Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Monday Miscellany

Monday, April 7th, 2014

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.

 

Monday Miscellany

Monday, March 31st, 2014

The Conclusion of Women’s History Month

woman readingAs Women’s History month ends, here are two commemorative lists:

14 Totally Badass Female Authors

Though many truly badass women authors are alive and working today, their stories aren’t yet finished. So as Women’s History Month draws to a close, we wanted to look back on some of the incredible literary women from history and remember how both their work and their lives broke new ground.

Read why Huffington Post thinks these female authors were totally badass:

  1. Louisa May Alcott
  2. Mary McCarthy
  3. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
  4. Nellie Bly
  5. Edith Wharton
  6. Zora Neale Hurston
  7. Edna St. Vincent Millay
  8. George Eliot
  9. Mary Wollstonecraft
  10. Carson McCullers
  11. George Sand
  12. Hannah Arendt
  13. Harriet Ann Jacobs
  14. Katherine Anne Porter

The 10 Best Thrillers and Crime Writing By Women

Though James Patterson might be the one getting 17-book deals for millions, some of the best writers of crime, thrillers, and mysteries have been women. Here are some of the best examples of these genres from the past century that will keep you reading past your bedtime (and possibly unable to sleep forever).

Among the authors Jessica Grose recommends here are Agatha Christie, Ann Rule, Edna Buchanan, and Patricia Highsmith.

Addition:

Australia’s literary cranky ladies

 

Really? You’re Not in a Book Club?

“WHAT’S your book group reading?” I say to a friend encountered on the street. Not: “Are you in a book group?” I have no idea whether Clara is in a book group. We’ve never talked about it. All the same, I just know. Why? Because it’s a safe assumption to make these days.

By some estimates, five million Americans gather every few weeks in someone’s living room or in a bar or bookstore or local library to discuss the finer points of “Middlemarch” or “The Brothers Karamazov.” (A perfect number is hard to pin down because some people belong to two or three clubs, and of course, there’s no central registry of members.) Among them is Clara, whose book group even has a name: the Oracles. They’re reading “The Flamethrowers,” by Rachel Kushner.

James Atlas learns why book groups aren’t just a fixture of New York City.

Top Literary Cities in the U.S.

What determines a city as ‘literary?’ It’s not enough to have a large library, unique bookstores, or be the birthplace of a famous writer. Nor is it enough to be one of the top literate cities in the United States  Most literary cities have a strong writing program at one of their numerous colleges and universities, as well as bookstores and institutions hosting event after event. If anything, a literary city is a blend of the historical, cultural, and modern parts of literature, encouraging and inspiring future generations to appreciate and take part in the literary world.

See what cities (other than New York City) Gabriella Tutino has chosen for this article in Highbrow Magazine.

On Literary Cravings and Aftertastes

In this unusual take on literary criticism, Allison K. Gibson describes her literary cravings during pregnancy:

While I was pregnant, I learned to follow my instincts — my hunger — to lead me to stories that would nourish me. And, as I learned from that first 3 a.m. craving for “The Night of the Curlews,” certain stories are meant to be savored so that the words continue to nourish long after the last sentence has been swallowed. The best stories leave an aftertaste.

10 Famous Writers Who Hated Writing

Writers are terrible procrastinators, and I’m pretty sure that’s because writing, although it can be exhilarating, is also just plain hard. Here author Bill Cotter, who has his own love-hate relationship with his profession, offers some (comforting?) remarks from writers including Kurt Vonnegut, Flannery O’Connor, and Virginia Woolf.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Cover: The Golden Thread

Book review: “The Golden Thread: The Story of Writing,” by Ewan Clayton

Anyone who loves books will be interested in this book, which tells the story of typography:

Writing matters, says Ewan Clayton, calligrapher, former monk, design and media professor and visual consultant to Xerox in Palo Alto, Calif., the folks who made the first networked home computer. Not just who cut the typeface, not just the letters and words. But the manner in which over the millennia we’ve inscribed, carved, painted, brushed, printed and now text them. Writing tells us how we inhabit our world, how we move through it and interact with each other.

Bring the literary giants of the great war to life

Thanks to Project Gutenberg and Oxford University’s poetry archive, the literature of the first world war has never been more accessible

As the 100th anniversary of the start of the first world war approaches, many texts—including a few novels, “memoirs galore, and literary curiosities including propaganda by Arthur Conan Doyle”—are entering the public domain and becoming freely available.

