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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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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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Fiction Last Week's Links Reading

Literary Links

20 Great Works of Philosophical Fiction

Rebeca Hussey here defines philosophical fiction as fiction that “encourages the reader to ponder big questions. It purposely provokes thought and debate.” Her list of philosophical fiction includes both contemporary and classic books.

‘Never stupid to ask questions’: Rare Raymond Chandler essay gives writing, office tips

Here’s a reprint of “a rarely seen essay” that is “a wry set of instructions Chandler issued to his assistant in the 1950s.” 

“Assert your personal rights at all times,” he tells her, along with several other instructions that might sound strange but refreshing to most office workers today.

A Secret Feminist History of the Oxford English Dictionary

Pip Williams, author of The Dictionary of Lost Words, explains why and how she wrote this book, which examines the participation of women in the production of the daddy of dictionaries, The Oxford English Dictionary.

Tiberius, Imperial Detective

This is an excerpt from the recent book A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Murder in Ancient Rome by Emma Southon, PhD. In this episode she explains why there was no official investigation of the murder of a woman named Apronia until her husband asked the emperor to look into it:

There was no representative of the state of Rome who would get involved in this case until Apronius took it to the emperor because, as far as the Romans were concerned, the murder of wives, children, husbands, or really anyone at all was absolutely none of their business.

What Is the Best Way to Teach Reading? A Literacy Professor Weighs In

A professor “who teaches people to teach kids to read” takes us on a tour of the “reading wars.” She looks at political involvement in the various controversies that have produced a sobering statistic: “two-thirds of United States 4th graders are reading ‘below grade level.’”

House Hunters: Zillow and the Murder Mystery

Nora Caplan-Bricker takes a deep dive into how the novels of Tana French use “the lust for property” to embody “the half-formed fears that hover at the edge of any mundane existence.”  

“French’s fiction captures the talismanic power of a house as well as anything I’ve ever read,” she writes. 

Children read more challenging books in lockdowns, data reveals

Children read longer books of greater difficulty during lockdown periods last year, and reported that reading made them feel better while isolated from the wider world, according to new research.

This news surprised me, but also warmed the cockles of my heart!

The Mortifications of Beverly Cleary

“The author recognized that humiliation is a kind of trauma—and that gentle humor could help neutralize it.”

A beautiful appreciation by Sophie Gilbert of children’s author Beverly Cleary, who died recently at the age of 104. Gilbert lauds the way Cleary “captured—sweetly, and with humor—all the ordinary ups and downs of childhood: sibling rivalry, misunderstandings, having a teacher who you can sense doesn’t like you.”

© 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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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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Author News Censorship Fiction Film Publishing Reading

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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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Author News Censorship Ebooks Fiction Last Week's Links Literary Criticism Literary History Reading Writing

Literary Links

How Reading Ebooks Changes Our Perception (and Reviews)

Kindle Paperwhite

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

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

How ‘Lolita’ Escaped Obscenity Laws and Cancel Culture

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

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

Wisdom in the Work

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

He Writes Unreliable Narrators Because He Is One, Too

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

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

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

Sex, Noir & Isolation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Audiobooks Discussion Ebooks Reading

Do You Read More Than One Book at a Time?

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.


The question of whether people read more than one book at a time comes up often on book-related media. I’ve noticed that the people who post the question and then go on to answer it most often write about why they read multiple books simultaneously. Many people just ask the question without including any discussion, but the ones who do include their answer with the question are usually people who read more than one book at a time.

That’s just an unscientific observation of mine. I haven’t kept any records or hard statistics on the subject. But I’m going to assume I’ve observed correctly for the purpose of discussion here, because I wonder why simultaneous readers tend to ask and answer the question most often. 

Perhaps these readers ask and answer the question because they somehow feel that reading several books at once is a habit that needs justification. They frequently explain that they have different books in different formats (print, audiobook, ebook) going at the same time. Some read books in different categories (i.e., fiction and nonfiction) at the same time, or works in different genres (i.e., fantasy and historical fiction).

Or maybe these readers are really bragging: “I’m smart enough to keep several books going at one time,” as if the capability of keeping more plates spinning is an assertion of reading prowess. A more gracious interpretation would be that moving between different stimuli is how they keep their engagement with reading fresh and rewarding.

I firmly believe that reading is a highly personalized experience: different strokes for different folks. There are no right or wrong ways to read. Whatever works for you is what you should do.

In answering the question of whether I read more than one book at a time, I fall somewhere in the middle. I prefer to immerse myself in one book at a time. I don’t want to be reading two novels simultaneously and have to remind myself which one’s protagonist is an orphan and which one’s protagonist, at age 37, still lives at home with Mother. I like to consume characters’ stories whole.

However, I sometimes have an audiobook going at the same time as either a print book or audiobook. The reason for this is practical: I can’t turn the pages of a print book while I’m folding laundry or vacuuming. Those are activities that audiobooks were invented for. I am, though, choosy about audiobooks. I pick works that I think I won’t need to flip back through several pages to follow the story line of. The shortcoming of audiobooks is that it isn’t easy to isolate specific passages that I may want to reference in a review.

How About You?

Do you read more than one book at a time? 

Or maybe you prefer this question: Do you think that the question of reading more than one book at a time is meaningless, pointless, useless?

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Book News Book Recommendations Censorship Publishing Reading

Literary Links

The time is right to cancel Dr. Seuss’s racist books

One of the biggest literary stories recently is the decision by the company that controls the works of Dr. Seuss to pull six titles from future republication because they “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” Here Ron Charles, book critic for the Washington Post, expresses his agreement with the decision.

Dr. Seuss Books Are Pulled, and a ‘Cancel Culture’ Controversy Erupts

Soon after the story of the Dr. Seuss decision, the story blossomed into a full-blown controversy over censorship and cancel culture. Written a few days after the previous article, this article gives an overview of the Dr. Seuss news.

6 Books That Give Voices to Forgotten Women in Our Stories

The last several years have seen the rise of a movement to put women’s stories back into a cultural history dominated by men. Here Aisling Twomey lists books “specifically retelling older stories from the perspectives of the women in them who have long been ignored.”

Your 9 Favorite Classics and What to Read Next

Book recommendations abound across the internet. But I was particularly interested in this article, which suggests current reading based on your favorite literary classic. See what to read next if your favorite literary classic is one of these works: The Great Gatsby, The Crucible, Little Women, Roots, A Passage to India, Pride and Prejudice, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Forever Amber, or Jane Eyre

Teaching Classic Lit Helps Game Designers Make Better Stories

Poet Cindy Frenkel created a course called Creative Writing for Video Gamers, a requirement for students majoring in video game design at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Michigan. Here she describes the lesson she learned from one of her student’s presentation: “appreciating classic literature and art could enhance not only the creation of video games but the player’s experience as well.”

“Classic literature has fundamental elements that reappear every day in video games, comics, and movies . . . because the building blocks of a great story remain the same throughout the centuries.”

Is It Worth Reading If I Forget Everything I Read?

Danika Ellis asks this question because she usually remembers only her general impressions of books she’s read, not plot details. But, she concludes, she will continue to read: “I’ve taken to heart that the brain is a great place to make creative connections and to come up with new ideas, but it’s a pretty poor place to store information.”

The Curse of Reading and Forgetting

In this article in The New Yorker from way back in 2013, Ian Crouch addresses the same concern that Ellis explains in the article above: “the assembled books [on his bookshelves], and the hundreds of others that I’ve read and discarded, given away, or returned to libraries, represent a vast catalogue of forgetting.”

Read his conclusion on this “minor existential drama.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Discussion Fiction Personal Reading

Your Favorite Book Might Be My DNF . . . and Vice Versa

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.


“One person’s trash is another person’s treasure.”

“There’s no accounting for taste.”

“Different strokes for different folks.”

I occasionally see the novel Geek Love by Katherine Dunn listed on someone’s list of best novels ever read. I understand that the novel’s themes of family, love, and normality make it appeal to a lot of people, but I just could not get past the notion that anyone—even someone fictional—would purposely engineer birth defects in order to create a bigger and better freak show.

Cover: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

But I did learn from Geek Love. What this novel taught me is that I don’t need to finish every book I start. I was around 40 when I ran into it and still thought that once I had started a book, I was obligated to finish it. I had seen Geek Love described as imaginatively inventive or something and thought I might enjoy it. I gave it about 100 pages, but I simply couldn’t get past that revolting premise. 

Geek Love was the first novel I DNF (did not finish).

cover: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Fast forward about 25 years. I see a post by a blogger complaining about A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. The blogger has written something like “I had to stop reading this book. Nobody could have as much trauma in his life as Jude had.” And my heart nearly breaks.

Because, you see, A Little Life is on my list of the top five novels I’ve ever read.

More recently, I saw a comment somewhere by a person who complained “I couldn’t finish The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton. It wasn’t making any sense.”

Cover: The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

I knew I should have bitten my tongue and moved on, but I just couldn’t. I loved that book. (This novel truly is imaginatively inventive.) So I gently suggested that the confusion was a big part of the book’s meaning and all would become clear at the end. A while later I received an email informing me of a reply to my comment. The reply went something like this: “Well, that may be so, but I’m not finishing it.” 

This time I did bite my tongue and move on. But I thought, “Too bad. It’s your loss.”

Different strokes for different folks, and so on and so forth.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown