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Looking at Epic Poetry Through 21st-Century Eyes

“New translations of the ‘Aeneid,’ ‘Beowulf’ and other ancient stories challenge some of our modern-day ideas.”

Classical epic poetry has been the basis of the Western literary canon for centuries and has helped shape social values and political identities as well as literary history. But new translations of such epics as Vergil’s Aeneid, Beowulf, and Spenser’s The Faerie Queene aim to bolster “a sense of urgency about restoring nuance to the public’s understanding of the [epic] genre”:

As a series of political crises have, in the West, posed fresh challenges to the stories that have shaped our norms and principles, those who study epics see critical readings as an increasingly vital endeavor.

Why Stories Makes Sense of Our Lives (and Relationships)

“What is the essence of a person? When we profess to know someone, that is, really know someone—like a close friend, or a husband or wife—what is it that we know?”

In this excerpt from  The Act of Living: What the Great Psychologists Can Teach Us About Finding Fulfillment, clinical psychologist Frank Tallis illustrates why “We have a natural inclination to think of ourselves—our past, present, and future—as an ongoing story.”

The Scariest Books

“Whether you’re scared most by graphic body horror, the uncategorisable, or the blurring of boundaries between supernatural menace and psychological unraveling, this list will have something for you.”

Xavier Aldana Reyes, editor of Horror: A Literary History, discusses five scary books. “With horror novels and films, you know you’re experiencing fear in a safe space that you ultimately control,” he writes.

Joan Frank ~ I Say It’s Spinach

Author Joan Frank explicates what she calls a tendency “to editorialize in the course of storytelling” that she began noticing in literary fiction a few years ago. She began noticing novels and stories that contain an agenda, “bearing a Message, with a capital M.”

While these agendas—on topics such as human rights, climate change, gender fluidity—may be well intentioned, she argues that they are not art. She argues that, although such causes are worthy and important, “They are not the story.” Furthermore, “I must insist that art that is art—at least in terms of literary fiction—wants nothing to do with lobbying or lobbyists.”

Also see propoganda novel.

An Elegy for the Landline in Literature

I am old enough to remember when a phone ringing in the middle of the night indicated that something very bad had happened. Of course, that ringing phone was a landline, the only kind of phone we had back in those days.

“Since its invention, in the nineteenth century, the landline has often been portrayed as sinister—the object through which fate comes to call,” writes Sophie Haigney. She discusses how the landline was used in literature “as an open line of possibility, just waiting to ring,” that has been eliminated by the ubiquitous cell phone.

How to read more books

kid with books

“Modern life can feel too frantic for books. Use these habit-building strategies to carve out time for the joy of reading”

I avoid advice on how to read more books that advocates speed reading because I believe that reading requires more time for interacting with the text than speed reading allows. Reading better is more important than simply reading more.

But this article is aimed at people who in the past have loved their reading life but, because of the proliferation of forms of information delivery and entertainment, haven’t been able to give pleasure reading the attention they’d like. 

© 2020 by Mary Daniels Brown

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Last Week’s Literary Links

10 Best Whodunits

I love a good mystery! Here mystery novelist John Verdon (his latest book is Wolf Lake, featuring NYPD homicide detective Dave Gurney) offers a list of “ten remarkable works, each of which has a special appeal to my whodunit mentality”:Cover: The Crossing by Michael Connelly

  1. Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
  2. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  3. The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
  4. The Galton Case by Ross Macdonald
  5. On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill
  6. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré
  7. Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith
  8. Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
  9. Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason
  10. The Crossing by Michael Connelly

I love that he has included literary classics as well as classic mysteries. And since I’ve only read four of these books (numbers 1,2, 8, and 10), I have yet some more titles to add to my TBR list.

Where Lit-Fic and Horror Converge: Ten Literary Chillers

While researching horror literature I came across this article by writer Christopher Shultz. Shultz addresses the snobbish discrimination between literary fiction and genre fiction (such as horror) to end up with a chronological list of 10 novels and short stories that use horror elements (dark subject matter, entities of a sinister and often supernatural nature, a sense of dread and terror) while also achieving standard criteria of literary fiction (complex characters, existential questions, and elegant prose):

  1. ‘Frankenstein, Or The Modern Prometheus’ by Mary Shelley
  2. “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe
  3. “The Demon Lover” by Elizabeth Bowen
  4. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson
  5. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates
  6. ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ by Ira Levin
  7. “The Companion” by Ramsey Campbell
  8. “The Paperhanger” by William Gay
  9. ‘Black Moon’ by Kenneth Calhoun
  10. ‘The Fever’ by Megan Abbot

I usually avoid horror, so I’ve only read three of these (numbers 1,2, and 4; and I’ve seen the film Rosemary’s Baby, if that counts). From Shultz’s descriptions I’m also thinking of adding numbers 5 and 10 to my TBR list.

SIX WRITERS ON THE GENIUS OF MARCEL PROUST

In honor of Marcel Proust’s 145th birthday on July 10, six current authors comment on why his work remains so important today. Contributing authors are Siri Hustvedt, Francine Prose, Edmund White, André Aciman, Aleksandar Hemon, and Daniel Mendelsohn.

The Failure of Language and A Dream of the West: An Interview with Bonnie Nadzam

Bryan Hurt interviews his friend Bonnie Nadzam, whom he describes as “someone who felt a dis-ease with conventional fiction and who sought to experiment and push against the boundaries of expectation and form.”

Nadzam is the author of two novels, Lamb (2011) and Lions (2016). Here are some of her statements about how and why she writes:

knowing a character is as complex a process as knowing myself. Both seem to involve a process of patience and observation, and of allowing space for unexpected things/motivations/behaviors to arise.

with Lions in particular, I did try to make the reader a character in this story, to the extent that the reader is tracking signs and assembling and telling stories alongside everyone else in the book. And everyone is mistaken; and also, by the end, everyone is also peculiarly exactly right.

I can’t just write fiction as though language were functioning and reliable. I also, however, don’t want to write heady philosophical fiction. So that means experimenting to find ways to drop into stories that are as unreliable as the language in which they’re written.

I suppose when I write fiction, it’s because there’s something I feel the need to express that I can’t get at intellectually.

 

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown