Today in books and publishing: Rowling's old neighbors insist they aren't snobs; Naomi Wolf's Vagina turns off feminists; Teju Cole on Insta-photography; happy International Book Week!
Is Naomi's Wolf's Vagina anti-feminist? First scientists, then iTunes, and now leading online feminists are laying into Naomi Wolf's latest book. The Millions hosts a roundtable hate-read of Vagina, in which Nicole Cliffe, Roxane Gay, Michelle Dean, Kate Harding, Jess Zimmerman, and others all line up to air their complaints about a book that they believe, "without a doubt, is awful." Zimmerman writes, "If it weren’t legitimized by being 300 pages with endnotes and published by HarperCollins, a lot of Vagina would basically read like stoned dorm-room revelations." Gay thinks, "this book is shamefully irresponsible," particularly for the "overwhelmingly heterosexual stance [Wolf] takes, practically erasing queer women." Cliffe thinks Wolf reduces women to their genitalia, writing, "this book just made me want to grab her and say: it is a fucking gap in your body which evolved to vent menstrual fluid and infants and to give you enough physical pleasure so you might get conned into the latter." With all the heat Wolf has been getting lately, it would be interesting to hear a thoughtful defense of Vagina. If there are any. [The Millions]
J.K. Rowling's old neighbors chafe at snobby characterization in new book. Authors must make lots of enemies. Whenever their books contain unlikeable characters, friends have to wonder if the author based her literary creations on them. J.K. Rowling might be alienating the residents of her hometown with her latest book, The Casual Vacancy. Her new novel for adults focusses on small town snobbery and local political skirmishes. Many of the characters don't portray provincial types in a flattering light, but Rowling's real neighbors from her upbringing in Tutshill, Gloucestershire, insist that the characters in fictional Pagford aren't based on them. Rowling lived in Tutshill from age 9 until leaving for college, and says she couldn't wait to get out. "I think she has a bit of a chip on her shoulder because she didn’t have a very good time in her teenage years," says Victoria Cater, a 50-year-old resident. "Tutshill is neither snobby nor pretentious. If it were, we wouldn’t have lived here for 22 years." Her husband says, "She is a fantasy writer, after all. This sounds like another of her fantasies." Will Hodge says, "She has a very negative attitude about the place." His father was the parish councillor when Rowling was around, and her latest book deals with the councillorship prominently."I don’t remember my father being in wrangles like this." The current Labour party councillor in Tutshill, Armand Watts says, "You can see that she has picked a theme, but it’s unfair to stigmatise this village." [The Telegraph]
What makes a book talismanic? The physicality of books continues to hold a particular allure for many readers. Just see how people gush over the design of Dave Egger's A Hologram for the King if you need proof that many wouldn't trade books for physically convenient, yet ephemeral e-books. Robert Ansell, director of esoterica specialists Fulgur Press, is one of the people who believe quite literally in the mystical aura books can exude. Ansell used to work at Sotheby's, and his theory of where books derive their value comes from Aleistar Crowley's concept of the "talismanic book." Like the talismans of the Golden Dawn, "the book-talisman should be charged with the force that it was intended to represent ... what they both provide for the reader is a powerful sense of embodiment." Visionary content demands visionary form. "Can an e-book be talismanic?" BoingBoing's Avi Solomon asks. "Philosophically, that's an interesting question. Given an e-book is a disembodied text it would be easy to say no, but it's worth remembering that e-books are still in their infancy," Ansell says. [BoingBoing]
Teju Cole is skeptical about Instagram. In addition to being an award-winning novelist and the proprietor of one of Twitter's more interesting feeds, Teju Cole is something of a photographer. He dons that cap in his latest column for The New Inquiry, writing about Russian photographer Gueorgui Pinkhassov's recent adoption of Instagram. Meditating on the photographic deluge digital technology has brought on, Cole writes, "All bad photos are alike, but each good photograph is good in its own way. The bad photos have found their apotheosis on social media, where everybody is a photographer and where we have to suffer through each other’s 'photography' the way our forebears endured terrible recitations of poetry after dinner." So, don't expect Cole to "like" that Earlybird-filtered photo you Instagrammed of your brunch plate yesterday. [The New Inquiry]
Join us in celebrating International Book Week. Late September is like late December for bookish types:—all the wordy holidays start piling up right around now. Today marks National Punctuation Day, and Banned Books Week is just around the corner. Apparently, we're also in the thick of International Book Week, an unorganized, slacker-friendly meme of indeterminate origin that readers celebrate by grabbing the nearest book, turning to page 52, and posting the fifth sentence without revealing the book's title. Here's our celebratory excerpt: "'The Blue Fox Room is completely sold out, Mr. Taverner,' Jumpy Mike rumbled in his fat way." We hope you'll post a sentence in the comments. [Melville House]