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The Book Review Turns 125

The New York Times is celebrating the 125th anniversary of its Book Review with a selection from its archives. Here you’ll find links to reviews of past books including The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston, Roots by Alex Haley, and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, as well as interviews with writers including Sandra Cisneros and Eudora Welty.

Unless you subscribe to the newspaper, you may be limited in the number of articles you can read.

Reading from the Killer’s Perspective

Judy Moreno wonders at the beginning of this article if “just maybe, your darker thoughts are telling you that it would be a little bit exciting to see what makes someone kill.” With this list she offers the opportunity “to explore these ideas in a safe, do-no-harm way: books. Fiction, too, just to make it extra secure.”

Feeling, in situ

“What if emotions are not universal and hardwired but exquisite acts of meaning-making specific to context and culture?

Elitsa Dermendzhiyskais is “a science writer and entrepreneur working at the intersection of technology, research and mental health. She is co-creator of Betwixt, an immersive self-reflection app that combines storytelling, psychology and play.” In this article she examines psychology’s Basic Emotion Theory: “the idea that certain emotions are universal, innate and hardwired into our brains. Everyone, everywhere, apparently knows joy, sadness, anger, fear and disgust. We all think we can recognise these emotions in the faces of loved ones and strangers, friends and foes.”

She reports on an emerging, contradictory theory that sees emotions as 

emergent, highly situated ways of organising experience: exquisite acts of meaning-making, shaped by the complex interplay of nature and nurture. In this provocative new telling – let’s call it the Diversity Thesis – what we feel, how we feel it – perhaps even whether we feel it at all – depends not just on biology but also on context, including the language we use and the culture we come from.

Why Are Americans So Lonely?

“In her graphic novel ‘Seek You,’ Kristen Radtke searches for an explanation and antidote to societal isolation”

J.R. Ramakrishnan interviews Kristen Radtke about her vision of the loneliness of Americans and how the feeling of loneliness has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic:

I keep seeing articles about people fearing or having social anxiety. And that is really emblematic of what it’s like to be isolated. Socializing isn’t awful. You’re just out of practice. 

Meet Saraciea J. Fennell, the Writer Building Her Community Through Literature

As an author, publicist, and founder of The Bronx is Reading, [Saraciea J. Fennell] aims her work to be rooted in uplifting the voices of her heritage through writing, storytelling, and creating avenues of community access to published books. Whether curating cultural anthologies or producing literary festivals, Saraciea Fennell is utilizing the power of literature to preserve Latinx histories and reimagine what the future holds.

Who Is the Bad Art Friend?

“Art often draws inspiration from life — but what happens when it’s your life? Inside the curious case of Dawn Dorland v. Sonya Larson.”

This long article looks at a particular incident that brings up lots of different questions about the relationships between life and art, between members of artistic communities. At the heart of this discussion is one of the themes of Life Stories in Literature: Who has the right to tell what stories?

Falling in Love with Letters: Exploring Epistolary Novels

Derived from the Greek word epistolē, meaning letter, epistolary novels are narratives composed primarily of letters. In later years, this genre has expanded to include books that contain emails, diary entries, and other records.

One of the best epistolary novels I’ve read is Sandra Dallas’s 2001 Alice’s Tulips. I was especially impressed with the way Dallas creates the entire story using only one side of the correspondence (Alice’s) between Alice and her sister. 

Since reading Alice’s Tulips, I’ve appreciated the way the epistolary novel has adapted to include more modern forms of communication such as emails, office memos, and even voicemail messages. In addition to the examples in this article, I recommend Jennifer Egan’s novel A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010).

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Long Books

I often sing the praises of Big Books.

Tom Beer, editor-in-chief of Kirkus Reviews, agrees with me. Here he praises a couple of the same Big Books that I have loved, Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life (scroll down) and Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (scroll down), which won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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