Archive for the ‘Literary History’ Category

Monday Miscellany

Monday, April 14th, 2014

Top 10 books about missing persons

Gone Girl: cover

“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn

Top-notch mystery writer Laura Lippman discusses “the 10 best books about mysterious disappearances”:

And while most missing person stories centre on those left behind, the “disappeared” have their stories to tell as well. These are often crime stories, and always love stories.

In fact, the most satisfying ones are those in which a bereft loved one becomes determined to track down the missing person, at any cost.

Not surprisingly, at the top of her list is Gillian Flynn’s recent run-away best seller, Gone Girl. See what other books made the list.

Bookstores in Seattle Soar, and Embrace an Old Nemesis: Amazon.com

SEATTLE — A love of books and bookstores runs deep in the sinews of this city, where gray skies and drizzle can drive a person to drink, or read, or both. A long-running annual survey ranks Seattle the country’s second-most literate big city, behind Washington, D.C., as measured by things like the number of bookstores, library resources, newspaper circulation and education.

Amazon.com Inc. also calls Seattle home. And in recent years, as many small independent bookstores here and around the nation struggled or closed their doors, owners often placed blame for their plight on the giant online retailer’s success in delivering best sellers at discount prices, e-readers and other commodities of the digital marketplace.

The New York Times reports on the irony that “local bookstore owners have seen a surprising new side of the company they loved to hate: Many Amazon employees, it turns out, are readers who are not shopping at the company store.”

Books that inspired punk

Punk began in the mid-1970s as a total rebellion against rock music of the time. Rock had become overdone, with long complicated guitar solos that were accompanied by full orchestrations; the rock stars were flying in private jets with the Queen; and fans had to pay a fortune to squint at the act from the back of a stadium. Punk aimed to bring the music back to the people. To play punk all you needed was to, as Sid Vicious said, “just pick a chord, go twang, and you’ve got music.”

Unfortunately, that lack of emphasis on expertise has caused many to regard punk as not the most intelligent of genres-yet that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Aside from the advanced political attitudes that punk came to represent, the genre is bursting with literary influence.

Read how writers as diverse as George Orwell and William S. Burroughs have influenced punk rock.

John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and the literary spouse

The 75th anniversary of the publication of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath on Monday April 14 is a reminder of the potentially key role of literary spouses. Steinbeck didn’t like his own ideas for the title, so when his wife Carol proposed a phrase from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” he adopted it at once.

This set us thinking about the impact of other partners on the history of literature. As the following examples show, though usually either dismissed as humble help­meets or complained about as posthumous image-protectors, they can sometimes decisively shape a book or career.

4 Anti-Heroines in Literature Who Are Inspiring, Admirable and Tough as Nails

There’s nothing unexpected in Alexandra Israel’s list:

  • Tess from Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles 
  • Penelope from Homer’s Odyssey
  • Anna Karenina from Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina
  • Jane Eyre from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre

More interesting is the concept of anti-heroine she discusses:

By definition, an anti-heroine is “a female protagonist, as in a novel or play, whose attitudes and behaviors are not typical of a conventional heroine.” Flavorwire had a more up-to-date definition, inspired by author Leslie Jamison: “Fairy tales introduce us to certain standard breeds of heroine: beautiful innocents, homely martyrs, and plucky tomboys. These heroines aren’t those ones… they make it hard to look away.” This definition is true; anti-heroines are sometimes what keep us going in long novels.

Be sure to click through to the Flavorwire piece Israel references to see more of Leslie Jamison’s definition and her longer list of literary anti-heroines.

And what other female fictional characters would make your list?

Mary Cheever, a Central Figure in a Literary Family, Dies at 95 – NYTimes.com

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Mary Cheever, a Central Figure in a Literary Family, Dies at 95 – NYTimes.com

Mary Cheever, a central figure in a family of prominent American writers whose most notable member was her husband, John, with whom she had a relationship as complex as those he wrote about in his prizewinning short stories and novels, died on Monday at the home they had shared in Ossining, N.Y. She was 95.

 

Monday Miscellany

Monday, March 31st, 2014

The Conclusion of Women’s History Month

woman readingAs Women’s History month ends, here are two commemorative lists:

14 Totally Badass Female Authors

Though many truly badass women authors are alive and working today, their stories aren’t yet finished. So as Women’s History Month draws to a close, we wanted to look back on some of the incredible literary women from history and remember how both their work and their lives broke new ground.

Read why Huffington Post thinks these female authors were totally badass:

  1. Louisa May Alcott
  2. Mary McCarthy
  3. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
  4. Nellie Bly
  5. Edith Wharton
  6. Zora Neale Hurston
  7. Edna St. Vincent Millay
  8. George Eliot
  9. Mary Wollstonecraft
  10. Carson McCullers
  11. George Sand
  12. Hannah Arendt
  13. Harriet Ann Jacobs
  14. Katherine Anne Porter

The 10 Best Thrillers and Crime Writing By Women

Though James Patterson might be the one getting 17-book deals for millions, some of the best writers of crime, thrillers, and mysteries have been women. Here are some of the best examples of these genres from the past century that will keep you reading past your bedtime (and possibly unable to sleep forever).

Among the authors Jessica Grose recommends here are Agatha Christie, Ann Rule, Edna Buchanan, and Patricia Highsmith.

Addition:

Australia’s literary cranky ladies

 

Really? You’re Not in a Book Club?

“WHAT’S your book group reading?” I say to a friend encountered on the street. Not: “Are you in a book group?” I have no idea whether Clara is in a book group. We’ve never talked about it. All the same, I just know. Why? Because it’s a safe assumption to make these days.

By some estimates, five million Americans gather every few weeks in someone’s living room or in a bar or bookstore or local library to discuss the finer points of “Middlemarch” or “The Brothers Karamazov.” (A perfect number is hard to pin down because some people belong to two or three clubs, and of course, there’s no central registry of members.) Among them is Clara, whose book group even has a name: the Oracles. They’re reading “The Flamethrowers,” by Rachel Kushner.

James Atlas learns why book groups aren’t just a fixture of New York City.

Top Literary Cities in the U.S.

What determines a city as ‘literary?’ It’s not enough to have a large library, unique bookstores, or be the birthplace of a famous writer. Nor is it enough to be one of the top literate cities in the United States  Most literary cities have a strong writing program at one of their numerous colleges and universities, as well as bookstores and institutions hosting event after event. If anything, a literary city is a blend of the historical, cultural, and modern parts of literature, encouraging and inspiring future generations to appreciate and take part in the literary world.

See what cities (other than New York City) Gabriella Tutino has chosen for this article in Highbrow Magazine.

On Literary Cravings and Aftertastes

In this unusual take on literary criticism, Allison K. Gibson describes her literary cravings during pregnancy:

While I was pregnant, I learned to follow my instincts — my hunger — to lead me to stories that would nourish me. And, as I learned from that first 3 a.m. craving for “The Night of the Curlews,” certain stories are meant to be savored so that the words continue to nourish long after the last sentence has been swallowed. The best stories leave an aftertaste.

10 Famous Writers Who Hated Writing

Writers are terrible procrastinators, and I’m pretty sure that’s because writing, although it can be exhilarating, is also just plain hard. Here author Bill Cotter, who has his own love-hate relationship with his profession, offers some (comforting?) remarks from writers including Kurt Vonnegut, Flannery O’Connor, and Virginia Woolf.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, March 24th, 2014

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

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Cover: The Golden Thread

Book review: “The Golden Thread: The Story of Writing,” by Ewan Clayton

Anyone who loves books will be interested in this book, which tells the story of typography:

Writing matters, says Ewan Clayton, calligrapher, former monk, design and media professor and visual consultant to Xerox in Palo Alto, Calif., the folks who made the first networked home computer. Not just who cut the typeface, not just the letters and words. But the manner in which over the millennia we’ve inscribed, carved, painted, brushed, printed and now text them. Writing tells us how we inhabit our world, how we move through it and interact with each other.

Bring the literary giants of the great war to life

Thanks to Project Gutenberg and Oxford University’s poetry archive, the literature of the first world war has never been more accessible

As the 100th anniversary of the start of the first world war approaches, many texts—including a few novels, “memoirs galore, and literary curiosities including propaganda by Arthur Conan Doyle”—are entering the public domain and becoming freely available.

The cold equations of ethics

On the University of Oxford blog Practical Ethics, Anders Sandberg considers an article by science fiction author Cory Doctorow about a couple of stories that feature ethical dilemmas:

By imposing the right boundary conditions an author can make even extreme behaviour moral. This makes for good stories, but they are not teaching us how to think well about the future since they depend on a contrived situation. Maybe such contrived situations could occur, but real situations have far less coherent contexts and hence make the moral issues far more non-trivial. Since well written stories are salient and memorable, we often use them as examples when reasoning about the real world… despite the risk of their conclusions being arbitrarily prescribed.

My own favourite example of this kind of induction of conclusions is Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon, which is often used as an argument that cognitive enhancement will not be good for people. However, the reason the protagonist suffers is that he and the world is written that way. While it makes for a good story it doesn’t help us think much about the nature of intelligence enhancement despite apparently giving us an argument.

This suggests that writers trying to be moral should do their best to refrain from overly constraining their fictional worlds in order to tell stories that actually help us think about acting morally in the real world.

Sandberg’s point that an overly contrived story that can lead to only one solution does not really help us learn to think ethically is an important one, since it’s easy to be taken in by such a literary work.

And be sure to look at Doctorow’s article, which Sandberg links to in his introduction.

10 Authors from Georgia You Should Read Now

Paste Magazine introduces its 50 States Project with a list of “10 contemporary authors from Georgia who are contributing to the evolving landscape of Southern literature.”

I’m embarrassed and ashamed to say that I haven’t heard of any of these authors. It’s time to expand my reading list.

What’s It Like Reading ‘Peyton Place’ Today?

This week, Thomas Mallon and Anna Holmes discuss what it’s like reading “Peyton Place” today, 50 years after the death of its author, Grace Metalious.

Opposite views of what this historic salient novel, whose title has become part of the common parlance, offers today’s readers.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, February 24th, 2014

The Best Book You’ve Never Read: ‘Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age’

On the Publishers Weekly blog Gabe Habash describes what can be an elusive concept, narrative voice:

Books that are voice-driven are, of course, dependent on the strength of the voice. Think about the best character-narrators you’ve read: maybe it’s Scout or Holden Caulfield or Humbert Humbert. Our favorite narrators have voices that we, as readers, have a desire to keep consuming; their words are as addictive as M&Ms. There’s a powerlessness, a relinquishing, involved when you read a great first-person book, when you fall head over heels–simply through the hypnotic rhythm of the narrator’s words, you choose to give up your own agency in untangling events for yourself and sort-of smittenly accept the narrator’s. The narrator, simply by virtue of his/her voice, gets you to listen.

Why We Can’t Get Enough of Twisted Marriage Thrillers

Gone Girl: cover

“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn

A new wave of bestselling novels depict the dark side of marriage with secretive husbands and betrayed couples. Lucy Scholes on what they reveal about matrimony today—and their literary ancestors.

A look at the popular appeal of novels like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and S. J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep. Scholes’s discussion of the literary history of this theme is informative. And, if you are as intrigued as I am by these psychological narratives, you’ll appreciate her list of forthcoming books in the same vein.

Farewell Bridget Jones – hello literary bad girls

The [U. K.] Guardian has news of another current literary trend:

With their descriptions of nights out gone wrong and no-holds-barred sexual encounters, a clutch of newly released novels are full of women behaving badly. From Zoe Pilger’s raucous debut, Eat My Heart Out, published this month, to Caitlin Moran’s semi-autobiographical How to Build a Girl, which aims to capture that “moment when you try to discover exactly who it is you’re trying to be”. In February Helen Walsh, whose 2005 novel Brass shocked reviewers with its frank depiction of twentysomething female sexuality, brings out her fourth novel, The Lemon Grove, an atmospheric story of middle-aged female sexuality. In May, Emma Jane Unsworth’s second novel, Animals, memorably described as “Withnail for Girls”, hits the shelves.

But what’s driving this new crop of female antiheroes? Unsworth, 35, who drew on her own friendships for Animals, a gloriously over-the-top account of female friendship, says it’s partially a desire for something new.

What’s Become of the So-Called Literary Bad Boy?

But all the literary news isn’t about the women, although this discussion is more about the persona writers create for themselves than about the characters they create on the page.

James Parker argues that all the great literary bad boys are in the past:

In 2014 we have bad-boy chefs (Bourdain, Ramsay), bad-boy priest-comedians (Russell Brand), bad-boy athletes (the demonic Uruguayan soccer player Luis Suárez). Inspiration and transgression are still tangled up for us, at some level. And it’s possible, I suppose, that some young wordslinger could come along and wring a new twist from the tired repertoire of writerly naughtiness — be a postmodern literary bad boy. But in the end, who cares?

Although these New York Times pieces are set up in the point-counterpoint format, Rivka Galchen’s argument doesn’t seem all that different from Parker’s:

And I would argue that certain traits we associate with the “literary bad boy” . . . have little to do with the genuinely countercultural thinking or the intelligently transgressive prose. Instead they are, upon inspection, just the fairly straightforward qualities of persons with more financial or cultural or physical power who exercise that power over people with less. There’s nothing “counter” about that, of course; overpowering in that way implicitly validates things as they are, and implies that this is how they ought to be. So I presume that when we value literary-bad-boy-ness — and there is a lot to value there — those traits wouldn’t be, if we thought about it, the essence of bad-boy-ness; those traits aren’t even distinctive. They’re just trussed-up versions of an unfortunate norm.

Book Review: Books as History by David Pearson. Obsolescence Guaranteed?

Here’s another wrinkle in the printed books vs. ebooks discussion, the book as object:

The book as object is part not only of the history of communication, but also of art and design.

A book can be altered, beautified or cherished in ways that produce unique objects worth preserving. Each generation leaves its marks: inscriptions, annotations, bookplates, new bindings, armorial stamps, defacements. Readers also often add useful details omitted in the texts. As such, printed books have their own histories which become part of our wider historical heritage and evidence base. Pearson argues that e-books and tablets simply won’t offer these unique, telling attributes.

The Coolest Places On Earth To Read A Book

You must see these 8 photos on Huffington Post. They might influence the plans for your next vacation.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, February 10th, 2014

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards

The Coretta Scott King Book Award was founded in 1969 in honor of the late Mrs. Coretta Scott King, wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for her passion and dedication to working for peace. The awards are given to “outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.” Created by the American Library Association, this page provides a variety of resources, including a section on the history of the award and a list of all past award winners. Another great facet of this page is the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Donation Grant. The goal of this program is to increase children’s access to books by building the libraries of nontraditional institutions that provide services to children. Within Resources and Bibliographies, a series of educational materials related to multicultural and diversity resources and collections are also available.

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

Oxford African American Studies Center: Focus on Women and Literature

The Oxford African American Studies Center has created this website to house its comprehensive collection of scholarship documenting the many and varied experiences that make up African and African American history and culture. Along with over 10,000 articles, 2,500 images, and 200 maps, the site features an excellent “Focus On” series each month, in which the editors compile various short articles, picture essays, and links on a designated topic. The Focus on Women and Literature is particularly noteworthy. Here, visitors can explore the life and works of influential women in American literature, from Phillis Wheatley to Toni Morrison. The site can be easily navigated by subject or by specific biography, with suggestions for related sources and content provided in each section. Additionally, curious visitors will find links to all of the previously featured subjects within the series, ranging from African Americans in Science and Technology to Black Homesteading in the American Western Frontier.

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

New Jane Austen manuscript criticises ‘men repeating prayers by rote’

A newly uncovered manuscript in which Jane Austen writes of men reciting prayers unthinkingly could shed light on the gestation of one of her novels.

The scrap of paper features a fragment copied out by the author from a sermon written by her brother, the Rev James Austen.

Now conservation experts are painstakingly lifting the snippet from the book it is stuck into so scholars can read the mysterious words she wrote on the back.

The passage in Austen’s handwriting, dating from 1814, states: “Men may get into a habit of repeating the words of our Prayers by rote, perhaps without thoroughly understanding – certainly without thoroughly feeling their full force & meaning.”

This reflects a theme that she wrote about in her novel Mansfield Park, which was published in the same year.

The Road Back: Frost’s Letters Could Soften a Battered Image

Few figures in American literature have suffered as strangely divided an afterlife as Robert Frost.

Even before his death in 1963, he was canonized as a rural sage, beloved by a public raised on poems of his like “Birches” and “The Road Not Taken.” But that image soon became shadowed by a darker one, stemming from a three-volume biography by his handpicked chronicler, Lawrance Thompson, who emerged from decades of assiduous note-taking with a portrait of the poet as a cruel, jealous megalomaniac — “a monster of egotism” who left behind “a wake of destroyed human lives,” as the critic Helen Vendler memorably put it on the cover of The New York Times Book Review in 1970.

A preview of The Letters of Robert Frost, “a projected four-volume edition of all the poet’s known correspondence that promises to offer the most rounded, complete portrait to date.” Harvard University Press will begin publishing the collection in late February.

Author Jonathan Lethem: Feminism seems so self-evident

Some writers would rather do anything but discuss their own work. Not Jonathan Lethem. A wiry bundle of passionate and lucid self-analysis, the guy can talk. And talk.

I’m waiting at his publisher’s office near the Thames when he swoops in from the rain, ready to bat for the British release of his new novel, Dissident Gardens. A postwar family saga about Rose Angrush, a Jewish communist in Lethem’s native New York, it’s a funny, often filthy book with a heavy subject – the slow death of political alternatives to capitalism after Stalin tainted Marxism.

For a writer who lifts tropes from science fiction and superhero comic strips, it feels like a gear change. His 2003 novel, The Fortress Of Solitude, featured two boys who procure a magic ring that enables them to fly. One reviewer ordered Lethem to grow up.

‘It’s like I took his advice, right?’ he laughs. Not really, he says, preppy in neat specs and trim blazer. ‘I turn 50 in a couple of weeks. It’s kind of funny the idea that I might have suddenly matured, as if everything up to this point was a retarded adolescence and – like the Hulk – I shook it off and became this mature novelist.

‘If you were to put my work into a really super-deliberate two-word synopsis, you might call the whole project “against escapism”. Ideology in Dissident Gardens is like the flying ring in The Fortress Of Solitude. It’s the thing that doesn’t help you live in the world.’

William S. Burroughs at 100: Exploding Five Major Myths

William S. Burroughs, literary scourge of the banal and the boring, best known as the author of the still outrageous Naked Lunch (1959), would have turned 100 on February 5.

Whether as novelist, essayist, painter, filmmaker, recording artist, mystic, expatriate, psychological patient, Scientologist, Beat progenitor, plagiarist, punk music godfather, anti-censorship activist, queer hero, science-fiction guru, junkie, media theorist, advertising model — or accidental murderer — the figure of Burroughs (1914-1997) casts as many shadows as the limits of each of these labels.

 

Monday Miscellany

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Robert McCloskey Sketches for “Make Way for Ducklings”

Born in 1914 in Hamilton, Ohio, Robert McCloskey came to Boston to attend the now-defunct Vesper George Art School. He left to live in New York for a time and established a career as an author and illustrator in the late 1930s. Over the years, he became the force behind beloved tales like Homer Price, Blueberries for Sal, and Time of Wonder. His most famous work is Make Way for Ducklings, which tells the story of a pair of mallards in Boston who take their eight ducklings from the Charles River to Boston’s Public Garden. The Boston Public Library has digitized over 100 of McCloskey’s studies for this wonderful work for consideration by the general public. Visitors can zoom in and look around and some of these great works. Visitors can also create their own curated collections for use at a later date.

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994-2013. https://www.scout.wisc.edu/

Slideshow: The Emily Dickinson Archive

The New York Times offers a good sampling of the materials now available online through The Emily Dickinson Archive. There’s also a link to the archive itself.

What 20 years of best sellers say about what we readKid With Books

How has your reading changed in the past 20 years? From readers shopping in brick-and-mortar bookstores, to the dominance of game-changing online sellers, to a digital era of e-reading and instant delivery, the book industry has gone through monumental change. And USA TODAY has been there all along. Look through 20 years of best-selling books.

This feature by USA TODAY offers an informative look at how reading and books have changed over the last 20 years. Includes lists of the best-selling books for each year.

How Changing Technologies Influence Storytelling

The Internet has changed (and keeps changing) how we live today — how we find love, make money, communicate with and mislead one another. Writers in a variety of genres tell us what these new technologies mean for storytelling.

The New York Times rounds up comments on technology from the following authors:

  • Margaret Atwood
  • Charles Yu
  • Marisha Pessl
  • Tom McCarthy
  • Rainbow Rowell
  • Dana Spiotta
  • Frederick Forsyth
  • Douglas Coupland
  • Tracy K. Smith
  • Emily Giffin
  • Ander Monson
  • Elliott Holt
  • Victor LaValle
  • Lee Child
  • Meg Cabot
  • Tao Lin
  • A.M. Homes

The 10 Best Mystery Books

Thomas H. Cook, one of the best at what he does, has done it again with 2013′s Sandrine’s Case, which is just as intricate and surprising as you’d expect from the Edgar winner. A veteran thriller and mystery writer of over 20 books, Cook shared his favorite mystery novels.

I love mysteries, but I’ve only read two of the books on Cook’s list for Publishers Weekly. But the two that I have read, A Crime in the Neighborhood and A Simple Plan, are very good.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, August 19th, 2013

In ‘Alphabet’ Mysteries, ‘S’ Is Really For Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara

Photo: Alex Proimos (proimos), Flickr

It’s good to catch up with one of my favorite mystery writers, Sue Grafton, creator of private investigator Kinsey Millhone (rhymes with brimstone):

The next book will be “W” Is for Wasted. Grafton promises “z” will be for “zero” — and after she finishes that one, she’s taking a nap.

See some gorgeous shots of Santa Barbara, CA, here. This is the real setting that inspires Kinsey’s fictional home of Santa Teresa. Read about how certain parts of town have influenced Grafton’s creativity.

12 Cats Who Are Serious About Reading

OK, pictures of cats are about the oldest and most obvious internet jokes. But these pictures are seriously cute. Bet you can’t NOT smile. Courtesy of BuzzFeed.

‘The Novelist’ makes a game out of the writer’s life

David L. Ulin, book critic for The Los Angeles Times, admits he’s not a gamer but acknowledges he is “interested in the narrative possibilities of role-playing games.” There are, Ulin writes, certain similarities between literature and these games, “beginning with immersion and the idea that every reader re-creates every book in his or her own image, just as a player determines, in a very real way, the outcome of a game.”

I’ve been thinking about this in regard to a new game, “The Novelist,” which is due to launch before summer ends. Designed by Kent Hudson, who spent a decade working on games such as BioShock 2, it’s an attempt to develop a different kind of game — quieter, more interior, with an outcome as ambiguous as a life. The protagonist, as GalleyCat reported Monday, is a novelist named Dan Kaplan, and players lurk like ghosts in the corners of a house he shares with his wife and young son, as he tries to balance the competing pressures of his world.

“There’s no winning or losing,” Hudson observed in an interview with the gamer’s guide Kotaku. “[M]y hope is that as you’re presented with the same fundamental question … over the course of the game, that you start to learn about your own values. And by the end … maybe your guy has written the greatest book ever but his wife left him and his kid is getting in trouble at school all the time. Well, I guess when push comes to shove, you’ve decided that career’s more important than family. Or vice versa.”

“Tampa” and filthy sex: The year’s raunchiest book has nothing on crime noir!

Novelist Megan Abbott considers the summer’s big scandal, Tampa, first novel of short-story writer Alissa Nutting:

Inspired by a real-life case, the story centers on Celeste Price, a serial predator of teenage boys who uses her job as a middle-school teacher to initiate an affair with a 14-year-old male student, with catastrophic results. Celeste’s first-person narration depicts with ceaseless energy her predations, and her remorseless, amoral response to the havoc that ensues.

Abbott finds Tampa‘s roots squarely “within the noir tradition in crime fiction”:

From the tabloid tales of James M. Cain through Jim Thompson’s deranged heroes all the way through to Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole series, noir is the terrain where compulsive behavior — characters who cannot stop themselves or restrain even their most taboo desires — is the subject, is in fact the expectation. Such behavior (or the longing that drives it) is the engine of the plot. It is a genre foremost focused on the elemental drives: desire, greed, hunger, rage, longing. Story then stems from the way these elementals can take over one’s life, becoming the drumbeat or the funeral beat to life. Characters are ruled by the circuit of wanting-needing-getting-wanting again. Addiction and compulsion don’t just call for action, they demand it. Often, there’s guilt over it, but sometimes, as in the darker corners of noir, the characters have surrendered to it or, like Jim Thompson’s center-less heroes, never fought it at all — they’ve embraced it. “Tampa” falls squarely in this latter tradition, with each sexual episode (this way, that way, on the desk, on the sink, in the car, alone or partnered, real and fantasy) emanating from the drive: I can’t stop myself. Why would I want to?

Abbott compares Tampa with Vicki Hendricks’ 1995 novel Miami Purity, describing how both portray gender reversals of classic noir texts. With further references to Nabokov’s Lolita and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Abbott examines how the authors portray emotional attachment—or the lack of–to create narrative distance that shapes our responses to these “transgressive female” characters.

America’s Nobel: The Neustadt International Prize for Literature

NORMAN, Oklahoma: The Neustadt International Prize for Literature may be the most prestigious literary award in the United States that you’ve never heard of. In certain circles it is sometimes referred to as “The American Nobel” not just because of its reputation for quality but also because the judges have on several occasions selected a winner who went on to bag the illustrious Swedish literary prize. This November, another writer will receive the accolade (plus the $50,000 and silver eagle feather that goes with it) and added to the list of potential, if not likely, Nobel-winners at a ceremony at the University of Oklahoma. Publishing Perspectives took the opportunity to talk about the prize’s 44 year history — and this year’s nominees — with Dr. Robert Con Davis-Undiano, executive director of World Literature Today, the journal that administers the prize.

I admit that I had never heard of this prize, which is “conferred solely on the basis of literary merit” as judged by an elite panel of judges who are all “acclaimed writers in own right.”

The short list for the 2013 prize has international scope:

Far and away the most famous nominee is Japan’s Haruki Murakami, who is up for his third nomination. Also nominated are: César Aira, the Argentine writer/translator; Mia Couto, a Mozambican poet and author; Duong Thu Huong, a Vietnamese novelist; Edward P. Jones, an American author; Ilya Kaminsky, a Ukrainian-born poet now resident in US; Chang-rae Lee, a South Korean-born author resident in US; Edouard Maunick, a Mauritian poet; and Ghassan Zaqtan, a Palestinian poet, novelist and editor. There are also numerous firsts among the nominees: never before have writers from Mauritius, Mozambique, Palestine, or Ukraine been nominated for the prize, meanwhile Jones is first male African-American writer to make the shortlist.

200 Years of Books Prove That City-Living Changes Our Psychology

UCLA researcher Patricia Greenfield has long suspected that the environment around us influences our psychology – not in the classic sense that our family life or peer groups sway our behavior, but in a much broader way. Human psychology adapts differently, she theorized, to rural settings than to urban ones.

Rural living, with its subsistence economies, simpler technologies, and close-knit communities, demands of people a greater sense of deference to authority and duty to each other. Urbanization, on the other hand, generally comes with greater wealth and education, and complex technology and commerce. Adapt to life in a city, and a different set of values becomes more important: for starters, personal choice, property accumulation, and materialism.

. . .
Greenfield’s theory borrows from psychology, sociology, and anthropology. But the evidence mostly comes from literature, a collection of 1,160,000 English-language popular and academic books published between 1800 and 2000. If American culture and psychology grew more individualistic as the country urbanized, wouldn’t that transformation be clear in the words from American books (and the concepts that lie behind them)?

The ability to formulate this type of hypothesis results from the digitization of many, many books that allows for computer analysis of language usage. See the graphs in this article for illustrations of how Greenfield performed her analysis.

 

Monday Miscellany

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Little Libertarians on the prairie

Cover: Little House on the Prairie

A Libertarian tract?

Christine Woodside argues that Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter, journalist Rose Wilder Lane, edited her mother’s reminiscences into books that project a Libertarian point of view:

A close examination of the Wilder family papers suggests that Wilder’s daughter did far more than transcribe her mother’s pioneer tales: She shaped them and turned them from recollections into American fables, changing details where necessary to suit her version of the story. And if those fables sound like a perfect expression of Libertarian ideas—maximum personal freedom and limited need for the government—that’s no accident. Lane, and to an extent her mother, were affronted by taxes, the New Deal, and what they saw as Americans’ growing reliance on Washington. Eventually, as Lane became increasingly antigovernment, she would pursue her politics more openly, writing a strident political treatise and playing an important if little-known role inspiring the movement that eventually coalesced into the Libertarian Party.

Today, as Libertarian values move back into the mainstream of American politics, few citizens think to link them to a series of beloved childhood books. But the Little House books have done more than connect generations of Americans to the nation’s pioneer history: They have promoted a particular version of that history. The enduring appeal of the books tells us something about how deep the romance with self-reliance runs through American history, and the gaps between the Little House narrative and Wilder’s real life say a lot about the government help and interdependence that we sometimes find more convenient to leave out of that tale.

And the continued popularity of the Little House books makes it hard to argue against the influence those books have had in shaping our vision of American history and the American spirit.

Mysterious Press to Publish Early Larsson Story

Mysterious Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, announced it will publish a story by a 17-year-old Stieg Larsson never previously available in English. The piece is part of a larger anthology of Sweden’s greatest crime writers, A Darker Shade of Sweden, and is slated for publication in February 2014.

10 Books Every Woman Should Read

From fearless female protagonists realising their dreams in the face of adversity, to witty social commentaries on the female condition as well as two very different feminist manifestos written fifty years apart – here are 10 of the most influential and unputdownable books that celebrate, in their own way, what it is to be a woman.

This list includes some books I expected to find (e.g., The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath) and some I didn’t (e.g., How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi).

Books to Have and to Hold

KindleAnd the debate surrounding print books vs. ebooks rages on. Here’s Verlyn Klinkenborg’s opinion:

When I read a physical book, I remember the text and the book — its shape, jacket, heft and typography. When I read an e-book, I remember the text alone. The bookness of the book simply disappears, or rather it never really existed. Amazon reminds me that I’ve already bought the e-book I’m about to order. In bookstores, I find myself discovering, as if for the first time, books I’ve already read on my iPad.

All of this makes me think differently about the books in my physical library. They used to be simply there, arranged on the shelves, a gathering of books I’d already read. But now, when I look up from my e-reading, I realize that the physical books are serving a new purpose — as constant reminders of what I’ve read. They say, “We’re still here,” or “Remember us?” These are the very things that e-books cannot say, hidden under layers of software, tucked away in the cloud, utterly absent when the iPad goes dark.

Digital reading: not so discreet after all…

I like reading on both my Kindle and my iPad; I also like reading print books. I don’t see what all the seemingly endless discussion is all about. Both print and ebooks are good; neither one is inherently bad.

On the other hand, The Guardian may have a point here:

At the end of 2012 the Electronic Frontier Foundation published the latest edition of its E-Reader Privacy Chart, and the results aren’t great. Almost every service tracks searches for books, meaning not just what you read, but what you’re interested in, is stored. Every book you purchase is linked to your account. . . .