Saturday, April 30, 2011

Laura Harrington

Laura Harrington’s award winning plays, musicals, operas, and radio plays have been widely produced across America, in Canada, and Europe in venues ranging from The Zipper Factory in NYC to Houston Grand Opera to the Paris Cinemateque. She is the 2008 Kleban Award Winner for most promising librettist in American Musical Theatre. Harrington has twice won both the Massachusetts Cultural Council Award in playwriting and the Clauder Competition for best new play in New England. Additional awards include a Boston IRNE Award for Best New Play, a Bunting Institute Fellowship at Harvard/ Radcliffe, a Whiting Foundation Grant-in-Aid, the Joseph Kesselring Award for Drama, a New England Emmy, and a Quebec Cinemateque Award.

Harrington teaches playwriting at MIT where she was awarded the 2009 Levitan Prize for Excellence in Teaching. She is also a frequent guest artist at Tufts, Harvard, Wellesley, and the University of Iowa.

Alice Bliss, her new novel, debuts in May.

Earlier this month I asked Harrington what she was reading. Her reply:
I read the first one hundred pages of Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin when it first came out. Brand new book. On loan from the library for two weeks. Great anticipation. I had that feeling on page one that you occasionally are lucky enough to experience … this is going to be amazing. And you let yourself go, you slide into this imagined world and it is so rare and so delicious that you slow down so that you can savor the pleasure. I fell madly, deeply in love with the main character, Corrigan, or at least I thought he was the main character. Until he died unexpectedly on page seventy-two. I turned the page and I was introduced to another group of characters. Wait a minute, I remember thinking, you can’t do this to Corrigan. You can’t do this to me. I felt terribly upset, but read on, thinking, Corrigan will come back. There will be flashbacks, we’ll bury him and grieve him at least. It did not help that the new character introduced on page seventy-three, Mrs. Soderberg, in a penthouse on Park Avenue, was not initially very interesting or compelling. Paralyzed with grief over the loss of her son in Viet Nam, she seemed shallow, neurotic and dithering. I should care, I should sympathize with this woman, but wait – where’s Corrigan in all this? Where’s the thread, the connection, where is he?

I felt betrayed. The author had broken his contract with me. I returned the book to the library and took out another of McCann’s books: This Side of Brightness. Which I read and thought yes, all the people who say this is a beautiful book are right. The intelligence, the structure, the intriguing nature of the story. But I didn’t believe a word of it. The characters never became real to me, they were constructs, ideas; they had no flesh and blood. The voices were, to my ear just slightly “off.” A very good imitation, a facsimile. Not the real thing.

So flash forward a few years and Let The Great World Spin comes into my house again. I pick it up. I get past page one hundred. I still mourn Corrigan but this time I follow the story that is, rather than longing for the story that is not. The voices are true and full blooded, the book skillfully crafted, the threads that connect characters and storylines – some slender, some strong –- are well wrought. But the beating heart of the book, the center of the book, is Corrigan, and he is gone.

Why does Corrigan haunt me so? He is pure-hearted and deeply flawed; he is so shockingly alive in the book it is impossible to accept his death. It is the death of a brother, too young to die, too essential both to those whose lives he touches in the novel and to me.

It seems I need to accept the fact that McCann’s novel is about the city and a period of time in that city. It has an ensemble cast instead of a main character or two and a supporting cast. Perhaps that breadth of focus, that ensemble feeling, is both the book’s strength and its weakness. At least for this reader.
Read an excerpt from Alice Bliss, and learn more about the book and author at Laura Harrington's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 29, 2011

Jonathan Dudley

Jonathan Dudley is a graduate of Yale's Divinity School and currently a M.D. student at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. In his new book, Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics (published by Crown), he writes about the evangelical Christian community that raised him.

Recently I asked Dudley what he was reading. His reply:
I'm currently spending about ten hours a day reading First Aid for the USMLE Step 1, a condensed summary of the first two years of medical school. It's a great book if you're preparing for the boards as a second year med student (as I am), but I wouldn't recommend it to a general audience.

One fascinating book I read recently was A Life Decoded: My Genome, My Life, an autobiography by the pioneering geneticist J. Craig Venter. Venter takes the reader through his time as a subpar high school student, a Vietnam medic, a community college student whose academic talent is becoming apparent, a rock star graduate student, and a rock star scientist. He ends the book by discussing the present efforts of his research institute to discover new genes in the ocean's microorganisms and to create synthetic life. I liked the book because I share some aspects of Venter's life story and temperament; I was also a mediocre high school student who only started excelling in college, and I'm also somewhat rebellious by nature. I also liked the book because Venter models a unique and alluring way to be a scientist, with heavy ties to industry, a commitment to academic excellence, and the freedom to pursue a host of different projects at the frontiers of biology.

Another book I read a few years ago that I keep returning to and rereading is Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation, by Dale B. Martin, a professor of New Testament at Yale. Martin argues that the meaning we find in texts is a consequence of the method we use to interpret them and that there is no one "orthodox Christian" method for interpreting the Bible. He explores the implications of this line of reasoning for sexual ethics, all-the-while critiquing popular Christian thought on topics like marriage, homosexuality, and gender identity. This book opened my eyes to the contingency of what communities take as "what the Bible says"--and led to an ongoing obsession with philosophers like Foucault, Derrida, Nietzsche, and Heidegger.
Learn more about Broken Words at Jonathan Dudley's website.

