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Jane Austen, authority on relationship intricacies, has been cited in 27 legal decisions

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

A Readathon Celebrates The 200th Anniversary Of Jane Austen's Pride And Prejudice Matt Cardy/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 April 22, 2018.

Lee’s new vision for superhero narratives was characterized by a focus on realism. He wanted to “make the unreal real,” because if you “[p]lop an earthly superhero into a familiar setting […] you’ve got some classic pulp fiction.” Lee’s stories would incorporate relatable characters and current events, combining the fantastic and the everyday.

But there was also this other strange, and very painful process that was unfolding while I was writing the book. Libraries to me are about permanence and memory and preserving forever the stories that make up a culture. It was during this time when my mom began flipping into dementia. By the time I was approaching the end of the book, she certainly didn’t outwardly recognize me.

People are such faulty vessels of memory and stories; and books are so reliable and sturdy, and libraries preserve books and hold them forever. It really was the trope of watching my mom losing her memories when I was writing about preserving memories. It was something I had never expected.

More striking was the question of a white man in the same audience, who said. “Your story showed me that there’s prejudice and bigotry on both sides.” By both sides, he clearly meant that the black women in the story were being “bigots.” He then asked me to explain my position on what amounted to reverse racism. I responded by making it clear that reverse racism doesn’t exist and that racism and prejudice are two entirely different concepts. Prejudice can be universal, but racism involves institutions and structures as well as casual, everyday behaviors, and it can only be enacted from a position of power (basic Sociology 101 stuff). He seemed disappointed by my answer.

After reading every available opinion, I’ve come to a rather banal but beautiful conclusion: Jane Austen is cited as an authority on the complexity of life, particularly with regard to the intricacies of relationships. Alternatively, judges cite Austen as a shorthand for erudition and sophistication, to demarcate who is a part of high society (often, lawyers) and who is not (often, defendants), reflecting the novelist’s popular reception.

If Middlemarch articulates Eliot’s faith in a world of greater physical mobility, social mobility is the transformation that forms the blazing heart of her vision. Will Ladislaw, whose foreign blood makes him an object of suspicion, excels as a newspaper editor and becomes a successful politician. He marries the widowed Dorothea, who forfeits rank and inheritance to become his wife. In describing their happiness, Eliot is asserting the primacy of love over status, merit over fortune. But Middlemarch goes farther than rejecting social class as an arbiter of worth — it suggests that the vitality required to thrive in a changing world is not to be found in the aristocracy.

The odd part is that I never loved it. The shirt included a kind of necktie I found silly, like the self-conscious women-in-the-workplace clothes of the nineteen-eighties. But the shirt served its purpose and checked off the necessary boxes. If I sweated while standing in front of a podium, it didn’t show. In a suitcase, the shirt didn’t wrinkle. I could wear it in any season. It was adequately professional, or at least implied I’d made a respectful amount of effort.

The definition of what qualifies as “chick lit” (an unpleasant term, besides which, I’ve personally always thought if you were going to coin a sexist word for women’s books, chicktion has more pizzazz, but I digress) is, in its purest form, a stupid tautology. A book is marketed as chick lit if it broadly appeals to women; books broadly appeal to women if they’re marketed as chick lit. Of course, this definition doesn’t hold up under much scrutiny. For one thing, the category of “fiction that appeals more to women than men” is, as we know, “fiction.” Accordingly, most books are marketed toward women. The Corrections was infamously, and briefly, featured in Oprah’s book club and marketed as a family drama, which it is. In this sense, all fiction — and this has been roughly true since the early nineteenth century, when the burgeoningly popular, still somewhat novel novel form, was declaimed as a woman’s art — is chick lit.

Happy reading!