8 Tips For Overcoming ’Reader’s Block’

I can’t remember ever encountering reader’s block. My own problem is usually the opposite: other life duties that prevent me from spending as much time as I’d like to spend reading.

Nevertheless, Emily Petsko asserts:

“Reader’s block” is a well-documented problem, and even avid readers occasionally suffer from it. The good news is that it’s not incurable …

Of the eight approaches she offers to overcoming reader’s block, I especially endorse #5. In fact, I think the liberating discovery—which hit me at about age 40—that I don’t have to finish every book I start is probably the reason why I’ve never felt reader’s block. If a book isn’t doing something for me, I simply put it aside and pick up something else.

Which is another reason for keeping one’s bookshelves well stocked with unread books …

Pretentious, impenetrable, hard work … better? Why we need difficult books

This year’s Booker-winner Milkman has been criticised for being challenging. But are we confusing readability with literary value?

Sam Leith argues that “ease of consumption isn’t the main criterion by which literary value should be assessed.” The criterion by which a novel should be judged is “how successfully it answers whatever challenge it sets itself.”

Leith quotes novelist Nicola Barker on why some novels are difficult: “Life is hard and paradoxical. It isn’t always easy. Nor should all fiction be.” Fiction becomes difficult when it attempts to engage with a world that isn’t always straightforward, coherent, or manageable. The metaphor Leith uses to convey the benefits of tackling a difficult book is that of a challenging mountain hike: The hike is difficult, but the amazing view at the top is worth the effort.

The article ends with a list of “ten difficult books worth reading” compiled by Lara Feigel.

Criminal profiling doesn’t work. TV shows should maybe stop celebrating it

I admit to watching avidly every episode of Criminal Minds, even though one of the team’s solemn pronouncement of “We’re ready to give the profile” almost always makes me laugh. Dylan Matthews wonders why popular culture continues to feature criminal profilers when “ It’s a real, honest-to-God bummer, but criminal profiling doesn’t appear to work. At all.” He cites research that concluded that experts “do only slightly better than random people at predicting traits of offenders” and that “profiling is a ‘pseudoscientific technique,’ of limited if any value to investigators.”

And, Matthews continues, all this emphasis on psychological profilers may be detracting from efforts in areas that psychology could effectively help with, most notably predicting future events:

The social consequences of being able to forecast the future better are immense. “If we could improve the judgement of government officials facing high-stakes decisions — reducing their susceptibility to various biases, or developing better methods of aggregating expertise — this could have positive knock-on effects across a huge range of domains,” Jess Whittlestone notes. “For example, it could just as well improve our ability to avert threats like a nuclear crisis, as help us allocate scarce resources towards the most effective interventions in education and healthcare.”

Future Fiction

Sarah LaBrie arrives at a definition of future fiction by examining several contemporary novels:

  • My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
  • The Overstory by Richard Powers
  • Parable of the Talents and Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
  • The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

Here’s how LaBrie describes her notion of future fiction:

If My Year of Rest and Relaxation serves to capture a moment in history, novels like The Mars Room and The Overstory might be examples of a kind of future fiction, one that teaches readers to think of themselves as elements of larger systems. They might help set the foundation for a literary fiction that regains its place in a political conversation from which it has long been dismissed. If Powers’s and Kushner’s novels do nothing else, they show us that fiction, more powerfully than any other technology, provides a map for navigating the world even at its most confusing and unbearable.

I’m guessing that LaBrie would say these novels fit Sam Leith’s description (above) of difficult books.

 

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

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THE SIMPLE JOY OF REREADING TO BREAK A READING SLUMP

Julia Rittenberg has a confession to make:

I used to have a great deal of anxiety around keeping up with others’ reading paces. Social media heightened my awareness of reading habits, and worries that my own were woefully behind. I would be unable to choose a new book to read, so my anxiety would continue to build. Consequently, I would stop reading altogether (outside of schoolwork) for months at a time.

A result of her reading slump was that she continued to document on social media books she wanted to read instead of reading more books.

When her TBR stacks of books “deemed Culturally Important [began] to feel a bit like homework,” she rediscovered her reading mojo by rereading Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. This book reminded her why she likes reading so much and helped her overcome her reading slump. Now, instead of avoiding books she doesn’t especially want to read, she has a stack of books she’s itching to read, all because she reread an old favorite that continues to inspire her.

Like most readers, I’ve often felt that I’ll never be able to keep up with all the new, interesting, publicly touted books that seem to come out almost daily. But my reading slumps are usually triggered more by simple time constraints than by an inability to find a book that grabs me. (See my tsundoku .) However, I have, more than once, chosen to get back into reading by rereading an old favorite book that reminds me how powerful reading can be.

How about you?

What methods do you use to help dig your way out of an occasional reading slump”

READING WHILE CHRONICALLY ILL OR, THE BOOKS WILL WAIT

Abby Hargreaves’s reading slump was quite different from Julia Rittenberg’s. After two family deaths prevented her from reading for pleasure, she discovered that she had a chronic disease that drained both her time and her energy.

Reading while chronically ill (and, in those first several months, still actively grieving the loss of my only sibling and grandmother) was near impossible. Though I craved the escape of a good book, I just couldn’t manage it. There was the holding of the book, which took physical effort, and paying attention to the plot, which required mental strength. Since I lacked both of these things, reading anything substantial was pretty out of the question.

And from this experience she learned a valuable lesson:

Reading can be a wonderful escape, but it need not add extra pressure to our lives. You can’t read on empty—be kind to yourself. Be well, when you can. And read when you’re ready. The books will wait.

And the comments on this article suggest that Hargreaves’s message resonates with others.

20 DEBUT WORKS OF FICTION BY WOMEN OVER 40

It’s not unusual to come across lists of young writers, particularly young women writers. While these lists showcase young people’s achievements, where are the opportunities for older people, particularly older women who may have had to postpone undertaking a writing career while focusing on the more traditional expectations for women: caring for a home and children?

But, according to Jenny Bhatt:

there are also many successful examples to serve as role models and provide ongoing inspiration for older writers—or aspiring writers of any age.

Below is a list of women writers who debuted works of fiction at or after the age of 40 and went on to achieve even more success. While not exhaustive, it shows clearly that women writers are not past their prime after a certain age. In fact, many are not even “late-bloomers”—they have simply deferred publishing due to family or career commitments. But the most striking aspect that unites all of these works is how each incorporates the collected, distilled wisdom, a lifetime of reading, and the sheer radicalism that could not have been possible for a younger writer.

Enjoy Bhatt’s list, which includes the following authors:

  • Penelope Fitzgerald, age 60
  • Mary Wesley, 71
  • Harriet Doerr, 74

50 MUST-READ BOOKS WITH UNRELIABLE NARRATORS

Oh, I do love me an unreliable narrator: Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.

Here’s a treasure trove of books with unreliable narrators, including many of which I’ve read and a whole bunch of new ones for me to add to my reading list.

How about you?

Do you enjoy reading a story told by an unreliable narrator? Which of the books listed here have you read? What other unreliable-narrator books do you recomment?

THE APPEAL OF THE TIME-TRAVEL ROMANCE

I find the trope of time travel fascinating; see, for example, 13 + 1 Books That Feature Time Travel.

in this article Alyssa Fikse examines time travel as a recurring trope in romance:

In particular, time travel and other time-related complications pop up again and again. Whether they’re communicating via time bending mailbox (The Lake House), kept apart by centuries as a plastic centurion (Doctor Who), or powered by genetic anomalies both charming (About Time) and devastating (The Time Traveler’s Wife), this obstacle has long been a popular stalwart in the romantic canon.

Specifically, she asks, “What keeps us climbing back into time machines or touching ancient stones in search of romance?” She concludes that the time-travel romance remains such a robust subgenre because it shows us that love can truly conquer all:

Can your wife find you despite being separated by centuries and continents? No? Well, we have this particular fantasy for that.

 

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

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OCTAVIA BUTLER AND AMERICA AS ONLY BLACK WOMEN SEE IT

It is a rare writer who can use sci-fi not simply to chart an escape from reality, but as a pointed reflection of the most minute and magnified experiences that frame and determine the lives of those who live in black skin. Octavia E. Butler was one such writer. This year marks 20 years since the publication of one of her most inspired and radically profound novels, Parable of the Talents. This is a book which saw America through the “double consciousness” which W.E.B. Dubois asserted that only black people have cultivated, and which black women have sharpened to an extreme degree. An America that is bloody, unyielding, violent and tentatively united to mask a history never reckoned with.

Why Doesn’t Ancient Fiction Talk About Feelings?

Julie Sedivy looks at the development of social intelligence over centuries by comparing medieval literature with novels of today. Medieval literature discusses what characters do with almost no consideration of how those characters felt about their actions or their motivations. Current literature (by which she means fiction—short stories or novels), in contrast, often focuses more on characters’ feelings than on their actions. This difference illustrates what Sedivy calls “Western literature’s gradual progression from narratives that relate actions and events to stories that portray minds in all their meandering, many-layered, self-contradictory complexities.”

Literature certainly reflects the preoccupations of its time, but there is evidence that it may also reshape the minds of readers in unexpected ways. Stories that vault readers outside of their own lives and into characters’ inner experiences may sharpen readers’ general abilities to imagine the minds of others. If that’s the case, the historical shift in literature from just-the-facts narration to the tracing of mental peregrinations may have had an unintended side effect: helping to train precisely the skills that people needed to function in societies that were becoming more socially complex and ambiguous.

Sedivy writes that in medieval literature people are “constantly planning, remembering, loving, fearing,” but without the author drawing much attention to such processes. These early authors present characters’ mental states through direct speech or gestures. “The direct reporting of emotion was fairly common, but mostly kept short and simple (“He was afraid”).”

This approach to emotional representation began to change between 1500 and 1700, “when it became common for characters to pause in the middle of the action, launching into monologues as they struggled with conflicting desires, contemplated the motives of others, or lost themselves in fantasy.” The soliloquies of Shakespearean characters such as Hamlet illustrate this change, which early literature specialist Elizabeth Hart attributes to the advent of print and the increase in literacy it prompted. The ability to reread and study printed passages prompted “a new set of cognitive skills and an appetite for more complex and ambiguous texts.”

Among these new cognitive skills was “the ability to accurately grasp the thoughts and emotions of others, or mentalizing ability.” Mentalizing ability grew along with the emergence of the novel in the 18th and 19th centuries. Sedivy reviews psychological research into how reading current fiction enhances readers’ mentalizing ability. She concludes that literature that trusts readers’ ability to recognize clues and draw inferences about characters’ motivations most effectively nurtures and sharpens readers’ understanding of characters’ mental states. The benefits are most obvious when study participants read “ literary passages that described characters’ thoughts, desires, or beliefs.”

And this process of reading challenging literature to improve mentalizing ability is circular: Reading challenging literature sharpens one’s mentalizing ability, and that improved mentalizing ability makes one an increasingly skillful reader of literary characters’ inner lives.

When an author expresses deep confidence in a reader and creates a space in which the reader can, from the depths of her own social imagination, lower her consciousness into the body and experiences of another, the effect can be transformational.

THE BOOKISH LIFE: HOW TO READ AND WHY

This article by Joseph Epstein is a good follow-up to the article above. “By the bookish life, I mean a life in which the reading of books has a central, even a dominating, place.”

Nobody has read, or can read, everything, and by everything I include only the good, the beautiful, the important books.

After admitting that there exists no definitive list of the good, the beautiful, the important books, Epstein continues, with much humor, to expound on the joy he has found in the bookish life.

Hell at the bottom of the heart: Hell at the bottom of the heart

Tyler Sage on Ross Macdonald: the man who added psychological insight to the hard-boiled thriller

While for Raymond Chandler and other early noir writers “the detective story was a tool for laying bare the unspoken realities of American life, in which dreams of prosperity and freedom collided with corruption, abuse of power and modern social conditions,” Ross Macdonald turned such concerns inward: “his deepest obsession was with the horrors of family life and the way those horrors form us when we are young.”

Sage quotes from one of Macdonald’s notebooks: ““Hell lies at the bottom of the human heart, and you find it by expressing your personality.”

Sage here analyzes the 18 Lew Archer novels Macdonald wrote over 27 years, “a handful of which are as good as the genre has to offer.”

THE 10 BOOKS THAT DEFINED THE 1960s

Literary Hub is running a series called A Century of Reading comprising lists of books that defined each decade from the 1900s “to the (nearly complete) 2010s.” Series writer Emily Temple explains:

Though the books on these lists need not be American in origin, I am looking for books that evoke some aspect of American life, actual or intellectual, in each decade—a global lens would require a much longer list. And of course, varied and complex as it is, there’s no list that could truly define American life over ten or any number of years, so I do not make any claim on exhaustiveness. I’ve simply selected books that, if read together, would give a fair picture of the landscape of literary culture for that decade—both as it was and as it is remembered.

Since I came of age in the 1960s, this one particularly caught my eye. I’d say Temple has nailed the decade pretty well with her 10 choices. And beneath the chosen books is a HUGE list of other relevant books from that time period. So many memories—and suggestions for further reading—and rereading.

 

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Show Us Your Tsundoku!

Loosely translated as the practice of piling up books you might never read, the Japanese word tsundoku seems to be everywhere right now. In recent months, The New York Times, the BBC, Forbes, and plenty of others have reported on the phenomenon.

Here’s the feature’s subtitle: “We want to see your shameful stacks of unread books.”

Well, I, for one, see absolutely no shame in my collection, seen at the top of this post. I do have to admit, though, that this isn’t my entire collection of not-yet-read books. There’s no way I could fit all of them into one photograph.

How about you? Are you willing to share your tsundoku photos in the comments?

Learning another language should be compulsory in every school

Every time we travel to another country, I’m amazed at how fluent the local people are in languages other than their native language. Many people even speak two or more languages in addition to their language of origin. When I ask them at what age they started learning foreign languages, they often give an age between 8 and 12 years. And the reason they most often give is that they are required to choose another language in school.

We U.S. residents could learn a second language, too, if it were an academic requirement. In this article Daniel Everett, dean of arts and sciences, professor of global studies, and professor of sociology at Bentley University in Massachusetts, explains why he believes:

Now, after spending most of my adult life in higher education, researching languages, cultures and cognition, I have become more convinced than ever that nothing teaches us about the world and how to think more effectively better than learning new languages. That is why I advocate for fluency in foreign languages. But for this to happen, language-learning needs to make a comeback as a requirement of both primary and secondary education in the United States. Learning another language benefits each learner in at least three ways – pragmatically, neurologically and culturally.

He has some interesting reasons for urging us all to become polyglots.

Why can’t life begin after 40 for a writer?

Fiona Gartland, a journalist with The Irish Times for 13 years and newly published novelist, addresses the issue of ageism in publishing. Most publishers, she says, expect writers to have published a book by about the age of 40.

English author Joanna Walsh, who runs @Read_Women, has argued that ageism in publishing silences minorities and women in particular because women are more likely to be the ones who spend part of their lives caring for children, which makes finding time to write more difficult. She says “older women are already told every day in ways ranging from the subtle to the blatant, that they are irrelevant and should shut up”. Placing age barriers, for example for writing awards, is arbitrary and “a particularly cruel irony” for those unable to write in their youth, she says.

But “Not everyone finds a voice in their youth,” Gartland argues, and that “doesn’t mean what they have to say is any less valuable or any less worthy of hearing.”

Milkman is a bold choice but it’s unlikely to please booksellers

A consistent outsider in the bookies’ odds, Anna Burns’s Milkman is the sort of boldly experimental – and frankly brain-kneading – novel that is usually let in at longlist stage and gently dropped as the competition narrows. And for that reason alone it is a smartly provocative choice – one that has been waiting to be made as the publishing industry searches for the soul of its next generation.

Claire Armitstead writes in The Guardian that Anna Burns’s novel Milkman, winner of the Booker Prize, will challenge both bookstores and readers. Set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, the novel features an 18-year-old narrator with a “relentlessly internalised” narrative that portrays “a social dysfunction that is both gothic and comically Kafkaesque.”

Milkman, Armitstead writes, is a novel that speaks “to political anxieties over hard borders in Ireland and around the more recently troubled world.”

Good Minds Suggest: Kate Morton’s Novels With Memorable Houses

Kate Morton’s latest novel, The Clockmaker’s Daughter, involves an old house and a secret hidden away there for 150 years. “Goodreads asked Morton to recommend her favorite novels where a house is nearly a central character in the story.” (See 6 Illustrations of How Setting Works in Literature.)

The use of place as an integral part of a story can add psychological depth to a novel. See what five novels Morton includes on her list.

 

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

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The Oxford Book of Footnotes*

If you’ve ever waded through a large academic tome wrangling with a sequence of footnotes at the bottom of nearly every page, you’ll appreciate this piece by Bruce McCall in The New Yorker.

How Doctors Use Poetry

A Harvard medical student describes how he is learning to both treat and heal.

And here’s what he has to say:

Physicians are beginning to understand that the role of language and human expression in medicine extends beyond that horizon of uncertainty where doctor and patient must speak to each other about a course of treatment. The restricted language of blood oxygen levels, drug protocols, and surgical interventions may conspire against understanding between doctor and patient—and against healing. As doctors learn to communicate beyond these restrictions, they are reaching for new tools—like poetry.

The Guardian view on lengthening books: read them and weep

Noting that some of the books shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year are longer than they need be, The Guardian asserts “As titles grow longer, the patience of readers can shorten.”

One culprit can be the misguided sense that volume equals value for money. Another is the odd association between physical heft and artistic or intellectual merit – “weighty” is a compliment, “slight” is an insult. One film critic says that studios fear shorter movies will not be deemed worthy of Oscars. The very term the Great American Novel suggests a certain size, though that was not the original intent.

I’m not afraid of big books simply because of their size. But I do object to books that are longer than they should be. The only book I remember in that category is Moo by Jane Smiley, which I thought could have been reduced by about one-third.

How about you? What books have you read that are longer than you thought they needed to be?

Can’t Get Comfortable In Your Chair? Here’s What You Can Do

I was attracted to this article because, obviously, these chairs and this advice were not created for long bouts of reading.

girl reading

Make the Most of Fall With These 13 Books Inspired by Seasonal Activities

Fall provides a perfect backdrop for the merging of introverts and extroverts. Colorful scenery is luring people outdoors while the cooler temperatures are inspiring cozy days curled up on the couch under a heap of blankets. Find ideas for spending time with family and friends—both inside and outside your home—and plenty of suggestions for tucking away with a good book.

 

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month With These Books by Latinx and Hispanic Authors | Bookish

Source: Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month With These Books by Latinx and Hispanic Authors | Bookish

National Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated between September 15 and October 15 each year, and honors the many contributions of Americans with roots in South and Central America, the Caribbean, Spain, and Mexico. To mark the occasion, we’ve gathered some of our favorite recent books from Hispanic and Latinx authors. These books come from a range of genres, and speak to a wide variety of heritages, cultural traditions, and experiences.

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A neuroscientist explains what tech does to the reading brain

woman readingAn interview with UCLA neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf, author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain and the recently released Reader, Come Home, which details “how technology is changing the brain, what we lose when we lose deep attention, and what to do about it.”

After autofiction

Rachel Cusk and Karl Ove Knausgaard embarked on works blurring the boundaries between fiction and autobiography. Now the two series have come to an end, did they find the freedom they craved?

Simplicity or style: what makes a sentence a masterpiece?

If you follow Twitter during weekends, you may have seen the hashtag #SundaySentence. In this article Jenny Davidson, professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, gives her definition of a great sentence:

A great sentence makes you want to chew it over slowly in your mouth the first time you read it. A great sentence compels you to rehearse it again in your mind’s ear, and then again later on. A sentence must have a certain distinction of style – the words come in an order that couldn’t have been assembled by any other writer.

BOOKS WITH STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS OVER 50

Being of a certain age myself, I enjoy books that feature older women characters. And if you’re into reading challenges that ask you to read a book featuring “a strong female character over 50,” here are eight books to help you fill in that category.

READ HARDER: A BOOK WITH A FEMALE PROTAGONIST OVER THE AGE OF 60

And if 50 is too young for you, here’s a list of six books featuring female protagonists over age 60. I heartily second the recommendation of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid and would also add Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney.

 

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

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The theory of mind myth

Theory of mind is the psychological term for our belief that other people have emotions, beliefs, intentions, logic, and knowledge that may differ from our own.

That we have a folk psychology theory of other minds isn’t surprising. By nature, we are character analysts, behavioural policemen, admirers and haters. We embrace like minds, and go to war against contrarians. Mind-reading is our social glue, guiding virtually all of our daily interpersonal interactions. When trying to decide whether or not a potential gun owner is prone to violence, a mental patient is suicidal, or a presidential candidate is truthful, we are at the mercy of our thoughts about others.

But, argues neurologist Robert Burton, former associate director of the department of neurosciences at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center at Mount Zion, “Even experts can’t predict violence or suicide. Surely we’re kidding ourselves that we can see inside the minds of others.”

Here’s where psychological thrillers or literature in general comes in.

Conjuring a different view of the world is a rare talent requiring an extraordinary leap of imagination: Hamlet, Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina are artistic one-offs based not on deep understanding, but yarns we spin about each other’s intentions and motivations. We make up stories about our spouses, our kids, our leaders, and our enemies. Inspiring narratives get us through dark nights and tough times, but we’ll always make better predictions guided by the impersonal analysis of big data than by the erroneous belief that we can read another’s mind.

Sensitivity Readers! What Are They Good For? (A Lot.)

For the uninitiated, sensitivity readers are people from marginalized backgrounds who vet manuscripts to ensure that their representation of underrepresented groups is both accurate and respectful. Unfortunately, these readers, who should be universally celebrated and appreciated, have instead been at the heart of a heated argument …

Does Literature Help Us Live?

Tim Parks, at great length, considers the question of whether literature revolves around this premise:

Generalization is treacherous, but let’s posit that at the center of most modern storytelling, in particular most literary storytelling, lies the struggling self, or selves, individuals seeking some kind of definition or stability in a world that appears hostile to such aspirations: life is precarious, tumultuous, fickle, and the self seeks in vain, or manages only with great effort, to put together a personal narrative that is, even briefly, satisfying.

At Edinburgh Fringe, a Spotlight on Mental Health

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world, a sprawl of multidisciplinary entertainment that transforms Scotland’s capital for several weeks every August.

Over the past several years “mental health has emerged as a prominent topic at the Fringe.” But:

The dark paradox is that for all the opportunities the Fringe provides to stage works about mental health, it is taxing for the mental health of its performers. The hours are long and the costs are high.

Meet a new kind of book, designed for the age of Peak TV

Constance Grady describes her encounter with Bookburners:

Bookburners was one of the first works published by Serial Box, a service that aims to become the HBO of serialized fiction; I was reading a novel/TV show hybrid, a book that was designed to read like a season of television. Its very existence displayed a major reversal of how we’ve traditionally thought about these two media: TV once aspired to be called “novelistic,” but now, in an age in which TV is increasingly described as “better than books,” here was a book built to act like a TV show.

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

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THE BEST BOOK DATABASE YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF

Abby Hargreaves talks about Novelist, a database that librarians use to recommend books to patrons. This database, which may be available to you through your local library’s web site, is especially good for finding recommendations on what to read next if you liked a particular book and would like to read more similar to it.

While NoveList only organizes fiction, there’s a companion database called NoveList Plus that includes nonfiction, too.

The Thing About Families and Thriller Writing

Because I love thrillers, I read a lot of descriptions of books in that genre. Here, thriller novelist David Bell explains why some many of those descriptions contain two elements: families and secrets.

It’s true that we thriller writers often exaggerate the problems and secrets that families deal with. Most families don’t experience murder, kidnapping, extortion, disappearance. (Some do, of course.) But so many times those wild, exaggerated crimes that occur in a thriller start with something small. Something ordinary. A secret kept. A promise broken. The smallest splash becomes a tidal wave.

And he offers a possible explanation of why readers love thrillers so much: “When they see the disasters that happen to fictional characters on a page, they feel relieved.” No matter how messed up our own family members might be, most of them are nowhere near as bad as the characters that inhabit the latest  best seller.

Look, Read, Listen—What’s the Difference?

I’ve always insisted that listening to an audiobook “counts” as having read the book as long as you listen to the unabridged version. But in this piece author Betsy Robinson argues differently: “ audiobooks and books are as different as movies and books.”

A former playwright now turned novelist, Robinson believes that audio productions minimize “the value of the direct relationship between books and readers.” I agree with her analysis of the reading process, called reader-response theory or transactional reading, and I therefore agree with her in the case of people who fall asleep while listening or are “missing whole paragraphs when one of the kids spills his Cheerios.” Since I no longer have a child whose eating requires monitoring, I’m seldom distracted in that way. But if I do miss a chunk of the recording, I back track until I get back to something I remember, then relisten.

And for that reason, I will continue to include unabridged audiobooks in my yearly count of books read.

We Should All Be Reading Ancient Poetry Right Now

Here’s something we classics major have always known:

There is nothing like ancient poetry for making you reassess your priorities. Homer, Virgil, and Ovid can make you feel small and insignificant, but those feelings tend to pass and are worth enduring for the clarity they bring to the bigger picture. If you only let them in, the poets of ancient Greece and Rome can bring the kind of life you are living and person you want to be into sharper focus. They are surprisingly adept at cutting through the noise of modern life.

Books: Loeb Classical Library
Loeb Classical Library

How Does a Novelist Write About a School Shooting?

Cover: Empire FallsOne of the most memorable novels I’ve ever read is Richard Russo’s Empire Falls, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. The novel contains a school shooting, which most people assume was based on the 1999 high school shooting in Littleton, CO. Russo explains that he finished the book’s manuscript before the Colorado shooting and that, in fact, the fictional incident was based on a shooting in Paducah, KY, that occurred in 1997.

But, Russo continues, which event formed the basis for the novel’s plot is not important. Once such an event has occurred, it’s nearly impossible for writers NOT to incorporate it into their work:

as I wrote and revised the novel, . . [e]ach day became an exercise in magical thinking: If I could face the worst of my fears on the page, maybe I’d be spared in real life. I didn’t want to write the story, but how could I not?

Because, Russo writes:

And yet it’s novels we turn to for a deeper understanding of life than we get from politicians and others with ideological axes to grind, which is why some other novelist (probably thinking, How can I not?) is no doubt at work on a book that centers on a school shooting. Every day she sets about her horrifying task, trying to imagine, What if one of the dead kids in Parkland was mine? Could I go on? What would my mission in life become after life as I knew it ceased to exist? Questions like these drive novelists, not because we have answers, but because we don’t. All we have is moral imagination, which, over time, can help heal wounds but also has a nasty habit of opening them, as my novel did and continues to do.

That novelist currently writing is in an even more anxiety-ridden spot that he was because “such tragedies have become commonplace.” And also because:

As a nation, we have not decided that our children are more important than our guns, and any new novel on the subject will have to address that tectonic shift. We’ve changed. Our nation has changed.

Writing about all this, as Russo does here, is an act of tremendous bravery for which he deserves our gratitude.

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

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What I’ve been reading around the web recently.

Can Reading Make You Happier?

Claude Monet, painted by Renoir (1872)
Claude Monet, painted by Renoir (1872)

An interesting history of bibliotherapy, or the use of reading to help “people deal with the daily emotional challenges of existence.”

For all avid readers who have been self-medicating with great books their entire lives, it comes as no surprise that reading books can be good for your mental health and your relationships with others, but exactly why and how is now becoming clearer, thanks to new research on reading’s effects on the brain.

A Summer Reading List of Contemporary Books by Women

If reading more books by women is one of your 2018 reading challenges, this list is meant for you. It contains both fiction and nonfiction titles.

The Odd Literary Paraphernalia of the New York Public Library’s Berg Collection

A lock of Walt Whitman’s hair, Jack Kerouac’s boots, and Virginia Woolf’s cane are just a few of the items available to inspect at the eclectic Berg Collection—if you have an appointment.

In Order to Understand Sociopaths, I Got Inside One’s Head

Carola Lovering’s potent debut novel, Tell Me Lies, tells the story of the complicated relationship between college freshman Lucy Albright and charming sociopath Stephen DeMarco. While alternating Stephen and Lucy’s points of view, Lovering depicts how Lucy’s depression drives her codependency. Stephen’s sections show his remorseless Machiavellian sensibilities: unable to genuinely feel affection, he studies people in order to learn how to act normal and get what he wants. Lovering discusses the capability of inhabiting another person’s mind in fiction.

Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2018 Book Preview

The Millions shares news about new books being released in the second half of 2018, July-December.

We’ve got new novels by Kate Atkinson, Dale Peck, Pat Barker, Haruki Murakami, Bernice McFadden, and Barbara Kingsolver. We’ve got a stunning array of debut novels, including one by our very own editor, Lydia Kiesling—not to mention R.O. Kwon, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Crystal Hana Kim, Lucy Tan, Vanessa Hua, Wayétu Moore, and Olivia Laing. We’ve got long-awaited memoirs by Kiese Laymon and Nicole Chung. Works of nonfiction by Michiko Kakutani and Jonathan Franzen. The year has been bad, but the books will be good.

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown