Archive for the ‘Monday Miscellany’ 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?

Monday Miscellany

Monday, April 7th, 2014

Because I am in Nashville cheering on the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s pursuit of yet another national championship, this week’s entry is an abbreviated one.

A Brief Interview With Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue is the author of eight novels and four short story collections, in addition to a number of dramatic productions. Her 2010 novel Room was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. Her latest book, Frog Music [Little, Brown, $27.00], publishes on April 2.

Read why Emma Donoghue includes “a bitch character in every book.”

Senior English Major Wins the 2014 Rose Prize for Literary Criticism

I was intrigued by the description of English major Katie McLaughlin’s winning paper:

When senior English major Katie McLaughlin decided to write her capstone paper on collaborative Internet fiction, there was no official name for what she was writing about. So she made one up. She dubbed websites where people write, edit and read stories together “narrative communities,” and these narrative communities are what inspired her capstone paper, “‘Everybody Writes’: Re-imagining Reader, Writer, and Text in the Online Community.”

Classic dystopian novels forecast a bleak future — soon

New reprints of classic dystopian novels show that a bleak view of our future has enduring appeal. Seattle Public Library librarian David Wright rounds up titles by George Turner, J.G. Ballard, John Brunner, Russell Hoban and John Wyndham.

Here’s the book on Wright’s list that most piques my interest:

Russell Hoban’s “Riddley Walker” (Gollancz, $17.95) is easily one of the most ingenious novels ever written. Set during a distant Dark Age long after our current civilization has given itself to the fire, the entire narrative is rendered in a hyper-phonetic, punning version of devolved English. We riddle along with Walker as he grapples with obscure legends of our own bad times, including that particularly seductive myth: the myth of progress. Readers who get the hang of Riddleyspeak (it’s easier than it looks) are in for a profound, transformative journey into the human heart, where fires of creation and destruction are kindled.

Cover: Cloud AtlasThis sounds like “Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After,” the central portion that functions as the turning point in David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas. Set in the future, this section features language like this:

Adam, my bro, an’ Pa’n'me was trekking’ back from Honokaa Market on miry roads with a busted cart axle in draggly clothesies. Evenin’ catched us up early, so we tented on the southly bank o’ Sloosha’s Crossin’, ‘cos Waipio River was furyin’ with days o’ hard rain an’ swollen by a spring tide. Sloosha’s was friendsome ground tho’ marshy, no un lived in the Waipio Valley ‘cept for a mil’yun birds, that’s why we din’t camo our tent or pull cart or nothin’. [David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas (New York, Random House, 2004, rpt. 2012), p. 239]

Although this language looks strange, I soon found that, as Wright says of Riddleyspeak, it’s easier to decipher than it looks.

 

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: Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from Ireland!

For only my second trip abroad EVER, I am in Ireland for 10 days. This is definitely the trip of a lifetime for someone with O’Dea relatives on one side of the family and Conklin folks on the other.

More literary content next week. For now, I’m off in search of some green beer.

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, March 3rd, 2014

You Are What You Read: 14 Thought Leaders Share Their Bookshelves

I admit I’m a book snob. The first thing I look at in people’s homes or offices is their bookshelves. I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours:

my bookshelves

I moved recently and haven’t even unpacked my books yet. These are new ones that I’ve acquired since the move.

Anyway, in the article linked here Shane Snow explains an experiment he tried out recently:

I emailed a few friends and people I admired and asked them if I could see photographs of their bookshelves (or book stacks or Kindle screens). Just about everybody said, “yes.” The experiment soon metastasized, and I started pestering thought leaders in spaces I followed–tech, advertising, philanthropy–to see what books the innovators cared enough about to allot real estate.

Soon, I had more photos than I knew what to do with.

Take a look at some of his favorite photos.

THE BIZARRE AND THE JEJUNE: Tom Wolfe talks about his life

At age 82 Tom Wolfe, credited with being the founder of what came to be known as New Journalism, talks about his writing life:

It helps to know from a very early age what you want to do. From the time I was five years old I wanted to be a writer, even though I couldn’t even read. It was mainly because I thought of my father as a writer. Actually, he was an agronomist. But he was editing a magazine called The Southern Planter, which gave advice to farmers.

I would see him writing on a big yellow legal pad. And then about two weeks later there would come out a publication in type. I don’t know if I can explain it, but when I was young type was so refined. It had these sharp edges. I wish I could relive the excitement of seeing type for the first time. So it was pretty clear that I wanted to be a writer.

Read here about his early journalistic career, the time he followed Muhammad Ali around New York City for a piece for Esquire, how New Journalism came about and where the name came from, and this lesson that he learned:

I started out like most young writers, thinking that great writing consists of 95 percent of your talent and 5 percent your content. But you have to write about something and pretty soon I had those figures really turned around. It was more like 75 percent content and 25 percent ability.

Bleak Books: The Best, the Bad, the Broken

Many years ago, when my library book group read Mary Karr’s memoir The Liars’ Club, one woman said, “I wish we didn’t have to read books about such depressing things.” Karr’s book discusses some disturbing things that happened to her as a child. Since I had recommended the book to the group, my reply was that we need to read about such things so that, as a society, we can work to make the world a better place.

But what about bleak fiction? Elizabeth Bluemle addresses this question in a blog post for Publishers Weekly. By bleak she seems to mean violent here. And with violence as the deciding criterion, I have three well-known novels that I still refuse to read:

  • The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

I may have to revise my resistance to The Road in light of Bluemle’s evaluation here: “Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is a stunner.”

Bluemle mentions some other bleak (violent) novels that she finds worthwhile. And here’s her overall conclusion:

Maybe a good bleak book is one that makes us face some of the harder human truths, makes us think, disturbs us — upsets our simple preference for rewarded virtue and punished villainy — in important ways. The good bleak books deepen our appreciation for humaneness, mercy, compassion. Perhaps the good bleak books shatter our hearts, but show us how to start putting them back together again.

What about you? Are there some books that you won’t read because they’re too violent? Is there such a thing as “a good bleak book”? Have you read some books that you thought you’d hate but ended up liking?

The Literature Behind Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Best Movies

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had an uncanny ability to portray the complexities of human nature. Here’s some information on the literature behind some of his most famous roles:

  • The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)
  • The Master (2012)
  • Almost Famous (2000)
  • Synecdoche, New York (2008)
  • Capote (2005)

 

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 17th, 2014

Author News

Last week I happily came across news related to two of my favorite mystery writers:

Why Novel Reading Reduces Anxiety

woman reading

Good stories, then, not only help us relate to the hero’s journey, as Joseph Campbell pointed out, but the act of reading them actually can reconfigure brain networks. This means that not only are we able to escape from our problems while reading, it also increases compassion to another’s suffering — as well as perhaps to one’s own — which can be a major aid to self-growth and healing, as well as helping to decrease anxiety and depression.

The Psychology of Storytelling and Empathy, Animated

More on how stories affect the human brain:

Stories without key elements–including a climax and denouement–do not engage the brain in the same way. Indeed people ignore them.

From MIT, An Interactive Book That Makes You Feel Characters’ Pain

Have you ever felt your pulse quicken when you read a book, or your skin go clammy during a horror story? A new student project out of MIT wants to deepen those sensations. They have created a wearable book that uses inexpensive technology and neuroscientific hacking to create a sort of cyberpunk Neverending Story that blurs the line between the bodies of a reader and protagonist.

Called Sensory Fiction, the project was created by a team of four MIT students–Felix Heibeck, Alexis Hope, Julie Legault, and Sophia Brueckner–who took part in Science Fiction To Science Fabrication class, a multimedia course that uses sci-fi as both inspiration and caution for the technology of the future.

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.