The World's Thickest Book

It's official "“ at 4,032 pages, all resting on a spine over a foot thick, the world's thickest book is The Complete Miss Marple. The massive volume, a collection of the 12 novels and 20 short stories by Agatha Christie featuring the guileless spinster detective, was revealed to the public at a press event at Foyle's Charing Cross Road bookshop in London on Wednesday, May 20.

Taking part in the event was Christie's grandson and inheritor of her estate, Matthew Prichard, who congratulated HarperCollins, publisher of Christie's books, on creating a "piece of literary history," and said, "I hope that a lot of very nice people come to possess one."

Asked later what his grandmother would have made of the record-winning tome, he said, "I think that she'd be amazed that we were all in Foyle's, 35 years after her death, celebrating Miss Marple."

Prichard also admitted that he hadn't tried to read the new book yet. "I've got a very bad leg at the moment so I don't think I could do it," he said, laughing. "It's heavier than it looks!"

The book's unveiling was not without its own suspense, of course "“ Guinness Book of World Records adjudicator John Pilley, armed with a tape measure, was on hand to determine whether or not the book actually met all the world record criteria. Luckily, it did, and Pilley had the pleasure of awarding the book's publishers the official Guinness World Record certificate. Afterwards, Pilley, himself an Agatha Christie fan, asked Prichard to autograph one of her books for him.

A few quick facts about the World's Thickest Book:

The book is as much a technological feat as a literary one, if not more so. The book is 4,032 pages long, all collected in a spine 322 mm (12.6 inches) thick, bound in maroon leather with gilt writing on the cover and appropriately enough, paged edged with red speckling. At 8.02 kilograms, or about 17.6 pounds, it weighs as much as a medium-sized dog, even more when it's in its bespoke suede-lined wooden box. It's made up of 252 separate 16-page sections, which are hand-sewn together and to the spine. For awhile, it was questionable whether they could find a guillotine powerful enough to trim the book's considerable edges. It is, I can say with the satisfaction of a person who likes to see inordinately large things, massive.
Though no one's tried it yet, reading at a pace of 30 pages an hour, it would take around 134 hours to finish the book.
The book contains an introduction by best-selling British mystery writer, Kate Mosse, who has often claimed that Agatha Christie is one of her favorite authors, and a water-color illustration of St. Mary's Mead, Miss Marple's fictional village, based on a drawing Christie herself created for The Murder at the Vicarage.
Through the 12 novels and 20 short stories reproduced in the book, Miss Marple solves 43 murders: 12 poisonings, six strangulations, two drownings, two stabbings, two people pushed to their deaths, one rather grisly burning, one blow to the head, and one arrow through the heart. In all, 68 crimes are committed, including the murders. There are 11 philandering spouses, 21 romances, 22 false accusations, and a whopping 59 red herrings. And, as solid evidence of either Miss Marple's ability to keep a cool head or the English obsession with tea, characters drink 143 cups of tea.
Only 500 of the books have been made for sale and they'll go at a cost of £1000 each. Check out if you want one.

A few facts about Miss Jane Marple:

