Book Review – Ink and Bone

Cover ImageTitle: Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1)

Author: Rachel Caine

Publisher: Allison & Busby Limited

Date: July 2015

Format: Paperback (410 pages)

Synopsis: Knowledge is power. Power corrupts.

In a world where the ancient Great Library of Alexandria was never destroyed, knowledge now rules the world: freely available, but strictly controlled. Owning private books is a crime.

Jess Brightwell is the son of a black market book smuggler, sent to the Library to compete for a position as a scholar . . . but even as he forms friendships and finds his true gifts, he begins to unearth the dark secrets of the greatest, most revered institution in the world.

Those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life—and soon both heretics and books will burn…


I don’t usually start reading a series until all the books have been published, but I decided to make an exception for Ink and Bone because it sounded SO GOOD. Thankfully, I was definitely not disappointed.

The world building was great and I really enjoyed learning about all the different elements. In this world, Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press was never allowed to come to light and the Great Library of Alexandria and its daughter libraries (the Serapeums) control all knowledge via the Codex. Citizens are permitted to own blanks (like eBook readers), that enable them to view copies of books held in the Codex, but will be arrested if they’re caught with an original.

Jess, the central character, is a runner for his father who traffics in illegal original books. He earns a place as a student (Postulant) at the Great Library to compete to become a Scholar. While there, he becomes embroiled in the dangerous secret world behind the public face of the Library which threatens everything, and everyone, he cares about.

He encounters Burners who use Greek Fire to burn books in protest against the Great Library; Obscurists who use alchemy to control the Codex and other elements of society; Garda Soldiers and machines called automatons that defend the library with deadly force; ink-lickers who eat books as the ultimate way to possess them; and many other characters and concepts that work together to create an interesting and complex world for readers to explore.

The conflict between original books and blanks felt like a commentary on physical books vs. eBooks, which was interesting, although certainly not overbearing or obvious if you weren’t looking for it (I do like a good bit of literary analysis!).

In between chapters there were short sections called ‘Ephemera’ which provided extracts of private correspondence taken from the Codex and the Black Archive (where the library stores restricted knowledge). There were quite a few hidden details and surprises in those that helped to make the story even more compelling.

I really liked Jess and many of the other supporting characters (especially General Santi and Postulant Morgan), but my favourite character was definitely Scholar Christopher Wolfe. I hated him at first for the way he treated Jess and the other Postulants, but as more and more of his personal life and history were revealed I ended up really caring about him and sympathising with his struggles. He’s one of those characters who has a lot more depth than is initially apparent and I find I’m emotionally invested in what happens to him in the next book.

One other cool thing I wanted to mention is that the author included a ‘Soundtrack’ section at the back of the book with a list of the songs she listened to while she wrote it. I love this idea as it’s an insight into the author’s creative process and the kind of emotions she was working with. I was especially happy to see Hozier’s Take Me to Church on the list!

I’ll admit that I thought the first couple of chapters were a bit slow and I didn’t become fully immersed in the story until Jess became a Postulant, but once he did the plot really took off and I didn’t want to put the book down. I would definitely recommend it.

The sequel, Paper and Fire, is due out in July this year and I can’t wait to read it!

Overall Rating: Book Rating Picture  Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture Book Rating Picture My bookworm rating system is explained here.

Other Works by this Author: Rachel Caine (who also writes under several other names) is the author of over 40 novels. You can find out more here.


 

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Pre-Christmas Book Haul

So I went Christmas shopping today (for other people, mind you) and then this happened …

Book Stack 2

I knew it was dangerous to walk into a bookshop when I really only have enough money at the moment to buy gifts for others, but is it my fault that some of those gifts can only be found in a bookshop? I admit it’s suspiciously convenient, but it wasn’t a deliberate excuse to wander around one of my favourite bookshops. Honest. Anyway, after picking up the presents I was looking for, I decided to treat myself to a book … and then another, and another, then I put one back (Eleanor & Park, I regret that now), then, oops, two more jumped into my hand! Others were calling to me with their bookish siren song, but I somehow managed to tear myself away and avoid being wrecked on the financial shoals. For now!

Here’s what I bought:

Falling into Place by Amy Zhang: I had almost made it to the counter to pay when I spotted this one on the corner of a table (like it was waiting for me). It was featured in my second Friday Finds post so I already knew I wanted to read it without having to check out the synopsis, hence the snap decision to buy it. Yay!

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman: Many of you will have heard of the hugely popular and successful Netflix show which is based on Kerman’s account of the 15 months she served in prison. I absolutely LOVE the show and I’ve wanted to read the book for ages, so I’m really excited to have it. I had planned to wait until I could get the original cover rather than the Netflix one, but it was sitting right there on a shelf and I couldn’t help myself. Plus, my favourite actress ever is on the cover as she plays Galina “Red” Reznikov on the show (Kate Mulgrew, who I have raved about before on this blog), so I’m okay with this version. I can’t wait to read about the real story behind this awesome show.

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan: This one was featured in my third Friday Finds post and has been near the top of my TBR list since then. It was the book I picked up first and was supposed to be the only one I bought for myself today. Oh well! I’m super excited to finally have this one in my collection and it will probably be the one I read next after I finish the two I’m reading now (The Book Thief and my ARC copy of Things Grak Hates).

The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen: I’ve seen this on Goodreads several times over the past few months but I only recently added it to my TBR list. The synopsis sounds very odd, but in an interesting way, so I definitely want to read it. The cover is beautiful and the UK version has snow on it, so it’s perfect for this time of year. It makes me want to grab a hot chocolate and curl up with it on the couch. Ahh, bliss!

I’ll be reviewing all these once I read them, so stay tuned!

The Cartoon Story of Print Books vs. e-books

I don’t know about you, but I’m a little tired of reading the same arguments surrounding the printed books versus e-books debate. I’ve accepted that there are differences in opinion and I’m not really interested in trawling over old ground. Only time will decide the fate of the printed page, and in the meantime everyone who loves to read is free to do so in whatever format they choose.

After reading this article and coming across an old image I found on my laptop, I had a surge of creativity and got the idea to make this little cartoon. It’s not an argument for one side or the other; it’s just a harmless bit of fun. I wish I could take credit for the cartoon images, but they are the work of other creative minds. The words are mine, though, and I hope they make you laugh.


Once upon a time, print books ruled the roost. They were the main source of knowledge and the only way people read stories.

Tower of books

Apart from the odd bookworm attack …

Bookworm to worm regarding book: 'Are you going to finish that?'

… books were happy and content.

Happy Book

Then, one day, e-books rolled into town. They were the cool kids on the block, with their fancy features and cheaper prices. These e-books had a bit of an attitude, and reckoned they were better than the printed page.

'And here's a look at our ancient ancestor after being thrown on a door step.'

Some printed books worried that they would go the same way as CDs did when MP3 players rolled in.

Bloody book and CD

Others just felt like giving up.

'I used to be somebody. . . I used to be a contender. . .'

They started to fear a future where they wouldn’t exist anymore.

                    'Remember to charge your ebook readers overnight. Tomorrow we have reading class.'  Signing ebook

But then, something wonderful happened. Printed books began to feel the love from their readers, and started to stand up for themselves. Some even got a little sassy …

Book insults ereader

… while others just got smart.

book and ebook insults fight

They were encouraged by the support of other “out-dated” inventions.

Funny book vs. e-book picture

Eventually, print books realised that they didn’t have to be enemies with e-books. After all, they both brought joy to millions of readers across the world, so they might as well be friends.

Book and ebook holding hands

In a world full of readers, there’s enough room for both of them.

The End

 

Future Library Project

Forest Image

“A forest in Norway is growing. In 100 years it will become an anthology of books.”

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while, but I’m only now getting around to it. I love interesting and unique projects involving how the public interacts with and experiences books, and I think this one is absolutely wonderful.

The Future Library Project comes from the mind of Scottish artist Katie Paterson and is based in Norway. During the summer 1,000 trees were planted in Nordmarka, just outside of Oslo. Over the next 100 years one author per year will be asked to contribute an unpublished, unread manuscript to a collection which will be held in trust by the New Public Deichmanske Library in Oslo. In 2114, the trees planted this year will be cut down and turned into paper on which the complete collection of 100 manuscripts will be published and released to the public. They are a message in a bottle to future generations.

Man Booker prize-winning author Margaret Atwood has been given the honour of contributing the first manuscript. It will never be read in her lifetime, and it is unlikely that any of her current fans will live long enough to read it either, but that’s kind of the point. Atwood herself has said that she finds it “delicious” that she has the freedom to write whatever she wants without the worry of what her publisher, readers or critics will think about it. She is bound by contract not to reveal a word of what she has written to anyone. Only those alive in 2114 will ever know what story she has left to the world.

Paterson described her feelings about Atwood’s contribution beautifully: “I imagine her words growing through the trees, an unseen energy, activated and materialised, the tree rings becoming chapters in a book.” As the trees grow, so will the medium by which Atwood’s words, and those of 99 other authors, will eventually be revealed to readers of the future. Paterson has some more wonderful things to say about the project, which you can read here.

Tree Rings Image

With the unrelenting march of technology and the proliferation of e-books already in full swing, who can really say for certain that we will still have printed books 100 years from now? I sincerely hope we will, as the thought of my great-grandchildren never having the pleasure of holding a book in their hands, or being forced to squint at them through glass in a museum exhibit, makes me desperately sad. I have a feeling the printed page will still be with us, though. It’s too well loved to die out completely. Whatever happens in the future, at least we know one thing; the readers of 2114 will have 100 new stories to read, and they will come to them on paper.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a beautiful thing.

If you want to find out more about the project, which I really hope you do, then you can check out the links below.

Project Website

Project Video

Twitter

Facebook

Katie Paterson’s Website

Second-Hand Sentiments

The inspiration for this blog came from an unusual place, at least for me. I was working on a job application and one of the requirements was that I write about what I considered to be the most interesting publication of the last year. My first thought was S.  by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst because of its original (and very cool) concept, but that’s not the one I landed on. I had to be concise and professional in the application, and my creativity felt a bit stifled, so I decided to write about the book I chose here. I didn’t get the job, but at least I got this blog post out of it.

I ended up choosing a wonderful little book I had sitting on my desk waiting to be gift wrapped for my friend’s birthday. It’s called Dedicated to… The forgotten friendships, hidden stories and lost loves found in second-hand books and is a beautifully designed collection of inscriptions discovered inside second-hand books which author W.B. Gooderham has spent years compiling and preserving. Each inscription is faithfully reproduced in the original handwriting, transcribed where necessary, including full colour cover images of the books in which the dedications were found. The book cover is beautiful and the author’s introduction is presented on aged and worn looking paper. In case you hadn’t noticed, I think the design and production team over at Bantam Press knocked this one out of the park!

Cover Image

I find it interesting for several reasons. In the age of the ebook and digitised content, it underscores the continued significance of books as physical objects which can be given as meaningful gifts inscribed with the giver’s sentiments. It nurtures the idea of second-hand bookshops as treasure troves of the personal histories and memories of the books’ former owners. These inscriptions reveal additional layers of meaning to these books which transcend, and sometimes seemingly conflict with, the content within. For example, in a copy of George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece 1984, is a dedication not of fear and oppression, but of hope and love. It reads: “This book was published in 1949, it was about the future 1984. I have given it to you with love in 1994, the start of our future.” Sentiments such as this provide a fascinating insight into the different ways in which books are interpreted and valued by their readers.

1984 Dedication

You can click on this for an enlarged version to see the text better.

Not all books are given with such romantic intentions, however. Imagine opening a copy of A Book of Surrealist Games given to you by your girlfriend that simply reads: “For Ted – my period is 3 days late. Xo. d.” Not the most sensitive way of dropping that bombshell! Of course it could all have been a joke, given the choice of book it was written in, but that’s one of the great things about these inscriptions: you can’t know for sure what the writer’s original intentions were.

Some inscriptions are more obvious, and some are just plain cute. One of my favourites was found in a battered old copy of the British children’s classic Worzel Gummidge. It read “If this book should ever roam, box its ears and send it home.” It may not have made its way back to its original owner, but at least W.B. Gooderham gave it a good home and shared its message with other readers.

