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How the Essay and the Novel Inform and Influence Each Other

Here’s an excerpt from Jane Smiley’s recently published collection of essays, The Questions That Matter Most: Reading, Writing, and the Exercise of Freedom (Heyday Books, 2023):

Most of the essays in this book have been assignments—I am handed a topic and asked to reveal my thoughts. I hope that I have used them in the same way that I have used my novels—to learn more about something that I thought I understood, and to understand that topic, or issue, with more clarity and nuance.

Categories: Literary Criticism, Literary History, Nonfiction, Writing

Hernan Diaz: ‘If ever I find myself on the page, I view it as an immense failure’

Hernan Diaz, 50, was born in Buenos Aires and lives in Brooklyn. A finalist in 2018 for the Pulitzer prize in fiction with his debut In the Distance, which the New Yorker called “an offbeat western”, he is the joint winner of this year’s award – together with Barbara Kingsolver – for his second novel, Trust, out now in paperback. A slippery story of a Depression-era tycoon and his late wife as told four different ways, it made the longlist for last year’s Booker prize, whose judges called it “sly, sophisticated, insistently questioning [and] determined to rob us of every certainty”.

Categories: Author News, Writing

There’s a growing case for renaming ‘personality disorders’

“The concept of personality disorders has been around for centuries but it’s flawed and needs both a rethink and a new name”

Matt Huston, an editor at Psyche, discusses a movement within psychiatry and psychology, to rethink the concept of personality disorders:

As a psychiatric concept, personality disorders have been around since at least the 19th century, and they were included in the first edition of the DSM [the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the basis for such diagnoses], published in 1952. However, in a recent paper, a research group led by the clinical psychologist Aidan Wright argues not only that the label ‘personality disorder’ is unhelpful and stigmatising – imagine learning you have a disorder that has to do with an essential, enduring part of you – but also that the concept is potentially misleading, both for anyone who receives a personality disorder diagnosis, and for the people who know them. The team think it’s time that mental health professionals adopted a new name and approach.

The points in this article are informative in light of current public interest in the way we examine and deal with mental health issues.

Categories: Literature & Culture, Literature & Psychology

The Far Invisible: Thomas Pynchon as America’s Theologian

Alan Jacobs, professor of humanities in the honors program at Baylor University and a Senior Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, discusses the seemingly secular novelist Thomas Pynchon as “great theologian of our America”:

Whatever his religious belief or unbelief, theological elements are central to his imagination, and over the course of his long career have assumed a distinctive shape that is worthy of our closest attention, above all because these elements so powerfully address American culture today: a culture that wants to be thought spiritual but never religious, to use history as a weapon but never acknowledge it as an inheritance, to worship its own technologies while simultaneously lamenting their tyrannical power.

Categories: Literary Criticism, Literary History, Literature & Culture

Why Did 19 NY Publishers Put Richard North Patterson’s Book on Trial?

Attorney Richard North Patterson, a political analyst and novelist who has written 22 novels and been on the NYT bestseller list 16 times, had trouble finding a publisher for his recent novel on race in America because of “the American Dirt syndrome,” or the charge of cultural appropriation. Read why Patterson’s novel has been published by “a small conservative and Christian publisher, Post Hill Press,” which is headed by Executive Editor Adam Bellow, son of American novelist Saul Bellow.

Categories: Literature & Culture, Publishing, Writing

The Most Heart-Wrenching Book I’ve Ever Read: 20 Readers Share

BookBub readers name the books that have moved them to tears.

How many of these books have you read? I’ve read 10, and I pretty much agree with the readers’ evaluations.

Categories: Literature & Psychology, Reading

This Bulgarian Writer’s Books Bend Time

“Georgi Gospodinov won the prestigious International Booker Prize this year for ‘Time Shelter,’ a satirical novel exploring lofty ideas about nostalgia.”

I haven’t yet read Time Shelter, but this article convinced me I should. Let me know if you’ve read it.

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

“We Made This Home.” Three Homegrown Queens Authors on the Importance of Centering Marginalized Voices in the New York Novel

“Daphne Palasi Andreades, Bushra Rehman, and Christine Kandic Torres Talk About Writing Their Home Borough”

Christine Kandic Torres interviews these three writers about their novels set in Queens,a borough that “tends to remain outcast from literary New York,” and about “the importance of centering marginalized voices in the most diverse county in the world.”

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

The indie publishing mavericks shaking up the UK books world

“Last year, all of literature’s big prizes went to small publishers. In a risk‑averse climate, edgy debuts and ‘tricky-to-sell’ foreign titles have found a home at the likes of Fitzcarraldo Editions and Sort Of Books – and the gamble has paid off”

The Guardian explains that “A quiet revolution is afoot in British publishing.”

© 2023 by Mary Daniels Brown

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