The Page 99 Test: Broken Words.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 28, 2011

John Pollack

John Pollack, who won the 1995 O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships, was a Presidential Speechwriter for Bill Clinton. Earlier, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Spain, as a field assistant in Antarctica, and as a strolling violinist on Mackinac Island. His books include The World On a String: How to Become a Freelance Foreign Correspondent and Cork Boat.

Pollack's new book is The Pun Also Rises: How the Humble Pun Revolutionized Language, Changed History, and Made Wordplay More Than Some Antics.

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I recently read The Tree, by John Fowles, which explored the starkly different relationships that the author and his father enjoyed with the trees in their lives. The father, a struggling tobacconist in suburban London, cultivated domestic fruit trees whose productivity he tracked carefully from year to year. The younger Fowles preferred wild trees in natural settings, as their unkempt nature inspired his creativity. I enjoyed the book for its meandering and for its quiet demand that I open my dictionary from time to time.

Fowles closes the memoir with a hike he took to an isolated English forest called Wistman’s Wood, a place he’d not visited for 30 years. It was a windswept grove of stunted English Oaks – ancient and twisted, their branches cloaked in robes of moss, ferns and lichens.

“They seem, even though the day is windless, to be writhing, convulsed, each its own Laoco├Ân, caught and frozen in some fanatically private struggle for existence,” Fowles wrote. “From somewhere outside, far above, on top of Togford Tor, I hear human voices. Then silence again. The wood waits, as if its most precious sap were stillness. I ask why I, of a species so incapable of stillness, am here.”

Perhaps it’s simply to tell us what he sees, as no tree will stand forever.
Visit the official The Pun Also Rises website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Amy Ellis Nutt

Amy Ellis Nutt has been a staff writer at The Star-Ledger newspaper in Newark, NJ since November 1997. She is also an adjunct professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Nutt was awarded the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for her story “The Wreck of the Lady Mary,” which ran as a 20-page special section of The Star-Ledger in November 2010.

Her new book is Shadows Bright as Glass: The Remarkable Story of One Man's Journey from Brain Trauma to Artistic Triumph.

Earlier this month I asked Nutt what she was reading. Her reply:
Because I have such a short span of attention, I’m usually juggling two or three books at once. Often one of them is poetry, my first love. Right now I’m re-reading Late for Work by David Tucker. He’s actually one of my editors at The Star-Ledger and his lyricism always inspires me. From “Detective Story”:

A breeze smelling of the river enters the room though

no river is near; the house is quiet and calm for no reason;

the search does end, the detective finally does sleep, far away

from anything he imagined, his dusty shoes still on.

Two friends recently gave me Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain from Antiquity to the 21st Century by Carl Schoonover, to commemorate the publication of my own book. It’s both gorgeous and fascinating, beginning with a simple drawing, the oldest known depiction of the nervous system, from around 1027. The drawing includes, simply, a nose and two eyes, with hollow optic nerves traveling from each eye up into the brain. As the author writes: “From this unadorned sketch ... comes a premise that is so elementary as to seem almost trivial: In the nervous system, information travels.”
Learn more Shadows Bright as Glass and its author at Amy Ellis Nutt's website.

The Page 99 Test: Shadows Bright as Glass.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Gayle Forman

Gayle Forman is an award-winning author and journalist. Her YA novels include If I Stay and its sequel, Where She Went.

A few weeks ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m always reading quite a bit of YA to keep up on what’s out there, and what’s out there right now is quite a bit of paranormal and dystopian. I must admit that lately I have shied away from anything with the following words in the flap copy: magic, witch, vampire, spirit, dragon, angel, werewolf, curse, power, haunt.

Luckily, sometimes I ignore my own rules because had I followed them more religiously, I might've missed some incredible reads.

Holly Black’s White Cat was more sexy noir than paranormal—it takes place in an alternate world in which certain magic practitioners (curse workers) are known, outlawed, and hence ruled by the mob. It was a fascinating story about a family of grifters, and the writing was sharp and gorgeous. I’m panting for the upcoming sequel, Red Glove.

Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls doesn’t come out until June and I don’t know how to describe it—spooky magical realism? It’s the story of two sisters and a dead girl who comes back, but to call it paranormal doesn’t seem quite right. Shirley Jackson takes on YA? The writing is fierce and potent and the characterizations leap off the page. Ruby! I’ve never seen that sort of scary charismatic power so well portrayed in fiction before.

Franny Billingsley’s Chime is a historical fantasy novel, and seriously, even writing that phrase gives me hives—so not my cup of tea. But oh, lord, this book was incredible, modern-classic incredible. What it did with language. It was so inventive and experimental (in a good way) and I fell in love with the two main characters and the history part did not feel like wheat germ at all. Loved it.

I do like to slip in some adult books, as well as some nonfiction, and to that end I recently—and finally—read Patti Smith’s Just Kids. There might just be something paranormal in Smith’s ability to be Zelig-like on the scene for as so many seminal bands, artists, writers, got their starts. I loved this book. What a love story. About Robert Mapplethorpe. About New York City. About art.
Learn more about Where She Went and its author at Gayle Forman's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: If I Stay.

The Page 69 Test: Where She Went.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 25, 2011

Rae Meadows

Rae Meadows is the author of Calling Out, which received the 2006 Utah Book Award for fiction, and No One Tells Everything, a Poets & Writers Notable Novel. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Her new novel is Mothers and Daughters.

Recently I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I went to a reading the other night at the Loft Literary Center here in Minneapolis, featuring the AWP Award Series winners for 2009: Kevin Fenton (Merit Badges) and Christine Sneed who won the Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction for her collection Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry. I’m not a very good listener at readings, my mind often drifting, but I was utterly taken with the story Christine read. So I’m reading her book. In the story “12 + 12” a woman is having an affair with her father’s friend whose own daughter was recently killed in a car accident. The tone of the narrator is quirkily upbeat, despite the deeply sad terrain, which somehow manages to make the story all the more poignant. These are richly rewarding stories, and I marvel at Christine’s mastery of the story form.

We moved to Minneapolis from Madison last fall, and all our books are still in boxes in the basement. My husband pulled out a box the other day and in it found Bruno Schulz’s Street of Crocodiles (translated from the Polish), which we are now both intermittently reading. Schulz, a contemporary of Kafka’s, was killed by the Gestapo in 1942. He wrote just two collections of short stories and a lost manuscript, though he has had a small revival as of late. I don’t even know how to describe these stories. Fables? Surrealism? Poetry? All I know is that his language is remarkable, intensely imaginative and beautiful, and the writing is unlike anything I’ve read before.
Read an excerpt from Mothers and Daughters, and learn more about the book and author at Rae Meadows's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mothers and Daughters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Stephen Singular

Stephen Singular, is a two-time New York Times bestselling author whose articles have appeared in New York Magazine, Psychology Today, Inside Sports, The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, and American Photo. From 1983 to 1987, he was a staff writer at The Denver Post and his first book, Talked To Death: The Life & Murder of Alan Berg (1987), was nominated for an Edgar Award. Since then, he’s published 18 more non-fiction books about high-profile crimes, social criticism, and business and sports biographies.

His new book is The Wichita Divide: The Murder of Dr. George Tiller and the Battle over Abortion.

Earlier this month I asked Singular what he was reading. His reply:
My wife Joyce and I are in a band that plays Latin jazz, standards, rock, and blues. She’s the singer and I’m the guitarist, so we’re always interested in stories about musicians. Last winter she read Just Kids by Patti Smith and suggested I give it a look. I did and really enjoyed the book, which focuses on Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel and the music scene in the East Village in the 1970s. It chronicles Smith’s relationship as a young woman with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, but the most striking part is that the narrative is almost entirely about their lives before she achieved fame as a poet/rock star. The majority of celebrity bios talk about what happened after someone became rich and famous, and that’s often accompanied by a lot of name-dropping.

Smith does drop a few well-known monikers, but this isn’t what gives the book its heart or substance. That comes from the unvarnished story of her and Mapplethorpe’s struggle with obscurity, poverty, doubt, and confusion, essentially over what kind of creative endeavors to be involved in. Early on they both conceived of themselves as “artists,” but knocked around for about a decade before finding something they could do that brought in an audience and allowed them to make a living. In addition to everything else the book offers it’s inspirational for any aspiring musician, writer, etc. The couple’s refusal to give up when they had no idea what they were doing -- and sometimes not enough to eat -- gives the book a grit and an honesty that raise it well above the average rock bio.

As the pages accumulate, you realize that the book is really Smith’s extended love letter to Mapplethorpe, who died at 42 in 1989. Their story will stir memories in every reader who remembers what it’s like to be young and to have freedom and to fall in love for the first time, when you think that will be enough to protect you from what life will later send your way.
Learn more about The Wichita Divide and its author at Stephen Singular's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: The Wichita Divide.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 22, 2011

Russel D. McLean

Russel D McLean writes for Crime Spree Magazine, The Big Thrill, At Central Booking and Crime Scene Scotland. His short fiction has been published in crime magazines in both the US and the UK.

His debut novel was released in the UK in 2008 and the US a year later. His latest novel The Lost Sister is now out in the US.

A few weeks ago I asked McLean what he was reading. His reply:
In preparation for a Reader's Day at a Scottish Library later this year, I've been asked to select two books to discuss with readers. One of them has to be mine. The other is a book of my choosing. This has meant a lot of searching on my part. Here in the UK, so many authors I love (such as Lawrence Block) seem to be hard to find at the moment, while certain other titles have been rejected on strict terms I've set for myself. But it's been fun immersing myself in the books I love.

In the last week, I've read George Pelecanos's Drama City, which reminded me just why I love this man's work so much - the style, the attitude, the sheer power of his writing. Even on a second or third reading, you're suckered into his world. Drama City is especially good as the story of someone just trying to do the right thing in a world where everything is stacked against him.

After this, I re-read California Fire and Life, which was my first introduction to the words of Don Winslow, one of the finest writers I've had the privilege to read. CF&L was a revelation to me back in the day. It was the first time I realised that crime fiction could be deadly, dangerous and utterly unpredictable. His is the first voice I remember taking me by surprise. And despite a denouement that doesn't quite match the incendiary power of the opening, CF&L retains its magic.

