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women in scienceThere are so many of them—the unsung heroes—WOMEN who made astonishing contributions to science and to the Allied war efforts.

For half a century or longer, their lights were hidden under bushels—but not by their own doing.

Their accomplishments went unrecognized, were dismissed, in come cases, ridiculed … and for one reason: they were female.

Thankfully, today, many of the women are FINALLY getting the recognition they deserve yet were so long denied. Their achievements are being heralded through a profusion of recent books. Yes, it's time.

Let's start in 2016 with Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly's book about the black female mathematicians at NASA during the early rocket age: they struggled in the face of both sexism AND racism—a doubly high barrier.

Though Hidden Figures is hardly the first book about unrecognized women, it's perhaps the most famous. In addition to reaching bestseller status, the book's film adaptation was a blockbuster—earning close to a quarter of a BILLION world-wide.



This January Marie Benedict published The Only Woman in the Room, a novelistic treatment of the famous Hollywood film star, Hedy Lamarr. Lamarr led a double life: she was also a crack scientist who invented a radio-guided torpedo system.

Although dismissed by the military during World War II, Lamarr's invention later played a role in developing GPS and cell phones. Hedy's Folly, a nonfiction work on the same subject, was published by Richard Rhodes in 2011.

Also out this January is Larry Loftis' nonfiction account of Odette Samson, a female British spy dropped into Nazi territory—Code Name: Lise.

AND get this! Pam Jenoff has just released a FICTIONAL treatment of real life female British spies … dropped into Nazi territory—The Lost Girls of Paris.



2017 saw a number of books about female breakthroughs in male domains. CODE-BREAKING proved a big topic that year: strangely, TWO nonfiction works were both devoted to one woman in particular—Elizebeth Smith Friedman.

Elizebeth, a groundbreaking cryptologist, founded along with her husband the modern science of cryptology prior to and during WWII. After the war William Friedman went on to head up NSA's cryptology unit—and even had a building named in his honor. It took decades for Elizebeth's name to be added to the plaque—even though some considered her the BETTER coder.

Check out these two nonfiction works on Elizebeth Smith Friedman:
    • The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone
    • A Life in Code by G. Stuart Smith

In the VERY same year (we're still in 2017), came Code Girls by Liza Mundy. Again, during the war years, the Army and Navy recruited women from around the country to learn code-breaking. They moved to Washington to take up the challenge, and only now, after years of secrecy, are we learning of their impressive contribution.

Also, in 2017, Jennifer Chiaverini came out with The Enchantress of Numbers, a fictional telling of Ada Lovelace, daughter of poet Lord Byron. More than a century passed before Lovelace was acknowledged as the developer of computer language (i.e., code). That's right, she was essentially the FIRST computer programmer—and it was the 19th century!

Finally, in 2017, moving away from math and science, Chuck O'Brien released Fly Girls, a nonfiction account of female aviators during the 1920s and '30s. The women, talented flyers in their own right, had to fight in order to compete against men in popular air races. In the face of ridicule, they managed to beat their male counterparts … a lot.



This is hardly an exhaustive list, but I'll stop here. There are many more books championing unsung female achievements; these are just the ones that came to mind.

So wouldn't it be a great idea to spend an ENTIRE BOOK CLUB YEAR reading about these remarkable women … and the many others I've left out?

santa poopedFavorite week of the year—the week AFTER Christmas. It's time to collapse … because we can. Finally.

I wonder how many feel the same kind of dread I do as we move into November: knowing that Christmas is getting closer… closer… closer…

And that means gift shopping, food shopping, cooking, baking, wrapping, cleaning up, washing up (bowl after pot after pan), making up guest beds, trudging up to the attic or digging through closets to drag out boxes of decorations, decorating, setting the table, more cooking, more baking, more cleaning, and more washing up.

And all this is ON TOP OF the regular tasks of our day-to-day lives—which, let's face it, are already plenty busy.

None ot this is to denigrate the deep joy the season brings, spiritually and communally—the candle-light services, the gorgeous music, and the connection with family and friends.

But when it's over—the gifts opened, the dishes done, the visitors come & gone—it's time to LIE BACK on a couch, put up those weary feet, pick up a BOOK AND READ.

So Merry (WEEK AFTER) Christmas, everyone—it's the best time of the year!

saved by the penBy guest blogger, Kathy Aspden, author of Baklava, Biscotti, and an Irishman. Kathy is in the process of wrapping up her second novel.

Early in my writing career, one of my favorite mentors dropped this pearl of wisdom: Flawed characters are more loveable.

I’m sure most writers (along with most people) already knew this. I didn’t. I was always trying to give my protagonist superhuman qualities, such as perfect motives or having a righteous cause on his or her side. The concept of a person selfishly wanting their own way simply because it’s what they wanted seemed almost evil.

What a boat I was missing! This one gift of advice changed my life completely. It was a revelation. We don’t love people because they are perfect; we love them because we love them.

It opened a whole new world to me, both in my writing and in my life. I suddenly couldn’t wait to create the next flawed character; the trick being to infuse complicated, negative traits that also generated love, sympathy, and relatable feelings. My kind of puzzle. 

I began writing about characters who did horrible things and were still worthy of love. I watched them suffer the anguish of their sins, further ruining their lives when they couldn’t make peace with themselves. I fabricated players willing to overlook the craziest of transgressions for the sake of love; or to reconcile their own unforgivable pasts. I wrote my way into the epiphany that the early life of a parent, even when well hidden, factors into the future misery of a child.

With every story I learned more about myself. I had been living a half-life, trying to hide, dismiss or spin my shortcomings into the image of perfection. It was exhausting—and unnecessary.

I realized even my opinions hadn’t been bendable. If I stated a belief or truism, fourteen years ago, it was written in indelible ink—leaving me no emotional ability to say, “I’ve changed my mind!” I was being held hostage by my own beliefs to opinions and ideas that no longer served me.

My life was a two-dimensional picture and I had no idea how to get to the depth of it without taking something back—saying I was wrong, admitting I was imperfect.

Five screenplays, two novels, countless blogs and short stories later, I’m happy to say that perfect ship has sailed. Writing about the lives of others has put my own life into perspective. I have a more genuine relationship with my children—who know beyond a shadow of a doubt I’m not perfect. My mother and I have never been closer. I laugh with my husband about the mistakes we’ve made (relationship, child rearing, financial), experiencing little to no shame. And I have to admit my siblings are relieved to have witnessed my swan-dive off the pedestal of perfection. In truth it was more of a belly flop. I’ve never been happier.

Am I a mess? For sure. Does being a mess help my writing? You bet! It’s a two-way street. My characters are now as fond of meas I am of them. We share a newfound love of deeply flawed people and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

britain learn english please2

In what amounts to a shot across the bow of our closest ally, the U.S. fired off a threat to the U.K. This one is over our common language.

According to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the U.S. will institute a tariff on British words—hefty enough to discourage them from reaching American shores.

The problem turns on the issue of quality.

"You invented the damn language," said Pompeo. "Why can't you learn how to use it?"

The U.K.'s response was forceful but unclear. Prime Minister Theresa Maybe announced her intention to commence a "wah."

"What the hell is a "wah?" Pompeo asked? "Are they going to start building a WALL or start a WAR? Even our best interpreters can't figure it out."

Statesmen aren't the only befuddled Americans. Readers, too, have long been confused by writing from across the pond.

Mary Angelica Basquirk, head of the Society of Reading Engagement (SORE), speaks for millions of U.S. readers who despair over British-isms.

"Take the words 'colour' and 'honour'—neither rhymes with 'hour.' So why do they keep the u?" she huffed. "Webster pointed this out 200 years ago, and they still don't get it."

This time it's the Brits who are ready to toss the teabags into the harbor/harbour.

"Well and good," said Hypernia Flaven, U.K.'s trade secretary. "No more Jane Austen for Americans. That's it. And they'll have to do without Hardy, the Brontes, and Eliot—George, that is. They can have T.S., but only because he was American."

The BBC weighed in, as well. "If Americans ever think they'll see the likes of Downton Abbey again, more's the pity," said Sir Ian Bonbon, director of licensing. "And believe me: Maggie Smith will never set foot on U.S. telly again."

Given the seriousness of Britain's response, the administration is worried about a voter backlsh. A realignment is under consideration.

They'd better hurry though; the new Mary Poppins is about to open her brolly again in theaters/theatres across the country.


Cherie Belle Korteks, special to City Examiner
and LitLovers

reading under cloud3By Molly Lundquist, LitLovers
Don't know where
YOU live, but where I live we haven't seen sun since, well… since October 30th. A dark, heavy curtain dropped on us. BOOM—no second act.

Occasionally, we get a glimpse of a bright orb (or something) but never for long and NEVER two days in a row. Some speculate it might be the sun. but no one's really sure.

If it sounds dreary, it is.

Ah, but there are lovely compensations. Cold, cloudy weather—plus the end of Day Light Savings—is all the excuse any of us need to hole up in our caves for a GOOD READ.

 

CLOUDY WEATHER READS
A Few Favorites


 • The Dream Daughter - Diane Chamberlain
(See our LitLovers Book Review.)

How to Change Your Mind: The Science of Psychedelics - Michael Pollan (See our LitLovers Book Review by P.J. Adler.)

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock - Imogene Hermes Gowar
(See our LitLovers Book Review.)

Varina - Charles Frazier
(See our LitLovers Book Review.)

The Winter Soldier - Daniel Mason


I live in Pittsburgh, by the way. But I've noticed that a lot of the country from the Midwest to the East Coast hasn't had terrific weather either lately, so I figure lots of us have turned to BOOKS—a heartening thought.


5 day reading fastNew York City — In a shocking move today, the book trade called for a 5-DAY READING FAST.

"We've seen the research," said Sara Reed of St. Mable's Press. "Too much reading GUNKS UP the brain. Science, you know."

"Try dumping pancake batter all over your car engine," she said. "It goops up the system so it can't work efficiently."

The industry is woke. Readers, the experts say, need a DEEP CLEANSE—a halt to reading for 5 days.

When asked if fasting will cut into sales, Pytor Gloverloft, the owner of Kansas City's beloved TOP-SHELF BOOZE & BOOKS, believes readers will return in droves—with a renewed thirst for fiction.

"Readers need a break," he says." We predict they'll begin to read with intensified FOCUS and EMPATHY."

How should readers break their fast? "With JANE AUSTEN, of course!" says Gloverloft. "Small sips of 18th-century social satire—with a glass of port—there's nothing better."
 


Cherie Belle Korteks, special to City Examiner
and LitLovers




NYT book review logo

June 10, 2018

creatures reading

 

 

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#MomsAreMad Fights Back Against Books
mothers against disrespect


Tired of being "knocked off" in books


May 13, 2018:
"We used to get KNOCKED UP. Now we get KNOCKED OFF," said Iva Hadenuv, a 55-year-old mother in Reading, Penna. "Knocked up was better."

Hadenov is not alone. On Mother's Day, moms around the country took to the streets to protest their treatment at the hands of authors and publishers.

"Authors have been GETTING RID of us in novel after novel. We're damn sick of it!" Hadenov exclaimed.

Like wildfire
As #MomsAreMad spreads across the country—publishers, politicians, and pundits are stunned by how quickly it's gone viral.

"By Jove! This thing's growing like wildfire," said NBC's Cal Brittlebastion.

"These gals are over 50. We had no idea they knew what social media was, let alone how to use it," he added.

A 300 year history
of doing away with mothers goes back to the first novels—at least to the 1700s with Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders and continuing into the 1800s with Dickens's David Copperfield.

The 20th century saw the likes of Anne of Green Gables and Nancy Drew—no mothers. Solve THAT one, Nancy.

Far more recent novels also lack mothers: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Ahab's Wife, The Goldfinch, I Liked My Life, to name only a few.

Smeared
Bernadette Peters, star of stage and screen, is #MAM'S most celebrated voice

"I've been SMEARED. They didn't just kill me off," steamed Peters. "They made me out as a child deserter!"
She is referring, of course, to the 2012 bestselling Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

"Of course it's me," piped Peters. "WHAT OTHER  Bernadette is there?"

Male support
Surprisingly, #MAM has drawn support from men.

"The sooner they win this thing, the sooner they'll be back in the KITCHEN," said one man, who wished to remain anonymous.



Fronta Loeb, special to The Daily News and LitLovers.

answer to questionsSometimes we want answers to life's profound questions. Why am I here? What's my purpose?

Sometimes we just want them for Book Club.

Here at LitLovers, we get a fair number of emails, asking for the answers to our Discussion Questions. Here's the latest :

Tim writes
We talked about American War by Omar al Akkad in my book group the other day, using the discussion questions found on LitLovers. The group couldn't decide on the best answers to some, so I'm writing to see if you have any answers for them?


I'm sorry, Tim, we don't. Sometimes, the questions are issued by the publishers, as they are with American War; more often, at LITLOVERS we end up writing our own for a particular book. In either case, we don't have specific answers.

Confession: Sometimes we don't even have answers to our OWN questions.

It's anybody's take, really, because the questions are designed to be OPEN ENDED—to stimulate discussion. They're not meant to have a single right answer but to result in different possibilities.

Book clubs tell us that their best discussions are those with different viewpoints, each one as legitimate as the next. It's what makes conversations about books so rewarding: I say PO-TAY-TOE … you say PO-TAH-TOE.

Even authors acknowledge that readers bring different interpretations to a book that they'd never considered. That doesn't make those ideas—or readers—wrong.

On the contrary, new meanings—created through the act of reading, by individual readers—make literature all the richer. Luminaries like Peter Carey and Margaret Atwood, both Man Booker Prize winners (Peter Carey twice!), have told us as much.

So the point is … you DON'T (really) WANT answers to book club questions. That would ruin the fun.



same old same old4Read a book. Discuss the book. Read a book. Discuss the book. Read a bo … yeah, yeah.

Monotous? Maybe. The other day I received an email asking for book ideas paired with activities surrounding cooking, music, and gardening …or anything else that might perk up the meeting.

We came up with a few ideas. If you've got any others, we'd love to hear.


1. Sourdough by Robin Sloan: discuss the book, then…

…bake sourdough loaves using live culture. Or bake the bread first… then discuss the book AFTER you pop the bread in the oven.


2. Lab Girl by Hope Jaren or
    The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert: discuss the book, then…

…set up a potting table with pots, potting soil, spades, etc., and have members plant individual tree saplings or some sort of outdoor plant (everyone could even name their plant for a favorite novel or character: Anatomy of a Miracle, H is for Hyacynth; The Secret Life of Violet Grant; Upstart Lizzie Bennet).


3. American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee: discuss the book then…

…watch a National Geographic wolf documentary on YouTube: She Wolf is good (the wolf featured in the film is the same female wolf ,"0-6," featured in the book); Living with Wolves: Jim and Jamie Dutcher is good, too.


4. Last Days of Night by Graham Moore: discuss the book, then…

…watch PBS's American Experience: Tesla or BBC's Nikola Tesla. OR...make an easy electric motor (see instructions on YouTube or... invite a physics teacher to demonstrate how one is made. They're so cool: my husband made one for me years and years ago!)


5.  Bel Canto by Ann Patchet: discuss the book, then…

…listen to recordings, or watch videos, of Renee Flemming (on whom Patchet based her book; they're friends) OR...invite a singer/voice teacher to demonstrate operatic techniques: opera singers NEVER use mikes (unlike Broadway singers) yet even their softest notes can be heard in a 2,500 seat concert hall—an astonishing feat requiring years of study.


6. The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George: discuss the book, then…

…set up a one-night "bookshop": members bring anywhere from, say, 3 to 5 books to exchange with others OR consider setting up a "Little Free Library" somewhere OR, like Monsieur Perdu, have members bring one book and talk about how that particular book helped them cope with a difficult problem or period in their lives.

 

 

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