Happy New Year! It’s 2017, and officially time for all of us to get back to work, and for Vox’s weekly book link roundup to resume. Herewith is a collection of the best online writing about books and related topics for the week of January 1, 2017.
- J.K. Rowling, who loves a puzzle box mystery more than most human beings, has announced that the Harmen Steenwyck painting “Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life” holds a clue as to what she’s working on at the moment. (Elaborate pipes?)
- At The Millions, Andrew Kay looks into why so many poets suffer from insomnia:
Take Lord Byron, who went to bed at dawn and rose at 2 p.m. Prior to sleep, Byron punctually swallowed a single egg yolk whole while standing, then retired to his chambers, where he slept with two loaded pistols at his bedside and a dagger under his pillow. The weaponry served two purposes: to arm him against cuckolded husbands who might invade his bedroom in search of revenge (we’re talking about someone who, during his first two years living in Venice, slept with around 200 women, to say nothing of men and boys); and to offer him a shortcut to oblivion in case he decided to off himself while in bed.
- And also at The Millions, Rosa Lyster talks about coming to the right book at the right time, and as someone who also resisted Middlemarch until I just couldn’t anymore, this speaks directly to my soul:
What I am saying is that I was finally ready to listen to what Middlemarch had to tell me. I just picked it up, like it was no big deal, like I hadn’t spent years and years resisting it, and I was done for. That first time reading it, I kept looking around like Jesus, will you please get a load of this? Does everyone know that Middlemarch exists and that you can go ahead and read it just whenever you please? I couldn’t believe how good it was, how much I felt that it was speaking directly to me.
- At LitHub, Emily Fridlund gives us her personal canon of Gothic novels:
What was, and remains, so potent about Gothic fiction is the way it cultivates the readerly ecstasy of standing outside oneself by being afraid. Such dislocation is not only pleasurable, but also unsettling in ways that can be both psychologically and socially illuminating. (It’s no accident that the protagonists of these books are frequently female, and outsiders.) What Gothic fiction gets right is the unspoken as a powerful engine of storytelling.
- And also at LitHub, Hannah Kingsley-Ma has an illustrated guide to notable bookstore customers.
- The National Book Foundation is launching a new initiative to donate books to residents of public housing.
- You may have heard that Milo Yiannopoulos landed a book deal recently. (If not, we explained the whole thing here.) At Jezebel, Stassa Edwards argues that Yiannopoulos is the natural endpoint of conservative book publishing:
The conservative imprints have always relied on books by loud trollish writers like Yiannopolous’s; it’s effectively the bedrock of their industry. With the exception of a handful of books, usually memoirs by Republican presidential candidates, it relies on publishing multiple books by familiar names, fame usually garnered through television, talk radio, and major web platforms, like The Blaze or Breitbart. There isn’t much daylight between Rush Limbaugh’s angry monologues on “feminazis” and Yiannopolous’s thoughts on feminism.
- At Asia Times, Carly O’Connell gives us part one of a long and fascinating history of Chinese science fiction:
At the beginning of Mao’s Communist rule starting in 1949, the genre still flourished – so long as works reflected the party line. These works tended to be geared towards young readers, optimistic, and educational. Many Soviet era sci-fi works, such as those of Alexander Belyayev, were translated into Chinese at this time and influenced the genre. Major Chinese sci-fi authors of the era included Zheng Wenguang (郑文光) and Tong Enzheng (童恩正). Sci-fi took a blow, however, during the Cultural Revolution as creation of the arts all but ceased from 1966-1976, especially genres associated with the West like sci-fi.