Wedding Woes and Mutual Hatred


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In The Wedding, West offers a more nuanced and succinct take on the same themes. In the late summer 1953, the prosperous Coles family is gathered on the Vineyard for the nuptials of their lovely scion Shelby Coles to a white jazz musician. The impending wedding brings to a head the foundational illusion of their lives: that skin color is “a direct barometer of virtue,” as Shelby’s sister, Liz, sarcastically puts it. West tracks the idea’s evolution and its fallout by telling the stories of the family’s ancestors, black and white, from back when “cars hadn’t yet been invented, cocktails hadn’t yet been invented, and the idea of colored people taking vacations had not yet been invented either.” In a more recent flashback, a young Shelby gets lost, and the islanders are on the lookout for a “little colored girl.” But blonde Shelby isn’t recognizable as such, and when she tells her name to a white mother, the woman is at first confused and then reluctant to ask if she’s “colored.” “I couldn’t do anything as awful,” the woman says to her friends. “Supposing she isn’t? It might leave a scar.”

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Emma Garman — The Paris Review

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The problem with Facebook


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What’s your view?

“Antisocial Media” is not a hopeful book. Vaidhyanathan doesn’t think Facebook can be reformed from within, however many times CEO Mark Zuckerberg apologizes and promises to do better. “The problem with Facebook is Facebook,” he writes. It’s not just that the company makes its money by pimping its members to advertisers. It’s that the network is now so immense that it has become impossible to weed out the scoundrels and creeps until after they’ve done their damage. “Facebook,” Vaidhyanathan concludes, “is too big to tame.” The company will always be cleaning up messes, begging our forgiveness.

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Nicholas Carr – The Washington Post

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Break.up by Joanna Walsh


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Joanna Walsh’s recent novel, Break.up, is motivated by a recently ended—or is it still current?—relationship. In order to forget about her on-again-off-again lover, the narrator, also named Joanna, decides to embark on a solo journey across Europe. Traveling by train, bus, and on foot, she makes her way from London’s St. Pancras Station through France, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, Hungary, Holland, Germany, and back again. Joanna seems intent on tiring herself out, hoping to banish the thoughts that keep her up at night. In the meantime, she houses these thoughts in a book, a tactic that also alleviates her self-imposed loneliness. “You’re never alone with a book,” she says, “particularly when you’re writing one.”

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Ruby Brunton — Bookforum

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Juliet, Naked Is Everything a Mainstream Rom-Com Should Be But No Longer Is


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It’s an irresistible premise: an increasingly intimate intercontinental relationship between a superfan’s idol and his own girlfriend. It’s a Platonic cuckolding. Juliet, Naked is based on a Nick Hornby novel that funnels a lot of Hornby’s fanboy impulses — including his self-loathing, paranoid ones — into a single breezy vehicle. Duncan, his dark alter ego, is insufferable bordering on pitiful. When an acquaintance looks at a photo of the young Crowe and pronounces him “gorgeous,” Duncan says, “Thank you,” beaming. Of Crowe’s critics, including Annie, he says, “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, however un-nuanced” — a line I should use more often when people disagree with me. He does not know as yet that Crowe’s opinion is similarly un-nuanced.

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David Edelstein — Vulture

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21 Lessons for the 21st Century By Yuval Noah Harari


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A not so nice book review.

So it continues, great swathes of padding followed by dinner-party observations of crushing banality. The chapters cover some big subjects – war, terrorism, nationalism, God – but since most average about fifteen pages, they fall almost comically short of providing the ‘dazzling’ insights promised on the book’s cover. One sentence literally reads, ‘Humans have bodies.’ Amazing. ‘European civilisation is anything Europeans make of it.’ Profound. Where terrorism is concerned, ‘we just cannot prepare for every eventuality’. Dazzling.

On and on it goes. ‘With a single exception, all flags are rectangular pieces of cloth.’ Well I never. ‘A robot army would probably have strangled the French Revolution in its cradle in 1789.’ There’s a good Doctor Who story in that. ‘If the USA had had killer robots in the Vietnam War, the My Lai massacre might have been prevented.’ Is this Yuval Noah Harari or Alan Partridge?

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Dominic Sandbrook — Literary Review

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The Shattering Double Vision of V. S. Naipaul


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One of the great writers I truly admired. R.I.P.

Nominally, Naipaul is writing about Anand Biswas. Actually, he is writing about himself—Vidia in Oxford (“in a library grown suddenly dark”), and then in London (“in securer times of different stresses”). He is writing about the young man in South London, for whom memories of Trinidad are both painful and joyful, and about how the writing of his epic is at once the baring and the healing of a wound (“when the memories had lost the power to hurt”). How coolly and classically Naipaul refers to his own great achievement: “they would fall into place and give back the rest.” Now he is gone, but his book continues to give back the rest to us, again and again.

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James Wood – The New Yorker

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No, you probably don’t have a book in you


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From the horse’s mouth – reality check for wannabe writers.

Remember writing papers in school? Remember trying to eke out 1,000 words or three pages or whatever seemingly arbitrary number a teacher set? Remember making the font bigger and the margins wider? You can’t do that to a book. I ‘m often sent stories that are way too long or too short for the publishing industry, and that makes them bad candidates for books. The average novel, for adults or children, is at least 50,000 words. That’s 50 three-page papers. Shorter books are not cheaper for the publisher to make, for many reasons too boring to get into here, and no, it’s not just cheaper to do ebooks, either. (No, really, it’s not.) If you’re an epic writer and think breaking up your 500,000-word fantasy series into five books is the key, you’re wrong there, too. A publisher doesn’t really want book two until they see how book number one is selling. And if your story doesn’t wrap up until book five, then you’re going to have nothing but disappointed readers. Writing — just getting the words on the page — is hard, period. Writing artfully so that someone enjoys what you’re writing is even harder.

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Kate McKean — The Outline

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