Mali has been getting a bad rap lately with the kidnapping of a French aid worker and travel warnings about the dangers of terrorism, all thanks to Al-Qaeda’s local band of nutcases. But like everywhere else there are more good people than bad in Mali and they’ve been working hard to preserve a unique literary heritage in the famous city of Timbuktu.
Timbuktu is often thought of as a remote place, but it stands at an important point for the trade routes between West and North Africa. In the Middle Ages it was the center of a powerful empire and home to one of the first universities in the world. Students from all over the Muslim world came hear to learn about science, mathematics, geography, religion, philosophy, and more. Today the leading families of Timbuktu preserve the legacy of that golden age of learning–more than 100,000 handwritten manuscripts dating back as far as the 12th century. They cover a wide range of topics. The one pictured here is a treatise on astronomy.
Now these manuscripts will be available to the public thanks to the Ahmed Baba Institute, a state-of-the-art library built to preserve the crumbling documents and display them to the public. Several exhibitions are planned that will add historical context to one of the world’s more popular adventure destinations. The collection of manuscripts will be a lengthy process. Nobody knows just how many families in Timbuktu and other part of Mali have treasures squirreled away, so the institute should be seeing a lot of growth and changes in the coming years.
An interesting video about the project can be seen here.
Perhaps never before has the Czech Republic been so divided over a piece of architecture. The winning proposal for a new National Library in Prague, which is supposed to be built in Letna, in the Prague 7 district, not far from the Castle, is a source of major controversy in the country.
The purple-and-yellow building proposal (see photo) has been designed by Jan Kaplicky, an architect of the London architecture firm Future Systems. Yes, it is an extremely bold design, for a city known for its Gothic and Baroque architecture.
People call it all kinds of things…octopus, jellyfish, blob, phlegm are among the nicer ones. I personally like it. But I like cities that mix and match their architecture, like New York.
What about you? How do you like it?
If you have a tendency to rack up late fees at your local library, you might want to consider moving to Finland. In the southern town of Vaanta, a library-goer recently returned a book that had been checked out for over 100 years. The person who returned it chose to remain anonymous — possibly deterred by the note on the book which stated there was a 10 penny per week charge for late returns. The library did not state whether it would have charged a fine or not. The book was a bound copy of a 1902 volume of Vartija, a religious monthly periodical.
Finland has an extensive library system, with more than 900 libraries for the 5.3 million inhabitants. I wonder how many more Finns have old books hiding out at home.
What strange things have been found on planes?
Click the image to read the bizarre story…
Back in July I took a daytrip to Suzhou, China (about 40 minutes by train outside of Shanghai) and visited the future site of The Bookworm’s latest English-language library cafe location. Owner Peter Goff took me on a tour of the construction site, which you can see here (scroll down to the photos at the bottom of the post.)
I was happy to learn this week that the transformation is complete and the new Suzhou Bookworm is now open for business. The photos really wowed me. After walking through demolition rubble and dust, it was cool to see the finished project looking so fab — the two-story bookstore cafe appears almost to be floating along one of the canals that Suzhou is famous for.
A few days ago, Peter checked in with an update on how things are going: “We had our first booktalk last night..historical fiction writer Adam Williams doing his stuff. It was great. About 30 people turned up to listen and buy books so not a bad start.” They had another event today, award-winning Canadian children’s writer Marie-Louise Gay.
This opening is another great score for booklovers in China. Be sure to visit a Bookworm location (the others are in Beijing and Chengdu) when your itinerary brings you through any of these cities.