clock menu more-arrow no yes

Read an excerpt from Philip Pullman’s upcoming companion to His Dark Materials

Philip Pullman At London Zoo

Welcome to the weekly Vox book link roundup, a curated selection of the best online writing on books and related topics. Here’s the best the internet has to offer for the week of May 21, 2017, to help you while away the long hours of a three-day weekend.

The gentleman waiting gave him a start, though all he was doing was sitting still by the cold fireplace. Perhaps it was his dæmon, a beautiful silvery spotted leopard, or perhaps it was his dark, saturnine expression; in any event, Malcolm felt daunted, and very young and small. His dæmon, Asta, became a moth.

“Good evening, sir,” he said. “Your Tokay what you ordered. Would you like me to make up the fire? It’s ever so cold in here.”

“Is your name Malcolm?” The man’s voice was harsh and deep.

“Yes, sir. Malcolm Polstead.”

“I’m a friend of Dr. Relf,” said the man. “My name is Asriel.”

Many remember him for “Jesus’ Son,” which in hazed but undeniable detail chronicled the lives of various drug addicts adrift in America. … Much of “Jesus’ Son” tells of crime, violence, substance abuse and the worst of luck. But, as related by a recovering addict with an unprintable name (his initials were F.H.), the stories had an underlying sense of connection, possibility and unknown worlds. In the story “Car Crash While Hitchhiking,” the narrator looks upon an accident victim, a bloodied man taking his final breaths.

“He wouldn’t be taking many more. I knew that, but he didn’t, and therefore I looked down into great pity upon a person’s life on this earth,” Johnson writes. “I don’t mean that we all end up dead, that’s not the great pity. I mean that he couldn’t tell me what he was dreaming, and I couldn’t tell him what was real.”

  • Amazon has opened another brick-and-mortar bookstore in New York City, and as the Huffington Post (unsurprisingly) reports, publishers are not thrilled:

“This is treacherous for everybody in the business,” Johnson said. “Everybody’s threatened by this.”

“Amazon is nothing if not Trumpian in their behavior,” he continued. “The ruthlessness, the naked capitalism. It’s all there. They’re positively Trumpian. They have that in them.”

If the idea is to curate  —  to present to the world, in some official capacity, the Most Important People in American Literary History  —  then the battle is unwinnable. There’s no way we’re all ever going to agree. We see certain writers as canonical because we were always told they were canonical. That old question: If you’d never heard of the Mona Lisa, would you truly pick it out of all the paintings in the Louvre to stand in front of and gawk at? It’s famous because it’s great, sure, but there are other great things in the Louvre. It’s mostly famous because it’s famous; canonization is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Moments in narrative when, as in the case of Humphrey’s shower, a narrator’s voice seems — ironically or otherwise — to take on the verbal quality or affective tone of a character whose experience it narrates, free indirect style reveals the novel’s assumptions about the close but distant relation between inside and out. Free indirect style is thus something like the novel’s version of the political leak; it is one of several ways in which a novel allows the private, secret stuff of inner life to make its way — drip, drip, drip — into the public world of readers and, in some cases, other characters. It was that distinction between public and private that, for all his apparent secrecy, Nixon refused; how else can you make sense of his absurdly catholic decision not only to bug his own office but also to tape and to save absolutely everything?

Readers were urged not to tempt God by sporting with “the most awful danger and calamity” — the flagrant vice of bringing a book to bed. Instead, they were instructed to close the day “in prayer, to be preserved from bodily danger and evil.” The editorial takes reading in bed for a moral failing, a common view of the period.

The very first young-adult novel I was contracted to write was the 24th book in a series of teen romances, and along with the contract (which I signed recklessly, as I was to sign a great many other contracts) was a detailed outline by the original author of the series. I saw right away that this author knew something I didn’t: how to plan ahead. Worries about the structure and plot, which had plagued me for so long, were no longer a problem. And then I realized that the contract I’d so casually signed stated that I needed to write a 125,000-word novel based on the outline and it was due in six weeks, and presto! that took care of the worry about the page-length, and regrettably, also the falling-down drunk part, because it meant I went from being a writer who hardly ever wrote to a writer who wrote all the time.

Woolf didn’t really want the personal essay to go away, she just wanted it to get better, and Tolentino is making a similar argument. The personal essay has to evolve; we are living in a time when the government is inserting itself into personal decisions that range from where our children go to school to what women allow in their vaginas. These things are still worth writing about. But we need to treat the personal essay with more dignity than we have done.

Happy reading!

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for The Weeds

Get our essential policy newsletter delivered Fridays.