Saturday, June 30, 2007

Susan O'Doherty

Susan O'Doherty, a writer and clinical psychologist, is the author of Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued: A Woman's Guide to Unblocking Creativity. Her popular advice column for writers, “The Doctor Is In,” appears every Friday on MJ Rose’s publishing blog, Buzz, Balls, & Hype.

Last week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I am reading The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion. I admire Didion’s writing, but although I’ve had the book for over a year, I put off starting it because I knew it would be difficult and painful. I finally forced myself to open it because my desire to see how a master writer deals with intensely personal information trumped my reluctance to delve into such a potent reminder of the inevitability of death and loss.

Each time one of my own autobiographical essays is about to come out, I am seized with panic: What if I have misremembered, misrepresented an episode that is meaningful to someone else in my story? If there are two or more competing versions of a story, how do we determine which one is “correct”? And even if I can prove definitively that mine is “true,” do I have the right to broadcast someone else’s personal information? Yet when the facts, or “facts,” are disguised, a writer is vulnerable to charges of fabrication. I am looking at the memoirs of more accomplished writers for guidance in handling these issues.

Didion’s prose is specific, detailed, and devastating. She explores her reactions to her husband’s death and her daughter’s illness with excruciating precision. Yet the questions of truthfulness and of protecting others’ privacy become irrelevant, because she emphasizes that this is an attempted reconstruction of her personal experience, not a recitation of “facts.” And because she does not try to convince us of the validity of her version — because she does not set up an internal conflict in the reader — we are free to enter into her experience more fully. This is a real education for me.

I am also nearly at the end of Ptolemy’s Gate, the final book in Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy. Generally speaking, fantasy is not my genre of choice; I have enough trouble navigating everyday life without adding magic spells and demons to the mix. However, my 13-year-old son loves these books, and I try to stay current with what he is reading. I must admit, I am riveted. Stroud’s djinni is engagingly world-weary, cynical, and possessed of a dry sense of humor; and his teenaged heroine is resourceful, honorable, and perilously, perhaps fatally, ignorant. In fact, I need to stop writing right now to find out what happens to her.
O'Doherty's stories, poems, and essays have appeared in Eureka Literary Magazine, Northwest Review, Apalachee Review, Eclectica, Literary Mama, Reflection’s Edge, VerbSap, Carve, Word Riot, Style & Sense, Phoebe, and the anthologies About What Was Lost: Twenty Writers on Miscarriage, Healing, and Hope (Penguin, 2007), It’s a Boy! (Seal Press, 2005), The Best of Carve, Volume VI, and Familiar (The People's Press, 2005). New stories are scheduled to appear in Hospital Road and in the anthologies Mama, Ph.D. and Sex for America, edited by Stephen Elliott.

Her story “Passing” was chosen as the New York Story for Ballyhoo Stories’ ongoing Fifty States Project.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Patrick Radden Keefe

Patrick Radden Keefe is a writer who focuses on intelligence, international security, technology, and the globalization of crime.

His first book is Chatter: Uncovering the Echelon Surveillance Network and the Secret World of Global Eavesdropping.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Leisure reading has become sort of an aspirational exercise for me lately. My bedside table is piled high with various novels, each dog-eared at approximately page 25. I acquire books much more quickly than I read them, and they collect there on the table, like a rebuke. Part of the problem is that between foreign policy research at the think tank where I work and research for various magazine articles and other writing projects, I'm obliged to read a lot of interesting nonfiction, and so I end up reading a lot of books in my spare time that are, strictly speaking, for work. This means I end up reading (or finishing, really) less and less fiction, which is a pity. Also: the Internet. It's eviscerated what meager concentration span I had to begin with.

That said, I've been reading two excellent books this week, both somewhat related to work. One is The Devil's Highway, by Luis Alberto Urrea. It's a story about a group of migrants who crossed an especially barren, scorching portion of the Mexico/Arizona border in 2001. They were on foot and got lost, and fourteen of them died in the desert. I picked the book up because I'm halfway through writing my second book, which grew out of this article I wrote last year for The New Yorker, and deals with a boat full of Chinese immigrants who traveled around the world and ran aground off the coast of Queens, New York, in 1993. In that light, Urrea's book is daunting: it's beautifully written and observed, from his searing descriptions of the brutal landscape where these men came across to his brief portraits of the members of the border patrol, the "coyotes" who get paid to smuggle people across, and the walkers themselves. He's a poet, and his prose is very lyrical -- much more so than my own -- but it's instructive to look at the way he handles evidence that is similar to the sorts of evidence I'm handling. When you track down a report of the items recovered from the body of an immigrant who has died trying to get to America -- a belt buckle, a comb, a piece of paper with a stateside telephone number -- how do you put that on the page? Urrea just makes a list of these few spare objects: "taken all together, they did not have enough items to fill a carry-on bag."

The other thing I'm reading is a galley of a book that will be out next month, Inside the Red Mansion, by Oliver August. August was the Beijing bureau chief for the London Times, and his book is about a man named Lai Changxing, who was sort of China's answer to the Russian oligarchs -- a wily entrepreneur who got into business in a big way just as China's markets were opening up, and became one of the wealthiest men in the country. The Party ended up turning on Lai, and he went into hiding, becoming China's most wanted man. August's book is about his search for Lai (he eventually finds him in Canada, where Lai asked for asylum), which gives the book an almost thriller-ish narrative spine. But it's also a rumination on the thumping economic growth China has experienced in the last decade, the gaudy excess of the newly rich, and the enduring power of old-school corruption.
Patrick Radden Keefe currently works as a program officer and fellow at the Century Foundation, and as a project leader at the World Policy Institute. He is the recipient of a 2006 Guggenheim Fellowship.

Visit his official website.

The Page 69 Test: Chatter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Jennifer 8. Lee

Jennifer 8. Lee is a metropolitan reporter at the New York Times, where she has worked for many years.

She harbors a deep obsession for Chinese food, the product of which is The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, a book that explores how Chinese food is all-American, due out in March 2008.

Last week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
There are two genres I swing between:

- non-fiction of a sociological or current affairs nature and

- fiction by authors who are one or more of the following: 1) alive 2) female 3) "diverse" (all three would definitely catch my attention).

As a journalist, I also get sent a lot of galleys, that I will often at least look at, if not skim or read entirely. Sometimes the pitches are kind of random (young adult novels) but I like getting books.

On the non-fiction side, I just read Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, about why some ideas thrive while others die. It is in the genre (both style and content) of The Tipping Point and The Wisdom of Crowds. I also read The Long Tail by Chris Anderson. Those two books, I hope will help me distill the kinds of ideas and memes that will help newspapers determine new business model for the digital future.

In my bag currently, I have The Heartless Stone by Tom Zoellner, which just came out in paperback. It is about the myths of the diamond industry — diamonds, which have limited industrial use, have little value other than what humans socially ascribe to them. It's a really well-written book that spans every continent except Antarctica. I was interested in it because I had asked him how to do the endnotes for my book.

I was also passed an advanced manuscript of Starbucked by Taylor Clark, out in January 2008, because I am always interested in food social issues, which I also read in one sitting.

On the fiction front, I just read Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee, in one fell swoop. It's (a huge book) about Ivy League-educated Korean Americans in New York City. I stayed up until 4 a.m. because it is a subtle page-turner about race and class and privilege. Every sentence and paragraph is there for a reason, so you cannot just skim. I am enthusiastically recommending it to my friends, many of whom are Asian-American.

I also picked up Granta's Best of Young American Novelists 2 ("Now even younger!") at the Book Expo America a few weeks ago, mostly because it had a number of people I know through various means (friends of friends) listed on the back. In it, there was a poignant short story on a Jewish soldier during the American civil war by a classmate, Dara Horn. Since most Jewish immigrants arrived in New York between 1880 and 1920, it was interesting to see the perception of Jews in a society before that period.

Compilations of short stories/excerpts are great. They are like dim sum. You can get a little taste of a lot of things and are not obligated to try the things you don't want.
Read recent and archived news articles by Lee in the New York Times.

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles is currently being edited, so excerpts are not yet available. Lee has this placeholder paragraph until the excerpts are online:
I can tell you that the current draft has chapters on General Tso’s chicken (I meet his family in China!), chop suey (with a new theory on who invented it and why, it’s not the historically bantered-about theory), fortune cookies (surprises galore here), how delivery got started in New York City, why Jews love Chinese food (or as I like to say “Why is chow mein the chosen food of the chosen people?), and the hunt for the greatest Chinese restaurant in the world outside Greater China.
Visit the website for The Fortune Cookie Chronicles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Joanna Scott

Joanna Scott is the Roswell Smith Burrows Professor of English at The University of Rochester and author of numerous novels and stories, including Everybody Loves Somebody, a collection of stories (Back Bay Books, 2006) and Liberation, a novel (Little, Brown and Company, 2005).

Last week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Your email reaches me in Italy, at the Villa Santa Maddalena outside Florence, where I'm staying for a couple of weeks. Thanks for your question.

When I'm not writing at a little desk in the garden or battling the tiger mosquitoes or swimming in the pool or walking through the olive groves or enjoying good meals or watching the fireflies flicker through the bamboo, I'm reading Jen Christian Grondahl's illuminating and absorbing novel, Silence in October, which was thrust in my hands by one of his fans here.

In preparation for a class I'm teaching next semester, I'm rereading Nabokov's The Real Life of Sebastian Knight and Woolf's The Waves.

And for the rich, engrossing pleasure of it late at night, I'm reading Zola's The Earth.
Scott's other publications include Tourmaline, a novel (Back Bay Books, 2003), Make Believe, a novel (Little, Brown, and Company, 2000), Various Antidotes, a collection of stories (Picador USA, reprint, 2005), Arrogance, a novel (Picador USA, reprint, 2004), Fading, My Parmacheene Belle (Picador USA, reprint, 2003), The Closest Possible Union, a novel (Picador USA, reprint, 2003), and The Manikin, a novel (Picador USA, reprint, 2002).

Joanna Scott has received numerous honors for her writing, including Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundation fellowships, a Pushcart Prize, the Rosenthal Award from the Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and a Lannan fellowship.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 22, 2007

Dana Stabenow

Edgar Award–winning Dana Stabenow is the author of fifteen novels in her "Kate Shugak" series, three Liam Campbell mysteries, three science-fiction novels, and a stand-alone novel.

She also writes an acclaimed column for Alaska magazine.

Last week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I was at the winter meeting of the ALA in Seattle in January, where I had breakfast with Nancy Pearl and Talia Ross, my publisher’s (Holtzbrinck) library marketing manager. I was telling the two of them about a science fiction lit workshop I would be teaching at the Kenai Public Library in March, and how I was using classics (H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy, the Heinlein juveniles, Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, Sheri Tepper’s The Gate to Women’s Country) in my syllabus and very few new books because I hadn’t read a lot of new sf or fantasy that I liked.

Well. That was a mistake. Ever since, Talia has been sending me boxes full of Tor books, which I dive into headfirst when they’re dropped off at the door, much to the neglect of my to-read shelf (not to mention the book I’m supposed to be writing). I just finished S.M. Stirling’s The Sky People, a reincarnation of Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter on Mars as Marc Vitrac on a Venus that reminds me of Heinlein’s Venus in Between Planets. Before that I read Brenda Cooper’s The Silver Ship and the Sea, about a bunch of back-to-the-land space colonists who go to war with latecomers who have been “altered,” all the better to survive the planet. They win, and are left with raising six “altered” children, told in first person by one of the altereds. Some good characters, especially Jenna.

I told Talia it was like turning a drunk loose in a distillery. I just love being a writer.
Visit Dana Stabenow's official website and her Amazon blog.

The Page 69 Test: A Deeper Sleep.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sarah Salway

Sarah Salway has published numerous short stories, as well as winning several writing competitions. Her first novel Something Beginning With, an extremely funny and sad story of love, self-discovery and the alphabet, was published in 2004 by Bloomsbury in the UK and Ballantine in the US (as The ABCs of Love), and has been translated into many languages. Her latest novel is Tell Me Everything.

I recently asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I am never sure which comes first, the reading or the writing. But what I do know is that they both feed off each other. I can't imagine being the sort of writer who blithely says: 'I never read.' If nothing else - ignoring the pleasure, the stimulation, the excitement that comes with reading - it seems bad manners. Rather like not joining in with the conversation but shouting out random sentences from the corner instead.

However, I do try to stay away from books with direct links to whatever I'm writing in case I either 'borrow' by mistake, or get overwhelmed by other voices. Instead I read round the subject. At the moment, I'm enjoying Isabel Allende's Aphrodite. It's the best possible reminder, not just how nourishing good food and sex can be, but how funny too. Really life enhancing.

Another food book I'm devouring is Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle - the story of how the novelist and her family decided to live for a year eating only local produce. Like Aphrodite, but with slightly different aims, recipes are woven into the narrative, and using them to cook for my family feels like I'm taking the role in someone else's story. Delicious. Perhaps it's not surprising that food is becoming even more central to my current novel in progress.

I'm also re-reading The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin. What's interesting for me is how I'm seeing completely different themes from the first time I read it, younger, and perhaps angrier. It's the links between all the characters I notice this time round, whereas before it was the discord. Strange that.

Then poetry. I always try to read some poetry every day, and my favourite collection of the moment is Susan Wicks' latest book, De-Iced.

Lastly, I'm working my way through Granta's Best of Young American Novelists. There are several included I haven't come across before and I'm looking forward to reading more of Maile Meloy and Rattawut Lapcharoensap in particular.
Recently, Salway selected a top ten list of books about unlikely friendships for the Guardian.

Learn more about Sarah Salway's writing -- and read some of her poetry and journalism -- at her website and at her blog, Sarah's Writing Journal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 18, 2007

Lynne Tillman

Lynne Tillman is Professor/Writer-in-Residence in the Department of English at the University at Albany. Her novels include American Genius, A Comedy (2006), No Lease on Life (1998), which was a New York Times Notable Book of 1998 and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, Cast in Doubt (1992), Motion Sickness (1991), and Haunted Houses (1987). She also publishes short stories, essays, and other non-fiction.

I recently asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm reading Tony Judt's Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945.... This book is extraordinary in its depth and succinctness. Thirty million people in Europe were homeless or displaced, or stateless, after the war ended. Histories remind me that there have always been disastrous times. That is sort of comforting during our disastrous one.

I'm reading Javier Marias' A Heart So White, whose style and intelligence I admire. I wish it compelled me more. I think it's the concern with marriage, its effect on the protagonist's supposed autonomy, but I'm not sure, I go in and out of it. Attracted and annoyed or repelled. But I will finish it, in part because of my ambivalence.

I'm soon to begin Matthew Sharpe's new novel, Jamestown. And I am also very eager to read Lydia Davis' new collection of stories, Varieties of Disturbance.
The Page 69 Test: American Genius, A Comedy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Joseph Margulies

Joseph Margulies is an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center and an Associate Clinical Professor at Northwestern University Law School in Chicago.

Earlier this month Benjamin Wittes mentioned that he was reading Margulies's book, Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power, so I checked in with Margulies to see what he was reading.

His reply:
I'm doing research for another book. As a general matter, I'm fascinated by society under stress -- the language, the policies, and the changes that emerge from these chaotic episodes. This has led me in several interesting directions, and right now I am spending a number of very enjoyable hours immersed in the immediate post-war period, especially the five years from 1946 to 1951. I've been working my way through a slew of monographs. These past few days have been spent on Walter Goodman's terrific book on the House Committee on Un-American Activities, The Committee, and Dean Acheson's autobiography, Present at the Creation. They are both quite old but available from online booksellers.

On my nightstand is the latest by my friend and fellow transplanted Chicagoan, Alex Kotlowitz: Never a City So Real: A Walk In Chicago. Alex, best known for There Are No Children Here, is a wonderful writer with a great gift for non-fiction character development. Chicago is a town full of characters and his book captures some great ones. I recommend it.
Jospeh Margulies received his B.A., with distinction, from Cornell University in 1982, and his J.D., cum laude, from Northwestern in 1988. After a clerkship with the Hon. William Hart of the Northern District of Illinois, Margulies joined the staff of the Texas Capital Resource Center, where he represented men and women on Texas' death row.

Learn more about Margulies's Guantánamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power (Simon and Schuster 2006) and read an excerpt.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Michelle Moran

Michelle Moran's new novel, Nefertiti: A Novel, releases this July.

I recently asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Currently, I'm reading The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani. It's a fascinating novel set in 17th century Iran, and at the end of June Anita will be doing an interview for my blog History Buff. It's not difficult to see why BookSense chose Amirrezvani's book as their number one pick for the month of June. The Blood of Flowers is a story within a story; a once upon a time tale of a young woman living in Persia who uses her unusual carpet-making skills to weave herself out of a life of poverty. Meanwhile, she weaves fabulous tales for the men who enter her life. The narrative is rich with period detail, and I can't recommend this book highly enough!
Read more about Michelle Moran and Nefertiti at her website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Erin McKean

Erin McKean, aka "America's Lexicographical Sweetheart" and "the queen and rock star among lexicographers," is the Editor in Chief of Oxford's American Dictionaries.

She is also the author of Weird and Wonderful Words, Totally Weird and Wonderful Words, and That's Amore!: The Language of Love for Lovers of Language.

I recently asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
My summer reading goal is to redeem my promises to all the books that I bought with good intentions and never read: so far I've galloped through Marilynne Robinson's Gilead (and dog-eared a dozen pages because the words she used were so lovely and rare: covetise, lour, robustious), immersed myself in Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and am rambling at a leisurely pace through Neil Gaiman's Sandman trades -- I just finished A Game of You. All winners -- and I can't believe it took me so long to get to them!

I'm also getting over a cold. I treat colds with Dayquil, Diet Coke, and megadoses of children's literature. This one was vanquished by four volumes of Noel Streatfeild's 'shoes' books in quick succession: Dancing Shoes, Ballet Shoes, Movie Shoes, and Family Shoes. If a hearty dose of stiff-upper-lip Britishness and various nasty, spoiled children getting their well-deserved comeuppances doesn't make you feel better, you may never get well.

More seriously, I'm right in the middle of David Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous, which is terrifically smart and eerily prescient about where information is going (and how we'll find it once we've caught up to it). As a lexicographer, I especially enjoyed his take on the evolution of alphabetical order ... finally, someone gets it!

Of course, I'm also looking forward to what I'm going to read next ... on the horizon are John Scalzi's The Last Colony (my reward for getting through the Dictionary Society of North America conference next week; I plan to read it on the plane to the O'Reilly Tools of Change conference; and any day now I should get the books from the reading list for the Literary Sojourn, which I'll be emceeing in October! (If you're in Colorado, you should stop by ... )
Visit Dictionary Evangelist, one of McKean's blogs.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Benjamin Wittes

Benjamin Wittes is a Guest Scholar at the Brookings Institution, a columnist for The New Republic Online, and a former editorial writer for the Washington Post specializing in legal affairs. He is the author of Starr: A Reassessment, (Yale University Press, 2002) and Confirmation Wars: Preserving Independent Courts in Angry Times, (Rowman & Littlefield and the Hoover Institution, 2006). He is a contributing editor for the Atlantic Monthly.

Before he joined the editorial page staff of the Washington Post in 1997, Wittes covered the Justice Department and federal regulatory agencies as a reporter and news editor at Legal Times. His writing has also appeared in a wide range of journals and magazines, including Slate, The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, Policy Review, and First Things.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
It's an eclectic mix actually. I read a steady diet of legal opinions, since I write almost exclusively about law. As we are coming up on the end of a Supreme Court term, I am spending a fair bit of time -- and will be spending more in the coming weeks -- keeping up with the institutional output of the courts.

I am also currently working on a book about the legal architecture of the war on terror. As a result, I have been reading the rather voluminous literature that has developed around that. Specifically, I've been reading the documentary compilations, The Torture Papers and The Torture Debate in America -- along with Joseph Margulies's recent book, Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power and John Yoo's two books on the war. I have a long stack of thematically-related literature to read, and I expect this will occupy most of my reading time for the next several months. The most interesting book on this general subject I have read recently is James F. Simon's Lincoln and Chief Justice Taney -- which deals with many of the same liberty-in-wartime themes Americans are fighting about now but as they played out during the Civil War.

Other recent legal reading includes Jan Crawford Greenburg's new book, Supreme Conflict -- about which I wrote in a column some time back -- and Richard Posner's The Little Book of Plagiarism.

On a less contemporary note, a friend and I have been contemplating reading (or rereading, in some cases) the St. John's College book list as a way of gaining a deeper knowledge of classical and canonical literature -- my facility with which is spotty. We hope to begin that soon and proceed in a leisurely pace over several years.

Finally, on a lighter note, I have been reading the Bonfire of the Vanities, which I somehow missed in the 1980s and which remains uncommonly good fun. And, of course, I am eagerly awaiting Harry Potter VII, while pretending my excitement on this score is all on my kids' account....
Read Wittes's recent article, "The Supreme Court's Shift on Abortion is Not What You Think," The New Republic, April 30, 2007.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 8, 2007

Rachel Hadas

Rachel Hadas is a poet, professor, essayist and translator.

She is the author of numerous books of poetry, essays, and translations. Most recent publications include [poetry] The River of Forgetfulness (2006); Laws (2004); Indelible (2001); Halfway Down the Hall: New & Selected Poems (1998) -- a finalist for the 1999 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; The Empty Bed (1995); The Double Legacy (1995); Mirrors of Astonishment (1992); and Living in Time (1990).

Earlier this week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I am rereading Trollope's Can You Forgive Her?; reading Marcus Aurelius's Meditations in a wonderful new translation by Martin Hammond; and have just finished Lore Segal's new Shakespeare's Kitchen.

Since I am preparing to teach 2 workshops & also engaged in contest-judging, those tasks take care of my poetry reading for the time being.
Visit Rachel Hadas's website to learn more about her work.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Mary Sharratt

Mary Sharratt is an American writer currently living in England. A member of the literary organization Commonword, she is active in the Manchester writing community, regularly taking part in public readings and leading writing workshops.

Her acclaimed first novel Summit Avenue, set in Minnesota during the nineteen-teens, "is the story of a young German immigrant who translates fairy tales for an enigmatic older woman." The Real Minerva, her second novel, explores the theme of female outlaws in a 1920s Minnesota town.

Sharratt's third book, The Vanishing Point, a literary novel of dark suspense set in the Colonial Chesapeake, was included in the UK Guardian's readers' Best Literary Discoveries of 2006.

I recently asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
As a Reviews Editor for the Historical Novel Society, I read a lot of new historical fiction in various subgenres, historical mysteries being one of the most popular. The most recent is Gyles Brandreth’s Oscar Wilde and the Candlelight Murders, which I thought worked better as an affectionate homage to Wilde than as a proper murder mystery. My full review will run in the August issue of The Historical Novels Review.

Currently I’m reading Michelle Moran’s debut novel, Nerfertiti, which publishes in July. I will be interviewing the author for Solander, the sister publication of the HNR.

Next on my to-be-read stack is Aryn Kyle’s horse-centric literary novel, The God of Animals. My friend, the British author Cath Staincliffe, gave me this book because she knows how passionate I am about horses.

For the rest, I’m reading a lot of nonfiction to research my new novel about the Lancashire Witches of 1612. So far, I’ve examined the primary and period sources: Thomas Potts’s account of the trial, The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster, published in 1613, and James I’s treatise, Daemonologie. James I was obsessed with the occult and some scholars believe that his paranoia of diabolical powers helped fuel the 1612 witch craze. A modern work I’ve found very helpful is The Lancashire Witches: Histories & Stories, edited by Robert Poole. Next on my list are Carlo Ginzburg’s Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath and Emma Wilby’s Familiar Spirits: Shamanistic Visionary Traditions in Early Modern British Witchcraft and Magic. Not exactly beach books!
Read more about The Vanishing Point, including an excerpt, at Mary Sharratt's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Vanishing Point.

The Page 69 Test: The Vanishing Point.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 4, 2007

J. Kingston Pierce

J. Kingston Pierce is the author most recently of Eccentric Seattle, about the troubled, tragic, and often bawdy history of the Pacific Northwest’s most publicized city. His previous books include America’s Historic Trails with Tom Bodett (companion to the 1996 PBS-TV series) and San Francisco, You’re History! (a celebration of the crooks, madams, politicians, and performers who created California’s favorite town). He’s currently working on his first novel, a historical mystery.

However, Pierce may be better known as senior editor of the popular online literary journal January Magazine and as editor of The Rap Sheet, a blog specializing in news and short features about crime fiction, in print and other media.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I’ve never been very good at limiting my field of reading interest. So, although I generally write about crime fiction, my bookshelves are also stuffed full of mainstream fiction, western historicals, non-fiction history texts, biographies, and works about modern politics, architecture, and the media. I just never know when I might have a sudden craving for one of Alistair MacLean’s classic thrillers, or want to learn more about the abundant saloons of the Old West or Africa’s 19th-century Zulu War. In any case, I have a book about it.

To satisfy my craving for crime, I am in the midst of enjoying several recent or forthcoming novels. Right on top of that stack is Martin Cruz Smith’s new Arkady Renko adventure, Stalin’s Ghost, in which the Moscow detective (who we first met in 1981’s Gorky Park) investigates a formerly heralded fellow cop’s alleged corruption, while simultaneously dealing with his girlfriend’s decision to go back to her former lover, and looking into reports that the late Soviet leader Joseph Stalin is haunting a metro train platform. Below that, I find works by a couple of Irishmen — John Connolly’s The Unquiet, his sixth novel featuring private eye Charlie Parker; and Declan Hughes’ second P.I. Ed Loy novel, The Color of Blood — followed by Eternal, my introduction to Craig Russell’s half-Scottish, half-German detective, Jan Fabel of the Hamburg murder squad. (Earlier this year, Russell’s work won the Hamburg Polizeistern Award, or annual Police Star Award, so I’m expecting great things.)

In addition to these hardcover crime and thriller works, I have lately been winding my way through a trio of paperbacks: William Boyd’s World War II-era spy novel, Restless (rich in character); the Hard Case Crime edition of David Goodis’ 1955 novel, The Wounded and the Slain (ribald and suspenseful); and Kent Anderson’s Night Dogs (1996), which earned considerable attention in The Rap Sheet’s recent survey of novelists and critics, asking them to name the crime or thriller novel that has been “most unjustly overlooked, criminally forgotten, or underappreciated over the years.” And I have a fourth — Europa Editions’ translation of Spanish writer Alicia Giménez-Bartlett’s Prime Time Suspect — begging for my attention.

Fortunately, I am one of those people who can consume half a dozen or more books at a time, without losing track of individual plot lines. Which explains why, on top of my fiction-reading, I have several more volumes at hand for those moments when my taste runs to non-fiction. Former Vice President Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason — his powerful indictment of George W. Bush’s campaign to embroil the United States in a seemingly endless war with Iraq, and simultaneously undermine the nation’s economy and international ties — is consuming most of my non-crime-fiction attention right now. (See excerpts from Gore’s book here and here.) However, I have also just begun Lance Morrow’s The Best Year of Their Lives: Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon in 1948, a fascinating account of that pivotal year in the careers of three future chief executives.

Perhaps it’s because the 2008 U.S. presidential election seems already to have commenced in earnest, but most of my non-fiction reading these days is related to White House residents or aspirants. Before his death at the end of February, historian and former Kennedy advisor Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. was editing a series of short presidential bios for Times Books/Henry Holt. These are penned primarily by political historians or former pols, and, in my opinion, have demonstrated uneven quality. (So far, I’ve enjoyed Ted Widmer’s Martin Van Buren and Jean H. Baker’s James Buchanan the most.) Still, they’re wonderful for brushing up on chief execs who seem either too boring (like Benjamin Harrison) or too reprehensible (like Warren G. Harding) to justify your putting in the time to read full-length biographies. Those labels are certainly appropriate to the subjects of my most recent acquisitions from this series: Calvin Coolidge (brought back to at least some life by Slate columnist David Greenberg) and the much-scandalized Richard M. Nixon (who is dissected for Times Books by The New Yorker’s longtime Washington, D.C., correspondent, Elizabeth Drew).

Wow! No wonder I haven’t found time enough to finish my novel. I’ve been reading like a madman.
In addition to blogging and writing non-fiction books, Pierce has also hosted a cable-TV series based on Eccentric Seattle. Episodes of that series can be viewed here.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Richard Marx Weinraub

Richard Marx Weinraub is a professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico.

Wonder Bread Hill, his "sonovella" of 140 sonnets, was published in 2002.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Yesterday I finished reading Payday Loans by Jee Leong Koh, a book of thirty sonnets published by Poets Wear Prada. The blurb on the back cover intrigued me. The government of Singapore banned the reading of one of his poems because of its gay -- and bisexual -- content. The book is arranged as a kind of diary with one poem written for each day of April, and the banned poem ("April 13") exhorts straight men to experiment with loving other men. Although the sonnet piqued my interest, it is not the best in the book.

"April 25," for example, contains some gorgeous imagery in which "the red pocket my parents sent" turns into "roses the rich soil lent." Although the language is colloquial and the content is sometimes shocking, Jee Leong Koh has great control over the sonnet form and shows a fine understanding of literary tradition as he alludes to the work of Hart Crane, Paul Goodman, Proust, and many others in this impressive first book.

Two other books of poetry I highly recommend are The Silent Treatment by Richard Howard and Halfway Down the Hall: New and Selected Poems by Rachel Hadas. Howard, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet famous for his historical monologues, seems to be getting better with age. Two poems written in his own voice shine brilliantly. In "Sitting to Paul," the painter and the portrait he is painting (the poet himself) become a kind of conceit for God and His handiwork. "A Mistaken Identity" is a hilarious, poignant, and metaphysical poem about how the poet is convinced he sees a friend of his in a painting by Rubens.

Hadas reveals herself to be a master of form, wisdom, and the personal lyric in her lovely New and Selected Poems. My favorites include two poems about her son: "The Blue Bead" and "Twelfth Birthday." It is amazing and moving how we watch the relationship between mother and son mature with each successive book. Reading this collection by Hadas is like being allowed a glimpse -- and to be part of -- her extended family.
Read -- or listen to Richard Marx Weinraub read -- his poem, "The Ball of Earth and Heaven," in Slate.

--Marshal Zeringue