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Literary Links

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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Author News Awards & Prizes Book Recommendations Ebooks Fiction Libraries Literary Criticism Literary History Publishing

Literary Links

Why a Campaign to ‘Reclaim’ Women Writers’ Names Is So Controversial

“Critics say Reclaim Her Name fails to reflect the array of reasons authors chose to publish under male pseudonyms”

Nora McGreevy reports in Smithsonian Magazine about the Reclaim Her Name project recently launched by the Women’s Prize for Fiction in conjunction with Baileys (of Irish cream liqueur fame).

More about the project in a minute. But first, a personal digression. When I click on the link for the Reclaim Her Name project given in the opening paragraph of this article, I get sent to a page with this URL: https://www.baileys.com/en-gb/reclaim-her-name-campaign . OK, since Baileys is a sponsor. But there’s an overlay on the page that requires me to submit my birthday: “Can we see some ID please? It’s part of our commitment to responsible drinking.” I can’t get into the site without giving them my birthdate. An ID to read about books? I don’t think so. Consequently, I can only report on McGreevy’s article, not on the Reclaim Her Name project itself.

According to McGreevy, the Reclaim Her Name project, “a joint initiative honoring the literary award’s 25th anniversary,” focuses on “25 classic and lesser-known works by authors who historically wrote under male pseudonyms.”  The Reclaim Her Name collection comprises free ebooks that feature the writers’ actual names on the covers.

But, McGreevy writes, “Despite its arguably well-intentioned aims, Reclaim Her Name quickly attracted criticism from scholars and authors, many of whom cited a number of historical inaccuracies embedded in the project.” Most complaints, many of which this article links to, involve a general disregard for the reasons why individual authors chose to publish these works under pseudonyms.

Are Little Free Libraries helping locals survive COVID? L.A. weighs in

This article from the Los Angeles Times delves into the history of the Little Free Library movement as well as the benefits and problems of unmonitored distribution of books during a health epidemic.

The Ox-Bow Incident: William Wellman’s stunning Western illuminates how righteous cowboys can become a mob of vigilantes

The Ox-Bow Incident is one of the best novels to illustrate how a writer can use language to convey a character’s state of mind. In this essay for the Library of America, Michael Sragow argues that the 1943 film version of The Ox-Bow Incident “generates a visceral and emotional force that equals or surpasses the power of Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s ruminative, soul-quaking 1940 novel.”

“Lolita” Belongs to the Girls Who Lived It

cover: Being Lolita by Alisson Wood

Lilly Dancyger looks at Alisson Wood’s memoir Being Lolita, which Cancyger calls “a fearless interrogation of her own experience being groomed and manipulated by an older man—and a reclaiming of the narrative of Lolita, reminding readers that the cultural understanding of the novel still tends to favor the predator’s perspective, and that teenage girls need support, not objectification.”

Has Self-Awareness Gone Too Far in Fiction?

Katy Waldman addresses what she calls the reflexivity trap in fiction:

This is the implicit, and sometimes explicit, idea that professing awareness of a fault absolves you of that fault—that lip service equals resistance. The problem with such signalling is that it rarely resolves the anxieties that seem to prompt it. Mocking your emotions, or expressing doubt or shame about them, doesn’t negate those emotions; castigating yourself for hypocrisy, cowardice, or racism won’t necessarily make you less hypocritical, cowardly, or racist. As the cracks in our systems become increasingly visible, the reflexivity trap casts self-awareness as a finish line, not a starting point. To the extent that this discourages further action, oblivion might be preferable.

Caroline Leavitt on Writing the Disconnected Self

“How Life’s Shifting Identities Filter Into the Work of a Novelist”

Novelist Caroline Leavitt discusses how personality changes can occur and how she explored their significance in writing her books:

I realize that the only thing any of us—including my characters—can know is that everything you thought you knew about yourself or others can derail. But unexpected transformation can also revive, burnishing new possibilities you never expected, and that new person you might become can actually turn out to be your truest self of all.

7 Best Mystery Books (According to Mystery Experts)

I love mysteries and thrillers, and I’ve read a lot of them. 

This list of reading recommendations, by the PBS show MASTERPIECE Mystery!, comes from the creators and writers of the program Grantchester as well as “ a selection of mystery insiders.” The list includes works by the following authors:

  • Louise Penny
  • Nicholas Blake
  • Kate Griffin
  • Thomas H. Cook
  • Eva Dolan
  • Margaret Millar
  • Anthony Oliver

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Fiction Last Week's Links Literary History Reading Television

Literary Links

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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Author News Literary History

Ray Bradbury’s 100th Birthday

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of author Ray Bradbury.

“I can imagine all kinds of worlds and places, but I cannot imagine a world without Bradbury.”


Neil Gaiman

To celebrate this event, writers, actors, and librarians will present the Ray Bradbury Centennial Read-a-Thon from August 22 through September 5, 2020.

Ray Bradbury Centennial Read-A-Thon

“I was warped early by Ray Bradbury… As a young teenager, I devoured Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.”


Margaret Atwood

For more information about the life and works of Ray Bradbury, visit this website.

“Without Ray Bradbury, there would be no Stephen King.”


Stephen King
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Fiction Last Week's Links Literary History Reading

Literary Links

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

Categories
Literary History Reading

Medieval Reads Day

Get ready for tales of knights, battles, court intrigue and more. It’s Medieval Reads Day!

Source: Medieval Reads Day

According to Book Riot, it’s Medieval Reads Day, and they’ve got you covered with the following articles:

  • 10 of the Best Medieval Romance Stories
  • 10 Books with Our Favorite Fictional Knights
  • 8 Courtly Medieval Female Writers
  • 10 Great Medieval (and Medieval-ish) Mystery Books
  • Get Spellbound by These Magical Medieval Fantasy Books
  • 8 Great Medieval History Reads from East to West
  • 8 Fascinating Characters from Arthurian Legend
  • 9 Medieval Poets You Will Actually Enjoy Reading
  • 6 of the Best Medieval Young Adult Books
  • 3 of the Best Comics for Fans of Arthurian Legend
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Last Week's Links Literary History Literature & Psychology

Literary Links

The Case for Teaching Depressing Books

High school English teacher Sahar Mustafah writes that her students often ask when they’re going to read happy books.

Young people, quite naturally, equate “happy” with a safe, uneventful existence. Genocide, sexual assault, poverty, racism, climate change—it’s hard to find any reason to be excited about reading these subjects as a plot line. And the experience can be just as hard for a teacher to present to students.

“But I pose that books containing difficult issues or trauma are good for our youth. In fact, they’re downright essential,” Mustafeh counters. Her reasoning?

literature can increasingly shape empathetic, socially-conscious individuals. Shielding students from challenging texts because “there’s so much bad stuff already going on” only seeks to reinforce systems of power and inequity.

Why We Turn to Jane Austen in Dark Times

Jane Hadlow:

I’d argue that her power to connect with us in hard times arises not because her retired life shielded her from grief, pain, and fear—but because she knew very well what it was like to feel vulnerable, exposed, and anxious about the well-being of those she cared about. 

Hadlow concludes: “What Austen really prizes is resilience” and “the self-discipline she insists upon as a means to survive” during hard times.

Why Anxious Readers Under Quarantine Turn to “Mrs. Dalloway”

Perhaps you prefer Virginia Woolf to Jane Austen. Evan Kindley, a senior editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books and a visiting assistant professor at Pomona College, discusses Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway, “set in 1923, five years on from the global influenza pandemic that killed somewhere between fifty and a hundred million people.”

Woolf’s vivid description of a crowded metropolis right now, when our own cities’ streets lie empty, feels like something out of a fantasy novel. Yet Clarissa’s joie de vivre is mixed with a sense of latent dread: “she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.”

Dispatches from a Pandemic

This is the landing page for a series of several articles from many authors commenting on the current health pandemic. The articles are from the April 13, 2020, print issue of The New Yorker.

The Best Australian Crime Fiction, recommended by Emma Viskic

I’m including this article not just because it recommends five books. Novelist Emma Viskic and interviewer Cal Flyn also discuss the significance of crime fiction and the specious distinctions between crime fiction and literary fiction.

What Is the Great American Novel?

“What is the Great American Novel? Its existence as a singular volume is surely a myth, but what is the concept of the Great American Novel?” Annika Barranti Klein examines the history of the concept of the Great American Novel and tries to figure out what the term actually means.


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Last Week's Links Literary History Literature & Psychology Reading

Literary Links

My mistress Melancholy

Mary Ann Lund, associate professor in Renaissance English literature at the University of Leicester in the UK, discusses Robert Burton (1577-1640) and his The Anatomy of Melancholy, “the most pervasive and elusive of Renaissance diseases.”

“One of the great achievements of The Anatomy of Melancholy is to draw together the collective wisdom of nearly two millennia on a condition that was alluring and dangerous in equal measure.” Lund writes “melancholy came to be seen as a European epidemic” during the 16th and 17th centuries.

I READ MY WAY OUT: MY YEAR OF READING COPIOUSLY AND THERAPEUTICALLY

2018 was “a rough year” for college professor and academician Carole Bell. She made several significant life changes during 2019 to help herself overcome isolation, depression, and anxiety, and one of those changes involved “reading intentionally and reading as self-medicating and self-soothing.”

In the end, I read 403 books in 2019, not counting the few I abandoned or partial reads of the academic books I read select chapters from for research. I also wrote 50 book reviews, sent one to a popular blog and had it accepted it for publication. The bottom line: I had been in a funk, and I read my way out. Reading is no substitute for therapy. And I did some other things along the way like find a critique partner and a writing coach, train for a half marathon, and run my best time. But as it had on other occasions before, the biggest internal change began with books.

Coronavirus feels like something out of a sci-fi novel. Here’s how writers have imagined similar scenarios

“The coronavirus outbreak feels like something out of a science fiction — or horror — novel. Indeed, novelists have been imagining scenarios like this for centuries,” write Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Lavie Tidhar in The Washington Post. Read their discussion of several pandemic novels that may offer readers “a fascinating what-if thought experiment.”

Why Tales of Female Trios Are Newly Relevant

In literature and pop culture, women often come in threes, deriving power from solidarity even as they work to forge their own paths.

How Reading Into The Setting Enhances A Book

I don’t emphasize often enough the importance of close reading for fully understanding and appreciating works of fiction. Here Yash Raaj explains how he uses outside resources to understand fully a novel’s setting—both time and place—and how the setting “interacts with characters.” This approach to reading literature allowed him to see “how literature branched into history, sociology, etc., connecting these disciplines in one text.”

Moreover, this habit has brought out a new side to me as a reader. I have learned how to arm myself with information, which is highly necessary in an era of social media activism. Careful reading certainly adds an edge and displays a streak of awareness accumulated through literature.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown