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Read Joan Didion’s savage roast of J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey

The American Theatre Wing's 2012 Annual Gala Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Welcome back to Vox’s weekly book link roundup, a curated selection of the week’s best writing on books and related subjects. Here is the best the internet has to offer for the week of April 9, 2017.

  • LitHub has Joan Didion’s old review of Franny and Zooey, first published after the novel’s release in 1961, and it is savage:

To anyone who has ever felt over-
exposed to the world, to anyone who 
has ever harbored hatred in his or 
her heart toward droppers of names,
 writers of papers on Flaubert, toward 
eaters of frogs’ legs, all of this has a certain seductive lure; there is a kind of lulling charm in being assured in that dazzling Salinger prose, that one’s raw nerves, one’s urban hangover, one’s very horridness, is really not horridness at all but instead a kind of dark night of the soul; there is something very attractive about being told that one finds enlightenment or peace by something as eminently within the realm of the possible as tolerance toward television writers and section men, that one can find the peace which passeth understanding simply by looking for Christ in one’s date for the Yale game.

  • It’s my practice to refer to the Tib Muller character from Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books exclusively as “Tib Muller, feminist hero,” so obviously I am here for the Billfold’s look at how money works in Betsy’s Wedding in general and for Tib specifically. (Can someone please get me a book about Tib Muller, feminist hero, driving her auto all around the United States and making herself fabulous dresses as she goes?)

Anyway, Tib is eventually pursued by a New York millionaire who is attracted to her independent spirit, and after a few chapters of will-they-or-won’t-they, she calls it off because she was only ever attracted to his car.

So yeah, Tib is awesome and I want to know more about her high-earning, car-driving lifestyle.

The legacy of witch-hunting, and the sense of shame that it engendered, Atwood suggests, is an enduring American blight. “Only one of the judges ever apologized for the witch trials, and only one of the accusers ever apologized,” she said. Whenever tyranny is exercised, Atwood warns, it is wise to ask, “Cui bono?” Who profits by it? Even when those who survived the accusations levelled against them were later exonerated, only meagre reparations were made. “One of the keys to America is that your neighbor may be a Communist, a serial killer, or in league with satanic forces,” Atwood said. “You really don’t trust your fellow-citizens very much.”

In Christie’s expansive repertoire — more than 200 novels, stories and plays, from “The Mysterious Affair at Styles” (1920) to “Sleeping Murder” (1976) — she captures something elemental about mysteries: that motive and opportunity may suffice for a crime, but the satisfying part is the detective’s revelation of whodunit, how and why. I never tried to piece together the clues. I vastly preferred to hear it from Hercule Poirot or Jane Marple. Why spend time with such endearing, clever characters if you’re not going to let them do their job? And while their job was ostensibly solving crimes, really it was storytelling.

The main reason I think worldbuilding has become a problem is that it leads people to believe that “realism” is the primary point of fiction, even fantasy fiction. But representing reality  —  whether “real” reality or a fictional one  —  is simply one way of telling a story, just one house in the city of fiction. Surrealists, magical realists, post-modernists, and countless other movements or styles create fantastic worlds that function on other levels  —  mythic, philosophical, Freudian, etc.  —  that are at odds with this idea of worldbuilding.

We’re always representing a fictional reality. Even stories set in a “realist” world require actual worldbuilding — because “realist” fiction is still fiction and not “reality,” and by the way, no one experiences the same “reality” anyway, so you can’t assume that even actual “reality,” the one you’re walking around in, looks the same to the person standing next to you. A completely straightforward work of realism for one person might read as a fantastical story for another. See also: Orientalism.

  • The Guardian goes in on the science of book smells:

The researchers believe the historic book odour wheel could become a useful diagnostic tool for conservators across a wide range of areas, helping them to assess the condition of objects through their olfactory profile. If a book smells chocolatey, it’s likely that it is releasing vanillin, benzaldehyde and furfural — three chemicals associated with the degradation of the cellulose and lignin in paper. But the study also has wider implications, as the heritage industry grapples with a new interest in the historical importance of smell. “By documenting the words used to describe a heritage smell, our study opens a discussion about developing a vocabulary to identify aromas that have cultural meaning and significance,” says Bembibre.

Happy reading!