Thursday, October 7, 2010

Laurel Corona

Laurel Corona has combined her love of writing and teaching for more than three decades. She has taught at San Diego State University, UCSD, and now at San Diego City College, where she is a humanities professor. She began her career as an author in 1999 with a book on Kenya for Lucent Books. From there, she wrote 17 young adult titles for the same company, and went on to award-winning debuts in fiction and non-fiction books for adults in 2008. The Four Seasons: A Novel Of Vivaldi’s Venice won the 2009 Theodor Geisel Award for Book of the Year from the San Diego Book Awards and has been translated into eleven foreign languages. Until Our Last Breath: A Holocaust Story Of Love And Partisan Resistance won a San Diego Book Award as well as a Christopher Medal.

Corona’s second novel, Penelope’s Daughter, is out this month.

Late last month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
There’s an expression, “busman’s holiday” that I heard when I lived in the UK years back, referring to a bus driver traveling by bus on his vacation. I think that’s why, when I’m drafting a novel--which I seem to be doing much of the time the last few years--I don’t read much. I think reading uses the brain in a way similar to writing, and it is not restorative, or even physically possible much of the time, to read for pleasure because my eyes, brain, and psyche are just too tired. With The Shape of the World, the novel I’m working on now, I discovered that audiobooks are the perfect solution. When I need a break, I put on my running shoes or go to the gym and have a great multitasking experience.

Right now, I’m listening to Margaret George’s Helen of Troy. I got the book in hard copy a few years back, when I was first thinking about writing a novel based on the Odyssey. I wanted to see how she had handled the fact that not much is known about the era of the Homeric legends. Then, I only read the first fifty pages--just enough to say, “yes, I can do this too.” (Proof of that is Penelope's Daughter, my newly released second novel.) As an audiobook it is delightful. The narrator’s voice is so appealing that it’s easy to love Helen even when she’s making foolish decisions. The book is so rich in imagination, amplifying what is known about the era to create a wonderfully vivid picture of Sparta and Troy, and characters who are true to the sketchy portraits Homer gives us.

Another audiobook I enjoyed (I’ve been doing a lot of running!) is Michelle Moran’s The Heretic Queen, about Nefertari, the wife of Ramses II. Like Margaret George, she is excellent at filling in the details of a society so remote in time we really don’t know that much about it. I also listened to Catherine Delors’ For the King, which is a fascinating novel based on a real-life assassination plot against Napoleon. A fourth is Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures. I have always been fascinated by the history of science, and especially by women’s role in that history, and I was interested to learn that Mary Anning, the working class heroine of the book, is a real person who did indeed, without any formal scientific training, contribute to the discovery and identification of a number of large fossil species. And, like everyone else I know, I loved Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. That one, by the way, is fabulous in audio format. Each narrator in the book is read by a different actor, and they all are distinct and engaging.

Okay, so I do read a few books the old fashioned way. I was blown away by a nonfiction book, Living Between Danger and Love, written by a friend of mine, Kathleen Jones. One of her students was murdered when Kathleen was a professor of women’s studies at San Diego State University. The book is a narrative of living through the aftermath, but she weaves in all the things that she learned about herself from going through such a horrific and tumultuous time. She writes in a way that is so brutally frank it challenges readers not to settle for knowing themselves only superficially, but to be more honest and to reach a higher level of genuine integrity about who they are, what they believe, and how they make decisions. Really a good read.

And finally, the book I am holding in my hands these days is The Fall of a Sparrow: The Life and Times of Abba Kovner, by Dina Porat, written in Hebrew and just recently released in English in the US. My first book from a major publisher was nonfiction, Until Our Last Breath: A Holocaust Story of Love and Partisan Resistance. One of the most important characters in the book is Abba Kovner, the poet-hero of the Jewish resistance movement in Vilna (Vilnius), Lithuania. I am really thrilled to be able to learn more about him and others whom I invested a great deal of time and creative energy writing about. On every page I am learning things I wish I’d known, but it’s also very pleasing to see that nothing I’ve read so far is inconsistent with the story I wrote.

Okay, there’s just enough time left today to go for a run. Helen awaits.
Visit Laurel Corona's website and diary.

The Page 69 Test: The Four Seasons.

My Book, The Movie: The Four Seasons.

--Marshal Zeringue