Lunch boxes bring measured dose of cuteness, fiction to campus

If you have been on campus recently you may have noticed the Hello Kitty™ lunch boxes sitting upright and open around campus. If you have not been on campus recently, there may be publications better suited to your interests, though the attention is certainly flattering.

The flashy red and black tins are holding copies of “A Tale for the Time Being,” the latest work of contemporary novelist Ruth Ozeki. On April 2, the author will be making a tour stop at Swarthmore, where she will attend classes, eat lunch with students in said classes, and then do a book reading and signing.

The lunch boxes are vehicles of a project, officially named SWATREADS Pop-Up Libraries, intended to use bright book covers and shiny metal as an effective way to draw attention to the novel as well as the event. The choice of lunch box is in reference to the novel, which features a similar item in an important role.

Ozeki’s book is currently being read in four classes in both the English Literature and Environmental Studies departments.

Using funds from Henry Edelman, a parent of an alum and frequent donor to the projects of English Literature faculty on campus, the department has sought to extend the book’s reach past those classes.

The money has been used to purchase and distribute 70 books and 10 super cute lunch boxes around campus. The books are accompanied by a social initiative to engage readers with the text by having people write their comments on cards as “marginal notes” or tweet — because that’s all the youth of America does nowadays or whatever — using the hashtag #swatreads.

On the space beside each lunch box is a map of the locations of the other lunch boxes. Putting them there might have been a bit counterintuitive, but it is fun regardless to see Kitty White (the official name for the feline protagonist of Hello Kitty™ that I found in my extensive research for this hard-hitting piece) plastered around campus. It is the same face on the back of every lunch box, matching a speech bubble that reads “I [heart] NERDS.” Maybe there is something to be said on the cultural implications of the drift in usage of “nerd” — who do you think that, at the end of the day, she really loves? Joking, of course, but that sentence made this page easier to lay out.

The project has been accompanied by clever mass emails from the English Literature department and is by design impossible to speak negatively about. All of the books have been taken out, but keep an eye out for them in order to be prepared for Ruth Ozeki’s visit in April.

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