Rebecca Solnit on the Value of Nonlinear Narratives

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At Literary Hub, Rebecca Solnit discusses her latest work, Orwell’s Roses, a reflection on George Orwell’s life, politics, and passion for gardening and nature.

Solnit examines how depth in meaning can be acquired by meandering, detouring, and lingering in the details, and cites notable works of nonfiction that have non-chronological structures, including her own book, which moves from a range of topics related to the natural world, the meaning and purpose of art, Stalinism, climate, feminism, and slavery.

Its structure, “is akin to taking seven walks from the same starting point…I learned from labyrinths that to get to the center you turn away from it again and again as you follow the windings that will, in the end, take you to the center,” Solnit says. “There are subjects you can better understand through analogy, context, parallels, the view from the distance, rather than via direct and dogged pursuit.” 

Embracing Tackiness with Rax King

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At Electric Literature, Calvin Kasulke speaks with Rax King about her cheeky and deeply personal debut essay collection, Tacky: Love Letters to the Worst Culture We Have to Offer, which explores pop culture in the 2000’s and the joys of “bad taste.”

They discuss what tackiness means, who gets to decide what’s tacky, icons of tackiness, sex, go-to Cheesecake Factory orders, shoplifting techniques, and writing advice. Kasulke praises King for her ability to move readers with the most minuscule details, and King responds with insight into her essay writing process “The little stuff is usually where I do start actually,” King says. “Those moments are the ones that stick, I think. Big picture stuff fuzzes out over time, but I’m always going to remember the color of the tracksuit that my dad wore all the time—stuff like that. The stuff that colors in memories is what I think is most important for coloring in a story.”

The Benefits of Bilingualism

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At Literary Hub, Masha Rumer discusses the enduring stigma of speaking a language other than English in America, despite proof of its advantages, such as how it helps with better communication and creative thinking.

Rumer breaks down the correlation between bilingualism and advanced executive function and cites her discussion with Ellen Bialystok, a renowned cognitive neuroscientist at York University in Toronto.

“What bilingualism is really doing is it’s shaping up the attention system to be more selective, more responsive, and to be better at picking up important information in the first year of life,” Bialystok explains. “These executive function skills predict long-term academic success and well-being.” Bialystok also adds that switching between languages stimulates the brain, builds up cognitive reserve, and “can delay the symptoms and diagnosis of dementia.” Bialystok adds, “Although bilingualism doesn’t stop Alzheimer’s in its tracks, it empowers the brain with better coping skills and gives the attention networks more resiliency, protecting against neurodegeneration.”

In Rumer’s forthcoming book, Parenting with an Accent: How Immigrants Honor Their Heritage, Navigate Setbacks, and Chart New Paths for Their Children, she spotlights various experiences of immigrant families across the country and provides essential insight into the nuances of multicultural parenting.

The Story Behind Penguin Modern Classics’ Iconic Cover Designs

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At The Guardian, Killian Fox takes a closer look at Henry Eliot’s The Penguin Modern Classics Book, which contains everything you need to know about the most acclaimed literature of the past century, the era-defining Penguin series, and the stories behind their book jackets. “Eliot’s new book opens with a section on how the cover design has evolved, and you can see the carefully considered but striking changes that were introduced by successive art directors over the decades,” Fox writes. “Dominant colours (orange, dove grey, eau-de-nil) drop out, only to creep back into later iterations. Typefaces get axed, after much agonising, to be replaced by more modern-looking counterparts. Grid layouts are imposed – many 1960s covers were designed according to the so-called Marber grid, which sectioned off the publisher’s logo, the title, the author’s name and the image—only to drift after a few years or get overhauled completely.” 

The Climate Crisis and the Exclusion of Non-White Voices

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At Literary Hub, Ugandan climate justice activist Vanessa Nakate discusses her experience as the only non-white advocate at the World Economic Forum and the Associated Press’s decision to crop her out of a major news photo. 

“The AP’s director of photography insisted that cropping me out hadn’t been a deliberate act of erasure but was done on ‘composition grounds’ by a photographer under intense time pressure,” Nakate says, “I’d been cut because the building behind me was distracting. But, aside from the fact that the cropped photo still contained two other buildings, the question is, distracting from what or whom? The Alps in the distance? My four white, European colleagues who were standing in front of the mountains? Or Greta herself?” 

Nakate speaks about her passion for and commitment to raising awareness about the climate crisis and reporting stories from all parts of the world in her memoir-manifesto, A Bigger Picture: My Fight to Bring a New African Voice to the Climate Crisis.

Anne Carson: Herakles Junkie

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At The New Yorker, Casey Cep takes a closer look at Anne Carson’s H of H Playbook, the poet’s brilliant and bizarre take on the Greek tragedy Herakles by Euripides. Cep calls H of H Playbook a “cross between a dramaturge’s dream journal and a madman’s diary,” which features a Corvette-stealing demigod clad in overalls. “The flow of time in her writing feels bidirectional,” Cep writes, “it is not clear if old heroes are being swept into the present, if current readers are being swept into the past, or if all of us are simply aswirl in time together. But it is also because her work is unfailingly emotionally astute, the references, like those overalls, resonant rather than arbitrary.”

During a time when it seems a new retelling pops up every second, Carson’s work never comes off as derivative or unoriginal. “Carson is writing not only about the persistence of violence but about the possibility of redemption,” Cep writes, “and in this respect “H of H” isn’t just a playbook for the past. It is also, in the other sense of the word, a playbook for the future.”

The International Scramble for a Nobel Laureate’s Work

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Abdulrazak Gurnah only had a relatively small fanbase before he was awarded the Nobel Prize. The New York Times examines the international scramble for his novel Afterlives and the logistical hurdles that made it, along with his previous titles, impossible to find.

American bookstores in particular are struggling to meet the surge in interest. “We have relatively little stock and it’s all shot out the door, and we’re waiting as everybody is for the printing presses,” James Daunt, chief executive of Barnes & Noble, said nearly two weeks after the Nobel was announced. The same goes for independent bookstores. Mark LaFramboise, a book buyer at Politics and Prose in D.C., says it’s normal to have a delay in supply from a new Nobel laureate, but this year has been unusually difficult. “In a typical year, it would take about two weeks,” he says. “This year, I hesitate to even guess.”

That Old Book Smell Explained

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Lit Hub spotlights Jude Stewart’s illuminating new book, Revelations in Air, which reveals why we are all so drawn to that “old book smell” and breaks down the chemical reactions involved in producing the scent.

“The smell of old books stems from their slow chemical decomposition,” Stewart says, “Books are largely paper, and paper is largely plants. But the materials from which books are made have shifted over the centuries—and those shifts, in turn, have influenced how different generations of books, smell.”

She also provides readers with a scientific explanation of how a book’s scent adapts to and blends with both the scent of the room in which it is placed and the people who occupy it.