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 April 7, 2019.
- Bret Easton Ellis is about to publish his first book of nonfiction, titled White. Isaac Chotiner interviewed Ellis about it for the New Yorker, and somehow the interview became the most brutal dragging you’ll ever read:
You are a novelist. You write about the human condition. Do you worry about the self-harm of people who see things like child separation and have no emotional response?
I think I am an absurdist. I think politics are ridiculous.
Maybe don’t write a book about it. Would that be the solution?
I think the problem is that I don’t necessarily see this as interesting as fiction.
Yeah, I could tell.
- At the New York Review of Books, Tim Parks investigates the link between books and planes, trains, and automobiles:
It’s well known that the invention of the railways increased the sales of books. Aside from talking and staring out of the window, what could one do on a long journey but read? Anna Karenina was reading on a train when she realized how powerfully attracted she was to the young Count Vronsky, how ready to change her life.
But could it be that trains and buses and ships and planes have actually increased the amount of writing that gets done?
- At Granta, Wendy Mitchell and her ghostwriter, Anna Wharton, discuss what it’s like to collaborate on a memoir when you have dementia:
How much can you remember about our writing process?
Well, what I do remember is how we had to find a different way of working, because I can’t use the phone anymore, it’s too disorientating, and we live at opposite ends of the country. We had to use WhatsApp and email as our main means of communicating, then you would write and send me chunks to read.
- There’s a long-running debate among scholars over whether Beowulf is by one poet or multiple poets, or is actually two poems stitched together. A new study is throwing its weight to the “one poet” side of the debate, and the Guardian has the story:
While various aspects of the poem, including word use, themes and style, have been explored before, the latest study looks at even smaller features of the text and their patterns of use. These include the use of certain types of pause, the use of different rhythms, and the occurrence of words produced by joining others together – such as “bone-house” (written as ban-hus), which the authors say was used to mean the human body. The team also looked at the use of clusters of letters found within words, which are important for the sound of a poem.
The results, derived from computer-based analysis, reveal striking similarities in the way such features were used across both sections of the text. That suggests – although cannot conclusively prove – it was the work of a single poet, the researchers say.
- Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, recently declared his favorite book to be Ulysses, to much loud scorn across both literary and political social media. At Vulture, Charles Finch comes in with perhaps the hottest take of all, arguing that it is fine, actually, that Buttigieg likes Ulysses:
My response is as follows: God, what if this is real! Did reading Ulysses actually enhance Mayor Pete’s faith that other people have internal lives, the form of sensitivity most notoriously absent in the current president? More specifically, could Leopold Bloom’s rueful contemplations — part of Bloom’s tragedy is that besides being Jewish he’s smarter than everyone else, placing him doubly outside of their conversations — have resonated in some oblique way with Buttigieg’s experiences as a gay Midwesterner?
If so, it is, somehow, nicely alienating, a little jut of otherness, offered despite what someone as intelligent as Buttigieg must have known the Serwers of the world would make of it.
- April 12 was Beverly Cleary’s 103rd birthday! At LitHub, Rachel Richardson writes in praise of Cleary’s most enduring character, Ramona Quimby:
But, for me, the Ramona stories are still entirely relevant to our messier, complex world. More than anything, Ramona stands for empathy in the face of misunderstanding. She reminds us how it was to be a child in a big world, needing to be seen, cared for, and reminded that we belong. And she loves fiercely: Ramona is overcome with yearning to touch another child’s hair to see it “boing,” desire to squeeze all the toothpaste out of the new tube for the pleasurable gush of it, and fierce determination not to be dismissed as a baby. She is hungry for the world, though its rules are difficult for her, and its conventions perplexing.
- In 1980, the Department of Energy convened a “Futures Panel” to come up with a way to write warning signs for nuclear waste sites that will still be understandable for as long as the material is dangerous, 10,000 years into the future. At LitHub, Matt Jones has the story:
What is ultimately interesting to me about the project of creating a warning that can last at least 10,000 years into the future is not whether it can be done successfully, because in all likelihood, it cannot. Though a number of scientists believe themselves capable of creating a message that could physically endure the passage of such a substantial amount of time, many more question whether or not the message would be able to be interpreted correctly if at all.
No, what is interesting about a project designed to communicate 10,000 years in the future is that we think it can be done. That we even try. That we cling to hope of success.
- At the Paris Review Daily, Valerie Stivers cooks latkes, kugel, and apple strudel drawn from the work of the early-20th-century Jewish writer Anzia Yezierska:
I made three foods mentioned repeatedly in Yezierska’s work—latkes, strudel cake, and lokshen kugel—but in a fashionable, Americanized way I thought she might have liked. I even tried to bake homemade black rye bread to serve herring on—somewhat gingerly, since Yezierska despised this food—but the writer’s spirit prevented it, and the bread didn’t rise.
Here’s a rundown of the past week in books at Vox:
- How digital technology is destroying our freedom
- Mindfulness meditation in America has a capitalism problem
- 10 great Stephen King stories that are ripe for film adaptation
- The 8 best food descriptions in Ruth Reichl’s new memoir
- The unsuccessful history of product placement in books, from Bulgari to Sweet’N Low
- How to quit Facebook without quitting Facebook
- Are we living in a computer simulation? I don’t know. Probably.
- Why conspiracy theories are getting more absurd and harder to refute
- Celebrating Ramona Quimby’s enduring appeal, in honor of Beverly Cleary’s 103rd birthday
As always, you can keep up with Vox’s book coverage by visiting vox.com/books. Happy reading!