A labyrinth of a library

Books waiting to be added to the maze

Books waiting to be added to the maze

If you were to stop by Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall this past weekend, you would have observed quite a strange sight—over 250,000 books in boxes, eclectic piles, orderly stacks, or even just strewn across the floor. Over the next 4 days, though, the books were arranged into something much more recognizable (though perhaps not at all less bewildering)—walls.

The project is called aMAZEme, and indeed, the art display is essentially a giant maze made out of second hand books, as part of a larger poetic celebration of Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. The maze (or, more accurately, labyrinth) is to be formed in the shape of Borges’ fingerprint and is intended to confront the audience with “new textures, images, and emotions… [to] stimulate their curiosity, knowledge, and creativity.” The books used are all secondhand donations from charities and publishing houses throughout the UK, which is why Healthy Planet got involved in the project and became a supporting partner.

Go team!

Go team! My badge

All of the above was enough to interest me in volunteering for aMAZEme, so last Friday I found myself at the Royal Festival Hall ready to help the cause. Along with the other volunteers, I helped sort books into hardcover piles and paperback piles, and then began stacking these books strategically in order to form the walls of the maze. Although progress seemed slow that early on in the project, these thousands of books now tower up to 3 meters high.

What I find most moving about this project is how differently each member of the audience will perceive or experience it. Children and adults alike will enjoy meandering through the maze of books, whether or not they actually have a particular love of reading (but hopefully they do!). The celebration of Jorge Borges delivers a more profound implication for those who have an affinity for this famous writer or for Argentine literature in general.

Leaf found in book from 1908!

Leaf found in book from 1908!

Environmentalists might, like Healthy Planet, appreciate the fun and unique way books have been reused in the construction. Art lovers will surely comprehend some deeper meaning behind it than I was able to pick up, and lovers of mythology will have a field day if the Minotaur head that I saw on the sidelines makes any appearance. Personally, as a lover of reading, I was constantly distracted by the books themselves. I even came across a small hymnal gifted to someone in 1908, which had a remarkably preserved pressed leaf inside. See the rest of my photos on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/healthyplanetorg/sets/72157630819923620/

Who knows what else is hiding within those walls? If you get the chance, check out the display at the Royal Festival Hall in Southbank Centre!

To learn more about the aMAZEme project, visit their event website at http://festival.london2012.com/events/9000965121.

Ps: Here’s what the maze looked like when it was finished!

Completed maze

Completed maze

Going green in London

The rare sunshine on 9 June this summer seemed a good omen as I disembarked the tube at Regent’s Park station. With not a clue as to what direction I should be headed, I wandered a bit (across the road—back across now in the right direction—past some gardens, those seemed promising—finally through the park) until I stumbled upon my destination: the London Green Fair.

London Green Fair - Books for Free Booth

London Green Fair – Books for Free Booth

For many tourists visiting London in the summer, an eco-festival of different stalls, speakers, performances and workshops might not make the list of must-see places—but it should! The fair had an open and invigorating atmosphere, with every booth offering not only friendly conversation but also a unique take on sustainability. Whether it be giving out free trees to offset the combined carbon impact of everyone’s travels to the event, or selling homemade, chemical-free soaps, the stallholders truly embodied the heart of the festival and the reason we were all there—to celebrate, enable, and inspire a green lifestyle. The food vendors, children’s activities, speaker’s forum tent, and various workshops that were scattered throughout the fair also made for a fun event.

Although I wanted to visit the fair anyway, I was fortunate enough to also get to experience it from the perspective of a true member of the community when I volunteered with Healthy Planet, where I am interning for the summer. By helping Camen and Olivia at the Books for Free booth, I could see firsthand the amazing potential this initiative has as a positive impact on the community, even aside from the environmental implications of reducing landfill by reusing books. The good in encouraging people to read and even in just celebrating reading seemed palpable in the immediate atmosphere around the booth. A kind of excitement was definitely present, with every visitor equal parts incredulous and delighted that they were actually being given free books with no catch.

Actually, as it turns out, the Books for Free scheme has a bit of history with the London Green Fair—back at the festival in May 2010 was the trial run for our initiative. Two years later, with 5 stores opening just this past week and adding to an assemblage of over 25 stores nationwide, I would say that the fair helped create quite a legacy for what is now our most popular initiative. And aside from being an initial enabler for its success, the fair is truly just too pleasant of an experience for Healthy Planet to stay away—we were really in our element there.

Visiting the London Green Fair and volunteering at the Books for Free booth have definitely comprised a highlight of my summer here. Even though I am but a temporary visitor to the UK, the close and friendly community feel of this event made London feel just a little bit smaller.

You can read more about the fair and its attendees on the website, http://www.londongreenfair.org/.

This blog was written by Meg (Healthy Planet Intern)