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Apparently there is a longstanding and vicious feud between architects and librarians

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

Montblanc & UNICEF Gala Dinner
The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building New York Public Library … DESIGNED BY AN ARCHITECT.
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Montblanc

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 1, 2018.

Reynolds’s challenge felt rooted in a long history of literary male self-congratulation. The canon is lousy with authors who yearn to be admired for their sensitivity to the full range of female personhood, be that personhood luscious, pert, or swelling coyly against a sheer camisole. These are writerly men confident that they’ve nailed women’s psyches, all because of how single-mindedly they want to nail women.

The brilliance of the essay is that even in the act of writing it Didion reenacts an emotional cliché, the narrator telling a past self how silly and stupid she was to fall for a story that everyone falls for. This self-conscious style, a personal matter conveyed at a distance, would become Didion’s signature. Even when she wrote about something as personal as her divorce, she did it at a remove, turning it over in her hand, polishing it to a shine that concealed certain roughnesses in the center.

  • At Triple Canopy, Marvin J. Taylor and Andrea Geyer introduce us to the longstanding feud that flourishes between librarians and architects. (Ryan Murphy, are you listening?)

Librarians and architects were already at odds in the late nineteenth century, when librarianship and architectural practice were being professionalized. (The American Library Association was founded in 1876, the American Institute for Architects in 1856.) Many librarians felt that architects ignored their needs and created buildings that emphasized grandeur over functionality. William Frederick Poole, the librarian at the Chicago Historical Society and the founder of Poole’s Index to Periodical Literature, was one of the most outspoken opponents of such designs, which he saw as wasting space and pointlessly imitating churches. At a meeting of the ALA in 1881, Poole delivered a fiery speech against the “vacuity” of the new Peabody Institute Library in Baltimore. “The nave is empty and serves no purpose that contributes to the architectural effect,” he argued. “Is not this an expensive luxury?”

  • The Paris Review has named Emily Nemens, former co-editor of the Southern Review, as its new editor-in-chief. The New York Times has the full story.
  • Last year, a group of teenagers vandalized a historic black schoolhouse with swastikas and hate speech. A judge sentenced them to punishment by reading. At the New York Times, Christine Hauser checks in on how the sentence worked out:

An excerpt from one of his court-ordered essays was provided to The New York Times, with his permission, by his defense lawyer. He describes not fully knowing what a swastika meant, and that he thought it “didn’t really mean much.”

“Not anymore,” he wrote. “I was wrong, it means a lot to people who were affected by them. It reminds them of the worst things, losing family members and friends. Of the pain of torture, psychological and physical. Among that it reminds them how hateful people can be and how the world can be cruel and unfair.”

The thing about working the reference desk is you only learn how to do it by sitting your ass in the seat. Like most library work, understanding reference comes from actually interacting with patrons. There’s no way to know how to correctly answer life’s weirdest questions without having someone physically stroll up, plop themselves in the seat directly adjacent, and ask: “Do you know any good erotica sites?”

No one who has ever looked back upon a book she or he has written, only to find the thing foreign and alienating, unrecallable, would ever deny its mysteriousness. One can’t help but think that in some way this surprise reflects the appalled senility of God herself, or himself, though maybe it’s the weirdly paired egotism and humility of artists that leads them over and over again to this creational cliché: that we are God’s dream, God’s characters; that literary fiction is God’s compulsion handed down to us, an echo, a diminishment, but something we are made to do in imitation, perhaps even in honor, of that original creation, and made to do in understanding of what flimsy vapors we all are — though also how heartbreaking and amusing.

Happy reading!

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