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Clockwork Orange author Anthony Burgess: “art is dangerous”

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

Malcolm McDowell as Alex DeLarge in Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film A Clockwork Orange. Wikimedia Commons/Dorian Gray Wild
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 27, 2018.

“People would assume that most of my customers are expats, but 90 percent are Swedes who read for pleasure in English. Of all ages, from 13 to 92.” Over a cup of tea in a courtyard behind the shop, the same courtyard that receives weekly deliveries of half a ton of books from Essex, we discuss the mutual cultural admiration between Swedes and Brits. “Yes, we are anglophiles,” [Jan] Smedh admits, but he does not see it as key to their success. “It’s about a general love of the English language. We see ourselves as a country that is internationally minded.”

More recently, Palahniuk said, “the trickle of my income stopped” and payments for titles including Fight Club 2 “never seemed to arrive”. He wondered if the money had been stolen, but told himself he “had to be crazy” – until the news broke.

“All the royalties and advance monies and film-option payments that had accumulated in my author’s account in New York, or had been delayed somewhere in the banking pipeline, [were] gone. Poof. I can’t even guess how much income. Someone confessed on video he’d been stealing. I wasn’t crazy,” wrote Palahniuk in a statement on his website.

It had been nearly ten years since her first stint in America, as a college student, when, as she later put it, she discovered that she was black. Her roommate at Drexel University, in Philadelphia, learning that she was from Africa, had been amazed that she knew how to use a stove, that she didn’t listen to “tribal music.” She had since imbibed, bit by bit, the semiotics of race in America, which she had initially found mystifying. She now understood why people got offended at the mention of watermelon, or fried chicken, or hair.

A work of art has a magisterial quality about it, a justifying élan which grants virtue to imitation. We know, and do not wish to know, that the story of Abraham’s proposal to sacrifice his son to the Lord God has been a justification of child murders, and that the multiple murderer Haigh’s drinking his victims’ blood had its origin in a manic devotion to the Holy Eucharist. Possibly a man may see Hamlet and then do what he has put off doing — namely, kill his uncle. Whether The Silence of the Lambs has genuinely promoted cannibalism or the mad butchery of its major villain we do not know. We all bow now, anyway, to the thesis I thought I would never accept — that art is dangerous.

Despite Mary’s literary pedigree, she was often dismissed as a dilettante. That “Frankenstein” had been first published anonymously but featured a prologue by Percy continued to lead people to suspect it was he, and not Mary, who had written the novel itself. “Frankenstein” is a great novel: well-written, genre-defining, captivating audiences even centuries later. To admit that an 18-year-old girl wrote its first draft, and that a 20-year-old woman was its published author, is too great a challenge to some critics and readers even today.

In 1814 reputations have material consequences: unless, like Percy Bysshe Shelley, you are heir to a baronetcy and can buy the freedom to do as you want. With a hypocrisy that would be funny if it weren’t so sorry, Percy, soaring above Mary Jane’s “pathos” on wings of aristocratic privilege, counters her arguments by encouraging Jane to think of own her situation in terms of the French Revolution, which has done away with the very privileges he himself enjoys; of France’s “past slavery and […] future freedom.” Sure enough, Mary’s stepsister changes her mind, telling her mother she won’t return to England; whereupon, “Mrs. Godwin departed without answering a word.”

  • Also at LitHub, Emily Temple has collected a list of the most-recommended books of the summer. (Florida, at the top of the list, is indeed excellent; keep an eye out for our forthcoming review.)
  • A new study suggests that print books and ebooks are such different products that owning each is a wholly distinct psychological experience.
  • At Bomb magazine, Lucas Mann explains why he wanted to write a book on reality TV:

In my last year at Iowa, a writer I really liked came through to talk about his new novel, and espoused the idea that you’re writing for 100 years from now, and therefore you don’t want your writing brought down by the particularities of whatever modern thing that might cheapen it. The example that he gave was, “I don’t want to open a literary novel and read about Britney Spears breaking down.” I had a very clear moment in the audience of, “I do!”

It was a crystallizing moment that there was something appealing about the challenge of trying to be sincere and thoughtful and intellectually rigorous with these things that are written off as not so. It was almost like a game, a literary challenge that appealed to me. And the love letter thing grew out of that.

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