I have to wonder why these books were given away in the first place. Did the relationship which inspired the 1984 dedication break up? Did Ted discard the reminder of an insensitive joke or the beginning of an unplanned journey into fatherhood? How did good old Worzel lose his way? These questions will most likely never be answered, so, like many great books, this one will leave it up to the imagination to decide.

I wrote my own dedication to my friend when I gave her this book. It seemed appropriate. I’m sure she won’t mind if I share it.

My Dedication to Becca

Author W.B. Gooderham continues to collect inscriptions from second-hand books and posts them to his blog. You can check it out here.

Top Ten Books Which Mean the Most to Me

Recently one of my friends introduced me to Top Ten Tuesday, an idea created by The Broke and the Bookish. Every week they provide a new theme for a top ten list of books which bloggers can use to share and compare the books they love with other readers. You can see a list of past and forthcoming themes here. My friend has her own bookish blog, Caught Read Handed, which is awesome and you should check it out.

The category ideas are really interesting and definitely got me thinking, but for my first shot at this I’ve decided to go with my own theme. I don’t know how often I’ll post a Top Ten entry (and if I do it probably won’t be on a Tuesday, my inspiration doesn’t care what day of the week it is), but I’ll try and do at least a couple more.

My theme is going to be the Top Ten Books Which Mean the Most to Me. These are the books that carry with them memories of important times in my life, and I would never want to be without them. I’m from Scotland, so the titles have UK spellings. I mention this because ‘artefact’ and ‘traveller’ still don’t look right to me, even though that’s how we roll on this side of the pond.

If anyone wants to pick up on this theme and create their own list, go right ahead. Post a link to your blog in the comments, I’d love to read it.

AurianArtefacts of Power SeriesMaggie Furey

This is the first fantasy series I ever read and it marked the moment when I became aware, not just of how brilliant and inspiring this genre is, but of how my mother’s passion for reading had been passed on to me. Ever since I was a little girl, I had been aware of the tall and overstuffed bookcase that lived in the spare room. The shelves were packed with titles by the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien, Katherine Kerr, David Eddings, Terry Goodkind, Raymond E. Feist– to name a few – all promising tales of wonder, magic and adventure. Since fantasy novels often feature mature themes not suitable for children, my mother told her impatient and curious child that she would need to wait a few years before she could delve into the pages of these wonderful worlds. Finally, one day when I was 14, mum came into my room and handed me the first in this series, Aurian, smiled, and said “I think this is a good one for you to start with.” I tore through it and its three sequels, and my love of the fantasy genre was born. I learned of its wonders and dangers along with the young female protagonist as she grew into her birthright as a powerful mage on a quest to reunite the Artefacts of Power and the disparate peoples who wielded them. The bookcase itself has been gone for years now, and its contents are scattered about the house and amongst friends and family, but this series remains in my safe keeping, and reminds me to always be grateful to my mother’s good judgement and Furey’s fantastic writing for introducing me to the world of fantasy fiction.

The Banned and the Banished Series – James ClemensWitch Fire

Of the many fantasy series I have read since The Artefacts of Power, this one is my absolute favourite. Not only are the characters believable and relatable, the plots exciting and dramatic, and the emotions captured both powerful and tragic, the five novels which make up the series have a number of metafictional elements which I absolutely love. When you open each novel, you are presented with an ‘Assignation of Responsibility’ to sign, date and fingerprint as a promise that you will protect the contents of the books, known as the Kelvish Scrolls. Scholars of the Scrolls introduce you to each instalment and warn you of their corrupting influence and the questionable motives of the unknown author, whose identity and true motivations are only revealed at the close of the final book. This revelation is both uplifting and heart-breaking, and is one of my favourite parts of the entire series. Finally, when you have read all five novels, the senior scholar poses one final question which must be answered and signed with a palm print before the reader can call themselves a Scholar of the Commonwealth. This series combines my love of the fantasy and metafiction genres with very talented writing and a plot so engaging that I have seen hours pass by without once raising my head from its pages. I have never encountered a series of books so immersive that I can only reread them if I have absolutely nothing planned for a week or more. I can’t recommend them enough.

MosaicStar Trek Voyager: Mosaic – Jeri Taylor

Star Trek has been a huge part of my life since I was 8 when I first saw an episode of Star Trek: Voyager on TV. It has been a huge influence on the way I look at the world and has helped me through some of the hardest times of my life. I really can’t explain how much I love it. There are literally hundreds of Star Trek novels out there, and I’ve lost count of how many of them I’ve read (and own), but this one means the most to me. It is the biography of my favourite character, Captain Kathryn Janeway, written by the woman who created her, and chronicles the struggles and heartaches she endures on her way to becoming the larger than life, courageous and inspiring character I grew up watching on TV. She is portrayed by actress Kate Mulgrew, an incredible woman who I have been lucky enough to meet and chat to (and don’t think that wasn’t one of the best days of my life!). I’ve read this book so many times it’s starting to fall apart, and I have many significant memories of it, but the one I remember most is of the night my Grampa died. He was more of a father than a grandfather, and without him I don’t know where I would be, so his passing was devastating to me. That night when I couldn’t sleep for crying, I opened Mosaic and reread the chapters where Janeway is struggling through the death of her own father, and seeing her recover from her grief and move forward gave me hope that I could do the same, even though in that moment it felt impossible. Sometimes it still amazes me how influential and comforting well-crafted and relatable characters can be.

The Poetry of Robert Frost – Robert FrostRobert Frost

I first discovered Robert Frost when I was 15 and sitting in Higher English class. His poem ‘The Secret Sits’ was being used by my teacher as an example of how poems could be particularly effective when only a few lines in length. I loved those two lines so much that I looked up more of his poems and fell in love with those too. I think his ability to use pastoral and ostensibly simple language to convey his feelings about philosophical and moral questions is wonderful, and I take great pleasure in interpreting them and figuring out what they mean to me. My absolute favourite is ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’, which has a deep personal significance to me.

Jane EyreJane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë

So it seems that there are Brontë fans, and there are Austen fans, and never the twain shall meet, like Star Trek fans and Star Wars fans, lest all hell break loose. While I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration, I definitely have a preference for the writing styles of the Brontë sisters. This began when I was about 16 and I was given a beautiful Collector’s Library edition of Jane Eyre as a gift. They are small, beautifully bound pocket sized hardbacks with gold leaf edged pages and red ribbon markers. Normally I don’t like reading books with very thin pages and small font, but I could easily make an exception for this one. It was this edition which started me thinking about books as beautiful objects, and it definitely enhanced my reading experience. I also love the story itself, and it’s one of my favourite classics.

Letters to a Young Poet – Rainer Maria RilkeLetters to a Young Poet

This book is a lovely collection of letters written by Rilke to novice poet Franz Xaver Kappus. They’re inspiring, uplifting, honest and humble, and encourage the young man to follow his passion for writing no matter what obstacles, either real or imagined, are in front of him. Rilke tells his would be protégé that he doesn’t need a mentor; he already has everything he needs to be a writer, if only he would trust himself. Decades later, Rilke’s words have inspired readers all over the world, including me, to continue to do what they love, even if at times they doubt what they are producing is any good. I’ve written a blog post about this book before, you can find it here.

If on a Winter's Night a TravellerIf on a Winter’s Night a Traveller – Italo Calvino

This book was a birthday gift from my uncle, himself an avid reader, and I’m so glad he chose it for me. If he hadn’t I quite possibly wouldn’t have discovered it on my own. Aren’t book recommendations great?! I have always loved metafiction, and this novel is a brilliant example of it. Some readers might find the nature of the novel’s construction frustrating, as each chapter is only the first of a book that is never finished. However, that’s the whole point. You, along with the novel’s protagonist, are on a quest to locate the rest of these unfinished stories, only to find that a more interesting one is being created along the way. The conclusion to this quest was, to me, unexpected and brilliant. I feel like maybe I should have seen it coming, but, instead, I got to have one of those moments every reader loves; when you look up from the book in your hands, smile and think, “Well, that was pretty damn awesome.” If you like a different kind of story, I would highly recommend this book.

I am Legend – Richard MathesonI Am Legend

A classic example of science fiction at its best, I Am Legend explores a post-apocalyptic world in which a virus has transformed the human race into vampires. All except for Robert Neville, the last remaining uninfected human. In his struggle for survival, Neville addresses questions of what it means to be human, and what it means to be normal. Ranked at No.2 on the SF Masterworks list of the best works of science fiction, this novel is a brilliant example of how the vampire trope can be used to explore the best and worst of humanity. No sparkling, one-dimensional characters here! I love this book because it always gets me thinking and challenges my perceptions of how society defines ‘normal’. As a person who has never felt all that normal, this is particularly significant to me.

America - A Narrative HistoryAmerica: A Narrative History (7th Edition) – George Brown Tindall and David Emory Shi

When I first started this list, I wasn’t expecting one of my undergraduate degree textbooks to make the cut, but this one did. I have a longstanding interest (some might call obsession) with the United States, and my undergrad was in American Studies. This book charts the complete history of the USA from the pre-Columbus era to the presidency of George W. Bush. Told in an engaging narrative style with beautiful illustrations and a packed Appendix, it was an inspiring and informative addition to my student library. Aside from these features, one of the reasons I love it is because it allows me to hold virtually the entire history of the country I love in one hand. America is a relatively young country on the world stage, a fact belied by its power and influence, and for me there is something kind of awesome about being able to hold its history in just one hand (but not for long, mind you, it’s pretty damn heavy!) This feat is very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve with the narrative history of my own country, if you want the kind of detail that this book goes into. It brings back great memories of a degree I loved when I flick through it, and will remain on my bookshelf for a long time to come.

Sister Wolf – Ann ArensbergIMG_20140422_242659493

This book is now out of print in physical form, and was very difficult to find when I was looking for it 4 years ago. I had to get it sent over from the USA since no UK supplier seemed to have a copy, and even then it wasn’t easy to track one down. It’s poorly bound and the pages are unevenly trimmed; facts my Publishing Studies graduate degree has caused me to notice more so now than I did then. I think these reasons are partly why it’s so precious to me – it’s unique and can’t be easily replaced. I originally discovered it when I was deciding which texts to use in my undergrad literature dissertation which analysed the symbol of the wolf in American literature. The novel tells the story of Marit Deym, a wealthy trustee of her deceased parents’ estate who deeply resents the conservative trappings of the upper echelons of Massachusetts society. As an act of rebellion, Marit smuggles a pack of wolves into the wildlife reserve on her land. As the novel progresses, the wolves become a symbol for Marit’s own repressed feral nature as she struggles with love, jealousy, madness and death. Arensberg’s command of language and symbolism is fantastic and I loved being able to use it as part of my dissertation. I have a huge passion for academia and research, and I was very happy and content while I was working on it. This book takes me back to those times and as a result is very important to me.

I’ve really enjoyed putting this list together. I think that it’s a useful and fun exercise for any book lover to do. Why don’t you try it for yourself? You might be surprised by the books that make your list!

The Book Hive of Bristol

Bristol Central Library ©Bristol Post.

Bristol Central Library ©Bristol Post.

I came across an interesting article last month about a project which has been created in Bristol Central Library, England. In celebration of the 400th anniversary of Bristol libraries, a team of engineers and artists has turned a collection of 400 out-of-print hardbacks into an interactive, hive-like structure.

The idea was to enable physical books to interact with the digital age, and for visitors to interact with the books themselves. Controlled by a series of sensors, the books open and close depending on the movements of the people in proximity to them. As visitors walk by, the pages rustle and send wafts of that classic musty old book smell into the air, giving the feeling of strolling through the packed shelves of a second-hand bookshop. The creaking of the machinery as the books come to life only adds to the effect. As Andrew Cox of Bristol Central Library put it:

“We embrace the digital but we all still love books and the book hive is a wonderful blend of art and engineering, reminding us of the intrinsic beauty and love affair we have with books as tangible items.”

Unfortunately, the project is temporary, and will only be available to the public until March 17th 2014. Still, it has been very popular, and was extended from its original end date due to public demand. There are some people who believe that physical books are destined to share the place of Victorian furniture and Fabergé eggs as nothing more than collectable antiques. The thought of a world without physical books does not sit well with me, and to be honest I would rather not dwell on the prospect. If, however, the digital child should ever completely supplant its ink and paper parent, I hope that projects like this one will be around to display these beautiful and timeless objects in interesting and imaginative ways for the enjoyment of generations to come.