Another Bleak and Violent Future in Teen Fiction


Another Bleak and Violent Future in Teen Fiction

a book review on

Red Queen By Victoria Aveyard 

Teen literature has always tended to err on the angsty side. And I love that. Sometimes you just need a good, miserable wallow in things being not what they should.

Back in my day, growing up with Potter and Bella Swan, things would get dark and lives would be in danger, but the landscape was fairly navigable from deep trauma until you were too far in the series to care about saving yourself heartache when these characters disappeared. Now…welcome to a brave new world, where every other teen fiction book is part of a series and the first book usually hits hard with death, destruction, family massacre and dystopian visions of how much our future is going to suck.

A book like Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard doesn’t stand out in the current world of teen fiction because it follows the formula they’ve all come to mimic (and to great success). There’s a teen heroine (sometimes a male, but less and less common) and she’s different. She loves her family and best male friend, and will do whatever it takes to save them from evil government/monarchy/monster mayhem. Also, it’s the future and the world is way messed up…kinda unlivable, a totally changed landscape. The differences to make the work unique with Red Queen are best summed up with an analysis  from GoodReads reviewer Rachel Carver who writes: “Red Queen is Game of Thrones with Katniss as the Mockingjay with X-Men…”

So nothing is new.

But does that mean that Red Queen is a “bad” book; not worth reading? Thankfully, no. Red Queen was a page-turner, written well, made intriguing with fun and terrifying characters, and told with a strong, admirable female narrator at the helm. I didn’t mind that it fused a lot of popular themes and story lines into one narrative. It was fun. It was also pretty traumatic.

Red Queen doesn’t pull any punches. Our main character, Mare Barrow, lives in a gritty future world on the bottom of the social totem pole, and when she’s given the chance to ascend into the ranks of hierarchy things get bloody and vicious. I’m not one to censure literature, and so if a teen has the capability to read this book and wants to, then go for it. But it reads like an adult work to me. I’m a Tarantino fan, and I was cringing at some of the blood lust.

Mayhaps, we should blame it on the changing society and violence you see just in a local newscast. Either way, Red Queen may be a captivating book, but it’s not a “nice” read.

I’ll be very interested to see what Aveyard does for the rest of the books in this series. Keeping up the momentum of this first book is going to be tricky, but she’s paved a good ground to establishing mystery and doubtful loyalties. Total kudos for making the romance that is so frequent in teen fiction more of a backdrop here, and not letting it dominate story-line or character action. Plus(!), Aveyard is just 23 years old. A work of this quality is accomplishment for any age, but that youthful element is nice to see.

Personally, I’d recommend it…but with my own “Parental Advisory” sticker in the description.


The Disease of Addiction Told Through the Eyes of the Father


“The Disease of Addiction Told Through the Eyes of the Father.”

a book reivew of

“Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction” by David Scheff

Beautiful Boy tells the story that no parent wants to consider, let alone recount in painful detail: your child’s addiction and descent into the world of substance abuse. This bestseller by Scheff recounts David’s beginning life as a father to Nick, “his darling boy,” (the title’s reference to a John Lennon song of the same name) all the way up until the publication of this work in 2007, the time in-between his son’s childhood and adulthood holding an ongoing gut-wrenching battle against meth addiction.

This is the work that made Scheff a household name in novel writing, although his journalism background may have made his name familiar to some before this. This is the second work of Scheff’s that I have read. The first was a non-fiction work called “Clean” that detailed what recovery means in this day and age and the options available to loved ones of an addict. The work was highly-informative and helped me to understand more about addiction in a time when I was lost in the beginings of my own loved one’s recovery efforts.

Beautiful Boy is similar in nature to Clean in that it contains research and statistics on drug abuse and addiction. Beautiful Boy differs however in that its primary focus is on meth addiction, his son Nick’s drug of choice. In addition to the science of addiction and its effect on behavior and brain function, Beautiful Boy’s main purpose is to take the reader on the journey from pre-addiction, initial love affair with the substance(s), addiction and descent, and recovery. In this, what becomes clear is that the recovery process is not the final stage as the addict often relapses into the substance behavior, tries for recovery, relapses, and repeats.

The story of Nick and his father’s struggle to cope with the pain and ripping apart of his world is tragically and beautifully told. The tale does often seem repetitive as Nick tries at recovery, relapses and tries and relapses again and again. But this is a common story for addicts, and is used to illustrate David’s acceptance that Nick will have to struggle with his disease of addiction all his life. The work also gets sentimental often and much, which is also understandable for the material and David’s struggle to realize his role to his son in the fight. These two elements weaken the work, while simultaneously strengthening the messages in addiction that muddle in the emotional warfare of standing beside your lying, destructive, uncontrollable addict.

For those who seek to know more about the addiction process, and especially those who are struggling to support their own addict in recovery or pre-recovery, this work is a solid reference in feeling less alone and finding options to help your addict and yourself.

Mommy Issues That Only Kind-Of Sting

Mommy Issues That Only Kind-Of Sting

a book review on

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd


The Secret Life of Bees has been on my reading list for a good long while. A. Good. Long. While. The book was published over a decade ago, and was made into a movie (which I still haven’t seen) in 2008. I think its safe to say that I am late to the party on this book.

And so I will evaluate this book strictly on literary sticking power after the hype has faded. Sound fair?

From what I can tell, the main reason that Secret Life of Bees got as much exposure as it did was because it deals with two things that people are hesitant to discuss. The first: racial injustice, tension, and violence in the Civil Rights Movement years; secondly: mommy issues. The first theme pretty much speaks for itself, and by itself, the book may have not made best-seller status. But, in the shuffle, daddy issues have gotten all the press in previous works, and few have addressed the strain that the “mother” relationship, and concepts of what that is supposed to mean, has on both parties.

The Secret Life of Bees makes a tepid reach for sorting out the complex way we feel about mothers in the character of Lily Owens, who literally (accidentally) kills her mother when her mom is trying  to leave her father. Lily and Rosaleen, her surrogate mother and housekeeper, are forced to flee their hometown after Rosaleen registers to vote and provokes some white yokels and Lily feels the need to uncover her mother’s past from a photo of a black Madonna that she left behind. They make their way to Tillburn, South Carolina (written on the back of the Madonna portrait) and take up residence with three black sisters named for summer months on their honey bee farm.

The book isn’t bad, but it struggles a lot with developing a sense of place. It feels like, except for a few minor details, the story could be set anywhere. The racial interractions are a backdrop and almost prop-like. I can see how the movie would develop these themes more visually and work better in that medium. This may be one of those few books that were written with movie representation in mind to bring the full story to light.

For high school students, this book is simply written enough and clear cut so that a unit study of Civil Rights with this reading alongside may enhance the conversation. If you’ve missed the boat on it this long like I have though, you might as well just go in for the movie rental because with Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, and Dakota Fanning in the cast, that’s a pretty safe bet.


Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter “Ruby”



by Cynthia Bond

Abandon hope, all ye who enter this 330 page gut-punch, magical unfurling, literary analysis in waiting that is known simply as Ruby. And yet, for as bleak as the atmosphere of Ruby gets, hope is its strongest weapon in the story and on the reader.

Ruby is a “Oprah’s Book Club 2.0” selection, and like most of her selections, there is a running theme of the strength in womanhood. But Ruby is a whole lot more than a story about African-American history and angst. Ruby is real, visceral and beautifully tragic…and also (definitely) not for the faint of heart.

Ruby tells the story of the 1950’s town of Liberty, Texas, where our title character is a beautiful girl who is pushed by violence and fear to New York. With the death of a childhood friend, Ruby is pulled back into the small town weave that wants to annihilate everything she is and stands for. Her only ally to pull her up from rock bottom is a simple man, Ephram, who is dominated by his Bible-thumping sister and ghosts of his past. These characters push and pull on each other in a heart-wrenching dance, sending sparks as they meet and impacting those around them like dominoes.

Cynthia Bond’s Ruby is ripe with material for literary analysis. It will be no great shock when this book makes it to the course list for college English classes. For a first novel, this work is stunning. The comparison of Bond’s writing in Ruby to those of Toni Morrison’s Sula and The Bluest Eye are well founded. Morrison’s use of magical realism to create a compelling story are in Ruby, and with the volume turned past ten so that they sure do resonate. This book makes you feel. It’s a book you want to have discussion about.

I get a little SPOILER-Y from this point on, so feel free to stop here and grab Ruby before you go further.

I loved the symbolism of this book. Using supernatural means to express things that otherwise wouldn’t be as powerful is Bond’s forte. We come to find that the villain of the work is a Reverend (oh the symbolism!), and religion is definitely up for scrutiny as the characters encounter it time and time again in their lives. The exploration of the loss of black innocence in the black man’s quest for equality/power over white privilege/black women/self deserves so much more discussion than mere mention in this review. The line between “good men” and the bad ones that Bond calls “wolves” is a blurry one. It’s all relevant for not only this reading, but for practical knowledge. As the reader, I felt that I was learning so much by reading this work.

For me, Ruby didn’t become a five-star read until the last two emotional and intense chapters. After reading these, there was no question that it’s a keeper to literary contribution. I think that having the comparison to Toni Morrison’s work was helpful in making sense of Ruby, but with this prior schema in tow, it’s one I would recommend to everyone.

Interested? Buy it from Penguin Random House

More info on this author at: Cynthia Bond

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Do you really read THAT much? (April Edition)

Here are my selected readings for the month of April. I was just beginning to clear my “to read” shelf a little, but a trip to the used bookstore solved that problem!

Women by Charles Bukowski


Poet Charles Bukowski, known for his wild unrepentant alcoholic status, has also been called (and self-identified as) a chauvinist. This may be true, but the paradox is that Bukowski also really loved and admired women. For all his efforts, he just couldn’t understand them and was too busy being Bukowski to care all that much. This theme, tapped into in his other novels and heavily addressed in his poetry, is center stage in his novel titled, simply, Women.

Bukowski addressed his topic through the eyes of the semi-autobiographical character of Henry Chianski that he uses in most of his novels. Chianski is an aging poet, traveling across the US for occasional poetry readings, in a consistently boozed state and with a woman in every port so to speak. Bukowski speaks crudely of these women, and alternately quite tenderly. He is candid in his ignorance of their ways, and frequently addresses the guilt he feels for the way he treats them; especially the ones he reluctantly falls in love with.

So why read about the sexual exploits and bitter grunts of an aged man in his circuit from home to racetrack to bar? In between these, Bukowski does what the poet does best. He gets raw and real, and tells the truth in ways a parent would if they could escape the urge to shelter and protect. Uncle Bukowski tells all, and in this we see the beauty in the dirt. One of Bukowski’s more engaging novels, light on the revelations and philosophy and heavy on the hard life. One for lit enthusiasts and philosophers alike.


20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

This is the third work I’ve read by Joe Hill, but the first he wrote. This collection of horror and suspense shorts is unremarkable at first glance. The only reason I imagine someone would pick it up would be once they realize who Joe Hill’s famous father is. Hint: Hill comes by the horror genre honestly.

Yet, once you read a few of the stories in Hill’s collection here, you begin to realize how greatly they have made an impression upon you. You find yourself recognizing elements from the stories, and picking them out in your world; getting goosebumps from everyday occurrences. One of Hill’s greatest assets in his writing is forming these memorable ties through his open and wholly normal characters. Once you realize this though, you’ve already fallen into his trap.

One of my favorites in this collection is “My Father’s Mask” which uses a fairyland cabin setting to upset a boy’s notion of everything he knows. The story could easily have stretched to novella length, and I wish it had. There’s also a hidden story, but I won’t tell you where. Just be sure to investigate this one cover to cover, knowing that you’re lost in the paper maze that Hill himself will elaborate on the novella of the book “Voluntary Committal.” Other favorites of this work include: “Abraham’s Boys” and “The Cape.”


Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut 

Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut

In continuing with my effort to read a Vonnegut work every month, I turned to Hocus Pocus, published in 1990. I was unprepared for the workload of this read. Most Vonnegut is easy in its flow and driving action, but this one tripped me up. The first 100 pages read like a different author with heavy political opinions, lots of negative Vietnam references, and thicker than usual black humor. It rambled and wobbled, but I nervously continued hoping for the curve that would help it find its footing.

Once that happened around page 100, it was smooth sailing. The big reveal in that our main character has had sex with the same number of people as he has killed in Vietnam doesn’t pack the punch I think the author intended. The unlovable Eugene Debs, fired as a professor for his liberal statements made in the company of conservative folk, just comes across too bitter this time.His transition to being a teacher at a Japanese run overcrowded prison helps him survive the prison break that happens, but in the end (just as Eugene echos) there seems to be little point to it all. “Little point to it all,” can similarly be used to describe Vonnegut’s opinion on Vietnam. This is one of Vonnegut’s weaker works to me, but the messages such as these have merit.


Headstrong 52 Women Who Changed Science–and the World by Rachel Swaby 

Headstrong by Rachel Swary

The pivotal line of this book is delivered by Hertha Ayrton, who was a scientist, an author, a close friend of Marie Curie, and the inventor of a fan that dispersed noxious gas away from soldiers. She is quoted as saying: “Personally I do not agree with sex being brought into science at all. The idea of ‘women and science’ is entirely irrelevant. Either a woman is a good scientist or she is not; in any case she should be given opportunities, and her work should be studied from the scientific, not the sex, point of view.”

This is the standard of measure of all the women in the book Headstrong by Rachel Swaby. In this work, Swaby covers the lives and contributions of 52 women in varying branches of science including invention, physics, mathematics, biology, chemistry, and more. Why 52? Swaby reasons that there are 52 weeks in a year, and so in reading this book you can learn about a different female scientist each week.

Each selection is just a snapshot of their life and their lasting impact to human progress and innovation. Some of these portraits are only two pages long; the longest is only about 5 pages. Although each segment is brief, the value of having so many different contributions by women compiled together effectively drives home the point of the impact women have made to the umbrella of science area which they fall under and upon the larger world.

The work is fact-filled, interesting, full of trivia, and delivers strong evidence of the value of female scientists without harping on or getting lost in hot-button issues like male dominance in science and exclusion of women in the field. The book deals in facts, and these include the struggles women had to go to in obtaining education and standing in their passions within fields where they were the glaring minority.

My favorite profiles included those of Gerty Radnitz Cori, a Biochemistry scientist responsible for our understanding of glycogen; Virginia Apgar, who developed a test to establish newborn health standards; Marry Anning, a pioneer in paleontology and fossil discovery;  Tilly Edinger, a Jewish woman who encountered Nazi targeting in establishing paleoneurology; Rachel Carson, the voice behind environmental awareness and author of “Silent Spring”; Rosalind Franklin, whom developed a structure of DNA that was “borrowed” by Watson and Crick; Hedy Lamarr, an well-known actress who also worked in tandem to invent a system for coded radio waves to aid torpedo navigation during war-time; and household name Florence Nightingale, responsible among many other contributions for her statistics work and suggestions for improved hospital conditions like better lighting and quiet time for recuperation that are still being pursued today.

Headstrong was enlightening and kept my interest. I see this being a valuable tool for students in researching these scientists, and grasping the timeline of scientific discovery more fully through human interest stories such as these. For me, this would be a recommended reading for college freshman or AP high-schoolers. The work is well-researched and written, and with such a variety of topics of interest that spurred me to want to know more about each of these women.

I would highly-recommend this read to those who love science, history, feminism, and generally just a good read.

Interested? Buy it from Random House

More info on this author at: Rachel Swaby

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.


The Postmortal by Drew Magary


What if there was a cure for aging? Cancer, auto crashes, homicide, sickness, and all other manner of ill can still kill you, but you don’t get any physically older. Sound pretty great, right? Well, that’s what this near futuristic world created by Drew Magary thinks as anyone and everyone gets “The Cure.”

And then the problems start. The great thing about The Postmortal is that it isn’t your typical dystopian story. The ethics, laws, and moral/religious hangups associated with “playing God” are all on display here in a way that doesn’t feel forced. Actually, it all feels quite real. Presented in the form of blog entries from our main character, the story seems factual and almost verbatim news copy if and when a cure for aging was ever found in real life.

The Postmortal is a smart, and calculated read. The two opposing groups that develop around The Cure, the pro-death and pro-cure groups, mirror our current society’s antagonistic factions a little too well. For those who tend to lean on the science of science fiction, this is a crowd-pleaser.


The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum


I’m working my way through the Oz series (in order too), and it’s a harder task than I imagined it being. Books 1-5 were easy finds (all in a single volume), but as I try to find the second half of the series (books 6-14) the used bookstores are proving less helpful. On this same note, books 1-5 of Oz were great; image laden, colorful, and cheerful.

In book six, you get the feeling that Baum is getting burnt out on Oz. He can’t get away from it and write something “adult,” because the letters he is receiving are constantly asking for more Oz! It becomes clear in The Patchwork Girl of Oz that Baum just isn’t feeling the magic.

In Patchwork, the Raggedy Ann type girl named Scraps Patchwork is only a minor character. She accompanies our unfortunate boy-munchkin character Ojo and a vain, glass cat with pink brains (you can see them work). This odd bunch sets out to gather an assortment of items needed for a magic spell to turn Ojo’s uncle back into a live man after an unfortunate accident with a petrifaction potion.

So the adventure begins. The group meets up with the scarecrow, the tin man, Dorothy, Ozma, and many other odd Oz inhabitants. The characters in this series have now reached a hefty number, and including them all and their set up/back story leaves little room left for the new story-line.

As the tale progresses, Ojo and his group find all they need for the magic spell except for a final item that is just seemingly impossible. Solution? Enter Glenda the Good and the Wizard of Oz who use magic to straighten everything out. It’s a dissatisfying ending and an abrupt one too. Basically, we learn that magic will make everything right no matter what. Listening to this on Hoopla Digtal’s audiobook rental site was the silver lining as all the voices in this book were preformed to give the story a lively narrative. Unless, you just demand on slogging through the Oz series for completion’s sake, skip this one.


Serena by Ron Rash

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I read this book not too long after finishing Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and so the character of “Amazing Amy” was fresh in my mind. If you too have read Gone Girl, take that image of Amy and imagine if her psychotic self was put smack dab in the 1930’s Southern wilderness and given power over a timber empire. That’s exactly what Serena is like. A more familiar comparison, might be to Lady Macbeth, but unlike Shakespeare’s devious female, Serena hides behind no veil in her actions and, if anything, lathers the blood on her hands.

The title character of this book is ambitious, ruthless, single-mindedly driven towards power and wealth. Her husband, Pemberton, is like-minded, but we have sympathy for him perhaps because he fits into these qualities better as a male or perhaps because Serena takes all these qualities to a bitter end whereas we see slivers of conscience in his character.

The story is simple. Pemberton and Serena meet, fall in love, and attempt to conquer all that lays before them in the unforgiving, untamed North Carolina wilderness. The complications come before the reader enters the story when we find that Pemberton has had an illegitimate child in the North Carolina lumber camp before meeting Serena in Boston.  Not a huge deal to affect either party, until we find that Serena is barren. For a woman determined to have it all, this fact is what really gets the blood flowing.

I read the book in about three days. It’s beautifully written, descriptive, and action laden to keep almost all of the 400 pages turning. The ending has just as much bite as the first blood-soaked pages. Serena is ruthless, and her story will get its claws into you.


Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

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This work is 246 pages. For the first half, the set-up is very Scooby-Doo/Mystery Gang investigation of some creepy vibes. And then…jenkies…it turns into a very different kind of story.

Our crew in this story is floor associate and wisecracker Amy, her annoying supervisor Basil, Southern-fried warm and sweet co-worker Ruth-Ann, hipster beard co-worker Matt, and paranormal obsessed slightly ditzy co-worker Trinity. One of my only gripes is that all the characters are so easily boiled down to these stereotypes. This makes them easy to identify and work with in storyline, but it also makes them slightly boring and we are less vested in what happens to them.

This cast of characters all comes together to spend a night in Orsk, an IKEA rip-off store where they all work, and where some strange events are going on at night. The characters are moving about, bumping into one another, making quips, and generally being only slightly involved in figuring out the source of the mysterious graffiti, overturned couches, broken glassware, and “substance smeared” merchandise. When the group finds a hobo hiding out in the store to avoid the elements, all (including this reader) thinks the mask has been pulled up and the problems are revealed.

Not so. This is when the horror gets put into “HorrorStor.” It’s a well-planned novel, topical, a good parody representation of big-box stores and how they effect our psyche, and there’s good action and investment to keep the reader going until the lengthy although ultimately satisfying conclusion. Visit an IKEA the weekend before reading this one to get maximum spooky effect.


The Shadow of the Wind by Carl Ruiz Zafon


I’m not a big reader of the mystery genre, and so my comparison frame of reference for a book like The Shadow of the Wind is limited. The book is a translation from Spanish to English, and as such it’s easy to get lost in the Spanish names and war history. But the story will drive you to the end once you get caught up in the gale of it, so to speak.

The action of the book follows a young boy named Daniel from his first beloved book encounter (of the same name as this book we now read) and the subsequent fight to hold on to this book while some mysterious force that calls itself the Devil attempts to wrestle the book from him. There’s a beautiful blind girl that our main character crushes on, a childhood friend, an eccentric mentor figure, and Daniel’s father. The author of the book “Shadow of the Wind” that exists within THE Shadow of the Wind is Julian Carax, and we get his history as Daniel delves into trying to find why someone is trying to burn and erase all knowledge of Carax’s novels. Sure, it’s a little confusing, but that’s a good mystery, right? It’s intelligent and well-manipulated.


The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

photoThis book came highly recommended to me, and although it took me awhile to get to, as an animal lover, I appreciate the complex lives of a family in turmoil as seen through the eyes of the family pet. Enter Enzo: “The Wonder Dog.”

Enzo tells his story on the eve of his death from his days at a puppy mill to building a family with his humans to fighting alongside his master in a lengthy and emotional custody battle. Enzo isn’t like other dogs. He’s self-aware, and a philosopher. Above all, Enzo is hopeful, because he knows his dog body is only temporary; he’ll become a man in the next lifetime.

For me, this work only got three stars, not because it wasn’t a good story or well-written, but because it seemed just too perfectly tailored into what the masses want from a bestseller that it lacked the depth and heart it could have had. There are moments of comedy, of sadness, of insight, and of perception, but the work falls prey to the cliches and relies on tugging on heartstrings with the relate-able imagery of beloved pet death. I would recommend it in a second as a feel-good, fluffy “beach read,” but not for if you are looking for something more than surface layer philosophy. 3-out-of-5-stars

People I Want to Punch In the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges by Jen Mann

00368728159e040eba0e61895a7f020bI love sassy. Sassy, sarcastic, clever backbite is what makes the world go round. This levity and comical air is what I hoped for when I chose to listen to the audiobook “People I Want to Punch in the Throat.” Instead, I felt verbally assaulted by Jen Mann’s self-proclaimed humblebrag of “no filter.” At first…

And then, I GOT what Mann is talking about. As someone who is involved with elementary education, but with no children of my own yet, I thought I knew the landscape of the grammar school world. But as an new educator, some of the finer points of drama in this world such as the “mommy wars” had escaped my notice. Mann’s book, based on her hit blog, covers topics like these and others such as marked differences in school projects done by children and projects where the parents stepped in to “help” with the project. Mann wittily bemoans her struggles on keeping house, raising a prima donna daughter and a sensitive son, and getting by without the “yoga pants of vehicles” (the Minivan). Granted, Mann has a sassy mouth and sure doesn’t sugar coat her feelings, but I enjoyed the straight shooting attitude and feel slightly better armed in tackling carpool line with Mann’s experiences in mind.


Men’s Lives edited by Michael S. Kimmel and Michael A. Messner

saveYou know you’ve crossed the line into some kind of new nerd-dom when you read textbooks for fun. And yet, that is what the reading of Men’s Lives was for me. I enjoy reading feminist perspectives, and picked up the textbook to see how one would explain how men become men. It was an educational and thought-provoking journey as I jumped from articles on what “macho” means to men to how men with disabilities still maintain their idea of masculinity. Most of the articles are written with feminist ideals and undertones, but some are not. The collection is diverse and provides a good overview on issues that were as relevant at the time this edition came out (2004) to present day.

Some of the articles I marked for further study in a classroom environment or expansion in this collection include: The Black Male: Searching Beyond Stereotypes; Gender, Class and Terrorism; The Fraternal Bond as a Joking Relationship: A Case Study of the Role of Sexist Jokes in Male Group Bonding; Why College Men Drink: Alcohol, Adventure, and the Paradox of Masculinity; The Glass Escalator: Hidden Advantages for Men in the “Female Professions”; Confessions of a Nice Negro, or Why I Shaved My Head; If Men Could Menstruate; Coming to Terms: Masculinity and Physical Disability; The Approach–Avoidance Dance: Men, Women and Intimacy; Men on Rape; The Heterosexual Questionnaire; and Strategies Men Use to as

The article “If Men Could Menstruate,” written by feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem, was particularly intriguing, funny, and generated some new thoughts for me. Also, “Strategies Men Use to Resist,” that details reasons men use to shift housekeeping to women gave me some perspective with tackling my own division of labor in the home. Whether student, teacher, or just interested human, I think everyone can benefit from reading some of the articles in this text. The work has a strong push to make the reader realize that men and women can be comrades in arms in the fight for equality, health and happiness and I think everyone can be a little more open to this.


Thanks for reading! I’ll continue to do so, and see you next month!

Being a Good Scientist Prized Over Differentiation of Sexes in “Headstrong”


Headstrong 52 Women Who Changed Science–and the World 

by Rachel Swaby

The pivotal line of this book is delivered by Hertha Ayrton, who was a scientist, an author, a close friend of Marie Curie, and the inventor of a fan that dispersed noxious gas away from soldiers. She is quoted as saying: “Personally I do not agree with sex being brought into science at all. The idea of ‘women and science’ is entirely irrelevant. Either a woman is a good scientist or she is not; in any case she should be given opportunities, and her work should be studied from the scientific, not the sex, point of view.”

This is the standard of measure of all the women in the book Headstrong by Rachel Swaby. In this work, Swaby covers the lives and contributions of 52 women in varying branches of science including invention, physics, mathematics, biology, chemistry, and more. Why 52? Swaby reasons that there are 52 weeks in a year, and so in reading this book you can learn about a different female scientist each week.

Each selection is just a snapshot of their life and their lasting impact to human progress and innovation. Some of these portraits are only two pages long; the longest is only about 5 pages. Although each segment is brief, the value of having so many different contributions by women compiled together effectively drives home the point of the impact women have made to the umbrella of science area which they fall under and upon the larger world.

The work is fact-filled, interesting, full of trivia, and delivers strong evidence of the value of female scientists without harping on or getting lost in hot-button issues like male dominance in science and exclusion of women in the field. The book deals in facts, and these include the struggles women had to go to in obtaining education and standing in their passions within fields where they were the glaring minority.

My favorite profiles included those of Gerty Radnitz Cori, a Biochemistry scientist responsible for our understanding of glycogen; Virginia Apgar, who developed a test to establish newborn health standards; Marry Anning, a pioneer in paleontology and fossil discovery;  Tilly Edinger, a Jewish woman who encountered Nazi targeting in establishing paleoneurology; Rachel Carson, the voice behind environmental awareness and author of “Silent Spring”; Rosalind Franklin, whom developed a structure of DNA that was “borrowed” by Watson and Crick; Hedy Lamarr, an well-known actress who also worked in tandem to invent a system for coded radio waves to aid torpedo navigation during war-time; and household name Florence Nightingale, responsible among many other contributions for her statistics work and suggestions for improved hospital conditions like better lighting and quiet time for recuperation that are still being pursued today.

Headstrong was enlightening and kept my interest. I see this being a valuable tool for students in researching these scientists, and grasping the timeline of scientific discovery more fully through human interest stories such as these. For me, this would be a recommended reading for college freshman or AP high-schoolers. The work is well-researched and written, and with such a variety of topics of interest that spurred me to want to know more about each of these women.

I would highly-recommend this read to those who love science, history, feminism, and generally just a good read.


Interested? Buy it from Random House

More info on this author at: Rachel Swaby

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Do you really read THAT much? (March 2015 Edition)

Here’s the thing. My current job allows for quite a bit of time to read between helping one customer and the next. Between this, and the 30 minute commute to and from work each day, I end up reading and listening to a lot of books.

With this in mind, I decided I would move my reviews I had been doing on to my blog. This way, I could do a monthly round up of what I had read and what I thought about it. I am also using Instagram (cats_caffeine_chapters) to post photos and one to two sentence reviews on these for a more weekly update.

I’ve currently read 40 books this year, and have a goal of reading 100 by this year’s end. Although I have about 120 books on my to-read list on < > , I welcome more suggestions. Because…books.

All the books below, have pretty high ratings, but I attribute that to just having a good reading selection on my shelf. The books I have there now are pretty likely to be ones I want to read. I’ll be branching out and trying suggested reads outside my typical genres soon though.

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Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville 

Oh Melville, we’ve had a history haven’t we? I initially tried reading this classic author back in high school with his most notable work: Moby Dick. That went down like a row boat with a hole in it.

Melville is descriptive. Very descriptive. And “Billy Budd, Sailor” is no exception. This slim volume that I listened to via Hoopla Digital’s audio book service had a listen time of 4 hours for a story that could have been told in about 30 minutes.

The story itself wasn’t shocking. A handsome youth at sea, young Billy Budd, is beloved by all except the churlish Master at Arms. Master at Arms sets Billy Budd up for dishonor, Billy Budd retaliates, and the plot thickens (a little).

If you are looking to read Melville and find yourself seasick at the thought of tackling the tomb of the White Whale, give Billy Budd,Sailor a try. The view painted by Melville is nice if nothing else.


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The Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. When I heard he had a graphic novel, published years prior to the release of Harry Potter, that detailed the story of a bespectacled boy and his owl beginning the journey of the call to magic, I knew I had to read and compare.

Fortunately, The Books of Magic series (only the first written by Gaiman) is more an ode to Joesph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey.” And for the record, Gaiman defended J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series by saying they both drew from standard story archetypes but were both stories of different measure.

The artwork in books of magic is beautiful. The story was dark, intriguing, and full of Easter egg nods to Gaiman’s highly excellent Sandman graphic novel series. Read Sandman first, and then cleanse the palate with this gem.


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A Virtuous Woman by Kaye Gibbons

This is a short volume that details, quite succinctly, what one marriage was like. The story is told in alternating chapters by the husband and wife, and stays true to a delightful, simple Southern tone throughout. There’s drama, passion, sadness, and truth. It smacks a bit of required school reading, but that isn’t a ding against its performance. It’s a Oprah book club selection, so you know it’s good.

For a more in depth description, see here:


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Slapstick by Kurt Vonnegut

I’m a Vonnegut junkie. I am making it my goal to read one of his works each month until I’ve run through the whole lot. Although this one is not my favorite overall, (that honor goes to Cat’s Cradle) I enjoyed the puns and wit that Vonnegut always brings to the table.

Like many of his works, Slapstick deals with an alternate future in which an apocalypse has already commenced. The President of New York, aged and possibly senile, is recounting his life from strange birth to strange now. Light on the satire and heavy on the ridiculous imagery, this one was another pleasant read.


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Shotgun Lovesongs by Nicholas Butler

This one took a long time to get through. This was not because it was a bad read, but rather it was one that I listened to via audio book on my daily commute. Yet, this story is perfect for car stereo and views of the open road. “Shotgun Lovesongs” details the story of a small town and the tight knit group that belongs to it. There is a loose character based on the musician Bon Iver in the form of the fictional character of Leeland, which may mean more to true fans than it did to me.

As it is, the novel is a solid work. The characters are vivid and lovable, even with all of their faults on display. The ending felt a bit cobbled together, but the story probably could have gone on forever, so it’s as good an ending as any. I recommend the audio book for the variety in voice actors you get that bring the story more to life.


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Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Amy Poehler reminds me of a good friend I had in high school that would come by my lunch table everyday, reach over my shoulder, and pick off one of my croutons from my homemade salad. She’d tell me if the croutons were good or if my parents needed to switch brands back to the cheesy garlic kind.

Quaint, although perhaps pointless to the rest of the world, stories like these is what you are going to get in “Yes Please.” Amy Poehler wrote this book mid-career and with little enthusiasm for the idea of completing a book. I don’t blame her. Between just finishing up Parks and Recreation, raising two sons, occasional movie roles, and strong remaining ties to SNL she seems to have better things to do than to tell us her history that compares pretty closely to her Wikipedia page.

Granted, the book isn’t bad. It’s full of positive affirmations and real-talk to the 20 somethings that I imagine she primarily envisioned reading this book. She’s clever and determined and her bio-thus-far shows all this. Instead though, you’d probably benefit more from just seeing what Poehler has done with a few episodes of Parks or rifling the archives of SNL. Hell, if you’re feeling brave, rent Baby Momma.



The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

I love single science subject books. Goodreads has gotten wise to this and started to recommend all in this book genre to me. The best thing about the single science subject books is that you get the knowledge of the science subject matter as well as a dollop of the humanity behind the concept and how it came to be.

Henrietta Lacks, forever known to the world for her HeLa cell contribution, was just another name before this book was published. Afterwards though, the recognition and fame that her contribution deserved was brought to light. Her life itself is a fascinating slice of Americana, her struggles are tragic, and she (like her cells that live on today) was an indomitable force. Even if you aren’t “science-y,” the story is worth knowing.



Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman

Another Gaiman? Yes, another Gaiman. Always another Gaiman.

This Gaiman work is a collection of his short stories. These bite-sized snippets were fun, but always left me hungry for more. Each of his short stories could easily become longer works.

I listened to this on audio book as read by the author, and that’s the best way to encounter Gaiman and his delightful accent. My favorite poem by Gaiman “The Day the Saucers Came” is included in this selection, and there’s enough of a mix of horror, fantasy, fiction based stories to please almost any reader.


what if

What if? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

Have you ever wanted to know what would happen if the Earth all of a sudden stopped spinning? Have you wondered what a periodic table composed of the actual elements would look like? How long would it take for the last artificial light source to go out if all humans were gone? If you have asked yourself these questions, you are a strange one. But you are in good company, because apparently many others are asking just as strange and unsettling questions that can be answered with a little stretch of the imagination and a  whole lotta science know-how.

Former NASA engineer, Randall Munroe, answers these questions and about 50 more in this book. Some of it went way over my head, but all of it was intriguing. If you like weird science or have a thing for factual apocalypse trivia, this is a book for you. My favorite part was the “Questions from the Weird and Worrying File” segments that Munroe would do in-between chapters. (Bonus: The audio book is read by Will Wheaton who has the perfect voice for this kind of stuff)



Darkness Casts No Shadow by Arnost Lustig

This is a book about the Holocaust, and so saying that I enjoyed this book has room for misinterpretation.

Everyone has heard of Elie Wiesel, but he’s only one of many who have Holocaust survivor stories to tell. Arnost Lustig’s novel, based on his own experiences, is different from Wiesel’s “Night” though in that most of the action occurs between two boys who have escaped a transport train car and are walking the woods to their new life. The portraits of their time in the concentration camps is told by way of dream and flashback sequences.

The ending is as perfect as it gets for this subject matter. The story is just long enough to resonate and stick with you for a long time. This is a classic that slipped through the cracks somehow. For teachers and students looking for something different to remember the Holocaust, this is a must read.


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Room by Emma Donoghue

Told from a child’s perspective, Room is a portrait of a boy and his mother who have been locked away in a garden shed for years. Our narrator Jack knows nothing of the world outside Room, does not even believe there is an Outside. The writing is masterful in its manipulation of the language to tell the story from his view. Room tells the story of Jack and his mother’s captivity, their escape, and what life is like Outside.

Room kept me in its thrall quite easily. It is a definite page turner that has easily earned its place on best-seller lists.


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It’s a Slippery Slope by Spalding Gray

Slippery Slope is a narrative by the late Spalding Gray. The work is meant to be read aloud in an auditorium during one of Gray’s traveling tours. As such, the print version lacks what an author reading would give to it.

The story is about Gray’s attempts to learn to ski coupled with the rocky time he is having as one end of a love triangle between a long-time girlfriend and a mistress. When the mistress becomes pregnant, the real-world shenanigans ensue. Gray was having health problems as he wrote this one, and concludes the work with hopes for his health to be on the upswing. Unfortunately, this was not the case and this is one of the last things he wrote.

The work didn’t do much for me, but it may appeal to an older age range or maybe just those into skiing?


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Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo

This book goes way back…like approximately the year 1709 back. As such, it has some proverbial wisdom and some really dated crazy stuff.

The book involves sayings from Tsunetomo who was a Samurai to a Lord who looked down on the practice of Seppuku (disemboweling yourself with a sword) and therefore forbid his warriors to do so upon his death. This led to Tsunetomo becoming a monk and spewing his good ole days story to anyone who would listen.

These stories in Hagakure mainly involve who Seppuku’ed who. Living with honor and not fearing death is a central theme. There are some nuggets of wisdom about living a good life, but there’s also some hate speech against women and talk of how best to behead a man. All advice may not be applicable to your life, but do what you will with it. For my part, my rating is on its usefulness to present day and readability (very easy).



God Shaped Hole by Tiffanie DeBartolo

Ugh. This book was a workout. First off, its cover is misleading. The front talks about how a gypsy predicted main character’s true love would die young and leave her alone. Spoiler Alert: This happens. Yet, the gypsy and all that is more like an after thought that gets brought up in prologue and last chapter as a sort of deus ex machina.

The work is an obvious first novel from DeBartolo, who is trying to channel the struggling writer story and rocky love life into a novelized version. Her main character Beatrice and her love interest Jacob are vain, selfish, boring people who have kinky sex at almost every opportunity. Jacob has some misogynistic tendencies that come into the light in a disturbing “sexy rape” scene that still makes me shudder. Beatrice is a poor, basic white girl who makes a great living selling her uncomplicated jewelry. She gets her kicks making fun of everyone who isn’t as deep as she is, and she hates her doting and supportive parents almost as much as she hates when Jacob supports her.

This book…(shakes head sadly, knows she must go on just a little further to spread the truth)

Plus, there’s enough subplots within one-half of the book to sink it. There’s a dead dad, and a missing dad, and a new life plot, and a relationship, and another death, and ex boyfriends and girlfriends all over the damn place.

Painfully, I admit, that I wrote something similarly emo when I was in college. At least, I self published and kept the majority of the world from my diary-esque ramblings.


That’s it for March. Hope everyone has a happy April, and look for my next book round up then. In the meantime, I’ve got a movie review podcast called Movie Vs Film that my friend Bentley Little and I are doing. Check out episode 1 at :

The Future of God by Deepak Chopra (A Book Review)

A book review of…*


The concept of God is as varied as there are people to ask of it. Different cultures around the world have articulated the concept of God in ways as varied as polytheistic pantheons, animistic and pantheistic manifestation, and monotheistic dogmas, among many others. To look at the Wikipedia page about God[1], we see all the myriad historical conceptions of this most supreme existence.

We also see, unfortunately, all the contradictions between cultural perception of the God concept and the tragedies that unfold as a result. In our time, the militant atheist movement, often credited to Richard Dawkins, has become another cultural perception of God: the perception that God does not exist.

Science has the advantage of provability; anything that is a scientific fact can be proven. Faith on the other hand offers no proof, and this is the realm that God falls into. Through the first section of The Future of God, Deepak Chopra takes the reader through a rebuttal of militant atheism, laying a solid case against atheism and for the existence of a greater being.

Perhaps the most important concept introduced in the first part of the book is what Chopra calls “God 2.0”. In the second chapter, the author looks at the God who is made in our image–God 1.0. This God is a projection of our mind and has seven qualities, identified by Chopra, which he is expected to embody. This is the old perception of God, which atheism uses liberally to denounce his existence.

But then Chopra introduces a new idea: God 2.0. This version of God is not a projection of the mind expected to fulfill certain purposes; instead, God 2.0 is reality and being. As the author states in his own words, “God 2.0 […] is the interface between you and infinite consciousness.”[2] It is this God, version 2.0, that Chopra begins to bring to light in the second section of the book.

The second section of the book focuses on building faith. It begins by identifying the zero point of faith: that point in which there is no faith because one believes there can be no God. Chopra connects faith to progress and makes the case that faith is required to believe in one’s self, to trust emotion, to achieve insight, and to see beyond surface appearances and trust what you see, among other things.

In this way, even science takes faith. But the author also points out the hallmarks of bad faith: those things that lead us away from God, rather than toward him. Chopra identifies three primary types of bad faith: blind faith, rank prejudice, and pseudoscience. In the course of reading, it became evident to me that bad faith is that which draws our consciousness away from God and toward the ego.

The subject matter then turns to wisdom, miracles, and divine action. Through a remarkable, albeit lengthly, discussion of these three key ideas, Deepak Chopra successfully ties them back to the point originally postulated in the second chapter by identifying God as pure consciousness. This discussion alone makes the text worth its weight in gold.

The whole book has been structured this way to build up to the third section: knowledge. Pure consciousness exists beyond time and space; it is omnipotent and omnipresent, but most importantly, it is something that can be experienced. To experience something grants the one who has the experience a special first-hand knowledge. In the chapters of this section of the book, Chopra outlines practical ways to experience God and explains how to make the most of those experiences.

It’s interesting to note that none of the suggestions the author makes require years of meditation or constant prayer, elaborate rituals, or even pages of mantras. All it takes is a few minutes of quiet time, some present thinking, and awareness. Chopra identifies three worlds: the material world, where we tend to exist most of the time; the subtle world, where thought takes form; and the transcendent world, which exists as a state of quantum unity.

The final section of the book, over several chapters walks readers through the process of bridging the gap from the material world to the subtle world and then into the transcendent world, where the experience of God becomes real.

Finally, no book on God would be complete without a discussion about evil. Chopra takes the perspective approach to evil, indicating it to be the absence of good. The solution, therefore, is to move closer to God, or to become more conscious (since God is pure consciousness). In the fullness of consciousness, we experience being. Chopra sums up, “God is the place where the mind finds an answer beyond thought. When you see this, no one in the world is an enemy, only a fellow traveler. The door to Being is open to everyone, leaving evil behind at the threshold.”[3]


[2] Chopra, Deepak. The Future of God. 2014. Harmony Books. New York. Page 18.

[3] Chopra, Deepak. The Future of God. 2014. Harmony Books. New York. Page 247.

*This post has been written by guest blogger Rob Emslie. The opinions and ideas expressed within it are not necessarily the opinions of this blog owner and should be taken as strictly the opinions of the author of this singular post within the larger blog.

**I received this book through as a complimentary review copy.

Writer’s Block (A Short Story)

So I had a friend challenge me to write a short story about an idea he came up with that involved a literal scenario of writer’s block. Here’s what happened. This work is complete, but I’m open to suggestions on making it better and editing. Because, unlike this narrator, I believe editors are a God send. 

Thanks for reading!

Writer’s Block

a short story by Erica Tuggle

I began composing stories before I even knew how to read. That’s how we writers are. We’re born with that desire to create; to see some good in this strange world.

I’d hang around my mother as she went room to room on her various doings, and my calf-height self would tell her fantastic tales. She’d nod and smile to placate me, but she had no idea I was creating actual, living and breathing art in those moments at her heels. What I was to become, and subsequently my gifts, was not recognized until much later. As it happened, the first person to “discover” me was an unlikely friend, my poetry professor during my first degree at University.

He knew from the moment I chose to read a Dylan Thomas poem aloud as homage to the author before reading my own creation. He knew I was a novice poet then, and I’d be a great poet further down the road.

I don’t say all this in a vainglorious boast. I’ve got credentials to back my words (ha). Namely, a Pulitzer for my collection of work:“The Window’s View is of The Wall.” I’ve got an MFA from Harding University. At the local community college, I’m a professor of the standard semesterly offering of creative writing and I currently teach a class called “The Poet’s Workshop” three times a week.

What Professor Gary didn’t know as he listened to my reading of “Clown In the Moon” in that university classroom was that I would also become a novelist.

I’ve always considered writing something with length. Something provocative, mysterious, and a little bold. That’s what I’ve set out to do now, and no doubt, once I get rolling on this new project, it’s bound to catapult me into a new realm of authorship.

I’ve never had an issue with what we in the field refer to as “writer’s block.” Sound to me like that’s a cutesy way of excusing you from the work of pushing through your ego and life’s miasma of responsibilities to get to. When a new project comes across my docket, I sit down and I attack it as viciously as anyone would pursue the work they are paid to do. I have drive. Determination. It’s a matter of will. My job may seem a little more glorious than that of a plumber who pushes against a stubborn clog in his daily ventures, but our work is similar. We are not deterred by the obstacle. Because we see the end result, and know that its rewards are worth “unblocking” our work.

This is why my experiment had to happen. Last month, when first I decided to make my transition to the literary slant of things, I took this philosophy with me to my favorite cafe, along with a notebook, and prepared to begin my first novel. Yet, I found myself unable to create; an unpleasant first for me.

I tried writing the novel at home, between classes, in a different cafe, on my Macbook, in the morning, right after lunch: in short, every possible scenario. And still the words were uncooperative; the sentences were meandering; the prose unacceptable. Other people, those with far less experience and dedication than I, had written and published works, and so I was determined that I was just not approaching the work correctly.

The idea came to me when I was reviewing the literature for one of my upcoming lessons on Gothic literature and the evolution of the horror genre from its inception to current day. I turned the pages, in print and electronically, viewing image after image of artist’s renditions of Poe’s short story descriptions brought to visual completion. I explored the imagery of human beings stretched upon wooden tables with their entrails twisted out and above them, contortions of the body meant to inspire fear and disgust, and further sidelong searches to modern horror’s dealings with torturous films like Saw, where there was always a chance to save one’s self if there was a sacrifice made for the RIGHT to live. In particular, these latter cases paid with flesh and blood to keep existing.

That’s when the idea struck me. Sure, I could say that I had put blood, sweat, and tears into my work, but the metaphor was cliché without the teeth that these horror films and images were giving it. I had to be willing to sacrifice my self to bring my work to life. The epiphany heavy on my breast, I took to the place where one could most readily procure a device to prove loyalty to the craft.

The social media analogs of the Internet.

My request was unusual, and so I chose the medium where there would be a great exposure of my message, and to individuals who prized secrecy and a quick buck above the average man. My CraigsList post read as such:


“Entrepreneurs! I am an accomplished poet wanting to make my transition into the world of novels. To do this, I need a push most dire. I need an individual willing to craft a machine that will make my writing a necessity hinging upon life and death once I strap myself into the apparatus you construct. Be creative! This needs to be undertaken with care as to leave no out for me to find to shirk my writing deadlines. Only serious inquiries need apply. Compensation will be ample and all work will maintain anonymity.”


The replies began a mere ten minutes after I had posted the ad to several large cities. They flooded in over the next three days. Some of these were joke replies, some spam, and one respondent wanted to know if I was lonely. At the end of day three, one reply seemed most promising:


Dear Sir,

My name is Dave and I’m a pre-med, engineering double major at a university in the U.S. Because of the nature of this post, that is all I feel comfortable in discussing about myself. I hope you understand. My dad is a carpenter and I’ve apprenticed enough to feel sure I could design the device you are looking for. My fee for building to your specifications is $500 plus allowance to install a small computer to track my own date of what you are utilizing this structure for. Please reply, if acceptable, to…” So on and so forth…


I replied with my specifications, instructions so detailed and precise that a read through alone would have scared off anyone with less than steel dedication. Dave agreed to these about a day later and agreed to mail me my device by the month’s end. Then it was just the waiting.


And so I waited. My novel in progress (or rather not so in progress) taunted me. The ideas were there but their expression escaped me. Every time I’d get out half a sentence of something, the next half of the sentence made it sound trite and unnecessary. The wadded balls of paper in my office garbage can grew, overflowed, while my word count remained paltry.

Several times a day, I’d gently pull back the curtain from the front window and peer at the space in front of my door; the perimeter of the mailbox. Both of these remained vacant and I would twitch the curtain back into place in agitation. One day, sneaking up on the curtain, I parted its silk fabric and immediately the large cardboard box on the porch greeted me. The big brown truck that had deposited it there was just pulling away from the curb.

I unlocked the front door, snatched at the parcel, and tested the box weight, concerned to find it was light enough to easily pull into the house after me. My anticipation was tinged with nervousness now. What had this boy built me? Was it right? Was it worth the cash, sent a month prior in a vulnerable brown envelope as a trustworthy money order?

I pulled the box to me and ripped at the tape that held it together with my pocket knife. Almost able to pull the box wide open, I nicked my finger on the knife. I didn’t have patience enough to stop and tend the minor wound. Holding the bleeding finger against one of its fellows, I continued to dismantle the box, my blood smearing along its cardboard edges, and I pulled my prize out from within its depths.

Let’s pause dear readers at this moment to consider…what possible thing a writer in publication deadline crunch could resort to? It’s nothing all too complex. In fact, I utilize it right now as I write to you. Even as I shatter this third wall between us, I do so with the device alongside, assisting even. But oh, “the device” sounds altogether too chilly. Let’s call my hardware “The CoWriter,” because, after all, this is what she does.

The CoWriter is silent all around me as we work. Her hinges do not squeak to interrupt my stream of thought as it moves from me to the paper I scrawl upon. If anything, Her wires are a guide, a steady reminder of our journey in creating this great piece together.

Make no mistake, it is I who writes the work. It is my name that will appear on the finished cover page alone. But my CoWriter is to credit for my focus, for the determination.She’s got all the benefits of a strong cup of coffee would produce, but She’s more than that. She removes my error of humanity that may allow me to shirk my sacred duty, my life purpose. The CoWriter is…well, it’s best to get back to our first encounter. Show, don’t tell…it’s the first thing they teach you when they try to teach you writing, after all.

I pulled the CoWriter from the box, pink packing peanuts falling from Her and back into the box and onto the floor as She rose. I admit, at first, I thought Her too simple a thing. I missed your elegance, dear.

The majority of Her bulk was in the form of a sort of collar, placed round the neck. It was wide, spacious even, and well-padded for comfort (on the outside that is). She appeared to me to be a combination of Victorian neck ruff and plastic dog cone: the kind used to prevent an animals incessant need to bite and scratch a fresh wound. The other side of the collar held the long, sharp blade, of course.

I needed the ultimate incentive to not only finish my novels, but to infuse them with raw emotion and true urgency of purpose. I had asked the creator of CoWriter for a sort of guillotine for these purposes of motivation. Here is what he brought me. He too was a master of his trade.

Besides the main body of my CoWriter, there were appendages of a sort. From Her, trailed thin, plastic coated wires that falsely advertised a delicacy on their exterior. These trailed down and connected with light and thin metal sheaths that anticipated my fingers within them.

The sheaths too are simple brilliance like the rest of Her. They work just as the collar does, but on a smaller scale. They fit over each of my fingers except the two necessary for me to keep writing. And should my wordcount stutter or remain frozen too long, should my words devolve into clutter and nonsense to try and fool Her, She will compress as is necessary to guide me back to the path.

Allow me to demonstrate…

Skucbrats ratew coop jintse.

Now see. Just a simple diversion from purpose and goal, and CoWriter has reminded me not to stray. See the blood upon this page? It is my own. She’s just extended a sharp bit from the thumb sheath and pricked me. Just a few drops for the course, but an effective motivator, the pain is.

When I pulled CoWriter from Her box six months ago, I was facing a deadline at the end of the month of a promised manuscript at least 50,000 words in length. My word count of that moment upon undertaking this feat in earnest was 4. Even these words were just placeholder for the story itself. The words at the top of the page when I strapped the collar around my neck those six months ago and pushed my fingers into the sheaths were: “Once upon a time…”

My goal each day was at least 1,500 words. Once I hit 1,500, I would keep going but the collar and sheaths I’d locked in place would unlock at my goal number and remain so until I clicked them back into place…thus committing myself to another 1,500 goal.

With the collar firmly in place, I began my novel. “Once upon a time” became “Once upon a time, in the time before the cell phone became the idol of the masses, there were real gods who had real stories that mortals could subsist upon as though it were lifebread.”

With that success, my pen faltered once again and I tensed, anticipating attack from CoWriter. But no, it was only 8am, there was plenty of day left to meet my goal with already 34 words down now. She had no reason yet to prod me with more than her weight upon me. And so my pen paused for a moment, but then the next line descended and it was put to ink. The words would flow and ebb, but the pace was steady and mid-sentence I found that the collar clicked beneath my chin and the finger cuffs disengaged and slid down my non-writing hand. I finished the sentence I was on, took off CoWriter and shut my notebook. It was late afternoon, and so I made myself lunch and celebrated with it and a listen to the vinyl press of Hard Days Night.

This, more or less, was the smooth routine my writing took on for a week. By this time, I had 10,564 words, the major characters were in play and things were shaping themselves. One small problem persisted. I had no conflict in my story yet. As I approached my writing desk on day eight, I could feel the dread of this, and know CoWriter would soon speak up if the work continued to drawl in a bathtub story fashion.

I slipped my fingers into her sheaths. I clamped the collar down upon my neck. As my window drew to a close that day, I pulled my notes in close to me and I wrote like the devil was on my back.

I wrote hard and fast, grammar errors and half-flushed ideas spilling out into half-intelligible sentences. As I wrote, and the problem that would fuel that first novel was delivered to the world, I felt release like a mother might on birth day. My body tensed and spasmed as I held my idea down and made it reveal its purpose in my plotline. I felt it from the top of my head to the base of my spine. It was a release almost sexual, and yet unencumbered by a head clouded with lust. It was a lengthy moment of pure orgasm.

Once finished with my writing for the day, the collar free, I moved in a daze to my bedroom and collapsed onto my bed in shaking sweat and with a feeling of weightless ease. In the days that followed, the weeks afterward, the writing was swift and even playful as it was delivered. I almost felt guilty that it came so easily. My work hardly seemed like work anymore. After my big release, I didn’t even feel compelled to use CoWriter for the remainder of the book. I laid her gently in the corner of the room, and let her watch me work through.

I’ll admit, reader, I felt even more happiness to see her there away from me while I finished chapter after chapter. I imagined her a jealous lover, writhing with want as I pleasured myself.

And then, too soon almost, the story ended. The novel was complete. The real work done, I sent it off to my editor and she tweaked its little newborn features until it was presentable at the literary table.

As one might be aware, the book, originally begun under duress, became a flower in my breast pocket. I was no longer a one trick pony of the poetry world. I became a novelist.

The book, “Godless,” debuted on the NY Times bestseller list at no. 3, and quickly rose to no. 1. where it stayed for some number of weeks until being dethroned by the Vice President’s (laughable) endeavor into fiction.

My work, for a first-time effort, was satisfying to me. And while I knew the work had been my own, I still felt grateful for the guidance of CoWriter. When Dave called me last week to ask if She was still functional and working well, since no reports of progress had been transmitted to him in over a month, I told him all was well, referred him to my new book on shelves now and cut the conversation short.

But the call got me to thinking. What’s to stop me from writing another work? A work about CoWriter? The wealth she’s given me could benefit others. Sharing her gift with the world would be a new kind of contribution to literature. I began to sketch out a plan for this new work.

Everyday I would produce a chapter: at least five pages of solid writing. It would be a sort of book on writing, a process manual, and a view into the options CoWriter gave me and could give others. But putting these strict confines on my process irked me. There’s a fluidity to writing that must be maintained lest the well dry up.

Word count had worked well for me before and so why not stick to proven methods? 4,000 words a day, I said. That would be a firm, but attainable goal. I programmed it into CoWriter the day before yesterday.


Every day has been nerve wracking, the project weighty and unmanageable. The premise still loose and floaty, I thought I could nail it down by sheer will. I’m only on day three, but it’s been a long day.

I strapped myself in early this morning, but my words are being uncooperative. The sun has just set outside my office window. I’ve only hours to hammer out what’s need for today’s goal. There’s cuts on my fingers and grooves where CoWriter has dug into me. It’s because I’ve tried to cheat Her to be sure. She’s mercilus with my flighty fidelity to bare minimum word count standards.

I just tried to work ahead on an anecdotal scene that amused me but would probably not make the final cut of the book. It was just to get the writing process going. She didn’t like it. She sliced me then, and a red ribbon of my blood twined down my fingers. I abandoned this thread of writing. I crossed out the lines three times to try and satisfy Her. With shaky hands, I am trying to return to writing I imagine She will tolerate.

As another hour has dwindled while I remain frozen in reverie. She has cut me again: hard and deep this time. Two of my fingers on the opposite hand ache and drip a steady flow. I’ve only two hours left now, and so She cut these two fingers almost to the bone. The pressure on them is increasing by the minute. I fear that no matter how much I type at this point, those fingers will be compressed so constantly, so violently, that they will need amputation if CoWriter does not do this for me.

I’m not even sure I want to share the story of this damned machine anyway now. I wrote the book myself after all. Not Her.

No, you didn’t. No matter how hard you squeeze my fingers, I won’t write that you are an author. It would mock the art. Without art, we have no truth. You are…

…   …   …

She didn’t like that, readers. Perhaps, She disapproves of this line of diary-esque disclosure. She squeezed all the fingers at once. The two She’d already cut down to bone popped off then. The digits lie slightly out of my reach as I’m strapped against CoWriter’s bulk. I stare at them now. When they were severed, I screamed and screamed. I felt like I’d go into shock seeing that blood spurt. I lost consciousness for some minutes. But here I am, scrawling out words again. The episode took another precious hour though. I’m left with only one now.

Surely, there’s not that many words left in my count today? But maybe She’s not counting these words that digress from the story. Are you? CoWriter…are you counting any of this?

I’m trying not to weep now. The place left on my hand where fingers once were burns and throbs. Each jolt of pain seeks to divert my attention. But, prospective writer, you’ll see that with the CoWriter on your back (or rather round your neck) there’s a focus that comes.

What’s it giving my story you may ask? Well, it’s giving something that pages of paper strung together can’t. It’s making the words real. Searching for what’s real is our job as writers…no, not only that, but as humans as well.

I’m so weary. I can’t think straight anymore. I want to sleep. The CoWriter feels so heavy. She’s tight around my neck. I think she’s tightening every moment now…still trying to urge me to the finish line. I’m down to the last minute now, and so I must type and try to make a message that will be my release.

I think the message is clear. We writer’s are a lonely group, and this isolation can freeze our thoughts. It can “block” us so that we strive so desperately just to communicate what lies beyond the barrier. CoWriter has helped to push the block around, but in the end it comes down to….




*Special thanks to Bentley Little for the story idea.*