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Read a forgotten pulp novel by Walt Whitman

Whitman profile
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.

Spring has come to my home of New York City a minimum of two weeks early. If you, like me, find yourself torn between enjoying the mild weather and fretting over just how much of the ice caps we’re melting, you might want to distract yourself with some reading. Here’s the week’s best writing on books and related subjects for the week of February 19, 2017.

  • I have never been a big Wuthering Heights fan (I’m a Charlotte girl), but this discussion at LitHub of the many film adaptations of the unadaptable Wuthering Heights is fascinating:

Images become attached to words where none existed before, and that can change how we absorb certain narratives or reshape how they exist in the popular imagination. And when a book has been adapted for the screen multiple times, a strange layering occurs: each successive transformation is influenced both by the previous cinematic treatments as well as the original text. Every new adaptation now carries a heavier burden than before, and has to contend with a growing network of narrative and visual associations.

A quasi-Dickensian tale of an orphan’s adventures, it features a villainous lawyer, virtuous Quakers, glad-handing politicians, a sultry Spanish dancer and more than a few unlikely plot twists and jarring narrative shifts.

“This is Whitman’s take on the city mystery novel, a popular genre of the day that pitted the ‘upper 10 thousand’ — what we would call the 1 percent — against the lower million,” said David S. Reynolds, a Whitman expert at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

I aimed to correct her with truth — perhaps I thought that if only I could insult her with sufficient accuracy, we would be reconciled — but she refused to be corrected, to be chastened. In the end, she won by being prepared to sacrifice the moral basis of language. She didn’t care what she said, or rather, she exacted from words the licentious pleasures of misuse; in so doing, she took my weapon and broke it before my eyes. She made fun of me for the words I used, and I couldn’t respond by threatening her with death. I couldn’t say “I could kill you” because it wasn’t true, and in language I had staked everything on telling the truth.

In September, Hayden gave a swearing-in speech in which she described how black Americans “were once punished with lashes and worse for learning to read.” She said that, “as a descendent of people who were denied the right to read, to now have the opportunity to serve and lead the institution that is our national symbol of knowledge is a historic moment.” She also talked about the Rosa Parks archive, now at the Library of Congress and available online. In a letter it contains, Parks wrote, “I had been pushed around all my life and felt at this moment that I couldn’t take it anymore.” That letter, Hayden said, is now available “in the classrooms of Racine, Wisconsin, in a small library on a reservation in New Mexico, and even in the library of a young girl in Baltimore, looking around as her city is in turmoil.

This year, librarians showed up in droves to marches across the country, promising with their signs that they would "make America read again." But their professional expertise—whether in information literacy, privacy protection, coding, or research—gives them a unique ability to drive our culture and educate the electorate. Take New York–based librarian Alexandra Lederman and archivist Katie Martinez, who created a zine about data privacy and handed it out at the Women's March. Or Linden How and J. Turner Masland, in Portland, Oregon, who linked up to create a comprehensive reading list offering historical and theoretical contexts for US labor relations, environmentalism, civil rights, women's rights, and queer liberation movements.

Happy reading!

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