16 books, 16 albums & 16 places for twenty-sixteen

preamble | books | albums | places

2016 doesn’t seem like a year that I, or many people, will look back on very fondly. When you group things together so arbitrarily as having occurred in the same year (as I am wont to do), things get lumped together that shouldn’t, like our impending nuclear war with the Warriors blowing a 3-1 lead in the finals to the Cavs. 2016 was confusing, but the great things about it should be remembered.

And what was great about 2016 is idiosyncratic. We each experienced 2016 our own way. What I would like to present to you are some dozen things I experienced for the very first time in 2016, a series of suggestions of things for you to experience in these waning days of American democracy, and, if possible, beyond.

As usual, I try to make these things as resourceful as possible. With a book or album, I believe it is the material itself that is going to convince you to pay attention to it, not what I have to say about it, and so I have tried to make that material accessible to you from wherever you are right now. For books, when possible, I have linked to excerpts and occasionally its full-text. For albums, I’ve linked to each album on Spotify and embedded a video of a song off the album. This year I made the Places section into a perhaps-a-bit-self-indulgent photoessay, which includes descriptions of my experiences, links and photos intended to convince you to go to each place yourself. Uncredited photos taken by yours truly.

Please enjoy.

16 books for 2016

(1)

city

Why We Came to the City by Kristopher Jansma (2016)

Jansma is 2-for-2 at writing near-perfect novels.

(2)

the_way_through_doors

The Way Through Doors by Jesse Ball (2009)

Gateway book via gateway story. I read every Jesse Ball book this year. This one blew me away in its inventiveness and its humanity. But really, you should read anything he’s written that you can find.

(3)

the-big-clock

The Big Clock by Kenneth Fearing (1946)

I’m no expert on this, but I’d wager that this is up there among the greatest noir novels ever written.

(4)

kafka_amerika_anchor

Amerika by Franz Kafka (1927)

Kafka maybe at his most accessible, and his most comical.

(5)

outsider-in-the-white-house

Outsider in the White House by Bernie Sanders (2015)

If only.

(6)

between-the-world-and-me

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015)

“This is required reading.” -Toni Morrison

(7)

pedagogy-of-the-oppressed

Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire (1968)

This is required reading.

(8)

violent-bear-it-away

The Violent Bear it Away by Flannery O’Connor (1960)

Capital S, capital G Southern Gothic.

(9)

the-curfew

The Curfew by Jesse Ball (2011)

The second best Jesse Ball book I read this year.

(10)

drinking-coffee-elsewhere

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer (2003)

The best short story collection I read this year. Our Lady of Peace (linked above) was particularly poignant for me.

(11)

bobcat-by-rebecca-lee

Bobcat and other stories by Rebecca Lee (2012)

The second best short story collection I read this year.

(12)

ham-on-rye

Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski (1982)

Bildungsroman Bukowski. Pretty fantastic stuff.

(13)

but-what-if-were-wrong

But What If We’re Wrong? by Chuck Klosterman (2016)

This was already covered in the intro to my updated list of all-time favorite albums. But I will say that it made reading the simulation hypothesis explanation for ‘misremembering’ that Sinbad was in a movie called Shazaam more real to me.

(14)

take-it-or-leave-it

Take It or Leave It by Raymond Federman (1976)

Metafiction, wonderfully crafted.

(15)

winters_underground_airlines-660x1024

Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters (2016)

An alternate history where the South won the Civil War.

(16)

remainder

Remainder by Tom McCarthy (2007)

Maddening and horrifying. Four stars.

NOTE: This year I challenged myself to read 55 books. I met and, according to Goodreads, exceeded that goal by 1 book (there were a couple of rereads in there as well). I think my list reflects my preoccupation with completing my challenge. I’m not saying that all of these books aren’t worth your time, just that if I hadn’t taken this challenge that this list would look different (i.e. I put off reading several time-consuming books out of worry that they would keep me from reaching my goal). I’ve sworn off challenges for 2017, and think my 17 books for 2017 list will reflect that.

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16 albums for 2016

(1)

ram

RAM by Paul & Linda McCartney (1971)

2016 was the year I discovered solo/post-Beatles McCartney. Fantastic stuff. RAM would probably have made this list had I started a little later.

(2)

rtj3

Run the Jewels 3 by Run the Jewels (2016)

Supposed to be released next year, but RTJ put it out a few weeks early and it turned out to be A Christmas F*cking Miracle. As you will see, RTJ’s previous releases got me exploring solo El-P and Killer Mike work this year. However, though it’s only been around three days, this one is decidedly their best work. At the moment, you can download it for free here.

(not on the new album but the gyst of the new album)

(3)

fear-fun

Fear Fun by Father John Misty (2012)

(4)

light-upon-the-lake

Light Upon the Lake by Whitney (2016)

(5)

sometimes-i-sit-and-think

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett (2015)

(6)

el-p-sleep

I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead by El-P (2007)

(7)

el-vy-the-national-return-the-moon

Return to the Moon by EL VY (2015)

(8)

thao-get-down-stay-down-man-alive

A Man Alive by Thao & the Get Down Stay Down (2016)

(9)

human-performance

Human Performance by Parquet Courts (2016)

(10)

psychedelic-swamp

The Psychedelic Swamp by Dr. Dog (2016)

(11)

rap-music

R.A.P. Music by Killer Mike (2012)

(12)

teens-of-denial

Teens of Denial by Car Seat Headrest (2016)

(13)

awaken_my_love

“Awaken, My Love!” by Childish Gambino (2016)

(14)

comedysoundtrack.11183v9

We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic by Foxygen (2013)

(15)

mccartney

McCartney by Paul McCartney (1970)

(16)

sea-of-split-peas

The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas by Courtney Barnett (2013)

NOTE: 2016 was also a year of music projects for me. At the beginning of the year, I transferred about 1,000 songs I had backed up but hadn’t really listened to for five years onto my computer, listened to them all, and made two mixes (oldies and moldies) out of them. In August, I decided it was about time to update my list of all-time favorite albums, which took a couple months of my time. On top of that, I finally got a subscription to Spotify and started making mixes over there as well. All to say I spent much of the year dealing with albums I was already extremely familiar with, and another chunk of it using a music discovery tool that focused on individual songs, not full albums.

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16 places for 2016 (a sort of photoessay)

(1)

torchys

Torchy’s Tacos

Told you.

This is a photo from Torchy’ses [sic] grand opening back in February, where they gave away free tacos. In case it’s not clear, there is a line wrapped around the building of people waiting in the snow for free tacos. Through the magic of Twitter, Kelly won us two skip the line passes, which allowed us to avoid all of this, be seated immediately at the bar, eat free tacos, and drink free drinks. It was the most like royalty I have ever felt. For that experience, and the thirty or so experiences we’ve had there since, Torchy’s tops this list.

(2)

yak-yeti-exterior

Yak & Yeti Restaurant & Brewpub

Perhaps the primary motivating force behind our considering a move to Arvada. We’ve gone for the lunch buffet a couple of times, and it is some of the best Indian/Nepalese/Tibetan food I have ever had. They make some of the tastiest beer in the Greater Denver Area as well, including their ridiculous Chai Milk Stout.

(3)

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Denver Botanic Gardens

Think these pictures speak for themselves, but this next one doesn’t.

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At the Botanic Gardens, they have this setup where there is a giant succulent inside of a large ceramic pot that you can spin and, hanging above it, a kaleidoscope. When you spin the pot around and look through the kaleidoscope this, for an instant, is what you see. I put the lens of my camera phone to the eye of the kaleidoscope, and this is the photo it captured.

(4-5)

coperta-ext02

Coperta

&

the_royal_ext01

Royal

We went to both of these places for the first (and only) times when my folks visited back in November and because of this are inseparable in my mind. Both were sort of serendipitous experiences. Coperta was like our third choice for dinner that night, and Royal I’d never heard of before we happened by it while exploring the Berkeley neighborhood. Both were candidates for the single best meal I ate this year – Coperta with its orecchiette, Royal with its multiple varieties of poutine and framed pictures of “royalty” on the wall. And both are places I need to revisit.

(6-7)

rosenbergs

Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen

&

hi-rise

Hi Rise

Bagels, baby!

I’d give the slight edge to Rosenberg’s in terms of quality and atmosphere, but (in the grand scheme of our simulated existence) these two places are basically the same. Points to Hi Rise though for being able to see this mural out their window.

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(8)

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South Table Mesa, Golden, CO

Great for drink-hiking and posing as giants.

(9)

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Coors Field

I went to three Rockies games during the 2016 season. Don’t think they won any of them. Still, attending a baseball game is infinitely more enjoyable than watching one on TV.

This experience pairs best with a stop at Ian’s Pizza by the Slice  across the street from the ballpark before the game.

ianspizza_mac_denver

(10)

new-belgium

New Belgium Brewing Company, Fort Collins, CO

Another serendipitous experience. Kelly and I celebrated our 3rd anniversary in Fort Collins during the weekend New Belgium just so happened to be throwing their 25th anniversary party. When we got there, two spots immediately freed up at the bar and we got a flight of beers made specifically for the party. Afterwards we took advantage of a free photobooth and this photo was created.

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(11)

banded-oak

Banded Oak Brewing Co.

Best new neighborhood brewery, seen here getting a paint job by two of my favorite local artists, #TheWorstCrew, Jaime Molina and Pedro Barrios. High ABV and barrel-aged beers, all delicious.

(12)

new-image

New Image Brewing Co.

Checked this place out on our most recent daytrip to Arvada. It had a great vibe and a beer menu that demanded we order a flight (and that did not disappoint). They also have a promising food and cocktail (!) menu that I look forward to exploring in the future. Overall it has the feel of, if it were in my neighborhood, it’d be my go-to place.

(13)

beryls

Beryl’s Beer Co.

We first encountered Beryl’s minutes after Sunday evening trivia had begun. We were competitive, but could never make up those opening questions we missed. We also came during Sunday evening trivia the second time we went to Beryl’s. That time we sat out trivia (or anyway the turning in our answers part of trivia) and opted instead to play foosball and somehow lose the ball down one of the legs of the table.

(14)

jessup-farm

Jessup Farm Barrel House, Fort Collins, CO

More delicious barrel-aged beers, this time in the middle of an “artisan village“, conceptually brilliant but for some reason in the middle of the suburbanest part of Fort Collins.

(15)

melitas

Melita’s Greek Cafe & Market

Gyros and Greekfast six blocks from my apartment. Plus more photo ops for me to look like a giant.

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(16)

zeps_menuboard_new

Zeps Epiq Sandwiches

Been going to Zeps since its OG days as Quiznos Grill. It’s the Quiznos guys giving artisan sandwiches a go in this spot five blocks from my apartment, and, in my opinion, it’s been very successful. Unfortunately, pretty much every time we’ve gone it’s been empty. Hopefully its name change will get them more customers?? Also, I know this may sound silly, but they have a really good soda fountain.

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Thanks for reading, and if we still have internet by the end of 2017, I’ll see you then.

25 books, 25 albums, 10 breweries, 10 places to eat & 10 other places for 2015

preamble | books | albums | breweries | eats | other places

2015 was a year.  It was a nervous and risky, an angry and anxious, a confident, wonderful year.

In January, we sold the bookmobile.  In February, we flew out to Denver and found an apartment.  In March, we resigned from our jobs, donated most of our stuff to Goodwill, and drove the cats in our one remaining vehicle to our new home in Capitol Hill.  Nine months later, I can safely say that moving to Denver was the best decision we’ve (and I’ve) ever made.

Kelly got a badass librarian job.  I’ve settled into a service year with AmeriCorps, where I’m getting to try out two things I’ve always wanted to try: teaching math and coaching basketball.  I wrote one two-page short story and four notebooks’ worth of lesson plans.  We explored Denver inside-out, and, largely by virtue of moving four blocks away from The Denver Public Library, I read a lot of books, and I listened to a lot of music.

I experienced a lot of new things this year.  I’m here not so much to share some (eightyish) of those experiences with you, but to recommend that you experience all of these things for yourself.

Perhaps by now you know how I do this.  My books and albums lists are built from books and albums I first experienced in 2015, indiscriminate of release date.  I’ll occasionally, for one reason or another, elaborate on one of my choices.  I also try to include a sample of what to expect from each book, album, and place.  The books have links to excerpts (or individual stories from short story collections) and if not, to the book’s Goodreads page.  Each album has an embedded video of a song off the album.  The breweries, places to eat, and other places all include website links and (if applicable) photo links, which are often articles on/reviews of the place itself.  Uncredited photos were taken by Kelly or myself.

Please enjoy my list of way too many things, 25 books, 25 albums, 10 breweries, 10 places to eat, and 10 other places for 2015, and then go enjoy those things for yourself.

25 books for 2015

(NOTE: publication date is for original version)

(1)

zenos conscience

Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Calvino (1923)

(2)

exercises in style

Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau (1947)

This book ought to be a Rhetoric & Composition course.

An unnamed narrator boards a very full bus and notices a man with a neck like a giraffe and a hat that has a plaited cord on it instead of a ribbon.  This man accuses the man next to him of purposefully stepping on his toes every time people get on and off the bus, and then flees to a seat which has just become available.  Two hours later, the narrator sees this man again, this time with a different man who is giving him advice about the placement of a button on his coat.

That’s the entire story.  But Queneau tells it ninety-nine different, delirium-inducing ways.

(3)

what we talk about

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver (1981)

(4)

hard-boiled-wonderland

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World by Haruki Murakami (1985)

Gateway book.  The first of six Murakami books I read this year (currently reading:  The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle), and the best.

(5)

bark

Bark by Lorrie Moore (2014)

(6)

folded leaf

The Folded Leaf by William Maxwell (1945)

I want to turn this novel into a movie.

(7)

my documents

My Documents by Alejandro Zambra (2015)

(8)

tooth imprints

Tooth Imprints on a Corn Dog by Mark Leyner (1995)

My inclusion of novels from Mark Leyner, Richard Brautigan, and Robert Coover are largely due to the excerpts of their work included in the fantastic anthology, Postmodern American Fiction, which I still haven’t finished.

(9)

orientation

Orientation and Other Stories by Daniel Orozco (2011)

(10-11)

dance dance dance  wild sheep chase

Dance Dance Dance (The Rat #4) (1988) & A Wild Sheep Chase (The Rat #3) (1982) by Haruki Murkami

(Honorable Mention: Norwegian Wood [1987])

Told you.

(12)

at swim two birds

At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien (1939)

A story with a narrator who lies in bed all day writing a novel with a protagonist who lies in bed all day writing a novel where the characters take turns writing a story about inflicting harm upon their author.

(13)

go set a watchman

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (2015*)

This novel complicates Atticus and Scout in important ways, and complements To Kill a Mockingbird nicely.  I can’t help but wonder if the south might be a little different now if this novel had been published sixty years ago.

(14)

As-she-climbed-across-the-table-jonathan-lethem

As She Climbed Across the Table by Jonathan Lethem (1997)

(15)

tetherballs of bougainville

The Tetherballs of Bougainville by Mark Leyner (1997)

(16)

speak

Speak by Louisa Hall (2015)

(17)

continental drift

Continental Drift by Russell Banks (1985)

(18)

bagombo snuff box

Bagombo Snuff Box: Unpublished Short Fiction by Kurt Vonnegut (1999)

(19)

TheUniversalBaseballAssociation

The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop. by Robert Coover (1968)

Fantasy baseball, circa 1968.  Incredibly tragic.

(20)

woman-italian-petrella-review

An Unfortunate Woman: A Journey by Richard Brautigan (1994)

Idiosyncratic journaling as coping mechanism.  Also incredibly tragic.

(21)

sportswriter

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford (1986)

(22)

ways-of-going-home

Ways of Going Home by Alejandro Zambra (2011)

(23)

jimmy corrigan

Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware (2000)

(24)

CITYbyCITY_mechFINAL.indd

City by City: Dispatches from the American Metropolis by Keith Gessen & Stephen Squibb (ed.) (2015)

Essays about American cities, since the recession.

(25)

citizen

Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

#BlackLivesMatter

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25 albums for 2015

(1)

i love you honeybear

I Love You, Honeybear by Father John Misty (2015)

When I was young, I dreamt of a passionate obligation to a roommate.

My year in music began with Father John Misty’s Bored in the USA, and it didn’t get better from there (though Tame Impala came close).  I Love You, Honeybear was also, due to the quality and magnitude of the Central Library’s music collection, one of few albums I actually purchased this year.

(2)

tame-impala-currents

Currents by Tame Impala (2015)

(3)

black messiah

Black Messiah by D’Angelo and The Vanguard (2014)

(4)

alvvays

Alvvays by Alvvays (2014)

(5)

multi love

Multi-Love by Unknown Mortal Orchestra (2015)

(6)

alabama-shakes-sound-and-color

Sound & Color by Alabama Shakes (2015)

(7)

content nausea

Content Nausea by Parkay Quarts (2014)

(8)

isles

Isles by Wild Belle (2013)

(9)

LS.Michael.cover

Michael by Les Sins (2015)

(10)

Was-Dead-Reissue-Cover

Was Dead by King Tuff (2008)

(Honorable Mention: King Tuff [2012])

(11)

innerspeaker

Innerspeaker by Tame Impala (2010)

(12)

YACHT-SML-Cover

See Mystery Lights by YACHT (2009)

(13)

foil deer

Foil Deer by Speedy Ortiz (2015)

(14)

littleneonlimelight

Little Neon Limelight by Houndmouth (2015)

(15)

girls in peacetime

Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance by Belle & Sebastian (2015)

(16)

Tennis-Ritual-In-Repeat

Ritual in Repeat by Tennis (2014)

(17)

run-the-jewels-cover-1373904337

Run the Jewels by Run the Jewels (2013)

This album was going to make the list anyway, but Killer Mike’s six-part conversation with Bernie, which you should definitely watch if you haven’t, took Run the Jewels to another level for me.

(18)

illmatic

Illmatic by Nas (1994)

(19)

Cayucas-Bigfoot1

Bigfoot by Cayucas (2013)

(20)

village green

The Kinks are The Village Green Preservation Society (1968)

(21)

AviBuffalo_20PT ALT PACKAGE 1 UP

Avi Buffalo by Avi Buffalo (2010)

(22)

feelin good

Feelin’ Good by Nightmares on Wax (2013)

(23)

ABT040 TOPS LP-Jacket 11183 v2

Picture You Staring by TOPS (2014)

(24)

amygdala

Amygdala by DJ Koze (2013)

(25)

heems-eat-pray-thug1

Eat Pray Thug by Heems (2015)

#25 could have been any number of albums.  John Grant’s Pale Green Ghosts deserves an honorable mention.  I also enjoyed this year’s new releases from Modest Mouse, Wilco, and TV on the Radio.  But I think I enjoyed them because I enjoy the bands, not because the albums outrank any of their previous material.  If I’m going to listen to a Modest Mouse album, Strangers to Ourselves would be like my eighth choice.  Eat Pray Thug is a unique, and important, and tragic album.  I find myself listening to it less often than the others, because I gravitate more towards the other artists, but in two years it’ll probably be the only one of those four albums I listen to anymore.

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10 breweries for 2015

(1)

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Ratio Beerworks

(2)

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Our Mutual Friend Brewing Company

(3)

baere

Baere Brewing Company

(4)

co brew

CO-Brew

CO-Brew is a homebrewing supply store.  They also do homebrewing events in-store, including demonstrations and brewing parties.  They also brew their own beer, and, because of everything else they’re known for, it might be one of Denver’s best kept secrets that CO-Brew makes some of the best beer in the city.  They also make that beer available for $1 for a four-ounce taster.

(5)

mockery

Mockery Brewing Co

(6)

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Tivoli Brewing Co.

(7)

fiction

Fiction Beer Company

(8)

great divide

Great Divide Brewing Co

(9)

lowdown

LowDown Brewery + Kitchen

(10)

twisted pine

Twisted Pine Brewing Co.

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10 places to eat for 2015

(1)

bijus

Biju’s Little Curry Shop

The best and only little curry shop in town.

(2)

cheeky monk

Cheeky Monk Belgian Beer Cafe

Belgian beers and bangers and mash.

(3)

work and class

Work & Class

Meat, family-style.

(4)

sassafras

Sassafras American Eatery

Cajun-style brunch and Bloody Marys.

(5)

vesper lounge

Vesper Lounge*

Vesper comes with an asterisk.  Sure, they make the best chicken pita I’ve ever eaten, and their Sunday Cheeseburger Special – $10 for a draft and burger with your choice of cheese – is one of the best deals in town.  But Vesper seems to pride itself in being a dive bar.  It’s like the entire wait staff has conspired together to refuse to give you water, yet they are always sure to ask if I want a shot for the road.

(6)

moes bbq

Moe’s Original Bar B Cue

Pictured above is what I eat every time we go to Moe’s: a ‘Bama-style pulled pork sandwich, with two quality sides.

(7)

Centro-Interior

Centro

I’ve only been once, on our recent trip to Boulder, but their tacos are some of the best I’ve ever had, not just in Colorado, but anywhere.

(8)

***EVENT HEADLINE HERE***

Subculture

#1 in quantity of meals eaten at/from a place, but I’ve also never had a sub from Subculture I didn’t like, and I’ve tried a lot of different subs.

(9)

dos santos

Dos Santos

More tacos.  The presentation is nice.  The taste is even better.

(10)

avanti

Avanti Food & Beverage (A Collective Eatery)

Great concept and a great space.  A food hall with seven different restaurants to choose from, as well as a full bar with a reliable taplist.

Preview of 10 places to eat for 2016:

(1) Torchy’s Tacos

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10 other places for 2015

(NOTE: all photos in this section were taken by Kelly or yours truly.)

(1)

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The Denver Public Library

I imagine paradise as The Denver Public Library.

(2)

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Denver Art Museum

Our introduction to the Denver Art Museum was an exceptional one.  Kelly has a friend whose mom is a docent there, and commonly gives guided tours to high schoolers.  She used her membership to get us in for free, and then proceeded to take us on a four-hour guided tour of the museum.  My favorite was the Sandy Skoglund set piece (above left), which has since been removed.  Kelly particularly enjoyed it because she somehow got me to pose for this photo:

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(3)

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The Big Wonderful

The sign says it all.  A seasonal outdoor market in RiNo with live music, food trucks, craft vendors, and a “Wonderful Hour” where it’s buy-one-get-a-mystery-beer.  It’s a place where, every time I go, I think, ‘You know what’d be perfect here? A bookmobile.’

(4)

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Railyard Arts District (Santa Fe, NM)

I could write an entire essay on our Thanksgiving trip to Santa Fe, but I’ll limit myself to a few words on my favorite area of Santa Fe.  The Railyard Arts District is home to Second Street Brewery, Violet Crown Cinema (didn’t see a movie there but they have a good taplist), a year-round farmers market, and the Last Friday Art Walk, where on the final Friday evening of each month the art galleries and museums are open to the public.

(5)

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River North Art District (RiNo)

The murals are fantastic, but RiNo is also home to my two favorite breweries, two of my top three places to eat, AND The Big Wonderful.  Just an all around great neighborhood.

(6)

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Denver Flea

The location of the Flea, an occasional weekend pop-up market, varies, but it is always a good time.  The first one we went to was in a parking garage on Blake St., and the one pictured above was at the Sculpture Park and Performing Arts Complex.

(The Flea would, ahem, also be a great place for a bookmobile.)

(7)

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Clyfford Still Museum

Great art in a great space.

(8)

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Denver Art SocietyArt District on Santa Fe

Santa Fe is also alive with murals and has a First Friday Art Walk, but if I had to pick one place on Santa Fe to visit, it’d be Denver Art Society.

(9)

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Civic Center Park

Seems like there’s always something going on at the Civic Center, from Civic Center Eats to music and fireworks on the Fourth of July to markets on Cinco de Mayo and Earth Day.  It’s a great space, and I’m glad to see it utilized so, well, civically.

(10)

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The Source

The Source is a great indoor market that also houses a brewery (Crooked Stave) and two places to eat (Acorn and Comida) that didn’t quite make the lists.  Go make an afternoon for yourself here sometime.

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Thanks for reading, and remember to vote for Bernie in 2016.

Consider the Little Free Library

Little Free Libraries aren’t exactly new to me, nor to Colorado.  Most days I’ll walk by one in my neighborhood.  The one at the History Colorado Center comes to mind.  I even photographed one when Kelly and I visited last July for our anniversary.  Look:

IMG_0327
i have no idea where this is.

That trip, incidentally, was the trip where we decided we were going to move to Denver.

It isn’t difficult to find a Little Free Library.  But most people aren’t going to littlefreelibrary.org’s map of registered Little Free Libraries to find them.  More often than not, your first encounter with a Little Free Library is going to be by chance – while you’re empty-handed, or anyway bookless (or anyway without a book you’re ready to trade away just now).  So if you want to use that LFL, you either have to acknowledge its location and plan to return with books to exchange at a later time, or you take something now and leave nothing in its place.

For this reason, it’s important that the LFL be located somewhere that is well-peopled – so that there are enough people that acknowledge it and return with materials to donate to even out the people that take something and leave nothing.  This, unfortunately, does not appear to be happening (at least with the LFLs I have personally encountered).

When I last checked History Colorado’s Little Free Library, it had one copy of a recent (!) New Yorker and one book that nobody is ever, ever going to read.  If anyone was ever going to read it, it would have already been taken by someone (say, a transient).  What I’m saying is, it was empty.  Sorry, History Colorado.  There is no incentive to regularly visit this LFL (unless you enjoy passively giving books away to transients).

Now, there’s no reason to condemn or criticize any Little Free Library.  It’s encouraging and inspiring to see anyone want to reach out to their community in the name of sharing and literacy, whether it is a suburban family who places one in their front yard or the Byers-Evans House (another History Colorado site), whose LFL is inaccessible when the museum is closed.  LFLs are nothing if not well-intentioned.  And maybe the LFLs in suburban neighborhoods are thriving.  But those are insular, used only by that neighborhood’s residents, if at all.  They are not well-peopled by anyone outside of that neighborhood.  The form is, well, everywhere, but the function (again, of the ones I have personally come across) leaves something to be desired.

I believe that we (we!) can optimize the utility and cultural impact of Little Free Libraries if we (we!) do two things.  First, we construct LFLs at the best locations.  Second, we fill (and build) them with materials with which people actually want to engage.

So, then, where are the best locations?  As mentioned above, well-peopled spaces are key.  Community gathering spaces.  I have a bit of experience in finding these types of spaces and establishing a library presence at them.  What I’d like to see done here is very much in the spirit of what we accomplished as The Billy Pilgrim Traveling Library – collaborating with local businesses, event organizers, and cultural institutions to take libraries out into the community.  But instead of a pop-up library inside of a 22′ truck, there’d be a series of permanent (albeit smaller) libraries located at well-peopled spaces throughout the community.

Two places immediately sprung to mind when I first began thinking on this: The Source and The Big Wonderful.  Little Free Libraries would work beautifully at both.  The Source is an indoor marketplace open daily; The Big Wonderful is a weekly (seasonal) outdoor market.  Both are local- and artisan-focused.  Both are planned destinations for thousands of people every week.  Both encourage you to look around and stay awhile.  Both encourage you to make repeated return trips.

These are the types of spaces at which Little Free Libraries should be built.  Natural community gathering spaces.  Event destinations.  At farmers markets like the ones on Old South Pearl Street and Highlands Square.  Other co-working and The Source-like spaces such as Industry, Avanti, and Taxi.  The Big Wonderful’s sister site that houses the Denargo Farm & Truck food park and the Friday Night Bazaar.  Public spaces like Cheesman Park or the Civic Center Cultural Complex.  This, obviously, is not an exhaustive list, nor should it be (and what do you want from me, I’ve only lived here for ten weeks), but you get the idea.

I do realize that The Denver Public Library is located within the Civic Center Cultural Complex (the 4C), but events like Civic Center Eats and the People’s Fair aren’t necessarily stimulating library attendance, and DPL isn’t really doing much in terms of outreach to get people at the 4C to go inside the library.  They did have their DPL Connect book trike set up at the Earth Day fair, but all they were doing was giving away withdrawn books.  I remember this well because, after taking Richard Ford’s Canada off their hands, I stood in front of their stand while I gawked at a shirtless dude (re: transient) dancing with middle fingers raised to New Radicals’ You Get What You Give in front of some radio station’s tent.  But if all you’re doing is giving away books for free, you don’t really need to put all those resources and personnel towards doing so.

In an ideal world, this Little Free Library project would be in collaboration with Denver Public Library.  LFLs would be a great place for DPL to redistribute their withdrawn books, and DPL would be a reliable resource for making sure LFLs are filled (perhaps with some library card applications and brochures alongside the books).

And with which types of materials are people more likely to engage?  That’s harder to gauge.  Ranganathan’s second and third laws of library science come in handy here: every reader his or her book, and every book its reader, respectively.  Every person who comes upon a Little Free Library should find something of interest, and every item in the LFL should be of interest to someone.  This means the LFL’s collection should be diverse, and that if you are donating materials to it, you should be proud of what you’re putting in there (i.e. you’ve either personally enjoyed it or you could see someone enjoying it).

I do think the Little Free Library “Take a Book, Return a Book” motto and Ranganathan’s laws of library science oversimplify what it means to be a library.  They are both too book-centric.  As The Billy Pilgrim Traveling Library, we touted ourselves as “purveyors of information and culture, of literacy and entertainment.”  And really, that applies to all libraries.  But information, culture, literacy, and entertainment are not limited to books.  If a LFL truly wishes to have something for everyone – to truly represent a library – then its collection should be expanded to include other sources of information, culture, literacy, and entertainment – CDs, DVDs, audiobooks, zines, magazines, small instruments, crafts, seeds, tools, works of art, etc.

I also mentioned parenthetically that LFLs should be constructed with engaging materials.  There is no stagnant image of what a Little Free Library looks like, or should look like.

see?

This LFL at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral School in Downtown Manhattan created by the architectural firm Stereotank is pretty much flawlessly designed.  There is space to comfortably spend time inside of the library, as well as peepholes all around it so you can browse the collection from the outside to see if going inside is worth your time.  This inside-out type of design is extremely engaging and interactive, and is really the kind of Little Free Library I’d like to see built in these (particularly outdoor) spaces.

For instance, every time I walk past the empty red telephone box outside of Pint’s Pub, I think about how awesome it would be if it were transformed into a library.  And who knows.  Maybe we can make that happen.  I’m sure there are plenty of other spaces around town that are readymade for a rogue library – old newspaper boxes, for instance.  Or whatever this used to be:

I’d also like to approach this, at least in part, as a public art project, where a Little Free Library’s form is the main, or at least a complementary, draw.  This mean’s collaborating with Denver’s makers – street artists, painters, sculptors, woodworkers, welders, architects, other DIY folk – to put the aesthetic of the construction itself into focus.  Again, there is no good description of what these installations would look like, but this robolibrary is a pretty good example:

Another natural community partner with this project would be the Denver Tool Library, “a place where community members can share their resources, whether that means tools, time, space, skills, or ideas, so that everyone becomes more inspired, productive, and empowered.”  Sounds like a place to get stuff done, and where a project like this would be celebrated.

Obviously, this is just a thought experiment.  The last time I had this type of thought experiment, it slowly evolved into something big.  But it took time, and it required cooperation and support from my community.  An undertaking like this cannot be carried out by one person, but rather asks that local businesses, local artists, and local libraries work in concert with one another in the name of community and literacy.  It would require a big, collective effort.  But now that I’ve meditated on it for 1,600 words, I think I’m ready to get to work.

How about you?