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You can stop asking writers who inspired them — all of the answers are now in one place

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.

Welcome 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 24, 2017.

  • At the Atlantic, James Somers tells the story of how we almost got instant digital access to the modern-day library of Alexandria — and then didn’t:

You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else — a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe — would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.

  • This 13-year-old Pakistani girl is on a mission to read one book from every country in the world; she is my role model. (And judging from her commentary on the books she’s read so far, she understands V.S. Naipaul better than I do.)
  • At Electric Lit, Jeff VanderMeer and Cory Doctorow had a long and fascinating talk about building utopias and how science fiction and geek culture have changed over the course of their careers:

You can learn a lot about a person by what they think Heinlein was all about. I personally love the way that contemporary [science fiction] is engaging with him   — Charlie Stross ripping into the guts of Friday with Saturn’s Children; John Varley using the juvies like Red Planet to savage GWB’s war on terror; and now Ian McDonald’s Luna books, a frontal assault on Randism by way of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. It’s deeply kinky, taking all this problematic stuff and just *owning* the way it bent the field, using it to bend the field in the other direction.

  • The Guardian has the history of Hogarth Press, the press founded by Virginia and Leonard Woolf 100 years ago this week, which still exists today as an imprint at Penguin Random House.

“We unpacked it with enormous excitement, finally with Nelly’s help carried it into the drawing room, set it on its stand, and discovered that it was smashed in half,” wrote Virginia Woolf on the afternoon of 24 April 1917. That day she and her husband Leonard took delivery of the hand press that heralded the birth of their brainchild, the Hogarth Press. Their £19 purchase had been long awaited, one of three resolutions made while the couple took tea on Virginia’s 33rd birthday: they would buy Hogarth House in Richmond, find a hand press to do their own printing, and buy a bulldog and name him John.

  • There are probably few things in life quite as comforting as the descriptions of food in British children’s literature. That’s why The Little Library Café, which devises recipes for said food (and other literary meals; Kate Young, who started the site, doesn’t discriminate), is such a gift. Here’s one for the potted beef from the picnic in The Wind and the Willows:

This is the way I like to eat in the summer — a collection of things on a board: little jars of pickles, a wedge of cheese, a twisted parcel of rich, salty butter. Perfect partners for rich, full-flavoured beef. It makes me think of long afternoons in the park, of luxuriating over lunch in the dappled light. I'll be making this again, many times, in the months to come.

Neil Gaiman: The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis was the first person to make me want to be a writer. He made me aware of the writer, that there was someone standing behind the words, that there was someone telling the story. I fell in love with the way he used parentheses — the auctorial asides that were both wise and chatty, and I rejoiced in using such brackets in my own essays and compositions through the rest of my childhood.

I think, perhaps, the genius of Lewis was that he made a world that was more real to me than the one I lived in; and if authors got to write the tales of Narnia, then I wanted to be an author.

  • William Gibson — the sci-fi writer who coined the term “cyberspace” in 1984 — is publishing a book about an alternate timeline where Hillary Clinton won the 2016 presidential election. The New York Times reports:

Like so many others, he never imagined that Donald J. Trump would prevail in the 2016 election. On Nov. 9, he woke up feeling as if he were living in an alternate reality. “It was a really weird and powerful sensation,” he said.

Most people who were stunned by the outcome managed to shake off the surreal feeling. But being a science fiction writer, Mr. Gibson, 69, decided to explore it.

At the end of the passage about the ice storm I wrote the words: I hated him. My breath caught in my throat. I deleted them as quickly as I had set them down. Then wrote them once more. Stared at them. We all probably hate our partner at moments. But was it okay to write that I had hated mine?

Happy reading!

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