'I thought losing my virginity would be rape': inside Christian purity guides

The youth movement that swept US churches in the 1990s also spawned many anti-dating books. Now, some writers are losing faith in ‘the Mike Pence rule’

Joshua Harris was just 22 in 1997 when he published I Kissed Dating Goodbye, a dating guidebook for young Christians that advised them to do anything but. Dating was a “training ground for divorce”, he argued in the book, which sold almost 1m copies worldwide. It also made Harris a superstar in the Christian purity movement, a pro-abstinence crusade that began in evangelical churches in the 1990s and became well-known in the purity ring-wearing hands of Jessica Simpson and the Jonas Brothers. Many authors came after Harris – John and Stasi Eldredge, Hayley DiMarco, Tim and Beverly LaHaye – all of them in the US, where religious publishing is worth $1.22bn (£1bn) a year.

Now 44, Harris made headlines this week when he revealed he no longer considers himself a Christian. He has been issuing apologies for his own books over the last decade, even making a documentary called I Survived Kissing Dating Goodbye. On his Instagram this week, he wrote: “I have lived in repentance for the past several years – repenting of my self-righteousness, my fear-based approach to life, the teaching of my books, my views of women in the church, and my approach to parenting to name a few.”

Related: Dianna E Anderson: ‘The worst trolls claim to be Christian’

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Reading group: which book about migrants should we read in August?

Stories of people on the move were told in the classical era and animate some of the best new fiction. From Virgil to VS Naipaul, please choose a destination

This month on the reading group we’re going to celebrate migration. It makes us richer, it makes us stronger, it makes our world more colourful and more interesting.

All of which goes some of the way to explaining why migration is also such a good source of literature. But there are also the tales of hardship and opportunity, stories of personal bravery, risk, cruelties and ignorance. It’s of such stuff that great novels are built, so I’m hoping we can compile an epic list of world-class literature.

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Tips, links and suggestions: what are you reading this week?

Your space to discuss the books you are reading and what you think of them

Welcome to this week’s blogpost. Here’s our roundup of your comments and photos from last week.

Let’s start with a rush of enthusiasm from WildIrish, who has been reading A Terrible Country by Keith Gessen:

Brilliant! Impeccable writing that is Gessen’s own-tragic-lighthearted-humorous-yet-wise-beyond-his-years-voice; instantly relatable. Why have I never heard of this amazing book? This is one of those rare novels that I try to read slowly because it’s so good that I wish it would never end. It still whips by at terrifying speeds and cannot be put down. This book has literally attached itself to my hand…

Sadly, I am nearing the end of this truly marvellous novel. All I can say is, if you don’t read A Terrible Country, you will have missed out on one of the finest books this year … I would hug this Writer. And I’m NOT a touchy person at all.

Tessa Hadley’s short story collection Bad Dreams is quietly impressing me. Stories pack a punch and a great deal said in little space. Surprise you too.

It is a remarkably accomplished debut novel, a real tragical romance; both it and the faithful, sumptuously realised TV version had me reaching for the tissues. Burton has done a lot of research – which she details in the nowadays obligatory endnotes – but it is worn lightly and the reader is never subjected to expository lumps.

I’ve been trying to get through (and rid of) some of the unread books on my shelves lately, so started with Hawthorn and Child by Keith Ridgway, which I went into expecting a supernatural detective story, and finished with something less absurd but much more actually mad. Things connect, obliquely, nothing is really resolved, everyone’s not ok, and horrible things happen. I would recommend it but I wouldn’t want this to be the kind of thing I read all the time.

I love this book. It tickles my code nerd. It was Alice Kober who made all the breakthroughs but she died young and her work was coopted. Fascinating story: Kober was a brilliant woman and devoted decades to breaking the code. She came so close. I love the intricacies of code-breaking … Linguistics, history, cryptology – has it all!

A rather dark and brooding semi-autobiographical novel set in the 1920’s concerning the background, journey and ultimate collapse of a brittle yet somewhat essential marriage between a young psychiatrist and his wealthy though troubled wife.

I particularly enjoyed the Triptych structure of the novel set in a non-chronological order … just as one part was starting to become a slight drag the next instalment injected some much needed depth and acceleration to the story. I felt the compression and elongation of timescales within the novel was a literary trick well used. An enjoyable read in a similar vein to The Great Gatsby and ideal as a sweltering summer escape!

It’s a collection of 19 short stories spanning Vila-Matas’s career (a “greatest hits” I suppose rather than thematic collection). A few are slight (just a couple of pages) but most are substantial, and two are absolutely note perfect and mini masterpieces (A Permanent Home & The Boy on the Swing).

Tonally it’s a bit sharper than the last Vila-Matas I read (The Illogic of Kassel), in that book I was a worried that Vila-Matas was being a bit too cute but here the narrators are anything but (octogenarians waiting for their eldest offspring to die, rude and drunk house guests, down at heal and spectacularly overweight actors…), yet often times they achieve what I’ll coin as a “curmudgeon sublime”. Most excellent.

Here’s the winner of this year’s Hemingway look-alike competition.

Slate recommend 100 books for ambitious teenagers to devour this summer.

Karin Slaughter killed a character with antifreeze; Peter Swanson used cashews and a missing EpiPen: inside the devious minds of thriller writers.

A system for spotting fake reviews is getting bad (fake) reviews and this it kind of feels like a metaphor for everything.

In the New Yorker, Jill Lepore says that Herman Melville “wrote most of Moby-Dick on land, in a valley, on a farm, in a house a-dither with his wife, his sisters, and his mother.”

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Not the Booker longlist: vote now to decide the 2019 shortlist

Our initial poll has put more than 160 novels in contention. We need your learned opinions to winnow this down to a shortlist next week

This year’s Booker longlist has been described as “an absolute gift for bookselling” and seems popular with critics and the book-buying public alike, which is excellent. I hope it’s going to be a vintage year. But still: it isn’t as long as our longlist.

This year, a mighty 163 books have been nominated for the Not the Booker prize. That’s an impressive indication of the scale of publishing in English-language fiction and of the enthusiasm you guys have for reading. But now, it’s time to start talking about how good some of these books are. To do that, we need to produce our shortlist.

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Learn 5 Types of Character Arc at a Glance: The 2 Heroic Arcs (Part 1 of 2)

character arc types heroic arcs pinterestThere are only two or three human stories, but they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they never happened.–Willa Cather

The many different approaches to story theory break down the number of “human stories” into different categories. Perhaps there are just two—comedy and tragedy. Perhaps there are Vonnegut’s eight “shapes.” Today, I’m going to argue for five—the five basic types of character arc.

These include the two Truth-driven or heroic arcs—the Positive-Change Arc and the Flat Arc. And the three Lie-driven or Negative-Change Arcs—the Disillusionment Arc, the Fall Arc, and the Corruption Arc.

I’ve talked about all these arcs extensively, beat by beat, both in my series of posts and my book Creating Character Arcs and its companion workbook. But as someone recently pointed out in an email, I’ve never compiled a basic structural beat sheet of what all the arcs look like at a glance.

As of now, I’m remedying that with a two-part series that puts the basic principles and types of character arc all in one place. Today, we’re going to start by talking about, first, the basic ingredients necessary in any type of character arc, followed by a detailed but at-a-glance look at the two “truth-based” heroic arcs.

The 6 Foundational Ingredients of All Character Arcs

Let’s get started. All five arcs share several commonalities, beginning with their foundational structure (which I prefer to break into three acts and ten beats, as you’ll see below). Beyond that, they also share the following six foundational ingredients, which can then be mixed to the author’s needs according to whichever arc has been chosen for the story.

1. The Thematic Truth

The theme is your story’s Truth. It is a universal statement about how the world works. In almost all instances (with the arguable exception of the Disillusionment Arc), the Truth will represent an ultimately positive (if sometimes painful) value, which will help the characters interact more fruitfully and less futilely with the world.

>>Click Here to Read More the Truth Your Character Believes

2. The Lie the Character Believes

The Lie is a misconception about the world that stands in contrast to the Truth. At the beginning of the story, the Lie will be preventing someone (either the protagonist or, in the case of the Flat Arc, supporting characters) from seeing, understanding, and/or accepting a necessary Truth. The entire character arc—and, indeed, the entire story—is about if and how the character(s) will be able to evolve past the Lie into the Truth.

>>Click Here to Read More About the Lie Your Character Believes

3. & 4. The Thing the Character Wants vs. the Thing the Character Needs

The inner thematic conflict of Truth vs. Lie will manifest in the external plot conflict as the Thing the Character Wants vs. the Thing the Character Needs. Usually, the Need is nothing more or less than the Truth, although it can take a physical form as well. The Want may be something large and abstract (such as “respect”), but it should boil down to a very specific plot goal (“a promotion” or “a college degree”). Your character’s evolving proximity to the Want and the Need will change in direct relation to the specific character arc.

