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Good Company: Depictions of Older Women in Literature

Jane Campbell has some reading recommendations:

For some time, I have been relishing literature that offers wonderfully varying depictions of old women. They are good company. These are pieces that expose the cruelty inflicted on older women and that impress me with their capacity to pursue the essence of the complex creature that still exists inside the worn-out body. Inside them all is the fight for their independence.

Categories: Older Adults in Literature, Life Stories in Literature

 The Freedom to Write Less Likeable Characters in Crime Fiction

The question of likeable characters periodically comes up in literary discussion. Here author Sonya Lalli, who usually writes romances, explains how COVID-19 lockdown gave her the opportunity to experiment with crime fiction, a genre in which she could “create the character I’d always wanted to write”:

writing this kind of story in a totally different genre felt freeing in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. I didn’t have to provide justification for Sara’s bad choices, or soften her flaws, or figure out how to make her learn from her mistakes. I wasn’t asking future readers to forgive Sara, or even to like her all that much; I was simply asking them if they wanted to tag along for the ride.

Category: Writing

How Your Brain Fills in the Blanks with Experience

Chantel Prat is a professor at the University of Washington in the departments of psychology, neuroscience, and linguistics. In this excerpt from her book The Neuroscience of You: How Every Brain Is Different and How to Understand Yours (published by Dutton on August 2, 2022), she explains how language shapes our version of reality:

If you’ve ever had a conversation with someone about an event you both participated in that left you feeling like one of you was delusional because your stories were so different, you might have a hint about how much your experiences have shaped the way you understand the world around you. This can be insanely frustrating because—let’s face it—our own brains are really convincing when they construct our personal version of reality. Remember the Dress? Though it can feel like gaslighting when someone has a different reality from yours, it’s also entirely possible that you both were reporting your version of the truth. At the end of the day, the way people remember a story reflects differences in the way they experienced the original event. The scientific explanation for this boils down to differences in perspective.

There’s a lot of useful information here. Despite Prat’s impressive academic chops, her explanations of complex ideas communicate easily with non-technical people. She tells us why we see, hear, and smell what we expect to see, hear, and smell, and how popular culture influences what we believe: “the less experience you have in real life with a particular type of person, place, or thing, the more likely it is that your brain’s database entry for that topic is based on what you see on television, or read about in the news, on social media, or in fictitious depictions.”

Categories: Literature & Culture, Literature & Psychology

Odd, Genius, or Something In Between: A Reading List on Writers

Lisa Bubert, a writer and librarian, explains what she wants to find when she reads an article profiling a writer:

The best writers out there, with the most recognizable voices and distinct styles, are writers who know exactly who they are: their flaws, their strengths, and most importantly, their oddities. 

Which is why I live for a good writer profile. Give me the weird tics, the turns of phrase, the strange beginnings. Give me the writer in their natural habitat. Give me that artistic magic, the writer as myth. Let me never forget that the voice is hard-won and earned through a commitment to self as art. 

Category: Writing

Top 10 books about starting afresh

“The idea of a fresh start, of a new beginning, has a beguiling appeal that has made it an enduring trope in literature,” writes Ali Millar. Here she lists 10 of the best books about starting fresh, from authors including Anne Tyler, Charmaine Wilkerson, and Joan Didion.

Categories: Life Stories in Literature, List, Book Recommendations

In the Gutters of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman

“Gaiman’s stories echo with narratives from the Western canon, taken from folktales and communal memory, displaced into something that feels fresh.”

Gutters are “the negative space between panels . . . in graphic novels.” Ashley Domingo Hendricks explains how such embedded narratives function and links to a “guide to using comics and graphic novels in the classroom.”

Categories: Literary Criticism, Literary History, Reading

The Organization of Your Bookshelves Tells Its Own Story

Leslie Kendall Dye tackles one of the existential questions of reading: how to order one’s bookshelves.

Category: Reading

From Book Stacks to Psychosis and Food Stamps, Librarians Confront a New Workplace

In big cities and small towns, many [libraries] now offer help accessing housing, food stamps, medical care, and sometimes even showers or haircuts. Librarians, in turn, have been called on to play the role of welfare workers, first responders, therapists, and security guards.

Category: Libraries

© 2022 by Mary Daniels Brown

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