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Author News Fiction

Happy 100th Birthday, Patricia Highsmith

American novelist Patricia Highsmith was born on this day 100 years ago (January 19, 1921) in Fort Worth, Texas. She died on February 4, 1995. In between, her life was marked by chronic cycles of depression, anorexia, and alcoholism. She was a misanthrope who preferred the company of animals to that of people. She was misogynistic, anti-Semitic, and, at least in later life, racist.

But she wrote some brilliant fiction. Alfred Hitchcock turned her first novel, Strangers on a Train (1950), into a film released in 1951. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955), the other novel for which she is perhaps best known, was made into a film released in 1999. She wrote four more novels about Tom Ripley, whom various critics have described as amoral, sociopathic, and psychopathic.

violence, torment, obsession, all bubbling beneath a cool veneer – that was the signature of her fiction. . . . you don’t come to Patricia Highsmith for goodness or light or comfort. You come to her for uncanny observations about human depravity; you come to her because you’ve forgotten the sour taste of fear.

Twisted brilliance: Patricia Highsmith at 100

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Book News Ebooks Last Week's Links Literary History Publishing

Literary Links

Overlooked No More: Clarice Lispector, Novelist Who Captivated Brazil

“Critics lauded her stream-of-consciousness style and described her as glamorous and mysterious. But she didn’t always welcome the attention she received.”

“This article is part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times.”

From the New York Times, a look at Russian-born Clarice Lispector, who,  beginning in the 1940s, fascinated “Brazil’s male-dominated literary world.”

How (and Why) to Spring Clean Your Digital Book Clutter

I think I have more than 3,000 books on my Kindle. Because I only recently discovered how to use collections, there’s very little order to my ebooks. Here Ashley Holstrom offers advice on how to organize your Kindle cloud and your Goodreads shelves. She also tells us to create Goodreads shelves to log our entire elibrary, but I’m not sure I’m going to invest that much time in this project.

Charles Dickens, the Writer Who Saw Lockdown Everywhere

You may have heard the story of how Charles Dickens never outgrew the fear of incarceration after his family’s stint in debtor’s prison in 1841. Here Laurence Scott reports that “In her 2011 biography, Claire Tomalin notes that, in adulthood, Dickens became ‘an obsessive visitor of prisons’” and looks at examples of passages from his works that illustrate his obsession.

11 Words to Spice Up Your Book Blurbs and Reviews

John Maher splendaciously offers 11 words collected by the editors at Merriam-Webster who host the podcast Word Matters.

Who Did J.K. Rowling Become?

“Deciphering the most beloved, most reviled children’s-book author in history.”

If you haven’t kept up with the recent controversy swirling around J.K. Rowling, here’s a very detailed analysis of what it’s all about and what it all means.

Why on Earth Is Someone Stealing Unpublished Book Manuscripts?

The New York Times reports on “a mysterious international phishing scam that has been tricking writers, editors, agents and anyone in their orbit into sharing unpublished book manuscripts.” 

Both big-name writers—like Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan—and unknown writers have been targeted, and no one seems to know where manuscripts submitted through the scam end up. “When copies of the manuscripts get out, they just seem to vanish. So why is this happening?”

A Year of Historical Turning Points in New Yorker Fiction

Deborah Treisman, fiction editor for The New Yorker, comments on some of the fiction that appeared in the magazine during the “historically pivotal” year of 2020: “It’s hardly surprising that some of the anxiety of this unmooring year trickled into fiction—or sent us to stories that explore other historical turning points and what led to them.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News

Notable Literary Deaths in 2020

Notable Literary Deaths in 2020

Lit Hub has compiled this “Incomplete List of the Writers, Editors, and Great Literary Minds We Lost This Year.”

Among the many unhappinesses of this year, we lost what seems like an unusually large number of members of the literary community, from poets to novelists to editors to critics to publishers to booksellers. To them, we say a last thank you, and goodbye. They will be missed.

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Author News Book Groups Last Week's Links Libraries Publishing Reading

Literary Links

Book Club Spotlight: How This 20-Year-Old Book Club Connects Virtually

The group of 15 ladies successfully transitioned from over 20 years of dinner and monthly meetings at the Rancho Santa Margarita City Hall to a virtual format — and were even able to welcome back a few members! Most recently, the club held its annual holiday party on Zoom complete with holiday sweaters, a book swap, and a meaningful book discussion.

PBS to Broadcast Two Documentaries on Agatha Christie

Mark your calendar! “PBS will kick off the year 2021 with two TV documentaries focused on the life and publishing career of bestselling British crime novelist Agatha Christie.”

The broadcast dates are January 17 and January 24.

Publishing saw upheaval in 2020, but ‘books are resilient’

From the Associated Press. “Book publishing in 2020 was a story of how much an industry can change and how much it can, or wants to, remain the same.”

A Speculative Fiction Expert’s Year of Escapist Reading

Kerine Wint, a software engineering graduate who loves to read science fiction and fantasy, writes, “2020 is the year that has made having an escape a necessity.” Speculative fiction is, she says, “ a vehicle that shows us so many new worlds, allowing us to view and understand ourselves and others unlike us.” 

As an added bonus, at the end of the article are links to similar links in other genres: mystery, literary fiction, romance, and young adult.

PW’s Person of the Year: The Book Business Worker

All readers think of people involved in any aspect of producing books as essential workers. Publishers Weekly agrees:

The most important people in the book business in 2020 are not the powerhouse agents or the megabestselling authors or the Big Five CEOs. They are the booksellers, debut and midlist authors, editors, librarians, printers, publicists, sales representatives, and warehouse workers, to mention just a few—the workers, who have been the most important people in the business all along.

I’m a Romance Novelist Who Writes About Politics—And I Won’t “Stay In My Lane”

An ardent argument by novelist Alyssa Cole: “Assuming the romance genre can’t be political is, well…political in itself.”

10 Literary Podcasts to Listen To if You Miss Life Before Quarantine

“Dig into these podcasts even if you don’t have the energy to dig into the stack of novels that’s been growing on your nightstand.”

The Top 10 Library Stories of 2020

Publishers Weekly “looks back at the library stories that captivated the publishing world this year—and what they portend for 2021.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Book News Publishing

The Ten Biggest Literary Stories of the Year ‹ Literary Hub

Without any further ado, you’ll find the third and final installment of our countdown of the 50 biggest literary stories of the year below—so you can remember the good (yes, there was some!), the bad, and the Zoom book launch. It’s time for the top 10, baby.

Source: The Ten Biggest Literary Stories of the Year ‹ Literary Hub

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Author News Book Groups Fiction Last Week's Links Libraries Publishing Reading Television

Literary Links

We Need More Dark Stories with Hopeful Endings

Author Les Edgerton believes that dark novels needn’t have completely dark endings: “To endure page after page of never-ending pain and sorrow and to culminate in the same morass of tragedy would only be nihilism, and the best books don’t end like that.”

Here he lists some novels that illustrate an ending that combines something good with something bad to achieve a realistic view of life.

The Bigger the Publishers, the Blander the Books

Dennis Johnson, the co-founder and publisher of Melville House, writes that “the Penguin Random House–Simon & Schuster deal threatens the values that the book business champions.”

Stephen King Has Thoughts About Stephen King TV Shows

With a new adaptation of The Stand arriving on CBS All Access, Stephen King discusses the best and the worst TV adaptations of his novels.

Book Clubs in Lockdown

BookBrowse surveyed readers and book clubs to see how book clubs are adapting to conditions brought about by the current pandemic. You can download their report on current conditions and implications for the future.

When Reading Had No End

Dwight Garner discusses the dual nature of reading in 2020: “This was the worst year, and nothing made sense any longer, except when it was the best year, because time for reading seemed to expand like one of those endless summer afternoons when one was in the late stages of grade school.”

The literary life of Octavia E. Butler

“How local libraries shaped a sci-fi legend”

This interactaive map of the areas in California where science fiction author Octavia Butler grew up reveals how important libraries were in shaping her vision and her career.

