Last Week's Links

Literary Links

Why I teach a course connecting Taylor Swift’s songs to the works of Shakespeare, Hitchcock and Plath

Elizabeth Scala, professor of English at The University of Texas at Austin, explains how and why she created the course “The Taylor Swift Songbook,” an introductory English course.

Categories: Literary Criticism, Literary History, Reading

Why read old books? A case for the classic, the unusual, the neglected.

Michael Dirda writes in the Washington Post:

In the arts, especially, education consists of seeing how deeply the past informs the present. Knowing what earlier generations accomplished conveys perspective, the capacity to recognize the new from the retrograde, the original from the pastiche. In literature, the popularity of “annotated editions” of various classics shows how much we still value basic contextual information about earlier historical periods — and, paradoxically, how much we have forgotten of what was once traditional cultural literacy.

Categories: Literary Criticism, Literary History, Reading

Annie Ernaux Turns Memory Into Art

“Many authors write about their lives. Over nearly fifty years, the Nobel laureate has discovered new ways to do it.”

Alexandra Schwartz interviewed Annie Ernaux six days after Ernaux, age 82, won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Ernaux works exclusively from the factual material of life—her life. But how to shape and present the facts? How to account for their particular power and the way that the truth changes, or doesn’t, when exposed to the forces of memory and time? These are profound artistic questions, fundamental to both Ernaux’s creative practice and her moral principles.

Categories: Author News, Life Stories in Literature

Don’t Treat Your Life as a Project

In this excerpt from his book Life is Hard, Kieran Setiya, a philosopher at MIT, refutes the current trend of what he calls Life as Narrative, the “sufficiently commonplace” notion “that we narrate our lives to ourselves, and that doing so is part of living well.”

I was drawn to this article because the notion of Life as Narrative is the underlying principle of my interest in Life Stories in Literature. Setiya writes:

there is a downside to unified, linear narrative: it is by squeezing your life into a single tube that you set yourself up for definitive failure. . . When you define your life by way of a single enterprise, a narrative arc, its outcome will come to define you.

Well, yes, our life stories do define us. But Setiya leaves out a huge—and hugely important—aspect of narrative identity theory: we continually edit our life stories to accommodate new experiences. And with that omission, he fails to convince me.

Categories: Life Stories in Literature, Literature & Psychology

The best books on Fantasy’s Many Uses

Visionary storytelling, or fantasy, is part of our cultural DNA. Far from being simply fantastical or facile, we can use the fantasy realm as a testing ground for important ideas, argues Brian Attebery, a leading scholar of the genre. He talks us through five key works that demonstrate fantasy’s many uses, from 1922 through 2010.

Categories: Literary Criticism, Literary History, Literature & Psychology

Why Book Blogs Still Matter in an Age of BookTok

Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather read a well thought-out and well written blog post than watch a funky video about a particular book or literary concept. Danika Ellis agrees in this article. 

I started blogging in the late 1990s—before blogging was even a word, when publishing on the internet was simply known as “having a web site” (yes, even before web site became website). Over the years I’ve come to know virtually a lot of other book bloggers. Long live the book blogging community!

Categories: Literary Criticism, Reading, Writing

The Joy of Seeing Yourself in Literature

Filipino American writer Arvyn Cerézo addresses the need for inclusion of by more non-white authors in the publishing industry:

Representation, which can be explained as simply as seeing yourself in the books you read, is a triumph for diversity. It also helps to dispel some long-held racial stereotypes. It can make one feel like they belong to a society that has previously shunned them. It can also make marginalized people feel that their struggles are valid, too, and that they deserve to carve spaces for themselves. 

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

Categories: Life Stories in Literature, Publishing

The Year in Rereading

“The books we returned to this year for insight, comfort, and delight.”

The staff of The New Yorker discusses “works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry [that] became relevant once again in 2022, simultaneously fresh and familiar during a tumultuous year.”

Category: Reading

© 2022 by Mary Daniels Brown

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