Weekly Link Love — Edition 118

Research of the Week

Lower LDL, higher diabetes risk.

Vitamin D appears effective against Covid deaths.

Host selenium deficiency not only leaves you open to infections, it promotes the mutation of benign viruses into pathogenic ones.

Researchers were able to have conversations with dreamers during REM sleep.

“One hectare of a milpa comprising maize, common beans, and potatoes can provide the annual carbohydrate needs of more than 13 adults, enough protein for nearly 10 adults, and adequate supplies of many vitamins and minerals, according to the study.”

New Primal Blueprint Podcasts

Episode 470: Diane Forster: Host Elle Russ chats with Diane Forster, a world-renowned expert on blasting through mindset blocks.

Episode 471: Dr Josh Axe: Brad Kearns welcomes Dr. Axe to talk about his new book, Ancient Remedies.

Health Coach Radio: Dr. Al Danenberg discusses managing cancer through immune health.

Media, Schmedia

Cows dying, milk dumped.

Interesting Blog Posts

A good reminder that’s always relevant.

Tyler Cowen’s lessons learned working in a supermarket.

Social Notes

This seems unwise.

Universal healthcare.

Everything Else

GMO Neanderthal brains that fit in your pocket.

What do jobless men do all day?

Things I’m Up to and Interested In

I am not surprised: Breast milk is good for babies (in this case, babies’ gut barrier function).

Interesting finding: The average person has between 2-4 passions.

Do you agree?: “Work on things that aren’t prestigious” as career advice.

Another take on vitamin D: From Scott Alexander.

Fascinating paper: Discussing the evolutionary and cultural changes resulting when humans had to start hunting and processing smaller game.

Question I’m Asking

Should “rich countries” switch entirely to lab-grown meat?

Recipe Corner

Time Capsule

One year ago (Feb 12 – Feb 18)

Comment of the Week

“I do the same workout every day. A 4 mile hike in the woods. Then over the course of the day,. 3 sets of pushups, pull-ups, bodyweight squats and lunges. I sleep better this way. Two hard workouts per week always gave me insomnia.”

-Sounds ideal, Peter.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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159 thoughts on “Weekly Link Love — Edition 118”

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  1. The synthetic beef idea is disgusting. Why does the tweet mention only ‘taste’ when the bigger issue is the negative impact on health. And why are people listening to Bill Gates on this stuff?

    If anything has been shown in the last year or so, it’s that almost everything they are pushing is literally AGAINST good health. Masks, social distancing, constant sanitizing, keeping people fearful and disconnected from each other, inject a poison because they have censored proven alternative treatments.. now wanting to force people to eat something that will inevitably make their health worse.

    And funnily enough alot of the people who would criticize me for saying this are relying on these things they are told for their health but are constantly eating macdonalds and other crap, are heavily overweight and have never looked after themselves.

    In many ways it’s literally ‘opposite day’ which is a game we played at school, like “can I borrow a pencil?” “no” “well todays opposite day, so no means yes, and yes means no, and my name is Tommy”.

  2. The software that made Bill Gates rich is a badly-designed piece of rubbish, and always has been. What qualifies him to be telling the whole world how to live?

    1. He has zero qualifications. He should stick to his computer and tech business rather than buying up all the farmland in the country (he is in fact one of the largest owners of farmland in the US) and then trying to play savior. He thinks that because he has a lot of money he gets to decide the direction the works takes. He probably even has good intentions, but as the old saying goes, ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ I don’t think it’s right or fair for one person (an unelected private citizen at that) to have so much power, influence and control over the rest of humanity. He has money invested in pharmaceutical companies, chemical companies, you name it; all for one goal of course, to make this ultra billionaire even MORE money so he can have even more power. Enough never seems to be enough. When asked about his own extremely lavish lifestyle (he owns five private jets, why isn’t one enough?) he peddles the excuse that he will buy ‘carbon offsets’ which is simply a convenient way for him and other large scale carbon emitters to continue to do as they wish while demanding the peasants should eat soylent green. A hypocrite of the highest order, who could reduce his own consumption to a reasonable level but feels that he is too important to do so and that his ample assets allow him to pay someone else to worry about it. Normal people have no such option and we are instead relegated to the position of having to do what he says, despite the fact that he to is just a human being, is far from infallible, makes mistakes, and would be far better off to listen to the many other ideas out there rather than trying to cram his views into being implemented because his wealth allows him to have such influence.

    2. Respectfully, when you call Mr. Gate’s software “rubbish” it removes all credibility your comments may have. Regardless of your satisfaction with it, he and his company have shaped our modern day computing habits.

      1. I have to agree that the software looking at it from the beginning is/was sloppy, intrusive, sadly ubiquitous and not nearly as innovative as people think since I believe, and can prove if you look at the old ‘objects’ within the older stuff, that much from Microsoft was ‘bought’ from others. Apple had ‘windows’ too. It has become more functional (blue screen is nearly a thing of the past) but I believe also more intrusive over time. The powerful always shape society but not always in the best ways for those other than themselves. Societies ‘benefits’ from these powerful entities are often only those that promote the business. Also, Bill didn’t do much it seems to support the barbering industry. : )

      2. Respectfully, Gates’ software *was* rubbish for a long time, and only at about Windows 7 did it finally become less rubbish. I’ve been working in IT since DOS 3.3 was the big thing.

        I know about the software Microsoft “stole” from little companies, by making excuses to get a look at their source code. The small companies bought by Gates and shut down, because their one and only software product was better than his big company could make. The “DOS isn’t done until Lotus won’t run” tweaks to DOS and Windows, to make competitors’ software look faulty when it wasn’t.

        Microsoft Windows didn’t become ubiquitous because of its quality. It was because Gates made deals with the PC manufacturers, to where they paid for a Windows license for every PC that rolled off their production line, whether a copy of the OS was installed on that PC or not. It gave Microsoft an effective monopoly, taking away any incentive from the hardware makers to pre-install or support IBM’s OS/2 Warp, or any flavor of Linux.

        All of that aside, if Bill Gates weren’t a billionaire, nobody would take his bizarre ideas seriously.

    3. He has the right to tell his opinion just like everybody else, like yourself. You can hear it. It is up to you whether to adopt it or not. The difference between you and him, he is famous so more people are interested in what he is saying. People are also interested in what Trump or Kanye West is saying. If you were famous they’d be interested in what you were saying. Seems like I was interested enough what you said here so composed an answer to you. Be your own judge about what to take in or appreciate. No need to judge others.

  3. Was Bill Gates elected? No? I’m nervous about people having so much power and influence without a democratic mandate.

    1. Unfortunately, power and influence can be bought. Bill Gates has plenty of money, although he doesn’t seem to place much value on his health.

      No, I absolutely do not think rich countries should switch to synthetic meat. IMO, food created in a lab isn’t really food. Certainly it’s available in various forms, but purchase is (and should always be) strictly by choice.

      1. Agreed. This man has created a giant of a tech company, and he would do the same to the food industry if he gets the chance. Why is it that he thinks the solution lies in some industrial fake meat product, produced in factories and devoid of real nutrition? I think it’s because that’s the way he got to the top in the tech industry and he can’t think outside the box.

        My opinion is that the future of food should be the opposite, as small and diversified as possible. Lots of small farms, regenerative agriculture, food forests, combining animal and plant agriculture, working with nature instead of against. That would also allow a lot more people access in terms of both getting high quality food as well as employment in a much better “industry.” I don’t think Gates can see the forest for the trees.

    2. Gates also has a big eugenics agenda as did his parents and many of the big influencers in the “green” movement such as Al Gore, Prince Charles etc etc. I would argue that he is not in the least interested in the health of humanity but is deeply interested in control.

  4. Colson Whitehead – The nickel boys. It won the Pulitzer I think last year. Worth the read.

  5. Zero Day Code – John Birmingham

    It was written before covid and slightly scary in it’s realism.

    He has also written an alternate history series that is a whole lot of fun (Axis of Time)

  6. I only really read sci fi, comics, and fantasy so I can’t really comment on the question of why fiction seems to be hard to write.
    I don’t have any problems finding good books in the genres I like. Take for instance Neil Gaiman and Cixin Liu. Also Roald Dahl and Terry Pratchett although they’re not among us anymore.

  7. The Gaunt’s Ghosts series by Dan Abnett. If you enjoyed Bernard Cornwell think of Sharpe set iway in the future, and you’re there. It’s a hidden gem of sci-fi.

    1. …and Eisenhorn trilogy from Dan Abnett. Good read of sci-fi without any background knowledge of the Warhammer franchise.

  8. Hi, Mark!

    Have you read State of Fear?
    We need a modern Michael Crichton to put down a compelling and well researched thriller about nutrition or covid. He’d have a blast, for sure.
    His speeches against scientific consensus (then mostly focused on catastrophic man-made global warming) are priceless as well.

    Cheers from Portugal!

    1. “State of Fear” by Michael Chrichton is one of my all-time favorite books. It’s what finally got me thinking about climate, etc. seriously and not simply buying what the so-called experts are peddling. I actually have several copies of it.

  9. I think historical fiction is a area that works well, since you have the background events already there. Take a look at Titanic, a fake store in a real event. One of the best examples of this is Shogun from James Clavell. Check out all his books, I highly recommend them!

    1. I read Shogun decades ago. I enjoyed it immensely. Perhaps I’ll reread it!

    2. Shogun and Taipan and Dai Sho. Good author, after I read Shogun I read everything else by him I could easily find.

    1. Mark Helprin was the last of my good fiction reading before I migrated to History and Science reading.
      Helprin is well worth reading. Do not confuse him with Mark Halperin (with an “a”) the former newscaster.

  10. The Water Of The Hills and Manon Des Sources by Marcel Pagnol. Only book I have ever read that made me cry. It’s brilliantly written with a sting in the tail.

    1. 100% back this recommendation. A Little Life is a beautiful and agonizing read, in the best way possible.

  11. My guess is that if you read all the fiction written 150 years ago most of it was rubbish too. What we have today that was written then has stood the test of time. Why is most contemporary fiction bad? Because we have so much and most writers aren’t very good but get published any way to fill to the shelves. It’s always going to be necessary to weed out as we read. I’ve really enjoyed Fredrik Backman lately.

  12. I have enjoyed all of Tana French’s books – she tells great story plus her writing really brings it to life. Have also enjoyed Harlan Coben and Robert Parker. Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books make me LOL – like Lucille Ball capers.

  13. As a chef, I love your examples! I loved KC in my young chef days, but afterward and even now, I’ve not enjoyed any of Bourdain’s fiction pieces, and I’ve read them all.
    I’m far more into British humor and science fiction, like Douglas Adams and Pratchett, and the Dresden Files series.
    But to each their own, I guess?

  14. Try “A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Townes”. I thought it would bore the arse off me but its still there. Love the Sunday musings, thanks.

    1. Second A Gentleman in Moscow! One of my all time favorite books. Ken Follett is a great author if you live historical fiction. Pillars of the Earth series is outstanding.

      1. A third for A Gentleman in Moscow! And a second on Pillars of The Earth; epic in its undertaking.

    2. Add me to the “A Gentleman in Moscow” fan club. Also “Rules of Civility” but Count Rostov stayed with me for a very long time after finishing the book. I wish I could read it again for the first time. Such a beautifully written book.

  15. Coincidentally just started last week an Instagram account of titles of books I love. You might want to check it out. Adding titles every few days

  16. Shibumi by Travanian. Also read Don Winslow’s prequel Satori.

  17. I think good fiction is a matter of personal taste. Many times I’ve picked up a book because it’s popular only to find I didn’t enjoy the story.

    Some I have enjoyed: the Breakthrough series by Michael C. Grumley. Clive Cussler’s NUMA Files series and Oregon series
    Also like the Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

    1. Also enjoyed The Lost Chambers trilogy by Ernest Dempsy. There are some real archaeological sites in the US in the books that hadn’t previously heard of, and now plan to visit.

  18. Several modern day fiction writers worth reading – just in case you’re unaware – are Ken Follett for his epic fiction, Michael Connelly for his prolific flow of high quality stories, and Harlan Coben for his terrific characters.

  19. Interesting question! As far as a book that’s unique and somehow feels contemporary (in a dark way), I like Parable of the Sower and its (less dark) sequel. That’s stuck with me among the book’s I’ve liked in the past year or so. But generally, I’ve also recently come to like memoirs more because they feel more authentic, with truer voices, than some of the fiction I’ve been reading. My own reasons for not resonating with fiction as much these days are because I think:

    1) it’s yet to catch up with the emotional tone and pain of the last five years. Many of the fictional dilemmas feel innocent compared to recent turbulence,

    2) being the same age as Mark, I feel a bit distant from the generational preoccupations of a lot of novels which are understandably more focused on younger people still defining themselves in some way that I’m no longer engaged in. So I’m not finding answers to life’s questions in fiction the way I used to. And I’m somehow not as entertained either. In fact, at times I get a bit sad to be reminded that so much of my own life has passed, unlike the characters in most fictional books.

    3) perhaps publishers are putting out more books than in the past because printing is cheaper. So maybe it is harder to sift through.

    1. Great points. I’m older but agree with age-related considerations clouding interests. I’m equally appalled at the state of cinema for the micro-attention-span generations who thrive on frenetic view changes and substituting four letter epithets for meaningful dialog. It’s tough finding old-fogey entertainment!

  20. Fiction books worth a read – Peace Like a River, The Painted House, A Man Named Ove. I am also re-reading Steinbeck’s contribution to the world.

    My book club is reading Atlas Shrugged.

  21. Great fiction requires great ideas. Writers can be linguistically skilled without having great ideas, thus why fewer than one percent of all the novels written survive. They just aren’t that good.

  22. Barbara Kingsolver, Julia Alvarez, and Ann Patchett are just a few of my favorite current fiction writers. Angie Thomas is another great voice in the YA realm. I’ll reiterate the votes for Neil Gaiman as well.

    I’m also a big fan of the poetry collections of Billy Collins, and I think Amanda Gorman will be around for quite some time to come!

  23. Hello and in response to fiction…anything by Daniel Silva and Brad Thor. Fun, mixed with history, and lots of excitement.

  24. Happy Sunday!

    Unsure why fiction so challenging to write … maybe too much time spent with media/device/technology access that not enough time spent for story development???


    Devil in the white city (fiction based on history)

    Atlas Shrugged and Fountain Head (Ayn Rand)

    1. Erik Larson (Devil in The White City) is a very good historical fiction writer. I would also recommend any of his writings.

  25. Elizabeth George, the Linley Series. So much storytelling you think the characters are real and can’t wait for more. Was made into a PBS series. I second Lee Child, REACHER series. Made into two movies. I love the series myself.

  26. I grew up reading fiction, science fiction helped me establish my love for reading. Unfortunately, over the past several years I can’t get into fiction. It has to be true stories, biographies. There is so much real material out there. Books and podcasts about real stories have me hooked now like King, Patterson, Vonnegut and Clancy did in the 80’s and 90’s.

    1. Hi, Mike, same for me.. love true stories. Would you please share some podcats that you like? Thanks!!

    2. Totally agree, Mike! I’ve mostly switched to nonfiction, although historical fiction is a nice blend too.

      And of course anything with Vonnegut is good.

  27. The best recent piece for me was Ken Follets new book, the prequel to Pillars of the Earth. The Morning and the Evening I think it’s called.. Brutal, but Fantastic, just like Pillars series!

    1. Cherie… thank you for the tip on The Evening and The Morning by Ken Follett. I loved the Pillars series and will check this out!

  28. 2 fiction novels I’d recommend:

    In the Distance by Hernan Diaz

    Apartment by Teddy Wayne

    Two very different, but equally compelling and well written novels.

  29. Anna Karenina- my favorite book and best novel of all time according to William Faulkner. It’s 2 stories in parallel but the best part is Tolstoy’s incomparable commentary on family life and philosophy of human existence that are like diamonds of wisdom sprinkled throughout.

  30. Have you seen any of the “Steampunk” offerings? Set in alternate universes, such as where steam supplanted internal combustion, often with Victorian overtones, it allows the reader a chance to explore “what if?l worlds of wonder, betrayal, struggle, and victory!

    Highly engrossing and recommended; escapist perhaps but thrilling adventure and intrigue at the finest level.

    Try some…

  31. My “Go To”. Douglas Preston and Lincoln Childs. Well developed and very interesting characters that can be followed in a series of novels. Agent Prendergast being the central figure.

  32. Hello Mark, I agree with you about today’s bad fiction, there’s a lot of it. It is uninspiring, poorly written pap. I think it comes from the facts you mentioned about living in a “soft” society with few adversities. Many great writers were just inspired on a whole new level. Maybe it’s like inventors, we can’t all invent the light bulb, and we can’t all be great writers. So many try but fail. My absolute favorite work of modern fiction is A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

  33. John Connolly’s series about Charlie Parker is one of favorite! I can read it over again.

    1. …..also Conn Iggulden has a great historical fiction series.

  34. The process of writing fiction is very different from writing non-fiction. We might expect it to flow the same way as when we are recounting and organizing our more objective recollections, but for most authors writing fiction is a more laborious process. Most fiction authors write, edit, remove, rewrite, revise often. Though there may be those fiction authors who just get started and the words flow, I’d suggest that they are in the vast minority. The creative process at its best is consuming!

    Though your insights about acute societal pain might be on target, we live in a state of disconnected chronic stress. Suicide rates increased 25% in the past 15 years, and are at the overall highest levels in 30 years – and the highest ever for some age groups. The foods we eat dull our senses. People are disconnected from their bodies. We block out much of the overwhelmingly negative, divisive and fearful information (and misinformation) we encounter, just to make it through another day. Many of us live in emotional isolation. We have become so overloaded with digital information that it all runs together and all seems sort of the same.

    We are engulfed by an uncertain moral compass. I’d suggest that news has become our primary source of fiction. Revisionist history and propaganda have become our informational way of life. There are supposedly multiple sides to every story, and not just what really happened. Spin – storytelling – has become the story. We all choose our own “truth” from the myriad perspectives offered to us.

    Fiction is alive and well, just not entertaining or productive.

    But, those who want to author entertaining and engaging storytelling fiction need to allow themselves to be consumed by the beginnings of a vision, a story, and then work hard at it through a uniquely individual process to bring it to life.

  35. Reading and writing fiction requires us to allow our mind to suspend reality. With regard to writing fiction, the common advice is “write what you know”. That actually is a great start if you are seeking to write fiction. You have a tremendous amount of knowledge from your background in competing athletically to running your business. I’m sure you just need to get out of your own way and free up your mind to allow the possibilities to percolate.

    I noticed many commented on loving Ken Follett as a fictional author. I love Ken Follett’s works too however I think you were searching for works written now about now? Correct me if I’m wrong.

    I personally have not found much interest in reading fiction that is set in present day. I have just found more interest in reading non-fiction. When COVID-19 shut down the world last March, I tried to comfort myself in some fiction reading because the barrage of news reports and “Special Reports” became unbearable. But instead of fiction, I found that I am more satisfied by reading inspiring memoirs, self discovery, meditation, etc.

    Good luck.

  36. I think fiction is difficult because we’ve had some true genius fiction writers, and it’s difficult for anyone to write so well.

    It’s also difficult to stand out as an original with something different to offer.

    It’s a rare genius that can come up with something new and extremely compelling and gain a huge audience. Standing out amongst the thousands and thousands of others trying their best to do the same thing is not at all easy.

  37. Try reading “Born a Crime”. Trevor Noah writes like a novelist but it’s very much biographical. I did the audio version and he narrates it himself. I love the sound of his accent. Good luck, Susie

  38. My hypothesis is that maybe we like fiction and story telling more when we are young. When we reach our 50s, maybe we’ve been through so much in life and our bodies begin to really change that we are trying to figure out the reality of aging and how to slow it down. The fiction that we have grown up with was that the Standard American Diet including the fast food and junk food was somehow good for us. Food is food, right? There is no such thing as bad food. So, frankly, I’ve been in search of the truth as my body began to have metabolic syndrome. I am 3 years in my journey and some 25 books in. And, I have successfully changed my diet and resolved my health issues. Maybe now, I might become interested in reading for entertainment again.

  39. As a professional book editor, I mostly edit nonfiction. The occasional fiction manuscripts I receive are often underdeveloped and need developmental eediting. I’m not sure why we see so much poorly written fiction, but I can tell you that I have read several excellent psychological thrillers by women writers lately. Perhaps, Mark, you can expand your genre and try something outside of your normal choices.

  40. I’ve been reading the series that starts with “The Things You Find in Rockpools” by Gregg Dunnett. He was kind enough to send those on his email list links to several of his books for free during this past year, but I would have paid for each and every one of them.

  41. “If we’re such profligate storytellers, and have been for hundreds of thousands of years, why is fiction so hard to do right?”

    Because it’s a craft. And takes a while to get it right. Drumming has also been around for hundreds of thousands of years, but, trust me, drumming well takes years of practice. Same with fiction writing.

    I’m now a Historical Fiction > SciFi/Historical Fantasy author, and I’m improving all the time.

    1. Amen, Harald. Fiction isn’t hard to write, but you do need to have a vivid imagination as well as the ability to plot and visualize a story and then put it into words. It’s a craft, yes, but it’s also a God-given talent. That’s why some writers are so much better at it than others.

    2. Mary Shelley was 16 years old when she wrote Frankenstein. Granted, she had some very established mentors, but it may be the high-water mark for the sci-fi/horror genre.

      Writing is definitely a craft, but does that necessarily mature with age and and practice?

  42. I write genre fiction…urban fantasy so I’m going to toot my own horn here: “Academic Magic” by me (Becky R. Jones). Also, “Paladin’s Sword” by Fiona Grey, “The East Witch” by Cedar Sanderson. All available on Amazon.

    All provide good escape. Also, anything by Sarah A. Hoyt or Larry Correia.

  43. I enjoy Don Winslow as well. I’m going to suggest something on the other end of the fiction spectrum. It’s spooky, whimsical and intriguing; “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern. I just read it for a second time.

  44. Like last night. I watched Donnie Darko for the first time. Genius! I thought wow! Incredible screen play!

  45. I have never tried writing fiction, but love reading it. I gravitate towards mysteries and am currently reading Donna Leon’s series with Brunetti that takes place in Venice Italy.

  46. Good fiction needs truth and reality in the fictional setting. It can be hard to write if you have trouble ‘putting yourself’ there with imagination. Sadly, those compelled to be truthful and realistic in their own environment are those whom I feel have trouble writing fiction. Be happy that it may be your pursuit of truth and the reality of your true environment that thwart your attempts to write creatively… maybe you simply cannot willfully ‘tell a lie’! : )

  47. Craig Johnson. The Longmire series is enjoyable reading.

    A Man Named Ove is excellent reading.

  48. I concur! For me it’s a rhythm thing….many folks can organize imaginative plots and thoughts, but just don’t have a nice flow.
    Genre and fantastic: Robert Rowling Galbraith. There is no offness in these whatsoever, save the occasional meandering into silly relationship angst.
    I’ve often your (Sisson) writing is superb, fwiw.

  49. I enjoyed the Yaa Gaysi novel Home going. It follows two parallel branches of family tree, one in west Africa the other in America. Rich language, vivid and compelling story telling which totally transported me to another time and place.

  50. Have you tried any books from the Jack Reacher series? It’s mindless entertainment and some books are better than others (Persauder is perhaps my favorite), but it’s modern.

  51. The Deep by Rivers Solomon. Get the audiobook and listen—Daveed Diggs reads it and it’s fantastic!

  52. Lab meat makes sense to me if the alternative to providing for the increased world demand for nutrition is tofu. We’re increasing our protein demand by increasing the population. Poor countries can’t afford basic nutrition now though rich ones still have meat. With the pressure of climate change on agricultural land, the ability of the earth to provide for us all is going down. Many say that the solution is for us all to be vegan. I don’t see how that’s healthy. I would prefer lab grown meat as an alternative to soy burgers (although I only hope that lab meat is reasonably nutritious; I haven’t seen much info on that subject.) I would prefer natural grass fed beef to vat meat, of course, but with an unsustainable population, that may soon become a less reasonable expectation.

  53. Writing fiction is difficult because it is hard for a writer to create a character and then figure out how to cause them to suffer emotionally in the way they need to in order to be effective.

    The challenge is to be so intimate with your characters that you create someone real and compelling and yet distant enough from them to be able to see the overall story and do what you need to do to hurt them so that there is interesting conflict.

  54. Daniel Silva is great for easy-read action stories, as is Alan Furst. I also like most of Joseph Kanon’s stuff (“The Good German”, “Istanbul Passage”, etc.) One of my all time favorites is “We the Living” by Ayn Rand, who was a master at writing the angst and hopelessness of post-revolution Russia. Right now I’m enjoying “The Labyrinth of the Spirits” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

  55. My Dad wrote 2 books that are fiction Drifters Fire and The Last Paradise. I thought they were both good. Maybe I am biased. I believe you can get them at Xlibris.com

  56. I also love Winslow’s writing. Have you read T Jefferson Parker? Great story telling as well.

  57. I think fiction is more difficult to write because we are in a time of sensory overload. Everything we can think of is at our fingertips. We use our imaginations less and less while the internet imagines for us. Heck they’ve even taken cursive out of the school system. I love reading but I have to agree with you, its very sad.

  58. A Gentleman in Moscow is one of my favorites. It proves that we can be the master of our surroundings.

    1. I liked Rules of Civility by the same author. A Gentleman in Moscow is on my list.

  59. The best fiction I’ve read lately is Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I think it’s especially fitting to the MDA audience because it’s about a person learning first hand about the eastern seaboard marshland where she lives.

  60. Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts. You’ll hear many people describe it as “the best book I’ve ever read” and for good reason I’m actually surprised it hasn’t been mentioned yet (or maybe it has and I missed it). If you liked Kitchen Confidential, this may be a good fit as it’s loosely based on the authors life as a fugitive working for the mafia in Bombay.

    The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson is another phenomenal piece of fiction and Pulitzer Prize winner.

    Happy reading.

  61. Jack Carr’s Terminal List series (4 books total) is fantastic and has made a getting back into fiction after years and years of voracious non-fiction reading a real pleasure. Check out these political thrillers, written by a former special operator, they’re a blast and have stimulated some pretty epic dreams when ready before bed.

    1. He is great… I found him while waiting for either the next Brad Thor or Vince Flynn (Kyle Mills)… Have you read either of those? Both series have a ton of books and though they do get somewhat formulaic, they are still great reads. And I totally get the dream thing!

  62. Hi Mark, I agree that genre fiction now has some great things to offer. I suggest as a genre afro-futurism and sci-fi/fantasy in general. Ursula K. Le Guin to start with, but also Octavia Butler and NK Jemison. Stepping out of the realm of the white cis-norm authors list might take you somewhere marvelous! Thanks for your Sundays with Sisson; I always enjoy them.

  63. My husband is loving Brandon Sanderson’s the Way of Kings. It’s an incredible story with a diverse set of characters you know and can identify with. It’s 45 hours of listening (1 credit on Audible!) it’s gripping. He is an amazing writer.

  64. Did you ever ponder this past year how it was that you found yourself working harder & longer from home than you ever did in the pre-COVID workplace, while others had seemingly endless amounts of leisure time to practically destroy large cities like Portland & Seattle? “What jobless men do all day” is your answer & is a frightening glimpse at the future if a universal basic income is provided to people without condition. Wake up America.

  65. I agree but you can’t go wrong with any of Michael Connelly mysteries/police procedurals. He used to be a journalist and won a Pulitzer yet also writes great fiction. I stay up all night reading them they are such interesting and intelligent page turners.

  66. “Bearable, comfortable pain you don’t really feel or notice.”
    Nicely put. Caught up in everyday distractions – for the past several decades – of cell phones, computers, advertising, television, ad nauseum…. we humans now tend to not notice what is happening all around us. And we’re “advised” on how to respond to the input we do receive. We have been trained, or guided, to focus on what we think should be important at the moment (a manipulation of a very important and primal and evolutionary response, I believe).
    We used to dare to imagine what may be possible. Now, we cannot imagine what may be possible because, at least here in America, we are living through the inconceivable.

  67. Best fiction I ever read? The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk.

  68. I thought this was about fiction reading? The best book I have read recently is a memoir, not technically fiction: The Road from Coorain by Jill Conway. Like Mark’s point, set before WWII, plenty of tragedy, but it is the writing! Descriptive vocabulary you don’t find nowadays in the world of tweets and lol’s. Most modern fiction just seems dumbed down to me.

  69. Fiction is getting much harder because we’ve lost societal cohesiveness. We’ve become too pluralistic. We used to have common goals and narratives that were almost universally understood and embraced. An author could know what would resonate w/ society at large; what his work would connote to most. He could cut to the chase without being misunderstood. We are a fractured society, and the Progressive Fascists are moving in for the kill.

  70. I agree that contemporary fiction is…mostly sub-par. I just won’t waste my precious time on it anymore, so I’ve gone digging in the classics and I’m rarely disappointed.

    Much more satisfying to sit down with a Dickens I haven’t read yet, or a more obscure Tolkien book (assuming, of course, that you’ve read the LOTR trilogy or The Hobbit!). Dumas, Bronte, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Twain, Wilde, Mitford, Wodehouse, Orwell, Flannery OConnor, EB White, Graham Greene, Muriel Spark, Kristin Lavrensdatter….so many that I love to spend time with. (Also, I would of course have listed Shakespeare- do read his sonnets – but his plays are more meant to be seen instead of read).

    I’ll never be bored.

  71. Regarding fiction, since you mentioned the cartel series, I recently read American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. It was really good. I agree it’s hard to find good contemporary fiction that is not genre specific. I do like a good spy thriller, but even with those I prefer the cold war set ones rather than those set in current times.

  72. Vince Milam – Case Lee series. Gotta appreciate the nomadic lifestyle of Case Lee and how he blends his relationships into it and the jobs he contracts

  73. Writing good fiction is hard because there is a CRAFT to it. There’s an art to it. Like any other craft, you may have natural talent for it, but it still has to be learned.

    If I grabbed some paintbrushes, do I think I could just whip up a nice watercolor without training? No, I could not.

    I’ve seen a million landscapes, and I’ve used a pencil and pen many times in my life. Does that mean I could do a great pen and ink drawing? Again, no.

    Read one of Jonathan Franzen’s novels and you will see the craft required to write great fiction. Or Don DeLillo. Or Saul Bellow. Or Richard Ford. Or Jeanette Winterson. Or Lorrie Moore.

    Some of those might not be your taste. But in all of them you can see the craft at work, and you can see it’s harder than it looks.

    It’s also easy to be deceived by reading someone with a simple style like Hemingway, or J.D. Salinger, and you think, “Well, how hard could it be?”

    Okay, I think I’m belaboring the point! Mad respect to anyone who has persevered in completing a well-written piece of fiction.

    Great post, Mark, thanks for writing it.

  74. Shawn Inmon’s Middle Fall Series, Terry Schott The Game is Life Series, The Breaker Series by Edward Robertson, everything by Hohn Marrs and everything by Terry Goidkind, but I recommend you read Law of Nines first. Also The Host by Stephenie Meyers . Are we related by the way!? I’m also a Sisson! And you look like the men in my dad’s family!

    1. John Marrs and Terry Goodkind, sorry, I should have proofread! And I also loved Orson Scott Cards Lost Boys. And of course Gone With the Wind goes without saying!

  75. Don Quixote, it’s highly regarded and considered to be the first modern novel. I’m really enjoying it so far!

    1. I love Don Quixote and try to read it again every year (~25% success rate over a decade and change). I even bought a bilingual version and am working on my Spanish, so I can truly appreciate it.

      However, I would classify it as a burlesque rather than a novel.

  76. Two outstanding works of fiction to recommend:

    “All the Light We Cannot See” – don’t be put off, as I was for a long time, by the synopsis that this is about two children. It’s about seeing the world in new ways. And also about war and Nazis and the ways they affected both others and their own.

    Next: “A Gentleman From Moscow”. Stellar fiction about a man confined by the Bolsheviks to remain in a hotel, in an 8 x 10 room, for the rest of his life. What can happen in such a scenario, you ask? Oh my. You have no idea.

    I know I said two, but here’s two more suggestions: “News of the World,” – based on a true story that was sadly and inexplicably changed for Tom Hanks’ movie of the same name. Wonderfully written and a finalist for the National Book Award.

    Lastly, but perhaps the best of all: The Patrick O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin series that begins with “Master and Commander” and continues through 20 more stellar novels, in which you will witness one of the great friendships in all of literature, all while learning history, sailing the world, confronting more challenges and adventure than you could ever imagine, and meeting other civilizations and new flora and fauna. I’ve been feasting on these books since last summer. And I have zero interest in British naval history, just so you know, but these have universal appeal because of their humanity and the life lessons they teach.

    Happy reading! I hope you’ll let us know what you select.

  77. A good read I recently enjoyed was by Peter May and called, ‘A Silent Death’
    Have always enjoyed this author’s fiction writing.

  78. @Mark Sisson – In reply to your Sunday with Sisson email regarding fiction books… I recommend The Storygraph to help guide you to the perfect book you didn’t know you needed to read! Check it out at app.thestorygraph.com. I’m just a grateful user who stumbled across this while it was in beta and I’m very happy to have an alternative to Goodreads. Happy reading!

  79. What defines great fiction? Why is it so hard to find? We have so much wade through now. The amount of fiction being published is staggering. “Great fiction “ is usually that book someone read and really really liked. Most best selling fiction is adequate language and a cracking good story. Occasionally we get both rising to the top. Couldn’t believe All the Light We Cannot Not See actually won the Pullitzer in 2015. It is gorgeous. So is A Gentleman in Moscow which topped the NYT’s bestseller list forever. Rare, these. So. We have have entertainment fiction, which abounds. And we have great fiction which occasionally wins the big lit prizes and is more often found in the long and short lists: the almost wons. Check the lists.

  80. Hello Mark, I read two novels recently and enjoyed both. One is Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, set in Korea and Japan between 1932 and 1989. The other is The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett set in the South and in Southern California between 1950’s and 1990’s. Both multigenerational stories that explore family and relationships, identity, race/ethnicity and discrimination… issues that are still relevant today. If you end up reading either of these books, I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

  81. It’s children’s fiction, but the best fiction I’ve read recently was When the Mountain Met the Moon by Grace Lin. My kids and I could hardly put it down. So when your granddaughter is old enough (6-9 seems like the perfect age), then look into this one.

  82. Jonathon Safran Foer’s “Everything is Illuminated”. Laughed, cried, and marveled how on earth someone so young could write so assuredly about the human condition. Absolutely shattering in its depth of pain and love.

  83. It is partly economic. While online books are a great boon and independent authors (‘Indies’) are now publishing more content than ever (80% of the NYT best-sellers are indie published), it is less and less about telling a good story and more and more about marketing that story. To make a living an author must have a “backlist” of recognisable genre fiction that ‘matches’ their initial offering so that their readers can find them and will be certain to enjoy the later books. Because of the commercial constraints, authors must ‘write to market’, i.e., generate recognisable genre fiction to survive financially. The first SENTENCE (not paragraph) of Nicholas Nickleby is 93 words. That will never happen again. Modern readers with nano-second-long attention spans would never tolerate it. Even though ‘Nicholas’ is a whopping great story with wonderful layered social and political commentary and brilliant characters. Computer aided writing is also more of a detriment than an aid. For instance, a grammar app took “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are equal,” which in the brutal ‘grammar nazi’ app became “87 years ago our fathers created a free nation here.” Lincoln nailed it. The computer butchered it. I could go on, but we live in an era when marketing skills are more important to a writer’s financial survival than story-telling skills. And it shows.

  84. It IS difficult to write good fiction. An author is a chef. They must balance real life with the made up world in their head, tension with humor, using a story-line that has not been diluted with overuse. The stew must be delivered with believable, flawed characters that carry the flavor of the genre. Many times, books turn into the same boring, overcooked leftovers. To take a familiar story set up and approach it in a new way or with a different spin, is a recipe for delight. They are out there, hidden among the thousands of bland selections. As an author of fiction, it is tricky, but rewarding when you can set your work in front of others to be devoured, and they come away satisfied. A culinary cozy mystery might be the answer for you. Say Cheese and Murder by Michelle Pointis Burns. (Full disclosure, this is my book, published in October 2020.)

  85. I’ve never been much of a reader but since covid-19 started I’ve been on a dystopian kick. 1984, Brave New World and a few others.

  86. The enjoyment of a bit of fiction is as much on the reader as the writer. Both need to connect. It is said, “you never read the same book twice”. The book stays the same, but the reader changes.
    I enjoyed Capt Corellli’s Mandolin. And almost anything by Wendell Berry. I like Tony Hillerman and the James Lee Burke novels that star Robichaux, both because of the sense of place.

  87. F. Paul Wilson’s Repairman Jack series is enthralling, captivating, totally original, and I couldn’t put them down. Maybe 10 books total in the series and I re-read them occasionally- they are THAT good. If you enjoy sci-fi type fiction, highly recommend. This guy, F. Paul Wilson, knows how to spin a yarn.

  88. For a sardonic fictional read, I laughed out loud at Bearstone Blackie, Detective by Ray Pace.

  89. Rolf Nelson’s Heretics of St. Possenti starts slow, very masculine culture.
    MacKinlay Kantor’s If The South Had Won The Civli Warm, alternative fiction.

  90. Writing good fiction is a balance, you need enough details to make the reader invested in the characters but too many and you lose your reader. Also you need to be able to predict what the characters realistically would do or say, and I believe that takes a special talent. I’ve read so many books where I would question “Who would do that?” Probably no one. And they just lost a reader. So to write good fiction you either need to have a very special talent for predicting human nature or very rich life experiences.

  91. Fiction that is unique – truly unique comes from a deep place of imagination within. Therefore, you have to do things to “exercise” your imagination. Reading more fiction is one of those things!

    I like myth – stories that point to larger truths, like parables of Jesus, such as Tolkien and George MacDonald, Ted Dekker, Stephen lawhead. I’m still reading the Silmarillion right now. It’s like CS Lewis said in his essay ‘The Weight of Glory” the first-year Greek student doesn’t yet have an appreciation for Greek poetry. That is the way the Silmarillion is you have to understand Elvish, and LoTR/Hobbits to appreciate it.
    You may like Elmore Leonard if you haven’t read him yet.

  92. How did this thread about reading/writing fiction start? was there a link about it somewhere I’m not seeing? or are y’all just excited about it? just curious.

  93. “Why is fiction so hard to do right”?

    Because it’s an art, writing well is an art, like drawing and painting. Combined w analysis. Yep anyone can learn to do the mechanics of drawing and writing, but not everyone can be a *writer* or an *artist*, much less a great one. There is an element of inborn talent there that only a few possess. And lots of work.

    Verbal communication is a given for most, but great storytelling is also an art. Not everyone does it well.

    Simple as that. ?

    Faves recently: Steig Larsson (Girl w Dragon Tattoo series); JRR Tolkien, Laura Hillenbrand (Unbroken, Sea Biscuit), Paul Pope (various graphic novels – “bandes dessinés”)

  94. Fiction shouldn’t be so hard, comedy is hard.

    So many good fiction writers. If you dig Winslow – try James Lee Burke – he writes beautiful and at times angry prose. His output is bountiful.

    Or go back a bit in time and get into the Travis McGee series by John D. MacDonald – great series about a Florida-based beach bum/private eye. Sort of.


  95. Blew me away that realer was word!! Didn’t think Mark would miss it .but hey. Took me off my book search.

  96. Loved your Sunday with Sission. I’m a librarian and have a similar take on fiction. I find mostly it’s reading about other people’s problems and I don’t really need that.
    I do love and highly recommend anything by Carl Hiaasen. His latest, Squeeze Me, is brilliant. You’ll laugh out loud if you get satire. Especially that you live in Florida. Give him a try.

  97. As you like Don Winslow, you should try James Lee Burke. His writing style transports you from the first word, and great stories with some larger than life characters that are totally believable non the less.

  98. In the 50’s, we read writers from the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s who had no TV, who read every night and consequently were more likely to have absorbed a certain literary facility. I also might recommend taking a good Myers Briggs test and looking into the results and explanations of why different people are good at and drawn towards different things. I read traditional mysteries with mostly nice people in them barring the hidden villains. My favorites: the Charles Lenox mysteries by Charles Finch, Nora Roberts (but not the trilogies as much lately, Catherine Coulter FBI series, Susan Wittig Albert