Welcome to the weekly Vox book link roundup, a curated selection of the internet’s best writing on books and related subjects. Here’s the best the web has to offer for the week of June 10, 2018.
- The Paris Review Daily has launched a new monthly column called Feminize Your Canon, exploring the lives of underrated and under-read female authors. In its inaugural issue, Emma Garman explores the work of Olivia Manning:
“Not all writers of genius take the public by storm,” she writes in her introduction to a 1968 edition of Northanger Abbey. “Jane Austen in her lifetime was successful without being a sensation.” The self-consolation is touchingly evident. But had Manning taken the world by storm, had she achieved the stardom she considered her due, would her work have retained its gifts? One cannot imagine a contented person portraying, with such captivating skill, the appalling venality of a Miss Bohun or the reckless hunger of a Laura Fletcher. Given the choice, Manning may well have taken that trade-off for the Booker or the Whitbread.
- Friday is Bloomsday! To mark it, the New York Times Magazine has the strangely fascinating story of a missing Joyce scholar, who once set the literary world on fire with his critique of the extant editions of Ulysses:
By the time the asymmetrical warfare went supernova in The New York Review of Books, the fight was really no match. [John] Kidd shredded [Hans Walter] Gabler in one allez after another, revealing that this edition seemed riddled with errors. Eminent academics and writers leapt into the fray, most of them on Kidd’s side. For this brief moment, every point of argument mattered, and no detail was too small for concern or lamentation. John Updike wrote to The New York Review of Books to complain bitterly about — I am not making this up — Gabler’s blasphemous choices regarding paragraph indentations.
- On the New Yorker’s website, Masha Gessen goes into dialogue with Orwell’s argument that totalitarianism makes literature impossible:
When the values, institutions, and most of what we hold dear about politics is under attack — which it most certainly is — we find ourselves fighting the good fight to preserve things just as they are. This is the opposite of imagination, the opposite of literature, and, I suspect, the opposite of democracy. Fighting to preserve things as they are inevitably becomes a battle to think and speak of things in certain ways, either defensively or preëmptively. In trying to salvage the meaning of words as they pertain to the present, we keep words and concepts from evolving. Salvaged words quickly dry up and crack. Then they fail. We face the future empty-handed, language-wise; we are dumb in the face of the future.
- At Vulture, Lila Shapiro profiles Carmen Maria Machado, talking Her Body and Other Parties and that Junot Díaz thing:
The interaction with Díaz also perversely inspired her most famous short story. Soon after their meeting, with the conversation still ringing in her mind, she began work on “The Husband Stitch,” perhaps the most clear-cut expression of her perspective on “benevolent sexism,” as she sometimes refers to it. The piece is a virtuoso exploration of the ways in which women’s experiences are never trusted or believed.
- At the London Review of Books, Rosemary Hill examines the lives of Byron’s wife and daughter, Annabella Byron and Ada “world’s first computer programmer” Lovelace:
The late Georgians invented the cult of celebrity and Byron was its first and finest creation. His wife and daughter could not escape fame, they could hope only to avoid notoriety. Annabella’s attempts to preserve her reputation and other people’s attempts to salvage Byron’s have left a pall of smoke from burning letters and diaries, further obscuring the facts that remain.
- This week in diversity in publishing: Lionel Shriver, whom you may recall as the sombrero lady from two years ago, wrote a long op-ed decrying Penguin Random House UK’s new diversity initiative …
Lionel Shriver’s blistering assertion that, “drunk on virtue”, Penguin Random House is putting diversity ahead of literary excellence has been dismissed by the publisher, which said on Monday that “books shape our culture, and this should not be driven only by people who come from a narrow section of society”.
Writing in the Spectator, Shriver took issue with an email sent by the publisher, which lays out its goal that by 2025, its authors and staff will reflect the diversity of UK society. The email said: “We want our authors and new colleagues to reflect the UK population taking into account ethnicity, gender, sexuality, social mobility and disability.”
- … while at Commonweal, book critic Anthony Domestico considers why he is so rarely asked to review books by women:
Representation is never just about statistics; it’s about equity and justice. Perhaps some of my editors were wary of assigning me the new Allegra Goodman because that would have taken away a slot from a female reviewer. After all, review assignments, especially in the shrinking world of print, are a zero-sum game: every review of a female author that I publish is a review not published by a female critic. But the solution to this unjust system has to be both to encourage more female critics and to assign more female authors to both male and female critics. Give reviewers like me fewer assignments, and make more of those assigned writers female.
So, she was a real gardener, Virginia Woolf; she planted, she weeded, she knew the chocolate earth. But now, here she is when the garden becomes a fictional device: “Flower after flower is specked on the depths of green. The petals are harlequins. Stalks rise from the black hollows beneath. The flowers swim like fish made of light upon the dark, green waters. I hold a stalk in my hand. I am the stalk…” This is from The Waves, and is the thought process of one of the six characters whose voices tell the story, turn by turn.