Tag Archives: reading

Strategic Pseudonyms: An Overview of Women Authors

I had written this post in March, because March was not only reading month, but it was also women’s history month. Unfortunately that didn’t work out. Rather than scrapping this, I realized that confining conversations about women’s history to one month is ludicrous. I’m not interested in relegating women’s voices to one month, especially in context of this post, which talks about one aspect of the road female authors have had to trek: adopting male, and more recently, ambiguous pen names in order to legitimize or ensure success for their works.

bronte_sistersIt won’t come as a surprise to many that female authors have historically had to navigate sexism and prejudice in order to publish; upon submitting poetry for publication, Charlotte Bronte was advised that women had no place in literature. In their time all three Bronte sisters (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne) published under male pen names (Currer, Acton, and Ellis; I’ll refrain from commenting on name choice there).

Other well known authors of yore you might know under male pen names: author of Middlemarch, Mary Ann Evans, who published as George Eliot; George Sand, known for writing Valentine and Indiana, was in fact Amantine Lucile Aurore Dudevant. And while Louisa May Alcott did publish Little Women under her own name, some of her early publications were written under the pen name A.M. Barnard.

Post 19th Century a variation on this trend emerged with female authors adopting ambiguous pen names using initials or androgynous names. A great example of this is Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, whose name is Nelle Harper Lee. Another would be Pamela Lyndon Travers, who published Mary Poppins as P.L. Travers.

jd_robbThis is a trend we still see today. J.K. Rowling has published both under a male pen name (Robert Galbriath, crime novel The Cuckoo’s Calling), and was asked to publish the Harry Potter series as J.K. rather than Joanne after being advised that using initials would help attract male readership. Prolific romance author Nora Roberts has been publishing her crime series, the In Death books (there are currently 50, which she’s been publishing since 1995), under the pseudonym J.D. Robb. Even 50 Shades of Grey author, Erika Leonard, did this (E.L. James)

These are only a few examples of women who have struggled to have their voices heard as a result of their sex. Looking back historically, this might not come as a shock. From this vantage a history of sexism is clearer–hindsight and all of that. What is more troubling to me is the current trend in the publishing industry of removing gender from particular genres under the idea that attaching a female name will detract from readership, particularly those targeted at male audiences, such as crime novels.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear takes on Marxism

As Banned Books week comes to a close, we decided to highlight one of the most surprising books on the listBrown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle and Bill Martin.

Yes, the delightful and beautifully drawn children’s book from our childhood made the list following one of the most spectacular Google fails in history. Bill Martin happens to share his name with a little known Marxist Theorist. Instead of fully researching if Bill Martin, the children’s author, is one and the same with Bill Martin, the Marxist Theorist, a superintendent decided that immediate action must be taken to protect his school’s youth, and banned the book outright.

In the hope of trying to make the superintendent and school district feel better for having banned Brown Bear, Brown Bear, we decided to put on our Marxist goggles and read through the book to find all of the hidden Marxist propaganda. Are you ready Comrades?

To start with, the entire book displays not only a diverse group of multicolored animals, but also a culturally diverse classroom full of children. This portrays the theory that Marxism is about including everyone and making them equal. Each animal doesn’t see another of its own kind, but rather acknowledges and accepts an entirely different species. The students themselves are all equally learning regardless of culture or race. They have become one and the same, participating within their teacher’s class.

The teacher within the book has a secret secondary purpose as well. If you read through the book, you may wonder why there are no parents present. Not for the adorable purple cat, or cute yellow duck, and none for the children at the end. This in fact is trying to slowly acclimate its readers to the idea of losing the family unit. As families are simply a byproduct of the capitalist and bourgeois way of life, Marxists support the dissolution of the concept of families. Instead, children become the entire community’s responsibility, and schools become their home. The teacher is tasked with molding these young minds with only the approved curriculum of the Marxist state. This ensures that outdated thoughts on religion and family are eradicated.

So as you can see, Brown Bear, Brown Bear is full of propaganda hiding under the mask of an innocent children’s book. Of course, it could also be that the author was trying to teach children colors and animals through repetition and artistic pictures. Whatever floats your literary boat, at least we can say that we have been reading banned books since childhood, which is a great conversation starter. So check out a list of banned books, read a few, and get ready for next year!

The Complicated Story with Sequels

With sequels, you either love them or hate them. It’s always scary when it comes to making the decision of writing a sequel for a book, movie, or game. There’s a lot of pressure to make the sequel as good as or better than the first. It’s not always successful. Sometimes it flops completely, other times the hype is good but the delivery is awful, and occasionally it comes out perfect. This doesn’t just apply to sequels, but to all games in a series because the pressure keeps building up either for redemption or continual success. Two great book series to talk about sequel success are the Hazelwood High series by Sharon Draper and the Princess series by Jim C. Hines (who is a resident writer). Both of these series are at a young adult reading level, but are definitely great reads for anyone.

The series by Draper starts with the first book Tears of a Tiger which focuses on the life and reaction of a high school basketball player after his best friend is killed in a car accident. While reading this book, you feel what he feels. Everything is from his point of view, so you hear the thoughts that linger in his head, you feel the anxiety and guilt growing in his heart, and you feel the genuine pain from the loss. This book works in every way to bring the reader into the story and connect them with him. Forged by Fire, the second book in the series, is from the point of view of one of the main characters’ best friends from the first book. It is a completely different story line but the enticing works just the same. In this book, you get the home life of this character and his little sister. You also get to see the other things he’s dealing with at the same time as trying to balance school and be a protector for his sister. This book, and the third one in the series Darkness Before Dawn, live up to the greatness that the first book creates. In a way, they build upon one another and you can’t have the full story without the second and third books. This helped prepare the success of the series.

tiger fire dawn

The series by Hines is one of my favorites simply because he breaks and recreates the traditional princess story that Disney creates. He breaks cliches and brings the story of the princesses back to the original fairy tale story that was written. In the first book, The Stepsister Scheme, the author has to build up the knowledge of his readers, so there is a lot more history that has to be explained. Not only is he having to redefine the history that people know about these princesses, but as well as set up his own story line as well. For these reasons, this book is critiqued as being slow and not as “good” as the sequel. In some ways, this prepared the sequel for success. However, for me, I always love the books with back story, it helps me grasp a well rounded history of what I’m reading. The sequel had more action and “drama” so to speak, and was received better than the first. In this case, the sequel built on the foundation of the first book and excelled past it. Continue reading

Currently Reading: When the Emperor was Divine, by Julie Otsuka

book cover for When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka - origami bird Situated in 1942, this short novel pulls the reader into the unfortunate situation of Japanese American internment during the second World War. However, if you’re expecting a run-of-the-mill historical fiction, you’ll be disappointed. Julie Otsuka walks a fine line between the fiction novel and the creative nonfiction gray area of the lyrical essay, pulling you into the turmoil while maintaining factual accuracy and a poetic style. Instead of simply reading about a character’s experiences, you are pulled into the lives of each of the main characters as they pass around the narration, nameless yet identifiable. Yes, that’s right—nameless.

The book concentrates on the experiences of what seems to be one family, though these characters are written entirely without names or identification. In this way, Otsuka makes the reader take a step back—this isn’t only one family, this is the story of many families that were uprooted and torn apart during this period of Japanese American internment and discrimination. While the story is being told emotions are, for the most part, absent. Each character’s narration seems to be somewhat detached from any expected emotional response. This gives the reader the power to infer the emotional state of the characters on their own, identify with them more closely, and draw conclusions about the internalization and repression of the characters as a result of their experiences.

All that technical, literary analysis mumbo jumbo is all well and good and yes, if you’re studying World War II, Japanese American culture, racial discrimination, emotional trauma, or any number of other things, I do recommend that you add this book to your reading list, but in addition to all of that—it is a beautiful and inspiring piece of writing to read. It is poetic and moving and had me hooked from start to finish. If it hadn’t been for class, work, and the desire to get at least a few hours of sleep, I likely would have finished the whole book in one sitting (fortunately, two did the trick).

Reading this book made me consider my own writing: What does anonymity do to the message of a story? What does a fixed, singular narrator bring to a text? How can I use anonymity, identification, and multiple narrators to tell a story? I highly recommend reading this book for the sake of reading a well-written historical novel, but as you read, consider how you can apply some of Julie Otsuka’s artistic choices to your own writing.

20th Anniversary Authors’ Reading – September 20th @ 6:30pm

The Writing Center and Red Cedar Writing Project are celebrating 20 years at Michigan State. To commemorate this milestone we’ve partnered together to bring a group of talented local authors to share their writing with the MSU community.

Join us Thursday, September 20th at 6:30 pm in The Writing Center at 300 Bessey Hall for an evening of listening and celebration. Hors d’oeuvres and refreshments will be provided. We encourage you to bring friends and family!

Writer Bios

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