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1. Biology Week: a reading list

In honour of Biology Week 2015, we have compiled a reading list of biology titles that have helped further the cause through education and research.

The post Biology Week: a reading list appeared first on OUPblog.

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2. Mars, Pluto… and beyond

The story of our Solar System is developing into one of the most absorbing – and puzzling – epics of contemporary science. At the heart of it lies one of the greatest questions of all – just how special is our own planet, which teems with life and (this is the difficult bit) which has teemed with life continuously through most of its 4.5 billion year lifetime? Not all of the answers are to be found here on Earth.

The post Mars, Pluto… and beyond appeared first on OUPblog.

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3. An (in)effective interrogation

In early July, the American Psychological Association (APA) released an independent report detailing collusion between the APA and the Bush Administration on abusive interrogation techniques. The 500 plus page Hoffman report found that a small group of APA officials colluded with counterparts in the Department of Defense (DOD).

The post An (in)effective interrogation appeared first on OUPblog.

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4. Review: Curious Cat! Learn About the Seasons, by Maria Denjongpa and Phurba Namgay

Curious Cat! Learn About the Seasons, written by Maria Denjongpa, illustrated by Phurba Namgay (Scholastic Early Science series, Scholastic India, 2014)

Curious Cat! Learn About the Seasons
written by Maria Denjongpa, illustrated by Phurba Namgay
(Scholastic Early Science series, Scholastic … Continue reading ...

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5. The rise of epigenetics and the demise of nature vs nurture

Epigenetics has been a buzzword in biology for the past several years, as scientific understanding has grown about how genes are expressed.

The post The rise of epigenetics and the demise of nature vs nurture appeared first on OUPblog.

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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. Telemental health: Are we there yet?

An unacceptably large proportion of mentally ill individuals do not receive any care. Reasons vary but include the dearth of providers, the cost of treatment and stigma. Telemental health, which uses digital technology for the remote delivery of mental health services, may help toward finding a solution.

The post Telemental health: Are we there yet? appeared first on OUPblog.

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9. National Bullying Prevention Month Booklists and Links

October is National Bullying Prevention Month

Join the movement! The End of Bullying Begins with Me: that’s the message during PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Month in October. It’s a time when communities can unite nationwide to raise awareness of bullying prevention through events, activities, outreach, and education. Resources from PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center make it easy to take action.

PACER created the campaign in 2006 with a one-week event which has now evolved into a month-long effort that encourages everyone to take an active role in the bullying prevention movement. PACER offers a variety of resources to use during October — and throughout the year — to inspire, educate and involve others to join the movement and prevent bullying where you live. Check out all of the different events and activities and make plans to get involved.

Learn about bullying and bullying prevention through books:

Dandelion App


“With all my might, you’ll all take flight… If I could but wish for better things, you’d all disperse and grow your wings. ” Benjamin Brewster, Dandelion

Rarely do I feel captivated and drawn into an imaginary app world, but this app had me with the first screen and the first note of the it’s beautiful soundtrack. From there, we entered into a world of hope and possibilities. Even more surprising is the topic matter of e-book app, which is bullying.

CLICK TO TWEET “Bullying is for people with no imagination.” -Benjamin Brewster, (from the book app Dandelion) #bullying

When author Galvin Scott Davis’ son came home from school sharing that he was being bullied, Galvin having few answers decided to offer his son a solution by way of using his imagination and creativity. Lucky for us, we too have been let in to the world of his imagination to discover solutions to this difficult problem by providing solutions for the main character of the story.

Dandelion is a story about a little boy named Benjamin Brewster who is bullied each day at “The School for the Misguided.” One day, when all seems lost, a patch of magical Dandelions appear which allow him to conjure a new world from his imagination.


Galvin Scott Davis along with the award-winning app developers at Protein have created something truly magical as they encourage kids to discuss bullying through their interaction with the Dandelion app.

Book K-2

bully booklist k-2

Grades 3-5

bully booklist grades 3-5

Grades 6-8

bullying booklist 6-8

One of my personal favorites:


bully booklist

Giraffes Can’t Dance


Never Say a Mean Word Again


What books are your favorites?

The post National Bullying Prevention Month Booklists and Links appeared first on Jump Into A Book.

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10. 10 things you may not know about our Moon

Throughout history, the influence of the full Moon on humans and animals has featured in folklore and myths. Yet it has become increasingly apparent that many organisms really are influenced indirectly, and in some cases directly, by the lunar cycle. Here are ten things you may not know concerning the way the Moon affects life on Earth.

The post 10 things you may not know about our Moon appeared first on OUPblog.

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11. SUPPORT AUTHORS--Buy Direct from Them!

AUTHORS your kids will READ

 Authors have terrific imaginations, a love of words, and a passion for creating 
wonderful stories. Unfortunately, this rarely translates into buckets of money.

We write because we love to weave words into stories
 that capture children's imaginations.  

The idea of kids eventually reading our stories to 
THEIR children is our kinky kind of immortality.

Don't laugh. . . I am SERIOUS! 

Authors only need two things from READERS:


Tell others if you (or your child) enjoyed the read. . . or NOT.

Buying from an author's website helps 
YOU and the AUTHOR.

Authors make more from the books THEY sell, and
YOU often  get DISCOUNTS and much CHEAPER postage.

Authors love to AUTOGRAPH the books you buy.
This makes your GIFT of a  BOOK  extra special.

The Authors listed in the panel on the RIGHT have
private websites, where you can BUY DIRECT from
them, and even ask about their plots and characters.

Their books are also available on
Amazon, bookstores, and other places

More author names and links will be added
as they are discovered.

Margot Finke 
Skype Author Visits

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12. Bare bodkins and sparsely clothed buttinskis, or, speaking daggers but using none

Few people would today have remembered the word bodkin if it had not occurred in the most famous of Hamlet’s monologues. Chaucer was the earliest author in whose works bodkin occurred. At its appearance, it had three syllables and a diphthong in the root, for it was spelled boidekin. The suffix -kin suggested to John Minsheu, our first English etymologist (1617), that he was dealing with a Dutch noun.

The post Bare bodkins and sparsely clothed buttinskis, or, speaking daggers but using none appeared first on OUPblog.

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13. Compassion or compromise? The ethics of assisted suicide

“Death is inevitable, but suffering doesn't have to be,” says Tennessee native John Jay Hooker, who has devoted his life to fighting for civil liberties, and his deadly cancer hasn't stood in his way.

The post Compassion or compromise? The ethics of assisted suicide appeared first on OUPblog.

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14. Picture Book Roundup - October 2015 edition

This edition of the Picture Book Roundup features three funny books, a hilarious cautionary tale, and a sweet bookish story to melt your heart. Enjoy!

Review copies of Night Animals by Gianna Marino (Viking, 2015) and In! Over! and On! by Ethan Long (Penguin, 2015) were provided by the publishers at my request. The Good Little Book by Kyo Maclear (Tundra, 2015), Everyone Loves Bacon by Kelly DiPucchio (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2015), and Ragweed's Farm Dog Handbook by Anne Vittur Kennedy (Candlewick, 2015)

If you can't access the slide show with reviews below, you can see it on RiffleBooks at this link. [https://read.rifflebooks.com/list/185319]

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15. Don’t panic: it’s October

t the conclusion of the mid-September meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), the Federal Reserve announced its decision to leave its target interest rate unchanged through the end of this month. Although some pundits had predicted that the Fed might use the occasion of August’s decline in the unemployment rate (to 5.1 percent from 5.3 percent in July), to begin its long-awaited monetary policy tightening, those forecasts left out one crucial fact.

The post Don’t panic: it’s October appeared first on OUPblog.

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16. Charles Williams: Oxford’s lost poetry professor

It was strikingly appropriate that Sir Geoffrey Hill should have focused his final lecture as Oxford Professor of Poetry on a quotation from Charles Williams. Not only was the lecture, in May 2015, delivered almost exactly seventy years after Williams’s death; but Williams himself had once hoped to become Professor of Poetry.

The post Charles Williams: Oxford’s lost poetry professor appeared first on OUPblog.

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17. Portrait of a Lady

I know Henry James is not everyone’s cup of tea but I love the long sentences, the way the story kind of oozes along, the psychological analysis, it’s good stuff! James was well aware what people thought of his stories. In the introduction to Portrait of a Lady he writes,

I’m often accused of no having ‘story’ enough. I seem to myself to have as much as I need — to show my people, to exhibit their relations with each other; for that is all my measure.

And that is what he does, examines relationships.

In Portrait of a Lady we have the young American Isabel Archer whose father has just died. Her two older sisters are married and Isabel is left with only a small income and no idea what to do with herself. He aunt swoops in from England and whisks her to Gardencourt where Isabel meets her uncle, Mr. Touchett and cousin Ralph. The Touchett’s are American expats who have more or less gone native, so to speak.

Isabel is naive and energetic, she wants to live life to its fullest on her own terms. She is without guile and so utterly charming that all the young men seem to fall in love with her. She left a suitor behind in America who eventually follows her to England in hopes of getting Isabel to marry him. Ralph’s friend and neighbor, Lord Warburton, is smitten and within days of meeting Isabel proposes. Isabel turns them all down because she is too well aware of the trap marriage will make for her.

Ralph loves Isabel too but keeps it to himself. Instead of asking her to marry him, when Mr. Touchett dies, Ralph asks that he settle a large part of his estate on Isabel. Ralph wants to see what kind of person and life Isabel will have when she has the money to do whatever she pleases.

At first it all goes well. But then Isabel falls into the clutches of Madame Merle who is nothing but gracious and perfect on the outside but a wicked schemer on the inside. Madame Merle sets up Isabel with Gilbert Osmond, an American expatriate living in Italy. He has a young daughter, Pansy, and a sad story of his wife’s death. He has no money but exquisite taste revealed in his collections of art and other items. Isabel is such a unique piece of work herself, plus she has money, so Osmond turns on the charm and adds Isabel to his collection by convincing her to marry him.

Of course it is not a happy marriage. Isabel refuses to properly fit into Osmond’s collection. There is much that happens with Isabel and Lord Warburton, with Pansy and her suitors, with Osmond and Madame Merle. Many times Isabel is offered the chance to escape her marriage but she refuses to leave out of sheer stubbornness and a belief that she made her bed and now she has to lie in it.

There are exciting secrets revealed. Marital arguments. Threats. For nothing happening there is quite a lot that happens! The ending is infuriatingly ambiguous. Isabel went to England against Osmond’s wishes to attend Ralph on his deathbed. Afterwards she returns to Italy but we are not sure if she returns to Osmond or if she returns to rescue Pansy from the convent Osmond has put her in as punishment.

Isabel is a frustrating character. She is independent and smart and speaks her mind. Yet she is always trying to be the good wife. She submits to Osmond as best she can, but her nature will only allow her to bend so far before she rebels. So she suffers both mentally and emotionally. It is well within her power to do something about it but she refuses. I wanted to yell at her. Ralph and Lord Warburton do. Well, they don’t yell, they are gentlemen after all, but they express their concern and strongly urge Isabel to leave. But the ending leaves us hanging. Will she go back to Osmond? I like to think she won’t but I don’t feel confident in that.

Isabel’s marriage is in direct comparison in many ways with the independent Henrietta Stackpole, feminist, journalist, and friend of Isabel. Henrietta and Ralph’s friend Mr. Bantling hit it off and begin traveling together. It is an entirely unconventional relationship but it works. Eventually Henrietta and Mr. Bantling get married but it is on Henrietta’s terms and we can believe that theirs will be a successful marriage. I loved Henrietta, she is what Isabel wanted to be (kind of) but couldn’t manage. The novel would be fun to reread some time and compare the two women and their marriages more carefully.

I read Portrait of a Lady along with Danielle. I liked it a lot more than she did but I think we both enjoyed it. It is one of James’s most popular long novels and if you are wanting to try Henry James and are a bit nervous about it, I think Portrait of a Lady is a good place to start.

Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Henry James

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18. Cemetery Girl, Book Two: Inheritance by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden

Cemetery Girl: Inheritance
Last year, I devoured the first Cemetery Girl graphic novel, The Pretenders, in one sitting. I am not always "into" stories in which the main character has amnesia - I am impatient and want to know what happened to the character, and I also really wish I could help them/heal them/restore their memories immediately - but the quick pace of this story offered intrigue and action rather than hemming and hawing, plus I liked the full-color illustrations...and I still felt the urge to help the protagonist and learn more about her.

Today sees the release of Book Two in the Cemetery Girl trilogy, Inheritance. Here's the cover summary:

She calls herself Calexa Rose Dunhill. She has been living - hiding out - in Dunhill Cemetery ever since someone left her there to die. She has no idea who wants her dead or why, but she isn't about to wait around for her would-be killer to finish the job.

Despite her self-imposed isolation, Calexa’s ability to see spirits - and the memories she receives from them - guarantees she'll never be alone, even among the deceased. The only living people she allows herself to interact with are Kelner, the cemetery's cantankerous caretaker, and Lucinda Cameron, an elderly woman who lives in an old Victorian house across the street. With their friendship, Calexa has regained a link to the world beyond tombstones and mausoleums.

Until the night she witnesses a murder that shatters her life - a life now under a police microscope - as their investigation threatens to uncover Calexa’s true identity...

Cemetery Girl: Inheritance was written by Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden and illustrated by Don Kramer.

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19. Oreo

cover artOreo by Fran Ross. Completely and delightfully meshuganah! Remember how excited I was about the beginning? How I wondered if it could possibly keep up for an entire novel? Or would it get old fast? The hilarity remains high throughout and not once does it get old or irritating. In fact, it is continually surprising.

Christine Clark, the offspring of a black mother and Jewish father, is raised by her black grandparents because her father abandoned the family after her brother was born and her mother is constantly traveling. Oreo is Christine’s nickname. It was supposed to be “oriole” but no one could understand her grandmother’s deep and peculiar southern accent and they all thought she said “Oreo.” Of course the name has a double meaning. It is a cookie, but it is also an insult for people who appear to be black but act white. Christine may be called Oreo but an oreo she is not.

What she is is a whip smart, linguistically talented, self-confident, take charge and take no crap young woman. The story is a kind of coming of age quest feminist satire. Christine is Theseus gone in search of her father who has left her clues. She overcomes obstacles, performs deeds, faces dangers, and makes her way through the labyrinth that is the New York City subway system. She finds her father but the story’s end is not one in which our heroine is richly rewarded as Theseus was. This is not that kind of story. Stereotypes and expectations must be subverted, and are.

A big part of the pleasure of this book is the language itself. I am going to have to find a way to work I had “more fun than a tornado in a trailer park” into a conversation some time. It is filled with Yiddish and black vernacular and a made up language and standard English and southern something or other, and puns and puzzles and jokes and word play of all sorts:

As Oreo walked up the street, she saw a pig run squealing out of a doorway, a bacon’s dozen of pursuers pork-barreling after it.

Oreo is sadly Ross’s only novel. It was first published in 1974 to very little notice. Ross worked as a freelance editor and writer, wrote articles for magazines, worked as a proofreader and copyeditor for a couple big publishers and was part owner of a mail order educational supply company. In 1977 she moved to Los Angeles to work as a comedy writer for The Richard Pryor Show. The show did not last long and Ross returned to New York. She died of cancer in 1985 at the age of fifty.

I can understand why Oreo did not get much attention in 1974. It was far ahead of its time and the places that did review it were not sure what to make of it. Thank goodness for independent publishers, because time has finally caught up with the book and New Directions has done us all a service in reprinting it.

I haven’t really told you all that much about the book, but I am not certain I could really do it justice even if I went on and on about it. It is one of those books you have to experience for yourself. Don’t expect realist fiction and well-rounded characters. Don’t expect a linear plot, heck don’t expect much plot at all. Do expect much absurdity, mayhem, and lampooning of everyone and everything. Oh, and expect to giggle, chuckle, guffaw, and laugh out loud.

Filed under: Books, Reviews Tagged: Fran Ross

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20. The Icelanders, the Cypriots, and the Greeks: is history repeating itself?

In 2008 Iceland experienced one of the worst financial crises in history, which involved the collapse of all three of its major commercial banks. The causes of this collapse were numerous and complex, and included the banks’ difficulty in refinancing their short-term debt and a run on their deposits.

The post The Icelanders, the Cypriots, and the Greeks: is history repeating itself? appeared first on OUPblog.

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21. For the love of reason

Throughout much of the last century, the idea that we inhabit a somehow disenchanted modernity has exerted a powerful hold in political and public debate. As the political theorist Jane Bennett argues, the story is that there was once a time when God acted in human affairs and when social life, characterized by face-to-face relations, was richer; but this world then ‘gave way to forces of scientific and instrumental rationality, secularism, individualism, and the bureaucratic state – all of which, combined, disenchant the world’.

The post For the love of reason appeared first on OUPblog.

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22. The Great Big Harry Potter Fansite Interview: Leaky’s Q&A with Harry Potter Illustrator Jim Kay

Today, October 6, Bloomsbury is publishing the first illustrated edition of the Harry Potter books–Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is hitting shelves in stores near you. As a part of publication celebrations, illustrator Jim Kay agreed to participate in Q&A sessions with major Harry Potter news sites, calling it The Great Big Harry Potter Fansite Interview. The Leaky Cauldron was honored with the opportunity to be apart of this event.

The Leaky staff came together to create and ask Kay four specific questions that we thought fans might like answered, and questions that Kay had not yet answered in previous interviews or Q&As. Jim Kay took the time, between drawing illustrations for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, to answer two of each site’s questions, and send never-before-seen images from Philosopher’s Stone. Please see the images and the interview below!


The Great Big Harry Potter Fansite Interview


Were you influenced by previous Harry Potter illustrators/the films or did you veer away from both?(Alwaysjkrowling.com)

I’m a huge fan of both the books and the films. I thought the screen adaptations were a wonderful showcase of the best set design, product design, costume, casting, directing and acting their disciplines had to offer. I knew from the start that I’m competing to some degree with the hundreds of people involved in the visuals of the film. I remember watching the extras that come with the movie DVDs a few years back, and wondering how on earth you’d get to be lucky enough to work on the visuals for such a great project. To be offered the opportunity to design the whole world again from scratch was fantastic, but very daunting. I’d like to think that over the years lots of illustrators will have a crack at Potter, in the same way that Alice in Wonderland has seen generations of artists offer their own take on Lewis Carroll’s novel. I had to make it my version though, and so from the start I needed to set it apart from the films. I’ll be honest I’ve only seen a few illustrations from other Potter books, so that’s not been so much of a problem. I love Jonny Duddle’s covers, and everyone should see Andrew Davidson’s engravings – they are incredible!

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What was the most important detail for you to get right with your illustrations? (Magical Menagerie)

To try and stay faithful to the book. It’s very easy when you are scribbling away to start wandering off in different directions, so you must remind yourself to keep reading Jo’s text. Technically speaking though, I think composition is important –the way the movement and characters arrange themselves on the page – this dictates the feel of the book.

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What medium do you use to create your illustrations? (Snitchseeker)

I use anything that makes a mark –I am not fussy. So I don’t rely on expensive watercolour or paints, although I do occasionally use them – I like to mix them up with cheap house paint, or wax crayons. Sometimes in a local DIY store I’ll see those small tester pots of wall paint going cheap in a clear-out sale, and I’ll buy stacks of them, and experiment with painting in layers and sanding the paint back to get nice textures. The line is almost always pencil, 4B or darker, but the colour can be a mixture of any old paint, watercolour, acrylic, and oil. Diagon Alley was unusual in that I digitally coloured the whole illustration in order to preserve the pencil line drawing. I’d recommend experimenting; there is no right or wrong way to make an illustration, just do what works for you!

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Because each book is so rich in detail, what is your personal process when choosing specific images?(The Daily Snitcher)

I read the book, then read it again and again, making notes. You start off with lots of little ideas, and draw a tiny thumbnail illustration, about the size of a postage stamp, to remind you of the idea for an illustration you had while reading the book. I then start to draw them a little bigger, about postcard size, and show them to Bloomsbury. We then think about how many illustrations will appear in each chapter, and try to get the balance of the book right by moving pictures around, dropping or adding these rough drawings as we go. With Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone Bloomsbury were great in that they let me try all sorts of things out, different styles, concepts. Some I didn’t think would get into the final book, but everyone was very open to new ideas. There was no definite plan with regards to how the book would look; we just experimented and let it evolve.


(McGonagall is from Telegraph’s photos)

Given the distinct split of younger vs. more mature readers of the series, how do you construct your illustrations so that they can appeal to both audiences at once? (Mugglenet)

The simple answer is I don’t try. I think only about the author and myself. You can’t please everyone, particularly when you know how many people have read the book. I don’t think good books are made by trying to appeal to a wide audience. You just try to do the best work you can in the time given, and respect the author’s work. Most illustrators are never happy with their own work. You always feel you want to try more combinations or alternative compositions. You are forever in search of that golden illustration that just ‘works’, but of course it’s impossible to achieve –there will always be another way of representing the text. Effectively you chase rainbows until you run out of time! You get a gut feeling if an image is working. I remember what I liked as a child (Richard Scarry books!). Detail and humour grabbed me as a nipper, and it’s the same now I’m in my forties.

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Did you base any characters or items in the book on real people or things? (Leaky Cauldron)

Lots of the book is based on real places, people and experiences. It helps to make the book personal to me, and therefore important. The main characters of the books are based on real people, partly for practical reasons, because I need to see how the pupils age over seven years. In Diagon Alley in particular, some of the shop names are personal to me. As a child we had a toad in the garden called Bufo (from the latin Bufo bufo), Noltie’s Botanical Novelties is named after a very clever friend of mine who works at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh. The shop called ‘Tut’s Nuts’ is a little joke from my days working at Kew Gardens; they had in their collections some seeds from the tomb of Tutankhamun, which were affectionately known as ‘Tut’s Nuts’. The imprisoned boy reaching for an apple in Brigg’s Brooms is from a drawing my friend did when we were about 9 years old –that’s thirty two years ago!

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Which character was the most difficult to draw? (Harry Potter’s Page)

Harry, without a doubt. Children are difficult to draw because you can’t use too many lines around the eyes and face, otherwise they look old. One misplaced pencil line can age a child by years, so you have to get it just right. Also Harry’s glasses are supposed to look repaired and bent out of shape, which I’ve found tricky to get right.

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What is your favourite scene you have illustrated? (Alwaysjkrowling.com)

That’s a difficult one. I’m fond of the ghosts. I paint them in reverse (almost like a photographic negative) and layer several paintings to make them translucent. I enjoyed Nearly Headless Nick. I really enjoyed illustrating the trolls too. Your favourite illustrations tend to be the ones that gave you the least amount of difficulties and I think Diagon Alley was nice for this reason. It was more like a brainstorming exercise, slowly working from left to right. My favourite character to illustrate is Hagrid – I love big things!

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Are there any hidden messages/items in your drawings for the Harry Potter series? (Magical Menagerie)

There are, but they are little things that relate to my life, so I’m not sure how much sense they’d make to other people. I like to include my dog in illustrations if I can (he’s in Diagon Alley). I also put a hare in my work, for good luck. There’s a hare in A Monster Calls, and in Harry Potter. My friends appear as models for the characters in book one, and some of their names too can be seen carved on a door, and on Diagon Alley. There are little references to later books too, such as on the wrought-iron sign of the Leaky Cauldron. I do it to keep things interesting for me while I’m drawing.

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How did you approach illustrating the Hogwarts Castle and grounds? (Harry Potter Fan Zone)

I really enjoyed doing this. You have to go through all seven books looking for mentions of the individual rooms, turrets, doors and walls of the castle, and make lots of notes. Then you check for mentions of its position, for example if you can see the sun set from a certain window, to find out which way the castle is facing. I then built a small model out of scrap card and Plasticine and tried lighting it from different directions. It was important to see how it would look in full light, or as a silhouette. Then it was a long process of designing the Great Hall, and individual towers. I have a huge number of drawings just experimenting with different doorways, roofs. Some early compositions were quite radical, then I hit upon the idea of trees growing under, through and over the whole castle, as if the castle had grown out of the landscape. This also gives me the opportunity to show trees growing through the inside of some rooms in future illustrations.

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What illustrations in the book are you most proud of? (Leaky Cauldron)

Usually it’s the ones that took the least amount of effort! It takes me so many attempts to get an illustration to work, that if one works on the second or third attempt, it’s a big relief. There is one illustration in the book that worked first time (a chapter opener of Hogwarts architecture, with birds nesting on the chimney pots). It kind of felt wrong that the illustration was done without agonising over it for days, it didn’t feel real somehow, so I’m proud of that one because it’s so rare that I get an image to work first time! The only other illustration that was relatively straightforward was the Sorting Hat. Illustrations that come a little easier tend to have a freshness about them, and I think those two feel a little bit looser than others in the book.


Which book do you think will be the most challenging one to illustrate? (Harry Potter’s Page)

At the minute it’s book two! I think book one I was full of adrenaline, driven by sheer terror! Book two I want to have a different feel, and that makes it challenging to start again and rethink the process.

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Is there a particular scene in the future Harry Potter books you’re excited to illustrate? (Harry Potter Fan Zone)

I’m really looking forward to painting Aragog in book two. I’m really fond of spiders – there are lots in my studio – so it’s great having reference close to hand! I’m hoping that by the Deathly Hallows we will be fully into a darker and more adult style of illustration, to reflect the perils facing Potter!

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How many illustrations did you initially do for the book, and how many of those appeared in the final edition? (Snitchseeker)

There are stacks of concept drawings that no one will ever see, such as the Hogwarts sketches, which I needed to do in order to get my head around the book. Then there are rough drawings, then rough drawings that are worked up a little more, and then it might take five or six attempts for each illustration to get it right.

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What house do you think you may have been placed in, aged 11, and would it be the same now? (Mugglenet)

I’d like to think it was Ravenclaw as a child. I was much more confident back then, and creative, plus they have an interesting house ghost in the form of the Grey Lady. These days I work hard and am loyal, so probably Hufflepuff.

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Illustrating aside, what is one thing that you love doing to express your creativity? (The Daily Snitcher)

It’s difficult to say because for the past 5 years I have worked on illustration seven days a week, every hour of the day. A few years back I started to write, and I really enjoyed that, it’s far more intimate than illustrating, and I love going over the same line and trying to hone it down to the core of what you are trying to express. My partner makes hats, and I’m very envious. It looks like wonderful fun. We have lots of designs for hats in sketchbooks. I really want to get some time to make some. I’ve always been slightly torn that I didn’t go into fashion, but my sewing is terrible. I used to play guitar a lot and write little bits of music, but that’s difficult now because my hand gets very stiff from drawing all day! The funny thing is, if I did ever get a day off, I’d just want to draw!

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This morning, J.K. Rowling invited all to check out the book and “see Harry Potter through Jim Kay’s extraordinary eyes,” and Pottermore also released their exclusive interview.

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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone–Illustrated Edition by J.K. Rowling, illustrated by Jim Kay, is now available from any book retailer near you (or online)! Happy reading and please let us know your impressions of the new version of the Harry Potter books–our favorite books!

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23. Aladdin


This is a piece I did for a Educational reader a little while back. It’s interesting how the original story differs from the Disney version that so many of us are familiar with. It’s much darker.

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24. Seize the Night anthology

Attention Buffy the Vampire Slayer and True Blood fans: Here's a new anthology for your to sink your teeth into today!

Seize the NightSeize the Night is old-school vampire fiction at its finest. A blockbuster anthology of original, blood-curdling vampire fiction from New York Times bestselling and award-winning authors, including Charlaine Harris, whose novels were adapted into HBO’s hit show True Blood, and Scott Smith, publishing his first work since The Ruins.

Before being transformed into romantic heroes and soft, emotional antiheroes, vampires were figures of overwhelming terror. Now, from some of the biggest names in horror and dark fiction, comes this stellar collection of short stories that make vampires frightening once again.

Seize the Night was edited by New York Times bestselling author Christopher Golden and features all-new stories, including:

Up in Old Vermont by Scott Smith
Something Lost, Something Gained by Seanan McGuire
Blood by Robert Shearman
The Neighbors by Sherrilyn Kenyon
On the Dark Side of Sunlight Basin by Michael Koryta
Paper Cuts by Gary A. Braunbeck
Miss Fondevant by Charlaine Harris
In a Cavern, In a Canyon by Laird Barron
Whiskey and Light by Dana Cameron
We Are All Monsters Here by Kelley Armstrong
May the End Be Good by Tim Lebbon
Mrs. Popkin by Dan Chaon and Lynda Barry
Direct Report by Leigh Perry (Toni L.P. Kelner)
Shadow and Thirst by John Langan
Mother by Joe McKinney
The Yellow Death by Lucy A. Snyder
Last Supper by Brian Keene
Separator by Rio Youers
What Kept You So Long? by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Blue Hell by David Wellington

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25. A Deafening Silence in Heaven by Thomas E. Sniegoski

It's time for a new Remy Chandler novel! Here's a sneak peek of A DEAFENING SILENCE IN HEAVEN by Thomas E. Sniegoski, now available in bookstore everywhere:

He was once known as the angel Remiel. But, generations ago, Boston PI Remy Chandler renounced Heaven and chose to live on Earth, hiding among us humans, fighting to save our souls...

Remy Chandler is hovering on the brink of death, surrounded by friends who are trying to ward off those who would take advantage of his vulnerability. Unbeknownst to them, the greatest threat to Remy is one they can’t fight - God himself. The Almighty dispatches Remy far beyond their reach, to an alternate universe where there has been an apocalyptic catastrophe: the Unification.

Only as he hunts down the source of this calamity, it becomes clearer and clearer that the person responsible for the tragedy may have been none other than Remy himself.

And while he searches for a way to stop his world from following in the footsteps of the doomed alternate reality, enemies are massing in his universe. For the Unification is at hand and, this time, Remy may be powerless to affect its outcome...

Read an excerpt.

A Deafening Silence in Heaven is the latest in a series. I've read them all, and I recommend them all.

Read them in order:

A Kiss Before the Apocalypse by Thomas E. Sniegoski   Dancing on the Head of a Pin by Thomas E. Sniegoski   Where Angels Fear to Tread by Thomas E. Sniegoski   A Hundred Words for Hate by Thomas E. Sniegoski   In the House of the Wicked   Walking in the Midst of Fire by Thomas E. Sniegoski   A Deafening Silence in Heaven by Thomas E. Sniegoski

To learn more about the series, visit the website: http://www.sniegoski.com/apocalypse/

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