Literary Links

Why Some People Become Lifelong Readers

Joe Pinsker looks at the question of “why some people grow up to derive great pleasure from reading, while others don’t.” Here’s no surprise: “a chief factor seems to be the household one is born into, and the culture of reading that parents create within it.”

How Reese Witherspoon became the new high priestess of book clubs

“Since Reese’s Book Club launched in 2017 in partnership with the actress’s media company, Hello Sunshine, it has become an industry phenomenon with the power to catapult titles to the top of the bestseller lists.” According to the article, “Reese really picks the books.”

The Loser-Spy Novelist for Our Times

James Parker, a staff writer for The Atlantic, praises English novelist Mick Herron on the publication of his latest novel, Joe Country. “Mick Herron writes about the broken spies sworn to protect today’s broken England,” the article’s subtitle proclaims.

“Like John le Carré—with whom he has been much compared—Herron is obsessed with that area of human experience, that area of the human brain, where paranoia overlaps with an essential, feral vigilance.”

Read Editor Carmen Maria Machado’s Intro to The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019

cover: he Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019

Here’s another look at the age-old, ever-recurring question of the distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction.

This omnivorous selection of stories chosen by series editor John Joseph Adams and World Fantasy Award finalist Machado is a display of the most boundary-pushing, genre-blurring, stylistically singular science fiction and fantasy stories published in the last year. By sending us to alternate universes and chronicling ordinary magic, introducing us to mythical beasts and talking animals, and engaging with a wide spectrum of emotion from tenderness to fear, each of these stories challenge the way we see our place in the cosmos.

Orphans and their quests

Harvard Ph.D. candidate Manvir Singh discusses what he calls the sympathetic plot, which pervades world literature and controls how we respond to stories. One common trope of the sympathetic plot is the story of orphans, “parentless protagonists [that] are everywhere.”

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Books I Wish I Could Read for the First Time Again

Recently I came across the article 14 Books You Wish You Could Read for the First Time Again. Off the Shelf editors asked members of their Facebook group which books they wish they could read again for the first time and published some of the responses.

I agree with these titles from the article:

  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King  
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver  
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman  
  • Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman  
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Examining the Off the Shelf list made me consider exactly what qualities make me want to reread a book. Often it’s the enjoyment of seeing how a writer makes a particular story work—the mechanics of getting plot and character to mesh to produce a satisfying whole. Sometimes it’s the experience of spending time with characters who feel like real people, and other times it’s seeing how characters react to situations that we hope we’ll never have to face in real life. Usually it’s the emotional realization that, although we are all individuals, we all share a common humanity. 

Many times rereading a book is more pleasurable because I already know, in general terms, what’s going to happen and who I’m going to meet along the way. Yet there are still some books that I wish I could read again with fresh eyes.

For that reason, here, in no particular order, are a few books I would add to this list:

  • All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren  
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara  
  • “The Lottery” (short story) by Shirley Jackson 
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell  
  • Disturbances in the Field by Lynne Sharon Schwartz  
  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra  
  • Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy  
  • Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney  
  • Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson  
  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd  
  • We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates  
  • Mystic River by Dennis Lehane  
  • L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy 

How About You?

What makes you want to reread a book? And what books do you wish you could read for the first time again?

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

6 Degrees of Separation: From Three to Eight

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 a book that everyone’s talking about – Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, which Goodreads describes as “the deepest nonfiction portrait of desire ever written.”

Since I’m not interested in the subject matter, I’m going to approach this month’s list by the numbers.

1. Another book with three in the title is The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. In this science fiction book the author uses a well-known problem in physics and mathematics as the basis for an explication of China’s Cultural Revolution.

2. Next comes The Fourth Steven by Margaret Moseley, a humorous though dark mystery. Book rep Honey Huckleberry has three friends named Steven, but when someone named Steven calls her and confesses to murder, she’s pretty sure the caller isn’t one of them. Then, when her three Stevens start dying, the fourth Steven becomes the prime suspect. Yes, like so much in life, it’s complicated.

3. The anti-war novel Slaughterhouse-Five is Kurt Vonnegut’s best known work.

4. In Six Years by Harlan Coben, college professor Jake Fisher attends the funeral of Todd, the man he watched marry Natalie, the love of Jake’s life, six years earlier. But the grieving widow Jake glimpses at the funeral is not Natalie. Jake’s world begins to unravel as he searches for the truth about his past and about the woman he loved.

5. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid tells the life story of an aging movie star who has a secret to reveal to the young writer she has chosen to do the work.

6. Robert Dugoni combines a thrilling spy story with a cerebral courtroom procedural in The Eighth Sister.

And just like that, we’ve gone from three women to eight.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

A Love Letter to the Girls Who Die First in Horror Films

When I recently read Riley Sager’s novel Final Girls, I didn’t realize that the final girl, the last girl left standing, is a standard trope of slasher movies. In this article Lindsay King-Miller talks about “a film’s Final Girl, a term coined by Carol Clover in her brilliant work of horror theory Men, Women, and Chainsaws.” But what she’s more interested in all the other girls who die first, before the Final Girl is left to face down the enemy.

There’s a morality play element to this, as countless film writers have explored: girls in horror movies are punished for doing things girls aren’t supposed to do, especially for having sex.

From the Battlefield to ‘Little Women’

Cover: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Jennifer Wilson describes how serving in military hospitals shaped the story Louisa May Alcott later wrote as Little Women. The basis for the article is the letters Alcott wrote home during her war experiences, published in 1863 as Hospital Sketches.

The Cult Books That Lost Their Cool

The definition of the term cult books that Hephzibah Anderson uses in this essay is pretty amorphous:

the cult classic inspires passionate devotion among its fans, who frequently weave their own myths around the texts. But another, underexamined, feature of the cult book is this: . . . it can sometimes age really badly.

You can pull together your own definition of the term from Anderson’s discussions of the following cult classics:

  • The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, 1951  
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, 1957  
  • The Beach by Alex Garland, 1996  
  • Iron John by Robert Bly, 1990  
  • The Outsider by Colin Wilson, 1956  
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, 1952  
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac, 1957  
  • The Rules by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, 1995  
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, 1970  
  • Little Red Book by Mao Zedong, 1964  
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, 1996

It’s a Fact: Mistakes Are Embarrassing the Publishing Industry

In the past year alone, errors in books by several high-profile authors — including Naomi Wolf, the former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, the historian Jared Diamond, the behavioral scientist and “happiness expert” Paul Dolan and the journalist Michael Wolff — have ignited a debate over whether publishers should take more responsibility for the accuracy of their books.

Writing in The New York Times, Alexandra Alter looks at the question of who should be responsible for fact checking: authors or publishers?

The Temporary Memory Lapse of Transient Global Amnesia

Amnesia is a standard trope of mysteries and psychological thrillers, which I read a lot of. This article describes a very real phenomenon, transient global amnesia:

Transient global amnesia, often called T.G.A. It is a temporary lapse in memory that can never be retrieved. “It’s as if the brain is on overload and takes a break to recharge,” Dr. [Carolyn] Brockington [a vascular neurologist] said in an interview. She likened it to rebooting a computer to eradicate an unexplainable glitch. Those with T.G.A. do not experience any alteration in consciousness or abnormal movements. Only the ability to lay down memories is affected. All other parts of the brain appear to be working normally.

T.G.A. is relatively rare, though it appears to occur more frequently in people over age 50 than in younger people, with men and women affected about equally. It leaves no lasting effects except for the lack of memories during its occurrence. It typically lasts for one to eight hours and usually clears up within a day. Its cause or causes have not been established, and there is no treatment. The condition occurs a second time in only 4% or 5% of patients.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Bookshelf Scavenger Hunt Tag

Thanks to Madame Writer, on whose blog I found this tag. (She in turn traced the tag back to here.)

I undertook this challenge because I’m in favor of anything that makes me stop and think about the books that I own, read or unread.

1. Find an author name or title with a Z in it.

cover: The Pigman by Paul Zindel

The Pigman by Paul Zindel

2. Find a classic.

Cover: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

3. Find a book with a key on it.

cover: The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

S T R E T C H I N G 
the prompt here 
The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

4. Find something on your bookshelf that is not a book.

Moi statue and read sign

Left: a small moi (replica of the giant stone heads on Easter Island)
Right: a sign of encouragement made by RamonaClaire from rolled-up pages of To Kill a Mockingbird, my favorite book

5. Find the oldest book on your shelf.

cover: Four Afloat by Ralph Henry Barbour

Probably Four Afloat by Ralph Henry Barbour. This is from my father-in-law’s childhood collection. The text is © 1907. I can’t find out when this version was published, but, as you can tell, it’s pretty old.

6. Find a book with a girl on it.

Cover: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

7. Find a book that has an animal in it.

Cover: Watership Down

How about lots of animals: Watership Down by Richard Adams

8. Find a book with a male protagonist.

Cover: Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh

How about a book with two male protagonists: Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh

9. Find a book with only words on the cover.

cover: Ulysses by James Joyce

This copy of Ulysses by James Joyce, which I bought in Dublin.

10. Find a book with illustrations in it.

cover: Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore

Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore. This was my father-in-law’s copy, inscribed June 26, 1912.

11. Find a book with gold lettering.

cover: A Backward Glance by Edith Wharton

A Backward Glance by Edith Wharton

12. Find a diary, true or fictional.

cover: Blue Diary by Alice Hoffman

Since diaries, both real and fictional, are one of my favorite things to study, my shelf contains a lot of books that fit this category. Blue Diary by Alice Hoffman is one of the best.

13. Find a book written by an author with a common name (like Smith).

cover: Breakheart Hill by Thomas Cook

Breakheart Hill by Thomas H. Cook

14. Find a book with a close-up of something on it.

cover: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

This edition of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield has a wonderful close-up of a stack of old books.

15. Find a book on your shelf that takes place in the earliest time period.

cover: The Poetry of John Milton

That must be Paradise Lost by John Milton, which takes place shortly after the creation of the world.

16. Find a hardcover book without a jacket.

cover: The Prairie by J.F. Cooper

This old, undated copy of The Prairie by James Fenimore Cooper.

17. Find a teal/turquoise colored book.

cover: Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

18. Find a book with stars on it.

cover: The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco

Well darn, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green doesn’t have stars on the cover. But this edition of The Island of the Day Before does.

19. Find a non-YA book.

cover: The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

YA literature has only come into existence over the last few years of my reading life, so most of my books fit this category. I chose The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing because it was close at hand.

How about you?

Let me know if you decide to give this book tag challenge a try.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown