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Cyberpunk: Everything You Did (and Maybe Didn’t) Want to Know

I don’t know about you, but I have trouble keeping up with the terminology used to describe some of the new kinds of literature. Here Caitlin Hobbs explains that the term cyberpunk, which has its roots in science fiction, “didn’t gain traction as a recognized genre, or even a literary movement, until the release of Neuromancer [by William Gibson] in 1984.” Since then, the term has expanded to include films and videogames in addition to books.

“For something to be considered cyberpunk it must be set in some futuristic setting, have advanced tech (like cybernetics) juxtaposed with a social order that’s either in the process of breaking down or has already done so.”

On the Evolutionary Uses of Storytelling

“How Counterfactual Realities Make Us Better Thinkers”

Books like Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal introduced the notion of storytelling as a survival technique humans developed over eons of evolution. This excerpt from Framers: Human Advantage in an Age of Technology and Turmoil by Kenneth Cukier, Viktor Mayer-Scönberger, and Francis de Véricourt carries on that discussion:

Salt and sugar light up the human appetite in a primal way; stories do the same thing for our minds. They are a platform to contemplate scenarios of alternative realities and how humans act within them. They help us evaluate options and prepare decisions. In this way, they expand and improve our framing skills.

 Where Gender-Neutral Pronouns Come From

“People tend to think of they, Mx., and hir as relatively recent inventions. But English speakers have been looking for better ways to talk about gender for a very long time.”

Michael Waters offers a history of the long search for language that steps outside the traditional, normative binary of man/woman, his/her.

The Many Fictional Afterlives of Ethel Rosenberg

Anna Sebba considers how the fate of Ethel Rosenberg has continued to inform literature:

although the story of the Rosenbergs’ trial and execution has proved fertile ground for many other artists, composers, and playwrights, it is the conflicting images of Ethel herself that have made her so irresistible as a tragic figure. The way she continues to defy labeling as mother, wife, sister, daughter, Communist, or would-be opera singer has penetrated the American consciousness deeply. It is this complexity that has encouraged audiences to project her, more often than the dramatically less interesting, more predictable Julius, into works of fiction, even where she was originally absent from the script.

Bogus Social Media Outrage Is Making Authors Change Lines in Their Books Now

“The silly idea that a fictional character’s statements reflect an author’s actual beliefs is spreading.”

I don’t always agree with Laura Miller, but I always admire her boldness and audacity. Here she writes, “I know some will consider Hilderbrand’s and McQuiston’s obeisance to be a sign that the ‘toxic drama’ that prevails on YA Twitter—in which ambitious reviewers-cum-influencers revile authors for failing to toe extremely fine and perpetually changing lines on race, gender, and other sensitive issues—has spread to the world of commercial adult fiction.”

I’ve always been very careful about quotations since they’ve become frequent material for blogging and social media posts. Almost every time I come upon a quotation used this way, the author’s name is given but with no indication of the source of the exact words. If I can’t cite the exact source of a quotation, I don’t use it.

And I also know the difference between things writers say in their own voices, such as in interviews or bylined articles, and things they put in the mouths of their fictional creations to advance characterization. The fact that a character in a novel says something does NOT mean that the author believes the same thing.

But, as Miller here laments, “While it’s perplexing that people who are always rhapsodizing about how much they love reading can be so very bad at it, the truth is that the incentives for interpreting a book’s meaning in the worst possible light are high.”

Move Over, Poe—The Real Godfather of Gothic Horror Was Nathaniel Hawthorne

“The ‘Scarlet Letter’ author’s short stories are like a Puritan ‘Twin Peaks’”

A century before H.P. Lovecraft (inspired by Hawthorne’s novel The House of the Seven Gables) depicted New England as a realm of terror and dread, Nathaniel Hawthorne was on the case, mining the region’s history for insights into the mind’s darker corners. Chiefly remembered today for The Scarlet Letter, that bane of high school curricula, Hawthorne’s highest achievements are actually found in his short stories. There, he examines the supposed innocence of the early American character, finding the darkness that lies beneath. 

On the Evolution of Female-Driven Gothic Narratives: A Reading List

“Christine Mangan Recommends Fiction that Honors and Upholds the Genre’s Enduring Legacy”

The Gothic, then, has been a particularly significant place for women, as, erased from the pages of history by a patriarchal lens, this genre has served as a space for female writers to reclaim history, a space to examine such matters as marriage and subjugation, the female body and autonomy. Topics that remain relevant today and often find their ways into mysteries, thrillers, horror, all of which ultimately locate their roots in what Gothic was and continues to be—a place where marginalized voices have space to write their cultural anxieties, as tropes are borrowed and reinvented and repurposed for the changing era in which they are written.

The Unruly Genius of Joyce Carol Oates

“In an era that fetishizes form, Oates has become America’s preëminent fiction writer by doing everything you’re not supposed to do.”

Joyce Carol Oates, one of the most prolific of all contemporary authors, recently turned 83. In this New York Times profile Leo Robson writes:

Among contemporary American fiction writers—and, since the deaths of Philip Roth and Toni Morrison, she possesses a strong claim to preëminence—Oates most clearly displays what Henry James called “the imagination of disaster,” a faculty or frailty she often gives to her creations. 

New Book Publisher Caters to Conservative Voices It Says Are Being Silenced

“All Seasons Press, led by two industry veterans, backs right-wing authors as mainstream houses face growing disputes over editorial decisions.”

The reckoning within the publishing industry continues to roil: “Two veteran book-publishing executives have teamed up to launch a conservative publishing house called All Seasons Press LLC as ideological debates roil a book industry increasingly fueled by demand for political titles.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Fiction Last Week's Links Publishing Writing

Literary Links

The 2021 Pride Reading List: 75 New Books to Read Now

I’m leading with this list because June is Pride month “in honor of the LGBTQ+ community.”

Greenwood author’s first-person history of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre published 100 years later

The 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre rightly generated a lot of press coverage. This article from The Oklahoman discusses the efforts of Mary Parrish to prevent the story of what happened from disappearing. 

Parrish was an African American journalist and teacher who in 1919 moved with her daughter Florence Mary from Rochester, New York, to Tulsa’s Greenwood. They fled their home and lost everything in the massacre, including her typing school in Greenwood.

Thanks to Mary Parrish’s great-granddaughter Anneliese Bruner, Parrish’s original account of the 1921 attack, The Nation Must Awake, is being republished.

Turning the Page: On Publishing’s Controversies and Challenges

There’s been a lot of recent press coverage about the various challenges currently facing the publishing industry. Aisling Twomey here summarizes some of the recent controversies and concludes:

It’s clear that publishing has a hard road ahead. The industry of gatekeepers needs to be accountable for the sustained inequality for authors. It also needs to address the ethics of its decisions around who to publish, and why. And along the way, it needs to treat its own workers better, too.

The Conservative Publishing Industry Has a Joe Biden Problem

McKay Coppins, a staff writer for The Atlantic, reports:

[publishing] insiders have told me in recent weeks that the market for anti-Biden books is ice cold. Authors have little interest in writing them, editors have little interest in publishing them, and—though the hypothesis has yet to be tested—it’s widely assumed that readers would have little interest in buying them. . . . Facing a new president whose relative dullness is his superpower, the American right has gone hunting for richer targets to elevate.

Against Conglomeration: Nonprofit Publishing and American Literature After 1980

This article takes quite a deep dive into the current state of the publishing industry:

We discovered that these two different ways of structuring publishers’ finances — conglomerate and nonprofit — created a split within literature, yielding two distinct modes of American writing after 1980. This essay characterizes the two modes, explains how the split between them happened, and illustrates the significance of this shift for the rise of multiculturalism.

‘Three Women’ author Lisa Taddeo’s debut novel is fearless. So what is she afraid of?

Lisa Taddeo’s debut publication was the widely hailed nonfiction work Three Women (2019). Her second book is the recently published novel Animal, which Taddeo believes “finally shows the world who she really is as a writer.”

Taddeo experiences anxiety brought on, the article says, by the deaths of her parents and her own medical scares.

“When my parents died, it utterly reconstructed me as a human being,” she says. “It turned me into an animal, in a sense. And not an animal that kills, but a scared, skittering mouse that is constantly driving from one place to another to try to hide from her brain.”

Exhausting the Vein of Realism: A Conversation with Lynne Sharon Schwartz

One of the best novels I’ve ever read is Disturbances in the Field (1983) by Lynne Sharon Schwartz.

Here Rachel Cline interviews Schwartz, with an emphasis on Schwartz’s 2020 work Truthtelling: Stories Fables, Glimpses, which Cline says “is full of invention, soul, and wit, and also marks a departure from Schwartz’s earlier fictional work, as it explores aspects of choice and behavior that verge on the fantastic and surreal.”

About writing this book Schwartz says:

Until then my fiction, both stories and novels, had used a traditional realistic mode. Now, suddenly strange and eerie things were intruding. The stories seemed to swerve into a not quite logical world. The odd things that appeared — forgetting the existence of one’s mother, having a fit of hysteria on a subway, being thrown into an existential panic by a wrong number on the phone — were not impossible, but extremely unlikely. So unlikely that the stories came to occupy a formerly unexplored space between reality and imagination, or nightmare.

“I see fiction as restoring to the world some of its actual complexity”: An Interview with Gish Jen

Here’s a third author interview that caught my eye this week: Carole Burns talks with Gish Jen:

For more than thirty years now, Gish Jen has been writing fiction that explores the American landscape while ranging across any boundaries expectations about literary fiction might try to impose: her five novels and many short stories are literary and entertaining; funny and serious; rich in characters with stories to tell. Whether she’s writing from the point of view of a Chinese American teenager in a primarily Jewish suburb, as in Mona in the Promised Land (1996), or the sharply observant and comic Hattie Wong in World and Town (2010), Jen creates characters who explore not just what it is to be American, but what it is to be human.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Life Stories in Literature Literature & Psychology Publishing Reading Writing

Literary Links

Hard Times: Mental Health Books 2021

From Publishers Weekly:

The tumult of the past 15 months has exacerbated common mental health concerns, among them trauma, anxiety, grief, and isolation. PW spoke with authors and editors about the emotional scars of the pandemic, and how their forthcoming books offer empathy, community, and guidance.

Unforgettable reads focusing on mental health

From Amazon Book Review: “To celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite books dealing with mental health, and it’s no surprise that connection is the theme that runs through all of them.”

How Booksellers Were Complicit in the Resurgence of White Supremacy and the Rise of Donald Trump

“Josh Cook Considers the Relationship Between Bookselling, Politics, and Free Speech”

Literary critic, novelist, and poet Josh Cook is a bookseller at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This piece is an excerpt from his book The Least We Can Do: White Supremacy, Free Speech, and Independent Bookstores (Biblioasis, 2021).

Like many industries and institutions, booksellers have done a lot of work in the last few years in response to the Trump administration, the Black Lives Matter Movement, the #MeToo movement, and other events and forces for social change in our society. We’ve formed committees, hosted panels, and held training sessions and though all of that is important, I have almost never seen booksellers grapple directly with the economic, social, and moral consequences of selling books by white supremacists, fascists, misogynists, and other believers in objectively dangerous ideologies.

Barry Jenkins On Avoiding The Exploitation Of Black Trauma In “The Underground Railroad”

Sagal Mohammed discusses Jenkins’s adaptation, currently streaming on Amazon Prime, of Colson Whitehead’s 2016 novel:

Thanks to Jenkins’ vigilantly balanced portrayal of excruciating racist violence and blissful joy, The Underground Railroad avoids accusations of exploiting Black trauma for which other shows — like Little Marvin’s Us-inspired horror series Them — have recently been criticized. But there’s no denying the emotional toll the show will take, particularly on its Black viewers.

Serious Trouble: Writing Character-Driven Thrillers

Novelist Elizabeth Brundage describes how finding characters and getting to know them comprises the process of producing her novels. I found her explanation informative because, although she doesn’t use precisely this terminology, what she’s really describing is learning (actually, creating) their life story: “I set out to write about a person at a particular time in their life when something happens to create a shift in their world-view.”

Did the Pandemic Change Summer Reading for Good? I Hope So.

“With our calendars cleared last year, many of us found more time to lose ourselves in books. Let’s hold onto that vibe this year.”

From Elisabeth Egan:

The summer of 2020 was a dud when it came to barbecues, vacations, family reunions, pedicures and swiping a lick from someone else’s ice cream cone. But there was one mainstay Covid couldn’t wreck: reading. For me, those empty, quiet nights were a reminder of the boredom that pushed me into the arms of books in the first place.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Film Last Week's Links Publishing Television

Literary Links

Inside the Simon & Schuster Blowup Over Its Mike Pence Book Deal

This publishing dust-up just won’t go away. Here the Wall Street Journal takes on the business angle, of companies forced to “address employee demands.”

Philip Roth biography, pulled last month, has new publisher

And here’s an update on the other publishing story that won’t go away.

How women conquered the world of fiction

“From Sally Rooney to Raven Leilani, female novelists have captured the literary zeitgeist, with more buzz, prizes and bestsellers than men. But is this cultural shift something to celebrate or rectify?”

While a bit less immediate than the previous two stories, this is yet another pubishing issue that won’t go away.

Over the past 12 months, almost all of the buzz in fiction has been around young women: Patricia Lockwood, Yaa Gyasi, Raven Leilani, Avni Doshi, Lauren Oyler. Ask a novelist of any gender who they are reading and they will almost certainly mention one of Rachel Cusk, Ottessa Moshfegh, Rachel Kushner, Gwendoline Riley, Monique Roffey or Maria Stepanova. Or they will be finding new resonances in Anita Brookner, Zora Neale Hurston, Natalia Ginzburg, Octavia Butler, Ivy Compton-Burnett. The energy, as anyone in the publishing world will tell you, is with women.

When Is a Ghost Not a Ghost? Hauntings in Horror Literature

Jessica Avery declares, “a ghost is never just a ghost.” A ghost “always represents something more than itself. Something that you try not to think about. Something unpleasant you try to ignore or repress until you can’t any more and it rises up to — quite literally — haunt you.”

Follow Avery’s dive into the world of ghosts and haunted houses, including The Haunting of Hill House.

The StoryGraph Review: Is It Worth Replacing Goodreads?

Another literary issue I’ve been following recently is reader dissatisfaction with Goodreads and who or what might step up to replace it. StoryGraph had been in beta for a while as a possibility. Chris M. Arnone here reviews it for Book Riot.

The article includes directions on how to export your data from Goodreads and import it into StoryGraph, followed by discussion of its good points and shortcomings. 

Let us know in the comments if you’ve tried StoryGraph.

How Does a Book Get Adapted for TV or Film?

Have you ever wondered why your favorite book hasn’t yet been made into a film or TV series? Literary Hub recently conducted a virtual roundtable discussion with several writers from the film/TV industry about “a process that for many, is mysterious.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Last Week's Links Publishing Reading Writing

Literary Links

Three New Books Find Drama in the Scandals and Controversies of the Publishing World

These stories about concerns over the publishing industry aren’t going away any time soon—nor should they: “the business of books has increasingly become a hothouse, generating controversies, Twitter feuds and scrambles to save face as existing power structures are challenged.”

Here Time magazine takes a look at three new novels that “navigate the thorny interior of the industry”:

  1. The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
  2. Who Is Maud Dixon? by Alexandra Andrews
  3. The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris

Meet the romantic fiction novelists who switched to chilling thrillers

Since I love inventive fiction that bends or blends genres, this article about writers who started with romantic fiction and have branched into also writing mysteries, psychological thrillers, or domestic noir. Authors mentioned include Lisa Jewell, Tony Parsons, Paula Hawkins, Adele Parks, and Joanne Harris.

How a COVID-era Federal Writers Project went from wild idea to a proposed bill

The Los Angeles Times reports on “a revamped program for the COVID-19 era” for putting writers to work modeled after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. The new program would “employ struggling writers and academics and create a national archive of work from our time.”

Bookstagrammers Demand Publishers Pay Up

“Bookstagrammers Demand Publishers Pay Up”

“Bookstagrammers” are people with book-focused Instagram accounts. After the New York Times published a story about the impact TikTok’s book community is having on the publishing industry, Bookstagrammers spoke up:

The literary community on Instagram, particularly readers of color, objected to the Times’ erasure of their hard work and the willingness for publishing representatives to say, on the record, that they pay TikTokers for their publicity.

Why we remember more by reading – especially print – than from audio or video

Prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic’s switch to digital texts for students, Naomi S. Baron, Professor of Linguistics Emerita at American University, has studied “how electronic communication compares to traditional print when it comes to learning.” Specifically: “Is comprehension the same whether a person reads a text onscreen or on paper? And are listening and viewing content as effective as reading the written word when covering the same material?”

The answers to both questions are often “no,” as I discuss in my book “How We Read Now,” released in March 2021. The reasons relate to a variety of factors, including diminished concentration, an entertainment mindset and a tendency to multitask while consuming digital content.

What Does Book Publishing Stand For?

Alex Shephard writes in The New Republic that publishers have for decades talked about themselves as “one of the most important protectors of speech in the country.” But now, he says, “Publishers have lost their grand narrative, and it’s not clear what will replace it.”

Shephard digs into the recent controversies involving publishers Simon & Schuster and W.W. Norton.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Last Week's Links Literature & Psychology Publishing Reading

Literary Links

Behind The New York Times’ Blake Bailey Bombshell

And the fallout continues over the allegations against Blake Bailey, author of the biography of Philip Roth that was canceled this week by publisher W.W. Norton.

A publishing executive’s rape allegation against the Philip Roth biographer sent shockwaves through the industry—and put the Times’ handling of it under the microscope. Book critic Dwight Garner, aware of the claim since 2015, says the accuser didn’t want him “to take any actions.”

Charlotte Klein, writing in Vanity Fair, asserts:

The Times’ level of promotion wasn’t unusual for a book positioned as a serious literary biography—and especially one about the late Roth, who represents a kind of fantasy of what it meant to belong to a certain generation of American male novelists—but the paper’s own scoop inevitably raised questions of who knew what and when.

The rape allegations against Philip Roth’s biographer are a damning condemnation of publishing

“The Blake Bailey story shows publishing’s institutions once again working to protect men.”

In Vox, Constance Grady explains why the allegations against Blake Bailey “have swept across the literary world”:

in part, that’s because the story of the allegations against Bailey involves so many major publishing figures, culminating in an accusation of rape occurring in the home of one of the New York Times’s staff book critics. The story being told about Blake Bailey right now is one of publishing’s institutional power being put to the service of powerful men.

Black Lives Matter in the Public Theater’s Much Ado About Nothing

This article from August 2020 offers “five perspectives on race and Shakespeare” based on a PBS broadcast of Public Theater’s Much Ado About Nothing that “features an all-Black cast in New York City’s Central Park.”

The commentary is from from first-year college students who studied the performance shortly before their campus shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring. “We hope that, just as the Public made new meanings of this old play, our voices can signal newer, younger, better ways of thinking about Shakespeare that help us uncover truth, gain empathy, and take responsibility for racism.”

Reading to Unlearn and Reenvision History Is Transformative and Overwhelming

Mariela Santos Muñiz writes about what she didn’t learn in grad school:

The textbooks that I had to use for my classes mostly presented one side of history — and they didn’t really include diverse perspectives. This was despite the fact that the U.S. is a diverse country. For one, I didn’t learn much about U.S. Latinx history while in school.

When she started contributing to Book Riot after graduation, she wrote articles that made her realize how much she hadn’t learned in school.

So, I started looking for books to reeducate myself. As part of this process, I changed how I chose the books that I read. This meant focusing on the author as well. Being able to see the world differently is about the subject matter, yes — but it’s also about who’s telling the story.

See some of her suggestions for “books that center the perspectives of people that are traditionally underrepresented and overlooked.”

The Many Faces of Patricia Highsmith

“As the subject of no fewer than three biographies since her death in 1995, the popular writer lived a complicated, if fascinating, life. What was she really like?”

One of the items still on my list of literary projects to complete is a deep dive into the life and works of the fascinating Patricia Highsmith.

The writer was a collision of contradictions, a woman for whom every aspect of herself (including being a woman) demanded internal debate. In her private life, she swung dramatically between polar states of desire and disgust. Her personal journals that she kept her whole life — separate from what she called her “cahiers,” or notebooks in which she worked on her fiction — reveal a woman at the mercy of her emotional tides, drawn to the darkest corners of her psyche.

On being proud of your work

Novelist and book critic Lauren Oyler on taking risks, writing in the first person, managing self-doubt, and why she increasingly doesn’t have a good answer for “why we write.”

Lauren Oyler, author of the novel Fake Accounts, is here interviewed by Michelle Lynn King. Oyler says she created the first-person narrator of Fake Accounts because “I’m really interested in the issues of the first person narrator and the author in the time of the internet.”

About the concept of the unreliable narrator, she says, “We’ve all learned that everybody’s performing all the time and that the self is a fiction.”

How Bookishness Affects the Book Biz

What exactly is bookishness? Michael Seidlinger here defines it as “a person’s interest in maintaining nearness to books. It is a term derived from bookish, which is a label often applied to people who read a lot.”

Seidlinger examines the world of bookishness and how it manifests in today’s culture, from celebrity book clubs to Instagram influencers and companies that market items (clothing, candles, wall hangings, and throw pillows) to help people create their personal bookish persona.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Censorship Discussion Publishing

What a Crazy Week in Publishing!

illustration: 2021 Discussion Challenge

Thanks to these two bloggers for sponsoring the 2021 Blog Discussion Challenge:

You can join the discussion challenge at any time during 2021 by clicking on either link above.


Between the post-publication recall of Blake Bailey’s biography of Philip Roth and the cancelation of contracts for upcoming political books, my head is spinning. This will probably be quite a rambling discussion, because I am truly of two minds on these kinds of issues.

‘There Is a Tension There’: Publishers Draw Fire for Signing Trump Officials

The New York Times reports that, after “backing out of a deal with Senator Josh Hawley, a prominent supporter of former President Donald J. Trump,” Simon & Schuster has announced that it will publish two books by former Vice-President Mike Pence. On Monday many staff members at S&S presented a petition to management demanding the company end the deal with Pence. The authors of this article also talked with others in the publishing industry, including management at other publishers, literary agents, and public relations firms.

In another era, book deals with former White House officials were viewed as prestigious and uncontroversial, and major publishers have long maintained that putting out books from across the political spectrum is not only good for business but an essential part of their mission. In today’s hyperpartisan environment, however, Simon & Schuster has become a test case for how publishers are trying to draw a line over who is acceptable to publish . . .

According to the article, many publishing insiders now “acknowledge that there are certain ideological lines that they won’t cross. Some said they wouldn’t acquire books by politicians or pundits who questioned the results of the presidential election. Another bright line is working with people who promoted the false narratives or conspiracy theories that Mr. Trump espoused.”

It’s tempting to think of this issue as a blatant example of censorship, but it is not. As the S&S employees wrote in a letter accompanying their petition to management: ““Let’s be clear: the First Amendment protects free speech from legal encroachment. It in no way calls for publishing companies to publish all viewpoints.” 

The same issue came up in March when the company that controls publication of works by Dr. Seuss announced that it would no longer publish six of his works because of their racist imagery. The government may not stop dissemination of certain ideas, but publishing companies—which are, after all, businesses—are free to choose what products they make and sell.

On the other hand, who gets to decide what ideas are appropriate for publication and what ones aren’t? In the current climate that calls for more diversity in publishing, these difficult questions call for specific answers.

Simon & Schuster Employees Submit Petition Demanding No Deals With Trump Administration Authors

The Wall Street Journal offers a more focused look at the business angle of the dispute between Simon & Schuster employees and writers, and management:

An employee petition at Simon & Schuster demanding that the company stop publishing authors associated with the Trump administration collected 216 internal signatures and several thousand outside supporters, including well-known Black writers. . . . The petition demands that the company refrain from publishing a memoir by former Vice President Mike Pence. The letter asks Simon & Schuster not to treat “the Trump administration as a ‘normal’ chapter in American history.”

“Among the more than 3,500 outside supporters, according to a letter accompanying the petition, were writers of color including Jesmyn Ward, a two-time winner of the National Book Award for fiction.”

The employee pushback against Mr. Pence’s book underscores the challenges publishers face in releasing politically sensitive books that are commercially attractive. Major publishers generally want to give a platform to authors with a range of viewpoints, but don’t want to alienate portions of their workforce or customer base.

The petition and letter were submitted to Simon & Schuster Chief Executive Jonathan Karp and Dana Canedy, “publisher of Simon & Schuster’s flagship imprint.” In reply, “Mr. Karp last week said in his internal letter that Simon & Schuster’s core mission includes publishing ‘a diversity of voices and perspectives.’”

Norton Takes Philip Roth Biography Out of Print

The other major publishing story currently playing out is the recall of Blake Bailey’s Philip Roth: The Biography “following allegations that Mr. Bailey sexually assaulted multiple women and behaved inappropriately toward his students when he was an eighth grade English teacher.”

Bailey’s biography of Roth was published earlier this month (April 2021) and has been widely promoted by the publisher. Norton is also discontinuing printing, distribution, and promotion of Blake Bailey’s memoir, The Splendid Things We Planned (2014). 

The New York Times quotes Julia A. Reidhead, president of Norton:

“As a publisher, Norton gives its authors a powerful platform in the civic space. With that power comes the responsibility to balance our commitment to our authors, our recognition of our public role, and our knowledge of our nation’s historic failure to adequately listen to and respect the voices of women and diverse groups,” Ms. Reidhead wrote.

Suzanne Nossel, chief executive of the literary organization PEN America, told the Times that Norton’s action “risked establishing a new, troubling norm that could narrow the range of ideas and information available to readers.” 

Bailey has denied the allegations, and his lawyer “called Norton’s response to the allegations ‘troubling and unwarranted.’”

The Philip Roth biography is canceled, Mike Pence’s book could be next — and publishing may never be the same

Ron Charles, book critic for the Washington Post, typically has a sensible take on literary matters, so I’ll let him have the last word here: “I think this week marks a sea change in publishers’ interest in their authors’ behavior.” He continues:

new voices are starting to assert a different set of judgments about what they think is important, valid and entertaining. . . . Books are not wholly self-contained creations; they retain their moral and financial connections to their authors. Ignoring those connections and pretending that a book floats in a vacuum is the privilege of people protected from discrimination, erasure and assault. . . . The bold professionals who are standing up to their management will fight to bring us books from authors who for too long were excluded or diminished while publishers prided themselves on their pure liberal values.

What Do You Think?

1. Should books by insiders from the previous administration be published? If they are published, will you read them?

I certainly have no interest in reading a book by Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway, or any of the other people involved in devaluing the press or promulgating white supremacist or insurrectionist activity. But should those books remain unpublished? 

2. What about books written by authors of questionable repute?

Since this is the USA, we should assume someone is innocent until proven guilty. But in cases where allegations are made before a book comes out, shouldn’t a publisher be responsible for examining the situation before giving a writer and public platform? And I’m especially bothered when some of the allegations involve predatory treatment of children.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Author News Fiction Last Week's Links Literature & Psychology Publishing Reading

Literary Links

How Crime Writers Can Reimagine Public Safety Without Police

“The next wave of crime fiction could help shape the public imagination of what a world where police weren’t in charge of public safety could look like.”

Historically, crime fiction has portrayed the police as heroes. But that vision of law enforcement is becoming hazier for the general public, and for most communities of color, it was never accurate at all.

The observance that crime fiction has contributed to a glorification of police and their policies is not new, but it is now particularly timely. Here Amy Suiter Clarke, author of the recently published novel Girl, 11, calls upon authors of mysteries and thrillers to write books that “imagine the world as it could be, not as it is.”

The Secret Life of a Sensitivity Reader

Mya Nunnally describes her work as a sensitivity reader: “I offer my thoughts on how writers portray characters who share my own lived experiences.” 

The book industry’s endeavors to publish more diverse books means that many authors are incorporating into their books more characters that differ from themselves. Despite authors’ best efforts at research, “there’s a chance that they’ll miss something about the experience simply because they haven’t lived it themselves. When writing about experiences outside their own, I find that most authors simply don’t know what they don’t know. They aren’t familiar with damaging tropes, perhaps, or didn’t realize that what they wrote is tapping into a stereotype.”

Nunnally describes this work as “both rewarding and exhausting.” She convincingly documents the importance of such work and hopes that sensitivity readers “can become a commonplace component of the publishing industry.”

A Contemporary Greek Tragedy: PW Talks with Alex Michaelides

I loved Alex Michaelides’s debut novel The Silent Patient and was delighted to hear that that his second novel, The Maidens, will come out in June. 

As the author’s name suggests, he grew up surrounded by Greek tragedies and mythology. I’m looking forward to reading his new novel, which he wrote during the COVID-19 lockdown: “There is nothing like being locked in your apartment to concentrate your mind!”

The Best Experimental Fiction: recommended by Rebecca Watson

Last week’s links featured a piece about experimental fiction (though I prefer the term inventive fiction), and here’s another one. Author Rebecca Watson, author of little scratch, “recommends five of the best experimental novels and explains why a writer might choose to bend the rules—and to what effect.”

In little scratch, Watson attempts to demonstrate how the main character moves through an ordinary day interacting with the outside world while simultaneously carrying on an interior conversation with herself examining a trauma she’s concealing. She explains, “experimental writing needs an openness and willingness from a reader, to go beyond what you might be used to.” The whole purpose of this kind of writing, she says, “is to help immerse the reader further in the story.”

Top 10 books about revenge

I see a lot of articles about how reading can make us better people by nurturing empathy and compassion, but sometimes all I secretly want is a good revenge story. 

Jonas Jonasson, author of Sweet Sweet Revenge Ltd, offers some reading recommendations for satisfying that lust for revenge. He says “revenge works best as a form of self-therapy.”

7 Stories About Men Confronting Toxic Masculinity

Sonora Jha, author of “How to Raise a Feminist Son,” recommends fiction in which men grapple with gender expectations

“One big, yawning gap in literature and culture . . . is the tale of the man who encounters and overcomes his own male fragility and entitlement,” Sonora Jha writes. She offers a list of “seven novels and short stories in which we do encounter such men (and one teenaged boy).” The authors of these works “place their characters within the struggle and watch them squirm. Some of these characters make it to the other side and others don’t.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Captivating Novels about Astrology

In her introduction to this list, Laura Maylene Walter, author of the novel Body of Stars, calls herself “a skeptic who doesn’t read horoscopes in my daily life.” But, she continues, “hand me a work of fiction about astrology or psychics, and I’m captivated.”

Many of the books on this list examine issues surrounding the topics of fate, free will, the future, and alternate life possibilities.

5 Books with Unique Narratives That Play with Format

Experimental (or maybe inventive is a better word) fiction fascinates me, especially novels that bend genre conventions or play with narrative structure.

Here Anne Jaconette lists “a few books with unique narratives that will grab your attention from the first page!”

Calling a Time-Out on Reading for Sport

Jamie Canaves recently realized that she’d been “rushing through books as fast as I could to get to the next one on my can’t-wait-to-read-it TBR, and also trying to break the previous year’s number of how many books I had read.” And I had the same realization when I read this description.

She had this realization during 2020 and decided to change her reading life at the beginning of 2021 by asking herself three questions: “Why are you doing this? What is the point? Is it adding to the enjoyment of your reading life?” And, she reports, her reading life has greatly improved this year: “I guess I just needed to get myself back to reading for enjoyment and not some weird imaginary sport.”

Turns Out It’s Pretty Good: Reading First Thing in the Morning

Dismayed that reading had nearly disappeared from her busy life, freelance writer and editor Rachel Charlene Lewis developed a new habit: She now sets her alarm so that she can read in bed—even before brushing her teeth or making that first cup of coffee—for an hour in the morning.

What Zora Went Looking For

Charles King, professor of international affairs and government at Georgetown University, profiles Zora Neale Hurston for Humanities, the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities: “As a budding anthropologist, the storyteller began to find her way.” 

This article is adapted from King’s book Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century.

Do Patricia Highsmith Novels Make Good Films?

“The author’s oeuvre has long been the subject of cinematic preoccupation, inspiring over 20 screen adaptations and counting. Here, a close read of four of the best and worst of them.”

Kerry Manders examines four films based on the novels of Patricia Highsmith:

  • Strangers on a Train (1951), based on the 1950 novel of the same title
  • Carol (2015), based on the 1952 novel The Price of Salt, published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan
  • A Kind of Murder (2016), adapted from the 1954 novel The Blunderer
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), based on the 1955 novel of the same title

Books that touched on race were among the most challenged as inappropriate for libraries in 2020

From CNN:

Books that talked about racism and racial justice — or told the stories of people of color or the LGBTQ community — were among the most challenged as inappropriate for students in 2020, according to a survey by the American Library Association.

The article concludes with the list of the 10 most challenged books of 2020.

From the Sidelines to the Spotlight: LGBTQ Books 2021

Publishers Weekly highlights “the authors of new fiction and nonfiction titles . . . bringing a wide range of queer experiences to the fore.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Beverly Cleary, beloved and prolific author of children’s books, dies at 104

Obituary from the Los Angeles Times.

Larry McMurtry, Novelist of the American West, Dies at 84

Obituary from the New York Times.

I Always Write in the Past: The Millions Interviews André Aciman

Here’s a fascinating article in which André Aciman talks about what he calls the irrealis mood. He defines this mood as follows:

“a category of verbal moods that indicate that certain events have not happened, may never happen, or should or must or are indeed desired to happen, but for which there is no indication that they will ever happen”—that is, “the might-be and the might-have-been.” It is a mood sometimes called fantasizing, or nostalgia, but it is really more multifaceted, informing our experience of art, desire, and even our own mortality.

A reading guide on the Asian American experience from Viet Thanh Nguyen, Charles Yu and more

“If there’s one lesson we keep having to learn in the United States, it’s that ignorance breeds hate and hate breeds violence.” 

The Los Angeles Times offers a list of “more than 40 books on the experience of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in this country, including poetry, essays, memoirs, histories and some of the best fiction of the last couple of decades. Suggestions come from Times staff; novelists including Viet Thanh Nguyen, Charles Yu and Steph Cha; poet Victoria Chang; and a group of scholars from Asian American Studies departments in California and beyond.”

Audre Lorde Broke the Silence

“In her poems and ‘The Cancer Journals,’ Lorde fought to name her experience.”

Emily Bernard’s portrait of Audre Lorde focuses on “Two recent publications, The Selected Works of Audre Lorde, edited and with an introduction by Roxane Gay, and a new edition of The Cancer Journals, with a foreword by Tracy K. Smith, [that] capture the complexity of Lorde’s singular perspective.”

Lorde treated her body—the range of her corporeal needs, fears, and desires—as a resource of political and creative information, a platform from which she communicated her worldview. She was unique in her determination to speak and write without shame, but at the same time wholly representative, embodying the complexities of a contemporary radical Black feminist identity. Her life emblematized the concept of intersectionality, a term coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to describe the ways in which distinct social identities, such as race and gender, are mutually constitutive. Lorde devoted her career to building bridges across social divides as well as nurturing the distinct voices of Black feminist writers who responded to the raw physicality of her imagery and her now famous rallying cries, such as, “Your silence will not protect you.” 

How Sara Gruen Lost Her Life

“The Water for Elephants author’s six-year fight to free an incarcerated man left her absolutely broke and critically ill.”

At age 80, Sylvia Byrne Pollack of Seattle will publish her first book of poetry

Don’t you love stories like this? I certainly do!

“Part of the magic of poetry is that, when you write the words, you’re a writer,” Pollack continues. “And once you put them down, they’re not really yours anymore. The reader has to do the other half of the work.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown