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Farewell to the Toast, and more book news

The Toast's demise has broken all our hearts.
The Toast's demise has broken all our hearts.
J. Longo

Happy Saturday! You spent the week working; now it's time to rest and catch up on the book news you missed. Here is the best the web has to offer on books and related news for the week of May 9, 2016.

  • The Toast announced on Friday that it will be shutting its doors on July 1, so let’s take a minute to remember some of their incredible book coverage, shall we? I can’t say enough good things about the How To Tell If You’re in a Novel series. We also can’t forget the Ayn Rand Rewrites series, or the immortal Texts From series (now also in handy book form!). Enormous thanks to Mallory Ortberg, Nicole Cliffe, Nicole Chung, and everyone else involved in the site for creating one of the weirdest and most wonderful places on the internet, and for publishing writing like this:

How To Tell If You Are In A Jane Austen Novel:

Everyone in the neighborhood, including your mother, has ranked you and your sisters in order of hotness. You know exactly where you fall on the list.

You say something arch yet generous about another woman both younger and richer than you.

You have one friend; he is thirty years old and does business with your father and you are going to marry him someday.

You attempt to befriend someone slightly above or slightly below your social station and are soundly punished for it.

In 2004, I became Books Editor for AOL. I thought I’d been hired as an editor to create and showcase writing about books, but one of my first telephone calls disabused me of that quaint notion. It was a marketing director from one of the big publishing houses informing me that I’d be running a feature on one of their titles, written by a media éminence grise—who happened to be pals with the owner of the big-box bookstore that sponsored my "channel."

As politely as I could, I told this woman that I would be happy to take a look at the book and consider coverage, but no promises.

"You don’t understand, Bethanne," she replied. "I’m not asking you to consider it. I’m telling you that you’ll be featuring it. That’s how this works. We tell you what we want to promote, and AOL gives it a spot."

The year we killed our teacher we were ten, going on eleven. Mitch went first, the terrier, a snappy article with a topknot tied with a tartan ribbon. The morning we saw him we hooted. He didn’t like us laughing and he flew to the end of his lead, and reared up snarling and drooling. ‘Hark at the rat,’ we said.

Rose Cullan said: ‘Hark at Lucifer.’ He twisted, he screamed, his claws lashed out. The devil has several names and Lucifer is one.

Being a "live-aloner" had its perks: namely, total freedom. Without a man of the house to serve, a woman could tend to herself, breakfasting in bed, basking in her nightly beauty ritual, and best of all, she could have her own bathroom, "unquestionably one of Life’s Great Blessings," Hillis wrote. Like a witty, worldly aunt, Hillis doled out bon mots on other subjects like decorating a modern apartment for one, mixing a classic Manhattan, and the importance of having a chic bedroom wardrobe. "We can think of nothing more depressing than going to bed in a washed-out four-year-old nightgown," she noted, "nothing more bolstering to the morale than going to bed all fragrant with toilet-water and wearing a luscious pink satin nightgown, well-cut and trailing."

In my copy of Rich’s essay "When We Dead Awaken," the faded yellow highlighter still remains recognizable on pages after more than thirty years: "Both the victimization and the anger experienced by women are real, and have real sources, everywhere in the environment, built into society, language, the structures of thought." As a nineteen-year-old, I read in Rich and Baldwin a twinned dissatisfaction with systems invested in a single, dominant, oppressive narrative. My initial understanding of feminism and racism came from these two writers in the same weeks and months.

  • It’s been a good week for talking about translation! The LARB talked to Lydia Davis, best known for her translations of Madame Bovary and Swann’s Way, about her process…

I love the English language. I know some people go into translating because they love foreign languages, but I love English above all, and I enjoy translating these foreign texts into my beloved English. I enjoy that aspect of translation — that it is a form of writing that doesn’t involve the invention of the piece of writing.

  • …and Diana Clarke wrote against neutrality in translation:

I admit that part of my need to trouble the normalization of translation from Yiddish is because I feel like an impostor in a language I wish I had elsewise acquired, or been born to. That I make this choice as a translator and writer, but the academic in me is squeamish. And that it might be problematic for me to demand politics from Yiddish when it’s also just a factual language in which people live their lives, and one too often turned into a cheap joke—but everything is political. Switzerland’s neutrality has always been anything but.

Should you become a writer, brace yourself for the analphabetic rantings of the anonymous, the frivolous, the platitudinous and crapulous. Prepare for a cataract of derision and self-righteousness should you dare pen anything perceived as too left or too right, as too pious or too profane, as possibly ageist or racist, sexist or classist, each "ist" word shot like a silver bullet intended first to take you down and then to wake you from your own beastliness. Of course it doesn’t matter whether you are any of those things, or even if your record or your prose indicates the opposite—only that you are perceived as such.

Happy reading!