Please give Philip Pullman back his pen

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Philip Pullman with an animal at London Zoo. Does the animal have the pen? Could be!

And the rest of the week’s best writing on books and related subjects.

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 September 23, 2018.

The first thing you need to do is stop relying on your brain alone for retention. You must become an obsessive note-taker. Buy small notebooks — find a kind you like, so it’s a bit of a treat — and carry one with you everywhere. Read Joan Didion or Susan Sontag (or me!) on the art of note-taking, and take up the habit. You don’t have to remember everything if you write everything down. The act of writing is a memory aid on its own. Then find a schedule for revisiting your notes, for rereading your notebooks. Reading what you’ve written reinforces the memory — it’s like studying a cribsheet. If you do this regularly, even passing thoughts have a better chance of solidifying in your consciousness and becoming real memories.

I have often been struck by how some of the people who have the most grounds for anger seem to have abandoned it, perhaps because it could devour them. These are the falsely accused prisoners, farmworker organizers, indigenous rebels, black leaders, who are closer to the sage than to the samurai in our story, and powerful when it comes to getting things done and moving toward their goals.

I’ll say that books that linger on the unattractive and uninteresting are some of my favorites, even the ones that cheat a bit by making their subjects dramatically flawed. I enjoy Barbara Pym’s extra, excellent women; I relax as Judith Hearne slides into alcoholism and despair; I grumble along with the Underground Man; I follow Bernanos’s country priest as he struggles to minister to a parish that really would rather he didn’t. Even in more sweepingly ambitious novels, there’s usually one or two mediocrities flitting about, sad and self-conscious, and I attach myself to them.

America makes prodigious mistakes, America has colossal faults, but one thing cannot be denied: America is always on the move. She may be going to Hell, of course, but at least she isn’t standing still. The same cannot be said of la République française. Nor can France’s immobility be excused on temperamental grounds; the fact being, that France’s past has undermined her present. More and more, indeed, the world realizes that France does not move because she is sick. Yet, sick though France is, she cannot hold a candle to your fashionably brained American who would have us believe that the land of Coolidge is a snare and a delusion, that Greenwich Village is boring while Montparnasse is inspiring, etc.—but who, in reality, is using la République française as a wooden horse to enter the Troy of his own past.

D-day figures in everything I’ve written and I suspect that my youngest aunt, now in her nineties, does not like my novels, though we’ve never talked about it. I’ve tried to be respectful, stressing that my work is fiction, stressing—again—that all my characters are parts of me. Still. At 15, she dug through the ruins of her house to find her grandmother, mother, and sister. She doesn’t speak of it, but I do, even knowing she might not want me to. This is the dark side of writing, for which there is no answer.

I frequently hear the question, “How can you do both things?” The question is usually friendly, uttered by a colleague or a student who is waiting for me to reveal a secret superpower. Sometimes it is skeptical, as in “You might want to make up your mind which you want to be.” Very rarely, it is subtly hostile.


Meanwhile, here’s a rundown of the week in books at Vox:

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