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The Golden Age of Book Adaptations for TV

Andrew Neiderman, the author of 46 thrillers who has written as V.C. Andrews for over 34 years, says, “The pandemic has brought on a new age of book-to-series adaptations, and with it novelists have found not only new sources of income but greater satisfaction in how their books are turned into movies.”

Crime novelists dish on writing about cops in a moment of reckoning

In light of recent protests over police brutality, four crime novelists discuss the issues that swirl around portraying law enforcement officers as fictional characters. Los Angeles Times crime reporter and novelist James Queally talks with Rachel Howzell Hall, Attica Locke, and Ivy Pochoda.

Why I Still Use—And Like—Goodreads

In a recent links column I cited an article complaining about the problems with Goodreads. That article prompted me to write How I Use Goodreads.

After featuring a negative article about Goodreads, I thought it only fair that I should include this more positive article by Kelly Jensen, whose approach is very similar to mine: use the features you like and ignore the ones you don’t like.

The Best Ereaders You Can Buy in 2020

If you’re looking at an ereader as a possible holiday gift this year, Rey Rowland evaluates your options.

University Presses Are Signal Boosters of Knowledge

In this particular moment, when we are being tested as a society both by a pandemic and by the metaphorical virus of systemic racism, the peer review system that defines mission-driven university press publishing—whereby scholars review the work of other experts prior to publication—seems particularly fit for its purpose of ensuring the publication of high-quality content.

A report from Publishers Weekly.

Shakespeare wrote ‘King Lear’ during a plague. What great work will emerge from this pandemic?

Scholars believe that Shakespeare created two of his greatest works, King Lear and Macbeth, during a plague. “In perilous, isolating times, we hunger with a special zeal for great work by artists who can capture the experience for us,” writes Peter Marks, theater critic for The Washington Post, who wonders if our current pandemic will produce any similar “groundbreaking creations.”

7 Literary Translators You Need to Know

“From Indonesian to Brazilian Portuguese, here are the translators who are making contemporary world literature accessible to English readers.”

J.R. Ramakrishnan reports for Electric Literature.

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Discussion

How I Use Goodreads

2020 Discussion Challenge

Thanks to these two bloggers for sponsoring the 2020 Blog Discussion Challenge:

You can join the discussion challenge at any time during 2020 by clicking on either link above.


I occasionally come across articles criticizing Goodreads. The latest one is “Why Goodreads is bad for books.” I’m always surprised at the vehemence with which some people criticize Goodreads. Sure, the platform is owned by one of the biggest retailers on the planet and therefore doesn’t have much incentive to improve. But as I read this article, I suddenly realized why I don’t feel a great deal of animosity toward Goodreads: I use the features I find helpful and ignore the rest. 

I don’t rely on Goodreads as my main way of keeping track of the books I read. Whenever I click on “my books,” I get a list that doesn’t in any way correspond to the order in which I’ve read these books. I’m sure there’s a way to filter and rearrange the display of my books, but I’ve never bothered to figure it out because I have a database program that includes all the books I’ve read since about mid-1991. That’s where I keep the record of books I’ve read and when I read them. This program easily generates my annual list of titles read.

But I still enter every book I read on Goodreads for other reasons. Here’s a look at the functions of Goodreads that I use and how I use them.

Annual Book Challenge

It took me a few years to develop a feel for what’s a reasonable expectation of how many books I can comfortably read in a year, but now I’ve become good at it. I enjoy setting my number at the beginning of each year and then following my progress as the year wears on.

(Right now I’ve completed 82% of this year’s challenge and am 2 books ahead of schedule, so yay for me.)

Reading Stats

I also enjoy looking at the stats in my challenge report.

(As of right now, I’ve read almost exactly the same number of pages that I read in all of last year. Thank you, 1Q84.)

Negative Reviews

I have a no-spoiler review policy on this blog and generally try to avoid negative reviews here. However, I do think that sometimes we can learn from reading a bad book just as we can learn from reading a good one. When I just can’t resist pointing out what I think is poor writing, I put it on Goodreads because their review platform will hide passages marked as spoilers (meaning that readers have to click to read the spoiler). 

Book Cover Images

I get all my book cover images from Goodreads. I like that it offers cover art for all formats so I can choose the proper illustration for hardcover, paperback, audio, or ebooks.

And About the Star Rating System

The rating scale of one to five stars gets a lot of criticism, and I generally agree. On a scale of one to five, the midpoint is 2.5, which means that’s the rating an overall mediocre book should receive. Yet there is no 2.5 rating. So do we round down to two stars or up to three stars?

I don’t use star ratings on all the books I record on Goodreads, but when I do use them I often suffer the rounding-down or rounding-up dilemma. In general, I prefer to give verbal evaluations rather than just number ratings to the books I read.

How about you?

Do you use Goodreads? If you do, how do you like it? What features do you especially like or dislike?

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Book News Last Week's Links Reading Writing

Literary Links

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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Author News Fiction Last Week's Links Literary Criticism Literary History Publishing Reading

Literary Links

GOODREADS HACKS: GET A DNF SHELF, MARK REREADS, AND MORE

If you find it hard to keep up with all the cool kids who use Goodreads to track their reading, this article will put you in the know about some of the more esoteric aspects. The main subject here is how to create a DNF (did not finish) shelf that won’t include the books placed there in your number of books read statistics. But there are a few other nifty nuggets of knowledge here as well, along with links to several other articles explaining how to use Goodreads. An avid reader’s bonanza!

How We Need Diverse Books Changed The Literary World, According To 15 Publishing Pros

When We Need Diverse Books was founded by a team of writers, illustrators, and publishing professionals, it was meant to shake up the publishing industry from the inside. Led by the original Executive Committee — Ellen Oh, Lamar Giles, Marieke Nijkamp, Miranda Paul, Aisha Saeed, Karen Sandler, and Ilene Wong — and supported by the original PR team — Stacey Lee and SE Sinkhorn — We Need Diverse Books was created to fight for more diversity in children’s and young adult book publishing at every level, among authors, editors, marketers, agents, publishers, and more. First and foremost, they wanted authors from marginalized communities to be given opportunities to have their voices heard in the overwhelmingly white, heterosexual, cisgender industry. And the results have been clear.

Fifteen publishing professionals discuss “why they believe We Need Diverse Books has changed publishing forever, and what they hope for the future.”

Toni Morrison and Nina Simone, United in Soul

Emily Lordi discusses how much Toni Morrison was influenced by contemporary musicians:

Her work resonates with the music of those soul artists alongside whom she honed her craft: the grand ambition of Isaac Hayes, the moral clarity of Curtis Mayfield, and the erotic truth-telling of Aretha Franklin. But the soul artist who is most closely aligned with Morrison is Nina Simone. “She saved our lives,” Morrison said of the singer, after Simone’s death, in 2003. Simone meant so much to her, and to other black women, I think, in part because of how she turned social exclusion into superlative beauty and style. It was this recuperative alchemy that defined soul, as a music and an ethos. And, if Simone was soul’s “High Priestess,” Morrison was one of its literary architects.

From Baba Yaga to Hermione Granger: why we’re spellbound by ‘witcherature’

Vengeful, seductive, feminist, misogynist … witches have appeared in many forms in literature. Now a new generation of novelists are falling under their spell.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, writing in the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, addresses the current literary fascination with witches:

There has been a perennial literary fascination with witches; they are, as Marion Gibson, professor of Renaissance and magical literatures at Exeter University says, “a shorthand symbol for persecution and resistance – misogyny and feminism in particular”. In a #MeToo world, where Donald Trump – a fan of the term “witch-hunt” – is US president, it is really no surprise that female writers are examining the role of the witch in new ways.

Cosslett explains that women of her generation, who came of age in the 1990s with TV programs such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are now producing literature and films that grapple with perennial questions of power and agency. She also looks a bit at the history of witches in literature, from novels such as Jane Eyre to John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick.

In Praise of Samuel R. Delany

In my effort to read more science fiction, I often come across references to Samuel R. Delany’s seminal novel Dhalgren. Here novelist Jordy Rosenberg discusses how Delany’s fiction “reflects and explores the social truths of our world.” He includes a list of works to start with for readers looking to introduce themselves to Delany’s body of work.

How Tana French Inhabits the Minds of Her Detectives

The crime-fiction writer on unreliable narrators, real-world sources, and the breakdown of genre boundaries in her work.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Author News Book News Literary Criticism Monday Miscellany Publishing Writing

Monday Miscellany

Your Favorites: 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels

A while back NPR asked readers/listeners to vote on their favorite YA novels. 75,220 people voted, helping to whittle the list of 235 finalists down to the top 100. In addition to the list of winners, this page includes links to explanations of what exactly constitutes YA literature.

Top 100 Teen Novels
Illustration by Harriet Russell for NPR

A life in writing: Mark Billingham

British crime novelist Mark Billingham has “always believed that location is a character”:

When I began to write I was surprised at how little London had been used in crime fiction. Places such as Edinburgh or Oxford or LA seemed to have stronger identities. Part of the reason why Scandinavian crime has been so popular is the landscape. It is just so strong and alien. Although without taking anything away, you should probably also never discount the fact that blood does look particularly good against snow.”

Billingham started his professional life as an actor and stand-up comic before becoming a writer of dark crime fiction. His first novel, Sleepyhead, came out in 2001. His most recent novel is Rush of Blood.

The depiction of violence in crime fiction is a perennial source of argument: Val McDermid has claimed that women writers, used to a lifetime of experiencing potential dangers, tend to write about what violence feels like, while men more often write about what it looks like; but she expressly exempted Billingham from this characterisation. He says: “I think I am an exception because I have been through it.” In 1997, Billingham was held hostage at gunpoint in a hotel room and robbed. “When I sat down to write about a year after I was attacked, reflecting the victim’s experience was very important to me. From book one, I wanted the victim to be a major character and not just a plot device. I didn’t want a cop and a killer and victims 1-6 who you don’t know or care about. Even though Thorne [Billingham’s series detective] had the most onstage time in Sleepyhead, the character I got most feedback about was the victim, Alison, who was in a locked-in state and doesn’t speak. She was actually much more fully formed than Thorne, although I hope he’s become a bit more fleshed out as time has gone on.”

Here’s what he says about writing about violence:

“I still believe you should show what violence does to people, but it’s done best without depicting the actual mechanics. The single spot of blood on a pristine kitchen floor is far more powerful than blood-spattered walls with messages smeared in it, and it doesn’t detract from how dark or suspenseful a story is.”

Against Enthusiasm: The epidemic of niceness in online book culture

There’s been a lot spoken and written lately about the overwhelming crush of negative book reviews, but on Slate Jacob Silverman expresses the opposite opinion in lamenting “the mutual admiration society that is today’s literary culture, particularly online”:

Whereas critics once performed one role in print and another in life—Rebecca West could savage someone’s book in the morning and dine with him in the evening—social media has collapsed these barriers. Moreover, social media’s centrifugal forces of approbation—retweets, likes, favorites, and the self-consciousness that accompanies each public utterance—make any critique stick out sorely.

Here’s the alternative he proposes:

A better literary culture would be one that’s not so dependent on personal esteem and mutual reinforcement. It would not treat offense or disagreement as toxic. We wouldn’t want so badly to be liked above all. We’d tolerate barbed reviews, some quarrels, and blistering critiques, because they make our culture more interesting and because they are often more sincere reflections of our passions. If we all think more and enthuse less, when I do truly love Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, you’ll be more likely to believe me.

Goodreads v. LibraryThing- Part One

Which social reading network do you prefer, Goodreads or LibraryThing? On BookRiot Amanda Nelson offers the first installment of an in-depth comparison between the two. And there’s a link at the bottom of the page to Part Two.

Dickens’s Best Novel? Six Experts Share Their Opinions

Over on The Millions, six specialists in Victorian literature make their case for what they consider to be the best novel by Charles Dickens.