The Benefits of Community Reading Programs

by Summer Loomis, for Book Riot:

Community reading programs have always interested me. I like the idea of people from different backgrounds and experiences coming together to read something together. There is something so calming about people being capable of this. I find it very comforting. However, it can be hard to feel like we’re part of a community at times. So I went searching for community reading programs of the “one book one community” type.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Awards & Prizes Book News Publishing

The Biggest Literary Stories of the Year: 30 to 11 | Literary Hub

Below, you’ll find the second installment of our countdown of the 50 biggest literary stories of the year, so you can remember the good (yes, there was some!), the bad, and the Zoom book launch.

Source: The Biggest Literary Stories of the Year: 30 to 11 | Literary Hub

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Author News Book News Literary History Reading Writing

The Biggest Literary Stories of the Year: 50 to 31 | Literary Hub

Starting today, we’ll be counting down the 50 biggest literary stories of the year, so you can remember the good (yes, there was some!), the bad, and the Zoom book launch. Join us, won’t you, on this very special journey.

Source: The Biggest Literary Stories of the Year: 50 to 31 | Literary Hub

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Author News Last Week's Links Literary Criticism Memoir

Literary Links: “Hillbilly Elegy” Edition

I have not read J.D. Vance’s multiple-award—winning 2016 memoir Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis for a couple of reasons:

  1. I usually avoid “Poor me, I had a rough childhood” stories.
  2. There are just not enough hours in each day for reading all the books.

I saw the book on lots of “Best Books of 2016” lists and was therefore surprised to see that the recent Netflix movie adaptation, directed by Ron Howard, has drawn so much negative publicity. 

Most of the criticism seems to center around the feeling that the book and, particularly, the film, provide a facile picture of what must be understood as a multi-faceted, complex situation. 

Here’s a compendium of that criticism.

 “Hillbilly Elegy” Is the Last Thing America Needs in 2020

Novelist Kayla Rae Whitaker writes that she’s “from eastern Kentucky, not far from where Vance’s family originates.” She describes Vance’s book as the “old story of America’s weird, craven Son of the Soil.” Here’s the focus of her criticism of the book and its movie adaptation:

The story it offers is one of people who cannot help or save themselves—from laziness, from addiction, from a failure to develop the self-respect necessary to “pull themselves up” within an economy and social system that prevents them at every turn. The film is just another addition to a narrative that is managing to dig a trench between this region and the rest of the country, a divide that will continue to snarl elections and deal further damage to a population that has taken more than its fair share of abuse. And in a year that saw the Biden-Harris ticket win by thinner than anticipated margins, we need to take this opportunity to understand the region as more nuanced than the blighted backcountry that popular media pushes—and that liberal readers and viewers, amazingly, tend to believe.

8 books you should read instead of ‘Hillbilly Elegy’

Lorraine Berry’s article includes a few links to other interpretations of Hillbilly Elegy and what she calls “the book’s troubling politics”:

But other narratives exist. In novels and nonfiction, a working class emerges that is as ethnically and politically diverse as the rest of America. Here are eight books that offer a more honest approach.

The Silent Political Messaging in Ron Howard’s “Hillbilly Elegy” Adaptation

Richard Brody, movie critic for The New Yorker, writes about Howard’s movie “the thinness of the adaptation arises not only from where the movie doesn’t go beyond the book but also from what, of its source material, it chooses to leave out.”

Lost in a (Mis)Gendered Appalachia

This article by Leah Hampton carries the tagline “For centuries, national mythology has emphasized rural America’s supposed masculinity. It has caused incalculable damage.”

Hampton says that she still lives in rural Appalachia, and she invokes both her own experience and that of singer Nina Simone, whose childhood house still stands nearby, to argue “if you know this place like I do, female creativity will be at the center of your understanding of Appalachia. Women like Nina Simone epitomize our artistic traditions and folkways, our music, literature, and collective inner life.” 

Furthermore, “For two centuries now, we have been taught to foreground the men who settled and worked here, and that depiction has damaged us, both in our internal understanding of our identity, and in the way the rest of the world treats us.”

Some Movies Actually Understand Poverty in America

“The complex realities of subsistence escape ‘Hillbilly Elegy.’ But as far back as Charlie Chaplin’s ‘City Lights,’ filmmakers have been turning a discerning eye on destitution.”

Don’t just laugh at “Hillbilly Elegy” — its damaging myths still need to be countered

cover: Road Out of Winter by Alison Stine

This article is by Alison Stine, whose novel Road Out of Winter is one of the eight books Lorraine Berry suggests reading instead of Vance’s book in the Los Angeles Times article linked above.

From one of the very first shots, I knew the Appalachia of this film was not going to be the Appalachia that I, my family, or my friends know: When young Vance rescues a turtle crossing the road, he carries it off with him on his bike. Any self-respecting Appalachian knows you bring the turtle across the road to where it was headed, you don’t take it off its (likely egg-laying) path.

Stine emphasizes throughout that the Hillbilly Elegy narrative, both the book and the film, fails to consider the experience of Black people and women caught up in the cyclic poverty and family trauma of the region. She explains that some people advised her not to write about Hillbilly Elegy because doing so would just give the book and film more publicity. But she argues that such people misunderstand her reason for speaking out: “This is a paycheck, and I need a paycheck. Part of being a writer in Appalachia since 2016, when “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir” came out, is refuting this man.”

I’m going to let Stine have the final word here:

No one who is actually poor is going to look at this movie as a roadmap, but people who are in positions of power to deny money and opportunities may. To only laugh at this movie is a mistake, and undercuts its danger, both of spreading inaccurate myths about poverty and completely overshadowing (and disbelieving) the stories of women, BIPOC, disabled people and queer people living in the region and in poverty throughout America.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Fiction How Fiction Works Last Week's Links Literary Criticism Reading

Literary Links

How Crime Writers Use Unreliable Narrators to Add Suspense

Emily Martin uses the categories that William Riggan explores in his book Pícaros, Madmen, Naifs, and Clowns: The Unreliable First-Person Narrator to look at ways crime writers employ them to build suspense.

The 2021 Tournament of Books Long List

Next March’s Tournament of Books, something that I only recently discovered, has posted its long list of 77 books. “In a few weeks we’ll release the shortlist of the 16 or so books that will be in play come March.”

The Tennessee Solution to Disappearing Book Reviews

As a result of the shrinking book coverage by newspapers and magazine over recent years, Humanities Tennessee has created Chapter 16: “a part-digital, part-print publication that covers literature and literary life in the state.” The publication offers its contents free to readers and to any publications that want to reproduce it.

Useful Books: The past and present of self-help literature

Jennifer Wilson examines the history of reading for self-development as presented in Beth Blum’s book The Self-Help Compulsion: Searching for Advice in Modern Literature.

The Long Awakening of Adrienne Rich

Maggie Doherty, who teaches writing at Harvard, looks at the life of Adrienne Rich through the lens of the first biography of the poet, The Power of Adrienne Rich by Hilary Holladay. 

But while Holladay’s book seeks to define Rich’s identity, Doherty discusses how Rich continuously changed her identity as she sought to deal with the culture in which she lived and wrote.

What to Write in a Book As a Gift: 40 Bookish Inscription-Ready Quotes

If you’re planning to give books as holiday gifts this season, BookRiot has suggestions for meaningful inscriptions. After all, “that inscription means as much as the book does.”

William Faulkner’s Demons

“In his own life, the novelist failed to truly acknowledge the evils of slavery and segregation. But he did so with savage thoroughness in his fiction.”

Casey Cep writes:

A new book by Michael Gorra, “The Saddest Words: William Faulkner’s Civil War” (Liveright), traces Faulkner’s literary depictions of the military conflict in the nineteenth century and his personal engagement with the racial conflict of the twentieth. The latter struggle, within the novelist himself, is the real war of Gorra’s subtitle. In “The Saddest Words,” Faulkner emerges as a character as tragic as any he invented: a writer who brilliantly portrayed the way that the South’s refusal to accept its defeat led to cultural decay, but a Southerner whose private letters and public statements were riddled with the very racism that his books so pointedly damned.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown