Bookish Headlines #3

It’s time for another round of bookish headlines, wherein I gather stories about bookish topics and arrange them for you in no particular order. I have a habit of scrolling through the news when things are slow at work, so I may as well put my boredom to good use and share what I find, right?


Though people tell me I have lovely handwriting, I’m always looking to improve it. This article from The Art of Manliness discusses the history of cursive writing and penmanship and why it is important, especially in an era of smartphones and keyboards. They have an interview with Master Penman Michael Sull, whose passion for pens shines through in his discussion of handwriting and the different styles that have been in use in the United States.


As a frequent library patron and buyer of used books, I’ve found some interesting things inside books. A $15 Starbucks gift card was the most fun, but other little notes and newspaper articles come to mind. The things I’ve found, though, are nothing compared to the oddities Stern has found in her history of used book buying.


book shelves book stack bookcase books

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Though many prisons do not offer liberal arts classes to inmates, teaching them literature, mathematics, and other subjects greatly decreases recidivism, in addition to teaching them useful skills like empathy. In this article, Looser describes how teaching the works of Jane Austen to male sex offenders taught these non-traditional students about women’s issues and the general powerlessness of women throughout history. It opened many of their eyes to a world many of them had never considered and has made many of these inmates think more deeply about women’s rights and their own relationships with female family members.


Charlotte Brontë has caught a lot of flack from readers in the 172 years since Jane Eyre was published in 1847. It’s been accused of being obscene, anti-Christian, not dealing with notions of colonialism or slavery, as well as being attacked by female critics both in the Victorian era and now- often for opposing reasons. But Charlotte Brontë never meant for her heroine to find love easily, nor did she intend to make love into an easy and safe thing. Jane refused to give in to men who saw her as less than a person, preferring self-respect to an unequal and unappreciated position as ‘wife’. That is one of the reasons that Jane Eyre has endured for nearly two centuries, and I have a feeling that Jane will continue to be unensnared by our preconceptions for as long as books endure.


With Denis Villeneuve’s film version of Dune on the horizon, it’s a good time to reconsider the various aspects of this science fiction classic. While there are many, many incredible themes and storylines in the book, it is certainly a product of its time with its approach to women and homosexual characters, among other things. In this article, Asher-Perrin considers the idea of Dune as a white savior narrative, and how it could appear to be one, both, or neither, depending upon the context. With their usual insight into SFF narratives, Asher-Perrin discusses how we can love books while still acknowledging their questionable aspects.


During a book tour stop in London, Roxane Gay discusses how a childhood sexual assault shaped her life, and how public perception of her body has affected her mental health and her work. She also talks about how books can be used to fight racism, the importance of reading widely, and why she is opposed to the notion of ‘identity politics’. “It’s used like a weapon,” Gay says, “What it means is, ‘I don’t want to think about your concerns. I don’t want to have to extend my empathy.'” She would rather have people accept complication and the nuances of individual people.


Yet another YA book written by a minority has been pulled due to Twitter and Goodreads outrage. Kosoko Jackson’s debut, A Place for Wolves was due out in about a month, but because a few people on Goodreads and Twitter write some hyperbolic reviews and whistled up a mob, Jackson has pulled his book, and it’s not certain it will ever be published. It’s yet another example of the YA book community tearing itself apart because a few people decided they didn’t like what they read. There is a bit of a twist in the story, though, as Jackson himself, a black gay man, had criticized other writers for writing stories dealing with minorities they were not a part of– in one case, he said women should not be able to profit from telling stories about homosexual men. But now the tables have turned on him, because a community that polices itself via call-outs, pile-ons, and mob mentality does not hesitate to turn on its own.

In her article, Graham also raises the issue of adults who read and police YA being part of the problem. Many, many adults read little but YA and some find it necessary to ‘protect’ teens from difficult subjects, though many teenagers do not wish to be protected. There is a question about whether or not these call-outs stem from young readers, or from older ones seeking to keep difficult or challenging subjects away from teenagers. If this is a case, it does a terrible disservice to teenagers, many of whom already face harder issues than those that are raised in the books adults are trying to police.

It’s hard to say if this controversy, like the one that caused Amelie Wen Zhao to cancel her own book, will ruin Jackson’s career. Books take a long time to write and bring to publication. I don’t see how an author can cancel such a time-intensive process and recover overnight, but I hope that Zhao and Jackson find some way to build a career after all of this because neither deserved the abuse they’ve received. If we, as a book community, wish to have more diverse voices, then we must be more open to the broad range of human experience and accept that authors are not required to tell us the stories that we wish to see, only the stories they have a desire to tell.


11 thoughts on “Bookish Headlines #3

  1. I’ve read a lot about improving handwriting lately. Funny that that has become a hot topic. And I much read that Jane Austen thing when I can absorb it…..

  2. I love this post, so many interesting bookish articles! I’ve found a lot of weird stuff in used books too, it’s one of my favorite things about buying books secondhand.

  3. The Jane Austen article was interesting as I have usually seen Shakespeare taught in prisons, not Austen (as the article itself mentions). How wonderful it would be to see programs like this expanded!

  4. I wish they would be expanded, too, as so many studies have shown that it helps the people in prison to not commit more crimes. Education is always worth the investment, no matter who is getting the education!

    I read ‘Shakespeare Saved My Life’ by Laura Bates a year or two ago. It’s about Bates’s experience teaching Shakespeare to men facing life imprisonment for murder, what she taught them, and what she learned from them. It was a pretty interesting story.

  5. That article about handwriting was excellent. I love writing things down by hand and I have always valued good penmanship. I learned that valuable lesson from my grade school teacher who would make me write things again until they were nicely written and legible. It sort of backfired because then that became something very important so I would take so long I’d miss recess. Eventually I learned how to do both.

    I’m a stickler for good penmanship, I will have my nieces and nephews redo homework if it’s poorly written

  6. My elementary school teachers placed an emphasis on neat writing, too, and even into sixth and seventh grade our teachers were sticklers for legible handwriting. One good thing about growing up before home computers were everywhere!

  7. Yes! Sometimes I think it’s truly scandalous that we haven’t had prison reform yet. But I don’t think it’s an issue that decides elections, so officials probably feel free to ignore it.

    That does sound like a good book!

  8. A lot of officials think that educating prisoners is somehow a luxury they shouldn’t be afforded, in spite of the evidence of it’s benefits. But it doesn’t play well in the press to see prisoners with anything but bread and water and plain white walls, so education is sadly lacking in most prisons.

    It’s an eye-opening book, for sure! It’s definitely worth looking into.

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