Little Free Library crawl + Poetry Month

Happy National Poetry Month, my Bardic Bookwyrms! I’ve decided to combine themes today — a poetry month post and a fun new feature where I go Little Free Library hopping and report back with the results. I expect to find some unusual titles, some amusingly (and not so amusingly) vintage titles, and even some surprise gems.

I may not read them all the way through — some items I may just skim for a general idea — but I’ll try to give you as many Wow, Whut, and/or LOL-worthy details as possible. In today’s post, for example, I’ll share a neat poem from a recent issue of analog, a literary sci-fi magazine (with permission from the poet, of course).

Maybe you’ll be inspired to go on a Little Free Library crawl in your own city!

Little Free Library box, built to look like a house with a pyramid-style roof of black asphalt shingles. The front door and edges are ochre red, while the sides are buttery yellow.

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I found this sweet library box outside the Italian Market on the south side of town. Spurga and I loved sitting in the courtyard, sipping an iced coffee from the Friendly Fox cafe next door (me) and a giant bowl of water (Spurga), eating chocolate-raspberry cake from the Market (me) and Milk Bones (Spurga). She got to people-watch (and lure in a few free head scratches) while I got to work on my queer finfolk romance like a true old-timey bohemian cafe-haunting Artiste.

Anyhoo! Between this and a few other Fort Wayne library boxes, here are the results of my first forage:

Photo of a pile of books and magazines on a purple quilted bedspread.  The books are described below.

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AFAR Magazine January/February 2021

Close up of AFAR magazine.  The title is all caps in white text against a sunset-tinted image of an airplane window from the inside.

AFAR is a travel journal committed to the idea of “travel as a force for good.” The writers encourage you to #TravelDeeper post-pandemic by:

  • choosing your destinations more carefully — spending more time in fewer places, revisiting favorites instead of “collecting” new passport stamps, and balancing an attitude of Global Citizenship with the understanding that you may never fully “blend in” as a local and should focus more on being a respectful visitor;
  • taking local staycations that focus on hidden or forgotten places — especially walking/hiking trails and other nature spaces in danger of extinction;
  • and using your destinations more gently — watching your carbon and social footprints, making sure you don’t leave a mess (either environmental or political) for the locals to clean up.
Close-up of Who's Behind the Fairy Doors?  The title is in swooping white script against a dark beige background.  In the center of the cover is a tall door with a white frame and a vertical oval-shaped window.  Through the window, you see a round white ball with beady black eyes and red lips.

Who’s Behind the Fairy Doors? (Revised Edition) by Jonathan B. Wright, Certified Fairyologist.

Wright is an Urban Fairy scholar who has crowdsourced his field work by inviting people to sketch out their own fairy sightings all over Ann Arbor, Michigan. Apparently, the city’s best-kept secret is the mysterious appearance of fairy doors sometime around 2005. Wright decided to test whether they were really portals into the unknown by leaving notebooks at each site, with instructions for passersby to sketch and describe their personal fairy sightings.

Wright then chose a representative sample of those drawings — all by Arborians aged 3 to 11 — and printed them, along with his own artistic interpretations, in this adorable field guide to the Ann Arbor fairyverse.

The concept absolutely reminded me of Brian Froud’s faery guides (particularly Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book), though Wright’s art style is more whimsical and less spooky. I may just add Ann Arbor’s fairy portals to my travel bucket list — particularly the ones in the Ann Arbor District Library and Sweetwaters Coffee & Tea.

In the meantime, I recommend exploring the U.F.O. (Urban Fairy Operations) website, where you’ll find more fairy sightings, as well as a thorough Urban Fairies backstory/mythology, event/book updates, and a gallery of “Droppings” (gifts left by passersby for the fairies)!

Close-up of Saudi Aramco World magazine.  The cover shows a painting of two ships against a wavy blue sea, each with a large rectangular sail.  There are two sailors on one of the ships -- one is checking a compass and one is climbing the mast.

Saudi Aramco World: The Indian Ocean and Global Trade

AramcoWorld (previously Saudi Aramco World) is a magazine published by the Texas-based Arabian American Oil Company. Its stated purpose is to teach readers about Arab and Islamic history and culture. This issue, from July/August 2005, focuses on the Indian Ocean trading network and how it works around the monsoon system.

So, this one’s tricky. I did immediately whip out my skepticals when I saw “published by an oil company.” Before I knew that, I thought this was a more conventionally biased textbook that described its subjects with phrases like “Lacking products marketable in the East, Europe was forced to pay for its imports in precious metals” and “[t]he story of how and why Europeans finally succeeded in breaking out of the prison of their Mediterranean…” (emphasis mine).

Now I’m even more curious about what’s between the lines. The articles do seem very informative, and the website has even more fascinating topics like the meaning of the flowers inside the graves of Shanidar Cave (that sound? It’s my Jean Auel radar! 😆 ) and the evolution of blue pigment from rare natural hue to synthetic fashion statement.

But how much benefit of the doubt can I give to an educational text whose content is controlled by such a powerful industry that naturally wants to boost its image and downplay criticisms (about its humanitarian & environmental impacts, for instance)? They put their brand name right in the magazine’s title — it’s not just World history, it’s Aramco World history.

What do you think, Bookwyrms? Any AramcoWorld readers want to share their own insights?

Close-up of Coffee: a Guide to Buying, Brewing, and Enjoying.  The whole cover is a sepia-toned photograph of several burlap sacks of coffee beans, along with an old-fashioned box grinder, a metal coffee pitcher, two metal scoops, and a ceramic coffee-filled cup on a dish.

Coffee: a Guide to Buying, Brewing, and Enjoying (Revised Edition)

by Kenneth Davids

Of course I picked this one up. Yes, it’s from the 80s, but that makes it a very neat portal into the American coffee culture of 40 years ago. Davids was a Berkeley cafe owner when he wrote the first edition in the 70s, and he looks back on Americans’ growing demand for coffee as an indulgence rather than a cheap tool to stay awake. People wanted a whole experience with their caffeine…some were even willing to drink decaf as long as it tasted good! (*raises hand, daring anyone to fight me*).

More than the recipes and brewing tips, the most fun part of this book is the historical info — the tale of coffee and its journey from wild goat food to skinny oat milk caramel macchiatos is an epic saga of sociopolitical intrigue and really weird experiments.

To put it vaguely, apparently coffee colonoscopies were very briefly a thing in 17th-century England. At which point, Davids hypothesizes, England very deliberately switched to tea.

On a less revolting note, Davids speculates that it may have been coffee that fueled the Renaissance with its brain-stimulating powers, whereas “[i]t must have been rather difficult to consider revolutionizing Western thought after the typical medieval breakfast of beer and herring” (pg. 179). 😆

So! If you’re a coffee snob like me and want a cheeky analysis of American coffee culture of the 70s and 80s, this book is worth a read.

What’s that, skepticals? What do you mean “look at the cover photo copyright note?’ Oh, for the love of Pete’s sake, what are you doing there, Chevron Chemical Company???

Ok, chill out, Nerija; it’s probably just because they’re responsible for some of the drinkware shown on the cover. Chevron petrochemicals are used in lots of stuff.
Close-up of The Happy Hackers.  The cover has a vertical violet bar on the left side, with a smiling yellow sun at the top and the word Sunshine curving around the bottom of the sun.

The rest of the cover is a blue-tinted room, as though it's late at night and all the lights except a computer screen are on.  There are two boys staring at an old desktop computer screen, and a scruffy dog staring up at the boys.

The Happy Hackers, by Sandy Lanton

This one was definitely a “Whut the whut did I just read?” experience. I can’t even tell who the target audience is because it’s an Easy Reader, but it includes odd details like the protagonist noticing a lipstick print on his best friend’s cheek and a very un-scintillating discussion about bank policies in an embezzlement situation.

See, the story is about a young teen whose mother is in danger of losing her job at the bank because someone’s embezzling money and if the public finds out, customers will abandon ship (yes, I did imagine a Mary Poppins style “Run On The Bank!!!” 😆 ) and the bank will shut down.

So young Danny steals his mother’s login info and hacks into the bank’s computers to set a trap for the embezzler. Which works perfectly and doesn’t get anyone except the embezzler in trouble. Oh, and (spoiler alert) the villain turns out to be the bank’s coffee-hating secretary who snapped after one too many menial tasks.

“‘Just type this letter, Sara, get the phone, Sara, send this package, Sara, make some coffee, Sara, make some more coffee, Sara, make lots of coffee, Sara…’ she was babbling as the officers led her away to be fingerprinted.”

pg. 45

Also, the author wanted to be very clear about how hip she was with the times (i.e. 1996). She opened the story with the mother good-naturedly ranting about Danny’s “silly computer games” and his “modem friends” and how she was going to “shut down [his] bulletin board” if he didn’t do his homework.

Close up of two issues of analog magazine. One cover shows three women and a large owl in the foreground.  Behind them is a pale moon or planet and a grey rocket pointing straight up.

The other cover shows a giant squid underwater, with the silhouettes of several smaller squid in the background.

Analog magazines, July/August 2020 and September/October 2020

Finally, we have two issues of analog magazine, which celebrated its 90th anniversary last year. The Sticks and Stones and Minerva Girls issues contain not only new stories, poems, and nonfiction articles, but reprints from 1973 and 1943, respectively. The introductory essays look back on analog’s balancing act between sticking to its official standards and letting in high-quality “outliers.”

The Minerva Girls intro focuses, more specifically, on a married team of sci-fi-entists (you’re welcome for the brilliant new slang; I’ll be charging royalties for every use 😉 ) who not only wrote the featured reprint, “Mimsy Were the Borogroves,” but started a new trend of “softer” sci-fi that focused more on mysticism and fantasy than hard scientific and technological details.

I may review a few of the short stories in May. Today, I’m sharing a new poem, with the author’s permission, that focuses on a more contemporary STEAM giant.

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MARYAM MIRZAKHANI
(1977 – 2017)

by Jessy Randall

I paint mathematics in creatures,

write my notes in Persian. They say

“This article may be too technical

for most readers to understand.”

I say try. They say one and I say

infinity. They say dead and I stay dead.

They say study, experiment, postulate,

and I look out the window and see it complete.

They say first. I say, not last.

~

July/August 2020, pg. 123.

~

Maryam Mirzakhani was an Iranian mathematician who won the Fields Medal (the highest award in mathematics) in 2014 for her work in geometry and dynamical systems. She was known for solving mind-bending problems in “pure mathematics,” focusing on completely abstract concepts not so much to find practical uses as for the pure sake of knowledge. Even so, her ideas could be relevant for problems in physics, engineering, and even cryptography. She was the first woman to win the Fields.

Jessy Randall has written many poems about women in math and science, from Hildegard of Bingen to Jane Goodall to the above-honored Maryam Mirzakhani. She’s published several poetry collections with such curious and curioser titles as How to Tell if You Are Human, Suicide Hotline Hold Music, Injecting Dreams into Cows, There Was an Old Woman (a collection of twisted nursery rhymes!), and A Day in Boyland. Plus, a YA novel about life and love in the high-school poetry scene.

GIF image of a guy with dark sunglasses snapping his fingers on either side of his head.  The caption says Poetry Snaps.

What are some of your most memorable Little Free Library finds, Bookwyrms? Do you own an LFL of your own? What does it look like and what kinds of books do you lend?

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Credits:

Poetry Snaps GIF from tenor.

7 comments

  1. Love those free little libraries! I need to keep an eye out when I’m driving around town. There must be one in my local area somewhere.

    And I remember spotting a few fairy doors when I visited Ann Arbor and thinking it was super cool.

  2. So, that little library box is so COOL!!! Love it! I had to write this before I forgot to mention it’s awesomeness.

    “Choosing your destinations more carefully, taking local staycations that focus on hidden or forgotten places, and using your destinations more gently” – All of these points resonated with me so strongly. As someone who is about to go on a vacation and who did research on all three of those aspects, it was so great to see them somewhere!!

    “Who’s Behind the Fairy Doors?” – This is the sweetest thing EVER!!!

    “…apparently coffee colonoscopies were very briefly a thing in 17th-century England” – So, yeah, I think that would be enough to put anyone off coffee for a very long time.

    “The Happy Hackers,” – So, uh, as a coffee-hating Sarah, I would just like to point out that I have an ‘h’ in my name. That is all.

    So, I’ve never found a Little Free Library, but I do have this story to tell. A lady I worked with talked about how mad she was about her neighborhood’s Little Free Library because her child brought home “Dracula.” *gasp! It was all funny until she said she burned the book and would have to “search the library for more sacrilegious trash”. -_- I hope someone out there did something about her book burning or book trashing. What a Dolores Umbridge. Like seriously. If I ever find a Little Free Library, I may just have to put “Dracula” in it just to spite the Dolores Umbridges of the world.

    • So, what you’re saying is, that h is all that’s keeping you from going all Office Space on Starbucks? 😄

      And oooh, I can’t wait to hear about your upcoming trip!

      P.S. Yep, it’s all fun and games until the morality police decides to make her outrage EVERYONE’S problem. Guess clutching those pearls isn’t cathartic enough? 🙄

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