Last Week’s Links

As Far As Your Brain Is Concerned, Audiobooks Are Not ‘Cheating’

I love audiobooks; they enable me to read while plodding along on the treadmill or doing chores around the house. I’ve always thought that listening to a book instead of reading it is not cheating as long as I listen to the unabridged version.

And now I feel validated:

This question — whether or not listening to an audiobook is “cheating” — is one University of Virginia psychologist Daniel Willingham gets fairly often, especially ever since he published a book, in 2015, on the science of reading. (That one was about teaching children to read; he’s got another book out next spring about adults and reading.) He is very tired of this question, and so, recently, he wrote a blog post addressing it. (His opening line: “I’ve been asked this question a lot and I hate it.”) If, he argues, you take the question from the perspective of cognitive psychology — that is, the mental processes involved — there is no real difference between listening to a book and reading it. So, according to that understanding of the question: No, audiobooks are not cheating.

Criticism’s Sting: The Author Curtis Sittenfeld on Book Reviews

Book critic Jennifer Senior writes:

Now, as a person who writes reviews for a living, I am curious to know: How do professional authors handle unsparing criticism, written in just a few days or weeks, of something they’ve toiled over for years?

She put this question to her friend, Curtis Sittenfeld, “author of “Prep,” “American Wife” and most recently, “Eligible,” a modern retelling of “Pride and Prejudice.” Read here how Sittenfeld feels about reviews of her books.

Supreme Court to Consider Legal Standard Drawn From ‘Of Mice and Men’

I’m always interested in ways in which literature crosses over into everyday life. Here’s one example:

In 2002, the Supreme Court barred the execution of the intellectually disabled. But it gave states a lot of leeway to decide just who was, in the language of the day, “mentally retarded.”

Texas took a creative approach, adopting what one judge there later called “the Lennie standard.” That sounds like a reference to an august precedent, but it is not. The Lennie in question is Lennie Small, the dim, hulking farmhand in John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”

The article ends with remarks by Thomas Steinbeck, son of author John Steinbeck.

Neil Gaiman on Why We Read and What Books Do for the Human Experience

If you don’t yet know Maria Popova’s astounding brainpickings, you’re in for a treat. Here she discusses “the significance of books and the role of reading in human life [that] comes from Neil Gaiman in a beautiful piece titled ‘Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming.’”

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

On Reading

The universe within.

This is not an example of outstanding writing. But I can’t help but warm to someone who can write this:

While reading you create a universe within you where your characters talk and move through breathtaking landscapes and everything is as unique as you and your imagination are.

You become the container of that universe where the book comes to life. You give life to something bigger than you, you become THE LIFE for your characters which exist only as long as you keep imagining them.

Read what else Daniel Scott has to say about reading, including why he’s never read an e-book and why he prefers to buy new rather than used books.

Nonfiction can appeal to youngsters who appear to be nonreaders

kid with booksI’m not trained in teaching children how to read, but I do usually hear about kids’ graduation to chapter books as a milestone in their process of learning to read. And my impression is that most of those chapter books are fiction. In this article Susie Wilde proclaims:

Children who appear to be nonreaders are often nonfiction readers. While fiction demands the sequential flow, factual books permit stop-and-go reading.

It makes sense to me that some children may in fact prefer reading nonfiction rather than fiction, just as some adults do. According to Wilde, there are now many books available for those children. Read her recommendations for children in the following age groups: 3–5, 4–8, 8–11, 9 and up.

Reading with your ears: do audiobooks harm or help literature?

I have been a big fan of audiobooks since they first became available. My husband and I started by renting titles that came in boxes of several cassette tapes from Books on Tape. Now we’ve upgraded to downloadable books from Audible. It’s now also possible to borrow audiobooks electronically from many public libraries.

I’ve always believed that listening to an audiobook “counts” as having read the book as long as I listened to the unabridged version.

In this article in The Guardian Claire Armitstead wonders “if the oft-maligned rise of spoken word recordings isn’t actually improving our understanding.” She writes that hearing a recorded version of Colm Tóibín’s novel Nora Webster after she had read the book made her understand how the author “weaves a manner of thinking into a manner of speech, so that a whole era and society are contained in the narrator’s broken reporting of spoken sentences.”

Armitstead quotes from critic Harold Bloom, who believes that listening to audiobooks does not allow the whole cognitive process that reading from printed pages does, and from writer Neil Gaiman, who says that dismissing audiobooks is “just snobbery and foolishness.”

On this page you can listen to some audio versions of stories.

