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 March 31, 2019.
- Salvador Dalí used to illustrate books in his spare time, and the images — which cover a large swath of the Western canon — are fascinating. Artsy has an overview:
Had Dalí’s images for Macbeth been his sole artistic output, he’d still be remembered as a master draftsman. To bring Act II, Scene II to life, he drew Lady Macbeth in profile and her husband head-on, two halves of one gruesome face. His illustrations for Don Quixote are rougher and less illusionistic—studying them, you’re always conscious of their being works on paper, perfect for a novel about a man driven bonkers by his own library. His take on Alice in Wonderland, completed at the height of the counterculture movement, may be his most beloved contribution to the art of illustration; for Lewis Carroll, Dalí eschewed the crispness and lucidity of his earlier work in favor of a dreamier watercolor aesthetic.
- At Electric Lit, Manuel Betancourt considers the myth of the maverick publisher:
Obscene presents all these various tidbits as badges of honor. Look at this guy! the documentary suggests, Wasn’t he a total badass? He drank at work! His publishing instinct was to go after stuff that turned him on! He even shut down an attempt to form a union at Grove Press! Who wouldn’t be impressed and inspired by such a “maverick”? And that’s the most depressing part of Obscene: a lot of people still would. After all, Rosset is a walking archetype of those “bad boys” popular culture in general, and the publishing industry in particular, insists are to be fawned over and idolized.
- For the Guardian, Lois Beckett reports on romance’s fight for both legitimacy and diversity:
Coverage of the romance industry often dwells on the contrast between the nubile young heroines of the novels and the women who actually write the books: ordinary women with ordinary bodies, dressed for their own comfort. Reporting on the first annual conference of the Romance Writers of America (RWA) – the major trade association for romance authors – in 1981, the Los Angeles Times wrote that the 500 authors who attended were “not the stuff of which romance heroines are made – at mostly 40 and 50, they were less coquette and more mother-of-the-bride”. That observation – combining creeping horror at the idea that middle-aged women might be interested in sex, with indifference to the fact that male authors are rarely judged for failing to resemble James Bond – is typical.
- A priest in northern Poland led his followers in burning items that they felt might be leading them toward sorcery, including some Harry Potter books. He says he’s sorry if anyone took it the wrong way.
- At the New Yorker, comma queen Mary Norris attends the annual American Copy Editors Society conference and considers the difficulty of the New Yorker’s style guide in the age of descriptivism:
Still, the magazine’s copy editors dutifully hyphenate “teen-ager” even as we half-heartedly enforce the ban on “balding”—the editor William Shawn preferred “partly or partially bald”—without knowing exactly what is wrong with it. “To bald” may not be a common intransitive verb, but that has not prevented “balding” from entering the language as a participle. Personally, I think the practice might have its origins in sensitivity on the part of Mr. Shawn, who was partially bald.
- People used to carry tiny and elaborately decorated almanacs with them wherever they went. Atlas Obscura has a sampling:
The fact that almanacs were designed to be discarded makes it difficult to estimate how many miniature versions were produced, but “apparently, more of these [almanacs] were printed and attractively bound than any other kind of miniature book,” writes Jan Storm van Leeuwen, an instructor at the University of Virginia’s Rare Book School and co-curator of the Grolier Club exhibition, in the accompanying catalog. The pages of almanacs of all sizes brimmed with weather forecasts, timetables for coach routes, tide charts, and “tables for converting money, weights, and distances,” Storm van Leeuwen writes. Buyers of fancy miniature versions could select which sections they wanted to have bound, which meant that many almanacs printed in the same place in the same year could contained different information. In some cases the bindings were designed so that the almanac pages could be replaced each year, and the precious exteriors reused.
- At the New York Review of Books, Sue Halpern writes in praise of public libraries:
It occurred to me one Saturday, as I watched quilters sitting at our one table trade patterns and children clear the shelves of The Magic School Bus series, racing to check them out, that the man who had said that libraries were communist had been right. A public library is predicated on an ethos of sharing and egalitarianism. It is nonjudgmental. It stands in stark opposition to the materialism and individualism that otherwise define our culture. It is defiantly, proudly, communal. Even our little book-lined room, with its mismatched furniture and worn carpet, was, as the sociologist Eric Klinenberg reminds us libraries were once called, a palace for the people.
- At LitHub, check out these early discarded drafts of book covers. Lincoln in the Bardo is the marquee title here, but I’m personally extremely into the early versions of Solar Bones.
Here’s a rundown of the past week in books at Vox:
- Rereading Slaughterhouse-Five on its 50th anniversary
- How digital technology is destroying our freedom
- Mindfulness meditation in America has a capitalism problem
- Ann Beattie’s stories defined ’70s youth. Her new book turns to the 9/11 generation.
- The essential Stephen King: a crash course in the best from America’s horror master
As always, you can keep up with Vox’s book coverage by visiting vox.com/books. Happy reading!