Welcome to Vox’s weekly book link roundup, a curated selection of the internet’s best writing on books and related subjects. This week’s links will have to be enough to hold you for a bit, as next week I will be on vacation, lounging on a beach, possibly reading a book for non-work purposes if I feel like getting really wild. In the meantime, here’s the best the web has to offer for the week of March 3, 2019.
- In Ireland, researchers have discovered a 15th-century Irish translation of an 11th-century Persian medical encyclopedia. Atlas Obscura explains why that’s so exciting:
While many references to Ibn Sina and his work pop up in old Irish medical texts, this is the only known evidence of a full translation of his encyclopedia. He originally wrote in Arabic, and the Irish rendition is likely translated from a 13th-century Latin version by the prolific Gerard of Cremona. “This is one of the most influential medical books ever written,” says Nic Dhonnchadha. “So the fact that it was being studied in Ireland in the 15th century was certainly a link to the Islamic world.”
- Speaking of medieval manuscripts, the Book of Kells has been digitized, so you can now look at it online.
- And also of treasures recently unearthed: a bitchy literary burn book featuring the unvarnished opinions of Virginia Woolf, Margaret Kennedy, and others. It was filled out in the 1920s and then sealed up and hidden away, presumably to await the delight of posterity:
I like Robert Lynd’s sly reply to “the most underrated English writer living or dead”: “Shakespeare”. Even better is Woolf assigning both best and worst living English novelist to Hardy. Woolf wins a slightly unexpected-charm prize with “I like all dead men of letters” in response to “a deceased man of letters whose character you most dislike”.
It is the dislikes which, perhaps inevitably, deliver most fun. ASM Hutchinson, the successful romantic novelist, comes top of the dislikes table, with Thomas Carlyle and George Meredith just behind. None of these get any balancing praise. “A deceased man of letters whose character you most dislike” is won by Dr Johnson, followed by Oscar Wilde and Meredith, with Proust and Byron getting a vote each. Are flamboyants unpopular with other writers?
- At the Guardian, Katy Guest delves into the problem of book piracy:
Harris, a representative of the SoA [Society of Authors] who speaks passionately on behalf of authors, knows several who have lost contracts because piracy drove down their sales to an unsustainable level. The most vulnerable authors are those who write series: when book one does well, but book two is heavily pirated, book three could end up dead in the water. Midlist authors, and those who barely scrape a living are also at risk. “These people mistakenly think they’re sticking it to the man,” Harris says. “They’re not; they’re sticking it to the little people, the people who are struggling … and they don’t care.”
- A book promoting the QAnon conspiracy theory is climbing Amazon’s best-seller lists after exploiting a weakness in the retailer’s algorithm. (A reminder: all best-seller lists are partially made up, and Amazon’s seems especially prone to getting gamed.) NBC News has the story:
At several points last weekend, the book was a spot behind Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” on the Top 100.
The book posits that Monsters Inc. shows off a government plan to collect children’s blood “that gives [government figures] some form of high or youthful looks.”
- At the New York Times, Sabra Embury asked famous authors to draw pictures of bunnies for her. Why not!
- At Crime Reads, Radha Vatsal delves into the army of ghostwriters behind Nancy Drew:
Certain formulas naturally had to be followed to preserve the impression that each series was written by a single author. One of Stratemeyer’s writers, quoted in Billman’s study, explained the stylistic requirements succinctly: “A low death rate but plenty of plot. Verbs of action, and polka-dotted with exclamation points and provocative questions.” Legend has it that Stratemeyer once crossed out a writer’s entire page worth of description and replaced it with a single word: “Boom!”
- In the face of Brexit, UK readers are buying unprecedented amounts of translated fiction, the Guardian reports:
“Reading fiction is one of the best ways we have of putting ourselves in other people’s shoes. The rise in sales of translated fiction shows how hungry British readers are for terrific writing from other countries,” said Fiammetta Rocco, administrator of the Man Booker International (MBI) prize, which will announce its longlist on 13 March.
Here’s a rundown of the past week in books at Vox:
- What America can learn from the fall of the Roman republic
- How did home cooking become a moral issue?
- How the West became a self-obsessed culture
- Helen Oyeyemi says her new novel Gingerbread is not about Hansel and Gretel
- How a conspiracy theory about Democrats drinking children’s blood topped Amazon’s best-sellers list
- A Stanford psychologist on the art of avoiding assholes
- Helen Oyeyemi writes like a feral fairy godmother. Her new book Gingerbread is true to form.
- Want less poverty in the world? Empower women.
- The conservative movement was destined to produce Trump
As always, you can keep up with Vox’s book coverage by visiting vox.com/books. Happy reading!