Critical Linking: July 19, 2014

Lee is right that in another era, Mockingbird could’ve been relegated to the YA corner. There, it would surely have found an audience of children, learning its difficult lessons at a young age. That’s a good thing, but I’m not sure whether the story would’ve had the same impact on the country’s psyche and evolution. The gives and takes of genre classification mean something when it comes to which audience you’ll reach, and what that audience thinks about your work. America got a gift with Mockingbird, and we were equally lucky that it was sold to us as not only a book for kids, but as a book every American must read.

An interesting piece on whether it even matters how To Kill A Mockingbird would be marketed and sold were it a book published today.

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The reclusive author announced on her 88th birthday that she would allow the release of the e-book version of her beloved Southern novel, read by generations of schoolchildren.

“I’m still old-fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries,” Lee said in a statement released in April. “This is Mockingbird for a new generation.”

Speaking of To Kill A Mockingbird, it’s selling very well as an ebook this week.

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When I looked into the possible reasons for the error, I came to understand that the person who wrote the bio wasn’t misinformed or making stuff up, but rather took “novelist” to mean the same as “author,” or, more specifically, “writer of books.” A light bulb went off. I teach mostly writing and journalism workshops, but every once in a while, in class discussions or writing assignments, students will have reason to refer to particular nonfiction books, and on numerous occasions they have referred to them as “novels.”

How often do people use the word “novel” to mean any book?

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The Internet is off limits to prisoners, and the books were sometimes difficult to get. Genis’s father brought armfuls when he visited; some were ordered from print catalogues or interlibrary loan; others came from prison libraries, which Genis describes as typically “about fifteen thousand titles, heavy on James Patterson.” Scouring their superannuated collections allowed Genis to cultivate a penchant for authors rarely read today, and he whiled away weeks on Casanova, Jeremy Bentham, “The Prisoner of Zenda,” and the entire oeuvre of Richard Francis Burton, who translated “A Thousand and One Nights” and snuck into Mecca in disguise. “Prison allowed me to do that,” Genis said, sounding almost nostalgic.

Here’s a (partial) look at what one prisoner read while he was behind bars.

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