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Literary Links

What’s Behind the Label ‘Domestic Fiction’?

Soledad Fox Maura, professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature at Williams College and soon-to-debut novelist, wonders why World Cat “(the biggest library search engine on the planet)” has classified her upcoming novel, Madrid Again, as domestic fiction:

Why would my novel, about an itinerant bilingual mother and daughter who do not have a permanent home and zigzag across the Atlantic at a frenetic pace, the long and complicated legacy of the Spanish Civil War overshadowing their every move, be in such a category?

After a quick look at the definition of domestic fiction, she suggests that we find some new terms for fictional genres if we, in fact, need such genres at all. “What I question is a genre that is so clearly gendered, with connotations that are so outdated.”

‘My Wine Bills Have Gone Down.’ How Joan Didion Is Weathering the Pandemic

Lucy Feldman writes, “Didion will forever be a certain type of person’s idea of a deity—the literary, the cool.” Here Feldman talks with Didion, now 86, on how she’s enduring the COVID-19 pandemic at her home in New York.

Didion’s latest essay collection, Let Me Tell You What I Mean, was published on January 26th.

What Stories of Transition and Divorce Have in Common

As part of its feature Outward, coverage of “LGBTQ life, thought, and culture,” Slate offers this partial transcript of a podcast with author Torrey Peters about her new novel, Detransition, Baby. The book features the characters “Reese, a trans woman in her 30s who desperately wants to be a mother, and Ames, Reese’s former lover and a former trans woman who now has detransitioned and lives as a man.”

Page refresh: how the internet is transforming the novel

“Doom scrolling, oversharing, constantly updating social media feeds – the internet shapes how we see the world, and now it’s changing the stories we tell, writes author Olivia Sudjic.”

Sudjic writes that, since viewing social media is now such a big part of our lives, we are surprised when fictional characters don’t check their screens:

We are hungry for writers who can parse our present, whether in essay form, in works such as Jia Tolentino’s collection Trick Mirror (2019) and Legacy Russell’s Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto (2020) or the fiction about to hit our shelves (or Kindle screens) that put social media front and centre.

As Political Divide Widens, Will Big Houses Rethink Conservative Publishing?

Publishers Weekly takes a look at the significance of Simon & Schuster’s cancellation of Josh Hawley’s book after his actions on January 6th as an unruly mob broke into the U.S. Capitol. The article asks several members of the publishing industry “whether, and where, big houses will draw the line with conservative authors.”

(Also see this article from last week’s Literary Links.)

25 Great Writers and Thinkers Weigh In on Books That Matter

In honor of the 125th anniversary of its Book Review, the New York Times “[dips] into the archives to revisit our most thrilling, memorable and thought-provoking coverage.” Writers featured include Toni Morrison, Joan Didion, Patricia Highsmith, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Tracking the Vocabulary of Sci-Fi, from Aerocar to Zero-Gravity

“The new online Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction probes the speculative corners of the lexicographic universe.”

Check here for the backstory of terms such as warp speed, transporter, and deep space.

Take a peek inside the world of longtime Seattle-area book clubs

I met most of my best friends at book group. Here Moira Macdonald, arts critic for the Seattle Times, features the stories of some local book groups that have been discussing books for more than 30 years.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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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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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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Book Groups Bookstores Discussion

Life in an Independent Bookstore Near Seattle

2020 Discussion Challenge

Thanks to these two bloggers for sponsoring the 2020 Blog Discussion Challenge:

You can join the discussion challenge at any time during 2020 by clicking on either link above.


Coronavirus Diaries: I Own a Bookstore. I Don’t Know How Much Longer We Can Survive.

I live in Tacoma, WA, about 30 miles south of Seattle, the epicenter of the coronavirus influx into the United States. This article in Slate therefore caught my eye and seems appropriate to pass on since it’s about books.

Laurie Swift Raisys, owner of Island Books in Mercer Island, WA, points out a fear that all business owners must face when nobody is going out shopping: 

As a business owner, you rely on the community and the people that come in and shop at your store in order to pay your bills and pay your employees. Last week was incredibly stressful, and this week has been very stressful, and I don’t really see an end in sight right now.

But what pulled at my heartstrings even more than the purely economic complications of this medical emergency is the community impact:

We’re a community gathering place. Our slogan is “Real people, real books, real community,” and we’ve been around 46 years. My husband grew up on the island, and I worked part time for a number of years as a contractor. My contract ended one year and I decided I was going to do something different. I’d always wanted to own an island business, because I love this community. Everyone knows your name. They know your kids.

Raisys explains that several of her customers are over 60, the demographic most at risk from this particular virus. These people have been ordering by phone or email, and she has been dropping off books at their homes.

Further, “People are hibernating, and it makes it hard for us as a place of community. You cannot be in the business of social distancing, as they’re calling it, when you are a place that people come to for book clubs.” Often, book club represents the sum total of people’s social life, especially older people’s.

It’s easy to lose sight of aspects like this when we’re focused on more immediate health concerns. “It’s a small town, and they [residents] support when they can,” Raisys writes, but this disease is bound to have severe long-term effects after the immediate crisis is over.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book Groups Fiction Last Week's Links Publishing Reading

Literary Links

Why Some People Become Lifelong Readers

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

How Reese Witherspoon became the new high priestess of book clubs

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

The Loser-Spy Novelist for Our Times

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

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

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

cover: he Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019

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

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

Orphans and their quests

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

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book Groups Censorship

19 Controversial Books to Read with Your Book Club

Cover: To Kill a Mockingbird

Source: 19 Controversial Books to Read with Your Book Club

Are you looking for a bold new book that’s sure to get conversation going with your book club? We’ve compiled a list of some of the most controversial books included on the American Library Association’s annual list of books that have recently been restricted, removed, or banned. From beloved classics to modern fiction, these thought-provoking reads are sure to get tongues wagging at your next book club meeting.

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Book Groups Book Recommendations

14 Spectacular Reads From Oprah’s Book Club

Oprah Winfrey started her book club in 1996 and, for the last twenty years, millions of books have been sold and read because of her recommendations and her dedication to promoting brilliant writers. Here are just some of the bestselling, award-winning, and truly life-changing books that she has selected for her book club.

Source: 14 Spectacular Reads From Oprah’s Book Club

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Last Week’s Links

These are articles from around the web that caught my eye over the last week.

IS FICTION AN ADDICTION?

woman readingWho among us who love reading fiction have not asked ourselves these questions:

At some point we must ask ourselves if fiction is junk food for our souls. Too much of my lifetime has been consumed in make-believe. My friends talk about what they do, I talked about books, movies and television shows. I even prefer hanging out with other addicts, by being in four book clubs. When I die, and my life flashes in front of my eyes, a huge chunk of what I see will be me staring at a book, television, or movie screen. Is that good or bad? I don’t know. Is it an addiction? I think it is.

James Wallace Harris arrives at what is possible a rationalized conclusion, but one most of us probably understand and even agree with:

I believe fiction is a negative addiction when we use it as a substitute for living, but a positive addition when its a communication tool for comprehending each other.

51 Of The Most Powerful Pieces Of Advice From Books

It’s hard to go wrong with a good long list of advice from books. Dig in!

Why Book Clubs Matter in the Age of Tablets

Back in the good old days, before the demise of Borders, I belonged to two book clubs at my local Borders stores. But my first book club was held at the local public library.

This article examines the question of how important book clubs are now that many people download ebooks instead of purchasing hardcover books.

According to Ann Berlin of the Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore, which hosts quarterly parties for its approximately 60 external book clubs, “a lot of [book club members] are regular customers, and they’re ordering backlist.” She added, “What’s important to us is our relationship with our customers. We give people what they want, when they want it.”

Caleb Carr’s New Thriller Takes On Fancy Forensics. Michael Connelly Reviews

I loved Caleb Carr’s novel The Alienist when I read it many years ago. And one of my favorite current authors is mystery writer Michael Connelly. So this review by Connelly of Carr’s new book, Surrender, New York, in the New York Times was right up my alley.

Carr is best known for “The Alienist,” a beautifully wrought novel set more than a century ago at the dawn of behavioral profiling and other detective sciences. In “Surrender, New York,” he has written an addictive contemporary crime procedural stuffed with observations on the manipulations of science and the particular societal ills of the moment. Call it mystery with multiple messages.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book Groups Book Recommendations Fiction Reading

Last Week’s Links

Thriving at Age 70 and Beyond

From Jane E. Brody, long-time health writer for the New York Times:

A recently published book, “70 Candles! Women Thriving in Their 8th Decade,” inspired me to take a closer look at how I’m doing as I approach 75 and how I might make the most of the years to come. It would be a good idea for women in my age cohort to do likewise. With a quarter of American women age 65 expected to live into their 90s, there could be quite a few years to think about.

About the book 70 Candles! Women Thriving in Their 8th Decade, Brody writes:

What are the most important issues facing these women as they age, and how might society help ease their way into the future? Leading topics the women chose to explore included work and retirement, ageism, coping with functional changes, caretaking, living arrangements, social connections, grandparenting and adjusting to loss and death.

Curtis Sittenfeld: Pride and Prejudice Then & Now

Curtis Sittenfeld’s latest book, Eligible, is a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice.

While social rules have changed dramatically in the 200 years since the publication of Pride and Prejudice, Austen’s themes of love, wealth and class are still relevant. Women today can secure financial independence and enjoy intimate relationships without a marriage certificate. Yet societal pressures to marry and bear children persist. And so does the allure of “a single man in possession of a good fortune.”

Men Have Book Clubs, Too

Book clubs have a reputation as something women do together, but this article focuses on an all-male group in Marin County, CA:

The Man Book Club is going into its ninth year. It has 16 members, a number of whom are lawyers and engineers in their mid–50s. Each month, the host must prepare a meal appropriate to the book under discussion.

There’s also information on other all-male book groups around the country.

What You Really Lose When You Lose Perspective

Our perspective is how we perceive people, situations, ideas, etc. It’s informed by our personal experience, which makes it as unique as anything could be. Perspective shapes our life by affecting our choices. But the minute our minds become steeped in worry, perspective goes out of the window. We forget about our triumphs. We stop being optimistic as fear takes the wheel.

Sarah Newman explains how fear can cause us to lose sight of all the wisdom we’ve accrued over our lives.

Meg Rosoff on Coming of Age

Coming of age is such a common topic for fiction that this type of novel has its own name: Bildungsroman. These novels focus on the psychological growth of the main character from youth into adulthood.

Here novelist Meg Rosoff discusses these coming-of-age novels:

  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • Henry IV Part I by Shakespeare
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  • All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
Older women more likely to be overprescribed inappropriate drugs: Study

A recent research study from the University of British Columbia found that:

Older women are nearly 25 percent more likely than men to be over-prescribed or inappropriately prescribed drugs, with a new study pointing to social dynamics as the explanation for the discrepancy.

When authors’ prejudices ruin their books

This is a common question among avid readers: Should authors’ prejudices affect our reactions to their books?

In this article Imogen Russell Williams asks:

The unsavoury attitudes found in novels from writers such as GK Chesterton and Susan Coolidge have ruined some of the fiction I loved most as a child. But where do you draw the line when you return to tainted classics?

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book Groups Reading

On Reading

Sorry, Science Says Speed Reading Doesn’t Work

A report, recently published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, on a comprehensive review of the science behind speed reading:

The team behind the research looked at decades of studies focused on all manner of techniques and apps that promise to help you devour words at an incredible clip. Sadly, what they found is that what looks too good to be true almost certainly is.

11 Reasons Every Woman Should Join a Book Club

I don’t think the value of belonging to a book club should be limited to women. However, there are quite a few truths buried in this light-hearted piece. And I met some of my closest friends in book groups.

Emma Watson’s Feminist Book Club on Goodreads!

In honor of Women’s History Month, I offer you this chance to join an online book group, started by Emma Watson (you know, Hermione Granger):

The plan is to select and read a book every month, then discuss the work during the month’s last week (to give everyone time to read it!). I will post some questions/quotes to get things started, but I would love for this to grow into an open discussion with and between you all. Whenever possible I hope to have the author, or another prominent voice on the subject, join the conversation.

How Rereading The Great Gatsby Will Turn You Into a Superfan

According to Roy Peter Clark:

revision is not reserved for authors and editors. It is also a power that belongs to all readers, especially ones who undertake multiple readings of a text over time.

To illustrate, he discusses his own experience of reading The Great Gatsby seven times. For good measure, he talks about how to read like a writer:

This is what X-ray reading does for the writer. It reveals the strategies beneath the surface of the text that create meaning. That meaning can endure for decades and even centuries, or it can be enriched – seen with a stabbing clarity – through the re-visions of a devoted reader.

Inspiring the Artist in Everyone: Writers and Artists Share Handwritten Lists of Their Favorite Influential Books

Some of the hand-written lists are impossible to read here, but if you click on any image, you’ll be taken to another page containing the titles.

Taking Literature to the Streets

Advertising to encourage reading:

Reading, one of the world’s most enduring pastimes, hasn’t historically needed clever ads or flashy marketing campaigns to convince people of its worth. But Coffee Sleeves Conversation, as the Coffee House Press project became known, is one of a number of growing efforts around the world to advertise literature as a whole—by taking the message that reading can be accessible, enjoyable, and life-improving to unexpected places, from vending machines and subway cars to fast-food chains.