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1. Get a book gift wrapped in August and we will donate the money to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation

fdayilfFather’s Day is fast approaching and we have heaps of books to choose from for your Dad. We also have a fantastic gift wrapping service to take all the hassle out of buying a gift for Fathers Day. We can even ship it directly to your Dad wherever he is in Australia or the world.

Boomerang Books offers colourful gift wrapping for $3.50 per book in a single order, as well as the opportunity to send a personal message with your gift.

For the month of August Boomerang Books will donate the $3.50 from all gift wrapping to The Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

The Indigenous Literacy Foundation provides books and literacy resources for Indigenous kids and families in remote communities.

So this Fathers Day grab Dad a book, get it gift wrapped and not only will your Dad get a great book to read but you will also help someone else develop a lifelong love of reading.

To use gift wrapping, select the drop down box on the payment page, choose your desired wrapping pattern and type your personal message.

Boomerang Books will then donate all the money spent on gift wrapping in August  to The Indigenous Literacy Foundation on Indigenous Literacy Day – Wednesday September 3.

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2. Monthly etymology gleanings for July 2014

By Anatoly Liberman


Since I’ll be out of town at the end of July, I was not sure I would be able to write these “gleanings.” But the questions have been many, and I could answer some of them ahead of time.

Autumn: its etymology

Our correspondent wonders whether the Latin word from which English, via French, has autumn, could be identified with the name of the Egyptian god Autun. The Romans derived the word autumnus, which was both an adjective (“autumnal”) and a noun (“autumn”), from augere “to increase.” This verb’s perfect participle is auctus “rich (“autumn as a rich season”). The Roman derivation, though not implausible, looks like a tribute to folk etymology. A more serious conjecture allies autumn to the Germanic root aud-, as in Gothic aud-ags “blessed” (in the related languages, also “rich”). But, more probably, Latin autumnus goes back to Etruscan. The main argument for the Etruscan origin is the resemblance of autumnus to Vertumnus, the name of a seasonal deity (or so it seems), about whom little is known besides the tale of his seduction, in the shape of an old woman, of Pomona, as told by Ovid. Vertumnus, or Vortumnus, may be a Latinized form of an Etruscan name. A definite conclusion about autumnus is hardly possible, even though some sources, while tracing this word to Etruscan, add “without doubt.” The Egyptian Autun was a creation god and the god of the setting sun, so that his connection with autumn is remote at best. Nor do we have any evidence that Autun had a cult in Ancient Rome. Everything is so uncertain here that the origin of autumnus must needs remain unknown. In my opinion, the Egyptian hypothesis holds out little promise.

Vertumnus seducing Pomona in the shape of an old woman. (Pomona by Frans de Vriendt "Floris" (Konstnär, 1518-1570) Antwerpen, Belgien, Hallwyl Museum, Photo by Jens Mohr, via Wikimedia Commons)

Vertumnus seducing Pomona in the shape of an old woman. (Pomona by Frans de Vriendt “Floris” (Konstnär, 1518-1570) Antwerpen, Belgien, Hallwyl Museum, Photo by Jens Mohr, via Wikimedia Commons)

The origin of so long

I received an interesting letter from Mr. Paul Nance. He writes about so long:

“It seems the kind of expression that should have derived from some fuller social nicety, such as I regret that it will be so long before we meet again or the like, but no one has proposed a clear antecedent. An oddity is its sudden appearance in the early nineteenth century; there are only a handful of sightings before Walt Whitman’s use of it in a poem (including the title) in the 1860-1861 edition of Leaves of Grass. I can, by the way, offer an antedating to the OED citations: so, good bye, so long in the story ‘Cruise of a Guinean Man’. Knickerbocker: New York (Monthly Magazine 5, February 1835, p. 105; available on Google Books). Given the lack of a fuller antecedent, suggestions as to its origin all propose a borrowing from another language. Does this seem reasonable to you?”

Mr. Nance was kind enough to append two articles (by Alan S. Kaye and Joachim Grzega) on so long, both of which I had in my folders but have not reread since 2004 and 2005, when I found and copied them. Grzega’s contribution is especially detailed. My database contains only one more tiny comment on so long by Frank Penny: “About twenty years ago I was informed that it [the expression so long] is allied to Samuel Pepys’s expression so home, and should be written so along or so ’long, meaning that the person using the expression must go his way” (Notes and Queries, Series 12, vol. IX, 1921, p. 419). The group so home does turn up in the Diary more than once, but no citation I could find looks like a formula. Perhaps Stephen Goranson will ferret it out. In any case, so long looks like an Americanism, and it is unlikely that such a popular phrase should have remained dormant in texts for almost two centuries.

Be that as it may, I agree with Mr. Nance that a formula of this type probably arose in civil conversation. The numerous attempts to find a foreign source for it carry little conviction. Norwegian does have an almost identical phrase, but, since its antecedents are unknown, it may have been borrowed from English. I suspect (a favorite turn of speech by old etymologists) that so long is indeed a curtailed version of a once more comprehensible parting formula, unless it belongs with the likes of for auld lang sine. It may have been brought to the New World from England or Scotland and later abbreviated and reinterpreted.

“Heavy rain” in languages other than English

Once I wrote a post titled “When it rains, it does not necessarily pour.” There I mentioned many German and Swedish idioms like it is raining cats and dogs, and, rather than recycling that text, will refer our old correspondent Mr. John Larsson to it.

Ukraine and Baltic place names

The comment on this matter was welcome. In my response, I preferred not to talk about the things alien to me, but I wondered whether the Latvian place name could be of Slavic origin. That is why I said cautiously: “If this is a native Latvian word…” The question, as I understand, remains unanswered, but the suggestion is tempting. And yes, of course, Serb/Croat Krajna is an exact counterpart of Ukraina, only without a prefix. In Russian, stress falls on i; in Ukrainian, I think, the first a is stressed. The same holds for the derived adjectives: ukrainskii ~ ukrainskii. Pushkin said ukrainskaia (feminine).

Slough, sloo, and the rest

Many thanks to those who informed me about their pronunciation of slough “mire.” It was new to me that the surname Slough is pronounced differently in England and the United States. I also received a question about the history of slew. The past tense of slay (Old Engl. slahan) was sloh (with a long vowel), and this form developed like scoh “shoe,” though the verb vacillated between the 6th and the 7th class. The fact that slew and shoe have such dissimilar written forms is due to the vagaries of English spelling. One can think of too, who, you, group, fruit, cruise, rheum, truth, and true, which have the same vowel as slew. In addition, consider Bruin and ruin, which look deceptively like fruit, and add manoeuver for good measure. A mild spelling reform looks like a good idea, doesn’t it?

The pronunciation of February

In one of the letters I received, the writer expresses her indignation that some people insist on sounding the first r in February. Everybody, she asserts, says Febyooary. In such matters, everybody is a dangerous word (as we will also see from the next item). All of us tend to think that what we say is the only correct norm. Words with the succession r…r tend to lose one of them. Yet library is more often pronounced with both, and Drury, brewery, and prurient have withstood the tendency. February has changed its form many times. Thus, long ago feverer (from Old French) became feverel (possibly under the influence of averel “April”). In the older language of New England, January and February turned into Janry and Febry. However powerful the phonetic forces may have been in affecting the pronunciation of February, of great importance was also the fact that the names of the months often occur in enumeration. Without the first r, January and February rhyme. A similar situation is well-known from the etymology of some numerals. Although the pronunciation Febyooary is equally common on both sides of the Atlantic and is recognized as standard throughout the English-speaking world, not “everybody” has accepted it. The consonant b in February is due to the Latinization of the French etymon (late Latin februarius).

Who versus whom

Discussion of these pronouns lost all interest long ago, because the confusion of who and whom and the defeat of whom in American English go back to old days. Yet I am not sure that what I said about the educated norm is “nonsense.” Who will marry our son? Whom will our son marry? Is it “nonsense” to distinguish them, and should (or only can) it be who in both cases? Despite the rebuke, I believe that even in Modern American English the woman who we visited won’t suffer if who is replaced with whom. But, unlike my opponent, I admit that tastes differ.

Wrap

Another question I received was about the origin of the verb wrap. This is a rather long story, and I decided to devote a special post to it in the foreseeable future.

PS. I notice that of the two questions asked by our correspondent last month only copacetic attracted some attention (read Stephen Goranson’s response). But what about hubba hubba?

Anatoly Liberman is the author of Word Origins And How We Know Them as well as An Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology: An Introduction. His column on word origins, The Oxford Etymologist, appears on the OUPblog each Wednesday. Send your etymology question to him care of blog@oup.com; he’ll do his best to avoid responding with “origin unknown.” Subscribe to Anatoly Liberman’s weekly etymology articles via email or RSS.

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3. On the 95th anniversary of the Chicago Race Riots

By Elaine Lewinnek


On 27 July 1919, a black boy swam across an invisible line in the water. “By common consent and custom,” an imaginary line extending out across Lake Michigan from Chicago’s 29th Street separated the area where blacks were permitted to swim from where whites swam. Seventeen-year-old Eugene Williams crossed that line. He may have strayed across it by accident or may have challenged it on purpose. We do not know his motives because the whites on the beach reacted by throwing stones and Eugene Williams drowned. Police at the beach arrested black bystanders, infuriating other blacks so much that one black man shot at the police, who returned fire, shooting into the crowd of blacks. The violence spread from there. Over the next week, in the middle of that hot summer of 1919, 38 people died, 537 were hospitalized, and approximately 1,000 were left homeless. White and black Chicagoans fought over access to beaches, parks, streetcars, and especially residential space. The burning of houses, during this riot, inflamed passions almost as much as the killing of people. It took a rainstorm and the state militia to end the violence in July 1919, which nevertheless simmered just below the surface, erupting in smaller clashes between blacks and whites throughout the next four decades, especially every May, during Chicago’s traditional moving season.

ChicagoRaceRiot_1919_wagon

Family leaving damaged home after 1919 Chicago race riot by Chicago Commission on Race Relations. Negro in Chicago: The Negro in Chicago; a study of race relations and a race riot (1922). Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The 1910s were the first decade of the Great Migration, a decade when 70,000 blacks had moved to Chicago, more than doubling the existing black population. This was also a decade when the lines of Chicago’s residential apartheid were hardening. Historically, Chicago’s blacks found homes in industrial suburbs such as Maywood and Chicago Heights, domestic service hubs such as Evanston and Glencoe, rustic owner-built suburbs such as Robbins and Dixmoor, and some recently-annexed suburban space such as Morgan Park and Lilydale. Increasingly, though, blacks were confined to a narrow four-block strip around State Street on Chicago’s South Side known as the Black Belt. Half of Chicago’s blacks lived there in 1900, while 90% of Chicago’s blacks lived there by 1930.

The Black Belt was a crowded space where two or three families often squeezed into one-room apartments, landlords neglected to repair rotting floors or hinge-less doors, schools eventually ran on shifts so that each child was educated for only half a day, and the police tolerated gamblers and brothels. It was so unhealthy that Richard Wright called it “our death sentence without a trial.” Blacks who tried to move beyond the Black Belt were met with vandalism, arson, and bomb-throwers, including 24 bombs thrown in the first half of 1919 alone.

Earlier, some Chicago neighborhoods had welcomed black homeowners, but after the First World War there was an increasingly widespread belief that blacks hurt property values. Chicago realtor L. M. Smith and his Kenwood and Hyde Park Property Owners Association spread the notion that any black moving into a neighborhood was akin to a thief, robbing that street of its property values. By the 1920s, Chicago Realtors prohibited members from introducing any new racial group into a neighborhood and encouraged the spread of restrictive covenants, legally barring blacks while also consolidating ideas of whiteness. As late as 1945, two Chicago sociologists reported that, while “English, German, Scotch, Irish, and Scandinavian have little adverse effect on property values[,] Northern Italians are considered less desirable, followed by Bohemians and Czechs, Poles, Lithuanians, Greeks, and Russian Jews of the Lower class. Southern Italians, along with Negroes and Mexicans, are at the bottom of the scale.” As historians of race recognize, many European immigrants were considered not quite white before 1950. Those immigrants eventually joined the alliance of groups considered white partly because realtors, mortgage lenders, and housing economists established a bright line between the property values of “whites” and those of blacks.

The lines established in 1919 have lingered. As late as 1990, among Chicago’s suburban blacks, almost half of them lived in the same fourteen suburbs that blacks had lived in before 1920: they had not gained access to newer spaces. It was black neighborhoods that suffered disproportionately from urban renewal and the construction of tall-tower public housing in the twentieth century, further reinforcing the overlaps between race and space in Chicago. Many whites inherit property whose value has increased because of the racist real-estate policies founded after the violence of 1919. Recently, Ta-Nehisi Coates has recently used the history of Chicago’s property market to publicize “The Case for Reparations,” after generations of denying blacks access to homeowner equity.

It is worth remembering the events of 95 years ago, when Eugene Williams and 37 other people died, as Chicagoans clashed in the streets over emerging ideas of racialized property values.

Elaine Lewinnek is a professor of American Studies at California State University, Fullerton and the author of The Working Man’s Reward: Chicago’s Early Suburbs and the Roots of American Sprawl.

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4. Humanitarian protection for unaccompanied children from Central America

By Jennifer Moore


We are approaching World Humanitarian Day, an occasion to honor the talents, struggles, and sacrifices of tens of thousands of humanitarian workers serving around the world in situations of armed conflict, political repression, and natural disaster. The nineteenth of August is also a day to recognize the tens of millions of human beings living and dying in situations of violence and displacement in West Africa, the Middle East, Central America, and every corner of the globe.

The notion of humanitarianism is linked to humanitarian law, the law of armed conflict or jus in bello, which strives to lessen the brutality of war, guided by the customary principles of distinction, necessity, proportionality, and humanity. But humanitarian workers animate these humanitarian principles on the ground in situations of human catastrophe that span the continuum of human and natural causation and overwhelm our capacity to categorize human suffering.

Today, humanitarian workers are active in every country in the world: from International Committee of the Red Cross workers in Nigeria helping displaced persons from communities attacked by Boko Haram insurgents; to UN High Commissioner for Refugees staff in Jordan and Lebanon assisting refugees from the civil war in Syria and Iraq; to Catholic Charities volunteers and staff in Las Cruces, New Mexico, United States sheltering women and children fleeing gang violence, human trafficking, and entrenched poverty in Central America.

US/Mexico border fence near Campo, California, USA. © PatrickPoendl via iStockphoto.

US/Mexico border fence near Campo, California, USA. © PatrickPoendl via iStockphoto.

Humanitarian emergencies, whether defined in military, political, economic or environmental terms, have certain basic commonalities: life and livelihood are threatened; communities and families are fractured; farms and food stores are destroyed; and people are forced to move — from village to village, from rural to urban area, from city to countryside, or from one country or continent to another.

Humanitarian workers who engage with communities in crisis are not limited to one legal toolkit. Rather, they stand on a common ground shared by humanitarian law, human rights law, and refugee law. Their life-affirming interventions remind us that all these frameworks are animated by the same fundamental concern for people in trouble. Whether we look to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the principle of protecting the civilian population; to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its norms of family unity and child welfare; to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its prohibition against the forced return or refoulement of individuals to threatened persecution; or to the enhanced protections accorded unaccompanied children in the United States under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, the essential rules are remarkably similar. Victims and survivors of war, repression, and other forms of violence are worthy of legal and social protection. It is humanitarian workers who strive to ensure that survivors of violence enjoy the safety, shelter, legal status, and economic opportunities that they require and deserve.

For the unaccompanied children from Central America seeking refuge in the United States, humanitarian protection signifies that they should have the opportunity to integrate into US communities, to have access to social services, to reunify with their families, and to be represented by legal counsel as they pursue valid claims to asylum and other humanitarian forms of relief from deportation. When the US Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1980, it was in recognition of our humanitarian obligations under international refugee law. As a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, the United States pledged not to penalize refugees for their lack of legal status, but rather to protect them from deportation to threatened persecution. These humanitarian obligations preexist, animate, and complement specific provisions of federal law, including those that facilitate the granting of T visas to trafficking victims, humanitarian parole to individuals in emergency situations, and asylum to refugees. When new emergencies arise, our Congress, our executive, and our courts fashion the appropriate remedies, not out of grace, but to ensure that as a nation we fulfill our obligations to people in peril.

As an American looking forward to World Humanitarian Day, I am thinking about the nearly 70,000 unaccompanied children from Central America apprehended by the US Customs and Border Protection agency over the past 10 months; the 200 Honduran, Salvadoran and Guatemalan women and children who have stayed at the Project Oak Tree shelter in the border city of Las Cruces, New Mexico this month; and the over 400 children and families detained within the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in the small town of Artesia, New Mexico this very week. These kids and their families are survivors of poverty, targets of human trafficking, victims of gang brutality, and refugees from persecution. They have much in common with the displaced children of Northern Nigeria, Syria, and Iraq. Like their counterparts working with refugees and displaced persons throughout the world, the shelter volunteers, community residents, county social workers, immigration attorneys, and federal Homeland Security personnel who help unaccompanied children from Central America in the United States are all humanitarian workers. But so are our elected officials and legislators. And so are we. How will we honor World Humanitarian Day?

Jennifer Moore is on the faculty of the University of New Mexico School of Law. She is the author of Humanitarian Law in Action within Africa (Oxford University Press 2012). Read her previous blog posts.

Oxford University Press is a leading publisher in international law, including the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, latest titles from thought leaders in the field, and a wide range of law journals and online products. We publish original works across key areas of study, from humanitarian to international economic to environmental law, developing outstanding resources to support students, scholars, and practitioners worldwide. For the latest news, commentary, and insights follow the International Law team on Twitter @OUPIntLaw.

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5. Review: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

9780434020805I think I loved this even more than The Magicians (which if you haven’t read beware spoilers ahead). The first half of The Magicians was like an adult Harry Potter and full of the wonder of discovering magic was real. The second half was an exploration of what happens to people who discover a new power. It was much darker, which I really liked, and you really got to know the negative sides of the books characters which is not something many books of this genre do.

The Magician King picks up where The Magicians ended. Quentin, Elliot, Janet and Julia are now the Kings and Queens of Fillory but Quentin is growing restless. He wants a purpose, a quest, an adventure and he will do anything to find or create one. Interspersed with Quentin’s story are flashbacks to Julia who went down a very different (and much darker) path to gain her magical knowledge. And as before there a dues to be paid for gaining this power.

Grossman again finely balances a story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, referencing other familiar stories, while slowly turning what seems to be an innocuous and manufactured quest into something far more important. We explore more of Fillory and the expanded universe and (much to some characters’ shock and horror) revisit Earth and the ‘real’ world. I also felt I reconnected to the characters after becoming detached from them after some of the questionable decisions they made in the first book.  Loose ends from the first book are also nicely tied up and the ending is both highly satisfying as a reader and nicely sets up the third and final book in the series.

This truly is a brilliant series and while I’m late to the party in discovering it I get the advantage of reading all three books in the trilogy close together with the final book, The Magician’s Land due out next month. And I will be reading that one straight away!

Buy the book here…

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6. A lesson in writing book reviews

I write book reviews.  I write them for magazines, my blog, my co-workers. I also spend quite a bit of time crafting them — tweaking this sentence, editing that.  Well, apparently, I’ve been doing it all wrong.  Perhaps it’s best just to shoot from the hip and tell it like you feel it, as the following children have done.

Enjoy this selection of entertaining book reviews. All appeared online and were written (without byline) by children participating in New Jersey’s Collaborative Summer Reading Program, “Fizz, Boom, Read!”

“Most Honest”

SpongeBob Sqaure [sic] Pants
Review
I hated it…!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Rating

(Don’t hold back, tell us what you really think!)

“Best Use of a Spelling Error”

Olivia The Princess
Author
Natalie Shaw
Review
It wasn’t the best book ever but it’s okay. I enjoyed it and it interested me a lot. I just can’t help to say I love that it retaliates to princesses and castles. I know kindergarten and 1st graders will definitely enjoy this magical princess book and the rest of the series. It was sort of challenging but with some help I can read it just fine.
Rating

(Take that, princesses and castles!)

“Sounds Kind of Creepy to Me”

Baby Unicorn
Author
Jean and Claudio Marzollo
Review
Read to me by big brother. I like that she lets all the other unicorns, even her father, touch her horn.
Rating

(I don’t know what to think about this one.)

“Yes, You can Judge a Book by its Cover”

At the Beach, Postcards from Crabby Spit
Author
Roland Harvey
Review
This book was funny because of the silly title!
Rating

(I’m guilty of choosing a book by its title, too!)

“Most Complimentary”

The Goose’s Gold
Author
Ron Roy
Review
I liked this book a lot. It was very real to me.
Rating

(What author wouldn’t appreciate this review?)

“Biggest Spoiler”

Two Bad Ants
Author
Chris Van Allsburg
Review
Those ants shouldn’t have made that decision. :(
Rating

(Guess I don’t need to read that one.)

“Highest-rated”

I’d Really Like to Eat a Child
Author
Sylviane Donnio
Review
I like this one. It was really funny. This book is an 8.
Rating

(On a scale of 1-5, this one received an 8.  I’ll put it on my TBR pile.)

 

I hope you enjoyed them!  I’ll keep an eye out for other gems. :)

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7. Introducing…The Whisper

It seems like only yesterday I was telling you about The Riverman. If you’re one of my Twitter followers, then it probably was yesterday. Be thankful. Because I’ve given such shameless promotions a rest.

So I can shamelessly promote this bad boy!

0714AR2

That’s right. The Whisper is in the can and has a gorgeous cover created by Yelena Bryksenkova. Do you want to hear more about it? Well…SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t read The Riverman, then you might not want to read the following description of its sequel. Or maybe you hate surprises. I respect your strange decisions.

Twelve-year-old Alistair Cleary has washed up on shore. But where? It seems to be Aquavania, the magical realm where children create entire worlds from their imagination. There’s something wrong, though. The creators have disappeared and the worlds are falling apart.

All Alistair wants is to find his friend Fiona Loomis and go home. Easier said than done. Animals made of starlight, a megalomaniacal boy king, and astronauts who peddle riddles are hard enough to outwit, but they’re only the beginning.

To find Fiona, Alistair must travel from world to world. He must confront the mistakes of his past. And he must face countless monsters, including the soul-stealing stalker that some people call the Riverman, the merciless but misunderstood servant of Aquavania who refers to himself as the Whisper.

Pretty rad, right? My parents think so. If you’re one of the few to come across an ARC, then read it and sing praises or air grievances. As for the rest of you: wait until March 17, 2015. All good things…

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8. I Couldn’t Help it, the Words, They Made Me

I read a review in the Los Angeles Review of Books the other day about a collection of essays called Xylotheque by Yelizaveta P. Renfro. I had no idea what xylotheque meant and I had never heard of the author before but before I even got to the part of the review that began to explain the title I had already decided I was going to buy the book. Why? I had no idea what the book was about, I still don’t really because I never actually finished reading the review, but the reviewer hit so many key words and phrases that had my synapses buzzing I had to have the book.

What had me so worked up? Let’s make a list!

  • lyrical essays
  • borderland between prose and poetry
  • sure-footed in their gamboling
  • revel in the gap between knowing and unknowing
  • provoking meditation

I was caught hook, line, and sinker. The book is now sitting next to me on my reading table and I still don’t know what it is about. for the record though, xylotheque is a collection of wood.

Then I got to thinking about other words that pop up in reviews that make me pay attention and want to read a book. And that led to words that make me not want to read a book. The words on both lists aren’t always the same (sometimes they might change lists depending on my mood) and they aren’t even words I would necessarily use when describing a book, but they are words that trigger a reaction in me when someone else writes them.

For future reference, if you are writing about a book and want me to read it, these words will serve you well:

  • thought-provoking
  • provocative
  • meditative
  • lyrical
  • complex/difficult/challenging
  • quirky
  • unusual/different
  • darkly funny
  • mind-blowing

Also, if anyone ever calls a book a good mind-fuck I will squeal in delight. I love it when a book messes with my head and such a description is so rarely encountered even when expressed less crudely that I will pretty nearly come close to dropping everything to read that book. Unless it is horror. When messing with my head turns into nightmares, won’t go there.

Words describing a book that usually turn me off wanting to read it:

  • cozy
  • simple
  • part of a series (I will sometimes make exceptions for this)
  • romantic
  • in the style of *famous author* (unless you say “this book could be the love child of Virginia Woolf and David Foster Wallace” or something equally as odd, then you’ll have my interest)
  • if you liked X then you will like Y (though it is ok to say “this book reminded a little bit of X”)

Hmm, I thought the turn off list would be longer. I will very likely think of more words for it after I click the “publish” button.

So what about you? What words trigger an “OMG I have to read this!” reaction in you and what words immediately convince you a particular book is not for you?


Filed under: Books, Reading

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9. MIDDLE-GRADE FANTASY (for the beach AND the classroom)

Looking for some recommendations for a middle grader who loves fantasy? Well, we’ve got just the list for you!

Here are some stellar picks for the kid looking for magical powers, mysterious forests, heros, and villains to take to the beach with him.

The Thickety

THE THICKETY, by J. A. White, is the start of a new fantasy series set in a world where magic is forbidden but exists in the dark woods called the Thickety. This book would be a great recommendation for fans of the Septimus Heap series, and here’s a book talk prepared by librarian, author, and Common Core workshop presenter Kathleen Odean:

How would you like to have the power to summon amazing creatures to do your will? When Kara finds a book in the Thickety, a dangerous forest, it awakens her magical powers. Local villagers view magic as evil but for Kara, it’s a connection to her mother, who was executed as a witch. The spells thrill Kara until the magic starts to change her in frightening ways. Is Kara in control of the magic—or is it in control of her? If she doesn’t figure it out soon, she could lose everyone and everything she loves.

There’s even a Common Core-aligned discussion guide with activities written by the author, J. A. White—an elementary school teacher! (You may not want to send this to the beach, though. Maybe save it for September.)

 

The Castle Behind Thorns

THE CASTLE BEHIND THORNS, by Schneider Award winner Merrie Haskell, is a magical adventure set in an enchanted castle that will appeal to fans of Gail Carson Levine, Karen Cushman, and Shannon Hale.

When Sand wakes up alone in a long-abandoned castle, he has no idea how he got there. Everything in the castle—from dishes to candles to apples—is torn in half or slashed to bits. Nothing lives here and nothing grows, except the vicious, thorny bramble that prevents Sand from leaving. To survive, Sand does what he knows best—he fires up the castle’s forge to mend what he needs to live. But the things he fixes work somehow better than they ought to. Is there magic in the mending, granted by the saints who once guarded this place? With gorgeous language and breathtaking magic, THE CASTLE BEHIND THORNS tells of the power of memory and story, forgiveness and strength, and the true gifts of craft and imagination.

Thinking ahead to the new school year, Common Core applications include: Comparing and contrasting texts in different forms or genres; determining the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; and analyzing the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.

The Dyerville Tales

THE DYERVILLE TALES, by M. P. Kozlowsky, tells the story of a young orphan who searches for his family and the meaning in his grandfather’s book of lost fairy tales.

Vince Elgin is an orphan, having lost his mother and father in a fire when he was young. With only a senile grandfather he barely knows to call family, Vince was interned in a group home, dreaming that his father, whose body was never found, might one day return for him. When a letter arrives telling Vince his grandfather has passed away, he is convinced that if his father is still alive, he’ll find him at the funeral. He strikes out for the small town of Dyerville carrying only one thing with him: his grandfather’s journal. The journal tells a fantastical story of witches and giants and magic, one that can’t be true. But as Vince reads on, he finds that his very real adventure may have more in common with his grandfather’s than he ever could have known.

If you’d like to bring this one into your classroom next year, Common Core applications include: Determining the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text; analyzing the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone; describing how a particular story’s plot unfolds in a series of episodes; and describing how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw

THE HERO’S GUIDE TO BEING AN OUTLAW, by Christopher Healy, is the hilarious and action-packed conclusion to the acclaimed hit series that began with THE HERO’S GUIDE TO SAVING YOUR KINGDOM.

Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You think you know those guys pretty well by now, don’t you? Well, think again. Posters plastered across the thirteen kingdoms are saying that Briar Rose has been murdered—and the four Princes Charming are the prime suspects. Now they’re on the run in a desperate attempt to clear their names. Along the way, however, they discover that Briar’s murder is just one part of a nefarious plot to take control of all thirteen kingdoms—a plot that will lead to the doorstep of an eerily familiar fortress for a final showdown with an eerily familiar enemy.

And Common Core applications for this one include: Explaining how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text; comparing and contrasting texts in different forms or genres; and analyzing how differences in the points of view of the characters and the reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.

Happy reading!

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10. Memory and the Great War

In honor of the 100th anniversary of World War I, we’re sharing an excerpt of Sir Hew Strachan’s The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War. Get a sense of what it was like to live through this historic event and how its global effects still impact the world today.

The Great War haunted the last century; it haunts us still. It continues to inspire imaginative endeavour of the highest order. It invites pilgrimage and commemoration surrounded by palpable sadness. Almost a hundred years after the war, ‘The Last Post’, intoned every evening at the Menin Gate in Ypres, still summons tears. We wish it all had not happened.

We associate the war with the loss of youth, of innocence, of ideals. We are inclined to think that the world was a better and happier place before 1914. If the last century has been one of disjunction and endless surprise rather than of the mounting predictability many expected at the next-to-last fin-de-siècle, the Great War was the greatest surprise of all. The war stands, by most historical accounts, as the portal of entry to a century of doubt and agony, to our dissatisfaction.

Its extremes of emotion, both the initial jubilation and subsequent despair, are seen as a preface to the politics of extremism that took hold in Europe in the aftermath; its mechanized killing is regarded as a necessary prelude to the even greater ferocity of the Second World War and to the Holocaust; its assault on the values of the Enlightenment is seen as a nexus between indeterminacy in the sciences and the aesthetics of irony. Monty Python might never have lived had it not been for the Great War. The war unleashed a floodtide of forces that we have been unable ever since to stem. ‘Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget—lest we forget!’ How in the world, Mr Kipling, are we to forget?

fig_11.1 LoC_ LC-USZ62-68359 3b15821r

Figure 11.1 from the Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War. Used with permissions from Oxford University Press.

The enthusiasm surrounding the outbreak of war many described as a social and spiritual experience beyond compare. Engagement was the hallmark of the day. ‘We have,’ wrote Rupert Brooke, ‘come into our heritage.’ The literate classes, and by then they were the literate masses—teachers, students, artists, writers, poets, historians, and indeed workers, of the mind as well as the fist—volunteered en masse. School benches and church pews emptied. Those past the age of military service enrolled in the effort on the home front.

Words, literary words, visible on the page, flowed as they had never flowed before, in the trenches, at home, and across the seven seas. The Berlin critic Julius Bab estimated that in August 1914 50,000 German poems were being penned a day. Thomas Mann conjured up a vision of his nation’s poetic soul bursting into flame. Before the wireless, before the television, this was the great literary war. Everyone wrote about it, and for it.

Not surprisingly, the Great War turned immediately into a war of cultures. To Britain and France, Germany represented the assault, by definition barbaric, on history and law. Brutality was Germany’s essence. To Germany, Britain represented a commercial spirit, and France an emphasis on outward form, that were loathsome to a nation of heroes. Treachery was Albion’s name. Hypocrisy was Marianne’s fame.

But the war was also an expression of social values. The intense involvement of the educated classes led to a form of warfare, certainly on the western front, characterized by the determination and ideals of those classes. Trench warfare was not merely a military necessity; it was a social manifestation. It was to be, in a sense, the great moral achievement of the European middle classes. It represented their resolve, commitment, perseverance, responsibility, grit—those features and values the middle classes cherished most.

And here for dear dead brothers we are weeping.
Mourning the withered rose of chivalry,
Yet, their work done, the dead are sleeping, sleeping
Unconscious of the long lean years to be.

Those lines from the Wykehamist, the journal of Winchester College, of July 1917 evoked both the passing of an age and the crisis of a culture.

‘The bourgeoisie is essentially an effort,’ insisted the French bourgeois René Johannet. The Great War was essentially an effort too. The American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald would call the war on the western front ‘a love battle—there was a century of middle-class love spent here. All my beautiful lovely safe world blew itself up here with a great gust of high-explosive love.’ Fitzgerald’s ‘lovely safe world’ was one of empire, imperial ideas, and imperial dreams. It was a world of confidence, of religion, and of history. It was a world of connections. History was a synonym for progress.

Sir Hew Strachan is a professor of the History of War at the University of Oxford, Commonwealth War Graves Commissioner, and a Trustee of the Imperial War Museum. He also serves on the British, Scottish, and French national committees advising on the centenary of the First World War. He is the editor of The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War.

We’re giving away ten copies of The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War to mark the 100th anniversary of World War I. Learn more and enter for a chance to win. For even more exclusive content, visit the US ‘World War I: Commemorating the Centennial’ page or UK ‘First World War Centenary’ page to discover specially commissioned contributions from our expert authors, free resources from our world-class products, book lists, and exclusive archival materials that provide depth, perspective, and insight into the Great War.

