Welcome to the weekly Vox book links roundup, a curated collection of the internet’s best writing on books and related subjects. This week contained both Valentine’s Day (fun! romance! love!) and one of publishing’s most explosive #MeToo moments yet (less fun and definitely without romance), so the discourse was heavily focused on gender, consent, and sex in writing and the literary world. Here’s the best the web has to offer for the week of February 11, 2018.
- The #MeToo movement has hit children’s publishing. It started when author Anne Ursu created a survey about sexual harassment in the industry, one which named no names but did describe patterns of behavior. School Library Journal wrote up Ursu’s survey — and then people in the comments section began to name names extensively. In the ensuing fallout, news surfaced that 13 Reasons Why author Jay Asher and prize-winning illustrator David Diaz had been expelled from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, which happened last year but only became public this week, and Asher was subsequently dropped by his literary agent. Meanwhile, Maze Runner author James Dashner was also dropped by his agent, as well as his publisher. The New York Times has a thorough overview.
- Author Myke Cole was also accused of sexual harassment this week, and he reacted with a pretty solid apology letter:
I am a big guy with a loud mouth and, intentionally or not, I can project an uncomfortable amount of intensity. I have tried to be cognizant of that and thought I was doing a good job of it, but once I got to thinking about our first meeting and let myself truly see the way I have behaved, frankly, I’m not surprised to see my name on that list either.
I’m mortified that I have made another person feel this way and it has me questioning my sense of self, who I thought I was. I do not want to make excuses or give explanations. All I want to do is offer an apology. To anyone I have ever made uncomfortable, or question their safety, I am so sorry. The thought that anyone wouldn’t feel safe around me is a kick in the teeth, but it’s one that I’ve earned.
- Adrienne Miller, the first woman to become literary editor at Esquire, writes at Vogue about what it was like to be a woman in publishing’s boy’s club in the ‘90s. (Hint: She was sexually harassed by apparently half of the great American men of letters.)
The following day, still in a kind of dazed shock, I relayed what happened to a fiction-writer friend. He was several years older than I, but quite a lot younger than the man who had assaulted me.
“Oldest story in the book,” he said. “The boss chasing the secretary around the desk.”
My friend had not supplied the answer I’d anticipated.
“But I’m his editor,” I reminded him.
“Yeah, well,” my friend said grimly, “that’s not how he sees it, obviously.”
- For Valentine’s Day, Claire Jarvis went in on sex in Victorian literature at Five Books:
Victorian culture perceived and understood sexual life as dangerous—that it only went one way, to ruination, and needed to be controlled and contained. But in tension with that, similar to our culture today, are actual lived experiences of people—who we see were not concerned at all with such rigid boundaries between sexual life and social life. They just wrote and thought a great deal about it. Literature can represent that divide more flexibly than something like the didactic essay or a news article could
- And at Jezebel, Kelly Faircloth talks to romance novelists about writing consent:
It seems like a really, really, really horrible thing to say, but I feel like if you are centering the idea of not just consent but enthusiastic consent in your work, you’re having to world-build that, because it doesn’t exist in our society. It doesn’t exist in our world. We’ve proven that a lot here recently. So if you are centering that, you have to do it early. You’re having to build a circumstance and a society and set of people for whom that is important and vital. You can’t start late. There’s no such thing as starting world-building late. It’s either there or it’s not.
- At McSweeney’s, Sarah Chevallier has put literature’s “complicated men” on Tinder:
Name: Holden Caulfield
Occupation: “Jobs” are for phonies who “care” about phony stuff like “bills” and “food”
About Holden: Only looking for casual dating, because everyone’s a phony except for me (obviously). Sidebar, I’m not totally sure that “phony” means what I think it means.
- At Electric Lit, Marian Crotty analyzes the way the rules of “good fiction” tend to work best for men’s stories:
When I was first learning to write, I also had trouble accurately telling stories about young women’s love lives while also following the “rules of fiction.” Good stories showed instead of telling; interesting characters acted instead of reacting. But how did you show something that not everyone could see? And why was passivity such an unworthy subject for literature when, in my own life and in the lives of my friends, it so often undergirded nearly every dramatic encounter — not an avoidance of story, but the thing at the center of every story that had to be negotiated. Sure, a story about a person sitting alone in a room thinking was unlikely to be particularly engaging, but what about the story of a person in danger who feels too immobilized by fear to do anything?
- The Smithsonian Magazine has some nice hard data tracing the transition of the novel from a genre considered feminine and frivolous to one considered masculine and serious: In the Victorian era, the numbers show that women dominated novels, but now they make up a much smaller slice of the pie.