Here’s what I’ve been reading this week:
From the pen of Otto Penzler:
It is an inarguable fact that virtually everything of interest and significance in the history of detective fiction has been written in the English language, mainly by American and English authors.
This is not chauvinistic, racist, insular, or opinionated; it is merely reportage.
From Laura Miller at Salon.
Amherst College Archives and Special Collections has a copy of a 19th Century daguerreotype that could be the second photograph in existence of Emily Dickinson as an adult.
The movies have been stealing from novels ever since movies began, and for just as long the debate has raged: What books make for the best thefts? Well, the question is tired by now and maybe wrong too, but let’s quickly answer it: easy comic books these days, along with anything scribbled by J.K. Rowling and her ilk – successful commercial writing lends itself to successful commercial pix, since both dance to the same populist beat. That’s simple to figure. Far harder is the enduring, almost touching, efforts of the cinema to adapt accomplished literary fiction, clinging to the faith that a good novel can always be wrangled, not mangled, into a good film.
Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece by Michael Gorra – review
Henry James’s great, humane masterpiece, The Portrait of a Lady (1881), the story of a young, spirited American woman “affronting her destiny”, is many readers’ favourite of his books. All his critics and biographers put it at the centre of his life and work. It is his turning-point. From being a popular and promising author specialising in Americans in Europe (Daisy Miller, The Europeans, The American), he became an important, renowned figure, acknowledged as a “master” of consciousness, cultural perceptions, humour, subtlety and depth. But Portrait can also be seen as a point of no return. After that came the harsh, unpopular novels of social analysis (The Bostonians, The Princess Casamassima), the ill-fated involvement with the theatre, the awkward, darkly complex novels of the 1890s (What Maisie Knew, The Awkward Age), the epic, inward-looking subtleties of the mighty late works, and the financial catastrophe of the New York edition. Isabel Archer starts out full of hope, independence and ambition, and becomes “ground in the mill”, entrapped and disillusioned. James’s life-story could also be read as an ebullient comedy which turns to tragic sadness.
Kalamazoo’s Rachel Swearingen is one of six winners of the prestigious Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award.
From Stanford University comes the latest news in literary neuroscience:
Researchers observe the brain patterns of literary PhD candidates while they’re reading a Jane Austen novel. The fMRI images suggest that literary reading provides “a truly valuable exercise of people’s brains.”