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Prince William and Prince Harry’s “devastating breakdown” revealed in new book

<p>The rift between Prince William and Prince Harry is the most “profound” among the recent generation of the royal family, royal author Robert Lacey said.</p> <p>The biographer, who serves as a historical consultant for the Netflix series <em>The Crown</em>, is set to release the book <em>Battle of Brothers: William and Harry – the Friendships and Feuds </em>in October.</p> <p>“Raised to be the closest of brothers, the last 18 months has seen a devastating breakdown of their once unbreakable bond,” the book’s synopsis reads.</p> <p>In the book, Lacey explains “what happened when two sons were raised for vastly different futures and showing how the seeds of damage were sown as their parents’ marriage unravelled”.</p> <p>Lacey said he had been “astonished” by the information he had uncovered for the book.</p> <p>“I have been astonished and sometimes moved to tears by the fresh details and insights I have discovered in researching this story of family conflict,” he said in a press release.</p> <p>“These two brothers — once inseparable and now separated by much more than mere distance — have been acting out the contradictions that go back into their childhoods and even before that: into their parents’ ill-fated marriage.</p> <p>“We have seen conflicts between heir and spare in every recent generation of the royal family — but nothing so profound as this.”</p> <p>In the 2019 documentary <em>Harry &amp; Meghan: An African Journey</em>, the Duke of Sussex shared a glimpse into his relationship with his older brother.</p> <p>“Part of this role and part of this job, this family, being under the pressure that it’s under, inevitably stuff happens,” he said. “But look, we’re brothers, we’ll always be brothers. We’re certainly on different paths at the moment but I’ll always be there for him and I know he’ll always be there for me.”</p> <p>Another book on royals, <em>Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family</em>, will be released in August. The biography, authored by journalists Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durnad, promises to go “beyond the headlines to reveal unknown details of Harry and Meghan’s life together, dispelling the many rumours and misconceptions that plague the couple on both sides of the pond”.</p>

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5 trendy words that are actually ancient

<p><span>Hip dudes have been friending each other for centuries. Legit!</span></p> <p><strong>1. Legit</strong></p> <p>Legit as a shortening of legitimate has been around since the 1890s. It started as theatre slang for things associated with legitimate drama (versus vaudeville or burlesque). From the 1920s on, it referred to authenticity. If you were ‘legit,’ you were being honest.</p> <p><strong>2. Friend (as a verb)</strong></p> <div class="slide-image">When did friend become a verb? The answer is sometime in the 1400s. In the Oxford English Dictionary, the verb friend means ‘to make friends or to help someone out.’  One example of its usage from 1698: ‘Reports came that the King would friend Lauderdale.’</div> <p><strong>3. Unfriend</strong></p> <p>If you could friend someone, it was only natural, according to the productive rules of English word formation, that you could unfriend her too. The word appears in Thomas Fuller’s 1659 book <em>The Appeal of Injured Innocence</em>, ‘I Hope, Sir, that we are not mutually Un-friended by this Difference which hath happened betwixt us.’</p> <div class="at-below-post addthis_tool" data-url="https://www.readersdigest.com.au/culture/5-trendy-words-that-are-actually-ancient"><strong>4. Hipster</strong></div> <div class="tg-container categorySection detailSection"> <div id="primary" class="contentAreaLeft"> <div id="page4" class="slide-show"> <div id="test" class="slide listicle-slide"> <div class="slide-description"> <p>Hipster shows up in a 1941 dictionary of hash-house lingo, meaning ‘a know-it-all.’ The word hip appeared in the 1900s and referred to being up on the latest trends.</p> <p><strong>5. Dude</strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <div id="page5" class="slide-show"> <div id="test" class="slide listicle-slide"> <div class="slide-description"> <p>In the 1880s, dude had a negative, mocking ring to it. A dude was a dandy, someone very particular about clothes, looks, and mannerisms, who affected a sort of exaggerated high-class British persona. As one Brit noted in an 1886 issue of Longman’s Magazine, “Our novels establish a false ideal in the American imagination, and the result is that mysterious being ‘The Dude.’”. By the turn of the century, it had come to mean any guy, usually a pretty cool one.</p> <p><em>Source:<span> </span><a href="https://www.rd.com/funny-stuff/funny-trendy-words-ancient/">RD.com</a></em></p> <p><em>Written by <span>Brandon Spektor</span>. This article first appeared in <a rel="noopener" href="https://www.readersdigest.com.au/culture/5-trendy-words-that-are-actually-ancient" target="_blank">Reader’s Digest</a>. </em></p> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> <p><img style="width: 100px !important; height: 100px !important;" src="https://oversixtydev.blob.core.windows.net/media/7820640/1.png" alt="" data-udi="umb://media/f30947086c8e47b89cb076eb5bb9b3e2" /></p>

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JK Rowling reveals history of domestic abuse and sexual assault

<p><span>JK Rowling has opened up about her experience with domestic abuse and sexual assault for the first time, in a lengthy and highly personal essay written in response to criticism of her public comments on transgender issues.</span></p> <p><span>In a 3,600-word statement published on her website on Wednesday, Rowling went into detail about how she became embroiled in an increasingly bitter and polarised debate around the concept of gender identity.</span><br /><span>The author said she was a “domestic abuse and sexual assault survivor”, citing this alongside her belief in freedom of speech and experience as a teacher as reasons behind her position.</span></p> <p><span>“I’m mentioning these things now not in an attempt to garner sympathy, but out of solidarity with the huge numbers of women who have histories like mine, who’ve been slurred as bigots for having concerns around single-sex spaces,” she wrote.</span></p> <p><span>The note came after the author took to Twitter to share a series of messages over the weekend about people who identify as trans.</span></p> <p><span>One tweet read: “If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives.”</span></p> <p><span>Since then, prominent figures have come out against Rowling, including Daniel Radcliffe and Eddie Redmayne, who both worked in the hugely successful Harry Potter franchise.</span></p> <p><span>Rowling said she was motivated to share her thoughts after reading about proposed “gender confirmation certificates” in Scotland, which allows trans people to change their sex on their birth certificates based on how they identify and not medical and psychiatric reports.</span></p> <p><span>She accused those who disagreed of “groupthink” and “relentless attacks”, saying that even though she believes trans people deserve protection due to the high rates of domestic and sexual violence they face, she did not agree that trans women who have not undergone hormone therapy or surgical transition to have access to single-sex spaces.</span></p> <p><span>“When you throw open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms to any man who believes or feels he’s a woman – and, as I’ve said, gender confirmation certificates may now be granted without any need for surgery or hormones – then you open the door to any and all men who wish to come inside. That is the simple truth,” she wrote.</span></p> <p><span>She also confirmed that she was in her 20s when she dealt with physical abuse for the first time. “If you could come inside my head and understand what I feel when I read about a trans woman dying at the hands of a violent man, you’d find solidarity and kinship,” she wrote.</span></p> <p><span>Citing an unnamed poll, Rowling claimed that those who did not support preserving single-sex spaces were “only those privileged or lucky enough never to have come up against male violence or sexual assault, and who’ve never troubled to educate themselves on how prevalent it is”.</span></p> <p><span>She said she had been contacted by “huge numbers” of women who were afraid to speak publicly about trans reforms, and decried institutions and organisations she once admired for “cowering before the tactics of the playground”. She said she believed misogyny and sexism were reasons behind the 4,400% increase in the number of girls being referred for transitioning treatment in the past decade.</span></p> <p><span>“I’ve read all the arguments about femaleness not residing in the sexed body, and the assertions that biological women don’t have common experiences, and I find them, too, deeply misogynistic and regressive. </span></p> <p><span>It’s also clear that one of the objectives of denying the importance of sex is to erode what some seem to see as the cruelly segregationist idea of women having their own biological realities or – just as threatening – unifying realities that make them a cohesive political class … It isn’t enough for women to be trans allies. Women must accept and admit that there is no material difference between trans women and themselves,” she wrote.</span></p> <p><span>The essay sparked a heated debate on Twitter, with Emma Watson, who played Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, tweeting: “Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are.”</span></p> <p><span>In a second tweet, she said: “I want my trans followers to know that I and so many other people around the world see you, respect you and love you for who you are.”</span></p>

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Duchess Camilla makes acting debut in charity project

<p>The Duchess of Cornwall has performed her first ever character role since joining the British Royal Family as she joined Oscar winners for a charity reading.</p> <p>Appearing alongside Oscar-winning director Taika Waititi and actors Lupita Nyong’o and Josh Gad, Duchess Camilla took part in the sixth episode of<span> </span>James and the Giant Peach, with Taika and Friends<span> </span>on YouTube.</p> <p>“I’m not much of an actor but I’ll do my best,” Camilla told Waititi, a New Zealand filmmaker, before she began reading the Roald Dahl classic from her Birkhall residence.</p> <p>The Duchess played the part of the Ship’s Captain in the story. One of her lines read: “Holy cats! Send a message to the Queen at once! The country must be warned!”</p> <div class="embed-responsive embed-responsive-16by9"><iframe class="embed-responsive-item" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/4g1wRIMNV9M"></iframe></div> <p>The project is an initiative from the Roald Dahl Story Company to raise funds for Partners in Health, who are working on the front line amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p> <p>The Duchess, who is royal patron of Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity, said in a statement: “I hope this campaign will raise vital funds to support those most in need at this very challenging time – as well as helping families and children currently in lockdown to find a moment of comfort through the joy of reading.”</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"> <p dir="ltr">The Duchess of Cornwall has joined <a href="https://twitter.com/TaikaWaititi?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TaikaWaititi</a> and The <a href="https://twitter.com/roald_dahl?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@roald_dahl</a> Story Company for her first character reading in Episode 6 of James and The Giant Peach with <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TaikaAndFriends?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TaikaAndFriends</a>. 📖 <a href="https://t.co/lMcITcoDb7">https://t.co/lMcITcoDb7</a></p> — Clarence House (@ClarenceHouse) <a href="https://twitter.com/ClarenceHouse/status/1265629629194416130?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">May 27, 2020</a></blockquote> <p>The readings have also been joined by a number of other celebrities, including Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett and Chris Hemsworth.</p>

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5 novels with a real sense of place to explore from your living room

<p>Everybody knows the concept of “desert island books”, the novels you might pack if you were going to be marooned on a desert island. Thanks to the pandemic, many of us are indeed now marooned, except that instead of lazing on palm-fringed beaches, we’re in lockdown – in urban apartment blocks, suburban terraced houses or village homes.</p> <p>A good book can help us forget about the world around us and also substitute our longing for pastures greener. It can take us from our sofa to the beaches of Thailand (as in Alex Garland’s <em>The Beach</em>) or to the streets of New York (as in Paul Auster’s <em>City of Glass</em>).</p> <p>So, as someone who researches and teaches literature, I’ve chosen five novels that allow me to be elsewhere in my mind, whether that’s a glorious English countryside setting, the streets of a European metropolis, or the urban sprawl of an unnamed Indian city.</p> <p><strong>Kazuo Ishiguro: <em>The Remains of the Day</em></strong></p> <p><em>The Remains of the Day</em> tells the story of Stevens, the aged butler of Darlington Hall, and his ill-judged life choices that saw him being involved, albeit only on the fringes, with British fascism in the interwar years.</p> <p>This allusion to British fascism in particular is something that makes this novel stand out: it is a subject matter not often discussed or even taught.</p> <p>But at the moment, I can particularly take solace in Ishiguro’s beautiful descriptions of the countryside that Stevens – unused to the freedom of travel – encounters during his journey across south-west England:</p> <blockquote> <p>What I saw was principally field upon field rolling off into the far distance. The land rose and fell gently, and the fields were bordered by hedges and trees … It was a fine feeling indeed to be standing up there like that, with the sound of summer all around one and a light breeze on one’s face.</p> </blockquote> <p>As the lockdown drags on, this is a feeling I am longing for.</p> <p><strong>W.G. Sebald: <em>The Emigrants</em></strong></p> <p>This collection of four novellas is predominantly set in England and Germany but also offers glimpses of the US, Egypt, Belgium and Switzerland. Focusing on a different protagonist in each novella, Sebald portrays how the long shadows of the second world war have affected individuals – but also how Germany has engaged with its troubled past.</p> <p>His descriptions of the town of Kissingen’s illuminated spa gardens, with “Chinese lanterns strung across the avenues, shedding colourful magical light” and “the fountains in front of the Regent’s building” jetting “silver and gold alternately” conjure up images of times gone by and a town as yet untroubled by the scourge of antisemitism.</p> <p>Sebald’s narrative is a collage of fiction, biography, autobiography, travel writing and philosophy. His prose is so full of quiet beauty and eloquence that it always helps me forget my surroundings and enter a quiet and contemplative “Sebaldian” space.</p> <p><strong>Patrick Modiano: <em>The Search Warrant</em></strong></p> <p><em>The Search Warrant</em> pieces together the real-life story of Dora Bruder, a young Jewish girl who went missing in Paris in December 1941.</p> <p>Modiano attempts to retrace Dora’s movements across Paris and his book is full of evocative descriptions of quiet squares and bustling streets where she might have spent some time.</p> <blockquote> <p>In comparison with the Avenue de Saint-Mandé, the Avenue Picpus, on the right, is cold and desolate. Treeless, as I remember. Ah, the loneliness of returning on those Sunday evenings.</p> </blockquote> <p>From the first page it is clear that the city of Paris assumes the status of a character – and as readers we can follow the narrator’s (and Dora’s) movements on a map.</p> <p>If we are familiar with Paris, we can picture where they are. By tracing Dora’s possible steps, Modiano evocatively recreates the twilight atmosphere of Paris under occupation.</p> <p><strong>Rohinton Mistry: <em>A Fine Balance</em></strong></p> <p><em>A Fine Balance</em> is a sprawling narrative that takes the reader all the way to the Indian subcontinent.</p> <p>Set initially in 1975 during the emergency government period and then during the chaotic times of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, Mistry’s novel focuses on the lives of four central characters whose lives are on a downward spiral, from poverty to outright destitution and, ultimately, death.</p> <p>Mistry does not whitewash the reality of urban poverty in India. His narrative does not hide away from disease or overcrowded slums with “rough shacks” standing “beyond the railroad fence, alongside a ditch running with raw sewage”. His are not places where we might want to be. But as readers, we become utterly engrossed in his characters’ lives – we hope with them, we fear for them and, at the end, we cry for them.</p> <p><strong>Elena Ferrante: <em>My Brilliant Friend</em></strong></p> <p>Elena Ferrante’s novels take me straight to my favourite city of Napoli. Starting with My Brilliant Friend, the four novels chart the intensive relationship between two girls, Elena “Lenù” Greco and Raffaella “Lila” Cerullo, who grow up in a poor neighbourhood in the 1950s.</p> <p>Reading Ferrante’s sprawling narrative conjures up images of Napoli and makes me feel like I am standing in the Piazza del Plebiscito or having an espresso in the historic Caffè Gambrinus. Together with Lenù, I can see Vesuvio across the Bay of Naples, the:</p> <blockquote> <p>delicate pastel-colored shape, at whose base the whitish stones of the city were piled up, with the earth-coloured slice of the Castel dell’Ovo, and the sea.</p> </blockquote> <p>I can feel, hear and smell Napoli around me. Reading about the city might not be as good as being there in person; but, at the moment, it is a close second.</p> <p>Of course, books can’t stop a global pandemic. But, for a short while, they can let us forget the world around us and, instead, transport us to different places, allowing us to at least travel in spirit.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/135367/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/christine-berberich-319477">Christine Berberich</a>, Reader in Literature, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-portsmouth-1302">University of Portsmouth</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/five-novels-with-a-real-sense-of-place-to-explore-from-your-living-room-135367">original article</a>.</em></p>

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A beginner’s guide to reading and enjoying poetry

<p>One of the things you get asked most when people find out that you’re a poet is whether you can recommend something that could be read at an upcoming wedding, or if you know something that might be suitable for a funeral. For most people, these occasions – as well as their schooldays – are the only times they encounter poetry.</p> <p>That feeds into this sense that poetry is something formal, something which might stand to attention in the corner of the room, that it’s something to be studied or something to “solve” rather than something to be lounged with on the sofa. Of course, this needn’t be true.</p> <p>We’ve seen over the past couple of months how important poetry can be to people. It’s forming a response in advertisements and marketing campaigns, it’s becoming a regular part of the public’s honouring of frontline heroes and, for people who write poetry more often, it’s becoming a way to create a living historical document of these unprecedented times – this latter point was the aim of the new <a href="https://www2.mmu.ac.uk/write/">Write where we are Now project</a>, spearheaded by poet Carol Ann Duffy and Manchester Metropolitan University.</p> <p>In years to come, alongside medical records and political reporting, historians and classes of schoolchildren will look to art and poetry to find out what life was like on a day-to-day basis – what things seemed important, what things worried people, how the world looked and felt and was experienced. Write where we are Now will, hopefully, be one such resource, with poets from all over the world contributing new work directly about the Coronavirus pandemic or about the personal situations they find themselves in right now.</p> <p><iframe src="https://player.vimeo.com/video/407507872" width="500" height="281" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p>So the crisis has perhaps brought poetry – with its ability to make the abstract more concrete, its ability to distil and clarify, its ability to reflect the surreal and strange world we now find ourselves in – back to the fore.</p> <p>Many of you might be thinking now is the time to try and get to grips with poetry, maybe for the first time. A novel might feel too taxing, watching another film just involves staring at another screen for longer, but a poem can offer a brief window into a different world, or simply help to sustain you in this one.</p> <p><strong>How to enjoy poetry</strong></p> <p>If you’re nervous around poetry or are scared it might not be for you, I wanted to offer up some tips.</p> <p><strong>1. You don’t have to like it</strong></p> <p>Poetry is often taught in very strange ways: you’re given a poem and told that it’s good – and that if you don’t think it’s good then you haven’t understood it, and you should read it again until you have, and then you’ll like it. This is nonsense. There are poets and poems for every taste. If you don’t like something, fine. Move on. Find another poet. Anthologies are great for this, and a good place to start with your poetry journey.</p> <p><strong>2. Read it aloud</strong></p> <p>Poetry lives on the air and not on the page, read it aloud to yourself as you walk around the house, you’ll get a better understanding of it, you’ll feel the rhythms of the language move you in different ways – even if you’re not quite sure what’s going on.</p> <p><strong>3. Don’t try and solve it</strong></p> <p>This is something else that goes back to our educational encounters with poetry – poems are not riddles that need solving. Some poems will speak to you very plainly. Some poems will simply move you through their language. Some poems will baffle you but, like an intriguing stranger, you’ll want to step closer to them. Poems aren’t a problem to be wrestled with – mostly poems are showing you one small thing as a way of talking about something bigger. Poems aren’t a broken pane of glass that you need to painstakingly reassemble. They’re a window, asking you to look out, trying to show you something.</p> <p><strong>4. Write your own</strong></p> <p>The best way to understand poetry is to write your own. The way you speak, the street you live on, the life you’ve lived, is as worthy of poetry as anything else. Once you begin to explore your own writing, you’ll be able to read and understand other people’s poems much better.</p> <p>I would say this as a poet, but poetry is going to be even more central to how we rebuild after this current crisis. Poetry, especially the teaching of how we might write it, has this wonderful ability to create a new language, to imagine new ways of seeing things, to help people to articulate what it is that they’ve just been through. The way we move forward, as a community, as a society and, in fact, as a civilisation, is to push language to new frontiers, to use language to memorialise, reimagine and rebuild, but also to remember that poetry can be an escape, something to be enjoyed, something to cherish.</p> <p>With that in mind here is a poem I wrote for Write where we are Now.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/137321/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><img src="https://images.theconversation.com/files/331106/original/file-20200428-110779-1fegtkr.png?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&amp;q=45&amp;auto=format&amp;w=237&amp;fit=clip" alt="" /> <span class="caption"></span></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/andrew-mcmillan-535042">Andrew McMillan</a>, Senior Lecturer, Department of English, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/manchester-metropolitan-university-860">Manchester Metropolitan University</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/a-beginners-guide-to-reading-and-enjoying-poetry-137321">original article</a>.</em></p>

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JK Rowling unveils new book and will donate all royalties

<p>JK Rowling has unveiled a new children’s book, which she is releasing in chapters each weekday for children to enjoy during these “strange, unsettling times”.</p> <p>The author announced the news on Twitter, saying the upcoming book – titled <em>The Ickabog</em> – is not a spin-off of her best-selling <em>Harry Potter </em>series.</p> <p>Rowling said she wrote “most of the first draft” more than 10 years ago, while she was still writing the <em>Harry Potter </em>books.</p> <p>“A few weeks ago at dinner, I tentatively mooted the idea of getting <em>The Ickabog</em> down from the attic and publishing it for free, for children in lockdown,” Rowling said in a statement on Tuesday.</p> <p>“Over the last few weeks I’ve done a bit of rewriting and I’ve decided to publish <em>The Ickabog</em> for free online, so children on lockdown, or even those back at school during these strange, unsettling times, can read it or have it read to them.”</p> <p>Chapters of <em>The Ickabog </em>are being published every weekday until July 10 on <em><a href="https://theickabog.com/">The Ickabog website</a></em>.</p> <p>Rowling also invited young readers to draw illustrations for the story in an official competition being run by Scholastic. Winners will see their artwork in the book, which will be published in print, eBook and audiobook in November.</p> <p>“Creativity, inventiveness and effort are the most important things: we aren’t necessarily looking for the most technical skill!” she said.</p> <p>Rowling is pledging all author royalties from the book to “projects and organisations helping the groups most impacted by COVID-19”, she wrote on Twitter.</p>

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Creating writing: 3 tips to start

<p>Always wanted to write, but had no clue where to begin? It can be daunting to get started and put the first sentence on that blank page. Author and creative writing lecturer Ronnie Scott shared some tips to help you get on track to writing your first novel.</p> <p><strong>Start where you are</strong></p> <p>Looking for inspiration? Take notes – the best ideas might just be waiting in plain sight.</p> <p>Scott advised aspiring writers to carry a notebook and get into the habit of writing down what they see in their surroundings. “It gets you into the habit of thinking, thinking visually, and then translating that into words,” he said.</p> <p>Apart from improving your writing skills, these notes can also help spark ideas and develop the seed for your future stories.</p> <p><strong>Allocate time for research</strong></p> <p>Research is important to provide your story with rich details and authenticity – but it can also distract you from writing the story itself. Scott recommended separating the research stage from the creative parts of the work.</p> <p>“Allocate yourself an hour of research, for example,” he said.</p> <p>“Then for the next days of your work, you are absolutely just going to play in the document … you’re going to write down anything that comes into your head.”</p> <p><strong>Challenge yourself</strong></p> <p>If you have a great story idea but don’t know how to put it into writing, take on small challenges. For example, you can try creating a 200-word version of the story or allocate an hour to get as many words as possible on the page.</p> <p>Even if the end result isn’t satisfactory, the exercise could yield new learnings. “You [might] have something bad on the page,” Scott said.</p> <p>“You can come back to it tomorrow. You can read it critically, you can think, ‘Okay, what was I trying to do here? Why didn’t it work out?’</p> <p>“You unfortunately have to probably go through a bit of creative discomfort to get yourself to finish something, but once you do that, there are really great things waiting on the other side.”</p>

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How the Queen came to hold 7 Guinness World Records

<p>It’s been 68 years since Queen Elizabeth II took over the British throne, and ever since, the 94-year-old monarch has made history many times over.</p> <p>Among her many accomplishments are Guinness World Record titles, which the Queen holds quite a few of.</p> <p>From longest-reigning queen to the wealthiest, here are some of the Queen’s Guinness World Records.</p> <p><strong>Oldest British Queen</strong></p> <p>On 21 December 2007, Queen Elizabeth II was given the title of oldest British queen at the age of 81 and 244 days old.</p> <p>The record was previously held by the monarch’s great, great grandmother, Queen Victoria.</p> <p>Queen Elizabeth succeeded to the throne on 6 February 1952 following the death of her father King George VI.</p> <p>Her reign surpassed Queen Victoria’s on 9 September 2015, after ruling for over 63 years.</p> <p>As of the Queen’s 94th birthday on 21 April 2020, she has ruled uninterrupted for 68 years and 75 days.</p> <p><strong>Oldest current monarch</strong></p> <p>In 2015, Queen Elizabeth became the world’s oldest monarch when the former title holder, King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, died at the age of 90.</p> <p><strong>Longest-reigning living monarch</strong></p> <p>While the Queen currently is the fourth-longest reigning monarch in the world, she does hold the title of the longest-reigning living monarch.</p> <p>The top three longest-reigning monarchs include King Louis XIV of France, who ruled for 72 years and 110 days, followed by Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who ruled for 70 years and 126 days and King Johann II of Liechtenstein, who was ruler for 70 years and 91 days.</p> <p><strong>Most countries to be head of state simultaneously</strong></p> <p>The Guinness World Records revealed Queen Elizabeth holds the record “in terms of the number of independent nations for which the same person is lawfully Head of State at the same time” with 16.</p> <p>Acknowledging that this makes her “possibly the most powerful woman in the world,” the book of records states: “While the Queen's role is nominal and ceremonial (exercising no political powers), more than 139m people in 15 Commonwealth states (plus the UK) recognise her as their monarch.”</p> <p><strong>Most currencies featuring the same individual</strong></p> <p>Queen Elizabeth’s profile is featured on the coinage of at least 35 different countries, while Queen Victoria’s image appeared on currency from 21 countries and King George V appeared on 19.</p> <p><strong>Wealthiest Queen</strong></p> <p>In 2012,<span> </span><em>The Sunday Times</em><span> </span>estimated the Queen’s total wealth including fine art, jewellery and property, to be £310m (AUD 579m).</p>

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How to read Shakespeare for pleasure

<p>In recent years the orthodoxy that Shakespeare can only be truly appreciated on stage has <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/celebritynews/11956151/Sir-Ian-McKellen-Dont-bother-reading-Shakespeare.html">become widespread</a>. But, as with many of our habits and assumptions, lockdown gives us a chance to think differently. Now could be the time to dust off the old collected works, and read some Shakespeare, just as people have been doing for more than 400 years.</p> <p>Many people have said they find reading Shakespeare a bit daunting, so here are five tips for how to make it simpler and more pleasurable.</p> <p><strong>1. Ignore the footnotes</strong></p> <p>If your edition has footnotes, pay no attention to them. They distract you from your reading and de-skill you, so that you begin to check everything even when you actually know what it means.</p> <p>It’s useful to remember that nobody ever understood all this stuff – have a look at Macbeth’s knotty “<a href="https://www.nosweatshakespeare.com/quotes/soliloquies/if-it-were-done-when-tis-done/">If it were done when ‘tis done</a>” speech in Act 1 Scene 7 for an example (and nobody ever spoke in these long, fancy speeches either – Macbeth’s speech is again a case in point). Footnotes are just the editor’s attempt to deny this.<span class="attribution"><a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/" class="license"></a></span></p> <p>Try to keep going and get the gist – and remember, when Shakespeare uses very long or esoteric words, or highly involved sentences, it’s often a deliberate sign that the character is trying to deceive himself or others (the psychotic jealousy of Leontes in <a href="https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/shakespedia/shakespeares-plays/winters-tale/">The Winter’s Tale</a>, for instance, expresses itself in unusual vocabulary and contorted syntax).</p> <p><strong>2. Pay attention to the shape of the lines</strong></p> <p>The layout of speeches on the page is like a kind of musical notation or choreography. Long speeches slow things down – and, if all the speeches end at the end of a complete line, that gives proceedings a stately, hierarchical feel – as if the characters are all giving speeches rather than interacting.</p> <p>Short speeches quicken the pace and enmesh characters in relationships, particularly when they start to share lines (you can see this when one line is indented so it completes the half line above), a sign of real intimacy in Shakespeare’s soundscape.</p> <p>Blank verse, the unrhymed ten-beat <a href="http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/sonnetstyle.html">iambic pentamenter structure</a> of the Shakespearean line, varies across his career. Early plays – the histories and comedies – tend to end each line with a piece of punctuation, so that the shape of the verse is audible. John of Gaunt’s famous speech from Richard II is a good example.</p> <blockquote> <p>This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle,<br />This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars.</p> </blockquote> <p>Later plays – the tragedies and the romances – tend towards a more flexible form of blank verse, with the sense of the phrase often running over the line break. What tends to be significant is contrast, between and within the speech rhythms of scenes or characters (have a look at Henry IV Part 1 and you’ll see what I mean).</p> <p><iframe width="440" height="260" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/6u009U1q69A?wmode=transparent&amp;start=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p><strong>3. Read small sections</strong></p> <p>Shakespeare’s plays aren’t novels and – let’s face it – we’re not usually in much doubt about how things will work out. Reading for the plot, or reading from start to finish, isn’t necessarily the way to get the most out of the experience. Theatre performances are linear and in real time, but reading allows you the freedom to pace yourself, to flick back and forwards, to give some passages more attention and some less.</p> <p>Shakespeare’s first readers probably <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2020/apr/01/reading-shakespeare-book-plays-emma-smith">did exactly this</a>, zeroing in on the bits they liked best, or reading selectively for the passages that caught their eye or that they remembered from performance, and we should do the same. Look up <a href="https://shakespeare.folger.edu">where a famous quotation comes</a>: “All the world’s a stage”, “To be or not to be”, “I was adored once too” – and read either side of that. Read the ending, look at one long speech or at a piece of dialogue – cherry pick.</p> <p><iframe width="440" height="260" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/pjJEXkbeL-o?wmode=transparent&amp;start=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p>One great liberation of reading Shakespeare for fun is just that: skip the bits that don’t work, or move on to another play. Nobody is going to set you an exam.</p> <p><strong>4. Think like a director</strong></p> <p>On the other hand, thinking about how these plays might work on stage can be engaging and creative for some readers. Shakespeare’s plays tended to have <a href="https://www.shakespeareswords.com/Public/LanguageCompanion/ThemesAndTopics.aspx?TopicId=37">minimal stage directions</a>, so most indications of action in modern editions of the plays have been added in by editors.</p> <p>Most directors begin work on the play by throwing all these instructions away and working them out afresh by asking questions about what’s happening and why. Stage directions – whether original or editorial – are rarely descriptive, so adding in your chosen adverbs or adjectives to flesh out what’s happening on your paper stage can help clarify your interpretations of character and action.</p> <p>One good tip is to try to remember characters who are not speaking. What’s happening on the faces of the other characters while Katherine delivers her long, controversial speech of apparent wifely subjugation at the end of The Taming of the Shrew?</p> <p><iframe width="440" height="260" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/ti1Oh9imI8I?wmode=transparent&amp;start=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p><strong>5. Don’t worry</strong></p> <p>The biggest obstacle to enjoying Shakespeare is that niggling sense that understanding the works is a kind of literary IQ test. But understanding Shakespeare means accepting his open-endedness and ambiguity. It’s not that there’s a right meaning hidden away as a reward for intelligence or tenacity – these plays prompt questions rather than supplying answers.</p> <p>Would Macbeth have killed the king without the witches’ prophecy? Exactly – that’s the question the play wants us to debate, and it gives us evidence to argue on both sides. Was it right for the conspirators to assassinate Julius Caesar? Good question, the play says: I’ve been wondering that myself.</p> <p>Returning to Shakespeare outside the dutiful contexts of the classroom and the theatre can liberate something you might not immediately associate with his works: pleasure.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/136409/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><em><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></em></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/emma-smith-221714">Emma Smith</a>, Professor of Shakespeare Studies, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-oxford-1260">University of Oxford</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-to-read-shakespeare-for-pleasure-136409">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Why rereading Harry Potter might be the next best thing after your friendships

<p>Humans are innately social creatures. But as we stay home to limit the spread of COVID-19, video calls only go so far to satisfy our need for connection.</p> <p>The good news is the relationships we have with fictional characters from books, TV shows, movies, and video games – called parasocial relationships – serve many of the same functions as our friendships with real people, without the infection risks.</p> <p><strong>Time spent in fictional worlds</strong></p> <p>Some of us already spend vast swathes of time with our heads in fictional worlds.</p> <p>Psychologist and novelist <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=22yoaiLYb7M&amp;t=122s">Jennifer Lynn Barnes</a> estimated that across the globe, people have collectively spent 235,000 years engaging with Harry Potter books and movies alone. And that was a conservative estimate, based on a reading speed of three hours per book and no rereading of books or rewatching of movies.</p> <p>This human predilection for becoming attached to fictional characters is lifelong, or at least from the time toddlers begin to engage in pretend play. About half of all children create an <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Imaginary-Companions-Children-Create-Them-ebook/dp/B000TTVQAU/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?dchild=1&amp;keywords=marjorie+taylor%27s+imaginary+friend&amp;qid=1586910704&amp;sr=8-1-fkmr0">imaginary friend</a> (think comic strip <a href="https://calvinandhobbes.fandom.com/wiki/Hobbes">Calvin’s tiger pal Hobbes</a>).</p> <p>Preschool children often form attachments to media characters and believe these <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2017-28765-005">parasocial friendships</a> are reciprocal — asserting that the character (even an animated one) can hear what they say and know what they feel.</p> <p>Older children and adults, of course, know that book and TV characters do not actually exist. But our knowledge of that reality doesn’t stop us from feeling these <a href="https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/abs/10.1521/soco.2008.26.2.156">relationships are real</a>, or that they <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333748971_Parasocial_Interactions_and_Relationships_with_Media_Characters_-_An_Inventory_of_60_Years_of_Research">could be reciprocal</a>.</p> <p>When we finish a beloved book or television series and continue to think about what the characters will do next, or what they could have done differently, we are having a parasocial interaction. Often, we entertain these thoughts and feelings to cope with the sadness — even grief — that we feel at the end of a book or series.</p> <p>The still lively <a href="https://twitter.com/reddit/status/1128051192288796672">Game of Thrones discussion threads</a> or social media reaction to the <a href="https://www.popsugar.com.au/celebrity/Offspring-Season-5-Preview-34780442">death of Patrick</a> on Offspring a few years back show many people experience this.</p> <p>Some people sustain these relationships by writing new adventures in the form of <a href="https://www.fanfiction.net/book/Harry-Potter/">fan fiction</a> for their favourite characters after a popular series has ended. Not surprisingly, Harry Potter is one of the most popular fanfic topics. And steamy blockbuster <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/hayleycuccinello/2017/02/10/fifty-shades-of-green-how-fanfiction-went-from-dirty-little-secret-to-money-machine/#58583ef3264c">Fifty Shades of Grey</a> began as fan fiction for the Twilight series.</p> <p><strong>As good as the real thing?</strong></p> <p>So, imaginary friendships are common even among adults. But are they good for us? Or are they a sign we’re losing our grip on reality?</p> <p>The evidence so far shows these imaginary friendships are a sign of well-being, not dysfunction, and that they can be good for us in many of the same ways that real friendships are good for us. Young children with imaginary friends show more <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19630910">creativity</a> in their storytelling, and higher levels of <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/1131670?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents">empathy</a> compared to children without imaginary friends. Older children who create whole imaginary worlds (called <a href="https://srcd.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/cdev.13162">paracosms</a>) are more creative in dealing with social situations, and may be better problem-solvers when faced with a stressful event.</p> <p>As adults, we can turn to parasocial relationships with fictional characters to feel less <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022103108002412">lonely</a> and boost our mood when we’re <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1475-6811.2008.00197.x">feeling low</a>.</p> <p>As a bonus, reading <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/342/6156/377">fiction</a>, watching high-quality <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2015-44293-001">television shows</a>, and playing pro-social <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21171755">video games</a> have all been shown to boost empathy and may decrease <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jasp.12279">prejudice</a>.</p> <p><strong>Get by with a little help</strong></p> <p>We need our fictional friends more than ever right now as we endure weeks in isolation. When we do venture outside for a walk or to go the supermarket and someone avoids us, it feels like <a href="https://www.newswise.com/coronavirus/why-social-distancing-is-so-difficult-how-research-explains-our-behavior/?article_id=728360">social rejection</a>, even though we know physical distancing is recommended. Engaging with familiar TV or book characters is one way to <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1948550612454889">rejuvenate</a> our sense of connection.</p> <p>Plus, parasocial relationships are enjoyable and, as American literature professor Patricia Meyer Spacks noted in <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/are-rereadings-better-readings">On Rereading</a>, revisiting fictional friends might tell us more about ourselves than the book.</p> <p>So cuddle up on the couch in your comfiest clothes and devote some time to your fictional friendships. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/apr/08/rereading-favourite-books-pleasure">Reread an old favourite</a> – even one from your childhood. Revisiting a familiar fictional world creates a sense of <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08824096.2017.1383236">nostalgia</a>, which is another way to feel less <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2006-20034-013">lonely</a> and <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23163710">bored</a>.</p> <p>Take turns reading the Harry Potter series aloud with your family or housemates, or watch a TV series together and bond over which characters you love the most. (I recommend <a href="https://ir.ua.edu/handle/123456789/3189">Gilmore Girls</a> for all mothers marooned with teenage daughters.)</p> <p>Fostering fictional friendships together can strengthen <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rsos.160288">real-life</a> relationships. So as we stay home and save lives, we can be cementing the familial and parasocial relationships that will shape us – and our children – for life.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/136236/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/elaine-reese-1027041">Elaine Reese</a>, Professor of Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-otago-1304">University of Otago</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/missing-your-friends-rereading-harry-potter-might-be-the-next-best-thing-136236">original article</a>.</em></p>

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5 books to keep young people happy during lockdown

<p>Stories can be mirrors that help young people express feelings about a given situation. They give children a vocabulary for what is happening. But, because of how <a href="http://esciencecommons.blogspot.com/2013/12/a-novel-look-at-how-stories-may-change.html">fiction works in the brain</a>, stories can also be windows. When we read fiction, we inhabit other bodies and feel the concerns of other people. This helps young people to develop empathy – but has another profound effect. Reading stories makes us feel experienced and increases resilience.</p> <p>I’ve chosen some wonderful books that all function both as mirrors and windows for children as the world faces the effects of Coronavirus. They are beautifully written and/or illustrated and should fire young imaginations, while comforting the whole family.</p> <p><em><strong>The Red Tree</strong></em></p> <p>This is a beautiful picture book – sparse of text – with lush landscapes in <a href="https://www.famousauthors.org/shaun-tan">Sean Tan’s</a> magical style. The reader loses themselves in pages that are achingly evocative of yearning, loss and wonder in a kind of heady cocktail of intense emotion, boredom and stoicism.</p> <p>Dark leaves fall in our character’s bedroom, but by the end, they have coalesced into a beautiful red tree.</p> <p>There is space here for even a very young reader to express what they think is happening page by page. The art could stimulate imitation. I can also imagine making a little red tree trunk and branches and adding a leaf to it, day by day.</p> <p>There is very little reading to be done, so a slightly older child could also “read” it to a younger one.</p> <p><em><strong>The Mousehole Cat</strong></em></p> <p><a href="https://www.fantasticfiction.com/b/antonia-barber/">Antonia Barber</a> sets her classic story on the Cornish coast. The narrative is about a cat who saves the day when her community is threatened. It is wordier than many picture books, but narrated by the cat in clear, beautifully written prose – it’s a pleasure to read aloud.</p> <p><a href="https://www.booksillustrated.com/artist.php?id=5">Nicola Bayley</a>’s illustrations are engaging and immersive – who wouldn’t like to go to the seaside right now? – and the characters easily inspire affection.</p> <p>Touching on concepts of scarcity and sacrifice, this is a very empowering story for a young listener or reader. The smallest character in the story is the hero who saves everyone – by singing. It would be easy to live in this story for a while, going fishing from the laundry basket, practising storm singing, repeating some of the turns of phrase.</p> <p>The illustrations are inspiring for young artists and could also be the basis of remembering visits to the seaside, pretend beach picnics or natural history lessons.</p> <p><em><strong>Comet in Moominland</strong></em></p> <p>A trip to <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/tove-jansson">Tove Jansson’s</a> Moominland always makes everything better. Here, the family flee from an approaching comet, meeting many favourite characters on the way.</p> <p>The much-beloved Moomins are eccentric hippo-like people, very accommodating of difference and otherness. That said, many of the characters have their little ways, and being accommodating isn’t always comfortable. The realism of the relationships gives even the silliest of Jansson’s stories the texture of real life.</p> <p>Quirky line drawings are immensely endearing and the story, while exciting with elements of real fear, never feels as if it will end badly. The language is fun, with word play and characters’ attitudes and, again, the child is the hero. It’s not hard to draw a Moomin, and there are endless opportunities for drama. Year twos or threes can probably read it to themselves, with someone on hand for the tricky bits, but it’s fun enough to engage older children, and silly enough for littlies.</p> <p><em><strong>The Wee Free Men</strong></em></p> <p>Tiffany Aching comes from chalkland, where nobody has it easy, and everyone works hard. When a rift opens on her doorstep and her despised little brother is taken, she discovers she’s not ordinary, after all. Armed with a cast-iron frying pan, she takes on the full force of Fairyland.</p> <p>This is a riotous out-loud read from the late <a href="https://www.terrypratchettbooks.com/about-sir-terry/">Terry Pratchett</a>, featuring a tribe of “pictsies” who speak in a Scottish accent that sounds a lot like the stand-up comic Billy Connolly. Tiffany’s gran has recently passed away – and the danger feels quite real – but we know that Tiff will get us through. She certainly does, battling forces of depression and self-doubt to do so – another young leader in a time of community danger. Even hardened teenagers might smile at the best bits and tweens will devour it whole. Children as young as six or seven can follow along.</p> <p>The narrative is a role-play bonanza and there are opportunities to investigate British folklore, identities in the United Kingdom and gender roles. Illustrations in the text might inspire art and mapping the settings would be an interesting exercise. Further adventures of some of the characters could be written, and geography lessons about chalk grassland would be easy to work in.</p> <p><em><strong>The Book Thief</strong></em></p> <p>For resilient older children and teens, <a href="https://www.chipublib.org/markus-zusak-biography/">Markus Zusac’s</a> story is set in a time of many lives lost – Germany during the second world war – and narrated by Death. It is gorgeously written (an international bestseller, adapted for film) and, while the subject matter is difficult, the narrative pulses with life and hope.</p> <p>For a young person engaged with current events, questioning authority and impatient of parental efforts to shield them from the grimmer elements of our current reality, this book could be a lifeline.</p> <p>Liesel Meminger is illiterate when the story begins, but takes a book that has been dropped at her brother’s graveside. As she begins to read and to leave childhood behind, she steals many more books. Love, death and the importance of even futile actions inform the story of Liesel’s coming of age and provide ways of thinking about what it means to be human.</p> <p>This could be read together silently, perhaps taking chapters in turn, rationed out as a treat for discussion or not. It’s a natural accompaniment to history lessons, geography, or some <a href="https://www.duolingo.com/">online German instruction</a> and watching the film could lead to a discussion of adaptation. But perhaps you could just leave a copy of it out for anyone who needs it to find and make their own.</p> <p>Many of these titles are available electronically, but local bookshops are delivering and posting orders. After all, there’s nothing more comforting than snuggling behind the protective embrace of an open book.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/134260/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/mimi-thebo-1002534"><em>Mimi Thebo</em></a><em>, Reader in Creative Writing, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-bristol-1211">University of Bristol</a></em></span></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-five-books-to-keep-young-people-happy-during-lockdown-childrens-author-134260">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Guide to the Classics: Albert Camus' The Plague

<p>Some weeks ago, I got an email from a student who had returned to Northern Italy over Christmas to see family.</p> <p>Unable to return to Australia, they were in lockdown. The hospitals were filling up fast, as COVID-19 <a href="https://epidemic-stats.com/coronavirus/italy">began to spiral out of control</a>. Sales of Albert Camus’ 1947 novel <em><a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11989.The_Plague?from_search=true&amp;from_srp=true&amp;qid=lkEWcCTf5p&amp;rank=1">The Plague</a></em> (<em>La Peste</em>) were <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/mar/28/albert-camus-novel-the-plague-la-peste-pestilence-fiction-coronavirus-lockdown">spiking</a>. Everyone was buying it.</p> <p>Rereading <em>The Plague</em> over these past weeks has been an uncanny experience. Its fictive chronicle of the measures taken in the city of Oran against a death-dealing disease that strikes in 1940 sometimes seemed to blur into the government announcements reshaping our lives.</p> <p>Oran is a city like anywhere else, Camus’ narrator tells us:</p> <blockquote> <p>Our citizens work hard, but solely with the object of getting rich. Their chief interest is in commerce, and their chief aim in life is, as they call it, ‘doing business’.</p> </blockquote> <p>Like people anywhere else, the Oranians are completely unprepared when rats begin emerging from the sewers to die in droves in streets and laneways. Then, men, women and children start to fall ill with high fever, difficulties breathing and fatal buboes.</p> <p>The people of Oran initially “disbelieved in pestilences”, outside of the pages of history books. So, like many nations in 2020, they are slow to accept the enormity of what is occurring. As our narrator comments drily: “In this respect they were wrong, and their views obviously called for revision.”</p> <p>The numbers of afflicted rise. First slowly, then exponentially. By the time the plague-bearing spring gives way to a sweltering summer, over 100 deaths daily is the new normal.</p> <p>Emergency measures are rushed in. The city gates are shut, and martial law declared. Oran’s commercial harbour is closed to sea traffic. Sporting competitions cease. Beach bathing is prohibited.</p> <p>Soon, food shortages emerge (toilet paper, thankfully, is not mentioned). Some Oranians turn plague-profiteers, preying on the desperation of their fellows. Rationing is brought in for basic necessities, including petrol.</p> <p>Meanwhile, anyone showing symptoms of the disease is isolated. Houses, then entire suburbs, are locked down. The hospitals become overwhelmed. Schools and public buildings are <a href="https://www.pharmaceutical-technology.com/comment/excel-convention-centre-covid-19/">converted</a> into makeshift plague hospitals.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe width="440" height="260" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/L8Dyf-wules?wmode=transparent&amp;start=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span class="caption">A convention centre in London has been transformed into a 4,000-bed hospital.</span></p> <p>Our key protagonists, Dr Rieux and his friends Tarrou, Grand and Rambert, set up teams of voluntary workers to administer serums and ensure the sick are quickly diagnosed and hospitalised, often amongst harrowing scenes.</p> <p>In these circumstances, fear and suspicion descend “dewlike, from the greyly shining sky” on the population. Everyone realises that anyone – even those they love – could be a carrier.</p> <p>Come to think of it, so could each person themselves.</p> <p>The failure of the governors to consistently impose “social distancing” is shown up spectacularly in the novel’s most picturesque scene. The lead actor in a rendition of Gluck’s <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EENw_ptgGcg">Orpheus and Eurydice</a> collapses onstage, “his arms and legs splayed out under his antique robe”.</p> <p>Terrified patrons flee the darkened underworld of the opera house, “wedged together in the bottlenecks, and pouring out into the street in a confused mass, with shrill cries of dismay”.</p> <p>Arguably the most telling passages in <em>The Plague</em> today are Camus’ beautifully crafted meditative observations of the social and psychological effects of the epidemic on the townspeople.</p> <p>Epidemics make exiles of people in their own countries, our narrator stresses. Separation, isolation, loneliness, boredom and repetition become the shared fate of all.</p> <p>In Oran, as in Australia, places of worship go empty. Funerals are banned for fear of contagion. The living can no longer even farewell the many dead.</p> <p>Camus’ narrator pays especial attention to the damages visited by the plague upon separated lovers. Outsiders like the journalist Rambert who, by chance, are marooned inside Oran when the gates shut are “in the general exile […] the most exiled”.</p> <p>Today’s world knows many such “travellers caught by the plague and forced to stay where they were, […] cut off both from the person(s) with whom they wanted to be and from their homes as well”.</p> <p><strong>Multiple allegories</strong></p> <p>Camus’ prescient account of life under conditions of an epidemic works on different levels. <em>The Plague</em> is a transparent allegory of the Nazi occupation of France beginning in spring 1940. The sanitary teams reflect Camus’ experiences in, and admiration for, the resistance against the “<a href="https://www.dukeupress.edu/the-brown-plague/?viewby=title">brown plague</a>” of fascism.</p> <p>Camus’ title also evokes the ways the Nazis characterised those they targeted for extermination as <a href="https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/defining-the-enemy">a pestilence</a>. The shadow of the then-still-recent Holocaust darkens <em>The Plague</em>’s pages.</p> <p>When death rates become so great that individual burials are no longer possible – as in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFy3_hEBcy8">scenes we are already seeing</a> – the Oranaise dig collective graves into which:</p> <blockquote> <p>the naked, somewhat contorted bodies were slid into a pit almost side by side, then covered with a layer of quicklime and another of earth […] so as to leave space for subsequent consignments.</p> </blockquote> <p>When this measure fails to keep up with the weight of these “consignments”, as with the genocidal actions of the <em><a href="https://www.britannica.com/topic/Einsatzgruppen">Einzatsgruppen</a></em>, “the old crematorium east of the town” is repurposed. Closed streetcars filled with the dead are soon rattling along the old coastal tramline:</p> <blockquote> <p>Thereafter, […] when a strong wind was blowing […] a faint, sickly odour coming from the east remind[ed] them that they were living under a new order and that the plague fires were taking their nightly toll.</p> </blockquote> <p>Camus’ plague is also a metaphor for the force of what Dr Rieux calls “abstraction” in our lives: all those impersonal rules and processes which can make human beings statistics to be treated by governments with all the inhumanity characterising epidemics.</p> <p>For this reason, the enigmatic character Tarrou identifies the plague with people’s propensity to rationalise killing others for philosophical, religious or ideological causes. It is with this sense of plague in mind that the final words of the novel warn:</p> <blockquote> <p>that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.</p> </blockquote> <p><strong>Ordinary hope</strong></p> <p>There is nevertheless truth in the description of Camus’ masterwork as a “<a href="https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/books/article-the-hope-at-the-heart-of-albert-camuss-plague-novel-la-peste/">sermon of hope</a>”. In the end, the plague dissipates as unaccountably as it had begun. Quarantine is lifted. Oran’s gates are reopened. Families and lovers reunite. The chronicle closes amid scenes of festival and jubilation.</p> <p>Camus’ narrator concludes that confronting the plague has taught him that, for all of the horrors he has witnessed, “there are more things to admire in men than to despise”.</p> <p>Unlike some philosophers, Camus became <a href="https://www.pdcnet.org/philtoday/content/philtoday_2017_0999_10_2_177">increasingly sceptical</a> about glorious ideals of superhumanity, heroism or sainthood. It is the capacity of ordinary people to do extraordinary things that <em>The Plague</em> lauds. “There’s one thing I must tell you,” Dr Rieux at one point specifies:</p> <blockquote> <p>there’s no question of heroism in all this. It’s a matter of common decency. That’s an idea which may make some people smile, but the only means of fighting a plague is common decency.</p> </blockquote> <p>It is such ordinary virtue, people each doing what they can to serve and look after each other, that Camus’ novel suggests alone preserves peoples from the worst ravages of epidemics, whether visited upon them by natural causes or tyrannical governments.</p> <p>It is therefore worth underlining that the unheroic heroes of Camus’ novel are people we call healthcare workers. Men and women, in many cases volunteers, who despite great risks step up, simply because “plague is here and we’ve got to make a stand”.</p> <p>It is also to these people’s examples, <em>The Plague</em> suggests, that we should look when we consider what kind of world we want to rebuild after the gates of our cities are again thrown open and COVID-19 has become a troubled memory.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/134244/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/matthew-sharpe-125260">Matthew Sharpe</a>, Associate Professor in Philosophy, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/deakin-university-757">Deakin University</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/guide-to-the-classics-albert-camus-the-plague-134244">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Love and a happy ending: Romance fiction to help you through a coronavirus lockdown

<p>Romance fiction has two <a href="https://www.rwa.org/Online/Romance_Genre/About_Romance_Genre.aspx">defining features</a>.</p> <p>First, it centres on a love story. Secondly, it always ends well.</p> <p>Our protagonists end up together (if not forever, then at least for the foreseeable future) and this makes the world around them a little bit better, too.</p> <p>In times of uncertainty, upheaval and chaos, readers often turn to romance fiction: during the second world war, Mills &amp; Boon was able to maintain its paper ration <a href="https://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198204558.001.0001/acprof-9780198204558">by arguing</a> its books were good for the morale of working women.</p> <p>The books the company was producing in this period were not about the war. Most never even mentioned it. Instead, they provided an escape for readers to a world where they could be assured everything was going to turn out all right: love would conquer all, villains would be defeated, and lovers would always find their way back to each other.</p> <p>Today, romance publishing is a <a href="https://www.rwa.org/Online/Romance_Genre/About_Romance_Genre.aspx">billion-dollar industry</a>, with thousands of novels published each year. It covers a wide range of subgenres: from historical to contemporary, paranormal to sci-fi, from novels where the only physical interaction between the protagonists is a kiss, to erotic romance where sex is fundamental to the story.</p> <p><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_34_(Internet_meme)">Rule 34</a> of the internet states if you can think of something, then there’s porn of it. The same, I would argue, is true for romance fiction.</p> <p>But where to begin? As both a scholar of romance fiction and an avid reader of it, I’ve put together this list of five great reads for people who might want to start exploring the genre.</p> <p><strong>If you like Jane Austen, try…</strong></p> <p><strong><em><a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42279630-the-austen-playbook">The Austen Playbook</a></em> by Lucy Parker</strong></p> <p><em>The Austen Playbook</em> is the fourth book in Parker’s London Celebrities series (all only loosely connected, so you can jump in anywhere).</p> <p>Heroine Freddy is an actress from an esteemed West End family, trying to balance her desire to perform in musicals and crowd-pleasers over her family pushing her towards serious drama. Hero Griff is a theatre critic and his family estate is playing host to a wacky live-action Jane Austen murder mystery, in which Freddy is playing Lydia.</p> <p>Parker is a gifted author, and this book is a light, bright and sparkling delight.</p> <p><strong>If you like (or hate!) dating apps, try…</strong></p> <p><strong><a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863092-the-right-swipe"><em>The Right Swipe</em></a> by Alisha Rai</strong></p> <p>Many people now find partners on dating apps, but these apps are often <a href="https://theconversation.com/right-swipes-and-red-flags-how-young-people-negotiate-sex-and-safety-on-dating-apps-128390">not exactly friendly</a> for women.</p> <p>Rai addresses that to great effect in <em>The Right Swipe</em>, where heroine Rhiannon is the designer of a dating app designed specifically for women.</p> <p>She meets hero Samson the first time as a result of swiping right, and then the second time, months later, when he’s teamed up with one of her primary business rivals…</p> <p><strong>If you’re fascinated by psychology, try …</strong></p> <p><strong><a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35852829-the-love-experiment"><em>The Love Experiment</em></a> by Ainslie Paton</strong></p> <p>Paton is one of Australia’s smartest and most underrated romance authors. <em>The Love Experiment</em> draws on the <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0146167297234003">36 questions</a> developed by psychologist Arthur Aron to explore whether intimacy could be generated or intensified between two people if they exchanged increasingly personal information.</p> <p>The 36 questions were popularised in Mandy Len Catron’s 2015 New York Times essay <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/style/modern-love-to-fall-in-love-with-anyone-do-this.html"><em>To Fall In Love With Anyone, Do This</em></a>. Here, journalist protagonists Derelie and Jackson undertake the experiment in Paton’s book, only to find love is more complex than 36 questions.</p> <p><strong>If you think we need to save the oceans, try…</strong></p> <p><strong><a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/42016094-project-saving-noah"><em>Project Saving Noah</em></a> by Six de los Reyes</strong></p> <p>This book emerges from <a href="https://romanceclassbooks.com/about/">RomanceClass</a>, a fascinating community of English-language romance writers and readers based in the Philippines. One of their distinctive features is their collaboration with local actors in Manila to perform excerpts from the books (including <em>Project Saving Noah</em>) at their <a href="https://romanceclassbooks.com/live-reading/aprilfeelsday2019/">regular gatherings</a>. I was privileged enough to attend one of these last year.</p> <p>Protagonists Noah and Lise are graduate students in oceanography competing for one spot on a research project, while simultaneously being forced to work together. Their romance is conflicted and compelling, but what stands out about this book is the vividness with which their environment – natural and academic – is constructed.</p> <p><strong>If you like your protagonists to have some maturity, try…</strong></p> <p><strong><a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/44084867-mrs-martin-s-incomparable-adventure"><em>Mrs Martin’s Incomparable Adventure</em></a> by Courtney Milan</strong></p> <p>If Milan’s name sounds familiar, it’s because she was at the centre of the <a href="https://theconversation.com/if-the-romance-writers-of-america-can-implode-over-racism-no-group-is-safe-130034">recent scandal</a> engulfing the Romance Writers of America, which penetrated through romance’s usual cultural invisibility.</p> <p>When she’s not standing up against systemic racism, Milan writes excellent, mostly historical, romance. Mrs Martin is a delightful historical romp, as our two heroines Bertrice (aged 73) and Violetta (aged 69) team up against Violetta’s terrible nephew, and fall in love and eat cheese on toast together.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/133784/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/jodi-mcalister-135765">Jodi McAlister</a>, Lecturer in Writing, Literature and Culture, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/deakin-university-757">Deakin University</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="https://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/love-and-a-happy-ending-romance-fiction-to-help-you-through-a-coronavirus-lockdown-133784">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Guide to the classics: The Great Gatsby

<p><em>The Great Gatsby</em>, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 masterpiece of the Jazz Age, ushers readers into a corrupt but glittering world of cocktails, fast cars, stolen kisses and broken dreams. Status anxiety and conspicuous consumption generate a dazzling, often surreal poetry as the novel unfolds over a single summer in Long Island, New York. Beneath them trembles an ominous sense of malaise.</p> <p>The novel is narrated in the first-person by Nick Carraway, a well-to-do Yale graduate from the Midwest, whose limited acquaintance with the millionaire Jay Gatsby is the reader’s only window onto the mysterious title character.</p> <p>Fitzgerald’s editor Max Perkins complained to the author that Gatsby’s characterisation was too vague — that readers “can never quite focus upon him” — but this criticism missed the point. Jay Gatsby is not a man but “an unbroken series of successful gestures”, the product of an age — not unlike today’s culture of Instagrammable celebrity — in which identity is less a matter of innate qualities than of projecting an image.</p> <p>Fittingly, the only God invoked in Gatsby appears on a billboard, in the famous image of oculist Dr J.T. Eckleberg’s gigantic blue eyes looking down on events in admonition.</p> <p><strong>The Great American novel</strong></p> <p>Although short in length, The Great Gatsby is widely recognised as an exemplar of that most elusive of literary phenomena: <a href="http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674659896&amp;content=reviews">the Great American Novel</a>. It achieves aesthetic greatness as a self-conscious <em>tour de force</em>, the product of Fitzgerald’s desire “to write something new – something extraordinary and beautiful and simple [and] intricately patterned” as he wrote in a 1922 <a href="http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/01/something-extraordinary.html">letter</a> to Perkins.</p> <p>Its American-ness is likewise self-conscious: one of Fitzgerald’s working titles was Under the Red, White, and Blue, and Nick’s account of Gatsby’s rise and fall exposes deep flaws and fissures underlying the American Dream of unlimited social mobility.</p> <p>Affirming the presence of class prejudice in the land where all men were supposedly created equal, Gatsby constructs a fragile romance across the gulf between old and new money — a gulf that separates Gatsby from his love interest Daisy and her husband Tom Buchanan. Whereas Daisy and Tom come from established families, Gatsby lacks pedigree. The sources of his vast wealth are the subject of much speculation as his colossal mansion dwarfs those of other millionaires with freshly-minted fortunes.</p> <p><strong>Erosion of orthodoxies</strong></p> <p>Like many of his modernist contemporaries, Fitzgerald was fascinated by the erosion of old orthodoxies and traditional constraints in the aftermath of the first world war. For women, many taboos on dress and deportment were lifting, and Gatsby’s female characters play sports, dance wildly, and drink and smoke to excess — even in the midst of <a href="http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/prohibition/unintended-consequences/">Prohibition</a>. Yet for all its “spectroscopic gaiety”, such license brings little fulfilment.</p> <p>In Chapter 1, the jaded Daisy expresses a sense of crippling ennui: “I think everything’s terrible anyhow […] And I KNOW. I’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything […] God, I’m sophisticated!”</p> <p>Those with the right connections can afford to be amoral. When Daisy accidentally runs down Myrtle and flees the scene in Gatsby’s “monstrous” car, Tom manages a cover-up, shifting the blame onto Gatsby. As Nick reflects:</p> <blockquote> <p>They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness […] and let other people clean up the mess they had made.</p> </blockquote> <p>Social mobility and the question of race</p> <p>In the year of Gatsby’s publication, US President Calvin Coolidge announced “the chief business of the American people is business”, and in Fitzgerald’s novel it seems that “the pursuit of happiness” — that vague third term in the <a href="https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration">Declaration of Independence</a> — has been reduced to the pursuit of material success.</p> <p>Even romance and tragedy obey the logic of boom and bust. Nick reports in stockbroking language that Gatsby’s failure “temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men”, and Gatsby’s love for Daisy — a golden girl whose voice is “full of money” — is as deeply rooted in class and material aspirations as in sexual or personal attachment.</p> <p>He desires not only Daisy but what winning her would symbolise. Indeed when the penniless Gatsby first met her, Daisy’s social elevation as a Kentucky debutante is said to have “increased her value in his eyes”.</p> <p>Gatsby’s publication coincided with a high water mark of racism and xenophobia in the United States. The Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924 introduced strict immigration quotas, while the revitalised Klu Klux Klan peaked at four million members in the same year. The novel has drawn criticism for its marginalisation of African Americans: one would hardly know from Fitzgerald’s novel that the Harlem Renaissance was underway. Fitzgerald is <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/what-the-great-gatsby-got-right-about-the-jazz-age-57645443/">credited with naming the Jazz Age</a>, but largely erases its origins.</p> <p>Gatsby does lampoon racial bigotry through Tom Buchanan, who spouts “impassioned gibberish” about “the white race” being submerged. Fitzgerald alludes here to two influential eugenicist studies of the period, <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/46279397-the-passing-of-the-great-race-or-the-racial-basis-of-european-history-19?from_search=true">Madison Grant’s The Passing of the Great Race (1916)</a> and <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/672061.The_Rising_Tide_of_Color_Against_White_World_Supremacy">Lothrop Stoddard’s The Rising Tide of Color (1920)</a>.</p> <p>Nick calls Tom a “prig”, but he too associates race with class difference when the spectacle of “three modish negroes” driven by a “white chauffeur” prompts his reflection that this is a world where “anything can happen … even Gatsby”.</p> <p><strong>Sensuous prose</strong></p> <p>Fitzgerald’s prose is never more richly sensuous than when dealing with the strange alchemy of affluence, and the film adaptations by Jack Clayton (1974) and Baz Luhrmann (2013) struggle to do justice to Fitzgerald’s verbal pyrotechnics.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe width="440" height="260" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/4w8lohkQtbY?wmode=transparent&amp;start=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span class="caption">Even the intense colour and movement of Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby struggled to match Fitzgerald’s prose.</span></p> <p>How can one portray “a scarcely human orchid of a woman” sitting in “ghostly celebrity” under a white plum tree, as a Hollywood actress is described? Like the cover of the novel’s first edition, Gatsby’s halls are “gaudy with primary colors”. His parties swell to “yellow cocktail music”, while a “green light” shines from Daisy’s dock across the bay.</p> <p>In the novel’s closing paragraphs, Gatsby’s faith in this green light symbolises the vagueness of an American commitment to an endlessly receding future glory: “tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther”, Americans assure themselves, only to find themselves “boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past”.</p> <p>Indeed, Gatsby’s plan for the future is precisely to “repeat the past” by recovering “some idea of himself that had gone into loving Daisy … I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before”.</p> <p>Neither Gatsby’s ambitions or the nation’s can stand much scrutiny. Even before his fall, Gatsby’s “dream […] was already behind him” in “the dark fields of the republic”, leaving a “foul dust” in its wake.</p> <p>Still, what Nick most admires in Gatsby is his “heightened sensitivity to the promises of life” and Fitzgerald implies that this “extraordinary gift for hope” might be the essence of the American Dream.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/112508/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: https://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/sascha-morrell-133338">Sascha Morrell</a>, Lecturer in English, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/monash-university-1065">Monash University</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/guide-to-the-classics-the-great-gatsby-112508">original article</a>.</em></p>

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The science of the plot twist: How writers exploit our brains

<p>Recently I did something that many people would consider unthinkable, or at least perverse. Before going to see <em><a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4154756/">Avengers: Infinity War</a></em>, I deliberately read a review that revealed all of the major plot points, from start to finish.</p> <p>Don’t worry; I’m not going to share any of those spoilers here. Though I do think the aversion to spoilers – what The New York Times’ A.O. Scott <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/24/movies/avengers-infinity-war-review.html">recently lamented</a> as “a phobic, hypersensitive taboo against public discussion of anything that happens onscreen” – is a bit overblown.</p> <p>As <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=SeGl108AAAAJ&amp;hl=en">a cognitive scientist who studies the relationship between cognition and narratives</a>, I know that movies – like all stories – exploit our natural tendency to anticipate what’s coming next.</p> <p>These cognitive tendencies help explain why plot twists can be so satisfying. But somewhat counterintuitively, they also explain why knowing about a plot twist ahead of time – the dreaded “spoiler” – doesn’t really spoil the experience at all.</p> <p><strong>The curse of knowledge</strong></p> <p>When you pick up a book for the first time, you usually want to have some sense of what you’re signing up for – <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cozy_mystery">cozy mysteries</a>, for instance, aren’t supposed to feature graphic violence and sex. But you’re probably also hoping that what you read won’t be entirely predictable.</p> <p>To some extent, the fear of spoilers is well-grounded. You only have one opportunity to learn something for the first time. Once you’ve learned it, that knowledge affects what you notice, what you anticipate – and even the limits of your imagination.</p> <p>What we know trips us up in lots of ways, a general tendency known as the “<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17576275">curse of knowledge</a>.”</p> <p>For example, when we know the answer to a puzzle, that knowledge makes it harder for us to estimate how difficult that puzzle will be for someone else to solve: We’ll assume it’s <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0749596X96900091">easier</a> than it really is.</p> <p>When we know the resolution of an event – whether it’s a basketball game or an election – we tend to <a href="http://psycnet.apa.org/record/1976-00159-001">overestimate</a> how likely that outcome was.</p> <p>Information we encounter early on influences our estimation of what is possible later. It doesn’t matter whether we’re reading a story or negotiating a salary: Any initial starting point for our reasoning – however arbitrary or apparently irrelevant – “<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17835457">anchors</a>” our analysis. In <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16382081">one study</a>, legal experts given a hypothetical criminal case argued for longer sentences when presented with larger numbers on randomly rolled dice.</p> <p><strong>Plot twists pull everything together</strong></p> <p>Either consciously or intuitively, good writers know all of this.</p> <p>An effective narrative works its magic, in part, by taking advantage of these, and other, predictable habits of thought. <a href="http://www.literarydevices.com/red-herring/">Red herrings</a>, for example, are a type of anchor that set false expectations – and can make twists seem more surprising.</p> <p>A major part of the pleasure of plot twists, too, comes not from the shock of surprise, but from looking back at the early bits of the narrative in light of the twist. The most satisfying surprises get their power from giving us a fresh, better way of making sense of the material that came before. This is another opportunity for stories to turn the curse of knowledge to their advantage.</p> <p>Remember that once we know the answer to a puzzle, its clues can seem more transparent than they really were. When we revisit early parts of the story in light of that knowledge, well-constructed clues take on new, satisfying significance.</p> <p>Consider <em><a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0167404/">The Sixth Sense</a></em>. After unleashing its big plot twist – that Bruce Willis’ character has, all along, been one of the “dead people” that only the child protagonist can see – it presents a flash reprisal of scenes that make new sense in light of the surprise. We now see, for instance, that his wife (in fact, his widow) did not snatch up the check at a restaurant before he could take it out of pique. Instead it was because, as far as she knew, she was dining alone.</p> <p>Even years after the film’s release, viewers take pleasure in this twist, <a href="https://www.bustle.com/articles/33625-the-sixth-sense-surprise-ending-is-obvious-if-you-pay-attention-to-these-6-clues">savoring the degree</a> to which it should be “obvious if you pay attention” to earlier parts the film.</p> <p><strong>The pluses and minuses of the spoiler</strong></p> <p>At the same time, studies show that even when people are <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0749596X89900016">certain of an outcome</a>, they reliably experience suspense, surprise and emotion. Action sequences are still heart-pounding; jokes are still funny; and poignant moments can still make us cry.</p> <p>As UC San Diego researchers Jonathan Levitt and Nicholas Christenfeld have recently <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21841150">demonstrated</a>, spoilers don’t spoil. In many cases, <a href="https://theconversation.com/enough-with-the-spoiler-alerts-plot-spoilers-often-increase-enjoyment-62154">spoilers actively enhance enjoyment</a>.</p> <p>In fact, when a major turn in a narrative is truly unanticipated, it can have a catastrophic effect on enjoyment – as <a href="https://ftw.usatoday.com/2018/04/avengers-infinity-war-ending-reactions-twitter">many outraged</a> <em>Infinity War</em> viewers can testify.</p> <p>If you know the twist beforehand, the curse of knowledge has more time to work its magic. Early elements of the story will seem to presage the ending more clearly when you know what that ending is. This can make the work as a whole feel more coherent, unified and satisfying.</p> <p>Of course, anticipation is a delicious pleasure in its own right. Learning plot twists ahead of time can reduce that excitement, even if the foreknowledge doesn’t ruin your enjoyment of the story itself.</p> <p>Marketing experts know that what spoilers <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1057740815000467">do spoil</a> is the urgency of consumers’ desire to watch or read a story. People can even find themselves so sapped of interest and anticipation that they stay home, robbing themselves of the pleasure they would have had if they’d simply never learned of the outcome.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/95748/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/vera-tobin-469645">Vera Tobin</a>, Assistant Professor of Cognitive Science, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/case-western-reserve-university-1506">Case Western Reserve University</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-science-of-the-plot-twist-how-writers-exploit-our-brains-95748">original article</a>.</em></p>

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How the moral lessons of To Kill a Mockingbird endure today

<p>Harper Lee’s <em>To Kill A Mockingbird</em> is one of the classics of American literature. Never out of print, the novel has sold over 40 million copies since it was first published in 1960. It has been a staple of high school syllabuses, including in Australia, for several decades, and is often deemed the <a href="https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/nitv-news/article/2017/02/21/australian-kill-mockingbird-makes-it-big-screen-indigenous-actor">archetypal race and coming-of-age novel</a>. For many of us, it is a formative read of our youth.</p> <p>The story is set in the sleepy Alabama town of Maycomb in 1936 - 40 years after the Supreme Court’s notorious declaration of the races as being <a href="http://time.com/4326692/plessy-ferguson-history-120/">“separate but equal”</a>, and 28 years before the enactment of the <a href="https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/civil-rights-act">Civil Rights Act</a>. Our narrator is nine-year-old tomboy, Scout Finch, who relays her observations of her family’s struggle to deal with the class and racial prejudice shown towards the local African American community.</p> <p>At the centre of the family and the novel stands the highly principled lawyer Atticus Finch. A widower, he teaches Scout, her older brother Jem, and their imaginative friend Dill, how to live and behave honourably. In this he is aided by the family’s hardworking and sensible black housekeeper Calpurnia, and their kind and generous neighbour, Miss Maudie.</p> <p>It is Miss Maudie, for example, who explains to Scout why it is a sin to kill a mockingbird: “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us.”</p> <p>Throughout the novel, the children grow more aware of the community’s attitudes. When the book begins they are preoccupied with catching sight of the mysterious and much feared Boo Radley, who in his youth stabbed his father with a pair of scissors and who has never come out of the family house since. And when Atticus agrees to defend Tom Robinson, a black man who is falsely accused of raping a white woman, they too become the target of hatred.</p> <p><strong>A morality tale for modern America</strong></p> <p>One might expect a book that dispatches moral lessons to be dull reading. But <em>To Kill a Mockingbird</em> is no sermon. The lessons are presented in a seemingly effortless style, all the while tackling the complexity of race issues with startling clarity and a strong sense of reality.</p> <p>As the Finches return from Robinson’s trial, Miss Maudie says: “as I waited I thought, Atticus Finch won’t win, he can’t win, but he’s the only man in these parts who can keep a jury out so long in a case like that.”</p> <p>Despite the tragedy of Robinson’s conviction, Atticus succeeds in making the townspeople consider and struggle with their prejudice.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe width="440" height="260" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/HOocTXKPVVU?wmode=transparent&amp;start=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span class="caption">Atticus Finch delivers his closing statement in the trial of Tom Robinson in the 1962 film.</span></p> <p>The effortlessness of the writing owes much to the way the story is told. The narrator is a grown Scout, looking back on her childhood. When she begins her story, she seems more interested in telling us about the people and incidents that occupied her six-year-old imagination. Only slowly does she come to the events that changed everything for her and Jem, which were set in motion long before their time. Even then, she tells these events in a way that shows she too young to always grasp their significance.</p> <p>The lessons Lee sets out are encapsulated in episodes that are as funny as they are serious, much like Aesop’s Fables. A case in point is when the children return home from the school concert with Scout still dressed in her outlandish ham costume. In the dark they are chased and attacked by Bob Ewell the father of the woman whom Robinson allegedly raped. Ewell, armed with a knife, attempts to stab Scout, but the shapeless wire cage of the ham causes her to loose balance and the knife to go astray. In the struggle that ensues someone pulls Ewell off the teetering body of Scout and he falls on the knife. It was Boo Radley who saved her.</p> <p>Another lesson about what it means to be truly brave is delivered in an enthralling episode where a local farmer’s dog suddenly becomes rabid and threatens to infect all the townsfolk with his deadly drool.</p> <p>Scout and Jem are surprised when their bespectacled, bookish father turns out to have a “God-given talent” with a rifle; it is he who fires the single shot that will render the townsfolk safe. The children rejoice at what they consider an impressive display of courage. However, he tells them that what he did was not truly brave. The better example of courage, he tells them, is Mrs Dubose (the “mean” old lady who lived down the road), who managed to cure herself of a morphine addiction even as she was dying a horribly painful death from cancer.</p> <p>He also teaches them the importance of behaving in a civilised manner, even when subjected to insults. Most of all Atticus teaches the children the importance of listening to one’s conscience even when everyone else holds a contrary view: “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule”, he says, “is a person’s conscience.”</p> <p>The continuing value in Atticus’ belief in the importance of principled thinking in the world of <a href="https://www.economist.com/prospero/2016/02/22/how-to-kill-a-mockingbird-shaped-race-relations-in-america">Black Lives Matter</a> and the Australian government’s rhetoric of <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/commentisfree/2018/jan/18/the-african-gang-crisis-has-been-brewing-in-australias-media-for-years">“African gangs”</a>, is clear.</p> <p>Atticus’ spiel on “conscience” and the other ethical principles he insists on living by, are key to the enduring influence of the novel. It conjures an ideal of moral standards and human behaviour that many people still aspire to today, even though the novel’s events and the characters belong to the past.</p> <p>Lee herself was not one to shy away from principled displays: writing to a school that banned her novel, she summed up the <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/harper-lee-letter-to-a-school-board-trying-to-ban-mockingbird-2016-2?IR=T">source of the morality</a> her book expounds. The novel, she said, “spells out in words of seldom more than two syllables a code of honor and conduct”.</p> <p><strong>Fame and obscurity</strong></p> <p>When first published the novel received <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/books/ct-harper-lee-to-kill-a-mockingbird-1960-review-20160219-story.html">rave reviews</a>. A year later it won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature, followed by a <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/2016/04/19/to-kill-a-mockingbird-film-review/">movie version</a> in 1962 starring <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vouoju4mETc">Gregory Peck</a>. Indeed, the novel was such a success that Lee, unable to cope with all the attention and publicity, <a href="https://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/go-set-a-watchman/why-harper-lee-kept-her-silence-for-55-years/">retired into obscurity</a>.</p> <p>Interviewed late in life, Lee cited two reasons for her continued silence: “I wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill a Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say, and I will not say it again.”</p> <p>The latter statement is doubtless a reference to the autobiographical nature of her book. Lee passed her <a href="http://time.com/4234210/harper-lee-childhood/">childhood</a> in the rural town of Monroeville in the deep south, where her attorney father defended two black men accused of killing a shopkeeper. The accused were convicted and hanged.</p> <p>Undoubtedly influenced by these formative events, the biographical fiction Lee drew out of her family history became yet more complex upon the publication of her only other novel, <em>Go Set a Watchman</em>, in 2016. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2016/jun/05/go-set-a-watchman-by-harper-lee-review">Critics panned it</a> it for lacking the light touch and humour of the first novel. They also decried the fact that the character of Atticus Finch was this time around a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/11/books/review-harper-lees-go-set-a-watchman-gives-atticus-finch-a-dark-side.html">racist bigot</a>, a feature that had the potential to taint the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/feb/19/go-set-a-watchman-harper-lee-legacy-to-kill-a-mockingbird">author’s legacy</a>.</p> <p>Subsequent biographical research revealed that <em>Go Set A Watchman</em>, was not a sequel, but the first draft of <em>To Kill a Mockingbird</em>. Following initial rejection by the publisher Lippincot, Lee reworked it into the superior novel many of us know and still love today.</p> <p>Lee gave us the portrait of one small town in the south during the depression years. But it was so filled with lively detail, and unforgettable characters with unforgettable names like Atticus, Scout, Calpurnia and Boo Radley that a universal story emerged, and with it the novel’s continuing popularity.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/100763/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/anne-maxwell-179443">Anne Maxwell</a>, Assoc. Professor, School of Culture and Communication, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-melbourne-722">University of Melbourne</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-the-moral-lessons-of-to-kill-a-mockingbird-endure-today-100763">original article</a>.</em></p>

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3 things historical literature can teach us about the climate crisis

<p>New novels about climate change – climate fiction, or cli-fi – are being published all the time. The nature of the climate crisis is a difficult thing to get across, and so <a href="https://theconversation.com/imagining-both-utopian-and-dystopian-climate-futures-is-crucial-which-is-why-cli-fi-is-so-important-123029">imagining the future</a> – a drowned New York City, say; or a world in which water is a precious commodity – can help us understand what’s at stake.</p> <p>This is unsurprising in these times of crisis: fiction allows us to imagine possible futures, good and bad. When faced with such an urgent problem, it might seem like a waste of time to read earlier texts. But don’t be so sure. The climate emergency may be unprecedented, but there are a few key ways in which past literature offers a valuable perspective on the present crisis.</p> <p><strong>1. Climate histories</strong></p> <p>Historical texts reflect the changing climatic conditions that produced them. When Byron and the Shelleys stayed on the shores of Lake Geneva in 1816, the literature that they wrote responded to the <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-a-volcano-frankenstein-and-the-summer-of-1816-are-relevant-to-the-anthropocene-64984">wild weather</a> of the “year without a summer”.</p> <p>This was caused largely by the massive eruption of the Indonesian volcano Mount Tambora the previous year, which lowered global temperatures and led to harvest failures and famine. Literary works such as as Byron’s <em><a href="https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43825/darkness-56d222aeeee1b">Darkness</a></em>, Percy Shelley’s <a href="https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45130/mont-blanc-lines-written-in-the-vale-of-chamouni"><em>Mont Blanc</em></a>, and Mary Shelley’s <a href="https://theconversation.com/eight-things-you-need-to-know-about-mary-shelleys-frankenstein-93030"><em>Frankenstein</em></a> reveal anxieties about human vulnerability to environmental change even as they address our power to manipulate our environments.</p> <p>Many older texts also bear indirect traces of historical climate change. In<em> <a href="http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20170419-why-paradise-lost-is-one-of-the-worlds-most-important-poems">Paradise Lost</a> </em>(1667), Milton complains that a “cold climate” may “damp my intended wing” and prevent him from completing his masterpiece. This may well reflect the fact that he lived through the coldest period of the “Little Ice Age”.</p> <p>Even literature’s oldest epic poem, <em><a href="https://www.britannica.com/topic/Epic-of-Gilgamesh">The Epic of Gilgamesh</a></em> (c. 1800 BC), contains traces of climate change. It tells of a huge flood which, like the later story of Noah in the Old Testament, is probably a cultural memory of sea level rise following the melting of glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age.</p> <p>These historical climatic shifts were not man made, but they still provide important analogues for our own age. Indeed, many cultures have seen human activity and climate as intertwined, often through a religious framework. One of the ironies of modernity is that the development of the global climate as an object of study, apparently separate from human life, coincides with the development of the carbon capitalism that has linked them more closely than ever.</p> <p><strong>2. How we view nature</strong></p> <p>Reading historical literature also allows us to trace the development of modern constructions of the natural world. For example, the Romantic ideal of “sublime” nature, which celebrated vast, dramatic landscapes like mountains and chasms, has influenced the kinds of places that we value and protect today in the form of national parks.</p> <p>When we understand that such landscapes are not purely natural, but are produced by cultural discourses and practices over time – we protect these landscapes above others for a reason – we can start to debate whether they can be <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/28/britain-national-parks-reclaim-rewild">better managed</a> for the benefit of humans and non-humans alike.</p> <p>Or consider how in the 18th and early 19th centuries, the work of nature writers such as <a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/A_Memoir_of_Thomas_Bewick_written_by_him.html?id=CLtcAAAAcAAJ&amp;redir_esc=y">Thomas Bewick</a>, <a href="https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/charlotte-smith">Charlotte Smith</a> and <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/science/grrlscientist/2013/nov/05/natural-history-selborne-gilbert-white-anne-secord-book-review">Gilbert White</a> played a powerful role in promoting <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/08905490903445478?scroll=top&amp;needAccess=true&amp;journalCode=gncc20">natural theology</a>: the theory that evidence for God’s existence can be found in the complex structures of the natural world. Past literature has also been crucial in disseminating new scientific ideas such as <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/25733437">evolutionary theory</a>, which understood natural phenomena as entirely secular. Literature does not just reflect changing views of the natural world; it shapes them.</p> <p>Studying historical texts helps us to understand how modern cultural attitudes towards the environment developed, which in turn allows us to perceive that these attitudes are not as “natural” or inevitable as they may seem. This insight allows for the possibility that today, in a time in which our attitude towards the environment could certainly improve, they can change for the better.</p> <p><strong>3. Ways of thinking</strong></p> <p>Some of the attitudes towards the natural world that we discover in historical literature are contentious, even horrifying: for example, the normalisation of animal cruelty portrayed in books such as <a href="https://www.mimimatthews.com/2016/04/22/animal-welfare-in-the-19th-century-an-earth-day-overview/">Black Beauty</a>.</p> <p>But we can find more promising models too. Voltaire’s <a href="https://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Po%C3%A8me_sur_le_d%C3%A9sastre_de_Lisbonne/%C3%89dition_Garnier">poem</a> on the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, for example, has been used to think about the ethics of blame and optimism in responses to modern disasters, like the 1995 <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/lessons-from-earthquakes-there-isnt-always-someone-to-blame-when-the-earth-goes-from-under-our-feet-1569149.html">Kobe earthquake</a> and the 2009 <a href="http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2009/04/an-earthquake-in-the-theodicy-doctrine/">L’Aquila earthquake</a>.</p> <p>Reading past literature can also help us to appreciate the natural world for its own sake. Samuel Johnson commented of the natural descriptions in James Thomson’s poems <a href="https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/52409/the-seasons-spring">The Seasons</a> (1730) that the reader “wonders that he never saw before what Thomson shows him and that he never yet has felt what Thomson impresses”. Amid the frenzied distractions of modern life, the work of authors like Thomson, Dorothy Wordsworth and John Clare can help us to slow down, notice and love nature.</p> <p>Historical literature can remind us of our own vulnerability to elemental forces. The famous depiction of a storm in King Lear, for example, mocks Lear’s attempt:</p> <blockquote> <p>In his little world of man to out-scorn<br />The two-and-fro-conflicting wind and rain.</p> </blockquote> <p>Shakespeare might appear to aestheticise dangerous weather, but the play reminds us that the storm is far bigger and messier than any human attempt to represent and interpret it.</p> <p>At the same time, literature can remind us of the need to take responsibility for our own impacts upon the environment. We may not want to follow pre-modern and early modern literature in viewing climate change as divine punishment for bad behaviour. But when Milton suggests that it was the fall of man that brought in “pinching cold and scorching heat” to replace the eternal spring of Eden, his narrative has clear figurative resonance with our present crisis.</p> <p>Historical literature can show us how writers responded to climate change, trace how they influenced modern ideas about nature, and reveal valuable ways of relating to and thinking about nature. The climate crisis cannot be addressed only through technological solutions. It also requires profound cultural shifts. To make those shifts requires an understanding of past ideas and representations: both those that led to our current predicament and those that might help us address it.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/127762/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/david-higgins-287911">David Higgins</a>, Associate Professor in English Literature, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-leeds-1122">University of Leeds</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/tess-somervell-896321">Tess Somervell</a>, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in English, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-leeds-1122">University of Leeds</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/three-things-historical-literature-can-teach-us-about-the-climate-crisis-127762">original article</a>.</em></p>

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American Dirt fiasco exposes the shortcomings of publishing industry

<p>In an early chapter of <em><a href="https://www.google.com/books/edition/American_Dirt_Oprah_s_Book_Club/FkiSDwAAQBAJ?hl=en">American Dirt</a></em>, the much-hyped novel now at the center of a racial controversy, the protagonist, Lydia, fills her Acapulco, Mexico, bookstore with her favorite literary classics. Because these don’t sell very well, she also stocks all “the splashy bestsellers that made her shop profitable.”</p> <p>Ironically, it’s this lopsided business model that has, in part, fueled the backlash to the book.</p> <p>In the book, Lydia’s favorite customer, a would-be poet turned ruthless drug lord, orders the massacre of Lydia’s entire family after her journalist husband writes a scathing expose. Lydia and her 8-year-old son must flee for their lives, joining the wave of migrants seeking safety in the U.S.</p> <p>With the border crisis as its backdrop, the book was anointed by the publishing industry as one of those rare blockbusters that Lydia might have stocked in her fictional bookstore. Its publisher called it “<a href="https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250209764">one of the most important books of our time</a>,” while <a href="https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/books/story/2020-01-27/oprah-winfrey-american-dirt-book-club">Oprah</a> chose it for her book club.</p> <p>But the author, Jeanine Cummins, is neither Mexican nor a migrant, and critics <a href="https://tropicsofmeta.com/2019/12/12/pendeja-you-aint-steinbeck-my-bronca-with-fake-ass-social-justice-literature/">savaged the book</a> for its cultural inaccuracies and damaging stereotypes. At least one library at the border <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/27/opinion/american-dirt-book.html">refused to take part in Oprah’s promotion</a>, 138 published authors wrote an <a href="https://lithub.com/dear-oprah-winfrey-82-writers-ask-you-to-reconsider-american-dirt">open letter to Oprah</a> asking her to rescind her endorsement, and the publisher canceled Cummins’ book tour, claiming <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/01/30/american-dirt-tour/">her safety was at risk</a>.</p> <p><a href="https://www.colorado.edu/cmci/people/journalism/christine-larson">As someone who studies the publishing business</a>, I see this ordeal as a symptom of an industry that relies far too heavily on a handful of predetermined “big books,” and whose gatekeepers remain predominantly white.</p> <p>Sadly, this model has become only more powerful in the digital era.</p> <p><strong>A high-stakes poker game</strong></p> <p>Today’s publishing industry is driven by three truths.</p> <p>First, people don’t buy many books. The typical American <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/09/25/one-in-five-americans-now-listen-to-audiobooks/">read four last year</a>.</p> <p>Second, it’s <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/suwcharmananderson/2013/03/28/book-discovery-give-me-blind-dates-with-books/#1d6618f23192">hard to decide which books to buy</a>, so most people look for bestsellers or books by authors they already like.</p> <p>Third, nobody – not even big publishers – can predict hits.</p> <p>As a result, the business can sometimes seem like one big, high-stakes poker game. Like any savvy gambler, editors know that most bets are losers: People don’t buy nearly enough books to make every title profitable. In fact, only about <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/12/books/review/Meyer-t.html">70% of books</a> even earn back their advances.</p> <p>Luckily for publishers, a single hit, like Michelle Obama’s <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38746485-becoming?ac=1&amp;from_search=true&amp;qid=bwZd6RTzVB&amp;rank=1"><em>Becoming</em></a>, can subsidize the vast majority of titles that don’t make money.</p> <p>So when publishers think they have a winning hand, they’ll bet the house. To them, “American Dirt” seemed to have all the cards, and the book sold at auction for <a href="https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/book-deals/article/76994-book-deals-week-of-may-28-2018.html">seven figures</a>.</p> <p>With that much money on the table, publishers will do everything they can to ensure a payoff, channeling massive marketing resources into those select titles, often at the expense of their others.</p> <p><strong>Who’s holding the purse strings?</strong></p> <p>It wasn’t always like this. Back in the 1960s, publishing was a sleepy industry, filled with <a href="https://www.pw.org/content/publishing_in_the_twentyfirst_century_an_interview_with_john_b_thompson">many moderately sized firms making moderate returns</a>. Today, just <a href="https://www.bookbusinessmag.com/post/big-5-financial-reports-reveal-state-traditional-book-publishing/">five conglomerates</a> dominate global publishing.</p> <p>Big firms seek big profits, and, as Harvard Business School professor <a href="https://www.npr.org/2013/10/24/239795165/blockbusters-go-big-or-go-home-says-harvard-professor">Anita Elberse</a> has pointed out, it’s cheaper and easier to launch one enormous promotional effort for a single “big book” than to spread resources across those smaller bets.</p> <p>With each publishing house releasing just one or two big books a season, few authors can hope to produce one of those splashy bestsellers.</p> <p>That’s even more true for marginalized authors, because every step in the publishing and publicity process depends on <a href="https://blog.leeandlow.com/2020/01/28/2019diversitybaselinesurvey/">gatekeepers who are largely white</a> – to the tune of 85% of editors, 80% of agents, 78% of publishing executives and 75% of marketing and publicity staff.</p> <p>Nevertheless, the book world does occasionally publish blockbusters by authors of color, whether it’s <em>Becoming</em> or Tayari Jones’ <em><a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/06/books/review/american-marriage-tayari-jones.html">An American Marriage</a></em>. As black author Zora Neale Hurston <a href="https://pages.ucsd.edu/%7Ebgoldfarb/cogn150s12/reading/Hurston-What-White-Publishers-Wont-Print.pdf">wrote in 1950</a>, editors “will publish anything they believe will sell” – regardless of the author’s race.</p> <p>But those editor beliefs about what would sell, she noted, were extremely limited when it came to authors of color. Stories about racial struggle, discrimination, oppression and hardship – those would sell. But books about marginalized people living everyday lives, raising kids or falling in love? Publishers had no interest in those stories.</p> <p>Of course, well-told stories of struggle are important. But when they’re the only stories that the industry aggressively promotes, then readers suffer from what novelist Chimamanda Adichie calls “<a href="https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_ngozi_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en">the danger of a single story</a>.” When a single story gets told repeatedly about a culture that readers haven’t experienced themselves, stereotypes become more and more deeply engraved in popular culture. In a self-perpetuating cycle, publishers become even more committed to promoting that one story.</p> <p>Much of the criticisms around <em>American Dirt</em> centered on Cummins’ lack of first-hand experience – the book, for instance, was peppered with <a href="https://medium.com/@davidbowles/non-mexican-crap-ff3b48a873b5">inaccurate Spanish expressions</a> and off-key notes about the middle-class heroine’s actions and choices.</p> <p>While a vast network of publishing insiders would have likely looked at <em>American Dirt</em> before it was published, they all missed elements that were glaringly evident to informed readers. For the mostly white publishing world, Cummins’ book simply fit the narrative of the “single story” and aligned with pop culture stereotypes.</p> <p>Its failings easily slipped past the blind spots of the gatekeepers.</p> <p><strong>The internet’s unfulfilled promise</strong></p> <p>The internet was supposed to have upended this system. Just 10 years ago, pundits and scholars heralded <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/mar/22/society1/">the end of gatekeepers</a> – a world where anyone could be a successful author. And indeed, with the digital self-publishing revolution in the late 2000s, <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/they-own-the-system-amazon-rewrites-book-industry-by-turning-into-a-publisher-11547655267">hundreds of thousands of authors</a>, previously excluded from the marketplace, were able to release their books online.</p> <p>Some even made money: <a href="https://christinelarson.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/Christine-Larson-Open-networks-open-books-gender-precarity-and-solidarity-in-digital-publishing-1.pdf">My research</a> has found that romance writers doubled their median income from 2009 to 2014, largely due to self-publishing. Romance authors of color, in particular, found new outlets for books excluded by white publishers. Back in 2009, before self-publishing took off, the Book Industry Study Group identified just six categories of romance novels; by 2015, it tracked 33 categories, largely driven by self-publishing. New categories <a href="https://bisg.org/page/Fiction">included African American, multicultural, interracial and LGBT</a>.</p> <p>By 2018, at least <a href="https://www.actualitte.com/PDF/autopublication%20etats%20unis%20chiffres%20bowker.pdf">1.6 million books across all genres had been self-published</a>. Nonetheless, though choice is expanding, readership has stayed <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/09/25/one-in-five-americans-now-listen-to-audiobooks">flat since 2011</a>. With more books but no more readers, it’s harder than ever to get the attention of potential buyers.</p> <p>Meanwhile, many grassroots outlets that could push a midlist book – industry jargon for one not heavily promoted by publishers – to moderate levels of success have receded. Local media outlets that could create buzz for a local author are hollowed out or <a href="https://www.usnewsdeserts.com/">have vanished altogether</a>. In 1991, there were some <a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=wruuBgAAQBAJ&amp;pg=PT43&amp;lpg=PT43&amp;dq=john+b+thompson+decline+of+independent+bookstores&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=5l9nKK1Tbi&amp;sig=ACfU3U01GFevWyDLEGvuDwSwDvaE7Uovzw&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=2ahUKEwjatPqaiLbnAhXFXc0KHU-LCNQQ6AEwAHoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&amp;q=john%20b%20thompson%20decline%20of%20independent%20bookstores&amp;f=false">5,100 indie booksellers</a>; now there are <a href="https://www.npr.org/2018/03/29/598053563/why-the-number-of-independent-bookstores-increased-during-the-retail-apocalypse">half that many</a>.</p> <p>The onus is now on authors to promote their own work. They’re spending a full day a week doing so, according to a forthcoming paper I wrote for the Authors’ Guild. In that same paper, I find that authors of color earn less from their books than white authors; in addition to other serious problems, this indicates they may have fewer resources to promote themselves.</p> <p>It’s clear the internet has not delivered the democratization it promised.</p> <p>But it has helped authors in at least one important way. Social media has offered a powerful outlet for marginalized voices to hold the publishing industry accountable. We’ve seen this twice already this year – with <em>American Dirt</em> and with the <a href="https://theconversation.com/if-the-romance-writers-of-america-can-implode-over-racism-no-group-is-safe-130034">Romance Writers of America</a>, which lost sponsors after it penalized an author of color for condemning racial stereotypes.</p> <p>Such outcries are an important start. But real progress will require structural change from within – beginning with a more diverse set of editors.</p> <p>On Feb. 3, executives from Macmillan, the publisher of <em>American Dirt</em>, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/feb/03/macmillan-latinx-american-dirt-dignidad-literaria">met with Hispanic authors and promised to diversify its staff</a>.</p> <p>It’s an example that the rest of the publishing industry should follow.<!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/christine-larson-426866"><em>Christine Larson</em></a><em>, Assistant Professor of Journalism, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-colorado-boulder-733">University of Colorado Boulder</a></em></span></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/american-dirt-fiasco-exposes-publishing-industry-thats-too-consolidated-too-white-and-too-selective-130755">original article</a>.</em></p>

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