Jennifer Weiner never passes up an opportunity to lament how the world of literary criticism mistreats authors (like her) and readers of popular literature. “Every once in a while,” she explains, “a literary novel becomes tremendously popular, transcending the typical sales for literary fiction and making its way onto bestseller lists.”
Those juggernaut books have a few things in common: they’re written by women; they are read (as is most fiction) mostly by women; and, as they ascend toward peak popularity, perhaps even winning a prize or two, some highbrow critic will announce that they are not literature at all but, in fact, sentimental trash, unworthy of a single honor or accolade, written by bad people and read by awful – or, at least, silly and stupid – fans.
She calls this process “‘Goldfinching’, after Vanity Fair’s 2014 yes-but-is-it-art interrogation as to whether Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer prize-winning, mega-bestselling book The Goldfinch is or is not literature.”
Goldfinching isn’t about elevating good books at the necessary expense of bad ones. It’s about once more reminding the wrong kind of reader of just where she stands, and how little her enjoyment or endorsement matters.
You can follow Weiner’s article in depth by clicking on the many links she provides to examples of the disparagement of popular literature she provides.
For the record, I loved Tartt’s The Goldfinch, as well as Gone Girl, another of the novels whose criticism Weiner cites as examples that support her thesis.
This article picks up where Weiner left off in the previous article. The term popular literature usually occurs as a synonym for genre fiction, and that’s how Lincoln Michel uses the term here. As Michel puts it:
When we get into a debate like … “genre” vs. “literary,” we’ve wandered into the book world version of conservative vs. liberal. Arguments revolve around feelings, constantly redefined terms, and moving goal posts rather than any interest in truth or understanding.
Much of the problem with such debates stems from the lack of any specific and generally accepted definitions of terms like genre fiction and literary fiction. Like Weiner, Michel cites a lot of critics’ opinions about what those terms mean. He even crunches a lot of sales numbers in trying to determine what makes literature popular. He does all of that in order to draw the following conclusion:
If you are determined to compare popularity, at least do so with actual facts. But it would be far better if we focused less on popularity, and more on the wide range of amazing books from all genres and corners of the globe that are daily ignored for yet another think piece on already popular books.
What I like about this piece is that it gives me permission to dismiss the whole tiresome question of popular vs. literary fiction.
On his or her blog The Invisible Event, Invisible Blogger (IB) writes about classic crime fiction. In this post IB discusses what he or she calls “fair play detective stories”:
I think I’m relatively safe in saying that for many people the appeal of the detective story is the opportunity to have a go at fitting the puzzle together before the author explains all at the end (differentiating here from the crime novel or the thriller, which for brevity’s sake we’ll simply say have different intentions).
Like IB, I take the term fair play detective stories to mean those in which the attentive reader has as much chance of figuring out who the villain is as does the novelist detective. In fact, solving the puzzle is one of the biggest attractions of this type of story. So I agree with IB’s list of unacceptable requirements in such a novel:
- “there must be sufficient declared clues and no deliberate narrative chicanery on behalf of the author in withholding something without appearing not to”
- “burying the key information in a higgledy-piggledy mess of deliberately confusing cross-talk does not, to my mind, make it fairly declared”
- no “specialist knowledge” or “esoteric knowledge” should be required for solving the crime
- also not allowed is “nonsense invention – no poisons previously unknown to science, not-of-this-world unexplainable influences, or just plain old invention for the sake of surprise”
So what does make a novel a “fair play detective story”?
Put simply, if I get to the reveal of a detective novel and can see how each crumb along the path of reasoning to the solution was given to me to pick up and examine at my leisure then it’s a fair play puzzle.
Richard Lea reports in The Guardian:
Books are steadily increasing in size, according to a survey that has found the average number of pages has grown by 25% over the last 15 years.
A study of more than 2,500 books appearing on New York Times bestseller and notable books lists and Google’s annual survey of the most discussed books reveals that the average length has increased from 320 pages in 1999 to 400 pages in 2014.
Some people attribute the increasing page count to e-readers, which do not emphasize the length of a book as visually as does a huge hunk of a printed book. One other possible explanation is that “people who love to read appear to prefer a long and immersive narrative, the very opposite of a sound bite or snippets of information that we all spend our lives downloading from Google,” says literary agent Clare Alexander. But, Alexander also says:
“I would argue that a countervailing force is also in play with the revival of interest in the short story (also reflected in a growing and excellent prize culture) or the brief but perfectly formed novel.”
This is one of those debates that just won’t go away. Here CBS News takes “a look at some of the science to consider before you spring for a Kindle, a Nook or a stack of new hardcovers” for someone on your holiday gift list.
Here’s a list of the major points. Be sure to read the explanations of the science behind each one.
- Young, reluctant readers prefer e-readers
- Reading on paper may boost retention
- Paper suits readers with sleep problems and eye strain
- E-books help the visually impaired
- Avid readers tend to prefer reading on paper
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.
I’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.
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 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.
Batya Ungar-Sargon, who has a Ph.D. in the eighteenth century novel, asks, “Readers of romance fiction enjoy tales of alpha males and forced seduction. Could they still be considered feminists?”
In 2013, Americans spent $1.08 billion dollars on romance novels, which represented a whopping 13 per cent of the adult-fiction revenue – double what literary fiction brought in the same year. And unlike many other forms of entertainment, romance sales were undisturbed by the economic downturn of 2008, a year in which reportedly one in five Americans read a romance novel.
With the eyes of a literary historian and critic, Ungar-Sargon examines romance novels from their early origin in the development of the novel as a distinct literary form through Fifty Shades of Grey and other contemporary manifestations. Why do romance novels continue to outsell every other sliver of the publishing pie in an age when “no means no” and men are encouraged to share housework and child-rearing duties?
Pamela, Or Virtue Rewarded (1740) by Samuel Richardson, published in 1740 is widely considered one of the first novels; it’s also a romance, complete with a young heroine readers root for, an alpha male for her (and the reader) to fall in love with, and a happy ending. In historical contexts in which women were disenfranchised socially, legally, and financially, the domain of love was the only context in which they could be desired, worshipped, and adored: “Unlike other genres, which treat women as accessories or plot devices to motivate a male hero, here women are the plot.”
This genre continues to thrive because, as one woman who reads 150 romance novels a year explains, the main drawing points of the novels are:
the tension, the drama, and most importantly, the ending. Other genres have tension and drama, but only romance guarantees the H E A [Happily Ever After ending] – an implicit promise that the payoff will be worth it, that the pain will transform into pleasure.
My summary here doesn’t do justice to the depth of Ungar-Sargon’s article. Read her analysis of how contemporary romance novels have come to represent women’s acknowledgement of their own sexuality and their negotiations around the imprecise concept of sexual consent.
BuzzFeed crowdsourced this list of favorite underrated books. The list features authors from
Jules Verne and Louisa May Alcott up to current publications.
Although I had read a few of these and had heard of several more, I still found several books to add to my gargantuan reading list.
And the inclusion of one book that I stopped reading more quickly than usual and another one (Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah) that I and almost everyone else in my book group did not like reminded me that personal taste is indeed very personal.
How many of these books have you read? Which ones will you add to your own TBR (to be read) list? Which of them did you like or dislike? And what other titles would you add to the list?
Female thrill-killers are rare in crime fiction. Why is it hard to imagine a woman who murders for pleasure not revenge?
Most crime fiction featuring women presents them as private investigator, police officer, lawyer, or victim. Here Melanie McGrath, author of both nonfiction and crime fiction, examines why most crime novelists avoid woman characters who kill for pleasure:
They’re a rare breed in crime fiction, yet readers seem fascinated by their fictive potential. Most often they’re seen as purely literary creations, the inventions of a writer’s dark mind. Readers want to see women thrill-killers in fiction without necessarily believing they exist in real life. In many reader’s minds, they inhabit the same category as vampires or superheroes.
Women who commit violence in crime fiction usually do so for revenge or to rid themselves of an abusive partner.
McGrath considers biological, psychological, and neuroscience approaches to explaining why, in both crime fiction and real life, men commit more violence than women.
Like most storytelling, crime fiction cleaves more readily to myth than to reality. Plus it’s a conservative genre (though its creators might not be), concerned with restoring order and equilibrium. Even at its more experimental limits, it tends to play with stereotypes, not discard them.
Yet, says McGrath, for decades novelists have been creating evil and selfish women characters like Amy Dunne in Gillian Flynn’s enormously popular book Gone Girl:
Amy Dunne has helped spawn a new sub-genre of crime bitch-lit. Women (and men) have shown themselves to be eager consumers of the kind of unprincipled, amoral, selfish anti-heroines typified by Flynn’s creation, and it’s surely only a matter of time before male writers feel confident enough to follow suit.
Joan Silverman interviews Sven Birketts, director of the Bennington Writing Seminars in Vermont:
Birkerts, who’s best known for “The Gutenberg Elegies,” his 1994 lament about the future of reading in an electronic age, has spent the last two decades thinking and writing about how technology affects us. Though he’s no Luddite, he worries about what we gain, and lose, as technology increasingly dominates modern life.
From the U.K.:
A group of feminists in Cheltenham has been sneaking into stores and leaving “gender-busting” bookmarks inside children’s books that are specifically for boys or girls. The bookmarks are hand-made, with slogans including: “Celebrate her brain, not her beauty”; “Boys don’t have to be gruff, tough or rough”; and “Let girls and boys be kids”.
This article summarizes research into how we read differently on screens than in books. Of course not all screens are the same: A smartphone screen is much smaller than a laptop or desktop computer screen, a Kindle is different from an iPad. “But many researchers say that reading onscreen encourages a particular style of reading called “nonlinear” reading—basically, skimming.”
Research by Ziming Liu, a professor at San Jose State University, has found that “sustained attention seems to decline when people read onscreen rather than on paper, and that people also spend less time on in-depth reading.” When we read on a computer, hyperlinks, ads, media (such as videos), and other text draws our attention away from the material we’re reading.
Any discussion of the difference between electronic devices and books must take into consideration the kind of material being read:
Nonlinear reading might especially hurt what researchers call “deep-reading”—our in-depth reading of text that requires intense focus to fully understand it, like the works of James Joyce or Virginia Woolf.
I find reading nonfiction online much easier than reading fiction, particularly if the content I’m reading has been maximized for on-screen reading with headings dividing the sections.
One thing most researchers on this topic agree on is that “the screen-reading vs. traditional reading question has nuances that scientists have yet to fully understand.”
Ultimately, it may be that both print and screen have unique advantages, and we’ll need to be able to read equally well on both—which means keeping our distracted habits onscreen from bleeding into what we read on an e-book or paperback.
If you click on the link to this article, you’ll see that it contains two animated gifs comprising lines moving across the screen. Many commenters at the end of the article asked why these annoying distractions were included. Any content producer interested in actually exploring the question of how well we can read on screen surely would not have included these. For an article claiming to examine the science, this trick is disingenuous.
If you choose to read printed books, Amy Sachs assures you that, when you go to the bookstore, you’ll find these seven types there as well:
- The Aisle-Sitter
- The People Who Make Themselves At Home
- The Kid Being Dragged by Parents
- The Kid Who Wants ALL THE BOOKS
- The Time Waster
- The Guy Who’s Only There For Coffee
- The Student
The article illustrates each of these categories with an animated gif. Unlike the annoying distractions in the article above, these at least pertain to the article’s content and are amusing to boot.
According to the introduction, “Mixed in there are many superb books on journalism, film criticism, and literary theory.”
There’s a lot to choose from here, although some of them are more in the “must read” category than others.
Michael Grothaus writes that reading War and Peace during a downturn in his life “changed something in me. It’s almost impossible to explain why, but after reading it I felt more confident in myself, less uncertain about my future. I became more assertive with my bosses. I got back on the horse, so to speak.”
For an explanation of how this happened, he turns to Dr. Josie Billington, deputy director of the Centre for Research into Reading at the University of Liverpool:
“Reading can offer richer, broader, and more complex models of experience, which enable people to view their own lives from a refreshed perspective and with renewed understanding,” says Billington. This renewed understanding gives readers a greater ability to cope with difficult situations by expanding their “repertoires and sense of possible avenues of action or attitude.”
And, according to Billington, the subject of the book doesn’t have to mirror one’s own life situation for this effect to occur. “People who read find it easier to make decisions, plan, and prioritize,” she says.