I continue to love audiobooks because they make me feel that I’m not wasting precious time when I listen while, driving, folding clothes, or plodding on the treadmill. However, I usually choose mysteries or thrillers to listen to rather than literary fiction. If I know I’m going to want to savor a writer’s style, I’ll read the book on either printed or ebook format.

And speaking of ebooks…

TeleRead

KindleI recently discovered this site, which deals with all things pertaining to e-books:

TeleRead is for technogeeks who love books—and booklovers who love gadgets. We write about Kindle-type ereaders, 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.

You’ll find all kinds of articles here, including reviews of specific books and of e-reading gadgets as well as a list of sources for free e-books. There’s also information aimed at librarians and at authors interested in producing e-books of their work.

On Reading

Reading With Imagination

Novelist Lily Tuck calls fiction a creative act, “an act of the author’s imagination and likewise, ideally, it should be read with imagination.”

Here’s how she hopes people will read her work:

In my own writing, I have been accused of (or is it praised for?) being a minimalist, which I suppose means that I don’t write a whole lot. This is true. For the most part, I avoid adjectives and I definitely avoid adverbs, which also means that I tend not to describe much. I rarely describe what my characters look like or what they wear or how they do their hair. My hope is that this will either not be important or if it is important it will somehow surface within the text. But better yet, by avoiding descriptions and explanations, I allow the reader the freedom to picture for themselves what my characters, their clothes and haircuts look like and thus participate in the text. In other words, I hope my readers will read my work with imagination.

Reading in this way—active reading—allows readers to participate with authors in the creation of the meaning of the text.

And isn’t it just this creation of meaning that allows us to derive such pleasure and knowledge from reading fiction?

Encouraging Teenagers to Read, by Choosing Books From the Non-Y.A. Shelves

Jessica Lahey offers advice, from experts and from her own experience, for getting teens back into the habit of reading for pleasure. One tactic that she found successful was “ to ‘seed”’ my older son’s room with a wide range of books for him to find on his own time and on his own terms.”

Here are some other approaches to try:

  • Make reading for pleasure a priority at home.
  • Don’t offer rewards for reading.
  • Give children the power of choice over the books they read for pleasure.
  • Ditch the rules! “Children need to be able to abandon books they don’t like, peek at the endings, and read books they love over and over again.”
  • Think outside the Y.A. section of the bookstore.

She suggests providing sports books for children interested in sports or nature books for kids who like animals.

The article concludes with a link to the Dartmouth Bookstore’s “Adult Picks for Teens” recommendations. And that page in turn contains a link to the School Library Journal’s “Best Adult Books 4 Teens.”

Envisioning a Colorado Haven for Readers, Nestled Amid Mountains of Books

This is a double-pronged love story: of two people who met at a bookstore and got married, and of the couple’s love for books and nature.

Jeff Lee and Ann Martin both worked at The Tattered Cover, a bookstore in Denver, where they fell in love. They met in 1986 and married in 1991. On a trip to the London Book Fair they spent some time at “St. Deiniol’s, a castlelike residential library in the Welsh countryside founded in 1889 by a former prime minister, William Ewart Gladstone. He was a lifelong book lover who centered his collection on Victorian history and theology.” (St. Deiniol’s has since changed its name to Gladstone Library.) Enchanted by the place, Lee and Martin envisioned a similar project in Colorado.

The result is the Rocky Mountain Land Library, still under development in South Park, CO:

The project is striking in its ambition: a sprawling research institution situated on a ranch at 10,000 feet above sea level, outfitted with 32,000 volumes, many of them about the Rocky Mountain region, plus artists’ studios, dormitories and a dining hall — a place for academics, birders, hikers and others to study and savor the West.

Lee and Martin found an abandoned ranch, Buffalo Peaks, about a two-hour drive outside of Denver. The City of Aurora leased them the ranch at “a deep discount.” The couple has already amassed a “collection of 32,000 books, centering the collection on Western land, history, industry, writers and peoples.”

The project has received a grant from the South Park National Heritage Area, but so far Lee and Martin have raised only about $120,000 additional of the estimated $5 million renovation cost. They continue to work toward the realization of their dream: “a rural, live-in library where visitors will be able to connect with two increasingly endangered elements — the printed word and untamed nature.”

How To Become a Better Reader in 10 Steps

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, recently finished another book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. While working on the new book, this devoted reader adopted some new habits to allow her to get more reading done. She offers these 10 steps that worked for her and that might work for others as well.

  1. Quit reading. She doesn’t mean quit totally, of course, but she learned not to spend time continuing to read a book in which she had lost interest.
  2. Skim. Again, this doesn’t apply to everything. She advises skimming materials that don’t need to be read carefully to leave more time for “high-value reading.”
  3. Set aside time to read demanding books. She created the habit of scheduling “study reading” each weekend for getting through challenging books.
  4. Always have plenty of reading material on hand.
  5. Keep a reading list, and keep it handy.
  6. Try audio-books.
  7. Don’t fight reading inclinations. Read what you feel like reading, not what you think you should read.
  8. Read Slightly Foxed, a magazine containing short essays about people’s favorite books from the past.
  9. Start or join a book group.
  10. Join my monthly book club.

More on #10 (Rubin’s monthly book club):

I have a monthly “book group,” where I recommend one great book about habits or happiness, and one great work of children’s literature, and one eccentric pick (a book that I love but may not appeal to everyone).

The article ends with a link where, if you’re so inclined, you can sign up for this group.

The Life-Changing Magic of Downsizing Your Book Collection

This is Part 1 of Jenn Northington’s discussion on BookRiot of applying the principles of Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up to her overwhelming book collection:

So while I’m not an actual hoarder who will die buried under stacks of mildewed paperbacks, I do have a space and attention-span problem. Which is why I’m spending this weekend picking up every book I own, and sorting them by the KonMarie Method: “Does this spark joy?”

Far more interesting, though, is After the Pull: The Lifechanging Magic of Downsizing Your Book Collection, Part 2, in which Northington describes the process by which she reduced her book collection by roughly half:

And at the end of the day, after I washed off all the dust and had tidied the giveaway stacks and gotten over the sheer shock of reducing my book collection by more than half, I felt good. Now I can actually see what I have, and don’t have to take half of the books off a shelf to see what else is hiding behind them. Now I can see the ones I had promised to read, or been dying to read, or had been sent a personalized recommendation for. And as hard as it is to give up some of them, it is equally fun to imagine who might discover them next. When you know you’re sending them to a good home, it’s easier to wave goodbye.

Monday Miscellany

Actors Today Don’t Just Read for the Part. Reading IS the Part.

The digital revolution has contributed to the dramatic rise in audiobooks:

Once a small backwater of the publishing industry, in part because of the cumbersome nature of tapes, audiobooks are now flourishing. Sales have been rising by double digits annually in recent years. A recent survey by industry groups showed that audiobook revenue climbed 22 percent in 2012 compared with 2011.

And the increased popularity in audiobooks has, in turn, created a need for readers. Here’s the story of how actors are filling this need. Some even make this reading work their primary employment.

Can games change minds?

new research suggests that thinking about stereotypical and nonstereotypical trait pairings increases social identity complexity, a psychological construct linked to “tolerance of outgroup members.” In other words, the more often we are reminded that not all computer scientists are male, that an insurance underwriter can also be a legendary game designer, and that artists can also be tennis players, the more we internalize the degree to which people belong to multiple, nonconvergent social groups, and the closer we feel to those who are members of social groups that differ from our own.

This article describes how playing games can battle stereotypical thinking, but reading literature can produce the same effect.

Five science fiction novels for people who hate SF

Like any enduring cultural experiment, science fiction has evolved its own codes, its own logic. Some of the genre’s most intense and visionary work talks in a shared language of concepts that can be hard for the uninitiated to penetrate – works Samuel Delaney’s Dhalgren or James Tiptree Jr’s Ten Thousand Light Years From Home, for instance, would be a forbidding place to start. But if you want to catch up with the literature of our shared future then where can you begin?

I didn’t grow up reading science fiction, as many people I know did. But recently I’ve realized that good science fiction isn’t really about the futuristic stuff, but rather about the state of contemporary culture. Nonetheless, learning to appreciate the background and tropes of this type of literature can be daunting.

Read why Damien Walter recommends these novels as good places to start:

  • The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
  • Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K Le Guin
  • The Player of Games by Iain M Banks
  • China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F McHugh

To  Walter’s list I’d add a couple of other books that illustrate how science fiction explores social and cultural issues:

  • Kindred by Octavia Butler
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Do you have others titles to add to this list?

What Makes a Work of Art Seem Dated?

Tom Vanderbilt turns to a science fiction movie in answering the following questions:

What actually makes a work of art—a film, a novel, architecture, fashion—seem “dated”? The Web site of Merriam-Webster defines dated as “outmoded, old-fashioned.” And yet, this lacks explanatory power; every historical artifact (not to mention some that are new and “already dated”) could fall under that rubric. Why do some things seamlessly slip from their temporal context? When does something cross from historically appropriate to “dated”? And is there a time window for datedness, a kind of reverse statute of limitations, beyond which things are doomed by their historical patina?

Vanderbilt says that after a recent viewing of the 1979 film Mad Max he found the movie “remarkably fresh,” as if it could have been made last week:

the movie is not moored to any time. It opens with the vague phrase “A few years from now,” and, rather than any trappings of the fetishized future, “Mad Max” looks backward. At the end of the day, with its lone frontier rider trying to preserve order, it is a Western, with muscle cars. The costumes, the soundtrack, the peculiar mutterings of the outlaws (“Joviality is a game of children”) are at once familiar and slightly out of joint.

Vanderbilt goes on to define datedness as “a sort of overdetermined reliance on the tropes, whether of subject or style, of the day—a kind of historical narcissism.”  He discusses how director Alfred Hitchcock went out of his way to avoid including things that would make his films seem dated; perhaps this is one reason why Hitchcock’s films remain so effective today.

And the best way for science fiction to avoid becoming dated? “As [writer William] Gibson has written, the best way to write about the future is to write about the present.”

Younger Americans’ Library Habits and Expectations

The Pew Research Center offers some encouraging findings about library use among younger Americans:

Younger Americans—those ages 16-29—exhibit a fascinating mix of habits and preferences when it comes to reading, libraries, and technology. Almost all Americans under age 30 are online, and they are more likely than older patrons to use libraries’ computer and internet connections; however, they are also still closely bound to print, as three-quarters (75%) of younger Americans say they have read at least one book in print in the past year, compared with 64% of adults ages 30 and older.

I was particularly interested in these statistics:

  • Younger Americans are also more likely than older adults to have read a printed book in the past year: 75% of younger Americans have done so, compared with 64% of older adults.
  • Younger adults are also more likely than their elders to use libraries as quiet study spaces. Moreover, they are just as likely as older adults to have visited libraries, borrowed printed books, and browsed the stacks of books.

 

Monday Miscellany

For Your Holiday Gift-Giving

book treeNow that the winter holiday gift-giving season has officially arrived, here are a couple of items to keep in mind:

Holidaze, Book Riot’s Pinterest Board

100 books for holiday gift-giving, courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Media Elite: The Best Literary Cameos Ever Committed to Film

Though an author’s film cameo is often a lights-on, fully-clothed activity, that doesn’t make it any less sexy, ego-gratifying or even illicit than many of the other perks that go along with presiding over a pop culture empire. The gods of the literary world have long held a special mystique for Hollywood as the Platonic form storyteller; and the movie industry has kissed the ring in the only way it knows how — by pointing a camera at them.

author collage

 

On Our Location: New e-book affirms the crucial relationship of story and setting

Gina K. Hackett, a writer for The Harvard Crimson, the university’s student newspaper, reports on a fascinating new piece of eliterature: an iPhone/iPad app that uses GPS to allow readers to access a fictional narrative, then contribute to the story. The app reinforces the interaction between story and setting.

Unfortunately, those of us who don’t live in Massachusetts seem to be left out of this new experience unless we’re willing to travel.

A Brief History of the Literary Sea Monster

Author Robert Pobi:

When I sat down to write Mannheim Rex, I had a rich literary history to visit. Forget the things that go bump in the night; here comes a list of sea monsters that could swallow you whole.

Or tear you to pieces.

Take a look at his 10 examples, which range from the great fish in The Adventures of Pinocchio to the shark in Peter Benchley’s Jaws.

One for the Road

Well, whaddya know, Marilyn Stasio, mystery reviewer for The New York Times, has discovered the beauty of audiobooks. I’ve been a big fan of audiobooks for years, and during those years I discovered that mysteries are particularly good for listening to, especially on long drives. One time on a road trip from St. Louis to Florida my husband, teenaged daughter, and I pulled into a gas station for a pit stop but stayed in the car until we had reached the end of an action scene in Tom Clancy’s Clear and Present Danger.

Anyway, read why Stasio recommends the following audiobooks:

  • Live by Night by Dennis Lehane
  • Creole Belle by James Lee Burke
  • The Cocktail Waitress by James M. Cain
  • Gun Games by Faye Kellerman
  • Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino
  • Return of the Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

Speaking Volumes

Also in The New York Times, William Grimes addresses both the pros and the cons of audiobooks:

In reality, the book-length recitation turns out to be a very tricky medium. A good reader can lift a mediocre book above its station. A bad reader can ruin a masterpiece. And there are all kinds of variation in between: A so-so book rich with incident and characters can delight, while a good book can be good in the wrong ways, with sumptuous, tightly written sentences that make it almost impossible to stick with, especially for listeners who are driving, or making dinner — which is to say, most of the intended audience.

Read what he has to say about these recent audio renditions:

  • Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
  • This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
  • Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe
  • The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  • State of Wonder by Ann Patchett