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Curtis Clark via WikimediaCommons // Public Domain
Curtis Clark via WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

11 Things You Didn't Know About Black Beauty

Curtis Clark via WikimediaCommons // Public Domain
Curtis Clark via WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

Happy anniversary to Black Beauty, which turns 138 today. Though it was written during a time when horses were beasts of burden far more than they are today, the animal cruelty issue still resonates—which is why Black Beauty is one of the best selling books in history. Read on to learn more about the classic tale.

1. BLACK BEAUTY ISN'T THE FULL TITLE.

It’s actually Black Beauty, his grooms and companions; the autobiography of a horse, 'Translated from the original equine by Anna Sewell'. You can see why everyone shortens it.

2. AUTHOR ANNA SEWELL'S MOTHER WAS THE WRITER OF THE FAMILY.

Though Anna would eventually eclipse her mother in both fame and book sales, Mary Wright Sewell was the more successful author for most of her life. The elder Sewell wrote several books, including Mother’s Last Words and Other Ballads and Homely Ballads for The Working Man’s Fireside.

3. SEWELL WASN'T PUBLISHED UNTIL SHE WAS 57 YEARS OLD.

Anna honed her writing skills by helping her mother edit her books, but she didn't get her own book published until she was 57. She started Black Beauty when she was 51, and it was her first and only publication.

4. BLACK BEAUTY WAS INSPIRED BY A PET.

Sewell biographers believe that the title character was based on Bess, a spunky horse owned by her family. Though she was spirited, the Sewells loved her and considered her one of the family.

5. SHE WAS PAID JUST £20 FOR THE BOOK.

Sewell sold her masterpiece to Jarrold and Sons in 1877 for a single payment of £20. They published it the same year, and it became an instant success.

6. SEWELL DIED JUST FIVE MONTHS AFTER IT WAS PUBLISHED.

It’s possible that Sewell could have made more money off of the book once it proved to be popular, but she never got the chance to negotiate with her publisher. She died of hepatitis in April 1878, just five months after the book came out.

7. A SIGNED COPY WILL SET YOU BACK.

The green, cloth-bound first editions of Black Beauty are rare, but even rarer is a signed copy. Because Sewell died so soon after the book’s publication, she wasn’t around to make out a lot of inscriptions. She did manage to sign one for her cousins that read: “Mary and Catherine Sewell from their affectionate cousin the author Christmas 1877.” This copy sold for £11,875 ($18,133) at a Christie’s auction in June 2015—and that’s nothing. In 2006, the copy she signed for her mother (“Mary Sewell, from her loving child A.S.”) went for £33,000 ($50,693).

8. THE BOOK WASN'T INTENDED FOR CHILDREN.

Anna was an animal lover in general, but she was particularly fond of horses after she sprained her ankle as a child and was forced her to rely on them for transportation. When she wrote Black Beauty decades later, it was intended not to amuse children, but to make adults think about what they were putting horses through.

9. IT HAD A VERY REAL IMPACT ON THE TREATMENT OF HORSES.

According to NPR, “There is little doubt” that the book was responsible for the death of the “bearing rein,” a strap that pulled the horse’s head down toward its chest to create an arch. The position was painful for the horse, causing great pain and respiratory problems.

10. IT INSPIRED OTHER BOOKS ABOUT ANIMAL CRUELTY.

Among them was Beautiful Joe, a tale written from the point of view of a dog whose ears and tail were cut off by his master. Though it hasn’t turned out to be quite as classic as Black Beauty, Joe was quite popular in the 1930s, becoming the first Canadian children’s book to sell more than 7 million copies.

11. IT'S ONE OF THE BEST SELLING BOOKS OF ALL TIME.

With more than 50 million copies sold in 50 languages, Black Beauty is one of the most popular books in history. For reference, other books in the 50 million range include The Catcher in the Rye, Charlotte’s Web, The Da Vinci Code, Anne of Green Gables, and all of the Harry Potters (except Philosopher’s Stone, which is up to 107 million).

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15 Powerful Quotes From Margaret Atwood
MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images
MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images

It turns out the woman behind such eerily prescient novels as The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake is just as wise as her tales are haunting. Here are 15 of the most profound quips from author, activist, and Twitter enthusiast Margaret Atwood, who was born on this day in 1939.

1. On her personal philosophy

 “Optimism means better than reality; pessimism means worse than reality. I’m a realist.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

2. On the reality of being female

“Men often ask me, Why are your female characters so paranoid? It’s not paranoia. It’s recognition of their situation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

3. On limiting how her politics influence her characters

“You know the myth: Everybody had to fit into Procrustes’ bed and if they didn’t, he either stretched them or cut off their feet. I’m not interested in cutting the feet off my characters or stretching them to make them fit my certain point of view.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

4. On so-called “pretty” works of literature

“I don’t know whether there are any really pretty novels … All of the motives a human being may have, which are mixed, that’s the novelists’ material. … We like to think of ourselves as really, really good people. But look in the mirror. Really look. Look at your own mixed motives. And then multiply that.”

— From a 2010 interview with The Progressive

5. On the artist’s relationship with her fans

“The artist doesn’t necessarily communicate. The artist evokes … [It] actually doesn’t matter what I feel. What matters is how the art makes you feel.”

— From a 2004 interview with The Guardian

6. On the challenges of writing non-fiction

“When I was young I believed that ‘nonfiction’ meant ‘true.’ But you read a history written in, say, 1920 and a history of the same events written in 1995 and they’re very different. There may not be one Truth—there may be several truths—but saying that is not to say that reality doesn’t exist.”

— From a 1997 interview with Mother Jones

7. On poetry

“The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

8. On being labeled an icon

“All these things set a standard of behavior that you don’t necessarily wish to live up to. If you’re put on a pedestal you’re supposed to behave like a pedestal type of person. Pedestals actually have a limited circumference. Not much room to move around.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

9. On how we’re all born writers

“[Everyone] ‘writes’ in a way; that is, each person has a ‘story’—a personal narrative—which is constantly being replayed, revised, taken apart and put together again. The significant points in this narrative change as a person ages—what may have been tragedy at 20 is seen as comedy or nostalgia at 40.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

10. On the oppression at the center of The Handmaid's Tale

“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here. Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.” 

— From a 2015 lecture to West Point cadets

11. On the discord between men and women

“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine. … ‘They’re afraid women will laugh at them,’ he said. ‘Undercut their world view.’ … Then I asked some women students in a poetry seminar I was giving, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ ‘They’re afraid of being killed,’ they said.”

— From Atwood’s Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, 1960-1982

12. On the challenges of expressing oneself

“All writers feel struck by the limitations of language. All serious writers.”

— From a 1990 interview with The Paris Review

13. On selfies

“I say they should enjoy it while they can. You’ll be happy later to have taken pictures of yourself when you looked good. It’s human nature. And it does no good to puritanically say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that,’ because people do.”

— From a 2013 interview with The Telegraph

14. On the value of popular kids' series (à la Harry Potter and Percy Jackson)

"It put a lot of kids onto reading; it made reading cool. I’m sure a lot of later adult book clubs came out of that experience. Let people begin where they are rather than pretending that they’re something else, or feeling that they should be something else."

— From a 2014 interview with The Huffington Post

15. On why even the bleakest post-apocalyptic novels are, deep down, full of hope

“Any novel is hopeful in that it presupposes a reader. It is, actually, a hopeful act just to write anything, really, because you’re assuming that someone will be around to [read] it.”

— From a 2011 interview with The Atlantic 

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China's New Tianjin Binhai Library is Breathtaking—and Full of Fake Books
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A massive new library in Tianjin, China, is gaining international fame among bibliophiles and design buffs alike. As Arch Daily reports, the five-story Tianjin Binhai Library has capacity for more than 1 million books, which visitors can read in a spiraling, modernist auditorium with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

Several years ago, municipal officials in Tianjin commissioned a team of Dutch and Japanese architects to design five new buildings, including the library, for a cultural center in the city’s Binhai district. A glass-covered public corridor connects these structures, but the Tianjin Binhai Library is still striking enough to stand out on its own.

The library’s main atrium could be compared to that of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Guggenheim Museum in New York City. But there's a catch: Its swirling bookshelves don’t actually hold thousands of books. Look closer, and you’ll notice that the shelves are printed with digital book images. About 200,000 real books are available in other rooms of the library, but the jaw-dropping main room is primarily intended for socialization and reading, according to Mashable.

The “shelves”—some of which can also serve as steps or seating—ascend upward, curving around a giant mirrored sphere. Together, these elements resemble a giant eye, prompting visitors to nickname the attraction “The Eye of Binhai,” reports Newsweek. In addition to its dramatic main auditorium, the 36,000-square-foot library also contains reading rooms, lounge areas, offices, and meeting spaces, and has two rooftop patios.

Following a three-year construction period, the Tianjin Binhai Library opened on October 1, 2017. Want to visit, but can’t afford a trip to China? Take a virtual tour by checking out the photos below.

A general view of the Tianjin Binhai Library
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People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman taking pictures at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A man visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A woman looking at books at China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

A general view of China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

People visiting China's Tianjin Binhai Library.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

[h/t Newsweek]

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