Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Out of No Way

Out of no way is an old African American expression that means to thrive in spite of impossible odds.  This expression fits perfectly as the title for this book by producer, author, and poet Rojé Augustin, Out of No Way: Madam C.J. Walker &  A' Lelia Walker, A Poetic Drama.  Published in 2020, this debut poetry collection uses poetic verse to tell the story of Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919).  Born Sarah Breedlove, the first free-born child of former Louisiana slaves, she achieves great success in spite of a humble and difficult beginning. Sarah was orphaned at 7, married at 14, became a mother at 17, and became a widow at 20.  She went from earning pennies as a laundress and maid to becoming a very wealthy hair care entrepreneur, activist, and philanthropist. 

Personal struggles with hair loss led Sarah to develop a hair care product for herself and other black women, which was the start of her lucrative career in business.  With the help of her daughter, A' Lelia, and third husband, Charles J. Walker, the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company became a very successful business.  Madam C.J. Walker trained thousands of women to become independent sales agents for her beauty products.  Equipped with drive and tremendous resilience, Madam Walker became the first self-made female millionaire in America, and one of the first African American millionaires in America.  It's remarkable that she achieved this feat during one of the most racially violent periods in American history, during the Jim Crow era.  Based on biographies and archival materials, this book tells her story, using dramatic verse.  It's a unique collection of poems in different poetic forms, including narrative and lyrical poems, haiku, and blackout poetry, which depict an extraordinary story of entrepreneurial success, and the extraordinary love between a mother and daughter.

                        Sarah, Mother       A' Lelia, Daughter                    

I have long been interested in biographies and stories of success, stories that illustrate our ability to improve our lot in life. When I read them, I want to learn about the character traits that aid success, and to be inspired. This collection of poems had that effect on me.  Although Out of No Way is serious and delves deeply into themes such as racism and hate, it's also uplifting at times.  It depicts the rags-to-riches story of Madam C.J. Walker through dramatic, varied verse,  presented as an exciting, absorbing story, and features A' Lelia's perspective as well. I relished the illustrations and advertisements of her hair and skin products in the book. As a woman, I'm interested in these products (recently, I've rediscovered henna for the hair, which I first used when I was in high school). I greatly enjoyed reading this book.

Because poetry is especially wonderful to listen to, here are links to some of the poems in Out of No Way, performed by poet Rojé Augustin on YouTube.  I could use many adjectives to describe these poems.  But these beautiful, touching, heart-wrenching poems speak for themselves.



Rojé Augustin is a native New Yorker who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  Her first novel, The Unraveling of Bebe Jones, on which her drama series pitch BEAU REVE is based, won the 2013 National Indie Excellence Award in African American fiction. She wrote the novel while living in London and Sydney as a stay-at-home-mom.  She established Breaknight Films shortly after her move to Sydney in 2009 to develop and produce projects across a range of formats, including television, web, and audio. Her first Sydney based project was a podcast and visual web series called The Right Space, which explores the relationship between creatives and their workspace.  In 2013 Rojé's script, The Weekly: Women Who Shaped a Nation, was selected for the Australian Writer's Guild Pathways Program.  In 2020 Rojé published a debut poetry collection titled, Out of No Way: Madam C.J.Walker and A' Leila Walker, A Poetic Drama, which tells the story of Madam Walker's phenomenal life. Rojé continues to work as a producer while also writing in her spare time. She is an Australian citizen who currently lives in Sydney with her Aussie husband and two daughters.


Special thanks to Serena from Poetic Book Tours for inviting me to participate in this tour.  I'd never heard of Madam C.J. Walker before joining this wonderful tour.  Poet Rojé Augustin brought her to life for me. Now, I want to learn as much as I can about Madam Walker's life and legacy.  She made a way out of no way, and then used her wealth and influence to help and empower others.  I'd love to visit Madam Walker's grand home, Villa Lewaro, in Irvington, NY, a National Historic Landmark that was purchased in 2018 by the New Voices Foundation, which helps women of color achieve their entrepreneurial dreams.  This book affected me deeply.  For more reviews of  Out of No Way and other features, please stop by Poetic Book Tours.

 Thank you for reading! Your comments are welcomed, as always.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Reading during the Coronavirus Pandemic

I think I'm reading a bit more than I was before the Covid-19 invasion (although I spend some of that reading time perusing the latest news about the coronavirus).  I have a couple of questions for my readers.  How have the pandemic, shutdown, and lack of social activity affected your reading habits? Are you reading more as a result, or less?  Are you, like me, also watching more TV shows and movies (at home)?  I'm interested in finding out. Please leave your answers in the comments. Thank you!

Thursday, June 25, 2020

15 Super-Nerdy Book Facts for Bibliophiles: A Guest Post by Desiree Villena

Calling all bibliophiles!  I loved reading this incredible guest post written by Desiree Villena from Reedsy, and think my readers will, too.  Enjoy!

15 Super-Nerdy Book Facts for Bibliophiles:  

A Guest Post by Desiree Villena

Fans of Jane Austen might pride themselves on being able to recite the opening lines of lesser-known titles like Lady Susan as easily as Pride and Prejudice. Potterheads might know the series so well, they can list off the fictional birthdays of each character. Avid Tolkien readers might have encyclopedic familiarity with Middle-earth lore. In general, book-lovers tend to be deep wells of knowledge when it comes to their favorite stories or authors.

In this post, however, I want to talk about the world of literature as a whole and reveal my top 15 pieces of biblio-trivia. How many did you already know?

1.  Longest novel

Words just seem to flow more easily in French. Both of the world’s longest books were written by French authors: Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus by Georges de Scudéry goes on for 1.95 million words, while Men of Good Will by Jules Romains has an astounding 2.07 million word count across 27 volumes. That’s about twice the size of the entire Harry Potter series combined  and well above the average length of a novel. (And here we were all wondering if Order of the Phoenix could have done with some editing!)

2.  Most expensive print book

Drumroll, please! The most expensive book in the world is none other than the Bay Psalm Book, a pamphlet of hymns produced by Puritans who emigrated to Massachusetts Bay in 1640. These days, there are only 11 original copies in existence. The copy I’m speaking of here was sold for a whopping $14.2 million in 2013 — making this slender pamphlet more expensive than the “Marie Antoinette” necklace and the Moussaieff Red Diamond combined.

3.  Smallest book

How small is the smallest book in the world? Try this on for size: 70 micrometers by 100 micrometers. (That’s about the width of a human hair.) Perhaps fittingly, it’s a reproduction of a book titled Teeny Ted from Turnip Towna tale about a small bear at a county fair. You won’t be able to read it with your naked eye, so if you want to find out who wins the turnip-growing contest, grab the nearest electron microscope and get ready to squint.

4. tsundoku

For all you bibliophiles out there, there’s actually a Japanese word to describe the act of buying books and not reading them. 積ん読 (tsundoku) is a pun that combines the word tsundeoku (which means to “to pile things up”) and dokusho (which means “to read”). Literally: to pile up things to read. No word yet on whether there’s a cure for this behavior.

5.  Bestselling author of all time

There’s a bit of a debate over who occupies the top spot, with both Agatha Christie and Shakespeare having sold somewhere between 2-4 billion copies of their books. I’m sure that no one would mind if I call it a virtual tie for now. Here’s some more trivia for the road, as well: Danielle Steel sold more total books than J.K. Rowling, and out of the top 10 bestselling authors ever, nine out of ten wrote in English.

6.  Bestselling novel of all time

It’s Don Quixote’s world, and we’re just living in it. This tale of a delusional, romantic knight and his trusty squire has sold an estimated 500 million copies. To be fair, it had a massive head start: Miguel de Cervantes published it in 1605, more than 250 years before the number-two bestselling novel of all time, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. That gives the next two entrants — Lord of the Rings and The Little Prince — something to aim for in the next quarter-millennium!

7.   Shortest chapter

Taken from Allen Carr's The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, the shortest chapter in existence is titled "The Advantages of Being a Smoker" and is, quite appropriately, blank. Some more famous examples come from William Faulkner’s five-word chapter in As I Lay Dying and Lewis Carroll’s eight-word chapter in Alice In Wonderland. For more wee chapters in literature, check out this page. As it points out, if you read them all, you’ve practically read an entire book, right?

8.  Longest sentence

Until quite recently, the longest sentence in literature came from Jonathan Coe’s 2001 novel The Rotter’s Club. It’s a bonafide mouthful that lasts a whopping 13,955 words (roughly half the word count of Of Mice and Men).

However, that record has since been usurped by Lucy Ellman’s Ducks, Newburyport, a finalist for the 2019 Booker Prize which famously contains nearly the entire novel in a single sentence of over 400,000 words (!!!).Though Ellman’s gargantuan sentence is clearly the technical champion here, I thought I’d include both in case readers were curious about the longest sentence within a book, as well as comprising the entire thing.

9.  Biggest library ever

Hermione Granger’s secret? “When in doubt, go to the library.” Even if the Library of Congress doesn’t contain any magical books, it is the biggest in the world, boasting over 150 million items and the largest collection of rare books in history (including one of the three perfect copies of the Gutenberg Bible). On top of all that, the Library of Congress receives 15,000 new books every day — which might be enough to keep even the hungriest reader occupied.

10.  Longest word

The longest word in history is the chemical name for the protein ‘titin’: 


The ellipses, by the way, are there for your convenience. Otherwise, this word could take you a solid minute to scroll through on a screen. At a total of 189,819 letters, it would take about 3.5 hours to pronounce from beginning to end.

In comparison, the longest word to ever appear in literature seems practically compact: Lopado­temacho­selacho­galeo­kranio­leipsano­drim­hypo­trimmato­silphio­karabo­melito­katakechy­meno­kichl­epi­kossypho­phatto­perister­alektryon­opte­kephallio­kigklo­peleio­lagoio­siraio­baphe­tragano­pterygon, which is a fictional Greek dish in Aristophanes’ Assemblywomen.

11.  Largest population of bookworms

Since Asia is the biggest continent, it makes sense that it would also have the most bookworms! According to the 2014 NOP World Culture Score Index, India is the country that reads the most, clocking on average more than 10 hours per week per person. That said, people in Thailand and China aren’t far behind — they read 9.24 and 8 hours per week per person, respectively. Meanwhile, the United States only reads a measly 5.6 hours per week per person, ranking it 22nd on the list.

12.  Longest series ever

A Song of Ice and Fire doesn’t even come close. This title goes to Perry Rhodan, a German science fiction series whose first installment was published in 1961. It’s come quite a way since then: as of April 2017, the original series consists of more than 2,900 novels. That pushes Perry Rhodan to just over 300,000 pages in total. To put that into perspective for you, Terry Pratchett's entire 45-book Discworld series comes out to 15,497 pages — and A Song of Ice and Fire totals “only” 4,228 pages so far.

13.  Thickest book published

HarperCollins has the distinct honor of publishing the thickest book in the world: a complete collection of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple stories that measures 12.6 inches (322 mm) in width. As the Guinness Book of World Records points out, that’s 68 crimes committed, 11 philandering paramours, 68 secrets, 12 poisonings, 6 strangulations, 2 drownings, 1 death by an arrow, 2 people pushed, and 66 maids. All in a day’s work, as Miss Marple might say.

14.  abibliophobia

Fear of spiders? Nope. On the contrary, abibliophobia describes a reader’s worst nightmare: it’s an extreme fear of running out of reading material. Signs of abibliophobia include:

      Reading receipts when there’s nothing else around;
      Panicking because you forgot to bring a book with you on a flight; and
      Re-reading novels more than six times in a row.

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, consult your local bookstore immediately.

15.  Most words invented

Sure, Paris Hilton thinks that she invented the word “selfie” — but could she come up with more than 1,700 new words? That’s the number of terms that we owe to Shakespeare, without whom we wouldn’t have such commonly-used words as “anchovy,” “addiction,” “compromise,” “drugged,” “auspicious,” “bedazzle,” “bloodstained,” “assassination,” “negotiate,” “radiance,” “torture,” “dauntless,” “summit,” “frugal,” and “excitement.” I could go on, but I’ll let Shakespeare have the last word: “amazement.”

Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors with the world's self-publishing resources and professionals. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction, writing short stories, and boning up on literary trivia!


Thank you for this nifty, nerdy, noteworthy guest post, Desiree.  I learned a lot of fascinating, new biblio-trivia (at least I knew the word tsundoku)!  I appreciate the time and effort that went into this well-written post, which includes terrific links to various related sites.

What do you think?  Your comments are welcomed as always, so please feel free to add to the conversation.

Some of the books featured here were given to me free of charge by authors, publishers, and agents. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.


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