We are officially a week away from Christmas Eve, which means those who celebrate the holiday have one week left to finish their gift shopping, and those who don’t celebrate the holiday have one week left to hear Christmas carols played incessantly everywhere they go. But all of us need good things to read, which is why we’re here. Below, you’ll find the best online writing about books and related subjects for the week of December 12, 2016.
- Here is the first chapter of Zadie Smith’s new novel Swing Time, as read by Ruth Negga of Loving (and Misfits). And just in case you missed it, here’s Vox’s review of Swing Time.
- For more Zadie Smith: LitHub rounded up a group of writers to talk about how wonderful she is, and the results are very sweet and heartwarming:
- “Reading NW helped me understand how I’d hobbled myself as a black British woman by ignoring writers like Smith, by denying myself the beauty of her words in a landscape that was familiar to me.”
- Paulina Paul, editor of the New York Times Book Review, did an Ask Me Anything on Reddit that provides an inside look at how the sausage gets made:
It is often the case that books we like don't necessarily get hugely favorable notice in the Book Review. One recent case: Anthony Doerr's "All the Light We Cannot See" got a negative review in the Book Review. But we still named it one of the 10 Best Books of the year at the time. Our 10 Best is when we editors get to exert our own opinions, no matter what our reviewers say.
- As the year winds to a close, we are experiencing a flood of “best books of the year” lists. The New Yorker’s is thorough and good.
- And Longreads has a list of underrecognized books of 2016.
- Speaking of overlooked books, at the TLS, Rafia Zafar goes deep on lesser-known early African-American writers:
It is easy enough to list the small group of well-known, foundational authors; but we must also take note of those lesser known writers – most enslaved at one point; a few born free – whose names and works deserve to be commemorated. Many of these published works were the memoirs of the formerly enslaved; but volumes of poetry and some fiction, along with a vigorous collection of essays and reportage, completed the array of black writing published before the end of the Civil War.
- You will recall that there was an enormous scandal earlier this year when an investigative reporter unearthed Elena Ferrante’s real name. At LitHub, Gabrielle Bellot has unearthed a little-known children’s book by Ferrante in which a threatening and sinister man tries to steal away a doll’s real name:
The way Celina faces losing her name is far more unnerving and sensually depicted, with images that focus on teeth, saliva, and hooks; the male beach attendant tries to rip the words from Celina, his saliva entering her mouth via a nightmarish “hook.”
- Here’s what it’s like to be Octavia Butler’s neighbor:
I would often pass Butler on her walks to and from the grocery store and would stop to offer her rides, which she didn’t always accept; she was an inveterate walker, and walking had even factored into her house purchase. She told me as much on one of the days that she consented to being driven the rest of the way up the hill. She said that she desired only that a grocery store, a bookstore, and a bus stop be located within walking distance, and that the neighborhood should grant her access to the city without actually being in the city.
- The New Inquiry has published a roundtable discussion between Deji Bryce Olukotun, Maria Dahvana Headley, and Haris Durrani on the limits and possibilities of science fiction and fantasy. Here’s Headley on what powerful women characters in literature can teach young readers :
A Wrinkle in Time has a woman in it who is a Nobel Prize-winning scientist. I was a little kid when I read it, and I had no idea that a woman could be a scientist. I thought, “Women get to cook dinner.” I like to cook dinner. I’m good at cooking. I’m good at being nice to people.
I’m up at night because I can’t believe that little girls still think that they can’t be Nobel Prize-winning scientists. They still think they can’t be astronauts. They still think they can’t be motherfucking bad-asses. Win it, kill the world, rock it.