Monday Miscellany

INFOGRAPHIC: How Long Does It Take to Read Popular Books?

infographicFor visually oriented readers:

Ever wondered how long it takes to read The Great Gatsby (2.62 hours) compared to Atlas Shrugged (31.22 hours)? If so, you’ll like this infographic by Personal Creations.

William Golding Flies classic holds true 60 years on

It’s 60 years this month since the publication of William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies. To mark the anniversary his family are giving his literary archive on loan to the University of Exeter – including the very different original version of his famous tale of boys fending for themselves on a tropical island.

The BBC looks back at the significance of Lord of the Flies, originally published in September 1954 after rejections from 10 publishers and one literary agent. Golding’s daughter says that her father’s original title for the novel was “Strangers from Within.” An editor at Faber, the house that agreed to publish the novel, had Golding remove much material explicitly about the atomic war the children had survived. The editor also cut material about Simon to make him less a religious figure than in Golding’s manuscript.

Ms Carver [Golding’s daughter] believes the book has remained in demand for six decades for two main reasons.

”Firstly of course it’s so well written. But also it deals with moral questions which were current after World War Two and which I’m afraid are still relevant today.

Century-old Provo literary club holds its final meeting

A sad story about the demise of the Utah Sorosis women’s group:

The literary group, whose unusual name means aggregation, has been meeting since 1897, a year before the Provo Tabernacle (soon to be City Center Temple) was finished. After 117 years this was the farewell meeting of Utah Sorosis. The nearly 20 women who RSVP’d to Van Orman for the weekday luncheon at Provo’s La Jolla Groves did so with “sadness in your voices,” said Van Orman, age 65.

Group members who attended the luncheon that marked the group’s final meeting ranged in age from 60 to more than 90. Several of them said that they couldn’t get younger women to join to keep the group going.

The “serious intent” of the 18 charter members in 1897, all wives of university professors, was to work toward the highest development of its members through study and work.

Perhaps the group is a victim of changing times, now that women no longer need to join a special group in order to study and work.

9 Marquez e-books coming out in English

The Associated Press (AP) is reporting that Penguin Random House imprints Vintage Books and Vintage Espanol have announced the ebook publication on October 15 of English translations of several of Marquez’s works:

Besides “Love in the Time of Cholera,” the releases include the novella “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” and the memoir “Living to Tell the Tale.” Marquez’s classic novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is published in the U.S. by HarperCollins and remains unavailable as an English-language e-book.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982, died in April at age 87.

Monday Miscellany

Because I am currently in the process of leaving my heart in San Francisco, this week’s Monday Miscellany is short.

10 of the Best Independent Bookstores Across the U.S.

Barnes & Noble will always be there with a stack of bestsellers, and Half Price Books is likely to have the novel you’re looking for in a pinch. But for travelers, little will beat the act of stepping inside a small, local bookstore, being greeted by the owner and guided through the collection by an employee who actually loves literature as much as you do. Maybe it’s their independent spirit (reading, after all, is a form of freedom), or maybe it’s that they’re connected with local authors, but the independent bookstore manages to live on in an era of Kindles and chain resellers. So, if you’re like us, and agree that a good trip deserves a good book, then just for you, here are 10 of our editors’ favorite independently owned bookstores throughout the United States.

Are you lucky enough to have one of these stores nearby?

  • The Booksmith, San Francisco, CA
  • Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA
  • Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, MA
  • Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café & Grill, Washington, D.C.
  • Mercer Street Books & Records, New York
  • Powell’s, Portland, OR
  • Skylight Books, Los Angeles, CA
  • Square Books, Oxford, MS
  • Strand Book Store, New York
  • Women & Children First, Chicago, IL

Cheyenne literary club vibrant after 112 years

Then there is the Young Men’s Literary Club of Cheyenne, still going after an incredible 112 years.
Established in 1902, the capital city’s organization is something of a relic and only one of a handful of literary clubs from that era that survive today.
It is an elite men-only organization with 30 active members who must be invited to join.

The rules of the club state that its purpose is “to provide benefits from the training of the mind in literary pursuits and the advantage to be gained by the interchange of ideas and discussion of topics of public interest.”

But isn’t it too bad that no one has realized, during those 112 years, that women read and discuss literature, too? See how the exclusive members reacted to a couple of different attempts to incorporate women into the group.

Shel Silverstein’s Unlikely Rise to Kid Lit Superstardom

Shel Silverstein—the late cartoonist, singer, songwriter, playwright, and mega-selling author of such classics as The Giving Tree and Where the Sidewalk Ends—didn’t like children’s literature. Spoon-feeding kids sugar-sweet stories just wasn’t his style. Fortunately for generations of young readers, someone convinced him to do something about it—namely, break the mold himself. Using edgy humor, clever rhymes, and tripped-out drawings, Silverstein achieved the impossible. He bridged the worlds of adult and children’s art, while becoming wildly popular in the process.

More of the usual good stuff from Metal Floss.

Monday Miscellany

The Conclusion of Women’s History Month

woman readingAs Women’s History month ends, here are two commemorative lists:

14 Totally Badass Female Authors

Though many truly badass women authors are alive and working today, their stories aren’t yet finished. So as Women’s History Month draws to a close, we wanted to look back on some of the incredible literary women from history and remember how both their work and their lives broke new ground.

Read why Huffington Post thinks these female authors were totally badass:

  1. Louisa May Alcott
  2. Mary McCarthy
  3. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
  4. Nellie Bly
  5. Edith Wharton
  6. Zora Neale Hurston
  7. Edna St. Vincent Millay
  8. George Eliot
  9. Mary Wollstonecraft
  10. Carson McCullers
  11. George Sand
  12. Hannah Arendt
  13. Harriet Ann Jacobs
  14. Katherine Anne Porter

The 10 Best Thrillers and Crime Writing By Women

Though James Patterson might be the one getting 17-book deals for millions, some of the best writers of crime, thrillers, and mysteries have been women. Here are some of the best examples of these genres from the past century that will keep you reading past your bedtime (and possibly unable to sleep forever).

Among the authors Jessica Grose recommends here are Agatha Christie, Ann Rule, Edna Buchanan, and Patricia Highsmith.


Australia’s literary cranky ladies


Really? You’re Not in a Book Club?

“WHAT’S your book group reading?” I say to a friend encountered on the street. Not: “Are you in a book group?” I have no idea whether Clara is in a book group. We’ve never talked about it. All the same, I just know. Why? Because it’s a safe assumption to make these days.

By some estimates, five million Americans gather every few weeks in someone’s living room or in a bar or bookstore or local library to discuss the finer points of “Middlemarch” or “The Brothers Karamazov.” (A perfect number is hard to pin down because some people belong to two or three clubs, and of course, there’s no central registry of members.) Among them is Clara, whose book group even has a name: the Oracles. They’re reading “The Flamethrowers,” by Rachel Kushner.

James Atlas learns why book groups aren’t just a fixture of New York City.

Top Literary Cities in the U.S.

What determines a city as ‘literary?’ It’s not enough to have a large library, unique bookstores, or be the birthplace of a famous writer. Nor is it enough to be one of the top literate cities in the United States  Most literary cities have a strong writing program at one of their numerous colleges and universities, as well as bookstores and institutions hosting event after event. If anything, a literary city is a blend of the historical, cultural, and modern parts of literature, encouraging and inspiring future generations to appreciate and take part in the literary world.

See what cities (other than New York City) Gabriella Tutino has chosen for this article in Highbrow Magazine.

On Literary Cravings and Aftertastes

In this unusual take on literary criticism, Allison K. Gibson describes her literary cravings during pregnancy:

While I was pregnant, I learned to follow my instincts — my hunger — to lead me to stories that would nourish me. And, as I learned from that first 3 a.m. craving for “The Night of the Curlews,” certain stories are meant to be savored so that the words continue to nourish long after the last sentence has been swallowed. The best stories leave an aftertaste.

10 Famous Writers Who Hated Writing

Writers are terrible procrastinators, and I’m pretty sure that’s because writing, although it can be exhilarating, is also just plain hard. Here author Bill Cotter, who has his own love-hate relationship with his profession, offers some (comforting?) remarks from writers including Kurt Vonnegut, Flannery O’Connor, and Virginia Woolf.

Monday Miscellany

This past week was particularly rich in literary-related stories. Here’s a selection chosen for its variety.

Elizabeth Wein’s top 10 dynamic duos in fiction

Some characters just have to exist in pairs: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Thing 1 and Thing 2.

Cover: Code Name VerityElizabeth Wein’s excellent novel Code Name Verity features a pair of female protagonists who think of themselves as a Sensational Team. In this article Wein introduces us to some of her favorite literary duos:

it was hard work narrowing down my teams, so I had to make myself some rules for a fair elimination process. Here’s the system I decided to follow. Each team would have to be a Dynamic Duo rather than a fellowship of three or more (that ruled out the Swallows and the Pevensies), and the pair’s involvement with each other had to further a plot unconnected with any potential romance between them (that ruled out Romeo and Juliet). I also decided that for the purposes of this list each pair of favourites needed to be the main characters in their own stories (that ruled out Fred and George Weasley).

I brainstormed a much longer list than I needed. When I looked it over to choose my top ten, I was amazed and also somewhat disgusted. There wasn’t a single pair of girls on the list. There were more stuffed animals than girls on the list. . . . I feel sure there are other pairs of girls out there besides my own, doing Sensational Literary Teamwork, but they don’t appear in any books I’ve read. Maybe that’s exactly why I make them up.”

Study: Reading novels makes us better thinkers

Discussion continues over whether reading literature somehow makes us better people. This article reports on recent research out of the University of Toronto:

“Exposure to literature,” the researchers write in the Creativity Research Journal, “may offer a (way for people) to become more likely to open their minds.”

In other words, exposure to literature may make people more tolerant of ambiguity, a trait that in turn can help them avoid snap judgments, stereotypical thinking, and bad decisions.

Their results should give people “pause to think about the effect of current cutbacks of education in the arts and humanities,” Djikic and her colleagues add. After all, they note, while success in most fields demands the sort of knowledge gained by reading non-fiction, it also “requires people to become insightful about others and their perspectives.”

Building a Better Book Club

I’m usually skeptical of anyone who begins with a comment something like “I haven’t had this experience myself, but here’s what I think about it.” However, in this case I’ll give the writer, Evan Gottlieb, Associate Professor of English at Oregon State University, a pass. As he explains, since his professional life involves discussing literature with others, he feels he should spend the rest of his time attending to other interests.

Gottlieb may never have attended any book club sessions, but I have: countless book club gatherings over more than 20 years. And I can testify that the seven points he makes here are spot on. I especially like his second point, about keeping the discussion on topic:

2. Plot, character, setting, and style are the four basic formal elements of any novel. . . . As long as you are describing, considering, analyzing, or asking questions about one or more of these elements, you can be sure you are staying focused on the book that everyone (presumably) has read and gathered to discuss.

What do you think of Gottlieb’s advice?

Lady Chatterley’s house goes on sale

The manor house in which DH Lawrence set Lady Chatterley’s Lover is among a number of homes with literary connections currently on the market.

This article discusses several English properties with a literary connection currently for sale. There’s also an interesting discussion about whether a literary connection makes a property more or less valuable.

Even if you can’t afford one of these places, the pictures are lovely.

Dysfunctional Families In Literature

Dysfunctional families in literature run the gamut from amusing to chilling, but they all have one thing in common: they keep the reader glued to the page. After all, as readers, we may like the occasional dose of normal, but it doesn’t take long before we’re craving a touch of betrayal or a hint of deceit. Dysfunctional families in literature let us peek into the dark shadows of the psyche while keeping a safe distance.

Novelist Ingrid Thoft offers a slideshow of 10 such families.

A brief survey of the short story part 50: Ivan Turgenev

When Gogol died in 1852, Ivan Turgenev, the man whom many in Russia were calling his successor, was arrested for writing an obituary in praise of the great writer. In fact, the official reason was a pretext. Turgenev had already displeased the tsarist authorities with his series of sketches of rural Russian life, published in the journal the Contemporary between 1847 and 1851, and collected in 1852 as Sketches from a Hunter’s Album.

This book, which it is claimed influenced Tsar Alexander II’s decision to emancipate the serfs in 1861, comprises vignettes of peasant life as observed by a landowning hunter much like Turgenev. Not even Gogol had presented such rounded portrayals of serfs before.

I’m embarrassed that I am just now, with installment #50, discovering this series in The Guardian. Fortunately, there are arrows at the bottom for navigating to “previous” and “next” articles.

I am a feminist and I’ve never read ‘The Feminine Mystique’ till now (Emily Bazelon, Slate) |

I am a feminist and I’ve never read ‘The Feminine Mystique’ till now (Emily Bazelon, Slate) |

Here’s another article that I missed when compiling today’s Monday Miscellany.

Monday Miscellany

Start you week off right, with some book-related reading.

10 reasons we still love J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’

Here’s a list to warm you up for the December 21 opening of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter Jackson’s film adaptation (Part 1) of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel.

A Short Defense of Literary Excess

Novelist Ben Masters laments:

The novelists I find myself attracted to are those who cannot resist the extra adjective, the additional image, the scale-tipping clause. It feels necessary to assert and celebrate this, for we are living in puritanical times. The contemporary preference seems to be for the economical, the efficient, for simple precision (though there is of course such a thing as complex precision). Books, it appears, should be neat and streamlined. Language shouldn’t be allowed to obscure a good story. There is a craving for easily relatable and sympathetic characters. Among critics and reviewers, the plain style is more likely to be praised than the elaborate or sprawling. Embellished prose is treated with suspicion, if not dismissed outright as overwritten, pretentious or self-indulgent. Drab prose is everywhere.

He’s a man after my own heart. I actually like the novels of Henry James. His writing is intricate and complex because the ideas he deals with are large and complex.

And that’s also why one of my favorite books is Disturbances in the Field by Lynne Sharon Schwartz. Life isn’t easy. Books like this allow us to study it in all its complexity.

Seattle homeless man arrested, suspected in 1976 Maine killing

I’ve always wondered whether all the forensic wizardry in crime novels and on TV shows like CSI and Law & Order could really happen. The answer is yes.

11 Book Sequels You Probably Didn’t Know Existed

There’s probably a good reason why we’ve never heard of most of these (with the exception of the Lois Lowry trilogy and Paradise Regained).

I have heard of exactly 3 of these. How about you?

The Worst Book List For Women, Ever.

Amanda Nelson takes issue with a list of books recommended last January by Love Twenty, an online magazines for women in their twenties:

So basically, a website devoted to helping women–I’m sorry, girls– in their 20s thinks that those girls are most concerned about shopping, getting married, shopping, maybe getting married, and also shopping (until you get married). Because “With a little sass and a lot of perseverance, you can get your happily ever after, after all.”

Fortunately, she also found an antidote:

I present an alternate list from Thought Catalog- 11 Books You Should Read If You’re A Woman In Your 20s (Hey, she called me a woman!). This list includes Dorothy Parker, Kate Chopin, Toni Morrison, practical books about sex, and even a Hemingway! There are books that discuss race, gender equality, female sexuality (including homosexuality, which Love Twenty basically ignores), depression, and the nature of commitment. It is full of win.

Five Ways to Jump-Start Your Book Club

Kit Steinkellner proposes some truly radical ways to stimulate your book club’s discussions.

How about you? Do you have any suggestions for how to make a book club work? Leave a comment.

Monday Miscellany

Here’s some reading to start off your week.

Five Smarter Ways to Nurture Reading

Girl ReadingSari Harrar has suggestions, based on recent research, for helping children learn to read and to enjoy reading. This one is my favorite:

Link the story to their lives. Pause when you read and ask kids how the story connects to their own experiences. “Where have you seen a train (or a sunset, a forest, or any important element that connects to their own lives) before?”. Research shows that making connections like these builds bigger vocabularies.

