Books in General

You Don’t Need to Finish That Book (No, Really)

24 July 2016

From BookRiot:

I have some fairly blasphemous-seeming views on reading. I agree with Rioters Rebecca and Amanda that books are not sacred objects and you can totally tear books up to craft with them. I appalled some people by suggesting that you can totally skip the first book in the Dark Tower series (or any series! Or any books of any series, really!) if it’s holding you back from reading the rest of the books.

I may seem like a total reading maverick, but I used to have a lot of reading rules. (Trust me, as an Aspie, rules have historically been my freakin’ jam.) One of my big rules was that, if I got far enough into a book, I needed to finish it. I didn’t have a pre-defined point of no return; every book is different and I felt my way through each one. I could quit a book usually within the first couple of chapters, but once I was into the place where the story started to put hooks in me, I felt the need to soldier on until the end, even if the end was bitter and I ended up throwing the book across the room.

I don’t know why I felt the need to finish books. I only know that I’m not the only reader who has felt compelled to finish books.

. . . .

Economists consider this idea irrational because the resources you’ve already committed are gone either way, but it’s not necessarily best to keep pouring more resources into the thing just because you feel committed to it. Your remaining resources may be more profitably (or, in this case, more enjoyably) be spent elsewhere.

. . . .

I read for leisure and for love of books; if I already know halfway in that I don’t love the book, and my time reading it feels more like a chore than it does relaxation, what possible motive do I have to keep putting time into a book?

Further, I never actually agreed to this rule. I never formally decided that this was a thing I wanted to do.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

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Secret Teacher: My pupils’ creativity is being crushed by the punctuation police

23 July 2016

From The Guardian:

“Sir, can you read my story?”

It’s a request that fills me with dread, because I know what will follow.

I will read the story and delight at how well developed the characters are, how effectively suspense has been built up and how great the ending is.

But none of that matters. All that matters in year 6 are the interim teacher assessment frameworks. These make it clear that writing an engaging story is of secondary importance – what really counts is being able to use the passive voice, chuck in a modal verb, employ cohesive devices and throw in some semi-colons.

I read the story. It’s good and the author is rightly proud. However, it doesn’t have many sentences starting with conjunctions and it is lacking colons and semi-colons. According the government-devised scheme for judging writing, this child is not working at the expected standard.

I have no choice but to convey some of this in the hope that this pupil will include some more fronted adverbials next time and please the powers that be. There is no room for discretion or negotiation in the framework.

. . . .

When we read a brilliant story, do we exclaim: “I loved how Charles Dickens used that semi-colon to separate two independent clauses” or “I like Roald Dahl but I wish he had used the passive voice a little more often”?

No. Instead we delight in falling in love with the characters or feeling the tension as they get into difficulty. The assessment frameworks tell our children that creativity and exciting plots are not important. They encourage children to see technical aspects as the central requirement of good writing.

The frameworks are also largely useless in providing helpful information to secondary schools. Take two children, Ali and Grace. Ali can do almost everything mentioned in the interim frameworks for the expected standard. In fact, he can also do some things which indicate that he is “working at a greater depth within the expected standard”. But he is missing one thing: he has not used a single hyphen in his work. This means Ali is below the expected standard for writing.

Grace, on the other hand, has used a hyphen in addition to jumping through all of the other hoops, so she is at the expected standard. And so secondary schools will be told that Grace is a better writer, on the basis of one hyphen.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Suzie for the tip.

3 Myths About the MFA in Creative Writing

21 July 2016

From Jane Friedman:

Most writers want an MFA for one of three reasons: They want to teach writing, they want to get published, or they want to make room in their life for writing. It turns out these reasons for doing an MFA are actually based on myths.

Myth 1: You Need an MFA to Teach Writing

Many writers get the MFA because they think it will allow them to teach writing at the college or graduate level. Once upon a time this might have been the case, but these days so many MFA graduates are looking for jobs and so few teaching positions exist, that it’s a challenge to get a teaching job with a PhD, much less with a terminal master’s degree. The writers who do manage to snag a coveted teaching position are often so overwhelmed with their responsibilities that they have to put their own writing on the back burner. While in the past an MFA may have served as a steppingstone to becoming a professor, it’s not the case anymore.

More important, many teachers in MFA programs do not have that degree themselves. Some professors are successful authors with prominent careers, while others are publishing professionals who bring the industry perspective to the courses they teach. This goes to show that the MFA has little impact on a writer’s ability to teach writing. Being a successful author or publishing professional is much more important.

Myth 2: The MFA Is a Shortcut to Getting Published

No agent will sign you and no editor will publish your book based on a credential alone. You have to write something beautiful. If you attend an MFA program and work hard, you will become a better writer. And if you become a better writer, you will eventually write a beautiful book. An MFA might help you on your quest for publication, but it’s certainly not required. After all, many writers perfect their craft and produce great books without ever getting a degree.

Ultimately getting published is a matter of putting your backside in the chair and writing the best book possible. For that, you don’t need an MFA.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

What If I’m Actually a Character in a Larry McMurtry Novel?

20 July 2016

From Lit Hub:

A little more than a week ago, I drove to Archer City, Texas with an old friend from college and our kids.  I haven’t taken a road trip across Texas in years. On the way I remembered that drive from Houston to Waco to see my grandparents, how we would always stop in Bryan for Yoo-Hoos, or taking off my seat belt in the back of the Pacer and looking through a bubble of glass at a starry Big Sky. As we drove through Huntsville I pointed out the prison to my friend and our children, and waited for the commentary. I was by turns proud and ashamed of Texas, which is pretty much how I’ve felt about my home state ever since I came of age. As we neared Normangee, where my parents live but I haven’t visited in years, we drove past a giant marble Sam Houston looming up from the pine trees. I thought he looked beautiful.

We were driving to Archer City to Booked Up, to see what was left of Larry McMurtry’s bookstore. GPS took us through rural roads, and on the way down there were a few flash flood warnings that frightened me more than anyone else in the car; I knew what could happen. This was a road trip my friend had suggested, one I’d always wanted to make but never would have justified making myself.

When I was 13, I fell in love with Larry McMurtry’s writing.

I found his paperbacks in my mother’s closet. I think the first one I read was Moving On; I still remember the book cover, the foreground the color of yellowed book pages, and the sultry looking man lounging with his red shirt open all the way down, a necklace of some sort dangling down his neck. He was wearing cowboy boots. Angled towards him was a topless woman in jeans, her long, shining brown hair covering the suggestion of breasts. She looked happy and comfortable.

Mostly what I remember from Moving On is Patsy Carpenter. She, I assumed, was the topless woman lazing on the grass on the book cover. I didn’t want to grow up to be her; I wanted to rescue her, in much the same way I sometimes wanted to rescue my mother. I remember a long summer of reading about Patsy, and the thrill of discovering a landscape I recognized as mine, but someone else’s vision. A big red sun dangling over the freeway, or Patsy waiting in a hot parked car, eating a melted Hershey bar, waiting for her husband. She had lovers; a graduate student, a rodeo clown. Unlike my own mother, unlike me, she is financially secure. It was not until I read McMurtry that I realized financially secure people could be failures, too.

. . . .

If you grew up in this country 1970s and 80s, in the US, you probably know about Larry McMurtry. Most people I’ve talked know him best for Terms of Endearment, the 1980s movie that swept the academy awards, with a great soundtrack rivaling Chariots of Fire in popularity; The Last Picture Show, another movie based on one of his books that launched Cybil Shepard’s career, as far as I know; and Lonesome Dove, the grand western turned into a mini-series starring Robert Duvall. But I read the books first, and the world in them sank into my own interior, mingling with the sky outside my window, giving it some purpose and depth for 13-year-old me, whose understanding of the dirty clouds out there was changing rapidly. The clouds in the Houston sky linger like a rotting, bruised banana, I wrote in my blue-lined tablet, and then crossed it out. I wanted to be a writer like McMurtry.

. . . .

We moved out of the McClendon street house on June 15th, 1977 and into the Western Skies Motel. It was on OST at the corner of Alameda Road and had a large parrot in front of its dirty pool. The room had two beds, a black and white TV which ran on an extension cord that trailed across the dirty gray carpet. There were a lot of small roaches. The bathroom had pasty pink ceramic tiles and very mildewed grout. The TV cord ran from an outlet in the bathroom. The cord itself was frayed with hot wires exposed, and it ran through water which came out of the shower. We lived there for only one week. It cost $50. After she told my father she would not stay there with two small children any longer, we moved next door to the Ranger Motel, which had a cowboy out front. It was very clean and seemed safe. The pool was clean, and we swam every day. The Ranger was $65 a week. We ate breakfast each day next door at Guy’s Steakhouse and ate supper out, too: usually at Luby’s. A week before we moved into the Ranger, a body had been found in the pool; that’s one reason it was so clean. The week after we left the Western Skies, three bodies were found in the dumpster there. My parents had about $500 a month to live on then. They paid $150 a month for our car, the Pacer.

Link to the rest at Lit Hub

Margaret Campbell Kay

20 July 2016

From The Boston Globe:

As she pictured dying in Eastport — the Maine island village of her birth that lies across Passamaquoddy Bay from Canada — Margaret Campbell Kay imagined hearing a long-ago sound lament her last moments.

I will die in Eastport in a fog.

On a day when the mist is peasoup thick

And the horn out on Cherry Island mourns and groans,

On a day when the fog creeps into my heart and house

Though she wrote most of her life when time permitted, her early years were given over to three marriages and raising three children. She didn’t focus fully on poetry, fiction, and articles until later on, when she finished college at 71, began collecting writing awards, and kept publishing until she was 94.

Ms. Kay died July 8 — not in Eastport, Maine, but in a Malden nursing home. She was 98 and had detailed her declining health several years ago in an article on her website: “Here I am practically a prisoner in my own home. With great difficulty and the aid of a walking stick, I can walk to the store next door. It has been a long time since I have attempted a trip to the public library. But what can I expect? After all I am 92 years old.”

. . . .

The opening of “Forever” seems taken from that moment in the 1940s when she was a single mother with two sons in Mission Hill.

“When my marriage was finally over, I destroyed all the remaining fragments, all surviving parts,” she wrote. “I did not want, many years later, to come across some faded and crumbling relic of that time. All that was left to do was to sweep clean the waste. And although I really was scared and didn’t know what was going to happen to me or how I was going to support the little boys, the first thing to go was the furniture.”

Ms. Kay “was a very independent woman to say the least,” said her oldest child, Michael Elwell of Eastport, Maine. “She didn’t have much most of her life. She did have three husbands, but she didn’t have much in the way of resources at all.”

The oldest of three sisters, Margaret Campbell Kay was born March 2, 1918, in Eastport. Her father, Fred Kay, was from across the bay in New Brunswick, Canada. Her mother, the former Frances Beckett, was from Eastport.

When Ms. Kay was young her family moved to Portland, Maine. She was still in high school when she secretly married John Elwell, who was in the Army and lived in a rented room next to the high school while awaiting his discharge papers. In her sonnet “Memory,” written during that teenage marriage, she said she:

crept along the icy sidewalk to his door.

Inside his room, radiators hissed and the snow,

descending in soft flakes, piled in high heaps

halfway up his windowpane and seeped

under his door. We heard the bleak wind blow.

Although their marriage lasted only a handful of years, “in the end, he was the one she always talked about, in spite of having three husbands,” their son Michael said. “Her true love, it seemed, was her first husband. A lot of things she wrote were about him.”

. . . .

“I was always interested in writing, but I never had much chance with three children to bring up,” she told the Globe in 1989, when she graduated from the University of Massachusetts Boston at 71 with a bachelor’s degree. “Life got in the way of writing because I had to put food on the table, but I don’t want to talk about my marriages.”

At the honors convocation, she received five awards for poems and fiction. She also had been awarded a fellowship for older writers embarking on serious writing careers. “I go slow and work twice as hard as the 18-year-olds,” she said of returning to college at that age. “I still ask myself, ‘Do I have the right to do this?’ But I was surprised that the kids were really interested in me.”

Her son Michael recalled that “her biggest struggle was passing basic algebra. She got tutors to get through that. She was, of course, superior in English and literature.”

Link to the rest at The Boston Globe

What You Like Falls on Party Lines

20 July 2016

PG tries to stay away from politics, but hopes the following is entertaining without provoking disagreements.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Republicans and Democrats divide on policy positions, and the ideological divisions can extend to taste in music, movies and books. An analysis of what people who “like” the presidential candidates on Facebook “like” elsewhere shows interesting ways the partisan divide can go beyond the issues.

To “like” something on Facebook, a user has to deliberately click the button. Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has 9.1 million “likes” on Facebook, which has 201 million monthly active users in the U.S. Presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has 4.3 million. To determine the data set used below, Facebook took that audience, removed people that liked both pages and looked at what other items the people had liked on Facebook.

Below, a state-by-state look at what people who “like” the presidential candidates or members of their respective parties also “like” on Facebook.

. . . .


 Far and away, the Republican group is more country, while fans of Mrs. Clinton are more pop. At the top of the list for people who like Mrs. Clinton is Adele. The connection is fitting: Mrs. Clinton herself told Sirius XM that the singer is “her go-to voice” and that she has “such a huge admiration for her skills, her abilities and her personality.”

On Mrs. Clinton’s list, the support is largely mutual. Adele is British, so she hasn’t voiced her support in the election; but Beyonce, second on the list, and Lady Gaga, third on the list, have voiced support for Clinton’s campaign on social media. Mrs. Clinton called Beyonce’s new album, “Lemonade,” “great” when she was interviewed by Ellen DeGeneres.

Rocker Ted Nugent tops the list for people who like Mr. Trump, covering most of the Western U.S. and northern Midwest. Mr. Nugent is a vocal Trump supporter— in a Facebook post in December, the musician called the presumptive Republican nominee “the hellraiser America has needed for a very longtime.” The rest of the musicians on the list are country—with the exception of the Northeast, Hawaii and the District of Columbia, where people who “like” Mr. Trump prefer rapper Eminem.

. . . .


When it comes to sports, favorite athletes of people who like the presidential candidates differ as much as the candidates. Women are at the top of the list nationally for both candidates.

Of people who like Mrs. Clinton, Wimbledon champion Serena Williams is at the top across the country. She also tops the list in much of the South and Midwest. At the French Open, Ms. Williams told the Associated Press she doesn’t vote or get involved in politics because she is a Jehovah’s Witness.

For people who like Mr. Trump, mixed martial arts star Ronda Rousey is at the top of the list. This is the only instance in Facebook’s analysis of all of the topics in which the candidate and the person or company at the top of the list clash. Ms. Rousey told CNN in August that she wouldn’t be voting for Mr. Trump because “I don’t want a reality TV star to be running my country.” When Ms. Rousey lost the UFC women’s bantamweight championship in November, Mr. Trump tweeted that he was glad to see her lose because she is “not a nice person.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire) and thanks to David for the tip.

American Literature Needs Indie Presses

19 July 2016

From The Atlantic:

For better or worse, writers and readers live in an age of the million-dollar book deal. The Big Five publishers (Penguin Random House, Hachette, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster) increasingly gamble on massive book advances in hopes that they might put out one of the biggest hits of the year. Last fall, Knopf—a division of Penguin Random House—paid an unprecedented $2 million advance for the first-time novelist Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire. Other recent million-dollar debut deals include Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers, Stephanie Clifford’s Everybody Rise, and Matthew Thomas’s We Are Not Ourselves—and the list goes on.

These large advances correlate with grandiosity on multiple levels: Each of these books is between 400 and 1,000 pages long, costs around $30 for a hardcover, and aims boldly for success on a scale that remarkably few works actually achieve. With these massive investments, which come at the cost of investing in fewer writers, mainstream publishers are trying to recreate the major successes of some recent fiction hits. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt sold more than three million copies. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr hung around theNew York Times bestseller list for months. Both won Pulitzer Prizes. Both were over 500 pages long.

But when editors and publishers feel they need to fight for every moment of planned reading, and readers are experiencing a shrinking cultural attention span, it’s surprising that large books inherently make the most market sense. With this pattern of investment behavior, major presses are inadvertently helping foster an environment where American indie presses can thrive by doing the very thing they’re best at: being small and, by extension, focusing on creativity and originality over sales.

. . . .

Another notable press subverting traditional publishing standards is Dorothy, which is “dedicated to works of fiction or near fiction or about fiction, mostly by women.” Run by the experimental writer and book designer Danielle Dutton, Dorothy publishes just two books a year, and the books are small, beautiful, and cost only $16. Dutton started the press when she found out that Renee Gladman, a poet she admired, had written a trilogy of novels about the invented city-state of Ravicka. These books are absurd and surreal, and are stabilized by an eerie interior logic: Think The Phantom Tollbooth for adults. Dutton told Gladman she’d start a press if Gladman let her publish these books. Thus, Dorothy was born.

. . . .

Indie presses are also currently promoting the work of some of the greatest new and long-neglected writers. Coffee House recently published a four-book set by the horror master Brian Evenson, who put out his first book with a major publisher more than 20 years ago and hasn’t returned to the mainstream press since.

. . . .

Evenson’s career trajectory demonstrates the dangers or virtues—depending on how you look at it—of trailblazing in publishing. He’s published books under pseudonyms, at a fast rate, and with small presses that few people have ever heard of. But none of it was without intention, and he’s earned a passionate following as a result. “I love those books that do something that I didn’t think a book could do,” Evenson said in his Hobart interview. “Books that humble me and open me to new possibilities. I only rarely have that experience with contemporary work that everybody praises to the skies. The best books tend to fly under the radar.” It’s exactly these kinds of works independent publishers seek to champion.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic

Why Do We Write About Orphans So Much?

18 July 2016

From Lit Hub:

Until I was about eleven years old, I was plagued by one upsetting, obsessive thought: it was that, at some point in my childhood, I was doomed to become an orphan. In the week leading up to an evening out for my parents—which, of course, meant a babysitter for me—I would begin to make preparations for their inevitable death by automobile. I don’t remember where I got the idea that they would perish in this way, but I was convinced of it. I always wept bitterly upon their departure; and I always spent most of the rest of the evening in their bedroom, lying on their bed or sitting in their closet, clutching a keepsake that reminded me of my mother (a scarf, a jacket, the book she was reading). I shrugged off the poor babysitter’s attempts to lure me out and awaited the telephone call or the knock on the door that would bring with it news of the accident—which, I imagined, was preordained, fated, as certain as the turning of the hour.

Now, of course, my sympathies lie with the babysitter, and with my parents—who were not, by the way, frequent socializers, and who must have dreaded my dramatics as much as I dreaded their departures. But then, I thought only of myself, and of the world as I would know it once I had finally become an orphan.

I’m not sure when or why this started. But recently I’ve been wondering if it may have been the fault of the children’s literature that I liked best.

I loved The Secret Garden—first the Frances Hodgson Burnett novel, and then the televised 1993 BBC production that featured one of Beethoven’s satisfyingly morose Nocturnes as its theme song—but the part in which Mary’s parents die sudden and violent deaths of cholera (which is housed within a chapter titled, incidentally, “There Is No One Left”) implanted itself firmly in my imagination.

A parade of other orphans followed. Anne Shirley, of course; and Dicey from the Cynthia Voigt series about the Tillerman children; and, before them, the Boxcar children; and just about every character that Noel Streatfield ever invented for her wonderful Shoes books. And then some of the many Dickens novels that center on orphans, and then Jane Eyre, a book I stubbornly read when it was too hard for me, determined to get through it, ultimately scarred by the terrible treatment of poor Jane, the orphan, who had no one in the world to protect her. This, I knew, would be my fate too, once my parents were finally out of the picture. “There Is No One Left,” I would murmur, stoically, as I was carted off to the workhouse.

. . . .

If I can attempt to make an excuse for myself, and for all the writers from Charles Dickens to J.K. Rowling who find themselves drawn, over and over again, to the orphan trope, it might sound like this: For me, at least, writing about orphans is a way to write through the terror of being alone in the world. My characters offer a vision of a future beyond a catastrophic event. Whether these characters are better-off or worse-off at the end of my books, they have, at least, moved beyond their orphandom. It is no longer the central, controlling problem in their world. And generally they have become empowered in some way.

Link to the rest at Lit Hub

Reading is Sexy: Read a Book, Make Yourself More Attractive

17 July 2016

From BookRiot:

Despite the continuous advancements of technology and the easy-access of media provided by the internet, books and their loyal readers have refused to concede their literary consumption to flickering computer screens. When it comes to dating, reading can make someone appear more attractive. In a recent study conducted by the dating app My Bae and shared on GalleyCat, “Across the site 21 percent of matches made had reading tags in common versus 15 percent for music, films, or TV tags.”

. . . .

In a study published in Science, David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano revealed the benefits of reading literary fiction. They found that reading literary fiction can help with deciphering emotions. “Understanding others’ mental states is a crucial skill that enables the complex social relationships that characterize human societies,” they said. As an introvert, I am much more comfortable around people who are able to utilize their emotional intelligence to aid our interactions and thus encourage my trust. Additionally, the benefits of reading extend beyond emotional intelligence. According to the National Reading Campaign, “readers have better physical health, empathy, and mental health.”

. . . .

Recently, I went on a first date with a guy who unabashedly admitted that he didn’t read much because fiction “bored” him. He said that he’d rather have someone explain the plot of a book to him, than actually sit down and read. I was dumbfounded. How could using your imagination be such a bore, such a chore? Why would anyone prefer to have someone explain an entire book to you? The experience wouldn’t fully be yours; the book would be filtered through the biases of the messenger. It was the difference between being in the stadium and witnessing a historic home-run versus having someone recount the play long after it happened.

There were a few reasons why I declined that second date, but I’d be lying if I said our reading habits didn’t present a clash in personalities.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

The novella is making a come-back

17 July 2016

From The Independent:

Small but perfectly formed: the novella is back. The slim little sister of your regular novel, a novella is usually defined as coming in under 50,000 words. But any long short story or short novel may slip into the category.

This in-betweener status can leave the novella out in the cold: booksellers reportedly don’t like them because the spines are too slim to be noticed on the shelf. Plus it’s hard to put a hefty price tag on a book that’s, in the literal sense at least, light-weight. But this summer, the form is making a come-back.

You might think we’d be done with Jane Austen adaptations by now, but the latest in a very long line – Love and Friendship – was unusually warmly received on release earlier this year. And its success was partly chalked up to the fresher, lesser-known source material: an early, epistolary novella named Lady Susan. Director Whit Stillman deemed the brief book “too good not to be known” – and although his movie made some major changes, it has indeed rescued the languishing Lady Susan from obscurity.

. . . .

The novella-movie axis is an interesting one. A surprising number of classic novellas have been made into movies – and a surprising number of classic movies are based on novellas. Consider:Breakfast at Tiffany’s, A Clockwork Orange, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Shawkshank Redemption, The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, Death in Venice … Graham Greene even deliberately wrote The Third Man at novella length, because he knew he wanted to use it as the basis for a film.

The popularity of novellas as cinematic source material is no doubt due to their shorter length. An intense “shot” of story, character and atmosphere is easier to adapt to a 90-minute movie than a 600-page doorstopper. The most common complaint about full-length novel-to-screen adaptations, after all, is that they squish, slash and simplify beloved books.

Link to the rest at The Independent

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