Sunday, March 18, 2012

Five articles worth reading this week

1. This great article that talks about the neurological effects of reading. If you're a brain science nerd like I am (for me it boils down to a fascination with understanding the things that make us human), or simply someone who likes when reading/storytelling make news, you'll probably appreciate this, too.
        Sample: "A psychologist...concluded that there was substantial overlap in the brain networks used to understand stories and the networks used to navigate interactions with other individuals — in particular, interactions in which we’re trying to figure out the thoughts and feelings of others. Scientists call this capacity of the brain to construct a map of other people’s intentions “theory of mind.” Narratives offer a unique opportunity to engage this capacity, as we identify with characters’ longings and frustrations, guess at their hidden motives and track their encounters with friends and enemies, neighbors and lovers." 

2. The text of a commencement speech given to West Point grads three years ago. It's long, but offers a really compelling definition of leadership by way of also discussing the critical roles of vision, solitude, courage, introspection, literature, and friendship.
        Sample (which isn't talking about writing fiction, but oh, how it could be!): "I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom. It’s only by concentrating, sticking to the question, being patient, letting all the parts of my mind come into play, that I arrive at an original idea. By giving my brain a chance to make associations, draw connections, take me by surprise. And often even that idea doesn’t turn out to be very good. I need time to think about it, too, to make mistakes and recognize them, to make false starts and correct them, to outlast my impulses, to defeat my desire to declare the job done and move on to the next thing."

3. A legendary magician offers his career secrets via an email exchange with a young admirer. I want to quote like six different passages from this, so really, you should just go read it, even though it, too, is lengthy. It's not about writing, but it IS about the creative life and I suspect you'll see the links just as I do. After all, making magic and making stories have a lot in common.... 
        Sample: "Surprise me. That's it. Place 2 and 2 right in front of my nose, but make me think I'm seeing 5. Then reveal the truth, 4!, and surprise me. Now, don't underestimate me, like the rest of the magicians of the world. Don't fool yourself into thinking that I've never seen a set of linking rings before and I'll be oh-so-stunned because you can "link" them. Bullshit. Here's how surprise works. While holding my attention, you withold basic plot information. Feed it to me little by little.  Make me try and figure out what's going on.  Tease me in one direction. Throw in a false ending.  Then turn it around and flip me over."

(Aside: like many of my best internet discoveries, items #3 and #4 on this list came to my attention via my pal @brainpicker. If you're not following her or reading her blog, you should be, as she is a constant treasure-trove of interestingness and inspiration.)

4. I don't always agree with Laura Miller's articles about publishing, but this look inside publishing the juggernaut otherwise known as The Hunger Games is one of the best journalistic looks I've seen at the strategic, carefully-layered work it takes to build success in the kids' book world. Even more importantly, it emphasizes what I tend to think is and always will be the most important truth of the industry, no matter how it morphs: the children's book world is a business built on personal relationships.
        Sample:  "It’s hard to imagine the first book in any adult series being greeted with a comparable level of grass-roots hoopla: buzzed, booktalked and big-mouthed for months before it appeared on any bookstore display table . . . "We got it in the hands of the right people. That’s what publishers do,” van Straaten said. "You’re leveraging one thing to build the next thing. You need the enthusiasm internally to convince that first layer of gatekeepers. Once you have the kudos of those people, you can get these people, and so on.'"

5. Um, actually, my list only goes up to number four today. So you tell me: what article did you find recently that others should read? Leave links in the comments, and thanks!


  1. Thank you for leading me to the article, “Your Brain on Fiction”. Last evening I returned from a 4-day Speech & Language conference and this article was a great topper for what I found most appealing in the workshops – ideas for using literature to address language delays in children & using “social stories” to encourage new behaviors with autistic students.

    The article stated, “Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.” No wonder social stories are helping our kids!

    Once again, I thank you. I love stories and now I have additional rationale to read them, write them, and use them with my students.

  2. The fourth artcile is interesting, but more for the poeple in the industry like editors and publishers wishing to learn how to mass market YA novels. For authors wishing to learn how to write a YA best seller, it's nice to google for "Spurred by Sucess, Publishers look for the next 'Hunger Games'" by Lynn Neary. (don't know how to paste the link). I guess the Holy Grail is a YA novel with elemnets from Harry Potter, Twilight and Hunger Games. Mine has only the first two. Thanks, Molly, for the interesting blog.