Wednesday, February 28, 2007

David Plotz

David Plotz is Slate's deputy editor and author of The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank.

I asked him what he has been reading. His reply:

Mostly I'm reading the Bible, because I have been blogging it for Slate. I'm in the Book of Ezekiel now, which is the humane, stoner portion of the Old Testament (a testament that is more often pretty ruthless).

For kicks I'm reading Absurdistan, which I'm about a year late getting to, but does feel hilariously, creepily current given the craziness of Russia. I actually don't like it as it deserves to be liked--I'm worn out with the genre of post-Soviet absurdism (Jonathan Safran Foer, etc.).

And I'm dipping into Arthur Allen's fantastic new book Vaccine, which is a history of, uh, vaccines, and is more entertaining than any book about shots has a right to be.

Read the results of the Page 69 Test for David's The Genius Factory.

And visit the official Genius Factory website where you can learn more about the book.

Arthur Allen put his book Vaccine to the Page 69 Test.

--Marshal Zeringue

© Campaign for the American Reader. Reprinted with permission.

Libby Fischer Hellmann

Libby Fischer Hellmann's most recent novel is A Shot to Die For, the fourth novel in her award-winning amateur sleuth series featuring Chicago video producer Ellie Foreman.

I recently asked her what she has been reading. Her reply:

I’ve been on a reading binge recently… I think it’s the cold weather. I just finished The Blade Itself by Marcus Sakey, and Big City Bad Blood by Sean Chercover. Both debut crime fiction novels by Chicago authors. There’s already been a lot of buzz about Blade, but there should be more about BCBB – it’s beautifully written, and what could have been just another stereotypical PI story becomes fresh and real in Chercover’s hands. Next up is In This Rain by S.J. Rozan and In the Company of Liars by David Ellis.

I’m also catching up on some missed books – I finally read The Devil in White City – what a great read! And I just finished Gregg Hurwitz’s The Program, a disturbing but fascinating story. I’m reading Be Cool by Elmore Leonard, and No Safe Place by Richard North Patterson. And I’m determined to restart Denise Mina’s Field of Blood. (I started it once but got side-tracked).

And yes, I usually have several books going at the same time.
Read the results of the Page 69 Test for Libby's A Shot to Die For.

And visit her website where you can will find a link to the short story that started the Ellie Foreman series.

--Marshal Zeringue

© Campaign for the American Reader. Reprinted with permission.

Jeanette Winterson

I have just been reading Captain Cook’s Journals, which made me read Robinson Crusoe again, which made me think about island narratives, and has run me towards Boswell and Johnson in the Hebrides, Marianne Wiggins’s wonderful novel John Dollar and to Diana Souhami’s award-winning Selkirk’s Island, which made me order Coconut Chaos, her new book on Pitcairn.
Read the entire column.

Learn more about Jeanette Winterson's books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

N.M. Kelby

N.M. Kelby is the author of Whale Season and other books.

I recently asked her what she's been reading. Her reply:

To ask what a person is reading is a dangerous thing. What’s the point of that? Are you interested in getting a book recommendation or trying to figure out what influences a writer? Or both? Or, do you just want to open up their brain and blow some dust off?

It’s a very complicated question.

I could tell you that right now, at this moment, I’m reading Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court in French at while wintering in Versailles. A friend has just stopped by with a lovely red that he’s brought over from his vineyard.

Or, I could tell you that I’m reading Kinky Friedman while sitting at Stubbs in Austin waiting for Dwight Yoakam to finish his set so that we can talk about the movie we’re doing together. At my table, along with Kill Two Birds and Get Stoned, there would be some collards, fried okra (all smothered in hot sauce), and a BBQ sandwich (again, with hot sauce.) And a beer, probably a lite beer since I burned out my taste buds on the Texas Pete’s and don’t need the calories.

Both could be true.

Or, I could tell you this––I am sitting in my office with the space heater cranked on high because it’s 51 degrees in Florida and damp and I am working on my new book and I am behind deadline because it’s not easy to create an existential mystery and when I get stuck (which is often) I pick up one of the two books I am currently reading, Against The Day by Thomas Pynchon (love the hot air balloon scene) or Trader Vic’s Tiki Party by Steve Siegelman (which is not only features the history of Trader Vic, but some mighty fine chow).

You see, what you believe is your choice. I will, however, leave you with an inspirational quote from the P.T. Barnum of the restaurant world, Victor Jules Bergeron––“Make every drink as though it were to be the best you’ve ever made.”
Some readers may think the more fantastic scenario Nicole mentions is the one involving Dwight Yoakam and the movie talk, but I happen to know he really is planning on making the film version of Whale Season.

As for the story about reading Un yankee à la cour du roi Arthur, I'm more skeptical. But you never know.

The answers to the last two questions in Nicole's first paragraph are: yes, yes.

Read the results of the Page 69 Test for Whale Season, and visit Nicole's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

© Campaign for the American Reader. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Mario Acevedo

Mario Acevedo is the author of The Nymphos of Rocky Flats and the forthcoming X-Rated Bloodsuckers.

I asked him what he has been reading. His reply:

Last year I attended BoucherCon, one of the big mystery conferences for both authors and fans. A constant and loud screech from the writers was, “Read? I barely have time to write!”

So with time at a premium, you would think I'd plow into heavy, brainy reading material. You know, Nobel Prize winners. Or dig into the scholarly opinions of The Economist.

Instead, I get my dose of current events from Mad Magazine. Not only is the sarcasm more honest than any of the double-speak we get from our government, it’s intentionally funny and less tragic. My favorite article from this issue: The Iraq War chess set. Among the rules: for every insurgent we kill, three take his place. (Do the math.) The pawns: Their side, suicide bomber jihadists. Our side, National Guardsmen.

I am reading books. As a fantasy writer, I wasn’t familiar with Jim Butcher’s work (shame on me) and figured it to be heavy into gothic horror. Was I wrong. (Butcher, what a name for a writer of vampires and other supernatural monsters.) His Dresden Files series is urban fantasy told with a wry smirk. What makes the stories so enjoyable is Butcher knows how to craft a phrase. As in Blood Rites when Butcher introduces the villain: “Lord Raith’s smile made me think of sharks and skulls.” Wow. Them’s good words.

To make me look smart, I do read literary NYT stuff. I recently finished Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs. He gives us a family more dysfunctional and weird than anything in Butcher’s fantasy novels (Yet again, life trumps art. None of his characters was as loopy as a murderous, love struck Navy captain astronaut wearing diapers.) Burroughs’ mastery of prose kept me hooked with gems like this description of Dr. Finch’s mistress:

“Geraldine was the female equivalent of a diesel Mercedes sedan. She was, it seemed to me then, well over six feet tall. She was broad-shouldered and broad-faced. When she lumbered into the room, the word mistress did not come to mind.”
Read the results of the Page 69 Test for Mario's The Nymphos of Rocky Flats.

His new book, X-Rated Bloodsuckers, comes out in March.

Visit his official website.

--Marshal Zeringue

© Campaign for the American Reader. Reprinted with permission.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Linda L. Richards

Linda L. Richards is the author of, most recently, Calculated Loss.

A few weeks ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:

I just, just started David Morrell's latest, Scavenger (Vanguard Press, March 2007). I was feeling in the mood for an old-school thriller and, though the "what makes a thriller" debate is endless and often somewhat pointless, no one ever disagrees about Morrell: he always makes the cut.

Thus far, Scavenger doesn't disappoint. It's sharp and compelling and almost dazzlingly fast: you seriously wanna hold onto your seat. In addition, the book is possessed of the very best first line I've seen in a while:

"He no longer called her by his dead wife's name, even though the resemblance was strong enough to make his heart ache."

Isn't that lovely? I have high hopes for the balance of the book.

Next up is The Welsh Girl (Houghton Mifflin, February 2007) by Peter Ho Davies. This is the debut novel of an accomplished short story writer. I'm looking forward to it very much.
Read the results of the Page 69 Test for Linda's Calculated Loss.

Of course, if you ever want to know what Linda L. Richards is reading, you can always check her blog, The Rap Sheet, and January Magazine.

--Marshal Zeringue

© Campaign for the American Reader. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Thousand Acres and the just-released Ten Days in the Hills, talked to the Christian Science Monitor about what she was listening to and viewing for entertainment.

And reading:
I have been reading a book by Anthony Trollope called Lady Anna. I love Trollope. I think my favorite Trollope is He Knew He Was Right, which is very complex. The range of female characters is really astonishing. I was reading Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss. The new generation of writers is really interested in crossing boundaries because they live in a world in which boundaries no longer exist. You know, they live in a very paradoxical world where you can go anywhere and yet, simultaneously, personal boundaries seem to go up and groups and people tend to defend themselves more rigorously. The Desai book reflects this ... it's about going back and forth between India and America, Russia and Britain, and the dislocation that the characters in the novel feel [about] globalization. My generation of woman writers, which I would say began in 1970, were much more interested in establishing our identity as to who we were born to be. Our daughters are telling stories that are more global in their aspirations.
Read about what Smiley is listening to and watching.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tom Lutz

Tom Lutz, author of Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America, is no slacker himself: he is a prolific author and professor of creative writing.

Lutz is also the author of Crying: The Natural and Cultural History of Tears (1999). His American Nervousness, 1903: An Anecdotal History was a New York Times Notable Book in 1991.

I asked him what he's been reading. His reply:
I’ve been reading and/or rereading all of John Rechy’s books for an interview I’m doing with him.

Books by Tod Goldberg, Alex Espinosa, Paul Mandelbaum, lê thi diem thúy, Gayle Brandeis, Jack Lopez, Juan Felipe Herrera, Kathryn Jordan, Rob Roberge, Christopher Rice, Thom Racina, Joseph Wambaugh, Lisa Scottoline, Thomas Pynchon, Richard Ford, Cormac McCarthy, Percival Everett, Janet Fitch, Aimee Liu, Seth Greenland, Rachel Resnick, and Danzy Senna.
Read the results of the Page 69 Test for Doing Nothing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Dominic Smith

Dominic Smith is the author of The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre, which just came out in paperback.

I asked him what he's been reading. His reply:

I'm currently re-reading Lolita. I'm coming back to this novel after an absence of ten years or so. What strikes me now is the sinister and beguiling voice, the rhythm of the language and the sense that the reader is trapped, as at a dinner party, by a brilliant yet unwholesome character. The linguistic pleasure of the prose seems to mask problematic issues of plot. The convenient death of Lo's mother, in the hands of a lesser writer, would seem too orchestrated. But running through the center of this "infernal machine" (as Mary McCarthy called it) is a kind of ode and love poem to fate. The fidget wheels turn, the trap is set, and we know the chase cannot be stopped. As long as the cartwheels continue in the language itself, we will forgive almost anything. It's a haunting and messy read, but one that--even ten years later--cannot be put down.
Read the results of the Page 69 Test for The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre, and visit Dominic's website.

Dominic Smith's second novel, The Beautiful Miscellaneous, will be published in June.

--Marshal Zeringue

© Campaign for the American Reader. Reprinted with permission.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Kevin Guilfoile

Kevin Guilfoile is the author of, most recently, Cast of Shadows.

I asked him what he has been reading. His reply:
This has been a curiously disappointing reading year for me. Over the last twelve months I read only a handful of novels that I still find myself recommending to other people. Most of my best experiences have been with old books by favorite authors that I'd never gotten around to before now. Novels like The Music of Chance by Paul Auster and The Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle. This isn't an indictment of new books, only the result of bad luck and poor decisions on my part.

I have two good reasons for believing that things are looking better as the New Year turns, however:

1. The Tournament of Books is approaching. The ToB is an idea I had a few years ago, admittedly after a few glasses of Malbec. In that moderately altered state I mentioned to a couple of my friends (who happened to be editors of The Morning News) that it would be fun to pick 16 of the most celebrated books of the year, seed them into an NCAA-basketball-tournament-like bracket, and pit them against one another in a "Battle Royale of literary excellence." The concept was amusing enough for me but the guys at TMN actually made it happen and this March we will open our third tournament with the best books of 2006. In a ritual bid to make it the "best ever," this year's judges include a popular New Yorker critic and the lead singer of a huge, breakout indie band. As tournament commissioner (and play-by-play announcer) I am sworn to secrecy regarding this year's entrants, but I'll be reading as many of them as I can between now and March. By the way, for excellent (and sometimes not obvious) reading selections from 2005 I direct everyone to the highly entertaining 2006 tourney.

2. Before I was a novelist I didn't know many published writers. I knew a lot of writers, but like me, most of them were still waiting for their break. Over the last few years I've met a lot of people who make their living writing fiction and I have great admiration for many of them, but there is no greater pleasure than seeing your friends publish their first novel and this month I have rich, tingly feelings all over.

First up was Kevin Shay, whom I've known for seven years, back when he was the webmaster at McSweeney's and I was just some knob writing goofy humor pieces that hardly anyone read. I tore through his terrifically funny debut, The End As I Know It, back when it was only a manuscript and he was still looking for an agent, and now that it's out I can't wait to see the ways it's evolved in the editing process.

And this week I had the joy of seeing not one but two good friends publish their first novels on the same day. Marcus Sakey's The Blade Itself and Sean Chercover's Big City, Bad Blood are crime novels set in Chicago and they were both released last week to great acclaim, including a joint rave in this Sunday's Chicago Tribune. I've been waiting until the books were officially out to read them and let me tell you it's a huge thrill to crack the spine of a friend's first book.

I think this is going to be a very good year.
Read the results of the Page 69 Test for: Kevin's Cast of Shadows; Sakey's The Blade Itself; Chercover's Big City, Bad Blood.

Visit Kevin Guilfoile's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

© Campaign for the American Reader. Reprinted with permission.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson is the author of Civilizing the Enemy: German Reconstruction and the Invention of the West.

I asked him what he has been reading. His reply:
I'm on sabbatical at the moment, so for the first time in a while I am getting to read books that are not directly related to the courses that I am teaching at any given time! I tend to read in "channels" when I can, simultaneously reading books in different genres at different times during the day or week. I am presently in the middle of four books:

1) in the philosophy channel, Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. A classic, and one that I have to admit that I've never read cover-to-cover before. I'm extremely interested in the relationship between knowledge and experience, and Kant is a seminal thinker of this relationship. Since one of my sabbatical goals is to eventually spend some time wallowing in American pragmatism (Dewey, James, Rorty), I thought it was best to go back to some of the traditional works first; after Kant I plan some Hegel, Vico, Durkheim, and Weber.

2) in the historical channel, David McCullough's John Adams. I started this book some years ago when it first came out, but had to put it aside half-finished because other things (like working to get tenure, and having kids!) intervened. Now at last I have been able to pick it up again, and am enjoying McCullough's ability to spin an engrossing narrative of the American founding. Next up on this channel: Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton.

3) in the spirituality channel, Parker Palmer's To Know as We Are Known. It's a fascinating book in which the author presents a re-visioning of higher education in terms of the practices of a truth-seeking community, using the monastic tradition as a kind of inspirational guide. My favorite line this far: "Objectivist education is a strategy for avoiding our own conversion. If we can keep reality 'out there,' we can avoid, for a while, the truth that lays the claim of community on our individual and collective lives." Next up: Rudolf Otto's The Idea of the Holy.

4) finally in the fiction channel, I just finished Iain M. Banks' Feersum Endjinn. Banks is my favorite currently-working science fiction author, and this book -- although not part of his "Culture" series -- is an intriguing tale of a future earth in which people live their lives mostly or completely online as part of the "cryptosphere." A quarter of the book is written from the perspective of a character who can only spell phonetically, and those portions of the book basically need to be read out loud in order to make sense. Fascinating stuff, and Banks is brilliant as always. (His Excession and Look to Windward should be on everyone's reading-list, as they are both marvelous tales about the arrogance of a dominant society intervening in the affairs of less-powerful societies so as to "improve" them.) Next up: either Justin Lieber's Beyond Rejection or Stephen Baxter's Coalescent.
Visit Patrick's teaching blog and faculty homepage.

About Civilizing The Enemy: page 69 test.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Ronlyn Domingue

Ronlyn Domingue is the author of The Mercy of Thin Air.

I asked her what she has been reading. Her reply:
I'm reading for research and inspiration for my second book these days. I ventured into quantum physics and 1920s New Orleans with a sense of purpose for my first novel. This time around, I go where instinct leads, no questions asked.

C.G. Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections is a glimpse into a brilliant thinker who was remarkably intuitive, playful, and contemplative. This autobiography is unlike any I've ever read because there is little mention of the people he knew or accomplishments he made. Instead, Jung shares stories of his rich inner life and his personal growth as a psychologist and a human being.

A few weeks ago, my friend Ben literally showed up on my doorstep with Thomas Kinsella's The Tain. I'd just finished the Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf, and Ben thought I had to get a taste of something even older. Such is The Tain. The adventures of the Irish hero Cuchulainn--replete with gore, bravado, and bawdiness--have kept me entertained and intrigued.

In 2006, I read a lot of fiction for pleasure. My three favorites were:

Human Oddities by Noria Jablonski, a short story collection about freaks, by nature or choice, written with empathy and humor.

Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman, a virtuosic, compelling, psychological novel about a man who kidnaps the child of a former lover.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, a rather nice story about a whale hunt.
Visit Ronlyn's website and MySpace page.

About The Mercy of Thin Air: read an excerpt; hear a clip; praise; Q&A; page 69 test.

--Marshal Zeringue

© Campaign for the American Reader. Reprinted with permission.