Life changes

40 women, 40 words, 40 stories

Two weeks after my husband’s stroke, I saw him get up and take his first step since the moment that he was struck down. I wept. It was my fortieth birthday. This was the best birthday present ever.

I think of this now because of a story in the Boston Globe. To mark the 40th anniversary of Rosie’s Place, novelist Alice Hoffman asked 40 writers each to compose a 40-word essay on the theme: “the day my life changed.’

How does a life change? We reach the door to our futures by chance, or by fate, or by design. We know something we didn’t before. We love someone new, or say goodbye. We pick up a book, or forgive someone. In truth there are many days that can change a person’s life, a series of events that add up to a future, but some are remembered more than any other. This is the day that sticks with us and reminds us of who we are and who we might still become. It’s the day that made us who we are.

Jodi-PicoultAdam Bouska

Jodi Picoult
As the car careened wildly through Hurricane Bob, all I could think was: My baby is coming too early. That’s how life works: Sometimes the unexpected becomes reality. I wasn’t ready for my son, but he was ready for me.  

Julia-AlvarezBill Eichner

Julia Alvarez
August 6, 1960: the bittersweet day my family arrived in New York City. Bitter, because we had left our homeland; sweet, because we had escaped the dictatorship; bittersweet, in balance, when I learned this English and could tell the story.

What’s your story in 40 words?

40 women, 40 stories

How the Internet took over the world

A timelapse map posted at io9 shows just how the Internet spread, quickly and across borders, all around the globe.

I was running a computer with Windows 3.1 and a 40 megabyte (you read that right) hard drive when I first dipped a toe in the waters of the Internet – via dialup. My father would wander past occasionally and sniffily ask when, if ever, he might be able to use the phone again.

It was all slow and cumbersome and oh so basic. In the beginning, I spent most of my time on Usenet — sort of like Facebook for you youngsters. I don’t remember if my monitor was remotely good enough to get decent access to websites, or even what the state of the Web was at that time.

I used Alta Vista, and well remember the days when “Google” was not yet a verb. My first email was to my then-boyfriend, who had helped me set things up, and it snarkily invited him to let me know if he didn’t receive the message.

Years later when we were getting cable speed Internet, the cable guy popped into the back office that I shared with my husband to ask a question. Hubby had his back to the door and was demonstrating how he used to play the viola in high school, sawing an imaginary bow across an imaginary set of strings with great gusto. I didn’t tell him that he was being watched because the expression on the cable guy’s face was far too amusing to break the spell.

This all feels like ancient history. I first stepped onto the Internet stage in something like 1995, 1996 or so. It wasn’t, in chronological terms, THAT long ago but it feels like cyberarchaeology.

Do you remember your first Internet experience?

How the Internet grew

12 Poetry Collections Every Woman Should Read

When I was messed-up teenager“, Julie Buntin writes for Cosmopolitan “my self-esteem hovered somewhere way below sea level, acne was a constant threat, and I truly did not see the point of school, or my family, or, sometimes, my entire existence.

Everyone has a worst time of his or her life — mine was between 16 and 19. During that time, I developed a habit of reading and writing poetry. That outlet kept me sane and helped control my angst. (OK, maybe sometimes it fueled the angst a little, too.)

One of the 12:

Ariel, by Sylvia Plath

Sylvia PlathIf you think Sylvia Plath is for weepy teenage girls, you’re right — but you’re also completely missing the enduring brilliance of the poems collected in Ariel, which are more than shrieks of pain and meditations on despair. Every woman should read this book at least twice — first emotionally when she’s 16 and again when she’s a clearer-eyed 35. Plath’s metaphors elevate her poetry into an almost visual art form. “Love set you going like a fat gold watch,” she writes “In Morning Song,” a poem about her first child. Plath, famous for her suicide and for poems like “Daddy” (in which she compares her father to Hitler), empowered women to own their darkness and their rage.

What’s your favorite collection of poetry?

Poetry for women

Short reads

At Flavorwire, Emily Temple offers us “50 Incredible Novels Under 200 Pages.

Classics you’ve read, classics you’ve always meant to read, and books you’ve never heard of.

Mr RobinsonElect Mr. Robinson for a Better World, Donald Antrim
A surrealist masterpiece that’s oft overlooked. Terrifying, bonkers, hilarious, and filled with gorgeous language and real insight about real humans, it will knock you topsy-turvy.

calvinoInvisible Cities, Italo Calvino
This is the book that launched a thousand art projects, and for good reason: each imaginary city, described by Marco Polo to Kublai Khan, is a mini revelation, a marvelous bauble. But the book adds up to more than the sum of its cities. You’ll just have to read to find out.

Train DreamsTrain Dreams, Denis Johnson
Johnson’s novella is a shimmering masterpiece that takes you from the railroad to the woods of Prohibition-era Idaho with a sort of manic grace. His narrator loses everything but finds something else, something not-quite, in the woods. And it’s the pervasive not-quiteness of this novella that makes it so powerful, so shifting, so freaking good. Read it.

Do you have a favorite short novel?

50 short novels

Quote of the Day

Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.” ~ Charles William Eliot

Alma Alexander
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Spoiler alert!

Can you guess these classic books by their one-line spoilers? Alanna Okun asks at BuzzFeed.

She gets hit by a train

He never shows up

The dogs die

She was lying

Everything was predetermined

She doesn’t live forever

The dog dies. So some other folk

There’s a hurricane, a rabid dog, a shooting, and an acquital

She buys the flowers herself

& more

Here’s one book; can you match it to the spoiler? Do you want to?

Tuck Everlasting

Spoiler alert


Poems Everyone Should Read

Must poemsKrystie Lee Yandoli and the BuzzFeed staff have some suggestions:

Maya AngelouStill I Rise” by Maya Angelou

“The first time I read this poem I was still a young girl, trying to figure out who I was and frankly what the hell was happening to my body. Maya Angelou made me feel like who I was becoming — a woman — was something very special, ancient, and wonderful. I physically remember breathing out and sitting up just a little bit taller because of her words.” —Ashley Perez

Jelaluddin Rumi“The Guest House” by Jelaluddin Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

“I heard this poem at the end of a yoga class a couple years ago. I had just moved to New York, on a whim, after a failed six-year relationship and dealing with a lot of sadness and thought, Fuck, now what? My uncle was also losing his battle to cancer and my family and I were dealing with the inevitable. This poem helped me through that time and still continues to resonate in my life today. I hope it brings peace to some else out there.” —Chris Ritter

Life Changing Poems


50 Essential Books of Poetry

Emily Temple of Flavorwire weighs in with this selection of whole books of poetry “that everyone should read.”

Metamorphoses, OvidMetamorphoses, Ovid

Despite him being like, so old, Ovid is funnier and sexier than you think. Plus, he’s the original architect of surreal, mythic ch-ch-ch-changes. Can’t beat him.

There’s something for everybody here, from the deeply established canonical works to riveting, important books by newer poets, from the Romantics to the post-modernists, from the goofy to the staid. This list can only reflect personal taste, chance meetings, and wild subjectivity.

Lyn Hejinian

My Life, Lyn Hejinian

Hejinian has the uncanny ability to turn the ordinary observation or idle musing into the profound. Her landmark work is a poetic autobiography, a gorgeous, funny tableau of experiences and memories, a life in fragments. After all, “only fragments are accurate. Break it up into single words, charge them to combination.”

Do you have anything to add?

50 poetry books


An Imaginary Town Becomes Real, Then …

Robert Krulwich reports on the town that wasn’t, then was, then wasn’t again.

The vanishing town


Daily Routines

In the right-hands, daily routines can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of limited resources… a solid routine foster a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies…” Mason Currey, author of the inspiring book Daily Rituals

Maya Angelou

Created by RJ Andrews,

Creative routines


Quote of the Day

Of all the things which man can do or make here below, by far the most momentous, wonderful, and worthy are the things we call books.” ~ Thomas Carlyle


Alma Alexander

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Women you should be reading

NETHERLANDS-LITERATURE-TARTTDonna Tartt won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Goldfinch, Time writes, adding that it was no surprise since the novel made the New York Times best-seller list during its first week on the shelves.

Tartt takes a notoriously long time to write her novels: The Goldfinch took 11 years, and she says that we may have to wait just as long for her next book. So Time offers some current female authors who you may have missed and want to add to your reading list. For example:

Chimamanda AdichieChimamanda Adichie, Eamonn McCormack—WireImage/Getty Images

Chimamanda Adichie

Adichie, who is from Nigeria, is credited with heralding a new generation of African authors with her bestselling Half of a Yellow Sun. Her latest novel, Americanah, was named one of the 10 best books of 2013 by the New York Times. Oh, and she’s also a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant recipient.

21 women you should read


How Much Of A Book Addict Are You?

I took this quiz by Buzzfeed and when I checked my score, they informed me tartly that I have a problem.

How about you?

Book addict?


A History of Love (of Bookstores)

I have a long string of past loves, but they’re all bookstores, Janet Potter reports at The Millions.

Loves books


Depending on what you count, I’ve worked at 8-10 bookstores in the last 13 years. I mark time by which bookstore I was working in the way some people do by where they lived or who they were with… Each one attracted me for different reasons, affected my life in different ways, and taught me different things.


A love of books(tores)


The sound and style of a city through the eyes of Elmore Leonard

Elmore LeonardThe Dickens of Detroit

Detroit is the city where Leonard grew up, Michael Weinreb tells us in a beautiful essay at Grantland, and it’s the city where he raised his family, and it’s the city where he died.

And now that he’s gone, it’s the city where his legacy can and should forever be anchored. Without his books, the city would still have suffered the same hellish decline. But because of him, that suffering was rendered into an art form all its own.

Elmore Leonard


Daphne du Maurier: literary genius hated by the critics?

The BBC’s adaptation of Jamaica Inn is set to bring the Gothic imagination of Daphne du Maurier to a wider audience as critics continue to debate her literary merit, Padraic Flanagan reports for The Telegaph

Her dark, macabre tales of Gothic romance and revenge have enthralled millions of readers and remain in print decades after her death.

But for Daphne du Maurier, the wealth and worldwide fame she earned from novels such as Rebecca and Jamaica Inn were a poor substitute for the acclaim she craved from literary critics who dismissed her as a second rank “romantic novelist”.

Daphne du Mauriier

Daphne du Maurier’s most well known works include ‘Rebecca’, ‘Jamaica Inn’ and ‘The Birds’ Photo: REX

Daphne du Maurier


Idaho students to get copies of banned novel

Sherman AlexieHundreds of Meridian, Idaho, high school students signed a protest petition when their local school board banned Sherman Alexie’s young adult novel “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian’ from their 10th-grade curriculum, Joel Connelly wrote in The Seattle PI.

Photo by Mike Urban)

But a private fund-raising drive, organized by two Washington women, has now raised enough money to buy a copy of the novel for every one of the 350 students who protested the curriculum ban.

 Students given banned books


Daily Routines

“In the right-hands, daily routines can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of limited resources… a solid routine foster a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies…” Mason Currey, author of the inspiring book Daily Rituals Thomas MannCreated by RJ Andrews,

Creative routines


Quote of the Day

If a writer does not entertain his readers, all he is producing is paper dirty on one side.” ~ Robert A Heinlein


Alma Alexander

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She hunts with eagles

Girl & eagleA 13-year-old eagle huntress in Mongolia – Photo by Asher Svidensky

The Kazakhs of the Altai mountain range in western Mongolia are the only people that hunt with golden eagles, William Kremer says at the BBC World Service. Today there are around 400 practicing falconers.

Photographer Asher Svidensky took pictures of five boys learning the skill – and Ashol-Pan, the daughter of a particularly celebrated hunter.

Hunting with eagles


The 13 greatest opening lines from novels of the 1950s

There are many things that make us read the first page of a book, JPW tells us at Whizzpast.

It can be an author’s reputation, a favorable review, a recommendation by a trusted friend or a breathtaking cover. Yet all these pale into insignificance compared against the importance of a wonderful opening line.

C.S. LewisThere was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. —C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)

Great opening lines


10 Words and Phrases You Won’t Believe Are 100 Years Old

They may have been on people’s tongues even earlier, but 1914 marks the earliest year the lexicographers at the Oxford English Dictionary could document these words and phrases in print, Judith B Herman tells us at Mental Floss.

DoohickeyBig screen: A hundred years ago, before there was television with its small screen to provide contrast, the big screen already meant the movies. The Fresno (Calif.) Morning Republican on October 24, 1914 reported, “The stage hands will devise noise effects to help carry out the illusion on the big screen.”

Old words


The Underrated, Universal Appeal of Science Fiction

Why do so many readers still look down on the genre of Orwell and Atwood? Chris Beckett asks.

People who know me have read a book of mine out of curiosity and then told me, in some surprise, that they liked it—”even though I don’t normally like science fiction.” Indeed, when a short story collection of mine won a non-genre prize, it was apparently a surprise to the judges themselves: According to the chair of the judging panel, “none of [them] knew they were science-fiction fans beforehand.”

The assumption seems to be that a book that comes with a genre label like “science fiction” must necessarily be lightweight stuff—not really comparable with “non-genre” works.

SF-FantasyThe appeal of science fiction


Libraries are dying? Think again

Like many visitors in Seattle, Glenn Nagel found himself in the city trying to avoid the rain. After wandering around, he eventually made his way to the Seattle Public Library to escape the dreary weather, Jareen Imam writes for CNN.

Seattle LibraryGlenn Nagel was awestruck by the Seattle Central Library

“It’s just an incredible building,” he said. “I spent an hour and a half just taking pictures, and while doing that, I was getting the idea that I should visit other libraries.”

This past year, Nagel has traveled to 12 libraries across the United States, photographing their shelves and hallways like an explorer.

San AntonioThe main public library in San Antonio was designed to tap into the city’s Hispanic heritage, according to Robey Architecture Inc.’s website.

Thriving libraries


Quote of the Day

Edgar Rice Burroughs


Alma Alexander

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Seattle bookstores soar…

…and embrace an Old Nemesis:

Seattle ranks as the country’s second-most literate big city, behind Washington, D.C., as measured by things like the number of bookstores, library resources, newspaper circulation and education.

A love of books and bookstores runs deep in the sinews of Seattle,” Kirk Johnson writes in the New York Times, “where gray skies and drizzle can drive a person to drink, or read, or both. “ Inc. also calls Seattle home. And in recent years, as many small independent bookstores here and around the nation struggled or closed their doors, owners often placed blame for their plight on the giant online retailer’s success in delivering best sellers at discount prices, e-readers and other commodities of the digital marketplace.

“They seem to be after everyone and everything,” one Seattle-area bookstore owner, Roger Page, fulminated on his store’s blog last year. He added, “I believe there is a real chance that they will ruin the publishing world.”

But the world..well, Seattle, anyway… is a-changing…

Elliott BayAbbie Barronian, left, and Ellie Graves browsed at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle. The store last year turned its first substantial profit in nearly 20 years. Credit Matthew Ryan Williams for The New York Times

NissleyTom Nissley, who used to work for Amazon, recently bought a small bookstore in Seattle. Credit Matthew Ryan Williams for The New York Times

Amazon/bookstores truce?


Daily Routines

In the right hands, daily routines can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of limited resources… a solid routine foster a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies…” Mason Currey, author of the inspiring book Daily Rituals

MozartCreated by RJ Andrews,

Creative routines


Top 10 Reasons to Participate in Indies First Storytime Day

Have you signed up for Indies First Storytime Day yet? Kate DiCamillo asks authors and illustrators at Bookweb.

Reason #3 is: You get to come in and read a story (a story that you didn’t write) out loud. The pressure is off. If the kids don’t like it, well … you didn’t write it!



The Author’s Promise – two things every writer should do

The first duty of the novelist is to entertain. It is a moral duty. People who read your books are sick, sad, travelling, in the hospital waiting room while someone is dying. Books are written by the alone for the alone.‘ ~ Donna Tartt

The readerImage by Dixie Leota

I have read thousands of books, Amanda Patterson writes. Sometimes, I finish a book, and I think, ‘Wow! I loved that. I wonder what else the author’s written.’ Sometimes, I finish a book, and toss it aside with great force, and sometimes, I discard it without a second thought.

I have spent hours thinking about what makes me turn the page, pushing sleep away, determined to finish the story. I have spent just as much time thinking about what makes me want to throw the book away so that nobody else has to go through the literary torture I endured.

I believe it’s quite simple. I think I want to be entertained, and I want to learn something.

I do not want to endure a lecture. Show me the story and let me come to my own conclusions. I do not want my intelligence insulted with contrived literary manipulations, and obscure, incoherent writing. I am your reader, not your therapist. I also do not want to get lost in your unplotted stream of consciousness. I am not your editor.

An author’s duty


One-Star Book Reviews

Reviews of classic books, culled from the internet’s think tank.

A Wrinkle in Time“Even if you read this book 500 times, it has always the same plot line.”

One-Star Book Reviews


Quote of the Day

Write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you are writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.” ~ Agatha Christie


Alma Alexander

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Books as weapons

CIA used ‘Doctor Zhivago’ against the USSR

Dr. ZhivagoA scene from the 1965 film Doctor Zhivago, based on Boris Pasternak’s epic novel.

Declassified documents show that the CIA used Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak’s epic novel, as a tool to try to provoke dissent in the Soviet Union, Annalisa Quinn tells at NPR.

The book was banned in the USSR. The CIA recognized the novel’s “great propaganda value,” according to a 1958 memo, and had the novel printed and disseminated. … The memo notes that the book is valuable “not only for its intrinsic message and thought-provoking nature, but also for the circumstances of its publication: we have the opportunity to make Soviet citizens wonder what is wrong with their government, when a fine literary work by the man acknowledged to be the greatest living Russian writer is not even available in his own country in his own language for his own people to read.”

Books as weapons


Top 20 Latin American Books To Read

Great literature can transport the reader to far off places where magic and myth come to life, where heroines fight for true love, where basic values are challenged and threatened.

Whatever you fancy as a good read there are certain books that one should have on their shelf or in their e-readers, Latin Times says, and has put together a list of 20 Latin American themed books “you must read before you die.” 

100 Years of Solitude1. One Hundred Years of Solitude

No surprises here. No other work other than Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s stunning achievement has been so magical. Using “realismo mágico”, or magical impossibilities, it tells the story of the fictional town of Macondo. The story is told through the eyes of the Buendía family. The town once an isolated solitary civilization faces death and civil war when they decided to communicate with the outside world.  

 Like Water For Chocolate20. Like Water For Chocolate

Like Water For Chocolate by Laura Esquivel is set during the end of the 12th- century. Tita De La Garza is the youngest daughter of a family living in Mexico. Each of the book’s 12 chapters takes place during one month of Tita’s life. At the beginning of each chapter the author features a recipe that is usually prepared and consumed by the characters in each chapter. The reader is taken on a journey and watches as Tita searches for love and tries to achieve her own independence.  

Latin American books


10 Amazing Places to Visit Before They Vanish

The world is filled with jaw-dropping sights, Megan Gibson says in Time, but rapid climate change is threatening some of the most spectacular natural wonders. Here are just a few of the world’s most majestic places that could disappear in as little as a few decades.

Glacier National ParkDeAgostini—Getty Images

Glacier National Park, Montana

Once home to more than 150 glaciers, Montana’s majestic national park now has fewer than 25. Rapid climate change could see that number shrink to zero by 2030, which would not only leave the park without a glacier, but also severely disrupt its ecosystem.

AlaskaPaul Zizka—Getty Images


The Alaskan tundra is one of the most distinctive features of America’s northernmost state. Yet climate change has led to the thawing of the region’s permafrost, which not only damages infrastructure but also dramatically alters the current ecosystem.

Disappearing places


Daily Routines

In the right-hands, it can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of limited resources… a solid routine foster a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies…” Mason Currey, author of the inspiring book Daily Rituals

BeethovenCreated by RJ Andrews,

Creative Routines


Quote of the Day

“But although I detest/Learning poems and the rest/Of the things one must know to have ‘culture,’/While each of my teachers/Makes speeches like preachers/And preys on my faults like a vulture,/I will leave movie thrillers/And watch caterpillars/Get born and pupated and larva’ed,/And I’ll work like a slave/And always behave/And maybe I’ll get into Harvard…” Tom Lehrer, 15, Harvard application in poetic form


Alma Alexander

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Smart critters in literature

Top 10 books about intelligent animals

From Watership Down to Animal Farm:  Author Karen Joy Fowler selects for The Guardian 10 novels filled with anthropomorphic frailties and fantasies

 Rabbits in the snow

‘Watership Down has the science-fiction pleasures of inventive world building as well as a struggle against invasive totalitarianism’. Photo: Juniors Bildarchiv GmbH/Alamy

Charotte's Web“Charlotte’s Web was first read to me by my mother,” Fowler writes. I can still remember the moment when, having caught the tremor in her voice, I looked up, saw her face, and realised with great shock that clever, generous Charlotte might die. It was the first book in which I experienced the death of a character; I don’t think I’d understood such a thing was even possible and I know I couldn’t have managed Little Women, much less the relentless Tess of the D’urbervilles, all those years later if Charlotte’s Web hadn’t toughened me up.

 Children’s books are filled with humans in animal guise….Perhaps as a result, it’s been easy for our culture to think of sympathy for our fellow creatures as a childish thing.

 Animal Farm

Animal Farm by George Orwell

 I am including this because it is a great and consequential book, though it really has little to do with non-humans and is full of pig slander.



Intelligent animal literary figures


Creative Routines

In the right-hands, it can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of limited resources… a solid routine foster a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies…” Mason Currey, author of the inspiring book Daily Rituals


Created by RJ Andrews,

 Creative Routines


The Internet’s Most Delightful Dead Ends

When you reach a 404 error page on the Web, Will Oremus says in a Slate piece, it’s a sign that something has gone awry. But sometimes a wrong turn leads to an unexpectedly scenic dead end. In honor of April 4, here are some of our favorite 404 pages from around the Internet. 

 404 errors

AlderaanDaily News404 pages


Blast from the past

My Worldweavers series, originally published by HarperCollins and just reissued by Sky Warrior Books, has continued to get excellent reviews. But I’m particularly fond of the Kirkus review of the first book in the series, Gift of the Unmage.

Gift of the Unmage 1GIFT OF THE UNMAGE 2



Try to imagine Carlos Castaneda’s mythos meeting Orson Scott Card’s Tales of Alvin Maker(with the substitution of a depressed adolescent female protagonist), and you’ll have a feel for this fantasy stew.

Teenaged Thea, scion of a family of mages, shows no sign of mystical ability and is transported to a distant time and dimension for training by Native American avatars—a spiritual warrior and Grandmother Spider, the world’s weaver. Several subplots involving Thea’s family and the backgrounds of her friends at a school for the magically challenged supplement the complex main plot—which remains obscure until the last third of the book. Cardboard adult characters are predominately unhelpful; only the mythic characters (both human and animal) support the teenager emotionally and magically.

The plot is suspenseful and engrossing with likable teen characters having to save the world from a mysterious entity introduced by greedy aliens. The combination of suspense, magic and teen angst will appeal to young-adult fans of Isobel Bird’s Circle of Three series and Tamara Pierce’s Circle of Magic books.

BTW, the final (probably) book in the series, Dawn of Magic, will be published soon by Sky Warrior Books.


13 Things Found on the Internet

Internet browsing yields some ….. er, unusual things. Here are some found By MessyNessy.

 A photograph of real houses in Mexico, not a screen still from Sim City

MexicoPhotograph submitted to National Geographic by Oscar Ruiz for Your Shot

A Femme Fatale’s Ring Gun

Ring gunIn the early 1800s, personal protection guns were all the rage. Large enough to be worn on most any finger, the revolver had to be manually rotated through each cylinder. The 2mm guns were typically marked ‘Femme Fatal’, and sold in small oval shaped jewelry boxes.

Pan Am’s First Office, now a bar owned by the actress from Top Gun

Pan Am bar

Things found on the Internet


Quote of the Day

The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall; nations perish; civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead.” — Clarence Shepard Day


Alma Alexander

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College of Sidekicks

Commencement Address to the College of Sidekicks and Secondary Characters

Dear graduating class,

As a writer, as someone who was there at your emergence, I am so very happy to see you. To know that you are out there, that you exist, because – make no mistake – in a world that seems to be geared only towards superstardom, without the foundation of you there is nothing at all.

There can be no superstars without the support of a context – a context that you and only you can provide.

Almas charactersOh, re. characters – my friend, the artist who goes by the name Plunderpuss, drew this one for me a while back. Yeah, I put my characters through hell (that’s why they’re so cross). Why do you ask…?

I can’t tell from here why all of you are in this place. You may have ended up here simply because your applications for the ivy-leagueish College of Protagonists wasn’t quite up to scratch. Don’t take that as a failure.

Sometimes superstars are jerks; sometimes they are as two-dimensional as the medium they appear in, and aren’t worth the price of their education. All too often a Protagonist is simply too fragile to carry the story and the whole thing collapses on top of them….

My Commencement Address


The elephant in the living room

A 10-day-old African elephant became separated from its herd and wandered into a house at the Thula Thula Private Game Reserve in Zululand, South Africa, Jason G. Goldman reports at io9.

Baby elephant snackThe blonde woman pictured below is Francoise Anthony. Tom, the chef, is pictured in red. The woman wearing a khaki shirt is Shireen, a ranger.

Tom and momTom with her mother after being reunited.

The reserve’s staff took care not to be in excessive contact with the elephant, but some physical contact was necessary to care for her. They were worried that the herd might reject her if she didn’t smell right. But the infant was successfully reunited with her mother.

Baby elephant in the living room


19 Incredible Advertising Fails

Brands have sometimes found their ads in places that would make any marketer uncomfortable, Aaron Taube reports at Business Insider, “like a Burger King billboard beside a heart disease awareness ad, or when a visitor to convicted dog-fighter Michael Vick’s statistics page on ESPN was shown an ad for dog food.”

While these missteps might keep marketers up at night, they sure are pretty funny for the rest of us.

Why GodWhy God?


Uhn, you might want to turn the pictureUnh, you might want to turn the plane around

Advertising Fails


“There Were Tears, That’s Beautiful”

A story told in pictures.

Reading class

‘There were tears’


5 Writers Who Took Romantic Revenge in Print

Louise ColetLouise Colet, Getty Images

Louise Colet

After having her heart broken not once, but twice, by Gustave Flaubert, poet Louise Colet was understandably incensed when she read his racy novel Madame Bovary. The dastardly writer shamelessly infused the story with intimate details taken from her life, including their first sexy tryst in a carriage. Adding insult to injury, the book insinuated that she, like Madame Bovary, used men to advance her social status.

The tempestuous Louise had once attacked a journalist who besmirched her reputation, threatening him with a knife, but this time she sharpened her pen instead. In retaliation, she wrote a bestselling semi-autobiographical novel, Lui, which depicted Flaubert as a red-faced buffoon and womanizer.

Writer’s revenge


Quote of the Day

No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting.” – Lady M. W. Montagu


Alma Alexander

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50 Best Southern Novels

The American South has long carried the stigma of poverty, racism, and anti-intellectualism, Tyler Coates writes at Flavorwire. Yet the region has also produced a disproportionate number of intellectuals, poets, and writers, possibly because of the complicated and layered identities each Southerner holds within him- or herself.

These 50 novels are a reminder that the South cannot be defined solely by its failings; it is also responsible for shaping the minds of countless thinkers who offered to American literature essential insights about not only their region but the world at large.

The heart is a Lonely HunterThe Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

The hit novel written by the 23-year-old McCullers centers on the story of a deaf man and the people he meets in small-town Georgia — black and white (a tomboy, a diner owner, a physician, and an alcoholic). The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is a moving work about human connection. —Elisabeth Donnelly

The AwakeningThe Awakening by Kate Chopin

An early feminist classic, Chopin’s short novel follows Edna Pontellier, a New Orleans wife and mother who falls in love while on vacation and returns home to find that she can no longer stand to devote herself to social obligations and domestic drudgery. Although Edna’s fate is ultimately tragic, her embrace of an artist’s life and journey to independence make her one of American literature’s first liberated women. — Judy Berman

The 50 Best


The Last of Us

In Futures Exchange, Frank Swain offers “True tales of how various species went extinct,” some centuries ago, some practically yesterday.

The Dusky SparrowIllustrations by Jeannette Langmead 

The Last Dusky Seaside Sparrow

The Dusky Seaside Sparrow lived in the marshes of Merritt Island, Florida, until it was threatened by the development of the Kennedy Space Center. The last four surviving birds, all male, were moved to Discovery Island in Disney World for a hybrid breeding program. The effort was a failure, and in 1987 the final surviving member, an elderly male named Orange, passed away in the Magic Kingdom.

Going extinct


A disappointing Hans Christian Andersen birthday quiz

Hans Christian Andersen Fairy tale king … portrait of Hans Christian Andersen by Karl Hartmann. Image: Archivo Iconografico, SA//Corbis

The great Danish author was born this week in 1805, and in celebration The Guardian asks, do we really know his stories? The trouble is, the questions they ask are not so much about Andersen and his stories as a lot of peripherals.

For what it’s worth, I took the quiz and got a measly four right. Not because I don’t know my Andersen, but because I don’t necessarily know some contemporary ramifications of adaptations of his work. But whatever, quizzes can be diverting.

An Andersen quiz


How Being Bilingual Makes Your Brain Badass!

At Mind Openerz, we learn the merits of being bilingual and how it affects the brain.

I’m trilingual, myself, but I’ve lost most of the French I once knew. I used to read novels and plays in French (Camus and Racine, in the original), but I haven’t used it for years and it’s mostly gone now. I guess if I got dumped in the middle of some French countryside where nobody spoke anything else, I’d pick it up fairly fast. But anyway, I still have two languages,  my birth tongue, Serb, and English.

Language on the brain

According to not-so-new studies conducted in 2004, using magnetic resonance imaging, neuroscientists at University College London discovered bilingual test subjects “had increased density of the cerebral cortex in the lower part of the parietal lobe.“ Your cognitive skills (thought processing, awareness, attention) are governed by this. According to a site about old people, senior citizens learn foreign languages to strengthen a part of their brain to fight dementia: nature’s Neuralyzer (that memory erasing crap from Men In Black).

 Your brain on languages


Quote of the Day

 Words and the writer ~~~~~

Alma Alexander

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Food In The Hobbit

The Shire was an idealized version of the rural England of Tolkien’s childhood, Recipewise explains, and gives us some remarkable recipes for Gandalf’s tea party.

Food in the Hobbit

An Unexpected Party – Image Copyright Artist John Howe

Gandalf Tea Wednesday. Or at least this is what Bilbo should have written down … Some called for ale, and some for porter, and one for coffee, and all of them for cakes . . . A big jug of coffee had just been set in the hearth, the seed-cakes were gone, and the dwarves were starting on a round of buttered scones . . . ‘And raspberry jam and apple-tart,’ said Bifur. ‘And mince-pies and cheese,’ said Bofur. ‘And pork-pie and salad,’ said Bombur. ‘And more cakes — and ale — and coffee, if you don’t mind,’ called the other dwarves through the door. ‘Put on a few eggs, there’s a good fellow!’ Gandalf called after him, as the hobbit stumped off to the pantries. ‘And just bring out the cold chicken and pickles!’” An Unexpected Party, The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Food In The Hobbit


10 Of The Most Bizarre Books Ever Written

From unsolvable codes to 13th-century penis doodles in the margins of bibles, history is like an all-encompassing high school cliche that never comes to an end, Andrew Handley writes at Listverse. These books span the course of written history, and they’re all utterly bizarre.

Vivian GirlsThe Story Of The Vivian Girls

The entire time Henry Darger was working as a janitor in downtown Chicago, nobody knew that he was secretly writing one of the most bizarre and intricate storybooks of all time. When he died in 1973, Darger’s landlord discovered a 15,000-page nine million words manuscript entitled The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion.

Nobody really knows how long Darger worked on the book, although it’s believed to have been decades. He lived in the same cramped, single-room apartment for over 40 years, and he never spoke a word of his lifelong dream to anybody.

Popol VuhPopol Vuh

Written over the course of centuries by an unknown number of people, Popol Vuh covers the entire span of Mayan history and mythology—taken straight from the mouths of the 16th-century Maya.

In the early 1700s, a Dominican priest named Francisco Ximenez journeyed into the heart of the Mayan civilization and began transcribing Popol Vuh, which means “Book of the People.” Its content covers everything from the creation of the world up until the time it was written, sort of the Mayan parallel to the Bible.

Bizarre Books


The world’s 10 oldest living trees


At 4,841 years old, this ancient bristlecone pine is the oldest known non-clonal organism on Earth. Located in the White Mountains of California, in Inyo National Forest, Methuselah’s exact location is kept a close secret in order to protect it from the public. (An older specimen named Prometheus, which was about 4,900 years old, was cut down by a researcher in 1964 with the U.S. Forest Service’s permission.) Today you can visit the grove where Methuselah hides, but you’ll have to guess at which tree it is. Could this one be it?

olivetreeOlive Tree of Vouves

This ancient olive tree is located on the Greek island of Crete and is one of seven olive trees in the Mediterranean believed to be at least 2,000 to 3,000 years old. Although its exact age cannot be verified, the Olive Tree of Vouves might be the oldest among them, estimated at over 3,000 years old. It still produces olives, and they are highly prized. Olive trees are hardy and drought-, disease- and fire-resistant — part of the reason for their longevity and their widespread use in the region.

The oldest trees


The Anti-Memoir Memoir

The Scientists: A Family Romance, Marco Roth’s memoir about his bookish upbringing and his father’s secret life, was hailed as one of the best books of 2012. He was not the first to question the idea of a single, unified self. He picks five of his favorite anti-memoir memoirs.

Anti-memoirsIs it possible to write a memoir about how you mistook your own life, about what you didn’t yet know or failed to see, and when you didn’t know it? About how your character and judgments were formed and how you came to unlearn that first and not always painful formation? 

Memoirs of an Egotist by Stendhal

Written in 1832, when he was 49, and one year after the publication of The Red and the Black, Souvenirs d’Égotisme (perhaps better translated as Remembrances of an Egotist, since Stendhal avoided calling it un mémoire) is an account of a 10-year period in the author’s life which was spent mostly failing to write, failing to find a lover, failing to fit in to an increasingly socially and politically conservative Parisian society, failing to find employment, and ultimately failing to commit suicide.

The Anti-Memoir Memoir


By the Book: Wonderlands for Bibliophiles 

Literature is often inspired by travel—let these 31 literary gems from around the world  inspire your next trip, Bryan Kitch of the AFAR Staff says.

TorontoImage courtesy of The Monkey’s Paw.

The Monkey’s Paw, The Most Unusual Bookstore in Toronto

As stated on their website, Monkey’s Paw is Toronto’s most idiosyncratic secondhand bookshop, specializing in uncommon and out-of-print books, ephemera, and images, Natalie Taylor reports.

On one visit, I was able to find an old Boy Scout handbook from the 1940s. This is also a great place to find an old typewriter. If you like odd books or want a good story from owner Stephen Fowler, this is your place.

And the source of the store’s name? The W. W. Jacobs tale with an ominous moral: be careful what you wish for.

SavannahBook Lady Bookstore

“Nothing makes me happier than stumbling upon a really great bookstore,” Joan Wharton says, “and this one in Savannah takes the cake!”

The store is located on the first floor of an old mansion and, as you can see, every square inch is packed with wonderful books—I could have spent all day browsing through the dusty stacks.

If you love books and find yourself in Savannah, I highly recommend checking out the amazing Book Lady Bookstore.

Wonderlands for Bibliophiles


Great Unsung Science Fiction Authors That Everybody Should Read

Science fiction contains more masterpieces of the imagination than anyone could read in a single lifetime, Charlie Jane Anders writes in io9. And your local used book store or science fiction bookshop is teeming with great adventures you’ve never discovered. Here are 12 great science fiction authors who deserve more props.

SF writersTop image: Clifford Simak book cover by Chris Moore

The Mount


Carol Emshwiller: She’s won two Nebula Awards, the Philip K. Dick Award and a World Fantasy lifetime achievement award, plus effusive praise from Ursula K. Le Guin and others — but we’ll consider Carol Emshwiller unsung until everybody with even a passing interest in science fiction and the fantastical has read her work.

Her novel The Mount has a jarring portrayal of a future Earth where humans are bred to be beautiful for aliens – and come to like it.




Unsung authors


Quote of the Day

Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.” ― Anna Quindlen


Alma Alexander

Check out my books

Email me

Comments welcome. What do you think?