Long before Sally Rooney's Normal People hit shelves, booksellers were preparing for a tidal wave. It had already made huge waves in the UK when it was released last summer, and its arrival in America this April was expected to make just as much of an impact. McNally Jackson, an independent bookstore in New York City, normally orders 30 copies of a book when its author is coming to speak. Ahead of the store's Wednesday night event with Rooney, they've ordered 300.
In fact, almost every bookstore Refinery29 spoke to, based all over the U.S., was seeing unprecedented interest in the novel. But while its popularity may sound similar to other buzzy novels that gained rapid success thanks to platforms such as Instagram (a notable recent example being Stephanie Danler's Sweetbitter in 2016), Rooney — and her millennial characters — would be uncomfortable to hear her books were getting Instagrammed with oat milk lattes next to tubes of Glossier Balm Dotcom.
Rooney has blown up this past year after her first book, Conversations With Friends, won the Sunday Times Fiction Prize in 2017 and was praised by everyone from acclaimed author Zadie Smith to actress Sarah Jessica Parker. In both Conversations and Normal People (longlisted for the Man Booker Prize), Rooney deftly intertwines philosophy and Marxist theory with college party scenes and illicit emails, perhaps for the first time fully capturing the nuances and scope of the conversations and behaviour of young people. It doesn't hurt that the stories are packaged in irresistibly Instagrammable covers, the combination of all this launching her reputation from her work's more muted beginnings as a popular 2015 essay in The Dublin Review to an emphatic recommendation on Emily Ratajkowski's Instagram Story in a matter of years.
After much anticipation, Normal People finally hit US shelves Tuesday morning, 16th April. From the whimsical Books Are Magic in Brooklyn (owned by novelist Emma Straub) to the bright and welcoming Dog-Eared Books in San Francisco, booksellers told Refinery29 that patrons have been asking every day about the sophomore novel in eager anticipation of its arrival. When they host their event, McNally Jackson is expecting to fill up their downstairs event space, which has a capacity of around 175 people, and seat overflow in their cafe in front of a livestream. Books Are Magic, who is holding their event with the author tonight, had to move the event to an entirely different venue in order to accommodate the over 250 people they expect to attend.
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Heads up! 🚨 Our event with Sally Rooney in conversation w/@emmastraub on April 16 is now being held at First Unitarian Congregational Society (119 Pierrepont St) at 7:30pm! The response has been so amazing and we want to accommodate as many people as possible, so we’re moving it a few blocks north to a much bigger space. 🔹💚🔹 This event is still free! No RSVP, tickets, or purchase necessary and books will be available to purchase at the event. She will also still be signing after. Hope to see you all there!
Unabridged Bookstore in Chicago says they received several pre-orders for the book, and have sold 13 copies already which is "pretty extraordinary for a brand new release," the seller on the phone told me. BookPeople in Austin is also seeing increased interest, telling Refinery29 that of their 20 copies, six have been pre-ordered or put on hold — which, for independent bookstores in 2019, is unfortunately still impressive.
At the same time, Books Are Magic says Rooney's first novel "has been number one our best seller [list] this week, and it’s been on the list consistently the last couple months." As those who were already fans of Rooney's clamour for the first copies of Normal People, the rest of the public is catching up on Conversations With Friends with equal gusto.
Last week, Ratajkowski Instagrammed and tweeted about Conversations With Friends, saying it was Lena Dunham who introduced her to the novel.
"Read this in one sitting," she wrote on Instagram. "Go get!"
Then, just today, Camila Morrone, actress, model — and reported girlfriend of Leonardo DiCaprio — posted a photo of the novel to her Instagram story.
"I am finally reading this but need more book recommendations!!!"
Like Sweetbitter before it, a Sally Rooney book has become the perfect Instagram cool-girl symbol. Additionally, Normal People is taking over the feeds of actual normal people:
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This deserves a good review so here we go: 5/5 ⭐️ “No one can be independent of other people completely, so why not give up the attempt, she thought, go running in the other direction, depend on people for everything, allow them to depend on you, why not.” NORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney is a coming of age love story about two individuals whose lives entwine with each other in the course of several years. It stretches from their high school days to their college years and there we see how they evolved and messed up in their lives around other people and whenever they’re together. This is the most GENUINE LOVE STORY I have read in my life. I did relate to these characters a lot and I saw myself in them, especially Marianne, when she struggled with her identity. People mess up, we miss opportunities by choice or by circumstances, we’re stupid, flawed human beings but we also stand up and fight for what we love. We love to be loved and we love to be perceived as someone who’s likable, outgoing and intelligent but we also like to be our real selves, so why bother being liked, right? This books explored the complexity of relationships with ourselves and with other people, dysfunctional family dynamics, mental health issues, gender roles, literature as an escape from reality which begs to answer the question, what is our real purpose in the world? Why do we struggle? Why do we make bad choices? Why not just surrender and let go? Or why not try hard enough for people we love? I don’t even know, guys. All I know is that I read this book at the right place in the right time. I agree that this book ended abruptly but isn’t that how life works all the time? One day, you’re content with what you have and you’re happy but the next day, you’re reeling for something more important and interesting and you move on. This book overwhelmed me to perfectly honest. It’s so fucking good, straight to the point and endearing. Made me want to tear my hair out. READ IT and fangirl with me. Thank you so much, @hogarthbooks , for sharing this story with me and the whole world. ITS OUT 4/16! Buy the book, support Sally Rooney because she deserves it.
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Happy Normal People day!!! This is the book of the year as far as I’m concerned, the best novel I’ve read since I don’t even know when. Sally Rooney is a true genius of the tiny nuances of human interaction, but I’ve also been describing the reading experience to people by saying: I felt like I would blow up my entire life depending on the ending. That’s how invested I was. My life is still intact but my reading life is not, because there’s nothing else like this. Even if you didn’t like Conversations with Friends (I liked but didn’t love), GO BUY IT IMMEDIATELY. 📖 I underlined half the book but here’s one: “Sometimes when Marianne mentions a film she has recently watched, he waves his hand and says: It fails for me. This quality of discernment, she has realised, does not make him a good person. He has managed to nurture a fine artistic sensitivity without ever developing any real sense of right and wrong. The fact that this is even possible unsettled Marianne, and makes art seem pointless suddenly.” • 📷 by the one and only @tinytashhxo • #normalpeople #conversationswithfriends #sallyrooney
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#bookstagrammademedoit I picked up Normal People by Sally Rooney because bookstagram told me it was great so I hope everyone is right! I knew this account would be expensive 😂 I also got Seven Husbands because I’m determined to read every Taylor Jenkins Reid book and I’d heard a lot of mixed reviews on it when it first came out but recently it’s been all positive so I’m going with bookstagram again! What books have you bought just because of bookstagram? ps ignore the ugly plastic container for Martin, the snakeplant! I’m currently on the hunt for a good pot 🌿
It's worth noting that Rooney would probably hate to hear her books classified as a symbol of an "Instagram cool girl," because it's antithetical to the ethos her books preach.
"I don’t know if I should say this, but I didn’t actually take any interest in how much the book sold," she admitted to Gulf News last September, later adding, "Because, the thing about books is that anyone can read them. There are a lot of people who probably enjoyed Conversations with Friends who are part of the system that is actively exploiting other people’s labour. I am sure there are landlords who read it and thought it was a great read. Am I happy that I have given those people 10 hours of distraction? Not really!"
But that's the magic of Sally Rooney novels — how they can trojan horse hard politics and leftist theory into an unsuspecting demographic, while at the same time representing a demographic that rarely makes it to the bestseller list. Is it ironic that part of that is through Instagram, a company owned by Facebook, which has recently taken responsibility for both its role in spreading misinformation in the 2016 election and its misuse of user data? That's a subject for a dinner party in the next Sally Rooney book.