This is a transcription of ‘Best Public Libraries and Two New Books — 20 October 2023’
Melissa: Coming up, a book that helps you do good while eating well.
David: A chilling look inside modern Russia.
Melissa: Plus, our distraction of the week. I’m Mel.
David: I’m Dave. This is the library of lost time.
Melissa: The World Central Kitchen — which I’ll now refer to as WCK — is a nonprofit organization founded by Chef José Andrés in 2010. Their work is guided by the belief that food is a universal human right. When people are in peril anywhere in the world — from natural disasters like hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions — or from violence in their countries — WCK are first-responders. They send teams of people to provide fresh, nourishing meals on the front lines.
Melissa: It started when Chef Andrés went to Haiti, following a terrible earthquake. He cooked alongside displaced families in a camp and helped feed people in need. Since then, WCK has responded to crises around the world and served more than 300 million meals. They prioritize local ingredients to support the local economy, and they partner with local restaurants and food trucks to directly feed people in crisis.
Melissa: In September, WCK dispatched teams to Morocco within hours of the earthquake and set up a relief kitchen to serve meals. They were in Hawaii in August after the wildfires. And since February 2022, they’ve been providing meals to the people of Ukraine, both in occupied cities and at the borders for fleeing refugees.
Melissa: Now, their stories and recipes have been collected in a book. It’s called The World Central Kitchen Cookbook: Feeding Humanity, Feeding Hope. The first thing to know is that all author proceeds from cookbook will go to support WCK’s emergency response work.
Melissa: The recipes are organized into sections that evoke WCK’s values, so there’s Empathy, Hope, Urgency, Adaptation, Community, Resilience, Joy… that kind of thing. The recipes represent the places they’ve been around the world: the flatbread served after an explosion in Lebanon, the Borsch served in Ukraine, a one-pot curry pasta served in Haiti, and the stew served in Puerto Rico. In between the recipes is beautiful writing and stunning photos of food bringing people together to nurture them in tough times.
Melissa: This is a gorgeous book and would make an excellent gift for yourself or someone you love. If you want to feel better about the world, this book and its recipes are a great start. It’s The World Central Kitchen Cookbook: Feeding Humanity, Feeding Hope.
David: I’m going to tell you about a book with a very strong sense of modern Russia. It’s non-fiction and a challenging read. ‘Harrowing’ is what Publisher’s Weekly called it. It’s called ‘I Love Russia: Reporting from a Lost Country.’ It’s by a woman named Elena Kostyuchenko.
David: She is, to me anyway, pretty young. She’s 36. But she’s been a journalist for twenty years. She started working at her local paper when she was 16, back in 2003. She went to Moscow in 2004 to study journalism. She got an internship at a paper called ‘Novaya Gazeta,’ and then a job there. That paper has been described as, ‘the last major publication consistently critical of the Kremlin.’
David: There, Kostyuchenko was the first writer to cover Pussy Riot, the all-female Russian punk band. And then in 2022, Russia attacked Ukraine. On the day of the invasion, she left Moscow to head behind the lines. From Ukraine, she filed stories about the occupation, and some of the war crimes there.
David: After she’s been there a while, she learns two things from friends back in Moscow. First, her paper has been shut down – partly because of the things she’s written. Second, a well-connected friend tells Kostyuchenko that there’s an order for her arrest and assassination. Change your plans because they know where you’re going. Do not cross a Russian checkpoint. Do not return to Russia.
David: So, the reporter escapes Ukraine and heads to Germany. There, she believes that her government attempted to assassinate her. She was poisoned, maybe in an embassy, maybe on a train. She wrote an article about that experience. We’ll point to it and you can read that.
David: She’s released a book about her relationship with Russia. As you might imagine, it’s emotionally complicated. She loves her home, her family, and other Russians. She might not ever see it again. And her homeland has tried to kill her.
David: If you’re curious about her story or what it’s like to live in Russia, ‘I Love Russia: Reporting from a Lost Country’ by Elena Kostyuchenko is out now.
David: And now our Distraction of the Week. [magical sound effect]
David: The Best New Public Library of the Year has been announced! It was announced a while back, but I’m catching up. Maybe you are too. I was delighted to find out that this was a thing — that there is an award like this.
David: Every year, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions decides on the best new public library of the year. This year, the competition had 16 libraries from 11 countries. The finalists included beautiful libraries in Australia, China, and Slovenia.
David: But the winner? The winner was the Biblioteca Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Barcelona. It’s a neighborhood library. It’s five stories tall, roughly shaped like an octagon, with huge windows everywhere. There’s plenty of sunlight inside. Some people say the building itself looks like a haphazard stack of books. The library is a community hub. They offer workshops on creativity, languages, and digital literary.
David: The award jury chair said, ‘The Biblioteca Gabriel García Márquez is a great example of how a library can serve as a crucial link between people and communities. The entire building process, including the selection of materials, has been characterized by rigorous sustainable choices and bold and ambitious solutions. The Biblioteca Gabriel García Márquez is a true role model for future library buildings in years to come.’
David: I would also like to mention that the library is about a block from a well-regarded pastry shop and a park where you could sit, enjoy a pastry, maybe a coffee, and enjoy the new-to-you books.
David: While we’re on the subject of libraries, there’s one more thing I wanted to mention. The Brooklyn Public Library has started producing limited-edition library cards. These cards are part of a celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. They feature local hero Jay-Z. The cards come in 13 different flavors, and feature artwork from each of his 13 solo albums. Different branches are issuing different cards, to encourage people to visit libraries throughout the borough.
David: And they’re working! The cards have increased library membership by about 14,000 people in September. If you’re a resident of New York State or a student there, you can get your limited edition Jay-Z library cards while supplies last.
Melissa: Visit strongsenseofplace.com/library for more on the best public libraries and all the books we discussed today.
David: Thanks for joining us on the library of last time. Remember to visit your local library and your independent bookstore to lose some time yourself.
Melissa: Stay curious. We’ll talk to you soon.
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