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11. The month that changed the world: Wednesday, 29 July 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, is blogging regularly for us over the next few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


Before the sun rose on Wednesday morning a new hope for a negotiated settlement of the crisis was initiated. The Kaiser, acting on the advice of his chancellor, wrote directly to the Tsar. He hoped that Nicholas would agree with him that they shared a common interest in punishing all of those ‘morally responsible’ for the dastardly murder of the Archduke, and he promised to exert his influence to induce Austria to deal directly with Russia in order to arrive at an understanding.

At 1 a.m. Nicholas appealed to Wilhelm for his assistance: ‘An ignoble war has been declared on a weak country.’ The indignation that this had caused in Russia was enormous and he anticipated that he would soon be overwhelmed by the pressure being brought to bear upon him, forcing him to take ‘extreme measures’ that would lead to war. To avoid this terrible calamity, he begged Wilhelm, in the name of their old friendship, ‘to do what you can to stop your allies from going too far.’

The question of the day on Wednesday was whether Austria-Hungary and Russia might undertake direct discussions to settle the crisis before further military steps turned a local Austro-Serbian war into a general European one.

The New York Times, 29 July 1914. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The New York Times, 29 July 1914. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The German general staff summarized its view of the situation: the crime of Sarajevo had led Austria to resort to extreme measures ‘in order to burn with a glowing iron a cancer that has constantly threatened to poison the body of Europe’. The quarrel would have been limited to Austria and Serbia had not Russia begun making military preparations. Now, if the Austrians advanced into Serbia, they would face not only the Serbian army but the vastly superior strength of Russia. Thus, they could not contemplate fighting Serbia without securing themselves against an attack by Russia. This would force them to mobilize the other half of their army – at which point a collision between Austria and Russia would become inevitable. This would force Germany to mobilize, which would lead Russia and France to do the same – ‘and the mutual butchery of the civilized nations of Europe would begin’.

In other words, unless a negotiated settlement could be reached quickly, war seemed inevitable.

Berchtold pleaded with Berlin that only ‘plain speech’ would restrain the Russians, i.e. only the threat of a German attack would stop them from taking military action against Austria. And there were signs that Russia was wary of war. The Austrian ambassador reported that Sazonov was desperate to avoid a conflict and was ‘clinging to straws in the hope of escaping from the present situation’. Sazonov promised that if they were to negotiate on the basis of Sir Edward Grey’s proposal, Austria’s legitimate demands would be recognized and fully satisfied.

At the same time, Sazonov was pleading for British support: the only way to prevent war now was for Britain to warn the Triple Alliance that it would join its entente partners if war were to break out.

But Grey refused to make any promises. When he met with the French ambassador later that afternoon, he warned him not to assume that Britain would again stand by France as it had in 1905. Then it had appeared that Germany was attempting to crush France; now, ‘the dispute between Austria and Serbia was not one in which we felt called to take a hand’. Earlier that day the British cabinet had decided not to decide; Grey was to inform both sides that Britain was unable to make any promises.

At 4 p.m. the German general staff received intelligence that Belgium was calling up reservists, raising the numbers of the Belgian army from 50,000 to 100,000, equipping its fortifications and reinforcing defences along the frontier. Forty minutes later a meeting at the Neue Palais in Potsdam, the Kaiser and his advisers decided to compose an ultimatum to present to Belgium: either agree to adopt an attitude of ‘benevolent neutrality’ towards Germany in a European war or face dire consequences.

Simultaneously, Bethmann Hollweg decided to launch a bold new initiative. He proposed to the British ambassador that Britain agree to remain neutral in the event of war in exchange for a German promise not to seize any French territory in Europe when it ended. He understood that Britain would not allow France to be crushed, but this was not Germany’s aim. When asked whether his proposal applied to French colonies as well, the chancellor replied that he was unable to give a similar undertaking concerning them. Belgium’s integrity would be respected when the war ended –as long as it had not sided against Germany.

Yet another German initiative was taken in St Petersburg. At 7 p.m. the German ambassador transmitted a warning from the chancellor that if Russia continued with its military preparations Germany would be compelled to mobilize, in which case it would take the offensive. Sazonov replied that this removed any doubts he may have had concerning the real cause of Austria’s intransigence.

The Russians found this confusing, as they had just received another telegram from the Kaiser containing a plea that he should not permit Russian military measures to jeopardize German efforts to promote a direct understanding between Russia and Austria. It was agreed that the Tsar should wire Berlin immediately to ask for an explanation of the apparent discrepancy. At 8.20 p.m. the wire asking for clarification was sent. Trusting in his cousin’s ‘wisdom and friendship’, Tsar Nicholas suggested that the ‘Austro-Serbian problem’ be handed over to the Hague conference.

A message announcing a general mobilization in Russia had been drafted and ready to be sent out by 9 p.m. Then, just minutes before it was to be sent out, a personal messenger from the Tsar arrived, instructing that it the general mobilization be cancelled and a partial one re-instituted. The Tsar wanted to hear how the Kaiser would respond to his latest telegram before proceeding. ‘Everything possible must be done to save the peace. I will not become responsible for a monstrous slaughter’.

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914.

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12. Review – Life Or Death by Michael Robotham

9780751552898The advanced reading copy bills this as “the best novel yet from Michael Robotham” which is a big call considering his previous nine novels. While I’m not a fan of the Joe O’Loughlin novels that has nothing to do with Robotham’s writing just the fact I don’t like psychological thrillers. But what all Robotham’s books have in common is precision plotting. Robotham knows exactly how to unfurl a story, keeping you interested and guessing in equal measure. My favourite Robothom was Lost (aka The Drowning Man) which demonstrates this perfectly. But I have a new favourite Robotham now because this is beyond doubt the best novel yet from Michael Robotham.

The idea for this novel came to Robotham over twenty years ago, well before he’d written his first book. But Robotham didn’t know if or how he could pull the story off. Nine best-selling novels later he knew how he was going to do it and it was worth the wait.

Audie Palmer has spent the last ten years in prison for an armed robbery that netted 7 million dollars. Money that has never been recovered. Everybody wants to know where the money is; other prisoners, guards and various law enforcement. Audie has survived beatings, stabbings and other assaults and is finally due to be released from prison tomorrow. Except he has just escaped. And so begins an epic thriller. Nobody knows why Audie has escaped but they think it has to do with the money. As Audie’s plan unfolds we learn that there are stronger motivations than money. Motivations that people will kill for, motivations people will live for.

This is far and away the thriller of the year. It will keep you glued to end of your reading chair, it will keep you guessing until the very end and, best of all, it will break your heart.

Buy the book here…

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13. Hope: Holly Schindler

A tiny ray of hope appears inside me, the same way a little stream of light pours from the hallway through my bedroom door's keyhole at night.

- from the novel The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky by Holly Schindler

For similar ponderings, please check out Definitions of Hope, a series of hopeful musings from various authors and other artists.

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14. The Empathy Exams

What a marvelous book is The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison. A collection of essays published by the local Graywolf Press, it actually spent time a little time on the bestseller lists. Now having read it I understand why. It is a beautiful and thoughtful book that examines empathy from a variety of angles and in some surprising places.

The first essay, “The Empathy Exams,” sets the tone. Jamison is working as an actor, playing patient for medical students who are being scored on not only how well they diagnose and treat a problem but on how well they treat the patient. Do they show empathy?

empathy isn’t just measured by checklist item 31 — voiced empathy for my situation/problem — but by every item that gauges how thoroughly me experience has been imagined. Empathy isn’t just remembering to say that must really be hard — it’s figuring out how to bring difficulty into the light so it can be seen at all. Empathy isn’t just listening, it’s asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see.

Between her experience as an actor for med student exams, Jamison weaves a story of her own medical problems, when she had an abortion and then heart surgery not long after. She has difficulty getting what she needs, getting any sense of empathy or caring from her own doctors; they don’t want to deal with her guilt or her tears and are dismissive of her fear. As a result, she demands so much from her boyfriend that he can’t deliver what she wants either:

I needed something from the world I didn’t know how to ask for. I needed people — Dave, a doctor, anyone — to deliver my feelings back to me in a form that was legible. Which is a superlative kind of empathy to seek, or to supply: an empathy that rearticulates more clearly what it is shown.

In the essay “Devil’s Bait” she attends a Morgellons Disease conference in Austin, Texas. People with this disease, seventy percent of whom are women, believe they have crawling, biting things under their skin as well as fibers growing through their skin. They end up picking at the “fibers” and scratching and itching themselves so much they cause very real sores that are sometimes so bad they become disfiguring. It is a delusional disease currently not recognized my the medical community. When treatment is given, it is generally an antipsychotic drug which many of the patients end up not taking because they reject their doctor’s diagnosis of delusional parasitosis. The question then becomes, one of “what kinds of reality are considered prerequisites for compassion”? Jamison wonders

is it wrong to call it empathy when you trust the fact of suffering but not the source? How do I inhabit someone’s pain without inhabiting their particular understanding of that pain?

She finds herself wishing she could

invent a verb tense full of open spaces — a tense that didn’t pretend to understand the precise mechanisms of which it spoke; a tense that could admit its own limits.

Jamison’s wide-ranging essays take us from a writer’s conference in Tijuana, Mexico, to Nicaragua when she was teaching kids and got punched in the face while walking down the street. The man took her wallet and broke her nose. We visit the silver mines of Potosí in Bolivia where the miners are doomed to be dead by the age of forty either from a mine accident or silicosis. It is big business for tourists to go to the mines and go down into them to see the miners are work. You are to bring gifts for the miners: sodas, sticks of dynamite, small bags of cocoa leaves. The gifts help you feel better when you get to leave and breathe fresh air again, knowing the men you just met will be underground for another five hours or more.

She goes on a guided tour of South Central Los Angeles and Watts. Run by former gang members the tour fee goes to help pay for the conflict mediation work they are also doing. As they drive around on an air conditioned bus, protected from the outside and being regaled with stories of gang violence, one of the guides talks of Rodney King and his beating by police. Jamison was only nine at the time and she remembers thinking that the police only would have hit him if he had done something wrong. The truth is far more difficult than that of course. So what good is taking such a tour?

The great shame of your privilege is a hot blush the whole time. The truth of this place is infinite and irreducible, and self-reflexive anguish might feel like the only thing you can offer in return. It might be hard to hear anything above the clattering machinery of your guilt. Try to listen anyway.

There is a wonderful essay on sentimentality and melodrama that tries to pinpoint just why we despise it so much yet desire it at the same time. And another in which she writes about three men who were wrongfully convicted as teens for murder and spent eighteen years in jail.

The book’s concluding essay, “Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain” made me want to cry and cheer at the same time. Cry because a 2001 study revealed that women are less likely than men to be given pain medication. Instead, women are given sedatives. The essay discusses through literature and culture and personal experience the ways in which female pain is fetishized or dismissed. These days women are “post-wounded.” Instead of becoming an angel in our suffering we are supposed to pretend we aren’t suffering at all. But, Jamison asks,

How do we represent female pain without producing a culture in which this pain has been fetishized to the point of fantasy or imperative? Fetishize: to be excessively or irrationally devoted to. Here is the danger of our wounded womanhood: that its invocation will corroborate a pain cult that keeps legitimating, almost legislating, more of itself.

Jamison doesn’t come to any definite conclusion on how female pain might be represented, but she is certain that is should never be dismissed even at the risk of its being fetishized:

The wounded woman gets called a stereotype and sometimes she is. But sometimes she’s just true. I think the possibility of fetishizing pain is no reason to stop representing it. Pain that gets performed is still pain. Pain turned trite is still pain. I think the charges of cliché and performance offer our closed hearts too many alibis, and I want our hearts to be open. I just wrote that. I want our hearts to be open. I mean it.

Empathy of course is the solution. An open heart allows one to be empathetic to the suffering of others whether their pain comes from a delusional disease or a source that cannot be pinned down, or from getting punched in the nose. As she says in an early essay in the book, empathy isn’t just something that happens to us it is also something we choose:

to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, the dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow. The act of choosing simply means we’ve committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations: I will listen to his sadness, even when I am deep in my own

A beautiful book guaranteed to make you think. I highly recommend it.


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15. Dwell Deep, or Hilda Thorn’s Life Story

So, apparently Grace Livingston Hill’s brand of religion makes me want to go read about Amy Le Feuvre’s brand of religion. And I suppose it serves me right that Dwell Deep is more Hill-like that any Le Feuvre book I’ve read to date. It’s the story of Hilda Thorn, a young woman who moves in with her guardian’s family, who have little tolerance for her religious scruples.

I think the fact that she was converted before the story begins was part of what bugged me, although I guess it saved me one of Le Feuvre’s weirdly unsatisfactory conversion scenes. I also wasn’t wild about the first person narration, although I eventually got used to it.

The setup reminds me a little bit of Elsie Dinsmore, with a religious main character surrounded by people who not only don’t share her views, but can’t seem to live and let live. But it seems more pointless here. There’s no real reason for them to get angry with her for choosing not to go to parties, as her guardian does, or to tease her mercilessly about her religion, as her guardian’s son Kenneth does. She even points out to Kenneth how unfair he is to her: if she doesn’t react to his teasing, it’s because she considers herself above the rest of them, and if she does, she’s not as good as she pretends to be. She can’t win. And then he’s like, yeah, I guess that’s true, and continues to be an asshole.

That said, it’s hard to see the Forsyths’ lack of sympathy and occasional hostility towards Hilda as anything resembling persecution. A sickly poor child dies, but that’s the function of sickly poor children in books like this. One of the Forsyths’ guests is more of an asshole to Hilda than Kenneth, even, but that never seems terribly important, either. Even when a major character gets sick and nearly dies, we only find out about it once she’s on the road to recovery. The stakes are never very high, is what I’m saying.

I did get into Dwell Deep, eventually. I stopped being disconcerted by the first person narration, and got comfortable with Hilda as a character. And I like Hilda’s hands-off attitude to converting people, and that the most important piece of advice she gets is basically to trust her own judgement, because otherwise someone else’s opinion could become more important to her than God. It’s not exactly the thing I’m used to seeing from Le Feuvre, but it’s in harmony with the way she always treats religion–as a framework, a system of belief rather than just a belief. I don’t think I’m going to itch to reread Dwell Deep the way I itch to reread Her Kingdom and Olive Tracy, but I still like Amy Le Feuvre a lot.


Tagged: 1890s, amy le feuvre, amylefeuvre, religious

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16. The month that changed the world: Tuesday, 28 July 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, is blogging regularly for us over the next few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


Kaiser Wilhelm received a copy of the Serbian reply to the Austrian demands in the morning. Reading it over, he concluded that the Habsburg monarchy had achieved its aims and that the few points Serbia objected to could be settled by negotiation. Their submission represented a humiliating capitulation, and with it ‘every cause for war’ collapsed. A diplomatic solution to the crisis was now clearly within sight. Austria-Hungary would emerge triumphant: the Serbian reply represented ‘a great moral success for Vienna’.

In order to assure Austria’s success, to turn the ‘beautiful promises’ of the Serbs into facts, the Kaiser proposed that Belgrade should be taken and held hostage by Austria. ‘The Serbs,’ he pointed out, ‘are Orientals, and therefore liars, fakers and masters of evasion.’ An occupation of Belgrade would guarantee that the Serbs would carry out their promises while satisfying satisfying the honour of the Austro-Hungarian army. On this basis the Kaiser was willing to ‘mediate’ with Austria in order to preserve European peace.

In Vienna that morning the German ambassador was instructed to explain that Germany could not continue to reject every proposal for mediation. To do so was to risk being seen as the instigator of the war and being held responsible by the whole world for the conflagration that would follow.

Berchtold began to worry that German support was about to evaporate. He responded by getting the emperor to agree to issue a declaration of war on Serbia just before noon. For the first time in history war was declared by the sending of a telegram.

The bombardment of Belgrade by Austro-Hungarian monitor. By Horace Davis. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The bombardment of Belgrade by Austro-Hungarian monitor. By Horace Davis. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The German chancellor undertook a new initiative to place the responsibility for a European war on Russia: he encouraged Kaiser to write directly to the Tsar, to appeal to his monarchical sensibilities. Such a telegram would ‘throw the clearest light on Russia’s responsibility’. At the same time he rejected Sir Edward Grey’s proposal for a conference in London in favour of ‘mediation efforts’ at St Petersburg, and trusted that his ambassador in London could get Grey ‘to see our point of view’.

At the Foreign Office in London they were skeptical. Officials concluded that the Austrians were determined to find the Serbian reply unsatisfactory, that if Austria demanded absolute compliance with its ultimatum ‘it can only mean that she wants a war’. What Austria was demanding amounted to a protectorate. Grey denied the German complaint that he was proposing an ‘arbitration’ – what he was suggesting was a ‘private and informal discussion’ that might lead to suggestion for settlement. But he agreed to suspend his proposal as long as there was a chance that the ‘bilateral’ Austro-Russian talks might succeed.

The news that Austria-Hungary had declared war on Serbia reached Sazonov in St Petersburg late that afternoon. He immediately arranged to meet with the Tsar at the Peterhof. After their meeting the foreign minister instructed the Russian chief of the general staff to draft two ukazes – one for partial mobilization of the four military districts of Odessa, Kiev, Moscow and Kazan, another for general mobilization. But the Tsar, who remained steadfast in his determination to do nothing that might antagonize Germany, would go no further than authorize a partial mobilization aimed at Austria-Hungary. He did so in spite of the warnings from his military advisers who told him that such a mobilization was impossible: a partial mobilization would result in chaos, make it impossible to prosecute a successful war against Austria-Hungary and render Russia vulnerable in a war with Germany.

A partial mobilization would, however, serve the requirements of Russian diplomacy. Sazonov attempted to placate the Germans by assuring them that the decision to mobilize in only the four districts indicated that Russia had no intention of attacking them. Keeping the door open for negotiations, he decided not to recall the Russian ambassador from Vienna – in spite of Austria’s declaration of war on Serbia. Perhaps there was still time for the bilateral talks in St Petersburg to save the situation.

That night Belgrade was bombarded by Austro-Hungarian artillery: two shells exploded in a school, one at the Grand Hotel, others at cafés and banks. Offices, hotels, and banks had been closed. The city had been left defenceless.

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914.

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17. The Book Brief: The Very Best New Release Books in August

Each month we bring you the best new release books in our Book Brief
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Fiction Books

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Life or Death by Michael Robotham

Audie Palmer has spent the last ten years in prison for an armed robbery that netted 7 million dollars. Money that has never been recovered. Everybody wants to know where the money is; other prisoners, guards and various law enforcement. Audie has survived beatings, stabbings and other assaults and is finally due to be released from prison tomorrow. Except he has just escaped. And so begins an epic thriller. Jon

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The Heist by Daniel Silva

Legendary spy and art restorer Gabriel Allon is in Venice repairing an altarpiece by Veronese when he receives an urgent summons from the Italian police. The eccentric London art dealer Julian Isherwood has stumbled upon a chilling murder scene in Lake Como, and is being held as a suspect. To save his friend, Gabriel must track down the real killers and then perform one simple task: find the most famous missing painting in the world.

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Fives and Twenty-Fives by Michael Pitre

A remarkable piece of fiction following proudly in the footsteps of the The Yellow Birds. Wars never truly end for everyone involved and this is the territory Michael Pitre explores in his impressive debut novel. On the eve on the Arab Spring in Tunisia three men are grappling with their futures now that their war has supposedly finished. Each is scarred and tainted by what they have witnessed and the decisions they have made. They are changed men returning to a changing world not sure if they achieved what they were fighting for. And if they possibly did whether it was worth the price. Jon

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The Sun Is God by Adrian McKinty

This is a seemingly dramatic departure from Adrian McKinty’s usual books but he pulls it off marvelously. Based on a true story McKinty heads to the South Pacific circa 1906 to tell a tale of mad Germans, sun worship and possible murder. There is a real 19th century flare to McKinty’s writing and characters in this novel and he has had obvious fun writing it. This may not appeal to all the Adrian McKinty fans but I think it is going to win him a few new ones. Jon

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The Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Huraki Murakami

Tsukuru Tazaki had four best friends at school. By chance all of their names contained a colour. The two boys were called Akamatsu, meaning ‘red pine’, and Oumi, ‘blue sea’, while the girls’ names were Shirane, ‘white root’, and Kurono, ‘black field’. Tazaki was the only last name with no colour in it. One day Tsukuru Tazaki’s friends announced that they didn’t want to see him, or talk to him, ever again. Since that day Tsukuru has been floating through life, unable to form intimate connections with anyone. But then he meets Sara, who tells him that the time has come to find out what happened all those years ago.

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The Golden Age by Joan London

Frank, a young boy is learning to walk again after contracting polio. His family have just arrived in Perth, survivors of Nazi -occupied Hungary.  The family struggle with settling in Australia while mourning who and what they have lost in Budapest. Polio is another cross for them to bear. An amazing novel of people looking for connection and finding it eventually and in unexpected ways.  I loved the way Joan London evoked a time gone by but made it so relevant to today. The writing takes your breath away. Chris

The Final Silence by Stuart Neville

Just when Jack Lennon thinks things couldn’t get any worse an ex-girlfriend contacts him. She has just inherited a house from her uncle and has found a journal detailing murders going back two decades. It appears there are links to her father, a prominent Belfast politician so she has turned to Jack for help, who can’t even help himself at this point. Stuart Neville doesn’t take his foot off the pedal once in this gripping thriller and once again demonstrates why he is the crime writer everybody is and should be talking about at the moment. Jon

Big Little Lies by Lianne Moriarty

Pirriwee Public’s annual school Trivia Night has ended in a shocking riot. A parent is dead. Liane Moriarty’s new novel is funny and heartbreaking, challenging and compassionate. The No. 1 New York Times bestselling author turns her unique gaze on parenting and playground politics, showing us what really goes on behind closed suburban doors.

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Non-Fiction Books

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The Climb by Geraldine Doogue

Every parent of a teenage boy knows there are certain conversations they must have with their son. But too often they put them off – or don’t have them at all – because they simply don’t know where to start. Internationally recognised in the field of raising and educating boys, Dr Tim Hawkes provides practical, accessible and invaluable about how to get these discussions started.

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Hey, True Blue by John Williamson

The long-awaited life story of John Williamson: an Australian icon, a much-loved veteran of the music industry and man of the land. Williamson takes us through his life, from growing up on the land in the Mallee and Moree in a family of five boys, to being the voice of Australia.

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Favourites by Gary Mehigan

This book is the result of Gary’s ongoing food obsession: a collection of his most favourite recipes garnered from thirty years in the industry. It includes treasured treats from his childhood in England, diverse dishes inspired by MasterChef Australia, as well as the comforting family meals he cooks for his wife and daughter at home.

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Hell-Bent by Douglas Newton

Most histories of Australia’s Great War rush their readers into the trenches. This history is very different. For the first time, it examines events closely, even hour-by-hour, in both Britain and Australia during the last days of peace in July–August 1914.

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He Who Must Be Obeid by Kate McClymont & Linton Besser

This is the story of how Eddie Obeid controlled (and then brought down) the NSW Labor party. It seems if there has been something on the nose in NSW, Eddie Obeid probably had at least a finger in it. Uncovering new stories daily, this will be up-to-the-minute and mind-boggling. Written by two of the country’s most prominent, respected and award-winning journalists, this story will make your hair curl.

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The Fights of My Life by Greg Combet

Greg Combet has been central to some of the biggest public struggles of our time on the waterfront, the collapse of an airline, compensation for asbestos victims, the campaign against unfair workplace laws and then climate change. His latest target is the labour movement, arguing that the Labor Party and the trade unions must democratise to engage the next generation of activists to fight the good fight: to achieve a more fair and just Australia.

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Childrens’ Picture Books

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The Skunk With No Funk by Rebecca Young

Woody is not what his family expected. He is a skunk with NO funk. A failure. A flop. An odourless plop. Poor Woody! What is he going to do? A funny read that the whole family will love! Jan & Danica

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Lucky by David Mackintosh

Mum announces that there will be a surprise at dinner tonight, but what could it be? Two brothers spend the whole day at school in anticipation, creating more and more elaborate guesses, until they’re convinced it is the best surprise of all time! A book about what family really means and how lucky we are to have each other. Danica & Jan

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Books for First Readers

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Wild Moose Chase by Siobhan Rowden

Twins Burt and Camilla are in competition with each other about everything. So they jump at the chance when they hear about the ultimate competition that will guarantee just one person eternal glory. The Queen wants moose cheese. Moose cheese is scrumptiously delicious, worth an absolute fortune and  near-impossible to make. It’ll require a dangerous world-wide adventure to collect the ingredients for the Queen – but nothing will stop the twins.

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Ciao EJ! by Susannah McFarlane

Strange things are happening in some of Italy’s most famous cities. What is evil agency SHADOW up to? Team Leader Agent EJ12 and the SHINE STARS split up to find the clues. But will EJ12 be able to piece them all together in time to stop SHADOW?

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Books for Young Readers

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Plenty by Amanda Braxton-Smith

Maddy’s home has always been in Jermyn Street, ALWAYS.  Now her Mum and Dad are doing the unthinkable – making her move from the city to a place called Plenty. Nobody understands how she feels, how can she survive without everything and everyone she knows. Then she meets the mysterious classmate, Grace Wek, the girl from the refugee camp. Maybe Grace will understand! Jan

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Emperor Pickletine Rides The Bus by Tom Angleberger

Make sure you don’t miss the last of the Origami series! The gang is off to Washington DC for a school trip, but horror of horrors, Principal Rabbski decrees the field trip an “origami-free zone.” Dwight secretly folds a Yoda from a Fruit Roll-Up, but will Fruitigami Yoda be up to scratch?! Ian

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Books for Young Adults

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Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

Surry Hills in 1932 was not a pretty place to be, and no one knew this better than Kelpie and Dymphna. These two very unlikely friends share a most extraordinary day hiding from the coppers, rival mob bosses, and the danger that awaits them around every street corner. Will they both make it out alive? Have a read and find out. Danica

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We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

A beautiful family. A private island. Summer after summer spent …  It is not long before the cracks start to appear, and nothing is what it seems. This book will keep you guessing until the very end! Jan & Danica

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18. The month that changed the world: Monday, 27 July 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, is blogging regularly for us over the next few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


By the time the diplomats, politicians, and officials arrived at their offices in the morning more than 36 hours had elapsed since the Austrian deadline to Serbia had expired. And yet nothing much had happened as a consequence: the Austrian legation had packed up and left Belgrade; Austria had severed diplomatic relations with Serbia and announced a partial mobilization; but there had been no declaration of war, no shots fired in anger or in error, no wider mobilization of European armies. What action there was occurred behind the scenes, at the Foreign Office, the Ballhausplatz, the Wilhelmstrasse, the Consulta, the Quai d’Orsay, and at the Chorister’s Bridge.

Some tentative, precautionary, steps were taken. In Russia, all lights along the coast of the Black Sea were ordered to be extinguished; the port of Sevastopol was closed to all but Russian warships; flights were banned over the military districts of St Petersburg, Vilna, Warsaw, Kiev, and Odessa. In France, over 100,000 troops stationed in Morocco and Algeria were ordered to metropolitan France; the French president and premier were asked to sail for home immediately. In Britain the cabinet agreed to keep the First and Second fleets together following manoeuvres; Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, notified his naval commanders that war between the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente was ‘by no means impossible’. In Germany all troops were confined to barracks. On the Danube, Hungarian authorities seized two Serbian vessels.

Winston Churchill with the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps, 1914. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Winston Churchill with the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps, 1914. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Throughout the day the Serbian reply to the Austrian ultimatum was communicated throughout Europe. Austria appeared to have won great diplomatic victory. Sir Edward Grey thought the Serbs had gone farther to placate the Austrians than he had believed possible: if the Austrians refused to accept the Serbian reply as the foundation for peaceful negotiations it would be ‘absolutely clear’ that they were only seeking an excuse to crush Serbia. If so, Russia was bound to regard it as a direct challenge and the result ‘would be the most frightful war that Europe had ever seen’.

The German chancellor concluded that Serbia had complicated things by accepting almost all of the demands and that Austria was close to accomplishing everything that it wanted. The Kaiser who arrived in Kiel that morning, presided over a meeting in Potsdam at 3 p.m. where he, the chancellor, the chief of the general staff, and several more generals reviewed the situation. No dramatic decisions were taken. General Hans von Plessen, the adjutant general, recorded that they still hoped to localize the war, and that Britain seemed likely to remain neutral: ‘I have the impression that it will all blow over’.

The question of the day, then, was whether Austria would be satisfied with a resounding diplomatic victory. Russia seemed prepared to offer them one. In St Petersburg on Monday Sazonov promised to go ‘to the limit’ in accommodating them if it brought the crisis to a peaceful conclusion. He promised the German ambassador that he would they ‘build a golden bridge’ for the Austrians, that he had ‘no heart’ for the Balkan Slavs, and that he saw no problem with seven of the ten Austrian demands.

In Vienna however, Berchtold dismissed Serbia’s promises as totally worthless. Austria, he promised, would declare war the next day, or by Wednesday at the latest – in spite of the chief of the general staff’s insistence that war operations against Serbia could not begin for two weeks.

Grey was distressed to hear that Austria would treat the Serb reply as if it were a ‘decided refusal’ to comply with Austria’s wishes. The ultimatum was ‘really the greatest humiliation to which an independent State has ever been subjected’ and was surely enough to serve as foundation of a settlement.

By the end of the day on Monday, uncertainty was still widespread. Two separate proposals for reaching a settlement were now on the table: Grey’s renewed suggestion for à quatre discussions in London, and Sazonov’s new suggestion for bilateral discussions with Austria in St Petersburg. Germany had indicated that it was encouraging Austria to consider both suggestions. The German ambassador told Berlin that if Grey’s suggestion succeeded in settling the crisis with Germany’s co-operation, ‘I will guarantee that our relations with Great Britain will remain, for an incalculable time to come, of the same intimate and confidential character that has distinguished them for the last year and a half’. On the other hand, if Germany stood behind Austria and subordinated its good relations with Britain to the special interests of its ally, ‘it would never again be possible to restore those ties which have of late bound us together’.

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914.

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19. I AM A WITCH’S CAT

We’re so excited to share with you I AM A WITCH’S CAT, available this week, written and illustrated by Harriet Muncaster.

I Am a Witch's Cat

We in the HCCB School & Library department are pretty huge fans of tiny things (dollhouse food, figurines, these amazing things . . . you name it), and we couldn’t be more delighted to have found a kindred spirit in Harriet Muncaster. Harriet’s book tells the story of a little girl who believes that her mother is a good witch and that she is a special witch’s cat, and it’s illustrated with photographs of handmade miniatures—characters, furniture, accessories, and details, all lovingly crafted and composed into scenes. We just love it to pieces.

Harriet was kind enough to give us a behind-the-scenes looks at her process for creating the fantastic art from I AM A WITCH’S CAT.

Harriet Muncaster:

I have always been fascinated by tiny things. When I was young I spent my time making miniature houses and clothes and writing minuscule fairy letters. That love of tiny things has never left me, and so, when I took illustration as my degree at university, it felt almost natural to start making my pictures in 3D. I create dollhouse-sized scenes (or sets, as I call them) out of cardboard and fabric and then photograph them to make a flat picture.

In these photos, you can see some of the process I go through to make the scenes. If it is a room, I usually start with a box-like shape and then put in the flooring and wallpaper. I either paint the wallpaper on or make it on the computer and stick it on as you would proper wallpaper (like in the bedroom scene below)!

Beginnings of the bedroom scene

Beginnings of the bedroom scene

 

The furniture is made from card stock. It gives me a lot of freedom to make everything from card because I can literally make it into any shape I like. I can use the card to make something really fancy or really plain and in whatever style I like.

I also like the way one can use lighting when creating a 3D picture. It is possible to really set the mood by using different sorts of atmospheric lighting. My favourite bit of lighting in the book is the scene where Witch’s Cat is saying goodbye to her Mom at the door and the coloured glass in the door is shining against the wall in a rainbow pattern. I got this effect by using coloured cellophane sweet wrappers and then shining a light behind them.

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Experimenting with some lighting filters made from coloured cellophane chocolate wrappers as seen in the hallway scene

 

The hardest thing to make in the book was the trolley in the supermarket scenes. It took me absolutely ages and was extremely difficult and fiddly to make! It’s definitely the most delicate thing in the whole book.

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The checkout scene in full, with trolley

 

One of my favourite things to make in the book was the patchwork quilt on the bed. I just love the colours in it, which are quite autumnal. I tried to incorporate a lot of autumnal colours into the room scenes, as it is a Halloween book.

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Trying the mom character for size, with close-up of patchwork quilt

 

It feels very magical when a scene becomes finished and you can look right into it and touch it. It’s a real, tiny little world of its own with its own atmosphere and feel to it. I love how tangible it is!

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Kitchen scene in the early stages

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Food boxes all ready to be put into the scene.

Thank you so much, Harriet!

Check out Harriet’s great blog for a whole lot of miniature inspiration, including a post about how she created the cover art for I AM A WITCH’S CAT. And in case you haven’t quite had your fill of tiny for the day, here are some bonus photos:

Hallway wallpaper design

Hallway wallpaper design

Design for some of the the food boxes in the shopping scene ready to be printed, cut out and folded into 3d boxes

Design for some of the the food boxes in the shopping scene ready to be printed, cut out, and folded into 3D boxes

Mom character. Checking everything is good with her position and the way she is holding the vacuum cleaner

Mom character. Checking everything is good with her position and the way she is holding the vacuum cleaner

Characters, furniture and accessories all neatly boxed up to be transported for exhibition

Characters, furniture, and accessories all neatly boxed up to be transported for exhibition

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20. SDCC ’14: Fairy Tale Remix Panel Recap

By Matthew Jent

The Fairy Tale Remix panel, moderated by author Shannon Hale, brought together more than half a dozen authors of young adult and fantasy fiction in front of a packed panel room. Hale a confident and fun tone, promising a fight to first blood by the panelists if things got boring. Full disclosure? I took a seat in this panel to get a good spot for a later panel in the same room that I wanted to cover for the Beat — but Fairy Tale Remix has proven to be the highlight of my SDCC 2014 experience so far. It was a symposium on fairy tales, storytelling, writing and the search for magic in real life. No first-blood-fights were required, and there wasn’t an empty seat in the room. The audience included mostly women, from kids on up, with more than a few cosplayers. Before the panel began, there were a number of kids (and their accompanying grown-ups) having their pictures taken with some folks who cosplayed the Frozen sisters Elsa & Anna and if you weren’t yet caught up on this season of Once Upon a Time, it was a bad audience to eavesdrop on.

Shannon Hale holds court.

Shannon Hale holds court.

After introducing the panel members as Marissa “The Mauler” Meyer, Katherine “No Safe” Harbour, “The Hammer of Lore” John Peck, “The Baroness Schadenfreude” Cornelia Funke, Tony “The Terror” DiTerlizzi, Ben “The Equalizer” Tripp (dressed in a Georgian England costume, complete with white wig), and Danielle “Toto’s Bane” Paige, Hale began with a quote from Albert Einstein: “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be moreintelligent, read them more fairy tales.” Asking how the panelists were introduced to fairy tales, it was across the board as children.

“It was the first time I realized, everything is a metaphor,” Tripp said, “These stories are all about something else.”

Funke, after explaining that she is German and so was naturally raised with the original, brutally violent versions of the tales, said she hated them as a child. They were full of death and dismemberment, and swans who had to knit sweaters for their brothers.

Meyer added that her first fairy tale love was Disney’s film version of The Little Mermaid, and upon subsequently reading the original version by Hans Christian Andersen, in which Ariel dies at the end, she wondered, “What else is Disney not telling us?”

That discomfort and that desire to know more was a strong motivator for the writers to tell their own versions of Rapunzel, Oz, or Puss N Boots. Meyer got her start as a writer with Sailor Moon fan fiction, and writing new versions of fairy tales was a logical progression. When Hale asked the panel if it was fair to call what they were doing fan fiction, everyone agreed.

“How is rewriting fairy tales different from fan fiction?” Hale asked.

They’re basically the same thing, the panel agreed, but “You can take fairy tales in more directions than fan fiction,” said Meyer. Tired of passive princess characters, Meyer wanted to get back to the older versions of very old tales — where Little Red Riding Hood rescued herself from the Big Bad Wolf, instead of waiting for the Woodsman to appear.

Fairy tales come to represent the times and the places in which they are written. Adding something new to those tales — characters, points of view, social agendas or social awareness that did not exist when they were first told — is part of a storytelling tradition that goes back to Shakespeare, and earlier. Peck added that no story was worth retelling without adding something new.

The panel ended with a Q&A from the audience, many of whom were writers and storytellers themselves. One audience member asked where the writers found magic in the modern world to write about.

“Where do you not find it?” Funke said. “Look at the people in this room, the hundred million stories in these chairs, in these costumes. There is so much in this room I would call magic. We are just the reporters of that. We are in pretty magical times.”

A parent asked how she could encourage her daughter, who wanted to be a writer.

“Forbid it,” said Tripp, whose own son was studying medicine and science.

“Don’t give too many instructions,” Funke said. “And give her beautiful, empty notebooks.”

It sounds like the beginning of a fairy tale.

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21. Microbes matter

By John Archibald


We humans have a love-hate relationship with bugs. I’m not talking about insects — although many of us cringe at the thought of them too — but rather the bugs we can’t see, the ones that make us sick.

Sure, microorganisms give us beer, wine, cheese, and yoghurt; hardly a day goes by without most people consuming food or drink produced by microbial fermentation. And we put microbes to good use in the laboratory, as vehicles for the production of insulin and other life-saving drugs, for example.

But microbes are also responsible for much of what ails us, from annoying stomach ‘bugs’ to deadly infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and plague. Bacteria and viruses are even linked to certain cancers. Bugs are bad; antibiotics and antivirals are good. We spend billions annually trying to rid ourselves of microorganisms, and if they were to all disappear, well, all the better, right?

This is, of course, nonsense. Even the most ardent germaphobe would take a deep breath and accept the fact that we could no more survive without microbes than we could without oxygen. No matter how clean we strive to be, there are 100 trillion bacterial cells living on and within our bodies, 10 times the number of human cells that comprise ‘us’. Hundreds of different bacterial species live within our intestines, hundreds more thrive in our mouths and on our skin. Add in the resident viruses, fungi, and small animals such as worms and mites, and the human body becomes a full-blown ecosystem, a microcosm of the world around us. And like any ecosystem, if thrown off-balance bad things can happen. For example, many of our ‘good’ bacteria help us metabolize food and fight off illness. But after a prolonged course of antibiotics such bacteria can be knocked flat, and normally benign species such as ‘Clostridium difficile’ can grow out of control and cause disease.

virus-163471_1280

Given the complexity of our body jungle, some researchers go as far as to propose that there is no such thing as a ‘human being’. Each of us should instead be thought of as a human-microbe symbiosis, a complex biological relationship in which neither partner can survive without the other. As disturbing a notion as this may be, one thing is indisputable: we depend on our microbiome and it depends on us.

And there is an even more fundamental way in which the survival of Homo sapiens is intimately tied to the hidden microbial majority of life. Each and every one of our 10 trillion cells betrays its microbial ancestry in harboring mitochondria, tiny subcellular factories that use oxygen to convert our food into ATP, the energy currency of all living cells. Our mitochondria are, in essence, domesticated bacteria — oxygen-consuming bacteria that took up residence inside another bacterium more than a billion years ago and never left. We know this because mitochondria possess tiny remnants of bacterium-like DNA inside them, distinct from the DNA housed in the cell nucleus. Modern genetic investigations have revealed that mitochondria are a throwback to a time before complex animals, plants, or fungi had arisen, a time when life was exclusively microbial.

As we ponder the bacterial nature of our mitochondria, it is also instructive to consider where the oxygen they so depend on actually comes from. The answer is photosynthesis. Within the cells of plants and algae are the all-important chloroplasts, green-tinged, DNA-containing factories that absorb sunlight, fix carbon dioxide, and pump oxygen into the atmosphere by the truckload. Most of the oxygen we breathe comes from the photosynthetic activities of these plants and algae—and like mitochondria, chloroplasts are derived from bacteria by symbiosis. The genetic signature written within chloroplast DNA links them to the myriad of free-living cyanobacteria drifting in the world’s oceans. Photosynthesis and respiration are the biochemical yin and yang of life on Earth. The energy that flows through chloroplasts and mitochondria connects life in the furthest corners of the biosphere.

For all our biological sophistication and intelligence, one could argue that we humans are little more than the sum of the individual cells from which we are built. And as is the case for all other complex multicellular organisms, our existence is inexorably linked to the sea of microbes that share our physical space. It is a reality we come by honestly. As we struggle to tame and exploit the microbial world, we would do well to remember that symbiosis—the living together of distinct organisms—explains both what we are and how we got here.

John Archibald is Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Dalhousie University and a Senior Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, Program in Integrated Microbial Biodiversity. He is an Associate Editor for Genome Biology & Evolution and an Editorial Board Member of various scientific journals, including Current Biology, Eukaryotic Cell, and BMC Biology. He is the author of One Plus One Equals One: Symbiosis and the Evolution of Complex Life.

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Image credit: Virus Microbiology. Public domain via Pixabay

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22. Occupational epidemiology: a truly global discipline

By Katherine M. Venables


Occupational epidemiology is one of those fascinating areas which spans important areas of human life: health, disease, work, law, public policy, the economy. Work is fundamental to any society and the importance society attaches to the health of its workers varies over time and between countries. Because of the lessons to be learned by looking at other countries as well as one’s own, occupational epidemiology is a truly global discipline. Emerging economies often prioritize productivity over other issues, but also can learn from the long history of improvement in working conditions which has taken place in developed countries. Looking the other way, the West can learn from fresh insights gained in studies set in low and middle-income countries.

Exposures are usually higher in emerging economies and epidemiological methods are an important tool in detecting and quantifying outbreaks of occupational disease which may have been controlled in the West. A recent study of digestive cancer in a Chinese asbestos mining and milling cohort provides additional evidence that stomach cancer may be associated with high levels of exposure to chrostile asbestos, for example. This was a collaborative study between researchers in China, Hong Kong, Japan, and the United States, and illustrates the way that studying an “old” disease in a new context can provide results which are of global benefit.

Issues in occupational epidemiology are never static. Work exposures change along with materials and processes. The ubiquitous printing industry, for example, is always developing new inks, cleaning agents, and processes. A cluster of cases of the rare liver cancer, cholangiocarcinoma, was noted in Japanese printers and this finding was replicated in the Nordic printing industry by using one of the large Nordic population-based databases. This replication is important because it shows that the association is unlikely to be due to a lifestyle factor specific to Japan.

Woman smoking a cigarette“Big data” sharpens statistical power and there are now specific data pooling projects in occupational epidemiology, to supplement the use of existing large databases. The SYNERGY study, for example, pools lung cancer case-control studies with the aim of teasing out occupational effects from behind the masking effect of smoking, which remains by far the most important driver for lung cancer. A recent analysis with around 20,000 cases and controls was able to show that bakers are not at increased risk of lung cancer, whereas the many previous smaller studies had given inconsistent results.

The addition of systematic reviews to the toolkit has strengthened the evidence base in occupational epidemiology, allowing policy about occupational risks and their prevention to be made with confidence. Health economics, also, can be applied to findings from occupational epidemiology to clarify policy issues.

Development brings its own issues to which occupational epidemiology can be applied. We now live longer in the West, and we will have to work into old age, often while carrying chronic diseases. Despite frequently-expressed concerns about an ageing workforce, a recent study in an Australian smelter confirmed others in that the older workers maintained their ability to work safely and the highest injury rates were in young workers. Patients with previously fatal diseases survive into adult life and, potentially, the workforce; a survey of patients with cystic fibrosis, for example, found that disease severity was less important as a predictor of employment than social factors such as educational attainment and locality. A loss of heavy industry in the West, combined with cheap transport, means that many of us spend most of our waking hours sitting down, promoting obesity and its complications. A sample of UK office workers spent 65% of their work time sitting and did not compensate for this by being more active outside work. The economic downturn is a major political and social preoccupation, bringing uncertainty about future employment, which may fuel dysfunctional behaviour such as ‘presenteeism’. A Swedish study suggested that this may be associated with poor mental wellbeing.

Katherine M. Venables is a Reader in the Department of Public Health at the University of Oxford. Her research has always focused on aetiological epidemiology. At Oxford, she has worked on a cohort study of mortality and cancer incidence in military veterans exposed to low levels of chemical warfare agents, and also on the provision of occupational health services to university staff. She is editor of Current Topics in Occupational Epidemiology.

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Image: Woman smoking a cigarette by Oxfordian Kissuth. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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23. The month that changed the world: Saturday, 25 July 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, is blogging regularly for us over the next few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


Would there be war by the end of the day? It certainly seemed possible: the Serbs had only until 6 p.m. to accept the Austrian demands. Berchtold had instructed the Austrian representative in Belgrade that nothing less than full acceptance of all ten points contained in the ultimatum would be regarded as satisfactory. And no one expected the Serbs to comply with the demands in their entirety – least of all the Austrians.

When the Serbian cabinet met that morning they had received advice from Russia, France, and Britain urging them to be as accommodating as possible. No one indicated that any military assistance might be forthcoming. They began drafting a ‘most conciliatory’ reply to Austria while preparing for war: the royal family prepared to leave Belgrade; the military garrison left the city for a fortified town 60 miles south; the order for general mobilization was signed and drums were beaten outside of cafés, calling up conscripts.

Kaiservilla in Bad Ischl, Austria: the summer residence of Emperor Franz Joseph I. Kaiserville, Bad Ischl, Austria. By Blue tornadoo CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Kaiservilla in Bad Ischl, Austria: the summer residence of Emperor Franz Joseph I. Kaiserville, Bad Ischl, Austria. By Blue tornadoo CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

How would Russia respond? That morning the tsar presided over a meeting of the Russian Grand Council where it was agreed to mobilize the thirteen army corps designated to act against Austria. By afternoon ‘the period preparatory to war’ was initiated and preparations for mobilization began in the military districts of Kiev, Odessa, Moscow, and Kazan.

Simultaneously, Sazonov tried to enlist German support in persuading Austria to extend the deadline beyond 6 p.m., arguing that it was a ‘European matter’ not limited to Austria and Serbia. The Germans refused, arguing that to summon Austria to a European ‘tribunal’ would be humiliating and mean the end of Austria as a Great Power. Sazonov insisted that the Austrians were aiming to establish hegemony in the Balkans: after they devoured Serbia and Bulgaria Russia would face them ‘on the Black Sea’. He tried to persuade Sir Edward Grey that if Britain were to join Russia and France, Germany would then pressure Austria into moderation.

How would Britain respond? Sir Edward Grey gave no indication that Britain would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Russians in a conflict over Serbia. His only concern seemed to be to contain the crisis, to keep it a dispute between Austria and Serbia. ‘I do not consider that public opinion here would or ought to sanction our going to war over a Servian quarrel’. But if a war between Austria and Serbia were to occur ‘other issues’ might draw Britain in. In the meantime, there was still an opportunity to avert war if the four disinterested powers ‘held the hand’ of their partners while mediating the dispute. But the report he received from St Petersburg was not encouraging: the British ambassador warned that Russia and France seemed determined to make ‘a strong stand’ even if Britain declined to join them.

When the Austrian minister received the Serb reply at 5:58 on Saturday afternoon, he could see instantly that their submission was not complete. He announced that Austria was breaking off diplomatic relations with Serbia and immediately ordered the staff of the delegation to leave for the railway station. By 6:30 the Austrians were on a train bound for the border.

That evening, in the Kaiservilla at Bad Ischl, Franz Joseph signed the orders for mobilization of thirteen army corps. When the news reached Vienna the people greeted it with the ‘wildest enthusiasm’. Huge crowds began to form, gathering at the Ringstrasse and bursting into patriotic songs. The crowds marched around the city shouting ‘Down with Serbia! Down with Russia’. In front of the German embassy they sang ‘Wacht am Rhein’; police had to protect the Russian embassy against the demonstrators. Surely, it would not be long before the guns began firing.

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914.

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24. The month that changed the world: Sunday, 26 July 1914

July 1914 was the month that changed the world. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and just five weeks later the Great Powers of Europe were at war. But how did it all happen? Historian Gordon Martel, author of The Month That Changed The World: July 1914, is blogging regularly for us over the next few weeks, giving us a week-by-week and day-by-day account of the events that led up to the First World War.

By Gordon Martel


When day dawned on Sunday, 26 July, the sky did not fall. Shells did not rain down on Belgrade. There was no Austrian declaration of war. The morning remained peaceful, if not calm. Most Europeans attended their churches and prepared to enjoy their day of rest. Few said prayers for peace; few believed divine intervention was necessary. Europe had weathered many storms over the last decade. Only pessimists doubted that this one could be weathered as well.

In Austria-Hungary the right of assembly, the secrecy of the mail, of telegrams and telephone conversations, and the freedom of the press were all suspended. Pro-war demonstrations were not only permitted but encouraged: demonstrators filled the Ringstrasse, marched on the Ballhausplatz, gathered around statues of national heroes and sang patriotic songs. That evening the Bürgermeister of Vienna told a cheering crowd that the fate of Europe for centuries to come was about to be decided, praising them as worthy descendants of the men who had fought Napoleon. The Catholic People’s Party newspaper, Alkotmány, declared that ‘History has put the master’s cane in the Monarchy’s hands. We must teach Serbia, we must make justice, we must punish her for her crimes.’

Kaiser Wilhelm

Just how urgent was the situation? In London, Sir Edward Grey had left town on Saturday afternoon to go to his cottage for a day of fly-fishing on Sunday. The Russian ambassadors to Germany, Austria and Paris had yet to return to their posts. The British ambassadors to Germany and Paris were still on vacation. Kaiser Wilhelm was on his annual yachting cruise of the Baltic. Emperor Franz Joseph was at his hunting lodge at Bad Ischl. The French premier and president were visiting Stockholm. The Italian foreign minister was still taking his cure at Fiuggi. The chiefs of the German and Austrian general staffs remained on leave; the chief of the Serbian general staff was relaxing at an Austrian spa.

Could calm be maintained? Contradictory evidence seemed to be coming out of St Petersburg. It seemed that some military steps were being initiated – but what these were to be remained uncertain. Sazonov, the Russian foreign minister, met with both the German and Austrian ambassadors on Sunday – and both noted a significant change in his demeanour. He was now ‘much quieter and more conciliatory’. He emphatically insisted that Russia did not desire war and promised to exhaust every means to avoid it. War could be avoided if Austria’s demands stopped short of violating Serbian sovereignty. The German ambassador suggested that Russia and Austria discuss directly a softening of the demands. Sazonov, who agreed immediately to suggest this, was ‘now looking for a way out’. The Germans were assured that only preparatory measures had been undertaken thus far – ‘not a horse and not a reserve had been called to service’.

By late Sunday afternoon, the situation seemed precarious but not hopeless. The German chancellor worried that any preparatory measures adopted by Russia that appeared to be aimed at Germany would force the adoption of counter-measures. This would mean the mobilization of the German army – and mobilization ‘would mean war’. But he continued to hope that the crisis could be ‘localized’ and indicated that he would encourage Vienna to accept Grey’s proposed mediation and/or direct negotiations between Austria and Russia.

By Sunday evening more than 24 hours had passed since the Austrian legation had departed from Belgrade and Austria had severed diplomatic relations with Serbia. Many had assumed that war would follow immediately, but there had been no invasion of Serbia or even a declaration of war. The Austrians, in spite of their apparent firmness in refusing any alteration of the terms or any extension of the deadline, appeared not to know what step to take next, or when additional steps should be taken. When asked, the Austrian chief of staff suggested that any declaration of war ought to be postponed until 12 August. Was Europe really going to hold its breath for two more weeks?

Gordon Martel is a leading authority on war, empire, and diplomacy in the modern age. His numerous publications include studies of the origins of the first and second world wars, modern imperialism, and the nature of diplomacy. A founding editor of The International History Review, he has taught at a number of Canadian universities, and has been a visiting professor or fellow in England, Ireland and Australia. Editor-in-chief of the five-volume Encyclopedia of War, he is also joint editor of the longstanding Seminar Studies in History series. His new book is The Month That Changed The World: July 1914. Read his previous blog posts.

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Image credit: Kaiser Wilhelm, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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25. Confidence and courage in mentoring

By Mary Pender Greene


Mentorship is one of the most compelling assets for professional success. The mentor-mentee relationship offers one of the most priceless of all human qualities — transparency. The mentor offers the mentee hope for the future by sharing both wisdom and past challenges. Mentors help mentees be their best selves by helping them overcome their fears of failure and apprehension of taking risks.

Everyone struggles and gets scared. It takes courage to ask for help. Many of us are afraid to take the risk of being vulnerable. So we pretend to know. In fact, we are often encouraged to “fake it until we make it.” But if we never talk about our challenges and fears openly, we will never get help with those challenges. More importantly, we miss out on key authentic moments. Being fearful about our imperfections and abilities — as well as of the future are all universal human emotions — and it is at the intersection of these authentic moments that we learn, accept, and grow. If we pretend to know it all, no one reaches out to us. When we ask for help and guidance, many hands are extended.

Mentoring

There has been a paradigm shift as to how professional knowledge is passed on. It no longer happens naturally through traditional professional grooming and succession rituals. With greater turnover, less time, lower budgets, and more uncertainty, traditional mentorship models have become nearly obsolete in today’s workplace. This dramatic upheaval in the professional landscape has changed how 21st century professionals can most effectively cultivate career success. Mentorship is more important now than ever before.

Some benefits of mentoring are:

  • Enhances career development initiatives
  • Creates a “learning organization”
  • Improved on-boarding and training programs
  • Improved diversity initiatives
  • Improved adjustment to the workplace culture
  • Improved employee engagement & retention
  • Targeted skill and leadership development
  • Can address skills gaps

Mentoring has existed throughout the ages as an effective way to develop talent. More formal mentoring programs comprise structured components, such as training and onboarding programs. These programs are often tied to specific, quantifiable business goals and objectives. There are many new mentoring styles too, including:

  • Reverse mentoring: Senior employees are mentored by junior employees to fill a specific skill gap.
  • Team mentoring: Work teams are mentored by a supervisor.
  • Group mentoring: Groups from within different departments or the same department are mentored by a senior manager
  • Distance mentoring: Mentor-mentee pairs who are working in different locations.

Less formal mentoring relationships are less hierarchical. There is an equal partnership where both parties greatly benefit — and learn — from the relationship.

Mary Pender Greene, LCSW-R, CGP is a psychotherapist, relationship expert, clinical supervisor, career & executive coach, trainer, and consultant, with a private practice in Midtown Manhattan. Mary’s background also includes executive management roles at America’s largest non-profit organization, The Jewish Board of Family Services in NYC. Mary is the author of Creative Mentorship and Career-Building Strategies: How to Build your Virtual Personal Board of Directors.

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Image: Computer industry entrepreneur workshop by Dell’s Official Flickr Page. CC-BY-2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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