Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Brian Clegg

Brian Clegg is a British popular science writer. His books have included The God Effect, Before the Big Bang, Inflight Science, and How to Build a Time Machine.

Clegg's latest title is Final Frontier: The Pioneering Science and Technology of Exploring the Universe.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading.Clegg' s reply:
I came to my current read, Jon Ronson’s Them: Adventures with Extremists as a ‘more of the same read’ after being entranced a week ago by his book The Psychopath Test. As I mention in my review of that, it was recommended to me by a fellow panelist on a ‘How to Write Popular Science’ masterclass, and it’s one of those books that is hard not to consume at one sitting. While Them is along similar lines – a look at a serious issue, but undertaken in a light-hearted fashion that makes the book both funny and thought-provoking – I don’t think it works quite as well as The Psychopath Test. That book was perfectly balanced. Here, the central theme is less significant – it’s the idea of there being some kind of ‘world order’ that secretly runs the world, and Ronson explores it by meeting various extremists and borderline individuals who are engaged in everything from supporting Islamic terrorism to promoting the idea that the world is run by 12 foot tall lizards, but who all believe in these shady conspirators. These meetings vary from genuinely scary to farcical, but somehow it doesn’t engage quite as well as the other title.

If this was the first of Ronson’s books I’d read, I would be very happy with it – and I am certainly enjoying it. His style is inimitable. But The Psychopath Test set such high expectations that Them is, perhaps, inevitably a slight let-down. This time of year I tend to read fun non-fiction, science fiction and murder mysteries as light relief from the science reading that dominates the rest of my year, and Ronson will certainly go down as one of my holiday favourites. Very easy to read, funny, but still always with that realisation that this isn’t a black and white world and has some real shades of grey in the people he meets out there.
Follow Brian Clegg on Twitter, and visit his website and blog.

Coffee with a Canine: Brian Clegg and Goldie.

Writers Read: Brian Clegg (September 2009).

Writers Read: Brian Clegg (December 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Shannon Stoker

Shannon Stoker has been writing her entire life. She decided to give writing a serious try after her husband bought her a small dog as a birthday gift. Nucky stole her heart immediately and she wanted a job that provided more flexibility to stay with him.

When she’s not writing Stoker enjoys watching an insane amount of television shows as well as horror movies. She got a little taste of television herself when she competed on an episode of TLC’s Four Weddings. You can catch her episode in replays on the channel. Her latest book is The Alliance: A Registry Novel.

Stoker was born in Clawson, Michigan and raised in Elgin, Illinois. She currently lives in DeKalb, Illinois with her husband Andy and small dog Nucky.

Not so long ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Stoker's reply:
I am in a book club and we are reading Orange is the New Black this month. I rarely do non-fiction so it’s a nice change. I’m plugging along at Doctor Sleep too, which I really need to finish. Someone gave me a copy as a Christmas present, so it’s only been eight months *lowers head in shame*.

While no particular title comes to mind I have really been eating up Werewolf Romances the past year. Randomly I will download one and finish it the same night. They have become my guilty pleasure. I think I like them more than chocolate.

The last series I finished was The Selection series by Kiera Cass. I was sad it ended but very happy with the character’s choices. Cass’ series is one of the few that I knew I had to read just by seeing the covers.
Visit Shannon Stoker's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Shannon Stoker & Nucky.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Julie Schumacher

Julie Schumacher grew up in Wilmington, Delaware, and graduated from Oberlin College and Cornell University. Her first novel, The Body Is Water, was published by Soho Press in 1995 and was an ALA Notable Book of the Year and a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award and the Minnesota Book Award. Her other books include a short story collection, An Explanation for Chaos, and five books for younger readers. She lives in St. Paul and is a faculty member in the Creative Writing Program and the Department of English at the University of Minnesota.

Schumacher's new novel is Dear Committee Members.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Schumacher's reply:
Periodically I offer myself a bit of a lecture about reading more nonfiction and thereby becoming a worldlier and more well-informed person; but then I remember Jane Austen’s defense of the novel in Northanger Abbey* and I happily return, in good conscience, to fiction. (I’ve read Northanger Abbey half a dozen times and will never tire of it. Everyone should read Northanger Abbey....)

As for right now, here’s what I’m reading:

Nancy Hale, Prodigal Women
Out of print (but I found it at the library), published in 1942, this is an incredible novel. Why had I never heard of Nancy Hale until recently? Imagine a conglomeration of Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, and D.H. Lawrence, and you’re part of the way there. Such insight into human character and social relationships, such streamlined but beautiful prose. This novel was scandalous in its day, with its very direct references to female sexual desire and abortion – somebody needs to bring this thing back into print.

Smith Henderson, Fourth of July Creek
I read a review of this novel which praised it but spent a good deal of time discussing its resemblance to the work of Cormac McCarthy – which I found discouraging, because I am one of the few people on the planet who doesn’t care for McCarthy’s work. Fortunately, I loved Fourth of July Creek, which is powerfully dramatic in its portrayals of a well-meaning but damaged social worker and some of the rural and very damaged children he attempts to assist. There’s a bleakness here, but Henderson offers the reader – and his characters – hope as well.

LaLine Paull, The Bees
My local independent bookstore hand-sold me this one: I would not normally have purchased a thick novel written entirely from the point of view of an insect, but I am a sucker for hand-selling and for an independent bookseller’s enthusiasm. I am not finished reading this one yet, but I can attest to the fact that it takes only 2-3 pages to begin to feel that I am inside that hive with my fellow bees, worrying about the well-being of our queen.

Joseph Boyden, The Orenda
I was skeptical of this novel during the first chapter or so – I tend to be suspicious of history-based fiction, for fear that the writer will make me feel I am on the receiving end of a lecture about “the food and clothing of our ancestors” – but Boyden is massively talented, and his portrait of Jesuit missionaries and the conflict between the Huron and the Iroquois will more than satisfy (it will bowl over) any reader of literary fiction. This will one day be made into a movie – but please read the book first.

------------------
* “Yes, novels – for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding....”
Visit Julie Schumacher's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 29, 2014

Sandy Hall

Sandy Hall is a teen librarian from New Jersey where she was born and raised. She has a BA in Communication and a Master of Library and Information Science from Rutgers University.

A Little Something Different is her first novel.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Hall's reply:
As a young adult librarian, I work really hard to strike a balance between what I need to read and what I want to read. Luckily I genuinely love and enjoy reading young adult literature, so I don’t mind reading that the majority of the time. But there are definitely times when I just need to read a story about my peer group.

When I can get away with it, I try to read one YA book, one adult book, one YA book, one adult book, etc. There are certain times of the year that I can’t squeeze an adult book in the middle, like when I need to read for my book awards committee or when I’m planning summer book club.

Now that you know my extremely scientific technique for reading, I can tell you about what I’ve been reading this summer.

Ready, Player One by Ernest Cline was actually recommended to me by one of the teens at work. She loved it. She kept going on and on about it every time I ran into her and I knew I needed to get a hold of it ASAP. It’s checked out just about everywhere, but I did find it serendipitously at my home library. And it was just as good as the kid said it was!

Since I read an adult book, it was time to pepper in something young adult. I went with Panic by Lauren Oliver because I’d been hearing a lot about it. It also lived up to the hype, definite edge of my seat reading, even if I did get frustrated with the characters here and there.

Other reads I loved this summer have included You Before Me by JoJo Moyes and Far From You by Tess Sharpe.

I’m just about to finish Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins. I’ve been waiting for this book since the moment I finished Lola and the Boy Next Door several years ago and I’m so happy to be reading it.
Visit Sandy Hall's Twitter perch and learn more about the author.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Kevin Baker

Kevin Baker is a novelist and historian, and most recently the author of The Big Crowd, a historical novel based on a real-life mayor of New York City and his wife, the country’s leading fashion model, who had to flee to Mexico over his involvement in the greatest unsolved murder in mob history.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Baker's reply:
I tend to read both fiction and nonfiction at the same time, what I need to read for my work, and what I read for pleasure (all too infrequently), or because I want to satisfy my curiosity about something.

With the hundredth anniversary of the start of World War I, I’ve begun reading through the spate of recent books on the subject. I wanted to see if the old Barbara Tuchman thesis from The Guns of August still stood up: that the conflict was caused mostly by putting into place mechanisms for war, that could not be halted once they were triggered.

It does, but this is only part of the whole story, at least according to Sean McMeekin’s July 1914: Countdown to War, which is tremendously well-researched. It makes clear that the full story is even more depressing, that the war was brought on in good part by the bureaucratic maneuverings of obscure cabinet ministers, trying to win petty political points. I’ve just started Margaret MacMillan’s The War That Ended Peace, which so far promises to be every bit as brilliant as her work on the Versailles Conference, Paris 1919, and I’ll probably push on and read Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers, How Europe Went to War in 1914. I expect to be thoroughly despondent about humanity by the time I finish it.

On a more uplifting note, I just finished Brenda Wineapple’s history of America from 1848-1877, Ecstatic Nation, which is a book of incredible scope and intelligence, encompassing literature, technology, the greatest liberation movements in our history, and, oh yeah, the Civil War. It speaks volumes to our situation today as a nation. It’s about how the very idea of compromise became anathema, as all these various factions were swept away by their ecstatic visions of what America could and should be. I was reading it in part to understand how you do something of this girth, since the next book I will be writing is a history of the United States between the world wars, and while I am completely inspired I am now also thoroughly intimidated.

A book I am continuing to read, very slowly, is Henry D. Fetter’s Taking on the Yankees, which is a history of the business side of baseball over the years. I use it as a constant reference while I’m finishing the book I’m writing now on the history of New York City baseball. I’m continually impressed by how fine Mr. Fetter’s brain is, how trenchant and insightful his analyses are. He’s a lawyer who can write.

In fiction, I just re-read Steve Galloway’s novel, The Confabulist, which is a very subtle, sweetly tragic book about a man who believes he killed Houdini. You really don’t get all the nuances of it right away, but it’s quite moving when you do. I’m always very impressed by the range of his work.

I also just read, over a quick weekend away for a wedding, Allen Furst’s latest, Midnight in Europe. His work is a guilty pleasure for me, I can’t get enough of it. Sure, he spins a good spy yarn and there’s plenty of suspense, but what you really read these for are the ambience, so you can know what it’s like to sit in a perfect French bistro in 1938. They’re so beautifully described, and seem so effortless. A weekend off in Connecticut, a train trip with my wife, old friends, young people getting married, and a good read. What could be better?
Visit Kevin Baker's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Big Crowd.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

M. P. Cooley

A native of upstate New York, M.P. Cooley currently lives in Campbell, California.

Her first novel is Ice Shear.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Cooley's reply:
My reading right now is split between pleasure and research for book two. First, the pleasure reading. I just finished Chris Holm’s Dead Harvest, which was a joy ride. It’s main character, Sam Thornton, is a collector of souls, and when I picked it up I think I had expected meditations on death and redemption with some suspense thrown in. Instead I got meditation and death and redemption in the middle of an all out demon war. With tight prose and world building that was organic and interesting, this novel had a life-and-death pace that made it unputdownable.

I’m in the last stages of refining my second book, which involves characters who were born 70 years ago in the Ukraine. I just finished Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder, which I was using for background research for several characters. Usually scholarly works are bloodless, filled with statistics and theories that are removed from real people and real conflict. As first Stalin and then Hitler destroy the Jews, Ukrainians, Poles, etc., the statistics in this book add to a sense of mounting horror: “In February 1933, 746,932 people died from starvation in the Ukraine,” or “57,345 people were killed in Warsaw in September 1944”. The book has a broad scope, but the stories from those that died and those that survived manage to turn the Nazi and Soviets “numbers” back into real people.
Visit M. P. Cooley's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Ice Shear.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Nomi Eve

Nomi Eve is the author of Henna House and The Family Orchard, which was a Book-of-the-Month Club main selection and was nominated for a National Jewish Book Award.

She has an MFA in fiction writing from Brown University and has worked as a freelance book reviewer for The Village Voice and New York Newsday.

Her stories have appeared in Glimmer Train Stories, The Voice Literary Supplement, Conjunctions, and The International Quarterly.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Eve's reply:
I just finished The Girl with All the Gifts. I am an eclectic reader, and devour zombie books and thrillers side by sides with literary classics. I couldn’t put The Girl down. The fast-paced plot along with devastatingly precise descriptions of a doomed world and its inhabitants had me from the first word to the last. I am a firm believer that a good book offers up something new to the world. This book certainly does that – with a vision of zombie-hood that is utterly different than any I’d read before.

Before The Girl with all the Gifts, I read A Separate Peace, which I hadn’t read since high school. A few times a year I dip back into my old high school syllabus. Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, Call of the Wild, Lord of the Flies, these books remind me why I became a writer, and a reader. I am a big fan of first person narration, and also of elegies. Something about the intimacy of elegies always gets me – I’m a sucker for love songs to lost friends and lovers (think Brideshead, The Virgin Suicides, A River Runs through It, My Antonia). A Separate Peace certainly fits the bill. The narrator, Gene Forester prays to the heavy-hitting thematic trinity of love, jealousy and guilt. His friend Finny’s fate is the fate of an entire generation whose lives were sacrificed during WWII, for a much greater cause than the boyhood games that play across the pages of this book.
Visit Nomi Eve's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Henna House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 25, 2014

Courtney Miller Santo

Courtney Miller Santo teaches creative writing at the University of Memphis, where she earned her MFA. She is the author of the novels The Roots of the Olive Tree and the newly released Three Story House.

Early this month I asked Santo about what she was reading. Her reply:
A few months ago, I decided that I didn’t have enough variety in the books I picked out. So to challenge myself, I try to read one popular fiction, one classic, one poetry and one nonfiction book each month. I stash them all over the place so I’m always reading different ones at different times. The poetry book is always in my purse and the classic by my bed.

I’ve already finished Townie, which was my nonfiction pick for the month. I took it with me to my twenty-year high school reunion and had devoured it by the time I returned home. Andre Dubus wrote one of my all time favorite short stories (“Fat Girl”) and I’d loved Andre Dubus III’s House of Sand and Fog when I read it in college. Townie is a memoir about growing up with a father who is a writer and also about the intersection of poverty and violence. I read some of the boxing chapters through my fingers, but in him I recognized so much of my brothers (I have four) and so much of my own childhood. A compelling read.

Earlier this summer I had a chance to visit Taormina, Italy and learned that many writers including DH Lawrence spent time there. In fact it turns out he based Constance Chatterley on an English woman he met in the Sicilian resort town. Since the last time I read Lady Chatterley’s Lover was purely for the shock value, I’ve been revisiting the novel and looking at it as a compelling read about class divisions. However it is dense! It will definitely take me the whole month of August to finish.

I’ve had Orphan Train sitting around for months and had intended to read it, but hadn’t gotten to it. I love books that braid two stories together and move around in time in surprising ways. I also love authors like Christina Baker Kline who work quietly for years without getting much notice and then write a book that resonates and sort of moves across the interconnected circles of readers. And of course, given my own novel, The Roots of the Olive Tree, I loved Vivian. I hope this is the beginning of a trend of having more older women in novels.

Poetry is something I always read because I’m supposed to, but I also find that it speaks to part of me that I can’t reach by reading narratives. I have no system for choosing the poetry books. But I really enjoy reading a whole book of one person’s verse. So often we encounter poems by themselves and they seem lovely but also lost. In being able to read an entire book, like Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris is to feel a deep connection to the center of the poems. I’m at a point where these poems, so many of which are about spiritual issues, are necessary in the same way that water is.
Visit Courtney Miller Santo's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Roots of the Olive Tree.

Writers Read: Courtney Miller Santo (November 2012).

My Book, The Movie: The Roots of the Olive Tree.

My Book, The Movie: Three Story House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Justin Taylor

Justin Taylor is the author of the story collection Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever and the novel The Gospel of Anarchy. He lives in Brooklyn.

His new book is Flings: Stories.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what he was reading. Taylor's reply:
This has been a good summer for getting to stuff I should have gotten to a long time ago. Up until recently, I was the last person I knew who hadn't read a Roberto Bolaño book. Not like I had anything against the guy; I just missed the bandwagon when it left. But then this whole Knausgaard thing hit, and in the course of ignoring that I wound up picking up a copy of The Savage Detectives, while on vacation in Norway, no less! Take that Knausgaard! Not that I have anything against him, by the way, it's just that I like to keep myself two steps behind the cultural zeitgeist whenever possible--which unfortunately means no Elena Ferrante for me until 2017 or '18, probably. Anyway, I liked Savage Detectives, particularly the sections with Quim Font, Amadeo Salvatierra, and Xóchitl García, and of course the sword duel on the beach with the literary critic. When I finished the Savage Detectives I turned to Mavis Gallant's collection Varieties of Exile (NYRB, selected by Russell Banks); another legendary figure who was to me an almost total unknown--I think I'd read some of her journals excerpted in the New Yorker but that was it. Anyway Varieties turned out to be the ideal palette follow-up to Bolaño: dry instead of humid, controlled and astringent instead of boisterous and insane. Stories instead of a novel. Very calming, Gallant's cool sentences and crisp images; though she's not without her severity too. It was a good book to read while traveling, on trains and planes.

Anyway we got home from the trip. One ancillary benefit of having read The Savage Detectives was that it made me feel properly prepared--and curious--to read Advice From 1 Disciple of Marx To 1 Heidegger Fanatic (Wave Books, 2013), a longish poem by Mario Santiago Papasquairo, who is credited as the main model for Bolaño's Ulises Lima. So I'm reading that now.

Another poet I recently read for the first time is the poet Frank Stanford, though in typical-for-me fashion I started with a collection of his "tales" called Conditions Uncertain and Likely To Pass Away. Incredibly bizarre and dreamy and feral. I loved it, and so picked up the first collection of his poetry I could get my hands on, a thin little volume called You that my friends at Berl's Poetry Shop happened to have in stock.

Speaking of story collections--and of friends, and of the dreamy and bizarre--I'm reading a galley of Shelly Oria's New York 1, Tel Aviv 0, which is coming out from FSG in November. It's a hard book to describe. The language is very precise but there's a kind of bright haze that permeates it, like all the characters are walking slowly through some luminous fog, which, come to think of it, is itself an image bootlegged from one of the stories, which I guess in a way is the best case-in-point for what I'm trying to put across here, which is that the stories have great collective energy, a strikingly original and slightly hypnotizing sense of mood. Shades of Rebecca Curtis and Richard Brautigan, a kind of gentle insistence (like waves lapping a boat hull, but insistently) that identity and being and sexuality and self--and, too, degrees of so-called realism in fiction--are, or ought to be, or desire to be, fluid.
Visit Justin Taylor's website and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever: Stories.

Writers Read: Justin Taylor (March 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Chris Ewan

Chris Ewan is the award-winning, bestselling author of seven novels: The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam, The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris, The Good Thief’s Guide to Vegas, The Good Thief’s Guide to Venice, The Good Thief’s Guide to Berlin, and the standalone thrillers Safe House, which was a number one bestseller in the UK, and the recently released Dead Line.

Recently I asked Ewan about what he was reading. His reply:
Some titles I finished reading not long ago, and would recommend highly, include:

Letters to my Daughter’s Killer by Cath Staincliffe. This moving and powerful novel is told exclusively in letter form by a mother writing to the person responsible for her daughter’s murder. Sometimes books are published that have interesting or unusual structural conceits and it can be at the expense of story. Not here. Staincliffe has written a page-turning, beguiling and haunting novel about grief, guilt and the complex dynamics of forgiveness.

The Hunter’s Oath by Jason Dean. An addictive action thriller with a strong hook and a cleverly constructed mystery at its heart. James Bishop’s sister has been attacked and left for dead in New York City. Bishop vows to bring the people responsible to justice, unaware of the lengths he’ll be required to go or the challenges he’ll face. Bishop is an emotionally conflicted yet highly capable and dangerous hero, and someone you’ll want to hang out with time and again.

Meanwhile, I’m in the process of reading another couple of crime novels.

Anya Lipska’s Where The Devil Can’t Go is shrewd, witty and compelling; cleverly combining elements of the police procedural novel with the maverick PI sub-genre in a London-based mystery that explores secrets and lies at the heart of the city’s Polish community. Police detective Natalie Kershaw and Polish fixer Janusz Kiszka make for a fascinating and potentially explosive team.

I wish I’d read Tom Franklin’s wonderful Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter years ago. Franklin’s descriptive writing is spectacular and he conjures his Mississippi backdrop with real flair and a distinctive style. I’m fifty pages in and can already tell this will be one of the finest novels I’ve read in quite some time.

As for the future, next up I’ll be moving on to Stav Sherez’s The Devil’s Playground and Claire McGowan’s The Dead Ground, both of which I’m looking forward to enormously.
Visit Chris Ewan's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Good Thief's Guide to Paris.

The Page 69 Test: The Good Thief's Guide to Vegas.

The Page 69 Test: The Good Thief's Guide to Venice.

The Page 69 Test: Safe House.

--Marshal Zeringue