In which the NYT bestseller list is corrupted

If you're not clued into the nebulous realm of Book Twitter, you probably missed the fact that there's a bit of a to-do going on at the moment. Specifically, there's been speculation that a debut author might have essentially bought her way into the New York Times bestseller list, possibly as part of some sort of weird effort to bolster a fledgling acting career.

You can read the basic summary here, although more details are coming to light seemingly by the hour*. As ever in cases like this, I'm leery of the possibility of false or incorrect information, but it sounds like there are enough people who know what they're talking about raising a small thicket of red flags in this particular case.

Regardless of what's really going on, it's a good illustration of how strange the mechanics of publishing can be. You sometimes see people asserting that the entire industry is corrupt from top to bottom, a place where influence and "platform" trump merit, success depends solely on who you know, and there's no chance for a genuinely good author to rise to the top if they don't have the right connections. I think that's demonstrably untrue, but at the same time you have to keep in mind that what seems from the outside like a monolithic machine is actually a bunch of discrete entities working at different purposes and goals; if you were inclined to view the NYT list as some sort of sanctioned authority filtering the collective will of everyone involved in book publishing (which is a mindset I see fairly often in writing circles), this should thoroughly refute that idea.

The other reason this case got so much attention is that the book in question is poised to end The Hate U Give's 25-week run on top of the YA bestseller list; Angie Thomas's book is apparently brilliant, timely and eminently worthy of its success (I haven't read it yet), whereas Handbook for Mortals is...

...seemingly not any of those things.

I think I'm going to go buy a copy of The Hate U Give as soon as I finish what I'm currently reading.

*As of literally twenty minutes ago, it seems that the NYT has revised its list to remove Handbook For Mortals, restoring The Hate U Give to its number one spot. YA readers and authors do not fuck around, apparently.

Books I Read In July

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness - Arundhati Roy

A third of a great novel. I was head over heels for this at the start, but it begins to feel like several stories chopped up and sandwiched together, complete with wildly varying tones and writing styles.

Roy's writing is still powerful and eloquent, but the plot doesn't hold together.


The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead

Magical-realist history as polemic. I don't need to tell you how timely the story is, but you should know that it's both devastating and captivating. The kind of book where you can't stop turning the pages, even if part of you doesn't want to find out what happens next.


The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry

Light, bright historical fiction in the mode of Jane Austen (with a possibly-imaginary river serpent). It's cosy and entertaining and the writing is lovely, but you'll see most of the story beats coming a mile off.




The Holocaust - Laurence Rees

Rees delivers both an informative oversight and a compelling new investigation of the Holocaust. This book should be your go-to if you want answers to questions about how and why it happened, and the nature of the Nazi leadership's involvement. 

Includes bonus unsettling parallels to current political discourse.