Last Week's Links

Literary Links

On the End of the Canon Wars

This think piece by John Michael Colón examines the question of whether and, if so, how a “liberal education” (which really means study across the humanities) benefits students.

Categories: Literary Criticism, Literary History, Literature & Culture, Reading

A dinosaur is a story

“in science as in fiction, the stories we tell to understand the world are always being revised”

This article examines a “philosophical question about how words and worlds collide.” It begins with a short description of the battle between scientists over the correct name of a particular dinosaur: “‘Brontosaurus’ or ‘Apatosaurus.’” From there it expands:

Like palaeontologists, authors of fiction routinely revise their narratives. They expand them by inventing new stories, some placed in the current moment, others inserted between past events. Some of those insertions reinterpret parts of the past, altering some previous stories. Other revisions start the whole world over, altering all previous stories.

Though the true past is fixed and unrevisable, stories about that past are not.

Categories: Life Stories in Literature, Literature & Culture, Story

Are successful authors creative geniuses or literary labourers?

Oleg Sobchuk, a postdoctoral researcher in the Minds and Traditions research group at the Max Planck Institute for Geoanthropology in Germany, investigates the subject of creativity in the arts. Sobchuk focuses heavily on the differences between two writers: Edgar Allan Poe, an inventor who “constantly experimented with new literary forms,” and Jules Verne, who, throughout his life, wrote “novels following a strict genre formula based on Poe’s writings.” 

Sobchuk calls Poe’s artistic strategy exploration, “a search for novelty and difference, often through trial and error.” He calls Verne’s strategy exploitation, “relying on an approach that has already proven itself.”

Recent research using computational humanities—“a discipline that merges computer science with the study of literature and the arts”—has revealed that many artists’ careers follow a pattern that combines exploration and exploitation: “first, exploration; later, exploitation.”

Categories: Literary Criticism, Literary History, Writing

Five Beautiful Book Covers and the Stories Behind Them

“The winners of this year’s 50 Books | 50 Covers showcase proves that 2021 was an utterly rich year for cover design”

Because I usually decide on what books to read on the basis of a summary of their content, I often don’t pay much, if any, attention to their covers. Articles like this one therefore draw my attention.

Category: Publishing 

Read Your Way Through Dublin

“Virtuosity and creativity with language are “everyone’s birthright” in the Irish capital, says Tana French, an award-winning mystery writer who has made it her home.”

Categories: Literature & Culture, Reading

The Unbearable Envy of the Published Author

Novelist Lynn Steger Strong has a book coming out this month, her third. Kevin Wilson also has a book coming out this month, his sixth. And Strong can’t stop herself from thinking:

months before publication, I looked for whichever book might function most explicitly to drown out whatever snippets of attention mine might get. “Oh no,” I said out loud to no one. “I can’t beat Kevin Wilson! I love Kevin Wilson’s novels!”

Categories: Author News, Publishing, Writing

9 Books That Take Aim at the Myth of the American Hero

“Brian O’Hare’s “Surrender” confronts American masculinity in stories that refuse to salute outdated or unexamined belief systems”

Sure, all cultures have hero myths—we mortals feel elevated by mere proximity to magic—but the American hero myth is unique, as if Hollywood remade the Homeric ideal, laced it with Wall Street capitalism and Biblical certainty, making sure it played to the cheap seats as well. Now, having officially outlived my father, and with a son of my own, I ask: What am I passing on to him? What will my son’s version of the American hero myth or masculinity be, as seen through the lens of me?

Categories: Life Stories in Literature, Writing

Treading Water

“Can imperiled people’s stories prompt more than empty empathy?”

Nazish Brohi describes himself as “a researcher documenting and analyzing disaster impacts for various organizations.” It often takes months for anyone to read his reports, but “sometimes, it’s enough for them [flood victims] to find someone who will listen.”

He thinks about one such story he might hear from a flood victim and imagines how he might write it up, fictionalize it. 

And then what? Would empathy for the protagonist and his family transfer to those who survived the floods? How many can one feel empathy for? The thirty-three million impacted by the current floods in Pakistan? The nearly eight million displaced? Half of those? A quarter? One-tenth?

But no. The reaction to that story would be “what psychologists and behavioral scientists refer to as “psychic numbing,” as the number of victims in a disaster rise, people’s emotional response to that tragedy diminishes.”

Categories: Story, Writing

7 Novels Set During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Bekah Waalkes, a PhD candidate in English Literature at Tufts University, wonders “what can the best pandemic fiction do.” She asks, “How can novels consider the historical present of COVID-19 alongside its persistence in our lives?”

She answers this question by examining seven novels: 

These novels refuse to recount lockdown on its own, instead thinking about what we learn about people and their breaking points, what the pandemic made possible for people like us, and, of course, what it took away.

Categories: Fiction, Literature & Culture, Story

© 2022 by Mary Daniels Brown

4 thoughts on “Literary Links”

    1. Mary Daniels Brown

      Thanks, Liz. This is a topic that many of us older folks think about, but I fear that the many younger generations don’t think about it at all, or don’t even know what it is.

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