Monday Miscellany

Your Favorites: 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels

A while back NPR asked readers/listeners to vote on their favorite YA novels. 75,220 people voted, helping to whittle the list of 235 finalists down to the top 100. In addition to the list of winners, this page includes links to explanations of what exactly constitutes YA literature.

Top 100 Teen Novels
Illustration by Harriet Russell for NPR

A life in writing: Mark Billingham

British crime novelist Mark Billingham has “always believed that location is a character”:

When I began to write I was surprised at how little London had been used in crime fiction. Places such as Edinburgh or Oxford or LA seemed to have stronger identities. Part of the reason why Scandinavian crime has been so popular is the landscape. It is just so strong and alien. Although without taking anything away, you should probably also never discount the fact that blood does look particularly good against snow.”

Billingham started his professional life as an actor and stand-up comic before becoming a writer of dark crime fiction. His first novel, Sleepyhead, came out in 2001. His most recent novel is Rush of Blood.

The depiction of violence in crime fiction is a perennial source of argument: Val McDermid has claimed that women writers, used to a lifetime of experiencing potential dangers, tend to write about what violence feels like, while men more often write about what it looks like; but she expressly exempted Billingham from this characterisation. He says: “I think I am an exception because I have been through it.” In 1997, Billingham was held hostage at gunpoint in a hotel room and robbed. “When I sat down to write about a year after I was attacked, reflecting the victim’s experience was very important to me. From book one, I wanted the victim to be a major character and not just a plot device. I didn’t want a cop and a killer and victims 1-6 who you don’t know or care about. Even though Thorne [Billingham’s series detective] had the most onstage time in Sleepyhead, the character I got most feedback about was the victim, Alison, who was in a locked-in state and doesn’t speak. She was actually much more fully formed than Thorne, although I hope he’s become a bit more fleshed out as time has gone on.”

Here’s what he says about writing about violence:

“I still believe you should show what violence does to people, but it’s done best without depicting the actual mechanics. The single spot of blood on a pristine kitchen floor is far more powerful than blood-spattered walls with messages smeared in it, and it doesn’t detract from how dark or suspenseful a story is.”

Against Enthusiasm: The epidemic of niceness in online book culture

There’s been a lot spoken and written lately about the overwhelming crush of negative book reviews, but on Slate Jacob Silverman expresses the opposite opinion in lamenting “the mutual admiration society that is today’s literary culture, particularly online”:

Whereas critics once performed one role in print and another in life—Rebecca West could savage someone’s book in the morning and dine with him in the evening—social media has collapsed these barriers. Moreover, social media’s centrifugal forces of approbation—retweets, likes, favorites, and the self-consciousness that accompanies each public utterance—make any critique stick out sorely.

Here’s the alternative he proposes:

A better literary culture would be one that’s not so dependent on personal esteem and mutual reinforcement. It would not treat offense or disagreement as toxic. We wouldn’t want so badly to be liked above all. We’d tolerate barbed reviews, some quarrels, and blistering critiques, because they make our culture more interesting and because they are often more sincere reflections of our passions. If we all think more and enthuse less, when I do truly love Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, you’ll be more likely to believe me.

Goodreads v. LibraryThing- Part One

Which social reading network do you prefer, Goodreads or LibraryThing? On BookRiot Amanda Nelson offers the first installment of an in-depth comparison between the two. And there’s a link at the bottom of the page to Part Two.

Dickens’s Best Novel? Six Experts Share Their Opinions

Over on The Millions, six specialists in Victorian literature make their case for what they consider to be the best novel by Charles Dickens.