Categories
Last Week's Links Reading Writing

Literary Links

How to Read a Book, According to Virginia Woolf

Ellen Gutoskey discusses Virginia Woolf’s essay “How Should One Read a Book?” Gutoskey begins by noting that the title is a question, not a prescriptive statement:

“The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions,” she says.

The article includes a link to a PDF of the essay, if you’re interested in following along.

The Greatest Literary Alliance of All Time: You, the Author, and the Character

“Lisa Zeidner Asks Us to Think Deeply About Point of View in Fiction.”

I see reading a work of literature as an exchange between reader and writer. (See reader-response criticism.)

In this exploration of point of view in fiction, Lisa Zeidner takes that theory one step further by looking at now a dynamic due (author and reader) but a dynamic threesome (author, reader, and character). “It’s in that bleeding or overlap between the entities—choose your metaphor, or your ink color—that empathy lives,” she writes.

Reading Pathways: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld

When you come across an article that seems to have been written just for you, what do you do? You read it, of course.

I’ve read a lot of quotations from Terry Pratchett and much praise for his work. But after learning that Discworld isn’t really a series—in the sense of a collection in which one book follows another, in a narrative and logical line—but rather a group of independent but inter-related books, I had no idea where to start. Here Aisling Twomey answers my question, as if she were responding specifically to me.

Can Historians Be Traumatized by History?

There’s been a lot written about how experiencing violence and atrocities first-hand can lead to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Here James Robins go one step further, to ask people if people, such as therapists or historians conducting research, can “be traumatized by something experienced only secondhand.”

Annotation: How to Get the Most Our of Your Books

With a blog called Notes in the Margin, I was, you can bet, all over this article about annotation books. But this piece isn’t about how to make notations in your books to help you remember significant points.

Instead, Joshua C. Craig discusses how book annotations originated and what their functions have been over time. Beginning before the invention of the printing press and continuing into the present, when annotations may help students discussing literature on a pandemic-inspired Zoom meeting, he considers three functions of annotations:

chunking, connecting, and/or signaling. Annotations can serve more than one of these purposes at a time but will always serve at least one of these three purposes, in addition to any other reasons the annotator has marked the section.

Craig ends by encouraging us to write out annotations as fully as possible, following a college professor’s advice to “write your annotations so that a stranger picking up your book will be able to understand them.” That stranger may be a much older you, who has no memory of what you meant by cryptic symbols or words jotted in the margin. Craig says he uses “sticky notes and note cards to expand when needed.”

Annotate This: On Footnotes

This article is by Ed Simon, “Editor-at-Large for The Marginalia Review of Books, a channel of The Los Angeles Review of Books.” (Back when I started my web site, I wanted the name Marginalia.com, but it was already taken. Marginalia means “things written in the margin.”)

Simon focus on the use of footnotes here. “Footnotes can be an exercise in arid, sober, boring credit-giving, but some of the most dynamic monographs have the best stuff squired away in the footnotes.” 

After much discussion of the use of footnotes in religious texts of ages past, Simon turns to their use in novels, which “make use of the footnote’s literary possibilities, allowing parallel narratives to take place in the margins, unseen narrators to comment, digressions, disagreements, and debates to occur within the white space of the page.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Personal

Vaccinated!

My husband and I both got our second dose of COVID-19 vaccine yesterday. I’ve waited to post in case either of us experienced any of the reactions to the second shot that I’ve been reading about.

Last night we each had a very slight bit of soreness in our arm, but that had disappeared by this morning and neither of us has had any further reaction. A few friends who also got their second shot yesterday reported a slight fever and low energy today, but nothing serious.

This article reports that there are still questions about the results of getting the full dose of vaccine, but both my husband and I, being over 70, were happy to get vaccinated.

And here’s the short-sleeve shirt I wore to vaccinated:

T-shirt saying, "Yes, I do have a retirement plan. I will be reading more and more books."

I hope that all of you are staying healthy and warm.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Fiction Film How Fiction Works Last Week's Links Literature & Psychology Reading Writing

Literary Links

Writers’ Inner Voices

Many writers report vivid experiences of ‘hearing’ the voices of the characters they create and having characters who talk back to them, rebel, and ‘do their own thing’. It’s an experience described by a wide range of authors from Enid Blyton, Alice Walker, Quentin Tarantino and Charles Dickens through to Samuel Beckett, Henry James, Hilary Mantel and many more.

Writers’ Inner Voices is a collaborative research project between the Edinburgh International Book Festival and Durham University’s Hearing the Voice which set out to examine the ways in which writers and storytellers experience their characters. This website provides details of what we discovered, explanations for what might be going on, and creative writing exercises based on the research.

Create a Digital Commonplace Book

“Readers have collected their favorite literary lines for centuries. Now compiling a portable word scrapbook is easier than ever.”

If you like to collect notes and quotations from books you’ve read, this article is a gold mine. After a short history of the commonplace book, J.D. Biersdorfer has some suggestions for various apps and programs that can help you keep a digital commonplace book. Keeping track of stuff like this is what computers do best, so why not take advantage of their power?

The Greatest Literary Alliance of All Time: You, the Author, and the Character

“Lisa Zeidner Asks Us to Think Deeply About Point of View in Fiction”

Here’s a fascinating look into how writers manage point of view in fiction.

The Powerful, Complicated Legacy of Betty Friedan’s ‘The Feminine Mystique’

cover: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

In the acclaimed 1963 The Feminine Mystique, Friedan tapped into the dissatisfaction of American women. The landmark bestseller, translated into at least a dozen languages with more than three million copies sold in the author’s lifetime, rebukes the pervasive post-World War II belief that stipulated women would find the greatest fulfillment in the routine of domestic life, performing chores and taking care of children.

Meet 8 industry players behind Hollywood’s book adaptation boom

Meredith Maran looks at “a few of Hollywood’s most important behind-the-scenes movers, shakers and connection-makers — agents, scouts, managers and execs” contributing to the great number of literary adaptations making their current way from the page to the screen.

How to create compelling characters

Kira-Anne Pelican, a psychologist and script consultant, here advises fiction writers on how to use psychology to create complex, compelling characters. What she has to say can also inform readers reviewing and analyzing literary works.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Personal

Snow Day!

We don’t get much snow, except for occasional flurries, here near sea level on the coast of Washington. So when a storm hits, we make the most of it. Yesterday afternoon through this afternoon we got about 10 inches, which is quite a lot for this area.

The Seattle Weather Blog noted that 8.9 inches that fell at Seattle Tacoma International Airport on Saturday was the fifth-snowiest single day at that location, and the most snow on one day since 1969, when nearly 15 inches fell there.

The Seattle Times

The last time this area got a significant amount of snow was February 9, 2019, when about 5 inches fell. We were traveling in the southern hemisphere then and missed it, so we took full advantage of this storm.

Weather Service tweet indicating this storm is the 15th largest since the beginning of record keeping in the Seattle area in the 1890s

My husband went out to get the mail while snow was still falling.

Man standing in snow waving while snow continues to fall
snow falling outside, covering yards and houses

Once the snow stopped, we got all bundled up and went outside to take some photos.

We have several lion statues like this one around campus, but they were all camouflaged today:

statue of lion nearly covered with snow

One of the reasons we moved into a retirement community was to avoid having to do chores like mowing the lawn and shoveling snow. We are very lucky that we have such a dedicated staff here. They got to work immediately:

snow plow on driveway

Because we had plenty of warning that this storm was on the way, we were able to lay in enough supplies to last us for several days. Our outdoor photography trip reminded us of our childhood in New England and was a welcome break from the seemingly endless routine of the past 10 months.

Wherever you are, we hope you are safe, healthy, warm, and well supplied.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Author News Book Recommendations Fiction Last Week's Links Literature & Psychology Nonfiction

Literary Links

A Sickness in the Air

“Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind imagines the world after a global disaster, but its real subject is white entitlement.”

[Alam] has an interior barometer exquisitely calibrated to signifiers of social class: fashion houses, just-trendy-enough restaurants, interiors detailed with the loving eye of a copywriter for a high-end furniture catalog. His interest lies in taxonomies of race and class, not in generating the reader’s empathy or evoking an emotional response. Lacking the capacity for deep reflection, his characters drift along in their bubbles, so perfectly self-absorbed that the other people in their lives are all but invisible . . .

What should you read in 2021? These 10 authors have ideas.

What intrigued me most about this list is the format. Writer Neema Roshania Patel asked “Torrey Peters, author of “Detransition Baby,” which came out on Jan. 12,” to name a book she is looking forward to this year, then asked the author of that book for a recommendation, and so on.

“I spoke with 10 female authors by the end of the chain, and together, they brought me down an exciting path of novels — plus a collection of poetry, a book of essays, a memoir and even a journey to the cosmos.”

George Saunders: ‘Monty Python taught me that comedy and truth are the same thing’

I was attracted by this article’s title because, well, it’s George Saunders, but also because I’ve always had a very tenuous relationship with comedy. Growing up, I did not find the Keystone Cops and the Three Stooges funny at all. This article didn’t really help me sort out my concept of comedy, but, hey, it’s George Saunders talking about writing.

Books Like House of Leaves: An Intro to Ergodic Fiction

I haven’t read it yet, but House of Leaves has been on my TBR shelf for a while now because I’m always intrigued by descriptions of books with unusual structures. Here Melissa Baron discusses what she calls “fiction’s coolest niche genre: the weird and unconventional world of ergodic literature.” She pares the definition down to “books or digital text that use unusual methods to tell their stories,” but you’ll have to read the rest of the article to even begin to understand what the term means.

And I just moved House of Leaves several places upwards on my TBR list.

When I find fiction too draining, I turn to books about books. They can be as thrilling as a whodunit.

Michael Dirda finds that reading “serious literary fiction . . . [can] be exceptionally draining.” So, when he needs a break, he turns to nonfiction: “even a dry-seeming nonfiction category like ‘books about books’ — a librarian might label them ‘studies of print culture’— can be dangerously fascinating.”

Read what books about books he has especially liked recently.

Jonathan Kellerman Wants to Know Why Crime Fiction Has Such a Hard Time with Mental Health Professionals

Jonathan Kellerman, a former practicing clinical psychologist, created the fictional psychologist Alex Delaware in the novel When the Bough Breaks, published in 1981. Now at nearly 40 novels, the Delaware books comprise “the longest-running contemporary American crime fiction series.”

Here Kellerman discusses how, in Alex Delaware, he aimed to create a portrait of an ordinary person who works in the mental health profession. Kellerman laments that most other fiction continues to present mental health professionals in terms of two clichés: “evil shrink/screwed-up shrink. Sometimes a combination of both.”

In Psychological Thrillers, the Abyss Stares Back

German thriller writer Sebastian Fitzek discusses why he writes psychological thrillers: “In my view, the fascination for psychological thrillers can be explained in part by the fact that they deal with one of the last unexplored universes of all, one we carry right inside us: the human mind.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
6 Degrees of Separation

6 Degrees of Separation: What’s in a Title?

It’s time for another adventure in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. We are given a book to start with, and from there we free associate six books.

This month we start with Anne Tyler’s latest novel, Redhead By the Side of the Road, which Goodreads describes as the story of Micah Mortimer, “a creature of habit” who lives a “meticulously organized life.” I have not read this novel, but I have read several of Tyler’s earlier books. I always think of her as the Queen of Quirky Characters.

1. Among Anne Tyler’s novels that I have read, Back When We Were Grownups (2001) sounds like the one most similar in content to Redhead By the Side of the Road. Grownups begins with the memorable line “Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered that she had turned into the wrong person.”

2. Near the end of December I read The Grownup by Gillian Flynn. It’s a very short book that was originally published as a story but was reprinted as a tiny book. I picked it up because I was scurrying to fulfill my Goodreads challenge of the number of books to read in 2020.

3. Flynn’s little book features a palm reader who sees an opportunity to milk some more money out of an apparently rich client. The client insists that her house is haunted and begs the palm reader to come and try to figure out what’s going on there. Another novel I read recently about a haunted house is Home Before Dark by Riley Sager. 

4. Writer Susan Cheever uses the same title, Home Before Dark, for her memoir of life with her famous father, John Cheever.

5. Another writer who wrote a memoir about her father is Mary Gordon, who was only seven years old when her father died. She titled her book The Shadow Man because when, as an adult, she investigated his life, she discovered that his earlier life was vastly different from the man she remembered. 

6. Thinking of Gordon’s memoir has reminded me of a novel on my to-be-reread list, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. This compelling novel, set in Barcelona in 1945, tells the story of a mysterious book and its even more mysterious author.

What’s in a title? In this case, the answer to the question is 6 degrees of separation.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book Recommendations Personal

Groundhog Day Reading

Happy Groundhog Day!

I came across this list of time-loop books to celebrate with and felt it my duty to share it with you:

13 Great Time Loop Books to Read This Groundhog Day

I’ve read three of these books:

  • The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

I vouch for all of them.

Happy reading!

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Author News Book Groups Book News Book Recommendations Censorship Fiction Last Week's Links Literary History Publishing

Literary Links

What’s Behind the Label ‘Domestic Fiction’?

Soledad Fox Maura, professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature at Williams College and soon-to-debut novelist, wonders why World Cat “(the biggest library search engine on the planet)” has classified her upcoming novel, Madrid Again, as domestic fiction:

Why would my novel, about an itinerant bilingual mother and daughter who do not have a permanent home and zigzag across the Atlantic at a frenetic pace, the long and complicated legacy of the Spanish Civil War overshadowing their every move, be in such a category?

After a quick look at the definition of domestic fiction, she suggests that we find some new terms for fictional genres if we, in fact, need such genres at all. “What I question is a genre that is so clearly gendered, with connotations that are so outdated.”

‘My Wine Bills Have Gone Down.’ How Joan Didion Is Weathering the Pandemic

Lucy Feldman writes, “Didion will forever be a certain type of person’s idea of a deity—the literary, the cool.” Here Feldman talks with Didion, now 86, on how she’s enduring the COVID-19 pandemic at her home in New York.

Didion’s latest essay collection, Let Me Tell You What I Mean, was published on January 26th.

What Stories of Transition and Divorce Have in Common

As part of its feature Outward, coverage of “LGBTQ life, thought, and culture,” Slate offers this partial transcript of a podcast with author Torrey Peters about her new novel, Detransition, Baby. The book features the characters “Reese, a trans woman in her 30s who desperately wants to be a mother, and Ames, Reese’s former lover and a former trans woman who now has detransitioned and lives as a man.”

Page refresh: how the internet is transforming the novel

“Doom scrolling, oversharing, constantly updating social media feeds – the internet shapes how we see the world, and now it’s changing the stories we tell, writes author Olivia Sudjic.”

Sudjic writes that, since viewing social media is now such a big part of our lives, we are surprised when fictional characters don’t check their screens:

We are hungry for writers who can parse our present, whether in essay form, in works such as Jia Tolentino’s collection Trick Mirror (2019) and Legacy Russell’s Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto (2020) or the fiction about to hit our shelves (or Kindle screens) that put social media front and centre.

As Political Divide Widens, Will Big Houses Rethink Conservative Publishing?

Publishers Weekly takes a look at the significance of Simon & Schuster’s cancellation of Josh Hawley’s book after his actions on January 6th as an unruly mob broke into the U.S. Capitol. The article asks several members of the publishing industry “whether, and where, big houses will draw the line with conservative authors.”

(Also see this article from last week’s Literary Links.)

25 Great Writers and Thinkers Weigh In on Books That Matter

In honor of the 125th anniversary of its Book Review, the New York Times “[dips] into the archives to revisit our most thrilling, memorable and thought-provoking coverage.” Writers featured include Toni Morrison, Joan Didion, Patricia Highsmith, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Tracking the Vocabulary of Sci-Fi, from Aerocar to Zero-Gravity

“The new online Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction probes the speculative corners of the lexicographic universe.”

Check here for the backstory of terms such as warp speed, transporter, and deep space.

Take a peek inside the world of longtime Seattle-area book clubs

I met most of my best friends at book group. Here Moira Macdonald, arts critic for the Seattle Times, features the stories of some local book groups that have been discussing books for more than 30 years.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Fiction Last Week's Links Publishing Reading

Literary Links

Using Neuroscience to Understand Reading Slumps

Joshua C. Craig, who spent an undergraduate year studying neuroscience, read up on the scientific literature to see what the current thinking is on the subject of reading slumps. He does a good job of making the subject accessible for those of us without a hefty science background.

A Brief History of Detective Fiction

Whole tomes have been written on this subject, but if you just want a general overview, Emily Martin has it for you here.

Hundreds in publishing sign letter objecting to book deals for the Trump administration

More than 250 authors, editors, agents, professors and others in the American literary community signed an open letter this week opposing any publisher that signs book deals with President Donald Trump or members of his administration.

I have mixed feelings about this occurrence. Although I agree with the politics of the effort, I have reservations about beginning any such regulation of whose ideas get published and whose don’t.

What do you think?

The Most commonly Assigned Books in U.S. Colleges

Kelly Jensen reports on a recent study by “DegreeQuery, an organization dedicated to answering common questions about college degrees and options, as well as developing data-based rankings and reviews of U.S. colleges.” The study  “aggregated the books assigned among the eight U.S. Ivy League schools and the top eight public schools as ranked by U.S. News and World Report.”

There’s a ton of information here, but I found it easy to zero in on the area I’m most interested in, books assigned in English literature classes. Here’s one conclusion from near the bottom of the page: “The findings here aren’t surprising, but rather, they reaffirm the reality that the bulk of books being seen as important and worthy of study are those written by men.”

Read Christie 2021

Earlier this month we looked at reading goals and challenges. Here’s a new challenge from Agatha Christie Limited: “This year our book prompts celebrate popular settings, scenes and tropes from Agatha Christie’s works. We begin with the ever popular crime category – a story set in a grand house!”

Get the reading list (along with alternative suggestions) here and learn about the challenge’s presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Seattle’s newest bookstore, Oh Hello Again, has a novel system: categorizing books by emotions

I admit that my participation on Instagram is pretty minimal. My approach consists of plunking the pertinent book down on the floor and snapping a quick photo. I occasionally spruce things up with a pretty scarf underneath the book, but that’s as far as my efforts go. I admire all the time many bookstagrammers spend on composing beautiful photos with lovely book-love accessories, but I’d rather spend the bulk of my time reading more pages.

One of the never-ending topics among fellow booklovers on Instagram is questions (and photos!) of how books can be arranged on shelves. That’s the reason why this article caught my eye. I know this system would drive me nuts. I’m a Virgo, and I need to be able to find my books where they rightfully belong, on shelves arranged alphabetically by author’s last name. 

I’m willing to admit, though, that for some people this might be exactly the right method of organizing and displaying books.

Patricia Highsmith’s sordid search for inspiration

This article by Wendy Smith in the Washington Post focuses on the recently published biography Devils, Lusts and Strange Desires: The Life of Patricia Highsmith by Richard Bradford. I found the article interesting not only for its content of Patricia Highsmith information, but also for its discussion of the different possible approaches to literary biography.

And some time this year I do hope to take a moderately deep dive into Highsmith’s various works. And that dive will be accompanied by The Talented Miss Highsmith, by Joan Schenkar. At 559 pages of text plus several appendices and notes for a grand total of 684, this biography qualifies as a Big Book.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Author News Fiction

Happy 100th Birthday, Patricia Highsmith

American novelist Patricia Highsmith was born on this day 100 years ago (January 19, 1921) in Fort Worth, Texas. She died on February 4, 1995. In between, her life was marked by chronic cycles of depression, anorexia, and alcoholism. She was a misanthrope who preferred the company of animals to that of people. She was misogynistic, anti-Semitic, and, at least in later life, racist.

But she wrote some brilliant fiction. Alfred Hitchcock turned her first novel, Strangers on a Train (1950), into a film released in 1951. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), the other novel for which she is perhaps best known, was made into a film released in 1999. She wrote four more novels about Tom Ripley, whom various critics have described as amoral, sociopathic, and psychopathic.

violence, torment, obsession, all bubbling beneath a cool veneer – that was the signature of her fiction. . . . you don’t come to Patricia Highsmith for goodness or light or comfort. You come to her for uncanny observations about human depravity; you come to her because you’ve forgotten the sour taste of fear.

Twisted brilliance: Patricia Highsmith at 100

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown