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 22, 2019.
- At Electric Lit, Amy Beth Wright close reads Victor Hugo’s house in Guernsey:
On the third floor of Hauteville House, a Georgian villa on the British Channel Island of Guernsey, a man’s head, carved from the faux ivory top of a walking stick, hovers ominously above an ornately carved bed. To the right of the bed is a red curtain, which conceals a secret hidden passage. A short flight of stairs behind the curtain leads to a “crystal palace,” a lookout toward the coast of France, with a four-sectioned glass roof. In the center of the room, a white marble statuette on a pedestal, recalling the Roman goddess Diana, is perched incongruously on a footed stove that is also painted white, the figure angelic and solitary against the blue sky visible through the panes. It is as if one is absorbed within the cloudscape, at eye level with celestial bodies.
- Also at Electric Lit, Amanda Minoff examines the women narrators who write themselves out of their stories:
Through their narrators, Brodesser-Akner and Cusk explore a type of empathy that is perhaps—historically, over-simplistically, binarily—specific to women. It’s an empathy that borders on martyrdom. Should a mother really leave a child or husband gasping for air as she fiddles with her own mask? It’s a test, isn’t it? The worlds of these novels, their authors seem to argue, expect these women to self-sacrifice in the end, to place the masks—doubling as megaphones—around others first. The men cannot be left to suffocate; the things they have left to say are too important.
- At the Paris Review Daily, Frankie Thomas explains how the magic of iambic tetrameter allows her to ruin your life with the following verse:
attend the tale of Sweeney Todd
his skin was pale and his eye was odd
but you don’t really care for music, do ya?
- The BBC gets its troll on with this list of former cult books that, per the venerable Beeb, are no longer cool:
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, 1951
Poor Holden Caulfield. Mired in a funk for more than half a century, the angst-ridden ‘everyteen’ is now regarded by the cool kids as being a bit — well, self-indulgent. His ennui is, if not exclusively a rich-white-boy problem, then certainly nothing compared with looming climate collapse and other woes weighing on the minds of his 21st-Century peers. Plus, in the era of helicopter parenting and geo-tagging, not to mention hyper-vigilant mental-health awareness, the idea that a depressed teen could simply go Awol in New York City for a couple of days is increasingly hard to indulge.
- Meanwhile, here’s a book listicle that seems less calculated to make people mad: As we approach the end of the decade, LitHub has put together a very solid list of which books from the 2010s they believe will stand the test of time.
- At the New York Times, Alexandra Alter checks in on the state of fact-checking in publishing (spoilers: as we’ve discussed here at Vox, it’s still a mess!):
Publishers have long maintained that fact-checking every book would be prohibitively expensive, and that the responsibility falls on authors, who hold the copyrights. But in today’s polarized media landscape, that stance appears to be shifting as some publishers privately agree that they should be doing more, particularly when the subject matter is controversial.
“If you’re writing a remotely controversial book, there’s going to be an active audience that’s invested in discrediting it,” said Kyle Pope, the editor and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review. “This notion that books are above the fray, I don’t think it’s going to last.”
- At LitHub, Sonya Huber explains why the Creative Writing 101 advice to “show, don’t tell” can be so harmful:
I wrote a whole book of memoir impelled by the false silver mirage of “show, don’t tell” on the horizon. If I could get there, if I could starve my sentences of myself, I’d produce a formula of my life that would succeed as a novelistic memoir.
I focused on shutting up, on making scenes, on not gabbing on and on about my thoughts, on not reflecting. I did this before I had a real voice to begin with, or after I’d lost the voice I’d once had. I killed it to be pure. To watch and to transcribe.
- The best book review of the week is Judith Butler on Bari Weiss:
Since it is possible to think two things at once, shall we then think about how—in the spirit of the Jewish social justice tradition, the open tent Weiss briefly referenced in her op-ed—a fierce opposition to antisemitism is compatible with a relentless critique of the injustices perpetrated by the Israeli state?
Weiss encourages Jews to “practice a Judaism of affirmation, not a Judaism of defensiveness.” A fine idea! But if Judaism and Zionism are conflated, then what precisely is to be affirmed? And how are we to judge? Shall we not be permitted to ask all of our questions, so that we may become more wise as we pursue the answers? More courage, Bari Weiss!
And here’s the week in books at Vox:
- Patti Smith’s new memoir is a dreamy recollection of a terrible year
- Ta-Nehisi Coates is a great writer. His new book The Water Dancer is not a great novel.
- Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On deconstructed Harry Potter. Wayward Son is what comes next.
- The Goldfinch is a bad movie because it is based on a deeply flawed book
As always, you can keep up with all of Vox’s book coverage by visiting vox.com/books. Happy reading!