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Buying books isn’t enough to keep community bookstores alive

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

Scotland’s Largest Second-hand Bookshop
The Book Shop in Wigtown, Scotland.
Jeff J Mitchell/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 Vox’s weekly book link roundup, a curated selection of the internet’s best writing on books and related subjects. Here’s the best the web has to offer for the week of October 7, 2018.

Authors change; the story stays the same. In the darkness a child is born. The child suffers, but he has mysterious power. Posthaste, destiny leads the child to the same place it herds all the courageous orphan-protagonists of speculative fiction: a storied and exclusive institution of magical learning, where he unnerves the faculty, demonstrates arrogance, and forms lasting friendships on his way to vanquishing evil.

  • At Metro News, Natalie Morris explains the new technology of “ambient literature.” Honestly, this sounds like a very unappealing, glorified version of those children’s books you used to be able to order where you’d insert your kid’s name as the main character’s so that they’d get invested in the story, but maybe it will surprise me and create some great art! Who can say?

The technology enables the narrative to sync to the reader’s surroundings. So if it’s raining in real life, it will start raining in the story, if you’re sitting in a cafe, the action will take place in a cafe. The creators say the aim is to put the reader at the very heart of the story, rather than having to imagine a fictional landscape.

While it may be easy to slip into a kind of dangerous daydream of the better days of yesteryear  —  “when people still bought books”  —  you shouldn’t do that. Because while buying books is important, that “call to action” distracts us from the real problem. Capitalism is not good for small, low return-on-investment businesses that we need in our community. So what are we going to do about that?

Well-established steps test for symmetry about an axis: replace x or y with -x or -y and then simplify the equation. How do we balance the tonic and witty warmth of a Philip Roth novel against its contempt for mah-jongg-playing heifers? How do we think about the fact that so many boldface names in publishing and literature are female, that feminist reworkings of ancient myths constitute an industry trend, that spiky, honest meditations on motherhood make for another trend — and, still, we live in a world that hates women?

Novels took the noble pleasure of reading and made it something quick and dirty. They told exciting stories in simple prose, not poetry. Their heroes were not kings or demigods, but maidservants and mariners, who instead of going on magical quests faced the inward challenges that readers knew from their own lives. Accordingly, the English novel of the 18th century is virtually all sex and social climbing, set in haunted castles later on. The reputation of the books was low, but circulating libraries kept their addict audience supplied.

I find the often clunky, contrived food references to be one of the series’ most endearing qualities. “Their bakery and coffee shop, the Cookie Jar, was as empty as one of Hannah’s cream puffs before it was filled with vanilla custard,” Fluke writes in Peach Cobbler Murder. How much more delightful would life be if we started speaking in pastry-centric similes? And that’s to say nothing of the quirky wordplay, which Fluke uses to comedic effect just in case the docile nature of the books wasn’t obvious enough. In fact, puns abound throughout the cozy mystery genre at large, as evidenced by titles like: Till Death Do Us Tart; Another One Bites The Crust; Butter Safe Than Sorry: A Pennsylvania Dutch Mystery; and one that speaks to recent trends called Purrder She Wrote: A Cat Cafe Mystery.

Alexander was the first person to translate Sartre’s novel Nausea and his collection The Wall and Other Stories into English. His version of Nausea, published by New Directions, was reviewed in 1949 in the New York Times — negatively, in reference both to Sartre’s work and the quality of its translation — by none other than Vladimir Nabokov. But despite Nabokov’s dismissal, Alexander’s translations are still in print. The dog-eared copy in the hands of a disaffected high schooler, the battered edition picked up in a used book store and displayed prominently on a table in a coffee shop — those are Alexander’s renditions. If you’ve read these books, you’ve most likely read his words.

Meanwhile, here’s a rundown of the week in books at Vox:

As always, you can keep up with Vox’s book coverage by visiting Happy reading!