Literary Links

SOME OBSERVATIONS FROM LIBRARY TOURISM

Jen Sherman declares “public libraries should be a tourist destination the way museums are.” And she knows whereof she speaks:

I started doing a PhD about public libraries in 2012, and in the past eight years, I have visited 112 libraries in six different countries (primarily USA and Australia). I have been to libraries in the heart of bustling global cities, in quiet suburbia, in small country towns. I have seen some very old libraries, and some very new ones.

She’s seen some fascinating things in public libraries in recent years that you might be interested in reading about.

Have we gotten any happier over 200 years? Researchers analyzed millions of books to find out.

In this era of Big Data, there have been lots of ideas on how to apply computer analysis to literature. Here’s one:

Starting from the premise that what we write reveals a lot about our underlying feelings, they [researchers] analyzed millions of books published between 1820 and 2009 and used the words in them to measure changes in subjective well-being in four countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy. They chose that time period and those countries because we’ve got sufficiently rich data for them.

Read how researchers conducted this study and what they learned from it.

WHEN YOU HATE THE CLASSICS, BUT YOU’RE AN ENGLISH TEACHER

I initially thought this piece was probably written tongue in cheek, but apparently it’s not. Lily Dunn doesn’t like a lot of the classics of the English literature canon and feels that her students have the right not to like them, either. Here’s the conclusion of the article:

I happen to think there is value in learning how to interact with things you don’t like. In a world that seems full of baseless hate and judgment, teaching students how to engage with things they don’t agree with or just plain don’t like might be the greatest gift I can give them. I want my students to know that they can hate the Classics too, as long as they are willing to use their brains and to engage.

That’s great, but I would argue that this philosophy serves no purpose if students don’t actually READ THE BOOKS. As in book groups, I don’t mind if people don’t like the book, but they should have read it (or at least most of it) so that they can explain WHY they don’t like it. If they can’t point to specific passages and explain what they don’t like about them, I can’t learn anything from their criticism.

Dunn doesn’t specify in the article whether her classes read the books so they can discuss what they don’t like about them or whether she just thinks she shouldn’t have to teach any classic works she herself doesn’t like. I’d really like to know.

Spoiler alert: spoilers make you enjoy stories more

This article is from 2016. I’ve seen it (and other similar pieces) before, but I include it here because the question about knowing what happens recently came up in an online discussion about rereading books. There’s interesting information here both about how research on the questioned was designed and about what the results of such studies were.

AN IMITATION OF IMPERFECTION: A HISTORY OF DECKLE EDGES

Here’s a history of papermaking that explains why some books have ragged edges on their pages.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

My Longest Books (cont.)

Related Post:

fancy scroll

When I started collecting data for this project, I pulled down from my shelves every book that looked bigger than most of the others. In this age of Big Data, I just couldn’t quite discard all the remaining titles after I determined the 20 longest. Therefore, here’s the second installment of the biggest books I own, numbers 21-40, plus one more because of one that got overlooked (see below).

21. Henry James: A Life by Leon Edel

  • 740 pages
  • hardcover
  • read

22. Ulysses by James Joyce

  • 732 pages
  • paperback
  • unread

23. The First Tycoon by T.J. Stiles

  • 719 pages
  • paperback
  • unread

24. The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

  • 709 pages
  • paperback
  • unread

25. The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion by Tracy Daugherty

  • 703 pages
  • hardcover
  • unread

26. The Jameses: A Family Narrative by R.W.B. Lewis

  • 696 pages
  • paperback
  • read

27. An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

  • 692 pages
  • hardcover
  • read

28. The Iliad by Homer, translated by Robert Fagles

  • 683 pages
  • hardcover
  • read

29. Roughing It by Mark Twain

  • 673 pages
  • hardcover
  • read

30. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

  • 652 pages
  • hardcover
  • read

31. Personal History by Katharine Graham

  • 642 pages
  • hardcover
  • unread

32. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

  • 36 pages
  • hardcover
  • read

33. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

  • 624 pages
  • hardcover
  • unread

34. Babel Tower by A.S. Byatt

  • 619 pages
  • hardcover
  • unread

35. The Little Drummer Girl by John le Carré

  • 590 pages
  • (Kindle)
  • unread

36. Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin

  • 580 pages
  • hardcover
  • unread

37. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

  • 568 pages
  • hardcover
  • unread

38. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

  • 562 pages
  • hardcover
  • unread

39. Dune by Frank Herbert

  • 562 pages
  • hardcover
  • read

40. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

  • 435 pages
  • hardcover
  • read

Correction

Somehow, this book got overlooked:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

  • 870 pages
  • hardcover
  • read

At 870 pages, it should clock in at #12 overall.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

Why Some People Become Lifelong Readers

Joe Pinsker looks at the question of “why some people grow up to derive great pleasure from reading, while others don’t.” Here’s no surprise: “a chief factor seems to be the household one is born into, and the culture of reading that parents create within it.”

How Reese Witherspoon became the new high priestess of book clubs

“Since Reese’s Book Club launched in 2017 in partnership with the actress’s media company, Hello Sunshine, it has become an industry phenomenon with the power to catapult titles to the top of the bestseller lists.” According to the article, “Reese really picks the books.”

The Loser-Spy Novelist for Our Times

James Parker, a staff writer for The Atlantic, praises English novelist Mick Herron on the publication of his latest novel, Joe Country. “Mick Herron writes about the broken spies sworn to protect today’s broken England,” the article’s subtitle proclaims.

“Like John le Carré—with whom he has been much compared—Herron is obsessed with that area of human experience, that area of the human brain, where paranoia overlaps with an essential, feral vigilance.”

Read Editor Carmen Maria Machado’s Intro to The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019

cover: he Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019

Here’s another look at the age-old, ever-recurring question of the distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction.

This omnivorous selection of stories chosen by series editor John Joseph Adams and World Fantasy Award finalist Machado is a display of the most boundary-pushing, genre-blurring, stylistically singular science fiction and fantasy stories published in the last year. By sending us to alternate universes and chronicling ordinary magic, introducing us to mythical beasts and talking animals, and engaging with a wide spectrum of emotion from tenderness to fear, each of these stories challenge the way we see our place in the cosmos.

Orphans and their quests

Harvard Ph.D. candidate Manvir Singh discusses what he calls the sympathetic plot, which pervades world literature and controls how we respond to stories. One common trope of the sympathetic plot is the story of orphans, “parentless protagonists [that] are everywhere.”

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Books I Wish I Could Read for the First Time Again

Recently I came across the article 14 Books You Wish You Could Read for the First Time Again. Off the Shelf editors asked members of their Facebook group which books they wish they could read again for the first time and published some of the responses.

I agree with these titles from the article:

  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King  
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver  
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman  
  • Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman  
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Examining the Off the Shelf list made me consider exactly what qualities make me want to reread a book. Often it’s the enjoyment of seeing how a writer makes a particular story work—the mechanics of getting plot and character to mesh to produce a satisfying whole. Sometimes it’s the experience of spending time with characters who feel like real people, and other times it’s seeing how characters react to situations that we hope we’ll never have to face in real life. Usually it’s the emotional realization that, although we are all individuals, we all share a common humanity. 

Many times rereading a book is more pleasurable because I already know, in general terms, what’s going to happen and who I’m going to meet along the way. Yet there are still some books that I wish I could read again with fresh eyes.

For that reason, here, in no particular order, are a few books I would add to this list:

  • All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren  
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara  
  • “The Lottery” (short story) by Shirley Jackson 
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell  
  • Disturbances in the Field by Lynne Sharon Schwartz  
  • A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra  
  • Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy  
  • Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney  
  • Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson  
  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd  
  • We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates  
  • Mystic River by Dennis Lehane  
  • L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy 

How About You?

What makes you want to reread a book? And what books do you wish you could read for the first time again?

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

6 Degrees of Separation: From Three to Eight

It’s time for another adventure in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. We are given a book to start with, and from there we free associate six books.

This month we begin with a book that everyone’s talking about – Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, which Goodreads describes as “the deepest nonfiction portrait of desire ever written.”

Since I’m not interested in the subject matter, I’m going to approach this month’s list by the numbers.

1. Another book with three in the title is The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. In this science fiction book the author uses a well-known problem in physics and mathematics as the basis for an explication of China’s Cultural Revolution.

2. Next comes The Fourth Steven by Margaret Moseley, a humorous though dark mystery. Book rep Honey Huckleberry has three friends named Steven, but when someone named Steven calls her and confesses to murder, she’s pretty sure the caller isn’t one of them. Then, when her three Stevens start dying, the fourth Steven becomes the prime suspect. Yes, like so much in life, it’s complicated.

3. The anti-war novel Slaughterhouse-Five is Kurt Vonnegut’s best known work.

4. In Six Years by Harlan Coben, college professor Jake Fisher attends the funeral of Todd, the man he watched marry Natalie, the love of Jake’s life, six years earlier. But the grieving widow Jake glimpses at the funeral is not Natalie. Jake’s world begins to unravel as he searches for the truth about his past and about the woman he loved.

5. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid tells the life story of an aging movie star who has a secret to reveal to the young writer she has chosen to do the work.

6. Robert Dugoni combines a thrilling spy story with a cerebral courtroom procedural in The Eighth Sister.

And just like that, we’ve gone from three women to eight.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

A Love Letter to the Girls Who Die First in Horror Films

When I recently read Riley Sager’s novel Final Girls, I didn’t realize that the final girl, the last girl left standing, is a standard trope of slasher movies. In this article Lindsay King-Miller talks about “a film’s Final Girl, a term coined by Carol Clover in her brilliant work of horror theory Men, Women, and Chainsaws.” But what she’s more interested in all the other girls who die first, before the Final Girl is left to face down the enemy.

There’s a morality play element to this, as countless film writers have explored: girls in horror movies are punished for doing things girls aren’t supposed to do, especially for having sex.

From the Battlefield to ‘Little Women’

Cover: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Jennifer Wilson describes how serving in military hospitals shaped the story Louisa May Alcott later wrote as Little Women. The basis for the article is the letters Alcott wrote home during her war experiences, published in 1863 as Hospital Sketches.

The Cult Books That Lost Their Cool

The definition of the term cult books that Hephzibah Anderson uses in this essay is pretty amorphous:

the cult classic inspires passionate devotion among its fans, who frequently weave their own myths around the texts. But another, underexamined, feature of the cult book is this: . . . it can sometimes age really badly.

You can pull together your own definition of the term from Anderson’s discussions of the following cult classics:

  • The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, 1951  
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, 1957  
  • The Beach by Alex Garland, 1996  
  • Iron John by Robert Bly, 1990  
  • The Outsider by Colin Wilson, 1956  
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, 1952  
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac, 1957  
  • The Rules by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, 1995  
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, 1970  
  • Little Red Book by Mao Zedong, 1964  
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, 1996

It’s a Fact: Mistakes Are Embarrassing the Publishing Industry

In the past year alone, errors in books by several high-profile authors — including Naomi Wolf, the former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, the historian Jared Diamond, the behavioral scientist and “happiness expert” Paul Dolan and the journalist Michael Wolff — have ignited a debate over whether publishers should take more responsibility for the accuracy of their books.

Writing in The New York Times, Alexandra Alter looks at the question of who should be responsible for fact checking: authors or publishers?

The Temporary Memory Lapse of Transient Global Amnesia

Amnesia is a standard trope of mysteries and psychological thrillers, which I read a lot of. This article describes a very real phenomenon, transient global amnesia:

Transient global amnesia, often called T.G.A. It is a temporary lapse in memory that can never be retrieved. “It’s as if the brain is on overload and takes a break to recharge,” Dr. [Carolyn] Brockington [a vascular neurologist] said in an interview. She likened it to rebooting a computer to eradicate an unexplainable glitch. Those with T.G.A. do not experience any alteration in consciousness or abnormal movements. Only the ability to lay down memories is affected. All other parts of the brain appear to be working normally.

T.G.A. is relatively rare, though it appears to occur more frequently in people over age 50 than in younger people, with men and women affected about equally. It leaves no lasting effects except for the lack of memories during its occurrence. It typically lasts for one to eight hours and usually clears up within a day. Its cause or causes have not been established, and there is no treatment. The condition occurs a second time in only 4% or 5% of patients.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown