Literary Citizenship-Little Free Library

This is a cool concept–a way to practice the ‘take a book, leave a book’ concept with your neighbors (or maybe anywhere you feel people would benefit?)

Little Free Library

The concept started when Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin wanted to honor his mom, a former schoolteacher and avid reader. When Todd got together with Rick Brooks, they saw potential and the rest is history:

They were inspired by many different ideas:

  • Andrew Carnegie’s support of 2,509 free public libraries around the turn of the 19th to 20th century.
  • The heroic achievements of Miss Lutie Stearns, a librarian who brought books to nearly 1400 locations in Wisconsin through “traveling little libraries” between 1895 and 1914.
  • “Take a book, leave a book” collections in coffee shops and public spaces.
  • Neighborhood kiosks, TimeBanking and community gift-sharing networks
  • Grassroots empowerment movements in Sri Lanka, India and other countries worldwide.

This idea is a great way to promote literacy, especially in areas where libraries are lacking, and spread literary citizenship.
Ways to get involved in building your own Little Free Library are here.

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No Place Like Home

            This time of year, when I’m not skipping through mounds of crackly leaves, or sipping hard cider on my porch swing, or carving intricate designs on pumpkins, or canning the bounty of my prodigious garden, I’m preparing for winter. Taking a cue from neighborhood squirrels, who think my house a great place to gnaw on, I make list of things I should get busy with before winter turns my vistas brown and gray. At the top of my list is changing the filters in the floor vents and furnace. It’s not a big deal, but because I have to stop doing all the things listed above, I like to put it off. At least until I run out of hard cider.

Changing the floor vents is accomplished with little fanfare. I think I could change both of them in the duration of a TV commercial, especially during political campaigns. But the furnace is in the basement. If essays had sound effects, there would be one after the word “basement.” DA DA DAAAAHHH!

The basement is a place I avoid. To reach it, one exits a barn-type door and descends a short, steep stairway on a back-porch type area, to a landscape of red clay, spider-family webs, and darkness. It is cool and damp and perfect for serial killers, vampires, zombies and lifeless, decapitated bodies who crawl around in the dirt. It is also the storage area for gardening tools, which are known to be aggressive.

I take my little flashlight, too small to double as a weapon. It’s quiet in the basement. Cavernous and shadowy, with earthy odors and ancient dust whose waftings harbor secrets. Bad ones. When I reach the old metal furnace, the rusted doors scrape against the edges of the machine. An ominous, baleful silence is broken and battered. I am sure I have awakened dormant demons who are poised to uncoil from sinister corners, ready to abduct and drag me to a lair from which I will never see light again. I slide the filter into its slot and clang the metal door shut. It doesn’t go well, the door is out of its frame and the hollow stillness at my back makes every inch of my feigned composure crumble. “It’s nothing,” I tell myself, “Stop being a wuss,” but my feet carry me quickly away.

I have survived another trip to the basement. And for now, the monsters are contained.

By the way, I never do the things I suggested at the beginning of this tale. Perhaps I should. At least the hard cider part. It might arm me against the murky mysteries downstairs.

Out from the Swamp: Al Maginnes’ “The World of Whiskey”

by Gabrielle Freeman

Last week while on a five-mile walk on our town’s Greenway, a path that alternates between asphalt and wooden bridge, a path of light filtered through oak and walnut leaves, a path bordered in morning glories and Carolina jasmine, a friend and I tried to figure out just where we had acquired our obsession with dark fantasy, black comedy, and the macabre. Like you do.

After much talk of books, movies, and television shows; of Lecter, Dexter, and Pennywise, we decided it was most likely TV series we had watched as kids that sparked our interest in (and natural bent toward) these genres of the shadows. Darkroom, One Step Beyond, Tales from the Crypt; these are a few of the titles that came up. But my epiphany of the afternoon was that my tastes in literature, tv, and film were directly influenced by the Twilight Zone. This really shouldn’t have been a surprise. Every 4th of July of my childhood was spent watching the Twilight Zone Marathon on LA’s channel 13. Wishing people away into the cornfield, “It’s a cookbook!”, and “My name is Talking Tina, and I don’t like you,” became a part of my vocabulary. It’s just that, for whatever reason, I had never consciously thought of the “dimension of sight and sound” as dark fantasy/ black comedy/ macabre before.

Anyway, it’s safe to say that if a poem offers alternate methods of thinking, if it straddles accepted lines or rips them apart; murky lines of smoke lazing up in a a shadowy bar, lines of light and dark through half-closed slats of window blinds, lines between realms of existence; I’m probably going to want to read it. I was excited to read the latest issue of Shenandoah when it came out last week — the noir issue. A whole issue of intrigue, morality plays, silk stockings, off-screen sex and murder? Sign me up. The poems did not disappoint, but one in particular stood out: Al Maginnes’ “The World of Whiskey.”

At first, I wasn’t sure how this poem fit the theme. It takes its inspiration from the blues lyrics “If the river was whiskey and I was a duck / Might swim to the bottom, never come up.” The imagery in the poem evokes a primordial swamp butted up against an ancient forest, of a creature early on the evolutionary timeline crawling out of the murk on to land: “And as we slipped into / the first fringes of tree-shade, / we found ourselves wanting / to sing for the first time / in a long while” (lines 19-23). 

After reading editor RT Smith’s comments on the issue, I realized that not all of the selections in the issue deal in noir. But after reading the poem several times, I came to understand that part of what I love about this poem, part of what works in this poem, is the juxtaposition of dark fantasy, black comedy, and the macabre; all of which are arguably part of the noir feel. The blues lyrics are humorous. Imagine a drunk duck diving to the bottom over and over again. It’s funny, but literally, the speaker would love to be drowned in whiskey forever. The speaker contemplates escaping his world through alcohol, permanently.

In the poem, the speaker includes the reader in a collective “we” who descend into an underworld, into a world of whiskey “Mired in sand and duckweed” (line 7). This is Lethe,  the limbo where alcohol makes us forget, where we stare “up through ambered layers […] searching the ice-melted memory of the sun” (lines 8-12). We are only pulled from the liquid prison by disembodied voices drifting through the trees and a desire to join them.

Maginnes writes a fantasy world complete with real world horrors. There is a membrane between the worlds of whiskey and, presumably, sobriety that is not easily broken. There is a world beneath where we float (“Down here, we all float,” with all apologies) aimlessly and forget, and there is a world above where we may emerge, dripping, and add our voices to the song of the world.

Read “The World of Whiskey” here, and check out the rest of the Shenandoah noir issue here.

Maginnes, Al. “The World of Whiskey.” Shenandoah. 64.1 (2014). Web. 12 Oct. 2014.