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Exploring the vast world of Seinfeld fanfiction

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

Seinfeld cast Sony Pictures Television
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 August 25, 2019.

It is no secret that the writing of the marginalized is often read as autofiction. It is also no secret that fiction can be a cathartic way to reinterpret trauma and personal history. I knew after that workshop that any fiction I wrote would be measured doubly: against the writing of literary heroes whom I did not emulate, and then against an arbitrary standard of “is this interesting or is it just niche?”

I won’t pretend my reptilian brain doesn’t get a hit of pleasure from each edition that joins the hoard. But I also see my completism as an honest attempt to recover from the conviction that you know everything, or even anything. As in life, motifs and motivations in literature are notorious for moving in and out of focus as eras and perspectives change. To collect a single book — to follow it through generations and across borders, to consider the forms and languages in which other readers have presented it — is to commit your attention to its legacy. If you’re patient, the patterns that emerge are worth the wait.

Different openings suggest different attitudes, both to the novel and to the practice of reviewing novels. There are ideologies of the novel and ideologies of the novel review, fictional conventions and reviewing conventions. They don’t necessarily overlap. A regular reviewer, confident of his own constituency, may describe a novel in terms of his own responses to it: he wouldn’t for that reason applaud a novelist for writing in a similarly personal vein.

Could we start reframing rejection as something necessary, even desirable – not shameful, but an important step on the artistic journey? Rejection doesn’t automatically mean falling short; it can mean that risks are being taken, that you’re innovating. At the very least, it means that you’re trying. We need to be transparent about the work, about how 99% of the time it’s a thick skin that does more for artists than bolt-from-the-blue talent. And also about the toll it can take on you.

It was never the books as objects that people worried would vanish with the advent of e-readers and other personal devices: it was reading itself. The same change was prophesied by Thomas Edison, at the dawn of the movie age. People fretted again with the advent of the radio, the TV, and home computers. Yet undistracted reading didn’t perish the moment any of these technologies were switched on. This is in part because, as Price argues, it never exactly existed to begin with. Far from embodying an arc of unbroken concentration, books have always mapped their readers’ agitation—not unlike the way a person’s browsing history might reveal a single day’s struggle, for example, to focus on writing a book review.

Look, celebs read books all the time — probably a celeb is reading a book at this very moment! — but the young, influential, and possibly musical ones are particularly keen on flaunting their cool taste in Literature. Gigi Hadid has reportedly been spotting clutching a copy of Albert Camus’s The Stranger. Her sister, Bella, hid behind Stephen King’s The Outsider at an airport once. In April, Emily Ratajkowski shared her love of Sally Rooney’s Conversations With Friends on social media. Justin Bieber reads Christian self-help books about how to be married. Goodreads has a dedicated “Books Harry Styles Has Read” page that contains all of ten books.

Closer to the realm of Seinfeld itself, you have fanfic relating the first date Jerry and Elaine went on, well before the pilot episode, and a sort of missing scene from the series finale. Another author uses the familiar environment of Monk’s Café to stage a riff on the existential angst in Sartre’s play No Exit, its title quoting the aphorism “hell is other people.” What’s fascinating there, and in every “crossover” fanfic — there’s a Clockwork Orange/1984 dystopian hybrid, a Star Trek mashup and a frankly incredible plot where Jerry does standup linking Super Mario 64 to a vore fetish at “some club in New York or something” — is how well the wallpaper of the Seinfeld reality functions as a blank canvas for whatever else the writer finds engaging. The possibilities are endless because you can break all the “rules” of the show without obscuring or sacrificing the indelible protagonists. No matter the absurdity, we always recognize them.

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