Category Archives: Reading

Literary Life Stories: The Character Biography

Literature & Psychology

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Although the concept of life story originated in the field of psychology, where it pertains to real people, every major fictional character also has a life story. Good writers create memorable characters by building a character’s full life story before beginning to write their novel or short story. The character’s life story then becomes the back story against which the novel unfolds. By looking at some guidelines for writers about how to create characters, readers can learn how to evaluate and appreciate the writer’s craft.

Mia Botha instructs writers on creating their work’s main character, or protagonist, in an article appropriate entitled The Character Biography:

All authors start with an idea. It could be plot first or character first. It doesn’t matter. But, if something happened, it happened to someone. And this is where my character biography begins. I start out with perhaps a paragraph of the things I know about this person. I add details as my first draft progresses.

The character biography, Botha writes, contains three parts:

  1. the physical.
  2. the sociological.
  3. the psychological.

She says that she writes down the character’s biography before starting her novel, then rereads and, if necessary, rewrites it every few thousand words as her manuscript progresses.

Every protagonist needs an antagonist to provide the conflict necessary for a story to develop. Nancy Fulda advises writers on the types of possible antagonists, commonly known as villains, in Variations of Villainy:

Villains have their own priorities, goals, fears and aspirations. The more effectively you demonstrate these differences to the reader, the more compelling and believable your villains will become. The old adage, “Everyone’s the Hero of His Own Story” applies here.

Fulda describes five “basic personality types which frequently appear in villainous characters.” But while it’s useful for writers to know these basic types, Fulda points out, the types often overlap. It’s the writer’s job to flesh out these types with enough details to create a fully developed character. Readers will look for such details when evaluating whether a character is credible within the context of the novel.

When creating villains, it’s helpful to ask the same questions one asks when creating protagonists. What does this person yearn for? What does she fear? What is the best thing that could possibly happen to her? What can she least afford to lose?

For story purposes, a villain exists to oppose the protagonist. But for believability purposes, the villain exists as a being in his own right. Take time to discover who he is, and your stories will be richer for it.

Of course, not every detail of the character’s back story will find its way into the novel, but the writer must know those details in order to choose which ones to include. Great authors, says Botha, “know what is important for the reader and the story.”

Monday Miscellany

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

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

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

Celebrity writers pack the shelves as shops predict an autumn bonanza

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

A back-to-school reading list of classic literature

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Inspiring Stories Behind 15 Classic Novels

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

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

46 Brilliant Short Novels You Can Read In A Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some I’d add to her list:

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

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

Monday Miscellany

Tragic fiction may leave you emotionally upset

Woman with KindleIt might seem logical that reading a sad fictional story would be less upsetting than reading a less sad but true story. But new research suggests this is not the case:

“Consumers may choose to read a tragic fictional story because they assume that knowing it was fictional would make them less sad than reading a less dramatic but true story,” said study authors Jane E.J. Ebert from Massachusetts based Brandeis University and Tom Meyvis from New York University.

This result makes perfect sense, though, to anyone who has ever been fully transported into the world of a well written novel.

”Our results suggest that while emphasising realism may increase sales, it does not necessarily increase satisfaction,” the authors concluded in a paper appearing in the Journal of Consumer Research.

THE 6 REACTIONS BOOK-LOVERS HAVE TO PEOPLE WHO DON’T READ

You know the scenario: You’re chatting with someone you’ve just met, and you naturally ask what the other person likes to read. And he or she replies, “I don’t read.”

Fortunately, it doesn’t happen too often. But when it does happen, here are some animated GIFs that illustrate your possible reactions to someone who doesn’t engage in an activity that you consider second only to breathing.

Marine Turned Novelist Brings Brutal, Everyday Work Of War Into Focus

“Every inch of that place, every grain of sand, wanted desperately to kill us.”

That’s a line from a compelling new novel about the Iraq War, written by former Marine Michael Pitre.

Pitre was a history and creative writing major at Louisiana State when he joined the Marines after Sept. 11. He became an officer and served two tours in Iraq’s Anbar province working in logistics and communications.

NPR interviews the author of the new novel Fives and Twenty-Fives, which follows an American road repair crew and bomb disposal team in Iraq.

