Why Libraries Matter: Letters to the Children of Troy

iStock.com/Wavebreakmedia
iStock.com/Wavebreakmedia

It was the spring of 1971, and the public library in Troy, Mich., was finally getting a permanent home. As the grand opening neared, Marguerite Hart—the children’s librarian—dreamed up a way to inspire Troy’s youngsters to come to the new library: she wrote dozens of letters to actors, politicians, and authors from across the globe. Hart asked them to address the children of Troy and speak about the importance of libraries, books, and reading. By the time the library opened, 97 letters had graced her mailbox. Here’s a snapshot of what they had to say.

William White (Professor):

“It really gives someone a bang to discover suddenly that reading books can be fun. Just don’t wait too long to find this out—think of all the hours and days of fun you’ll miss. Go read a book in the library. Now.”

William Broomfield (US Congressman):

“Almost everyone is ignorant about almost everything. Surely there is no denying that. The most brilliant people are only brilliant about one or two matters, and ignorant of everything else. And ignorance is painful and irritating—the enemy of happiness. One of the greatest powers against the forces of ignorance is the public library. It knows no racial or economic boundaries. All who enter are welcome.”

Neil Armstrong (Astronaut):

“Through books you will meet poets and novelists whose creations will fire your imagination. You will meet the great thinkers who will share with you their philosophies, their concepts of the world, of humanity and of creation. You will learn about events that have shaped our history, of deeds both noble and ignoble. All of this knowledge is yours for the taking... Your library is a storehouse for mind and spirit. Use it well.”

David M. Kennedy (Cabinet Secretary):

“Your library is not just a building full of books. It is a gateway to thousands of worlds which you may choose to enter. Any world ever explored by man, or by man’s mind, is there awaiting you in print. The choice is yours.”

Ronald Reagan (California Governor):

“A world without books would be a world without light—without light, man cannot see.”

Dr. Seuss:

Edward Ardizzone (Author):

“What men and women did before makes us what we are now, and what we are now affects the future. To read of men and women of days gone by is to learn something of ourselves. For after all, they are part of us.”

Deane Davis (Vermont Governor):

“Read! It is nourishing, civilizing, worthwhile. Read! It destroys our ignorance and our prejudice. Read! It teaches us to understand our fellowman better and, once we understand this, it will be far easier to love him and work with him in a daily more complex society.”

Robert D. Ray (Iowa Governor):

“Freedom cannot falter where libraries flourish.”

John Burns (Hawaii Governor):

“Be very kind to all the librarians. They are among the wisest people in the world. We could do without governors if we had to, but we could not get along very well without librarians.”
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“A library is like a railroad station or an airport: you sit in a comfortable chair and you are carried swiftly to other lands… Never gab-gab-gab in a library to disturb others. Remember that people in a library may be far away—in Afghanistan or Botswana or walking along the road to Mandalay or high in the sky in a silent swift balloon over the Pyrenees.”

John Berryman (Poet):

“The chief thing is to read as hard as you play, with the same seriousness and a mind wide open…You have a pretty building for your books. Go in, and change your life.”

Clara Jones (Director, Detroit Public Library):

“The person who reads need never be lonely.”

John Gilligan (Ohio Governor):

“A library is a place to visit the past and future, or to experience a non-existent world through the pages of volumes containing the dreams, beliefs, knowledge and skills of an author’s imagination and mind.”

Lisl Weil (Author):

“Books speak, if you listen well, they will make you think and grow tall and strong in feeling and seeing the world around you.”

Joseph Alioto (San Francisco Mayor):

“Books can be your companion on rainy days. They will always be there. And when you want to read, a book will never say, ‘No, I don’t want to.’”

Helen Gurley Brown (Editor in Chief, Cosmopolitan):

James Yaffe (President of Colorado College):

“We cannot live in more than one world; we cannot break through the barrier of our own individuality. We are doomed to be ourselves, when we yearn to be everybody. Man invented books to help him out of this dilemma…Through books we can catapult our imaginations into those worlds that our bodies can never reach. When we read history, we demolish the prison of time and become one with the men of the past… When we read poems or plays or stories, we are drawn into the inner lives, the feelings and thoughts, of other souls we could never have imagined for ourselves. [A library] helps us become more than ourselves.”

Mary Hemingway (Wife of Ernest Hemingway):

“A library is like a roomful of friends, each one with his own story or observations ready and waiting to be discovered.”

William Levitt (Real Estate Developer):

“As time goes on you will realize that books are very good friends. They ask nothing of you, but are ready to give everything. They are never in a hurry, but are always there when you want them. They are never short tempered, but are always ready to entertain you.”

Malcolm Boyd (Author):

“[Reading] is one of the things that transforms existence into life.”

Walter Havighurst (Author, Critic):

“A library is a quiet place. ‘Quiet, please’ reads a sign on the wall, and the books are silent on the shelves. But in the silence there is a murmur of voices waiting to be heard.”

George Romney (US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development):

“Every generation stands on the shoulders of generations that have gone before them…People who read books are wise because they use the tools of other men’s experiences.”

John Chafee (Secretary of the Navy):

“Libraries are wonderful places in which to be lost...Adventure is only an arm’s length away, and new friends are waiting for you between the covers of books.”

Neil Simon (Playwright):

“When I look back on the many pleasures [my library] afforded me, I do not for one instant regret living and growing up in a TV-less society.”

E.B. White (Author):

Mike O’Callaghan (Nevada Governor):

“[A library] is a living place, no matter how inanimate you may think the books themselves are. In those books are the ideas and thoughts of men and women who lived long ago, as well as those of people living today… Remember that libraries need feeding too, since they are living, and that it is far better to add a book to the shelves than deprive others of the opportunity to use it.”

Herbert Zim (Author):

“Bring a friend to the library. Get him to bring a friend, also. A good library is one that is over-worked and over-used.”

Richard Armour (Author):

“I am sixty-four years old, probably as old as your grandparents, but I am still learning. I learn from traveling and talking with people, but mostly I learn from reading books…Books are precious things. Between their covers are facts and ideas and imaginings put into words by the most sensitive and imaginative and creative people who ever lived.”

Kingsley Amis (Author):

“Use your library, remembering that, whatever else you may not have, if you have books, you have everything.”

Check out the complete collection on Troy Public Library’s webpage.

11 Scrumdiddlyumptious Roald Dahl Facts

Ronald Dumont / Getty Images
Ronald Dumont / Getty Images

A world without Roald Dahl would be a world without Oompa Loompas, Snozzcumbers, or Muggle-Wumps. And who would ever want to live in a world like that? Celebrate the author with these gloriumptious facts about the master of edgy kids' books.

1. Writing was never Roald Dahl's best subject.

Dahl held onto a school report he had written as a kid, on which his teacher noted: “I have never met anybody who so persistently writes words meaning the exact opposite of what is intended.”

2. Making up nonsensical words was part of what Roald Dahl did best.

When writing 1982’s The BFG, Dahl created 238 new words for the book’s protagonist, which he dubbed Gobblefunk.

3. Roald Dahl's first profession was as a pilot.

And not just any pilot: Dahl was a fighter pilot with the Royal Air Force during World War II. And it was a plane crash near Alexandria, Egypt that actually inspired him to begin writing.

4. Roald Dahl got into some 007 kind of stuff, too.

Alongside fellow officers Ian Fleming and David Ogilvy, Dahl supplied intelligence to an MI6 organization known as the British Security Coordination.

5. Roald Dahl's first published piece was accidental.

Upon recovering from that plane crash, Dahl was reassigned to Washington, D.C., where he worked as an assistant air attaché. He was approached by author C.S. Forester, who was writing a piece for The Saturday Evening Post and looking to interview someone who had been on the frontlines of the war. Dahl offered to write some notes on his experiences, but when Forester received them he didn’t want to change a word. He submitted Dahl’s notes—originally titled “A Piece of Cake”—to his editor and on August 1, 1942, Roald Dahl officially became a published author. He was paid $1000 for the story, which had been retitled “Shot Down Over Libya” for dramatic effect.

6. Roald Dahl's first children's book was inspired by the Royal Air Force.

Published in 1942, The Gremlins was about a group of mischievous creatures who tinkered with the RAF’s planes. Though the movie rights were purchased by Walt Disney, a film version never materialized. Dahl would go on to become one of the world’s bestselling fiction authors, with more than 100 million copies of his books published in nearly 50 languages.

7. Roald Dahl read Playboy for the articles.

Or at least his own articles. While he’s best known as a children’s author, Dahl was just as prolific in the adult short story sphere. His stories were published in a range of outlets, including Collier’s, Ladies Home Journal, Harper’s, The New Yorker, and Playboy, where his topics of choice included wife-swapping, promiscuity, suicide, and adultery. Several of these stories were published as part of Dahl’s Switch Bitch anthology.

8. Quentin Tarantino adapted a Roald Dahl short story for the big screen.

One of Dahl’s best-known adult short stories, “Man from the South” (a.k.a. “The Smoker”), was adapted to celluloid three times, twice as part of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (once in 1960 with Steve McQueen and Peter Lorre, and again in 1985) and a third time as the final segment in 1995’s film anthology Four Rooms, which Quentin Tarantino directed.

9. Roald Dahl's own attempts at screenwriting were not as successful.

One would think that, with his intriguing background and talent for words, Dahl’s transition from novelist to screenwriter would be an easy one ... but you would be wrong. Dahl was hired to adapt two of Ian Fleming’s novels, the James Bond novel You Only Live Once and the kid-friendly Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; both scripts were completely rewritten. Dahl was also hired to adapt Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for the big screen, but was replaced by David Seltzer when he couldn’t make his deadlines. Dahl was not shy about his criticisms of the finished product, noting his “disappointment” that the film (and its changed title) shifted the story’s emphasis from Charlie to Willy Wonka.

10. Roald Dahl made an important contribution to the field of neurosurgery.

In 1960, Dahl’s four-month-old son Theo’s carriage was struck by a cab driver in New York City, leaving the child suffering from hydrocephalus, a condition that increases fluid in the brain. Dahl became very actively involved in his son’s recovery, and contacted toymaker Stanley Wade for help. Together with Theo’s neurosurgeon, Kenneth Till, the trio developed a shunt that helped to alleviate the condition. It became known as the Wade-Dahl-Till valve.

11. Even in death, Roald Dahl's sense of humor was evident.

Roald Dahl passed away from a blood disease on November 23, 1990 at the age of 74. Per his request, he was buried with all of his favorite things: snooker cues, a bottle of Burgundy, chocolate, HB pencils, and a power saw.

14 Things You Might Not Know About William Shakespeare

Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Despite his many contributions to English literature, surprisingly little is known about William Shakespeare’s life. For the past four centuries, historians have had the difficult task of piecing together the Bard's biography with only a handful of old legal documents . Here's what we do know about the celebrated actor, poet, and playwright.

1. Shakespeare's writing was likely influenced by his father's legal troubles.

When Shakespeare was about 5 years old, his father, John—a glovemaker—was accused of illegal money-lending and wool-dealing by Crown informers. The ordeal plunged the elder Shakespeare into legal troubles that would plague him for the next decade. "William grew to adulthood in a household where his father had fallen in social and economic rank," historian Glyn Parry told The Guardian . Parry argued that the experience likely shaped Shakespeare's attitudes toward power, class, and the monarchy—major themes in his future works.

2. Shakespeare got married because of an unexpected pregnancy.

Shakespeare was 18 when he learned that Anne Hathaway, 26, was pregnant with his first child. The couple quickly decided to marry in November 1582 and greeted daughter Susanna in May 1583. Two years later, they had twins Judith and Hamnet. Unfortunately, Shakespeare has no living direct descendants: Hamnet died at age 11, probably a victim of some disease; Judith outlived her three children; and Susanna had one daughter, Elizabeth, who was childless.

3. Nobody knows what Shakespeare did between 1585 and 1592.

It may be no surprise that the author of Romeo and Juliet had a penchant for bringing lovers together: He once helped arrange the marriage of his landlord's daughter. The only reason we know this, however, is because the marriage had a rocky start. When a dispute over the dowry boiled over, Shakespeare had to go to court to act as a character witness for his landlord, whom he called a "very honest fellow." The transcript is the only record of Shakespeare speaking.

4. Shakespeare was, first and foremost, an actor.

An engraving of Shakespeare by E Scriven, after Humphrey's drawing known as the 'Chandos portrait,' circa 1590.
An engraving of Shakespeare by E Scriven, after Humphrey's drawing known as the 'Chandos portrait,' circa 1590.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Shakespeare became an actor at a time when the job was considered downright unsavory. "[A]ctors were already marked as undesirables by England's vagrancy laws, which mandated that traveling troupes had to find aristocratic patronage," John Paul Rollert wrote in The Atlantic . "Rogue players ran the risk of being flogged, branded, and finally hanged." Little is known of Shakespeare's acting chops, but it's believed Shakespeare favored playing " kingly parts ," including the ghost in his own Hamlet .

5. Shakespeare may have participated in organized crime.

In the 1590s, many of London's theaters operated as shady fronts for organized crime. (The Lord Mayor of London decried the theater—and specifically plans for the new Swan Theatre, where Shakespeare may have briefly worked—as a meeting spot for "thieves, horse-stealers, whoremongers, cozeners, conny-catching persons, practisers of treason, and such other like.") In 1596, Swan Theater owner Francis Langley accused William Gardiner and his stepson William Wayte of making death threats. Soon after, Wayte retaliated with the same accusations against Langley and—for some reason—William Shakespeare. This has led historian Mike Dash to suggest that Shakespeare may have been involved in some unspoken criminal activity.

6. Shakespeare was a matchmaker (and a marital peace-maker).

After the birth of his twins, Shakespeare fell off the map for seven years. One unsubstantiated theory (and there are many) suggests that he supported his family by working as a lawyer or legal clerk. Indeed, Shakespeare's plays show an impressive grasp of legal knowledge. "No dramatist of the time … used legal phrases with Shakespeare's readiness and exactness," wrote 19th-century literary critic Richard Grant White. (High praise considering that Shakespeare once wrote , "Let's kill all the lawyers.")

7. The first printed reference to Shakespeare as a playwright was an insult.

The first mention of William Shakespeare as a playwright appeared in 1592, when the dramatist Robert Greene (or possibly Henry Chettle) called him an "upstart Crow [who] … supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you." (In other words: A jack-of-all-trades, and a master of none.) Future reviewers would offer kinder words; in 1598, the critic Francis Meres called him "mellifluous and honey-tongued."

8. Shakespeare likely helped steal a theater, piece by piece.

In 1596, the Theatre in Shoreditch—where Shakespeare cut his teeth as an actor—went dark. The lease for the property on which it was built had expired, and Shakespeare's acting troupe, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, were forced to take their show elsewhere. Two years later, the former owners hatched a crazy plan to take their playhouse back. One winter night in 1598, a group armed themselves with swords and axes , snuck into the theater, and began dismantling the playhouse piece by piece—although it would take more than one night to demolish it. While there's no evidence that Shakespeare joined the crew, he certainly knew about the raid. Eventually, parts of the playhouse would go into the construction of a new theater just south of the River Thames. Its new name? The Globe.

9. Only one handwritten script of Shakespeare's exists.

Five examples of the autograph of English playwright William Shakespeare, circa 1610.
Five examples of the autograph of William Shakespeare, circa 1610.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Anyone interested in studying the Bard's cramped handwriting has only one reliable place to look—the original draft of the Book of Sir Thomas More , a politically-charged play that targeted, in-part, xenophobia in England. Written mainly by dramatist Anthony Munday, the play was completed with the help of four fellow playwrights. One of them, presumed to be Shakespeare, helped write a stirring monologue in which the lead character asks an anti-immigrant mob to imagine themselves as refugees.

Say now the king …
Should so much come too short of your great trespass
As but to banish you, whither would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbour?

The play, by the way, would not be performed. Censors believed it could start a riot.

10. Shakespeare may have been a tax cheat.

In the late 16th century, English residents had to pay a tax on personal wealth called a lay subsidy . In 1597, Shakespeare was supposed to pay a tax of five shillings. The following year, he was supposed to pay a larger tax of 13 shillings and 4 pence. Documents show that the Bard never paid the piper. (His reasons are a matter of speculation, but it could have been a clerical error because he'd already moved away from the parish.)

11. Shakespeare was a grain hoarder.

According to the UK Parliament, between 1604 and 1914 over 5200 enclosure bills were enacted, which restricted the use of vital, publicly-used farmland. Ensuing riots in 1607, called the Midland Revolts, coincided with a period of devastating food shortages. It appears that Shakespeare responded to the situation by hoarding grain. According to the Los Angeles Times , he "purchased and stored grain, malt and barley for resale at inflated prices to his neighbors and local tradesmen."

12. The Globe Theatre burned down during a performance of one of Shakespeare's plays.

An 1647 engraving by Hollar of Shakespeare's Globe theatre.
An 1647 engraving by Hollar of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.
Rischgitz, Getty Images

On June 29, 1613, a prop cannon caused a fire at the Globe Theatre during a performance of Henry VIII . Sparks landed on the thatched roof and flames quickly spread. "It kindled inwardly, and ran round like a train, consuming within less than an hour the whole house to the very ground," a witness Sir Henry Wotton claimed . According to The Telegraph , "the only reported injury was a man whose flaming breeches were eventually put out using a handy bottle of ale."

13. Shakespeare laid a curse upon his own grave.

When Shakespeare died in 1616, grave-robbing was extremely common. To ensure he'd rest through eternity peacefully, the Bard is believed to have penned this curse , which appears on his gravestone.

Good frend for Jesus sake forbeare,
To digg the dust Encloased heare:
Bleste be [the] man [that] spares these stones,
And curst be he [that] moves my bones.

Unfortunately, somebody apparently ignored the dead man's foreboding words. In 2016, researchers scanned the grave with ground-penetrating radar and discovered that grave robbers might have stolen Shakespeare's skull.

14. Shakespeare's legacy lived on thanks to two fellow actors.

The cover of a 1623 collection of Shakespeare's works.
Rischgitz, Getty Images

Shortly after Shakespeare died, two of his longtime friends and colleagues— John Heminge and Henry Condell —edited Shakespeare's plays and collected them in a 1623 book titled Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies . That same book, now called the First Folio, helped preserve Shakespeare's work for the coming generations and is widely considered one of the most significant books printed in English.

Mental Floss is partnering with the Paper & Packaging – How Life Unfolds® “15 Pages A Day” reading initiative to make sure that everyone has the opportunity (and time) to take part in The Mental Floss Book Club. It’s easy! Take the pledge at howlifeunfolds.com/15pages.

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