Lily Iona MacKenzie's Blog for Writers & Readers

MY BLOG POSTS COMMENT ON SOME ASPECTS OF WRITING & READING.

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Full disclosure:  I started this blog so I would have a “writer’s platform” I could show agents and potential publishers.  But it doesn’t come without a cost, and that is one’s privacy.

The idea of public and private has shifted.  While some people still keep private diaries/journals, myself included, others are blogging their hearts out for all the world to see.  Facebook, Myspace, YouTube, chat rooms, etc., have conditioned a new generation to spill it all on the web, to not hold back.  Some even set up webcams in their houses so strangers can follow their daily routine. (more…)

Meet Evonne Marzouk, today’s guest author:

Evonne Marzouk is an inspirational public speaker and author of The Prophetess. Her work has also been published in Newsweek, the Washington Post, the Jewish News Syndicate, The Wisdom Daily, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, RitualWell and many other publications. She recently co-authored a chapter on “The Heroine’s Journey” in the book Jewish Fantasy Worldwide (2023) and offers a free printable Heroine’s Journal on her website to empower all women to live their greatest dreams. IG/FB: @heroinewhisperer

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When I picked up Marguerite Duras’ The Lover, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew she was considered one of France’s most important literary figures, but The Lover was the first work of hers that I had read.

lovers-1676972_640The back cover claims that The Lover is “an exquisite jewel of a novel,” but it’s my understanding that this work is autobiographical and not fiction. At fifteen, Duras, who was then living in Saigon with her mother and two brothers, started a relationship with a Chinese man twelve years older than she. It continued for almost two years. And while the work centers on the sexual involvement and its repercussions in her life, the narrative also slips in and out of Duras’ dysfunctional family life, where her mother beats her while Marguerite’s older brother cheers on the mother.
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From inside my study, one wall book-lined, the other holding a large mirror that makes the room appear bigger, I sit on the loveseat, listening to Strauss and the waterfall powered by a tiny electric pump. When I’m home, I turn it on, the sound of water like a heart beat in this house, a tangible reminder of what usually is invisible, at least to waking life—water for me representing the unconscious and all that lives there. It also is the source of the books I’ve written, the muse that continues to inspire me to write, daily. (more…)

Fiction writers have been called many things, but magician seems the best description. They dip into the black hat of their imagination and produce an endless variety of characters, situations, images, genres, events, and styles. The effect on readers is nothing less than magical, the reader also becoming a conjurer, assisting in making visible what wasn’t there before. (more…)

Tony Flood spent most of his working life as a journalist, initially on local and regional papers and then on nationals. He was also editor of ‘Football Monthly’, Controller of Information at Sky Television and enjoyed a spell with ‘The People’ before retiring in 2010. In his celebrity book My Life With The Stars, Tony recalls: “My work

as a showbiz and leisure writer, critic and editor saw me take on a variety of challenges — learning to dance with Strictly Come Dancing star Erin Boag, becoming a stand-up comedian, and playing football with the late George Best and Bobby Moore in charity matches.” Tony now spends much of his time writing books and theatre reviews, as well as playing veterans football. He says: “I must be one of the oldest — and slowest — players in the country!”

More details about Tony and his wife and fellow author Heather Flood — andspecial book offers — are available on the websites:
www.fantasyadventurebooks.com
www.celebritiesconfessions.com (more…)

Dreaming Myself into Old Age

October 9, 2023 | By | Reply

Dreaming Myself into Old Age

At the beginning of 2012, in my seventy-second year, I decided to return to analysis so I could explore my concerns about aging and dying. Fortunately, I found Dr. Y, a Jungian analyst who takes Medicare, freeing me to explore my new terrain—old age—without depleting our savings. Dr. Y is a psychiatrist who merges the rational world of science with C. G. Jung’s more esoteric ideas about the psyche. I have feasted on Jung from the time I first discovered his writing in my late twenties. For me, his more mystical aspect overshadowed the scientist. I love how he evokes the multiplicity of things—the magic, the mystery, the many levels to reality including the mythic part. Of course, dreams inhabit the mythic dimension, and I view them as communications from a part of myself that knows more about me than my conscious ego does. (more…)

Meet Robert Archambeau, today’s guest author:

Robert Archambeau possesses the world’s least interesting international identity. Of French-Canadian ancestry, he was born in Rhode Island, raised in Canada, and spent summers in Maine or at his father’s art studio on a lake in the Canadian wilderness. An art school brat, he always felt it was inevitable that he would end up making art, or at least movies, but his fate was grimmer still. After a brief stint as a deck hand and grotesquely underqualified ship’s engineer, he fell in with a group of poets and pursued graduate studies in English at the University of Notre Dame. While studying for his PhD, he ran off to Chicago, got married on a sailboat in Burnham Harbor, and worked as a clerk in a secondhand bookstore. Here, sitting at the long counter in the Aspidistra Bookshop, he wrote his doctoral dissertation on Wordsworth, as well as many of the poems that would make up of his first collection of verse, Home and Variations. (more…)

I’m thinking today of timing—how important it is to success. Timing and perseverance: the two go together. I’m also noticing the seasonal aspect of creativity, how cyclic it is. That too is hard to grasp. I want it all the time. I’m afraid if it isn’t there, it won’t return. But I need to remember that if I pursue my creative impulses, and if they’re in accordance with my abilities, then there will be success. Maybe not financially, though that would be nice. But I’ll experience the satisfaction of achieving what I’m capable of. (more…)

My novel Curva Peligrosa opens with a tornado that sweeps through the fictional town of Weed, Alberta, and drops a purple outhouse into its center. Drowsing and dreaming inside that structure is its owner, Curva Peligrosa—a curiosity and a marvel, a source of light and heat, a magnet. Adventurous, amorous, fecund, and over six feet tall, she possesses magical powers. She also has the greenest of thumbs, creating a tropical habitat in an arctic clime, and she possesses a wicked trigger finger.

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Michelle Cameron is the author of Jewish historical fiction, including Babylon: A Novel of Jewish Captivity, the award-winning Beyond the Ghetto Gates and The Fruit of Her Hands: the story of Shira of Ashkenaz. She has also published a verse novel, In the Shadow of the Globe. Napoleon’s Mirage, the sequel to Beyond the Ghetto Gates, is forthcoming in August 2024.

Michelle is a director of The Writers Circle, a NJ-based creative writing program serving children, teens, and adults. She lives in Chatham, NJ, with her husband and has two grown sons of whom she is inordinately proud.

Visit her online:

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With two new books being published by Shanti Arts, and wondering how best to market them, I’ve been thinking about book festivals I’ve participated in. I realize that, while these events are great for focusing on the many book genres available, I also have concluded that I probably won’t attend one again. A few years ago, I signed up for the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley, a relatively new venue at the time. Its first session was in 2015, and it claims to be an international event that draws people from all over the world: “More than 50,000 diverse people of all ages, from urban to suburban Bay Area communities and beyond.” (more…)

Join me and my editor/publisher, Christine Cote, to help celebrate the release of my hybrid memoir Dreaming Myself into Old Age: One Woman’s Search for Meaning (to be released on 9/19/23) and my newest poetry collection, California Dreaming (published on June 27). We’ll explore some of the main themes in both of my books as well as Christine’s work as publisher/editor of Shanti Arts Press. There will be lots of opportunities for Q&A.

In Dreaming Myself into Old Age, I’ve hoped that reflecting on this these later years will help me to better understand and deepen them. Perhaps, in sharing my quest, readers will make their own discoveries, as has been true for me whenever I’ve read about someone else’s journey. But I also believe that aging presents its own mysteries for us to uncover, and that is part of my search as well. Dreaming Myself into Old Age is set within my lifelong pursuit of self-discovery.

According to my editor, this exploration carries over in California Dreaming. She says, “Lily Iona MacKenzie’s unbounded zest for life sings through the poems in California Dreaming. A writer in her bones and a dreamer in her heart, she discovers the poetry in everything—travel, art, music, nature, past and present. Her words and rhythms touch the soul and leave their treasures behind. ‘Listen closely to these poems’ quiet but insistent murmur.’ (Kathleen McClung)

Grab your favorite beverage, find a cozy spot, and join us online for an hour of delving into the mysteries of dreaming and aging!

California Dreaming & Dreaming Myself into Old Age can be purchased from Shanti Arts as well as Amazon and other major outlets. ???

If you like these books, please leave a brief review.

Join Zoom Meeting: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/85890431364?pwd=aHFiMERFM3lZeXI2VzBlSFRXenN4UT09

Meeting ID: 858 9043 1364

Passcode: 613741

I look forward to seeing you at noon on September 23.

Lily Iona MacKenzie

 

With two new books coming out, I’ve been wondering about applying for book awards. Fellow Regal House author Elizabeth Winthrop Alsop came to my rescue with this piece on book awards that she first published on SUBSTACK on August 16. This is an important post for all authors, published or unpublished.

My memoir, Daughter of Spies: Wartime Secrets, Family Lies which came out in the fall of 2022, marks the first time I’ve published with a small independent press. In the three years since acceptance, I’ve learned lots about how much it costs to produce a book, how important distribution can be, and the amount of time and energy that goes into marketing and publicizing a book, no matter if it’s self-published, traditionally published or released by an independent press.

The one thing that has stopped me in my tracks is the number of “come-ons”, scams, and false promises that land in my inbox daily.  These include payment for reviews on Instagram or with “influencers,” (I admit to hating that word), hybrid publishers wishing me to submit my next book, advertising offers, emails encouraging me to submit my book for a festival and so on. Every one of these involve me spending money and, in the end, they will cost me far more than I ever expect to make in royalties. And all of them prey on a writer’s desperate desire to be lifted above others in the great cacophony of modern life where people more and more choose visuals on devices over reading the printed word.

I’ve quoted this figure before but it’s worth repeating. In the US alone, over 4 million new books were published in 2022. (These include both self-published and commercially published books in all formats.) As a comparison, ten years ago in 2013, just over 275,000 books were published in the US.  No wonder writers are desperate and prone to scams and false promises.

The one I’m focused on because I jumped on board are the hundreds of awards. I entered 15 contests, some of which were approved by the Alliance of Independent Authors and some of which were given a caution or negative rating. I was advised by experts in the field such as the knowledgeable and experienced publishing specialist, Jane Friedman, to check how long the contest has been around, to study past winners, to look for a list of judges, to evaluate how important the prize is to members of your book community, and most importantly, to look at contests that are created primarily to make money. In the beginning, I paid some attention to this advice but the lure of a possible award (how could they not pick me?) made me throw caution to the winds.

Here’s the bottom line. I’ve entered fifteen contests and I’ve spent close to $900 on contest fees. I’ve been shortlisted in a memoir magazine contest and been declared a finalist for another book award. In one case I won a Bronze Medal in the Female Memoir division, and in another, I was named a runner up in the Memoir category. None of these “honors” paid me any money. The announcement of my “win” is most often followed by a bombardment of emails encouraging me to pay more for editorial or marketing advice or for a bronze medal on a colored ribbon or to enter more contests or book festivals. I’ve won no mention at all in six contests, and five have yet to report.

However, in many cases, the list of “winners” is truly daunting. I’m convinced that most of the writers who submitted “won” something. In one contest, I counted the finalists, winners, and runners up and came up with 146 entries that garnered some mention. It cost me $50 to enter that contest. If 500 people entered just one of the possible categories (and I suspect there are many more desperate and eager authors like myself), the income off the bat is $25,000. Where does the money go? Who are the judges? Are they paid?  Starting a writing contest seems to have become a profitable business.

Of course, there are reputable contests for writers from PEN awards to the Pulitzer Prize to the excellent listings in Poets and Writers Magazine. If I have one piece of advice to offer to writers interested in submitting to contests, I’d say stick to the reputable listings including the smaller and less well known awards you can find at the Alliance of Independent Authors . Don’t fall into the trap I jumped into. Don’t waste your money on the “for profit” contests that might give you a momentary burst of gratification (see, they did pick me!) but in the end will do little to sell your book or get it to new readers.

Visit Elizabeth’s website at https://elizabethwinthrop.com.

Follow her newsletters on Substrate.

