Sunday, June 30, 2013

Amber Kizer

Amber Kizer is the author of the popular Meridian trilogy.

Her newest YA novel is A Matter of Days.

Earlier this month I asked Kizer about what she was reading; her reply:
The Book of Leaves by Allen J. Combes, The Life and Love of Trees by Lewis Blackwell, Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants, by Tom Brown Jr. These books are just a few of the research I’m putting into a new series that focuses on trees and human interactions. I am intrigued by the newest science of plants and trees, in communication styles and adaptability—though I’m still in the early stages of stewing all this information into fiction. A lot of the idea came to me while working on the survival research for A Matter of Days—so at least in my brain it’s spinoff reading from that project. There’s always an element of fun in work research so I don’t separate out my reading piles.

For the love of word and story I am reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman—while only a hundred pages in I am utterly entranced by the characters. I’m drawn to characters—I think that’s why they play such a role in my own work. I haven’t read all of Gaiman’s work but I haven’t been disappointed yet. I’ve got Elizabeth Boyle’s historical romance Along Came a Duke going—it’s witty, dainty and enjoyable. Ray Bradybury’s Green Shadows, White Whale is a book that makes me think while laughing—hard to walk that line but he does it beautifully. And Joe Hutto’s Illumination in the Flatwoods about raising wild turkeys rounds out my current stack with nonfiction and the character of nature and wildlife. I have about fifteen more books started and going in various stages but these are the ones that have their hooks in me at the moment.
Visit Amber Kizer's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Matter of Days.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 28, 2013

Karen Brown

Karen Brown is the author of a novel The Longings of Wayward Girls (July 2013), and two short story collections, Pins & Needles (July 2013) and Little Sinners and Other Stories, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize, and named a Best Book of 2012 by Publishers Weekly. Her work has been featured in The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, Best American Short Stories, the New York Times, and Good Housekeeping, and in many literary journals.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Brown's reply:
I am on a rereading binge. I’m diving back into Juliet Barker’s The Brontes: Wild Genius on the Moors, the new edition of her 1994 biography about the unusually gifted Bronte family. I’m drawn to the siblings and the worlds they created in their little sewn books as children. Their lives provided plenty of material—the dreary schools they attended, their work as governesses—but they were so imaginative that they were able to transcend their own material. Barker details each of them succumbing, one by one, to consumption—the dramatic way, for example, that Emily died—refusing to accept that she was ill and forging through her daily chores before she was forced to admit she could not go on; Anne’s attempt to hold death at bay by visiting the seaside at Scarborough, and dying on the lodging house’s sofa. Interesting, too, is sole survivor Charlotte’s control of her sisters’ works once they were gone. While I often hear people mention how bleak and isolated their lives were, reading the biography I sense the bleakness was greatly offset by the writing itself. Next on the rereading list: Wuthering Heights, The Professor, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
Learn more about the book and author at Karen Brown's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 27, 2013

David Housewright

David Housewright is the Edgar Award and three-time Minnesota Book Award-winning author of the Rushmore McKenzie and Holland Taylor novels as well as other tales of murder and mayhem in the Midwest.

His new book, The Last Kind Word, is the 10th of Housewright's Twin Cities P.I. Mac McKenzie novels.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I just started The Yellow Admiral, one of the nautical adventures featuring Lucky Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, by Patrick O’Brian. I’ve been hoarding these books, knowing that there are only twenty (this is number 18).

I used to read six, seven mysteries and crime novels for every non-mystery - which is probably why I became a crime writer. I was so immersed in the genre that my stories always seemed to have a man coming through the door with a gun in his hand. My first book - Penance - was meant to be about political corruption, not unlike the stuff written by Gore Vidal. Yet as I was outlining it, it occurred to me that if I threw a few dead bodies on the floor it would make a cracker-jack mystery. I did. It won the Edgar Award for Best First Novel. And so it goes.

But now - fifteen books later - I find that I am reading six, seven non-mysteries for every mystery. Partly, it’s because I understand the structure of the crime novel so well that I can usually figure out whodunit quite quickly. But mostly it’s because I want my crime novels to be about much more than who killed Mr. Body in the library with a candlestick. I want them to deal with the issues and themes that you’ll find in “literary” works.

So, these days you’ll find me reading E. L. Doctorow, Louise Edrich, and Khaled Hosseini as well as Dennis Lehane, William Kent Krueger, and James Crumley.
Visit David Housewright's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Kind Word.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Reavis Z. Wortham

Reavis Z. Wortham is the author of The Rock Hole, hailed by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Top 12 Mystery Novels of 2011. A finalist for the Benjamin Franklin Award, the second novel in this Red River Series, Burrows, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

The newly released third novel in the Red River Series is The Right Side of Wrong.

