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If you need quick comfort, try reading a cookbook like it’s a novel

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

Margaret Atwood looking through a cookbook in her home kitchen, year unknown.
Evelyn Floret/LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

Welcome to Vox’s weekly book link roundup, a curated selection of the internet’s best writing on books and related subjects.

We made it through another week! It’s time for a break. Here is the internet’s best writing on books and related subjects for the week of April 19, 2020.

  • The emergency Artist Relief fund has released its first round of 200 $5,000 grants to artists in financial need, Publishers Weekly reports. The fund plans to continue for an additional four rounds.
  • The US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that literacy is a fundamental protected right, one that public schools are obligated to fulfill. We next have to see if that ruling can survive the Supreme Court.
  • At Atlas Obscura, Isaac Schultz introduces us to the team of chemists who figured out how to recreate a lost medieval blue ink:

The team ventured into the southern, bleached-white town of Monsaraz to collect the fruit as per the manuscript’s instructions. The hairy plant’s fruit—about the size of a walnut—yielded a blue mixture. Careful not to crush the seeds, which the team realized jeopardized the quality of the ink, they identified the chemical compound that made the mixture, confirming folium’s identity on the molecular scale. It turns out folium is up with anthocyanins—the blue chemicals found in berries.

Perhaps fittingly for a cult success of the late 1960s, the book is a trip, literally and figuratively. The narrator, Vera Cartwright, journeys by bus across the Midwest, toward the hometown of her beloved nursemaid, the titular Miss MacIntosh. That town, the wonderfully named What Cheer, is in fact a real place in Iowa (pop. 646 in the 2010 census).

King says that the novel, now almost forgotten, is “one of America’s most eccentric, incontrovertibly visionary, and incontestably original masterpieces,” akin to the work of an “outsider artist or art brut painter.”

in the beginning
the dead like the first flowers
for Adam were few

enough to name them
but soon they grew too many
the vast fields of them

The Crisis Generation. That phrase guided me through the next few years. I paid 50 dollars to get a copy of Newhouse’s out-of-print novel so I could show it to everybody I knew. Like some misguided missionary, I’d show it to people and say, “See? See? He’s talking about us!” His book felt like a bomb with a busted timer that had stalled back in the 1930s and had been stuck on a dusty shelf for 80 years, losing none of its dangerous potency. I wanted to fix the timer and blow something up all over again.

“Hysteria of cruel fun” is also an apt description of the bonkers world of Ivy Compton-Burnett. In scope (English upper-class households between the wars) and form (almost entirely dialogue), novels such as A House and Its Head and Manservant and Maidservant get by on the most meagre of narrative rations. Imagine the Wodehouse books, with Jeeves and Wooster stranded at the precise moment, in Gaspar Noé’s Climax, when the cast begin to notice that the punch has been spiked. Since this dread realisation can be expressed only within the clipped register of class and period, a tightly repressed mania holds sway. Relief takes the form of howls of laughter from the reader.

I flipped to a random page and read a sidebar: “15 Thirty-Second Ways to Jazz Up Plain Rice.” (“1. Stir in a tablespoon or more butter.”) Further down the page, I read a section called The Basics of Rice Pilaf. It was boring, but I found myself taking deeper breaths. On the next page, I read a recipe for Chicken Paella. (“Sometimes perceived as a major production, paella is nothing more than a combination of rice and something else.”) I read another sidebar, “17 Grain Dishes That Make Good Leftovers.” I flipped to one of the recipes: Stuck-Pot Rice with Potato Crust. I read the recipe and Bittman’s suggested variation (swap the potato for pita). I had no desire to make it, but I felt oddly calm.


And here’s the week in books at Vox:

As always, you can keep up with all our books coverage by visiting vox.com/books. Happy reading!