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Sometimes Google Books scans pictures of human hands along with the book pages

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

Hands on keyboard Pascal Klein

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 3, 2019.

The past few years have felt like one snap after another. Breaking bones, light-bulb flares: a weird mixture of awful pain and exhilaration. And all these snaps, these moments of boiled-over rage crystallizing into recognition, point to other, earlier snaps: past moments of women’s anger that have since receded, faded, lost their urgency (but never really disappeared). I work on the past — in the past, it feels like sometimes — and in the last couple of years, the past has shifted under me. I’m not alone in this: academic friends and colleagues tell me they also see women’s anger and pain and outrage everywhere in the texts they teach and write about, and this anger makes everything else look different.

Line editors both rile and save writers. The duality arises from the word: line. Line suggests a sense both mercurial and typographic. A line is poetic and literal; where the hope of intention meets the reality of the page. Line editing is the ultimate union of writer and editor; the line-edit means we cede control, and the pen, to someone else. It is a gift of trust, and it must go both ways.

In my novel, Jonas was speaking English like a twenty-eight-year-old American. He was sarcastic at times, as if he were frequently sharing an inside joke with an invisible spectator. He had command of his words, the selection of which he modulated to make someone laugh, listen, or back off. The translator had rendered his English into the Swedish of a twenty-eight-year-old Swede with the same characteristics. But in my head, I heard Jonas in my own Swedish—the language of a twenty-eight-year old who has spent most of his life speaking Swedish only with his mother. The language of a twenty-eight-year old who sounds like an enthusiastic aunt. It was too sweet a language for my novel.

The crux of the issue is that with autism there is often, not metaphorically but literally, a lack of voice, which renders the person a tabula rasa on which a writer can inscribe and project almost anything: Autism is a gift, a curse, super intelligence, mental retardation, mystical, repellent, morally edifying, a parent’s worst nightmare. As a writer, I say go ahead and write what you want. As a parent, I find this terrifying, given the way neurotypical people project false motives and feelings onto the actions of others every day.

His father “teemed with ideas and thoughts, and he’d be driving the car and he’d pull over to write something and laugh to himself – sometimes he’d read it to me, sometimes he wouldn’t – and next to every chair he had a notebook.” He assures me that “most all of what he wrote will at some point be shared with the people that love reading his stuff”. When I ask why that moment hasn’t yet arrived, he is disarmingly direct. “It’s not ready. He wanted me to pull it together, and because of the scope of the job, he knew it would take a long time. This was somebody who was writing for 50 years without publishing, so that’s a lot of material. So there’s not a reluctance or a protectiveness: when it’s ready, we’re going to share it.”

  • Speaking of Salinger, at the New Yorker Eren Orbey talks to Joyce Maynard about her work and her life, including the relationship she had with Salinger when she was a teenager. He was 35 years older than her:

In September of 1972, after just one night back in New Haven, Maynard says, she left college and moved in with Salinger, where she was inducted into his rigid and reclusive routine. They ate a diet of nuts, vegetables, and studiously underdone lamb patties. (Overcooking food removed its nutrients, he explained.) A practiced homeopath, Salinger inveighed against doctors, musicians, feminists, politicians, and the publishing establishment. Though he continued to live off royalties from his œuvre, he disapproved of Maynard’s career moves, her first book deal, the calls that came from the city. The prospect of literary success had made her a “worldly, greedy, hungry person,” Maynard recalls him telling her, in “At Home in the World.” “You can’t stop loving all the foolish, empty, hollow attractions the world has to offer you.”

The images expose the disconnect between how Google Books is experienced and how it’s produced. But the process is constantly evolving. Are these the last vestiges of manual labor before automation and artificial intelligence take over? Or maybe a sign that in the digital future, digital work—in the five-fingered sense—will always be around?

Hannah told me that she had thought of hiring a detective to check on Mallory, and had discussed the idea with friends, but hadn’t followed through. She had, however, hired a detective to investigate a graffiti problem in Cambridge. I said that I found this hard to believe. She went on to say that she had forgotten the detective’s name, she had deleted all her old e-mails, and she didn’t want to bother her husband and ask him to confirm the graffiti story. All this encouraged the thought that the novelist now writing as Agatha Christie had hired a detective to investigate her editor, whom she suspected of lying about a fatal disease.


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!