Monday Miscellany

Vashon Great Books club one of oldest in U.S.

The Seattle Times spotlights 92-year-old Grace Crecelius:

For 61 years, Grace Crecelius has cracked the books. Not just any books, mind you, but the works of Plato, Descartes and Kant, Shakespeare, Marx and Freud.

At 92, Crecelius is the oldest member of what may be one of the longest-running book clubs around — the Vashon Island Great Books Foundation discussion group.

The Great Books Foundation was founded in 1947 by Mortimer Adler and Robert Maynard Hutchins. Its purpose is to help readers of all ages become more reflective and responsible thinkers by engaging with great works of literature. Since its beginning the Foundation has expanded its materials to serve students of all ages (K-12, college, and adults). While its original offerings focused on great works of thinkers such as Plato and Socrates, current materials include newer literary works such as contemporary novels and even science fiction. Its aim is to “make the reading and discussion of literature a lifelong source of enjoyment, personal growth, and social engagement.”

On the Great Books web site you can search for a group in your area. If there isn’t one, you can also find out how to start a group. The Foundation also offers instruction in how to practice civil discourse in discussion of the ideas presented in literature.

P.D. James writes Jane Austen sequel

P.D. James could hold back no longer.

The 91-year-old detective novelist said Wednesday she was glad to finally complete a long-desired project – a sequel to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.”

James’ “Death Comes to Pemberley” will be published by Faber & Faber in Britain in early November and by Alfred A. Knopf in the United states on Dec. 6.

Ms. Readers’ 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of All Time: The Top 10 and the Complete List!

Scholar, activist, provocateur, teacher, community-builder, inspiration: No one word can span the career of bell hooks or capture how much we love her work. According to Ms. readers’ selections of the best feminist non-fiction of all time, she’s your favorite writer, with three books in our top ten–including number one–and a total of seven books throughout the list. To judge by the final picks, issues of work, sex and intersectionality ranked highest among our reader’s feminist concerns.

And here are the top 10:

10. The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women
by Jessica Valenti
Seal Press, 2009
Jessica Valenti combats a nation’s virginity complex, arguing that myths about “purity” are damaging to both girls and women. She points the way forward toward a world where women are perceived as more than vessels of chastity. 

9. Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center
by bell hooks
South End Press, 1985
Cementing her place as one of the most influential feminist theorists, hooks’ Feminist Theory explores Kimberle Crenshaw’s conversation-changing idea of intersectionality: the way racism, classism and sexism work together to foster oppression.

8. Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism
by bell hooks
South End Press, 1999
Named after the famous speech by Sojourner Truth, this must-read by bell hooks discusses black women’s struggle with U.S. racism and sexism since the time of slavery and doesn’t shirk from how white middle- and upper-class feminists have at times failed poor and non-white women. 

7. Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture
by Ariel Levy
Free Press, 2005
What do phenomena such as Girls Gone Wild say about feminism? This book looks at the ways women today make sex objects of themselves, and she’s not impressed. She chews out false “empowerment” based on self-objectification and offers feminist alternatives. 

6. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women
by Susan Faludi
Crown, 1991
This landmark book sounded the alarm about a pervasive backlash against feminism. She painstakingly refutes each insidious anti-feminist argument–for instance, that feminism is responsible for a supposed epidemic of unhappiness in women. What’s really wrong, she says, is that equality hasn’t been achieved; in fact, the struggle has only just begun. 

5. Nickel and Dimed
by Barbara Ehrenreich
Metropolitan Books, 2001
Long-time Ms. columnist Barbara Ehrenreich posed undercover as a low-income worker to gain material for this empathetic portrait of how the bottom half lives. She reveals that simply making ends meet is a silent struggle for many Americans, especially for women with families to support.

4. A Room of One’s Own
by Virginia Woolf
Harcourt Brace, 1929
This classic from the 1920s makes a devastatingly eloquent argument with a simple takeaway: For a women artist to thrive, she must have space in which to work and some money for her efforts. 

3. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
by Audre Lorde
Crossing Press, 1984
This master work by Audre Lorde, a Caribbean American lesbian feminist writer, collects her prose from the late 70s and early 80s. Many of these pieces made feminist history, including her candid dialogue with Adrienne Rich about race and feminism, her oft-quoted critique of academia “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” and her Open Letter to Mary Daly. 

2. Cunt: A Declaration of Independence
by Inga Muscio
Seal Press 2002
Inga Muscio’s 2002 feminist manifesto radicalized a new generation. She argues for the reclaiming of the tarnished word cunt, and discusses her personal experiences with self-protection, sex work, abortion and solidarity.

1. Feminism is For Everybody: Passionate Politics
by bell hooks
South End Press, 2000
Fittingly, in Ms. readers’ favorite feminist book of all time, bell hooks argues that feminism is for everybody, regardless of race, gender or creed. She urges all to live a feminism that finds commonality across differences and makes room for impassioned debate. 

Movies Totally Different From The Books They Were Based On

You know how readers almost always say that they liked a book better than its movie version? Well, in another one of those lists that they love so much, The Huffington Post presents “movies that feature totally different endings, story lines, and main characters than the original book. Here are a few of our favorite examples. Be warned, spoilers ahead!”

From Chick Lit to Victim Books: Problems with the Woman’s Book Club

Luanne Bradley asks, “What came first, the depressing women’s book clubs or the morbid books?”

The inevitable prerequisite [of book group selections] is the agreed-upon selections must be meaty enough to spark evocative feedback for eloquent sharing round the coffee table. As a result, our picks are highly wrought works of historic, political or cultural significance perpetually mired in sadness. Or, as a fellow member recently commiserated, “Can’t we move on from the holocaust and women in pain?”

I do admit that my own book group has read so many holocaust books that we’ve decided on a moratorium for that subject matter. And a few years ago we read so many books about men who treated women badly that we called ourselves, for a time, the SOB book group.

But back to Bradley’s article:

“As someone who has written about ‘women in pain,’ women dealing with the death of a child, for example, I think that the premise of your question is problematic,” novelist Ayelet Waldman tells me. “All interesting stories are about someone in crisis – in ‘pain’ if you will. Who wants to read about happy people doing happy things? Story is conflict, conflict is story. The Corrections was about people in crisis. Does that fall into your category of ‘victim-literature?’ If it doesn’t, then I think you should take a good look at the question you’re asking, and consider whether it isn’t inherently sexist.”

One suggestion Bradley has for finding other types of books to read is not to “rely solely on the New York Times lists and peruse book stores for the employee recommendations. Oftentimes, you will find sparkling little stories that didn’t cut the mustard with the corporate giant, but are worthwhile nonetheless.”

And my personal assignment from my book group is to find a good mystery that we can all cozy up to this fall.

Why teens should read adult fiction

We’ve seen the discussion before about whether YA (young adult) literature is too dark for adolescents. In this article Brian McGreevy dismisses this subject:

My concern is not this debate — in fact, I consider it to be moot. The YA category is a marketing distinction, not a moral one, however much parents would like it to be a synonym for “safe.”

Instead, he argues that when adolescents reach the point when they’re interested in reading adult fiction, they should be allowed to do so. He calls this point “the V.C. Andrews Curve, after the author of ‘Flowers in the Attic.’”  At this point, “not only will your kids survive an exposure to violence and sexuality in books, but it is crucial to their moral development”:

Of course adolescents have an irresistible attraction to adult themes; perverse and puritanical an instinct as there is in this culture to prolong childhood, there is a far stronger counter-instinct in children to analyze, simulate, and as soon as humanly possible participate in the challenges of adulthood.

Furthermore, he argues that books provide a kind of experience that neither films nor video games can provide:

What neither films nor video games are cut out for is developing the critical faculties that reading does. Higher-order mental processes are not even strictly required to enjoy a movie, whereas books, by nature, are undemocratic. A combination of education and innate sensitivity is required to enjoy them, and the reward is the closest possible experience to entering another human being’s consciousness and revising the parameters of your own. It’s harder because it should be.

I’ve often thought that preventing children who are growing into young adults from reading about the truths of human existence is both a disservice to and a devaluation of them. Young adults know and understand more than we give them credit for. And, while parents’ desire to protect their children from adult knowledge may have good intentions, preventing young adults from learning about adult life leaves them unprepared for a world that they will eventually grow into, whether we like it or not. We need to trust our children:

They’re equipped with a strength and ingenuity they’re not often enough credited with. Life’s genesis and termination — and every gradation of human experience in between — is their birthright. They are entitled to learn about it at exactly the rate it is appropriate to their individual moral development to do so. And as long as you love them enough, they’ll end up basically OK.

 

Monday Miscellany

The greatest death scenes in literature

Five judges of the 2012 Wellcome Trust book prize for medicine in literature ponder the question “What makes for a great literary death scene?” Tim Lott calls their choices “eclectic.” Take a look, and see if you have other favorite death scenes to add to the list.

The 10 best songs based on books 

Here’s another list, this one in pictures.

Hey, Teacher. Let Kids Read Alone.

Writing in the Huffington Post, high school English teacher Steve Terreri suggests that school may be contributing to rather than stemming the decline of reading by American adults. He argues that classrooms try to turn reading, which is essentially a personal and solitary activity, into an act of social conformity:

Reading a book or story or poem or play on one’s own is a peculiarly individual experience. No other medium comes to mind so absent of social or communal qualities, and considering the collective genius currently available in books on every imaginable subject, I’ve often speculated that the modern classroom’s entire reason for being is to translate individual learning experience into social consensus or application.

Terreri concludes:

Considering how wide the differences between reading on one’s own and reading in a class are, I’m interested in how educators might take some aspects from the former to let high school students read just to read and still not only foster literacy but stimulate interest in literature.

How to get your kid to be a fanatic reader

Best-selling author James Patterson weighs in on the issue with CNN:

Sorry, moms and dads, but it’s your job — not the schools’ — to find books to get your kids reading and to make sure they read them.

Patterson says that boys especially need encouragement to read: ” Boys should be made to feel all squishy inside about reading graphic novels, comics, pop-ups, joke books, and general-information tomes.” He encourages family members as well as sports and entertainment superstars to model reading.

Of course Patterson has a vested interest in encouraging youngsters to read. But this article is refreshingly free of self-promotion. It also contains links to many organizations where parents and schools can find information to help them promote reading among children.

Censorship Causes Blindness: The 5 Best Banned Books Turned Films 

In honor of the American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week, celebrated last week here in the U.S., Word and Film offers its own list:

  • American Psycho
  • Lolita
  • A Clockwork Orange
  • Lord of the Flies
  • The Handmaid’s Tale

Be sure to visit this site, which provides the official trailer for each film.

Books that deserve to be banned

Also in honor of Banned Books Week, Salon writer Laura Miller—facetiously, of course—asks:

Where were these censors when we really needed them — that is, when our 10th-grade teachers assigned “Beowulf” or “The Pearl”? As deplorable as real-life book banning may be, there’s some required reading that those of us at Salon would love to see retired from the nation’s syllabuses simply because we were tortured by it as kids.

Remember Silas Marner? How about Green Mansions? See what books Salon editors remember with distaste. And then take a look at some of the many comments left my readers. They provide an informative exchange.

Literature & Psychology | Scoop.it

Literature & Psychology | Scoop.it.

Please check out my newest undertaking and let me know what you think.

Monday Miscellany

2012 Stamp Preview: A Stamp a Day

The United States Postal Service will be issuing some new literature-related stamps in 2012. Click on the numbers to see more information about these:

  • #2 Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • #11 O. Henry
  • #31 Twentieth-Century Poets: Elizabeth Bishop, Joseph Brodsky, Gwendolyn Brooks, E. E. Cummings, Robert Hayden, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams

One in Six Americans Now Use e-Reader with One in Six Likely to Purchase in Next Six Months

Yet more evidence of the rapidly growing popularity of e-readers. This release announces the results of a Harris Poll of 2,183 adults surveyed online between July 11 and 18, 2011:

While some may lament the introduction of the e-Reader as a death knell for books, the opposite is probably true. First, those who have e-Readers do, in fact, read more. Overall, 16% of Americans read between 11 and 20 books a year with one in five reading 21 or more books in a year (20%). But, among those who have an e-Reader, one-third read 11-20 books a year (32%) and over one-quarter read 21 or more books in an average year (27%).

Overall, e-readers do not seem to be contributing to the downfall of reading, but they are a fact that publishers will have to adapt to in order to survive.

9 Things That Happen When You Read

Susan K. Perry, Ph. D., writes about creativity in her “Creating in Flow” blog for Psychology Today. In this entry she discusses The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist by Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk. Here is her own paraphrased and adapted list, based on Pamuk’s book, of 9 things that happen when we read:

1. We observe the general scene and follow the narrative. Whether action-filled or more literary, we read all novels, Pamuk says, the same way: seeking out the meaning and main idea.

2. We transform words into images in our mind, completing the novel as our imaginations picture what the words are telling us.

3. Part of our mind wonders how much is real experience and how much is imagination. “A third dimension of reality slowly begins to emerge within us: the dimension of the complex world of the novel.”

4. We wonder if the novel depicts reality as we know it. Is this scene realistic, could this actually happen?

5. We enjoy the precision of analogies, the power of narrative, the way sentences build upon one another, the music of the prose.

6. We make moral judgments about the characters’ behavior, and about the novelist for his own moral judgments by way of the characters’ actions and their consequences.

7. We feel successful when we understand the text, and we come to feel as though it was written just for us.

8. Our memory works hard to keep track of all the details, and in a well-constructed novel, everything connects to everything.

9. We search for the secret center of the novel, convinced that there is one. We hunt for it like a hunter searches for meaningful signs in the forest.

Describing what happens when we read is difficult because, once we begin to think about what’s happening, whatever it is stops happening. However, these 9 points seem to describe what I later remember as going on during a period of intense, prolonged reading.

How about you?

Prize-Winning Female Authors Respond To Questions About Gender Gap

Merritt Tierce and Apricot Irving, two winners of the Rona Jaffee awards given to female writers who display both promise and excellence early in their careers, answer questions about how women writers fare in relation to their male counterparts.

5 Free College-Level Writing & Lit Videos

Recommendations of five videos relating to writing, reading, and publishing from YouTube’s education channel. Here’s your chance to learn for free from masters such as Ray Bradbury, Clive Cussler, Maxine Hong Kingston, Penelope Lively, and David McCullough.