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The revision strategies of 12 different writers are revealing and totally fascinating

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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.

As you read this, I will have pulled off a miraculous accomplishment: escaping winter. I will be sitting on a tropical beach, gently caressed by sunlight and ocean breezes, reading as many galleys as I can fit into my carry-on.

For you, gentle reader, whether you’re trapped in snowy January weather or a fellow winter escapee, I have collected the week’s best writing on books and related subjects. But I had to do this one early, so it’s more like the best writing from the first half of the week. Please forgive me if I’ve missed something essential from the second half.

  • The New York Times has a profile of one of the last full-time book menders:

Mr. Vass said the skills of book mending took him 15 years to master — how to diagnose a book’s ills, what to patch and what to leave alone, how to hide evidence of a repair. He uses hypodermic needles to shoot bits of wheat paste into the corners of dog-eared covers to stiffen them, and an old-fashioned screw press to hold pages in place while adhesives dry.

  • LitHub has a collection of 12 different writers talking about their revision strategies. It’s worth reading just to see how differently everyone approaches rewriting, from “rethink everything” (Deborah Eisenberg) to “If the first draft is no goddamned good, it’s no good” (Barry Hannah).
  • Also at LitHub is a lengthy collection of different books that have been hailed as the great American novel (it’s Moby-Dick) and why they have been called such (it’s still Moby-Dick).
  • The Outline looks at some of the problems with putting poetry on standardized tests:

These tests are supposed to be used as benchmarks for schools and students, ensuring that all students in Texas are receiving a basic functional level of education. Seeking impossible answers to made-up poetry questions seems like a poor way to go about it.

Reading Dillard was (and continues to be, in fact) a truly ecstatic experience — I must have reread every single page as I went along, pausing to stare into space or jot things down in my journal or just shake my head in awe — and it took me quite a long time to finish even as I couldn’t put it down (by the end, incidentally, I had decided I had to be a writer; or die trying). Where had this kind of reading been all my life? I realized for the first time that there is reading, and there is reading. The kind of reading that counts, that really matters, is what I’d call whole-soul reading.

Chiang has been described as a writer of “humanist” sci-fi; many readers feel that his stories are unusually moving and wonder, given their matter-of-fact tone, where their emotional power comes from. His story “The Great Silence” was included in last year’s edition of “The Best American Short Stories,” and Junot Díaz, who edited that volume, has said that Chiang’s “Stories of Your Life and Others” is “as perfect a collection of stories as I’ve ever read.” Chiang himself seems to find this kind of praise bewildering.

  • The Guardian has a fascinating interview with Yaa Gyasi, the author of Homegoing:

One thing I ran up against a lot as a child was that saying “black” or “Afro-American” implies a certain cultural identity that was different from mine as an immigrant. I found it difficult to feel I was being black in the right way. The older I got, the more I realised there’s no right way, that everything I do and am is also allowed to be black. It took me a long time to realise that … the word “black” can seem to generalise everything.

Happy reading!