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Could reading dark literature harm your teenage children?

kid with booksThis isn’t a new question, but this answer is fairly well balanced, with discussion from scientists for both sides of the issue.

Judy Blume: ’I thought, this is America: we don’t ban books. But then we did’

A delightful interview with Judy Blume, who has her own ideas about why her books are so often challenged:

Blume’s theory is that children read over what they aren’t yet ready to understand. Sometimes, she says, “kids will actually go to Mom or Dad and say ‘What does this mean?’, which is the perfect time to talk to them about it. But that’s when sometimes parents get hysterical. Really. It’s like, ‘Argh, I don’t want to talk to you about this, let’s get rid of this book, I don’t ever want to talk to you about this, I don’t ever want you to go through puberty.’”

Amazon, a Friendly Giant as Long as It’s Fed

From household names to deeply obscure scribblers, authors are inflamed this summer, perhaps more deeply divided than at any point in nearly a half-century. Back then, it was the question of being a hawk or dove on Vietnam. Now it is not a war but an Internet retailer and its unparalleled grip on the cultural machinery that is provoking fierce controversy.

If you’re wondering about the details of this controversy between authors and Amazon, here’s a refresher course.

The Best Books of 2014 So Far

A list of 36 titles put together by Brenna Clarke Gray at Book Riot.

But the article asks readers to add their favorites in the comments, so be sure to look there.

Are modern detectives the new priests?

I like mysteries because the best ones explore the depths of the human psyche without being too preachy.

In this article Giles Fraser looks at the functions of mystery writing with specific reference to HBO’s recent hit show True Detective:

The modern secular imagination prides itself on having got beyond the childish ways of historical theology. But our continued obsession with detective fiction suggests something remarkably adjacent to traditional theological concerns, and its lonely, world-weary hard-drinking advocates – think Luther – have become the priests and theologians of our day. Yes, there are obviously religious detectives – the BBC’s Father Brown, Ellis Peters’s Brother Cadfael character – but they can be seen as seeking (unconvincingly, perhaps) to reclaim something of this new priestly ministry for more traditional ideological purposes.

Sci-Fi’s Best ‘Alien’ Narrators Who Restore Our Humanity

Matt Haig is the author of the novel The Humans, in which an alien inhabits the body of a human mathematician to destroy his ground-breaking theory. But the alien soon becomes fascinated by the everyday lives of humans.

Here Haig writes:

The best science fiction writers use the genre not to escape human life, but to explore it. Sometimes the most illuminating way to examine ourselves is to look at us from a different perspective: an alien narrator, for instance, or a human narrator placed in an inhuman environment, where humans are scarce, dwindling or totally non-existent. Here are my favorite books that get close to us, by losing us.

See his list of four novels that best use the literary device of an alien narrator to explore the nature of human existence.

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Vroom, Vroom, Hmmmm: Motorcycles As Literary Metaphor

Cover: Zen and Art of Motorcycle MaiantenanceConfession time: I’ve only made it half way through Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. I keep the book on my shelf because I fully intend, someday, to finish it off.

And so this report intrigued me:

In literature, motorcycles — and the people who ride them — often represent an outlaw spirit, danger and sex. For motorcyclist Allie MacKenzie, that’s a no-brainer. “Who in their right mind can pass up a bad boy on a bike?” MacKenzie rides a Harley Sportster Forty-Eight. At Bartel’s, she picks a passage from the book Motorcycle Man by Kristen Ashley: “I was panting, and he was cursing. It was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to me. If he would have asked me to, I would have jumped on the back of his bike and ridden to the ends of the Earth with him.”

When should a student’s writing raise red flags?

Anyone who has ever taught English or writing at just about any level has wrestled with this question.

[Julie Schumacher] took up her nonfiction pen to write an Opinionator piece for The New York Times about her own experience (in 2008) with a student who had been writing disturbing poems (about killing people) and frightening a teaching assistant and classmates. Schumacher, the TA’s supervisor, had been called upon by university administrators to intervene, and ask the question: “Do you plan to harm yourself or anyone else?”

10 Most Reclusive Literary Geniuses in History

The world’s greatest writers use their literary genius to illustrate and comment on the human condition. And yet, those who could be considered to have the best understanding of human feelings often choose to hide themselves away from the public eye. The stereotype of the reclusive author is not always true, but for these literary greats, a life of solitude had more appeal than the draws of fame and awards.

Stephen King, Donna Tartt among signers of anti-Amazon letter

And the battle rages on:

Stephen King, Nora Roberts and Donna Tartt are among the hundreds of authors who have added their names to an online letter criticizing for restricting access to works published by Hachette Book Group.

World Book Night Suspends Operations

After a three year effort, World Book Night officials said this morning they are suspending its operations. In a statement, executive director Carl Lennertz cited lack of outside funding as the main reason for ending the book-giving project.

World Book Night is a project that aims to get books into the hands of people who might not otherwise be inclined to read. Seeing it go down saddens me.

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Anthony Burgess on James Joyce: the lost introduction

Written in 1986 as the introduction to a Dolmen Press edition of ‘Dubliners’ illustrated by Louis le Brocquy, but never used, this brilliant essay, recently found among the papers of the author, who died in 1993, appears here for the first time

Happy Bloomsday! (June 16, the day during which Leopold Bloom takes his famous walk around Dublin in James Joyce’s Ulysses.)

And The Irish Times offers a perfect way to celebrate by reading this essay about one of Joyce’s other most famous works.

8 Actresses Who Brought Our Favorite Book Characters to Life

This is a good list, with insightful commentary:

  1. Jane Darwell as Ma Joad, The Grapes of Wrath
  2. Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
  3. Emma Watson as Hermoine Granger, Harry Potter
  4. Winona Ryder as Jo March, Little Women
  5. Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling, The Silence of the Lambs
  6. Sissy Spacek as Carrie, Carrie
  7. Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
  8. Helena Bonham Carter as Marla Singer, Fight Club

Shakespeare, magical realism and “House of Cards”: A conversation between authors Alexi Zentner and Téa Obreht

Alexi Zentner’s new novel, “The Lobster Kings,” is set in a lobster fishing village and focuses on Cordelia Kings. Inspired by “King Lear,” Zentner’s second novel is the story of Cordelia’s struggle to maintain her island’s way of life in the face of danger from offshore and the rich, looming, mythical legacy of her family’s namesake.

“The Lobster Kings” has already been getting raves from Ben Fountain, Stewart O’Nan and the Toronto Star, which said “Zentner displays more talent and controlled craftsmanship in ‘The Lobster Kings’ than many other writers will manage in a career’s worth of novels.”

Alexi and Téa Obreht (“The Tiger’s Wife”) met recently to talk about “The Lobster Kings’” inspiration and influence, Shakespeare, writing outside your voice, and the way myth and magic work in fiction.

In Salon, two authors hold a wide-ranging discussion on how and why they write fiction.

It’s Tartt—But Is It Art?

No one denies that Donna Tartt has written the “It novel” of the year, a runaway best-seller that won her the Pulitzer Prize. But some of the self-appointed high priests of literary criticism—at The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and The Paris Review_—are deeply dismayed by The Goldfinch_ and its success.

We couldn’t have a week without a controversy within the halls of literary criticism. In this article for Vanity Fair Evgenia Peretz looks at the high-brow critics’ negative reactions to a novel that the public seems to love.

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Cover: AspenIn the new novel Aspen by Rebekah Crane, the teenage title character is an awkward, artsy kid who gets into a car accident that kills the most popular girl at school. The book traces the bizarre fallout in her Boulder, Colorado, community, as well as Aspen’s relationship with her stoner mom. But unlike the typical after school-special YA fare, the drug part of the tale isn’t entirely cautionary.

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the lack of diversity in books for children and young adults. Here’s a look at publisher In This Together Media of Denver, whose mission is “offering more diverse, realistic, unwhitewashed representations of kids, especially girls, in YA and middle-grade literature.”

8 Actors Who Brought Our Favorite Book Characters to Life

The following list is composed of male characters in literature that have been brought to the screen by some of the greatest actors of all time. While this list represents a group of wildly different men — good guys and bad guys, heroes and antiheroes — all of these compelling characters address complicated issues regarding masculinity while taking on the delicate task of transferring a character from the page to celluloid.

See if you agree with the following choices:

  1. Sam Spade, The Maltese Falcon
  2. Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
  3. Tyler Durden, Fight Club
  4. Stanley Kowalski, A Streetcar Named Desire
  5. Randle “Mac” McMurphy, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  6. Rhett Butler, Gone With the Wind
  7. Sherlock Holmes
  8. Tom Joad, Grapes of Wrath

22 Strong Female Characters In Literature We All Wanted To Be

The editors at BuzzFeed choose the first strong female characters they related to as illustrating Nora Ephron’s directive “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

How Tom Robbins’ childhood turned him into a storyteller

Tom Robbins, the hyperimaginative author of “Another Roadside Attraction,” “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” and “Still Life with Woodpecker,” discusses his new memoir, “Tibetan Peach Pie.”

Robbins discusses life’s epiphanies and the influence of his southern childhood.

Journeys into the autistic mind

We’ve hit a turning point in our understanding of autism, but I think it comes from literature, not science. Not to downplay the science: The newest studies on amino acid deficiencies, faulty neurotransmitters, and disruptions in the cortex may shine light on the whys of the disorder. But to find out the whats — what it’s like to be autistic, from the inside — there’s now a critical mass of books written by those on the spectrum. They are extraordinary, moving, and jeweled with epiphanies.

In The Boston Globe, Katharine Whittemore discusses these books:

  • The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida, translated into English by K.A. Yoshida
  • Thinking in Pictures, Expanded Edition: My Life with Autism by Temple Grandin
  • Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by Augusten Burroughs
  • Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism by Ron Suskind
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  • The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
  • Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet
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Death of Maya Angelou

The biggest story of the literary world this past week has been the death of Maya Angelou at age 86.

The coverage has been extensive, but here are a few stories I’ve chosen as providing a good overview of her influence and significance:

Maya Angelou: The essential reading list

From USA Today

13 of Maya Angelou’s best quotes

Also from USA Today. Scroll down below the timeline of her life and achievements.

A Farewell to Maya Angelou

Video from The New York Times. (Apologies for the unavoidable opening advertisement.)

Goodbye, Steinbeck; All Hail, Shelley

In the other big literary story of the past week, British minister of education Michael Gove has suggested the elimination of several works by U.S. authors from the reading list for British students.

10 authors who are brilliant at Twitter

Hannah Jane Parkinson thinks you should follow these writers on Twitter.

When literature goes to war: How Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer and “Catch–22″ changed the novel forever

An excerpt from The Novel: A Biography by Michael Schmidt:

How the great American novels of the 20th century captured the horror, humor and devastating cost of modern warfare

Have Literary Prizes Lost Their Meaning? (Have They Ever Had Any?)

Cultural prizes notoriously reward the wrong works for the wrong reasons: On the long list of worthies deprived of the Nobel for literature are Tolstoy, Proust, and Joyce.

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When the Water’s Too Cold, Something Else to Dive Into: A Critic’s Survey of Summer Books

As for this summer’s brand-new reading, if there’s one overriding motif, it’s this: the crazier, the better.

Here’s a whole long list of recommended summer reading.

Norman Mailer’s A Fire on the Moon: a giant leap for reportage

On the eve of the 45th anniversary of the first man on the moon, Geoff Dyer explains why Mailer’s historic account, written with typical gusto and urgency, is an exemplar of the New Journalism

Rise of the Shelfie

Writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Elaine Showalter discusses the latest book from literary historian and critic Phyllis Rose:

Rose describes the results in The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a contribution to the hybrid literary genre of the shelfie—part literary criticism, part memoir. While the combination of books she read was unique and fresh, the genre of reading-memoir is not new, and indeed Rose may have helped invent it, in 1997, with her radiant The Year of Reading Proust: A Memoir in Real Time, along with Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books (1996) and Anna Quindlen’s How Reading Changed My Life (1998). There have been many more, including one of the latest to gain attention, Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch (2014).


The 11 novels listed below talk candidly of mental illness, too. Sometimes the veil of fiction permits authors to tell even truer stories — they can write without worrying about their own reputations or the reactions from their family members. Their books give us a deeper understanding of mental illness and the way we deal with mental illness in our culture. They also do what all great literature should do — let us get to know and care about the characters as people.

One of my pet peeves about some novels is their careless portrayal of mental illness. See why Rebecca Kelley thinks these 11 novels accurately present mental illness:



Readers during the summer of 2012 were captivated by the twists and turns of Gillian Flynn’s psychological thriller Gone Girl. As we lead up to the release of the movie adaptation, we’re looking for other books that can give us the same chills and surprises. This summer the surprise ending everyone will be talking about is E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars (Delacorte).

In addition to We Were Liars, Caitlin White suggests eight other novels that will satisfy your craving for a good thriller.

The 10 best (worst) dystopian fictions

It’s still a subset of a subset today (speculative fiction > science fiction > dystopia), but it’s also a buzzword that’s thrown around in conversations about tech, privacy, net neutrality, climate change, politics, and just about any other hot-button topic. That said, with its popularity at an all-time high, instances of people misusing the term “dystopian” are way up, too.

Dystopian literature is specifically a hyperbolic view of a familiar society — one that exaggerates social ills in order to make a point about society’s flaws. It’s also the opposite of utopian literature, creating a world in which the supposed “ideal society” is actually the worst idea possible, ultimately leading humankind to ruin.

In Wired, Devon Maloney provides “a canon of the most influential dystopian texts of the past century — what they contained, who wrote them, what they criticized”:

  1. 1984 (also Brazil) (1948)
  2. The Trial (1925)
  3. Brave New World(1932)
  4. I, Robot (1950)
  5. Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
  6. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  (1968) (served as the source material for Blade Runner)
  7. The Terminator films (1984-?)
  8. The Handmaid’s Tale  (1985)
  9. Parable of the Sower  (1993)
  10. District 9  (2009)

For each item on the list Maloney includes a brief section called “Why it matters today.” He also breaks down the list interns of themes such as environment and class inequality.

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Gillian Flynn: By the Book

Gone Girl: cover

In this interview with The New York Times, the author of the wildly successful thriller Gone Girl reveals what books she’s currently reading, who is her all-time favorite novelist, what makes a great thriller, and how she’s faring with the self-imposed project of reading every Pulitzer Prize-winning novel in chronological order.

Why We Lie About Our Favorite Books

Author Gabrielle Zevin, whose most recent novel is The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, confesses that she has sometimes lied when asked what her favorite book is. In fact, just about everybody does. (And yes, we all know she’s not lying about this.)

And why do we do this? It’s probably a matter of the image of ourselves that we want to present:

I don’t mind when people “lie” about what they read. I think the lie itself is revealing and the more I consider the matter, I’m not even sure it’s a lie. On some level, I think we want our reading self to represent our best self.

Some books are too cool to be bought

Unable to find a copy of a work by Samuel Beckett, Arifa Akbar discovers that some authors’ books are routinely stolen from bookstore shelves:

There are , famously, certain authors and titles that are prone to getting stolen – William S. Burroughs, Italo Calvino, Raymond Chandler, Jack Kerouac, et al. Terry Pratchett, a refreshing departure from the usual, über-trendy suspects above, has joked about being the most stolen author in Britain. I knew Charles Bukowski always featured highly on America’s most pilfered – but I didn’t know he was a big-hitter here too. Yeah, the women at Waterstones said, there was a time when they couldn’t put him on the shelves. He’d have to be sold behind the counter, like contraband. It sounded outlandish, like something from a Woody Allen film.

. . .

The women at Waterstones didn’t think it had anything to do with price. They reckoned that certain authors were cooler to steal than to buy.

How novel: books about books and the joy of reading

Most avid readers probably have their own list of favorite books about books and reading, but here’s The Irish Times‘s list of 10.

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Hunt on to find Cervantes — Spain’s great writer

Source: Wikipedia

Miguel de Cervantes, Spain’s greatest writer, was a soldier of little fortune. He died broke in Madrid, his body riddled with bullets. His burial place was a tiny convent church no larger than the entrance hall of an average house.

No more was heard of the 16th century author until the rediscovery of a novel featuring an eccentric character called Don Quixote rescued him from oblivion.

By then, nobody could remember where his grave was. Four centuries later, Spain intends to do the great man justice.

Diversity, Authenticity, and Literature

Preeti Chhibber, who works in marketing for HarperCollins, writes on BookRiot that “there are inherent racial issues that exist inside publishing a book with multicultural themes written by a person who doesn’t have a historical connection to that culture or race.” For example:

A few weeks ago, the news broke that Simon & Schuster would be publishing a prequel to Gone With the Wind, called Ruth’s Journey. This book is going to be about Mammy. This book is going to be written by a 73-year-old white man named Donald McCraig.

There are, she says, really two issues here: “The first issue is diversity. The second issue is authenticity of voice.”

We want diverse characters written by everyone, and we want enough writers of color that come to mind just as easily as white authors. We have to stop defaulting to white writers, from both the publisher’s and the reader’s perspective. And we have to stop seeing multicultural characters as an anomaly. I want to see those characters in my literary fiction, in my sci-fi, in my historical fiction. And I want stories of their lives and their cultures.

Best sci-fi and fantasy novels of all time

The Telegraph [U.K.] presents the best books from the science fiction and fantasy genres

This is quite a varied list. Since I don’t read a lot of fantasy or science fiction, I was surprised at how many of the books on this list I’ve read.

And be sure to look at the comments, which will suggest many more titles to add to your TBR list.

“Well actually, in the books…” 15 differences from text to TV in Game Of Thrones

No matter what the title under discussion, book lovers almost inevitably say, “The book was better than the movie.”

But visual media—film and television—are very different from books, because our brains process written and visual material differently. Therefore, changes from the book in the film or TV versions are often necessary for a successful adaptation.

Of course there are also times when the film or TV version makes wholesale changes in the book that aren’t necessary for the adaptation between formats. For example, in his film of David Baldacci’s novel Absolute Power, Clint Eastwood changed the whole story line. The reason? Eastwood starred as the lead character, who is killed about midway through the book. This plot change wrecked the whole point of the book. But it’s no surprise that Eastwood would not want the character he portrayed eliminated so early. Hence the change.

I have not read Game of Thrones nor watched the HBO series. Nevertheless, I found this discussion of differences between the books and the TV shows informative. What do you think?

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters who make me rage

Over at Lovely Literature bloggers Ashley and Anne have each compiled a fun list of despicable characters.

Are there any other literary characters you’d add?

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Literary legacy contributes to sense of community

Cover: The Shepherd of the HillsHere’s an article about one of the most famous authors you’ve probably never heard of:

Harold Bell Wright was among the most popular American authors of his time, penning 19 novels — with 15 of them making their way to the silver screen.

In 1930, The New York Times called Wright “the narrator of the hopes and dreams of the great mass of American readers from New York to California.”

Many of those hopes and dreams came to life on the pages of books Wright wrote from the beloved desert home he built, eight miles east of downtown Tucson. Constructed in the early 1920s, Wright made Tucson his home until signs of encroaching development caused him to flee to California in 1936.

Read about Wright’s home and the literature-themed subdivision in Tucson that it engendered. Be sure to look through the photo slideshow across the top of the article.


kid with booksIn this thoughtful article Scott Timberg ponders the question of whether his 7-year-old son’s addiction to reading is harmful to his development in this digital-immersion age.

Timberg cites several experts on the question, but I was most intrigued by the number of comments that the article produced—most of them vocally in favor of the old-fashioned pursuit of reading.

My father left me all his books

Niall Williams writes novels. His father, Jack, read almost no fiction, preferring nonfiction, particularly history and biography. Jack had introduced the eight-year-old Niall to the marvel of books by taking him to a library and letting him roam free. So when Jack left all his own books to his son in his will. . . . Well, read for yourself this moving tribute to the power and significance of books.

Matthew Weiner: By the Book

The creator of “Mad Men” cites the impact of John Cheever’s fiction on the show: “Cheever has a voice filled with irony and comedy and pain that, on some level, I’m always seeking to emulate.”

Mad Men is a very literate show, so it’s no surprise that its creator, Matthew Weiner, has a lot to say about books.

Mentally ill in literature

Jacqueline Justice looks at the portrayal of mental illness in four famous works of literature:

  • Benjy in The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  • Edna Pontellier in The Awakening by Kate Chopin
  • Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Justice acknowledges that literature reflects the views of its time. Therefore, the use of characters with mental illness “raises questions about what the use of mental illness as a plot point says about American society and readers’ treatment of mental illness.”

She concludes:

These novels all use the concept of mental illness differently to create multiple effects — and the trend in 20th-century American literature to employ main characters with mental illnesses is undeniably present. The question this movement poses is: are we further stigmatizing this minority, the mentally ill, by using their conditions to derive exciting plots? This is a credible concern to address. But what seems more likely is that the use of these characters and plot points serve to shed some broader light on the human experience. They allow readers to gain new perspectives, develop more nuanced ways of thinking, and to learn something about themselves.


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The big literary news of the past week was the death of Gabriel García Márquez and the announcement of Pulitzer Prize winners. But there is other news as well, particularly about upcoming publications:

Spring brings bounty of new titles for book lovers

Mary Ann Gwinn, book editor for the Seattle Times, lists both fiction and nonfiction titles to be published in May and June. Her list includes books by Stephen King, David Guterson, and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Best Summer Books 2014

Publishers Weekly chooses some books worth looking out for this summer, both fiction and nonfiction.


Reading Agency survey finds 63% of men rarely read

The Bookseller has some distressing news: the results of a survey conducted by the Reading Agency:

Researchers found that being too busy, not enjoying reading and preferring to spend their spare time on the internet means men read fewer books, read more slowly and are less likely to finish them than women.

Here’s one finding I find particularly interesting: “Nearly three quarters of the men surveyed said they would opt for the film or television adaptation of a book, whereas the same percentage of women were as likely to go for the book itself.”

The research was conducted in Britain.

The Death of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe
From Wikipedia (public domain photo)

American writer Edgar Allan Poe died under mysterious circumstances, and many sources attribute his death to chronic alcoholism. But this post on The Medical Bag offers a different explanation, posited in 1996 by Dr. Michael Benitez, a cardiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center who practices a block from Poe’s grave.