Literary Links

The Edgar Awards Revisited: The Suspect by L. R. Wright (Best Novel; 1986)

The Edgar Awards Revisited, a series in Criminal Element, looks back at award winners not only in their own right, as outstanding novels, but as representative of the their time.

In fact, looking back on 1986, The Suspect may have been the least progressive choice, thematically or structurally, for the Edgar that year, its whydunnit format notwithstanding. Simon Brett’s A Shock To The System features a similar format but, as the British precursor to Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, was perhaps considered as outre as its fellow nominee, Paul Auster’s metaphysical detective story, City Of Glass.

10 GREAT BOOKS THAT DEFY ALL GENRE LABELS

cover: The Warehouse

Rob Hart, author of the recently released novel The Warehouse, writes:

Recently I heard a pretty good explanation of the difference between a mystery and a thriller. A mystery is about what happened, and a thriller is about what’s going to happen.

But beyond that distinction, how do librarians and publishing professionals decide into which of many, many inter-related categories a given novel should be slotted? Readers of literary criticism know that the distinction between “literary fiction”—the high-brow, highfalutin stuff—and “mere genre fiction”—the low-brow, inferior stuff most of us love—is a perennial topic of discussion. But Hart here proclaims, “I really am a fan of mixing genres.” He offers a list of books that do just that: “I don’t know exactly what to call, other than very good books.”

On the Growing Influence of Barack Obama, Literary Tastemaker

While we may not be seeing an Obama book club any time soon, the former president provides a rare male voice in a largely female-dominated literary space helmed by the likes of Oprah [Winfrey] and Reese Witherspoon. Covering a wide range of genres, topics and authors, Obama’s recommendations certainly aren’t aimed specifically at male readers, but his voice has helped redefine a literary space often associated — however problematically — with a stereotypically “feminine” vision perhaps best embodied by Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine book club.

Says Kayla Kibbe, “Obama’s book recommendations read less like an endorsement from a former world leader than a conversation with a close friend who would gladly lend you their own paperback.”

Reading in a Boom Time of Biographical Fiction

Biographer, poet, critic, and novelist Jay Parini addresses the rise of historical fiction over “the last few decades.”

A student of mine recently said to me in frustration: “I just can’t get interested in ‘made-up’ lives.” And I must admit, my own tastes have shifted over the decades away from invented lives. I think I speak for many when I say that it’s biographical novels—which are centered on actual lives and circumstances—that have found a more secure place in my reading (and writing) life.

And here’s why:

Fiction offers the one and only way we have to get into the head of somebody not ourselves. If this person is someone of interest for one reason or another, there is all the more reason to want to know them and their world more deeply.

And there is a truthfulness in fiction that is simply unavailable to the academic biographer.

Recalling a Time When Books Could Give You Indigestion

cover: What We Talk About When We Talk About Books

Jennifer Szalai discusses What We Talk About When We Talk About Books by Leah Price, an English professor at Rutgers University. The book is not so much about literary history or literary criticism as about the book as physical object and the experience of reading.

The knot of ambivalence contained in this book is appropriate, considering that her subject — “the history and future of reading” — is too enormous and various to speak with a single voice. Recalling an injury that a number of years ago made it hard for Price to read, she says her story “has that most bookish of structures, a happy ending.” This is Price the Book Historian talking; Price the Literary Critic seems to have a different and darker take. Later, reflecting on the desire to see fiction as therapeutic, she wonders how we might prepare for “that most literary of endings, an unhappy one.”

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

GOODREADS HACKS: GET A DNF SHELF, MARK REREADS, AND MORE

If you find it hard to keep up with all the cool kids who use Goodreads to track their reading, this article will put you in the know about some of the more esoteric aspects. The main subject here is how to create a DNF (did not finish) shelf that won’t include the books placed there in your number of books read statistics. But there are a few other nifty nuggets of knowledge here as well, along with links to several other articles explaining how to use Goodreads. An avid reader’s bonanza!

