The Cossack’s Bilbo Baggins

Kinda wishing I read Russian.

Read Bigthink’s map critique here. (Don’t worry, it’s in English.)


The biography of a woman, not the history of a reign.

Catherine the Great: Portrait of a WomanCatherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie

The biography of a woman, not the history of a reign. Massie defines Catherine by her lovers and I got tired of the revolving door to her bedroom. As for the queen, she’s in favor of the Enlightenment only so far as it doesn’t threaten her throne, and then it’s censorship and slamming the door to the West. As a mother, she never perceived her son and heir as anything but a rival. If you want to rule a hereditary monarchy, you have to accept the inevitability of your own mortality and plan for the health and longevity of the institution you head. But monarchs almost never do, and Catherine was no exception.

In short, a complicated woman, intellectually superior to everyone around her yet bereft without a warm body in her bed, ambitious enough to accept if not connive at the assassination of her deposed husband to secure her place on the throne, and then forgiving enough enough to stand as godmother to his mistress’s daughter. It’s an interesting read, a good story told well, but it feels a little lightweight.

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I dare you all, test your strength: Open a book.

bwo Letters of Note

A terrific letter from illustrator Chuck Jones to a class of students. “I found my first experience with Wile E. Coyote in a whole hilarious chapter about coyotes in a book called Roughing It by Mark Twain. I found the entire romantic personality of Pepe Le Pew in a book written by Kenneth Roberts, Captain Hook. I found bits and pieces of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and all the others in wonderful, exciting books,” he writes.

There’s your Storytelling 101, right there.


The Civil War never looked so necessary.

The Wedding GiftThe Wedding Gift by Marlen Suyapa Bodden

One of those books you read in one sitting with the hair slowly rising on the back of your neck. Slavery in the American South seldom has seemed so real or so horrific. Every awful story you’ve ever heard or read is right here, seen through the eyes of Sarah, the master’s daughter by Emmeline, his slave mistress. I couldn’t help but think of Sally Hemings, in durance vile to Thomas Jefferson for her whole life and forced to bear not one but eight of his children, all of them property and subject to sale whenever the master needed ready cash to buy a few more books.

The most painful thing to endure among many is Emmeline’s persistent terror, the fear she feels every moment of every day that Sarah will say something that will get them all killed or worse, sold. “Don’t say that, baby,” is her constant refrain, and it doesn’t take long for you to feel her fear, too. It’s exhausting, and it is debilitating to intellect and human emotion, too, and that’s just from reading about it. What was it like to live through it? I’m grateful I can only imagine.

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It all makes so much more sense now…

[From the stabenow.com vaults, first posted on a Book Review Monday.]

Some of you might wonder why I would post this on a book review day.

by Tom Gauld

And some of you might not…

(Love Tom Gauld.)

Okay, venting now.


I got a call last night from Heifer International. As soon as I forced the speaker to identify her organization and just as she began to launch into her spiel, I spake thusly to her, in, shall we say, firm tones:

Hold it right there. I write you people one check every year. It’s what I can afford. It’s how much you get. Unless you want me to stop donating to your organization entirely, stop calling me and stop writing to me. Goodbye.

And I hung up.

I donate to two international organizations, Heifer International and Doctors Without Borders, every year without fail. I’m incensed to say that judging from the amount of mail they both send me throughout the year they are spending a good portion of my donation on soliciting further donations.

If this continues, my donations don’t.

That is all.



“Goodnight, Maud-Dib…”

[from the stabenow.com vaults, August 15, 2011 ]

Hilarious. How I wish this were a print book.

Of course, to get the joke you have to have read Frank Herbert’s Dune seven or eight times. Who am I kidding, try seventy or eighty times, but it’s worth it.

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