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Captivating Novels about Astrology

In her introduction to this list, Laura Maylene Walter, author of the novel Body of Stars, calls herself “a skeptic who doesn’t read horoscopes in my daily life.” But, she continues, “hand me a work of fiction about astrology or psychics, and I’m captivated.”

Many of the books on this list examine issues surrounding the topics of fate, free will, the future, and alternate life possibilities.

5 Books with Unique Narratives That Play with Format

Experimental (or maybe inventive is a better word) fiction fascinates me, especially novels that bend genre conventions or play with narrative structure.

Here Anne Jaconette lists “a few books with unique narratives that will grab your attention from the first page!”

Calling a Time-Out on Reading for Sport

Jamie Canaves recently realized that she’d been “rushing through books as fast as I could to get to the next one on my can’t-wait-to-read-it TBR, and also trying to break the previous year’s number of how many books I had read.” And I had the same realization when I read this description.

She had this realization during 2020 and decided to change her reading life at the beginning of 2021 by asking herself three questions: “Why are you doing this? What is the point? Is it adding to the enjoyment of your reading life?” And, she reports, her reading life has greatly improved this year: “I guess I just needed to get myself back to reading for enjoyment and not some weird imaginary sport.”

Turns Out It’s Pretty Good: Reading First Thing in the Morning

Dismayed that reading had nearly disappeared from her busy life, freelance writer and editor Rachel Charlene Lewis developed a new habit: She now sets her alarm so that she can read in bed—even before brushing her teeth or making that first cup of coffee—for an hour in the morning.

What Zora Went Looking For

Charles King, professor of international affairs and government at Georgetown University, profiles Zora Neale Hurston for Humanities, the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities: “As a budding anthropologist, the storyteller began to find her way.” 

This article is adapted from King’s book Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century.

Do Patricia Highsmith Novels Make Good Films?

“The author’s oeuvre has long been the subject of cinematic preoccupation, inspiring over 20 screen adaptations and counting. Here, a close read of four of the best and worst of them.”

Kerry Manders examines four films based on the novels of Patricia Highsmith:

  • Strangers on a Train (1951), based on the 1950 novel of the same title
  • Carol (2015), based on the 1952 novel The Price of Salt, published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan
  • A Kind of Murder (2016), adapted from the 1954 novel The Blunderer
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), based on the 1955 novel of the same title

Books that touched on race were among the most challenged as inappropriate for libraries in 2020

From CNN:

Books that talked about racism and racial justice — or told the stories of people of color or the LGBTQ community — were among the most challenged as inappropriate for students in 2020, according to a survey by the American Library Association.

The article concludes with the list of the 10 most challenged books of 2020.

From the Sidelines to the Spotlight: LGBTQ Books 2021

Publishers Weekly highlights “the authors of new fiction and nonfiction titles . . . bringing a wide range of queer experiences to the fore.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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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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How Reading Ebooks Changes Our Perception (and Reviews)

Kindle Paperwhite

Addison Rizer, a self-declared “avid Kindle reader,” writes, “I am curious about the ways reading ebooks changes the way we interact, and review, the novels we consume.”

The article contains lots of references, with links, to both scientific studies and popular sources. However, the discussion is unfocused; it includes discussion of viewing both art works and films in addition to reading books. Also, Rizer talks about screens, which could mean either a dedicated ebook reader (e.g., Kindle, Nook) or a laptop/desk computer computer screen. But reading on these three types of screens is decidedly different experiences. In fact, even reading on a Kindle differs from reading the same ebook with the Kindle app on a tablet (such as an iPad).

How ‘Lolita’ Escaped Obscenity Laws and Cancel Culture

Actor and screenwriter Emily Mortimer delves into Nabokov’s 1959 novel Lolita and how it managed to escape the obscenity laws of the era:

to my knowledge, no criminal case was ever brought against “Lolita,” which is surprising given that it appeared in the world at a time when literature was far from safe from the clutches of the obscenity laws, and given that it’s still the most shocking, sensational thing you’ve ever read.

Wisdom in the Work

Bookforum offers an interview by Emily Gould with Vivian Gornick about Gornick’s new essay collection Taking a Long Look: Essays on Culture, Literature, and Feminism in Our Time.

He Writes Unreliable Narrators Because He Is One, Too

“Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer for his debut, ‘The Sympathizer,’ recognition that was great for his career and bad for his writing. Now he’s back with its subversive sequel, ‘The Committed.’”

After winning the Pulitzer Prize, Nguyen turned into what he calls “a public intellectual” who was “suddenly in demand as a speaker, panelist, late-night TV guest and op-ed writer, speaking up for refugees and immigrants at a time when both groups were being demonized.” But the demands of that public persona prevented him from writing fiction for a year.

Initially, Nguyen didn’t set out to write a series about a disillusioned spy. But when he finished “The Sympathizer,” he had grown attached to his sardonic narrator, whose voice came to him so naturally that it feels like his alter ego.

Sex, Noir & Isolation

“In his novels, Alfred Hayes explored what he saw as noir’s central concern: the inability to feel the reality of your own life, or anyone else’s.”

Vivian Gornick writes about the work of Alfred Hayes, a reporter, screenwriter, novelist, and poet who died in 1985 and who “has recently become something of a passion for those who find in his writing the mastery that makes a work of literature take up a permanent place in a reader’s inner life.”

Review: From William Styron to ‘American Dirt’: When is it appropriate to culturally appropriate?

Carolyn Kellogg reviews Appropriate: A Provocation by poet and writing professor Paisley Rekdal for the Los Angeles Times: “her basic thesis is that culture is situated in its moment; careful consideration of where each of us is in that moment informs what we create, how we read, what literature is lifted up and what is left out.”

We Can’t Believe Survivors’ Stories If We Never Hear Them

“Our ideas about which narratives are important, sane, or credible depend on what we see reflected in culture”

Rachel Zarrow argues that we must encourage survivors of trauma to tell their stories and we must listen to the stories they tell if we are to understand their experience. Although Zarrow focuses on survivors’ stories of sexual assault, her message applies to people who have experienced other traumas as well, such as political oppression, famine, war.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Discussion Fiction Personal Reading

Your Favorite Book Might Be My DNF . . . and Vice Versa

illustration: 2021 Discussion Challenge

Thanks to these two bloggers for sponsoring the 2021 Blog Discussion Challenge:

You can join the discussion challenge at any time during 2021 by clicking on either link above.


“One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.”

“There’s no accounting for taste.”

“Different strokes for different folks.”

I occasionally see the novel Geek Love by Katherine Dunn listed on someone’s list of best novels ever read. I understand that the novel’s themes of family, love, and normality make it appeal to a lot of people, but I just could not get past the notion that anyone—even someone fictional—would purposely engineer birth defects in order to create a bigger and better freak show.

Cover: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

But I did learn from Geek Love. What this novel taught me is that I don’t need to finish every book I start. I was around 40 when I ran into it and still thought that once I had started a book, I was obligated to finish it. I had seen Geek Love described as imaginatively inventive or something and thought I might enjoy it. I gave it about 100 pages, but I simply couldn’t get past that revolting premise. 

Geek Love was the first novel I DNF (did not finish).

cover: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Fast forward about 25 years. I see a post by a blogger complaining about A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. The blogger has written something like “I had to stop reading this book. Nobody could have as much trauma in his life as Jude had.” And my heart nearly breaks.

Because, you see, A Little Life is on my list of the top five novels I’ve ever read.

More recently, I saw a comment somewhere by a person who complained “I couldn’t finish The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. It wasn’t making any sense.”

Cover: The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

I knew I should have bitten my tongue and moved on, but I just couldn’t. I loved that book. (This novel truly is imaginatively inventive.) So I gently suggested that the confusion was a big part of the book’s meaning and all would become clear at the end. A while later I received an email informing me of a reply to my comment. The reply went something like this: “Well, that may be so, but I’m not finishing it.” 

This time I did bite my tongue and move on. But I thought, “Too bad. It’s your loss.”

Different strokes for different folks, and so on and so forth.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Fiction Literary History Nonfiction Publishing Reading

Literary Links

New Report Explores ‘Engagement’ with Books, Digital Media

A new report released this week is being billed as the first study to capture critical data about how consumers “engage” with books within a “connected media ecosystem” that includes video games, TV, and movies.

According to Publishers Weekly, “The study’s focus on consumer ‘engagement’ with books—vs. ‘reading’ behaviors—is a key distinction” because “Engagement with books can run the gamut, researchers found, including people who check out materials from the library but don’t always read or watch them, people who give books as gifts, buy them to collect or display, and people who dip into a book for reference, whether for work, school, or a hobby.”

Reviewing the Book Review

The New York Times engages in self-examination: “As the publication celebrates its 125th anniversary, Parul Sehgal, a staff critic and former editor at the Book Review, delves into the archives to critically examine its legacy in full.”

Sehgal looks at lots of issues that range from the language or style of writing to the publication’s lack of diversity in what gets covered and what doesn’t.

Literature Should Be Taught Like Science

“This renegade professor says literature is a machine that accelerates the human brain.”

They had me at “renegade professor.” Keven Berger, editor of science magazine Nautilus, talks with Angus Fletcher, an English professor at Ohio State University, about his new book, Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature. Fletcher got an undergraduate degree in neuroscience before realizing that “the biology of the brain wouldn’t take him far enough toward understanding our need for stories.”

Why New Fiction Is Making Mothers into Monsters

“Novels and short stories are leveraging horror elements to express how dehumanizing motherhood can be”

Rachel Mans McKenny, novelist and essayist, explains how “Horror interlaced with the already-fantastic can teach us clear lessons about how little women are allowed to want in motherhood.”

The best books on Narrative Nonfiction

Since I read mostly fiction, I don’t discuss nonfiction often enough. Here author Samira Shackle defines and discusses narrative fiction: “Narrative nonfiction is a style of writing that takes the facts and dramatises them to create novelistic retellings of real life events.” 

See what she has to say about five of the best recent works of narrative nonfiction.

What Happens When a Publisher Becomes a Megapublisher?

“The merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster has the potential to touch every part of the industry, including how much authors get paid and how bookstores are run.”

Jonathan Lethem: Why Shirley Jackson is a Reader’s Writer

“On the Brilliance of We Have Always Lived in the Castle and the Intimacy of Everyday Evil”

Shirley Jackson, writes novelist Jonathan Lethem, has “been no major critic’s fetish.”

Rather, Shirley Jackson has thrived, at publication and since, as a reader’s writer. Her most famous works—“The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House—are more famous than her name, and have sunk into cultural memory as timeless artifacts, seeming older than they are, with the resonance of myth or archetype.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Literary Links

Writers’ Inner Voices

Many writers report vivid experiences of ‘hearing’ the voices of the characters they create and having characters who talk back to them, rebel, and ‘do their own thing’. It’s an experience described by a wide range of authors from Enid Blyton, Alice Walker, Quentin Tarantino and Charles Dickens through to Samuel Beckett, Henry James, Hilary Mantel and many more.

Writers’ Inner Voices is a collaborative research project between the Edinburgh International Book Festival and Durham University’s Hearing the Voice which set out to examine the ways in which writers and storytellers experience their characters. This website provides details of what we discovered, explanations for what might be going on, and creative writing exercises based on the research.

Create a Digital Commonplace Book

“Readers have collected their favorite literary lines for centuries. Now compiling a portable word scrapbook is easier than ever.”

If you like to collect notes and quotations from books you’ve read, this article is a gold mine. After a short history of the commonplace book, J.D. Biersdorfer has some suggestions for various apps and programs that can help you keep a digital commonplace book. Keeping track of stuff like this is what computers do best, so why not take advantage of their power?

The Greatest Literary Alliance of All Time: You, the Author, and the Character

“Lisa Zeidner Asks Us to Think Deeply About Point of View in Fiction”

Here’s a fascinating look into how writers manage point of view in fiction.

The Powerful, Complicated Legacy of Betty Friedan’s ‘The Feminine Mystique’

cover: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

In the acclaimed 1963 The Feminine Mystique, Friedan tapped into the dissatisfaction of American women. The landmark bestseller, translated into at least a dozen languages with more than three million copies sold in the author’s lifetime, rebukes the pervasive post-World War II belief that stipulated women would find the greatest fulfillment in the routine of domestic life, performing chores and taking care of children.

Meet 8 industry players behind Hollywood’s book adaptation boom

Meredith Maran looks at “a few of Hollywood’s most important behind-the-scenes movers, shakers and connection-makers — agents, scouts, managers and execs” contributing to the great number of literary adaptations making their current way from the page to the screen.

How to create compelling characters

Kira-Anne Pelican, a psychologist and script consultant, here advises fiction writers on how to use psychology to create complex, compelling characters. What she has to say can also inform readers reviewing and analyzing literary works.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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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

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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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Using Neuroscience to Understand Reading Slumps

Joshua C. Craig, who spent an undergraduate year studying neuroscience, read up on the scientific literature to see what the current thinking is on the subject of reading slumps. He does a good job of making the subject accessible for those of us without a hefty science background.

A Brief History of Detective Fiction

Whole tomes have been written on this subject, but if you just want a general overview, Emily Martin has it for you here.

Hundreds in publishing sign letter objecting to book deals for the Trump administration

More than 250 authors, editors, agents, professors and others in the American literary community signed an open letter this week opposing any publisher that signs book deals with President Donald Trump or members of his administration.

I have mixed feelings about this occurrence. Although I agree with the politics of the effort, I have reservations about beginning any such regulation of whose ideas get published and whose don’t.

What do you think?

The Most commonly Assigned Books in U.S. Colleges

Kelly Jensen reports on a recent study by “DegreeQuery, an organization dedicated to answering common questions about college degrees and options, as well as developing data-based rankings and reviews of U.S. colleges.” The study  “aggregated the books assigned among the eight U.S. Ivy League schools and the top eight public schools as ranked by U.S. News and World Report.”

There’s a ton of information here, but I found it easy to zero in on the area I’m most interested in, books assigned in English literature classes. Here’s one conclusion from near the bottom of the page: “The findings here aren’t surprising, but rather, they reaffirm the reality that the bulk of books being seen as important and worthy of study are those written by men.”

Read Christie 2021

Earlier this month we looked at reading goals and challenges. Here’s a new challenge from Agatha Christie Limited: “This year our book prompts celebrate popular settings, scenes and tropes from Agatha Christie’s works. We begin with the ever popular crime category – a story set in a grand house!”

Get the reading list (along with alternative suggestions) here and learn about the challenge’s presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Seattle’s newest bookstore, Oh Hello Again, has a novel system: categorizing books by emotions

I admit that my participation on Instagram is pretty minimal. My approach consists of plunking the pertinent book down on the floor and snapping a quick photo. I occasionally spruce things up with a pretty scarf underneath the book, but that’s as far as my efforts go. I admire all the time many bookstagrammers spend on composing beautiful photos with lovely book-love accessories, but I’d rather spend the bulk of my time reading more pages.

One of the never-ending topics among fellow booklovers on Instagram is questions (and photos!) of how books can be arranged on shelves. That’s the reason why this article caught my eye. I know this system would drive me nuts. I’m a Virgo, and I need to be able to find my books where they rightfully belong, on shelves arranged alphabetically by author’s last name. 

I’m willing to admit, though, that for some people this might be exactly the right method of organizing and displaying books.

Patricia Highsmith’s sordid search for inspiration

This article by Wendy Smith in the Washington Post focuses on the recently published biography Devils, Lusts and Strange Desires: The Life of Patricia Highsmith by Richard Bradford. I found the article interesting not only for its content of Patricia Highsmith information, but also for its discussion of the different possible approaches to literary biography.

And some time this year I do hope to take a moderately deep dive into Highsmith’s various works. And that dive will be accompanied by The Talented Miss Highsmith, by Joan Schenkar. At 559 pages of text plus several appendices and notes for a grand total of 684, this biography qualifies as a Big Book.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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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