The Small Things and the Big Things

This week, I spent some time with Melissa, dear friend and fellow writer, and we went to the same Barnes and Noble I was talking about a few weeks ago. Apparently, I’m not going crazy because there have been articles now where the stores are actually stocking less and less books. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but I managed to pick up Other People We Married, a short story collection by Emma Straub that I was somewhat surprised to see (maybe I’ll tweet Emma and tell her how it was right in the front of the store, in the “new fiction” section), and Melissa got me The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Díaz is one of her favorites). We  also had a very nice breakfast together and talked about our current writing projects. She has been mostly working on fairly large projects, while I’ve been working on small things. It got me thinking about my own bigger, more involved long-term projects I’ve had in my head for a while.

Here are some of those long-term projects:

  1. A coming of age novel. Probably the one I have thought about the most over the years, and the one most likely to happen eventually. I have names for the characters I want to write about and short backgrounds on who they are, as well as the title for the novel itself. I have scraps of conversations I want them to have and recurring symbols and images to flesh their world out. What I don’t have: what kind of point of view I want to use (first-person or third? alternating between characters?) and the central conflict or main plot thread that will tie everything and everyone together.
  2. A children’s book. My family thinks I have the capacity to write one of these (or a series of these) over everything else. I definitely have the gist of a story written down somewhere, but it’s nothing fleshed out yet. Hypothetically, it would read something like a cross between The Phantom Tollbooth and The Little Prince in that it will have an imaginative world with curious characters, and hopefully can be enjoyed by both children and adults alike due to it being a story with both simple language and underlying symbolism. The main issue with this one is the fact that I think it may be too morbid or mature for children. But I know there are plenty of strange books out there like that anyway (see: anything by Roald Dahl, mostly).
  3. A short story collection. It’s the form I’m used to. I’ve written an online collection before called Letters for Burning. Short fiction is something I’ve always been naturally drawn to and I love writing it.
  4. An epic, sprawling novel with a light touch of magical realism or mythology. I’m not sure I can handle the “epic” and “sprawling” parts, but I’d like to experiment with this. I’ve written short stories that read like this, so who knows. I don’t have any ideas for it yet though.
  5. A novel that is more like interconnected stories about a community of characters. I guess this one would be in the vein of something like Winesburg, Ohio or A Visit From the Goon Squad. I like this idea quite a lot because it’s like writing short stories, but with recurring characters, themes, and timelines. No idea for anything yet, but I think maybe it would involve a gated community based on the one in which I live and how the families and their surrounding eccentric neighbors come to relate to each other.

Another Pointless Trip to the Bookstore

A few weeks ago, I took a trip to a local Barnes and Noble. I hadn’t been to this particular one in a really long time, or even to any other actual physical bookstore. The only other local bookseller around here is a place called Volume One, which I’ve been to a few times. It’s nice (and there are shelves and shelves of books there, with that great old book smell that you want to shove your face in), but their books are all used and they don’t really have any new stuff by contemporary writers. And then we come to my other dilemma: Barnes and Noble no longer seems to carry what I want either.

On this most recent trip, I noticed how things had changed considerably. Nooks are in the very front instead of a showcase of new bestsellers that just recently came out, and they completely rearranged the store’s shelving. Poetry is non-existent except for Homer. I also noticed a distinct change in genre: there were a lot of new sections dedicated to “young adult” books. Not only that, but these sections were further divided according to sub-genre: fantasy, dystopian, romance, etc.

“Young adult” is very popular now. I’ve read quite a few articles popping up here and there claiming how more young adults must be reading avidly now, considering how popular this new genre has quickly become. But really, I can’t help but wonder: Is it really more young adults reading young adult fiction, or more adults reading (and writing) more young adult fiction? I’m not sure.

I always thought of coming of age stories as stories that anyone could write. Hypothetically, I mean. If people were forced to actually write books, even if they weren’t “writers” themselves, I would hypothesize that this would be the genre they would naturally gravitate towards more than any other, just because we all grow up and we all remember what that’s like. But therein lies the problem: not all of them will be particularly good reads (or particularly well-written).

I hope this isn’t coming off as too cynical. I just really want to give my money to a bookseller other than Amazon, but it’s fairly difficult if Barnes and Noble doesn’t even carry what I want and ultimately forces me to return home, bookless, and order what I want online anyway (and probably, for less money elsewhere). I wish there were more local independent bookstores. I would open one up myself, in my dreams, but somehow, I don’t think it would be a particularly wise investment here (even in my dreams).