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Did you hear how bad Sean Penn’s book is? It’s really bad.

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

Sean Penn Discusses His New Book 'Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff: A Novel' Photo by Michael Loccisano/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 25, 2018.

  • Knopf Doubleday is looking for a new publicist. And Paul Bogaards, director of PR at Knopf Doubleday, has posted an “accurate” version of the job listing to his Tumblr:

This is what will actually happen: You will be staring at your mobile in a crosswalk, answering a complaint from an author about their seat assignment on a United flight, and then be hit by an Uber. That is the most succinct description of book publishing in the 21st century that the director can think of.

We might also call it needlessly cynical to promote such a garbage novel as the second coming of The Crying of Lot 49 just because it was written by a craggy white man with an unearned sense of intellectual superiority and a well-thumbed thesaurus. Nonetheless, Penn was allowed to publish this novel, and Salman Rushdie blurbed it. So here we are.

The rhyme scheme starts to fall apart pretty early, but it’s at “sexual misdoings awakening a rage” that it all really goes to shit. This dude really fucked his meter all the way up just so he could say “sexual misdoings” instead of “rape.”

Virtually everyone is prepared to admit that Pound was a fascist, a racist, and an anti-Semite; what’s harder to accept is that his political views are not incidental but central to the poetic project that constituted his life’s work. “The grand bad faith of the Cantos—its pomposity, its anger—is a constant, running line after line,” Swift notes. He also recognizes that there is something more at stake here than just literary reputation. Pound is not the only major 20th-century literary figure who supported fascism or held racist views; but he is the only one who engaged with the extreme right of the postwar era, and today his particular blend of economic populism, conspiracy thinking, and overt racism, far from seeming eccentric and anachronistic, is disturbingly contemporary.

It is one of fascism’s goals to monopolize our attention. It would like to shrink our imagination; it would like for us to peer wide-eyed at its harsh restrictions and be able to think of nothing else. And it is tempting to stare like this, because fascism and its precursors are rife with contradictions that seem to beg to be pointed out by Reasonable People. But that’s one of its tricks. Fascism welcomes our attempts to play logical “gotcha” with its inconsistencies because it knows we will lose—not because we won’t find a fallacy but because the fallacy won’t matter.

There seems to be little rhyme or reason to what gets deranked and what doesn’t. Ann Mayburn, an erotica author, told me in Facebook direct messages that her science fiction romance featuring “vibrating alien penises and ejaculation that’s purple and tastes like candied violets” still has its ranking, but another novel, a BDSM romance, has been labeled as erotica and “sent to the no-rank dungeon.”

The conundrum of who women dress for, the unspoken question of why we mind about our clothes, as Austen herself did, when we know that the effect on other people is most often negligible at best and at worst deleterious, has never gone away. The correct answer today is that we dress for ourselves, but that isn’t quite true either. We dress to say something about ourselves and the question is: to whom are the remarks addressed? They can be, indeed often are, misinterpreted by men who think or pretend to think that it is for them or, worse, that ‘a woman who goes out looking like that is asking for it.’ The effect on other people is, however, one end of an arc, the point where it comes to earth in the outside world. The other end, the spring of the vault, is in the interior world of the wearer and it is somewhere between the two that frock consciousness happens.

  • Author Craig Terlson has developed a foolproof plan for making author bookstore appearances 10 times less painful for everyone involved:

For my next visit I put out two signs, one that read, “Talk to me about LSD,” and the other that read, “Talk to me about Watergate.” The effect was immediate.

“Wow, Felicity,” he said. My Internet name was Felicity, after the coolest American girl doll. “I never met someone who knew so much about Harry/Draco before.”

I laughed. “Thanks, Sasuke420, I guess not everyone is as serious as I am about the Classic Ships.” Then I turned on the best song, “Spice World,” by the Spice Girls. I saw his eyes go wide as he got my musical reference. He was a keeper.

“In a while, Totodile,” I said, which is a Pokémon.

Happy reading!