Category Archives: Language

The Book Whisperer Invites Readers to the 2019 Books Sandwiched In series at Central Library


Today’s blog takes a new turn in that I am not reviewing a single book, but I’m promoting the Books Sandwiched In fall 2019 series. The book reviews are held at the Central Library, downtown Tulsa in Aaronson Auditorium. The reviews begin at 12:10 PM on Mondays and end at 12:50 PM. This year, there are two exceptions. The first review will be at Marshall Brewery, 6th & Utica, at 6:00 PM because Central Library (and, in fact, all libraries) is closed for a day of staff development. The second exception occurs on Nov 12 which is a Tuesday since the libraries are closed for Veterans’ Day on Monday, Nov 11. The time remains the same for this review: 12:10 – 12:50 PM. The complete schedule is listed at the end of this blog.

Guests are encouraged to bring their lunch and listen to the book reviews. Bring a friend or two along to enjoy the reviews as well. Starbucks, located on the first floor of Central Library, is the only library-owned Starbucks in the US. Money made over expenses goes to help fund library programs. Thus, purchasing food and drinks from the Central Library Starbucks helps support the library system.

Mon, Oct 14, 6:00 PM, Marshall Brewery: John Carreyou details in Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup the story of Theranos and its founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes. Holmes promoted a radical idea that a single drop of blood could determine any number of diseases. Through the use of a machine installed in pharmacies, people could have a drop of blood drawn to give them quick, accurate test results. Sadly, the idea does not work, but Holmes raised more than $9 billion to fund her project until the whole company collapsed. Carreyou has written a true story that reads like a fast-paced thriller.

Mon, Oct 21, 12:10-12:50 PM: The Book Whisperer reviewed The Library Book by Susan Orlean on 25 Nov 2018. See the complete review there. Susan Orlean has written a captivating book about the Los Angeles Library fire in 1984. To explain the full extent of the fire and its aftermath, Orlean also provides a history of the library system in Los Angeles and how critical the library is to the well-being of a city and its people.

Mon, Oct 28, 12:10-12:50 PM: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is another book the Book Whisperer reviewed; this one on 15 Mar 2019. Owens has written a coming of age story combined with a mystery and wrapped in nature. Where the Crawdads Sing is a must read.

Mon, Nov 4, 12:10-12:50 PM: Marie Benedict’s The Only Woman in the Room will be reviewed. Again, the Book Whisperer reviewed The Only Woman in the Room in this blog on 13 Apr 2019. Hedy Lamarr has long been known as a beautiful Hollywood star. In truth, she was a scientist.

Tues, Nov 12, 12:10-12:50 PM: Because the libraries are closed for Veterans’ Day on Monday, Nov 11, the review of Becoming by Michelle Obama and The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty by Susan Page will take place on a Tuesday. The review of two books by and about First Ladies is unprecedented. Michelle Obama and Barbara Bush both contributed much to the US during their tenures as First Ladies.

Mon, Nov 18, 12:10-12:50 PM: Meet me at the Museum by Anne Youngston is the kind of novel to read and reread. Told in the form of letters between Tina Hopgood, an English farm wife, and Anders Larsen, a museum director in Denmark, Meet me at the Museum chronicles the growing friendship between two strangers through the letters they exchange. The Book Whisperer reviewed Meet me at the Museum in this blog on 1 Feb 2019.

Mon, Nov 25, 12:10-12:50 PM: Recipient of the 2019 Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award is Stacy Schiff. A review of her body of work will include an overview of such books as The Witches: Salem, 1692, Cleopatra: A Life, and A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America. Such acclaimed authors as David McCullough, another Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author recipient, praise Schiff’s writing as “brilliant from start to finish.”

2019 Books Sandwiched In Book Reviews

12:10-12:50 PM, Aaronson Auditorium, Central Library (two exceptions, noted with **)

Bring your lunch and bring a friend or two to enjoy these book reviews.

Oct 14**: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou (held in the evening at Marshall Brewery, 6th & Utica. The library is closed for staff development that day.)

Oct 21: The Library Book by Susan Orlean  (Monday marks the beginning of National Friends of the Library Week, so the review celebrates libraries.)

Oct 28: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Nov 4: The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

Nov 12**: (TUESDAY because the library is closed for Veterans’ Day Nov 11): Becoming by Michelle Obama and The Matriarch: Barbara Bush and the Making of an American Dynasty by Susan Page 

Nov 18: Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngston

Nov 25: Overview of the work of Stacy Schiff, the 2019 Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author recipient


The Book Whisperer Examines a Book for Book Lovers


My friend Judy sent me a copy of A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books by Nicholas A. Basbanes. Publisher’s Weekly in a starred review calls A Gentle Maddness “an absolutely fascinating tale and an engrossing, essential book that no book lover should be without.” In 1995, A Gentle Madness was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award. Basbanes has received numerous awards for his writing of nonfiction books and articles for a variety of newspapers and magazines such as The Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and The Smithsonian.

A Gentle Madness pays homage to book lovers, book collectors, and book history. Obviously, Basbanes tackled a monumental job in chronicling the history of books and their collectors. The book is 638 pages long with 39 pages of notes, an extensive bibliography consisting of another 37 pages, and finally an index of 25 pages.  A Gentle Madness is a scholarly work.

Basbanes has also included a number of illustrations to accompany his work. Sir Robert Cotton, 1571-1631, is noted as an “antiquary and collector.” Another picture of interest is of the statue of John Harvard, 1607-1638, “the Puritan clergyman whose gift of books established the first library to be formed in British North America.”

The chapter titles are intriguing. “Balm for the Soul,” “Rule Britannia,” “Brandy for Heroes,” and “Infinite Riches” will keep readers moving from one page to the next.

In Chapter 13, “The Blumberg Collection,” the first line spoken by FBI Special Agent W. Dennis Aiken will intrigue book lovers: “I really don’t know why you want to come out here. All you’re going to see is seven rooms stacked to the ceiling with old books.”

Clearly, I did not read all of A Gentle Madness. It is the kind of book one keeps on hand to dip into again and again and then to pass it along to another book lover as Judy has done.

Nicholas Basbanes maintains an extensive Web site:

The Book Whisperer Reads a New Take on an Old Favorite


Troy Wilson, writer, and Ilaria Campana, illustrator, teamed up to create a new version of Little Red Riding Hood: Little Red Reading Hood and the MISREAD Wolf. I have always loved the story of Little Red Riding Hood and even played Little Red Riding Hood in an elementary end-of-school-year play once upon a time. I still have the red hood attached to a cape along with the green apron I wore with it to prove it!

With the word reading in Little Red’s name, one might guess that reading and books will play an important part in the story.  That assumption would be entirely correct. Part of the fun of reading any book involves anticipation.

How many of us look at a title and start to speculate on the book’s contents? The cover art also has a great deal to do with our anticipation of the story as well. Just today, I was reading about some novels and the cover of one, which shall remain unidentified, was so creepy that I knew I would never the read the book. And last week for our library book club, one of my friends put a sticky note over part of the cover because she did not like the picture even though she did read the book.

The cover of Little Red Reading Hood and the MISREAD Wolf gives readers many clues. Books anchor two corners, upper left and lower right. The wolf is in the upper right corner behind a vine and Little Red Reading Hood’s basket is in the lower left corner. In the middle, we see Little Red Reading Hood wearing her hood and sitting cross-legged doing what? Reading a book, of course!

The back cover is equally intriguing. We see Little Red Reading Hood holding her basket and walking up the path to grandmother’s cottage. The mailbox, stuffed with letters, reads Grandma. Campana has made the woods prominent by drawing tall, slender trunks towering over the house.

Regardless of age, readers do anticipate contents from looking at the cover and the title. That’s part of the fun of reading the book too. Then once we have completed the book, we can think about how closely we imagined the story from the title and the cover or how far off the mark we might have been.

Little Red Reading Hood and the MISREAD Wolf follows along with the original story including Little Red Reading Hood making a treat for her grandmother who is ill and encountering a wolf in the woods as she walks to grandmother’s house. The wolf is even in grandmother’s bed.

However, the story deviates from the original Little Red Riding Hood all the way through as well.  Readers must discover for themselves what those differences are between Little Red Riding Hood and Little Red Reading Hood and the MISREAD Wolf. That discovery will be a pleasure to experience over and over as one reads alone and to others.

Troy Wilson has written seven books. Many of the adjectives used to describe Wilson’s books include fun, ridiculously entertaining, sensational, playful, and imaginative. See his other books and more about Wilson at this link: The item below is from Wilson’s Web site and gives a hint into his sense of humor.

Be sure to look up Ilaria Campana’s Web site too: Her artwork is astounding.

The Book Whisperer Examines a Book on Writing


I was totally unfamiliar with Alice Mattison until I read about The Kite and the String: How to Write With Spontaneity and Control—And Live to Tell the Tale.” The title alone should intrigue writers and would-be writers as well as readers who enjoy learning about the process of writing those beloved stories.

I opened The Kite and the String to the “Introduction: Excuse Me, Don’t We Know Each Other?” That title added to my interest. The first two paragraphs are engaging:

“Maybe you’re that woman in the corner of the coffee shop. You’re gazing over the lid of a laptop, then typing fast, then gazing again. Or possibly you’re that man with the narrow-ruled notebook, writing fat paragraphs in black ink…. And I? I’m the woman with messy gray hair who’s at risk of spilling her coffee down your neck, because she can’t help glancing over your shoulder to get a glimpse of what you’re writing. Is it, perhaps, a story? Is it a novel? A memoir?”

Mattison goes on to explain that The Kite and the String is not a how-to manual. Instead, she says it “describes one woman’s way of thinking about writing.”

Mattison has divided The Kite and the String into five parts. Within those five parts, she has included a variety of chapters. She includes chapters titled “Imagine,” “Let Happenings Happen,” “Become Someone Else,” and “Revising Our Thought Bubbles.”

My favorite chapter is “What Killed the Queen? and Other Uncertainties That Keep a Reader Reading.” Mattison reminds her readers, “we don’t write well without touching on painful subjects, and many of us need to write for a long time before those painful thoughts emerge from wherever we ordinarily hide them.”

Throughout The Kite and the String, Mattison uses examples from other novelists to illustrate the points she is making. This technique allows her readers then to research further for themselves by referring to those books and authors.

In “Revising Our Thought Bubbles,” Mattison gives advice about showing one’s writing. She explains that a writing workshop she attended for thirteen years with poets Jane Kenyon and Joyce Peseroff “made me dare to be a writer.” She goes on to say that “it’s possible to show your writing, cautiously, to people who aren’t writers and to learn from them.”  She emphasizes the word cautiously if showing the writing to non-writers. The writing workshops provide a much-needed service then because they consist of other writers.

Mattison is forthright in her teaching. She says, “Cherish the readers who offer more praise than you deserve, but find others as well—which may be more difficult.”

In the end, Mattison tells writers “be ambitious, in the best sense. Write—write first drafts—when you’re sleepy and stupid, receptive and vulnerable…. Take outrageous risks, and then have the patience and humility to fix your work.”


Mattison has published six novels, four collections of short stories, and a collection of poems. She has received a number of awards. She currently teaches in the MFA program at Bennington College. Learn more about Mattison and her work at her site:

The Book Whisperer Examines Two Juvenile Books


I enjoy reading books for readers of all ages. Recently, I read an article about books for young readers featuring immigrant children. Intrigued, I requested two of the books from the library: The Name Jar by Yansook Choi and One Green Apple by Eve Bunting a illustrated by Ted Lewin.

In The Name Jar, Unhei has just moved to the US from Korea. She is uncertain about her first day in a new country and a new school. How will the other children react to her and will they be able to pronounce her name?

Unhei decides she will take an American name, but she needs to decide. Her classmates put a jar on her desk and begin putting suggested names into the jar. Unhei tried saying some of the names as she stood before the mirror: Amanda, Laura, Suzy. They didn’t sound quite right.

Unhei and her mother are shopping at Kim’s Market when Mr. Kim asks her name. When she tells him Unhei, he replies, “Ahh, what a beautiful name. Doesn’t it mean grace?”

In class the next day, Joey, one of Unhei’s classmates, sees Unhei with a stamp. She explains her grandmother had the stamp made with Unhei’s name on it. Unhei pressed the stamp onto a piece of paper to show Joey. Unhei goes on to tell Joey that in Korea she can use the stamp “as a signature when I open a bank account or write a letter.”

Joey takes the time to learn how to pronounce Unhei’s name: Yoon-Hey. When Unhei returns to class, the name jar is missing and no one can find it. After school, Joey visits Unhei at her home. He confesses he hid the name jar because he wants Unhei to use her own Korean name, not choose an American name. Joey says, too, that he has visited Mr. Kim who helped him choose a Korean name. He pulls a “small silver felt pouch from his pocket.” It contains “a dark wooden stamp with beautiful Korean characters carved sharply in it. Joey stamps Chinku onto the paper, and Unhei smiles! Chinku means friend.

My favorite picture from the story appears below; it is Unhei and Joey, Chinku, together.


Yansook Choi grew up in Seoul and now lives in NYC. She earned an MFA in illustration from the School of Visual Arts in NYC.

She received an MFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts in New York City.  She divides her time between New York and Seoul. On her Web site,, readers can see examples of Choi’s artwork as well as watch a TED Talk about her early life in Seoul.

One Green Apple by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ted Lewin, tells Farah’s story of feeling alone in a new country where people speak a language she does not know—yet. Farah and her classmates are taking a field trip to an apple orchard Once the children leave the bus, they get on a wagon filled with hay bales which will take them to the orchard.

At first, Farah feels alone and apart from the other children. She explains, “I am different, too, in other ways. My jeans and T-shirt look like theirs, but my dupatta covers my head and shoulders. I have not seen anyone else wearing a dupatta, though all the girls and women in my home country do.”

Farah’s father has told Farah “it will be good for us here [in the US] in time.” Farah at first feels uncertain, but the trip to the apple orchard shows her that she is part of the class too and that she has friends. She will work on learning her new language. On the field trip, Farah finds things that sound the same in her new world as they did in her village: dogs crunching food and friendly laughter.

Eve Bunting was born in Maghera, Ireland. She said that “there used to be Shanachies in Ireland of long ago. The Shanache was a storyteller who went from house to house telling his tales of ghosts and faires, of old Irish heroes and battles still to be won.” She thinks she is part Shanachie herself. See more about Eve Bunting at this site:


Illustrator, Ted Lewin has received a number of awards, including a Caldecott Medal for Peppe The Lamplighter. On his Web site,, readers will find more about Lewin.


The Book Whisperer Reflects on Journaling & Wordsmith Deck Prompts



For those who like to write journals but occasionally (or often) find themselves stuck for a topic, Wordsmith Deck from BestSelf Co,, offers a way to get out of a rut or to inspire thoughts.

The back of the box provides the following quotation from William Wordsworth: “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.”

The Wordsmith Deck contains 100 prompt cards in six categories:

Life, Education & Career, Love & Relationships, Self-Reflection, Random, and World.

The best part about using the Wordsmith Deck? No rules! Writers can shuffle the cards and choose one as a starting point for a journal entry. Perhaps one day, writing about relationships is on the writer’s mind, so he/she selects a card from that category.

As the creators of Wordsmith Deck point out, the prompts are reusable! That is, a writer could write by following a given prompt one time and then still write about that same prompt another time in a different frame of mind.

Maud Purcell, LCSW, CEAP, wrote “The Health Benefits of Journaling” for, Purcell explains the benefits of journaling on a regular basis. She emphasizes that journaling can clarify thoughts and encourage creativity among other benefits.

Alan Henry wrote “Why You Should Keep a Journal (and How to Start Yours) for, Henry reiterates Purcell’s claims and cites university studies which promote the benefits of regular journaling habits. Henry explains that the “very act of keeping a journal can help you brainstorm.”

When I taught Comp I and II, I had a student who worked in construction while he was attending college. During one of our conversations, he told me he kept a journal. In the journal, he not only wrote about ideas that occurred to him, he also kept track of shipments of construction materials, including dates of delivery and contents as well as condition of the delivered items. The journal had saved his company money when disputes arose over delivered goods because he had a record.

Journaling should not depend upon the kind of notebook the writer uses. Often, would-be writers focus on the materials or getting the right place to write rather than simply getting to the business of writing itself. Use an inexpensive spiral notebook, a blank book from the Dollar Store, or write at the computer, but write.

Some of the prompts from Wordsmith Deck are listed below.

“Where would you most like to live? (And why aren’t you living there already?)”

“Where are you still carrying old pain? How can you let it go?”

“What conversation do you need to have today?”

“What’s the best career compliment you’ve ever received? Describe the situation.”

Try journaling for a week. Then assess the benefits you feel following that week of journaling. Don’t make the journaling a task or chore; make it a delight, something to enjoy. Don’t set the bar too high at first. Decide you will spend 10 minutes (or whatever suits your time limits) a day for a week.

Get busy journaling!


The Book Whisperer Discovers Much About Hedy Lamarr


Marie Benedict,, was a 24-year-old corporate lawyer in NYC in the mid-1990s. As a result, Benedict was often the only woman in the room. Thus readers can understand the title of her most recent book, The Only Woman in the Room about Hedy Lamarr, bio-fiction.

The only woman in the room has a dual meaning to me. First, Hedy Lamarr would be the only woman in the room because of her beauty and presence. Second, she was often the only woman in the room of men because of her first husband’s business dealings. She was the ornament; little did Friedrich Mandl know of her superior intellect and her ability to remember conversations. Mandl was interested in possessing her because of her beauty.

Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary in 1914. Her parents were well-to-do; her father was a banker. Her mother, Gertrud Lichtwitz Kiesler, gave up a promising career as a concert pianist when she married Emil Kiesler, a banker. Hedy was their only child, doted upon by her father while her mother kept Hedy in check with her negative comments. As a result, Hedy felt a chasm between her and her mother.

Benedict begins the book with Hedy on stage starring as the nineteenth-century Bavarian empress Elizabeth. At the end of the performance, a parade of ushers starts toward the stage, all of the ushers holding bouquets of flowers. Hedy feels quite alarmed by the “grandiose gesture with its inappropriate, very public timing.” She cannot think who would be so unwise as to single her out in such a public way. She is not only alarmed, but also embarrassed. Hedy realizes too that the flowers are hothouse flowers, obviously expensive. Below is a picture of Empress Elizabeth.


When the audience sits down after a thunderous standing ovation, one man is left standing “in the center of the third row, the most prized seat in the theater.” He is staring at Hedy. She presumes the flowers are his ostentatious gift to her.

The card on the flowers let Hedy know they are from Friedrich Mandl, a wealthy munitions manufacturer. Mandl is heavy-handed and knows what he wants. He wants Hedy Kiesler, so he pursues her in this showy manner. He continues sending flowers, but after the first night, the flowers go direclty to fill Hedy’s dressing room. Mandl asks to take Hedy to dinner, but she does not answer him; she knows Mandl’s chauffer is waiting at the stage door, so she slips out another door.

Soon, Mandl sends a letter to Hedy’s parents asking for the opportunity to dine with their daughter. Reluctantly, Emil, Hedy’s father, tells Hedy that she must have dinner with Mandl. Emil fears the growing unrest in Europe and the strikes against Jews will be coming closer and closer to Austria. He knows that Mandl can protect Hedy and possibly her Jewish parents. Emil also fears the repercussions that Mandl could wield against him and his bank if Hedy refuses to dine with him. The family is in an intolerable position. And did I mention that Hedy is only 19 years old?

Hedy does have dinner with Mandl and then more dinners follow. Quite soon, he asks her to marry him. She is captivated by his charm and wealth; he treats her well. She finds herself attracted to him despite the age difference and the fact that he is not really a handsome man. She agrees to marry him, so he takes her and her mother to Paris to buy a wedding gown and other dresses. She finds a wedding gown she thinks is perfect, but he refuses it and chooses another one himself, one in black and white. Anything is lovely on Hedy, so she agrees to the dress.

Early in the book, Hedy reveals she has made a movie, Ecstasy, in which she is nude and plays a vividly realistic love scene. She regrets having made the movie even though at the time she thought the nudity and love scene fit the script. In returning to live theater, Hedy hopes to put Ecstasy behind her. She almost succeeds until one evening when she and Mandl are entertaining some high-powered business associates, Mandl decides to show Ecstasy over Hedy’s protests. Mandl does not know about the nude love scene.

When that scene comes on, Mandl is apoplectic and turns the projector off. From that moment on, Hedy is his prisoner. He has extra locks put on the doors and she has no access to keys. He allows her out only with him or only when he has advance notice that she will visit her parents or go shopping, but always chaperoned.

As readers can imagine, Hedy chafes at this imprisonment and her feelings for Mandl change. Not only does he keep her a prisoner, but his attitude toward her has changed. He regards her as his possession and rapes her, treating her savagely. Naturally, Hedy plots to escape from him. Her first attempt fails, mainly because the servants are spies and they betray her.

With her intellect, however, Hedy will not be denied. She plans more carefully, even hiring a young maid who, in certain lights, will look like Hedy. Before she can put the plans into effect, Mandl hosts a dinner to which Hedy is not invited, but she slips into the hallway and determines who some of the guests are; one of them is Hitler.

Hiding in the hallway, Hedy overhears a conversation between Hitler and Mandl when Hitler says, “I alone decide whether someone is Jewish. I have decided that you will be granted the title ‘Honorary Aryan,’ which means that whatever Semitic blood stains you bear have been washed clean. You are no longer a Jew. I feel certain that, without the besmirchment of that blood, you can, and indeed, have, fully adopted our faith in one Germanic country.”

Outraged that Mandl has sold out to Hitler, Hedy realizes she must set her plan into action. When Mandl is out of Austria on a business trip, Hedy drugs her young maid who resembles Hedy, grabs a hastily packed small bag with only a few of the gorgeous dresses she owns and a set of Cartier jewelry Mandl purchased in Paris as a surprise for Hedy on that wedding dress shopping trip.

Taking the maid’s car keys, to a car Hedy had purchased for the maid to use for shopping errands, and dressed in a maid’s uniform, Hedy grabs her bag and slips out the back of the house. She escapes to Paris and then to London and on to the US. Before leaving, she had visited her mother and begged her to go along, but her mother refused. By this time, Emil, Hedy’s beloved father, had died.

In Los Angeles, Hedy quickly finds success. In London, she meets Louis B. Mayer and his wife; they are also on the ship to the US together. Hedy negotiates a contract with Mayer, refusing his first lowball offer; not surprisingly, Mayer acquiesces to Hedy’s higher salary demands because he can see she will be a star and make him a great deal of money. Mayer says she must have a new name though because anything sounding Germanic would not be acceptable. Mrs. Mayer suggests Hedy Lamarr, so thus the name was chosen. Below is a publicity photo of Hedy Lamarr.


Hedy Lamarr quickly became a star in Hollywood, but she wanted more than the fame of being a movie star. She had overheard many conversations while married to Mandl about munitions and particularly about radio-controlled torpedoes and how the enemy could jam radio frequencies, thus throwing the torpedoes off course.

In Los Angeles, Hedy meets composer George Antheil and persuades him to join her in inventing a way to stop the enemy from jamming the radio signals. When he goes to Hedy’s home to work with her on the project, Antheil is surprised to see Hedy reading Radiodynamics: The Wireless Control of Torpedoesand Other Mechanisms by B. F. Miessner. He confesses, “I confess that I thought the place would be scattered with pots of makeup, jewelry, and gowns.” Instead, he finds Hedy has spread the table with notes she has been developing for the project.

Antheil and Lamarr DO develop a way to stop the enemy from jamming the radio-controlled torpedoes by making the frequency hop. They received a patent on frequency-hopping spread spectrum, US Patent 2,292,387 on 11 August 1942. They took the idea to the US Navy and they were rejected.

Hedy responds: “No matter the sexism that I knew well permeated the very fiber of my world, I couldn’t believe [the Navy Commander’s] words. These men were rejecting a system that would enable a plane or ship to steer a whole fleet of torpedoes against the enemy vessels with perfect accuracy, without any capacity on the enemy’s part to jam the necessary radio signals.” And why? Because Hedy Lamarr is a woman.

Only in the 1960s did the Navy incorporate the technology that Lamarr and Antheil had developed. However, Bluetooth technology uses a similar method, so many devices today rely on Lamarr and Antheil’s invention.

The Only Woman in the Room captivated my interest from the first page. Benedict starts each chapter with a date and place. That technique helps ground the story in time and space. Readers follow Hedy through that disastrous first marriage in Austria into to Hollywood and her ultimate success as a star. Hedy Lamarr, though, is much more than a pretty face. Her intellect knew no bounds.

Not only did she and Antheil receive a patent for their work on radio-hopping frequencies, she suggested to Howard Hughes that airplanes be streamlined instead of being made in a square formation so that they would have greater thrust and be more efficient.

Kirkus Reviews includes this statement about The Only Woman in the Room: “A captivating story of a complicated woman blazing new trails.” That is a good way to sum up the story of Hedy Lamarr.

Oct 14, 1939 Los Angeles CA: “My European friends and I assembled not to drink away our distress, but to share information. We’d learned that little of the truth was reported in the newspapers.”

Marie Benedict, a lawyer by education, has turned to full-time fiction writing. She published The Other Einstein about Mileva Maric, Albert Einstein’s first wife who was also a physicist. Her next book was Carnegie’s Maid about the woman “who may have spurred Andrew Carnegie toward philanthropy.”






The Book Whisperer Discovers Miss Thistlebottom, a Grammarian



Theodore M. Bernstein wrote seven books on grammar and English usage including Miss Thistlebottom’s Hobgoblins: The Careful Writer’s Guide to the Taboos, Bugbears and Outmoded Rules of English Language. Bernstein created the fictional Miss Thistlebottom, an eighth grade English teacher at an all boys’ school and supposedly his teacher.

Bernstein begins with “A Word to the Whys” in which he explains the title of his book: Miss Thistlebottom’s Hobgoblins: The Careful Writer’s Guide to the Taboos, Bugbears and Outmoded Rules of English Language. He maintains “a belief that a title so hard to pronounce and so hard to remember will be difficult to forget.” He goes on to report that the title is designed to denote the contents of the book. He wishes to “lay rest to the superstitions that have been passed on from one generation to the next by teachers, by editors and by writers — prohibitions deriving from mere personal prejudice or from misguided pedantry or from a cold conservatism that would freeze the language if it could.”

“A Word to the Whys” concludes with a list of references Bernstein cites in Miss Thistlebottom’s Hobgoblins. A few of those include the following: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, The Verbalist by Alfred Ayres, Write it Right by Ambrose Bierce, Syntax by George Curme, The Oxford English Dictionary, and A Grammar of Present-Day English by Eric Partridge. The last book was published in 1947.

In the prologue of Miss Thistlebottom’s Hobgoblins, we find a letter from Bertha Thistlebottom to Bernstein in which she says that “the disparaging remarks you make about me in several places hurt me.” At the end of the letter, however, she writes, “Despite all, however, I am of a forgiving nature and I am content with the thought that I must have taught you something right if you were able to turn out that book.”

In his reply to Miss Thistlebottom, Bernstein concludes that “as in so many endeavors in life, in the use of English an avoidance of extremes is the way to achievement and excellence.” Perhaps this bit of advice is the most important in the whole book.

The table of contents should pique any language lover’s interest. In addition to the ones already described, Bernstein includes “Witchcraft in Words,” “Syntax Scarecrows,” “Imps of Idioms,” and “Spooks of Style.”

In his letter to Miss Thistlebottom at the beginning of “Imps of Idioms,” Bernstein writes: “Idioms, it must be remembered, are sports in the linguistic garden.” Sentences such as that abound in Miss Thistlebottom’s Hobgoblins: The Careful Writer’s Guide to the Taboos, Bugbears and Outmoded Rules of English Language. Those who love language can enjoy Bernstein’s wit and his understanding of the English language. Following his introduction to idioms, Bernstein goes into an explanation of some commonly used idioms. He gives a bit of history to explain the idiom even if “the label for [so long] must be ‘origin obscure’.”

In “Spooks of Style,” Bernstein explains about puns. He says “puns are the easiest form of humor, but it does not follow that they are the lowest form.” Bernstein cites Charles Lamb in a letter Lamb wrote to Samuel Coleridge: “A pun is a noble thing per se. O never bring it in as an accessory! … it fills the mind; it is as perfect as a sonnet; better.” Bernstein ends “Spooks of Style” with this bit of advice about using you to refer to readers: “A few cautions are necessary. One is not to overdo the you device; that same caution applies to any writing advice. A second is to avoid shifting from one person to another. A third is to avoid seeming to talk down to the reader.”

At the end of the book, Bernstein includes “William Cullen Bryant’s Appendix Expurgatorius.” It contains a list of words that Bryant wanted writers to avoid. Bryant, though a poet, was also well-known as a journalist and was part owner and editor in chief of the New York Evening Post. The list is too long to repeat here, but it includes some interesting choices such as “over and above instead of more than, artiste instead of artist, casket for coffin, pants for pantaloons, en route, donate, rowdies, and the deceased.” Read Miss Thistlebottom’s Hobgoblins: The Careful Writer’s Guide to the Taboos, Bugbears and Outmoded Rules of English Language to find the entire list.

Theodore M. Bernstein earned a BA from Columbia University in 1924. He was editorial director of the New York Times Book Division, taught journalism at Columbia, and was a consultant on usage for Random House and American Heritage dictionaries. Miss Thistlebottom’s Hobgoblins: The Careful Writer’s Guide to the Taboos, Bugbears and Outmoded Rules of English Language is full of good advice and fun to read for those who love language.

The Book Whisperer Enjoys Dreyer’s English


Praise for Benjamin Dreyer’s Dreyer’s English is easily found. Newsday says that “Dreyer can help you…with tips on punctuation and spelling…. Even better: He’ll entertain you while he’s at it.” Now, when has one, dear Reader, ever seen such a statement about an English handbook or style book? Publisher’s Weekly in its starred review calls Dreyer’s English “that rare writing handbook that writers might actually want to read straight through, rather than simply consult.”

Benjamin Dreyer is copy chief at Random House. He published Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style in 2019.

In Chapter 1, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Your Prose),” Dreyer challenges writers to refrain from using the following words in their writing for one week: very, rather, really, quite, and in fact.” However, he does not stop there. He continues with just meaning merely and so as an intensifier, pretty, of course, and surely among other widely and over-used words and expressions. I am reminded of Mark Twain’s advice: “Substitute damn every time you’re inclined to write very; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” For those of us who are our own editors, we should remove damn in our revising.

As one tempted to use too many exclamation marks in informal, personal emails and personal letters, I enjoyed Dreyer’s discussion of exclamation marks covered in Chapter 3, “Assorted Things to Do (and Not to Do) with Punctuation.” Dreyer says to “go light on the exclamation points. When overused, they’re bossy, hectoring, and ultimately, wearying.” I remember a student in my Honors Comp I class who told me her third-grade son told her she needed to use more exclamation marks in her writing to jazz it up. She and I concluded that she would ignore that sage advice for purposes of writing essays in Comp I and II.

Dreyer also covers semicolons in Chapter 3. He begins that sub-heading with the sample sentence “I love semicolons like I love pizza; fried port dumplings; Venice, Italy; and the operas of Puccini.” Then he follows with an explanation of why he used semicolons in the sentence as well as giving several alternate versions of the sentence without the semicolons.

Chapter 8, “peeves and Crotchets” may well be my favorite chapter. That chapter begins with this sentence: “I’ve never met a writer or other word person who didn’t possess a pocketful of language peeves and crotchets — words or uses of words that drive a normally reasonable person into unreasonable fits of pique, if not paroxysms of rage—and I doubt I’d trust anyone who denied having a few of these bugaboos stashed away somewhere.” As an English prof, I had my share of peeves and crotchets and they remain with me even in retirement. Read Chapter 8 to discover Dreyer’s own peeves and crochets.

Another favorite chapter is number 10, “The Confusables.” Dreyer explains that spell check offers writers help, but it cannot detect the wrong word. The first words he tackles in Chapter 10 are a lot/allot, allotted, allotting. I spent countless hours reminding students how to use these words properly. I agree with his assessment of using alright rather than all right. Dreyer explains “I continue to crinkle my nose at the sight of it, perhaps because I can’t see that it has a worthwhile enough distinction from all right to justify its existence.” He does go on to report that others may differ with him.

Dreyer provides additional resources for the thoughtful writer. He likes “Theodore Bernstein’s Miss Thistlebottom’s Hobgoblins, one of the charmingest, smartest, most readable books on the subject of language I’ve ever seen.” He also recommends several Web sites:,,, and among others.

Borrow or buy a copy of Dreyer’s English. You will be charmed by this English handbook and learn from it as well.



The Book Whisperer Recommends The Pocket Muse


Having taught Freshman Composition 1113 and 1213 and other comp courses for years, I have many writing prompts saved. Although I am retired, I still read about writing and I write a blog, emails, and letters. Then along with some friends, we formed Raindrop Conversations, an informal group of women who meet weekly to help some of our young Turkish friends improve their English. In that group, I provide short writing assignments which everyone in the group completes (usually); we share what we have written by reading aloud.

Because we write and then read the material aloud, we are also working on pronunciation and meaning of words. As a result of creating these assignments weekly, I look for interesting, intriguing, and useful prompts among my stored ideas and on the Internet. When I discovered Monica Wood’s The Pocket Muse: Ideas & Inspirations for Writing, I purchased it, looking for new prompts.

Monica Wood writes novels, plays, essays, and books about writing. Her Web site is extensive and stimulating: There, readers will find information about Wood’s books as well as “Books for Teachers” and “Tips for Writers.”

In reading through “Tips for Writers,” I was intrigued by advice she got from an interview she read with Richard Russo: “He explained that a writer can’t do it all at once. If it’s Monday, you just do your Monday work.” That’s good advice about many tasks one may have. Just do today’s work, writing, chore and then tomorrow, tackle the next job.

On Amazon, The Pocket Muse is described as “your key to finding inspiration when and where you want it. With hundreds of thought-provoking prompts, exercises and illustrations.” While Ms. Wood may have intended the book as inspiration to aspiring fiction writers, The Pocket Muse also contains useful prompts for anyone who simply needs a bit of inspiration to get started writing.

Wood explains that “for years now, I’ve been keeping what I call a word notebook.” In the small spiral notebook, she keeps lists of words. She emphasizes that these are not phrases or quotations, but single words. Then she can refer to the notebook to find words that have interested her or that she has looked up or that she simply liked. I have used a similar exercise, but with a bit of a twist. I have given students five words and asked them to use the five in a paragraph that makes sense. Writers could keep their own lists and refer to them for ideas.

Wood has included pictures throughout the book. The pictures themselves can help writers conjure up ideas. Included with the pictures is a prompt, but one could say there are two prompts: the words and picture and the picture alone. For example, on one page, we have a picture of an old-fashioned door knob showing the keyhole below the knob. The prompt is “write about the worst visitor who ever darkened your door.” However, a writer could choose to write about a room behind that doorknob or about a lost key that fit into the keyhole. Or?


The Pocket Muse gives writers a bit of a jump start in writing when they may feel in a slump. The ideas are fresh and fun. If one doesn’t work on a certain day, it might be just the spark the writer needs on another day. In short, The Pocket Muse is a good writers’ companion.

Wood’s last line in The Pocket Muse: “Don’t forget to be grateful that you love words.”