The Beauty of the Unique- Special Editions, Sprayed Edges and the Phenomenon of Participation

When we are collecting books, we are collecting happiness”-Vincent Starrett

A few years ago, a friend told me that if a person owns 1000 or more books, they can consider it a library. Obviously, my new goal was to reach this number and have my own little library at home. Buying books is definitely a separate hobby from reading books and I soon noticed that I was a bit obsessed with both- my friends call me a bookworm but at heart, I am more of a book dragon, someone who hoards books. For me, Starrett’s quote hits deep because my collection does bring me happiness, both while reading and just by looking at my shelves. But I realised rather quickly that it was not just about buying new books but also about connecting with the books I had already read. This meant that if I truly love a book I desperately need several copies. This was when I discovered special and collector’s editions– books with sprayed edges, maps, hardcovers, paperbacks with different covers, character art on the pages, etc. Many books have not only one version depending on the publisher’s decision, book subscription boxes or because different countries decide to release different versions. Personally, I own about 7 different copies of Pride and Prejudice and aim to collect every version of the Letters of Enchantment Duology. It is definitely a commitment but since the books had such a great impact on me I feel like each version carries a different piece of myself. 

Many small businesses have started to paint the edges of books themselves. This offers a truly unique copy of the book. This could be something fun to do in the classroom as well- students come up with ideas and design their own special editions or sprayed edges based on their reading experience (on paper rather than actual copies). Here, it would be interesting to discover different interpretations or impressions the book left and it could then be used as a great starting point for discussions.

Here are some of my favourite special editions:

There are bits and pieces of yourself scattered in every book you read“- Unknown

Special Editions are not the only way to create unique books or extend the fictional work. Harry Potter, Star Trek and Star Wars, Wednesday, Emma, Maneskin and Song Mingi. But what connection do books, tv shows, movies, bands and Korean Idols have? All these different media carry a great fanbase, communities that try to creatively and actively participate in their fandom’s world. The first time this phenomenon gained a lot of attention was with the Star Trek Franchise, fans from everywhere started writing fanfiction, and creating fan art or merch and through this, they kept the fandom alive even when the official story was already over. This participatory culture found its origins in the development of the technological and online sphere. Today participating in a certain fandom is rather easy due to the countless social media platforms such as Instagram, TikTok or even ArchiveOfOurOwn. But how exactly do fans contribute to their fandoms and what impact does it have? As already mentioned people can create their own fanart by drawing or painting the characters or specific scenes. Here, it is interesting to see the different perceptions of the characters as everyone has a unique reading experience so the given attributes for each character can be perceived completely differently every time. This does not mean that some people did not read carefully enough or are wrong but just that they imagined the character this way. Sometimes artists even purposefully change a character’s features to either look like other characters living this specific scene or to project themselves into it.  This makes the characters appear in real life and not only on a book’s page, they do truly become alive. Another way to expand the duration or length of a story is by writing or reading fanfiction. Here, writers can rewrite scenes or create new ones modelled after canon facts or the big what-ifs. The newly created narratives are not entirely connected to the original work but fans take inspiration from them to write something new. Fanfiction can be seen as interesting and refreshing as it highlights the story world and its characters and gives them a certain kind of movement instead of remaining static texts- it offers new dimensions. Here, people can interact with the original texts which makes the whole ordeal appear more vivid and real. 

Participatory or fan culture can also be an interesting topic for classroom discussions. It has become such a vital part of digital life that everyone has come across it in some way. Here students can brainstorm and collect forms of fanart they have encountered before. It is surprising to see how much it is present in our daily lives. Other fun and interactive exercises would be acting out scenes or writing tasks. In year 6 we read Wilhelm Tell and our class did not understand the story so no one participated in class. To change this our teacher sorted us into groups and assigned one scene for each group to prepare. Because we only had to focus on one scene we had more time to actually understand what was written in it and by learning the text by heart, acting it out and even preparing props we started to think about it on a deeper level. Everyone uniquely prepared their scene, some groups just acted out the text, and others rewrote it so it would be easier to understand. In the end, everyone saw a visualised version of the complete book and class discussions became easy as we were part of the preparation process and had the ambition to learn and understand the German classic.  Another task my English teacher in Years 11 and 12 continuously gave us was writing about the books and texts we had to read. The Importance of Being Earnest? “Please choose one of the following characters and write a letter from their perspective. What would they write about? Who would they address the letter to? What emotions would they show and what tone do you have to use?” Walkabout? “Imagine being one of the siblings and writing about your thoughts and emotions” Ready Player One? “Rewrite the ending. What would you like to add to it or cut out?” Shakespeare’s Sonnets? “Rewrite your chosen poem using a language register you would use among your peers.”

And there are many more opportunities to create an interactive learning environment when talking about fan and participatory culture which might help motivate students.

Are you a bookworm or a book dragon? Maybe both? Do you collect several editions of a book? What is your favourite special edition? Have you ever created fanart? What do you think about participatory culture?

Lisa A.


Libraries were full of ideas—perhaps the most dangerous and powerful of all weapons.”- Sarah J. Maas, Throne of Glass

In the summer of 2021, I stumbled across my first TikTok from BookTok showing all of the creator’s 5-star ratings of the year. Among them were A Court of Thorns and Roses, A Court of Mist and Fury, Throne of Glass and Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood. Half of the video talked about books by Sarah J Maas which intrigued me. While looking at several videos of what her fans call the Maasverse, a video with book quotes finally convinced me to read her Romantasy series ACOTAR, thinking it would be my only project. Back then, I did not know that it would become my favourite book series and that I’d take on a 16+ book commitment. One video introduced a simple name that would change my reading attitude. 

Today, in honour of the 38th birthday of the American writer Sarah Janet Maas, I would like to introduce her most famous book series.

A Court of Thorns and Roses

ACOTAR is an ongoing book series with 4 novels and one novella. The story follows the 19-year-old Feyre Archeron, a huntress and the only provider of her father and two older sisters Nesta and Elain, who live in poverty in the woods close to the magic wall separating the human from the fae world. In her desperation to find food, Feyre goes out to the woods to hunt a deer when she comes across a wolf which she suspects to be a faerie, a species she as well as her family and the other people of the village, hate. When the creature attacks the deer she is about to shoot, Feyre decides to use her ash arrow on the big wolf. A day later, her suspicions about the wolf being a faerie come true when a golden beast tears down her family’s door demanding his payment for the faerie’s death. Feyre is given a choice: die now or come to Prythian, the fae land, and live there with him, her family being spared from further punishments. With this, the youngest Archeron daughter’s adventure through the courts of Prythian and her eventual love story begins. 

Throne of Glass

Throne of Glass is an 8-book finished series following Celaena Sardothien, a professional assassin who got arrested and put into a slave camp for murder after a failed task. After an early release from the prison, she finds herself summoned to the king’s castle to compete for her freedom. If she bests 23 other assassins she wins her freedom back and becomes the king’s personal assassin, if she fails she will be sent back to the camp and be imprisoned for the rest of her life.

If you decide to read Throne of Glass, I recommend looking up the different orders to read in. Another important note, one that makes the series rather special is the possibility of a tandem read of Empire of Storms and Tower of Dawn. It is an optional way to read both books but I thought it to be a great reading experience.

Crescent City

Bryce Quinlan, a young half-fae half-human woman from Crescent City is what people describe to be the typical party girl, going out, drinking and taking magical drugs while also maintaining her job. Her life takes a drastic turn when one night she returns to her apartment to find her best friend and her pack of wolves dead, killed by a dangerous demon. Two years later Bryce is appointed to help Hunt Athalar, an enslaved fallen angel, to investigate her friend’s murder as a series of similar killings have occurred throughout the city. Quinlan uses this chance to avenge her friends and together with Hunt save the city. 

