Category Archives: Literary History

The Joan Didion Documentary by Griffin Dunne and Susanne Rostock — Kickstarter

We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live is the first and only documentary being made about Joan Didion. While her writing is fierce and exposed, Joan herself is an incredibly private person. We have the privilege to know Joan as a subject and also as a member of our family. Our director, Griffin Dunne, has known Joan his entire life. Joining Griffin as co-director is award-winning filmmaker, Susanne Rostock.

We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live traces the arc of Joan’s life through her own writings, and in her own voice. Our film will tell Joan’s story through passages she has chosen and will read aloud from her work, as her friends, family, colleagues and critics share their accounts of her remarkable life and writing.

via The Joan Didion Documentary by Griffin Dunne and Susanne Rostock — Kickstarter.

The Classics Club

Gothic Elements in Shirley Jackson’s “We Have Always Lived in the Castle”

The Classics ClubGothic literature features characteristics such as magic, mystery, chivalry, horror, clanking chains, ghosts, and dark castles to create a spooky atmosphere rife with foreboding and possibility. Over time Gothic emphasis changed from reliance on these external trappings for their own sake to a focus on the inner workings of the human psyche that the Gothic atmosphere represents. Shirley Jackson’s deliciously creepy 1962 novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle demonstrates the power of the Gothic in the hands of a master craftsman.

Brief History of Gothic Literature

The first Gothic novel was Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto (1764), set in a medieval castle featuring dark stairways, mysterious rooms, trap doors, and underground passages. Between 1789 and 1797 Anne Radcliffe wrote five romances, the most famous being The Mysteries of Udolpho, that helped make the form popular. Radcliffe emphasized setting and story over character.

As the Gothic novel spread across Europe, it became the backdrop against which authors examined the relationship between humans and the supernatural, with Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) perhaps the best known example. Gothicism also influenced other literary forms, particularly poetry of the romantic period in works by Coleridge, Wordsworth, Byron, and Keats. In the United States Charles Brockden Brown took up the form of the Gothic novel with Wieland (1798) and five subsequent romances.

Early Gothic novels focused on creating a spooky setting appropriate for a story of suspense, dread, foreboding, and, finally, terror. As Gothicism developed, it incorporated elements of the psychological that allowed a focus on character as well as on setting, as evident in the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe. Still later works such as Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) and Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1938) employ literary devices that developed from the Gothic novel.

The British Library is currently presenting an exhibition entitled Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination:

Beginning with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, Gothic literature challenged the moral certainties of the 18th century. By exploring the dark romance of the medieval past with its castles and abbeys, its wild landscapes and fascination with the supernatural, Gothic writers placed imagination firmly at the heart of their work – and our culture.

In a magazine article about the exhibition:

Lead curator of the exhibition, Tim Pye, says: “Gothic is one the most popular and influential modes of literature and I’m delighted that Terror and Wonder is celebrating its rich 250 year history. The exhibition features an amazingly wide range of material, from stunningly beautiful medieval artefacts to vinyl records from the early Goth music scene, so there is truly something for everyone”.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the CastleJackson, Shirley. We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Penguin Books, 1962

Mary Katherine, known as Merricat, Blackwood is the first-person narrator of the story. In the opening paragraph she tells us that she is 18 years old and that she lives with her sister Constance: “I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the deathcup mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead” (p. 1).

This final sentence of the opening paragraph signals the story’s Gothic emphasis. Although Richard Plantagenet could be any one of several English noblemen, context suggests that Merricat is referring to England’s King Richard III (1452–1485), who is famously believed to have ordered the murder of his two young nephews in the Tower of London. The themes of murder and a family power struggle emerge from this reference. These themes and Merricat’s admitted fondness for a deadly mushroom sharpen our expectations and foreshadow the rest of the story.

Gradually the backstory emerges: Six years earlier the rest of the Blackwood family had died of arsenic poisoning during a family dinner. The dead included Mr. and Mrs. Blackwood (Constance and Merricat’s parents), the girls’ 10-year-old younger brother, and their aunt, whose husband, Uncle Julian, their father’s brother, became very ill but recovered. Uncle Julian was damaged both physically and mentally by his brush with death. Now wheelchair-bound, he lives with Merricat and Constance and is completely dependent on Constance, who takes care of him while her sister largely watches.

Merricat was not at the dinner table that fateful night because she was being punished by having to spend the night in her room without any dinner. That dinner included berries, on which the diners sprinkled sugar that had been laced with arsenic. Suspicion fell on Constance, who did not eat berries and therefore didn’t get sick. She was tried and acquitted of the murders.

This brief outline of the backstory illustrates Jackson’s use of Gothic elements. In addition to the emphasis on death and the sense of foreboding and further impending doom, there are also Gothic overtones in the characterization of Merricat. She goes into the village twice a week for supplies, mostly food and library books, because Constance is agoraphobic. But Merricat must make a game of the trip, with rules about where she should walk and how she should act: “I forced my hands to be still and made a rule for myself: Whenever I saw a tiny scrap of paper I was to remember to be kinder to Uncle Julian” (p. 16). In addition to all her rules for herself, Merricat also buries things around the family property for good luck and even tacks a book up on a tree as a protective talisman. Such actions are examples of magical thinking, the belief that thinking is the same as doing. Magical thinking is normal in young children, who believe that their thoughts and desires cause events that happen around them. But the persistence of magical thinking in the 18-year-old Merricat suggests a deranged mind, another common Gothic element.

Merricat also continues the belief, apparently learned from her parents, that the Blackwoods are better than the villagers and should maintain their distance to avoid contamination from the less worthy:

All of the village was of a piece, a time, and a style; it was as though the people needed the ugliness of the village, and fed on it… . whatever planned to be colorful lost its heart quickly in the village. The blight on the village never came from the Blackwoods; the villages belonged here and the village was the only proper place for them. (p. 8)

Mr. Blackwood put up a fence all around the property and fastened it with a padlock. Merricat makes a ritual out of unlocking and relocating the gate when she leaves the house and when she returns from the village. The Blackwoods’ geographical isolation reflects their feelings of superiority and their fear of the masses:

I always stood perfectly straight and stiff when the children came close, because I was afraid of them. I was afraid that they might touch me and the mothers would come at me like a flock of taloned hawks; that was always the picture I had in my mind—birds descending, striking, gashing with razor claws. (p. 10)

Merricat’s narration of her family’s isolation from the villages bleeds into another Gothic element of the story, its setting. The isolation of the large Blackwood house, fenced off from the everyday world and fortified by Merricat’s magic, fits right into the Gothic picture. Jackson also uses setting to call up another work of late Gothic literature:

The Rochester house was the loveliest in town and had once had a walnut-panelled library and a second-floor ballroom and a profusion of roses along the veranda; our mother had been born there and by rights it should have belonged to Constance. (p. 4)

The Rochester house alludes to Mr. Rochester’s huge house, with his deranged wife hidden upstairs, in Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel Jane Eyre.

Gothic features continue as the plot of We Have Always Lived in the Castle unfolds. The precipitating crisis of the book occurs when Constance and Merricat’s cousin, Charles Blackwood, their father’s brother’s son, arrives to disturb the status quo of their existence. As the only remaining male heir, he intends to take over the family mansion and the family fortune. Merricat ratchets up her magic to protect her existence. When a fire breaks out at the house, the volunteer firefighters arrive to try to put it out. That is, after all, their job, even if they don’t like the Blackwoods, the fire chief insists. A truly macabre scene, suggestive of a Satanic ritual, develops as the townspeople implore the firefighters to let the house burn, then set to smashing and looting whatever the flames don’t destroy.

The fire obliterates the top floor of the house. Afterwards, Constance and Merricat continue to live in the small kitchen area while vines overgrow the top. Whereas Merricat had earlier spoken of their home as the house, now she describes it this way: “Our house was a castle, turreted and open to the sky” (p. 177). Finally, the story comes full circle as the house turns into the isolated, creepy castle characteristic of Gothic literature and all the foreboding of impending doom foreshadowed at the beginning comes to fruition.

 

© 2014 by Mary Daniels Brown

Addendum

See also Happy 250th, Ann Radcliffe:

It’s 250 years since the publication of The Castle of Otranto, an anniversary prompting both a British Library exhibition (Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination) and a linked BBC Gothic season. It is Horace Walpole’s only novel that you see on entering the exhibition, and with which Andrew Graham-Dixon’s BBC4 series, The Art of Gothic: Britain’s Midnight Hour (which ends on3 November), began.

Another 250th anniversary, of Ann Radcliffe’s birth, goes unmentioned, an omission reflecting her curious marginalisation in both celebrations – “the great enchantress”, as Thomas De Quincey called her, does figure, but mainly as the hapless novelist (vapid and trashy, you infer) sent up in Northanger Abbey. For the British Library display, the problem looks to be the absence of a visual legacy, of Radcliffe manuscripts and film adaptations; for Graham-Dixon, it may be the absence of a penis. His blokeish version of early literary gothic consists of chaps like Walpole, William Bedford, Thomas Chatterton, Blake and De Quincey, with the equally colourful Mary Shelley as token woman, and their manly wrestlings with political and industrial revolution, masculine identity and urbanisation in turn influence the Victorians.

Monday Miscellany

INFOGRAPHIC: How Long Does It Take to Read Popular Books?

infographicFor visually oriented readers:

Ever wondered how long it takes to read The Great Gatsby (2.62 hours) compared to Atlas Shrugged (31.22 hours)? If so, you’ll like this infographic by Personal Creations.

William Golding Flies classic holds true 60 years on

It’s 60 years this month since the publication of William Golding’s novel Lord of the Flies. To mark the anniversary his family are giving his literary archive on loan to the University of Exeter – including the very different original version of his famous tale of boys fending for themselves on a tropical island.

The BBC looks back at the significance of Lord of the Flies, originally published in September 1954 after rejections from 10 publishers and one literary agent. Golding’s daughter says that her father’s original title for the novel was “Strangers from Within.” An editor at Faber, the house that agreed to publish the novel, had Golding remove much material explicitly about the atomic war the children had survived. The editor also cut material about Simon to make him less a religious figure than in Golding’s manuscript.

Ms Carver [Golding’s daughter] believes the book has remained in demand for six decades for two main reasons.

”Firstly of course it’s so well written. But also it deals with moral questions which were current after World War Two and which I’m afraid are still relevant today.

Century-old Provo literary club holds its final meeting

A sad story about the demise of the Utah Sorosis women’s group:

The literary group, whose unusual name means aggregation, has been meeting since 1897, a year before the Provo Tabernacle (soon to be City Center Temple) was finished. After 117 years this was the farewell meeting of Utah Sorosis. The nearly 20 women who RSVP’d to Van Orman for the weekday luncheon at Provo’s La Jolla Groves did so with “sadness in your voices,” said Van Orman, age 65.

Group members who attended the luncheon that marked the group’s final meeting ranged in age from 60 to more than 90. Several of them said that they couldn’t get younger women to join to keep the group going.

The “serious intent” of the 18 charter members in 1897, all wives of university professors, was to work toward the highest development of its members through study and work.

Perhaps the group is a victim of changing times, now that women no longer need to join a special group in order to study and work.

9 Marquez e-books coming out in English

The Associated Press (AP) is reporting that Penguin Random House imprints Vintage Books and Vintage Espanol have announced the ebook publication on October 15 of English translations of several of Marquez’s works:

Besides “Love in the Time of Cholera,” the releases include the novella “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” and the memoir “Living to Tell the Tale.” Marquez’s classic novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is published in the U.S. by HarperCollins and remains unavailable as an English-language e-book.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982, died in April at age 87.

Monday Miscellany

SEPTEMBER 2014’S BEST BOOKS: 12 FICTION MUST-READS FOR YOUR IMAGINATION TO RUN WILD THIS FALL

Cover: The Bone ClocksIt’s fall—the start of a new school year and the time for a new reading list. Morgan Ribera’s got you covered with a list of a dozen books to be published during September that will keep you reading at least until winter break.

My own copy of one of the books on her list, The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell, just arrived yesterday. I’m also looking forward to another of her recommendations, The Secret Place by Tana French.

Celebrity writers pack the shelves as shops predict an autumn bonanza

The Guardian offers the U.K. outlook on this fall’s bonanza of novel publications.

A back-to-school reading list of classic literature

I expected a simple list of books from the folks at Oxford University Press, publisher of the Oxford World’s Classic series.

But they surprised me by using an “If you liked …, you might like …” Format. See what works of classic literature they recommend if you liked these books:

  • Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
  • Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  • The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

N.Y.C. Chancellor Pushes for Schools to Reinstate Independent-Reading Time

Education Week, the go-to source for information about teaching, reports that “Carmen Fariña, the new schools chancellor in New York City, is bringing the specifics of classroom reading instruction back into the public eye.”

At issue is the inclusion of independent reading, also known as sustained silent reading (SSR), in the school day. Writer Liana Heitin here reports that there has been little research into and little media attention on the question of whether SSR is effective in improving reading achievement since a 2000 report by a national panel. This article includes a short history of the issue and links to other online resources.

The Inspiring Stories Behind 15 Classic Novels

According to Jack London, “You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club.” London himself took the inspiration for The Call of the Wild (1903) from his time spent living in Canada and Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush when high-quality sled dogs – like those that feature in the book – were in impossibly high demand. The stories and inspirations behind fifteen more of literature’s most memorable titles are explained here:

An interesting list, ranging from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina to Daphne Du Maurier’s The Birds.

46 Brilliant Short Novels You Can Read In A Day

The end of the year is approaching. If you’re worried about meeting your GoodReads challenge, BuzzFeed has a list of books that weigh in at around 200 or fewer pages each that will allow you to pad your stats.

Cut it out, Ian McEwan: there are plenty of great long novels

Author Ian McEwan caused some consternation with a recent statement that “”very few really long novels earn their length.” In The Guardian Alison Flood points out:

It’s the Americans McEwan appears mainly to be blaming for this – our friends on the other side of the Atlantic “still pursue the notion of a great American novel and it has to be a real brick of an object”, he says …

Flood disagrees with McEwan and offers her list of “novels that might weigh as much as a brick, but to which I’d never take a blue pencil”:

  • The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber. 864 page
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. 656 pages
  • A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin. 1016 pages
  • The Stand by Stephen King. 1,200 pages
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, 992 pages
  • The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. 608 pages

Here are some I’d add to her list:

  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. 514 pages (paperback)
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. 514 pages
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot. 794 pages (paperback)
  • Ulysses by James Joyce. 732 pages (paperback)
  • The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. 568 pages
  • The Brothers K by David James Duncan. 645 pages (paperback)
  • Underworld by Don DeLillo. 827 pages

I don’t mind a long book just because it’s long, but I do get annoyed by a book that’s longer than it needs to be. Moo by Jane Smiley is my illustration of this category. The hardcover weighted in at only 414 pages, but it should have been cut by about one-third.

Monday Miscellany

Required Reading: 10 Books We Read For Class That Will Change Your Life

Cover: Civilization and Its DiscontentsAs summer winds down, many students turn with desperation to those lists of required summer reading that they put aside a couple of months ago. But not all assigned reading is dull and unfulfilling, the editors at Huffington Post say:

Sometimes reading books we’re assigned to read, rather than those we would pick up on our own, can be a blessing rather than a curse. It can lead us to unexpected treasures, introduce us to unfamiliar and unexpected points of view, and challenge us in surprising ways.

There are some pretty good books on this list. Look especially at what Maddie Crum has to say about Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud.

More Than a Century Later, Sophia Tolstoy Has Her Say

In her long and often turbulent marriage to Leo Tolstoy, Sophia Andreevna Tolstoy put up with a lot, but “The Kreutzer Sonata” qualified as special punishment. Published in 1889, the story presented Tolstoy’s increasingly radical views on sexual relations and marriage through a frenzied monologue delivered by a narrator who, in a fit of jealousy and disgust, murdered his wife.

According to William Grimes, Sophia wrote in her diary:

“I, too, know in my heart that this story is directed against me, and that it has done me a great wrong, humiliated me in the eyes of the world and destroyed the last vestiges of love between us.”

Sophia wrote two novellas, “Whose Fault?” and “Song Without Words,” that set forth her views on a woman’s experience of love. Those stories lay lost in the archives of the Tolstoy Museum until their recent discovery and publication in Russia.

Grimes writes that “Michael R. Katz, a retired professor of Russian and Eastern European studies at Middlebury College, has translated both stories into English.” Those stories will be included in a volume titled The Kreutzer Sonata Variations that will be published tomorrow by Yale University Press. Grimes calls this book a significant part of “a flurry of recent work appraising Tolstoy’s wife as a figure in her own right.”

In this article Grimes describes the discovery of these works by Tolstoy’s wife and their historical and literary significance.

Alan Gibbons: why YA fiction is crucial for shaping our attitudes to subcultures

Author Alan Gibbons was inspired to write his book Hate after the murder of teenager Sophie Lancaster. Here, Alan shares why he thinks YA books are important for improving our understanding of other people’s identities

Gibbons provides a good look at how reading can help adolescents in discovering and accepting their own identity.

Samuel Beckett’s articulation of unceasing inner speech

undoubtedly the most ubiquitous sound in Beckett’s work is that of the mysterious voices buzzing, murmuring or whispering within the heads of his characters. To borrow from the narrating figure in The Unnamable (1953), the narrative core of Beckett’s dark universes seems to be “all a matter of voices; no other metaphor is appropriate”. The question is: to what extent are voices in Beckett’s fiction just metaphorical presences?

Contrary to all those jokes about people who hear voices, cognitive science has taught us that we all hear inner voices. Young children talk out loud to themselves as they’re playing and as they’re performing actions they’re working to learn, such as tying their shoelaces, in a process called “private speech” or “private talk.” As they grow older they stop speaking out loud, but all of us talk silently and frequently to ourselves.

Here postdoctoral research fellow Marco Bernini points out:

If inner speech is the raw material for hallucinatory phenomena, it is also at the centre of our imaginary engine – supporting our simple need for, as the homonymous text by Beckett portrays, an intimate Company (1980) in the inaccessible dark of our subjectivity.

In the works of Beckett we find yet another example of how literature imitates life.

10 Great Books by Irish Women

Here’s a historical list that includes books published between 1929 and 2010.

Monday Miscellany

Reading Literature on Screen: A Price for Convenience?

Woman with KindleI love my Kindle because it allows me to carry a lot of books around without having to carry a lot of books around. And having recently downsized to a retirement home game me another reason: I no longer have room for enough bookcases to hold every book I read.

But the jury is still out on whether there are any disadvantages to using an e-reader rather than reading a printed book. Here’s a report on new research that found differences in comprehension between readers who read a story in a paperback book vs. Readers who read the same story on an Amazon Kindle DX:

the Kindle readers scored significantly lower on questions about when events in the story occurred. They also performed almost twice as poorly when asked to arrange 14 plot points in the correct sequence.

The number of study participants was small (50), but the results suggest the need for more research.

Top 10 Books About Reading & Writing For Book Lovers

Here’s a good starter list of books about books.

If you have other similar books that you like, mention them in the comments.

10 Creepiest Books

And because we all love lists, here’s another one.

Stephanie Feldman is the author of The Angel of Losses, a novel that, according to Publishers Weekly, “features a wonderfully spooky atmosphere.” Check out her list of scary books:

Here are some books that are smart and scary—just frightening enough for catharsis, and just exotic enough in their trappings that you’ll probably still be able to sleep at night.

I had heard of many of these, but a few are new to me.

And if you’re looking for a REALLY SCARY BOOK, I recommend I Am the Cheese, a short gem by Robert Cormier.

10 Psychological Thrillers That Will Absolutely Terrify You

And here’s a similar list, this one from K.A. Harrington, author of the thriller Forget Me. Harrington writes, “I have always loved psychological thrillers – the plot twists, the stunning character reveals, the eerie settings.”

I’ve read all the books on Harrington’s list except one, The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. I’ve always resisted that one as too gory for me. But I second her recommendation of the other nine.

Wilder memoir to give gritty view of prairie life

“Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography” – Wilder’s unedited draft that was written for an adult audience and eventually served as the foundation for the popular series – is slated to be released by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press nationwide this fall. The not-safe-for-children tales include stark scenes of domestic abuse, love triangles gone awry and a man who lit himself on fire while drunk off whiskey.

Lois Lowry says ‘The Giver’s’ movie cast elevated her original novel

now that the film version of her beloved book is (finally) arriving in theaters on Friday, Lowry says she would like to go back and make just one small revision.

“The movie made much more complex the character of the Chief Elder,” the head of the society, Lowry says. “And then once they cast Meryl Streep — who never would have taken the role the way I wrote it in the book — the quality of her acting, just the turn of her eyes or the way her mouth curves, it was astounding to watch her. Now I wish I could go back and write the book the way she performed it.”

I haven’t yet decided whether I want to see this movie, although Meryl Streep, and what Lowry says about her here, is a big draw.

Monday Miscellany

THE STARS OF THESE YOUNG ADULT BOOKS SWEAR, STRUGGLE, AND GENERALLY ACT LIKE REAL TEENS

Cover: AspenIn the new novel Aspen by Rebekah Crane, the teenage title character is an awkward, artsy kid who gets into a car accident that kills the most popular girl at school. The book traces the bizarre fallout in her Boulder, Colorado, community, as well as Aspen’s relationship with her stoner mom. But unlike the typical after school-special YA fare, the drug part of the tale isn’t entirely cautionary.

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the lack of diversity in books for children and young adults. Here’s a look at publisher In This Together Media of Denver, whose mission is “offering more diverse, realistic, unwhitewashed representations of kids, especially girls, in YA and middle-grade literature.”

8 Actors Who Brought Our Favorite Book Characters to Life

The following list is composed of male characters in literature that have been brought to the screen by some of the greatest actors of all time. While this list represents a group of wildly different men — good guys and bad guys, heroes and antiheroes — all of these compelling characters address complicated issues regarding masculinity while taking on the delicate task of transferring a character from the page to celluloid.

See if you agree with the following choices:

  1. Sam Spade, The Maltese Falcon
  2. Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
  3. Tyler Durden, Fight Club
  4. Stanley Kowalski, A Streetcar Named Desire
  5. Randle “Mac” McMurphy, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  6. Rhett Butler, Gone With the Wind
  7. Sherlock Holmes
  8. Tom Joad, Grapes of Wrath

22 Strong Female Characters In Literature We All Wanted To Be

The editors at BuzzFeed choose the first strong female characters they related to as illustrating Nora Ephron’s directive “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

How Tom Robbins’ childhood turned him into a storyteller

Tom Robbins, the hyperimaginative author of “Another Roadside Attraction,” “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” and “Still Life with Woodpecker,” discusses his new memoir, “Tibetan Peach Pie.”

Robbins discusses life’s epiphanies and the influence of his southern childhood.

Journeys into the autistic mind

We’ve hit a turning point in our understanding of autism, but I think it comes from literature, not science. Not to downplay the science: The newest studies on amino acid deficiencies, faulty neurotransmitters, and disruptions in the cortex may shine light on the whys of the disorder. But to find out the whats — what it’s like to be autistic, from the inside — there’s now a critical mass of books written by those on the spectrum. They are extraordinary, moving, and jeweled with epiphanies.

In The Boston Globe, Katharine Whittemore discusses these books:

  • The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida, translated into English by K.A. Yoshida
  • Thinking in Pictures, Expanded Edition: My Life with Autism by Temple Grandin
  • Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by Augusten Burroughs
  • Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism by Ron Suskind
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  • The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  • Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet

Monday Miscellany

Death of Maya Angelou

The biggest story of the literary world this past week has been the death of Maya Angelou at age 86.

The coverage has been extensive, but here are a few stories I’ve chosen as providing a good overview of her influence and significance:

Maya Angelou: The essential reading list

From USA Today

13 of Maya Angelou’s best quotes

Also from USA Today. Scroll down below the timeline of her life and achievements.

A Farewell to Maya Angelou

Video from The New York Times. (Apologies for the unavoidable opening advertisement.)


Goodbye, Steinbeck; All Hail, Shelley

In the other big literary story of the past week, British minister of education Michael Gove has suggested the elimination of several works by U.S. authors from the reading list for British students.

10 authors who are brilliant at Twitter

Hannah Jane Parkinson thinks you should follow these writers on Twitter.

When literature goes to war: How Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer and “Catch–22″ changed the novel forever

An excerpt from The Novel: A Biography by Michael Schmidt:

How the great American novels of the 20th century captured the horror, humor and devastating cost of modern warfare

Have Literary Prizes Lost Their Meaning? (Have They Ever Had Any?)

Cultural prizes notoriously reward the wrong works for the wrong reasons: On the long list of worthies deprived of the Nobel for literature are Tolstoy, Proust, and Joyce.

Monday Miscellany

When the Water’s Too Cold, Something Else to Dive Into: A Critic’s Survey of Summer Books

As for this summer’s brand-new reading, if there’s one overriding motif, it’s this: the crazier, the better.

Here’s a whole long list of recommended summer reading.

Norman Mailer’s A Fire on the Moon: a giant leap for reportage

On the eve of the 45th anniversary of the first man on the moon, Geoff Dyer explains why Mailer’s historic account, written with typical gusto and urgency, is an exemplar of the New Journalism

Rise of the Shelfie

Writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Elaine Showalter discusses the latest book from literary historian and critic Phyllis Rose:

Rose describes the results in The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a contribution to the hybrid literary genre of the shelfie—part literary criticism, part memoir. While the combination of books she read was unique and fresh, the genre of reading-memoir is not new, and indeed Rose may have helped invent it, in 1997, with her radiant The Year of Reading Proust: A Memoir in Real Time, along with Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books (1996) and Anna Quindlen’s How Reading Changed My Life (1998). There have been many more, including one of the latest to gain attention, Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch (2014).

11 OF THE MOST REALISTIC PORTRAYALS OF MENTAL ILLNESS IN NOVELS

The 11 novels listed below talk candidly of mental illness, too. Sometimes the veil of fiction permits authors to tell even truer stories — they can write without worrying about their own reputations or the reactions from their family members. Their books give us a deeper understanding of mental illness and the way we deal with mental illness in our culture. They also do what all great literature should do — let us get to know and care about the characters as people.

One of my pet peeves about some novels is their careless portrayal of mental illness. See why Rebecca Kelley thinks these 11 novels accurately present mental illness:

  1. MRS. DALLOWAY BY VIRGINIA WOOLF (1925)
  2. TENDER IS THE NIGHT BY F. SCOTT FITZGERALD (1934)
  3. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE BY J.D. SALINGER (1951)
  4. THE BELL JAR BY SYLVIA PLATH (1963)
  5. I NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDEN BY JOANNE GREENBERG (PEN NAME: HANNAH GREEN) (1964)
  6. DISTURBING THE PEACE BY RICHARD YATES (1975)
  7. ORDINARY PEOPLE BY JUDITH GUEST (1976)
  8. SHE’S COME UNDONE BY WALLY LAMB (1992)
  9. THE HOURS BY MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM (1998)
  10. THE PASSION OF ALICE BY STEPHANIE GRANT (1998)
  11. THE MARRIAGE PLOT BY JEFFREY EUGENIDES (2011)

‘WE WERE LIARS’ AND 8 OTHER BOOKS YOU’LL LOVE IF YOU WERE SHOCKED BY THE TWIST IN ‘GONE GIRL’

Readers during the summer of 2012 were captivated by the twists and turns of Gillian Flynn’s psychological thriller Gone Girl. As we lead up to the release of the movie adaptation, we’re looking for other books that can give us the same chills and surprises. This summer the surprise ending everyone will be talking about is E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars (Delacorte).

In addition to We Were Liars, Caitlin White suggests eight other novels that will satisfy your craving for a good thriller.

The 10 best (worst) dystopian fictions

It’s still a subset of a subset today (speculative fiction > science fiction > dystopia), but it’s also a buzzword that’s thrown around in conversations about tech, privacy, net neutrality, climate change, politics, and just about any other hot-button topic. That said, with its popularity at an all-time high, instances of people misusing the term “dystopian” are way up, too.

Dystopian literature is specifically a hyperbolic view of a familiar society — one that exaggerates social ills in order to make a point about society’s flaws. It’s also the opposite of utopian literature, creating a world in which the supposed “ideal society” is actually the worst idea possible, ultimately leading humankind to ruin.

In Wired, Devon Maloney provides “a canon of the most influential dystopian texts of the past century — what they contained, who wrote them, what they criticized”:

  1. 1984 (also Brazil) (1948)
  2. The Trial (1925)
  3. Brave New World(1932)
  4. I, Robot (1950)
  5. Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
  6. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  (1968) (served as the source material for Blade Runner)
  7. The Terminator films (1984-?)
  8. The Handmaid’s Tale  (1985)
  9. Parable of the Sower  (1993)
  10. District 9  (2009)

For each item on the list Maloney includes a brief section called “Why it matters today.” He also breaks down the list interns of themes such as environment and class inequality.

Monday Miscellany

Hunt on to find Cervantes — Spain’s great writer

Cervantes
Cervantes
Source: Wikipedia

Miguel de Cervantes, Spain’s greatest writer, was a soldier of little fortune. He died broke in Madrid, his body riddled with bullets. His burial place was a tiny convent church no larger than the entrance hall of an average house.

No more was heard of the 16th century author until the rediscovery of a novel featuring an eccentric character called Don Quixote rescued him from oblivion.

By then, nobody could remember where his grave was. Four centuries later, Spain intends to do the great man justice.

Diversity, Authenticity, and Literature

Preeti Chhibber, who works in marketing for HarperCollins, writes on BookRiot that “there are inherent racial issues that exist inside publishing a book with multicultural themes written by a person who doesn’t have a historical connection to that culture or race.” For example:

A few weeks ago, the news broke that Simon & Schuster would be publishing a prequel to Gone With the Wind, called Ruth’s Journey. This book is going to be about Mammy. This book is going to be written by a 73-year-old white man named Donald McCraig.

There are, she says, really two issues here: “The first issue is diversity. The second issue is authenticity of voice.”

We want diverse characters written by everyone, and we want enough writers of color that come to mind just as easily as white authors. We have to stop defaulting to white writers, from both the publisher’s and the reader’s perspective. And we have to stop seeing multicultural characters as an anomaly. I want to see those characters in my literary fiction, in my sci-fi, in my historical fiction. And I want stories of their lives and their cultures.

Best sci-fi and fantasy novels of all time

The Telegraph [U.K.] presents the best books from the science fiction and fantasy genres

This is quite a varied list. Since I don’t read a lot of fantasy or science fiction, I was surprised at how many of the books on this list I’ve read.

And be sure to look at the comments, which will suggest many more titles to add to your TBR list.

“Well actually, in the books…” 15 differences from text to TV in Game Of Thrones

No matter what the title under discussion, book lovers almost inevitably say, “The book was better than the movie.”

But visual media—film and television—are very different from books, because our brains process written and visual material differently. Therefore, changes from the book in the film or TV versions are often necessary for a successful adaptation.

Of course there are also times when the film or TV version makes wholesale changes in the book that aren’t necessary for the adaptation between formats. For example, in his film of David Baldacci’s novel Absolute Power, Clint Eastwood changed the whole story line. The reason? Eastwood starred as the lead character, who is killed about midway through the book. This plot change wrecked the whole point of the book. But it’s no surprise that Eastwood would not want the character he portrayed eliminated so early. Hence the change.

I have not read Game of Thrones nor watched the HBO series. Nevertheless, I found this discussion of differences between the books and the TV shows informative. What do you think?

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters who make me rage

Over at Lovely Literature bloggers Ashley and Anne have each compiled a fun list of despicable characters.

Are there any other literary characters you’d add?