Top Ten Gifts for Readers and Writers: Cyber-Monday is Here!

Got a reader and/or writer on your Christmas list? Take advantage of Cyber-Monday with these unique offerings for your favorite nerd. And I mean that in the most loving way possible, of course.

10. Favorite Writer’s Coasters

Even first-class swillers like the infamous… indulgers… Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Bukowski didn’t want nasty water rings left on their bedside table. Honor their memories and wishes with these snazzy coasters from Retrowhale and take advantage of 15% off your order, today only.  Use order code Retro77.

9.  Big Books Tote Bag

Make Sir Mix-a-lot proud and your children cringe with this bag from Pamela Fugate Designs. Free shipping!

8.  Tolkein Ring

As your favorite Tolkein geek will explain to you, the wizard Gandalf says this in The Fellowship of the Ring

7.  Bamboo Bath Caddy

A book, a bubble bath, and wine? I’ll be out around the end of February. Maybe. 10% off with the code “Cyber” at Macy’s.

6.  Massage Bed Rest from Brookstone

Ooohhh… Okay. It does remind me a bit of the flying chairs in the movie “Wall-E” but I’ll take one. I bet any other reader you know would love it as well. Massage, place for a drink, pockets, a reading light? Yes, please. 5% off Cyber-Monday with the code Pinit5.

5.  Hemingway Gift Box from Royal Palm Arts

Set includes a 6 oz stainless steel flask, a pair of shot glasses, a leather notebook, a wooden cigar caddy/pencil holder, and two pencils. Fill up the flask and throw in a couple of Cubans and you’ve got yourself a right manly Christmas there, my friend.

4. Demeter Fragrances: Paperback

Forget pheromones! I hope this comes in a male version. Books and manliness? Gimme.  Description promises, “A trip to your favorite library or used bookstore. Sweet and lovely with just a touch of the musty smell of aged paper, Demeter’s Paperback harnesses that scent with a sprinkling of violets and a dash of tasteful potpourri.”

3.  Scrabble: Book Lover’s Edition

Gather ’round kids, where I introduce you to this concept that came, yes, BEFORE “Words With Friends.” In this Scrabble edition, you get extra points for playing names of novels and authors. I’m not entirely sure why you couldn’t do that on a regular Scrabble board, but hey, this one looks all library-y and stuff. Cyber-Monday deals at Amazon. 

2.  Literary iPhone Covers

I love these. Love them! Perhaps I’ll even be persuaded to dump my 3G in order to get one. Or several. Hurry, limited editions and sadly, TKAM is already gone.  At Uncommon Goods.

1. Gift Certificate for Uninterrupted Reading and/or Writing Time

While all the previous ideas are fabulous, what most readers and writers want more than anything is some unfettered time…time free of needy kids, inquiring significant others, ringing phones, knocks at the door, email… Better yet, pair this with one or more of the other gifts listed here and make your favorite bibliophile/author very happy indeed.


2002 Has No Idea What You’re Talking About, 2012!

A couple of years ago, my then 10-year-old son declared that “everything is the best it could ever be.” He was quite sure that, new iPhone in hand, nothing could surpass the (then) current marvels of the Modern World.  I was just as sure that everything could and would be surpassed. Twenty-five years ago, if you told any adult that typewriters would be as extinct as the buffalo, no one would have believed it.  Today, 95% my 19 and 20-year-old students have never even touched a typewriter. I have seen card catalog cabinets busted up for firewood (not really, but you get it). I remember when floppy disks really were floppy. Now there aren’t even disks! I remember when…. excuse me, “Hey, kid! Get off my lawn!!” 

Anyway, a group of friends and I got into a discussion about what has changed in the last ten years. I asked them to come up with sentences that would have made no sense to someone in 2002.  Here is what we came up with:

1.   There’s an app for that!

2.  You can download movies to your tv and control it with your Android tablet.

3.  Did you check in? I’m the mayor of this coffee shop.

4.  “I’ll Facebook you.”

5.  “I’ll Text You”…”I’ll IM You.”

6.  I just got this 4D camera.

7.  I can de-friend anybody I want to.

8.   I am going to put all these thumbnails on my flashdrive.

9.  I asked a silly question and got over 60 responses from all over the country in a matter of a few minutes.

10.   I 3D printed a new handle for my suitcase.

11.  Call Homeland Security.

12.  Dang it! I got busted by a red-light camera.

13.  Did you see the Tupac hologram?

14.  There’s a fee for checked in baggage.

15.  Let me check Snooki’s Twitter feed.

16.  I drove over a cliff because I trusted my GPS.

17.  Hey, wanna Skype?

18.  Gay marriage was approved by voters in several states.

19.  We elected a black president. Twice!

20.  I store my books and music in the cloud.

21.  I don’t know what time that show comes on. Everything’s on the DVR.

22.  Send that PDF to my FTP.

23.  Stream it.

24.  I’ll download the podcast from iTunes.

25.   Park in the Blink so we can recharge the car.

26.  thx ttyl kbye o_0

27.  “Can I haz cheeseburger?”

28.  Do you have a Tumblr?

29.  Would you take a picture of my paycheck and send it to BofA?

30.  Occupy Wall Street

31.  Fracking destroys water supplies.

What about you? Can you think of any more words in common use that would not have made sense in 2002? We’d love to hear them.  Who knows what is coming, and what will be obsolete by 2022.


Louise Erdrich Wins 2012 National Book Award

It was a good morning for author Louise Erdrich, as she was announced the recipient of 2012′s National Book Award for her novel The Round House.  Like much of Erdrich’s other work (Love Medicine, The Red Convertible)The Round House concerns the life of a Native American family in crisis and a culture in jeopardy.

The Round House is the story of a crime. Geraldine Coutts, an Ojibwe woman living on a reservation, is attacked. Neither her husband, Bazil, nor her thirteen-year-old son, Joe, were present when she was assaulted. Geraldine will not tell them who did it or or why; nor will she tell the police. Although Joe desperately tries to get her to tell him, or anyone, what happened, Geraldine refuses. She will not even leave her bed. Essentially motherless, Joe is left to fend for himself, although he is far from ready for the weight of adult responsibilities.

Joe’s father, Bazil, is a tribal judge but justice moves too slowly for the teenager. He begins his own investigation which ultimately leads him to the “Round House,” a sacred place of worship where, eventually, secrets are revealed.

Runners Up:

Speculation about who would win this year was a bit more contentious than in years past, as there were many strong contenders, both critically and popularly. One of those considered a good bet was Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her.   Nine stories intertwine, but at the center is Yunior,

a young hardhead whose longing for love is equaled only by his recklessness–and by the extraordinary women he loves and loses: artistic Alma; the aging Miss Lora; Magdalena, who thinks all Dominican men are cheaters; and the love of his life, whose heartbreak ultimately becomes his own.

While Diaz is undoubtedly disappointed by his loss, he certainly has a lot to console him, as this year, the 44-year-old writer was given a MacArthur Fellowship. You can listen to an interview with Diaz about that prestigious appointment here.

A long shot, but a strong critical and popular favorite was not a novel but a memoir. The Boy Kings of Texas is about the experiences of Domingo Martinez as he grew up in the border town of Brownsville, Texas. The book is

Partly a reflection on the culture of machismo and partly an exploration of the author’s boyhood spent in his sister’s hand-me-down clothes, The Boy Kings of Texas delves into the enduring and complex bond between Martinez and his deeply flawed but fiercely protective older brother, Daniel, and features a cast of memorable characters. Charming, painful and enlightening, this book examines the traumas and pleasures of growing up in South Texas and the often terrible consequences when two very different cultures collide on the banks of a dying river.

One of the stories from the work was featured in a must-listen segment of last week’s episode of This American Life. You can listen to the full episode here, or queue it up to Act III to hear Martinez read “Mimis in the Middle.” In another episode of the autobiography, the 13-year-old Domingo is a helpless passenger in his mother’s car as she and Domingo follow his father, who is driving a truck full of marijuana, all of them hoping they do not get caught.

Christmas is coming up, you know. How about adding one of these, or all three, to your wish list?


All Things Tolkien: Five Ways to Await the Release of “The Hobbit”

If you are counting the days until the December 14, 2012 release date of The Hobbit (Part I) chances are you do not have a girlfriend and therefore need to find ways to pass the time. (I kid the geeks… I kid. Some of them do not have boyfriends.)

Not to worry. Since its original publication in 1937, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy that followed (between 1938 and 1949) Tolkein’s world of Hobbits, Ringwraiths, elves, and wizards has enthralled generations, inspiring countless songs, studies, puzzles, tributes, and cosplays. Here are just a few ways you can count down the next 35 days… or however they measure time in Middle Earth.

1.  Listen to Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” on Auto-repeat

(Sing along now!)

Mine’s a tale that can’t be told, my freedom I hold dear.
How years ago in days of old, when magic filled the air.
T’was in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair.
But Gollum, and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her, her, her….yeah.

2. Trace Middle Earth’s Family Tree

Ever wonder how, exactly, Fingoflin is related to Maeglin? Well, you can be prepared for that next panel discussion at the 2013  Comicon by memorizing all 817 characters and their relationships to one another. There’s even an app for that! And you can keep up with all the other people interested in the complex genealogy of the works by staying in touch on Facebook.

3.  Start Getting Prepared Now for Comic-Con

Every summer the San Diego Convention Center is host to the world’s largest gathering of fantasy….enthusiasts… many who dress up in elaborate costumes as homage to their favorite characters. Once only a venue for comic books, Comic-Con now caters to multiple genres including horror, anime, toys, and more. So extend No-Shave November through July and you’ve likely grown yourself some fine Hobbit feet!

4. Whip up Second Breakfasts and Elevenses

Nothing passes the time quite like eating so why not try to make your own delicious Seedcakes, courtesy of  The Lord of the Rings Cookbook Whether you need some comfort food for breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, tea, dinner and/or supper, Ms. Kittle has you covered.

5.  How About a  Hobbit Jigsaw Puzzle?

Get a pizza, the LOTR trilogy on DVD, shove the cat(s) off the table and get busy with this vintage two-sided puzzle. Done? Great! Only 4 and a half more weeks to go!


That’s a Fact, Jack: History of the Jack-O-Lantern

Have you ever seen a flickering light, perhaps over a foggy river or hovering above a misty hilltop, that seems to recede the closer you get to its source?  For hundreds of years, this phenomenon was referred to by several names: Will O’ the Wisp, Ignius Fatuus, and, Jack O’Lantern. In 1750, a printed mention of a Jack-O-Lantern referred to a nightwatchman toting a lantern.  All of these incarnations, including our modern use as a fun, often comic, Halloween decoration, actually has very ancient Celtic origins.

The old folktale goes like this.

Jack, an Irish blacksmith, had the misfortune of running into the Devil in a pub on Halloween.  Jack had drank a bit too much that evening and the Devil thought him easy prey, but the clever trickster made a bargain with the Devil.  In exchange for one last drink, Jack offered up his soul.  Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a sixpence that Jack could use to buy their drinks.  The Devil changed his form to make payment to the bartender, but Jack pocketed the coin in a bag with a silver cross with the knowledge that the cross would prevent the Devil from changing back.  Once in his purse, Jack only freed the Devil after he agreed not to claim his soul for ten years.

Ten years later, the Devil met Jack walking on a country road and told him that he was there to collect his soul.  Jack, feigned compliance, but asked the Devil if he would first climb an apple tree and get him an apple.  The Devil, having nothing to lose, climbed the tree, but as he reached for the apple, Jack pulled out his knife and carved the sign of the cross in the tree’s trunk. The Devil was unable to come back down until he had agreed never to claim Jack’s soul.

Some years later, Jack died and went to Heaven.  But he was dismissed from St. Peter’s gate because he was too much of an unsavory figure to allow in.  He then went to Hades, but the Devil was bound never to claim his soul, and so would not allow him to enter.  Instead, he sent him away with only a burning ember to light his way.  Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been doomed to roam the Earth in darkness ever since. The Irish began to refer to his damned soul and ghostly light as “Jack of the Lantern,” and then, simply “Jack O’ Lantern.”

It has been believed for centuries that on Hallow’s Eve, evil spirits roam the Earth, “Stingy Jack” among them. For hundreds of years on that frightening night, the Irish carved scary faces into potatoes and turnips and placed them in windows and doorway to scare away Jack and other spirits.  When the Irish immigrated to the United States, they brought their tradition with them, with one amendment. They discovered that pumpkins had the perfect surface for carving the best frightening faces.

Glowing Jack-O-Lanterns came much later, most likely  because of an article published in the New York Times in 1900 which recommended lighting a pumpkin as part of the festivities. The suggestion, of course, caught on and now millions of us scoop out pumpkin “guts,” put a candle in its hollowed-out interior, and wait for our ghosts and goblins to arrive. 

Bonus Fact:

What was the original reason for “dressing up” on Halloween? Apparently evil spirits aren’t all that bright. A simple mask was thought to be able to fool those troublemakers into believing we are not who they think we are.  And… maybe we’re not.


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