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What is the place of conspiracy fiction in the era of fake news?

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

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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 link 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 March 11, 2018.

  • Atlas Obscura interviews Alex Johnson about the beautiful phenomenon known as a “book town”: tourist destinations filled with bookstores.

Book towns are tiny little places, and people wouldn’t come to them otherwise, and everyone would disappear.

After we’ve gone through everyone getting excited about e-books and online reading, having something practical and in your hand is something that people are happy to travel for. They’re starting to come back to this idea of things that are homemade, things that are made, things you can hold and smell and touch. I think in locations that are particularly picturesque, those things come together, and people feel they are getting a proper physical experience.

It quickly became apparent to me that I would have to look not only at her past, but also at the future that had not yet happened. It would be something like time traveling, only — unlike time travelers in the movies — I would know the future without having a chance to change it.

The point was that the obituary I was going to write would be very different from the obituary we would have written when Plath died. In some ways, I think, it turned out to be more true to who she really was.

I love “On the Road,” despite knowing very well that it’s a fantastical and likely toxic account, blind to both engines of privilege and the sacrifices inherent to endless meandering. Any ongoing affinity for the book is a way of signalling to the world that you are still enthralled by juvenile and illusory notions of freedom. Yet I’m nonetheless cowed by the rhythm and the elegance of Kerouac’s prose, how he taps into the wild energy of adolescent wanting.

  • At the Globe and Mail, Claire Cameron examines how the same book can be sold in wildly different ways in Britain and Canada:

Both covers do tap into deep-seated fear. But the different focus of those fears may speak more to a transatlantic literary divide, says Kate Pullinger, a Canadian novelist in Britain and professor of creative writing and digital media at Bath Spa University. She sees the two covers as responding to each market for fiction.

“In Canada, the popular writer can remain literary,” but in Britain, though there are exceptions, Pullinger says “literary fiction is increasingly devalued and invisible in the marketplace.” In her view, the British cover is trying to connect to the commercial market; it ties into the tabloid newspaper culture that screams for attention. “Scary Sad Crime Happened Here!”

As the filmmaker Adam Curtis describes the tactics of the Russian propagandist Vladislav Surkov, the aim “is not to win the war, but to use the conflict to create a constant state of destabilized perception, in order to manage and control…A ceaseless shape-shifting that is unstoppable because it is undefinable.”

Which sounds to me like an eerily good description of Thomas Pynchon’s narrative style. (And indeed Surkov was once an avant-garde theatre director.) This is what makes me suddenly leery of conspiracy novels, including my own.

So, is Shriver worried that the police will use ownership of her books as justification to arrest and detain activists without trial, as happened in apartheid South Africa? When she says “these millennials plan on doing all the censoring,” does she mean that these millennials plan on organizing themselves into a highly complex bureaucratic system that will oversee the banning of more than 11,000 novels, as happened in apartheid South Africa? Or, rather, does she simply mean she is worried that some people won’t buy them, or that she would not like it very much if someone came and waved a sassy poster outside one of her readings?

Happy reading!