Last Week's Links slow reading

Last Week’s Links

Awards Introduction: 6 Literary Prizes and a Few Winning Books We Love

There are so many literary prizes that keeping them all straight becomes a problem. Who awards which ones, and what are the entry and judgment criteria? Here are descriptions of a few—Nobel Prize, National Book Award, Costa Award, Pulitzer Prize, Man Booker, Women’s Prize for Fiction (formerly known as the Orange Prize)—along with descriptions of some recent winners of each.


Val McDermid is one of my favorite contemporary mystery writers. Here McDermid explains why she, along with a lot of other writers of crime fiction, think so highly of novelist Josephine Tey, whom McDermid describes as “a bridge between the classic detective stories of the Golden Age and contemporary crime fiction.”

“Questions of identity permeate her novels,” writes McDermid. Also, “Tey opened up the possibility of unconventional secrets” such as homosexual desire, cross-dressing, and sexual perversion: “a dfferent set of psychological motivations” than had been seen in Golden Age detective fiction:

Without Tey cracking open the door, I don’t know how easy it would have been for writers such as Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendell to have begun their own explorations of the darker side of human identity and sexuality. I know myself that reading Tey for the first time was like taking a lungful of pure air. I realised that crime fiction could be so much more than the bloodless entertainment I’d been enjoying up to that point. And her work helped me to understand that I could write books that dealt with serious aspects of human behaviour within the confines of genre fiction.

Science Says This Is the Simplest Way to Remember More of What You Read

Here’s yet another plug for the process of slow reading, which includes “giv[ing] yourself a little time to reflect on what you just read.” And such reflection need not involve a long, complicated process. The writer of this article includes a four-step summarization and reflection process and looks at some of the psychological evidence that supports its use.

Read on!

How Feminist Dystopian Fiction Is Channeling Women’s Anger and Anxiety

“The Water Cure,” which comes out in the United States in January and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, joins a growing wave of female-centered dystopian fiction, futuristic works that raise uncomfortable questions about pervasive gender inequality, misogyny and violence against women, the erosion of reproductive rights and the extreme consequences of institutionalized sexism.

Alexandra Alter looks at the history of the dystopian fiction that women have been writing for decades and that continues into the political climate of the present.


Kathleen Keenan writes:

I read Jo’s marriage to Professor Bhaer as a feminist commentary on the choices available to women at that time. To be taken seriously as a writer—something she desperately

wants—Jo is forced to face the sexist literary standards of her day. And as a character in a 19th-century novel, Jo is basically doomed to head to the altar, but Alcott makes her choice as subversive as she can.

She concludes:

Little Women argues that women’s lives are worthy of examination. Women’s stories deserve to be heard. Even when beloved female characters make disappointing choices, writing and sharing their stories is a feminist act.


© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown

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The Feud Between Amazon, Hachette Publishing, and Readers Heats Up

It’s difficult to keep up with all the nuances of this issue. Here are a couple of recent articles:

Dispute Between Amazon and Hachette Takes an Orwellian Turn


Maybe Amazon really is rattled by the whole Authors United phenomenon organized by Douglas Preston. The writers are encouraging their readers to email Jeff Bezos, the Amazon chief executive, and tell him to stop holding books hostage as the company negotiates with Hachette Book Group.

Late Friday, Amazon unveiled Readers United, and encouraged e-book buyers to email the chief executive of Hachette, whose address was helpfully provided.

In introducing the group, Amazon made the same arguments it has been making in the last few weeks: e-books need to be cheaper and Hachette is robbing readers by preventing this from happening.

And read how, according to this article, Amazon has misrepresented the views of George Orwell.

Amazon vs. Hachette: Soul searching in techie, bookish Seattle

And here’s the view from Amazon’s own hometown newspaper, The Seattle Times:

In this city famous for its independent bookstores and pungent coffee shops — brick-and-mortar institutions that value touch, taste and long, rainy afternoons — a high-profile conflict about the business of selling e-books has left many readers feeling conflicted.

Their dilemma: balancing an addiction to the convenient and wallet-friendly services of the local Internet giant with their devotion to the local literary culture.

A Thousand Years of the Persian Book

When some think of Persian literature, their minds might immediately turn to the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. There’s much more than that, of course, and this online exhibition from the Library of Congress explores over a millennium of Persian printed works. Designed to complement an in situ exhibit, the sections here include The Persian Language, Writing Systems and Scripts, Religion, and Science and Technology. Each section contains a narrative essay, along with examples of illuminated manuscripts and other relevant pieces of historical ephemera. First-time visitors shouldn’t miss The Epic of Shahnameh area. Here, they can learn about this epic poem that recounts the history of pre-Islamic Persia or Iransahr (Greater Iran). All told, it contains 990 chapters with 50,000 rhyming couplets.

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994–2014.

Val McDermid: Putting the north in Northanger Abbey

Interesting remarks from one of my favorite authors, Val McDermid, on the task of updating Jane Austen’s novel in a modern setting.

J.K. Rowling writes to girl whose family was slain

Harry Potter boxed setA Texas girl who survived a recent attack in which her parents and four siblings were killed has drawn the attention of “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling.

Rowling’s publicist, Rebecca Salt, confirmed Friday that the British writer sent a letter and package to 15-year-old Cassidy Stay, but she declined to describe their contents, saying it was a private matter. Rowling spokesman Mark Hutchinson also said the gesture “and how it came about are private and between her and Cassidy.”

A sliver of blue sky in a horrific landscape.

New fiction from the big names

my bookshelvesNews on upcoming publication by authors including James Ellroy, Margaret Atwood, Haruki Murakami, and Hilary Mantel.

But I’m not ready to make up a fall reading list. I’m still woefully behind on my summer list.

And so it goes…

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Some interesting reading this week.

The Q&A: James Ellroy: Writing scandal

James EllroyAn interesting interview with the author of one of my favorite novels, LA Confidential.

Read why Ellroy tries to avoid popular culture and why he doesn’t write books about the present.

And read why he says, ” I don’t read.”

Reading 125 Titles A Year? That’s ‘One For The Books’

Joe QueenanIn contrast to James Ellroy, writer Joe Queenan does read—a lot.

Despite his love of reading, Queenan tells NPR that he dislikes both libraries and bookstores.

Read what he has to say about the joy of rereading a book that you love. But don’t take his comments on book clubs too seriously.

Are Women Crime Writers Deadlier Than The Male?

Critic Danuta Kean says yes:

For every Jo [Nesbø ], Stieg [Larsson] and Stuart [MacBride], there are ten women stepping into the shoes of female crime writers Karin Slaughter, Tess Gerritsen, Chelsea Cain and Mo Hayder. And they are pushing boundaries with work that is getting nastier as a result.

Kean interviewed one of my favorite crime writers, Val McDermid. Here’s what McDermid had to say:

Women writing in this genre deny they write to please the market. ‘We’re writing about murder for God’s sake,’ Val McDermid insists when I ask about the violence in her Tony Hill series. It is shocking, the critically acclaimed author maintains, because violence should be shocking.

McDermid believes strongly that women write and read these books because from childhood we are conditioned to be afraid. ‘We perceive violence differently from men,’ she explains. ‘From childhood we are taught if you walk down a dark street you risk being raped or worse. We fear the sound of footsteps, men don’t.’

Women writers empathise with the darkest fears of readers who seek reassurance that, not only is it possible to survive, but that the rule of law will prevail, she claims. It is a strong argument.

Read why Kean concludes:

the fears of women have helped create these monsters by making them lucrative bestsellers. But just because we have an appetite for fear, does not mean, I believe, that we should feed it such strong meat. Because as crimes become ever more grotesque we risk becoming inured not just to acts of evil but their impact on the victim as well.

Crime’s grand tour: European detective fiction

Crime fiction is a magnifying glass that reveals the fingerprints of history. From Holmes and Poirot to Montalbano and the rise of Scandi-noir, Mark Lawson investigates the long tradition of European super-sleuths and their role in turbulent times.

50 crime writers to read before you die

The [U. K.] Telegraph offers a list of staffers’ favorite crime writers of all time:

We wanted to compile a list of writers we had, jointly and severally, loved. We wanted to include writers like Dash Hammett, who brought something new and exciting to the genre; like Elmore Leonard, who turns an old trick in it with incomparable style; and like Poe, who invented it. We did not, except incidentally, take into account popularity.

Who, we asked ourselves finally, are the crime writers who can actually write? We believe any serious reader will profit from acquaintance with any of the writers on this list.

It’s Genre. Not That There’s Anything Wrong With It!

People often use the term genre fiction pejoratively, to mean novels that are formulaic and insipid. In that scheme of things, the opposite of genre fiction is literary fiction, or novels of higher literary standards. Other critics use the terms low-brow and high-brow to describe this dichotomy.

On Page-Turner, The New Yorker‘s blog, Arthur Krystal has this to say about genre fiction:

What I’m trying to say is that “genre” is not a bad word, although perhaps the better word for novels that taxonomically register as genre is simply “commercial.” Born to sell, these novels stick to the trite-and-true, relying on stock characters whose thoughts spool out in Lifetime platitudes. There will be exceptions, as there are in every field, but, for the most part, the standard genre or commercial novel isn’t going to break the sea frozen inside us. If this sounds condescending, so be it. Commercial novels, in general, whether they’re thrillers or romance or science fiction, employ language that is at best undistinguished and at worst characterized by a jejune mentality and a tendency to state the obvious. Which is not to say that some literary novels, as more than a few readers pointed out to me, do not contain a surfeit of decorative description, elaborate psychologizing, and gleams of self-conscious irony. To which I say: so what?

Book Riot Readers’ Top 50 Favorite Novels

Book Riot asked readers to vote for their favorite novels, and the results are in.

Did your favorites make the list?

I’ve read 33 of the 50 novels on this list. How many have you read?

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Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey to be reworked by Val McDermid

Val McDermidI haven’t been this literarily excited in a long, long time. One of my favorite authors, Val McDermid, has been chosen to update Jane Austen’s least well known novel, Northanger Abbey, for a modern audience:

Northanger Abbey is the story of the gothic novel-obsessed 17-year-old Catherine Morland, a girl who “read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives”. Leaving her home for the sophisticated world of Bath, she falls in love with Henry Tilney, only for a host of romantic entanglements to occur, particularly when she visits his home of Northanger Abbey – where, far from her imaginings “the breeze had not seemed to waft the sighs of the murdered to her; it had wafted nothing worse than a thick mizzling rain”, and where she goes on to suppose Henry’s father to have murdered his mother.

Here’s how McDermid explains her approach to the task of bringing a “frisson of fear” to Austen’s novel:

“At its heart it’s a teen novel, and a satire – that’s something which fits really well with contemporary fiction,” said McDermid. “And you can really feel a shiver of fear moving through it. I will be keeping the suspense – I know how to keep the reader on the edge of their seat. I think Jane Austen builds suspense well in a couple of places, but she squanders it, and she gets to the endgame too quickly. So I will be working on those things.”

McDermid’s adaptation will be published in spring 2014 by HarperCollins.

10 Famous Literary Characters Based on Real People

In mental_floss Stacy Conradt reveals the real-life inspirations for 10 literary characters. Her list includes Huckleberry Finn, Miss Havisham, and Severus Snape.

When Do You Stop Reading a Book?

I used to feel compelled to finish every book I started, even if I wasn’t enjoying it. But my approach changed about the time I turned 40, when I decided that life was too short to waste reading books that weren’t speaking to me. I remember very clearly the first book I decided not to finish: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. My library catalog gives the book’s copyright date as 1989, and I think I tried to read it soon after it came out. And I know a lot of people love this book. And yes, I know what symbolism is. So please don’t attack me if this is one of your favorite books. I just found the whole premise distasteful and refused to finish it.

I was therefore interested when Publishers Weekly blogger Josie Leavitt asked when readers give up on a book. Here’s her answer to that question:

I read too many books to feel compelled to finish all of them. I give most books a fair shake, at least a hundred pages, unless it’s truly awful. I define truly awful as something that is poorly written, when all I can see are the errors. I don’t even mind reprehensible characters, as long as the writing flows well. There are books that will take me literally months to finish because I don’t want to spend too much with it, but I’m still curious about how it ends. I will often start another book while I trudge through the other book.

Right now there are more than 30 responses to Leavitt’s question in the comments section of the blog, most of them thoughtfully good answers.

Oh, I guess I should add that I never review a book that I haven’t finished reading. If I start a book but don’t finish it, you won’t hear about it here (well, OK, except for my confession about Geek Love).

So, when do YOU give up on a book? Let us know in the comments section here.

Stuart Evers’ top 10 homes in literature

For this list Evers “decided to restrict it to traditional homes in novels – ie buildings in which fictional characters live. With regret, therefore, I’ve had to leave out William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, Richard Ford’s Haddam, Patrick Hamilton’s The Midnight Bell, Joan Didion’s house in The Year of Magical Thinking, every home that Alice Munro has ever described, not to mention the prisons, bars and hospitals that are as much homes as they are establishments.”

He describes houses from novels such as Great Expectations, Wuthering Heights, and Beloved.