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Zadie Smith introduces us to her protégé, and more book news

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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.

Happy Father’s Day Eve! Here is the best the web has to offer on books and related subjects for the week of June 13.

Because he is so minutely observant, and because he has clearly spent so much time marveling over his own childhood, Knausgaard’s attention to detail results in a high level of insight when it comes to his own children. He may not relish every single moment with them, he may wish to be elsewhere doing other things, but when he is with them, he is tuned in, even if he can’t admit it.

  • Have you read How to Cook a Wolf? It’s a pretty harrowing guide to cooking during wartime shortages (first, borrow enough money to fuel your stove for an hour), and like all of M.F.K. Fisher’s work, it’s worth reading. Over at the LARB, Simran Sethi compares it to the new book How to Cook a Moose and discusses the moralizing tendencies of contemporary food writing.

We carry our stories to the table and to every narrative we read and create. No matter what Fisher feasted on, she savored with humility, authenticity, and humor. The crux of her work was how to prepare and enjoy meals during wartime. Approachable and honest, she recognized both the paradox and necessity of savoring against the backdrop of scarcity.

Her writing on black culture has a vertical depth; she writes about the history of African Americans in the US, but it's never dry or academic as there's so much love in it. She loves the people, the details, the landscape, the language. Her non-fiction reads like a rich fiction. It's uncommon to read a voice that mixes anger and joy so beautifully and with so much skill. She doesn't write rants, she writes eloquent, appreciative tirades.

But even as he made these important contacts, the young man courted rejection; a long letter to Ibsen on his 73rd birthday closes with the idea that the great playwright had "only opened the way" and that "higher and holier enlightenment lies—onward." It was implicit that Joyce himself would be the bearer of that enlightenment. Having arranged an interview with Yeats, he spent most of the conversation criticizing the older writer, remarking on leaving that "I have met you too late. You are too old." It was always Joyce’s way to have others understand that he was the more important.

He seemed like the unpopular boys in my own grade, wounded in a vague way, his wrists as tiny as a child’s. Still, I wrote down my mailing address, vibrating with pleasure. Some girls, even at thirteen, probably knew not to do things like that. I wasn’t one of them. When I was offered any attention, I took it, eagerly. I look at pictures of myself at that age and wonder how plainly it was encoded in my face, the flash of a message: see me.

Putting aside her class privilege, the real evils of Emma’s situation are that she has found a way to be happy outside of marriage, busying herself by caring (or at least trying to care) for those around her. The novel may think that Emma needs marriage to keep her out of trouble, but she doesn’t necessarily need one to be happy, and this is a truth that many black women know with a solid certainty. Like Emma, we are often scolded for being too headstrong or overbearing, and like us, she is the "other" in her community—a woman whose primary goal is not to "get" a man.

Happy reading!