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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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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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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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Last Week's Links Reading Writing

Literary Links

How to Read a Book, According to Virginia Woolf

Ellen Gutoskey discusses Virginia Woolf’s essay “How Should One Read a Book?” Gutoskey begins by noting that the title is a question, not a prescriptive statement:

“The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions,” she says.

The article includes a link to a PDF of the essay, if you’re interested in following along.

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.”

I see reading a work of literature as an exchange between reader and writer. (See reader-response criticism.)

In this exploration of point of view in fiction, Lisa Zeidner takes that theory one step further by looking at now a dynamic due (author and reader) but a dynamic threesome (author, reader, and character). “It’s in that bleeding or overlap between the entities—choose your metaphor, or your ink color—that empathy lives,” she writes.

Reading Pathways: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld

When you come across an article that seems to have been written just for you, what do you do? You read it, of course.

I’ve read a lot of quotations from Terry Pratchett and much praise for his work. But after learning that Discworld isn’t really a series—in the sense of a collection in which one book follows another, in a narrative and logical line—but rather a group of independent but inter-related books, I had no idea where to start. Here Aisling Twomey answers my question, as if she were responding specifically to me.

Can Historians Be Traumatized by History?

There’s been a lot written about how experiencing violence and atrocities first-hand can lead to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Here James Robins go one step further, to ask people if people, such as therapists or historians conducting research, can “be traumatized by something experienced only secondhand.”

Annotation: How to Get the Most Our of Your Books

With a blog called Notes in the Margin, I was, you can bet, all over this article about annotation books. But this piece isn’t about how to make notations in your books to help you remember significant points.

Instead, Joshua C. Craig discusses how book annotations originated and what their functions have been over time. Beginning before the invention of the printing press and continuing into the present, when annotations may help students discussing literature on a pandemic-inspired Zoom meeting, he considers three functions of annotations:

chunking, connecting, and/or signaling. Annotations can serve more than one of these purposes at a time but will always serve at least one of these three purposes, in addition to any other reasons the annotator has marked the section.

Craig ends by encouraging us to write out annotations as fully as possible, following a college professor’s advice to “write your annotations so that a stranger picking up your book will be able to understand them.” That stranger may be a much older you, who has no memory of what you meant by cryptic symbols or words jotted in the margin. Craig says he uses “sticky notes and note cards to expand when needed.”

Annotate This: On Footnotes

This article is by Ed Simon, “Editor-at-Large for The Marginalia Review of Books, a channel of The Los Angeles Review of Books.” (Back when I started my web site, I wanted the name Marginalia.com, but it was already taken. Marginalia means “things written in the margin.”)

Simon focus on the use of footnotes here. “Footnotes can be an exercise in arid, sober, boring credit-giving, but some of the most dynamic monographs have the best stuff squired away in the footnotes.” 

After much discussion of the use of footnotes in religious texts of ages past, Simon turns to their use in novels, which “make use of the footnote’s literary possibilities, allowing parallel narratives to take place in the margins, unseen narrators to comment, digressions, disagreements, and debates to occur within the white space of the page.”

© 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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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

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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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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

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Reading, That Strange and Uniquely Human Thing

“How we evolved to read is a story of one creative species.”

young girl reading

Lydia Wilson explains how writing developed from a system to record the ownership of particular goods to one capable of creating great works of literature.

Turning the Page on the Year

“If ever there were a new year that called for a new notebook, this would be it.”

Dr. Perri Klass admits that she loves notebooks even if she’s not as diligent in writing in them as she’d like to be. I used to write in a journal just about every day, but for about two years, when we were traveling extensively in early retirement (and hopefully we’ll be able to do that again some time), I let myself fall out of the habit. (Yes, it’s much easier to let a habit lapse than to build a habit in the first place.)

But I’ve been building up the old habit over the last couple of months and intend to do much better this year.

Memorial by Bryan Washington review – a masterclass in empathy

I include this review because Memorial is one of the novels on my TBR shelf that I’m determined to read soon.

a shelf filled with upright hardcover books
See Memorial over there on the end on the right?

Notable Novels of Spring 2021

“We continue to experience a publishing pile-up, as books postponed from 2020 spill over into the new year’s catalogue. As a result, this season offers an embarrassment of riches for the reader of novels,” writes Cal Flyn, deputy editor of Five Books. Although this article follows the traditional Five-Books approach of featuring five covers, Flyn discusses additional titles in the discussion.

Top 10 most dislikable characters in fiction

The question of fictional characters’ likability comes up often. (See Must We Like Fictional Characters? and Why I Don’t Need to Like Fictional Characters.)

Here novelist Louise Candlish puts a particular spin on the discussion: “dislikable is not the same as irredeemable, and for this reason, there is no place on my list for any love-to-hate Tom Ripleys or morbidly mesmerising Humbert Humberts.”

Here she explains why she dislikes these 10 irredeemable characters. Because this list is in The Guardian, her emphasis is decidedly British. But #9 is the product of an American author, and #10 is from a very recent novel.

Ray Bradbury at 100: A Conversation Between Sam Weller and Dana Gioia

“Ray Bradbury is one of the most important American writers of the mid-20th century. He transformed science fiction’s position in American literature during the 1950s. There were other fine sci-fi writers, but Ray was the one who first engaged the mainstream audience. He had a huge impact on both American literature and popular culture.”

The Villainous White Mother Was All Over the Domestic Novel This Year

In this article, which came out at the end of December, Kelly Coyne writes, “It is often in the home where the plainest expressions of politics appear. This year, you could see it everywhere in the domestic novel.”

Coyne reflects on recent novels that “thrust white liberal parents into a harsh light” in the ways in which they interact with domestic workers.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown