Do I pass the test?

Most authors have heard about the Bechdel Test for a story:

1. It has to have at least two women in it,
2. who talk to each other,
3. about something besides a man.

The test does not speak to the quality of the work, nor is it a method of measuring how feminist something is. It merely look at gender bias.

So I threw it at my own books.

Midnight at SPanish Gardens’? It has a love story between two women. Yeah, they talk to one another about stuff. Lots of stuff. Pass.

The Jin-shei books – “The Secrets of Jin-shei” and “Embers of Heaven” – pass so obviously that there is little point in dwelling on it. In Jin-shei, you have eight living female protagonists and one female ghost, so of course they are going to talk to each other about all sorts of things. That’s what the whole BOOK is about. And the Embers protagonist is female and she interacts with several other women. They are Bechdel Test poster children, really.

The YA stuff? The young woman protagonist in the Worldweavers series talks CONSTANTLY to other women, ranging from her own best friend, to a seriously zooty auntie with whom she discusses everything and straight on to a female deity, and a couple of literal stars who assume female personalities and with whom conversations happen. So yeah. Pass.

The Changer books – “The Hidden Queen” and “Changer of Days“? Hell yes. My protagonist is a female character and she has a strong female mentor or three in this story, and it stands to reason that there are conversations that don’t revolve solely around the male of the species.

I think I”m doing okay.

Anyone who wants to find out more about my books, – or pick up a copy or two – feel free to click the ‘All my books, the novels’ link on the home page (or go HERE.) And, btw, if you buy or read any of my books, reviews — good or bad, one liners or treatises — are always appreciated

Russian Library hires stray cat as Assistant Librarian

A children’s library in the Russian city Novorossiysk just brought in a new employee: a cat by the name of Kuzma.

Assistant librarianHis job description? Entertaining children, participating in theatrical performances, and greeting visitors on the steps of the library. His salary and benefits? Thirty packets of food a month plus bonus in the form of additional treats and scratches behind the ears. Not a bad deal in this fragile industry.

Librarian cat

The Science Fictioning of Fantasy and Vice Versa

I think reports of our world’s science fictionality have been exaggerated, Max Gladstone says at SF Signal.

Yes, we have rockets and digital watches, but the way we have these things is very different from the way old-school science fiction expected us to have them, Gladstone says. One hallmark of old-school SF is that characters tend to know how stuff works. Stuck on a barren world and hunted by a vicious lizard-man? Build a rudimentary shotgun out of diamonds, charcoal, saltpeter, and bamboo.

Old-school fantasy, by contrast, is a genre of the unknowable. Magic in Tolkien’s works is big and vast and ancient. No one tries to hack the One Ring…or build a new one!

Fantasy or SF?

Which professions have the most psychopaths? And which the fewest?

KnifeOkay, okay. Most psychopaths don’t have a knife behind their back. (Thinkstock)

Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterized by shallow emotions, stress tolerance, lacking empathy, coldheartedness, lacking guilt, egocentricity, superficial character, manipulativeness, irresponsibility, impulsivity, and antisocial behaviors such as parasitic lifestyle and criminality.


12-year-old ‘suffragette’ fires back at NC gov

“‘I am not a prop!‘, a 12-year-old North Carolina girl fired back at Gov. Pat McCrory,” David Edwards reported at Raw Story. The governor had called her a ‘prop’ because she had accused him of voter suppression.

Not a propEarlier this year, Madison Kimrey gained attention for protesting outside the Governor’s Executive Mansion in opposition to the sweeping new law that requires a government ID to vote, cuts the number of early voting days and takes away the right of pre-registration for 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds.

‘I am not a prop’


Alma Alexander

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Bookworm’s Dream Home

Arielle Calderon of BuzzFeed suggests some things she thinks belong in every book-lovers  home. Actually a lot of them leave me either cold or indifferent. But I do like these.

No lack of reading material inNo lack of reading material in bath

A library for nature loversA library for nature lovers

Readers' stairsReaders’ stairs

For bookworms

And people say reading is boring

Robin Edds of BuzzFeed has found some pictures that show the lighter side of the book world.

But beware, some of these are Not Safe For Work.

Driving lessonsLearning to drive

Funny books

‘A Road Trip to Recover My Reading Life’

Cassandra Neace, a freelance writer living in Houston, drove approximately 2040 miles to her brother’s doorstep in Tennessee and back again., primarily to get her books.
Books-from-StorageIn high school, I dabbled in fantasy and in books that look at what the what the world is and what it could be. In college, I read books that explored race and gender and that led me to question history. In grad school, I dove into the classics. I read Dickens, Keats, and Shakespeare. A bunch of others too.

I have a stack for each of the years between graduating from high school and moving to Texas, and those stacks are distinct from one another. They tell their own stories. And they have little in common with the books that I have on my shelves now.

Book recovery trip

‘Do you know what I want when I go to a bookstore?’

From makinglight, the Nielsen Hayden’s wonderful blog:

(And let me just say in advance: AMEN!)


Listen up.

If I want a toy, I go to a toy store. If I want candy, I go to a candy store. If I want electronics I go to an electronics story. Do you know what I want when I go to a bookstore? Any guesses? Well, it isn’t toys, candy, or electronics. I want books.

Not just books: A good selection of books. And that includes midlist and backlist. Say I see the third volume of a series on the shelf, a series I’d not encountered before. It looks interesting. I want to buy the first couple of volumes too. They came out a few years ago. If they aren’t there, what’s the message? You want me to order ’em from Amazon? If I’m doing that I might as well order all three and get free shipping.

I know it sounds like Dreadful Business Speak, but what you need to do is get back to your core competence: Selling books. To people like me. I’m here, I’m eager to buy books. I’ll drive three hours to get to a well-stocked bookstore. And that does not mean well-stocked-with-sports-jerseys-coffee-cups-and-calendars.

For the Love of Benji, all those books are fully returnable. I bet the candy isn’t. Stock books. Give people places where they can sit, good light, ample parking, and Sell Me A Book, kay? Not just the book I was looking for. The book I wasn’t looking for, but knew, the minute I saw it, that I had to have it.

Alma Alexander

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Bookstore blasted for naked reading

 A bookstore in Nanjing, China was blasted for “corrupting minors” and using gimmicks to attract customers, The Want China Times reports.

naked readingThe store said the posters were part of a campaign that the company was holding in both Nanjing and Shanghai entitled “Reading naked brings your soul closer to books” which aims to show that reading can take different forms. People should strip off all the ornamentation of daily life in order to read. “There is no limitations to reading, it penetrates into every area of life,” the company said.

Naked reading

Everyone gets rejected

Rejection letters of Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro found at Harry Ransom Center.

rejection_lettersPhoto Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

Munro’s work, which won her the Nobel Prize is known for themes of self-discovery and gender roles. She is the first Canadian to receive the award and the 13th woman to ever win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

One letter written in 1968 by Knopf’s editor Judith Jones after reading Munro’s first book of short stories, “Dance of the Happy Shades,” said her book had nothing particularly new or exciting, and it could be easily overlooked. In another letter from Jones to Munro on her first novel, “Lives of Girls and Women,” in 1971, she credited Munro’s style but still rejected the novel for publication.

There’s no question that the lady can write but it’s also clear she is primarily a short story writer,” Jones wrote.

Everyone gets rejected

The 30 Best Quotes on Books and Reading

One of the quotes chosen by Amanda Patterson of Writers Write:

We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever. ~Philip Pullman

Books and reading quotes

All things Asterix – quiz

Asterix and the Picts, the first new Asterix comic book in eight years, has just launched, but how much do you know about the plucky French warrior and his world? asks The Guardian.

I got 8 out of 10.

Asterix and ObelixAsterix and his friend…Scalextrics? Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/United Artist

Take the quiz

Neil Gaiman on Lou Reed: ‘His songs were the soundtrack to my life’

Lou ReedLou Reed, circa 1970. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives

Sandman would not have happened without Lou Reed – and I named my daughter after Warhol’s Holly Woodlawn, from Walk on the Wild Side. I am sad today.

His songs were the soundtrack to my life: a quavering New York voice with little range singing songs of alienation and despair, with flashes of impossible hope and of those tiny, perfect days and nights we want to last for ever, important because they are so finite and so few; songs filled with people, some named, some anonymous, who strut and stagger and flit and shimmy and hitch-hike into the limelight and out again.

Gaiman on Reed

Alma Alexander

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Books into movies, NOT

Buzzfeed discusses 20 books that are almost impossible to adapt to the screen, though people still sometimes try.

My own historical fantasy, The Secrets of Jin-shei, would also be a hard book to film. Set in a mythical world resembling Imperial China, it has eight major female characters. The number of characters alone would make it a tough sell. But think of the chance it would give to underappreciated actresses!

Anyone know a filmmaker who would like to give it a try?

One of those 20 difficult-to-film books is Griffin & Sabine and it is actually in development,  Louis Peitzman reports on Buzzfeed.

Griffin&SabineWhy it’s so hard to adapt: It’s an epistolary novel — and not only that, it’s one in which the letters and postcards are largely removable. Reading it is an interactive and tactile experience, with the memorable artwork often doing as much work as the text.

Has anyone tried: It’s happening! Renegade Films has bought the rights and will be bringing Bantock’s story to screen. In a press release, the author said, “This is the first time I’ve felt comfortable that the essence of the story is understood. Transitioning this tale from a novel to a movie will test the bounds of dreams and creativity, providing an opportunity to create something intelligent, entertaining and visually extraordinary.

Tough books to film

Speaking of ‘Dude!’…

… as we were the other day, it seems there is a lot more to say.

Iin The Chronicle of Higher Education, Allan Metcalf tells us that in 1883, “dude would have been Word of the Year, no question.”

Its all in the latest issue of Comments on Etymology, he tells us.

Comments, you see, was edited and self-published by Gerald Cohen at the Missouri University of Science and Technology and “was a blog before there were blogs — but not on the Internet Likewise … Popik, Cohen, Sam Clements, and a few other collaborators were googlers before there was Google.”

The results appear in the October-November double issue of Comments, some 129 pages devoted entirely to the early days of ‘dude.’

129 pages!

More on Dude.

Snowflake or ravaged forest?

How good is your eye? Can you identify a photo of an insect’s wing when you see it? Or tell a close-up of snowflakes from a satellite photo of deforested land?

Insect wingSatellite photo of famland? No, a close-up view of the wing of a Green Darner dragonfly.

Micro or macro?

When they want something for nothing, you can say…

classified adPeople who would consider it a bizarre breach of conduct to expect anyone to give them a haircut or a can of soda at no cost will ask you, with a straight face and a clear conscience, whether you wouldn’t be willing to write an essay or draw an illustration for them for nothing, Tim Kreider wries in the New York Times.

Every writer, every artist knows whereof he speaks. But Kreider has a template of how respond to such people.

Here, for public use, is my very own template for a response:  

“Thanks very much for your compliments on my [writing/illustration/whatever thing you do]. I’m flattered by your invitation, But [thing you do] is work, it takes time, it’s how I make my living, and in this economy I can’t afford to do it for free. I’m sorry to decline, but thanks again, sincerely, for your kind words about my work.

Feel free to amend as necessary. This I’m willing to give away.

Template for an artist

The remarkable theremin

Spark museumWhen I visited the The SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention in my home town, I was quite intrigued with the theremin –and by an adventurous four-year-old who had found out that the thing made WONDERFUL noises when he waved his arms at it. And he was waving his arms at it with great glee.

I know the kid’s name was George because his father kept on yanking him away from the wailing theremin with a recurring refrain of, “No! George! Stop that! George! Stop it! Come back here! George!”

But somehow, despite the assault on the ears, it seemed oddly appropriate, after all. The
kid was acting for ALL of us. He had come into a place where astonishing things lay piled on shelves all around him, and he had discovered… joy. And it was your joy, too. And you could not help smiling, watching him leaning into the theremin, his small face wearing the biggest grin you’ve ever seen. Look at me, it said, that smile – I am a child of miracles, and I will play with all the joy and wonder I know how to muster.

But a theremin is not only for kids. See what real musician can do with it.

Akiyo Hamaguchi plays “Largo”

A theremin orchestra

Alma Alexander

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Because the books are better…

Because 99% of the time the books are better than the movies, Buzzfeed said when it posted this a few months back, you ought to read these before you go to the theater.

I fully agree that books are better read before movies screw with them – but the reason I am sharing this is not to agree with the obvious – one thing in there just floored me.

About the book “Reconstructing Amelia”, Arielle Calderon wrote:

Why you should read it: A workaholic single mother discovers her only child has committed suicide, but deep down inside, Kate doesn’t believe her daughter would ever do such a thing. She sifts through Amelia’s text messages, emails, and Facebook posts to uncover the shocking truth of her daughter’s last days. It’s a quick, easy read, and the HBO movie will keep viewers locked to the TV screen.

A mother reconstructing the life of a dead child who may or may not have committed suicide is a “quick, easy read”?…



Books are better

You forgot the ad

20th Century Fox ran an intriguing blank ad in The New York Times

Blank ad
Readers of the print edition of The New York Times on 22 October would have noticed that pages nine and ten were curiously blank, save for a single URL at the bottom of the second page that

The blank space was actually an ad for an upcoming 20th Century Fox film adaptation of the best-selling novel The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, and the URL leads to a basic info site for the film. Set in Nazi Germany, it is about a girl who finds solace in stealing books and sharing them with others.

The underlying message for the new film is, “imagine a world without words.”

Blank ad

A brilliant virtual look at 17th Century London

University students have created an impressive 3D representation of 17th Century London set before The Great Fire in 1666, Wesley Yin-Poole writes in Eurogamer.

And impressive it is. Watch this video and be amazed.

17th Century London

Denmark the Happiest Country

The top countries generally rank higher in all six of the key factors identified in the World Happiness Report,” wrote University of British Columbia economics professor John Helliwell.

Danish familyThe six factors for a happy nation split evenly between concerns on a government- and on a human-scale. The happiest countries have in common a large GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy at birth and a lack of corruption in leadership. But also essential were three things over which individual citizens have a bit more control over: A sense of social support, freedom to make life choices and a culture of generosity.

Happy Denmark


Alma Alexander

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Why isn’t more YA fiction read in schools?

School is when we should really be making kids read, because there are so many great books out there with brilliant stories and profound messages behind them, The Guardian says. Reading books that are relevant to lessons, the paper adds, is one missed opportunity.

Code-Name-VerityWhy aren’t books like Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein and Once by Morris Gleitzman being taught alongside history lessons on the Second World War?

Why isn’t David Levithan’s Every Day being used as a prime example of the issues surrounding gender and sexual identity in PSHE lessons for sixteen year olds?

These stories could be so beneficial to students, while at the same time potentially opening them up to a broader reading base and helping them discover something in themselves that they didn’t know about before.

YA books in school

Classic YA Literature Heroines

The Book of Jezebel is a desk reference of every bit of feminist trivia you could want, Michelle Dean says in Flavorwire. But, she notes, no one starts with an encyclopedia, they start with the books girls are given as children. She examines several, including this one that I loved as a child.

Pippi Longstocking, of Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi books

Pippi gets props for having irritated Swedish conservatives from the start. It wasn’t just her financial independence or even her idiosyncratic style of dress that got them; it was her refusal to actually behave. But her ever-sunny demeanor stopped speaking to girls after a certain age, I think.

YA heroines

A Brief History of Dude

You know … if you’re into the whole brevity thing

Contemplate this, dude: that when I call you dude, there’s a whole range of things I might mean—you’ll understand me from my intonation and the overall context—but each time, I’m also reinforcing a specific kind of social relationship“, J.J. Gould muses in The Atlantic.

No matter how I use the word, it always implies the same thing: solidarity without intimacy. It says close, but dude, not too close. What’s up with that?

Understand, dude?

Can these books actually change your life?

Yes, Erin La Rosa writes in BuzzFeed, and all you have to do is read them. Take, for example, her comments on Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro:

never let me goThere’s nothing easy about reading Never Let Me Go, because it has an honesty that will make you question so many things. Like the social alienation of specific groups of people, and the painful fact that love can be lost or missed, all because of timing. It’s beautiful, haunting, and complex. Did I also mention it’s science fiction? Yeah, go read this.

Life changing books

Arizona Lifts Ban On Mexican-American Studies Books

The Tucson Unified School District is reinstating seven books banned after a Mexican-American Studies program was outlawed in Arizona, NPR reports. The Arizona Daily Star reports that the governing board voted 3-2 to reinstate the books as “supplementary materials.”

Alma Alexander

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Why I signed that White House letter

Well over 100 authors and illustrators have sent a letter asking the White House to ease up on standardized testing, which, they say, has a negative impact on kids’ love of reading and literature. I was one of the signers.

The venerable Oxford English Dictionary gives the following definitions (abbreviated here) of the noun “education”:

1)  The process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university … A body of knowledge acquired …
2)  An enlightening experience …


What education is not, should not be, is the turning of kids into little parrots who are judged merely on the basis of how well they can mirror back ideas flung at them by a teacher.

An education should measure understanding — not memory, not rote learning, not force-fed ideas.

This is why I signed this letter. Students should be valued according to how well they have learned to understand something, not how well they can remember it and regurgitate it on a standardized onc-size-fits-all test.

Education poster

Standardized testing letter

OED Third Edition a bit late

The Third Edition of The Oxford English Dictionary is 18 years behind schedule, Elizabeth Grice reports in The Telegraph but offers chief editor John Simpson’s reasonable explanation:

“One doesn’t like to rush these things.”

The OED has gone online and that brings some major changes. The dictionary has always appealed to the public for help in tracking down and compiling new words and usages, but the Internet has turned that steady trickle into a torrent.

“Contributors can send grumpy letters,” says Simpson. “They like to tell you what clots we are. But if you write back and show you have taken note, you find a poacher-turned-gamekeeper attitude. All the time, we are fighting against stereotypes – the long white beard, the Oxford elite. It’s not like that at all. I want to show that the work is fun.”

OED a bit late

17 extraordinary bookstores

Text by Anna Norris.

Village Books in Bellingham, WA, my hometown, deserves to be on the list, not to mention Henderson’s for used books. But explore the great bookstores here. What bookstore would you add?

Livraria-LelloLivraria Lello in Portugal Photo: Matthew Furtado

There’s nothing like your first great bookstore discovery — that place where you go to sit in a soft chair and read, to marvel at the incredible architecture or to browse the maze of shelves for hours of literary exploration. Here are some of the most remarkable book shops from all around the globe, each one of them special in its own way.

Great bookstores

Terrible Kanji Tattoos With Their English Translations

“It’s possible that the people in these pictures actually wanted things like “Chicken noodle soup” tattooed on their body (chicken noodle soup is delicious), but we’re guessing they probably didn’t.”


Winery plans to chop down California redwoods for vineyards

In California’s Sonoma County, environmentalists are fighting in court to prevent a Spanish winemaker from leveling 154 acres with coast redwoods and Douglas firs to make space for new grapevines, NPR reports:

A spokesman for the winery said that these aren’t old-growth trees, most are 50 years old.


Redwoods for wine


Alma Alexander

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