What to read when: you're having election anxiety
What the "The Topeka School" says about free speech
The book: If you missed the Pulitzer Prize finalist with one of the best book covers of 2019—Ben Lerner’s “The Topeka School”—now is the time to pick it up.
The why: The protagonist of this novel, a precocious senior named Adam Gordon who is about to graduate high school in Topeka, Kansas in 1997, has not one but two therapist parents. His mother is a feminist author, his dad specializes in “fixing” troubled white boys from good homes. Both parents are rising to the challenge of raising a “good son” in America, which is proving extra challenging because Adam, a debate club standout, is intellectually and emotionally combative, with socialization issues to boot. While his pent-up rage has so far only manifested itself intellectually, we’re in Kansas; this is a Ben Lerner novel; the tornado is going to land.
There are a lot of reasons this novel was such a prize winner. It’s one of the best books portraying the latent rage of coddled white American males who were lucky enough (but thus, resentful of) childhoods where they used their brains more than their hands (think Jonathan Franzen on helpless white men but pump up the volume and the politics), and it also takes you to the frontlines of the “free speech” fires raging in Adam’s fictional debate club, and in our nonfictional word. Have any of you read this book? I absolutely loved it. What did you think?
Want to escape to a Catskills cabin this February, with friends, for free? The nonprofit artists retreat I run, The Cabins, currently has applications open for our February 2023 DIY group retreat. This self-led retreat is open for up to 4 people (you can form a group just for the purpose of attending, or apply for a group that has been in existence for some time). The retreat is in scenic Hurleysville, NY from February 3-11th, 2023. Applications stay open until December 1st, but the board evaluates applications on a rolling basis, so early birds get fatter worms.
Master writing about your own writing on Oct. 22nd: In partnership with the Texas Writers League (TWL), from 3-6pm ET on Saturday October 22nd, I’ll be teaching how to write persuasively (nay, irresistibly!) about your own writing. We’ll cover pitches, query letters, artist statements, and talking out loud about your work without losing your audience. You don’t have to be a TWL member to attend: registration is open to the public. You can register here.
Join me this Friday at the bright hour of 7am for characterization tips. Michelle Hoover’s “The 7am Novelist” has been a rip-roaring success. My guest spot hits this Friday at 7am, when I’ll be discussing how to give your characters attitude with fellow author Margot Livesey and Michelle Hoover herself. Get the Zoom link for this free talk (and catch up on all the other 7am sessions) here.
That’s all for now! Did you all have a good weekend (and a long one, if you had Monday off?) I did— I was in Cape Cod and I swam in the ocean, which added 10 years to my life, I think. I’m hoping to get a craft newsletter out this week about screenwriting. Stay tuned!