Sunday, April 1, 2007

Maureen Ogle

Maureen Ogle's most recent book is Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer.

Last month I asked her what she has been reading. Her reply:
I write non-fiction, so I often spend my days reading for “work.” That's especially true when I'm breaking terrain on a new book, as I am now. My current work-in-progress is Carnivore Nation: The History of Meat and America, a project that has led so far to Cattle Kingdom in the Ohio Valley, 1783-1860, by Paul C. Henlein, and Allan Kulikoff's From British Peasants to Colonial American Farmers, along with travel narratives, government documents, diaries, and newspapers from the 17th and 18th centuries.

But when I stop for the day, I want something less, um, intense.

I started reading mysteries when I was a kid, and there's nothing I love more than dropping into the world of well-crafted, well-solved murder. I recently finished new novels by two of my favorite authors: Deborah Crombie's Water Like A Stone and Charles Todd's A False Mirror. In January I read Elizabeth George's What Came Before He Shot Her. It's not exactly a mystery, but it's her usual take-great-risks-and-write-beautifully.

But now I'm on a Hollywood kick. I'm not sure why. Perhaps because I visited southern California twice in February for speaking engagements? Because I'm escaping the remnants of a tough Iowa winter with settings of palm trees and green lawns? Because I'm hoping to sell the film rights to my last book? (I'm kidding! I'm kidding!)

First I read Clea's Moon, by Edward Wright, whose mysteries are set in post-WWII Los Angeles and which, no surprise, touch on Hollywood and movies.

I followed that with Garson Kanin's Hollywood (which is terrific fun but should be taken with a huge grain of something: Kanin was notorious for “embroidering” events.)

Then I dived into Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn, by William J. Mann, a book that forced me to abandon everything I believed about the actress. (If you enjoy Hollywood history, I also recommend Mann's Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood).

Next came an old, and decidedly dark, Hollywood novel, Bud Schulberg's What Makes Sammy Run?.

And now I'm reading Jane Smiley's new novel, Ten Days in the Hills. It's a “Hollywood” novel only in the sense that it's set in the hills above Los Angeles and opens on the morning after the 2003 Oscars and just after the start of the Iraq war. It's a novel about the business of being human, and so veers from the serious to the hilarious. The novel reminds me, in structure and style, of her brilliant Greenlanders, which I think is her finest book.

Next up: Michael Tolkin's The Player, another Hollywood novel (which I want to read so that I'll be prepped to read his new book The Return of the Player.

By that time I should be ready for the red carpet.
Maureen Ogle was an academic historian before she "decided to write history for the 'rest of us' — ordinary Americans who are curious about who we are as a people and a nation." In addition to Ambitious Brew, she is the author of Key West: History of An Island of Dreams and All the Modern Conveniences.

Visit Ogle's website, her blog, and check out how the Page 69 test served Ambitious Brew.

--Marshal Zeringue