>>Click Here to Read More About the Thing Your Character Wants and the Thing Your Character Needs

5. The Ghost

The Ghost (sometimes also referred to as the “wound”) is the motivating catalyst in your protagonist’s backstory. This is the reason the character believes in the Lie and can’t see past it to the Truth. As its name (coined by script doctor extraordinaire John Truby) suggests, the Ghost is something that haunts the character, something that can’t just be moved past. Often, it is a traumatic event, but even something seemingly positive (such as a parent’s pride in a child) can cause a character to believe the damaging Lie.

>>Click Here to Read More About the Ghost

6. The Normal World

The Normal World is the initial setting in the story’s First Act, meant to illustrate the character’s life before the story’s main conflict. Depending on the type of arc, the Normal World will symbolically represent either the story’s Truth or the story’s Lie. The Normal World may be a definitive setting, which will change at the beginning of the Second Act, when the character enters the Adventure World of the main conflict. However, it may also be more metaphorical, in which case the setting itself will not switch, but rather the conflict will change the setting around the protagonist (for example changing the atmosphere from friendly to hostile).

>>Click Here to Read More About the Normal World

The 2 Heroic Arcs

The Positive-Change Arc and the Flat Arc are the “happy” or “heroic” arcs. In these stories, the protagonist either learns or already knows the Truth—and uses it to positively impact the story world.

1. The Positive-Change Arc

Character Believes Lie > Overcomes Lie > New Truth Is Liberating

>>Click Here to Read More About the Positive-Change Arc

Character Arc 1 - Positive

Click the image for a larger view.

The First Act (1%-25%)

1%: The Hook: Believes Lie

The protagonist believes a Lie that has so far proven necessary or functional in the existing Normal World.

12%: The Inciting Event: First Hint Lie Will No Longer Work

The Call to Adventure, when the protagonist first encounters the main conflict, also brings the first subtle hint that the Lie will no longer serve the protagonist as effectively as it has in the past.

25%: The First Plot Point: Lie No Longer Effective

The protagonist is faced with a consequential choice, in which the “old ways” of the Lie-ridden First Act show themselves ineffective in the face of the main conflict’s new stakes. Although the protagonist does not yet recognize the inefficacy of the Lie, he will still pass through a Door of No Return, in which he is forced to leave the Normal World of the First Act and enter the Adventure World of the main conflict in the Second Act.

The Second Act (25%-75%)

37%: The First Pinch Point: Punished for Using Lie

The protagonist is “punished” for using the Lie. In the Normal World, he was able to use the Lie to get the Thing He Wants. But in the Second Act, this is no longer a functional mindset. Throughout the First Half of the Second Act, he will try to use his old Lie-based mindsets to reach his goals and will be “punished” by failures until he begins to learn how things really work.

50%: The Midpoint (Second Plot Point): Sees Truth, But Doesn’t Yet Reject Lie

The protagonist encounters a Moment of Truth in which he comes face to face with the thematic Truth (often via a simultaneous plot-based revelation about the external conflict). This is the first time the protagonist consciously recognizes the Truth and its power. He does not yet, however, recognize the Truth and the Lie as incompatible. He will attempt to use both in the Second Half of the Second Act.

62%: The Second Pinch Point: Rewarded for Effectively Using Truth

The protagonist is “rewarded” for using the Truth. Building upon what he learned at the Midpoint, the protagonist will start implementing Truth-based actions in combating the antagonistic force and reaching toward the Thing He Wants. He will be “rewarded” by successes as he moves nearer and nearer his ultimate plot goal.

The Third Act (75%-100%)

75%: The Third Plot Point: Rejects Lie

The protagonist is confronted by a “low moment” brought about by his continuing refusal to fully reject the Lie. Finally, the protagonist must confront the true stakes of what he stands to lose if he continues to embrace the Lie. Feeling all but defeated, he rejects the Lie. Implicitly, he also fully embraces the Truth.

88%: The Climax: Embraces Truth

The protagonist enters the final confrontation with the antagonistic force to decide whether or not he will gain the Thing He Wants. Directly before or during this section, he consciously and explicitly embraces and wields the Truth.

