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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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How to learn about love from Mills & Boon novels

<p>“We expect love to be one of our greatest joys. But, in practice, it is one of the most reliable routes to misery,” <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jan/10/romantic-realism-the-seven-rules-to-help-you-avoid-divorce">wrote Alain de Botton</a> in a recent article, before informing us that divorce rates <a href="https://theconversation.com/january-divorce-rush-dates-back-to-the-middle-ages-35928">peak post-Christmas</a>.</p> <p>Some have blamed one well-known publisher of romance novels as a reason behind this tidal wave of lost hopes. One scholarly article in the <em>British Medical Journal</em> <a href="http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/veteran-bodice-ripper-that-defies-parody-bp625mpml">claimed</a> that Mills &amp; Boon was a contributing factor to divorce, adultery, and unwanted pregnancy.</p> <p>Mills &amp; Boon is over 100-years-old and has an established reputation of supplying escapist romantic fantasies for its predominantly female readership across the globe. But with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I’d like to come out in defence of these romantic novels. Despite their escapist nature, there is a considerable amount of realism contained within their pages.</p> <p>This might seem like a surprising claim. But realism in romance has always been a part of romantic fiction. Charlotte Smith (1749-1806), an early writer of romances, also injected a degree of reality into her novels. While her heroines of sensibility were being wooed from the turrets of their high towers by heroes with appellations such as Orlando and Willoughby, her subsidiary characters faced issues such as extra-marital affairs, unwanted pregnancies and marital rape. As Stuart Curran <a href="http://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9780230550711">argues</a> of Smith’s works, they record a moment in English fiction where the “intrusion of ‘real life’ into the world of romance marks the beginning of a reconstituted literary realism”.</p> <p>And I reckon that this “literary realism” is equally available, at least in some measure, in many of the romantic novels of Mills &amp; Boon. But how shall we define “realism”? The sceptic’s definition should suffice. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/jan/10/romantic-realism-the-seven-rules-to-help-you-avoid-divorce">De Botton lists</a> seven rules that will allow any reader to develop the emotional skill of romantic realism, and thereby save their marriage.</p> <p><strong>Embracing imperfection</strong></p> <p>First on the list is to “accept perfection is unrealistic”.</p> <p>Now, the heroes of the average Mills &amp; Boon romance, despite appearances on the covers (which generally feature muscular Adonis-like men or heroes who bear a resemblance to popular film stars) are, in fact, very far from perfect. The male lead of Penny Jordan’s <a href="http://www.harlequin.com/storeitem.html?iid=24667"><em>The Most Coveted Prize</em></a> (2011) freely admits this to himself. As the reader is introduced to Kiryl, the narrator informs us that he has “a darkness within him that he had never wholly been able to control. Something of a mental vampire, an echo of himself that, when aroused, could only be calmed by feeding off the emotional pain of others”.</p> <p>It will take the equally far from perfect 19-year-old heroine Alena to save Kiryl from himself and cement their relationship. In order for this to happen, Alena has to accept the reality that Kiryl is not the perfect hero she has constructed him to be within her imagination, saying to him: “I didn’t love you. I loved someone I created inside my own head and heart – someone I now know never existed. That was weak and foolish of me.”</p> <p>Once she has admitted the truth to herself and, in de Botton’s words, “she has grasped the specifics of his imperfections”, she is free to focus on the fact that she loves him anyway, and would rather be with him and his imperfections than spend the rest of her life without him.</p> <p><strong>The art of loving</strong></p> <p>This leads me nicely onto de Botton’s fourth rule of romantic realism, which instructs us to “be ready to love rather than be loved”. Alena – along with countless other Mills &amp; Boon heroines – loves her hero even though she is fully aware of his failings.</p> <p>So the heroines have no issue following de Botton’s advice. But it must be acknowledged that the heroes do have more trouble. Their alpha male status seems to inhibit them from admitting what they perceive as weakness – which for the main part, manifests itself in the form of their vulnerability to the heroine. The final admission of the hero’s undying love for her will almost destroy him.</p> <p>But, as Kiryl admits, “a man can only lie to himself for so long”, and despite Jordan reducing him to a shadow of himself – as she does with so many of her heroes – it will become clear that the hero of the tale can only be saved by embracing both the heroine and his love for her.</p> <p><strong>But it’s all about the sex, right?</strong></p> <p>One of the criticisms which have been levelled at Mills &amp; Boon romantic novels over the years is the inclusion of scenes of an explicit nature. How realistic is the invariably great sex the average Mills &amp; Boon heroine can anticipate with her hero?</p> <p>As de Botton observes, one of the frequent failings in relationships is that we fail to “understand that sex and love, do and don’t, belong together … the general view expects that love and sex will be aligned. But in truth, they won’t stay so beyond a few months or, at best, one or two years”.</p> <p>Not many Mills &amp; Boons address this point. But some do. In another sample from her corpus, Jordan does attempt to hint that the “other key concerns” that de Botton highlights such as “companionship, administration, another generation” do have an impact on sex in relationships. In her 1982 novel, <a href="https://www.millsandboon.co.uk/p38167/blackmail.htm"><em>Blackmail</em></a>, the heroine, Lee, is forced to take a break in sexual relations with her husband Gilles because the birth of her son “had not been an easy one”.</p> <p>And akin to her literary ancestor, Charlotte Smith, Jordan also featured many older heroines. In her novel from 1989, <em><a href="https://www.millsandboon.co.uk/p29067/a-rekindled-passion.htm">A Rekindled Passion</a></em>, for example, the heroine, Kate, is just shy of 40. Kate has spent all of her adult life as a single mother, having fallen pregnant at age 16. When the baby’s father, Joss, reappears, Kate turns down his offer of sex after he tells her he wants her, saying: “It wouldn’t be sensible. We’d both regret it.”</p> <p>Both Kate and Lee love their heroes, but their love is not aligned with sex. The heroines and heroes reach their happy endings in these novels, because all parties accept this.</p> <p>Harlequin Mills &amp; Boon, as a publisher, openly retails their fiction as escapism. But like all great romantic fiction, from its earliest days to contemporary times, these novels do address realistic issues which people face every day in their relationships.<!-- 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/71530/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/valerie-derbyshire-331457">Valerie Derbyshire</a>, Doctoral Researcher, School of English, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-sheffield-1147">University of Sheffield</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-to-learn-about-love-from-mills-and-boon-novels-71530">original article</a>.</em></p>

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“Book murderer”: Author’s travel hack sparks debate

<p>Carrying books in your trip can be tricky. Some copies may prove too thick, heavy or bulky, taking up precious space in your luggage.</p> <p>While some resort to e-books and audiobooks, Alex Christofi has something else in mind.</p> <p>The British author took to Twitter on Tuesday to share his hack. “Yesterday my colleague called me a ‘book murderer’ because I cut long books in half to make them more portable. Does anyone else do this? Is it just me?”</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"> <p dir="ltr">Yesterday my colleague called me a 'book murderer' because I cut long books in half to make them more portable. Does anyone else do this? Is it just me? <a href="https://t.co/VQUUdJMpwT">pic.twitter.com/VQUUdJMpwT</a></p> — Alex Christofi (@alex_christofi) <a href="https://twitter.com/alex_christofi/status/1219564301029138432?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 21, 2020</a></blockquote> <p>Christofi defended the book cutting as a way to help him keep reading.</p> <p>“The alternative is I just don’t read them because I can’t be bothered to carry them around,” he shared.</p> <p>“If people would just publish in sensible sized volumes I wouldn’t need to take matters into my own hands.”</p> <p>Some fellow readers expressed approval of Christofi’s trick.</p> <p>“I really like this Alex, and am completely ok with it. In fact it undercuts (tish boom) their hubris in writing such a bloody long book in the first place,” one responded.</p> <p>“Why are people so precious about the books they buy? Crack the spine, spill stuff on it, dog ear pages who cares as long as you’re reading,” another wrote.</p> <p>However, most replies were critical of the method. “I’ve never seen anyone do this. It’s definitely a book crime,” one wrote.</p> <p>“Is it just me, he says, posting a murder on the timeline,” another replied.</p> <p>“I’ve been an avid reader since I was 2. Carrying around books was never a burden to me, it was a joy. To mutilate a book to save an inch or two/a few ounces, then criticize the author/publisher for making such large/long/big books. His bindings are loose in more ways than one,” one said.</p> <p>“You’re a monster,” more than one commented.</p> <p>Publishing company Simon &amp; Schuster chimed in with a recommendation, “Can someone get this man an audiobook or e-book?!”</p>

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Margaret Atwood’s new book to remain unseen until 2114

<p><span>Margaret Atwood’s unread manuscript will remain locked away until 2114.</span></p> <p><span>The Man Booker prize-winning novelist is one of the first contributors to the Future Library project based in Norway. </span></p> <p><span>Conceived by Scottish artist Katie Paterson, the project saw a thousand spruce saplings being planted in the forest of Nordmarka outside Oslo in 2014. In a century, the trees will be cut down, turned into paper and used to print an anthology of 100 unpublished books – including Atwood’s. </span></p> <p><span>“The idea is that one author per year is commissioned specifically to write a new piece of work for the forest, with the knowledge that nobody is going to read it until the trees are fully grown,” Paterson told <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-17/the-future-library-norway-wood-margaret-atwood/11783438">ABC RN</a>.</span></p> <p><span>Paterson said Atwood was the first author she and the Future Library Trust approached for the initiative.</span></p> <p><span>“We got a phenomenal response from Margaret,” Paterson said.</span></p> <p><span>“She responded to our letter not only agreeing to write for the Future Library, but giving us advice about what kind of trees to plant and how to plant them because she grew up in a forest herself.”</span></p> <p><span>Atwood, author of T<em>he</em> <em>Handmaid’s Tale</em>, said of <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/05/margaret-atwood-new-work-unseen-century-future-library">her decision to participate</a> then, “It is the kind of thing you either immediately say yes or no to. You don’t think about it for very long.</span></p> <p><span>“When you write any book you do not know who’s going to read it, and you do not know when they’re going to read it. You don’t know who they will be, you don’t know their age, or gender, or nationality, or anything else about them. So books, anyway, really are like the message in the bottle.”</span></p> <p><span>Since Atwood joined, five other authors have come on board: <em>Cloud Atlas </em>novelist David Mitchell, Turkish writer Elif Shafak, Icelandic poet and lyricist Sjón, Man Booker-winning author Han Kang and Norwegian autobiographic novelist Karl Ove Knausgård. Every year until 2114, a writer will be invited to contribute to the collection.</span></p> <p><span>The trust plans to store the manuscripts in a special Silent Room in Oslo’s new public library, and print 3,000 copies of all 100 texts when the time arrives.</span></p> <p><span>Paterson acknowledged that there are “many unknowns” in today’s world. “We’re in a total climate crisis, in a catastrophic moment, and so we can’t predict entirely that the forest will still be there in a hundred years, but we have to do everything we can to ensure that it will be,” she said.</span></p>

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How to send a letter to the future you

<p>As we enter a new year and decade, it is the perfect time to check in on ourselves, look at what we’ve accomplished so far, and reassess our goals for the future.</p> <p>You can do this by writing a letter to your future self as a reminder of where you’ve been in life and your current aspirations as well as a motivating message to go further.</p> <p>There are many tools that can help you send this letter. Apart from the analog time capsule, you can also use note-taking apps or access special websites such as <span><a href="https://www.futureme.org/">FutureMe</a></span> or <span><a href="https://lettertomyfutureself.net/">Letter to my future self</a></span>.</p> <p>After you write the note, set the time you want it to be sent – be it a week or five years from now – and fill out the email address where you want to receive the message.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr">Just got my first letter from <a href="https://twitter.com/futureme?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@futureme</a> which I wrote a year ago. <br />Really needed that reminder and a kick up the ass!! 2020 I am SO ready for you 👊🏾</p> — Milo James (@MiloKnowsBest) <a href="https://twitter.com/MiloKnowsBest/status/1213825395503616000?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 5, 2020</a></blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr">On New Year’s Day, I received an email from 21-year old me.<br /><br />The email, received on 01/01/2020, was written on 12/3/2015.<br /><br />Judging from the email &amp; from what I remembered, it was the time when I was at a crossroad in my life.<a href="https://twitter.com/futureme?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@futureme</a> <a href="https://t.co/OEee5B1giI">pic.twitter.com/OEee5B1giI</a></p> — Syaza Nazura (@nazu2308) <a href="https://twitter.com/nazu2308/status/1213220010719617024?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 3, 2020</a></blockquote> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr">Got nostalgic after reading a letter that I wrote 4.5 years ago to my future self and realized how far I've really come.<br /><br />The decade ahead is definitely filled with endless possibilities. Let's make sure that we grab every opportunity to improve and make our past selves proud! <a href="https://t.co/WyNrdrMK25">pic.twitter.com/WyNrdrMK25</a></p> — Tyrone Tan (@iamtyronetan) <a href="https://twitter.com/iamtyronetan/status/1212055856524587008?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">December 31, 2019</a></blockquote>

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Why words for single women have changed through time

