Norway — Books as far as the eye can see.

I read a lot of books. Aside from a brief fanfic stint in my early teens, I’ve largely left writing one to the experts. I don’t have the time, the original ideas, or the patience to put thoughts to paper and then see it through to an actual published book. Hats off to the people who do, though, we wouldn’t all be here listening to me blather on about books if you didn’t.

All that said, though, I know at least at a basic level what it takes to go from a Word document of jumbled plot points, character sheets, place descriptions, and hand drawn maps to succeeding (or, more probably, failing) at getting something published. It takes up-front money, a lot of patience, and a lot of luck. Publishers don’t like to take chances on things that seem too out-of-the-ordinary, and so a lot of truly valuable books die on the vine. Sometimes a book gets published and then, for any number of reasons, goes overlooked by the general public and the author is politely shown the door by the agency, even if what they’ve published is valuable. Let’s not get into the gamble that is publishing a book (or, several books as it usually takes) and then actually making money from doing so. Or, heaven forbid, making enough money to live off of. Perish the thought.

I ran into a little factoid on Reddit a few weeks/months/I don’t remember how long ago about Norway that I didn’t know before. Perhaps people who are more worldly than I am already knew this, but I am only mortal and can’t get to all the places I would like to visit in my lifetime on a part-time library aide paycheck. Norway is actually extremely friendly, extremely positive, and extremely supportive of authors, books, and reading. The single factoid I ran across that led me on this journey of discovery was that Norway’s Arts Council actually purchases 1,000 copies of every Norwegian book published and donates them to libraries across their country. The idea behind this is to encourage Norwegian authors to publish books, to safeguard Norwegian cultural items, and to provide authors something of a reliable wage for their efforts. Being a library worker myself and seeing how poorly libraries in America are treated in terms of funding and demands, the idea that the nation is so supportive of libraries and authors is phenomenal.

Some additional pro-book factoids about Norway I uncovered include that it boasts a 100% adult literacy level, 93% of adults in Norway report reading at least one book last year, and 40% of those having read more than 10. When compared with the literacy rate in the United States (79% as of last year) or the number of adults who read just a single book in a year (72% in 2018, I was unable to locate statistics for 2019) I found those statistics fascinating, inspiring, and encouraging. At my small library, movies and video games are checked out far more than a book, any book at all. As someone who really loves reading and who tries to encourage everyone to read, it’s somewhat disheartening to see. I just want people to enjoy my hobby, man.

Another super interesting literacy-forward factoid about Norway is that there are so many books, bookshops, and book-minded people there that there are many small towns that boast more books than people. Mundal, in western Norway, has a population of 280 people (you really have to love your neighbors there), but contains more than 150,000 books. Free libraries, book shelves, and book shops line its streets. Most books sold in this town are used, as the residents believe strongly in preserving old books in an increasingly digital age. As someone who almost exclusively buys used books, this is an effort I support.

So, I suppose in closing, if you want to visit someplace as bookish as you are, consider Norway. If Norway wants to sponsor me doing a travelogue from your beautiful country, call me! 🙂

Source links, for additional reading:

Why Norway is the best place in the world to be a writer

The scintillating Norwegian publishing scene

Book towns are made for book lovers

This picturesque Norwegian town has so many more books than residents that roadside libraries and bookshelves line the streets

Happy birthday, Patience and Fortitude!

I have never made the pilgrimage to the New York Public Library, but I’ve seen enough movies and looked at enough images to recognize the two iconic lion statues out front. In fact, Fortitude in particular played a large part of my childhood for his opening shot in Ghostbusters. At the time, though, I had no idea they had names, and it wasn’t until just a few years ago that I learned that these two iconic statues had names. Meet Patience (on the south side of the entrance) and Fortitude (on the north side of the entrance).

This majestic pair happens to be 109 years old today, and were carved by the Piccirilli Brothers in 1911. The Piccirilli Brothers were paid $5,000 for their contribution to the New York Public Library’s front door, and they carved them out of pink Tennessee Marble. They’ve been cleaned and restored periodically throughout their lives, most recently in 2019.

What I hadn’t known until researching this pair was that Patience and Fortitude are not their original names. Instead, they were named Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, after the founders of the New York Public Library (John Jacob Astor and James Lenox). Their names were changed in the 1930s by the mayor of New York to Patience and Fortitude, because he felt these were two qualities the residents needed to get through the Great Depression.

So give a thought to this majestic pair of library mascots on this day, the day of their christening, as you open your book to read. They’ve seen over a century(!) of New York history and become an iconic representation of one of the best-known libraries in the United States. It’s pretty incredible when you think about it!

For some further reading:

New York Public Library: The Library Lions

New York Public Library: The New York Public Library’s Iconic Lions Are Restored, Repaired, and Ready to Roar

Classic New York History: New York Public Library Lions: Patience and Fortitude

Top Cats: The Life and Times of the New York Public Library Lions

Cool bookstore, hot backstory.

In my quest to find interesting content for this blog of mine, I stumbled across this image of an arched doorway made of books, posted on Instagram by @enchantedlibraries. My mind went in two directions — first, are those books secured? And second, where is this bookstore located?

While I was not able to answer the first question based on careful examination of so many different Google images of the same arch (I’m willing to start a GoFundMe so I can answer this question in person), I learned a lot about the actual location in pursuit of the second question, and uncovered a neat story to boot.

To get the immediate questions out of the way first, this is a bookshop called Le Bal des Ardents located in Lyons, France, along the Rue Neuve (temporarily closed currently due to COVID-19). People call the bookshop small, quaint, but very distinctive in terms of its entryway and picturesque interior. It evidently champions the small, unknown authors and independent publishers, which I greatly respect.

The cool (ha!) story comes in when I started looking into the actual name and what it meant (because I don’t speak a word of French beyond food names). The name translates in English to “the dance of the burning ones”, and strangely enough has nothing to do with books. Le Bal des Ardents (otherwise known as Dance of the Savages) evidently was a masquerade ball held in 1393. People partied hard back then apparently, as all of the partygoers were dressed impersonating savages. The costumes they wore were extremely flammable (I imagine due to the materials used at the time), and several partygoers were carrying torches to complete the ensemble. I imagine you can see where this is going, but just in case, it was the King’s (Charles VI) brother who carried the fateful torch that really, ah, turned up the heat at the party. After the conclusion of the, ah, “dance of the burning ones”, only the King and one other dancer survived.

So there you have it! A really neat looking bookshop with a kind of morbid-but-fascinating name! I don’t see myself in Lyons anytime soon, but just in case, this place would be something I’d check out.

References and cool places to check out related to the bookshop:

Le Bal des Ardents Official Page

Le Bal des Ardents: Is This the Prettiest Bookshop in Lyon?

Bibliophile’s Corner: Le Bal des Ardents Bookstore

On the Grid: Le Bal des Ardents