Would you believe it?–my book The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy been out there for half a year. It’s sold six hundred copies and it can be found in nine libraries worldwide, from right here in Victoria, Canada to the second largest library in the world in Moscow, Russia. There’s been many firsts along the way. I want to tell you about an important milestone that came out last week. Before we do that, let’s take a moment to recall the previous milestones.
The first milestone was February 4, 2019, the date the book was available for sale on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. A couple of months later on April 8, the first professional review came out on the book review outfit Kirkus. Then, on May 4, the book became available at its first library, the downtown branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library. Later that month, the book was included in IndieReader’s ‘Best Reviewed Books of the Month’ and was also declared a winner in the 13th Annual Indie Excellence Awards. On June 17, the book got its first non-paid review from The Midwest Book Review, a major media outlet. On that very same day, the book got its radio debut on The Tom Sumner Program: it was the focus of a live, one-hour show. And on June 26, the book got its first review from a theatre professional in Broadway World. And in the beginning of July, the book got panned by two critics in quick succession on Goodreads: both gave it two out of five stars. I mention this among milestones because the negative reviews play an important part in the life of the book–who would believe the reviewers if every review was five stars? We must embrace the negative. As they say, even bad publicity is still publicity. Even if they didn’t like it, they did take the time to read the book, after all. The worst is oblivion, when the book lies unread. After all these happy and sad milestones, however, one thing was missing: an academic review.
As an academic, having an academic critique my book was important. I’ve read countless academic reviews of books. Why was one not out there for my book? I felt that The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy offers something new, not only to the theatre world, but to the academic world, the world of universities, professors, students, late-night study sessions, and of triumph and heartache. The theory of tragedy–or the question of why sad stories captivate us–has been one of the central questions in art and aesthetics since Plato first wrestled with it. And, between Plato and today, the best thinkers–including Aristotle, Hegel, and Nietzsche–have grappled with this question at length. The risk model answers the question by arguing that tragedy is really risk dramatized. Tragedy captivates and entertains despite the gloom because it plays out risk acts on the stage. When would the ivory tower take note that a new voice was speaking out?
In mid-July, I got an email from Columbia University writing professor Charlie Euchner (pronounced IKE-ner). He had read my book and wanted to do an interview for his website The Elements of Writing. Yes! He started off the interview with a series of email questions. Afterwards we followed up with a fascinating hour-long chat on the phone. He was on his third read of the book, and the thing that intrigued him was how the book looks at the art of storytelling from the perspective of risk. Euchner himself, I found out, was working on a history of Woodrow Wilson. My book, I think, intrigued Euchner because it invited him to look at Wilson’s career as a series of risk acts. From Wilson’s power struggles at Princeton University to the race to be governor of New Jersey and from the struggle to be president to going all-in on the League of Nations, it was possible to create a larger, overarching narrative using risk theory. Although my book specifically addresses the art form of tragedy, many reviewers are noting how its framework can be applied to any sort of writing where there is dramatic tension.
Euchner’s full review of The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy can be found here. Here is Euchner’s abridged review from the Goodreads site:
If you love literature–theater, film, novels, history, biography, opera, whatever–you need to read this extraordinary work.
Wong presents a new theory of tragedy, which contrasts those of Aristotle, Hegel, Nietzsche, and others. The classic theory, outlined by Aristotle, states that the hero has a “tragic flaw” that causes him or her to make a “tragic mistake.” But Wong argues that the hero might not in fact make a mistake; instead he or she makes a calculated risk that backfires.
Wong’s approach is especially pertinent to the modern condition. For most of history, the consequences of decisions were for the most part local. Today, even minor decisions can have global repercussions. Also, we live in the age of science, where calculation of odds has become commonplace. many bemoan that this calculation takes the heart and soul out of life. The Age of the Algorithm can, in fact, suck the agency out of even the most strong-willed people.
All the more reason for Wong’s brilliant thesis.
If you’re an avid reader (which I assume is the case, since you’re on Goodreads) or a writer, read this book. It’s sometimes dense and filled with examples from ancient literature unfamiliar to many moderns. No matter. Read it–twice. You will never read another work of literature the same way.
Thank you Charlie for taking the time to read and write about the book! What a great milestone, the first academic review of The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy. People pay attention to Columbia professors: what they say helps readers decide what to read next. Today is a good day.
Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.