Last Week's Links

Literary Links

John Williams joins The [Washington] Post as books editor

John will lead our award-winning nonfiction and fiction books team, hiring new writers and working with colleagues to reach new audiences. We believe in books coverage that revels in the life of the mind and big ideas and is also consumer-oriented, giving book lovers the information they need as they choose what to read.

Categories: Publishing, Literary Criticism

Is the Silence of the Great Plains to Blame for ‘Prairie Madness’?

This is a fascinating article on modern efforts to understand “prairie madness,” the “rise in cases of mental illness in the mid-1800’s to early 1900’s, particularly in the Great Plains.” 

“Both fictional and historical accounts of this time and place often blame ‘prairie madness’ on the isolation and bleak conditions the settlers encountered,” writes James Gaines in this article. But Alex D. Velez, a paleoanthropologist with State University of New York at Oswego who studies the evolution of human hearing, recently published a paper in the journal Historical Archaeology in which he concludes that the “eerie soundscape [of the prairie]—the silence and the howling wind—could indeed have contributed to mental illness in settlers.”

The question of whether “something in the soundscape of the plains . . . may have affected the settler’s minds” is “a reminder of how sounds have the power to shape our lives, even today and even outside the Great Plains,” Gaines concludes.

Categories: Literature & Culture, Literature & Psychology, Literary History

An Introduction to Irish Crime Fiction

I usually think of the term crime fiction as a general umbrella concept that includes mysteries and thrillers, but in this article Katie Moench differentiates between the categories: “Crime reads, as opposed to mysteries and thrillers, tend to be more violent and often more bleak in tone than other books dealing with killings, and are a good fit for those that can handle emotionally darker reads.”

“Ireland and Northern Ireland have a long history of crime fiction, with the tensions and history of the two countries often providing a backdrop to the central crimes of the story,” Moench continues. She suggests some books that “will introduce you to some of the best-known authors and series of the genre, as well as some newer names in this well-known category.”

Categories: Author News, Fiction

Collective Narrators: The Best Uses of the First-Person Plural in Literature

The first-person plural is a point of view that can be recognized by the use of ‘we’, ‘ours’ and ‘us’. For obvious reasons, the collective voice lends itself to collective accounts. Importantly, this first-person plural does not specify much about who is speaking—‘we’ can be two people or it can be a hundred. It can include the person being spoken to, but it can also exclude them . . .

Writer Hayley Scrivenor offers a list of books that feature collective narration, “a kind of Greek chorus, commenting on the action, breaking up narration by other characters.”

Category: Writing

The Sublime Danielle Steel: For the Love of Supermarket Schlock

“Her oeuvre asks a single question, over and over and over: do you love me?”

Dan Sinykin, assistant professor of English at Emory University, characterizes Danielle Steel and her writing career as the inevitable product of the publishing industry:

But then I started studying the publishing industry. Why, of all possible book worlds, had we ended up with ours? Once I posed that question, I could see that Danielle Steel was a cosmic accident whose story revealed the hidden logic of contemporary publishing, what I call the conglomerate era for reasons I will explain in a moment. This is to say, at first my interest was professional. How long could it stay that way, though, given the life she’s led and the books she’s written? The more I learned about her, the more obsessed I became. Soon she was the only topic I wanted to talk or tweet about. I went out with friends and harangued them for hours . . .

Categories: Author News, Publishing, Writing

Old Story, New Money

The Gilded Age plunders Edith Wharton’s books for period-appropriate ideas but revels in all the surfaces Wharton sought to puncture.”

Sheila Liming, associate professor at Champlain College, writes about Julian Fellowes’s HBO series The Gilded Age:

The show, which follows on the success of Fellowes’s hit series Downton Abbey, can feel like a piece of Wharton-inspired fan fiction, and yet its fanaticism is neither for Wharton nor for her books but for the privileged world that inspired them. Fellowes revels in the textures and colors of the gilded class in the late nineteenth century—all the surfaces that Wharton sought to puncture.

Categories: Literary History, Television

© 2022 by Mary Daniels Brown

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