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Designing book covers in the age of Amazon, and more book news

books

It’s Memorial Day weekend! Summer is here at last. To usher you into the season, here is the internet’s best writing on books and related topics for the week of May 23, 2016.

  • Shaun Tan’s sculptural illustrations for the Brothers Grimm are stunning.
  • Mallory Ortberg is entirely correct — this is how the wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnell went:

LOATHLY LADY: if you give me Sir Gawain I will 100% answer your question for you

and before you say no consider this

even owls get married

so

KING ARTHUR: how does that relate to what our situation is

LOATHLY LADY: just think about it

both my offer and owls

When I finished the thing, and finally started discussing it with editors and agents, everyone asked the same question: why would a man write a novel about women?

I understood that question was a way of asking: had I managed that all-important empathy? If a writer fails to get a character, a scenario, a turn of phrase just right, the reader is jarred from the story; if a writer is writing about a character who looks nothing like himself, as I was, and gets that wrong, that writer is unmasked as someone who couldn't manage empathy, someone who couldn't understand the world beyond himself. That's actually far worse. How dare I write what I so clearly don't know?

  • Relatedly, at the New York Times, Anna Holmes and James Parker discuss who gets to tell other people’s stories:

Perhaps, then, the line between empathy and exploitation is not so much an issue of identity but integrity, a commitment to reckoning with all sides of a story and meeting people where they are, not where we think they should be.

I am not the smartest or the most talented. Not the most talented runner. Not the most talented writer. If that was all that mattered, I would not be able to compete. But I can endure. I can keep at this thing — this race, this manuscript — when every other reasonable person would have given up and gone home.

When I was readying my first novel for publication, it struck me that writers have far more control over what’s in their books than what’s on them—the cover art, blurbs, jacket copy, but especially the title, where the author’s concerns overlap with marketing ones. Deciding on a name for your life’s work is hard enough; the prospect of changing it at the eleventh hour is like naming your newborn, then hearing the obstetrician say, But wouldn’t Sandra look amazing on the certificate?

Happy reading!