Friday, October 30, 2009

David W. Berner

David W. Berner is an award-winning journalist, writer, documentarian, and teacher. His most recent book, Accidental Lessons—A Memoir of a Rookie Teacher and a Life Renewed, was published by AEG/Strategic in February, 2009. His essays and reporting have been published in numerous magazines and literary journals, and his broadcast work has been aired on National Public Radio, the CBS Radio Network, and public radio stations across the United States.

Berner is an assistant professor at Columbia College Chicago, teaching writing, audio documentary, and radio narrative.

Earlier this week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
On my floor-to-ceiling bookshelf in my living room is a copy of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. I read it in college, reread it about five years ago, and recently with all the talk of going “green” and sustainability, I started thinking again about Thoreau. I used a quote of his in the preface of my recently released memoir, Accidental Lessons. Thoreau’s words fit perfectly into a storyline of self-reinvention and discovery - The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.

Thoreau’s approach to the world and his approach to the art of writing have always fascinated me. But since I had already read a number of the biographies on him, I turned to what you might call the anti-biography. The reporter, Robert Sullivan, has written a wonderful book that peels the layers off the Thoreau onion and tells us more about the real man than any of the legends and half-truths ever could. The Thoreau You Don’t Know: What the Prophet of Environmentalism Really Meant is full of such intimate stories about the man that the reader feels he’s getting all of these tales on the QT, stories revealing the real man, not the myth. And if you’re a writer, Sullivan has a lot to say about Thoreau’s unique writing process. I’m about halfway through, and I already can undoubtedly say if you are at all a Thoreau geek, this is your book.

I tend to be a three-at-a-time reader. I read a little of this, then a little of that, come back to a little of this, and then something completely different after that – three books at a time. The second of the current trio is Philip Roth’s Everyman. Roth never fails in his storytelling and Everyman is no different. His 27th book is a masterpiece in brevity, just 182 pages, and although the story is a bit of a downer, a story of aging and the deterioration of the spirit, it is so gracefully told that the reader will finish the final pages feeling as if he has been in the company of genius. This is not Roth’s most recent work, but it is one of his best.

The final book now sitting on my nightstand is an old favorite. I’m rereading Tobias Wolff's The Night in Question: Stories. Wolff is one of my favorites and this collection is engaging from start to finish, with the best of the bunch coming at the back of the book – A Bullet to the Brain. In it, Wolff describes a bullet searing into the main character’s head with such elegance that you almost forget it’s such a violent moment in the story. I’m still making my way through this book, meandering from one story to the next. It is the best way to read a collection, tasting a bit of the feast and savoring each bite.

What in the world am I going to do about dessert?
Learn more about David W. Berner and his work at the Accidental Lessons website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Jessica Brody

Jessica Brody is the author of two adult books from St. Martin’s Press (Love Under Cover and The Fidelity Files) and two forthcoming young adult books from Farrar, Straus & Giroux (The Karma Club and My Life Undecided). Love Under Cover, which releases on November 10 follows the life of a “fidelity inspector,” a woman hired to test men’s fidelity, while The Karma Club (April, 2010), her YA debut, tells the story of three teen girls who vow to take Karma into their own hands and get revenge on their bad ex-boyfriends, until they discover that Karma has a plan of its own.

Recently I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
As a person who can never sit still, I’m usually always reading four or five books at once. I stash them in different rooms of my house so I always have something to read no matter where I am. Here are a couple of my recent favorites:

The Espressologist by Kristina Springer. This is a debut, young adult novel that I picked up because my editor sent it to me. It’s from the same publisher/editorial team as my young adult novels. I expected it to be cute, (I mean, just look at the cover!) but I didn’t expect it to be down right amazing! It’s about a teen girl who works as a barista at a fictional “Starbucks”-esque coffee shop and has a knack for match making customers and friends based on their favorite coffee drinks. Kristina Springer is a fantastic new storyteller who is going to do great things. The writing is engaging and charming and humorous. I finished the whole book in one sitting! Quite a feat given my aforementioned restlessness.

Crossing Washington Square by Joanne Rendell. I’d be been waiting for this release for a long time. Ever since I read Rendell’s first novel, The Professors’ Wives’ Club, last year. This is such a heartwarming story about two young, female English professors at Manhattan University (think NYU). One teaches classic, literary works while the other likes to stir things up a bit and preaches the merits of popular women’s fiction like The Devil Wears Prada and Bridget Jones’s Diary. The story is not only entertaining and immediately hooks you in (especially when the two women fall for the same dashing professor), but it also conjures some thought-provoking questions about literature, women, and the books we love to read.
Watch Brody's award-winning book trailers and visit her online at

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sean Lovelace

Sean Lovelace is an English professor at Ball State University. His publications include Tartts: Incisive Fiction from Emerging Writers, Grass: A Fiction Chapbook, and stories and essays in various literary journals, including New Orleans Review, Crazyhorse, Black Warrior Review, and Sycamore Review.

His latest book is How Some People Like Their Eggs, winner of the Third Annual Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Contest.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I am mostly reading three things at once these days—I switch off/switch on, like maybe a giant firefly, or a dog fight. Since it’s autumn now, I am reading things that I can easily flip through, fold up, hold in my gloves as I sit in a tree about 30 feet above a lowland forest of dappling sun/shifting leaf-shadows/winding trails of deer and cats (been seeing several cats recently—not sure why) and coyotes and raccoons and one time this girl walked under my stand with a white dog, and she must have had That Feeling, so looked up at me—crouched in full camo off a tulip poplar in a metal appendage like some form of Orwellian insect/spy—and I waved my paw and she waved her paw (white glove with a tiny pink bell sown on) and walked off with her white dog, sort of drifted thinking, Was that real, or a wood sprite, or God?

So, anyway, books-I-am-reading while bowhunting.

1.) Blake Butler’s Scorch Atlas.

This post-apocalyptic mind-funk of mud and muck and seepage and musty moss head-crunch, seep, moil your spleen into crush-cakes, etc. is an excellent read for the deer stand. Why? It looks like a burnt piece of toast. Or toast clasped too tightly in a desperate mother’s hand, then burnt in the toaster, then drenched in cheap lipstick and regret, then re-burnt (like refried, only different), then flung and forgotten in a rain gutter full of tears for six months. Seriously. The book is black cover on black pages on soot. So no sunlight prisms off, no whitetail deer perceives me carefully flip the pages. I am about halfway through this book; it is horrifying and depressing so far. But then the language uplifts me. Kind of like the Old Testament.

2.) The Other Lover by Bruce Smith because the bucks are beginning to rut. Wait, let me explain. Once the does go into estrous and the mating cycle begins, I will have to add rattling antlers, a grunt tube, a bleating can, and naturally a bottle of doe-in-estrous application with me into the woods. This means less space for books in my fanny pack. This slim book of poetry is a perfect fit, and contains a perfect sonnet (titled “After St. Vincent Millay”). The last couplet—like any good Shakespearian sonnet—solves the conundrum presented in the initial twelve lines, the persona’s angst and bitterness over lost love…

And about that other guy by your side

You left me for. I hope he dies.

3.) Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do by Studs Terkel.

Now didn’t I just say I need a small book? This book is a brick, all red and sweaty SUV. Well, I do contradict myself. The days I haul this tome into the woods I leave my two beers behind to make room. (I routinely drink two beers while deer hunting, and in no way, shape, or form is this is a sign of general intelligence/good living to hang yourself off a tree way-ass up in the air and drink beer. So, like many things in my life, I say don’t do it; just don’t you dare try to stop me.)

Terkel’s book interviews hundreds of U.S. workers, from book designers to prostitutes to meter maids to advertising CEOS. And so on. In a word, fascinating. Work is literature. Every human theme right there in the sweat and blood and bones of these pages. You know it, if you hold any type of job. You do work, right? If not, that must be some serious labor on your brain right there. Would be to me. Yesterday in the woods I saw a red fox limping by with three legs. His fur was ruffled up, clumped and rat-nested. Three legs, but he seemed to drift along through the undergrowth like a morning fog. I mean flow. He was clearly going somewhere. Not sure why I tell you this but for a moment while writing I felt something, a shuddering tinge of melancholy for some odd reason. So then I just thought about that fox, and, you know, I felt better.
Visit Sean Lovelace's blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Michael Idov

Michael Idov is a contributing editor at New York magazine and a frequent contributor of Russian-language columns and criticism to major Moscow publications. Ground Up, his first novel, was published this summer by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Earlier this week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
This is one of those questions that tempt you into concocting a beautifully balanced and meaningful self-portrait of a list in response. In the words of Julia Child, Whooo's to knooow? For the sake of honesty, however, here's what I'm actually reading at the moment. And by reading, I mean snatching a few pages here and there between the frequently insane requirements of my journalistic research ("Effect of Neonatal Circumcision on Pain Response During Subsequent Routine Vaccination," anyone?).

The Anthologist, by Nicholson Baker. I'm a few dozen pages in, and this one is proving to be a bit of a slog - odd, since in many ways it's vintage Baker circa Room Temperature or The Mezzanine, both of which I admire. I guess my general indifference to poetry is carrying over to Baker's poet protagonist.

Thunder at Twilight, by Frederic Morton. An amazing portrait of Vienna between 1913 and 1914: the city and the moment in which Trotsky, Freud, Lenin, Hitler, and Josip Broz Tito could have been using the same coffee cup.

Indignation, by Philip Roth. The consistency of his greatness is almost wearying, at this point. There really doesn't seem to be any reason to write realistic U.S.-set novels while the man is still alive.

Russian Journal, by Andrea Lee. I'm hate-reading this one. The writers among you will know the phenomenon. I'm parsing every sentence for proof I could write the same thing but better.

Cultural Amnesia, by Clive James. A great collection of biographical amuse-bouches about the main carriers of the 20th century's humanist thought (the only thought that counts, still).
Visit Michael Idov's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Monica Holloway

Monica Holloway is the critically acclaimed author of the memoir Driving With Dead People, which Newsweek called “unforgettable,” Glamour christened “a classic,” and the Washington Post deemed “irresistible.” She contributed to the anthology Mommy Wars, from which her essay “Red Boots and Cole Haans” was described by Newsday as “brilliant, grimly hilarious.”

Her new book is Cowboy & Wills.

A few days ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
The book I just finished is The Possibility of Everything by Hope Edelman. It’s brand new (came out in September), and I devoured it. I’ve been a fan of Hope Edelman’s since reading her book, Motherless Daughters, and waited with great anticipation for her first memoir. It was well worth the wait.

In the book, Hope details her journey to Belize where she travels with her husband and three-year-old daughter, Maya. Maya has developed a very difficult, almost unmanageable, imaginary friend and Hope takes her to a Mayan healer in hopes that they might banish this imaginary friend. Along the way, she discovers a completely new side of herself, one that truly believes in miracles, not just what can be explained scientifically.

The writing is smart and striking beyond belief. I found myself, literally, transported. Riveted. I did not know much about Belize or the history of that magical, beautiful place until I read this book. Now, all I want to do is get my plane ticket to Belize.

Before Hope’s book, I read Still Alice by Lisa Genova. It’s a novel that is so well written, you feel as if you’re experiencing the main character, Alice’s, slow descent into early onset Alzheimer’s disease yourself. I could not put this down. This may sound depressing but it was, in fact, terrifying, true-to-life and uplifting all at the same time. A literary feat! I loved this book.
Visit Monica Holloway's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Matthew Dicks

Matthew Dicks is the author of the novels Something Missing and the forthcoming Unexpectedly, Milo. An elementary school teacher, he was named West Hartford’s Teacher of the Year in 2005 and was a finalist for Connecticut’s Teacher of the Year.

A week ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
My admittedly poor attention span demands that I read more than one book at a time, so right now I’m rotating through three different books.

I’m close to finishing Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. When I’m working on a book, as I am now, I often find myself unable to read fiction, as the voice of the narrator threatens to blend in with my own, especially when the narrative voice is especially strong. But I’ve read Pride and Prejudice before, and this book honors the original text to such a degree that it’s been more of an amusement and a novelty than a genuine dip into a new story. The concept is ingenious, the interweaving of zombies into the original story is brilliant, and it’s simply a lot of fun to read. I’m left wondering if high school English teachers might benefit from replacing the original text with this one when faced with a class full of reluctant readers. The story exists enough in its original form to credit Austen as an author, but it may have just enough “zombie mayhem” to keep a disinterested student engaged.

I’ve just begun reading Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. It’s an interesting and oftentimes hilarious peek into the world of the dead. It’s not often that one finds a non-fiction text which handles such new and fascinating material in such an engaging and humorous way. I just started the book a couple days ago and find myself unable to put it down.

I am also in the middle of The Ex-Boyfriend Cookbook, which is odd considering I don’t actually cook. I picked this book up at a used bookstore a few years ago and have recently been taking it with me to signings and speaking engagements and recommending it to audiences, though finding a copy anywhere except online might be difficult. It’s a clever little book written by Erin Ergenbright and Thisbe Nissen, and it consists of a collection of recipes that the authors picked up from ex-boyfriends throughout their lives. Each recipe begins with a description of the man from whom the recipe was derived, as well as a summary of the relationship. I pay no attention to the actual recipes but adore the stories about the guys and the relationships that these women had with them, and the design of the pages, which all include collage (much of it actual artifacts from the women’s’ relationships with the men), is terrific.

I should also mention that I’m reading Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut, but I have been reading this book for more than ten years and hardly count it in my reading total anymore. When Vonnegut announced his retirement in 1997, I realized that Timequake was the last new Vonnegut novel that I would ever read, and as such, I never wanted it to end. Kurt Vonnegut is far and away my favorite author, and the thought that I would never encounter another one of his stories for the first time saddened me tremendously. So I vowed to extend Timequake, which I had already started reading, for as long as possible, by reading only a page or two a week but rereading as much as I wanted. It’s been more than ten years since this vow and I am now closing in on the end of the book. Since the announcement of his retirement, Vonnegut went on to publish several books of essays and short stories, including two posthumously, but Timequake remains his final novel, and one that I will continue to stretch out as long as possible.
Visit Matthew Dicks' website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tania Hershman

Tania Hershman is a former science journalist.

Commended by the judges of the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers, her short story collection, The White Road and Other Stories, is published by Salt.

She is the founder and editor of The Short Review, and incoming fiction editor of Southword.

Last week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I've just finished reading Sean Lovelace's How Some People Like Their Eggs, a slim chapbook of flash fiction published by the excellent Rose Metal Press. I love flash fiction, short short stories of only a few pages which, when done well - and here they really are done well - make you wonder why anyone ever needs to take 250 pages to tell a story. Lovelace's imagination knows no bounds, his stories are tragi-comic and they leave an impression that does not fade. I read this collection for review for The Short Review, the journal I edit, I find many new favourite writers this way!

The next book I am reading for review is Freedom, an anthology of short stories published by Amnesty International to commemorate the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Each short story, many by big names, is inspired by one of the articles of the declaration. As you can imagine, it's not a quick or cheery read, but some of the stories are stunning and deeply moving. The ones that speak to me the most are those that approach the issue from the side, not head on, such as A L Kennedy's. But that's just my taste. That's the beauty of reading an anthology, there's something for everybody.

And, for something completely different, I read Dr Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation, by evolutionary biologist Olivia Judson, and was bowled over! In the guise of giving sex advice to a myriad of different creatures, Judson teaches us about the weird and wonderful world around us, including the often barbaric mating habits of animals and insects. I was both enthralled and reading it out to my partner and often horrified! I only got half way through the book and then had to take it back to the library, but it is a fascinating and enlightening read. Highly recommended.
Visit Tania Hershman's website and blog.

Salt, the publishers of The White Road and Other Stories, have made the book available at a special 30% discount from their online shop at Visit the book's page on the site, then enter the code GM18py7n when checking out.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 16, 2009

Amy Reed

Amy Reed's short work has been published in journals such as Kitchen Sink, Contrary, and Fiction.

Her first Young Adult novel Beautiful was released October 6, 2009 (Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster).

I recently asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I usually try to alternate between reading Young Adult and Adult novels, though distinguishing between the genres seems a little silly to me at times. The only consistent difference seems to be that YA is always about teens, while adult literature is only sometimes always about adults. There’s a perception that YA is somehow less serious or “literary,” while in truth the variation in style, subject and quality is infinite.

I just finished the YA novel The Chosen One, by Carol Lynch Williams. It’s the story of Kyra, a 13-year old girl growing up in an isolated polygamist cult and doomed to become the 7th wife of her 60-year-old uncle. It’s a complex and heart-wrenching look into one girl’s struggle for truth and freedom—not usually what you think of as “kids’ stuff.” I could not recommend it more, to both adults and young adults. This is one of those YA books that is so powerful and well-written, I want it to serve as a kind of ambassador to the adult literary world. I’d like to include it in a gift basket to the skeptics, with a note that reads “Read these books. I dare you to tell me you still think YA’s a lesser genre.”

