Last Week’s Literary Links

10 Best Whodunits

I love a good mystery! Here mystery novelist John Verdon (his latest book is Wolf Lake, featuring NYPD homicide detective Dave Gurney) offers a list of “ten remarkable works, each of which has a special appeal to my whodunit mentality”:Cover: The Crossing by Michael Connelly

  1. Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
  2. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  3. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
  4. The Galton Case by Ross Macdonald
  5. On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill
  6. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré
  7. Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith
  8. Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
  9. Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason
  10. The Crossing by Michael Connelly

I love that he has included literary classics as well as classic mysteries. And since I’ve only read four of these books (numbers 1,2, 8, and 10), I have yet some more titles to add to my TBR list.

Where Lit-Fic and Horror Converge: Ten Literary Chillers

While researching horror literature I came across this article by writer Christopher Shultz. Shultz addresses the snobbish discrimination between literary fiction and genre fiction (such as horror) to end up with a chronological list of 10 novels and short stories that use horror elements (dark subject matter, entities of a sinister and often supernatural nature, a sense of dread and terror) while also achieving standard criteria of literary fiction (complex characters, existential questions, and elegant prose):

  1. ‘Frankenstein, Or The Modern Prometheus’ by Mary Shelley
  2. “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe
  3. “The Demon Lover” by Elizabeth Bowen
  4. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
  5. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates
  6. ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ by Ira Levin
  7. “The Companion” by Ramsey Campbell
  8. “The Paperhanger” by William Gay
  9. ‘Black Moon’ by Kenneth Calhoun
  10. ‘The Fever’ by Megan Abbot

I usually avoid horror, so I’ve only read three of these (numbers 1,2, and 4; and I’ve seen the film Rosemary’s Baby, if that counts). From Shultz’s descriptions I’m also thinking of adding numbers 5 and 10 to my TBR list.

SIX WRITERS ON THE GENIUS OF MARCEL PROUST

In honor of Marcel Proust’s 145th birthday on July 10, six current authors comment on why his work remains so important today. Contributing authors are Siri Hustvedt, Francine Prose, Edmund White, André Aciman, Aleksandar Hemon, and Daniel Mendelsohn.

The Failure of Language and A Dream of the West: An Interview with Bonnie Nadzam

Bryan Hurt interviews his friend Bonnie Nadzam, whom he describes as “someone who felt a dis-ease with conventional fiction and who sought to experiment and push against the boundaries of expectation and form.”

Nadzam is the author of two novels, Lamb (2011) and Lions (2016). Here are some of her statements about how and why she writes:

knowing a character is as complex a process as knowing myself. Both seem to involve a process of patience and observation, and of allowing space for unexpected things/motivations/behaviors to arise.

with Lions in particular, I did try to make the reader a character in this story, to the extent that the reader is tracking signs and assembling and telling stories alongside everyone else in the book. And everyone is mistaken; and also, by the end, everyone is also peculiarly exactly right.

I can’t just write fiction as though language were functioning and reliable. I also, however, don’t want to write heady philosophical fiction. So that means experimenting to find ways to drop into stories that are as unreliable as the language in which they’re written.

I suppose when I write fiction, it’s because there’s something I feel the need to express that I can’t get at intellectually.

 

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Findings from Around the Web

Liane Moriarty’s Favorite Books with Sudden Life-Changing Moments

truly madly guiltyIn Liane Moriarty’s seventh novel, Truly Madly Guilty, something terrible occurs at “an ordinary neighborhood barbecue in an ordinary neighborhood backyard.” It’s something so profound and unsettling, it seems to rewire the six adults and three children present; will any of them be able to recover the relative peace they enjoyed before? As the life-changing event is processed, friendships and marriages are tested and the adults are racked with guilt and regret. Moriarty is known for her compelling, tightly woven stories of the darkness that can lurk behind the apparently ordinary, the suspenseful secrets, catty rivalry, domestic dysfunction, and the shocking event that changes everything.

I’ve read only one of the five novels on her list. And I haven’t yet read any of Moriarty’s own novels. I need to put these books on my TBR list.

Was Philip K. Dick a Madman or a Mystic?

Even if you haven’t read any of Philip K. Dick’s books, you’ve probably come in contact with his work through movies or, to a lesser extent, television: Minority Report, The Man in the High Castle, Blade Runner, Total Recall, Screamers, The Adjustment Bureau.

Much of Dick’s visionary content followed an experience in which he believed that a spiritual force had unlocked his consciousness and given him access to esoteric knowledge. In this article Kyle Arnold, a psychologist at Coney Island Hospital, Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, and author of The Divine Madness of Philip K. Dick, describes this experience and how it affected the author and his work.

New Data Analysis Suggests Only Six Book Plots Exist

“There’s nothing new under the sun,” the saying goes. If you’ve ever felt this while reading a novel, you’ll be interested in this article.

Researchers from the Computational Story Lab at the University of Vermont in Burlington used sentiment analysis—or analysis of emotion in a string of words—to map the plot of over 1,700 works of fiction. By looking at how the emotional tone of a story changes from moment to moment, the researchers could see the overall emotional arc of the stories.

They found that there were six main ones:

Fall-rise-fall, like Oedipus Rex
Rise and then a fall, like what happens to most villains
Fall and then a rise, like what happens to most superheroes
Steady fall, like in Romeo and Juliet
Steady rise, like in a rags-to-riches story
Rise-fall-rise, like in Cinderella

Read the entire article to see the main grains of salt with which you should take these results.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Fall 2016 Adult Announcements: All Our Coverage

The editors have selected more than 700 adult titles for this feature (fall children’s announcements will appear in the July 18, 2016 issue) in anticipation of their attracting attention and, of course, generating sales. Our mission is to offer booksellers and librarians a helping hand in finding books to order and promote in the upcoming months, and to provide the industry with information that reflects our passion and experience.

Source: Fall 2016 Adult Announcements: All Our Coverage

You’ll find links here to titles in the following categories:

  • Art, Architecture, and Photography
  • Business and Economics
  • Comics and Graphic Novels
  • Cooking and Food
  • Essays and Literary Criticism
  • History
  • Lifestyle
  • Literary Fiction
  • Memoirs and Biographies
  • Mysteries and Thrillers
  • Poetry
  • Politics and Current Events
  • Romance and Erotica
  • Science
  • Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

Introducing Book Marks, Lit Hub’s “Rotten Tomatoes” for Books | Literary Hub

Book Marks will showcase critics from the most important and active outlets of literary journalism in America, aggregating reviews from over 70 sources—newspapers, magazines, and websites—and averaging them into a letter grade, as well as linking back to their source. Each book’s cumulative grade functions as both a general critical assessment, and, more significantly, as an introduction to a range of voices.

Source: Introducing Book Marks, Lit Hub’s “Rotten Tomatoes” for Books | Literary Hub

I’m still checking this out. Let us know what you think about this new service in the comments.

5 Nonfiction Big Books I Loved

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Since I read a lot more fiction than nonfiction, it’s not surprising that all of my earlier Big Books lists have included only novels. However, in looking over my reading lists of the past several years, I discovered five nonfiction works that qualify as Big Books.

I thought I’d find more, but many of the potential candidates I looked at checked in at around 450 pages. I even found one of 497 pages that I was tempted to include, but I finally decided that, since “500 pages or more” is my working definition of the term Big Book, I should stick to that definition here as well.


Truman by David McCullough
Hardcover, 1116 pages

trumanHow could I not love a man who taught himself Latin while driving a horse-drawn plow back and forth across the fields of his family’s farm?

The best writers of creative nonfiction use novelistic techniques to develop characters, create settings, interject background material, and pace action in service to telling a compelling story. David McCullough is one of those writers. I’ve loved every one of his books that I’ve read, but he is at his outstanding best in this biography of the simple man from Missouri who lead the United States through one of its most crucial periods. Here’s how Goodreads describes the subject of this biography:

The last president to serve as a living link between the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, Truman’s story spans the raw world of the Missouri frontier, World War I, the powerful Pendergast machine of Kansas City, the legendary Whistle-Stop Campaign of 1948, and the decisions to drop the atomic bomb, confront Stalin at Potsdam, send troops to Korea, and fire General MacArthur.

Truman is both an outstanding historical document and a literary masterpiece.


Lindbergh by A. Scott Berg
Hardcover, 640 pages

lindberghLike McCullough, Berg tells a masterful story of his subject’s life.

However, Charles Lindbergh isn’t as easy a subject to portray as Harry Truman. The same qualities that made Lindbergh a brilliant, dedicated, and persevering achiever also made him difficult to live with. For example, when he tried to play with his children, he developed games with such arduous and fussy rules that they were not games at all, but rather overwhelming tasks that the children dreaded and resented.

Nonetheless, Berg compellingly portrays what Goodreads calls “the life of one of the nation’s most legendary, controversial, and enigmatic figures.”


Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
Paperback, 500 pages

unbrokenHere’s yet another brilliant biography compellingly told. Laura Hillenbrand, whose earlier book Seabiscuit does not quite qualify as a Big Book, recounts the life of Louis Zamperini.

As a boy, Zamperini was a delinquent whose activities included breaking into houses, getting into fights, and running away from home to ride the freight rails. As a teenager, he channeled his rebellion into running and became successful enough to participate in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where he placed eighth in the 5000 m race.

When World War II arrived, Zamperini went off to fight. In 1943 he was the bombardier on a plane that crashed into the Pacific Ocean. He managed to survive in thousands of miles of open ocean by clinging to a tiny life raft. Later he bacame a prisoner of war, where he inspired his fellow prisoners with his refusal to give in to the brutal conditions and torture imposed by their captors.

Zamperini died in 2014 at the age of 97.


Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon – and the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller
Hardcover, 584 pages

girls like usI grew up with the music of Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon. Although—or perhaps because—I never knew much about their lives, I was drawn to Weller’s book.

Here’s Goodreads’ description of the book’s content:

Carole King, Joni Mitchell, and Carly Simon remain among the most enduring and important women in popular music. Each woman is distinct. Carole King is the product of outer-borough, middle-class New York City; Joni Mitchell is a granddaughter of Canadian farmers; and Carly Simon is a child of the Manhattan intellectual upper crust. They collectively represent, in their lives and their songs, a great swath of American girls who came of age in the late 1960s. Their stories trace the arc of the now mythic sixties generation – female version – but in a bracingly specific and deeply recalled way, far from cliche. The history of the women of that generation has never been written – until now, through their resonant lives and emblematic songs.

This eminently readable book helped me understand that pivotol decade, the 1960s, much better than I had while living through it.


The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
Paperback, 592 pages

feminine mystiquePublished in 1963, this ground-breaking work described “the problem that has no name.” Without knowing exactly what to call it, Friedan had discovered that smothered feeling women felt because of unquestioned social beliefs that urged them to be content with home and family, and of institutions of higher learning that minimized their intellectual potential by turning homemaking into a glorified academic discipline.

 

Writing in a time when the average woman first married in her teens and 60 percent of women students dropped out of college to marry, Betty Friedan captured the frustrations and thwarted ambitions of a generation and showed women how they could reclaim their lives.

Source: Goodreads

I read this book back in college in the late 1960s, but I appreciated it much more when I reread it just a few years ago.


© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Thriving at Age 70 and Beyond

From Jane E. Brody, long-time health writer for the New York Times:

A recently published book, “70 Candles! Women Thriving in Their 8th Decade,” inspired me to take a closer look at how I’m doing as I approach 75 and how I might make the most of the years to come. It would be a good idea for women in my age cohort to do likewise. With a quarter of American women age 65 expected to live into their 90s, there could be quite a few years to think about.

About the book 70 Candles! Women Thriving in Their 8th Decade, Brody writes:

What are the most important issues facing these women as they age, and how might society help ease their way into the future? Leading topics the women chose to explore included work and retirement, ageism, coping with functional changes, caretaking, living arrangements, social connections, grandparenting and adjusting to loss and death.

Curtis Sittenfeld: Pride and Prejudice Then & Now

Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest book, Eligible, is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice.

While social rules have changed dramatically in the 200 years since the publication of Pride and Prejudice, Austen’s themes of love, wealth and class are still relevant. Women today can secure financial independence and enjoy intimate relationships without a marriage certificate. Yet societal pressures to marry and bear children persist. And so does the allure of “a single man in possession of a good fortune.”

Men Have Book Clubs, Too

Book clubs have a reputation as something women do together, but this article focuses on an all-male group in Marin County, CA:

The Man Book Club is going into its ninth year. It has 16 members, a number of whom are lawyers and engineers in their mid–50s. Each month, the host must prepare a meal appropriate to the book under discussion.

There’s also information on other all-male book groups around the country.

What You Really Lose When You Lose Perspective

Our perspective is how we perceive people, situations, ideas, etc. It’s informed by our personal experience, which makes it as unique as anything could be. Perspective shapes our life by affecting our choices. But the minute our minds become steeped in worry, perspective goes out of the window. We forget about our triumphs. We stop being optimistic as fear takes the wheel.

Sarah Newman explains how fear can cause us to lose sight of all the wisdom we’ve accrued over our lives.

Meg Rosoff on Coming of Age

Coming of age is such a common topic for fiction that this type of novel has its own name: Bildungsroman. These novels focus on the psychological growth of the main character from youth into adulthood.

Here novelist Meg Rosoff discusses these coming-of-age novels:

  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Henry IV Part I by Shakespeare
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  • All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
Older women more likely to be overprescribed inappropriate drugs: Study

A recent research study from the University of British Columbia found that:

Older women are nearly 25 percent more likely than men to be over-prescribed or inappropriately prescribed drugs, with a new study pointing to social dynamics as the explanation for the discrepancy.

When authors’ prejudices ruin their books

This is a common question among avid readers: Should authors’ prejudices affect our reactions to their books?

In this article Imogen Russell Williams asks:

The unsavoury attitudes found in novels from writers such as GK Chesterton and Susan Coolidge have ruined some of the fiction I loved most as a child. But where do you draw the line when you return to tainted classics?

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

6 Big Books on My Reading List

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Like most of you, I have big, ambitious plans for my future reading. Here are the Big Books that currently reside on my TBR shelves.


War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
paperback, 1392 pages

war and peace

 

Isn’t this book on just about everybody’s lifetime reading list? It seems to be one of the titles that separates the true book lovers from the wanna-bes.

 

 

 


Ulysses by James Joyce
paperback, 732 pages

ulysses

The comments from War and Peace also apply here.

This is the cover of the copy I bought for myself in Dublin, in the hopes that having a real Irish copy would make me more likely to actually read the book. Someday I hope to return to Dublin and walk Leopold Bloom’s journey around the city.

 

 


The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
hardcover edition, 567 pages

golden notebook

 

This book has been on my TBR shelf for so long that I no longer remember where I picked it up. But it’s a classic work of feminism, and I’m determined to get through it.

 

 


Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
hardcover, 562 pages

freedom

After reading Franzen’s The Corrections, one of the 6 Big Books I Keep Meaning to Reread, I eagerly bought the hardcover of this novel soon after it came out.

Alas, life intervened, and I still haven’t read it. But I’m going to. I’m definitely going to. Some time soon.

 

 


Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
hardcover, 1168 pages

atlas shrugged

I hear so much about Ayn Rand that I think I should read at least one of her works. A lot of people I know read either this book or The Fountainhead in college, but I guess I didn’t take the right course.

This is another one that’s been on my shelf for so long that I can’t remember where or when I bought it. I plan to take it with me on my next long, leisurely vacation.

 


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
paperback, 636 pages

kavalier and clay

 

I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t yet read anything by Michael Chabon. This is a shortcoming that I plan to correct someday soon with this Big Book.

 

 

 


Have you read any of these? What did you think? Which ones do you especially recommend? Or do you have other Big Books to recommend?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Reading Recommendations for Women’s History Month

9 WOMEN TO WATCH IN 2016

A list of “up-and-coming female writers [who] will have readers talking in 2016.”

115 READING RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BOOKS BY WOMEN

From Bookriot’s Amanda Nelson:

I jumped on the “One Book/One Like” Twitter bandwagon and decided to only recommend books by women for every like the tweet got. I made it up to 115 at the time of this writing, but I’m sure more will have been added before the post goes up. Check out my recommendations of excellent books by women, and add yours in the comments!

33 Life-Changing Books in Honor of International Women’s Day | Literary Hub

In honor of International Women’s Day, Women’s History Month, and all women everywhere, we asked the all-volunteer staff at VIDA to tell us about the books that changed their lives. Ran…

Source: 33 Life-Changing Books in Honor of International Women’s Day | Literary Hub

6 Big Books I Keep Meaning to Reread

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While scanning my bookshelves for Big Books I have read, I also found six that I have already read but want to read again.

