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 28, 2019.
- At the Guardian, Lucia Graves takes a look at the political landscape of children’s publishing:
Still, some feel that positioning creativity against representation politics is a false tradeoff.
“No one’s advocating for ‘never do this’,” said Innosanto Nagara, author of the hit alphabet book A is for Activist. “I’m not an absolutist about it. I do believe in creative freedom.”
But he also thinks that if you are writing about people who have historically been harmed by dominant groups, your responsibilities to them as an author are great, and require a special level of care and consideration.
“Our choice around who we portray and who becomes the face of a story is how we can help people either be uplifted or erased. In children’s books in particular that’s true,” said Nagara, who is also a graphic designer and illustrates his own books.
- Also at the Guardian, Leo Benedictus considers which books shock us and which books no longer do:
A novel can end up having a social purpose even though its author didn’t, at least at first, intend one. It’s another result of there being so many novels. Readers, publishers, critics can filter the pile for whatever pleases them and discern what looks like a trend in writing. Right now extreme material with social value does well, maybe because readers want to be better people, maybe because they are artistically curious. Maybe they want a pretext to enjoy the titillation of sex and violence, just as they always did.
- Woody Allen has been shopping around a memoir, the New York Times reports, but he can’t get a publisher to touch it:
Executives at multiple publishing houses said that an agent representing Allen approached their companies about the memoir late last year, but that they made no offers, largely because of the negative publicity that working with Allen may have generated. Some publishers declined to even read the material, which apparently consisted of a full manuscript. The executives said they knew of no other publishers who offered Allen a book deal; if one has, it has been kept tightly under wraps, and the manuscript does not seem to have been widely pitched. Some publishing executives used the word “toxic” when describing the challenges of working with Allen in the current environment, noting that while he remains a significant cultural figure, the commercial risks of releasing a memoir by him were too daunting.
- At Popula, Sarah Malley considers the labor practices of indie bookstores:
Plenty of the booksellers I spoke to saw bookselling as a calling. Because of course they do! If they weren’t willing to make sacrifices, they couldn’t still be booksellers. And how else could bookstores get away with paying them — they, who generally have to have a college degree; who have to spend a lot of unpaid time reading across all genres and topics; who have to have at least a little knowledge about everything, from the ancient Greeks to Dog Man 7: Brawl of the Wild; who, at at least one store, famously have to correctly answer quiz questions before being hired — so little, while so successfully preserving an image as a (generally progressive) force for social good?
- A 19th-century manuscript on Cuban botanicals, missing for 120 years, has finally resurfaced, National Geographic reports. There are pictures of the manuscript’s illustrations at the link, and they are gorgeous.
- Roald Dahl, whose 7-year-old daughter Olivia died from measles, wrote a passionate leaflet in 1986 arguing for the measles vaccine. Open Culture has reproduced it in full:
Even now, if a child with measles happens to develop the same deadly reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still be nothing the doctors could do to help her.
On the other hand, there is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunised against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to ask your doctor to administer it.
- At LitHub, the New Yorker’s comma queen Mary Norris and the internet’s copy chief Benjamin Dreyer (of Random House) talk grammar and style:
In your opinion, what is the number one grammar rule that everyone should know?
BD: As much as some people continue to predict the imminent death of the word “whom,” it seems to me, nearly 30 years into my publishing career, to be thriving just fine. People would do well to learn the difference between “who” and “whom,” and “whoever” and “whomever.” And if you can conquer the difference between “I” and “me,” or “they” and “them,” that shouldn’t be so hard. That said, always better to use a “who” where a “whom” might be considered correct than to use a “whom” where a simple “who” is all that’s called for.
MN: You can have friends or you can correct people’s grammar.
- White nationalists are targeting events at indie bookstores and libraries, reports the Hill:
One such group interrupted a chat at Politics and Prose on Saturday with author Jonathan M. Metzl, a psychiatrist and director of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society at Vanderbilt University. Metzi was discussing his new book, “Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America’s Heartland.” […]
The group’s cofounder, Patrick Casey, said on its website that they protested Metzl’s event because his book “fails to discuss the real reasons why leftism has been killing America’s heartland.”
The group reportedly chanted “This land is our land” before being booed by attendees at Saturday’s event.
- At LitHub, Michael Knight explains why it was so hard for him to write a boarding school novel:
A confession: I did not go to boarding school.
I have, however, long been intrigued by the boarding school novel as a kind of subgenre, the way the best of them intensify traditional coming-of-age narratives by confining the story to a space that is both sheltered — by privilege, by geography, by tradition — and unfettered at the same time. In such a space, adolescent characters generally have too much freedom for their own good but also a false sense of security created by the place itself, the idea that nothing too terrible can happen in the shade of those old trees and inside those lovely old buildings and that, whatever mistakes the characters might make, a soft landing is guaranteed, when, of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
- At the New Republic, Alex Shephard considers whether book publishing’s focus on Trump is becoming a big problem:
The result, however, is an industry addicted to the quick Trump fix — and an industry that is rapidly moving away from one of its seminal strengths. The point of nonfiction books is to offer something that you can’t get on television — or the internet. The long lead times and production work that go into book publishing are meant to allow for added value and perspective. What we’re getting now, however, more often than not, are books that are essentially pricier, glossier versions of stuff we already get day in and day out, in an endless stream, on cable news and on social media. The publication of the Mueller report is, to some extent, the apex of this trend: an officially free report, repackaged and sold for $15. This is not much different than the majority of the Trump content being sold for twice that amount.
- We’ve been talking a lot here at Vox about the Jeopardy champion and quasi-villain James Holzhauer. At Publishers Weekly, Holzhauer says he owes his success to children’s books:
Did you search for information on anything and come up short in the kids’ section?
Easily the hardest Jeopardy! categories to study in the kids’ section are the so-called “trashy” pop culture ones. No kids’ book would have helped me name the lead singer of the Pixies or the movie about two Chicago men on a mission from God. I think this is the only thing that would stop a bright 10-year-old from winning on adult Jeopardy!
- In the New Yorker, W.H. Auden reads Virginia Woolf’s diaries:
I do not know how Virginia Woolf is thought of by the younger literary generation; I do know that by my own, even in the palmiest days of social consciousness, she was admired and loved much more than she realized. I do not know if she is going to exert an influence on the future development of the novel — I rather suspect that her style and her vision were so unique that influence would only result in tame imitation — but I cannot imagine a time, however bleak, or a writer, whatever his school, when and for whom her devotion to her art, her industry, her severity with herself — above all, her passionate love, not only or chiefly for the big moments of life but also for its daily humdrum “sausage-and-haddock” details — will not remain an example that is at once an inspiration and a judge.
Here’s a rundown of the past week in books at Vox:
- NYU’s Scott Galloway explains the difference between the happiness you get from Chipotle and the happiness you get from love
- Bored and lonely? Blame your phone.
As always, you can keep up with Vox’s book coverage by visiting vox.com/books. Happy reading!