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10 Mystery and Thriller Books Starring Older Women

When Neha Patel decided to analyze the ages of female protagonists in contemporary fiction, she was surprised to discover that “glancing through all the books I’ve read so far this year, I was shocked to realize that almost all the leads were under the age of 45 (give or take).” 

“The role of women in thriller and mystery novels specifically can be troubling,” Patel writes. Here she offers a list of mystery and thriller books “that place older women front and center.”

I found her definition of older women particularly interesting: “Note that by ‘older women,’ I generally refer to female leads over the age of 45.”

The Obsessively Detailed Map of American Literature’s Most Epic Road Trips

Richard Kreitner admits, “I AM A FREAK FOR the American road trip. And I’m not alone, as some of this country’s best writers have taken a shot at describing that quintessentially American experience.”

I’ve always been interested in the metaphor of the road trip representing the journey of life in fiction. But for this exercise Kreitner has stuck to nonfiction with the exception of On the Road, which he included because it’s narrated in first person. His other requirement was that “a book needed to have a narrative arc matching the chronological and geographical arc of the trip it chronicles.”

Take a look at the map (created by Steven Melendez) based on the following books published between 1872 and 2012:

  • Wild, Cheryl Strayed
  • The Cruise of the Rolling Junk, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails With America’s Hoboes, Ted Conover
  • A Walk Across America, Peter Jenkins
  • Cross Country: Fifteen Years and 90,000 Miles on the Roads and Interstates of America with Lewis and Clark, Robert Sullivan
  • The Lost Continent, Bill Bryson
  • Blue Highways: A Journey into America, William Least Heat Moon
  • On the Road, Jack Kerouac
  • Roughing It, Mark Twain
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig
  • The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe

6 Revenge Thrillers About the Power of Choice

U.K. novelist Gillian McAllister writes, “I seem to be rather obsessed with the theme of justice in my novels.” But what exactly constitutes justice? “For me, it is even-handed: the simple cause and effect that runs through most stories. If a character makes a decision, it has a consequence later on.”

She adds:

Justice is dressed up differently in different books. From the choices made in deep past that come to light in the present, to the slippery slope from good to bad we all might find ourselves on, to the wrong person being accused of a crime.

Justice, for me, isn’t only about crimes, but also about secrets, lies and also endings. Justice is done if evil is punished, and good redeemed. Justice is done if a mystery is solved–and exists for both characters and for readers, of course.

Here she lists six books that deal with some form of justice.

‘Alone Together’ compiles stories of hope, heartache and more from the COVID era — with a heavy Seattle presence

Cover: Alone Together

Seattle author and journalist Jennifer Haupt had a book deal canceled when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March. “I just had no energy around fiction,” she writes. Then she had an idea for an anthology.

“A lot of people were feeling that they didn’t have anything important to say, they didn’t know how to use their creativity,” Haupt writes. She solicited pieces from more than 75 writers, and the pieces she received coalesced into the collection Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of COVID-19.

In this article freelance writer Sarah Neilson writes, “The thread in this anthology: connection.”

What the country is reading during the pandemic: Dystopias, social justice and steamy romance

This year, perhaps as never before, our reading habits reflect our precarious reality. As the country has muddled through a deadly pandemic and a racial reckoning under a cloud of exhaustion and dread, we’ve used books to escape the present, inform our beliefs and educate our homebound children. We’ve found catharsis in apocalyptic science fiction and comfort in romance; advice in self-help guides and a moment of peace, thanks to children’s activity books. Most strikingly, since the death of George Floyd in May, we’ve flocked to books about race and social justice.

In this article in The Washington Post Stephanie Merry and Steven Johnson compiled data “from publishers, libraries, associations, data firms and readers of our website provide a snapshot of book trends during the spring and summer of 2020. Together, these literary choices mirror our collective mood.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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How Fiction Works Last Week's Links Literary History Nonfiction Publishing

Literary Links

When Mums Go Bad: How Fiction Became Obsessed With The Dark Side Of Motherhood

“Motherhood and ‘mum noir’ is taking over the psychological suspense shelves, but some portrayals have come in for criticism. Author Caroline Corcoran looks into the trend…”

I read a lot of psychological thrillers and mysteries, and women-centered stories have for several years now been a staple of those genres. (See 5 Domestic Thrillers: Terror at Home.)

Here novelist Caroline Corcoran focuses on novels that center around new mothers: “These new mums we are getting to know are human; flawed, not unlike the ones we know in our own lives.” 

But, she continues, “Motherhood’s dark side is a fascinating arena to explore but when done in a reductive way that suggests new mums – or those that wish to be mums but are struggling – equal sudden psychopaths, it can lead to something offensive, inaccurate and dangerous.” She warns that we should be “vigilant when it comes to tropes like these.” 

Yet, Corcoran concludes, fiction can be a great tool for raising awareness of the issues mothers face in contemporary society.

Fact Checking Is the Core of Nonfiction Writing. Why Do So Many Publishers Refuse to Do It?

Writer Emma Copley Eisenberg’s recent book The Third Rainbow Girl: The Long Life of a Double Murder in Appalachia “concerns the deaths of two people who have many living family members, the incarceration of a living man, and a protracted emotional and social trauma of enormous meaning to a great many real and living people.” 

Eisenberg wanted to be sure everything she wrote was correct, but when it came time for fact checking she found that “most nonfiction books are not fact checked; if they are, it is at the author’s expense.”

Here she explains what fact checking is and why it’s such an important part of producing a reliable work of nonfiction. She also examines how various publishers handle—or don’t handle—fact checking for nonfiction books.

How Chekhov invented the modern short story

“The Russian writer’s tales of stasis, uncertainty and irresolution determined the path of 20th-century fiction.”

Chris Power centers his essay about Chekhov’s influence on later writers around the recent publication in the U.K. of Fifty-Two Stories by Anton Chekhov, recently translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Although this collection does not include many of Chekhov’s most famous stories, Power writes, the stories included illustrate the traits of Chekhov’s short fiction that have been most influential.

Power writes, “in a letter of 1888 Chekhov said it wasn’t an author’s job to give answers, but formulate the right questions.” Chekhov’s stories present emotions felt, poetic moods often created by setting. The characters do not usually arrive at answers but rather consider new questions raised by their imaginings.

These are stories of ambiguity, irresolution. “Meaning is provisional in even the most apparently self-explanatory of Chekhov’s stories.”

The physical traits that define men & women in literature

While reading a book club book, Erin Davis was struck by “a 35-page interlude about a highly attractive fairy, describing her body in minute, eye-rolling detail.” Annoyed by “this lazy writing,” she set out to discover how widespread this writing approach to creating characters is, because she wants “to read books that explore the full humanity of their characters, not stories that reduce both men and women to weak stereotypes of their gender.”

To answer the question, she and colleagues used a computerized language processor to examine 2,000 books published between 1008 and 2020, the majority published after 1900:

Books were selected for cultural relevance. Our selection pool included New York Times best sellers, Pulitzer Prize nominees and winners, Man Booker shortlisted books and winners, books frequently taught in American high schools and colleges, and books that frequently appear on Best Of lists.

She discovered that “Men and women do tend to be described in different ways.”

Read the descriptive trends the research discovered, as well as a complete technical explanation of how the research project worked.

Boundary-Pushing Books for Fans of Narrative Experiments

I find narrative experimentation fascinating, as I’ve written about in these two previous posts:

In this article Dustin Illingworth examines four recent books that illustrate how the manipulation of narrative structure can shape meaning.

The Jim Crow South in Faulkner’s Fiction

In re-examining Faulkner’s fiction in light of the current resurgence here in the U.S. of Black Lives Matter, Michael Gorra writes, “He [Faulkner] was born into an understanding of the way white supremacy works, and a part of him never stopped believing in the racial hierarchy that shaped his boyhood, even as the writer grew increasingly critical of it.”

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Is the literary trend toward passive women progress? Maybe we’ve been misreading

Lynn Steger Strong writes that Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy “broke open a new and surprisingly vital form: the novel of passivity.” Strong is happy to see that, for the last decade or so, women’s fiction has been recognized for probing what the novel—“forms built by and for males”—can be:

In particular, novels about a woman thinking, being talked at, are being actively considered. As opposed to the Great Male Novels that centered agency and action, these books are being seen as an expansion of the form, a shaking off of its conventional demands. Often they are built in fragments, structured around failure, absences, passivity and lacks. They defy the novelistic demands for a certain type of resolution; they land in spaces of confusion and of questions, refuse to give clear lines between cause and effect.

Evolution of a Reader

Andi Diehn lovingly describes how her reading—not just the books read, but the process and purpose of reading—has changed from age 10 through college, then through graduate school.

girl reading

I can relate. I left graduate school after completing the coursework, though not the dissertation, for a Ph.D. in literature after realizing that the academic experience did not correspond to my joy in and love of reading literature.

How Sci-Fi Writer H.P. Lovecraft’s Appalling Legacy of Racism Inspired HBO’s Lovecraft Country

HBO’s new series Lovecraft Country is based on Matt Ruff’s novel of the same name. This article takes a look at why Ruff decided to use Lovecraft’s work as the basis for an examination of American bigotry: “the fact that Lovecraft himself was deeply racist and anti-Semitic. And while many long-dead artists espoused beliefs that are abhorrent by 2020 standards, Lovecraft was even a bigot for his own time.”

This short article offers an overview of the writer and his legacy. 

‘We’ve Already Survived an Apocalypse’: Indigenous Writers Are Changing Sci-Fi

“Long underrepresented in genre fiction, Native American and First Nations authors are reshaping its otherworldly (but still often Eurocentric) worlds.”

there has been an explosion of novels, comics, graphic novels and short stories from writers blending sci-fi and fantasy with Native narratives, writing everything from “slipstream” alternate realities to supernatural horror to post-apocalyptic stories about environmental collapse.

Poets and novelists have been writing about life under COVID-19 for more than a century

Rachel Hadas, professor of English at Rutgers University, shares the idea “that good art gives a clear picture of what is happening – even . . . if it hadn’t happened yet when that art was created.”

Here she gives some examples from literature written between 1897 and the middle of the 20th century.

One Twitter Account’s Quest to Proofread The New York Times

“In 2017, the Times dissolved its copy desk, possibly permitting more typos to slip through. Meet the anonymous lawyer who’s correcting the paper of record one untactful tweet at a time.” 

The former English teacher and copy editor in me couldn’t resist this article. I’m often distressed by the glaring errors in punctuation and grammar that I see just about everywhere, not just in The New York Times. But I don’t think I’d have the stamina that the person behind this Twitter account seems to have. 

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Alan Dershowitz claims a fictional lawyer defamed him. The implications for novelists are very real.

on Charles of the Washington Post reports that Alan Dershowitz, a real-life attorney, claims that he was defamed by a fictional attorney on the CBS All Access show The Good Fight.

This may sound comic, “But his complaint, if successful, could pose a challenge to the vibrancy of contemporary historical fiction and biographical fiction — indeed, to any creative work that includes interactions between fictional and real-life public figures,” writes Charles.

What Irony Is Not

“A handy guide to distinguishing the notoriously slippery concept from its distant cousins coincidence, satire, parody, and paradox.”

In this excerpt from his book Irony and Sarcasm, Roger Kreuz, Associate Dean and Director of Graduate Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Psychology at the University of Memphis, attempts to define this notoriously slippery term and differentiate it from related concepts such as coincidence, paradox, satire, and parody.

Author Angie Thomas on How Books Are Transforming the Next Generation: ‘They’re Realizing Their Power’

cover: The Hate U Give

“I believe in the power of books and how they shape young people for the future,” Thomas declared. “I’m very hopeful that we’re giving them better tools so that they could be better leaders than any of us ever imagined.”

Angie Thomas, whose 2017 YA debut novel was The Hate U Give, believes books can inspire and empower the world’s future leaders.

Listen Up: The Benefits of Audiobooks for Your Heart and Mind

I’ve always thought of audiobooks as a way to get more reading done while doing other tasks such as cleaning or folding laundry. Here Stacey Megally bolsters that function with information on the mental, physical, and emotional benefits of audiobooks.

Watch more TV to understand the backlash against the women in the running for vice president

Beth Daley, co-author with Kristina Horn Sheeler of the book Woman President: Confronting Postfeminist Political Culture, examines “how fictional and actual women presidential figures are framed in news coverage, political satire, memes, television and film. Our close reading of these diverse texts reveals a persistent backlash that takes many forms: satirical cartoons that deploy sexist stereotypes; the pornification of women candidates in memes; and news framing that includes misogynistic metaphors, to name a few.”

Reading as a Form of Protest

Gracie Bialecki lauds reading as a form of protest because of novels’ ability to increase empathy by immersing readers into the lives of characters different from themselves. 

Among the books she cites are Black Boy by Richard Wright, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and Sula by Toni Morrison.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book Recommendations Fiction Last Week's Links Literature & Psychology Reading Writing

Literary Links

Many writers say they can actually hear the voices of their characters – here’s why

I don’t write fiction, but I read a lot about and talk with people who do. I’m always fascinated when fiction writers say that a character either appeared and demanded to be written about or appeared to object when the writer wrote the character in a particular way.

Here’s a fascinating look by John Foxwell, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of English at the U.K.’s Durham University, into how writers experience this phenomenon. Foxwell and colleagues surveyed 181 writers at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2014 and 2018.

“. . . the more researchers delve into thought and imagination, the more difficult it is to say exactly how much control over our thoughts and actions any of us actually have – and to what extent the control we feel we have is an illusion.”

How Phillis Wheatley Was Recovered Through History

“For decades, a white woman’s memoir shaped our understanding of America’s first Black poet. Does a new book change the story?”

Elizabeth Winkler reports on the life of Black poet Phillis Wheatley and examines a new book, The Age of Phillis, by poet and professor Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. In her book Jeffers attempts to understand the only version of Phillis Wheatley’s life, written 50 years after the poet’s death, by Margaretta Matilda Odell, a white woman who claimed to be a “collateral descendant” of Susanna Wheatley of Boston, owner of slave Phillis.

In turbulent times, culling my book collection gave me the illusion of control. Then the dilemmas began multiplying.

Michael Dirda writes that over the past two months “I’ve been sorting and culling the vast number of books I’ve accumulated in a lifetime of reading and collecting.” The COVID-19 pandemic has produced a “persistent feeling of helplessness, frustration, anger and mild despair,” but he hoped that going through 300 boxes of books and deciding which to keep and which to part ways with would give him a feeling of control. 

“However, making these decisions has turned out to be harder than I expected.” 

Read some of the dilemmas he faces in deciding which one of multiple copies of the same book he should keep.

A Novel Way to Think About Literary Categories

Here’s a big topic I’m still trying to get my head around: Tim Parks sets out to answer the question “Why do we categorize novels?” In the article linked here he explains how he found similarities between a number of authors, all of whose works center around the question of belonging to a particular group.

But this is only the first article. There are three more articles in the series, each dealing with another such category. (This introductory article contains a link to the entire series.) Parks constitutes his categories as “clearly defined hierarchies of value, or centers of interest, generating distinct, or at least recognizable, types of plot and character interaction.”

Over the course of the four articles Parks arrives at four fictional categories, or fiction that centers around one of these four “distinct value systems”:

  1. stories focused on the characters’ relations to the community (belonging)
  2. around conflicts between indulgence and renunciation (goodness)
  3. around a tension between the craving to be free and a need to feel protected (liberty)
  4. those related to winning and losing: confidence and inadequacy, strength and weakness, complacency and resentment, envy and emulation, seducing and succumbing, jubilation, but also wise resignation (power)

So if you’re spending some of your pandemic downtime categorizing and rearranging your book shelves, why not give Parks’s system a try?

15 Extraordinary Books You Can Read in One Sitting

“The one-sitting novel isn’t just something you can read in one afternoon—it’s something you should read in one afternoon. The one-sitting novel is perfectly structured to be consumed as a complete, transporting experience, whether that’s a breakneck ride through a thrilling narrative, or a slow, dreamy fog that envelops your mind as you page through,” writes Adrienne Westenfeld for Esquire.

I was attracted to this list mainly because my ability to focus over extended periods of time has been hampered by the uncertainties of the COVID-19 world. Westenfeld says the upper limit of her choices here is 250 pages, which seems appropriate for a book to be read in one day.

How to Show Kids the Joy of Reading

If you need a truly feel-good story—and who doesn’t need one of those right now?—read about how one teacher in Tennessee helped pilot a project that has boosted primary students’ reading comprehension and made them eager and excited about reading.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Looking at Epic Poetry Through 21st-Century Eyes

“New translations of the ‘Aeneid,’ ‘Beowulf’ and other ancient stories challenge some of our modern-day ideas.”

Classical epic poetry has been the basis of the Western literary canon for centuries and has helped shape social values and political identities as well as literary history. But new translations of such epics as Vergil’s Aeneid, Beowulf, and Spenser’s The Faerie Queene aim to bolster “a sense of urgency about restoring nuance to the public’s understanding of the [epic] genre”:

As a series of political crises have, in the West, posed fresh challenges to the stories that have shaped our norms and principles, those who study epics see critical readings as an increasingly vital endeavor.

Why Stories Makes Sense of Our Lives (and Relationships)

“What is the essence of a person? When we profess to know someone, that is, really know someone—like a close friend, or a husband or wife—what is it that we know?”

In this excerpt from  The Act of Living: What the Great Psychologists Can Teach Us About Finding Fulfillment, clinical psychologist Frank Tallis illustrates why “We have a natural inclination to think of ourselves—our past, present, and future—as an ongoing story.”

The Scariest Books

“Whether you’re scared most by graphic body horror, the uncategorisable, or the blurring of boundaries between supernatural menace and psychological unraveling, this list will have something for you.”

Xavier Aldana Reyes, editor of Horror: A Literary History, discusses five scary books. “With horror novels and films, you know you’re experiencing fear in a safe space that you ultimately control,” he writes.

Joan Frank ~ I Say It’s Spinach

Author Joan Frank explicates what she calls a tendency “to editorialize in the course of storytelling” that she began noticing in literary fiction a few years ago. She began noticing novels and stories that contain an agenda, “bearing a Message, with a capital M.”

While these agendas—on topics such as human rights, climate change, gender fluidity—may be well intentioned, she argues that they are not art. She argues that, although such causes are worthy and important, “They are not the story.” Furthermore, “I must insist that art that is art—at least in terms of literary fiction—wants nothing to do with lobbying or lobbyists.”

Also see propoganda novel.

An Elegy for the Landline in Literature

I am old enough to remember when a phone ringing in the middle of the night indicated that something very bad had happened. Of course, that ringing phone was a landline, the only kind of phone we had back in those days.

“Since its invention, in the nineteenth century, the landline has often been portrayed as sinister—the object through which fate comes to call,” writes Sophie Haigney. She discusses how the landline was used in literature “as an open line of possibility, just waiting to ring,” that has been eliminated by the ubiquitous cell phone.

How to read more books

kid with books

“Modern life can feel too frantic for books. Use these habit-building strategies to carve out time for the joy of reading”

I avoid advice on how to read more books that advocates speed reading because I believe that reading requires more time for interacting with the text than speed reading allows. Reading better is more important than simply reading more.

But this article is aimed at people who in the past have loved their reading life but, because of the proliferation of forms of information delivery and entertainment, haven’t been able to give pleasure reading the attention they’d like. 

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Fiction Last Week's Links Literary History Publishing

Literary Links

Viewing Literature as a Lab for Community Ethics

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront many bioethical questions, such as, when resources are limited, which lives should be saved and which sacrificed? Maren Tova Linett, author of Literary Bioethics, argues that fiction, with its ability to present imagined worlds, offers the chance to explore such concerns: “Fiction has the virtue of presenting vividly imagined worlds in which certain values hold sway, casting new light onto those values. And the more plausible we find these imagined worlds, the more thoroughly we can evaluate the justice of those values.”

Literary Bioethics considers novels such as The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells, and Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

In Publishing, ‘Everything Is Up for Change’

It’s been impossible to avoid at least cursory exposure to all that’s been going on in the publishing industry over the last year or so. Here, writing in The New York Times, Alexandra Alter and Elizabeth A. Harris look at some of the people now poised to champion change.

over the last year, deaths, retirements and executive reshuffling have made way for new leaders, more diverse and often more commercial than their predecessors, as well as people who have never worked in publishing before. Those appointments stand to fundamentally change the industry, and the books it puts out into the world.

How Fantasy Literature Helped Create the 21st Century

Since I don’t read much fantasy (“so many books, so little time”), this article caught my eye. It’s the introduction to The Big Book of Modern Fantasy, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, and published by Vintage Books on July 21, 2020.

we have worked from a simple concept of what makes a story “fantasy”: any story in which an element of the unreal permeates the real world or any story that takes place in a secondary world that is identifiably not a version of ours, whether anything overtly “fantastical” occurs in the story. We distinguish fantasy from horror or the weird by considering the story’s apparent purpose: fantasy isn’t primarily concerned with the creation of terror or the exploration of an altered state of being frightened, alienated, or fascinated by an eruption of the uncanny.

Modern fantasy, the authors write, begins with the end of World War II in 1945.  It was soon after that date that “fantasy solidified into a publishing category,” separate from horror and science fiction. Since then, fantasy has become more mainstream than it was previously, although some literary magazines still refer to stories with fantastical elements as “‘surrealism,’ ‘fabulism,’ or ‘magical realism’ to distinguish them from genre fantasy.”

This article has encouraged me to think about expanding my reading horizon and giving some contemporary fantasy a try.

Pain Is Universal—That’s What Binds All of Crime Fiction Together

“Pain, whether physical or emotional is a significant part of the overall narrative” of all the various subgenres of crime fiction, writes S.A. Crosby, author of the recently published novel Blacktop Wasteland

The Desires of Margaret Fuller

In May of 1850, after four years abroad, Margaret Fuller set sail from Livorno to New York, bound for her native Massachusetts. She was just about to turn forty, and her stature in America was unique. In the space of a decade, she had invented a new vocation: the female public intellectual.

From 2013, a portrait of Margaret Fuller, “once the best-read woman in America,” the first woman American foreign correspondent and combat reporter, and author of Woman in the Nineteenth Century, a foundational work of feminist history.  

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Crime Fiction Trains Us for Crisis

Writer Sulari Gentill says that, since crime fiction “essentially tells the story of a crisis,” is has helped to prepare us for the world we all now find ourselves in.

This year we have already faced fire, flood and pandemic. We had fled our homes and been confined to them. And we have risen up against murder and prejudice. Each of those actions have required decisions about how to protect ourselves and those around us. They have been made in the face of real threats to personal safety.

Tie a Tourniquet on Your Heart

“revisiting Edna Buchanan, America’s greatest police reporter”

I have written (here and here) of my love for Edna Buchanan’s crime novels set in Miami featuring Cuban-American journalist Britt Montero.

Before she turned to writing crime novels, Edna Buchanan was a crime journalist in Miami.  She won a Pulitzer Prize for her newspaper work in 1986. 

In this article Diana Moskovitz addresses the issue of how television, movies, and other elements of popular culture have helped create the current problem in the U.S. of police using unnecessary force to subdue suspects. This is an argument that isn’t new. I’ve seen many stories lately of how crime dramas such as Blue Bloods and the various iterations of Law & Order have shaped the public attitude that law enforcement only uses extreme measures to subdue criminals and force information out of them when absolutely necessary. These dramas have taught us to excuse such behavior as the necessary price society pays for protection and safety, the argument goes.

And, according to Moskovitz, Edna Buchanan is one of the well-known crime reporters whose work has contributed to this public attitude. Moskovitz is talking about Buchanan’s reportorial work here, not her novels. On rereading The Corpse Had a Familiar Face, the 1987 book about her reporting that made Edna Buchanan a nationally known figure, Moskovitz realized:

. . . how police positive it was. How it is littered with calls for tougher justice, using victims as props to demand harsher sentences, and how it ignored all the ways American society sets people up to break the law in the first place. How bad behavior by officers—even the one Buchanan briefly married—is condemned, but never really traced back to any larger issue. How Buchanan’s words have reinforced institutions that a growing American conscience believes are no longer, and perhaps never were, inherently good, or even necessary at all.

After the publication of The Corpse Had a Familiar Face, Buchanan became the public model for what a good crime reporter should do: “the Buchanan model is not, primarily, about police accountability. It’s about writing a story that leaps off the page with stunning details.”

Kamala Harris is wrong about science fiction

Author Charlie Jane Anders writes in The Washington Post:

Sen. Kamala D. Harris was half right in her speech launching her 2020 presidential campaign when she said we need to address climate change based on “science fact, not science fiction.” The truth is, we need both. Science fiction has an important role to play in rescuing the future from the huge challenges we’re facing . . .

“Stories about climate change might be fiction, but they can help to sway people’s hearts and minds in a different way than a recitation of the undeniable facts,” Anders writes. “And because science fiction is the literature of problem-solving, our made-up stories about science and innovation can play an important role in helping us to regain our faith in our own ability to create change.”

How Students Built a 16th-Century Engineer’s Book-Reading Machine

Agostino Ramelli, a 16th-century military, “designed many contraptions for the changing Renaissance landscape.” One of his machines aimed at allowing users to read multiple books at one time. Although Ramelli never built the machine, its possibility has long intrigued people who study the history of the book.

This article from Atlas Obscura details how, in 2018, a group of undergraduate engineering students at the Rochester Institute of Technology set out to build the machine. It’s worth looking at the article just for the photos and illustrations, but the text is pretty intriguing as well.

20 Books to Read in Quarantine This Summer

“Our picks for immersive, escapist, or nostalgic reading—wherever you are”

If you still need more suggestions for reading to occupy yourself with during this pandemic, editors from The Atlantic have some suggestions, curated “with an eye toward stories that will resonate during a summer of continued social distancing and tentative reopenings.” They’ve “ loosely grouped them according to literary cravings you might have,” such as these:

  • IF YOU WANT TO GET LOST IN A PLACE
  • IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR A PAGE-TURNER
  • IF YOU NEED SMART OBSERVATIONS ABOUT LIFE
  • IF YOU’RE IN THE MOOD FOR A QUEST
  • IF YOU’RE CRAVING HUMAN CONNECTION

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Time Is Not Real: Books That Play with the Art of Time

Vivienne Woodward looks at some books that manipulate our sense of time. The inspiration for this essay is the way COVID-19 lockdown has affected her perception of time:

One of the things reading fiction makes clear is how many ways there are to use and manipulate time. This period of quarantine has made me think about the art of time in my own life in a new way; it has forced me to wake up every day and make more deliberate choices about how I will spend it. Perhaps the way we experience reality is not so different from the way writers construct narrative. Joan Didion famously said that “we tell ourselves stories in order to live.” If we take her word on that, then let’s make better study of one of the most malleable narrative elements we have: time.

There Are So, So Many Crime Novels with ‘Girl’ in the Title

This is the fifth installment in Lisa Levy’s examination of why so many crime novels feature the word girl: “Girls are the easiest characters to put into peril and the ones with whom the audience is most likely to sympathize.”

There are links to the first four installments near the beginning of the article. 

‘I don’t like Jack Reacher that much’: Lee Child and fellow crime writers on their creations

The title of this article comes from a comment writer Lee Child made when he recently turned over the writing of the Jack Reacher series to his brother Andrew Grant.

“Creating a long-running series featuring a much-loved character can be both a blessing and a curse,” Alison Flood says here. Read how some authors, including Sara Paretsky, Attica Locke, Val McDermid, Ann Cleeves, and Michael Connelly, have dealt with their long-term relationships with their fictional creations.

On Owning Many Books

If you follow the topic “reading” on any social media platform, you’ve undoubtedly seen the statement “It’s not hoarding if it’s books.” Here Mik Awake declares, “Book-hoarding is less cute if you think of it as book-privatizing.”

As far back as the novels in Oates’s Wonderland Quartet, such as “Expensive People” (1968) and “them” (1969), which received the National Book Award fifty years ago this fall, Oates has deployed her zeal for revision to forge a style of rousing roughness. Her dozens of novels and hundreds of short stories, many of them set in western New York, forgo an air of cool mastery in favor of a kind of cultivated vulnerability, an openness to engulfment.

The Best Psychological Thrillers

Because I like mysteries and thrillers, I’m always interested in any article that includes them in its title. Here Tammy Cohen, author of six psychological thrillers, lists five of her favorites by other authors.

Cohen also offers an inclusive definition of the genre psychological thriller:

The psychological thriller explores our internal state, our internal fears, our relationships, the way we see ourselves in our domestic world, in our small world, interacting with the people around us. And it plays on our fears about things that could go wrong within that sphere. It doesn’t have to be domestic, but it usually takes place within a small group, which gives it that claustrophobic feeling.

Her definition well explains why I find that such novels explore most fully the darkest depths of the human heart and mind.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Literary Links

Murder, He Wrote

When Charles Dickens dropped dead on 9 June 1850, he was hard at work on his latest novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Readers who had already devoured the first three instalments of the story were left to solve its central mystery without the author’s help. On the 150th anniversary of Dickens’s death, Frances Wilson looks back on his final months. What lay behind Dickens’s turn to crime fiction? What were the real-life inspirations for this new novel? And, most importantly, who killed Edwin Drood?

The Lockdown Lessons of “Crime and Punishment”

“A college class weathering the pandemic finds Dostoyevsky’s savage inwardness and apocalyptic feverishness uncomfortably resonant.”

This is a fascinating account of David Denby’s experience of enrolling in the course Literary Humanities at Columbia University in New York City at the age of 76, then having the class moved online with the onset of COVID-19. Read how the pandemic-induced isolation affected students’ reactions to Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

Denby, a Columbia graduate, first took this course as an undergraduate at the university. He enrolled in the course again at age 48 to re-examine the “great books” that traditionally have made up the Western literary canon but more recently have come under fire as too limited to represent world culture. The result of that experience was his 1996 book The Great Books.

This current article recounts his third time through the same two-semester course, begun in fall 2019.

 Natural attenuation as a decontamination approach for SARS-CoV-2 on five library materials

Don’t let that dull and formal-sounding title scare you off. Now that we’re beginning to have hope that libraries will be able to reopen, this report from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) offers encouraging news—or, as it describes itself, “science-based information designed to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to staff and visitors who are engaging in the delivery or use of museum, library, and archival services.”

To sum up: “Results show that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was not detectable on the materials after three days of quarantine.

You should take a look at the report yourself to find out exactly what materials they tested and what procedures they used.

You’re not alone: Thrillers and mysteries that also feature characters stuck in isolation

“Sheltering in place doesn’t mean you can’t go visiting. You can drop in on fictional characters trapped in isolated houses in out-of-the-way places. No social distancing is required, and you’ll sympathize when they feel the walls closing in.”

Carol Memmott, a writer from Austin, Texas, describes five mysteries, some of which are variations on the traditional locked-room mystery.

Parental Fear and Cultural Erasure: The Logic Behind Banning Books

Because I’m very openly against censorship, I approached this article with interest. Nancy Snyder here asks, “Have you ever considered what lies beneath the vitriolic fury within the parents screaming at the school board meetings in favor of banning children’s and YA books?”

I ended up quite disappointed in this article because it didn’t teach me anything I didn’t already know. Here’s the conclusion:

For anyone who respects the First Amendment and the free exchange of ideas, book banning is an exercise in repression and ignorance. Removing controversial content does nothing but have the young reader want to read the book that has been banned from them. Too often, these banned book titles are the exact books young people need to read: banned books are effective in helping children develop their own values and moral convictions.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown