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Remembering Tom Wolfe, for fans and non-fans alike

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 May 13, 2018.

Anthologies were never merely archival, he insists, but meant to demonstrate something essential about blackness. For the Soviets, the anthology was part and parcel of their plan to situate “the Negro” (particularly the American Negro) as a natural political ally during the Cold War. But that framing required, as framing tends to do, a certain degree of distortion, one aided in this case by the process of translation.

The descriptions read like poetic blazons: Behold the lopsided ears! Behold the scraggly coat! Behold the lolling tongue, the malformed limb, the crooked tail! Each creature is held up for careful consideration, and each is declared worthy. This is the look of love in the Corinthian sense, patient and kind and keeping no record of any pup’s wrongs.

  • Also at the New Yorker’s blog, Adam Gopnik eulogizes Tom Wolfe. It’s a nicely balanced look at Wolfe’s legacy, and worth reading even if you are not a Wolfe fan:

Tom Wolfe, who died Monday, was — as even those of us who did not share his politics and often deplored his taste and even doubted the fashion wisdom of all the white suits have to admit — one of the central makers of modern American prose. His style, when it emerged, in the mid-nineteen-sixties, was genuinely arresting, and remains startlingly original. Its superficial affect — all those “Zowies!” and ellipses and broken sentences — was like the sound of AM radio shows in the same period, a collage of attention-seeking screams.

One self-proclaimed avid reader listed just shy of 40 books and authors but failed to see that maybe he had some self-reflecting to do if no women made the cut. The favorites purists often seemed horrified at my suggestion that they sneak a woman into the top 40; they saw meddling with their immutable list of faves as disingenuous at best, deceitful at worst.

The Big Sleep Test was inescapable there. What is The Big Sleep Test? Simple: A man walks up to my desk and asks, “Do you have the third edition of Ben-Hur?”

Yes, it is always a man. I have never been asked the Ben-Hur question by a woman. Not once. It’s only the men who feel the need to test me — especially if it means demonstrating a bit of their own biblio-knowledge. Bonus points if they can claim it’s a joke or a reference. The Big Sleep Test accomplishes all these. Sometimes, it’s even used as an attempt to flirt. But it only bores me, this unoriginal remark from unoriginal men, hiding their intimidation behind condescension.

The problem today is that this culture we live in is lovely and insidious, able, unlike any that has come before it, to integrate criticism of itself and turn it around faster than Klee’s Angelus Novus can blink. The culture co-opts others, co-opts their culture, makes us cute and cuddly and lovable, but we never integrate fully.

Every group needs to have an other. I don’t know how a society can exist without classifying another as the other. The question for the writers who are getting to talk is where we stand. Inside, outside, in the middle? For so-called world-literature writers, it’s a troubling question.

Happy reading!

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