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Literary Links

‘I will defeat Richard Osman!’: Holly Jackson on being Britain’s top selling female crime author

Lucy Knight interviews YA novelist Holly Jackson, whose book series A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is currently being adapted into a BBC TV series. According to Knight, “Jackson’s books are some of the most recommended among the #BookTok community.”

This Is the Way the World Ends (According to Novelists)

“A new kind of disaster fiction is serving as scenario planning for real global crises. Call it the apocalyptic systems thriller.”

Apocalyptic fiction is all the rage right now. Here novelist Hari Kunzru discusses the rise of a new category of fiction:

The geopolitical epic is at least as old as “War and Peace,” but there’s a particular kind of novel that came into its own with globalization, taking on new life in recent years. Call it the apocalyptic systems thriller, or, because abbreviations and acronyms are crucial to its aesthetic, the A.S.T.

“At its best,” Kunzru continues, “this kind of fiction can induce a kind of sublime awe at the complexity of the global networks in which we’re enmeshed.” Its elements include climate change, conflict, pandemics, and natural disasters, and, Kunzru admits, in some cases the story may take second place to the ideas the novel expounds. “To succeed, this kind of story has to feel true.”

And why is the A.S.T. so popular right now? “The message is one of resilience, of human beings acting in concert, muddling through problems in the hope of navigating . . . ‘the rapids’ of the near future, into calmer waters beyond.”

Simon & Schuster Turns 100

Simon & Schuster celebrates its first 100 years—and looks forward to the next

Publishers Weekly offers a pretty straightforward PR version of the history of Simon & Schuster, a publishing house that has managed to survive to become one of the current Big Five among international publishers.

Banned books make up the sophomore English curriculum at this NYC high school

I love this story of censorship turned on its head by being transformed into the basis of the curriculum:

At the Academy of American Studies in Queens [in New York City], 10th grade students take a Regents-level English class devoted to the study of books that have historically faced challenges or bans — with students reading works like Elie Wiesel’s “Night” and Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club.”

Shannon Oltmann, a professor at the University of Kentucky who has studied censorship and book banning, says such a course “has the potential to be really powerful, to teach kids about whose voice matters and doesn’t matter, whose voices are challenged or seen as intimidating or threatening . . . It can also teach them about political power and the ways that it can be wielded.” 

Cloud Atlas at 20: What makes a novel tattoo-worthy?

Gabrielle Zevin, author of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, brilliantly discusses Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell’s 2004 novel:

Cloud Atlas’s six main characters are connected by a comet-shaped birthmark, which may or may not be evidence that they are reincarnated versions of each other. Chapter four’s Timothy Cavendish dismisses the notion as “far too hippie-druggy-new age”. And yet, I believe these characters, who are of different times, genders, races and circumstances, can be the same person because they come from the same person, the novelist who wrote them. If humans contain Whitman’s multitudes, novels also have the possibility to contain multitudes, and they should.

Zevin adds, “When I reread the book recently, I wondered how many readers had got a tattoo of the comet birthmark.”

Going “Black to the Future”

As the need for strategies to deal with climate change grows, many potential pathways have emerged. One of them is Afrofuturism, which “can unsettle what it means to negotiate life, innovation, growth, and progress in a technology- and material-intensive world”:

Afrofuturism has been widely and variably defined across scholarship; it’s been named as an ambition, a practice, a fluid theory, a trendsetting aesthetic, and a dream. Afrofuturist thinking and practice explore futures where white supremacy holds no power, fashioning worlds based on the possibilities of joy, healing, liberation, invention, and freedom for Black people across the diaspora. These futurisms don’t seek to eliminate white people, but they instead seek to dismantle the power structures that reinforce whiteness as supreme and Blackness as inferior.

Patricia Highsmith Was Almost as Twisted as Tom Ripley

“She never murdered anyone—as far as we know—but the iconic author’s diaries and biographies reveal that the devious Highsmith had a lot in common with her most infamous character.”

With the arrival earlier this month of Netflix’s new production Ripley, Rosemary  Counter asks in Vanity Fair:

What kind of person could conjure the deceptive, duplicitous, sociopathic, murderous, albeit talented, Mr. Ripley? And how did [Patricia] Highsmith’s own notoriously nasty, miserable, and misanthropic personality compare to that of her most indelible character?

Counter finds answers in Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks, 1941–1995, discovered after Highsmith’s death by her editor, Anna von Planta.

Brain scans of Philly jazz musicians reveal secrets to reaching creative flow

I’ve written before (see here and here) about flow, the alternate state of consciousness often described as “being in the zone.”

Here, husband-and-wife team John Kounios, professor of psychological and brain sciences at Drexel University, and Yvette Kounios, instructor of English and professional writing at Widener University, report on recent research from Drexel University’s Creativity Research Lab. The research used neuroimaging “to better understand the key brain processes that underlie flow” in jazz guitarists.

Their conclusion: “for musicians, writers, designers, inventors and other creatives who want to tap into flow is that training should involve intensive practice followed by learning to step back and let one’s skill take over.” 

This sounds to me like the process athletes often describe as not thinking too much, relying instead on “muscle memory.” Just as Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the seminal researcher on flow, explains, reaching the flow state first requires a high level of expertise. 

© 2024 by Mary Daniels Brown

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