98%: The Climactic Moment: Uses Truth to Gain Need

The protagonist uses the Truth and all it has taught him about himself and the conflict to gain the Thing He Needs. Depending upon the nature of his Truth, he may also gain the Thing He Wants, or he may realize he needs to sacrifice it for his own greater good. As a result, he definitively ends the conflict between himself and the antagonistic force.

100%: The Resolution: Enters New Truth-Empowered Normal World

The protagonist either enters a new Normal World or returns to the original Normal World, where he can now live as a Truth-empowered individual.

2. The Flat Arc

Character Believes Truth > Maintains Truth > Uses Truth to Overcome World’s Lie

>>Click Here to Read More About the Flat Arc.

Character Arc 2 - Flat

Click the image for a larger view.

The First Act (1%-25%)

1%: The Hook: Believes Truth in a Lie-Ridden World

The protagonist believes a Truth that the rest of the Normal World around her rejects. The Normal World and most of its characters are mired in a central Lie which enslaves them in some way.

12%: The Inciting Event: Challenged to Use Truth to Oppose Lie

The Call to Adventure, when the protagonist first encounters the main conflict, presents a direct challenge to her Truth. The question at this point is whether or not she can be convinced to take action in wielding her Truth against the Lie of the world around her.

25%: The First Plot Point: World Tries to Forcibly Impose Lie

The protagonist is faced with a consequential choice, in which the antagonistic force attempts to forcibly impose the Lie upon her or others. In refusing to relinquish her Truth for the Lie, the protagonist passes through a Door of No Return, in which she is forced to leave the Normal World of the First Act and enter the Adventure World of the main conflict in the Second Act.

The Second Act (25%-75%)

37%: The First Pinch Point: Uncertain if Truth Is Capable of Defeating Lie

The protagonist struggles to use her Truth against the strength of the antagonistic force’s Lie. She experiences doubt about whether her Truth is capable of defeating the Lie and, as a result, if it is indeed the Truth.

50%: The Midpoint (Second Plot Point): Proves Power of Truth to World

The protagonist perseveres in following her Truth. She offers a Moment of Truth to the world around her. This is the first time the protagonist will demonstrably exhibit the full power and purity of the Truth. At least one significant supporting character will be impacted (positively or negatively) by this revelation.

62%: The Second Pinch Point: Lie-Driven Characters Fight Back

In response to the protagonist’s powerful demonstration of Truth at the Midpoint, other Lie-driven characters will double down on the Lie and use it to mount a formidable counter-attack upon the protagonist and her Truth.

The Third Act (75%-100%)

75%: The Third Plot Point: Lie Seems to Triumph Externally

The Lie-driven tactics of the antagonistic force hit the protagonist hard, even to the point of the protagonist’s seeming defeat in the external conflict. The protagonist is confronted by a “low moment” brought about by the supporting characters’ continuing refusal to fully reject the Lie. The protagonist must confront the true stakes of what she stands to sacrifice if she continues to embrace the Truth. Even in the face of overwhelming odds, she reaffirms her conviction of the Truth.

88%: The Climax: Final Confrontation Between Truth and Lie

The protagonist enters the final confrontation with the antagonistic force to decide whether or not she will gain the Thing She Wants. She consciously and explicitly embraces and wields the Truth.

98%: The Climactic Moment: Truth Defeats Lie

The protagonist uses the Truth (often with the help of positively-changed supporting characters) to defeat the antagonistic force and gain the Thing She Wants and Needs (which are often the same thing in a Flat Arc, since the protagonist always possesses an understanding of the Truth).

100%: The Resolution: New Truth-Empowered Normal World

The protagonist enters a new Normal World, which is empowered by the Truth thanks to her actions.


Once you’ve mastered these two heroic arcs, you’re well on your way to writing powerful stories of redemption, conviction, and relatable righteousness.

Stay tuned, because next week, we’re going to do a side-by-side comparison of the three Negative-Change Arcs, which offer an equal amount of power in dramatizing all the ways human journeys don’t always turn out the way we might hope.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Have you written either of these types of character arc in your stories? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in iTunes).

The post Learn 5 Types of Character Arc at a Glance: The 2 Heroic Arcs (Part 1 of 2) appeared first on Helping Writers Become Authors.

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Poem of the week: Prison sonnets by Wilfrid Scawen Blunt

Written from jail in 1888, these still-forceful lines register the multiple losses suffered inside the ‘convent without God’

Sonnets III and V from In Vinculis

Honoured I lived erewhile with honoured men
In opulent state. My table nightly spread
Found guests of worth, peer, priest and citizen,
And poet crowned, and beauty garlanded.
Nor these alone, for hunger too I fed.
And many a lean tramp and sad Magdalen
Passed from my doors less hard for sake of bread.
Whom grudged I ever purse or hand or pen ?

Related: Poem of the week: The Ballad of Reading Gaol

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Poetic Symbology of the Heroine’s Journey: Artist Nancy Castille’s Stunning Homage to the Sumerian Proto-Feminist Goddess Inanna

5,000-year-old poems celebrating female sexuality and empowerment, reimagined in a new symbolic language at the nexus of beauty, wonder, and wisdom.

Poetic Symbology of the Heroine’s Journey: Artist Nancy Castille’s Stunning Homage to the Sumerian Proto-Feminist Goddess Inanna

“We die. That may be the meaning of life,” Toni Morrison observed from the Stockholm stage upon becoming the first black woman to win the Nobel Prize. “But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” A generation before her, Iris Murdoch — another woman of towering genius — wrote in weighing the salvational power of the written word: “The quality of a civilisation depends upon the scope and purity of its language.” Both culturally and biologically, language is the hallmark of our species — it is, as the great 19th-century biologist and anatomist Thomas Huxley noted upon reflecting on Darwin’s greatest legacy, what makes “every generation somewhat wiser than its predecessor” and more attuned to the fundamental truths of the universe.

And yet even the greatest civilizations, along with their languages, die. Whether or not the civilizations that follow manage to grow wiser depends largely on the extent to which they can build upon the wisdom and beauty their predecessors left in the ruins of their fallen empires — legacies of meaning-making encoded almost entirely in language and art.

“The Holy One” (Nancy Castille)

Scholar, artist, seamstress, and violinist Nancy Castille brings an uncommonly inspired lens to this cross-civilizational culvert of meaning in Hieratica: Seven Hymns to the Goddess Inanna — her homage to a series of 5,000-year-old Sumerian poems dedicated to Inanna, the goddess of fertility, daughter of the Sumerian god of wisdom, Queen of Heaven and Earth, later known in Babylonian times as Ishtar.

According to the ancient myth, Inanna was tasked with conceiving the laws of human society and instilling them into the people — a task for which she travels to the Underworld, prevailing over innumerable challenges to emerge triumphant and transformed. It is essentially an empowering framework for the heroine’s journey, furnishing the proto-feminist counterpart to the now-iconic monomyth of the hero’s journey five millennia before Joseph Campbell devised it.

Baked clay relief of Inanna / Ishtar circa 19th-18th century B.C. (British Museum)

Castille writes in her artist statement:

The Sumerian myths are told by ancient peoples, on the cusp of the primitive and the mythic, emerging into a world organized by agriculture and the rise of large city-states. Although they are “only myths”, they tell of a still deeper history — the history of the human spirit as it has traveled through time, trying to make sense of its environment and constantly searching for meaning in life. Our souls are fortified and strengthened when they are exposed to such stories, stories that tell us more about the spirits and souls of our distant ancestors. From them, we derive a wisdom fearless and deep. The heart and soul of mankind shines out from the darkness of the past.


At the end of the day,
The great light,
Radiant Star,
The Lady of the Heavens appears.
The people in all lands lift their eyes to her;
The men they purify and the women cleanse Holy Inanna.

All living creatures,
The birds in the heavens,
The fish of the deep
My Lady protects them all.

All living creatures bow before her,
Feed and refresh her.
A young man makes love with his beloved.
The Lady of the Evening
Radiant on the horizon.

The lady looks down
In sweet wonder from heaven.
The people of Sumer
Parade before the holy Inanna.
Inanna, Lady of the Evening,
I sing your praises, holy Inanna.
The Lady of the Evening
Radiant on the horizon.


Ornament of heaven,
Joy of the Sun,
You awake and appear like daylight.
The people petition you in their cares.
You render cruel judgment against Evil,
Show kindly eyes
And blessings on the righteous.
Inanna looks down in sweet wonder.
The people of Sumer
Parade before the holy Inanna.
Inanna, Lady of the Morning, radiant.
I sing your praises, holy Inanna.
The Lady of the Morning
Radiant on the horizon.

Castille arrived at these hymns via a wonderfully improbable path. After an undergraduate degree in theology, an MBA in finance, and a quarter century in banking, she embraced the art of self-renewal and pivoted radically to philology and mythology, growing animated by the search for wisdom through the lens of art and the ancient spiritual traditions. A distributary in her immersion in the Mesopotamian classic Epic of Gilgamesh led her to the myth of Inanna and the millennia-old poems celebrating this confident, authoritative woman, aglow with equal parts wisdom and wonder — an abiding, deeply alive testament to Adrienne Rich’s insistence that “poetry can break open locked chambers of possibility, restore numbed zones to feeling, recharge desire.”


The people of Sumer assemble in the place.
The King builds a throne for the queen.
On this day of rites, a sleeping place is set up for Inanna.
The people arrange a bridal sheet over the bed,
To rejoice the heart and sweeten the loins
Of the goddess and her man.
She sprinkles sweet-smelling cedar on the ground around him.
Tenderly he caresses her and murmurs
My holy jewel, my wondrous Inanna,
As he enters her holy vulva,
And embraces her,
Causing the queen to rejoice.
They shine radiantly joined in abundance, lushness and plenty.
The musicans play for the Queen,
Play songs for Inanna to rejoice the heart.
They reach out for food.
The people spend the day in plenty.
They stand assembled in great joy.
Inanna, First Daughter of the Moon,
Lady of the Evening,
I sing your praises.

Moved by the beauty and wisdom reverberating from these ancient verses across space and time — verses arresting in their unapologetic celebration of female sexuality as a wellspring of strength — Castille first envisioned drawing on her skills as a seamstress in a series of prayer flags that would symbolically represent the poems. Using a technique she developed called “E-quilting,” she scanned a variety of antique fabrics and objects to create an intricate electronic mosaic for each poem. But she soon realized that each collage would need an inscription to link it to the respective poem. Because any modern language seemed to disfigure the historical sensibility of the art, she endeavored to create an entire symbolic language for the inscriptions.

So began a remarkably ambitious project that would take Castille several years as she mined the poems for their most significant words and images, classified them into five core categories — Transcendence, Home, Earth, The Sacred, and Community — and began creating an alphabet of simple, non-pictographic symbols that could easily be traced onto a clay tablet, maintaining a cohesive visual vocabulary across the symbols representing the different words in each category. Something larger emerged from the categorization exercise — a picture of the primary sources of meaning and sanctity in the lives of these ancient people, encoded in their language.


Proud Queen of the Earth,
Loud thundering storm,
You pour rain over all the lands,
The heavens tremble,
You throw lightning across the earth,
Your deafening command
splits apart great mountains,
You stalk the heavens like a wild bull.
The riverbanks overflow
with the flood waves of your heart.

To further honor the artistic sensibilities and cultural histories of the region, Castille decided to relinquish her original prayer flag concept in favor of artwork based on Islamic mosaic patterns. She named the project after a cursive ink-on-papyrus writing system the sacred scribes of ancient Egypt devised to speed up the writing process: hieratica, from hieros, Greek for “sacred.”

The result is a beguiling, deeply poetic work of reverence, respect, and rapture at the nexus of beauty, wisdom, and wonder.


My lady, Amazement of the Land,
Lone Star, Brave One
Who appears in the heavens,
All lands revere her
And make offerings to her,
Incense like sweet-smelling cedar,
Butter, cheese, dates,
Fruits of all kinds.

Purify the earth for my Lady
Celebrate her in song.
Pour her wine and honey at sunrise,
Feed Inanna in this pure clean place.

My lady looks in sweet wonder from heaven.
The people of Sumer
Parade before the holy Inanna
INanna, the Lady who Ascends into heaven,
I sing your praises, holy Inanna.
The Lady who Ascends like the heavens
Radiant on the horizon.

Complement Castille’s enchanting Hieratica with Argentine artist Mirtha Dermisache’s invented graphic languages and French philosopher Maurice Blanchot on writing, the dual power of language to reveal and to conceal, and what it really means to see, then revisit the story of the invention of zero — that most revolutionary symbol in the native poetry of the universe, mathematics — conceived in the very lands that originated the myth of Inanna.

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The Lioness in the Tall Grass: Farmer and Poet Laura Brown-Lavoie’s Extraordinary Letter to Children About the Power of Storytelling

In praise of sentences that pull you in with all their teeth.

The Lioness in the Tall Grass: Farmer and Poet Laura Brown-Lavoie’s Extraordinary Letter to Children About the Power of Storytelling

“Literature,” Vladimir Nabokov wrote in his insightful meditation on storytelling, “was born not the day when a boy crying wolf, wolf came running out of the Neanderthal valley with a big gray wolf at his heels: literature was born on the day when a boy came crying wolf, wolf and there was no wolf behind him… Between the wolf in the tall grass and the wolf in the tall story there is a shimmering go-between. That go-between, that prism, is the art of literature.”

Not a boy but a girl, not a canine beast but a feline one, and still the tall grass converge to illuminate the shimmering mesmerism of storytelling in one of the most soulful and sinewy contributions to A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader (public library) — my labor of love eight years in the making, collecting 121 original illustrated letters to children about why we read and how books transform us by some of the most inspiring humans in our world: poets, physicists, songwriters, artists, entrepreneurs, philosophers, deep-sea divers.

Art by Ping Zhu for a letter by Laura Brown-Lavoie from A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader, edited by Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick.

Farmer, poet, doula, and performer Laura Brown-Lavoie writes:

Dear Reader,

Did you ever read a sentence you loved the way you love your favorite animal? My favorite animal is a lioness; how she doesn’t have a mane but she always has some blood around her mouth. And how the lionesses work together like good friends when they want to kill something. I’ve never seen a lioness in person or touched one or slept in the same bushes where a lioness lives, but I’ve known since I was a little kid that I love them the most.

Sometimes when I’m reading a good book and I’m under a blanket and no one’s trying to talk to me, I forget that I’m reading. The tall grass of the story grows up around me, and I’m just another silent creature whose heart beats in that world. If I sit still and keep reading that way, sometimes a sentence stalks by as lovely as a lioness. Blood around its mouth; that fresh, that killer. I read it once, and I know I have to read it again, not look away, watch closely how it moves.

And then I start to notice my eye muscles moving my eyeballs back and forth again, and see the black of the letters on the gray of the page, and I’m just plain reading under a blanket. It’s still fun. But the reason I read is for the lionesses. For the sentences that pull me in with all their teeth.


In a lovely meta-testament to the sentiment of her letter, Brown-Lavoie (to whom I was introduced by the wondrous Sarah Kay, another contributor to A Velocity of Being) also composed one of the most imaginative and delightful author bios in the book:

Laura Brown-Lavoie is writing stories at the library with dirt on her knees. Born, like we all are, of physical labor, of sunlight and rain. Laura’s stories are born in a war-waging country, written by a war-hating woman. Her poems grow like weeds from the cracks in the asphalt of Providence streets and get hung upside down in the kitchen to dry.

Savor more of A Velocity of Being: Letters to a Young Reader, all proceeds from which benefit the New York public library system, with Jane Goodall on how reading shaped her life, Rebecca Solnit on how books solace, empower, and transform us, Alain de Botton on literature as a vehicle of understanding, and 100-year-old Holocaust survivor Helen Fagin on how one book saved actual lives.

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Our 3 Favorite Card Stacks: how to master them…EASILY!

  There are so many card stacks, it’s hard to know where to start. What are the BEST card stacks? And even more importantly…how do you even learn them??     That’s exactly what we’re going to reveal in this blog post… Card stacks are an advanced card magic technique that enable you to perform […]

The post Our 3 Favorite Card Stacks: how to master them…EASILY! appeared first on Conjuror Community.

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Hurrah for 'flyting' – but we can do better than Piers Morgan and Alan Sugar

The ‘frenemies’ have taken to aiming insulting limericks at each other – but they can’t beat 15th-century poets William Dunbar and Walter Kennedy

The 15th-century Scottish poets William Dunbar and Walter Kennedy would be rolling in their graves at what the noble art of flyting – trading insults in verse – has been reduced to by the likes of Alan Sugar and Piers Morgan. The pair – who are apparently “frenemies” (as in, “Alan Sugar caught up in new homophobic row after joking with frenemy Piers Morgan about gay elephants) – began insulting each other on Thursday with Twitter limericks. It isn’t hard to imagine that they were inspired by the efforts of Britain’s new prime minister Boris Johnson, who wrote a limerick about the president of Turkey having sex with a goat three years ago shortly before his appointment as foreign secretary.

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