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On the Books: How to Keep Track of New Releases

I have a list of every book that I’ve read since July 1991. I started keeping it on my very first computer, an IBM PCjr. Over the years I’ve managed to maintain the list through several computer and computer program changes, including the biggest computer move I ever made: the jump from Windows/PCs to Mac.

But one thing I’ve never been able to track effectively is upcoming releases I definitely want to read. Here, prolific reader Liberty Hardy offers several suggestions on how to do this.

“The Leftovers” Is Teaching Me Who I Want to Be After Covid

Extrovert Michael Colbert explains how the HBO adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s 2011 novel The Leftovers is helping him learn to live with life after COVID:

The Leftovers portrays all the ways this return is abnormal, messy. The show’s outlook is somewhat pessimistic: maybe we’ll never go back to the way we were. Yet I find comfort in Mapleton, watching people muddle through their new normal.

Philip Roth, Blake Bailey and publishing in the post-#MeToo era

“WW Norton withdrew Bailey’s Roth biography after a series of allegations about its author. As generational conflict rages in the book world and across culture, we ask: who decides whether we can separate the art from the artist?”

Yes, this is yet another installment of the publishing story that won’t go away. But this question of separating the artist from the art is one that has nagged at me since long before the Philip Roth biography brouhaha. 

W.W. Norton, the U.S. publisher of the Bailey biography of Roth, withdrew the book shortly after publication and announced that it would pulp the remaining copies. Vintage, the book’s U.K. publisher, announced that it would not withdraw the book but would continue “assessing the situation closely.” Here’s how The Guardian, a U.K. newspaper, assesses the situation:

What’s clear from the silence is that withdrawing the book, and also not withdrawing it, are hugely sensitive issues. They plug into a range of contemporary debates about censorship, moral responsibility, freedom of expression, corporate governance, social justice, due process, workplace safety, and the ongoing critique of so-called toxic masculinity, among others.

But my question goes back to way before all these social and moral issues. I came of age, literarily speaking, back in the 1970s, when New Criticism was still the dominant force in academic literary study. The bedrock of New Criticism is that a literary work stands on its own, completely dissociated from its creator. The meaning of the work comes only from what the work itself contains, not what the author personally believes, feels, or espouses outside that particular piece of created work. This approach therefore forestalls any criticism of the book because of the personality or morality of its author, although discussion of themes such as misogyny in the work are possible with explanation and textual support.

I guess there are really two theoretical levels of evaluation going on here. The first level involves evaluation of and reaction to Roth’s fiction itself. On this level New Criticism is very clear: You can look for evidence of misogyny in the novels themselves, but you can’t condemn the novels because you’ve read that the author treats women badly. But we reach a second level when we evaluate the merits of a biography written about a public figure, such as an author like Philip Roth. While it’s certainly up to critics to point out if a biographer has not created a complete picture of the subject, I’m not sure that criticism of a published biography warrants an end to publication and the destruction of all remaining copies.

Or maybe it’s true that there really is no such thing as bad publicity?

Life in the Stacks: A Love Letter to Browsing

However, I take no issue with Jason Guriel’s lamentation of how much he misses old-fashioned browsing of media content, both in those long-gone video houses called Blockbuster and, more recently, bookstores and even libraries shuttered by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Writers to Watch Fall 2021

Here’s a heads-up call from Publishers Weekly: “Explorations of class, race, and sexuality play into many of this fall’s notable fiction debuts, including a novel about a young Black woman working in financial services, a South Korean gay romance, and more.”

Rivka Galchen on the Particular Horrors of Actual Witch Hunts

Carianne King talks with Rivka Galchen, whose latest novel, Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch, portrays the trial of Katharina Kepler, mother of mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler. King describes the book this way:

A reimagination of the trial of Katharina Kepler, told in her voice, it’s a novel about the power of narrative over rational, or factual, truths that plays with layers of belief. In all of these ways, it’s a 17th-century witch novel that feels especially relevant for our fractured, divided, complicated times.

Galchen explains why she found Katharina to be a captivating character:

I also connected Katharina to women in my life—older women who don’t read the room, who are really smart, really capable, but who rub people the wrong way, or who people process weirdly because they have their own norms and their own way of doing things.

A Young Naturalist Inspires With Joy, Not Doom

Alex Marshall introduces us to Dara McAnulty, 17, of Northern Ireland, whose book Diary of a Young Naturalist won last year’s Wainwright Prize for nature writing. Marshall says that McAnulty is open about his autism and even started writing because of it: “‘I need to write, to process what’s going on,’ he said, ‘otherwise everything’s just banging around in my brain causing damage in there.’”

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

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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

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Literary Links

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