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How the Pandemic Has Changed Our Reading Lives

woman sitting & reading in front of book shelves

“Many of the readers who have more reading time are finding that the mental toll of current events is hurting their attention spans, or seeing their genre preferences shift and twist.”

Leah Rachel von Essen “talked to authors, book bloggers, librarians, and general readers to investigate how the anxiety and circumstances of the pandemic have changed our reading habits.”

She made some interesting discoveries, which she explains here. However the COVID quarantine has affected your reading, I bet you’ll find that many other people are having a similar experience.

Ubud writers festival still standing after COVID-19 twists the plot

If it was a book it would be a page-turner: the Australian woman living on a tropical island who founded a literary festival imperilled by terrorist attacks, smouldering volcanoes, the shadow of a massacre and a global pandemic.

Read the story of a writers festival founded in 2003, after the terrorist bombing of a nightclub in Bali.

Craft Capsule: The Art of Literary Criticism

Here’s one of the most useful expositions I’ve ever seen of how and why we read and review what we read.

Gillian Flynn on Paranoia, Conspiracy Theories, and Adding “Showrunner” to Her Resume

As every reader knows, the book is always better than the movie or TV adaptation. But this article intrigued me because it offers a new take on the subject. 

Gillian Flynn, author of Sharp Objects and Gone Girl, worked as writer and executive producer of the science fiction TV series Utopia, currently streaming on Amazon Prime. The series is adapted from Dennis Kelly’s British of the same title. Here’s what Flynn has to say about the process of creating this adaptation:

I approached Utopia the way I’ve approached all adaptations—this has to become my own. I don’t think it serves the original material by trying to be beholden to it. I don’t believe in just remaking something because the original was good. Adapt when you really know that you want to do something different or have it come to life in a different way.

So maybe instead of grousing because the movie differs from the book, we ought to look for and examine those differences. And although I haven’t read the source material for Utopia, I eagerly anticipate watching that series as soon as my husband and I finish the series we’re current bingeing on Acorn TV.

Akwaeke Emezi shuns Women’s prize over request for details of sex as defined ‘by law’

“Author, who became first non-binary trans writer to be nominated for the award in 2019, declines to submit future novels for consideration in protest.”

The controversy over inclusivity in the publishing industry continues to rage.

Hollywood has gobbled up book rights during the pandemic. Here’s why

Cover: Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

If you sometimes feel compelled to try to find the silver lining in the COVID-19 cloud, this might be a good item to put at the top of your list.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book News

For Banned Books Week, I read the country’s 10 most challenged books. The gay penguins did not corrupt me. – The Washington Post

Every September, I look over the new list and sigh, “How could anyone object to these great-looking books?” This year, instead of just sighing, I read all the books. The experience introduced me to some great new titles and, by implication, the anxieties of too many censorial Americans.

Source: For Banned Books Week, I read the country’s 10 most challenged books. The gay penguins did not corrupt me. – The Washington Post

Ron Charles, Washington Post book critic, on Banned Books Week.

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Book News Fiction Oddities

9+ Tolkien-Inspired Recipes to Enjoy on Hobbit Day

Celebrate Hobbit Day with a feast fit for the Shire and these Tolkien inspired recipes for your second breakfast and more.

Source: 9+ Tolkien-Inspired Recipes to Enjoy on Hobbit Day

Happy Hobbit Day, a celebration of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins’ birthdays.

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Author News Book News Last Week's Links Reading Writing

Literary Links

J.K. Rowling’s ‘Troubled Blood’ is her most ambitious Robert Galbraith novel yet — and likely the most divisive

cover: Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith

I have liked J.K. Rowling’s mystery novels featuring Cormoran Strike—published under the pen name Robert Galbraith—very much. But Rowling herself has been criticized recently for transphobic remarks she made earlier this year. (This article contains a link to a related article.)

The fifth novel in the Cormoran Strike series, Troubled Blood, has recently been published. “In her new book, Rowling has created a creepy serial killer who dresses in women’s clothes to more easily reel in his female victims,” writes Bill Sheehan in this article in The Washington Post. Further:

A question quickly arises: Is the creation of such a character a legitimate aesthetic choice or is it an affront to the LGBTQ community? While I don’t pretend to know the author’s motivations, I lean toward the former interpretation. Many others will no doubt passionately disagree.

Sheehan’s appreciative review of the book is quite short, yet it has reopened the discussion about whether authors can or should be separated from their works. He ends the piece with “Let the arguments begin.”

And begin they have. There are already 734 comments. Read on.

The Era of Pandemic Literature Is Upon Us, and It’s Starting With Regina Porter’s ‘Daily Cleanse’

After six months, we’re far enough into the COVID-19 health crisis to begin to see what kind of literature will emerge from it. Adrienne Westenfeld, an assistant editor at Esquire, leads the way:

When truth is stranger than fiction, writers of fiction often make sense of reality on the page; yet in the unprecedented age of the coronavirus pandemic, many writers have reported feeling paralyzed by incessant despair, leaving them unable to create. But Regina Porter, the acclaimed author of 2019’s The Travelers, wasn’t paralyzed—instead, Porter found herself “compelled” to start a new novel at the height of the pandemic. In “Daily Cleanse,” a story adapted from that forthcoming novel-in-progress, tentatively titled The Rich People Have Gone Away, Porter introduces Theo Harper, a privileged New Yorker struggling to keep secrets from his pregnant wife, Darla, as life in the city grinds to a devastating halt due to the coronavirus. “Daily Cleanse” is at once an unsparing look into the discomforts of intimacy and a deeply felt portrait of a transformed city, one where, Porte

In this interview, “Porter spoke with Esquire about accessing her creativity against all odds, creating morally complicated characters, and employing fiction to investigate questions about race.”

Essay collection ‘Seismic’ reflects on Seattle’s status as a UNESCO City of Literature — and the power of storytelling

Nearly three years ago, Seattle’s literary reputation was solidified on the world stage with its designation as a UNESCO City of Literature. On Sept. 15, “Seismic — Seattle, City of Literature,” a collection of essays from Seattle-area writers like Timothy Egan, Claudia Castro Luna, Charles Johnson and more will be released — a series of reflections on what this status means for Seattle, and how art, literature and stories can be forces for change.

The Seattle Times offers the collection’s introductory chapter by editor Kristen Millares Young and the essay by Ken Workman (Duwamish, great-great-great-great-grandson of Chief Si’ahl), which Young describes as “canonical.”

Why Goodreads is bad for books

I use Goodreads, but only for a few particular aspects of my life. But I see a lot of references to how unhappy people are with Goodreads. Sarah Manavis fills in some of the blanks for me here; I don’t have most of the problems because I don’t use the features that people find problematic. But from her descriptions, I can tell that if I did use Goodreads for those purposes, I’d probably be unsatisfied with the platform’s functionality, too.

I found particularly interesting her description of The StoryGraph, a new service under development and scheduled for formal launch early next year.

What Made Black and Blue Pens Standard? A Colorful Look at Ink

set of 24 colored pens

When I was a kid, ballpoint pens—which we didn’t get to use in school until 4th grade—came only in blue, black, or red. By the time I started college, green ballpoints were available, which the rebel in me promptly adopted as my main writing implement.

In this article Yashvi Peeti delves into the history of ink and the psychology of color to help us choose among all the writing implements and colors now available.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Awards & Prizes Book News

A Literary Guide to the 2020 Emmy Awards | Los Angeles Public Library

Every September, the Primetime Emmy Awards are handed out, celebrating the best that television had to offer from the previous season. Usually, this event entails the red carpet, designer dresses, flashing lights, and giant crowds. Well, this year is going to be a little bit different. This year’s virtual ceremony will combine pre-recorded and live video of host Jimmy Kimmel and the nominees. And of those nominees, a whopping 12 shows were adapted from books.

Source: A Literary Guide to the 2020 Emmy Awards | Los Angeles Public Library

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Author News Book News Book Recommendations Bookstores Fiction Film Publishing Reading Television

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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Book News Personal Publishing

Book-Related News for Self-Isolation and Social Distancing

B&N, BAM Remain Open

Publishers Weekly reports that Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million are currently staying open. I would imagine, though, that this situation could change at any time, so you’d probably want to check with your local store.

A dystopian reading list: books to enjoy while in quarantine

The U.K.’s Guardian advises that, in addition to all the pandemic novels everyone is talking about, you might also want to read “some novels about being alone. You should also add some comfort reads, and poetry, and books about people being thoughtful and useful and kind.”

KIDLIT AUTHORS STEPPING UP DURING THE COVID-19 CRISIS AND QUARANTINE

Ashlie Swicker writes, “Around the country, people who care about children are coming together and using their considerable talents to provide entertainment and education for the masses who are out of school and in need of stimulation.”

Here she offers links (current as of Monday, March 16) to several such resources.

How to Support Authors Whose Book Tours Have Been Canceled

Bookshop, “an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community,” offers a list of authors whose book tours have been canceled because of the epidemic. Since book tours can be crucial for sales, buying these writers’ books can help them weather the storm.

What It’s Like to Promote a Book in the Middle of a Pandemic

Amy Klein, author of The Trying Game: Get Through Fertility Treatment and Get Pregnant Without Losing Your Mind (Penguin/Random House), explains, “Canceling events and shutting down tours is crucial for public health—but it could tank my career.” 

“People like me—writers with books that are scheduled to come out or have just come out—are almost as worried about our book babies as we are about our personal health.” 

Lawrence Wright’s New Pandemic Novel Wasn’t Supposed to Be Prophetic

“Pandemics — like wars and economic depressions, with which they often coincide — leave scars on the body of history,” writes Lawrence Wright, author of the novel The End of October, scheduled for publication next month (April 2020). 

In fact, this is the second time he has written a novel that was published around the same time as an eerily similar historical event. “What may seem like prophecy is actually the fruit of research,” he explains. Read about how he researched and created these fictional narratives.


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Book News Fiction Last Week's Links Publishing Television

Literary Links

American Dirt Starts An Important Conversation But Not The One Author Intended

I avoided the recent brouhaha over Jeanine Cummins’ novel American Dirt while it was developing, but most of the dust seems to have settled now. If you looking for a summary of the situation, this article provides a good overview. It also contains a lot of links, so you can go as far down the internet rabbit hole as you like.

What You Miss When You Snub “Chick Lit”

Mandy Shunnarah of Off the Beaten Shelf compares the novels The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer, marketed as literary fiction, and Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner, whose works are usually described as chick lit.

Here’s the thing, though: I thought The Female Persuasion was good, but I think Mrs. Everything is truly excellent. It’s about as perfect of a novel as I’ve read.

Shunnarah wonders how many other great novels she’s missed because of the way a “publisher has historically pigeonholed” the books’ (usually female) author.

Bingeing on Cop Propaganda

Nick Martin, writing in The New Republic, argues that:

beyond the familiar tropes, every episode of Law & Order: SVU or NCIS mindlessly consumed after work or on a weekend afternoon is also a vehicle for a particular understanding of law enforcement: a police-know-best mind-set that takes all of the mess and violence of our criminal legal system and packages it for tidy consumption. Given the ubiquity of these shows, it’s jarring to consider the scale of it.

His conclusion:

it’s clear the market and appetite for these shows means something and that the model works for a reason. So the next time you’re hit with the “Are you still watching?” message after the fourth straight episode of white victimhood and cop ass-kicking, it might be worth thinking about why shows like this have become a kind of comfort food.

JOANNA RUSS, THE SCIENCE-FICTION WRITER WHO SAID NO

The New Yorker profiles science fiction writer Joanna Russ, who died in 2011:

she was brilliant in a way that couldn’t be denied, even by those who hated her. Her writing was at once arch and serious; she issued her judgments with supreme confidence, even when they were issued against herself. She was here to imagine, to invent wildly, and to undo the process, as one of her heroines puts it, of “learning to despise one’s self.” But she was going to have a lot of fun doing it. And, if you were doing anything else, you were not really, to her mind, writing science fiction.

Five Fun Forensic Facts 4 Fiction!

Forensic pathologist Dr. Judy Melinek and her husband, writer T.J. Mitchell, have written the nonfiction book Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner and often blog about forensics as presented on television. Here they present “the 5 most common forensics errors that crime writers make.” 

These five points will change the way you watch TV crime shows and read crime fiction.

10 Dual Timeline Novels with Plots You’ll Be Desperate to Unravel

I love novels with unusual narrative structures.

That’s probably why I’ve read six of the 10 novels that Sarah Walsh presents here, “books that traipse between different timelines—the nonsequential events of the past and present forming one intriguing narrative spread throughout time.”

When well done—and the six I’ve read of the 10 mentioned here are all very well done—novels with more than one time line can be enormously satisfying to read.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book News Copyright

These 1924 Copyrighted Works Enter the Public Domain in 2020

These 1924 Copyrighted Works Enter the Public Domain in 2020

The folks at Lifehacker list works entering the public domain this year in the areas of film, music (both popular and classical), literature, and artworks.

Here are many of the literary works on the list:

  • Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Land That Time Forgot and Tarzan and the Ant Men
  • Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit and Poirot Investigates
  • Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game
  • W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Gift of Black Folk
  • Ford Madox Ford’s Some Do Not… (first volume of Parade’s End)
  • E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India
  • Emma Goldman’s My Further Disillusionment in Russia
  • A preliminary version of Ernest Hemingway’s short story collection In Our Time
  • Muhammad Iqbal’s Bang-i-Dara
  • Margaret Kennedy’s The Constant Nymph
  • H. P. Lovecraft’s short story “The Rats in the Walls”
  • Katherine Mansfield’s Something Childish and Other Stories
  • Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain
  • Herman Melville’s posthumously published Billy Budd
  • A. A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young
  • Pablo Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair
  • Mark Twain’s Autobiography (posthumous)
  • Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The Box-Car Children, first book in the series
  • H. G. Wells’s The Dream
  • Edith Wharton’s The Old Maid
  • Ruth Plumly Thompson’s Grampa in Oz, the 18th Oz book
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Book News Personal

Bookish and Proud: A Literary Pride Month Flag

The editors at Bookish have created a literary flag in honor of Pride Month.

Check out the article to see a larger version of the flag and the list of nearly 350 book covers used to create it: “Each book used in this collage is either written by an author or features a character who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.”