Grothaus also talked with Sue Wilkinson, CEO of The Reading Agency, a U.K. charity that develops and delivers programs to encourage people to read more.
“Reading for pleasure in general can also help prevent conditions such as stress, depression, and dementia,” says Wilkinson. “Research has shown that people who read for pleasure regularly report fewer feelings of stress and depression than non-readers. Large scale studies in the U.S. show that being more engaged with reading, along with other hobbies, is associated with a lower subsequent risk of incidents of dementia.”
To encourage yourself to read more and take advantage of the benefits of reading, Billington and Wilkinson offer these suggestions:
- Read what interests you, not what you think you “should” read.
- Find just 30 minutes a week to read.
- Create a challenge for yourself.
- Don’t stick with a book if you’re not enjoying it.
In my younger days I used to think that I had to finish every book I started. But about the time I turned 40 I realized that my reading life was nearly half over and I no longer had time to waste reading a book that wasn’t working for me. Admitting that it’s OK to put a book aside was tremendously liberating. Life is too short, and there are too may other books waiting to be read. I do, however, believe that I shouldn’t review a book I haven’t completed, although I do reserve the right to say I didn’t finish the book and to explain why.
Joanna Scott writes “Complex literary works demand an effort from the reader that is becoming harder to justify, given the sink-or-swim pressures to make profitable products for a global marketplace.” But, she contines, fiction gives us knowledge: “This is the case that must be made for fiction if the genre is going to survive as an art.”
For support of this assertion, Scott turns to Virginia Woolf:
When we read actively, alertly,opening ourselves to unexpected discoveries, we find that great writers have a way of solidifying “the vague ideas that have been tumbling in the misty depths of our minds.” For Woolf, fiction provides an essential kind of knowledge that can only be acquired by careful reading.
And, Scott warns, “serious reading is in serious danger of being lost to future generations.” Although we may seem to be reading more, she writes, “The surprising problem arising in our culture is that good, active, creative reading is on the decline.”
In making her argument, Scott refers to the following books:
- The Nearest Thing to Life by James Wood
- Nobody Grew but the Business by Joseph Tabbi
- Words Onscreen by Naomi Baron
- Slow Reading in a Hurried Age by David Mikics
Finally, Scott reaches this conclusion: “Let’s not give up on the intricacies of ambitious fiction. Let’s not stop reading the kind of books that keep teaching us to read.” We should continue to challenge ourselves as readers by spending the time necessary for slow reading, for immersing ourselves in complex fictional worlds.
To end on a light note, I give you Emma Oulton, who believes that no hobby holds more potential pitfalls and perils than reading:
there are a ton of things that can go wrong when you’re reading. You might find out how the book ends. You might fall in love with a character who dies and breaks your heart so badly you can’t leave your room for weeks. You might have your nose so stuck in your book that you don’t look where you’re going, and then you trip over and a bookcase lands on you.
To avoid coming to such harm, do not commit these common reading mistakes:
- Googling the book you’re currently reading
- Telling somebody what you’re reading
- Not bookmarking responsibly
- Not bringing enough books on vacation
- Finishing every book you start
And, to lighten the mood even more, the article illustrates each one of these points with—you guessed it—an animated gif.
Mary Ann Gwinn, book editor for The Seattle Times, receives LOTS of books. As a way to spread the wealth around, her spouse built her a Little Free Library for her birthday.
The Little Free Library movement was started in Wisconsin by Todd Bol and Rick Brooks in 2009. Its mission is two-fold:
- To promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.
- To build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.
Its goal is “To build 2,510 Little Free Libraries—as many as Andrew Carnegie.”
This goal was reached in August of 2012, a year and a half before our original target date. By January of 2015, the total number of registered Little Free Libraries in the world was conservatively estimated to be nearly 25,000, with thousands more being built.
The philosophy behind little free libraries is “Take a book. Return a book.” In other words, for every book you take, you should put one book back. The aim of the process is to promote not only general literacy, but also neighborhood community. These libraries are run on the honor system by community members, for each other.
In addition to allowing Gwinn to share her books, the Little Free Library provides “an added benefit: … a fantastic opportunity for people-watching.” Read her descriptions of these patrons of her LFL:
- The busy mom
- The insomniac
- The wannabe book critic
- The picky reader
- The cruiser
- The grateful recipient
I like her observation that “The key to having a Little Free Library is to release control.” Since patrons put in one book for every book they take out, “You can control the outbox, but you can’t control the inbox.”
Gwinn is certainly experiencing the community intent of the Little Free Library philosophy: “That is the gift of the Little Free Library; you get to know your neighbors, in all sorts of ways.”
New York Times technology writer Nick Bilton describes how books became a bond and a form of communication between himself and his mother:
As I grew up, my mother held my hand as we wandered through the fictional worlds of Harper Lee, Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll. Birthdays and Christmases were always met with rectangular-shaped gifts.
As he got older, he and his mother spend hours discussing plots and characters.
But in 2011, Bilton and his mother got into an argument over books. When he was moving from New York to California, he decided to leave behind most of his books in favor of a Kindle and later an iPad. His mother was appalled:
She spoke passionately about being able to smell the pages of a print book as you read, to feel the edges of a hardcover in your hands. And that the notes left inside by the previous reader (often my mother) could pause time.
After his mother died in March, Bilton and his two sisters learned that she had left her collection of more than 3,000 books to her oldest daughter. Knowing the bond that books had created between Bilton and their mother, his sister offered to share their mother’s library with him, and he “gratefully accepted.”
As a technology writer, Bilton had spent much time discussing the merits of print vs. digital books. But his mother’s death and his receipt of some of her books made him realize that one is not superior to the other: “They each have their place in this modern world.” He caps this realization with a description of how his mother, knowing she would not live long enough to meet Bilton’s unborn son, inscribed her copy of her favorite book, Alice in Wonderland, to him. That book, along with some of her others, sits in her grandson’s nursery, the basis of his own growing book collection.
Maria Konnikova collects evidence and hypotheses about how the shift from print to online texts has changed the experience of reading. She begins with reference to Maryanne Wolf, whose book Proust and the Squid examines the history of the science and development of the reading brain from antiquity to the twenty-first century. Konnikova writes that after her book was published, she received hundreds of letters from readers: “a theme began to emerge: the more reading moved online, the less students seemed to understand.” Wolf decided that another book was necessary to investigate why use of online texts resulted in superficial reading.
Konnikova cites experts and research into how online reading changes the reading process:
- Anne Mangen, a professor at the National Centre for Reading Education and Research at Norway’s University of Stavanger, believes that the reading device, whether a printed book or electronic screen, affects reading. With electronic devices, the intangibility, the layout of words, the scrolling screen (as opposed to the turning of printed pages), and the ability to click on hyperlinks makes the physiology of the reading experience different from that of a printed book. She also studies “how the format of reading material may affect not just eye movement or reading strategy but broader processing abilities.” She hypothesizes that people prefer printed books “because the nature of the object itself has deeper repercussions for reading and comprehension.”
- Ziming Liu, professor at San Jose State University, researches digital reading and the use of e-books. A review of earlier studies that compared print and digital reading combined with his own research revealed several changes in the reading process. When reading on screen, people tend to browse and scan for keywords, whereas on printed pages they concentrate more on following the text more linearly: “Skimming, Liu concluded, had become the new reading.” When skimming, readers do not stop to think about what they’re reading. Further, we tire more easily when reading on a computer screen because of the constant effort to filter out distractions like hyperlinks, and our eyes may fatigue easily because of the need to readjust to frequently changing layouts, colors, and contrasts.
- Mary Dyson, a psychologist at the University of Reading who studies how we perceive and interact with typography and design, has found that the layout of a text can significantly affect the reading process. When lines of text on a screen are too long, moving the eyes from one line to the next becomes more difficult. We read more efficiently when text is arranged in a single column rather than in multiple columns or section. Even the font, color, and size of text all affect the reading experience. All of these parameters can change more quickly on a screen than in print, and the mental and physical effort of adjusting to these changes can make electronic reading harder than print reading.
One of Wolf’s concerns is that digital formats negatively affect the “sophisticated comprehension processes” of what she calls deep reading:
“Reading is a bridge to thought,” she says. “And it’s that process that I think is the real endangered aspect of reading. In the young, what happens to the formation of the complete reading circuitry? Will it be short-circuited and have less time to develop the deep-reading processes? And in already developed readers like you and me, will those processes atrophy?”
However, it’s possible that the ability to focus attention rather than reading ability is what suffers in digital reading. Some research has found that people who read on devices not connected to the Internet achieve the same comprehension and retention of material as people who read printed books.
This article complements the previous one nicely. Here Tom Chatfield reports in The Guardian on research into how writing by hand—with pen or pencil on paper—differs from typing on a computer.
Since writing and reading are necessarily intimately related, Chatfield begins with some recent research into digital reading:
- In her new book Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World, linguistics professor Naomi Baron presents results of a survey of reading preferences conducted among 300 university students in the U.S., Japan, Slovakia, and Germany: “92% of respondents replied that it was hard copy that best allowed them to concentrate.”
- Researchers Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer compared the effectiveness among students of writing longhand notes vs. typing on a laptop: “Their conclusion: the relative slowness of writing by hand demands heavier ‘mental lifting,’ forcing students to summarise rather than to quote verbatim – in turn tending to increase conceptual understanding, application and retention.”
- At Indiana University, psychologist Karin James conducted a study with five-year-old children who did not yet know how to read or write. She asked the children to reproduce a letter or shape by typing into a computer, drawing onto a blank sheet of paper, and tracing over a dotted outline. “ When the children were drawing freehand, an MRI scan during the test showed activation across areas of the brain associated in adults with reading and writing. The other two methods showed no such activation.”
Yet, as Chatfield points out, while writing on paper may have benefits over typing, computers offer us the ability to conduct research and to gather and collate information. He concludes:
Above all, it seems to me, we must abandon the notion that there is only one way of reading, or that technology and paper are engaged in some implacable war.
In this recent article Lauren Martin refers to a 2012 article, Your Brain on Fiction, in The New York Times by Annie Murphy Paul that reports on neuroscience research into how reading fiction affects the brain.
What I like about Martin’s article is that she offers a great description of what getting lost in a good book feels like. As Martin explains:
Reading about the struggles and triumphs of fictional characters has the power to make us understand our own struggles and the struggles of those around us better.
Through reading, we develop a strong “theory of mind,” which enables us to understand and comprehend the emotional cues of others as if we were experiencing the emotions ourselves.
If you’ve ever gotten lost in a good book, you know what Martin means:
Only reading can change your brain so much you literally feel like you’re in another world. Only fiction has the power to physically change your state of mind.
Only a good book can change your life and make you believe you’re experiencing life in another dimension.
A list by Rebecca Mead, author of The Road to Middlemarch:
I wasn’t aware of the term “bibliomemoir” until the novelist Joyce Carol Oates used it – or perhaps coined it? – in reviewing my book, The Road to Middlemarch, earlier this year. But it’s a fitting enough label for the extended family my book belongs to: books that explicitly consider reading as a crucial dimension of living, or that explore the post-publication life that a significant book has led.
Read why these books make her list:
- U and I by Nicholson Baker
- To the River by Olivia Laing
- Portrait of A Novel by Michael Gorra
- The Possessed by Elif Batuman
- How to Live by Sarah Bakewell
- How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton
- Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer
- Parallel Lives by Phyllis Rose
- The Magician’s Book by Laura Miller
- A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things that Really Matter by William Deresiewicz
Lecia Bushak reports for Medical Daily on “Why We Should All Start Reading Paper Books Again.” She cites research in support of these three assertions:
- You’re missing out on important information.
- E-books get in the way of sleepytime.
- Screens = stress.
I have a big concern about this article: Bushak cites scientific research against the use of readers, but her statements about why reading a print book is better are often unreferenced. I suspect we’re getting only one side of the ereader story here. In fact, she admits:
It’s hard to put my finger on what exactly draws me to paper books, and makes me avoid electronic ones … it’s likely that reading allows me to rely on a singular focus to transport me to a new world, leaving all my stresses and personal problems behind.
And in the comments several people point out that some ereaders are front lit, so light shines off them just as it does off a paper page.
This handy guide from University of Victoria English professors G. Kim Blank and Magdalena Kay, provides a well-composed and insightful rubric for reading poetry. While the introduction points out that there is no single way to read a poem, the rest of the entry provides some important tips. For instance, when interpreting, it’s important to continually reference the poem as it stands. The authors expound on ten themes: Title, Key Words & Tone, Word Order, Figurative Language: Imagery, Sound: Rhythm & Rhyme, Speaker & Voice, Time & Setting, Symbol, Form, and Ideas & Theme. The site is especially suited for late high school and early college students, but it can also help clarify the interpretation of poetry for anyone who loves to read.
From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994–2014. https://www.scout.wisc.edu
For your reading enjoyment.
This article begins with one of my favorite beliefs about reading: “The experience itself has just as much to offer as the end result.”
In a world of information overload, we see lots of praise for improving our reading speed. But speed reading is the enemy of both comprehension and the sheer pleasure of reading and learning. That’s why I like this article, which offers suggestions that “should help you concentrate better, process what you’re reading more effectively, and get more out of each book.” Please read all about them:
- Don’t read in bed.
- Read alone.
- Read in print if possible.
- Take notes.
- Reread for clarity.
- Read aloud, or mouth along.
This short article looks as reasons why people either do or do not finish reading books they’ve started. Most of the information here is based on statistics compiled by GoodReads.
The most cited reason why we have the urge to put a book down without finishing it, according to GoodReads.com users, is a slow beginning or a non-engaging writing style. Not liking the main character, and books that have a weak plot, are two other popular reasons cited in comments on the site.
I used to think that I had to finish every book I started. But sometime around my 40th birthday I decided that I didn’t have unlimited time left and didn’t want to waste any of it trudging through to the end of books I didn’t like. I do try to give books a fair shot, though, so I do sometimes continue a bit beyond where I initially wanted to jettison that particular book.
What about you? Do you finish every book you start? If you don’t, how far into a book do you have to get before making the decision to quit?
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.
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.
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.
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.
I love my Kindle because it allows me to carry a lot of books around without having to carry a lot of books around. And having recently downsized to a retirement home game me another reason: I no longer have room for enough bookcases to hold every book I read.
But the jury is still out on whether there are any disadvantages to using an e-reader rather than reading a printed book. Here’s a report on new research that found differences in comprehension between readers who read a story in a paperback book vs. Readers who read the same story on an Amazon Kindle DX:
the Kindle readers scored significantly lower on questions about when events in the story occurred. They also performed almost twice as poorly when asked to arrange 14 plot points in the correct sequence.
The number of study participants was small (50), but the results suggest the need for more research.
Here’s a good starter list of books about books.
If you have other similar books that you like, mention them in the comments.
And because we all love lists, here’s another one.
Stephanie Feldman is the author of The Angel of Losses, a novel that, according to Publishers Weekly, “features a wonderfully spooky atmosphere.” Check out her list of scary books:
Here are some books that are smart and scary—just frightening enough for catharsis, and just exotic enough in their trappings that you’ll probably still be able to sleep at night.
I had heard of many of these, but a few are new to me.
And if you’re looking for a REALLY SCARY BOOK, I recommend I Am the Cheese, a short gem by Robert Cormier.
And here’s a similar list, this one from K.A. Harrington, author of the thriller Forget Me. Harrington writes, “I have always loved psychological thrillers – the plot twists, the stunning character reveals, the eerie settings.”
I’ve read all the books on Harrington’s list except one, The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. I’ve always resisted that one as too gory for me. But I second her recommendation of the other nine.
“Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography” – Wilder’s unedited draft that was written for an adult audience and eventually served as the foundation for the popular series – is slated to be released by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press nationwide this fall. The not-safe-for-children tales include stark scenes of domestic abuse, love triangles gone awry and a man who lit himself on fire while drunk off whiskey.
now that the film version of her beloved book is (finally) arriving in theaters on Friday, Lowry says she would like to go back and make just one small revision.
“The movie made much more complex the character of the Chief Elder,” the head of the society, Lowry says. “And then once they cast Meryl Streep — who never would have taken the role the way I wrote it in the book — the quality of her acting, just the turn of her eyes or the way her mouth curves, it was astounding to watch her. Now I wish I could go back and write the book the way she performed it.”
I haven’t yet decided whether I want to see this movie, although Meryl Streep, and what Lowry says about her here, is a big draw.