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Scholars think they’ve found Milton’s annotated copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio

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

William Shakespeare Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty images

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 September 15, 2019.

For $1,200 per person, groups of about eight spend Saturday and Sunday at her Manhattan apartment, in Washington Heights — or, on one occasion, for $1,800, in a borrowed house in Los Angeles — for a course in first-person essays or memoir, with a focus on idea creation, writing, editing, rewriting and pitching. (The New York program used to cost $1,600 and included a chef-cooked dinner. Also, smaller groups pay slightly less because with fewer students, more time is spent writing during the workshop itself.)

Ms. Daum invites guest speakers and provides a catered lunch.

“I tell my students, ‘We are going to come to this work as if I am your editor, and as if it was 15 years ago when an editor would actually talk to you on the phone or even take you out to lunch,’” she said.

It was getting to the end of 2018. Patchett had just a few months left before her no-going-back deadline, and like an unruly toddler, the book would not behave. She pulled it together with help from a number of friends, all writers themselves.

From Barbara Kingsolver, Patchett got the idea to change what happens to the children’s mother. From Nell Freudenberger, she got the recommendation to read the works of Kate DiCamillo, author of “Because of Winn-Dixie,” with whom she began an email friendship — and who then suggested a new ending.

Sociologist Robin DiAngelo writes in White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism that “white people raised in Western society are conditioned into a white supremacist worldview because it is the bedrock of our society and its institutions.” Additionally, she writes, because white people maintain dominance in our society—operating, for example, all major branches of government and major corporations—we are the only ones who can execute our specific breed of racism. Therefore, the stories of people casually and brutally enacting racism are ours to be familiar with.

Because Instagram emphasizes pictures over text, the platform gives readers new ways to encounter old lyrical modes. Poems on Instagram get shared, viewed, and saved as images, rather than text files, so their visual presentation matters. But instead of exploring the innovative textual styles that computers make possible, such as animated text or unusual fonts, most Insta-poets deploy nostalgic visual tokens of literary refinement. They write in ornate scripts, use old manual typewriters, present their work on richly textured paper, or include little illustrations. Such techniques ironically use Instagram to reassert the traditional notion that genuine poetic expression looks inky and papery — that a poet’s work appears most authentic not on an ephemeral, impersonal screen but on the scribbly, insistently material paper she has physically inscribed. The fact that the visual rhetoric of ink and paper now arrives to us through smartphone screens should indicate how deeply such rhetoric continues to inform our reading habits.

In hindsight, we can see how rarely one technology supersedes another: the rise of the podcast makes clear that video didn’t doom audio any more than radio ended reading. Yet in 1913, a journalist interviewing Thomas Edison on the future of motion pictures recounted the inventor declaring confidently that “books … will soon be obsolete in the public schools.” By 1927 a librarian could observe that “pessimistic defenders of the book … are wont to contrast the actual process of reading with the lazy and passive contemplation of the screen or listening to wireless, and to prophecy the death of the book.” And in 1966, Marshall McLuhan stuck books into a list of outdated antiques: “clotheslines, seams in stockings, books and jobs—all are obsolete.”

Urgency is general, all over America, and rather than waste your time trying to turn my pubescent experiences with porn into a bittersweet memory, I would like to jump to a conclusion: my first library was a library of porn. It was pieced together from things discarded, inherited, and outright stolen. It was catholic, in the catholic sense of the word, because certain pages from the underwear section of the Sears catalogue were allowed to be part. One major source was, coincidentally, the public library itself, where I worked as a page after school and on weekends.

It was 1613, and Robert Carr was in love. He had fallen hard for a young woman by the name of Frances Howard, whom he’d met at King James’s court. Sure, she was married, but it had been a political match, and she claimed the marriage had never been consummated—so once Carr was in the picture, Howard managed to get her marriage annulled . . . on grounds of impotence. (Insult to injury, rather—though the husband claimed he was only impotent with her.) Carr had become one of King James’s particular favorites*, so James was inclined to support the match, even, some suggested, rigging the result in the annulment trial.

  • Scholars believe they have found Milton’s annotated copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio. (In a deeply unfair twist, it’s been in the Free Library of Philadelphia all this time, and yet despite the fact that I lived in Philly until I was 17, I am not the one who found it??) Alison Flood has the story at the Guardian:

“The book is absolutely covered with lines in the margin of passages and when you’re reading those thinking the annotator is Milton they become really interesting,” he said. “It’s how they echo with his work, the sense that the volume offers you the opportunity to read Shakespeare through Milton’s eyes. Because the lines in the margin don’t give you any verbal content, you don’t know why he’s singled out a passage for attention, but it forces you to think your way into Milton’s head and it does really chime with a lot of what goes on in his poetry, so you can see him constructing himself through Shakespeare.”


Meanwhile, this week at Vox, we explored the world of Reese Witherspoon’s book club. As always, you can keep up with all of Vox’s book coverage by visiting vox.com/books. Happy reading!