Category Archives: Libraries

Monday Miscellany

Homeless Outreach in Volumes: Books by Bike for ‘Outside’ People in Oregon

This city [Portland, Oregon] has a deeply dyed liberal impulse beating in its veins around social and environmental causes, and a literary culture that has flourished like the blackberry thickets that mark misty Northwest woods. It is also one of the most bike-friendly, if not bike-crazed, urban spaces in the nation, as measured by commuters and bike lanes. All three of those forces are combined in Street Books, a nonprofit book service delivered by pedal-power for “people living outside,” as Ms. Moulton, the founder, describes the mission.

Extreme, Extreme! The literature of laughing gas

Here’s an article about a subject I couldn’t even have imagined: William James stoned.

These words were set to paper in 1882 by William James, one of the most celebrated proponents of the new science of psychology, and a newly minted assistant professor of philosophy at Harvard. James was in many ways the paragon of an eminent Victorian—his writing tends to summon images of the author ensconced beside a roaring fire in some cozy wood-paneled study in Cambridge. And yet here James comes off as utterly, absurdly stoned.

. . .

James acknowledged to his readers that these ravings were the product of a mental state that, like alcohol intoxication, “seems silly to lookers-on.” But he came away from the experience with a remarkably positive take on nitrous oxide. James had argued that drunkenness produced a kind of “subjective rapture” occasioned by its ability to make “the centre and periphery of things seem to come together.” Nitrous oxide, he believed, produced a similar effect, “only a thousandfold enhanced.” On the gas, his mind was “seized … by logical forceps” and jolted into a new order of consciousness which, he thought, made the logic of Hegelian dialectics perfectly obvious to him.

2014 Washington State Book Award winners announced

This year’s Washington State Book Awards include a best-selling nonfiction book about the University of Washington crew team that won a gold medal in the 1936 Olympics; one writer’s investigation into his ancestors in Eastern Europe and the fate of their descendants; a novel based on the life of a seventh-century English saint; and poetry by a Seattle author.

Former JBLM Stryker soldier goes big-time as a poet, author

Brian Turner packed his poetry and went to war with a Joint Base Lewis-McChord Stryker brigade. Now, he’s returned with an acclaimed memoir.

With “My Life as a Foreign Country,” Turner has earned both accolades and, it seems, a measure of peace. The former infantryman has also fleshed out what he previously hinted at in poems dug from the hard ground in Iraq.

“The landscape is war,” the Fresno, California, native said in an interview, not for the first time, “but the actual subject is love and loss.”

 

 

Monday Miscellany

Open Library

Open Library is an open, editable library catalog with an attractive facade and a lofty mission. The mission? To build an online catalog with a web page for every book ever published. The best part? You can help. From the homepage, click Sign Up, then create a free Open Library account in two simple steps. From there, add new books, write descriptions, manage lists, and generally enjoy contributing to one of the most exciting library projects on the web. Of course, you don’t need an account to browse the site, with its 20 million records (and counting). Simply click Authors, Subjects, Recently, or Lists to search the site by category, or type a keyword into the general search function.

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994–2014. https://www.scout.wisc.edu

How Dennis Lehane’s ‘Drop’ screenplay became a novel

Cover: The Drop, Dennis LehandDennis Lehane, a master of the contemporary crime novel, has seen many of his books brought to the screen: “Mystic River,” “Shutter Island,” “Gone Baby Gone,” the upcoming “Live By Night.” But none have had such adventurous a transformation as “The Drop” (now in theaters), which began life as an opening chapter of a novel, then became a short story, then a screenplay … and now, finally, a novel.

Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald describes the strange story of how a group of characters continued to haunt writer Dennis Lehane until, in a reversal of the usual order of things, the film became a novel.

MURDER, THEY WROTE, USING THIS DOCTOR’S INGENIOUS IDEAS

From The Los Angeles Times, a look at cardiologist Douglas Lyle, who divides time between seeing patients in his cardiology clinic, writing crime novels, and answering “other crime writers’ questions about how to end their characters’ lives in weird — but scientifically plausible — ways.”

Tana French’s Favorite Books About Secrets

In her Dublin Murder Squad series, Irish writer Tana French reveals how secrets haunt the “the tumultuous inner lives of her characters, both cops and culprits.” Her latest novel, The Secret Place, is the fifth in the series.

