Thursday, June 30, 2011

Kamala Nair

Kamala Nair was born in London and grew up in the United States. A graduate of Wellesley College, she studied literature at Oxford University and received an M.Phil in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin in 2005.

Her debut novel, The Girl in the Garden, is now out from Grand Central Publishing.

Earlier this month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto

I first fell in love with Banana Yoshimoto’s writing when I read Kitchen and Asleep in college. Her stories had a hypnotic effect on me. I was gripped by overwhelming hunger when I read Kitchen, and nothing I consumed could compare to the foods I was reading about on the page. The day I read Asleep, I found myself neglecting meals and schoolwork, drifting in a dream-like state between reading and sleeping. It was a wonderful surprise when I walked into a bookstore the other day and saw a new work by Yoshimoto called The Lake. I had only planned on stopping in for a quick browse, but I ended up sitting in the café for an hour with a cup of tea, reading. I bought the book and continued reading at home. The Lake is a dark tale about the mysterious bond between two emotionally paralyzed young people. I was entranced not only by the way their back-stories and their strange love unfolds, but by the sincerity of Yoshimoto’s prose. I brought the book with me on the subway as I was heading to a dinner, and stood on a street corner straining to read the last pages as the sun set. I was late to dinner, but couldn’t bear to put the book down until I had finished.

Saints & Sinners by Edna O’Brien

Edna O’Brien has also been a favorite of mine since college, when a professor recommended her short story “A Scandalous Woman.” The final line of the story haunted me for weeks: “I thought that ours indeed was a land of shame, a land of murder, a land of strange, throttled, sacrificial women.” I recently attended a reading of O’Brien’s latest collection of short stories in New York, and am now more than halfway through the book. The stories, largely set in Ireland, deal with her oft-explored themes of longing and loneliness, with a diverse cast of characters, from a prudish B&B proprietress to a scorned wife looking for affirmation from a fortune-teller. I have been reading it slowly, savoring each story, lyrical and sensual, and thinking about it for days before moving onto the next. I think I might be dragging out the reading process as much as possible because the thought of finishing the last story and not having anything new by O’Brien left to read makes me sad.
Visit Kamala Nair's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Girl in the Garden.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lee Martin

Lee Martin is the author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Bright Forever; a novel, Quakertown; a story collection, The Least You Need to Know; and two memoirs, From Our House and Turning Bones. He has won a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, a Lawrence Foundation Award, and the Glenna Luschei Prize. He lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he directs the creative writing program at The Ohio State University.

His new novel is Break the Skin.

Earlier this month I asked Martin what he was reading. His reply:
I recently read Stewart O’Nan’s novel, Emily, Alone, because I’m a big fan of Stewart’s work, and I wanted to have a look at his latest. I knew going in that this was a story about aging, as seen through the consciousness of its main character, eighty-year-old Emily Maxwell. Before I even opened the book, I felt heartened by the fact that Stewart had bravely taken on subject matter that was rife with challenges. How does one successfully tell the story of a woman who is toward the end of her life? How does one tell that story without falling into cliché and sentimentality? Well, if you’re a novelist as gifted as Stewart so clearly is, you pull it all off by being a close observer of the particulars of your character’s world. In that way, Emily’s story becomes only hers, notable for all its idiosyncrasies, and at the same time the story of all of us. Stewart, in his vibrant, humorous, and poignant portrait of Emily, reminds us that the lived life, no matter of how many advanced years, is a life made up of specific choices, circumstances, consequences, joys, hopes, fears, regrets, and all the other things that make us human. Reading this book also reminded me of how the small details of a life always add up to something significant in the hands of an expert novelist. In Emily, Alone, that “something” is the resonance of the human spirit insisting on maintaining hope even toward the end of a life when so much is so precious because time is so short. To my way of thinking, there aren’t enough novels these days that feature older characters—they’re often forgotten in literature as they are in real life—and I’m so very glad that Stewart took on Emily Maxwell and treated her with so much love, candor, and respect. She’s a character who will stay with me a very long time, the way family members now gone stay in my heart.
Visit Lee Martin's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Break the Skin.

My Book, The Movie: Break the Skin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Christine Sismondo

Christine Sismondo is a writer and lecturer in Humanities at York University in Toronto. She has written numerous articles about film, literature, drinking, and vice, as well as the book Mondo Cocktail, a narrative history of cocktails.

Her new book is America Walks into a Bar: A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops.

Her reply to my recent query about what she was reading:
Like everyone else, I’m sure, I’ve got this list of big books I’ve never read but feel I should have. This year, aside from a couple of new releases like My Korean Deli and Blood, Bones and Butter (both of which I’d recommend, the latter ever so slightly more), I decided to finally tackle Silent Spring, The Monk and The Fountainhead.

What I discovered, aside from Rachel Carson’s incredible eloquence, was how effective the rhetoric of personifying nature could be. I now understand exactly why Silent Spring re-shaped our legislation and the way we think about the environment.

I didn’t know what to expect from The Monk but was pleased to find that, while a little long, it was every bit the salacious page-turner I was told to expect. And, since I taught it for a Gothic Horror class, I got to really delve into the anti-Catholicism, something that interests me, in that it intersects with bars in America. In the 19th century, the most feared and vilified bars were those frequented by recent Irish and German immigrants, many of whom were Catholic. I’m pleased to say The Monk can be read as a tract against hypocrisy in religions of all denominations.

The most curious of the three, however, was The Fountainhead. I read it (or most of it, at least) because I laughed when somebody told me that book was important to him. Then I realized he wasn’t joking and that, I had dismissed Ayn Rand based solely on other people’s opinions. Surprisingly, I didn’t detect the homophobia I was expecting to be offended by and found the rape scene to be less shocking than its critics made it out to be. And I’m not one of those people who’ll tell you that I don’t really think of myself as a feminist. I’m a feminist – through and through. I wasn’t offended politically, either and, it seems to me, there are merits in aspects of both the philosophies she espouses and those she critiques. In the end, I lost patience with the repetition and obviousness of the whole thing.

What was fascinating, however, were the conversations sparked when people saw what I was reading. Many asked if it was my “first time,” then as much as congratulated me on my choice to change my life and join the club. Some told me, enthusiastically, how important a book it was to them. Which all gave me an idea for a new project: I think I might carry Rand around with me everywhere for a year or two and see where it leads me. Best conversation starter ever.
Visit Christine Sismondo's blog, and learn more about America Walks into a Bar at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: America Walks into a Bar.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 27, 2011

Reavis Z. Wortham

Reavis Z. Wortham recently retired from 35 years in public education, the past 25 in the Communications Department of the Garland ISD in Texas, and the final 4 as the Director. He is now a full-time freelance writer and novelist. His first book, Doreen’s 24 HR Eat Gas Now Café, was released in 1999.

His new novel is The Rock Hole, the first mystery in The Red River Series.

Earlier this month I asked the author what he was reading. His reply:
Chinaberry Sidewalks

I read to excess and usually have several books going at once. I just finished a wonderful surprise. The memoir, Chinaberry Sidewalks, by Rodney Crowell, was a book I wish I’d written. This talented musician has other skills besides writing and performing on stage. He is a true writer, and this uproarious book by a man that is within a year or two of my own age touch several chords, though luckily, I didn’t have the traumatic childhood he experienced.

It was a book I couldn’t put down, and my own writing suffered for a day and a half while I escaped to my bedroom to enjoy his descriptions of Texas thunderstorms, honky tonks, hurricanes, conversations so familiar I became homesick, and adventures reminiscent of Jean Shepherd’s In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash (the book from which Ralphie and his Red Ryder BB gun was made into A Christmas Story). I write humor, mostly outdoor humor about the guys I hunt with. I’m no stranger to laughing at Pat McManus, Donald Westlake, or Max Shulman, but Crowell actually made me laugh out loud, so much that in one scene on page 115 I had to pause and wipe away the tears. In that chapter, Crowell and his childhood cronies attack the abusive father of a friend with rocks, dirt clods, and BB guns. They might have won the battle, but when his mama hears about it and wears him out with a chinaberry switch and then when that breaks, with her hair brush, his dad’s one line response at the crest of the crisis is absolutely hilarious.

But it isn’t all upbeat and humorous. Crowell’s hardrinking father, who is more of a blustering dreamer than a dad, is mercurial in his moods. His Pentecostal mother who is subject to epileptic seizures fights her husband to a draw in nearly every chapter. Despite their rocky marriage, both love Crowell and he idolizes his parents.

Good dialogue is essential to keep me interested in a biography and Chinaberry Sidewalks is chock full of good old Texas sayings and 1950s life in general. Each region of the country has its own way of talking, spiced with geographical influences and by generations of hand-me-down phrases and intonations. Crowell has the rare ability, probably due to his music, to hear the rhythm of conversation and intonations, and to put down on paper feelings that come from everyday life.

I started this book, thinking that it would be about Crowell’s life as a singer and musician, but instead, was delighted to find it was a tribute to his parents and a time and place that created this musical genius and only mentions his musical career toward the end. Crowell is a master lyricist, and that talent comes through in individual lines and character descriptions. I can’t wait for his next book.

One Second After

On the far end of the spectrum, I’ve just completed a novel that came out in 2009. One Second After is a chilling story of one man’s struggle to save a small North Carolina town at the beginning of a war that sets America back to the Dark Ages. William R. Forstchen takes us on a horrific look at a potential apocalypse that could actually happen in our electronic world. The novel is set in a time after numerous Electromagnetic Pulse strikes over North America cut off all sources of electricity to our country, and specifically a North Carolina town, and the ensuing aftermath of sociological breakdown.

It is a chilling wake-up call that shows how fragile our society has become. Back in 1959, Pat Frank wrote Alas, Babylon, a landmark novel of what could happen to America in the event of a nuclear attack. In the novel, the public library becomes a center of society as people, deprived of other forms of entertainment, rediscover reading.

One Second After brings us into modern day America and our dependence on computers and electronics. When the pulse fries every piece of modern technology, the country soon faces the fact that we’re no longer about to survive on our own. Cars die, supplies aren’t delivered, food shortages very quickly turn housewives and businessmen into scavengers looking for enough scraps to life one more day.

Since reading Alas, Babylon in 1968, I’ve always wondered how our country and society as a whole would survive in the event of a nuclear attack. Now, a simple electronic pulse high over our country could drive us back to a world of settlements and fiefdoms. I’ve read dozens of apocalyptic novels, and seen many, many movies of the same genre, but this one held my attention all the way through and gave me an impression that I was re-reading Alas Babylon for the first time, only now, in a modern setting.

Forstchen’s characterizations are true and simple, making the people believable as the story unfolds. He hit the nail on the head in describing how we live from day to day, dependent on daily deliveries of food to our stores, water to our taps, and electricity to the components that we’ve come to depend upon. Refugees from large cities, organized gangs that strip the struggling towns bare of food and supplies, the harshness of medically fragile individuals who die quickly without their prescriptions, and a man’s determination to save his own family all bring the horror of war to these pages.

Forstchen did what I want all authors to do when I read their works. In One Second After, he made me think.
Visit Reavis Z. Wortham's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Rock Hole.

My Book, The Movie: The Rock Hole.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 26, 2011

David S. Reynolds

David S. Reynolds, a Distinguished Professor at the CUNY Graduate Center, is the author of Mightier than the Sword: Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Battle for America. His other books include Walt Whitman’s America, John Brown, Abolitionist, Beneath the American Renaissance, Faith in Fiction, and Waking Giant: America in the Age of Jackson. He is the winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Christian Gauss Award, the Ambassador Book Award, and finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Prize.

Recently I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
Having spent the last few years writing Mightier than the Sword, my book on the background and impact of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s antislavery best-seller Uncle Tom’s Cabin, I recently reread Hawthorne’s classic House of the Seven Gables, which was published in 1851, when Stowe was writing the first installments of her novel for a Washington newspaper. I read Hawthorne’s novel partly to prepare for a course I’m teaching next fall and partly to remind myself of what Hawthorne, one of America’s canonized male writers, was up to when Stowe was publishing her landmark novel.

What I found is that Hawthorne and Stowe drew on similar cultural materials but used them for very different ends. Each novel has a virtuous, angelic heroine (Eva in Uncle Tom, Phoebe Pyncheon in Seven Gables), a crabby old maid (Ophelia in Tom, Hepzibah in Gables), oppressed poor figures (Stowe’s Uncle Tom and other slaves, Hawthorne’s Maule family) opposed by corrupt, upper-crust ones (Stowe’s slaveholders, Hawthorne’s wealthy Jaffrey Pyncheon), and radical social reformers (the antislavery Northerners in Stowe, Holgrave in Hawthorne). Despite these similar ingredients, Stowe and Hawthorne produced novels that were light-years apart thematically. All the characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin dramatize a crystal-clear point: slavery and the institutions that support it are evil. Hawthorne’s characters, in contrast, reflect the brooding sense of evil, passed down from Puritanism, that afflicts the Pyncheon family and that illustrates Hawthorne’s ability, in Melville’s words, to say “No! in thunder” to the optimism of mainstream culture. Although Hawthorne’s novel is more nuanced and complex than Stowe’s, I couldn’t help being aggravated by Hawthorne’s indifference to slavery, which Stowe bravely challenged in her novel. Nor could I help thinking about that fact that in 1852, the year after House of the Seven Gables appeared, Hawthorne wrote a laudatory campaign biography of Democratic presidential candidate Franklin Pierce, a noted waffler on slavery. Small wonder that Stowe grew exasperated with Hawthorne, whose support of Pierce continued into the Civil War. Stowe blasted him for remaining faithful to “that arch traitor Pierce.”

Harriet Beecher Stowe merits praise and respect for directing all the materials of popular culture—the same materials that make up House of the Seven Gables—toward an all-out assault on slavery. By bringing attention to the horrors of slavery with unmatched power, she fueled the passions that led to the Civil War. As for House of the Seven Gables, I admire it as a literary work, but I regret it’s detachment from the most egregious injustice in American history.
Learn more about Mightier than the Sword at the publisher's website.

Read Reynolds's New York Times op-ed, "Rescuing the Real Uncle Tom."

The Page 99 Test: Mightier Than the Sword.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Sara Zarr

Sara Zarr is the acclaimed author of three novels for young adults: Story of a Girl (National Book Award Finalist), Sweethearts (Cybil Award Finalist), and Once Was Lost (a Kirkus Best Book of 2009, Utah Book Award winner, INSPY winner). Her short fiction and essays have appeared in Image, Hunger Mountain online, Response, and several anthologies. Zarr’s fourth young adult novel, How to Save a Life, will be published in October 2011.

A couple of weeks ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard. It's one of those books I put on my Kindle awhile ago, and I don't remember where I heard about it or what compelled me to buy. This happens a lot with e-readers. It's so easy to impulsively buy stuff the moment it catches your ear, and then later on when you finally return all your library books and get through the stack by your bed and you're on a plane, you turn on the Kindle and find all these books that you forgot about, and it's not like you can browse the flaps so you just dive in.

Here is the opening paragraph:

"We can't believe the house is on fire. It's so embarrassing first of all, and so dangerous second of all. Also, we're supposed to be in charge here, so there's a sense of somebody not doing their job."

On that same page we learn the narrator and her best friend are 14-year-old babysitters. (But this is not a young adult novel.)

The first page made me ask, Where have you been all my life, In Zanesville?

The crush has bloomed as I've read. I'm most impressed by and envious of Beard's ability to capture the kind of detail of everyday life--especially adolescent everyday life--that most of us overlook, not just in writing about life but in living it. It's a book that is simultaneously entertaining me and teaching me how to be a better writer.

I have since discovered that Beard is someone I should have heard about before now, and I'm looking forward to reading more of her work.
Visit Sara Zarr's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 24, 2011

Bruce Littlefield

Bruce Littlefield is a best-selling author, lifestyle expert, and an arbiter of American fun. He shares his passionate curiosity (and occasional mischievousness) with millions of people through his books and appearances on NBC’s Today Show and CBS’s Early Show.

His new book is The Bedtime Book for Dogs.

Earlier this month I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
When I’m writing, I don’t get to read as much as I’d like to. (And having done 10 books in the last 10 years, I’m writing a lot!) I know many people might find that crazy—a writer not reading—but early in my career I realized if I was reading while writing a book, I’d end up mimicking the voice of the writer I was reading. And the voice of Ernest Hemingway doesn’t work too well for garage sales, though I do buy his belief that "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

My favorite time to read is on vacation. A book on a plane is a great distraction and a book by a pool with a cocktail in hand is a great luxury. I love non-fiction.

The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs, in which the genius writer chronicles 12 months of living a strictly Biblical life, including all the facial hair that goes with it, is a recent fave. Jacobs’s devotion to his craft is to be admired (and his wife deserves a medal.) I grew up Southern Baptist in South Carolina, so his journey is both funny and insightful. As a writer, I was impressed by how he handled his subject with respect and by his dedication to the craft.

I read Chelsea Handler’s Chelsea, Chelsea Bang Bang in one sitting (and three cocktails) by the pool. I felt the cocktails were appropriate, having loved her Are you there Vodka? It’s me Chelsea. She’s funny. I’d say Vodka is the better read, but any woman willing to admit her discovery of self pleasure and her father’s insanity in one book gets my attention. I always appreciate any book that makes you laugh out loud.

While working on The Bedtime Book for Dogs, I did an extraordinary amount of research into dogs and dog behavior. I fell in love with Inside of a Dog by Columbia University psychology professor Alexandra Horowitz. After reading her brilliantly researched book, my dog Westminster and I spent some time with her doing some dog cognition testing. She’s genius and her book is enlightening. Because of her book, I now realize I’m not just taking Wes out for a walk, I’m taking him out for a smell.

And one book that I like to always have nearby is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. I read snippets of it whenever something has ruffled my feathers. Even though it was written in the 1930s, there are still gems of wisdom that apply today, like: “Never neglect a kindness. Look for ways to do or say something nice.” I like books that enlighten, make me laugh, and help make the world a better place.
Visit Bruce Littlefield's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty is the author of three novels: Three Wishes, The Last Anniversary and most recently, What Alice Forgot (Amy Einhorn/Putnam). What Alice Forgot is the story of a woman who loses ten years of her memory. She thinks she’s 29, pregnant with her first child and blissfully in love with her husband. In fact, she’s 39, the mother of three children, and she’s in the middle of a bitter divorce. Publishers Weekly described it as "moving, well-paced and thoroughly pleasurable," and Fox 2000 have optioned the film rights. Book clubs love it because it gives everyone a chance to reflect on how their lives have changed over the past decade and what their younger selves would think of the people they’ve become. Moriarty is also the author of the Nicola Berry series for children, and all her books have been published around the world. She lives in Sydney, Australia with her husband and two small children.

Recently I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m reading the manuscript for The Kingdom of Cello by my sister (well-known YA author, Jaclyn Moriarty). I’m the first person in the world to have the privilege of reading what is going to be an extraordinary new series.

I’m also re-reading Anne Tyler’s The Amateur Marriage, for probably the third time, because I just finished writing my new novel (The Hypnotist’s Love Story), and I only let myself read Anne Tyler when I’m not writing. Otherwise I catch myself imitating her style. It’s extremely embarrassing. All my characters start to sound like they come from Baltimore. I think it’s because her writing seems so deceptively simple. I think, I’m sure I could do that, if I just tried. Also, she uses italics perfectly and as a result, I start to use italics constantly. I adore all her books. There have been two occasions in my life when I’ve opened a gift and shouted with joy. The first was when I received the Barbie Campervan for my eighth birthday. The second was when I unexpectedly received a new Anne Tyler book for Christmas and I didn’t even know she had a new one out.
Visit Liane Moriarty's website.

The Page 69 Test: What Alice Forgot.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Rebecca Alpert

Rebecca Alpert is Associate Professor of Religion and Women's Studies at Temple University and the author of Whose Torah?: A Concise Guide to Progressive Judaism.

Her new book is Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball.

Not so long ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I read fiction on a Kindle while riding my stationary bicycle, and I am grateful to every author who transports my mind to other worlds while my body labors in this one. The last book I read, Brooklyn: A Novel by Colm Toíbín, took me to Brooklyn in the 1950s, the place where I was born and raised, and made me see it in a way I’d never imagined. The protagonist Eilis Lacey and I walked the same streets and visited the same sights (Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn College, Ebbets Field, Coney Island) at the very same time. But Eilis’s Brooklyn was vastly different from my own, and I loved seeing the world of my childhood through the eyes of a young woman negotiating a new life for herself far away from her family and home in Ireland.

While I mostly reserve my fiction reading time for the bicycle routine, I sat still to devour the novel Lorene Cary just published, If Sons, Then Heirs. Having enjoyed being a “reader, listener, and adviser” on previous drafts, I relished being in this saga one more time, recalling the joys and trials of the Needham family as they made their way through the generations, and discovering the new details the author had added to their lives. Re-reading fiction can sometimes give more pleasure than the first time around, lovelier because you know and care about the characters even before they arrive on the page.

Writing about Jews and baseball has given me the chance to read sports books and call it work—such a guilty pleasure. I’ve read three incredible ones lately: Advancing the Ball: Race, Reformation and the Quest for Equal Coaching Opportunity in the NFL by Jeremi Duru; Raceball: How the Major Leagues Colonized the Black and Latin Game by Rob Ruck, and Cuban Star: How One Negro-League Owner Changed the Face of Baseball, a biography of Alex Pompez by Adrian Burgos, Jr. Duru, Burgos, and Ruck are academics who write with style and passion at the troubled intersection of race, ethnicity, and sport. Their works make a major contribution to our growing understanding of sports as a lens through which to view social realities and foster social change.

Finally to work, really: I am translating a course I teach, “Jews and Sports,” from an “on site” to an “online” environment. The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips by Judith V. Boettcher and Rita-Marie Conrad has been a source of wit and wisdom as I traverse that new minefield. And I am about to pick up and re-read a classic: Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation, edited by Cain Hope Felder, as I begin research for a conference paper on rabbinic interpretations of the biblical “curse of Ham.” Summer reading is not, after all, only about play.
Learn more about Out of Left Field at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Out of Left Field.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Katie Alender

Katie Alender is the author of the "Bad Girls Don't Die" series, a chilling lineup of horror novels for teens from Disney-Hyperion Books.

The first two books are Bad Girls Don't Die and From Bad to Cursed.

Early this month I asked Alender what she was reading. Her reply:
The question "What is Katie Alender reading?" could be combined with the question "How is Katie Alender reading?" I read across a variety of formats, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

My current tree-book of choice is Chime by Franny Billingsley. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I'm really enjoying the sumptuousness of the language. Also, the town in which it's set has the same name as the small town in Ohio where I have a ton of family and lots of wonderful memories. So I thought that was pretty cool.

One of my big problems is that I have a ton of books and relatively little time to read lately. Also, since I became a stay-at-home author, my attention span has deteriorated to squirrel-like proportions. (Although, thinking about it, squirrels are pretty good at focusing on the task at hand--maybe that's an unfair comparison. Sorry, squirrels.) One thing I love to do is sit down for breakfast or lunch with Bradbury Stories, a collection of 100 of Ray Bradbury's short stories. I can usually finish one in a single sitting, and then I get to write that day's date next to each story's title, which I find weirdly satisfying.

My most frequently-opened e-book is Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! Strikes Back. I find that e-books are a great format for writing-oriented books, because I can access them on my iPad or on a computer using the desktop e-reader software. If I find myself stuck on a story point, I'll often review my favorite writing books to see if I can unstick myself. Another one I've been loving is Screenwriting Tricks for Authors by Alexandra Sokoloff. (Some people say they need the tactile element of a "real" book, but since I use a stylus with my iPad, I have my own unique tactile experience when I swipe the page. It's very enjoyable!)

The audiobook I'm listening to lately is Daniel Deronda by George Eliot. Classical British Lit is marvelous read aloud! When I'm cleaning, sewing, folding laundry, or walking the dog, I love to have an audiobook playing. It's actually the perfect diversion for me when I'm cleaning, because it keeps me from seeing a magazine and sort of slithering away from my work to sit down and read. Not to mention that listening to books helps me appreciate the language and "hear" the story in a different light. And the interesting thing is that if I'm quilting and listening to a book, the quilt and book are forever linked in my brain! I can tell you exactly which quilt I was working on when I listened to Stephen King's The Cell three years ago (it was the purple quilt with flowers). And I remember washing dishes and listening to Predictably Irrational.
Visit Katie Alender's website, blog, and Facebook page.

Read--Coffee with a canine: Katie Alender & Winston.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 20, 2011

Clare O'Donohue

Clare O'Donohue worked on the HGTV show, Simply Quilts for four seasons, eventually becoming the Supervising Producer, and has written and produced for a lot of other shows as well. In the last twelve years, she worked on shows for The History Channel, truTV, Food Network, A&E, Discovery, TLC, and others.

In 2008 she published The Lover’s Knot, the first in the Someday Quilts series, and followed the debut with A Drunkard’s Path and The Double Cross. The Devil’s Puzzle, the fourth novel in the series, arrives in the fall of 2011.

O'Donohue's new novel is Missing Persons.

A few weeks ago I asked her what she reading. Her reply:
I have a book deadline so reading has taken a back seat recently, and the pile is growing larger and larger. I'm waiting for that elusive free time to catch up on all the wonderful books I've collected this year. Having said that, I still have plane trips and doctor's appointments, so I've fit in a couple of books I've really enjoyed. I just finished Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test, which was surprisingly light and funny given the subject matter. It did make me a little nervous to read that while so many people can agree that individuals incapable of empathy do exist, very few people seem able to correctly identify them. Of course I gave myself the psychopath test and failed (thankfully) but now I'm on the lookout for psychopaths where ever I go.

I also finished Steve Martin's An Object of Beauty, which I loved. I collect art (though at a significantly lower price point than the characters in the book) and I think Martin did an amazing job of showing the perplexing allure of the art world and the sad fates of some who get caught in it. There's just enough absurd humor to recognize the hand of Steve Martin but it's a melancholy story and I got so caught up in it on a trip from San Diego to New York that I was disappointed when the captain announced our descent into JFK.

I just cracked open Louise Penny's Still Life. I don't mind that it might take me a while to finish because I always enjoy lingering in the world Penny creates, and book deadline or not I'm going to find the time to read it.
Visit Clare O'Donohue's website and blog.

Read about the crime novel O'Donohue would most like to have written.

The Page 69 Test: Missing Persons.

My Book, The Movie: Missing Persons.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Man Martin

Man Martin is a writer, teacher, and founding member of the Perambulators living in Atlanta, Georgia. His debut novel, Days of the Endless Corvette, made him Georgia Author of the Year in 2008.

His new novel is Paradise Dogs.

Recently I asked Martin what he was reading. His reply:
Right now I’m reading Lauren Groff’s magical-realist novel, The Monsters of Templeton. Told from multiple points of view and across hundreds of years of history incorporating photos as well as text, it reminds me of Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and also “The Most Beautiful Dead Giant in the World.” Nevertheless, this is a distinctly American book – yes, I know Colombia is also part of America, but you know what I mean – and Groff has a very personal and honest vision. It really is a story of archeology and paleontology; it opens with the discovery of a beautiful but dead sea-monster in Lake Glimmerglass but is chiefly concerned with the protagonist’s struggle to find her place in a small town in which she is simultaneously an outcast and integral part. You’d have to be from a small town yourself to know how that’s possible.

Before that I read Doug Crandell’s hilarious Peculiar Boars of Malloy; a story of the uproar when the biggest loser in the county acquires two gay boars. Hilarious, but not for the faint of heart. Crandell has an eye for the cruelty of human nature and prefers to laugh at it rather than cry over it, but he never flinches from portraying it. When one of the boars is blinded in an act of self-righteous vandalism, it deeply upset me. But that, of course, is Crandell’s intent. Like a lot of humorists, with Crandell you don’t know when to smile and when to grimace. It reminds me of an O’Connor quote – “It’s funny because it’s terrible and terrible because it’s funny.”

Before that, I re-read Walker Percy’s Lancelot. OMG. OMFG. PDQ. LSMFT. QWERTY. And any other text acronymn you want. I had forgotten what an absolutely amazing book that is. If you haven’t read Percy, or if you haven’t re-read him recently, go out and get you some. He is incredible.
Visit Man Martin's website and blog.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Man Martin and Zoe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 17, 2011

Scott Sparling

Scott Sparling grew up near railroad tracks in Michigan. He now lives outside Portland, Oregon, with his wife and son.

His new novel is Wire to Wire.

A couple of weeks ago I asked Sparling what he was reading. His reply:
When I finished Wire to Wire, I wanted to catch up on what others in the Northwest were writing. I started with Jon Raymond’s Livability – great stories of people who manage a kind of connection in bad circumstances. Miriam Gershow’s The Local News blew me away. The writer in me kept saying, “Well, that’s not gonna work,” and then she’d make it work and more. It was full of risks that paid off in the most satisfying way, I thought.

Willy Vlautin’s Lean on Pete impressed me like a certain kind of song that seems simple and easy, but you can’t get it out of your head, and the longer it stays there, the deeper down it goes.

I also read Jack Cady’s Rules of ’48– part novel, part memoir, part portrait of Louisville, Kentucky after the war. Jack was my first writing teacher and had an amazing gift for character and dialogue. The book was published five years after his death and deserves to be read.

What I discovered is that there’s no way to “catch up” on Northwest writers. There are still four or five books by NW authors on my desk and the pile keeps getting bigger. Kasston Alonso’s Core: A Romance is up next.
Visit Scott Sparling's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Wire to Wire.

My Book, The Movie: Wire to Wire.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Kelle Groom

Kelle Groom is a poet and memoirist. She is the author of three poetry collections: Five Kingdoms (Anhinga Press, 2010); Luckily (Anhinga, 2006); and Underwater City (University Press of Florida, 2004). Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2010, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, and Poetry, among others, and has received special mention in the Pushcart Prize 2010 and Best American Non-Required Reading 2007 anthologies.

Her new memoir is I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl.

Late last month I asked Groom what she was reading. Her reply:
Tomaz Salamun, A Ballad for Metka Krasovec

Denise Duhamel, Kinky

Kenneth Koch, New Addresses

Frank O’Hara, Lunch Poems

May Swenson, The Love Poems of May Swenson

I’ve been reading Tomaz Salamun and Denise Duhamel, for joy. My friend Janean and I were talking about alcoholism, and Janean said, “Barbie is bottoming out.” A quote from Denise Duhamel’s poem, “Barbie Joins a Twelve Step Program” in Kinky. Which sent me back to these thrilling, satiric poems featuring Barbie in many guises, i.e., “Beatnik Barbie”: “Talk about failure./ Barbie couldn’t snap.” Tomaz Salamun’s first complete single volume in English translation (by Michael Biggins) is A Ballad for Metka Krasovec. Everything is a surprise in Salamun’s poems: “Blue circles in the mouth - /garlic for the heart,/wind-blown ashes at the edges of a hexagram - / of years.” When I read these poems, I’m excited to be in the same world as him: “This time I washed my head./ But that doesn’t prevent/the cries of my overseas monsters./ I’m at work/On the way./I comfort them ALL” (from “the dance”). From the title poem: “Metka was sick and pale./I returned the blood to her face.” Salamun writes, “I’m here./My hands shine.” Duhamel and Salamun made me long for Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems and Kenneth Koch’s New Addresses too. Reading O’Hara and Koch made me so glad to be alive, I remembered the sweetness of May Swenson’s celebratory Love Poems, and returned to them as well: “In love are we made visible.”
View the trailer for I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl, and learn more about the book and author at Kelle Groom's website.

The Page 99 Test: I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Stephen Gardiner

Stephen Gardiner is Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and the Program on Values in Society, University of Washington, Seattle.

His new book is A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change.

Gardiner's response to my recent query about what he has been reading:
I've recently been reading Anthony Appiah's book: The Honor Code: Why Moral Revolutions Happen. The subtitle indicates that this is an important topic, and Appiah treats it through examining central cases such as the end of dueling, footbinding, and the transatlantic slave trade. His thesis that it is the role played by honor that made the difference is an interesting and engaging one, partly because it brings attention to a largely dismissed topic in contemporary life and philosophy. I'm particularly intrigued by the claim that it is often the fact that certain behaviors come to seem "ridiculous" to those engaged in them as well as to others that makes the difference. What would help to make some of our (bad) climate behavior seem ridiculous, I wonder?

I'm also rereading my favorite Jane Austen novel, Persuasion (for the umpteenth time). Since there is a chapter on Sense and Sensibility in my current book on climate, I'm wondering whether I can get Persuasion into the next one. I haven't yet figured that out, but I'm working on it ...
Learn more about A Perfect Moral Storm at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: A Perfect Moral Storm.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Robert Dugoni

Robert Dugoni practiced as a civil litigator in San Francisco and Seattle for seventeen years. In 1999 he left the full-time practice of law to write, and is a two-time winner of the Pacific Northwest Writers Association Literary Contest. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Stanford University with a degree in journalism and worked as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times before obtaining his doctorate of jurisprudence from the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law.

His new novel is Murder One.

Recently I asked Dugoni what he was reading. His reply:
The Maze Runner – Just finished this book. Liked the premise: a group of boys trapped in a maze trying to figure their way out with creatures that kill on the outside. But the book seemed to get stuck in the middle, the same thing happening and there wasn’t enough reveal to keep me interested. By the time I got to the end I didn’t care anymore if they lived or died and then the ending was really unsatisfying, providing no real explanation what was going on.

True Grit – my father and I used to watch this movie together, the one with John Wayne. A classic. The book is great.

Sparrow – Nancy Pearl, Librarian Emeritus recommended this book to me and if she liked it, it must be good: can’t wait to read it.
Visit Robert Dugoni's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Murder One.

My Book, The Movie: Murder One.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 13, 2011

James Boice

James Boice was born in 1982 in Salinas, California and grew up in northern Virginia. He dropped out of college after three weeks to be a writer. He is the author of the novels MVP (2007) and NoVA (2008) and the newly released The Good and the Ghastly (2011). His work has appeared in Esquire, McSweeney's, Fiction, Salt Hill and others. He writes about pathological people. His two obsessions are professional sports and northern Virginia. He lives in New York after several years in Cambridge, MA.

Late last month I asked Boice what he was reading. His reply:
Right this moment—10:57 AM on Monday May 23, 2011—I am in the process of reading two books. One novel and one non-fiction. That tends to be the way I operate. The novel is Arriving in Abignon by Daniel Robberechts. I came across it on the New Arrivals shelf at the local library. This is a good place to locate good books that I normally would have missed because of the blaring fiction hype-machine which often tricks me into buying books I do not like. Anyway, this was written in the 1960s. It’s a short meditative book about the writer’s experiences with this random town in France as a young man. He keeps ending up there for one reason or another. He is a loner-type. In a lot of ways he is your every day self-absorbed 24-year-old-ish artistic type. I am not loving it but I do like it. I like books that just lay everything out in a very true way, rather than trying to pander to you or manipulate you or sacrificing the truth in order to leave you unthreatened. Telling the truth is the most important thing I look for in a book. This does that. And there are very stunning long, elaborate passages that make you want to read them over and over.

The other book I am reading is Play Their Hearts Out by George Dohrmann. It is about the grassroots youth basketball machine. This is the apparatus through which all elite basketball players pass through on their way the NBA. There are some seriously creepy men out there who pass themselves off as coaches but are really gold diggers seeking big money for themselves by latching themselves onto ten-year-old kids and marketing their talents and hyping them and promising them fame and fortune in the NBA and usually leaving them burned out by age 18 with nothing to show for it--certainly not an NBA contract, or even a college scholarship, and usually not even better basketball skills. Everyone is responsible and complicit—athletic apparel companies, parents. At all levels, sports attract the most desperate, pathological people. But what’s more interesting than that is how the parents—more often than not single moms in tough neighborhoods—not only accommodate these guys but go to them on their knees begging them to come into their lives and do whatever they will with their children in the hopes that it will give themselves and their child to a better station in life. Ain’t that America.
View the trailer for The Good and the Ghastly, and learn more about the book and author at James Boice's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Diane Janes

Diane Janes is a full time author who lives and writes in the English Lake District. Prior to be accepted for publication she was shortlisted twice for the Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger and her first novel The Pull of the Moon was a finalist for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger in 2010.

Her latest novel is Why Didn't You Come for Me?.

A few weeks ago I asked Janes what she was reading. Her reply:
I am currently working hard on my next novel (working title Flirting with Ghosts) which means I don’t get as much time for reading as I would like. When my mind is busy with the intense stages of my own book, I tend to return to familiar books, which don’t take too much effort and thus I have been re-reading A Horseman Riding By by RF Delderfield. It’s the story of how a young man who unexpectedly comes into a fortune, buys a large English country estate, complete with tenant farms. The book covers the first forty years of the twentieth century and having last read it more than twenty years ago, I am enjoying it anew. Delderfield seems to have gone out of fashion, but he had a great gift both for conveying both landscape and character – anyone who wants a taste of British social history in the first part of the twentieth century could do worse than read his work. My favourite Delderfield book is probably one of the least well known: Come Home Charlie and Face Them – a clever little mystery, set in the Welsh Valleys.

The hero of A Horseman Riding By is Paul Craddock and by a strange coincidence the policeman investigating a death in the book on my bedside table is also called Craddock. The volume in question is A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie. I once owned an almost complete set of paperback Christies, but my parents gave them away by mistake and I am now reassembling them from second hand shops, re-reading each one as I acquire it.

In a final coincidence the one new read I have recently completed is Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey – the true story of an aristocratic dynasty in the twentieth century and thus another story concerned with the fortunes of a large country estate. Bailey chronicles the lives of the Fitzwilliam family and the upheavals, political, social and domestic which shaped their fortunes. This isn’t a book I would have necessarily have chosen, but it came with strong personal recommendation and it is a truly fascinating read, encompassing a wide canvas, and revealing hitherto little known facts about everything from the Treaty of Versailles to the family of JFK.

In some respects this snapshot of my reading is unrepresentative – catching me at a moment when I appear to be focussing almost exclusively on British upper and upper middle class life in the twentieth century – but next week my reading may find me immersed in rural Mississippi, or the Australian outback, twenty first century New York City, or sixteenth century Scotland…
Visit Diane Janes's website.

The Page 69 Test: Why Didn't You Come for Me?.

My Book, The Movie: Why Didn't You Come for Me?.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 10, 2011

Bryan Caplan

Bryan Caplan is a Professor of Economics at George Mason University and blogger at EconLog, one of the Wall Street Journal's Top 25 Economics Blogs. He lives in Oakton, Virginia, with his wife and their three children.

His latest book is Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think.

Last month I asked Caplan what he was reading. His reply:
Tim Harford’s Adapt: Why Success Always Starts from Failure. Another great popular social science book from the Undercover Economist.

Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future by Ian Goldin, Geoffrey Cameron, and Meera Balarajan. The book’s full of fun facts about migration and covers the academic literature well. I share its pro-immigration conclusion, but I wish the authors tried harder to convinced skeptical readers.

Melvin Konner’s The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind. The best book on evolution I’ve read since Graham Bell’s Selection: The Mechanism of Evolution. It’s amazingly well-written given the density of the evidence it presents.

Maus (volumes 1 and 2) by Art Spiegelman. I read these graphic novels about the Holocaust years ago, but now I’m sharing them with my eight-year-old sons every night at bedtime. The story is tragic, but transcendently wonderful. Reading it should be a rite of passage in every family.

The Walking Dead (volumes 1-13) by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore. After watching the AMC television series based on these graphic novels, I raced to read the whole series. At first glance, it’s just another zombie story. But if you give the books a chance, you’ll soon discover a rich, almost Tolstoyan epic about human nature – and how much we all owe to civilization.
Learn more about Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids at the official website.

Writers Read: Bryan Caplan (July 2007).

The Page 99 Test: Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids.

--Marshal Zeringue