How We Need Diverse Books Changed The Literary World, According To 15 Publishing Pros

When We Need Diverse Books was founded by a team of writers, illustrators, and publishing professionals, it was meant to shake up the publishing industry from the inside. Led by the original Executive Committee — Ellen Oh, Lamar Giles, Marieke Nijkamp, Miranda Paul, Aisha Saeed, Karen Sandler, and Ilene Wong — and supported by the original PR team — Stacey Lee and SE Sinkhorn — We Need Diverse Books was created to fight for more diversity in children’s and young adult book publishing at every level, among authors, editors, marketers, agents, publishers, and more. First and foremost, they wanted authors from marginalized communities to be given opportunities to have their voices heard in the overwhelmingly white, heterosexual, cisgender industry. And the results have been clear.

Fifteen publishing professionals discuss “why they believe We Need Diverse Books has changed publishing forever, and what they hope for the future.”

Toni Morrison and Nina Simone, United in Soul

Emily Lordi discusses how much Toni Morrison was influenced by contemporary musicians:

Her work resonates with the music of those soul artists alongside whom she honed her craft: the grand ambition of Isaac Hayes, the moral clarity of Curtis Mayfield, and the erotic truth-telling of Aretha Franklin. But the soul artist who is most closely aligned with Morrison is Nina Simone. “She saved our lives,” Morrison said of the singer, after Simone’s death, in 2003. Simone meant so much to her, and to other black women, I think, in part because of how she turned social exclusion into superlative beauty and style. It was this recuperative alchemy that defined soul, as a music and an ethos. And, if Simone was soul’s “High Priestess,” Morrison was one of its literary architects.

From Baba Yaga to Hermione Granger: why we’re spellbound by ‘witcherature’

Vengeful, seductive, feminist, misogynist … witches have appeared in many forms in literature. Now a new generation of novelists are falling under their spell.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, writing in the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, addresses the current literary fascination with witches:

There has been a perennial literary fascination with witches; they are, as Marion Gibson, professor of Renaissance and magical literatures at Exeter University says, “a shorthand symbol for persecution and resistance – misogyny and feminism in particular”. In a #MeToo world, where Donald Trump – a fan of the term “witch-hunt” – is US president, it is really no surprise that female writers are examining the role of the witch in new ways.

Cosslett explains that women of her generation, who came of age in the 1990s with TV programs such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are now producing literature and films that grapple with perennial questions of power and agency. She also looks a bit at the history of witches in literature, from novels such as Jane Eyre to John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick.

In Praise of Samuel R. Delany

In my effort to read more science fiction, I often come across references to Samuel R. Delany’s seminal novel Dhalgren. Here novelist Jordy Rosenberg discusses how Delany’s fiction “reflects and explores the social truths of our world.” He includes a list of works to start with for readers looking to introduce themselves to Delany’s body of work.

How Tana French Inhabits the Minds of Her Detectives

The crime-fiction writer on unreliable narrators, real-world sources, and the breakdown of genre boundaries in her work.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

WHY READ FICTION IN THIS AGE OF ATROCITY?

Content Warning: This piece discusses recent sexual assault headlines.

I want to be as frank with you as is possible: it is increasingly hard for me to find joy or purpose in reading lately, specifically novels. I find myself asking, why read fiction at all when the world is falling apart around me?

D.R. Baker, “a transgender, nonbinary person,” continues to grapple with this question as the distressing headlines continue to pile up.

How to Spend a Literary Long Weekend in Hartford, Connecticut

Because I was born, and spent the first 19 years of my life, in Connecticut, here’s a literary tour of significant places in and around the state’s capital of Hartford. Featured writers include “Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Wallace Stevens, and more.”

Herman Melville at Home

Jill Lepore searches for a picture of the private Herman Melville in The New Yorker during the celebration of the 200th anniversary of his birth.

THE MOST POPULAR UNDER-THE-RADAR LIBRARY BOOKS ACROSS THE U.S. SO FAR THIS YEAR

Bestseller lists and book recommendations of best books to read abound, but in this piece Kelly Jensen discusses the Panorama Project, which “looks at the books most frequently requested at libraries across the U.S. and breaks down the popularity by region.” This project can produce a glimpse below all the big, popular titles for “a more micro level look at books which are popular by specific areas of the country.”

The result is lists of fiction and nonfiction for both adults and YA readers exclusive of “well known bestsellers, book club selections and other heavily promoted titles.” Look here for suggestions of books your regional neighbors are checking out from their local libraries.

THE NOVELIST WHO SCANDALIZED VICTORIAN ENGLAND

the novels of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and the “sensation” fiction she pioneered, left an imprint on literature that remains today.

At age 17 Braddon began acting “in everything from comedies to burlesques to Shakespeare.” This background in theater gave her a sense of story and plot that allowed her to turn to writing novels for the masses, books that “earned [her] a reputation as a writer with a knack for presenting the more scandalous side of the upper classes.”

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

SCI-FI DOESN’T HAVE TO BE DEPRESSING: WELCOME TO SOLARPUNK

Welcome to solarpunk, a new genre within science fiction that is a reaction against the perceived pessimism of present-day sci-fi and hopes to bring optimistic stories about the future with the aim of encouraging people to change the present. The first book that explicitly identified as solarpunk was Solarpunk: Histórias ecológicas e fantásticas em um mundo sustentável (Solarpunk: Ecological and Fantastic Stories in a Sustainable World), a Brazilian book published in 2012. In 2014, author Adam Flynn wrote Solarpunk: Notes Toward a Manifesto.

Tom Cassauwers reports that this new genre began to take off in 2017.

Listen up: why we can’t get enough of audiobooks

Audiobook sales are booming. This article looks at the inevitable question: “is there really a measurable difference between reading with the eyes and ‘reading’ with the ears?”

Crime writers mystified by Colm Tóibín’s criticism

Colm Tóibín recently revived the age-old, snobbish distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction by declaring “I can’t do any genre-fiction books, really, none of them. I just get bored with the prose. I don’t find any rhythm in it. It’s blank, it’s nothing.”

WHEN CRIME AUTHORS WRITE NON-CRIME BOOKS

Lisa Levy discusses eight books by “crime authors moonlighting in other forms of literature.”

Bonus: for another take on enjoying literature that crosses genres, see A Book You Didn’t Know You Needed.

Enjoying Literary Classics

I came across two pieces about enjoying works of literature that have stood the test of time. 

1. Please Take This Summer to Become Obsessed With The Group 

Mikaella Clements writes about her enjoyment of Mary McCarthy’s novel The Group, published in 1963 and set in 1933, which she describes as “alarmingly modern”:

Though its politics are deeply rooted in the 1930s—the novel addresses the idea of the New Woman, the optimism of socialism before WWII and the Eastern Bloc, and the rise of fascism—it is as much about the feminist movement of the 60s and the pitfalls of cultural movements that posit themselves as revolutionary and instead find new ways to minimize, cage, and hurt women.

2. LAURA LIPPMAN: MY 35-YEAR LOVE AFFAIR WITH MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR

Novelist Laura Lippman discusses Herman Wouk’s 1955 novel Marjorie Morningstar, “which I have re-read every year for almost 35 years.” She calls it “a unicorn of a book—a so-called women’s novel, written by a man, that takes its heroine very seriously.” 

Lippman says that she doesn’t know whether Marjorie Morningstar is a great book. “But it is a serious book that finds a big, sprawling story in what seems like a small, narrow life. More novels, even crime novels, should dare to do the same.”

The Rise of Rural Noir

When we hear the word “noir,” our minds flash to black-and-white movies driven by hard-boiled, big-city detectives. But in the 21st century, a new genre of crime fiction has risen from the swamps, mountains, and suburbs of the South. Norris Eppes interviews seven rural noir masters to make sense of a thrilling literary genre that rings true to our region.

The authors interviewed here are Brian Panowich, Ace Atkins, Karin Slaughter, Attica Locke, Tom Franklin, James Sallis, and John Hart.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

Lots of interesting literary-related articles this week.

Crime writers react with fury to claim their books hinder rape trials

The Staunch prize was founded in 2018 to honor a thriller ““in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered.” This article reports on the many writers, including Val McDermid and Sophie Hannah, who refute the accusation that their books influence the outcome of trials involving violence against women.

ON ‘THE GIRLS’ IN THE TITLE

The Staunch prize was founded as an antidote to what many cultural and literary critics decry as the trend of “girl books,” typified by works such as Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Such books, the criticism goes, treat women as objects and glorify acts of violence against women such as stalking, gaslighting, sexual harassment, and rape. Novelist Nina Laurin, who has used the word girl and the related words sister and wife, in her book titles asks, “why do these concepts continue to capture the imagination all these years after this titling trend began?” She argues that< while such words call up certain stereotypes:

In the “girl” books, however, the female characters are also ruthless killers, kick-ass vigilantes, and skilled manipulators. The wives spy, snoop, and poison, and the mothers don’t always know best.

A TV Critic Who Has Seen the Small Screen Become Huge

Jennifer Szalai discusses the book I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution by TV critic Emily Nussbaum. Szalai says that Nussbaum unashamedly “treats television as art in its own right” rather than approaching it as a lesser art form.

Judith Krantz Was the Most Important Writer of the 20th Century

Kelly Faircloth praises Judith Krantz, who died last month, as someone who “wrote highly popular commercial fiction that encapsulates her era, the late 1970s to the mid-1990s.”

Krantz’s books are often dismissed as trash, but as any archeologist will tell you, there are few resources so valuable for reconstructing a historical era as a nicely overflowing dump. 

7 Books about What Happens when Your Identity Falls Apart

Abigail N. Rosewood, author of If I had Two Lives, has spent much of her life moving around, not living in any one place for longer than five years. This transitory life has given her many different layers of identity that she sometimes has trouble stitching together. Here she offers a list of “seven works of art that investigate powerful psychic ruptures.” 

They are not easy books and they shouldn’t be. Like most great works of literature, they ask difficult questions⎯How does a psychic split happen? Can a person survive it? How many masks can one wear before getting crushed beneath their weight? Is coherency an illusion?

A Universe of One’s Own

Nicole Rudick looks at the stories collected in the Library of America’s recently issued volume The Future Is Female!: 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, from Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin, edited by Lisa Yaszek. 

It encompasses the genre’s pulp years (1926–1940) and the so-called Golden Age (approximately 1940–1960), and ends just before the emergence of feminist SF in the 1970s. The anthology dispels the commonly held belief that women didn’t participate much in science fiction before the Seventies and argues that a category of fiction often thought to be socially retrograde, technologically fetishistic, and poorly written is in fact rich in style and humanity. 

Literary Links

I came across so many interesting articles this week that it’s hard to limit my list. Here are some of my favorites.

On the Centennial of Iris Murdoch’s Birth, Remembering a 20th-Century Giant

The intensity of Murdoch’s gaze, boring into you from the dust jackets of her many novels, seemed a promise of the books’ contents. For decades this remarkable writer delivered prickly, sophisticated and somewhat unearthly fiction about good and evil and sex and morality. She trailed a large, large muse. She deftly moved her ideas about, positioning them like the slabs used to build Stonehenge.

In this year, the centennial of Iris Murdoch’s birth and 20 years after her death at age 79, Dwight Garner laments that “her posthumous reputation is in semi-shambles.” To help restore her reputation to what he considers to be its rightful place—on “the list of the most elite writers in English of the second half of the 20th century”—he examines at length his favorite of her novels, The Sea, The Sea (1978), which won the Booker Prize. 

Adult Books for Fall 2019

This is the starting page for Publishers Weekly’s recommendations of fall releases in the following categories:

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

MAKE A DIFFERENCE: READ LOCAL AUTHORS

You shop local, you eat local—but are you reading local, too? If you’re not, you’re missing out. Local authors and the stories they tell can change your life—and your community. And all you have to do is read a book you love.

Six years ago we moved from St. Louis, Missouri, to Tacoma, Washington. During those six years, one of my reading goals has been to read books by local authors. Although I didn’t need this article to explain to me why reading local authors is a worthwhile undertaking, I did appreciate the tips on how to find their books.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Writing to Re-member

Just yesterday, I asked my students how many of them had watched at least one American movie or read one American book about the Vietnam War, and everyone raised their hand. When I asked how many had read one book or seen one movie by a Vietnamese person, nobody, or perhaps one or two, had. The legacies of colonialism and imperialism have created privileged sectors in the West that function as feedback loops. We often only read books or watch movies that reflect our values. In systems like Hollywood, the stories of poor people from other countries are not that interesting to the rest of the world and therefore don’t get told.

Half of women over 40 say older women in fiction are clichés, survey finds

A recent survey by Gransnet, the UK’s biggest social media site for older people, and publisher HQ (HarperCollins) found that 51% of women over 40 “feel older women in fiction books tend to fall into clichéd roles.” Here are some of the most interest findings from the survey:

  • 47% of women over 40 say there are not enough books about middle-aged or older women.
  • “when older characters do appear in fiction, half of women (50%) say they’ve seen them being portrayed as baffled by smartphones, computers or the internet – and think it’s insulting.”
  • 75% buy their books online.

As a result of the survey findings, Gransnet and HQ are launching a fiction writing competition for women writers over age 40. The article contains more information on both the survey and the writing competition. 

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

These are some of the literature-related articles from around the web that caught my eye over the past week.

Quartzy    HALF OF ALL TRANSLATED BOOKS IN THE US COME FROM JUST NINE COUNTRIES

This one caught my eye because I’m trying to read more books translated from other languages this year. 

The good news: “In 2018, 632 never-before-translated books of fiction and poetry were published in the United States. It’s the fifth straight year the US has published more than 600 translations, quite the feat for a country that has long been accused of having an insular book culture.”

The bad news: “Of the nearly 5,800 books of fiction and poetry translated from 2008 to 2018, more than half were from just nine countries, seven of which are in Europe (the exceptions are Japan and China).”

These statistics are significant if one’s aim in reading more translated works is to learn about new cultures. European books, even though from other countries, are still western-civilization centric. Yes, they will teach us about other cultures, but not about the other cultures that are most different from out own, specifically eastern and African. This article points out that “only one book each was translated from Benin, Ethiopia, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Mali, and Myanmar.”

The New York Times   A Glimpse of Virginia Woolf’s Original Manuscript for ‘Mrs. Dalloway’

A look at how “the ‘big’ book she [Virginia Woolf] thought she should write was not really the book she wanted to write. The transition for her was understanding that a book about an outwardly ordinary woman on an ordinary day in London could be every bit as ‘big’ as the books about wars and revolutions.”

The Guardian   Nell Freudenberger: ‘Like many women I believed I didn’t have the right kind of brain for science’

The author of the recently released novel Lost and Wanted laments “the way girls and women are still so often held back from studying science.”

The New York Times    When the World’s Most Famous Mystery Writer Vanished

It was like a plot from one of her own novels: On the evening of Dec. 4, Agatha Christie, carrying nothing but an attaché case, kissed her daughter good night and sped away from the home in England that she shared with her husband, Col. Archibald Christie. (He was having an affair with a younger woman; the public did not know this, but his wife definitely did.) No one knew where Christie was for almost two weeks.

Literary Hub   What the 39,933 Items on Peter Matthiessen’s Computer Mean for the Art of Biography

Lance Richardson, currently working on a biography of writer Peter Matthiessen (1927-2014) discusses the challenges of what he calls “a bifurcated archive” comprising both physical items and digital files. The differences between these two types of materials “will have inevitable effects on the shape and form of tomorrow’s histories” and biographies.

The Seattle Times   ‘No-No Boy’ went from unknown book to classic thanks to UW Press and Asian American writers. Now, it’s at the center of a controversy

This is a local story for me, but it has wider interest because of its tie to copyright law and the David-and-Goliath issue of a small academic (University of Washington) press vs.the publishing giant Penguin Random House. The book in question also keeps alive the story of the internment of Japanese U.S. citizens during World War II. The author, John Okada, was “a Seattle native and University of Washington graduate who served in the U.S. Army during the war, even as his family was forced to relocate to an internment camp.”

The New York Times   Naomi Wolf’s Publisher Delays Release of Her Book

The recent controversy over “Outrages” highlights the perils that publishers face in a competitive market where juicy nonfiction books that feature explosive claims can command the highest sales but are sometimes not vigorously fact-checked or vetted in advance of publication.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Quotation: Susan Sontag Was a Monster

“She took things too seriously. She was difficult and unyielding. That’s why Susan Sontag’s work matters so much even now.”

This is how I see her monstrosity: residing not in whether she was or was not likeable, but in her relentlessness, and her refusal to pander. The word ‘monster’ comes from the Latin monere, to warn. We need monsters like Sontag because they aren’t afraid to speak a certain kind of truth: cutting through cant, received opinion, nationalist rote, the efforts of alt-Right bot farms. We need critics who insist on hierarchies of thought and output, instead of buying into marketing hype that makes everyone really, really good, critics who don’t lunge straight for content, for what a book is ‘about’ or what it ‘says’, but who stop to consider form, and style – which, as Sontag shows us, are inextricably bound up in content. We need critics to keep us on our toes, to question authority, sweeping claims, totalising world views. We need Sontag to help us think for ourselves, and be unafraid to speak our minds. And we need her for these things now, more than ever. Maintaining a lively critical capability isn’t just about snark. It’s how we’re going to make it out of these dark days of nationalism and populism with our democracy intact.

Susan Sontag was a monster by Lauren Elkin

New Life for Old Classics, as Their Copyrights Run Out

Source: New Life for Old Classics, as Their Copyrights Run Out – The New York Times

This coming year marks the first time in two decades that a large body of copyrighted works will lose their protected status — a shift that will have profound consequences for publishers and literary estates, which stand to lose both money and creative control.

But it will also be a boon for readers, who will have more editions to choose from, and for writers and other artists who can create new works based on classic stories without getting hit with an intellectual property lawsuit.

Internet reading that caught my eye over the past week.

Megan Abbott’s Bloodthirsty Murderesses

The thriller writer probes the psychological underpinnings of female rage.

Because, Abbott says, “girls are darker than boys.”

New Black Gothic

Sheri-Marie Harrison, associate professor of English at the University of Missouri, explains what she calls the new black Gothic in the novels of Jesmyn Ward and in other popular formats such as television, music video, and film.

Ward’s award-winning novels are among a number of works, literary and otherwise, that rework Gothic traditions for the 21st century… Ward engages specifically the Southern Gothic tradition. In American literature, there is a long tradition of using Gothic tropes to reveal how ideologies of American exceptionalism rely on repressing the nation’s history of slavery, racism, and patriarchy. Such tropes are, as numerous critics have noted, central to the work of Toni Morrison.

The Women Who Write: Michelle Dean’s Sharp

A review of Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean (Grove Atlantic).

This critical history is a rogues’ gallery of literary femaleness – even though most of the women in it rightly bristled at being defined as “woman writers.” Dean’s exemplars are, in chapter if not birth order, Dorothy Parker; Rebecca West; Hannah Arendt; Mary McCarthy; Susan Sontag; Pauline Kael; Joan Didion; Nora Ephron; Renata Adler; and Janet Malcolm. Most have at least a few things in common. While some doubled as novelists, all are distinguished for their non-fiction, with fully half reaching eminence via The New Yorker.

Amy Adams Explores Her Dark Side

An article about the amazing actor about to appear in the HBO production of Gillian Flynn’s novel Sharp Objects.

For the French Author Édouard Louis, His Books Are His Weapon

Édouard Louis uses literature as a weapon. “I write to shame the dominant class,” said the 25-year-old French writer in a recent interview.

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown