Brilliant junkies

Distractify offers us:
20 Of History’s Most Brilliant Minds And Their Drug Of Choice

Lots of famous names here: Vincent van Gogh – Absinthe and Digitalis, Sigmund Freud – cocaine, Francis Crick – LSD, Carl Sagan – Marijuana, Benjamin Franklin – Opiates….

Charles Dickens – Opium
Charles Dickens

When this famous author walked its streets, London was rife with opium dens. He even described them in his final unfinished work, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Dickens, like many other famous names of the Victorian era, was addicted to an opium tincture known as laudanum for many years and used the drug heavily right up to the time of his death (by massive stroke).

 

Read the whole story HERE

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Books for a Better Planet!
9 Earth-Friendly Reads for Kids
Earth friendlyIllustration: Elizabeth Graeber

Kids appreciate our planet and her precious resources when they can feel, touch, and see the natural world, Melissa Taylor writes at Brightly.

Even when they’re not outside, kids can still expand their understanding of nature through books that celebrate the wonders of the world around them. Here are some great children’s books that facilitate a love and stewardship of planet Earth.

For example:

Trees for kids

Celebritrees: Historic and Famous Trees of the World, by Margi Preus, illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon:

Did you know there’s a hollow oak tree in France that’s used as a chapel?

Or that Robin Hood and his men used a specific tree in England (an oak tree) as a hiding place?

 

 

Read the whole story HERE

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How to Turn Down a Marriage Proposal Like Charlotte Brontë

At Brain Pickings, Maria Popova tells us about “the bold defiance of oppressive gender ideals, packaged as the ultimate it’s-not-you-it’s-me gentle letdown.”

hell hath no fury

From Hell Hath No Fury: Women’s Letters from the End of the Affair (public library)

Anna Holmes’s magnificent collection spanning centuries of missives, which also gave us Simone de Beauvoir’s exquisite breakup letter and this moving breakup moment from the Vietnam War — comes an outstanding contribution to the genre from none other than Charlotte Brontë (April 21, 1816–March 31, 1855).

 

 

Read the whole story HERE

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QUIZ – How well do you know rewritten classics?

From Shakespeare to Jane Austen, new fiction is often spun off from old stories, Harriet Mallinson reminds us at The Guardian, and asks such questions as:

What was the title of Jane Smiley’s modernisation of King Lear, set on a farm in Iowa in the 20th century?

Take the quiz HERE

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THIS ‘n THAT

18 Literary Maps of the US states

At Mental Floss, Caitlin Schneider reports that The Library of Congress’ Language of the Land exhibit collects bookish state maps that chart the regions and the writers who loved them.
e.g.
indianaSee all the maps HERE

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Quote of the day
QUOTE Nietzche~~~~~
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Library or bookstore?

DutchLiibrary1Facing declining visitors and uncertainty about what to do about it, library administrators in in the Netherlands did something extraordinary, Cat Johnson writes at Dailygood.org.Dutch Library2They tossed out traditional methods of library organization and now group books by areas of interest, combining fiction and nonfiction. They display books face-out to catch the eye of browsers; and they train staff members in marketing and customer service techniques.

Read the whole story HERE

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I just got a 5-star rating for Random, first book in The Were Chronicles, from … a reader in NORWAY?

I’m delighted, of course, but not a little flabbergasted. How did my book find its way there…?

In any event, thank you, Norwegian Reader. I’m glad you like it. And, oh, if you’re seeing this at all… book 2, Wolf, will be out next month.

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‘Hovel’ Hotels: A Hippie’s Alternative

HovelStay is sort of like a “rebel” alternative to AirBnB and the world of online marketplaces for local host accommodation, MessyNessy reports.

None of their offbeat listings are over $99 per night and there are some real surprise gems to be discovered on this quirky site, categorized by “Survivor Hovels”, “Good enough” and “Clean & comfortable”. HovelStay’s message to the world is that you can experience adventure anywhere on a shoestring budget. Call it travelling like a hippie.

Take, for example:
Bosnia Forest CabinForest Cabin in a remote Artist’s Community, Bosnia, $16 a night

The small dream of Borislav Jankovic of creating a small art gallery, painting studio in the middle of the forest. Today Zelenkovac is basically a small Eco Area providing its visitors with Bungalows for accommodation, freshly cooked food and a bar to suit everyone’s pleasure.

Read the whole story HERE

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The best travel quotes of all time, from The Telegraph.oxfordTake Oxford, for example

“I was a modest, good-humoured boy. It is Oxford that has made me insufferable.” ~ Sir Max Beerbohm, 1899

“Oxford has always produced the finest second-class brains in the world.” ~ Leo Pavia, 1940

Read the whole story HERE

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Strong womenReviewers and readers often remark on my strong female protagonists. Hell, I once wrote a novel with nine of them.

Jarry Lee of BuzzFeed offers us a look at 29 other books, from Jane Eyre to Dealing With Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Read the whole story HERE

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THIS ‘n THAT

John Acuff explains: “Why I fell back in love with bookstores”

There was never a moment where we walked away from each other. But I did get distracted. If I’m honest, I did have eyes for another. Who?

The Internet….But, in 15 years of non-stop online connection, I’ve learned something surprising. The more time I spend online, the more I realize face-to-face interaction matters the most.

Read the whole story HERE

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Quote of the DayQUOTE Pasternak~~~~~
Alma Alexander    My books    Email me

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Unlikeable? Really?

Blogger Jamie offers her:

“Top Ten Books For Readers Who Like Not-So-Easy-To-Like Characters”

I see a lot of discussion in book reviews and online about unlikeable characters…so often they are talking about a character that I LOVED. I love my characters genuinely flawed and especially in YA I see so much of my high school self in them. Slut-shamer? Bitchy? Maker of horrendous decisions at times? Selfish? Standoffish? HARD TO LIKE? YEPPP. That was me….

Falling into PlaceFalling Into Place by Amy Zhang:

This was a novel FULL of unlikeable characters basically. Like SO HARD TO HANDLE SOMETIMES.

But the way the layers peeled off throughout the course of the book…WOW. I bawled.

Read the whole story HERE

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A New ‘Wrinkle in Time’

A Wrinkle in TimeMadeleine L’Engle with granddaughters Charlotte, left, and Léna, circa 1976. Photo: Crosswicks, Ltd.

Madeleine L’Engle’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ has sold 14 million copies since its publication in 1962. Now, a never-before-seen passage cut from an early draft is shedding surprising light on the author’s political philosophy.

Read the whole story HERE

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A hard truth

Authors earn less than the minimum wage

More than 200 years after Samuel Johnson asserted that “no man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money”, a survey of UK’s authors has found that many make nothing at all from their writing, Alison Flood reports in The Guardian.
keyboardPhotograph: Kacper Pempel/Reuters

Philip Pullman, president of the Society of Authors, condemned the findings as a disgrace. “In the past ten years, while publishers’ earnings have remained steady, the incomes of those on whom they entirely depend have diminished, on average, by 29%…While Amazon makes earnings of indescribable magnitude by selling our books for a fraction of their value, and then pays as little tax as it possibly can, the authors whose work subsidises this gargantuan barbarity are facing threats to their livelihood from several directions…

Read the whole story HERE

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Huxley vs Orwell in Graphic Form by Stuart McMillen

We may be a little on this one,” Juxtapoz Art and Culture magazine says, “but we saw this graphic novel/comic strip today that compares the future predictions of Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ to George Orwell’s ‘1984.’ It is pretty damn clever if  you ask us.”

Indeed – and CHILLING.
Huxley vs OrwellSee the whole graphic HERE

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Creative Courage for Young Hearts

15 picture books celebrating the great artists, writers, and scientists are selected by Maria Popova at Brain Pickings, including:

Jane Goodall, Julia Child, Pablo Neruda, Marie Curie, e.e. Cummings, Albert Einstein, Ella Fitzgerald, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Frida Kahlo, and more.

Pablo NerudaNobel laureate Pablo Neruda was not only one of the greatest poets in human history, but also a man of extraordinary insight into the human experience and the creative impulse — take, for instance, his remarkable reflection on what a childhood encounter taught him about why we make art, quite possibly the most beautiful metaphor for the creative impulse ever committed to paper.

His story and spirit spring alive in Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People (public library) by writer Monica Brown, with absolutely stunning illustrations and hand-lettering by artist Julie Paschkis.

See all the books HERE

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Helen Keller listens to music
Helen Keller 'listens' to radio
In March of 1924 Helen Keller, blind and deaf, wrote the following letter to the New York Symphony Orchestra describing how she listened to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony over the radio.

“I spent a glorious hour last night listening over the radio to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony ….someone suggested that I put my hand on the receiver and see if I could get any of the vibrations…What was my amazement to discover that I could feel, not only the vibration, but also the impassioned rhythm, the throb and the urge of the music! …The great chorus throbbed against my fingers with poignant pause and flow. Then all the instruments and voices together burst forth – an ocean of heavenly vibration – and (ended) in a delicate shower of sweet notes…there I sat, feeling with my hand the magnificent symphony which broke like a sea upon the silent shores of his soul and mine.”

Read the whole letter HERE

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THIS ‘n THAT
Vanishing ActIMAGE: Family photographs of Barbara Newhall Follett. Via Farksolia.

The fascinating story of a writer who stormed the literary world with a novel written when she was 12 and several years later vanished forever.

Read the whole story HERE

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Quote of the day
QUOTE Helen Keller~~~~~
Alma Alexander      My books      Email me   

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I will walk with you…

When I was a little girl one in my family’s extensive collection of 45 rpm singles — remember those? turntables? vinyl? — was a record of Grieg’s Peer Gynt suite.

I’ve always loved that entire set of music – The Hall of the Mountain King, Anitra’s Dance, the Morning Mood air – but my particular favorite has always been Solveig’s Song. It touched some part of me that I could not, when that young, properly articulate, and did not even know why back then – understanding came well after I first heard the piece of music, and actually read the Ibsen play.

The epiphany explaining that bittersweet, noble, pure, high-minded *joy* of Grieg’s music came when I read the exchange between a remorseful, grieving, bereft Peer Gynt to Solveig, his lady, his love, and he cries out to her, in his anguish, “when have I ever been all I can be,  when have I ever been entitled to call myself honest, true, a *man*?”

She answers, “In my faith. In my hope. In my understanding.”

That piece of absolution rang for me like a bell.

What it means is simply this: it is human to blunder, it is human to make mistakes, it is human to be afraid. But if you are brave enough and honest enough to admit to these human flaws, then there is faith, and hope, and understanding.

In the aftermath of the Hugo drama unfolding this year, writer Vonda McIntyre just wrote a short note which put Solveig’s words into a certain context.

It may not be pure understanding – it is certainly not implied that there is, or will be, complete acceptance – but she is offering herself as a buffer between anyone who is afraid, and all the shadows which are starting  to look as though they might haunt the halls of this year’s Worldcon.

Here’s what Vonda McIntyre said:

“I will walk with you at Worldcon.

I’m not very fond of confrontation. I’m a courtesy 5’1? and my 67th birthday (how did that happen?!) is just after the convention and I’m walking with a hiking pole while recovering from a hiking fall, an injury that’s taking way longer to heal than when I was a pup.

On the other hand I’m a shodan in Aikido.

On the third hand, which I can have because I’m an SF writer, shodan — first degree black belt — is when you realize how much you still have to learn.

But I’m thinking that maybe it would make folks who feel threatened feel a little safer to have someone at their side, maybe even someone with a bunch o’ fancy ribbons fluttering from her name badge, even if that person is shorter, smaller, and older than they are, white-haired and not physically prepossessing. It’s another person’s presence.

It might cause some abuse not to happen.”
~~~
I am no less scared by some of those shadows than the next vulnerable con-goer – but if my presence will help someone else walk a little taller past a threatening shadow in some dark corner, I am stepping up with the same words.

I will walk with you at Worldcon.

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VB RandomA Random treat

“Books are great, no question,” my favorite local bookstore, Village Books, says. “But books signed by the author? Now that’s some exceptional reading material right there.”

My Random, Book 1 of The Were Chronicles, is featured here. If you haven’t read it, hurry up. Book 2, Wolf, is coming out next month.

Order Random from Village Books HERE

Or go to MY BOOKS in the masthead menu above for more options, including the chance to pre-order Wolf.

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Or don’t forget your library. And if they don’t have a copy of Random, ask why not?

The Best Books about Libraries and Librarians

At Off the Self, Caitlin Kleinschmidt  offers some intriguing books in time for National Library Week.

One you might not put in this category until you think about it…

Time Traveler's WifeThe Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger:

This untraditional love story is the tale of Henry DeTamble, a dashing adventuresome librarian who inadvertently travels through time, and Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course.

Their passionate affair tests the strength of fate and basks in the bonds of love.

 

 

Read the whole story HERE

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25 Beverly Cleary Book Covers on her 99th Birthday

Beverly Cleary book covers are classics, Alison Nastasi writes at Flavorwire.

Often, there was nothing more exciting than getting a new Cleary book and seeing what kind of young adult dramas were playing out on the page, lovingly illustrated by artists like Louis Darling and Alan Tiegreen. The Newbery Medal-winning author celebrates her 99th birthday today. We’re honoring Cleary’s memorable characters — Ramona Quimby, Beezus, Ralph S. Mouse, and friends — with a look back at some of the best vintage book covers.
socksRead the whole story HERE

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Writing a great female character

Justine Graykin blogged some sterling writing adice:

In a recent discussion, a fellow writer said, “This is how to create a good female character: Write a good character. Add female pronouns.”

Brilliant.
pronounsAnd I say, ‘Amen.’

Read the whole story HERE

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THIS ‘n THAT

I can finally go into space.

The International Space Station Finally Gets an Espresso Machine, and It’s Called ‘ISSPresso’

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Quote of the Day
QUOTE Words you speak~~~~~
Alma Alexander     My books     Email me

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RIVER

RiverRivers have always been very important to humankind, I say in the intro to my anthology, River.

They’ve been called gods. They’ve been blessed and cursed and venerated and used and enjoyed and exploited and polluted since the beginning of recorded history. They’ve been sung about and dreamed about and followed on epic journeys of discovery.

Gypsy Ninja has picked 10 mighty rivers which made the world in what it is today, including MY river, the Danube, on whose banks I was born in a country which no longer exists.

DanubeThe Danube is the most international river basin in the world. It springs in Germany’s romantic Black Forest, travels a total distance of 2850 km (1770 mi.), passing through 10 countries and 4 capital cities. It was an important transport route for medieval Europeans. Throughout most of its history, the Roman Empire held the Danube as its northern border. Before the Romans, the Greeks were navigating the river’s lower reaches. With more recent events like the Main-Danube Canal being built in 1992, the Danube is connected to the Rhine and from there to the North Sea.

Read the whole story HERE

Buy River, the anthology, HERE

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You’ve read how many?
How manyBuzzFeed

So little time, so much to read, Michelle Regna says in introducing this list at BuzzFeed.

It’s not a definitive list — it doesn’t even have one of mine, for example — but a neat quiz nevertheless. How did you do?

Read the whole story HERE

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29 Surreal Places In America You Need To Visit Before You Die

If you live in the U.S., Arielle Calderon says at Buzzfeed, you don’t need a passport to see what mother nature has to offer.
TulipsRuthChoi / shutterstock.com
Skagit Valley Tulip Fields, Washington

This is one place I know well. It is only a few miles from my home and I have scores of photos like this one.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to the tulip fields between April 1–30 to see these gorgeous flowers in bloom. The festival is designed as a driving tour since there is no one designated “site”.

See all the remarkable places HERE

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Elves and Dragons Doing a Fantastic Job of Protecting Iceland’s Environment
Elves Hill
Originally Icelanders used mythological creatures as a way to deter people from coming to their island, now they protect it, Sola Agustsson writes at AlterNet.

 

Read the whole story HERE

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Nasa’s Curiosity rover finds water below surface of Mars

New measurements from the Gale crater contradict theories that the planet is too cold for liquid water to exist, Hannah Devlin reports at The Guardian.
water on mars
The Curiosity rover is currently ascending Mount Sharp, in the centre of the Gale crater.
Illustration: Stocktrek Images, Inc./Alamy

Prof Andrew Coates, head of planetary science at the Mullard Space, said: “The evidence so far is that any water would be in the form of permafrost. It’s the first time we’ve had evidence of liquid water there now.””

Read the whole story HERE

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Quote of the day

A child who reads will be an an adult who thinks.

A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s
story in the slightest.” ~ C.S. Lewis

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Alma Alexander      My books      Email me   

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Turning 90

Today marks the 90th anniversary of Scribner’s publication of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby.

The Great Gatsy“During my junior year of high school,” Kara Watson writes at Off the Shelf, “my English teacher spent several weeks preparing us for the honor of reading The Great Gatsby….Chapter by chapter, sentence by sentence, he dazzlingly brought Fitzgerald’s book to life, and for the first time I grasped the link between literature and society and learned firsthand how an excellent teacher can change the course of one’s life.”

Here, twelve authors recall their first encounters with Fitzgerald’s classic.

 

Read the whole story HERE

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Jaws!
JawsRay Collins

Ray Collins, The World’s Best Water Photographer

At first glance, these photographs look like looming mountains, standing guard over a dark universe found in a Tolkien novel, Amanda of Lifebuzz says. But look again: These stunning images are actually ocean waves, captured at their peak point of crash by photographer Ray Collins.