But my decision as to which book to choose was made today when I finished my third alternative. Megan Abbott's Bury Me Deep blew me away on a first reading, and coming back to it again I'm suckered right into its tale of a life gone wrong, of a world just a slip away from respectability. I said when I first reviewed the book that it's all about the seduction of sin, and a re-read confirms this hypothesis. With its tight prose, perfect period detail and that beautiful depiction of one person's descent from everyday life into something altogether more terrifying, it's perfect for the discussions you want to promote at these events.

As to what's next? Well I need a break from crime fiction so I'm eyeing up the slipstream/literary novel Boxer Beetle which is either going to be brilliant or disappointing (Taking a chance on books is something I love to do; I'd rather feel passionate that simply shrug and move on to the next book) or a biography of Marlon Brando I've been meaning to get to for years - mostly having been put off by its sheer size!
Learn more about The Lost Sister at Russel McLean's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Good Son.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hallie Ephron

Hallie Ephron is an award-winning mystery reviewer for the Boston Globe. She is the author of Never Tell a Lie, which was a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award and was made into the film And Baby Will Fall for the Lifetime Movie Network, and Writing and Selling Your Mystery, which was nominated for both an Edgar and an Anthony Award.

Her new novel is Come and Find Me.

Recently I asked Ephron what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm reading a memoir by Caitlin Shetterly, Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home. I met Caitlin at a literary festival in Florida, and I couldn't wait to start the book when I got home.

She started it as a diary during the recession. She and her photographer husband had a 2-month-old son, an empty bank account and an apartment in Los Angeles they could no longer afford. Here's how she encapsulates it: Tales from the Road, the Recession and the Heart: The Journey West from Portland, Maine to LA and Back Home Again with a Baby, a Cat, a Dog, Some Stuff and a Handful of Big Dreams Crammed Into a Prius.

She's a lovely writer, and it's really a love story. I'm enjoying it enormously.
Visit Hallie Ephron's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Never Tell A Lie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Jesse Bullington

Jesse Bullington spent the bulk of his formative years in rural Pennsylvania, the Netherlands, and Tallahassee, Florida. He is a folklore enthusiast who holds a bachelor's degree in History and English Literature from Florida State University. His novel The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart was one of Amazon's top ten Science Fiction & Fantasy books of 2009.

His new novel is The Enterprise of Death.

Last month I asked Bullington what he was reading. His reply:
The three books that have made the biggest impression on me lately are all from smaller presses, but one thing they all have in common is that they’re gorgeous editions. Stephen Graham Jones’s The Ones That Got Away, from Prime, is a stellar collection of short stories—some of the most literary, intelligent horror I’ve come across, and the pieces veer from the mundane to the allegorical to the wildly fantastical, so there’s something for everyone. Where else will you find a story that puts a knot in your throat at the power of a parent’s love for his child sharing space with a piece that pits a werewolf against an orca?

Another collection I’ve just finished and loved was Livia Llewellyn’s debut Engines of Desire, from Lethe Press. These stories are highbrow yet awesomely raunchy, horrifying yet…well, mostly horrifying. A great book that pretty much guarantees a bright future for Llewellyn.

Finally, I can’t say enough good things about J.M. McDermott’s Never Knew Another, a brilliant dark fantasy from Night Shade Books. If McDermott’s brilliant, evocative prose doesn’t capture you his whip smart plot and rapier sharp characters will—this should be required reading for anyone who doesn’t think second world fantasy can be very bit as intelligent and important as so-called literary fiction. Plus, it has one of my favorite covers in ages.
Read an excerpt from The Enterprise of Death, and learn more about the book and author at Jesse Bullington's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart.

The Page 69 Test: The Enterprise of Death.

--Marshal Zeringue

Brett Battles

Brett Battles lives in Los Angeles and is the author of the acclaimed Jonathan Quinn series: The Cleaner, which was nominated for a Barry Award for Best Thriller and a Shamus Award for Best First Novel, The Deceived, which won the Barry Award for Best Thriller, and Shadow of Betrayal.

His new Jonathan Quinn novel is The Silenced.

Late last month I asked Battles what he was reading. His reply:
I’m currently reading Blake Crouch’s Run.




Is this good, or what? The only reason I’m not reading it at this very moment is I have to work sometime.

Here’s the set up…what if one day you discover a high percentage of the population has gone crazy, but in an organized, working together kind of way to kill those who aren’t like them? And what if as you’re huddled at home with your family trying to figure out what to do, one of these maniacs is reading off names and addresses over the radio of people who need to be killed, and he reads off your name?

That’s basically the set up for Run. It starts with a bang and just doesn’t let up. Jack Colclough, his wife and their two kids have no other choice than to get the hell out of Dodge (well, Albuquerque) and try to find someplace safe. Only so far (I’m only halfway done) there is nowhere safe. The family has to fight to stay alive, not only against some of those who have been affected by whatever has happened (and Crouch does a great job of making the reason this happened sound believable), but they also have to fight to find food, and water, and shelter.

Don’t mistake me. This isn’t a Zombie book. The “others” are rational in their own way. What it is is a breathtaking rollercoaster survival story that I absolutely find hard to put down. If you’re looking for a superb thriller, this is it.

Prior to Run, I read Dance, Dance, Dance by Haruki Murakami. I’m a huge Murakami fan, and Dance didn’t disappoint. But like with all Murakami books, I’m not sure I understood everything that was going on. Which, oddly, I’m okay with. His prose have a way of drawing me in and putting me in a metal state I don’t want to leave. I find it hard even describing what it was about, other than to say it was a man’s journey to find his own happiness. Along the way there’s a murder mystery, a beautiful yet awkward teenage girl who comes to trust him as a friend, a movie star who is not all he appears, and the looming memory of a girl who may or may not be of this world. Oh yeah, and a man dresses as a sheep and lives in an alternate reality the hero occasionally finds himself in. See, how do you make sense of any of that? Yet I loved it.
Learn more about the book and author at Brett Battles' website and blog.

Read: Tim Hallinan interviews Brett Battles.

The Page 69 Test: The Cleaner.

The Page 69 Test: The Deceived.

The Page 69 Test: Shadow of Betrayal.

The Page 69 Test: The Silenced.

The Page 69 Test: Little Girl Gone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Robert Sawyer

Robert J. Sawyer has been called “the dean of Canadian science fiction” by The Ottawa Citizen.

He is one of only seven writers in history—and the only Canadian—to win all three of the world’s top awards for best science-fiction novel of the year: the Hugo (which he won in 2003 for Hominids), the Nebula (which he won in 1995 for The Terminal Experiment), and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (which he won in 2005 for Mindscan). In 2008, Sawyer received his tenth Hugo Award nomination for his novel Rollback.

His new novel is WWW: Wonder.

Sawyer's response to my recent inquiry about what he's been reading:
Right now, on the nonfiction front, I'm reading and thoroughly enjoying Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan by Del Quentin Wilber.

I'm reading this for two reasons. First, the novel I'm currently writing, called Triggers, deals with an attempt to assassinate the current US president on the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination -- and a neat science-fictional idea that spins out from that. In my novel, the injured president is taken to George Washington University Hospital, just as Reagan was; I recently had a great behind-the-scenes tour there.

Second, although I don't know Del Quentin Wilber, I do know his uncle, Rick Wilber, a very fine science-fiction writer in his own right; in fact, it was Rick who first alerted me to his nephew's book. I bought Rawhide Down for my Kindle the day it came out in March, and the book has since soared onto the New York Times bestsellers' list, and rightfully so; it's absolutely gripping.

On the fiction front, I'm reading No Time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay. Now, as it happens, I do know Linwood -- he and I both live in Toronto, and we run into each other periodically at local literary events; we both also have a fondness for the 1960s science-fiction TV shows of Irwin Allen and Gerry Anderson, and both collect models of the futuristic vehicles from them.

My novels are published by Ace Science Fiction in the US and by Penguin Canada in Canada; the latter publisher kindly, asked Linwood for a blurb they could put on the front cover of their edition of the just-released paperback of my novel Watch, second in my WWW trilogy. Linwood obliged with, "Some thriller writers get you worried about the future. Sawyer makes the present perilous." I love Linwood's writing, but hadn't yet read this particular book of his and so I thought I should.

But most of all, I'm reading it because Triggers, the book I'm currently writing, is a thriller, and Linwood is the top thriller writer in Canada, one of the top-selling thriller writers in the UK, and one whom American readers are embracing more and more; I'm reading -- and studying -- No Time for Goodbye so I may learn how to write a thriller from a master.
Visit Robert J. Sawyer's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: WWW: Wake.

The Page 69 Test: WWW: Watch.

The Page 69 Test:: WWW: Wonder.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mark Russinovich

Mark Russinovich works at Microsoft in the Windows Azure product team as a Technical Fellow, Microsoft’s senior-most technical position. He earned a Ph.D. in computer engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and he joined Microsoft when it acquired Winternals Software, which he co-founded in 1996. He is also author of the popular Sysinternals Windows administration and diagnostic tools. He is coauthor of the Microsoft Press Windows Internals book series, a contributing editor for TechNet Magazine, and a senior contributing editor for Windows IT Pro Magazine.

His new novel is Zero Day.

Recently I asked Russinovich what he was reading. His reply:
One of the great blurbs my agent secured for Zero Day is by Nelson DeMille. I’d of course seen his books on the bestseller lists and on the display racks at the book store, but had never read one. When I told my friends about the blurb, many said that DeMille was among their favorite authors. The genres I spend most of my time in are thrillers, non-fiction and science fiction, but I decided that getting acquainted with the works of someone that so generously provided a blurb and that has such a great reputation with my reading friends would probably pay off.

I went to Amazon and found one of his early books, The Gold Coast, which begins a highly-rated series that focuses on the story of a mafia boss. The book starts with the boss moving into an old-money county near New York City that’s filled with abandoned and decaying mansions from the 1920’s. I’m about half way through and find it to be a thoughtful social commentary full of vivid descriptions and witty character interactions. The plot evolves so gradually and naturally that its structure is virtually hidden, moving you inexorably forward toward a conflict between the two main characters like rip-tide you don’t realize is there. I’m impressed with the easy way he has the characters reflect off each other to draw out their personalities. I can see why he’s such a favorite and know that I’m witness to a master at work. I know that this is just the first DeMille book for me of many.
Read an excerpt from Zero Day, and learn more about the book and author at the Zero Day website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Zero Day.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Lou Manfredo

Lou Manfredo, author of Rizzo's War, worked in the Brooklyn criminal justice system for twenty-five years. His short fiction has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and Brooklyn Noir.

His new novel is Rizzo's Fire.

A few weeks ago I asked Manfredo what he was reading. His reply:
For the last few years, I have avoided reading fiction for fear of external influences impacting my own works. The most recent book I’ve read was Mary Tudor by Anna Whitelock, preceded by a variety of historical works and biographies.

Currently, after a conversation with Otto Penzler at his Mysterious Bookshop, I am reading Arthur Conan Doyle: The Man Behind Sherlock Holmes by Andrew Norman. As those familiar with my Joe Rizzo series of novels may recall, each book begins with an appropriate quote from the Holmes character. I’ve also paraphrased Holmes’ quotes in various of my published short stories.

My interest in this current read is twofold: Curiosity about Doyle, of whom I know little, and a professional interest in the nature of the Doyle-Holmes relationship. My understanding is Doyle came to dislike Holmes intensely, and I am intrigued by that concept. I’ve recently been exploring my own relationship with Joe Rizzo. While writing the novels, I’ve watched Joe grow more and more independent of me. At times I’ve felt merely to be along for the ride.

Rizzo, it seems, has been telling me the stories. How odd.
Read more about Rizzo's Fire and Rizzo's War.

The Page 69 Test: Rizzo's War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Stewart O'Nan

Stewart O'Nan's award-winning fiction includes Snow Angels, The Speed Queen, A Prayer for the Dying, Last Night at the Lobster, and Songs for the Missing.

His new novel is Emily, Alone.

Late last month I asked O'Nan what he was reading. His reply:
Elegies for the Brokenhearted, by Christie Hodgen

Smart, tough, funny, sad, with such a natural yet surprising voice, this novel follows a young girl's rocky coming of age as she pays homage to five strange and difficult people who changed her life. Brilliant and moving work. I'd put this up for the Pulitzer, and up with Franzen's Freedom and Sam Lipsyte's The Ask as the best novel of 2010.
Learn more about the author and his work at Stewart O'Nan's website.

The Page 69 Test: Songs for the Missing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 15, 2011

Nina Eliasoph

Nina Eliasoph is associate professor of sociology at the University of Southern California. She is the author of Avoiding Politics and the new book, Making Volunteers: Civic Life after Welfare's End.

Recently I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I picked up The Long Goodbye at a yard sale a few years ago, but didn’t open it till last week. It is, of course, a detective novel from the 1950’s, by Raymond Chandler. It later became a movie. I really hate suspense. Whenever I encounter any suspense in a book, I have to read the last few pages first, before I can enjoy the rest. But in this one, the suspense is quiet and sneaky, and it’s not what makes you lap up each page. It’s the prose--the narrator’s fine powers observation and his breathtakingly perfect selection of words. This narrator is a very precise observer of a seedy and sinister Los Angeles of his era, but he's probably not entirely reliable. Could I, a social scientist, write like that? Social scientists, alas, are not supposed to construct unreliable narrators to tell their tales. I think in my next book, I will.

I’m also reading The History of Forgetting, by Norman Klein. So far, it’s pretentiously written, and the author is glorying in an apocalyptic vision in a way that strikes me as irresponsibly overstated. Like The Long Goodbye, it also takes place in Los Angeles. It’s about the urban landscape of downtown, till the mid 1990’s when the book was written. At that time, downtown was full of empty scabby parking lots, chain-link fences, and blank spaces where buildings used to be. Klein argues that this perverse development was inevitable in Los Angeles. He says, rightly, that LA developed by tricking people into coming here, tricking water into flowing here, projecting itself into a future through tricks on the silver screen. He is wedded to the idea that change here happens only in a bi-polar way, lurching between the desolate “noir” LA of The Long Goodbye, Chinatown and City of Quartz, and the manic LA of relentless sunshine and light blue Barbie convertibles whizzing by the beach. As an entire city, we are, he says, compelled to forget the past, collectively, in just the same way that individuals repress pasts that discomfit their present, so we constantly bulldoze and kill familiar spaces, leaving gaps like missing teeth on the streets.

The problem with the book’s argument is that since I moved here in 2004, downtown has filled in, with upscale condos and some affordable housing. In the 1990s, LA built a subway system which continues to expand, and there are plans for bike paths and little parks. Since the book was written, the snow peaked mountains around Los Angeles have once again become visible after having been hidden by smog for forty years.

I’m starting a new research project about bike activism in Los Angeles, and that is part of why I’m reading all these books about LA. I’m wondering if there has been anything that one could call progress. Something has changed, and it’s not just light and flowers, but it’s not just horror, either. The same flimsy light green, light pink and light yellow buildings are here. It’s eternally flimsy but still here, for now. All over town are traces of earlier settlements, and despite Klein’s grim view of it, the fact that they keep getting covered up not all just covering over misery and terror, not just all repression of a terrifying past. For example, what used to be a hot dog stand on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue is now a Thai restaurant with a giant sculpture of a hot dog still proudly displayed on the roof, but the poor fiberglass hot dog's jazzy zigzag of mustard has turned a grayish-green, and the restaurant does not serve hot dogs. The happy hot dog remains, but now there is a garden in the internal patio, and an immigrant family is working hard, cooking non-hot dogs. The flimsy building is still standing and still full of busy, imperfect, creative, messy humans. It’s hard to write a book of journalism or social science that captures that busy, bumbling, imaginative stream of human imperfection. You need an unreliable, imperfect narrator.
Learn more about Nina Eliasoph's Making Volunteers at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Robin Fox

Robin Fox, anthropologist, poet, and essayist, is University Professor of Social Theory at Rutgers University and author of Kinship and Marriage: An Anthropological Perspective and The Red Lamp of Incest: An Enquiry into the Origins of Mind and Society.

His new book is The Tribal Imagination: Civilization and the Savage Mind.

Last month I asked Fox what he was reading. His reply:
It is always delightful to discover a new author (like a new composer – I found Alberto Ginestera for example) and I lighted on Barbara Kingsolver through a friend who loaned me her The Lacuna when I was sick. I followed up with The Poisonwood Bible – a sustained piece of virtuoso writing about Africa in three voices. I did Pigs in Clover and am now on Animal Dreams: about the Southwest, which I love, including Pueblo Indians of the tribes I studied. She is an unbelievably good writer with humor and metaphor and a gripping story. You don’t have to be a liberal activist to enjoy her, but if you are it will be love at first sight.

Also, from the library I picked up Somerset Maugham’s Kipling’s Best a selection of the master’s short stories with an excellent introduction by Maugham, himself a grand master of the genre. I wanted to read the original of “The Man Who Would Be King” to see how much the terrific movie with Michael Caine and Sean Connery departed from the original –not much was the answer, down to the key element of Freemasonry in the plot. “Billy Fish” was not a Gurkha it seems, but they needed him in the movie so that they could all talk English and not sign language to the natives of Kafiristan. But I had forgotten what a master of the genre Kipling was. Close to Robert Louis Stevenson and in his depictions of British India incomparable.

Finally I read two books together, Daphne Pearson’s Edward de Vere (1550-1604): The Crisis and Consequences of Wardship (2005), and Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, Arden Edition. Why, you might well ask. Well, de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, is a leading candidate for the “real” author of the Shakespeare works, and the parallels between his life and that of the characters in the plays is often startling. Timon of Athens resonates in many ways including reckless land sales, dealings with creditors and stewards, and desertion by friends etc. with Oxford’s own life. Intriguing. I’ll probably write something about it.
Learn more about The Tribal Imagination and its author at Robin Fox's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Tribal Imagination.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dennis J. Frost

Dennis J. Frost is Wen Chao Chen Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies at Kalamazoo College.

His new book is Seeing Stars: Sports Celebrity, Identity, and Body Culture in Modern Japan.

Recently I asked him what he was reading.  Frost's reply:
During the school year much of what I read is related to the courses I happen to be teaching, and among those books, one of my all time favorites is John Dower’s Embracing Defeat, which I recently read for the fifth or sixth time. This wonderfully accessible study of Japan during the Allied Occupation is a masterpiece of historical research and writing that has inspired a new generation of scholars to examine the history of Japan in the wake of World War II. From constitutional politics to military prostitution, Embracing Defeat addresses the occupation in ways that no work before it had even attempted, providing ground-breaking insights into this critical period in Japan’s recent past.

Outside of class, I recently finished reading Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart with my oldest son. This book was especially fun to read aloud because several of the characters in the book have the amazing ability to read characters out of books and into our world. As exciting as such a talent might sound, the main characters in the book, a girl named Meggie and her father Mo, quickly learn that the characters from the book Inkheart (yes it’s the same name) are dangerous and not well suited to our world. In addition to a gripping—though somewhat dark—plot and great characters, one of the other joys of Funke’s book is the epigraphs for each chapter, with quotes from works as diverse as Peter Pan and Fahrenheit 451.

Between reading for class and my children, I am currently reading Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies. I’ve not finished the book yet, but so far I’ve been impressed with the complex web of relationships that Ghosh has created for his characters. None of the book’s main characters would appear to have any connection whatsoever, but the ways in which they eventually come together make perfect sense in the novel and in the process raise interesting ideas about the situational nature of identity. Ghosh’s setting in British controlled India on the eve of the Opium War is rich with description. The views of the opium factories, as seen through the eyes of a first time visitor, were particularly (and appropriately) disturbing.
Learn more about Seeing Stars at the Harvard University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Seeing Stars.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 11, 2011

Trilby Kent

Trilby Kent studied History at Oxford University and Social Anthropology at the LSE. She has written for the Canadian and British national press and in 2010 was shortlisted in the Guardian's International Development Journalism Competition. She is the author of two novels for children (published in Canada and the U.S.) and one for adults (published in the U.K.) and is working on a PhD. She lives in London, England.

Her Stones for my Father follows 12-year-old Coraline Roux through the darkest days of the Anglo-Boer War: from the sacking of her family’s farm, to a trek across the battle-scarred Transvaal, to internment in a British concentration camp. Scattered throughout are moments of quiet beauty, including a figure of hope who emerges in the form of a Canadian soldier.

Her reply to my recent query about what she was reading:
I’m a huge Nadine Gordimer fan – I have been ever since we read ‘Once Upon a Time’ in school – so I was thrilled when the trade magazine that I write for sent me an early copy of her Life Times: Stories 1952-2007. It’s a great doorstop of a book, but I’m still rationing out the stories to last as long as possible!

My current novel of choice is Manja by Anna Gmeyner, which has been reissued by the delightful Persephone Books and tells the story of five children living in Germany in the 1930s. It’s a period of history that I find endlessly fascinating (my own novel, Smoke Portrait, is set in 1936 and deals with many of the same themes) and I’m enjoying it enormously.

For non-fiction, it has to be A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor. I actually got this as a Christmas present for my husband, as we’d managed to catch snippets of the excellent BBC Radio 4 series and the British Museum is often one of our go-to options for a rainy afternoon. Some of the selected objects are wonderfully surprising: from a 5,000 year-old sandal label to a suffragette-defaced penny. This is the book that I keep to hand whenever I feel the need to put off work for just a few more minutes…
Read more about Stones for My Father at the publisher's website, and visit Trilby Kent's Red Room Writer Profile.

The Page 69 Test: Stones for My Father.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Martin Kihn

Martin Kihn is the author of the comic memoir Bad Dog (A Love Story). It's his story of trying to stay sober while training his out-of-control 90-pound Bernese mountain dog, Hola, for her Canine Good Citizen certification from the American Kennel Club. Kihn's previous memoir of his time as a cutthroat management consultant was recently filmed as a pilot for Showtime.

Not so long ago I asked him what he was reading.  His reply:
Like most writers, I'm always reading -- but rarely what people expect. No modern fiction or biographies. And although I've been known to write them, I don't read business books, which studies have shown are written at the eighth grade level (on average). I like to have three genres going at once, and these days I'm pretty consistently reading at least one in each of the following:

(1) Mysteries featuring dogs or cats -- This, oddly, is a thriving sub-genre of cozy mysteries. The gold standards are the first five entries in Lilian Jackson Braun's "The Cat Who ..." series, which are better than you think, and Susan Conant's Dog Lovers Mysteries. Right now I'm reading Curiosity Thrilled the Cat, first in a new series by Minnesota author Sofie Kelly. She gives the cats magical powers, which is a courageous way of solving the perennial genre problem: How can a non-talking animal actually solve a crime?

(2) Books written or set in big houses in the 19th century -- I've always loved Gothics, especially the sprawling bestsellers of one and two centuries ago by Ann Radcliffe, Elizabeth Braddon and Wilkie Collins. I just read a contemporary Gothic by Michael Cox, The Glass of Time, which is even better than the prequel, The Meaning of Night. Both manage to pay intimate, knowing homage to Wilkie Collins while still being thrilling time trips into a dubious universe of mistaken heirs, mysterious maids, and eavesdropping as a dramatic device. And Cox put me in the mood to begin Collins' Armadale, which is not nearly as well known as The Woman in White or The Moonstone, but certainly starts with a bang.

(3) Theology -- I write a blog called The God Project Dot Net, which is a kind of non-denominational search for You-Know-Who, and it's requiring me to do a lot of basic reading. Two millenia's worth, to be precise. Right now I'm belatedly discovering the great proto-existentialist Soren Kierkegaard's Training in Christianity, which has all of his passion, wit and eccentricity. I think because he was independently wealthy -- not to mention a genius -- he didn't worry what people would think. He's as exciting to read as Wilkie Collins, in his own way.
Learn more about Bad Dog: A Love Story at Martin Kihn's website and the Bad Dog Facebook page.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Martin Kihn and Hola.

The Page 99 Test: Bad Dog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 8, 2011

Rosalind Brackenbury

Rosalind Brackenbury is the author of twelve novels, a collection of short stories, and five books of poetry.

Her new novel is Becoming George Sand.

Last month I asked Brackenbury what she was reading.  Her reply:
I'm reading David Grossman's To The End Of The Land and can hardly put it down. It's so delicately and accurately observant of people's lives and thoughts, as well as bringing in the outside world and its threats and dangers. It's about an Israeli woman, Ora, whose son is in the IDF, in action, and about her relationships with the two men who are fathers to her two sons. I was particularly moved by the account of her going with her Arab driver, Sami, to take her son back to the army base, and her belated realization of how terrifying this journey must be for Sami, as he is the only Arab for miles around. Ora is emotional, irrational, insensitive, self-obsessed, flawed - a real human being. She gets everything too late and is always trying to make amends. I admire David Grossman's ability to get under her skin so thoroughly. There's a just-controlled agony in reading this book, I must admit, but I trust Grossman's ability to bring the reader through it, while not giving any easy answers - quite the reverse. Next, I plan to read Richard Yates' short stories in a collection, because I so admired Revolutionary Road.
Learn more about the book and author at Rosalind Brackenbury's website.

The Page 69 Test: Becoming George Sand.

--Marshal Zeringue