clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Norman Mailer’s biographer says the noted wife-stabber “was never accused of hurting women”

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

Author Norman Mailer Died At 84 Charley Gallay/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 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 18, 2018.

We’ve let this apology cycle play out before, and we’ll see it happen again unless we learn how to stop concentrating power among just a handful of writers from marginalized backgrounds. Had it not been for our willing, enthusiastic praise of Alexie’s efforts in fighting racist norms, this labor could have been distributed among many other systemically silenced voices, and we would all have been better for it. The pain of these allegations, while repugnant and unforgivable no matter how powerful and talented Alexie is, wouldn’t have been so acute had we given more room to other Native writers.

In my class, the only acceptable genre was the one I had learned to associate with so-called serious fiction: sad middle-aged men trying to reclaim their youthful glory, preferably while drunk on cheap whiskey. Maybe include a scene where he’s digging a ditch, or thinking about when he was good at baseball. Everything is subtext and nobody ever says what they mean. These were not the kinds of stories I was writing or even identified with, but I was in the business of creating Literature.

  • At the Paris Review’s website, Adam Morgan researches the bookstore Frank Lloyd Wright built for Chicago’s Fine Arts Building. Morgan thinks the seventh floor of an office building is a weird place for a bookstore, but I once worked for a literary agency in that building and people were forever seeing the bookshelves through the window and barging in to try to buy the books (they were not for sale), so I think ol’ Wright was onto something here:

By 1901, it was home to artist studios, theater companies, literary clubs, and more than ten thousand music students. A decade later, it gave birth to Harriet Monroe’s Poetry magazine, Margaret Anderson’s The Little Review, and the Chicago Little Theatre. With thousands of booklovers moving up and down the stairwells every day, a seventh-floor bookstore didn’t seem like such a terrible idea. “All Chicago society came to Browne’s Bookstore,” Anderson writes. “Here tea was served and everyone was very smart.”

Of course, the store’s altitude wasn’t the only reason it gained national attention: every inch of the interior was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright — the shelves, the windows, even the knickknacks.

At my high school in Indiana I was a C-average student. I never read T.E. Lawrence in country. I never quoted Stephen Crane before patrols or recited Alfred, Lord Tennyson before raids. All of this is to say: I was not that unique, standout, thoughtful anomaly people have in their heads of veteran writers. I didn’t keep a journal or write or even read very much aside from Marine Corps publications and James Patterson novels while I was enlisted. I watched a lot of porn. I wasn’t quirky, individualistic, or flighty. I didn’t think about the legality and justification of the war until I left the Marines.

Too often in the classic War Story, Iraq and Iraqis are often merely the exotic backdrop or inscrutable bit players in the journey of American bildungsroman. If you can swap out the scenery and dial back the technology and be back in Vietnam or Iwo Jima, then you haven’t ever arrived in Iraq. You’re in the War Zone. It’s a place that doesn’t exist except in our imperial imagination. According to Ellen Shohat and Robert Stam, the imperial imaginary sustains a way of viewing the other through the lens of technological and ideological domination. In works of the imperial imagination, “the viewer is forced behind the barrel of a repeating rifle and it is from that position, through its gun sights, that he receives a picture history of western colonialism and imperialism.”

  • Odyssey translator Emily Wilson is low-key the best person on Twitter. At the New Yorker’s culture blog, Dan Chiasson explains why:

Wilson’s presence on Twitter is quietly revolutionary, a new kind of experience for readers, poets, translators, and really anyone who likes to watch knowledge take shape in an open format, its seams exposed. Like-minded people sharing their obsessions were the soil in which the larger Internet once grew; those transactions, commercialized and monetized, remade the world, with infinite ramifications downstream, some miraculous, some horrible. But the process of writing — what my kids, when they used to see me at my computer, called “choosing words” — has been mostly non-transactional, contained within the silos of individual imaginations or small communities, like M.F.A. workshops.

It might seem an act of literary anachronism to put a novel written in 1740 on our harassment syllabus. But what is Samuel Richardson’s Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded if not a story of workplace sexual harassment? Pamela Andrews is a poor, fifteen-year-old servant in London whose employer, Lady B, dies, leaving her rakish son in charge of the household. Pamela describes these events in letters to her parents in the country, who reply with urgent warnings about her possible “ruin” — they know all about what can happen to maidservants when a young man takes charge.

Q: Let’s discuss Mailer in the context of our current post–Harvey Weinstein moment. How should we be thinking about his treatment of women?

A: [Mailer] came out of the Mad Men era of the Fifties and thought that men needed to be strong and masculine, but [he] was never accused of hurting any women.

Q: He stabbed his wife!

A: Oh, he stabbed his wife, yeah. He … had a complex relationship with women, and he regretted many of the things he said about them. He knew those things were stupid. But his point of view was, well, “I am doing this to create a debate.”

Happy reading!

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.