“I thought these middle-grade novels would help me navigate private school. Instead, they immersed me in bullying and materialism.”
Anyone who doesn’t believe how much literature can influence people could benefit from reading Lena Wilson’s account of how she was influenced by “the Clique books, a popular series of novels by Lisi Harrison that follow a group of fabulously wealthy middle-school girls in Westchester, N.Y.”
Rereading those books as an adult, Wilson “was shocked to discover that they are intended as satire.” When she read them in her pre-adolescent years, she absorbed their messages “that unpopularity, dowdiness and fatness were essentially worse than death.”
After declaring “I do not read War and Peace, or any fiction, for craft lessons,” Yiyun Li offers “ten narrative decisions of Tolstoy’s that may be helpful approaches to writing.”
I especially like lesson 7: “The best characters are those who make other characters behave uncharacteristically.”
Tirzah Price is in awe of writers who can produce “a lot of different books, in a lot of different genres, across formats and age categories.” Here she lists 10 such authors, including Margaret Atwood, Roxane Gay, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and Neil Gaiman.
“Shipping delays, printer backups and worker shortages are forcing publishers to postpone new titles and leaving booksellers in a lurch for some old ones.”
I’ve seen quite a few more warnings about ordering holiday gifts early this year since I initially read about the problem here. Although this problem will be prevalent in many areas, it seems books may be particularly hard to come by this holiday season.
“Mark McGurl’s new book defines a frightening new era of literature, honed to Jeff Bezos’s algorithm.”
Kyle Chayka writes:
Mark McGurl’s new book, Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of Amazon, makes the argument not only that books are at the company’s root, but that Amazon itself is a form of literature, an epic narrative of domination that subsumes all of its users as bit characters. It is a force that shapes the creation of all published culture, “offering itself as the new platform of literary life,” McGurl writes. The ways in which the company does this are now so omnipresent as to be subconscious, a fact of culture not worth mentioning, like water to fish.
Chayka ends by encouraging consumers “to stay as far away as possible and seek out better forms of discovery than Amazon’s website, like visiting an indie bookstore, asking a friend, or reading a magazine.”
Writer Georgette Heyer (1902-1974) was an English writer best known for her romances set during the Regency period (1811-1820) of English history. Stephen Fry laments that most of her books were published with covers that suggest she was “the most gooey, ghastly, cutesy, sentimental and trashy author who ever dared put pen to paper.” But, he argues, if you tear off and burn those covers before reading the novels, “you will discover her to be one of the wittiest, most insightful and rewarding prose writers imaginable. Her stories satisfy all the requirements of romantic fiction, but the language she uses, the dialogue, the ironic awareness, the satire and insight – these rise far above the genre.”
Leah Rachel von Essen believes that sometimes we fear attempting to read a book, particularly a work of classical literature, because it’s “long, twisty, and ambiguous”—in other words, we fear the book may be too hard for us to read. But her own experience has taught her that “most of us have the capacity to read anything we want to.”
Here she offers some tips on ways to approach reading challenging books. Most of her advice has come up on this blog periodically in one way or another—reminders to read slowly, annotate, and take notes. But there’s one of her suggestions I do not recommend: reading alongside SparkNotes. I admit that I haven’t read SparkNotes. I think they’re a new invention since I graduated from college more than 50 years ago. However, I think it’s better to work through the literary work on your own, to grapple with its meaning as it pertains to you. If you have questions, write them down in your notes, then copnsult something like SparkNotes or other reviews or discussions of the book after you’ve read it.
Overall, I agree with what she writes near the end of this piece: “The goal is not to make you go read books that are hard to read. The goal, for me, is to encourage you not to avoid reading them only because they’re so hard to read.”
© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown