The best book covers from 1820 to 1914 include a sweet potato doing a pinup pose

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 February 10, 2019.

What’s perhaps most troubling about the plagiarized portions of your book are the minor word changes — a person’s last name being changed to a pronoun, for instance — that seem to hint at something even more insidious than sloppy citation. Because it looks as though you, or someone who was working with you, purposefully changed just enough of these sentences in a determined attempt to avoid detection.

I believe it, again, is not with any kind of ill intent. But in taking notes quickly, I probably — I mean, changing a name to a pronoun would be, again, sloppy. It’s on me. I’ve said that again and again. And that is really all I’m gonna say. OK?

It’s still unclear how this happened, though. That’s one of the questions that’s still gonna be burning in me.

Well, I really do think I have explained it.

The cultural anxiety that permeates our existence in 2019 lends itself well to the resurgence of the locked-room subgenre (alongside perennial shelf-mates like the procedural, the noir, and the psychological thriller). The era of “fake news,” real conspiracies, and policy whiplash makes an ordered plot that much more appealing. “In a world where things feel increasingly unstructured and uncertain,” says Lucy Foley, “there’s a particular satisfaction in the rigid structure of a locked-room mystery.” Rachel Howzell Hall puts it another way: “This country, right now, is a locked room. So many bad things are happening, and it’s not because of outside forces. The bad guy is in the house with us!” Sad!

It’s a debut novel and it is fantasy executed exactly as realism. That is apparently my kink: Fantasy that is brought down to earth in such a way that the mundane elements of it lend to extraordinary believability.

  • Public Domain Review has collected its favorite book covers from 1820 through 1914. I am extremely into the little spider on the cover of A Treatise on Adulteration of Food and Culinary Poisons, but also don’t overlook the weirdly pinup-adjacent pose that (I assume) Mr. Sweet Potatoes is doing on Mr. Sweet Potatoes and Other Stories.
  • We talked last week about Dan Mallory, the guy who apparently lied and scammed and conned his way through publishing to become wildly successful. At Electric Lit, Ruoxi Chen puts him in context with the industry:

If the industry seems shaken, it’s because we understand that this story was not a one off or even a true surprise when you drill down. Many of us have worked with a Dan Mallory type, have watched someone rocket up the hierarchy without doing the work. It’s because there are many, many women, especially women of color, sitting in their cubicles (there are far more men with doors that close) reading about how this man lied his way from assistant to executive editor in a few short years while no one even questioned him. The industry culture is designed to buy into that con, that destructive, specious fantasy of elegant men from a more “civilized” age. It’s embedded deeply, a cancer more real than anything Dan Mallory had.

Romance covers are incarnations of fantasy and desire and sexual want, sold to an audience that was generally female, often older, and often middle and working class. Ladies in supermarkets, as Carson suggested. Moms. They reflect books that are deeply interested in sex. Their romantic plots frequently involve women getting off as an essential element of their happily ever after. There has always been a deep, cheerful bawdiness—sometimes veering into outright lasciviousness—in the romance fandom and in the playful but genuine enthusiasm for Fabio. It asks no permission from Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon, and does not take their wants into account. It doesn’t think of them at all.


Here’s a rundown of the past week in books at Vox:

As always, you can keep up with Vox’s book coverage by visiting vox.com/books. Happy reading!