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What Our Biggest Best-Sellers Tell Us About a Nation’s Soul

“Reading America through more than two centuries of its favorite books.”

In The New Yorker, Louis Menand takes on Jess McHugh’s book Americanon, which discusses “thirteen American books, from ‘The Old Farmer’s Almanac,’ first published in 1792, to Stephen R. Covey’s ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,’ which came out in 1989.”

In looking at these thirteen self-help books, Menand writes:

In fact, McHugh disapproves of every one of the books she writes about. “Americanon” is, in effect, a critique of American society in the form of thirteen book reviews. It belongs to a critical strategy of attacking current inequities in American life by attacking prior representations of those inequities. This is an entry in the new culture wars.

According to Menand, McHugh “prefers, she says, ambiguity and change to the myth of a unified national narrative. But ambiguity and change are just the keywords in a different narrative.”

Susan Cole, Advocate for Traumatized Children, Dies at 72

Attorney Susan Cole recognized the toll that trauma can take on children:

She began a decades-long examination of the links between education and childhood trauma, using her accumulating experience to identify “broader systemic failures that could not be addressed on a case-by-case basis,” as her husband, David Eisen, put it.

Constant stress and fear were more than just a distraction for students; their effect, she learned, was neurological, activating the fight-or-flight survival instinct permanently.

A Guide To Gender Identity Terms

June is the annual celebration of Pride Month. Over the years I’ve sometimes been confused about how to use correctly the applicable terminology. I’m grateful to NPR for putting together this glossary of terms relating to gender identity.

Proper use of gender identity terms, including pronouns, is a crucial way to signal courtesy and acceptance. Alex Schmider, associate director of transgender representation at GLAAD, compares using someone’s correct pronouns to pronouncing their name correctly – “a way of respecting them and referring to them in a way that’s consistent and true to who they are.”

Creative Writing MFA Programs

Programs offering an MFA (master’s in fine arts) in writing have proliferated.

The Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing is a graduate-level degree earned by students who seek to pursue work as authors, editors, playwrights, or to teach at the college level.

The folks at BookBrowse have put together this discussion of the purpose of such programs. This article pertains to understanding the plot of the recently published novel The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz, but the content here is a general description and discussion for anyone who has ever wondered about these programs.

How to Jump-Start Your Post-Pandemic Writing Life

“The habit of not writing, it turns out, is sadly easy to acquire in a pandemic.”

I know I’m not the only person who had trouble focusing on reading and writing during the pandemic. With the arrival of the beginning of the end, Rachel Toor has some advice on how to get back into the swing of things. 

Toor herself is an academic, a professor of creative writing at Eastern Washington University in Spokane, WA, and her advice is directed toward other academics, whose professional lived are governed by the “publish or perish” mantra. However, I found her advice helpful also for a general audience, such as us book bloggers who may be struggling to get back to work.

The Book Club of My Dreams Was at the Library All Along

My first book group was organized by the local branch of the county public library where I lived. I participated in the group for about 12 years and found some of my closest friends there. It’s something I sorely miss since relocating for retirement.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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How Reading Ebooks Changes Our Perception (and Reviews)

Kindle Paperwhite

Addison Rizer, a self-declared “avid Kindle reader,” writes, “I am curious about the ways reading ebooks changes the way we interact, and review, the novels we consume.”

The article contains lots of references, with links, to both scientific studies and popular sources. However, the discussion is unfocused; it includes discussion of viewing both art works and films in addition to reading books. Also, Rizer talks about screens, which could mean either a dedicated ebook reader (e.g., Kindle, Nook) or a laptop/desk computer computer screen. But reading on these three types of screens is decidedly different experiences. In fact, even reading on a Kindle differs from reading the same ebook with the Kindle app on a tablet (such as an iPad).

How ‘Lolita’ Escaped Obscenity Laws and Cancel Culture

Actor and screenwriter Emily Mortimer delves into Nabokov’s 1959 novel Lolita and how it managed to escape the obscenity laws of the era:

to my knowledge, no criminal case was ever brought against “Lolita,” which is surprising given that it appeared in the world at a time when literature was far from safe from the clutches of the obscenity laws, and given that it’s still the most shocking, sensational thing you’ve ever read.

Wisdom in the Work

Bookforum offers an interview by Emily Gould with Vivian Gornick about Gornick’s new essay collection Taking a Long Look: Essays on Culture, Literature, and Feminism in Our Time.

He Writes Unreliable Narrators Because He Is One, Too

“Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer for his debut, ‘The Sympathizer,’ recognition that was great for his career and bad for his writing. Now he’s back with its subversive sequel, ‘The Committed.’”

After winning the Pulitzer Prize, Nguyen turned into what he calls “a public intellectual” who was “suddenly in demand as a speaker, panelist, late-night TV guest and op-ed writer, speaking up for refugees and immigrants at a time when both groups were being demonized.” But the demands of that public persona prevented him from writing fiction for a year.

Initially, Nguyen didn’t set out to write a series about a disillusioned spy. But when he finished “The Sympathizer,” he had grown attached to his sardonic narrator, whose voice came to him so naturally that it feels like his alter ego.

Sex, Noir & Isolation

“In his novels, Alfred Hayes explored what he saw as noir’s central concern: the inability to feel the reality of your own life, or anyone else’s.”

Vivian Gornick writes about the work of Alfred Hayes, a reporter, screenwriter, novelist, and poet who died in 1985 and who “has recently become something of a passion for those who find in his writing the mastery that makes a work of literature take up a permanent place in a reader’s inner life.”

Review: From William Styron to ‘American Dirt’: When is it appropriate to culturally appropriate?

Carolyn Kellogg reviews Appropriate: A Provocation by poet and writing professor Paisley Rekdal for the Los Angeles Times: “her basic thesis is that culture is situated in its moment; careful consideration of where each of us is in that moment informs what we create, how we read, what literature is lifted up and what is left out.”

We Can’t Believe Survivors’ Stories If We Never Hear Them

“Our ideas about which narratives are important, sane, or credible depend on what we see reflected in culture”

Rachel Zarrow argues that we must encourage survivors of trauma to tell their stories and we must listen to the stories they tell if we are to understand their experience. Although Zarrow focuses on survivors’ stories of sexual assault, her message applies to people who have experienced other traumas as well, such as political oppression, famine, war.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Literary Links

New Report Explores ‘Engagement’ with Books, Digital Media

A new report released this week is being billed as the first study to capture critical data about how consumers “engage” with books within a “connected media ecosystem” that includes video games, TV, and movies.

According to Publishers Weekly, “The study’s focus on consumer ‘engagement’ with books—vs. ‘reading’ behaviors—is a key distinction” because “Engagement with books can run the gamut, researchers found, including people who check out materials from the library but don’t always read or watch them, people who give books as gifts, buy them to collect or display, and people who dip into a book for reference, whether for work, school, or a hobby.”

Reviewing the Book Review

The New York Times engages in self-examination: “As the publication celebrates its 125th anniversary, Parul Sehgal, a staff critic and former editor at the Book Review, delves into the archives to critically examine its legacy in full.”

Sehgal looks at lots of issues that range from the language or style of writing to the publication’s lack of diversity in what gets covered and what doesn’t.

Literature Should Be Taught Like Science

“This renegade professor says literature is a machine that accelerates the human brain.”

They had me at “renegade professor.” Keven Berger, editor of science magazine Nautilus, talks with Angus Fletcher, an English professor at Ohio State University, about his new book, Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature. Fletcher got an undergraduate degree in neuroscience before realizing that “the biology of the brain wouldn’t take him far enough toward understanding our need for stories.”

Why New Fiction Is Making Mothers into Monsters

“Novels and short stories are leveraging horror elements to express how dehumanizing motherhood can be”

Rachel Mans McKenny, novelist and essayist, explains how “Horror interlaced with the already-fantastic can teach us clear lessons about how little women are allowed to want in motherhood.”

The best books on Narrative Nonfiction

Since I read mostly fiction, I don’t discuss nonfiction often enough. Here author Samira Shackle defines and discusses narrative fiction: “Narrative nonfiction is a style of writing that takes the facts and dramatises them to create novelistic retellings of real life events.” 

See what she has to say about five of the best recent works of narrative nonfiction.

What Happens When a Publisher Becomes a Megapublisher?

“The merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster has the potential to touch every part of the industry, including how much authors get paid and how bookstores are run.”

Jonathan Lethem: Why Shirley Jackson is a Reader’s Writer

“On the Brilliance of We Have Always Lived in the Castle and the Intimacy of Everyday Evil”

Shirley Jackson, writes novelist Jonathan Lethem, has “been no major critic’s fetish.”

Rather, Shirley Jackson has thrived, at publication and since, as a reader’s writer. Her most famous works—“The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House—are more famous than her name, and have sunk into cultural memory as timeless artifacts, seeming older than they are, with the resonance of myth or archetype.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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What’s Behind the Label ‘Domestic Fiction’?

Soledad Fox Maura, professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature at Williams College and soon-to-debut novelist, wonders why World Cat “(the biggest library search engine on the planet)” has classified her upcoming novel, Madrid Again, as domestic fiction:

Why would my novel, about an itinerant bilingual mother and daughter who do not have a permanent home and zigzag across the Atlantic at a frenetic pace, the long and complicated legacy of the Spanish Civil War overshadowing their every move, be in such a category?

After a quick look at the definition of domestic fiction, she suggests that we find some new terms for fictional genres if we, in fact, need such genres at all. “What I question is a genre that is so clearly gendered, with connotations that are so outdated.”

‘My Wine Bills Have Gone Down.’ How Joan Didion Is Weathering the Pandemic

Lucy Feldman writes, “Didion will forever be a certain type of person’s idea of a deity—the literary, the cool.” Here Feldman talks with Didion, now 86, on how she’s enduring the COVID-19 pandemic at her home in New York.

Didion’s latest essay collection, Let Me Tell You What I Mean, was published on January 26th.

What Stories of Transition and Divorce Have in Common

As part of its feature Outward, coverage of “LGBTQ life, thought, and culture,” Slate offers this partial transcript of a podcast with author Torrey Peters about her new novel, Detransition, Baby. The book features the characters “Reese, a trans woman in her 30s who desperately wants to be a mother, and Ames, Reese’s former lover and a former trans woman who now has detransitioned and lives as a man.”

Page refresh: how the internet is transforming the novel

“Doom scrolling, oversharing, constantly updating social media feeds – the internet shapes how we see the world, and now it’s changing the stories we tell, writes author Olivia Sudjic.”

Sudjic writes that, since viewing social media is now such a big part of our lives, we are surprised when fictional characters don’t check their screens:

We are hungry for writers who can parse our present, whether in essay form, in works such as Jia Tolentino’s collection Trick Mirror (2019) and Legacy Russell’s Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto (2020) or the fiction about to hit our shelves (or Kindle screens) that put social media front and centre.

As Political Divide Widens, Will Big Houses Rethink Conservative Publishing?

Publishers Weekly takes a look at the significance of Simon & Schuster’s cancellation of Josh Hawley’s book after his actions on January 6th as an unruly mob broke into the U.S. Capitol. The article asks several members of the publishing industry “whether, and where, big houses will draw the line with conservative authors.”

(Also see this article from last week’s Literary Links.)

25 Great Writers and Thinkers Weigh In on Books That Matter

In honor of the 125th anniversary of its Book Review, the New York Times “[dips] into the archives to revisit our most thrilling, memorable and thought-provoking coverage.” Writers featured include Toni Morrison, Joan Didion, Patricia Highsmith, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Tracking the Vocabulary of Sci-Fi, from Aerocar to Zero-Gravity

“The new online Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction probes the speculative corners of the lexicographic universe.”

Check here for the backstory of terms such as warp speed, transporter, and deep space.

Take a peek inside the world of longtime Seattle-area book clubs

I met most of my best friends at book group. Here Moira Macdonald, arts critic for the Seattle Times, features the stories of some local book groups that have been discussing books for more than 30 years.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Overlooked No More: Clarice Lispector, Novelist Who Captivated Brazil

“Critics lauded her stream-of-consciousness style and described her as glamorous and mysterious. But she didn’t always welcome the attention she received.”

“This article is part of Overlooked, a series of obituaries about remarkable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, went unreported in The Times.”

From the New York Times, a look at Russian-born Clarice Lispector, who,  beginning in the 1940s, fascinated “Brazil’s male-dominated literary world.”

How (and Why) to Spring Clean Your Digital Book Clutter

I think I have more than 3,000 books on my Kindle. Because I only recently discovered how to use collections, there’s very little order to my ebooks. Here Ashley Holstrom offers advice on how to organize your Kindle cloud and your Goodreads shelves. She also tells us to create Goodreads shelves to log our entire elibrary, but I’m not sure I’m going to invest that much time in this project.

Charles Dickens, the Writer Who Saw Lockdown Everywhere

You may have heard the story of how Charles Dickens never outgrew the fear of incarceration after his family’s stint in debtor’s prison in 1841. Here Laurence Scott reports that “In her 2011 biography, Claire Tomalin notes that, in adulthood, Dickens became ‘an obsessive visitor of prisons’” and looks at examples of passages from his works that illustrate his obsession.

11 Words to Spice Up Your Book Blurbs and Reviews

John Maher splendaciously offers 11 words collected by the editors at Merriam-Webster who host the podcast Word Matters.

Who Did J.K. Rowling Become?

“Deciphering the most beloved, most reviled children’s-book author in history.”

If you haven’t kept up with the recent controversy swirling around J.K. Rowling, here’s a very detailed analysis of what it’s all about and what it all means.

Why on Earth Is Someone Stealing Unpublished Book Manuscripts?

The New York Times reports on “a mysterious international phishing scam that has been tricking writers, editors, agents and anyone in their orbit into sharing unpublished book manuscripts.” 

Both big-name writers—like Margaret Atwood and Ian McEwan—and unknown writers have been targeted, and no one seems to know where manuscripts submitted through the scam end up. “When copies of the manuscripts get out, they just seem to vanish. So why is this happening?”

A Year of Historical Turning Points in New Yorker Fiction

Deborah Treisman, fiction editor for The New Yorker, comments on some of the fiction that appeared in the magazine during the “historically pivotal” year of 2020: “It’s hardly surprising that some of the anxiety of this unmooring year trickled into fiction—or sent us to stories that explore other historical turning points and what led to them.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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The Biggest Literary Stories of the Year: 50 to 31 | Literary Hub

Starting today, we’ll be counting down the 50 biggest literary stories of the year, so you can remember the good (yes, there was some!), the bad, and the Zoom book launch. Join us, won’t you, on this very special journey.

Source: The Biggest Literary Stories of the Year: 50 to 31 | Literary Hub

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The Best Time Travel Books

Annalee Newitz is both a science journalist and a science fiction writer who uses science to spur investigations into the nature of human existence. Newitz says science fiction is “less teaching people about how science works, and more about teaching people how history works.” 

Newitz uses the version of time travel “where characters can actually change the past. It becomes a metaphor for how we change things in the present, as well as how our relationship to the past changes us in the present.” This approach to time travel is especially appealing in time of upheaval, such as we’re experiencing now, because it offers the opportunity to go back and look at how and why things have happened and are now happening.

Quarantine book club: Reading for mental health in a plague year

Jeannine Hall Gailey, who previously served as the second poet laureate of Redmond, Washington, describes how reading has been a lifeline in helping her cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, can reading really address the state of anger, despair, and confusion so many of us are in? I can only say that books (along with gardening, cats, chocolate, and phone calls with friends) definitely helped me hold on to not only sanity and hope, but also serve as a reminder of why we continue to act to address injustice instead of just saying “that’s the way it’s always been.” Reading also provided a useful context to talk with family and friends who were also experiencing anxiety about politics, race, class, and fear of illness and death. Discussing books — even on social media — seems safer and more enjoyable than merely doomscrolling or rehashing whatever the day’s traumatic news cycle had revealed.

7 Inspiring and Hopeful Books to Help You Grow Through Change

“These seven stories of extreme hardships and distress all bloom into inspiring tales of immense growth.”

The title of this article expresses one of the most important reasons why we read. The list contains both fiction and nonfiction.

The Neurology of Flow States

Have you ever gotten so involved in reading a book that your sense of time passing slipped away as you became completely absorbed in the world created by the story? This experience is known as a state of flow, and it often happens to people when reading, writing, performing, or observing a performance.

During what psychologists call “flow states,” where one is completely immersed and absorbed in a mental or physical act, people often report an altered sense of time, place, and self. It’s a transportive and pleasurable experience that people seek to achieve, and that neuroscience is now seeking to understand.

For more on flow, see these posts:

woman reading

The romantic story of Menabilly – the real life inspiration for Manderley in Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’

The recent release of Netflix’s new movie based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca has created renewed interest in the writer’s life. Here’s the story behind the estate that prompted that famous opening line: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

What’s the Science Behind Reading?

Mel Ashford provides an overview of the many benefits of reading. The article provides many links through which you can follow up on some of its claims.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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10 Mystery and Thriller Books Starring Older Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 Revenge Thrillers About the Power of Choice

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

She adds:

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

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

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

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

Cover: Alone Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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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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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