Seattle bookstores soar…

…and embrace an Old Nemesis: Amazon.com

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. “

Amazon.com 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?

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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, infowetrust.com

Creative routines

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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!

Storytime

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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

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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

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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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Comments welcome. What do you think?

—–

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

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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

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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

Alaska

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

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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, infowetrust.com

Creative Routines

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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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Comments welcome. What do you think?

—–

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

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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

 Flaubert

Created by RJ Andrews, infowetrust.com

 Creative Routines

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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

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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

 KIRKUS REVIEW

 

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.

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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

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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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Comments welcome. What do you think?

—–

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

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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

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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?

Point/CounterpointPoint/Counterpoint.

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

Advertising Fails

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“There Were Tears, That’s Beautiful”

A story told in pictures.

Reading class

‘There were tears’

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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

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Quote of the Day

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

~~~~~

Alma Alexander

Check out my books

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Comments welcome. What do you think?

—–

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

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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

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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

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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

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Quote of the Day

 Words and the writer ~~~~~

Alma Alexander

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Comments welcome. What do you think?

—–

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

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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

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The world’s 10 oldest living trees

METHUSELAHMethuselah

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Comments welcome. What do you think?

—–

How many have you read?

Arianna Rebolini of BuzzFeed has chosen 102 of the “Greatest Books By Women” and asks how many of them you’ve read so far.

I have read 34 of them and here are three of my favorites.

Tale of Genji 

 

“Tale of Genji”, remarkable for being one of the first (if not THE first) book to be described as a self-definitive “novel” – ahead of its time in so many ways.

 

Left Hand of Darkness

 

 ”Left Hand of Darkness” – one of Le Guin’s seminal works, and one that is so layered, with so many rewards  - and it had one of the best rejection letters in the industry, ever.

 

 

Kindred

 

“Kindred”, the book that made me practically want to to thump down on my knees at the feet of Octavia Butler when I had the brief and heady privilege of meeting and talking to her at a gathering of my tribe, the scribes, before her untimely death.

 

 

How about you? How many have you read and how many do you still have to look forward to?

 Greatest Books By Women

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Cosmos – Then and now

I belonged to the Carl Sagan F1 generation. I saw the original “Cosmos” series, when it first aired. I was never quite the same again. I recently wrote about it at Storytellers Unplugged.

Cosmos

Decades later the theme music from the show still makes me come up in goose bumps. I see an image of Carl Sagan’s smile or hear some snippet of an old interview, and I am young again, and the sense of wonder rises about me like a fabulous landscape which still belongs to me….

 

 

But I find myself detached from the new version of “Cosmos”. Neil Degrasse Tyson never quite manages to ignite that sense of wonder that Sagan did so effortlessly…

Then and now

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22 Photos That Prove Why Babies Need Pets

A child’s development can often be accelerated by daily interactions with the family pet, HopeShared tells us, and says that their young minds grow a great deal through their social and emotional bonds. Instead of providing scientific facts to backup this theory, here are 22 photos that without a doubt prove that it’s true.

I'll watch himReddit

He's mineReddit

Babies and their pets

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9 Essential Detective Novels for People Who Don’t Read Detective Novels

Jonathan Wood does the honors at Huffington Post.

dirk-gently

 

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams

While obviously better known for The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams also turned his monumental talent to the mystery story with this novel, and it’s sequel, The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul. Murderous editors, alien ghosts, and time travel are just a few of the problems that complicate Gently’s attempts to save the human race. Recommended for people who are in the mood for, in the author’s words, “a thumping good detective-ghost-horror-whodunnit-time-travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic.”

 

 

 

 

 

Shadow UnitShadow Unit by Emma Bull, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, Will Shetterly, Leah Bobet, and Holly Black

There’s been a bit of press recently about the rise in popularity of binge watching and binge reading. Shadow Unit–a long-running series of tightly-plotted novellas structured to resemble a TV show–lets you combine the two. Written by a who’s-who of supernatural thrillers, the series sucks you in as much with its lovable misfit cast as with its tense episodes, each one charting the course of FBI’s Anomolous Crimes Task Force investigations. Recommended for anyone who’s mainlined a series on Netflix recently.

 

 

Even if you don’t read detective novels

~~~~~

About my cat…

We have recently adopted a half-blind ex-feral tiger-striped caramel tabby who has just demonstrated that he may be more than he appears.

The other day he worried a file out of a vertical rack. We asked him to fill out a proper application if he wanted employment as an office assistant, and put it back. It only really occurred to me later to check on WHICH file he was so interested in.

It was a folder containing information on my current WIP… which happens to be about Were-critters.

I chuckled rather nervously. Just how much does this cat know, how long has he known it, and what was he planning to do with the information he was trying to extract?

And what, if anything, does he turn into when I’m not watching?

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Quote of the Day

Honesty is what you do when no one could ever find out; nobility is what you do when no one can stop you; bravery is what you do when there is a choice; goodness is what you do when the recipient can’t do anything useful for you.” ~ C. J. Cherryh

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Alma Alexander

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Based on Real People

When Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road, Stacy Conradt tells us at at Mental Floss, he was really writing about his own cross-country exploits with his Beat Generation buddies.

Cassady and Kerouac

Neal Cassady, left, with Jack Kerouac in 1952. Photograph by Carolyn Cassady.

 

For example, the selfish Dean Moriarty represents Neal Cassady, close pal of Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and Ken Kesey.

But that’s not the only character Cassady inspired: Kesey, Hunter S. Thompson, and Tom Wolfe all took inspiration from Cassady.

 

Little women

Similarly, as a neighbor of the Alcott family in Concord, Mass., Elizabeth Hoar served as the model for Beth March in Little Women.

Hoar was also good friends with Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, who liked to call her “Elizabeth the wise.”

Real people behind literary characters

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51 Delightfully Geeky Language Facts

At BuzzFeed, Ailbhe Malone has collected some rather amazing language factoids. For example, he tells us that in Japan…

Four (shi) and nine (ku) are considered unlucky numbers, because the words sound the same as those for ‘death’ and ‘pain or worry’.

And because of this, some hospitals don’t have room numbers 4, 9, 14, 19 or 42. Forty-two (‘shi-ni’) means ‘to die’, 420 (‘shi-ni-rei’) means ‘a dead spirit’ and 24 (‘ni-shi’) is double death.

And then there is this fascinating curse:

“Así te tragues un pavo y todas las plumas se conviertan en cuchillas de afeitar” is a Spanish curse, meaning ‘may all your turkey’s feathers turn into razor blades’.

Geeky language facts

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The Romance of Beginnings

Beginnings Cate Campbell talks about the first story glow.

There’s nothing like that first moment when a writer has a new idea for a story or a novel.  It’s like falling in love, when the object of our infatuation has no faults, no complications, only endless and enchanting possibilities. Character, setting, plot . . . they all glow with promise. The first lines flow, the first scene intrigues us, and visions of success draw us into this new project.

It’s been said that being in love is no assurance of happiness in a marriage, but that attempting marriage without it is a doomed effort.  There’s a strong analogy with a fictional concept.  Those first pages are easy.  The work begins when we try to make a cohesive whole, building a good strong fire out of the spark of imagination that got us started.

Beginnings

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How to Write a Believable Happy Ending

As author Ted Thompson learned from John Cheever, a redemptive resolution doesn’t erase the darkness of a story, but instead finds the light within it, Joe Fassler writes in The Atlantic.

EndingsHappy endings are famously rare in literature. We turn to great books for emotional and ethical complexity, and broad-scale resolution cheats our sense of what real life is like. Because complex problems rarely resolve completely, the best books tend to haunt and unnerve readers even as they edify and entertain.

Writing a happy ending that feels meaningful is probably one of the hardest tricks in literature. There’s a lot of comedy out there (particularly in movies and television) that follows that ancient structure of the world falling apart and then being put back together again, but so much of it feels like, okay, those problems were solved and now I can forget about them. You don’t want a literary story to have that effect—you want it to have a resonance with the reader beyond the last page, and I feel like it’s a lot easier to do with tragedy than comedy.

Endings

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15 Breathtaking Illustrations Of Fairy Tales From The 1920s

Long, long ago, things were really beautiful, Ariane Lange tells us at at BuzzFeed, and has collected some wonderful examples.

A happy ending was just behind the brilliantly green curtains.\

Happy endingVia archive.org, Sleeping Beauty awakens to her prince. (John Austen, 1922)

Fairy tale illustrations

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Quote of the Day

Honesty is what you do when no one could ever find out; nobility is what you do when no one can stop you; bravery is what you do when there is a choice; goodness is what you do when the recipient can’t do anything useful for you.” ~ C. J. Cherryh

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Alma Alexander

Check out my books

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Comments welcome. What do you think?

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Reading While Female

Reading while female

(Stokkete/Shutterstock)

Women need to trust that they know what’s good, what’s bad, and what serves them intellectually in order to reject or reclaim the books in their lives, Sady Doyle reports In These Times.

Alienated by sexism in ‘Great Books’ (cough, Kerouac), some women create a secret canon, she says in a discussion of the book ‘No Regrets: Three Discussions’.

The book is built around three conversations among three different groups of female writers about reading: what they read when they were younger, what they didn’t read, why it mattered or didn’t. Stories about reading supposedly “great” dudelit only to feel hurt or repulsed come up repeatedly.

No Regrets editor Dayna Tortorici says she will “never forget reading Bukowski’s Post Office and feeling so horrible, the way that the narrator describes the thickness of ugly women’s legs.”

Elsewhere, the conversation turns to Henry Miller (Elif Batuman: “he compared women to soup” ), Portnoy’s Complaint (Emily Witt: “I cannot read another passage about masturbation. I can’t.”) and On the Road (Sara Marcus: “I remember putting [it] down the first time a woman was mentioned”).

Reading while female

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E.B. White’s letter about why he wrote “Charlotte’s Web”

The letter reveals just how much of White himself is in the book, Brian Galindo tells us at BuzzFeed.

In 1952, just a few weeks prior to the publication of his classic children’s book Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White was asked by his editor at Harper & Row to explain why he wrote the book. He responded with a beautiful anecdote about the bond between humans and animals.

Charlotte's Web “As for Charlotte herself, I had never paid much attention to spiders until a few years ago. Once you begin watching spiders, you haven’t time for much else—-the world is really loaded with them. I do not find them repulsive or revolting, any more than I find anything in nature repulsive or revolting, and I think it is too bad that children are often corrupted by their elders in this hate campaign. Spiders are skilful, amusing and useful. and only in rare instances has anybody ever come to grief because of a spider.”

The why of a book

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11 Ridiculously Overdue Library Books

Have you ever had to bring back a library book two or three days past its due date? Well, Mark Mancini, says at Mental Floss, at least you can take some comfort in the fact that it wasn’t nearly as tardy as the books on this list that range from 21 years late to … OMG!

overdueLOANED FROM: The Lawrence Public Library in Lawrence, Kansas

YEARS OVERDUE: 21

Long overdueLOANED FROM: The New Bedford Public Library in Massachusetts

YEARS OVERDUE: 99

Just a little late

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Really? You’re Not in a Book Club?

By some estimates, James Atlas reports in the NYT, five million Americans gather every few weeks in someone’s living room or in a bar or bookstore or local library to discuss the finer points of “Middlemarch” or “The Brothers Karamazov.”

Book clubA book club meets in Fall River, Wis., at the home of Sara Uttech. Credit Darren Hauck for The New York Times

The book-club boom is nationwide. Should you live in the Miami area, you can hang with “Book Babes”; in San Francisco, drop in at “The Mind-Benders Book Club.” In Waco, Tex., check out “A Good Book and a Glass of Wine,” which has 21 members (women only) and is always looking for new ones. All you have to do is go online.

You can find book clubs that appeal to gender- and sexual-preference constituencies (“The Queer Lady and Lesbian Book Club”); African-Americans (“Sassy Sistahs Book Club”); the young (“The Stamford 20s/30s Book Club”) and the old (every town seems to have a senior citizens club); proponents of porn (“The Smutty Book Club”); and fans of a single author (“The Roberto Bolaño Book Club”).

The ubiquitous book club

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Quote of the Day

I haven’t told why I wrote the book, but I haven’t told you why I sneeze, either. A book is a sneeze.” ~ E.B. White

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Alma Alexander

Check out my books

Email me 

Comments welcome. What do you think?

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What did your first tweet say?

My first tweet wasn’t exactly profound.

“Hello world”

was all it said.

Flavorwire looked up “The First Tweets of 25 Writers We Love” and none of them were actually profound, but some some were … er, interesting. For example:

I did it. I’m here. Consider this a trial period, like a trial separation, or bisexuality. If I’m not famous in three months, I’m gone.— Rachel Shukert

hi, i’m gary shteyngart, a furry 39-year-old immigrant man trapped in a young dachshund’s body. LOVE ME!!!!!!!!!!! http://t.co/RgLBxjYO— Gary Shteyngart 

First author tweets

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I bet you didn’t know that….

Tom SawyerVia books.simonandschuster.com.au

‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ is the first book written with a typewriter.

or

A  Christmas CarolCharles Dickens wrote ‘A Christmas Carol’ in six weeks.

or

50 booksJ.R.R. Tolkien typed the entire ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy with two fingers.

Justin Carissimo of BuzzFeed offers us “50 Books You’ll Never Read The Same Way Again” after reading these odd facts.

Believe it or not

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22 Strong Female Characters In Literature We All Wanted To Be

BuzzFeed recently asked their editors “Who was the first strong female character in literature you related to?”

If I had to pick from their choices, I’d go with Jo March from Little Women.

Out of AfricaBut I was struck by the illustration from Out of Africa. Karen Blixen’s book has always spoken to me because of its powerful opening line:

 

“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills.”

 

Since the first time I met Karen Blixen, I’ve been transfixed by that first line. This is someone writing from love and memory, a sentence steeped in the scent of regret and remembrance, looking back at something forever lost.

My own foothold in Africa was not a coffee plantation on the slopes of a Kenyan mountain – but I walked those metaphorical dusty roads anyway. I touched Africa, and it touched me, and there is a mark where it touched me which will never go away again.

An essay I wrote about it some time ago is linked below if you are interested.

But first check out BuzzFeed’s choices of strong fictional characters. What is your favorite?

Strong females in literature

And then read my essay on Africa HERE

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Wow, Kelly Barnhill’s blog posts always leave me awed.

 ”When Light Balances Dark: on wrong numbers, new life, certain death, and the slumbering spark.”

 Balance the unbalanceable

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How Mark Twain became Mark Twain

Mark TwainBen Tarnoff tells the amazing story of the lectures that made Twain a superstar. He was broke, tired of being a freelancer and bored in California. One trip and some lectures changed everything.

Mark Twain, superstar

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Never Before Uttered

“Last week a former Royal Marine who is the boyfriend of the model Kelly Brooks crashed into a bus stop while driving a van carrying a load of dead badgers.”

 ”I mention this, “Geoffrey K. Pullum writes in Language Log, “solely to remind you that linguists are not kidding when they say … that your command of English enables you to understand sentences that have never occurred before in the entire history of the human species.”

 Indeed.

 Never Before Uttered

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Quote of the Day

 ”Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” ―Nora Ephron

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Alma Alexander

Check out my books

Email me 

Comments welcome. What do you think?

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