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Literary Links

They Are Giving Hemingway Another Look, So You Can, Too

Gal Beckerman, an editor at the New York Times Book Review, talks with Lynn Novick and Ken Burns about their three-part series on Hemingway currently airing on PBS. The documentary filmmakers were drawn to Hemingway because of his complex status as both an influence on generations of writers and an example of toxic masculinity.

When Tragedy Strikes, What Does Criticism Have to Offer?

“It’s easier to find meaning in fiction than in the senseless mass killings of our reality, which seem to render the critical perspective pointless, even silly, at times.”

Maya Phillips, a critic for the New York Times, writes that she finds comfort in critiquing artistic presentations: “Even in the bleakest stories, there’s order and logic, perhaps even justice, if not in the realm of the story itself then at least in the artist’s imagination.” But with the recent spate of mass shootings, “it has felt pointless, even silly, to analyze fictional stories when real people are dying.”

“My critical faculty fails me now, as I contemplate the real world,” Phillips writes.

How to Read Mysteries While Recovering from the Patriarchy

“Melissa Febos was struggling to write a book about surviving American girlhood. Mystery fiction presented a solution.”

Melissa Febos details the problem she had while writing her recently published essay collection, Girlhood:

The premise of my book, which detailed the devastating and ordinary harms done to girls in this country and aspired to answer them with strategies of undoing that harm, had become an unsolvable mystery. I knew who the perpetrator was, but not how to stop or outpace him. 

To solve her problem and power through the writing of her book, she read through lots of mysteries. She provides the list here: Febos’s Mysteries for Feminists with High Standards. “These books . . . gave me the same pleasure that Nancy Drew had, but with the added satisfactions of good writing, queer and Black characters, and layers of smartly delivered cultural critique.”

 Women’s Prize stands by its nomination of trans author Torrey Peters after open letter

On Wednesday [April 7, 2021], the Women’s Prize Trust reaffirmed its choice to longlist the novel “Detransition, Baby” by author Torrey Peters, who is trans, for the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction, a day after the Wild Woman Writing Club published an open letter denouncing the nomination.

The opening paragraph of this article, quoted above, contains a link to the letter of denunciation. Read more about the controversy here. There’s also a link to a review of Detransition, Baby in the Los Angeles Times.

Pick Your Poison with These Mystery Subgenre Suggestions

What a list! Find your next mystery read in the examples given here of all the following subgenres:

  • domestic thrillers
  • media mysteries
  • legal thrillers
  • crime procedurals
  • contemporary cozies
  • cold cases
  • psychological thrillers
  • new noir
  • historicals

Meaning in the Margins: On the Literary Value of Annotation

“For As Long As There Have Been Printed Books, There Has Been Marginalia”

Ah, the history of marginalia, or “things in the margin.”

“Annotation was both ubiquitous and habitual by the 1500s, not long after the invention of the printing press and growth of print culture,” write Remi H. Kalir and Antero Garcia in this excerpt from their new book, Annotation.

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

Author News Fiction Literary History On Novels and Novelists

On Novels and Novelists

Sci-fi legend Neal Stephenson says it’s getting harder and harder to predict the future

Neal Stephenson is one of the biggest names in science fiction writing. Here, Drake Baer admits that he was “stoked” to talk to Stephenson and ask him, “What do you think is going to happen to human society in the near future?”

It’s a good question, given that many observers have pointed out that the future Stephenson described in Snow Crash (1992), Reamde (2011), and other novels has already begun to materialize.

Good science fiction “supplies a plausible, fully thought-out picture of an alternate reality in which some sort of compelling innovation has taken place,” Stephenson wrote. “A good [science-fiction] universe has a coherence and internal logic that makes sense to scientists and engineers … such icons serve as hieroglyphs — simple, recognizable symbols on whose significance everyone agrees.”

Yet, despite his visionary abilities, Stephenson insists that he’s not concerned with predicting the future in his books. The point, he tells Baer, “is simply to tell good stories.”

Margaret Atwood, Digital Deep-Diver, Writes ‘The Heart Goes Last’

Margaret Atwood is another writer of science fiction whose futuristic work often feels prophetic. Her recently released novel The Heart Goes Last grew out of her interest in new forms of digital narrative. She began the project three years ago as an online serial for Byliner, but it soon grew into a novel.

Initially, Ms. Atwood planned to publish a single e-book with Byliner. But she got absorbed in the story and was intrigued by the process of shaping a narrative in full view of the public, building in cliffhangers and plot twists to keep readers coming back. She described it as a high-tech version of 19th-century serialized works like Dickens’s “The Pickwick Papers.”

As Atwood got increasingly more involved in the narrative, she and her publisher, Nan Talese, agreed that she should stop publishing serially online and hold the evolving novel for later print publication. The online publication experiment ended in May 2013 after four episodes.

She occasionally bristles when her books are billed as science fiction. Instead, she describes her futuristic stories as works of “speculative fiction,” and argues that her plots depict plausible scenarios rather than fantasy tales.

Guardian Live: Richard Flanagan on love, life and writing

Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan’s career has produced six novels, five nonfiction works, and two films. Here he tells _The Guardian_’s Marta Bausells what he’s learned over those years:

  • Story is everything
  • All the great love stories are death stories
  • Research is overrated
  • The chaos as at the heart of things
  • You shouldn’t look for morality in literature
  • A novel without structure is a jellyfish pretending to be a shark
  • The moment you know everything about a character, you’ve created a caricature

The reading list of F. Scott Fitzgerald

Over on For Reading Addicts, Kath reveals F. Scott Fitzgerald’s recommended reading list. He reportedly dictated this list to a nurse while he was recovering from alcoholism in 1936.

You’ll have to click on the link to read the list. It’s fairly long. While I’ve read about three of the titles and have heard of a few more, there a a lot of books here I’ve never even heard of.

How about you? What do you think of Fitzgerald’s suggestions? How many of the books on his list have you read?

Hemingway in Cuba

Now that relations between the U.S. and Cuba have been restored, Robert Manning, executive editor of The Atlantic, looks back on an interview with Hemingway published in 1965.

By the time I got the opportunity to meet him, he was savoring the highest moment of his fame – he had just won the Nobel Prize for Literature – but he was moving into the twilight of his life. He was fifty-five but looked older, and was trying to mend a ruptured kidney, a cracked skull, two compressed and one cracked vertebra, and bad burns suffered in the crash of his airplane in the Uganda bush the previous winter. Those injuries, added to half a dozen head wounds, more than 200 shrapnel scars, a shot-off kneecap, wounds in the feet, hands, and groin, had slowed him down.

Brew yourself a big cup of coffee or tea—or, if you’d rather invoke the spirit of Hemingway, pour yourself a good stiff drink—and curl up with this piece of literary history.