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Viewing Literature as a Lab for Community Ethics

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront many bioethical questions, such as, when resources are limited, which lives should be saved and which sacrificed? Maren Tova Linett, author of Literary Bioethics, argues that fiction, with its ability to present imagined worlds, offers the chance to explore such concerns: “Fiction has the virtue of presenting vividly imagined worlds in which certain values hold sway, casting new light onto those values. And the more plausible we find these imagined worlds, the more thoroughly we can evaluate the justice of those values.”

Literary Bioethics considers novels such as The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells, and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

In Publishing, ‘Everything Is Up for Change’

It’s been impossible to avoid at least cursory exposure to all that’s been going on in the publishing industry over the last year or so. Here, writing in The New York Times, Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth A. Harris look at some of the people now poised to champion change.

over the last year, deaths, retirements and executive reshuffling have made way for new leaders, more diverse and often more commercial than their predecessors, as well as people who have never worked in publishing before. Those appointments stand to fundamentally change the industry, and the books it puts out into the world.

How Fantasy Literature Helped Create the 21st Century

Since I don’t read much fantasy (“so many books, so little time”), this article caught my eye. It’s the introduction to The Big Book of Modern Fantasy, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, and published by Vintage Books on July 21, 2020.

we have worked from a simple concept of what makes a story “fantasy”: any story in which an element of the unreal permeates the real world or any story that takes place in a secondary world that is identifiably not a version of ours, whether anything overtly “fantastical” occurs in the story. We distinguish fantasy from horror or the weird by considering the story’s apparent purpose: fantasy isn’t primarily concerned with the creation of terror or the exploration of an altered state of being frightened, alienated, or fascinated by an eruption of the uncanny.

Modern fantasy, the authors write, begins with the end of World War II in 1945.  It was soon after that date that “fantasy solidified into a publishing category,” separate from horror and science fiction. Since then, fantasy has become more mainstream than it was previously, although some literary magazines still refer to stories with fantastical elements as “‘surrealism,’ ‘fabulism,’ or ‘magical realism’ to distinguish them from genre fantasy.”

This article has encouraged me to think about expanding my reading horizon and giving some contemporary fantasy a try.

Pain Is Universal—That’s What Binds All of Crime Fiction Together

“Pain, whether physical or emotional is a significant part of the overall narrative” of all the various subgenres of crime fiction, writes S.A. Crosby, author of the recently published novel Blacktop Wasteland

The Desires of Margaret Fuller

In May of 1850, after four years abroad, Margaret Fuller set sail from Livorno to New York, bound for her native Massachusetts. She was just about to turn forty, and her stature in America was unique. In the space of a decade, she had invented a new vocation: the female public intellectual.

From 2013, a portrait of Margaret Fuller, “once the best-read woman in America,” the first woman American foreign correspondent and combat reporter, and author of Woman in the Nineteenth Century, a foundational work of feminist history.  

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Crime Fiction Trains Us for Crisis

Writer Sulari Gentill says that, since crime fiction “essentially tells the story of a crisis,” is has helped to prepare us for the world we all now find ourselves in.

This year we have already faced fire, flood and pandemic. We had fled our homes and been confined to them. And we have risen up against murder and prejudice. Each of those actions have required decisions about how to protect ourselves and those around us. They have been made in the face of real threats to personal safety.

Tie a Tourniquet on Your Heart

“revisiting Edna Buchanan, America’s greatest police reporter”

I have written (here and here) of my love for Edna Buchanan’s crime novels set in Miami featuring Cuban-American journalist Britt Montero.

Before she turned to writing crime novels, Edna Buchanan was a crime journalist in Miami.  She won a Pulitzer Prize for her newspaper work in 1986. 

In this article Diana Moskovitz addresses the issue of how television, movies, and other elements of popular culture have helped create the current problem in the U.S. of police using unnecessary force to subdue suspects. This is an argument that isn’t new. I’ve seen many stories lately of how crime dramas such as Blue Bloods and the various iterations of Law & Order have shaped the public attitude that law enforcement only uses extreme measures to subdue criminals and force information out of them when absolutely necessary. These dramas have taught us to excuse such behavior as the necessary price society pays for protection and safety, the argument goes.

And, according to Moskovitz, Edna Buchanan is one of the well-known crime reporters whose work has contributed to this public attitude. Moskovitz is talking about Buchanan’s reportorial work here, not her novels. On rereading The Corpse Had a Familiar Face, the 1987 book about her reporting that made Edna Buchanan a nationally known figure, Moskovitz realized:

. . . how police positive it was. How it is littered with calls for tougher justice, using victims as props to demand harsher sentences, and how it ignored all the ways American society sets people up to break the law in the first place. How bad behavior by officers—even the one Buchanan briefly married—is condemned, but never really traced back to any larger issue. How Buchanan’s words have reinforced institutions that a growing American conscience believes are no longer, and perhaps never were, inherently good, or even necessary at all.

After the publication of The Corpse Had a Familiar Face, Buchanan became the public model for what a good crime reporter should do: “the Buchanan model is not, primarily, about police accountability. It’s about writing a story that leaps off the page with stunning details.”

Kamala Harris is wrong about science fiction

Author Charlie Jane Anders writes in The Washington Post:

Sen. Kamala D. Harris was half right in her speech launching her 2020 presidential campaign when she said we need to address climate change based on “science fact, not science fiction.” The truth is, we need both. Science fiction has an important role to play in rescuing the future from the huge challenges we’re facing . . .

“Stories about climate change might be fiction, but they can help to sway people’s hearts and minds in a different way than a recitation of the undeniable facts,” Anders writes. “And because science fiction is the literature of problem-solving, our made-up stories about science and innovation can play an important role in helping us to regain our faith in our own ability to create change.”

How Students Built a 16th-Century Engineer’s Book-Reading Machine

Agostino Ramelli, a 16th-century military, “designed many contraptions for the changing Renaissance landscape.” One of his machines aimed at allowing users to read multiple books at one time. Although Ramelli never built the machine, its possibility has long intrigued people who study the history of the book.

This article from Atlas Obscura details how, in 2018, a group of undergraduate engineering students at the Rochester Institute of Technology set out to build the machine. It’s worth looking at the article just for the photos and illustrations, but the text is pretty intriguing as well.

20 Books to Read in Quarantine This Summer

“Our picks for immersive, escapist, or nostalgic reading—wherever you are”

If you still need more suggestions for reading to occupy yourself with during this pandemic, editors from The Atlantic have some suggestions, curated “with an eye toward stories that will resonate during a summer of continued social distancing and tentative reopenings.” They’ve “ loosely grouped them according to literary cravings you might have,” such as these:

  • IF YOU WANT TO GET LOST IN A PLACE
  • IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A PAGE-TURNER
  • IF YOU NEED SMART OBSERVATIONS ABOUT LIFE
  • IF YOU’RE IN THE MOOD FOR A QUEST
  • IF YOU’RE CRAVING HUMAN CONNECTION

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Time Is Not Real: Books That Play with the Art of Time

Vivienne Woodward looks at some books that manipulate our sense of time. The inspiration for this essay is the way COVID-19 lockdown has affected her perception of time:

One of the things reading fiction makes clear is how many ways there are to use and manipulate time. This period of quarantine has made me think about the art of time in my own life in a new way; it has forced me to wake up every day and make more deliberate choices about how I will spend it. Perhaps the way we experience reality is not so different from the way writers construct narrative. Joan Didion famously said that “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” If we take her word on that, then let’s make better study of one of the most malleable narrative elements we have: time.

There Are So, So Many Crime Novels with ‘Girl’ in the Title

This is the fifth installment in Lisa Levy’s examination of why so many crime novels feature the word girl: “Girls are the easiest characters to put into peril and the ones with whom the audience is most likely to sympathize.”

There are links to the first four installments near the beginning of the article. 

‘I don’t like Jack Reacher that much’: Lee Child and fellow crime writers on their creations

The title of this article comes from a comment writer Lee Child made when he recently turned over the writing of the Jack Reacher series to his brother Andrew Grant.

“Creating a long-running series featuring a much-loved character can be both a blessing and a curse,” Alison Flood says here. Read how some authors, including Sara Paretsky, Attica Locke, Val McDermid, Ann Cleeves, and Michael Connelly, have dealt with their long-term relationships with their fictional creations.

On Owning Many Books

If you follow the topic “reading” on any social media platform, you’ve undoubtedly seen the statement “It’s not hoarding if it’s books.” Here Mik Awake declares, “Book-hoarding is less cute if you think of it as book-privatizing.”

As far back as the novels in Oates’s Wonderland Quartet, such as “Expensive People” (1968) and “them” (1969), which received the National Book Award fifty years ago this fall, Oates has deployed her zeal for revision to forge a style of rousing roughness. Her dozens of novels and hundreds of short stories, many of them set in western New York, forgo an air of cool mastery in favor of a kind of cultivated vulnerability, an openness to engulfment.

The Best Psychological Thrillers

Because I like mysteries and thrillers, I’m always interested in any article that includes them in its title. Here Tammy Cohen, author of six psychological thrillers, lists five of her favorites by other authors.

Cohen also offers an inclusive definition of the genre psychological thriller:

The psychological thriller explores our internal state, our internal fears, our relationships, the way we see ourselves in our domestic world, in our small world, interacting with the people around us. And it plays on our fears about things that could go wrong within that sphere. It doesn’t have to be domestic, but it usually takes place within a small group, which gives it that claustrophobic feeling.

Her definition well explains why I find that such novels explore most fully the darkest depths of the human heart and mind.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Summer reading has a fraught history. But if there was ever a time to delight in escapism, it’s now

Wisdom from Ron Charles, book critic for the Washington Post:

The shame of summer reading is almost as old as summer reading itself. It took humanity 200,000 years to produce movable type, widespread literacy and enough leisure time to enjoy a book. But as soon as people discovered the pleasures of a diverting novel, some starchy scold swooped in to make them feel bad.

Charles notes that the term beach reads was still toxic in highbrow circles at the end of the 20th century and that our personal beach-reading “remains fraught with anxiety about what those choices might suggest about ourselves.” 

But I like his conclusion: “If there were ever a summer to stop apologizing, to stop pretending and to stop worrying about what we should read, it’s this summer.”

Literature Is Built on a Foundation of Horror

“Why all great writing, no matter the genre, is steeped in horror.”

I often say that I don’t like horror fiction; in particular, I don’t read fiction involving werewolves, zombies, or vampires.

But novelist Marc E. Fitch argues that all fiction is a form of horror:

Literary fiction, in its attempt to confront reality, is built on a foundation of insanity, meaninglessness, brutality and death. Authors of genre fiction are essentially writing in the basement of that haunted house. They are not the worse for it; they are engaged with the same horrors as writers included in the literary canon and sometimes transcend the genre, creating work that is both horrifying and deeply meaningful. There are no hard boundaries in classifying literature, or course, and people should read widely. But just because it isn’t labeled a horror novel, doesn’t mean it isn’t a novel of horrors.

Questioning the Very Form of the Book

Karla Kelsey discusses The Saddest Thing Is ThatI Have Had to Use Words: A Madeline Gins Reader, edited by Lucy Ives. “Madeline Gins uses the form to dislodge our notion of individual subjectivity, the narrator commonly known as ‘I.’”

Kelsey describes Gins as a writer who explored “the wherefores and why’s of experimental writing — of its capacity to say and do what other forms of writing or art-making cannot.”

Rufi Thorpe on the Narrative Role of the Bystander

“Writing Ordinary People Who Witness the Extraordinary”

Rufi Thorpe, author of the recently published novel The Knockout Queen, praises books that she calls “The Gospel of Joe Schmo”: “An ordinary person tells the story of their friend, someone extraordinary, who touched their life and changed them forever.”

Such novels, Thorpe writes, “are all told in first person from the point of view of an almost peripheral character.” Such novels include Heart of Darkness, The Great Gatsby, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, All the King’s Men, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Genre Labels: What Makes a Book More Thriller Than Sci-Fi?

Publishers and marketing directors love genre labels, writes S.L. Huang. Here she describes how some science fiction books end up getting classified as thrillers:

So although there are certainly scifi thrillers that straddle genres and hit it out of the park on both the futuristic elements and the fast-paced thrilling tension, here are some ways that, in my observation, a book that could easily be called science fiction instead gets sucked more into the tense and mainstream maw of the thriller category.

I found this article particularly fascinating because, although Huang doesn’t mention these titles specifically, I’ve enjoyed recent novels, including Dark Matter by Blake Crouch and The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, that are thrillers with science-fiction elements.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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‘Killing People in Fiction Was Fun’: Mysteries That Have Stood the Test of Time

Like many of us, Sarah Weinman initially thought that the coronavirus lockdown would allow her to read, read, read. And also like many of us, she soon discovered that “Focus has evaporated. The cognitive load of living through the coronavirus has gone straight for my literary jugular.”

Her antidote for this condition has been a return to “much-loved classic crime fiction.” With the help of audiobooks, Weinman has enjoyed books by Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Patricia Highsmith, and Margaret Millar.

The Erosion of Deep Literacy

Here’s an article you might want to bookmark for reading after we emerge from the current coronavirus lockdown. The article deals with how modern technology is causing us to lose the ability for “deep literacy” or “deep reading”:

In her 2018 book, Reader, Come Home, [Maryanne] Wolf uses cognitive neuroscience and developmental psycholinguistics to study the reading brain and literacy development, and in doing so, helps identify what is being lost. According to Wolf, we are losing what she calls “deep literacy” or “deep reading.” This does not include decoding written symbols, writing one’s name, or making lists. Deep literacy is what happens when a reader engages with an extended piece of writing in such a way as to anticipate an author’s direction and meaning, and engages what one already knows in a dialectical process with the text. The result, with any luck, is a fusion of writer and reader, with the potential to bear original insight

The loss of this ability may be crucial for future human development because “Deep reading has in large part informed our development as humans, in ways both physiological and cultural.”

With its emphasis on brain evolution, this article goes well beyond the common laments on how technology is making us stupid.

This is a long and complex piece, the kind of thing that I’m having difficulty focusing on enough to comprehend and to, well, think deeply about. So I have put it away to look at again in the future. 

Not everyone hates being stuck at home. Some people are thriving

Molly Creeden writes in the Los Angeles Times, “the unusual circumstances of being cloistered at home have proved a welcome change of pace, if not wholly enjoyable. And while no one is happy about the reasons we find ourselves in this abbreviated style of living, those well-suited to it are thriving.”

Read some of the explanations by people who appreciate the changes the current situation has brought to their lives and who hope to carry over some of those changes when the isolation restrictions ease.

Top 10 Scottish crime novels

Craig Robertson writes, “I’m not a big fan of tartan noir as a label for Scottish crime fiction. It works as an advertising slogan but doesn’t capture what the broad church of Scottish crime fiction is all about. There are so many fine novels within the canon that are either not tartan – with the archaic and cliched connotations that word can offer – or aren’t noir.” 

Here he offers a list of novels that “fit into a tradition of Scottish crime novels driven by issues of duality, redemption, the nature of good and evil, and a dark, dark, humour” by authors including William McIlvanney, Denise Mina, Ian Rankin, and Val McDermid.

Lionel Shriver Is Looking for Trouble

Ariel Levy writes in The New Yorker about author Lionel Shriver, “Shriver has often been convinced that we are freaking out about the wrong things—focussing on climate change, for instance, instead of contemplating the population explosion that fuels it. The coronavirus, she believes, will ultimately prove less destructive than the international fiscal contraction that it has provoked.”

Shriver’s breakout novel, We Need to Talk About Kevin, featured a mother facing the fact that her son had committed mass murder at school. Levy writes, “her novels tend to explore almost perversely unappealing issues.”

7 Pieces of Reading Advice From History’s Greatest Minds

Ellen Gutoskey offers “seven pieces of reading advice to help you build an impressive to-be-read (TBR) pile.”

My own favorite is this one:

7. “You get to make the final decision on how, what, and when to read.” Theodore Roosevelt

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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The Economics of Coronavirus: A Reading List

I’ve been thinking a lot about what the world will look like once the COVID-19 pandemic is over, but my speculations are mostly social and political. I know absolutely nothing about economics beyond balancing my checkbook, which is why I took particular notice of this article from Five Books.

As we deal with the economic fallout of coronavirus, what lessons can economic theory and economic history teach us as we navigate the months ahead? Ricardo Reis, professor of economics at the London School of Economics—and consultant to both the Bank of England and the Federal Reserve—recommends four books and one article to help us think through the economic challenges posed by Covid-19.

The Essential Stephen King

“If you’ve never read his books, here’s where to start.”

Because I abhor horror, I avoided Stephen King’s books for a long time. I did once decide (in my early 30s) that I should probably give him a try and read The Tommyknockers, an experience that validated my assessment.

However, both Stephen King and I have changed in the intervening years. I still avoid straight horror, but I have enjoyed several of King’s not-so-horror works, e.g. Hearts in Atlantis, Bag of Bones, Misery, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Mr. Mercedes, and 11/22/63.

If you’ve never read Stephen King’s works or have read only a few, here’s a list of suggestions to get you started in the following categories:

  • “I Want to Read a King Classic”
  • “I Want to Drive Into the Skid”
  • “I’m a Scaredy-Cat, OK?”
  • “Actually, I’m Not a Scaredy-Cat, OK?”
  • “I Have Time to Begin an Epic Journey”
  • “I Want Pure Suspense”
  • “I’m Looking For a Big Fat Read”
  • “I Want a Great Crime Novel”
  • “I Want a Deep Cut”

I especially appreciated the entry under “I’m a Scaredy-Cat, OK?”:

It’s fine to not like scary things! That doesn’t mean you can’t read some Stephen King. Though he’s most famous for his horror novels and stories, at this point he has written a significant amount outside of the genre. Early in his career — less than a decade after the publication of his debut novel “Carrie” — King released “Different Seasons,” a collection of four novellas. Three of them have nothing to do with the supernatural. Two of them were adapted into top-tier King movies: “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” became, well, you know, and “The Body” was filmed as “Stand By Me.” Both are set in Maine in the early 1960s, and both give a sense of how lovingly King can draw his characters

In addition to his skill at characterization, King is also a master of description. If you’re an aspiring writer looking to write great description, check out King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.

 On Isolation and Literature

“Isolation is one of the fundamental themes of literature, the kiln of experience whereby a human is able to discover certain aspects of character, personality, and existence through journeying to the center of their being (though results are certainly varied),” writes Ed Simon in this survey.

the isolation of crafting literature, even if done in a crowded room, is such that any writer (and reader) must be by definition solitary, even while entire swaths of existence are contained inside one human skull. . . . Beyond the relatively prosaic fact that there have been reclusive writers and secluded characters, isolation is also the fundamental medium of both reading and writing. . . 

Covering works by early religious writers through authors such as Thoreau and Emily Dickinson to Virginia Woolf, Thomas Pynchon, and J.D. Salinger, Simon writes, “Isolation is not a medium for literature, nor is it a method of creating literature; it is the very substance of literature itself.” He associates this principle with the rise of the novel as a literary form that allows readers to live temporarily within interior space, the worlds a particular text creates within their heads.

The Coronavirus Is Rewriting Our Imaginations

Science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson writes:

In mid-March, in a prior age, I spent a week rafting down the Grand Canyon. When I left for the trip, the United States was still beginning to grapple with the reality of the coronavirus pandemic. Italy was suffering; the N.B.A. had just suspended its season; Tom Hanks had been reported ill. When I hiked back up, on March 19th, it was into a different world. I’ve spent my life writing science-fiction novels that try to convey some of the strangeness of the future. But I was still shocked by how much had changed, and how quickly.

“The virus is rewriting our imaginations,” he writes, because it has awakened our realization of the significance of our place in history. “We realize that what we do now, well or badly, will be remembered later on. This sense of enacting history matters.”

The Haunting of Shirley Jackson

“Since novels like [The Haunting of] Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle and short stories like “The Lottery” made Jackson one of America’s most famous horror authors, critics and Hollywood have tried to get to the heart of what makes Jackson’s work so enduringly scary,” writes Emily Alford. 

Alford examines both the works themselves and film adaptations to arrive at her answer: “her work’s simplest theme: madness is born of too much time alone.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Source: The Amazon Book Review

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The Curious Creation of Anna Kavan

Although I’ve heard of Anna Kavan—mostly through occasional references to her works—I know nothing about her. But I’ll have to change that, after reading this profile in the New Yorker. She examined the nature of identity, both in her writing and in her personal life.

Not long after being discharged from a Swiss sanitarium, in 1938, the English writer Helen Edmonds, who was born Helen Woods and had published six novels as Helen Ferguson, replaced her long brown locks with a neat blond bob and started calling herself Anna Kavan. The name was borrowed from the protagonist of her most autobiographical novels, “Let Me Alone” (1930) and “A Stranger Still” (1935), and chosen, at least in part, because it echoed the name of the writer who inspired the shifts in literary approach that accompanied her change of identity: Franz Kafka. It was in this new guise—born-again avant-gardist—and under this new name that she became known to the Home Office (as a registered heroin addict); to her most important publisher, Peter Owen; and to a small but avid readership.

How to Start a Love Affair with Audiobooks

I have carried on a 30+-year love affair with audiobooks, but I know many people who still either don’t like listening or insist that listening isn’t the same as reading. Here author Victoria Helen Stone explains how, after a rocky start, she came to appreciate audiobooks after learning how to listen to podcasts.

Fragmented Narratives Are Broken, Independent, and Honest

Sinéad Gleeson, author of the essay collection Constellations, discusses the nature of this collection, a series of essays that each stands on its own but that also work together to create a whole:

You can pick up an essay collection, read one, and then ditch the whole thing. It can be read in any order, anti-chronologically, and still fit together. The book’s title—Constellations—happened for a couple of reasons. I began thinking of objects that are whole but comprised of several distinct things. Each essay is a unit. They are autonomous entities in their own right, but are part of a larger framework. A constellation seemed like an obvious choice—especially because I loved astronomy as a kid, and spent a lot of timing seeking out Orion, Cassiopeia, The Big Dipper.

How to Help Librarians and Archivists From Your Living Room

If you’re looking for something constructive to occupy all this time you’re spending at home, Atlas Obscura has some suggestions:

IF TIME AT HOME HAS you missing life in the stacks or sifting through old papers in search of pieces of the past, fear not: You can do the same thing online. Slews of institutions are in the market for armchair archivists—volunteers who can generate knowledge by clicking through digitized resources, deciphering handwriting, tagging photos, and more.

What Our Contagion Fables Are Really About

“In the literature of pestilence, the greatest threat isn’t the loss of human life but the loss of what makes us human.”

the existence of books, no matter how grim the tale, is itself a sign, evidence that humanity endures, in the very contagion of reading. Reading may be an infection, the mind of the writer seeping, unstoppable, into the mind of the reader. And yet it is also—in its bidden intimacy, an intimacy in all other ways banned in times of plague—an antidote, proven, unfailing, and exquisite.

Jill Lepore burrows into plague literature over the centuries.

Returning Once More to a “Little House in the Big Woods”

Soon after I read about a librarian who had settled her fourth-grade son on the couch with a copy of Little House in the Big Woods, I came across this article in which Rebecca Mead hails the book as “a manual for self-sufficient social isolation.”


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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More Arts-Related Pandemic News

More Book-Related Pandemic News

Luckily, books still exist, and can be their own vehicle for connection. And what better reading material for right now than books where the characters are, in some way, alone? None of these are dystopian (at least not in the traditional sense), but are instead characterized by protagonists with complex interior lives who are either isolated (in some way that’s not about a contagion) or fiercely independent, or both.

Feeling overwhelmed? How art can help in an emergency by Olivia Laing

During this febrile period, I’ve found myself longing for a different kind of timeframe, in which it would be possible both to feel and to think, to process the intense impact of the news and perhaps even to imagine other ways of being. The stopped time of a painting, say, or the dilations of the novel, in which it is possible to see patterns and consequences that are otherwise invisible. Art has begun to feel not like a respite or an escape, but a formidable tool for gaining perspective on what are increasingly troubled times.

America Infected: The Social (Distance) Catastrophe

In the Paris Review, J. Hoberman looks at cinematic representations of plagues, including The Plague by Albert Camus and Contagion by Steven Soderbergh.

Pandemics from Homer to Stephen King: what we can learn from literary history

From Homer’s Iliad and Boccaccio’s Decameron to Stephen King’s The Stand and Ling Ma’s Severance, stories about pandemics have – over the history of Western literature such as it is – offered much in the way of catharsis, ways of processing strong emotion, and political commentary on how human beings respond to public health crises.

So We’re Working From Home. Can the Internet Handle It?

I live in the greater metropolitan Seattle area, which was the first site of infection of COVID-19 in the United States. This was therefore one of the first areas to cancel in-person classes and move to online education and to encourage remote working for non-essential employees. 

With all these additional people online during the day, I’ve noticed a significant increase in the length of time web pages take to load. Of course things were worse back in the first days of modems and dial-up internet, but still . . . . The New York Times reports on this issue with a more national focus.

IT’S THE RIGHT TIME TO READ CRIME NOVELS

Molly Odintz, senior editor for CrimeReads, explains why she’s taking refuge in reading Scandinavian thrillers:

Not because thrillers are low-brow. They take immense thought to create. But they don’t—and this is key—take commensurate mental energy to consume. They are the kindest art form, because they do the work for the consumer, allowing us a break from fretting about our very real woes so that we can worry, safely, for the fates of fictional characters instead.

20 MUST-READ FEEL-GOOD FANTASIES

If fantasy is more your choice for light reading, Nicole Hill has you covered with this list.

The Best of Speculative Fiction

More suggestions, these from Ken Liu, winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards.

How you can support bookstores during the coronavirus pandemic

Jonny Diamond reports on how to support local bookstores, which are suffering from lack of sales while people aren’t going out shopping. (See my article Life in an Independent Bookstore Near Seattle.)

The World of Books Braces for a Newly Ominous Future

“Publishers, bookstores and authors are struggling to confront and limit the financial fallout from the unfolding coronavirus crisis.”

15 Books and Authors Hurt by the Coronavirus

Novelists Ignite A Mighty Blaze in Response to Extinguished Book Tours

two novelists, Caroline Leavitt and Jenna Blum, are promoting their colleagues with an ambitious initiative called A Mighty Blaze. Anyone can participate in the conversations on A Mighty Blaze on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram about new releases, but for authors wanting their books to be signal boosted on these platforms, there are a few requirements: the book has to be traditionally published for adult readers, and the author’s book tour has to have been canceled.

Without Places to Gather, Debut Novelists Reimagine Book Promotion

Canada’s book publishers scramble to cope with the impact of coronavirus

As New York’s Indie Bookstores Close Their Doors, They Search for Community Online

Sales Skyrocket at Libro.fm and Bookshop.org

“As a result of the new coronavirus crisis, sales at downloadable audiobookstore Libro.fm and online Bookshop.org have soared. Both digital stores collaborate with independent booksellers and return a share of the sales back to them.”

Tolstoy Together

“Read and discuss War and Peace with Yiyun Li and A Public Space. Starting March 18, join us for a free virtual book club—a moment each day when we can gather together as a community. #TolstoyTogether.”

How To Take Your Book Club Online While Practicing Social Distancing

11 authors, from Laila Lalami to Jonathan Lethem, on the books they might finally read in quarantine

8 Books to Crack Open While Society Closes Down Because of Coronavirus

This list is from Teen Vogue, but the books are decidedly grown-up (for example, Steinbeck’s East of Eden).

Penguin Random House Open License Online Story Time and Classroom Read-Aloud Videos and Live Events

In order to encourage reading and classroom read-aloud experiences, and to support schools and public libraries forced to close by the escalating COVID-19 outbreak, Penguin Random House is permitting teachers, librarians and booksellers to create and share story time and read-aloud videos and live events, according to the following guidelines:

Since such presentations normally violate copyright law, Ron Charles of the Washington Post calls this “a generous offer.” If you plan to take advantage of the offer, be sure to read all the guidelines, including the one about later removing the presentation from the social platform’s archives.

Art Galleries Respond to Virus Outbreak With Online Viewing Rooms

Prolonged travel restrictions and venue closings leave some people craving artistic and cultural stimulation. Many organizations are satisfying those desires.

12 World-Class Museums You Can Visit Online

This article is from 2016, but the links still work.

No travel required: 10 iconic museums you can tour online

Met Museum Prepares for $100 Million Loss and Closure Till July

“The Met’s executives say the coronavirus outbreak makes painful layoffs likely for every cultural institution.”

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra will live stream performances in lieu of cancelled concerts

Met to launch “Nightly Met Opera Streams,” a free series of encore Live in HD presentations streamed on the company website during the coronavirus closure

Hollywood production has shut down. Why thousands of workers are feeling the pain

As film crews have quickly shut down in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, a domino effect has befallen Hollywood’s working class. A range of people from actors to lighting directors, drivers and grips to administrators, painters, hair stylists and caterers, now suddenly find themselves out of work.

What to Stream: Classics for Comfort

From film critic Richard Brody:

I’m picking up on a search for substance, for movies that have the settled and solid quality of classics (despite the narrow assumptions on which such classicism is based)—movies serious enough for the mood, compelling enough to provide ready distraction, and confident enough to look beyond the troubles that they evoke. Here are some of the movies that I’ve been grateful to watch in the past few stressful days.

What to Watch, Listen to, and Read While Coronavirus Self-Quarantining

“Here are some suggestions from New Yorker writers and artists to ease the stress of isolation.”

Recommendations for TV, movies, podcasts, books, and streaming content to keep yourself occupied.

The Fever Room: Epidemics and Social Distancing in “Bleak House” and “Jane Eyre”

A look at how quarantine helped prevent disease in these 19th century novels, when there were no other options for handling epidemics.

The first lines of 10 classic novels, rewritten for social distancing

Because sometimes all you can do is laugh. Example:

Pride and Prejudice

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be hoarding toilet paper.


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Literary Links

“What Do I Know To Be True?”: Emma Copley Eisenberg on Truth in Nonfiction, Writing Trauma, and The Dead Girl Newsroom

Jacqueline Alnes talks with Emma Copley Eisenberg, author of true-crime book The Third Rainbow Girl, “about what it means to seek truth in nonfiction, and how writing the personal can allow for more complicated realities to emerge; how undermining conventions of genre can impact the way a book is both marketed and read; and what it means to find clarity — or at least community — while writing into murky, and often traumatizing subject matter.”

Questions of “the boundaries between subject and writer, research and lived experience, and how we classify it all” are significant in journalism and in nonfiction writing. In the book, Alnes writes, “Eisenberg undermines many features of the subgenre by centering place as a major subject.” According to Alnes, Eisenberg inserts herself into the narrative as someone who cares about the region where the crime occurred and can therefore discuss some of the expectations and stereotypes of the people who live there.  “In prose that brims with empathy, and through research that illuminates narratives that have long been hidden by problematic representation, Eisenberg exposes the kinds of fictions we tell ourselves often enough that we believe them to be true.”

I called out American Dirt’s racism. I won’t be silenced.

Myriam Gurba was among the first to call out the novel American Dirt, published in January 2020, as “a novel filled with stereotypes of Mexicans.” She is one of the founding members of Dignidad Literaria, a group that arose out of the American Dirt controversy to demand more representation of people of color in publishing. 

Here she explains, “As I’ve learned again and again, if you speak out against racism, there are risks you must take on.”

The First Novelist Accused of Cultural Appropriation

“Reflections on my father’s novels The Confessions of Nat Turner and Sophie’s Choice, in the age of American Dirt”

Alexandra Styron, daughter of William Styron, writes, “With the possible exception of Harriet Beecher Stowe, my father was the first novelist in modern history to be accused of cultural appropriation.”

And, she continues, “That experience, and what he made of it, reflects complicated truths about mid-century American culture, and maybe offers some guidance for our own contentious times.”

These Powerful Women Are Changing The Literary Landscape

Despite the publishing industry’s continuing dominancy by white men, Kristin Iversen finds some reasons for hope:

While it’s still hard to say what will or won’t be a best-seller, there are a couple of things that are promising when it comes to publishing’s future: One is that most of the last decade’s best-selling books were written by women, and another is that the majority of the people reading multiple books each year are also women. And so it follows that if there’s one prevailing theme in the literary world right now, it’s that the industry’s most influential members — from behind-the-scenes publicity powerhouses to the biggest authors to prominent critics to podcast hosts to, you know, supermodels — are overwhelmingly women.

Read here about the women Iversen sees as the sources of these hopes.

From ‘The Outsider’ to ‘It,’ the joys — and challenges — of adapting Stephen King

Travis M. Andrews discusses the recent HBO adaptation of King’s The Outsider by focusing on “one of the primary challenges in adapting King’s work: taking something so interior (in this case, doubt) and making it visual.”

Joanna Trollope on families, fiction and feminism: ‘Society still expects women to do all the caring’

Joanna “Trollope is the queen of contemporary women’s fiction and seems to be wired to the anxieties of a devoted, predominantly female, readership. The complexities of life and love cascade through novels that have confronted lust, adoption, divorce, infidelity and the changing nature of the modern family.” 

In this piece for the Guardian Claire Armitstead weaves together a short biography, references to Trollope’s novels, and an interview with the author. 

Here’s my favorite quotation from Trollope: fiction “can be a physical confessional: when you’re within the covers of a book, you can admit to all kinds of things that you can’t otherwise. It’s also where you learn about the rest of human life and where you get your most profound experience of life – except from actually living it.”


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown