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Literary Links

How Reading Ebooks Changes Our Perception (and Reviews)

Kindle Paperwhite

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

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

How ‘Lolita’ Escaped Obscenity Laws and Cancel Culture

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

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

Wisdom in the Work

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

He Writes Unreliable Narrators Because He Is One, Too

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

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

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

Sex, Noir & Isolation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Audiobooks Discussion Ebooks Reading

Do You Read More Than One Book at a Time?

illustration: 2021 Discussion Challenge

Thanks to these two bloggers for sponsoring the 2021 Blog Discussion Challenge:

You can join the discussion challenge at any time during 2021 by clicking on either link above.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How About You?

Do you read more than one book at a time? 

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

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Personal

On This Day, March 8: International Women’s Day marked on March 8 for 1st time – UPI.com

On March 8, 1914, International Women’s Day was observed on March 8 for the first time and would go on to be marked on this day annually.

Source: On This Day, March 8: International Women’s Day marked on March 8 for 1st time – UPI.com

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Author News Book News Book Recommendations Censorship Publishing Reading

Literary Links

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

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

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

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

6 Books That Give Voices to Forgotten Women in Our Stories

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

Your 9 Favorite Classics and What to Read Next

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

Teaching Classic Lit Helps Game Designers Make Better Stories

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

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

Is It Worth Reading If I Forget Everything I Read?

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

The Curse of Reading and Forgetting

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

Read his conclusion on this “minor existential drama.”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
6 Degrees of Separation

6 Degrees of Separation: From Light to Dark

It’s time for another adventure in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. We are given a book to start with, and from there we free associate six books.

This month we start with Phosphorescence by Julia Baird, an author based in Sydney, Australia. Here’s the description of the book from Goodreads:

A beautiful, intimate and inspiring investigation into how we can find and nurture within ourselves that essential quality of internal happiness – the ‘light within’ that Julia Baird calls ‘phosphorescence’ – which will sustain us even through the darkest times.

Over the last decade, we have become better at knowing what brings us contentment, well-being and joy. We know, for example, that there are a few core truths to science of happiness. We know that being kind and altruistic makes us happy, that turning off devices, talking to people, forging relationships, living with meaning and delving into the concerns of others offer our best chance at achieving happiness. But how do we retain happiness? It often slips out of our hands as quickly as we find it. So, when we are exposed to, or learn, good things, how do we continue to burn with them?

And more than that, when our world goes dark, when we’re overwhelmed by illness or heartbreak, loss or pain, how do we survive, stay alive or even bloom? In the muck and grit of a daily existence full of disappointments and a disturbing lack of control over many of the things that matter most – finite relationships, fragile health, fraying economies, a planet in peril – how do we find, nurture and carry our own inner, living light – a light to ward off the darkness?

Absorbing, achingly beautiful, inspiring and deeply moving, Julia Baird has written exactly the book we need for these times.

I’ll just say that this kind of self-help advice is not how I choose to spend my reading time. Therefore, I’m going to start with a riff on titles.

1. We find the concept of light in the novel Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney, although I’m pretty sure the subject matter here is vastly different from Baird’s emphasis. Published in 1984, the novel follows a male character through Manhattan, fueled by wit and controlled substances. This book is best known for its use of second-person narrative. Here’s how the novel opens:

You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is entirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head.

2. Probably the other best known example of second-person narrative is You by Caroline Kepnes, which opens this way: “You walk into the bookstore and you keep your hand on the door to make sure it doesn’t slam.”

3. Celeste Ng uses second-person in the title of her novel Everything I Never Told You, but the narrative is written in third person. The novel tells the story of Lydia Lee, daughter of a Chinese American family in small-town Ohio, whose parents push her to fulfill the dreams they themselves were unable to attain.

4. Everything is a huge concept, as portrayed in The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty. This novel is the coming-of-age story of adolescent Evelyn, who lives in a small apartment in the small community of Kerrville, Kansas. Over the course of the novel, Evelyn comes to realize that life in the middle of nowhere is much the same as life in the center of everything.

5. The memoir The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey through Madness by Elyn Saks tells the story of Saks’s struggle to build a meaningful life despite having schizophrenia. She tells the poignant yet uplifting story of attending college and going on to graduate from Yale Law School, all the while battling the demons of suicidal fantasies and voices in her head. She is a professor at the University of Southern California’s law school and specializes in legal topics related to the rights and treatments of people with mental illness.

6. When writer James Ellroy was 10 years old, his mother was raped, killed, and dumped off a road in a rundown Los Angeles suburb. As an adult he wrote several crime novels featuring women characters but found that writing fiction did not ease his anxiety and obsession over mistreated women. He then turned to investigating his mother’s murder with the help of homicide detective Bill Stoner. Goodreads describes the resulting book, My Dark Places (1996), as “an investigative autobiography.”

Through several jumps—between light and dark, between memoirs and novels—this has been a journey through 6 Degrees of Separation.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Discussion Fiction Personal Reading

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

illustration: 2021 Discussion Challenge

Thanks to these two bloggers for sponsoring the 2021 Blog Discussion Challenge:

You can join the discussion challenge at any time during 2021 by clicking on either link above.


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

“There’s no accounting for taste.”

“Different strokes for different folks.”

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

Cover: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

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

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

cover: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

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

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

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

Cover: The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

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

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

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

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Fiction Literary History Nonfiction Publishing Reading

Literary Links

New Report Explores ‘Engagement’ with Books, Digital Media

A new report released this week is being billed as the first study to capture critical data about how consumers “engage” with books within a “connected media ecosystem” that includes video games, TV, and movies.

According to Publishers Weekly, “The study’s focus on consumer ‘engagement’ with books—vs. ‘reading’ behaviors—is a key distinction” because “Engagement with books can run the gamut, researchers found, including people who check out materials from the library but don’t always read or watch them, people who give books as gifts, buy them to collect or display, and people who dip into a book for reference, whether for work, school, or a hobby.”

Reviewing the Book Review

The New York Times engages in self-examination: “As the publication celebrates its 125th anniversary, Parul Sehgal, a staff critic and former editor at the Book Review, delves into the archives to critically examine its legacy in full.”

Sehgal looks at lots of issues that range from the language or style of writing to the publication’s lack of diversity in what gets covered and what doesn’t.

Literature Should Be Taught Like Science

“This renegade professor says literature is a machine that accelerates the human brain.”

They had me at “renegade professor.” Keven Berger, editor of science magazine Nautilus, talks with Angus Fletcher, an English professor at Ohio State University, about his new book, Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature. Fletcher got an undergraduate degree in neuroscience before realizing that “the biology of the brain wouldn’t take him far enough toward understanding our need for stories.”

Why New Fiction Is Making Mothers into Monsters

“Novels and short stories are leveraging horror elements to express how dehumanizing motherhood can be”

Rachel Mans McKenny, novelist and essayist, explains how “Horror interlaced with the already-fantastic can teach us clear lessons about how little women are allowed to want in motherhood.”

The best books on Narrative Nonfiction

Since I read mostly fiction, I don’t discuss nonfiction often enough. Here author Samira Shackle defines and discusses narrative fiction: “Narrative nonfiction is a style of writing that takes the facts and dramatises them to create novelistic retellings of real life events.” 

See what she has to say about five of the best recent works of narrative nonfiction.

What Happens When a Publisher Becomes a Megapublisher?

“The merger of Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster has the potential to touch every part of the industry, including how much authors get paid and how bookstores are run.”

Jonathan Lethem: Why Shirley Jackson is a Reader’s Writer

“On the Brilliance of We Have Always Lived in the Castle and the Intimacy of Everyday Evil”

Shirley Jackson, writes novelist Jonathan Lethem, has “been no major critic’s fetish.”

Rather, Shirley Jackson has thrived, at publication and since, as a reader’s writer. Her most famous works—“The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House—are more famous than her name, and have sunk into cultural memory as timeless artifacts, seeming older than they are, with the resonance of myth or archetype.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Last Week's Links Reading Writing

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

Categories
Personal

Vaccinated!

My husband and I both got our second dose of COVID-19 vaccine yesterday. I’ve waited to post in case either of us experienced any of the reactions to the second shot that I’ve been reading about.

Last night we each had a very slight bit of soreness in our arm, but that had disappeared by this morning and neither of us has had any further reaction. A few friends who also got their second shot yesterday reported a slight fever and low energy today, but nothing serious.

This article reports that there are still questions about the results of getting the full dose of vaccine, but both my husband and I, being over 70, were happy to get vaccinated.

And here’s the short-sleeve shirt I wore to vaccinated:

T-shirt saying, "Yes, I do have a retirement plan. I will be reading more and more books."

I hope that all of you are staying healthy and warm.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Categories
Fiction Film How Fiction Works Last Week's Links Literature & Psychology Reading Writing

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