Archive for the ‘Oddities’ Category

Monday Miscellany

Monday, September 9th, 2013

Amazon’s Kindle Matchbook Program

Much of last week’s book-related news involved Amazon’s announcement of a plan to bundle ebooks and print versions of the same title. Here’s a lot of commentary:

College introducing online ‘Dead’ course

I have avoided the zombie craze like the plague (pun intended), although I know that many other people find it indicative of current society.

And now zombies have achieved a certain degree of legitimacy. The Associated Press reports that the University of California, Irvine, is offering an online course about the AMC series The Walking Dead:

AMC says fans of the show know it’s about more than zombies: it’s about survival, leadership and adapting to uncertain situations. Topics addressed in the classroom will include the hierarchy of needs in a crisis, the physiology of stress and population modeling to predict a species’ survival.

50 greatest villains in literature

It’s perhaps the nature of grown-up literature that it doesn’t all that often have villains, in the sense of coal-black embodiments of the principle of evil. And even when it does, it’s not always so easy to tell who they are. Is God the baddie, or Satan? Ahab, or the white whale?

Yet even writers as subtle as Vladimir Nabokov have spiced their work with a fiend or two. And here they are. We hope you’ll furnish a few more we missed.

This is a British list. I’m sure readers from other cultures have their own favorites from their native literary canon to add.

The Top 10 Literary Landmarks of the South

From Trish Foxwell, author of A Visitor’s Guide to the Literary South:

Stretching from Virginia to the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, and to the tip of Louisiana are some of this country’s most important literary landmarks. Notonly does a visit to the South reveal this region’s haunting beauty, it opens up a window into the lives of some of the nation’s most gifted authors, poets, and playwrights.To visit the landscape that inspired William Faulkner, Margaret Mitchell, Thomas Wolfe, Edgar Allan Poe, and Tennessee Williams (just to name a few) is an unforgettable journey into the South’s storied literary legacy and the annals of American literature. While every corner of this region offers a fascinating collection of writers’ landmarks, here are my choices for the “Top Ten.”

 

 

Monday Miscellany

Monday, August 26th, 2013

Two Items on J. D. Salinger

Two recent news items about J. D. Salinger, reclusive author of Catcher in the Rye:

New biography of JD Salinger to be published this September

An attempt to piece together the life of the notoriously reclusive Catcher in the Rye author JD Salinger, researched over the course of eight years in strict secrecy and including more than 200 interviews, is to be published as a biography on 3 September. A documentary film about the author will be released in the US the same week.

Arriving three years after Salinger’s death at the age of 91, The Private War of JD Salinger promises new insights based on accounts from his “World War II brothers-in-arms, family members, close friends, lovers, classmates, neighbours, editors, publishers, New Yorker colleagues and people with whom he had relationships that were secret even to his own family”, according to a description on Amazon. The author’s literary estate has remained resolutely silent.

‘The film was run like a CIA operation’: Inside the secretive documentary ‘Salinger’ that promises major revelations about reclusive author of the Catcher in the Rye

For much of the nine years that Shane Salerno worked on his J.D. Salinger documentary and book, the project was a mystery worthy of the author himself.

Code names. Hidden identities. Surveillance cameras. Until 2010, when The Catcher In the Rye novelist died at age 91, only a handful of people were fully aware of what he was up to. Even now, with the release date of the film Salinger less than three weeks away, little is known about a production that draws upon more than 100 interviews and a trove of documents and rare photographs, and that promises many revelations about an author who still fascinates millions.

This second article promises that the film, to be released September 6, features “commentary from famous Salinger fans like Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Edward Norton, and John Cusack.” There’s also some background information about Salinger here, and you can watch the movie trailer.

Best of British: Five iconic food moments in literature

From writers of canonical prestige, to the classics of our childhood, appetizing and iconic literary food moments are at the forefront of many of our best books. Here is a selection of some of the tastiest:

This list is drawn from British literature. Any suggestions for comparable scenes from American literature?

Early Reader

Priscilla Gilman describes her son’s early love of books:

As an infant, my son Benj was aloof and never wanted to cuddle with me, but if I read to him, he would snap to attention and listen avidly. He shunned toys and stuffed animals, preferring instead to surround himself with books. . . . But when Benj was almost 3, he was given a diagnosis of a rare disorder called hyperlexia: the ability to read at an early age coupled with difficulty with social interaction and verbal communication, and typically, although not exclusively, found in children on the autism spectrum. I was devastated to learn that Benj’s fondness for reading and reciting literature, which I’d taken to be impassioned and profound, was, in fact, a symptom of his disorder.

Read this entire piece for Gilman’s examination of hyperlexia and her discussion of how it has given her growing son an extraordinary appreciation for the inner workings of language.

‘Bone Season’ author suggests 5 other books of dark futures

You’ve probably heard that the Today show is starting up a new book club and that the first selection is The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon:

The 21-year-old phenom, whose book, “The Bone Season,” came out Tuesday, cites a variety of classics among her biggest influences. Characters like Lucy Snowe from Charlotte Bronte’s “Villette” helped her forge a path for Paige Mahoney, the female protagonist of “The Bone Season.”

Here Shannon recommends five dystopian novels that contributed to the creation of her own dystopian world.

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, July 29th, 2013

The Best Births In Literature

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

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

Literature’s Fight Club

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

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

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

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

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

The Quirky World of E-Reading Apps

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

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

Read his report on the following alternatives to the Nook:

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

Resurrected from the archives: timeless women’s fiction

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

Wright discusses the following books:

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

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

My Favorite Fictional Detectives

Author Martin Walker writes:

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

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

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

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

Monday Miscellany

Monday, June 24th, 2013

This past week was particularly rich in literary-related stories. Here’s a selection chosen for its variety.

Elizabeth Wein’s top 10 dynamic duos in fiction

Some characters just have to exist in pairs: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Thing 1 and Thing 2.

Cover: Code Name VerityElizabeth Wein’s excellent novel Code Name Verity features a pair of female protagonists who think of themselves as a Sensational Team. In this article Wein introduces us to some of her favorite literary duos:

it was hard work narrowing down my teams, so I had to make myself some rules for a fair elimination process. Here’s the system I decided to follow. Each team would have to be a Dynamic Duo rather than a fellowship of three or more (that ruled out the Swallows and the Pevensies), and the pair’s involvement with each other had to further a plot unconnected with any potential romance between them (that ruled out Romeo and Juliet). I also decided that for the purposes of this list each pair of favourites needed to be the main characters in their own stories (that ruled out Fred and George Weasley).

I brainstormed a much longer list than I needed. When I looked it over to choose my top ten, I was amazed and also somewhat disgusted. There wasn’t a single pair of girls on the list. There were more stuffed animals than girls on the list. . . . I feel sure there are other pairs of girls out there besides my own, doing Sensational Literary Teamwork, but they don’t appear in any books I’ve read. Maybe that’s exactly why I make them up.”

Study: Reading novels makes us better thinkers

Discussion continues over whether reading literature somehow makes us better people. This article reports on recent research out of the University of Toronto:

“Exposure to literature,” the researchers write in the Creativity Research Journal, “may offer a (way for people) to become more likely to open their minds.”

In other words, exposure to literature may make people more tolerant of ambiguity, a trait that in turn can help them avoid snap judgments, stereotypical thinking, and bad decisions.

Their results should give people “pause to think about the effect of current cutbacks of education in the arts and humanities,” Djikic and her colleagues add. After all, they note, while success in most fields demands the sort of knowledge gained by reading non-fiction, it also “requires people to become insightful about others and their perspectives.”

Building a Better Book Club

I’m usually skeptical of anyone who begins with a comment something like “I haven’t had this experience myself, but here’s what I think about it.” However, in this case I’ll give the writer, Evan Gottlieb, Associate Professor of English at Oregon State University, a pass. As he explains, since his professional life involves discussing literature with others, he feels he should spend the rest of his time attending to other interests.

Gottlieb may never have attended any book club sessions, but I have: countless book club gatherings over more than 20 years. And I can testify that the seven points he makes here are spot on. I especially like his second point, about keeping the discussion on topic:

2. Plot, character, setting, and style are the four basic formal elements of any novel. . . . As long as you are describing, considering, analyzing, or asking questions about one or more of these elements, you can be sure you are staying focused on the book that everyone (presumably) has read and gathered to discuss.

What do you think of Gottlieb’s advice?

Lady Chatterley’s house goes on sale

The manor house in which DH Lawrence set Lady Chatterley’s Lover is among a number of homes with literary connections currently on the market.

This article discusses several English properties with a literary connection currently for sale. There’s also an interesting discussion about whether a literary connection makes a property more or less valuable.

Even if you can’t afford one of these places, the pictures are lovely.

Dysfunctional Families In Literature

Dysfunctional families in literature run the gamut from amusing to chilling, but they all have one thing in common: they keep the reader glued to the page. After all, as readers, we may like the occasional dose of normal, but it doesn’t take long before we’re craving a touch of betrayal or a hint of deceit. Dysfunctional families in literature let us peek into the dark shadows of the psyche while keeping a safe distance.

Novelist Ingrid Thoft offers a slideshow of 10 such families.

A brief survey of the short story part 50: Ivan Turgenev

When Gogol died in 1852, Ivan Turgenev, the man whom many in Russia were calling his successor, was arrested for writing an obituary in praise of the great writer. In fact, the official reason was a pretext. Turgenev had already displeased the tsarist authorities with his series of sketches of rural Russian life, published in the journal the Contemporary between 1847 and 1851, and collected in 1852 as Sketches from a Hunter’s Album.

This book, which it is claimed influenced Tsar Alexander II’s decision to emancipate the serfs in 1861, comprises vignettes of peasant life as observed by a landowning hunter much like Turgenev. Not even Gogol had presented such rounded portrayals of serfs before.

I’m embarrassed that I am just now, with installment #50, discovering this series in The Guardian. Fortunately, there are arrows at the bottom for navigating to “previous” and “next” articles.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Ann Aguirre Speaks Out on Sexism in Science Fiction

Aguirre

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

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

I don’t care about that anymore.

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

Author Guterson heckled for gloomy speech at Roosevelt graduation

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

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

Awesome Bookish Flooring

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

They really are awesome.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, June 10th, 2013

Learning to learn: the heart of reading

woman readingAlly of Scoop.it (the curation service that I use for Literature & Psychology) describes how she went about learning to read for deep meaning. She based her strategy on an article by Maryanne Wolf, the John DiBiaggio Professor in the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development at Tufts, and author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.

Although Ally focused on reading nonfiction, the process would be similar for someone wanting to explore a particular topic in literary texts—for example, fiction that deals with the relationships between mothers and daughters.

Do We Need to Be Told How to Read? 

cover: How to Read LiteratureAlso in the category of learning how to read, academic cultural critic Terry Eagleton has a new book out, How to Read Literature.

I haven’t read Eagleton’s book yet, though I have bought it and look forward to finding out what he has to say. But novelist William Giraldi has read How to Read Literature, and in this article he offers an unsympathetic evaluation. In their symbiotic relationship, such clashes between practitioners (writers) and theorists (critics) are often more informative than anything either alone has to say.

Can books make us better people?

And why do we want to read, anyway? One reason might be that literature makes us better people. Or does it?

This question has been another hot topic of debate recently in the literary world. In this article in the Christian Science Monitor Husna Haq recaps the argument and provides links to many of the articles she discusses. She concludes:

Nonetheless, the question remains – does literature make us better?

If we turn to literature itself and the nuanced messages it conveys, we may find that the answer, unlike the question, is not nearly so clear-cut and precise. Literature, after all, deals with the messy, the ambiguous, the muddled, and, we suspect, that’s just what we have on our hands with that deceivingly straightforward question.

Empathy-Free Entertainment

Noah Berlatsky tackles the same issue over at The Atlantic:

Art, we’re often told, encourages empathy. By watching or reading about different people, or different situations, we become able to understand and sympathize with a broader range of perspectives. Fiction connects you to other people—or as Chuck Klosterman said, “Art and love are the same thing: It’s the process of seeing yourself in things that are not you.” There was even a study last year that found that “experience-taking changes us by allowing us to merge our own lives with those of the characters we read about, which can lead to good outcomes.” Literature broadens you; science says so.

But he bases his argument on recent movies (and, in some cases, on the comics that inspired those movies) rather than on just literary texts. And in those works he finds a bleak message:

What matters are these soulless, hollow, fungible icons, and the assurance that they will continue forever as around them all the mere humans effervesce like ghosts. This art isn’t about empathy or love. Instead, it’s about worship, about pledging fealty to our invented, charismatically uncaring, gods. Our corporate fictions offer the blank joy of not caring, whether about creators, actors, strangers, or ourselves.

Book Domino World Record: Seattle Public Library Launches Summer Reading In Style (VIDEO)

On a much happier note:

Seattle Public Library just set an unusual world record in its incredible flagship building: the world’s longest book domino chain.

Created to launch its summer reading program, 2,131 books were used in the service of this magical video that you can watch above, filmed on May 31st. Our favorite part? The silent summer readers sitting among the books as they quietly fell around them.

 

Monday Miscellany

Monday, March 18th, 2013

How Literature Saved My Psyche: Attending a Book-Themed Therapy Session at the Center for Fiction

Just read this. That is all.

Nicholas Royle’s top 10 first novels

Clever Nicholas Royle:

First Novel, my seventh, is all about first novels (and other stuff). My narrator, a creative writing tutor, tries to help students write their debuts while struggling with his own second novel. Meanwhile he pores over photos of writers’ rooms in a certain newspaper searching for validation in the form of a glimpse of his own first novel on someone else’s shelves.

Here are his top 10 first novels, listed alphabetically by author:

  1. Pharricide by Vincent De Swarte
  2. Days Between Stations by Steve Erickson
  3. The Blindfold by Siri Hustvedt
  4. The Horned Man by James Lasdun
  5. A Dandy in Aspic by Derek Marlowe
  6. The Lighthouse by Alison Moore
  7. Mystery Story by David Pirie
  8. Vault by David Rose
  9. Quilt by Nicholas Royle
  10. The Tenant by Roland Topor

Free College-Level Writing & Literature Classes

GalleyCat provides links to “nine college-level writing classes, offerings ranging from science fiction to writing to mythology” offered through the new consortium Coursera.

Just Saying “Yes”: Joyce Carol Oates

Here’s an interesting sketch of prolific author Joyce Carol Oates, who will turn 75 in June.

Oates, who has been called a quintessentially American author, grew up in upstate New York, one of three children of a factory worker and a housewife; she was the first of her family to graduate from high school and she writes out of a kind of homesickness for the farms, fields, and creeks of that place. Some of Oates’s most memorable novels have strong female characters—The Grave Digger’s Daughter and Mudwoman, to name two. “I sometimes conflate myself and my [paternal] grandmother and/or my mother. I put generations together,” she says. Though violence is a frequent theme in Oates’s work, she says she grew up on the “periphery” of it, never experiencing it herself. Her great-grandfather, however, killed himself in front of her grandmother and intended to take the child’s life as well. Oates’s mother, Carolina, was abandoned when she was young. Oates learned about the experience when O, the Oprah Magazine approached her and other women writers to interview their mothers for an article. Oprah, whom Oates calls “an American original,” had chosen We Were the Mulvaneys as her book club selection, and so Oates agreed to do the piece. Her mother, well into her 80s at the time, had never before spoken about her past, and she wept as she told Oates by telephone how her biological mother had given her away, that “she didn’t want her”.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Hogwarts Is in Your Head, Harry: Conspiracy Theories About Literature

Harry Potter

Warner Bros.

Emily Temple weighs in over at The Atlantic:

Sherlock Holmes and Watson are lovers, Winnie the Pooh is a mental-illness allegory, and other theories that might forever alter your favorite books.

There was a pretty fascinating article over at Salon earlier this month, in which Greg Olear argues that Nick Carraway, the narrator of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, was gay and in love with the novel’s eponymous character. Though a Google search indicates that Olear’s not exactly the first person to think of this, I admit I’d never considered the idea before, and his arguments are pretty persuasive. The article got me thinking about the other theories and alternate interpretations that are floating around about classic literary characters. Below, an investigation, and perhaps a few sides of characters you’ve never seen before.

Now we all know that I’m a student of the intersections between literature and psychology, but, well, it’s just too easy to get carried away with this kind of thing once you get started.

Writers writing about writing: ‘Why We Write’

Joan Didion had it right. In her 1976 essay “Why I Write,” originally published in the New York Times Book Review, she lays out the template in no uncertain terms: “In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions — with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating — but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.”

David L. Ulin, book critic for the Los Angeles Times, describes the newly released Why We Write: 20 Acclaimed Writers on How and Why They Do What They Do, edited by Meredith Maran.

See what writers including Mary Karr, Sara Gruen, James Frey, Susan Orlean, Rick Moody, Jane Smiley, Walter Mosley and Armistead Maupin have to say about their craft.

The Art of Marginalia

I, of course, could not pass up an article about the act of writing notes in the margins of books.

In addition to a neat photo of a well marked-up book, Jocelyn Kelley includes links to two other articles from the New Yorker and the New York Times.

16 Great Library Scenes in Film

When news broke last week that Dan Brown’s new novel will center on some sort of mystery surrounding Dante’s Inferno, I immediately began hoping that there is a nutty, fun scene of Robert Langdon racing around a library just like he raced around the Louvre in The Da Vinci Code.

And because I am who I am, it got me thinking about great movie library scenes that already exist. At first, I thought the list would be pretty short, but you know what? Hollywood loves a library. Some combination of ambiance, seclusion, hidden knowledge, and the sheer beauty of shelves upon shelves of books make libraries a fantastic film setting.

Jeff O’Neal, the editor of Book Riot, was surprised to find 16—SIXTEEN!—noteworthy library scenes in films.

Can you think of any that he left out?

The Best Coffee Mugs for Book Lovers

banned books mug

With Valentine’s Day coming up fast, here’s a whole cupboard full of gift suggestions.

This one is my favorite.

Silent reading isn’t so silent, at least, not to your brain

The blogger at Neurotic Physiology, who says she has a Ph. D. in physiology, discusses some recent research into whether “silent reading” is truly silent to our brains. The study she’s describing involved only four participants (but there are good reasons for the small sample size, as NP explains) and is therefore quite limited. But the results are interesting:

What’s particularly new about this study is that it not only shows that silent reading causes high-frequency electrical activity in auditory areas, but it shows that these areas as specific to voices speaking a language. This activity was only present when the person was paying attention to the task. The authors believe that these results back up the hypothesis that we all produce an “inner voice” when reading silently. And it is enhanced by attention, suggesting that it’s probably not an automatic process, but something that occurs when we attentively process what we are reading. And the next time you read silently, remember that it’s not quite to silent to your brain.

Be sure to read the comments. They’ll have you contemplating the reading voice in your own head.

The Nuclear Monsters That Terrorized the 1950s

What would a visiting alien learn from Them!, Godzilla, and Attack of the 50-Foot Woman?

People who want to talk about the jumpy, kitschy, gloriously lurid movie genre we now know as 1950s sci-fi usually start with Susan Sontag. This is not because Sontag is a bug-eyed alien or 50 feet tall but because she wrote, in 1965, the definitive essay on Cold War dystopian fantasy: “The Imagination of Disaster.” “We live,” she claimed in that piece, “under continual threat of two equally fearful, but seemingly opposed, destinies: unremitting banality and inconceivable terror.” The job of science fiction was at once to “lift us out of the unbearably humdrum … by an escape into dangerous situations which have last-minute happy endings” and to “normalize what is psychologically unbearable, thereby inuring us to it.”

In other words, a good horror/fantasy/sci-fi flick provides a healthy dose of escapism, but it also keeps one eye fastened on what we wish to escape from.

Katy Waldman examines some of these classic movies and lists some conclusions we might draw from them:

  1. That science is amoral.
  2. That the universe exists in black-and-white.
  3. That women are scary. And sexy, too, just like the bomb itself.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Making Appointments With (Fictional) Doctors

A fictional M.D. will not reduce your fever, but she or he might reduce your boredom. That’s because many medical protagonists — whether general practitioners or something else — are quite interesting. They’re often not liberal arts types, but, heck, non-liberal arts types can be compelling characters, too.

Also of interest is seeing how fictional physicians interact with fictional patients, and how these doctors manage their fictional personal lives while working long hours. Plus we can’t help comparing literature’s doctors to our own doctors. Are these made-up medical people as compassionate and dedicated, or as egotistic and mercenary, or as competent or not-so-competent as the real-life medical people we visit?

Read what Dave Astor has to say about doctors in fiction, from Flaubert’s Madame Bovary to John Grisham’s The Client.

Romance that never loses its sparkle: The world’s most influential novel ever

image from Pride and Prejudice

BBC 1995 Adaptation of Pride and Prejudice

It gave us Colin Firth in a clinging, wet shirt and inspired Bridget Jones to sing “I’m Every Woman”. Jane Austen’s “own darling child”, or Pride and Prejudice as it’s known to you and me, is a brand all of its own. It has inspired more spin-offs than almost any other book in history, and has ballooned into a multi-million-pound industry. Pretty impressive, considering it turns 200 years old this month.

As enthusiasts, academics, authors and film-makers across the globe celebrate the bicentenary of the novel’s publication in the next few weeks, experts suggest “cult Austen” is only going to get bigger. Its market, they say – which until now has consisted largely of Britain, the US and Australia – is expanding. China, India and Russia are starting to swot up on all things Austen. Visitors are flocking to visit her home, Chawton in Hampshire, to read the sequels and travel to the locations where adaptations of her works were filmed.

Notes on all kinds of artistic endeavors inspired by Pride and Prejudice.

Fact of fiction: How reading the classics gives the brain a boost

Researchers at Liverpool University believe that reading classic works of literature, particularly Shakespeare, “had a beneficial effect on the mind, by catching the reader’s attention and triggering moments of self-reflection.”

Using scanners, they monitored the brain activity of volunteers as they read pieces by Shakespeare, Wordsworth, TS Eliot and others. They then “translated” the texts into more “straightforward”, modern language and again monitored the readers’ brains as they read the words. Scans showed that the more “challenging” prose and poetry set off far more electrical activity in the brain than the more pedestrian versions.

Scientists were able to study the brain activity as readers responded to each word and noticed how it “lit up” as they encountered unusual words, surprising phrases or difficult sentence structure. This “lighting up” of the mind lasted longer than the initial electrical spark, shifting the brain to a higher gear and encouraging further reading.

The classics also produced self-appraisal in readers:

The research also found that poetry, in particular, increased activity in the right hemisphere of the brain, an area concerned with “autobiographical memory”, helping the reader to reflect on and reappraise their own experiences in light of what they had read.

One aspect of the research compared the reactions in volunteers’ brains when reading the work of, among others, Wordsworth, Henry Vaughan, John Donne, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Eliot, Philip Larkin and Ted Hughes and when reading paraphrases of the poetic passages. Reading of the original passages

caused a greater degree of brain activity, lighting up not only the left part of the brain concerned with language, but also the right hemisphere that relates to autobiographical memory and emotion.

Activity is this area of the brain suggests that the poetry triggers “reappraisal mechanisms” causing the reader to reflect and rethink their own experiences. “Poetry is not just a matter of style. It is a matter of deep versions of experience that add the emotional and biographical to the cognitive,” said Prof [Philip] Davis [an English professor who worked on the study].

“The next phase of the research is looking at the extent to which poetry can affect psychology and provide therapeutic benefit.”

Five Movies Coming Out In 2013 That Are Based On Books

Freelance writer and photographer Kristina Pino provides a heads-up on some upcoming films. “This list isn’t about the likes of Ender’s Game, Hunger Games, Carrie, The Great Gatsby, The Host, and others. It’s about the ‘little guys.’”

Read why she recommends these films:

  • Warm Bodies
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist
  • Beautiful Creatures
  • I, Frankenstein
  • Epic

Meet Babies Grey and Anastasia: ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ inspires baby names

Call it the Fifty Shades bump — literally. BabyCenter has released their yearly list of most popular baby names and — shocker! — the Class of 2030 will be seeing a lot more Anastasias and Greys. Wait, Greys? Yes, readers. When bestowing a Fifty Shades-inspired moniker on their child, parents chose not Christian, but Grey. The name saw a 20 percent jump from last year. On the girls’ side of things, Anastasia rose ten percent, while Ana climbed 35 spots.

Movies Are Literature Too

And for snooty readers who think the book is always better than the movie, Christina Oppold has some news:

Sometimes we take our lives as readers too seriously. Even if we flit between the highbrow and fluffy beach read, it is easy to think of books as somehow being superior to movies. But storytelling is all connected. From the camp fire to the Blue Ray DVD, from stone tablets to digital ink; what thrills the balletomane bores the cinephile. Each new medium follows on the heels of what came before; it breathes new life in to sharing our stories and each is belittled by the supporters of what came before.

We read not for the sake of the book as a physical object but for the stories within that move us. Embrace the story no matter how it was conveyed to you.