For many people on BookTok starting one of Maas’ book series is a commitment to the whole Maasverse. Her precise world-building led to many fan theories of connected universes. Her most recent book Crescent City: House of Flame and Shadow confirmed those theories by offering a crossover with characters from later ACOTAR novels. So only reading one series, Crescent City, for example, might not be enough to understand the story’s complexity. With this, it becomes a commitment. 

Today, reading Sarah J. Maas has become a bit easier as her publishing dates have decreased with her building a family life, however, until 2018 she published one to two books every year, so keeping up was not an uneasy task.

(Note the age rating for each novel- young adult to adult Romantasy!)

My Favourite Quotes:

  • “Don’t feel bad for one moment about doing what brings you joy” (ACOTAR, p.172)
  • “To the stars who listen and the dreams that are answered” (ACOMAF, p. 249)
  • “Only you decide what breaks you” (ACOMAF, p.)
  • “Be glad of your human heart, Feyre. Pity those who don’t feel anything at all” (ACOTAR, p. 414)
  • “Don’t let the hard days win” (ACOMAF, p.178)
  • “You could rattle the stars. You could do anything if only you dared. And deep down, you know it too. That’s what scares you most” (ToG, p. 399)
  • “We all bear scars,… Mine just happen to be more visible than most” (ToG, p. 305)
  • “Names are not important. It’s what lies inside of you that matters” (ToG, p. 277)
  • “The world [..] will be saved and remade by dreamers” (EoS, p. 248)
  • “Through love, all is possible” (CC1)
  • “Then let the world know that my first act of freedom was to help my friends” (CC1, p. 701)
  • “My friends are with me and I am not afraid” (CC1, p. 703)
  • “Light it up” (CC1, p. 765)
  • “This world could be so much more. This world could be free. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want that” (CC2, p. 193)
  • “A world where people loved and valued books and learning so much that they were willing to die for them. Can you imagine what such a civilisation was like?” (CC3, p. 564)

ACOTAR- A Court of Thorns and Roses

ACOMAF- A Court of Mist and Fury

ToG- Throne of Glass

EoS- Empire of Storms

CC1- Crescent City: House of Earth and Blood

CC2- Crescent City: House of Sky and Breath

CC3- Crescent City: House of Flame and Shadow

Lisa A.


On January 3, 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Growing up in poverty and already having to grieve his parents at the young age of 12, his childhood did not seem to be an easy one. Regardless of this series of unfortunate events Tolkien successfully graduated from Oxford University and secured his employment as a Second Lieutenant in the British Army. 

However, it is not just his biography that makes his persona so important but his literary works that are still immensely popular today. 

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

  • Lord of the Rings is a book series most people have probably heard about, if not even read it themselves, or watched the movies. Its trailblazer The Hobbit was originally a children’s book published in 1937, however, the story world grew enormously and a high fantasy world emerged. 

Leaf by Niggle

  • This is one of Tolkien’s short stories that is not as well known as the Lord of the Rings franchise. The character Niggle is an artist, however, the part of society he resides in does not appreciate art in any way. Because of this, he only paints for his own pleasure, and he took on the big project of painting a great tree. The work starts with a single leaf and grows around it. Because of his good character, he takes time off his work to help his neighbour, unfortunately, while doing so, he falls ill. Due to this, he is sent on a journey as a gardener to a forest. He discovers that this forest is the one he had painted all along and the tree he sees in real life is the perfected version of his flawed painting. 

Further Recommendations

  • The Silmarillion (1977)
  • Unfinished Tales (1980)
  • Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics (1936)
  • The Rings of Power (dir. J.A. Bayona, 2022)

Lisa A.


Christmas is right around the corner and to get into the right spirit I annually circle back to many Christmas-themed books, poems, movies/ series and songs before the holidays. Today, I would like to share my personal favourites with you. 

Music:

Many Christmas songs are played throughout December, among them radio classics such as Merry Christmas Everyone by Shakin’ Stevens (1984), All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey (1994), and Last Christmas by WHAM! (1984). 

While I do enjoy these songs a lot, I tend to go back to more classical songs from my childhood in a choir with songs such as the German classics Maria Durch Ein Dornwald Ging or O Tannenbaum, du trägst ein grünes Kleid or the song O Holy Night which was based on a French poem. Two songs I always listen to on repeat are Eta Notsch Swjataja (arr. Füting, 2015) and Shchedryk.

Shchedryk might sound unfamiliar, but I am sure that everyone has at least heard of it once. The Ukrainian New Year’s song arranged by Mykola Leontovych in 1916 was originally used in a pre-Christmas spring in Ukraine when the swallows returned after the long winter. By singing these songs, people blessed each other with a good year of harvest. So why do I label it as a Christmas song? In 1922, the Ukrainian song was altered. Peter J. Wilhousky arranged a new English version that is well-known as Carol of the Bells, a popular Christmas song that attracted even more attention with its use in the movie Home Alone (Chris Columbus, 1991). Many people do not know or question the origin of the famous English version, which I believe to be a shame as the story behind the original ritual song and its lyrics are rather interesting. 

Books, Short Stories and Poems:

My last recommendation is not considered one of the classics for Christmas. However, I thought it to be rather interesting. “Journey of the Magi is a poem by the modernist writer T.S. Eliot. It retells the story of the birth of Christ by focusing on one of the magi’s perspectives. As I just mentioned, it is important to note that its author was an influential writer of modernist literature, so typical themes such as alienation and anxiety in an ever-changing world can be found. I think this poem shows another side of Christmas stories that might not be as popular as it can sometimes be hard to understand the meaning behind the words and verses, however, I still think it would be interesting to approach this poem as a literary challenge. 

Movies/ Series:

  • The Family Stone (dir. Thomas Bezucha, 2005)
  • Love Actually (dir. Richard Curtis, 2003)
  • The Grinch (dir. Ron Howard, 2000)
  • Santa Clause (dir. John Pasquin, 1995)
  • Dash & Lily (Joe Tracz, 2020)
  • Three Wishes for Cinderella (dir. Václav Vorlíček, 1973)

Here are some Christmas traditions and activities that I have enjoyed over the years.

  • Feuerzangenbowle (dir. Helmut Weiss, 1944): Every year, a couple of days before Christmas, my whole family gets together to watch the German movie while having the actual drink. While this is an activity catering to the family’s adults, the children can enjoy their hot apple juice from authentic cups as well. Even though their drinks cannot be prepared the same way, they are always fascinated by the Feuerzangenbowle, prepared with a sugar cone on fire on top of the mug. This became a rather important tradition in my hometown as many families, neighbourhood clubs and even our university started to organize Feuerzangenbowle nights in the days before Christmas.
  • Silly Christmas Pictures: Ugly Christmas Sweaters, DIY Christmas-themed headbands, recreating Christmas movie scenes as pictures
  • Mince Pie Movie Marathons: During my time in England, I was introduced to many traditions from the UK. One that stuck with me was our Mince Pie Fridays. It is not an official tradition but a thing my family enjoyed a lot, it was a great way to introduce Christmas into a stressful week. Every Friday, after work and school, we would meet at home, prepare British Mince Pies and watch Christmas movies together. It was a great way to combine bonding time, relaxation and Christmas. 
  • Christmas Crackers: They are an English must-have for Christmas, children can enjoy the little gifts inside.

Merry Christmas!

Lisa A.


Nothing is impossible to a determined woman,” said Louisa May Alcott, a famous American author and feminist. This quote shows how Alcott challenged the gender roles of her time and was determined to change the narrative of women through literature. 

Today, exactly 191 years ago, the female writer was born and in honour of her special day, I would like to talk about women in the 1860s with a special outlook on one of her most famous novels, Little Women

Alcott was an early American feminist and did not try to hide her opposition to the image and expectations of women at the time. Before taking a closer look at her novel, I would like to lead with some historical context. The society of America’s middle class was generally organised in two spheres- the public sphere for men and the private sphere for women. For women, this life in a private sphere meant that they primarily stayed at home, did chores and looked after the children, they were expected to lead an authority-guided domestic life away from the active public sphere. This division of gender roles also stressed the importance of women getting married and having children to look after, this was considered to be their main focus. Furthermore, there are other constrictions just like the lack of voting rights or not being able to own land. If women desired to work, they were only allowed to do so in the domestic sector such as jobs such as housekeeping, cooking, sewing or as midwives. 

Louisa May Alcott’s children’s and coming-of-age novel introduces the March sisters who grew up in poverty while still maintaining the image of a well-off and upper-class mannered family, as they have lost their fortune. The four sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy are raised in a quiet town by their mother, while their father is away serving in the Civil War. The book follows them on their journey from being children to becoming women of society, where they are confronted with societal norms that are put onto women at that time, each sister experiencing this differently. 

Alcott herself was not interested in a sole marriage plot and rather had her characters find themselves and show a development of independence, whether it is the independence of choice just like Mag who decides that she wants to get married, or Jo who has the ambition to write and publish her written works. Did you know that these aspects and the general story of Little Women were loosely inspired by Alcott’s own life by integrating her own and her family’s childhood memories? The most obvious connection is the character Jo. Just like Jo, Louisa May grew up as a tomboy with a passion for writing and a dream of publishing. These ambitions and wishes did not correlate with the expectations of women of her upbringing at that time, however, she did not let it discourage her and attempted to defy society’s rules to reach her goals. This shows her strong-willed character full of determination for a future where women could live as freely as they like and not be reduced to marriage and childbearing. 

Lastly, I would like to give you a list of my favourite works when it comes to feminist literature.

  • Circe by Madeline Miller
  • The Women Men Don’t See by James Tiptree Jr.
  • The Maiden by Kate Foster
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Pandora’s Jar by Natalie Haynes
  • The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Lisa A.


“The World always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before” is a popular quote from the British writer Neil Gaiman and I believe that every time Gaiman contributes to the literary world, exactly that happens. While his name might not immediately sound familiar, most people have read, watched or heard of at least one of his works. 

Today, in honour of his birthday, I would like to talk about one of his older works recently attracting a large audience. Neil Gaiman is well-known for his graphic novels as he introduced a completely new way of looking at comics, he worked with a new subgenre- the dark fantasy/ horror comics. However, he does not only publish comics but also very well-written fantasy novels such as Good Omens. The novel has already been published in 1990, his early years of being credited as an author, and is a collaboration with Terry Pratchett. In 2019 and 2023 Amazon released two seasons of a series under the same name. The story follows the Demon Crowley and the Angel Aziraphale who attempt to prevent the end of the world- the Armageddon. The chain of events leading to the end of the world is introduced in a satanic order of nuns where the son of Satan is supposed to be switched at birth to a mortal human family. Due to some unfortunate events, the switch does not happen as planned and the set plan for Armageddon 11 years later is challenged. 

Generally, Good Omens is a satirical fantasy and comedy novel about religious themes such as the biblical Apocalypse, portraying the Antichrist as one of the main characters and introducing the Four Horsemen from the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. In its religious takes, the novel also looks at the theme of Good and Evil. The most obvious images here are Crowley, as the symbol of evil, and Aziraphale, as the symbol of good. But throughout the story many lines between good and evil get rather blurry- Crowley also has good characteristics and does good deeds, while Aziraphale is not as pure as an Angel is expected to be, both show that no one can be either good or evil, there are always choices that determine a direction but elements of the respective side will always be present. 

Unfortunately, only season 1 of the show follows the original novel’s storyline and plot, so if you have been a big fan of season 2 you will not be able to read about its events in the book. Nevertheless, I would recommend reading Gaiman and Pratchett’s book as it is a humorous and enthralling read and, if you are familiar with the show, it is also rather interesting to see how the book came to life in the Amazon adaptation.

Further Book Recommendations:

  • American Gods (Novel)
  • The Sandman (Comic Book Series)
  • Coraline (Novella)
  • The Graveyard Book (Graphic Novel)

Movie/Series Recommendations:

  • Good Omens (BBC and Amazon Studios, 2019)
  • Coraline (dir. Henry Selick, 2009)
  • Sandman (Netflix Series, 2022)
  • Stardust (dir. Matthew Vaughn, 2007)
  • American Gods (dir. Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, Amazon 2017-21)

Fun Facts:

  • Did you know that the TV series Lucifer has loosely adopted the character of the Devil portrayed in Gaiman’s comic book series The Sandman?
  • In 2006 an album with a collection of songs by various artists was released. Each song was inspired by Neil Gaiman and his literary works. The album is called “Where’s Neil When You Need Him?”

Event Recommendation:

On November 20, 2023, Neil Gaiman will appear in the British Library for the event “Why We Need Fantasy: Neil Gaiman in Conversation”. The event will also be live streamed and the recordings are available online for a week. The event and the online stream are not free and require tickets, pricing from £3.25-16. If you are interested in this event you will find further information through the link below. 

https://www.neilgaiman.com/where/details.php?id=351

Lisa A.


The days are getting shorter, the sky darker and the weather colder- the long and sunny summer is over and the season of autumn begins. When I think about autumn, I think about pumpkins, cosy sweaters, scarecrows, long walks through landscapes full of paths of orange and yellow leaves and most importantly, curling up with a cup of tea and my favourite books,  TV shows or movies. The spooky season, which begins on October 1st, leads up to a day full of spooky fun, scary movies and maybe even trick-or-treating, but personally, a major event, that has been very dear to me since childhood, is choosing different books and poems to read during this time, literature that represents the atmosphere of Halloween, texts that are scary or just have themes that are a bit darker than my usual reads.

One of the works I annually circle back to is Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven”. Poe is a classic example of Gothic Literature, a genre that portrays a rather haunted and dark aesthetic- a perfect read for this season.  The Raven portrays two main presences, the unnamed narrator who is alone, distracting himself from the grief of losing his lover, and the supernatural element of a talking raven that suddenly taps on the window in the middle of the night. From the beginning, the narrator shows hope that Lenore, his lost love, has finally returned to him or that the afterlife will eventually grant them to see each other again. However, the raven’s presence immediately takes these hopes away by simply saying “Nevermore”, which is also the only word it uses throughout the poem. As a result of this loss of love, the hopelessness that comes with this grief haunts him and he drives himself into madness. While it might not seem like a poem fit for the sentiment of Halloween, Poe creates a haunting and even frightening atmosphere by writing about the grief of losing loved ones and never really overcoming this, never being able to let go and living a life full of uncertainty and pain that, in the worst case, can lead to madness. 

But Poe’s poem is already over 100 years old so it might not be an immediate choice of poetry for many people. But what if it can be connected to a more contemporary work, one that attracts a younger audience in the form of film? Last November the Netflix Series Wednesday debuted and it was obvious that it quickly became a fan-favourite. The basic summary is that Wednesday Adams is sent to a boarding school called ‘Nevermore Academy’, learns to use her slowly developing psychic abilities and discovers shocking secrets along the way. One thing that sounds familiar here, next to the well-known Addams family, is “Nevermore Academy”, a name that correlates to the raven’s message in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem. Yet, it is not only the school’s name that draws a connection to Poe and his literary work, as the whole series references him quite a lot- it has become a returning theme, a theme connected to admiration.

Did you know that the Netflix series Wednesday has such close ties with Edgar Allan Poe? Did you draw the connection between The Raven and the Nevermore Academy? Can you find any other references throughout the season? (Clue: There are 8 major ones!)

Further Recommendation:

Wednesday is not the only show that makes use of the famous gothic writer, as “The Fall of the House of Usher”, a popular drama miniseries from 2023, is based on one of Poe’s short stories of the same name. 

Next to that, the movie The Pale Blue Eye makes use of his actual person and follows Detective Landor on his investigation of a series of murders with the help of a cadet at West Point who turns out to be Edgar Allan Poe.

Lisa A.