I'm writing a manuscript set in 18th century Russia. I've got two failed novels already, but the setting of this third pre-fail novel is more ambitious than anything I've tried yet. I'll be reading a whole lot of books and articles about Russian history, literature, and culture, and while I promise not to subject you all to the whole lot of it, I'm going to write about the books that are good for a general, non-Russia-obsessed audience, starting with The Story of Russia, by Orlando Figes.
Though I love history as a subject, history books tend to lose my interest, due to dry prose and lack of interpretation. Telling me facts is not as important as building a narrative around the facts. Figes is good at this historical storytelling. He doesn't just tell us that rumors about Catherine the Great's death are untrue--there was no horse involved, well endowed or otherwise--he tells us why these rumors sprang up. The writing is more engaging than most of the history out there, particularly history of this caliber.
Though a book about Russia over the centuries will not be to everyone's taste, it has unfortunate relevance. The book went to press in April 2022, two months after Putin invaded Ukraine. I can't image what kind of last-minute edits Figes made, but he does a fantastic job of explaining the historical and contemporary relationship between Ukraine and Russia, and he helps readers understand Putin's megalomania.
I particularly recommend this as an audiobook. Stefan Rudnicki, one of my favorite narrators, was born in Poland and does authentic east European and Russian accents.
When Covid first hit, I started doing book talks on social media as a way to keep in touch with people. I never got out of the habit. I don't discuss books by my clients, and if I don't like a book, I won't discuss it at all. While I will sometimes focus on craft or offer gentle critical perspectives, as a matter of professional courtesy, I don't trash writers. Unless they're dead. Then the gloves come off.