8 Literary Websites I’ve Discovered Recently

My explorations for Literature & Psychology have recently led me to these eight websites:

Modern Mrs. Darcy

I’ll let Anne explain the purpose of her blog:

I started this site to explore what it looks like to be an accomplished woman in our modern world. In Jane Austen’s day, when Elizabeth Bennet became the original Mrs. Darcy, it was a pretty straightforward question. It doesn’t seem quite so clear to me today.

I admit that I generally skim over the home and family discussions, since Anne and I are at decidedly different points in our lives. But I like reading what she has to say about books and literature.

For Reading Addicts

For Reading Addicts is brought to you by a team of literary-mad writers and editors, who propagate the pages with all the bookish info we can find. Whether it’s news, reviews or the latest releases you’ll find the lot around site making us a bookish hive for you buzzy bibliophiles.

There’s quite a commercial feel to this blog, with its Amazon affiliate program and its shop for literary T-shirts, mugs, and other items. But you can also find book reviews and reading recommendations here. You can also submit a book review of your own.

Culture and Anarchy

From the “about me” page:

I am Lecturer in English Literature at Birmingham City University, where I teach modules on gender in literature, literature and nineteenth-century psychology, poetry, and Gothic. My research interests include Gothic, graveyard poetry, Pre-Raphaelitism in art and literature, lunatic asylums, and eighteenth and nineteenth century literature more broadly. I completed my Ph.D. at BCU, entitled ‘Christina Rossetti’s Fractured Gothic’, in 2010.

This blog contains an interesting mix of straight book reviews and pieces about literature and art, and literature and place.

WRITEROLOGY

I’m Faye. I merge the science of psychology with the art of storytelling and Writerology is the place I share all the lessons I’ve learnt over the years.

There’s a lot to explore here. The emphasis is on how writers can produce true-to-life characters through the application of psychological knowledge. There’s also material on writers and the creative life, and a workshop in which writers can enroll.

Everyday Reading

From the blog’s “about” page:

Welcome! I’m Janssen – reader, cook, mama to three little girls, and children’s librarian.

Everyday Reading is a family lifestyle blog focused on practical living for book-loving parents. Every weekday, I post about recommendations of books for adults and children, great recipes, daily style, and (very) simple DIY projects,

Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if blogging had existed back when I was the mother of a young child. I imagine I might have been something like Janssen … well, the book part, at least. I wouldn’t have been comfortable posting pictures of me and my clothing.

As I said about the blog Modern Mrs. Darcy, I concentrate on the literary aspects here, since I no longer have a young child. However, I can see how someone with young children might be interested in children’s books and in how to build a child’s love of reading.

Stuart Vyse: Psychologist & Writer

About himself Stuart Vyse writes:

I am a behavioral scientist, teacher, and writer. I write the monthly “Behavior & Belief” column for Skeptical Inquirer and personal essays in a variety of places—lately for the Observer, Medium, The Atlantic, The Good Men Project, and Tablet. I also blog very sporadically for Psychology Today.

Vyse adds, “I hold a PhD in psychology and BA and MA degrees in English literature and am a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.” He spent most of his teaching career at Connecticut College in New London, CT, where he was a professor of psychology.

Most of the entries here are links to Vyse’s work published elsewhere on the internet.

TeleRead

woman reading

TeleRead is for people who love books and gadgets. We write about Kindle-type e-readers, phones, tablets, other devices and apps in a practical way. TeleRead runs book news and reviews and keeps up with other media appealing to smart booklovers. Along the way, we strive to help narrow the digital and reading divides.

There’s a lot of information here: news, reviews of e-reading devices and apps, stories about writing and publishing.

Placing Literature

Placing Literature is a crowdsourcing website that maps literary scenes that take place in real locations. Anyone with a Google login can add a place to the literary database and share it over social media. Since its launch in May 2013, nearly 3,000 places from MacBeth’s castle to Forks High School have been mapped by users all over the world.

Use your current location to find literary places nearby. There’s also author spotlights and podcasts. Registered users can log in and describe a literary setting.

Viet Thanh Nguyen, William Finnegan Among Pulitzer Winners

The winners of the 2016 Pulitzer Prizes were announced on April 18, in a ceremony marking the centennial of the awards.In fiction, Viet Thanh Nguyen won for The Sympathizer (Grove Press), which the judges called “a layered immigrant tale told in the wry, confessional voice of a ‘man of two minds’—and two countries, Vietnam and the United States.”

Source: Viet Thanh Nguyen, William Finnegan Among Pulitzer Winners

On Reading

ON FINDING YOURSELF IN THE WORK OF JHUMPA LAHIRI

Nandini Balial riffs on reading In Other Words, the latest book by another Bengali woman, Jhumpa Lahiri. This is a beautiful musing on how language and literature have helped shape Aalial’s life and sense of identity as a writer.

Do Teens Read Seriously Anymore?

Critic David Denby created quite a stir with this claim:

When they become twelve or thirteen, kids often stop reading seriously. The boys veer off into sports or computer games, the girls into friendship in all its wrenching mysteries and satisfactions of favor and exclusion. Much of their social life, for boys as well as girls, is now conducted on smartphones, where teen-agers don’t have to confront one another. The terror of eye contact! Sherry Turkle, in her recent book “Reclaiming Conversation,” has written about the loss of self that this avoidance creates and also of the peculiar boredom paradoxically produced by the act of constantly fleeing boredom.

He ends the piece with a plea for high school English teachers to take risks to “make books important to kids—and forge the necessary link to pleasure and need” so that the kids will turn off the smartphone screens, at least for a while.

David Denby is Wrong

Heather Wheat, a high school teacher of AP English in Denver, has an answer for Denby:

You are right in that “The good [teachers] are not sheepish or silent in defense of literature and history and the rest.” So I’m going to tell you that you’re wrong. Teens read seriously. They read for purpose. They read for ideas. They read for knowledge. But most importantly, THEY READ.

She wonders how much time Denby has spent actually talking to teenagers. Many of her students live in poverty, she says; nonetheless, “they see the truth of the humanity in books, the reflection of the odds stacked against them in their own lives, and they see life represented realistically.” Also, she insists, “a great many of my kids read for pleasure outside of school.”

The irony of your essay is that the “Golden Age of Teen Reading” is actually now. There are more authors working to write books targeted to young audiences, to get them reading, to get them set on the path to lifetime literacy. The bonus of this path to lifetime literacy is it opens the door to increased intellectual curiosity.

9 Books to Read by Age 30

Ben Thomas offers quite an eclectic list of books to read “if you want to be a good writer. Or just an interesting person.”

See why he recommends these:

Ray Bradbury – Zen in the Art of Writing
Ernest Hemingway – The Sun Also Rises
Tim Ferriss – The 4-Hour Work Week
Herman Melville – Moby-Dick
Sun-Tzu – The Art of War
Frank Herbert – Dune
Bhante Henepola Gunaratana – Mindfulness in Plain English
Herman Hesse – Steppenwolf
Neil Gaiman – The Sandman

Mental Flexibility Improved By Reading Literature With One Important Quality

According to new research published in the journal Cortex, writing that challenges readers to think more deeply could boost mental flexibility:

People who read poetry and other texts that required them to re-evaluate the meaning showed fascinating changes to patterns of activation in the brain.

And greater mental flexibility can, in turn, help such readers to adapt their thoughts and behaviors to changing life situations.

How to Tackle Your TBR Pile

Because I need all the help I can get:

My TBR fiction shelf
My TBR fiction shelf

With the help of readers’ suggestions, Bookish has put together a list of eight ways to help deal with that TBR (to-be-read) collection:

  1. Keep your TBR together
  2. Organize by length
  3. Organize by genre
  4. Return to sender
  5. Start a book club
  6. Read-a-thon
  7. Give yourself a challenge
  8. Make time for reading

Fortunately, #8 includes a link to some suggestions on making more time for reading.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Iles, Grisham, Eubanks, Reed, Smith, Stockett, Laymon, Tartt Among 95 Mississippi Writers Opposing Anti-LGBT Law | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Gov. Phil Bryant and the Mississippi legislators who voted for HB 1523 are not the sole voices of our state. There have always been people here battling injustice.

Source: Iles, Grisham, Eubanks, Reed, Smith, Stockett, Laymon, Tartt Among 95 Mississippi Writers Opposing Anti-LGBT Law | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Read the authors’ statement here.

‘All the King’s Men,’ Now 70, Has a Touch of 2016 – The New York Times

I reread “All the King’s Men” recently, in the wake of the Ohio and Florida primaries. It remains a salty, living thing. There’s no need for literary or political pundits to bring in the defibrillators. It is also eerily prescient, in its portrait of the rise of a demagogue, about some of the dark uses to which language has been put in this year’s election.

Source: ‘All the King’s Men,’ Now 70, Has a Touch of 2016 – The New York Times

Dwight Garner takes a look at All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren, one of my favorite novels of all time. Garner has interesting observations on how a novel written 70 years ago has something to say about the current political climate in the U.S.

2 Big Books That Disappointed Me

Related Posts:

scroll divider

I’ve been writing a lot about Big Books lately. Since I no longer continue to slog through books that don’t engage me (although I’ll give a Big Book, one of more than 500 pages, 100 pages to win me over), I don’t have a long list of Big Books I didn’t like. I don’t review books I don’t finish and only seldom report on books that I gave up on.

However, here are two Big Books that I did finish and didn’t like.

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
Paperback, 768 pages

hour first believedI picked up this book really wanting and expecting to like it because I was so taken with I Know This Much is True. However, there’s so much wrong with this novel that it’s hard to know where to begin discussing it.

The book centers around a married couple, high school English teacher Caelum Quirk and his wife Maureen, a nurse. When Caelum discovers that Maureen is cheating on him, he attacks the other guy with a pipe wrench. In an effort to repair their lives, the Quirks move to Littleton, Colorado, where Maureen gets a job as school nurse at Columbine High School. And if you think you can see where this story is going, you’re right.

A few people I know said they refused to read this book because they didn’t want to revisit the terrible massacre at Columbine. In fact, in remarks at the end of the book Wally Lamb apologetically addresses his decision to use that event as a plot point. I don’t object to his use of this event. What I object to is the point of view he chose with which to narrate it. In the book Caelum has returned to his family home in Connecticut to check on an aging family member when the attack occurs. He tries to reach Maureen by phone while she covers in a closed cabinet listening to the gunfire. Afterwards, we learn more about the massacre as Caelum researches it to help himself understand Maureen’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Once Lamb had chosen to write about Columbine, I felt that, to do the issue justice, he should approach it in first person, through the eyes of the person who experiences it in the book, rather than obliquely, through someone reporting on the event and on his wife’s reaction to it.

The couple decide to get away from the scene of the trauma and move back to Caelum’s Connecticut home. Eventually Maureen, unable to overcome her demons, goes to prison for vehicular homicide. And here the story pivots into sole focus on Caelum. SPOILER ALERT: In an obvious deus ex machina move, Lamb eliminates Maureen from further consideration.

In this second half of the novel, Caelum discovers a cache of letters from the 19th century that sets him a crusade to discover his now deceased mother’s true identity and background. He lets a feminist scholar use the letters for her dissertation, a long portion of which appears in the novel. Either half of the book could have been a novel in its own right, but jamming the two together makes this novel a structural nightmare, even though the two parts deal with some of the same themes. Add a few wobbly, far-fetched attempts at symbolism—praying mantis, butterfly, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—and you have a book that never would have been published if its author were not already a well established figure.

This book looks like an attempt to apply the formula that worked so well in I Know This Much is True to another novel for which the formula is inappropriate. I would have given up on this book long before I reached the end if it hadn’t been a selection for one of my book clubs. I wasn’t surprised when just about everyone else in the club said they also didn’t like it.

A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe
Hardcover, 742 pages

man in fullAuthor Tom Wolfe is a Big Figure: Goodreads describes him as “our prime fictional chronicler of America at its most outrageous and alive.” Big Figures write Big Books, such as this one that deals with a number of contemporary themes: real estate development, boom vs. bust, shady deals, the politics of college sports, the life of the corporate elite, and racism in the U.S.

The book features Charles Croker, a former college football star who now, in late middle age, owns a large quail-shooting plantation where he schmoozes with the corporate and political elite. Croker also owns a huge but half-empty new office tower and the load of debt associated with it. As real estate tanks in Atlanta, Croker attempts to juggle his enterprise to keep himself afloat.

This is the book that taught me the lesson of not passing judgment until I’ve finished a book. Wolfe’s writing is so vivid and clever that he kept me interested in these characters and the situations they dig themselves into for most of the book. However, most of those situations are so complex and definitive that there really is no way out of them. Wolfe painted himself into a corner and could not find a suitable ending: the book runs out of steam and peters out. Perhaps it’s fair to say that it’s enough for an author like Wolfe to point out society’s problems without having to suggest solutions to them, but Wolfe is such a good storyteller that the failure to provide an adequate ending here irritated me. After I had told a few people that I was enjoying the book as I was reading it, I then had to tell them that I was disappointed in the way it ended. Now I wait until I’ve finished a book to recommend it.

scroll divider

What Big Books (of 500 or more pages) have you read that disappointed you?

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

The children’s author, who turns 100 on Tuesday, speaks about her characters, her life and her wisdom.

Source: Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

Books I Finished in March

Because I had jury duty for the entire month of March, I did not get as much reading done as I would have liked. I usually finish one book before starting another, but I decided to set aside the book I was reading, on which I wanted to take notes, for one that I could more easily pick up and put back down as necessary. As a result, I finished out March with two Big Books each half finished.

Here are the three—all rather short—that I did finish reading in March.

Where Are the Children? by Mary Higgins Clark

where are the childrenLong before Mary Higgins Clark took over as the reigning queen of romantic suspense, she concentrated on the suspense part. From childhood she had loved suspense stories, first books featuring girl detectives like Judy Bolton and Nancy Drew, and later books by authors including Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, and Daphne du Maurier. Clark’s first published book was a collection of stories. Her second book, published in 1975, was Where Are the Children?, her first novel.

Years ago Nancy Harmon had suffered through the disappearance and deaths of her two young children in California. Her husband also died of an apparent suicide. Nancy was charged with the murders of her children but was freed on a technicality. She dyed her hair, changed her name, and traveled to Cape Cod, where she remarried and had two children.

On the seventh anniversary of the disappearance of her first two children, the nightmare begins all over again when
Nancy discovers that her two preschoolers have disappeared from the back yard. As the search for the children begins, spearheaded by a retired detective turned writer, Nancy’s past gradually comes to light. She must endure the scrutiny of a small community naturally suspicious of outsiders along with the anguish over the fate of her children. Will the children be found, or will Nancy once again be haunted by, and accused of, a mother’s worst nightmare?

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Recommended

bell jarSylvia Plath’s autobiographical novel was first published in England in 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. Plath died by suicide a month after that publication. The novel was first published under Plath’s own name in 1967. Through the influence of her husband, poet Ted Hughes, and her mother, the book was not published in the United States until 1971.

Set in 1953, “summer the Rosenbergs were executed,” the novel tells the story of Esther Greenwood as she begins a prestigious summer internship at a woman’s magazine in New York City. Greenwood, from the suburbs around Boston, has attended a nearby woman’s college on a scholarship awarded because of her outstanding writing ability. Unable to find any joy or meaning in the life she encounters in the city and in the gender identity society expects of her, Greenwood becomes increasingly depressed and unable to sleep. At the end of the internship she returns home, but her mental health declines rapidly and she receives treatment from a number of doctors and institutions.

This novel, which provides insight into the gender expectations and the mental health attitudes of the 1950’s, was the March selection of my in-person classics book club.

Of the Farm by John Updike
Recommended

of the farmPublished in 1965, this short novel provides an image of American life at that time. Joey Robinson, age 35 and a resident of New York City, brings his second wife, Peggy, and his 11-year-old stepson, Richard, to visit his mother on the rural Pennsylvania farm where Joey spent his adolescence. The farm belongs to Joey’s mother; his father, recently dead, was never happy here. His mother is aging and can no longer care for the farm on her own.

Over the three days of their visit, Joey is haunted by memories not only of his parents and life on the farm, but also of his first wife, Joan, whose large portrait has been moved from the living room to a small upstairs bedroom, and thoughts of his three children, who now live in Canada with their mother and stepfather.

With heavy-handed symbolism, the farm becomes the Garden of Eden: Peggy unexpectedly begins menstruating, to intensify the fertility/Garden of Eden motif, and Joey frequently thinks of her body as a field to plow. On Sunday they all attend the local church, where the minister preaches a sermon expounding on the biblical description of the Garden of Eden:

What do these assertions tell us abut men and women today? First, is not Woman’s problem that she was taken out of Man, and is therefore a subspecies, less than equal to Man, a part of the world? … Second, she was made after Man. Think of God as a workman who learns as he goes. Man is the rougher and stronger artifact; Woman the finer and more efficient. (p. 112)

Over the course of the visit, the child, Richard, becomes a mediator between the three adults as they debate the choices they have made and the ways in which they define their lives.

scroll divider

Year-to-date total of books read: 10

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

On Novels and Novelists

Alexander Chee

Alexander Chee’s second novel, the recently published The Queen of the Night, is about “famous opera singer Lilliet Berne, following her as she survives brothels, prisons, and imperial palaces in Second Empire and Third Republic France.”

Here Nick Mancusi interviews Chee about Historical Fiction (“capital H capital F”), fiction in general, the source of characters and ideas, how this novel found its shape, and why it took 13 years to complete.

Novelist explains how psychology training honed his writing

Jonathan Kellerman is a clinical psychologist and the author of several compelling mystery novels featuring child psychologist Alex Delaware. The latest novel in the series is the recently published Breakdown. In this article he talks about his two professions:

“Psychology and fiction are actually quite synchronous,” he said. “But the truth is that writers of fiction are born, they aren’t made, and I was one of those kids who wrote compulsively from a very young age. It was always just something I loved to do. I won’t even call it a hobby because it’s more than that, it was just part of me.”

Maybe writing is in his genes. His wife, Faye Kellerman, is also a best-selling novelist. So is their son, Jesse, and their youngest daughter, Aliza, has published a novel cowritten with her mother. Eldest daughter Rachel also has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, and second daughter Ilana is a graduate student in clinical psychology.

Asked what advice he’d give to aspiring writers, he answered:

“Be curious, experience life — and just write. I’ve no sympathy for people who say ‘I’d do it if I had time,’” he said. “The Talmud talks about setting a permanent place and time to study. Consistency counts. In the end, the secret of writing is to be a tortoise, not a hare.”

Michael Cunningham prefers shorter books with lots of voice

Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours, based on Virginia Woolf’s book Mrs. Dalloway, won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. More recently, he has published A Wild Swan: And Other Tales, a collection of retellings of classic fairy tales.

In light of my recent discussions on this blog about Big Books, I was interested in his answer to the question of whether the length of a novel influences him as a reader:

No, because years ago I released myself from any obligation to finish a book, which was revelatory. I used to hesitate over an 800-page tome. If I didn’t like it then I would be sentenced to it for months and months. Now I fearlessly pick up a book of any length though I am a little more inclined to shorter ones. I’ve read some novels lately, popular ones, which should have been a third shorter. If a book needs to be 850 pages long, that’s how long it should be. Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” is not too long. But there are some novels out there that are weighing in at 700 to 800 pages that shouldn’t. I’m a bit surprised there is a vogue for these long books when we don’t have any time.

Yes, that sums it up nicely.

10 Great Novels of the Rural

Author Michelle Hoover writes:

I tend to work with emotionally repressed personalities. I find their lack of communication fascinating. But repressed emotion needs its outlet, and so my landscapes not only mirror my character’s psyches but bear the displaced weight of the emotion itself.

Hoover compares her writing to that of Willa Cather, whose descriptive passages about the landscape often also depict the psychological make-up of her characters. Hoover adds that her recently published second novel, Bottomland continues this pattern. She offers a list of other novels, all of which take place in the U.S. and were published in the 21st century, that illustrate the same tradition of writing:

  1. Falling to Earth, Kate Southwood
  2. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
  3. In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, Matt Bell
  4. The Known World, Edward P. Jones
  5. The Long Man, Amy Greene
  6. The Orchardist, Amanda Coplin
  7. Plainsong, Kent Haruf
  8. Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward
  9. An Unseemly Wife, E.B. Moore
  10. Winter’s Bone, Daniel Woodrell

Jane Eyre and the Invention of the Self

Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel helped introduce the idea of the “modern individual”—a surprisingly radical concept for readers at the time.

Karen Swallow Prior, writing in The Atlantic, explains how Jane Eyre was the first novel to embody the modern concept of the self as an independent individual:

Brontë’s biggest accomplishment wasn’t in plot devices. It was the narrative voice of Jane—who so openly expressed her desire for identity, definition, meaning, and agency—that rang powerfully true to its 19th-century audience. In fact, many early readers mistakenly believed Jane Eyre was a true account (in a clever marketing scheme, the novel was subtitled, “An Autobiography”), perhaps a validation of her character’s authenticity.

“Unable to find her sense of self through others, Jane makes the surprising decision to turn inward,” Prior writes. The novel, with its emphasis on particular human experience, was the perfect vehicle “to shape how readers understood the modern individual.” Brontë’s creation of Jane Eyre came at a pivotal time in history, when external sources of authority were giving way to the concept of internal interpretations of one’s world.

The refusal of such a woman, who lived in such a time, to be silent created a new mold for the self—one apparent not only in today’s Instagram photos, but also more importantly in the collective modern sense that a person’s inner life can allow her to effect change from the inside out.

6 Big Books on My Reading List

Related Posts:

scroll divider

Like most of you, I have big, ambitious plans for my future reading. Here are the Big Books that currently reside on my TBR shelves.


War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
paperback, 1392 pages

war and peace

 

Isn’t this book on just about everybody’s lifetime reading list? It seems to be one of the titles that separates the true book lovers from the wanna-bes.

 

 

 


Ulysses by James Joyce
paperback, 732 pages

ulysses

The comments from War and Peace also apply here.

This is the cover of the copy I bought for myself in Dublin, in the hopes that having a real Irish copy would make me more likely to actually read the book. Someday I hope to return to Dublin and walk Leopold Bloom’s journey around the city.

 

 


The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
hardcover edition, 567 pages

golden notebook

 

This book has been on my TBR shelf for so long that I no longer remember where I picked it up. But it’s a classic work of feminism, and I’m determined to get through it.

 

 


Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
hardcover, 562 pages

freedom

After reading Franzen’s The Corrections, one of the 6 Big Books I Keep Meaning to Reread, I eagerly bought the hardcover of this novel soon after it came out.

Alas, life intervened, and I still haven’t read it. But I’m going to. I’m definitely going to. Some time soon.

 

 


Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
hardcover, 1168 pages

atlas shrugged

I hear so much about Ayn Rand that I think I should read at least one of her works. A lot of people I know read either this book or The Fountainhead in college, but I guess I didn’t take the right course.

This is another one that’s been on my shelf for so long that I can’t remember where or when I bought it. I plan to take it with me on my next long, leisurely vacation.

 


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
paperback, 636 pages

kavalier and clay

 

I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t yet read anything by Michael Chabon. This is a shortcoming that I plan to correct someday soon with this Big Book.

 

 

 


Have you read any of these? What did you think? Which ones do you especially recommend? Or do you have other Big Books to recommend?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments.