Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Steven Sidor

Steven Sidor is the author of the critically-acclaimed dark thrillers Skin River, Bone Factory, and The Mirror’s Edge. His new novel of terror is Pitch Dark.

Not so long ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I’m a person who reads multiple books at once, usually four or five. I rotate them throughout the day.

Right now I’m reading Robert Beattie’s Nightmare in Wichita: The Hunt for the BTK Strangler. Along with the Zodiac Killer and the Original Night Stalker, BTK was the scariest of the unknown killers out there. Beattie’s book may have spurred BTK to resurface in 2004 and led to his eventual capture.

Karl Taro Greenfeld’s China Syndrome: The True Story of the 21st Century’s First Great Epidemic is a gripping and truly frightening account of the 2003 SARS outbreak in China. The story is as much about an emerging China as it is about a mysterious virus. This one’s my bedtime book.

I’m rereading Tim Powers’ On Stranger Tides, which is the basis for the latest installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise. Nobody writes like Powers. His inventiveness, energy, and great prose make him a must-read author for me.

Haunted Legends, edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas, is a great collection of horror stories based on local legends. I’ve particularly enjoyed “Down Atsion Road” by Jeffery Ford, “The Redfield Girls” by Laird Barron, “As Red as Red” by Caitlin Kiernan, and “The Folding Man” by Joe R. Lansdale.

Dan Simmons’ historical horror masterpiece, The Terror, about the doomed Franklin Expedition to the Arctic Circle shows just how far genre barriers can be stretched and how fine a writer Simmons is. I’m reading it slowly ... and savoring it.
Visit Steven Sidor's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Steven Sidor's The Mirror’s Edge.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 30, 2011

Will Allison

Will Allison's debut novel, What You Have Left, was selected for Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers, Borders Original Voices, and Book Sense Picks, and was named one of 2007's notable books by the San Francisco Chronicle. His short stories have appeared in magazines such as Zoetrope: All-Story, Glimmer Train, and One Story and have received special mention in the Pushcart Prize and Best American Short Stories anthologies. He is the former executive editor of Story.

His new novel is Long Drive Home.

A few weeks ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I've been catching up on the latest work of some writers I'm fortunate enough to call friends.

I'm about halfway through Andrew Foster Altschul's new novel, Deus Ex Machina, a behind-the-scenes story of a fictional reality show. It's as brilliant and confidently written and funny and ambitious as Andrew's first novel, Lady Lazurus, which blew me away.

Before that was Lauren Grodstein's latest novel, A Friend of the Family. I felt a strong kinship between it and my own new book--both are set in northern New Jersey, both are about families coming apart, both portray deeply flawed fathers--only I liked Lauren's a lot better. She does marriage and family like nobody's business, and the pace and tension of the novel are just about perfect.

Before that was Bruce Machart's The Wake of Forgiveness, a literary work of the highest order that also manages to be, seemingly effortlessly, an epic historical family drama and one hell of a page turner. This book deserves prizes.

Next up is Brock Clarke's Exley (which, based on a sneak peek, I'm expecting to love as much as I loved An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England); Mark Childress's Georgia Bottoms (Mark always makes me laugh as he's breaking my heart); and Leslie Daniels's debut, Cleaning Nabokov's House, the opening pages of which have a voice so strong, I almost missed my train stop one night.
Learn more about the book and author at Will Allison's website.

The Page 69 Test: Long Drive Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Adam Mitzner

Adam Mitzner graduated from Brandeis University with a B.A. and M.A. in politics, and from there went directly on to law school at the University of Virginia.

After law school, he joined the litigation department of a large New York City law firm, and after a few more stops, is currently the head of the litigation department of Pavia & Harcourt LLP. Pavia & Harcourt recently received some fame because it is the law firm where Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor practiced before she was appointed to the bench.

His new novel is A Conflict of Interest.

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I just finished The King of Lies by John Hart, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I'm always interested in reading thrillers with complex characters, as that's what I'm trying to achieve in my writing.

I also recently read Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, which, while perhaps not worthy of the exceptional hype, I also found to be a compelling read.
Visit Adam Mitzner's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Conflict of Interest.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 27, 2011

Edward Humes

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Edward Humes is the author of Force of Nature: The Unlikely Story of Wal-Mart's Green Revolution, and ten other nonfiction books.

Recently I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I loved reading Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the story of a poor, dying black woman whose cancerous cells, taken without payment or consent, live on to power medical advances, scientific studies, and the fortunes of endless entrepreneurs and mega-corporations. Skloot’s book does what great narrative nonfiction must do: Surprise us, outrage us, move us and make us care about something we never even knew existed. (Did you know, for instance, that you have so little legal right to your own tissues that someone else can take them, patent them and sell them without your permission? I didn’t.) I was just absolutely engrossed.

Another recent read is a re-read: Three Cups of Tea, and not a happy one. As I imagine a good number of disillusioned readers have done, I found myself re-reading portions, looking to see if I had missed some obvious clue that the tale didn’t add up. But I can’t tell anymore, now that I’m aware of the allegations about the veracity of Greg Mortenson’s story and charitable organization. Parts of it, particularly his kidnap, now seem absurd, but is that just because the doubts have been sewn? The problem is, I believe the underlying message of the book is a good one, even if the messenger is imperfect. I hate the damage this has done to the already tattered reputation of journalism and nonfiction, and the good will it soured that should have been reserved for the good, inspiring and true stories that are out there.
Visit Edward Humes's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thomas Perry

Thomas Perry is the author of the Jane Whitefield series as well as the best-selling novels Strip, Runner, Fidelity, Silence, Nightlife, Death Benefits, and Pursuit. He won the Edgar Award for The Butcher's Boy, and Metzger's Dog was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

His new novel is The Informant.

About three weeks ago I asked Perry what he was reading. His reply:
Last Sunday I was on a panel at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books with Don Winslow. I hadn't seen him since another event last November, and I remembered how much I liked his work, from Cool Breeze on the Underground to The Power of the Dog.

I'm pretty busy much of the time, and while I was at the festival I remembered I hadn't gotten around to reading Savages. So I got him to sign a copy for me, and read it on the airplane the past two days on a short trip to San Francisco. I thought it was very, very good (no criticisms), and I was glad I read it now, because a movie is being made, and I like to read a book before my impressions are wrenched around by a big, loud movie with stars taking the place of characters.
Visit Thomas Perry's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: The Informant.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Peter Mountford

Peter Mountford's short fiction has appeared in Best New American Voices 2008, Conjunctions, The Normal School, Michigan Quarterly Review, Seattle Review, Phoebe, and Boston Review, where he won second place in the 2007 contest, judged by George Saunders.

His new novel is A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism.

At the start of May I asked Mountford what he was reading. His reply:
I’m reading student stories. A lot of student stories. 180 stories, to be precise. I am a WITS writer (Writers in the Schools, which is a wonderful program that’s in many cities around the country; it puts professional writers into schools to teach and mentor students in creative writing). In Seattle, it’s arranged by Seattle Arts and Lectures. So, every semester I spend about ten days teaching a fiction-writing class to 9th graders at Shorecrest High School. Toward the end of the semester all 180 students turn in a 5-page story. Hence the phone-book-thick stack of papers that I’m working my way-through. The stories are very good this time, and I’d like to take credit for that, although I’m 99% sure it’s their teachers’ doing.

Next up, I’m reading or re-reading books about or set in Sri Lanka, because that’s where the next novel I’m writing is set. So I’m re-reading Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje and A Disobedient Girl by Ru Freeman. I have a few other books lined up, and I’m going hunting for other texts. Looking forward to reading maybe ten or fifteen books set in Sri Lanka this summer while I start drafting. This is the funnest part of writing a novel, I’ve found, when you’re just reading a lot and writing whatever pops into your head. It’s very playful.

Otherwise, I’m keeping Alexi Zentner’s incredible debut Touch on the bedside table, although I already recently read it. It’s just a gorgeous book, set in the wilds of Canada, it’s got some magical realism but isn’t silly. It has basically nothing in common with what I’m doing, and maybe that’s why I love it so much. I just like to watch Zentner do his thing, page by page, line by line. As a writer, it’s a lot of fun to read excellently done fiction, of course, just to sort of sit there and admire the choices that a striking talent makes.
View a trailer for the novel, and learn more about the book and author at Peter Mountford's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Santa Montefiore

Santa Montefiore's novels include The Perfect Happiness and The Mermaid Garden.

A few weeks ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I took Simon Sebag-Montefiore’s book Jerusalem, The Biography to Mauritius on holiday with me. As I’m married to him, I promised I would read it – then rather wished I hadn’t because it’s very long, and if I didn’t like it I’d have to plough my way through it all because he’d know if I gave up after the first few pages. Well, my fears were totally blown away! I couldn’t put it down and declined his invitations to stroll up the beach. It’s a rollercoaster of stories about the people who conquered, ruled and visited Jerusalem. It’s bloody, violent, entertaining and enlightening. I’m sad that humanity have for centuries killed one another so barbarically in the name of God – and that the three main monotheistic religions have all been at each other’s throats when they’re all praying to the same God….tragic to put it mildly! Jerusalem might be the most religious city in the world, but it’s the least spiritual – there’s not a lot of love there….

I’m reading now a wonderfully dark and exotic novel called The Crimson Petal and The White by Michael Faber. My husband gave it to me after I watched the first episode of the TV adaptation and wanted to know more. I asked him so many questions he just tossed me the book and told me to find out for myself! I’m glad I took his advice. It’s beautifully written, like soft velvet! And a real page turner. The heroine is compelling and Victorian England fascinatingly murky and sinister…I’m enthralled.
Learn more about the book and author at Santa Montefiore's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Perfect Happiness.

The Page 69 Test: The Mermaid Garden.

My Book, The Movie: The Mermaid Garden.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 23, 2011

Patrick deWitt

Patrick deWitt was born on Vancouver Island in 1975. He has also lived in California, Washington, and Oregon, where he currently lives with his wife and son. He is the author of two novels, Ablutions and The Sisters Brothers.

Early this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I’m reading a few different things right now. First up is Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos. I’ve started working on a new novel that takes place partly in Manhattan, and while I’m familiar with the town, I’m not intimate with it, and I thought reading MT might knock something loose for me. It hasn’t yet, but I’m enjoying the read very much. It’s a hands on kind of story -- tactile and vividly descriptive.

Next is Dennis Cooper’s to-be released The Marbled Swarm. The narrator is the 22-year-old illegitimate son of French actor/director Pierre Clementi. Also he’s a billionaire. And a murderer. And a cannibal. And he’s really funny and charming. I’ve just got started on this one, but I’m loving it; the language is a knockout, and represents a big departure for Cooper in that it’s wordy and ornate, a bold shift from his more pared back earlier novels.

Last, I’m reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. I saw an old copy in the dollar bin of the local book store and brought it home to my six year old. This is his first non-picture book, and he was wary: “Where’s the pictures?” “You listen to the words and then the pictures come into your head.” “They do?” He was frustrated by this at the start, but we’ve fallen into a routine of reading two chapters a night, by the second night he was all in.
Visit Patrick deWitt's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Jane Lindskold

Jane Lindskold is the bestselling author of the Wolf series, which began with Through Wolf’s Eyes and concluded with Wolf’s Blood, as well as many other fantasy novels. Her latest novel is Five Odd Honors.

Some time ago I asked Lindskold what she was reading. Her reply:
This year for Christmas my sister-in-law gave me a lovely blank notebook crafted from handmade paper. I decided to use it to keep track of what I’m reading. What I discovered is that I read more than I even realized, so this is going to be a sample with an arbitrary focus on books by authors I know here in New Mexico.

I’m not much of a short fiction reader, but I can honestly say I really enjoyed the anthology Golden Reflections, edited by Joan Spicci Saberhagen and Robert E. Vardeman. Full disclosure: Not only was I a contributor to this anthology, I was also one of its “godparents.” Golden Reflections is based around one of my absolutely favorite SF novels, Fred Saberhagen’s alternate history Mask of the Sun.

That said, if you think about it, that doesn’t mean I’d automatically like the end result. After all, I have an emotional investment not only in Fred’s original material, but also in how the anthology itself came out. What I can say is that it came out very well indeed.

Golden Reflections is a unique form of anthology in that, in addition to the novellas inspired by Fred’s work, the entire text of Fred’s Mask of the Sun is included. Participating authors include Daniel Abraham, John Maddox Roberts, Dean Wesley Smith, Harry Turtledove, Walter Jon Williams, and David Weber. Settings are mostly in Central and North America, but Ptolemic Egypt gets a nod, too.

The one element each story has in common is the Mask, a strange probability-calculating device that enables the wearer to achieve his or her goals – if not always in the manner the user might have envisioned. In some stories, the characters know precisely what they’re up against. In others, they are completely unaware that they may be pawns in a far larger conflict. This variation kept the stories fresh and bright – a treat from end to end.

Another recent read was Pati Nagle’s Heart of the Exiled, the sequel to her 2009 release, The Betrayal. Both of these are books that, quite honestly, I would not have picked up if Pati wasn’t someone I know. The cover art and copy are just too Romance Novel for this reader. However, here’s a serious lesson in not judging a book by its cover. The Betrayal and Heart of the Exiled are good reads, far more adventure fantasy than romance as the cover might suggest.

They deal with the fictional aelven, a culture that owes a nod to Tolkien’s elves, but has plenty of unique elements of its own. Their rivals are the “alben,” a group that once belonged to the aelven, but were exiled after developing a mysterious craving for blood and inability to tolerate the light of day.

For years the alben have taken their exile with resignation, if not contentment. Now they have a strong leader in the beautiful and ruthless Shalar. Shalar plans to retake the alben’s ancestral lands – a task that will bring her and her people into battle with the aelven. The best hope of the aelven are a pair of young, untried lovers – Eliani and Turisan – who share the rare gift of mindspeech.

Both novels are complex and intelligently written, showing the influence of the author’s experience as a historical novelist – she has written four excellent Civil War novels as P.G. Nagle – as well as her love for her current material. I will definitely read the third novel when it comes out.

I also read Walter Jon Williams’s Deep State. I was a fan of Walter’s stuff long before I moved to New Mexico and we got to be buddies. In fact, many years ago, when I taught an SF course, my students and I did Walter’s Hardwired – a book I still think is among the best of the cyberpunks, far better than those of William Gibson who has great ideas but not much in the way of characters.

Deep State is a stand-alone sequel to 2008’s excellent This is Not a Game. Both of these books are centered around Dagmar Shaw, a former science fiction writer who now makes a very good living creating alternate reality games. These are multi-player real-time games that don’t stay in your computer. Clues may arrive in any form – phone calls from fictional characters in the middle of the night, e-mail messages, even real people asking you to meet them somewhere.

Aside: Walter Jon Williams has worked on alternate reality games. He, however, is not a former science fiction novelist, for which we all have reason to be grateful.

In This is Not a Game, Dagmar is mostly “off duty,” so to speak – thus the book’s title – but in Deep State she’s very much on the job. The problem is, somewhere along the line, she learns that her job isn’t just to design a game, it’s to foment revolution via social networking.

Sound familiar? You should have heard Walter curse when various revolutions of that sort occurred last year. Reality had caught up with near future science fiction. I think he worried too much. Deep State is about far more than that single idea. Besides, one of the creepiest elements hasn’t yet shown up in reality.

And I really hope it never does.

Dagmar’s adventures will continue in The Fourth Wall, which is already on my reading list. I will note, however, that I thought the original title – Mister Babyhead – was much more interesting. In fact, that’s the biggest problem I can see about the Dagmar novels. Walter has a real sense for the weird and peculiar. Packaging these novels with “thriller” style covers and the sub-heading “A Novel of Greed, Betrayal, and Social Networking” sells them short.
Visit Jane Lindskold's website and blog.

Writers Read: Jane Lindskold (February 2009).

The Page 69 Test: Thirteen Orphans.

The Page 69 Test: Five Odd Honors.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 20, 2011

Vanessa Veselka

Vanessa Veselka is a writer and musician living in Portland, Oregon. She has been, at various times, a teenage runaway, a sex-worker, a union organizer, a student of paleontology, an expatriate, an independent record label owner, a train-hopper, a waitress, and a mother. Her work has appeared in Bust, Bitch, Maxmum Rock ’n’ Roll, Yeti Magazine and Tin House.

Veselka's new novel is Zazen.

Recently I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
When I read I don’t read for escape or tonal affect, I read for transformation. This means my reading life is filled with disappointment and exhilaration. I’m drawn equally to dark novels, especially those written in the shadow of WWI, and to flighty forms of mysticism, myth, and fringe health books. It is always my intention to make peace with the last 75 years of literature because there are so many great books contained within it, but the lure of profound emotional change always wins, wherever it is.

Heart of a Dog - Bulgakov

How can you knock a novel narrated by a misanthropic dog? I think a lot of modern lit doesn’t work for me because it tentatively approaches a metaphor but never pushes past it. Written in 1925 during the rise of Stalin, Bulgakov has a starving dog, lured by food, turned into a human being through brutal surgery as a social experiment. So, duh, it’s a metaphor for the vanguard mentality behind the dictatorship of the proletariat. But it just starts there. It’s funny as hell and the voice touches the world it lives in at all points. You care more about the dog than what he “means.”

Perfect Health - Chopra

Writers tend to publicize their more elite tastes, so I thought I’d throw in something slightly embarrassing. I’m not a Deepak Chopra fan in general (or at least not a fan of whatever he has spawned) but this book is pretty great. I look at religious and cultural mysticism as languages. His description of Ayurveda in here is a wonderful and solid translation that steers clear of aroma and color therapy and all the spa-noise stuff that makes me crazy. And yet I prefer the original cover with the creepy picture of him on the front to remind me that I’m a flake at heart.
Visit Vanessa Veselka's blog.

My Book, The Movie: Zazen.

The Page 69 Test: Zazen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Michael Willrich

Michael Willrich is the author of City of Courts, which won the John H. Dunning Prize awarded by the American Historical Association for the best book on any aspect of U.S. history, and the William Nelson Cromwell Prize awarded by the American Society for Legal History. Currently an associate professor of history at Brandeis University, he worked for several years as a journalist in Washington, D.C., writing for The Washington Monthly, City Paper, The New Republic, and other magazines.

His new book is Pox: An American History.

A few weeks ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I recently read Michael Klarman's marvelous book, Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Movement. This is an abridged and very accessibly written version of Klarman's Bancroft Prize-winning "door stopper" of a book on the same subject (From Jim Crow to Civil Rights). Klarman is a Harvard Law professor, but he writes this book with a journalistic flair. In the Brown book, Klarman examines one of the best known chapters in modern U.S. history and manages to tell a story that is not only new but immensely revealing about our society, our political system, and our Constitution. I was most struck by the vivid stories of the powerful political backlash that the Supreme Court's decision to desegregate the public schools caused across the American south. That backlash -- and the images of violence broadcast to the nation from places like Little Rock, Birmingham, and Selma -- helped to create broad public support across the nation for the cause of civil rights, something no Supreme Court decision, by itself, could have ever done. It's a great story, very well told.
Learn more about Pox: An American History at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Isaac Marion

Isaac Marion was born in north-western Washington in 1981 and has lived in and around Seattle his whole life, working a variety of strange jobs like delivering deathbeds to hospice patients and supervising parental visits for foster-kids. He is not married, has no children, and did not go to college or win any prizes. Warm Bodies is his first novel.

Not so long ago I asked Marion what he was reading. His reply:
With all the literary output being demanded from me lately--interviews, guest blogs, countless revisions and proofreadings of Warm Bodies--it's been a struggle to keep the input flowing, but luckily I've had a string of great books cross my path during this time, which makes it a lot easier. Tackling something really arduous while in the middle of publishing and promoting a novel is a bad idea; you run the risk of permanently burning out your literary receptors.

The last book I finished was Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Six different storylines, each in a different time period, with different characters and dramatically different writing styles, and a faintly visible theme connecting them all. It starts in the Colonial era, moves to the early 19th Century, then the '70s, then modern times, then a distant dystopian future, which leads to a post-apocalyptic primitive society. All these stories cut off abruptly in the middle of their action, then the book doubles back on itself and revisits all these different worlds in reverse, wrapping up all their conflicts until the first story's Colonial explorer somehow ties everything together in the last few pages. It's quite a reading experience, and a brilliant way of communicating the book's message--that the actions of each individual person are what form the world as we know it, no matter how small those actions are or how many centuries separate them.

Before that, I read Nick Harkaway's The Gone-Away World, because he wrote a great review to put on Warm Bodies' jacket, and I'm making it a point to read all the authors who blurbed my book. Reading Harkaway's book and knowing that the author lent his name to mine was a humbling experience, because I think his book is so much more ambitious and accomplished than mine. I can barely begin to describe it because it's such a lunatic kaleidoscope of images and themes. The best I can do is: "An ingenious, complex, witty sci-fi Kung Fu epic/postapocalyptic corporate satire."

Last but definitely not least was Ron Currie Jr's Everything Matters! (the exclamation mark is his) which was the most deeply moving book I've read in years. It's about a guy who's born with the knowledge of exactly when and how the world will end--it will be during his mid-thirties--and how he copes with the crushing emotional and philosophical weight of that knowledge. The faintly sci-fi premise fuels an incredibly profound and heartbreaking story about ordinary people trying to dig up meaning in an apparently meaningless existence. Ron Currie Jr. has the boulder balls to come right out and ask the ultimate question: "What's the meaning of life?" and the astounding thing is that he actually seems to come up with an answer. (And it's not "42.") This is the rare book that I can honestly say changed my life.
Visit Isaac Marion's website and the Warm Bodies Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Warm Bodies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

David W. Stowe

David W. Stowe is professor of English and religious studies at Michigan State University.

His new book is No Sympathy for the Devil: Christian Pop Music and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism.

Late last month I asked Stowe what he was reading. His reply:
Currently I’m reading two books by Lansing-area writers. I don’t often read local authors (apart from verbiage generated at my workplace) let alone two simultaneously. The first, In God’s Shadow, is by Douglas Gershon Moffat, an author I met for the first time at his book signing in Lansing. The novel is a fictional retelling of the Exodus story from the point-of-view of a 12-year-old named B’tzalel and his parents, two younger sisters, and grandparents. The men all work in one of Pharaoh’s metalworking shops. The family finds itself hurriedly uprooting from its village in Egypt as the famous Biblical plagues wreak havoc around them. I’m at the point where the Canaanites have crossed the Sea of Reeds and are entering the desert to the East. Eventually B’tzalel is going to play a pivotal role in the building of the Tabernacle. This book is written for younger readers, but so were the Harry Potter books. In God’s Shadow is well crafted, loaded with plausible detail about daily life some three millennia ago. The dialogue is notably crisp and witty, and Gershom captures well the voices and mundane frictions that run through B’tzalel’s family. The animals’ characters, especially the cat, are nicely developed as well.

The other book, Radicals in the Their Own Time, is by my good friend Michael Lawrence, who teaches at the MSU law school. The book is a wide-ranging historical meditation on American liberty in the form of a group biography of five radicals: Roger Williams, Tom Paine, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Vine Deloria. What connects these five figures, according to Lawrence, is their courageous dedication to the free expression of unpopular ideas in the face of religious orthodoxy and state power. Quoting liberally from their writings, Lawrence succeeds in creating good biographical narratives, in some cases reconstructing scenes and dialogues on the basis of limited evidence. As someone whose professional writing centers on articles for law journals and op-ed pages, Mike has done a remarkable job on the larger canvass of a book-length history of ideas. Reading the book makes me feel a bit like a proud godfather. A few short years ago we began getting together for beers to talk over our respective book aspirations: the ingredients of a successful proposal, whether to use an agent, what qualities might help our books “cross over.” This always surprises me about book writing; it feels like such an endless task, and it is, but then one day it’s suddenly over.
Learn more about David Stowe's No Sympathy for the Devil at the the University of North Carolina Press website, and visit the official No Sympathy for the Devil Facebook page.

The Page 99 Test: No Sympathy for the Devil.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 16, 2011

Kate Feiffer

Kate Feiffer is the author of several children’s books, including Double Pink, illustrated by Bruce Ingman; President Pennybaker and My Mom Is Trying to Ruin My Life, both illustrated by Diane Goode; The Problem with Puddles, illustrated by Tricia Tusa; and Henry the Dog with No Tail, illustrated by her dad, Jules Feiffer.

Her new book, also a collaboration with her father, is My Side of the Car.

Recently I asked Feiffer what she was reading. Her reply:
On a recent trip to Vermont, I bought The Lady Matador’s Hotel by Cristina Garcia because I loved the cover. The story certainly looked like something I would enjoy, but honestly I would have bought the book for the cover alone. I kept it on my bookshelf, facing out so I could enjoy the cover for a few weeks, before I decided to read it. It only stayed off the shelf for a day or two. The book is a beautifully written page-turner. It is powerful and lush, full of pain, sorrow, politics and passion. Garcia has woven together six seemingly discrete stories focused on fascinating characters whose lives intersect at a luxury hotel during a week celebrating the battle of the Lady Matadors. Writing about it makes me want to read it again. Off the shelf it comes.

I tend to go back and forth between reading novels for adults with books that are “supposed to be” for children. I highlight supposed to be because I often find the books geared toward young adults and tweens as engaging as most of the adult literature I read, which makes me wonder why they are supposed to be for children and not all of us. I recently got an advance copy of a first novel by John Corey Whaley titled Where Things Come Back, which I loved. It is a coming of age novel that somehow manages to avoid the clich├ęs. It’s got wacky neighbors, sociopaths, first loves, and a teenage, oh dear, I don’t know if I’d be giving it away by mentioning it, so I won’t.

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction books, but after catching a documentary about Dolly Madison recently, I picked up Carl Sferrazza’s First Ladies. It’s a lengthy book and I’m reading it in bits and spurts. The women who have held this quasi-public role have certainly been a colorful bunch. I’m also reading Alexandra Styron’s memoir of her father, Reading My Father. I grew up with Al Styron and my lasting image of her is as a child whose legs and arms seemed to be perennially covered with bug bites. This much talked about memoir is provoking heated conversations, at least on Martha’s Vineyard where I live and the Styron’s have been coming for decades, for good reasons – there’s a lot of territory, emotional and literary, that Al, in my opinion, quite skillfully covers.

Okay, one last book, and that’s a picture book by the title of Me, Frida, written by Amy Novesky and, oh so lushly, illustrated by David Diaz. It is the story of Frida Kahlo’s move with her husband, Diego Rivera to San Francisco. Rivera, already a famous muralist is the toast of the town. Khalo, not yet discovered as a painter, feels like his little wife until she finds her own voice. Actually, this book and Alexandra Styron’s book both deal with some similar themes.
Watch the video trailer for My Side of the Car.

Visit Kate Feiffer's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Danila Botha

Danila Botha was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and moved to Toronto, Canada in her teens. She attended high school there, and then studied Creative Writing at York University, and at Humber College for Writers. She volunteered with Na-me-res and Ve’ahavta, organizations benefiting the homeless, which inspired many of the stories in Got No Secrets, her first book. It was published by Tightrope Books in Canada, and Modjaji Books in South Africa in May 2010. Botha now lives in Halifax, NS where she is finishing her second book, a novel, called Too Much on the Inside.

A couple of weeks ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I read a lot- sometimes up to two books a week, at least when I’m not writing every day. When I’m writing intensely, I find it harder to concentrate, so it might be one book over two weeks. I love reading. I read mostly literary fiction, but I also read some creative non- fiction (both for pleasure and research) and I love reading poetry. These are some books that I’ve loved that I’ve read recently:

The Raw Shark Texts- Steven Hall

The first time I went out on a date with my boyfriend, he brought me this book. Knowing that I love to read, and that I read a lot, he was excited to bring me something that I’d never heard of. The plot- a man who repeatedly loses all sense of his memory, his identity, and his relationships with it, is, believe it or not, less exciting than the incredibly compelling descriptions: “pushing on the walls, rattling the handles. Testing myself and passing- not the slightest of bumps registered in the world. No slight widening of eyes, no slight reddening of the cheeks, slight twitch of the mouth, slight pull of the scalp, not a single twist of blood in the water, nothing at all. Further than I can remember, I said, and nobody felt the pothole we’d travelled over.” This poetic gem is my favourite: “I imagined six billion people, slowly pin wheeling through space, all those little stars in the wake of an almost empty planet. A vapour trail full of ghosts.” Perfectly striking and beautiful; just like the guy who gave it to me.

The Heroin Diaries: a year in the shattered life of a rock star- Nikki Sixx , with Ian Gitting

I started reading this following an intense four months of teaching high school, expecting it to be a very quick read. This book traces the life of Motley Crue rocker Nikki Sixx from 1986-1987. In some ways, it was exactly what I expected: it was full of debauchery and hedonism, to an often shocking yet simultaneously delicious degree. (If you don’t believe me, check out the entries about his heroin delusions that include him believing that his house was being taken over by Mexican midgets.) It’s also surprisingly honest, sad and full of insights into his state of being. I read it slowly, and found that I couldn’t put it down. Like Jenna Jameson in her autobiography, Sixx comes across as hyper focused on his goals, out of control with his addictions, and woefully out of touch with his emotions and real desires. He always comes across as being flawed, is often unlikeable, but is always unapologetically himself- which may be his bravest move of all.

Liar- Lynn Crosbie

An entire novel written in poetic form, Crosbie’s Liar beautifully chronicles the dissolution of a romantic partnership. Crosbie, a well-established and respected poet in Canada, is precise enough with her word choices and frank enough with her emotional content to be devastating. Of her former lover, she writes: “I have always distrusted beauty, beauty without a rectifying deformity, raw skin, a limp, a fang, insufferable accessories… these lapses intimate love. Someone like you, I must have known, is not afraid of scrutiny. Your flaws are unseen and indecipherable. The mirror, it’s polished approbation, is enough.” The ability to be so literary, yet so emotionally direct and clear is an incredible feat. It broke my heart (I sobbed through certain sections of it) and it’ll break yours- in the best possible way.

Precordial Thump- Zoe Whittall

Inspired in part by Lynn Crosbie’s Liar, this collection of poetry is as immediate as if Whittall were a close friend sharing the horrifying details of serious romantic deception. In the poem "Dear Liary," she writes: “I press my back against the window, before noting that it is crawling with tiny insects. I cradle a mass killing field between shoulder blades and text: I hate you…lies exist only if someone is present to believe them… [I] realize only later the absence of taste, the things you get used to not having, the sensory organs.” She is also at moments, incredibly romantic. In fact, this collection has one of my favourite lines of all time in it, a line so authentically passionate and giddy, I would have killed to have written it myself: “You are a blunt force, a pounding in my blood. I picture us as only sparks now. Two tiny, hot beats.” Do yourself a favour, and buy all her books: her poetry and her fiction. I suspect she’ll inspire you too.

Jewels and Other Stories- Dawn Promislow

Set in Apartheid era South Africa in the 1970’s, Promislow candidly addresses the realities and extreme discomforts of the time- from growing up a white observer in a racist environment to being an African domestic worker or poorly educated child at the time who watched the system and social norms change. Told with extreme sensitivity and empathy, Promislow is able to authentically enter the heads of many, and to simultaneously tell multiple stories. My favourite stories are "Pool," "Billy" and "Just a Job." Exceptionally economical with language, she is at times able to tell an entire story that subtly addresses racism and classism in a mere four pages. Check this out- this skilled literary adaptation is the kind of multiple perspectives history that they should be teaching in schools.

Bang Crunch- Neil Smith

These nine stories are all wildly original, funny and in different ways, touching. In my favourite story, "Green Fluorescent Protein," a teenage boy called Max realizes he’s falling in love with his best friend Rene-Louis Robidoux, who he called Ruby Doo, a reference to the stoner cartoon Scooby Doo. Ruby Doo in turn calls him Hippie. Max has had a rough year; his father died, and his mother had him cremated and placed in a curling stone, which doubles as a doorstop. His mother, a recovering alcoholic, is a doctor whose job forced them to relocate in Max’s final year of high school. Max breaks up with his girlfriend Madison, and moves to a new city where he is befriended by Ruby Doo. Their developing feelings are seamless and natural enough to read as incredibly romantic. Max describes a day that he and Ruby Doo spend walking around the city as having “been one of those perfect days that have you believing that you are something special”. When the fullness of his feelings dawns on him after a confrontation and some time to reflect on it, Max realizes that what they have is: “very weird, and really scary. And kind of beautiful in an expected kind of way.” Just like this collection.
Visit Danila Botha's blog and learn more about her book Got No Secrets,.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Howard Means

Howard Means was Senior Writer for Washingtonian magazine from 1977-1982 and Senior Editor from 1989-2000. In between, he was Critic at Large and an editorial board member for the Orlando Sentinel and an op-ed columnist for King Features Syndicate. At the Washingtonian, he won three William Allen White Medals for feature writing.

His books include the first biography of Colin Powell, a selection of the History Book Club; Money & Power: The History of Business, companion piece to the CNBC documentary of the same name; a novel, CSA, optioned for an ABC mini-series; The Banana Sculptor, the Purple Lady, and the All-Night Swimmer, studies in eccentricity, co-authored with Susan Sheehan; and most recently, The Avenger Takes His Place: Andrew Johnson and the 45 Days That Changed the Nation.

Means's new book is Johnny Appleseed: The Man, the Myth, the American Story.

Late last month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Right now, I’m about 50 pages from the end of Sebastian Junger’s War. Got to say that I tackled the book without a lot of enthusiasm. I’m reading it for a book club and figured it was one more embedded-journalist, controlled-access tale. But I’ve been pretty much blown away by it – great detail, great empathy, and the added poignancy of knowing that Tim Hetherington, Junger’s colleague on this project (they were simultaneously shooting the documentary Restrepo), was recently killed while filming yet another war, this one in Libya.

Before War, John Casey’s wonderful and eloquent novel, Compass Rose, set on the Rhode Island coast, the sequel (years later) to the magnificent Spartina. And just before that, Aravind Adiga’s novel The White Tiger, winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize, an absolutely riveting study of obsession and the dark side of the “New India.”
Visit Howard Means's website.

The Page 99 Test: Johnny Appleseed.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 13, 2011

David Hewson

David Hewson is the author of the Nic Costa series of novels set primarily in contemporary Rome. A former journalist with the London Times and Sunday Times, his work has been translated into many languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Thai ... and Italian.

The latest novel in the series is The Fallen Angel.

Not so long ago I asked Hewson what he was reading. His reply:
I probably read more non-fiction than fiction these days, often works that are connected with something I'm writing. I'm currently deeply into a series of books about Florence, the current one being Scourge and Fire by Lauro Martines. This is about an extraordinary monk from Ferrara, Girolamo Savonarola, who rose to become a kind of ruler in Florence at the end of the fifteenth century, largely through his amazing, apocalyptic preaching skills. Savonarola was responsible for a clean-up of Florence's louche reputation -- or at least an attempted clean-up. The original bonfire of the vanities, in which precious objects were burned, was his idea. Supposedly Botticelli threw some of his own works into that fire. A few years later Savonarola was hanged and burned on the same spot as his vanities when the political wind, and the Borgio pope in particular, blew against him. He's often portrayed as a religious fanatic. Martines takes a broader view at a man who was, in some ways, a forerunner of Luther, trying to demand an end to the corruption of the Catholic Church.

The book (or more accurately books -- this will take more than one to explore) I'm planning are about power, corruption and the functioning of the state, as well as a few crimes along the way. This is a book that gives me a lot to think about on all those subjects.
Learn more about the author and his work at David Hewson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Seventh Sacrament.

The Page 99 Test: The Garden of Evil.

My Book, The Movie: Dante's Numbers.

The Page 69 Test: City of Fear.

The Page 69 Test: The Fallen Angel.

--Marshal Zeringue