Recommended Reading: ‘Jane the Virgin,’ Problematic Faves, and The Second Shelf


Modern online media is all about the signal boost, so every Friday here at Flavorwire, we take a moment to spotlight some of the best stuff we’ve read online this week. Today, profiles of the women behind Jane The Virgin and The Second Shelf, one of our finest critics on the perils of contemporary criticism, and thoughts on the horrifying spectacle of Trump’s Mississippi rally.

Olivia Aylmer on The Second Shelf.

A.N. Devers was struck by the disparity between the values of books by men and women, to the author and book dealer decided to do something about it. And thus was born The Second Shelf, a multi-faceted celebration of women writers, launching with a quarterly journal, followed by both online and brick-and-mortar bookshops. At Vanity Fair, Aylmer talks to Devers about her aims with the brand, and the small steps readers can take to curate for themselves:

Devers said it’s possible for any woman to build her own Second Shelf. Step one: choose a woman writer that speaks to you, and start by acquiring her first editions over time, saving up for more expensive additions or asking for them as birthday gifts. “It seems like a nostalgic or precious pursuit, at first,” Devers says. “I think women are very practical with their money. They’re worried about the day-to-day. Book collecting just seems like a little bit of a frivolous endeavor. But when you actually look at the issue at hand—which is that women aren’t collected and women’s voices don’t take as much room physically on shelves—then you see it as a mission and a purpose. And that your pursuit of these books can actually make a difference.”

Kathryn VanArendonk profiles Jennie Snyder Urman.

Jennie Snyder Urman is the show-runner of the critical darling Jane the Virgin, which eschews, in her words, “the signifiers of deep, important television,” the kinds of shows where “you’re going to talk really slow, and there’s going to be a lot of pauses, a lot of men. And they’re going to get really upset a lot.” At Vulture, VanArendonk talks to Urman about her style, her process, and how and why she does things differently:

One of the driving questions of Jane is also one that immediately distinguishes it from the majority of “serious” TV. “When Jane started,” Urman says, “I was really, actively thinking, Can a protagonist be an interesting person if they’re also a really good person? Can their life be complicated if they’re not doing all these terrible things and forced into these extreme situations?” Jane is forced into extreme situations, but her dilemmas come from trying to be a good person in the middle of them. And from the beginning, Urman says, her “biggest watershed moment” about how to navigate from the show’s pilot to its second episode was in realizing she needed to treat Jane’s accidental pregnancy “like the trauma that it was.” … The showrunner seems too friendly to fit inside the auteur model of the prickly, difficult visionary. The description I hear of Urman, again and again, is that she cares very much about the people who work on her show, and is uncannily good at casting and hiring people who contribute to a collaborative, supportive working environment. Rosenthal says she “specifically hired very sensitive, thoughtful people,” especially in comparison with comedy rooms he’s come from, where people tend to be “loud and aggressive.” “She has an incredible sense for people,” is how Yael Grobglas, who plays Rafael’s ex-wife Petra Solano, explains it, before calling Urman a “genius magician unicorn.” Brett Dier is more blunt: “Jennie did a good job at hiring non-assholes.” If Jane the Virgin is a show about the radical premise that good people can also be interesting, Urman may be a case study in the unusual idea that powerful, creative people can also be parents, caring colleagues, and empathetic leaders.

Wesley Morris on “The Morality Wars.”

Morris’ New York Times essay on problematic artists and cancellation culture is vast and complicated, with a lot to grapple with and, frankly, a few questionable rhetorical flourishes and logical leaps. But if anyone would appreciate the idea of doing more than nodding along in agreement, it’s Morris, who worries that preoccupations with placing art’s intentions and messages first, and quality as art second, does a disservice to both. On Beyoncé, for example, he writes:

Decades of music writing have been less than fair to the work of women — especially black women. So the aversion to criticism of Beyoncé has a ring of historical justice. Her people won’t let you disrespect her. But this is artistry robust enough to withstand — and be illuminated by — serious criticism. Yet she rarely receives much. The imagery gets inspected for its allusions even though there’s a lot more to her work than whom it’s channeling, although some of what’s ingenious about, say, that Coachella performance really is the grandeur of all that it synthesizes. I tend to have little if anything bad to say about her. But criticism isn’t about saying what’s bad — well, not only. It’s partly about situating a work in the world, in your feelings, in your collection. It can take any form and go to any place, the very surprising places an artist like Beyoncé typically tries to take us. Not everybody has to like being there, and saying so shouldn’t feel like you’re risking your life. The risk should come from the art itself, the discomfort it can produce and whether it can transcend that discomfort. Avoiding that unpleasantness feels natural, but it denies a truth in art, which is our humanity — all of it. Take the most effective sequence — the only one, really — in Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman”: a double viewing of “The Birth of a Nation” that splits the screen between white supremacists and black activists. It’s as intelligent and rousing an argument for engagement with unpleasant art as I’ve seen in a movie.

Adam Serwer on MAGA cruelty.

There are times where it feels as though we’ve been so numbed by the vile coarseness of this President and the sheer vulgarity of his presence that we can no longer be shocked, and then he and his cult will do something so horrifying that it turns out we’re still capable of that emotion. At least, that was this writer’s takeaway from Trump’s Tuesday night “rally” in Mississippi, at which he mocked and imitated Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony of her sexual misconduct at the hands of his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. But at The Atlantic, Serwer argues that we shouldn’t be shocked; this is the guiding principle of this entire movement.

The laughter undergirds the daily spectacle of insincerity, as the president and his aides pledge fealty to bedrock democratic principles they have no intention of respecting. The president who demanded the execution of five black and Latino teenagers for a crime they didn’t commit decrying “false accusations,” when his Supreme Court nominee stands accused; his supporters who fancy themselves champions of free speech meet references to Hillary Clinton or a woman whose only crime was coming forward to offer her own story of abuse with screams of “Lock her up!” The political movement that elected a president who wanted to ban immigration by adherents of an entire religion, who encourages police to brutalize suspects, and who has destroyed thousands of immigrant families for violations of the law less serious than those of which he and his coterie stand accused, now laments the state of due process. This isn’t incoherent. It reflects a clear principle: Only the president and his allies, his supporters, and their anointed are entitled to the rights and protections of the law, and if necessary, immunity from it. The rest of us are entitled only to cruelty, by their whim. This is how the powerful have ever kept the powerless divided and in their place, and enriched themselves in the process.