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Dakota Johnson is set to star in Netflix’s film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

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April 20, 2021, 12:34pm

How quickly come the reasons for approving what we like—when what we like is a Jane Austen adaptation, and there are many reasons to approve! Deadline just announced that Dakota Johnson has signed on to star as Anne in Netflix and MRC Entertainment (Knives Out)’s feature film adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. The adaptation will be the feature directing debut of theater director Carrie Cracknell, who notably directed Jake Gyllenhaal in Sea Wall/A Life.

The film, written by Ron Bass (Rain Man, My Best Friend’s Wedding) and Alice Victoria Winslow (#BlueBoar), is a “modern, witty approach to a beloved story while still remaining true”—it seems we’re looking at a time period shift. Though the details are still hazy, this casting is already exciting: maybe this marks a new adaptation-heavy era for the Fifty Shades of Grey and Our Friend star. (Johnson is also a lead in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s upcoming adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter.) It’ll be fun to see Johnson flex her acting chops—though it’s safe to say playing a headstrong heroine unafraid to speak up isn’t a reach for her.

Monstrosity Plucked From Garbage Can: On Mae West’s early career as a controversial playwright.

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April 20, 2021, 11:59am

Mae West is an icon: literally, a representative symbol. In the popular imagination, Mae West stands in for a certain type of seduction—blonde, campy, one-liner-heavy. But though West is best known for her distinctive performances, she was also a controversial playwright; before West established the acting persona that would stick in the public’s minds for a century, she was offending critics and facing jail time for shows that she called “comedy-dramas of life,” illuminating elements of life yet to be popularized onstage.

West’s plays The Drag and The Pleasure Man brought a type of communal gay camp onstage that at turns scandalized and excited a largely straight audience. And back in 1926, before Diamond Lil, her play-turned-movie about a good-natured prostitute, launched West to bona fide stardom, she wrote and performed another play—SEX—which would lay the groundwork for the plot of Diamond Lil but polarized audiences in a way Diamond Lil never did.

In SEX, West starred as a prostitute named Margy Lamont. The plot is winding, complicated, and not the point; viewer response was created by the first two acts, where the audience saw Margy working in a brothel and then in a nightclub. Critics were universally horrified by SEX. The New Yorker described the script as “street sweepings”; the New York Herald Tribune said that “never in a long experience of theatre-going have we met with a set of characters so depraved”; the slightly more provocative New York Daily Mirror titled their review “SEX an Offensive Play, Monstrosity Plucked From Garbage Can, Destined to Sewer.”

It wasn’t that there had never been sex or representations of sex workers on Broadway before; but critics found SEX reminiscent of burlesque (stigmatized at the time), as well as uncomfortably realistic in its treatment of sex work and class. As Marybeth Hamilton puts it in “SEX, The Drag, and 1920s Broadway,” “Margy was . . . an ill-paid sex-worker who traded her body on the streets. West made that fact unmistakable. As West embodied her, Margy was palpably from the lower orders . . . Margy is bitterly conscious of herself as a member of the oppressed class, and the grimness and harshness of her manner are reflected in the world she inhabits.” Imagine Mae West’s characteristic delivery without the irony: that was Margy Lamont. Understandably (though not correctly), people were scandalized.

As usually happens when people freak out about a piece of art, ticket sales went up. Then, on February 9, 1927, SEX was raided by the acting mayor, and West spent $14,000 to bail herself and her fellow actors out of jail. As she refused to shut down the show, West was sentenced to ten days in jail for “corrupting the morals of youth.” She was released two days early for good behavior, and the jail time essentially operated as a publicity stunt, launching her in the media as a “bad girl” of theater.

West capitalized on the publicity of SEX and took it as an opportunity to retool her persona, creating Diamond Lil. West plays a sex worker in Diamond Lil as well, but this time, it was funny. Lil was constantly making jokes, and West played her with a veil of irony, so an audience could interpret all of the raunchiness as satire. Plus, the specter of class was never mentioned, making it easier to swallow for middle-class audiences. West called Lil “a little spicy, but not too raw”; this was the beginning of the West performances we know today. I’m grateful for West’s fame, and her later work; but I’m glad we know what was lost in translation.

Simon & Schuster workers are protesting their employer’s publishing decisions.

Jonny Diamond

April 20, 2021, 9:46am

Framed as a “statement from the workforce of S&S” an open letter is now circulating that calls out Simon & Schuster for maintaining its distribution relationship with Post Hill, a far right small press that publishes the likes of Matt Gaetz, and which recently drew fire for giving a book deal to Jonathan Mattingly, one of the cops implicated in the murder of Breonna Taylor. Though S&S released a statement distancing itself from the Mattingly deal, they have yet to fully sever ties with Post Hill. The letter also calls out S&S’s recent two-book deal with former Vice President Mike Pence, pointing out that:

Long before his Vice Presidency, Mike Pence made a career out of discriminating against marginalized groups and denying resources to BIPOC and LGBTQA+ communities. From advocating for legalized discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, to eroding the teaching of science in favor of Christian theology in public-funded schools, to ending energy efficiency programs, to pushing for guns to be in schools and cars, to taking away funding for and shutting down clinics treating HIV patients, to promoting conversion therapy, to denying bodily autonomy to pregnant people, to abandoning a nation in crisis as the coronavirus ran rampant and killed more than half a million Americans.

Just as every individual must reckon with moral lines they will or will not cross, so too must any given publisher: Are you going to profit from the “controversy” around the extralegal murder of an innocent woman? Are you going to reward a politician who made a career out of denying fellow Americans their very identities?

Worker-driven resistance like this has become more common in publishing over the last year, with some limited but successful results (Hachette employees walked out over Woody Allen’s memoir deal). Of course, this open letter will be decried in some circles as a form of “cancel culture,” even though it’s a clear manifestation of sacred (and conservative?) American values. S&S workers are exercising their right to free speech in hopes of creating enough public pressure on their employer to force a market-based decision: namely, that publishing Mike Pence isn’t worth the bad PR. Isn’t this how the Founding Fathers wanted it?

13 new books to get on Independent Bookstore Day.

Katie Yee

April 20, 2021, 4:50am

This Saturday is Independent Bookstore Day. So you basically have to stop by your local indie and stock up on books to your heart’s content!

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Richard Wright, The Man Who Lived Underground, Library of America (April 6) 

Richard Wright, The Man Who Lived Underground
(Library of America)
The Man Who Lived Underground is constructed of the precise, often terse, sentences that are a hallmark of Wright’s work, and its prose, thrumming with energy, has many pleasures to offer.”
–The New Republic
 

Hot Stew by Fiona Mozley

Fiona Mozley, Hot Stew
(Algonquin Books)
“To direct so many through a labyrinthine story in just over 300 pages is a kind of mastery. The careful ingredients of Hot Stew combine to expose the potency of old narratives.”
–The Irish Times

crying in h mart michelle zauner
Michelle Zauner, Crying in H Mart
(Knopf)
“It’s a rare gift; Zauner perfectly distills the palpable ache for her mother and wraps her grief in an aromatic conjuring of her mother’s presence.”
–BookPage

Chris Bohjalian, Hour of the Witch

Chris Bohjalian, Hour of the Witch
(Doubleday)
“Bohjalian is a perennial favorite, and this Salem Witch Hunt drama has a special magnetism.”
–Booklist

A Man Named Doll_Jonathan Ames

Jonathan Ames, A Man Named Doll
(Mulholland)
“Readers will happily root for Doll, a good detective and a decent human, in this often funny and grisly outing.”
–Publishers Weekly


Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever, World Travel
(Ecco)
“This gloriously messy miscellany of off-kilter observations and lightning-in-a-bottle insights will make one want to read, eat, and experience the world the way Bourdain did.”
–Publishers Weekly

Jenny Diski, Why Didn’t You Just Do What You Were Told?
Jenny Diski, Why Didn’t You Just Do What You Were Told?
(Bloomsbury)
“Her writing will forever remain young, funny and rebellious. And her essays – dare I say it – earn a blessing even when what they consider is cursed.”
–The Guardian

Animals_Hebe Uhart

Hebe Uhart, tr. Robert Croll, Animals
(Archipelago)
“[Uhart] is one of the most singular and exciting female voices of recent decades in Latin America.”
–Morning Star

We Are Bridges_Cassandra Lane
Cassandra Lane, We Are Bridges
(Feminist Press)
“In this narrative, Lane seeks an origin story, searching for what facts are available and wondering about the legacy she is passing on. . . . A multiangled exploration of family trauma and the forging of an identity.”
–Kirkus

Joshua D. Rothman_The Ledger and the Chain

Joshua D. Rothman, The Ledger and the Chain
(Basic Books)
“An excellent work of vast research that hauntingly delineates the ‘intimate daily savageries of the slave trade.'”
–Kirkus

Louis Menand, The Free World
Louis Menand, The Free World
(FSG)
“A sumptuous canvas of postwar culture and global politics, impeccable scholarship paired with page-turning prose.”
–Oprah Daily

Jon Dunn_The Glitter in the Green
Jon Dunn, The Glitter in the Green
(Basic Books)
“A mesmerizing, wonder-filled nature study that also serves as a cautionary tale about wildlife conservation.”
–Kirkus

Radical Vision_Soyica Diggs Colbert

Soyica Diggs Colbert, Radical Vision
(Yale University Press)
“A central aim of Colbert’s biography, as with Perry’s book and Strain’s documentary, is to reclaim Hansberry as the radical she was.”
–The New York Times

Watch Pride and Prejudice in 10 minutes, with everything explained by John Mulaney.

Emily Temple

April 19, 2021, 2:34pm

Sometimes the Internet is . . . good? Case in point: today, the algorithm directed me to this speedy visual recap of Pride and Prejudice, explained in the (cherry-picked) dulcet tones of John Mulaney. And you thought there was nothing left to mash up with Jane Austen! (Reader, there’s always something left to mash up with Jane Austen.)

The video starts with Mulaney’s thoughts on college reading (“I paid $120,000 for someone to tell me to go read Jane Austen . . . and then I didn’t”), and then just gets funnier and funnier. Thank you vaticancameos221bbc; you got me good.

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