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Inside the Simon & Schuster Blowup Over Its Mike Pence Book Deal

This publishing dust-up just won’t go away. Here the Wall Street Journal takes on the business angle, of companies forced to “address employee demands.”

Philip Roth biography, pulled last month, has new publisher

And here’s an update on the other publishing story that won’t go away.

How women conquered the world of fiction

“From Sally Rooney to Raven Leilani, female novelists have captured the literary zeitgeist, with more buzz, prizes and bestsellers than men. But is this cultural shift something to celebrate or rectify?”

While a bit less immediate than the previous two stories, this is yet another pubishing issue that won’t go away.

Over the past 12 months, almost all of the buzz in fiction has been around young women: Patricia Lockwood, Yaa Gyasi, Raven Leilani, Avni Doshi, Lauren Oyler. Ask a novelist of any gender who they are reading and they will almost certainly mention one of Rachel Cusk, Ottessa Moshfegh, Rachel Kushner, Gwendoline Riley, Monique Roffey or Maria Stepanova. Or they will be finding new resonances in Anita Brookner, Zora Neale Hurston, Natalia Ginzburg, Octavia Butler, Ivy Compton-Burnett. The energy, as anyone in the publishing world will tell you, is with women.

When Is a Ghost Not a Ghost? Hauntings in Horror Literature

Jessica Avery declares, “a ghost is never just a ghost.” A ghost “always represents something more than itself. Something that you try not to think about. Something unpleasant you try to ignore or repress until you can’t any more and it rises up to — quite literally — haunt you.”

Follow Avery’s dive into the world of ghosts and haunted houses, including The Haunting of Hill House.

The StoryGraph Review: Is It Worth Replacing Goodreads?

Another literary issue I’ve been following recently is reader dissatisfaction with Goodreads and who or what might step up to replace it. StoryGraph had been in beta for a while as a possibility. Chris M. Arnone here reviews it for Book Riot.

The article includes directions on how to export your data from Goodreads and import it into StoryGraph, followed by discussion of its good points and shortcomings. 

Let us know in the comments if you’ve tried StoryGraph.

How Does a Book Get Adapted for TV or Film?

Have you ever wondered why your favorite book hasn’t yet been made into a film or TV series? Literary Hub recently conducted a virtual roundtable discussion with several writers from the film/TV industry about “a process that for many, is mysterious.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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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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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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Happy Halloween!

Because I was having trouble cranking up much enthusiasm for Halloween this year, here’s a collection of items I’ve collected. I hope you’ll find something here to help you get into this weekend’s holiday spirit.

Read What You Need: 9 Gothic Novels for Every Mood

This is the one that first inspired me. Did you ever see a display in a bookstore—back in the days when we could actually go into a bookstore—of offerings for “a blind date with a book”? These are books wrapped in paper with a tag describing the contents from which you can choose. Here Isabelle Popp describes how, when she worked at a library, she did a similar thing with books from the collection and called it “Read What You Need.” 

She does the same thing here with suggestions of various forms of gothic literature to read for Halloween. An added bonus is a section labeled “gothic sidebar” in which she explains several ways in which the term gothic can be applied to literature. Read her descriptions, then choose a book from the type of gothic literature that most appeals to you.

Despite the deep history and heavy themes, gothic literature is expansive. The best writers can deftly expose monsters both literal and metaphorical while delivering a thrilling reading experience that can suit a variety of moods. Here are nine varied Gothic novels so you can read what you need.

8 Books About Hexing the Patriarchy

First, a few key terms. Patriarchy is not, at the end of the day, defined by the gender of one’s leaders. It’s a societal model based on the rigid binaries and hierarchies necessary to divide, conquer, and control—e.g., men over women, men over nature, straight and cis over queer and trans, rich over poor, and, often, white over Black and Brown. Magic is energy moved with the intention of transforming reality. Therefore, for our purposes, #HexingThePatriarchy is channeling energy to dismantle this hierarchical world order and then cast a new, freer world.

Ruth Franklin on the novels of Shirley Jackson: “She never did the same thing twice”

Ruth Franklin: A decade of Shirley Jackson

Discussion of Shirley Jackson, author of “The Lottery,” The Haunting of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, among many other works, always comes up at this time of year because of the haunting, spooky nature of her work. In these two essays from Library of America, Ruth Franklin, author of Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, discusses the author and her iconic works.

Read Shirley Jackson’s Eerily Contemporary Letter About Fear

“Author Shirley Jackson often responded to readers’ letters; this one, written in 1962 after republication of her historical fiction for juveniles, The Witchcraft of Salem Village, seems uncannily prescient for our times.”

Meh! Halloween! A Bookish Guide to a Low-Key Halloween

Sarah Hannah Gómez, who thinks “horror movies are fun all year long anyway,” has trouble getting charged up for Halloween. “If you find that you are one of those in-betweenies who wants to participate in holiday fun without losing your cred as an iconoclast, here are some ironic, trope-destroying, or meta selections that might allow you to find common ground with your Halloween enthusiast friends.”

Which Scary Books Should You Pair with Scary Movies This Halloween Weekend?

Even though the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing us to stay home this Halloween, “that doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy our haunted holiday,” writes Rachel Harrison. Here she shares her list of some of the best new horror books of 2020 paired “with horror movies that I feel compliment them in tone.” 

The 40 Most Terrifying TV Episodes to Watch This Halloween

Brian Tallerico’s got you covered if you’d prefer watch TV all weekend. His includes episodes from shows such as Black Mirror, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who, Fringe, and Lost

Monster Mythology

Here’s Atlas Obscura’s gateway to 10 articles about various monster myths. 

They Scream! We Scream!

Even the venerable New York Times gets into the Halloween spirit.

“What’s more fundamental to scary movies than the bone-chilling shriek? But delivering a terrifying wail isn’t easy. It’s an entire art with a history and a world of its own.

NASA offers ‘creepy’ playlist of space sounds for Halloween

“The sounds you’re hearing have been translated into something humans can hear and appreciate. They are not actually sounds that the universe emits, but a different way of appreciating the data NASA collects,” said Kimberly Arcand, visualization and emerging technology lead for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory space telescope.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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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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Looking for a Book to Read With Friends?

The New York Times introduces Group Text, “a monthly column for readers and book clubs about the novels, memoirs and short-story collections that make you want to talk, ask questions, and dwell in another world for a little bit longer.” The focus for book clubs will be on “the kinds of propulsive, thought-provoking books worthy of discussion.”

Its inaugural choice is Long Bright River by Liz Moore:

What it’s about: When their neighborhood is battered by opioids, two sisters choose very different paths through the wreckage. One is a cop; the other is an addict. And one of the two is missing.

I have a copy of this book on my shelf right now. It was my December 2019 choice from the offerings of Book of the Month.

This article includes discussion questions for Long Bright River and some suggestions for related reading. There’s also information on how to join the book discussion on the Times’s Facebook page.

SIX NOVELS EXPLORING HOW (AND HOW LONG) WE PROCESS TRAUMA

Laurie Faria Stolarz wrote her most recent novel, Jane Anonymous, to focus on “that period of time, post-trauma, when the threat is removed but the wounds remain, raw and searing, as the individual tries to acclimate back in her safer space”:

people’s reactions to trauma are as varied and complex as the trauma itself. Numerous factors can influence one’s reaction(s), including age, personal history, one’s own brain chemistry, and the nature of the trauma. Time, effective treatment, and having a solid support system are also key factors. But, bottom line, while therapists can and do identify common threads and behaviors among victims of trauma, every case is as unique as the person who experiences it.

Here Stolarz discusses six novels that feature some varied reactions to trauma.

HOW HORROR HELPS WITH PROCESSING GRIEF AND TRAUMA

In an article related to the one above, S.F. Whitaker, who describes herself as a trauma survivor, discusses how horror literature and films have helped her deal with her experience. Whitaker says that she “gravitated to the grotesque and weird” from an early age: “Before I could articulate where it hurt there were books, and movies to serve as a balm. In the progression of my reading I found familiarity.”

Whitaker says that one might think that reading horror literature or seeing horror films would exacerbate a person’s feelings of grief and trauma. But she points some psychology studies that have shown that the opposite is true:

Studies have shown that horror can help us with grief, anxiety, depression, and a number of other disorders. For someone experiencing a deep loss or processing trauma, it becomes less about the deaths and more about the survivor. Grief studies in particular have found that trying to make someone feel better only makes the situation worse. You’re invalidating their feelings rather than helping. A book can take someone suffering on a journey. You feel the pain with the characters, some surviving while others do not, and there is a resolution of some kind.

Whitaker does not give specific references to those studies, which I see as a weakness in an article like this. However, her discussion is quite general, and her conclusion pertains only to herself:

In my case, Quincy [in Final Girls by Riley Sager] in particular made it feel like I did not have to have it all together. I can be flawed and that’s okay. There is beauty in the journey, even if it’s blood soaked pages riddled with ghosts, ghoulies, and monsters galore.

United we read: Writer roams a fractured nation with 52 books (or more) in 52 weeks

In an effort to see beyond the fractured state of politics, Heather John Fogarty has decided to read her way across the U.S. in the time leading up to the election of 2020:

I set myself a reading project. In the year leading up to the 2020 election, I would read (at least) one book from each state, as well as from Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., prioritizing contemporary fiction and memoir, with the hope of exploring shared experiences, such as family, identity and a sense of home.

She is reading alphabetically and here reports on books through Connecticut, so this will apparently be an ongoing series.

MY ONLY READING GOAL THIS YEAR IS TO HAVE FUN

In 2019 Matt Grant set himself the goal of reading 100 books. After a year of pushing himself to achieve that goal—which he did accomplish—he has decided to “set myself a new goal this year: to have fun reading.”

Read his discussion of how he achieved his 2019 goal and why he has changed his approach to reading this year.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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In the rush to harvest body parts, death investigations have been upended

Maybe I just read too many crime novels and watch too many cop shows. Or maybe I’m just gruesome by nature. Yet I often think of exactly this problem when I’m reading a novel or watching a show. A medical examiner needs time to conduct a full investigation (autopsy and lab tests) to determine manner of death (natural causes, accident, suicide, homicide), yet time is of the essence if the dead person is an organ, bone, and/or tissue donor. So who takes precedence, the medical examiner or the transplant team?

This article from the Los Angeles Times also has a local angle for me. If you click through to the article, you’ll see that the photo of a corpse at the top is from the Pierce County medical examiner’s office in Tacoma, Washington—my home town. The reason for this is probably that Melissa Baker, a former investigator in the Pierce County medical examiner’s office, filed a whistleblower complaint in 2015. She is quoted in this article:

“One of my biggest concerns … was the mere fact that someone could potentially get away with murder because evidence has been bungled, lost or not collected,” she said.

While most of this article focuses on Los Angeles County and California law, many of the issues it brings up are informative for anyone interested in what happens after someone dies. I found the graphic labeled “How much is a body worth?” particularly eye-opening.

ADAPTING ADULT BOOKS FOR YOUNG READERS

Adapting books for young readers can mean a variety of different things. It can mean adding pictures, changing slurs to slightly less harsh words, or cutting out passages that may seem a little boring to young readers. There are many great books adapted for young readers that come out of this process, and it is a helpful way to introduce kids to new historical and contemporary figures that don’t have as many books for all reading levels as, for example, Abraham Lincoln.

Here’s an interesting article about adapting nonfiction texts for younger (say middle-grade) readers. Such adaptations can contribute to providing children with diverse life stories and new paths of encouragement—for example, Life in Motion, the memoir of pioneering dancer Misty Copeland. “Being able to choose a book with a picture or drawing on the front that looks like yourself is still a privilege, and should not be taken for granted.”

American Gothic: The Woman Who Escaped the Asylum

This excerpt from Nightmare Factories: The Asylum in the American Imagination by Troy Rondinone focuses on two images of Woman that pervaded the 19th century: the woman in white, the angel of the house; and the woman in black, representing woman’s roles as caretaker and moral guardian of society. “Both images are archetypes, two sides of a rubric of femininity that simultaneously empowered and smothered the 19th-century female.”

In “a culture that demanded that women know and accept their place . . . the asylum became a tool of discipline in the gothic world of sentimental fiction.”

What Greta Gerwig Saw in ‘Little Women’: ‘Those Are My Girls’

Cover: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Greta Gerwig’s film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women will debut on Christmas Day 2019. In this article Amanda Hess writes that Gerwig’s treatment is “less an update than it is an excavation” of a novel that portrays the March sisters as “posed unnaturally in the conventional narratives of their time.” 

‘A Walk in the Woods’ vs. A Walk in the Woods: On Reading as a Substitute for Experience

Jacob Lambert learns a lesson:

Reading is an incredible thing, but it’s a poor substitute for life. I’m amazed, and embarrassed, that I’ve had to learn such an obvious lesson. Yes, adulthood is tiring, children will suck you dry, and it’s easy to stay inside. But I remember now: though I packed The Grapes of Wrath on that long-ago, six-week drive, I read almost none of it. And I didn’t miss it at all.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

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A Love Letter to the Girls Who Die First in Horror Films

When I recently read Riley Sager’s novel Final Girls, I didn’t realize that the final girl, the last girl left standing, is a standard trope of slasher movies. In this article Lindsay King-Miller talks about “a film’s Final Girl, a term coined by Carol Clover in her brilliant work of horror theory Men, Women, and Chainsaws.” But what she’s more interested in all the other girls who die first, before the Final Girl is left to face down the enemy.

There’s a morality play element to this, as countless film writers have explored: girls in horror movies are punished for doing things girls aren’t supposed to do, especially for having sex.

From the Battlefield to ‘Little Women’

Cover: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Jennifer Wilson describes how serving in military hospitals shaped the story Louisa May Alcott later wrote as Little Women. The basis for the article is the letters Alcott wrote home during her war experiences, published in 1863 as Hospital Sketches.

The Cult Books That Lost Their Cool

The definition of the term cult books that Hephzibah Anderson uses in this essay is pretty amorphous:

the cult classic inspires passionate devotion among its fans, who frequently weave their own myths around the texts. But another, underexamined, feature of the cult book is this: . . . it can sometimes age really badly.

You can pull together your own definition of the term from Anderson’s discussions of the following cult classics:

  • The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, 1951  
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, 1957  
  • The Beach by Alex Garland, 1996  
  • Iron John by Robert Bly, 1990  
  • The Outsider by Colin Wilson, 1956  
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, 1952  
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac, 1957  
  • The Rules by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, 1995  
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, 1970  
  • Little Red Book by Mao Zedong, 1964  
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, 1996

It’s a Fact: Mistakes Are Embarrassing the Publishing Industry

In the past year alone, errors in books by several high-profile authors — including Naomi Wolf, the former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, the historian Jared Diamond, the behavioral scientist and “happiness expert” Paul Dolan and the journalist Michael Wolff — have ignited a debate over whether publishers should take more responsibility for the accuracy of their books.

Writing in The New York Times, Alexandra Alter looks at the question of who should be responsible for fact checking: authors or publishers?

The Temporary Memory Lapse of Transient Global Amnesia

Amnesia is a standard trope of mysteries and psychological thrillers, which I read a lot of. This article describes a very real phenomenon, transient global amnesia:

Transient global amnesia, often called T.G.A. It is a temporary lapse in memory that can never be retrieved. “It’s as if the brain is on overload and takes a break to recharge,” Dr. [Carolyn] Brockington [a vascular neurologist] said in an interview. She likened it to rebooting a computer to eradicate an unexplainable glitch. Those with T.G.A. do not experience any alteration in consciousness or abnormal movements. Only the ability to lay down memories is affected. All other parts of the brain appear to be working normally.

T.G.A. is relatively rare, though it appears to occur more frequently in people over age 50 than in younger people, with men and women affected about equally. It leaves no lasting effects except for the lack of memories during its occurrence. It typically lasts for one to eight hours and usually clears up within a day. Its cause or causes have not been established, and there is no treatment. The condition occurs a second time in only 4% or 5% of patients.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Literary Links

WHEN MURDER COMES HOME

Psychologist J.L. Doucette also writes mystery novels. When a body was found buried in the back yard of a house formerly owned by her grandmother, Doucette began to “question my choice of genre as if by writing about murder I was somehow complicit in bringing violence into the world.”

The 50 Greatest Coming-of-Age Novels

The great power of fiction originates in the universality of the particular stories it tells. Since growing up is something we all must do sooner or later, coming-of-age novels are among the most prevalent and most affecting of all.

cover: Middlesex

Here Emily Temple offers her list. I agree with some of her choices: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, Cider House Rules by John Irving. 

Cover: The Art of Fielding

But there are a lot more I would add: The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens, My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier, The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni.

How about you?

Are there other novels you’d add to this list?

Audiobooks or Reading? To Our Brains, It Doesn’t Matter

I hope we can finally put this tiresome argument to rest, thanks to these study results from the Gallant Lab at UC Berkeley published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

HOW READING ROBERT CORMIER’S DARK YA HELPED ME SORT THROUGH MY TEACHER’S DEATH

Fiction writer Brenna Ehrlich describes how the dark, brooding fiction of Robert Cormier helper her, as a teenager, get through the brutal murder of local teacher. 

The Goldfinch: can a film solve Donna Tartt’s most divisive book?

cover: The Goldfinch

While The Goldfinch was a bestseller and won the Pulitzer prize for fiction, it divided critics. One challenge to film-makers is its length (864 pages in the current paperback edition; well over 300,000 words). It was called “Dickensian” by some admiring reviewers, but the largest Dickens novels rely on highly elaborate plotting and a large cast of characters. The Goldfinch offers neither of these.

I loved Donna Tartt’s novel The Goldfinch, but a lot of people did not. The film version will be hitting theaters soon, and I’m eager to see it. But, as this article discusses, many are wondering whether this novel can be made into a satisfactory movie. 

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Literary Links

Richard Russo: On the Moral Power of Regret

One of the most memorable novels I’ve ever read is Richard Russo’s Empire Falls (2001). When I came across this essay by Russo, I knew I had to stop and take the time to settle in with it. I hope you learn from it as much as I did.

The Con Man Who Became a True-Crime Writer

Rachel Monroe writes in The Atlantic about Matthew Cox, a former con man who has tried to re-create himself as a true-crime writer of the stories of his fellow inmates. By doing this Cox apparently hopes to rewrite his own narrative arc as the guy who want to prison and learned how to make something of himself. Monroe’s story of Cox’s story is fascinating.

ON THE LONGEVITY OF ADRIENNE RICH

Holly Genovese wonders why Adrienne Rich “has stayed relevant when other writers of the ’70s feminist movements have not.”

But I think, if I could guess, that Rich’s continuous appeal over the last 50 years is more about her absolute certainty that politics and art were intrinsically linked, that art was meaningless without political consciousness, that nothing could exist within a vacuum, and that choosing not to take a stand was in fact choosing the side of the oppressor.

And Rich continues to be relevant because “In the last few years, since the election of Donald Trump, it has become impossible not to be political. To be apolitical is to support the growth of fascism, white nationalism, and the downfall of the republic.”

As always, the personal is political.

THE GREATEST MORAL COMPROMISES IN CRIME FICTION

Here’s the descriptive subtitle of this article: “Celebrating the literature of slippery relationships, villainous allies, and morally dubious life decisions.”

We’re told that conflict is the essential ingredient of all storytelling, and that directive applies most literally to crime fiction, in which one character wants something that another character doesn’t want to grant or allow. The thief wants to steal something that someone else possesses. The stalker wants a relationship with someone who doesn’t want to reciprocate. Sometimes the only solution is for both sides to compromise.

Or, as novelist Carl Vonderau explains:

I find the most interesting crime fiction to be stories wherein the protagonist must make a deal with a morally ambiguous and seemingly villainous character. And that villainous ally? They usually have their own strange moral code and want something in return. At least one of them usually ends up changed for the worse, and it would be apt to recall that a good compromise makes both sides unhappy.

Here he discusses nine novels, including The Godfather and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, that illustrate such uneasy alliances.

Revisiting Harold Robbins, the Forgotten “Dirty Old Man of American Letters”

This article reminded me of the piece about Judith Krantz that I mentioned last week.

As writers of decidedly popular fiction, both Krantz and Robbins epitomized the culture they lived in and wrote for.

He crafted racy novels — sweeping literary cinemas bursting with beautiful, arrogant characters, rags-to-riches plots laced with betrayal, murder and passion — that readers gobbled up like printed popcorn, buying more than 750 million copies. “Mad Men is a very Harold Robbins kind of story,” says his biographer, Andrew Wilson. “It’s perhaps presented in a different way, but it’s that milieu, that narrative arc of secrets, the corrupting nature of power and wealth, sex, all of the elements. One could argue that these kinds of series would not have been conceived without Harold Robbins’ influence on popular culture.”

The Sandman, Catch-22, Cloud Atlas … is there such thing as an ‘unfilmable’ book?

What exactly is an “unfilmable” book? 

And now that Netflix is throwing time and money at several potential adaptations, “So has TV ended the age of the unfilmable book?”  

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown