Archive for Phyl

Subtle Hints of How Writers View the Genders

Below is a fascinating article about statistical analysis showing differences in how female and male writers describe either their own or the opposite gender. (*)

Men Shout, and Women Scream—at Least in Fiction

The writer, Ben Blatt, analyzed twentieth-century writing within three categories–classics, best-sellers, and literary award-winners–and looked for patterns in the descriptions. He learned some interesting things. And as an avid reader (and a writer too), I had to laugh–nay, chuckle–kind of wryly–at some of those patterns.

For example, Blatt found that men are said to “mutter” much more often than women, while women, conversely, “murmur” more often than men. And that does sound familiar. I started trying to think about why that sounds, on first glance, kind of natural to me. I know that I have men “murmuring” in my stories, but I think it happens mostly when they are trying to be reassuring or comforting. On the other hand, to me at least, “muttering” suggests an element of grumbling or complaining that “murmuring” does not suggest. Maybe the idea of “murmuring” suggests more caring, which we–or I?–ascribe more to women than men? While a hint of complaint in “muttering” seems more natural to men?

This is something I’ll need to watch more carefully. And I know I’ll always be watching for these words, now, when I read other people’s writing too.

Another thing that made me wryly chuckle (something, apparently, that men do more than women, if you go by their writings) was that male writers seem to write women as interrupting someone far more often than men do, while women write both genders as equal-opportunity interrupters. This, on the part of the male writers, may be a case of projection. It’s been proven more than a few times (see, for example, linguistic researcher Deborah Tannen’s work) that men tend to interrupt (and, mostly interrupt women) far more often than the reverse. Yet the myth persists in society that women do the interrupting. That just is not the case. So that finding kind of got my feminist hackles up.

The article is an interesting read. And it’s also going to be interesting, from now on, to read books and stories with these patterns in mind. I will also need to check my own writing more carefully, I think, to make sure it’s not perpetuating subtle gender biases.

(* This does not include transgendered or nonbinary writers. I imagine that the analyst did not think of further classifying the genders; there could also be issues of finding classics or best-sellers for these categories, and maybe even literary award-winners. But it would be even more fascinating to learn what patterns might [or might not] be revealed for these writers too.)

Fraternité: A Vivid Snapshot of France’s Revolutionary History

A photo of the cover of the book, FraternitéSome books simply take you there. The minute you start reading, you’re not reading the story—you’re living it. And Fraternité, by Margaret Pritchard Houston, is exactly like that. Through several characters whose loves, griefs, and aspirations come alive before and within you, you are transported to Paris in 1848 and find yourself breathlessly experiencing the beginnings of the revolution that essentially brought to completion the earlier French Revolution of 1789-99 once and for all.

Sebastian Duval, the main character, doesn’t sense how momentous those beginnings are at first. While it’s true that he has been sent by the police to infiltrate the district of Saint-Antoine and report on any anti-government rumblings there, he gets more caught up in investigating the murder of a prostitute who has been one of his primary informants. But before long, his discoveries begin to alarm Allard, his superior officer, who recognizes their dangerous implications for the restored monarchy well before Sebastian does.

Sebastian, meanwhile, still struggling with the deep grief from losing his child two years ago, which has led to a partial estrangement from his wife Marie, finds that he must call upon the aid of an old friend and fellow undercover agent, Gilbert Montserrat, who was also deeply involved in that earlier loss. Soon these three—Sebastian, Marie, and Gilbert—gradually uncover the mystery behind the prostitute’s murder and her connection to secrets that could threaten the very future of France. And throughout his investigations, Sebastian finds himself emotionally torn: torn between duty and friendship, torn between guilt and desire, and torn between loves. As the final revolution gathers momentum and becomes inevitable, Sebastian works frantically to salvage and protect whoever he can and survive to fashion a new future with a deeper understanding of his own heart and the new world that his struggles have helped to create.

When it comes to this history, Ms. Pritchard Houston really knows her stuff. Between her knowledge of the underpinnings of the revolution and her extensive research into the layout of Paris and the living conditions of its downtrodden citizenry, she makes you feel as though you are right there in the midst of things as they happen. Yet it’s not just a matter of knowing the facts; those alone could be dry as dust. It takes great insight into the human character, a delicate and precise level of control and plotting, and, quite simply, terrific writing skills to bring characters and the events in their lives so vividly alive. Ms. Houston has all of that, in spades.

I really loved this book and read huge swaths without being able to put it down. I highly recommend it, both for the fascinating history it chronicles and for the poignantly real story of some of the people who lived that history.

One Way Trip: A Universal Story on any Planet

One Way TripImagine blasting off on a trip to Mars—one of the first two humans to set up a colony there, unable ever to return to Earth—and suddenly you realize that you actually yearn to go back home after all. In his short novel, One Way Trip, Stephen M. Braund follows Martin, a young astronaut, on exactly this journey, with all its implications. This bittersweet story of love and loss takes the reader back and forth between Martin’s childhood, where he meets Gwen, his true love and the one who inspired his love of the stars, and his adulthood, where he has lost Gwen forever and must aim for the stars without her. It’s hard for the reader to imagine that Martin can forge a new life successfully, yet Braund makes us care about him and root for him to succeed.

Neither of the two courageous men who will establish this Mars colony are emotionally whole, despite how level-headed and firm in their commitment they seem at first. It’s as though both Martin and his companion, Jomo, with tragedies and serious losses in their past, must lose even the very planet that shaped them before they can truly face up to and deal with the lives they lived there. Talk about needing to get perspective!

Braund carefully but convincingly reveals the details of both Martin’s and Gwen’s lives as we gradually come to understand what led both of them to the places they now occupy, one on Mars and one on Earth. And as more of the truth comes out, it’s disconcerting to discover that Martin is perhaps more to blame for this vast gap between them than he appeared at first; we don’t want to think that this isolation, loneliness, and loss might in any way be something he “deserves.”

But as the story moves through the years, where Martin and Jomo have gradually been joined by other scientists and have worked through the beginnings of a colony that slowly starts to thrive, we begin to sense that the griefs of the past may finally have settled into a sense of peace. And in the end, this very long journey of loss may result in unexpected fulfillment.

The only extra insight I would have wanted from this book would have involved some details about the colony itself—how it really worked and how the people created a viable place to live on another planet. But of course, that’s mainly because I love the stars and the thought of venturing out into them as much as Martin and Gwen do.

But Braund is primarily interested in the very human story and the motivations behind this launching into the astronomical unknown. He captures the depths of Martin’s and Gwen’s (and even Jomo’s) emotional work in a surprisingly deep and insightful way, considering that this is not a long book. He literally demonstrates that there is no place distant enough to allow anyone to flee the inner work they must do in order to heal; their past will always follow them, wherever they go.

This is a story that is as moving and insightful on Mars as it has ever been on Earth.

When they say “book bags,” they really mean it

If you’re looking for a nice satchel that has a “bookish” feel to it, check out the offerings from the Etsy site, Krukrustudio. These satchels are fitted with covers that look much like the covers of many people’s favorite books or at least of some general book by certain favorite authors. For example, Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice:

Satchel with a cover designed to look like a Jane Austen book,

Jane Austen satchel

This Austen is leather, while a second one is felt, and Agatha Christie also gets into the collection twice, once with the leather And Then There Were None and again with the felt Poirot. And the range is quite extensive, both chronologically and in genre. You can go all the way back to the Iliad

A leather satchel whose cover looks like the cover of the

Homer’s Iliad

…or you can come up to Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone or Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World. There is one for Grimm’s Fairy Tales, or you can go with Pasternak, Pushkin, or Chekov. The creators and sellers are in Moscow, after all. This is probably one of the reasons why these satchels cost what they do–in addition to the labor involved and the materials.

But if you want to get something that will support your book addiction and also be useful, you may not be able to resist one of these. Especially since they take orders for other books if you prefer something else. I know I’m tempted!

Satchel with a cover based on the Russian author, Chekov.

Chekov

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