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Why the YA book world is talking about dick soap

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

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A bar of soap in a paper sleeve L5Design/Shutterstock

Welcome to Vox’s weekly 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 August 12, 2018.

Great Hall Cake from the Redwall series

What might it taste like?

“Honey, tart fruit, creamy, and dark all at the same time. I loved the Redwall series when I was growing up. There are many of the foods mentioned in the abbey feasts like the otters’ Hotroot Soup or the moles’ Deeper’n’Ever Turnip’n’Tater’n’Beetroot Pie, but the Great Hall Cake was always described as a masterpiece of plant-based confection. Since a feast was always a part of Redwall, and most of the feasts took place in the abbey, the Great Hall cake is in almost every book, and its description has never failed to make me salivate—just a little.”

First of all, he or she (just kidding, it’ll definitely be a he) won’t actually ask you whether or not you’ve read Vonnegut. Instead, they’ll start by squeezing an obscure reference to one of Vonnegut’s books into an otherwise harmless conversation. “That guy was such a Tralfamadorian,” they’ll say, perplexingly, in response to a story about how your sister just adopted a fox terrier. “Watch out for the Pluto Gang,” they’ll warn with a wink, interrupting your explanation of quantum mechanics.

“You should have the eyes of a crazy person. Stronger,” Costanzo says to fourteen-year-old actress Gaia Girace, who plays Lila, the olive-skinned force of Neapolitan nature (and the brilliant friend of the title) described by Ferrante as “tense in every fiber.” The girl listens intently as a makeup artist hollows out her cheeks. “The important thing,” Costanzo says, “is that the body keeps the tension.”

Leni Zumas, a writer based in Portland, Oregon, and the author of, most recently, Red Clocks, first saw the book exchange in a friend’s Story. “I was intrigued by it, but I didn’t necessarily think it would work, just because people have good intentions and then they end up not sending things.” But it did work: As of last week, a few weeks after posting about the exchange on her account, she had received 14 books in the mail, with titles ranging from classics like The Alchemist to newer fiction like The Vegetarian.

It turns out that giving your address to strangers on the internet … can be good?

  • If you are on YA Twitter at all, you may have seen some horrified tweeting earlier this week about some sort of … dick soap. Please rest assured that (a) the soap in question is not just phallic-shaped in an unfortunate accident; it is an intentionally produced detailed molding with veins and other parts, and (b) you can get all the context over at Electric Lit:

We all know there are a lot of dicks out there. And they usually show up unannounced, uninvited, and unwelcome. But today the section of Twitter concerned with young adult publishing has a lot to say about a very particular unsolicited dick — a purple one, made out of soap, with a suction cup — that made its way into a book box subscription featuring Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorn and Roses series.

The subscription service delivering on the dicks is “Book Boyfriend Box,” and its goal is to bring subscribers “bookish boxes with items inspired by your favorite book boyfriends and girlfriends.” And the content is… well, look, fair warning, we’re about to post a picture of it.

Which is why my library is what I call a “sentimental library.” A sentimental library is characterized by memory and association. It’s the halfway point between alphabetical and aesthetic. And, in my case, each book’s placement corresponds not just to when I read it and how I felt, but to whatever activity takes place beneath it now. They are thus animated in a way they might not be otherwise. Like it or not, I am in constant, real-time conversation with their contents.

  • Nobel Prize winner V.S. Naipaul died last weekend, leaving behind a vexed legacy: Naipaul was undoubtedly a brilliant novelist, but he was also proudly bigoted and misogynistic, and I have never once heard anyone say anything positive about him as a person. (His editor once wrote that whenever she was unhappy with her life, she would think to herself, “At least I’m not married to Vidia!” and would cheer right up.) At LitHub, Gabrielle Bellot considers how to handle artists like Naipaul:

Naipaul was an abusive, irascible, melancholic man, an archetype of the sneering provocateur, of the grinning clown who sat on stoops in a town and made fun of everyone passing by, of the bigoted uncle whose presence the less bigoted dread at certain family gatherings, of the Internet troll who delighted in causing offense. He was at once a towering talent and a brown man who sequaciously prostrated himself before his former colonial masters, quipping that those of us who had darker skin and those of us who were women—heaven forfend we be both!—were inferior.

Yet he was also, unquestionably, a great writer.

The author is not dead, contra Roland Barthes—but how, then, to deal with Naipaul and his ilk?

Meanwhile, here’s a rundown of the week in books at Vox:

As always, you can keep up with Vox’s book coverage by visiting Happy reading!