George Steiner’s My Unwritten Books provided the impetus for this humor piece, in which several authors describe their “nasty pile of debris, of aborted riffs, stillborn metaphors and banished chapters.”
If you want to read books that tackle profound philosophical questions, then the best — and perhaps only — place to turn these days is sci-fi. Science fiction is the last great literature of ideas.
In this short article in Wired magazine Clive Thompson expounds on thoughts sparked by the novella After the Siege by Cory Doctorow. According to Thompson, literary fiction has dropped the ball in terms of dealing with great ideas because “there are, at the risk of sounding superweird, only so many ways to describe reality.” Eventually, he says, he found himself reading essentially the same book over and over again.
This conclusion comes from a certain assumption about the nature of fiction. Thompson says that writing literary fiction is like running a simulation such as The Sims a number of times: “eventually you’re going to explore almost every outcome.” This is, of course, a notion that most serious readers and writers cannot take seriously. From writers’ perspective, a novel presents the author’s particular view of reality. From readers’ perspective, even those who do not consciously think of reading as a transactional process know that something special happens when a particular reader encounters a particular text.
Thompson says that thought experiments–works in which authors ask “What if. . . ” questions–have been the foundation of Western thought since ancient times. His contention is that science fiction is now the main branch of literature dealing meaningfully with such questions.
So, then, why does sci-fi, the inheritor of this intellectual tradition, get short shrift among serious adult readers? Probably because the genre tolerates execrable prose stylists. Plus, many of sci-fi’s most famous authors — like Robert Heinlein and Philip K. Dick — have positively deranged notions about the inner lives of women.
But, Thompson says, many mainstream authors are producing “genre-bending” novels that incorporate traditional science fiction elements. Among these authors are Cormac McCarthy, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Lethem, and Margaret Atwood, whom Thompson calls “a sci-fi novelist trapped inside a literary author.”
Read Thompson’s article, and be sure to read the comments posted underneath it. So far, the comments cover a wide range of responses, both for and against, Thompson’s claim.
For most people, reading is a solitary, silent act. But some couples also turn it into a joint venture by reading aloud. Their literary equation is: 2 people 1 book = shared pleasure. Whatever the season, whatever the subject, it’s their personal version of an audiobook.No one pretends this is a widespread pastime. But talk to couples who do it and their enthusiasm is obvious. In addition to broadening their reading, they find it creates a bond that doesn’t happen when they sit passively in front of the TV.
Readings by the couples interviewed by Christian Science Monitor columnist Marilyn Gardner include authors such as P.G. Wodehouse and Charles Dickens, works such as The Medusa and the Snail, Dante’s Divine Comedy, the Bible, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. “Discussion is a word that comes up again and again as couples describe the joys of reading together.”
I still prefer audiobooks. We always bring several audiobooks along on road trips. One of our favorite memories is of the time when, driving from St. Louis to Florida for our daughter’s swim meet, the three of us sat in the parking lot of a gas station to finish listening to a suspenseful part of Clear and Present Danger before killing the engine. But I just don’t think reading aloud for a long time in a moving car is a pleasant way to travel. I’d rather let someone else do the reading.
My husband and I often enjoy the same books, but we each listen separately and then discuss the books when we’ve both finished listening to them. Logistically, this just works better for us, since we both listen to books on our iPods while driving, exercising, and doing household chores. Recently we’ve listened to and discussed In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. My husband has already finished listening to Ken Follett’s new book, World Without End, and I have it coming up next on my books playlist. After I finish it, I expect we’ll have a lot to discuss.
Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl returns with another set of what she calls “under-the-radar” books — titles you really, really should be reading but haven’t (yet). The latest batch features the story of three royal cousins, tales of wild animal adventures and a pun-filled picture book for younger readers.
The Writer’s Almanac, sponsored by American Public Media and The Poetry Foundation, provides a poem each day, plus literary and historical notes for the day’s date. In addition to reading online, you can also sign up for a daily e-mail or listen to the podcast version.
In 1940, Chicago-based author Richard Wright published a violent first novel called Native Son. It was a huge success, and he spent the next 20 years blazing trails for other African-American writers.
Wright died of a heart attack in Paris in the autumn of 1960, leaving behind an unfinished novel he called A Father’s Law, about a police chief who suspects his son of several murders. That book will finally be published this week by Wright’s daughter.
That’s the question raised by news items such as this:
The action-adventure book Contact Harvest is on the USA Today and New York Times best-seller lists. Author Joseph Staten had never written a novel but was uniquely qualified to write this one.
Contact Harvest is the most recent book in a series of adaptations of the video game Halo, for which Staten has been writing for years.
We’ve already missed the event, but the thought is still commendable. Writer Meg Cabot, author of The Princess Diaries, held, by phone, a journal-writing workshop for teenagers this afternoon at the Boston Public Library. Cabot says that much of the basic material in her books came from her own journals. She also warns teenagers to beware how much sensitive personal information they put in a blog or other online journal. She also stresses the necessity of using proper grammar and writing etiquette when posting online:
“People do judge, especially with e-mailing and when you post on message boards. If you want your post to be read or taken seriously, you have to spell and write correctly,” she said.
Back in late December I reported on the most literate cities in the U.S.
Here’s some more news from the Central Connecticut State University’s report
The bad news:
- One of the most disturbing trends is that while Americans are becoming more and more educated in terms of their time spent in school and their education level accomplished, they are decreasing in terms of literate behaviors. This is particularly obvious in our lack of support of bookstores and the constantly diminishing circulation of newspapers.
- We are also supporting local bookstores far less often.
But there’s also some good news:
- Per capita publication of magazines in the United States increased in 87 percent of the cities studied.
Libraries are staying even, with the number of library buildings, volumes in the collection, and circulation of books and other materials staying about steady in terms of the number of cities advancing and declining.
- The internet explosion has also clearly taken effect with substantial growth of reading online. Almost all the cities have more free internet access points. More people are reading newspapers online and buying books online than in previous years.
In case you missed the rankings, here are the Top 10:
Sorry to be so late with this, but here’s one of those year-end lists that I missed. In fact, there are several lists here, broken down by subject matter. There are readers’ favorites as well as editors’ picks included, so you can get a feel for what books other ordinary readers (not just editors or critics) liked best from last year.