“[C]hildren often prefer the factual over the fantastical. And a growing body of work suggests that when it comes to storybooks, they also learn better from stories that are realistic. For example, preschool-aged children are more likely to learn new facts about animals when the animals are portrayed realistically as opposed to anthropomorphically.” Two new studies suggest that where learning is concerned, realism trumps fantasy in children’s books. Which is as good a time as any to ask our own Jacob Lambert‘s question: Are picture books leading our children astray?
“These people may not take you seriously. And your boss might not either. Or your dentist or your best friend from middle school. But you who does take you seriously? Dictators. Dictators take you very seriously. Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot and Augusto Pinochet, all rounded up writers and artists in short order. They could not afford to have the unpredictability of literature at large while they were trying to create a totalitarian state.” Wendy Willis on subversion through writing for The Rumpus.
Whether you admire the work of e.e. cummings or think of him mainly as the inspiration for your high school’s worst poet, you’ll enjoy this excerpt of Susan Cheever’s new biography, which touches on the poet’s later years and his relationship with Cheever’s father. The two (contrasting) money quotes here are Malcolm Cowley’s claim that cummings was “the most brilliant monologuist I have known” and this exasperated question posed by Helen Vendler: “What is wrong with a man who writes this?
Paula Fox, celebrated novelist and winner of the 1983 National Book Award (among other honors), died this week. Contributing to our Year in Reading series two years ago, Parul Sehgal said she couldn’t stop rereading Desperate Characters, perhaps Fox’s most popular book for adults. “It’s really a wallop of a book,” Sehgal wrote. “A barbed portrait of a marriage, not to mention a brilliant take on gentrification, white fears of black and brown people, the hostile insularity of the nuclear family, and how power reproduces and how power conceals itself.” (Bonus: Dominic Smith wants to send a scene from that novel into space.)
New this week are Anita Desai’s The Artist of Disappearance and P.D. James’ Pride and Prejudice sequel Death Comes to Pemberly. Joseph Gordon-Levitt hangs up his acting duds to put out The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories: Volume 1, and, speaking of tiny stories, there’s Lou Beach’s 420 Characters: “these crystalline miniature stories began as Facebook status updates.” On the nonfiction side, there’s Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil by Tom Mueller.