17 Ways to Show Authors Your Love

image: vjcx.com

We know how to love celebrities and athletes in our culture. We hashtag them, go to their performances/games, read about them, imitate them, talk about them, and in many other ways make these people an ongoing presence in our lives. (Note: there may be a strange reason we’re so obsessed with celebrities.)

It’s less common to love writers, far less common to show it.

Today’s publishing houses expect authors (other than the most commercially promising ones) to do their own book marketing. We’re expected to blog, tweet, arrange book signings and readings, do interviews, and otherwise connect with potential readers as if there’s nothing awkward about begging people to buy our words.

But we know that books, articles, essays, poems, blog posts, (actually, all forms of writing) live on only when they’re read. It’s even better if they’re discussed, shared, and remembered. My writer friends and I do our best to promote one another’s work to a wider audience. Most writers do this for each other. If you’re inspired, take a tip or two from us and show some authors your love.

Share a great author interview or book review. Share a passage from a book, article, blog post, or poem. Toss it out there on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Tumblr, whatever social media you use.

Quote. If you’re writing a report or giving a presentation, sprinkle in a relevant quote or line of poetry. It’ll add another dimension to your work.

Review books you love on Amazon.com, Goodreads.com, LibraryThing.com, BarnesandNoble.com, wherever you go to check reader reviews. You can make it easy on yourself by simply leaving a bunch of stars. Take it up a notch with a glowing one-line opinion. On Amazon, you only need to click “like” to boost a book or other people’s reviews of the book. Your viewpoint really does help potential readers find what to read next.

Contact local authors. Ask an author to answer questions for an interview you’ll publish online or in print. Invite an author to do a reading or lead a discussion for your organization, club, or business either in-person or via Skype.

Advocate for writing that has changed your outlook, expanded your interests, led you in entirely new directions. A few months ago Facebook bristled with personal lists of 10 Life Changing Books. I love hearing what books impact other people and I’m often inspired to read those titles too. (Here are 10 that occur to me at the moment: The Secret GardenOriginal Wisdom, The Continuum Concept,  Nature and the Human Soul,  A Paradise Built in Hell Pronoia Is the Antidote for ParanoiaMan’s Search for MeaningBeyond WarSpontaneous Evolutionanything by Charles Eisenstein.)

Give books as gifts. They make wonderful presents for birthday, holidays, and milestone celebrations. They’re great to give simply when it occurs to you that a specific book and a specific person might go well together. Give books to children for special occasions but also for fun. Don’t forget to leave an inscription even for the youngest. If you like, pair a book with a small related present. Tea, coffee, or something more spirited is a perfect accompaniment to any book gift.

Try something different. Indulge in your favorite genres and let yourself branch out from there. A fan of historical novels set in a certain era? Try poetry from that time period, non-fiction books about the art or science of the era, biographies of people from that time, as well as history magazines and related sites. I’ve come across writing I normally wouldn’t read only to discover a passion for science-y novels, tomes on evolutionary biology, sites offering vintage maps, work by outsider artists, and other fascinations.

Request. I couldn’t possibly afford to buy a fraction of the books I read. Instead, I’m a unrepentant library addict. If there’s a book you’d like, order it from your local library. They’ll call or email you when it’s available. If they don’t own a copy, ask them to purchase it. Some library systems put request forms online, other systems prefer you go directly to a librarian to request a book acquisition.

Hang out with other book lovers. Our boys’ book club lasted till they all went off to college, over 9 years of lively bookish gatherings. And I’m a long-time member of an adult book club. It prompts me to read books I wouldn’t normally read and our wide-ranging discussions are a delight. You can start up a book club with friends or join an existing group. Check out nearby clubs through Reader’s Circle, your local library, or Meetup.

Offer books for sale through your business. If you have a bike repair shop, offer guides to bike trails along with some bike-riding memoirs. If you run a stand at a farmer’s market, offer a few cookbooks and urban farming volumes. If you own an art gallery, sprinkle a few poetry and art books among your offerings. (I am endlessly grateful that Elements Gallery  in Peninsula, Ohio sells copies of my poetry collection.)

Give magazine subscriptions as gifts. There are a wealth of options, from boat-building magazines to literary journals to kids’ science publications.

Recommend. Create your own list of favorites on a topic via Amazon’s Listmania. Perhaps “Little-Known Poetry Books You Should Read…” or “Alternative Education Books We Use….” While you’re at it, search all the Listmania lists of interest to you.

Link. An insight or idea sticking with you? Link to (or at least attribute) books or author sites when you write about ideas they’ve prompted in you.

Talk about writing you love. I tend to go on and on with vast enthusiasm about what I’m reading. I adore memoirs from the sublime to the hilarious: A Private History of Awe by Scott Russell Sanders, A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel, and Kick Me by Paul Feig. Beautifully written, unforgettable novels such as All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr,  The History of Love by Nicole Kraus, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, and Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. Animal books, a worthy indulgence, including The Good Good Pig by Sy Montgomery and A Small Furry Prayer: Dog Rescue and the Meaning of Life by Steven Kotler. Sci-fi like The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant and Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi. And  books that don’t fit in any category like Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman. Really, read these books!

Promote. The Southern Independent Booksellers Association started a YouTube channel called Parapalooza! Submit a video of yourself reading a passage from a favorite book to parapalooza@sibaweb.com. If you live in the UK, contact Steve Wasserman of Read Me Something You Love. He’ll come out to record your reading of a passage you choose, along with some conversation. If it’s poetry you adore, read one you love aloud for Record-a-Poem. You can also reach out to others in your community who’d like to share a favorite poem through the Favorite Poem Project or start up a poetry-sharing group on Meetup.

Read already. Titles piling up on your Kindle, overdue library books, a teetering stack of magazines next to the couch are all evidence that you want to read. But you’ve got more to do than you’ve got time. Admit it to yourself, you’ll never defeat your in-box. Might as well go lie on the grass or in the tub or on your couch and read!

Connect. Follow authors on Facebook or follow their tweets. Write to them care of their publishers. You might send a brief note about how much you enjoyed a book or how it or improved your life. You might send suggestions, questions, a cheerful aside. Writing is a solitary occupation. When an author hears that his or her work made a difference, I guarantee it’ll have an impact. On a few rare occasions readers of my first book let me know it changed the way they parent or educate and how that’s impacted their lives. These communications are the sort of wealth I’d never believed possible. Utterly priceless.

Some days I like to imagine a world where we love our writers and artists and scientists and volunteers with the same passion we show celebrities. A girl can dream.

Alejandro Mallea's flickr photostream

Alejandro Mallea’s flickr photostream

“The writer’s way is rough and lonely, and who would choose it while there are vacancies in more gracious professions, such as, say, cleaning out ferryboats.”

Dorothy Parker

A Free Guide to Being Human

fun expert, make life fun, fun at work,

This volume should really be titled A Guide to Being Human. I recommend you read only a page or two at a time. Let it sink in. Apply it. Revel in it.

It’s authored by game designer and deep fun theorist Bernie DeKoven. I got the chance to interview Bernie last year and immediately found myself wishing he were my next door neighbor. (I still do.) For 40-something years Bernie has been promoting playfulness. He was instrumental in the New Games movement and a pioneer in computer game design. He’s developed games for the likes of Lego, Ideal Toy Company, Mattel Toys, and Children’s Television Workshop. He’s collected little-known games, created new ones, researched the value of fun, and organized all sorts of play events.

The book is actually titled A Playful Path and it’s jam-packed with awesomeness. It’s made up of tools and ideas to inspire the possibility-building, wide-open glory of playfulness. DeKoven writes,

Fun is at the heart of things—of things like family, marriage, happiness, peace, community, health; things like science and art, math and literature; like thinking and imagining, inventing and pretending.

Sure, the playful path can enhance relationships, advance careers, and  promote health. It can also help us deepen into who we truly are, beyond the limits of rules and score-keeping. As DeKoven calls it, becoming “embiggened.”

For adults, following a playful path is a practice, something you put into practice, and then practice some more. When you were a kid, it wasn’t a practice. It was what you did, always. You had to be reminded not to be playful. And you were. O, yes, you were. But now that you have become what you, as a kid, called “an adult,” you find that play is something you have to remind yourself to do, playful is something you have to allow yourself to be.

And once you again take up that playful path you knew so well, you discover that it’s different, you’re different. You can play much more deeply than you could before. You are stronger, you understand more, you have more power, better toys. You discover that you, as a playful being, can choose a different way of being. A way of being as large as life. A way of being you, infinitely.

Written in short one to two page segments, A Playful Path is perfect to read on an as-needed basis, sort of an antidote to all the not-fun that drags us down.  A Playful Path is an entertaining book. It’s also wise, true, and entirely useful. Just like play. Get your copy in paperback or as a free e-book.

For more Bernie in your life you can keep up with him on G+ and Facebook, stay current with his blog. and read MIT Press’ re-release of his groundbreaking book, The Well-Played Game: A Player’s Philosophy. Oh, and be sure to bookmark his collection of games!

Bernie DeKoven, A Playful Path,

Play is how we have learned to learn. Instructions? We don’t need no stinkin’ instructions.  Bernie DeKoven

It’s About Reading For Pleasure

One week during the summer I was twelve, I had a crisis.

I ran out of library books.

Sure I rode my bike, went swimming with friends, and listened to music trying to figure out what the lyrics meant but I also indulged in hours of reading every day. Books transported me. My mother would call me to dinner and I’d look up, astonished to find I wasn’t a wolf on the tundra but a girl in shorts lying on the carpet. Or someone would knock on the bathroom door and I’d remember that I was soaking in the tub, not eluding soldiers in a medieval battle.

My parents supported reading, but they had no problem saying “get your nose out of that book and go outside.” They didn’t take us to the library more than two or three times a month, so the stack of books each of us brought home had to last.

When I realized I was bookless, I turned in desperation to a volume my older sister read as a class requirement. It had tiny print and a not-too-inspiring title, The Scarlet Letter. “It’s too hard,” she told me. “It’s a classic.”

I didn’t know “classic” meant it was good for me, like a bitter vitamin tablet. I insisted I was out of other options.

I promptly fell into Nathaniel Hawthorne’s words. They were exquisite in a way I’d never experienced, centered on the inner life and all its convolutions, something I already knew well but didn’t have the sophistication to express. I wasn’t aware such books existed. Instead of racing through it, as I did with every other book, I savored it. It felt as if I could run my fingers over the page and feel the texture of shame and longing. When I finished I was newly in love with the idea of classics, so I got books by Charles Dickens out of the library. I worked my way through two of them that summer although they didn’t live up to my great expectations. I thought Dickens droned and was nothing like Hawthorne.

Several years later I had to read The Scarlet Letter for English class. Everyone grumbled when assigned more pages to read. Those piercing insights, when listed in bullet points on the board, didn’t sink into my heart. Lectures and assignments obscured the book’s beauty. I didn’t read it with a cloak thrown over my head or the prick of a rose thorn in my skin. It lay dead, like a victim on the autopsy table.

Then I realized that my love of books had developed entirely outside of the classroom. I’d never really fallen in love with any of the books assigned in school, although the ones our teachers read aloud after recess, a few pages a day or an entire chapter on special days, still stood out in my mind. Reading, for me, was about pleasure. It was more than a habit, it was an integral part of my being. The books I read helped form my outlook and character. I dare say that many of us, if we look back, will find that favorite books from childhood have a surprising link to who we are today.

If I could, I’d reclaim reading for all of us, from earliest childhood on, as pleasure first and foremost. Turning to the written word for information and edification then becomes a pleasure too.

Why Write Poetry

write poetry, why poetry, becoming a poet,

Image: karrr.deviantart.com

I started to write poetry when I was eight or nine years old and continued until I was 13. The highlight? Winning a poetry contest in Mrs. Barker’s third grade class. The prize was a large chocolate bar.

The few scraps of writing I’ve found from those years consist of a child’s earnest questions and the comfort sought in a forest that once stood behind my parent’s home. Most lines are drenched with early existential dread. I’m not sure what stopped writing. It could have been the surprisingly arduous trials of growing up or simple self-consciousness.

A moment from my 12th year comes to mind. I was in sixth grade, trying very hard to be like the other girls, never discussing the concerns that kept me awake most of the night. During the day, sleep-deprived into silliness, it often seemed to me that the conventions people took for granted were absurd. I did lots of laughing. One afternoon, walking out of class toward the playground for recess, I was telling a funny anecdote. A cluster of friends not only walked with me but jockeyed to be closest to me. The sun was shining on gumdrop green grass and I felt completely alive as I reached the best part of my story. I thought for a blindingly self-absorbed instant that this was what it was like to be popular. The next second I walked straight into a tall pole.

I hit it so hard I was thrown back. Dizzy, I made a joke about not seeing what had been there all along. My friends acted concerned but that was it, my brief encounter with popularity. Maybe I lost the secret habit of writing poetry because it seemed too much like an unseen pole, the sort of fullness that can erupt into a poem but might also raise a welt.

I never walked entirely away from poetry. As an adult I created poems from the phrases given to me by nursing home residents, crediting them separately for each line that eventually appeared in a book titled Gathering Our Thoughts. I led support groups for victims of abuse, hearing poetry as they shared their anguish in grace-laden detail. I taught non-violence workshops using poetry to emphasize the message of each session. I sent the work of my favorite poets to dear ones as a way of celebrating their joys and sharing their sorrows.

Yet I rarely encounter people living nearby who talked about, read, or wrote poetry. Far from our little farm I’m aware that poetry speaks for itself in slam festivals and readings, that it takes up residence in MFA programs and literary journals. Those worlds seem distant.

Poetry still feels like an indulgence. It hear it rustle in my head, trying to shuffle impressions into form, but I focus on my usual work of writing articles, editing, gardening, bringing in firewood, feeding cows, and other ordinary tasks. Besides, those impressions never entirely fit into words. I usually hush them till they are quiet. The ones that continue to pester I allow to fall onto paper although they don’t fully capture what’s just beyond language. When I took my manuscript to the post office to be weighed, addressed to “Poetry Editor,” I felt faintly ashamed, as if publicly admitting I squander time that could be devoted to more useful pursuits. The Puritan ethic dies slowly.

But the articles I write and the books I’m working on center around letting each person’s unique radiance shine. I believe this has to do, in part, with claiming both the light and dark in our lives so we can move toward a world of deeper mutuality. I know I’m not true to my ideals unless I live them. So I’m learning to treat the poetry writing impulse more gently. It feels starkly revealing, as liberation does.

The pieces in this collection have to do with beginning, uprooting, gathering, and abundance. They rise from the simple daily rituals that nourish me and from the loved ones who shape my life. They’re a way of walking into something hard without falling backwards.

publish poetry, why write poems,

Image: xxju.deviantart.com

Endless thanks to the intrepid souls who helped shape this book. The first ms readers: my beloved siblings Dale Piper and Cynthia Piper. My merry writing group: Connie Gunn, Margaret Swift, and Sarah Vradenburg. Those discerning individuals who commented on later drafts: Laurie Kincer, Leslie Nielson, Katherine Clark, and Mark Hersmann. I’m endlessly grateful. 

My New Book is Out!

Tending rises from my life on the farm and my fascination with the world at large. Informed by quietly ordinary days, these poems look into the nature of things with questions that circle the stars. I’m thrilled that the cover photo is by talented artist (and my sister) Cynthia Piper.


“Laura Grace Weldon employs radical empathy to enter into the hidden lives of rutabaga, cows, the neighborhood bully, and the beating heart of life itself.  Playful, curious, sensual, she aims to open the reader’s eyes and heart.”

Alison Luterman, author of See How We Almost Fly  and The Largest Possible Life.


“Laura Grace Weldon’s poems remind us that our world’s necessary brushes between nature and technology, human and animal, are not necessarily ones of friction. Instead, Weldon sees these moments as truly wondrous ones, available to us not only on the farm, but also in the back pocket of a window washer, swinging among the skyscrapers.”

Brad Ricca, author of American Mastodon and Super Boys.


“Memory, faith, and the natural world as both witness to the cycle of human life and healer to a questioning heart are at the core of this lovely and lyrical collection of poems. The weather changes, people come and go from cities and towns, babies are born, grow up and depart from their parents’ arms, but still, the countryside and its rituals sustain the people and creatures who know how to read the signs of the seasons. In these pages, Laura Grace Weldon shares those signs with us; her poems are the fruit of a wonderful harvest.”

Eleanor Lerman, author of The Sensual World Re-emerges: Poems and Mystery of Meteors.


“Laura Grace Weldon’s poems are concrete, allusive, and rich.”

 Diane Kendig, author of The Places We Find Ourselves.


“These are calming poems, set deep in the specifics of this life.”

David Budbill, author of Moment to Moment: Poems of a Mountain Recluse
and Happy Life.


Published by Aldrich Press. Order HERE.

(My friend Penny, from Dubai, suggests I share a sample. Here’s a poem from the first section, one no journal accepted although there are so few odes to root vegetables…)


You darken as my knife slices

blushing at what you become.

I save your thick leaves

and purple skin

to feed the cows. 


A peasant guest at any meal

you agree to hide in fragrant stew

or gleam nakedly

in butter and chives.


Though your seeds are tiny

you grow with fierce will

grateful for poor soil and dry days,

heave up from the ground

under sheltering stalks

to sweeten with the frost.


Tonight we take you into our bodies

as if we do you a favor—

letting your molecules

become a higher being,

one that knows music and art.


But you share with us

what makes you a rutabaga.

Through you we eat sunlight,

taste the soil’s clamoring mysteries,

gain your seed’s perfect might. 

Laura Grace Weldon 

peace in tragedy, energy fingerprint, what we leave behind, act in crisis,


10 Reasons To Become A Library Addict

library addiction, book zombie, build a library habit,

Image: CC by 2.0 ricardo266)

My name is Laura. I have a chronic library habit.

Sure, I have other, less socially acceptable habits. We can talk about those another day. Right now I’m trying to convince you to become a fellow library fanatic.

I’ve already been successful with my kids. The stacks of books my family brings home may be pushing up the state average. Now that my kids are older they are surprised most of their peers don’t bother with libraries, in person or online. And I’m surprised to see how many of my friends don’t use libraries either. Some haven’t been since high school. For those of you who don’t bliss out over libraries, or worse, dismiss libraries as dim places with a distinctive old book smell, here are the ten best reasons to get hooked on libraries.


1. Magic water.

magic water, As a small child I was convinced there was something magical about drinking fountain water at our local library. It tasted better than water anywhere else. I wondered if it had to do with enviable proximity to all those books.

When I had kids I  rhapsodized about the water at libraries. And they’ve always been able to taste the difference. Even though I realize there’s no factual basis for this belief, library water still seems more deeply refreshing than ordinary water. Try it and see for yourself.


2. Awe.

library addict, library love, A much more vital magic is evident in libraries around the world.

It has to do with a sense of history, of freely shared knowledge, and awe-inspiring architecture. When traveling I make sure to hang out in libraries. Most recently I found time to soak up the atmosphere of one of NYC’s awesome libraries.


3. Librarians.

love librarians, librarian stereotypes,


Surely you celebrate the annual Hug Your Librarian Day. These folks are amazing. As  Erica Firment writes on Librarian Avengers,

People become librarians because they know too much. Their knowledge extends beyond mere categories. They cannot be confined to disciplines. Librarians are all-knowing and all-seeing. They bring order to chaos. They bring wisdom and culture to the masses. They preserve every aspect of human knowledge. Librarians rule. And they will kick the crap out of anyone who says otherwise.

Librarian stereotypes aren’t relevant or cute. Don’t believe me? Check out The Bellydancing LibrarianThe Steampunk Librarian, and Miss Information. Still think of them as chronic shsser’s? Then read Your Librarian Hates You.


4. Library materials are free!

new library services, Our taxes pay for them whether you use them or not. Only suckers don’t get in there to scoop up books, magazines, movies, digital downloads, recorded books, electronic readers, programs, classes, performances, and more. My kids and I have strolled out after a library visit with well over 100 items checked out on a card or two.

Today’s libraries offer much more than well worn books and a chaotic Story Hour. Click over to your library’s website. You’ll find an amazing array of offerings well beyond the newest bestsellers. There are probably programs to get you started in fencing or felting or fraternizing with fellow foodies, just this week alone.


5. Ordering.

order library materials, library request, OMG, I love ordering materials. In my area library systems are linked, so holdings can be sent from libraries in quite a few counties right to my own little branch. I can read a review of a book before it’s released, then go to the library site to pre-order it. I can order special book group offerings for our book group (up to 20 of the same book) that come organized by some saintly librarian with supplemental materials. I order obscure specialty books that were published back in the 1920’s and earlier.

We’ve homeschooled on the cheap thanks to our library system and the wonders of ordering materials. No way could I afford to expose my kids to the depth of information and range of experiences they’ve gained via libraries.


6. Online renewal.

library perks, I don’t know about your library system, but mine permits renewals up to five times. Online. That gives me several months to adore most materials. Those months are necessary. I use books in my work, take them with me lest I have a dull moment, and leave them around for my family members to pick up when their eyeballs are unoccupied.

Sometimes I find books so precious that when they are finally and irrevocably due I end up buying a copy. But let me point out, I only buy books after proving their worth to myself. No regrettable book purchases here. Yay savings.


7. Library privileges.

I’ve been in a steady human relationship for a loooong time, but I’m a non-monogamous library user. Judging by the number of library cards in my name, I’m a pushover for the sweet allure of any library’s New Acquisitions section.

It’s hard to unearn library privileges. Late fees are usually minimal and in many systems there are no late fees for seniors, teachers, and homeschoolers. Even when my account is labeled “delinquent” due to a late book or two I’m still able to check out and reserve materials. I don’t mind a few dollars here and there to make up for my late return crimes. Totally worth it. Unlike most human relationships, my library is always buying me something new, forgiving me when I atone, and consistently planning unexpected ways to lure me.


8. Research databases.

library search functions,Library systems subscribe to pricey online database services that none of us could afford on our own. I access most of them from my home computer, simply logging in with my library card number. These databases include genealogy, academic research, news archives, digital images, health, and much more. I relied almost entirely on the resources of my award-winning Medina County Library for the research necessary to write my book.


9. Book Zombie Fuel

book diet, reading addict,

sundaykofax via Flickr, CC by 2.0

A wealth of materials is essential for those of us who are Book Zombies. We absolutely must gorge on fresh brains books, feeding an insatiable hunger for that oblivious-to-the-world swoon we call reading. We don’t hear or see what’s happening in our “real” lives when lost in a book.

Libraries feed that hunger, gladly buying books for us and storing them until we’re ready for more.


10. That smell.

foreign language library, Children of Chernobyl, Libraries don’t smell like someone’s musty basement. The odor is something entirely different. I’ll tell you what it reminds me of, right after I tell you about how much I appreciate Russian language library materials.

For five summers we hosted a little girl from Belarus  through the Children of Chernobyl project. And every summer before she arrived I called the librarian in charge of the foreign language collection at the Cleveland Public Library. We talked over Tatiana’s age and interests, then every few weeks through her three month stay this librarian sent to our rural library branch a wonderful selection of Russian materials including Harry Potter books, children’s magazines, recorded children’s books, popular music, and much more. When my kids curled up with books or went to bed listening to CD’s, Tanya was able to do so as well. I hoped it eased the hunger she must have felt to hear her own language. Beyond that, it built connections between us almost immediately.

The first day she arrived, exhausted from long flights and weak from some medical problems, there was no way we could really communicate. It became obvious that our efforts to learn Russian had been laughable and as a seven-year-old her grasp of English was limited to “yes” and “thank you.” Then I remembered those blessed library materials. In a few minutes all of us were dancing to the Russian version of “Hokey Pokey” and laughing before collapsing in a heap on the couch together to giggle as we paged through a Russian/English picture book, challenging each other to pronounce the words. That stack of Russian library materials smelled, more than anything, like home. To me, every library smells like my place. Bet they smell like your place too.

Build Community Using Bookish Goodwill

sharing economy, free books, little libraries,

You can’t have too much of a good thing, unless you’re averse to bliss. One of life’s Very Good Things, in my book (pun!) is the library. There’s a movement afoot to augment our public libraries with other ways of spreading bookish goodwill. This doesn’t just get books into more hands, it actually builds positive networks between people and strengthens our communities.

Roaming Libraries

One unique venture is BookCrossings.  Started in 2001, it’s a read and release method of sharing books. Once you’ve read and enjoyed a book, simply go online to print out a label, then leave your book in a public place like a coffee shop, hair salon, playground, or doctor’s office. The label assures others the book is free to anyone interested. The label also contains a code so readers can track and follow books as they are read, discussed, and released again elsewhere in the world. Currently over 8 million books are traveling through 132 countries.

Handmade Book Libraries

In the art world, hand crafted books of all kinds have long traveled on round robin circuits allowing artists to collaborate in making and appreciating these unique creations.

Handmade books are also released in limited runs to appreciative readers who share the works through lending programs such as the Underground Library in Brooklyn. Here experimental literature is bound using labor intensive traditional methods, then distributed to members who pass the book along to a dozen other people before it’s returned to the library.

Banned Book Libraries

Surely people have been sharing what authorities don’t want them to know long before information was stored on papyrus scrolls. Remember the parochial school student who stocked her locker with banned books, using a check out system and due dates to keep track? This may be an urban myth but we know full well when reading material is banned it attracts even more dedicated readers.

This is true even when real danger is involved. As Azar Nafisi described in her memoir, Reading Lolita in Tehran, after Ayatollah Khomeini banned Western influences she gathered students in her home to read and discuss books, some photocopied page by page, despite the risk.

Micro Libraries

Tiny libraries are appearing in all sorts of places. For example in San Jose four new libraries don’t have funding to hire staff.  Instead, volunteers run a Friends of the Library book lending program out of a small room in a community center.

In San Francisco, a few shelves in the Viracocha antique store have become a tiny library called Ourshelves which is “curated by local authors and readers eager to share their favorite works with fellow book lovers.”

Free-standing libraries, called Corner Libraries are popping up in NYC. These tiny buildings evade zoning requirements by remaining on hand trucks, usually chained to a stationery object. One is a four foot tall clapboard structure offering books, maps, even a CD featuring baby photos of world dictators. Another Corner Library, named the East Harlem Seed & Recipe Library, looks like a planter but has a drawer with seed packets and recipe cards.

Stranger Exchange boxes are also appearing, asking people to take or leave items of interest. In Boston the first such library, a repurposed newspaper box, has featured such items as CD mixes, hand drawn maps, batteries, party invitations, and artwork.

These free-standing libraries have a precedent in the UK, where a phone booth was turned into a 24 hour library,recently followed by a phone booth library in New York.

And a non-profit called Little Free Library aims to establish thousands of new libraries (no bigger than large bird feeders) all over the world.  It has inspired people everywhere, like 82-year-old Bob Cheshier, whose goal was to get little libraries outside of all 71 elementary schools in the Cleveland district. Teachers and kids loved him. He died recently, only partway to that goal, but the community is carrying on his vision.

The process is simple.

  • Figure out where you’d like to place a Little Free Library. A community garden, bike path, civic center, or your front yard?
  • Determine who will be the steward of the Little Free Library.
  • Decide if you’ll build it or order it pre-made to decorate as you choose. You may choose to endow it for someone else (tax deductible) or set it up to honor a certain person, place, or organization.
  • Build support. You may want to find business or civic sponsorship, host a design contest, and in other ways spread the word about your Little Free Library.
  • Contact Little Free Library to register your library on the map, get updates, and more
  • Enjoy. Encourage people to visit, keep it stocked, and watch how sharing affects your neighborhood.

I hope traditional libraries as we know and love them will always exist. They are vital, vibrant institutions ready to be an important part of every person’s life.

But these smaller exchanges actually enlarge our potential. They foster connections between us each time we share, lend, and collaborate. They’re another way of making our communities work.

More Community-Building Inspiration

Engage the Window Box Effect

Bring Kids Back to the Commons

Front Porch Forum


Better Together: Restoring the American Community

The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods

All That We Share

community building through books, neighbor to neighbor, micro library, book sharing, birdhouse library,

38 Unexpected Ways To Revel In Snail Mail

literacy skills, mail art, mail exchanges, snail mail fun,

The Force is strong with snail mail. (Image: CC by 2.0 Wikimedia Kev pittsburgh,pa)

Most of us don’t get anything interesting in the mail. Opening a personal letter seems like a pleasure from another era, irrelevant as a starched collar. Lets reclaim that experience. (The letter, not the collar.)

But first a rant. Here in the U.S. our postal service is often described as inefficient and unprofitable. I beg to differ. When I mail a letter in Ohio, it’s often delivered in Boston or Denver the next afternoon. I’ve mailed plenty of letters to distant countries. They show up in a week, tops. A few ounces of paper arrives in the one place in the world I want it to go, all for less than a buck. That’s pretty impressive. And the post office lets me mail unwrapped shovels too (more on that later).

Unprofitable? That’s not the real issue, unless you count the postal system having to pre-fund it’s retirement system 70-some years in advance. Name a company that can do that and stay in business.

I’m all about going postal. Sending and receiving mail helps us slow down, savoring time in a way that’s often missed in our terabyte-speed lives. Here are some ways you can make snail mail a pleasure.

Mail something unwrapped.

1. Try mailing a full-sized paintbrush, a basketball, a flip flop. All you need is a legible address and the correct postage. You might feel a little silly standing in line at the post office with an address-adorned plastic dinosaur, but it’ll be worth the look on your recipient’s face. I’ve mailed all sorts of silly things to a friend, mostly in response to oddities she mails to me. The strangest thing I’ve sent was a two foot metal shovel with a wooden handle. I used a permanent marker to write a note to her on the handle and the address on the metal part. It got there just fine.

2. For more ideas on what you can send through the mail, check out happy mail ideas at Giver’s Log or the Pinterest board 13 ounces or less. Check USPS regulations on what cannot be sent by mail.

Investigate the peculiar history of unwrapped mail.

3. In 1914, five-year-old Charlotte May Pierstorff was sent via U.S. mail as a package to visit her grandparents. It was the only way her parents could afford the trip. My kids and I learned about her journey from the picture book, Mailing May, by Michael O. Tunnell. She’s not the only person to be sent as cargo.

4. The most inspiring example is Henry Box Brown, who in 1849 was a slave in Virginia. Using his savings to pay for the clandestine delivery, he had himself mailed to an abolitionist in Philadelphia. The trip took 27 hours, much of it upside down despite “this side up” instructions on the box.

5. The quirkiest unwrapped mail history I’ve run across involves W. Reginald Bray. In 1898 this British accountant began to send all sorts of unwrapped objects via mail. That included, but wasn’t limited to, a rabbit skull, a bowler hat, a turnip, his Irish terrier, and a bicycle punk. He also mailed himself, twice. He liked to test the logic of postal employees by mailing cards with addresses written as puzzles or clues. You can find out more about Bray in, The Englishman who Posted Himself and Other Curious Objects by John Tingey.

Get back in the habit of writing letters.

6. Send a letter to your great aunt or a former neighbor.

7. Write letters to deployed service members.

8. A mailed letter has a greater impact on your elected officials than calls or emails, so if an issue is troubling you take the time to write out your concerns. Only a tiny fraction of the country’s citizens have ever done this.

9. Write to an author (his or her publishing house will forward your letter).

10. Write to a business. My son once wrote to a pen company to settle a bet he had with me. He said my habit of leaving pens uncapped  would dry them out. He not only got a response confirming that he was correct, but the pen company’s PR person sent eight different pens for him to enjoy as well as an admonition to keep after his pen-wrecking mother. For other ways to inspire kids (or the kid in you) to write letters, check out any of Letters from a Nut books by Ted Nancy.

11. Groups of kids (classes, scouts, homeschool groups) can participate in letter exchanges with Peace Corps volunteers through the Coverdell World Wise correspondence program and with long distance truckers via Trucker Buddy.

12. Find a snail mail correspondent through The Letter Exchange.

13. Join the Letter Writers Alliance.

Make your own envelope out of something unexpected.

14. Use a leftover scrap of wrapping paper, a torn out magazine page, a file folder scribbled with equations, an old map, whatever you’d like.The simplest way is to pull apart an envelope to use as a template, sealing your new envelope with a glue stick once you’ve popped a letter inside. For more detailed instructions, head over to Instructables.

15. If you don’t want to seal your one-of-a-kind envelope with ordinary tape or glue, make your own flavored envelope glue.

Let your stamp make a statement.

16. There are amazing USPS stamps out there reflecting practically every interest, but they don’t stick around (stick, hah) very long. Every time I go to the post office I check to see what they’ve got available. No flag stamps for me. When they had Buckminster Fuller stamps, I stocked up. This year’s stamps include O. Henry (the author, not the candy bar) and Rosa Parks.

17. Or make your own customized postage. Our cows’ faces could be stamps, the smiling cactus your kid drew could be stamps. USPS authorized vendors include stamps.compictureitpostage.com, and zazzle.com.

Send postcards, get postcards.

18. Register with Postcrossing. When you send a postcard you’ll receive a postcard back from another participant anywhere in the world. So far, 16 million Postcrossing postcards have been exchanged. Check out their Flickr postcard photopool.

19. To set up a specific postcard exchange (or other snail mail swaps) put up a request on Swap-Bot.

20. When you’re out, even on a day trip, encourage young children to mail postcards to themselves or their siblings. Just a quick sentence helps establish the day as memorable (and reinforces literacy skills). It’s also fun when that postcard arrives at your home in a day or two.

Get involved with or instigate a mail exchange.

21. I love art exchanges. I’ve participated in them on and off over the years, writing and decorating a page in a journal before sending it along to the next person or contributing to themed art challenges. My favorite was a Barbie art challenge. I glued a Barbie’s long hair into stiff twisting strands, gave her some theatening-looking facial features, and mounted her disembodied head into a tiny cardboard replica of a TV set with a “Medusa” remote. Find mail art calls through the International Union of Mail-Artists as well as Mail Art Projects.

22. Propose a mail exchange on a forum, blog, or other group. Make it themed, for example followers of a food blog send each other local foodstuff. Fans of a particular musician send each other her lyrics re-imagined as comics or movie scenes.

23. All sorts of parenting lists host exchanges for kids who want a postcard from each state, a letter answering the same 10 questions from 100 participants, or favorite jokes. Suggest an exchange your kids would like.

Write to kids.

24. Chances are you know children who would adore getting mail addressed to them, either your own kids or kids in your extended family. Try for at least a once-a-year tradition like a note on the child’s birthday. Or more memorably, on a quirky day. How about a letter every year on Waffle Day (March 25) or Go Barefoot Day (June 1)?

25. Consider writing letters as if from an imaginary creature telling a series of tales, perhaps the adventures of a rollerblading squirrel and her sidekick, a jogging possum. No less than J.R.R. Tolkien wrote and illustrated a holiday letter for his children every year, arriving as if from the North Pole. See his drawings and text in Letters From Father Christmas

26. Write about your experiences when you were the child’s age.

27. Encourage return communication when you write to kids. At the very least, send them pre-addressed envelopes with stamps. You might write with a challenge. (Okay, a better one than the following example!) How about enclosing a length of string and the question: How many ways can you use this string?  Maybe offer a prize if they write back with more than a dozen ideas.  Or send response letters you’ve made with fill-in blanks to answer questions like:  This week I was surprised when ________. If I could go anywhere tomorrow I’d like to go _________. If I ran the country, the first thing I’d do is __________. Most people don’t know that ______.

28. Write to toddlers well before they can read. Print a simple sentence or two, replacing some nouns and verbs with rebus pictures. (If you’re not familiar with this, it means drawing a cat face instead of writing the word “cat.”) Add something to the envelope that the child might find interesting, like stickers.

Mail a simple thank you note.

29. Even a few lines of thanks come across differently when they’re written on paper and sent by mail. They seem more earnest and carry more meaning than the same few lines in a text or email. John Kralik discovered this when he was at the lowest point in his life and vowed to mail one thank you note every day for a year. Somehow, the effort of thanking others  brought unexpected returns to his life including business success, weight loss, and richer friendships. Read his story in A Simple Act of Gratitude: How Learning to Say Thank You Changed My Life.

30. Send a thank you to a favorite teacher, a former mentor, the local bookstore owner whose business you appreciate, someone who did you a kindness that you haven’t forgotten.

31. Consider writing a letter to someone you see everyday. Your child, your spouse, your co-worker. Tell them something you cherish about them or how they enrich your life.

When the situation calls for it, tell your truth with an un-thank you note.

32. Of course it’s best to handle negative situations immediately, but I’ve gotten some dire predictions from professionals that proved false over time. This surgery is absolutely necessary. You’ll have a maladjusted child if you homeschool. Ritalin is the only solution for that behavior.  It’s my contention that sending a respectful letter updating a doctor, teacher, or other expert is a kindness to the people they will advise in the future. There are ways to write a useful unthank you note. Chances are you won’t get a response but you’ll feel lighter.

33. If you want to tell the world the truth anonymously, mail a postcard to PostSecret. Keep up with these powerful, often artfully shared secrets via Facebook and check out the TED talk by founder Frank Warren.

  Use handwritten notes to advance professionally.

34. It seems counterintuitive when there are faster ways to communicate, but that’s the point. A letter to a business contact makes a lasting impression and does so at just the right speed.

35. The go-to guide for this is Business Notes: Writing Personal Notes That Build Professional Relationships by Florence Isaacs.


Inspire yourself to write letters by reading epistolary novels.

36. The Color Purple is told through letters and if you haven’t read it, this book isn’t to be missed. The Historian centers on a medieval book that opens clues to Dracula’s existence. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society reveals memorable characters living on the island of Guernsey during the Nazi occupation. Any of the Griffin & Sabine books have intriguing tiny envelopes inside, giving the reader the sense of peeking at private correspondence.

37. For teens: Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, about two cousins drawn up in a alternative universe complete with romance, wit, and magical chocolate. Or for more romance plus intrigue at Australian high schools, two very popular books by the same author, Feeling Sorry for Celia and The Year of Secret Assignments

38. For young children: Help Me, Mr. Mutt!: Expert Answers for Dogs with People Problems as well as any of the many books starring the ever-clever letter-writing dog Ike LaRue.

For more motivation, spend time with those who exult in snail mail.

365 Letters

Mail Me Art

Letter Matters

Letters of Note

Always First Class: The Pleasure of Personal Letters

Celebrate Hug Your Librarian Day

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March 1st may or may not be International Hug a Librarian Day. There’s some confusion online but librarians are too busy to keep up with fan clubs anyway. They don’t just find information, they also review, organize, assess, explain, figure out, calm small children, put up displays, run programs, read aloud, expand collections, apply laser-like focus to advance other people’s knowledge, and much more. Why limit librarian love to one day?

I have a chronic library habit myself. There are at least ten reasons to adore libraries and the professionals who make these places adoration-worthy,  so we probably need a more than just a Hug A Librarian Day. Perhaps a commemorative week or month. I’m thinking year round.

Here are some ways to celebrate.

Vote yes for library levies.

Surprise your favorite librarian with a hand-written thank you note.

Start or join a book club. Many libraries offer meeting space, some offer book club collections of the same book bundled with discussion questions.

Savor quotes from your favorite books by copying them onto a plate or mughand printing them on a scarf, or writing them on a shirt using a bleach pen.

Read This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All.

Bring flowers, good coffee beans, homemade cookies, or a tray of fresh fruit for your librarians to enjoy.

Join your branch’s “friends of the library” organization.

Blast away any librarian stereotypes you harbor by taking a peek at some librarian blogs like Miss Information, Librarian Avengers, The Lipstick Librarian, The Laughing Librarian, The Society for Librarians Who Say MF, and Your Librarian Hates You.

Read Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian.

Check out books that have been challenged or banned.

Start your own tiny library to benefit others.

Surprise your favorite librarian with a certificate for locally owned store, restaurant, or theater performance.

Keep an eye out for librarian characters (and inevitable stereotypes) in movies. Try these:

  • Goodbye, Columbus
  • Stephen King’s It
  • The Name of the Rose
  • The Mummy
  • Maxie
  • Kit Kittredge: An American Girl (kids) 
  • The Pagemaster (kids) 

Attend library programs and give positive reviews afterwards.

Shape snacks that look like books out of fruit leather, honey, and chocolate.

Or heck, volunteer to help your library run an Edible Book Festival.  Check out images from the Seattle festival and an international festival.

Organize your own book collection into a lending library using book pockets and library cards, perhaps putting your stamp on each volume with a custom book embosser. Or use an all-in-one library kit. This is particularly fun for kids.

Do everything in your power to keep your library system well-funded, lest they be forced to accept advertising dollars to stay open.

Make easy felt book covers , a more complex quilted composition book cover, or even try bookbinding.

Consider the possibility that you’re a Book Zombie.

When traveling, make a point of visiting libraries. For incentive, check out images of inspiring church libraries and public libraries.

Avoid saying the following to your librarian:

  • Must be nice to sit around reading all day.
  • You’re supposed to find me a job on the Internet, right? 
  • Do you volunteer here? 
  • I haven’t stepped in a library since ______.  
  • I hear that you will fill out my tax return.
  • Libraries just aren’t the same without card catalogs. 
  • Have you read all the books here? 

Read librarian-centered books to kids such as Librarian on the Roof! A True StoryThe Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians, and The Librarian of Basra: A True Story from Iraq.    

And if you know your librarian well enough, offer a hug.

Escaping Into Novels

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Books have been my escape mechanism ever since I started reading as a child. I’d load up with all the books I could carry from the library with absolute glee, launching into the first one in the backseat on our drive home. I couldn’t wait for the power of a story to overtake me.  While reading I was completely oblivious of my surroundings, caught up in another world entirely. This got me into trouble at school plenty of times. I’d read after getting an assignment done, never noticing as the class moved on to spelling or math or even lunch. That’s the down side to being what I call a book zombie.

I continue to have a pretty advanced case of library addiction and plunder the stacks on a weekly basis. Unlike my earliest years, I mostly read non-fiction. I don’t know why I’ve come to associate facts with the reading equivalent of a meal, necessary and good for me in a way that dessert is not. That doesn’t mean I don’t indulge in novels. In my reading-intensive life I usually stuff in a novel a week, plus several non-fiction books (and lots of online reading).

But this week I haven’t opened a single non-fiction book. I’m in complete escape mode—all dessert. That’s because my beloved husband has been in the hospital for some extensive spinal surgery. That first day I relied on a stack of novels to transport me away from his nearly seven hour surgery plus many more hours of waiting for him to get out of recovery. The next few days I found that, between visits, I didn’t have much gumption to get my work done. Okay, no gumption whatsoever. I kept sneaking back into novels where I lingered quite happily for hours. Thank goodness I stocked up. It’s like having a whole pantry full of goodies.

Here are a few I’ve been reading that you might enjoy.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan is a clever and mysterious book. It’s a quick read but not remotely fluffy. On the surface it’s about the way the love of books intersects with the might of today’s computing power. But it’s also about magic, mystery, the awesomeness of Google, and the singular meaning of real relationships.  (Five stars!)

Truth in Advertising by John Kenney is sharp and funny. It’s follows a man whose current challenge is producing a diaper commercial, whose personal life is barely perceptible, and who takes a sardonic view of anything remotely sentimental. The passages skewering corporate absurdities and fast forward trendiness are delicious. That the story ends on a sentimental note provides a perfect balance. (Five stars!)

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. Set in the late 1980′s, this book is told through the eyes of an adolescent girl who had a close relationship with an uncle who recently died of AIDS. A few days after his funeral she receives a strange package, an artful teapot she and her uncle always used when they got together. It was sent by a mysterious man who asks to be her friend. And so begins an unusual relationship that teaches the girl, her family, and this man more than they might have imagined about forgiveness, love, adventure, and being true to oneself. Compellingly written and insightful, this story lingers. I can’t remember loving characters as much as I loved this girl’s uncle and the man who becomes her friend.  (Five stars!)

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson is translated from the Swedish language and has sold three million copies. As the title suggests, the tale has to do with an elderly gent who runs away. His life story happens to interconnect with major political happenings around the world, Forrest Gump-style, although this main character is far less innocent especially where explosions are concerned.   It’s a bit of a history lesson, entirely beyond credulity, but nonetheless entertaining. I’m guessing a movie will be forthcoming. (Four stars)

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons isn’t my usual read. I am allergic to most anything with “romance” as a major plot point. But I read a review noting that this is the book for Downton Abbey fans and couldn’t resist. This is meatier, in some ways, than Downton Abbey. The main character is the daughter of a wealthy, cultured Viennese family who seeks asylum in 1938. She ends up in England as a servant. Her culture shock and class shock are interesting, so is life in the remote coastal area that has a unique historic angle. (Four stars)

The Red House by Mark Haddon (author of the absolutely wonderful The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) is about family relationships, all happening within a holiday week. The style is faintly jarring, flitting from one point of view to another, sometimes in the space of two paragraphs, but it’s also full of the moments a reader waits for, those quiet but significant insights that are illuminating. (Four stars)

Maybe I’m working my way toward a more balanced reading diet. I still don’t have the slightest urge to pick up a non-fiction books, even the ones I’m supposed to be reviewing. It feels decadent and delightful, like skipping the salad and going right for the chocolate. In a few minutes I’ll be leaving to pick my husband up from the hospital. On the way I’ll be getting his prescriptions, a shower chair, and maybe, if there’s time, books I ordered that are in at the library.

Tell me what YOU are reading so I have more reasons to indulge.