Thursday, September 30, 2010

Patricia Gussin

Patricia Gussin is the author of And Then There Was One, The Test, Twisted Justice, and Shadow of Death.

Earlier this month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
The books I write are thrillers, but thrillers are not necessarily the book I read. Right now I’m re-reading The Burning Shore by Wilbur Smith. This was the title that turned me onto this astounding author. He brings high tension adventure, bigger than life characters, compelling plots, and a family sage theme.

Speaking of family saga, I love Barbara Bradford. A Woman of Substance is right next to me and read excerpts frequently to keep me on inspired. I love family themes because they evoke the pinnacle of emotion especially in thrillers.

That brings to mind Lisa Gardner and The Neighbor which I recently read and which won the International Thriller Award for best novel. Having a family oriented, albeit creepy thriller, win that prestigious award made me happy.

One more point, since I am an editor for Oceanview Publishing, I am always reading. Right I am now working on the proofs of two fine manuscripts. One is a family thriller, Someone’s Watching by Sharon Potts, whose first book won the Benjamin Franklin Award for Best Novel. The second is Public Anatomy, a medical thriller to rival the best. Scott Pearson, the author, is a real life surgeon. Because I am a physician I love medical themes.

I could go on and on, but I have to get back to my Kindle book, Ice Cold, by another phenomenal physician-writer, Tess Gerritson.
Visit Patricia Gussin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Shadow of Death.

My Book, The Movie: Twisted Justice.

The Page 69 Test: The Test.

My Book, The Movie: The Test.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Wendy Orr

Wendy Orr is a Canadian born Australian author, mostly of books for children and young adults. Her books include: Nim's Island (the book that the film was based on), Nim at Sea, Peeling the Onion, Ark in the Park, Spook's Shack, Mokie and BIk, and The Princess and Her Panther.

I recently asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
On the flight home from Vancouver to Melbourne, I should have been reading The Cardturner by Louis Sachar. That was my gift voucher book from The Red Balloon Bookshop in Minneapolis (I never did figure out why I needed more gifts when they’d just thrown me a party, but who ever looked a gift book in the mouth?).

I hope that was the attitude of whoever next sat in my seat from Vancouver to Los Angeles, because, tucked into the seat pocket with the emergency instructions, they would have found a nice new hardback copy of The Cardturner. I do hope they enjoyed the surprise of it, as well as the book. (Maybe they could write the next blog!)

So, five minutes before boarding that last 15 hour leg, I finished going through all the hand luggage, realised that I truly was bookless, and bolted to the bookstore. There was no leisure for browsing for a new author. Barbara Kingsolver happened to be the first familiar name, and I grabbed The Bean Trees, her first book, which I had never read. (My father first introduced me to Kingsolver, with the gift of High Tide in Tucson, so there was a sentimental link to the choice, as I was returning from his 80th birthday celebrations.)

And The Bean Trees was a gift of another sort, a gift to read and discover. I just loved it. It doesn’t read like a first novel; it’s fresh and original, but the voice is assured and skilled. The book itself is funny, tender and insightful. Taylor Greer, who’s been determined to escape pregnancy and the poverty of her small Kentucky hometown, drives off across the country and, literally, picks up a baby along the way… She’s eccentric, totally believable, and I loved her as a character.

So, sad as I was to lose my gift book, I’m grateful that it led me to this twenty-two-year old book, which has gone into my all time favourites list.
Visit Wendy Orr's blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lisa Black

Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue, working as a forensic scientist in the trace evidence lab until her husband dragged her to southwest Florida. Now she toils as a certified latent print analyst and CSI at the local police department by day and writes forensic suspense by night. Her books have also been published in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Spain and Japan. Her fifth book, Trail of Blood, involves the real-life Torso Killer, who terrorized Cleveland during the dark days of the Great Depression.

Recently I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
Believe it or not, since getting my own books published my own reading dropped off. I have not yet quit the day job at the police department, so time is always at a premium. Then last year I was randomly chosen from the International Thriller Writers ranks to be a judge for the best novel category. I had to read 22 books in the last quarter of 2009 and another 18 in the first quarter of 2010. In other words I had to make time. (I did that by pointing out to myself that much of the stuff on TV is not worth that hour of my life and by switching from the treadmill to the exercise bike at lunchtime. Helped my knees, too.)

This helped me to re-discover Lisa Gardner. I had liked Hide, but was totally blown away by Gone. A very flawed woman’s car is found empty by the side of the road in a rainstorm and the story takes off from there. I spent the whole book exasperated that I couldn’t even copy it (imitation being the sincerest form of flattery after all…) because each character was so unique, and their actions grew out of that character, that the action couldn’t be repeated in another city with a different woman. She even avoids much of the over the top violence and torture commonly found in books by Karin Slaughter, Val McDermid, and James Patterson.

Then I read The Neighbor, which also begins with a missing woman. (Missing can be a much more helpful status to a story than murdered, because it leaves so much uncertainty—is she dead? Run away? Left of her own accord or kidnapped? Was she ever who we thought she was in the first place?) But again, the people left behind are as unique as she is, full of their own pasts and their own agendas which are complicated and fiercely guarded. Simply put, you spend much of the book wondering what the crap is going on. I love books like that. It all eventually makes sense, of course, and the characters revealed, in all their prickly, tangled, scarred, less-than-perfect-but-doing-their-best selves. (So much better than reading an albeit well-written novel and thinking, sure, here’s the handsome hero, he’s going to fall for the perky heroine, they’ll save the world/victim/priceless artifact from the evil villain, and he’ll even call his estranged mama on the last page to give it that human element appeal.) I read Lisa Gardner’s books thinking, why can’t I write stuff like this? And the answer comes to me: Because you’re not freakin’ Lisa Gardner.
View the video trailer for Trail of Blood, learn more about the book and author at Lisa Black's website.

My Book, The Movie: Trail of Blood.

The Page 69 Test: Trail of Blood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 24, 2010

Don Bogen

Don Bogen is the author of four books of poetry, most recently An Algebra (University of Chicago Press, 2009). He teaches at the University of Cincinnati and serves as Poetry Editor of The Cincinnati Review.

Earlier this week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I find myself reading big books right now. In fiction, Anna Karenina, in the Louise and Aylmer Maude translation from 1918--part of my "classics I've never gotten around to reading" list, but not for long, I hope. Also, One Hundred Years of Solitude in the original Spanish. I read the brilliant Rabassa translation what seems like a hundred years ago (My Bard/Avon paperback cost $1.95) and loved it. My distant memories of that are helping to guide me now, at least a little--what a beautifully dense, interwoven world it presents.

I much prefer reading poets' individual books rather than big collected editions, but two have engaged me recently: Robert Hass's The Apple Trees at Olema: New and Selected Poems (Ecco, 2010) and the Irish poet Ciaran Carson's Collected Poems, which came out in 2009 in that great list of contemporary Irish poetry from Wake Forest University Press. I'd read Carson's two recent books, On the Night Watch and Until Before After--both haunting, lyrical collections--and I'm reading back from that to his earliest work in the 1970s and 1980s. Belfast Confetti from 1989 is an especially evocative look at the city where he grew up and still lives. I'm impressed in general by the range and energy of his work. As for Robert Hass's new Selected, going through it really makes me think about the essential unity of his career--the depth of thought, sensuous description, and distinctive voice underlying it all. The new work in the book, particularly the sequences he calls "Notebooks," is among the most moving poetry I've read in quite a while.
Read Don Bogen's bio at The Cincinnati Review and learn more about An Algebra at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Trish J. MacGregor

Trish J. MacGregor was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. She has always been interested in the hidden, the mysterious, the unseen, and in her latest novel, Esperanza, was able to combine this interest with her love of Ecuador.

A few days ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
It seems that my reading time has diminished over the years. So I’ve recently started taking a book with me to the gym and read while on the tread mill. Right now, I’ve got two books in progress: Biocentrism, by physician Robert Lanza and Bob Berman, and Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth.

The first is a fascinating perspective about how everything in reality originates in the mind, in consciousness. Without consciousness, Lanza contends, there’s nothing. Just a void. He makes a convincing case for his argument, beginning with one of the great Zen koans: “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there, does it make a sound?” From here, he takes us through various theories in quantum physics – what is time? What is space? The mysteries of consciousness – and then all the way to death and beyond. The book is infinitely readable and Lanza has a quirky sense of humor. But more than that, this book has such a human side to it that I just can’t stop reading.

The Pillars of the Earth is a grand, sweeping epic that centers around the building of a cathedral in the Middle Ages. It was recently an eight-hour TV mini-series that was a visual feast, but the book is filled with the sort of details about life then that only a master novelist can pull off. Every writer should read this novel as a study in pacing, characters, plot, and epic themes.
Visit Trish J. MacGregor's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 20, 2010

Toby Ball

Toby Ball works at the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. The Vaults, his first novel, is out this month from St. Martin's Press.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I am currently reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell, and it is tremendous. I don't generally read very much "literary fiction," but a cousin gave me this book as a present and I'd heard a number of people whose opinions I value recommend Cloud Atlas, also by Mitchell. Briefly, it is the story of a Dutch clerk who travels to Nagasaki around the turn of the 19th century to root out corruption in the Dutch East India Company outpost there. I really love this book. The writing is wonderful without calling attention to itself and the relationships between the characters are subtle and complex in a way that rings absolutely true.

Previous to this, I read Citizen Vince by Jess Walter. Walter's The Zero is one of my all-time favorite books and I'd had Citizen Vince on my "to read" list for quite a while. I don't want to give away too much of the book, but it is more or less a crime novel and is by turns hilarious and harrowing. It takes place in the days before the 1980 elections and follows the travails of a former hood in the witness protection program as he navigates various threats to himself, hangs out with an eccentric array of characters, and tries to figure out who to vote for in the election. Jess Walter seems to be able to write anything. I saw him recently read from his latest book, The Financial Lives of the Poets, which was hysterical and far from the grim satire of The Zero.
Visit Toby Ball's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Joan Frances Turner

Joan Frances Turner was born in Rhode Island and grew up in the Calumet Region of northwest Indiana. A graduate of Brown University and Harvard Law School, she lives near the Indiana Dunes with her family and a garden full of spring onions and tiger lilies, weather permitting.

Dust, her first novel, is a story of the undead from their own point of view, as they battle time, decay, the loved ones they left behind, encroaching humanity and each other. Or, think Watership Down with zombies instead of rabbits.

A week or so ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
A Way of Life, Like Any Other, Darcy O'Brien. I have a great weakness for writers who specialize in the Rotting Underside of Fantastic L.A.--James Ellroy, Joan Didion, James M. Cain, Nathanael West--and A Way of Life, Like Any Other reads like a more acerbic, male version of Play It As It Lays. The unnamed protagonist, the pampered son of two 1940s Hollywood B-players (O'Brien, the son of actors George O'Brien and Marguerite Churchill, knew his material well), watches his entire life slide into the drink, literally and figuratively, before the age of ten when his parents' careers don't survive the advent of television. They turn to various addictions for solace--alcohol, compulsive spending and horrible men for his mother, right-wing Catholicism for his father--and their son, our narrator is left not only to raise himself but to clean up the increasingly nasty messes his "caretakers" leave behind.

A Way of Life
does something else I have a great weakness for, namely, it starts out funny--exceedingly funny--and remains that way all throughout, but near the end our perceptions are suddenly, casually flipped and we see the rage and frustration that produced all those offhand jokes laid bare for what it is, indelibly coloring everything that came before it. O'Brien's narrator, when still a spoiled precocious child, sounds too wiseacre for the room but by the end, when he's barely eighteen, all that growing up too soon's given him the weariness and cynicism of a much older man. Recommended to anyone who likes either Hollywood decay or unsentimental coming-of-age stories with a knife in the back.

Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain's Visionary Music, Rob Young. A long, sprawling, fascinating study of folk and psychedelic movements in British pop music, from the revivalism of Edwardian folklorist Cecil Sharp through the "Romantic rock" of the Beatles, Pink Floyd and Kate Bush. This isn't, however, a story of music (though it's a wonderful book if, like me, you love folk, psychedelia and/or sixties rock) so much as of a mood: the strain of romanticized bucolic utopianism that crops up again and again in the collective British consciousness, expressed in forms as diverse as Donovan songs, William Morris wallpaper designs, The Time Machine and The Wicker Man. Unlike the American frontier myth, Young writes, "the British road is a road to the interior, of the imagination rather than a physical coverage of distance… There is the sense that one wants the landscape, and the history it contains, all to oneself." I'm only in the early chapters of the book, but it's a revelatory journey already.
Visit Joan Frances Turner's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Nicole Walker

Nicole Walker is the author of This Noisy Egg (Barrow Street Press, 2010). Her poetry and creative nonfiction have appeared in Ploughshares, North American Review, Bellingham Review, Fence, Iowa Review, Fourth Genre, Ninth Letter, and Crazyhorse, among other places. She has performed readings and lectured at The Center for Book Arts in New York City, at Associated Writing Programs in Chicago, New York, and Denver, at NonfictionNow, in Iowa City, as a guest speaker for the Environmental Humanities Conference in Salt Lake City, as an Emerging Writer and at the University of Wyoming. In 2007, she received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. A graduate of the University of Utah’s doctoral program, she is currently Assistant Professor of Poetry and Creative Nonfiction at Northern Arizona University.

Earlier this month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m reading Vanishing Point, by Ander Monson, again. I’ve read this book several times even though it’s only been out a couple of months for a few reasons. The first is that I can’t quite qualify what Ander’s doing. He seems to me to be teaching how to think about nonfiction. It’s a theoretical book in a lot of ways. How to we remember, how do we misremember, in what way do collective memories trump individual memories, how do we think and record memories and does writing them down trump everything? In the first essay/chapter, Ander writes about being vetted by lawyers before serving on a jury. The idea of whole truth and nothing but the truth isn’t investigated in some philosopher’s declarative sentences but through the lens of his mother’s death. But this is where I have trouble getting to how the book works: it’s not a memoir, as the cover of the book asserts. His mother’s death is not an intimate lens through which to look at memory, it’s an ontological one. How can we remember anyone’s death? We get close to Ander’s personal narrative for a minute and then the text pulls us in the other direction—the essay is about truth remember, not mothers, not death and certainly not Ander. It’s a tricky system, since obviously what we like about memoir is that we get to know someone. What we don’t like about memoir is that it’s an easy familiarity that disappears as soon as the book is over. In Ander’s book, we get to know him a little but that knowing him a little leads to thinking about things like memory and truth a lot, which lasts longer than the quick friendship of memoir and is ultimately more rewarding.

I also recently read Carrier, Untangling the Danger in My DNA by Bonnie Rough. I’ve been looking forward to this book ever since I read her essay in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2007. That essay was revolutionary in the way it traced the circularity of shells as it traced the helices of DNA. The book is not as revolutionary. It is a pretty straightforward memoir about a genetic disorder called HED, although she employs, and makes clear we understand that she is employing, fiction to re-imagine what her grandfather, who lived with HED, suffered. The personal narrative carries the reader along. As she wonders if she’s a carrier for this disease, whether she should continue with a pregnancy that shows the baby would be born with HED, and how her future children and grandchildren will cope with this disease, I was caught up in her questions. I read the book in two days. Unlike her essay in Best American, Carrier is not a great metaphor for how DNA defines us. It’s not a book about lyrical riffs in nature. It’s not a book how nonfiction works. It is though a smart and compelling book that reminded me why personal narrative is so intriguing. I can understand why she didn’t follow in the vein of the Best American essay. Although to me that theoretical, lyrical writing is more challenging and critically interesting, to make a book work for a larger audience, following the personal narrative of a family beset by a particular disease makes sense.
Visit Nicole Walker's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Margot Minardi

Margot Minardi is Assistant Professor of History and Humanities at Reed College.

Her new book is Making Slavery History: Abolitionism and the Politics of Memory in Massachusetts.

About a week ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
My recent reading has been unintentionally Anglophilic. I’m currently reading Julian Barnes’s novel Arthur and George, which interweaves the biographies of two Britons from the turn of the last century: Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and George Edalji, a lawyer of Scottish and Indian ancestry who was jailed for three years following a wrongful conviction for murdering farm animals. Some academic historians despise historical fiction, but I am definitely in the camp of those who think that novelists often get at the truths of history better than historians do themselves. My book, Making Slavery History, actually quotes a line I absolutely love from Barnes’s Flaubert’s Parrot: “the past is autobiographical fiction pretending to be a parliamentary report.” I love the way that good historical fiction can explore not just the “what happened” of the past but also why the telling of it is meaningful.

While I am enjoying Arthur and George so far, it sometimes feels a little too historical. It’s clear from a peek at the Author’s Note that Barnes did formidable research—even quoting from actual letters in the course of his narrative—and his reconstruction of the lives and times of Doyle and Edalji is meticulous. I don’t get the sense of Barnes playing with history, memory, and narration in the way that he does in, say, A History of the World in 10½ Chapters. I was also surprised that the two protagonists don’t come into contact with each other until page 257, but as I read on, the connections between these two men, each deeply committed to his own distinctive ideal of Englishness, are becoming more and more interesting. I am eager to see how this historical detective story plays out.

The book I read this summer that I’m currently recommending to everyone I meet is Andrea Wulf’s The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire, and the Birth of an Obsession, which traces how gardening became a national pastime in eighteenth-century England. As the British empire expanded, English plant collectors enjoyed access to novel botanical specimens from around the globe. How did English gardens lose the manicured formality of their continental counterparts and become the more lush and free-form refuges we know today? Why did proper English gentlemen reject Carolus Linnaeus’s system of botanical classification as thoroughly obscene? What did the famous mutiny on the Bounty have to do with botany? Wulf answers these questions and many others in this lively, erudite book. She roots her narrative in biography, exploring the connections among a group of collectors, adventurers, and scientists who all shared a love of plants. The author has a knack for drawing out colorful anecdotes and character traits, making this richly detailed book a pleasurable read for gardeners and non-gardeners alike.
Learn more about Making Slavery History at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Rick Mofina

Rick Mofina is a former crime reporter and the award-winning author of several acclaimed thrillers. He's interviewed murderers face-to-face on death row and patrolled with the LAPD and the RCMP. His true-crime articles have appeared in the New York Times, Marie Claire, Reader's Digest and Penthouse. He's reported from the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean, Africa, Qatar and Kuwait's border with Iraq.

Mofina's novels include Every Fear, A Perfect Grave, Six Seconds, Vengeance Road, and the latest, The Panic Zone.

Not so long ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
For my birthday my wife gave me Columbine, by Dave Cullen. It is a heart-wrenching nonfiction account of the tragedy that gripped the U.S. and the world in 1999. The book resonated with me because when the story broke, I was dispatched to the scene in Colorado. At that time, I was a reporter with the Calgary Herald. Cullen leaves no stone unturned and some of his gripping accounts of events haunt me. It is a well-written chronicling of a dark piece of history.
Visit Rick Mofina's website.

The Page 69 Test: Every Fear.

My Book, The Movie: A Perfect Grave.

The Page 69 Test: Six Seconds.

The Page 69 Test: Vengeance Road.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 10, 2010

Jim Minick

Jim Minick grew up eating blueberries, and for eight years he and his wife owned and operated Minick Berry Farm, a certified-organic, pick-your-own blueberry farm in Floyd County, VA. He writes a monthly column for The Roanoke Times New River Current.

Minick's new book is The Blueberry Years: A Memoir of Farm and Family.
Two books just traveled from shelf to bedside back to shelf. And in that journey they also, thankfully, traveled through me. One, Rob Amberg’s The New Road captures the story of the building of the last section of Interstate 26 through the North Carolina mountains. Rob weaves together his own insights and reactions to this highway along with oral histories of many people affected by it. And then Amberg’s stunning photographs illustrate this place’s beauty and destruction. No easy conclusions here—the road definitely brought desecration and development, but also safety and convenience. Rob captures this dilemma of our modern lives extremely well.

The second book I recently finished is Bernd Heinrich’s Mind of the Raven. I’m working on a novel about fire and healing that also includes a pet raven. So I wanted to learn about this fascinating creature, and Heinrich, the scientist/writer, offers plenty of insights and good stories—like the raven’s complex vocalizations, or the bird’s love of sliding on snow.

Ahead: A book on Pennsylvania Dutch folk healing titled Powwowing, again for a novel-in-progress; Ron Rash’s novel The World Made Straight; poetry by Lisa Parker and Fred Chappell. And for fun on my commute, any James Lee Burke novel I haven’t yet had travel through me as I travel down the road.
Visit Jim Minick's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Katrina Kittle

Katrina Kittle is the author of Traveling Light, Two Truths and a Lie, and The Kindness of Strangers. The Kindness of Strangers was a BookSense pick and the winner of the 2006 Great Lakes Book Award for Fiction. Early chapters from that novel earned her grants from both the Ohio Arts Council and Culture Works.

She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University in Louisville.

Kittle’s new novel, The Blessings of the Animals, was released by Harper Perennial last month.

About a week before Labor Day I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
My reading tends to be all over the place. I can't stand to be without a book and will often have more than one book "going" at a time. Lately, though, I've been blessed with amazing books that suck me right in and demand undivided attention. Since I've been out on book tour this summer, I've had lots of time to read in airports, on planes, in hotels, and once even waiting for my hotel room to be ready!

Since I'm at work on a young adult novel, I've been reading much of that genre. My very favorite of the summer was Kristina McBride's debut novel, The Tension of Opposites. The story of a kidnapping victim returned after several years, told from the perspective of the best friend who lost her...and feels she lost her again once her friend is "back" but so changed, this book is smart, beautiful, and so tensely suspenseful I stayed up until 2:17 one night to finish it.

Another young adult novels that won my heart was Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor. This book is made up of three stories, not really linked by anything other than at their hearts they're all about the power of yearning. Taylor is a genius at blending in old tales and myths and historical details. Full of the supernatural, hauntings, visits to hell, old curses, and ghosts, I absolutely ate this up. The vivid imagery is rich and dense as decadent chocolate cake.

Still in the young adult category was The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. I have a soft spot for zombie stories, people are sometimes surprised to learn. This is a coming of age story set against the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse, where a young woman fights to find her true self and follow her own destiny within her walled, sheltered, and confining (in every way) community, surrounded by the forest of the "unconsecrated." If you feel dubious about zombies, rest assured they are simply the backdrop of this rich story that features a strong, brave, and resourceful heroine. I'm very excited to get my hands on Ryan's sequel, The Dead-Tossed Waves.

One book that helped me "get lost" this summer was Commuters by Emily Gray Tedrowe. I'll be honest that I was eager to read the book initially simply because I met Emily at ALA in June and she was so lovely and fun. Well, her book is the same, but also touching and rich. Told from multiple points of view, this is exactly the kind of family drama I adore—and a story where each different viewpoint adds something to your understanding of ALL the characters. The character who totally stole my heart was Avery, a chef. I've had chefs as characters in my last two novels, so Emily really had me with her amazing descriptions of food and food prep. I was itching to get home and into my kitchen. There's a Thanksgiving menu in this book that I long to get my hands on.

In July, I taught at the Antioch Writers' Workshop and was blown away by two other faculty readings. Crystal Wilkinson could read a grocery list and I'd be enthralled. I picked up her book Water Street, and quickly learned that you don't need Crystal reading her work herself for it to be enthralling. Describing the secret and intertwining lives of neighbors and friends and Water Street in a small Kentucky town, this book will haunt you with its truths and breathtaking observations. I'm very excited to know that her new book, The Birds of Opulence (not yet released) will contain many of the characters from Water Street.

Another writer I was delighted to discover at the Antioch Writers' Workshop was Donald Ray Pollock. Just as with Crystal, it was the power and fine performance of his reading that convinced me to buy his book of linked stories, Knockemstiff. The recurring characters who live in Knockemstiff, Ohio (a real town, by the way, although the work is fiction) are tough, sad, depraved, and resilient. Their stories are gritty and often violent but the stories have a dark sense of humor and are delivered without judgment. He makes me think of Flannery O'Conner. I'm not kidding.

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok transported me in the most beautiful way on a travel day. The inspiring story of a bold, scrappy girl from Hong Kong plunked down in Brooklyn with her mother and forced to survive unspeakable squalor, slavish factory work, and overwhelming odds against her, this book is one of those triumphs of spirit that make you feel sooo good (but without ever resorting to sentimentality). I was rushing to finish a chapter when my plane was landing. The next thing I knew, a flight attendant was asking, "Ma'am?" and gesturing to me that the plane was empty! It's that kind of book and that kind of writing!

Most recently, I finished If You Follow Me by Malena Watrous. A young woman goes to teach English in a tiny Japanese town shortly after the suicide of her father. During her trials and tribulations with the language and the "trash police" she learns that you can't really throw away your past...or anything else easily in Japan, for that matter. Sometimes this book made me laugh out loud, and other times it made my eyes burn as I fought not to cry. I found it so unflinchingly honest that it was sometimes painful, sometimes awkward, but very refreshing and unlike anything else I'd ever read.

Now at the top of my reading pile is Labor Day by Joyce Maynard, but I haven't cracked the cover yet. Hopefully by the time our real Labor Day arrives...
Visit Katrina Kittle's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Inara Scott

Inara Scott's new book is Delcroix Academy: The Candidates.

Late last month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
For the past month, I've been one giant ball of stress as I awaited the release of my debut novel, Delcroix Academy: The Candidates. (The release date was August 24th -- I'm doing much better now, thanks). In such times, some people turn to comfort food -- I turned to comfort reads (okay -- and a little ice cream, too). These are my favorite books of all time, which I re-read this month to soothe the beast within.

The Belgariad is actually a five book series by David Eddings, beginning with the Pawn of Prophecy. I've re-read three books from the series thus far this month. I think I first read The Belgariad when I was in high school. Every time I re-read it, I learn all over again how a real fantasy writer builds a complex world and establishes strong, unforgettable characters.

My other go-to comfort read is the Dragonriders of Pern, namely the first book in the seires, Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffery. Lessa, the heroine of Dragonflight, is my inspiration for a kick-ass, no-nonsense heroine who can manage to beat the boys, fall in love, and save the world all at the same time. My heroine for my Delcroix Academy series, Dancia, isn't quite as tough as Lessa -- but then again, who is?

The other books on my bedside table are the inspirational ones I'm reading to remind myself of what words can do in the hands of a true master. Last week I finished Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell Boyce. This is an amazing middle-grade book that managed to teach me some really good lessons about parenting while making me laugh AND teaching me about outer space. You try that with your next novel.

Right now, I'm absorbed in Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City. I have an enormous crush on Kiki Strike, the black-clad, coffee-drinking, teenage muse of the world that, little did you know, exists under the streets of New York City.
Visit Inara Scott's website and blog.

View the video trailer for Delcroix Academy: The Candidates.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Inara Scott and Riley.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 6, 2010

Andrew Taylor

Andrew Taylor is the award-winning author of a number of novels, including the Lydmouth and Dougal crime series, psychological thrillers, and the groundbreaking Roth Trilogy. He is the only author to receive the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award twice, the first time for The Office of The Dead, the third novel in the Roth Trilogy, and the second time for An Unpardonable Crime (published in the UK as The American Boy). His first novel won the John Creasey Award, and he has also been shortlisted for the Gold Dagger and the Edgar. In 2009 he was awarded CWA's Cartier Diamond Dagger, the international lifetime achievement award in the genre.

His new novel is The Anatomy of Ghosts.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Kate Atkinson: Started Early, Took My Dog

Kate Atkinson’s latest novel is the fourth in her series about Jackson Brodie, the ex-soldier, ex-police officer and ex-husband who now works in a desultory way as a private investigator searching for missing children. Like its predecessors, Started Early, Took My Dog takes place in an exhilarating and occasionally infuriating version of modern Britain that reads as if designed by a theoretical physicist with a sense of humour.

The book occupies that shadowy territory between the crime novel and literary fiction. This one is not the best of the Brodie novels - Case Histories and When Will There Be Good News work better in terms of their narrative. But don’t let that put you off. For all its infuriating quirks, Started Early, Took My Dog is readable, compassionate and very funny. It’s too good to miss.
Both Atkinson's Started Early, Took My Dog and Andrew Taylor's The Anatomy of Ghosts, now available in the UK, will be released in early 2011 in the US.

View the video trailer for The Anatomy of Ghosts, and learn more about the book and author at Andrew Taylor's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Christian Smith

Christian Smith is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Sociology, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society, and director of the Center for Social Research at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author or coauthor of numerous books, including Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers and Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture.

His new book is What Is a Person?: Rethinking Humanity, Social Life, and the Moral Good from the Person Up.

Last month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I’ve been reading a collection of personal correspondences of a favorite “Southern gothic” author, Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor, edited by Sally Fitzgerald (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux). The book was originally published the year I graduated high school, 1978, but the content is fresh and engaging. For one thing, O’Connor is super at metaphors, turns of phrases, and witty digs. Her letters are as fun to read as her fiction. It is also instructive to me as a writer to see in her early letters O’Connor’s struggles with editors, publishers, agents, and the general business of publishing. It is easy in retrospect to look back on great writers and assume that their gifts were readily recognized by early readers and that their paths to success were smooth. But of course that is often not the case. It was not for O’Connor. For starters, she was, by her own admission, a slow writer who re-wrote her prose over and over again. She seemed both confident and somewhat uncertain about what she was writing. She also had an unusual vision and style (“angular,” as she sometimes characterized it) that some early editors did not appreciate. They instead tried to force her into what she viewed as a boring, standard-novel format and style. Happily for us, O’Connor pushed back and did things her way, even though that involved all sorts of difficulties with contracts, royalty advances, time delays, etc. But, as a result, we now enjoy her short stories (e.g., the collection in A Good Man is Hard to Find) and novels (Wise Blood, The Violent Bear it Away) as the amazing pieces she meant them to be.

But why am I, an empirically-oriented sociologist and sometimes social theorist, reading the personal letters of a literary great? In fact, I read very little fiction, but do try to make myself read some every now and then for a change of pace and as another kind of window of insight on a complex and sometimes ineffable world. I recently read a lot of O’Connor’s fiction, and loved it. Then someone I work with told me that their life was literally changed years ago by reading The Habit of Being, which intrigued me. I also find O’Connor to be simply a fascinating person—a devout Catholic living in the mid-twentieth-century Bible-belt American South, a strong-minded women making her way in the world of letters before the rise of the feminist movement that post-dated her death, someone who saw clearly and named the twisted evils and strange redemptions embedded in human lives, and herself an impressive human being stricken early in life by a debilitating and eventually fatal disease. One does get a sense of O’Connor as a person in and through her fiction. But reading her personal correspondences with various people—well edited by a good friend who supported her career at a critical time—adds new dimensions of insight. Not sure it will change my life (am pretty happy as it is), but so far The Habit of Being is immensely enjoyable—difficult, in fact, to put down for the night before it gets way too late to get to sleep.
Read more about Christian Smith's What Is a Person?.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Gerald Elias

A graduate of Yale, Gerald Elias has been a Boston Symphony violinist, Associate Concertmaster of the Utah Symphony since 1988, Adjunct Professor of Music at the University of Utah, first violinist of the Abramyan String Quartet, and Music Director of the Vivaldi Candlelight concert series.

His novels include Devil's Trill and the newly released Danse Macabre.

Late last month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I just started The Good Rain, a wonderfully written book in 1990 by Timothy Egan the Seattle correspondent for the New York Times. In it, he explores the Northwest, comparing how nature has fared in the past one-and-a-half centuries in its struggle against encroaching humanity. He is a fluent essayist, naturalist, historian, and adventurer and the book is just beautiful to read. I have a particularly strong connection to the Northwest: my wife, Cecily, is from Eugene, Oregon, where her father, Clyde, had been a long time geography professor at UO. Cecily took me on a camping trip up the Rogue River way back in the 70s at a time when I (being from Long Island) still considered going to Jones Beach an adventure. Our son, Jacob, graduated UO and now lives in Portland, and our daughter, Kate, lives in Seattle. In fact, I recently returned from performances at a music festival in Sunriver, Oregon, which is where I was given The Good Rain by my Portland colleague, violinist Andrew Erhlich. Which reminds me, I need to send it back to him when I finish.

I'm also reading McCarthy's Bar, by Pete McCarthy in 2000. Cecily picked it up in anticipation of a family vacation my family undertook in June, our first to Ireland. Not only is it one of the most entertaining books I've ever read, it truly captures the soul of Ireland. We had a wonderful time during our two weeks in West Cork, and reading the book now makes it feel as if I'm still there, downing a pint while watching Gaelic football on the telly.

Just before going to Ireland I finished reading Absurdistan, by Gary Shteyngart in 2006. A different kind of travelogue entirely, this political farce is so over the top that it rings frighteningly true. As with McCarthy's Bar, I was laughing out loud from the author's wit, but in the case of Absurdistan I was also looking over my shoulder!
Visit Gerald Elias' website.

Interview: Gerald Elias.

The Page 69 Test: Devil's Trill.

--Marshal Zeringue