Welcome to the Vox weekly book link roundup, a curated selection of the best writing online about books and related topics. Here’s the best the internet has to offer for the week of August 6, 2017.
- If you haven’t read anything by Claire Messud, you might remember her as the novelist who kicked the “Are unlikable female characters okay?” debate into high gear in 2012, when she took issue with an interviewer who remarked that she wouldn’t want to be friends with a Messud character. Messud has a new book coming out this month, and the New York Times Magazine has a fantastic profile of her:
If Messud is angry about something, it’s the social constructs that work against women’s ambition and desire, rendering them invisible or even snuffing them out. ‘‘Women aren’t supposed to want stuff,’’ she said. ‘‘They’re not supposed to have high emotions.’’ Recently she went to a party where all the women were skinny and all the men were overweight. ‘‘For the men, it’s perfectly acceptable to be a person of appetites,’’ she said. ‘‘You’re in midlife, you’re at the peak of your professional moment.’’ Again, she slipped into character. ‘‘ ‘Pour me a glass of wine and give me a steak!’ ’’ The women, by contrast, were nibbling crackers and drinking seltzer. ‘‘There should be no shame in appetite,’’ she said, her voice rising. ‘‘There should be no shame in anger. There should be no shame in love. There should be no shame in wanting things.’’
- This article on the toxicity of the YA Twitter community is causing quite a dustup, on Twitter and elsewhere. Author Kat Rosenfield argues that YA Twitter is policing community opinions in the name of promoting diversity and protecting people of color, but that the ensuing waves of pile-ons cause damage more than they educate:
Many members of YA Book Twitter have become culture cops, monitoring their peers across multiple platforms for violations. The result is a jumble of dogpiling and dragging, subtweeting and screenshotting, vote-brigading and flagging wars, with accusations of white supremacy on one side and charges of thought-policing moral authoritarianism on the other. Representatives of both factions say they’ve received threats or had to shut down their accounts owing to harassment, and all expressed fear of being targeted by influential community members — even when they were ostensibly on the same side. “If anyone found out I was talking to you,” Mimi told me, “I would be blackballed.”
- But critics of Rosenfield’s article, like YA Twitter member Sarah Hannah Gómez, argue that the YA community is primarily critiquing bad writing:
Literally NOBODY is saying people can't write about unlikeable or even racist characters. We're saying that if the author isn't competent enough to write something that is interrogating racism rather than perpetuating it, they're a shitty writer.
- Loft Literary Center canceled its conference on writing for children and young adults after it found that the lineup was whiter than expected.
- Selma and A Wrinkle In Time director Ava DuVernay is developing a TV adaptation of Octavia Butler’s 1987 novel Dawn.
- Speaking of Butler, at Electric Lit, Kristopher Jansma longs for Butler’s unfinished last novel, The Parable of the Trickster:
The novel’s many abandoned openings revolve around another woman, Imara, living on an Earthseed colony in the future on a planet called “Bow,” far from Earth. It is not the heaven that was hoped for, but “gray, dank, and utterly miserable.” The people of Bow cannot return to Earth and are immeasurably homesick. Butler wrote in a note, “Think of our homesickness as a phantom-limb pain — a somehow neurologically incomplete amputation. Think of problems with the new world as graft-versus-host disease — a mutual attempt at rejection.”
- I don’t know if you heard that some kind of eclipse is on the way? The Atlantic has republished Annie Dillard’s 1982 famous essay about seeing a total solar eclipse:
The sky’s blue was deepening, but there was no darkness. The sun was a wide crescent, like a segment of tangerine. The wind freshened and blew steadily over the hill. The eastern hill across the highway grew dusky and sharp. The towns and orchards in the valley to the south were dissolving into the blue light. Only the thin river held a trickle of sun.
Now the sky to the west deepened to indigo, a color never seen. A dark sky usually loses color. This was a saturated, deep indigo, up in the air. Stuck up into that unworldly sky was the cone of Mount Adams, and the alpenglow was upon it. The alpenglow is that red light of sunset which holds out on snowy mountaintops long after the valleys and tablelands are dimmed. “Look at Mount Adams,” I said, and that was the last sane moment I remember.
- At the Millions, Caroline Leavitt explains the problem with writing about people you know:
When I was asked to write an essay about food issues for an anthology, I wrote about a long-gone ex who monitored my food intake until I was down to 95 pounds, who clouded my vision so I couldn’t see how controlled I was. Of course I knew enough not to use his name, his physical description, or his job, but even so, two weeks after the anthology was published, I got a call from the publisher’s lawyer. Somehow my ex, who I hadn’t seen in years, had read the essay. Though he insisted he had never done a single thing I had mentioned in the essay, he still recognized himself. And he wanted to sue.
“Maybe you young ladies just aren’t up for the challenge. I’ve often said that women in combat lower the military’s standards,” Kelly said stiffly. “I’m sure I’m capable of babysitting one person all by myself, even if you’re not.”
Mary Anne jumped to her feet. “Look, mister, we’re four female entrepreneurs running a very successful business. Don’t condescend to us.”