<p>In a recent interview with <em><a href="https://www.vogue.co.uk/news/article/emma-watson-on-fame-activism-little-women">Vogue</a></em>, actress Emma Watson opened up about being a single 30-year-old woman. Instead of calling herself single, however, she used the word “self-partnered.”</p> <p>I’ve studied <a href="https://global.oup.com/academic/product/never-married-9780199237623?lang=en&amp;cc=us">and written about</a> the history of single women, and this is the first time I am aware of “self-partnered” being used. We’ll see if it catches on, but if it does, it will join the ever-growing list of words used to describe single women of a certain age.</p> <p>Women who were once called spinsters eventually started being called old maids. In 17th-century New England, there were also words like “<a href="https://www.whimn.com.au/love/dating/unmarried-and-over-26-theres-a-name-for-women-like-you/news-story/8e72155c24a8fc79719512d7597b4f08">thornback</a>” – a sea skate covered with thorny spines – used to describe single women older than 25.</p> <p>Attitudes toward single women have repeatedly shifted – and part of that attitude shift is reflected in the names given to unwed women.</p> <h2>The rise of the ‘singlewoman’</h2> <p>Before the 17th century, women who weren’t married were called maids, virgins or “puella,” the Latin word for “girl.” These words emphasized youth and chastity, and they presumed that women would only be single for a small portion of their life – a period of “pre-marriage.”</p> <p>But by the 17th century, new terms, such as “spinster” and “singlewoman,” emerged.</p> <p>What changed? The numbers of unwed women – or women who simply never married – started to grow.</p> <p>In the 1960s, demographer John Hajnal <a href="https://www.scribd.com/document/115001673/John-Hajnal-1965-European-Marriage-Patterns-in-Perspective">identified</a> the “Northwestern European Marriage Pattern,” in which people in northwestern European countries such as England started marrying late – in their 30s and even 40s. A significant proportion of the populace didn’t marry at all. In this region of Europe, it was the norm for married couples to start a new household when they married, which required accumulating a certain amount of wealth. Like today, young men and women worked and saved money before moving into a new home, a process that often delayed marriage. If marriage were delayed too long – or if people couldn’t accumulate enough wealth – they might not marry at all.</p> <p>Now terms were needed for adult single women who might never marry. The term spinster transitioned from describing <a href="https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/spinster-meaning-origin">an occupation that employed many women</a> – a spinner of wool – to a legal term for an independent, unmarried woman.</p> <p>Single women made up, on average, <a href="https://global.oup.com/academic/product/never-married-9780199270606?cc=us&amp;lang=en&amp;">30% of the adult female population</a> in early modern England. <a href="http://www.localpopulationstudies.org.uk/PDF/LPS68/LPS68_2002_26-41.pdf">My own research</a> on the town of Southampton found that in 1698, 34.2% of women over 18 were single, another 18.5% were widowed, and less than half, or 47.3%, were married.</p> <p>Many of us assume that past societies were more traditional than our own, with marriage more common. But my work shows that in 17th-century England, at any given time, more women were unmarried than married. It was a normal part of the era’s life and culture.</p> <h2>The pejorative ‘old maid’</h2> <p>In the late 1690s, the term old maid became common. The expression emphasizes the paradox of being old and yet still virginal and unmarried. It wasn’t the only term that was tried out; the era’s literature also <a href="https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/001911725">poked fun</a> at “superannuated virgins.” But because “old maid” trips off the tongue a little easier, it’s the one that stuck.</p> <p>The undertones of this new word were decidedly critical.</p> <p>“<a href="https://trove.nla.gov.au/work/33875142?q&amp;versionId=41687269">A Satyr upon Old Maids</a>,” an anonymously written 1713 pamphlet, referred to never-married women as “odious,” “impure” and repugnant. Another common trope was that old maids would be punished for not marrying by “leading apes in hell.”</p> <p>At what point did a young, single woman become an old maid? There was a definitive line: In the 17th century, it was a woman in her mid-20s.</p> <p>For instance, the single poet Jane Barker wrote in her 1688 poem, “<a href="http://www.poetryexplorer.net/poem.php?id=10036317">A Virgin Life</a>,” that she hoped she could remain “Fearless of twenty-five and all its train, / Of slights or scorns, or being called Old Maid.”</p> <p>These negative terms came about as the numbers of single women continued to climb and marriage rates dropped. In the 1690s and early 1700s, English authorities became so worried about population decline that the government <a href="http://www.localpopulationstudies.org.uk/PDF/LPS68/LPS68_2002_26-41.pdf">levied a Marriage Duty Tax</a>, requiring bachelors, widowers and some single women of means to pay what amounted to a fine for not being married.</p> <h2>Still uneasy about being single</h2> <p>Today in the U.S., <a href="https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/visualizations/time-series/demo/families-and-households/ms-2.pdf">the median</a> first age at marriage for women is 28. For men, it’s 30.</p> <p>What we’re experiencing now isn’t a historical first; instead, we’ve essentially returned to a marriage pattern that was common 300 years ago. From the 18th century up until the mid-20th century, <a href="https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/families/marital.html">the average age at first marriage</a> dropped to a low of age 20 for women and age 22 for men. Then it began to rise again.</p> <p>There’s a reason Vogue was asking Watson about her single status as she approached 30. To many, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/oct/27/marriage-by-this-age-babies-by-that-age-when-will-we-stop-giving-women-deadlines">age 30 is a milestone for women</a> – the moment when, if they haven’t already, they’re supposed to go from being footloose and fancy-free to thinking about marriage, a family and a mortgage.</p> <p>Even if you’re a wealthy and famous woman, you can’t escape this cultural expectation. Male celebrities don’t seem to be questioned about being single and 30.</p> <p>While no one would call Watson a spinster or old maid today, she nonetheless feels compelled to create a new term for her status: “self-partnered.” In what some have dubbed the “<a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2017/04/the_history_of_self_care.html">age of self-care</a>,” perhaps this term is no surprise. It seems to say, I’m focused on myself and my own goals and needs. I don’t need to focus on another person, whether it’s a partner or a child.</p> <p>To me, though, it’s ironic that the term “self-partnered” seems to elevate coupledom. Spinster, singlewoman or singleton: None of those terms openly refers to an absent partner. But self-partnered evokes a missing better half.</p> <p>It says something about our culture and gender expectations that despite her status and power, a woman like Watson still feels uncomfortable simply calling herself single.<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: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></em></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/amy-froide-411337">Amy Froide</a>, Professor of History, <a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-maryland-baltimore-county-1667">University of Maryland, Baltimore County</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/spinster-old-maid-or-self-partnered-why-words-for-single-women-have-changed-through-time-126716">original article</a>.</em></p>

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A history of loneliness

<p>Is loneliness our modern malaise?</p> <p>Former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy <a href="https://hbr.org/cover-story/2017/09/work-and-the-loneliness-epidemic">says</a> the most common pathology he saw during his years of service “was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness.”</p> <p>Chronic loneliness, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/mar/12/duncan-selbie-isolated-bad-health">some say</a>, is like “smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” It “<a href="http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2013/08/dangers_of_loneliness_social_isolation_is_deadlier_than_obesity.html">kills more people than obesity</a>.”</p> <p>Because loneliness is now considered a <a href="http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/08/lonely-die.aspx">public health</a> issue – and even an <a href="http://fortune.com/2016/06/22/loneliness-is-a-modern-day-epidemic/">epidemic</a> – people are exploring its causes and trying to find solutions.</p> <p>While writing a book on the history of how poets wrote about loneliness in the <a href="https://www.britannica.com/art/English-literature/The-Romantic-period">Romantic Period</a>, I discovered that loneliness is a relatively new concept and once had an easy cure. However, as the concept’s meaning has transformed, finding solutions has become harder.</p> <p>Returning to the origins of the word – and understanding how its meaning has changed through time – gives us a new way to think about modern loneliness, and the ways in which we might address it.</p> <h2>The dangers of venturing into ‘lonelinesses’</h2> <p>Although loneliness may seem like a timeless, universal experience, it seems to have originated in the late 16th century, when it signaled the danger created by being too far from other people.</p> <p>In early modern Britain, to stray too far from society was to surrender the protections it provided. Distant forests and mountains inspired fear, and a lonely space was a place in which you might meet someone who could do you harm, with no one else around to help.</p> <p>In order to frighten their congregations out of sin, sermon writers asked people to imagine themselves in “lonelinesses” – places like hell, the grave or the desert.</p> <p>Yet well into the 17th century, the words “loneliness” and “lonely” rarely appeared in writing. In 1674, the naturalist John Ray <a href="http://www.thesalamancacorpus.com/varia_various_1500-1699_ray_a-collection_1691.html">compiled a glossary</a> of infrequently used words. He included “loneliness” in his list, defining it as a term used to describe places and people “far from neighbours.”</p> <p>John Milton’s 1667 epic poem “<a href="https://www.dartmouth.edu/%7Emilton/reading_room/pl/book_1/text.shtml">Paradise Lost</a>” features one of the first lonely characters in all of British literature: Satan. On his journey to the garden of Eden to tempt Eve, Satan treads “lonely steps” out of hell. But Milton isn’t writing about Satan’s feelings; instead, he’s emphasizing that he’s crossing into the ultimate wilderness, a space between hell and Eden where no angel has previously ventured.</p> <p>Satan <a href="https://www.dartmouth.edu/%7Emilton/reading_room/pl/book_2/text.shtml">describes</a> his loneliness in terms of vulnerability: “From them I go / This uncouth errand sole, and one for all / Myself expose, with lonely steps to tread / Th’ unfounded deep.”</p> <h2>The dilemma of modern loneliness</h2> <p>Even if we now enjoy the wilderness as a place of adventure and pleasure, the fear of loneliness persists. The problem has simply moved into our cities.</p> <p>Many are trying to solve it by bringing people physically closer to their neighbors. <a href="https://www.aarp.org/research/topics/life/info-2014/loneliness_2010.html">Studies</a> point to a spike in the number of people who live alone and the breakdown of family and community structures.</p> <p>British Prime Minister Theresa May has set her sights on “combating” loneliness and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/17/world/europe/uk-britain-loneliness.html">appointed</a> a minister of loneliness to do just that in January. There is even a <a href="https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org">philanthropy</a> called the “Campaign to End Loneliness.”</p> <p>But the drive to cure loneliness oversimplifies its modern meaning.</p> <p>In the 17th century, when loneliness was usually relegated to the space outside the city, solving it was easy. It merely required a return to society.</p> <p>However, loneliness has since moved inward – and has become much harder to cure. Because it’s taken up residence inside minds, even the minds of people living in bustling cities, it can’t always be solved by company.</p> <p>Modern loneliness isn’t just about being physically removed from other people. Instead, it’s an emotional state of feeling apart from others – without necessarily being so.</p> <p>Someone surrounded by people, or even accompanied by friends or a lover, can complain of feelings of loneliness. The wilderness is now inside of us.</p> <h2>Populating the wilderness of the mind</h2> <p>The lack of an obvious cure to loneliness is part of the reason why it is considered to be so dangerous today: The abstraction is frightening.</p> <p>Counterintuitively, however, the secret to dealing with modern loneliness might lie not in trying to make it disappear but in finding ways to dwell within its abstractions, talk through its contradictions and seek out others who feel the same way.</p> <p>While it’s certainly important to pay attention to the structures that have led people (especially elderly, disabled and other vulnerable people) to be physically isolated and therefore unwell, finding ways to destigmatize loneliness is also crucial.</p> <p>Acknowledging that loneliness is a profoundly human and sometimes uncurable experience rather than a mere pathology might allow people – especially lonely people – to find commonality.</p> <p>In order to look at the “epidemic of loneliness” as more than just an “epidemic of isolation,” it’s important to consider why the spaces of different people’s minds might feel like wildernesses in the first place.</p> <p>Everyone experiences loneliness differently, and many find it difficult to describe. As the novelist Joseph Conrad <a href="https://books.google.com/books?id=8P99Y2HWGK4C&amp;dq=under%20western%20eyes&amp;pg=PP1#v=onepage&amp;q=true%20loneliness&amp;f=false">wrote</a>, “Who knows what true loneliness is – not the conventional word but the naked terror? To the lonely themselves it wears a mask.” Learning about the range of ways others experience loneliness could help mitigate the kind of disorientation Conrad describes.</p> <p>Reading literature can also make the mind feel like less of a wilderness. The books we read need not themselves be about loneliness, though there are lots of examples of these, from “<a href="https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/tip-sheet/article/69506-10-books-about-loneliness.html">Frankenstein</a>” to “<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/aug/24/teju-cole-top-10-novels-solitude">Invisible Man</a>.” Reading allows readers to connect with characters who might also be lonely; but more importantly, it offers a way to make the mind feel as though it is populated.</p> <p>Literature also offers examples of how to be lonely together. British Romantic poets often copied each other’s loneliness and found it productive and fulfilling.</p> <p>There are opportunities for community in loneliness when we share it, whether in face-to-face interactions or through text. Though loneliness can be debilitating, it has come a long way from its origins as a synonym for isolation.</p> <p>As the poet Ocean Vuong <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/05/04/someday-ill-love-ocean-vuong">wrote</a>, “loneliness is still time spent with the world.”<!-- 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/91542/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><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/amelia-s-worsley-443122">Amelia S. Worsley</a>, Assistant Professor of English, <em><a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/amherst-college-2155">Amherst College</a></em></span></p> <p>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/a-history-of-loneliness-91542">original article</a>.</p>

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Summer reads: When you can’t travel, let a book transport you

<p>I don’t understand beach reads. And I’m not the only one. There’s <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jun/02/beach-read-summer-books-holiday-vacation">no universal consensus about the category</a>, though the marketing tends to revolve around those books popularly considered disposable, unserious, or at the very least, books “<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/what-exactly-is-a-beach-read-anyway-summery-sexy--or-sexist/2016/08/05/41ea6ea8-58e5-11e6-831d-0324760ca856_story.html?utm_term=.03921e2c51bc">you don’t mind getting wet</a>.”</p> <p>Last year, I toted <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15823480-anna-karenina">Anna Karenina</a> along with me — it got soaked, and I abandoned it in an AirBnB in Dubrovnik, Croatia, after I’d finished reading it. It lasted nearly the whole trip and left a gaping, souvenir-sized hole in my suitcase; it was perfect. So as much as I’d like to dissolve the beach read label entirely, I must also admit I have a type: I want a meaty, absorbing book that takes me further into a vacation by connecting with the cultures that produced it. I want a book that can’t be disposed of, one that will take me somewhere entirely new.</p> <p>What I really want is to decouple the notion of summer reading as a <a href="https://electricliterature.com/what-the-fk-is-a-beach-read-anyway/">lifestyle marker</a> <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/39952655">of class</a> <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/what-exactly-is-a-beach-read-anyway-summery-sexy--or-sexist/2016/08/05/41ea6ea8-58e5-11e6-831d-0324760ca856_story.html?utm_term=.ccc299550f05">or gender</a>. If the “<a href="https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-invention-of-the-beach-read">pursuit of intellectual betterment</a>” feels inaccessible or off-putting, I would like to propose at least the pursuit of expanding our emotional connections.</p> <p>In a cultural climate where the <a href="https://theconversation.com/does-empathy-have-limits-72637">limits of empathy</a> are increasingly under a microscope, forging cross-cultural connections feels like a pressing task. Much has been made of the relationship between <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/342/6156/377">fiction reading</a> and <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23383160">empathy</a>, but what happens when the limits of our worldview are bounded by the English language? While <a href="https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/census-family-language-highlights-1.4231841">linguistic diversity is growing in Canada</a>, the majority of Canadians still <a href="https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/census-wednesday-language-1.4231213">speak only English at home</a>, and <a href="https://www.vulture.com/2019/05/translated-fiction-has-been-growing-or-has-it.html">comparatively few books are translated</a> into English. If, as José Ortega y Gasset proposes, reading in translation should <a href="http://dialogos.ca/2015/09/the-misery-and-the-splendour-of-translation-v-the-splendour/">transport the reader into the language</a> — and therefore the perspective — of the author, then reading translated works may be one of the best ways to expand empathy beyond the boundaries of language.</p> <p>I’m not going abroad this summer, at least not physically. I’ll be staying in Canada, with only my books to pull me to other times and places. While in recent years, I’ve focused on <a href="https://www.vox.com/2015/12/29/10634416/reading-list-books">keeping up with new releases</a>, this year I’m fixated on atmosphere and transportation, in a mix of old favourites and new-to-me classics from around the world.</p> <p><strong>Italy</strong></p> <p>I won’t tell you to read Elena Ferrante, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/apr/30/elena-ferrante-fan-girl-modern-tribes">because you’ve probably heard that before.</a> Instead, I will be delving into the work of Elsa Morante, a <a href="https://www.latimes.com/books/la-ca-jc-elena-ferrante-interview-20180517-htmlstory.html">possible inspiration for Ferrante’s pseudonym</a>. <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40180043-arturo-s-island"><em>Arturo’s Island</em></a>, originally published in English in 1959, has been published in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/11/books/review-arturos-island-elsa-morante-ann-goldstein.html?auth=login-facebook&amp;login=facebook">a new translation by Ann Goldstein</a> (translator of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels). The novel promises a mix of the remote island setting steeped in Morante’s preoccupation with social issues and the spectre of war.</p> <p><strong>Poland</strong></p> <p>One of my favourite themes in European literature is that of movement and fluidity, the running sense of unity of purpose amidst myriad diverse pockets of culture. The ubiquity of trains and boats support transcontinental journeys by characters who switch language mid-conversation. Last year’s <a href="https://thebookerprizes.com/international/news/flights-wins-man-booker-international-prize-2018">Man Booker International</a> winner, <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36885304-flights?from_search=true"><em>Flights</em></a> by Olga Tokarczuk takes traveling and travelers as the subject of its interconnected musings, making it an ideal choice for the vacation headspace. This year’s winner, <a href="https://thebookerprizes.com/international/"><em>Celestial Bodies</em> from Oman’s Jokha Alharthi</a>, has an English edition but has not yet been published in Canada.</p> <p><strong>Croatia</strong></p> <p>In my opinion, no contemplation of Pan-European lore can be complete without Dubravka Ugrešic’s <a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/baba-yaga-laid-an-egg-by-dubravka-ugresic-1728869.html"><em>Baba Yaga Laid an Egg</em></a>. Once <a href="https://www.questia.com/magazine/1G1-13827983/five-women-who-won-t-be-silenced-croatia-s-witches">labeled a witch herself</a> and driven into exile from Croatia, Ugrešic’s take on Baba Yaga explores the shifting nature of popular folklore.</p> <p><strong>Nigeria</strong></p> <p><a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18749.Half_of_a_Yellow_Sun?ac=1&amp;from_search=true"><em>Half of a Yellow Sun</em></a> by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is not a translation, but it will take you to a place that only briefly existed: Biafra, a West African state founded in 1967. While the brutality of recent war may not make a particularly appetizing subject for vacation, Adichie contrasts the brutality with sumptuous descriptions of pre-war food and luxury, giving her vision of Biafra the aura of a lost dream. Adichie has referred to the war as a <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/hiding-from-our-past">shadow over her childhood</a>.</p> <p><strong>Norway</strong></p> <p>There are no beaches in <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6217.Kristin_Lavransdatter?from_search=true"><em>Kristen Lavransdatter</em></a> and many more Christmases than summers, but if you start Nobel Prize-winner Sigrid Undset’s oeuvre now, it may take you until winter to finish it. Set in Medieval Norway, the book follows the titular Kristen from childhood until death, focusing on her tumultuous love affair and marriage to Erlend Nikulaussøn. Tiina Nunnally’s translation, <a href="https://slate.com/culture/2017/01/why-sigrid-undset-author-of-the-kristin-lavransdatter-trilogy-should-be-the-next-elena-ferrante.html">focusing on plain, stripped-down language,</a> presents a change in philosophy from the first English translation that cut large portions of the text and enforced stiff, archaic language absent from the original Norwegian.</p> <p><strong>Argentina</strong></p> <p>Samanta Schweblin’s <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30763882-fever-dream?from_search=true"><em>Fever Dream</em></a> is slight in length but packs a heavy punch in both atmosphere and psychological investment. The story of a vacation gone terribly wrong, the novel’s Spanish title closely translates to “<a href="https://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-ca-jc-fever-dream-20170112-story.html">rescue distance</a>,” a recurring concept instantly familiar to parents of young children and terrifying as it becomes repeatedly destabilized. Fever Dream is so unsettling that I sometimes hesitate to recommend it, but I’ve found myself repeatedly drawn back to its tantalizing surrealism.</p> <p><strong>Canada</strong></p> <p>I’ve spent much of my life moving around, and as a recent settler on <a href="https://tkemlups.ca/profile/history/our-land/">unceded Secwepemc territory</a>, I want to learn more about the land I live on. In a summer steeped in fiction, <a href="https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34733963-secw-pemc-people-land-and-laws?ac=1&amp;from_search=true"><em>Secwépemc People, Land, and Laws</em></a> by Marianne and Ronald Ignace is the only history on my list, but in many ways it feels similar to the others, reaching out to add a new dimension to a place in which I’m still mostly an outsider. <a href="https://globalnews.ca/news/5371282/b-c-fire-season-expected-to-be-busier-than-normal/">For better or for worse</a>, Kamloops feels the most like itself in summer, the climate wants to have its stories told. It can feel intimidating to contemplate a 10,000 year history I know nothing about, but also comforting and necessary to reach back and hear the tales of the land I now call home.</p> <p><!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><em>Written by </em><span><em>Amy McLay Paterson, Assessment and User Experience Librarian, Thompson Rivers University</em></span><em>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/summer-reads-when-you-cant-travel-let-a-book-transport-you-119519" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em><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/119519/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /></p>

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Highly anticipated Naomi Wolf book cancelled after error was discovered

<p>Acclaimed US author Naomi Wolf was left red-faced after a major factual error was discovered on BBC radio.</p> <p>The book,<span> </span>Outrages: Sex, Censorship and the Criminalisation of Love<span> </span>has been pulled from publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt after the interview.</p> <p>The publisher announced that they and Wolf have “mutually and amicably agreed to part company”.</p> <p>The book centres on the treatment of gay people in Victorian England and previously offered examples Wolf had discovered of “several dozen executions” of men convicted of sodomy in Britain. The last example of this was back in 1930.</p> <blockquote style="background: #FFF; border: 0; border-radius: 3px; box-shadow: 0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width: 540px; min-width: 326px; padding: 0; width: calc(100% - 2px);" class="instagram-media" data-instgrm-captioned="" data-instgrm-permalink="https://www.instagram.com/p/Bzzmbaxp11-/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" data-instgrm-version="12"> <div style="padding: 16px;"> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: row; align-items: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 40px; margin-right: 14px; width: 40px;"></div> <div style="display: flex; flex-direction: column; flex-grow: 1; justify-content: center;"> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; margin-bottom: 6px; width: 100px;"></div> <div style="background-color: #f4f4f4; border-radius: 4px; flex-grow: 0; height: 14px; width: 60px;"></div> </div> </div> <div style="padding: 19% 0;"></div> <div style="display: block; height: 50px; margin: 0 auto 12px; width: 50px;"></div> <div style="padding-top: 8px;"> <div style="color: #3897f0; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: 550; line-height: 18px;">View this post on Instagram</div> </div> <p style="margin: 8px 0 0 0; padding: 0 4px;"><a style="color: #000; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 17px; text-decoration: none; word-wrap: break-word;" rel="noopener" href="https://www.instagram.com/p/Bzzmbaxp11-/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" target="_blank">‪Major UK based Feminist News and Opinion site, The F Word, calls Naomi Wolf’s Outrages, “a valuable piece that exposes the foundations for the outrages that still exist today when it comes to gay love.” https://thefword.org.uk/2019/07/gay-love-in-victorian-britain/ #feminist #LGBTQ #naomiwolf #naomiwolfbook‬</a></p> <p style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 17px; margin-bottom: 0; margin-top: 8px; overflow: hidden; padding: 8px 0 7px; text-align: center; text-overflow: ellipsis; white-space: nowrap;">A post shared by <a style="color: #c9c8cd; font-family: Arial,sans-serif; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; font-weight: normal; line-height: 17px;" rel="noopener" href="https://www.instagram.com/naomirwolf/?utm_source=ig_embed&amp;utm_campaign=loading" target="_blank"> Naomi Wolf</a> (@naomirwolf) on Jul 11, 2019 at 11:14pm PDT</p> </div> </blockquote> <p>During a promotional tour for the book in the UK, BBC interviewer Matthew Sweet pointed out to Wolf that she had misinterpreted the legal term “death recorded”.</p> <p>The term, which is found in historical documents, left Wolf interpreting it as men who were executed for being gay.</p> <p>Sweet mentioned that it actually means that the judge abstained from pronouncing the death sentence and that the prisoner was pardoned.</p> <p>“I don’t think any of the executions you’ve identified here actually happened,” Sweet told a stunned Wolf.</p> <p>Wolf took the incident in her stride, saying that she didn’t “feel humiliated”.</p> <p>“I had read death recorded as meaning death recorded. The death penalty was the law of the land until 1861, [but] I misunderstood the phrase,” according to <a rel="noopener" href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jun/21/naomi-wolf-book-outrages-new-york" target="_blank">The Guardian</a>.</p> <p>“The bottom line is that [Sweet] did me a favour by identifying a misreading that I corrected.</p> <p>“I don’t feel humiliated but I’m grateful for the correction. I feel great responsibility and humility about this history.”</p>

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Elton John reveals shocking Princess Diana confession

<p>Elton John has lived quite a colourful life, from getting into an argument with Princess Diana to sharing a joke with the queen, the musician has not held back in his new autobiography,<span> </span><em>Me</em>.</p> <p>Releasing shortly after his musical biopic<span> </span><em>Rocketman</em>, the honest memoir explores every moment of his extraordinary life.</p> <p>But possibly the most anticipated revelation is regarding his relationship with the late Princess Diana, who he first became friends with in 1981 at Prince Andrew’s 21st birthday party.</p> <p>He revealed that her thirst for gossip and company was irresistible, and after her separation from Prince Charles, there was a moment where Hollywood A-listers Sylvester Stallone and Richard Gere competed for her attention.</p> <p>Elton’s husband David found the two “squaring up to each other” and preparing to trade blows.</p> <p>It was then that Stallone stormed off, saying: “I never would have come if I’d known Prince f***in’ Charming was gonna be here.”</p> <p>The 72-year-old also addressed his infamous row with Diana, which he says was over a photography book featuring nearly naked men, by designer Gianni Versace – the proceeds of which were going to Elton’s Aids Foundation.</p> <p>Diana had originally agreed to write the foreword but decided against it at the last minute.</p> <p>The two made up in July 1997 after Versace was shot and killed. It was seven weeks before Diana herself passed away.</p> <p>Elton paid tribute to the royal by playing<span> </span><em>Candle In The Wind</em>, which he admitted to only listening to once since.</p> <p>He also revealed that he felt uncomfortable that the single, which is the biggest-selling UK song of all time, stayed at Number 1 for five weeks as it meant footage of Diana’s funeral was played constantly on<span> </span><em>Top Of The Pops.</em></p>

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How to invent a Tolkien-style language

<p>The success of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies brought the languages that JRR Tolkien invented for the Elves to the attention of a much wider public. There are <a href="http://www.councilofelrond.com/content/elvish-resources/">now numerous books and websites</a> that allow devotees to learn Quenya and Sindarin. The <a href="http://www.oocities.org/petristikka/elvish/tikka.pdf">origins of Quenya in Finnish</a> and the <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/z2hthyc">Welsh inspirations of Sindarin</a> have fascinated Tolkien fans, with many learning and expanding on the tongues that were created by the author the best part of 100 years ago.</p> <p>Though enchanting, language invention has also baffled readers and critics alike. Bewildered critic <a href="https://www.ewtn.com/library/HOMELIBR/TOLFAIR.HTM">Robert Reilly exclaimed in 1963</a>: “No one ever exposed the nerves and fibres of his being in order to make up a language; it is not only insane but unnecessary.” But that’s where he was completely wrong.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe width="440" height="260" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/6de_SbVUVfA?wmode=transparent&amp;start=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe> <span class="caption">JRR Tolkien recites the Quenya poem Namárië, sung by Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings.</span></p> <p>Language invention for works of fiction has a long history, from <a href="http://www.bl.uk/learning/histcitizen/21cc/utopia/more1/moreutopia.html">Thomas More’s Utopia</a> and <a href="http://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item104566.html">Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels</a>, all the way to Tolkien’s immediate predecessors, such as <a href="https://archive.org/details/acrosszodiacsto01greggoog">Percy Gray</a> and <a href="http://www.sacred-texts.com/atl/vril/">Edward Bulwer Lytton</a>.</p> <p>Tolkien himself began composing his Middle-earth mythology at a time when the vogue for artificial languages was at its zenith. At the turn of the 20th century <a href="http://www.omniglot.com/writing/esperanto.htm">Esperanto</a> was taking the world by storm, and it competed with more than 100 other artificial languages, including Volapuk, Ido and Novial. It is also worth remembering too that this same period was a time of language experimentation. Russian zaum, the Dada movement and Modernism (among others) were attempting to break language and make it afresh.</p> <h2>Tolkien’s vice</h2> <p>In <a href="https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780008131395/a-secret-vice">A Secret Vice: Tolkien on Invented Languages</a>, edited by myself and Andrew Higgins, we present Tolkien’s own reflections on his language invention. In particular, the full publication of A Secret Vice, a paper Tolkien gave in 1931 at Pembroke College, Oxford, where he talked about his engagement with Esperanto and his contribution to nursery languages (codes children use, often for playful communication). Tolkien went on to unveil his many experiments in inventing new languages that would be aesthetically pleasing, including a sketch of a previously unknown imaginary language, published for the first time in the new book. He also commented on the “coeval and congenital” art of creating a world and characters that would speak these languages – the first seeds of the vast secondary world of Middle-earth.</p> <p>The book also includes a hitherto unpublished new essay on phonetic symbolism, in which Tolkien muses on the idea that the sounds of words may fit their meanings. Tolkien’s drafts and notes for both essays are also included. Some of these notes make mention of James Joyce and Gertrude Stein – hardly the literary company one expects Tolkien to be seen alongside.</p> <p>Contemporary popular culture has witnessed a renewed interest in fictional languages. Perhaps the best-known recent examples are <a href="http://docs.dothraki.org/Dothraki.pdf">Dothraki</a> and <a href="http://www.makinggameofthrones.com/production-diary/2014/5/8/high-valyrian-101-learn-and-pronounce-common-phrases">High Valyrian</a>, the languages invented by linguist David J. Petterson for HBO’s Game of Thrones. But they are by no means the only ones. Even non-fans of the Star Trek franchise will have at least heard of <a href="http://www.kli.org/about-klingon/klingon-history/">Klingon</a>, and James Cameron’s Avatar also includes an invented language: <a href="http://learnnavi.org/">Na'avi</a>.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe width="440" height="260" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/0knxW76bDuI?wmode=transparent&amp;start=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe> <span class="caption">The creators of Na'avi, Klingon and Dothraki explain how to make a language.</span></p> <p>Whether intentional or not, Tolkien’s language creation has been highly influential for this new generation of inventors. In A Secret Vice, Tolkien outlined several rules for constructing imaginary languages, which later inventors appear to have followed.</p> <p>First, invented names and words should be coherent and consistent. Their sounds should both be aesthetically pleasing and fit the nature of the people who speak them. For example, the phonetic make-up of Klingon befits its militaristic speakers (who else would recite <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiRMGYQfXrs">Shakespeare’s “To be, or not to be” as “taH pagh taHbe”</a>?)</p> <p>Second, fictional languages should have a grammatical structure behind them. In <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Living-Language-Dothraki-Conversational-Original/dp/0804160864">Living Language Dothraki</a>, Peterson gives all the grammatical rules you need to form questions such as “hash yer dothrae chek asshekh?” (“do you ride well today?”).</p> <p>And finally, invented languages should be an integral, indeed vital, part of myth-making - as Tolkien said: “Your language construction will breed a mythology”. There are far too many examples to list here, but what may have astounded Tolkien is the central position that language invention has achieved in the building of new entertainment franchises such as Star Trek, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, and Game of Thrones.</p> <p>Like Tolkien himself, many inventors of today’s fictional languages have been linguists and communicators: <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5Did-eVQDc">Marc Okrand</a>, the inventor of Klingon, has a PhD in linguistics from Berkeley; <a href="http://www.marshall.usc.edu/faculty/directory/frommer">Paul Frommer</a>, creator of Na'avi, is professor emeritus of clinical management communication at the University of Southern California. Tolkien’s legacy also lives on in the many thousands of constructed languages (con-langs) which are invented just for fun and discovery through groups like <a href="http://conlang.org/">The Language Construction Society</a>.</p> <p>What is rarer, and shows Tolkien’s genius, is that the complex interweaving of myth-making and language invention that make Middle-earth feel real was the achievement of a single man. And that is a tough act to follow.<!-- 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/57380/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>Written by <span>Dimitra Fimi, Lecturer in English, Cardiff Metropolitan University</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/how-to-invent-a-tolkien-style-language-57380" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em></p>

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I’ll have what she’s having: How and why we copy the choices of others

<p>Imagine you’re dining out at a casual restaurant with some friends. After looking over the menu, you decide to order the steak. But then, after a dinner companion orders a salad for their main course, you declare: “I’ll have the salad too.”</p> <p>This kind of situation – making choices that you probably otherwise wouldn’t make <a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/jcr/ucv012">were you alone</a> – probably happens more often than you think in a wide variety of settings, from eating out to shopping and even donating to charity. And it’s not just a matter of you suddenly realizing the salad sounds more appetizing.</p> <p><a href="https://explorable.com/chameleon-effect">Prior research has shown</a> people have a tendency to mimic the choices and behaviors of others. But other work suggests people also want to do the exact opposite to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/317585">signal their uniqueness</a> in a group by making a different choice from others.</p> <p>As scholars who examine consumer behavior, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/0022243719853221">we wanted</a> to resolve this discrepancy: What makes people more likely to copy others’ behavior, and what leads them to do their own thing?</p> <p><strong>A social signal</strong></p> <p>We developed a theory that how and why people match or mimic others’ choices depends a lot on the attributes of the thing being selected.</p> <p>Choices have what we call “ordinal” attributes that can be ranked objectively – such as size or price – as well as “nominal” attributes that are not as easily ranked – such as flavor or shape. We hypothesized that ordinal attributes have more social influence, alerting others to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.obhdp.2013.08.007">what may be seen as “appropriate”</a> in a given context.</p> <p>Nominal attributes, on the other hand, would seem to be understood as a reflection of one’s personal preferences.</p> <p>So we performed 11 studies to test our theory.</p> <p><strong>One scoop or two</strong></p> <p>In one study conducted with 190 undergraduate students, we told participants that they were on their way to an ice cream parlor with a friend to get a cone. We then told our would-be ice cream consumers that their companion was getting either one scoop of vanilla, one scoop of chocolate, two scoops of vanilla or two scoops of chocolate. We then asked participants what they wanted to order.</p> <p>We found that people were much more likely to order the same size as their companion but not the same flavor.</p> <p>The participants seemed to interpret the number of scoops the companion ordered as an indication of what’s appropriate. For example, ordering two scoops might signal “permission” to indulge or seem the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1509/jm.11.0261">more financially savvy</a> – if less healthy – choice, since it usually costs only marginally more than one. Or a single scoop might suggest “let’s enjoy some ice cream – but not too much.”</p> <p>The choice of chocolate or vanilla, on the other hand, is readily understood as a personal preference and thus signals nothing about which is better or more appropriate. I like vanilla, you like chocolate – everyone’s happy.</p> <p>We also asked participants to rate how important avoiding social discomfort was in their decision. Those who ordered the same number of scoops as their companion rated it as more important than those who picked a different amount.</p> <p><strong>Examining other contexts</strong></p> <p>In the other studies, we replicated our results using different products, in various settings and with a variety of ordinal and nominal attributes.</p> <p>For example, in another experiment, we gave participants US$1 to buy one of four granola bars from a mock store we set up inside the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz/CBA Business Research Center. As the ordinal attribute, we used <a href="https://doi.org/10.1509/jmkg.65.1.71.18132">brand prestige</a>: They could pick either a more expensive well-known national brand or a cheaper one sold by a grocery store under its own label. Our nominal attribute was chocolate or peanut butter.</p> <p>Before making the choice, a “store employee” stationed behind the checkout register told participants she or he had tested out a granola bar, randomly specifying one of the four – without saying anything about how it tasted. We rotated which granola bar the employee mentioned every hour during the five-day experiment.</p> <p>Similar to the ice cream study, participants tended to choose the brand that the employee said he or she had chosen – whether it was the cheaper or pricier one – but ignored the suggested flavor.</p> <p>Moving away from food, we also examined influences on charitable donations. In this study, we recruited online participants who were paid for their time. In addition, we gave each participant 50 cents to either keep or donate to charity.</p> <p>If they chose to donate the money, they could give all of it or half to a charity focused on saving either <a href="https://www.savetheelephants.org">elephants</a> or <a href="https://polarbearsinternational.org/">polar bears</a>. Before they made their choice, we told them what another participant had supposedly decided to do with their money – randomly based on one of the four possibilities.</p> <p>The results were the same as in all our other studies, including ones we conducted involving different brands and shapes of pasta and varieties and taste profiles of wine. People matched the ordinal attribute – in this case the amount – but paid little heed to the nominal attribute – the chosen charity – which remained a personal preference.</p> <p>These kinds of social cues regarding others’ choices are everywhere, from face-to-face interactions with friends to online tweets or Instagram posts, making it difficult to escape the influence of what others do on our own consumption choices.</p> <p>And if we believe we’re making our companions feel more comfortable while still choosing something we like, what’s the harm in that?</p> <p><em>Written by <span>Kelly L. Haws, Associate Professor of Marketing, Vanderbilt University; Brent McFerran, W. J. Van Duse Associate Professor, Marketing, Simon Fraser University, and Peggy Liu, Assistant Professor of Business Administration, University of Pittsburgh</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/ill-have-what-shes-having-how-and-why-we-copy-the-choices-of-others-122682" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em></p>

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What makes a book 'good'?

<p>How many copies of <em>Fifty Shades of Grey</em> does it take to make a fort? A branch of Oxfam in Swansea, south Wales, received so many unwanted copies of EL James’s erotic novel, that staff decided to build a fort out of them in the back office.</p> <p>Well, why not? Once the <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-18618648">hottest book in publishing</a>, <em>Fifty Shades</em> now can’t be given away fast enough. Relief at last, perhaps, for all those high-brow academics and frustrated authors – myself among them – whose hearts sank when this fan fiction-derived tale became the <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/9459779/50-Shades-of-Grey-is-best-selling-book-of-all-time.html">fastest-selling paperback of all time in Britain</a> and went on to sell more than 125m copies around the world.</p> <p>But was it any good? <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jun/28/what-el-james-grey-success-tells-us-about-future-of-fiction">Critics seemed to think not</a>, but just as publishers will tell you a good review does not necessarily sell books, nor, it seems, does a whole series of bad reviews harm sales of a book once momentum has been achieved.</p> <p>When I was a child listening to the Top 40 countdown on Radio 1 on a Sunday evening, there was no doubt in my mind that the higher up the charts my favourite singles climbed, the better those particular songs were shown to be. In my ten-year-old mind there was a straightforward correlation between commercial success and artistic quality. A single that reached number ten was pretty good, but one that went straight into the chart at number one and stayed there for four weeks was clearly better.</p> <p>At some point I must have given voice to this theory, because my elder sister once told me that “just because one song is higher up in the charts doesn’t make it better than another song that’s lower down.” While I reeled at this news, she did happily agree that Slade’s <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTEGxVDHpGU"><em>Cum On Feel the Noize</em></a> was nevertheless the best song around at the time.</p> <p><strong>Making good</strong></p> <p>So what does make a book – or a film or a song – good? What gives a work lasting value? There are methods of assessment; you can apply criteria. As a lecturer in creative writing, who marks novels written by MA students, I would say that, wouldn’t I? But as a reader – and as an editor for a small publisher – I obviously have my own, subjective views on what’s good and what’s not so good.</p> <p>The lesson my sister taught me has stayed with me over the years and I’ll admit that these days I’m suspicious of anything that seems to be enjoying too much success. Was Zadie Smith’s award-winning <em>White Teeth</em> really that good? How about David Mitchell’s acclaimed <em>Cloud Atlas</em>? <em>Fifty Shades of Grey</em>? I don’t know, because I haven’t read them. There are lots of interesting-sounding books out there, but why should I feel obliged to read the same ones everyone else is reading? Is the culture really nothing but a huge book club?</p> <p>It’s frustrating for publishers working hard to launch new careers (they’ve long given up trying to sustain flagging ones) when they know that only a tiny number of titles will account for the vast majority of sales.</p> <p>One first-time author of my acquaintance whose debut novel was published in 2015 to a small number of enthusiastic reviews and poor sales feels so disappointed by the whole experience he often talks of jacking it all in. Is the <em>Fifty Shades</em> phenomenon part of that problem? Would I rather that great literature was achieving that level of commercial success? Well, yes, but can we as a society agree on what is great literature? I don’t think we can and I even prefer to think that we shouldn’t, being inherently suspicious of <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-tale-of-squirrelling-away-books-that-sparked-a-nutty-row-over-childrens-literature-35442">the exclusivity of the canon</a>.</p> <p>So, let big houses continue to publish bestsellers. They make money and keep people in jobs and maybe, just maybe, there’s a trickle-down effect. Profits from big books may enable risks to be taken on smaller ones. EL James <a href="http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/el-james-fifty-shades-grey-1m-charity-482496">donated £1m of her royalties to charity</a>.</p> <p>And so what if we end up with mountains of unwanted books? As long as we continue to build new roads (and that’s a whole other subject), we’ll continue to need unwanted books. When the M6 Toll opened in 2003, building materials supplier Tarmac revealed that <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/west_midlands/3330245.stm">2.5m Mills &amp; Boon novels had been pulped and used in the manufacture of the asphalt</a>.</p> <p>Swansea’s red-faced consumers of James’s “mommy porn” may not have donated 2.5m copies of <em>Fifty Shades</em> to Oxfam, but a quick calculation, studying the <a href="http://metro.co.uk/2016/03/22/charity-shop-begs-women-not-to-return-used-copies-of-fifty-shades-of-grey-5767801/">photograph of the house-like construction that has been tweeted all over the world</a>, suggests it takes about 600 copies of <em>Fifty Shades</em> to make a fort.<!-- 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/57077/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>Written by <span>Nicholas Royle, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing, Manchester Metropolitan University</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/what-makes-a-book-good-57077" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>.</em></p>

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3 alternative romantic fiction authors that will heat up any beach trip

<p>There’s no better way to escape the stresses than to put your reading into “romance” gear. For summer relief, try instead the question of the heart versus the mind. That is the core problem of much of my very favourite, intellectually inspiring fiction.</p> <p>Chick lit is out, I’m afraid: an avowed literary snob, I like my dilemmas of desire served up in rich, fulsome English, with slowly unravelled plots and textured characters, not two-dimensional patriarchal fairy tales dished up in elementary school grammatical structures (<em>hides under the table</em>).</p> <p>Current favourites are George Gissing’s <em><a href="https://www.dissentmagazine.org/article/odd-women">The Odd Women</a></em> and an assortment of Margaret Drabble, the queen of 1970s British letters, and pretty much anything by Iris Murdoch.</p> <p><strong>George Gissing</strong></p> <p>For the tensions and irrationalities of romantic feeling, <em>The Odd Women</em> (1893) is superlative. What it does so brilliantly is take one of the burning sets of issues of the day – women’s rights, particularly in relation to marriage – and pits its intellectual and ideological propositions against the anarchic, intrusive power of dawning love.</p> <p>Let me lure you further. The book’s main characters are two vehement feminists, the excellently named Rhoda Nunn, and her partner in crime, the angelic yet forceful Mary Barfoot. Together – they live together, too – they seek to save single, or “odd” women from the desolate dregs of the old maids’ job market by training them up as clerks on typewriters.</p> <p>Suddenly, Rhoda finds herself in an odd position. An avowed spinster, determined to practice what she preaches, she is also of “strong and shapely” figure and “handsome” feature. So when Mary’s sexy cousin, Everard, begins visiting the house on return from his relaxed bachelor travels around the Orient, he takes an interest in her. Rhoda’s position is the following: “I am seriously convinced that before the female sex can be raised from its low level there will have to be a widespread revolt against sexual instinct.”</p> <p>Catnip for Everard who – as stubborn as Rhoda – begins a woo that is hard to resist, seeming to fall not only for Rhoda but for women’s equality, too. The delicious yet unexpected conclusion to this story is head and shoulders above your usual romance fare, the work of a master stylist who never abandons humour, even as he makes you cry.</p> <p><strong>Margaret Drabble</strong></p> <p>Drabble, 80 years later, gives a softer but equally crystalline gender-aware portrait of relationships. In <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/books/97/10/19/home/drabble-oates.html"><em>The Needle’s Eye</em></a> (1972), reserved Simon Camish goes to a dreadful supper party and is offended by the guests’ vulgarity. But then rough-skinned, makeup-free, and self-dispossessed heiress Rose walks in, and with her genteel delicacy of manner and genuine modesty, immediately entrances Simon, himself married to a minor heiress he can’t stand.</p> <p>Simon gets involved in Rose’s divorce saga; desperate to play the legal knight in shining armour (he is a lawyer) to Rose’s sensitive yet deeply stubborn damsel in distress. Both reveal astonishing integrity of character as Rose is buffeted with extreme violence for rejecting social expectations by insisting on being poor.</p> <p>But if you’re feeling anxious, I recommend <em><a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/may/15/the-millstone-the-crucial-1960s-feminist-novel">The Millstone</a></em>, Drabble’s 1965 peach about an adorable unmarried scholar of Elizabethan verse who gets pregnant the first time she has sex, and never tells the father, who she worships from afar. It’s both soothing and sad. The father is a BBC radio announcer, and she merely switches on the radio when she wants to feel reassured by him, which is a lovely bit of romance. It is a very slim book, but it’s perfectly formed: a story of an intelligent, liberated woman leaving the man out while falling in love with the baby everyone told her not to have on any account.</p> <p>Happy ending? Unclear. Like real life, in which convention, rationality and deep emotional drives do not always mesh? Definitely, but sweeter.</p> <p><strong>Iris Murdoch</strong></p> <p>Iris isn’t for everyone. But I have loved her ever since a friend handed me <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/books/98/12/20/specials/murdoch-prince.html"><em>The Black Prince</em></a> (1973) on a rainy holiday in Sicily. Cowering on a deserted beach, I found myself intrigued and amused as ageing author Bradley becomes increasingly caught in a cat’s cradle of deadly desire, starring a striking assortment of women with men’s names such as Christian and Julian.</p> <p>Booker Prize-winning <em><a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2009/feb/10/iris-murdoch-sea-booker">The Sea, the Sea</a> </em>(1978) also completely bewitched me: once more, a story of explosive obsession ripping through the reserve of an otherwise orderly, if arrogant, English life of letters.</p> <p>And currently I’m savouring <em><a href="https://www.nytimes.com/books/98/12/20/specials/murdoch-sandcastle.html">The Sandcastle</a> </em>(1957), about a middle-aged Surrey schoolmaster, Bill Mor, who falls ill-advisedly in love with the deliciously named Rain Carter, a nymph-like portrait painter hired to capture the retired headmaster. The parched school grounds, the doe-like yet strong Rain, the prudish ferocity of Mrs Mor and their children’s spectral games cast a magic spell, just as Murdoch – I assume – intended.<!-- 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/61549/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>Written by <span>Zoe Strimpel, Doctoral researcher, History, University of Sussex</span>. Republished with permission of </em><a rel="noopener" href="https://theconversation.com/three-alternative-romantic-fiction-authors-that-will-heat-up-any-beach-trip-61549" target="_blank"><em>The Conversation</em></a><em>. </em></p>

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