• Basso Cannarsa/LUZphoto/Redux

    WELL DRESSED

    The Cross-Dressing Literary Superstar

    The writer and author says dressing as a woman has helped him understand women—and who we are really.

    When you call William Vollmann’s studio, a former Mexican restaurant in Sacramento, the message machine has a recording of a spoon banging three times against a pot.

    Vollmann, the winner of a National Book Award and a famously prolific writer with more than 20 books, including novels, essays, short stories and war correspondence, spends a good part of his day at the studio, and the message is meant to discourage callers who offer deals on carpet steam cleaning or cellphone plans. Especially since he doesn’t have a cellphone.

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  • Jens Buettner/dpa/Corbis

    Collective Effort

    A Fanatic Feminist Who Created Monopoly

    The famous boardgame has an equally famous origin myth—poor Depression dad creates game for family—but it turns out the truth is more tortured, and more fun.

    Do not pass go, do not collect $200—that is essentially the message to Hasbro in a new book on the history of Monopoly.

    In case you were not aware, Monopoly has been in the news a fair amount this week in the run up to its so-called 80th anniversary, particularly over Hasbro’s decision to stuff real money in some sets. The only problem is that the game is much older, according to the journalist Mary Pilon, and the origin story hawked by the game’s owners is leaps and bounds from the way it really went down.

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  • via Harper Collins

    Lingua Franca

    ‘Slut’ Author’s War on Slut-Shaming

    Does condemning ‘slut-shaming’ too simplistically paint women as victims of a culture that sexualizes them, asserting that no matter how much they feel empowered by their sexuality, they aren’t?

    The term “slut-shaming” has become a nagging fixture in mainstream media. Whether splashed in panicky headlines or embedded in feminist think pieces about our patriarchal culture’s tendency to condemn women for embracing their sexuality, “slut-shaming” is everywhere.

    This week the pervasive term hit bookstore shelves, too, with the publication of Leora Tanenbaum’s I Am NOT a Slut: Slut-Shaming in the Age of the Internet, in which the author argues that young women today are being slut-shamed more than ever before.

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  • Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

    Smells Like Denmark

    Harper Lee Has a New Novel—or Does She?

    More than 50 years after she published ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ the author has announced she’ll publish a new book this summer. But is it really new—and is it is really her idea?

    Now that we’ve heard that a new Harper Lee novel is coming next summer, the old saw about being careful what you wish for is probably running through the minds of a lot of her fans.

    For decades after the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960, the question that occupied most readers’ minds was, when will she write another novel? As the years passed, the question became, will she write another novel? And then, as Lee moved into her 80s, the question changed again: why didn’t she ever write another novel?

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  • Charles Spencer, brother of the late Princess Diana, in 2004. (J. Pat Carter/AP)

    IRONY

    Diana’s Brother On Offing Royals

    Princess Diana’s legacy was seen as a massive blow to the royal family, especially after her brother’s furious eulogy. Now Earl Spencer thinks his sister saved the monarchy.

    The death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and her brother’s powerful scorched-earth eulogy that followed, plunged the royal family into its deepest crisis since the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936. The queen and Prince Charles utterly failed to capture the mood of a nation in mourning; a crevasse had opened up between the monarchy and its subjects.

    Her unhappy marriage, a public divorce from Charles, and the icy royal response to her death were said to have ensured that Diana’s lasting impact on the royal family would be a hammer blow to the monarchy’s reputation. But Earl Spencer, whose fiery eulogy was seen as a royal rebuke, now believes the monarchy has been saved for a generation by his sister’s legacy, which lives on through her boys, Prince William and Prince Harry.

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  • Laure Joliet/The New York Times via Redux, LAURE JOLIET

    Life Story

    Surviving Wartorn Africa—And Divorce

    Alexandra Fuller has written a memoir about her tangled family history, falling in love, and the breakdown of her marriage.

    The memoir of divorce is something of a cliché: a writer’s post-trauma, woe-is-me catharsis; the gory details from an unhappy marriage dumped on the page. It is written specifically for the divorced or lovelorn, who internalize the author’s emotional collapse and ensuing self-help prescriptions.

    Even when written well—with a fair amount of objectivity and respect for the former spouse—the divorce memoir is still too often cringeworthy, discomfiting, and formulaic.

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  • Trailblazers

    India's Hell-Raising Feminist Princess

    Goddaughter of Queen Victoria, scion of the Lion of the Punjab, feminist revolutionary, Princess Sophia finally gets a worthy biography.

    Goddaughter of Queen Victoria, offspring of a deposed Maharajah, and fashion icon—Princess Sophia Duleep Singh was as unlikely an activist as one could find, let alone one who would garner headlines for her support and funding of the sometimes extreme tactics of Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Society for Social and Political Union.

    The tale of how this physically diminutive princess transformed from delicate society debutante to passionate activist is detailed in an engrossing new biography by the journalist Anita Anand, Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary. Sophia’s life was extraordinary—one of those stories that begs for a gifted storyteller like Anand. There is never a dull moment as the book races from the sordid history of her family’s demise to her increased advocacy on the topics of suffrage and India. The book is a reminder that many interesting historical figures are still waiting to have their stories told.

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  • Didier Messens/WireImage/Getty

    Unforgettable

    A Thorny, Horny Pain in the Ass

    In her debut novel, filmmaker/artist/author Miranda July creates the indelible Cheryl Glickman, the anti-romantic likes of whom we rarely see in fiction.

    On page one of filmmaker and artist Miranda July’s novel The First Bad Man, the narrator, Cheryl Glickman, is driving to a doctor’s appointment, imagining how she might look to passersby on the street and in other cars: “When I stopped at red lights, I kept my eyes mysteriously forward. Who is she? people might have been wondering. Who is that middle-aged woman in the blue Honda?” The sentence exposes the fallacy of Cheryl’s logic: Who looks at a middle-aged woman driving a nondescript car, let alone wonders who she is? No one.

    When we first meet her, Cheryl is deep in a decades-long project of self-negation. She practices a “system” of housekeeping that has reduced the effort it takes to live in her apartment to the minimum, rarely washing a dish or even moving across the room without a specific purpose. She doesn’t go out, never entertains. A psychosomatic condition called “globus hystericus” (a phantom lump in her throat) makes it impossible for her to cry, shout, or sometimes even swallow. She has long ago learned to be her “own servant,” requiring little from the world, expecting nothing of others. “After days and days alone it gets silky to the point where I can’t even feel myself anymore, it’s as if I don’t exist.”

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  • DC Comics

    But Can She Cook?

    Wonder Woman Takes a Big Step Back

    Now a husband-and-wife team is in charge of Wonder Woman’s image and her story line, and the first comic they produced is both leering and condescending.

    For months now, I’ve been worried about Wonder Woman, ever since I learned that husband-and-wife team David and Meredith Finch were chosen to write the newest run of the most iconic female superhero of all time.

    David is familiar to comic book readers for his award-winning illustrations of such characters as Batman, Superman, and the X-Men—and his nearly pornographic versions of every woman he’s ever drawn (just one example: in 2011, he faced criticism for his sexist drawings of Wonder Woman in the Justice League). Meredith, if she is known to comic aficionados at all, is known for being David’s wife, though she has in fact written comics before—a few issues of a highly-sexualized Wizard of Oz spin-off from a minor publisher, all of which happened after she was announced as the new writer for Wonder Woman.

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  • AP

    Personally Universal

    From Didion to Dunham

    Joan Didion’s trailblazing nonfiction set a forbiddingly high standard, but a slew of idiosyncratic writers are proving that her example may be inimitable but it is also inspiring.

    “There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told, especially if that person is a woman,” writes Lena Dunham in the introduction to her essays-cum-memoir Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned.” But does simply announcing one has a story automatically legitimize its telling? Surely there needs to be some kind of discerning critical judgment involved? Writing a good essay involves a process akin to alchemy; the base metal of intimate, individual experience is transmuted into a shining nugget of universal truth, the meaning of which resonates with a larger audience. “I never sit down to write anything personal unless I know the subject is going to go beyond my own experience and address something larger and more universal,” explains essayist and columnist Megan Daum in a recent interview in the New Yorker.

    In a piece published in the New York Times last year under the title “The Essayification of Everything,” Christy Wampole takes her readers through a brief history of the form—from Michel de Montaigne’s Essais from 1580; Francis Bacon’s appropriation of the term from French to English for his 16th century work; Robert Musil’s use of the term “essayism” (Essayismus in the original German) for the “leakage” of the essay, “when it cannot be contained by its generic borders;” through Adorno’s quote about the “essay’s groping intention.”

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  • IBL/Rex/REX USA

    Word Power

    Join Caitlin Moran’s Feminist Revolution

    She is one of Britain’s best, most prize-garlanded journalists, a bestselling author, and a gale of wit and blunt wisdom. Caitlin Moran talks sex, feminism, family, and more.

    Caitlin Moran does not shake my hand when we meet. She throws her arm around my shoulder, kisses me generously on the cheek, and pulls my face into her distinctive mane of dark, skunk-striped hair. We have barely sat down and Moran, one of Britain’s most beloved writers, is already talking at a dizzyingly fast clip about Marxism and masturbating (“wanking”) to the Muppets when she was 13. “I fancied Gonzo. I probably would have done Fozzie as well. But not Kermit. Too weird.”

    This is Caitlin Moran: ebullient and frenetic; passionate about social justice and feminism, without being fanatical; celebrated as much for her intellect as her ribald sense of humor. If ever there was a woman to dismantle the stereotype that feminists are strident, humorless man-haters, it’s Moran. All of this comes across in her writing about cultural politics—and she is staggeringly prolific.

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  • bert verhoeff/Hollandse Hoogte/Redux

    Vivid And Venerable

    Tuchman Is Still the Best on WWI

    She never earned a Ph.D. or taught in a university history department. Barbara Tuchman called herself a writer whose subject was history. Whatever she was, there was no one better.

    The historian Fritz Stern memorably called World War I “the first calamity of the twentieth century, the calamity from which all other calamities sprang.” No one in late June 1914 anticipated that the assassination by a Serbian nationalist of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, would draw in all five major European powers and their various allies into a cataclysm that would snuff out the lives of 20 million soldiers and civilians, destroy three empires, and lay the groundwork for an even bloodier World War II.

    Shock and disillusionment over such vast, seemingly senseless destruction led the writers and artists dubbed a “lost generation” to toss out most of the old assumptions about the meaning and purpose of human experience, and gave birth to what scholars in the humanities generally refer to these days as “modernity.”

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