What’s old is new again in the pages of “Poor Yorick: A Journal of Rediscovered Objects.”
If you like to write and pursue other creative endeavors, you’ll want to learn more about this new literary publication from Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. It’s connected with the school’s master of fine arts program in creative and professional writing, and is a free, online journal that’s now taking submissions.
“Poor Yorick” will publish poems, stories, essays, profiles, digital video shorts, photo-essays and other innovative works. The thing is, they have to be about or inspired by rediscovered objects and/or images of material culture.
Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category
Late Friday (US time) Goodreads announced a change in review and shelving policy, and immediately started deleting readers’ reviews and shelves. In doing this they became censors. Limiting readers’ ability to discuss the cultural context of a book is censorship designed to promote authors’ interests.
Over on Goodreads reader Emma Sea has lashed out against the site’s new policy and has engendered quite a lot of support from commenters. I lead with this entry today because at the heart of the controversy lies the question of exactly what a book review is and what a review should—and shouldn’t—contain.
As soon as I started reading Emma’s post, I knew that the reference to Orson Scott Card’s book Ender’s Game was coming. This very popular book is being made into a movie. Card himself is outspoken in his criticism of gays and gay marriage; as a result, many people have called for a boycott of the movie, even though the book does not deal in any way with gay rights.
So, in terms of book reviewing policy, the question becomes: Is it acceptable to refer to Card’s beliefs in discussions of Ender’s Game?
I have struggled with this very question myself. Ender’s Game is one of the best books I’ve ever read. And I grew up under the school of New Criticism, which holds that literary works should be judged on the basis only of their text, not of their author or of any other external social or cultural context. However, I have reached a point in my life when I believe it’s important for me to stand up and be counted in support of my values and beliefs. I certainly stand by Orson Scott Card’s right to hold and to state his beliefs, but I also reserve the same right for myself.
But the question still remains: Is it appropriate for me—or anyone— to mention a disagreement with Card’s stated beliefs in reviewing a book that does not in any way touch on the subject of those beliefs? I’d love to hear suggestions on how to resolve this dilemma.
Why I Believe I Should Stand Up and Speak Out
Because I keep finding stories, like these, about censorship:
- NC County Pulls Ralph Ellison’s ‘Invisible Man’ from School Libraries
- True Love, Book Fights, And Why Ugly Stories Matter
some books are best experienced at a certain age, like, say, “Catcher in the Rye.” If you pick it up for the first time when you’re far beyond puberty, you’ll likely wonder what all the hype is about. Likewise, there are certain books you should read in your 20s, due to the age of the characters or the intended audience — books like Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History” or Christopher Hitchens’ “Letters to a Young Contrarian.”
There are also fantastic classics that may not have been assigned to you in school but that you should pick up ASAP simply because you’re missing out — books like Doris Lessing’s “The Golden Notebook” or “A Collection of Essays” by George Orwell.
Check out the 30 books we think you should read before you’re 30:
I’m not sure exactly why the folks at Huffington Post chose 30 as the magic age. I’ve read several of these recommended books in recent years, and I’m well over 30. In fact, I like to think that I probably got more out of reading these books precisely because of my maturity.
At any rate, this is a good list to use when you’re looking for the next book to pick up.
All books are worth reading, obviously. But some books are slightly more “guilty pleasure” than “classic literature.”
Because you can never have too many good-books lists. . . .
An all-digital public library is opening today [September 14, 2013], as officials in Bexar County, Texas, celebrate the opening of the BiblioTech library. The facility offers about 10,000 free e-books for the 1.7 million residents of the county, which includes San Antonio.
I’ve always been a big fan of ebooks, but I’m still trying to wrap my brain around the idea of a bookless library. Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?
Something about the process of writing (and maybe art in general) pushes us toward the parts of ourselves and the world that we don’t totally understand. Toward the grey areas, the uncertainty, the unsettled.
I don’t write fiction myself, but I’ve heard fiction writers say that sometimes a character will speak up on its own and take over the writing of the story. Here writer Alex Washoe describes how something similar happened to him:
When we read over what we’ve written – if we’ve surrendered ourselves at least a little to the process, to the “vivid and continuous dream” – we often find things we didn’t mean to include. Stray details, odd comments, small actions – things that perhaps don’t seem to relate to the main action of the story. Things that sometimes contradict what we thought we were saying. The first tendency is always to delete these things, the smooth them over, to bring them in line with our plan. And most of the time, that’s probably for the best.
But if we are willing to stay with these things, to hold them in our minds and find where they lead, they can sometimes open up dimensions of character and story – meaning – we never knew were there. These stray details, these odd moments, these irrational tics push us away from what the conscious mind thinks it’s doing toward something a little less neat.
Readers, too, often find these little suggestive details in literature, and those details often deepen and enrich our understanding, whether we are aware of that process or not.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
“So my selection of novels reflects the interests of a historian, and draws on both domestic and foreign espionage. They are “classics” in being of some antiquity, and because, in addition to being of literary merit, they tell us something of their era.”
A chronological list from The Spy; or, A Tale of the Neutral Ground by James Fenimore Cooper (1821) through Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carré (1974).
Nancy Pearl, perhaps the world’s most famous librarian, discusses some of her under-the-radar reads: “books she thinks deserve more attention than they’ve been getting.”
In a step that boggles the mind:
Hogarth, the Random House transatlantic fiction imprint, has today [June 27] announced an international project that aims to bring Shakespeare to a wider contemporary audience. The project, titled The Hogarth Shakespeare, will ask bestselling novelists throughout the world to retell his work in a more accessible prose form.
The first two novelists to sign on to the project are Jeanette Winterson, for The Winter’s Tale, and Anne Tyler, for The Taming of the Shrew. Says Tyler, “I don’t know which I’m looking forward to more: ‘Delving into the mysteries of shrewish Kate or finding out what all the other writers do with their Shakespeare characters.”
Yet I have to agree with this:
many feel that, by altering the form of Shakespeare’s plays, the complex poetic language will inevitably be lost. The accessibility of Shakespeare might be enhanced, but has an integral part of the experience of reading one of his plays been removed?
The article briefly discusses other attempts at adapting Shakespeare’s work, including Charles and Mary Lamb’s 18th century prose summaries and popular television and film adaptations.
Porter Anderson’s piece is more drawn out than it needs to be but nonetheless offers an interesting take on the current state of literary criticism, a topic that has received much coverage lately.
Anderson provides lots of links to related material.
Contemporary master of the macabre Patrick McGrath discusses the difficulty of representing the chaotic thinking patterns of mental illness within a coherent narrative framework:
The verbal production of schizophrenics and other psychotic individuals might sound like language without discourse, a useful formulation, but for the novelist it’s not enough. A discourse — a coherent story — must be discernible within even the wildest ramblings of an insane narrator. Technically it’s a tough thing to get right. But madness is never arbitrary, never random in its manifestations — or its causes. The reader who’s been successfully enlisted as a kind of psychiatric detective will find herself engaged with minds blind to their own dysfunction, which makes them as rich in complexity as any in our literature.
Along the way he discusses some of his literary predecessors, including Edgar Allan Poe and Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
Andrew B. Williams and Katie C. Williams have started a database of literary scenes: “We hope to educate the audience about using literature as a way to explore place and to give people the opportunity to use their collective knowledge to help them and others appreciate their communities, both real and imagined.”
And they have opened the database for contributions: “now anyone with a Google login can enter scene information into our database or explore the literary scenes that take place in their community.”
It will be interesting to see how this project evolves.
Books —> Film
The latest adaptation of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is garnering most of the attention in this category right now, but there’s other news as well. Here’s some news on upcoming films:
“Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald revisits the book’s melancholy beauty prior to the movie’s release.”
Henry James’s What Maisie Knew (1897/1898) is one of my favorite novels. Jennifer Paull has news about the upcoming film version.
Before it became a Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller, McDormand fell hard for Elizabeth Strout’s interwoven collection of vignettes set in a backwater town along the coast of Maine connected by the titular plainspoken protagonist who reveals deep reserves of humanity and empathy (even for the most jagged and broken characters) as the novel unfolds.
This article provides an overview of Rushdie’s life and career along with news about the film adaptation of his most famous novel.
Parents, Children, and Libraries
The Pew Internet and American Life Project studies many aspects of American life, including attitudes toward and uses of books and libraries. Here are some of the latest research findings:
- Parents, Children, Libraries, and Reading
- The 10 Most Important Insights from Pew Internet’s Library Research
Two middle school teachers offer advice on how to teach students to evaluate information they find on the internet. This information may seem elementary, but it’s advice all of us can use.
Gone Girl has taken the publishing world by storm with its disturbing portrayal of a relationship gone badly wrong. Author Gillian Flynn talks about how she portrays women, her childhood love of horror – and how her marriage inspired the book
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.
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.
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.
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?
With Valentine’s Day coming up fast, here’s a whole cupboard full of gift suggestions.
This one is my favorite.
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.
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:
- That science is amoral.
- That the universe exists in black-and-white.
- That women are scary. And sexy, too, just like the bomb itself.