Monday Miscellany

Tragic fiction may leave you emotionally upset

Woman with KindleIt might seem logical that reading a sad fictional story would be less upsetting than reading a less sad but true story. But new research suggests this is not the case:

“Consumers may choose to read a tragic fictional story because they assume that knowing it was fictional would make them less sad than reading a less dramatic but true story,” said study authors Jane E.J. Ebert from Massachusetts based Brandeis University and Tom Meyvis from New York University.

This result makes perfect sense, though, to anyone who has ever been fully transported into the world of a well written novel.

”Our results suggest that while emphasising realism may increase sales, it does not necessarily increase satisfaction,” the authors concluded in a paper appearing in the Journal of Consumer Research.

THE 6 REACTIONS BOOK-LOVERS HAVE TO PEOPLE WHO DON’T READ

You know the scenario: You’re chatting with someone you’ve just met, and you naturally ask what the other person likes to read. And he or she replies, “I don’t read.”

Fortunately, it doesn’t happen too often. But when it does happen, here are some animated GIFs that illustrate your possible reactions to someone who doesn’t engage in an activity that you consider second only to breathing.

Marine Turned Novelist Brings Brutal, Everyday Work Of War Into Focus

“Every inch of that place, every grain of sand, wanted desperately to kill us.”

That’s a line from a compelling new novel about the Iraq War, written by former Marine Michael Pitre.

Pitre was a history and creative writing major at Louisiana State when he joined the Marines after Sept. 11. He became an officer and served two tours in Iraq’s Anbar province working in logistics and communications.

NPR interviews the author of the new novel Fives and Twenty-Fives, which follows an American road repair crew and bomb disposal team in Iraq.

Oldest Public Library in the Nation in Danger of Closing

For more than two centuries, the Darby Free Library has remained both a vital part of its community as well as a historical landmark. Built in 1743 by Quakers, it remains the oldest public library in the nation. But a financial crisis has left it in danger of shutting down by the end of the year.

10 Books You Should Read Before Graduating College

Note:
The former English teacher in me cannot refrain from commenting: You don’t “graduate college”; you “graduate FROM college.”

When I was in college, I didn’t have time to read much of anything that wasn’t required for one of my classes. But Radhika Sanghani, author of the novel Virgin, did: “I have a few books I’d recommend. All of them helped me through the student-to-adult transition when I left college a few years ago, and I still re-read them for pleasure, comfort and some good old-fashioned perspective.”

Why does she recommend these books?

Because, college is a bubble. Whichever one you choose to study at, chances are your entire life becomes based around the same people, lecture halls and bars. For me, reading was the best way to get out of that bubble and remember there was a wider world out there that I was just about to enter and should probably know a little bit about.

So check out her list, which she describes as “a mixture of good classics, contemporary reads, and a little bit of self-help for a time when you really need it.”

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Monday Miscellany

Required Reading: 10 Books We Read For Class That Will Change Your Life

Cover: Civilization and Its DiscontentsAs summer winds down, many students turn with desperation to those lists of required summer reading that they put aside a couple of months ago. But not all assigned reading is dull and unfulfilling, the editors at Huffington Post say:

Sometimes reading books we’re assigned to read, rather than those we would pick up on our own, can be a blessing rather than a curse. It can lead us to unexpected treasures, introduce us to unfamiliar and unexpected points of view, and challenge us in surprising ways.

There are some pretty good books on this list. Look especially at what Maddie Crum has to say about Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud.

More Than a Century Later, Sophia Tolstoy Has Her Say

In her long and often turbulent marriage to Leo Tolstoy, Sophia Andreevna Tolstoy put up with a lot, but “The Kreutzer Sonata” qualified as special punishment. Published in 1889, the story presented Tolstoy’s increasingly radical views on sexual relations and marriage through a frenzied monologue delivered by a narrator who, in a fit of jealousy and disgust, murdered his wife.

According to William Grimes, Sophia wrote in her diary:

“I, too, know in my heart that this story is directed against me, and that it has done me a great wrong, humiliated me in the eyes of the world and destroyed the last vestiges of love between us.”

Sophia wrote two novellas, “Whose Fault?” and “Song Without Words,” that set forth her views on a woman’s experience of love. Those stories lay lost in the archives of the Tolstoy Museum until their recent discovery and publication in Russia.

Grimes writes that “Michael R. Katz, a retired professor of Russian and Eastern European studies at Middlebury College, has translated both stories into English.” Those stories will be included in a volume titled The Kreutzer Sonata Variations that will be published tomorrow by Yale University Press. Grimes calls this book a significant part of “a flurry of recent work appraising Tolstoy’s wife as a figure in her own right.”

In this article Grimes describes the discovery of these works by Tolstoy’s wife and their historical and literary significance.

Alan Gibbons: why YA fiction is crucial for shaping our attitudes to subcultures

Author Alan Gibbons was inspired to write his book Hate after the murder of teenager Sophie Lancaster. Here, Alan shares why he thinks YA books are important for improving our understanding of other people’s identities

Gibbons provides a good look at how reading can help adolescents in discovering and accepting their own identity.

Samuel Beckett’s articulation of unceasing inner speech

undoubtedly the most ubiquitous sound in Beckett’s work is that of the mysterious voices buzzing, murmuring or whispering within the heads of his characters. To borrow from the narrating figure in The Unnamable (1953), the narrative core of Beckett’s dark universes seems to be “all a matter of voices; no other metaphor is appropriate”. The question is: to what extent are voices in Beckett’s fiction just metaphorical presences?

Contrary to all those jokes about people who hear voices, cognitive science has taught us that we all hear inner voices. Young children talk out loud to themselves as they’re playing and as they’re performing actions they’re working to learn, such as tying their shoelaces, in a process called “private speech” or “private talk.” As they grow older they stop speaking out loud, but all of us talk silently and frequently to ourselves.

Here postdoctoral research fellow Marco Bernini points out:

If inner speech is the raw material for hallucinatory phenomena, it is also at the centre of our imaginary engine – supporting our simple need for, as the homonymous text by Beckett portrays, an intimate Company (1980) in the inaccessible dark of our subjectivity.

In the works of Beckett we find yet another example of how literature imitates life.

10 Great Books by Irish Women

Here’s a historical list that includes books published between 1929 and 2010.

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11 Novels That Feature Life Stories

All these novels in some way feature the notion of life stories and identity.

Related Posts:

 

An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke

Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

True Believers by Kurt Andersen

Where the Moon Isn’t by Nathan Filer

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

The Opposite of Me by Sarah Pekkanen

The Human Part by Kari Hotakainen

The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman

Any Human Heart by William Boyd

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Upcoming Film Adaptation of “Still Alice” by Lisa Genova

Julianne Moore in "Still Alice"

from TIFF

From the Toronto International Film Festival comes this announcement of the film adaptation of Lisa Genova’s novel about early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

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“Before I Go to Sleep”: The Film

Before I Go To Sleep: Exclusive film stills show Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth in new psychological thriller

Related Posts:

These emotive images depict Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman as a woman who wakes up every morning remembering nothing in the forthcoming film Before I Go to Sleep.

Exclusively released to The Independent, the pictures feature Kidman as 40-year-old Christine Lucas, who believes she is just 27 following a traumatic accident that leaves her clawing for the truth – until one day she is forced to confront new and terrifying truths.

I am certainly looking forward to this movie, to see how it presents Christine’s plight.

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Monday Miscellany

Reading Literature on Screen: A Price for Convenience?

Woman with KindleI love my Kindle because it allows me to carry a lot of books around without having to carry a lot of books around. And having recently downsized to a retirement home game me another reason: I no longer have room for enough bookcases to hold every book I read.

But the jury is still out on whether there are any disadvantages to using an e-reader rather than reading a printed book. Here’s a report on new research that found differences in comprehension between readers who read a story in a paperback book vs. Readers who read the same story on an Amazon Kindle DX:

the Kindle readers scored significantly lower on questions about when events in the story occurred. They also performed almost twice as poorly when asked to arrange 14 plot points in the correct sequence.

The number of study participants was small (50), but the results suggest the need for more research.

Top 10 Books About Reading & Writing For Book Lovers

Here’s a good starter list of books about books.

If you have other similar books that you like, mention them in the comments.

10 Creepiest Books

And because we all love lists, here’s another one.

Stephanie Feldman is the author of The Angel of Losses, a novel that, according to Publishers Weekly, “features a wonderfully spooky atmosphere.” Check out her list of scary books:

Here are some books that are smart and scary—just frightening enough for catharsis, and just exotic enough in their trappings that you’ll probably still be able to sleep at night.

I had heard of many of these, but a few are new to me.

And if you’re looking for a REALLY SCARY BOOK, I recommend I Am the Cheese, a short gem by Robert Cormier.

10 Psychological Thrillers That Will Absolutely Terrify You

And here’s a similar list, this one from K.A. Harrington, author of the thriller Forget Me. Harrington writes, “I have always loved psychological thrillers – the plot twists, the stunning character reveals, the eerie settings.”

I’ve read all the books on Harrington’s list except one, The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. I’ve always resisted that one as too gory for me. But I second her recommendation of the other nine.

Wilder memoir to give gritty view of prairie life

“Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography” – Wilder’s unedited draft that was written for an adult audience and eventually served as the foundation for the popular series – is slated to be released by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press nationwide this fall. The not-safe-for-children tales include stark scenes of domestic abuse, love triangles gone awry and a man who lit himself on fire while drunk off whiskey.

Lois Lowry says ‘The Giver’s’ movie cast elevated her original novel

now that the film version of her beloved book is (finally) arriving in theaters on Friday, Lowry says she would like to go back and make just one small revision.

“The movie made much more complex the character of the Chief Elder,” the head of the society, Lowry says. “And then once they cast Meryl Streep — who never would have taken the role the way I wrote it in the book — the quality of her acting, just the turn of her eyes or the way her mouth curves, it was astounding to watch her. Now I wish I could go back and write the book the way she performed it.”

I haven’t yet decided whether I want to see this movie, although Meryl Streep, and what Lowry says about her here, is a big draw.

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Novelist Lev Grossman on Narrative

Lev Grossman: My depression helped inspire the Magicians trilogy – Salon.com.

I think literary critics — of whom you’re one and I’m another — are much better at describing beauty on the sentence level than we are at talking about the grace of a narrative twist or wonderful pacing or the thrilling tension that a well-put-together narrative gives you. I feel like we’re not very good at praising that. We don’t have a good critical language for it. I think that’s why books with that kind of narrative flare lag behind the more non- or anti-narrative novels in critical reputation.

–Novelist Lev Grossman to interviewer Laura Miller

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“Before I Go to Sleep,” S.J. Watson: We Are What We Remember

Literature & Psychology

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Before I Go to Sleep: A Novel
by S. J. Watson
HarperCollins, 2011
Kindle Edition

A woman awakens, wonders where she is, rolls over—and is shocked to see a middle-aged man wearing a wedding ring and with hairs on his back sleeping next to her. She stumbles into the bathroom, where the hand that grasps the soap doesn’t look like hers. When she looks into the mirror, a middle-aged woman she doesn’t recognize, 20 or 25 years too old to be herself, stares back at her in shock. Then the man from the bed comes into the bathroom. “I’m your husband, Ben,” he tells her, and explains that almost 20 years ago, at age 29, she had an accident that caused amnesia. Every morning he has to give her the same explanation, he says, because she loses each day’s memories when she goes to sleep at night.

The first-person narrator of these events is Christine Lucas, age 47. All she knows about her recent self is what Ben tells her before leaving for work; her own memories seem to end in her early 20s. Alone in the house and wondering what to do, she receives a phone call from a man who says that he is Dr. Nash, her doctor, and that they have been working on trying to improve her memory. She has no recollection of him but agrees to meet with him for coffee. Dr. Nash gives Christine a leather-bound book and tells her that she has been writing in as a possible way to stimulate her memory. Eager to learn something about herself, Christine opens the journal and finds three chilling words: DON’T TRUST BEN.

And so begins Christine’s journey to find out the truth about herself and her past. Each night, before going to sleep, she adds more information to the journal. Each morning Dr. Nash telephones to tell Christine to find the journal in her closet and read it. As she accumulates more information, she finds more questions than answers. And as vague snatches of memory start tantalizing her, her intuition not to trust Ben deepens.

Before I Go to Sleep is a mesmerizing page-turner, the kind that will keep the reader up all night. Who is Christine, really? What happened to cause her amnesia? And who is Ben, the man upon whom she is so dependent? Can she trust her intuition? And what will finally happen when her journal becomes too long for her to read anew every morning? The nature of the novel’s premise requires that the reader occasionally know more than Christine knows as she seeks answers to these questions, and Watson does a good job of inserting the necessary information while at the same time maintaining suspense.

Initially I read this novel on the level of the thriller that it is. But swirling just below the thriller’s surface are aspects of that most basic human question: Who am I? Christine’s drive to discover and reclaim her past is a quest for self-knowledge, for her own sense of identity: “All I want is to feel normal. To live like everybody else, with experience building on experience, each day shaping the next. I want to grow, to learn things, and from things” (p. 155). We need memories to give us a sense of the continuity of our existence. Without the knowledge of our own past, we cannot know who we are in the present. Christine realizes this as she stares at the journal containing the substance of her life: “But, I realized, these truths are all I have. They are my past. They are what makes me human. Without them, I am nothing. Nothing but an animal” (p. 160).

For Christine, finding out who she is involves rediscovering her past life experiences and the lessons she has learned from them. We all create a sense of our own identity by assembling memories of past events into a life narrative that demonstrates how we have become the person we are today. Only by reclaiming the story of her past life can Christine become a unique, independent individual. Christine realizes this near the end of the novel, when she has learned the truth about herself and her husband: “And I will tell him about this journal, that finally I am able to give myself a narrative, a life, and I will show it to him, if he asks to see it. And then I can continue to use it, to tell my story, my autobiography. To create myself from nothing” (p. 274).

This review originally appeared on Metapsychology Online Reviews.

© 2011 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Monday Miscellany

The Feud Between Amazon, Hachette Publishing, and Readers Heats Up

It’s difficult to keep up with all the nuances of this issue. Here are a couple of recent articles:

Dispute Between Amazon and Hachette Takes an Orwellian Turn

Kindle

Maybe Amazon really is rattled by the whole Authors United phenomenon organized by Douglas Preston. The writers are encouraging their readers to email Jeff Bezos, the Amazon chief executive, and tell him to stop holding books hostage as the company negotiates with Hachette Book Group.

Late Friday, Amazon unveiled Readers United, and encouraged e-book buyers to email the chief executive of Hachette, whose address was helpfully provided.

In introducing the group, Amazon made the same arguments it has been making in the last few weeks: e-books need to be cheaper and Hachette is robbing readers by preventing this from happening.

And read how, according to this article, Amazon has misrepresented the views of George Orwell.

Amazon vs. Hachette: Soul searching in techie, bookish Seattle

And here’s the view from Amazon’s own hometown newspaper, The Seattle Times:

In this city famous for its independent bookstores and pungent coffee shops — brick-and-mortar institutions that value touch, taste and long, rainy afternoons — a high-profile conflict about the business of selling e-books has left many readers feeling conflicted.

Their dilemma: balancing an addiction to the convenient and wallet-friendly services of the local Internet giant with their devotion to the local literary culture.


A Thousand Years of the Persian Book

When some think of Persian literature, their minds might immediately turn to the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. There’s much more than that, of course, and this online exhibition from the Library of Congress explores over a millennium of Persian printed works. Designed to complement an in situ exhibit, the sections here include The Persian Language, Writing Systems and Scripts, Religion, and Science and Technology. Each section contains a narrative essay, along with examples of illuminated manuscripts and other relevant pieces of historical ephemera. First-time visitors shouldn’t miss The Epic of Shahnameh area. Here, they can learn about this epic poem that recounts the history of pre-Islamic Persia or Iransahr (Greater Iran). All told, it contains 990 chapters with 50,000 rhyming couplets.

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994–2014. https://www.scout.wisc.edu

Val McDermid: Putting the north in Northanger Abbey

Interesting remarks from one of my favorite authors, Val McDermid, on the task of updating Jane Austen’s novel in a modern setting.

J.K. Rowling writes to girl whose family was slain

Harry Potter boxed setA Texas girl who survived a recent attack in which her parents and four siblings were killed has drawn the attention of “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling.

Rowling’s publicist, Rebecca Salt, confirmed Friday that the British writer sent a letter and package to 15-year-old Cassidy Stay, but she declined to describe their contents, saying it was a private matter. Rowling spokesman Mark Hutchinson also said the gesture “and how it came about are private and between her and Cassidy.”

A sliver of blue sky in a horrific landscape.

New fiction from the big names

my bookshelvesNews on upcoming publication by authors including James Ellroy, Margaret Atwood, Haruki Murakami, and Hilary Mantel.

But I’m not ready to make up a fall reading list. I’m still woefully behind on my summer list.

And so it goes…

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Monday Miscellany

Harry Potter and the Battle Against Bigotry

Harry Potter boxed setSure, Harry Potter destroyed the evil Lord Voldemort. But, aside from making lots of money for book publishers and film studio/theme-park conglomerates, what has the wizard done for us lately?

In fact, he has been helping to reduce prejudice.

That’s the conclusion of research just published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. It finds that, among young people, reading J.K. Rowling’s book series—and, crucially, identifying with the lead character—can reduce bias toward stigmatized minority groups.

We’ve seen a lot of studies about how reading fiction can increase self-understanding and empathy, but now there’s scientific evidence that it can also reduce prejudice.

Tom Jacobs does a good job here of explaining this research and comparing it with earlier research on whether reading literature can reduce racism.

The Scourge of “Relatability”

What do people mean when they say that they relate to a character in a literary work? Rebecca Mead tackles that question in The New Yorker:

Whence comes relatability? A hundred years ago, if someone said something was “relatable,” she meant that it could be told—the Shakespearean sense of “relate”—or that it could be connected to some other thing. As recently as a decade ago, even as “relatable” began to accrue its current meaning, the word remained uncommon. The contemporary meaning of “relatable”—to describe a character or a situation in which an ordinary person might see himself reflected—first was popularized by the television industry.

With bold insight Mead differentiates between identification with a character—an active process in which the reader engages with the artistic work—and relating to a character—a response in which the “reader or viewer remains passive in the face of the book or movie or play.” Relatability is a mere self-reflection, while identification requires “the active exercise of imagination or the effortful summoning of empathy.”

Send Yourself Flying: 3 Books For An Out Of Body Experience

Characters don’t need to become better people by the final page of a book, but I do hope they change. I read to experience another world, and characters are often most tangible when they undergo transitions.

In some books, that change is an actual physical transformation. Characters stop being human, and become transfigured. If the writer is successful, they pull the audience into that metamorphosis. Here are three books about characters not bound by their bodies.

See what books Nick Ripatrazone recommends for a transformative experience.

Book Buzz: ‘Ulysses’ to become virtual reality game

James Joyce’s Ulysses is one of the greatest books in literature, and it is also one of the hardest to read. Irish filmmaker Eoghan Kidney is crowdfunding a creative solution to this problem: A virtual reality video game that allows the reader to experience the book as the protagonist.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over this. I really don’t.

10 of the Most Depressing Places in Literature

“here are a selection of other depressing places and the writers they inspired,” including Dickens’s London, Orhan Pamuk’s Turkey, and Truman Capote’s Holcomb, Kansas.

The Goldfinch: who should direct and star in the movie?

The excitement surrounding The Goldfinch seems to have no end in sight. When it’s not it being lauded with the Pulitzer prize, it’s crowds flocking to see the original artwork by which Donna Tartt’s novel was inspired, or articles praising the book as one of the best of the year. Now the inevitable movie version is on its way – it doesn’t even have a director, a screenwriter or a cast yet, but at this rate it’s becoming one of the most hyped movies-to-be of the year.

Check the comments section to see answers from U.K. readers to The Guardian’s questions.

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