Literary Links

SOME OBSERVATIONS FROM LIBRARY TOURISM

Jen Sherman declares “public libraries should be a tourist destination the way museums are.” And she knows whereof she speaks:

I started doing a PhD about public libraries in 2012, and in the past eight years, I have visited 112 libraries in six different countries (primarily USA and Australia). I have been to libraries in the heart of bustling global cities, in quiet suburbia, in small country towns. I have seen some very old libraries, and some very new ones.

She’s seen some fascinating things in public libraries in recent years that you might be interested in reading about.

Have we gotten any happier over 200 years? Researchers analyzed millions of books to find out.

In this era of Big Data, there have been lots of ideas on how to apply computer analysis to literature. Here’s one:

Starting from the premise that what we write reveals a lot about our underlying feelings, they [researchers] analyzed millions of books published between 1820 and 2009 and used the words in them to measure changes in subjective well-being in four countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy. They chose that time period and those countries because we’ve got sufficiently rich data for them.

Read how researchers conducted this study and what they learned from it.

WHEN YOU HATE THE CLASSICS, BUT YOU’RE AN ENGLISH TEACHER

I initially thought this piece was probably written tongue in cheek, but apparently it’s not. Lily Dunn doesn’t like a lot of the classics of the English literature canon and feels that her students have the right not to like them, either. Here’s the conclusion of the article:

I happen to think there is value in learning how to interact with things you don’t like. In a world that seems full of baseless hate and judgment, teaching students how to engage with things they don’t agree with or just plain don’t like might be the greatest gift I can give them. I want my students to know that they can hate the Classics too, as long as they are willing to use their brains and to engage.

That’s great, but I would argue that this philosophy serves no purpose if students don’t actually READ THE BOOKS. As in book groups, I don’t mind if people don’t like the book, but they should have read it (or at least most of it) so that they can explain WHY they don’t like it. If they can’t point to specific passages and explain what they don’t like about them, I can’t learn anything from their criticism.

Dunn doesn’t specify in the article whether her classes read the books so they can discuss what they don’t like about them or whether she just thinks she shouldn’t have to teach any classic works she herself doesn’t like. I’d really like to know.

Spoiler alert: spoilers make you enjoy stories more

This article is from 2016. I’ve seen it (and other similar pieces) before, but I include it here because the question about knowing what happens recently came up in an online discussion about rereading books. There’s interesting information here both about how research on the questioned was designed and about what the results of such studies were.

AN IMITATION OF IMPERFECTION: A HISTORY OF DECKLE EDGES

Here’s a history of papermaking that explains why some books have ragged edges on their pages.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

WHY READ FICTION IN THIS AGE OF ATROCITY?

Content Warning: This piece discusses recent sexual assault headlines.

I want to be as frank with you as is possible: it is increasingly hard for me to find joy or purpose in reading lately, specifically novels. I find myself asking, why read fiction at all when the world is falling apart around me?

D.R. Baker, “a transgender, nonbinary person,” continues to grapple with this question as the distressing headlines continue to pile up.

How to Spend a Literary Long Weekend in Hartford, Connecticut

Because I was born, and spent the first 19 years of my life, in Connecticut, here’s a literary tour of significant places in and around the state’s capital of Hartford. Featured writers include “Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Wallace Stevens, and more.”

Herman Melville at Home

Jill Lepore searches for a picture of the private Herman Melville in The New Yorker during the celebration of the 200th anniversary of his birth.

THE MOST POPULAR UNDER-THE-RADAR LIBRARY BOOKS ACROSS THE U.S. SO FAR THIS YEAR

Bestseller lists and book recommendations of best books to read abound, but in this piece Kelly Jensen discusses the Panorama Project, which “looks at the books most frequently requested at libraries across the U.S. and breaks down the popularity by region.” This project can produce a glimpse below all the big, popular titles for “a more micro level look at books which are popular by specific areas of the country.”

The result is lists of fiction and nonfiction for both adults and YA readers exclusive of “well known bestsellers, book club selections and other heavily promoted titles.” Look here for suggestions of books your regional neighbors are checking out from their local libraries.

THE NOVELIST WHO SCANDALIZED VICTORIAN ENGLAND

the novels of Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and the “sensation” fiction she pioneered, left an imprint on literature that remains today.

At age 17 Braddon began acting “in everything from comedies to burlesques to Shakespeare.” This background in theater gave her a sense of story and plot that allowed her to turn to writing novels for the masses, books that “earned [her] a reputation as a writer with a knack for presenting the more scandalous side of the upper classes.”

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

What the List of Most Banned Books Says About Our Society’s Fears | TIME

Censors are increasingly focusing on books that represent diverse points of view

Source: What the List of Most Banned Books Says About Our Society’s Fears | TIME

 

In honor of Banned Books Week, Time looks at how the focus of book challenges has changed over the past several years.

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

October is International School Library Month

October is International School Library Month, organized by the International Association of School Librarianship. This group is dedicated to establishing and developing school librarianship in every country in the world. The organization pursues the following objectives:

  • To advocate the development of school libraries throughout all countries;
  • To encourage the integration of school library programs into the instruction and curriculum of the school;
  • To promote the professional preparation and continuing education of school library personnel;
  • To foster a sense of community among school librarians in all parts of the world;
  • To foster and extend relationships between school librarians and other professions in connection with children and youth;
  • To foster research in the field of school librarianship and the integration of its findings with pertinent knowledge from related fields;
  • To promote the publication and dissemination of information about successful advocacy and program initiatives in school librarianship;
  • To share information about programs and materials for children and youth throughout the international community;
  • To initiate and coordinate activities, conferences and other projects in the field of school librarianship and information services.

Girls readingIn the United States, the American Association of School Librarians, a division of the American Library Association, provides information about the importance of school libraries and the function of school librarians. Informational pages for parents include What School Librarians Do, How to Get Involved, and What Parents Should Know. For school administrators, the site discusses Best Apps for Teaching and Learning, Best Websites for Teaching and Learning, and certified educational workshops for school librarians of both elementary and secondary schools.

Banned Books Week 2015 (September 27–October 3)

(Artwork above courtesy of the American Library Association)

Banned Book Week is an annual event celebrating the right to read usually held during the last week of September. It’s sponsored by the following organizations:

American Booksellers Association

American Booksellers for Free Expression

American Library Association

American Society of Journalists and Authors

Association of American Publishers

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Freedom to Read Foundation

National Coalition Against Censorship

National Council of Teachers of English

National Association of College Stores

People for the American Way

PEN American Center

Project Censored

It is also endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

I Read Banned Books
Celebrate the freedom to read

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict the availability of specified materials. A banning is the removal of materials:

Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.

Read more about who challenges books and why at the ALA FAQ page about banned and challenged books.

Check the American Library Association’s Frequently Challenged Books list for 2014. Some of the titles might surprise you.

You can also see statistics in the form of infographics on the number of challenges by reasons, challenges by initiator, and challenges by institution.

Books and the People Who Love Them

The 6 types of Little Free Library patrons

Mary Ann Gwinn, book editor for The Seattle Times, receives LOTS of books. As a way to spread the wealth around, her spouse built her a Little Free Library for her birthday.

Little Free Library, Puyallup, WA
Little Free Library, Puyallup, WA

The Little Free Library movement was started in Wisconsin by Todd Bol and Rick Brooks in 2009. Its mission is two-fold:

  • To promote literacy and the love of reading by building free book exchanges worldwide.
  • To build a sense of community as we share skills, creativity and wisdom across generations.

Its goal is “To build 2,510 Little Free Libraries—as many as Andrew Carnegie.”

This goal was reached in August of 2012, a year and a half before our original target date. By January of 2015, the total number of registered Little Free Libraries in the world was conservatively estimated to be nearly 25,000, with thousands more being built.

The philosophy behind little free libraries is “Take a book. Return a book.” In other words, for every book you take, you should put one book back. The aim of the process is to promote not only general literacy, but also neighborhood community. These libraries are run on the honor system by community members, for each other.

In addition to allowing Gwinn to share her books, the Little Free Library provides “an added benefit: … a fantastic opportunity for people-watching.” Read her descriptions of these patrons of her LFL:

  • The busy mom
  • The insomniac
  • The wannabe book critic
  • The picky reader
  • The cruiser
  • The grateful recipient

I like her observation that “The key to having a Little Free Library is to release control.” Since patrons put in one book for every book they take out, “You can control the outbox, but you can’t control the inbox.”

Gwinn is certainly experiencing the community intent of the Little Free Library philosophy: “That is the gift of the Little Free Library; you get to know your neighbors, in all sorts of ways.”

In a Mother’s Library, Bound in Spirit and in Print

New York Times technology writer Nick Bilton describes how books became a bond and a form of communication between himself and his mother:

As I grew up, my mother held my hand as we wandered through the fictional worlds of Harper Lee, Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll. Birthdays and Christmases were always met with rectangular-shaped gifts.

As he got older, he and his mother spend hours discussing plots and characters.

But in 2011, Bilton and his mother got into an argument over books. When he was moving from New York to California, he decided to leave behind most of his books in favor of a Kindle and later an iPad. His mother was appalled:

She spoke passionately about being able to smell the pages of a print book as you read, to feel the edges of a hardcover in your hands. And that the notes left inside by the previous reader (often my mother) could pause time.

After his mother died in March, Bilton and his two sisters learned that she had left her collection of more than 3,000 books to her oldest daughter. Knowing the bond that books had created between Bilton and their mother, his sister offered to share their mother’s library with him, and he “gratefully accepted.”

kid with booksAs a technology writer, Bilton had spent much time discussing the merits of print vs. digital books. But his mother’s death and his receipt of some of her books made him realize that one is not superior to the other: “They each have their place in this modern world.” He caps this realization with a description of how his mother, knowing she would not live long enough to meet Bilton’s unborn son, inscribed her copy of her favorite book, Alice in Wonderland, to him. That book, along with some of her others, sits in her grandson’s nursery, the basis of his own growing book collection.

On Reading

Reading With Imagination

Novelist Lily Tuck calls fiction a creative act, “an act of the author’s imagination and likewise, ideally, it should be read with imagination.”

Here’s how she hopes people will read her work:

In my own writing, I have been accused of (or is it praised for?) being a minimalist, which I suppose means that I don’t write a whole lot. This is true. For the most part, I avoid adjectives and I definitely avoid adverbs, which also means that I tend not to describe much. I rarely describe what my characters look like or what they wear or how they do their hair. My hope is that this will either not be important or if it is important it will somehow surface within the text. But better yet, by avoiding descriptions and explanations, I allow the reader the freedom to picture for themselves what my characters, their clothes and haircuts look like and thus participate in the text. In other words, I hope my readers will read my work with imagination.

Reading in this way—active reading—allows readers to participate with authors in the creation of the meaning of the text.

And isn’t it just this creation of meaning that allows us to derive such pleasure and knowledge from reading fiction?

Encouraging Teenagers to Read, by Choosing Books From the Non-Y.A. Shelves

Jessica Lahey offers advice, from experts and from her own experience, for getting teens back into the habit of reading for pleasure. One tactic that she found successful was “ to ‘seed”’ my older son’s room with a wide range of books for him to find on his own time and on his own terms.”

Here are some other approaches to try:

  • Make reading for pleasure a priority at home.
  • Don’t offer rewards for reading.
  • Give children the power of choice over the books they read for pleasure.
  • Ditch the rules! “Children need to be able to abandon books they don’t like, peek at the endings, and read books they love over and over again.”
  • Think outside the Y.A. section of the bookstore.

She suggests providing sports books for children interested in sports or nature books for kids who like animals.

The article concludes with a link to the Dartmouth Bookstore’s “Adult Picks for Teens” recommendations. And that page in turn contains a link to the School Library Journal’s “Best Adult Books 4 Teens.”

Envisioning a Colorado Haven for Readers, Nestled Amid Mountains of Books

This is a double-pronged love story: of two people who met at a bookstore and got married, and of the couple’s love for books and nature.

Jeff Lee and Ann Martin both worked at The Tattered Cover, a bookstore in Denver, where they fell in love. They met in 1986 and married in 1991. On a trip to the London Book Fair they spent some time at “St. Deiniol’s, a castlelike residential library in the Welsh countryside founded in 1889 by a former prime minister, William Ewart Gladstone. He was a lifelong book lover who centered his collection on Victorian history and theology.” (St. Deiniol’s has since changed its name to Gladstone Library.) Enchanted by the place, Lee and Martin envisioned a similar project in Colorado.

The result is the Rocky Mountain Land Library, still under development in South Park, CO:

The project is striking in its ambition: a sprawling research institution situated on a ranch at 10,000 feet above sea level, outfitted with 32,000 volumes, many of them about the Rocky Mountain region, plus artists’ studios, dormitories and a dining hall — a place for academics, birders, hikers and others to study and savor the West.

Lee and Martin found an abandoned ranch, Buffalo Peaks, about a two-hour drive outside of Denver. The City of Aurora leased them the ranch at “a deep discount.” The couple has already amassed a “collection of 32,000 books, centering the collection on Western land, history, industry, writers and peoples.”

The project has received a grant from the South Park National Heritage Area, but so far Lee and Martin have raised only about $120,000 additional of the estimated $5 million renovation cost. They continue to work toward the realization of their dream: “a rural, live-in library where visitors will be able to connect with two increasingly endangered elements — the printed word and untamed nature.”

How To Become a Better Reader in 10 Steps

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, recently finished another book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. While working on the new book, this devoted reader adopted some new habits to allow her to get more reading done. She offers these 10 steps that worked for her and that might work for others as well.

  1. Quit reading. She doesn’t mean quit totally, of course, but she learned not to spend time continuing to read a book in which she had lost interest.
  2. Skim. Again, this doesn’t apply to everything. She advises skimming materials that don’t need to be read carefully to leave more time for “high-value reading.”
  3. Set aside time to read demanding books. She created the habit of scheduling “study reading” each weekend for getting through challenging books.
  4. Always have plenty of reading material on hand.
  5. Keep a reading list, and keep it handy.
  6. Try audio-books.
  7. Don’t fight reading inclinations. Read what you feel like reading, not what you think you should read.
  8. Read Slightly Foxed, a magazine containing short essays about people’s favorite books from the past.
  9. Start or join a book group.
  10. Join my monthly book club.

More on #10 (Rubin’s monthly book club):

I have a monthly “book group,” where I recommend one great book about habits or happiness, and one great work of children’s literature, and one eccentric pick (a book that I love but may not appeal to everyone).

The article ends with a link where, if you’re so inclined, you can sign up for this group.

The Life-Changing Magic of Downsizing Your Book Collection

This is Part 1 of Jenn Northington’s discussion on BookRiot of applying the principles of Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up to her overwhelming book collection:

So while I’m not an actual hoarder who will die buried under stacks of mildewed paperbacks, I do have a space and attention-span problem. Which is why I’m spending this weekend picking up every book I own, and sorting them by the KonMarie Method: “Does this spark joy?”

Far more interesting, though, is After the Pull: The Lifechanging Magic of Downsizing Your Book Collection, Part 2, in which Northington describes the process by which she reduced her book collection by roughly half:

And at the end of the day, after I washed off all the dust and had tidied the giveaway stacks and gotten over the sheer shock of reducing my book collection by more than half, I felt good. Now I can actually see what I have, and don’t have to take half of the books off a shelf to see what else is hiding behind them. Now I can see the ones I had promised to read, or been dying to read, or had been sent a personalized recommendation for. And as hard as it is to give up some of them, it is equally fun to imagine who might discover them next. When you know you’re sending them to a good home, it’s easier to wave goodbye.

Monday Miscellany

Homeless Outreach in Volumes: Books by Bike for ‘Outside’ People in Oregon

This city [Portland, Oregon] has a deeply dyed liberal impulse beating in its veins around social and environmental causes, and a literary culture that has flourished like the blackberry thickets that mark misty Northwest woods. It is also one of the most bike-friendly, if not bike-crazed, urban spaces in the nation, as measured by commuters and bike lanes. All three of those forces are combined in Street Books, a nonprofit book service delivered by pedal-power for “people living outside,” as Ms. Moulton, the founder, describes the mission.

Extreme, Extreme! The literature of laughing gas

Here’s an article about a subject I couldn’t even have imagined: William James stoned.

These words were set to paper in 1882 by William James, one of the most celebrated proponents of the new science of psychology, and a newly minted assistant professor of philosophy at Harvard. James was in many ways the paragon of an eminent Victorian—his writing tends to summon images of the author ensconced beside a roaring fire in some cozy wood-paneled study in Cambridge. And yet here James comes off as utterly, absurdly stoned.

. . .

James acknowledged to his readers that these ravings were the product of a mental state that, like alcohol intoxication, “seems silly to lookers-on.” But he came away from the experience with a remarkably positive take on nitrous oxide. James had argued that drunkenness produced a kind of “subjective rapture” occasioned by its ability to make “the centre and periphery of things seem to come together.” Nitrous oxide, he believed, produced a similar effect, “only a thousandfold enhanced.” On the gas, his mind was “seized … by logical forceps” and jolted into a new order of consciousness which, he thought, made the logic of Hegelian dialectics perfectly obvious to him.

2014 Washington State Book Award winners announced

This year’s Washington State Book Awards include a best-selling nonfiction book about the University of Washington crew team that won a gold medal in the 1936 Olympics; one writer’s investigation into his ancestors in Eastern Europe and the fate of their descendants; a novel based on the life of a seventh-century English saint; and poetry by a Seattle author.

Former JBLM Stryker soldier goes big-time as a poet, author

Brian Turner packed his poetry and went to war with a Joint Base Lewis-McChord Stryker brigade. Now, he’s returned with an acclaimed memoir.

With “My Life as a Foreign Country,” Turner has earned both accolades and, it seems, a measure of peace. The former infantryman has also fleshed out what he previously hinted at in poems dug from the hard ground in Iraq.

“The landscape is war,” the Fresno, California, native said in an interview, not for the first time, “but the actual subject is love and loss.”

 

 

Monday Miscellany

Open Library

Open Library is an open, editable library catalog with an attractive facade and a lofty mission. The mission? To build an online catalog with a web page for every book ever published. The best part? You can help. From the homepage, click Sign Up, then create a free Open Library account in two simple steps. From there, add new books, write descriptions, manage lists, and generally enjoy contributing to one of the most exciting library projects on the web. Of course, you don’t need an account to browse the site, with its 20 million records (and counting). Simply click Authors, Subjects, Recently, or Lists to search the site by category, or type a keyword into the general search function.

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994–2014. https://www.scout.wisc.edu

How Dennis Lehane’s ‘Drop’ screenplay became a novel

Cover: The Drop, Dennis LehandDennis Lehane, a master of the contemporary crime novel, has seen many of his books brought to the screen: “Mystic River,” “Shutter Island,” “Gone Baby Gone,” the upcoming “Live By Night.” But none have had such adventurous a transformation as “The Drop” (now in theaters), which began life as an opening chapter of a novel, then became a short story, then a screenplay … and now, finally, a novel.

Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald describes the strange story of how a group of characters continued to haunt writer Dennis Lehane until, in a reversal of the usual order of things, the film became a novel.

MURDER, THEY WROTE, USING THIS DOCTOR’S INGENIOUS IDEAS

From The Los Angeles Times, a look at cardiologist Douglas Lyle, who divides time between seeing patients in his cardiology clinic, writing crime novels, and answering “other crime writers’ questions about how to end their characters’ lives in weird — but scientifically plausible — ways.”

Tana French’s Favorite Books About Secrets

In her Dublin Murder Squad series, Irish writer Tana French reveals how secrets haunt the “the tumultuous inner lives of her characters, both cops and culprits.” Her latest novel, The Secret Place, is the fifth in the series.

“Big secrets transform everything and everyone around them—often in unpredictable, uncontrollable ways—and I’ve always been fascinated by books that explore that ripple effect,” French says. Here she recommends five novels that fit that description.

Finding our Literary Mothers and Sisters in Time

This post is from April 2014, but I just found it.

Sharan Newman, a medieval historian and author of both nonfiction and fiction, describes efforts to place women in their proper place in literary history and in the literary canon:

Today we might say that female authors have a secure place in literary history. But one thing I know as an historian is that the pendulum always swings. We need to leave a legacy not only as skilled writers but as accurate observers of aspects of life that are too often ignored. Looking back at my own long and somewhat checkered career, I realize that the desire to return women to their rightful place in history was what impelled both my fiction and non-fiction. Oddly, perhaps, I’ve found that a more honest portrayal can be created through fiction. This is due to the lack of solid information on the lives of ordinary women and men throughout time.

The ‘sexiest meal’: what a character’s breakfast reveals about them

And this piece is from February 2013, but I just found it.

Seb Emina, coauthor with Malcolm Eggs, (yes, really) of The Breakfast Bible, discusses breakfast in literature:

breakfast is the ideal barometer of normalcy, the meal that tells us who a person really is. An example: in the fifth chapter of Moby Dick (simply called “Breakfast”), Melville offers a morning scene at a bar-room in a whaling town, as a way of painting us a picture of Queequeg, a Pacific islander who “eschewed coffee and hot rolls” – savagery! – and “applied his undivided attention to beefsteaks, done rare”. And in The Hobbit, Tolkein reveals much about the implicitly decadent nature of Hobbithood when he has Bilbo Baggins consume a second breakfast – an occurrence that has somehow become one of the most recounted parts of the entire book.

This article is worth reading just for the description of Hunter S. Thompson’s preferred meal.