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Stephanie Cowell has been an opera singer, balladeer, founder of Strawberry Opera and other arts venues including a Renaissance festival and an outdoor arts series in NYC. She is the author of Nicholas Cooke, The Physician of London, The Players: a novel of the young Shakespeare, Marrying Mozart, and Claude & Camille: a novel of Monet.  Her work had been translated into nine languages and adapted into an opera. Stephanie is the recipient of an American Book Award.  Her website is www.StephanieCowell.com. (more…)

Writing is such a part of my day that if I don’t get to it, I’m constantly distracted, as if I have a lover I’m thinking about. It’s like a siren’s call, pulling me away. My husband Michael notices it. He comments on me seeming drifty. He’s right. I’m not fully there. The discipline of writing an hour or more a day pulls me into myself and gives me the contemplative part I need. Balance. (more…)

The Evolution of Tillie, a Canadian Girl in Training!

girl-1729256_1920I’ve been reworking Tillie: Portraits of a Canadian Girl in Training, a sequel to my recently released novel Freefall: A DivineComedy as part of a three-book contract from Pen-L Publishing. They wanted me to write more about Tillie, Freefall’s main character, and Portraits shows Tillie’s development from three years on to eighteen. (more…)

Sally Whitney gives valuable insights into her writing process in this interview!

Meet Sally Whitney, who has spent most of her adult life in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kansas, and New Jersey, thought her imagination lives in the South, the homeland of her childhood. The stories Sally writes have been published in literary magazines and anthologies, including Grow Old Along With Me—The Best Is Yet To Be, the audio version of which was a Grammy Award finalist in the Spoken Word or Nonmusical Album category. Her stories have also been recognized by the Syndicated Fiction Project, the Salem College National Literary Awards competition, the Black Lawrence Press Black River Chapbook Competition, The Ledge Fiction Awards Competition, and the Shenango River Books Prose Chapbook Contest.

She currently lives in Maryland with her cat, Ivy Rowe, and is delighted to be once again residing below the Mason-Dixon Line. When she isn’t writing, reading, watching movies, or attending plays, she likes to poke around in antique shops looking for treasures. “The best things in life are the ones that have been loved, whether by you or somebody else,” she says.

Surface and Shadow is her first novel.

http://sallywhitney.com/

How do you start a novel/story?

My stories usually start as an idea, an observation, or a question. Surface and Shadow started with observations of small mill towns and an idea about an outsider who wants to learn a mill town’s secrets. Like most of my story beginnings, those elements gestated in my imagination for months while I finished other works in progress. By the time my schedule was clear, the story had grown to include more characters, a particular setting, and a few plot points. I’m a planner by nature, so the next thing I had to do was figure out more plot points and put them into a rough outline of how the story would proceed. The outline changed many times as I wrote the novel, but it gave me a guiding light when I started.

sally-whitney-color-photo-for-webWhere do your characters come from?

Most of my characters are mixtures of different people I’ve known, but I also like to throw in quirks and personality traits to create people I wish I’d known.

What feeds your process? Can you listen to music and write or not… can you write late at night or are you a morning person… when the spark happens, do you run for the pen or the screen or do you just hope it is still there tomorrow?

Writing is an occupation (obsession, maybe) you never get away from. Ideas strike all the time, especially in the shower, and then I start composing in my head. I’ve found that if I don’t write down at least a few sentences as soon as possible, the ideas can flitter away into nothingness. Mid-morning to mid-afternoon is my favorite time to write, but I’m getting better at writing later in the afternoon. When I write I need silence so that I’m totally absorbed by the world I’m creating. Almost any sound is distracting.

Do you neglect personal hygiene or housekeeping to write? Or vice versa?

I neglect housework to do anything, especially writing. It’s like the poem about babies: “Quiet down cobwebs/Dust go to sleep/I’m rocking my baby/And babies don’t keep.” Writing doesn’t keep either. You have to strike when the muse is with you and sometimes when it’s not.

How do you come up with book titles?

Titles are really hard to write. A good title should capture the spirit of the noss-final-cover-for-webvel and intrigue a prospective reader, all in a maximum of about five words. It’s a tall order. My favorite titles come from the text of the novel. For example, To Kill a Mockingbird is a perfect title. It comes from the text; it conveys one of the main themes of the book, but you don’t know that until you read the book, so it’s intriguing, and it’s only four words. Surface and Shadow isn’t lifted directly from the text, but the words are mentioned in the context that the title is meant to convey. I’ve been pleased to see from some of the Amazon reviews that readers picked up on that context.

As people learned about your book, what unexpected things happened along the way?

Largely through Facebook, I received nice notes from people I hadn’t talked to in decades. It was a real blessing because now I’ve reconnected with some of those people.

Tell an anecdote about an interaction between you and one of your more articulate fans.

The most surprising question I’ve gotten at a reading or book signing for Surface and Shadow came from a woman who’s originally from Argentina. She wanted to know why the character Stella talks the way she does. I explained that Stella speaks in a dialect common among some black people in the southern United States at the time. The woman understood, but the question made me realize that I can’t assume readers come to my novels with the same knowledge and experiences.

How would you like to be similar to your protagonist(s)?

My favorite characters in stories I read or write are strong women who, despite adversaries or obstacles, are able to make a difference in their lives or the life of someone else. When readers ask if Lydia in Surface and Shadow is based on me, I tell them I’m not sure I could ever be that brave. When I create a character, I can make her as brave or strong or compassionate as I want to. In real life, developing those characteristics is harder.

If you didn’t write, what would you do with that time? Do you feel compelled to write or choose to?

I often ask myself that question, especially when I get frustrated with the writing process. Having given the subject so much consideration, I can tell you that at this point in my life I would volunteer with a children’s literacy organization. But it never happens because I can’t stay away from the keyboard for very long.

How would you like your books to change the world?

I think a novel has succeeded if it makes readers think about the world in ways they haven’t before. If my novels can encourage readers to see people they know and situations they experience in a more open-minded way, then I’ll be happy. I hope readers of Surface and Shadow will think more carefully about the roles society often forces on people because of their gender, race, occupation, or economic status. I want readers not to be afraid to question the status quo. Surface and Shadow takes place more than 40 years ago, but often it’s easier to talk about harmful attitudes if we view them from a safe distance. I always thought that was the case of To Kill a Mockingbird. The novel was released in 1960, but the events take place in the early 1930s.

 

 

 

 

 

The Boat Rocker Rocks!

As a writer, it’s impossible for me to read other authors’ works without examining how they create their best effects. For some time, I had wanted to read one of Ha Lin’s novels. I knew that English wasn’t his native language, but he seems to have mastered it well enough to receive the National Book Award, two PEN/Faulkner Awards, the PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award, the Asian American Literary Award, and the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. Native speakers would have a very difficult time being chosen for all of these prizes, so I assume that Lin has something special to offer.

document16-copyI chose The Boat Rocker as my introduction to Lin because it was available as an audiobook, and I was able to download it through my library and Overdrive. I’ve found that listening to a novel can be a valuable way for me to quickly tell if a writer can claim my full attention when I’m also either driving, working out at the gym, or working in my kitchen. Lin didn’t disappoint me.

Though The Boat Rocker is a quiet book in that its cadences are low-key and the author isn’t showing off with flowery language or metaphors, its narrative pace keeps the reader engaged in the subtle way it feeds information about the point-of-view character Feng Danlin and his attempts to pursue the truth as a reporter, even if it could come at enormous cost. We soon learn that for someone originally from China, as is true of both the author and Feng Danlin, this quest can be both dangerous and difficult. But Lin leans heavily on subtlety to convey Danlin’s story, and that is a great lesson for me as I work on my own fiction, long and short.

And while I can’t describe how The Boat Rocker ends because of spoilers, again, the understated, surprising conclusion gives a more powerful emotional punch than if the author had pumped it up and gone for the reader’s throat. So if you both want a good read and a model for your own writing, I recommend reading Lin. I don’t think he’ll disappoint you.

 

 

Is Rabih Alameddine’s AN UNNECESSARY WOMAN an unnecessary book?

When I began reading Rabih Alameddine’s An Unnecessary Woman for my reading group, I was sorry we had selected this book. I had read his previous novel, The Hakawati, expecting to love it because it resembled The Arabian Nights in some ways, a work I had absorbed as a young girl. But I ended up hating it for reasons I won’t go into here. When I finally gave up because the narrative was so frustrating, I knew I wouldn’t read anything by this author again.

Luckily, while I had remembered the novel’s name, The Hakawati, I had forgotten the author’s. Otherwise, when one of the women from my reading group chose An Unnecessary Woman, I didn’t demur. And by the time I realized who the author was, I had already purchased book and felt bound to read it.

beirut-copyMy resistance to the writer initially colored my reaction to the story’s main character, Aaliya Sohbia, a 72 year-old Lebanese woman who lives an isolated life in Beirut. Books are her primary companions. Though I was pleased to see a contemporary work that featured an older person, I continued to resist this author and the idea of a male portraying a woman in the first person. I thought he would falter. Yet I ended up being amazed at how he inhabited Aaliya’s personality and created an eccentric type who has a wonderful wit and perspective on life in a war-town city I haven’t visited.

While Beirut has not been part of my travel plans, I have visited many of the authors and their works that Alameddine weaves into the narrative: Pessoa, Sebald, Bolano, Anne Enright, and so many more. I realized I could have deep, invigorating conversations with Aaliya if we were to meet. She also is a kind of writer herself. One of her yearly rituals is to translate some major works into Arabic, and she handwrites the manuscripts. Yet she never tried to publish these translations. Instead, she stored them in an extra room in her apartment, a secret “vice” that neither family nor friends knew about.

I’ve learned something important from this experience. Just as one shouldn’t judge a book (or a person) by its cover, so, too, one shouldn’t negate an author because s/he may have written an unappealing work. In An Unnecessary Woman, Alameddine demonstrates not only skill at creating a believable, engaging female character, but his own humor, metaphors, and phrasing makes for a satisfying read.

 

 

Timing: Giving Birth To a Novel

I’ve completed another novel. It didn’t come fully formed like Athena from Zeus’ forehead. I’ve been working on parts of it for years, but in the past few months it has solidified and taken its final shape. As is often the case for me, it took awhile for the main character’s voice to fully emerge. It’s a little like a partial birth, if there is such a thing. Legs and arms came first. Eventually the rest followed.

The central character Tillie is the younger version of the main actor in Freefall, a work that I hope to see published soon. Freefall’s Tillie is 60 with the heart of someone much younger. Like her older self, the young Tillie is quirky and precocious and loves to wander. The working title for the new novel is Tillie: Portrait of a Canadian Girl in Training. For those who don’t know about the organization, Canadian Girls in Training actually exists, and I joined it for a while when I was young.

Of course, attending meetings was an excuse to get out of the house at night. But the real training happened on my way to and from the church where we gathered. We smoked all the way there and back. We played white rabbit, a “game” that involved ringing doorbells over and over and then disappearing. We raided gardens. And we also visited the local park where the boys were hanging out. I learned many useful things during those excursions.

And I’ve learned a lot from writing this novel. It can take years for a character and a story to emerge. It’s not unlike raising a child: there are developmental stages, and each one is important. So though at times I despaired that the work would ever cohere, it did. And it was worth waiting for.

Dear Fellow Readers (and Writers): Why do you read fiction?

I recently finished a novel that had me questioning why I read fiction. The book was engaging enough. The writer was competent and had created characters that seemed believable (though that isn’t necessarily a criterion for me). There was enough tension to keep me reading in order to discover more about these lives I had immersed myself in. But the experience felt flat, and I wondered why I had spent several precious hours on something that wasn’t more satisfying.

So why do I read? For me, reading isn’t necessarily to escape my daily life. I read to deepen it. If a book doesn’t take me somewhere new emotionally and intellectually, I feel cheated. Why would I go on this literary journey if I remain the same person at the end?

I also want my knowledge of the world broadened and intensified. I love many naturalistic novels—ones that recreate everyday life and give me new glimpses (novel=make it new) of familiar settings and things. Often that happens through the writer’s expert use of metaphor and symbol, devices that automatically expand our perceptions. Or s/he has a masterful way with manipulating sentences and images.

But I also love works that employ magical realism, as many of my fictions do, because they point to something other, something not quite articulable. They lift the lid on ordinary experience and suggest other possibilities.

I hope I’ll hear from others on why they read. That too will expand my horizons!

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