Literary Links

Looking for a Book to Read With Friends?

The New York Times introduces Group Text, “a monthly column for readers and book clubs about the novels, memoirs and short-story collections that make you want to talk, ask questions, and dwell in another world for a little bit longer.” The focus for book clubs will be on “the kinds of propulsive, thought-provoking books worthy of discussion.”

Its inaugural choice is Long Bright River by Liz Moore:

What it’s about: When their neighborhood is battered by opioids, two sisters choose very different paths through the wreckage. One is a cop; the other is an addict. And one of the two is missing.

I have a copy of this book on my shelf right now. It was my December 2019 choice from the offerings of Book of the Month.

This article includes discussion questions for Long Bright River and some suggestions for related reading. There’s also information on how to join the book discussion on the Times’s Facebook page.

SIX NOVELS EXPLORING HOW (AND HOW LONG) WE PROCESS TRAUMA

Laurie Faria Stolarz wrote her most recent novel, Jane Anonymous, to focus on “that period of time, post-trauma, when the threat is removed but the wounds remain, raw and searing, as the individual tries to acclimate back in her safer space”:

people’s reactions to trauma are as varied and complex as the trauma itself. Numerous factors can influence one’s reaction(s), including age, personal history, one’s own brain chemistry, and the nature of the trauma. Time, effective treatment, and having a solid support system are also key factors. But, bottom line, while therapists can and do identify common threads and behaviors among victims of trauma, every case is as unique as the person who experiences it.

Here Stolarz discusses six novels that feature some varied reactions to trauma.

HOW HORROR HELPS WITH PROCESSING GRIEF AND TRAUMA

In an article related to the one above, S.F. Whitaker, who describes herself as a trauma survivor, discusses how horror literature and films have helped her deal with her experience. Whitaker says that she “gravitated to the grotesque and weird” from an early age: “Before I could articulate where it hurt there were books, and movies to serve as a balm. In the progression of my reading I found familiarity.”

Whitaker says that one might think that reading horror literature or seeing horror films would exacerbate a person’s feelings of grief and trauma. But she points some psychology studies that have shown that the opposite is true:

Studies have shown that horror can help us with grief, anxiety, depression, and a number of other disorders. For someone experiencing a deep loss or processing trauma, it becomes less about the deaths and more about the survivor. Grief studies in particular have found that trying to make someone feel better only makes the situation worse. You’re invalidating their feelings rather than helping. A book can take someone suffering on a journey. You feel the pain with the characters, some surviving while others do not, and there is a resolution of some kind.

Whitaker does not give specific references to those studies, which I see as a weakness in an article like this. However, her discussion is quite general, and her conclusion pertains only to herself:

In my case, Quincy [in Final Girls by Riley Sager] in particular made it feel like I did not have to have it all together. I can be flawed and that’s okay. There is beauty in the journey, even if it’s blood soaked pages riddled with ghosts, ghoulies, and monsters galore.

United we read: Writer roams a fractured nation with 52 books (or more) in 52 weeks

In an effort to see beyond the fractured state of politics, Heather John Fogarty has decided to read her way across the U.S. in the time leading up to the election of 2020:

I set myself a reading project. In the year leading up to the 2020 election, I would read (at least) one book from each state, as well as from Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., prioritizing contemporary fiction and memoir, with the hope of exploring shared experiences, such as family, identity and a sense of home.

She is reading alphabetically and here reports on books through Connecticut, so this will apparently be an ongoing series.

MY ONLY READING GOAL THIS YEAR IS TO HAVE FUN

In 2019 Matt Grant set himself the goal of reading 100 books. After a year of pushing himself to achieve that goal—which he did accomplish—he has decided to “set myself a new goal this year: to have fun reading.”

Read his discussion of how he achieved his 2019 goal and why he has changed his approach to reading this year.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

Why I’ll Never Read a Book a Week Ever Again

Calling herself a slow reader, writer Hurley Winkler describes her 2019 experience of “the 52 books in 52 weeks reading challenge” she found on the literary blogosphere. During the year she finished several books she “wasn’t wild about” simply because she’d already invested time in reading the first part and didn’t want to fall behind her reading schedule. “The pressure to finish books sucked some of the day-to-day joy out of my reading life,” she writes. She also chose several books because they were short, despite her love for “big, sprawling novels.”

So for this year she has decided to jettison any obsession with productivity: “I resolve to abandon books I don’t like.” She intends to read “intentionally and joyously,” taking the time necessary to savor good books.

This is not a bad reading plan at all. 

The Most Anticipated Books of 2020

Here are some suggestions to start off the new reading year.

Gillian Flynn Peers Into the Dark Side of Femininity

If you grapple with the works of Gillian Flynn, here’s really all you need to know:

“I really do think the world can be divided into the people who like to look under the rock and the people who don’t want to look under the rock,” Flynn told me. “I’ve always said, since birth, ‘Let’s look under the rock.’ ”

Without women the novel would die: discuss

Women are fiction’s life support system – buying 80% of all novels. But as a major new book argues, their love of an emotional truth has been used to trivialise the genre.

In The Guardian Johanna Thomas-Corr discusses Why Women Read Fiction: The Stories of Our Lives by Helen Taylor, published by Oxford University Press. “Fiction takes you on indirect routes to truth,” says Taylor.

D.C. Writers Celebrate The 200th Birthday Of A Famous — And Forgotten — Local Novelist

In graduate school I wrote a paper on Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth, a now little-known but at the time immensely popular 19th-century novelist. I was therefore delighted to cone across this article from American University Radio of Washington, DC. On December 26, 2019, novelist Mary Kay Zuravleff and a few fellow writers laid a wreath at the grave of E.D.E.N. Southworth in Georgetown’s Oak Hill Cemetery to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Mrs. Southworth’s birth.

Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth was one of the most successful American writers — male or female — of the mid-19th century, outselling contemporaries like Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. She was a mainstay of Washington’s early literary scene: She hosted Friday night salons at her Georgetown cottage, attended Lincoln’s second inaugural ball and is even credited with encouraging Harriet Beecher Stowe to write the anti-slavery novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

“Many of her stories featured women having adventures that Southworth’s readers were often unable to experience firsthand.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

What to read in 2020 based on the books you loved in 2019

If you liked any of the 12 books listed here, Angela Haupt has suggestions about what you might like to read this year. The 12 books from 2019 that she references are:

  • “City of Girls,” by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • “All This Could Be Yours,” by Jami Attenberg
  • “Know My Name,” by Chanel Miller
  • “Evvie Drake Starts Over,” by Linda Holmes
  • “The Silent Patient,” by Alex Michaelides
  • “No Happy Endings,” by Nora McInerny
  • “Normal People,” by Sally Rooney
  • “Stay Sexy & Don’t Get Murdered,” by Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff
  • “Last Witnesses: An Oral History of the Children of World War II,” by Svetlana Alexievich
  • “Black Leopard, Red Wolf,” by Marlon James
  • “Inheritance,” by Dani Shapiro
  • “Lost Children Archive,” by Valeria Luiselli

Fiction to look out for in 2020

This list from The Guardian also includes a link to their list of nonfiction highlights of 2020 as well.

Storytelling Across the Ages

Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker muses on the discovery in a cave in Indonesia of “the oldest pictorial record of storytelling and the earliest figurative artwork in the world”:

Our oldest stories are like our newest; we look for explanation and hope for a happy ending. People, then and now, tell tales about the brave things they are about to do, or just did, or are thinking of doing, or thought they might do, if they were not the people they are but had the superpowers we all wish we had. Our enterprises vary; our entertainments do not.

Why We Will Need Walt Whitman in 2020

“With our democracy in crisis, the poet and prophet of the American ideal should be our guide.”

‘Jo Was Everything I Wanted to Be’: 5 Writers on ‘Little Women’

“Julia Alvarez, Virginia Kantra, Anna Quindlen, Sonia Sanchez and Jennifer Weiner talk about how the book, now a hit movie, inspired them.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

6 Degrees of Separation

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 begin with the 2019 best-seller Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, the story of the rise and fall of a fictional rock band in the 1970s.

1. Another novel that features characters from the music industry is A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010) by Jennifer Egan. This novel received both the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award.

2. Richard Russo’s Empire Falls (2001) also won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, in 2002. The novel is set in a now nearly dead former mill town in upstate New York. Although the population of the town has dwindled because of the lack of job opportunities, what remains of the town is still run by the aging daughter of the man who amassed a fortune from the operation of the mill.

3. The Blind Assassin (2000) by Margaret Atwood is another prize-winning novel, having received the Booker Prize in 2000. Like Empire Falls, The Blind Assassin  takes place in a now much diminished former mill town in upstate New York still run by the aging daughter of the man who amassed a fortune from the operation of the mill. The main character of this novel is haunted by the accomplishment of her sister, Laura Chase, who wrote a popular science fiction/fantasy novel before dying at an early age.

4. Colleen Hoover’s 2018 novel Verity also features an author named Laura Chase, though the author’s real name is Lowen Ashleigh. When popular author Verity Crawford has a car accident and is unable to complete the final three books of her wildly popular fictional series, Verity’s husband and her publisher hire Lowen to complete the series. Verity’s husband insists that Lowen write the books under a pseudonym, and together they come up with the name Laura Chase. When Lowen arrives at the Crawford house to work in Verity’s study, Mr. Crawford introduces Lowen to the household staff as Laura Chase.

5. One Verity naturally leads to another: Code Name Verity (2012) by Elizabeth E. Wein. Another prize winner (the Edgar Award for Best Young Adult in 2013), this novel tells the story of young women working as spies in World War II.

6. Kate Atkinson’s 2018 novel Transcription tells the story of Juliet Armstrong, who, in 1940 at age 18, was hired by British intelligence to transcribe notes from conversations with informants. Soon Juliet is pulled more deeply into the spy business.

Having skipped last month because the prompt brought to mind absolutely nothing, I was delighted that this month’s chain fell into place almost effortlessly. From musicians through writers to spies, with a few literary awards thrown in, this has been the story of 6 Degrees of Separation.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

These 1924 Copyrighted Works Enter the Public Domain in 2020

These 1924 Copyrighted Works Enter the Public Domain in 2020

The folks at Lifehacker list works entering the public domain this year in the areas of film, music (both popular and classical), literature, and artworks.

Here are many of the literary works on the list:

  • Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Land That Time Forgot and Tarzan and the Ant Men
  • Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit and Poirot Investigates
  • Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game
  • W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Gift of Black Folk
  • Ford Madox Ford’s Some Do Not… (first volume of Parade’s End)
  • E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India
  • Emma Goldman’s My Further Disillusionment in Russia
  • A preliminary version of Ernest Hemingway’s short story collection In Our Time
  • Muhammad Iqbal’s Bang-i-Dara
  • Margaret Kennedy’s The Constant Nymph
  • H. P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Rats in the Walls”
  • Katherine Mansfield’s Something Childish and Other Stories
  • Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain
  • Herman Melville’s posthumously published Billy Budd
  • A. A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young
  • Pablo Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair
  • Mark Twain’s Autobiography (posthumous)
  • Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The Box-Car Children, first book in the series
  • H. G. Wells’s The Dream
  • Edith Wharton’s The Old Maid
  • Ruth Plumly Thompson’s Grampa in Oz, the 18th Oz book

My Reading Plan for 2020

2020 Discussion Challenge

Thanks to these two bloggers for sponsoring the 2020 Blog Discussion Challenge:

You can join the discussion challenge at any time during 2020 by clicking on either link above.


For the past few years I’ve set up a reading plan at the beginning of each new year. In most of those plans I set up goals involving books I thought I should read rather than books I wanted to read. And most of those years I failed to meet the goals of books I thought I should read.

Therefore, this year I’m going to set up my reading plan a bit differently. Two blog posts from the past year helped shape my thoughts about this:

  1. Authors/Series I Stopped Reading–For Whatever Reason
  2. 10 Reading Regrets of 2019

The first made me realize that there are some authors and series that I do want to catch up with. The second comprises recently published books that I just didn’t get around to before 2019 came to an end. In addition, I’ve also recently started participating in The Literary League monthly book group here at my retirement community, so I need to include time for reading those books.

So for 2020 I’m setting up a reading plan with two parts:

Part I: Specific Challenges and Goals

1. Goodreads Challenge

Since I easily exceeded my 2019 goal of 50 books, I’m cautiously raising my 2020 goal to 55.


2. The Classics Club

Even though I just met my goal of 4 books read from this list last year, for 2020 I’m increasing my goal to 6. If I don’t increase my efforts, I might not get through my Classics Club list in my lifetime.


3. 2020 Book Blog Discussion Challenge

Although I’m staying away from most challenges that require me to read books in specific categories, I’ve signed up for this challenge to motivate myself to write more substantive blog posts in 2020. I’m aiming to write 2 discussion posts per month.


Part II: The Calendar

I’m setting myself specific monthly challenges. I hope that these projections will allow me sufficient time each month to read other works, such as my monthly book club selection and my monthly choice from Book of the Month, in addition to new releases.

January-February

The Jackson Brody novels by Kate Atkinson:

  • Case Histories
  • One Good Turn
  • When Will There Be Good News?
  • Started Early, Took My Dog
  • Big Sky

March-July

The Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series by Val McDermid:

  • The Mermaids Singing (1995)
  • The Wire in the Blood (1997)
  • The Last Temptation (2002)
  • The Torment of Others (2004)
  • Beneath the Bleeding (2007)
  • Fever of the Bone (2009)
  • The Retribution (2011)
  • Cross and Burn (2013)
  • Splinter The Silence (2015)
  • Insidious Intent (2017)
  • How The Dead Speak (2019)

August-September

Since we will be traveling for much of these two months, I’m leaving this spot open for catching up on previous goals, starting new projects, or simply indulging myself by reading what I feel like reading.


October-December

Since time seems to get shorter as we approach the end-of-year holidays, I’m also leaving this time slot open. I plan to spend this time on projects such as, but not limited to, the following:

  • comparison: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf & The Hours by Michael Cunningham
  • the works of Shirley Jackson
  • a study of second-person narrative
  • the works of Patricia Highsmith
  • a look at evil children in literature
  • a rereading of Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout followed by a reading of the sequel, Olive, Again
  • a study of some novels featuring Older Adults in Literature
  • a rereading of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale followed by a reading of the sequel, The Testaments
  • notes on slow reading
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How about you?

Do you usually set up a reading plan at the beginning of the year? If so, feel free to leave a link in the comments.

If you don’t already have a reading plan for 2020 but are interested in developing one, here are some resources that might help:

The Ultimate Guide To Creating Your Own Reading Challenge

How to Plan for Your 2020 Reading Challenge

BOOK RIOT’S 2020 READ HARDER CHALLENGE

20 WAYS TO READ MORE BOOKS IN 2020

INTRODUCING THE 2020 READING LOG!

A NEW READING GOAL: MEASURING TIME, NOT BOOKS

What I propose is a new reading goal based on the amount of time you spend reading this year, rather than the number of books you read from cover to cover. I’m excited to give this a try next year. Here are some of the reasons why.


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Remembering Those We Lost in 2019

The literary world lost many in 2019, including those listed here (with date of death and link to obituary, where available.

Francine du Plessix Gray, 1/13

Mary Oliver, 1/17

Russell Baker, 1/21

Diana Athill, 1/23

Jan Wahl, 1/29

Edith Iglauer, 2/13

Andrea Levy, 2/14

Gillian Freeman, 2/23

Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, 3/12

W.S. Merwin, 3/15

Jonathan Baumbach, 3/28

Vonda N. McIntyre, 4/1

Lorraine Branham, 4/2

Stanley Plumly, 4/11

Gene Wolfe, 4/14

Warren Adler, 4/15 

John L’Heureux, 4/22 

Patricia Battin, 4/22

Chris Albertson, 4/24

Wayson Choy, 4/28 

Les Murray, 4/29

Art Kunkin, 4/30 

Chuck Kinder, 5/3 

Rachel Held Evans, 5/4

John Lukacs, 5/6

Alvin Sargent, 5/9 

Herman Wouk, 5/17

Binyavanga Wainaina, 5/21

Judith Kerr, 5/22

Edmund Morris, 5/24

Tony Horwitz, 5/27

Anthony Price, 5/30

Susannah Hunnewell, 6/15

Judith Krantz, 6/22

Marie Ponsot, 7/5

Andrea Camilleri, 7/17

George Hodgman, 7/20

Brigitte Kronauer

Lois Wille, 7/23

Martin Mayer, 7/31

Toni Morrison, 8/5

Lee Bennett Hopkins, 8/8

Paule Marshall, 8/12

Terrance Dicks, 8/29

Dorothea Benton Frank, 9/2

James Atlas, 9/4

Kiran Nagarkar, 9/5

Peter Nichols, 9/7

Anne Rivers Siddons, 9/11

Cokie Roberts, 9/17

Günter Kunert, 9/21

Al Alvarez, 9/23

Elaine Feinstein, 9/23

Sol Stein, 9/26

Richard Jackson, 10/2

Ciaran Carson, 10/6

Kate Braverman, 10/12

Harold Bloom, 10/14

Johanna Lindsey, 10/27

William B. Branch, 11/3

Ernest J. Gaines, 11/5

Stephen Dixon, 11/6

Walter J. Minton, 11/19

Clive James, 11/24

Howard Cruse, 11/26

Andrew Clements, 11/28

Kate Figes, 12/7

Larry Heinemann, 12/11

Elisabeth Sifton, 12/13

Ward Just, 12/19

Elizabeth Spencer, 12/22

Karl E. Meyer, 12/22

Sonny Mehta, 12/30


© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

The Best of 2019: The Top 10 Book Lists of the Year

I swore that I was through with “Best Books of 2019” lists. But then the folks at Off the Shelf hit me with this post:

The Best of 2019: The Top 10 Book Lists of the Year

Ah, the thematic book list. Nothing makes up leap for a new read like discovering a gem hidden in a historical fiction round-up or psychological thrillers listicle. This year, we even explored new sub-genres like domestic thrillers, historical fantasy and mystery, dysfunctional family dramedies, and even books Stephen King has blurbed. Here are just 10 of our favorite book lists we ran on Off the Shelf this year.

If you love lists as much as I do, here you’ll find links to the following lists:

  • 14 Books You Wish You Could Read for the First Time Again 
  • A Cozy Winter Getaway: 9 Perfect Novels You Need to Bring
  • Stephen King Recommends: 14 Books He Wants You to Read
  • 7 Domestic Thrillers to Binge-Read Right Now
  • 11 Books That Are Guaranteed Page-Turners
  • 9 International Thrillers to Sink Your Teeth Into
  • 12 Historical Novels to Transport You to Uncommon Eras
  • The Mister Rogers TBR: 10 Books You’d Find in the Neighborhood Today
  • 9 Beautiful Novels That Will Inspire You to Be a Better Person
  • 8 Books We Can’t Stop Thinking About
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And Ron Charles, who writes about books for The Washington Post, examined 11 trends that changed the way we read this decade recently.

And editors at The Amazon Book Review list a few books “that we will be moving back to the top of that TBR pile” in The books that (almost) got away in 2019.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown