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There’s a book made out of American cheese

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

a pile of cheese slices
For reference: American cheese.
Binh Thanh Bui/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 February 17, 2019.

The mental space feels different when you work with paper. It is quieter. A momentum builds up, a spell between page and hand and eye. I like to use a nice pen and see the page slowly fill. But, for newspaper articles and translations, I now worked straight onto the computer. Which was more frenetic, nervy. The writing was definitely different. But more playful, too. You could move things around. You could experiment so easily.

These objects can fill in gaps in the written record, revealing new aspects of historical production and trade. How much beeswax came from North Africa, for example? Or how did cattle plague make its way through Europe? With ample genetic data, you might reconstruct a more complete picture of life hundreds of years in the past.

It is entirely possible that Whitley Strieber is insane. He is certainly paranoid. But there’s something there, behind it all, worth interrogating. If nothing else, Strieber is a remarkable writer, whose prose is erudite, funny, and above all, deeply heartfelt and humane. Strieber and I spent an afternoon together in early December, a couple weeks after the Woolsey Fire burned nearly 100,000 acres just up the Pacific Coast Highway. An increase in the severity and frequency of wildfires on the West Coast is just one of the side effects of climate change, a topic Strieber has been warning us of since the 1980s, when such a prospect seemed about as feasible as a chance encounter with aliens.

Johnson explores Austen’s use of blushes, beating hearts, physical gestures, and almost-contact—devices that weave a web of physicality around Anne and Wentworth. “Little circumstances—when eyes just miss, or when hands touch, whether by accident or intent—are interspersed among more dramatic scenes in which a man and woman feel acutely each other’s physical presence,” she writes. Johnson finds deep significance in these tiny gestures, and analyzes moments of physical intimacy between Elliott and her suitors.

Could it possibly be true?

Almost certainly, yes. In 1858, when he was most desperate to free himself, Dickens had claimed in a letter he allowed to be copied and circulated that Catherine suffered from “a mental disorder”. What he called the “violated letter” unsurprisingly found its way into the newspapers to often shocked reactions: as Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it, “What a dreadful letter that was! And what a crime for a man to use his genius as a cudgel . . . against the woman he promised to protect tenderly with life and heart”. Catherine’s family fought back and in a letter once dismissed as a forgery but now known to be authentic, her aunt Helen Thomson claimed that Dickens had tried to get the doctor who attended Catherine to sanction the accusation of mental illness, but that the latter “sternly refused, saying he considered Mrs. Dickens perfectly sound in mind”.


Here’s a rundown of the past week in books at Vox:

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