Oldest Public Library in the Nation in Danger of Closing

For more than two centuries, the Darby Free Library has remained both a vital part of its community as well as a historical landmark. Built in 1743 by Quakers, it remains the oldest public library in the nation. But a financial crisis has left it in danger of shutting down by the end of the year.

10 Books You Should Read Before Graduating College

Note:
The former English teacher in me cannot refrain from commenting: You don’t “graduate college”; you “graduate FROM college.”

When I was in college, I didn’t have time to read much of anything that wasn’t required for one of my classes. But Radhika Sanghani, author of the novel Virgin, did: “I have a few books I’d recommend. All of them helped me through the student-to-adult transition when I left college a few years ago, and I still re-read them for pleasure, comfort and some good old-fashioned perspective.”

Why does she recommend these books?

Because, college is a bubble. Whichever one you choose to study at, chances are your entire life becomes based around the same people, lecture halls and bars. For me, reading was the best way to get out of that bubble and remember there was a wider world out there that I was just about to enter and should probably know a little bit about.

So check out her list, which she describes as “a mixture of good classics, contemporary reads, and a little bit of self-help for a time when you really need it.”

Monday Miscellany

Harry Potter and the Battle Against Bigotry

Harry Potter boxed setSure, Harry Potter destroyed the evil Lord Voldemort. But, aside from making lots of money for book publishers and film studio/theme-park conglomerates, what has the wizard done for us lately?

In fact, he has been helping to reduce prejudice.

That’s the conclusion of research just published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. It finds that, among young people, reading J.K. Rowling’s book series—and, crucially, identifying with the lead character—can reduce bias toward stigmatized minority groups.

We’ve seen a lot of studies about how reading fiction can increase self-understanding and empathy, but now there’s scientific evidence that it can also reduce prejudice.

Tom Jacobs does a good job here of explaining this research and comparing it with earlier research on whether reading literature can reduce racism.

The Scourge of “Relatability”

What do people mean when they say that they relate to a character in a literary work? Rebecca Mead tackles that question in The New Yorker:

Whence comes relatability? A hundred years ago, if someone said something was “relatable,” she meant that it could be told—the Shakespearean sense of “relate”—or that it could be connected to some other thing. As recently as a decade ago, even as “relatable” began to accrue its current meaning, the word remained uncommon. The contemporary meaning of “relatable”—to describe a character or a situation in which an ordinary person might see himself reflected—first was popularized by the television industry.

With bold insight Mead differentiates between identification with a character—an active process in which the reader engages with the artistic work—and relating to a character—a response in which the “reader or viewer remains passive in the face of the book or movie or play.” Relatability is a mere self-reflection, while identification requires “the active exercise of imagination or the effortful summoning of empathy.”

Send Yourself Flying: 3 Books For An Out Of Body Experience

Characters don’t need to become better people by the final page of a book, but I do hope they change. I read to experience another world, and characters are often most tangible when they undergo transitions.

In some books, that change is an actual physical transformation. Characters stop being human, and become transfigured. If the writer is successful, they pull the audience into that metamorphosis. Here are three books about characters not bound by their bodies.

See what books Nick Ripatrazone recommends for a transformative experience.

Book Buzz: ‘Ulysses’ to become virtual reality game

James Joyce’s Ulysses is one of the greatest books in literature, and it is also one of the hardest to read. Irish filmmaker Eoghan Kidney is crowdfunding a creative solution to this problem: A virtual reality video game that allows the reader to experience the book as the protagonist.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over this. I really don’t.

10 of the Most Depressing Places in Literature

“here are a selection of other depressing places and the writers they inspired,” including Dickens’s London, Orhan Pamuk’s Turkey, and Truman Capote’s Holcomb, Kansas.

The Goldfinch: who should direct and star in the movie?

The excitement surrounding The Goldfinch seems to have no end in sight. When it’s not it being lauded with the Pulitzer prize, it’s crowds flocking to see the original artwork by which Donna Tartt’s novel was inspired, or articles praising the book as one of the best of the year. Now the inevitable movie version is on its way – it doesn’t even have a director, a screenwriter or a cast yet, but at this rate it’s becoming one of the most hyped movies-to-be of the year.

Check the comments section to see answers from U.K. readers to The Guardian’s questions.

Monday Miscellany

Ranking Cormac McCarthy’s Greatest Books

child of godI’m a week behind with this, but I include it here because Cormac McCarthy is an author I haven’t yet worked on, and I’m glad to have the suggestions offered here:

Trailing Philip Roth by a few months and Toni Morrison by two years, Cormac McCarthy (who turns 81 this weekend) is one of America’s greatest and most decorated writers. His cultural stock has risen immeasurably in the last decade — whether it’s the Coen brothers adapting No Country for Old Men and winning Best Picture at the Oscars for it, or his recent (disappointing) original screenplay for the Ridley Scott-directed film The Counselor, McCarthy has made the transition from great novelist to phenomenon. He’s continuously successful, but he’s never changed, and doesn’t show any signs of letting his advanced age soften him. His entire body of work includes screenplays, plays, and short fiction — but it’s his novels that remain his greatest achievement, so to celebrate his birthday, we rank the five McCarthy novels you must read (and if it helps, the order in which you should do it.)

Man Booker Prize longlist revealed with U.S. writers included for the first time

This was perhaps the biggest literary news of the past week:

The Man Booker prize longlist was revealed today with American authors in the running for one of literature’s top honours for the first time.

Organisers of the UK’s best-known fiction award – worth £50,000 to the winner – announced last year they were opening up the 46-year-old prize to writers of any nationality writing in English.

The American writers on the list include David Mitchell, David Nicholls, and Howard Jacobson.

The best literary hashtags on Twitter

Michele Filgate tells us, “some of the most interesting and useful hashtags on Twitter are designed to build community in the far-flung literary world.”

To join the community, take a look at these seven hashtags she explains.

Don’t read this book: A history of literary censorship

Banned Books Week pinLeo Robson takes a look at censorship through the lens of three recent books:

  • The Zhivago Affair: the Kremlin, the CIA and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée
  • The Most Dangerous Book: the Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham
  • The Rushdie Fatwa and After: a Lesson to the Circumspect by Brian Winston

13 Ways To Fit More Reading Into Your Day

Chances are that, if you’re reading this blog, you probably already know some of the tricks listed here.

However, I bet you’ll find something new in these suggestions by Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. If nothing else, you’ll get permission to stop reading a book that doesn’t grab you instead of soldiering through to the bitter end.

Our 8 favourite literary references on The Simpsons

Cable network FXX will run a non-stop marathon of all 552 episodes of The Simpsons from August 21 through September 1.

If you need a literary reason to justify watching or recording, here it is:

To mark the ultimate Simpsons marathon, we’re highlighting our favourite hilarious literary references that made their way onto the show in past years.

Monday Miscellany

Could reading dark literature harm your teenage children?

kid with booksThis isn’t a new question, but this answer is fairly well balanced, with discussion from scientists for both sides of the issue.

Judy Blume: ’I thought, this is America: we don’t ban books. But then we did’

A delightful interview with Judy Blume, who has her own ideas about why her books are so often challenged:

Blume’s theory is that children read over what they aren’t yet ready to understand. Sometimes, she says, “kids will actually go to Mom or Dad and say ‘What does this mean?’, which is the perfect time to talk to them about it. But that’s when sometimes parents get hysterical. Really. It’s like, ‘Argh, I don’t want to talk to you about this, let’s get rid of this book, I don’t ever want to talk to you about this, I don’t ever want you to go through puberty.’”

Amazon, a Friendly Giant as Long as It’s Fed

From household names to deeply obscure scribblers, authors are inflamed this summer, perhaps more deeply divided than at any point in nearly a half-century. Back then, it was the question of being a hawk or dove on Vietnam. Now it is not a war but an Internet retailer and its unparalleled grip on the cultural machinery that is provoking fierce controversy.

If you’re wondering about the details of this controversy between authors and Amazon, here’s a refresher course.

The Best Books of 2014 So Far

A list of 36 titles put together by Brenna Clarke Gray at Book Riot.

But the article asks readers to add their favorites in the comments, so be sure to look there.

Are modern detectives the new priests?

I like mysteries because the best ones explore the depths of the human psyche without being too preachy.

In this article Giles Fraser looks at the functions of mystery writing with specific reference to HBO’s recent hit show True Detective:

The modern secular imagination prides itself on having got beyond the childish ways of historical theology. But our continued obsession with detective fiction suggests something remarkably adjacent to traditional theological concerns, and its lonely, world-weary hard-drinking advocates – think Luther – have become the priests and theologians of our day. Yes, there are obviously religious detectives – the BBC’s Father Brown, Ellis Peters’s Brother Cadfael character – but they can be seen as seeking (unconvincingly, perhaps) to reclaim something of this new priestly ministry for more traditional ideological purposes.

Sci-Fi’s Best ‘Alien’ Narrators Who Restore Our Humanity

Matt Haig is the author of the novel The Humans, in which an alien inhabits the body of a human mathematician to destroy his ground-breaking theory. But the alien soon becomes fascinated by the everyday lives of humans.

Here Haig writes:

The best science fiction writers use the genre not to escape human life, but to explore it. Sometimes the most illuminating way to examine ourselves is to look at us from a different perspective: an alien narrator, for instance, or a human narrator placed in an inhuman environment, where humans are scarce, dwindling or totally non-existent. Here are my favorite books that get close to us, by losing us.

See his list of four novels that best use the literary device of an alien narrator to explore the nature of human existence.

Monday Miscellany

Additions to Your TBR List

woman readingJust in case your TBR (to-be-read) list isn’t long enough, here are two articles with recommendations you can add.

10 overlooked novels: how many have you read?

Most novels come, have their day, and are gone. For ever. Most deserve their “do not resuscitate” label. Every so often, though, a novel rises from the grave to claim its belated fame. On 5 July last year, addressing the nation on the Today programme, Ian McEwan did a revival job on Stoner – a novel published to modest praise in 1965 and long out of print. John Williams’s bleak, but exquisitely written, chronicle of a second-rate prof in a third-rate American university went on to become the 2013 novel of the year.

What other dead and forgotten works would one dig up from the dusty vaults of the British Library? Everyone will have their own overdue for resurrection list: here’s my top 10. Not all of them are what the critics would call “great novels” (a couple most certainly are) but they are, I can guarantee, great reads. And what more do you want from a work of fiction?

I have to admit that I had only heard of one of the novels on this list, and I haven’t read any of them.

9 Contemporary Authors You Should Be Reading

Despite rumors about the death of the literary novel, there’s never been more fantastic literary fiction and non-fiction being produced. As readers, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the flood of well-crafted books demanding our attention.

Don’t despair, however; in celebration of HuffPost’s 9th birthday, we’ve compiled a list of 9 truly brilliant contemporary authors who shouldn’t be missed. Each of these authors has a book out this spring, but many have a larger oeuvre to explore, and all are must-reads for literature lovers today.

And I’m doing only slightly better with this list. At least I’ve bought Leslie Jamison’s essay collection The Empathy Exams.

 

Does Literary Fiction Challenge Racial Stereotypes?

There’s been a lot of discussion in the press recently about whether reading fiction makes us more moral or more empathetic. Some of the research into these areas is open to criticism because its terminology and methodology are too vague and ill defined. But a recent study “Changing Race Boundary Perception by Reading Narrative Fiction,” led by Dan Johnson of Washington and Lee University, focused on a specific question: Could the reading of a fictional narrative change the perception of racial stereotypes?

Jalees Rehman, M.D., reports on this study in The Huffington Post. His conclusion:

This study is the first to systematically test the impact of reading literary fiction on an individual’s assessment of race boundaries and genetic similarity. It suggests that fiction can indeed blur the perception of race boundaries and challenge our stereotypes.

In addition to information on this study, Rehman offers a summary of, with links to, reports on other research about how reading fiction affects us.

Amazon-Hachette spat draws writers’ ire

Amazon’s secret campaign to discourage customers from buying books by Hachette, one of the big New York publishers, burst into the open Friday.

The uneasy relationship between the retailer and the writing community that needs Amazon but fears its power immediately soured as authors took to Twitter to denounce what they saw as bullying.

 

Monday Miscellany

Literary legacy contributes to sense of community

Cover: The Shepherd of the HillsHere’s an article about one of the most famous authors you’ve probably never heard of:

Harold Bell Wright was among the most popular American authors of his time, penning 19 novels — with 15 of them making their way to the silver screen.

In 1930, The New York Times called Wright “the narrator of the hopes and dreams of the great mass of American readers from New York to California.”

Many of those hopes and dreams came to life on the pages of books Wright wrote from the beloved desert home he built, eight miles east of downtown Tucson. Constructed in the early 1920s, Wright made Tucson his home until signs of encroaching development caused him to flee to California in 1936.

Read about Wright’s home and the literature-themed subdivision in Tucson that it engendered. Be sure to look through the photo slideshow across the top of the article.

IS READING TOO MUCH BAD FOR KIDS?

kid with booksIn this thoughtful article Scott Timberg ponders the question of whether his 7-year-old son’s addiction to reading is harmful to his development in this digital-immersion age.

Timberg cites several experts on the question, but I was most intrigued by the number of comments that the article produced—most of them vocally in favor of the old-fashioned pursuit of reading.

My father left me all his books

Niall Williams writes novels. His father, Jack, read almost no fiction, preferring nonfiction, particularly history and biography. Jack had introduced the eight-year-old Niall to the marvel of books by taking him to a library and letting him roam free. So when Jack left all his own books to his son in his will. . . . Well, read for yourself this moving tribute to the power and significance of books.

Matthew Weiner: By the Book

The creator of “Mad Men” cites the impact of John Cheever’s fiction on the show: “Cheever has a voice filled with irony and comedy and pain that, on some level, I’m always seeking to emulate.”

Mad Men is a very literate show, so it’s no surprise that its creator, Matthew Weiner, has a lot to say about books.

Mentally ill in literature

Jacqueline Justice looks at the portrayal of mental illness in four famous works of literature:

  • Benjy in The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  • Edna Pontellier in The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  • Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Justice acknowledges that literature reflects the views of its time. Therefore, the use of characters with mental illness “raises questions about what the use of mental illness as a plot point says about American society and readers’ treatment of mental illness.”

She concludes:

These novels all use the concept of mental illness differently to create multiple effects — and the trend in 20th-century American literature to employ main characters with mental illnesses is undeniably present. The question this movement poses is: are we further stigmatizing this minority, the mentally ill, by using their conditions to derive exciting plots? This is a credible concern to address. But what seems more likely is that the use of these characters and plot points serve to shed some broader light on the human experience. They allow readers to gain new perspectives, develop more nuanced ways of thinking, and to learn something about themselves.

 

Monday Miscellany

The big literary news of the past week was the death of Gabriel García Márquez and the announcement of Pulitzer Prize winners. But there is other news as well, particularly about upcoming publications:

Spring brings bounty of new titles for book lovers

Mary Ann Gwinn, book editor for the Seattle Times, lists both fiction and nonfiction titles to be published in May and June. Her list includes books by Stephen King, David Guterson, and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Best Summer Books 2014

Publishers Weekly chooses some books worth looking out for this summer, both fiction and nonfiction.

 

Reading Agency survey finds 63% of men rarely read

The Bookseller has some distressing news: the results of a survey conducted by the Reading Agency:

Researchers found that being too busy, not enjoying reading and preferring to spend their spare time on the internet means men read fewer books, read more slowly and are less likely to finish them than women.

Here’s one finding I find particularly interesting: “Nearly three quarters of the men surveyed said they would opt for the film or television adaptation of a book, whereas the same percentage of women were as likely to go for the book itself.”

The research was conducted in Britain.

The Death of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe
From Wikipedia (public domain photo)

American writer Edgar Allan Poe died under mysterious circumstances, and many sources attribute his death to chronic alcoholism. But this post on The Medical Bag offers a different explanation, posited in 1996 by Dr. Michael Benitez, a cardiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center who practices a block from Poe’s grave.

Monday Miscellany

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.