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How a YA fantasy novel scammed its way onto the New York Times best-seller list

Handbook for Mortals, by Lani Sarem GeekNation Press

Welcome to the Vox weekly book link roundup, a curated collection of the best writing on the web about books and related subjects. Here’s the best the internet has to offer for the week of August 20, 2017.

  • Book Twitter was wild this week, beloveds. Pajiba was first to report the big news: A book called Handbook For Mortals apparently bought its way top the top of the New York Times children’s best-sellers list. That’s honestly not that hard to do and happens all the time, but as Book Twitter sleuthed its way to the bottom the mystery, this especially ham-handed attempt proved to involve such early ’00s minor celebrities as Glory from Buffy, JC Chasez of ’NSYNC, and the band Blues Traveler. EW has a solid postmortem if you get to the end of Pajiba’s updates and are still confused. This one is quite a ride.
  • Tangentially related: The book that was at first unseated from the top of the list and has now been re-enthroned is The Hate U Give, which we here at Vox loved. It’s being adapted into a movie, and Insecure’s Issa Rae just joined the cast.
  • In other book scam news, the Stranger is digging into the life of PEN Literary Award nominee John Smelcer, who appears to have falsified his racial background, heritage, degree, publication history, and blurbs.
  • At the New York Times, J. Courtney Sullivan discusses rebuilding her childhood library:

With the arrival of every volume, I’d get a thrill, remembering. Not just the book itself, but what it meant to read it under the covers with a flashlight, or on the back porch of our house, which wasn’t ours anymore. When I received the “Stickybear” books by Richard Hefter and saw the familiar endpapers covered in strawberries, I recalled how my dad would read the strawberries as part of the text. Example: “The end. Strawberry strawberry strawberry strawberry strawberry.”

At one point he pleaded in a note scrawled in the margin, “If you would only defer to the narrative, you could get away with murder.” I liked that comment so much I typed it across the top of the first page of the second draft, so I would see it every morning as I began my day’s work.

I hate the office;

It cuts in on my social life.

  • Publishers Weekly explains the strategy behind the New York Times’s redesigned books coverage:

Previously, books reporters and editors had been in different departments: the Book Review, part of the Times’ weekend edition, remained strictly separate from the publishing reporter, who went between the paper’s Culture and Business Day desks, and the three daily critics, who remained firmly under the culture department’s wing. That made sense for a print-first enterprise. For the new digital-first Times, it was something of an albatross.

  • At the Hairpin, Molly Patterson wonders why so many acclaimed books by women are short, while so many acclaimed books by men are long:

There is something bodily present about a book, and I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to say that what is valued here is mirrored in what is valued in the female body itself: to be slim is both virtuous and good. Small books are often described as “tight” or “controlled,” vocabulary that could be taken from the pages of a fitness magazine. In her NPR review of Jenny Offill’s 192-page book Department of Speculation (a book I greatly admire), Meg Wolitzer describes the challenge the author set for herself: “[W]rite only what needs to be written, and nothing more.” In other words, don’t take up too much space.

And then comes the kicker: “No excess, no flab.”

A brief housekeeping note: I’m going on vacation, so there will not be another book link roundup until the Saturday after next, September 9. In the meantime, happy reading!