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Roundin’ up local literature

From dirty rivers to tiny tales


April 19, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST

It’s National Library Week, and the Columbia Public Library wants its books back. It’s even willing to bribe you. This week it’s hosting events to fit this year’s theme, “Round ’Em Up For National Library Week.” And to entice you to bring those books back that you have held onto a few weeks — or even years — past their due date, the library is giving away freebies. New book bag, anyone?

“Don’t ever be embarrassed to bring a book back really late,” says Jenny McDonald, Daniel Boone Regional Library public relations associate. She reminds people that by returning those overdue books, patrons can have their library cards reactivated, which allows them to check out other books. We hope that you can remember to return those on time, but our guess is it will be around this time next year.

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After you’ve lassoed some Western novels at the library, don’t think your reading for the week is done. There are many other literary happenings going on around town; here’s a couple that are at the top of our book pile.

Miniature literature stands tall
Eileen Cummings, Miniature Book Society president, is having a tough year. Her husband passed away, she had to retire, she had a bout of food poisoning and her house flooded in January. In addition, the Miniature Book Society volunteer responsible for the traveling exhibit resigned and left Cummings to handle that, as well. But get her talking about tiny books, and she chirps factoids and history as if her life couldn’t be any better.

“They’re very quaint, and they give a lot of information, and they’re easy to carry,” she says of the volumes that she has spent nearly 30 years collecting.

The Miniature Book Society’s exhibit of 66 books from last year’s annual exhibition and competition will be displayed at MU’s Ellis Library until April 23 before it continues moving around the country. The exhibit also includes 113 miniature books from Ellis’ Special Collections.

The miniature display is a good way to show people an art form that was probably unfamiliar to them, says Rienne Johnson, graduate library assistant. “We wanted to introduce contemporary miniature books,” she says. “We wanted people to say more than ‘Hey look, these books are so little and cute.’”

Cummings admits, though, that a large part of the appeal is their miniscule size. Her personal collection numbers 5,100, but they all fit in a 4- by 17-foot display case her husband made. But just because these books are tiny, don’t think they’re unworthy reads.

One of the most striking elements of the exhibit is the variety of topics the miniature books cover says Johnson. “There are a lot of different kinds of works,” she says. “There’s children books, older books, entertainment books, art books, religious materials, even reference books.”

Cummings hopes the traveling exhibit will bring young people to join the society. She says, “It’s more than a club; it’s family.”

From the bottom up
Local author Jeff Barrow didn’t know he had stumbled onto a story when he first heard about Chad Pregracke, a seemingly obsessed river conservationist and founder of the group Living Lands & Waters.

“I had read about Chad in Time magazine, and I thought he was kind of kooky,” Barrow says. “Like what, he thinks he’s going to clean up the river? What next, the ocean? I mean it’s such a huge thing.”

That was in the summer of 2000. In the years that followed, Barrow would join Pregracke in his river-cleaning efforts, and in 2004, Barrow came up with the idea that would bring them even closer. After a publicity event for local conservation group Missouri River Relief, which Barrow helped create in 2001, he approached Pregracke to engage in a literary endeavor instead of a litter-filled one. His idea: a book about Pregracke’s fixation with removing rubbish from America’s rivers.

Pregracke wasn’t as excited about the idea as Barrow might have hoped. A writer had approached him about a book once before, and when the idea never came to fruition, Pregracke became leery of book proposals. “He acted like I had punched him in the kidney,” Barrow says.

But in the summer of that year, in the kitchen onboard one of Living Lands & Waters’ four barges, Pregracke asked Barrow for thoughts and ideas on how a book about a man who pulls discarded tires, abandoned vehicles and all other sorts of trash from rivers would be written and marketed. The two agreed to work together on Pregracke’s story, and in October 2005, National Geographic agreed to publish the book. On March 14, 2006, they finally signed the contract, which paid the two an advance that Barrow says was “not enough to live on.” He continued to support himself as a freelance writer and editor while Pregracke didn’t cut back his hectic and daily river-cleaning schedule, which required countrywide travel and made finding time to work on the book difficult.

But after nearly three years, the final product of this joint venture has found its way into print. From the Bottom Up: One Man’s Crusade to Clean America’s Rivers was released on April 10 (, $26). Barrow says now that he has successfully written his first book, his only plans for the immediate future are: “Selling it!”

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