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The Best Time Travel Books

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

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

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

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

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

7 Inspiring and Hopeful Books to Help You Grow Through Change

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

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

The Neurology of Flow States

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

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

For more on flow, see these posts:

woman reading

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

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

What’s the Science Behind Reading?

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

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Last Week's Links Publishing Reading

Literary Links

Judith Butler on the culture wars, JK Rowling and living in “anti-intellectual times”

Thirty years ago Judith Butler published Gender Trouble, a book in which she introduced the notion of gender as performance. The book has since become “a foundational text on any gender studies reading list,” and the question of whether gender is how we act as opposed to our genetic inheritance—known as biological essentialism, or what we now refer to as sex, as opposed to gender—has spilled over from academic halls into popular culture.

Here Alona Ferber interviews Judith Butler, who is now Maxine Elliot Professor of Comparative Literature at Berkeley. Butler says that any meaningful debate over trans rights “would have to reconsider the ways in which the medical determination of sex functions in relation to the lived and historical reality of gender.”

How My Reading Journal Accidentally Became a Plague Diary

Zoe Robertson originally expected her reading journal “would document my most comprehensive, most astute thoughts about the books I finished in 2020.” But as the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and then continued, Robertson, who lives alone, found that her reading journal a substitute for the discussions she normally would have had with other people. As a result:

I am inclined to believe that this act of writing and containing my thoughts is a means to cure some of its secondary effects – it combats the feeling of being dissolved in the mire of everyday horror, it confirms your existence, it speaks to a side of this Hell that is needed to understand the full scope of events.

writing in a notebook

Battle Of The Books

The folks at NPR are interested in settling the months’-long debate: “What kind of books are best to read during this pandemic? Books that connect you to our current reality? Or ones that help you escape it?”

But here’s an answer from “someone who convinced us that maybe escapism versus reality is a false choice.” Here Farah Jasmine Griffin, a professor who teaches African Americal literature at Columbia University, explains why the reading lists in her classes offer a “both, and” solution, “Black authors who refuse to ignore the harshness of the world around them — but don’t ignore the beauty.”

This is a print article based on a recorded interview. There’s a link to the audiofile if you’d rather listen than read.

A Lot of Data and a Little Singing: How The Times’s Best-Seller List Comes Together

The New York Times best-seller list has long been the subject of debate in literary circles. For a long time the engine behind the list was a big, deep secret. This article explains the process: “the work of putting together the lists requires the full-time efforts of the three of us and the support of an information technology team.”

How Do Readers Rate the New York Times Best-Selling Books?

And then Book Riot chimes in: “it’s time to dig into the question that’s been on readers’ minds for decades: do readers really like the books that hit The New York Times Best Sellers lists?”

The article reports on research by SuperSummary, “an online resource that provides in-depth study guides.” The report explains how the study was done and what the major results were. It also discusses some serious limitations of the study, “the biggest of which is how biased the NYT List itself is.”

Be sure to read the whole article to understand the full complexity of such research.

In Crime Fiction, Anyone Can Be a Murderer. That’s What’s So Great About It

The subgenre of domestic suspense thrillers is full of men who treat women badly because, as author Lisa Jewell tells us, around 90% of all violent crimes are committed by men. But, she argues, “We all know men are capable of horrors, but it’s the unexpected criminals who are the most satisfying to write about and to read about. And who could be more unexpected than a woman?” 

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book News Last Week's Links Publishing Reading Writing

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How the Pandemic Has Changed Our Reading Lives

woman sitting & reading in front of book shelves

“Many of the readers who have more reading time are finding that the mental toll of current events is hurting their attention spans, or seeing their genre preferences shift and twist.”

Leah Rachel von Essen “talked to authors, book bloggers, librarians, and general readers to investigate how the anxiety and circumstances of the pandemic have changed our reading habits.”

She made some interesting discoveries, which she explains here. However the COVID quarantine has affected your reading, I bet you’ll find that many other people are having a similar experience.

Ubud writers festival still standing after COVID-19 twists the plot

If it was a book it would be a page-turner: the Australian woman living on a tropical island who founded a literary festival imperilled by terrorist attacks, smouldering volcanoes, the shadow of a massacre and a global pandemic.

Read the story of a writers festival founded in 2003, after the terrorist bombing of a nightclub in Bali.

Craft Capsule: The Art of Literary Criticism

Here’s one of the most useful expositions I’ve ever seen of how and why we read and review what we read.

Gillian Flynn on Paranoia, Conspiracy Theories, and Adding “Showrunner” to Her Resume

As every reader knows, the book is always better than the movie or TV adaptation. But this article intrigued me because it offers a new take on the subject. 

Gillian Flynn, author of Sharp Objects and Gone Girl, worked as writer and executive producer of the science fiction TV series Utopia, currently streaming on Amazon Prime. The series is adapted from Dennis Kelly’s British of the same title. Here’s what Flynn has to say about the process of creating this adaptation:

I approached Utopia the way I’ve approached all adaptations—this has to become my own. I don’t think it serves the original material by trying to be beholden to it. I don’t believe in just remaking something because the original was good. Adapt when you really know that you want to do something different or have it come to life in a different way.

So maybe instead of grousing because the movie differs from the book, we ought to look for and examine those differences. And although I haven’t read the source material for Utopia, I eagerly anticipate watching that series as soon as my husband and I finish the series we’re current bingeing on Acorn TV.

Akwaeke Emezi shuns Women’s prize over request for details of sex as defined ‘by law’

“Author, who became first non-binary trans writer to be nominated for the award in 2019, declines to submit future novels for consideration in protest.”

The controversy over inclusivity in the publishing industry continues to rage.

Hollywood has gobbled up book rights during the pandemic. Here’s why

Cover: Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

If you sometimes feel compelled to try to find the silver lining in the COVID-19 cloud, this might be a good item to put at the top of your list.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book Recommendations Reading

Star Wars Reads Begins Today!

This October marks the ninth year of Star Wars Reads, a month-long celebration of Star Wars and reading.

Source: Star Wars Reads Begins Today!

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J.K. Rowling’s ‘Troubled Blood’ is her most ambitious Robert Galbraith novel yet — and likely the most divisive

cover: Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith

I have liked J.K. Rowling’s mystery novels featuring Cormoran Strike—published under the pen name Robert Galbraith—very much. But Rowling herself has been criticized recently for transphobic remarks she made earlier this year. (This article contains a link to a related article.)

The fifth novel in the Cormoran Strike series, Troubled Blood, has recently been published. “In her new book, Rowling has created a creepy serial killer who dresses in women’s clothes to more easily reel in his female victims,” writes Bill Sheehan in this article in The Washington Post. Further:

A question quickly arises: Is the creation of such a character a legitimate aesthetic choice or is it an affront to the LGBTQ community? While I don’t pretend to know the author’s motivations, I lean toward the former interpretation. Many others will no doubt passionately disagree.

Sheehan’s appreciative review of the book is quite short, yet it has reopened the discussion about whether authors can or should be separated from their works. He ends the piece with “Let the arguments begin.”

And begin they have. There are already 734 comments. Read on.

The Era of Pandemic Literature Is Upon Us, and It’s Starting With Regina Porter’s ‘Daily Cleanse’

After six months, we’re far enough into the COVID-19 health crisis to begin to see what kind of literature will emerge from it. Adrienne Westenfeld, an assistant editor at Esquire, leads the way:

When truth is stranger than fiction, writers of fiction often make sense of reality on the page; yet in the unprecedented age of the coronavirus pandemic, many writers have reported feeling paralyzed by incessant despair, leaving them unable to create. But Regina Porter, the acclaimed author of 2019’s The Travelers, wasn’t paralyzed—instead, Porter found herself “compelled” to start a new novel at the height of the pandemic. In “Daily Cleanse,” a story adapted from that forthcoming novel-in-progress, tentatively titled The Rich People Have Gone Away, Porter introduces Theo Harper, a privileged New Yorker struggling to keep secrets from his pregnant wife, Darla, as life in the city grinds to a devastating halt due to the coronavirus. “Daily Cleanse” is at once an unsparing look into the discomforts of intimacy and a deeply felt portrait of a transformed city, one where, Porte

In this interview, “Porter spoke with Esquire about accessing her creativity against all odds, creating morally complicated characters, and employing fiction to investigate questions about race.”

Essay collection ‘Seismic’ reflects on Seattle’s status as a UNESCO City of Literature — and the power of storytelling

Nearly three years ago, Seattle’s literary reputation was solidified on the world stage with its designation as a UNESCO City of Literature. On Sept. 15, “Seismic — Seattle, City of Literature,” a collection of essays from Seattle-area writers like Timothy Egan, Claudia Castro Luna, Charles Johnson and more will be released — a series of reflections on what this status means for Seattle, and how art, literature and stories can be forces for change.

The Seattle Times offers the collection’s introductory chapter by editor Kristen Millares Young and the essay by Ken Workman (Duwamish, great-great-great-great-grandson of Chief Si’ahl), which Young describes as “canonical.”

Why Goodreads is bad for books

I use Goodreads, but only for a few particular aspects of my life. But I see a lot of references to how unhappy people are with Goodreads. Sarah Manavis fills in some of the blanks for me here; I don’t have most of the problems because I don’t use the features that people find problematic. But from her descriptions, I can tell that if I did use Goodreads for those purposes, I’d probably be unsatisfied with the platform’s functionality, too.

I found particularly interesting her description of The StoryGraph, a new service under development and scheduled for formal launch early next year.

What Made Black and Blue Pens Standard? A Colorful Look at Ink

set of 24 colored pens

When I was a kid, ballpoint pens—which we didn’t get to use in school until 4th grade—came only in blue, black, or red. By the time I started college, green ballpoints were available, which the rebel in me promptly adopted as my main writing implement.

In this article Yashvi Peeti delves into the history of ink and the psychology of color to help us choose among all the writing implements and colors now available.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Last Week's Links Literary History Reading

Literary Links

10 Mystery and Thriller Books Starring Older Women

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 Revenge Thrillers About the Power of Choice

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

She adds:

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

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

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

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

Cover: Alone Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Fiction Last Week's Links Literary History Reading Television

Literary Links

Is the literary trend toward passive women progress? Maybe we’ve been misreading

Lynn Steger Strong writes that Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy “broke open a new and surprisingly vital form: the novel of passivity.” Strong is happy to see that, for the last decade or so, women’s fiction has been recognized for probing what the novel—“forms built by and for males”—can be:

In particular, novels about a woman thinking, being talked at, are being actively considered. As opposed to the Great Male Novels that centered agency and action, these books are being seen as an expansion of the form, a shaking off of its conventional demands. Often they are built in fragments, structured around failure, absences, passivity and lacks. They defy the novelistic demands for a certain type of resolution; they land in spaces of confusion and of questions, refuse to give clear lines between cause and effect.

Evolution of a Reader

Andi Diehn lovingly describes how her reading—not just the books read, but the process and purpose of reading—has changed from age 10 through college, then through graduate school.

girl reading

I can relate. I left graduate school after completing the coursework, though not the dissertation, for a Ph.D. in literature after realizing that the academic experience did not correspond to my joy in and love of reading literature.

How Sci-Fi Writer H.P. Lovecraft’s Appalling Legacy of Racism Inspired HBO’s Lovecraft Country

HBO’s new series Lovecraft Country is based on Matt Ruff’s novel of the same name. This article takes a look at why Ruff decided to use Lovecraft’s work as the basis for an examination of American bigotry: “the fact that Lovecraft himself was deeply racist and anti-Semitic. And while many long-dead artists espoused beliefs that are abhorrent by 2020 standards, Lovecraft was even a bigot for his own time.”

This short article offers an overview of the writer and his legacy. 

‘We’ve Already Survived an Apocalypse’: Indigenous Writers Are Changing Sci-Fi

“Long underrepresented in genre fiction, Native American and First Nations authors are reshaping its otherworldly (but still often Eurocentric) worlds.”

there has been an explosion of novels, comics, graphic novels and short stories from writers blending sci-fi and fantasy with Native narratives, writing everything from “slipstream” alternate realities to supernatural horror to post-apocalyptic stories about environmental collapse.

Poets and novelists have been writing about life under COVID-19 for more than a century

Rachel Hadas, professor of English at Rutgers University, shares the idea “that good art gives a clear picture of what is happening – even . . . if it hadn’t happened yet when that art was created.”

Here she gives some examples from literature written between 1897 and the middle of the 20th century.

One Twitter Account’s Quest to Proofread The New York Times

“In 2017, the Times dissolved its copy desk, possibly permitting more typos to slip through. Meet the anonymous lawyer who’s correcting the paper of record one untactful tweet at a time.” 

The former English teacher and copy editor in me couldn’t resist this article. I’m often distressed by the glaring errors in punctuation and grammar that I see just about everywhere, not just in The New York Times. But I don’t think I’d have the stamina that the person behind this Twitter account seems to have. 

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Alan Dershowitz claims a fictional lawyer defamed him. The implications for novelists are very real.

on Charles of the Washington Post reports that Alan Dershowitz, a real-life attorney, claims that he was defamed by a fictional attorney on the CBS All Access show The Good Fight.

This may sound comic, “But his complaint, if successful, could pose a challenge to the vibrancy of contemporary historical fiction and biographical fiction — indeed, to any creative work that includes interactions between fictional and real-life public figures,” writes Charles.

What Irony Is Not

“A handy guide to distinguishing the notoriously slippery concept from its distant cousins coincidence, satire, parody, and paradox.”

In this excerpt from his book Irony and Sarcasm, Roger Kreuz, Associate Dean and Director of Graduate Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Psychology at the University of Memphis, attempts to define this notoriously slippery term and differentiate it from related concepts such as coincidence, paradox, satire, and parody.

Author Angie Thomas on How Books Are Transforming the Next Generation: ‘They’re Realizing Their Power’

cover: The Hate U Give

“I believe in the power of books and how they shape young people for the future,” Thomas declared. “I’m very hopeful that we’re giving them better tools so that they could be better leaders than any of us ever imagined.”

Angie Thomas, whose 2017 YA debut novel was The Hate U Give, believes books can inspire and empower the world’s future leaders.

Listen Up: The Benefits of Audiobooks for Your Heart and Mind

I’ve always thought of audiobooks as a way to get more reading done while doing other tasks such as cleaning or folding laundry. Here Stacey Megally bolsters that function with information on the mental, physical, and emotional benefits of audiobooks.

Watch more TV to understand the backlash against the women in the running for vice president

Beth Daley, co-author with Kristina Horn Sheeler of the book Woman President: Confronting Postfeminist Political Culture, examines “how fictional and actual women presidential figures are framed in news coverage, political satire, memes, television and film. Our close reading of these diverse texts reveals a persistent backlash that takes many forms: satirical cartoons that deploy sexist stereotypes; the pornification of women candidates in memes; and news framing that includes misogynistic metaphors, to name a few.”

Reading as a Form of Protest

Gracie Bialecki lauds reading as a form of protest because of novels’ ability to increase empathy by immersing readers into the lives of characters different from themselves. 

Among the books she cites are Black Boy by Richard Wright, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and Sula by Toni Morrison.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Book Recommendations Fiction Last Week's Links Literature & Psychology Reading Writing

Literary Links

Many writers say they can actually hear the voices of their characters – here’s why

I don’t write fiction, but I read a lot about and talk with people who do. I’m always fascinated when fiction writers say that a character either appeared and demanded to be written about or appeared to object when the writer wrote the character in a particular way.

Here’s a fascinating look by John Foxwell, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of English at the U.K.’s Durham University, into how writers experience this phenomenon. Foxwell and colleagues surveyed 181 writers at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in 2014 and 2018.

“. . . the more researchers delve into thought and imagination, the more difficult it is to say exactly how much control over our thoughts and actions any of us actually have – and to what extent the control we feel we have is an illusion.”

How Phillis Wheatley Was Recovered Through History

“For decades, a white woman’s memoir shaped our understanding of America’s first Black poet. Does a new book change the story?”

Elizabeth Winkler reports on the life of Black poet Phillis Wheatley and examines a new book, The Age of Phillis, by poet and professor Honorée Fanonne Jeffers. In her book Jeffers attempts to understand the only version of Phillis Wheatley’s life, written 50 years after the poet’s death, by Margaretta Matilda Odell, a white woman who claimed to be a “collateral descendant” of Susanna Wheatley of Boston, owner of slave Phillis.

In turbulent times, culling my book collection gave me the illusion of control. Then the dilemmas began multiplying.

Michael Dirda writes that over the past two months “I’ve been sorting and culling the vast number of books I’ve accumulated in a lifetime of reading and collecting.” The COVID-19 pandemic has produced a “persistent feeling of helplessness, frustration, anger and mild despair,” but he hoped that going through 300 boxes of books and deciding which to keep and which to part ways with would give him a feeling of control. 

“However, making these decisions has turned out to be harder than I expected.” 

Read some of the dilemmas he faces in deciding which one of multiple copies of the same book he should keep.

A Novel Way to Think About Literary Categories

Here’s a big topic I’m still trying to get my head around: Tim Parks sets out to answer the question “Why do we categorize novels?” In the article linked here he explains how he found similarities between a number of authors, all of whose works center around the question of belonging to a particular group.

But this is only the first article. There are three more articles in the series, each dealing with another such category. (This introductory article contains a link to the entire series.) Parks constitutes his categories as “clearly defined hierarchies of value, or centers of interest, generating distinct, or at least recognizable, types of plot and character interaction.”

Over the course of the four articles Parks arrives at four fictional categories, or fiction that centers around one of these four “distinct value systems”:

  1. stories focused on the characters’ relations to the community (belonging)
  2. around conflicts between indulgence and renunciation (goodness)
  3. around a tension between the craving to be free and a need to feel protected (liberty)
  4. those related to winning and losing: confidence and inadequacy, strength and weakness, complacency and resentment, envy and emulation, seducing and succumbing, jubilation, but also wise resignation (power)

So if you’re spending some of your pandemic downtime categorizing and rearranging your book shelves, why not give Parks’s system a try?

15 Extraordinary Books You Can Read in One Sitting

“The one-sitting novel isn’t just something you can read in one afternoon—it’s something you should read in one afternoon. The one-sitting novel is perfectly structured to be consumed as a complete, transporting experience, whether that’s a breakneck ride through a thrilling narrative, or a slow, dreamy fog that envelops your mind as you page through,” writes Adrienne Westenfeld for Esquire.

I was attracted to this list mainly because my ability to focus over extended periods of time has been hampered by the uncertainties of the COVID-19 world. Westenfeld says the upper limit of her choices here is 250 pages, which seems appropriate for a book to be read in one day.

How to Show Kids the Joy of Reading

If you need a truly feel-good story—and who doesn’t need one of those right now?—read about how one teacher in Tennessee helped pilot a project that has boosted primary students’ reading comprehension and made them eager and excited about reading.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Fiction Last Week's Links Literary History Reading

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Looking at Epic Poetry Through 21st-Century Eyes

“New translations of the ‘Aeneid,’ ‘Beowulf’ and other ancient stories challenge some of our modern-day ideas.”

Classical epic poetry has been the basis of the Western literary canon for centuries and has helped shape social values and political identities as well as literary history. But new translations of such epics as Vergil’s Aeneid, Beowulf, and Spenser’s The Faerie Queene aim to bolster “a sense of urgency about restoring nuance to the public’s understanding of the [epic] genre”:

As a series of political crises have, in the West, posed fresh challenges to the stories that have shaped our norms and principles, those who study epics see critical readings as an increasingly vital endeavor.

Why Stories Makes Sense of Our Lives (and Relationships)

“What is the essence of a person? When we profess to know someone, that is, really know someone—like a close friend, or a husband or wife—what is it that we know?”

In this excerpt from  The Act of Living: What the Great Psychologists Can Teach Us About Finding Fulfillment, clinical psychologist Frank Tallis illustrates why “We have a natural inclination to think of ourselves—our past, present, and future—as an ongoing story.”

The Scariest Books

“Whether you’re scared most by graphic body horror, the uncategorisable, or the blurring of boundaries between supernatural menace and psychological unraveling, this list will have something for you.”

Xavier Aldana Reyes, editor of Horror: A Literary History, discusses five scary books. “With horror novels and films, you know you’re experiencing fear in a safe space that you ultimately control,” he writes.

Joan Frank ~ I Say It’s Spinach

Author Joan Frank explicates what she calls a tendency “to editorialize in the course of storytelling” that she began noticing in literary fiction a few years ago. She began noticing novels and stories that contain an agenda, “bearing a Message, with a capital M.”

While these agendas—on topics such as human rights, climate change, gender fluidity—may be well intentioned, she argues that they are not art. She argues that, although such causes are worthy and important, “They are not the story.” Furthermore, “I must insist that art that is art—at least in terms of literary fiction—wants nothing to do with lobbying or lobbyists.”

Also see propoganda novel.

An Elegy for the Landline in Literature

I am old enough to remember when a phone ringing in the middle of the night indicated that something very bad had happened. Of course, that ringing phone was a landline, the only kind of phone we had back in those days.

“Since its invention, in the nineteenth century, the landline has often been portrayed as sinister—the object through which fate comes to call,” writes Sophie Haigney. She discusses how the landline was used in literature “as an open line of possibility, just waiting to ring,” that has been eliminated by the ubiquitous cell phone.

How to read more books

kid with books

“Modern life can feel too frantic for books. Use these habit-building strategies to carve out time for the joy of reading”

I avoid advice on how to read more books that advocates speed reading because I believe that reading requires more time for interacting with the text than speed reading allows. Reading better is more important than simply reading more.

But this article is aimed at people who in the past have loved their reading life but, because of the proliferation of forms of information delivery and entertainment, haven’t been able to give pleasure reading the attention they’d like. 

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown