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 May 26, 2019.
- At Esquire there’s an oral history of Bennington College in the ’80s, when Donna Tartt, Jonathan Lethem, and Bret Easton Ellis were all there and all writing:
JONATHAN LETHEM: There was the sense that people were playing dress-up, faking it until it became real. I saw the classics clique crossing Commons dressed up like they were at Oxford and I thought, Oh, that’s what you’re making yourself into.
MATT JACOBSEN: When city folk are transplanted to the woods of Vermont, they get slaphappy. Only then do three guys in their daddies’ rumpled sport coats appear to be Oxonians. In the fall of 1982, the Greek class consisted of me, Paul McGloin, and Todd O’Neal.
BRET EASTON ELLIS: Donna and I were set up on a blind date that fall by our roommates, who hated us and thought we were uptight enough to hang out with each other. So we’d have something to talk about, I put in her mailbox a couple of stories I’d written that Less than Zero would be based on. And she put in mine a story that wasn’t The Secret History but was something in that vein. There was no murder, but it was the world of The Secret History, that milieu, those characters—Claude Fredericks and his classics students.
- At the Atlantic, David A. Graham argues that the juicy tell-all presidential exposé book is dead:
It’s hard to imagine [Michael Wolff’s] Siege achieving the same impact as its predecessor [his 2018 book Fire and Fury]. In part that’s because Wolff didn’t have the same unfettered access to the White House this time, and in part that’s because of questions that were raised about his methods and results in Fire and Fury. But the bigger problem is the format. Tell-alls about Donald Trump’s administration feel increasingly obsolete. What more can we learn about a president who is already so heavily exposed?
- At NPR’s the Salt, Nina Martyris delves into the power of tea in fiction:
One night, Velchaninov is gripped by mysterious and agonizing pains, and Trusotsky, with an almost demented fervour, forces him to drink “two or three cups of very hot weak tea — boiling hot” as a sureshot remedy. In hysterical tones, he urges him, “Drink this tea quick — never mind if you scald your tongue — Life is drearer. You can die of this sort of thing, you know.” Why would the cuckold administer to the sufferings of the man who has wronged him? Trusotsky’s concern is genuine but it has an edge. Sure enough, though Velchaninov feels better after the tea and falls asleep, he wakes up to find Trusotsky standing over him in the dark, razor in hand. The nurse has turned assassin, with the passive aggression simmering inside reaching boiling point.
- Publisher Macmillan is leaving its traditional home in the legendary Flatiron Building to come be Vox’s neighbor in New York’s Financial District. I spent a few months interning in the Flatiron many years ago, and my experience lines up exactly with what Kat Brzozowski describes in Publishers Weekly: The layout is incredibly inconvenient for modern office work, but wow it’s a thrill to work in a building like that.
We’d bemoan the lack of conference rooms, then brag to our friends that we got to work in that building. We’d complain about the fact that we needed our key cards to get from one side of the floor to the other, then we’d pour out of the doors at lunchtime to get burgers at Shake Shack, or a BLT at Eisenberg’s, or a flat white at Birch Coffee, a plethora of delicious (and affordable) options spread out in front of us like a glorified mall food court. We’d tell our authors, “Don’t get your hopes up, it’s not that nice inside,” then see their eyes light up as they took out their phones to snap a shot from the point office, with views that stretched all the way to Times Square, with the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building so close you felt you could reach out and touch them.
- At the Guardian, Alison Flood looks into the problem of authors whose creativity freezes under the pressure of fan expectations (yes, this is a George R.R. Martin subtweet). Philip Pullman, notably, is unconcerned:
“The only problem with pressure from readers is when you take any notice of it,” Pullman says. “Maybe I’m thick-skinned but I’ve always felt that what I do when I’m writing is none of the readers’ business. Or the critics’ business, or even the publishers’ business. Any pressure I’ve felt when coming towards the end of a trilogy or a novel is entirely self-generated, and it takes the form (as always) of wanting to discover what the story is and then tell it as clearly as I can.”
- At Electric Lit, the Washington Post’s Pulitzer-winning book critic Carlos Lozada discusses the responsibilities of a book critic in the age of Trump:
I try to reinvent my job every few years or else it can get boring. I started by writing about as many books as I could. Then I delved into these multi-book essays connected by a theme. For now, I still think I want to do some of that. One thing I will try to do is read old books that are relevant to whatever we are experiencing now. A lot of great stuff was published before we were born. I might look back on books about old political campaigns leading into the 2020 election.
- Actual nightmare: Naomi Wolf went on the BBC to promote her new book, only to learn on air that she had made a major historical error:
There’s a shocking silence on-air after Sweet says he doesn’t think Wolf is right about the executions Outrages delves into. Sweet looks at the case of Thomas Silver, who, Wolf wrote in her book, “was actually executed for committing sodomy. The boy was indicted for unnatural offense, guilty, death recorded.” Silver, as Sweet points out, was not executed.
“What is your understanding of what ‘death recorded’ means?” Wolf asked him on-air, mere moments after he had already explained to her how Old Bailey, London’s main criminal court up until 1913, defined it. Sweet pulled up his own research — news reports and prison records — showing the date that Thomas Silver was discharged.
- Wolf is correcting that error, but she says she stands by her book’s larger argument, the Guardian reports.
- Good news: Sweden has floating library boats! Bad news: They may not be around forever. At LitHub, Anjie Zheng digs into the story:
The Stockholm county library boat (or bokbåten), visits 23 islands, including Möja, in the Stockholm archipelago, for one week twice a year. It carries around 3,000 books and a rotating staff of three to four librarians.
When it docks, island residents have about one-and-a-half glorious hours to come aboard the motor ship, browse its treasures, and borrow anything they’d like. Each island has one library card and, in a delightful detail, there are no penalties if a book isn’t returned six months later.
- Also at LitHub, Jaime Fuller tells the story of Cora Crane, the long-suffering wife of Red Badge of Courage author Stephen Crane. Cora supported them both while Stephen wrote, mostly by doing commercial writing:
It isn’t necessary to restore every forgotten writer to the canon; some achieved what they could during their time, influencing and seeding possibilities where they could. But it is still worth pausing to remember her for a moment. It is perhaps useful, as writers sit clacking at laptops, to hear the story of someone else who spent their life asking editors for checks needed yesterday and trying to write a sentence good enough to make a buck while hoping something better was cooking in their brain in the background. Some writers are brilliant, some have good business models, some donate their talent to other causes; others simply don’t have the time or resources to do anything besides work to live.
Here’s a rundown of the past week in books at Vox:
- Philanthropy is undergoing a massive backlash. A new book argues it’s gone too far.
- The end of forgetting
As always, you can keep up with Vox’s book coverage by visiting vox.com/books. Happy reading!