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What makes a book “unfilmable”?

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

Dakota Blue Richards in The Golden Compass
The Golden Compass, 2007.
New Line
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 30, 2019.

  • The Washington Post has compiled a list of the ideal book you should read for every age of your life, and as always, half the fun of lists like this is quibbling about the choices. (Personally, I think it’s condescending to tell a 50-year-old to read 50 Shades of Grey, like 50-year-olds don’t deserve at the very least better-written erotica in their lives, but 16 is the perfect age for Jane Eyre.)
  • Are you reading enough books in translation? I don’t think I’m reading enough books in translation. At BookRiot, Pierce Alquist has put together a list of 50 short books in translation she considers must-reads. I myself am looking forward to An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good.
  • At the Guardian, Sian Cain asks what it means to call a book “unfilmable”:

For “unfilmable” is often just code for “we tried and it didn’t happen”, an excuse for all the films trapped in development hell, such as John Milton’s Paradise Lost (Bradley Cooper was once lined up to play a hunky Lucifer), and the long-awaited adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. “Unfilmable” can also mean “we tried and did a terrible job”. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series is not unfilmable, but the 2017 take starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey might make you wish it was. Or the maddening works of William Faulkner, most recently put on screen by actor James Franco, who took time off from insisting he can write novels to ruin someone else’s by directing, adapting and starring in As I Lay Dying in 2013 and The Sound and the Fury in 2015.

Scruples and I’ll Take Manhattan are, quite literally, about the rich getting richer, or at least the rich becoming more successful and famous and therefore personally fulfilled (while staying just as rich). But even as Krantz writes with forgiving fondness, this new wealth is also seen clearly, as a bunch of vulgar assholes with hardly any scruples and moral compasses frequently on the fritz. (That’s the whole point of the name!) And there’s something refreshing about the glibness with which Krantz treats these people, especially reading her books in an era in which the super-rich are so ridiculously smug and serious about their contributions and their “wellness” routines and trips to fucking Davos. Oh, the panels, the endless self-congratulatory panels! Krantz would have had a good line about those goddamned panels.

I went to the library, borrowed the book, and stayed up all night reading it under the covers with a flashlight. One chapter began, “Almost every person has something secret he likes to eat,” and my heart thumped as I read Mary Frances’s voluptuous description of her private relationship with tangerines.

Early the next morning I went to the refrigerator, removed a tangerine, peeled it carefully and left the sections sitting on the radiator while I went off to school. Home again, I spread the dried half-moons on the snowy windowsill, as Mary Frances had done as a young bride in France. Then I put a section in my mouth, whispering her words to myself, paying attention to the sensual crackle of the skin beneath my teeth and the sweet spurt of juice rushing through my body. In that moment I felt as if I had discovered a new way of being in the world.

Let’s just get this out of the way right now: I do not know how to write a book. By which I mean, I do not have a reliable way to write a book. I thought I did. We begin as authors, I think, to take in and accept certain truisms — if not about Writing In General, than about Our Individual Processes. We just say, “Well, this is how we do this. I outline the book, I think up some character arcs, I pray to the Dark Goat Slorgath, I pour a phial of demon saliva in a cursed inkwell, and then I write the book, two thousand words a day until it is done.”

This book just didn’t conform.

Then life really intervened. My mother died. It wasn’t entirely unexpected — we’d moved her from the hospital into home hospice care — but we’d thought we had more time and, nevertheless, you’re never ready. For a couple of weeks, everything went upside down. I was sure my visit with Rebecca couldn’t happen.

But then I realized this was the very thinking my novel was trying to resist. It’s never easy to make time. For anything. And studies show that when life gets too busy or too difficult, the first thing we drop is time with friends. Also, my mother had known Rebecca, as she’d known all five of the friends I dedicated the book to. That made me want to see her even more. So I decided to follow my own character’s lead. Despite difficulties of timing and grief, stress and illness, I went to visit my friend.

This week in books at Vox, we reviewed Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s debut novel, Fleishman Is in Trouble. As always, you can keep up with Vox’s book coverage by visiting Happy reading!