Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Monday Miscellany

Monday, January 13th, 2014

I’ll be traveling for the next three weeks. Therefore, updates here will be sparse.

The 9 Best Books That Don’t Exist

From Publishers Weekly:

It’s time to make you really sad: here are 9 great books…that don’t actually exist. But while the world would certainly be a better place if they did exist (except #4 and probably #1), if you haven’t read the books they’re from, change that right away.

Commenters have some additions to this list, and I would add The Book of Counted Sorrows from the works of Dean Koontz.

16 Books To Read Before They Hit Theaters This Year

The list includes some big titles: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, The Giver by Lois Lowry, and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

30 Books You NEED To Read In 2014

If you’re still drawing up this year’s reading list, Huffington Post has some recommendations from authors such as Karen Russell, Richard Powers, Lorrie Moore, Emma Donoghue, and Alain de Botton.

10 New Ways to Read in 2014 That Will Change the Way You Think About Books

From PolicyMic:

There’s no denying that the world of books is changing. But literature lovers are keeping up. Six years after the birth of the e-book reader Amazon Kindle, we’re no longer groaning about the death of traditional books. Even the most die-hard bibliophiles will admit that not only has technology not killed the book, but it also has extended literature’s boundaries by creating new forms — and has reached new audiences along the way.

Branch out and discover literature in all its hip, inventive, and tech-savvy glory this year, with our 10 reading resolutions that will change the way you think about and interact with books. Whether you’re a print-book fanatic or a Twitter fiend, there’s bound (pun intended) to be something in here for you.

10 Literary Blogs Every 20-Something Should Read

Also from PolicyMic:

The new literary generation is here, and it’s bored — bored with the New Yorker, bored with the New York Times, bored with the New York Review of Books.

We need new literary sustenance. We want writing by people who understand the tremendous attentional effort it requires to read more than three sentences of anything. We want a literary La La Land that gives us gifs and James Joyce in the same breath. Screw it — we want gifs of James Joyce.

While I look for those, take a look at these: The best — funniest, crassest, headiest, least boring, most addictive — literary blogs for 20-something readers and writers.

However, I don’t see why these recommendations should be limited to 20-something readers. I often read several of them myself, and I’m way past 29.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, July 8th, 2013

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

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

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

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

Can games change minds?

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

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

Five science fiction novels for people who hate SF

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have others titles to add to this list?

What Makes a Work of Art Seem Dated?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Younger Americans’ Library Habits and Expectations

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

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

I was particularly interested in these statistics:

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


Monday Miscellany

Monday, June 10th, 2013

Learning to learn: the heart of reading

woman readingAlly of (the curation service that I use for Literature & Psychology) describes how she went about learning to read for deep meaning. She based her strategy on an article by Maryanne Wolf, the John DiBiaggio Professor in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts, and author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.

Although Ally focused on reading nonfiction, the process would be similar for someone wanting to explore a particular topic in literary texts—for example, fiction that deals with the relationships between mothers and daughters.

Do We Need to Be Told How to Read? 

cover: How to Read LiteratureAlso in the category of learning how to read, academic cultural critic Terry Eagleton has a new book out, How to Read Literature.

I haven’t read Eagleton’s book yet, though I have bought it and look forward to finding out what he has to say. But novelist William Giraldi has read How to Read Literature, and in this article he offers an unsympathetic evaluation. In their symbiotic relationship, such clashes between practitioners (writers) and theorists (critics) are often more informative than anything either alone has to say.

Can books make us better people?

And why do we want to read, anyway? One reason might be that literature makes us better people. Or does it?

This question has been another hot topic of debate recently in the literary world. In this article in the Christian Science Monitor Husna Haq recaps the argument and provides links to many of the articles she discusses. She concludes:

Nonetheless, the question remains – does literature make us better?

If we turn to literature itself and the nuanced messages it conveys, we may find that the answer, unlike the question, is not nearly so clear-cut and precise. Literature, after all, deals with the messy, the ambiguous, the muddled, and, we suspect, that’s just what we have on our hands with that deceivingly straightforward question.

Empathy-Free Entertainment

Noah Berlatsky tackles the same issue over at The Atlantic:

Art, we’re often told, encourages empathy. By watching or reading about different people, or different situations, we become able to understand and sympathize with a broader range of perspectives. Fiction connects you to other people—or as Chuck Klosterman said, “Art and love are the same thing: It’s the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you.” There was even a study last year that found that “experience-taking changes us by allowing us to merge our own lives with those of the characters we read about, which can lead to good outcomes.” Literature broadens you; science says so.

But he bases his argument on recent movies (and, in some cases, on the comics that inspired those movies) rather than on just literary texts. And in those works he finds a bleak message:

What matters are these soulless, hollow, fungible icons, and the assurance that they will continue forever as around them all the mere humans effervesce like ghosts. This art isn’t about empathy or love. Instead, it’s about worship, about pledging fealty to our invented, charismatically uncaring, gods. Our corporate fictions offer the blank joy of not caring, whether about creators, actors, strangers, or ourselves.

Book Domino World Record: Seattle Public Library Launches Summer Reading In Style (VIDEO)

On a much happier note:

Seattle Public Library just set an unusual world record in its incredible flagship building: the world’s longest book domino chain.

Created to launch its summer reading program, 2,131 books were used in the service of this magical video that you can watch above, filmed on May 31st. Our favorite part? The silent summer readers sitting among the books as they quietly fell around them.


Monday Miscellany

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Authors weigh in on their favorite page-to-screen adaptations

The opening of the latest film version of The Great Gatsby has focused interest on adaptations of books into movies. Here authors Dennis Lehane, Chuck Palahniuk, Judy Blume, Bret Easton Ellis, Warren Adler, and Kelly Oxford discuss “the times Hollywood got it right.”

A Nigerian-’Americanah’ Novel About Love, Race And Hair

Cover: Americanah

An interview with Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about her latest novel, Americanah.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has much of interest to say in this interview, especially about the immigration of Nigeians into the United States and the United Kingdom. But I found particularly eye-opening her own experience with stereotyping:

“I sometimes wonder whether we should change the terminology and instead of talking about race, maybe just talk about skin color, because Ifemelu didn’t really think of herself in terms of her skin color when she was in Nigeria. So coming to the U.S. and discovering that she was black was an entirely new thing. And it’s quite different from being in Nigeria and knowing that there are tensions between Igbo and Yoruba and Hausa. It’s a very different thing. But you know, what’s, I think, particularly absurd about race is how immediate it is. That it doesn’t matter what your history is, what your — it’s really about how you look.

“And I’ll tell you a story. So when I first came to the U.S., much like Ifemelu, I just didn’t think of myself as black. And I wrote an essay in class, and my professor wanted to know who ‘A-dee-chee’ was — Americans often call me ‘A-dee-chee,’ and often tell me that my name makes them imagine that I might be Italian. And so when I raised my hand, because, you know, ‘Who wrote the best essay? This is the best essay; who’s A-dee-chee?’ I raised my hand. And on his face, for a fleeting moment, was surprise. And I realized that the person who wrote the best essay in the class was not supposed to look like me. And it was quite early on in my time in the U.S., but it was just sort of that very tiny moment where I realize, ‘Oh, right, so that’s what this is about.’ “

Sookie Stackhouse author receiving death threats

In a case of life imitating the art of Stephen King’s Misery, CBC Books reports that author Charlaine Harris has been receiving death threats:

Charlaine Harris’s bestselling Sookie Stackhouse novels, the basis for the hugely popular HBO TV series True Blood, has inspired a legion of devoted fans, but some of those fans have turned on the author — even threatened her life — after the ending of the final book of the series was leaked.

Dead Ever After, the 13th and final novel in the series, was released this week, but one reader in Germany managed to receive an advance copy and posted major spoilers on Amazon in April.

Southland, one of the best dramas on TV, deserves to be renewed

We could all stand to purge a few cop shows from the nation’s collective television diet, but TNT’s Southland isn’t one of them.

I couldn’t agree more.

Choice Critical for Promoting Reading, Says Canadian Study

Publishers Weekly reports on a study commissioned by the National Reading Campaign in Canada. The study focused “on ways to build a nation of people who love to read, as opposed to literacy strategies to ensure that the population can read.”

Study results, released last week, were “that giving people choice and control over what they read as well as in related social interactions are key factors in instilling a love of reading.” Working in groups is particularly important for developing literacy among teens, the study found. Sharon Murphy, associate professor of education at York University in Toronto and author of the study report, wrote that there are “many long-term societal benefits associated with being a nation of avid readers, including increased civic engagement, empathy for others, and improved cognitive and academic development.”

Do Readers Judge Female Characters More Harshly Than Male Characters?

In an April 29 interview with Claire Messud, Publisher Weekly’s Annasue McCleave Wilson wondered whether Messud would want to be friends with her protagonist, Nora. Nora was, after all, just so very angry, “almost unbearably grim.”

“For heaven’s sake, what kind of a question is that?” Messud shot back (understandably), proceeding to rattle off any number of unpleasant male protagonists, from Philip Roth’s Mickey Sabbath to Dostoyevsky’s Roskolnikov, about whom, one presumes, no one would even think to ask such a question. “If it’s unseemly and possibly dangerous for a man to be angry,” Messud says, “It’s totally unacceptable for a woman to be angry.”

On the basis of this interview, Maria Konnikova examines two key questions:

First, do people treat male and female literary characters differently? That is, are readers actually more inclined to evaluate female, as opposed to male, protagonists on the basis of their potential as friendship material? And second, gender issues aside, what kind of a question is that, anyway—a legitimate one, or, in essence, a fairly dumb one? Should we be going to literature to look for potential friends in the first place?

Monday Miscellany

Monday, May 6th, 2013

Books —> Film

The latest adaptation of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is garnering most of the attention in this category right now, but there’s other news as well. Here’s some news on upcoming films:

Will Baz Luhrmann’s noise dampen ‘Great Gatsby’s’ joys?

“Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald revisits the book’s melancholy beauty prior to the movie’s release.”

The Confidence Index: What Maisie Knew

Henry James’s What Maisie Knew (1897/1898) is one of my favorite novels. Jennifer Paull has news about the upcoming film version.

Frances McDormand and Director Lisa Cholodenko Team Up for HBO’s Olive Kitteridge Adaptation

Before it became a Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller, McDormand fell hard for Elizabeth Strout’s interwoven collection of vignettes set in a backwater town along the coast of Maine connected by the titular plainspoken protagonist who reveals deep reserves of humanity and empathy (even for the most jagged and broken characters) as the novel unfolds.

Salman Rushdie bequeaths ‘Midnight’s Children’ to film

This article provides an overview of Rushdie’s life and career along with news about the film adaptation of his most famous novel.

Parents, Children, and Libraries

The Pew Internet and American Life Project studies many aspects of American life, including attitudes toward and uses of books and libraries. Here are some of the latest research findings:

Research in the Digital Age: It’s More Than Finding Information…

Two middle school teachers offer advice on how to teach students to evaluate information they find on the internet. This information may seem elementary, but it’s advice all of us can use.

Gillian Flynn on her bestseller Gone Girl and accusations of misogyny

Gone Girl has taken the publishing world by storm with its disturbing portrayal of a relationship gone badly wrong. Author Gillian Flynn talks about how she portrays women, her childhood love of horror – and how her marriage inspired the book

Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman Confirmed To Reteam For ‘Before I Go To Sleep’

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman Confirmed To Reteam For ‘Before I Go To Sleep’.

I’m excited to hear about this film, based on quite a suspenseful novel. And Colin Firth. . . .

The film is expected to appear in 2014.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Hogwarts Is in Your Head, Harry: Conspiracy Theories About Literature

Harry Potter

Warner Bros.

Emily Temple weighs in over at The Atlantic:

Sherlock Holmes and Watson are lovers, Winnie the Pooh is a mental-illness allegory, and other theories that might forever alter your favorite books.

There was a pretty fascinating article over at Salon earlier this month, in which Greg Olear argues that Nick Carraway, the narrator of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, was gay and in love with the novel’s eponymous character. Though a Google search indicates that Olear’s not exactly the first person to think of this, I admit I’d never considered the idea before, and his arguments are pretty persuasive. The article got me thinking about the other theories and alternate interpretations that are floating around about classic literary characters. Below, an investigation, and perhaps a few sides of characters you’ve never seen before.

Now we all know that I’m a student of the intersections between literature and psychology, but, well, it’s just too easy to get carried away with this kind of thing once you get started.

Writers writing about writing: ‘Why We Write’

Joan Didion had it right. In her 1976 essay “Why I Write,” originally published in the New York Times Book Review, she lays out the template in no uncertain terms: “In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions — with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating — but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.”

David L. Ulin, book critic for the Los Angeles Times, describes the newly released Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Writers on How and Why They Do What They Do, edited by Meredith Maran.

See what writers including Mary Karr, Sara Gruen, James Frey, Susan Orlean, Rick Moody, Jane Smiley, Walter Mosley and Armistead Maupin have to say about their craft.

The Art of Marginalia

I, of course, could not pass up an article about the act of writing notes in the margins of books.

In addition to a neat photo of a well marked-up book, Jocelyn Kelley includes links to two other articles from the New Yorker and the New York Times.

16 Great Library Scenes in Film

When news broke last week that Dan Brown’s new novel will center on some sort of mystery surrounding Dante’s Inferno, I immediately began hoping that there is a nutty, fun scene of Robert Langdon racing around a library just like he raced around the Louvre in The Da Vinci Code.

And because I am who I am, it got me thinking about great movie library scenes that already exist. At first, I thought the list would be pretty short, but you know what? Hollywood loves a library. Some combination of ambiance, seclusion, hidden knowledge, and the sheer beauty of shelves upon shelves of books make libraries a fantastic film setting.

Jeff O’Neal, the editor of Book Riot, was surprised to find 16—SIXTEEN!—noteworthy library scenes in films.

Can you think of any that he left out?

The Best Coffee Mugs for Book Lovers

banned books mug

With Valentine’s Day coming up fast, here’s a whole cupboard full of gift suggestions.

This one is my favorite.

Silent reading isn’t so silent, at least, not to your brain

The blogger at Neurotic Physiology, who says she has a Ph. D. in physiology, discusses some recent research into whether “silent reading” is truly silent to our brains. The study she’s describing involved only four participants (but there are good reasons for the small sample size, as NP explains) and is therefore quite limited. But the results are interesting:

What’s particularly new about this study is that it not only shows that silent reading causes high-frequency electrical activity in auditory areas, but it shows that these areas as specific to voices speaking a language. This activity was only present when the person was paying attention to the task. The authors believe that these results back up the hypothesis that we all produce an “inner voice” when reading silently. And it is enhanced by attention, suggesting that it’s probably not an automatic process, but something that occurs when we attentively process what we are reading. And the next time you read silently, remember that it’s not quite to silent to your brain.

Be sure to read the comments. They’ll have you contemplating the reading voice in your own head.

The Nuclear Monsters That Terrorized the 1950s

What would a visiting alien learn from Them!, Godzilla, and Attack of the 50-Foot Woman?

People who want to talk about the jumpy, kitschy, gloriously lurid movie genre we now know as 1950s sci-fi usually start with Susan Sontag. This is not because Sontag is a bug-eyed alien or 50 feet tall but because she wrote, in 1965, the definitive essay on Cold War dystopian fantasy: “The Imagination of Disaster.” “We live,” she claimed in that piece, “under continual threat of two equally fearful, but seemingly opposed, destinies: unremitting banality and inconceivable terror.” The job of science fiction was at once to “lift us out of the unbearably humdrum … by an escape into dangerous situations which have last-minute happy endings” and to “normalize what is psychologically unbearable, thereby inuring us to it.”

In other words, a good horror/fantasy/sci-fi flick provides a healthy dose of escapism, but it also keeps one eye fastened on what we wish to escape from.

Katy Waldman examines some of these classic movies and lists some conclusions we might draw from them:

  1. That science is amoral.
  2. That the universe exists in black-and-white.
  3. That women are scary. And sexy, too, just like the bomb itself.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Hemingway family mental illness explored in new film

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway, 1950
(Source: Wikipedia)

Ernest Hemingway, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954, struggled with depression throughout his life before committing suicide in 1961. In this article from CNN, his gradddaughter, Mariel Hemingway, discusses a new documentary about the family that she hopes will increase awareness of and allow people to talk more openly about mental illness.

Libraries: Good Value, Lousy Marketing

Publishers Weekly has a good summary of the results of a recent Pew study, Library Services in the Digital Age.

The key finding:

libraries—in the opinion of most Americans—aren’t just about books. 80% of U.S. residents say that lending books is a “very important” service, but they rate the help they get from reference librarians as equally important. And nearly the same number, 77%, reported that free access to technology and the Internet is also very important. This triumvirate—books, help, and technology—runs through the entire report.


Clearly, American library users wanted it all: a beautiful well-stocked place, perfect for browsing and sipping, reading and listening. And a humming web site, accessible from your handheld device, offering an array of content plus direct, one-on-one services.

Find the entire Pew report here.

50 Essential Science Fiction Books

A Canticle for LeibowitzRichard Davies admits that he faced a nearly impossible task: “Put together a list of 50 must-read science fiction books and don’t make anyone angry.”

Here are the criteria he used in paring down the huge genre of science fiction to a mere 50:

One book per author, so that was hard on the big three of science fiction – Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke, who each have multiple classic titles to their name. Attempt to show as many sub-genres of science fiction and plot themes as possible. Include early stories that influenced the genre as a whole and launched popular themes, even if those books appear a bit dated today.

I don’t read much science fiction, so I wasn’t too surprised when I counted only 6 of these books as ones I’ve read. However, the list did motivate me to dig my mass market paperback of Canticle for Leibowitz out of the back row on my TBR shelf. I’ve placed it in a more prominent position so that now I may actually get around to reading it.

What about you? How many of these science fiction classics have you read?

The Many Lives of Donald Westlake

The release of the film Flashfire, featuring Parker, the antihero created by Donald Westlake under the pseudonym Richard Stark, has prompted Michael Weinreb to write a retrospective about Westlake, who died in 2008.

I bring up Westlake now because this Friday, a filmic version of a Parker novel called Flashfire will be released to theaters. It is not the first iteration of Parker on celluloid, and it will not be the last, though it is the first to bear the actual name of the character, since the producers have secured options on several of the books. In the past, Parker has been called Porter and Walker and Stone and Macklin, and he has been played by Lee Marvin and Jim Brown and Robert Duvall and Peter Coyote and Mel Gibson and a French actress named Anna Karina. In this version, he is played by Jason Statham and directed by Taylor Hackford, and while I have not seen it, I have heard — both from Westlake’s widow, Abby Adams, and his close friend, the writer Lawrence Block — that it stays relatively true to the Parker character as Westlake conceived him.

Weinreb explains that once, when writing a Parker novel, Westlake had a problem: The story kept turning out funny. And so was born Westlake’s more adorable character, John Dortmunder:

Westlake rewrote that failing Parker novel with a new brand of antihero, a put-upon thief named Dortmunder. He called it The Hot Rock, and it was made into a (very good) movie, scripted by William Goldman and starring Robert Redford. For the remainder of Westlake’s career, Dortmunder became the flip side of Parker, a man who can’t seem to catch a break, a man whose very human — whose very Westlakeian — neuroses set him back time and again. The natural connection between Dortmunder and Parker is that they are both men at work, and they are both at the mercy of forces they cannot control; the natural connection, I think, is that Dortmunder and Parker represent the two sides of the writer’s life, both the whimsy and the grind.

Desecrating Poe

Laura Miller of Salon takes on the new Fox thriller, The Following, which features Kevin Bacon as a former FBI agent called out of retirement to track the proteges of Joe Carroll, a serial killer whose crimes are based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe:

The horror of “The Following” comes not just from the storytelling, but from the way it maligns a literary legacy

The Following

(Credit: FOX/Michael Lavine)

As always, Miller tells us how she really feels:

Poe may be the father of American horror fiction, but he would surely protest at being implicated in this feeble, derivative, dishonest tripe. “The Following” presents an image of his literary intentions and methods that could not be more wrong. While some of Poe’s characters are indeed insane, he did not equate insanity with “art.” To the contrary, “The Philosophy of Composition,” Poe’s famous essay on how he wrote “The Raven,” promises to demonstrate the supreme rationality of his creative process. He avows that “no one point in ['The Raven's'] composition is referable either to accident or intuition — that the work proceeded, step by step, to its completion with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem.” And, believe me, he shows his work. Sure, the essay suggests a certain amount of OCD, but nothing that remotely resembles the sociopathic, homicidal ecstasy evinced by Carroll.

I haven’t watched the series yet. I prefer to collect a few episodes of a new series on the DVR and then watch them all at once to see how the story progresses (or, sometimes, doesn’t progress). How about you? Have you seen this new show? Tell us what you think in the comments.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Making Appointments With (Fictional) Doctors

A fictional M.D. will not reduce your fever, but she or he might reduce your boredom. That’s because many medical protagonists — whether general practitioners or something else — are quite interesting. They’re often not liberal arts types, but, heck, non-liberal arts types can be compelling characters, too.

Also of interest is seeing how fictional physicians interact with fictional patients, and how these doctors manage their fictional personal lives while working long hours. Plus we can’t help comparing literature’s doctors to our own doctors. Are these made-up medical people as compassionate and dedicated, or as egotistic and mercenary, or as competent or not-so-competent as the real-life medical people we visit?

Read what Dave Astor has to say about doctors in fiction, from Flaubert’s Madame Bovary to John Grisham’s The Client.

Romance that never loses its sparkle: The world’s most influential novel ever

image from Pride and Prejudice

BBC 1995 Adaptation of Pride and Prejudice

It gave us Colin Firth in a clinging, wet shirt and inspired Bridget Jones to sing “I’m Every Woman”. Jane Austen’s “own darling child”, or Pride and Prejudice as it’s known to you and me, is a brand all of its own. It has inspired more spin-offs than almost any other book in history, and has ballooned into a multi-million-pound industry. Pretty impressive, considering it turns 200 years old this month.

As enthusiasts, academics, authors and film-makers across the globe celebrate the bicentenary of the novel’s publication in the next few weeks, experts suggest “cult Austen” is only going to get bigger. Its market, they say – which until now has consisted largely of Britain, the US and Australia – is expanding. China, India and Russia are starting to swot up on all things Austen. Visitors are flocking to visit her home, Chawton in Hampshire, to read the sequels and travel to the locations where adaptations of her works were filmed.

Notes on all kinds of artistic endeavors inspired by Pride and Prejudice.

Fact of fiction: How reading the classics gives the brain a boost

Researchers at Liverpool University believe that reading classic works of literature, particularly Shakespeare, “had a beneficial effect on the mind, by catching the reader’s attention and triggering moments of self-reflection.”

Using scanners, they monitored the brain activity of volunteers as they read pieces by Shakespeare, Wordsworth, TS Eliot and others. They then “translated” the texts into more “straightforward”, modern language and again monitored the readers’ brains as they read the words. Scans showed that the more “challenging” prose and poetry set off far more electrical activity in the brain than the more pedestrian versions.

Scientists were able to study the brain activity as readers responded to each word and noticed how it “lit up” as they encountered unusual words, surprising phrases or difficult sentence structure. This “lighting up” of the mind lasted longer than the initial electrical spark, shifting the brain to a higher gear and encouraging further reading.

The classics also produced self-appraisal in readers:

The research also found that poetry, in particular, increased activity in the right hemisphere of the brain, an area concerned with “autobiographical memory”, helping the reader to reflect on and reappraise their own experiences in light of what they had read.

One aspect of the research compared the reactions in volunteers’ brains when reading the work of, among others, Wordsworth, Henry Vaughan, John Donne, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Eliot, Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes and when reading paraphrases of the poetic passages. Reading of the original passages

caused a greater degree of brain activity, lighting up not only the left part of the brain concerned with language, but also the right hemisphere that relates to autobiographical memory and emotion.

Activity is this area of the brain suggests that the poetry triggers “reappraisal mechanisms” causing the reader to reflect and rethink their own experiences. “Poetry is not just a matter of style. It is a matter of deep versions of experience that add the emotional and biographical to the cognitive,” said Prof [Philip] Davis [an English professor who worked on the study].

“The next phase of the research is looking at the extent to which poetry can affect psychology and provide therapeutic benefit.”

Five Movies Coming Out In 2013 That Are Based On Books

Freelance writer and photographer Kristina Pino provides a heads-up on some upcoming films. “This list isn’t about the likes of Ender’s Game, Hunger Games, Carrie, The Great Gatsby, The Host, and others. It’s about the ‘little guys.’”

Read why she recommends these films:

  • Warm Bodies
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist
  • Beautiful Creatures
  • I, Frankenstein
  • Epic

Meet Babies Grey and Anastasia: ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ inspires baby names

Call it the Fifty Shades bump — literally. BabyCenter has released their yearly list of most popular baby names and — shocker! — the Class of 2030 will be seeing a lot more Anastasias and Greys. Wait, Greys? Yes, readers. When bestowing a Fifty Shades-inspired moniker on their child, parents chose not Christian, but Grey. The name saw a 20 percent jump from last year. On the girls’ side of things, Anastasia rose ten percent, while Ana climbed 35 spots.

Movies Are Literature Too

And for snooty readers who think the book is always better than the movie, Christina Oppold has some news:

Sometimes we take our lives as readers too seriously. Even if we flit between the highbrow and fluffy beach read, it is easy to think of books as somehow being superior to movies. But storytelling is all connected. From the camp fire to the Blue Ray DVD, from stone tablets to digital ink; what thrills the balletomane bores the cinephile. Each new medium follows on the heels of what came before; it breathes new life in to sharing our stories and each is belittled by the supporters of what came before.

We read not for the sake of the book as a physical object but for the stories within that move us. Embrace the story no matter how it was conveyed to you.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

It’s been a good week for literature-relating reading.

The Top 10 Charles Dickens Books

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

Robert Gottlieb, author of Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens, explains why he thinks these are Dickens’s 10 best books:

  1. Great Expectations
  2. Our Mutual Friend
  3. David Copperfield
  4. Bleak House
  5. Little Dorrit
  6. Oliver Twist
  7. Nicholas Nickleby
  8. Dombey and Son
  9. The Pickwick Papers
  10. The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens

The Education of Virginia Woolf

At The Atlantic, Benjamin Schwarz uses the publication of volume 6 of The Essays of Virginia Woolf  as the springboard to a discussion of Virginia Woolf as discerning reader of literature: “Taken as a whole, Woolf’s essays are probably the most intense paean to reading—an activity pursued not for a purpose but for love—ever written in English.”

The multivolume compilation The Essays of Virginia Woolf has been out of print for decades, and readers have been awaiting the conclusion of this expertly edited and lavishly annotated scholarly edition of Woolf’s complete essays for nearly 25 years. At last the project is finished with this, the sixth volume, which was published to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Woolf’s death last year. This installment, which gathers the pieces she wrote from 1933 until her suicide in 1941, poignantly illuminates the effort and ideals that informed her critical writing. Woolf became a financially secure novelist in 1928 with the publication of Orlando, yet she continued to toil at her relatively unremunerative reviews. For example, by cross-referencing her letters and diaries, Stuart N. Clarke, this volume’s editor, reveals that in November 1936, Woolf began work on her lapidary, psychologically astute, tender essay on Edward Gibbon. That project demanded that she read his journals, letters, and the six drafts of his autobiography—and reread the six-volume History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the work that naturally forms the cynosure of her piece. She labored at this review through the winter and spring of 1937 (“I’ve spent all the morning, every morning, writing; every evening reading. I had to dash through Gibbon”), until its publication that May. For this staggering quantity of work, she was paid 28 pounds, equal to something like $2,500 today—a nice lump sum, but a minuscule per-hour rate.

Famous authors: Why their biggest fans love to hate them

Declaring “the more beloved a particular book becomes, the more responsibility the author has to treat their readers with respect and understanding,” the folks at hypable list authors they love to hate:

  • J. K. Rowling
  • Suzanane Collins
  • George R. R. Martin
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  • John Green

On Bad Endings

On The New Yorker‘s Page-Turner blog Joan Acocella declares:

Many of the world’s best novels have bad endings. I don’t mean that they end sadly, or on a back-to-work, all-is-forgiven note (e.g. “War and Peace,” “The Red and the Black,” “A Suitable Boy”), but that the ending is actually inartistic—a betrayal of what came before. This is true not just of good novels but also of books on which the reputation of Western fiction rests.

Read why she hates the endings of these well known novels:

  • David Copperfield
  • Wuthering Heights
  • Song of the Lark
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Hollywood’s 25 Most Powerful Authors

The Hollywood Reporter offers its list of:

those living authors who have been most successful in shepherding their books from page to screen, balancing success in publishing (total output, sales, best-sellers) and in Hollywood (completed adaptations, projects in development, screenwriting and producing credits) while accounting for cultural influence. More power to them.

Yes, some of the big names—Stephenie Meyer, Suzanne Collins, Stephen King, Nicholas Sparks, George R. R. Martin—are there at the top of the list, but some of the names farther down might surprise you.