Literary Links

GOODREADS HACKS: GET A DNF SHELF, MARK REREADS, AND MORE

If you find it hard to keep up with all the cool kids who use Goodreads to track their reading, this article will put you in the know about some of the more esoteric aspects. The main subject here is how to create a DNF (did not finish) shelf that won’t include the books placed there in your number of books read statistics. But there are a few other nifty nuggets of knowledge here as well, along with links to several other articles explaining how to use Goodreads. An avid reader’s bonanza!

How We Need Diverse Books Changed The Literary World, According To 15 Publishing Pros

When We Need Diverse Books was founded by a team of writers, illustrators, and publishing professionals, it was meant to shake up the publishing industry from the inside. Led by the original Executive Committee — Ellen Oh, Lamar Giles, Marieke Nijkamp, Miranda Paul, Aisha Saeed, Karen Sandler, and Ilene Wong — and supported by the original PR team — Stacey Lee and SE Sinkhorn — We Need Diverse Books was created to fight for more diversity in children’s and young adult book publishing at every level, among authors, editors, marketers, agents, publishers, and more. First and foremost, they wanted authors from marginalized communities to be given opportunities to have their voices heard in the overwhelmingly white, heterosexual, cisgender industry. And the results have been clear.

Fifteen publishing professionals discuss “why they believe We Need Diverse Books has changed publishing forever, and what they hope for the future.”

Toni Morrison and Nina Simone, United in Soul

Emily Lordi discusses how much Toni Morrison was influenced by contemporary musicians:

Her work resonates with the music of those soul artists alongside whom she honed her craft: the grand ambition of Isaac Hayes, the moral clarity of Curtis Mayfield, and the erotic truth-telling of Aretha Franklin. But the soul artist who is most closely aligned with Morrison is Nina Simone. “She saved our lives,” Morrison said of the singer, after Simone’s death, in 2003. Simone meant so much to her, and to other black women, I think, in part because of how she turned social exclusion into superlative beauty and style. It was this recuperative alchemy that defined soul, as a music and an ethos. And, if Simone was soul’s “High Priestess,” Morrison was one of its literary architects.

From Baba Yaga to Hermione Granger: why we’re spellbound by ‘witcherature’

Vengeful, seductive, feminist, misogynist … witches have appeared in many forms in literature. Now a new generation of novelists are falling under their spell.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, writing in the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, addresses the current literary fascination with witches:

There has been a perennial literary fascination with witches; they are, as Marion Gibson, professor of Renaissance and magical literatures at Exeter University says, “a shorthand symbol for persecution and resistance – misogyny and feminism in particular”. In a #MeToo world, where Donald Trump – a fan of the term “witch-hunt” – is US president, it is really no surprise that female writers are examining the role of the witch in new ways.

Cosslett explains that women of her generation, who came of age in the 1990s with TV programs such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are now producing literature and films that grapple with perennial questions of power and agency. She also looks a bit at the history of witches in literature, from novels such as Jane Eyre to John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick.

In Praise of Samuel R. Delany

In my effort to read more science fiction, I often come across references to Samuel R. Delany’s seminal novel Dhalgren. Here novelist Jordy Rosenberg discusses how Delany’s fiction “reflects and explores the social truths of our world.” He includes a list of works to start with for readers looking to introduce themselves to Delany’s body of work.

How Tana French Inhabits the Minds of Her Detectives

The crime-fiction writer on unreliable narrators, real-world sources, and the breakdown of genre boundaries in her work.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Monday Miscellany

Your Favorites: 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels

A while back NPR asked readers/listeners to vote on their favorite YA novels. 75,220 people voted, helping to whittle the list of 235 finalists down to the top 100. In addition to the list of winners, this page includes links to explanations of what exactly constitutes YA literature.

Top 100 Teen Novels
Illustration by Harriet Russell for NPR

A life in writing: Mark Billingham

British crime novelist Mark Billingham has “always believed that location is a character”:

When I began to write I was surprised at how little London had been used in crime fiction. Places such as Edinburgh or Oxford or LA seemed to have stronger identities. Part of the reason why Scandinavian crime has been so popular is the landscape. It is just so strong and alien. Although without taking anything away, you should probably also never discount the fact that blood does look particularly good against snow.”

Billingham started his professional life as an actor and stand-up comic before becoming a writer of dark crime fiction. His first novel, Sleepyhead, came out in 2001. His most recent novel is Rush of Blood.

The depiction of violence in crime fiction is a perennial source of argument: Val McDermid has claimed that women writers, used to a lifetime of experiencing potential dangers, tend to write about what violence feels like, while men more often write about what it looks like; but she expressly exempted Billingham from this characterisation. He says: “I think I am an exception because I have been through it.” In 1997, Billingham was held hostage at gunpoint in a hotel room and robbed. “When I sat down to write about a year after I was attacked, reflecting the victim’s experience was very important to me. From book one, I wanted the victim to be a major character and not just a plot device. I didn’t want a cop and a killer and victims 1-6 who you don’t know or care about. Even though Thorne [Billingham’s series detective] had the most onstage time in Sleepyhead, the character I got most feedback about was the victim, Alison, who was in a locked-in state and doesn’t speak. She was actually much more fully formed than Thorne, although I hope he’s become a bit more fleshed out as time has gone on.”

Here’s what he says about writing about violence:

“I still believe you should show what violence does to people, but it’s done best without depicting the actual mechanics. The single spot of blood on a pristine kitchen floor is far more powerful than blood-spattered walls with messages smeared in it, and it doesn’t detract from how dark or suspenseful a story is.”

Against Enthusiasm: The epidemic of niceness in online book culture

There’s been a lot spoken and written lately about the overwhelming crush of negative book reviews, but on Slate Jacob Silverman expresses the opposite opinion in lamenting “the mutual admiration society that is today’s literary culture, particularly online”:

Whereas critics once performed one role in print and another in life—Rebecca West could savage someone’s book in the morning and dine with him in the evening—social media has collapsed these barriers. Moreover, social media’s centrifugal forces of approbation—retweets, likes, favorites, and the self-consciousness that accompanies each public utterance—make any critique stick out sorely.

Here’s the alternative he proposes:

A better literary culture would be one that’s not so dependent on personal esteem and mutual reinforcement. It would not treat offense or disagreement as toxic. We wouldn’t want so badly to be liked above all. We’d tolerate barbed reviews, some quarrels, and blistering critiques, because they make our culture more interesting and because they are often more sincere reflections of our passions. If we all think more and enthuse less, when I do truly love Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, you’ll be more likely to believe me.

Goodreads v. LibraryThing- Part One

Which social reading network do you prefer, Goodreads or LibraryThing? On BookRiot Amanda Nelson offers the first installment of an in-depth comparison between the two. And there’s a link at the bottom of the page to Part Two.

Dickens’s Best Novel? Six Experts Share Their Opinions

Over on The Millions, six specialists in Victorian literature make their case for what they consider to be the best novel by Charles Dickens.