Saturday, February 28, 2009

Michelle Boisseau

Michelle Boisseau is professor of English at the University of Missouri-Kansas City where she also serves as associate editor of BkMk Press.

Her books of poetry include No Private Life (Vanderbilt 1990); Understory, winner of the Morse Prize (Northeastern University Press 1996); Trembling Air (University of Arkansas Press 2003), a PEN USA finalist; and A Sunday in God-Years (University of Arkansas Press 2009).

A few days ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
My reading seems so often at odds with most folks, since it often follows what I'm teaching or working on in my writing.

I'm always rereading things I've assigned my students, so I just finished reading Wallace Stevens' book from 1923, Harmonium. I read it within his Collected Poems and in the Library of America edition, and rereading it again I was bathed in its beauty anew. People who don't know what to make of poetry in general and with "difficult" poetry in particular miss out when they don't just plunge in and enjoy the luscious language of poetry the way they enjoy the colors in Matisse or the wit in Paul Klee. Saturating yourself with the poetic imagination of a great poet, to paraphrase Stevens, naturalizes you to the poet's work and you allow it to enter you with its splendors. If you don't understand everything, so what? Stevens didn't understand it all, either!--that's why he had to write poems.

Having finished my class with Stevens, I turned immediately to David Schloss's new book of poems, Group Portrait from Hell; for people who love poems, it's a book that comes from paradise. Schloss is a skilled poet of formal meters, and he uses them with the wit and aplomb of the great Latin poets: to call attention to the foibles, ghastliness, and hilarity of their age, and to do it bravely, for it meant life or death or exile. Schloss speaks as an exile in the strange land where we find ourselves: our times. I also just finished the brand new book by the young poet Randall Mann, Breakfast with Tom Gunn, an outrageous and gorgeous and side-splitting collection of poems. Mann writes exquisite formal poems, and they crackle on the page. If Mann were writing these in prose the authors of Prop 8 in California would figure out a new proposition to hush him up. As is, he flies under the radar, writing poetry that is harrowing, sharp, and for adults.

I'm starting in on Tracy Daugherty's compelling, masterful biography of Donald Barthelme, Hiding Man. Daughetry gives us not only the life of a fascinating American writer but carries us vividly into the world of postwar New York. Images of this era seem to be all over pop culture these days and usually they're just not accurate depictions of the era--Mad Men and Revolutionary Road are entertaining and their style values very fine, but when the culture only has images from pop culture of the era--we lose a sense of how literate and book-oriented the era was, how publishers were interested in great writing and were happy to support it. And of course, there was then a reading public which was substantial, considered, and unafraid of the mind. Daugherty's book is an act of love and a credit to Barthelme, an imperfect man who strove in striving times.
Read more about A Sunday in God-Years, including a sample poem from the collection, "Sandcastle Guarded by a Cicada Shell."

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 27, 2009

Steve Knopper

Steve Knopper covers the music business for Rolling Stone magazine. He is a Denver-based journalist who has written for Spin, Details, Esquire, Entertainment Weekly, National Geographic Traveler, Wired, New York, Chicago, Backpacker, as well as the Chicago Tribune, Newsday, The Washington Post, the Toronto Globe and Mail, the Denver Rocky Mountain News, the Miami Herald, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and many books and websites.

His new book is Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age.

Earlier this week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
-- To answer your question literally, I'm on about page 30 of Liar's Poker by Michael Lewis. As a music critic for years and a longtime feature writer, I never thought I'd be a business reporter, but my recent professional obsession with the music business has led me to figure out why bad stuff happens to other industries. I've read Moneyball, and Lewis' piece on subprime mortgages and the economic crash in Condé Nast Portfolio magazine last fall made me seek out this one. So far I'm just into the ambition and chutzpah phases of his broker's narrative about '80s Wall Street and haven't quite gotten to the greed and corruption.

-- I have a weird OCD-type quirk of reading one book at a time, and finally finished Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina over the weekend after beginning it last July. I've always loved that famous opening sentence: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." The narcissistic love-triangle bits between Anna and Vronsky and the sour Alexey Aleksandrovich are just riveting, as is Anna's opium-addled unraveling towards the end. And I related to much about the heroic, thoughtful Levin character, particularly the birth of his child, although I admit it took a long time to slog through his musings about spirituality and (especially) late-1800s Russian peasantry and farming politics.

-- I should probably mention a music-business-related book here, as I spent 2007 reading some two dozen of them, from Fredric Dannen's investigative classic Hit Men to Joseph Menn's unheralded Napster bio All the Rave. But my favorite discovery during this process was Stan Cornyn's Exploding: The Highs, Hits, Hype, Heroes and Hustlers of the Warner Music Group. Stan was a longtime VP at the most quirky of all major record labels, beginning in the '60s, and he came up with perfect-for-the-time promo ads like "JONI MITCHELL IS 90% VIRGIN." The book promises dirt on sexy superstars, and there is some, I suppose, but to me it's just a wry, colorful look behind the scenes of how the music business ran in the decades before MP3s and Napster. It begins with some absolutely hilarious office politics involving the actual Warner brothers.

-- I see your contributors often end with children's books. My 6-year-old daughter Rose and I whipped through Roald Dahl's Matilda over the weekend, and it is such a welcome relief from Laura Ingalls Wilder. Miss Trunchbull is the most comically disturbing principal I've ever encountered in children's fiction, and Dahl managed to make Rose laugh rather than cower even during the brutal passages when "The Trunchbull" lifts children by the ears and hair and tosses them across the room. I've read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, of course, but this book, published in 1988, was a revelation, newfound (for me) evidence of a master storyteller.
Visit Steve Knopper's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mary Cappello

Mary Cappello is a regular contributor to the world of literary nonfiction and experimental prose. She is the author of Night Bloom: An Italian/American Life (Beacon Press), and most recently, the Los Angeles Times bestselling book-length essay on “awkwardness,” Awkward: A Detour (Bellevue Literary Press). Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration and Extraction in the Age of Chevalier Jackson will appear from The New Press in 2010, and Called Back: My Reply to Cancer, My Return to Life, is coming out with Alyson Books this October.

A few days ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Currently, I’m reading a book that is, sadly, out of print: James Scully’s Line Break: Poetry as Social Practice, originally published by Bay Press. I’ve been rediscovering it because of classes I’m teaching in poetry this semester, and I still find it to be one of the most lucid, bracing, important and teachable collections to address the lines that too often set poetry apart from the political. I’m also happily re-reading some favorite essayists this week—most notably, the wildly dense, heightened sentences of William Gass’ Tests of Time, in particular his essay on lists, as I ask my students to articulate the differences between list poems and facebook lists. Once back inside of this collection, I found myself returning to Gass’ still unsurpassed essay on Gertrude Stein—“The Geography of the Sentence” in The World within the Word. Then, I pined for an era in which the book review was shot through with readerly prowess, erudition, conversation, for the days, too, when it was a form more writers happily and necessarily inhabited: the book review as art. Discussing this with a colleague this week, he put the two volumes of Virginia Woolf’s Common Reader into my lap, and I found myself re-reading one of the magnificent essays therein—on how to read a book. I read it on the spot while my friend gave another guest a tour of the orchids he cultivates. Orchids or Woolf’s Common Reader? It’s a tough choice, but maybe not if you love the intricate beauty of essays as much as I do.

In the realm of the contemplative—a state of mind that I aspire to—I’ve been happily transported by, again, a recent re-reading of Argentinean Antonio Porchia’s aphorisms (entitled Voices, and translated by W.S. Merwin), as well as a collection of poems I’m reading for the first time by Melissa Hotchkiss titled Storm Damage. Porchia’s aphorisms linger like after-images, they’re nearly spectral in their invocations and their silences, and I enjoy the demand they make on a reader to sit inside of a present absence:

“I have scarcely touched clay and I am made of it.”

“A great deal that I no longer continue, within myself, continues there on its own.”

“Chimeras come singly and leave accompanied.”

“This world understands nothing but words, and you have come into it with almost none.”

I’m also loving Hotchkiss’ poems for the distillate image work they perform, for their kinship with photography, and their invocation of lines from Emily Dickinson.

Subsequently, I’m reading Brenda Wineapple’s White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. There must be something wrong with the way I’m living my life because I feel as though I’d like to read this book cover to cover, from start to finish, with no interruptions. Wineapple is such a fabulous biographer and reader of literary texts, a deft weaver of life and work, and I’m such a Dickinson fan—but so far I’ve only read the first evocative chapter. (I hope you’ll check back in with me this summer!)

I recently discovered the work of nonfiction writer and film specialist, David Lazar, the title essay of whose Body of Brooklyn I found to be exquisitely unnerving, really discomfiting for its investigation of the author’s body, of a fatness a body never outgrows even if it thins, of gender and excess and craving. Lazar’s queer sensibility (that’s what I call it) and filmic bent appeals to me, and I look forward to reading more of him, having come to his work last semester through another marvelous piece of his in Truth in Nonfiction—an essay titled “Occasional Desire: On the Essay and the Memoir,” that is an inspired and refreshingly rigorous accounting of non-fiction’s, and especially the essay’s, contemporary possibilities as a genre.

The most ecstatic experience I’ve had with a book turning into the New Year—that isn’t what you asked, you asked what I was currently reading, but even though I’ve finished reading this book, I try to live as though I’m currently reading it, to keep it close for its intelligence and intimacy—is Susan Sontag’s recently published early journals and note-books, Reborn, edited by her son, David Rieff. I think this book can enter a pantheon of books of queer becoming, and it’s thrilling to watch in its pages Sontag’s cultivation, from a very young age, of a writing self and an aesthetic. Of course one also can’t help being floored by the questions and insights she fashions as a mere 16 year old! I think this book can open up a discussion of the diary as such, and the idea and utility of the diary in Sontag’s singularly brilliant hands. I found it sad to discover Amazon reader reports and more formal reviews there too whose primary point seems to be to defend Sontag as bisexual, over and against, lesbian. I might be over-stating the case, but on one hand, it makes one all too acutely aware of the power of identity politics and the intensities of homophobia. And it also misses so much that is important about this book. Has anybody read it?

I try to read anything and everything that essayist Adam Phillips, the British psychoanalyst, and editor of the new Penguin translations of Freud writes. I can spend days, weeks, even years inside of a single sentence of Phillips both for their import and their startle, and I think I’ve been unconsciously riffing on his melodies for decades. His recent Going Sane has some of the most original thinking on adolescence and the adolescent I’ve read anywhere.

I’m currently writing a book based on an enormous collection of swallowed objects, otherwise known as “foreign bodies,” that are housed in a set of drawers in Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum. The “things” were expertly removed, non-surgically, and in most cases sans anesthesia, then kept, framed, and meticulously documented by a pioneering laryngologist, Chevalier Jackson, in the early 20th century. My book (forthcoming from The New Press) is both a psycho-biography of the father of endoscopy, the eccentric genius, Chevalier Jackson, and an attempt to re-attach numerous life-stories, the actual case studies and social contexts that are part and parcel of the collection but that Jackson in many ways detached both himself and the objects from. On some level, the book is very much a (multi-genre) study in desire at the site of the mouth. This week, as I compose a chapter on the phenomenon of (hysterical) women who swallowed huge amounts of hardware in the early 20th century, I’m reading selected chapters from three of Ian Hacking’s books, The Social Construction of What, Rewriting the Soul, and Mad Travelers, in order to aid my understanding of the relationship between particular historical moments and pathological repertoires. I’ve also been reading and re-reading Elizabeth Wilson’s fascinating essay, “Gut Feminism” (differences: a journal of feminist cultural studies) in which she challenges the Freudian notion of hysteria (especially in the form of eating disorders) as a kind of psychosomia and turns instead to Ferenzci who would have us consider the body as a thinking entity, not merely a conduit for states of mind. I’ve been dipping, too, inside of the newest in a series of photographic books from the Mutter Museum, Mutter Museum: Historic Medical Photographs edited by Laura Lindgren and with an introduction by the late curator, Gretchen Worden. Over and against photographs of medical anomalies that necessarily constitute much of this book, I find myself dwelling with images termed “photomicrographs.” Reminiscent of the sort of beautiful, and enchanting, anomalous, and metamorphic work one might find in the Museum of Jurassic Technology, these images are representations of organic entities, like the blood vessels of the human retina, that, under the microscope and then magnified, resemble landscape paintings.

As I prepare to host a reading by Jan Clausen and Jane Lazarre at the University of Rhode Island on March 5th, I’m reading Clausen’s new collection of poems, From a Glass House, and Lazarre’s breast cancer memoir, Wet Earth and Dreams. I started to turn down the corners of pages in these books as I read them, but it got to the point where I was turning down the corner of every page! Clausen brings together lyricism and experimentation with language, with the result of finely calibrating the political nature of being.

As someone who has been through her own breast cancer ordeal, and who also has written out from it, I’ve read a great number of books written in the last 20 years that have emerged out of the epidemic. There are numerous different genres of breast cancer book, each of which serves, I think, different complex purposes, different readerships, and aims. My favorite are books like Lazarre’s—books that one reads for the way they are written as much as for what they are ostensibly “about.” Books that stop me in my tracks or inspire me because of the shape of their sentences, which is to say, the shape of the feeling mind on the page. Lazarre’s book has a commanding clarity about it, as well as a wisdom and purity matched by the painful and nearly unspeakable material she brings into one place (the book deals not strictly with breast cancer, but illness as a matrix of feelings and experiences, and more specifically, the challenge of dealing with forms of depression and a cancer diagnosis simultaneously). Perhaps I should add here, too, that one of the books that most spoke to me in the midst of my treatment ordeal was Miriam Engelberg’s Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person, a book that I love for its existential buoyancy, and that Barbara Ehrenreich’s essay, “Welcome to Cancerland,” was also enormously inspiring—it’s a singularly brilliant critique of breast cancer culture that one feels should be required reading!

Looking back over my narrative of current reading, I realize that it’s mostly poetry and nonfiction that I’m currently reading, until I remember that I’ve been reading a great deal of fiction of writers who are part of my writing community in Providence. I’m almost always reading manuscripts of a number of interlocutors, and that’s especially exciting when their work exceeds so much of what’s in print. Then I feel as though I’m caught up in a clandestine, underground reading movement. I’ve been reading Russell Potter’s (author of Arctic Spectacles), The Panoramist, an historical novel rife with Victoriana, the Crystal Palace, and the history of viewing devices, a labyrinthine mystery with routes to and from visual technologies of the past and present; Karen Carr’s (fiction writer, essayist, and cultural critic) eerie and intensely lyrical, Octogirl, a novel in the tradition of Angela Carter focused on a girl whose real body is a mere cover for her true body—that of an octopus; and Jean Walton’s (Fair Sex, Savage Dreams) All Fine Motel, an understated and edgy realist novel set in a 1970s working class suburb of British Columbia, and rife with local, national, and international, as well as “domestic” politics as a context for a 13 years old girl’s coming of age. The girl lives in an A-frame that is part of the motel her family runs on the King George Highway. Yesterday, I read 18 new poems by poet, Penelope Cray, and I was entirely taken with the consummate sensibility at work in them—their other-worldly, attentive, absurdist, and embodied force. I hope this writing, and these books will find their way into the public domain soon!

Cabinet, that wondrously multi-disciplinary journal of art, science, and ideas, is stacked by my bedside, and I’ve been working my way through back issues on such subjects as “Magic,” “Futures,” “Sloth,” and “The Average.”
Excerpts from Cappello's Called Back will appear in an upcoming issue of The Georgia Review and in the Fall season’s Seattle Review, special issue on “Death,” edited by David Shields. Some of Cappello’s recent essaying addresses Gunther von Hagens’ bodyworlds exhibit (in Salmagundi); sleep, sound and the silence of silent cinema (in Michigan Quarterly Review); the psychology of tears (in Waterstone Review); and the uncanny dimensions of parapraxis and metalepsis (in Interim). Cappello was the recipient of The Lange-Taylor Prize from Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies to document the lives of new immigrants to Italy; The Bechtel Prize for Educating the Imagination from Teachers and Writers Collaborative for her essay, "Can Creative Writing Be Taught?"; and, her essays have received Notable Essay of the Year Citations in Best American Essays. A former Fulbright Lecturer at the Gorky Literary Institute in Moscow, Russia, Cappello is Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Rhode Island. Her latest book-length project on a single theme is a foray into sound and mood, tentatively titled A Book of Moods.

Learn more about the author and her work at Mary Cappello's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Kyle Minor

Kyle Minor is the author of In the Devil's Territory, a collection of short fiction, and co-editor of The Other Chekhov. His work appears in The Southern Review, Surreal South, Best American Mystery Stories 2008, and Random House's Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers.

A couple of days ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I'm on a 25-city book tour for my short fiction collection In the Devil's Territory, which means lots of planes, trains, buses, rental cars, subway stations -- lots of waiting, in other words, which means lots of reading. Lucky for me, I've been traveling with a first-class book, Live Nude Girl: My Life as an Object, by my tour partner Kathleen Rooney. It's a memoir in six essays, a meditation on Kathy's work as an artist's model. The book is interested in the body, and what we do with it, and what we think about it, and why. It's also interested in the personas we create for ourselves and for others, and the uses of art and the way the idea of art gets used. Along the way, Kathy sketches beautiful, incisive, and occasionally devastating portraits of her fellow models and the artists for whom they pose. She doesn't spare herself, either. The book ends bravely, positing that the work toward empathy and human connection that literature and art strain toward might ultimately be doomed to fail ("we are all alone!" she writes), but that all of it is worth pursuing nonetheless.
Learn more about Kyle Minor and his work at his website, MySpace page, and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Robin Gerber

Robin Gerber is the author of several books including her new book, Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her (Harper/Collins). She has also written Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way: Timeless Strategies from the First Lady of Courage (Penguin/Portfolio, 2002) and Katharine Graham: The Leadership Journey of an American Icon with a foreword by Jim Collins, author of Good to Great (Penguin/Portfolio, October, 2005). Her novel Eleanor vs. Ike (Harper/Avon, January, 2008) imagines Eleanor Roosevelt as a candidate for President.

This weekend I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I just read Caroline Moorehead’s biography, Gellhorn:A Twentieth Century Life, the story of the journalist and wife of Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn. Gellhorn was restless and intrepid, a match for Hemingway in her intensity, moods and need to be in the center of the action. They covered the Spanish Civil War together, fought, married, fought some more, traveled, loved and divorced in a firestorm of recrimination. She was the only woman who left him, and probably the only one he loved. I had admired Gellhorn for years and the book confirmed my impression of her as yet another woman who deserves a more prominent place in history.

Before Gellhorn, I read Robert Coles' biography, Dorothy Day: A Radical Devotion. She was founder of the Catholic Worker movement, a radical reformer who lived her beliefs by staying in her “Houses of Hospitality,” that sheltered and fed the homeless during the Depression. Day presents an extreme of belief, conviction and choice that we rarely see, and that is deeply moving.

In between, as I contemplate trying genre fiction, I’ve been reading David Baldacci’s Last Man Standing. He’s a master of maintaining a character’s point of view, and keeping readers on the edge of their seats.
Learn more about Robin Gerber and her work at her website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 20, 2009

Megan Hart

Megan Hart has published in almost every genre of romantic fiction, including historical, contemporary, romantic suspense, romantic comedy, futuristic, fantasy and perhaps most notably, erotic. She also writes non-erotic fantasy and science fiction, as well as continuing to occasionally dabble in horror.

Her new novel is Stranger.

Earlier this week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
West of Eden by Harry Harrison: It's a re-read, actually. I first picked it up from the library back in the early 90s and kept thinking about it, but had to do some intensive internet research to figure out what book it was. It's this great novel about a world in which lizards became the dominant race. It's got a Clan of the Cave Bear feeling to it, too.

The Little Giant of Aberdeen County by Tiffany Baker -- I picked this as one of my choices when I joined the Doubleday Book Club, and I'm enjoying it. Truly is a giant -- I'm not sure if she's got a condition or is just gigantic, and the book so far is a series of scenes of her life that are entertaining and interesting, even if they don't seem to be moving the plot in the direction suggested by the book blurb.

Testimony by Anita Shreve -- another book club choice. Told in multiple first person, much like Jodi Picoult's work. Took me a while to get into it but now that I'm nearly finished, I need to find out what's going to happen.

In My Skin, A Memoir by Kate Holden -- picked it up off the bargain table at Barnes and Noble because I thought it was a different book, one I read about online. So far, I think it's not that book but it's still a great read. The story of her drug use and prostitution, it's beautifully written. I can't find much sympathy for the heroine, but since it's a memoir, I can find compassion.

Naughty Bits, various authors, published by Harlequin Spice -- just got a box of author copies and since this is the first collection of Harlequin's Spice Briefs, including one of mine, I thought I'd check out the stories I haven't read yet. Short stories are perfect for reading "in between" other stuff, and this collection is proving to be a lot of fun.
Learn more about Megan Hart and her work at her website and blog.

If you are 18 or older, read excerpt 1 and excerpt 2 from Stranger.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Suzanne Kamata

Suzanne Kamata's short stories, essays, articles and book reviews have appeared in over 100 publications including New York Stories, Calyx, Crab Orchard Review, Pleiades, Kyoto Journal, The Utne Reader, The Japan Times, Brain, Child, Skirt!, Ladybug, and Cicada. Her work also appears in the anthologies Yaponesia, The Beacon Best of 1999, It's a Boy, It's a Girl, Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined, Not What I Expected, and One Big Happy Family. She is the editor of the anthologies The Broken Bridge: Fiction from Expatriates in Literary Japan (Stone Bridge Press, 1997) and Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising Children with Special Needs (Beacon Press, 2008).

Her debut novel, Losing Kei, was released last year.

A few days ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I've always been interested in other cultures, which explains how I wound up living in Japan, and also my choice of reading materials. I often read novels in translation (most recently The Curse of Eve and other stories by a young Mexican writer, Liliana Blum), or books set in foreign countries. For example, last night I finished reading The Size of the World by Joan Silber, a cycle of stories that takes the reader from Vietnam in the 60s to Thailand in the 20s to the U.S. just after the attacks of 9/11. Although each story is told from a different point of view, all of these characters are connected, and the narratives combine into a satisfying whole. The stories were fascinating, and also instructive, because my novel-in-progress is told from various points of view and I'm trying to figure out how I can make it hang together.

Lark and Termite, by Jayne Anne Phillips, which I finished recently, is also told from multiple points of view, including those of a dying soldier during the war in Korea, and a disabled non-verbal boy. I think it was quite audacious of Phillips to try something like that, and I think she succeeded. This novel is of special interest to me because my daughter is disabled, and I was frustrated, at first, not to find many families with special needs children in modern adult literature. (There are actually quite a few novels now featuring autistic children, but not so many with other disabilities.)

Along these lines, I was excited to read T4 by Ann Clare LeZotte last week. The title refers to the Nazi's program to "euthanize" disabled individuals, and the novel-in-verse is told from the point of view of a deaf girl who is forced to hide out. The language is spare, but the story packs a powerful punch. Like my daughter, the author Ann Clare LeZotte is profoundly deaf, which makes this story even more of an accomplishment.

Last week I also read Mother in the Middle, by Sybil Lockhart, one of my colleagues at Lockhart, a neurobiologist, writes of raising small children while caring for her mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. She paints a vivid portrait of her family while illuminating the changes in her children's and mother's brains.

As for non-fiction, I've been reading The Samurai Way of Baseball by Robert Whiting as part of my research for my novel-in-progress (working title: The Baseball Widow). I didn't realize, until reading this book, how many minority players there have been in Japanese professional baseball. If you want to know anything about the J-league, Whiting is the guy to go to; this is his third book on the subject.

Finally, at bedtime, I've been signing Japanese picture books to my daughter, and reading Billy and the Birdfrogs to my nine-year-old son. This story of a boy living with his wacky grandmother combines adventure and mystery. It's got mammoth bones, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and miniature gorillas. What more could you want?
Visit Suzanne Kamata's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 16, 2009

John C. Hulsman

John C. Hulsman is the Alfred von Oppenheim Scholar in Residence at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin.

He is the coauthor, with Anatol Lieven, of Ethical Realism, and coauthor, with A. Wess Mitchell, of The Godfather Doctrine: A Foreign Policy Parable.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I'm currently reading The Baader Meinhof Complex, by Stefan Aust, long-time editor of the influential German daily Der Spiegel. I was interested in the book because of what seems to outsiders the continued German obsession (far more than is the case in say Italy or the US) with their homegrown radical, underground student-dominated terrorist movement of the early 70s. Aust, in effective, matter-of-fact, underplaying language, sets the scene well, providing the critical context in which the group took on the German establishment. While the arguments employed by the group still seem self-indulgent and beyond other-worldly, Aust makes clear the reasons that the German postwar establishment had such public relations trouble at the trials of the various would-be revolutionaries. A fine book that explains an era that otherwise makes little sense.
Read an excerpt from The Godfather Doctrine, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Visit John C. Hulsman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Antonya Nelson

Antonya Nelson's short story collections include Some Fun, In The Land Of Men, and the newly published Nothing Right (Bloomsbury, 2009).

Her three novels are Talking in Bed, Nobody’s Girl, and Living to Tell.

Nelson's work has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, Harper's, Redbook and many other magazines, as well as in anthologies such as Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards and Best American Short Stories. Her books have been New York Times Notable Books of 1992, 1996, 1998, 2000, and 2002, and she was named in 1999 by The New Yorker as one of the “twenty young fiction writers for the new millennium.”

Recently, I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm reading a lot of things simultaneously (judging prizes, teaching classes) but at the end of the day, or the middle of the night, what I've got going is the latest installment of a police procedural series written by Arnaldur Indridason (Icelandic) called The Draining Lake. It (and the three books that precede it) is dry humored, well plotted, full of great characters and mordant wit. The spareness of the landscape and the solitude of the main detective give the series a pleasing gravitas that is punctuated by occasional laugh-out-loud dialogue, as well as desperate secondary and tertiary characters.
Read more about Antonya Nelson's new short story collection, Nothing Right.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Chandra Prasad

Chandra Prasad has written several books, including Death of a Circus, which Tom Perrotta says is “narrated with Dickensian verve, a keen eye for historical detail, and lots of heart.” She is the originator and editor of — as well as a contributor to — Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial Experience, which was published to international acclaim by W.W. Norton.

Her more recent book is On Borrowed Wings, a novel set in Depression-era Connecticut about a quarryman’s daughter who attends a prestigious university in 1936 in the guise of a boy.

A few days ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m going to preface this entry by saying my son just turned two, and it’s a big, intense, rambunctious two. The taller this child gets, the shorter my attention span. Thus, I’ve been reading smaller works: magazine articles, short stories, the backs of cereal boxes, in-one-sitting things. My steady intake has included The Week Magazine, The Economist (which lately has been sweepingly critical of President Obama for no well-argued reason), The New York Times Magazine (the last few weeks of the “Lives Column” have been standouts), and Mental Floss Magazine, which is just plain fun. Two quality non-fiction collections on my bedside table are Call Me Okaasan: Adventures in Multicultural Mothering edited by Suzanne Kamata and Couldn't Keep It to Myself: Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution. The latter book has a marvelous cover, like Lamb’s new book: The Hour I First Believed.

And speaking of beautiful images, I can’t stop staring at a book of photos called Jungles by Frans Lanting. I bought this book after seeing a Lanting exhibit of the same title at Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven, Connecticut. These are intense, lush photos of jungle flora and fauna that show nature at her most riotous. Jungles is, generally, a powerful call for jungle conservation, and for me personally, armchair escape from a particularly blustery New England winter.

It must be the cold weather that has me visiting another book with a tropical backdrop: Lord of the Flies by William Golding. I last picked this up in eighth grade English class, but I didn’t get most of the symbolism and allegory then. So much is packed into this slim novel, everything from political ideology to classic mythology. It’s kind of astonishing.

In a precarious pile on my bedside table also sit these books: The Great Negro Plot: A Tale of Conspiracy and Murder in Eighteenth-Century New York by Mat Johnson (Johnson contributed to my mixed-race anthology entitled Mixed), Serena: A Novel by Ron Rash (bought after seeing a deluge of great reviews), The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason (impulse purchase from a used bookstore in my neighborhood), The Good Wife by Stewart O’Nan (because O’Nan is also good), The Lucifer Principle by Howard Bloom (actually, my husband is reading this one), and The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen (another strong-reviews-inspired buy). In terms of subject matter, these books run the gamut. The title character of Serena is a bad-ass lumberjack empress who rides around on a white horse with an eagle on her shoulder, while The Lucifer Principle examines why evil impulses shape human culture and history. With each book, I’m everywhere from a couple chapters in to a couple chapters from the end. So far the works are uniformly strong. I am impressed by all, and riveted in particular by Serena, which is a diatribe against irresponsible deforestation, an overview of Appalachia's modern history, and a classic yarn of good versus evil.

Having been into the absurd yet utterly captivating HBO vampire series True Blood (this show and Mad Men I monitor, record, and watch with the faith of a zealot), I’ve gone and started the Twilight series. I finished Twilight and am partway through New Moon. With Twilight, writing technique was a little raw in places, and the resolute insistence on abstinence had raised my eyebrows more than once. New Moon shows more poise. In the case of both books, swift pacing more than makes up for occasional literary hiccups. Overall, I take my hat off to the author, Stephanie Meyer, for creating an engaging, unpretentious series. These books keep making it to the top of the teetering pile.

And to end where I started this entry, in kids-land, there are some children’s books lining my son’s shelves that are as imaginative, arresting, and wondrous as any adult fare: 10 Button Book by William Accorsi, When Dinosaurs Came with Everything by Elise Broach and David Small, and There is a Bird On Your Head! by Mo Willems.
Read an excerpt from On Borrowed Wings, and learn more about the book at the publisher’s website.

Visit Chandra Prasad's website.

The Page 69 Test: On Borrowed Wings.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Jack McDevitt

Jack McDevitt is a former English teacher, naval officer, Philadelphia taxi driver, customs officer, and motivational trainer. Many of his works--Infinity Beach, Ancient Shores, “Time Travelers Never Die,” Moonfall, “Good Intentions” (cowritten with Stanley Schmidt), “Nothing Ever Happens in Rock City,” Chindi, Omega, and Polaris, "Henry James, This One's for You," and Seeker--have been Nebula Award finalists.

His first novel, The Hercules Text, was published in the celebrated Ace Specials series, and won the Philip K. Dick Special Award. In 1991, he won the first $10,000 UPC International Prize for his novella “Ships in the Night.” The Engines of God was a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and his novella “Time Travelers Never Die” was nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula. Omega received the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for best SF novel, 2003.

His recent works include The Devil's Eye, an Alex Benedict mystery, and Cryptic: The Best Short Fiction of Jack McDevitt.

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Bleak House. The first Dickens novel I've had trouble with. The fact that I keep getting sidetracked will probably say all that needs to be said. It's a commentary on the Brit judicial system, which eats up enormous amounts of money while going in circles, impoverishing the claimants and, of course, taking care of the lawyers. Major characters are not as sharp as we usually get from Dickens, and the book feels as long as War and Peace.

The Republican War on Science, by Chris Mooney. Republicans have a long history of sacrificing honest science for political benefit. But the George W. Bush administration comes in for particular attention: environmental problems, stem cell lines, creation science, and a host of other issues. Mooney includes details on silencing government scientists and distorting their findings.

And, finally, Blasphemy, by Douglas Preston. This is the one I've been reading on my stationary bike during workouts, the last part of my daily physical routine, a twenty-minute ride to nowhere. Blasphemy actually has me looking forward to pumping the pedals. Religious extremists and angry Navajos take exception to a supercollider in Arizona, which, with luck, may reveal what brought on the Big Bang. But the scientists are keeping something quiet. An investigator arrives to find out what's going on. I'm almost halfway through, and got my first real indication today. Almost fell off my bike.
Visit Jack McDevitt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue