Thursday, August 16, 2018

Cherise Wolas

Cherise Wolas is the author of The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, a semifinalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Debut Fiction Prize, an Indie Next Great Reads Pick, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, named a Best Novel and Best Debut Novel of the year by Kirkus Reviews, named a Top 10 novel of 2017 by Booklist, in addition to receiving among many other accolades.

Wolas's new novel is The Family Tabor.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
What I’m reading:

I was a one-book-at-a-time girl, but when I got married, my husband gave me a Kindle, saying, “It would be so nice if sometimes I could go to sleep in the dark.” So now I read one novel in book form, and another at night on my Kindle. But lately, and unusually, I find myself dipped into many books (just starting, in the middle of, just finishing, and itching to start) probably because I’m book-tour traveling for The Family Tabor. This is just a sampling; there are several more books I could add in under each heading! And because I’m always asked for book recommendations, I’m maintaining a running list of the books that most affect me on my website.

What I’m just starting:

Far From The Tree: Parents, Children and The Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon. I’ve had this massive tome on my bookshelves since it first came out in paperback years ago, and I’m now reading it one full section at a time. Solomon did extraordinary research interviewing more than 300 families with “exceptional” children; children with “horizontal identities,” his term that encompasses all the “recessive genes, random mutations, prenatal influences or values and preferences that a child does not share with his progenitors.” It is a psycho-sociological study, yes, but highly readable, mysterious, passionate, immensely affecting, and emotionally resonant. And Solomon threads his own personal story through it. It is one thing to feel ourselves different from our families, quite another to be actually absolutely different from our families. Love shines through it, as well as the tremendous difficulties. And puts the lie to Tolstoy’s maxim about happy and unhappy families.

What I’m in the middle of:

Property by Lionel Shriver. This is Shriver’s first collection (stories bookended by two novellas), and the stories are intelligent, insightful, ironic, dense with details, sharp, and often very funny. The collection feels unified to me, more than most, because Shriver thoroughly explores her theme which is about ownership: about how we do—or do not—possess things like homes, land, money, empty nests, and ourselves. This thematic commitment allows the stories to communicate with one another in unusual ways, and I’ve been finding there is a fluidity to the actual reading, rather than the stop-start I often experience with collections.

What I’ve just finished:

Kudos by Rachel Cusk. The third book in the trilogy that includes Outline and Transit. The narrator, Faye, whose name is used only once in each book, is a middle-aged writer, astute, but curiously passive, and seems to reflect back those who feel compelled to tell her their own stories. Indeed, each book is composed nearly entirely of highly eloquent and intellectually abstracted conversation, via stories that are often fascinating. Faye’s own side of the conversation is mostly elided. Each volume is back-grounded in the literary fiction world. Faye is teaching a writing workshop in Greece in Outline, at a literary festival in Transit, and touring for her recent unnamed and un-summarized new book in Kudos. She herself progresses: divorced, renovating her home, remarrying, her boys grow into teenagers, and she is both a present and absent mother; but for the most part, these personal progressions are simply remarked on. Topics such as power, powerlessness, freedom and fate, love and its opposite, are within these novels. Kudos has an exceptionally powerful ending. Many reviews and essays have been written about Cusk’s trilogy, so I’ll stop here.

Also Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller. A layered, strange, ripe tale about love, loss, and family. Ingrid Coleman, wife and mother, has been missing for 12 years; she went swimming one day and never returned. In her absence, the family has soldiered on. Flora, the younger daughter, is a lost soul; Nan, the older daughter and a nurse, has played mother to her sister, and their father, Gil Coleman, known for a scandalous novel he wrote long ago, might be fading. The contemporary story is interwoven with letters Ingrid wrote to her husband, then tucked into the folds of books, massive stacks of which have taken over the family’s house by the sea.