agatha-christie.jpgMiss Marple's first appearance in a novel was in Murder at the Vicarage, which was published in 1930, and she made her last appearance in 1976's Sleeping Murder. Despite the 46-year span, Christie only wrote 12 novels featuring Miss Marple "“ rather paltry when compared with the 33 novels her other famous detective, Hercule Poirot, stars in. Christie's grandson, Matthew Prichard, said that his grandmother was careful not to overuse the diminutive, elderly character. "It was never her intention, and I use her words, that she should be "˜haunted' by Miss Marple for the rest of her life," he said.
Miss Marple was inspired by a character from another of her books, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd "“ a spinster busy-body whose enjoyment of gossip keeps her well-informed about the goings-in in her little village. Christie also said that both characters were inspired by her grandmother and the women of her grandmother's circle.
Miss Marple has lived her entire life in the fictional village of St. Mary's Mead, a prototypical English village of a certain era whose chief occupation is gossip. While she's often dismissed as "having never seen the world," Miss Marple maintains that there's quite enough human nature, wickedness and frailty in a typical English village to go around, as well as more than ample opportunity to study it.
In They Do It With Mirrors, one character accurately summed up Miss Marple's ability to get to the bottom of some rather grisly crimes: "Because you've got a nose for that sort of thing. You always had. You've always been a sweet innocent looking creature, Jane, and all the time underneath nothing has ever surprised you, you always believe the worst."
Miss Marple has never had any formal training as a detective and relies primarily on her keen intelligence, powers of observation, and knowledge of human nature.
She has never married and is what British novels refer to as "a maiden aunt," a sweet, frail-looking, fluffy sort of person who seems from a by-gone era. As such, she does typical maiden auntie things, like knit. Over the course of The Complete Miss Marple, Miss Marple knits 47 garments. She's supported by her own means and by her nephew, Raymond West, a successful mystery writer.
Miss Marple has been portrayed on stage and screen by a number of actresses, including Margaret Rutherford, Angela Lansbury, Helen Hayes, Joan Hickson, and Geraldine McEwan.

A few quick facts about Agatha Christie:

agatha-christie-2.jpgThis is crime writer Agatha Christie's third Guinness World Record: She holds one for best-selling author, and another for her play, The Mousetrap, which is the world's longest running play "“ it's still going, now in its 57th year.
Christie sold her first novel in 1920, The Mysterious Affair at Styles; within just a few years, she had solidified her reputation as an ingenious and ruthless plotter, never sentimental and always unexpected. Before her death in 1976, The Queen of Crime wrote 80 detective novels, six romance novels (under a pseudonym), 13 plays, and 154 short stories.
All of her books are still in print, selling around 500,000 copies a year, and she's the eighth most borrowed author from British libraries. With more than 2 billion of her books floating around the world, Christie is one of the most published authors in history "“ outsold only by Shakespeare and the Bible.
She's been immortalized in wax at Madame Tussaud's, has a rose named after her, and every September, England celebrates the author's birthday with Agatha Christie Week.

10 Things You Might Not Know About Little Women

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of the world's most beloved novels, and now—nearly 150 years after its original publication—it's capturing yet another generation of readers, thanks in part to Masterpiece's new small-screen adaptation. Whether it's been days or years since you've last read it, here are 10 things you might not know about Alcott's classic tale of family and friendship.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Louisa May Alcott was writing both literature and pulp fiction (sample title: Pauline's Passion and Punishment) when Thomas Niles, the editor at Roberts Brothers Publishing, approached her about writing a book for girls. Alcott said she would try, but she wasn’t all that interested, later calling such books “moral pap for the young.”

When it became clear Alcott was stalling, Niles offered a publishing contract to her father, Bronson Alcott. Although Bronson was a well-known thinker who was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, his work never achieved much acclaim. When it became clear that Bronson would have an opportunity to publish a new book if Louisa started her girls' story, she caved in to the pressure.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott began writing the book in May 1868. She worked on it day and night, becoming so consumed with it that she sometimes forgot to eat or sleep. On July 15, she sent all 402 pages to her editor. In September, a mere four months after starting the book, Little Women was published. It became an instant best seller and turned Alcott into a rich and famous woman.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

The first half was published in 1868 as Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The Story Of Their Lives. A Girl’s Book. It ended with John Brooke proposing marriage to Meg. In 1869, Alcott published Good Wives, the second half of the book. It, too, only took a few months to write.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Meg was based on Louisa’s sister Anna, who fell in love with her husband John Bridge Pratt while performing opposite him in a play. The description of Meg’s wedding in the novel is supposedly based on Anna’s actual wedding.

Beth was based on Lizzie, who died from scarlet fever at age 23. Like Beth, Lizzie caught the illness from a poor family her mother was helping.

Amy was based on May (Amy is an anagram of May), an artist who lived in Europe. In fact, May—who died in childbirth at age 39—was the first woman to exhibit paintings in the Paris Salon.

Jo, of course, is based on Alcott herself.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Bronson Alcott’s philosophical ideals made it difficult for him to find employment—for example, as a socialist, he wouldn't work for wages—so the family survived on handouts from friends and neighbors. At times during Louisa’s childhood, there was nothing to eat but bread, water, and the occasional apple.

When she got older, Alcott worked as a paid companion and governess, like Jo does in the novel, and sold “sensation” stories to help pay the bills. She also took on menial jobs, working as a seamstress, a laundress, and a servant. Even as a child, Alcott wanted to help her family escape poverty, something Little Women made possible.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott, who never married herself, wanted Jo to remain unmarried, too. But while she was working on the second half of Little Women, fans were clamoring for Jo to marry the boy next door, Laurie. “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life," Alcott wrote in her journal. "I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”

As a compromise—or to spite her fans—Alcott married Jo to the decidedly unromantic Professor Bhaer. Laurie ends up with Amy.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

People have theorized Laurie was inspired by everyone from Thoreau to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. In 1865, while in Europe, Alcott met a Polish musician named Ladislas Wisniewski, whom Alcott nicknamed Laddie. The flirtation between Laddie and Alcott culminated in them spending two weeks together in Paris, alone. According to biographer Harriet Reisen, Alcott later modeled Laurie after Laddie.

How far did the Alcott/Laddie affair go? It’s hard to say, as Alcott later crossed out the section of her diary referring to the romance. In the margin, she wrote, “couldn’t be.”


Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts was the Alcott family home. In 1868, Louisa reluctantly left her Boston apartment to write Little Women there. Today, you can tour this house and see May’s drawings on the walls, as well as the small writing desk that Bronson built for Louisa to use.


In addition to a 1958 TV series, multiple Broadway plays, a musical, a ballet, and an opera, Little Women has been made into more than a half-dozen movies. The most famous are the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn, the 1949 version starring June Allyson (with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy), and the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. Later this year, Clare Niederpruem's modern retelling of the story is scheduled to arrive in movie theaters. It's also been adapted for the small screen a number of times, most recently for PBS's Masterpiece, by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas.


In 1987, Japan made an anime version of Little Women that ran for 48 half-hour episodes. Watch the first two episodes above.

Additional Resources:
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography; Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women; Louisa May Alcott's Journals; Little Women; Alcott Film; C-Span;

Mario Tama, Getty Images
Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Is Causing Another Explosive Problem: Laze
Mario Tama, Getty Images
Mario Tama, Getty Images

Rivers of molten rock aren't the only thing residents near Hawaii's Kilauea volcano have to worry about. Lava from recent volcanic activity has reached the Pacific Ocean and is generating toxic, glass-laced "laze," according to Honolulu-based KITV. Just what is this dangerous substance?

Molten lava has a temperature of about 2000°F, while the surrounding seawater in Hawaii is closer to 80°F. When this super-hot lava hits the colder ocean, the heat makes the water boil, creating powerful explosions of steam, scalding hot water, and projectile rock fragments known as tephra. These plumes are called lava haze, or laze.

Though it looks like regular steam, laze is much more dangerous. When the water and lava combine, and hot lava vaporizes seawater, a series of reactions causes the formation of toxic gas. Chloride from the sea salt mixes with hydrogen in the steam to create a dense, corrosive mixture of hydrochloric acid. The vapor forms clouds that then turn into acid rain.

Laze blows out of the ocean near a lava flow

That’s not the only danger. The lava cools down rapidly, forming volcanic glass—tiny shards of which explode into the air along with the gases.

Even the slightest encounter with a wisp of laze can be problematic. The hot, acidic mixture can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. It's particularly hazardous to those with breathing problems, like people with asthma.

In 2000, two people died in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from inhaling laze coming from an active lava flow.

The problem spreads far beyond where the lava itself is flowing, pushing the problem downwind. Due to the amount of lava flowing into the ocean and the strength of the winds, laze currently being generated by the Kilauea eruptions could spread up to 15 miles away, a USGS geologist told Reuters.

[h/t Forbes]


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