See all the photos HERE

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And then there is photographer Clark Little
Wave windowClark Little

Many people know his photos, Lisa Be of LifeBuzz reports, but they don’t know his amazing story. Eight years ago, Clark Little didn’t even own a professional camera. One day he threw a waterproof casing over a cheap camera and went into the ocean to capture a shore break shot when his wife wanted a picture to decorate the bedroom wall.

See more of his photos HERE

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48 Of The Most Beautiful Lines Of Poetry
I have loved the starsSarah Galo / BuzzFeed / Thinkstock

Sarah Galo asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to share their favorite line of poetry with us in honor of National Poetry Month. Here are some of their responses.

From “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou:
“You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.”

From “Funeral Blues” by W.H. Auden:
“He was my North, my South , my East and my West
My working week and my Sunday rest
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever, I was wrong.”

From “Suicide’s Note” by Langston Hughes:
“The calm,
Cool face of the river
Asked me for a kiss.”

See all the choices HERE

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New York hotel inspired by Dewey Decimal System is every bibliophile’s dream
Book lovers never...The luxurious Library Hotel has more than 6,000 books scattered throughout its guest rooms and public spaces. Each floor is dedicated to one of 10 of the Dewey Decimal System’s categories, including history and technology. Every one of the hotel’s 60 rooms is decorated according to a genre or topic within the categories. On the fifth floor – devoted to math and science – guests stay in rooms themed after astronomy and dinosaurs.

Read the whole story HERE

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The One-Book Wonder Phenomenon

The Off the Shelf staff looks at one-book authors. In some cases they started their careers late or their lives were tragically cut short. In other cases, the reasons their output was so limited remains a mystery to this day.

“However, each was a unique and brilliant voice and we can only hope that someone will discover another dusty, long-forgotten manuscript.”

For example:
The Opposite of LonelinessThe Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories
by Marina Keegan

Marina Keegan’s star was on the rise when she tragically died five days after her graduation from Yale. Days later, her deeply moving last essay for The Yale Daily News, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” went viral. Marina left behind a rich and expansive body of work that captures the hope, uncertainty, and possibility of her generation and articulates the universal struggle of figuring out what we aspire to be.

 

Read the whole story HERE

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The 20 Best Books in Translation You’ve Never Read

Chad W. Post, director of Open Letter Books and When Stephen Sparks of Green Apple Books offer some great translated books. Including:

Dolly CityDolly City, Orly Castel-Bloom, translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu (Dalkey Archive Press)

Castel-Bloom’s satire on everything from motherhood to the state of Israel is as scathing as they come. Doctor Dolly, a doctor in name only who practices illegally in her home laboratory, finds a baby in a plastic bag, names him Son and grows increasingly, hysterically concerned about this well-being. It might not help you understand the political situation in Israel, but it’ll give you an idea of its insanity.

 

Read the whole story HERE

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THIS ‘n THAT

Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL and founder of The Mission Continues, gave a reading for his latest book “Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life,” while in the sky on a Southwest Airlines flight.

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17 Seattle-area bookstores have teamed up for the Indie Bookstore Challenge in which winning customers will receive year-long 25% discounts. Customers can compete by picking up a bookstore passport from any of the participating stores, then have it stamped at that and the other 16 stores.

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Quote of the Day
QUOTE John-Steinbeck~~~~~
Alma Alexander     My books     Email me

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My God: It’s been 10 years?

A reader in Spain,  Amy P, posted this note on Goodreads about my miracle novel, The Secrets of Jin-shei:

Jin-shei SpainCuarta vez que leo este libro y no será la última. Es una historia mágica y preciosa, con unos personajes que se quedan grabados y que te acompañan mucho más allá después de que termines la lectura. Siempre que lo acabo me quedo pensando como habría sido vivir en un mundo así y si sería capaz de afrontar todo lo que conlleva ser parte de un círculo jin-shei.  

(Google translation)

Fourth time I read this book and will not be the last. It is a magical and beautiful story, with characters that are recorded and accompany you much further after you finish reading. Whenever I am thinking just as it would have been like to live in such a world and if I could handle everything that comes with being part of a jin – shei circle.

It’s been more than ten years since The Secrets of Jin-shei was published (in 13 languages, so far) and distributed around the world. It achieved, to my delight and utter surprise, best seller status in Spain.

And reviews are still trickling in.

This is a novel of 200,000 words which was written at white heat in the space of less than three months. It was in SO MANY WAYS a special book. And to see – and know – that it is still being read and loved all these years later… that it is one of those recurring-favorite books to which devoted readers return again and again for a re-read…that it is loved, and cherished, and treasured…

…well…

…all I can say is, to every reader out there who has ever picked up a child of my heart that wanders the world, the story tucked between its covers and waiting to be (re)discovered…

…the writer thanks you.

And every time a reader writes a review like this, an angel gets his wings, and a writer somewhere finds the strength and courage and joy to go on telling the stories that clamor to be told.

Amy P.’s review HERE

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BTW, I am currently reading the proofs for Wolf, the second book in The Were Chronicles, coming out in the spring. The cover is not quite as colorful as Random, but it is quite striking.
Wolf, The Were ChroniclesJazz’s brother Mal is the star of the second book. He is my favorite character in the series, dark, conflicted and capable of extraordinary things. I hope you like him as much as I do.

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All About Madness

At Flavorwire, Emily Temple has selected 50 great novels that deal with a kind of literary madness — obsession and absurdity and hallucination. There is Lolita, of course, Jorge Luis Borges’ Collected Fictions, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. And 46 others.

Take, for example,
Endless Love, Scott SpencerEndless Love, Scott Spencer:

A novel that gets about as close to the experience of your first, teenage love as print on paper can possibly get (you know: fantasy, sex, obsession, arson).

Read the whole story HERE

 

 

 

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From madness to crime.

9 Brilliant Books that Will Change How You See True Crime

At Off the Shelf, Caitlin Kleinschmidt admits that she loves true crime. “The greatest examples of the genre provide not only the pleasures of a gripping, whodunit plot, but they are also an examination of complex psychology and civilization when the tranquility of everyday life has been shattered.

She selects her favorites, including:

God'll Cut You DownGod’ll Cut You Down: John Safran, a Jewish Australian documentarian, spent two days in Mississippi with Richard Barrett, a notorious white supremacist, for a film about race.

When Barrett was brutally murdered a year later by a young black man, Safran “realized this was [his] Truman Capote moment” and hightailed it from Melbourne back to Mississippi.

As he became entwined in the lives of those connected with the murder—white separatist frenemies, oddball neighbors, even the killer himself—the more he discovered how complex the truth about someone’s life—and death—can be. This is a brilliant, haunting, hilarious, unsettling story about race, money, sex, and power in the American South from an outsider’s point of view.

Read the whole story HERE

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10 Authors Who Wrote Gritty, Realistic Fantasy Before George R.R. Martin

At io9, Charlie Jane Anders takes a look at several other authors, like Ursula K. Le Guin, of course, Mary Gentle, and Michael Moorcock. For example:

Robin Hobb
Robin HobbHobb’s novel The Assassin’s Apprentice came out in 1995, a year before A Game of Thrones (and George R.R. Martin actually blurbed it, as Hobb blurbed the first edition of Thrones.) And this story of Fitz, a young bastard who’s looked down on and mistreated by everyone — but who secretly gets trained in the ancient art of the assassin — has some obvious parallels to certain aspects of Martin’s storytelling. In particular, Hobb’s willingness to paint a dark and terrible world where virtue isn’t always rewarded, and where horrors — in this case, the Red Ship Raiders that turn their victims into quasi-zombies — lurk just on the edges of the world

Read the whole story HERE

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Quote of the day

Words are valuable and insanely powerful. Words can be used for both good and evil and they should never be used lightly.” ~ Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

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Alma Alexander      My books      Email me   

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The womanless cannon

At Strange Horizons, Kari Sperring writes about Katherine Kurtz.

Matrilines: The Woman Who Made Fantasy

“Kurtz’s debut novel, Deryni Rising, came out from Ballantine Books in 1970,” Sperring writes, “…and it changed the face of modern fantasy.” She uses Kurtz for a springboard into the continuing and vexing problem of women writers being mostly ignored in the cannon.

Katherine KurtzI myself have ALL the Deryni books. ALL of them. Dear GOD I ate them up. These were the kind of books I craved – complex, convoluted, character-driven, immensely detailed, utterly believable, beautifully contextualised – and these were thus the kinds of books I went on to write.

I haven’t heard much about Kurtz in a long time now, to be sure. Erased and sidelined. Some day I should go back to the beginning and re-read the Deryni books, all of them.

Such things bear rediscovery.

 

 

Read all of Sperring’s wonderful essay HERE

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11 Unforgettable First Lines in Literature

If the eyes are the windows to the soul, Off the Shelf says, then the first line is the window to the book.

“A first line can drag you in, shock you, confuse you, or touch you. A first line is what makes you read on. Here are some of our favorite first lines that set the tone for some incredible books.”

For example, what book begins?
“I was not sorry when my brother died.”

Javiar MaríasTsitsi Dangarembga

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Check your answer (or guess) HERE

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Stunning street art tribute to author Terry Pratchett appears in east London
Terry Pratchett
Mural showing Terry Pratchett off Brick Lane (Picture: Ella Finch)

Characters such as the skeletal, dry-humoured Death and inept wizard Rincewind dance across the walls of the Pillow Cinema, The London Evening Standard reports .

Pratchett wrote 40 Discworld and sold more than 85 million books during his lifetime. Now his legacy is set to live on in Brick Lane with reproductions of the original book art by Josh Kirby.

Read the whole story HERE

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“But You Didn’t”

I posted this poem, story and link long long ago in a galaxy…well, I posted it months ago anyway, but it still keeps getting discovered, opened and shared. It is incredibly moving.

The poem was written by an unknown American woman but has now been brought to life through the art of a Chinese cartoonist and shared here on VIRALNOVA. All that’s really known about the poem is the title.
But you didn't
Poem Translated & Illustrated by Chinese Netizen on Sina Weibo

See the whole illustrated poem HERE

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The Book Cover That Judges Readers

On Galley Cat, Dianna Dilworth tells us that Thijs Biersteker has given the idiom, “don’t judge a book by its cover” a new meaning.

The Dutch artist has invented The Cover That Judges You. The book cover is designed to detect how a reader is judging it based on a scan of the reader’s face.
Cover that judges you

If you approach the book, the face recognition system picks up your face and starts scanning it for signs of ‘judgement’. If your face shows a skeptical expression, the book will stay locked. But if your expression is neutral, the book will unlock itself.

Read the whole story HERE

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THIS ‘n THAT

Charlotte’s Web by EB White has been voted the most popular children’s book ever, according to a new survey from BBC.com.

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Top 10 books about reading

Books about books, where literature is integral to life, are a genre in themselves, as terrific titles by authors from Nicholson Baker to Geoff Dyer very readably show.  One example:

The Magician’s Book by Laura Miller: Miller is a book critic for Salon magazine; someone who’s had the good fortune to turn her love of reading into a career. In The Magician’s Book she tells where that love began, in the world of Narnia, and shows how literature can work its spell on a young reader.

Read the whole story HERE

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Quotes of the Day

‘I don’t understand why when we destroy something created by man we call it vandalism, but when we destroy something created by nature we call it progress.’ Ed Begley, Jr.

‘Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.’ Jacques-Yves Cousteau

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Alma Alexander     My books     Email me
 
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Touching 2,000 years

Ishtar_Gate_at_Berlin_Museum“Ishtar Gate at Berlin Museum” by Rictor Norton

2.000 Years Ago in Babylon

In the year Berlin turned 750 years old, I boarded a train in Hamburg bound for West Berlin. It was still very much a divided city, then, with the Berlin Wall an impregnable and deadly barrier. I still remember, vividly, seeing the crosses set up on the fences next to the Wall, in memory of those who tried and failed to escape.

The train started its journey in what was then West Germany, and once it crossed the border into East Germany, it was not allowed to stop until it reached its destination and dumped out its passengers in the enclave that was West Berlin. It was surreal, hurtling through this land that we could only look at through grimy train windows – while the light lasted, and then, when night fell, not at all. We might as well have been on a starship, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

West Berlin was an isolated oasis of western mores and customs, like some odd piece of shattered piece of mirror-glass that glittered like a shard of a jewel set into a grim, grey, utilitarian machine – we are the Borg, you will be assimilated, resistance is futile.

The main drag of West Berlin, the Kurfurstendamm, was a cross between Broadway and Soho and the Champs d’Elysees, brightly lit, full of ads (which included larger-than-life pictures of showgirls wearing feathers and sequins and very little else). It was full of shiny and sleek modern cars – Mercedes, Audi, Volvo, the pricier and very much the upper-bracket versions of those brands. It was full of people, many young, most clearly moneyed, out for a good time. Shops were numerous, not hard to find, well-stocked. It looked and felt like any great Western city…

…and then you looked closer.

Every so often a tour bus would fall silent as the gawping tourists were shocked at the sight of a ghostly ruin, left precisely as was after the bombing of Berlin during World War 2 so that the citizens of this place might remember what had gone before. We were told that a significant percentage of modern Berlin was rebuilt using bricks hand-salvaged from the wreckage of the post-war city – but some of the ruins were left standing, deliberately, in a cold and stern reminder of what horrors the demon of war brings in its wings.

One of the most pointed statements is made by the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, or the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, whose original tower stands beside the modern incarnation of the church like a malevolent spirit, a powerful presence, a shadow on all that Kurfurstendamm lights. Perhaps, in some ways, the young and the beautiful and the well-heeled of the present played as hard as they did – in that brittle and diamond-edged kind of defiance – because they had these old walls standing behind them, there to remind them, to always remind them. These were not ruins of the Roman empire, or something left behind from another century. These walls were cast down within living memory, and the memory still burned.

This entire city, microcosm after microcosm of it, was a museum.

I joined a tourist group for an expedition into East Berlin – we piled into a bus, on a group visa, and were painstakingly counted, and then counted again, and warned over and over and over again not to stray from the group because we were there “on a group visa” and if any one of us was caught wandering off alone we were not covered by that and the tour company could not help us. Somewhat disconcertingly, we were told to have the numbers of our respective embassies or consulates handy, just in case.

These were the days when Checkpoint Charlie was still Checkpoint Charlie and not the Disney ride with a gift shop which it later became.

Our bus was stopped, two East German police officers in grey uniforms and peaked caps and black leather gloves and cold eyes came on, our passports were handed over, and for the next several minutes while we all held our breath each individual passport was scrutinized by each of the two men who’d stare at the passport, then look up and skewer the holder of the passport with a gimlet gaze, then back at the passport, back at the person, several times, until the hapless foreigner began to be really afraid that he might have done something of which he was unaware but that these people might find objectionable – and make life incredibly unpleasant as a consequence. But in the end we all passed muster, and the bus was waved through.

East Berlin was… another world.

Beyond the wall, the streets were narrower, shabbier, more old-world. There were also ruins but in some strange sense these bore more the stamp of “we can’t do anything about this, just leave it there” than the Western idea of “lest we forget”.

The very air smelled different because the cars on this side of the walls were old Trabbies rather than new Mercedes, and probably coughed up more Bad Stuff out of their ramshackle exhausts in an hour than their West Berlin peers did in a month of Sundays. But there was beauty here – the tree-lined old streets, the sense of a slower, older, more restrained world, with the beautiful women who passed in the streets owing their beauty to their skin and their bone structure and their beautiful eyes and not to cosmetics used to enhance them…

Queen Nefertiti…and speaking of beautiful women, our bus was supposed to be heading to the Neues Museum, to feast our eyes upon this.

But it was not to be. Of all the days in all the years, it was on the single day that I was in East Berlin that the Neues Museum was closed – and so I would not be privileged to set eyes on Nefertiti.

We were diverted to the Pergamon Museum instead. I had no idea what to expect, but what I found… made me forget the Egyptian Queen completely. The Pergamon Museum showcased artefacts from atniquity (Greece, Rome, Babylon) but of necessity these tended to be fragments and shards, and not anything complete and whole which could be shown as fulfilling the function it was originally meant to fulfill.

A magnificent achievement

What made the Pergamon unique was that they looked into the artefact and not so much showed it as a ragged and inadequate remnant of something bigger and more glorious… but REIMAGINED it as it must have once looked, should have once looked, performing functions it must once have performed.

This entailed using the fragments that they had and “filling in” the rest of the artefact – a bass relief, a tiled gate – with contemporary materials carefully chosen to complement the original material but not in any way pretend to BE that material. So you were looking at yet another ghost – this one reconstructed – seeing the shape of the fragment which the museum had obtained and then, through and beyond that fragment, getting a glimpse of what the whole original structure must have looked like.

This might sound odd or weird or strange or even unbelievable and disrespectful – how do they dare to tamper with these ancient things in this manner? – until you actuall GET there, and you SEE it, and you realize what a magnificent achievement it all is.

The one thing that still stands out in my memory is the Ishtar Gate, a reconstruction of a tiled gate from ancient Babylon, made, in part, from tiny blue tiles which were MORE THAN TWO THOUSAND YEARS OLD.

This was enough to stop my heart for a moment. I was looking at something made by human hand two millennia ago. It was unbelievable. It was impossible to process. It was… there. Right in front of me.

When I was there, so many years ago, the gate was accessible – it was possible to reach out and actually touch this thing, this thing that was two thousand years old, with your own fingertips. You, and some ancient tilemaker, passing a small mosaic tile from one human hand into another over the span of two thousand years.

This is one of the few things that completely blew my mind in this lifetime, something that still makes my heart beat faster when I think about it even today. That I was privileged enough to have had this experience still humbles me. And there are times I still dream of the Ishtar Gate.

It’s been a long time since Berlin was just Berlin, and not East and West. It was a painful and sundering time… and yet… I am glad to have had the chance to have experienced that older, divided, city. To remember that Wall. To know what it means to be Divided. In many ways the life I have lived has served to inform my writing – and I have taken many valuable lessons from Berlin, the Berlin I walked in, the Berlin I met.

I know what it means to be afraid. I know what it means to pretend not to care. I know what it means to look over into a Promised Land, knowing that Hell lies between you and its shores. I know how the passions of an ideology can hold a society captive to its whims and then its guns.

I also learned, two years after I left the city and the Wall fell, what it means to have borders erased.

I never saw the Egyptian Queen but I don’t regret it – the things I took from the Ishtar Gate were far more enduring than just that glimpse of fabled beauty.

I crossed a threshold in a museum building in what would turn out to be a memory of a museum city, and I still remember what it was like to be human two thousand years ago in Babylon.

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NOTE: This was posted more than four years ago on my LiveJournal blog as part of a month-long series on museums I have visited around the world. You can find the original of this and can see the rest of the series by scrolling back or forward from this entry.   Museum series HERE

Alma Alexander

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Quote of the day

There are times I still dream of the Ishtar Gate.” ~ Alma Alexander

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‘Victory for dirt’

Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, has always been my hero, now more than ever since she led the charge against the The Clean Reader, an app which enabled customers to “read books, not profanity”. A filter could be applied to ebooks purchased from its online store, which exchanged words that were judged to be offensive with alternatives.

Joanne HarrisJoanne Harris. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod
Explaining in The Guardian why she felt the filter was “censorship, not by the state, but by a religious minority”, Harris said it “misunderstand[s] the nature of fiction writing” and gives a “toxic message” to young people.

The app is being pulled and Harris claimed that it is a “small victory for the world of dirt”.

Harris, of course, isn’t the only author who objected. Among the many others is someone whose bio reads: “Chris Farnell is an author whose work has been described as containing “plenty of ripe profanity”. His anthology, Dirty Work, is sadly not available through Clean Reader, but you should feel free to go through it removing all the swearing and replacing all his characters with wombles.”

He has come up with other apps he thinks should be made available, including Dirty Reader, which will go through any book replacing “heck” with “hell”, etc. and Naked Reader, which will essentially replace any mention of clothes with the words “bare flesh” and “skin”.

I like him already.

While the protests ended with the app apparently being pulled. someone else connected with it is talking about “updates” so that implies a continued zombie existence.

Dan Meadows commented on the site where The Clean Reader was originally put up that he finds “the attitude many writers have shown here to be very off-putting. I wouldn’t use it, I’d make a case for not using it to anyone who does but I’m not going to tell someone who paid for the book how they’re allowed to read it. They bought it, they own it as far as I’m concerned. If they choose to use a glorified find/replace text, knock yourself out. Getting into dangerous territory here claiming the right to determine what people do with the things they’ve bought after they’ve bought them. Where does that stop, exactly? Throwing up both middle fingers with a big old “F#&$ you!” to folks with concerns over profanity is pretty egregiously arrogant and disrespectful too.

It’s disrespectful to insist on the integrity of one’s own work? In the face of pure primness and ideological bias?

I’m writing for readers whom I assume to be mature enough to choose what they want to read. They may not choose to read my books, but that’s their choice. I am not going to write goshdarned vanilla pablum because someone cannot handle a swear word in context.

Please note, it starts here. From here on, it gets worse. What if someone does not wish to read a book with a gay character because it conflicts with their ideology? What then? Is there an app that can EXCISE AN ENTIRE CHARACTER, a whole plotline, which a reader might find unsavoury?

Isn’t it just easier to find other reading material, people? Stuff that won’t offend your delicate sensibilities? Here’s a novel idea – DON’T READ THE STUFF YOU DON’T LIKE.

My response to Dan Meadows was this:

As an author with more than a dozen books out there… here’s the thing. There’s silent contract out there between the Writer and the Reader. The Writer writes the story that the Writer writes, and that is the thing that the Writer puts into the contract. The Reader has several options at their end of the contract. They choose to buy the book, or they do not.

If they do not, this is where it ends and the silent contract is voided – the Reader does not choose to take up their side of it. The reasons for this may include the use of profanity in the book which the Reader does not wish to see or interact with. That’s fine. That’s the reader’s choice. If the Reader has particular requirements of their books (like for instance no swear words) it is UP TO THE READER to find books which match those criteria. Nobody is forcing any Reader ANYWHERE to pick up a book they find offensive in any way.

If they buy the book, they have three options. They can read the book and like it, in which case the contract is fulfilled from both ends and everything is just great. They can read the book and go, meh, I’ve read better – in which case the contract is fulfilled because the Writer provided a story, the Reader wasn’t particularly enthralled by the story, and there was simply a mismatch of tastes and intent. Or they can read (or not finish, as it were, that’s option 3A) the book because they virulently hate it, and in this case (assuming they have a valid reason for hating it) they’re perfectly free to go out and tell everyone what a terrible horrible book this is.

THERE IS NO OPTION 4. You don’t, as a Reader, get to rewrite an existing book according to your sensibilities, beliefs, or ideology. Your choices are to like the thing, to not like the thing and yell about about it to like-minded friends, or NOT TO READ IT. As written, that story is the product of someone ELSE’s imagination, dedication, and hard work. If that person felt that a swear word was necessary, it probably was. You are under no obligation to read that word, or the book it appears in. But your choice here is simply to put the damned book down and walk away. You don’t get a do-over. Period.

What do you all think?

Alma Alexander      

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My books         Email me   

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