What I’m itching to start:

The Shape of the Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vasquez. Recently, I was at a book event for The Family Tabor at Little City Books in Hoboken, NJ, and the lovely owner gave me the galley of this newest Vasquez, coming out in translation in September. According to the galley flyleaf, the book “explores the darkest moments of a country’s turbulent history and reveals the ways in which past violence shapes present lives.” Vasquez has become one of my favorite writers. I discovered him two years ago, and absolutely loved the novels The Sound of Things Falling and Reputations, and the story collection, Lovers on All Saints’ Day. I rarely reread, but have all three stacked up to reread. Lovers is a collection set in forests, on hunts, on stately properties, with marvelous details of gestures and objects that flesh out the characters as they move about lost and distant, defined by their struggles and usually by the failures of their romantic relationships. Many of these stories have stayed with me. Vasquez is very different from Gabriel García Márquez; he rejects the vivid colors and uses instead a noir-ish palette. The Sound of Things Falling is a compelling page-turner, but also a deep and hushed meditation on fate and on death. The novel is built on Colombia’s tragic history as a country enriched and destroyed by drugs, but has as its core the story of Antonio, a young and newly married professor of jurisprudence, who unwinds by playing billiards, and befriends an older man, Laverde, rumored to be recently released from prison, and it goes on from there, or rather it goes both forward and backwards, into memory, lies, fabrications, and truth. Reputations is about Javier Mallarino, a famous and feared political cartoonist, and about an event that may or may not have happened 28 years earlier. Again, it deals with the past, with memory, and fabrication, with finding the truth. Vasquez is a master of patient pacing and intricate structure, which I adore.

Also The Secrets Between Us by Thrity Umrigar, a sequel to her beautiful and heartbreaking novel, The Space Between Us. I read Space when it first came out. Set in Bombay, it’s about the personal and class-distinctive relationship between Sera, the housekeeper with a tragic life, and Bhima, the middle-class Parsi widow who employs her. I might have to reread Space before starting The Secrets Between Us, which continues these women’s relationship.
Visit Cherise Wolas's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Resurrection of Joan Ashby.

The Page 69 Test: The Family Tabor.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Georgia Clark

Georgia Clark is an author, performer and screenwriter based in Brooklyn. She wrote the critically acclaimed novel, The Regulars, and the "witty, sexy" (L.A. Times) The Bucket List, both Simon & Schuster. Her first books were the Young Adult novels She’s With The Band and Parched. Clark is the host/founder of the storytelling night, Generation Women, which invites six generations of women to tell a story on a theme. She is currently developing The Regulars as a TV show for E!. A native Australian, she lives in Brooklyn with her girlfriend and a fridge full of cheese.

Recently I asked Clark about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m always reading a few books at once. Here’s a sample of what’s currently on my nightstand.

Inappropriation by Lexi Freiman. Fifteen-year-old Ziggy Klein struggles to find her place in the complex eco-systems of high school, family, the internet and society at large in this broadly eccentric satire of identity politics. It's meaty and smart but makes this fearless novel truly hilarious is Lexi’s dry, offbeat eye and (what I’m calling) New Australian sense of humor. The ridiculous is sublime and Ziggy’s search for her truth takes us everywhere from Sydney drag bars to rich bitch pool parties to the online alt right underbelly. A must for anyone who’s ever had a circling argument about what, exactly, constitutes cultural appropriation.

When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri. Absolutely adorable tale of queer girl love. When Katie meets Cassidy, everything changes for both of them: and they couldn't be more different from each other. Katie is a straight girl from Kentucky getting over a bad break-up, Cassidy is a gay player from New York rolling from one meaningless hook-up to the next. Can they find love? Spoiler alert: yes, they can. Highly recommended for gay and straight romantics alike!

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. “No thank you,” I said. “I don’t want to accept a drink from you, because then I would be obliged to purchase one for you in return, and I’m afraid I’m simply not interested in spending two drinks’ worth of time with you.” Eleanor Oliphant is a socially inept loner with no friends, no career prospects, no relationship… and she is completely fine, thank you very much. Or, so she thinks. This first-person coming-of-age invites you into the head of the extremely particular Eleanor Oliphant, in a hopeful tale that cleverly straddles the genres of (non-traditional) suspense and romance.
Visit Georgia Clark's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Bucket List.

The Page 69 Test: The Bucket List.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Laura van den Berg

Laura van den Berg is the author of two story collections, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us and The Isle of Youth, and the novel Find Me. Her fiction has received the Rosenthal Family Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, the Bard Fiction Prize, an O. Henry Award, and a MacDowell Colony fellowship.

Her new novel is The Third Hotel.

Recently I asked van den Berg about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve been reading Andrés Neuman’s How to Travel Without Seeing: Dispatches from the New Latin America—while traveling myself, which seems fitting. After winning the Premio Alfaguara, Neuman is sent on a tour of nineteen countries in Latin America and the resulting book is akin to a writer’s travel journal, in the best way: spontaneous, haunting, mordantly funny, perceptive, lyric. As a writer who is very interested in transit spaces myself, I especially appreciated Neuman’s writing on hotels, planes, and taxis, the kinds of places we often pass through without much consideration and yet spaces that are rich with their own temperaments and histories and weathers. How to Travel Without Seeing is the perfect late summer travel companion.
Visit Laura van den Berg's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 13, 2018

David R. Coon

David R. Coon is an associate professor of media studies at the University of Washington Tacoma. He is the author of Look Closer: Suburban Narratives and American Values in Film and Television.

His new book is Turning the Page: Storytelling as Activism in Queer Film and Media.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Coon's reply:
Having recently finished a major research project, I spent the last few years reading only books and articles directly connected to that research. Now that the project is behind me, I have some time to read books that interest me, even if they have nothing to do with my work. In spite of this freedom, I find myself continuing to read in areas closely related to my research, but also starting to explore some new areas.

Sisters in the Life: A History of Out African American Lesbian Media-Making, edited by Yvonne Welbon and Alexandra Juhasz, is a collection of essays, interviews, and conversations about a group of women who have been largely overlooked or ignored by most scholars and critics. In an industry that has traditionally favored straight white men, lesbian women of color have faced significant hurdles in their attempts to make it as media producers. Sisters in the Life illuminates the work of the small number of African American lesbians who have broken through barriers and found success as writers, directors, and producers. Mixing critical essays with less formal interviews and conversations allows this book to provide a wide range of perspectives and ultimately provides important documentation of work that has previously received very little attention.

Reading The Queer Fantasies of the American Family Sitcom by Tison Pugh offered me a chance to stay within the realm of my recent research while taking a closer look at sitcoms, which I have enjoyed as a viewer throughout my life. Pugh’s book examines some landmark family sitcoms, including Leave it to Beaver, The Brady Bunch, The Cosby Show, and Modern Family, discussing how sexuality has been woven into such “family-friendly” programming over the years, going from nearly hidden in early programs to very explicit in recent years. In his investigation of these programs, Pugh raises questions about how sexuality intersects with childhood, nostalgia, race, class, humor, and other aspects of the sitcoms that he examines. Overall the book invites readers to revisit some very familiar texts and to look at them with fresh eyes, thanks to the framework Pugh provides.

In recent years I have become increasingly fascinated with sound design as a vital part of storytelling in film and television. To help me explore this interest, I picked up Sound: Dialogue, Music, and Effects, edited by Kathryn Kalinak. As part of the “Behind the Silver Screen” series, which examines various aspects of the work that goes into filmmaking, this collection of essays traces the history of sound design in Hollywood cinema, moving from the so-called “silent” film era to the contemporary age of digital cinema. The book does not just emphasize the evolution of sound technology, but also explores cultural and aesthetic shifts in the use of sound in cinema, highlighting individuals and organizations that changed the way audiences experience stories on the big screen. It has definitely changed the way I listen to films and television programs.
Learn more about Turning the Page at the Rutgers University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Craig DiLouie

Craig DiLouie is an author of popular thriller, apocalyptic/horror, and sci-fi/fantasy fiction.

In hundreds of reviews, his novels have been praised for their strong characters, action, and gritty realism. Each book promises an exciting experience with people you’ll care about in a world that feels real.

These works have been nominated for major literary awards such as the Bram Stoker Award and Audie Award, translated into multiple languages, and optioned for film.

DiLouie's new novel is One of Us.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I recently finished Sisyphean, Japanese author Dempow Torishima’s biopunk novella collection. Torishima produced a highly inventive and wholly immersive universe in which genetically engineered life is both technology and economy.

Bizarre, grotesque, and difficult to understand, it’s a demanding but rewarding read. I have nothing but admiration for an author who can create an entirely convincing and strikingly original universe from raw imagination.

Currently, I’m reading Shadow’s Fall, the first novel in a cyberpunk series by Ron Bender. I haven’t read this genre since Mona Lisa Overdrive, and I’m having fun with it. The world building is terrific—with just enough technology to spice the story rather than take it over—and the action scenes are incredible.

Next up on my reading list is Josiah Bancroft’s Senlin Ascends, about man who explores a fantastical, vast Tower of Babel while searching for his wife.
Visit Craig DiLouie's website.

My Book, The Movie: One of Us.

The Page 69 Test: One of Us.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Meredith Miller

Meredith Miller is the author of Little Wrecks and How We Learned to Lie. She grew up in a large, unruly family on Long Island, New York, and now lives in the UK. She is a published short story writer and literary critic with a great love for big nineteenth-century novels and for the sea.

Recently I asked Miller about what she was reading. Her reply:
I read for at least three people; that is, there are at least three of me reading all the time. I teach at a university, so for work I read a lot of literary fiction (though I also teach popular genre stuff). That reading, whether literary or popular, requires a lot of thinking because I take the books apart with students, think about them critically and talk about them in detail. When I’m not working, I like to read for entertainment, or for the pleasurable kind of critical thinking that has nothing to do with my job. So I usually have something hefty going, as well as a couple of genre things. The genre reading I do for pleasure is a lot of eighteenth and nineteenth century novels, contemporary historical crime, urban fantasy, swords and sorcery fantasy and science fiction.

Three things I’m reading at the moment:

Amitav Ghosh, River of Smoke. This is the second book in a trilogy about the opium wars. So the setting for this one is China in the late 1830s. These books are amazing! He’s done so much research and the information is all fascinating and really important. The main thing, though, is his characters. In order to tell his story he creates a whole array of characters in different positions: culturally and in terms of class, religion and experience. These are big, sweeping books, and they keep you riveted by moving you around in time, place and perspective. The other wonderful thing about them is Ghosh’s playful love of language. Colonialism and global trade brought a huge diversity of people and languages together and created all kinds of dialects and patois. Ghosh loves to reproduce these and to play with them, so his character voices are endlessly fascinating. I love language and I am very interested in dialect in my own work so I really appreciate this last thing.

E. S. Thomson, Beloved Poison. This is a historical crime novel set in a decaying, outdated hospital in 1840s London. The characters are great and the world-building is also fabulous. I did figure out the ‘big secret’ early on. The title is a giveaway and it was a bit obvious. Still, I’m enjoying this as a great read for switching off. It’s funny, isn’t it, how in order to find a book relaxing you have to be a little bit challenged by it? If it doesn’t engage your brain just a little it isn’t distracting enough to be relaxing. Sort of like mental knitting.

Svetlana Alexievich, Secondhand Time. This is non-fiction, a journalistic book unlike any journalism you’ve ever read before. Alexievich grew up in Belarus, a member of a generation that was raised in the U.S.S.R., but now lives in a recently formed independent nation. She has interviewed hundreds of people, friends and strangers from all walks of life, about their memories of everyday life, big political upheavals and economic and cultural change. The unique thing is that she doesn’t separate their voices into discrete narratives or put them in traditional interview style. The voices run seamlessly into each other and sometimes it takes you a while to notice that the speaker has changed. The narrative runs from one perspective to another which might be very different, and then to another again. You get a real sense of a huge crowd speaking about a huge, complex world that those of us in countries like the U.S. and Britain know very little about. There is no simple judgement or conclusion – no ‘this is good and that was bad’ – but she also doesn’t flinch from horrible or difficult truths. I have this book on my dining room table and I’m sure I’ll be reading it for ages. Every once in a while I pick it up and read twenty pages or so. This feels like a good way to absorb this kind of book.

Some other great things I’ve read his year and would highly recommend, in no particular order:

Elena Ferrante’s ‘Neapolitan novels’, My Brilliant Friend and the three that follow it.
Becky Chambers, A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet
Neel Mukherjee, A Life Apart (Past Continuous in India; much better title I think!)
Sarah Perry, The Essex Serpent
N.K. Jemisin, The Killing Moon
Ada Palmer, Too Like the Lightning

Basically, I’ll read anything if it’s well written and keeps my interest. I’m on Goodreads if you want to get in touch and share what you’re reading. Search my name together with the titles for Little Wrecks and How We Learned to Lie, otherwise you’ll end up finding a different Meredith Miller. Google searches are a nightmare for me!
Visit Meredith Miller's website.

The Page 69 Test: How We Learned to Lie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 10, 2018

Lynn Hunt

Lynn Hunt is Distinguished Research Professor at UCLA and the author of numerous popular and scholarly history books. Her latest book is History: Why it Matters.

Recently I asked Hunt about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August (1962), a history of the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Although it’s long and supposedly outdated, it remains a perennial favorite with readers for good reasons. I found it gripping. Tuchman puts most of us professional historians to shame; she manages to make the often dreary history of diplomatic maneuvering fascinating and tells the story of the first battles of the war in a way that captures the drama, uncertainty, pathos, terror and horror of events. I have talked about the war in my class on the history of Western civilization, but after reading her, I will change my approach to put at least some emphasis on how the invasion of Belgium by the Germans changed everything, bringing in the British, however reluctantly, to the side of the French, and providing an opening to a change of opinion in the United States, which would prove crucial in the end. Tuchman had an amazing ability to bring characters to life. As an historian, I think I’ve been good at analysis of events but at characterizing individuals who made a difference, not very good at all. But leaving aside all that, this book is just a great read that helps us understand one of the formative events of our time.
Learn more about Lynn Hunt and Why History Matters.

The Page 99 Test: Writing History in the Global Era.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Tanya Katerí Hernández

Tanya Katerí Hernández is the Archibald R. Murray Professor of Law at Fordham University School of Law, where she co-directs the Center on Race, Law & Justice as its Head of Global and Comparative Law Programs and Initiatives.

Her new book is Multiracials and Civil Rights: Mixed-Race Stories of Discrimination.

Recently I asked Hernández about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have been re-reading Trevor Noah's memoir Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, in anticipation of the film version that Lupita Nyongo is slated to star in portraying Noah’s mother. The book has a special resonance for me as a comparative-race law scholar whose personal background as a black-identified mixed-race Afro-Latina traveling the globe informs her insights about the (in)significance of the growth of racial mixture to the pursuit of racial equality whether it be in the US, South Africa, or Latin America. Noah’s story of being mixed-race during and after apartheid ended in South Africa is both a poignant and humorous read (as you would expect from the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.

Yet what brings me back to rereading it, are all his insights about how discrimination operates separate from one’s personal racial identity. For instance, one of my favorite quotes from the book is -- "Because racism exists, and you have to pick a side. You can say that you don't pick sides, but eventually life will force you to pick a side." For Noah, being a light-skinned child of a black Xhosa mother and white Swiss father, did not shield him from racism. Astoundingly, Noah’s insight about South Africa directly relates to my own assessment of what we can learn from looking at contemporary multiracial discrimination stories in the United States. The narratives of mixed-race people bringing claims of racial discrimination in court, illuminate traditional understandings of civil rights law and the need for continued focus on white supremacy and anti-blackness in equality pursuits. As a fellow race, class and nations border-crosser, Born a Crime inspires me to keep speaking my own truth about the realities of racism, however uncomfortable that might be for others to hear.
Learn more about Multiracials and Civil Rights at the NYU Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Racial Subordination in Latin America.

The Page 99 Test: Multiracials and Civil Rights.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Andrew Reynolds

Andrew S. Reynolds is professor of philosophy at Cape Breton University. He has published in various history and philosophy of science journals and is the author of Peirce’s Scientific Metaphysics: The Philosophy of Chance, Law, and Evolution.

Reynolds's new book is The Third Lens: Metaphor and the Creation of Modern Cell Biology.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
During the day I read articles and books relevant to my research and teaching, and in bed I read fiction or non-fiction for fun. A selection of my day-time reading of late includes the following books:

Sandra Harding, Science and Social Inequality: Feminist and Postcolonial Issues. Harding has been a leader in feminist science studies, providing critical perspective on the value-laden assumptions that both inform and misinform science’s historically male-dominated attempt to provide objective knowledge of the world. Here she discusses the cultural values about nature and knowledge that have shaped the development of science in the West.

Kim Tallbear. Native American DNA: Tribal Belonging and the False Promise of Genetic Science. This is a terrific discussion of the science behind various DNA testing technologies and how the use of direct-to-consumer services to answer questions about ancestry contrasts with--and can undermine--socio-cultural notions of native identity and tribal membership. Metaphors of DNA and of blood she warns do not mix all that well, for they are intended for distinct sorts of purposes and narratives.

Peter Godfrey-Smith. Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness. Philosopher of science Peter Godfrey-Smith puts his SCUBA diving pastime to good use to explore what cephalopods (octopus, squids, cuttlefish and nautiluses) have to teach us about the possibilities for alien intelligence adapted to very different environments and bodies. Worth reading just for the fascinating accounts of these amazing creatures’ behavior.

Ernst Haeckel. Die Kalkschwämme. 3 Vols. 19th century zoologist-artist-philosopher Ernst Haeckel’s extensive study of sponges of the class Calcarea—those whose ‘skeletons’ consist of needles (spiculae) of calcium carbonate. On the basis of this research into the anatomy, physiology, and embryological development of these sponges Haeckel proposed that humans and other multicellular animals (Metazoa) evolved from a primitive form of sponge. Even if you don’t read German you may still appreciate Haeckel’s drawings of sponge morphology and the amazing protozoan-like cells that build them. Available at the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

My bed-time reading of late has included:

Zadie Smith. Swing Time. The characters in Swing Time are not ones I have much in common with and so I didn’t expect to find myself much interested in this book, but Zadie Smith is such a great writer and story-teller that I enjoyed every page of this tale about two young girls of mixed race growing up in 1980s London. I also loved her first book White Teeth.

Margaret Atwood. The Penelopiad. My daughter had a role as one of the slave-girls in a local performance of Atwood’s retelling of the Ulysses story from the standpoint of Penelope and the young maids who were hung to death for disappointing the men-folk’s expectations about what was proper conduct for young women. I enjoyed the book, but I enjoyed the stage performance even more.

Madeleine Thien. Do Not Say We Have Nothing. This story about several generations of a family of Chinese musicians and artists sweeps you along like a slow-moving storm front, from Mao’s cultural revolution, through the Tiananmen Square protests, to present day. Definitely deserving of the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Award, and of being short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.
Learn more about The Third Lens at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Third Lens.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

Liese O'Halloran Schwarz grew up in Washington, DC after an early childhood overseas. She attended Harvard University and then medical school at University of Virginia. While in medical school, she won the Henfield/Transatlantic Review Prize and also published her first novel, Near Canaan.

She specialized in emergency medicine and like most doctors, she can thoroughly ruin dinner parties with tales of medical believe-it-or-not. But she won't do that, because she knows how hard you worked to make a nice meal.

Schwarz's new book, The Possible World, is her second novel.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
In the last year or so, I've taken up a habit of reading a few books at a time, one or two in audio and the others in print format. I occasionally read a digital book, but not too often — I really like the feel of a physical book in my hands. I used to read almost purely nonfiction (I am an information junkie), but have been mixing more fiction in lately.

Standouts in my recent reading include:

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje, a pristine, recursive and atmospheric narrative looking back on a young man’s coming of age in wartime London. I found the warlight (the dimmed light to avoid drawing enemy bombs) to be a perfect metaphor for both nostalgia and youthful ignorance; as the story goes on, the metaphorical light is slowly turned up, until we understand what actually happened and why. I loved every bit of that quiet, powerful book.

Circe by Madeline Miller was just as wonderful, in a totally opposite way: it’s a heroine’s tale, vigorously told, in prose so glorious (yet effortless!) that at times I felt almost breathless while listening to the audio. Basically a perfect book.

All the Ever Afters by Danielle Teller was another satisfying recent read — it’s a gorgeously-written work of historical fiction offering the “untold story" of Cinderella’s stepmother. An immersive read: I was thoroughly absorbed, from the first to the last word.

I also enjoyed Rough Beauty by Karen Auvinen, a memoir from a woman who lost everything in a house fire (a nightmare for many of us!). It’s an homage to solitude, to the wild mountains where she has made her home, to community as well as self-reliance, and to finding one's way through the (literal and metaphorical) landscape of loss.

I read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi a few months ago, and it really stayed with me -- it's a compelling journey through the generations of a West African family, exploring the slave trade and its legacy in a fresh way. Quite an undertaking, affectingly done.

West by Carys Davies was an absolutely beautiful little book. Not an extra syllable to it, and yet it managed to be a rich adventure story with fully realized characters; how did she do that? I think that one will be a classic of literature, destined for student backpacks everywhere.

David Sedaris’ newest book, Calypso, was a brilliant and entertaining read. Of course. His ability to render humor and pathos equally from any situation is astonishing. I re-read Sedaris books to an almost pathological degree. To me, he's the literary equivalent of the television show The Office: one can revisit his work endlessly and always enjoy, and always see something new. Pro tip: If you listen to enough of his audio, then you can hear his voice in your head when you read him in print.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick was journalism that read like good fiction-- unrelentingly bleak fiction. Brutal but worth the read. I’ve been seeking out nonfiction about North Korea after reading The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson a couple of years ago. I was bowled over by Johnson’s phenomenal writing and storytelling, but also skeptical because Johnson is not himself Korean. However, every bit of nonfiction I have read about North Korea validates Orphan Master, and makes me admire that book even more. It’s a tour de force, and if you can bear its grimness in the context of current events, I heartily recommend it.

Speaking of grimness, Less by Andrew Sean Greer is a good antidote, while not being silly; it’s beautifully written, and I found it an absolute delight.

The Beginning of Everything by Andrea J. Buchanan was a fascinating medical mystery-memoir from a musician stricken with a sudden, poorly understood illness. The narrative gives eloquent voice to the profound, demoralizing effect of constant pain; I think all doctors should read it. Some of the passages (about pain, about music, about both at once) are quite lovely.

Jar of Hearts, a thriller by Jennifer Hillier, was somewhat of a departure from my typical reading; I enjoyed its twisty plot, and the suspense was irresistible.

I have just finished The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, a very good book about the second "lost generation” (gay men in the eighties) and what the AIDS crisis stole from the world. She did a creditable job of depicting that time, which of course I remember quite well. It’s a bit of a milestone, isn't it, when an author needs to do massive research in order to write a story set in one’s own youth? Le sigh. However, one must consider the alternative to growing older — Makkai’s book certainly provides perspective about that.

Currently I’m reading There There by Tommy Orange in audio, and in print A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult and The Bradshaw Variations by Rachel Cusk. Trembling on the top of the TBR stack is a precious early copy of Transcription by Kate Atkinson. I’m always waiting for the next sure-to-be-magnificent Laura Hillenbrand book.
Visit Liese O'Halloran Schwarz's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Possible World.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 6, 2018

Wallace Stroby

Wallace Stroby is an award-winning journalist and the author of eight novels, four of which feature professional thief Crissa Stone, whom Kirkus Reviews named "Crime fiction's best bad girl ever."

His new novel is Some Die Nameless.

A Long Branch, N.J., native, Stroby is a lifelong resident of the Jersey Shore. His debut novel The Barbed-Wire Kiss, which The Washington Post called "a scorching first novel ...full of attention to character and memory and, even more, to the neighborhoods of New Jersey," was a finalist for the 2004 Barry Award for Best First Novel.

His 2010 novel Gone 'til November was picked as a Kirkus Best Book of the Year, as was the second Crissa Stone novel Kings of Midnight. In 2012, the Crissa Stone novels were optioned by Showtime Networks for development.

A graduate of Rutgers University, Stroby was an editor at the Star-Ledger of Newark, Tony Soprano's hometown newspaper, for 13 years.

Recently I asked Stroby about what he was reading. His reply:
Reading-wise, I’ve always got two or three books in progress, but as I’ve grown older I’m quicker to set aside books I’m not responding to (that point is usually somewhere between 50 and 75 pages). I used to feel obligated to finish every book I started, but I don’t anymore. Life is short, and there are too many good books out there.

That said, here’s what I’ve got in front of me at the moment, that I won’t be bailing on:

Eight Million Ways to Die by Lawrence Block and John K. Snyder III. Artist Snyder’s evocative adaptation of Block’s classic 1982 Matt Scudder novel. I’m not a big graphic novel enthusiast, but this one is beautifully done. It captures both the fatalistic atmosphere of the Scudder novels, and the look of NYC in the early ‘80s. I’ve got Block’s new short story collection, Resume Speed, on deck as well.

The Death Instint by Jacques Mesrine. This came out a few years ago, but I’m just now catching up with it. It’s the memoir of the French arch-criminal Jacques Mesrine, written in Paris’ notorious La Sante Prison and smuggled out not long before Mesrine himself escaped. The book was first published in 1977, and two years later Mesrine was killed (some say assassinated) by a special police unit at a busy Paris intersection. As with most memoirs of this type, one has to allow for a certain amount of exaggeration, self-aggrandizement and outright fabrication. But it’s still a fascinating insight into the mind of an unapologetic Gallic Dillinger. I also recommend Jean-Francois Richet’s two-part film adaptation from 2008, starring Vincent Cassel as Mesrine, which paints him in a much-less-flattering – though probably more accurate – light.

The Lonely Witness by William Boyle. I'm loving this Brooklyn-set crime novel/character study, which came highly recommended. Boyle (Gravesend) is a terrific and evocative writer.

The Big Book of the Continental Op By Dashiell Hammett. Edited by Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett. In between other books, I’ve been dipping into this collection, compiled by Hammett’s granddaughter, and one of his biographers. It includes all 28 short stories and two serialized novels featuring Hammett’s unnamed operative for the Continental Detective Agency. Though they were all written and published between 1923 and 1930, the stories still crackle with energy, wit and hard-boiled authenticity. Hammett, a former Pinkerton detective, knew of what he wrote.These stories were gamechangers for American crime fiction. Once Hammett rewrote the rules, there was no going back.

Up next and eagerly looking forward to:

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott

The Widower's Notebook: A Memoir by Jonathan Santlofer

The Man Who Came Uptown (ARC) by George Pelecanos
Visit the official Wallace Stroby website and The Heartbreak Blog.

--Marshal Zeringue