Thursday, May 31, 2007

Niraj Kapur

Niraj Kapur, born in Belfast and reared by Indian parents, lives in England. He has been a writer-for-hire on various children's shows like CBBC's The Story Makers and Hana's Helpline on S4C. His drama, Stanley and Me, was shown successfully on Anglia TV. He also writes for Cosmopolitan and Asian Woman.

Heaven's Delight is his debut novel, part of a romantic comedy trilogy.

Not so long ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Beyond The Blonde by Kathleen Flynn-Hui is a cracking novel, full of wit, pace and unexpected warmth; unexpected, because stories of rich people are routinely dull, but there's a subtle love story through the madness and mayhem of life as a New York hairdresser, that was hugely enjoyable.

The Chocolate Lovers Club by Carole Matthews is set in England. I've just read it for the second time (the first time I read a book is for pleasure; the second time it's to dissect the novel and see why it's so appealing). Carole has written many wonderful novels. This is my favourite.

Chris Manby's Ready Or Not is another chick-lit adventure set in London. Like Carole, she has the unique ability to make you turn every page and laugh hard.

With half-term next week in England, I'll be tucking into Stephen King's Cell. Growing up, Stephen King was my favourite author, but I have nothing new to say in horror that hasn't already been said.

When I wrote my debut, Heaven's Delight, I mixed rom com with adventure, so I read everything from J.K. Rowling, which astounded me, to the Narnia series, which was nostalgic, to Anthony Horowitz's Stormbreaker - a novel for teenage boys that also appeals to parents like me.
The Page 69 Test: Heaven's Delight.

My Book, The Movie: Heaven's Delight.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Michael Fullilove

Michael Fullilove is a Rhodes Scholar and former prime ministerial adviser who writes widely on politics and international relations. A lawyer and historian by training, he directs the global issues program at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney, Australia.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I'm in the middle of two books: Reza Aslan's excellent and very readable introduction to Islam, No God but God, and William Dalrymple's marvelous account of his travels through the ruins of Eastern Christianity, From the Holy Mountain. Both are in preparation for a trip I'm making next week to Israel and Turkey.

I also recently began the Australian philosopher Raimond Gaita's moving memoir, Romulus, My Father - soon to be a major motion picture, as they say in the trade.

Two other books sit on my bedside table waiting for their owner's attention. Both are first books by friends of mine: Sophie Gee's The Scandal of the Season, an 18th-century literary bodice-ripper; and Leigh Sales' Detainee 002, the story of the Australian prisoner at Guantanamo, David Hicks.
Fullilove's work has appeared in publications such as Slate, the Financial Times, The National Interest and Foreign Affairs, and his first book, "Men and Women of Australia!": Our Greatest Modern Speeches, was published in 2005 by Vintage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 28, 2007

William Landay

William Landay is the author of the highly acclaimed Mission Flats, which was awarded the John Creasey Dagger as the best debut crime novel of 2003, and the widely-praised new novel, The Strangler. A graduate of Yale University and Boston College Law School, Landay was an assistant district attorney before turning to writing.

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
How do you read in one voice then write in your own?

I’m currently reading Black Swan Green by David Mitchell, and I’m having a hard time getting through it. Don’t get me wrong: Black Swan Green is brilliant. I recommend it to one and all. The trouble is that I’m in the tentative early stages of writing my own new novel, and Black Swan Green is precisely the sort of book that jams my creative gears. It is told in a voice so strong and so distinctive — so strange — that it is becoming hard, when I sit down to write, to hear my own voice.

I avoided Black Swan Green for this reason when it first came out, though the reviews were ecstatic. Better to read a book like this when I was between projects. But I noticed it in the bookstore the other day, all decked out in a new trade-paperback edition with a gorgeous cover showing a white silhouette of a swan on a black background, and I fell for the trap. Serves me right.

Of course this whole business of how and what writers read is complex, because what writers read affects what writers write. (That’s one reason this blog is so interesting.) Reading through previous entries on this page, I notice that writers often solve this dilemma by reading books in their own genre. No surprise there, I suppose: crime novelists read crime novels for the same reason they write them — because it’s a genre they enjoy. And no danger of creative interference, because the novel in your hand is composed in the same key as the novel in your head.

But what if the novel in your hand sounds utterly different? Here are a few sentences from Black Swan Green to give you a taste. The speaker is Jason Taylor, 13 years old, growing up in the village of Black Swan Green in Worcestershire, England. The year is 1982.

“Moron’s my height and he’s okay but Jesus he pongs of gravy. Moron wears ankle-flappers from charity shops and lives down Druggers End in a brick cottage that pongs of gravy too. ... The lake in the woods was epic. Tiny bubbles were trapped in the ice like Fox’s Glacier Mints.”

This is imaginative, virtuosic writing. Somehow Mitchell manages to capture the voice of this 13-year-old boy without ever sounding mannered — without ever winking out at us from behind the mask. His sentences have the cadence of teenage speech, and the jargon too (epic, ace, poxy, sarky). At the same time, his narrator, though a stammerer, harbors a secret poetic streak, so that when the prose occasionally swells itself up, the effect is never false, never grandiose. Here, for example, is Jason’s description of a valley at sunset: “The tulips are black plum, emulsion white, and yolky gold.” That middle metaphor, emulsion white, only just misses sounding false for this boy, especially set between two more concrete, familiar color-comparisons (plums, egg yolks). But it is a sign of how elastic and convincing the narrative voice is that we buy it.

There is a lot more to recommend Black Swan Green. There is a running parallel between war in the adult world, particularly the Falkland Islands war, and the sort of warring that teenage boys wage among themselves. There is Jason’s poignant struggle to hide his stammer, which he calls Hangman and which requires him to rephrase his thoughts constantly, often in mid-sentence. Mitchell also has fun conjuring up Thatcher-era England. Late-70’s pop bands (Kate Bush, Roxy Music, Fleetwood Mac) and other period flotsam (DeLoreans, the sinking of the Belgrano, the Millennium Falcon) all are mentioned. At one point Jason proclaims, “People’ll remember everything about the Falklands till the end of the world.” (Emphasis his.) But for me, the central achievement of Black Swan Green is its voice. It is unforgettable.

Which is why I am going to set it aside and get back to work on my own book. I’ll stick to novels with narrative voices closer to what I’m trying to achieve. Lately I’ve been rereading Rosellen Brown’s Before and After, Sue Miller’s The Good Mother, Ian McEwan’s Saturday, books written in a closely observed, restrained style that suits me at the moment. Novels that unblock me, that help me write. Sometime next spring, when I’m done writing, I’ll pick up Black Swan Green again.

But you should read it now.

I’ve gone on too long, so I’ll close with a question for my fellow novelists. I’ve written here about how hard it can be to write after reading a certain kind of book. Do you find it equally hard to read novels when you are in the process of writing one? For me, it is difficult to sink into the “extended dream” of a novel because I can’t extricate myself from the extended dream I am trying to compose — that is, I can’t escape my own imagination long enough to enter someone else’s. I read for a few pages, a scene or two, then I am struck with an intense desire to get back to my own novel-in-progress. How about you, novelists?
Visit William Landay's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Strangler.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Andrew Rehfeld

Andrew Rehfeld is an assistant professor in the department of political science and a fellow in the Center for Political Economy at Washington University in St. Louis. He joined the faculty in 2001 after receiving an M.P.P. and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago. His primary research is in the theory and practice of political representation, with other interests in the use of the Hebrew Bible in the history of political thought, and the relationship between political theory and the social sciences.

His first book, to which he applied the "page 69 test" a few months ago, is The Concept of Constituency: Political Representation, Democratic Legitimacy, and Institutional Design.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I’m currently reading two books. The first Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore. This is James T. Patterson’s second volume for the Oxford History of the United States. I enjoy reading history, and Patterson is a particularly good writer. Though there is something very un-nerving about reading a volume of history (not political journalism) of a period in which I have been alive. Even worse, I’m old enough to remember most of the events covered in it!

More seriously, though, it bugs me that Oxford pushed ahead to include this period in its series on American History. I think that when a written history of recent times is offered it must suffer either from superficiality or incompleteness (I suppose these are versions of the same problem). It is incomplete insofar as there are still classified documents (let alone people not yet willing to talk) and so much to be unearthed that cannot possible be included since it is not yet known. And that leads to a certain superficiality — I’m at page 70 (roughly 1/6th of the way through) and it does not yet feel like much more than reading a masterly summary of current events from this period. This is really not meant as a deep criticism — Patterson has done a masterful job and his emphasis on the rights explosion of the early 70’s seems to me a very good editorial move on his part. But it is simply the nature of trying to write about things from so close a vantage point that it will be incomplete. It also comes with Oxford’s attempt (as Penguin and others have offered) to offer great swaths of history in a few hundred pages; this necessitates a certain superficial approach. But thanks to Patterson’s concern to present a holistic view of economics, politics and society it is blessedly more interesting than the Middlekauf’s The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (the first volume released in the series) that was mired in “first this battle happened, then that one….” Ugh!

I’m also reading Shane, by Jack Schaefer. Okay, truth be told I’m reading it to my 11 year old son. The book was made into a memorial western with Alan Ladd in the early 1950’s. I haven’t read it (or seen the movie) and I’m only 4 chapters in. But so far there’s a lot of manly western action with a lot of mystery (who is that man; what’s Shane running from?), and brute force, it is keeping both of our attention with plot and character development. So that’s been a lot of fun.
Learn more about Andrew Rehfeld's research program at his university webpage.

The Page 69 Test: The Concept of Constituency: Political Representation, Democratic Legitimacy, and Institutional Design.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Garance Franke-Ruta

Garance Franke-Ruta is a senior editor at The American Prospect magazine. She has also worked at The Washington City Paper, The New Republic, and National Journal magazine, and had stories, criticism, or reviews published in them and: The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, The Washington Monthly, Salon, The Utne Reader and Legal Affairs magazine.

I recently asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Alas, I do so much blog and periodical reading on a daily basis I have little time for longer works right now, even though so many interesting ones come into the office on a daily basis that I could happily fill my days with nothing but reading them. I do most of my blog reading these days on an RSS feeder, NetNewswire. This allows me to scan 36 domestic politics blogs, 4 American newspapers, 2 Israeli papers, 11 foreign policy blogs, 9 media blogs, and 2 blogs on women's issues. I check in with different parts of my feed anywhere between once every few days to once an hour. Additionally, I read two to three other papers online with some irregularity, and check in with half a dozen magazines and dozens of other blogs on politics, design, and society at least once a week.

In terms of books, right now I am looking forward to reading my colleague Tara McKelvey's Monstering: Inside America's Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War, which I've just begun. Also on the bedside table are Anthony Shadid's Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War and The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Visit Garance Franke-Ruta's website,, and The American Prospect.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Keith Dixon

Keith Dixon is an editor for the New York Times.

Ghostfires, his first novel, was named one of the five best first novels of 2004 by Poets & Writers magazine.

His new novel, The Art of Losing, was published in February.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I'm most of the way through Martin Amis's Money -- I'm beginning to think I have some sort of literary crush on Amis, as I can't stop reading (and rereading) his stuff and marveling at what he has going on on the page. I finished his House of Meetings about two days after it hit the shelves and was awestruck by how far his tone and style have advanced. I'd always had The Information pegged as his best but I think House of Meetings runs neck and neck with it.

I just finished reading Bill Buford's Heat -- I adored it, mostly because I'm a food-and-cooking-freak who can't seem to get enough of good snarly food writing, and Heat has plenty of that.

Before Heat, I read Graham Greene's The End of the Affair -- what a startling book! So brief and yet so powerful, so symmetrical, and with such a heart-rending finish. I'm not surprised I enjoyed it so, as The Third Man is my favorite film.

So, what's next? My father and I were talking last night about Kidnapped -- I'm a sucker for R.L. Stevenson, so I'm sure I'll go pick up a little paperback and have at it. After that? Well, I just finished the 1st draft of my third novel, so I suppose I'll settle in with that.
Visit Keith Dixon's website to learn more about his novels.

The Page 69 Test: The Art of Losing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 20, 2007

David Edgerton

David Edgerton is the Hans Rausing Professor at Imperial College London where he was the Founding Director of its Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine.

His latest book is The Shock of the Old: Technology and Global History since 1900.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Going through the pile of books next to my bed to remind myself reveals a more interesting selection than I had expected. I can share it without shame, if I pass over my current obsessive interest in The Statistical Digest of the War (a book made up almost entirely of numbers, published in 1951), and similar works. My current leisure reading is Robert Winder’s Bloody Foreigners, a passionate and to the point history of immigration into Britain. A key theme is the racism, hypocrisy and forgetfulness of the authorities and the people. At the same time it stresses that Britain has indeed become a richer society as a result of immigration.

Still in other respects things have got worse: for the last ten years Britain has had its most mendacious Prime Minister ever. Yet Tony Blair is so overrated by so many that they blind themselves to this, and to the disaster he contributed to in Iraq. As he leaves office it is good to have one’s critical faculties fortified by the splendid polemic of Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s short Yo, Blair! Like me he despises the man’s deep dishonesty and ignorance, particularly of history. Unfortunately, as Ken Alder’s The Lie Detectors: The History of an American Obsession tells us, even if we could have strapped him down and stuck electrodes on his head we would not either find out the truth, or get him to tell it. While not quite the page turner that was The Measure of All Things, this book is a wonderful example of how modern history of science can be brought to a wider public.

Lies about bombing figures prominently in Ian Patterson’s Guernica and Total War, published to coincide with 70th anniversary of the destruction from the air of the Basque town in 1937 – it is really a pair of well-crafted and suggestive essays, one on the bombing itself, the other on the place of bombing in our imagination and military practices. The resonance with recent events is inescapable.

Patrick Cockburn of the Independent is the only foreign correspondent in Iraq to have known the country for years, and one of the very few to stray outside the press rooms of the Green Zone. His memoir The Broken Boy tells how as a child in the 1950s he became a victim of one of the last polio outbreaks, and along the way gives rich insights into the British radical elite of the past, especially his extraordinary parents, Claud and Patricia Cockburn. Claud claimed, and I paraphrase from memory, ‘Times leaders always lie, but the closing prices reported in the Financial Times never do’. Wise words.

George Monbiot, Britain’s most important green intellectual, is one of the few British writers of any stripe on the tail of corporate power in the modern world. He has a good go at showing how we could reduce carbon emissions, if we really want to, that is, in his Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning.

The public sphere may be particularly toxic at the moment, but the domestic has not necessarily been a refuge. I hardly read any fiction, but recently enjoyed Carmen Laforet’s Nada. Published in Spain in 1945 and now translated, it is a wonderfully economical and dark story of the miseries of the family and the domestic in post-civil war bourgeois Barcelona.

If you want to know why Barcelona football fans hate Real Madrid, and why and how Real Madrid differs from Atlético Madrid, and Montevideo’s Nacional from its Peñarol, and even the intricacies of Viennese football, you will love David Goldblatt’s astonishingly rich (and often gloriously funny) social and political history of football. But even if you don’t, this scholarly blockbuster will tell you more about global history than most books on the topic. A great book, graced by a brilliant title: The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football.
Read John Sutherland's interview with Edgerton and his Q & A at the OUP blog.

The inscription to The Shock of the Old:
I stood on a hill and I saw the Old approaching, but it came as/ the New./ It hobbled up on new crutches which no one had ever seen before/ and stank of new smells of decay which no one had ever/ smelt before.
--Bertolt Brecht (1939) from 'Parade of the Old New'
David Edgerton's scholarly works include Warfare State: Britain, 1920-1970, Science, Technology and the British Industrial 'Decline' 1870-1970, England and the Aeroplane: An Essay on a Militant and Technological Nation, and a long list of other publications.

The Page 69 Test: The Shock of the Old.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 18, 2007

David Fulmer

David Fulmer has been a writer and producer for over twenty years. His most recent novel is The Dying Crapshooter's Blues.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I've got a pretty fair stack on my night table.

Bangkok Haunts, by John Burdett. I gave it a fast read because I was asked to review it on deadline for Paste. Now I'm making another pass and taking my time.

A Left Hand Like God, by Peter Silvester, which is a scholarly study of boogie-woogie piano. He's an academician, God help him, and it shows, but this is the kind of work that people like me slog through, sifting for diamonds.

Finally, I bought a stack of New American Reviews from the late 60s for a quarter each and have been having a high old time with them -- speaking figuratively, of course. NAR featured much of the best of the decade along with a little of the most foolish and indulgent. Mostly quality stuff, though. These volumes, filled with terrific essays, memoirs, short stories, and memoirs from the prime talents of the time, couldn't get arrested these days. By the way, they fit in my pocket, so they travel well, too.
David Fulmer's first published novel, Chasing the Devil's Tail, won a Shamus Award in 2002, along with nominations for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Falcon Award and a Barry Award, and was selected for Borders "Best of 2003 List" and other plaudits.

Jass, the second Storyville mystery, was published in January of 2005. It was selected for the Best of 2005 lists by Library Journal and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and won the Georgia Author of the Year Award for Fiction.

Rampart Street was published in January of 2006.

Visit David Fulmer's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Dying Crapshooter's Blues.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Tim Harford

Tim Harford is the author of The Undercover Economist: Exposing Why the Rich Are Rich, Why the Poor Are Poor -- And Why You Can Never Buy a Decent Used Car!.

Steven D. Levitt, author of Freakonomics, called The Undercover Economist "a rare specimen: a book on economics that will enthrall its readers. Beautifully written and argued, it brings the power of economics to life. This book should be required reading for every elected official, business leader, and university student."

I recently asked Harford what he was reading. His reply:
For the past few months I've been mixing business and pleasure. As I work on my new book, so have been studying research from some great economists young and old: Thomas Schelling, Michael Kremer, Gary Becker, Steve Levitt, Ed Glaeser, Roland Fryer, Daron Acemoglu and many others. Schelling's books are particularly accessible to a general audience: I strongly recommend Micromotives and Macrobehavior and Choice and Consequence.

I was lucky enough to interview some of the world's best poker players as part of my research for the book and had lots of fun reading up about the game. I enjoyed Aces and Kings, Positively Fifth Street and Total Poker, as well as Prisoner's Dilemma, the biography of John von Neumann that got me thinking about the relationship between poker and economics.

One of the privileges of writing The Undercover Economist is that publishers now send me other popular economics books. I reviewed The Soulful Science and More Sex is Safer Sex, both of which are new appearances from famliar economics writers, Diane Coyle and Steve Landsburg - readers can find links to the reviews on my website but the quick version is that I enjoyed them both and learned plenty. Tyler Cowen of "Marginal Revolution" also has a book coming out in a few months; I've said nice things about it on the back jacket. It's like no economics book I've ever read and is lots and lots of fun.

Now that I am emerging from the bubble of economics - albeit the unusual economics of pregnancy, racism and politics - I plan to read a few novels. Any suggestions?
Read an excerpt from The Undercover Economist and some praise for the book.

The American Enterprise Institute posted video to their website of a panel discussion of The Undercover Economist with Harford, Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution and Sebastian Mallaby of The Washington Post (the link to the video is in the upper right box).

John Reeves of The Motley Fool, an investment advice website, interviewed Harford in October 2005. Harford shared his thoughts on how he would invest his money, and provided his analysis specifically of GM, Apple and the U.S. real estate market. By my reckoning, as of January 2007, he got two out of the three right -- which, if you could do it all the time, should make you a very rich person.

"The Undercover Economist" appears regularly in Slate; Harford also writes about economics for the Financial Times, including its "Dear Economist" column which "answers readers' personal problems with the tools of Adam Smith."

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 14, 2007

Donna Moore

Donna Moore's debut novel is …Go To Helena Handbasket, winner of the Left Coast Crime Lefty Award and other accolades.

I recently asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Oooooh, I love talking about books I've enjoyed, so thank you for this opportunity. I love books which are dark, warped, nasty and funny. If I can get all those in one book then I'm as happy as Larry (that's Larry the dark, warped, nasty person your mother warned you about by the way). Two of the books I finished recently featured a crucifixion, and not in a good way (is there a good way?).

Ken Bruen's Cross is the sixth in the Jack Taylor series. Jack has given up drinking (again), despite the fact that his surrogate son is in hospital and Jack feels it's his fault. When another young man is crucified, Jack is drawn into the investigation despite his better judgment. Things just happen around Jack and crimes appear to be solved despite him, rather than because of him. Jack Taylor is one of crime fiction's most interesting, touching, tortured protagonists and Ken Bruen's writing skill just has me in awe.

Allan Guthrie's Hard Man is a wonderful combination of all my favourite elements. It's violent, vicious, in-your-face and hilarious. The psychopathic Baxter father and sons find themselves not quite psycho enough (surprisingly - since they are pretty damn psycho) to take on Wallace, the husband of their pregnant teenage daughter/sister, May. Wallace is a serious head case. So they try and hire Pearce - an ex-con who loves his dead mother and his three-legged dog - to sort Wallace out. And if that's not enough to tempt you, this is the only book I've ever read that contains a masturbating hamster.

The book I have most recently finished is Joe Lansdale's Lost Echoes which is sort of supernatural noir. The main character, Harry Wilkes, suffered a childhood illness which left him with a gift - or more precisely a curse. He sees visions of horrific crimes or accidents. The visions are triggered by sounds - a door slamming, the rustling of a bush - anything can set it off and Harry does his best to deaden the sounds with alcohol. He only faces his visions head on when a childhood sweetheart asks for his help in solving what she thinks was the murder of her father. Joe Lansdale weaves such a wonderful tale. For me he is just a master storyteller.

I'm now reading Kevin Wignall's Among the Dead. Five friends accidentally kill a fellow student in a hit and run. Ten years later their decision not to own up comes back to haunt them. So far, it's haunting this reader too - very atmospheric and gripping. Guilt, morality, friendship, loyalty are all thoughtfully put under the spotlight in this stylish character study. I really enjoy Kevin Wignall's writing. He deserves to be far better known than he is and I'm really looking forward to the new book coming out later this year, called Who is Conrad Hirst?

I'm also dipping in and out of two excellent short story collections. One is Murdaland, which is a literary journal in book format. This first issue features some favourite authors of mine such as Daniel Woodrell, Ken Bruen, Anthony Neil Smith and Gary Phillips, as well as new to me authors Patricia Abbott, Cortright McMeel and J D Rhoades. The stories I've read so far are really good. The other anthology is Simon Wood's Working Stiffs which is a collection of workplace related crime stories. Very varied stories and each one has a distinctive voice. I'm thoroughly enjoying this one.

And on the "I'm really looking forward to reading" front, I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Mark Haskell Smith's Salty which is due out very soon and which features an unemployed rock star and recovering sex addict whose supermodel wife is kidnapped in Thailand. Sex, drugs and rock and roll. What more could a girl want?
More about Moore:
The Page 69 Test: …Go To Helena Handbasket.

The first chapter of …Go To Helena Handbasket.

Sarah Weinman's post about "Donna Moore Appreciation Day."

Kevin Burton Smith named …Go To Helena Handbasket to January Magazine's Best of Crime Fiction 2006 list.

Donna Moore's biography at Point Blank.
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Marc Acito

Marc Acito is an irregular contributor to All Things Considered, the New York Times, and Live Wire Radio. His debut novel, How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship and Musical Theater, won the Ken Kesey Award for Fiction, was selected an Editors' Choice by the New York Times, and is in development at Columbia Pictures.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I like funny books. There, I’ve said it. Call me a lightweight. (Please. I’ve been on a diet since I was fourteen.)

And, contrary to the paleolithic opinion of Christopher Hitchens in the January Vanity Fair, I find women to be very funny indeed. Lately, in fact, I find myself positively swimming in a sea of estrogen. In quick succession, I’ve devoured three terrific titles:

1) We Are All Fine Here by Mary Guterson, a snarky, irreverent, yet heartfelt comic novel about a married woman who hooks up with her old boyfriend in a bathroom at a wedding and gets pregnant. Guterson has a truly original voice and writes bravely of things we all think but never say.

2) I Feel Bad About Neck, a collection of wry, insightful essays on aging by screenwriter Nora Ephron.

3) Embroideries, another stunning graphic memoir from Marjane Satrapi, author of the acclaimed Persepolis books, but this time about the sex secrets of Iranian women.

I do two things when I find authors I like. First, I read everything else they’ve written. In the case of Ephron, I’ve now got a pile of new books to enjoy. But, once I’ve made it through a writer’s entire oeuvre, I tend to read them all again, both to analyze how they did it as much as for enjoyment. Such is the case with Susan Jane Gilman’s laugh-out-loud book of essays, Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, which I’m now on my third go-around. And since Jennifer Good In Bed Weiner can’t write her novels fast enough for fans like me, I sustain myself with daily doses of her hilarious blog,

Why do I like funny female writers so much? I think it’s because, more often than comic male writers, they not only tickle the funny bone, but they tap an emotional vein. In my reading, I look for writers who achieve what I strive (and strive some more) to do myself — make readers laugh, make them cry, and make them think.

Remember, dying is easy, comedy is hard.
Visit Marc Acito's website and read an excerpt from How I Paid for College.

Check out Acito's five favorite authors.

The Page 99 Test: How I Paid for College.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 10, 2007

James Marcus

James Marcus is the author of Amazonia: Five Years at the Epicenter of the Dot-Com Juggernaut.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
My reading has been fairly scattered in recent weeks, but I've just finished a galley of Joe Bageant's Deer Hunting With Jesus: Disptaches From America's Class War, which I admired for its pungent prose and non-dogmatic approach to the train wreck of American politics.

I'm also in the middle of a very amusing novel, Daniel Asa Rose's Flipping For It, which came out in 1987, and have been dipping into The Portable Nabokov, mostly for such scintillating stories as "Cloud, Castle, Lake" and "First Love" (since my hardcover edition of The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov is too damn heavy to tote around on the subway.)

Oh, and I keep getting drawn into Philip Norman's excellent (if Macca-hating) Shout: The Beatles in Their Generation, because I've had a fanatical run of listening to Beatles bootlegs and would like to write a little book about them.

Next up: Elizabeth McKenzie's new novel MacGregor Tells The World.
James Marcus is a writer, translator, critic, and editor.

In addition to Amazonia, he is the author of five translations from the Italian (the most recent being Tullio Kezich's Dino: The Life and Films of Dino De Laurentiis and Saul Steinberg's Letters to Aldo Buzzi).

He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Salon, Newsday, The Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times Book Review, Lingua Franca, The Nation, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and many other publications.

Marcus also writes about jazz, pop, and classical music for WBUR Online Arts.

Check out his blog, House of Mirth.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Stephen Burt

Stephen Burt's critical study, Randall Jarrell and His Age, appeared from Columbia University Press in 2002; his book of poetry, Popular Music (CLP/Colorado) in 1999. Another book of poetry, Parallel Play, was published last year by Graywolf.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I tend to read a lot of books at once. At the moment, or in my mind:

The Full Indian Rope Trick by Colette Bryce. Fun, emotionally rich, rhyme-wielding second collection by a poet from Ireland, living in Scotland, well-thought-of there and unknown here. Reminds me at times of Merrill, at times of Richard Wilbur, at times of Lavinia Greenlaw.

Like Something Flying Backwards, the expanded UK edition of C. D. Wright's new-and-selected poems, called in the United States Steal Away (and published here last year, but there are about 20 pages of new poems in the UK version).

Place and Experience: A Philosophical Topography by J. E. Malpas. What does it mean to being, thinking, remembering and saying that we are, or speak, from one place -- Tasmania, say, where Malpas (who teaches philosophy) lives, or Boston, or Brisbane, or Lagos -- rather than from another? When I finish this book I might find out.

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman. Comic-book heroes treated realistically and with care -- a lot like Kurt Busiek's Astro City, which I admire without limit, except that Grossman's novel is not a graphic novel but a words-all-over-the-page novel novel.

Astro City by Kurt Busiek.

A Fiddle Pulled from the Throat of a Sparrow by Noah Eli Gordon. Not sure yet what I think.

The Fortunate Fall by Raphael Carter. The best science fiction novel almost nobody I know has read. In the far future, Internet-thought police protect Eurasia from mental infection, but don't know what to do with a secret whale.

The new Chicago Review on (experimental/ avant-garde) British poets.

Fulcrum: an annual of poetry and aesthetics.

One Kind of Everything by Dan Chiasson.

The Caddie Was a Reindeer by Steve Rushin. Rebecca Lobo's husband, and yes, that is a good enough reason to read it, but there are others.

Oh, and: I read everything Mechelle Voepel writes, but she doesn't have a book out yet.
Stephen Burt is Associate Professor of English at Macalester College. He reviews new poetry (and books about poetry) frequently for a variety of publications in the United States and Britain, among them the New York Times Book Review, Boston Review, Poetry Review, the Times Literary Supplement, and the Yale Review. He has also edited for publication some posthumous writings of Randall Jarrell's, including Jarrell's lectures on W. H. Auden, which is available from Columbia University Press. Burt also writes about rock music, comics, and genre fiction on occasion, or when asked.

In 2004, he wrote about Philip Larkin's poems for Slate.

Read an excerpt from Parallel Play, Burt's poems "After Callimachus" and "At the Providence Zoo," and visit Stephen Burt's personal website.

--Marshal Zeringue