clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The week in books: novel-writing robots, James Patterson’s plan to save publishing, and more

Author James Patterson speaks at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center on May 25, 2011, in New York City.
Author James Patterson speaks at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center on May 25, 2011, in New York City.
Janette Pellegrini/Getty Images
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

You made it through another week! Go you! To get you through the weekend, here’s some of the best of the web on books and related topics for the week of March 21.

Every time someone comes out of the lift in the building where you work you wish lift doors were made of glass. That way you’d be able to see who’s arriving a little before they actually arrive and there’d be just enough time to prepare the correct facial expression. Your new colleague steps out of the lift dressed just a tad more casually than is really appropriate for the workplace and because you weren’t ready you say "Hi!" with altogether too much force.

  • Shirley Barrett, the author of Rush, Oh!, wrote a lovely essay on the pleasures of researching domestic fiction, with many intriguingly gruesome excerpts from 19th-century cookbooks:

It is a haphazardly assembled collection of frugal, unappealing recipes for things like giblet soup and stewed minced meat (its only seasoning? Worcestershire sauce) submitted by thrifty Presbyterian housewives. I was pleased to find this economical Madeira Cake recipe was supplied by a possible ancient relative of mine, a Mrs. Barrett. The interesting thing about Madeira cake is that it contains no Madeira. That is possibly the only interesting thing about Madeira cake—I’m not entirely sure it’s worth the effort, but up to you.

At one time or another, after all, different visions of the novel have vied for prominence: the idea of fiction as a kind of play, a pretend state that liberates our powers of invention; the appreciation of fiction’s role in releasing unexpressed agonies, allowing us a cathartic self-knowledge; the awareness of the thrill fiction offers of living in a space where assumed values are thrown into question. Fiction as play, as catharsis, as irony—these powerful accounts of what novels can do aren’t ruled out by faith in empathy, exactly, but they are eclipsed, implicitly demoted in importance. Could it be that fiction, whose signs of decline have us on edge, is in fact exhibiting unfamiliar new signs of life that confuse and unnerve us?

The boy grew up believing himself to be the true-born son of the royal pair, and all went well until one day a drunken reveller taunted him with being nothing of the sort. In order to learn the truth, the young prince consulted the famous oracle at Delphi, which, without giving him a definite answer to his question, told him that it was his destiny to shake hands with his father and have a really nice lunch with his mother.

  • Over at Tor, Kate Elliott has a great and comprehensive discussion of Writing Women Characters Into Epic Fantasy Without Quotas.
  • Will the Next J.K. Rowling Be a Robot? Probably not before said robot can write a novel on its own instead of with the assistance of a team of humans, but it’s worth clicking through just to read the first line of the aptly titled The Day a Computer Writes a Novel.
  • Cli-fi studies — the study of books about climate change — sounds intriguing and also like a good excuse to reread all of Margaret Atwood’s most recent novels.
  • It’s interesting that as TV embraces binge watching, books are going the opposite way: Publishing keeps trying to find ways to get readers short books that can be read in short sittings, just as TV is beginning to expect viewers to marathon episode after episode. I’m cautiously skeptical of James Patterson’s BookShots plan to make $5 novellas the new drugstore impulse buy, but let’s see how it goes.
  • Continuing the ongoing conversation about diversity in publishing, Brooke Warner has some advice about what white people can do to help.
  • At Book Riot, Trisha Browne discusses the feminist appeal of romance novels:

In a world where men direct the majority of movies, host the majority of late night shows, and win the majority of prestige book awards, romance is the only realm I can find that is entirely and unapologetically dominated by women.

  • This Guardian article on how the fiction/nonfiction divide is unique to the English-speaking world is utterly fascinating:

[Bosnian translator Irena Žlof] thinks the categorisation in English literature may have something do with religion. "My sense is that relating and evaluating a literary text in relation to its truthfulness has to have some kind of religious and moral, probably Protestant, possibly Puritan, roots," he says. "In that context the model for truth-telling is, of course, the Holy Book, while non-truth-telling books are always suspect, only permissible if morally rewarding."

Read and enjoy!