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Literary Links

Beverly Cleary, beloved and prolific author of children’s books, dies at 104

Obituary from the Los Angeles Times.

Larry McMurtry, Novelist of the American West, Dies at 84

Obituary from the New York Times.

I Always Write in the Past: The Millions Interviews André Aciman

Here’s a fascinating article in which André Aciman talks about what he calls the irrealis mood. He defines this mood as follows:

“a category of verbal moods that indicate that certain events have not happened, may never happen, or should or must or are indeed desired to happen, but for which there is no indication that they will ever happen”—that is, “the might-be and the might-have-been.” It is a mood sometimes called fantasizing, or nostalgia, but it is really more multifaceted, informing our experience of art, desire, and even our own mortality.

A reading guide on the Asian American experience from Viet Thanh Nguyen, Charles Yu and more

“If there’s one lesson we keep having to learn in the United States, it’s that ignorance breeds hate and hate breeds violence.” 

The Los Angeles Times offers a list of “more than 40 books on the experience of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in this country, including poetry, essays, memoirs, histories and some of the best fiction of the last couple of decades. Suggestions come from Times staff; novelists including Viet Thanh Nguyen, Charles Yu and Steph Cha; poet Victoria Chang; and a group of scholars from Asian American Studies departments in California and beyond.”

Audre Lorde Broke the Silence

“In her poems and ‘The Cancer Journals,’ Lorde fought to name her experience.”

Emily Bernard’s portrait of Audre Lorde focuses on “Two recent publications, The Selected Works of Audre Lorde, edited and with an introduction by Roxane Gay, and a new edition of The Cancer Journals, with a foreword by Tracy K. Smith, [that] capture the complexity of Lorde’s singular perspective.”

Lorde treated her body—the range of her corporeal needs, fears, and desires—as a resource of political and creative information, a platform from which she communicated her worldview. She was unique in her determination to speak and write without shame, but at the same time wholly representative, embodying the complexities of a contemporary radical Black feminist identity. Her life emblematized the concept of intersectionality, a term coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to describe the ways in which distinct social identities, such as race and gender, are mutually constitutive. Lorde devoted her career to building bridges across social divides as well as nurturing the distinct voices of Black feminist writers who responded to the raw physicality of her imagery and her now famous rallying cries, such as, “Your silence will not protect you.” 

How Sara Gruen Lost Her Life

“The Water for Elephants author’s six-year fight to free an incarcerated man left her absolutely broke and critically ill.”

At age 80, Sylvia Byrne Pollack of Seattle will publish her first book of poetry

Don’t you love stories like this? I certainly do!

“Part of the magic of poetry is that, when you write the words, you’re a writer,” Pollack continues. “And once you put them down, they’re not really yours anymore. The reader has to do the other half of the work.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Audiobooks Author News Book Groups Ebooks Literary Criticism Publishing

Literary Links

A Literary Guide to Combat Anti-Asian Racism in America

“Anti-Asian violence and discrimination has increased precipitously, but it has a long history in the United States”

Jae-Yeon Yoo and Stefani Kuo offer a reading list to help readers in the U.S. better understand racism against Asian Americans:

We’ve compiled this list as a way to better understand the deep roots of Asian American discrimination in the U.S. We hope we can help amplify the urgent need to acknowledge anti-Asian racism and the complexity of Asian American identity today. Staying silent exacerbates the portrayal of Asian Americans as the “model minority,” ignoring the violent and potentially fatal consequences of anti-Asian racism.

What Sets a Good Audiobook Apart

“Award-winning narrator Abby Craden has recorded nearly 400 books. Here’s how she does it.”

You just read the book into a microphone, right? It’s a little more complicated than that.

Want to borrow that e-book from the library? Sorry, Amazon won’t let you.

“Its monopoly is stopping public libraries from lending e-books and audiobooks from Mindy Kaling, Dean Koontz, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Trevor Noah, Andy Weir, Michael Pollan and a whole lot more”

“The case of the vanishing e-books shows how tech monopolies hurt us not just as consumers, but as citizens,” writes Geoffrey A. Fowler, technology columnist for the Washington Post.

Kaia, Kendall and EmRata Are Taking a Page From Oprah

“The book-club business is booming online, led by actresses and, increasingly, fashion models.”

This article in the New York Times finds that celebrity-led online book clubs have thrived in quarantine.

The People We Know Best

“Readers love fictional characters almost as if they were real people. Literary scholars are just starting to take them more seriously.”