A couple of weeks ago I asked Wortham about what he was reading.  His reply:
I’m a voracious reader, in fact, I believe I’m truly addicted to books. That’s a problem when you’re a writer. I want to read when I’m writing, but when reading, I feel guilty I’m not writing, at infinitum.

I average three to four books a week, despite my writing schedule. Here are the most recent, and a few thoughts.

Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell. He’s one of the authors who truly inspired me to write, along with Robert Ruark, Keith Roberson, William C. Anderson, and Jules Verne. Eclectic. David is one of those authors with the ability to instantly catch a reader’s attention and hold them throughout the entire novel. Morrell suspenseful mystery takes us back to the real Ratcliffe Highway murders that occurred in London during the mid-1800s. The father of Rambo weaves this account in a Victorian fog of conversation and detail that rings true to life. He is truly a master writer.

On occasion, I’ll find that rare book that makes me read the last sentence, and then immediately go right back to the beginning to read it again. In fact, that’s only happened three times. The first was when I was a kid and read The Old Man and The Boy by Robert Ruark. The second time was Tim Dorsey’s Florida Roadkill (what a ride!).

The third is Edge of Dark Water, by Joe Lansdale. I was talking with Joe a while back and told him that book should have been nominated for a Pulitzer. I love period, or historical novels, and this east Texas coming of age novel has been compared to Huckleberry Finn. During the Great Depression, a teenage girl who once dreamed of a Hollywood career is found murdered in the Sabine River. Her young friends Sue Ellen, Jinx, Terry set out on a raft to spread her ashes in Hollywood, but they are pursued by a number of ill-tempered characters intent on getting back some money stolen by the dead girl’s brother. This was one of those novels that should have gone on to the thickness of Lonesome Dove. Oh, and my first novel The Rock Hole was compared to Joe’s work, so how could I pass this one up?

I stumbled across The 5th Wave, by Rick Yancey. I’d never heard of him before (sorry Rick), but his apocalyptic novel quickly caught my attention. I’m an old fan of these “end of the world” works, beginning with Pat Frank’s Alas Babylon, which I also read in junior high. The Earth’s last survivors struggle to resist the fifth wave of attacks by aliens who have figured out a way to turn everyone against themselves. Yancy kept my attention, without zombies, vampires, or mutants. Give it a shot.

Dean Koontz and Stephen King have been my go-to guys since I first discovered their original works, when those works were original. Deeply Odd, the newest in Koontz’s Odd Thomas series once again felt familiar and comfortable. This mind-twister pits Odd Thomas against a crime that hasn’t happened yet, and he is forced to chase down a homicidal stranger who will kill three people if Odd and the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock can’t combine their odd talents to stop him.

And finally, (I could go on and on and on), Stephen Hunter once again fascinates me with his plots. In The Third Bullet, Hunter brings back Bob Lee Swagger. Moviegoers will know his work from Shooter, starring Mark Wahlberg. The books are infinitely better. This time Hunter looks back at an old story, the granddaddy of all conspiracy theories. Using facts from the Warren Commission and his own extensive knowledge of ballistics, Swagger constructs a complicated but plausible theory a third assassin, and the group that used Oswald as the fall guy. There are hundreds of conspiracy novels out there, but this one rings true. Was there a third shooter?

Joe Pickett continues to work as a game warden in C.J. Box’s latest Pickett novel, Breaking Point. Mix in the Wyoming mountains, elk hunters gone rogue, murder, the EPA, the EPA using drones to kill the elk hunter gone rogue in the mountains, and an incredibly exciting escape from a wildfire down a fast, deadly river, and you have one of the best thrillers of the year.

With space as a premium, here’s a brief list from the past month, both current and older books, fiction and nonfiction: Man in the Blue Moon, Michael Morris; Inner Circle, Brad Melzer; The Innocent, Taylor Stevens; Damage Control, John Gilstrap; Captured (2004), Scott Zesch; Night Moves, Randy Wayne White; All the Earth Thrown to the Sky, Joe Lansdale; A Serpent’s Tooth, Craig Johnson; Purification Ceremony (1997), Mark Sullivan; NOS4A2, Joe Hill; The Tamarack Murders, Patrick F. McManus.
Visit Reavis Z. Wortham's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Reavis Z. Wortham and Willie.

The Page 69 Test: The Right Side of Wrong.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Meg Gardiner

Meg Gardiner was born in Oklahoma and raised in Santa Barbara, California. She graduated from Stanford University and Stanford Law School.

She practiced law in Los Angeles and taught writing at the University of California Santa Barbara. She’s a former collegiate cross-country runner and a three time Jeopardy! champion. She divides her time between London and Austin, Texas.

Gardiner's new novel is The Shadow Tracer.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Heart in my throat, I’ve been reading T. Jefferson Parker’s Border Quartet. These novels—about sheriff’s deputy Charlie Hood and his work with the ATF against gunrunning to the narcotrafficantes—are wise, taut, and beautifully written. They’re about the violent clash between worlds. Lawmen and outlaws. American cops and Mexican drug lords. Struggling, honorable humans and—maybe—a journeyman devil. They’re tough and emotionally true. They’re also a master class in suspense. Any novelist who wants to improve his or her skills should read Iron River and annotate the ways that Parker tightens the screws and keeps the reader turning pages, desperate with dread and hope, dying to know what comes next.

I’m also racing through A Storm of Swords, book three in George R.R. Martin’s series, because my son gave me a week to catch up with the story before he starts telling me all the spoilers from this week’s Game of Thrones episode. So I’d better get back to it.
Visit Meg Gardiner's website, blog, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The Shadow Tracer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 24, 2013

Marion Winik

Marion Winik's books include Highs in the Low Fifties: How I Stumbled through the Joys of Single Living, Telling, First Comes Love, The Lunch-Box Chronicles, and The Glen Rock Book of the Dead, and two volumes of poetry. Her essays and book reviews have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The Sun, Salon, More, and Newsday. Her commentaries for All Things Considered are collected at npr.org. She is a professor at the University of Baltimore.

Recently I asked Winik about what she was reading.  Her reply:
I just finished Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz, by Cynthia Carr, a fascinating account of one of the more exceptional characters taken from us by AIDS in a time that is coming to seem, even to those who lived through it, like a long time ago.

I read the book at the recommendation of Tom Beer, the books editor at Newsday; he put it in his top ten of 2012. Beer described the biography as a companion piece to Just Kids, by Patti Smith, her memoir of her passionate friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe, and that was enough for me to put this 600+ pager on my list. I'm glad I did.

As the avant-garde art critic for the Village Voice through the 80s and 90s, Cynthia Carr knew the artist/writer/activist Wojnarowicz casually, then became close friends with him the year before he died. Losing him, it seemed, plunged her into the project of recreating him on the page. As Wojnarowicz had put out various different versions of his childhood and coming of age, one of her challenges was to sort through the myths and find the truth. This kind of detective work is one of the things I love about biography.

Beyond that, I appreciated the style, depth, thoroughness and seeming effortlessness of the telling. It's hard to handle a subject as complicated and prickly as Wojnarowicz and get the reader over the rough spots in his personality. I recently read a biography of The Lost Weekend novelist Charles Jackson, and I ended up pretty sick of him and his peccadilloes, and sort of annoyed at the biographer, too. Carr avoids this pitfall entirely -- perhaps because she knew and cared for him so much. We get just how vulnerable and how charismatic he was behind that gruff armor.

As someone who lived in New York in the early 80s, I found the detailed account of the downtown arts scene of that time -- Haring, Basquiat, Nan Goldin, Cookie Mueller, various drag queens -- particularly nostalgic. My brother-in-law was a graffiti artist who died of AIDS a couple of months before Wojnarowicz. And my first husband, a beautiful ice-skater and hairdresser named Tony, followed him in two years later. I wrote our story in a memoir called First Comes Love. So, yeah, it's all pretty close to my heart. Losing him, it seemed, plunged her into the project of recreating him on the page.
Visit Marion Winik's website and read more about Highs in the Low Fifties.

Read Coffee with a Canine: Marion Winik and Beau (December 2009) and Coffee with a Canine: Marion Winik and Beau (June 2013).

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Karen Shepard

Karen Shepard is a Chinese-American born and raised in New York City. She is the author of the novels An Empire of Women, The Bad Boy’s Wife, Don’t I Know You?, and the newly released The Celestials. Her short fiction has been published in the Atlantic Monthly, Tin House, and Ploughshares, among others. Her nonfiction has appeared in More, Self, USA Today, and the Boston Globe, among others. She teaches writing and literature at Williams College in Williamstown, MA, where she lives with her husband, novelist Jim Shepard, and their three children.

Recently I asked Shepard about what she was reading. Her reply:
Hula
Lisa Shea
W.W. Norton, 1994

The epigraph of Lisa Shea’s celebrated, but now neglected, first and only novel is from a Jorie Graham poem: “Nothing will catch you. /Nothing will let you go.”

In its ambiguity, it’s the perfect introduction to the slim volume that follows. “Nothing will catch you”: is that comfort or torment? “Nothing will let you go”: is that to be celebrated or lamented? A source of solace or fear? Hula concerns itself with two sisters in Virginia over the course of two summers in the 60s, and it’s the kind of book that reminds us of the possibilities of the unknown even as it depicts its often terrible consequences.

This is a novel that I return to again and again.

A daughter describes two summers in her life with her older sister, her largely absent mother, her tormented father. One of the challenges of writing from a child’s point of view is the problem of rendering the variety and depths of a child’s emotional understanding despite the limitations of her descriptive abilities. Hula’s unnamed narrator offers us almost no introspection at all. In its place, she gives us what children can: sharp and evocative perceptions. She does not, cannot, tell us what all these perceptions mean. That’s up to us, her only audience, the people responsible for the most attention this girl gets.

It’s a book that suggests in clear ways why, despite its many obvious potential pitfalls, so many writers return to childhood in their work. Childhood is a strange and mysterious place. It’s an ambiguous place, and the ambiguous is always a useful place for literature to settle itself. It’s a place of lush imagination and stark fears. The strange becomes the everyday. The routine becomes oddly disorienting.

The writer Steven Millhauser has said, “I want fiction to exhilarate me, to unbind my eyes, to murder and resurrect me, to harm me in some fruitful way.”

I think of this when I think of how our childhoods continue to work on us. I think of this when I read Hula and how it continues, year after year, to work on me. “Nothing will catch you. /Nothing will let you go.” Equal parts murder and resurrection. Lucky us.
Visit Karen Shepard's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Susan Dunn

Susan Dunn has been teaching at Williams College since 1973. The author of a dozen books, she focuses on two key periods in American history: the founding period and the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. Her most recent book is 1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler -- the Election amid the Storm. She is also the author of Roosevelt’s Purge: How FDR Fought to Change the Democratic Party, which won the Henry Adams Prize for History and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in History. With her co-author, Pulitzer Prize-winning author James MacGregor Burns, she wrote The Three Roosevelts and also George Washington. She is also the editor of Something that Will Surprise the World: The Essential Writings of the Founding Fathers.

Recently I asked Dunn about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m reading Joseph Ellis’s engaging Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation. Ellis lives up to his reputation as an outstanding historian. He writes about the founders -- not as serene, wise, and boring “fathers” but rather as brilliant, passionate, and unruly brothers. Yes, they collaborate in founding the new constitutional republic, making it an astonishing success; but they also collide in unexpected ways, sometimes violently. In fact, his opening chapter focuses on the 49-year-old Alexander Hamilton’s death in the famous duel with Aaron Burr -- and on the psychology behind that self-destructive, hopeless act. Another fascinating chapter examines the wrenching problem of slavery -- and is significantly entitled "The Silence." No surprise that Ellis won the Pulitzer Prize for this book.
Read Dunn's New York Times essay, "When Partisans Became Partners," and learn more about 1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler -- the Election amid the Storm and its author at Susan Dunn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 21, 2013

Alex Bledsoe

Alex Bledsoe is the author of the Eddie LaCrosse novels (The Sword-Edged Blonde, Burn Me Deadly, Dark Jenny and Wake of the Bloody Angel), the novels of the Memphis vampires (Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood) and the Tufa novels, The Hum and the Shiver and the newly released Wisp of a Thing.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading.  Bledsoe's reply:
I’ve just started Midnight Blue Light Special, Seanan McGuire’s second “InCryptid” novel. The first one, Discount Armageddon, made me smile more than any book I’ve read in years, and laugh out loud a few times, too. I’m not usually a fan of urban fantasy stories where there are multiple paranormal species (vampires, werewolves, faeries, etc.) all coexisting, but McGuire makes it work by a) not taking it that seriously, and b) absolutely overloading it with paranormal species. The religious mice alone are worth the cover price.

I’m in the middle of Who Was Dracula? Bram Stoker’s Trail of Blood, by Jim Steinmeyer. It’s a wonderfully well-written book about the many real-life people who may have influenced aspects of Dracula’s character. I consider Dracula one of the best books in the horror genre, and I re-read it around Halloween every year. When I wrote my own two vampire novels, Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood, I realized just how omnipresent the character was: every vampire, from those of Anne Rice to Stephanie Meyer to...well, me, owes its existence to Stoker’s count. That cape casts a long shadow. And also, the blurbs on the back cover are by Neil Gaiman, Teller (of Penn and) and Neil Patrick Harris. If something works for a group that eclectic, it’s worth checking out, right?

I just finished reading an advance copy of Vicious by Victoria Schwab, which will come out in September. It’s a combination of X Men and The Count of Monte Cristo, about two medical students who find a way to give themselves super powers, then become lifelong arch enemies. A real page-turner, and a great main character.
Visit Alex Bledsoe's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Blood Groove.

The Page 69 Test: Burn Me Deadly.

The Page 69 Test: Wisp of a Thing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Simon Toyne

Simon Toyne has worked in British television for twenty years. He was the writer, director, and producer for several award-winning shows, one of which won a BAFTA. He lives in England with his wife and family.

Sanctus, the first book of his Sanctus trilogy, has been published in over 50 countries and translated into 28 languages. In the UK it was the biggest selling debut thriller of 2011. The Key, book two of the trilogy, sold twice as many copies as Sanctus in the same period. The Tower, the third volume of the trilogy, is now out in the US.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading.  Toyne's reply:
Like most writers I have several books on the go at any one time: some are research for the new book; some are books that have been staring at me with pleading, puppy eyes for months from a teetering ‘to-be-read’ pile; some are books I’ve read before and am now re-reading before starting the new novel because I think there might be things in them I can steal.

From the ‘research’ category I’m half way through a fascinating book on philosophy called The Great Philosophers by Bryan Magee, which is a sort of primer for western philosophy. The Tower is the last book of a trilogy that is mostly concerned with religious mystery and ideas whereas the new book will have a more philosophical flavour and a sort of action anti-hero at the heart of it who is seeking his identity through the prism of his actions and their meanings. That may sound a little highbrow for an action-thriller but I promise you he also gets to punch people and girls will find him deeply sexy for his poetic and troubled ways.

From the ‘puppy dog eyes/please read me’ category I’ve nearly finished The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, which is a wonderful and tautly written time-travelling serial killer thriller that reminds me a lot of early Stephen King.

And from the ‘things to steal’ pile I’m re-reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Man on Fire by AJ Quinnell and also The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris, because it has now become a ritual with me to re-read it before I start every new book, just to remind me where the bar is.
Visit Simon Toyne's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Sanctus.

Writers Read: Simon Toyne.

The Page 69 Test: Sanctus.

The Page 69 Test: The Tower.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Jennifer Zobair

Jennifer Zobair grew up in Iowa and attended Smith College and Georgetown Law School. She has practiced corporate and immigration law and as a convert to Islam, has been a strong advocate for Muslim women's rights. Zobair lives with her husband and three children outside of Boston, Massachusetts.

Her new novel is Painted Hands.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Zobair's reply:
I’m currently reading Corner Shop by Roopa Farooki. Full disclosure: Roopa blurbed my novel. Fuller disclosure: I have been a fan of her fiction for years, long before I needed blurbs or had a book deal or even an agent. I started with Bitter Sweets and rushed to read Half Life. I was hooked.

Roopa is inordinately skilled at drawing rich, vivid characters, some of whom are such beautiful messes. She doesn’t shy away from the ways we are broken, and the ways we sometimes try to patch those places with things that are harmful to us. Her writing is at once lyrical and unflinching. And although she writes about characters from South Asian backgrounds, there is an unmistakable universality in all of it. We can relate. We might even be some of her characters.

I would still love these books if they were written by someone else. Roopa is a skilled storyteller and these are compelling narratives. That she writes as a Muslim woman, though, is not such a small thing. As a Muslim woman with my own debut novel that may generate some controversy both within and without the Muslim community, I find comfort in her commitment to writing big, bold stories, in her daring to tell the truth.
Visit Jennifer Zobair's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Painted Hands.

My Book, The Movie: Painted Hands.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Anna L. Peterson

Anna L. Peterson teaches at the University of Florida. Her research focuses on environmental and social ethics and the relations between animal ethics and animal advocacy. Her books include Being Human: Ethics, Environment, and Our Place in the World and Everyday Ethics and Social Change: The Education of Desire. Her new book is Being Animal: Beasts and Boundaries in Nature Ethics.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Peterson's reply:
Like most academics, I guess, I’m usually reading several books at the same time, for work and pleasure. I try to be reading at least one that is related to my current research in addition to whichever book I’m teaching (during the semester). I usually have a mystery novel as bedtime reading, and I’m often also reading a book with my youngest son (age 9), who is a good reader but still loves to have me read to him. We just started The Phantom Tollbooth, which is a thrill to read again.

The research-related book I’m reading presently is The Old Brown Dog: Women, Workers, and Vivisection in Edwardian England, by Coral Lansbury. My main research interest right now is companion animal rescue. It’s very different from the other social movements I’ve studied, for several reasons. One of the things that I find most interesting is how difficult this movement is to categorize politically. Animal rescuers are all over the political map, from very conservative to very progressive and often quite “apolitical.” They are often portrayed as individuals acting on behalf of other (nonhuman) individuals, without an overarching philosophy that connects their concern for some creatures to larger moral or political concerns. Many histories of the animal welfare movement reinforce this image by describing animal advocates as elitist, concerned to eliminate working-class entertainment such as cock-fighting and bull-baiting without attacking upper-class pursuits such as fox-hunting. I kept seeing references to The Old Brown Dog as one of the few studies that examined the connections between animal advocates and other progressive movements, especially unions and women’s suffrage.

The book begins with the “Brown Dog Riot” in London in 1907, a conflict over a statue that anti-vivisection activists had presented to the Battersea Council. The statue’s inscription began: “In memory of the brown terrier dog done to death in the laboratories of University College...” Medical students tried to remove the statue, and when thwarted, they attacked anti-vivisectionists physically as well as verbally. Most of the anti-vivisection activists were women, many of whom were also suffragettes. In the riot, trade union activists joined women to fight against the medical students, despite the popular image of working class men as indifferent to animal suffering (and even though unionists generally opposed women’s suffrage).

Lansbury uses the riots as a starting-point for discussing attitudes toward science, women, and class, as well as animals. I like the way she muddies the waters on all these issues, and especially the way she challenges stereotypes about both animal advocates and working class men. She shows how complicated the animal welfare movement has been ever since its origins. I think one of the reasons for this complexity, and for the heterogeneity of the movement then and now, is that people connect with animals for a wide range of reasons. This makes it fascinating and also hard to pin down, and it makes careful documentation of its roots especially interesting.

What I like most about this account is the way it challenges the usual dichotomy of moral consistency (based on abstract principles) and emotion (which is particularistic and inconsistent). The workers’ ability to identify with others’ suffering is both emotional and consistent. The Old Brown Dog is helping me think about similar possibilities in contemporary animal advocacy. My favorite line so far (I’m not done yet) is Lansbury’s description of workers “identifying with the wounded animal, not with the hunters and sportsmen.”
Learn more about Being Animal at the Columbia University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 17, 2013

Joseph Margulies

Joseph Margulies is clinical professor of law and assistant director, Roderick MacArthur Justice Center, Northwestern University School of Law. He has been deeply involved in post-9/11 litigation and scholarship, and his book Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power received the American Bar Association’s prestigious Silver Gavel Award as well as several other awards.

Margulies's new book is What Changed When Everything Changed: 9/11 and the Making of National Identity.

Late last month I asked the author about what he was reading.  His reply:
Presently, I am in Italy, and when I'm here I try to do most of my reading in Italian. I am halfway through the Italian translation of the Agatha Christie classic, Murder on the Orient Express, which I somehow overlooked as a child. I am also reading, Camus Nel Narghilรจ, a novel by Hamid Grine, an Algerian writer. It was translated into Italian this year from the original French. It's a wonderful story about a young man's search to know the father he never understood or loved, told through the device of the author's discovery of the (fictional) son of Albert Camus. Rounding out my forays into Italian, I am reading Camus', The Plague, which is my favorite novel of all time. This is my first attempt at reading it in Italian, however.

Somewhat closer to home (although who knows what home is nowadays?), I am reading a great deal of non-fiction about the Progressive Era, or roughly the late 1880s to the early 1920s. This is for a new book I've started. I am interested in this period because of a change that took place during that time regarding our understanding of the idea of law. That is, what law meant as a symbol in American life changed profoundly during this period, abandoning a vision that had prevailed for more than a century and gradually adopting the understanding that now prevails. So, I am reading books like, The Transformation of American Law, 1870-1960: The Crisis of Legal Orthodoxy, by Morton Horwitz, and The People's Welfare: Law and Regulation in 19th Century America, by William Novak. I have also recently reread, On the Rule of Law, by Brian Tamanaha, and Law in the 20th Century, by Lawrence Friedman.

There's a bunch of other stuff I'm reading about the Progressive Era, but to avoid making this note too long and too geekish, I'll stop there. As a dedicated bibliophile, I'm loving all of it.
Learn more about What Changed When Everything Changed at the Yale University Press website.

Joseph Margulies: Writers Read (June 2007).

The Page 99 Test: What Changed When Everything Changed.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Daphne Kalotay

Daphne Kalotay's fiction collection, Calamity and Other Stories (Doubleday), was short listed for the 2005 Story Prize, and her debut novel, Russian Winter (HarperCollins), won the 2011 Writers’ League of Texas Fiction Prize, made the long list for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and has been published in 21 foreign editions.

Her new novel is Sight Reading.

A couple of weeks ago I asked Kalotay about what she was reading.  Her reply:
Last Friends, by Jane Gardam:

I just tore through this new novel by Jane Gardam. She’s simply one of the best authors writing in English today, and Last Friends is the final book in the wonderful Old Filth trilogy. Old Filth is one of my top ten novels of all time, and I loved The Man With the Wooden Hat as well. In this new book, Gardam again seamlessly shifts from present-day northern England back to World War Two and the complex, fascinating early lives of her now aged characters. I was able to meet Jane Gardam in person when she read at the Harvard Book Store last month, and she said this would be her final book (though her Selected Stories will be released in the future.) I hope that’s not true and that she continues writing!

Children of the New World, by Assia Djebar:

This is a 1962 novel about the early months of the Algerian war for independence--but it was only translated into English a few years ago. It’s an excellent translation, and the novel is very powerful, spanning the perspectives of a range of characters across Algerian society, from a French soldier in love with a nontraditional, provocative Algerian girl to a policeman forced to torture a fellow Arab in order to prove that he is unbiased. I’m impressed not only by the writing and the fact that this was one of Djebar’s first novels, when she was quite young, but also that she wrote it while the war was still going on, without the benefit of historical distance.

Martyr’s Day: Chronicle of a Small War, by Michael Kelly:

This journalistic account of the weeks leading up to, during, and after the 1991 Gulf war is wise, engaging, and emotionally powerful. While clearly explaining the progression of events that culminated in the allied liberation of Kuwait, Kelly movingly describes his interactions with citizens of the various countries affected by the turmoil, from Iraqis hoping against war while awaiting deployment, to Israelis carrying their gas masks around Tel Aviv in anticipation of attack. His great empathy, understanding, and sense of humor, along with precise, energetic prose that recreates scenes vividly and at times terrifyingly, make this an amazing read. Kelly was the first U.S. journalist killed when the Iraq War began in 2003, and reading his take on the first Gulf war makes me realize all that we might have learned from him had he lived to chronicle that war, too.
Visit Daphne Kalotay's website.

The Page 69 Test: Sight Reading.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Brian Fagan

Brian Fagan is an archaeologist, historian, and writer, who spent his early career in Central Africa investigating ancient farming villages. His experiences among subsistence farmers and in university classrooms inspired him to write not only a series of college textbooks, which have been in print for nearly forty years, but also a series of books on climate and ancient societies, the latest of which is The Attacking Ocean: The Past, Present, and Future of Rising Sea Levels. Fagan lives in Santa Barbara, California, with his wife and daughter, also three cats and a varying platoon of rabbits.

Recently I asked the author what he had been reading recently. Here’s Fagan's reply:
I spend a great deal of time reading dreary, impossibly narrow and dull academic literature, so I relax by reading a wide range of non-fiction. For some reason, fiction has limited appeal for me, except for the immortal writings of the English humorist P.G. Wodehouse, which never pale. The task of choosing interesting non-fiction gets ever more arduous, given the tidal wave of (often mediocre) newly published works on every subject imaginable. But here are some of my favorites.

Some months ago, I was asked to review Jeffrey Bolster’s The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail. The author is a sailor and a fisherman, who has been out there and done it, so his account of cod fisheries and overfishing is truly authoritative. He makes the case that overfishing has afflicted the North Atlantic fisheries from the very beginnings of the lucrative European cod trade, fueled by Catholic doctrines that one ate fish on Fridays and Holy Days. This is a beautifully written, densely argued and documented book, but is something I’ve been returning to again and again.

I love Robert Massie’s histories, which display profound, detailed scholarship, yet roll along in an orgy of vivid story telling. Castles of Steel is about dreadnoughts and World War naval warfare, written with a wonderfully analytical eye and character sketches that really give one the essence of the key players on both sides. Massey really takes you back to the days when radar was unknown, gunnery was everything, and battle tactics were still oddly reminiscent of Lord Nelson’s day.

Robert Macfarlane is an English writer, who writes about places and walking with passion and sensitivity. I’ve been returning again and again to his The Old Ways, which describes his wanderings over all manner of rural landscapes, especially in the British Isles. Macfarlane takes me back to the countryside of my youth, where the hectic pace of urban life was far away and there weren’t so many people around. Few people have moved me so profoundly with writing that really makes you feel you are there, alongside him, sleeping in the open, contemplating the view, looking for vanished track ways. I was intoxicated by the book, and still am.

Wade Davis is another of my favorite writers, a love affair that began with his One River, a remarkable book on the rain forest and the Amazon Basin. Now I’m into his Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest, a compelling account of the early exploration of Mount Everest, which culminates in the story of Mallory and Irvine. What makes Davis’s book so remarkable is that he has walked and traveled the rugged country around the great mountain, has interacted with the local people, and used his anthropological background to probe deeply into the relationship between visiting mountaineers and their native hosts. The result is a masterpiece of historical, anthropological and travel writing, which makes obscure explorations of a century ago come alive in the context of an impending Armageddon. Again, this is a book I dip into again and again, to revel in the author’s easy, yet meticulous style, and his priceless ability to get to the nub of complex, often controversial issues. As a writer, I’m humbled by his achievement.
Visit Brian Fagan's website.

The Page 99 Test: Fagan's The Great Warming.

The Page 99 Test: The Attacking Ocean.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 14, 2013

Candice Ransom

Candice Ransom has published over 100 books for children and young adults including the recently released Iva Honeysuckle Discovers the World.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what she was been reading. Ransom's reply:
When I was in New York City a few weeks ago, I almost missed my train home because I went to the Strand Book Store. I staggered around the four floors of towering shelves, thrilled to be among genuine book-lovers and around a knowledgeable, caring staff. Two books by Tim Gallagher (editor of Living Bird, a highly-respected ornithology journal from Cornell) fell into my hands. I started reading them on my way home on the train.

Both books are about chasing extinct woodpeckers. The Grail Bird: Hot on the Trail of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is a romp through the bayou country of the Mississippi Delta. Gallagher actually sights an ivory-bill and you root for him, despite the nay-sayers. Because I live in the south and watch birds, I appreciate the swamp-slogging efforts ivory-bill searchers have made to give the rest of us hope that what was thought lost may be hanging on. I want to believe the magnificent woodpeckers are still there even though the old-growth forests where their calls rang out are long gone.

Imperial Dreams: Tracking the Imperial Woodpecker through the Wild Sierra Madre details Gallagher’s pilgrimage to find the king of all woodpeckers in the wilds of Mexico. His dangerous scramble through the mountains, confronting bandits and drug traffickers, is an adventure that will put you in mind of Victorian explorers thrashing through the jungles of “darkest Africa.” He doesn’t find the imperial woodpecker, most certainly extinct, but he does find people living in the hills that remember the bird and keep it alive through their stories.

Imperial Dreams is more than a book about a bird hunt. It shows that Mexico is a country in tremendous turmoil, poised on the brink of greatness or complete disaster.

And The Grail Bird pointed out that despite heroic efforts to save the last remaining tract of old-growth forest where ivory-bills held their ground, the logging company that owned the land cut the trees down. It was just one bird, their attitude said.

Gallagher’s books make me wonder if we are just one bird away from losing all that’s precious and dear. But wonderful independent bookstores still survive to give us books that matter, just as the imperial woodpecker soars over the mountains in our dreams.
Visit Candice Ransom's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Hugh Aldersey-Williams

Hugh Aldersey-Williams's books include Periodic Tales: The Curious Lives of the Elements, which has been published in ten languages, and The Most Beautiful Molecule, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His new book is Anatomies: A Cultural History of the Human Body.

Recently I asked Aldersey-Williams about what he was reading.  His reply:
I’m presently working on a book about Sir Thomas Browne and his relevance to the 21st century debates on science, society and religion. Sir Thomas who, you ask? He was a 17th century physician, philosopher, antiquarian and mythbuster of Norwich, the city near where I live. He tends to be known, if known at all, to English literature scholars for some beautifully ornate essays, such as Urn Burial, a disquisition on mortality and the places where our remains are deposited. (It’s more cheerful than it sounds.) For those new to Browne, and scientifically minded, I’d recommend quick dips into his vast catalogue of people’s ‘vulgar errors’, Pseudodoxia Epidemica, all available online.

My research involves looking into the strange things people believed at the time, as well as the keeping of physic gardens, the conduct of witchcraft trials, and so on. When writing Anatomies: A Cultural History of the Human Body, I found myself repeatedly drawn to this period as the one where men first began the systematic investigation of the human interior, so I am already immersed in the medicine and science. All vital background, but I find that fiction also helps me...

I’ve been enjoying Rose Tremain’s Merivel, the long-awaited sequel to her highly praised Restoration. These novels describe the life of another East Anglian doctor, and they make for an interesting comparison. Both men are fatally prone to digression, which seems to be a characteristic behavior of the era. But where Browne's rovings are intellectual and philosophical, those of Sir Robert Merivel are decidedly more carnal; Browne once wrote that he wished that men might procreate like trees, which is certainly not the desire of Merivel, who is susceptible to every temptation of flesh and fashion. And whereas Merivel builds his life on pandering to the whims of King Charles II, Browne is entirely unconcerned with the allure of power. When he was knighted, it was largely by accident; the King was visiting Norwich in the mood to confer honours, and Browne was simply there at the right time.

I'm also at work on a book about the science and lore of the tides. For this, I’m mixing reading about astronomy and physics with the marine biology of Rachel Carson and stories of terrifying currents and whirlpools. Most seaborne writing tends to place the action far from the shore, where the tide is unimportant, but there are entertaining exceptions, such as Erskine Childers’s thriller The Riddle of the Sands. Jonathan Raban’s Passage to Juneau contains beautifully nuanced description of the movements of the waters, while Susan Hill’s modern classic of a ghost story, The Woman in Black, shows how the confusion about the tides that many of us share contributes to our fears.
Visit Hugh Aldersey-Williams's website.

--Marshal Zeringue