The cold equations of ethics

On the University of Oxford blog Practical Ethics, Anders Sandberg considers an article by science fiction author Cory Doctorow about a couple of stories that feature ethical dilemmas:

By imposing the right boundary conditions an author can make even extreme behaviour moral. This makes for good stories, but they are not teaching us how to think well about the future since they depend on a contrived situation. Maybe such contrived situations could occur, but real situations have far less coherent contexts and hence make the moral issues far more non-trivial. Since well written stories are salient and memorable, we often use them as examples when reasoning about the real world… despite the risk of their conclusions being arbitrarily prescribed.

My own favourite example of this kind of induction of conclusions is Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon, which is often used as an argument that cognitive enhancement will not be good for people. However, the reason the protagonist suffers is that he and the world is written that way. While it makes for a good story it doesn’t help us think much about the nature of intelligence enhancement despite apparently giving us an argument.

This suggests that writers trying to be moral should do their best to refrain from overly constraining their fictional worlds in order to tell stories that actually help us think about acting morally in the real world.

Sandberg’s point that an overly contrived story that can lead to only one solution does not really help us learn to think ethically is an important one, since it’s easy to be taken in by such a literary work.

And be sure to look at Doctorow’s article, which Sandberg links to in his introduction.

10 Authors from Georgia You Should Read Now

Paste Magazine introduces its 50 States Project with a list of “10 contemporary authors from Georgia who are contributing to the evolving landscape of Southern literature.”

I’m embarrassed and ashamed to say that I haven’t heard of any of these authors. It’s time to expand my reading list.

What’s It Like Reading ‘Peyton Place’ Today?

This week, Thomas Mallon and Anna Holmes discuss what it’s like reading “Peyton Place” today, 50 years after the death of its author, Grace Metalious.

Opposite views of what this historic salient novel, whose title has become part of the common parlance, offers today’s readers.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, February 10th, 2014

The Coretta Scott King Book Awards

The Coretta Scott King Book Award was founded in 1969 in honor of the late Mrs. Coretta Scott King, wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for her passion and dedication to working for peace. The awards are given to “outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.” Created by the American Library Association, this page provides a variety of resources, including a section on the history of the award and a list of all past award winners. Another great facet of this page is the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Donation Grant. The goal of this program is to increase children’s access to books by building the libraries of nontraditional institutions that provide services to children. Within Resources and Bibliographies, a series of educational materials related to multicultural and diversity resources and collections are also available.

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994-2014. https://www.scout.wisc.edu/

Oxford African American Studies Center: Focus on Women and Literature

The Oxford African American Studies Center has created this website to house its comprehensive collection of scholarship documenting the many and varied experiences that make up African and African American history and culture. Along with over 10,000 articles, 2,500 images, and 200 maps, the site features an excellent “Focus On” series each month, in which the editors compile various short articles, picture essays, and links on a designated topic. The Focus on Women and Literature is particularly noteworthy. Here, visitors can explore the life and works of influential women in American literature, from Phillis Wheatley to Toni Morrison. The site can be easily navigated by subject or by specific biography, with suggestions for related sources and content provided in each section. Additionally, curious visitors will find links to all of the previously featured subjects within the series, ranging from African Americans in Science and Technology to Black Homesteading in the American Western Frontier.

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994-2014. https://www.scout.wisc.edu/

New Jane Austen manuscript criticises ‘men repeating prayers by rote’

A newly uncovered manuscript in which Jane Austen writes of men reciting prayers unthinkingly could shed light on the gestation of one of her novels.

The scrap of paper features a fragment copied out by the author from a sermon written by her brother, the Rev James Austen.

Now conservation experts are painstakingly lifting the snippet from the book it is stuck into so scholars can read the mysterious words she wrote on the back.

The passage in Austen’s handwriting, dating from 1814, states: “Men may get into a habit of repeating the words of our Prayers by rote, perhaps without thoroughly understanding – certainly without thoroughly feeling their full force & meaning.”

This reflects a theme that she wrote about in her novel Mansfield Park, which was published in the same year.

The Road Back: Frost’s Letters Could Soften a Battered Image

Few figures in American literature have suffered as strangely divided an afterlife as Robert Frost.

Even before his death in 1963, he was canonized as a rural sage, beloved by a public raised on poems of his like “Birches” and “The Road Not Taken.” But that image soon became shadowed by a darker one, stemming from a three-volume biography by his handpicked chronicler, Lawrance Thompson, who emerged from decades of assiduous note-taking with a portrait of the poet as a cruel, jealous megalomaniac — “a monster of egotism” who left behind “a wake of destroyed human lives,” as the critic Helen Vendler memorably put it on the cover of The New York Times Book Review in 1970.

A preview of The Letters of Robert Frost, “a projected four-volume edition of all the poet’s known correspondence that promises to offer the most rounded, complete portrait to date.” Harvard University Press will begin publishing the collection in late February.

Author Jonathan Lethem: Feminism seems so self-evident

Some writers would rather do anything but discuss their own work. Not Jonathan Lethem. A wiry bundle of passionate and lucid self-analysis, the guy can talk. And talk.

I’m waiting at his publisher’s office near the Thames when he swoops in from the rain, ready to bat for the British release of his new novel, Dissident Gardens. A postwar family saga about Rose Angrush, a Jewish communist in Lethem’s native New York, it’s a funny, often filthy book with a heavy subject – the slow death of political alternatives to capitalism after Stalin tainted Marxism.

For a writer who lifts tropes from science fiction and superhero comic strips, it feels like a gear change. His 2003 novel, The Fortress Of Solitude, featured two boys who procure a magic ring that enables them to fly. One reviewer ordered Lethem to grow up.

‘It’s like I took his advice, right?’ he laughs. Not really, he says, preppy in neat specs and trim blazer. ‘I turn 50 in a couple of weeks. It’s kind of funny the idea that I might have suddenly matured, as if everything up to this point was a retarded adolescence and – like the Hulk – I shook it off and became this mature novelist.

‘If you were to put my work into a really super-deliberate two-word synopsis, you might call the whole project “against escapism”. Ideology in Dissident Gardens is like the flying ring in The Fortress Of Solitude. It’s the thing that doesn’t help you live in the world.’

William S. Burroughs at 100: Exploding Five Major Myths

William S. Burroughs, literary scourge of the banal and the boring, best known as the author of the still outrageous Naked Lunch (1959), would have turned 100 on February 5.

Whether as novelist, essayist, painter, filmmaker, recording artist, mystic, expatriate, psychological patient, Scientologist, Beat progenitor, plagiarist, punk music godfather, anti-censorship activist, queer hero, science-fiction guru, junkie, media theorist, advertising model — or accidental murderer — the figure of Burroughs (1914-1997) casts as many shadows as the limits of each of these labels.

 

New literary journal seeks writers, more

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

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.

via New literary journal seeks writers, more – NewsTimes.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, September 30th, 2013

10 Impressive Uses of Borrowed Characters in Literature

Kim Newman, whose latest book, Johnny Alucard, is out now, tells us: “In the Anno Dracula series, I’ve made use not only of characters and situations appropriated from Bram Stoker’s novel but a host of other preexisting fictional folk to populate the next-door-but-one world where Dracula defeated Van Helsing and became a dominant power in the 19th and 20th centuries. I didn’t invent this approach – in the wholesale borrowing of other authors’ creations, I was mostly inspired by Philip José Farmer’s interlocked series of books and stories which did something similar. Here are my favorite ten novels built around other novels.”

Female literary characters that deserve a second chance

Blogger Claudia Marina writes:

I started thinking about the vast amount of female characters that don’t get enough appreciation. Television is flooded with them, though it all started in books. I’m not talking about Bella Swan, but rather the female characters who weren’t always at the forefront of the story, who might have been disliked by readers but deserve some recognition. While not perfect, they represent all types of women, breaking the archetype that one has to be supporting, loving and in need of a male protagonist to satisfy readers’ appetites for normalcy in literature.

These women weren’t always favorites. They were obstacles, betrayers, burnt out, cynical and realistic.

Writers put in just as much effort to perfect a foil or antagonist as they would a hero. In order to affect readers, they’re undeniably based on real life. Here are some of my favorite non-favorite female characters in literature and why we should give them a chance.

See who made her list. Are there any others you’d add?

Margaret Atwood: Our Most Important Prophet of Doom

From Judith Shulevitz, science editor of The New Republic:

You can’t say what history will deem barbaric unless you feel a punch in the stomach every time you encounter it. This is why it was a novelist, not a statistician, who first sounded the alarm—for me—about a fast-tumbling cascade of changes I hadn’t thought hard about before.

The novelist is Margaret Atwood. What she made me think about is bioengineering.

See what Shulevitz has to say about Atwood’s trilogy that she began with Oryx and Crake in 2003 and ended with the recent publication of MaddAddam.

 

Monday Miscellany

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Why GR’s new review rules are censorship – Some thoughts

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.

young girl readingOver 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:

30 Books You Should Read Before You’re 30

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.

30 “Guilty Pleasure” Books That Are In Fact Awesome

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. . . .

Bookless Public Library Opens In Texas

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?

The Working Novelist: Writing and the Irrational

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.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, September 16th, 2013

11 Required Reading Books You Should Re-Read Now That You’re Older

Madeleine Crum thinks you’d benefit from rereading these books that you were probably required to struggle through in English classes while growing up.

I have actually reread several of these in recent years, and I agree with her assessment that they have much more to offer than we were capable of understanding as adolescents.

33 Of The Most Hilariously Terrible First Sentences In Literature History

writingFinally, a contest that we all have a chance of winning:

Every year, the announcement of Bulwer-Lytton Prize is a gift from bad writing heaven. Inspired by novelist and playwright Edward George Bulwer-Lytton’s famous “it was a dark and stormy night” opener, the contest asks writers to submit an opening sentence for the “worst of all possible novels” — although Fifty Shades of Grey has already been written. The results are perennially astounding, with entries in every genre from Children’s Literature to Spy Novels, and one sentence awarded the dubious honor of the worst sentence of the year.

Read this list for inspiration. Then try your own hand at writing the worst of all possible opening sentences.

A star-struck way to write

Cover: The LuminariesThe novel The Luminaries by New Zealand writer Eleanor Catton was recently shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize. This article is about Catton and the background of how she came to write The Luminaries, which this reviewer calls “a hugely ambitious novel.”

Here’s what I found most interesting:

An intriguing aspect of The Luminaries is its structure as an ”astrological fable” around star charts: the 12 men in the hotel represent the 12 constellations of the zodiac and the seven other main characters are the planets (the dead Crosbie Wells is terra firma). It is also framed as a mathematical construct: it is told over 12 months in 12 parts, with each consecutive part half the length of the previous part, so that part one, ”A Sphere within a Sphere”, is 360 pages, but the final part, ”The Old Moon in the Young Moon’s Arms”, is a mere two pages.

Structure can be a significant factor in a novel’s effectiveness. Think of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, with its interweaving of several stories that span centuries; or Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad, with its variety of sections, including a PowerPoint presentation.

The Luminaries will be released in the United States on October 15, 2013.

Book Lovers Will Adore These Neat New Maps

Emily Badger writes about a concept described by Anne Fadiman: “You-Are-There-Reading, ‘the practice of reading books in the places they describe.’” Badger says she has started compiling her own book list of “you-are-there reading”:

But there are a lot of books I haven’t read, and a lot of places I’ve never been (please share recommendations!). And so I was excited to come across a couple of mapping projects, linked via Google Maps Mania, that are doing a much more comprehensive job than I am of plotting the literal bookmarks (literature landmarks?) between reading and place.

See her descriptions of, and screen shots from, these two projects:

  • The Book Globe
  • LitMap Project

‘Outlander’ TV series casts its romantic leads

Cover: Outlander

I’ve never read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, but it is enormously popular. So for those of you waiting for the TV series, here’s news about recent casting signups.

11 Most Evil Characters in Books

Since we began with a list, here’s another list to round out today’s offerings.

Koren Zailckas is the author of Mother, Mother, which Publishers Weekly describes as “the kind of book that keeps you up at night.”

“Most disturbingly, Evil comes to us in human form,” Zailckas says. Here’s her list of literary examples:

These 11 baddies from books have a lot to teach us about Evil’s motivations and methodology. The tools of Evil’s trade are pretty consistent across the board: seduction, gaslighting, gossip, lies, exploiting our empathy to its advantage. But the purpose seems unclear even to Evil itself. In the end, maybe the scariest thing about villains is their total mindlessness.

Look at her list and see if there are others you’d add.

Monday Miscellany

Monday, July 29th, 2013

The Best Births In Literature

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

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

Literature’s Fight Club

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

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

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

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

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

The Quirky World of E-Reading Apps

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

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

Read his report on the following alternatives to the Nook:

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

Resurrected from the archives: timeless women’s fiction

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

Wright discusses the following books:

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

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

My Favorite Fictional Detectives

Author Martin Walker writes:

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

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

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

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

Monday Miscellany

Monday, July 1st, 2013

The top 10 classic spy novels

Cover: In Spies We TrustFrom Joseph Conrad to John le Carré, intelligence historian Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones picks the fiction that best reveals the secrets of espionage

“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 Scours The Shelves For Books You Might Have Missed

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.”

Shakespeare’s plays to be retold by novelists

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.

WRITING ON THE ETHER: Let’s Review Criticism

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.

Method to the Madness

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.

Placing Literature: Where Your Book Meets the Map

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.