How true should historical fiction be?
“From Hilary Mantel to Andrew Miller to Philippa Gregory, historical fiction is enjoying a boom. But novelists are storytellers, not history teachers, argues Stephanie Merritt”
(From The Guardian Books Blog, March 19, 2014)
Personally, I think historical fiction should aim to be as accurate as is reasonable within the format, and that authors writing in this genre should do some research into the era and/or people portrayed.
Obviously, I don’t expect a perfect representation of actual historical events, like an exact transcript, and I do expect some embellishment and poetic license. But making the setting, characters, and even language true to the time period help paint the picture and keep you in the story.
There’s no jot of shame in leaving the books on your shelf unread
“A survey has found that half of an average home’s 138 books go unread. I’m surprised it is as low as a half. Books aren’t meant to be read “
(From The Telegraph, March 6, 2014)
Study: Reading Literary Fiction Can Make You Less Racist
“The benefits of reading literary fiction are many, ranging from making us more comfortable with ambiguity to honing our ability to pick up on the emotional states of others. Newly published research adds yet another positive outcome to that list: It can make us at least a little less racist.”
(From Pacific Standard, March 10, 2014)
Can Book Awards Poison Reader Reviews?
(From Pacific Standard, February 19, 2014)
“Two business researchers, Balázs Kovács and Amanda J. Sharkey, at the Universities of Lugano and Chicago, respectively, analyzed thousands of reader reviews on Goodreads of 64 English-language books that either won or were short-listed for top book awards — including the National Book Award, the Man Booker Prize, and the PEN/Faulkner Award — between 2007 and 2011. To their surprise, while sales of the books that won awards skyrocketed following recognition, the online ratings of these same books plummeted.”
The article goes on to explain that this may be due to having a wider audience — people with more varied tastes in books — reading a book, simply due to the award it received, rather than due to it fitting their own interests.
That seems to make sense, and I’ve definitely experienced this myself. I’ve read books based on an award they won, rather than just being interested in them, and I rarely ended up actually enjoying them. Though I think I have often attributed it more to judges awarding books for being edgy or show, rather than actually good. ;)
I’m a little skeptical of the researchers only having looked at Goodreads, since I’ve seen variations between reviews there and on other book community or bookselling sites. They did mention that Goodreads users are fairly representative of fiction readers in general, but the researchers also weeded out the ratings without a comment, and extrapolated other data that wasn’t explicit, so that can skew things even more. So take that for what it is.
Do We Really Need Negative Reviews?
(From New York Times, February 16, 2014)
From The New York Times, a written debate between Francine Prose and Zoë Heller about whether (professional) book reviewers should write negative reviews.
Having only positive book reviews seems rather silly to me. I think a negative review, written constructively, can be a good thing, both for writers and readers. Just because a book was actually published doesn’t guarantee that it’s well-written or even worth reading.
You’re Missing Out on Great Literature
“Only three percent of everything published in the U.S. each year is translated from another language — and the majority of that is computer manuals and other technical material. Why don’t Americans read beyond their borders?”
(From Pacific Standard, February 11, 2014)
This article focuses on the lack of translations as an American issue, but I wonder how the US compares to other markets where English is primary or prominent. Is the UK also lacking in translated literature, for example?
I also wonder about the reasons behind it, some of which the article touches upon. Is it more that readers aren’t interested in books from other countries, even if translated into English, or more that publishers don’t want to invest the money translating something they aren’t sure will sell? My guess is that it’s more the latter, but perhaps this is a chicken-and-egg kind of thing.
Personally, I’m very interested in reading works from other countries, to learn about people from different places and cultures, and just for something different to read. As long as it’s translated well though. I’ve read some translations that were pretty poorly done. Granted, there are plenty of native English books published today that aren’t written very well either!
Writers attack ‘overrated’ Anglo-American literature at Jaipur festival
“Xiaolu Guo warns that English-language mainstream has warped a broader ‘reading habit’, on panel with Jhumpa Lahiri and Jonathan Franzen”
(From The Guardian, January 20, 2014)
Some of the points brought up in the article are interesting, and I think fair ones. The comment about American culture being so pervasive throughout the world, so much to push out local cultures or affect interest in them, is definitely something to be concerned about. Not only in literature, but other forms of entertainment, as well as food, culture, and so on.
And there’s definitely plenty of overrated American literature out there, often written in a very formulaic or boring way. I would love to see more emphasis on supporting and translating works from other countries, but given the current culture here, I don’t know if it’ll happen. Considering that they will subtitle some British TV shows when airing them in the US, that tells you plenty.
What do you think?
Brain function “boosted for days after reading a novel”
“Being pulled into the world of a gripping novel can trigger actual, measurable changes in the brain that linger for at least five days after reading, scientists have said.”
(From The Independent, December 28, 2013)
Literary Fiction Helps Us Read People
(From Pacific Standard, October 03, 2013)
“New research suggests reading literature increases our ability to pick up on the subjective states of others.”
Browsing on Charing Cross Road, London
Charles Simic looks at “The Books We’ve Lost” in a piece about the closing of used bookstores.
(From The New York Review of Books, August 13, 2013)