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Mein Kampf is allowed in Texas prisons but The Color Purple is not

And the rest of the week’s best writing on books and related topics.

Texas prison Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images
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 the weekly Vox book links roundup, a curated collection of the internet’s best writing on books and related subjects. Here’s the best the web has to offer for the week of January 14, 2018.

An air of not giving a fuck is, incidentally, what some have said they love about Flannery O’Connor. Though mainstream feminism has often ignored her work, she has earned praise for her lack of vanity, for her unwillingness to compromise by . . . what? Sweating under a wig in rural Georgia? Bumbling around her farm without her glasses? Amid her birds and her mother’s cows she had no reason to take uncomfortable beautifying measures. Perhaps her country life aided her sense of humor in protecting her esteem. When visitors did arrive with cameras, perhaps she did not feel as alien as some people assume she must have.

Let’s be clear: “What does your husband think about your work” is a ruse. Beneath that query is the real question: Did you, the author, do the things the female character does in your narrative? If so, how’d you get away with writing about it? Isn’t your husband hurt? And aren’t you ashamed?

I remember a second-year business student for whom I had just bought a large orange and vodka for $5 at the Fat Lady’s Arms one Saturday night in 2002. He wanted to know how writing would ever get me a decent job. “What are you gonna do with that?” he asked me, almost as if I’d just pulled some indescribable item out of my pocket and was demanding that he touch it.

The choices prisons make when banning books can seem arbitrary, even capricious. In Texas, 10,000 titles are banned, including such head-scratchers as “The Color Purple” and a compilation by the humor writer Dave Barry.

“Mein Kampf,” on the other hand, is permitted, along with several books by white nationalists, despite the existence of prison gangs like the murderous Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.

“When you look at the banned book lists and specifically the stuff that’s being allowed, there’s a definite bias toward violent armed white supremacy and the censorship of anything that questions the existing religious or political status quo,” said Paul Wright, the executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center.

The package ban applies not only to clothes, fresh food, and household items but also to reading materials, which has prompted critics to accuse the New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, or doccs, of censorship. Several observers pointed out that the initial five approved venders offered fewer than a hundred books for sale, two dozen of which are coloring books. “Why would they eliminate books?” Garcia asked. “It’s bureaucracy clashing with humanity.”

The state of not-knowing is intrinsic to love and sex and it’s also intrinsic in good fiction. Faking it, of course, can operate in the inverse too, not as an attempt to suppress real desire, as Frances does, but as an inability to prevent real desire arising out of something feigned.

…she truly was a delectable morsel: she looked like tender curds and whey, like sugar paste; she never turned the little buttons of her eyes without leaving hearts perforated by love; she never opened the basin of her lips without doing a little laundry of souls…

Happy reading!

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