Lady In The Lake by Laura Lippman

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Novelist Laura Lippman’s Inspiration for her latest crime novel, Lady in the Lake, came from two real-life disappearances in Baltimore in the 1960s when the body of Shirley Lee Wigeon Parker, a black 35-year-old divorcee, was found in a fountain in one of the city’s parks. That same year in September, Esther Lebowitz, an 11-year-old Jewish girl, was beaten to death inside a fish store,  a gruesome killing that profoundly impacted Baltimore’s Jewish community.

Lippman’s main character is Maddie Schwartz a beautiful, bored, 37-year-old housewife who decides one day to leave her husband and become a crime reporter because she wanted to live a life that mattered.

Maddie Schwartz finds the body of schoolgirl young Tessie Fine. She needs a job and uses the details she learns about Tessie to get herself hired at the Baltimore Sun hoping to turn that into a reporter job.  

After she is hired by the newspaper, she becomes obsessed with the disappearance and drowning of Cleo Sherwood and her focus is intense as she tries to find out what really happened.

The plot moves with a strong backdrop of the racism of the Sixties. Maddie has an affair with Ferdie, a black police officer, who isn’t allowed to use a patrol car but borrows one at night to visit her.  The one-time Maddie and Ferdie goes out in public it is to a baseball game and she pretends not to know him acting like they just accidently sat by each other. The never talk of marriage but Maddie mentions that Interracial marriage was not legal in the United States. (Not until 1967)

Maddie evolves from a woman whose main skill is the ability to get men to like her to a woman who has learned she’s going to have to fight her own battle.

Lady in the Lake is a great newspaper novel and captures much of the feelings of the 1960s.

Quotes

“A woman dies young, it’s man trouble.”

“How could 1906 and 1966 be part of the same century? In 1906, there had been no world wars, most people didn’t have telephones and cars. In 1906, women couldn’t vote and black men could by law, but not in practice.”

“Kindness could be so much more painful than cruelty.”

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Lady in the Lake: A Novel
By Laura Lippman

Picasso, by Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein's was born in 1874 in Pennsylvania and raised in Oakland California. She moved to Paris in 1903. She associated with Hemingway, Picasso and other famous artists and writers. Her book tells us about Picasso and his life as a great painter.  

In 1904, Picasso rented a studio in an old, dilapidated building in Paris filled with artists and poets located at 13 Rue Ravignan in Paris. Picasso painted Stein between 1905 and 1906 in a style foreshadowing of his adoption of Cubism—and portrays her face like a mask with heavy lidded eyes.

Picasso was one of the innovators of Cubist artwork where objects are analyzed by breaking them up and reassembling them in an abstracted form and Steins seems compelled to defend the art form in this book and mentions that in 1909 when Picasso had completed the Cubist paintings Horta de Ebro and Maison sur la Colline that she was shown the photographs that inspired the paintings.

We learn from Stein’s writing how much Picasso’s home in Spain shaped his approach to art which was considered ahead of its time or avant-garde. She was one of the first Americans to claim that about his work.

Stein's close relationship with Picasso provided her with a unique vantage point to the man and his approaches.

Quotes from Gertrude Stein

Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.

We are always the same age inside.

America is my country and Paris is my hometown.

“One must dare to be happy. ”

“We are always the same age inside. ”

“It takes a lot of time to be a genius. You have to sit around so much, doing nothing, really doing nothing.”

“Everybody knows if you are too careful you are so occupied in being careful that you are sure to stumble over something. ”

Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer, by C.S. Lewis

Reflections on the Dialogue Between Man and God

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C.S. Lewis presents fictional letters written to a close friend Malcolm, who seems very real, that discuss things that are puzzling about having a dialogue with God. ‘For example, one question he asks is “If God is omniscient, why do we give Him information?” Lewis is skilled at explaining difficult questions, and this book considers many giving easy to understand answers.

The book starts out discussing "corporate prayer", praying with others, and private prayer discussing "when to pray and where, ready-made prayer, petitionary prayer, prayer as worship, penitential prayer, and prayer for the dead".  Of corporate prayer it is clear he has a negative opinion when he says in a letter: “If you were thinking of corporate prayer, I won’t play. There is no subject in the world (always excepting, sport) of which I have less to say than liturgiology. (the system of church rituals and their symbolism}

The book concludes with Lewis looking into the subjects of the soul and the resurrection and then summing up how he feels by saying “If we were perfected, prayer would not be a duty, it would be a delight. Someday, please God, it will be.”

Quotes

"You can't go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending."

"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

"Life with God is not immunity from difficulties, but peace in difficulties."

"Don't shine so that others can see you. Shine so that through you, others can see HIM."

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The Red and the Black, by Stendhal

 

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The Red and the Black was Stendhal’s major work when it was published in 1830. The book is a character study of Julien Sorel, a carpenter’s son and an ambitious young man who uses seduction as a tool for advancement. He does not see any path for success in the military despite his admiration for Napoleon. That just leaves the church because in Sorel’s time that is the best way to gain power.

The army is symbolized in the novel by the color red and the church by the color black. The novel examines careerism, political opportunism, the climate of fear and denunciation of materialistic values in the Restoration of France.

Sorel is employed as a tutor for the mayor’s wife, Mme de Renal. At the same time, he is training to become a priest and he decides to seduce the mayor's wife, because he thinks that it is his duty.

M. Chélan, the town priest and Julien's mentor, sends him to the Besançon seminary to avoid any further scandal. The director of the seminary, M. Pirard, likes Julien and encourages him to become a great priest. Julien does very well at the seminary, but only because he wants to make a fortune and succeed in French society.

He then goes to Paris where he seduces the aristocratic Mathilde who is the daughter of his second employer. The book ends with Sorel’s execution for the attempted murder of Mme de Rênal after she had jeopardized his projected marriage to Mathilde

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Stendhal Quotes

“A good book is an event in my life.” ...

“One can acquire everything in solitude except character.” ...

“There are as many styles of beauty as there are visions of happiness.” ...

“I love her beauty, but I fear her mind.” ...

“A novel is a mirror walking along a main road.

“A melancholy air can never be the right thing; what you want is a bored air. If you are melancholy, it must be because you want something, there is something in which you have not succeeded.
It is shewing your inferiority. If you are bored, on the other hand, it is the person who has tried in vain to please you who is inferior.”


“A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.”


“After moral poisoning, one requires physical remedies and a bottle of champagne

 

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The Nanny Diaries, A Novel, by McLaughlin & Kraus

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The writers were students at New York University, and both had worked as Nannies for a number of wealthy families on the Upper East Side, where the book is set.

The book starts off with Nanny telling us: “Every season of my nanny career kicked off with a round of interviews so surreally similar that I’d often wonder if the mothers were slipped a secret manual at the Parents League to guide them through.”  This is an early tipoff of predictability that follows in this Nanny’s experience in the summer ahead.

 Nanny is an NYU student in her senior year and she takes part-time job as Nanny for a Grayer X the 4-year old son of Mr. and Mrs. X.  She cares a great deal about the boy and is concerned about the lack of any relationship that he has with his parents. She picks him up at school, makes sure he goes to the activities that are arranged for him, and in addition works at being a personal assistant to his self-centered not very good mother.

Nanny meets a young man who goes to Harvard living in the same building and has a relationship with him. Nanny’s other life is of some interest but her experiences with the X family are funny, sort of, and predictable

Quotes from the Book

“And he doesn't care what you're wearing or what you've brought him. He just wants you there. Wanting him. And time is running out. He won't love you unconditionally that much longer. And soon he won't love you at all.”

“There are people─ in your home─ human beings─ drowning in their desire for you to look them in the eye. You made this family. And all you have to do is to show up and like them. It's called 'relating'. So get over whatever totally-absent-buying-your-affection parenting that you received and get here, man─ because this is your LIFE and you're just pissing it away.”

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The Nanny Diaries: A Novel
By Emma McLaughlin, Nicola Kraus

Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon

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Austin Kleon tells us in his new book, “Show Your Work!, 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered”, and then how to do it. Each of the ways listed is expounded on. He tells us that the key is a process, not a product and that we should share something everyday.

Kleon says it is about being find-able, about using a network instead of wasting time networking.

The book is a next step from his prior two books, “Steal Like an Artist, and Keep Going”. He says the key is that you do good work. It has to be worth stealing.

The 10 ways to share your creativity and get discovered are:

  1. You don’t have to be a genius.

  2. Think process, not product.

  3. Share something small every day.

  4. Open up your cabinet of curiosities.

  5. Tell good stories.

  6. Teach what you know.

  7. Don’t turn into human spam.

  8. Learn to take a punch.

  9. Sell out.

  10. Stick Around


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Quotes from this Book

“the worst troll is the one that lives in your head.”

“Forget about being an expert or a professional, and wear your amateurism (your heart, your love) on your sleeve. Share what you love, and the people who love the same things will find you.”


“Make stuff you love and talk about stuff you love and you’ll attract people who love that kind of stuff. It’s that simple.”

“But now I realize that the only way to find your voice is to use it. It’s hardwired, built into you. Talk about the things you love. Your voice will follow.”


“the worst troll is the one that lives in your head.”

“Don't think of your website as a self-promotion machine, think of it as a self-invention machine.”


“Don’t try to be hip or cool. Being open and honest about what you like is the best way to connect with people who like those things, too.”




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Show Your Work!
By Austin Kleon

Turn of the Screw, by Henry James

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In the Turn of the Screw by Henry James, the Bachelor is responsible for his niece and nephew after the death of their parents and he hires a woman, the Governess, to take care of his niece and nephew. The story is written as if it happened to the Governess and as she tells the story as if it happened to her.

When she arrives to begin taking care of Flora and Miles, the bachelor’s niece and nephew, the governess immediately starts seeing ghosts and learns from the maid that the ghosts are Peter Quint and Miss Jessel who were former employees of the estate.

We wonder if the governess has really seen the ghosts or is experiencing an inner battle of conscience  is affecting her perception of reality because she has fallen in love with a boy much younger than herself. she believes she is justified in pursuing her desires through unconscious means.

Flora and Miles won’t admit to seeing the ghosts but the governess fears for them.  After more sightings she writes a letter to the Bachelor, but it is stolen before it can be mailed. Flora gets sick and Mrs. Grose takes her away leaving the governess alone with Miles who then admits that he stole her letter.

As the story line unfolds we see suggestions that the governess is highly influenced by her imagination and emotions and that the ghosts are scapegoats created to take the blame for what has happened.

The governess sees the ghost of Peter Quint out the window and when Miles looks and sees the ghost he dies from fright.

Quotes from Turn of a Screw

“No, no—there are depths, depths! The more I go over it, the more I see in it, and the more I see in it, the more I fear. I don’t know what I don’t see—what I don’t fear!”

“Of course I was under the spell, and the wonderful part is that, even at the time, I perfectly knew I was. But I gave myself up to it; it was an antidote to any pain, and I had more pains than one.”

“He was there or was not there: not there if I didn't see him.”

“Of course I was under the spell, and the wonderful part is that, even at the time, I perfectly knew I was.”

“The summer had turned, the summer had gone; the autumn had dropped upon Bly and had blown out half our lights. The place, with its gray sky and withered garlands, its bared spaces and scattered dead leaves, was like a theater after the performance--all strewn with crumpled playbills.”

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The Turn of the Screw
Starring Michelle Dockery, Dan Stevens, Nicola Walker, Eva Sayer

The Pelican Brief, by John Grisham

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Two Supreme Court justices have been assassinated and a young law student named Darby who prepares a legal brief about a “fictional” assassination, but it rings too true and makes its way to the FBI, CIA, and even the White House. She finds that she is being targeted by the killer and her lover, a constitutional-law professor, is blown up in a car-bomb attack that was meant for Darby.  She then realizes for certain that she had been correct in her brief and goes underground. The only person she can trust is a journalist who helps her figure out what is happening. They soon see a conspiracy involving people in the government that includes the President and his Chief of Staff who want to cover up the White House's connection to this with the coming President's re-election plans.

Derby's runs but the web of killers closes on her. She continues trying to help Washington Post reporter Gray Grantham get the goods on the baddies in a news-break bigger than Watergate.

Grisham had a challenge with the success of his first two legal suspense thrillers, A Time to Kill and The Firm but The Pelican Brief published in 1992 was a success and Grisham’s special genre became expected.

Quotes From The Book

What kind of name is Siler-Spence? I mean, what's wrong with these women who use hyphens? What if her name was Skowinski and she married a guy named Levondowski? Would her little liberated soul insist she go through life as F.Gwendolin Skowinski- Levondowski?”

“He was neutral on prayer, skeptical of free speech, sympathetic to tax protestors, indifferent to Indians, afraid of blacks, tough on pornographers, soft on criminals, and fairly consistent in his protection of the environment”

Quotes by John Grisham

I can't change overnight into a serious literary author. You can't compare apples to oranges. William Faulkner was a great literary genius. I am not.

I don't want to force my politics on my readers.


"In life, finding a voice is speaking and living the truth. Each of you is an original. Each of you has a distinctive voice. When you find it, your story will be told. You will be heard."


