This week! Books!
People have been searching for answers for Putin’s senseless war in Ukraine, and at least one intriguing piece of the puzzle comes from Mikhail Yuriev’s 2006 utopian novel The Third Empire: Russia as It Ought to Be, which starts with an unannounced war in eastern Ukraine, and culminates in the entire world falling under Russian domination.
A debate erupted in literary Twitter (oh literary Twitter) about whether it’s really necessary for novels to have conflict. Lincoln Michel used it as a jumping off point to assess whether this is true, and he explores various literary traditions around the world.
Personally, I think this is the perfect Twitter spat because you can’t really debate whether it’s true that stories need conflict when everyone has their own idea of what “conflict” means in the first place. To some it might be fights and arguments, for others it might encompass mere tension.
I’m in the more expansive camp. To me, conflict is the friction that arises when characters encounter obstacles in pursuit of their goal. That might mean a gunfight, it might mean a shadow of self-doubt. As Lincoln points out, there are a lot of voice-driven works that don’t involve characters going after something they want and encountering obstacles are are more meditative… but are these really stories?
Maybe that can be our next Twitter spat.
Emily St. John Mandel has a new book out, The Sea of Tranquility, and I’m saving Katy Waldman’s New Yorker profile of Mandel for the weekend.
The New York public library system recently waived late fees, and tens of thousands of old and nearly forgotten books have been pouring in, including books that have been overdue for over 20 years.
And speaking of New York and books, Tina Jordan and Erica Ackerberg at The New York Times have a really amazing look at Manhattan’s bookstores of yesteryear, including forty in a six block stretch along Fourth Avenue and a paperback store in Times Square that stayed open twenty-four hours a day for “literary insomniacs.”
Largely-substantiated accusations of plagiarism have long plagued Wallace Stegner’s classic Angle of Repose, which raises some interesting questions around authorship, the white male gaze, and the intersection of real life and fiction. Sands Hall recounts digging into the swirling questions around Stegner, which culminated in her play Fair Use.
Instant click: writing advice from Ocean Vuong.
Lydia Kiesling has a really fascinating essay that compares Horatio Alger’s popular 19th rags-to-riches stories with recent biographies by billionaires T. Boone Pickens and Charles Koch and, of course, Fifty Shades of Grey. Needless to say, there’s plenty of darkness lurking all around.
What does building an audience have to do with a well-designed box of kitty litter? More than you might think when it’s Dan Blank making the connections.
And it’s apparently become en vogue on the TikTok to “return” e-books people have already read, which is some seriously crappy behavior. As Kristen Lamb points out, you’re only hurting authors, people. Shame shame shame.
This week in bestsellers
Here are the top five NY Times bestsellers in a few key categories. (All links are affiliate links):
Adult print and e-book fiction:
- Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
- Run, Rose, Run by Dolly Parton and James Patterson
- The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn
- It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover
- Verity by Colleen Hoover
Adult print and e-book nonfiction:
- The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
- Will by Will Smith with Mark Manson
- The Storyteller by Dave Grohl
- Ten Steps to Nanette by Hanna Gadsby
- Against All Odds by Alex Kershaw
Young adult hardcover:
- A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin
- One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus
- Gallant by V.E. Schwab
- So This is Ever After by F.T. Lukens
- You’ve Reached Sam by Dustin Thao
Middle grade hardcover:
- Wonder by R.J. Palacio
- Refugee by Alan Gratz
- Daughter of the Deep by Rick Riordan
- The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera
- Out of My Heart by Sharon M. Draper
This week on the blog
In case you missed them, here are this week’s posts:
- There are no writing rules, but there are principles
- Don’t just tell an agent what’s in your novel (query critique)
Don’t forget that you can nominate your first page and query for a free critique on the blog:
And keep up with the discussion in all the places!
And finally, huge congrats to Amazon’s Staten Island warehouse for unionizing, and especially to Christian Smalls and Derrick Palmer, whose homespun efforts are truly inspiring.
Have a great weekend!
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
For my best advice, check out my online classes, my guide to writing a novel and my guide to publishing a book.
And if you like this post: subscribe to my newsletter!
Photo: Lower East Side, NYC. Follow me on Instagram!