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There’s no Nobel for books this year. Enter the New Academy Prize and nominee Neil Gaiman.

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

#IMDboat At San Diego Comic-Con 2018: Day Two
Neil Gaiman at Comic-Con 2018.
Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for IMDb

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 26, 2018.

“The quotation at the beginning of my new novel,” the Booker Prize winning author Pat Barker tells me, “is by Philip Roth. He says that European literature starts ‘with a quarrel’. I think this is true if you’re a man. If you’re a woman the whole of European literature starts with silence.” The extract Barker has taken as an epigraph for her 14th book, The Silence of the Girls, describes Agamemnon and Achilles arguing over the ownership of Briseis in The Iliad. She was a queen who Achilles took as his slave after he sacked her city and killed her family. Now, Barker has taken her back as a protagonist.

Sittenfeld’s coming-of-age novel about the intrepid Lee Fiora, who is thrust into the blazer-filled world of the prestigious Ault School, is a cult classic like no other. For the last 13 years readers have been drawn to its pointedly honest (and often times biting) commentary on the world of elite New England private schools. That, year after year, it is equally passed around real-life boarding schools as a self-indulgent celebration of their own lives (remember when the cast of Laguna Beach used to watch The O.C.?) and passed among young women who found the moneyed world of trust fund babies fascinating and horrifying, is a prime example of the book’s broad appeal.

Suddenly, there they were: in the apartment. Like Gulliver among the Lilliputians, I stared at the cats, and they stared back. What did I do now? I hadn’t a clue. What did they do now? Obviously, they hadn’t a clue, either. If I made a move toward either kitten, both shrank; a second move and they scurried away. Then one of them hid for three days behind the couch, during which time the other one meowed piteously, all the while keeping a steady watch at the exact place where Cat One had disappeared. After that, there were days when they both hid themselves so thoroughly that I ran around the house like a lunatic, flinging open closets and drawers, pulling furniture away from the walls, calling out desperately. I was sure they would both die of asphyxiation and I’d be brought up on charges of animal cruelty.

Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck in time,” the story bouncing around the events of his life, from his time fighting during World War II, to his marriage, to his capture by aliens. He can’t keep himself in one spot, even if he wants to. This is how I feel: made to time travel by force, to never focus on a single event without being buried by the ones that have happened, troubled by the ones that might happen in the future.

I see memes about people not being in the moment, spending too much time on their phones, not really living. I try to do this, to focus on important moments, to make my mind still, to really experience my life as it happens.

But I’m not allowed. I always slip away.

For a time, it seemed that eBooks and kindles would displace their physical counterparts, but this didn’t quite come to pass. Like the recent revival of zines, the encroach of digital has resulted in a renewed appreciation for the physical – and beautiful. Part of this has been in direct response to eBooks; a tactic to boost the sales of physical books is to remake them as desirable objects, and a way to make objects desirable is, of course, to make them aesthetically appealing. But social media – specifically Instagram, which promotes the coveting of beautiful covers on hashtags such as #bookstagram – is putting a new emphasis on cover aesthetics. We no longer need to go home with someone in order to see their bookcase.

  • In July, Barnes & Noble CEO Demos Parneros was fired for what were at the time undisclosed reasons. Now he’s suing for defamation, and Barnes & Noble is saying he was fired for sexual harassment.
  • Meanwhile, the publishing industry newsletter Shelf Awareness is trying to crowdsource suggestions for B&N’s next CEO. The plan was to suggest an actual bookseller — B&N tends to hire people from other retail backgrounds — but currently Barack Obama is leading in the polls.
  • At LitHub, Christina Lupton looks at how 18th-century women were prevented from doing literary work by the simple trick of not giving them enough time to do it in:

Talbot’s situation was particular because she grew up under the protection of her father’s friend, the Bishop Secker, and was obliged to him for including her in his busy, affluent, and often very public household. The intensity of this situation comes out at one point when Talbot erupts in fury at Carter’s failure to understand that her business is of a special degree: “You suppose that when I complained of wanting leisure I had several hours. You forget that you rise three hours earlier than I am allowed to do; that we visit 18 families at from three to 14 miles distant, and 20 I believe in Oxford, and are besides eternal riders, walkers, and airers. That I have many correspondents, and cannot for my life write short letters. And with all that crowded together, at first I had scarce one hour.”


Meanwhile, here’s a rundown of the week in books at Vox, with lots of bonus Harry Potter coverage this week in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone coming out in the US:

As always, you can keep up with Vox’s book coverage by visiting vox.com/books. Happy reading!