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J.K. Rowling is encoding clues in 17th-century Dutch paintings, just straight up trolling us all now

'Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them' European Premiere - Red Carpet Arrivals Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage
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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

Happy reading!

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