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See What the World’s Reading Habits Look Like in 2020

The editing and proofreading service Global English Editing gathered statistics from various sources, including Pew Research and Amazon’s bestsellers page, that demonstrate how the world’s reading habits changed over the course of 2020: “35 percent of web users worldwide reported reading more during the pandemic, and 14 percent said they read significantly more. This trend was most dramatic in China, where 44 percent of respondents said they increased their reading time due to the coronavirus.”

The Lockdown Lessons of “Crime and Punishment”

At the age of 76 in the fall of 2019, David Denby enrolled in Columbia University’s required year-long freshman course called Literary Humanities. The class began discussing Dostoyevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment in April 2020, after the campus had been shut down for four weeks. 

Here Denby discusses his experience with studying Dostoyevsky’s novel on a computer screen rather than around a seminar table and how the novel’s ideas resonate in today’s reality.

Why Narrative Structure Is One of the Crime Writer’s Most Valuable Tools

How writers manipulate narrative structure for novelistic effects fascinates me so much that I’ve written a couple of posts about it:

So I was delighted to come across author Sara Foster’s discussion of how she and others have used it in their works. Read her explanations here of how particular novelistic techniques can affect a story’s meaning and impact.

The Limits of the Viral Book Review

“Why are literary critics fixating on one quality nowadays?”

That one particular quality, Larissa Pham writes, is self-awareness. 

As a recent wave of literary criticism seems to demonstrate, this self-awareness falls neatly along political lines: Even within their texts, authors find themselves in the position of navigating their privilege, some of which very well might have helped land them the book deal.

So You’re (Still) in a Pandemic Reading Slump

A lot of us have had trouble, either periodically or continuously, concentrating enough to read since COVID-19 emerged last spring. I wrote about my own such problems here.

In this article article Danika Ellis offers six approaches you might take if you’re still having trouble settling back into a reading routine.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Ebooks Last Week's Links Publishing

Literary Links

The Golden Age of Book Adaptations for TV

Andrew Neiderman, the author of 46 thrillers who has written as V.C. Andrews for over 34 years, says, “The pandemic has brought on a new age of book-to-series adaptations, and with it novelists have found not only new sources of income but greater satisfaction in how their books are turned into movies.”

Crime novelists dish on writing about cops in a moment of reckoning

In light of recent protests over police brutality, four crime novelists discuss the issues that swirl around portraying law enforcement officers as fictional characters. Los Angeles Times crime reporter and novelist James Queally talks with Rachel Howzell Hall, Attica Locke, and Ivy Pochoda.

Why I Still Use—And Like—Goodreads

In a recent links column I cited an article complaining about the problems with Goodreads. That article prompted me to write How I Use Goodreads.

After featuring a negative article about Goodreads, I thought it only fair that I should include this more positive article by Kelly Jensen, whose approach is very similar to mine: use the features you like and ignore the ones you don’t like.

The Best Ereaders You Can Buy in 2020

If you’re looking at an ereader as a possible holiday gift this year, Rey Rowland evaluates your options.

University Presses Are Signal Boosters of Knowledge

In this particular moment, when we are being tested as a society both by a pandemic and by the metaphorical virus of systemic racism, the peer review system that defines mission-driven university press publishing—whereby scholars review the work of other experts prior to publication—seems particularly fit for its purpose of ensuring the publication of high-quality content.

A report from Publishers Weekly.

Shakespeare wrote ‘King Lear’ during a plague. What great work will emerge from this pandemic?

Scholars believe that Shakespeare created two of his greatest works, King Lear and Macbeth, during a plague. “In perilous, isolating times, we hunger with a special zeal for great work by artists who can capture the experience for us,” writes Peter Marks, theater critic for The Washington Post, who wonders if our current pandemic will produce any similar “groundbreaking creations.”

7 Literary Translators You Need to Know

“From Indonesian to Brazilian Portuguese, here are the translators who are making contemporary world literature accessible to English readers.”

J.R. Ramakrishnan reports for Electric Literature.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Fiction Last Week's Links Reading Television

Literary Links

The 50 Greatest Apocalypse Novels

“Apropos of . . . Nothing”

I’m including this list here because, really, how could I not? How many of these have you read?

I’ve read five, and I have two more on the top of my TBR pile. I think that’s pretty good, given that I usually avoid most science fiction and horror, which many of these are.

In 2020, Is Science Fiction Still an Escape?

“Matthew B. Tepper, president of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society—now celebrating its 86th anniversary—discusses these strange times and explains why (the late) Ray Bradbury is still a member in good standing.”

And always remember: Science fiction isn’t about the future; it’s about the present.

How Lolita Author Vladimir Nabokov Helped Ruth Bader Ginsburg Find Her Voice

He [Vladimir Nabokov] was a man who was in love with the sound of words. It had to be the right word and in the right word order. So he changed the way I read, the way I write. He was an enormous influence.


—Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The late Supreme Court justice on the importance of her English classes taught by Vladimir Nabokov at Cornell, where she earned her undergraduate degree.

Reading literary versus popular fiction promotes different socio-cognitive processes, study suggests

Recently published research out of Italy “suggests that the type of fiction a person reads affects their social cognition in different ways. Specifically, literary fiction was associated with increased attributional complexity and accuracy in predicting social attitudes, while popular fiction was linked to increased egocentric bias.”

But, emphasizes lead author Emanuele Castano of the University of Trento and the National Research Council in Italy:

We are not saying that literary fiction is better than popular fiction. As human beings, we need the two types of thinking that are trained by these two types of fiction. The literary type pushes us to assess others as unique individuals, to withhold judgment, to think deeply. It is important, but it can paralyze us in our attempt to navigate the social world. The popular type reinforces our socially-learned and culturally-shared schemas . . .

Rebecca and beyond: the creative allure of gothic Cornwall

The recent Netflix movie version of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier has prompted new interest in Cornwall, also the setting for the recent PBS drama Poldark

According to Joan Passey, teaching associate in Victorian literature and culture at the University of Bristol:

Cornwall’s legends, landscape, and distinctive identity lent themselves to the gothic imagination from the end of the 18th century. As far afield as the US, Cornwall was perceived as a place of hauntings, madness, and death — a foreign, liminal threat composed of precipices and thresholds which would influence subsequent representations of the county.

Cornwall has remained a central location in the gothic literary tradition that has lasted more than 200 years.

Why Are We Learning About White America’s Historical Atrocities from TV?

How “Watchmen” and “Lovecraft Country” got stuck filling in the gaps in our education.

Author Elwin Cotman writes, “I learned the truth about the past and present of white terrorism from my parents, who grew up in the Jim Crow South and had firsthand experience.” Here he discusses the significance of the fact that most Americans are now learning about atrocities against Black people in the U.S. from television rather than from history classes. 

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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6 Degrees of Separation

6 Degrees of Separation: Life Replete with Questions and Drama

It’s time for another adventure in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. We are given a book to start with, and from there we free associate six books.

This month is a wild card: We are to start with the book we’ve ended a previous chain with, and continue from there. 

I’ve decided to start with the final book from a 6 Degrees of Separation post I did over the summer: Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart.

1. Another novel with a title ending with a question mark is Who in Hell is Wanda Fuca? by G.M. Ford. This is the first book in Ford’s Leo Waterman series set in Seattle. Waterman is a P.I. who often enlists his homeless buddies to gather intel for him. They’re the best sleuths because people mostly just ignore street people.

Side Note: I have a database that contains all the books I’ve read since (and including) 1991. That’s more than 1,750 books, and I was surprised to find that only six titles end with a question mark. I’m sure there’s an interesting story in that fact, but I’ll save it for another time.

2. Whenever I come across homeless people in a novel, I remember how incensed I was with Jan Karon’s portrayal of them in her 1994 novel At Home in Mitford. The homeless people very considerately set up camp in a secluded area far from the center of town and only very occasionally come into town to Dumpster dive for something to eat. The town’s residents therefore don’t have to see them (some residents are even surprised to hear about the existence of the homeless) and acknowledge that life in Mitford is not idyllic for everyone. 

3. Liz Moore’s recent novel Long Bright River offers a more credible picture of society’s impoverished citizens. Set in present-day Philadelphia, the book centers around two sisters, Mickey, a police officer, and Kacey, an addict living on the street. Mickey has had chances for promotion but prefers to keep covering her regular beat so she can keep an eye on her sister as well as the other addicts she has gotten to know. While other police officers have become hardened over the lives and deaths of these people, Mickey always treats them with respect. (This is the best novel I’ve read this year. I highly recommend it.)

4. A different dynamic binds the two sisters in The Better Liar by Tanen Jones. Leslie hasn’t seen her younger sister, Robin, since Robin left home 10 years ago, at age 16. But when the women’s father’s will stipulates that both women must show up, together, at his lawyer’s office to receive their inheritance, Leslie—who really needs the money—goes in search of her sister.

5. Family inheritances can often get messy, as evidenced in Penmarric, Susan Howatch’s intergenerational saga about a family estate on the coast of Cornwall. Widowed grandmothers and mothers, spinster sisters, and illegitimate sons don’t fare well in a system that favors the oldest son. 

6. An old family house in Cornwell also provides the setting for Daphne du Maurier’s novel The House on the Strand. When Dick Young’s friend Magnus lends him the house for the summer, Dick agrees to be a test subject for a new drug Magnus is developing. The drug sends Dick back 300 years, to possibilities he finds more enticing than his present life.

And so have we have traveled from a question mark in the present to questionable possibilities in the past, and from Seattle to Cornwall, with lots of human drama in between.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Personal

Daylight saving time ends this weekend: Don’t let ‘fall back’ lure you into depression | The Seattle Times

As we prepare to turn the clocks back an hour on Sunday morning, experts in winter depression say the loss of daylight — just as coronavirus infections start to spike again and election tension comes to a head — could make this an unusually difficult stretch.

Source: Daylight saving time ends this weekend: Don’t let ‘fall back’ lure you into depression | The Seattle Times

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Literary Links

Mixing Genres Is All About Messing with Structure

“Knowing what people are expecting allows you to subvert the trope. Expectation is its own red herring, built right into your reader.”

Stuart Turton, author of the brilliant The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle and newly released The Devil and The Dark Water, admits, “I’m obsessed by the structure of novels.” He particularly likes “books that cross genres and mess with the traditional way stories are told.”

Here Turton explains how he played with crossing genres to create the effects he wanted in his two novels.

This is a topic that fascinates me. Here are two blog posts I’ve written that deal with the topic from a reader’s rather than a writer’s perspective:

What book has the most disappointing ending? Readers have many opinions.

There’s a lot said and written about the importance of introductions in fiction, but not so much about endings. And for good reason: to discuss the adequacy or inadequacy of an ending, you have to give away the entire contents of the book. 

Here Ron Charles, book reviewer for The Washington Post, takes on this subject.  He cites a survey of Goodreads reviews done by the online retailer OnBuy.com , which yielded a list of the Top 12 Most Disappointing Endings. Charles also solicited comments from Post readers about the novel endings they’ve found most disappointing. His conclusion: “If there’s any common thread, it’s that the endings that offend us most appear in the books we love most.”

And while you’re reading Charles’s article, take advantage of the link offered whereby you can sign up for his weekly Book World newsletter. It lands in my inbox every Friday and is one of the highlights of my literary week.

RPG? Puzzle? Parlor Game? Escape Room? This Game Is All Four and More

Publisher’s Weekly offers the scoop on “the forthcoming tabletop game Mother of Frankenstein,” which “combines aspects of immersive theater, escape rooms, board games, puzzles, role-playing games, and parlor games in one package, making for a 15-hour playing experience.” 

Good news indeed, as it seems we’re in for an extended period of pandemic isolation.

How Tournament of Books Changed My Reading Life

How have I not heard of this?

Elisa Shoenberger reports on the annual Tournament of Books, which takes place in March. “It’s March Madness but for literature.”

Unquiet spirits: the lost female ghost-story writers returning to haunt us

From the U.K. Guardian: “We know the heyday of the ghost story mostly as the province of men like MR James and Charles Dickens. But archivists are finding that some of the finest exponents were women.”

Read why the women pioneers in ghost stories who have been “effectively erased from history over the last century.”

Literary prizes and the problem with the UK publishing industry

This article on “the concentration of power in UK publishing” reports on the lack of diversity in the Booker Prize.

Author Jamie Harris writes that “The Booker is steeped in Britain’s colonial history” and is seldom awarded to writers published outside of London:

In a country where publishing is so concentrated in the hands of just a few conglomerates who have acquired some of Britain’s most successful small presses, the chances of British novelists who are neither English, nor published by major London publishers, winning seems to be getting smaller.

How to Improve Your Reading Comprehension As an Adult

Reading comprehension, defined as the “ability to process and retain information from texts,” is something we usually think of as happening to children in their early years of school. But here Christine Ro reports on some recent research into enhancing reading comprehension for adults and offers some suggestions for doing so.

Unsurprisingly, some of her suggestions involve slowing down while reading and actively engaging with the text, for example, by annotating, all examples of slow reading.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book Recommendations Fiction Film List Personal

Happy Halloween!

Because I was having trouble cranking up much enthusiasm for Halloween this year, here’s a collection of items I’ve collected. I hope you’ll find something here to help you get into this weekend’s holiday spirit.

Read What You Need: 9 Gothic Novels for Every Mood

This is the one that first inspired me. Did you ever see a display in a bookstore—back in the days when we could actually go into a bookstore—of offerings for “a blind date with a book”? These are books wrapped in paper with a tag describing the contents from which you can choose. Here Isabelle Popp describes how, when she worked at a library, she did a similar thing with books from the collection and called it “Read What You Need.” 

She does the same thing here with suggestions of various forms of gothic literature to read for Halloween. An added bonus is a section labeled “gothic sidebar” in which she explains several ways in which the term gothic can be applied to literature. Read her descriptions, then choose a book from the type of gothic literature that most appeals to you.

Despite the deep history and heavy themes, gothic literature is expansive. The best writers can deftly expose monsters both literal and metaphorical while delivering a thrilling reading experience that can suit a variety of moods. Here are nine varied Gothic novels so you can read what you need.

8 Books About Hexing the Patriarchy

First, a few key terms. Patriarchy is not, at the end of the day, defined by the gender of one’s leaders. It’s a societal model based on the rigid binaries and hierarchies necessary to divide, conquer, and control—e.g., men over women, men over nature, straight and cis over queer and trans, rich over poor, and, often, white over Black and Brown. Magic is energy moved with the intention of transforming reality. Therefore, for our purposes, #HexingThePatriarchy is channeling energy to dismantle this hierarchical world order and then cast a new, freer world.

Ruth Franklin on the novels of Shirley Jackson: “She never did the same thing twice”

Ruth Franklin: A decade of Shirley Jackson

Discussion of Shirley Jackson, author of “The Lottery,” The Haunting of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, among many other works, always comes up at this time of year because of the haunting, spooky nature of her work. In these two essays from Library of America, Ruth Franklin, author of Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, discusses the author and her iconic works.

Read Shirley Jackson’s Eerily Contemporary Letter About Fear

“Author Shirley Jackson often responded to readers’ letters; this one, written in 1962 after republication of her historical fiction for juveniles, The Witchcraft of Salem Village, seems uncannily prescient for our times.”

Meh! Halloween! A Bookish Guide to a Low-Key Halloween

Sarah Hannah Gómez, who thinks “horror movies are fun all year long anyway,” has trouble getting charged up for Halloween. “If you find that you are one of those in-betweenies who wants to participate in holiday fun without losing your cred as an iconoclast, here are some ironic, trope-destroying, or meta selections that might allow you to find common ground with your Halloween enthusiast friends.”

Which Scary Books Should You Pair with Scary Movies This Halloween Weekend?

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us to stay home this Halloween, “that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy our haunted holiday,” writes Rachel Harrison. Here she shares her list of some of the best new horror books of 2020 paired “with horror movies that I feel compliment them in tone.” 

The 40 Most Terrifying TV Episodes to Watch This Halloween

Brian Tallerico’s got you covered if you’d prefer watch TV all weekend. His includes episodes from shows such as Black Mirror, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who, Fringe, and Lost

Monster Mythology

Here’s Atlas Obscura’s gateway to 10 articles about various monster myths. 

They Scream! We Scream!

Even the venerable New York Times gets into the Halloween spirit.

“What’s more fundamental to scary movies than the bone-chilling shriek? But delivering a terrifying wail isn’t easy. It’s an entire art with a history and a world of its own.

NASA offers ‘creepy’ playlist of space sounds for Halloween

“The sounds you’re hearing have been translated into something humans can hear and appreciate. They are not actually sounds that the universe emits, but a different way of appreciating the data NASA collects,” said Kimberly Arcand, visualization and emerging technology lead for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory space telescope.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Last Week's Links Literary History Reading Writing

Literary Links

The Best Time Travel Books

Annalee Newitz is both a science journalist and a science fiction writer who uses science to spur investigations into the nature of human existence. Newitz says science fiction is “less teaching people about how science works, and more about teaching people how history works.” 

Newitz uses the version of time travel “where characters can actually change the past. It becomes a metaphor for how we change things in the present, as well as how our relationship to the past changes us in the present.” This approach to time travel is especially appealing in time of upheaval, such as we’re experiencing now, because it offers the opportunity to go back and look at how and why things have happened and are now happening.

Quarantine book club: Reading for mental health in a plague year

Jeannine Hall Gailey, who previously served as the second poet laureate of Redmond, Washington, describes how reading has been a lifeline in helping her cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, can reading really address the state of anger, despair, and confusion so many of us are in? I can only say that books (along with gardening, cats, chocolate, and phone calls with friends) definitely helped me hold on to not only sanity and hope, but also serve as a reminder of why we continue to act to address injustice instead of just saying “that’s the way it’s always been.” Reading also provided a useful context to talk with family and friends who were also experiencing anxiety about politics, race, class, and fear of illness and death. Discussing books — even on social media — seems safer and more enjoyable than merely doomscrolling or rehashing whatever the day’s traumatic news cycle had revealed.

7 Inspiring and Hopeful Books to Help You Grow Through Change

“These seven stories of extreme hardships and distress all bloom into inspiring tales of immense growth.”

The title of this article expresses one of the most important reasons why we read. The list contains both fiction and nonfiction.

The Neurology of Flow States

Have you ever gotten so involved in reading a book that your sense of time passing slipped away as you became completely absorbed in the world created by the story? This experience is known as a state of flow, and it often happens to people when reading, writing, performing, or observing a performance.

During what psychologists call “flow states,” where one is completely immersed and absorbed in a mental or physical act, people often report an altered sense of time, place, and self. It’s a transportive and pleasurable experience that people seek to achieve, and that neuroscience is now seeking to understand.

For more on flow, see these posts:

woman reading

The romantic story of Menabilly – the real life inspiration for Manderley in Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’

The recent release of Netflix’s new movie based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca has created renewed interest in the writer’s life. Here’s the story behind the estate that prompted that famous opening line: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

What’s the Science Behind Reading?

Mel Ashford provides an overview of the many benefits of reading. The article provides many links through which you can follow up on some of its claims.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Last Week's Links Publishing Reading

Literary Links

Judith Butler on the culture wars, JK Rowling and living in “anti-intellectual times”

Thirty years ago Judith Butler published Gender Trouble, a book in which she introduced the notion of gender as performance. The book has since become “a foundational text on any gender studies reading list,” and the question of whether gender is how we act as opposed to our genetic inheritance—known as biological essentialism, or what we now refer to as sex, as opposed to gender—has spilled over from academic halls into popular culture.

Here Alona Ferber interviews Judith Butler, who is now Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature at Berkeley. Butler says that any meaningful debate over trans rights “would have to reconsider the ways in which the medical determination of sex functions in relation to the lived and historical reality of gender.”

How My Reading Journal Accidentally Became a Plague Diary

Zoe Robertson originally expected her reading journal “would document my most comprehensive, most astute thoughts about the books I finished in 2020.” But as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and then continued, Robertson, who lives alone, found that her reading journal a substitute for the discussions she normally would have had with other people. As a result:

I am inclined to believe that this act of writing and containing my thoughts is a means to cure some of its secondary effects – it combats the feeling of being dissolved in the mire of everyday horror, it confirms your existence, it speaks to a side of this Hell that is needed to understand the full scope of events.

writing in a notebook

Battle Of The Books

The folks at NPR are interested in settling the months’-long debate: “What kind of books are best to read during this pandemic? Books that connect you to our current reality? Or ones that help you escape it?”

But here’s an answer from “someone who convinced us that maybe escapism versus reality is a false choice.” Here Farah Jasmine Griffin, a professor who teaches African Americal literature at Columbia University, explains why the reading lists in her classes offer a “both, and” solution, “Black authors who refuse to ignore the harshness of the world around them — but don’t ignore the beauty.”

This is a print article based on a recorded interview. There’s a link to the audiofile if you’d rather listen than read.

A Lot of Data and a Little Singing: How The Times’s Best-Seller List Comes Together

The New York Times best-seller list has long been the subject of debate in literary circles. For a long time the engine behind the list was a big, deep secret. This article explains the process: “the work of putting together the lists requires the full-time efforts of the three of us and the support of an information technology team.”

How Do Readers Rate the New York Times Best-Selling Books?

And then Book Riot chimes in: “it’s time to dig into the question that’s been on readers’ minds for decades: do readers really like the books that hit The New York Times Best Sellers lists?”

The article reports on research by SuperSummary, “an online resource that provides in-depth study guides.” The report explains how the study was done and what the major results were. It also discusses some serious limitations of the study, “the biggest of which is how biased the NYT List itself is.”

Be sure to read the whole article to understand the full complexity of such research.

In Crime Fiction, Anyone Can Be a Murderer. That’s What’s So Great About It

The subgenre of domestic suspense thrillers is full of men who treat women badly because, as author Lisa Jewell tells us, around 90% of all violent crimes are committed by men. But, she argues, “We all know men are capable of horrors, but it’s the unexpected criminals who are the most satisfying to write about and to read about. And who could be more unexpected than a woman?” 

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Quotation

Quotation: In a “Post-Truth Era”

I hate the phrase “post-truth era,” but truly we’ve stopped agreeing that there is such a thing as truth and that some things are truthful and some things are facts and it’s not a matter of opinion. Opinion is one thing that’s very different from truth and, unless we all can agree that at least there’s such a thing as a provable truth that exists, then we’re in a very, very vulnerable place where we can be easily manipulated by outside forces, whether that’s for money or power or politics. To me it seemed like it was just the way all these great paranoia thrillers that I love came out in the post-Watergate era in response to that idea that institutions can’t be trusted, like All The President’s Men, The Parallax View, and Marathon Man.

Gillian Flynn