Welcome back to the weekly Vox book link roundup, a curated collection of the best recent writing on books and related subjects. Here’s the best the internet has to offer for the week of March 19, 2017.
- The white supremacists of the self-described alt-right have added Jane Austen to the list of cultural signifiers they use to represent an imagined white European paradise, the New York Times reports. (They are also fans of medieval imagery.) Which, as Tom Hawking points out, misses the point of Austen by a fair amount.
- Relatedly, at the New Republic, Alex Shephard argues that David Foster Wallace has become a favorite of the arch-conservatives.
- Wyl Menmuir breaks down the numbers for how he was able to write his Booker-longlisted novel The Many — which ultimately spanned 44,242 words — 500 words at a time (in theory, anyway).
- The New Yorker examines Walt Whitman’s anxious, blustering men’s health advice columns:
His doctrines adopt the familiar, puritanical posturing of many nineteenth-century self-improvement guides, dispensing bromides about discipline and preparedness that wouldn’t feel out of place in “Franklin Evans; or, the Inebriate,” the novel he’d written more than a decade earlier to warn of “the oblivion-causing cup.” It’s easy to roll your eyes at his dictates, especially when they come under such blustering headers as “the great american evil—indigestion” and “could there be an entire nation of vigorous and beautiful men?” (Short answer: I don’t see why not!)
- President Trump’s proposed budget would defund both the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. Electric Literature asked 14 authors how NEA grants changed their lives:
The NEA grant arrives at the moment when you’ve begun a career but no one has heard of you yet. It’s a potent form of cultural capital, a calling card that helps you get jobs, readings, the attention of agents or publishers, and/or (if you’re lucky enough to teach full time) some breathing room away from the pressures of academic life. What the NEA fellowship isn’t — this is a vital distinction — is a way to make a living.
- At the New Republic, Michelle Dean writes about why critics need to pay attention:
A few weeks ago, I picked up The Handmaid’s Tale for the first time since I was assigned it as a Canadian high school student. You know all the jokes about that book approaching nonfiction now. You don’t need me to make another one. But reading it what I thought about was mostly this: There are so few books being published like this, now. The application of literary intelligence to this question of power, it’s out of style.
Many writers now are more interested in exploring the self. Power might be present in their books but it’s usually not the abiding preoccupation. And look: to borrow a phrase from one of Sontag’s speeches, I would never ask a writer to be a jukebox. But there is a kind of looking away going on by a lot of writers who should know better, I’m saying.
- The Times Literary Supplement discusses the long history of declaring the novel dead:
Any number of critics since Bergonzi have regurgitated the idea that the novel as we know it today persists in a kind of zombie state, stripped of whatever vital essence it once had (and this in spite of the fact that novels are being published and consumed in unprecedented numbers). But the argument for the novel’s demise has its own kind of ghoulish quality to it by now.
- LitHub has a list of 10 transgressive fairy tale retellings; personally, I highly endorse Boy, Snow, Bird.