When I was a child, one of my favorite books was The Incredible Journey, about the perilous adventures of two dogs—okay, and a cat—as they traverse 300 miles of harsh Canadian wilderness in search of their owners. The dogs, Luath, a Labrador retriever who is quilled in the face by a porcupine, can’t eat, and comes close to starving to death, and Bodger, the nearly blind bull terrier he guides to safety, were for me then, and are still, models of fortitude, bravery, cunning and loyalty. Much later my husband introduced me to Stickeen, the little dog who accompanied the naturalist John Muir across an Alaskan glacier, and inspired Muir to write a long magazine piece about what he saw as the emotional growth of the dog, from a wary fellow traveler to a deeply caring friend, which he told again in Stickeen, (1909) and again in Travels in Alaska which came out six years later. “Our storm battle for life brought him to light,” Muir wrote, “and through him as through a window I have ever since been looking with deeper sympathy into all my fellow mortals.”
Loyalty and fealty are common themes in books about heroic dogs, a literary tradition that must have started with Homer. In perhaps the most heartbreaking scene in The Odyssey, Odysseus returns home after his twenty year ordeal, finds his home overrun by dissolute suitors hoping to win the affections of his wife, Penelope, and his dog Argos, weak and sick and lying on a dung heap. Disguised as a beggar, Odysseus endeavors to sneak into his own house and is unrecognized by all but one old friend—Argos. Not wanting to give himself away, Odysseus walks past the dog, pretending they are strangers. And then the dog, who has been patiently awaiting the arrival of his master for the better part of two decades, takes his last breath and dies. Talk about devotion.
Every time I read that story, it gets me. Dog stories are often sad stories, even though dogs are so often happy, and goofy, and full of joy. When I bring my labradoodle, Pransky, to the nursing home where we work as a therapy dog team, she is welcomed there precisely because she is the bearer of good tidings, is allergic to sadness, and sometimes gets in the kind of canine trouble that makes people laugh. I once came across a book that announced on the title page that nothing bad happened to the dogs in the book, and I was grateful. Such is the legacy of reading, and rereading Dodie Smith’s classic “The Hundred and One Dalmatians,” in which so many dogs are in danger and their humans don’t seem to be up to the task of saving them. But then Pongo and Missis, the dalmatians whose puppies have been stolen by the evil Cruella de Vil, embark on their own cross-country journey, outwit all the bad guys, and after more downs than ups, finally triumph. Heroes, as these dog stories make clear, come in all colors, sizes, and leg counts.Read more...
Dan Brown's highly-anticipated new Robert Langdon adventure, Inferno, is available for NOOK starting today.
To herald this major publishing event, we asked Brown to share some thoughts on his foray into the world of Dante's masterpiece:
I’ve known for at least a decade that I would one day write a novel incorporating the world of Dante Alighieri. While researching Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code, I was immersed in church history and philosophy. One of the by-products of that research was my coming to understand that Dante’s popularized vision the afterlife deeply influenced our modern Christian perceptions of hell. The notion of hell certainly existed long before Dante, and yet only in vague terms. The Bible described hell as an underworld of unquenchable fire. Classical mythology was a bit more specific, describing various realms and monsters, but it wasn’t until Dante published The Divine Comedy that humankind was given a vivid, codified vision of the underworld. Dante described a multi-layered pit of misery where sinners endured specific punishments for specific sins, and this horrifying concept helped solidify hell as the deterrent to sin.
You researched Dante and the mysteries surrounding his life and work in Florence. What was your most surprising discovery.
For me, one of the most surprising themes of Dante’s Inferno is the portrayal of pride as the most serious of the seven deadly sins—a transgression punished in the deepest ring of hell. The notion of pride as the ultimate sin dovetails perfectly with Greek mythology, in which hubris is responsible for the downfall of the archetypal hero. In mythology, no man is more prideful than he who considers himself above the problems of the world…for example, the person who ignores injustice because it does not affect him directly. This notion is reflected in a famous paraphrasing of Dante’s text: The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis. This is a recurring theme of the novel.
Dante's Divine Comedy is composed in an intricately braided poetic style as it tells the story of a poet's passage through hell, purgatory and paradise. What aspects of his style most influenced you in the writing of Inferno? Did you rely on a particular translation or translations?
The rhythm of Dante’s poetry and his use of anaphora (repetition of phrases) does indeed find its way into the novel’s “shade” sections and influences the way my villain speaks and writes. Additionally, Dante’s use of physical motion to keep his action moving is something I’ve always tried to do in my novels, and I certainly continued that in Inferno. Regarding translations of Dante’s original Italian, one of the great luxuries of writing this book in the digital age was that I was able very quickly and easily to compare multiple translations. At times, I was stunned by how greatly those translations differed. In the end, I found myself relying primarily on two – the translations by Longfellow and Mandelbaum.
The images of punishment throughout the Inferno are based on medieval conceptions of sin and its consequences. Do you find them still relevant to themes of good and evil in today's world?
Dante’s vision of justice relies on the concept of contrapasso (literally, suffering the opposite)—in a sense, the punishment precisely fits the crime. For example: a fortune teller who sins by seeing the future is punished by having his head placed on backwards so he can only see in reverse; a ruthless man who left another to starve to death is doomed to have his own bloody skull gnawed upon by the man he let starve; an adulterous couple who succumbed to lust is punished by being fused together sexually for all eternity without ever being satisfied. Today, in most cultures, the notions of contrapasso and “an eye for an eye” have disappeared, which may be one of the reasons that modern readers find Dante’s brutal punishments so fascinating.
Although Dante wrote his epic hundreds of years before Leonardo Da Vinci, the two men are connected by their shared Florentine heritage. Do you see any similarities between the two?
Beyond being fellow Florentines, Dante and Leonardo share an elite spot in the pantheon of artistic giants. Both The Divine Comedy and The Mona Lisa are examples of those rare human achievements that transcend their moments in history and become enduring cultural touchstones. Both masterpieces continue tospeak to us centuries after their creation and are considered examples of the finest works ever produced in their respective fields. Like Leonardo, Dante had a staggering influence on culture, religion, history, and the arts. In addition to codifying the early Christian vision of Hell, Dante inspired some of history’s greatest luminaries—Longfellow, Chaucer, Borges, Tchaikovsky, Liszt, Monteverdi, Michelangelo, Blake, Dalí—and even a few modern video game designers.
Dante placed himself at the center of his poetic epic -- but he also called upon a figure from the classical world, the poet Virgil, as a trustworthy guide on his journey into darkness. Have you provided Robert Langdon with a Virgil?
Over the course of Langdon’s adventure, he encounters numerous characters who have counterparts in Dante’s Inferno. Some of these characters are overt. Others are more obscure. I’m hoping that some of the fun will be debating the parallels between Virgil’s descent and Langdon’s.
The opening of Inferno leaves us with tantalizing references to places and ideas that -- one hopes -- will be illuminated as the novel unfolds. Do you begin writing with the notion of implanting mysteries for your readers, or does that come later, as the story develops?
Before I begin writing any novel, I complete an extensive outline (the outline for The Da Vinci Code was over one hundred pages). Once I have a clear sense of the arc of the novel, I begin each chapter by deciding not what I’ll offer the reader, but rather what I’ll withhold. A readers’ desire to guess what I’ve hidden is always more exciting than anything I can show.
When we first encounter Robert Langdon in Inferno, he's in a place his work has made very familiar to him, but he's been plunged into truly unknown waters. When first you planned your new book, did you know you'd be making life this difficult for your hero?
Absolutely. Only by placing Langdon in a difficult position does he have a chance to be a hero.Read more...
Now that Pilkey’s blockbuster books are available for NOOK, I asked him to reveal why he thinks his books ‘click’ for young readers.
When I began writing the Captain Underpants series, I tailor-made these books to suit all of my childhood “requirements”:
1) They had to be funny.
2) They had to have either robots or monsters in them (preferably both).
3) They had to have TONS of illustrations (I made sure there was at least one on every page).
4) They had to have short chapters (many of them are only one or two pages long).
5) They had to be at least 100 pages long so they would qualify for book reports.
The series was born after my first book came out in 1988. I was visiting lots of schools, doing presentations about how I became an author. During these presentations, I told children about how I invented a superhero called Captain Underpants when I was in second grade. As I told this story, I would draw a giant picture of Captain Underpants, in all his “underpantsy” glory, and the room would EXPLODE with laughter and excitement. At the end of my talks, the first question I would ALWAYS get was, “Are you going to write a book about Captain Underpants?” I’d scratch my chin and say, “Well, gee, I never thought of that. Do you think I should?” Again, the room would explode with cheering and clapping.
I think it was then that I first realized that Captain Underpants might be popular with kids. Now that kids have access to tablets and e-readers, it seems only natural to make the Captain Underpants books available in ebook format. I definitely wouldn’t want to miss the chance to reach kids and encourage them to read, laugh, and be creative.
- Library Journal
In honor of his skillfully drawn lycan characters, I’ve asked Benjamin Percy to list his Top 5 Most Believable Fictional Monsters.
“I agree with Stephen Hawking’s assessment: if they’re out there, we better hope they never find us.” - Rick Yancey
Today, Yancey stops by the NOOK Blog to answer the simple question: Do you believe there’s life on other planets?
I don’t know if intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe. No one does, unless all those stories about Area 51 are true. We think it does; the odds certainly favor it. On a purely intellectual level, I find comfort in the idea that we are not alone. But in my gut, the possibility scares the crap out of me. I agree with Stephen Hawking’s assessment: if they’re out there, we better hope they never find us. A civilization thousands of years ahead of us probably wouldn’t come here just to say hello, take a few soil samples and go home. If they come, it probably means they have nowhere else to call home. And an advanced alien intelligence probably wouldn’t view us as equals in any sense of the word. We could be – most likely would be – perceived as vermin, a rampant, out-of-control infestation slowly (though that pace is accelerating) destroying their newfound residence. What do we humans do when we discover cockroaches scurrying in the pantry? Do we carefully gather them up, relocate them to the wild, resign ourselves to a peaceful coexistence? Uh-uh. We haul out the bug spray. We call the exterminator.
The 5th Wave isn’t told from an alien’s perspective, but it never forgets this painfully self-evident truth: If they’re out there and if they find us, the overwhelming odds are they will not come in peace. And the arrival won’t be anything like the way popular culture tends to depict it. Would we fight back? Of course. Would we win? I think that would require a redefining of the word.
Tell Me: What's your favorite alien invasion book or movie?
Today, Charlaine Harris stops by the NOOK Blog to answer the question that I, and her legion of fans, want to know: What’s next?
Many of my readers seem anxious about what I’ll be doing now that the last Sookie novel is done. They wonder if I’ll take an extended vacation. But I’d known I was ready to end the series for some time. I felt that I’d told Sookie’s story and had come to the end of the adventures I wanted to relate. That’s a clear indicator a writer needs to move on to something else.
What will that “something else” be? Not just one project, but a lot of them. For over a year, Christopher Golden and I have been working on a graphic novel, “Cemetery Girl,” and the first two volumes have been written. The first one will be published in January 2014. We have a third volume yet to write, and I need to outline the conclusion. Chris is a great collaborator, and he knows everything about graphic novels.
Also in January 2014, in the anthology “Dark Duets” there’ll be a story I co-wrote with the fabulous Rachel Caine. This was another first experience for me, and one I actually enjoyed.
I’ve written a short story for the anthology “Impossible Monsters,” edited by Kasey Lansdale. It’s called The Glitter of the Crowns, and I was really pleased with the way it turned out. You can find out if you agree in July.
Also in July, I turn in the manuscript for the first non-Sookie novel I’ve written in years. The title is still undetermined, but I can tell you this is an ensemble novel told from several points of view. The book is set in a small town at a crossroads in Texas. One of the buildings there is an old pawnshop, open (almost) 24 hours a day. There are characters from every series I’ve ever written in this novel, and new ones, too.
I’m not taking much of a break, but it’s really reenergizing to work on so many new things!Read more...
With her atmospheric and enchanting novels, bestselling author Susan Wiggs has combined my two passions: good food and great writing. In The Apple Orchard, she tells a complex story of family ties, set in the richly-abundant farmlands of Sonoma. Today she reflects on the connection between food and reading, and as an added bonus, she’s included a recipe for decadent Apple Pie muffins in her post:
I’m writing this in a crowded airport, a familiar scene. Droning announcements, whining kids, bored people commenting on ticket prices and delays, others fiddling with the latest gadget, trying to find a wi-fi signal and getting frustrated...but the folks who interest me are the happy ones. The ones who are sitting calmly, content in their own space, placidly awaiting the boarding call. The happy people all have something in common–they are either a) eating or b) reading.
Oh, and there’s one knitter, and I do like knitting, but I didn’t even realize they’d let long pointy metal knitting needles through security.
So here’s my theory. When you’re waiting–in an airport, a doctor’s office, a carpool lot, at home expecting a phone call, a delivery, or at work–a great book and a delicious bite to eat can be your own private refuge.
Every time I sit down to write, I try to think of that reader trapped in an airport, or a waiting room...or maybe she’s one of the lucky ones, kicking back on a beach or a porch swing or in front of a roaring fire somewhere. I think she’s a lot like me. She wants a great story, one that will sweep her away from it all, at least for a while. And although I can’t give her a nice warm slice of apple cake with caramel sauce, at least I can give her the recipe.
The Apple Orchard is designed to take the reader on an emotional journey, one that I hope will lead to that comforting place of refuge. Tess, the main character, experiences the kind of love story we all wish for, getting swept into a life she never imagined and suddenly can’t survive without.
The story is set in one of the most beautiful areas in the world–the golden-hued farmlands of Sonoma. Although best known for wine, the region is filled with a dreamy abundance. Some of the best apples grow there, including the legendary Gravenstein, which inspired me to create and test dozens of recipes, sharing only the very best in the pages of the novel.
Here’s a sneak peek, an outtake, just to remind you of the comfort of food and books!
Apple Pie Muffins
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups chopped apples
Directions for Topping:
In a small bowl toss together sugar, flour, butter and cinnamon until crumbly; set aside.
Directions for Muffins:
In a large bowl whisk together brown sugar, oil, egg and vanilla until smooth.
In a separate bowl, sift together dry ingredients.
Stir oil mixture into flour mixture alternately with buttermilk.
Fold in apples, mixing just until combined.
Spoon into greased muffin cups, filling 3/4 full.
Today, Temple Grandin offers an exclusive NOOK Blog post, answering the straightforward question: What’s the one thing you want everyone to know about autism?
Don’t get locked into labels. Unlike strep throat, autism can’t be diagnosed with a simple laboratory test. In fact, the diagnostic criteria for autism have changed with each new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and they’re changing again with the publication of a new edition. Parents come up to me all the time and say things like, “First my kid was diagnosed with high-end autism. Then he was diagnosed with ADHD. Then he was diagnosed with Asperger’s. What is he?” I understand their frustration. They’re at the mercy of a medical system that’s full of label-locked thinkers—people who get so invested in what the word for the thing is that they no longer see the thing itself. What I say in all these cases is the same: Don’t worry about the label. Tell me what the problem is. Let’s talk specifics. First question I ask parents who want me to advise them is “How old is the kid?” What I might recommend for a three-year-old is going to be completely different from what I might recommend for a sixteen-year-old. Next question is “Does the kid talk?” If he’s nonverbal, that’s one thing. Let’s start trying to teach him and see what happens. If he’s verbal, I’ll say, “How good is his speech?” If the description is too vague, I’ll say, “Give me an example.” Is the child speaking in complete and grammatically correct sentences? Is he speaking only in single words? Does he pronounce words accurately or does he say, as I did, “buh” for ball? And then there’s socializing. Can the kid hold a conversation? Can she place an order at a fast-food counter? Does she have trouble making friends? Sometimes labels can be useful, of course, but not when they get in the way of figuring out what makes each person unique and how best to help that person navigate the world.
To herald the publication of this new collection, which features his masterfully told travel stories, I asked David to tell us the origin of his eye-catching title, and offer a list of his 5 favorite unusual book titles. I’m afraid many of them are currently unavailable for NOOK, but you never know what the future may hold.
I was signing a book for a rather pushy woman.”It's for my daughter," she said. "And I want you to write, 'To Vanessa, explore your possibilities.'" I cringed, and told her I'd keep the word 'explore.' Then I wrote "Let's Explore......Diabetes....With.......Owls," realizing as I finished that it would make for a perfect book title.
My 5 Favorite Unusual Book Titles:
1. On His Deathbed The Acrobat Tells His Daughter To Buy Land by Suzanne Cleary
This is perfect in every way. It enriches the word “acrobat,” by
associating it with ”real estate.” Then it throws in parenting for added effect.
2. Helping The Retarded To Know God by Hans R. Hahn
Just when you think organized religion can’t get any sadder, along comes this underlooked masterpiece. The cover is fantastic, but I honestly think the title is enough.
3. A Passion For Donkeys by Elisabeth D. Svendsen
This is a non-fiction book, but the title would work just as well for a novel or poetry
4. Six Studies In Quarreling by Vincent Brome
I came upon this in an antiquarian book store in London. I love that it’s “quarreling” rather
than “arguing” and I love that there are six studies, not five or seven.
This is a collection of profiles by the great Susan Orlean. I bought it
immediately because she’s the author, but likely would have bought it anyway,
Tell Me: What’s the most unusual book title you've ever seen?Read more...
1. Determine how much you can afford. There is more to this equation than savings. Be sure to factor in the $2,500 tax credit for each child attending college (based on income) and expenses that will be reduced or eliminated when your child goes to college.
2. Don’t base your decision on sticker price. All colleges are required to provide net price calculators which families can use to get a better idea of what the actual cost will be. Your student’s profile could result in affordable options at great schools.
3. When comparing award letters, subtract only grants and scholarships from the cost of attendance to determine net price. Exclude Direct Loans and work-study jobs. PLUS loans should never be included as a financial aid element.
4. Consider appealing directly to the college’s financial aid office if your family will experience a loss of income compared with 2012, will incur significant medical expenses, or if you pay private tuition for other children in your home.
5. Negotiate a better price. Find 3-5 comparable schools with lower prices and show the difference to the admissions officer. Include official award letters if available. If the school wants your child to attend, they will often work to find extra award money. Whatever you do, don’t call it a negotiation!
Frank Palmasani is a Chicago-area high school guidance counselor and former college director of admissions. He is a member of NACAC, IACAC, and the College Board.Read more...