Life Stories: A Select Bibliography

Literature & Psychology

 

Aftel, Mandy. The Story of Your Life: Becoming the Author of Your Experience (Fireside, 1996)

Atkinson, Robert. The Gift of Stories: Practical and Spiritual Applications of Autobiography, Life Stories, and Personal Mythmaking (Bergin and Garvey, 1995)

Estrade, Patrick. You Are What You Remember: A Pathbreaking Guide to Understanding and Interpreting Your Childhood Memories (Da Capo, 2006)

Feinstein, David and Stanley Krippner. The Mythic Path: Discovering the Guiding Stories of Your Past—Creating a Vision for Your Future, 3rd ed. (Innersource, 2006)

Frank, Arthur W. Letting Stories Breathe: A Socio-Narratology (University of Chicago Press, 2010)

Funder, David C., Ross D. Parke, Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, Keith Widaman, eds. Studying Lives Through Time: Personality and Development (American Psychological Association, 1993)

Hendricks, Jon, ed. The Meaning of Reminiscence and Life Review (Baywood, 1995)

Linde, Charlotte. Life Stories: The Creation of Coherence (Oxford University Press, 1993)

McAdams, Dan, Ruthellen Josselson, Amia Lieblich, eds. Identity and Story: Creating Self in Narrative (American Psychological Association, 2006)

McAdams, Dan P. Power, Intimacy, and the Life Story: Personological Inquiries into Identity (Guilford, 1988)

McAdams, Dan P. The Stories We Live By: Personal Myths and the Making of the Self (Guilford, 1993)

Olney, James. Memory and Narrative: The Weaving of Life-Writing (University of Chicago Press, 1998)

Progoff, Ira. Life-Study: Experiencing Creative Lives by the Intensive Journal Method (Dialogue House, 1983)

Rainer, Tristane. Your Life as Story: Discovering the “New Autobiography” and Writing Memoir as Literature (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1997)

Singer, Jefferson A. Memories That Matter: How to Use Self-Defining Memories to Understand and Change Your Life (New Harbinger, 2005)

Stone, Elizabeth. Black Sheep and Kissing Cousins: How Our Family Stories Shape Us (Transaction Publishers, 2004, rpt. 2008)

Taylor, Daniel. Tell Me a Story: The Life-Shaping Power of Our Stories (Bog Walk Press, 2001)

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The Literary United States: A Map of the Best Book for Every State | Brooklyn Magazine

Several of these books number among the usual suspects of lists of this kind, but many remain anything but widely known. Almost all are fiction and most are novels; some were written for children, but just about every genre is represented. All are literary in voice and spirit; every last one will let you understand a time and place in a more profound way than you maybe thought possible.

via The Literary United States: A Map of the Best Book for Every State | Brooklyn Magazine.

What’s your state’s representative book on this list? And do you agree with the selection? Let us know in the comments.

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2014 National Book Award Finalists Named

The National Book Foundation has revealed the finalists for the 2014 National Book Awards for Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Young People’s Literature. The fiction shortlist includes 2014 “5 Under 35″ honoree Phil Klay, along with two-time National Book Award finalist and a Pulitzer Prize winner, Marilynne Robinson. Also shortlisted, for nonfiction, is Roz Chast, the first cartoonist to be honored by the National Book Awards in the adult categories.

via 2014 National Book Award Finalists Named.

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Australian’s P.O.W. Novel Wins Man Booker Prize – NYTimes.com

The Australian novelist Richard Flanagan was awarded the Man Booker Prize on Tuesday for “The Narrow Road to the Deep North,” which tells the harrowing story of an Australian surgeon who is held in a Japanese P.O.W. camp and is forced to work on the Thailand-Burma Railway.

via Australian’s P.O.W. Novel Wins Man Booker Prize – NYTimes.com.

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Monday Miscellany

Homeless Outreach in Volumes: Books by Bike for ‘Outside’ People in Oregon

This city [Portland, Oregon] has a deeply dyed liberal impulse beating in its veins around social and environmental causes, and a literary culture that has flourished like the blackberry thickets that mark misty Northwest woods. It is also one of the most bike-friendly, if not bike-crazed, urban spaces in the nation, as measured by commuters and bike lanes. All three of those forces are combined in Street Books, a nonprofit book service delivered by pedal-power for “people living outside,” as Ms. Moulton, the founder, describes the mission.

Extreme, Extreme! The literature of laughing gas

Here’s an article about a subject I couldn’t even have imagined: William James stoned.

These words were set to paper in 1882 by William James, one of the most celebrated proponents of the new science of psychology, and a newly minted assistant professor of philosophy at Harvard. James was in many ways the paragon of an eminent Victorian—his writing tends to summon images of the author ensconced beside a roaring fire in some cozy wood-paneled study in Cambridge. And yet here James comes off as utterly, absurdly stoned.

. . .

James acknowledged to his readers that these ravings were the product of a mental state that, like alcohol intoxication, “seems silly to lookers-on.” But he came away from the experience with a remarkably positive take on nitrous oxide. James had argued that drunkenness produced a kind of “subjective rapture” occasioned by its ability to make “the centre and periphery of things seem to come together.” Nitrous oxide, he believed, produced a similar effect, “only a thousandfold enhanced.” On the gas, his mind was “seized … by logical forceps” and jolted into a new order of consciousness which, he thought, made the logic of Hegelian dialectics perfectly obvious to him.

2014 Washington State Book Award winners announced

This year’s Washington State Book Awards include a best-selling nonfiction book about the University of Washington crew team that won a gold medal in the 1936 Olympics; one writer’s investigation into his ancestors in Eastern Europe and the fate of their descendants; a novel based on the life of a seventh-century English saint; and poetry by a Seattle author.

Former JBLM Stryker soldier goes big-time as a poet, author

Brian Turner packed his poetry and went to war with a Joint Base Lewis-McChord Stryker brigade. Now, he’s returned with an acclaimed memoir.

With “My Life as a Foreign Country,” Turner has earned both accolades and, it seems, a measure of peace. The former infantryman has also fleshed out what he previously hinted at in poems dug from the hard ground in Iraq.

“The landscape is war,” the Fresno, California, native said in an interview, not for the first time, “but the actual subject is love and loss.”

 

 

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Patrick Modiano Wins Nobel Prize in Literature – NYTimes.com

Patrick Modiano, the French novelist whose works often explore the traumas of the Nazi occupation of France and hinge on the themes of memory, loss and the puzzle of identity, won the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday.

In an announcement in Stockholm, the Swedish Academy cited Mr. Modiano’s ability to evoke “the most ungraspable human destinies” in his work.

via Patrick Modiano Wins Nobel Prize in Literature – NYTimes.com.

As one wit on Twitter put it, “Paul Modiano has never heard of you, either.”

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Gothic Elements in Shirley Jackson’s “We Have Always Lived in the Castle”

The Classics ClubGothic literature features characteristics such as magic, mystery, chivalry, horror, clanking chains, ghosts, and dark castles to create a spooky atmosphere rife with foreboding and possibility. Over time Gothic emphasis changed from reliance on these external trappings for their own sake to a focus on the inner workings of the human psyche that the Gothic atmosphere represents. Shirley Jackson’s deliciously creepy 1962 novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle demonstrates the power of the Gothic in the hands of a master craftsman.

Brief History of Gothic Literature

The first Gothic novel was Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto (1764), set in a medieval castle featuring dark stairways, mysterious rooms, trap doors, and underground passages. Between 1789 and 1797 Anne Radcliffe wrote five romances, the most famous being The Mysteries of Udolpho, that helped make the form popular. Radcliffe emphasized setting and story over character.

As the Gothic novel spread across Europe, it became the backdrop against which authors examined the relationship between humans and the supernatural, with Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) perhaps the best known example. Gothicism also influenced other literary forms, particularly poetry of the romantic period in works by Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, and Keats. In the United States Charles Brockden Brown took up the form of the Gothic novel with Wieland (1798) and five subsequent romances.

Early Gothic novels focused on creating a spooky setting appropriate for a story of suspense, dread, foreboding, and, finally, terror. As Gothicism developed, it incorporated elements of the psychological that allowed a focus on character as well as on setting, as evident in the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe. Still later works such as Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1938) employ literary devices that developed from the Gothic novel.

The British Library is currently presenting an exhibition entitled Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination:

Beginning with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, Gothic literature challenged the moral certainties of the 18th century. By exploring the dark romance of the medieval past with its castles and abbeys, its wild landscapes and fascination with the supernatural, Gothic writers placed imagination firmly at the heart of their work – and our culture.

In a magazine article about the exhibition:

Lead curator of the exhibition, Tim Pye, says: “Gothic is one the most popular and influential modes of literature and I’m delighted that Terror and Wonder is celebrating its rich 250 year history. The exhibition features an amazingly wide range of material, from stunningly beautiful medieval artefacts to vinyl records from the early Goth music scene, so there is truly something for everyone”.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the CastleJackson, Shirley. We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Penguin Books, 1962

Mary Katherine, known as Merricat, Blackwood is the first-person narrator of the story. In the opening paragraph she tells us that she is 18 years old and that she lives with her sister Constance: “I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the deathcup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead” (p. 1).

This final sentence of the opening paragraph signals the story’s Gothic emphasis. Although Richard Plantagenet could be any one of several English noblemen, context suggests that Merricat is referring to England’s King Richard III (1452–1485), who is famously believed to have ordered the murder of his two young nephews in the Tower of London. The themes of murder and a family power struggle emerge from this reference. These themes and Merricat’s admitted fondness for a deadly mushroom sharpen our expectations and foreshadow the rest of the story.

Gradually the backstory emerges: Six years earlier the rest of the Blackwood family had died of arsenic poisoning during a family dinner. The dead included Mr. and Mrs. Blackwood (Constance and Merricat’s parents), the girls’ 10-year-old younger brother, and their aunt, whose husband, Uncle Julian, their father’s brother, became very ill but recovered. Uncle Julian was damaged both physically and mentally by his brush with death. Now wheelchair-bound, he lives with Merricat and Constance and is completely dependent on Constance, who takes care of him while her sister largely watches.

Merricat was not at the dinner table that fateful night because she was being punished by having to spend the night in her room without any dinner. That dinner included berries, on which the diners sprinkled sugar that had been laced with arsenic. Suspicion fell on Constance, who did not eat berries and therefore didn’t get sick. She was tried and acquitted of the murders.

This brief outline of the backstory illustrates Jackson’s use of Gothic elements. In addition to the emphasis on death and the sense of foreboding and further impending doom, there are also Gothic overtones in the characterization of Merricat. She goes into the village twice a week for supplies, mostly food and library books, because Constance is agoraphobic. But Merricat must make a game of the trip, with rules about where she should walk and how she should act: “I forced my hands to be still and made a rule for myself: Whenever I saw a tiny scrap of paper I was to remember to be kinder to Uncle Julian” (p. 16). In addition to all her rules for herself, Merricat also buries things around the family property for good luck and even tacks a book up on a tree as a protective talisman. Such actions are examples of magical thinking, the belief that thinking is the same as doing. Magical thinking is normal in young children, who believe that their thoughts and desires cause events that happen around them. But the persistence of magical thinking in the 18-year-old Merricat suggests a deranged mind, another common Gothic element.

Merricat also continues the belief, apparently learned from her parents, that the Blackwoods are better than the villagers and should maintain their distance to avoid contamination from the less worthy:

All of the village was of a piece, a time, and a style; it was as though the people needed the ugliness of the village, and fed on it… . whatever planned to be colorful lost its heart quickly in the village. The blight on the village never came from the Blackwoods; the villages belonged here and the village was the only proper place for them. (p. 8)

Mr. Blackwood put up a fence all around the property and fastened it with a padlock. Merricat makes a ritual out of unlocking and relocating the gate when she leaves the house and when she returns from the village. The Blackwoods’ geographical isolation reflects their feelings of superiority and their fear of the masses:

I always stood perfectly straight and stiff when the children came close, because I was afraid of them. I was afraid that they might touch me and the mothers would come at me like a flock of taloned hawks; that was always the picture I had in my mind—birds descending, striking, gashing with razor claws. (p. 10)

Merricat’s narration of her family’s isolation from the villages bleeds into another Gothic element of the story, its setting. The isolation of the large Blackwood house, fenced off from the everyday world and fortified by Merricat’s magic, fits right into the Gothic picture. Jackson also uses setting to call up another work of late Gothic literature:

The Rochester house was the loveliest in town and had once had a walnut-panelled library and a second-floor ballroom and a profusion of roses along the veranda; our mother had been born there and by rights it should have belonged to Constance. (p. 4)

The Rochester house alludes to Mr. Rochester’s huge house, with his deranged wife hidden upstairs, in Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel Jane Eyre.

Gothic features continue as the plot of We Have Always Lived in the Castle unfolds. The precipitating crisis of the book occurs when Constance and Merricat’s cousin, Charles Blackwood, their father’s brother’s son, arrives to disturb the status quo of their existence. As the only remaining male heir, he intends to take over the family mansion and the family fortune. Merricat ratchets up her magic to protect her existence. When a fire breaks out at the house, the volunteer firefighters arrive to try to put it out. That is, after all, their job, even if they don’t like the Blackwoods, the fire chief insists. A truly macabre scene, suggestive of a Satanic ritual, develops as the townspeople implore the firefighters to let the house burn, then set to smashing and looting whatever the flames don’t destroy.

The fire obliterates the top floor of the house. Afterwards, Constance and Merricat continue to live in the small kitchen area while vines overgrow the top. Whereas Merricat had earlier spoken of their home as the house, now she describes it this way: “Our house was a castle, turreted and open to the sky” (p. 177). Finally, the story comes full circle as the house turns into the isolated, creepy castle characteristic of Gothic literature and all the foreboding of impending doom foreshadowed at the beginning comes to fruition.

 

© 2014 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Life Stories

“Every person is defined by the communities she belongs to.”

― Orson Scott Card, Speaker for the Dead

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Literary Life Stories: The Character Biography

Literature & Psychology

Related Posts:

Although the concept of life story originated in the field of psychology, where it pertains to real people, every major fictional character also has a life story. Good writers create memorable characters by building a character’s full life story before beginning to write their novel or short story. The character’s life story then becomes the back story against which the novel unfolds. By looking at some guidelines for writers about how to create characters, readers can learn how to evaluate and appreciate the writer’s craft.

Mia Botha instructs writers on creating their work’s main character, or protagonist, in an article appropriate entitled The Character Biography:

All authors start with an idea. It could be plot first or character first. It doesn’t matter. But, if something happened, it happened to someone. And this is where my character biography begins. I start out with perhaps a paragraph of the things I know about this person. I add details as my first draft progresses.

The character biography, Botha writes, contains three parts:

  1. the physical.
  2. the sociological.
  3. the psychological.

She says that she writes down the character’s biography before starting her novel, then rereads and, if necessary, rewrites it every few thousand words as her manuscript progresses.

Every protagonist needs an antagonist to provide the conflict necessary for a story to develop. Nancy Fulda advises writers on the types of possible antagonists, commonly known as villains, in Variations of Villainy:

Villains have their own priorities, goals, fears and aspirations. The more effectively you demonstrate these differences to the reader, the more compelling and believable your villains will become. The old adage, “Everyone’s the Hero of His Own Story” applies here.

Fulda describes five “basic personality types which frequently appear in villainous characters.” But while it’s useful for writers to know these basic types, Fulda points out, the types often overlap. It’s the writer’s job to flesh out these types with enough details to create a fully developed character. Readers will look for such details when evaluating whether a character is credible within the context of the novel.

When creating villains, it’s helpful to ask the same questions one asks when creating protagonists. What does this person yearn for? What does she fear? What is the best thing that could possibly happen to her? What can she least afford to lose?

For story purposes, a villain exists to oppose the protagonist. But for believability purposes, the villain exists as a being in his own right. Take time to discover who he is, and your stories will be richer for it.

Of course, not every detail of the character’s back story will find its way into the novel, but the writer must know those details in order to choose which ones to include. Great authors, says Botha, “know what is important for the reader and the story.”

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5 Under 35 Honorees Announced

BuzzFeed Books is honored to celebrate the fantastic young writers of the National Book Foundation’s 9th annual 5 Under 35, chosen by past winners and finalists of the National Book Awards. “The National Book Foundation’s 5 under 35 program is about supporting a rising generation of talented authors,” said Leslie Shipman, Assistant Director of the National Book Foundation.

via 5 Under 35 Honorees Announced.

 

What I particularly like about this list is its international flavor.

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