“A woman I did not know called me to help her with something I have always loved to do: write. Certainly it was fate, my involvement destined to be a seed for a fairy tale ending, I thought. I was wrong,” Scott Saalman writes about the moral challenges of agreeing to help someone with their writing at The Morning News.
It doesn’t get much better than James Wood on Joy Williams: “Nothing is stranger (and funnier) in Williams’s work than her details. Like her forms, they only resemble conventional realist details, an atmosphere perhaps encouraged by her flat, functional sentences (“They danced. Sam had quite a bit to drink”). The details are frequently surreal, magical, hallucinogenic, delivered in a cool, dispassionate, routine manner.”
A new study out of Stony Brook University employs a complex statistical model to figure out what makes a book successful. Judging books on the basis of Amazon sales, awards won and Project Gutenberg downloads, the scientists determined that successful books have a higher-than-average ratio of self-references, prepositions and coordinating conjunctions. Unsuccessful books, on the other hand? A high ratio of adverbs and location markers.
“Baker is such a wonderful prose stylist that he could probably get away with publishing his diary—which, for epic stretches, is what Substitute feels like.” Over at The Nation, Evan Kindley reviews Nicholson Baker‘s latest, a 700-plus-page non-fiction exploration of substitute teaching. Spoiler: it’s not as sexy as Baker’s other work. If it’s the sex you want, see our primer on Baker’s novels; also immensely entertaining, our interview with the author from 2013.
“Any day’s news supplies plots so fantastic that most make-believe story lines pale in comparison.” Author John Altman in the LA Times about the difficulty of writing fiction during Trump’s presidency. “My current novel-in-progress concerns North Korea,” writes Altman, “and each day’s headlines endanger its premise. But too much second-guessing hobbles a writer. One can only take a deep breath, remind oneself that war with North Korea would jeopardize much more than a humble spy thriller, and forge ahead, hoping for the best.”
“Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I myself was no stranger to being othered.” Over at The Literary Hub, Carla Bruce-Eddings recounts some reading lessons from her teenage self. For a bit of perspective from the other side, here’s our own Nick Ripatrazone on teaching high school and college.