Welcome back to the weekly Vox book link roundup, a collection of the best recent writing on books and related topics from around the web. Herewith is the best the internet has to offer for the week of January 1, 2017.
- The Washington Post discusses how, in Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Douglass did “an amazing job” that “is being recognized more and more”:
It’s almost impossible now to fathom the full extent of his accomplishment. While Ralph Waldo Emerson and other white writers were fretting about what a new American literature might look like, Douglass was busy producing it. “Narrative” was an instant bestseller in America, England, France and Holland. Pro-slavery forces quickly charged that the book was a fraud because no slave could possibly write that well, but on his international lecture tour, Douglass demolished that lie.
- At the New Yorker’s website, Gary Shteyngart, Joyce Carol Oates, Jia Tolentino, and a few others discuss the books they’re turning to now:
I’ve been rereading Sergei Dovlatov’s “The Compromise,” a collection of comic vignettes about life in Soviet Estonia. It’s got everything we need for our times: authoritarian ineptitude, fake news, anti-Semitism. Who knew we’d find ourselves suddenly living in the U.S.S.R. in the nineteen-seventies?
- Of Mice and Men turns 80 this week. At LitHub, Emily Temple suggests we should move our appreciation of the book beyond parody:
Right now I don’t really want to laugh at Of Mice and Men. It’s not that I consider it too precious to mock—I consider almost nothing too precious to mock. It’s that I want to use it instead. I want to use it as an example of the violence of poverty, and the way human beings can so easily be trapped into a life of servitude, dreams of home ownership and comfort and freedom dangled before their eyes, but per the system, ultimately unattainable. I want to use it to look at how we deal with and understand the mentally ill, as a way to understand the consequences of misunderstanding. I want to hold it up as a reminder of the importance of human dignity.
- BuzzFeed Books is partnering with the New York City mayor’s office to launch a One Book, One New York program that will try to get everyone in the city to read the same book at the same time. You can vote on the contenders here.
- Roxane Gay gave the keynote address at the Winter Institute booksellers conference, and it was insightful and compelling:
Language matters and sometimes, like the word diversity, it becomes an empty container for whatever people want to fill it with. Go high. Trump hate. Be nasty. Wear a pantsuit. I don’t begrudge people finding comfort or solidarity in these words and ideas, but goddamn. We needed to do better then and we need to do better now. We need to get uncomfortable and that means moving beyond tidy words that make us feel like the world is a better, more unified and inclusive place than it is.
- At the Atlantic, Sophie Gilbert gives us the history of Dr. Seuss’s anti-fascist cartoons:
As a collection, Geisel’s war cartoons target isolationism, anti-Semitism, and racism. They skewer Hitler, Mussolini, and a variety of American nationalists, including Charles Lindbergh and the Catholic priest and radio host Father Charles Coughlin, a fervent anti-Semite and conspiracy theorist. But they also deploy a fierce anti-authoritarianism and humanism that runs through all of Dr. Seuss’s books. Geisel’s political cartoons go a long way in demonstrating how the spirit of Seuss — zany, honest, brash, and brave — was born.
- LitHub has a list of 15 works of great contemporary literature by and about refugees. Personally, I recommend you start with The Last Illusion by Porochista Khakpour.
- Speaking of Khakpour, she wrote on the refugee ban for CNN:
The rest of that night for me was a night not unlike many I've had since 9/11, which happened when I was 23 and living in the East Village as a freelance journalist. I spent it reading news articles, crying, and wondering: What is going to happen to this country, what will they do to my other country? You can be a refugee once, I've always thought, but how to be one twice?