The Moment

Woman reading photo

Photo by Hisu Lee at Unsplash.com

In fiction and in life

A life is made of moments. It is stitched together from the things you remember most vividly — the peaks and the valleys, the turning points, the places where you paused, or hurried, or changed direction.

In fiction, these are the things that will linger in a reader’s mind after the story is over.
And this is when a visual medium definitely has a edge on the written word. A moment in a movie can hinge on a gesture, an exchange of meaningful glances without a word being spoken. It can be the tiniest change of expression.

In an episode of the TV series “The Mentalist” a few years ago, one of the characters was a young man who was ‘slow’, developmentally disabled. The character presentation was utterly perfect – the open and trusting expression on the boy’s face, the way everyone spoke to him with an edge of pitying kindness and his apparent grateful acceptance of that attitude… right until the moment when everything changed.

The boy whom we had thought of as simple-minded was sitting in a chair in an interrogation room when his bluff was called and something indescribable happened. His eyes hardened and sharpened, somehow, and you realized with an electric jolt that he had been stringing everyone along in an expert con, that this was no simpleton but instead a very cold, calculating and dangerous mind.

Sometimes the entire emotional landscape of a character – frustration, hatred, love, triumph, envy, pity, sorrow, exultation, surrender, regret, fury, even a lapse into full and chaotic madness – can be distilled into a single gesture, a single glance. What you can convey in less than thirty seconds of film time… might take you a chapter to convey properly in a book.

This is the thing with the written word. It requires more mental engagement. A visual moment is seen, and shared, and immediately understood. A written moment needs more set-up, and develops more slowly in your head; it is probably never quite the same for any two readers of the same given scene because what is built up in each reader’s head is different and utterly beyond any writer’s control.

It is not to say that the written moments are the lesser. They can be more enduring because of the simple fact that the readers paint them with their own imagination, their own mental scenery, and etch it into permanence in their mind. But a book needs time, and effort, and attention to do this. You can look at a scene on a screen and you can respond immediately, viscerally, because you are responding to what your senses are handing you, to what you can see and hear.

But you have to give a book far more than that. You need to get deeply enmeshed, you need to reach in and wrap the words around you like so many tangled Christmas lights. A good book, one with good moments, becomes a lifelong friend and one to which you will return again and again because of that moment that it shared with you.

There are dozens of books with “moments” I remember, where the plot revolves around those moments, where the characters are built and wrapped around those moments. Guy Gavriel Kay’s “Tigana” has a lot of such moments. If you haven’t read that remarkable book I suggest you hie off and get yourself a copy now.

There are such moments in all of my novels. In “Midnight at Spanish Gardens”, for example, there is one which has been singled out by many readers. It occurs when John, my young doctor, is on rotation in the children’s cancer ward. In the beginning, he copes by treating the kids simply as patients with a disease and he as The Doctor who has all the answers.

The ‘moment’ comes when he realizes how utterly beyond his control it all really is – and everything instantly changes. The patient becomes a little dying boy; the disease becomes a monster against which he is helpless. And that breaks him

Before that moment he was one person, after it he was another. And there is no reconciling those two people. In the blink of an eye he has crossed from one world into another and he can’t go back.

Writers have to invest far more into that moment because all they have with which to evoke that visual and sensory response from you, are the words on the page. A writer doesn’t have the luxury of showing a viewer the transformation in a character’s personality just because the viewer is watching that character’s eyes change from “good natured, slightly simple” to “cold calculating potential serial killer.”

A writer has to describe this to you, the reader, and then you have to visualize it – there is an extra step in there, and you BOTH have to work harder for it, writer and reader alike.

As a writer, I am sometimes profoundly envious of the way that a movie scene of less than a minute, can convey a feeling, an attitude, that is an instant  gratification – something that it would take me pages and pages to properly present and explore in a book. But also as a writer I am also grateful that the medium of the written word allows me a more enduring connection with a reader’s mind… because what I present in those pages is not so much the destination as a map and then I allow the reader to create their own destination which will color and enrich their own experience of the things that I wrote.

A writer allows readers to create their own moments.

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Tea With The Duchess

The latest edition of my newsletter, Tea With The Duchess, has just been sent out to subscribers. It contains news about my latest fantasy novel, “Wings of Fire”, other projects I am working on, and plans for the coming year.

You can read it online HERE

Ever After book coverNew subscibers to my newsletter will receive a FREE ebook, “Ever After”, containing four stories about how the princesses you knew from your childhood became refugees facing far greater strength, far greater loss, far greater courage than you ever knew?

If you wish to subscribe, and receive your free ebook, send your email address HERE – or send it to me at AlmaAlexander@AlmaAlexander.org.

Please join us.

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Wired asked writers to create 6-word SF stories

He read his obituary with confusion.” – Steven Meretzky

More from Wired HERE

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Quote of the Day

Occasionally, there arises a writing situation where you see an alternative to what you are doing, a mad, wild gamble of a way for handling something, which may leave you looking stupid, ridiculous or brilliant — you just don’t know which. You can play it safe there, too, and proceed along the route you’d mapped out for yourself. Or you can trust your personal demon who delivered that crazy idea in the first place. Trust your demon.” ~ Roger Zelazny

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Dangerous Women

After the exhilaration brought on by the massive Women’s March, I found it both amusing and infuriating to browse through these

Postcards warning men about the dangers of women’s rights

They were put together by Tara McGinley who wrote: “Here’s a collection of totally ridiculous vintage postcards and posters dated from around 1900 to 1914 warning men of the dangers associated with the suffragette movement and of allowing women to think for themselves.”

postcards posterExcept for the clothes, I am not entirely sure that things have changed all that much.

See more postcards at Dangerous Minds website HERE

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HORIZONS MURALFeature image: detail from “Horizons” a mural by Robert McCall.

I always remain astonished at the disdain in which the literature of the future has always been held by the here and now.

It’s just so easy to wave a hand and close the door on the science fiction ghetto. 

Sometimes I think that the ‘real’ writers are so afraid of how they’ll be shown up by us genre folks that they’d rather just not compete at all and fondly imagine that keeping the gates locked will keep the cooties away. But I have news for them. it’s in HERE that the future lives. The fences and the locks and the keys…keepg THEM out, not US in. We’re already out there among the stars. Have the literati considered the possibility that it is around THEM, rather than us, that the locked gates and the iron bars really are…?

While I am better known for my fantasy than my science fiction (I sometimes combine the two), I believe that if anything, the sheer vision required to create ANY future from scratch should be a feature of literature, not the bug.

Here are two links to relevant articles well worth you time.

Why science fiction authors can’t win HERE

Building a Better Definition of Science Fiction HERE

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Andrew Hilleman offers

10 Great Westerns You’ve Never Read

My husband, who cut his teeth on westerns, has read a couple of these and urged this link on me. He is still haunted by ‘The Ox-Bow Incident‘, an exploration of mob rule that still echoes harshly for us even today.

Read all of Hilleman’s picks at the PW website HERE

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Surprise! Children’s Books Figured Out Life Long Ago

Children's Book wisdom poster
There’s a reason certain children’s books stay with you long after you’ve left elementary school, Crafty House tells us. “Deceptively simple, such evergreen stories absolutely brim with meaning and insight, serving to remind the reader of the most basic but vital lessons in life.”

 
See all the quotes at Crafty House HERE

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Quote of the Day

Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” ~ Albert Einstein

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How many reviews?!!

Goodreads infographicIn late 2006, I wrote the first book review on Goodreads,” Otis Chandler writes on the website’s blog.

“It was a simple, two-paragraph review of ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’ by Bill Bryson (5 stars – I recommend it) and I had no idea how popular a book recommendation and review site could become…I think Goodreads reviews are the best book reviews anywhere!

“Today, we have reviews that share personal experiences, reviews that include actor photos for dream casts of the book’s characters, quick-but-sharp summary reviews, and so many enthusiastic “you have got to read this!” reviews. There are reviews that push your thinking, and ones that create deep discussion…What’s your favorite Goodreads review?”

To read more and see the whole infographic, go to Adweek.com HERE

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At io9, Charlie Jane Anders offers us

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

When George R.R. Martin released ‘A Game of Thrones’ in 1996,” she writes, “he helped to change the game with his grounded approach to fantasy tropes. At the same time, people sometimes talk as though Martin was the first to bring realism to epic fantasy. So here are 10 other authors.”

For example:

Mary Gentle cover imageMary Gentle: Her novel Grunts is an epic fantasy story from the point of view of the Orcs who have to go into battle and die by the thousands for a cause that they barely understand. At the time when it was published, in 1992, its darkly comic approach of viewing the story from the point of view of the ‘villains’ was considered revolutionary, and it became famous for a joke about Orcs raping Elves that probably wouldn’t be considered funny today. But there’s also funny scenes of the Orcs eating their own wounded, and the war crimes trials that ensue. It’s hard to get less uplifting, and nastier, than Grunts.

To read more, go to the io9 website HERE

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World Poetry Day Quiz

Poetry is truth in its Sunday clothes,” said the French priest and poet Joseph Roux.

Throughout the ages, great minds have expressed themselves through this beautiful and often challenging medium.

For World Poetry Day“, Sam Rigby writes, “BBC Culture has put together a quiz to test your knowledge.”

No, I won’t tell you how I did.

But you can take the quiz at BBC.com HERE

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QUOTE of the DAY
GRR Martin quote posterPersonally, the way I do a story is by planting a seed in the ground and waiting for something to grow. I never know in advance if I”m awaiting a cabbage or a redwood. What grows, grows. I just tend it. So yeah, I am very much a “gardener”.

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“The writing is stellar”

Meet Alma AlexanderWhat a week it was.
Random, The Were ChroniclesThe Author Visits web site gave me the gamut of everything possible for telling everyone about Random, the first book in my The Were Chronicles.

There was a  review (a GREAT one!), there was an exceprt from the opening of Random and a sneak peek at the second book in the series, Wolf. I did a guest blog giving you an insight into the background of these books, and had a fun interview. And 76 of you signed up for the giveaway as I write this.

Thanks to the Author Visits site – and stay tuned – more goodies on “Random” are coming soon on the Internet near you.

About that review: I hope you’ll go to the site and read it all, but here’s an excerpt.

Random is a complex emotional journey of a young girl looking to make sense of a sense-less event that impacts her life and that of her family’s. As she learns the truth behind her sister’s death, she reconciles with Celia’s demise but also finds ways to memorialize her sister by finding purpose and perhaps even conclusion. That is until a double whammy completely changes the course of the story that will undoubtedly be the center of book two.

The quality of the writing is stellar. Well composed and thoughtful, Alexander chooses to give Jazz a mature voice that I appreciated as an adult reader. What I mean by mature has to do with tonality. There is an interesting cast of characters to complement Jazz and Mal’s story and adds dimension to Jazz’s search for answers. The book has no compromising situations or unsavory language.

My rating: a must read. 4 stars. ~  Veena Kashyap

Read the whole review

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Quote of the Day
QUOTE Calamity Jane~~~~~
Alma Alexander
My books

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In the Whoverse

With the newest Doctor Who in place, it seemed a good time to revisit a piece I did for SFNovelists.com about MY Doctors, including my favorite, David Tennant.

David Tennant

I think that part of the Tenth Doctor’s appeal to me lies in the simple fact that Tennant makes absolutely believable one simple fact – he is not “a tame lion”. This is an elemental being. He can do anything. And if he doesn’t, it’s because he practices severe and brutal self control. He is gentle, he is kind, he is funny, but he is also terrifying, and there is NO APPEAL against his judgement once he reaches a decision. I LOVE that in a Time Lord.
image mirrorco.uk

Who’s there?…

My first Doctor Who – and you never forget your first, your first ANYTHING – was Tom Baker. He of the scarf. When he regenerated, I kind of lost interest in the Whoverse until it petered out. Then Eccleston took it up – I never really glommed onto him, but then, he was only around for a season … and then *HE* came. My Doctor. My REAL TRUE Doctor.

When David Tennant said “I don’t want to go”, I was screaming right along with him, I didn’t want him to go either. Quite selfishly, I wanted him to keep going, to stay the Doctor, to be the only Doctor, the last Doctor, even.

When #11, Matt Smith, arrived on the heels of this regeneration, I was admittedly predisposed to dislike him. And although he had his moments, like the luminous Van Gogh episode for instance, my misgivings proved prescient. He gave away his status with both hands … (turning) the ‘Doctor Who And Companion’ show into the ‘Companion and Doctor Who’ show….

Read the article, and the comments

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The best novels of all time, in brief

From Tolkien to Proust and Middlemarch, The Telegraph picks the “100 best novels’ — and describes them in a few words each.
Marcel ProustMarcel Proust, art by Wesley Merritt

e.g.
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
A drug addict chases a ghostly dog across the midnight moors.

One Thousand and One Nights, Anon
A Persian king’s new bride tells tales to stall post-coital execution.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Boy meets pawnbroker. Boy kills pawnbroker with an axe. Guilt, breakdown, Siberia, redemption.

The other 97

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14 Stunning Book Illustrations Brought To Life

The Smithsonian Libraries have created cheeky GIFs from pages of the books they store, Maddie Crum writes at The Huffington Post.
Flying squirrelsWitnessing a flying squirrel from a 19th century document literally flying across the page, à la images printed in “The Daily Prophet”, certainly makes for an enriched reading experience.

The library says their aim is to “digitize and organize material that’s been practically dead to the world.” In doing so, they’ve breathed new life into images of early fireworks, sketches of Galileo’s astronomical observations and serene Japanese woodblock prints.

See the rest

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World’s Top 11 Coffee Cities Every Coffee Lover Should Visit

I’ve been to at least 5 of these. So there may be something in it, although they can’t spell “Addis Ababa”… But I REALLY don’t know about Iceland…

When you love coffee, you love coffee, Jane Scearce notes at Lifehack. You have distinct opinions on where the best coffee is in your local area. When you travel, you have to know the scoop on where to get some quality brew. But if the entire city had a high chance of providing a tasty cup of Joe…well, it could be your personal heaven.

Scearce lists 11 of the best cities for coffee across the globe – and two of them are in my backyard.
Istanbulsource: tannaz via Flickr

Istanbul, Turkey is known for its rich, dark coffee beans. They have a unique method for it as well. Turkish baristas grind beans into a fine meal, and boil them both with or without sugar in a cezve, a specially made pot for Turkish coffee. They don’t use sifters, so the cups of coffee are given a moment to let the grounds settle to the bottom before being served. If you have a taste for thick, flavorful coffee and a desire for a whole new experience, Istanbul is the way to go.

The other coffee cities

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Quote of the Day

A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” ~  Italo Calvino    

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Alma Alexander
My books

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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

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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

Check out my books

Email me 

Comments welcome. What do you think?

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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

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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

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Alma Alexander

Check out my books

Email me

Comments welcome. What do you think?

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