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The Shakespeare versus Milton fan wars heat up, and more book news

John Milton and William Shakespeare
Poet versus poet.
Wikimedia Commons

Happy Saturday! For your reading pleasure, here is the best the web has to offer on books and related subjects for the week of June 6, 2016.

In the emerging genre of Slut Lit, they remind us how women’s bodies — no matter from what generation — have always been a sort of Rorschach test for society’s deeper anxieties about women’s roles.

The 400th anniversary of Milton’s birth, in 2008, was celebrated with readings, performances, exhibitions, and academic conferences around the world. It also saw the publication of a raft of scholarly books, including one, by the Princeton professor Nigel Smith, titled is Milton Better than Shakespeare? (Answer: Yes, especially if you are American and/or love liberty.)

On the one hand, a child is a child is a child—race shouldn’t matter. On the other hand, I remembered working as a children’s librarian in Memphis and scouring reviews for any evidence that a book was about a black child, since my shelves were groaning with books about white kids and my young readers were almost all black. Complicating things was an insidious third hand: if I did identify the character as black, was I sending a message that might cause some not to buy the book?

Each volume runs twenty-five to thirty thousand words, or a hundred and twenty-five to a hundred and fifty pages, or somewhere between one full “Double Indemnity” and two-thirds a “Gatsby.” Tolstoy is a full meal; Turgenev is a fabulous dessert; a BookShot is a bag of Funyuns. “We have this convention of the novel that you have to know everything about the frigging characters,” Patterson said. “Like: What? You know, a lot of people don’t know their spouses that well.”

While many renditions of feminine friendship are fraught with sexual tension, or violence, or both, most contemporary male friendships are portrayed as buddy comedies. Bromances: love with nary a serious deviant tinge.

Messiness. The messiness of being a woman of that age! It can be hard to watch a character do that, but the sincerity of her wanting that experience is important in the same way it was important to me to represent the grittier details of restaurant life.

  • And LitHub also launched BookMarks, a Rotten Tomatoes for book reviews.

Happy reading!

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