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The Booker Prize longlist includes a book that is just a single thousand-page sentence

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

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A hardcover book open on a table.
Ancient books displayed in Arqua Petrarca, Veneto, Italy.
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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 July 21, 2019.

  • At Slate, Dan Kois has put together a list of 100 great books for an ambitious teenage reader. Personally, I think Lloyd Alexander is a better fit for the 8-to-12 range than for high schoolers, but half the fun of reading lists like this is to quibble with them.
  • The New York Times profiled Sarah McNally, of New York’s McNally Jackson mini-chain of indie bookstores, to find out how she spends her Sundays. There’s the requisite protesting-too-much about how she works too hard and isn’t a role model, but try and tell me this isn’t aspirational:

I often stop by my Eighth Street stationery store on our way home and have pleasant conversations with strangers about stationery; or maybe about something they’re wearing. My staff make fun of me. “You’re always chasing,” they say. But stationery and books are really nice things to talk to people about.

  • Also at the New York Times, Karen Valby takes a look at the books about royalty that are dominating the YA best-seller lists these days:

The cruelty is the point. If you’re looking to explain why today’s Y.A. best-seller lists are thick with kings, queens and fawning courts, think about why teenagers might be drawn to ambivalent heroes battling within or against the nasty, rigid structures of these monarchic worlds. We all have to know what we’re up against.

When I went home for Christmas, however, I decided to give Milton another go, and took my little Everyman edition with me to the bath. There was something about being immersed in nearly scalding water that took away just enough of my resistance to him. Suddenly, almost like magic, I could flow into the pentameters of Paradise Lost, follow sentences without hesitation as they spilled from one line into another, be swept away by the sheer cascading sound of it. After that, Milton was unlocked. I did not need to be in a bath to read him, I simply had to surrender in the same way, to submerse myself in the rhythm of his language.

“I wanted a little feeling of a cabin and an aura of a small bookstore, which both evoke a lot of dreaming,” says Fagué of the overall design. A familiar-looking checkout desk is the only curved structure in the space, “giving it an organic feel,” observes Megel-Nuber, noting its contrast to the linear bookshelves.

Jodi is right: no one requests anti-divorce propaganda. They want dictionaries, comics, books on WWII, landscaping, and religion. They want Sudoku and crosswords, books on drawing, vampires, and rock ‘n’ roll. They want guides to investing and self help. They want a line to the outside world, other voices speaking to them across miles and years, telling stories and offering up knowledge. They want, basically, what we all want from books: to learn, to escape, to feel less alone.

Shows like The Bachelorette and Survivor are special in how deftly they acclimate the viewer to a completely unrealistic setting and narrative, normalize the stakes of unnatural dates and unusual challenges, and compel the viewer to stay hooked not just because of who wins, but how. During my stint at The Bachelorette, I was a story producer, charged with crafting the narrative for a reality show and making a half-hour or hour-long program out of untold hours of raw footage. Every spoken line is scrutinized for its efficacy in either revealing character, entertaining and informing the audience, establishing a setting, advancing the holistic narrative, or hopefully, a combination of two or more of the above.

There is no knowing Herman Melville. This summer marks the two-hundredth anniversary of his birth and the hundredth anniversary of his revival. Born in 1819, he died in 1891, forgotten, only to be rediscovered around the centennial of his birth, in 1919. Since then, his fame has known no bounds, his reputation no rest, his life no privacy. His papers have been published, the notes he made in his books digitized, a log of his every day compiled, each movement traced, all utterances analyzed, every dog-eared page scanned and uploaded, like so much hay tossed up to a loft. And yet, as Andrew Delbanco wrote in a canny biography, “Melville: His World and Work” (2005), “the quest for the private Melville has usually led to a dead end.”

On the road to that dead end there stands a barn, and it is on fire.

  • In 1933, Langston Hughes wrote an essay on black incarceration for the Soviet edition of a novel about chain gangs. It’s now being published in English for the first time at Smithsonian magazine:

I had once a short but memorable experience with a fugitive from a chain gang in this very same Georgia of which [John L.] Spivak writes. I had been lecturing on my poetry at some of the Negro universities of the South and, with a friend, I was driving North again in a small automobile. All day since sunrise we had been bumping over the hard red clay roads characteristic of the backward sections of the South. We had passed two chain gangs that day , one in the morning grading a country road, and the other about noon, a group of Negroes in gray and black stripped [sic] suits, bending and rising under the hot sun, digging a drainage ditch at the side of the highway. We wanted to stop and talk to the men, but we were afraid. The white guards on horseback glared at us as we slowed down our machine, so we went on. On our automobile there was a New York license, and we knew it was dangerous for Northern Negroes to appear too interested in the affairs of the rural South.

You buy a book at the airport. You read it on the plane or in the days/weeks/months after your travel. You return it within 6 months of purchase, and you get a 50 percent refund.

You’ll need your original receipt (use it as a bookmark so you don’t lose it), but you can return the book to any Paradies Lagardère location—the same one you purchased it from or wherever you’re traveling to. The store will then resell these books as “used” at 50 percent off the cover price (so you can snag a deal that way, too).

“A good independent bookshop is something pretty special,” Daunt tells me. “It has personality and character, and that’s primarily driven by the people working in it, the booksellers. Also the manner in which they display their books, the amusement and serendipity of how they curate their shops.”

Daunt’s London bookstores guide readers toward such serendipitous discoveries. Some have books arranged by country rather than genre, a setup that encourages browsing: You might visit the Japan section looking for Haruki Murakami novels only to find yourself paging through a history of ramen or a book of haikus about cats. All Daunt stores eschew detailed signage for genres like “self-help” and “history” in favor of closely themed tables of books. In a recent podcast interview, Daunt said this is “so you can find your way around a shop subliminally.”


Here’s an overview of the week in books at Vox:

As always, you can keep up with Vox’s book coverage by visiting vox.com/books. Happy reading!

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