Literary Links

Why I’ll Never Read a Book a Week Ever Again

Calling herself a slow reader, writer Hurley Winkler describes her 2019 experience of “the 52 books in 52 weeks reading challenge” she found on the literary blogosphere. During the year she finished several books she “wasn’t wild about” simply because she’d already invested time in reading the first part and didn’t want to fall behind her reading schedule. “The pressure to finish books sucked some of the day-to-day joy out of my reading life,” she writes. She also chose several books because they were short, despite her love for “big, sprawling novels.”

So for this year she has decided to jettison any obsession with productivity: “I resolve to abandon books I don’t like.” She intends to read “intentionally and joyously,” taking the time necessary to savor good books.

This is not a bad reading plan at all. 

The Most Anticipated Books of 2020

Here are some suggestions to start off the new reading year.

Gillian Flynn Peers Into the Dark Side of Femininity

If you grapple with the works of Gillian Flynn, here’s really all you need to know:

“I really do think the world can be divided into the people who like to look under the rock and the people who don’t want to look under the rock,” Flynn told me. “I’ve always said, since birth, ‘Let’s look under the rock.’ ”

Without women the novel would die: discuss

Women are fiction’s life support system – buying 80% of all novels. But as a major new book argues, their love of an emotional truth has been used to trivialise the genre.

In The Guardian Johanna Thomas-Corr discusses Why Women Read Fiction: The Stories of Our Lives by Helen Taylor, published by Oxford University Press. “Fiction takes you on indirect routes to truth,” says Taylor.

D.C. Writers Celebrate The 200th Birthday Of A Famous — And Forgotten — Local Novelist

In graduate school I wrote a paper on Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth, a now little-known but at the time immensely popular 19th-century novelist. I was therefore delighted to cone across this article from American University Radio of Washington, DC. On December 26, 2019, novelist Mary Kay Zuravleff and a few fellow writers laid a wreath at the grave of E.D.E.N. Southworth in Georgetown’s Oak Hill Cemetery to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Mrs. Southworth’s birth.

Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte Southworth was one of the most successful American writers — male or female — of the mid-19th century, outselling contemporaries like Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. She was a mainstay of Washington’s early literary scene: She hosted Friday night salons at her Georgetown cottage, attended Lincoln’s second inaugural ball and is even credited with encouraging Harriet Beecher Stowe to write the anti-slavery novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

“Many of her stories featured women having adventures that Southworth’s readers were often unable to experience firsthand.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

Remembering Those We Lost in 2019

The literary world lost many in 2019, including those listed here (with date of death and link to obituary, where available.

Francine du Plessix Gray, 1/13

Mary Oliver, 1/17

Russell Baker, 1/21

Diana Athill, 1/23

Jan Wahl, 1/29

Edith Iglauer, 2/13

Andrea Levy, 2/14

Gillian Freeman, 2/23

Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, 3/12

W.S. Merwin, 3/15

Jonathan Baumbach, 3/28

Vonda N. McIntyre, 4/1

Lorraine Branham, 4/2

Stanley Plumly, 4/11

Gene Wolfe, 4/14

Warren Adler, 4/15 

John L’Heureux, 4/22 

Patricia Battin, 4/22

Chris Albertson, 4/24

Wayson Choy, 4/28 

Les Murray, 4/29

Art Kunkin, 4/30 

Chuck Kinder, 5/3 

Rachel Held Evans, 5/4

John Lukacs, 5/6

Alvin Sargent, 5/9 

Herman Wouk, 5/17

Binyavanga Wainaina, 5/21

Judith Kerr, 5/22

Edmund Morris, 5/24

Tony Horwitz, 5/27

Anthony Price, 5/30

Susannah Hunnewell, 6/15

Judith Krantz, 6/22

Marie Ponsot, 7/5

Andrea Camilleri, 7/17

George Hodgman, 7/20

Brigitte Kronauer

Lois Wille, 7/23

Martin Mayer, 7/31

Toni Morrison, 8/5

Lee Bennett Hopkins, 8/8

Paule Marshall, 8/12

Terrance Dicks, 8/29

Dorothea Benton Frank, 9/2

James Atlas, 9/4

Kiran Nagarkar, 9/5

Peter Nichols, 9/7

Anne Rivers Siddons, 9/11

Cokie Roberts, 9/17

Günter Kunert, 9/21

Al Alvarez, 9/23

Elaine Feinstein, 9/23

Sol Stein, 9/26

Richard Jackson, 10/2

Ciaran Carson, 10/6

Kate Braverman, 10/12

Harold Bloom, 10/14

Johanna Lindsey, 10/27

William B. Branch, 11/3

Ernest J. Gaines, 11/5

Stephen Dixon, 11/6

Walter J. Minton, 11/19

Clive James, 11/24

Howard Cruse, 11/26

Andrew Clements, 11/28

Kate Figes, 12/7

Larry Heinemann, 12/11

Elisabeth Sifton, 12/13

Ward Just, 12/19

Elizabeth Spencer, 12/22

Karl E. Meyer, 12/22

Sonny Mehta, 12/30


© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

How a Twitter war in 2010 helped change the way we talk about women’s writing

A look at how the 2010 dust-up between writers Jennifer Weiner and Jonathan Franzen engendered a decade-long pop culture discussion over two basic questions: “What kinds of stories do we consider to be worthy of respect? And to whom do those stories belong?”

7 OF THE BEST BOOKS ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS FROM 2019

“One of the most practical ways to combat stigma around mental illness is to raise awareness in society about it, and what better way to do that than through books.”

This article discusses these 7 books from 2019:

  • THE HEARTLAND BY NATHAN FILER (FABER)
  • MIND ON FIRE BY ARNOLD THOMAS FANNING (PENGUIN)
  • NOTES MADE WHILE FALLING BY JENN ASHWORTH (GOLDSMITHS PRESS)
  • THE COLLECTED SCHIZOPHRENIAS BY ESMÉ WEIJUN WANG (PENGUIN)
  • BIPOLAR DISORDER – THE ULTIMATE GUIDE BY SARAH OWEN & AMANDA SAUNDERS (ONEWORLD)
  • WHERE REASONS END BY YIYUN LI (HAMISH HAMILTON)
  • DORA: A HEADCASE BY LIDIA YUKNAVITCH (CANONGATE)

Gone Boys

Hillary Kelly writes in Vulture that during the past decade women have replaced men as important authors:

Where once a passel of middle-ish-aged men — Jeffrey Eugenides, Michael Chabon, the rest of the Jonathans (Lethem, Safran Foer) — dominated the scene with their big, important distillations of the world, the voices that now stand out, the ones that drive the conversation around fiction, largely belong to women.

The Top Twenty-Five New Yorker Stories of 2019

The New Yorker lists its top stories of the year in terms of how much they influenced readers to subscribe to the magazine. These are the stories most relevant to the literary world:

5. “What If We Stopped Pretending?,” by Jonathan Franzen

“The climate apocalypse is coming. To prepare for it, we need to admit that we can’t prevent it.”

8. “A Suspense Novelist’s Trail of Deceptions,” by Ian Parker

“Dan Mallory, who writes under the name A. J. Finn, went to No. 1 with his début thriller, “The Woman in the Window.” His life contains even stranger twists.”

10. “The Art of Decision-Making,” by Joshua Rothman

“Your life choices aren’t just about what you want to do; they’re about who you want to be.”

13. “The Lingering of Loss,” by Jill Lepore

“My best friend left her laptop to me in her will. Twenty years later, I turned it on and began my inquest.”

17. “Father Time,” by David Sedaris

I can’t predict what’s waiting for us, lurking on the other side of our late middle age, but I know it can’t be good.

“Little Women” and the Marmee Problem

“The anger of Marmee, the mother of the March sisters, is central to Louisa May Alcott’s novel, and yet it’s hidden in plain sight.”

Is Sentimentality in Writing Really That Bad?

Poet and essayist Elisa Gabbert discusses the difference between sentiment and sentimentality in writing.

In these new audiobooks, great tales are matched with great narrators

I listen to a lot of audiobooks, but I don’t talk much about them in terms of their distinctive format. Here, Katherine A. Powers recommends three new audiobooks with “great narrators.”

The Long Tail of ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’

In The New York Times, Alexandra Alter discusses Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, published in summer 2018:

A year and a half later, the novel, “Where the Crawdads Sing,” an absorbing, atmospheric tale about a lonely girl’s coming-of-age in the marshes of North Carolina, has sold more than four and a half million copies. It’s an astonishing trajectory for any debut novelist, much less for a reclusive, 70-year-old scientist, whose previous published works chronicled the decades she spent in the deserts and valleys of Botswana and Zambia, where she studied hyenas, lions and elephants.


© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

CANDID PORTRAITS OR GHOSTWRITTEN FLUFF: THE HISTORY OF THE CELEBRITY BOOK

Jeffrey Davies looks at the history of the celebrity book, whether it be “a memoir, an essay collection, a cookbook, a book of poetry, or a self-help book.” He discusses the rise of the ghostwriter, what happens when celebrity culture and science clash (for example, Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbooks and health books), and whether celebrity books make it harder for other books to get published.

Reflecting on the memoirs of 2019 and the elasticity of the genre

From the Chicago Tribune:

The memoir, at once literary and fact-based, js a shape-shifter, a container for a diverse array of voices, stories and narrative techniques. A sampling of this year’s entries exemplify the genre’s elasticity. In eclectic formats, they speak of trauma and healing, family dysfunction, the limitations of medical science, and the forging of identity in the face of social and cultural obstacles.

A year of literary prizes and surprises in 2019

In an article summarizing the ups and downs of this past year’s literary prizes worldwide, Somak Ghoshal concludes:

The reality of judging a prize is complicated by a multitude of conflicting factors. The impulse to do right by being aware of the conditions in which a writer or an artist produces their work often clashes with the duty to uphold aesthetic merit above all else. But these days, the solution seems to come from the contenders themselves. In August, writer Olivia Laing shared the James Tait Black prize for fiction with her fellow nominees because “competition has no place in art”. More recently, the four shortlisted artists for the Turner Prize, one of Britain’s most prestigious awards for the arts, requested the jury to divide the prize equally among them. If this trend continues, it will soon become unfashionable to run for competitions, or to win any.

The Classics That Invented These Thriller Tropes

I read a lot of mysteries and thrillers, and I often talk about the use of genre tropes in these books. Here Diane Zhang describes several of those tropes and discusses both the origin and recent examples of each.

Peter Pan’s dark side emerges with release of original manuscript

This article in The Guardian examines how J.M. Barrie “toned down Peter Pan’s character to suit audiences in 1911” as he edited his manuscript for publication. 

Barrie’s original manuscript, entitled Peter Pan and Wendy, was published earlier this month. 

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

Learning to Write Mysteries the Mystic River Way

Angie Kim’s recently published debut novel Miracle Creek is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Dennis Lehane’s 2001 book Mystic River is a novel I still remember well even after all these years. Coming across this article, in which Angie Kim explains teaching herself how to structure the novel she wanted to write by rereading Mystic River multiple times, felt like a reunion with two old friends.

Kim writes that she also studied novels by Kate Atkinson, Laura Lippman, Tana French, and Chris Bohjalian: “I loved how [these novels] used the mystery frame to immediately pull their readers into the narrative and propel them forward, but how they forced us to slow way down as we went deep into the psyche of the narrators.” She wanted to create in her novel the same degree of immersiveness she found in those models. Her success in doing so is what makes Miracle Creek such a powerful novel.

HOW TO DETERMINE THE READING LEVEL OF A BOOK

For parents wondering how to choose books appropriate for their children, Katherine Willoughby takes a look at “all of the various ways educators, librarians, and book publishers level and categorize books for young readers.”

WHY FICTION IS THE PERFECT TROJAN HORSE TO DISCUSS ETHICAL DILEMMAS

Kira Peikoff explains one of the benefits of reading fiction:

we need fictional outlets like television, movies, and books. Far from being superficial add-ons to life, they help us to live life. Storytelling is the oldest form of virtual reality. Through the safe haven of fiction, as we watch characters go through their own turmoil, we may encounter our own deepest fears and flaws, our highest hopes and strongest convictions. We may find inspiration, learn profound lessons, and gain the strength to overcome our own conflicts. In rare cases, we may even find ourselves rethinking our entire perspective.

‘All crime writers are asking is for a little respect’

Bert Wright, writing for The Irish Times, tackles the question of why crime fiction is so often spoken of as inferior to literary fiction. “All crime writers are asking is for a little respect but too often it is not forthcoming.”

“Whatever the truth of the matter, crime fiction is on an irresistible roll and no amount of splenetic wind-baggery can make the slightest dent in crime fiction’s hard-earned self-esteem.”

CAROLYN KEENE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE REAL NANCY DREW AUTHOR

You may have heard that Carolyn Keene was the original Nancy Drew author and that Harriet Stratemeyer Adams later wrote additional novels published under Keene’s name. But Annika Barranti Klein explains that the real story isn’t quite that simple. Read the complex story of who really wrote and published all the novels in this popular series.

 The Talented Patricia Highsmith’s Private Diaries Are Going Public

Now this news is worth waiting for: Liveright Publishing plans to publish hundreds of pages from Patricia Highsmith’s personal diaries as a single volume in 2021. This article describes Highsmith as:

a literary figure whose sharply observed psychological thrillers, including “Strangers on a Train” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” became cultural touchstones. She was a secretive, often prickly woman who remained a cipher even to her friends and lovers, and a trailblazer who wrote one of the first mainstream novels depicting two women in love. But she could be blinded by her own bigotry and espoused racist and anti-Semitic views.

The diaries—“56 spiral-bound notebooks, totaling some 8,000 pages”—were discovered after Highsmith’s death in 1995, tucked behind sheets and towels in a linen closet of her house in Switzerland.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

How Kurt Vonnegut Predicted the Automation Crisis

Player Piano may have been written 67 years ago, but its prescience is uncanny — though not inexplicable. It is a product not only of Vonnegut’s extraordinary imagination, but his years of experience working directly with engineers, whose mentality the novel reflects in reaching its logical conclusion.

Getting To The Heart Of The Matter With ‘Heart of Darkness’

This post appears on the blog of Audible, the audiobook-selling arm of Amazon. College student and Audible intern Ama Hagan describes her reactions to Joseph Conrad’s controversial novella Heart of Darkness. This piece of classical literature still appears on the syllabi of many a college course, and I was interested in this perspective from a proud young woman of African heritage.

Authors Steve Cavanagh and Adrian McKinty: How growing up in Northern Ireland’s Troubles shaped them

Cover: Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh

This article caught my eye because I’ve just recently read both Cavanagh’s novel Thirteen and McKinty’s novel The Chain.

Cavanagh to McKinty about Cavanagh’s mother giving him the book Silence of the Lambs to read when he was 12:

We grew up during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. I was in Belfast, you were in Carrickfergus, and a book about cannibals and serial killers skinning innocent people was a bit of light relief from the reality of that low-level civil war. I wouldn’t give my daughter “Silence Of The Lambs,” and she’s twelve right now. We grew up in different times, and I think our generation is desensitized to violence.

Cover: The Chain, Adrian McKinty

McKinty on his youth in Northern Ireland:

A guy a few doors down from us was arrested for murdering three random Catholic men (so in effect he was a serial killer) and all this seemed completely normal to me. The domestic violence, the drunkenness, the chimney fires every night — all seemed just the way things were done. I don’t think my eyes were opened until I started reading a lot of science fiction and fantasy when I began to see that there were other possibilities of how to live and everything around me was just contingent. When I was about 11 or 12 I read Ursula Le Guin’s “Left Hand of Darkness” and I remember when I was done with that it occurred to me that everything the hardmen said was uneducated, quasi-fascist nonsense.

McKinty says that the authors who influenced him the most have been Stephen King, James Ellroy, Don Winslow, Raymond Chandler, and Jim Thompson. Cavanagh lists as his influences, in addition to Silence of the Lambs, the works of Michael Connelly, Lee Child, John Connolly, and Patricia Highsmith.

Read the article to see which seven books each author would take with him if stranded on a deserted island.

THE ANATOMY OF THE BOOK

Boards, signatures, deckles, headbands: Learn all the esoteric terminology involved in book production.

The Hazards of Writing While Female

The nonprofit organization VIDA keeps a count of how many books written by women are reviewed in literary sections, and how many reviewers are female. Every year until 2017, its most recent survey, VIDA has found that male writers and male reviewers dominate books coverage, even though women make up the majority of authors and readers.

Here’s yet another reminder of the long-standing issue of how men and women are treated differently in the publishing world. As one of the authors quoted here says, “a male novelist is primarily a novelist. Nobody talks about his gender. But a woman novelist is primarily a woman.” 

Still, for as long as female authors’ bodies define their work, the seriousness gap will remain

FIRST NATIVE AMERICAN NOVELIST WAS A KILLER NEWSPAPER EDITOR

“The first Native American to write a novel in English lived a life chock-full of contradictions.”

This piece appears as a segment of Disruptive Literary Legends, an “OZY original series explores long-forgotten historical figures who changed the way we write, read and appreciate literature.”

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

GOODREADS HACKS: GET A DNF SHELF, MARK REREADS, AND MORE

If you find it hard to keep up with all the cool kids who use Goodreads to track their reading, this article will put you in the know about some of the more esoteric aspects. The main subject here is how to create a DNF (did not finish) shelf that won’t include the books placed there in your number of books read statistics. But there are a few other nifty nuggets of knowledge here as well, along with links to several other articles explaining how to use Goodreads. An avid reader’s bonanza!

How We Need Diverse Books Changed The Literary World, According To 15 Publishing Pros

When We Need Diverse Books was founded by a team of writers, illustrators, and publishing professionals, it was meant to shake up the publishing industry from the inside. Led by the original Executive Committee — Ellen Oh, Lamar Giles, Marieke Nijkamp, Miranda Paul, Aisha Saeed, Karen Sandler, and Ilene Wong — and supported by the original PR team — Stacey Lee and SE Sinkhorn — We Need Diverse Books was created to fight for more diversity in children’s and young adult book publishing at every level, among authors, editors, marketers, agents, publishers, and more. First and foremost, they wanted authors from marginalized communities to be given opportunities to have their voices heard in the overwhelmingly white, heterosexual, cisgender industry. And the results have been clear.

Fifteen publishing professionals discuss “why they believe We Need Diverse Books has changed publishing forever, and what they hope for the future.”

Toni Morrison and Nina Simone, United in Soul

Emily Lordi discusses how much Toni Morrison was influenced by contemporary musicians:

Her work resonates with the music of those soul artists alongside whom she honed her craft: the grand ambition of Isaac Hayes, the moral clarity of Curtis Mayfield, and the erotic truth-telling of Aretha Franklin. But the soul artist who is most closely aligned with Morrison is Nina Simone. “She saved our lives,” Morrison said of the singer, after Simone’s death, in 2003. Simone meant so much to her, and to other black women, I think, in part because of how she turned social exclusion into superlative beauty and style. It was this recuperative alchemy that defined soul, as a music and an ethos. And, if Simone was soul’s “High Priestess,” Morrison was one of its literary architects.

From Baba Yaga to Hermione Granger: why we’re spellbound by ‘witcherature’

Vengeful, seductive, feminist, misogynist … witches have appeared in many forms in literature. Now a new generation of novelists are falling under their spell.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, writing in the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, addresses the current literary fascination with witches:

There has been a perennial literary fascination with witches; they are, as Marion Gibson, professor of Renaissance and magical literatures at Exeter University says, “a shorthand symbol for persecution and resistance – misogyny and feminism in particular”. In a #MeToo world, where Donald Trump – a fan of the term “witch-hunt” – is US president, it is really no surprise that female writers are examining the role of the witch in new ways.

Cosslett explains that women of her generation, who came of age in the 1990s with TV programs such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are now producing literature and films that grapple with perennial questions of power and agency. She also looks a bit at the history of witches in literature, from novels such as Jane Eyre to John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick.

In Praise of Samuel R. Delany

In my effort to read more science fiction, I often come across references to Samuel R. Delany’s seminal novel Dhalgren. Here novelist Jordy Rosenberg discusses how Delany’s fiction “reflects and explores the social truths of our world.” He includes a list of works to start with for readers looking to introduce themselves to Delany’s body of work.

How Tana French Inhabits the Minds of Her Detectives

The crime-fiction writer on unreliable narrators, real-world sources, and the breakdown of genre boundaries in her work.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

Why we need to stop forcing ourselves to finish books we hate

When I was younger, I felt that I had to finish every book I started. But some time around my 40th birthday I realized that I had probably completed about half my life and no longer had the luxury of time to waste on books I wasn’t enjoying or learning from. I was therefore glad to come across this article by Sarah Shaffi, who writes:

It’s taken me decades to get to the point where I can start a book, realise I’m not liking it, and then just stop reading it. The first time I put DNF – Did Not Finish in book geek parlance – on my book spreadsheet (what? I read a lot for work and a spreadsheet is a good way to keep track), I felt relieved, freed, and a little rebellious.

Life is too short, and there are too many books to carry on reading one you’re not enjoying. Think of it less as quitting one book, and more as making room in your life for another that you could potentially love.

And while I completely agree with her here, I also think there’s a certain etiquette for discussing books that you DNF. First, when you discuss the book, you don’t have the right to simply declare it a “bad” or “badly written” book or a book that you simply “didn’t like.” You DO have the right to say that you didn’t finish it and then explain why it didn’t work for you or what, specifically, you didn’t like about it. The keywords here are specifically and why.

Second, if you belong to a book club and for some reason can’t finish the book by the meeting time, please resist the urge to say, “Don’t talk about the ending. I haven’t finished it yet.” Sure, life happens, and sometimes you won’t be able to finish on time. But the ending is a major aspect of any book, particularly novels, and often a meaningful discussion requires analysis of the ending.  

On, In, or Near the Sea: A Book List

There’s still a bit of summer left, and if you’re still looking for that perfect “beach read,” Alison Fields has suggestions. After pondering the various definitions of that term, she settles on this one: “Books about beaches, seas, sand, and coastal destinations to accompany the end of the summer season and the first stirrings of the fall.

woman reading on beach near ocean

What I Teach: Seven Titles From a High School Class on Trauma Literature

We learn a lot about life from literature, including how to process various kinds of traumas. But I was surprised to find this article by Kate McQuade, who has for more than 10 years taught a high school class on trauma literature. 

By now I’ve accumulated a lot of answers, particularly for those skeptical that young people should be exposed to literature about war, genocide, and violence. I tell them that learning about trauma is not the same thing as experiencing trauma; I tell them that even though the literature we cover is difficult intellectually and emotionally, my course is less about mourning traumatic events than exploring what it means to depict them in art; and I tell them that shielding teenagers from the world’s historical truths not only fails to protect them, but does them a disservice as young people about to inherit that world.

And here’s why, McQuade says, she teaches such a course:

Most people think trauma literature is about trauma. In fact, trauma literature is at least as much about the problematics of storytelling as it is about actual traumatic events. It’s about the difficulty of representing the truth of an experience so horribly extraordinary that it cannot be contained within the human mind, let alone within the borders of a page. It’s about, in the words of trauma scholar Dori Laub, the simultaneous “imperative to tell” and “impossibility of telling.”

Read about seven of the literary works she uses to demonstrate the paradox “of how to represent the unrepresentable.”

Toni Morrison on Her Last Novel and the Voices of Her Characters

A lot was written after the recent death of Toni Morrison, but this article, which addresses “how her protagonists have changed the direction of her stories,” is one of my favorites.

READING AS PROTEST: HOW I MANAGE THE GUILT OF READING IN TUMULTOUS TIMES

Last week’s links included WHY READ FICTION IN THIS AGE OF ATROCITY? So it seemed only fair to include this article when I came across it. Abby Hargreaves asks:

Why should I be reading when there are children and adults in “detention centers” with horrific conditions? Why should I be flipping through pages when people are being murdered for being themselves? How can I justify a few hours of contentment with a book when the so-called leader of my country is, at a minimum, a blatant racist?

(If you doubt the accuracy of the assertions in these questions, Harreaves provides links to supporting material in the article.)

“The thing is, resistance fatigue is a real thing,” she writes. “If reading is how you recharge, it is well within the realm of morals to read.”

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

Richard Russo: On the Moral Power of Regret

One of the most memorable novels I’ve ever read is Richard Russo’s Empire Falls (2001). When I came across this essay by Russo, I knew I had to stop and take the time to settle in with it. I hope you learn from it as much as I did.

The Con Man Who Became a True-Crime Writer

Rachel Monroe writes in The Atlantic about Matthew Cox, a former con man who has tried to re-create himself as a true-crime writer of the stories of his fellow inmates. By doing this Cox apparently hopes to rewrite his own narrative arc as the guy who want to prison and learned how to make something of himself. Monroe’s story of Cox’s story is fascinating.

ON THE LONGEVITY OF ADRIENNE RICH

Holly Genovese wonders why Adrienne Rich “has stayed relevant when other writers of the ’70s feminist movements have not.”

But I think, if I could guess, that Rich’s continuous appeal over the last 50 years is more about her absolute certainty that politics and art were intrinsically linked, that art was meaningless without political consciousness, that nothing could exist within a vacuum, and that choosing not to take a stand was in fact choosing the side of the oppressor.

And Rich continues to be relevant because “In the last few years, since the election of Donald Trump, it has become impossible not to be political. To be apolitical is to support the growth of fascism, white nationalism, and the downfall of the republic.”

As always, the personal is political.

THE GREATEST MORAL COMPROMISES IN CRIME FICTION

Here’s the descriptive subtitle of this article: “Celebrating the literature of slippery relationships, villainous allies, and morally dubious life decisions.”

We’re told that conflict is the essential ingredient of all storytelling, and that directive applies most literally to crime fiction, in which one character wants something that another character doesn’t want to grant or allow. The thief wants to steal something that someone else possesses. The stalker wants a relationship with someone who doesn’t want to reciprocate. Sometimes the only solution is for both sides to compromise.

Or, as novelist Carl Vonderau explains:

I find the most interesting crime fiction to be stories wherein the protagonist must make a deal with a morally ambiguous and seemingly villainous character. And that villainous ally? They usually have their own strange moral code and want something in return. At least one of them usually ends up changed for the worse, and it would be apt to recall that a good compromise makes both sides unhappy.

Here he discusses nine novels, including The Godfather and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, that illustrate such uneasy alliances.

Revisiting Harold Robbins, the Forgotten “Dirty Old Man of American Letters”

This article reminded me of the piece about Judith Krantz that I mentioned last week.

As writers of decidedly popular fiction, both Krantz and Robbins epitomized the culture they lived in and wrote for.

He crafted racy novels — sweeping literary cinemas bursting with beautiful, arrogant characters, rags-to-riches plots laced with betrayal, murder and passion — that readers gobbled up like printed popcorn, buying more than 750 million copies. “Mad Men is a very Harold Robbins kind of story,” says his biographer, Andrew Wilson. “It’s perhaps presented in a different way, but it’s that milieu, that narrative arc of secrets, the corrupting nature of power and wealth, sex, all of the elements. One could argue that these kinds of series would not have been conceived without Harold Robbins’ influence on popular culture.”

The Sandman, Catch-22, Cloud Atlas … is there such thing as an ‘unfilmable’ book?

What exactly is an “unfilmable” book? 

And now that Netflix is throwing time and money at several potential adaptations, “So has TV ended the age of the unfilmable book?”  

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

I came across so many interesting articles this week that it’s hard to limit my list. Here are some of my favorites.

On the Centennial of Iris Murdoch’s Birth, Remembering a 20th-Century Giant

The intensity of Murdoch’s gaze, boring into you from the dust jackets of her many novels, seemed a promise of the books’ contents. For decades this remarkable writer delivered prickly, sophisticated and somewhat unearthly fiction about good and evil and sex and morality. She trailed a large, large muse. She deftly moved her ideas about, positioning them like the slabs used to build Stonehenge.

In this year, the centennial of Iris Murdoch’s birth and 20 years after her death at age 79, Dwight Garner laments that “her posthumous reputation is in semi-shambles.” To help restore her reputation to what he considers to be its rightful place—on “the list of the most elite writers in English of the second half of the 20th century”—he examines at length his favorite of her novels, The Sea, The Sea (1978), which won the Booker Prize. 

Adult Books for Fall 2019

This is the starting page for Publishers Weekly’s recommendations of fall releases in the following categories:

  • Art, Architecture & Photography  
  • Business & Economics  
  • Comics & Graphic Novels  
  • Cooking & Food  
  • Essays & Literary Criticism  
  • Literary Fiction  
  • History  
  • Lifestyle  
  • Memoirs & Biographies  
  • Mysteries & Thrillers  
  • Poetry  
  • Politics & Current Events  
  • Romance & Erotica  
  • SF, Fantasy & Horror  
  • Science

MAKE A DIFFERENCE: READ LOCAL AUTHORS

You shop local, you eat local—but are you reading local, too? If you’re not, you’re missing out. Local authors and the stories they tell can change your life—and your community. And all you have to do is read a book you love.

Six years ago we moved from St. Louis, Missouri, to Tacoma, Washington. During those six years, one of my reading goals has been to read books by local authors. Although I didn’t need this article to explain to me why reading local authors is a worthwhile undertaking, I did appreciate the tips on how to find their books.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: Writing to Re-member

Just yesterday, I asked my students how many of them had watched at least one American movie or read one American book about the Vietnam War, and everyone raised their hand. When I asked how many had read one book or seen one movie by a Vietnamese person, nobody, or perhaps one or two, had. The legacies of colonialism and imperialism have created privileged sectors in the West that function as feedback loops. We often only read books or watch movies that reflect our values. In systems like Hollywood, the stories of poor people from other countries are not that interesting to the rest of the world and therefore don’t get told.

Half of women over 40 say older women in fiction are clichés, survey finds

A recent survey by Gransnet, the UK’s biggest social media site for older people, and publisher HQ (HarperCollins) found that 51% of women over 40 “feel older women in fiction books tend to fall into clichéd roles.” Here are some of the most interest findings from the survey:

  • 47% of women over 40 say there are not enough books about middle-aged or older women.
  • “when older characters do appear in fiction, half of women (50%) say they’ve seen them being portrayed as baffled by smartphones, computers or the internet – and think it’s insulting.”
  • 75% buy their books online.

As a result of the survey findings, Gransnet and HQ are launching a fiction writing competition for women writers over age 40. The article contains more information on both the survey and the writing competition. 

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown