Category Archives: Books

National Novel Writing Month

November is National Novel Writing Month. Last year, close to 120,000 people registered on the NaNoWriMo Web site to take a shot at writing 50,000 words between November 1st and 30th. That’s a 175-page novel in 30 days.

The goal of NaNoWriMo is to encourage everyone who has ever thought of writing a novel to stop procrastinating and write … something … anything! It doesn’t matter that it likely won’t be award-winning material. It doesn’t even matter – just this once – about grammar and spelling. The only thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output.

NaNoWriMo “is an event for all nations. We’d change the name to ‘International Novel Writing Month,’ but InNoWriMo doesn’t roll off the tongue in quite the same way.”

So if you’ve ever fancied becoming a novelist, November is the month to give 50,000 words a try. 21,683 people successfully completed the challenge  in 2008.



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Great Beginnings

Charles L.P. Silet of The Strand Magazine calls the famous first sentence of Rebecca “one of the great opening lines in English fiction. In one stroke, du Maurier establishes the voice, the locale, and the dream-like atmosphere of the story.”

Rebecca, the suspense novel that made Daphne du Maurier one of the most popular authors of her day, is about a shy paid companion who, while in the French Riviera with her vacationing employer, meets wealthy Maxim de Winter. She and Max fall in love, marry and return to his large country estate in Cornwall to begin their life together. But Max is haunted by the death of his first wife, Rebecca, in a boating accident the year before. The second Mrs. de Winter (whose given name is never revealed) soon discovers that Rebecca still has a strange hold on everyone at the estate.

Since its debut in 1938, the novel Rebecca has had a hold on the public. It has been adapted for both the small and large screens several times, with the Alfred Hitchcock version starring Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier winning the 1940 Academy Award for Best Picture.

There are three novels inspired by the original and approved by the du Maurier estate:  Mrs. de Winter, by Susan Hill; The Other Rebecca, by Maureen Freely; and Rebecca’s Tale, by Sally Beauman.

Du Maurier herself adapted Rebecca as a stage play in 1939, and a new musical based on the novel premiered in Vienna in 2006, where it played to sold-out houses for two years. Discussions are under way regarding a possible Toronto run of the musical prior to its openings in New York and London in 2010 or 2011.

And it all started with that great beginning sentence. Did it come back to your mind as you read this, or did you know it all along?

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.


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Part Two

Jay Leno was offering five and six-year-olds the opportunity to finish well-known (by adults) proverbs on The Tonight Show. “People who live in glass houses …” he began, and offered the microphone to a bright young fellow. The Californian youngster promptly responded with the very logical reply “die in earthquakes.”  His answer changed the second half of that proverb (from “shouldn’t throw stones”) for me forever.

Most of us use quotations and proverbs, or slightly reworked versions of the originals. In fact, a lot of what we claim as quotes are actually misquotes. Marie Antoinette never said “let them eat cake,” Machiavelli didn’t say “the end justifies the means,” and Horace Greeley never made the recommendation to “go west, young man.”

Sherlock Holmes didn’t say “Elementary, my dear Watson,” in any of Conan Doyle’s stories.

No one said “Play it again, Sam” in the movie Casablanca and the closest Captain Kirk came to saying “Beam me up, Scottie” in the original Star Trek television series is “Beam us up, Mr. Scott.”

“Luke, I am your father,” from The Empire Strikes Back, topped a list of memorable movie misquotes compiled earlier this year following voting by 1,500 filmgoers. Darth Vader actually said “No, I am your father.”

How many times have you heard a co-worker say “Ours is not to reason why,” usually in reference to a decision made by management and considered stupid by staff? I wonder how many of the speakers even know that the original line is “Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die,” from The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

For anyone who is interested in researching accurate quotations, whether for a specific use or just for fun, there are quotation dictionaries available to suit all needs and interests.

It’s such a pleasure to write down splendid words – almost as though one were inventing them.  ~Rupert Hart-Davis

Quotations 3


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Part One

When visiting one of the University of Toronto’s libraries, I discovered a massive dictionary just inside the entrance. I have never seen anything like it. It was huge! All those words, all that knowledge! I gazed in awe at the magnificent tome, displayed reverently on its own pedestal with a light shining down on it from the heavens. There may have been a choir singing… well, that’s how I remember it anyway.

Everyone should have a standard dictionary, or more likely these days, a bookmark for an on-line version, but a quick Google search shows that there are also specialized books with terms specific to just about every profession, hobby or interest imaginable. Following is just a small sampling of dictionaries available for those interested in expanding their English vocabulary.

The Logodaedalian’s Dictionary of Interesting and Unusual Words, by George Stone Saussy. I had to look up the word logodaedalian in a conventional dictionary to discover that it refers to someone who is clever at playing with words. This book, according to the publisher, lists the meanings of difficult and obscure English words, and offers examples of their use from the works of top British and American writers.

One-Letter Words, a Dictionary, by Craig Conley. My first thought was that this must be a very short book, however, according to the description it “illuminates the more than 800 surprising definitions associated with the letters in the English alphabet. For instance, Conley uncovers 69 different definitions for the letter X, the most versatile and printed letter in the English language.”

Knickers in a Twist: a Dictionary of British Slang, by Jonathan Bernstein. After reading this, “at least you’ll be aware that when a British citizen describes you as a ‘wally,’ a ‘herbert,’ a ‘spanner,’ or a ‘bampot,’ he’s not showering you with compliments.”

Magic Words: A Dictionary, by Craig Conley.  According to reviews, “The first 48-pages are utterly fascinating, with Conley an engaging tour guide through literary, philosophical, cultural and spiritual landscapes,” and in the following pages, “magic words taken from literature, plays, movies; all the way from Ovid to Shakespeare to Ronald Hutton to J.K. Rowling.”

KA-BOOM! A Dictionary of Comic Book Words, Symbols & Onomatopoeia, by Kevin J. Taylor. “Shouldn’t all dictionaries start with AAAA and end with ZZZZZZZTZZZTZZZ? KA-BOOM! does.”

If you’ve been thinking of learning another language, I found three dictionaries of interest.

The Elvish Dictionary, by Ambar Eldaron. J.R.R. Tolkien, an Oxford academic who was an expert in ancient languages, spent a great deal of time creating his own. He developed two forms of  Elvish, which were integral to the creation of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Sindarin is based on the sounds of Welsh, and Quenya is related to Finnish. You can buy dictionaries for both. Certainly as spoken in the Lord of the Rings movies, Elvish is a beautiful language. Ni ve sa (I like it.)

The Klingon Dictionary (Star Trek), by Marc Okrand. This book includes a precise pronunciation guide, proper use of affixes and suffixes, conjunctions, exclamations and superlatives, and simple and complex sentence structure, i.e. everything you want in a dictionary. It also contains the Klingon translation and pronunciation of representative phrases such as “activate the transport beam”, and “surrender or die!” Surely a necessity for every home.

Harrap’s Rat Dictionary. No, it’s not about rats; it’s how to speak rat. It includes Rat-English and English-Rat, with over 5,000 references, 80,000 translations and hundreds of new expressions. Here’s a sample entry from the E page: eee [‘ii:i] v. tr. to want; eee ee awp, I want that pea. The book comes with a CD-Rom pronunciation guide with over 80,000 words spoken by…wait a second…trained rat professionals? The book has 1523 pages? Oops, sorry, it’s a hoax. You’ll have to keep waiting for the real thing.


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Great Beginnings – Atlas Shrugged

“He’s the character mentioned in the first line of Atlas Shrugged,” read Alex Trebek. It’s the final Jeopardy question and I know the answer! “Who is John Galt?” I immediately respond. The Jeopardy answer also happens to be the complete opening line of Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel.

I read Atlas Shrugged many years ago. Honestly, I don’t know exactly who John Galt is because I don’t remember the details of what happened in the 1000+ paperback pages that follow the memorable opening line. It really was a long time ago that I read the story. I do remember those words, though, and the fact that the question is repeated often throughout the book; it is the reader’s quest to discover the answer.

Based on the question “what if all the creative minds of the world went on strike?”, Rand began writing the epic tale, which includes elements of mystery, science fiction, and romance, under the working title The Strike. The final title “symbolizes the book’s plot: the rebellion of the unrecognized and often persecuted creative heroes who bear the rest of the world on their shoulders”.

Atlas Shrugged received generally negative reviews when it was released, but since then it has achieved enduring popularity, selling over six million copies. In January of this year, the novel was No. 33 among’s top-selling books. With those statistics, I think it’s safe to assume that I wasn’t the only home viewer who won final Jeopardy by knowing this book’s opening line. I also surmise that I’m not alone in thinking this is a great beginning:

“Who is John Galt?”
The light was ebbing, and Eddie Willers could not distinguish the bum’s face. The bum had said it simply, without expression. But from the sunset far at the end of the street, yellow glints caught his eyes, and the eyes looked straight at Eddie Willers, mocking and still –as if the question had been addressed to the causeless uneasiness with him.
“Why did you say that?” asked Eddie Willers, his voice tense.
The bum leaned against the side of the doorway; a wedge of broken glass behind him reflected the metal yellow of the sky.
“Why does it bother you?” he asked.



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The Library

I’ve been visiting the local libraries since I was a young child. I took my daughter to her first Moms and Babies class there before she could even crawl. Surely there is something for everyone at the library. For those who don’t share our love of reading, the institution has done a great job of keeping up with modern technology and offering the latest in technological benefits (research databases, homework helpers, etc.) along with its collections of books and movies. Libraries are wonderful.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the world’s biggest library, the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., which is home to almost 142 million items preserved on approximately 650 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 32 million books and other print materials, 3 million recordings, 12.5 million photographs, 5.3 million maps, 5.6 million pieces of sheet music and 62 million manuscripts. The Library is comprised of three buildings and is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. The first building completed, in 1897, was the Thomas Jefferson Building. The exhibits there include a three-volume Gutenberg Bible, one of only three perfect vellum copies in existence; the American Treasures Gallery, which includes Jefferson’s handwritten draft of the Declaration of Independence among its treasures; and President Jefferson’s private library, which formed the core from which the present collections of the Library of Congress developed.

The Thomas Jefferson Building is a gorgeous place. Its elaborate interior is embellished by works of art from nearly fifty American painters and sculptors. I could go on with paragraphs of details about the artwork, but instead I’ll just show you some of my vacation photos. This is a lovely building to visit if you’re ever in Washington. Meanwhile, if you’d like to see and read more about the Library, click on the link below the photos.










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Great Beginnings – Angela’s Ashes

It’s so satisfying when you begin reading a new book and are immediately captivated by the story. It could be due to a character so well drawn that she instantly interests you, or a humourous situation that has you laughing out loud. Sometimes there’s just something about the overall style and intelligence of the writing that appeals to your taste and encourages you to keep reading “just one more chapter” until finally collapsing into bed hours later than would have been prudent. The alarm rings way too soon and you start the morning overtired … and wishing you had time to read another chapter before heading out for the day.

That instant involvement doesn’t happen to me often. Some books take an investment of time and patience to get into, needing several pages or even chapters to set the scene and characters and draw me in. Some never do succeed and are set aside unread. Other books are pleasant reads, enjoyed for the short term but then largely forgotten; I’d have to pick them up six months later and read the back cover to remind myself of the plot.

It is wonderful, then, when a book really captures my heart. And best yet when, years after the initial reading, I can still recall the opening paragraphs that grabbed my interest and held it.

Angela’s Ashes is one of those books. I loved the poignant, Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir from page one. Published back in 1996, the tale of Frank McCourt’s poverty-stricken childhood was brought to mind again by the author’s recent passing, so I looked it up and began rereading.

One person’s idea of an excellent book, or paragraph, or even sentence is not necessarily another’s, but for me, this is a great beginning:

When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood; the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.

People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version; the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years.

Above all – we were wet.


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