“Big secrets transform everything and everyone around them—often in unpredictable, uncontrollable ways—and I’ve always been fascinated by books that explore that ripple effect,” French says. Here she recommends five novels that fit that description.

Finding our Literary Mothers and Sisters in Time

This post is from April 2014, but I just found it.

Sharan Newman, a medieval historian and author of both nonfiction and fiction, describes efforts to place women in their proper place in literary history and in the literary canon:

Today we might say that female authors have a secure place in literary history. But one thing I know as an historian is that the pendulum always swings. We need to leave a legacy not only as skilled writers but as accurate observers of aspects of life that are too often ignored. Looking back at my own long and somewhat checkered career, I realize that the desire to return women to their rightful place in history was what impelled both my fiction and non-fiction. Oddly, perhaps, I’ve found that a more honest portrayal can be created through fiction. This is due to the lack of solid information on the lives of ordinary women and men throughout time.

The ‘sexiest meal’: what a character’s breakfast reveals about them

And this piece is from February 2013, but I just found it.

Seb Emina, coauthor with Malcolm Eggs, (yes, really) of The Breakfast Bible, discusses breakfast in literature:

breakfast is the ideal barometer of normalcy, the meal that tells us who a person really is. An example: in the fifth chapter of Moby Dick (simply called “Breakfast”), Melville offers a morning scene at a bar-room in a whaling town, as a way of painting us a picture of Queequeg, a Pacific islander who “eschewed coffee and hot rolls” – savagery! – and “applied his undivided attention to beefsteaks, done rare”. And in The Hobbit, Tolkein reveals much about the implicitly decadent nature of Hobbithood when he has Bilbo Baggins consume a second breakfast – an occurrence that has somehow become one of the most recounted parts of the entire book.

This article is worth reading just for the description of Hunter S. Thompson’s preferred meal.

Monday Miscellany

Tragic fiction may leave you emotionally upset

Woman with KindleIt might seem logical that reading a sad fictional story would be less upsetting than reading a less sad but true story. But new research suggests this is not the case:

“Consumers may choose to read a tragic fictional story because they assume that knowing it was fictional would make them less sad than reading a less dramatic but true story,” said study authors Jane E.J. Ebert from Massachusetts based Brandeis University and Tom Meyvis from New York University.

This result makes perfect sense, though, to anyone who has ever been fully transported into the world of a well written novel.

”Our results suggest that while emphasising realism may increase sales, it does not necessarily increase satisfaction,” the authors concluded in a paper appearing in the Journal of Consumer Research.

THE 6 REACTIONS BOOK-LOVERS HAVE TO PEOPLE WHO DON’T READ

You know the scenario: You’re chatting with someone you’ve just met, and you naturally ask what the other person likes to read. And he or she replies, “I don’t read.”

Fortunately, it doesn’t happen too often. But when it does happen, here are some animated GIFs that illustrate your possible reactions to someone who doesn’t engage in an activity that you consider second only to breathing.

Marine Turned Novelist Brings Brutal, Everyday Work Of War Into Focus

“Every inch of that place, every grain of sand, wanted desperately to kill us.”

That’s a line from a compelling new novel about the Iraq War, written by former Marine Michael Pitre.

Pitre was a history and creative writing major at Louisiana State when he joined the Marines after Sept. 11. He became an officer and served two tours in Iraq’s Anbar province working in logistics and communications.

NPR interviews the author of the new novel Fives and Twenty-Fives, which follows an American road repair crew and bomb disposal team in Iraq.

Oldest Public Library in the Nation in Danger of Closing

For more than two centuries, the Darby Free Library has remained both a vital part of its community as well as a historical landmark. Built in 1743 by Quakers, it remains the oldest public library in the nation. But a financial crisis has left it in danger of shutting down by the end of the year.

10 Books You Should Read Before Graduating College

Note:
The former English teacher in me cannot refrain from commenting: You don’t “graduate college”; you “graduate FROM college.”

When I was in college, I didn’t have time to read much of anything that wasn’t required for one of my classes. But Radhika Sanghani, author of the novel Virgin, did: “I have a few books I’d recommend. All of them helped me through the student-to-adult transition when I left college a few years ago, and I still re-read them for pleasure, comfort and some good old-fashioned perspective.”

Why does she recommend these books?

Because, college is a bubble. Whichever one you choose to study at, chances are your entire life becomes based around the same people, lecture halls and bars. For me, reading was the best way to get out of that bubble and remember there was a wider world out there that I was just about to enter and should probably know a little bit about.

So check out her list, which she describes as “a mixture of good classics, contemporary reads, and a little bit of self-help for a time when you really need it.”

Monday Miscellany

Harlan Coben: By the Book

This week’s New York Times‘s Sunday Book Review includes an interview with one of my favorite thriller authors, Harlan Coben.

Related Posts:

From Distant Admirers to Library Lovers–and beyond

Kid readingThe Pew Research Center continues its study of how the public perceives and uses libraries:

This report describes nine groups of Americans that reflect different patterns of public library engagement. Respondents were sorted into groups based on a cluster analysis of factors such as: the importance of public libraries in their lives; how they use libraries; and how they view the role of libraries in communities. . . .

The typology examines four broad levels of library engagement. These levels are further broken into a total of nine individual groups:

High engagement

  • Library Lovers
  • Information Omnivores

Medium engagement

  • Solid Center
  • Print Traditionalists

Low engagement

  • Not for Me
  • Young and Restless
  • Rooted and Roadblocked

Non-engagement (have never personally used a public library):

  • Distant Admirers
  • Off the Grid

The descriptions of the various groups and their attitudes toward libraries are informative.

9 Terribly Dysfunctional Marriages in Literature

Lists like this always amuse me. Sometimes I agree with them, sometimes I don’t, and other times I haven’t read many of the books included.

But I’ve read most of these books and so pretty much agree with this list:

  1. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  2. The Ice Storm by Rick Moody
  3. Frenzy by David Grossman
  4. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
  5. Tell Me a Riddle by Tillie Olsen
  6. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  7. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  8. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
  9. “Temporary Matters,” the opening story in The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Dark Quotient: On Victoria Redel and Destructive Characters

the Manhattan-based author Victoria Redel actually seems to enjoy answering questions about her work, which often takes the form of fiction addressing an intense — even boundary-violating — bond between a parent and child. But don’t ask her about her personal life.

Following the 2001 release of her novel Loverboy, about a mother so enmeshed with her young son that she decides to asphyxiate him in a car rather than let him go to school, Redel has found herself explaining to readers that her creation of unlikable, even destructive characters is neither a window — nor an invitation — into her psyche.

A good article for readers who always wonder how much a writer’s works reflect the author’s own mind and soul.

JRR Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf: bring on the monsters

This week, HarperCollins announced that a long-awaited JRR Tolkien translation of Beowulf is to be published in May, along with his commentaries on the Old English epic and a story it inspired him to write, “Sellic Spell”. It is just the latest of a string of posthumous publications from the Oxford professor and The Hobbit author, who died in 1973. Edited by his son Christopher, now 89, it will doubtless be seen by some as an act of barrel-scraping. But Tolkien’s expertise on Beowulf and his own literary powers give us every reason to take it seriously.

 

Monday Miscellany

The Bestselling Books of 2013

Publishers Weekly has gathered some interesting statistics about last year’s book sales. Among their findings: “fiction is the genre of choice for customers who read e-books” and movie adaptations created demand for several titles, including Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

See the books included on these lists:

  1. Nielsen BookScan Top 20
  2. Amazon Kindle Top 20
  3. Amazon Print Top 20

8 books I bailed on in 2013

Laura Miller, book critic for Salon, reads a lot of books and usually writes about the ones she recommends. Here she summarizes 8 books she didn’t finish last year, cautioning “what follows are my responses to books you might possibly have heard of, rather than the absolute worst things I read.”

See why she bailed on these books:

  1. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  2. Gun Machine by Warren Ellis
  3. The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates
  4. Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime by Adrian Raine
  5. At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcon
  6. Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas
  7. Truth in Advertising by John Kenney
  8. Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova

How Do E-Books Change the Reading Experience?

Each week in Bookends, two writers take on questions about the world of books. This week, Mohsin Hamid and Anna Holmes discuss how technology affects the way we read.

Newbery Winner to Promote Her Genre

Television, music, and video games all compete with books for children’s attention. For this reason the Library of Congress in 2008 created the national ambassador for young people’s literature, a new position dedicated to promoting literature for children. A new ambassador is named every two years.

The next ambassador for young people’s literature will be Newberry Medal winner Kate DiCamillo, author of Because of Winn-Dixie and The Tale of Despereaux:

With a warm, lively personality and a boisterous laugh, Ms. DiCamillo would appear a natural fit for the post of ambassador, which asks for an ability to relate to children and an overall contribution to children’s literature. She is the fourth person appointed to the position, following Jon Scieszka (2008), Katherine Paterson (2010) and Walter Dean Myers (2012).

The Top 10 Library Stories of 2013

For libraries, 2013 was an eventful year. PW takes a look back at the top 10 library stories of the year, and a look ahead to what might be on the horizon in 2014.

Read what Publishers Weekly has to say about these news stories from last year:

  1. An E-Book Breakthrough?
  2. Google, GSU and Fair Use
  3. The Common Core’s Rough Debut
  4. What Happened to Copyright Reform?
  5. Pew Finds Americans Love Their Libraries, But Use Is Declining
  6. A Bookless Library?
  7. The NYPL [New York Public Library] Goes Back to the Drawing Board
  8. The Digital Public Library of America Launches
  9. Congress, White House Push for Public Access to Research
  10. The Death of Aaron Swartz

Monday Miscellany

Why GR’s new review rules are censorship – Some thoughts

Late Friday (US time) Goodreads announced a change in review and shelving policy, and immediately started deleting readers’ reviews and shelves. In doing this they became censors. Limiting readers’ ability to discuss the cultural context of a book is censorship designed to promote authors’ interests.

young girl readingOver on Goodreads reader Emma Sea has lashed out against the site’s new policy and has engendered quite a lot of support from commenters. I lead with this entry today because at the heart of the controversy lies the question of exactly what a book review is and what a review should—and shouldn’t—contain.

As soon as I started reading Emma’s post, I knew that the reference to Orson Scott Card’s book Ender’s Game was coming. This very popular book is being made into a movie. Card himself is outspoken in his criticism of gays and gay marriage; as a result, many people have called for a boycott of the movie, even though the book does not deal in any way with gay rights.

So, in terms of book reviewing policy, the question becomes: Is it acceptable to refer to Card’s beliefs in discussions of Ender’s Game?

I have struggled with this very question myself. Ender’s Game is one of the best books I’ve ever read. And I grew up under the school of New Criticism, which holds that literary works should be judged on the basis only of their text, not of their author or of any other external social or cultural context. However, I have reached a point in my life when I believe it’s important for me to stand up and be counted in support of my values and beliefs. I certainly stand by Orson Scott Card’s right to hold and to state his beliefs, but I also reserve the same right for myself.

But the question still remains: Is it appropriate for me—or anyone— to mention a disagreement with Card’s stated beliefs in reviewing a book that does not in any way touch on the subject of those beliefs? I’d love to hear suggestions on how to resolve this dilemma.

Why I Believe I Should Stand Up and Speak Out

Because I keep finding stories, like these, about censorship:

30 Books You Should Read Before You’re 30

some books are best experienced at a certain age, like, say, “Catcher in the Rye.” If you pick it up for the first time when you’re far beyond puberty, you’ll likely wonder what all the hype is about. Likewise, there are certain books you should read in your 20s, due to the age of the characters or the intended audience — books like Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History” or Christopher Hitchens’ “Letters to a Young Contrarian.”

There are also fantastic classics that may not have been assigned to you in school but that you should pick up ASAP simply because you’re missing out — books like Doris Lessing’s “The Golden Notebook” or “A Collection of Essays” by George Orwell.

Check out the 30 books we think you should read before you’re 30:

I’m not sure exactly why the folks at Huffington Post chose 30 as the magic age. I’ve read several of these recommended books in recent years, and I’m well over 30. In fact, I like to think that I probably got more out of reading these books precisely because of my maturity.

At any rate, this is a good list to use when you’re looking for the next book to pick up.

30 “Guilty Pleasure” Books That Are In Fact Awesome

All books are worth reading, obviously. But some books are slightly more “guilty pleasure” than “classic literature.”

Because you can never have too many good-books lists. . . .

Bookless Public Library Opens In Texas

An all-digital public library is opening today [September 14, 2013], as officials in Bexar County, Texas, celebrate the opening of the BiblioTech library. The facility offers about 10,000 free e-books for the 1.7 million residents of the county, which includes San Antonio.

I’ve always been a big fan of ebooks, but I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the idea of a bookless library. Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?

The Working Novelist: Writing and the Irrational

Something about the process of writing (and maybe art in general) pushes us toward the parts of ourselves and the world that we don’t totally understand.  Toward the grey areas, the uncertainty, the unsettled.

I don’t write fiction myself, but I’ve heard fiction writers say that sometimes a character will speak up on its own and take over the writing of the story. Here writer Alex Washoe describes how something similar happened to him:

When we read over what we’ve written – if we’ve surrendered ourselves at least a little to the process, to the “vivid and continuous dream” – we often find things we didn’t mean to include.  Stray details, odd comments, small actions – things that perhaps don’t seem to relate to the main action of the story.  Things that sometimes contradict what we thought we were saying.  The first tendency is always to delete these things, the smooth them over, to bring them in line with our plan.  And most of the time, that’s probably for the best.

But if we are willing to stay with these things, to hold them in our minds and find where they lead, they can sometimes open up dimensions of character and story – meaning – we never knew were there.  These stray details, these odd moments, these irrational tics push us away from what the conscious mind thinks it’s doing toward something a little less neat.

Readers, too, often find these little suggestive details in literature, and those details often deepen and enrich our understanding, whether we are aware of that process or not.

Monday Miscellany

There are a couple of sad stories about well known authors to report:

But there is some good news about libraries and librarians:

State of America’s Libraries Report 2013

Libraries and library staff continue to respond to the needs of their communities, providing key resources as budgets are reduced, speaking out forcefully against book banning attempts and advocating for free access to digital content in libraries, with a keen focus placed on ebook formats. These and other library trends of the past year are detailed in the ALA’s 2013 State of America’s Libraries Report.

Librarians group calls for boycott to stop ‘erasure of Palestinian culture and history

We are an independent group of librarians and archivists who traveled to Palestine from June 23 – July 4, 2013. We come from the US, Canada, Sweden, Trinidad & Tobago, and Palestine. We bore witness to the destruction and appropriation of information, and the myriad ways access is denied. We were inspired by the many organizations and individuals we visited who resist settler-colonialism in their daily lives. We connected with colleagues in libraries, archives, and related projects and institutions, in the hopes of gaining mutual benefit through information exchange and skill-sharing.

Finally, Evan Gottlieb, Associate Professor of English at Oregon State University, describes the challenges and pleasures of reading novels with unreliable narrators:

We Will Be Fooled Again: The Strange Pleasures of Narrative Trickery

the unreliable narrator. This narrator almost always speaks to us in the first person, meaning she or he tells the story directly in her own voice and from her point of view. Traditionally, such narrators implicitly gain the reader’s trust quickly; when Jane Eyre, the title character of Charlotte Brontë’s classic Victorian novel from 1847, informs us on page 1 that “I never liked long walks, especially on chilly afternoons,” we have no reason to doubt her. Neither do we initially doubt the narrators’ words in Wuthering Heights (1847), the equally famous novel by Charlotte’s sister Emily. Unlike Jane, however, the more we hear from Mr. Lockwood and then Nelly Dean (whose “narration within a narration” occupies the novel’s central chapters), the more we come to wonder whether either of them truly understands the significance of the events they relate.

Monday Miscellany

The Best Births In Literature

In honor of the birth last week of Britain’s Royal Heir, The Atlantic compiled this list of the five best birth scenes in literature.

Are there any others you’d add to this list?

Literature’s Fight Club

Cover: The Violet HourKatherine Hill, author of the recently published novel The Violet Hour, admits:

I have a thing for lovers’ quarrels—literary ones that is. There’s just nothing quite so dynamic, so conversant in so many emotional and moral registers, as a face-off between sworn intimates doing whatever it takes to win. It’s the proverbial car wreck, the horrific conflagration we can’t look away from, because the fire is actually kind of grand.

In college, I took a seminar called “Doomed Love in the Western World,” on troubled affairs throughout the ages: “Troilus and Criseyde,” “Antony and Cleopatra,” “Madame Bovary,” “Anna Karenina,” “Tess of the D’Urbervilles,” “The House of Mirth,” “The Satanic Verses,” “The Human Stain.” For years after, everything I read seemed to extend the conversation of that class. Social worlds might change, but love would always find agonizing new ways to die.

So when I set out to write my first novel, I had a tradition in mind. How does doomed love look in today’s affluent America, which wants to have its cake and eat it, too? Lavish weddings and gender equity, marching side by side.

Read her account of lovers’ quarrels in works of literature such as D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night and of how she incorporated this theme into her own novel.

The Quirky World of E-Reading Apps

Dismayed by the recent news that Barnes & Noble will no longer manufacture its ereader, the Nook, Nook owner Greg Zimmerman began:

looking at and experimenting with the various e-reader apps available for iPad, Android, and Windows tablets. What I discovered is that they are mostly similar — text and background are all customizable, and they all offer the ability to bookmark, highlight text, and take notes. But none of them is perfect. Each has a quirk or two that would prevent it from being my new go-to e-reading app.

Read his report on the following alternatives to the Nook:

  • Nook and Kindle reading apps
  • iBooks
  • Overdrive
  • Bluefire

Resurrected from the archives: timeless women’s fiction

For decades, the label “women’s fiction” has unfairly cubbyholed worthy books. Seattle Public Library librarian David Wright rounds up recent reprints by Penelope Mortimer, E.M. Delafield and Shirley Jackson that showcase the nuance and insight of these novels.

Wright discusses the following books:

  • Penelope Mortimer’s The Pumpkin Eater
  • E.M. Delafield’s The Way Things Are
  • D.E. Stevenson’s Miss Buncle’s Book and Miss Buncle Married
  • Shirley Jackson’s The Road Through the Wall and Life among the Savages

All have been recently reissued and therefore shouldn’t be difficult to find.

My Favorite Fictional Detectives

Author Martin Walker writes:

It is striking how closely literary fiction echoes real events. The trenches of the First World War gave us the anti-war novel. The Cold War gave us the golden age of spy stories, on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The West had James Bond and John le Carre’s Smiley while the Russians had their Julian Semyonov. More recent events have given us the terrorist novel, with Tom Clancy straddling the sub-genres of terrorist nukes and terrorist bio-weapons.

But of all the genres, the detective story seems the most durable, perhaps because the tales are less about crime, more about character. For every cunning murder we recall, from death by icicle which melts to leave no traces to tea being stirred with an oleander twig, it is the detectives and the killers who stick in the mind.

From Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty to Hannibal Lecter and Clarice, the dance of detection is part of a dynamic that goes back to the dawn of humanity. The killer starts by being the hunter and then becomes the hunted.

His appreciation of detective fiction also incorporates the importance of setting. Check out his list of favorite fictional detectives, which includes most of the usual suspects as well as some lesser known ones.

Monday Miscellany

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

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

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

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

Can games change minds?

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

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

Five science fiction novels for people who hate SF

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have others titles to add to this list?

What Makes a Work of Art Seem Dated?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Younger Americans’ Library Habits and Expectations

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

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

I was particularly interested in these statistics:

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

 

Monday Miscellany

Ann Aguirre Speaks Out on Sexism in Science Fiction

Aguirre

A couple days ago, Ann Aguirre wrote a stirring blog exposing the ugly beast that resides in the science fiction field.  According to Ann’s blog:

I’ve held my silence when I probably shouldn’t have. But I was in the minority, a woman writing SF, and I was afraid of career backlash. I was afraid of being excluded or losing opportunities if I didn’t play nice.

I don’t care about that anymore.

And she takes this issue very seriously, folks. You go, girl!

Author Guterson heckled for gloomy speech at Roosevelt graduation

The Seattle Times reports that David Guterson ruffled some feathers with his graduation speech at Seattle’s Roosevelt High School, his alma mater (class of 1974).

The speech, which most people who were asked said “was far from uplifting,” produced heckling from some parents and one student.

Awesome Bookish Flooring

For a welcome change of mood, Bookriot offers photos of some literally literary floors.

They really are awesome.