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The time has come to choose the Oddest Book Title of the Year

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

Chicago’s Printers Row Book Fair
Pick your winner!
Tim Boyle/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 28, 2018.

  • At the Millions, Adam O’Fallon Price analyzes what makes a literary best-seller. Not gonna lie, I would at the very least skim the first chapter of The Journals of the First Mrs. Gauguin, the title of Price’s prospective best-seller:

Having compiled a long list of recent literary hits, what did I learn? Well, for one thing, start your title with “The.” Around a third of these bestsellers are “The” books. The Goldfinch, The Nightingale, The Martian, The Interestings, The Vacationers, The Girl on the Train. Granted, “the” is a fairly common word in English usage, but I suspect it also holds some subliminal power for prospective readers, announcing a book as official in subject and purpose — the definite article, so to speak. Just imagine how many more copies All the Light We Cannot See would have sold if it had been titled, for example, The Light We Cannot See (All of It), or The Entirety of Unseen Light.

For every smart/brave/adventurous fictional heroine, the author must supply 1.618 boys. Rounding to the nearest whole number for human purposes, we see that adventurous trios must be 2:1 male: female. Or, to retain our original mathematical precision, novels for children must contain one smart/brave/adventurous girl, one smart/brave/adventurous boy, and one somewhat lacking boy, i.e., 1.618 boys.

Limiting access to books is a punishment. Books represent vocational, educational, cultural, sexual, and philosophical freedom to incarcerated people living in prison. To the DOC, this is more threatening than drugs. According to Books Through Bars, the most requested books are vocational guides, legal dictionaries, urban fiction, reference books, African American history, and radical history. By curbing donations, the DOC uses supposed drug smuggling as a pretext for denying prisoners the pursuit of knowledge, happiness, and personal betterment.

Saverio Costanzo, the 43-year-old director of the HBO limited series “My Brilliant Friend,” is a haunted man. For over a decade, he has corresponded with a woman whose face he cannot see, whose voice he cannot hear, whose existence is confirmed only by the many thousands of words she has written dissecting his artistic choices. When he speaks of her, his black eyes turn upward, as if seeking a trace of her in the cracks of the ceiling or in some metaphysical plane high above the penthouse suite of the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where Costanzo and the cast of “My Brilliant Friend” have arrived for HBO’s summer press tour. “Sometimes she was so strong,” he said, gruffly. “I don’t know. I’m still trying to put everything together. It’s very hard. It was like working with a ghost.”

Behind it all: books, functioning lately more as backdrops than props. Though still tokens of intellectual yearning, they’ve now been completely anonymized. The page-out Scandi aesthetic has been taken to its logical, denatured extreme. They could be any books — which is sweetly democratic in a way, but also oddly anti-intellectual for supposed bibliophiles, who are presumed to bicker passionately over merits of particular genres and titles.

  • There usually isn’t much innovation in the world of print books (the technology has been around for a long time, and we’ve pretty much worked out the bugs), but here’s a new one: dwarsliggers, which are tiny horizontal books designed to be read with one hand, essentially mimicking the smartphone reading experience on paper. The New York Times has the story:

This month, Dutton, which is part of Penguin Random House, began releasing its first batch of mini books, with four reissued novels by the best-selling young-adult novelist John Green. The tiny editions are the size of a cellphone and no thicker than your thumb, with paper as thin as onion skin. They can be read with one hand — the text flows horizontally, and you can flip the pages upward, like swiping a smartphone.

I don’t remember when exactly Twilight blew up, but I wasn’t happy about it. No one could understand it the way I could. I lived inside it. I had read the meadow scene so many times I could recite paragraphs.

However, when it exploded, and the criticism came raining down, I realized how very stupid it was, and how very stupid the girls who liked it were.

(Spoiler: the girls weren’t stupid or at fault. They’re just the easiest for everyone to blame.)

The most commonly shared view is that it has become extremely difficult to generate exposure for novels. Fiction, more than nonfiction, depends on readers discovering new books by browsing. Now, with the number of physical stores down from five years ago (despite a rise in ABA membership), publishers cannot rely on bricks-and-mortar stores providing customers with access to new books.


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!