10 books you absolutely must read

I love this clever list. It’s not a list of specific book titles, but rather categories of books. Here are a couple of examples:

  • The one that a friend recommends even though it’s in a genre you’ve never read
  • The Young Adult novel that one of your kids loved

The Top 10 Essays Since 1950

Robert Atwan, the founder of The Best American Essays series, has built this list for Publishers Weekly. To choose only 10 essays from a 50+ span of years seems not only ambitious but also, in some ways, arrogant. Indeed, Atwan explains that he had to eliminate whole swaths of work: “all the great examples of New Journalism” and everything written by a non-American author. And, he emphasizes, this is a list of individual essays, not of essayists.

Here’s how he defines what he did include:

To my mind, the best essays are deeply personal (that doesn’t necessarily mean autobiographical) and deeply engaged with issues and ideas. And the best essays show that the name of the genre is also a verb, so they demonstrate a mind in process–reflecting, trying-out, essaying.

Atwan explains why he has chosen each essay on the list. In a nice touch, the list includes links if online versions of the essays are available.

Literary classics go to the movies

The coming weeks and months will see a spate of films based on books that were required reading for many a high school and college student.

An independent version of Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” arrived in select theaters over the weekend. Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” hits theaters Nov. 16, and Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables” comes out Dec. 14.

The second in a series of films based on Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” will be released Friday, also in limited release. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” the first in a trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s book “The Hobbit,” comes out Dec. 14. The cinematic version of the acclaimed novel “Life of Pi” is due Nov. 21.

Book lovers always want to find out if the movie will be better than—or even as good as—the book. This article ends with a helpful summary of these novels. If you plan to read the book before seeing the film, note that many of these works are very long, so budget time accordingly.

A book lover to the very end

Cover: The End of Your LIfe Book Club
The End of Your Life Book Club

After Will Schwalbe’s 73-year-old mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2007, he began accompanying her to many of her chemotherapy treatments and doctor’s appointments. Both book lovers—Schwalbe is the former editor-in-chief of Hyperion Books—they often passed the time by reading, talking about reading or both.

Their informal waiting-room book club endured for the remaining two years of her life, and led to this tender tribute to Schwalbe’s mother and also to the universal power of books to unite and heal. In it, he chronicles the many books that he and his mother, Mary Anne, read together, and how those books shaped their final years together.

Amy Scribner interviews Schwalbe for BookPage.

Monday Miscellany

This week’s links.

Did You Just Pay Too Much for That eBook?

If you own any kind of ereader (Kindle, Nook, iPad or other tablet, Kobo), you must read this article by Shannon Rupp. When she goes in search of a novel published in 1924, this is what she found:

So as a consumer on the hunt for Parade’s End I had the option of getting a free PDF copy via Project Gutenberg, a neatly packaged iBook via Vigo Classics, or the Random House Digital version of the novel, connected to the paperback tie-in with the mini-series.

PDFs don’t read smoothly on my iPod, so I passed on the freebie. Vigo packages the book for iGizmos for $2.99 and was easy to find in iTunes. Meanwhile, Random House Digital had two prices in iTunes — $8.99 or $13.99 — for exactly the same book Vigo sells, albeit with nicer covers. Over at it cost $15.92 to read the Random House version on a Kindle.

Really, you must read the rest of what she has to say.

Inverting ‘King Lear’ In ‘Goldberg Variations’

Cover: Goldberg Variations
Goldberg Variations

Susan Isaacs, whose latest novel, Goldberg Variations, features a female protagonist who owns a multimillion-dollar business, on whether her strong women characters are feminist role models:

“That’s too lofty, because then I’m taking myself out of the story, out of my imagination, and taking on a political aim. It’s not that I’m apolitical … In my youth, I was a freelance political speechwriter, which taught me a lot about writing fiction, I must add. But I don’t want to do that. I want to tell the story … I came out of an era of the early feminist novels where women went through a grand thrash against usually a lout of a husband, and they wound up having an affair as a way of breaking out. Well, this is fine, but then what? I was blessed, even growing up in the ’50s, with a father who, when I said, ‘I want to be an airline stewardess,’ he said, ‘Why not the pilot?’ … He was an amazing guy. But I always wanted women to want something for themselves beyond all the … womanly things.”

Secrets, lies & TV: Protagonists harbor character-defining secrets

Joanne Ostrow, television critic for the Denver Post, discusses the literary roots of TV characters with secrets:

No matter how Don Draper [of AMC’s hit TV series Mad Men] redesigns himself, we know he actually started life as Dick Whitman, son of a prostitute who died giving birth to him.

The secret gives the narrative an exquisite inner tension.

For as long as it stays secret.

Jonathan Evison on coming back from irredeemable loss

Cover: Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving

In this short but moving essay, the author of The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving explains how writing the novel helped him heal from personal loss:

This book represents nothing less than an emotional catharsis for its author. I wrote this book because I needed to. Because my sister went on a road trip 39 years ago and never came back. And my family has yet to heal from this terrible fact. This novel is about the imperative of getting in that van, because you have no choice but to push yourself and drive on, and keep driving in the face of life’s terrible surprises. It’s about the people and the things you gather along that rough road back to humanity. And in the end, for me, “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” is the van in which I finally bring my sister home.

October is National Reading Group Month

On this site you’ll find the story behind National Reading Group Month, a calendar of nation-wide events, and resources and tips for enhancing book discussions. Whether you’re a reading group member, author, bookseller, librarian, or publishing industry professional, get involved in National Reading Group Month. Celebrate the joy of shared reading.

National Reading Group Month is an initiative of the Women’s National Book Association (WNBA). Founded in 1917, WNBA promotes literacy, a love of reading, and women’s roles in the community of the book.

The Adventures of the Real Tom Sawyer

In Smithsonian magazine Robert Graysmith tells the story behind one of Mark Twain’s best known characters:

Mark Twain prowled the rough-and-tumble streets of 1860s San Francisco with a hard-drinking, larger-than-life fireman

Fascinating Photographs of Famous Literary Characters in Real Life

After you look at the drawing of the real Tom Sawyer in Smithsonian, take a look at pictures of 10 other literary characters inspired by real people:

The inspiration for “My Antonia”
  1. Alice in Wonderland
  2. Peter Pan
  3. Dorian Gray
  4. Daisy Buchanan
  5. Sherlock Holmes
  6. Lolita and Humbert Humbert
  7. Winnie the Pooh
  8. Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty
  9. Antonia Shimerdas
  10. Anne Shirley

Is this how you imagined them?

Monday Miscellany

Vashon Great Books club one of oldest in U.S.

The Seattle Times spotlights 92-year-old Grace Crecelius:

For 61 years, Grace Crecelius has cracked the books. Not just any books, mind you, but the works of Plato, Descartes and Kant, Shakespeare, Marx and Freud.

At 92, Crecelius is the oldest member of what may be one of the longest-running book clubs around — the Vashon Island Great Books Foundation discussion group.

The Great Books Foundation was founded in 1947 by Mortimer Adler and Robert Maynard Hutchins. Its purpose is to help readers of all ages become more reflective and responsible thinkers by engaging with great works of literature. Since its beginning the Foundation has expanded its materials to serve students of all ages (K-12, college, and adults). While its original offerings focused on great works of thinkers such as Plato and Socrates, current materials include newer literary works such as contemporary novels and even science fiction. Its aim is to “make the reading and discussion of literature a lifelong source of enjoyment, personal growth, and social engagement.”

On the Great Books web site you can search for a group in your area. If there isn’t one, you can also find out how to start a group. The Foundation also offers instruction in how to practice civil discourse in discussion of the ideas presented in literature.

P.D. James writes Jane Austen sequel

P.D. James could hold back no longer.

The 91-year-old detective novelist said Wednesday she was glad to finally complete a long-desired project – a sequel to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

James’ “Death Comes to Pemberley” will be published by Faber & Faber in Britain in early November and by Alfred A. Knopf in the United states on Dec. 6.

Ms. Readers’ 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of All Time: The Top 10 and the Complete List!

Scholar, activist, provocateur, teacher, community-builder, inspiration: No one word can span the career of bell hooks or capture how much we love her work. According to Ms. readers’ selections of the best feminist non-fiction of all time, she’s your favorite writer, with three books in our top ten–including number one–and a total of seven books throughout the list. To judge by the final picks, issues of work, sex and intersectionality ranked highest among our reader’s feminist concerns.

And here are the top 10:

10. The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women
by Jessica Valenti
Seal Press, 2009
Jessica Valenti combats a nation’s virginity complex, arguing that myths about “purity” are damaging to both girls and women. She points the way forward toward a world where women are perceived as more than vessels of chastity. 

9. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center
by bell hooks
South End Press, 1985
Cementing her place as one of the most influential feminist theorists, hooks’ Feminist Theory explores Kimberle Crenshaw’s conversation-changing idea of intersectionality: the way racism, classism and sexism work together to foster oppression.

8. Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism
by bell hooks
South End Press, 1999
Named after the famous speech by Sojourner Truth, this must-read by bell hooks discusses black women’s struggle with U.S. racism and sexism since the time of slavery and doesn’t shirk from how white middle- and upper-class feminists have at times failed poor and non-white women. 

7. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture
by Ariel Levy
Free Press, 2005
What do phenomena such as Girls Gone Wild say about feminism? This book looks at the ways women today make sex objects of themselves, and she’s not impressed. She chews out false “empowerment” based on self-objectification and offers feminist alternatives. 

6. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women
by Susan Faludi
Crown, 1991
This landmark book sounded the alarm about a pervasive backlash against feminism. She painstakingly refutes each insidious anti-feminist argument–for instance, that feminism is responsible for a supposed epidemic of unhappiness in women. What’s really wrong, she says, is that equality hasn’t been achieved; in fact, the struggle has only just begun. 

5. Nickel and Dimed
by Barbara Ehrenreich
Metropolitan Books, 2001
Long-time Ms. columnist Barbara Ehrenreich posed undercover as a low-income worker to gain material for this empathetic portrait of how the bottom half lives. She reveals that simply making ends meet is a silent struggle for many Americans, especially for women with families to support.

4. A Room of One’s Own
by Virginia Woolf
Harcourt Brace, 1929
This classic from the 1920s makes a devastatingly eloquent argument with a simple takeaway: For a women artist to thrive, she must have space in which to work and some money for her efforts. 

3. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
by Audre Lorde
Crossing Press, 1984
This master work by Audre Lorde, a Caribbean American lesbian feminist writer, collects her prose from the late 70s and early 80s. Many of these pieces made feminist history, including her candid dialogue with Adrienne Rich about race and feminism, her oft-quoted critique of academia “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” and her Open Letter to Mary Daly. 

2. Cunt: A Declaration of Independence
by Inga Muscio
Seal Press 2002
Inga Muscio’s 2002 feminist manifesto radicalized a new generation. She argues for the reclaiming of the tarnished word cunt, and discusses her personal experiences with self-protection, sex work, abortion and solidarity.

1. Feminism is For Everybody: Passionate Politics
by bell hooks
South End Press, 2000
Fittingly, in Ms. readers’ favorite feminist book of all time, bell hooks argues that feminism is for everybody, regardless of race, gender or creed. She urges all to live a feminism that finds commonality across differences and makes room for impassioned debate. 

Movies Totally Different From The Books They Were Based On

You know how readers almost always say that they liked a book better than its movie version? Well, in another one of those lists that they love so much, The Huffington Post presents “movies that feature totally different endings, story lines, and main characters than the original book. Here are a few of our favorite examples. Be warned, spoilers ahead!”

From Chick Lit to Victim Books: Problems with the Woman’s Book Club

Luanne Bradley asks, “What came first, the depressing women’s book clubs or the morbid books?”

The inevitable prerequisite [of book group selections] is the agreed-upon selections must be meaty enough to spark evocative feedback for eloquent sharing round the coffee table. As a result, our picks are highly wrought works of historic, political or cultural significance perpetually mired in sadness. Or, as a fellow member recently commiserated, “Can’t we move on from the holocaust and women in pain?”

I do admit that my own book group has read so many holocaust books that we’ve decided on a moratorium for that subject matter. And a few years ago we read so many books about men who treated women badly that we called ourselves, for a time, the SOB book group.

But back to Bradley’s article:

“As someone who has written about ‘women in pain,’ women dealing with the death of a child, for example, I think that the premise of your question is problematic,” novelist Ayelet Waldman tells me. “All interesting stories are about someone in crisis – in ‘pain’ if you will. Who wants to read about happy people doing happy things? Story is conflict, conflict is story. The Corrections was about people in crisis. Does that fall into your category of ‘victim-literature?’ If it doesn’t, then I think you should take a good look at the question you’re asking, and consider whether it isn’t inherently sexist.”

One suggestion Bradley has for finding other types of books to read is not to “rely solely on the New York Times lists and peruse book stores for the employee recommendations. Oftentimes, you will find sparkling little stories that didn’t cut the mustard with the corporate giant, but are worthwhile nonetheless.”

And my personal assignment from my book group is to find a good mystery that we can all cozy up to this fall.

Why teens should read adult fiction

We’ve seen the discussion before about whether YA (young adult) literature is too dark for adolescents. In this article Brian McGreevy dismisses this subject:

My concern is not this debate — in fact, I consider it to be moot. The YA category is a marketing distinction, not a moral one, however much parents would like it to be a synonym for “safe.”

Instead, he argues that when adolescents reach the point when they’re interested in reading adult fiction, they should be allowed to do so. He calls this point “the V.C. Andrews Curve, after the author of ‘Flowers in the Attic.’”  At this point, “not only will your kids survive an exposure to violence and sexuality in books, but it is crucial to their moral development”:

Of course adolescents have an irresistible attraction to adult themes; perverse and puritanical an instinct as there is in this culture to prolong childhood, there is a far stronger counter-instinct in children to analyze, simulate, and as soon as humanly possible participate in the challenges of adulthood.

Furthermore, he argues that books provide a kind of experience that neither films nor video games can provide:

What neither films nor video games are cut out for is developing the critical faculties that reading does. Higher-order mental processes are not even strictly required to enjoy a movie, whereas books, by nature, are undemocratic. A combination of education and innate sensitivity is required to enjoy them, and the reward is the closest possible experience to entering another human being’s consciousness and revising the parameters of your own. It’s harder because it should be.

I’ve often thought that preventing children who are growing into young adults from reading about the truths of human existence is both a disservice to and a devaluation of them. Young adults know and understand more than we give them credit for. And, while parents’ desire to protect their children from adult knowledge may have good intentions, preventing young adults from learning about adult life leaves them unprepared for a world that they will eventually grow into, whether we like it or not. We need to trust our children:

They’re equipped with a strength and ingenuity they’re not often enough credited with. Life’s genesis and termination — and every gradation of human experience in between — is their birthright. They are entitled to learn about it at exactly the rate it is appropriate to their individual moral development to do so. And as long as you love them enough, they’ll end up basically OK.


What My Book Group Is Reading

This article about a book group originally formed at a Borders store prompted me to post about my own formerly-Borders group. We are a general group. Although fiction probably dominates, we read both fiction and nonfiction. We originated about 12 years ago in a Borders store that went down in the first round of closings. Still lead by our former Borders employee, we have relocated to the cafe of a nearby Barnes & Noble store. We meet once a month.

Right now we are focusing on books about Hemingway’s expat experience in Europe in the 1920s. Hemingway has been much in the news because of  the 50th anniversary earlier this month of his suicide. And there’s a lot of current interest in Paris–for example, Woody Allen’s new movie Midnight in Paris.

Here’s what we’re reading now:

  • A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway: his’s account of life in Paris in the 1920s.
  • The Paris Wife by Paula McLain: a novel narrated in the first person by Hadley, Hemingway’s first wife, about her life with struggling-writer husband.
  • The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway: his first published novel, covering life in Europe in the 1920.
  • The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough: the story of how famous Americans brought back their findings about Paris between 1830 and 1900.