And the rest of the week’s best writing on books and related subjects.
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 1, 2019.
- At OneZero, Angela Lashbrook considers the problems of Goodreads:
What Goodreads is good for is keeping your own list of books you want to read or have read this year. It’s a list-making app. And while that’s useful, it doesn’t live up to the company’s full promise of being a haven for readers. Readers and authors deserve a better online community. And while Amazon has at least some nominal interest in improving many of its other products — Alexa, for example, becomes more advanced with each passing year — Goodreads lingers in the dustbin of the early aughts, doomed to the hideous beige design and uninspiring organization of a strip mall doctor’s office.
- Speaking of Amazon, at BuzzFeed News, Caroline O’Donovan and Ken Bensinger report on the human costs of Amazon’s famous next-day delivery:
Public records document hundreds of road wrecks involving vehicles delivering Amazon packages in the past five years, with Amazon itself named as a defendant in at least 100 lawsuits filed in the wake of accidents, including at least six fatalities and numerous serious injuries. This is almost certainly a vast undercount, as many accidents involving vehicles carrying Amazon packages are not reported in a way that can link them to the company. And in some states, including California, accident reports are not public.
- That was a sad story, so to cheer ourselves up, let’s fantasize about staying overnight in this Welsh library the way Jennifer Nalewicki did for Smithsonian magazine:
I make my way up an enclosed spiral staircase to the second level and run my fingers across the leather bindings of hundreds of tomes whose yellow pages had no doubt been leafed through by numerous scholars and bibliophiles over the years. Legends of the Saints. The Altar. The Problem of Immortality. A Treatise on Purgatory. As an overnight guest at the B&B, I’ll have access to all of them inside the Reading Room up until it closes at 10 p.m.
- At Brooklyn Based, Tyler Wetherall reports on the rise of the millennial spellbook:
For the many millennials who grew up without organized religion, witchcraft offers a form of alternative spiritual practice which is open, accepting, and radical. It is also self-directed, led by individual study and belief, rather than a single hegemonic power or a central dogma. In short, it is a practice that satiates a spiritual void without undermining other progressive beliefs. “There is no one book that is the be-all-and-end-all of witchcraft technique,” says Grossman. “Everyone’s path is individual and that’s really important to people today.”
- At the New Yorker, Ceridwen Dovey explores the world of novels written by groups:
The Alices worried, initially, that readers wouldn’t know what to make of a “weird five-headed” author, or would think that they were “gimmicky.” They wondered, too, if the fun they had might dampen the reception of a group-written work. “With a novel, people seem to want proof you suffered while writing it,” they said. But everyone they met was intrigued by their group-creation story. Book tours for all three groups were a riot. Even turning up for readings in empty regional libraries wasn’t soul-destroying, because they weren’t there alone. Sharing the responsibilities of publicity has other advantages: the Wu Ming members, by taking turns, manage to attend around a hundred and fifty events each year to meet their readers across Italy; the Alices and the Helenas were able to continue working their day jobs while promoting their novels.
- At the Guardian, John Mullan considers whether the upcoming Goldfinch movie will be able to solve the problems of the Donna Tartt novel on which it’s based:
The reason it is so long is that, like Tartt’s two previous novels, it is thick with circumstantial detail. Tartt cannot narrate even the least significant episode without fully visualising it. Tartt’s novelistic modus operandi is, indeed, cinematic. Often the density of detail is such that the sentences become verbless lists. Tartt’s narrator catalogues the world’s visual clutter as greedily as any unblinking movie camera. The descriptions of the Barbours’ huge Park Avenue apartment, with all its dark wood and chinoiserie, or the new-build Las Vegas house at the edge of the desert, where Theo has to live with his father, are like instruction sheets for set builders. When Theo is taken to a violent criminal’s New York lair, you might expect him to be nervous, but he is too busy noticing the pictures on the wall and the books (Nabokov’s Despair, Heidegger’s Being and Time) on the table.
- Also at the Guardian, beautiful weirdo Nell Zink explains that she has no subconscious:
“I laid down and closed my eyes, Tom did this shamanistic ritual, and when I came out of this trance an hour later, he looked at me and said: ‘I am afraid I have to tell you, Nell, you have no subconscious mind.’”
Zink laughs hysterically while telling this very Zink-esque story. “He’d gone into my mind, and there is usually an empty room with doors. But in my case that room was completely full with an over-the-top, psychedelic party that was really loud and populated by these nightmarish creatures. It was complete overload and there was no escape.”
- At LitHub, Emily Temple has collected the best one-star reviews on Amazon of children’s classic Goodnight Moon:
In the one-star reviews of Goodnight Moon, you will notice plenty instances of that same tired complaint every classic seems to get, which is that it’s “booooooring,” but apparently Goodnight Moon has some other, deeper, issues. The book “lacks racial diversity,” rhymes “moon” with “moon” (“unacceptable”), “teaches children flawed natural order,” and of course “is symbolic of child abduction, moon worship, freemasonry, and the fracturing of personalities that comes from torture.” Turns out people read a lot into children’s books, and also have no earthly idea what “mush” is, but think it must be something either very boring or very evil.
- Also at LitHub, Marcus Creaghan looks for new ways to talk about illness:
Pain and illness are notoriously difficult to verbalize. Virginia Woolf once wrote that the “merest schoolgirl when she falls in love, has Shakespeare or Keats to speak her mind for her; but let a sufferer try to describe a pain in his head to doctors and language at once runs dry.” While it’s true that, compared to love, literature has little to say about disease, the greater threat is that, as Elaine Scarry writes, “Physical pain does not simply resist language but actively destroys it,” putting many people almost in a pre-verbal state. And this destruction can rob patients of a core facet of what it means to be human: the ability to communicate to others, and oftentimes ourselves, the fundamental aspects of our experience.
Here’s the week in books at Vox:
- The 12 most anticipated books of the fall, according to Goodreads
- The cult of Sally Rooney
- Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale sequel is a giddy thrill ride
- Amazon sent out early copies of the Handmaid’s Tale sequel. Indie booksellers aren’t happy.
- How James Mattis learned to stop worrying and love TV appearances
As always, you can keep up with Vox’s book coverage by visiting vox.com/books. Happy reading!
Author: Constance Grady