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How Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’s iconic cover came together

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

A Harry Potter book display at San Francisco’s Clean Well-Lighted Place For Books in 2004
Copies of Harry Potter books stand on display in 2004.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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 21, 2018.

I don’t mind, by the way, the appropriation of my curious condition for the purpose of metaphor, just as I don’t hold it against friends and colleagues when they ask if I need a hand (indeed I do), complain that they’re shorthanded (a little too on the nose), or claim they can perform some task with one hand tied behind their backs (not as well as I can). What bothers me is how thin the authors stretch it. Because while the book’s recipes are uncomplicated enough, many still require the kind of mundane prep—hunching over to cube raw chicken breasts for those skewers, grating zucchini and lemon zest for those salmon cakes—that, as a permanent resident of the particular state of being in question, I do occasionally resent.

For many writers, mapmaking is a practical endeavor that pulls them into their own work. “I always draw my way into stories,” writes Abi Elphinstone, the author of the Dreamsnatcher books. “I begin every story I write by drawing a map because it is only when my characters start moving from place to place that a plot unfolds.” Mitchell doesn’t print maps in his books, but he needs them to get through the writing. “If I’m describing a character’s ascent of a mountain, I need to know what he or she will find on the way up,” he writes. But also: Making maps is fun.

For its employees, the store has more often been an object of resentment. Patti Smith worked there briefly in the early 1970s, but told New York magazine she quit because it “wasn’t very friendly.” Mary Gaitskill worked there for a year and a half and described it, in a thinly veiled story from Bad Behavior, as, “a filthy, broken-down store” staffed by “unhappy homosexuals.” In 2005, an anonymous employee ran a (pretty dumb) blog called “I Hate the Strand” and the reviews on the store’s Glassdoor page are still largely negative. “Employees who were so miserable they joked about torching the building,” wrote one former employee. “Honestly, shut up with the tote bags,” wrote another. (About twenty percent of the Strand’s revenue comes from merch. They sell a lot of tote bags.)

“Let us have nothing so much in minde as death. At the stumbling of a horse, at the fall of a stone, at the least prick with a pinne, let us presently ruminate and say with our selves, what if it were death it selfe?” Montaigne advised that we must contemplate death at every turn and in doing so, we make ourselves ready for it in the most productive way possible. On a more personal note, I managed to achieve this by spending four years writing a Ph.D. thesis on Montaigne’s work, a task which forced me to contemplate death every single day.

Fictional gender benders may be as old as Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.” But recent years have seen a boomlet in transgender literature. In a field previously dominated by memoir and genre fiction (sci-fi, young adult), a number of first novels with more purely literary designs — including playing with genre — are getting attention. “It’s really exciting to see an emerging crop of trans-related fiction by trans people,” said Meredith Talusan, a journalist who writes about L.G.B.T.Q. issues. “It takes a lot of mettle to tread narrative terrain without a real tradition and without a lot of cultural support.”

Lately I’ve been thinking about a corpus of texts that centers on trans writing. I’m apprehensive about the limitations inherent in canonization, mainly canon’s inadequate literary representation of difference as tokenism, and the prohibitive inaccessibility for those who can’t afford education at the highest levels. So it’s not a canon exactly, but a corpus. It’s something more like a body: mutable, evolving, flexible, open, exposed, exposing. It’s the opposite of erasure; it’s an inscription.

As of this fall, Dorothy has 18 books, each compact, beautiful, and surprising — every one of them spectacular. Riker says, “Our plan initially was to lose money. We set it up as two books a year so we could lose a thousand dollars a year and be able to absorb it. We wanted to do as well as we could with the books, but to never ever have to worry about how they sold because no matter how they did, we could keep going.” They didn’t lose money. Within three years, they were able to recoup the $5,000 they had saved up to start the project. Now, because the press is volunteer-run, all proceeds go to the authors or back into the press.


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 vox.com/books. Happy reading!