The Help Desk: Your one-stop shop for advice on plagiarism, pince-nez, and spider blood

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

The other day at the eye doctor’s office, I found myself considering a pince nez. Would this make me look like a total ass, or is it time for FDR’s preferred eyewear to make a comeback?

Stu, Bellevue

Dear Stu,

There are two instances in which I could see this look working on a contemporary face: if you were to pair your prince nez with a reptile contact lens, so that you had one large, freaky snake eye, or if you were to poke your non-prince nez eye out with a fork. All other alternatives are unacceptable.



P.S. Speaking of lenses and history and such, go read Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher.

Dear Cienna,

Settle a bet: is there ever a time when plagiarism is morally justified?

Evie, Port Townsend

Dear Evie,

Considering that I have used stories of my alcoholic father's suicide to score free drinks in bars, take my views on morality with as much salt as you wish: No, plagiarism is never morally justified.



P.S. Speaking of immorality, go read Insane Clown President.

Dear Cienna,

I just want to know more about the spiders, please. The way you talk about them makes my stomach feel funny, and I’m not sure yet if it’s good or bad.

Shelob, Pioneer Square

Dear Shelob,

Did you know that female black widows can store sperm in their abdomens for up to two years? Or that spider blood is blue? Or that their silk is five times stronger than steel – in fact, it's so strong and elastic that scientists cannot replicate it?

Or that the two things you never, ever want to do on a Friday night with your spider friends is draw a bubble bath or play "light as a feather, stiff as a board" because both will end in horror?



P.S. Go read The Private Life of Spiders.