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 December 29, 2019.
- Happy New Year! Thousands of titles from 1924 enter the public domain this year, and Hyperallergic has a list of some of the highlights — including Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue — which you can use to start picking what you want to remix and reinterpret. Meanwhile, Slate has a list of the lowlights so you can figure out what to avoid.
- Sonny Mehta, the legendary chairman of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, died earlier this week. At the Washington Post, Sarah Weinman breaks down his legacy:
Although his name may not be familiar, Mehta, who died Dec. 30 at 77, was not merely an individual reader in a single vacuum. As an editor and publisher, he was probably responsible for one of your favorite books. Through Mehta’s dual convictions that there was a real market among readers for literature and that there was genuine value in popular fiction, he indelibly shaped U.S. and world culture.
- At the New York Times, some of Mehta’s authors look back on their time working with him:
They used to warn you, before you first met Sonny Mehta, not to be intimidated by the silence. Don’t let it throw you off, my agent told me, he just doesn’t say much.
Truth is, he didn’t have to. The best writing advice I’ve ever received came delivered from him in single sentences — simple yet deeply nuanced advice I would think about for months, each time arriving at the realization that what he suggested was exactly what the work needed. His gift, I think, was to read every manuscript twice at the same time — once for exactly what it was and once for everything it could be.
- And at Publishers Weekly, Rachel Deahl looks at what comes next for Knopf in the wake of Mehta’s death:
While [Penguin Random House] may indeed have no intention of breaking up Knopf Doubleday, the question about who will succeed Mehta is swirling. Mehta’s old job is one of the most high-profile and sought after positions in the industry. To varying degrees, there is no other imprint as glamorous as Knopf—because of the breadth of books it publishes, the success it’s had and the respect (both literary and commercially) it invokes. For this reason, the question of who will be to fill the very large shoes Mehta has left is on the minds of the industry at large.
- We talked a little about the Romance Writers of America racism controversy last week in this roundup. This week, for NBC News, Mikki Kendall broke down exactly why it matters:
Let’s talk about the power of romance. There’s power in the written word, even in a genre that we tend to consider — because of sexism — less intellectual than some others. And it isn’t just about hearts and flowers and candy; this is cold hard cash: Romance as a literary genre represents a quarter of all fiction sales and more than half of all paperback sales, and it brings in over a billion dollars in sales annually.
The impact of romance books on the culture is outsize because everyone is interested in romance, whether they admit it publicly or not.
- T.S. Eliot’s letters to his American confidante Emily Hale were unsealed this week, as was a statement to the public that Eliot demanded be published as soon as the letters were unsealed, apparently so he could get ahead of the introduction Emily wrote to said letters. The Telegraph has a solid summary with some context if you’d like, but the statement itself is well worth reading in full. It’s, uh, a lot:
So long as Vivienne was alive I was able to deceive myself. To face the truth fully, about my feelings towards Emily Hale, after Vivienne’s death, was a shock from which I recovered only slowly. But I came to see that my love for Emily was the love of a ghost for a ghost, and that the letters I had been writing to her were the letters of an hallucinated man, a man vainly trying to pretend to himself that he was the same man that he had been in 1914.
- Obama released his favorite books of the year list this week! There’s some overlap with Vox’s list, because our 44th president has pretty excellent taste.
- At Electric Lit, McKayla Coyle asks the only question that really matters: Which WWI poet should you fight?
Robert “Just a Friend” Graves
Fights you, but as a friend. If you go down, he’ll go down too out of solidarity. Searching for that wet bond of blood. Believes your lives are now entwined. Do you want to get a drink after this haha just kidding unless. When he says your fat lip is hot he’s actually saying you’re hot. Hitting you but also hitting on you.
As always, you can keep up with Vox’s book coverage by visiting vox.com/books. Happy reading!