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5 Books to Keep You Company During Isolation

I recently came across the article “Kristin Hannah Recommends 5 Books to Keep You Company During Isolation.”

Since I’ve been having trouble writing much of anything at all, I decided to use the format of this post as a template for my own recommendations. 

Here are the categories, Kristin Hannah’s recommendations, and my own suggestions.

One Book That Made Me Laugh

Kristin Hannah’s recommendation: This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

This is the hardest category for me, since I almost never read any book described as “comic.” In fact, I’ve had an adversarial relationship with comedy most of my life. As a kid I hated The Three Stooges and Marx Brothers movies. More recently, I tried reading Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons after a couple of cousins talked about how funny it is at a family gathering. I hated it and gave up after the first few chapters. I did read all 394 pages of A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole—it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981, after all—and still regret every minute of my life thus wasted.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

But I absolutely loved The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and still believe that the answer to The Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42.

One Book That Left Me Feeling Hopeful

Kristin Hannah’s recommendation: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

My recommendation: A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra. Who’d have thought a novel about the war in Chechnya could be so full of hope? But this one is, and it will make your heart swell.

One Book That Was a Total Escape

Kristin Hannah’s recommendation: Tell No One  by Harlan Coben

“You can’t go wrong with Harlan Coben,” Hannah says. My thoughts exactly.

The Boy from the Woods

That’s why I’m recommending Coben’s most recent thriller, The Boy from the Woods.

A Book I Binged in One Sitting

Kristin Hannah’s recommendation: Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

This category was also difficult for me because I read very slowly and therefore almost never binge a whole book.

Our Souls at Night

But I did just that with Kent Haruf’s final work, Our Souls at Night. It’s a sorrowful story, but also compelling.

The Book I’m Currently Reading

Kristin Hannah’s: Mildred Pierce by James M. Caine

Before She Knew Him

My current read is Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson.


© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Books I Read in January

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Cover: Watership Down

Adams, Richard. Watership Down
© 1972
rpt. Avon, 1975
ISBN 0-38000293-0

If you liked The Lord of the Rings, you’ll probably like this book. Replace Hobbits with rabbits, and you’ve got an archtypical heroic quest.

Forced by the encroachment of people into their warren of Sandleford in England, a small band of rabbits set out in search of a new place to settle. The band includes many of the standard characters of heroic literature: a leader, a seer of visions, a strong hero, a fast messenger, experienced elders, and inexperienced but eager youngsters. During their journey they learn to depend on each other and to appreciate and make use of each member’s unique qualities.

Because seriously attacking my Classics Club list  is a big part of my reading plan for 2019,  , I’m starting the year with this book from the list. I included Watership Down on my list because my daughter enjoyed reading it when she was in about fourth grade and because many of her contemporaries also love it.


November Road by Lou Berney

cover: November Road by Lou Berney

Berney, Lou. November Road
William Morrow, 2018
ISBN 978-0-06-266384-9

Recommended

Frank Guidry likes his life: the fancy clothes, the many girls, and all the respect he receives as a mid-level functionary of the most powerful crime boss in New Orleans. He’s as stunned as anyone when President Kennedy is assassinated. Then, when a couple of his associates turn up dead, Frank remembers that he had delivered a get-away car to Dallas a few days before the killing. Frank suddenly realizes that the person behind the assassination is tying up loose ends—and that he himself is also a loose end. Without even stopping off at home, he hits the road to try and outwit and outrun the hit man he’s pretty sure will soon be coming after him.

Meanwhile, in tiny Woodrow, Oklahoma, Charlotte Roy decides she’s finally had it with her drunk of a husband. She packs her two daughters, ages 8 and 9, and the epileptic family dog into the car and heads west. Ostensibly, Charlotte intends to visit a long-lost aunt in Los Angeles, but what she’s really after is more life opportunities for herself and her girls. She manages to keep smiling and encouraging the children, even when their car breaks down in a torrential rain storm.

As Frank Guidry drives past the disabled car and the woman with two kids in the backseat, he realizes that traveling as a man with a family might help him throw his pursuer, who’d be looking for a man traveling alone, off the scent. What he isn’t prepared for is what happens after he manages to hook up with Charlotte and her daughters.

Every character in this novel is well and completely drawn, even the two children. It’s these characters that give such force to this novel about taking chances, making decisions, and taking responsibility for the consequences of those decisions.


The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

cover: The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner

Kushner, Rachel. The Mars Room
Scribner, 2018
ISBN 978-1-4767-5655-4

Recommended

As the novel opens, we meet Romy Leslie Hall, inmate W314159, a prisoner on her way to begin serving her sentence of two consecutive life sentences plus six years at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility in northern California. 

Romy was born into the world of poverty, sexual abuse, drug addiction, and lack of opportunities of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district. She grew up on the streets and in the back of buses. She has spent much of her life “hustling my income as a lap dancer at the Mars Room on Market Street.” 

Two years ago, when she was 27, a customer in his mid 50s—Kurt Kennedy, whom she calls Creep Kennedy—began stalking her. Unable to get help in dealing with Kennedy, she finally fled to Los Angeles with her 5-year-old son to start over. But when she found Kennedy on the front porch one night when she came home from work, she knew she’d have to take care of the problem herself.

The novel focuses on the impersonal, uncaring world of the justice system and the prison system that swallows up people like Romy. A sense of detachment pervades the action, even Romy’s descriptions of her own life—a life that has taught her that she has no options, no alternatives, no opportunities for anything different. 

The disjointed nature of the narrative reflects Romy’s life. Parts of the novel unfold in the manner of what, in nonfiction, is called a braided essay: short sections separated by dividing lines, each section providing a small chunk of information. It’s up to the reader to put all the pieces together, to assemble a mosaic of imagistic truth about society’s invisible people like Romy.

In [Rachel] Kushner’s view, the value of fiction is its ability to wrap reality in a “mythical envelope,” a shroud of meaning-making that can produce stories that are truer than truth.

Dana Goodyear, “Rachel Kushner’s Immersive Fiction”

I recommend this novel for its gritty telling of social truth, though I admit it won’t be right for everybody.


No Exit by Taylor Adams

Adams, Taylor. No Exit
William Morrow, 2019
ISBN 978-0-06-287565-5

As she’s rushing to Utah to see her dying mother, Darby Thorne gets caught in a blizzard in the mountains of Colorado. When the highway becomes impassable, she pulls into a rest stop to wait out the storm and finds four other people already inside the building. When she goes outside to try to find a cell signal, she discovers a little girl locked in a cage inside a van in the parking lot. Who is holding the girl prisoner? And how can Darby get both the girl and herself out alive?

This story is an example of the country-house mystery (the form perfected by Agatha Christie), which is itself a variant of the locked-room mystery. Another name for this type of story is the closed-circle mystery because the situation is set up so that no new characters can arrive and none of the assembled characters can leave; the guilty party must therefore be one of these characters.

“The story must show you everything you need to solve the central question upfront,” says Taylor Adams. “A single setting, a few characters, a handful of props, all established early, so you feel the author is playing fair. No new locations, scene changes, or unreliable narrators. Instead of zooming out and broadening in scale and action, as many stories do, a locked-room mystery zooms in and reveals new intricacies of what has already been introduced.”

Taylor Adams, quoted in “Move Over, Lady Psychopaths: The Locked-Room Mystery Is Back”

Taylor Adams understands the challenges of writing a closed-circle mystery, but he doesn’t quite overcome those challenges in this book. I have two problems with the story.

First, Darby decides she must determine which of the people inside the rest stop is the villain holding the girl captive. She finally decides to confide in one of those strangers, an action that produces all kinds of consequences. However, instead of taking such a chance, all she had to do was wait. It’s reasonable to conclude that whoever is holding the girl wants her alive; otherwise the girl would already be dead. In order to keep the girl alive in the blizzard, the captor would have to go outside periodically to run the vehicle for a while to keep the girl from freezing to death. All Darby had to do was wait to see who finds some excuse to go out and start the van. Then she’d know who she was up against and could ask the others for help.

Second, the heroic physical action Darby performs not once, but twice would require an Olympic-level gymnast.

For both of these reasons, No Exit doesn’t work for me.


Transcription by Kate Atkinson

Atkinson, Kate. Transcription
Little, Brown, 2018
ISBN 978-0-316-17663-7

Recommended

They say our entire life flashes in front of our eyes in just a few seconds when we face a life-threatening situation. In Kate Atkinson’s latest novel, Transcription, that’s exactly what happens to the lead character, Juliet Armstrong.

The novel opens, in 1981, with the 60-year-old Juliet attended to by paramedics after she’s hit by a car. After that short introductory section, we see Juliet’s life unfold before our eyes as the narrative retreats into the 1940s, when Juliet worked for MI 5 during the war, and 1950s, when she worked at the BBC after the war.

Raised by a single mother, 17-year-old Juliet was devastated by the death of her mother. She attends a second-rate secretarial school and, soon after graduating at age 18, interviews for a job with the Security Service.

She fingered the strand of [her mother’s] pearls at her neck. Inside each pearl there was a little piece of grit. That was the true self of the pearl, wasn’t it? The beauty of the pearl was just the poor oyster trying to protect itself. From the grit. From the truth. (p. 20)

She gets the job and is soon recruited by MI 5 to participate in a special intelligence operation by transcribing interviews between one of their agents and British Fascist sympathizers. Gradually she gets drawn more deeply into the world of British espionage.

With her characteristic wit and humor (sometimes a bit too much of both), Atkinson creates a character we become invested in while simultaneously holding at arm’s length. Juliet’s life work frames her search for identity, for “the true self,” a search that the reader shares with her.


Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott

Abbott, Megan. Give Me Your Hand
text ©2018
Hachette Audio, 2018
Narrated by Chloe Cannon

I hate it when people begin book reviews with “I liked [or didn’t like] this book,” so please forgive me, but I didn’t like this book. I REALLY didn’t like it.

Two women who knew one another for a while during high school come head-to-head about 10 years later when they compete for assignment to the study team of their mentor, a famous woman scientist whose example had inspired them to pursue careers in science. Back in high school girl A had told girl B a terrible secret. Horrified, girl B had broken off their friendship and assumed she’d never have to deal with girl A again. Their unexpected reunion sparks much resentment and breast-beating soul searching in girl B.

The scientific study in question concerns premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). The novel soon develops into a full-blown melodrama, with blood becoming a heavy-handed, overall symbol for just about every bad thing that happens. (And of course you know that bad things must happen.) Characterization is flat and just as stereotypical as the association between women and blood would suggest. The men who also work at the lab suffer from the same fate of flat characterization, first as men and secondly as geeks or nerds jealous of any rewards women might garner. The book ends with a blatant suggestion that psychopathy is related to parenting, particularly with mothers raising daughters.

I usually try to emphasize what works for me over what doesn’t work in a novel, but in this novel I find no redeeming features. Megan Abbott receives a lot of general praise, so I hope her next novel will be better than this one.


© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Mental Health Book Recommendations From Those Who Struggle

Source: Mental Health Book Recommendations From Those Who Struggle

Here’s a great list of books that can help us better understand mental health issues and the people who face them.

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Fiction How Fiction Works Reading Uncategorized Writing

5 Irresistible Introductions in Fiction

Tips for Writers and Readers

Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Read that sentence, one of the most famous first sentences in literature, aloud. Notice its cadence. The rhythm lulls you toward sleepiness—appropriate for a dream. And the rest of the book hinges on that final word, again. “Why again?” we wonder. “What happened during the other time or times at Manderley?” “Is Manderley only a dream now, and, if so, why?”

A good introduction piques readers’ interest and compels them to keep reading.

Charles Dickens was a master of grand openings:

A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us …

David Copperfield:

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o’clock at night.

A Christmas Carol:

Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.

Most readers say that they evaluate whether to read a book by looking at the first sentence. Writers have maybe five seconds to capture potential readers’ attention. If the opening sentence doesn’t somehow do that, readers will put that book back on the shelf and pick up another one.

Good introductions grab readers immediately by involving them in the story. Effective introductions make readers ask questions and keep turning the pages to find out the answers. There is no formula for an irresistible introduction, but readers know one when they encounter it.

Here are five more examples of introductions that grabbed me and refused to let me go.

Emma by Jane Austen

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

Like the opening of Rebecca, the soothing poetic meter of the first part of this introduction draws readers in and underscores the harmony of Emma Woodhouse’s life. However, the second part suggests that changes are coming. I need to keep reading to see what will happen to distress or vex Emma.

The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly

Everybody lies.

Cops lie. Lawyers lie. Witnesses lie. The victims lie.

A trial is a contest of lies. And everybody in the courtroom knows this.

In my heart I know that even the most honest person will lie under certain circumstances. But this opening turns upside down my expectation that justice involves a trial in which witnesses vow to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” I must see how how everyone in this case is going to lie and how a trial in which everybody lies will turn out.

Mind Prey by John Sandford

The storm blew up late in the afternoon, tight, gray clouds hustling over the lake like dirty, balled-up sweat socks spilling from a basket.

Here weather imagery sets the mood: threatening weather suggests ominous happenings coming up. And when the conditions smell like “dirty, balled-up sweat socks,” I know that nothing good can possibly happen.

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson

I EXIST! I am conceived to the chimes of midnight on the clock on the mantelpiece in the room across the hall.

A first-person narrator who observes her own conception can only take me to dizzying places. I want to continue reading to see what else she has in store for me.

The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton

What it begins with, I know finally, is the kernel of meanness in people’s hearts. I don’t know exactly how or why it gets inside us; that’s one of the mysteries I haven’t solved yet.

Not only do I want to learn about “the kernel of meanness in people’s hearts,” but I want to hear the story of how the narrator discovers this truth that he or she finally knows. Maybe what I learn here will teach me about human nature, or “exactly how or why [the kernel of meanness] gets inside us.”

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

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My Recent Browsing History

Here are some of the recent articles that have caught my eye.

Is the human brain hardwired to appreciate poetry?
George Saunders: what writers really do when they write
Storyhealing

Literature can enthuse medicine, and medicine can inspire literature. They are complementary treatments for being human.

The Stubborn Optimist

Following the persevering example of the writer and activist Grace Paley

THE ILLNESS AND INSIGHT OF ROBERT LOWELL

A new book is the first to bring clinical expertise to the poet’s case. What does it reveal about his work?

Did Jane Austen die of arsenic poisoning? Maybe. Maybe not.
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Books, Movies & TV to Look for in 2017

Now that we’ve finished up with lists of the best books of 2016, it’s time to start thinking about the best books to read in 2017.

Spring 2017 Announcements: All Our Coverage

Publishers Weekly has us covered with a look at the following categories of books:

  • Art, Architecture, & Photography
  • Business & Economics
  • Comics & Graphic Novels
  • Cooking & Food
  • Essays & Literary Criticism
  • History
  • Lifestyle
  • Literary Fiction
  • Memoirs & Biographies
  • Mysteries & Thrillers
  • Poetry
  • Politics & Current Events
  • Romance & Erotica
  • Science
  • SF, Fantasy, & Horror
2017’s Most Anticipated Movie Adaptations

The movie industry has obliged our curiosity and anticipation with a schedule heavy on book- and fact-based stories that run from animated family films to thrillers and comedies, sequels and continuations, comic books and biopics, war films and romance. There are two gigantic Stephen King adaptations on the docket, and sci-fi/fantasy fans with a literary bent have three eagerly awaited films coming this year.

5 Nonfiction Books We’re Excited to Read in 2017

If you’re into current affairs, true crime, science, or history, we think you’ll love these soon-to-be-released books.

What You’ll Be Reading in 2017

John Williams of The New York Times point out some books, both fiction and nonfiction, he’s looking forward to in 2017.

Which Books Are Coming to TV in 2017?

Ian McShane & Neil Gaiman, Amy Adams & Gillian Flynn, Elizabeth Moss & Margaret Atwood —TV is about to have a very literary year.

25 of the Most Exciting Book Releases for 2017

Vulture has the news for you on upcoming book releases.

Most Anticipated: The Great 2017 Book Preview

From The Millions:

Books from no fewer than four Millions staffers? It’s a feast. We hope the following list of 80-something upcoming books peps you up for the (first half of the) new year. You’ll notice that we’ve re-combined our fiction and nonfiction lists, emphasizing fiction as in the past.

The 25 Most Anticipated Books by Women for 2017

From Elle:

Phew, 2016. We can’t remember ever being so happy to see a year end, even as the next brings only uncertainty. There is one thing we know for sure, though: Misogyny has had far too big a public platform, in these past few months especially. So we’re kicking off the new year with a preview of extraordinary books by women, with an eye to how women live, imagine, and think across the globe. Now, more than ever, we need compelling fiction to widen the bounds of our empathy and imaginations, and strong women’s voices to guide us.

 

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Even More Best Books of 2016 Lists

Adam Woog’s 10 best mysteries of 2016

Seattle Times book reviewer Adam Woog lists his favorites in one of my favorite literary genres.

PW’s Top Authors Pick Their Favorite Books of 2016

A short list compiled by Publishers Weekly.

2016 By the Books: A Month-by-Month Reader’s Guide

This list takes a bit of an unusual approach to analyzing the books of 2016:

For help understanding what the heck happened in 2016, and how Trump stands to inherit it all, check out these 12 books paired with each month’s major news.

10 Overlooked Books of 2016: From The Red Car to Future Sex

It was a profound year for the written word and yet many incredible books remain unsung. Here are ten books from 2016 that deserve your time and attention.

The Best Children’s Books of 2016

Maria Popova chooses her favorite picture books of the year.

These are the top 100 books of the year, according to Google

The year’s top “books and graphic novels … ranked based on their popularity in the Google Play store.” This method of evaluation means that not all the books listed here were published in 2016.

Customer Favorites: 2016’s Top-Selling New Releases

From Amazon: “List counts only first editions published in 2016 and includes paid units in print and Kindle.”

The mother list is broken down into several categories:

  • Top 20 Overall Customer Favorites for 2016
  • Top 20 Customer Favorites in Kids & Young Adult
  • Top 20 Most Wished For Books of 2016
  • Top 20 Most Gifted Books of 2016

 

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

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For Your Halloween Entertainment

Here are a couple of articles full of suggestions from The Seattle Times:

  1. What’s on your Halloween reading list?
  2. What to watch on TV this Halloween weekend
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On Reading

An old-school book lover in praise of the audiobook

Brian Howe admits, “I don’t always take easily to new technology.” He still doesn’t use an e-reader—not, he explains, as an ethical matter but because texts for his obscure reading tastes, like small-press poetry, are generally not available as e-books.

But, Howe says, he has become a fan of audiobooks. He started when a new job required a long commute. He started with genre fiction and with books he’d already read in print. Gillian Flynn’s “_Gone Girl_ was the turning point when audiobooks began to shed their guilty pleasure status.” He found the actors who read the parts of Nick and Amy so captivating that when he saw what he calls “the horridly miscast movie, I hated it, because those voice actors were Nick and Amy to me.”

I had a similar concern with the Harry Potter series. I’ve never read any of the books in print. I came to all of them through the captivating audio versions narrated by Jim Dale. Although Dale read the whole book himself, he used several voices for the various characters. When the first Harry Potter movie was set to debut, I wondered if Jim Dale’s reading would spoil the experience of hearing different voices by the actors in the movie. But it didn’t, even though I loved Dale’s reading.

For Howe, “The best audiobooks transcend mere recitations to become dramatic productions, somewhere between novels and plays.” Although I loved Jim Dale’s variety of voices, I prefer that approach of a single reader to more dramatic audio representations in which different actors voice the various characters. I find such representations slightly annoying because they break for me the feeling that I’m still “reading” a work of literature. Plays are good things, but I also love the fact of having a novel’s world build up in my head as I read. Audiobooks with multiple readers break that illusion for me by making a book seem more like a theatrical presentation than a novel.

But I am glad to read Howe’s admission that “Audiobooks will never replace reading for me, but they have become a unique, enriching annex of it.” I’ve never understood why many readers are so eager to think in dichotomies, forcing us to choose between print and e-books, and between reading and listening. Why do we have to choose just one? I have room in my own life for print books, e-books, and audiobooks. One isn’t inherently better than the others. They’re just different choices available to allow us to experience literature under different circumstances.

Is Literary Adaptation Better on Film or on Television?

M. King Adkins addresses a different question: Which is better, a film or a television adaptation of a book? Adkins cites the statistic that “between 1994 and 2013, 58 percent of the top grossing movies produced were some sort of adaptation (Novels into Films: The Metamorphosis of Fiction into Cinema, George Bluestone, 2003).”

When we read a novel, Adkins writes, we know the end is coming as the stack of pages under our right hand becomes thinner and thinner.

Television series, on the other hand just don’t resolve, at least not until they must. Instead, they actively avoid resolution, delaying it to the last possible moment: the finalé (and how many of those have turned out to be satisfying?)

And, Adkins continues, video games go television even one better by allowing us to participate in the acting out, and thereby the writing, of the narrative. This brings him to the following conclusion:

I doubt very much we will stop pushing the generic boundaries until it’s possible to plug our brains directly into the computer and live out an alternative existence. Mark my words: one of these days, you’ll notice, in fine print at the bottom of your vision, “This life is based on the book by…”

‘Writing America’ identifies our literary landmarks

In “Writing America,” Stanford professor Shelley Fisher Fishkin surveys the literary landscape, exploring the ways American writers have influenced, and been influenced by, their surroundings. Published on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Historic Preservation Act, the book traces the footsteps of William Faulkner, Allen Ginsberg, Zora Neale Hurston, Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe and many others.

4 Steps to Read Like a Writer

The Write Practice is a web site aimed at helping fiction writers get better at their craft. To be a good writer one must also be a good reader, and in this article Ruthanne Reid explains how to read like a writer. But even if you don’t aspire to write fiction, you can become a better reader.

According to Reid, there are four steps to reading like a writer:

(1) Marking passages that you find particularly moving while reading. You can’t analyze effective passages unless you can find them. For this Reid recommends—no surprise here—the use of sticky notes.

(2) Asking three big questions:

  • What was powerful?
  • Why was it powerful?
  • How did it achieve that power?

(3) Mimicking your favorite books. Practice writing in other writers’ styles so that you can discover your own.

(4) Practicing.

Read Reid’s explanations of how to perform these four steps to help you read like a writer.

Related material: Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose. See especially the first chapter, entitled “Close Reading.”

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Monday Miscellany

Ranking Cormac McCarthy’s Greatest Books

child of godI’m a week behind with this, but I include it here because Cormac McCarthy is an author I haven’t yet worked on, and I’m glad to have the suggestions offered here:

Trailing Philip Roth by a few months and Toni Morrison by two years, Cormac McCarthy (who turns 81 this weekend) is one of America’s greatest and most decorated writers. His cultural stock has risen immeasurably in the last decade — whether it’s the Coen brothers adapting No Country for Old Men and winning Best Picture at the Oscars for it, or his recent (disappointing) original screenplay for the Ridley Scott-directed film The Counselor, McCarthy has made the transition from great novelist to phenomenon. He’s continuously successful, but he’s never changed, and doesn’t show any signs of letting his advanced age soften him. His entire body of work includes screenplays, plays, and short fiction — but it’s his novels that remain his greatest achievement, so to celebrate his birthday, we rank the five McCarthy novels you must read (and if it helps, the order in which you should do it.)

Man Booker Prize longlist revealed with U.S. writers included for the first time

This was perhaps the biggest literary news of the past week:

The Man Booker prize longlist was revealed today with American authors in the running for one of literature’s top honours for the first time.

Organisers of the UK’s best-known fiction award – worth £50,000 to the winner – announced last year they were opening up the 46-year-old prize to writers of any nationality writing in English.

The American writers on the list include David Mitchell, David Nicholls, and Howard Jacobson.

The best literary hashtags on Twitter

Michele Filgate tells us, “some of the most interesting and useful hashtags on Twitter are designed to build community in the far-flung literary world.”

To join the community, take a look at these seven hashtags she explains.

Don’t read this book: A history of literary censorship

Banned Books Week pinLeo Robson takes a look at censorship through the lens of three recent books:

  • The Zhivago Affair: the Kremlin, the CIA and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée
  • The Most Dangerous Book: the Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham
  • The Rushdie Fatwa and After: a Lesson to the Circumspect by Brian Winston

13 Ways To Fit More Reading Into Your Day

Chances are that, if you’re reading this blog, you probably already know some of the tricks listed here.

However, I bet you’ll find something new in these suggestions by Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. If nothing else, you’ll get permission to stop reading a book that doesn’t grab you instead of soldiering through to the bitter end.

Our 8 favourite literary references on The Simpsons

Cable network FXX will run a non-stop marathon of all 552 episodes of The Simpsons from August 21 through September 1.

If you need a literary reason to justify watching or recording, here it is:

To mark the ultimate Simpsons marathon, we’re highlighting our favourite hilarious literary references that made their way onto the show in past years.