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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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Literary Links

How to Read a Book, According to Virginia Woolf

Ellen Gutoskey discusses Virginia Woolf’s essay “How Should One Read a Book?” Gutoskey begins by noting that the title is a question, not a prescriptive statement:

“The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions,” she says.

The article includes a link to a PDF of the essay, if you’re interested in following along.

The Greatest Literary Alliance of All Time: You, the Author, and the Character

“Lisa Zeidner Asks Us to Think Deeply About Point of View in Fiction.”

I see reading a work of literature as an exchange between reader and writer. (See reader-response criticism.)

In this exploration of point of view in fiction, Lisa Zeidner takes that theory one step further by looking at now a dynamic due (author and reader) but a dynamic threesome (author, reader, and character). “It’s in that bleeding or overlap between the entities—choose your metaphor, or your ink color—that empathy lives,” she writes.

Reading Pathways: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld

When you come across an article that seems to have been written just for you, what do you do? You read it, of course.

I’ve read a lot of quotations from Terry Pratchett and much praise for his work. But after learning that Discworld isn’t really a series—in the sense of a collection in which one book follows another, in a narrative and logical line—but rather a group of independent but inter-related books, I had no idea where to start. Here Aisling Twomey answers my question, as if she were responding specifically to me.

Can Historians Be Traumatized by History?

There’s been a lot written about how experiencing violence and atrocities first-hand can lead to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Here James Robins go one step further, to ask people if people, such as therapists or historians conducting research, can “be traumatized by something experienced only secondhand.”

Annotation: How to Get the Most Our of Your Books

With a blog called Notes in the Margin, I was, you can bet, all over this article about annotation books. But this piece isn’t about how to make notations in your books to help you remember significant points.

Instead, Joshua C. Craig discusses how book annotations originated and what their functions have been over time. Beginning before the invention of the printing press and continuing into the present, when annotations may help students discussing literature on a pandemic-inspired Zoom meeting, he considers three functions of annotations:

chunking, connecting, and/or signaling. Annotations can serve more than one of these purposes at a time but will always serve at least one of these three purposes, in addition to any other reasons the annotator has marked the section.

Craig ends by encouraging us to write out annotations as fully as possible, following a college professor’s advice to “write your annotations so that a stranger picking up your book will be able to understand them.” That stranger may be a much older you, who has no memory of what you meant by cryptic symbols or words jotted in the margin. Craig says he uses “sticky notes and note cards to expand when needed.”

Annotate This: On Footnotes

This article is by Ed Simon, “Editor-at-Large for The Marginalia Review of Books, a channel of The Los Angeles Review of Books.” (Back when I started my web site, I wanted the name Marginalia.com, but it was already taken. Marginalia means “things written in the margin.”)

Simon focus on the use of footnotes here. “Footnotes can be an exercise in arid, sober, boring credit-giving, but some of the most dynamic monographs have the best stuff squired away in the footnotes.” 

After much discussion of the use of footnotes in religious texts of ages past, Simon turns to their use in novels, which “make use of the footnote’s literary possibilities, allowing parallel narratives to take place in the margins, unseen narrators to comment, digressions, disagreements, and debates to occur within the white space of the page.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Literary Links

Writers’ Inner Voices

Many writers report vivid experiences of ‘hearing’ the voices of the characters they create and having characters who talk back to them, rebel, and ‘do their own thing’. It’s an experience described by a wide range of authors from Enid Blyton, Alice Walker, Quentin Tarantino and Charles Dickens through to Samuel Beckett, Henry James, Hilary Mantel and many more.

Writers’ Inner Voices is a collaborative research project between the Edinburgh International Book Festival and Durham University’s Hearing the Voice which set out to examine the ways in which writers and storytellers experience their characters. This website provides details of what we discovered, explanations for what might be going on, and creative writing exercises based on the research.

Create a Digital Commonplace Book

“Readers have collected their favorite literary lines for centuries. Now compiling a portable word scrapbook is easier than ever.”

If you like to collect notes and quotations from books you’ve read, this article is a gold mine. After a short history of the commonplace book, J.D. Biersdorfer has some suggestions for various apps and programs that can help you keep a digital commonplace book. Keeping track of stuff like this is what computers do best, so why not take advantage of their power?

The Greatest Literary Alliance of All Time: You, the Author, and the Character

“Lisa Zeidner Asks Us to Think Deeply About Point of View in Fiction”

Here’s a fascinating look into how writers manage point of view in fiction.

The Powerful, Complicated Legacy of Betty Friedan’s ‘The Feminine Mystique’

cover: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

In the acclaimed 1963 The Feminine Mystique, Friedan tapped into the dissatisfaction of American women. The landmark bestseller, translated into at least a dozen languages with more than three million copies sold in the author’s lifetime, rebukes the pervasive post-World War II belief that stipulated women would find the greatest fulfillment in the routine of domestic life, performing chores and taking care of children.

Meet 8 industry players behind Hollywood’s book adaptation boom

Meredith Maran looks at “a few of Hollywood’s most important behind-the-scenes movers, shakers and connection-makers — agents, scouts, managers and execs” contributing to the great number of literary adaptations making their current way from the page to the screen.

How to create compelling characters

Kira-Anne Pelican, a psychologist and script consultant, here advises fiction writers on how to use psychology to create complex, compelling characters. What she has to say can also inform readers reviewing and analyzing literary works.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Reading, That Strange and Uniquely Human Thing

“How we evolved to read is a story of one creative species.”

young girl reading

Lydia Wilson explains how writing developed from a system to record the ownership of particular goods to one capable of creating great works of literature.

Turning the Page on the Year

“If ever there were a new year that called for a new notebook, this would be it.”

Dr. Perri Klass admits that she loves notebooks even if she’s not as diligent in writing in them as she’d like to be. I used to write in a journal just about every day, but for about two years, when we were traveling extensively in early retirement (and hopefully we’ll be able to do that again some time), I let myself fall out of the habit. (Yes, it’s much easier to let a habit lapse than to build a habit in the first place.)

But I’ve been building up the old habit over the last couple of months and intend to do much better this year.

Memorial by Bryan Washington review – a masterclass in empathy

I include this review because Memorial is one of the novels on my TBR shelf that I’m determined to read soon.

a shelf filled with upright hardcover books
See Memorial over there on the end on the right?

Notable Novels of Spring 2021

“We continue to experience a publishing pile-up, as books postponed from 2020 spill over into the new year’s catalogue. As a result, this season offers an embarrassment of riches for the reader of novels,” writes Cal Flyn, deputy editor of Five Books. Although this article follows the traditional Five-Books approach of featuring five covers, Flyn discusses additional titles in the discussion.

Top 10 most dislikable characters in fiction

The question of fictional characters’ likability comes up often. (See Must We Like Fictional Characters? and Why I Don’t Need to Like Fictional Characters.)

Here novelist Louise Candlish puts a particular spin on the discussion: “dislikable is not the same as irredeemable, and for this reason, there is no place on my list for any love-to-hate Tom Ripleys or morbidly mesmerising Humbert Humberts.”

Here she explains why she dislikes these 10 irredeemable characters. Because this list is in The Guardian, her emphasis is decidedly British. But #9 is the product of an American author, and #10 is from a very recent novel.

Ray Bradbury at 100: A Conversation Between Sam Weller and Dana Gioia

“Ray Bradbury is one of the most important American writers of the mid-20th century. He transformed science fiction’s position in American literature during the 1950s. There were other fine sci-fi writers, but Ray was the one who first engaged the mainstream audience. He had a huge impact on both American literature and popular culture.”

The Villainous White Mother Was All Over the Domestic Novel This Year

In this article, which came out at the end of December, Kelly Coyne writes, “It is often in the home where the plainest expressions of politics appear. This year, you could see it everywhere in the domestic novel.”

Coyne reflects on recent novels that “thrust white liberal parents into a harsh light” in the ways in which they interact with domestic workers.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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My Reading & Writing Goals for 2021

What I Learned from COVID-19

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.


I keep reading things like “I can’t wait to be done with 2020 and move on to 2021.” Do most people truly believe that merely taking one calendar off the wall and hanging up another one is going to change their day-to-day existence? Such magical thinking. Reality doesn’t work that way. The truth is still out there.

As I write this post in the first full week of January, we are in our 44th week of lockdown. (The last social event we attended was a monthly lunch excursion to a restaurant on March 6, 2020.) Even with the good news of the arrival of vaccines, I expect we won’t see any substantive change in our daily lives until July 1, 2021, at the earliest. I’m preparing for another six months, at least, just like the previous nine months:

Reading reduces stress levels—there’s scientific evidence for that. But stress levels also reduce reading. Anxiety ruins your focus, wipes out your short-term memory, makes you thick-headed, makes you jittery. You can’t keep track of who’s who or what they said or what it means. Stress, maybe especially the kind of stress we’ve all been going through where everything seems like the end of the world, also wrecks your equanimity and sense of proportion: being unable to read, if you’d previously thought of yourself as a reader, makes you feel monstrously guilty for what seems, to your addled brain, like a towering failure. You can’t read, so you are ashamed, so you can’t read, so you are ashamed.

Jess Zimmerman

Looking back on how well I fulfilled my reading plan for 2020 made me realize that the year well illustrates the validity of the old proverb  “Man plans. God laughs.” And there are some lessons to be learned from this realization.

The biggest lesson is that, since we probably won’t see significant change in our current situation for at least half of this new year, the whole notion of a plan feels irrelevant. Last year I had my whole year’s reading planned out, month by month. But when COVID-19 hit and brought with it heightened anxiety along with reader’s and writer’s block, I was only able to get back to reading by ditching the plan. I allowed myself to stand in front of my TBR shelves and look for the book that called to me the loudest. I kept up that process, sometimes letting one book lead me to the next, at other times finding a new book to set me off on a different chain of association.

I have therefore decided not to use the label of plan at all for 2021. Instead, I’m going to focus on some goals that will still be possible no matter which particular books I may read. For example, one part of my plan for last year was to use the Blog Discussion Challenge to motivate me to write some substantive blog posts. Even though I didn’t meet my original quota, I was able to write about just about anything—including a look at why I was having trouble reading and writing—and call it a discussion post. So this year I’m going to talk about reading and writing goals instead of a reading and writing plan.

After looking at last year’s plan, I’m describing this year’s goals in relation to last year’s in two major areas:

  • I. Elements I’m keeping from last year
  • II. Elements I’m dropping from last year, replacing, or adding

I. Elements I’m Keeping from 2020

Most of these are general challenges and goals.

1. Goodreads Challenge

I did make last year’s goal of 55, but I had to rush and include a couple of particularly short works. I’m therefore going to dial my challenge goal back to 50 books, a number I think I can more easily achieve.

2. The Classics Club

Although I had good intentions last year, I didn’t come even close to my goal of crossing six books off my Classics Club list.

I’m going to cut back this year’s goal to four and hope for the best.

3. 2021 Book Blog Discussion Challenge

I signed up for the 2020 Discussion Challenge to motivate myself to write substantive posts on literary topics. Despite not writing as many discussion posts as I had wanted to (because, you know, COVID-19), I enjoyed working on the 12 that I did manage and was pleased with the results. I’m therefore signing up for the 2021 Discussion Challenge  with the goal of writing one discussion post per month.

II. Elements I’m Dropping, Replacing, or Adding

For 2021 I’m taking the focus off reading exclusively and incorporating the intention to write about more of the books I read. Not every book I read warrants a review on the blog, but many do, and I need to make more of an effort to discuss those. For me, writing seems to take some time; thoughts swirl around in the unconscious before percolating to the surface of awareness. It’s too easy for me to finish reading one book, then immediately pick up another one without going back to revisit the first one again.

The first process, to receive impressions with the utmost understanding, is only half the process of reading; it must be completed, if we are to get the whole pleasure from a book, by another. We must pass judgment upon these multitudinous impressions; we must make of these fleeting shapes one that is hard and lasting.

—Virginia Woolf, How Should One Read a Book?

I will need to follow through and return to each previous book to finish the reading process. And this emphasis on writing may have a secondary effect of influencing me to choose more meaty books to read so that they’ll be ones I’ll want to review. 

Here, then, is a new goal I’m adding for 2021:

4. to review 50% of the books I read on this blog

I’m also adding another reading goal this year:

5. to read more of my TBR books

Here is my current TBR shelf of Book of the Month editions I haven’t gotten to yet:

The shelf contains 22 books, with two more to be added as soon as my January box arrives. And those are just my Book of the Month books. Several other shelves contain books I’ve been wanting to read for some time, including Where the Crawdads Sing, All the Light We Cannot See, The Hours, Crime and Punishment, A God in Ruins, and Trust Exercise.

I do not acquire books haphazardly; I chose every book on these shelves for particular reasons. They’re all good books that I want to read.

When I jettisoned the calendar part of last year’s reading plan at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing myself to choose whatever book I wanted to read next proved to be a tremendously freeing experience. Suddenly reading became an adventure again, not just some productivity goal to tick off on a to-do list.

This rediscovery of the joy of reading convinced me not to include a specific reading calendar in this year’s goals. I still have several reading projects I’m interested in pursuing, so I’m keeping the list of projects, but I’m treating them as possibilities rather than requirements tied to specific completion dates.

I’m beginning 2021 with an emphasis on my analysis of horror literature. As the year progresses I’ll move on to other projects such as these:

  • comparison: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf & The Hours by Michael Cunningham
  • a deep dive into the life and works of Patricia Highsmith, the centenary of whose birth will be on January 19, 2021
  • a look at evil children in literature
  • a rereading of Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout followed by a reading of the sequel, Olive, Again
  • a study of some novels featuring Older Adults in Literature
  • a rereading of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale followed by a reading of the sequel, The Testaments

But my overall goal for 2021 is to enjoy being a free-range reader and to share that reading joy on this blog.

How about you?

Do you make annual reading plans? If you do, what’s on your list for 2021?

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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The Biggest Literary Stories of the Year: 50 to 31 | Literary Hub

Starting today, we’ll be counting down the 50 biggest literary stories of the year, so you can remember the good (yes, there was some!), the bad, and the Zoom book launch. Join us, won’t you, on this very special journey.

Source: The Biggest Literary Stories of the Year: 50 to 31 | Literary Hub

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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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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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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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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