The thing that touched me most about this book is how much I related to Kyra, despite the fact that my world is nothing like hers. Kyra’s unique story illustrates how curiosity and the need for love and freedom are core human traits, regardless of how one is raised. It is books like this that remind us how alike we are, and how finding empathy for others despite our differences is one of the best displays of our humanity.
Visit Amy Reed's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Melody Carlson

Melody Carlson has published over ninety books for adults, children, and teens, with sales totaling more than two million and many titles appearing on the ECPA Bestsellers List. Several of her books have been finalists for, and winners of, various writing awards, including the Gold Medallion and the RITA Award.

Her recent books include Lost in Las Vegas (Carter House Girls: Book 5), What Matters Most (Diary of a Teenage Girl: Maya, Book 3), and Three Weddings and a Bar Mitzvah (86 Bloomberg Place).

Earlier this month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Right now I'm reading Last Go Round by Ken Kesey. It's not my usual read and I have to admit, it's not even my favorite style of writing. He changes point of view a lot, doesn't write chronologically, and takes a lot of liberty with historical facts. And yet it's an enjoyable book. The reason I picked it up is because I'm working on a book set in Pendleton Oregon, which includes some of the same historical background found in Kesey's book. So I guess you could say I'm researching. Interestingly, Ken Kesey and I are from the same area (near Eugene Oregon) and before Kesey's death, we shared a mutual friend who actually gave Kesey one of my books.
Visit Melody Carlson's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 12, 2009

Gerri Brightwell

Gerri Brightwell is Associate Professor and Director of Creative Writing in the Department of English at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. She has master’s degrees in creative writing from the University of East Anglia (1989) and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (1994), plus a doctorate in literature from the University of Minnesota (2004).

Her most recent novel is The Dark Lantern (Crown, 2008).

Last week I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I've just finished reading the first novel in Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française, "Storm in June" (she was planning to write five novels but was murdered by the Nazis before she could complete more than the first two). The novel is only 200 pages but it feels like a much longer story, more like something you'd expect to have come out of the nineteenth century. I've described it as like War and Peace, only without the peace--it has the same broad scope, following a number of characters as they flee Paris during the Nazi invasion. Although it might seem to be about the war, Némirovsky keeps military confrontations in the background. What interests her--and what I found captivating--was how she used the novel to show us this suddenly changed and troubling world through the eyes of a mostly unsympathetic but intriguing set of characters: a narcissistic writer and his mistress, a wealthy collector of antiques, a well-off family (and their cat!). Némirovsky doesn't shy away from revealing these people as snobs, as selfish, as caught up in their own interests. Although we don't like them, we can gain a little understanding of what drives them, and wince when they behave badly. There are some moments of incredible writing in this novel: a view of young trees from the far side of a bridge that turn out to be the camouflaging branches tied to German tanks, the sudden and awful destruction left by the bombing of a railway station. This is a novel about human behaviour rather than war--but it is also an incredible portrait of France at a historical moment.
Visit Gerri Brightwell's faculty webpage and read more about The Dark Lantern.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sydney Salter

Sydney Salter published two books this year: My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters and Jungle Crossing. Her third novel, Swoon At Your Own Risk, is due out in 2010.

Earlier this month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Right now I’m finishing up an absolutely delicious teen novel called The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. I picked it up along with several others during a treasured visit to Powell’s Books last Thanksgiving. I love the voice in this novel—Frankie is just the kind of girl I’ve always wanted to be and that I hope my daughters will become. She’s smart, funny, clever, and not satisfied with the status quo. The story is about her secret infiltration into an Old Boy’s club at her boarding school. I started reading this book during my college reunion last weekend—and I couldn’t help but identify with Frankie’s plight as I watched a bunch of grown up fraternity alumni trek upstairs to their “secret room.” My daughters and I stayed behind looking at old composite photos where I’m listed as a “little sister.” I’m rooting for Frankie!

I’m also dipping into Deborah Tannen’s latest linguistic study about sisters called You Were Always Mom’s Favorite. As a writer, I try to read a lot of psychology and sociology because I think it helps me develop interesting characters. But I have to admit that this one really appeals to me as a sister-less mother of two daughters. I’m hoping it will not only bring nuances to my writing, but peace to my household!

Another book I’m enjoying on behalf of my writing is Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith. So much fun! Each page contains crazy instructions such as dripping a sticky substance on the page, cutting through the book, collecting found objects, fruit stickers, and white things; you’re even asked to take the whole thing into the shower (can’t bear to do that one yet). Any writer—or person—struggling with perfectionism will benefit from this book. Mine is now swollen with various acts of destruction. Many of my friends have bought this one after seeing my crazy delight. You should too!

Last but not least, I’m reading a chapter or two of East by Edith Pattou to my fourth grade daughter every night. Neither of us naturally gravitates toward fantasy so I often choose to read this genre aloud. Both of us are enjoying Rose’s epic journey to find the white bear she has unwittingly betrayed. The story is told in several points of view, all gorgeously distinct. I will admit to fumbling with some of the Nordic language terms, but I have yet to stumble over a single sentence. Each one is so beautifully crafted!
Visit Sydney Salter's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Don Waters

Don Waters' story collection, Desert Gothic, won the Iowa Short Fiction Award. Stories from the collection have been anthologized in Pushcart Prize XXXIII and Best of the West 2009. He's the recipient of the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award (in fiction) and a Lannan Foundation writing fellowship, as well as other honors.

His essays and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Tin House, The Believer, High Country News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the New York Times Book Review.

I recently asked him what he was reading. His reply:
The Night of the Gun, by David Carr

I recently spent time in a small town on the coast of Oregon, where my girlfriend and I were working on various writing projects. There was a library in town, just a two-room building, run by an all-volunteer group of dedicated people. I went there a lot. Not much to do in that town; plus, I love tiny libraries.

The Night of the Gun, a memoir by David Carr, was on the library’s shelves. Each time I walked through the door, the rolled up dollar bill on the book’s cover, resembling the barrel of a gun, seemed to be pointing at me. I finally checked it out, not knowing what to expect. What I read jolted and fascinated and, by the book’s end, amazed me.

Carr’s memoir tells of his journey – and it is a journey – out of cocaine and alcohol addiction to responsible parent and journalist with The New York Times. If you really think about that, that’s some transformation. Beyond the book’s sensational selling points—cocaine bum turned loving father—Carr’s memoir is an exploration of truth and memory. No one ever has the same memory of the same event. Carr illustrates this by turning his life’s story into reportage. He reports from front lines of old battlegrounds, returning to past haunts to interview friends and family. Out of this he achieves partial redemption (and understanding) for those past sins – and there are many. He also happens to create an interesting work of art.

The Ox-Bow Incident, by Walter Van Tilburg Clark

Mob justice isn’t justice at all, as Van Tilburg Clark shows in The Ox-Bow Incident, set in my home state of Nevada during its ranching and cattle rustling and early outlaw years. I picked this book up in that small Oregon town, too, purchased at an in-town bookstore. (I’m a fan of perusing libraries and bookstores in far-flung towns. They always carry authors from that region, which is a great way to discover new writers.)

Anyway, I’m always interested in other authors who write about Nevada, who write about Nevada well, and especially those who write about Nevada’s landscape in surprising ways. I’ve known about The Ox-Bow Incident for a long time, so I’m sheepish to admit that this was my first read. So far, two hundred pages in, it’s a wonderful literary Western. Published in 1940, it has slightly antiquated prose, but it’s full of almost pathologically precise character descriptions (and, like I mentioned, superb details about the environment: “…the crest of the Sierra showing faintly beyond like the rim of a day moon.”). The book is about law and order and how some men allow their feelings and prejudices to shoulder out common sense. A recommended read.

Ill Nature, by Joy Williams

I’m becoming a big fan of Williams’ nonfiction. I’m taking this book slowly; each essay requires contemplation (and a breather) before beginning with the next. It’s a gorgeously written book, and brash, and spot-on, nineteen polemical essays that address how we’re strangulating our environment. It can be hard to read, especially because her writing here is so in-your-face. More than once she addresses the reader, i.e. the perpetrator, as you, making you question your daily decisions and how these affect our environment.

Williams is a bit like Ed Abbey, one of my heroes, and it almost seems that if someone were to have a heated discussion with the personality behind this book, and disagreed, this personality would punch that questioning personality in the face. These are forceful essays, almost frantic, yet a highly controlled kind of frantic, which is what we need if we’re going to seriously undertake and solve these pressing issues. Because our planet is seriously sick. And Williams is simply holding up the mirror.

Beautiful Children, by Charles Bock

This is that book for me. I was over-excited when it was published: fellow Nevada writer, from Vegas, and what a back story! (Bock’s parents own and run pawnshops in Vegas.) Anyway, I read the first seventy pages of the book, started, stopped, started again, and for the past year I’ve been recommending the book to people even though I haven’t finished the thing. When Bock’s book was released he allowed folks to download it, for free, from his website. I have one of those versions on my computer. At first I was reading this huge PDF, but there’s something special about holding the actual book. So I went out and bought one. Now I’m on page one hundred, cruising quickly, and still enjoying it. I just need time, like we all need time, more time to sit down and read.
Visit Don Waters' website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Jennifer Brown

Jennifer Brown is a two-time winner of the Erma Bombeck Global Humor Award (2005 & 2006), humor columnist for The Kansas City Star (winning the Missouri Writer's Guild 2008 Conference Award for Best Newspaper Column), and Saturday Featured Blogger for Mom2Mom KC.

Hate List, her debut novel, was released last month.

A week ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm currently reading two debut YA novels, both of which just happen to be written by "house sisters" of mine (AKA: authors published by Little, Brown and Co.) -- Ash by Malinda Lo and Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler. Both excellent 2009 debuts. Both with strong characters, unique narrative voices, and compelling storylines. Both totally engrossing. And both ... nothing at all like the other!

Ash is a re-telling of Cinderella (you can never go wrong re-telling Cinderella, if you ask me!). But Lo's Cinderella story has a twist. Ash doesn't find herself falling head over heels with the prince on the white horse, but with a hunter... or make that the King's huntress... a female. What I like about Ash is not only that it's a bold re-telling of a classic story and not only that Lo is brave enough to tackle lesbian romance for a young adult audience, but that her narrative is beautiful and wispy and... real. I can hear the wind in the woods. I can see the fairy Sidhean as he stares at Ash, his chosen. I can feel the grass and stone against Ash's cheek as she presses it against her mother's grave. I'm right there with her. I read Ash at night, before bed, when I want to be engrossed in another world, and float along like a feather on a breeze in that world.

During the day, I've been completely and totally engrossed in Twenty Boy Summer. This book reminds me of being a teenager and finding my real passion for books and stories and characters that make me feel like I'm right in the story with them. Anna, the main character in Ockler's book, is lost when tragedy strikes just as she's finally found reciprocated romance in her triad of best friends. As Anna tries to put the pieces of her heart back together, her best friend Frankie challenges her to a contest -- 20 boys in 20 days -- which tests the limits of what's left of Anna's poor broken heart. The story is heartbreaking and feels so real... but what I love best about it is Ockler's voice, which reminds me so much of Judy Blume I can't help but feel 16 myself while reading it. I'm finding myself carrying this one around with me everywhere I go, so I can stop, drop, and read whenever a free moment arises.

Reading two books at once can sometimes get old for me, as it takes too long to get through either one. But with these two stories, I'm glad to be stretching it out a bit. I don't want either one to end!
Watch the Hate List video trailer, and learn more about the book and author at Jennifer Brown's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Stephanie Kuehnert

Stephanie Kuehnert is the author of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and Ballads of Suburbia.

Last month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished reading my first Sarah Dessen book. I've heard so many good things about Sarah Dessen and since she's a real master of contemporary YA and that is what I write, I was curious to see what her writing was like. The book I chose to check out was Just Listen. It's got a music theme to it and that's my big thing so it seemed perfect.

Just Listen is the story of Annabel, the youngest of three sisters, all of whom modeled. Her middle sister Whitney is struggling with anorexia, which has changed the dynamics at home. And Annabel has changed too. Something happened at the beginning of the summer, something Annabel refuses to talk or think about, but it involves her best friend Sophie's boyfriend Will Cash and now Sophie's not speaking to Annabel. In fact no one is speaking to her until Owen, a music lover who recently went through an anger management program. He teaches Annabel about the power of music, but also the importance of being honest about your feelings.

I was immediately interested in the dynamics of Annabel and her sisters. I don't have sisters, but I've always wanted them. My mom comes from a family of five girls, so I've long been fascinated by the sisterly relationships. I also loved the character of Owen. I'd truly never read a character like him, especially filling the role of love interest in YA Fiction. He truly felt like a real kid, someone I could have known at some point in my life. I think he brought the freshest angle to this story.

Sarah Dessen really did do an amazing job of taking some standard YA issues like anorexia, trouble between friends, and the things Annabel was going through (I don't want to give spoilers!), and making them her own, which of course is something I strive to do as a writer. This book definitely taught me some writerly lessons. What I noticed immediately was how Sarah wove the backstory into the book. That's something I always struggle with, so I love to see it done gracefully and take note. But soon enough I was so into the story I stopped thinking as a writer and that's the biggest compliment I can give a book!
For more information on Stephanie Kuehnert's writing, visit her website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Dennis Merrill

Dennis Merrill was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, received a doctorate in history from the University of Connecticut, and currently teaches at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He is the author of four books, including most recently Negotiating Paradise: U.S. Tourism and Empire in Twentieth Century Latin America (University of North Carolina Press, 2009) and the seventh edition of Major Problems in American Foreign Relations (Wadsworth/Cengage, 2010).

A week or so ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Browsing the shelves of a Boulder, Colorado bookstore this summer, I was pleased to come across Greg Grandin’s new book Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City. Grandin is one of our most gifted historians of America’s hemispheric empire – and Fordlandia is his finest work to date. It reconstructs Henry Ford’s doomed adventure deep within the Brazilian Amazon in the late 1920s to build a utopian urban metropolis. Ford imagined a community that some 100,000 souls might call home and where massive quantities of rubber would be cultivated and processed with factory-like efficiency. The undertaking at one and the same time would feed the Ford Automobile Company’s appetite for tires, undercut British Malaya’s monopoly on rubber, and export the American way of life – complete with tidy row houses, the latest in plumbing fixtures, and the prohibition of demon rum (this was after all the roaring twenties).

Fordlandia, as the industrial paradise was named, proved to be a short-lived experiment and Grandin spices his narrative with dashes of Joseph Conrad, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Diego Rivera, and Mark Twain. Publicly at odds with the cult of the expert, Ford initially relied on a series of Jack-of-all-Trades to manage the enterprise – men who when set adrift from mid-America proved either corrupt or incompetent. Brazil’s federal and state officials extracted an array of under the table bribes and over the table taxes from the upstart company. Brazilian workers and the Brazilian eco-system alike suffered when inexperienced bosses slashed and burned thousands of acres of rainforest during the rainy season – poisoning the air with smoke and ash, unleashing malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and “forcing tapirs, boars, cougars, boas, pit vipers, and other animals into the open ‘crying, screaming, or bellowing with terror.’” Housed in substandard accommodations, fed a diet of rancid food, and never realizing anything that even approached the five dollar day that had raised Dearborn, Michigan to fame, some of Fordlandia’s local workers rioted, others took flight, and almost all ignored the municipal ban on booze and brothels. Then South American leaf blight and insects ravaged the rubber plants, and the 1930s populist President Getúlio Vargas mandated the recognition of labor unions – anathema to the Ford Motor Company’s way of thinking. The Arcadian moment passed.

In the beginning, of course, there was the incessantly preachy Henry Ford – part Ben Franklin and part Rush Limbaugh. A pacifist who turned his plants over to wartime production, a pastoralist who had no use for cows, and an eternal optimist whose anti-Semitism provided scapegoats when the going got tough, Ford embodied the contradictions of the modern age. So, in addition to delivering a riveting story line, Grandin’s book is a meditation on modernity: its predatory global capitalism and its troubled coexistence with a fragile yet unforgiving natural environment. Even more, it is a critique of what Grandin references as a “trait endemic to Americans: a blithe insistence that all the world is more or less like us, or at least an imagined version of ‘us.’”

Perhaps the bottom line on this engrossing read is this: At a time when the economic and social consequences of globalization grow more uneven, the specter of climate change haunts our future, and U.S. troops occupy not one but two far-away countries, Fordlandia is a timely reminder that the past is indeed prologue.
Visit Dennis Merrill's faculty webpage, and read more about his new book, Negotiating Paradise: U.S. Tourism and Empire in Twentieth Century Latin America.

--Marshal Zeringue