Is your state still on shut down? Kids still out of school? Many libraries, museums and organizations are offering some of their content for free online. Here are just 7 digital libraries you can visit from the comfort of your own home.
Digital Public Library of America Digital Library
The DPLA is an online collection of over 36 million free digital materials from libraries, archives and museums. Its digital exhibitions and primary sources cover everything from the 1918 influenza pandemic to the golden age of comic books.
Nautical Archaeology Digital Library
If you’re fascinated by shipwrecks, the Nautical Archaeology Digital Library has you covered. The library, a collaboration of Texas A&M University and ShipLAB, contains searchable shipwreck databases and ancient ship models.
Celebrate National Bookmobile Day! Every day, bookmobiles help transform the communities they serve, providing everything from access to books, magazines and videos to job search assistance and much more.
For book lovers, bookmobiles are oddly romantic. They seem like dream-machines, very real automobiles rolling through our lives in an almost impossible fashion.
A Brief History of the Bookmobile
The bookmobile or mobile library is a vehicle designed for use as a library. They have been known by many names throughout history including traveling library, library wagon, book wagon, book truck, library-on-wheels, and book auto service. Bookmobiles expand the reach of traditional libraries by transporting books to potential readers, providing library services to people in otherwise-underserved locations (such as remote areas) and/or circumstances (such as residents of retirement homes). Bookmobile services and materials (such as Internet access, large print books, and audiobooks), may be customized for the locations and populations served. Bookmobiles have been based on various means of conveyance, including bicycles, carts, motor vehicles, trains, watercraft, and wagons, as well as camels, donkeys, elephants, horses, and mules.
The first American bookmobile was actually a wagon. Mary Titcomb, a Maryland librarian, recognized that having books was only one part of the library’s job: the other part was making the books accessible. The Washington County Library Wagon took books around the county, making scheduled stops in addition to impromptu dispersals.
The idea of bringing books to patrons caught on in the U.S., spurred by a widely distributed population and the desire for civic improvement. The Everett County Public Library has what is believed to be the oldest operating bookmobile, manufactured in 1924, and since fully restored.
As libraries have become the community’s digital gathering place, bookmobiles have also been transformed into movable internet hubs. El Paso County’s bookmobile was one of the early examples of this shift, with onboard workstations and satellite internet service.
Today our nation celebrates National Bookmobile Day. For more than 100 years, bookmobiles have delivered information, technology and resources for life-long learning to Americans of all walks of life. Each year, it is celebrated on the Wednesday of National Library Week. Which is your favorite?
The 8 legendary monsters of Christmas are out to get you this next Holiday Season. The customs of the holiday season, which include St. Nicholas Day, New Years Day, and Epiphany, as well as Christmas, often incorporate earlier pagan traditions that have been appropriated and adapted for contemporary use. Customs that encourage little children to be good so as to deserve their Christmas gifts often come with a dark side: the punishment you’ll receive from a monster or evil being of some sort if you aren’t good! These nefarious characters vary from place to place, and they go by many different names and images.
As a tool to encourage good behavior in children, Santa serves as the carrot, and Krampus is the stick. Krampus is the evil demon anti-Santa, or maybe his evil twin. Krampus may look like a devil, or like a wild alpine beast, depending on the region and what materials are available to make a Krampus costume. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria and other parts of Europe. Public celebrations that night have many Krampuses walking the streets, looking for people to beat. In recent years, the tradition has spread beyond Europe, and many cities in America have their own Krampus Nights now.
A representation of Jólakötturinn in IcelandATLI HARÐARSON
Jólakötturinn is the Icelandic Yule Cat or Christmas Cat. He is not a nice cat; in fact, he might eat you. This character is tied to an Icelandic tradition in which those who finished all their work on time received new clothes for Christmas, while those who were lazy did not (although this was mainly a threat). To encourage children to work hard, parents told the tale of the Yule Cat, saying that Jólakötturinn could tell who the lazy children were because they did not have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas—and these children would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat. This reminder tends to spur children into doing their chores. A poem written about the cat ends with a suggestion that children help out the needy, so they, too, can have the protection of new clothing. It’s no wonder that Icelanders put in more overtime at work than most Europeans.
3. FRAU PERCHTA
A Bohemian depiction of Frau Perchta from 1910 WIKIMEDIA // PUBLIC DOMAIN
Tales told in Germany and Austria sometimes feature a witch named Frau Perchta who hands out both rewards and punishments during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25 through Epiphany on January 6). She is best known for her gruesome punishment of the sinful: She will rip out your internal organs and replace them with garbage. The ugly image of Perchta may show up in Christmas processions in Austria, somewhat like Krampus.
Perchta’s story is thought to have descended from a legendary Alpine goddess of nature, who tends the forest most of the year and deals with humans only during Christmas. In modern celebrations, Perchta or a close relation may show up in processions during Fastnacht, the Alpine festival just before Lent.
There may be some connection between Frau Perchta and the Italian witch La Befana, but La Befana isn’t really a monster: she’s an ugly but good witch who leaves presents.
If you are enjoying this article, we have more great Literary content on The Ritual Blog here.
An interpreter in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, portrays Belsnickel at the Landis Valley Farm MuseumGSHELDON/ISTOCK VIA GETTY IMAGES
Belsnickel is a male character from southwestern German lore who traveled to the United States and survives in Pennsylvania Dutch customs. He comes to children sometime before Christmas, wearing tattered old clothing and raggedy fur. Belsnickel carries a switch to frighten children and candy to reward them for good behavior. In modern visits, the switch is only used for noise, and to warn children they still have time to be good before Christmas. Then all the children get candy, if they are polite about it. The name Belsnickel is a portmanteau of the German belzen (meaning to wallop) and nickel for St. Nicholas.
Knecht Ruprecht and Ru Klaas are similar characters from German folklore who dole out beatings to bad children, leaving St. Nicholas to reward good children with gifts.
5. HANS TRAPP
Hans Trapp is another “anti-Santa” who hands out punishment to bad children in the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France. The legend says that Trapp was a real man, a rich, greedy, and evil man, who worshiped Satan and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. He was exiled into the forest where he preyed upon children, disguised as a scarecrow with straw jutting out from his clothing. He was about to eat one boy he captured when he was struck by lightning and killed—a punishment of his own from God. Still, he visits young children before Christmas, dressed as a scarecrow, to scare them into good behavior.
6. PÈRE FOUETTARD
The French legend of Père Fouettard, whose name translates to “Father Whipper,” begins with an evil butcher who craved children to eat. He (or his wife) lured three boys into his butcher shop, where he killed, chopped, and salted them. St. Nicholas came to the rescue, resurrected the boys, and took custody of the butcher. The captive butcher became Père Fouettard, St. Nicholas’ servant whose job it is to dispense punishment to bad children on St. Nicholas Day.
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7. THE YULE LADS
The Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads, are 13 Icelandic trolls, who each have a name and distinct personality. In ancient times, they stole things and caused trouble around Christmastime, so they were used to scare children into behaving, like the Yule Cat. However, the 20th century brought tales of the benevolent Norwegian figure Julenisse (Santa Claus), who brought gifts to good children. The traditions became mingled, until the formerly devilish Jólasveinar became kind enough to leave gifts in shoes that children leave out … if they are good boys and girls, that is.
All the Yule Lads answer to Grýla, their mother. She predates the Yule Lads in Icelandic legend as the ogress who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children who don’t obey their parents. She only became associated with Christmas in the 17th century, when she was assigned to be the mother of the Yule Lads. According to legend, Grýla had three different husbands and 72 children, all who caused trouble ranging from harmless mischief to murder. As if the household wasn’t crowded enough, the Yule Cat also lives with Grýla. This ogress is so much of a troublemaker that The Onion blamed her for the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.
As we prepare for limited travel and mobility restrictions, know that Thoreau understood something that many of us modern day nomads would do well to recognize: travel is a matter of perspective, not location.
“I have traveled a great deal in Concord,” said Henry Thoreau, a native of…wait for it…Concord, Massachusetts.
In fact, Thoreau traveled far and wide for his day and age, vagabonding to Cape Cod and the vast wilderness of the Maine Woods. However, the great prophet of enlightened self-reliance claimed to have done most of his traveling in his own hometown.
Thoreau understood something that many of us modern day nomads would do well to recognize: travel is a matter of perspective, not location. With curiosity, an open mind and a broad horizon of free time, it’s possible to travel in your own backyard.
I’m writing in El Calafate, a tourist boomtown in Argentine Patagonia. I am, admittedly, a long way from home. But, just the same, at the moment I’m not really traveling.
With curiosity, an open mind and a broad horizon of free time, it’s possible to travel in your own backyard.
If you are enjoying this article, we have more great Literary content on The Ritual Blog here.
Neither, sadly, are many of my fellow tourists here in El Calafate. Every hour, buses segregated by wealth and nationality pull up to the viewpoint overlooking the Perito Moreno glacier.
Tourists disembark – they Ooh and Ahh in their respective languages, snap a few trophy photos, nap in the bus back to the hotel and fly thousands of miles back home on airplanes that belch carbon into the sky.
Meanwhile, the famous glacier shrinks, but that’s OK – I already have my ice-climbing photo.
What Makes A Traveler?
Now, the tourist / traveler distinction has already been beaten into the ground, and I’m not so sure of its validity in the first place. But it IS clear that coming all the way to Patagonia does not make one a traveler.
How did Thoreau manage to travel in Concord when so many of my fellow tourists never leave their comfort zones?
So what DOES make a traveler, I wonder? How did Thoreau manage to travel in Concord when so many of my fellow tourists here in El Calafate never leave their comfort zones?
Well, Thoreau rambled. He walked the country roads and stopped to talk to anyone he met along the way. He followed fox tracks through the snow, and wondered at their meaning. He approached the fields and homesteads of Concord with an open-ended sense of curiosity.
He looked at things, and thought about them, and tried his best to place them within the context of his broad experience. He moved slowly, and he paid attention.
Into The Hills
I remember one time, back when I worked an office job.
It was a Tuesday, and after work I just couldn’t take it any longer: with nothing but the clothes on my back I set off into the hills behind my house, trekked across the coal fields and into the valley beyond. The sun started to go down, but I just kept walking.
I came upon a small stream, which I resolved to follow until it led back to civilization. The night was dark, and there was no moon. I traveled by feel, my mind wide open, my nerves on edge. Once, I stepped on a sleeping turtle – and believe me, that was a shot of adrenaline on par with a virgin view of the Mayan Temples, the Egyptian Pyramids and even Angkor Wat.
The next day at work I couldn’t stop grinning. I had gone on a TRIP. Beyond that, I now knew what was Out There, over the hills, and by understanding what was Out There, I had a better appreciation for home and work – the comfortable routines to which I was able to return.Four times I came to dams, and had to scramble around them through thick bamboo grass. When I finally emerged into a village, covered in mud and cobwebs, it was past midnight.
My carbon footprint for the journey? Zero.
A Sense Of Wonder
The truth is, we travel every time we open our minds to a new possibility, every time we open our hearts to a new emotion, every time we take a new track, read a new book or just look at a rock and wonder how it got there.
There is comfort in routine and stability, but when we stop traveling we lose the sense of wonder that equates to joy, that carves new channels in our minds and makes us feel alive. So go. Go on. Go.
Take a notebook and a pen and a camera – see what you find. Then come back, and tell me the story.
BNT contributing editor Tim Patterson travels with a sleeping bag and pup tent strapped to the back of his folding bicycle. His articles and travel guides have appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, Get Lost Magazine, Tales Of Asia and Traverse Magazine. Check out his personal site Rucksack Wanderer.
Think you can write over 1,400 works of #drama in your lifetime? This guy Lope De Vega managed to during the 1,500’s. Born #OTD in 1562 he was an outstanding dramatist of the Spanish Golden Age, author of as many as 1,800 plays and several hundred shorter dramatic pieces, of which 431 plays and 50 shorter pieces are extant.
Vega became identified as a playwright with the comedia, a comprehensive term for the new drama of Spain’s Golden Age. Vega’s productivity for the stage, however exaggerated by report, remains phenomenal. He claimed to have written an average of 20 sheets a day throughout his life and left untouched scarcely a vein of writing then current. Cervantes called him “the prodigy of nature.”
This young homeless man sits on the side of Empire Road in Johannesburg and instead of begging, he provides book reviews. He collects books, reads them, and provides reviews for people passing by. If you like the review, he will try to sell you the book. This is how he makes a living. Have you seen this amazing individual?
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Author of “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, Robert Louis Stevenson was born #OTD in 1850. Stevenson was a Scottish novelist and travel writer, most noted for Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and A Child’s Garden of Verses.
Born and educated in Edinburgh, Stevenson suffered from serious bronchial trouble for much of his life, but continued to write prolifically and travel widely in defiance of his poor health. As a young man, he mixed in London literary circles, receiving encouragement from Andrew Lang, Edmund Gosse, Leslie Stephen and W. E. Henley, the last of whom may have provided the model for Long John Silver in Treasure Island. Stevenson spent several years in search of a location suited to his health, before finally settling in Samoa, where he died.
Early writing and travels
Stevenson was visiting a cousin in England in late 1873 when he met two people who became very important to him: Sidney Colvin and Fanny (Frances Jane) Sitwell. Sitwell was a 34-year-old woman with a son, who was separated from her husband. She attracted the devotion of many who met her, including Colvin, who married her in 1901. Stevenson was also drawn to her, and they kept up a warm correspondence over several years in which he wavered between the role of a suitor and a son (he addressed her as “Madonna”). Colvin became Stevenson’s literary adviser and was the first editor of his letters after his death. He placed Stevenson’s first paid contribution in The Portfolio, an essay entitled “Roads”.
Stevenson was soon active in London literary life, becoming acquainted with many of the writers of the time, including Andrew Lang, Edmund Gosse, and Leslie Stephen, the editor of the Cornhill Magazine who took an interest in Stevenson’s work. Stephen took Stevenson to visit a patient at the Edinburgh Infirmary named William Ernest Henley, an energetic and talkative man with a wooden leg. Henley became a close friend and occasional literary collaborator, until a quarrel broke up the friendship in 1888, and he is often considered to be the model for Long John Silver in Treasure Island.
Stevenson was sent to Menton on the French Riviera in November 1873 to recuperate after his health failed. He returned in better health in April 1874 and settled down to his studies, but he returned to France several times after that.] He made long and frequent trips to the neighborhood of the Forest of Fontainebleau, staying at Barbizon, Grez-sur-Loing, and Nemours and becoming a member of the artists’ colonies there. He also traveled to Paris to visit galleries and the theatres. He qualified for the Scottish bar in July 1875, and his father added a brass plate to the Heriot Row house reading “R.L. Stevenson, Advocate”. His law studies did influence his books, but he never practised law; all his energies were spent in travel and writing. One of his journeys was a canoe voyage in Belgium and France with Sir Walter Simpson, a friend from the Speculative Society, a frequent travel companion, and the author of The Art of Golf (1887). This trip was the basis of his first travel book An Inland Voyage (1878).
I have always gravitated toward works of horror, even at a young age. At first, I read whatever Horror novels I could find on my friends bookshelves. John Saul. V.C. Andrews. Stephen King. They lit a fire in me that makes me curious about all the things that might be out there. All the things we cannot prove. Ghosts living among us, creatures in nature, parallel universes, monsters within ourselves, and so on!
As I got older, I began to appreciate a different sort of horror. Horror novels that made me interrogate the greater dangers we encounter in our day-to-day lives. The deeper evils that lie within us. What could be more terrifying?
If there is anything to inspire an even deeper dread within me, it’s stories that take already terrible events from real life and make them even more monstrous using the traditional elements of horror. Perhaps it’s because these stories hew so closely to reality, they almost seem to confirm the potentiality of dark magic and demonic creatures and other supernatural manifestations.
Here are 8 books that manage the balancing act of normalcy and impossibility in a way that is creepily satisfying.
Simmons is known for the brand of horror that takes an event in history and twists it so it becomes darker. His most well-known work in this vein is The Terror, which takes the story of a ship on a doomed expedition through the Arctic in the mid-1840s to find the Northwest Passage—a story already filled with disease, starvation, and death—and adds in the possibility of something else unseen, something stalking them across the ice. The Terror is so popular, it was adapted for the small screen.
The myth of the changeling—a fairy child left in place of a stolen human child—ran rampant throughout medieval Europe. Perhaps it was so popular because it was such a convenient scapegoat for the afflictions that often beset children, diseases and disabilities that parents and medical professionals did not understand at the time. In some cases, even adults are accused of being changelings. One of the most well-known cases is Bridget Cleary who was killed in 1895 by a group of people that included her suspicious husband. In The Hidden People (a reference to the fairy folk), a man learns his cousin has been burned alive because her husband thought she was a changeling. When he arrives in town to investigate, he comes to wonder if there’s more than just silly superstition at play.
Victor LaValle has a knack for taking old folk tales and making them new. I adored his take on the changeling myth, in which he tracks trolls on their journey from Europe to America. In explaining how changelings have come to be in America, he digs into the “why” behind their existence. He also suggests a level of complicity in the humans that had previously been assumed to be victims alone.
More than anything else, this novel is about la frontera, the U.S.-Mexico border. Rather than focusing in on a single historical moment or figure, this book uses six characters to tell the story of a shared Southwesterdn experience—with a dark twist. Among the six main characters are a child who turns cold-blooded after seeing his father killed; a young woman who progresses from performance art to murder; and a mother who begins to fear that the child in her womb may be something more sinister.
Alma Katsu’s latest book takes one of the deadliest occurrences in Western history—the catastrophic wagon train journey of the infamous Donner Party—and adds a supernatural twist. Starvation and eventually death causes the body count to rise. Members of the party are pushed to the brink, inevitably turning against each other. But as people begin to disappear, they start to wonder if something even more malevolent is at play.
In this graphic horror novel, Rodriguez places us in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars when, after an unsuccessful attempt to defeat the Russian army, his own military is forced to retreat. One unit is attacked by Cossacks during their journey homeward, but two survivors are able to elude the military warriors by fleeing toward an abandoned Slavic town—a place the Cossacks are unwilling to approach. But why? These men eventually come face to face with the Czernobog, a Slavic demon who proves to be a much more formidable opponent than the bloodthirsty warriors they only just barely escaped.
This classic horror is one of those books I can’t believe my parents let me read. At that point, having made me way through most of the books on their shelves, they’d probably resigned themselves to having a weird and morbid child. What difference would a bit of adult content make? As you likely already know, Blatty’s novel is about the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl, and the attempted exorcism undertaken by two priests. What you may not know is that the book is based upon the true story of an actual exorcism. Wherever you stand on the legitimacy of demonic possession, by the end of Blatty’s novel, you’re forced to believe.
Once upon a time (the early- to mid-1800s), a Spanish serial killer known as the Wolfman killed several women and children so he could extract their body fat and use it to make soap. Some postulate that Süskind’s novel—about a perfumer’s apprentice who is obsessed with possessing the particular scent that exudes from virginal young girls—is based upon this monstrous true tale. Whatever the origin, Süskind pushes the story further, imbuing the scents his serial killer acquires with outsized powers.