Monday, April 30, 2012

Susan Woodring

Susan Woodring grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina. Her publications include a first novel, The Traveling Disease, and Springtime On Mars: Stories. She has been published in Passages North and a variety of other literary publications. She won the 2006 Isotope Editor's Prize, has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, and was a notable mention in Best American Short Stories 2010.

Her new novel is Goliath.

Earlier this month I asked Woodring what she was reading.  Her reply:
I am almost finished reading the Hunger Games trilogy and am completely obsessed! I first heard of these books a few years ago, when the first book came out. A friend recommended it, but I was reluctant to dive in. The premise was interesting to me, but not interesting enough. I read for character rather than plot. Don't get me wrong--I love a good story--but what really makes me feel invested in a novel or a story is being able to identify with the characters, at least on some level. To really enjoy a book, I need to feel like I, as the reader, am getting to see something really spectacular or horrifying or heartbreaking about the characters. And, so, I was at first skeptical about a book that seemed, at first glance, to be so much about what happens instead of who it happens to.

When I finally did pick up The Hunger Games, I was happy to see the book has both a great plot and well-developed, intriguing characters. Haymitch, Peeta, Prim, I like them all, but it was Katniss I fell in love with. While I don't have a lot of experience with futuristic scarcity-fueled dictatorships, I was able to connect with the book because Katniss is so easy to relate to. I appreciate that she is both flawed and heroic, both strong and vulnerable. She is such a fourteen-year-old. It really warms my heart to read of her challenges and struggles. I feel both maternal towards her and like she and I could be the same person--she makes me remember was fourteen felt like, and makes me realize the part of me that's still fourteen, both fearless and utterly, constantly terrified. I love it. I'm almost finished reading the third book and both want to race ahead to see what happens and to just stop reading so that it will never end...
Visit Susan Woodring's website.

The Page 69 Test: Goliath.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Nick Dybek

Nick Dybek is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He is the recipient of a Hopwood Award for Short Fiction, a Maytag Fellowship, a 2010 Michener-Copernicus Society of America Award, and a Granta New Voices selection. He lives in New York City.

His new book is When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man.

A couple of weeks ago I asked Dybek what he was reading. His reply:
I haven’t read enough fiction lately, mostly because I’ve been researching a project that takes place in the aftermath of World War I. Luckily, many of the books on the subject are astoundingly good. I just finished Peter Englund’s The Beauty and the Sorrow, which completely knocked me out. The book focuses on the wartime experiences of a handful of people from all over the world—soldiers in Italy, Turkey and the Middle East; nurses in Russia, Poland and Greece; school children in Germany; bureaucrats in France. Some survive the war and some don’t.

Many of the stories are, for lack of a better word, amazing. I found myself reading entire pages aloud to my wife, and cutting off friends at dinner as I recounted the scenes. In one passage a British officer in Africa takes cover from enemy fire only to be attacked by the angry bees whose hives have been shot out of the jungle canopy. In another passage a starving Russian prisoner digs through a heap of hospital refuse for a filthy crust of bread. When a nurse takes pity on him and feeds him a bowl of soup his stomach explodes and he dies almost immediately. In yet another passage a soldier wakes from a near-death experience in an Italian hospital, certain that he has been chosen to survive so that he can put an end to the war.

Englund, who relied on letters, diaries, and memoirs to reconstruct these scenes, is a wonderful storyteller with a sharp eye for detail. His own prose is lucid and propulsive, but the best moments in the book occur when he steps back and quotes from the original sources. In these expertly chosen passages, the reader gains intimate access to consciousnesses whose sensitivity and humanity are familiar, even in the face of unbelievable strain and danger. Ensign Arnaud matter-of-factly reports that as he “spied out over no-man’s land it would sometimes happen that I thought the posts holding our thin network of barbed wire were the silhouettes of a German patrol crouching there on their knees ready to rush forward.” By then Arnaud couldn’t even trust his own senses and had to rely on those of the man next to him in the line. “As long as he didn’t see anything, there was nothing there,” he writes.

Englund doesn't focus only on trenches and shellfire. The book abounds with quieter moments that throw the violence and hardship into sharper, even more unbearable relief. Pal Kelemen, a Hungarian Cavalry officer describes his visit to an officers’ brothel by writing, “Time passes. The evil looking pianist is still playing. Something very familiar—the music that was played to me in a girl’s room at home when I came to say farewell. Ages ago. Far from here.” In reading the book, one wishes, foolishly perhaps, that Kelemen and the rest of the cast were eventually able to describe their experiences with the war in similar terms: ages ago, far from here. For the reader, though, the First World War has seldom felt more immediate.
Visit Nick Dybek's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 27, 2012

Zoë Marriott

Zoë Marriott lives in a little house in a town by the sea, with two rescued cats, a springer/cocker spaniel known as The Devil Hound, and over 10,000 books. Her first YA novel -The Swan Kingdom, a fairytale retelling based on Hans Christian Andersen's 'Wild Swans' - was written when she was only twenty one, and published to wide critical acclaim when she was twenty-four. She has since had two more award-winning young adult fantasies published, and has five further novels scheduled for publication in the next four years.

Her reply to my recent query about what she was reading:
I'm the sort of person who inevitably leaves half-read books lying around everywhere, in the same way that a snail cannot help producing a silvery trail of slime. You can trace my path though life in piles of books on the stairs, stacked up next to my bed, balanced on the edge of the bath, forgotten between pots of herbs on the kitchen windowsill.

I recently finished reading - in one sitting no less! - an ARC of Sarah Rees Brennan's new YA novel Unspoken, which is a kind of modern Gothic mystery with added humour and fantasy elements. It had all the things I love about Diana Wynne Jones, like intriguing and subtle magic, jokes, twisting characterisation, and all the things I love about Mary Stewart such as atmosphere, tangible setting, romance. I loved it and can't wait for the next in the series.

I'm also re-reading Fumi Yoshinaga's life-affirming manga series Flower of Life, about a wildly varied group of would-be-artists, teachers, and friends who struggle through the final years of Japanese high school together, their lives revolving around one of their number who has recently recovered from leukemia. I always remember to tell people how hilarious and beautifully written Flower of Life is, but I sometimes forget to say how truly moving and poignant the character's journeys are as they learn to connect with each other and themselves. I recommend this to anyone who is searching for a way in to manga.

For relaxing before bed, or when I'm indulging in a long soak in the bath, I've got The Unknown Ajax by the incomparable Georgette Heyer. This classic historical novel blends thoughtful commentary on the responsibilities and prejudices of the privileged, sly humour, cunning character portraits and one of the best - and most unexpected - romantic leads of all time. Move over Mr Darcy.

When I need inspiration for my current work in progress - a YA urban fantasy series - I dig out and re-read Ilona Andrews wonderful Kate Daniels novels. These are adult post-apocalyptic fantasies with a simply fabulous, fearless heroine and the kind of non-stop breathless pacing that makes me green with envy. They remind me that if you're stuck, there's no better remedy than to have a sword-wielding demon leap through the door!
Visit Zoë Marriott's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Augusta Scattergood

Augusta Scattergood is a former librarian turned book reviewer turned middle-grade author. Originally from Cleveland, Mississippi, she now lives in St. Petersburg, Florida and Madison, NJ.

Glory Be, her first book, is now out from Scholastic.

Earlier this month I asked the author what she was reading.  Her reply:
I'm most excited because today's mail brought an ARC (Advanced Reader's Copy) of one of my favorite author's newest middle-grade novel. On the Road to Mr. Mineo's by Barbara O'Connor has a great cover. A one-legged pigeon! Can't wait to begin. It just went to the top of my large stack.

I'm also reading a review copy of Ace Atkins' The Lost Ones. He's a fellow Mississippi writer and I'm reviewing it for Delta Magazine (based in the Mississippi Delta). Face-paced detective novel. Great setting, love the complicated characters.

May B., by Caroline Starr Rose. I'm about to interview her on my blog so I'm actually re-reading this. Middle-grade historical fiction set on the prairie, a novel-in-verse. Perfect for April, Poetry Month.

Old Filth by Jane Gardam. I finally read it! Even after hearing so much about the novel, I was resistant somehow. I wonder if it was that title. (The acronym for Failed in London Try Hong Kong.) It couldn't be that it's British because I adore British humor. As it turns out, this may be one of my favorite books of recent reading. I have it on my nightstand to reread, or at least to refer to when I read the companion book.

Writing Yoga: A Guide to Keeping a Practice by Bruce Black. I've just started this and I'm underlining a lot. Too soon to tell if I'll follow his advice forever, but I like that he gives his readers permission to keep a journal, yet never have to read it again. I do love yoga. I'm not that great at journaling…
Visit Augusta Scattergood's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she first got hooked on ancient Rome while watching "I, Claudius" at the age of seven. She wrote her first book during her freshman year in college, retreating from a Boston winter into ancient Rome, and it was later published as Mistress of Rome. A prequel followed, titled Daughters of Rome, and then a sequel--the newly released Empress of the Seven Hills--written while her husband was deployed to the Middle East.

Recently I asked Quinn what she was reading.  Her reply:
As a historical fiction writer, I naturally read a lot of HF. A new Bernard Cornwell novel or Margaret George saga is always an excuse to drop everything I have planned for the day, and give in to an orgy of reading. But I try to dip into other genres too, in the spirit of expanding my horizons, and I've found some great new books that way. My latest reads:

Fear by Michael Grant. I've never been hugely enthusiastic about YA dystopian novels, but I dipped into Grant's Gone series on a whim and was instantly glued. Think Stephen King's Under the Dome crossed with Lord of the Flies - a small southern California town finds itself in turmoil when an impenetrable dome slams down around it, expelling the adults and leaving only the 15-and-under crowd inside. Chilling, inventive, and harsh; with some thought-provoking things to say about leadership, violence, and children forced to grow up too young.

The Sister Queens by Sophie Perinot. I picked up this high-medieval debut with some trepidation, since the author is a friend of mine and I wanted desperately to love it. What a huge relief when I did love it: the story of two Provencal sisters who end up respectively the queens of France and England. For twenty years their letters cross the Channel, talking of children and crusades and marital problems and bitchy mothers-in-law, as each Queen struggles to balance her own happiness with her royal duties. Even if you know nothing about the Middle Ages, the sometimes rivalrous, always loving give-and-take between these sisters will ring true.

The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham. It occurred to me lately that while I love Somerset Maugham and count his The Razor's Edge among my very favorite books, I had not yet read The Painted Veil, his tale about a frivolous erring wife dragged off by her doctor husband to fight an epidemic in China. I love Maugham's subtlety: he took what could have been a conventional love story (unfaithful wife learns to love her honorable husband instead of her caddish lover) but instead makes it all about the heroine's journey as she tries to get past her own shallowness and bring some honor to a life she recognizes as meaningless.

The Fear Index by Robert Harris. I first found Harris because of his Roman novels about Cicero, but he turns out taut spine-chilling thrillers too, and this is one of his best. An eccentric hedge fund billionaire goes through the day from hell as some mysterious enemy tries to destroy his life – and could it have anything to do with the fact that the world markets are taking a nosedive? Fascinating how Harris managed to take such a dry technical subject – the world of high finance stockbroking – and turn it into something so compulsively page-turning.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. Not a book I'd ordinarily have picked up, but I like to read big bestsellers just to see if I can figure out what makes them so popular. This one resonated: the interlinked stories of three college grads and their subsequent struggles with love, career, and the meaning of life. Anybody who has ever graduated college with an English degree, no job prospects, and no idea what you want to do with your life will sympathize. And what a tender, unexpected ending.
Visit Kate Quinn's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

J.T. Ellison

J.T. Ellison is the international award-winning author of eight critically acclaimed novels and multiple short stories.

Her latest novel is A Deeper Darkness, the first featuring medical examiner Samantha Owens.

A couple of weeks ago I asked Ellison what she was reading.  Her reply:
I’m reading two fantastic, and very different novels right now. The first is Game of Thrones: A song of Fire and Ice by George R.R. Martin, the epic fantasy series that is currently enjoying a smashing run on HBO. I watched the first season of Game of Thrones and was mesmerized, then a friend told me I needed to read the books. He warned of the graphic violence and the way women are used as everything from chattel to a path to the throne, but that didn’t sway me. I’ve often found that the women in these stories are clever and conniving and stronger than first blush indicates. But I turned my Dad onto them first, and he spent a month in his chair, engrossed. I’m so glad we can finally talk about the stories, and last night, I turned him on to Game of Thrones on TV. He agrees it is exemplary.

The second novel I’m reading is Harlan Coben’s latest, Stay Close. It took a single line, the very first, to get me invested. Coben is the master of the genre, at the top of his game with both plot and character, and aside from the creepy nightmares I’ve been having, I am hooked. I love it when I’m disappointed to set a book down – that’s how I feel with both these titles.
Visit J.T. Ellison's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: A Deeper Darkness.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 23, 2012

Ginger Strand

Ginger Strand is the author of Inventing Niagara, a Border’s Original Voices choice, and Flight, a novel. Her nonfiction has appeared in many places, including Harper's, OnEarth, The Believer, and Orion, where she is a contributing editor. She grew up mostly in Michigan and now lives in New York City, but spends a lot of time on the road.

Her new book is Killer on the Road: Violence and the American Interstate.

Earlier this month I asked Strand what she was reading.  Her reply:
I always have two stacks of books. The one by my desk is books for my current projects. These include The Swamp, a history of the Everglades by Michael Grunwald, a biography of the physicist Irving Langmuir called The Quintessence of Irving Langmuir, Men and Volts, the classic history of GE by John Winthrop Hammond, and everything by and about writer Kurt Vonnegut. Yes, everything. I had a lot of it already, but I had to fill out my collection at the local indie bookstore and when I walked up to the counter with an armload of recently reissued books, the clerk said, “Whoa. That’s a lot of Vonnegut.” He said it like it was maybe a bad idea. Time will tell.

My second stack of books tends to hang out on the bedside table, or to lie around on the coffee table. These are what I think of as pleasure reading, even though I always enjoy reading, even for work. Right now the pleasure pile includes a great collection of short stories from Tin House called Fantastic Women, the hilarious novel Homeland by Sam Lipsyte, Joyce Appleby’s history of capitalism, The Relentless Revolution, and The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Philips, because, besides capitalism, what could be more fun than someone having managed to write a convincing “lost” Shakespeare play?
Visit Ginger Strand's website.

The Page 99 Test: Killer on the Road.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Meg Donohue

Meg Donohue has an MFA from Columbia University and a BA from Dartmouth College. Born and raised in Philadelphia, she now lives in San Francisco with her husband, daughters, dog, and a weakness for salted caramel cupcakes.

The newly released How to Eat a Cupcake is her first novel.

Recently I asked Donohue what she was reading.  Her reply:
Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell

I'm reading (and loving) this tightly written, pressurized collection of linked stories that features a cast of female characters exploring what it means to be girls, women, wives, daughters, and mothers. The protagonists are quirky, funny, and poignant, propelling the stories in unpredictable directions. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a book with sharp prose and strong female leads.
Visit Meg Donohue's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: How to Eat a Cupcake.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 20, 2012

Jim Robbins

Jim Robbins is a frequent contributor to the science section of the New York Times. He has written for Smithsonian, Audubon, Vanity Fair, The Sunday Times, Scientific American, the New York Times Magazine, Discover, Psychology Today, Gourmet, and Condé Nast Traveler. He lives in Helena, Montana.

His new book is The Man Who Planted Trees: Lost Groves, Champion Trees, and an Urgent Plan to Save the Planet.

Recently I asked Robbins what he was reading. His reply:
I’ve been reading a tiny book, just 128 pages, called The Creation of Consciousness, by Dr. Edward Edinger, who was a leading Jungian until his death in 1998. In spite of its pint size it’s endlessly fascinating and I keep picking it up and re-reading parts of it. This book talks about how the real crisis these days is in human awareness – essentially that we are cut off from our true source of spirituality, our larger selves, and operating instead based solely on our ego. When we heal this split, and become aware of our true selves, things will change for the better. It might sound a little woo-woo, but Edinger approaches it with the rigor of a scientist. He believes an expansion of consciousness is now under way, whether we want to experience it or not. I hope he’s right – I think an increase in consciousness is the only thing that can rescue us from our folly, though an involuntary expansion of conscious will not be easy.
Visit Jim Robbins's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Caitlin Carenen

Caitlin Carenen is Assistant Professor of History at Eastern Connecticut State University. Her new book is The Fervent Embrace: Liberal Protestants, Evangelicals, and Israel.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the historian what she was reading.  Her reply:
I must confess that the nature of my work tends to limit the time I read for pleasure, but when I do get the opportunity, it reminds me of the enormous joy reading fiction can bring. In the case of Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, I acquired a copy in an airport shop and began reading it while in Oxford, England where I was delivering a conference paper. I picked it up for a few reasons. A friend recommended it, my family couldn’t stop talking about it and, well, the title (of course) intrigued me. How could a book entitled The Historian become an international best-seller? How often are historians, librarians and academics the heroes? I could imagine the collective eye-rolling of my students. The subject matter, however, gave me pause (Dracula?!). Perhaps it was a reflexive reaction to Twilight. So with a bit of suspicion, I began reading. And I could not put it down.

Kostova’s descriptions of the transformative experience of international travel for an academic moved me. Upon visiting the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, one of the characters notes, “Looking back at that moment, I understand that I had lived in books so long, in my narrow university setting, that I had become compressed by them internally. Suddenly, in this echoing house of Byzantium—one of the wonders of history—my spirit leaped out of its confines. I knew in that instant that, whatever happened, I could never go back to my old constraints. I wanted to follow life upward, to expand with it outward, the way this enormous interior swelled upward and outward.” I’d had a similar experience walking between the shrines of Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I in Westminster. It changed my life. Moreover, I found its settings particularly potent as I’d just visited most of the major locations in the book—Oxford, Istanbul, Romania—within the last year. Sitting on a park bench outside Christ Church College, reading, the eerie overlap of the settings with my recent travel itinerary began to make this novel very real.

Travel literature aside, I found The Historian served as a perfect metaphor for historical research. How many of us have grown increasingly pale and weak as we spend hours, days, years, feverishly researching our topics in the dusty bowels of libraries and archives? We aren’t chasing Dracula, but we are chasing something that consumes us. Setting the overall plot within the structure of historical detective work allowed me to overcome the sensational subject of vampires and embrace the characters with sympathy. Telling the story through story-telling (a father recounts his history to his young daughter) also provided an appealing analogy—we research our subjects, they come alive, and then we tell their stories. As humans, as researchers, as writers, as global citizens, we do indeed, as Kostova warns, “bequeath [our] history...”
Learn more about The Fervent Embrace at the New York University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Caitlin Carenen's The Fervent Embrace.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Joseph Olshan

Joseph Olshan is the award-winning author of ten novels including Nightswimmer and The Conversion. He spends most of the year in Vermont.

His latest novel is Cloudland.

Earlier this month I asked Olshan what he was reading. His reply:
I am reading two books at present. The first is The Eustace Diamonds by Anthony Trollope, the third novel in the Palliser series. Most Trollope fans will understand it when I say that reading his novels is like eating candy. They have wonderful, intricate plotting, great characters, they give an instructive overview of the political scene in England during the 19th century, and they dissect and parse the vagaries and traditions of the upper classes. Trollope is particularly good at creating feckless yet compelling young men. I blistered through Phineas Finn and look forward to Phineas Redux, which is the novel in the series that follows The Eustace Diamonds.

The other book I am reading is Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard. This is an amazing non-fiction account of the life of President James Garfield, an extraordinary dark horse of a fellow who is assassinated and whose well-being becomes the obsession of Alexander Graham Bell, who believes that one of his inventions can save the president's life.
Visit Joseph Olshan's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Conversion.

The Page 69 Test: Cloudland.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Jenny Lawson

Jenny Lawson is a columnist and one of the most popular bloggers on Twitter with hundreds of thousands of followers. Her blog averages between 2-3 million page views per month. Lawson lives in the Texas Hill Country with her husband and daughter.

Her new book is Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir).

Recently I asked her what she was reading.  Her reply:
Right now I'm reading The Visual Dictionary and I'm rereading Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. One of my favorite collections of books ever.
Visit Jenny Lawson's blog.

Read more about Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 16, 2012

Richard Harland

Richard Harland is the author of many fantasy, horror, and science fiction novels for young readers, including Worldshaker, Liberator, the Eddon and Vail series, the Heaven and Earth Trilogy, and the Wolf Kingdom quartet, which won the Aurealis Award. He lives in Australia.

His reply to my recent query about what he was reading:
Right now I'm reading A Darkling Plain, which is number four in Phillip Reeve's "Mortal Engines" series. Great steampunk fantasy (or steampunk science fiction, whichever you like to call it), especially for anyone who's read the three previous novels. Airships, predatory mobile cities, underwater limpets, Stalkers—A Darkling Plain brings together all the best elements of the series; plus Tom, Wren, Anna Fang, Fishcake and even Hester coming back on stage. Maybe it wouldn't be so great for a reader who didn't know the world from the previous, but I love that world and I just want to keep reading more and more of it.

To be honest, I love it now, but I hated it when I first read book number one, Mortal Engines. Not because it was so bad but because it was so good—and because Reeve's world had a definite resemblance to the juggernaut world I'd been planning for ten years! Grrr! Gnash! I was furious that he'd snuck in ahead of me. It took me six months to get over the disappointment and realize that, in spite of similar world-features, the mood and tone of my story was totally different. Since Worldshaker came out—and this April, its sequel Liberator—nobody has accused me of copying from Mortal Engines, so I can now enjoy Reeve's books with no pangs of rivalry!

(I exaggerate: one single blogger accused me of copying, but since he hadn't read Worldshaker, I don't reckon that counts. Yes, in synopsis, it can sound similar …)

I haven't finished A Darkling Plain yet, so I don't know if it wraps up the series once and for all. I guess the novel doesn't quite have the beautifully taut story of Predator's Gold (book number two), and it can't have the mind-blowing originality of Mortal Engines as book number one. But I can't put it down …

When I say I can't put it down, I mean I can't put my iPad down, because I downloaded it for reading on my iPad. A new experience for me! I had an eye operation three weeks ago, which went without a hitch, I'm happy to report! But now I need reading glasses, and I can't have myself tested glasses until the eye has settled down. So I'm reading A Darkling Plain on my iPad in large print, super-huge font size! My wrist would be aching if I had to turn so many pages, but a tap on the side of the screen, and the story goes whizzing past!

My other favorite reading in the past three weeks has been The Spook's Apprentice [US title--Revenge of the Witch], by Joseph Delaney. (Yes, I've been catching up on a lot of YA stuff.) A great supernatural story, where the hero has to learn how to quell and control different kinds of ghosts, boggets and witches. It presents some truly eerie scenes and develops some creepy old-style tension. Not all ghosts, boggets and witches in Delaney's world are bad, but when they're bad, boy, are they bad! The story works from a relatively simple scenario and keeps on drawing new twists and turns out of it.

I think it was more scary for me because I didn't actually read it, I listened to it. After the eye op, I bought some audio books (the iPod size ones for which I use my own ear-buds, so handy!) Listening to somebody tell you a ghost story is somehow far better than reading one for yourself. Pauses, lowered voice, the kind of thrilling delivery that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck ... All I can say is, I did some of my listening when I was out walking for exercise, and I could've kept walking and exercising or hours!

Another audio book I listened to was non-fiction, The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge. I reckon those new discoveries are really interesting—about how the brain isn't fixed, one part for each function, but can re-wire itself. It wasn't great to listen to as audio book, though—I found myself often wanting to fast forward (which I couldn't do unless I jumped all the way to the next chapter). Too much hagiography on the academic researchers in the field—they were supposed to be charismatic, but that's not how they came across to me. Fiction is the place for characters! I'd have preferred to hear more about the ideas—not the small-grain research detail but the big picture of what it all means. I think Doidge must be very much oriented to Freudian psychoanalysis, because he consistently slanted his interpretation that way.

I did like the idea that thinking about exercises can develop muscle strength and tone to at least 30% of what you'd get from actually performing them. Now that's my sort of brain!
Visit Richard Harland's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Wiley Cash

Wiley Cash is from western North Carolina. He has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and teaches English at Bethany College.

His stories have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Roanoke Review and The Carolina Quarterly.

Cash's first novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, is now out from William Morrow.

Recently I asked the author what he was reading. His reply:
Right now I’m reading Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick. It’s an incredible study of what people there face every day. It actually reads like fiction, and it’s heartbreaking when you stop and consider that it’s all true. I grew really interested in North Korea after reading Adam Johnson’s stellar novel The Orphan Master’s Son. Like Demick, he was actually able to visit North Korea while being accompanied and monitored by “minders.” Even with first person accounts and fictional stories by people who lived and traveled there, it’s amazing how much we don’t know about the country.
Visit Wiley Cash's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 13, 2012

Robin Wasserman

Robin Wasserman is the author of the Seven Deadly Sins series, Hacking Harvard, and the Skinned trilogy, which bestselling author Scott Westerfeld called "spellbinding." She has a master's degree in the history of science, and is fascinated by Renaissance philosophy, religion, magic, science, and the interplay among them.

Her new novel is The Book of Blood and Shadow.

Earlier this month I asked Wasserman what she was reading. Her reply:
When I was a kid, I was always the kind of person who had three or four books going at once (one to read over dinner, one to hide under my covers, one to hide under my desk at school, one for the bathtub, etc - you can see what my childhood was like). I seem to be heading back in that direction, although I've now learned better than to try to pair reading and showering. (At least until someone gifts me with a waterproof Kindle.) These days my apartment is littered with half-read books, and I pick one or the other up depending on what I'm doing. This week, I'm just back from a trip, which means David Foster Wallace's Consider the Lobster, one of my all time favorites, for the plane. Usually when I'm flying, I try to find something so fast-paced and riveting I won't notice the time passing -- a couple weeks ago, that was Peter Straub's terrifying Ghost Story, a Stephen-King-esque novel about small town evil. But for this trip, I didn't have time to go to the bookstore. Fortunately, Consider the Lobster, a book of ridiculously brilliant essays about things like tennis, politics, lobsters, and porn, turns out to be the perfect go-to flying book, not because you fly through the pages, but because you're forced to puzzle out every single sentence, taking apart the prose like a puzzle. Your brain is working so hard to get through the essay that you barely notice the flight attendants spilling drinks on your head. So I saved that for the plane rides; while I was actually on the trip, I read whatever I could find lying around the hotel's little library, which meant Colson Whitehead's Zone One and Rick Riordan's Lightning Thief. Zone One is a post-zombie-apocalypse novel, ie it's set during the cleanup efforts of a zombie apocalypse, when all that's left to do is mop up the remaining undead and try to forget about that time you saw mommy eating daddy's brains. Needless to say, it is terrifying. But also beautiful. The Lightning Thief, on the other hand...well, I probably don't need to say anything about that one except that I'm a moron for not reading it sooner and I can now see why it has a zillion fans, but in case you've been living under a no-children's-books allowed rock: It's the story of a kid who discovers he's the son of a Greek God and is thus totally screwed, in the most fun way possible. Basically Harry Potter, but with lightning bolts and tridents. Suffice to say: It was more fun than the vacation.
Visit Robin Wasserman's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Daniel O'Malley

Dan O’Malley graduated from Michigan State University and earned a Master’s Degree in medieval history from Ohio State University. He then returned to his childhood home, Australia. He now works for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, writing press releases for government investigations of plane crashes and runaway boats.

His debut novel is The Rook.

Not so long ago I asked O’Malley what he was reading.  His reply:
I’ve always got a few books on the go, at least three – a new one, a re-read, and a research book. My current re-read is Death Before Wicket by Kerry Greenwood. Greenwood is a fellow Australian author and this is one of her books about the Hon. Phryne Fisher, a woman of style and elegance who solves murders in 1920’s Melbourne. Except that this one is set in Sydney. Now, although I am a huge fan of Phryne Fisher, I was a little wary the first time I read this because I am not a fan of cricket. It’s unpatriotic, but I can’t lie about it. I find cricket boring. However, this book is not really about cricket, and it is definitely not boring. Instead, it is about the odd characters at a university, and the period’s fascination with the occult. It features Phryne at her very best: sophisticated, merciless, and not averse to picking up the odd lover or two.

The research read is History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey, Volume 1: Empire of the Gazis: The Rise and Decline of the Ottoman Empire 1280-1808 which, like its title, is long and scholarly. But, it’s ideally suited to what I’m interested in. The author, Stanford J. Shaw, has given the reader an extremely good description of the Ottoman Empire. If you want to know how the empire came to be (and I do), this book gives you an excellent narrative, showing the big picture. However, if you want to know the nuances and peculiarities of life in Topkapi Palace (and I want that as well), this book shares all the little details. Terrifically useful.

My latest acquisition is From the Deep of the Dark by Stephen Hunt. Now, I’m only sixty-some pages into this one, and normally I would hesitate to comment, since I’m still getting the taste of it. However, this is the sixth book in Hunt’s Jackellian series, and so I can spout its praises without any hesitation. The Jackellian books are characterized by having ten thousand ideas crammed into them, any one of which could make a book by itself. Overall, I suppose you could characterise them as steampunk, but it’s steampunk with artificial intelligence, fairy-created mutants, genetic manipulation, sorcery, and pneumatic buildings. This one has a heroine whom I already like, and the promise of some claustrophobic terrors under the sea. I was home ill today, feeling so bad that I couldn’t concentrate even on a book this good. But any Jackellian novel is worth faking being sick to stay home and read it – if your supervisor doesn’t read your website.
Visit Daniel O'Malley's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 9, 2012

James Reese

James Reese is the New York Times bestselling author of The Dracula Dossier, The Book of Shadows, The Book of Spirits, and Witchery.

His new book is the YA novel, The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mademoiselle Odile.

Recently I asked Reese about what he was reading. His reply:
What am I reading? Hmm. Let me look at the stack next to my comfy chair. Oh, yeah…

There’s The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan, which I finished two days ago. Decided to explore a few literary takes on “out there” subjects – may get to Colson Whitehead’s Zone One soon, too – and decided to tackle the Duncan after Anne’s Rice’s The Wolf Gift (in keeping with a four-legged theme, I suppose). I loved the originality of the Duncan and eagerly await this summer’s sequel, Talulla Rising. Props, too, to Mr. Duncan for making me laugh out loud at one point, a rare feat while I’m reading. (For those of you so inclined, I’ll tell you it happened with the first line of Chapter 23 – a nod to some classic Gothic lit that was both so in character and so in keeping with the storyline, I really got a kick out it.)

On the egghead side of things, I’m proud to say I’m finally (finally!) just over two hundred pages away from finishing Proust. It’s been a six-month project; and though it’s been tough going at times, I’ve been under its spell for quite a while now, and happily so. True: Not much happens, but it doesn’t happen so beautifully, in prose that is truly spellbinding (the Scott Moncrieff translation for me, merci bien) and this seven-novel novel is reflective of a worldview that is so utterly complete it seems to me every novelist’s duty to give it a go at some point. But yes, it’s a commitment. No argument there. My advice: Commit!

Dipping into Wilde’s Dorian Gray, again. It’ll be my read on a flight to Boston tomorrow.

And picked up The Story of Art, by E.H. Gombrich at the Brooklyn Museum of Art recently. A classic. Clarity in a field – art history – not exactly known for its clarity. The other non-fiction I’m working on now is Babel No More, an investigation of polyglots, or people who somehow manage to learn multiple languages. Fascinating.

Finally, as I’m writing YA and Middle Grade fiction now too, and loving it, I’ve just finished Jane, by April Lindner, which riffs on Jane Eyre and eagerly awaiting Carl Hiassen’s next, Chomp.

That’s it for now, ‘cause if I start to move the stacks of books surrounding my chair I’m afraid they’ll start to fall.
Visit James Reese's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Dracula Dossier.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Tiffany Baker

Tiffany Baker is the author of the New York Times bestselling The Little Giant of Aberdeen County and the newly released The Gilly Salt Sisters.

Recently I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
If you know my books, you’ll know I am sucker for magic and myths, so I guess it makes sense that I’m devouring Kathryn Harrison’s Enchantments right now, which is all about the end of the Tsar’s rule, told in the voice of Rasputin’s daughter. I am mildly obsessed with all things Russian—from their pre-history, to the times of Tsars, all the way up to current events. Harrison’s book is so lush with detail, I can almost taste the snow, and it’s a fantastic blend of history and fable. I love the way she incorporates the Russian fairy tales I knew as a child into the story. If you’re not familiar with Baba Yaga, I highly encourage a little research. She’s an old woman who lives in the forest in a hut made of bones and set on chicken feet, and she flies through the air in a mortar and pestle. She scared the bejesus out of me when I was little, and now I have great fun spooking my own kids with stories about her.

In that vein, one book I have on order is From Beast to Blond, by Marina Warner, who is a British literary/social critic. Her new book is called Stranger Magic, which I also plan to read. She deals with what fairy tales mean, and why magic is so important. I have a PhD in Victorian literature, so sometimes I like to get my academic nerd on, and read about what literature means in the bigger scheme of our lives. Why do we read fiction? What do our national and cultural myths mean? Who tells what stories and why? These are all important questions for a novelist to ask, I think.

One book I just finished that I was surprised I liked was A Sense of An Ending, by Julian Barnes, which of course won the Booker Prize. My husband convinced me to read it, and I did so in one sitting. That book just messes with your head. It’s the kind of book you immediately turn back to the beginning of and start over, where everything you thought you knew is wrong. Genius. Also, it strikes me as a very male novel. I believe that men and women internalize and deal with aging very differently. We look at the past differently. I think the books I write are heavily feminine, so this was an excellent glimpse into the male psyche.

We need to talk about cookbooks. I read them the way some folks read novels. I’m working through Nigel Slater’s Tender right now—a love song to all things vegetable. Also, he’s an amazing writer.

In between all of this, I’m always a couple of days behind on The New York Times, and, of course, I have to keep up with everyone on Twitter, and all my friend’s writing blogs. My fellow novelist Joshilyn Jackson is a hoot online, and there’s also Mary Doria Russell, Eleanor Brown, and Margaret Dilloway. I love the Internet and the digitization of books. Now, I can read everything, all the time, everywhere, on any kind of device. What’s not to love about that?
Visit Tiffany Baker's website.

Read more about The Gilly Salt Sisters.

The Page 69 Test: The Little Giant of Aberdeen County.

--Marshal Zeringue