Evan Kindley writes, “How to transition from a naive identification with characters to a critical analysis of texts is supposed to be one of the fundamental lessons that literary studies imparts.” Despite more than a century of critical literary thinking that taught fictional characters are nothing more than an abstraction in the mind of the reader, “literary characters are finally getting scholarly attention again.” Here Kindley reviews three volumes of literary criticism that focus on characters.

How Octavia E. Butler Reimagines Sex and Survival

“The parasites, hybrids, and vampires of her science fiction make the price of persisting viscerally real.”

Julian Lucas writes:

Butler’s great subject was intimate power, of the kind that transforms relationships into fulcrums of collective destiny. She explored the ways that bodies could be made instruments of alien intentions, a motif that recurs throughout her fiction in ever more fantastic guises: mind control, gene modification, body-snatching, motherhood. Her protagonists often begin as fugitives or captives, but emerge as prodigies of survival, improvising their way through unprecedented situations only to find that adaptation exacts hidden costs.

Murder, but gentler: ‘Cozy’ mysteries a pandemic-era balm

“For those who find their dreams in books, there’s a group of readers who are hungrily consuming a particular style of narrative to escape from the past year’s reality: “cozy” mysteries,” writes Tamara Lush for the Associated Press.

An A to Z Guide to Literary Devices and Tools

Kelly Jensen writes, “let’s take a look at various literary devices and tools used by authors to write. Many of these tools are valuable for readers to think about because they offer insight into what it is that makes a book memorable or effective.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Libraries Personal

A Visit to the Library! And a Restaurant!

On Monday I saw an announcement in our local paper that two branches of the Tacoma Public Library would be opening for timed-entry, in-person browsing beginning the next day. One of those two is a local library for us, so this was a not-to-be-missed opportunity.

A quick click to the library web site revealed that there will be four different times each day: noon, 1:00, 5:00, and 6:00, each lasting for 45 minutes. By the time I got there, the first two time periods for Tuesday were already filled, so I signed us up for 5:00. 

Yesterday, I was twitching with excitement by the time we got to the library. When they opened the door and I walked through, my eyes filled with tears. I immediately went for the new fiction section, where only a few books remained (and none of those were titles that I at all recognized). This was somewhat disappointing, but, hey, we were AT THE LIBRARY!

I had forgotten how small this library branch is, but, hey, we were AT THE LIBRARY! So I soldiered on. In the children’s section I found The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, a book I’ve been meaning to read for a while. And in the large print section stood a copy of Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman. 

two books: The Island of the Blue Dolphins and Something in the Water

I hadn’t planned to spend the rest of my reading time this month with these two books, but, hey, they are actual library books checked out AT THE LIBRARY. So there we are. This whole experience didn’t require anywhere near 45 minutes.

Yesterday was a beautiful spring day here in the Pacific Northwest, so we got to see the trees in flower in the parking lot.

flowering trees in parking lot

Back in the car, my husband announced that he wanted to stop at Oddfellas, one of our favorite local eateries for dinner on the way home. When I asked if he wanted to order online for pickup, he said no, that he wanted to go inside and sit down to eat—and drink, of course, because Oddfellas offers a large selection of draught beers. 

Restaurants in our area are now allowed to open at 25% capacity. Odfellas is small. When we got there, the only other diners were a couple of women eating and chatting at a table along the back wall and a solitary man sitting at the bar. We took a booth well removed from them. While we were there, two or three other couples arrived. There was enough room for all of us to be more than appropriately socially distanced.

But, as much as I enjoyed my pizza, I also felt ambivalent. My husband and I both had our second dose of COVID vaccine more than two weeks ago, but I fear that if people start to mingle in public again too soon, there may be another upsurge in COVID-19 infections.

So we won’t be eating out routinely now, and we’re certainly not going to Disneyland any time soon. But for a couple of hours yesterday evening, I felt almost like a normal person again.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Personal

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

small pot of live shamrocks
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Author News

PBS Is Hosting a Virtual Museum Tour of Jane Austen’s House | Mental Floss

Jane Austen’s books were all written in the Hampshire house, which is now a time capsule of her life there.

The tour is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. EST on Friday, March 26, and costs $14 per person. Half of the profits will go to the museum, which is currently raising money to restore the 70-year-old roof. If you’re interested in attending, you can book a ticket here.

Source: PBS Is Hosting a Virtual Museum Tour of Jane Austen’s House | Mental Floss

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Awards & Prizes Book News

NEH to Distribute $135M to Cultural Institutions Hit by Pandemic

The National Endowment for the Humanities will receive $135 million in supplemental funding as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan just approved by President Biden. The funding will be used to assist institutions impacted by the pandemic.

Source: NEH to Distribute $135M to Cultural Institutions Hit by Pandemic

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Author News Censorship Ebooks Fiction Last Week's Links Literary Criticism Literary History Reading Writing

Literary Links

How Reading Ebooks Changes Our Perception (and Reviews)

Kindle Paperwhite

Addison Rizer, a self-declared “avid Kindle reader,” writes, “I am curious about the ways reading ebooks changes the way we interact, and review, the novels we consume.”

The article contains lots of references, with links, to both scientific studies and popular sources. However, the discussion is unfocused; it includes discussion of viewing both art works and films in addition to reading books. Also, Rizer talks about screens, which could mean either a dedicated ebook reader (e.g., Kindle, Nook) or a laptop/desk computer computer screen. But reading on these three types of screens is decidedly different experiences. In fact, even reading on a Kindle differs from reading the same ebook with the Kindle app on a tablet (such as an iPad).

How ‘Lolita’ Escaped Obscenity Laws and Cancel Culture

Actor and screenwriter Emily Mortimer delves into Nabokov’s 1959 novel Lolita and how it managed to escape the obscenity laws of the era:

to my knowledge, no criminal case was ever brought against “Lolita,” which is surprising given that it appeared in the world at a time when literature was far from safe from the clutches of the obscenity laws, and given that it’s still the most shocking, sensational thing you’ve ever read.

Wisdom in the Work

Bookforum offers an interview by Emily Gould with Vivian Gornick about Gornick’s new essay collection Taking a Long Look: Essays on Culture, Literature, and Feminism in Our Time.

He Writes Unreliable Narrators Because He Is One, Too

“Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer for his debut, ‘The Sympathizer,’ recognition that was great for his career and bad for his writing. Now he’s back with its subversive sequel, ‘The Committed.’”

After winning the Pulitzer Prize, Nguyen turned into what he calls “a public intellectual” who was “suddenly in demand as a speaker, panelist, late-night TV guest and op-ed writer, speaking up for refugees and immigrants at a time when both groups were being demonized.” But the demands of that public persona prevented him from writing fiction for a year.

Initially, Nguyen didn’t set out to write a series about a disillusioned spy. But when he finished “The Sympathizer,” he had grown attached to his sardonic narrator, whose voice came to him so naturally that it feels like his alter ego.

Sex, Noir & Isolation

“In his novels, Alfred Hayes explored what he saw as noir’s central concern: the inability to feel the reality of your own life, or anyone else’s.”

Vivian Gornick writes about the work of Alfred Hayes, a reporter, screenwriter, novelist, and poet who died in 1985 and who “has recently become something of a passion for those who find in his writing the mastery that makes a work of literature take up a permanent place in a reader’s inner life.”

Review: From William Styron to ‘American Dirt’: When is it appropriate to culturally appropriate?

Carolyn Kellogg reviews Appropriate: A Provocation by poet and writing professor Paisley Rekdal for the Los Angeles Times: “her basic thesis is that culture is situated in its moment; careful consideration of where each of us is in that moment informs what we create, how we read, what literature is lifted up and what is left out.”

We Can’t Believe Survivors’ Stories If We Never Hear Them

“Our ideas about which narratives are important, sane, or credible depend on what we see reflected in culture”

Rachel Zarrow argues that we must encourage survivors of trauma to tell their stories and we must listen to the stories they tell if we are to understand their experience. Although Zarrow focuses on survivors’ stories of sexual assault, her message applies to people who have experienced other traumas as well, such as political oppression, famine, war.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Audiobooks Discussion Ebooks Reading

Do You Read More Than One Book at a Time?

illustration: 2021 Discussion Challenge

Thanks to these two bloggers for sponsoring the 2021 Blog Discussion Challenge:

You can join the discussion challenge at any time during 2021 by clicking on either link above.


The question of whether people read more than one book at a time comes up often on book-related media. I’ve noticed that the people who post the question and then go on to answer it most often write about why they read multiple books simultaneously. Many people just ask the question without including any discussion, but the ones who do include their answer with the question are usually people who read more than one book at a time.

That’s just an unscientific observation of mine. I haven’t kept any records or hard statistics on the subject. But I’m going to assume I’ve observed correctly for the purpose of discussion here, because I wonder why simultaneous readers tend to ask and answer the question most often. 

Perhaps these readers ask and answer the question because they somehow feel that reading several books at once is a habit that needs justification. They frequently explain that they have different books in different formats (print, audiobook, ebook) going at the same time. Some read books in different categories (i.e., fiction and nonfiction) at the same time, or works in different genres (i.e., fantasy and historical fiction).

Or maybe these readers are really bragging: “I’m smart enough to keep several books going at one time,” as if the capability of keeping more plates spinning is an assertion of reading prowess. A more gracious interpretation would be that moving between different stimuli is how they keep their engagement with reading fresh and rewarding.

I firmly believe that reading is a highly personalized experience: different strokes for different folks. There are no right or wrong ways to read. Whatever works for you is what you should do.

In answering the question of whether I read more than one book at a time, I fall somewhere in the middle. I prefer to immerse myself in one book at a time. I don’t want to be reading two novels simultaneously and have to remind myself which one’s protagonist is an orphan and which one’s protagonist, at age 37, still lives at home with Mother. I like to consume characters’ stories whole.

However, I sometimes have an audiobook going at the same time as either a print book or audiobook. The reason for this is practical: I can’t turn the pages of a print book while I’m folding laundry or vacuuming. Those are activities that audiobooks were invented for. I am, though, choosy about audiobooks. I pick works that I think I won’t need to flip back through several pages to follow the story line of. The shortcoming of audiobooks is that it isn’t easy to isolate specific passages that I may want to reference in a review.

How About You?

Do you read more than one book at a time? 

Or maybe you prefer this question: Do you think that the question of reading more than one book at a time is meaningless, pointless, useless?

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Personal

On This Day, March 8: International Women’s Day marked on March 8 for 1st time – UPI.com

On March 8, 1914, International Women’s Day was observed on March 8 for the first time and would go on to be marked on this day annually.

Source: On This Day, March 8: International Women’s Day marked on March 8 for 1st time – UPI.com

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Author News Book News Book Recommendations Censorship Publishing Reading

Literary Links

The time is right to cancel Dr. Seuss’s racist books

One of the biggest literary stories recently is the decision by the company that controls the works of Dr. Seuss to pull six titles from future republication because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” Here Ron Charles, book critic for the Washington Post, expresses his agreement with the decision.

Dr. Seuss Books Are Pulled, and a ‘Cancel Culture’ Controversy Erupts

Soon after the story of the Dr. Seuss decision, the story blossomed into a full-blown controversy over censorship and cancel culture. Written a few days after the previous article, this article gives an overview of the Dr. Seuss news.

6 Books That Give Voices to Forgotten Women in Our Stories

The last several years have seen the rise of a movement to put women’s stories back into a cultural history dominated by men. Here Aisling Twomey lists books “specifically retelling older stories from the perspectives of the women in them who have long been ignored.”

Your 9 Favorite Classics and What to Read Next

Book recommendations abound across the internet. But I was particularly interested in this article, which suggests current reading based on your favorite literary classic. See what to read next if your favorite literary classic is one of these works: The Great Gatsby, The Crucible, Little Women, Roots, A Passage to India, Pride and Prejudice, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Forever Amber, or Jane Eyre

Teaching Classic Lit Helps Game Designers Make Better Stories

Poet Cindy Frenkel created a course called Creative Writing for Video Gamers, a requirement for students majoring in video game design at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan. Here she describes the lesson she learned from one of her student’s presentation: “appreciating classic literature and art could enhance not only the creation of video games but the player’s experience as well.”

“Classic literature has fundamental elements that reappear every day in video games, comics, and movies . . . because the building blocks of a great story remain the same throughout the centuries.”

Is It Worth Reading If I Forget Everything I Read?

Danika Ellis asks this question because she usually remembers only her general impressions of books she’s read, not plot details. But, she concludes, she will continue to read: “I’ve taken to heart that the brain is a great place to make creative connections and to come up with new ideas, but it’s a pretty poor place to store information.”

The Curse of Reading and Forgetting

In this article in The New Yorker from way back in 2013, Ian Crouch addresses the same concern that Ellis explains in the article above: “the assembled books [on his bookshelves], and the hundreds of others that I’ve read and discarded, given away, or returned to libraries, represent a vast catalogue of forgetting.”

Read his conclusion on this “minor existential drama.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown