Book Review – “Bahamarama”

Below is a book review I wrote back on February 20, 2006 for a now-defunct blog. It’s hard to believe this was nine years ago. In that time, Morris has written three additional books starring Zack Chasteen; “Bermuda Schwartz”, “A Deadly Silver Sea”, and “Baja Florida”, all of which I need to read…soon.

Bahamarama coverYou may recall a little over a month ago I went to the downtown branch of the Orlando Public Library to meet and listen to Bob Morris, our own local celebrity author who used to write a column for The Orlando Sentinel and went on to write and serve as editor for several travel magazines. While there I bought both his novels (his first forays into fictional writing) to read and I finally got finished with the first, “Bahamarama.”

And I don’t say “finally” like it was a difficult book to read; quite the contrary, the story and pacing made it a book I did not want to put down. For me it has been a matter of time and a schedule so full that I haven’t even had time to put up the 2006 calendar I received as a Christmas gift yet. No joke, it’s sitting in a corner of my living room with the plastic skinwrap still around it and here it is almost the end of February. So my “pleasure reading” time has been relegated to bedtime, where I crawl into bed, open the book and read for maybe 10 minutes before my eyes rebel by closing and I place the bookmark where I left off and turn off the nightstand lamp.

Bahamarama” introduces us to the book’s central character (as well as that of the second novel, “Jamaica Me Dead“) Zack Chasteen, a former strong safety for the Miami Dolphins who is just getting out of the Federal Penitentiary in the panhandle after serving 2 years for a crime he did not commit. Everyone but his girlfriend and closest friends still think he is guilty of the crime, his boat was seized by the government and auctioned off and it looks like he is going to have to sell the house that has been in his family for generations to have some money while he looks for a job. But his first plan is to join his girlfriend in the Bahamas where she is on a photo shoot for the magazine she publishes. Before he can meet up with her, his girlfriend is kidnapped and held for ransom and her ex-boyfriend is murdered, forcing Zack to enlist the aid of his best friend and a local police inspector as he attempts to solve the murder mystery and rescue his girlfriend before the kidnappers kill her. The icing on the cake is that the criminals who originally got him in trouble with the law are chasing him down as well, claiming he has something of theirs that they want back.

Bob MorrisThe story is fast-paced and loaded with action, mystery and a colorful cast of characters that bring excitement and diversity to every page of the book. One of the best things is that Morris, being a native Floridian, brings a certain realism and knowledge to the story that other natives (like myself) or even long-time residents of our fair state can appreciate and relate to when reading. And as a frequent visitor to the Caribbean, he can authoritatively write about that setting in his stories as well.

With breakneck speed and pacing, Morris takes us on a rollercoaster ride of a story as we try to solve the murder mystery along with Chasteen and wonder if he’ll rescue his girlfriend in time or ever clear his name. If you haven’t read it yet, this is a great book to take to the beach this summer, where you can soak up the sun, sand and sea atmosphere of the story while doing the same thing in reality.

Bahamarama” is out in paperback now and available at local bookstores as well as online.

 

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Happy 148th Birthday, Laura Ingalls Wilder

Laura Ingalls WilderLaura Ingalls Wilder was born on this date in 1867 in Pepin, Wisconsin. I have to admit I’ve never read any of her books, though I used to immensely enjoy the TV series “Little House on the Prairie” starring Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls Wilder during the part of her life spent in Minnesota.

And I drove by one of her residences when I was working in Iowa in 2008.

Here’s a short biography of her life, courtesy of The Writer’s Almanac:

 

She grew up with three sisters in a pioneer family. Her father was a restless man, and every couple of years he packed the family into their covered wagon and moved on in search of a better place. During her childhood, she lived in a series of shacks, cabins, and sod houses in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kansas, Iowa, and South Dakota. She began teaching when she was 15 years old; she didn’t like being a teacher but she needed to help support her family. Three years later, she married the most eligible bachelor farmer in town, and they had a daughter, named Rose. They eventually settled in the Ozarks in Missouri, where Wilder lived for the remainder of her life.

They lived a hard life of manual labor on their Missouri farm, which included chickens, a dairy, and an apple orchard. Their daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, left as soon as she could and became a journalist in San Francisco. When she built them a beautiful new stone cottage on their farm, they were skeptical, and when she bought them a car, her father ran it into a tree.

Laura Ingalls Wilder had begun writing under the name Mrs. A.J. Wilder for the Missouri Ruralist and the St. Louis Star Farmer, articles like “Economy in Egg Production,” “Spic, Span and Beauty,” “Just a Question of Tact,” and “Making the Best of Things.” At the age of 63, she decided to try writing an autobiography. She wrote by hand with a pencil. And by the time she was finished, she had filled six lined tablets with her story, which she called Pioneer Girl.

Little House on the PrairieWilder gave the rough draft of her manuscript to Lane, who used her contacts to get it into the hands of Virginia Kirkus, a children’s book editor at Harper & Brothers. Kirkus read the manuscript on the train ride home to Connecticut from New York, and she was so fascinated by the story that she missed her stop. She bought it and offered Wilder a three-book contract. Little House in the Big Woods (1932) and its sequel Farmer Boy (1933), about the boyhood of Wilder’s husband, Almanzo, were a big success even though bookselling was slow during the Depression. Wilder continued to write books about her childhood, drawing on her own memories and those of her relatives. She earned enough to be financially comfortable for the rest of her life.

Her books include Little House on the Prairie (1935), On the Banks of Plum Creek (1937), and These Happy Golden Years (1943).

Little House in the Big Woods ends: “She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the fire-light and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.”

 

And you may have noticed that today’s Google image is a scene from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie.

Google Search Engine image of Little House on the Prairie

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Happy Birthday Charles Dickens; Here’s Your Stuffed Raven

stuffed_raven200pxIt’s the birthday of novelist Charles Dickens, born in Portsmouth, England in 1812.

By the mid-1850s, Dickens was a popular and successful writer; his novels included The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (1836-37), The Adventures of Oliver Twist (1837-39), The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1838-39), A Christmas Carol(1843), and David Copperfield (1849-50).

In 1856 Dickens helped his friend Wilkie Collins write a play called The Frozen Deep. Dickens hired the cast, which included an 18-year-old actress named Ellen Ternan. Forty-five-year-old Dickens fell in love with Ellen and became increasingly frustrated by his marriage of more than 20 years and the 10 children he had to support; he felt that his wife, Catherine, did not match his energy and intellect.  Dickens’ affair with Ellen Ternan lasted for the rest of his life, but he was very careful to keep her out of the public eye, even using fake names to buy her homes.

Dickens went to work on his final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, but before he could finish it he died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 58.

Over at AbeBooks, they’ve assembled a list of 11 Charles Dickens Facts. Here are my rankings of 3 of the 11 facts. The strangest is number 5 where we find out Chuck stuffed his pet raven when it died; The funniest is number 7 in which he  gave all 10 of his children nicknames, including Skittles (how did he know about the modern-day fruit-flavored candy back in the 1800’s?); and the coolest is number 11 because every writer should have a secret door that looks like a bookshelf.

I’ve read Dickens’ Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities. Which of his works have you read?

 

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Of Mice And Men

of_mice_and_men325pxIt was 78 years ago today that “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck was first published. I remember reading it for the first time in my 10th grade American Literature class 47 years ago and it’s probably time for me to read it again in the near future. Because of its vulgarity, offensive and sometimes racist language, it appears on the American Library Association‘s list of the Most Challenged Books of 21st Century. It also is ranked number 6 on Amazon’s Top 100 Books of all Time list.

Here’s what today’s The Writer’s Almanac had to say about the book.

Of Mice and Men was Steinbeck’s fifth novel (he had also published an excerpt from a novel and a book of short stories). His first novel, Cup of Gold (1929), was a total flop — it didn’t even earn back the $250 that Steinbeck received as an advance. That year, he wrote to a friend: “The book was an immature experiment written for the purpose of getting all the wise cracks (known by sophomores as epigrams) and all the autobiographical material (which hounds us until we get it said) out of my system. […] I think I shall write some very good books indeed. The next one won’t be good nor the next one, but about the fifth, I think will be above the average.”

He began work on Of Mice and Men in 1935. He and his wife, Carol, were living in his family’s three-room vacation cottage near Monterey Bay. It wasn’t meant for year-round living, but Steinbeck built a fireplace and closed off the porch, and they made do. Carol worked as a secretary, and Steinbeck’s parents gave him an allowance of $25 a month. Steinbeck’s new book was titled Something That Happened, but then he read the poem “To a Mouse” by Robert Burns, and was struck by the lines: “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men / gang aft agley, / An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, / For promis’d joy!” So he retitled his work Of Mice and Men. Steinbeck wanted to write in a new style, more like a play than a novel. He considered his audience for the story to be poor working-class people, and he thought they would be more likely to see a play than read a book.

Steinbeck had worked in California as a farm laborer, and he wanted to write about the terrible conditions he witnessed. Of Mice and Men tells the story of two laborers who are best friends: Lennie, who is big and strong with limited mental capabilities, and George, who is small and smart and looks out for Lennie. The story ends tragically after Lennie, unaware of his own strength, kills a woman. Steinbeck based the character of Lennie on a real farm laborer he knew, who killed a ranch foreman with a pitchfork after one of his friends was fired. Steinbeck made sure that the novel was tightly plotted and heavy on dialogue, ready to be adapted to the stage.

Steinbeck wrote in the spring of 1936: “My new work is really going and that makes me very happy — kind of an excitement like that you get near a dynamo from breathing pure oxygen […] This work is going quickly and should get done quickly. I’m using a new set of techniques as far as I know but I am so illy read that it may have been done. Not that that matters at all.” Then his new puppy, Toby, chewed up half of the manuscript. Steinbeck was furious, but a couple of days later, he was able to write to a friend: “Minor tragedy stalked. My setter pup, left alone one night, made confetti of about half of my ms. book. Two months work to do over again. It sets me back. There was no other draft. I was pretty mad but the poor little fellow may have been acting critically. I didn’t want to ruin a good dog on a ms. I’m not sure is good at all. He only got an ordinary spanking with his punishment flyswatter.”

He was forced to start over, but work went quickly again, and he managed to get the work to his publisher a few months later. When Of Mice and Men was published, it had already been chosen by the Book-of-the-Month Club, and got great reviews. The famous playwright and director George S. Kaufman offered to produce it as a play, and Steinbeck spent a week at Kaufman’s Pennsylvania estate, where the two men worked on adapting the work for the stage. About 85 percent of the novel’s original dialogue ended up in the final play. After his week with Kaufman, Steinbeck left the East Coast. When a reporter asked him if he would stick around, he replied: “Hell no. I’ve got work to do out in California.” He refused to come back either for rehearsals or to see the final product. He did ask his publisher to call and give him a full report on the play’s opening night, but he had to go to a friend’s house to use the telephone since he didn’t have one of his own. The play was a huge hit.

Have you read “Of Mice and Men”?

 

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Happy Birthday, Oxford English Dictionary

Oxford English Dictionary bannerAs a child, I was a voracious reader (still am), and one thing my mom told me, whenever I came across a word I did not know and would ask her what it meant or how it was pronounced, was “Look it up in the dictionary.”  (“Dictionary” was changed to “encyclopedia” if it was a research issue of a subject) After a few dozen times I got the hint and just naturally reached for the dictionary whenever I needed to pronounce of define a word.

Most people did not think this was normal, lol. I touched on this story about 6 years ago in this post. One Sunday, when I was 7 or 8 I think, we were going to visit a couple my parents knew and my mom said, “They don’t have any children, so bring yourself something to do while we’re visiting.”

I, of course, brought a book I was reading.

While they sat at the dining room table visiting I sat on the couch in the living room and read my book. At some point I came across a word I did not know and so I walked into the dining room and politely asked the woman if she had a dictionary I could borrow. She said she thought she did, but what did I need it for? When I told her she looked at my mom with astonishment on her face, got up to find the dictionary and returned in a few seconds and handed it to me wordlessly. Then, as I walked back to the living room, I heard her tell my mom that she thought I was just an amazing little boy, why didn’t every child do this, etc., lol.

Granted the dictionary in our home, most other homes and the elementary school library was a Webster’s Dictionary. But in junior high school, to my weird, nerdy delight, I discovered the Oxford English Dictionary. Today marks the first date of publication of the first part of the first edition (which only spanned the words, “A” to “Ant”) in 1884.

Set of Oxford English Dictionary

Here’s some wonderful information about the history of the Oxford English Dictionary from The Writer’s Almanac:

 

The Philological Society of London had conceived the idea for a new dictionary almost 30 years earlier, back in 1857, and then in 1879 they worked out an agreement with Oxford University Press to publish their ambitious project. The Society felt that the English dictionaries that existed at the time were “incomplete and deficient,” and they wished to write a new dictionary that would take into account the way the English language had developed from Anglo-Saxon times.

The dictionary, they proposed, would take 10 years to complete, fill four volumes, and amount to 6,400 pages. They were halfway (five years) into the project when they published the first volume on this day in 1884, and they’d only completed from “A” to “Ant.” In the end, the dictionary took 70 years (not 10) to complete, and it filled 10 volumes (not four) and it was 15,490 pages, more than twice as long as they’d originally estimated to their publisher. The last volume of the first edition of the dictionary was published in 1928. It defined more than 400,000 word forms, and it used 1,861,200 quotations to help illustrate these definitions.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, a Supplement to the OED was published in four volumes. And then, in 1989, a big Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was published. It’s the one you’re most likely to find in a library today. Its 21,730 pages fill up 20 volumes, and it weighs nearly 140 pounds. There are more than 615,000 definitions for words in this edition, which also contains 2,436,600 quotations.

In 1992, a CD-ROM version of the Oxford English Dictionary was published. Now the dictionary is online, where it’s constantly under revision.

 

Most of us can make do on a daily basis with a Webster’s, but for those who wish to delve deeper into words, the Oxford English Dictionary is the gold standard.

 

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International Book Giving Day

Getting this information out there early so that folks have as much time as possible to prepare to take part in International Book Giving Day on February 14, 2015.

International Book Giving Day is “a day dedicated to getting new, used and borrowed books in the hands of as many children as possible.”

Readers of this blog already know that I’m all for getting books out to people, and getting into the hands of children is a great opportunity to contribute to the life of a child. I find it difficult to imagine what my life might have been like if I had not had books in it from the moment I could read.

If you plan on taking part in International Book Giving Day this year, I’d love to hear of your actions in the comment below, either before or after the official day.

 

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Happy Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar_Allan_Poe_portrait325pxMy favorite works of Poe’s are “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Masque of the Red Death”, both written in 1850 by Poe and read by me (the first time) in junior high school. But he is most well known for “The Raven.”

From The Writer’s Almanac:

Today is the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1809. His poem “The Raven” is one of his best-known works, and it is also one of the most popular poems in the English language. Even people who have no interest in poetry can usually recite a line or two. It’s narrated by a studious young man who is mourning the loss of his lover, Lenore. When a talking raven visits him on a bleak December night, we follow his descent from amusement into madness. At the time he was writing the poem, Poe’s young wife, Virginia, was slowly dying of tuberculosis. Poe may have gotten the idea for a talking raven from a Dickens novel: Barnaby Rudge: A Tale of the Riots of ‘Eighty (1841). There was a talking raven in the Dickens book too, but it didn’t bear much resemblance to the sinister bird of Poe’s poem.

Poe brought the poem to his friend George Rex Graham, hoping he would publish it in Graham’s Magazine. Graham turned him down, but gave him $15 anyway. The American Review agreed to publish it, and paid the poet $9. It appeared in the magazine’s February 1845 issue, under the name Quarles. It was also published around that time in the Evening Mirror under Poe’s name. “The Raven” was an instant sensation and made Poe a household word. One critic called it subtle, ingenious, and imaginative, and predicted, “It will stick to the memory of everybody who reads it.” Over the next several months, “The Raven” appeared in journals throughout the country and it was such a rousing success that Wiley and Putnam published two of Poe’s books that year: a collection of prose called Tales and also The Raven and Other Poems(1845). That was his first book of poetry in 14 years.

 

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National Readathon Day

Saturday, January 24, 2015 will see the observance of the first National Readathon Day, sponsored by Penguin Random House, GoodReads, Mashable, and the National Book Foundation.

National Readathon Logo

The purpose is to raise funds to “…educate, tutor, create and sustain a lifelong love of reading.” and to raise awareness of the benefits of reading. Even if you’re unable to donate financially, you can support the effort by participating in the Readathon by “joining readers across America in a marathon reading session on Saturday, January 24. From Noon – 4 PM in our respective time zones, we will sit and read a book in our own home, library, school or bookstore.”

You can get more details here.

 

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New York Times’ “By The Book” with Patton Oswalt

Patton OswaltLast week, actor, comedian and author Patton Oswalt was interviewed for the New York Times’ “By The Book” Sunday feature. I always love reading these because I usually come away from them with a new perspective on a book I’ve already read or with a list of books I want to read. When the interview is with someone whose work I already enjoy, it’s always a bonus.

And I love that he includes Neil Gaiman as one of the three writers he would invite to the hypothetical “literary dinner” scenario.

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Happy Birthday J.R.R. Tolkien

jrr_tolkien325pxToday would have been the 123rd birthday of J.R.R. (John Ronald Reuel) Tolkien, born in 1892 to English parents in Bloemfontein, South Africa, where his father was working in a bank.

Tolkien was always fascinated with languages; he went to school at Oxford, first studying Classics, and later, English Language and Literature. He came across an Old English poem by Cynewulf, which contained a couplet that fascinated him:

“Hail Earendel brightest of angels / Over Middle Earth sent to men.”

The couplet found new life in the universe of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in 1955, which takes place in Middle Earth and includes a half-Elven character named Earendil the Mariner, who eventually becomes a star.

In 1925, Tolkien returned to Oxford University as a professor of Anglo-Saxon and, later, English Language and Literature. One day, while grading exams, he discovered that a student had left one whole page in his examination booklet blank. Tolkien, for reasons unknown even to him, wrote on the page, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” This single line turned into a bedtime story that he told his children, and from there, a book: The Hobbit in 1937.

Tolkien passed away on September 2, 1973 in Bournemouth, United Kingdom.

Thanks to The Writer’s Almanac for much of the above.

 

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Book Review – What Every Author Should Know

What Every Author Should Know coverThis is the first “How to” book for authors and those who want to be that I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot of them) that covers ALL of the bases involved in writing and publishing your book, from the nuts and bolts to the mindset of an author.

First, Ms. Vanasse offers her years of experience as both a writer and publisher to inquisitive writers and authors by exploring the three ways an author can be published; traditional, independent and a hybrid of each. Each step in each way is laid out with both the pros and cons of each path enumerated so that an author or aspiring author can make an informed decision.

In the second section promotion and marketing are discussed and while most writers want to concentrate on the creative side of the work, example after example is shown to make the point that the business side must be addressed as well, especially if you’re an unknown author that wants to have your book purchased and talked about. Everything from promotion by traditional publishers (less and less of that these days for new writers) to self-promotion in all its various incarnations (E-Newsletters, Social Media, Crowdfunding, etc.) are all presented for consideration. Not every way will work for everyone, but some ways will work for everyone.

The book finishes up with a section on mistakes authors can avoid and a final discussion of how to live the life of a writer or author. Humility and flexibility are two of the best ways to live that life.

This is a book I will be referring back to again and again and I highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in publishing their own book.

Full disclosure: I was provided a free copy of this ebook for review. The review is mine and is not influenced in any way by the provider.

 

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100 Notable Books Of 2014

The New York Times Sunday Book Review logoAt the beginning of December the New York Times Sunday Book Review listed the 100 Notable Books Of 2014. I was a bit dismayed to find, when I read through the list, that I had not read one single book this year that they listed as notable.

I decided long ago that I did not need to read every book on any of the usual “Books of the Year” lists, but I would have thought that I would find at least 1 or 2 on a list of 100.

How about you? Have you read any of these 100 Notable Books Of 2014?

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What George Bernard Shaw Had To Say About Christmas

George Bernard ShawIt was on this day in 1946 that George Bernard Shaw wrote to the Reynolds News: “Christmas is for me simply a nuisance. The mob supports it as a carnival of mendacity, gluttony, and drunkenness. Fifty years ago, I invented a society for the abolition of Christmas. So far I am the only member. That is all I have to say on the subject.”

An editor rebutted: “Mr. Shaw’s campaign has met with serious obstacles. The public read his books and went to his plays, but they read Dickens, too. They couldn’t be made to stop singing carols, lighting up Christmas trees, making presents, and feeling more than usually amiable toward their relatives, friends, and the world in general. Many of them paid attention to Mr. Shaw’s ideas about other things, including vegetarianism and Fabian socialism, but they would not pay attention to his ideas about Christmas. His failure is as apparent to him as it is to the rest of us.”

Perhaps the editor’s sentiments had been inspired by a new film that had premiered just a few days before: Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Thanks to The Writer’s Almanac for the above.

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Happy 171st Anniversary To “A Christmas Carol”

It was on this day in 1843 that Charles Dickens published “A Christmas Carol”, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, whom Dickens described as “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner. Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire.” In “A Christmas Carol”, Scrooge learns the Christmas spirit of generosity from three ghosts who show him his past, his present, and his future.

A Christmas Carol Title Page First Edition

Dickens’ previous novel, “Martin Chuzzlewit” (1842), was a flop, and he was strapped for cash. “Martin Chuzzlewit” was satirical and pessimistic, and Dickens thought he might be more successful if he wrote a heartwarming tale with a holiday theme. He started writing in late October and worked hard to get it done by Christmas.

At the time of the book’s publication, the celebration of Christmas was somewhat controversial. Puritans in England and America argued that Christmas was a holiday left over from the days when pagans celebrated the winter solstice. Many Christians felt that the extravagance of Christmas was an insult to Christ. But “A Christmas Carol” was a huge best-seller in both England and the United States, and it set the tone for Christmas as we know it today: a season of generosity, feasting, and merriment.

Thanks to “The Writers Almanac” for the above.

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The Art Of Making A Book

Handmade BooksI’ve been in large printing plants and seen the huge presses used to print books, but that is not the ART of making a book; that is just the process that has been mechanized and modernized through the years to allow us to mass-produce books. And there is nothing wrong with that because we need to produce books en masse in order to keep the price low enough for everyone, not just the rich, to have access to these tomes.

But the ART of making a book is wondrous and challenging and stirs the muse of creation, especially for those of us who love books for their simple being.

The short video below will touch the creative spirit in all when you see the craftsmanship, skill and even, dare I say, love that goes into the art of making a book.

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How Do YOU Pronounce “Moleskine”?

Moleskine NotebookI’ve been a fan and avid user of Moleskine notebooks for many years. I’m going to need a new one soon and I haven’t been able to find them in the office supply and general department stores I’ve looked in. Today I decided to add one to my Amazon Wishlist and as I was doing so I wondered, not for the first time, “What is the correct pronunciation of the name?”

I’ve always heard and pronounced it myself as “Mole” (as in “bowl”) “Skin” (as in “spin”) but as you can see from the spelling of the name it has several other possibilities.

It turns out that question has been asked many times over and the maker of the notebooks has the answer here.

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