How to read a very long book

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 23, 2020.

I am here to request the opportunity to provide your website with a professionally crafted first-person essay in support of my upcoming novel.

I have an elaborate skincare routine in addition to a few minor areas of moderate expertise, but I understand that for an author who isn’t even on Instagram, your currency of choice is pain. As such, I was hoping you might be willing to consider my short essay on how sometimes I am kind of a little bit sad.

This would, naturally, be provided gratis.

The history of lying makes us believe that where there are lies there must be a liar. But fiction can, and perhaps should, educate its readers to question their grounds for wanting to believe things. The reason it’s so tempting to embody the age of lies in individuals is that the cultural history of lying has taught us to see lying principally as a matter of one person misleading another. But that may be less true than it once was. Political lies now tend to be something more than statements by individuals that are designed to mislead: they are partly generated by the desires and beliefs of the lie-ee.

As a woman out of time, Dana has a twentieth century, post-Civil Rights era consciousness that she brings with her to the past. In her early visits, she feels like an observer of events, an actor playing the role of “slave”: “While we waited to go home, we humored the people around us by pretending to be like them. But we were poor actors. We never really got into our roles. We never forgot that we were acting.” Yet the longer that Dana spends in the past, the more this feeling fades, until she herself realizes that she is no longer acting the role of slave but has actually started acting like an enslaved person herself. After being punished with a half day of brutal fieldwork, Dana understands that she would not survive long under such conditions, and finds herself more acquiescent than before. “How easily slaves are made,” she thinks to herself.

1 Set goals – but do take breaks

Haruki Murakami once wrote a short story called Sleep, about a woman who discovers she no longer needs it and uses her extra time to finally bash through Anna Karenina. We can’t do that – but we can dedicate the time by setting a daily goal, even if it seems small to you, say 20 pages. That way, you’re never so far away from it that you lose track of the plot and then your interest. Read after me: it is OK to not read books like an excited tween on a Harry Potter release date.

Hours of each day pass where I encounter nothing truly memorable on my computer or phone. What was I just reading five minutes ago? I genuinely couldn’t tell you. My little rat brain glances upon a screen, processes a tweet and tosses it straight into my mental paper shredder.

But when I read a physical book for fun, things slow down. I hear the words in my head, visualize the scenes being described, pause to contemplate the paragraph I’ve just consumed. It takes forever, but it’s an almost luxurious change of pace.

Crimes have a tendency to become not just stories but genres, once we get too accustomed to them. As more and more stories of sexual assault have been made public in the last two years, the genre of their telling has exploded. One thing we often do with narratives of sexual assault is sort their respective parties into different temporalities: it seems we are interested in perpetrators’ futures and victims’ pasts. Whatever questions society has about the perpetrators tend to concern their next steps: Will they go to prison? What of their careers? Questions asked about the victims—even at their most charitable (when we aren’t asking, “What was she wearing?”)—seem to focus on the past, sometimes in pursuit of understanding, sometimes in pursuit of certainty and corroboration and painful details.

Thanks to the Hogwarts curriculum, I can withstand mind control and even limited torture, but I cannot write a compelling cover letter without humiliating grammatical error’s. Why is literature not a course at your skool? I can enchant my quill to write my thoughts, but I never learned how to make my thoughts enchanting. I heard that Durmstrang students have a skool newspaper. You know what Hogwarts has? A three-headed dog lurking in the castle, with permission to kill whoever it finds. Indeedly, my life was constantly endangered while at Hogwarts, which was an academic distracshun.


And here’s the week in books at Vox:

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