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Emily Dickinson’s cake recipe calls for 19 eggs

And the rest of the week’s best writing on books and related subjects.

Cynthia Nixon plays Emily Dickinson in A Quiet Passion Music Box Films

Welcome to the weekly Vox book link roundup, a curated collection of the best writing on the web about books and related subjects. Here’s the best the internet has to offer for the week of December 3, 2017.

  • This week, the #MeToo moment began to really hit publishing: Lorin Stein resigned from his post as editor of the Paris Review and editor-at-large at Farrar Straus & Giroux, following an internal investigation on sexual harassment claims surrounding him. Just days earlier, an art director at Penguin Random House resigned following sexual harassment accusations.
  • At Electric Literature, Jess Zimmerman muses over what happens when bad men aren’t making good art but are instead the gatekeepers who determine what is considered good art:

There is such a thing as “good writing”; it’s not a purely vacuous phrase. (Most of the work in The Paris Review is, in fact, good writing, in various ways!) But any first-year writing workshop would push you to unpack the word “good.” Do you mean rhetorically effective writing? Emotionally effective? Simple and clear writing? Evocative writing full of detail? Too often, what we actually mean by “good writing” is “writing that has been ratified by the literary establishment.” But the literary establishment, we are coming to find, is bad. (Morally.) If your idea of value springs from an ethical void, it’s time to transplant it onto stronger soil.

Our ancestors may have started speaking between 50,000 and 2 million years ago, but it was only 5,000 years ago that people started to write. Three thousand more years passed before they began to use a system of little points that eventually evolved into our modern punctuation. Then it took centuries for those punctuation practices to develop. To put that in perspective, let’s say that humanity has existed for 24 hours. By traditional estimates, more than 23 of those hours passed before people invented writing. And punctuation didn’t come along until closer to midnight.

The Library of America blog notes that the Dickinson family had several “lawless cake” recipes, and that Emily’s father “would eat no bread except that baked by her.” All I have to say is that 19 eggs is lawless indeed. So is the fact that, once baked, but before the brandy was poured in, this cake weighed almost 20 pounds. NB: The Washington Post published an updated version of the recipe in 1995, apparently more suited for “20th-century palates.” That one only calls for 13 eggs.

What he loved about writing with a stub is that it made his scribble mostly illegible. That way, he never felt embarrassed by what he had written. He’d look at it, and look at it, afterward, while trying to guess what in the name of God he had said. If he had no luck, he asked his wife for help. She surprised him again and again by coming up with things that sounded better than anything he’d had in his head. A marriage of real and imagined, isn’t that what poetry is?

This was the worst part: Instead of the hypervisibility of our suffering and experiences being useful in any way  —  “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” etc.  —  it only created new avenues of denial. We were no longer just being gaslit by boyfriends, husbands, bosses  —  the status quo  —  but politicians, our country, our culture. They didn’t have to acknowledge it before, not really, but in a world of phone cameras and hot mics and general boldness, they now get to stare at a video of something terrible happening and turn to us and tell us it’s not happening, or it’s happening but we’re thinking about it all wrong. (The terrifying, liquid switch from “Donald Trump doesn’t commit sexual assault” to “Ah, well, it’s all just locker-room talk” still makes my stomach churn from vertigo.)

The glow from the viewer that no one was looking into unnerved Anne. The Other world, 1,564 light-years away, was flowing brightly and glamorously into the machine, unobserved, while Ed gave what must be his boilerplate orientation speech.

  • Remember that part of the Little House books where a plague of grasshoppers descends on the farm and destroys everything, and every time Laura takes a step she feels grasshopper corpses crushing beneath her feet? Here’s an excerpt from Caroline Fraser’s new biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Prairie Fires, that explains the history behind what happened:

Even as Minnesota distributed aid, it expressed contempt for the destitute, enacting punitive regulations that required farmers to prove they were completely bereft before applying for relief. In a cruel and counterproductive move, the state demanded that applicants sell any livestock they owned before receiving aid. Meanwhile, trying to empty the ocean a drop at a time, counties nailed flyers to town walls advertising a bounty for grasshoppers: five cents a quart, “caught and delivered dead.” An informational pamphlet distributed by a railroad urged farmers to get busy collecting the pests, since solving the problem was their responsibility. Newspapers advised their hungry readers to eat the bugs: “make it a ‘hopper’ feast.”

Happy reading!