Writers and Dogs

white and black english bulldog stands in front of crackers on bowl at daytime
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Last year I posted about Writers and Cats, a combination that seems as natural as pen and paper. But just because cats and writers are inextricably linked in most people’s minds, doesn’t mean that dogs aren’t equally ideal writing partners. Judging from all the books about dogs out there, they’re just as inspiring as cats. Poems have also been written about dogs, including this one by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. And no one can dispute that dogs are excellent companions, keeping writers company in their lonely work and getting them out of the house once in a while.

“When an eighty-five pound mammal licks your tears away, then tries to sit on your lap, it’s hard to feel sad.”

Kristan Higgins

Here are a few dog-loving writers and their pups…

eb white
E.B. White
dorothy parker
Dorothy Parker
stephen king
Stephen King (who also made it into my Writers and Cats post)
virginia and vita
Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West
harlan coben
Harlan Coben
amy tan
Amy Tan
anton chekov
Anton Chekov
elizabeth barrett browning
Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her muse, Flush (see link above for Browning’s poem about Flush). Art by James E. McConnell.

 

What do you think? Are you a cat person or a dog person? Or do you like both (or neither)? Share in the comments…

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

 

Read More:

12 Famous Authors at Work With Their Dogs

Top 10 Author-Dog Relationships of All Time

Literary Pets

10 Famous Authors and the Pets that Inspired Their Work

9 Adorable Images of Authors and Their Dogs

How to Get Books Cheap (or Free)

books school stacked closed
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You might remember a few months back when a certain minimalism peddler debuted her show on Netflix and then went ahead and called books clutter, telling people they should get rid of all but a laughably small number in their homes.

Yeah, I wasn’t impressed, either. And neither was writer Anakana Schofield, who tweeted that “every human needs a v extensive library.” You’d think people would rally around that kind of noble sentiment, but before Ms Schofield had finished hitting send on the tweet, people were calling her out as “elitist” for suggesting people needed their own home library.

man in white shirt using macbook pro
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Allow me to gently point out that “needs” an extensive library does not mean “must have” or even “should get.” But whatever your stance on the issue, if you agree that books clutter up your empty space, please feel free to forward them to me (seriously, though, please give them to someone–don’t feed landfills for the sake of a minimalist aesthetic).

For those of us who do know the value of books and a home library, we also know that building a collection can get pricey. But it really doesn’t have to. Here’s how you can get “a v extensive library” for next to nothing.

Before I get to that, though, just a quick note to say that if you can afford to buy books at full price, please do so. Authors (other than a lucky few) make hardly anything from the months and years of hard, gut-wrenching work they put into a book. Authors also make nothing from most of the suggestions I’m about to share. Give the author a reason to keep writing by buying their book(s). If you like an author’s work but really can’t afford it, you can still support them by posting reviews, sharing on social media, and telling your friends about the latest great book you just read. There’s many ways to support authors and we appreciate every bit of it ❤

Now, how can you get books cheap (or free)?

 

yard sale books

Yard/Garage/Rummage Sales

I’ve never stopped by one of these sales and haven’t found books. The selection varies and you won’t always find something good, but if you stop by toward the end of the day, you’ll get great deals (or stop by early for the best selection). You can (usually) haggle too.

Best Bets: Kids books, older bestsellers, books on obscure topics that were clearly unwanted gifts

 

Aspasia S. Bissas website

Estate Sales

These aren’t as common as other sales, but they’re well worth seeking out. Although they sound like something exclusively for the wealthy, that’s not the case, and sales can take place in any neighbourhood with items available at all price points. Not all estate sales will include books, but the ones that do can be like hitting the jackpot. As with yard/garage/rummage sales, go early for selection and late for deals (you can luck into entire boxes full of books for only a few dollars). Tip: Consider moving sales too.

Best Bets: Entire collections, vintage books

 

books file on shelf
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Library Sales

My personal favourite, these happen when libraries need to cull older/less popular books to make room for new additions. My local one also accepts donations from the public and donates the proceeds to an adult literacy program. Tip: bring small bills/change and your own bag(s). Also, look into specialist organizations that have their own libraries. Our local botanical garden has a book sale a couple of times a year featuring gardening books and magazines. If a group specializes in a topic you’re interested in, you can score some fantastic finds, cheap.

Best Bets: Fiction in all genres, large-print books, kids books, a bit of everything the library carries

 

thrift shop books

Thrift Stores

Thrift stores always seem to have more books than they can handle, and prices tend to reflect that. If you’re willing to look through disorganized shelves/piles, you can find some sweet deals.

Best Bets: Obscure older cookbooks, vintage craft books, loads of interesting books donated by people getting rid of “clutter”

 

Munich 24.06.2017 Lisar (reading at Isar) book flea market, just for one summer day in June

Flea Markets/Swap Meets

Flea markets aren’t my favourite places to shop, but you can find some bargains (haggling is also expected). It’s easy to get distracted, so focus on finding books before looking at anything else. Going at the end of the day will also result in the best deals. Swap meets are apparently very similar to flea markets, although some of them actually involve trading items instead of buying and selling–a great idea if you can find one that includes books.

Best Bets: Vintage and collectible books

 

recycling depot

Recycling Depots

I don’t know how other recycling depots work, but there’s one about an hour and a half from where I live that collects not only recyclables like glass and plastic, but also donations of all kinds of items, similar to what you’d find in a thrift store. They’re set up in a warehouse and have an ample collection of really cheap books. I haven’t been in a while but when I lived closer it was a favourite, and I’d almost always find something that was on my wishlist. Tip: bring your own bags or boxes.

Best Bets: Required reading for English classes, general fiction, quality nonfiction, kids books

 

novel books
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Secondhand Bookstores

Although the prices will be higher at a secondhand bookstore than at any of the other places I’ve mentioned, the selection and quality of the books will also be better. Bonus: you’ll be among fellow book lovers who can direct you to awesome books you didn’t even know existed. These stores sometimes have bargain bins (or even free books) to help keep things within budget.

Best Bets: Obscure and quirky books, vintage books, recent bestsellers

 

two people shaking hands
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Trading

At some point you’ll likely end up with books you no longer want. A good way to make room and get new books for nothing is to trade. See if any friends or family members might be interested. Swap meets that still involve swapping are an option. You can even try something like kijiji or craigslist (exercise caution when meeting strangers).

Best Bets: Hit and miss, but anything is possible

 

two man and two woman standing on green grass field
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Just Ask

Sometimes it’s as simple as letting people know you’ll take their unwanted books. Because people know I love books, they’ll often offer me the ones they no longer want. When a history teacher I was friendly with was retiring, he couldn’t take his personal collection home (his wife was decluttering before decluttering was cool). I scored boxes of history, geography and Canadian lit books. If you know someone who’s moving, spring cleaning, or who inherited a collection they don’t want, feel free to speak up. In most cases, the other person will feel like you’re doing them a favour.

Best Bets: Bestsellers, older books

 

pile of books
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Random Sales

You need to keep an eye out for these ones. I know of at least one bank and a hospital that have permanent book sales set up. The money goes to fundraising/charity and the prices are cheap. Other places you visit might have a table or rack of books available too. Tip: have exact change–these sales tend to be based on the honour system and usually don’t have anyone around to make change.

Best Bets: Mostly older fiction, occasional gems

 

reading reader kindle female
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Ebooks

These books won’t look pretty on a shelf, but you can find a lifetime supply of free and cheap ebooks online (and not the illegally downloaded kind, either, which will curse you with terrible karma anyway). I recommend Smashwords, which has an awesome collection of indie books at reasonable prices (or free), and available in all e-reader formats (even pdf and online reader). If you don’t have a Kindle, but want to read Kindle books, Amazon has a free app you can download for any device (they’re not all evil). You can start with my short story Blood Magic (available free everywhere except Amazon–they’re still a little evil) and my novel Love Lies Bleeding (only $2.99).

 

Where do you like to get cheap or free books? And how do you feel about books as “clutter”? Share in the comments…

-Aspasía S. Bissas

IWD: The Sexism That Writers Endure

man wearing suit jacket sitting on chair in front of woman wearing eyeglasses
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From the start, women writers have had to endure an unending slew of sexist attitudes and commentary. Pick a writer and she’ll tell you about comments claiming women aren’t serious writers, that they don’t write “important” works, and aren’t worthy of awards or acclaim. Women writers can tell you about how there is a constant assumption that they must write romance or “chick lit,” that they don’t write anything a man would want to read, that they can’t write certain genres, or that women’s fiction is fluffy and sentimental. We can tell you about how we’re questioned in a way male authors never are about work-life balance, how we can possibly work and take care of our children and homes and partners. The list goes on. And when we dare complain about any of it, we’re accused of being “whiny” and “privileged.”

On this International Women’s Day, I’m sharing a few of the sexist remarks said to, or of, women authors:

Sci-fi author Gérard Klein about Ursula K. Le Guin: ” … her art is the product of ‘a happily resolved childhood, an active feminine genitality, and her intellectual indebtedness to her historian husband.'”

 

Audience member at a reading, to Julia Fierro: “Who is taking care of your children?”

 

A reader, commenting about The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris: “The novel is ‘capitalising on the fandom of Tom Hiddleston.'”

 

Author David Gilmour, on not teaching women authors in his class at the University of Toronto: “I’m not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women.”

 

Author V.S. Naipaul about Diana Athill: “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not… My publisher, who was so good as a taster and editor, when she became a writer, lo and behold, it was all this feminine tosh. I don’t mean this in any unkind way.”

 

Interviewer to Victoria A. Brownworth: “I don’t think women should be writing about this kind of violence.”

 

A lecture attendee to Joanne Freeman: “How does your husband handle your wit?”

 

A one-time boss of hers, about Clarice Lispector: “She was ‘a smart girl, an excellent reporter, and, in contrast to almost all women, actually knows how to write.'”

 

Random people, to Lis Harris: “Oh, you’re a serious writer? But you’re so pretty!”

 

N.S. Willis, to his sister, Fanny Fern: “[…he stated that] her writing was ‘too vulgar’ and she should continue with her needlework instead.”

 

To these I’ll add a quote from Charlotte Brontë, which she wrote in response to harsh reviews. This is (or should be) the unofficial motto of women writers everywhere:

“It would take a great deal to crush me.”

person using green typewriter on brown wooden surface
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The problem of sexism in publishing is improving–the fact that it’s finally being acknowledged is an important first step. Will it be solved anytime soon? As with other forms of inequality, probably not in my lifetime (although I live in hope). But there are things everyone can do to help get us there:

  • Read books by women (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, comic books, essays, articles…)
  • Review books by women (whether on a book site, store site, social media, or your own blog)
  • Buy books by women (let publishers know what you want to read)

If you want to start right now, you can download my free story Blood Magic. One reviewer wrote about it: “A sign of the times, this short story should be folded up, put inside an envelope, and slid inside the goody bags ready for the male attendees of the next Golden Globe Awards.”

Happy International Women’s Day. Show your support by reading more women.

Find Out More:

‘How to Suppress Women’s Writing’: 3 Decades Old and Still Sadly Relevant

Women Writers Are Over Hearing These Sexist Comments

Women’s Fiction Is a Sign of a Sexist Book Industry

Canadian Author David Gilmour Sparks Furore Over Women Writers

7 Breathtakingly Sexist Quotes by Famous and Respected Male Authors

A Woman’s Place

Sexism in Publishing: My Novel Wasn’t the Problem

Female Authors Are Speaking Out About the Everyday Sexism They Experience

The True Glamour of Clarice Lispector

I talked to 39 Women Who Write Nonfiction, and Here’s What I’ve Learned

The Evolution of Female Writers

5 Things Sexism Deniers Say to Woman Writers

 

My Life in Books Tag

adult blur book business
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It’s time for another book tag post! I snagged this one from Dreamland Book Blog. Feel free to give your own answers in the comments. Or, if you decide to post it on your own page, share the link 🙂

1. Find a book for each of your initials.

I haven’t read American Gods yet, but I did read Anansi Boys, which is its sequel. I probably should have used that one instead. Either way, I like the trifecta of gods, vampires, and werewolves.

american-gods

A: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

salems lot

S: ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

bitten

B: Bitten by Kelley Armstrong

2. Count your age along your bookshelf: What book is it?

One of my favourites: Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende.

island beneath the sea

3. Pick a book set in your city/country.

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. Not only is it set in my city, but part of it is set close to my neighbourhood.

alias grace

4. Pick a book that represents a destination you’d love to travel to.

I’m going to have to give two answers for this one. First, a fictional place:

prisoner of azkaban

Who wouldn’t want to go to Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley, and the Burrow? Some of the other wizard places are also intriguing, although definitely not Azkaban.

And secondly, a real place:

Enchantress_of_florence

Florence, Italy (and Tuscany in general, of which Florence is the capital). Museums, art galleries, cathedrals, history, great food, and beautiful views. I’m kind of wondering why I’m not already there.

5. Pick a book that’s your favourite colour.

Sadly, the cover of my copy of H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds isn’t this beautifully designed (credit to Kjell Roger Ringstad), but it is red.

war-of-the-worlds-cover-by-kjell-roger-ringstad

6. Which book do you have the fondest memories of?

I had very fond memories indeed of all of Gordon Korman’s books–until I recently re-read them. Most of them don’t stand up. But No Coins Please, the story of an 11-year-old con artist, is still funny. If you can find a copy, I recommend it.

No_Coins,_Please

7. Which book did you have the most difficulty reading?

I’m having the worst time getting through a biography of Vladimir Nabokov (I have to read it a few paragraphs at a time in between other books–it’s dry, dense, and long, but at this point I’m too invested to give up). As for fiction, I found James Joyce’s Ulysses tough (I did finish it, though).

ulysses

8. Which book in your TBR pile will give you the biggest accomplishment when you finish it?

Well, it was Ulysses. I would love to read Shakespeare’s complete works. Or classical lit, like Homer and Sophocles. Guess I’d better get started on that…

william-shakespeare-complete-works-2 the-oedipus-plays-of-sophocles-oedipus-the-king-oedipus-at-colonus-antigone odyssey

I hope you enjoyed this post. What would some of your answers be? Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think of them? Tell me in the comments…

5 Bittersweet Real-Life Love Stories

close up of tea light candle against black background
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It’s Valentine’s Day, the romantic holiday with pagan roots. Although love may be grand, it’s not all sunshine and roses (sometimes it’s rejection and hard time). Here are 5 love stories from history that are equal parts romance and tragedy…

Cleopatra and Marc Antony

cleopatra and antony
Cleopatra greeting Antony, A.M. Faulkner

She was Queen of Egypt, he was co-ruler of the Roman Empire. He envisioned himself as  Dionysus, Greek God of wine (and drama), and she captured his heart by presenting herself as Aphrodite, Goddess of love. Their relationship was based on passion and ambition, and it reached mythic proportions. Their twins were named Alexander Helios (the Sun) and Cleopatra Selene (the Moon). Circumstances kept them apart much of the time, and Antony was even forced to marry his rival Octavian’s sister, but Antony and Cleopatra met when they could and celebrated triumphs (and failures) together. Unfortunately, their actions led to war, invasion, and ultimately, defeat. Anthony fell on his sword in an honourable suicide. Cleopatra, knowing she would be paraded through the streets of Rome in humiliation, arranged to have an asp (an Egyptian symbol of divine royalty) smuggled to her. With a bite from the snake she committed what is possibly the world’s most famous suicide, while at the same time attaining immortality for her and her love.

Héloïse and Abélard

heloise and abelard
Abélard and his pupil Héloïse by Edmund Leighton

In 12th century Paris, an intelligent, inquisitive young woman named Héloïse was introduced to Abélard, a philosopher and teacher enlisted by Héloïse’s uncle to tutor her. Their intellectual bond soon deepened into love. Héloïse became pregnant, and to avoid a scandal they secretly married after she had the baby (a son named Astrolabe, which goes to show that geeks have always existed). Unfortunately, scandal found them anyway (mostly thanks to her infuriated uncle). Héloïse was sent to a convent, while Abélard was viciously attacked and forcibly castrated. He went on to become a monk, and she a nun. Although they never saw each other again, they did resume a correspondence, and their letters stand as testament to their feelings. After they died, their bones were moved so that they could finally be together (there’s a dispute as to whether they’re buried at The Oratory of the Paraclete, or in their famous tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery).

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas

wilde and douglas

Lord Alfred, or ‘Bosie,’ as he was known, was Wilde’s love and muse at a time when LGBTQ rights were not only nonexistent, homosexuality was illegal. Their relationship was tempestuous, and marked by arguments, separations, and reunions (the latter, thanks mostly to a forgiving Wilde). Bosie’s father (the Marquess of Queensberry), angry about the relationship, denounced Wilde publicly. When Wilde’s libel suit against the Marquess failed, he was arrested and ultimately sentenced to two years of hard labour for “gross indecency.” Wilde and Bosie were reunited after Wilde was released, but it should be no surprise that their friends and families forced them apart. Then again, Bosie was a selfish and reckless person, and it’s debatable how much he really returned Wilde’s feelings. Interestingly, the phrase “the love that dare not speak its name” was coined by Bosie, not Wilde, as most people believe. Maybe a better love story was the one between Wilde and Robert Ross, who was possibly his first male lover and also a lifelong friend. Ross was with Wilde at his deathbed, and later commissioned Wilde’s tomb at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Ross asked the artist to include a small compartment in the tomb for his own ashes, which were transferred there in 1950.

Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley

elizabeth and dudley
Robert Dudley and Queen Elizabeth I

Sometimes genuinely loving someone isn’t enough. Elizabeth and Dudley’s story is a complex one, further complicated by rumours that have persisted through centuries. Dudley earned Elizabeth’s love early in her life, when he stood by her at a time when she was in trouble and it would have been easy to abandon her. Although Dudley wanted to marry her for many years, she could never allow it. As Queen, Elizabeth was averse to marriage, not least because marrying would have transferred her power as monarch to her husband, while she would have been relegated to quietly producing heirs. But even if she had wanted to marry, she couldn’t have married Dudley. There was no strategic political advantage to marrying him, he was generally unpopular, and he was a commoner (whatever position he had in society was directly thanks to her). He was also already married. After his wife died under mysterious circumstances, he was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing, but belief persisted among many that he’d had her killed. Eventually, Dudley accepted that Elizabeth would never marry him, but since he wanted heirs he went on to (secretly) marry twice more, for which Elizabeth never entirely forgave him. Still, he was her clear favourite and she gave him titles, prestige, and power; in turn, he gave her companionship, support, and devotion. They shared an emotional bond that even most married couples at that time could only dream of.

Dante and Beatrice

Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_Salutation_of_Beatrice_-_2
Salutation of Beatrice 2 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Alighieri and Beatrice Portinari’s story is one of unrequited love. Dante claimed he fell in love when he met Beatrice at the age of 9 (she was 8). Despite his intense feelings for Beatrice, Dante married Gemma Donati when he was around 20, while Beatrice married Simone de Bardi when she was 21. She died three years later. Although they barely knew each other and met only a handful of times, Beatrice would be Dante’s idealized love and muse for the rest of his life. She was his inspiration for Vita Nuova, and his guide to heaven in his Divine Comedy. Despite the lack of any real relationship between the two, the love Dante had for Beatrice has sparked imaginations to this day. There are paintings of the pair and poems written about them, references in books and on TV, and even an asteroid named after Beatrice.

Some of these stories may be more bitter than sweet, but perhaps that’s why they continue to inspire. Love isn’t love without a touch of the tragic. Or as the immortal Shakespeare put it, the course of true love never did run smooth.

What do you think? Do you have a favourite historical couple? Share in the comments. And happy Valentine’s day ❤

Read More:

Cleopatra and Marc Antony

Héloise and Abélard

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas

The Life of Elizabeth I

Dante and Beatrice