Wednesday, February 22, 2017

S. A. Bodeen

S.A. Bodeen grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin. She graduated from UW-River Falls with a degree in Secondary Ed., then joined the Peace Corps with her husband and went to Tanzania, East Africa. She has lived in eight states, two African countries, and an insular possession. Currently, she lives in the Midwest with her husband and two daughters.

Bodeen's first picture book, Elizabeti's Doll (written as Stephanie Stuve-Bodeen) was published in 1998, followed by six other picture books. Her first YA novel written as S.A. Bodeen, the award-winning The Compound, came out from Feiwel and Friends in 2008. Her latest novel is Found.

Recently I asked Bodeen about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve always felt the pull to read books that weren’t meant for me. So when my agent sent me an advanced reader copy of another client’s forthcoming book, I sat right down with it, even though he had sent it for my husband and daughter. Let me explain. My husband manages a national wildlife refuge. My youngest daughter is a fan of the television show Pretty Little Liars. What non-fiction book could possibly combine those two? Odd Birds by Ian Harding. The author, a star of the show, is a lifelong birder. Odd Birds is a collection of his reflections on experiences with birds and nature, midst a backdrop of his insider Hollywood life. I never watched the show, and although I have an affinity for nature, I’m not an official birder. Turns out that neither mattered, because this read was charming and delightful.
Visit S.A. Bodeen's website.

Writers Read: S.A. Bodeen (July 2016).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Susan Rivers

Susan Rivers holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina, where she was awarded a Regional Artist Grant from the Arts and Sciences Council for her fiction. As a playwright, she received the Julie Harris Playwriting Award and the New York Drama League Award, worked as an NEA Writer-in-Residence in San Francisco, and was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award for British and American Women Playwrights. She is a veteran of both the Playwrights Festival at Sundance Institute for the Arts and the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference and has crossed the country, from Seattle to St. Louis, working on professional productions of her plays.

Rivers and her husband currently live in a small town in rural South Carolina. She teaches English at the University of South Carolina Upstate in Spartanburg.

Her new novel is The Second Mrs. Hockaday.

Recently I asked Rivers about what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm about halfway through Arthur and Barbara Gelb's biography of Eugene O'Neill, By Woman Possessed, which is confirming my unscientific theory that all great geniuses are screwed-up human beings incapable of healthy relationships. I've read other material about O'Neill, but nothing that focused so fully on his flawed marriages and his indifference --even cruelty -- toward his children, all stemming from the pathological bond he shared with his morphine-addicted mother.

Years ago, when I was a playwright, I was invited to the Eugene O'Neill Theater Festival in Connecticut. The festival's connection to the dramatist wasn't stressed to any degree, so it was almost by accident that I stumbled on the O'Neill family's cottage in New London. The one volunteer on site that afternoon let me wander through the house on my own, and for a writer who considers Long Day's Journey Into Night to be the most powerfully affecting American play ever written, it was an unforgettable experience. On the porch I watched the fog creeping upwards from the sound, I sat in the parlor with Jamie and Edmund while they wrangled over their parents' shortcomings and their own troubled lives, and I imagined a sleepless Mary Tyrone pacing overhead in the narrow second story corridor, her footsteps pausing at the spare room where her "medicine" was kept. All of this is coming back to me as I read the Gelbs' book, reminding me that O'Neill was not merely obsessive in his relationships with living women but was truly haunted all his life by his doomed family. Many of us can say the same, but very few of us are capable of transforming that legacy into a sublimely cathartic form of art, as O'Neill was.
Visit Susan Rivers's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 20, 2017

Dan Gutman

Dan Gutman is the New York Times bestselling author of the Genius Files series. He is also the author of the Baseball Card Adventure series, which has sold more than 1.5 million copies around the world, and the My Weird School series, which has sold more than 10 million copies.

Thanks to his many fans who voted in their classrooms, Gutman has received nineteen state book awards and ninety-two state book award nominations. He lives in New York City with his wife, Nina.

Gutman's newest book in the My Weird School series is Ms. Joni Is a Phony!.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
This has nothing to do with my new book Ms. Joni Is a Phony!, but right now I'm reading A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn. I didn't take a single history class in college (Psych major), but have become a history buff since then and I've put a lot of history in my books (such as Flashback Four: The Lincoln Project). So I thought it might be a good idea to sit down and actually learn something about American history. I kept hearing about this 700-page definitive history, so I checked it out of the library a few weeks ago. I found it to be so well-written and interesting that I decided to buy a copy. It will take me months to plow through it, but it will be worth it.
Visit Dan Gutman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Jacqueline Carey

New York Times bestseller Jacqueline Carey is the author of the critically acclaimed Kushiel’s Legacy series of historical fantasy novels, The Sundering epic fantasy duology, postmodern fables Santa Olivia and Saints Astray, and the Agent of Hel contemporary fantasy series.

Carey's new novel is Miranda and Caliban.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Last summer, I traveled to Iceland, one of the countries featured in my current read, Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World. Honestly, Iceland wasn’t really on my radar—the trip came about because it was on a friend’s bucket list. But it was fantastic, and it piqued my curiosity as to why this small, chilly island nation that’s largely benighted during the winter months consistently ranks high on the World Database of Happiness.

With a decade of experience as a foreign correspondent for NPR, Weiner is a concise, engaging writer, humorous and wry and keenly observant. He’s a skilled researcher. Despite a healthy dose of skepticism leavening his prose, he appears to have a genuine passion for his subject matter; and it is a fascinating topic.

A character of mine once remarked, “Happiness is the highest form of wisdom.” It’s a philosophy with which I tend to agree. I’ve only just begun my literary sojourn across the globe, accompanying the author in his pursuit of that elusive quality we call happiness, but I can tell that it’s a journey I’m going to enjoy.

For the record, I suspect that the stunning geography of Iceland, and the close spiritual connection many of its people feel with nature, have a lot to do with their level of happiness. But it could be the beer and communal hot tubs, too!
Visit Jacqueline Carey's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Abby Fabiaschi

After graduating from The Taft School in 1998 and Babson College in 2002, Abby Fabiaschi climbed the corporate ladder in high technology. When her children turned three and four in what felt like one season, she resigned to pursue writing.

Fabiaschi's new book is I Liked My Life, her debut upmarket women’s fiction novel.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Today I was at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Texas, and there was a sign that read: Think before you speak; read before you think (Fran Lebowitz). Given all that is happening on our soil right now, this advice seems particularly prudent. I have been dedicating more reading time to The New Yorker and seeking out novels that focus on immigrant stories. I recently finished Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue, which was excellent.

In memoir, I had the honor of reading an advanced copy of Lynn Hall’s Caged Eyes: An Air Force Cadet's Story of Rape and Resilience. The truths revealed across all these genres of the written word help inform my opinions. In the days and weeks and years ahead we must all be conscious of what side of history we want to be on, and immersing ourselves in the lives and realities of others should be a part of that decision.
Visit Abby Fabiaschi's website.

The Page 69 Test: I Liked My Life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 17, 2017

Ryan David Jahn

Ryan David Jahn is the author of the novels Acts of Violence, which won the Crime Writers' Association John Creasey Dagger, Low Life, The Dispatcher, which was long-listed for the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger, The Last Tomorrow, and the newly released The Breakout.

Recently I asked Jahn about what he was reading. His reply:
Right now I’ve got two books on my nightstand. The first is James Sallis’s Willnot, which was my favorite book from last year. I like it even more now than I did the first time I read it. It’s quiet and subversive, the normalcy it presents a facade covering something much darker, as in a David Lynch film. The second is Ernest Hemingway’s The Dangerous Summer, a non-fiction book about bullfighting that is really about death. Hemingway is one of maybe half a dozen writers, living or dead, whom I’ll read simply because I want to fall into the rhythm of their prose. On deck, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, as my wife got me the two-volume hardcover for Christmas and, though I read the first volume years ago, I don’t remember much about it.
Visit Ryan David Jahn's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Breakout.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Patricia Harman

Patricia Harman, CNM, got her start as a lay midwife on rural communes and went on to become a nurse-midwife on the faculties of Ohio State University, Case Western Reserve University, and West Virginia University. She is the author of two acclaimed memoirs and the bestselling novel The Midwife of Hope River.

Harman's new novel is The Runaway Midwife.

Last month I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m currently reading three books. Do you think I’d get confused? Not me. Actually, they are all so different.

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.

If you’re interested in learning about Appalachia you’ll enjoy this book. Vance writes about his traumatic life in a way that’s very compelling. The book is part memoir and part social/political analysis. Since I live in West Virginia and write about people from this region, I thought it would be a good idea for me to read it. Outstanding.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette: A Novel by Maria Semple.

The reason I chose this book is because several reviewers of my new novel, The Runaway Midwife, mentioned Where’d You Go, Bernadette as being similar. Though Semple’s novel was a NYT bestseller a few years ago, I’d never heard of it. I’ve just started the tale, but so far I like it. The author is witty and very unconventional. Readers tell me, my books make them laugh, but I would like to write funnier. Maybe I’ll learn something!

The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

O, this is weird; every night when I can’t sleep I read a chapter of the classic juvenile biography, Little House on the Prairie. I have the whole series, about ten books, and always keep one at the bedside. I find them comforting and Laura Ingalls Wilder was an amazing nature writer.

The Runaway Midwife by Patricia Harman

Finally, I’m re-reading my own book, The Runaway Midwife, because it launches January 31. When I finish one book, I start the next one. Most people don’t know that it takes the publisher about a year and a half to get a book ready for print, even after they have the author’s final copy. Now that it’s coming out, I’ll start going to book events, and I need to remember what I wrote!
Visit Patricia Harman's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Runaway Midwife.

My Book, The Movie: The Runaway Midwife.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Sana Krasikov

Sana Krasikov was born in the Ukraine and grew up in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia and in the United States. One More Year, her debut story collection, was named a finalist for the 2009 PEN/Hemingway Award and The New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award. It received a National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35” Award and won the 2009 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. She is the recipient of an O. Henry Award, a Fulbright Scholarship, and a National Magazine Award nomination. Her stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The Virginia Quarterly, Epoch, Zoetrope, A Public Space, and elsewhere.

Krasikov's debut novel is The Patriots.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

Some books pull you in with rhythm and others, like this one, with the tactile particularity of the prose, which exerts a force of traction. The material of the world serves as a kind metaphor for the structure of the work as a whole… Rock, strata, the sediment of generation. Stegner had a big impact on me while I wrote The Patriots. He doesn’t just use time and place as backdrop for the story, he uses the story itself as an investigation in to the texture of a period we know only in romantic outline.

Moo by Jane Smiley

I laugh out loud every time I reread this book. Smiley is one of the great masters who writes about systems as much as about people. In Moo, each character’s point of view comes alive with an incredibly specific weltanschauung — economic, religious, zoological — and it's a joy to move around the kaleidoscope of these different sensibilities.

Veronica by Mary Gaitskill

I’m just in awe of Gaitskill, who can write with such depth about surfaces. She understands that style and affect constitutes its own vocabulary that she then decodes. There’s an aristocratic poignancy to the demolished lives in her books, lived like they’re being written in water.

The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan

In high school I had a friend with exquisite indie musical taste who was a closeted Sheryl Crow fan. Another friend confronted him and he had to come clean. Amy Tan is kind of my Sheryl Crow. Her accessibility might blind some highbrow readers to the great wit and wisdom in her writing. And I love how she moves narratively between the physical and spiritual worlds as if the line between the two is irrelevant.
Learn more about Krasikov's The Patriots.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Martine Murray

Martine Murray studied law at Melbourne University, then pursued painting and joined a circus before starting a dance company called Bird on a Wire. After an injury, she began writing and illustrating books for children and young adults. Her novels, including The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley, have won several awards in Australia. Her books have been translated into seventeen languages. She lives in Castlemaine, Australia, with her daughter and dog.

Murray's latest novel is Molly & Pim and the Millions of Stars.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have a pile of books by my bed, which I jump between as often I lose one or I’m not in the mood for it. The one I read last night is Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit, an inspiring guide on how and why to hold on to hope in the dark times of unfettered capitalism and all its devastating byproducts. It’s a little book with a big message, which works. It keeps me hopeful at least.

I’m also reading Anne Sexton, The Complete Poems, because I read one of her poems by mistake ("Admonishments to a Special Person") while looking for something else and I loved it and particularly this line in it:
… to love another is something
like prayer and can’t be
planned, you just fall
into its arms because your
belief undoes your disbelief
I also found this line by her, “I am a collection of dismantled almosts” and so recognised myself in this that I wished I had known Anne Sexton and I knew I would like her poems.

Another book I am reading is called Private Myths by Anthony Stevens. A friend sent it to me anonymously as a present because I was ranting at him about a film I am making which is in some part about dreams, or what dreams might access. It was as if this book on dreams then just found me, by mystical and mysterious intent, via the post. The working title for the film is Project Bird, because it does involve a bird mask, which I have commissioned a friend to make. It is also about uncertainty and animals and in it there will be dancing.

As far as fiction goes, I have just read a wonderful novel by my friend Libby Angel called The Trapeze Act, which is full of beautifully crafted prose with exactly the sort of poetic detail that turns my mind in a way I like to turn it. There are also flamboyant characters doing extravagant things and all this underpinned by a constant wry humour, which meant I was smiling the whole time I read it.

Before that and probably one of the books that has most sung to me over the last year was Pond, by Claire Louise Bennett. It’s very interior and delightfully mad and inventive and again I felt strangely reassured by the realization that other people have interior lives that are beset with all sorts of ideas and inventions, that sometimes lead one to feel very at odds with life or also very enraptured by it too.
Visit Martine Murray's website.

The Page 69 Test: Molly & Pim and the Millions of Stars.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Ingrid Thoft

Ingrid Thoft was born in Boston and is a graduate of Wellesley College. Her interest in the PI life and her desire to create a believable PI character led her to the certificate program in private investigation at the University of Washington. She lives in Seattle with her husband.

Thoft's new novel is Duplicity.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
One of my recent favorites is Stalling for Time by Gary Noesner. It’s a non-fiction account of Noesner’s time as an FBI negotiator during which he was involved in the negotiations to end the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship, the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas, and the standoff with the Republic of Texas militia. A natural born storyteller, Noesner kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the book while describing the critical balance between force and negotiation in crisis situations. I was most fascinated by the role that psychology plays in reaching peaceful resolutions when the stakes are life and death. This book was so compelling, I finished it in two days!

What You Break, is the second installment in Reed Farrel Coleman’s critically acclaimed Gus Murphy series. The first, Where It Hurts was just nominated for an Edgar Award for best mystery novel of the year. A retired cop turned hotel shuttle driver, Gus feels obligated to investigate when one of his co-workers gets into deep trouble. He also agrees to look into the death of a young woman, which rips off the tentative scab that Gus had grown in the aftermath of his son’s unexpected death. Gus’ humanity and Coleman’s taut prose create the picture of a man struggling to do his best in a difficult world. And readers who think they know Long Island (the Hamptons, Montauk, and other wealthy communities,) will have their eyes opened to the other less affluent Long Island so perfectly drawn by Coleman.

I recently revisited New Grub Street, a Victorian era novel written by George Gissing. I first read this book in a Victorian literature class in college and was quite taken by this tale of the publishing world in 1880s London. In the rereading, I’ve been struck by the similarities between publishing then and now and the challenges that have existed in the industry for more than 100 years. The struggle to make a living as a writer while staying true to one’s art is a constant source of angst for main characters Jasper Milvain and Edwin Reardon and would not be unfamiliar to writers in this day and age. In addition to the subject matter, the relationships and social mores of the late 1880s are endlessly entertaining. I highly recommend this book to readers looking for a change of pace from contemporary fare.
Visit Ingrid Thoft's website.

The Page 69 Test: Brutality.

The Page 69 Test: Duplicity.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 10, 2017

Mur Lafferty

Mur Lafferty is a writer, podcast producer, gamer, runner, and geek. She is the host of the podcast I Should Be Writing and the co-host of Ditch Diggers. She is the winner of the 2013 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

Lafferty's new novel is Six Wakes.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I usually juggle several books, since I'm reading one via audiobook in the car and something on my tablet and probably a physical book on my nightstand. Right now I'm reading two.

I'm listening to Hardcore Zen, which is supposedly a look into Zen Buddhism by Brad Warner, a monk who's also a punk rocker. I had high hopes, but the audio quality is terrible (he recorded it himself for a variety of reasons, he explains at the beginning). The first chapter is essentially "Here are the thousands of things Zen Buddhism is not." It's a little frustrating. But I'm going to keep going. Apparently frustration is a thing many people feel when starting to study Buddhism...

I'm also reading the electronic ARC of Sarah Gailey's novella, River of Teeth, which is a weird wild west story with hippos. And from what I've seen online, and from what I've read so far, once you say "hippos" everyone perks up and says, "Take my money now." I've read Sarah's short stories that show of her fearless style, and I know she could pull off a hippo story with ease. I totally plan on being not jealous of her weird fearlessness at all as I continue reading.
Visit Mur Lafferty's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Thomas J. Hrach

Thomas J. Hrach is associate professor of journalism at the University of Memphis.

His new book is The Riot Report and the News: How the Kerner Commission Changed Media Coverage of Black America.

Recently I asked Hrach about what he was reading. His reply:
I am in my 50s, an age when a person realizes that there is more in the rear view mirror than in the front windshield. I recognize that history is not something that happened a long time ago, but rather it was made just in the span of my lifetime. I was born in 1963 so I am reading about a time period that changed the world, and it changed me too.

On my reading table right now is Eric Schlosser’s Command and Control, a book about nuclear weapons safety. The book highlights an accident near Damascus, Arkansas, where a Titan 2 missile exploded with a nuclear warhead on top. That happened in 1980, a long time ago, but still well within my lifetime. I am now at an age when history is being written about times and places still within my memory. I think that puts into perspective the study of any history book.

As author of The Riot Report and the News I recognize that too was still within my lifetime, but just barely because the book deals with the 1968 Kerner Commission. It will not be long before that event is out of the lifetime of all but a few.
Learn more about The Riot Report and the News at the University of Massachusetts Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Riot Report and the News.

My Book, The Movie: The Riot Report and the News.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Nancy Peacock

Nancy Peacock’s novel The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson was self-published in 2013, and in 2015 won First Place in the Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book- Mainstream Fiction category. That same year the book was picked up by Atria Press, a division of Simon and Schuster. Peacock is the author of two earlier novels, Life Without Water (chosen as a New York Times Notable Book) and Home Across the Road, as well and the memoir and writing guide, A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning and Life.

Recently I asked Peacock about what she was reading. Her reply:
I usually keep a memoir or novel going while also reading a nonfiction book.

Recently I finished Barefoot to Avalon, David Payne’s amazing memoir about his relationship to his brother, George A., and his relationship to his brother’s death. George A. died in a car crash while helping David move from Vermont to North Carolina.

I can’t give this book a glowing-enough review. The emotional work Payne had to have done in order to write the story is clearly phenomenal, and yet I never had the sense that the emotion was being held back, or would ever be wrapped in a neat little box. The prose is raw and rolling, and has an energy to it that was like being caught in an undertow. Payne works with time in the same way, deftly moving the reader forward and backward and into present time. I was changed by this book. At one point I had to stop reading so I could write in my journal about the story, and reflect on my own family life and my own childhood, and this is a strange thing to say, but I believe in that reflection I felt my spirit expand and grow more loving. A truly amazing piece of work.

The nonfiction book I just finished is The Fifties: A Woman’s Oral History by Brett Harvey. I was born in the fifties and as a child received a lot of subliminal, and not-so-subliminal messaging about what a girl-child could and could not grow up to be. And while the feminist movement and experience acquired has led me to do my own deconstructing of those messages, this book was a good, overall reminder of the limitations that were put on women during that time, where those limitations came from and how women survived. As an oral history, it’s laced with personal stories and insights. And even though I knew a lot of what I read, I also learned things I’d not known before. Lots of ground covered here. Well written, and well compiled.
Visit Nancy Peacock's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson.

The Page 69 Test: The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Kayla Rae Whitaker

Kayla Rae Whitaker’s work has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Split Lip Magazine, BODY, Bodega, Joyland, The Switchback, Five Quarterly, American Microreviews and Interviews, and others. She has a BA from the University of Kentucky and an MFA from New York University. After many years of living in Brooklyn, she returned to Kentucky, her home state, in 2016 with her husband and their geriatric tomcat, Breece D’J Pancake.

Whitaker new book, her debut novel, is The Animators.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
One night, while eating dinner in a restaurant with my husband, I saw a guy come in with a copy of my favorite novel from the past year, The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan, which explores class and race in Kentucky horse country. I wanted to stop and ask the guy how he was liking it, but I chickened out. Which I regret. I would have loved to have heard what he thought. It’s nice to connect with strangers over books.

I just finished Someone Please Have Sex with Me by Gina Wynbrandt and loved it. I was scratching around for a new graphic novel and one of the book’s blurbs was provided by one of the producers of Bojack Horseman, a show I adore, and that drew me in to this collection of comics. The writing is fantastic, the visuals are incredible – so many weird renderings of Justin Bieber’s face. There, too, was pathos with which I felt a connection: the very specific tie, for women, between sex and self-worth. It had been a long time since I had simply been delighted with a book, as I was with this one.

I read The Red Car by Marcy Dermansky in about two nights – it follows Leah, who is leading a life of discontent in New York when she receives the news that her former boss and friend, Judy, has died and left Leah her treasured red sports car. Leah travels to San Francisco to collect the car, the voice of the departed Judy traveling with her the whole way. It’s smart and funny and the car may or may not bear traces of Christine, which I really like.

I also just finished The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy. I had read and liked her writing in The New Yorker, particularly her piece on the Van Dykes, a group of lesbian activists in the 1970s who traveled around in vans (and all adopted the surname Van Dyke). My editor very kindly sent me an advance copy of this memoir, which details the author’s miscarriage and the dissolution of her marriage, and I devoured it. It is beautiful and honest and wrenching.

Awaiting its turn on the nightstand: Nancy Isenberg’s White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. I’m from the American south, the region most think of first when the term “white trash” surfaces, but class permeates all regions, and almost every facet of American life and identity – so I’m particularly excited to read this one.
Visit Kayla Rae Whitaker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Elliot Ackerman

Elliot Ackerman is the critically acclaimed author of the novels Dark at the Crossing and Green on Blue.

Ackerman is based out of Istanbul, where he has covered the Syrian Civil War since 2013. His writings have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New Repub­lic and The New York Times Magazine, among other pub­lications, and his stories have been included in The Best American Short Stories. He is both a former White House Fellow and a Marine, and has served five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star for Valor, and the Purple Heart.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Ackerman's reply:
I’ve been meaning to buy some new bookshelves for a while now, as mine are full. So for about the past nine months I’ve been placing everything that I read on the side of my desk into these perilous stacks. Glancing over to the books balanced on the top, the first title that catches my eye is the American edition of Thus Bad Begins by Javier MarĂ­as. Set in Madrid in 1980, it is a novel centered around a broken, even contemptuous marriage between Eduardo Muriel a once successful filmmaker and his wife Beatrice. When Muriel takes on a young assistant, Juan de Vere, to help him with his latest project, the central conflict within the marriage is slowly revealed. It’s a brilliantly observed book, which is at times sad, beautiful, and quietly suspenseful.

Next down the stack is The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam, a slim novel that takes place over a single day in war torn Sri Lanka. As government forces march to eradicate a group of civilians in Tamil-rebel held territory, death stalks the inhabitants of a small village and before it comes an old man wishes to marry his daughter Ganga to a stranger, a boy named Dinesh. The novel is tightly structure and its passages are simple and beautiful, just like the idea of the brief marriage it chronicles. I loved this book.

Beneath Arudpragasam’s novel is A Confession by Leo Tolstoy, which chronicles a midlife existential crisis by the iconic author, which led him to consider suicide before becoming a devout Christian. All of this occurred after his masterworks War and Peace and Anna Karenina, at a time in his life when writing had lost much of its meaning and he began to wonder, as he put it, “If God does not exist, since death is inevitable, what is the point of life?” The journey Tolstoy takes to find “the point of life” is a fascinating one that’s worth revisiting.
Visit Elliot Ackerman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Dark at the Crossing.

The Page 69 Test: Dark at the Crossing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Steven Parfitt

Steven Parfitt teaches history at the Universities of Nottingham, Loughborough and Derby, and is an active University and College Union member. His first book is Knights Across the Atlantic: The Knights of Labor in Britain and Ireland.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Parfitt's reply:
Over the Christmas break I’ve been reading two books, both of them non-fiction and both, not by any conscious design, dealing with quite similar subjects. The first is Barry Gustafson’s His Way: A Biography of Robert Muldoon. It’s about one of my native New Zealand’s longest-serving Prime Ministers (1975-1984), Robert Muldoon, who dominated the political lives of my parents. I already knew Muldoon as the man who called an election drunk in 1984 when his slim parliamentary majority seemed in danger. I knew him as a conservative bullyboy who intimidated journalists and other politicians with his quick memory and sharp tongue. This was someone who did not shrink from depicting the Labour Party as dancing Cossacks in thrall to the Soviet Union, or from publicly outing an opposition MP as gay at a time when homosexuality was still illegal.

Gustafson points to another side of Muldoon’s character. He remained a conservative but was also a Keynesian. His commitment to full employment and the welfare state – and to what he called “the ordinary bloke” – is no longer matched by most conservatives, and even by many who claim to be on the left. His ill-fated, alcohol-fuelled decision to call an election in 1984, which he lost, put a Labour Government in power. It might surprise people outside New Zealand to learn that it was Labour, and not the conservative National Party, which launched a wave of deregulation and privatisation even more radical than the reforms led by Reagan or Thatcher.

The end of Muldoon’s premiership meant the end of the old political and economic order that began in 1945 and came undone in the crises of the 1970s. Many New Zealanders, just like many people in other countries, remember those years fondly as a time where jobs were plentiful, wages were high, and inequality remained historically low. That nostalgia lies behind the desire of many people to make their country great or fair or equal again, and to recover what has since been lost. Progressive conclusions can flow from that nostalgia as well as the reactionary ones peddled by Trump and his ilk.

Gustafson’s biography narrates the end of capitalism’s so-called “golden age” in one Antipodean country. My other Christmas-time reading, Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism, predicts the end of capitalism altogether. Mason argues that capitalism, once so good at adapting to new technology and to new forms of social and political organisation – from textile factories to elected parliaments and nuclear fission – can no longer adapt in the way it once did. Two big trends are breaking down the relationship between work, wages, prices and profit that keeps the whole system together: automation, which removes human labour from the production of things, and our ability to freely reproduce information in the time it takes to press “control C and V” on the keyboard.

The result of all this is that human labour becomes more and more redundant. Those at the top struggle to hold on to what they already have by whatever means are at hand. I haven’t finished the book yet, and haven’t reached the stage where Mason offers alternatives to these trends, but it’s already made me think hard about the possibilities open to us – and the dangers that must arise in the meantime.

Perhaps we are stuck between the end of a golden age and the messy end of our present system. We might be closer in a way to the subject of my own book, the Knights of Labor, separated as we are from them by more than a hundred years. The Knights became the first national movement of American workers in the 1880s. They too looked back to a golden age, sometime between the founding of the United States and the Civil War, when free independent citizens controlled their own labour and their democratic government. They also feared that technological improvements and mass immigration would bring down the most highly-skilled worker to the wages of the lowest. I hardly need draw any more parallels between then and now.

Their response was a movement of nearly a million Americans, male and female, white and black (though not Asian!), and even the beginnings of an international movement. Can we do this again? My Christmas-time reading, unfortunately, does not answer that question.
Learn more about Knights Across the Atlantic at the Liverpool University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Knights Across the Atlantic.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 3, 2017

Teresa Messineo

Teresa Messineo spent seven years researching the history behind The Fire by Night, her first novel. She is a graduate of DeSales University, and her varied interests include homeschooling her four children, volunteering with the underprivileged, medicine, swing dancing, and competitive athletics. She lives in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Recently I asked Messineo about what she was reading. Her reply:
While attending language school in Tuscany last summer, I stumbled across The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in their tiny, English-language lending library and my life was forever changed. Written by the much lesser known sister Anne Bronte (using the male pseudonym of Acton Bell, thus retaining her initials), this book was revolutionary and 100, 150 years before its time. After years of manipulation and misuse, a free-thinking woman escapes from her villainous husband, with her young son in tow. Instead of focusing solely upon this abusive relationship (as other novels from this time period would have done), and far from praising the long-suffering female archetype for remaining in bondage, Wildfell Hall is unique in that it opens ‘after the fact.’ The woman has already escaped, and we know nothing of the mysterious new tenant, Helen Graham, other than that she has moved into a provincial neighborhood and prefers to keep to herself. Only later in the novel - after the townspeople have accepted, rejected, befriended, fallen in love with and ultimately ostracized Helen for refusing to divulge her secrets or her reasons for remaining aloof - do we finally hear of her flight from her husband, her desperate search for sanctuary and her ultimate triumph of spirit, even as her and her child’s physical safety becomes more and more threatened. Divorce and legal separation would not have existed for Helen in the mid-1800’s. She breaks all convention - and loses all contact with the ‘respectable’ - when she makes her final, desperate bid for freedom, both for her and her son’s sake. The results of Helen flying in the face of convention - losing friends, fortune and reputation in the process - are beautifully countered with her utter confidence in her decision. Her moral certitude. Her poise and grace. Her self-reliance, self-assurance and self-respect, even as the world around her screams its condemnation. I have never read a book quite like Wildfell Hall, and recommend it not only to lovers of Bronte, but to anyone looking to transcend the limitations of their own lives.
Follow Teresa Messineo on Facebook.

My Book, The Movie: The Fire by Night.

The Page 69 Test: The Fire by Night.

--Marshal Zeringue