You’d think that once through a Big Book would be enough, but in fact Big Books contain so much that they almost always withstand a second—or even a third or fourth—reading. In fact, rereading a Big Book often produces even more enjoyment than a first reading because you don’t have to hurry through to find out what happens. Instead, you can take time to savor the writing and appreciate the author’s technique.

Here, then, in no particular order, are six Big Books that I will definitely reread.

Middlemarch by George Eliot
paperback, 848 pages

middlemarchSerialized in 1871 and 1872 and published in a single volume in 1872, Middlemarch by George Eliot (pen name of Mary Ann Evans) portrays life in an English provincial town of the 1830s. The main character is Dorothea Brooke, an intellectual and idealistic woman who scholars say resembles the author in many ways. Brooke enters a disastrous marriage with a man she mistakes for her soul mate. In a parallel subplot, an idealistic young doctor, Tertius Lydgate, falls in love with a beautiful but superficial and vain woman, and these two also live an unpleasant married life.

In this Big Book Eliot populates the town with characters of all social classes, including laborers and shopkeepers, members of the rising middle class, and people of the landed gentry. Goodreads describes this novel as “pivotal in the shaping of twentieth-century literary realism.”

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
hardcover, 568 pages

correctionsThis Big Book by Jonathan Franzen won the 2001 National Book Award for fiction. The novel stands squarely in the canon of dysfunctional-family literature with its portrayal of the Lambert clan of St. Jude, a fictional midwestern city. Albert, the patriarch, has ruled the family with inflexible rules and plenty of rage for nearly 50 years. It’s no wonder that the three grown Lambert children have set out on their own mixed-up lives far from St. Jude.

As the novel begins, Albert has recently received a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. His long-suffering and perpetually unhappy wife, Enid, has set her heart on having the entire family reunite for one last Christmas dinner at the family home. We get to know each of the Lambert offspring as they work their ways around making it back home for that final confrontation with the past. Despite the subject matter, Franzen manages to keep the narrative from becoming a slogging Big Drag with astute psychological characterization and just the right touch of irony and humor.

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears
hardcover, 691 pages

fingerpostSet in England in 1663, An Instance of the Fingerpost tells the story of the murder of an Oxford don through the narratives of four different witnesses. The complex situation involves history, science, and cryptography in an effort to arrive at the truth of what happened. One of my book groups back in St. Louis read this not long after its publication in 1997, and everyone loved it.

This Big Book was my introduction to the realization that there are as many sides to any story as there are participants. With its multiple narrators, it well illustrates the truth that some books are meant to be read more than once. Almost everyone in my book group said that, as soon as they finished reading it, they wanted to go back and read it all over again to appreciate how all the pieces of the story puzzle fit together. I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t yet given this novel the rereading it so richly deserves. I should bump it up near the top of my reading list.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens
paperback, 887

bleak houseThis novel, considered by many to be Dickens’ masterpiece, was first published in a single volume in 1853. It mixes satire, romance, and mystery in telling the story of Esther Summerson, a ward of John Jarndyce, as a seemingly never-ending lawsuit grinds its way through the huge, inefficient bureaucracy of the English legal process.

Really, this Big Book is a much better read than this description makes it sound.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
paperback, 546

poisonwood bibleIn 1959 Baptist preacher Nathan Price packs up his family, a wife and four daughters, and takes them from their home in Georgia to the Belgian Congo to spread The Word. Woefully inappropriately prepared, the family arrives in the midst of political upheaval. Price’s fire-and-brimstone form of Christianity along with his ignorance and arrogance soon alienate the local inhabitants even further. The first half of the novel deals with the family’s experiences in the Congo, while the latter half follows the family members’ lives for 30 years after they leave.

The most striking aspect of this Big Book is Kingsolver’s ability to create distinctive voices for each of the characters as they take turns narrating the story. This is the benchmark against which I evaluate all other novels that employ multiple narrators, an approach to fiction writing that is quickly becoming the norm.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
paperback, 529 pages

middlesexIt takes a Big Book to tell a family’s history. Middlesex tells the story of three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family as they leave a tiny village near Mount Olympus and travel to Detroit, where they live through Prohibition and then the 1967 race riots before moving to suburban Grosse Pointe.

Throughout the story, the novel focuses on Calliope Stephanides as she searches for the reasons why she’s not like other girls. Gradually Callie becomes Cal while remaining a fascinating narrator whom the reader follows with delight.

 

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown