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French author and serial killer expert revealed to be a serial liar

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

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Stéphane Bourgoin in 2008. Bourgoin was a popular criminologist in France, but he recently admitted his career is based on a series of lies.
Frederic Souloy/Gamma-Rapho 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.

This Friday was the first truly summery day of the year where I am: There are peonies blossoming and birds singing between the sounds of sirens, and it’s warm enough to start thinking about what the best quarantine shorts would be. By Monday, though, it’s supposed to be cool and rainy again, which is truly ideal reading weather. (It’s also great weather for our May Book Club pick, The Secret History. Come hang out with us and subscribe to the newsletter to make sure you don’t miss anything!)

After you’ve checked out the book club, please appreciate the vast plethora of book writing that has appeared on the internet this week. I have curated the very best options for you, but there was so much out there this week that the roundup is a little bit longer than usual. Here is the best online writing on books and related subjects for the week of May 10, 2020.

The literary community has long been tightly-knit, yet in this moment of widespread peril, with communities large and small rallying through grassroots methods to save their favorite booksellers and celebrate their favorite writers, literary-minded people have never been drawn closer together.

If black-owned bookstores like her family’s fade away, the repercussions could be far-reaching and devastating: fewer books by black authors sold, fewer publishing contracts for black authors, fewer black authors writing at all, Richardson says.

Where else, she asks, can black readers discover books such as Indus Khamit-Kush’s “What They Never Told You in History Class”?

“Older and new black bookstores alike still face the challenge of a lack of consciousness about the consequences of not having a black bookstore in your community, not having your own source of knowledge about yourself available,” she says. “If we are not writing our own story, someone else will.”

This lucid gem is the first-person tale of Margaret Cavendish, a real-life 17th century Renaissance woman and writer whose story would be captivating enough on its own, even without Dutton’s elegant, winking treatment. But the winks do not go unnoticed, of course (nor does that gorgeous cover). In our list of the best novels of the decade, editor in chief Jonny Diamond described the book as a “glinting dagger of novel” and wrote that Dutton “realizes the outsize ambitions of this remarkable book with virtuosic efficiency, braiding first- and third-person perspectives with passages from Cavendish’s original writing. I will be recommending this book for the next decade.”

There is a widely held belief, among English-language writers, that sex is impossible to write about well – or at least much harder to write about well than anything else. I once heard a wonderful writer, addressing students at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, say that her ideal of a sex scene would be the sentence: “They sat down on the sofa …” followed by white space. This is a prejudice I can’t understand. One of the glories of being a writer in English is that two of our earliest geniuses, Chaucer and Shakespeare, wrote of the sexual body so exuberantly, claiming it for literature and bringing its vocabulary – including all those wonderful four-letter words – into the texture of our literary language. This is a gift not all languages have received; a translator once complained to me that in her language there was only the diction of the doctor’s office or of pornography, neither of which felt native to poetry.

It’s my third book of poetry, and as I was writing it, it was the most exhilarating and exhausting experience I have ever had because I was overtaken by poetry. I was saying things that I had never said, I was speaking in such a direct way about my own sexual assault. I had never really faced poems that were as contemporary as these poems are: there are poems in this book about mass shootings, about unnecessary ass police brutality, etc. That scared me a lot actually because you want your poems to have a proper kind of incubation so that they’re good forever. So did I know they were going to win a Pulitzer Prize? No, it’s like a one in 300 chance. Did I know that something special was happening? Yes. I invented a form [the duplex] — who has that kind of time?

  • If you will allow me to indulge in puerile gossip for a moment: Last week, Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer announced that they have separated, in two breathtakingly passive aggressive statements that each more or less began with “I see [other person] has told you …” This week, Gaiman’s Goodreads account showed him reading a book titled Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone With Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. While that is an awe-inspiring increase in digital hostilities, Gaiman says it wasn’t really him, and that he was hacked. Mashable has the story.
  • In other scandalous literary gossip, the French author Stéphane Bourgoin, widely considered a national expert on serial killers after the murder of his own wife, has now been revealed as a serial liar instead. At the Guardian, Alison Flood has the story:

But in January, anonymous collective the 4ème Oeil Corporation accused him of lying about his past, and Bourgoin has now admitted to the French press that the wife never existed. He also acknowledged that he never trained with the FBI, never interviewed Charles Manson, met far fewer killers than he has previously claimed, and never worked as a professional footballer – another claim he had made.

The Hunger Games was unlike anything Levithan and his colleagues had been expecting. “We had been thinking it would be another middle-grade fantasy, but instead it was this YA dystopian speculative fiction about a world that forces citizens to give up their children in sacrifice,” he says. “It certainly was much more intense than we had been expecting. At the same time, we knew that Suzanne wrote incredibly and insightfully about war, about politics and dynamics of freedom and rebellion. So the idea of her doing something older and having such high stakes made perfect sense to us.”

As a little girl, I dreamed of being trapped in a gothic castle; well, here I am, trapped. I’ve been ordered to shelter in place, so I’m sheltering in place. I live in a small apartment with warm yellow walls and African violets on the sill — hardly a romantic gothic manor. But somehow this apartment has become a haunted house, and I am the ghost.

If Orwell’s 1984 gave us the concept of Newspeak, Saunders has spent a career mining what I might call USAspeak: the obfuscating jargon of a country cobbled from corporate language, self-help books and dumbed-down politics. Characters live in crime-ridden developments with names like Sea Oak (“no sea and no oak, just 100 subsidised apartments and a rear view of FedEx”). They work precarious gigs at deranged amusement parks like CivilWarLand and Pastoralia while stressing about their “Daily Partner Performance Evaluation Form.” Elsewhere, politicians craft slogans like “Loyalty — It’s Super!”

Asking a Medieval person to imagine the world and their place on it would demand a radically different sort of cognitive map than one a modern person might rely on. This affects pragmatic matters (of navigation and so forth), but also what could be termed poetic ones as well. Philosopher Bertrand Westphal writes in Geocriticism: Real and Fictional Spaces that the “perception of space and the representation of space do not involve the same things,” and this is a crucial point. Ortelius’ atlas gave women and men this new perception of space, a new cognitive map that would allow someone to envision their place and presence on the globe.


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!