Monday Miscellany

How the literary female detective has changed

In The Christian Science Monitor Randy Dotinga says of Scottish mystery writer Denise Mina:

[she] has become one of the finest mystery writers of the 21st century. Her deeply perceptive grasp on the inner lives of crooks, cops, journalists, and their families has allowed her books to transcend the detective genre.

Asked how fictional female detectives have changed over the past 20 years or so, Mina replied:

At first, they had to act like men, carry guns and punch people – be able to beat people up and engage in fisticuffs. In the mid-1990s, their gender is talked about a lot, and they experienced prejudice. Now you’ve reached the point where a woman is just a different type of detective. You’re not getting information just because you’re a woman; it’s not your superpower anymore. It’s just a fact about who you are.

Document: The Symbolism Survey

In 1963, a sixteen-year-old San Diego high school student named Bruce McAllister sent a four-question mimeographed survey to 150 well-known authors of literary, commercial, and science fiction. Did they consciously plant symbols in their work? he asked. Who noticed symbols appearing from their subconscious, and who saw them arrive in their text, unbidden, created in the minds of their readers? When this happened, did the authors mind?

McAllister had just published his first story, “The Faces Outside,” in both IF magazine and Simon and Schuster’s 1964 roundup of the best science fiction of the year. Confident, if not downright cocky, he thought the surveys could settle a conflict with his English teacher by proving that symbols weren’t lying beneath the texts they read like buried treasure awaiting discovery.

What’s remarkable about this survey, writes Sarah Funke Butler, is that 75 authors responded. This was, of course, in the days before email and the internet. McAllister still has the replies from 65, the other 10 having been lost to “a kleptomaniacal friend.”

This article reproduces the original pages of replies by Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer, Ayn Rand, John Updike, Ralph Ellison, Saul Bellow, and Ray Bradbury.

The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress

Starting in 1984, the Center for the Book in the Library began to establish affiliate centers in the 50 states. Today, there is a State Center for the Book in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. These Center for the Book affiliates carry out the national Center’s mission in their local areas, sponsor programs that highlight their area’s literary heritage and call attention to the importance of books, reading, literacy and libraries. Affiliates must submit an application to become part of — and retain — their Center for the Book status, which is renewable for a three-year period. The Center for the Book has established Guidelines for establishing affiliates and for programming activities. The State Centers gather annually at the Library of Congress for an Idea Exchange Day.

Self-published authors find e-success

USA Today offers yet another testament to the growing popularity of ebooks and to the sea change in the publishing industry that ebooks represent.

Today, authors . . . can bypass traditional publishers. They can digitally format their own manuscript, set a price and sell it to readers through a variety of online retailers and devices. Amazon sells e-books via its Kindle device and on its Kindle app for smartphones and computers. Barnes & Noble sells e-books through its Nook electronic reader device and app. There is also the Sony eReader, Apple’s iPad and Kobo, while Overdrive provides e-books to libraries.

Almost every day brings more digital modes for readers to obtain books in non-print forms, creating more choices for readers, opportunities for self-published writers, and challenges for traditional publishers.

Here are the eye-opening statistics:

According to the Association of American Publishers, e-books grew from 0.6% of the total trade market share in 2008 to 6.4% in 2010, the most recent figures available. Total net revenue for 2010: $878 million with 114 million e-books sold. In adult fiction, e-books are now 13.6% of the market.

Yet, in some cases, the success of ebooks can be a benefit to traditional publishers. Publishers are taking less of a chance if they accept a book that has already proven itself popular through ebook sales.