Why people use the idea of liking books as a substitute for a personality

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 March 17, 2019.

  • The YA book world has gone through a few high-profile controversies in the past few months involving authors who pulled their books shortly before publication after a group of angry bloggers accused them of racism. Each cancellation sparked a slew of hot takes, but this New Yorker piece from Katy Waldman is by far the most nuanced and careful one I’ve seen:

The ongoing Y.A. wars are about power—about who has traditionally wielded power in publishing, and how that balance is shifting, for better or worse. A group of unpaid readers—one with an undeniable personal investment in the Y.A. community—seems to be doing much of the work of critique that is usually first the task of agents and editors, and then that of booksellers and critics. But, when these particular readers do that work, they are derided as pitchfork-wielding hysterics. When it comes to Y.A., what, precisely, is the difference between the marketplace of ideas and a Twitter mob?

  • The writer Francis Spufford has written a Narnia book that he says will explain the lore of the Stone Table on which Aslan was killed, the Guardian reports. He’s privately distributing it to friends, but Lewis’s estate has not given him permission to publish it — yet, says Spufford.
  • Personally, I am tentatively interested in Spufford’s Narnia, while bearing in mind that even if it’s good I won’t consider it canon, and while noting the difference between the reception of this announcement and the reception of fanfiction overwhelmingly written by women. But at the New Statesman, Lance Parkin argues firmly against it:

There’s certainly a formula to the Narnia stories — children from our world coming to Narnia and learning the true meaning of Aslan. But even by the second book, Prince Caspian, Lewis himself was subverting it, with Narnia conquered by human beings, forcing the animals to pretend they can’t talk and the dwarves to hide in plain sight as short people. The fantasy creatures huddle underground, like members of the French Resistance. Lewis’ second Narnia book is an ironic deconstruction of the Narnia formula just as sly as those of Neil Gaiman or Philip Pullman over half a century later.

The New Me, out this month from Penguin, joins a growing list of novels that are the yin to the yang of Instagram and vlogger culture. There is the army of polished beauty bloggers narrating 13-step serum and Beautyblender routines, who scrub and paraffin and lotion their bodies into sterile, poreless expanses, and then there’s Millie, whose crotch stinks and who doesn’t even brush her teeth, let alone whiten them. College-scamming influencers hector you to keep your life together, your space smelling like cedar and moss, your cheekbones contoured, and your armpits naturally deodorized with baking soda and cornstarch. But in literature there’s a perversely refreshing counteroffensive of odiferous refuseniks, a burgeoning genre you could call Repulsive Realism.

Let’s think about what it means to call a book an “experience.” The status of the book as object is at once denied and overburdened: the physical codex is both a stand-in for the act of reading and a trophy to demonstrate that you have the correct emotional and intellectual relationship to that act. Mere book-owners may see books as things that can be repurposed as decor or given away when they’re no longer needed, but readers know that books contain other worlds — and their book collections become status symbols, signs of their heightened sensitivity.

Because the book’s recipes tended to be in Bourdain’s direct language, I occasionally found myself asking “what do I do now?” and making tweaks on the fly. For example: I’ve noticed throughout the Les Halles Cookbook that Bourdain has a light touch on seasoning. Salt and pepper aren’t always listed in quantities, often just a generic instruction to season. This is no knock. I believe this is a beneficial omission for the home cook, as it encourages the habit of tasting and adjusting. (It also presumes one person’s bland might be another person’s over-salted.) I also found myself with a pot that contained a whole lot of onions and seemingly not enough liquid. Should I or should I not add a cup of water, season, and adjust? The answer was of course I should—this is what cooks do.

  • Read local: The poets of Duluth, Minnesota, are leaving free copies of their work scattered around town. “If Duluth’s poet laureate has his way, the Free Poetry Project will gain traction — like a variation on Little Free Libraries,” reports the Duluth News Tribune.

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!