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Carole Wilkinson is an Australian author best known for her DragonKeeper series of children’s books. But she is also a well-respected author of non-fiction books, including Fromelles: Australia’s Bloodiest Day at War, Black Snake: The Daring of Ned Kelly, The Games: The Extraordinary History of the Modern Olympics and Hatshepsut: The Lost Pharaoh of Egypt. […]

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2. Not recommended: Rae Carson's WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER

First, some basics.

Rae Carson's Walk On Earth A Stranger begins in 1849 in Dahlonega, Georgia. The protagonist, 15-year-old Leah Westfall and her parents are living on a plot of land her father got through a land lottery. Leah's dad, Rueben Westfall, his brother, Hiram, and the woman who would become Leah's mom are originally from Boston. The three were friends there and moved to Georgia for its gold rush in 1829.

Let's step out of the book to ask a question: what do you (reader) know about that lottery?

As a Native woman and professor who taught American Indian Studies courses at the University of Illinois, I know a lot about Native history. I know about that lottery. For decades before Georgia held that land lottery in 1832, the Cherokee Nation fought with the State of Georgia and its citizens who had been encroaching on Cherokee land.

The Cherokee Nation went before the Supreme Court where it was decided, in 1832 (yes, same year as that lottery) that the Cherokee Nation was a sovereign nation and that Georgia and its citizens had no standing or claim on that land. President Jackson, however, defied the Supreme Court and ordered the removal of the Cherokee people. At the Cherokee Nation's website, you can read some of the history. Forced removal started in 1838.

Leah would have been a little girl when that forced removal started. As a little girl, she was likely unaware of Removal and unaware of what that lottery meant to Cherokee people. For her, it is her daddy's land. Someone else in Walk On Earth A Stranger, however, knows about removal, first hand.

Leah's potential love interest is a guy named Jefferson McCauley. His father is an Irish prospector who drinks and beats Jefferson. His mother? She's Cherokee, but in 1839 (removal, remember), she fled Dahlonega with her brothers and left Jefferson behind. He remembers her and a Cherokee story she told him, too, that is significant to how Jefferson thinks about himself.

The story Jefferson tells is about eight boys who are brothers. Angry at their mother, they run away from her, and leap into the sky. She grabs one, bringing him back to earth. The seven brothers who got away become the Ani'tsutsa (Pleiades). Jefferson imagines he is the brother who was pulled down, that he stayed, and that he has something like brothers out there somewhere, and that he'll find them someday. When he leaves Dahlonga (Leah and Jefferson will soon be headed to California for the gold rush), he feels that he's done wrong, because he is supposed to stay.

The story Jefferson tells, however, isn't like the one the Cherokees actually tell.  The way they tell it, the boys that run away are not brothers, and the one that is pulled to earth strikes the earth so hard that it swallows him. He's gone, too. His mother sheds tears on that site and eventually, a tree sprouts. It becomes the pine tree. Quite different from the story Jefferson tells, isn't it! Regular readers of AICL know that I object to writers using/twisting Native stories to fit the story they want to tell.

In the Author's Note, Carson lists sources for the emigrant stories she used to create Walk On Earth A Stranger. She obviously found the Ani'tsutsa story somewhere, but doesn't tell us where.  She doesn't list any sources specific to the Cherokee Nation, at all, which makes me wonder how she created Jefferson and his voice. Could we say that she didn't need any Cherokee sources because Jefferson is sufficiently assimilated and is no longer Cherokee? Maybe, and yet, he remembers that story and thinks fondly of his mother. As the wagon train crosses the midwest, he never thinks of or expresses an interest in going to find his mother and his uncles. Maybe he's mad at them for leaving him behind.

Or maybe he is, as I suggested above, assimilated. That would explain why he is headed west to be a prospector, just like all the other people who did that. Certainly, it is plausible that a Native person would want to do that, but I find it unsettling to create a Native character--who lost his mother because of gold--wanting to head West to be a gold prospector on lands that belonged to other Native peoples.

That said, Jefferson looks Native, with black hair and sharp cheekbones. Along the trip west, he is conscious of his Native identity and concerned that people will figure out who he is. People know he's not White but don't know just what he is. Sometimes he is angry when racist men talk about Indians stealing from the wagon trains and kidnapping children, but he keeps that anger to himself. At another point, however, he speaks in a matter of fact way, saying that people are afraid of Indians. Leah is aware of all these incidents and his emotions. She commiserates with him--but sometimes she wonders about Indians, too, and hides those feelings from Jefferson.

Because Jefferson is seeking gold, and because his way of speaking/thinking about Indians is inconsistent, we might say he is conflicted about his identity.

Or... maybe something else is going on. Maybe he is just a device in the story. What he endures makes it possible for readers to view Leah as a Good White Person, worried for him and his well-being. She does this for other characters, too. "Free Jim" is one. The runaway slave, Hampton, is another. And the bachelors who are headed to San Francisco where they can live as they choose... Native people, Blacks, Gays... I think all are devices by which readers see this girl who gets across the country dressed as a boy, as a Good White Person.


Thus far, the problems I've described are familiar ones that occur in depictions of Native people, culture, and history. By that I mean stereotypical and biased storylines that omit key points in history.

Carson does something that--for me--is reprehensible. Yes, that is a strong word, but let me explain.

People hold two kinds of images of Indians in their head. The noble one (that's Jefferson) and the savage one (that's the ones who steal and kidnap kids). Both are problematic because they shape what people know about us. When writers in children's and young adult literature do it, they're shaping what kids know. They are teaching something to readers. Through their words, writers are, in effect, touching the future (wise words from Christa McAuliffe). They are creating images for their readers. What kind of images of Indians--beyond Jefferson--does Carson give her readers? What did I find reprehensible?

Carson's Grave Robbing Indians

The image that Carson adds to what people carry around in their heads is one of Indians as grave robbers. This starts in chapter twenty. By then, Leah/Lee and Jefferson are working for Mr. Joyner. On his wagon are his household goods and his family. Carson has been presenting him as a racist white man.

We see his racism again when the wagon train comes upon a grave. Men from the wagon train investigate. When Joyner returns to his family's wagon, he tells them that Indians did it. Jefferson, "tight and coiled like a thunderstorm about to let loose," asks "Indians killed him?" (p. 234). Joyner says it wasn't a him, but a her. Lee wants to say there's no way to know what she was buried in but thinks it won't do any good. Joyner says (p. 235):
"Truly, these savages have no fear of God nor love of the white man." 
Jefferson rides away at that point. Further down the page, Lee thinks (p. 235):
I don't know what to think about the Indians. Seems to me we don't really know anything about them. We don't even know what we don't know.
There is, for me, an irony to those words. They're meant to ask readers to pause and question what they know about Indians. But to get there, Carson introduces a new image: Indians who rob graves of Whites.

Did that happen?

One of Carson's sources is Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey, edited by Lilian Schlissel.

In it is the diary of Catherine Haun. She writes of a woman named Martha. On the night of the 4th of July, Haun's wagon train is having a celebration. In the midst of it, Martha and a young child stumble into camp, incoherent and disheveled. The next day, Martha tells them what happened: her husband and sister got cholera. Because of that, the rest of their wagon train left them behind, in their own wagon. Martha's husband and sister died. Martha and her brother were burying her sister when Indians attacked. Martha fled with her little girl. Two days later, Haun's wagon train comes upon Martha's abandoned wagon. They find that her sister's grave is still open and Martha's husband is where they left him, dead, in the wagon. Their clothing is missing and there is no sign of Martha's brother or Martha's little boy. Later on the page, Haun writes that Indians spread smallpox among themselves by digging up bodies for their clothing, and later in Haun's diary, we learn that Martha was reunited with her son. Indians had taken him and traded him for a horse.

Hence, in Haun's account, Carson has a source for the grave-robbing Indians she depicts in Walk on Earth a Stranger. But take a look at this page from Schlissel's book. The column on the left is from Cecilia McMillen Adams's diary. On the right is an excerpt from Maria Parson's Belshaw's diary.

On the next page (not shown) is the account of Caroline Richardson. On June 1 she wrote "Graves now are often partly dug up." She doesn't say Indians did it. Might she have thought that? We don't know. Angeline Ashley noted 47 graves. Esther Hanna noted 102. Neither Angeline or Esther notes graves that have been dug up. Overwhelmingly, I think Carson's source notes a large number of graves, but ones dug up by Indians? No.

Enter, again, my own identity as a Native woman and scholar. Do you know about NAGPRA? That is a law passed in the United States Congress. It is all about graves being robbed. Native graves, that is. For literally hundreds of years, people have been digging up Native graves. Human remains and artifacts, dug up and sold on the black market, or collected and deposited in museums.

Through NAGPRA, those remains are being returned to Native Nations for reburial. That sort of thing is still happening. It was in the news just this week. Actors in the film, Maze Runner, were shooting at a Native cemetery. They took artifacts because "who doesn't?"

But let's come back to Carson's sources.

In the introduction to Women's Diaries of the Westward Journey, Schlissel writes that the letters and diaries in her book are "accounts of singularities" and that only "when the patterns emerge with regularity can one believe the responses are representative" (p. 11). Is Haun's singular account one that ought to be introduced to young readers as Carson has done?

In Walk on Earth a Stranger, she introduces that image and leaves it open-ended for her readers to sort out.

Therein lies the problem. This image of grave robbing Indians fits what people think they know about Native peoples: primitive, depraved, less than human, savages. Carson doesn't come back to tell us that, in fact, it is not representative of the historical record.

What she did is quite the opposite. In the preface to Schlissel's book, Carl N. Degler writes that (p. xvi):
Whereas men usually emphasized the danger from the Indians and told of their fights with the native peoples, the women, who admittedly often started out fearful of the Indians, usually ended up finding them friendly in manner and often helpful in deed. Women, it seemed, had no need to emphasize Indian ferocity. 
Friendly Indians? Helpful Indians? That is the image of Indians women had at the end of their journey. It is not the image of Indians that readers have when Lee and her group get to California. Let's look at another episode Carson provides.

When Lee's wagon train is at Fort Hall (chapter twenty-nine), they hear this story (p. 369):
"We had a situation here a few weeks ago, where an Indian offered a man three horses in exchange for one of his daughters. The settler joked that if the Indians gave him six, it was a deal. This joke, as it were, at his daughter's expense, nearly led to bloodshed, when the Indian came back with the horses."
I found a similar story in another of Carson's sources: Covered Wagon Women: Diaries & Letters from the Western Trails, 1840-1849, edited by Kenneth L. Holmes. In it, the horse trading story ends like this. The Indian (p. 33):
"followed our wagons for several days and we were glad to get rid of him without any trouble."
Quite a different image, isn't it? I assume Carson read through her sources, but why does she give us such a different image of Indian people, given what her sources told her about them?


One might argue that Carson is even-handed in depicting racism. Indians rob graves, but what about Mr. Joyner? He puts fear of Indians in his wife's mind again and again. He puts measles infected blankets in a grave so the Indians can get sick when they dig up that grave. Pretty dang racist, right?

On one hand, we have grave robbing Indians, and on the other, we have Mr. Joyner and Frank (another White man who is depicted as racist).

Notice that Carson gives us Indian people as a group who are horrible, versus specific White individuals who are horrible.

Carson effectively tells us to hate Mr. Joyner and Frank as racists, but why did she not individualize those Indians on the trail in some way, guided by her sources? Why does she have that grave robbing part in there?

It'd be terrific if she would tell us why.

As noted in the title of this post, Rae Carson's Walk On Earth A Stranger is not recommended. Published in 2015 by Greenwillow, it is currently on the long list for the National Book Award. I hope someone shares this review with members of the committee. Carson's book debuted on the New York Times best sellers list. That, I think, is based on her previous work, but I'm sure the publisher's huge marketing campaign helped get it on that best seller list.

For further reading:
Notes I took as I read Carson's book
A Tumblr post I wrote after I shared my notes

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3. Mrs. Zilla

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4. Podcast/Videocast at the Free Library, with LOVE and Marciarose

Marciarose Shestack, didn't we have ourselves a time last evening, at the Free Library of Philadelphia?

With greatest thanks to Siobhan, Andy, and Jason, to Gary, to Kevin, to my husband and father, to my friends, to all those who joined us there on a starry night, to everyone who asked a question, to all of you who stood in line.

A podcast can be found here.

A video stream of the reading and conversation can be found here.

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5. An Update on Writing Smart and Not Scared


You might remember earlier this year I committed to  learning how to write smart and not scared.  At the time I was working on a picture book manuscript as I awaited first-round edits on my next novel.

That picture book is now on submission. The first-round edits are back with my editor. I’d love to say everything has been as easy as pie, but that’s not the way the writing life works — or any part of life, really. Here are the things I continue to learn as I think about writing in light of this mindset:


Discomfort will always be part of my process. I find the writing life wonderful and challenging and joyous and hard, but I often let the more difficult parts that come with writing play a starring role. I’m trying to remember those hard parts don’t get the final word. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, fear can ride in the car, but it has to stay in the back seat.


My deepest satisfaction comes from the work itself. I know this. But somehow along the way, sales and reviews and all the ridiculous externals out of my control can hijack what’s really important. A huge thank you to Marion Dane Bauer for her recent blog post I’ve read a couple dozen times about satisfaction and gratitude and letting go of the rest.


“No” is often a gift. All of September and October, I’ve been running on Wednesday evenings with my seventh grader’s soccer team. One particular Wednesday held the perfect combination of the out-of-my-hands highs and lows that make up the writing life. A novel was nominated for an award. A manuscript, after ten months with a particular editor and extensive re-writes, was rejected.

I left for the run pretty heartbroken and in need of distraction. As I settled into the soothing familiarity of a steady run, the clouds opened in a desert storm above us, and I was able to move beyond the disappointment, I was able to celebrate the beauty of my surroundings, the gift of movement, the privilege to share in this piece of my son’s life. And when our hour in the Sandia foothills drew to a close, I was ready to reflect on that rejection more objectively. The editor who said no to my work really gave me a gift. Her request for a re-write helped me find a stronger book in the process.


Choosing a challenge is ultimately satisfying. Writing the book I don’t know how to master can keep me up at nights, but that’s the direction my heart is often drawn. These words will keep me moving and believing.


Breaks feed my creativity. In the last four months I’ve re-written a novel for the second time, finishing with a mad twenty-five hour weekend dash to the end. Something that kept me focused during that last month of hard work was the promise I’d take a whole month off of writing afterward. Fear would not be allowed to drive me to spin my wheels in meaningless productivity. Outside of blogging, my focus would be reading.

I’m in week three of my writing vacation, and let me tell you, it’s everything I needed and more.

When I first mentioned this concept of writing smart and not scared, a number of you contacted me to say you were all in. I’d love to hear how you’re doing in the comments below.

The post An Update on Writing Smart and Not Scared appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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6. Anecdotes on Literary Popularity and Difficulty

When interviewed by a reporter from the Wall Street Journal regarding Thomas Ligotti, Jeff VanderMeer was asked: "Can Ligotti’s work find a broader audience, such as with people who tend to read more pop horror such as Stephen King?" His response was, it seems to me, accurate:
Ligotti tells a damn fine tale and a creepy one at that. You can find traditional chills to enjoy in his work or you can find more esoteric delights. I think his mastery of a sense of unease in the modern world, a sense of things not being quite what they’re portrayed to be, isn’t just relevant to our times but also very relatable. But he’s one of those writers who finds a broader audience because he changes your brain when you read him—like Roberto Bolano. I’d put him in that camp too—the Bolano of 2666. That’s a rare feat these days.
This reminded me of a few moments from past conversations I've had about the difficulty of modernist texts and their ability to find audiences. I have often fallen into the assumption that difficulty precludes any sort of popularity, and that popularity signals shallowness of writing, even though I know numerous examples that disprove this assumption.

When I was an undergraduate at NYU, I took a truly life-changing seminar on Faulkner and Hemingway with the late Ilse Dusoir Lind, a great Faulknerian. Faulkner was a revelation for me, total love at first sight, and I plunged in with gusto. Dr. Lind thought I was amusing, and we talked a lot and corresponded a bit later, and she wrote me a recommendation letter when I was applying to full-time jobs for the first time. (I really need to write something about her. She was a marvel.) Anyway, we got to talking once about the difficulty of Faulkner's best work, and she said that she had recently (this would be 1995 or so) had a conversation with somebody high up at Random House who said that Faulkner was their most consistent seller, and their bestselling writer across the years. I don't know if this is true or not, or if I remember the details accurately, or if Dr. Lind heard the details accurately, but I can believe it, especially given how common Faulkner's work is in schools.

And this was ten years before the Oprah Book Club's "Summer of Faulkner". I love something Meghan O'Rourke wrote in her chronicle of trying to read Faulkner with Oprah:
Going online in search of help, I worried about what I might find. What if no one liked Faulkner, or—worse—the message boards were full of politically correct protests of his attitude toward women, or rife with therapeutic platitudes inspired by the incest and suicide that underpin the book? But on the boards, which I found after clicking past a headline about transvestites who break up families, I discovered scores of thoughtful posts that were bracingly enthusiastic about Faulkner. Even the grumpy readers—and there were some, of course—seemed to want to discover what everyone else was excited about. What I liked best was that people were busy addressing something no one talks about much these days: the actual experience of reading, the nuts and bolts of it.
We often underestimate the common reader.

Which brings me to another anecdote. When I was doing my master's degree, I fell in love with the poetry of Aimé Césaire, particularly the Notebook of a Return to the Native Land. I was at Dartmouth, so our instructor (who later very kindly joined my thesis committee) was an expert on Césaire and had spent time in Martinique with him. I asked him how it was possible for someone who wrote such complex, thorny stuff to have become so popular among not just individuals, but whole groups of people who had not had great access to education and who may have little knowledge of modernist poetry. He said something to the effect of: Difficulty depends on what you expect, and what your context for understanding is. If your experience and  perception of the world fits with that of the writer, then the form a great writer finds to express that experience and perception is going to be accessible to you, or at least accessible enough to allow you some level of basic appreciation from which to build greater appreciation. He said he'd seen illiterate people deeply, deeply moved by Césaire's poetry when it was read aloud. He knew countless people who had memorized whole passages. He himself fell in love with Césaire's work when he was at school in England, far away from home, and his roommate, who was from the Caribbean, had written (from memory) passages of the Notebook on the ceiling of their dorm room so that it would be the last thing he saw each night and the first thing he saw each morning. Césaire may not have been an international bestseller, but his popularity is real, and is a kind any writer would be humbled by and grateful for.

I've been reading around in Modernism, Middlebrow, and the Literary Canon: The Modern Library Series 1917-1955 by Lise Jaillant, which includes a fascinating chapter on Virginia Woolf. While the information about how Orlando sold well from the beginning is familiar to anyone who's read much biographical material about Woolf, far more interesting and revealing is the discussion of the fate of Mrs. Dalloway in the Modern Library edition in the US. This actually has a lot of parallel to Ligotti becoming part of the Penguin Classics line, for, as Jaillant writes, "The Modern Library was the first publisher's series to market Woolf as a classic writer.") During and immediately after World War II, the Modern Library edition of Mrs. Dalloway sold quite well, at least in part because of its use in schools:
In 1941-42, Mrs. Dalloway sold four copies to every three of To the Lighthouse. This trend continued after the war, a period characterized by a huge rise in student enrolments, and an increasing number of courses on twentieth-century literature. The Modern Library edition of Mrs. Dalloway was often adopted for use in survey courses at large universities. In 1947, for example, one professor at the University of Wisconsin ordered 1,400 copies of Mrs. Dalloway, and another one at the University of Chicago ordered 800 copies of the same book. In the 1940s, Mrs. Dalloway sold around 2,800 copies a year. If we look at the twenty-year period from 1928 to 1948, Mrs. Dalloway sold 61,000 copies.
It probably would have gone on like that if the Modern Library hadn't lost the reprint rights to Mrs. Dalloway — Harcourt/Brace had decided to start their own line of inexpensive "classic" editions (Harbrace Modern Classics). Attitudes toward modernist novels had changed, too, as Jaillant says: "...the idea that a modernist work could also be a bestseller was increasingly contested in the 1940s and 1950s, at the time when modernism was institutionalized in English departments. The popularity of Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse was soon forgotten, as modernism came to be seen as a difficult movement for an elite" (102). (I don't know how well Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse sold between 1948 and the 1970s. By 1975 or so, Woolf was championed by feminist scholars and started on her way to becoming one of the most frequently studied writers on Earth. I've been told that sales of her books were pretty dismal by the end of the 1960s, and that most of her books were out of print, but that may be more a matter of memory and perception than fact. This is something I need to look into further.)

Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse are not easy books. They aren't The Waves, but they're still nothing anyone would ever describe as "easy reads". (The Waves did very well at first, since it was Woolf's first novel after Orlando, selling just over 10,000 copies in the first six months in the UK, but it then dwindled to only a few hundred copies sold in the UK in the next six months, according to J.H. Willis) The various editions of Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse still sell well today, and are not only beloved by English professors, but by all sorts of common readers who come upon them in a class or just in the course of ordinary life and find something in the pages worth wrestling with. Even The Waves is deeply loved by many people, and it's one of the most difficult of modernist texts. But it, like all of Woolf's best writing, does things to you few, if any, other books do.

This gets back to what Jeff said about Ligotti: "he’s one of those writers who finds a broader audience because he changes your brain when you read him." If readers trust that the effort of learning to read a strange or difficult writer is worth it, then they may put forth that effort. Brains are stubborn, and sometimes resist being changed. I threw Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! across the room three times when I first read it. Eventually, I put in enough work that the book was able to teach me how to read it. And then we were in love, eternal love.

There's no sure pathway to such things, for writer or reader, and of course there are plenty of marvelous, difficult writers whose work has never succeeded much, if at all. In many cases, success (eventual or immediate) is a matter of packaging, and sometimes that packaging is deceptive. Look at Faulkner, for instance. His reputation among critics and scholars in the 1930s was generally high, but the only book that sold well was his sensationalist pulp novel Sanctuary. The Southern Agrarians (and, later, New Critics) rather oddly reconfigured and tamed Faulkner, downplaying and flat-out misinterpreting and misrepresenting the darkness, ambiguity, and weirdness of his work. The biggest successes at this were Malcolm Cowley, who gave up left-wing politics around the time he started editing the various Viking Portable editions of major writers, and Cleanth Brooks, who palled around with the Agrarians and helped create and promulgate New Criticism. Cowley's Portable Faulkner presented a simplified and superficial vision of Faulkner, while Brooks's studies of Faulkner provided (mis)interpretations of his works that made Faulkner seem like an unthreatening nostalgist, a writer palatable both to the more conservative of Southern critics and the blandly liberal Northern critics. The simplified/sanitized/superficial view of Faulkner led to a Nobel Prize and quick canonization. Faulkner himself even seems to have bought into the new, cuddly presentation — his last great work was Go Down, Moses in 1942, with nothing written after it of comparable quality, depth, or strangeness. Some of the later books and stories are quite readable, but they're relatively shallow and often cloying. Partly, or perhaps even fundamentally, this was the result of chronic alcoholism catching up to Faulkner, but it was also a matter of his having apparently decided to write what his growing audience expected of him.

Still, even with all its simplicities and superficialities, the canonization of Faulkner allowed his work to stay in print, to receive wide distribution, and to be read. Many people probably didn't read past the Agrarian/New Critic view for decades, but I expect many others did. (Especially people influenced by existentialism, who would have seen the darkness and even nihilism within the best writings. For a long time, and maybe still, people outside the US academy saw a deeper, stranger Faulkner than US professors and critics.) The books were available, the words could be read.

The lesson here, if there is a lesson, is that literary history is complex and doesn't easily boil down to simple oppositions like popular vs. difficult. And that so much depends upon how a book is sold to readers, and how readers have the opportunity to discover a book, and what they expect from it and hope from it, because what they hope and expect from a book will determine how they find their way into it, and it will further determine whether they stick with it when the way in proves challenging. If writers, publishers, critics, and teachers respect readers as intelligent beings and keep high expectations for them, some great things can happen sometimes, especially if a "difficult" book is able to stay in print for a little while, to lurk on shelves until it is discovered by the readers who need it, the readers ready to help its words live.

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7. October Reading

September was such a busy month in all parts of my life — work, gardening, biking and of course reading. I kept waiting for the cold weather to arrive but it never did. Part of me was disappointed about that and another part of me was really excited. But the go go go is starting to wear me out and even if I would love to keep go go going I am looking forward to cold weather whenever it finally gets here. Better late than never!

September reading plans were crazy and of course I didn’t read all I had I hoped to. But that’s ok. I dream big and if I read half of what I hope to I am happy. One book I did not get to read in September and had to return to the library was Helen Vendler’s The Ocean, the Bird and the Scholar: Essays on Poets and Poetry. I read the first two essays and liked them very much but just ran out of time. Vendler also does not exactly have a breezy style, one must read slowly and pay attention. So I have decided this is a book I would like to own. That way I can take my time with it, mark it up and always have it around for reference. I have been waiting for a Barnes and Noble coupon and one arrived in my email today so this will be the weekend of the purchase. Yay!

October catches me almost done with Still Time by Jean Hegland. I am very much enjoying the book. It’s a lovely and sad father-daughter story. I should be able to tell you more about it soon.

I am in the middle of Azar Nafisi’s The Republic of the Imagination and liking it very much. I somehow expected her literary analysis to have more of a critical textual focus but like Reading Lolita in Tehran, she mixes analysis with personal stories and focuses more on the broader story and its themes and context rather than picking away at scenes and nuances. It is good stuff and I plan to finish it this month.

I am picking away at The Rider by Tim Krabbé. It is lots of fun as he gives a rider’s view of a big race and the strategizing and physical effort. I had no idea the riders in the peloton chatted with each other while racing. It all seems like a friendly group ride until it isn’t. They never forget they are riding in a race.

My Elizabeth Bishop project continues. I am really enjoying her poetry. I didn’t get to spend much time with her letters and no time at all with Rare and Commonplace Flowers in September, so I am hoping to be able to carve out more time with those this month.

I just started reading Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson. I spent years thinking he was a she and I still have to catch myself. I have never read him before but have wanted to and now I am. This book is about a generation ship that after nearly 200 years of traveling from Earth to its destination is almost at journey’s end. The focus of the book is about all the unexpected changes that have happened to the humans on board and what that means for their survival.

New books on the horizon for the month include Foragers, Farmers and Fossil Fuels: How Human Values Evolve by Ian Morris. My turn for this just came up at the library yesterday. I read the introduction last night and almost decided no thanks until I learned that after Morris’s arguments he has three people from various specialties comment and argue with him. One of these people is Margaret Atwood! So while I get the feeling I won’t be agreeing much with Morris’s thesis, it isn’t every day an author includes three people who directly criticize in his own book. Plus, Margaret Atwood.

You may also be wondering what I chose for my first nature book after I asked for recommendations. Since it has been on my shelf for years and because several of you mentioned it, I decided to go with Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. I will be starting it sometime this month.

And probably later in the month it looks like my turn at the library will be coming up for The House of Twenty Thousand Books by Sasha Abramsky. The book is about Abramsky’s grandparents and library and is published by the New York Review of Books. I have yet to meet a NYRB I didn’t like and I expect this one will be no exception.

Scaling back a little on the plans for October. So far. Tomorrow and Saturday Bookman and I will be attending NerdCon and who knows what kind of bookish craziness might ensue because of it! I will of course let you know.

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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8. Pick of the Week for INK and This Week’s Topic


Happy Illustration Friday!

Please enjoy the wonderful illustration above by Mickael “Patiño” Brana, our Pick of the Week for last week’s topic of PRIZE. Thanks to everyone who participated with drawings, paintings, sculptures, and more. We love seeing it all!

You can see a gallery of ALL the entries here.

And of course, you can now participate in this week’s topic:


Here’s how:

Step 1: Illustrate your interpretation of the current week’s topic (always viewable on the homepage).

Step 2: Post your image onto your blog / flickr / facebook, etc.

Step 3: Come back to Illustration Friday and submit your illustration (see big “Submit your illustration” button on the homepage).

Step 4: Your illustration will then be added to the public Gallery where it will be viewable along with everyone else’s from the IF community!

Also be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter and subscribe to our weekly email newsletter to keep up with our exciting community updates!


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9. Just Finished Reading... The Rest Of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

I bought this from iBooks only Wednesday and had it finished yesterday. I'd read a review on Tsana's Reads blog and it sounded like fun, and so it was. 

Imagine if you lived in Sunnydale, or its equivalent, but weren't a part of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Scooby Gang. All that stuff would still be happening but not to you, although you might still notice things going on, especially if you went to the same school.

In this novel, we see the goings-on from the viewpoints of a bunch of (mostly) ordinary kids, who have enough problems without worrying about whether evil beings from another dimension are trying to take over the world. The Chosen Ones are known as indie kids. Their adventures are happening off the main page, though we do get a paragraph or two about it at the start of each chapter. 

Actually, I have always loved Buffy because, in the middle of all those vampire and demon invasions, characters would be shrieking,"You stole my boyfriend!" 

In this case, in an unnamed small town, which does have semi-regular paranormal events(soul-sucking ghosts, vampire romances, a plague of gods and goddesses), we see what's happening elsewhere in the town, although the paranormal events do impact on the lives of those who are just trying to finish their exams, get a date to the prom and overcome truly serious anorexia and OCD problems. Mikey, the hero, is the one with OCD, his sister is a recovering anorexic, their father an alcoholic and their mother a politician who does care about them, but is mostly worried about her current campaign. These problems do have to be overcome, even as they pray for their school not to be burned down by the struggle between indie kids and  paranormal creatures...again. (It's only been eight years since the last time!) This is definitely a gentle poke at Buffy.

Despite all that, there is a should-be indie kid among them, Mikey's best friend Jared, a demigod, whose grandmother was the goddess of cats - part of the plague of gods, who had settled down with a mortal before returning to the divine realms. Jared is such a nice boy! And cats adore him, including mountain lions. But he is trying to live a normal life, apart from healing cats and the occasional human.

It isn't as funny as it sounds; there is gentle humour as the author pokes fun at the current passion for YA paranormal books, but there are enough serious problems to make you think.

Anyway, I enjoyed it. It's my first Patrick Ness book, though I do have  another on my iPad, to be read later.

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10. The Simple Days

I miss the simple days of yore
When all the rules were known,
The type of life we had before
It shrank into a phone.

When patience was required
For the effort that it took
To get answers we desired
From the right library book.

When our choices weren’t many
On the AM or TV
And a candy for a penny
Was quite good enough for me.

No technology to stump me
And convince me I’m a fool,
Just the smarts I had to pump me
That I learned at home and school.

From a different generation
I’ve been thrust out from the past.
Since I stink at adaptation,
I’ve been totally surpassed.

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11. NYCC ’15: Valiant’s Archer and Armstrong are back in action in A&A #1

Two heroes are rejoining the Valiant Universe after a successful 25-issue ongoing series. Welcome Archer & Armstrong back to the Valiant Universe with A&A #1. The new title will debut in March 2016, and feature writing from Valiant newcomer Rafer Roberts (Plastic Farm) artist David Lafuente (Ultimate Spider-Man) is adding pencils to the brand new comic. […]

1 Comments on NYCC ’15: Valiant’s Archer and Armstrong are back in action in A&A #1, last added: 10/8/2015
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12. FOODFIC: Please Welcome Guido Henkel, Author of HUNTED

Food plays such an elemental part of our lives that I am often surprised how little of it is shown in fiction, and even in movies or TV shows. I mean, after all, didn’t we just have breakfast, and then lunch, and now we’re eating again? There are days when it feels that our entire being revolves around nothing but food. And the worst part is that after a few hours it is depleted, and the cycle starts all over again. For cooks it must be a devastating feeling to have labored over a good meal for hours, only to have it gobbled down in a few minutes without any further pay-off, knowing that it was a rather vain attempt to stop the hunger, because before long, we’ll be have to have at it again. In the real world, food is king, not money!

A while back my editor returned one of my manuscripts to me with the general comment “I love that Jason Dark and Siu Lin always have these conversations over food.” It was only then that I realized, yes, my characters do sit down to eat and talk about things. As a writer, for me, it’s always a nice set piece that gives me a backdrop that I can make as rich and detailed as I want to, or relegate it to the background if I desire.

While I have sit-downs in my stories where the characters eat sumptuous dinners—it seems to make Jason Dark’s deductive juices flow—I also use food as coloration. Like a throw-away line. He may just walk past a stall in a market place and grab an apple and share it with his companion Siu Lin, or he purchases fish and chips from a street vendor while being on the run to solve his current supernatural mystery. Naturally, rice dishes are also ever-present, as my character Siu Lin prefers her diet more Asian.

Drink is equally important, I believe. Not necessarily booze, but the general consumption of liquids. My Jason Dark mysteries play in Victorian England, so the generally accepted notion is that everyone drinks tea, but in a twist of fate—or was it just my imagination?—I decided to make Jason Dark a coffee drinker—a preference handed down to him by his father, like many other things. At the same time, as one would expect, Siu Lin is a tea drinker, though not of the British Earl Grey variation necessarily, she prefers the Lapsang and Jasmine teas of her homeland of China.

While I find that I never pick food scenes consciously, they seem to be part of my writing fabric. This is, perhaps, most noticeable in the series’ first book, Demon’s Night. When readers meet Jason Dark for the very first time, his introduction takes place at a breakfast table where he eats with his live-in sister in-law, as she points out a particular newspaper article to him, which ultimately leads to him investigating the case in question. As I said, I did not write this scene with the conscious desire of wanting to write a “food scene.” To me it simply felt natural. A beautiful morning, sunlight falls in through the window, fresh rolls on the table and a cup of steaming coffee, the aroma filling the air. It is homey, and the perfect counterpoint to what just happened on the previous page—yes, as you may have guessed, the previous chapter involved a few people getting killed by some strange creature.

Feel free to check out any book in my Jason Dark series, or give the latest release, Hunted, a try, and see how many food moments you can spot in the book.

Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Guido!

You can find Guido here:

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13. Comics Illustrator of the Week :: Steve Skroce





















I remember being really impressed by the shots in the original Matrix film back in 1999, but I had no idea, back then, that a little known Spider-Man artist first helped bring that movie to life with pencil & paper. Steve Skroce previously worked with Lana and Andy Wachowski on an obscure horror comic book called Clive Barker’s Ectokid, which was his first major work as a comic-book artist. Before his time as Matrix storyboard artist, Skroce worked on a number of high profile superhero comics, including Cable, Gambit, X-Man, and Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood with comics legend Alan Moore. 

Today, Steve Skroce is putting out some of his best artwork yet on the creator-owned series We Stand On Guard with superstar writer Brian K. Vaughan. The story takes place a 100 years in the future and follows a group of Canadian citizens(Skroce is Canadian) defending their country from an invasion by The United States of America. The 4th issue just hit the stands and it appears that the first volume will wrap up with issue 6.

Skroce has drawn many storyboards for movies, including many more with the Wachowski’s. Some of those films include The Matrix Trilogy, V for Vendetta, Speed Racer, and Cloud Atlas. He also found time to make more comics, with a memorable 4 issue stint on Wolverine(2000) for Marvel and the independent series Doc Frankenstein(2004-present), which he co-created with artist Geof Darrow, for Burlyman.

Steve Skroce apparently doesn’t have much of a social media presence(he’s probably just too busy drawing!), so here’s a link to his wiki-page, if you want more information.

For more comics related art, you can follow me on my website comicstavern.com – Andy Yates

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14. Ron Perlman cast in “Fantastic Beasts”!

After more casting news was released earlier this week, The Hollywood Reporter exclusively released that well-known screen and stage actor, Ron Perlman, was also added to the Fantastic Beasts casting list. Apparently Perlman is to play a Goblin.

We are familiar with Goblins in the Harry Potter series. Perlman is not quite Goblin size. This brings to question of what kind of acting Perlman will be doing for the film–voice acting for a possible CGI Goblin, or physically playing a role on set. Who knows, maybe this Goblin will be the grandfather of Griphook, or maybe a Goblin we’ve actually met in the Harry Potter world. Of course, Fantastic Beasts hasn’t released any statement, plot point, or further explanation on the matter.


The Hollywood Reporter gives Perlman’s background information:

Plot details were not revealed, but sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that Perlman will play a goblin.

THR earlier this week revealed that Humans star Gemma Chan, Selma actress Carmen Ejogo and Jon Voight recently joined the cast.

Also on the roll call: Katherine Waterston, Ezra Miller, Colin Farrell, Dan Fogler and Samantha Morton.

Perlman starred in all but the last season of FX’s Sons of Anarchy and also starred in the recent Amazon series Hand of God. The fan-favorite actor, known for starring in the Hellboy movies, was most recently seen inRoland Emmerich’s civil rights drama Stonewall.

He is repped by Gersh and LINK Entertainment.

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15. NYCC’15: Image Comics Renews with ComiXology & Expands to Kindles

Image Comics expands its digital footprint onto your Kindle.

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16. French prize not-so-longlists

       Several more French literary prizes have cut back their longlists in their second rounds this week: the prix Renaudot (see here) and the prix Médicis (see here).
       The big news here is that Boualem Sansal's 2084 didn't survive to this stage in either one's French-novel category.

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17. A Glorious List of YA Apocalypse Books

I have a deep love for all books about the end of the world and the apocalypse. It’s exciting! I love the speculation of what could happen. Because zombies could totally happen. Or angels. Or destruction by walking trees. WHO KNOWS. Today I have a list of Young Adult books about the apocalypse and the end of the world. […]

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18. Enhanced “Harry Potter” E-Books now Available through Apple

This morning, Apple released enhanced editions of the Harry Potter ebooks–now available to download on iBooks. J.K. Rowling tweeted about the release, saying she was “thrilled” with the “beautiful” enhanced editions of the books.


Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 10.17.58 PM

The enhanced editions of the Harry Potter ebooks resemble the new illustrated editions of the physical Harry Potter books, by Jim Kay. In collaboration with Pottermore, the Apple iBooks are now not only print text on a screen, but include artwork, animations and interactive features (like catching the Golden Snitch with your fingers as it flits across the page), and above all, the extra storylines and informational tidbits J.K. Rowling has released on the old version of Pottermore over the years.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 10.16.46 PM


It sounds to us like there a footnotes and annotations added to the book as you read, which makes accessing the “HarryPotter Extra” Pottermore-released content from J.K. Rowling much more conveniently accessible. Almost as if the books themselves have been “encyclopediafied.”

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 10.16.33 PM



Of course, the ultimate insider, Pottermore’s news correspondent, had the first scoop on these new books. Reporting inside details, and quotes from executives about the creative process behind these new ebooks. Pottermore reports:

Every detail was meticulously planned to fit Harry’s world without pulling focus from the text itself, from the custom-designed, lightning-inspired capital letters (in a font called ‘Fluffy’) at the beginning of each chapter, to the detailed depiction ofMalfoy Manor. Each element is created with magic in mind, not just convenience – although I can still fit all seven volumes into my handbag.

There’s an animated Golden Snitch that flits across a page in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (please tell me if you can catch it with your fingers; I tried and I tried but I couldn’t). There’s a Mountain Troll absent-mindedly clubbing the paragraph below, there are fires that flicker, portraits that move and smoke that billows beautifully. Each detail is a subtle, deliberate decision to complement the imagination of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world. Some of them I’d seen on pottermore.com, others are sparkling new.

A production executive from Pottermore was able to tell me a wee bit about the creative process: ‘Every decision is about the text. We’re always mindful of the narrative tension – sometimes it’s appropriate to allow the reader to take a look around the wizarding world and put an explanatory picture of a Hinkypunk in their peripheral vision.’

‘Sometimes, in moments of tense action and grave peril, that would be completely wrong. The team took time together, out of the office, in a secret space in London to develop ideas. For the covers, for instance, we started with over 100 different treatments and over the next few months, whittled that down to 11, then three and finally down to one look that we all love.’

Repeat that process over and over for all 223 ‘enhancements’ in this book.

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19. Ralph Bakshi’s ‘Last Days of Coney Island’ Will Premiere on Vimeo

The renegade animation director will debut the project online on his 77th birthday.

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20. (American) National Translation Award shortlists

       The American Literary Translators Association has announced the shortlists for the 2015 National Translation Awards in Poetry and Prose.
       Two of the shortlisted prose translations are under review at the complete review -- Running Through Beijing and Why I Killed My Best Friend -- and I've read two of the others (Erpenbck, Jansson). (And I've also read the Tolstoy -- but not in the nominated translation.)

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21. What I Read in September

Basically the big Golden family happening of September (which led to me basically doing not much of anything else in September) is that we added a new member to our little family.  I introduced him in his own post, but just in case you missed it...

Pompom!  Named for my favorite Homestar Runner character, naturally.  Because of Pompom, I am now spending 90% of my free time laying on the couch or my bed getting snuggles.

He's becoming more and more playful, but his favorite thing is still laying on my face while I try to read.  He's met his big brothers but isn't quite a fan yet.  The puppies are terrified of him and do their best to always avoid eye contact.  He hasn't spit at them recently, so we're making baby steps towards friendship.
This is Pompom's preferred state of affairs and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thrilled about it.  Lounging under a blanket is also my preferred state of being, but I do need to get back on track with my yoga.  It's just so hard to move a purring kitten off your face in order to exercise.  It has, however, meant lots of time for reading.  Here's what I read in September:

People I Want to Punch in the Throat
Jen Mann
Those Girls
Chevy Stephens
Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget
Sara Hepola
Tales from the Back Row
Amy Odell
We Believe the Children
Richard Beck
You're Never Weird on the Internet
Felicia Day
Upcycle Your Wardrobe
Mia Fuhrer
Lovable Livable Home
Sherry and John Petersik
Arkham Manor, Volume I
Gerry Duggan
Searching for Sunday
Rachel Held Evans
Is Shame Necessary
Jennifer Jacquet
Meg Wolitzer
Christina Henry
Jessica Anthony
Total books read in September: 14
Total books read in 2015: 157

Total pages read in September:3552
Total pages read in 2015: 44,832 

What did you read in September?

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22. Svetlana Alexievich, Nobel laureate 2015

       Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich was named this year's Nobel laureate (she'll only officially be awarded the prize at the 10 December Nobel award ceremony); my coverage from yesterday provides many of the basic informational links about her, her work, and early reactions to it.

       Was this a surprise ?
       Apparently not -- at least to the extent that a Nobel announcement can be unsurprising. She was -- and long had been -- the odds-on betting favorite (3/1 at Ladbrokes coming into the final day) and, for example, when Aftonbladet asked their critics to name their guesses and their favorites Alexievich was a popular choice.

       Does she deserve the prize ?
       As I suggested in my final Nobel preview -- and as indeed I suggested back in 2013 in assessing her chances back then -- she covers a lot of what one might expect on any Nobel checklist. The Nobel committee continues to show a particular appetite for recent-European-horrors-probing writing, whether about Nazi Europe (Modiano, Kertész), Communist totalitarianism (Herta Müller), or bourgeois society (Jelinek), and Alexievich's bona fides -- a product of the Soviet system (she won Soviet literary prizes back in the 1980s), a citizen of Europe's most totalitarian state, her subject matters -- are unimpeachable. The many other prizes she has won -- quite a variety, too -- suggest there's considerable quality there too.
       English-speaking readers are of course at a disadvantage, because even though she hasn't published very many books, her Voices from Chernobyl is the only one that has been readily available for quite a while, and the only other title that reached much of an audience was Zinky Boys (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk). (She has appeared two other times in English, but neither made much of an impression (and it's unlikely you'd come across copies easily): War's Unwomanly Face was published by Soviet publisher Progress Publishers -- and, widely forgotten, a UK edition, in a different translation, of Voices from Chernobyl came out back in 1999 (the book did not take off until Dalkey Archive Press got US rights and commissioned a new translation which was only published in 2005; see also Chad Post's account at Three Percent, Svetlana Alexievich for the Nobel !).)
       The second translation of Voices from Chernobyl won the National Book Critics Circle award for non-fiction, and her more recent works have been widely hailed and very well reviewed in Europe (where they have appeared in many languages -- the US/UK really lags here).
       So overall it's hard to find fault with the Swedish Academy's decision.

       What do I think ?
       Oh, dear. Longtime readers know that I am a fan of fiction, and not so much of non. I don't like memoirs, and I have an aversion to testimony-writing; the modern journalistic fashion for anecdotal and personal stories drvies me nuts (I want my news impersonal and factual (to whatever extent that's possible)). So I'm not the ideal audience for a 'creative' documentary-style writer like Alexievich; indeed, I'd rather not be an audience for it at all.
       That said, I can't really argue with the prize. I think she's worthy and deserving -- even that she's a good choice. But it's not writing that particularly interests me -- and I already dread the imitators that will follow Alexievich's writing path, emboldened by this validation of it. ('No, no ! Turn back !' I want to yell ....)

       One of the fun things about the Nobel is that it's often small publishers that get a bit of glory here. In the Irish Times Eileen Battersby writes about Nobel Prize for Literature: Courage defines Alexievich's work -- and here John O'Brien also talks about how Dalkey came to publish her.
       Meanwhile, small UK publisher Fitzcarraldo Editions did well in nabbing the rights to rights to Время секонд хэнд ('Second-hand time'; see also the literary agency publicity page), a book that suddenly has a much higher profile. (Translator Bela Shayevich has already written a piece for The Guardian explaining how Svetlana Alexievich builds individual voices into a mighty chorus.)

       Last year at a weblog at The New Yorker Philip Gourevitch had already tried to make the case that Nonfiction Deserves a Nobel, and now he gets to crow Nonfiction Wins a Nobel. Similarly, at Slate Katy Waldman cheers that Svetlana Alexievich's Nobel Prize Is a Huge Win for Nonfiction Writing.
       (Again: I can't really disagree -- indeed, I can see at least considering many more non-fiction writers (and note that, while none has gotten one in ages, the Swedish Academy used to consider far more authors who did not write fiction, poetry, or drama (which was also a result of many more such writers getting nominated -- remember, as always: only nominated writers are considered for the prize, and most nominators and nominating bodies nowadays are surely much more likely to suggest a writer of fiction (or poetry) rather than non-fiction)). The thing is: I prefer pure fiction.)

       All sorts of other articles and commentary have appeared, too, almost all of it very supportive -- from BelTA (Svetlana Alexievich: It is not my victory alone, but also a victory of our culture and the country Culture) to Jonathon Sturgeon arguing at Flavorwire Why Svetlana Alexievich's Nobel Prize Is Good for Literature.
       And there's also Peter Boxall at The Conversation arguing Svetlana Alexievich exposes the deep contradictions of the literature Nobel. Boxall suggests/claims:

Alexievich's work is difficult to categorise, and hence difficult to sell, and so nearly invisible
       This is both strange logic and false: Alexievich's first book reportedly sold millions in the Soviet Union, and she has done very well these past few years in much of Europe; it's only in the US/UK that she's been low-visibility -- in no small part because no publisher has been willing to take on more of her work and actually try publishing it.

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23. Writers, get your gory on

Goreyesque, on online journal featuring work inspired by the spirit and aesthetic of Edward Gorey, is seeking short stories, poems, artwork and essays for their Halloween issue. Deadline: October 15, 2015. Guidelines.

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24. Storytime Magic Starts Before Birth

Picture this: a small, sunny room full of wriggling little babies, more than a dozen of them. A few are perched on laps, bouncing and babbling. Some are toddling, others are dancing, and there’s a daddy patiently rocking his wailing newborn.

And there she is at the center of it all, in one hand a colorful picture book opened to a page covered with romping animals, in the other hand a furry Brown Bear puppet.

“Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?” she asks. Her face is animated and her voice undulates excitedly as she looks around the room, making eye contact with as many big and little eyes as she can. “I seeee . . .” She turns the page with a flourish, her face filled with anticipation as parents lean forward and some kids pause perfectly still. “A Yellow Duck looking at me!”

A Yellow Duck puppet seamlessly appears, and she makes it do a funny dance while she deftly moves the book, held by Brown Bear, so that everyone in the room can see the pictures. A few parents cheer, some of the babies smile and squeal, one starts to cry because the Yellow Duck startled her, and a little guy bursts out in giggles and rolls on the floor in delight.

LibraryWhat is this joyful, whimsical, topsy-turvy place where babies and families can celebrate the enchantment of language in all its rhyming, rhythmic, and rollicking glory? It’s the local library, of course! And the magician at the center of all the fun is the magnificent, multitasking, multitalented children’s librarian.

There’s been a lot of excitement among children’s literacy enthusiasts this year since the most influential group of children’s doctors in the country, the American Academy of Pediatrics, made a public recommendation of great importance in June 2014. It’s no surprise that the pediatricians’ group gives guidance on such things as what to feed babies and how much sleep they need. The big news is that the AAP came out publicly to strongly recommend that parents read to their babies — right from the very beginning.

So reading to babies and children is right up there with feeding them fruits and veggies! This was a groundbreaking announcement for many parents and some literacy advocates, but no surprise to children’s librarians — they invented baby storytime! These experts have known for eons about the benefits of reading aloud to children, and have been working tirelessly to inspire families to begin their own literacy-centered routine right from babyhood.

Now two new studies have added even more support to this idea. The first, published in August in the AAP’s journal Pediatrics, looked closely at the brains of young children who were read to and those who were not. The children who had been exposed to regular storytime showed significantly greater brain development, which directly correlated with the amount of time each child was read to. Then, the August issue of Psychological Science reported a study showing that children who are read to regularly develop greater vocabulary and flexibility with language than those who are only spoken to. Apparently the exposure to unfamiliar words in the context of a story especially helps develops the language center in the child’s brain.

We applaud the AAP’s recommendation that families read to their babies as soon as they’re born, and we’d like to go one step further. An abundance of research over the last several years has found that babies already begin to develop the foundations of language during the last trimester of pregnancy — meaning that all the benefits of reading to a newborn can begin even before a baby is born.

Big SisStudies find that babies in the womb can hear and recognize speech patterns and rhythms, which develops the language center in the brain and begins to teach the modes and melodies of their primary language. What’s more, babies can actually remember a rhythmic poem or story they heard during the last trimester for up to four weeks after birth, and they show a clear preference for the rhythm and melody of a song or poem heard regularly from the womb.

They also show a preference for their mother’s voice over a stranger’s, and perhaps the most exciting finding for new parents is that newborns are measurably calmed by a familiar, rhythmic story read repeatedly before birth. In addition, taking time out for relaxing, reading, and snuggling with the baby before birth (just as after) produces oxytocin, the “feel-good hormone” that nature created to connect parents with their young, and this also has a positive effect on fetal growth and development.

There are so many reasons to begin bonding with and nurturing babies through reading even during pregnancy, and there’s great practical value as well: Reading aloud is a skill to be learned and practiced (just ask a librarian!).

While starting a storytime routine from birth is a lovely idea, the reality is that most parents have not actually read a book aloud in a very long time, if ever. With the best intentions they pick up that beautiful picture book given to them at the baby shower, but they might find that the unfamiliar text doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as expected, and reading aloud to their little one doesn’t come so naturally after all.

At the same time, new mothers and fathers may be overwhelmed by the responsibility of taking care of this new little being in their charge. They want to do everything right and will follow the AAP’s suggestions to the best of their ability, so now “read to baby” will probably be on many to-do lists. But as they juggle feeding times, a sleep schedule, diaper changing, and a multitude of other new jobs, “read to baby” might understandably be sacrificed.

If expectant parents begin storytime before the baby is born, it gives them lots of time to practice and get comfortable with reading aloud, and to choose books they love and are excited to share with that unseen listener. Because the research shows that babies in utero love verse that is repeated, parents can practice to their heart’s content, knowing their baby will only become more familiar with and responsive to the language of the poem or story.

BedtimeBy beginning a storytime routine before baby is born, moms and dads will grow to love this sacred time of day. Plus, experts say reading a story at bedtime helps babies both before and after birth wind down and get ready for sleep. So expectant parents can even use in utero storytime to condition their baby to get sleepy at bedtime!

Best of all, when their baby is born and hears the familiar story for the first time outside the womb, he really will listen. It might be the one thing that stops him from fussing! The parents will see for themselves that the time they spent reading before birth has borne the most magical fruit, and they’ll be all the more eager to continue that routine, for years to come.

And when it comes time to introduce baby to story hour at the local library, and that wonder-working children’s librarian realizes that these parents have already shared with their child the joy of getting lost in story, she’ll be thrilled to know she hasn’t cornered the market on read-aloud fun.

Who knows? Prenatal story hour might be a new addition to her calendar!

(Licensing for photos purchased by guest blogger from 123rf.com)



Photo credit: Betsy Boyle

Susan Lupone Stonis and Jacqueline Boyle are the co-author/illustrators of Can’t Wait to Show You: A Celebration for Mothers-to-Be, the first book specially designed to read to babies before and after birth, and winner of the Mom’s Choice Awards Gold Award. For lots more information and tips on reading aloud to babies in utero, please visit The Reading Womb blog.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

The post Storytime Magic Starts Before Birth appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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25. 7th Annual Massachusetts Library System Teen Summit

Here is a write-up from the 7th annual Massachusetts Library System Teen Summit

Thank you to Catherine Halpin, Youth Technology Librarian, Teen Central of the Boston Public Library for her help with the post.

For seven years the Massachusetts Library System has offered a wonderful daylong conference opportunity, the Teen Summit for youth services and teen services librarians in the states of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.  The theme this year was Connect the Dots, connected learning.

Crystle Martin, postdoctoral research scholar at the Digital Media and Learning Research Hub at the University of California, Irvine was the keynote speaker and spoke about her research in connected learning.  Youth learn beyond the classroom yet many struggle to connect the unique and valuable experiences outside of school with more traditional learning pathways.  Libraries and library staff are uniquely situated to support bridging this gap; helping to create personally connected learning environments.  We can meet learners where they are and tap the power of peer to peer learning, seek recognition in the wider world.  What are some ways to see connected learning in action? By using youth expertise, relying on teen mentorship and we can help youth connect their interest with academic and future pathways.
Crystle - Copy

Jessi Snow, the Teen Services Team Leader at the Boston Public Library's Central Library, spoke about what went into the design of the newly renovated Teen Central  space, including selecting software and hardware, program development, identifying partners, and, most especially, working with teens to help the design the space.

The new space for teens in grades 6-12 opened in February 2015. When creating Teen Central, BPL staff and administration looked at teen spaces across the country, gathered pictures of teen rooms, and got input from teens on what they wanted to see in their space.  HOMAGO is the focus of the new room: hanging out, messing around, and geeking out. The digital makerspace, the Lab, offers creative software including Adobe Creative Cloud (Photoshop, In Design, Flash, Illustrator, and more), 3D software like Autodesk and Sculptris, and the 3D Makerbot printer. Teens can attend programs in the Lab to learn more about the software, or they can use and experiment with the technology on their own whenever Teen Central is open. Teen Central also houses a Media Lounge complete with PS4, Wii U, and Xbox 1 with two 80 inch screen monitors for teens to use.


Shannon Lake, Teen Educator/Librarian, Providence Public Library and Kate Wells, Rhode Island Collection Librarian, Providence Public Library presented on their program, Teen Tech Squad.   Teens met weekly over the course of 9 weeks to work together on their projects. Teens worked directly with historical documents from the Rhode Island Collection that related to their neighborhood of interest.  Cross department collaboration (Special Collections, Teen Services, IT Department) community partner collaboration (Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence Preservation Society, and Brown University Center for Public Humanities).  Applied connected Learning strategies that was teen focused by having teens choose a local neighborhood of interest to them to explore further.  Teens were connected to mentors at the library as well as through staff at partner organizations.  Teens were able to tap into technology tools and new skills as they photographed and edited video on iPads and added content to the project website.

The project allowed them to make, create, and produce for greater understanding of their community. The final project website will aid others in their research of historical Providence and provides increased access to the libraries Special Collections.

The project culminated in a website that highlights the digital neighborhood profiles teens researched and was celebrated at an open house where teens were able to present and share their work in a gallery setting.  The program has continued in new iterations focusing on music and theater venues, and locations around downtown Providence.


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