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“The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies” by Dawn Raffel— An Extraordinary True Story

Raffel, Dawn. “The Strange Case of Dr. Couney: How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies”, Blue Rider, 2018.

An Extraordinary True Story

Amos Lassen

Writer Dawn Raffel introduces us to Dr. Martin Arthur Couney and his extraordinary life story. Dr. Couney figured out that he could use incubators and careful nursing to keep previously doomed infants alive (which is not so strange), while at the same time make good money displaying these babies alongside sword swallowers, bearded ladies, and burlesque shows (which is very strange).

Dr. Couney saved many prematurely born infants and at the same time that he had to deal with the scorn of the medical establishment which he ignored. He also had to deal with the new science of eugenics. Couney was an opportunist and he was also a nice guy who really cared about his little patients. However, a part of the puzzle about who Couney was seemed to be missing.

Raffel has done wonderful research here to give us an almost unbelievable story. Couney was born Michael Conn and for more than 40 years, he saved the lives of tiny premature babies by placing them in incubator sideshows at Coney Island and world’s fairs. He did this instead of charging his patients’ families and was able to fund his practice by charging admission to curious crowds. At the same time we fought a medical establishment that claimed these were hopeless cases and a eugenics movement that wanted the weakest to die.

Dr. Couney also helped get Jews out of Nazi Germany. What only Dr. Couney knew was that his medical documents were not real and neither was the name of Dr. Couney. Yet, he was the man who saved over 6000 children some of whom are still alive today 

Through the use of newly discovered documents, obscure reports, and interviews with some of the now elderly surviving infants, Raffel brings us the story of Couney’s carnival career, his personality, and his unprecedented success as the savior of tiny babies. What we really see here is “how technological ingenuity and exuberance could be built on compassion”.

The book is filled with photographs and I must say that I found it to be one of the most fascinating books that I have read this year. I probably would never have hard about it had I not been contacted by the book’s publicist and now I want to make sure that others hear about this book. As for that missing piece of the puzzle (even though I made a slight mention of it), you will simply have to read this to find out if it fits or not.

“Making the Arab World: 
Nasser, Qutb, and the Clash That Shaped the Middle East” by Gerges A. Fawaz— The Modern Middle East


p style=”text-align: center;”>Gerges, Fawaz A. “Making the Arab World: 
Nasser, Qutb, and the Clash That Shaped the Middle East”, Princeton University Press, 2018.

The Modern Middle East

Amos Lassen

“In 2013, just two years after the popular overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian military ousted the country’s first democratically elected president—Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood—and subsequently led a brutal repression of the Islamist group.” This was the bloody beginning that reminded us of another Egyptian political rift: the splitting of nationalists and Islamists during the rule of Egyptian president and Arab nationalist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. In “Making the Arab World”, writer Fawaz Gerges (one of the world’s leading authorities on the Middle East), tells us how the clash between pan-Arab nationalism and pan-Islamism has shaped the history of the region from the 1920s to the present. He does this by giving us both a biography of Nasser and a biography of Sayyid Qutb, an influential figure and leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the father of many branches of radical political Islam. It is through their intertwined lives that we see the dramatic divide between Arabism and Islam. While this is bound up in ideological and existential rhetoric, this is a struggle over the state, its role, and its power.

The writer has researched this for ten years and conducted in-depth interviews with many leading figures. To understand the situation in the Middle East, this is the best place to start.

It is important to keep in mind that the history of Egypt and the Middle East is the result of the interaction between nationalism and political Islam both of which are deeply rooted forces. Nasser and Qutb personify this. We see the complex relationship between these powerful and enduring political realities and realize that there two were not always at odds.

Fawaz Gerges gives us context and concentrates on specifics. He gives us the story of the conflict that has continued over the last 70 years and it was during this time that a secular-leaning, authoritarian nationalism was up against a theocratic irredentism. +

Table of Contents

Preface ix

Introduction 3

1 Egypt’s “Liberal Age” 35

2 The Anti-colonial Struggle and the Dawn of Underground Politics 60

3 The Free Officers and the Ikhwan 77

4 The Birth of the Deep State and Modern Radical Islamism 126

5 Young Gamal Abdel Nasser 152

6 Young Sayyid Qutb 175

7 The Lion of the Arabs 187

8 The Accidental Islamist? 214

9 Qutb’s al-Tanzim al-Sirri 236

10 The Decline of the Nasserist Project 284

11 Sadat’s Coup and the Islamist Revival 314

12 The Mubarak Era: Keeping the Ikhwan in the Freezer 343

Conclusion 390

Notes 407

“Bad Men and Wicked Women” by Eric Jerome Dickey— “Affairs of the Heart Can Be Lethal”

Dickey, Eric Jerome. “Bad Men and Wicked Women”, Dutton, 2018.

“Affairs Of The Heart Can Be Lethal”

Amos Lassen

Ken Swift is a low-level enforcer in Los Angeles who knows danger and where he feels it most is not on the job but in his tangled romances. He is divorced from one woman, in love with another, and fighting the urge to get to know a third. There just seem to be problems everywhere in his life and things get even crazier when his troubled daughter suddenly appears on the same day he is assigned to a major job. Margaux is pregnant, bitter, and desperate: she needs $50,000 immediately, and will do what she has to in order to get that money even if it means blackmailing Ken to get it. Soon this tension-filled father/daughter reunion becomes ugly with a clashing of wills and desires that spreads far beyond their family. When Ken’s latest contract spirals out of control, he learns that it is not just his daughter ready to seek revenge and when he loses control of his new case, he is pursued by dangerous men who will stop at nothing to get what they want, even if it means putting innocent bystanders in danger.

This is not the kind of book that I usually read but I must say that it hooked me by the second page. Writer Dickey has created strong and larger-than-life characters that give us non-stop action. Angst and lust walk hand-in-hand throughout the pages of the novel. Dickey doesn’t give you time to guess ahead.

Aside from the action we have intense sex and social commentary on current events including Black Lives Matter, NFL players taking a knee and much more.

Before you start to read, map out a block of time because you will not be able to put this book down easily and I actually read its 400 plus pages in a single session. However, I cannot divulge any more of the plot than I already have because to do so would affect your read.



Qreel Proclaims “Life is Queer, Watch it Here” with
Introduction of Video on Demand Platform

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Philadelphia, PA (March 26, 2018) — Breaking Glass Pictures and NakedSword Film Works today announced the launch of the premiere LGBTQ streaming service Qreel (pronounced “Q-reel”).

Qreel ( is a new LGBTQ video streaming service dedicated to telling the intricate and compelling stories of our lives, Qreel offers high-quality content for everyone in the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer community. From award-winning features to captivating documentaries and progressive short films, Qreel provides a vast and constantly expanding library of queer cinema that will make you love, laugh, cry, think, and celebrate the queer world around you.

“We are so proud to be partnering with NSFW on this exciting new venture”, said Rich Wolff, CEO of Breaking Glass Pictures. “Since our beginnings in 2009, Breaking Glass Pictures has been fully committed to the wide spectrum of LGBTQ films. We are always looking for new and creative projects that tell a story and represent every facet of the LGBTQ community. This new venture is poised to be a huge step forward in bringing these stories to a new generation of viewers. Qreel will be the ultimate “go to” streaming site for all things queer.”

Qreel is a passion project from the trailblazing and globally-connected film distribution company Breaking Glass Pictures (BGP), and NakedSword Film Works (NSFW), a producer and curator of LGBTQ features and shorts founded by innovative adult entertainment giants NakedSword and Falcon Studios. These pioneering and imaginative companies have come together to provide you with a new way to experience the best in LGBTQ cinema.

“Ever since NakedSword Film Works produced I Want Your Love and we saw the popularity of the NSFW section on, I wanted to develop a streaming video platform dedicated to offering our community powerful and engaging entertainment,” states Tim Valenti, NakedSword Network and Falcon Studios President. “Working with Breaking Glass Pictures on Seed Money: The Story of Chuck Holmes and learning more about their library of content, it was clear that they were a perfect partner to launch this site. is only the beginning. Our vision is to build Qreel into a vast media network and become the best LGBTQ entertainment media distribution service.”

Breaking Glass Pictures and NakedSword Film Works first partnered to bring the “salacious, poignant, and inspiring” (Queerty) documentary Seed Money: The Story of Chuck Holmes, the story surrounding the rise and tragic end of the founder and figurehead of Falcon Studios. Seed Money will be available upon the launch of alongside over 100 other titles encompassing a mix of award-winning foreign and domestic LGBT features and shorts.

Subscriptions cost $9.95/month or $79.95/year. Cancel anytime.

Founded in 2009 by industry veterans Rich Wolff and Richard Ross, Breaking Glass Pictures is a film distribution and media company that focuses on releasing unique and visionary independent films, inclusive of all genres, from around the world. In addition to theatrical, DVD, digital, and Video-on-Demand releases in North America, Breaking Glass functions as an international sales agent in all film markets, a producer of compelling independent cinema, facilitates festival, theatrical, and special event bookings, and offers a full-service marketing team (marketing strategy, artwork and trailer creation, PR, social media) to independent filmmakers.

The NakedSword Network, founded by Tim Valenti in 1999, is a collection of award-winning gay entertainment brands including, NakedSword Originals, and NakedSword Film Works (NSFW). Called “The Netflix of Gay Porn,” is one of the most popular gay adult video membership sites offering fans over 20,000 scenes from over 200 independent gay porn producers. NakedSword Originals, the network’s content production house, creates acclaimed gay porn features available on as well as on DVD. The network’s hugely popular blog,, covers everything gay, sex and life, and NakedSword Film Works (NSFW) curates erotically charged gay short films at The brands of the NakedSword Network are continually focused on presenting the best gay adult content across its multiple platforms and pioneering innovations in the distribution of that content.


“Becoming Barbra” by Bill Eppridge— Photos of a Star

Eppridge, Bill. “Becoming Barbra”, Rizzoli, 2018,

Photos of a Star

Amos Lassen

“Becoming Barbra” is a  never-before-seen look at Barbra Streisand when she was a star in the making by award-winning photographer Bill Eppridge who had full access to her. There are photographs of Streisand’s beginnings in 1963 to her stardom in 1966. The photos were taken by renowned Life magazine photographer Bill Eppridge. He photographed Streisand shopping in a thrift shop; trying on outfits in her apartment; there are pictures of a Streisand appearance on the “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” which was then live from New York. We see Streisand meeting with Broadway producer David Merrick who wanted her for the starring role in Broadway’s “Funny Girl”, which took her up to celebrity status.

By the time Eppridge met Streisand in 1966, she was already a star— the film of “Funny Girl” had just wrapped, CBS had signed her to star in three television specials, five of her albums had gone gold and one platinum, and she had received three Grammys and an Emmy. Eppridge photographed Streisand throughout her rehearsals and recording sessions, then went to Paris where he covered her at fashion shows with Marlene Dietrich and Coco Chanel, and captured a Richard Avedon shoot of her for French Vogue.

The photographs say a great deal without uttering a word; they are “vivid, candid, and a truly intriguing and unprecedented look at the beginnings of Streisand’s career”. This is “an intimate photo album by a master photographer of one of the most talented performers of our time.

“Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends” by Peter Schweizer—Corruption and Misconduct: An Investigative Look at Politics

Schweizer, Peter. “Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends”, Harper, 2018.

Corruption and Misconduct: An Investigative Look at Politics

Amos Lassen

 Peter Schweizer who wrote “Clinton Cash” and sparked an FBI investigation into the Clinton Foundation has now published “Secret Empires” his highly anticipated investigative follow-up. In it, he shows no favoritism for any politician and attacks them all.

The opening chapters set the background for what is to come and it is all quite shocking. The first bit of new information us about businesses set up by sons of Senators John Kerry and Joe Biden. It seems that Biden’s and Kerry’s sons might have more in common with Jared Kushner and Donald Trump, Jr.

What we read here are allegations; no evidence in the form of newspaper stories or media reports are found here. Nonetheless, this is an important read as it makes us question what we have taken for granted for way too long.

The ownership of the Rosemont entities in the United States and Gemini Investments are connected to sons of the former vice president and secretary of state and they were negotiating to secure a deal with a company whose ties could be traced back to the Chinese navy. This would be the second largest and profitable deal that the son of the vice president and the stepson and friends of John Kerry would strike with Chinese government–connected companies as both statesmen were negotiating with Beijing and were engaged in sensitive, high-stakes negotiations with the Chinese government while their sons’ companies were cutting a deal with a company connected to the Chinese government.

Kerry was criticized for being soft on China even though the country was aggressively laying claim and expanding its presence in the South China Sea. There was great alarm over his unilateral expansion, but Kerry played it cool.

Critics stated that regarding Chinese territorial claims in Asia, Beijing wanted to have negotiations with countries in the region individually and exclude the United States and Japan. This would make it easier for China to intimidate smaller regional players who questioned their territorial claims. Kerry surprised and troubled many in the region when he effectively endorsed China’s strategy to isolate countries like the Philippines in these negotiations by refusing to have the United States take a side in the territorial dispute. Kerry publicly stated that he saw no need to “contain” China and this was in contrast to his predecessor Hillary Clinton’s posture. He was praised by Beijing for his low-key approach to relations with China.

Business negotiations between the Biden and Kerry families and Chinese entities continued. Publicly, Secretary of State Kerry engaged with the very same Chinese government in diplomatic negotiations. In November 2014, Kerry even hosted the Chinese foreign minister in Boston, where they dined together.

By December 2014, Gemini was negotiating and sealing deals with Rosemont on several fronts. That month, Gemini bought out the Rosemont Opportunities Fund II, an offshore investment vehicle run by Rosemont for $34 million and larger deals followed. In May 2015, Kerry went to Asia to meet with his Chinese counterparts to readdress the difficult issues between the United States and China. Kerry told his hosts that the U.S. wanted to work with them on a range of issues, including North Korea, Iran and Syria, and the two powers shouldn’t let the South China Sea issue get in the way of broader cooperation. The Chinese interpreted this as a signal that the U.S. was not ready to confront them.

By August, Rosemont Realty announced that Gemini Investments, still run from COSCO headquarters, was buying a 75 percent stake in the company and this was the second major deal Rosemont struck with China.

This is a must read for anyone who wants to know how elected politicians make millions while in office. Schweiser has done his research and shows us what politicians are doing behind our backs. I just wish that there was more evidence to prove this.

Schweizer is evenhanded and looks at politicians from both parties. The book reveals a kind of self-dealing and suggests Obama used regulations in the education and energy sectors to depress the prices of certain stocks at which time friends of his bought the stocks and then eased pressure, allowing the stocks to rebound and enriching anyone who invested at the stocks’ low points.

Schweizer’s targets include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, former Vice President Joe Biden, former President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State John Kerry, and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.

 “Secret Empires” exposes vast corruption by top Washington figures who leverage their political power to enrich their family members and friends, often by making deals with foreign entities.

The Publishing Triangle Finalists Announced for Best LGBTQ Books of 2017

The Publishing Triangle Finalists Announced for Best LGBTQ Books of 2017

The Publishing Triangle is very proud to announced the nominees for the best LGBTQ books of 2017. The winners in these seven competitive categories will be announced at the 30th annual Triangle Awards. The ceremony will be held on April 26, 2018, at the Tishman Auditorium of the New School (63 Fifth Avenue in New York City) at 7 p.m. In addition to these prizes in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and trans or gender-variant literature, we will be presenting the Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement, the Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award, and the Publishing Triangle Leadership Award that evening.

This year’s finalists are:

Finalists for the Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction
Abandon Me, by Melissa Febos (Bloomsbury USA)
Afterglow, by Eileen Myles (Grove Press)
Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray, by Rosalind Rosenberg (Oxford University Press)
Mean, by Myriam Gurba (Coffee House Press)

Ms. Gurba won the Publishing Triangle’s Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction in 2008, for Dahlia Season.

Finalists for the Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction
Brilliant Imperfection, by Eli Clare (Duke University Press)
The Inheritance of Shame, by Peter Gajdics (Brown Paper Press)
Lives of Great Men, by Chike Frankie Edozien (Team Angelica Publishing)
Patient Zero and the Making of the AIDS Epidemic, by Richard A. McKay (University of Chicago Press)

Finalists for the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry
Lena, by Cassie Pruyn (Texas Tech University Press)
No Dictionary of a Living Tongue, by Duriel E. Harris (Nightboat Books)
Rocket Fantastic, by Gabrielle Calvocoressi (Persea Books)
Some Say, by Maureen N. McLane (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Finalists for the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry
Don’t Call Us Dead, by Danez Smith (Graywolf Press)
Half-Light: Collected Poems, 1965-2016, by Frank Bidart (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Into Each Room We Enter Without Knowing, by Charif Shanahan (Southern Illinois University Press)
When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, by Chen Chen (BOA Editions)

Danez Smith’s collection is also a finalist for the Publishing Triangle Award for Trans and Gender-Variant Literature.

Finalists for the Publishing Triangle Award for Trans and Gender-Variant Literature
Don’t Call Us Dead, by Danez Smith (Graywolf Press)
A Place Called No Homeland, by Kai Cheng Thom (Arsenal Pulp Press)
Prayers for My 17th Chromosome, by Amir Rabiyah (Sibling Rivalry Press)
Trap Door: Trans Cultural Production and the Politics of Visibility, edited by Reina Gossett, Eric A. Stanley, and Johanna Burton (The MIT Press)

Danez Smith’s book is also a finalist for the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry.

Finalists for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction
Elmet, by Fiona Mozley (Algonquin Books)
Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press)
Marriage of a Thousand Lies, by SJ Sindu (Soho Press)
Scarborough, by Catherine Hernandez (Arsenal Pulp Press)

Ms. Mozley’s novel was a finalist for the 2017 Man Booker Prize. Ms. Machado’s story collection was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award for fiction, and is also a finalist for the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction. Ms. Hernandez’s novel was a finalist for the 2017 Toronto Book Awards.

Finalists for the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBTQ Fiction
The Ada Decades, by Paula Martinac (Bywater Books)
The Disintegrations, by Alistair McCartney (University of Wisconsin Press)
The Heart’s Invisible Furies, by John Boyne (Hogarth/Crown)
Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press)
Outside Is the Ocean, by Matthew Lansburgh (University of Iowa Press)

Ms. Machado is also a finalist for the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction; her collection of stories was a finalist as well for this year’s National Book Award for Fiction

The winner in each of the seven categories above will receive a prize of $1000. Please join us in congratulating this worthy batch of nominees.

Sarah Schulman Wins Whitehead Award

ss1Sarah Schulman is the 2018 recipient of the Publishing Triangle’s Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement, named in honor of the legendary editor of the 1970s and 1980s. Schulman is a novelist, nonfiction writer, playwright, screenwriter, and AIDS historian. Among her novels are The Cosmopolitans, The Child, and Rat Bohemia (winner of the 1996 Ferro-Grumley Award for Lesbian Fiction). Her works of nonfiction include Conflict Is Not Abuse (winner of last year’s Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction), The Gentrification of the Mind, and Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences. Schulman’s nineteenth book, the novel Maggie Terry, will be published in September 2018 by the Feminist Press.

She is on the advisory boards of Jewish Voice for Peace, Research on the Israeli/American Alliance, and Claudia Rankine’s Racial Imaginary Institute, and she is faculty advisor for Students for Justice in Palestine. Besides her two earlier Publishing Triangle Awards and many other prizes, Schulman has also won a Guggenheim in playwriting, a Fulbright in Judaic studies, and two American Library Association Stonewall Awards. A fellow at the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University, she is distinguished professor of the humanities at CUNY/College of Staten Island. She also teaches in such non-degree community-based programs as Queer Art Mentorship and Lambda Emerging Writers Retreat.

The Bill Whitehead Award is given to a female-identified writer in even-numbered years and to a male-identified writer in odd years, and the winner receives $3000.

Schulman will accept this prize at the Publishing Triangle’s annual awards ceremony on April 26, 2018. It will be held at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium, 63 Fifth Avenue, in Greenwich Village, New York, starting at 7 p.m.

Sarah Perry to Receive Emerging Writer Award

The Publishing Triangle is pleased to announce that Sarah Perry will receive its Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award. This award is given to an LGBTQ writer who has published at least one book but not more than two. In selecting her for this award, the judges said, “Sarah Perry’s personal story is uniquely fascinating and tragic. From that story, she has produced a work of art: a hybrid of literary genres and narrative strategies which compellingly explore history, grief, and sexuality.” Perry will receive a prize of $1500 with this award.

After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search, Sarah Perry’s memoir, was published in 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Perry holds an M.F.A. in nonfiction from Columbia University, where she served as publisher of Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art and was a member of the journal’s nonfiction editorial board. She is the recipient of a writers’ fellowship from the Edward F. Albee Foundation and a Javits fellowship from the U.S. Department of Education. Perry has attended residencies at Norton Island in Maine and PLAYA in Oregon. Her prose has appeared in such publications as Blood & Thunder,, and The Guardian. She lives in Brooklyn.

“Picasso and the Painting That Shocked the World” by Miles J. Ungar— How Picasso Became Picasso

Ungar, Miles J. “Picasso and the Painting That Shocked the World”, Simon and Schuster, 2018.

How Picasso Became Picasso

Amos Lassen

Miles J. Ungar’s “Picasso and the Painting That Shocked the World” is the story of how an obscure young painter from Barcelona came to Paris and made himself into the most influential artist of the twentieth century. In other words, this is the story of how Picasso became Picasso.

Let me get a bit personal here. Those of us who grew up in the ‘60s certainly knew the name of Picasso and certainly there were those who had seen paintings and prints but for most of us Picasso became a symbol of a period. I read about him but really never appreciated Picasso until I took an interdisciplinary graduate course on Cubism. I was very lucky to have Dr. Rima Drell Reck as my professor and she remains one of the most brilliant people I have ever met. She opened my eyes to Picasso and the effect he had on the modern world.

In 1900, an eighteen-year-old Spaniard named Pablo Picasso came to Paris for the first time. Paris was the capital of the international art world that and it was magical for Picasso. After having suffered suffering years of poverty and neglect, he emerged as the leader of a bohemian group of painters, sculptors, and poets. These artists were fueled by opium and alcohol and inspired by their own late-night conversations with each other. Picasso and his friends had resolved to shake up the world.

For many of his early Paris years, Picasso lived and worked in a squalid tenement known as the Bateau Lavoir, in the heart of Montmartre. It was here that he met his first true love, Fernande Olivier, a muse whom he would transform in his art from Symbolist goddess to Cubist monster. These early years were not easy but later Picasso looked back on them as the happiest of his long life.

Fame and recognition came slowly to Picasso. It actually began in the avant-garde circles in which he traveled, and then among a small group of collectors, including the Americans Leo and Gertrude Stein. In 1906, Picasso began “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” and it was become one of his great masterpieces. His inspiration came from the paintings of Paul Cézanne and African and tribal sculpture. In “Les Demoiselles”, Picasso captured and defined the disorienting experience of modernity itself. The painting was so shocking that several of his friends thought he’d gone mad. Only his colleague George Braque understood what Picasso was trying to do. Over the next few years they teamed up to create Cubism, the most revolutionary and influential movement in twentieth-century art.

Picasso’s story is the story of an artistic genius with a creative gift and it is a story “filled with heartbreak and triumph, despair and delirium, all of it played out against the backdrop of the world’s most captivating city”. He ushered in the birth of modernism a century ago and it was a great moment of creative disruption including Einstein’s physics, Stravinsky’s music, and the writings of Joyce and Proust and these was “Les Demoiselles”, a painting with lasting impact in today’s art world.

“Absurdimals: Lola Goes to School” by Gewndolyn Javor— Celebrating Difference

Javor, Gwendolyn. “Absurdimals: Lola Goes to School”,  illustrated by Melissa Spears, CreateSpace, 2017.

Celebrating Difference

Amos Lassen

The Absurdimals are hybrid animals that change our perception of what is thought to be “normal”. In the absurdimals, we see how society is constantly changing and that we must encourage children to embrace individuality.

Lola the Belephant goes to school for the first time and finds out she’s not quite the same as the other animals. After feeling like an outsider, Lola learns that there is no such thing as being different even though she is half bunny and half elephant.

Before Lola goes to school and meets others, Lola loves herself and her unique traits but soon the “normal” elephants make fun of her and start to bully her. Her school principal tells her to love herself first, that Lola realizes love is what holds us together. The story looks at issues that play important roles children’s lives and it gives a sense of hope and understanding that is wonderful. This is also an excellent way for parents o begin explaining what diversity means.

Today children struggle with many issues including skin color, chronic illness, special learning needs or something else, and the effect of these make can child feel different. It is interesting that I am sure we had the same issues when I was a kid but they were spoken of. We struggled silently back then.

Gwendolyn Javor is a lawyer by trade and she is a is a humanitarian whose self-appointed job is to finding ways to show how acceptance can be found and found with love. It is her goal to let children become citizens of the world who appreciate and respect one another and where differences are not important. What is important is loving ourselves and others. Hence she developed the Absurdimals and uses humor, thought and creative characters in order for us to see how different everyone is.

Our first absurdimal is Lola who is happy with her self until she goes to school and discovers that other students did nit know how to deal with someone who was so different. She tries to join a group of elephants but they excluded her because she was not an elephant and they even made fun of her. She tried to explain that she was half elephant but they laughed at her because she was an absurdimal! This really upset and frightened her and she went to talk to her school’s principal, Mr. Hooves, a moose who her that animals can play together even if they are not alike and they can become best friends. Principal Hooves explains that the key is understanding that ’absurd’ is what animals say about things that are new, different, and not understood. ‘Furthermore he tells Lola that basically we are all alike and share much in common but Lola is upset being called an ‘absurdimal’, Her principal comforts her and tells her that is a new different and that others will love her when she loves herself. In class the next day, Lola tells everyone that she is an absurdimal and loves it. Another “different” animals then spoke up and it seem they all want to be absurdimals.

I love the idea behind the book and the author carries it put so well plus it has great illustrations by Melissa Spears. It is wonderful that we can celebrate diversity here in this country. Gwendolyn Javor sees that children are basically good and that they have the power to change what is not good. Children can be taught to understand and celebrate diversity and this gives us hope for a better future.

Here is a lovely excerpt from the book.

 Lola was no ordinary animal. Half bunny, half elephant, she was what could best be described as: a BELEPHANT.

No one else could hop after butterflies while watering flowers!

 Yes, Lola was quite different and she’d soon find that out…

 So, the ABSURDIMAL found her place…away from the real animals!

 There’s no too different…there’s only NEW-DIFFERENT!

 But no matter what type of different, there’s love in all of us. That’s what connects us!

 Love yourself, and the other animals will too.

 I’m proud that I’m an ABSURDIMAL, because I’m proud to be a BELEPHANT!

 If being an ABSURDIMAL means you can be what you want, we ALL want to beABSURDIMALS too!

 Lola looked around. Instead of a room full of different animals, all she saw was a room full of love.


“The Sea Beast Takes a Lover: Stories” by Michael Andreasen— Hope, Love and Loss

Andreasen, Michael. “The Sea Beast Takes a Lover: Stories”, Dutton, 2018.

Hope, Love and Loss

Amos Lassen

Michael Andreasen’s “The Sea Beast Takes a Lover is a collection of odd stories that are basically about the need for connection and understanding through the use of the supernatural and extraordinary. They explore hope, love and loss and are enchanting and endearing even though they are written in a surreal way. Beneath the veneer of surrealism, we see what it means to navigate family, faith, and longing. What I love about stories like this is that they make us think as we try to understand where the author is going. Through the introduction of such characters as sea monsters, ghosts of Catholic saints, and teenagers enjoying life, we get stories that are filled with emotions and that show us universal understandings and desires in ways we have not considered before. As we read we see the line between the speculative and the satirical.

The prose is lush and lyrical in the eleven stories that make up the collection. Each story balances fantasy and reality making it difficult to see which is which and while this is speculative fiction, it is also more than that.

As we read of mermaids, prophetic dancing bears, exploding children, and distraught time travelers, we see that we are also reading about love and loss and what caring for others really means. The stories take on new and varied meanings with each rereading and this is the kind of book that you want to keep nearby because you will do just that; read and reread the stories.

It is Andreasen’s wonderful imagination and command of the English language that makes for such a fun and excellent read. If you have ever wondered how a story can be urgent and timeless at the same time, then you need to read any of these stories. We see that often there is hope that comes with heartbreak and dreams that come with nightmares as Andreasen pits opposite against each other.

One of the beautiful things about being human is that we want to know “why”. We do not get answers here but we get many questions to think about. While the stories almost all deal with the fantastic, you will be amazed at the variety of tales that we get. Paternal pressures, the terror of stasis, our jealous hunger for love are examples of three of the themes here. What all of the stories share is a new way to see the world though Andreasen’s subversion of the narrative form as he plays with conventional story telling.

I am not a fan of short stories (regardless, I do have my favorites) but after reading this, my opinion might just change. You will obviously notice that I did not summarize any of the stories or single any of them out as personal favorites. I leave that to you who have yet to have the reading experience.