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The politics of the books we display behind us during video calls

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

Woman sitting on the living room carpet in front of bookshelves. Rome, Italy. May 2014. Daria Addabbo/Mondadori/Getty Images
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

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

Bafflingly, although it took a thousand years for March to go by, April has slipped past me between eyeblinks. Still, plenty of people spent April writing about and thinking about books, so let’s go over the best of it from the last week of the cruelest month. Here is the internet’s best writing on books and related subjects for the week of April 26, 2020.

  • The New York Times is getting in on the “judge celebrities by their bookshelves” game. First, Gal Beckerman played the game, zooming in on the shelves sitting behind celebs from Cate Blanchett to Paul Rudd. Prince Charles’s bookshelves hold disconcertingly exactly what I would imagine him reading:

1. “Stubbs,” by Basil Taylor: A biography of the 18th-century English painter best known for his depictions of horses.

2. “Shattered,” by Dick Francis: From the master of the equine thriller, a novel of horse-racing and glassblowing.

3. “Kings in Grass Castles,” by Mary Durack: A 1959 Australian classic about the outback during the 19th century. He probably also owns the sequel: “Sons in the Saddle.”

The credibility bookcase, with its towering, idiosyncratic array of worn volumes, is itself an affectation. The expert could choose to speak in front of his art prints or his television or his blank white walls, but he chooses to be framed by his books. It is the most insidious of aesthetic trends: one that masquerades as pure intellectual exercise.

But how much thought have you given to the way you store your books? Even if your collection seems like a mountainous, unruly mess, it can add appeal to your home — provided you display it well.

Books “tell a story about who the homeowner is,” said Nina Freudenberger, the owner of the design firm Haus Interior in Los Angeles, and the author of “Bibliostyle: How We Live at Home with Books.”

“Books tell us about what someone was interested in, what their passions are, what their beliefs are and what kind of person they hope to be,” Ms. Freudenberger said. “Homes without books have no soul.”

If you aren’t familiar with the residency model, it may sound like a cushy retreat in the woods or a beach vacation — creative summer camp for adults. At the most competitive residencies, room and board and sometimes modest stipends are included. Getting stuck there in a pandemic could be construed as the artists’ corollary to that now-infamous honeymooning couple stuck in the Maldives. But the reality is these retreats constitute a support system for artists and writers struggling to cobble together a livelihood. Most of this season’s — and likely next season’s — resident-hopefuls, who would otherwise be making travel plans, will not be going anywhere. And even those stranded at the tip of Massachusetts are unsure of where they’ll go next.

Rhyme is one of the first ways we are introduced to language. There is evidence to suggest that it helps with language acquisition and other semantic development, and studies have also observed a link between rhyme and our aesthetic enjoyment of poetry. But among some literary circles, there is a snobbery about its use. Sceptics deride the use of rhyme as an artistic crutch, believing that it stands in way of achieving deeper, loftier literary aspirations. A common target of their ire is the rhyming dictionary—a handy manual full of avenues that poets of all abilities can run down. But while they may scoff, the long history of rhyming dictionaries shows their curious role in making poetry accessible to the masses.

The aesthetic is listening to Chopin on vinyl, while curled up with a book — likely by the Beats or Baudelaire — in dim candlelight, whilst sipping a cup of tea. It’s bringing a sketchbook to the museum and musing over ancient statues, drawing the furrowed brow and soft lips. It’s wearing turtlenecks with overpriced Barbour jackets and houndstooth trousers, complete with shiny Oxfords, to give the illusion of a brooding scholar who has an acceptance letter to Brown. Essentially, it’s living like a moody YA character who drinks whiskey while writing essays just because his favorite author did the same.

  • At the Cut, Matthew Schneier suggests that now is the perfect time to memorize a poem. I, because I was that kind of teenager, taught myself “Make me a willow cabin” in high school and can do it still, privately, inside my own head. It brings me joy, if no one else. Here’s how Schneier makes his case:

Poetry is sticky. Prose slips. Barbed and spurred, poems catch in your chest; they get stuck in your head like songs. Still, to admit to liking poetry is faintly embarrassing. The familiar stereotypes cling: The old stuff is out of touch; the new is pretentious, mawkish, or insincere. If you charm your beloved with poetry, you’re a troubadour, ridiculous; you might even be a cad. (Poetry can be used and abused. Robert Lowell chopped up his devastated ex-wife Elizabeth Hardwick’s letters and served them forth in his own poetry collection, The Dolphin.) “Poetry makes nothing happen,” W. H. Auden, one of our greatest poets, famously wrote. “I, too, dislike it,” added Marianne Moore in a poem called “Poetry.” But wait! “Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one / discovers that there is in / it after all, a place for the genuine.”

And here’s the week in books at Vox:

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

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