Monday Miscellany

Publishing Words: The Future of Books

Writing in The Harvard Crimson, Sofie C. Brooks discusses how the rise of ebooks may change the publishing industry:

What the publishing industry faces right now is a customer base that demands a digital product even as the technology that makes these products possible is still in its early stages of development. Random House has experienced a 200 percent growth in eBook sales this year, and every other company’s sales tell similar tales.

Brooks suggests some ways that authors, publishers, and distributors could work together in the changing world of literary publication.

While there are still those who continue to cling to the beauty of the traditionally printed word, literature is not dependent on its physical form. Unlike an opera or ballet, the words of Dickens, Chaucer, and Shakespeare still ring true even on an electronic screen. The essence of the art is inextinguishable, and the rest may turn out to be just details.

The Talking Cure at Work in Contemporary YA Fiction

We keep hearing that modern society has come to rely on drugs rather than psychotherapy for dealing with mental health issues. But, Kabi Hartman assures us:

Nevertheless, fictional teenagers are still talking to therapists for pages on end. Having now read a growing pile of novels, I can vouch for the fact that teen protagonists are actually having insights and getting better. In fact, the majority of these novels depict psychotherapy as transformative.

Hartman likens the several novels she discusses here to the tradition of religious conversion narratives (think John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress). And she finds hope in the picture that these novels offer, that adolescents can achieve self-knowledge through therapy:

these novels, however rife with soap operatic bad luck and sentimentality, champion the idea that self knowledge emerges in dialogue with a trusted other. Although most of them grind out cookie cutter conversion stories, I cannot be hard on these works. Ultimately, they suggest that engaging with someone else, face to face, is transforming — or, at the very least, provides more scope for plot and character development than popping a pill.

Are Rereadings Better Readings?

Writing in the New Yorker blog “The Book Bench,” Nathaniel Stein looks at the value of rereading books. He refers to “’On Rereading,’ Patricia Meyer Spacks’s charming and strange blend of memoir, literary criticism, and scientific treatise.” After retiring from teaching, Spacks undertook a period of rereading many of the literary milestones of her life.

Spacks’s constant fixation is the paradox of the simultaneous “sameness” and “difference” of rereading—how it is that the words are exactly the same but our perceptions of them so different?

Stein himself is more interested in the question “are rereadings better readings?”

What rereading tells us about ourselves, and how we have evolved intellectually, is as important as what it tells us about the books, Spacks believes. She’s endlessly interested in “how our minds, hearts, experience, personal and cultural situation, or all of the above … have changed since the last time we read those words.”

Stein further writes that Spacks believes rereadings “can reveal unwelcome truths about our past selves, and cause disenchantment—in the most literal sense—with the books we used to love.”

I haven’t read Patricia Spacks’s book, although I have now added it to my ever-growing list of TBR (to be read) books. But Spacks seems to subscribe to the reader-response theory of literature, which posits that readers bring to bear all their past experiences and learning when they read a book. In this respect, then, a rereading of a book could very well differ from the first reading because the reader is now a different person. When we reread a book we originally loved and find out that we now love it less, that realization may say more about us than about the book. I suspect this is what Stein says Spacks means by recognizing “unwelcome truths about our past selves.”

However, the experience may also work in a more positive direction. Whenever I find myself feeling down on humanity, I reread To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Immersing myself in the story of Atticus, Scout, and Jem Finch always reminds me that there are many good and decent people in the world.

How about you? Are there any books that you have enjoyed rereading?

10 Famous Literary Characters and Their Real-Life Inspirations

Here’s an intriguing list. And–surprise!–not all the literary characters are human.