Welcome back to Vox’s weekly book link roundup, a curated collection of the week’s best writing on books and related subjects. This week, almost everyone in publishing, including your humble correspondent, is confined to New York City’s Javits Center (a.k.a. the most depressing space in all of Manhattan) at Book Expo, the big trade convention. Fortunately, there are still a few brave souls keeping the flame lit on the internet. Here’s the best of what they have to offer.
- At Publishers Weekly, Barbara Browning discusses the collective conceptual art project that is book blurbing:
If you ask people to think about it, they’re probably vaguely aware that writers agree to blurb books because they have some connection, either professional or personal, to the author – but the genre seems to demand a certain effacement of those connections, as though Famous Author X just happened to come across a delightful manuscript that somebody accidentally left in a Starbucks and was so taken with it he felt compelled to say something really nice about it.
- At the New Republic, Sam Tanenhaus examines the myth of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tragedy:
The legend of F. Scott Fitzgerald has flourished for so long that we forget how much of it was the creation of Fitzgerald himself, with help from some of the highest cultural priests of midcentury America.
- The Edward Albee estate recently denied a theater the rights to perform Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf when it cast a black actor. At New York magazine, Mark Harris talks through the implications of that decision:
Death is, I’d argue, the point at which this aspect of copyright law should cede to a greater social and artistic good. A playwright’s copyright should certainly prevent directors from making unauthorized cuts or changes to the text or stage directions. And playwrights who insist on casting approval — not all do — should have it for as long as they’re alive to exercise it. But after they’re gone, should their idiosyncratic casting preferences really be treated as part of copyright-protected text?
- I would like to move into this tiny traveling French library posthaste, please and thank you.
- Two scholars have discovered a previously unknown Edith Wharton play:
Set in England, The Shadow of a Doubt centres on the character Kate Derwent, a former nurse married to a gentleman.
Opening on a scene of social privilege and affluence studded with sharp one-liners, the play takes a dark and controversial turn into a world of extortion, mistrust, deception and assisted dying.
Named after the Icelandic word for the moon, the tiny publisher prints its books in batches of 69 on the night of a full moon. So far, so weird. But keen readers must also buy their books that same night, as the publisher burns all unsold copies. Weirder still.
Why? While most books can survive centuries or even millennia, Tunglið – as its two employees tell me – “uses all the energy of publishing to fully charge a few hours instead of spreading it out over centuries … For one glorious evening, the book and its author are fully alive. And then, the morning after, everyone can get on with their lives.”
- At the Nation, Vivian Gornick tells the tale of the terrifying literary critic Diana Trilling:
Diana herself loved to repeat the story of an émigré novelist from Nazi Austria who was said to have remarked that, while he had lost his home, his country, and his language, he had at least had the good fortune not to be reviewed by Diana Trilling.
- At LitHub, essayist and author Rebecca Solnit examines the loneliness of Donald Trump:
The man in the white house sits, naked and obscene, a pustule of ego, in the harsh light, a man whose grasp exceeded his understanding, because his understanding was dulled by indulgence. He must know somewhere below the surface he skates on that he has destroyed his image, and like Dorian Gray before him, will be devoured by his own corrosion in due time too. One way or another this will kill him, though he may drag down millions with him. One way or another, he knows he has stepped off a cliff, pronounced himself king of the air, and is in freefall. Another dungheap awaits his landing; the dung is all his; when he plunges into it he will be, at last, a self-made man.