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 June 3, 2018.
- At Electric Lit, Adrienne Celt tells the story of how she became a feminist through her Vladimir Nabokov fandom:
Loving Nabokov as a woman is a little bit like being a ballsy girl in a high school classroom, for the rest of your life. You know that, in all likelihood, he wouldn’t have thought much of you, no matter how scrupulously you pronounced his name (apparently a point of contention with his co-eds when he taught university; the correct pronunciation is Nah-BO-kov, not NAH-bo-kav). He would’ve palmed you off on Véra, taken your praise and smirked behind your back. This, I learned, was the dark underbelly of being a “cool girl” who can handle tough men: you have to prove yourself with each and every one of them, and after a while, it can stop feeling worth it — especially if the object of your interest is dead, and thus beyond persuasion.
- Last year, chief New York Times book critic Michiko Kakutani left her post at the paper where she became an institution. Now she’s writing a book on Donald Trump. Vanity Fair has a brief interview with her, mostly notable for featuring the first new picture of Kakutani in years, possibly decades:
After reviewing thousands of books and winning a Pulitzer along the way, she did not find it difficult to write her own. “It was an evolution of what I did at the Times, where I tried to take part in the conversation of ideas, both in fiction and nonfiction. This was like running a marathon instead of doing a lot of sprints.”
- At LitHub, Emily Temple has collected the advice of 14 writers on whether to have children:
Are children the enemy of writing? Are children the saviors of writing? Does writing ruin you for parenthood? Does parenthood ruin you for writing? Do children launch you into new heights of creativity? Do children sap your energy until you are a talentless blob? How many children should you have? Can only men be art monsters? Should only women be art monsters? Is it perhaps different for everyone?
“I remember once, him saying, ‘I hope you’re putting these away for yourself,’” [Enrico] Adelman recalled.
”‘Phillip,’ I said, ‘You’re my 401K!’ He said, ‘I am!’”
- James Wood, one of the most prominent literary critics in both the US and the UK, has published a new novel. At Vulture, Christian Lorentzen reads it against his criticism:
Classifying and rating is an easy game for critics, and perhaps the least of our duties. It’s tempting to rate Wood’s fiction alongside his criticism and find it wanting or to consider it alongside the fiction of Wilson, Trilling, and Susan Sontag, and conclude that writing fiction tends to be a mug’s game for great critics. Those writers were operating at a time when modern notions of professionalization were sorting writers into categories that hadn’t had much meaning before, when every writer tended to try everything and history was left to do the classifying.
- Sex and the City turned 20 this year. At the New York Times, Steven Kurutz tracks the creation of the column that became the book that became the TV show:
What one forgets going back after “Sex and the City” became this zeitgeist-y television series is it is a really well-written book. It’s so good, and it’s not just about sex. The character descriptions are so incredibly spot on. The crazy international girl, Amalita Amalfi. The way Candace talks about 19-year-old models and how your life will never be like them, so let’s see what their life is like. And it’s so boring and deadening.
- I’ve gone on the record with my belief that the skin care discourse is a matter of deep cultural importance, so I am all about Gavin Francis’s literary history of skin care at the Paris Review Daily:
In Europe, alchemists were obsessed with generating gold, but in China, they preferred to work on youth elixirs. A string of Chinese alchemists claimed to have created a rejuvenating potion; Joseph Needham, the historian, scientist, and Sinologist, was so struck by the frequency with which Chinese emperors were poisoned by these drugs that he tabulated a list of victims. In around 300 A.D., a Chinese alchemist called Ge Hong collated various recipes. Three centuries later, a more detailed treatise specified the inclusion of obscure, exotic substances such as mercurial salts and compounds of sulfur. There are more than a thousand different names for these potions, most of which carried the same basic mineral ingredients.
- At LitHub, novelist and memoirist Aminatta Forna examines the differences between fiction and nonfiction:
A thought process, which has been going on for months or even years, might begin to arrange itself into a sort of pattern. Like a pebble in my pocket I carry the notion around, collecting other pebbles which look similar, until I have a pocketful. I’ll spread them out on the table, these notes and observations, looking for the points of connection. Then there comes the moment, hopefully, when I see it. In that way fiction and nonfiction are not so different, that part of the process is the same. With fiction, though, I will begin to search for a narrative with which to veil those ideas.