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Reading Amelia Bedelia as a parable on domestic labor

And the rest of the week’s best writing on books and related subjects.

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Amelia Bedelia Greenwillow Books
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

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 June 9, 2019.

The magic of Samuel Westing’s game is, like America itself, marked by capriciousness and contradiction. Competition and coöperation seem mutually exclusive until they don’t. At the end of the game, none of the characters has inherited the two hundred million dollars, but the idea that they might have done so — the sudden consciousness that life can change wildly in an instant — has proved to be something that can pass for enough. The book seems to suggest that the real American inheritance is transformation, and that American transformation is a mercurial thing.

The first Amelia Bedelia book was published in 1963, the same year as Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique”; the series’ interest in wordplay, literalism, and figurative language is of a piece with its interest in the repetitive, devalued, yet highly intimate quality of women’s work. Perhaps more than other forms of work, domestic labor is often misnamed as love, duty, or some kind of irresistible biological calling. And that’s when it’s named at all; women’s work — the cooking, appointment-keeping, party-planning, soap-dispenser-refilling — is so often invisible. Parish’s books spotlight this labor, and refuse the sentimental fuzziness that usually attends it (especially when it is attached to a mother figure).

It’s been 25 years since I first read this book. I’m no longer an elementary school student in rural Iowa, beholden to my family’s strict Religious Right morality. I’m making a living as a full-time writer in New York City, the kind of life I didn’t dare dream of as a child. I got out, escaped from the life that seemed pre-destined for me growing up—something Birdy, too, with all her attempts at running away from home, was obsessed with doing. Sometimes, the stories we love inform our lives more than we realize.

Around the time the Task Force took off, queer YA literature was exploding. John Donovan’s book seemed to have broken a dam. In the eighteen years after I’ll Get There, thirteen books for teens touched on same-sex attraction, including Rosa Guy’s Ruby (1976), the first to feature a queer Black girl. But many of these books, while offering newfound visibility for queer teens, were riddled with tropes about homosexuality and suffering. Even I’ll Get There ends on an ambivalent note: although Altschuler tells Davy that he doesn’t regret what they did together, prompting some critics to see a hopeful message in the book, Davy ends up blaming his escapades for a car accident that kills his beloved dog. “It certainly isn’t in my nature to queer around,” he says, fearing that his dog’s death is punishment.

This is the curious thing about reading goals — they are essentially homework that people make for themselves. Like homework, reading challenges can feel like pointless busywork for those who aren’t feeling intrinsically motivated to read. Or they can bring a sense of learning and accomplishment.

What’s also hard about writing, says Young, is that it’s never, ever done. “It reminds me a lot of getting regular exercise, eating healthy, keeping a house clean — all these things we have to do that are never done,” she says. “It’s never going to be something that’s finished.” Haha, ahhhhhh. When you put it like that, yeah. It sounds pretty bad.

If we ever uttered the word “research” in a workshop, we did so in a weaponized way to critique a piece of writing: “This desperately needs more research,” we’d all agree, and then nothing more would be said. We’d all just pretend that everyone in the room already knew how to integrate research into fiction and that the failures of the story were merely a lack of effort rather than skill. Secretly, though, I felt lost.

The Times reported that Christie had checked in to the Harrogate spa under the name “Mrs. Tressa Neele.” When asked, Col. Christie insisted he had no idea what the meaning of that particular name was — nor, he added, did his wife. Years later, it was revealed that Agatha Christie had, in fact, used the name of her husband’s girlfriend.

“It got to be one of those books that got so well-known that you kind of had to read it so that you were up on the culture,” she continues, “which meant that it ended up in a lot of hands that it never should’ve been in. Of people who would hate that shit. And they hated it!” (The glamorous 2010 movie adaptation starring Julia Roberts only complicated things further by leaning into “white lady travels to South Asia” tropes instead of examining them.)

“If you yourself are a very deeply private person, or if you’re an atheist, or if you hate memoir, there’s so much that you could hate,” Gilbert says of her memoir, which is far more nuanced than the film. “If you hate privileged white ladies, there you go. There’s no end of stuff to hate, so I know that that’s out there.”

Here’s a rundown of the past two weeks in books at Vox. (We didn’t publish this roundup last week, so we’re doubling up here):

As always, you can keep up with Vox’s book coverage by visiting Happy reading!