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The Pelican Brief: A Novel
By John Grisham

The Winner, by David Baldacci

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LuAnn Tyler is 20 years old, a single parent, living in a beat-up trailer, striving to escape a life of poverty. She is lead to the local mall to meet with a Mr. Jackson who she assumes will offer her a job. Instead he offers her a guarantee that she can be the winner of the coming $100 million lottery.  The offer has conditions attached, one of which would require her to leave the country. LuAnn doesn’t want to do it and takes a few days to think about.  Jackson plans to kill her if she backs out.

While she considers the offer, she finds herself running from a false murder charge Less than twenty-four hours later, she is fighting for her life and Jackson’s offer seems her only hope.

Ten years later LuAnn has lived all over the world and learned a great deal. She is one of the wealthiest women in the world and she secretly returns with her daughter Lisa to the United States. She meets Matthew Riggs and falls in love with him. Rigg’s past is also full of mystery.  

A reporter who has been investigating the lottery system for years becomes aware of LuAnn’s return as have both the FBI and Jackson. Matt Riggs seems to be the only person who can help her.

The twisting plot holds our attention right to the last page.

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Quotes

“America was full of opportunity, everybody said. You just had to unlock it. Only they forgot to give out keys for LuAnn’s kind. Or maybe they didn’t forget at all. Maybe it was intentional”

“Nothing, absolutely nothing, was above corruption so long as human beings were involved.”

“Half truths were a wonderful way to inspire credibility.”

“Assumptions are dangerous things. I like facts a lot better.”

“Human beings are infinitely fallible, completely unreliable. Science is not. Science is absolute. Under strict principles, if you do A and B, then C will occur. This rarely happens if you inject the inefficiences of humanity into the process.”

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The Winner
By David Baldacci

The Day The World Came To Town 9/11 in Gander Newfoundland by Jim Defede

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U.S. airspace was closed and all airlines inbound were forced to land on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. 38 jetliners headed for the United States were forced to land at Gander International Airport in Newfoundland and the small town went from a population of 10,300 to nearly 17,000.

“The Day The World Came To Town, 9/11, tells how the citizens of Gander welcomed the stranded passengers with an overwhelming display of friendship and goodwill. The passengers had been held on board their plans for in some cases more than 24 hours and were upset, hungry and even fearful for their and their loved one’s lives. The townspeople came out in full force to greet them and had prepared a large meal for them.  

Local bus drivers who had been on strike came off the picket lines to transport the passengers to the various shelters set up in local schools and churches.  A middle school, as well as residents, provided showers, access to computers, email, and televisions, enabling the passengers to stay in touch with family and follow the news.

“For the better part of a week, nearly every man, woman, and child in Gander and the surrounding towns stopped what they were doing so they could help. They placed their lives on hold for a group of strangers and asked for nothing in return. They affirmed the basic goodness of mankind when it was easy to doubt such humanity still existed.”

A amazing event in the middle of a horrendous tragedy.

Quotes

“They placed their lives on hold for a group of strangers and asked for nothing in return. They affirmed the basic goodness of man at a time when it was easy to doubt such humanity still existed. If the terrorists had hoped their attacks would reveal the weaknesses in western society, the events in Gander proved its strength.”


“Neighbor to neighbor. It is a mentality that has been fostered over centuries, since the earliest settlers realized the only way to survive in this desolate but beautiful outpost was to work together. Much of their music captures this spirit.”


“Their willingness to help others is arguably the single most important trait that defines them as Newfoundlanders. Today, it is an identity they cling to, in part, because it is something that cannot be taken away from them.”

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The Fix, by David Baldacci

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"The Fix," begins as Amos Decker is walking to an FBI meeting in the Hoover building in Washington DC. The man walking a little ahead of him approaches the building about the same time Anne Berkshire is coming from the other direction. The man walks up to the women and shots her in the back of her head and then turns the gun killing himself.

Decker and his sidekick Alex are assigned to the case and he uses his photographic memory and powers of deduction only to find the case totally baffling. The shooter is a family man with a successful businessman who consults with the FBI and was a former employee of the NSA. Decker and his team are unable to find any link between Dabney and the victim who is a substitute schoolteacher who volunteers in a local hospice.

Harper Brown is an agent for the DIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, and shows up soon telling Decker to back off because the murder is part of their open investigation involving a National Security issue that could be bigger than 9/11.

Decker is the man who cannot forget anything, and his mental powers drive the ever-twisting plot of “The Fix”.  Baldacci is indeed a master storyteller.

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David Baldacci Quotes

“Why can't people just sit and read books and be nice to each other?” ...

“Small mistakes tend to lead to large ones. ...

“When a poor man gives something, that is a sacrifice indeed. ...

“Depending on the situation, sometimes you can know a person better in ten minutes than someone you have crossed paths with all your life.” “Depending on the situation, sometimes you can know a person better in ten minutes than someone you have crossed paths with all your life.”

“Today might not be so good. But tomorrow, you got another chance to get it right.”

“All you have to do [to win a Pulitzer Prize] is spend your life running from one awful place to another, write about every horrible thing you see. The civilized world reads about it, then forgets it, but pats you on the head for doing it and gives you a reward as appreciation for changing nothing.”

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Exile The Unquiet Oblivion of Richard Nixon, by Robert Sam Anson

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Anson captures the 10 years after Richard Nixon resignation in 1974 and starts out the overview with Nixon talking to his aide Kenneth Clawson about  his life saying: so you are lean and mean and resourceful and you continue to walk on the edge of the precipice because over the years you have become fascinated by how close to the edge you can walk without losing your balance." Followed by the comment, “a man doesn't cry".  The dialog ends with: "There was a silence, and quietly Clawson began to weep. When he looked up, Nixon was weeping as well."

Anson’s view of Nixon’s Exile leans to a preoccupation with the dark and weak side of the man. He uses a passage from Nixon’s very insightful book “Leaders” where he described Abraham Lincoln as a ''supreme idealist'' who nonetheless ''broke laws,'' violated the Constitution, ''usurped arbitrary power,'' and ''trampled individual rights'' in his quest to preserve the Union. ''His justification was necessary,'' wrote Nixon, and he generalized: ''Whatever the field, the crucial moral questions are, in effect, those of the bottom line''

If Anson expected his book to show Nixon as a man who wouldn’t quit and reinvented himself in the eyes of the public and became a valuable source for advice on foreign policy then he failed because he focus seemed preoccupied with showing Nixon as petty and somewhat of a ridiculous figure.

He was critical of the Frost interview of Nixon but didn’t acknowledge that fact that the interview itself showed how the public’s fascination with Richard Nixon has never really stopped.

Nixon’s many post-Watergate books suggest that Anson missed the point that in spite of his weaknesses, Nixon had much of value and interest to say.

Most Controversial Quote

“When the President does it, that means that it's not illegal.”

Richard Nixon Quotes

“Only if you have been in the deepest valley, can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.”

“If you take no risks, you will suffer no defeats. But if you take no risks, you win no victories.”

“You must pursue this investigation of Watergate even if it leads to the president. I'm innocent. You've got to believe I'm innocent. If you don't, take my job.”

“Never let your head hang down. Never give up and sit down and grieve. Find another way. And don't pray when it rains if you don't pray when the sun shines.”

“You must never be satisfied with losing. You must get angry, terribly angry, about losing. But the mark of the good loser is that he takes his anger out on himself and not his victorious opponents or on his teammates.”

“We cannot learn from one another until we stop shouting at one another — until we speak quietly enough so that our words can be heard as well as our voices.”

“Defeat doesn't finish a man, quit does. A man is not finished when he's defeated. He's finished when he quits.”


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Tar Baby, by Toni Morrison

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Toni Morrison loves to tell to tell stories and this one is about the love between two Black Americans Jadine and Son.  Jadine Childs is a beautiful Sorbonne graduate and fashion model. Son is a black fugitive and strong-minded man who came from the Caribbean to New York. He represents everything that Jadine hates and yet she is attracted to him. They have an affair but can’t find a place where they both fit.

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Morrison uses their relationship to show the struggles between not just blacks and whites but between blacks themselves as well as the masters and servants in society.

Another major theme in Tar Baby is the conflict between nature and civilization. Morrison adds to the conflict by giving nature human like qualities.  An example is when she describes the strength of the water in the harbor as the assertive push of a women’s hand.

Quotes

“At some point in life the world's beauty becomes enough. You don't need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough. No record of it needs to be kept and you don't need someone to share it with or tell it to. When that happens — that letting go — you let go because you can.”

“It was a silly age, twenty-five; too old for teenaged dreaming, too young for settling down. Every corner was a possibility and a dead end.”

“I wonder if the person he wants to marry is me or a black girl? And if it isn't me he wants, but any black girl who looks like me, talks and acts like me, what will happen when he finds out that I hate ear hoops, that I don't have to straighten my hair, that Mingus puts me to sleep, that sometimes I want to get out of my skin and be only the person inside-- not American-- not black-- just me?”

All narrative begins for me as listening. When I read, I listen. When I write, I listen—for silence, inflection, rhythm, rest.”

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Tar Baby
By Toni Morrison