Honorable mention for general misuse of Instagram goes to Stephen King, who took blurry pictures of speaking engagements aplenty until he called it quits on updating his account last November. If you’re interested in seeing a photo of a barely distinguishable but still adorable King posing in a prop shark’s mouth at the Toronto Aquarium, though, hit @StephenKing up.

KEEP READING: "Say Cheese: Our 10 Favorite Authors on Instagram"

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How the Hell Did People Make Books During Medieval Times?

When thinking of medieval writing, we tend to imagine cloistered monks hard at work creating illuminated manuscripts. Actually, there were all kinds of writers at this time, from professional scribes to copywriters working off their debts in prison, and all kinds of texts too. But making a medieval book was no easy undertaking. Just acquiring the basic materials like ink and parchment presented a challenge, yet the book we know today came out of this period. This is how people produced books in an age before the Big publishing houses, between the fifth and 15th centuries:

1. Ink

During medieval times, experimentation with ink recipes was commonplace though often secretive; in fact, many of the finer points of medieval ink-making are still unknown. Early inks involved scraping carbon off heat-treated metal and mixing it with gum arabic to make a paste, but these were prone to fading. After 1200 AD, the basis for black ink became more outlandish: A certain species of wasp lays eggs in the buds of oak trees; when the wasp larvae flies the nest, a woody growth filled with tannic and gallic acids is left behind. These “oak apples” were made into a potion with vinegar or rain water, then treated with metal salts like copper sulphate to make a jet black liquid. Once thickened with gum arabic, it was ready to use on paper or parchment. Manuscripts written in such “gall ink” remain as clear today as when they were first set down.

2. Quills

It might seem like any old feather would do for putting ink to paper, but a scribe had to be selective with the tool they chose. Goose feathers were the pen of choice, plucked from the wings of live birds in the spring time. Right-handed scribes selected primary feathers from the left wing so that the tip bent over their hand and away from their eye-line. These feathers were trimmed, washed and dried out in hot sand to prepare them for use. Fats and dirt were scraped out of the inside of the nib, then the scribe made a thin slit in the tip. Medieval ink had to be thick to hold to the quill, and the tip had to be re-cut over 50 times a day to enable constant writing, making working with them almost as frustrating as Windows 8.

3. Paper

When paper arrived in the West from China, it was regarded with suspicion and contempt. Unlike parchment, it was fragile and given to fading over time. Its use was banned in legal documents, and rich readers had popular books transcribed onto parchment for their conservation. However, as paper manufacturing became cheaper, it grew in prominence.

Paper was made by processing waste fibres such as cloth in water and hammering it with a stamping mill. Layers of the resulting pulp were then skimmed off with a fine sieve. The pulp was shaken up, down, left and right to create a fine cross weave structure, then hung up to dry on ropes coated in beeswax. This draining process left a faint mesh-mark on the sheet from the sieve, and paper makers began to place intricate designs into the sieve’s mesh to distinguish their work, creating watermarks. The dried sheets were dipped in gelatin to make them more durable, water resistant and, presumably, delicious.


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Say Cheese: Our 10 Favorite Authors on Instagram

Authors are sort of like your parents in a lot of ways: You love them to death and even look up to them as your role models, but try as they might to embody “hipness,” they just can’t cut it. It’s a mystery as to why the people who create the images in books that stick longest in our memories can’t come up with a decently composed photograph of their dinner table or even a hashtag-free caption, but for some reason, authors and Instagram usually don’t mix. For all their failings, though, at least your favorite writers are trying. Check out this list of 10 authors on Instagram who are attempting to make it in the world of selfies, sunsets and soft filters.

1. Gary Shteyngart

If you weren’t familiar with Shteyngart, you’d likely confuse his Instagram account with either that of a small town food critic or a middle-aged woman. The majority of his pictures fall into two categories: poorly lit, blurry snapshots of his dinner and photos of sunsets, rivers and puppies. The photos’ saving grace are their thoroughly Shteyngart-esque captions like, “Was enjoying the papaya salad when the deep-fried sun-dried pork showed up and was like ‘Whaaat?’” If you’re looking for an Instagram account that you and your grandma can agree on, this is it.

2. Tao Lin

This adorable selfie excluded, it seems like Lin’s Instagram might be best enjoyed under the influence. His feed is a mixed bag of his own illustrations, Hayao Miyazaki clips, pictures from the internet and bizarrely well-composed fruit photography. Perhaps Lin is confused about Instagram; his profile blurb asks visitors if they know how he might acquire the account @taolin, and it’s not clear he understands the concept of filters. If this is how Lin functions on Instagram, though, I’m not sure I want anyone to explain it to him.

3. Dani Shapiro

Plus one point to Shapiro for mastering the art of the selfie. Plus another few points for having the glowing skin of a photoshopped L’Oreal model. Minus 10 points for always taking the same exact photo. Come on, Shapiro, at least come up with a different caption besides “car selfie.” Isn’t that what you writers are supposed to be good at?


Commenting on the dichotomy of happiness as only Elie Wiesel can, this illustrated collection finds a way to simply and eloquently retell the story of Passover with the addition of Wiesel’s notes and reminiscences alongside the Haggadah. Although intended as something of a children’s book for adults, there’s still an air of sorrow as Wiesel laments, “The joyousness of this holiday is so tinged with melancholy that it seems more like a time of sadness.” Wiesel’s passionate sentiment over this unique Jewish holiday comes through not just in his words, but with Mark Podwal’s vital illustrations as well.

KEEP READING:"A Seder Reader: 6 Books to Pick up This Passover"

If you’ve heard about H&H Bagels before, it wasn’t from your local Rabbi. H&H has been featured on You’ve Got Mail, How I Met Your Mother and Entourage, just to name a few. In fact, in 1997, this bagel store made a Hollywood-size salary of $2 million. Unfortunately, two of the store’s locations have closed, but you can still get H&H bagels 24 hours a day at their location on 2nd Avenue and 80th. And if you’re busy marathoning Sex and the City — another show on which H&H guest-starred — don’t worry: This bagel store delivers.

KEEP READING:"Accidentally Kosher: 9 New York City Restaurants You’d Never Guess are Kosher"

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A Seder Reader: 6 Books to Pick up This Passover

Passover is a tradition rich in food, festivities and commemoration — so rich, in fact, that it has spawned its own brand of literature. Since the holiday honors the events of the Book of Exodus, which tells the story of the Israelites’ winning their freedom from enslavement by the Egyptians, it only makes sense that a number of books would also subsequently honor Passover. With so many Jewish authors affected and influenced by the festival, it’s no wonder there’s such a wealth of great books to choose from as dusk approaches this April 15.

1. The Chosenby Chaim Potok

An instant classic that often finds its way into A.P. lit courses, The Chosenfollows the unlikely friendship of Daniel (Danny) Saunders and Reuven Malter as they grapple with the conflict of coming from two different sects of Judaism. Danny, a Hasid, and Reuven, a Modern Orthodox Jew, initially meet while playing on opposite teams (oh, the symbolism) during a baseball game. After Danny hits a ball that lands right in Reuven’s face, the two naturally strike up a friendship. Set in the Williamsburg, Brooklyn of the 1940s, Potok’s story unfolds with all the beauty and precision of a Seder, and ultimately, one of the most climactic, bittersweet moments of the book takes place on Passover.

2. The Rise of David Levinsky by Abraham Cahan

An underrated classic, The Rise of David Levinsky is told from an autobiographical perspective that lends it a specific kind of authority. Born in Antomir, Russia in 1865, Levinsky lives a life filled with struggle. Even early on in his childhood, he must deal with being the poorest student at his school, subjected to cruel treatment from both his teachers and fellow students. Nonetheless, Levinsky excels in academics, as well as Talmudic studies. Although his interest in the Talmud is strong, he is also at war with his own budding sexual identity by the age of 13. In keeping with his history of constant ridicule, Levinsky’s life is forever changed during Passover after gentiles celebrating Easter accost him on his way to the market. When his mother sees the damage that’s been caused to her son’s face, she tries to chastise his tormentors, resulting in her being beaten to death.

3. Wonder Boysby Michael Chabon

As the most contemporary novel on this list, Wonder Boys has a more comical slant. The sardonic levity of Chabon’s writing shines through protagonist Grady Tripp. In between working on a manuscript that’s over 2,000 pages long and teaching at Coxley College in Pittsburgh, Tripp must also juggle the emotional fallout of getting his married mistress, school chancellor Sara Gaskell, pregnant and being abandoned by his wife. His friendship with a student named James Leer leads him on a series of hijinks, including the shooting of Sara’s dog and the theft of a valuable piece of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia from her husband Walter. At one point, during the duo’s (at times hallucinogenic) journey, they attend a Passover Seder at the home of Tripp’s parents-in-law, who try to remain oblivious to their daughter’s imminent divorce. Covering just over 30 pages of the book, the Seder scene in Wonder Boys verges on the epic, culminating in Leer being picked up by his parents after drinking too much kosher wine, smoking too much weed and playing beer pong.


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