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On the Books: How to Keep Track of New Releases

I have a list of every book that I’ve read since July 1991. I started keeping it on my very first computer, an IBM PCjr. Over the years I’ve managed to maintain the list through several computer and computer program changes, including the biggest computer move I ever made: the jump from Windows/PCs to Mac.

But one thing I’ve never been able to track effectively is upcoming releases I definitely want to read. Here, prolific reader Liberty Hardy offers several suggestions on how to do this.

“The Leftovers” Is Teaching Me Who I Want to Be After Covid

Extrovert Michael Colbert explains how the HBO adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s 2011 novel The Leftovers is helping him learn to live with life after COVID:

The Leftovers portrays all the ways this return is abnormal, messy. The show’s outlook is somewhat pessimistic: maybe we’ll never go back to the way we were. Yet I find comfort in Mapleton, watching people muddle through their new normal.

Philip Roth, Blake Bailey and publishing in the post-#MeToo era

“WW Norton withdrew Bailey’s Roth biography after a series of allegations about its author. As generational conflict rages in the book world and across culture, we ask: who decides whether we can separate the art from the artist?”

Yes, this is yet another installment of the publishing story that won’t go away. But this question of separating the artist from the art is one that has nagged at me since long before the Philip Roth biography brouhaha. 

W.W. Norton, the U.S. publisher of the Bailey biography of Roth, withdrew the book shortly after publication and announced that it would pulp the remaining copies. Vintage, the book’s U.K. publisher, announced that it would not withdraw the book but would continue “assessing the situation closely.” Here’s how The Guardian, a U.K. newspaper, assesses the situation:

What’s clear from the silence is that withdrawing the book, and also not withdrawing it, are hugely sensitive issues. They plug into a range of contemporary debates about censorship, moral responsibility, freedom of expression, corporate governance, social justice, due process, workplace safety, and the ongoing critique of so-called toxic masculinity, among others.

But my question goes back to way before all these social and moral issues. I came of age, literarily speaking, back in the 1970s, when New Criticism was still the dominant force in academic literary study. The bedrock of New Criticism is that a literary work stands on its own, completely dissociated from its creator. The meaning of the work comes only from what the work itself contains, not what the author personally believes, feels, or espouses outside that particular piece of created work. This approach therefore forestalls any criticism of the book because of the personality or morality of its author, although discussion of themes such as misogyny in the work are possible with explanation and textual support.

I guess there are really two theoretical levels of evaluation going on here. The first level involves evaluation of and reaction to Roth’s fiction itself. On this level New Criticism is very clear: You can look for evidence of misogyny in the novels themselves, but you can’t condemn the novels because you’ve read that the author treats women badly. But we reach a second level when we evaluate the merits of a biography written about a public figure, such as an author like Philip Roth. While it’s certainly up to critics to point out if a biographer has not created a complete picture of the subject, I’m not sure that criticism of a published biography warrants an end to publication and the destruction of all remaining copies.

Or maybe it’s true that there really is no such thing as bad publicity?

Life in the Stacks: A Love Letter to Browsing

However, I take no issue with Jason Guriel’s lamentation of how much he misses old-fashioned browsing of media content, both in those long-gone video houses called Blockbuster and, more recently, bookstores and even libraries shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Writers to Watch Fall 2021

Here’s a heads-up call from Publishers Weekly: “Explorations of class, race, and sexuality play into many of this fall’s notable fiction debuts, including a novel about a young Black woman working in financial services, a South Korean gay romance, and more.”

Rivka Galchen on the Particular Horrors of Actual Witch Hunts

Carianne King talks with Rivka Galchen, whose latest novel, Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch, portrays the trial of Katharina Kepler, mother of mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler. King describes the book this way:

A reimagination of the trial of Katharina Kepler, told in her voice, it’s a novel about the power of narrative over rational, or factual, truths that plays with layers of belief. In all of these ways, it’s a 17th-century witch novel that feels especially relevant for our fractured, divided, complicated times.

Galchen explains why she found Katharina to be a captivating character:

I also connected Katharina to women in my life—older women who don’t read the room, who are really smart, really capable, but who rub people the wrong way, or who people process weirdly because they have their own norms and their own way of doing things.

A Young Naturalist Inspires With Joy, Not Doom

Alex Marshall introduces us to Dara McAnulty, 17, of Northern Ireland, whose book Diary of a Young Naturalist won last year’s Wainwright Prize for nature writing. Marshall says that McAnulty is open about his autism and even started writing because of it: “‘I need to write, to process what’s going on,’ he said, ‘otherwise everything’s just banging around in my brain causing damage in there.’”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book News Book Recommendations

Pulitzer Prizes: A Guide to the Winning Books and Finalists – The New York Times

Louise Erdrich won the fiction prize for her novel “The Night Watchman.” Here are the 2021 contenders for fiction, nonfiction, poetry, history and biography.

Source: Pulitzer Prizes: A Guide to the Winning Books and Finalists – The New York Times

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Author News Book Recommendations Fiction Last Week's Links Literary Criticism Notes in the Margin

Literary Links

They Are Giving Hemingway Another Look, So You Can, Too

Gal Beckerman, an editor at the New York Times Book Review, talks with Lynn Novick and Ken Burns about their three-part series on Hemingway currently airing on PBS. The documentary filmmakers were drawn to Hemingway because of his complex status as both an influence on generations of writers and an example of toxic masculinity.

When Tragedy Strikes, What Does Criticism Have to Offer?

“It’s easier to find meaning in fiction than in the senseless mass killings of our reality, which seem to render the critical perspective pointless, even silly, at times.”

Maya Phillips, a critic for the New York Times, writes that she finds comfort in critiquing artistic presentations: “Even in the bleakest stories, there’s order and logic, perhaps even justice, if not in the realm of the story itself then at least in the artist’s imagination.” But with the recent spate of mass shootings, “it has felt pointless, even silly, to analyze fictional stories when real people are dying.”

“My critical faculty fails me now, as I contemplate the real world,” Phillips writes.

How to Read Mysteries While Recovering from the Patriarchy

“Melissa Febos was struggling to write a book about surviving American girlhood. Mystery fiction presented a solution.”

Melissa Febos details the problem she had while writing her recently published essay collection, Girlhood:

The premise of my book, which detailed the devastating and ordinary harms done to girls in this country and aspired to answer them with strategies of undoing that harm, had become an unsolvable mystery. I knew who the perpetrator was, but not how to stop or outpace him. 

To solve her problem and power through the writing of her book, she read through lots of mysteries. She provides the list here: Febos’s Mysteries for Feminists with High Standards. “These books . . . gave me the same pleasure that Nancy Drew had, but with the added satisfactions of good writing, queer and Black characters, and layers of smartly delivered cultural critique.”

 Women’s Prize stands by its nomination of trans author Torrey Peters after open letter

On Wednesday [April 7, 2021], the Women’s Prize Trust reaffirmed its choice to longlist the novel “Detransition, Baby” by author Torrey Peters, who is trans, for the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction, a day after the Wild Woman Writing Club published an open letter denouncing the nomination.

The opening paragraph of this article, quoted above, contains a link to the letter of denunciation. Read more about the controversy here. There’s also a link to a review of Detransition, Baby in the Los Angeles Times.

Pick Your Poison with These Mystery Subgenre Suggestions

What a list! Find your next mystery read in the examples given here of all the following subgenres:

  • domestic thrillers
  • media mysteries
  • legal thrillers
  • crime procedurals
  • contemporary cozies
  • cold cases
  • psychological thrillers
  • new noir
  • historicals

Meaning in the Margins: On the Literary Value of Annotation

“For As Long As There Have Been Printed Books, There Has Been Marginalia”

Ah, the history of marginalia, or “things in the margin.”

“Annotation was both ubiquitous and habitual by the 1500s, not long after the invention of the printing press and growth of print culture,” write Remi H. Kalir and Antero Garcia in this excerpt from their new book, Annotation.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Book Recommendations Last Week's Links Obituaries Publishing

Literary Links

Beverly Cleary, beloved and prolific author of children’s books, dies at 104

Obituary from the Los Angeles Times.

Larry McMurtry, Novelist of the American West, Dies at 84

Obituary from the New York Times.

I Always Write in the Past: The Millions Interviews André Aciman

Here’s a fascinating article in which André Aciman talks about what he calls the irrealis mood. He defines this mood as follows:

“a category of verbal moods that indicate that certain events have not happened, may never happen, or should or must or are indeed desired to happen, but for which there is no indication that they will ever happen”—that is, “the might-be and the might-have-been.” It is a mood sometimes called fantasizing, or nostalgia, but it is really more multifaceted, informing our experience of art, desire, and even our own mortality.

A reading guide on the Asian American experience from Viet Thanh Nguyen, Charles Yu and more

“If there’s one lesson we keep having to learn in the United States, it’s that ignorance breeds hate and hate breeds violence.” 

The Los Angeles Times offers a list of “more than 40 books on the experience of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in this country, including poetry, essays, memoirs, histories and some of the best fiction of the last couple of decades. Suggestions come from Times staff; novelists including Viet Thanh Nguyen, Charles Yu and Steph Cha; poet Victoria Chang; and a group of scholars from Asian American Studies departments in California and beyond.”

Audre Lorde Broke the Silence

“In her poems and ‘The Cancer Journals,’ Lorde fought to name her experience.”

Emily Bernard’s portrait of Audre Lorde focuses on “Two recent publications, The Selected Works of Audre Lorde, edited and with an introduction by Roxane Gay, and a new edition of The Cancer Journals, with a foreword by Tracy K. Smith, [that] capture the complexity of Lorde’s singular perspective.”

Lorde treated her body—the range of her corporeal needs, fears, and desires—as a resource of political and creative information, a platform from which she communicated her worldview. She was unique in her determination to speak and write without shame, but at the same time wholly representative, embodying the complexities of a contemporary radical Black feminist identity. Her life emblematized the concept of intersectionality, a term coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to describe the ways in which distinct social identities, such as race and gender, are mutually constitutive. Lorde devoted her career to building bridges across social divides as well as nurturing the distinct voices of Black feminist writers who responded to the raw physicality of her imagery and her now famous rallying cries, such as, “Your silence will not protect you.” 

How Sara Gruen Lost Her Life

“The Water for Elephants author’s six-year fight to free an incarcerated man left her absolutely broke and critically ill.”

At age 80, Sylvia Byrne Pollack of Seattle will publish her first book of poetry

Don’t you love stories like this? I certainly do!

“Part of the magic of poetry is that, when you write the words, you’re a writer,” Pollack continues. “And once you put them down, they’re not really yours anymore. The reader has to do the other half of the work.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Book News Book Recommendations Censorship Publishing Reading

Literary Links

The time is right to cancel Dr. Seuss’s racist books

One of the biggest literary stories recently is the decision by the company that controls the works of Dr. Seuss to pull six titles from future republication because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” Here Ron Charles, book critic for the Washington Post, expresses his agreement with the decision.

Dr. Seuss Books Are Pulled, and a ‘Cancel Culture’ Controversy Erupts

Soon after the story of the Dr. Seuss decision, the story blossomed into a full-blown controversy over censorship and cancel culture. Written a few days after the previous article, this article gives an overview of the Dr. Seuss news.

6 Books That Give Voices to Forgotten Women in Our Stories

The last several years have seen the rise of a movement to put women’s stories back into a cultural history dominated by men. Here Aisling Twomey lists books “specifically retelling older stories from the perspectives of the women in them who have long been ignored.”

Your 9 Favorite Classics and What to Read Next

Book recommendations abound across the internet. But I was particularly interested in this article, which suggests current reading based on your favorite literary classic. See what to read next if your favorite literary classic is one of these works: The Great Gatsby, The Crucible, Little Women, Roots, A Passage to India, Pride and Prejudice, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Forever Amber, or Jane Eyre

Teaching Classic Lit Helps Game Designers Make Better Stories

Poet Cindy Frenkel created a course called Creative Writing for Video Gamers, a requirement for students majoring in video game design at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan. Here she describes the lesson she learned from one of her student’s presentation: “appreciating classic literature and art could enhance not only the creation of video games but the player’s experience as well.”

“Classic literature has fundamental elements that reappear every day in video games, comics, and movies . . . because the building blocks of a great story remain the same throughout the centuries.”

Is It Worth Reading If I Forget Everything I Read?

Danika Ellis asks this question because she usually remembers only her general impressions of books she’s read, not plot details. But, she concludes, she will continue to read: “I’ve taken to heart that the brain is a great place to make creative connections and to come up with new ideas, but it’s a pretty poor place to store information.”

The Curse of Reading and Forgetting

In this article in The New Yorker from way back in 2013, Ian Crouch addresses the same concern that Ellis explains in the article above: “the assembled books [on his bookshelves], and the hundreds of others that I’ve read and discarded, given away, or returned to libraries, represent a vast catalogue of forgetting.”

Read his conclusion on this “minor existential drama.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Book Recommendations Fiction Last Week's Links Literature & Psychology Nonfiction

Literary Links

A Sickness in the Air

“Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind imagines the world after a global disaster, but its real subject is white entitlement.”

[Alam] has an interior barometer exquisitely calibrated to signifiers of social class: fashion houses, just-trendy-enough restaurants, interiors detailed with the loving eye of a copywriter for a high-end furniture catalog. His interest lies in taxonomies of race and class, not in generating the reader’s empathy or evoking an emotional response. Lacking the capacity for deep reflection, his characters drift along in their bubbles, so perfectly self-absorbed that the other people in their lives are all but invisible . . .

What should you read in 2021? These 10 authors have ideas.

What intrigued me most about this list is the format. Writer Neema Roshania Patel asked “Torrey Peters, author of “Detransition Baby,” which came out on Jan. 12,” to name a book she is looking forward to this year, then asked the author of that book for a recommendation, and so on.

“I spoke with 10 female authors by the end of the chain, and together, they brought me down an exciting path of novels — plus a collection of poetry, a book of essays, a memoir and even a journey to the cosmos.”

George Saunders: ‘Monty Python taught me that comedy and truth are the same thing’

I was attracted by this article’s title because, well, it’s George Saunders, but also because I’ve always had a very tenuous relationship with comedy. Growing up, I did not find the Keystone Cops and the Three Stooges funny at all. This article didn’t really help me sort out my concept of comedy, but, hey, it’s George Saunders talking about writing.

Books Like House of Leaves: An Intro to Ergodic Fiction

I haven’t read it yet, but House of Leaves has been on my TBR shelf for a while now because I’m always intrigued by descriptions of books with unusual structures. Here Melissa Baron discusses what she calls “fiction’s coolest niche genre: the weird and unconventional world of ergodic literature.” She pares the definition down to “books or digital text that use unusual methods to tell their stories,” but you’ll have to read the rest of the article to even begin to understand what the term means.

And I just moved House of Leaves several places upwards on my TBR list.

When I find fiction too draining, I turn to books about books. They can be as thrilling as a whodunit.

Michael Dirda finds that reading “serious literary fiction . . . [can] be exceptionally draining.” So, when he needs a break, he turns to nonfiction: “even a dry-seeming nonfiction category like ‘books about books’ — a librarian might label them ‘studies of print culture’— can be dangerously fascinating.”

Read what books about books he has especially liked recently.

Jonathan Kellerman Wants to Know Why Crime Fiction Has Such a Hard Time with Mental Health Professionals

Jonathan Kellerman, a former practicing clinical psychologist, created the fictional psychologist Alex Delaware in the novel When the Bough Breaks, published in 1981. Now at nearly 40 novels, the Delaware books comprise “the longest-running contemporary American crime fiction series.”

Here Kellerman discusses how, in Alex Delaware, he aimed to create a portrait of an ordinary person who works in the mental health profession. Kellerman laments that most other fiction continues to present mental health professionals in terms of two clichés: “evil shrink/screwed-up shrink. Sometimes a combination of both.”

In Psychological Thrillers, the Abyss Stares Back

German thriller writer Sebastian Fitzek discusses why he writes psychological thrillers: “In my view, the fascination for psychological thrillers can be explained in part by the fact that they deal with one of the last unexplored universes of all, one we carry right inside us: the human mind.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book Recommendations Personal

Groundhog Day Reading

Happy Groundhog Day!

I came across this list of time-loop books to celebrate with and felt it my duty to share it with you:

13 Great Time Loop Books to Read This Groundhog Day

I’ve read three of these books:

  • The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

I vouch for all of them.

Happy reading!

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Book Groups Book News Book Recommendations Censorship Fiction Last Week's Links Literary History Publishing

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

Categories
Book Recommendations Last Week's Links Literature & Psychology Reading

Literary Links

TIMES NEW ROMAN, ARIAL, AND HELVETICA: THE FONT FAVORITES, BUT WHY?

Melissa Baron looks into why, with hundreds of thousands of fonts in existence, Times New Roman, Arial, and Helvetica have become :the most widely used fonts ever.”

Old Novels as Therapy

“In these incredibly dark days, I’ve found solace talking to people I’ve known since childhood.”

Novelist Betsy Robinson explains why, right not, she’s finding solace in some old favorites, “books with a personal foundation already in place.”

10 Feminist Retellings of Mythology

Christine Hume, author of “Saturation Project,” recommends modern stories that turn patriarchal folklore on its head.

At the end of story-telling is myth-making: exhausted, stripped down narrative, pure grammar crystalized into affect. And when it’s good . . . Myth-structure holds the power to awaken us to our own history and also to make ourselves into strangers.

A Very Brief History of Reading

A good overview of the quintessential human experience of reading.

75 Debut Novels to Discover in 2021

If your reading list for 2021 isn’t yet long enough to be totally discouraging, Goodreads can help.

Sudden amnesia showed me the self is a convenient fiction

I read a lot of psychological thrillers, and one of the genre’s standard tropes is the narrator who wakes up with no memory memory of who she is or how she got here. 

Believe it or not, sometimes this actually does happen. Steven Hales writes about his experience with transient global amnesia (TGA).

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Book Recommendations Reading

Resources for Putting Together a Reading Plan for 2021

Related Post:

fancy scroll

Do you have a reading plan for 2021? If you’ve never put a reading plan together, the task can seem overwhelming. Here are some resources I’ve collected that can help. 

But you don’t have to develop a formal reading plan to find these articles useful. Maybe you’d like some advice on how to keep track of the books you read. Or perhaps you’re just interested in finding a few reading challenges to motivate you or help you discover new kinds of literature. 

Either way, you might find something you can use in these articles.

Introducing the 2021 Reading Log

Tirzah Price has developed a spreadsheet for keeping track of her 2021 reading. She provides a link where you can download a copy of her template, which you can then modify to fit your own needs. She even provides a video tutorial to help you work with the spreadsheet.

Book Riot’s 2021 Read Harder Challenge

2021 is the seventh year for Book Riot’s annual Read Harder Challenge. This year’s challenge “has 24 tasks designed to help you break out of your reading bubble and expand your worldview through books. With new genres, new authors, and new points of view, the challenge will (hopefully) help you discover amazing books you wouldn’t have otherwise picked up.”

Read Native 2021 Challenge

From the American Indian Library Association, which offers book lists and activities.

11 Ideas to Tackle As 2021 Reading Goals

If you want to put together your own challenge, here are some ideas to help you find some activities that will serve your purpose.

2021 Reading Lists and Challenges to Expand Your Reading

Here’s a list of five specific challenges for 2021. For even more choices, simply do a Google search for “2021 reading challenges” and see how many hits turn up.

My 2021 Reading Challenge: 10 Goals to Expand My Literary Horizons

Instead of using someone else’s challenge categories to expand her reading horizon, Sharon Van Meter created her own. See them here, along with a book recommendation that illustrates each one. 

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown