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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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