Friday, November 30, 2007

Juliet Marillier

Juliet Marillier is the author of several highly popular fantasy novels for adults, including the Sevenwaters Trilogy and the Bridei Chronicles, as well as novels for young adults. Her Wildwood Dancing is on Amazon's 2007 list of top ten books for young adults; it also won the 2006 Aurealis Award for best fantasy novel.

Recently, I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
When I’m in full-on writing mode the contents of my bedside table tend to be weighted toward reference material. I made an exception for Jason Goodwin’s The Snake Stone, featuring eunuch detective Yashim. The first in this series, The Janissary Tree, impressed me so much that I bought (and read) the second book as soon as it came out.

Goodwin’s depth of historical knowledge and, in particular, his understanding of Ottoman culture makes each of these books a rich and compelling journey into early 19th century Istanbul. A particularly fine feature of the books is Yashim’s love of food and cookery, which I suspect allows our hero to sublimate certain other desires that he can no longer fully satisfy. The shopping and cooking sequences are sensual delights. They’re like little windows into this character’s psyche.

Like a meal prepared by Yashim, Jason Goodwin’s writing is of an elegant simplicity, beautifully presented and easy to digest. The Snake Stone has one of the best openings I’ve read for ages:

The voice was low and rough and it came from behind as dusk fell.

‘Hey, George.’

It was the hour of the evening prayer, when you could no longer distinguish between a black thread and a white one in ordinary light. George pulled the paring knife from his belt and sliced it through the air as he turned. All over Istanbul, muezzins in their minarets threw back their heads and began to chant.

It was a good time to kick a man to death in the street.

I recently finished Raw Spirit: In Search of the Perfect Dram by versatile Scottish author Iain Banks. Some of Banks’s novels rank among my all-time favourite reads, and some I’ve liked a lot less. I do read all his stuff (in hope of something as good as The Crow Road,) hence the inclusion of a book about Scotch whisky on this list.

Around 2003, Iain Banks was commissioned to travel all over Scotland sampling the wares of various distilleries and write a book about it. Raw Spirit was the result. It’s a wee bit self-indulgent, though I enjoyed the travel aspect of the book and learned a lot I didn’t know before about whisky. Along the way the author indulges at some length his passion for cars and roads. I skipped those bits. There’s a political rant or two, as you’d expect from an author who cut up his passport and sent it to Tony Blair’s office in protest at Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war.

Also on the bedside table is Troublesome Things: A History of Fairies and Fairy Stories by Diane Purkiss. I re-read this as research for the manuscript I’m just finishing, which contains a fair amount of interaction between human folk and the Tuatha de Danann of ancient Ireland. Troublesome Things is both scholarly and entertaining. The author is a British academic. The subject matter is wide ranging and expertly researched, starting with fairies in ancient worlds and following their history via medieval dreams, Scottish witch trials, literary fairies, Victorian fairies and phenomena of more recent times such as fairies in advertising. I was looking specifically for changeling lore and found some unsettling material. In medieval times a woman who did not want her baby, for whatever reason, might find it convenient to label it a changeling. This would provide an excuse to abandon it at a crossroads – a sign that it had no home among human folk.

My manuscript goes to the editor in a week’s time. With luck, I can make a dent in the ‘to be read’ pile before the ms comes back with editorial suggestions attached!
Visit Juliet Marillier's website to learn more about her books and works in progress, and read her "author's spotlight" essay at the Random House website. Also, check out Writer Unboxed, a genre writing blog which she shares with several other writers and editors.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Roberta Isleib

Clinical psychologist Roberta Isleib has written seven mysteries including five featuring a neurotic LPGA golfer and two starring psychologist/advice columnist Dr. Rebecca Butterman. Deadly Advice was published in March, with Preaching to the Corpse due to follow on December 4. Isleib is currently the president of Sisters in Crime International.

Last week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
When I'm muddling through the work of writing one of my own books, I tend to read books that aren't mysteries. They seem more restful, I suppose, without the obligations of solving crimes and catching criminals. Having mailed in the manuscript for the third book in my new series to my editor last week, I've been in that phase.

This week I finished Good Grief by Lolly Winston, and hated to see it end. Thirty-six year old Sophie Stanton is reeling from the loss of her husband to cancer. The early chapters describing her helpless grief are hard to take, but the book picks up momentum as she moves to Oregon and gradually beings to piece her life back together. The characters are appealing, there's lots of good food, and a feel-good ending. Light, funny, and engaging.

At my recommendation, my book group recently read Boombox by Gabriel Cohen, published by Academy Chicago. I'd read Cohen's first novel back in 2002, a police procedural set in the Red Hook neighborhood of New York. It was a wonderful book, nominated for an Edgar for best first novel. Boombox was very different -- the short and tragic story of a group of unlikely neighbors who clash in a series of connected townhouses. The book asks fascinating though discouraging questions about whether people who come from different backgrounds can learn to live in proximity -- a good question for our times.

Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup is a lovely memoir by a woman who was widowed when her Maine state trooper husband was killed in a car chase, leaving her with four children and many questions about the meaning of life. She eventually attends divinity school and takes a job as the chaplain for the Maine Warden Service, accompanying professionals on search-and-rescue missions in the wilderness. The writing is clear and unsentimental, and her stories of grief and recovery -- both hers and the people she works with -- are moving.

On my to-be-read stack, I'm looking forward to sampling a first novel by Jennifer McMahon called Promise Not to Tell, and the third in a fabulous, dark police procedural series set in Iceland: Voices by Arnaldur Indridason.
Visit Roberta Isleib's website and her blog, and read her award-nominated story "Disturbance in the Field."

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Vicki Hendricks

Vicki Hendricks is the author of noir novels Miami Purity, Iguana Love, Voluntary Madness, Sky Blues, and Cruel Poetry.

I recently asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m taking this literally, not picking out my favorites of all time or friends that I want to promote, but what’s actually on top of the stack next to my bed. My usual practice is to read more than one book at a time. Some of them drop out as I lose interest, but also I move back and forth, in the mood for one and then another. Of course, when I get a new novel by Jason Starr or Megan Abbott, I can’t tear myself away. But they can’t write fast enough to keep me happy!

Right now I’m about to finish a fascinating and sad work of non-fiction, The Zookeeper’s Wife, by Diane Ackerman. She has extrapolated from the memoirs of Antonina Zabinski, who, with her husband, helped many Jews to escape the Nazis during the occupation of Poland. It is a bittersweet tale of Antonina’s love of animals and people, and gives an insightful view of the Nazis and their beliefs along with the amazing and down-to-earth details of how people and animals thrived together under despicable conditions. Ackerman’s prose is delectable and vivid. I ran across this book at the Miami Book Fair and it will stay with me for a long time.

As the extreme opposite, The Motel Life by Willy Vlautin is the coarsest deck of sandpaper between two covers that I have ever seen. That’s not to say I’m not enjoying it! It was recommended on Rara Avis by John Williams, my editor, and since he likes my stuff, I generally like what he likes. I love it when I get a new name in noir. I’m halfway through, and if I hadn’t been interrupted by the book fair, I would have finished. The author is a musician in an “internationally acclaimed band” and I’m betting it’s gotta be hard rock. I don’t know how he learned to write like this in his spare time, but it’s original and fast-paced — don’t you just hate those multi-talented guys? — with a main character Frank who can only be less down and out than his brother Jerry Lee. So far, there is no intentional crime, but an unfortunate accident has taken place whereby drunken Jerry Lee kills a boy on a bicycle and spirals down from there, taking Frank with him. I love those spiral-downs.

I picked up several other books from the Miami Book Fair, which are on top of the stack. Pat MacEnulty’s From May To December looks extremely promising. She’s a friend, but I am happy to say, that I would want to read the book regardless. I just might not have heard of it. She read a sexy, entertaining scene of a woman teaching drama writing at a women’s correctional institution. Pat spent some time in such a place in her youth, so her portrayal is intriguing and real. She read with Preston Allen, another one of my favorite friends and writers. He’s got a novel about a school bus driver who is a desperate gambler. I don’t think Preston ever drove a school bus, but he has plenty experience in the other area. He read a brilliant and funny scene that captured the emotional roller-coaster ride of winning and losing. I can’t wait to get started on that one either.

Oh, this one’s not out yet, I don’t think, and it’s not on my stack anymore, but I have to mention Christa Faust’s The Money Shot. This is porno-star crime/noir soon to be published by Hard Case Crime. I did a blurb for it, and believe me, it’s hot. She really knows of what she speaks.
Hendricks' short story "ReBecca" appears in Best American Erotica 2000, and "Stormy, Mon Amour" appears in the 2002 collection Tart Noir. The short story "Gators" is included in Flesh & Blood published in 2001. Other stories include “Purrz, Baby” in Deadly Housewives (2006), “Must Bite” in Dying for it (2006), and “Boozanne, Lemme Be” in Miami Noir (2006).

Visit Vicki Hendricks' website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bruce Western

Bruce Western is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Multidisciplinary Program in Inequality and Social Policy of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I've just finished Halldór Laxness's Independent People, his epic account of Icelandic sheep-farming. The novel follows the habitually self-inflicted travails of Bjartur of Summerhouses a small landholder engaged in an often bloody-minded struggle for independence from the predations of creditors, kin and supernatural forces. From my perspective, the novel is deeply sociological, describing how one man – in a class out of place – is swept up in the current of Iceland's modernization through the early decades of twentieth century. But this is far more a great novel than a social history, so the arc of history is inscribed on this singular biography rather than the other way around.

By my bedside, I'm currently chewing off small chunks of Taylor Branch's Parting the Waters. This is the first volume in his monumental biography of Martin Luther King and history of the Civil Rights Movement. Parting the Waters focuses on the decade from 1954 and can be read as a case study in the life cycle of a social movement, beginning with small and local forms of protest, rooted in churches and other community social organizations. Political histories of the 1950s and 1960s now seem focused on the emergence of social movement conservatism. Together I think these two streams of writing – on the civil rights movements and on the origins of contemporary conservatism -- form parts of mosaic that tell us a lot about today's politics, and the pivotal influence of race in structuring the left-right divide.
Western's research interests are in the field of social stratification and inequality, political sociology, and statistical methods. He is the author of Punishment and Inequality in America, a study of the growth and social impact of the American penal system. His first book, Between Class and Market, examined the development and decline of labor unions in the postwar industrialized democracies. He is currently studying the social impact of rising income inequality in the United States. Western taught at Princeton from 1993 to 2007 and received his PhD in sociology from UCLA.

The Page 99 Test: Punishment and Inequality in America.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Stacey Levine

Stacey Levine's books include My Horse and Other Stories, Dra—, and Frances Johnson.

Earlier this week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m currently reading a slew of books in this weird, lax technique of only reading a few pages or a chapter of each book at any given time and continuing to do so for months and months on end. This has been going on for almost a year. It’s ridiculously slow. But then, what’s the hurry? I give up on some of the books, but not The Tales of Merry Gold by Kate Bernheimer, linked, tweaked fairy stories. The prose is careful, slow, and it looks around before it speaks. It is a delight. In contrast to this is Karen Fowler’s The Jane Austen Book Club, which pushes its sentences out there, bang, with little subtlety. But it’s also kind of fun, like a magazine in a dentist’s waiting room. There’s also The Swarm, translated from the German, originally titled Der Schwarm, by Frank Schatzing. This is a popular Eurothriller about whales and worms in the world’s oceans lashing back at humans, an old-school Eco/Gaia sensibility meets mystery story that spans the globe. Whales rise up out of the water and smash fishing vessels and oil company exploration boats. Gratifying. All the characters are referred to by their last names: “Lund,” or “Johansen,” etc. This is very manly prose — I like it.

Bret Easton Ellis’ most recent, Lunar Park, with its purposefully unlikeable characters, is pretty great, much more complex than Fowler or Schatzig. As is The Loser, by Thomas Bernhard, a world-class novel that’s smoldering and brilliant. The Nature Diary of Opal Whitely contains the writings of a little Oregon girl who was considered a literary prodigy in the early 20th century. Later she was accused of plagiarism, and became a wandering hermit, meeting a bad end in London in the 1960s or so. I can’t really seem to finish Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. Its prose is so mild. Under the Glacier by Haldor Laxness, an Icelander, is terse, hilarious, and full of awe for life.
Stacey Levine's story collection, My Horse and Other Stories (Sun & Moon Press), won the PEN/West fiction award in 1994. Since then she has published Dra— (Sun & Moon Press) and Frances Johnson (Clear Cut Press), which was a finalist for the WA State Book Award. Her short stories have appeared in numerous venues, including the Fall 2007 issue of Tin House. Her criticism has been published by The American Book Review, Rain Taxi, The Seattle Times, The Seattle Weekly, The Stranger, C Magazine (Toronto), and Nest Magazine. She has performed public readings of her work with Karen Finley, Kathleen Hanna, the Black Cat Orchestra, Grace Paley, and Russian novelist Andre Bitov.

Read more about Frances Johnson and visit Stacey Levine's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Idra Novey

Idra Novey’s poems appear in the Paris Review, Ploughshares, Slate, and Barrow Street. Her chapbook of poems The Next Country won the 2005 Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship and her translations of Brazilian poet Paulo Henriques Britto received a PEN Translation Fund grant. Her first book of poems received the Kinereth Gensler Award from Alice James and will be published in fall 2008. She teaches writing at Columbia University.

I recently asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Beside my bed, I like to keep a mix of new books and a few favorites in case I’m in the mood to be nourished by something already familiar. Recently, I’ve been rereading Near to the Wild Heart, a first novel by the brilliant Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector. I’ve read all of Lispector’s novels more than once, and The Passion According to G.H. probably four times. With a Lispector novel, I find I can open to almost any page and come across a question or insight that brings a new sharpness to my thinking about whatever I’ve been mulling over during the day.

I’ve also been rereading Elizabeth Macklin’s first book of poems, A Woman Kneeling in the Big City. When I read one of Macklin’s poems at night, some of the lines will replay themselves the next day while I’m out in the New York she writes about. It’s wonderful to have her lyrical descriptions ringing in my head as I move on and off the subway.

As for books I’ve been reading for the first time, I would recommend the under-recognized, absolutely amazing poems of Vasko Popa. Charles Simic’s translations of Popa in Homage to the Lame Wolf are incredible, especially in the series “The Little Box.” Popa fits the whole mystifying world into The Little Box. The series is full of gorgeous surprises. In “The Craftsmen of the Little Box,” Popa writes:

Don’t open the little box

Heaven’s hat will fall out of her

Don’t close her for any reason

She’ll bite the trouser-leg of eternity

Who knew that eternity wore trousers or that heaven needed a hat? And doesn’t the world seem a little more promising when even eternity and heaven have to get dressed?
Novey's poems available online include "Aubade," "Maddox Road," and "Definition of Stranger."

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Simon Haynes

Simon Haynes is the author of three Hal Spacejock novels, a number of articles on writing and publishing, and several short stories, one of which collected an Aurealis Award in 2001.

Book Four in the Hal Spacejock series, No Free Lunch, is due out April 2008.

I asked Haynes what he has been reading. His reply:
I always have several books on the go at any one time, and I switch between them depending on my mood, how much time I have available and how much I want to pick up a particular book again. Currently in progress? Stephen King's It, John Scalzi's The Android's Dream, Asimov's Bicentennial Man short story collection, Issue 31 of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

Also Gene Wolfe's Fifth Head of Cerberus, Conrad's Nostromo, Harry Harrison's Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers, Christopher Priest's Inverted World and a book of scripts from A Bit of Fry & Laurie. There are more - I just don't have time to go around the house to find them all!

As for upcoming, I don't have a To Be Read pile any more ... it's now a full-blown TBR bookshelf with overflow. On that I have three SL Viehl novels, three Marianne de Pierres novels, Mindy Klasky's Girl's Guide to Witchcraft, a large number of classics which I've been meaning to get around to Any Day Now, a couple of new books on plotting and writing novels, and every single weekly issue of Roy of the Rovers comic from 1976 to 1993.

I also have two bookshelves crammed with older SF novels, maybe 800-1000 of them, perhaps 200 of which I've yet to read. (There are over 3000 books in my house, by the way, along with a collection of British comics numbering in the thousands.)
Visit Simon Haynes' website and his blog, MySpace page, and Facebook page.

The Page 99 Test: Just Desserts (volume 3 in the Hal Spacejock series).

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 16, 2007

Christopher Coyne

Christopher J. Coyne is Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, West Virginia University, a Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center, and an Associate Editor for the Review of Austrian Economics.

He has published articles in numerous scholarly journals, including Cato Journal, Constitutional Political Economy, Economic Journal, Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Kyklos, and Review of Political Economy. His new book, from Stanford University Press, is After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
For review, I am reading Adrian Vermeule’s Mechanisms of Democracy: Institutional Design Writ Small. The central question that Vermeule seeks to answer is: what institutional arrangements should a well-functioning constitutional democracy have? Existing studies mainly focus on “meta-level” institutions such as the separation of powers, federalism, the rule of law, and so on. Vermeule’s book complements this existing literature by exploring institutional design “writ small.” He focuses on the small-scale mechanisms, within the broader “meta-institutions,” which promote and sustain democratic values.

I am almost finished with Dani Rodrick’s One Economics, Many Recipes: Globalization, Institutions, and Economic Growth. Rodrick’s book is an important contribution to the development economics literature. Especially important is Rodrick’s focus on institutions, local conditions and constraints, and the error of assuming that there is a standard reform template for all developing countries.

Michael Mandelbaum’s, Democracy’s Good Name: The Rise and Risks of the World’s Most Popular Form of Government, is well-written and fun to read. Mandelbaum traces the origins of democracy and explores the mechanisms facilitating or preventing the spread of democratic institutions. Of particular interest is the connection drawn between free markets and political freedom. As Mandelbaum notes, “Free markets, the evidence of modern history strongly suggests, makes for free men and women.”

Finally, I recently finished John Mueller’s Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them. This is one of the best books I have read on the war on terror. I found Mueller’s discussion of the “terrorism industry” to be especially interesting. According to Mueller, the terrorism industry consists of various individuals and groups – politicians, experts, media, academics and government bureaucracy – who profit from sustaining and expanding the war on terror. As a result, the terrorism industry artificially inflates the threat of international terrorism to further the narrow interests of its members. Even if you don’t agree with all of Mueller’s conclusions, this book will make you rethink many of the common assumptions underpinning the ongoing war on terror.
Read Chapter One from After War and learn more about the book at the Stanford University Press website.

Learn more about Coyne's research at his website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

David Estlund

David M. Estlund is professor of philosophy and chair of the Department of Philosophy at Brown University. His new book from Princeton University Press is Democratic Authority: A Philosophical Framework.

Earlier this week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I obviously have lots of political philosophy and related stuff to read at all times. I’d gone too long without having a recreational book going, but I’ve just now finished one: Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West, by Hampton Sides. A friend is starting a book club for guys and this is our first. It’s a safely masculine choice, so we won’t be confused with Oprah’s book clubs, I guess. Anyway, the book is as much the story of the sad war between the Americans and the Indians. Sides calls them Indians, not Native Americans, which immediately started me thinking about how this treatment fits with our contemporary appreciation of the cruelty that the westward expansion involved. The book is fascinating looked at through that lens. The author has grappled with those questions behind the scenes and his stance is not simple. It turns out that people are complicated. What emerges is a rich account of the heights of courage and humanity, and the depths of ignorance and depravity — all of this on both sides of the fight. But it’s not as if the book takes the simple stance that both sides were equally bad. Different readers will draw different conclusions on that. I don’t presume to judge the historical accuracy of the story, but it is as much about these hard questions (though rarely explicitly) as it is about the amazing and morally mixed Kit Carson himself.

I’m going to propose that this new reading group turns next to Kerouac’s On the Road. The recent discussions I’ve seen around the 50th anniversary of the text have convinced me that I should read it. I’m looking forward to it.

I’ve also just started an interesting book that is work-related, Hearing the Other Side: Deliberative vs. Participatory Democracy, by Diana Mutz. The author presents some empirical work that suggests that frank discussions about politics, of the kinds that many theories of democracy hope to promote, tend to dampen the level of political participation, something that is also often called for. The intuitive idea is that none of us likes to have those hard morally-tinged debates with people we spend a lot of time with. It’s no fun, too hard, hard on the relationships, etc. I’ve just started it. It’s a provocative thesis, and one that will be interesting to lots of people working on democracy.
David Estlund has been teaching moral and political philosophy at Brown since 1991. Learn more about his publications, including many of his scholarly papers which are available online.

Cass Sunstein on Democratic Authority: "A brilliant book, and indispensable reading for anyone interested in democratic theory. Estlund's careful treatment of the 'wisdom of crowds' and the idea of deliberative democracy stands out as a particularly large advance. One of the very few truly major contributions to democratic theory in the last quarter century."

Read more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 12, 2007

Maureen Jennings

Maureen Jennings' novels include the acclaimed Detective Murdoch series of which A Journeyman to Grief is the seventh volume. Other titles in the series include Except the Dying, shortlisted for both the Anthony and the Arthur Ellis Best First Novel Awards; Under the Dragon’s Tale, Poor Tom Is Cold, Let Loose the Dogs, shortlisted for the Anthony Best Historical Mystery Award; and Night’s Child, shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award, the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award, the Barry Award, and the Macavity Historical Mystery Award, and Vices of My Blood.

Last week I asked her what she has been reading. Her reply:
I'm always interested in what other writers are reading. Whew. So many books, so little time.

Having now finished The K Hand Shape, which took me into the world of Deaf culture, not to mention serial killers, I am currently embarking on a new book which means saturating myself in research material. The book is set in England of 1940 in Shropshire and I have been reading everything I could find on:
  • The Women's Land Army;
  • The internment camps;
  • Hitler and the Nazis.
I can't believe how much I didn't know. For instance I had no idea that 'enemy aliens' were interned in England for sometimes as long as two years. As the majority were Jewish refugees who had fled Nazi Germany and were highly unlikely to want to spy for him, the situation was cruel and unfair. As one book called it, Blatant Injustice. One of the books on the Nazis is Ian Kershaw's superb biography of Hitler and one of my absolute favourite writers, John Keegan has a book on World War II.

This is keeping me busy but sitting seductively on my TBR table are several crime novels; the latest Henning Mankell one of my faves, Ken Bruen who has to be one of the most brilliant writers around; my Canadian pals are also there, Eric Wright's latest, Gail Bowen who never disappoints, and Linwood Barclay who hit a home run with his suspense thriller, No Time for Goodbye. I'm sure hoping that some of that mega star dust drifts my way.

On my beside table are the books that are suitable for just-before-sleep reading. (I have to be careful what I read at night just before sleep. Nothing too gruesome please) As well as the usual dog training books, there are two anthologies that I have really enjoyed. One is called, Writers on Writing which is a PEN benefit book and is a delight as various writers talk about some aspect of the writing life. The other is called, The First Man in My Life and is a collection of articles by a wide range of women about their fathers. Fascinating reading.

That's about it. I'm in dire need of yet another bookcase.
About The K Hand Shape, the second Christine Morris novel, which will be available in early 2008:
Christine Morris is awakened early on a chill November morning by a phone call from one of her colleagues, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Leo Forgach. His daughter, Deirdre, is missing. Despite the fact that she and the doctor have never seen eye to eye, Christine agrees to help in the search for Deirdre -- only to discover her brutally strangled body in the lake. Heartbroken, Leo tells Christine that his daughter was deaf and had recently given birth to a child she had deliberately ensured would be deaf. As a militant suporter of the Deaf Culture, Deirdre wanted a deaf child to make a political statement. Although some people supported her stand, many did not -- including Deirdre's own father. Christine must use her new kills as a forensic profiler to discover the killer.

Visit Maureen Jennings's website.

The Page 99 Test: A Journeyman to Grief.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 9, 2007

Lydia Millet

Lydia Millet's novels include Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, Everyone's Pretty, George Bush, Dark Prince of Love, Omnivores, and My Happy Life, which won the 2003 PEN-USA Award.

I recently asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
For review, the new Coetzee book, Diary of a Bad Year; from the library, Alan Weisman's doomsday bestseller The World Without Us, which is great. A lot of stuff about my fellow Tucson-dweller Paul Martin's fascinating Holocene overkill theory, whereby it's suggested that early Americans killed off the great megafauna of the continent -- the massive dire wolf, bears twice the size of grizzlies, sabre-tooth tigers, and of course the giant sloth, my personal favorite.

Lydia Davis's newest, Varieties of Disturbance, which I find funny, as she always is.

Just finished an quirky and enjoyable novel by Stacey Levine called Frances Johnson as well as the much-touted new novel Away, by Amy Bloom, which reminded me of nothing so much as the final episode of Six Feet Under, which features a kind of epic and sentimental fast-forward through the lives of all the main characters to show us how they end up -- a tear-jerking device if ever I've seen one. But then my tears are easy to jerk.
Coming soon from Lydia Millet: How the Dead Dream.

About the book, from the publisher:
T. is a young Los Angeles real estate developer consumed by power and political ambitions. His orderly, upwardly mobile life is thrown into chaos by the sudden appearance of his nutty mother, who’s been deserted by T.’s now out-of-the-closet father. After his mother’s suicide attempt and two other deaths, T. finds himself increasingly estranged from his latest project: a retirement community in the middle of the California desert. As he juggles family, business, and social responsibilities, T. begins to nurture a curious obsession with vanishing species. Soon he’s living a double life, building sprawling subdivisions by day and breaking into zoos at night to be near the animals. A series of calamities forces T. to a tropical island, where he takes a Conrad-esque journey up a river into the remote jungle. Millet’s devastating wit, psychological acuity, and remarkable empathy for flawed humankind contend with her vision of a world slowly murdering itself.
Visit Lydia Millet's website.

The Page 99 Test: My Happy Life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Mil Millington

Mil Millington has written for various magazines, radio, and the Guardian (he also had a weekly column in the Guardian Weekend magazine). His website has achieved cult status, and he is also a co-founder and co-writer of the online magazine The Weekly.

His novels include A Certain Chemistry, Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About, and Love and Other Near-Death Experiences, to which he applied the "Page 99 Test" in May 2007.

Last week I asked him what he has been reading. His reply:
The genuine answer to this is, "Mostly, Mil Millington." This happens to be the time when I'm doing the final edits on my next book, so I'm actually head-under-water in an intense, to the death dialectic with my own sentences. The final edit is always bliss - it works like this: you wrote a joke six months ago; you have since re-read it perhaps fifty times and, as a result (like repeating a word over and over out loud until it breaks), you are now no longer sure if it's even funny; in this context, and mindful that you are committing yourself publicly and forever, you need to decide whether it's better with 'plinth' or 'lectern'.

I actually woke up the other night - this is absolutely true - in a breathy panic that, in one sentence (of absolutely no pivotal importance whatsoever - just 'a sentence'), I might have accidentally omitted a softening modifier.

But anyway, never mind my personal hell, eh?

Due a particularly howling deadline on the edit, I'm not reading much of other people's stuff right now. If I treat myself to a few minutes before sleep, then I continue with Richard Dawkins's The Ancestor's Tale, which traces human evolution backwards through drifting continents and primordial seas. A fascinating journey.

The last couple of things I read before editing stole my life so completely were Yann Martel's Life of Pi and Louise Wener's The Half Life of Stars. (Even when not doing final edits, I'm so busy that books on my 'To Read' list take a long, long time to get to the surface.)

I don't think there's much I need to say about The Life of Pi ("Well, it won the Booker, but wait - let's hear what Mil thinks about it" - Everyone). I had to grit my teeth through the 'vital importance of god' and 'all religions are the same, and so lovely and fluffy too' bits, obviously, but, as a story, it just lifts then carries you along in the arms of goodness and the love and respect of Life.

I don't read books written by friends of mine. In fact, I obsessively avoid doing so. The exception that proves this otherwise steel-clad rule is Louise Wener, due to a historical accident. Her latest concerns a man who one day just disappears - walks away from his life completely. Or, more accurately, it concerns the people he leaves behind, and one in particular - his sister - who sets out to find him. Reading Lou's prose consistently makes me furious. I know she works hard and, like every writer, sometimes struggles as she fills up the blankness with words. But it never bleeding looks like that. Natural talent makes it seem as if every line was effortless. I could puke, I really could. It's simply everywhere, in passing, casual details - for example, "If he had a pair of glasses on this would be the moment that he'd push them backwards on the bridge of his nose." Isn't that just the perfect evocation of an instant? Argh!
The Page 99 Test: Love and Other Near-Death Experiences.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Stacey Richter

Stacey Richter is the author of two collections of short stories, Twin Study and My Date with Satan.

I recently asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m reading The Collected Stories of Leonard Michaels, which I randomly grabbed off the new release shelf when I was returning some books to the library. I think I read Michaels a little in the nineties, and I think he taught at Berkeley when I was a student there; in fact, I think he may have rejected me for his fiction-writing class. Anyway, I had forgotten about him and didn’t really know what to expect. As I often do with an author’s collected stories, I started near the end of the book. I quickly became obsessed with these stories. They’re so good — so funny and smart and engrossing. In particular, I loved the Nachman stories, a series of stories about a mathematician known only as Nachman. Really, I’m a critical person, I hate everything, but I can hardly express how much I loved these stories and how good I think they are, as good as fiction gets.

Nachman is a mathematician who loves numbers. He has a semi-autistic mathematician personality and in each story he becomes entangled in an emotional situation that puzzles him. He’s a character who keeps a great deal of distance between himself and others, and somehow he’s the perfect vehicle for Michaels’ gifts as a writer — wry, distanced, intellectual, full of strange surges of feeling. I think I’m going to have to read them again before I can even begin to figure out how they work so well. It’s funny, because as I read backward in the book, I see that Michaels’ earlier work is, itself, distanced and intellectual and full of surges of feeling, the kind of fractured but relentlessly active narrative I associate with writers like Robert Coover. Most of the time, I find that style trying. As a reader, I resent having to work that hard at assembling meaning or narrative, though I mind less when it’s really funny. It’s interesting to me that those wonderful late stories emerged from his early style, and perhaps are a sort of comment on it.

Apparently, Michaels was working on a book of Nachman stories when he died. I wish he’d had time to finish it.
Stacey Richter received her M.F.A. from Brown University. She is a three-time Pushcart Prize winner, and has been named a Village Voice Writer on the Verge.

Visit Richter's website.

The Page 99 Test: Twin Study.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Rebecca Onion

Rebecca Onion is a freelance writer and Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, where she was awarded a Donald D. Harrington Fellowship for graduate study.

Last week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished a biography of Charles and Ray Eames, by Pat Kirkham. The best and most interesting chapters were on the Eameses' non-furniture projects, such as their multimedia presentations done for IBM, which were intended to introduce the concept of the computer to the uninitiated, and the presentation they did for the exposition in Moscow in 1959 to introduce Soviet citizens to American life. They come off as a couple of carefree creative types constructing their way through life, immune from questions of economic hardship or artistic compromise. I wish I could afford to buy some of the toys that they made at various points in their joint career - their house of cards set is really beautiful.

Gail Bederman's Manliness and Civilization is a cultural history of the concept of "civilization" in America at the turn of the twentieth century. She looks at Ida B. Wells (journalist and anti-lynching activist), G. Stanley Hall (proto-educational psychologist), Charlotte Perkins Gilman (feminist author), and Teddy Roosevelt (president, obviously), and how each of them used discourses of masculinity, civilization and progress to advocate for their particular causes. G. Stanley Hall, for example, believed that boy children in "civilized" societies (aka, white societies) went through each stage of race evolution -- that they start out as savages, move their way through the various stages of cave-person, up through the medieval era, through the Enlightenment (that's adolescence, when the fiery stress of rapid knowledge accumulation causes outbreaks of unmanageability), and finally arrive at the pinnacle of the evolved human. (That would be the white American, circa 1900.) This is fascinating stuff, all the more fascinating because respectable intellectuals believed in it.

My academic interests in science, technology, and the environment have led me to read a lot of science fiction in my "free" time lately. The Mars trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson, is a definite highlight, for the density of its interest in political and economic consequences of technological and environmental change. I find its depiction of the way that humans settle into patterns of society on an entirely new landscape to be a really good thought-tool for considering the ways technology and development have worked here on Terra. I've finished Red Mars and Green Mars, and have Blue Mars left to go.

I am reading a bunch of steampunk fiction and comic books for an upcoming project. (I am going to write a paper on the primacy of the mechanical object and obsessions with its transparent functionality, as opposed to the opacity of the contemporary computer.) I am basically working my way through the list of works included in the Wikipedia entry on the genre. I have come across a couple of books that don't really seem to fit, and am beginning to wonder whether they were just included on the list because their authors wanted to up sales. But The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, which I think is considered to be the founding work in the genre, is worthwhile, with lots of sweet Victorian counterfactual speculation. However, I also have recently read The Time Machine, by HG Wells, which many of these authors would cite as an inspiration, and I have to say that Wells still puts most contemporary writers to shame -- he's so simple and terrifying. If anybody has any suggestions for steampunk books I shouldn't miss, let me know.

I also just finished Cormac McCarthy's The Road. My question for those who've read it is, can I assign a book which includes a scene in which a human infant is roasted on a spit to an undergrad seminar on environmental disaster? Like all of McCarthy's books, it is, of course, totally brutal. I can't believe that Oprah made it an Oprah book. I am starting to think, however, that the apocalpyse is a cheap trick - if you introduce it into a fiction, it's very difficult to be wholly uninteresting.
Visit Rebecca Onion's website for clips of her writing and check out her MySpace page.

--Marshal Zeringue