Monday Miscellany

Finally, Out with the Old Year. . .

In what I promise will be the last list of “best books of 2011” reported here, Washington Post book critic Ron Charles summarizes his favorite novels of 2011 in the following categories:

  • most devastating
  • best Western
  • weirdest sex
  • best seafaring tale
  • most metaphysical
  • best novel about novels
  • best modern-day feminist “Huck Finn”
  • best novel about Katrina
  • second best Western
  • easiest to recommend
  • best environmental novel
  • best foodie novel
  • best magicians
  • best music novel
  • best novel about the Apocalypse

. . . And in with the New

The Millions (and if you haven’t yet seen this site, you should take a look) offers its extensive list Most Anticipated: The Great 2012 Book Preview:

readers this year can look forward to new Toni Morrison, Richard Ford, Peter Carey, Lionel Shriver, and, of course, newly translated Roberto Bolaño, as well as, in the hazy distance of this coming fall and beyond, new Michael Chabon, Hilary Mantel, and John Banville. We also have a number of favorites stepping outside of fiction. Marilynn Robinson and Jonathan Franzen have new essay collections on the way. A pair of plays are on tap from Denis Johnson. A new W.G. Sebald poetry collection has been translated. And Nathan Englander and Jonathan Safran Foer have teamed to update a classic Jewish text. But that just offers the merest suggestion of the literary riches that 2012 has on offer.

The list comprises 81 titles and is arranged by month of publication.

The Christian Science Monitor joins in with its list 20 non-fiction books to watch for in 2012. The CSM always offers its lists in one-per-page format, so don’t click on this one when you’re short on time or patience.

For audiobook fans, Publishers Weekly provides its January Audiobook Release Roundup with links to offerings from the following audio publishers:

Cat Women of the Moon

This link will take you to a two-part BBC audio program by Sarah Hall about the popular motif in science fiction of an all-women society surviving without men.

Street-smart Walter Dean Myers named national ambassador for children’s literature

 Walter Dean Myers, the author of “Fallen Angels,” “Sunrise Over Fallujah,” Monster,” “Hoops” and other hard-hitting novels for youth, has been named the new national ambassador for children’s literature. He succeeds Katherine Paterson (“A Bridge to Terabithia”), who had served in the spot since 2010.

Further:

“The choice of Mr. Myers represents a departure from his predecessors and is likely to be seen as a bold statement,” Julie Bosman wrote in The New York Times.”His books chronicle the lives of many urban teenagers, especially young, poor African-Americans. While his body of work includes poetry, nonfiction and the occasional cheerful picture book for children, its standout books offer themes aimed at young-adult readers: stories of teenagers in violent gangs, soldiers headed to Iraq and juvenile offenders imprisoned for their crimes.

“While many young-adult authors shy away from such risky subject material, Mr. Myers has used his books to confront the darkness and despair that fill so many children’s lives.”

Humans have the need to read

Gail Rebuck reports on research about how getting lost in a good book transforms the human brain:

Psychologists from Washington University used brain scans to see what happens inside our heads when we read stories. They found that “readers mentally simulate each new situation encountered in a narrative“. The brain weaves these situations together with experiences from its own life to create a new mental synthesis. Reading a book leaves us with new neural pathways.

Anyone who has ever gotten lost in a good book knows about the transformative power of reading. Perhaps the most important quality of reading “is its emotional role as the starting point for individual voyages of personal development and pleasure. Books can open up emotional, imaginative and historical landscapes.” Without the kinds of experiences reading provides, Rebuck warns, the species will suffer: “The research shows that if we stop reading, we will be different people: less intricate, less empathetic, less interesting.”

In related news, Nicholas Carr, whom Rebuck cites in her article, offers an excerpt from his essay “The Dreams of Readers,” “in which I mull over my own experience as a reader and try to connect it with some of the interesting new research, by scholars like Keith Oatley at the University of Toronto, that’s being done on the psychology of literary reading.” The complete essay appears in the book Stop What You’re Doing and Read This!, published by Vintage Books, which is available as a paperback in the U.K. and as an e-book in the U.S. Other contributors to the book include Zadie Smith, Mark Haddon, Tim Parks, and Blake Morrison. The work of Keith Oatley and others is available at OnFiction: An Online Magazine on the Psychology of Fiction.