ten White Castle sliders as quickly as I could, for “research.” It took me about two minutes, which sounds fast, but the top eaters can down about thirteen sliders in one minute.
What are you working on now?
A book called OTHERWOOD. It’s sort of a ghost story. Or maybe not! Mostly it’s about what happens when friends—and the universe—are torn apart. It will be published next fall.
Barbara’s questions for Mr. Hautman:
What did you read growing up? Did those choices influence your desire to become an author?
The usual suspects for the time: Robert Louis Stevenson, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Jack London (my favorite!), The Hardy Boys, Jim Kjelgaard…there weren’t as many choices for young readers back then, and I was desperately afraid that I would run out of books to read. When I ran out of Hardy Boys books I moved on to Nancy Drew, and my dad’s “antique” Tom Swift books from the twenties, and then his westerns and detective novels. By age thirteen I was into James Bond and The Lord of the Rings (that sounds like a 1960s “B” movie!) and whatever adult bestsellers I could get my hands on (Peyton Place, Hawaii, Tai-Pan, I, the Jury, etc.) I don’t remember there being much distinction between kid books and grownup books—but then, I had very permissive parents.
Slider, Eden West, and Godless all deal in one way or another with confronting uncomfortable truths. Is there a tendency to avoid difficult topics in literature and in life? Why is it so important to write “uncomfortable” stories?
Yes, no, sometimes, maybe. Contemporary novels that deal directly with religion usually do not sell well, but books about other “uncomfortable” areas such as sex, drugs, abuse, racism, and so forth are gobbled up by young readers. They want to know! They need to know. Life forces us to face uncomfortable truths again and again, and literature can provide a relatively safe space for such encounters.
As adults we often avoid, ignore, gloss over, or blind ourselves to things that make us uncomfortable. Or we can face them head on. Children need tools to help them face the things they will encounter, and to understand things they have already encountered. Books can help.
Do you think David is a sympathetic character?
Yes! I think all my characters are sympathetic, even the bad guys. But David is, I hope, especially appealing to most readers, because in one way or another we are all David. We are all “stuck” in a situation, i.e., the circumstances of our lives. We all make bad decisions, we all live with those decisions, we all get confused, we all try, we all fail, and we all grope our way to small triumphs.
How important is humor when writing a middle-grade novel? How do you know you’ve struck the right balance between funny and over-the-top?
I don’t think humor is essential. Some excellent middle-grade novels are earnest and humorless. I don’t write those kinds of books. I need to laugh sometimes when I write, even if the book is not intended as a “funny book.” Eden West, for example, is a serious and earnest book with big themes and a surfeit of darkness. The funny scenes it contains kept me going, and I hope the same is true for my readers. The same was true of Invisible, a very dark novel with many funny scenes.
Finding an appropriate balance between funny and not-funny is, I think, one of the more intuitive parts of the writing process. It would be a hard thing to teach.
Why did you decide to become an author?
The short answer is that I love books, and I thought writing books would be something I would be proud to do.
The longer answer has to do with my childhood. I grew up in a family where making things was highly respected, whether it be drawing pictures, building a birdhouse, making music, or baking cookies. We were always making. I thought when I was younger that making paintings and drawing comics would be a good thing to do. Eventually I focused on comic books, and I discovered that my favorite part of making comics was not the penciling or inking, it was the layout and the writing. In other words, the storytelling. So got rid of all my art materials and bought a typewriter. Now I make novels.
What goes into making books for a 9-12 year old audience that may or may not be as important for older or younger readers? What’s the secret to making your work chime with your readers?
Wow, good question! Kind of a scary question because I’m catching myself wanting to give self-serving answers such as “honesty,” “integrity,” “respecting the reader,” “being real,” and so forth. Not that those things are untrue, despite being rather trite.
I guess what works for me is doing the memory work—going back in time to when I was swept away by, say, Charlotte’s Web, or A Wrinkle in Time, or Jack London’s White Fang, and remembering what it felt like to step into those stories, to see through the eyes of a character who discovers in his or her self that it is possible to matter, to make a difference, to be a significant part of the world.
You might say that the underlying theme in most, if not all middle-grade literature is simply, “I matter.”
I understand you come from a large family–did your childhood in any way influence some of the themes you explore in your books?
Yes! Every book, in every way, is drenched in my childhood. Godless and Otherwood (fall, 2018) most of all. But all my books, in one way or another, spring from my childhood. Specific events in a book might be invented from scratch, but the emotional arc is utterly authentic.
As a young adult I tried hard to put all that “kid stuff” behind me. I was focused on reinventing myself a an adult. But when I started writing books for young readers I discovered that it never went away. As the author Alison McGhee says (I’m paraphrasing here), “I am ten, I am twelve, I am sixteen, I am every age I have ever been.”
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you?
I love what I do.