Jeffrey Davies looks at the history of the celebrity book, whether it be “a memoir, an essay collection, a cookbook, a book of poetry, or a self-help book.” He discusses the rise of the ghostwriter, what happens when celebrity culture and science clash (for example, Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbooks and health books), and whether celebrity books make it harder for other books to get published.
The memoir, at once literary and fact-based, js a shape-shifter, a container for a diverse array of voices, stories and narrative techniques. A sampling of this year’s entries exemplify the genre’s elasticity. In eclectic formats, they speak of trauma and healing, family dysfunction, the limitations of medical science, and the forging of identity in the face of social and cultural obstacles.
In an article summarizing the ups and downs of this past year’s literary prizes worldwide, Somak Ghoshal concludes:
The reality of judging a prize is complicated by a multitude of conflicting factors. The impulse to do right by being aware of the conditions in which a writer or an artist produces their work often clashes with the duty to uphold aesthetic merit above all else. But these days, the solution seems to come from the contenders themselves. In August, writer Olivia Laing shared the James Tait Black prize for fiction with her fellow nominees because “competition has no place in art”. More recently, the four shortlisted artists for the Turner Prize, one of Britain’s most prestigious awards for the arts, requested the jury to divide the prize equally among them. If this trend continues, it will soon become unfashionable to run for competitions, or to win any.
I read a lot of mysteries and thrillers, and I often talk about the use of genre tropes in these books. Here Diane Zhang describes several of those tropes and discusses both the origin and recent examples of each.
Samantha Leach writes in Glamour that romance novels have evolved from the steamy bodice-rippers of the early 1970s to mid 1980s into works that deal meaningfully with “whatever is happening to women or marginalized people.”
P.N. Hinton discusses 2017, the year she failed miserably in meeting her Goodreads Challenge number of books. She concludes, “When you make reading a task that you have to do, then it stops being fun. And when it stops being fun, you don’t do it at all anymore.”
Didion interprets the political text of American life according to a set of beliefs about disparities of wealth and class. She arrived at those assumptions worthily: by analyzing her own education and experience. And that’s what she sees when she reads the newspaper or follows a campaign. She is never less than amazed by the willingness of everyone in the press to pretend, in the name of keeping the show going, that American life is really not about money and power.
In apparent support of the assertion that science fiction is not about the future but the present, Joshua Rothman profiles William Gibson, “the writer who, for four decades, has imagined the near future more convincingly than anyone else.”
From Leah Greenblatt for Entertainment Weekly. Here are some of the books she references: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.
These books—and their narrators—Greenblatt writes, “open a Pandora’s box too long unexplored — a well of real and sometimes deeply ugly feelings that are no less universal for coming in the inconvenient or uncomfortable form of xx chromosomes.”
Angie Kim’s recently published debut novel Miracle Creek is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Dennis Lehane’s 2001 book Mystic River is a novel I still remember well even after all these years. Coming across this article, in which Angie Kim explains teaching herself how to structure the novel she wanted to write by rereading Mystic River multiple times, felt like a reunion with two old friends.
Kim writes that she also studied novels by Kate Atkinson, Laura Lippman, Tana French, and Chris Bohjalian: “I loved how [these novels] used the mystery frame to immediately pull their readers into the narrative and propel them forward, but how they forced us to slow way down as we went deep into the psyche of the narrators.” She wanted to create in her novel the same degree of immersiveness she found in those models. Her success in doing so is what makes Miracle Creek such a powerful novel.
For parents wondering how to choose books appropriate for their children, Katherine Willoughby takes a look at “all of the various ways educators, librarians, and book publishers level and categorize books for young readers.”
Kira Peikoff explains one of the benefits of reading fiction:
we need fictional outlets like television, movies, and books. Far from being superficial add-ons to life, they help us to live life. Storytelling is the oldest form of virtual reality. Through the safe haven of fiction, as we watch characters go through their own turmoil, we may encounter our own deepest fears and flaws, our highest hopes and strongest convictions. We may find inspiration, learn profound lessons, and gain the strength to overcome our own conflicts. In rare cases, we may even find ourselves rethinking our entire perspective.
Bert Wright, writing for The Irish Times, tackles the question of why crime fiction is so often spoken of as inferior to literary fiction. “All crime writers are asking is for a little respect but too often it is not forthcoming.”
“Whatever the truth of the matter, crime fiction is on an irresistible roll and no amount of splenetic wind-baggery can make the slightest dent in crime fiction’s hard-earned self-esteem.”
You may have heard that Carolyn Keene was the original Nancy Drew author and that Harriet Stratemeyer Adams later wrote additional novels published under Keene’s name. But Annika Barranti Klein explains that the real story isn’t quite that simple. Read the complex story of who really wrote and published all the novels in this popular series.
Now this news is worth waiting for: Liveright Publishing plans to publish hundreds of pages from Patricia Highsmith’s personal diaries as a single volume in 2021. This article describes Highsmith as:
a literary figure whose sharply observed psychological thrillers, including “Strangers on a Train” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” became cultural touchstones. She was a secretive, often prickly woman who remained a cipher even to her friends and lovers, and a trailblazer who wrote one of the first mainstream novels depicting two women in love. But she could be blinded by her own bigotry and espoused racist and anti-Semitic views.
The diaries—“56 spiral-bound notebooks, totaling some 8,000 pages”—were discovered after Highsmith’s death in 1995, tucked behind sheets and towels in a linen closet of her house in Switzerland.
Joe Pinsker looks at the question of “why some people grow up to derive great pleasure from reading, while others don’t.” Here’s no surprise: “a chief factor seems to be the household one is born into, and the culture of reading that parents create within it.”
“Since Reese’s Book Club launched in 2017 in partnership with the actress’s media company, Hello Sunshine, it has become an industry phenomenon with the power to catapult titles to the top of the bestseller lists.” According to the article, “Reese really picks the books.”
James Parker, a staff writer for The Atlantic, praises English novelist Mick Herron on the publication of his latest novel, Joe Country. “Mick Herron writes about the broken spies sworn to protect today’s broken England,” the article’s subtitle proclaims.
“Like John le Carré—with whom he has been much compared—Herron is obsessed with that area of human experience, that area of the human brain, where paranoia overlaps with an essential, feral vigilance.”
Here’s another look at the age-old, ever-recurring question of the distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction.
This omnivorous selection of stories chosen by series editor John Joseph Adams and World Fantasy Award finalist Machado is a display of the most boundary-pushing, genre-blurring, stylistically singular science fiction and fantasy stories published in the last year. By sending us to alternate universes and chronicling ordinary magic, introducing us to mythical beasts and talking animals, and engaging with a wide spectrum of emotion from tenderness to fear, each of these stories challenge the way we see our place in the cosmos.
Harvard Ph.D. candidate Manvir Singh discusses what he calls the sympathetic plot, which pervades world literature and controls how we respond to stories. One common trope of the sympathetic plot is the story of orphans, “parentless protagonists [that] are everywhere.”
When I recently read Riley Sager’s novel Final Girls, I didn’t realize that the final girl, the last girl left standing, is a standard trope of slasher movies. In this article Lindsay King-Miller talks about “a film’s Final Girl, a term coined by Carol Clover in her brilliant work of horror theory Men, Women, and Chainsaws.” But what she’s more interested in all the other girls who die first, before the Final Girl is left to face down the enemy.
There’s a morality play element to this, as countless film writers have explored: girls in horror movies are punished for doing things girls aren’t supposed to do, especially for having sex.
Jennifer Wilson describes how serving in military hospitals shaped the story Louisa May Alcott later wrote as Little Women. The basis for the article is the letters Alcott wrote home during her war experiences, published in 1863 as Hospital Sketches.
The definition of the term cult books that Hephzibah Anderson uses in this essay is pretty amorphous:
the cult classic inspires passionate devotion among its fans, who frequently weave their own myths around the texts. But another, underexamined, feature of the cult book is this: . . . it can sometimes age really badly.
You can pull together your own definition of the term from Anderson’s discussions of the following cult classics:
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, 1951
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, 1957
The Beach by Alex Garland, 1996
Iron John by Robert Bly, 1990
The Outsider by Colin Wilson, 1956
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, 1952
On the Road by Jack Kerouac, 1957
The Rules by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, 1995
In the past year alone, errors in books by several high-profile authors — including Naomi Wolf, the former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, the historian Jared Diamond, the behavioral scientist and “happiness expert” Paul Dolan and the journalist Michael Wolff — have ignited a debate over whether publishers should take more responsibility for the accuracy of their books.
Writing in The New York Times, Alexandra Alter looks at the question of who should be responsible for fact checking: authors or publishers?
Amnesia is a standard trope of mysteries and psychological thrillers, which I read a lot of. This article describes a very real phenomenon, transient global amnesia:
Transient global amnesia, often called T.G.A. It is a temporary lapse in memory that can never be retrieved. “It’s as if the brain is on overload and takes a break to recharge,” Dr. [Carolyn] Brockington [a vascular neurologist] said in an interview. She likened it to rebooting a computer to eradicate an unexplainable glitch. Those with T.G.A. do not experience any alteration in consciousness or abnormal movements. Only the ability to lay down memories is affected. All other parts of the brain appear to be working normally.
T.G.A. is relatively rare, though it appears to occur more frequently in people over age 50 than in younger people, with men and women affected about equally. It leaves no lasting effects except for the lack of memories during its occurrence. It typically lasts for one to eight hours and usually clears up within a day. Its cause or causes have not been established, and there is no treatment. The condition occurs a second time in only 4% or 5% of patients.
If you find it hard to keep up with all the cool kids who use Goodreads to track their reading, this article will put you in the know about some of the more esoteric aspects. The main subject here is how to create a DNF (did not finish) shelf that won’t include the books placed there in your number of books read statistics. But there are a few other nifty nuggets of knowledge here as well, along with links to several other articles explaining how to use Goodreads. An avid reader’s bonanza!
When We Need Diverse Books was founded by a team of writers, illustrators, and publishing professionals, it was meant to shake up the publishing industry from the inside. Led by the original Executive Committee — Ellen Oh, Lamar Giles, Marieke Nijkamp, Miranda Paul, Aisha Saeed, Karen Sandler, and Ilene Wong — and supported by the original PR team — Stacey Lee and SE Sinkhorn — We Need Diverse Books was created to fight for more diversity in children’s and young adult book publishing at every level, among authors, editors, marketers, agents, publishers, and more. First and foremost, they wanted authors from marginalized communities to be given opportunities to have their voices heard in the overwhelmingly white, heterosexual, cisgender industry. And the results have been clear.
Fifteen publishing professionals discuss “why they believe We Need Diverse Books has changed publishing forever, and what they hope for the future.”
Emily Lordi discusses how much Toni Morrison was influenced by contemporary musicians:
Her work resonates with the music of those soul artists alongside whom she honed her craft: the grand ambition of Isaac Hayes, the moral clarity of Curtis Mayfield, and the erotic truth-telling of Aretha Franklin. But the soul artist who is most closely aligned with Morrison is Nina Simone. “She saved our lives,” Morrison said of the singer, after Simone’s death, in 2003. Simone meant so much to her, and to other black women, I think, in part because of how she turned social exclusion into superlative beauty and style. It was this recuperative alchemy that defined soul, as a music and an ethos. And, if Simone was soul’s “High Priestess,” Morrison was one of its literary architects.
Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, writing in the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, addresses the current literary fascination with witches:
There has been a perennial literary fascination with witches; they are, as Marion Gibson, professor of Renaissance and magical literatures at Exeter University says, “a shorthand symbol for persecution and resistance – misogyny and feminism in particular”. In a #MeToo world, where Donald Trump – a fan of the term “witch-hunt” – is US president, it is really no surprise that female writers are examining the role of the witch in new ways.
Cosslett explains that women of her generation, who came of age in the 1990s with TV programs such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are now producing literature and films that grapple with perennial questions of power and agency. She also looks a bit at the history of witches in literature, from novels such as Jane Eyre to John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick.
In my effort to read more science fiction, I often come across references to Samuel R. Delany’s seminal novel Dhalgren. Here novelist Jordy Rosenberg discusses how Delany’s fiction “reflects and explores the social truths of our world.” He includes a list of works to start with for readers looking to introduce themselves to Delany’s body of work.
The Staunch prize was founded in 2018 to honor a thriller ““in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered.” This article reports on the many writers, including Val McDermid and Sophie Hannah, who refute the accusation that their books influence the outcome of trials involving violence against women.
The Staunch prize was founded as an antidote to what many cultural and literary critics decry as the trend of “girl books,” typified by works such as Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Such books, the criticism goes, treat women as objects and glorify acts of violence against women such as stalking, gaslighting, sexual harassment, and rape. Novelist Nina Laurin, who has used the word girl and the related words sister and wife, in her book titles asks, “why do these concepts continue to capture the imagination all these years after this titling trend began?” She argues that< while such words call up certain stereotypes:
In the “girl” books, however, the female characters are also ruthless killers, kick-ass vigilantes, and skilled manipulators. The wives spy, snoop, and poison, and the mothers don’t always know best.
Jennifer Szalai discusses the book I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution by TV critic Emily Nussbaum. Szalai says that Nussbaum unashamedly “treats television as art in its own right” rather than approaching it as a lesser art form.
Abigail N. Rosewood, author of If I had Two Lives, has spent much of her life moving around, not living in any one place for longer than five years. This transitory life has given her many different layers of identity that she sometimes has trouble stitching together. Here she offers a list of “seven works of art that investigate powerful psychic ruptures.”
They are not easy books and they shouldn’t be. Like most great works of literature, they ask difficult questions⎯How does a psychic split happen? Can a person survive it? How many masks can one wear before getting crushed beneath their weight? Is coherency an illusion?
Nicole Rudick looks at the stories collected in the Library of America’s recently issued volume The Future Is Female!: 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, from Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin, edited by Lisa Yaszek.
It encompasses the genre’s pulp years (1926–1940) and the so-called Golden Age (approximately 1940–1960), and ends just before the emergence of feminist SF in the 1970s. The anthology dispels the commonly held belief that women didn’t participate much in science fiction before the Seventies and argues that a category of fiction often thought to be socially retrograde, technologically fetishistic, and poorly written is in fact rich in style and humanity.
The intensity of Murdoch’s gaze, boring into you from the dust jackets of her many novels, seemed a promise of the books’ contents. For decades this remarkable writer delivered prickly, sophisticated and somewhat unearthly fiction about good and evil and sex and morality. She trailed a large, large muse. She deftly moved her ideas about, positioning them like the slabs used to build Stonehenge.
In this year, the centennial of Iris Murdoch’s birth and 20 years after her death at age 79, Dwight Garner laments that “her posthumous reputation is in semi-shambles.” To help restore her reputation to what he considers to be its rightful place—on “the list of the most elite writers in English of the second half of the 20th century”—he examines at length his favorite of her novels, The Sea, The Sea (1978), which won the Booker Prize.
You shop local, you eat local—but are you reading local, too? If you’re not, you’re missing out. Local authors and the stories they tell can change your life—and your community. And all you have to do is read a book you love.
Six years ago we moved from St. Louis, Missouri, to Tacoma, Washington. During those six years, one of my reading goals has been to read books by local authors. Although I didn’t need this article to explain to me why reading local authors is a worthwhile undertaking, I did appreciate the tips on how to find their books.
Just yesterday, I asked my students how many of them had watched at least one American movie or read one American book about the Vietnam War, and everyone raised their hand. When I asked how many had read one book or seen one movie by a Vietnamese person, nobody, or perhaps one or two, had. The legacies of colonialism and imperialism have created privileged sectors in the West that function as feedback loops. We often only read books or watch movies that reflect our values. In systems like Hollywood, the stories of poor people from other countries are not that interesting to the rest of the world and therefore don’t get told.
A recent survey by Gransnet, the UK’s biggest social media site for older people, and publisher HQ (HarperCollins) found that 51% of women over 40 “feel older women in fiction books tend to fall into clichéd roles.” Here are some of the most interest findings from the survey:
47% of women over 40 say there are not enough books about middle-aged or older women.
“when older characters do appear in fiction, half of women (50%) say they’ve seen them being portrayed as baffled by smartphones, computers or the internet – and think it’s insulting.”
75% buy their books online.
As a result of the survey findings, Gransnet and HQ are launching a fiction writing competition for women writers over age 40. The article contains more information on both the survey and the writing competition.
Stephen King experienced (celebrated doesn’t seem like the appropriate word) an anniversary last week: 20 years since the automobile accident that nearly killed him. He wrote this article for The New Yorker a year after the accident.
I loved Dark Matter by Blake Crouch and have just read (though not yet reviewed) his newly released novel, Recursion, which this interview calls “another particle collider of narrative ambition.” In the interview for Goodread Crouch discusses “the new book, the nature of memory, and the cosmic implications of déjà vu.”
On June 12 the Center for Publishing at NYU’s School of Professional Studies in conjunction with Publishers Weekly hosted a PubTechConnect event entitled “Book Lovers on the Internet: Connecting with Readers in Digital Ways.”
The group discussed a wide range of internet-focused book-related topics, including whether the internet has changed literary culture for the better or worse, how to effectively use social media to talk about (or promote) books online, how book criticism has changed in the digital era, and which authors were best at using social media as part of their work or brand.
“If there was one major takeaway from the evening, it was that all of the panelists believed that the internet has served to expand literary culture and its reach.”
We all process grief in different ways. For Jayson Greene, who lost his two-year-old daughter due to a freak accident, it was to take pen to paper. The result is Once More We Saw Stars, a memoir so moving and powerful, it “[restores Greta] ever-so-briefly to the world.” Here, Greene argues that there are words to express unimaginable loss, and how healing it can be to use them.
Comfort by Ann Hood is another memoir written under similar circumstances.
Two veteran women crime writers, Rene Denfeld and Gilly Macmillan, “discuss the wave of new women crime writers—and if being a woman has changed how they write about violence and crime.”
Denfeld says, “Writing about violence can be a way for us to explore what it means, where violence comes from, and what we can do to prevent it.”
Both writers emphasize the need for fully developed characters on both sides of the violence equation, both the victims and the perpetrators. Since women have historically suffered the effects of violence, the current push of crime fiction written by women aims to demonstrate resilience rather than simply victimization.
Macmillan says, “Crime fiction can delve deep into current societal issues and does it best when those issues strike a universal chord, giving us an opportunity to connect with readers in a very visceral way.”
Author Jennifer Weiner has “spent nearly a decade challenging the elitism and sexism of book publishing and criticism. Her new novel, “Mrs. Everybody” is a culmination of Weiner’s work as both a storyteller and a truth-teller, a sweeping multigenerational family saga against a backdrop of 70 years of women’s history.”
In this interview in Salon she discusses her new novel, Mrs. Everything, a multigenerational novel about women and families, and the inequality between men and women in the publishing industry.
Here are some of Weiner’s major points:
“women’s stories can be big stories, even though we are not taught to think of them that way.”
“We read men in school and we were taught that that was Literature, with a capital L. We read books by men. Men did not grow up reading books by women in school and believing that that was literature.”
“I wanted readers [of Weiner’s latest novel, Mrs. Everything] to think about the importance of naming things. How once you’ve got a term for something or a word for something or a language for something, that’s when you can start to solve it. That’s when you can start to fix it.”