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 June 16, 2019.
- At LitHub, Nick Ripatrazone tells the story of Anne Sexton’s correspondence with a monk:
His first letter came in the summer of 1961. Of all the fan mail for her first book, she was especially pleased by his note. What a surprise: a letter from a Benedictine monk. She tells him that she is working “slowly” on her second book: “I wobble on a drunken sea, crawling between pebbles and slow fish, never knowing if anyone will like any poem.” She admits “I don’t know much about the life of a Monk (do you capitalize monk?) but I would like to.” Sexton always felt the pull of religion — particularly the strangeness of it. The Protestant faith of her family was distant and formal. Catholicism — all that blood and guts, song and sin — intrigued her.
- I wrote a little in May about Penguin Classics’ new Asian American Heritage series. Now one of the books is involved in a messy copyright dispute, after Penguin declined to pay royalties to the author’s family. At International Examiner, Vince Schleitwiler tells the story:
But while the rest of the Asian American literary world was smiling, Wong was fuming. Penguin, he knew, had quietly chosen not to pay royalties to the Okada family, claiming that the book wasn’t under U.S. copyright — despite a 1976 registration Wong had filed for Okada’s widow, Dorothy, when he’d helped reprint it himself. Later editions, published by the University of Washington Press, had honored the copyright — and were still very much available!
On the verge of the new release, Wong doubted a multinational conglomerate like Penguin would be persuaded to change its position. So, he decided on one final act of defiance. What happened next would turn the publishing world on its ear.
- In the New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl sings the song of Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday:
This year we celebrate the two-hundredth birthday of Walt Whitman; and by “we” I mean all of us who take conscious pleasure in speaking American English. Whitman invented a poetry specific to this language and open to the kinds of experience, peculiar to democracy in a polyethnic society on a vast continent, that might otherwise be mute.
- Paranormal romance author Sherrilyn Kenyon has accused her ex-husband of poisoning her. At Vulture, Lila Shapiro investigates:
I spent three days with Kenyon at her home. With every hour that passed, her story, like her books, grew longer and darker and harder to follow. It wasn’t just Ken and Plump who were out to get her. Her lawyers in the plagiarism case had played “a shell game” with her, she said; the judge in the divorce case was colluding with Ken; some of her own publishers had schemed against her. Her cast of villains kept expanding, even as their roles became increasingly obscure. Spending time with her was like stepping into the world of her fiction, an alternate reality where demons lurked behind every door. In Ken’s legal filings, he made a similar point: “It is as if Wife is mentally morphing into one of her fictional characters in her fantasy, sci-fi novels.”
- Five years ago, YA author Kathleen Hale wrote an essay about stalking a woman who gave her a negative review on Goodreads. Now she’s published a new book, to the outrage of much of the YA community. At BuzzFeed News, Scaachi Koul explores exactly what happened:
Talking to Hale, I understand the impulses behind her actions fully: Any writer with any kind of audience has detailed fantasies about tracking their worst critics down and holding them accountable. What I don’t understand is the follow-through of actually doing it, namely when it’s clear to her and everyone else that going to someone’s house (regardless of if you rang the doorbell or not) is asking for trouble. The impulse makes Hale relatable; the follow-through makes her impossible to root for.
- At LitHub, Jen Corrigan tells the tale of her writing nemesis:
I read Diane’s comments last. She was precise and specific with her critique, picking apart my poem and by extension my identity as a writer. Worst of all, she was right. I decided then I hated her and that I would stop at nothing to become more successful than her. So I did what any reasonable person would do: I friended her on Facebook and looked at everything she had ever posted. I saw her artsy black-and-white selfies, her insightful Goodreads reviews, her cryptic status updates written in all lowercase letters. By knowing my enemy, I was knowing myself and the gaping holes in my skill set that I needed to fill in order to overcome the bane of my existence that was Diane.
- At the Guardian, David Shariatmadari explores some of our greatest language wars:
A so-called “grammar vigilante” has been correcting shop fronts in Bristol, England, for more than a decade. His pet peeve is the confusion of plain old plurals with possessives, which in English are usually marked by an apostrophe followed by an S. Confronted with a sign advertising “Amy’s Nail’s”, he will obliterate the second apostrophe with a sticker. Addressing the potentially illegal nature of his mission in a BBC report, he said: “It’s more of a crime that the apostrophe is wrong in the first place”. Linguist Rob Drummond disagrees: “Fetishising the apostrophe as if its rules are set in stone,” he writes, “and then fostering an environment in which it is acceptable to take pleasure in uncovering other people’s linguistic insecurities is not OK.”
- At the New York Times, Lauren Christensen takes a look at Virginia Woolf’s original manuscript for Mrs. Dalloway:
The novel we know today begins with the iconic sentence “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” But a manuscript page dated June 1923 bears a different opening: “In Westminster, where temples, meeting houses, conventicles, & steeples of all kinds are congregated together, there is at all hours & halfhours, a round of bells, correcting each other, asseverating that time has come a little earlier, or stayed a little later, here or here.”
- Suzanne Collins is writing a Hunger Games prequel! No title yet, but it’s set to come out in 2020. The Associated Press has a full report:
“With this book, I wanted to explore the state of nature, who we are, and what we perceive is required for our survival,” [Collins] said. “The reconstruction period 10 years after the war, commonly referred to as the Dark Days — as the country of Panem struggles back to its feet — provides fertile ground for characters to grapple with these questions and thereby define their views of humanity.”
- Last year, the writer Daniel A. Gross was offered a spot in a secret literary fellowship. He soon found out it was funded by the executive chair of Barnes & Noble. From there, things get weird:
Jackson told me to write my first name on a piece of paper, and to complete a writing exercise. I was to create an original fable, complete with talking animals and a moral. After we’d all written our fables, we took turns reading them — but we were only supposed to listen to one another’s pieces, not to comment on them. Jackson called this “the pedagogy.”
What it produced was a series of awkward silences. At the end, Jackson launched into a lecture on literary structure. Pausing frequently for effect, he spoke about constructing fables, discerning between the abstract and the concrete, and “kicking the tires of aphoristic writing.” Somewhere in the middle, without any warning, he began to speak angrily about PEN America, its hiring processes, and its executive director.
As always, you can keep up with Vox’s book coverage by visiting vox.com/books. Happy reading!