Sunday, December 30, 2007

Michael Boylan

Michael Boylan is Chair of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies at Marymount University.

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His response:
  • pieces on the role of fiction as a way to promote philosophical claims
  • pieces on the place of blood in pre-Platonic bio-medicine
Books: nonfiction--
  • translations of Kant's Critique of Judgment
  • review of my translation of Plato's Republic
Books: fiction--
  • Don DeLillo, White Noise
  • Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory
  • Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter
Boylan's many publications include The Extinction of Desire and Basic Ethics.

He applied the Page 69 Test to The Extinction of Desire: A Tale of Enlightenment, "a novel that seeks to portray a philosophical depiction of the author’s worldview theory," and applied the Page 99 Test to A Just Society, Boylan's original worldview theory of ethics and social philosophy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Seth Harwood

Seth Harwood teaches writing and literature at the City College of San Francisco and Chabot College. In July 2006, he began the Jack Palms Crime Podcast Series.

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I’m reading Eight Million Ways to Die right now by Lawrence Block. Basically I’ve been sandbagged repeatedly by how good I find Block to be and how consistently excellent his work is. This is my first Matthew Scudder novel and I’ve been really impressed by how Scudder’s alcoholism sets the tension here and drives his motivation. His constant battle against drinking makes me care for this character and fear what he can get into.

I’m also reading Declan Burke’s The Big O and Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke is right next to my bed. Tree of Smoke is a big book, and I’m not likely to make much of a dent in it until I have some real free time, but he’s one of my favorite writers around and I think this book might just be his masterpiece.

For the classes I’m teaching now, I’m reading Capote’s In Cold Blood, a truly great, pioneering book in American creative nonfiction, and Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad Is Good for You, which makes me want to watch TV and feel good about it. On that note, I just finished watching the second season of Showtime’s Dexter, which I think is the best thing around by a mile, even up on The Sopranos level. I had to read the Lindsay books after I started watching the series, I just finished his second one, actually, and I find the series to be even better. I love the way it builds the different characters into complete people that you have to care about — all of them!
Harwood's stories have been published in Post Road, Ecotone, Inkwell, Sojourn: A Journal of the Arts, and The Red Rock Review, among others, as well as in the online journals Storyglossia and His story “White” was nominated for a Pushcart prize.

His novel Jack Wakes Up will be available in print in March 2008.

Visit Seth Harwood's website, his blog, and his MySpace page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Howard S. Becker

Howard S. Becker lives and works in San Francisco. His latest book is Telling About Society.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
We're just back from France, where we now spend (since retiring, what a blessing that was!) three months a year. That's one of the things that's affected what I read, as is my tendency to read whatever some friend sends me or suggests I have a look at. So my reading is, if not exactly random, not very directed or orderly. Never has been, since I'm not one for the conventional scholarly review of literature conventionally thought relevant to what I'm working on.

Enough evasion. The book on top of the pile, the one I'm reading right now, is one sent me by an old friend in Brazil, Gilberto Velho, who edited a book of essays by his friends and colleagues called Rio de Janeiro: cultura, polîtica e conflito, which deals, like all such collections, with a mixture of topics: race, class, urban problems, popular music. Rio is the place to study such mixtures and the essays, mostly by anthropologists, keep you up to date on what's happening there.

I'm halfway through another book on cities, Sur les traces de La Bièvre Parisienne: Promenades au fil d'une rivière disparue, by Renaud Gagneux, Jean Anckaert, and Gérard Conte, which traces the path of a river that used to run right through the Parisian Left Bank and empty all the garbage, sewage and industrial waste if had collected into the Seine. It's no longer visible anywhere, having been covered over and diverted into sewers, and buildings erected over it. Its former course runs right under the apartment building we stay in when we're in Paris. So Roberta Shapiro lent me the book, which is filled with old pictures and maps, meticulously showing you what the river looked like when it was still visible and what its course looks like now that it's completely built up.

Another friend, Harvey Molotch, wants to discuss a new book by Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory, and so I'm rereading that. Latour is one of the most original thinkers in my field of sociology in a long time and his ideas, though clearly and even amusingly stated, are unconventional enough to confuse people who can't quite believe that he means what he says. I read people like Latour the way my mentor, Everett C. Hughes, recommended I read the great sociologist Georg Simmel, not trying to grasp his "theory," whatever that might be in all its integrity, but just looking for ideas that could be useful. (It's the way I read Wittgenstein, on the rare occasions when I do.) Latour doesn't disappoint, there are plenty of useful ideas on every page.

I read what even I regard as an inordinate number of mysteries. Right now I’m reading Don Winslow's The Winter of Frankie Machine, which I grabbed of the local library shelf because I'd liked his The Death and Life of Bobby Z.

Having just upgraded my Mac to the Leopard version of OSX, I've ordered a book which will explain how to use that.

And then there are the large number of copies of The New Yorker, which piled up while we were gone and contain enough interesting things to keep me busy for a while.
Learn more about Howard S. Becker and his scholarship.

Read about Telling About Society at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 17, 2007

Michael Dowling

Michael Dowling is one half of Tobias Druitt, the author of Corydon and the Island of Monsters, Corydon and the Fall of Atlantis, and finally Corydon and the Siege of Troy.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I am often reading several books at once, a mixture of novels and books for research or school. At the moment I am reading three novels and two research books, though both the latter overlap with my schoolwork. One of the novels is Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey. I came to it through Eragon because whenever I told my parents anything about it they said that it sounded as if it was derived from the Dragonriders of Pern books. This is the first of them, and it is really great, with great descriptions and original ideas - and I can see Eragon is very obviously in debt to it.

Another novel I am reading, or to be more accurate rereading is The Winter Prince by Elizabeth E. Wein. This is one of the best twists on the Arthurian myth I have read, combining ideas about a Celtic Arthur with African myth in an incredibly interesting way.

One of my two research books is The Lion and the Unicorn by Richard Aldous. It is about the rivalrous careers of Gladstone and Disraeli, the two greatest speech writers and speakers of the 19th century, and among the best politicians in England. One was a witty, clever man who brought the Peel administration crashing down with a series of remarkable speeches, the other stolid and stern, who was prime minister no less than four times, and amazing at Greek and Maths to boot. I am reading this to research my fifth book, which will feature the young Disraeli (I’m editing my fourth now).

Sahib by Richard Holmes is my second research book, about the experiences of English Soldiers in India during the period from the start of East India company rule through to 1914. It is interestingly written, mainly focusing on letters and diaries kept by the soldiers and using them as a reference point for the rest of the book. I am reading it too for my fifth book, which will feature the Pashtuns who have lived in Afghanistan since Alexander the Great’s time.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce is my last novel and is probably the most challenging on my list, but I am steadily working my way up to rereading Ulysses again; when I last read it I didn’t understand it very well. It is very interestingly written and I especially admire the thought processes which are like actual thoughts and not like the standard writing of thoughts in books. I also like the repetition of phrases, which is very like Homer.
The Guardian interviewed Dowling earlier this year.

Learn more about Michael Dowling and his writing at the Tobias Druitt website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Stephanie Elizondo Griest

Stephanie Elizondo Griest's books include her award-winning memoir Around the Bloc: My Life in Moscow, Beijing, and Havana (Villard/Random House, 2004) and her guidebook, 100 Places Every Woman Should Go (Travelers' Tales, 2007).

Earlier this month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
After hitting 35 cities on book tour this year, I am crazy grateful to be tucked away in a bungalow on the South Texas Bay for the month. Most of my waking hours are consumed by my memoir, Mexican Enough: My Life Between the Borderlines, which comes out in August 2008. But I'm savoring a little pleasure reading too. Three books (and a stack of New Yorkers) occupy the bedside table at present:

--The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. This book is so genius, I can hardly stand it. Díaz blends twentieth century history of the Dominican Republic with street philosophy, sci-fi, and racial politics plus all the elements of good story telling: character development, plot, dialogue, and WICKED humor. It's the most exhilarating novel I've read in years.

--Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela. I'm heading to South Africa and Mozambique in January, so am using this as a primer. Mandela is a charming narrator, and his story is astounding.

--What is the What by Dave Eggers. I heard Eggers read an excerpt long before publication, and found it deeply moving. I've been lugging this tome around for months and can't wait to delve in.
In 2000, Griest was a political reporter at the Austin bureau of the Associated Press, where she covered George W. Bush’s last legislative session as governor and his bid for the presidency. Before that, she edited and taught journalism at China Daily, the English mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, while serving as a Henry Luce Scholar in Beijing. During her three month tenure as a Scotty Reston Fellow at the New York Times, she wrote about male belly dancers, Latina film makers, and dentists who replace canines with fangs. An article she wrote about religious cults for the Washington Post garnered her a spot on the 1996 USA TODAY All Academic First Team. She also covered Seattle's grunge scene for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Austin's drag queens for The Texas Triangle. She contributed to the anthologies Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times (Basic Books, 2004), Lengua Fresca: Latinos Writing on the Edge (Mariner Books, 2006), and Go Your Own Way (Seal Press, 2007). Her travel adventures have appeared in Latina Magazine; Bitch Magazine; World Pulse Magazine; Traveler’s Tales: Cuba; Traveler's Tales: A Fork in Her Road; Traveler’s Tales: Turkey; Traveler's Tales: China; Traveler's Tales: Whose Panties are These?; Traveler's Tales: A Woman's Europe; Traveler's Tales: Hyenas Laughed at Me and Now I Know Why; Traveler's Tales: Best of Traveler's Tales 2004; Travelers' Tales: Best of Women's Travel Writing 2006; Traveler's Tales: Prague and the Czech Republic; Travelers' Tales: Another Women's World; Q Magazine; and Many Mountains Moving.

Read an excerpt from Around the Bloc and visit Stephanie Elizondo Griest's website.

The Page 99 Test: Around the Bloc.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Chuck Thompson

The first editor in chief of Travelocity magazine, Chuck Thompson’s work has appeared in Maxim, The Atlantic, Esquire, National Geographic Adventure, and Escape, among many others. He has played in a variety of bands, and worked as an ESL instructor, DJ, and assistant sergeant of arms in the Alaska House of Representatives.

His new book is Smile When You're Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer.

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I'm currently reading a couple things at once (my usual habit):

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man: The Shocking Inside Story of How America REALLY Took Over the World, by John Perkins. This is one of the books that people read and pass along to friends with "you gotta read this thing" insistence. It's a very readable memoir of the author's career serving the U.S. government as an "economic hit man," selling massive construction and infrastructure projects to developing countries (Ecuador, Indonesia, others), using the IMF and World Bank to reel foreign governments into massive loans they will never be able to pay off. When it becomes apparent they will never be able to repay their debts to the U.S., we "trade" them small chunks of debt cancellation in exchange for favors such as UN votes or military bases. This all seems like high conspiracy stuff, but Perkins did the job for decades and lays out in very simple and convincing fashion how it all works, A to Z. Perkins is a bit of a self-promoter himself so you have to wonder about the legitimacy of everything in the book, but if you have any interest at all in how the backroom deals of world affairs work, this is an eye-opener.

Henderson the Rain King, by Saul Bellow. Having just returned from a month in Africa I remain immersed in all sorts of Africa reading. Before leaving on my trip, I'd plowed through four or five good but tragic histories of the continent (King Leopold's Ghost, African Madness, etc.). Upon my return home, I decided to pick up this terrific Saul Bellow novel which I read back in college. It's a much different "Africa" than you get in social history texts — extremely funny, warm, and engaging. I've only read two or three Bellow novels but re-reading this one confirms that it's my favorite.

Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches From America's Class War, by Joe Bageant. A newspaper reporter pal of mine handed me this book a few days ago and just said: "Read it. You won't be disappointed." I'm only a couple chapters into it but the writing and reporting are first rate. It's a populist take on the trials of the underclass — both liberal and conservative — but told with a lot of empathy. So far, a very astute take on the oft-overlooked "masses."
Visit Chuck Thompson's website and read an excerpt from Smile When You're Lying.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Carolyn Hart

Carolyn Hart is a mystery writer who has won multiple Agatha Awards.

Her books include the popular "Death on Demand" mystery series, the "Henrie O" mystery series, and Letter from Home.

Last week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
So many books, so little time . . .

I am currently reading My Heart May Be Broken, But My Hair Still Looks Great by Dixie Cash. A delightful entertainment, authentic as Tony Llama boots and genuinely heartwarming.

Recently read:
Holidays and Homicide by Dorothy Howell, forthcoming in 2008 from Kensington. Clever, fun, and sure to succeed.
A Vicky Hill Exclusive! by Hannah Dennison, forthcoming in 2008 from Berkley. A riotous romp.
Mother Angelica's Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality, collected by Raymond Arroyo. A savvy nun with a gift of gab who knows life and shares her faith.

Recently re-read:
A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie. One of her cleverest.
Think Fast, Mr. Moto by John Marquand. A fly-on-the-wall view of life in China and Hawaii in the nineteen thirties.

In the stack to be read:
Still Life by Louise Penny
Hard Row by Margaret Maron.
Set Sail for Murder is the latest "Henrie O" mystery. About the book, from the publisher:

When retired newspaper reporter Henrietta O'Dwyer Collins, Henrie O to her friends, receives a call for help, she discovers that love once kindled never burns to ashes. Although she refused Jimmy Lennox's marriage proposal, there is still a special place for him in her heart. She wished him well when he found happiness with Sophia Montgomery, world-famous documentary filmmaker and stepmother to the now grown heirs of a great fortune. Sophia is at odds with the heirs, and Jimmy fears for her safety. He asks Henrie O to come along with the family on a Baltic cruise. Henrie O can't turn down her old friend, though old passions are stirred when he calls.

On the voyage she soon realizes this dysfunctional family is plunging toward destruction and one of the travelers has murder in mind. As the ports of call pass — Copenhagen, Gdynia, Tallinn, St. Petersburg — death inexorably approaches. Henrie O works desperately to save Jimmy and to bring hope to lives blighted by anger, resentment, and heartbreak.

Read more about the author and her books at Carolyn Hart's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 10, 2007

Ian Patterson

Ian Patterson teaches Modern English Literature at the University of Cambridge, where he is a Fellow of Queens’ College. His latest book is Guernica and Total War (Harvard University Press).

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Michaelmas Term at Cambridge has just ended: for the last ten weeks I have hardly had time to read anything apart from the texts I've had to re-read each week for my teaching. But the pile of books on my desk has continued to grow regardless, and I've finally been able to make a start on it today. I've also had a chance to think about picking up again the books I had to lay aside back in September. Here are a few of the books I've been looking forward to reading or to taking the time to think about properly.

First of all, J. H. Prynne's extraordinary account of Wordsworth's poem 'The Solitary Reaper', in Field Notes: 'The Solitary Reaper' and others (distributed by Barque Press). This is not an essay so much as a series of interconnected and extended glosses on the poem itself, its context, and a whole world of other matters implicated in and by the poem. Not only are we led to think more deeply than usual about the actual nature of Wordsworth's lyric, and the nature of hearing and apprehending song, poem or voice, but we can also discover how the reaper's activity, and her song, fitted into the rural economy, and how the occasion of the poem and the writing of it existed within Wordsworth's (and the Wordsworths') life and writing practices. It is a lucid, learned, unpretentious, and excitingly sustained commentary. It's quite a short book, but it is a model of how, ideally, one might read a great poem.

New books of poems, too, are awaiting my attention. I'm very much looking forward to getting to grips with two, in particular: Marjorie Welish is a poet (and a painter) of rare exactitude, beauty and exaction. A Test of Spacing (Cartalia Poetry Series, Equipage, c/o Rod Mengham, Jesus College, Cambridge CB5 8BL, UK) is her most recent book, dense with investigations of what writing is, and I shall be reading it alongside Carol Watts's new book Wrack (Reality Street Editions) and Keston Sutherland's Hot White Andy (Barque Press), each of which confronts the difficult matter of writing against the Iraq war.

The other two titles which are occupying my mind on this front are Peter Cole's The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain 950-1492 (Princeton University Press), a revelatory collection of a body of work previous unknown to me, brilliantly recreated by one of the finest living translators; and a special issue of the Chicago Review (53: 1 Spring 2007) featuring four very different and very interesting poets from England, some abrasive criticism, and a clutch of helpful reviews.

I read Clair Wills's wonderful history of Ireland during the Second World War, That Neutral Island: A Cultural History of Ireland During the Second World War (Harvard: Belknap Press), before it was published in the spring, and I'm already reading it again. It uses literature, popular culture and social history as well as high politics to provide a complex and comprehensible account of the difficult dynamics of the period, and (apart from being beautifully written) it really brings that culture to life and illuminates the writing that came out of it. As soon as I've finished it, which I don't want to do too quickly, I shall plunge into Volume 1 of David A. Moody's new biography of Ezra Pound (Oxford University Press).

Talking of plunging, one novel I did manage to read was Don DeLillo's Falling Man (Scribner). It's had a mixed press, but I thought it was genuinely good. I like the way he writes, anyway, but the sometimes disorienting economy of this novel matches its scrupulous care with human voices and their beings; and the uncanny presence of the beautifully superfluous and finally redundant falling man himself effectively functions in the text as a figure for creative consciousness, inevitable memory, and the embrace of gravity, holding everything together and dying in defiance of entropy. Stunning. Next in line in the pile beside my bed is Ali Smith's new collection Girl Meets Boy (Canongate), which reworks Ovidian metamorphosis for the modern world, according to the blurb. Ali Smith is another writer with an authentic tact, and I'm really looking forward to it.
The Page 99 Test: Guernica and Total War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Mindy Klasky

Mindy Klasky is the author of eight novels in a range of genres from urban fantasy (with a healthy splash of chick-lit sensibility) to traditional fantasy. She has also written a number of short stories and essays.

I recently asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
When I'm in the midst of writing, I tend to avoid my genre. Overall, I try to alternate my reading between non-fiction, so-called-literary fiction, and genre fiction.

While enjoying Thanksgiving vacation, I indulged in a fantasy read (one more indication that I wasn't writing!): Naomi Novik's Black Powder War. This novel is the third volume in Novik's acclaimed fantasy series, where she envisions the Napoleonic wars as if dragons were an active force on both sides. I am not a historian, and I know precious little about warfare; however, the brilliantly realized characters keep bringing me back to this series. I love the way that the main dragon, Temeraire, acquires and expresses a social conscience, and his conversations with his captain, Laurence, typically make me smile. I'd recommend these books for classic fantasy readers, history readers, and any readers who want to study the craft of character creation.

I also recently finished reading Ball Four, by Jim Bouton. This memoir is written in the form of a diary over the course of one baseball season, in 1969. When the book came out, it was a sensation, mostly because Bouton named names and told true stories about the behind-the-scenes antics of major ball players. I have become a baseball fan in the past five years, and I very much enjoyed reading this insider's view on the game. The book, though, goes well beyond baseball, as Bouton discusses the Vietnam War, racism, sexism, and financial inequality. I would recommend this book for any student of contemporary American social history, along with any baseball fans.

Next up on my to-be-read list is a collection of Barbara Kingsolver essays, High Tide in Tucson.
Mindy Klasky's books include Sorcery and the Single Girl in the Jane Madison Series -- which describe the trials and tribulations when a librarian-witch is invited to join her local exclusive Coven -- and The Glasswright Series, the story of Rani Trader, a merchant girl who witnesses an assassination and is accused of being the killer. Even after she brings the true killer to justice, she struggles to find her place in her highly caste-bound, religious society.

Visit Mindy Klasky's website and her blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 7, 2007

Diane Purkiss

Diane Purkiss is the coauthor of the Corydon trilogy, written with her son Michael under the penname Tobias Druitt.

Purkiss's own latest book is The English Civil War: Papists, Gentlewomen, Soldiers, and Witchfinders in the Birth of Modern Britain.

She is now working on a history of food and eating.

Not long ago, I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I always have several books going at once - one lives in my bag so I'm never caught without something to read, and I dig it out in any queues, delays, missed appointments, on public transport.... In my bag now, I have Nell Stroud's autobiographical Josser, about life in a circus; it's much funnier and more touching than Angela Carter, but I'm reading it for the purposes of working on my fifth novel with my son; one of the characters is a trapeze artist.

I also have at least one novel going at any given time, and right now it's Les Miserables, which I'm rereading joyfully and tearfully - one of my favourite books ever (but I hate the musical) and I also have Proust's The Captive, part of In Search of Lost Time. They both make wonderful reading for the historian in me because they are both about time and the individual. And Proust is fabulous for thinking fastidiously about food, my current research topic.

Also by my bed I have Elizabeth Wein's remarkable The Sunbird, allegedly a children's book but actually brilliant at any age; it's about plague and trade, and it's the boldest mythic rethinking I know.

And finally, I always have a volume of poetry, and it's Edward Thomas, whose poems about the English countryside are a constant inspiration for all my writing, fiction and nonfiction.
Diane Purkiss is a Fellow and Tutor at Keble College, Oxford.

Her books include the highly acclaimed The Witch in History and At the Bottom of the Garden. She holds a B.A. from the University of Queensland, and a Ph.D. from Merton College, Oxford. She lives in Oxford, England.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Jennifer Ackerman

Jennifer Ackerman’s most recent book is Sex Sleep Eat Drink Dream: A Day in the Life of Your Body.

I recently asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I've been thoroughly enjoying Michael Sims' new book, Apollo's Fire. Sims is an insightful and talented writer, author of Adam's Navel, which I loved. Apollo's Fire is a journey through the planet's oldest narrative, the cycle of day and night. Michael's writing is often praised for its wit and erudition. In this new book -- in the clarity and elegance of its prose and its astonishing alchemy of art, history, literature, mythology, and solid science -- it's easy to see why.

I know from experience that shoe-horning sophisticated science into fluid narrative is no easy task, but Sims makes it seem so. Reading Apollo's Fire is like walking one whole turn of day with a curious and engaging friend, impossibly well read, who asks the questions you wish you'd thought of, and then answers them in lucid, beautiful, playful language: Sun dogs and moon shadows, contrails, the strange story of ozone, the border habitat of twilight, the nature of sunlight and the physics of wind, the myth of Apollo and the story of Phaethon. Best not to fly through this book, but to saunter, musing. Then run out and buy copies for your friends and family to keep on their nightstands. They'll thank you for it.
Ackerman's other books include Chance in the House of Fate: A Natural History of Heredity and Notes from the Shore. A contributor to National Geographic Magazine, The New York Times, and many other publications, she is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including a 2004 NEA Literature Fellowship in Nonfiction and a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Her articles and essays have been included in several anthologies, among them Best American Science Writing (2005), The Nature Reader (1996), and Best Nature Writing (1996). Ackerman’s work aims to explain and interpret science for a lay audience and to explore the riddle of humanity's place in the natural world, blending scientific knowledge with imaginative vision.

Learn more about Jennifer Ackerman and her work at her website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Daniel Kalla

Dan Kalla spends his days (and sometimes nights) working as an Emergency Room physician at an urban teaching hospital. His first two novels, Pandemic and Resistance, were medical thrillers. They were followed by two suspense thrillers: Rage Therapy and Blood Lies. His global medical thriller Cold Plague will be released in early 2008.

Late last month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
My reading pattern tends to be erratic. Sometimes, I am all over the map reading five or six books concurrently, and usually ineffectively, while other times I’m faithful to one book at a time. Like now, when coincidentally I am reading Ken Follett’s The Pillars Of The Earth. I say “coincidentally” because my wife informs that it’s Oprah’s upcoming Book Club selection. Also, the sequel to this eighteen-year-old novel was just released in October. I claim ignorance on both fronts. I picked up the book on the zealous recommendation of a friend. (And prior to the age of Oprah’s endorsement, I understand that such word of mouth recommendations were the best way for a book to move off the shelves.)

So far, The Pillars of the Earth has not disappointed. Set in twelfth century Europe, it’s the story of the building of a grand cathedral. While chalk full of period detail and architectural snippets, it’s not one of those painfully heavy novelized tomes where you feel as if you are being spoon fed history like back in grade school. Follett seamlessly weaves in sympathetic lead characters like Tom the Builder (the name says it all) and an ambitious monk named, Philip. He’s also tossed in plenty of romance, intrigue, and high stakes political gamesmanship. My only one criticism is that at times I find the characters show a bit more twentieth than twelfth century sensibility. But that’s a flimsy complaint, because I don't have a clue how people thought or acted in the 1100s.

I have no idea how it ends, but I’m eager to find out. And I suspect that Follett won’t let me down.
Visit Dan Kalla's website and read an excerpt from Blood Lies.

Learn more about the forthcoming Cold Plague.

The Page 99 Test: Blood Lies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 3, 2007

Nichelle Tramble

Nichelle D. Tramble is the author of the critically acclaimed debut novel The Dying Ground and its sequel, The Last King.

Not long ago, I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I recently joined which, of course, made me get serious about book cataloguing. Last time I checked I was up to 1800 books. The organizing also reminded me of all the books I want to read.

I just finished Fun Home, the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. This title came highly recommended and it lived up to all the hype. I admit to being late to the party. This was the very first graphic novel I've ever read and I was impressed by the artwork and the honest prose. Bechdel's forthright depiction of her family, their struggles and how she came to terms with her past just blew me away.

I am reading two nonfiction titles as I slowly make my way through a new novel. I've looked forward to One Drop by Bliss Broyard for a long time. Years ago, I read the New Yorker article about her father, Anatole, and how he passed as white for the majority of his adult life. Philip Roth's interpretation of the events of Broyard's life were depicted in The Human Stain (a favorite) but I was eager to hear from the Broyard family. So far the book is a an emotional journey through a troubled family history.

On the other end of the spectrum is I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon. Zevon led a colorful life, often ugly, always full throttle. I'm taking my time with this one. His last album, The Wind, and the song "Keep Me In Your Heart" led me to this book.

On the fiction front, I just cracked open And She Was by Cindy Dyson. I'm a sucker for a first novel and this one has all the elements I love. Interesting locale, troubled protagonist, a mystery element, and historical references I know nothing about.
Read an excerpt from The Dying Ground and an excerpt from The Last King.

Tramble is also a writer on ABC's Women's Murder Club.

Learn more about the author and her work at Nichelle Tramble's website and her journal. She is a member of The Finish Party, which was profiled in O Magazine, October 2007.

--Marshal Zeringue