Books in General

The Importance of Fiction

20 October 2016

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. Here on the Oregon Coast, as in New York City, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., it was a beautiful fall day. Sun out, clear blue sky.

And horrors, everywhere.

I was in the middle—quite literally—of writing one of my Smokey Dalton novels. Set in another terrible time in American history, those books are emotionally dark, hard to write, and harder, at times, to think about. On September 10, I had just hit one of the most violent scenes in the book, scenes that left me shaking after writing them.

I made notes for the following day, shut down my word program, and did not log back into it for ten days.

In those ten days, I watched in horror, searched for friends, gave money to other friends and charities that had come up specifically for the 9/11 victims and their families. I also put a cat to sleep. We hadn’t even known he was ill.

There seemed to be no respite. People I knew had lost loved ones, some of my friends had barely escaped with their lives, all of the companies I did business with were shut down, and no one knew what was coming next.

It felt like we were waiting for another, equally horrible shoe to drop.

. . . .

A movie, a comedy, came out that week (I can’t remember what it was) and it tanked. We had stopped using humor to cope. Our comedians took the week off, not returning until the following week, when they felt it was safe to crack a joke again. And even then—hell, even now—we do not joke about that period of time.

I found it hard to escape. Regular television shows were too violent or too pre-9/11. For a while, some TV programs and movies edited out images of the Twin Towers from old programming because everyone found looking at them just too painful.

I didn’t want to read my usual fare. Mysteries seemed too mundane, thrillers too violent, and romance novels too frivolous. Science fiction hadn’t predicted anything like this, and for that reason, I washed my hands of it that month.

Thank heavens for J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. I had never read Harry Potter, and frankly, I wasn’t planning to. But I had the first book, and since nothing else was holding my attention (besides the tragedy), I started to read.

And escaped. Harry’s world is different enough from ours to shut out the horrors of the real world, and heal. I will forever associate those books with that need for healing.

I also credit them for teaching me about the value of fiction.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Punctumotion: Reimagining Punctuation

18 October 2016

From Medium:

Punctumotion is a novel form of digital punctuation that is cross-typeface, cross-platform and infinite in variation. Punctumotion takes the period — the simplest and most neutral typographic form — and animates it with motion and meaning. While other punctuation innovations have failed because they are too limited in application or unintuitive, Punctumotion is more universal and easier to interpret in context because of its reliance on motion, rather than form, as the differentiating factor. Motion also takes advantage of the screen (traditional punctuation was designed for paper or stone).



Link to the rest at Medium

How Fiction Treats the Elderly, Aging and Ancient

18 October 2016

From Literary Hub:

The opening lines of Peter Carey’s 1985 novel Illywhacker introduce the reader to the novel’s narrator Herbert Badgery. Herbert, he tells us, is 139 years old, and his advanced age has attracted the public’s attention. “They come and look at me and wonder how I do it,” he writes. “There are weeks when I wonder the same, whole stretches of terrible time. It is hard to believe you can feel so bad and still not die.” If the absurdly advanced age to which Herbert has lived doesn’t tip you off, Illywhacker is a particularly stylized novel, telling the story of a protagonist whose life consists of misdirection and half-truths.

But in its descriptions of Herbert’s once-vital body reduced by age and his presence diminished by familial infighting, Carey ventures into discomfiting territory. Many of us will find ourselves living long lives and witnessing the effects of age directly. Fiction that’s driven by a plot is also frequently propelled forward by motion, by action. But the arc of many lives is at odds with that: aging, for many, becomes associated with less exploration, less travel, less activity.

. . . .

Books that follow characters across the duration of their lives create a contrast between a protagonist’s younger and healthier self with the manner in which aging affects their bodies and, in some cases, their minds. Samuel R. Delany’s Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders focuses on the lifelong relationship between two men, Eric and Morgan, beginning early in the 21st century and continuing forward far into it. It’s a fascinatingly structured book: despite the fact that a significant portion of it is set in the near future, Delany’s decision to set the novel in a rural community means that the technological advances of this world are largely unseen.

. . . .

This isn’t to say that all fictional explorations of aging are somber and philosophical. Juan Pablo Villalobos’s I’ll Sell You a Dog, translated into English by Rosalind Harvey, takes a frequently puckish look at the subject. The novel’s narrator occasionally flashes back to scenes from his younger days, a common fictional device that’s often used when dealing with an aging main character—see also, among others, Paul Harding’s Tinkers and Laird Hunt’s Indiana, Indiana. Villalobos’s narrator juxtaposes his present-day life as a retiree with moments from his younger days, including scenes from his childhood and of the time he had a romantic rival in Diego Rivera.

While questions of memory, reliability, and lost love all factor significantly into the novel, the tone here is hardly elegiac. Instead, it’s deeply irreverent: a running subplot involves the disposal of the body of the narrator’s family’s dog, which becomes a recurring motif. As for the narrator, his age is rarely forgotten, though he seems to be narrating the book from a distance of some time after the events covered: the first three words of the novel are “In those days.” He is constantly referred to as a “dirty old man” (a not inaccurate description), and the specter of his mortality is felt from time to time. “[T]he past was no longer what it had been,” the narrator writes as the first part of the book ends, which could be taken as a metaphysical statement or a comment on the fallibility of memory in advanced age.

Link to the rest at Literary Hub

‘The Nobel Academy is breaking its trust with us’ by awarding Dylan

18 October 2016

From The Bookseller:

Bob Dylan is a genius. No one can doubt, as the Nobel Prize committee in awarding him the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature stated, that he “created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition” or that lyrics should be considered literature (and there is also great value in Nobel using their cultural capital to inclusively and definitively stretch its borders to include them). But by awarding the Nobel Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan in 2016 the Academy are breaking their trust with us. It is retrograde, turns its back finally on Nobel’s principles of progress, on what the Prize stands for and sets a precedent for the Prize to become, even more than it always has been, a lifetime achievement award. Which would make it, its value to society and to literature, infinitely poorer.

. . . .

Prizes and awards exist in symbiosis with the public they inform and the people they reward. Without the Nobel Prize its recipients aren’t public geniuses but without awarding geniuses publicly the Nobel Prize isn’t anything but a cash lump sum. It had to earn and keep on earning its place in our esteem to maintain its cultural value. Prizes also don’t exist to award popularity: the market does this and is very good at it. To point us to writers who are pursuing art and creating great work regardless of popularity is what imparts to the Nobel prize its stature. This isn’t to say it should ignore the popular, but it should work independently of it.

. . . .

The world moves at a pace and culture and literature move with it. There is a direction of travel towards the new: bold discoveries that irrevocably change our world. Progress. This is definitely easier to judge in the sciences but great literature progresses us too. Progress is not only scientific and political it is social: we progress in empathy, understanding, humanity and dignity and great literature demonstrates this and moves us forward in it. At the same time there has always been a comfortable establishment who are disrupted by this change and seek to stall or stamp it out. Bob Dylan wrote about it in 1964 in “The Times They Are A-changin”. Fifty years later the Academy are awarding him for it, for work that definitely possesses literary value but whose significance has long been apparent, whose progress was made a lifetime ago. The flaw for me is that in doing so the Academy seems to be turning its back on the importance of progress. Dylan progressed literature but even Dylan’s greatest fans admit his best work was produced before 1975. When Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy was asked at the announcement where to start exploring Dylan she had three words: “Blonde on Blonde.” It was released in 1966 (and let’s take a moment to think of what a world it would be if the Academy had chosen rightly to award him then). But the world, literature and the American songbook have progressed so much, yet the Academy seem to be aping what is fast becoming the world’s most tedious meme, that of the baby boomer generation truly believing the apotheosis of culture to have been the ’60s and ’70s.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

A Party of One: How to Set the Perfect Mood for Any Book

15 October 2016

From BookRiot:

Reading is often simple. When it comes down to it, all you really need is a book, a flat surface and some uninterrupted time. Sometimes, however, simple doesn’t cut it. There are times when you just want to experience your book in a more involved way. By putting a little bit of thought into it, the entire experience takes on a new sheen to it. Here I will tell you how to set up the perfect mood depending on what you’re reading.

A classic mystery: If you want to read, say, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, you might like to consider getting a little more involved than curling up on the couch wearing jeans and a sweater. The classic mystery is all about rolling green fields and 1920s Fords, about cities that sparkle with the promise of all the new innovations of the time, and about the danger lurking underneath. So how can you maximize that feeling?

Dress up in something a little more elegant than jeans, apply red lipstick and curl up on something lounge-ish in the garden or balcony. Put on classical music and sip from a martini as your pour through your novel.

A romance novel: Preferably to be read on the couch or in bed. This is serious business: choose the softest sheets or go to the couch or armchair with the most textured upholstery in your home. Turn on scented candles, make sure to have instrumental music wafting through the room and stock up a chocolate tray. A glass of wine in the evening, different flavored teas during the day. Bonus points if it rains or snows.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

The day we knew that people don’t care about books anymore

14 October 2016

From Quartz:

That the Nobel Prize in Literature just went to a celebrity folk singer whose heyday has long since passed has been lauded by Bob Dylan lovers, mocked by literary critics, and mourned by some writers.

The online publication Electric Literature warned its readers that its headline about the prize was not a joke, knowing that hearts would be broken. But the Nobel Prize committee may have picked up on something that is already plaguing the literary world: The next generation of readers isn’t that into reading.

. . . .

A survey of studies by Common Sense Media found that American teenagers are reading less for pleasure. As literary critic David Denby noted about teenage reading habits in the New Yorker, “reading anything serious has become a chore, like doing the laundry or prepping a meal for a kid brother. Or, if it’s not a chore, it’s just an activity, like swimming or shopping, an activity like any other. It’s not something that runs through the rest of their lives.”

. . . .

 “You wouldn’t give the literary prize to an economist or a political saint. You shouldn’t give it to Bob Dylan,” wrote Slate critic Stephen Metcalf. “The distinctive thing about literature is that it involves reading silently to oneself. Silence and solitude are inextricably a part of reading, and reading is the exclusive vehicle for literature.”

Link to the rest at Quartz and thanks to Julia for the tip.

Oh, those Swedes. They’ve gone and done something different. If you can’t trust the Nobel Committee to satisfy the literati, who can you trust?

PG suspects Bob Dylan has too many fans among the unwashed to please most of those in the literary world. He also suspects that only a small fraction of “American teenagers” (a group that was maligned when PG was a teenager) know who Bob Dylan is or have heard his music.

PG says the Swedes are on a roll. He proposes Johnny Cash, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Smokey Robinson, Carole King and Stevie Wonder for future prizes.

Following is a list of the winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature for the last twenty years, including the language in which they wrote. By PG’s (admittedly untrustworthy) recollection, the most common response to the announcement of most of them was, “Who?”

1996 Wisława Szymborska Poland Polish
1997 Dario Fo Italy Italian
1998 José Saramago Portugal Portuguese
1999 Günter Grass Germany German
2000 Gao Xingjian France/China Chinese
2001 Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul United Kingdom English
2002 Imre Kertész Hungary Hungarian
2003 John Maxwell Coetzee South Africa English
2004 Elfriede Jelinek Austria German
2005 Harold Pinter United Kingdom English
2006 Orhan Pamuk Turkey Turkish
2007 Doris Lessing United Kingdom English
2008 J. M. G. Le Clézio France French
2009 Herta Müller Germany German
2010 Mario Vargas Llosa Peru Spanish
2011 Tomas Tranströmer Sweden Swedish
2012 Mo Yan People’s Republic of China Chinese
2013 Alice Munro Canada English
2014 Patrick Modiano France French
2015 Svetlana Alexievich Belarus Russian
2016 Bob Dylan United States English


Bob Dylan wins 2016 Nobel prize in literature

13 October 2016

From CNN:

The 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

The Swedish Academy’s permanent secretary, Sara Danius, said Dylan, 75, “is a great poet in the English-speaking tradition.” She drew parallels between his work and that of ancient Greek poets.

. . . .

“If you look back, far back, 2,500 years or so, you discover Homer and Sappho and they wrote poetic texts that were meant to be listened to, that were meant to be performed, often with instruments — and it’s the same way with Bob Dylan,” she said.

Although Dylan is not in the established canon of literary writers, Danius praised his creative output over five decades, including his constant reinvention of himself. She also described him as “a wonderful sampler, a very original sampler.”

Link to the rest at CNN and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Spotted Dick

12 October 2016

From The Oxford English Dictionary:

Spotted Dick, n.

. . . .

1. A traditional British steamed pudding made with suet and dried fruit, esp. currants or raisins.

. . . .

1939 M. Dickens One Pair of Hands vi. 102, I have had to discover how to make all sorts of revolting things, like Sago, Spotted Dick, Blancmange and Prune Mould, but I suppose it’s all part of one’s education.

. . . .

2. A Dalmatian dog; = spotted dog n.

. . . .

1927 C. C. Sanderson Pedigree Dogs 261 He [sc. the Dalmatian] is commonly known as the ‘plum pudding’ dog, or ‘Spotted Dick’.

Link to the rest at The Oxford English Dictionary

Authors Guild Responds to New Economy of Publishing by Opening Membership to Emerging Writers

12 October 2016

From The Authors Guild:

or the first time in its over 100-year history, the Authors Guild is opening its membership to new and unpublished writers. Since its founding in 1912, the Guild has advocated for writers through many changes in the industry, most recently from the shuttering and consolidation of major publishing houses, to the introduction of eBooks, Amazon, Google Books, and self-publishing. Yet no change has prompted such a significant expansion of its membership structure as the democratizing effect of online publishing.

“The Authors Guild exists to help working writers. But it’s hard to get established; we know that as well as anyone. With the new Emerging Writers membership, we’re now able to give writers support as they enter the professional world, even before they’ve published a first book,” said Roxana Robinson, President of the Authors Guild.

. . . .

In addition to lifelong career support, writers who join as members support the Authors Guild’s tireless advocacy for the rights of their fellow authors, helping to preserve a sustainable future for every writer. Now emerging writers can make the same investment in their own futures. The new membership category is open to all devoted writers actively pursuing publication, and does not require applicants to meet the publication and financial thresholds of full membership.

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild and thanks to Jacqueline for the tip.

Computer Problems

11 October 2016

PG is having computer problems with his principal computer today and he won’t be posting much until he gets it fixed.

Apologies to all.

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