This year’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award recognizes a passage comparing a penis to a small monkey

By Constance Grady

A monkey eats a banana during the 31st annual Monkey Buffet Festival at the Phra Prang Sam Yot temple on November 24, 2019.
Chaiwat Subprasom/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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 December 1, 2019.

Didones represent a complete about-face from the design ethos of Peak Minimalism. On a technical level, Didones and geometric sans serifs are more or less total opposites: serif versus sans serif, intense stroke contrast versus none at all, tall ascenders (letters like “h” and “t”) versus short ones. But there’s also a more extensive rejection of the 2010s aesthetic at play. Against the no-frills, cheerfully pared-down look of Google et al, the use of Didones in the context of marketing feels downright luxurious, whether that sense of luxury is applied to a mattress or a vibrator or even a first aid kit.

Biography is, it seems, an expanding category. Mary Shelley’s monster in Frankenstein was educated by reading about ‘the heroes of past ages’; biography was once simply about recording the exemplary lives of great men (and they were mostly men) from cradle to grave. Now, as we question the idea of greatness, the writing of life stories has democratised. People attempt the seemingly impossible: writing biographies of those often obscured by history — the lowly, unsung and unscrupulous — and so answer Virginia Woolf’s question: ‘Is not anyone who has lived a life, and left a record of that life, worthy of biography — the failures as well as the successes, the humble as well as the illustrious?’

By now there are a lot of people with whom I have spoken only English, and I like to think that I put together a language using the phrases they lent me or that I stole from them; that now, when I speak English, I imitate their voices, and from imitating them so much there are times, like in a Fernando Pessoa poem, when I feel as if my pretend language is a language of my own, a way of speaking that is mine. And I suppose that dormant within the mutant I proudly call my English, there also lurk the ruckus of friends getting drunk and the erratic conversations with that asshole Brad and the letters that Emily Dickinson sent to the world and the poems by Donne and Auden and the songs of the summer and the Seinfeld episodes I know by heart.

Lifting fines has had a surprising dual effect: More patrons are returning to the library, with their late materials in hand. Chicago saw a 240% increase in return of materials within three weeks of implementing its fine-free policy last month. The library system also had 400 more card renewals compared with that time last year.

”It became clear to us that there were families that couldn’t afford to pay the fines and therefore couldn’t return the materials, so then we just lost them as patrons altogether,” said Andrea Telli, the city’s library commissioner. “We wanted our materials back, and more importantly, we wanted our patrons back.”

  • Scholars have discovered that an Elizabethan English translation of the Roman historian Tacitus was actually edited by Queen Elizabeth herself. Atlas Obscura has the story:

Tacitus’s work, written around the turn of the first century, found renewed popularity in Renaissance Europe. In the manuscript found in the library in Lambeth, Tacitus describes the peaceful period of the Roman Empire under Augustus. The work is penned in a neat, consistent, impressively legible italic across 34 pages. A few words throughout the work are struck through, with hasty corrections squeezed in above. The edits are peppered with royal terms such as “sovereign” and “reign,” nodding toward a monarchical perspective. But these word choices weren’t enough to identify the editing as Elizabeth’s — that took a modern understanding of old handwriting. In comparison with the royal scribe’s tidy hand, the edits are formed of a rather distinctive chicken scratch.

Katsuro moaned as a bulge formed beneath the material of his kimono, a bulge that Miyuki seized, kneaded, massaged, squashed and crushed. With the fondling, Katsuro’s penis and testicles became one single mound that rolled around beneath the grip of her hand. Miyuki felt as though she was manipulating a small monkey that was curling up its paws.

The Janeite mind reels at the mere idea of young Arthur Miller being tasked to condense Pride and Prejudice to an hour-long format for radio. How could this American playwright, then honing his special brand of tragic realism that would challenge post-war complacency and eventually tilt at the windmills of McCarthyism, possibly give voice to Austen’s light, bright, and sparkling novel? The would-be king of American grit taking a crack at that quiet paragon of Britishness? Surely not. I dismissed the idea as ludicrous when a curator, knowing of my research interest in Jane Austen, casually mentioned the script’s existence. With zero pretentions at scholarly objectivity, I ventured into the archives to read the inevitable travesty for myself.

To my great surprise, I chuckled all the way through the script, disturbing other readers in the sanctum sanctorum of the Harry Ransom Center reading room with my unladylike snorts.

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!