Saturday, August 30, 2008

Floyd Skloot

Floyd Skloot is a creative nonfiction writer, poet, and novelist whose work has appeared in such distinguished magazines as The New York Times Magazine, Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Poetry, American Scholar, Georgia Review, Sewanee Review, Southern Review, Boulevard, Virginia Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, Creative Nonfiction, and Shenandoah.

His many books include The Snow's Music: Poems (Louisiana State University Press, September 2008) and the memoir, The Wink of the Zenith: The Shaping of a Writer's Life (University of Nebraska Press, September 2008).

A few days ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I'm currently reading the galleys of Patrick French's forthcoming biography of V.S. Naipaul and will follow that with the galleys of Paul Mariani's on Gerard Manley Hopkins. Literary biography is a mainstay of my reading.

I'm also partway through Ellen Bryant Voigt's Messenger: New & Selected Poems 1976-2006 and just finished James Wood's How Fiction Works.

I also just finished reading the manuscript of my daughter Rebecca Skloot's forthcoming book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which Crown will publish next fall. Without any bias at all, I must say it's brilliant, a book that combines the best of narrative nonfiction, science writing, race relations, medical ethics and riveting prose.
Visit Floyd Skloot's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 29, 2008

Dan Chiasson

Dan Chiasson's first book of poems, The Afterlife of Objects appeared in 2002. A widely published literary critic, Chiasson is the author of One Kind of Everything: Poem and Person in Contemporary America. He is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a Whiting Writers’ Award. Natural History is his most recent collection of poetry.

Earlier this week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
John Ashbery: Collected Poems, V. 1 (Library of America)

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Experience"

Interviews with Glenn Gould

James Wood, How Fiction Works
Read a few poems from Chaisson's Natural History.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Robin Benway

Robin Benway is the author of Audrey, Wait!.

Last week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
This summer, I stood in front of a friend's enormous bookshelf and asked him to loan me something. He put David Rakoff's Fraud in my hands, and I love him for it. I had seen David Rakoff in a Q&A at the LA Times Festival of Books, but I had never read him before. He definitely has my sense of humor, sort of a quizzical "What the hell is going on here?" curiosity, but what struck me most was how empathetic he was in his observations. He doesn't just poke fun at people the way some essay writers do--he portrays situations as three-dimensional. I'm a fan.

A few weeks later, I found myself in a mammoth bookstore in the middle of the desert, so I texted another friend and said, "In bookstore. Recommend something." Two minutes later, she wrote back, California Crossing. It's by Adam Langer and takes place in a Chicago neighborhood around 1979-80, and I can't believe I've never read it before. I love when authors can take multiple characters and plotlines and weave them together so beautifully that it looks effortless. I'm about halfway through it, but I don't want to finish it yet.

Other books on the "Read Now" pile that I'm trying to get to before summer ends: The Children's Hospital by Chris Adrian, Anagrams by Lorrie Moore, and Laurel Canyon by Michael Walker. For every book I finish, it seems that three more take its place.
Read an excerpt from Audrey, Wait!, and learn more about the book and author at Robin Benway's website and MySpace page.

Check out the Audrey, Wait! website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ezekiel Emanuel

Ezekiel J. Emanuel is chairman of the Department of Bioethics at the Clinical Center of the National Institutes of Health.

He has published widely on the ethics of clinical research, health care reform, international research ethics, end of life care issues, euthanasia, the ethics of managed care, and the physician-patient relationship in professional journals as well as the popular press.

His books include the Exploitation and Developing Countries: The Ethics of Clinical Research (co-edited with Jennifer S. Hawkins).

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I like to alternate my reading between fiction and non-fiction. The non-fiction books mainly, but by no means exclusively, focus on biographies and histories, especially American history.

I have just finished Conrad Black’s biography of Franklin Roosevelt. A massive but amazingly well written book. (A wonderful read if you want to expand your vocabulary.) The thesis that Roosevelt was a Machiavellian idealist—that is, someone who used Machiavellian manipulation to implement idealistic policies that bettered the condition of the average American—is fascinating, and one any Democratic politician should heed. Black illustrates this thesis with multiple examples. The one I like best is how Roosevelt manipulated Joe Kennedy to endorse him in 1940 to secure the Catholic vote, and then completely discarded Kennedy when he quickly returned to his pro-German rantings just after the election. It is hard to understand how such a masterful writer and observer of human beings got caught up in his own business crimes, but now that Conrad Black has 6 years in prison, we can only hope he turns his great talents to another wonderful biography, maybe this time of some great person who still needs a brilliant biography, say Albert Gallatin, Edwin Stanton, Charles W. Eliot or Abraham Flexner.

I also just finished Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less. This is a wonderful analysis of how the brain works in decision-making and the implications for consumer choice. It synthesizes some of the work of Kahneman and Twersky as well as many recent studies on human choices and fMRIs of the brain while people are making decisions. The fact that having a choice among 24 jams leads people to buy fewer items than if they are offered a choice among 6 jams is something we need to keep in mind when designing all sorts of programs—such as pension plans and health insurance options. I also think we give too little heed to the importance of “adaptation”—that we adapt to our circumstances, both bad circumstances as well as new luxuries that quickly become needs. The implication that once we have something we are loathe to give it up and begin to view it as essential has important implications for many things, not the least of which is raising children. Finally, I love Schwartz’s point that being a maximizer is inimical to happiness while being a satisficer is much more likely to make you content is very welcome.

I read Nathan Englander’s The Ministry of Special Cases, a dark but humorous meditation into Argentina’s dirty war. Englander is clearly the heir to Kafka. His ability to take horrible situations and refract them, making us see the absurdity, the inhumane treatment of people, and yet laugh at ourselves and at human adaptation to these situations is amazing. This book leaves the reader with the unsettling sense that as humans we crave meaning, and do our best to make it impossible, that we torture each other along the way to be sure the other person is not able to lead a meaningful life.

I just finished John Banville’s The Sea. It is a short novel about the death of a spouse by cancer and the memories of other losses it revives. Wonderful imagery and wonderful descriptions of adolescent behaviors. Having cared for many dying cancer patients and families as an oncologist, I did not find the portrait of the wife’s demise, the gnawing feeling of the inevitable, as realistic as it might be. The sinking, hollowing out feeling of a terminal diagnosis, the ferocious, almost blinding battle against the “death sentence” did not seem to me present. But Banville is great on the avoidance of talking about cancer. His brief but poignant descriptions reminded me that this might be the way we in the West have adopted the very old idea that verbalizing or explicitly mentioning some horrible thing, such as dying from cancer, actually, causally, makes it occur. We avoid talking about cancer even when everyone knows the same information. It seems that we might believe that if we don’t speak the words, somehow terminal cancer and death can be evaded.

I was on a longish trip and finished Banville. The house I was staying in did not have much but did have James McPherson’s Drawn with the Sword which is a collection of essays on the Civil War. As a Civil War buff—but not expert—I liked his thesis that there was no inevitability to the North’s victory. What made the difference was better leadership and luck. The North had a better commander-in-chief in Lincoln but also had better generals. Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan out performed the Confederate generals in the West and then came to Virginia to beat Lee. These generals used their material advantage to win battles. McPherson is also good on emphasizing the role of luck—luck at Antietam and Gettysburg, and luck in Sherman’s capture of Atlanta allowing Lincoln to win.

A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to read Yertle the Turtle for the thousandth time to a 14 month old. Along with The Sneetches, it is simply one of the great works of 20th century literature. Dr. Seuss is fantastic—an astute observer of human behavior and a wonderful moral teacher without being moralistic. As a child growing up in the 1960s I thought Yertle the Turtle was written about Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam. Only many decades later, when I had my own children, did I realize it was written in 1958 long before our tragic debacle in Vietnam. How brilliant and prescient, how much more universal the insights. We all want to be king of all that we can see, not just the muddy water of our own Salmasond Pond. And the fall if that drive becomes all consuming and pathologic, is too true. Yertle is a story every politician, CEO, president of an organization—all of us, in fact—should read periodically, just to remind us.

I just picked up American Prometheus about J. Robert Oppenheimer. A riveting book which I am only 20% through. After that my next book is A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World.
Learn more about Ezekiel J. Emanuel's research and publications.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Holly Morris

Holly Morris is co-founder of Adventure Divas, Inc., and is writer/director/host/exec producer and all around creative heavy of Adventure Divas, the award-winning PBS documentary series.

Her book, Adventure Divas: Searching the Globe for Women Who are Changing the World, was named an “Editors’ Choice” and one of the year’s notable books about exploration by the New York Times.

Last week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm reading My Journey to Llasa by the 'explorer' Alexandra David-Néel.

I'm also reading the work of Mary Kingsley.

I also recently read Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane. A naturalist with a special literary talent.

And I am reading the entire Winnie the Pooh series. Don't ask.
Learn more about Holly Morris and her work.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Doug Fine

Doug Fine is the author of Not Really an Alaskan Mountain Man and Farewell, My Subaru: An Epic Adventure in Local Living.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Ha ha, you ask at an interesting time. Since I have a newborn, I'm reading a book called The Vaccine Book by Robert Sears. For a break, I'm reading Patrick McManus' The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw. And at night, my sweetheart and I have been reading aloud Farley Mowat's The Dog Who Wouldn't Be. If you asked me a month ago, I wouldn't have known any of these three books or authors existed.
Among the acclaim for Doug Fine's Farewell, My Subaru:
“Fine is an amiable and self-deprecating storyteller in the mold of Douglas Adams. If you're a fan of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy-style humor -- and also looking to find out how to raise your own livestock to feed your ice-cream fetish -- Farewell may prove a vital tool.”
Washington Post

“The details of Doug Fine’s experiment in green living are great fun—but more important is the spirit, the dawning understanding that living in connection to something more tangible than a computer mouse is what we were built for. It’ll make you want to move!”
—Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
Learn more about Doug Fine, his writing, and his NPR features at

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Nalini Jones

Nalini Jones graduated from Amherst College, and received an M.F.A. from Columbia University. Her work has appeared in the Ontario Review, Glimmer Train, Dogwood, and Creative Nonfiction's "Living Issue."

Her debut book, What You Call Winter, is a collection of interconnected stories.

Recently, I asked Jones what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve just come back from a month in Greece, which seemed like a long time when we were planning the trip but now seems to have passed in a clutch of very bright days, buzzing with cicadas. Driving through the Peloponnese brought up all sorts of intriguing questions about land and cultivation, and so when I returned to New England I picked up Jane Brox’s Clearing Land, which is subtitled “Legacies of the American Farm.” The prose is so fine that she brings together colonial history, agricultural lore, and family memories seamlessly. I’m enjoying it as much as I liked her earlier Here and Nowhere Else, one of my favorite memoirs.

I’ve recently finished Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, a strange and haunting novel about two sisters growing up near a lake in which both their mother and their grandfather have been lost. Her sentences have the clarity of lake water, cold and pure and perfect, and I was dazzled by the descriptions. I had barely finished Elisa Albert’s novel, The Book of Dahlia, before pressing it on several friends; the book is bold, funny, ruthless, and heart-breaking. The final lines leave me aching still. And in Greece, I picked up a book I reread every summer, Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love, out of sheer fondness for The Bolter and the surprise, every time, of her final remarks.

When I miss Greece too much, I page through the collected scholarly work in a tome called Corinth: The Centenary 1896-1996. My husband, a geologist by training, is particularly pleased when I linger over “Clays of Corinth” by Ian K. Whitbread.

On my bedside awaits the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace, which I’ve been eager to begin long before we went to Greece but did not feel was ideal for packing; it’s a bit like its own bedside table in stature. And right now—for the first time, I should humbly confess—I have picked up Henry James’ The Bostonians. I promised my aunt (who was also my college English professor) that I would slowly work my way through all his novels, and she suggested I begin with this. I didn’t expect to be so charmed in the first pages, but I’m completely enthralled. Perhaps it won’t take me so very long to reach The Golden Bowl after all….
Read an excerpt from What You Call Winter, and learn more about the author and her work at Nalini Jones' website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Christie Hodgen

Christie Hodgen is Assistant Professor in the Department of English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and author of the novel Hello, I Must Be Going. She won the 2001 AWP award for A Jeweler's Eye for Flaw and the 2003 Pushcart Prize.

Last week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
This summer I'm making my way through Céline's companion masterpieces - Journey to the End of Night and Death on the Installment Plan, and doing my best to put Céline's art aside from his later politics. Really, for style and humor, they can't be beat.

I've also just finished making my way through B.S. Johnson's The Unfortunates, a book which comes in a box with each of its chapters separately bound, to be read in any order.

And I re-read an old favorite, W.G. Sebald's The Emigrants.

For short fiction I've been reading Roberto Bolano's Last Evenings on Earth, Deb Olin Unferth's Minor Robberies, Ander Monson's Other Electricities, Julie Orringer's How to Breathe Underwater, and Robert Walser's Collected Short Prose - the work of a tortured, beautiful mind. All very rewarding.
Among the praise for Hodgen's Hello, I Must Be Going:
"The work of a wildly talented writer. Christie Hodgen's kid-narrator, Frankie, faces tragic loss in a world where everyone is earnestly, hilariously, flamboyantly making a mess of trying for better days. Every intense, vibrant detail in this novel feels exactly right."
—Joan Silber

"Dark and witty, Christie Hodgen's prose is exhilarating to read."
—Marly Swick

"Wise and often funny....Frankie's vulnerability and resilience make this a moving novel."
Publishers Weekly

"Hodgen's writing soars in this sad and funny novel."
—Ann Hood, author of The Knitting Circle
Learn more about Hello, I Must Be Going at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 15, 2008

Mark Kingwell

Mark Kingwell is a philosopher, cultural theorist and best-selling author. His new book is Concrete Reveries: Consciousness and the City.

Recently, I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Right now I’m working on a philosophical biography of the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould, so much of my recent reading has related to that. Tim Page edited The Glenn Gould Reader, which shows the vast range of Gould’s critical thinking -- much of it contradictory and even crackpot, but almost always fascinating. Among other things, in these pages Gould interviews himself, defends Petula Clark, dismisses Mozart and the Beatles, and generally throws his intellectual weight around.

Geoffrey Payzant’s Glenn Gould: Music and Mind was the first book published about Gould and it remains the best -- Payzant was a philosopher as well as a musician and understood the underlying philosophical intentions of Gould’s thought. I hope to advance some new arguments in my own book, but Payzant’s is pretty good.

There are of course lots of Gould biographies already, but I prefer works that attend to his own unease with the idea of a unified life narrative. Jonathan Cott’s Conversations with Glenn Gould gives a good sense of the man late in life, when he had not only retired from public performance but had become a sort of rambling intellectual monk, living by night and communicating almost entirely by telephone even as he recorded some of the best music and radio documentaries of the century.

A. N. Wilson is also rightly dubious of the biographer’s fiction, and his Iris Murdoch As I Knew Her is gossipy, meandering, self-regarding affair that nevertheless manages to give the reader a good sense of the woman and her work, pulling us away from the recent ‘Alzheimer’s Lady’ caricature from popular book and film.

Wilson is the sort of friend who makes enemies superfluous: he dishes dirt on pretty much everybody in the London-Oxford literary axis, including the revered John Bayley, Murdoch’s loving husband. But his judgments on the books, interspersed with the anecdotes, are mostly sound, and he recalls fans like me to the inimitable character of those many thousands of pages she wrote.

Still, the one book I’m now going to read as a direct result of Wilson’s is not by Murdoch. It is Barbara Pym’s novel Excellent Women, which both Wilson and Bayley esteemed. Pym is underrated, a wry social comedian to rival Penelope Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Bowen, if not Jane Austen. I’m saving that book for my vacation starting this week.

Alberto Moravia is funny in a darker manner. Just finished his book Contempt, which offers an unreliable first-person narrative of a marriage wrecked by the disgust the wife feels for our narrator, an undistinguished screenwriter. The book and the character are alike maddening, and Moravia has a way of getting under your skin.

Speaking of skin, Paul Beatty’s The White Boy Shuffle is probably the best novel written about race in America by someone in my generation. It’s middle section, which describes a laid-back Santa Monica black kid moving to West Los Angeles and having to “learn how to be black,” is hilarious and scathing. The book falls apart in its last quarter, with its Richard-Condon-esque absurdities, but is worth sticking with anyway.

I read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road just after, and that too strikes me as a book without a good ending. I was surprised at the acclaim since it is really just a pallid version of Russell Hoban’s post-apocalyptic masterpiece, Riddley Walker. Where McCarthy describes (brilliantly, yes) the workaday details of survival, Hoban extends and expands language as a form of endgame consciousness. George Saunders’s Civilwarland in Bad Decline, which I read earlier this summer, is more inventive than McCarthy, and funnier (not hard!). The stories are a little too similar, but taken apart are like nothing else being written today.

Finally, this summer I hugely enjoyed two books that might be considered polar opposites except in that both are funny after their own fashion: Simon Rich’s humour collection Ant Farm, and Slavoj Zizek’s brilliant and kooky For They Know Not What They Do. I suppose I could construct an intellectual scaffold joining my pleasure in these two masters, about symptoms of enjoyment and Lacanian jouissance, but I won’t bore you with that.
Among the early acclaim for Kingwell's Concrete Reveries:
“In this stunning treatise on the transnational global city, philosopher and cultural critic Kingwell (Better Living) meditates on how the architecture of the modern city must cater efficiently yet aesthetically to a combination of basic human requirements—“the cemetery within the city doubling as a park; the prison or madhouse as public architecture; the toilet within the house; the dump or recycling center within the city limits”—and how the city in turn is an extension and embodiment of human consciousness. More than 75 photos punctuate essays that meander around the poetry of porches, doorways, spiral staircases (“a line circling”) and the political implications of “generic, airport-style designs.” The book is not a travelogue; New York and Shanghai are merely stops along an intellectual walk, which also takes up geometry, boundaries, thresholds and other elements of urban design that are metaphors for the mind and body. “No room is just a space; it is always a place we are either entering, occupying, or exiting,” writes Kingwell in this book that is at once mesmerizing, indulgent, romantic, complex and perceptive.”
--Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)
Learn more about Mark Kingwell and his work at his University of Toronto faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Paul M. Collins

Paul M. Collins is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of North Texas. His new book is Friends of the Supreme Court: Interest Groups and Judicial Decision Making.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I am currently reading A Confederacy of Dunces by the late John Kennedy Toole. I was turned onto it by my good friend, Catie, who, like me, is a New York, Irish-Catholic transplant to the South. It is brilliant fiction; absolutely hysterical. The story centers on Ignatius J. Reilly’s search for employment in New Orleans and his run-ins with a host of colorful personalities in the French Quarter. My wife informed me that I remind her of Ignatius. I like to think this is due to my somewhat quirky personality, as opposed to my physical appearance and style of dress.
Learn more about Friends of the Supreme Court at the Oxford University Press website.

Among the early praise for the book:
"Professor Paul Collins provides a scholarly read that addresses a topic of consuming academic and legal interests: agenda setting on the Supreme Court. He meticulously analyzes all aspects of amici participation not only in depth, but also longitudinally - from the beginning of the Vinson Court in 1946 to the end of the 2001 term. None have investigated the subject as comprehensively and as thoroughly as Professor Collins, and I fully expect it to become the definitive work on amicus curiae participation and influence."
--Harold Spaeth, Michigan State University

Visit Paul M. Collins' faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 11, 2008

Guy Geltner

Guy Geltner is a postdoctoral fellow in medieval history at Lincoln College, University of Oxford, and the author of The Medieval Prison: A Social History.

Recently, I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Killing time on a recent visit to Chicago I picked up Don DeLillo’s Underworld and Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, two mammoth works I’ve been meaning to read for some time. I swallowed the transfixing Mailer, and am about to assault DeLillo with a due sense of trepidation, as I am a DeLillo virgin….

In between I’m finishing David Grossman’s recent novel, Until the End of the Land, and going systematically through a dozen or so Crusade chronicles from the Middle Ages for a course I’ll be teaching in the fall.

This often reminds me that my taste in modern literature doesn’t sit quite well with the available medieval works, but there are some interesting attempts to go back and forth in time, genre, and style. A unique example is Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red, which I finished a couple of months ago (although I liked Snow much better).

Bedside lies José Saramago’s O Conto da Ilha Desconhecida, an allegorical-Marxist “children’s book” which is always good fun. If I weren’t between apartments, another bedside book would certainly be Boccaccio’s Decameron. Nothing like the ambiguous, fourteenth-century tales of a dirty old man to send you to sleep with a grin.
Among the praise for Geltner's The Medieval Prison:
"This is a very valuable contribution to the history of crime and criminal justice. Geltner demonstrates, contrary to the claims of modern historians, that the prison as a punitive institution was born in the later Middle Ages, and shows, contrary to the claims of medieval historians, that prisons were not hellholes. There is no equivalent study of Italian medieval prisons."
--Trevor Dean, author of Crime and Justice in Late Medieval Italy

"A most welcome addition to what has been a neglected field of medieval legal and social history. Geltner argues very persuasively that imprisonment was an important phenomenon in medieval Italian cities. The Medieval Prison should appeal to a fairly broad audience outside the field of medieval history."
--James B. Given, author of Inquisition and Medieval Society
Read more about The Medieval Prison, including the introduction, at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Danit Brown

Danit Brown holds an MFA in fiction from Indiana University. Her stories have appeared in many literary journals, including Story, Glimmer Train, StoryQuarterly, and One Story.

Her new book is Ask for a Convertible, a collection of connected stories. It is a selection in the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers series for Fall 2008.

Late last month I asked Brown what she was reading. Her reply:
This summer I am very pregnant and living in an apartment with inadequate and very noisy air conditioning, which means that my powers of concentration are nearly nonexistent, as are my ankles. In terms of reading, all I want are light-hearted books with happy endings. At the same time, I’m trying to read with an eye for structure in preparation for writing a novel of my own.

Joshua Henkin’s Matrimony is another interesting book in terms of structure: it’s comprised of a series of episodes from Mia and Julian’s relationship with friends, with each other, and with their families. Part of the pleasure of reading this novel is seeing Henkin slide all the pieces into place so that when we leave Mia and Julian, we know they’re going to be just fine on their own.

Christie Hodgen’s Hello, I Must Be Going has lots of funny, insightful moments, but at its core is so heartbreakingly sad—among other things, it’s about a girl recovering from her father’s suicide—that if the writing weren’t so strong and Frankie, the narrator, weren’t so engaging, I probably would have put it down. What really intrigues me here is the way Hodgen moves back and forth in time, so that the book ends not with Frankie’s safe arrival at adulthood, as you might expect, but with a series of memories about Frankie’s father that leads to a new understanding of their relationship.

Right now I’m reading Jonathan Coe’s The Rotters’ Club. Initially, I picked this up after a friend told me that she has a tremendous writer crush on Coe. What impresses me so far—I’m only a few chapters in—is the novel’s sweeping point of view. Coe moves effortlessly between characters, rendering them and the world they inhabit tenderly, with lots of humor. I’ll admit that I already suspect that the ending will be bittersweet rather than happy, but here’s hoping!

Update: I picked up the book again after writing the previous paragraph, and in the very next chapter something tragic happens to a couple of the characters. Consider yourself warned.
Read selections from Ask for a Convertible, and learn more about the author and her work at Danit Brown's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 8, 2008

Peter Kuper

Peter Kuper's illustrations and comics appear regularly in Time, Newsweek, The New York Times, and MAD, where he illustrates SPY vs. SPY every month.

His graphic novel Stop Forgetting to Remember: The Autobiography of Walter Kurtz, made Danny Fingeroth's list of top 10 graphic novels.

Recently, I asked Kuper what he was reading. His reply:
The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao- Junot Díaz
Aztec- Gary Jennings
Disaster and Resistance- Seth Tobocman
Wordless Books- David A. Berona
Ganges #2- Kevin Huizenga
Don't Let's Go to The Dogs Tonight- Alexandra Fuller
Beyond Palomar- Gilbert Hernandez
The Ground Beneath Her Feet- Salman Rushdie
Complete Peanuts 1967-1968- Charles Schultz
What It Is- Lynda Barry
Travels with Charlie- John Steinbeck
The Lightning Thief- Rick Riordan
Visit Peter Kuper's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Brendan Halpin

Brendan Halpin is the author of the novels Dear Catastrophe Waitress, Long Way Back and Donorboy, as well as the memoirs Losing My Faculties and It Takes a Worried Man.

He is also the author of How Ya Like Me Now and Forever Changes, both novels for young adults.

Late last month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I'm going to take a risk and tell you what I'm actually reading instead of what I think I should appear to be reading. So I'm uncharacteristically reading a bunch of stuff at once right now. I've just finished Lilith Saintcrow's Working for the Devil, which is about a badass woman who talks to the dead who gets hired by Satan to hunt down a rogue demon. It was action-packed and I really enjoyed it. It also has an incredibly cool cover.

I'm also reading the The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics, which is packed full of twisted tales of terror and is a ton of fun. Horror comics are comfort food for my brain; I suppose it's best we don't look too deeply into that.

Right now I'm reading Devil in the Details: Scenes From an Obsessive Girlhood by Jennifer Traig, which is a hilarious account of the author's mental illness. No, really. I find myself laughing aloud a lot, which is occasionally embarrassing. It's very touching as well as funny, and in addition to being a first-hand account of living with OCD, it's also got a lot of interesting stuff in it about growing up in an interfaith family. Each chapter ends with a little mini-piece with stuff like "instructions for handwashing"--there are several steps that involve pondering whether or not water is clean.

I've also just started Snake Agent by Liz Williams, which is a science-fiction/police/fantasy/horror novel. Ten pages in, it's totally kickass.

Finally (whew!) I'm rereading my friend Dana Reinhardt's new YA novel How To Build a House. I read and liked an early draft, but she assures me it's very different and much improved since then. So far it doesn't seem all that different, but I guess most of the revisions are in the last third.
Brendan Halpin is not a "Life-Changing Fiction" author.

Visit Brendan Halpin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Ed Lynskey

Ed Lynskey's new P.I. Frank Johnson title, Pelham Fell Here, is available from Mundania Press.

Recently, I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Fools Rush In by Ed Gorman. Pegasus, 2007.

I’m a true sucker for the novels set in small towns, prairies, or agrarian societies. I grew up on a rural route and that’s programmed in me. I wouldn’t change it if I could even today when I live outside Washington, D.C.

Ed Gorman’s detective/lawyer Sam McCain is from Black River Falls, Iowa (Iowa City, Des Moines, and Cedar Rapids are the population centers), hooked me from the get-go. Fools Rush In is the second title I’ve enjoyed in the Sam McCain series. The time-frame here is June 1963, so throw in some nostalgia as well.

This engaging story, however, is nothing like taking an leisurely Sunday drive in the country. Sam is caught up in investigating a double homicide with racial overtones. The murdered black university student David Leeds has a relationship with the Caucasian Lucy Williams, the daughter of the powerful, Republican senator Lloyd Williams. Blackmail and pornography play a role in the wrongdoings. Seething in the background is the social news of the Freedom Riders and “Bull” Connor unleashing the cop dogs and fire hoses in Birmingham, Alabama.

The amiable Sam has friends, beginning with his household of cats that know who their daddy is. Sixtyish Judge Esme Anne Whitney is Sam’s mentor and friend dealing with her own personal issue. Jane Sykes, easy on the eyes, is the new and efficient D.A. Kenny Thibodeau pens those dirty adult books and helps out Sam with his sleuthing activities.

Irish to the core, Sam is easy-going until you shove him into a corner or cross him. Sam holds his own in brawls and has a knack for winning cooperation when he needs it from key witnesses. Like all young men, the complex Sam wonders about his future romance prospects and broods over his past trysts going up in flames. His longings often arise in eloquent passages that put me in mind of James Lee Burke. The images of Friday night in a small town setting are priceless.

All told, I recommend Fools Rush In and look forward to reading more of the adventures from Sam McCain and his friends.
Read an excerpt from Pelham Fell Here, and learn more about the book and author at the publisher's website.

Ed Lynskey's other books include The Dirt-Brown Derby, The Dirt-Brown Derby, Out of Town a Few Days, and A Clear Path To Cross (all detective mysteries).

His work has also appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Washington Post, and New York Times.

Ed Lynskey's The Blue Cheer, the movie.

The Page 69 Test: The Dirt-Brown Derby.

The Page 99 Test: Pelham Fell Here.

--Marshal Zeringue