How Amazon reviews became the new battlefield of US politics

In the vexatious realm of online opinion, history has begun to be written not so much by the victors as the customer reviewers

There are stars that twinkle and shine in the firmament and yet others that determine the destiny of authors. In the case of the latter, every author wishes for an Amazon page that is, much like the Coldplay song, “full of stars”. Hillary Clinton, former US presidential candidate, and author of the testily titled What Happened, was not such a fortunate author. A mere day after it was released, Clinton (or, more likely, one of her many publicists) found her book’s Amazon page to be a battleground. Within 24 hours of the book’s release, 1,500 reviews had been posted and – like the American electorate – divided between ardent love and ferocious hatred for the book and its author. The former slathered on five stars, the latter ...

In Thoreau’s footsteps: my journey to Walden for the bicentennial of the original de-clutterer

He retreated to a cabin by a pond and wrote Walden, the most influential guide to happy living ever. As his devotees (modestly) celebrate his bicentennial, our writer follows in the footsteps of Henry David Thoreau
‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,” Henry David Thoreau declares early in the pages of Walden. But these words, some of his most quoted, are only half true. In the summer of 1845, Thoreau – who would have turned a healthy 200 this week – had a lot more on his mind. The book he was writing was not Walden but the almost unknown A Week on the Merrimack and Concord Rivers, an account of a river journey he took with his older brother, John. That brother was suddenly and newly dead of lockjaw, so a bereft Thoreau was left with only his memories in a little cabin, ...

Slouching towards Didion: the book blurb bywords holding the industry back

Didion-esque, Didion-like, Didion-ish: the shorthand for anything insightful written by a white, female author is turning Joan Didion’s perspective into a prescription and stifling literature’s diversity “Writers are always selling someone out,” wrote the young Joan Didion in the preface of her book Slouching Towards Bethlehem. This is the phrase, as the New Yorker once put it, that “everyone knows her by”. It is also a founding principle of the matrilineal branch of the “new journalism”, which, among its edicts of faith, were just the sorts of things that Didion modelled in that 1968 book of essays: an “immersion” in the lives of her subjects, a preference for “truth” over facts, and a diffident sidelining of the objectivity that defined the “old journalism”. Continue reading...

The Lizzie Borden murder industry won’t die – but its feminism has

Not long ago, fiction took a thoughtful line on the perennially compelling true crime tale. But zombies and other kitsch are taking over the franchise The Borden house really is, as Angela Carter put it, “as narrow as a coffin”. When a vistor walks around the building, which sits on Second St in the sleepy town of Fall River, Massachusetts, its macabre reputation still hangs over it, despite it being a bed and breakfast now. For a fee of a little more than $200 (£154) a night, curious tourists can spend a night in the very rooms where, 125 years ago on a steamy August morning, Lizzie Borden reportedly hacked her father and stepmother to death.
But for those who wish to forego the literary pilgrimage and sate their curiosity with a book, a hefty canon of Bordenalia awaits. Her story has remained alive in the American literary imagination ever ...

A publisher of one’s own: Virginia and Leonard Woolf and the Hogarth Press

A century after the Bloomsbury luminaries took delivery of their own printing equipment, the legacy of their pioneering – and often dramatic – DIY operation lives on “We unpacked it with enormous excitement, finally with Nelly’s help carried it into the drawing room, set it on its stand, and discovered that it was smashed in half,” wrote Virginia Woolf on the afternoon of 24 April 1917. That day she and her husband Leonard took delivery of the hand press that heralded the birth of their brainchild, the Hogarth Press. Their £19 purchase had been long awaited, one of three resolutions made while the couple took tea on Virginia’s 33rd birthday: they would buy Hogarth House in Richmond, find a hand press to do their own printing, and buy a bulldog and name him John. The missing part needed to fix the press and render it operative arrived several weeks later ...

Plath’s letters probably won’t harm Hughes’s reputation | Rafia Zakaria

Bardic men behaving badly, from Lord Byron to Robert Lowell, are traditionally excused – while women poets are written off if they step out of line News: Unseen Plath letters claim domestic abuse by Ted Hughes While Sylvia Plath’s verse is peppered with allusions to the tempestuous domesticity of her marriage to Ted Hughes, he has retained his reputation. Beyond legal concerns, there are tricky factors to consider: the ambiguity of intimacy in general, the fragile and synergistic creativity of both poets, and the ultimate decision of the one who remained – Hughes – to destroy the last journal and correspondence of Plath, who didn’t. The sum of it all has been the calcification of two camps: those who do not see Hughes’s poetic genius as exculpating his behaviour, and the others who see it as exactly that. Related: Unseen Sylvia Plath letters claim domestic abuse by Ted Hughes Continue ...

Plath’s letters probably won’t harm Hughes’s reputation | Rafia Zakaria

Bardic men behaving badly, from Lord Byron to Robert Lowell, are traditionally excused – while women poets are written off if they step out of line News: Unseen Plath letters claim domestic abuse by Ted Hughes While Sylvia Plath’s verse is peppered with allusions to the tempestuous domesticity of her marriage to Ted Hughes, he has retained his reputation. Beyond legal concerns, there are tricky factors to consider: the ambiguity of intimacy in general, the fragile and synergistic creativity of both poets, and the ultimate decision of the one who remained – Hughes – to destroy the last journal and correspondence of Plath, who didn’t. The sum of it all has been the calcification of two camps: those who do not see Hughes’s poetic genius as exculpating his behaviour, and the others who see it as exactly that. Related: Unseen Sylvia Plath letters claim domestic abuse by Ted Hughes Continue ...