You would think, as an editor and writer, not to mention a voracious reader of both fiction and nonfiction, that I would have a huge vocabulary. And I probably do. But I also travel in circles with many highly literate and well-read friends. So when they go through this Test Your Vocab research site and get 39K or 40K as a result, I am somewhat disgruntled that I only got 37,800 as the estimate of how many dictionary words I know at least one definition for.
Want to test your own vocabulary? Have a go! Remember to answer honestly, because this is a real research site trying to gather data.
And while you’re at it, try out the researchers’ latest tool, called Hardest Words, where you can test any general text you’re reading to get feedback on which are the eastiest and hardest words.
Now. I have a dictionary to go read.
If there’s anything Benedict Cumberbatch (the actor in the title role of BBC’s Sherlock) has, it’s a sense of proportion. Have a look at BuzzFeed’s blurb and the accompanying photo: Benedict Cumberbatch Has An Awesome Message For The Paparazzi.
And I thought I couldn’t love the guy any more than I already did.
If there’s one thing archaeologists like to do when studying the mummy of Tutankhamun, the ancient Egyptian pharaoh, it’s top each other’s stories. But that’s not too surprising when you recall that that’s what many pharaohs used to do too: erase the previous pharaoh’s story in favour of their own.
Science journalist and writer Jo Marchant chronicles all the archaeology stories about Tutankhamun in her new book, The Shadow King: The Bizarre Afterlife of King Tut’s Mummy. Starting in 1922 with Howard Carter, she shows how each successive archaeologist, with each new test and new discovery about the ancient boy king, tried to erase previous theories about his life and death in favour of new ones. Many of the new stories stemmed from genuinely new or refined evidence. But one suspects that some of them also stemmed from the agendas of the storytellers.
But that’s precisely the thing. Marchant gradually concludes that while the evidence is important, the storytelling may be almost more important. Here’s how she describes the history of all those archaeologists’ stories about Tutankhamun: “The king has gone from a tragic child who succumbed to tuberculosis, to a murder victim, daredevil chariot racer, malaria-infected cripple, brave soldier, and even a hippo’s last meal. You can pick whichever story you like.” We can pick because these stories go hand in hand with society’s own fascination with the ancient king’s history; they tell a great deal about us.
Think of Dr. Zahi Hawass, that most famous leading man in documentaries about ancient Egyptian archaeology. It’s very likely that the evidence described in some of those documentaries was just a liiiiittle bit slanted in his preferred direction. In many ways, he’s less of a rigorous archaeologist and more of a storyteller. But he tells his stories for the sake of Egypt, for the idea of Egypt’s continuity from Tutankhamun’s day till today, and for Egypt’s own self-esteem. (And you wonder whether his stories are finally over, as Hawass has fallen out of public favour, and modern Egypt is now in turmoil. Can Tutankhamun’s story—or one of his many stories—ever help Egypt now?)
Marchant takes us on a fascinating trip from the past to the present, giving us the stories and ideas of the archeologists as well as of the young pharaoh. Her book is thorough and objective when it comes to the actual evidence about Tutankhamun, but it’s also an exploration of the complexities of the human tale itself. Through her own story, she gives us hints of what the people in our society want—maybe even need—from the history of Tutankhamun. And given the fact that the boy king’s mummy has been handled so much over the years that it may soon be on the verge of crumbling at last into final nothingness, the book may well be one of the final memorials and stories of Tutankhamun himself.
Buy it now!
Move over, Greek and Roman gods, the Norse are coming!
Many of us in North America were raised knowing about Greek gods, but we haven’t learned much about the Norse gods. Some of that is changing, with a few stories being told about Thor and Loki. But there’s still a long way to go, and there are more Norse gods than just those two.
Enter Loki’s Wolves, a new middle grade book by K.L. Armstrong and M.A. Marr. Thirteen-year-old Matt Thorsen from Blackwell, South Dakota, just happens to be a descendant of the long-gone Thor. And two classmates in school, cousins Fen and Laurie Brekke, are descended from Loki. So when Ragnarök comes at the end of the world—which is apparently just weeks away!—these three will have to stand in for the gods and fight to save the world. That’s what the local Seer says.
But before that happens, the three have to race against time to build a team of descendants of the other ancient Norse gods, and though they’ve all got some divine powers, they have to learn to use them. If Matt has to face the World Serpent as the chosen champion—something he’s not exactly looking forward to—he has to get very strong, very quickly.
It doesn’t help to know that in the original myths of Ragnarök, the gods actually didn’t win. Can the team of inexperienced and reluctant preteen champions change that outcome? Especially since another very serious and disturbing element from the original myths occurs just when they’re starting to get their team together. And meanwhile, if their own families don’t entirely want them to win—are they going to face more opposition than they expect?
I think any preteen who loves retellings of ancient myths or stories based on those myths is going to love Loki’s Wolves. It moves at a quick pace and leads Matt, Fen, and Laurie into ever more exciting, complex, and perilous adventures. The only complaint I had as I finished the book was the realization that this is the first of a trilogy called The Blackwell Pages—and we’re going to have to wait till next year to find out what happens next!
But before Odin’s Ravens comes out in 2014, the kids will have something else to concentrate on while they’re waiting. The authors are in the midst of creating a website, also called The Blackwell Pages, where readers of the books can learn about the divine characters and their original stories. There will be activities relating to the stories and even guides for teachers to teach Norse history and myth. And then, in 2015, the trilogy will culminate with Thor’s Serpent, where Matt and his friends will finally face their great test.
I know that when I discovered the Norse myths, as a teen, I was thrilled and fascinated. These stories and that website would have sent me over the moon. (A Norse god whose name, by the way, is Máni.) If you or a young person you know loves stories based on myth and wants to enjoy a tale based on Norse myths in particular, then Loki’s Wolves will be right up your alley.
Early in June, the Seattle Public Library did something wonderful to launch their Summer Reading Program. Two college students, Luke Greenway and Laura D’Asaro, came up with the idea of setting up a domino chain entirely of books and setting a world record. So the library staff and volunteers got together and set it up, while Playfish Media filmed some of the setting up process and the very satisfying knocking down process. Here’s the fun that resulted:
Note that the library posted this disclaimer with the video: “The books used to make this domino chain were either donated or are out of date and no longer in the library’s collection. They are now being sold by the Friends of Seattle Public Library to help raise money for library programs and services. No books were harmed during the filming of this video.”
We probably could have assumed that they’d have seen to it that the books weren’t harmed. But don’t you wish you had been there?
BuzzFeed hits it out of the park again!
50 Incredible Tattoos Inspired By Books
Some of these tattoos inspired by books are really wonderful. Take this one from A Clockwork Orange:
Or this beauty based on Mutiny on the Bounty:
I can never get a tattoo for various reasons, but I tell ya, some of these could almost have inspired me to try if I could. Check out the rest of them at BuzzFeed, and don’t forget to scroll through the comments and see some others. Add yours there, if you’ve got one. Or here. for that matter!
(And don’t forget that BuzzFeed has done other great posts about book-related things. Like the Grafitti That’s Literate.)
It’s not easy breaking out of a religion that you’ve been taught from birth is the only truth in the world. It’s even harder when you’re isolated from the rest of the world and depend on one man alone—the husband of all fifty women in the community and the father of all the children. When your mother grabs you and flees during a crisis that looks like it’s part-Waco and part-Jonestown, you’re going to suffer the mother of all identity crises.
Amaranth and her two daughters, Amity and Sorrow, fetch up on a dustbowl of a farm, depending for help on a poor farmer named Bradley. The girls struggle to retain their customs—fully cover their hair and bodies even in hot weather, don’t enter a field or any building where a man lives, and don’t talk to any male—even while their mother must break those rules to help keep them alive. The girls are pulled in two directions. Amity can’t help but be curious about this new world, and she, too, begins breaking rules as she starts to explore. But Sorrow, yearning for the honored position she held in the cult community and yearning for the father who promised that the world was about to end, despises both her mother and sister and plots to find a way—any way—to subvert them and find a way back to him.
In the book, Amity and Sorrow, Peggy Riley paints a devastatingly accurate picture of the culture shock and internal struggles faced by the woman and especially the two girls, torn from their close and sheltered family. Riley shows the small steps Amity has to take as she begins learning the customs of the world and the power of free choice. But Riley also demonstrates that for some people born into a cult, escape is truly impossible. We begin to suspect that Sorrow, in her yearning for the end of the world and her preoccupation with her father as God, may never really be saved.
This is not a story with a lot of overt action. The action is more psychological: Amaranth must understand the mistakes she made and the undercurrents she ignored in her extended family, which led to her current situation. Bradley must work through his sorrow over his ex-wife, so he can open his heart again. Amity undergoes gradual, eye-opening explorations and blossoming. And Sorrow…her resentment turns into slow, zealous madness and may destroy all of them.
The gradual psychological action may not be action enough for some readers. When the climax comes and each character must decide his or her own fate, it’s shocking and disturbing and arrives and passes relatively quickly. Yet Peggy Riley has created a personal and moving snapshot of both the appeal of a cult and the sadness and difficulty of trying to break out of it. Fortunately, for most characters and the readers alike, there are enough glimmers of light left to promise hope.
My friend in New York, Michael Castellano, is a wonderful photographer. He also has a wonderful cat named Buddy. (I would bet that the two facts are related in some profound, subliminal way.) I’ve known Michael online for years, but have only managed to visit New York and meet him in person once. And while I was there, I met the famous and adored Buddy too.
He is definitely a great cat. And something that has added to the love that we, his fans, have always borne him is the incredible photos Michael has posted of Buddy over the years.
Now, I’m happy to say, some of those beautiful photos have been collected and published in a gorgeous book. This book, Buddy the Cat, is now available through Blurb.com. Browse through it for a bit, and enjoy how Michael has captured so many of Buddy’s moods, from profound thought to silly squirming on the floor. Michael captures every nuance of color in Buddy’s eyes and the soft flow of his lovely fur.
And once you’ve enjoyed Buddy’s company, pay Michael Castellano Photography a visit and marvel at Michael’s other stunningly beautiful photographs.
(Sorry if you see the image below twice. Blurb.com won’t let me alter the code, so twice it is. In the first one, you can go through all the pages of the book, and the second one takes you to the Blurb.com page — where you can do exactly the same. *sigh*)