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Big Books Last Week's Links Reading

Articles That Caught My Eye Last Week

These are the most interesting of the articles I spent time with last week.

Q&A: CHRISTINE SNEED DISCUSSES HER COMPELLING STORY COLLECTION ABOUT THE LURE OF FAME

In this interview fiction writer Christine Sneed, whose latest work is the story collection The Virginity of Famous Men, discusses why fame and our human flaws are good subjects for fiction. She also weighs in on the question of how reading literature makes us better people:

“I really do think that reading literature, literary fiction, and poetry especially, will make you a better person. One thing literature does is offer you access to points of view and consciousness different from your own.”

10 GIANT TRANSLATED NOVELS THAT MAKE A MOCKERY OF “SUBWAY READING”

September is National Translation Month. In honor of this event, Scott Esposito suggests 10 Big Books in translation.

‘We ought to read only the kind of books that wound us’: How literature teaches us to be human

Robert Fulford gives some examples from published articles and interviews of people explaining how particular books influenced them. But the most interesting aspect of this article is his opening vignette about Kafka, which I had not heard before:

One day in 1904 the young Franz Kafka wrote a letter to a friend defining the books that are worth reading. “I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound us,” he wrote. “If the book we’re reading doesn’t wake us up with a blow to the head, what are we reading for? So that it will make us happy, as you write?

“We need books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. That is my belief.”

How Literature Can Improve Mental Health: A Free Course

Open Culture recommends a free online course from The University of Warwick, offered through FutureLearn, that presents “the work of famous writers like Austen, Shakespeare and Wordsworth – exploring how they can impact mental health and why works of writing are so often turned to in times of crisis.” In addition, throughout the six-week course doctors add a medical perspective on several mental health conditions.

You can read the course description here, then follow the links to learn more about the course and to enroll.

 

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Big Books Last Week's Links

Last Week’s Links

ALAN MOORE GOES (VERY VERY) BIG WITH JERUSALEM

Alan Moore’s novel Jerusalem weighs in at more than 1,200 pages. Joshua Zajdman has been carrying it around for a while, and people’s questions and comments about its size have triggered him to reflect:

why are “big books” perceived so differently? How long have “big books” been such a phenomenon? Is it just length that makes them seem like more of a commitment? Are they of greater intellectual heft, or conversely, perceived as books in need of a good editor simply because of their size? I started to do some research, dip into some other “big books” and discovered a kind of continuum for the “big literary book.” It’s less a question of “Does size matter?” and more a consideration of “Why?” Either way, it’s a question that’s been on the mind of readers for much longer than we may realize.

Of course this article caught my eye, since I’ve written a bit recently on big books.

“now is the perfect time to pick up Jerusalem or any of these big books. Fall is beginning in earnest, election cycles are winding down, winter is coming. It’s time to make the commitment and see how a great and ambitious novel can be wired. I dare you to make the time and devote the energy to the broad swath of humanity and narrative that only an ambitious and very long novel can tackle. What’s stopping you?”

Haunted Womanhood

Heather Havrilesky examines Ruth Franklin’s recent biography of Shirley Jackson, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life:

In the novels and many of the stories she wrote in the middle of the 20th century, the polite banter of seemingly innocent common folk develops into outright mockery, subterfuge, or even violence. When confronted by an unexpectedly hostile world, Jackson’s female protagonists experience a climactic rush of bafflement and betrayal that inevitably spills over into a more private realm of second-guessing, self-doubt, and paranoia. Jackson relished untangling the process by which women lose themselves.

Lionel Shriver: ‘This Entire Hoo-Ha’ Illustrates My Point

Novelist Lionel Shriver, perhaps best known for We Need to Talk About Kevin, recently caused quite a brouhaha at the Brisbane Writers Festival with a keynote address that raised the issue of cultural appropriation. If you haven’t followed this story, you can get caught up with the links provided in this Time summary. Then read Nate Hopper’s interview with Shriver about her intentions in her speech and her reactions to the critics.

How the Novelist Megan Abbott Spends Her Sundays

Megan Abbott’s thrillers are explorations, she says, of “women, power and aggression.” Her latest, “You Will Know Me,” is set in the cutthroat world of girls’ gymnastics and was published this summer, just before the Olympics. A Times review in July said Ms. Abbott had resumed “her customary role of black cat, opaque and unblinking, filling her readers with queasy suspicion at every turn.” She recently completed a cross-country promotional tour for the book, and now Ms. Abbott is back in Forest Hills, Queens, where she lives. During her Sunday writing stints, the author, 45, takes a break from the shadowy side of human nature to step into the light of a neighborhood she loves.

 

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Book News Ebooks Last Week's Links

Last Week’s Links

Under Pamela Paul, a New Books Desk Takes Shape at the ’Times’

One of the book resources I look at most often is coverage by The New York Times. In this article Publishers Weekly looks at recent changes in the way the paper covers book-related news:

In mid August, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet announced in a note to staff that New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul would oversee all Times books and publishing industry coverage. Two weeks later, how exactly this move might change coverage is beginning to come to light.

New study finds that paper books rule with American readers

girl reading

A new study by the Pew Research Center has found that 65 percent of Americans surveyed had read a paperback or hardcover over the past year, compared to 28 percent who opted to read an e-book. Forty percent of those surveyed said they only read print books, while just 6 percent read e-books exclusively.

Ten books you should read this September

Although titles that tell other people what they should do make me cringe, I can’t resist a list of reading recommendations.

Of the books listed here, the one that appeals to me the most is Ruth Franklin’s biography of Shirley Jackson.

What about you?

Can Jonathan Safran Foer Make a Comeback?

Alex Shephard muses on Here I Am, Foer’s third novel recently published after a 10-year hiatus.

Here I Am has some thematic overlaps with the first two books (namely, the question of what it means to be an American Jew in the 21st-century). But despite that kinship and its occasional formal digressions—there’s a Second Life-y video game, transcripts of sexts, excerpts from a screenplay, oh, yeah, the imagined destruction of the state of Israel—it’s more of a self-consciously ambitious Franzen-esque Big Book.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Audiobooks Fiction Last Week's Links Libraries Literary Criticism Reading

Last Week’s Links

As Far As Your Brain Is Concerned, Audiobooks Are Not ‘Cheating’

I love audiobooks; they enable me to read while plodding along on the treadmill or doing chores around the house. I’ve always thought that listening to a book instead of reading it is not cheating as long as I listen to the unabridged version.

And now I feel validated:

This question — whether or not listening to an audiobook is “cheating” — is one University of Virginia psychologist Daniel Willingham gets fairly often, especially ever since he published a book, in 2015, on the science of reading. (That one was about teaching children to read; he’s got another book out next spring about adults and reading.) He is very tired of this question, and so, recently, he wrote a blog post addressing it. (His opening line: “I’ve been asked this question a lot and I hate it.”) If, he argues, you take the question from the perspective of cognitive psychology — that is, the mental processes involved — there is no real difference between listening to a book and reading it. So, according to that understanding of the question: No, audiobooks are not cheating.

Criticism’s Sting: The Author Curtis Sittenfeld on Book Reviews

Book critic Jennifer Senior writes:

Now, as a person who writes reviews for a living, I am curious to know: How do professional authors handle unsparing criticism, written in just a few days or weeks, of something they’ve toiled over for years?

She put this question to her friend, Curtis Sittenfeld, “author of “Prep,” “American Wife” and most recently, “Eligible,” a modern retelling of “Pride and Prejudice.” Read here how Sittenfeld feels about reviews of her books.

Supreme Court to Consider Legal Standard Drawn From ‘Of Mice and Men’

I’m always interested in ways in which literature crosses over into everyday life. Here’s one example:

In 2002, the Supreme Court barred the execution of the intellectually disabled. But it gave states a lot of leeway to decide just who was, in the language of the day, “mentally retarded.”

Texas took a creative approach, adopting what one judge there later called “the Lennie standard.” That sounds like a reference to an august precedent, but it is not. The Lennie in question is Lennie Small, the dim, hulking farmhand in John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.”

The article ends with remarks by Thomas Steinbeck, son of author John Steinbeck.

Neil Gaiman on Why We Read and What Books Do for the Human Experience

If you don’t yet know Maria Popova’s astounding brainpickings, you’re in for a treat. Here she discusses “the significance of books and the role of reading in human life [that] comes from Neil Gaiman in a beautiful piece titled ‘Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming.’”

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book Groups Ebooks Last Week's Links Reading

Last Week’s Links

These are articles from around the web that caught my eye over the last week.

IS FICTION AN ADDICTION?

woman readingWho among us who love reading fiction have not asked ourselves these questions:

At some point we must ask ourselves if fiction is junk food for our souls. Too much of my lifetime has been consumed in make-believe. My friends talk about what they do, I talked about books, movies and television shows. I even prefer hanging out with other addicts, by being in four book clubs. When I die, and my life flashes in front of my eyes, a huge chunk of what I see will be me staring at a book, television, or movie screen. Is that good or bad? I don’t know. Is it an addiction? I think it is.

James Wallace Harris arrives at what is possible a rationalized conclusion, but one most of us probably understand and even agree with:

I believe fiction is a negative addiction when we use it as a substitute for living, but a positive addition when its a communication tool for comprehending each other.

51 Of The Most Powerful Pieces Of Advice From Books

It’s hard to go wrong with a good long list of advice from books. Dig in!

Why Book Clubs Matter in the Age of Tablets

Back in the good old days, before the demise of Borders, I belonged to two book clubs at my local Borders stores. But my first book club was held at the local public library.

This article examines the question of how important book clubs are now that many people download ebooks instead of purchasing hardcover books.

According to Ann Berlin of the Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore, which hosts quarterly parties for its approximately 60 external book clubs, “a lot of [book club members] are regular customers, and they’re ordering backlist.” She added, “What’s important to us is our relationship with our customers. We give people what they want, when they want it.”

Caleb Carr’s New Thriller Takes On Fancy Forensics. Michael Connelly Reviews

I loved Caleb Carr’s novel The Alienist when I read it many years ago. And one of my favorite current authors is mystery writer Michael Connelly. So this review by Connelly of Carr’s new book, Surrender, New York, in the New York Times was right up my alley.

Carr is best known for “The Alienist,” a beautifully wrought novel set more than a century ago at the dawn of behavioral profiling and other detective sciences. In “Surrender, New York,” he has written an addictive contemporary crime procedural stuffed with observations on the manipulations of science and the particular societal ills of the moment. Call it mystery with multiple messages.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Book Recommendations Fiction Last Week's Links List Writing

Last Week’s Literary Links

10 Best Whodunits

I love a good mystery! Here mystery novelist John Verdon (his latest book is Wolf Lake, featuring NYPD homicide detective Dave Gurney) offers a list of “ten remarkable works, each of which has a special appeal to my whodunit mentality”:Cover: The Crossing by Michael Connelly

  1. Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
  2. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  3. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
  4. The Galton Case by Ross Macdonald
  5. On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill
  6. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré
  7. Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith
  8. Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
  9. Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason
  10. The Crossing by Michael Connelly

I love that he has included literary classics as well as classic mysteries. And since I’ve only read four of these books (numbers 1,2, 8, and 10), I have yet some more titles to add to my TBR list.

Where Lit-Fic and Horror Converge: Ten Literary Chillers

While researching horror literature I came across this article by writer Christopher Shultz. Shultz addresses the snobbish discrimination between literary fiction and genre fiction (such as horror) to end up with a chronological list of 10 novels and short stories that use horror elements (dark subject matter, entities of a sinister and often supernatural nature, a sense of dread and terror) while also achieving standard criteria of literary fiction (complex characters, existential questions, and elegant prose):

  1. ‘Frankenstein, Or The Modern Prometheus’ by Mary Shelley
  2. “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe
  3. “The Demon Lover” by Elizabeth Bowen
  4. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
  5. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates
  6. ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ by Ira Levin
  7. “The Companion” by Ramsey Campbell
  8. “The Paperhanger” by William Gay
  9. ‘Black Moon’ by Kenneth Calhoun
  10. ‘The Fever’ by Megan Abbot

I usually avoid horror, so I’ve only read three of these (numbers 1,2, and 4; and I’ve seen the film Rosemary’s Baby, if that counts). From Shultz’s descriptions I’m also thinking of adding numbers 5 and 10 to my TBR list.

SIX WRITERS ON THE GENIUS OF MARCEL PROUST

In honor of Marcel Proust’s 145th birthday on July 10, six current authors comment on why his work remains so important today. Contributing authors are Siri Hustvedt, Francine Prose, Edmund White, André Aciman, Aleksandar Hemon, and Daniel Mendelsohn.

The Failure of Language and A Dream of the West: An Interview with Bonnie Nadzam

Bryan Hurt interviews his friend Bonnie Nadzam, whom he describes as “someone who felt a dis-ease with conventional fiction and who sought to experiment and push against the boundaries of expectation and form.”

Nadzam is the author of two novels, Lamb (2011) and Lions (2016). Here are some of her statements about how and why she writes:

knowing a character is as complex a process as knowing myself. Both seem to involve a process of patience and observation, and of allowing space for unexpected things/motivations/behaviors to arise.

with Lions in particular, I did try to make the reader a character in this story, to the extent that the reader is tracking signs and assembling and telling stories alongside everyone else in the book. And everyone is mistaken; and also, by the end, everyone is also peculiarly exactly right.

I can’t just write fiction as though language were functioning and reliable. I also, however, don’t want to write heady philosophical fiction. So that means experimenting to find ways to drop into stories that are as unreliable as the language in which they’re written.

I suppose when I write fiction, it’s because there’s something I feel the need to express that I can’t get at intellectually.

 

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Book Recommendations Last Week's Links

Literary Findings from Around the Web

Liane Moriarty’s Favorite Books with Sudden Life-Changing Moments

truly madly guiltyIn Liane Moriarty’s seventh novel, Truly Madly Guilty, something terrible occurs at “an ordinary neighborhood barbecue in an ordinary neighborhood backyard.” It’s something so profound and unsettling, it seems to rewire the six adults and three children present; will any of them be able to recover the relative peace they enjoyed before? As the life-changing event is processed, friendships and marriages are tested and the adults are racked with guilt and regret. Moriarty is known for her compelling, tightly woven stories of the darkness that can lurk behind the apparently ordinary, the suspenseful secrets, catty rivalry, domestic dysfunction, and the shocking event that changes everything.

I’ve read only one of the five novels on her list. And I haven’t yet read any of Moriarty’s own novels. I need to put these books on my TBR list.

Was Philip K. Dick a Madman or a Mystic?

Even if you haven’t read any of Philip K. Dick’s books, you’ve probably come in contact with his work through movies or, to a lesser extent, television: Minority Report, The Man in the High Castle, Blade Runner, Total Recall, Screamers, The Adjustment Bureau.

Much of Dick’s visionary content followed an experience in which he believed that a spiritual force had unlocked his consciousness and given him access to esoteric knowledge. In this article Kyle Arnold, a psychologist at Coney Island Hospital, Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, and author of The Divine Madness of Philip K. Dick, describes this experience and how it affected the author and his work.

New Data Analysis Suggests Only Six Book Plots Exist

“There’s nothing new under the sun,” the saying goes. If you’ve ever felt this while reading a novel, you’ll be interested in this article.

Researchers from the Computational Story Lab at the University of Vermont in Burlington used sentiment analysis—or analysis of emotion in a string of words—to map the plot of over 1,700 works of fiction. By looking at how the emotional tone of a story changes from moment to moment, the researchers could see the overall emotional arc of the stories.

They found that there were six main ones:

Fall-rise-fall, like Oedipus Rex
Rise and then a fall, like what happens to most villains
Fall and then a rise, like what happens to most superheroes
Steady fall, like in Romeo and Juliet
Steady rise, like in a rags-to-riches story
Rise-fall-rise, like in Cinderella

Read the entire article to see the main grains of salt with which you should take these results.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Last Week's Links

Articles That Caught My Eye Last Week

LITERARY OR GENRE, IT’S THE PLOT THAT COUNTS

When you read a novel, which aspect of the fiction is more important to you, characterization or plot? This is a common question, yet for a long time now I’ve thought it’s not exactly the right question, or at least not the best way to look at fiction. The key issue isn’t a dichotomy—character vs. plot, one or the other—but rather the interaction between the two elements. People do certain things (plot) for their own personal reasons (character), and individuals (character) react to other people and to occurrences (plot) in their own unique ways. In this article Emily Barton discusses how she thought about plot while writing her latest novel, The Book of Esther. Despite the title of her essay (she chooses plot over character), much of what she says seems to me to involve the interaction between plot and character.

Women Are Writing the Best Crime Novels

Long-time mystery reader Terrence Rafferty admits:

A number of years ago—well before Gone Girl [2012]—I realized that most of the new crime fiction I was enjoying had been written by women. The guys had been all but run off the field by a bunch of very crafty girls, coming at them from everywhere: America (Megan Abbott, Alison Gaylin, Laura Lippman), England (Alex Marwood, Paula Hawkins, Sophie Hannah), Scotland (Val McDermid, Denise Mina), Ireland (Tana French), Norway (Karin Fossum), Japan (Natsuo Kirino).

He summarizes the appeal of such writers this way:

The female writers, for whatever reason (men?), don’t much believe in heroes, which makes their kind of storytelling perhaps a better fit for these cynical times. Their books are light on gunplay, heavy on emotional violence.

Reading Novels at Medical School

The reading of literature, particularly fiction and poetry, as a way to help medical personnel grapple with big questions such as the meaning of life and of death, and their own relationship to their profession, is generally known as medical humanities. In this article Daniel Marchalik, M.D., a urologist and head of the literature and medicine track at the Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, DC, describes a course he teaches “to foster habits of reflection over four years of medical school”:

On the surface, the assigned books have nothing to do with medicine. We read no patient narratives, doctors’ memoirs or stories about disease.

Our busy jobs on the hospital wards require precision and efficiency, but in literature class we can slow down and explore human lives and thoughts in a different, more complex way. The class is an anatomy lab of the mind. We examine cultural conventions and conflicting perspectives, and reflect on our own preconceived notions about life and work. Reading attentively and well, we hope, will become a sustaining part of our daily lives and practice.

12 Great Authors Pick Their Essential American Book

How many people do you know who are working on the Great American Novel? While we wait for them to finish, see which books these 12 authors choose as the essential American book:

  • Sherman Alexie
  • Julian Barnes
  • Teju Cole
  • Anne Korkeakivi
  • Amitava Kuman
  • Karan Mahajan
  • Jay McInerney
  • Jon Meacham
  • Ann Patchett
  • Curtis Sittenfeld
  • Jesmyn Ward
  • Joby Warrick

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Last Week's Links On Novels and Novelists

Last Week’s Links

On Novels and Novelists

My 10 Favorite Books: Michael Cunningham

Author MIchael Cunningham lists the 10 (really 11) books he’d want with him if he were stranded on a deserted island.

The Author of ‘The Nest’ on How She Got Up the Courage to Write

the nestHere’s an interview with Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, author of the hit novel The Nest, which I read last month.

Sweeney decided to go back to school for an MFA in fiction writing at the age of 50. She’s currently writing the screenplay for the feature film version of her novel.

Grave Disruptions: Elizabeth Little interviews Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman is the New York Times –bestselling author of the Edgar Award–winning Tess Monaghan series and nine acclaimed standalone mysteries. A graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Lippman worked for 20 years as a reporter, including 12 at the Baltimore Sun.

Elizabeth Little interviews Laura Lippman, whose latest novel is the stand-alone mystery Wilde Lake.

Kurt Vonnegut Diagrams the Shape of All Stories in a Master’s Thesis Rejected by U. Chicago

“What has been my prettiest contribution to the culture?” asked Kurt Vonnegut in his autobiography Palm Sunday. His answer? His master’s thesis in anthropology for the University of Chicago, “which was rejected because it was so simple and looked like too much fun.” The elegant simplicity and playfulness of Vonnegut’s idea is exactly its enduring appeal. The idea is so simple, in fact, that Vonnegut sums the whole thing up in one elegant sentence: “The fundamental idea is that stories have shapes which can be drawn on graph paper, and that the shape of a given society’s stories is at least as interesting as the shape of its pots or spearheads.”

This piece, which features an infographic, also includes a short video of Vonnegut explaining his ideas. There are also links to other articles about Vonnegut.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Last Week's Links

Last Week’s Links

Recent Articles on Books, Authors, and All Things Literary

Seattle’s new Youth Poet Laureate has no home — but she does have a book deal

What a great local story about the power of the human spirit—and of the written word. The judges were unaware of Angel Gardner’s background and current living situation when they chose her to be Seattle’s Youth Poet Laureate:

Gardner’s poems — explicit and raw on matters of race, homelessness and abuse — “feel urgent when you read them, in a way that seems important for folks to pay attention to,” said one of the judges, Aaron Counts.

Please read this story and pass it on.

‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ Begins Previews in London, as Magic Continues

So you thought we’d seen the last of Harry Potter? NOT!

Here were a host of memorable characters, many of them making what amount to quick cameo appearances, much as a star might drop into a movie for a few minutes. Here were a second generation of new characters, including Scorpius, the unexpectedly delightful son of the decidedly undelightful Draco Malfoy, and of course the troubled Albus [Harry’s son], whose adolescent struggles to make sense of himself, his friends and his family form the focus of the play.

10 Literary Terms to Impress (or Annoy) Your Friends

An interesting graphic, even if it does perpetuate an inaccuracy that is one of my pet peeves.

To wit: in medias res, which isn’t even spelled correctly here. It’s also not defined quite correctly, but that’s a common mistake. Just about every literary handbook in the world tells you that this Latin phrase means “in the middle of things.” Except that it doesn’t; it means “into the middle of things.”

A book that begins in medias res throws readers into the middle of things, right into the action, where they must quickly figure out what’s going on.

Does Literary Criticism Have a Grade Inflation Problem?

I reported on the introduction of Lit Hub’s Book Marks here. When I took my first look at the site, which assigns letter grades to books on the basis of published reviews, I thought that the grades looked high.

Alex Shephard, writing for The New Republic, has the same impression:

Lit Hub uses an A-F grading system. But none of the books are remotely in danger of flunking.

The reviews themselves have been pulled from 70 publications, including The New Republic, but only a few have been graded below a B-

Shephard looks at the state of literary criticism—and there are a lot of informative links in the article—before concluding that “literary criticism, like America’s universities, is suffering from severe grade inflation.”

 

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown