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10 Literary Holidays

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Bibliophiles know there's no wrong time to fete your favorite book or author. But if you want company—at least among a certain subset of the population—in your celebration, plan a party for one of these delightful literary holidays.

1. January 25: Burns Supper

Popular throughout the United Kingdom, and especially Scotland, this celebration (which goes by several other names depending on what you call the nation's premier poet—Robert Burns, Robbie Burns or even Rabbie Burns) features a set menu of Scottish favorites, including haggis, which is addressed in the verses of Burns himself. Other poems are read, speeches of appreciation are performed and, in the case of more formal iterations, the night ends with dancing.

2. March 2: National Read Across America Day, or Dr. Seuss Day

This soon-to-be 17-year-old celebration is an opportunity for the National Education Association to encourage parents, teachers, and children to share their love of reading. And what better day to do so than on the great Dr. Seuss' birthday?

3. March 4: National Grammar Day

Founded in 2008 by Martha Brockenbrough, who also founded the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, this is a day to snuggle up to your favorite style guide. You could also participate in the annual Twitter-based, grammar-themed haiku contest. Snarkily policing other people's grammar is not condoned.

4. May 20: Eliza Doolittle Day

While celebrating this holiday might only appeal to theater nerds and Audrey Hepburn afficionados, the origin of the date is a story worth telling. In Act 1 of My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle imagines meeting the king and sings: "One evening the king will say, 'Oh, Eliza, old thing — I want all of England your praises to sing. Next week on the twentieth of May, I proclaim Eliza Doolittle Day.'" And so now it is.

5. June 16: Bloomsday

One of the most well-known book-based holidays, Bloomsday derives its name from Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of James Joyce's Ulysses, and is set on the day that the entirety of the book takes place. Most popular in Joyce's Dublin, the Stateside celebration centers at Philadelphia's Rosenbach Museum & Library, home to the handwritten manuscript of Ulysses.

6. July 4, 5, and 6: National Tom Sawyer Days

Oh you thought the Fourth of July was just Independence Day? Well, in the Hannibal, Missouri hometown of Mark Twain, it's also part of a multi-day honoring of the classic American author. Activities are based on scenes from Twain's books, including a frog long jump and a fence painting contest.

7. July 10: Clerihew Day

Chief among the niche nature of the holidays on this list, Clerihew Day celebrates the eponymous poem form invented by Edmund Clerihew Bentley on the English author's birthday. While you might not know it by name, the clerihew is a sing-songy poem that most people have encountered in jest. The general form is four lines consisting of rhyming couplets AA/BB that starts with a person's name and tells you something, often mocking, about the subject.

8. July 16 to 21: Hemingway Days

This July will mark the 34th time that fans of Ernest Hemingway's work and persona gather to engage in a week of emulating the Pulitzer Prize-winning Papa in Key West, where he spent many productive years. Attendees will participate in look-alike contests, readings, and a marlin fishing tournament, among other Hemingway-approved events.

9. September 22: Hobbit Day

Celebrated on the fictional birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, Hobbit Day actually caps off an entire Tolkien week—described as "the calendar week containing September 22" by the American Tolkien Society, which first marked the holiday in 1978.

10. October 16: Dictionary Day

Of course, any day is a good day to broaden your lexical library, but the birthday of Noah Webster is a particularly apt occasion.

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The Truth Is In Here: Unlocking Mysteries of the Unknown
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In the pre-internet Stone Age of the 20th century, knowledge-seekers had only a few options when they had a burning question that needed to be answered. They could head to their local library, ask a smarter relative, or embrace the sales pitch of Time-Life Books, the book publishing arm of Time Inc. that marketed massive, multi-volume subscription series on a variety of topics. There were books on home repair, World War II, the Old West, and others—an analog Wikipedia that charged a monthly fee to keep the information flowing.

Most of these were successful, though none seemed to capture the public’s attention quite like the 1987 debut of Mysteries of the Unknown, a series of slim volumes that promised to explore and expose sensational topics like alien encounters, crop circles, psychics, and near-death experiences.

While the books themselves were well-researched and often stopped short of confirming the existence of probing extraterrestrials, what really cemented their moment in popular culture was a series of television commercials that looked and felt like Mulder and Scully could drop in at any moment.

Airing in the late 1980s, the spots drew on cryptic teases and moody visuals to sell consumers on the idea that they, too, could come to understand some of life's great mysteries, thanks to rigorous investigation into paranormal phenomena by Time-Life’s crack team of researchers. Often, one actor would express skepticism (“Aliens? Come on!”) while another would implore them to “Read the book!” Inside the volumes were scrupulously-detailed entries about everything from the Bermuda Triangle to Egyptian gods.

Inside a volume of 'Mysteries of the Unknown'
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Mysteries of the Unknown grew out of an earlier Time-Life series titled The Enchanted World that detailed some of the fanciful creatures of folklore: elves, fairies, and witches. Memorably pitched on TV by Vincent Price, The Enchanted World was a departure from the publisher’s more conventional volumes on faucet repair, and successful enough that the product team decided to pursue a follow-up.

At first, Mysteries of the Unknown seemed to be a non-starter. Then, according to a 2015 Atlas Obscura interview with former Time-Life product manager Tom Corry, a global meditation event dubbed the "Harmonic Convergence" took place in August 1987 in conjunction with an alleged Mayan prophecy of planetary alignment. The Convergence ignited huge interest in New Age concepts that couldn’t be easily explained by science. Calls flooded Time-Life’s phone operators, and Mysteries of the Unknown became one of the company’s biggest hits.

"The orders are at least double and the profits are twice that of the next most successful series,'' Corry told The New York Times in 1988.

Time-Life shipped 700,000 copies of the first volume in a planned 20-book series that eventually grew to 33 volumes. The ads segued from onscreen skeptics to directly challenging the viewer ("How would you explain this?") to confront alien abductions and premonitions.

Mysteries of the Unknown held on through 1991, at which point both sales and topics had been exhausted. Time-Life remained in the book business through 2003, when it was sold to Ripplewood Holdings and ZelnickMedia and began to focus exclusively on DVD and CD sales.

Thanks to cable and streaming programming, anyone interested in cryptic phenomena can now fire up Ancient Aliens. But for a generation of people who were intrigued by the late-night ads and methodically added the volumes to their bookshelves, Mysteries of the Unknown was the best way to try and explain the unexplainable.

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Trash Collectors in Turkey Use Abandoned Books to Build a Free Library
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A stack of books abandoned on the sidewalk can be a painful sight for bibliophiles. But in Ankara, Turkey, garbage collectors are using books left to be discarded to build a free library. As CNN reports, their library of salvaged literature is currently 6000 titles strong.

The collection grew gradually as sanitation workers began saving books they found on their routes, rather then hauling them away with the rest of the city’s trash. The books were set aside for employees and their families to borrow, but eventually news of their collection expanded beyond the sanitation department. Instead of leaving books on the curb, residents started donating their unwanted books directly to the cause. Soon the idea arose of opening a full library for the public to enjoy.

Man reading book at shelf.
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With support from the local government, the library opened in the Çankaya district of Ankara in September 2017. Located in an abandoned brick factory on the sanitation department’s property, it features literature for children, resources for scientists, and books for English and French speakers. The space also includes a lounge where visitors can read their books or play chess. The loan period for books lasts two weeks, but just like at a regular library, readers are given the option to renew their tomes.

People reading books in a library.
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The experiment has proven more successful than anyone anticipated: The library is so well-stocked that local schools, prisons, and educational programs can now borrow from its inventory. The Turkish sanitation workers deserve high praise, but discarded book-loving pioneers in other parts of the world should also get some recognition: For decades, José Alberto Gutiérrez has been using his job collecting garbage to build a similar library in Colombia.

[h/t CNN]

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