Your Brain on Literature: The benefits of reading

Reading quiet, literary fiction, like Someone by Alice McDermott, nudges us towards contemplation and self-examination. But according to a recent study conducted at the New School for Social Research in New York, it may do even more. This much-publicized study, "Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind," concludes that reading literary fiction can better the ability to "read" the thoughts and feelings of others. The researchers, Ph.D candidate David Comer Kidd; and professor of psychology, Emanuele Castano; suggest that this is achieved by an increase in empathy and the ability to recognize and share the feelings of others.

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What is Dirty Realism

In addition to reviewing books, BookBrowse goes "beyond the book" to explore interesting aspects relating to each book we feature. Here is a "Beyond the Book" feature written to complement our 2013 review of Goat Mountain by David Vann:

David Vann fits into an American literary tradition that has been around since the 1960s, but was only given a name in 1983. Bill Buford, former editor of Granta literary magazine, coined the term "dirty realism" to characterize two trends in American fiction: a tendency toward simplified language, largely free from adverbs or flowery language (as is true of Vann's matter-of-fact prose in Goat Mountain), and frank consideration of the awfulness of ordinary, lower- or middle-class lives.

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Reading Wodehouse in Mumbai

Chhatrapati Shivaji TerminusGrowing up in an extremely cramped one-bedroom apartment on the bottom floor of a multi-rise building in Mumbai, I was looking for one thing -- escape. And while India had been independent for just around 25-odd years at that time, the vestiges of colonialism remained. Try as we might, my friends and I could never bring ourselves to call Mumbai's fantastic train station Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. It would always be Victoria Terminus to us -- in fact, even the name Mumbai took a while to sink in. Growing up, it had always been Bombay. 

These colonial aftereffects showed themselves most readily in the English fiction my friends and I read. We grew up on a steady diet of Enid Blyton books in elementary school. The images of endless feasts with scones and crumpets and clotted cream were enough to get us through the dreary Mumbai monsoons. I was introduced to the world of P. G. Wodehouse when I was in eighth grade, and these books completely took over my every waking moment. I devoured every Wodehouse book I could get my hands on, including many from the Bertie and Jeeves series. Most of Wodehouse's work is set around or before World War I, and portrays a deeply class-based British society. In Jeeves and Wooster's world, the worst that can happen is Wooster getting himself into a comedy of errors with a person of the opposite sex. There is no war. No unhappiness permeates this idyllic landscape. 

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Tim Winton: Australia's Living Treasure

In addition to reviewing books, BookBrowse goes "beyond the book" to explore interesting aspects relating to each book we feature. Here is a "Beyond the Book" feature for Tim Winton's Eyrie:

Tim WintonTim Winton, the author of Eyrie, is that rare thing: a literary best-selling writer. While most American readers might still be getting to know this prolific author, he is as close to a national monument as person can get in his native Australia. 

Born in 1960, Winton started work on his first novel at the age of just 19 when he was enrolled in a creative writing course at Curtin University in Perth. That first work, the novel Open Swimmer, went on to win theVogel Australian National Literary Award. Since then, Winton has written dozens of books: novels, short-story collections and books for children. His work has received close to two-dozen awards including the prestigious Miles Franklin award. Two novels, Dirt Music andThe Riders have been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize. 

Despite his early literary acclaim, Winton and his family had many financial struggles; his wife, Denise, had to plead for a $150 bank loan to buy food and presents one Christmas. It wasn't until 1991, with the publication of Cloudstreet, that Winton began to enjoy commercial success. 

High Street in FremantleAustralia, with its wide open spaces, is a vibrant part of Winton's stories. He lives in a small town a few hours' drive from Perth in Western Australia and is fiercely protective about his privacy: "It's just a little cray-fishing town in the central west. There's nothing there, just 600 people and 450 dogs," Winton says about his home town. "It's that small that there'd be nowhere to hide once people knew. And it's great, because no one gives a toss who I am up there; I go surfing with people who don't read my books and couldn't give a rat's." 

In 2013, when a rise in water temperatures lead to a massive die-off of the local abalone population, Winton saw it as cause to write a play, Signs of Life, that addresses environmental issues. In Eyrie, the protagonist, Tom Keely, is a disillusioned environmentalist, leading some to wonder if he isn't modeled, in part, after Winton himself. 

Ningaloo ReefIn 1993, Winton set up the Tim Winton Award for Young Writers to encourage writing in kids aged five to 18 in Western Australia. It is hosted by the city of Subaico, and 2014 marks the 22nd year of the award. Active in the environmental movement in Australia, Winton has been named a Living Treasure by the National Trust, and awarded the Centenary Medal for service to literature and the community. Perhaps he truly is a national monument. 


Bibliography 

2014 Eyrie
2013 Shrine play 
2012 Signs of Life, play 
2011 Rising water 2008 Breath
2006 Small Mercies, novella
2005 The Turning
2001 Dirt Music
1999 Down to Earth, with photography by Richard Woldendorp
1998 The Deep (Children's)
1998 Lockie Leonard, Legend, (Children's)
1998 Blueback
1995 The Riders
1995 The Collected Shorter Novels of Tim Winton
1995 Lockie Leonard (Children's)
1994 Local Colour, photography and text by Bill Bachman; additional text by Tim Winton
1993 Land's Edge
1993 Blood and Water: Stories
1992 Lockie Leonard, Human Torpedo
1991 The Bugalugs Bum Thief (Children's)
1991 Cloudstreet
1988 Jesse
1988 In the Winter Dark
1987 Scission and Other Stories
1986 That Eye, the Sky
1986 Shallows
1985 A Blow, A Kiss
1985 Minimum of Two
1982 An Open Swimmer




Photograph of Tim Winton, courtesy of Penguin Books Australia
High Street, in Fremantle, the town in which Eyrie takes place, courtesy of Mitch Ames.
Ningaloo Reef. In 2003, Winton was awarded the inaugural Australian Society of Authors (ASA) Medal for his work in the campaign to save the Ningaloo Reef. Image courtesy of womangoingplaces.com.au

Best Books About Multi-Generational Families

In addition to reviewing books, BookBrowse goes "beyond the book" to explore interesting aspects relating to each book we feature. Here is a "Beyond the Book" feature for The Blessings by Elise Juska...

The Blessings is a novel, but it's also a portrait —an ensemble in which assorted members of three generations reveal various complexities and challenges. Here is a handful of other books that also offer multi-generational stories about family.

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Was a memorial  for a playwright the seed of the French Revolution over 100 years later?

Sandra Gulland on 17th-century French theater, and a moving people's protest against authority.



Five years ago I went to Paris to research the life of Mademoiselle Claude des Oeillets. It was going to be a challenge, I knew. Claude--or Claudette, as I think of her--was a two-bit-player-turned-lady's maid, and she had lived over 250 years ago. As it is, there is often little in the historical records about the serving classes.

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Someone by Alice McDermott
Belle Cora