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J.K. Rowling just gave us the final installment of the US’s magical history

'Harry Potter & The Cursed Child' - Press Preview - Arrivals Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images

It’s Saturday, so it’s time for Vox’s weekly book links roundup. Here’s the best the internet has to offer on books and related content for the week of October 3, 2016.

  • England-based publisher Heywood Hill is celebrating its 80th anniversary with a contest open to everyone in the world. First prize is one book a month for the rest of your life. Go now, go.
  • The Berenstain Bears books have been, well, reborn, with new titles like The Berenstain Bears: Do Not Fear, God Is Near. The New York Times explains how it happened; personally, I don’t think this would ever have come to pass in the Berenstein universe.
  • Alex Shephard at the New Republic has the best overview you will find of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature hopefuls:

Many of these writers are also interested in navel-gazing Great American Male questions, and the Nobel has moved on since it gave the prize to Hemingway. Roth would be the favorite, but retirement should disqualify him. The lede of this Richard Ford review of Bruce Springsteen’s memoir disqualifies him, but the Nobel Committee wouldn’t give him the prize anyway, for fear of being cussed out. Cormac McCarthy won’t win because Darkness implacable would beat down on the man as he spat violently onto the dirt. LeGuin is too popular and too genre, even though that would rule. And a nonfiction writer won last year, making a Didion victory unlikely. Bob Dylan 100 percent is not going to win. Stop saying Bob Dylan should win the Nobel Prize.

  • Speaking of fancy literary awards, the shortlist for the National Book Awards came out this week.
  • You may have heard that the famously reclusive Italian novelist Elena Ferrante was doxxed. Charlotte Shane at the New Republic explains why it matters for women:

By admitting she isn’t going to tell us about herself, Gatti reasons — and please hear the heavy air quotes around that word — Ferrante has “relinquished her right to disappear.” Instead of finding this admirably self-effacing, her reticence to speak on herself becomes an act of hubris that merits punishment and correction. What it means to say that creative women “relinquish rights” when they insist on their privacy is that women are not allowed to participate in the public sphere and simultaneously set boundaries.

If you think your crap style would be improved by an MFA, apply to programs in NYC so you’ll meet editors. But be warned that you might end up teaching. Writing instructors read student work all day long. Look at my friend Justin Taylor — author of a genuinely ambitious and beautiful novel — reduced to preaching consonance and alliteration so his students’ clunky prose won’t be so suck-ass ordinary! It’s heartbreaking.

Two years ago, his department asked her to apply for an assistant-professor position. She replied to him, flat out refusing. “I wrote back saying, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ I’m a novelist for a living. Now I’m supposed to do this job reading scribblings of 19-year-olds and telling them how wonderful they are?”

  • J.K. Rowling has released the final installment of her magical history of the US on Pottermore. Most of these sketches haven’t been Rowling’s best work — one of the most compelling things about the Harry Potter world is how British it is, and Rowling struggles when she tries to translate that feeling into a culture she doesn’t know as well — but this one plays around with America’s Founding Fathers lore in interesting ways:

President Jackson’s immediate priority was to recruit and train Aurors. The names of the first dozen volunteers to train as Aurors in the US have a special place in United States’ wizarding history. There were so few of them, and the challenges they faced so great, that they knew they might be required to lay down their lives when they took the job.

I must remind myself that “good” is an approximate term. A second-grader once asked me for “a really, really good book,” and I asked him, as librarians do, what he considered a good book. He eyed me with thinly veiled impatience and replied, ‘Medium-long with poisonous snakes.’

Happy reading!