Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Kim Culbertson

Kim Culbertson technically writes for teenagers, but some grown-ups like her work. Sourcebooks Fire published her award winning first YA novel Songs for a Teenage Nomad (2010, originally Hip Pocket Press, 2007) and her second YA novel Instructions for a Broken Heart (2011) which was named a Booklist Top Ten Romance Title for Youth: 2011. Culbertson's short fiction has appeared in Cicada, Canary, and The Smoking Poet. When she's not writing for teens, she's teaching them. She's a college advisor and teaches creative writing and English at Forest Charter School in Northern California. Culbertson wrote her eBook novella The Liberation of Max McTrue for her students who, over the years, have taught her much more than she has taught them.

Recently I asked the author what she was reading.  Her reply:
Arcadia by Lauren Groff

Like, well, everyone, I read Utopia in college and I’ve always been drawn to the idea of an idealized community. In Arcadia, Groff explores one such community through the eyes of beautiful Bit, who starts the novel as a boy, held in the arms of his mercurial mother, Hannah, and ends the novel a man – somewhere in a not too distant future. This book is lush and dreamy, and for me it triumphed because of Bit. Lovely Bit – who sees the world differently because he notices beauty in small things and loves people even when they are hard. Arcadia is a meditation on the line between community and freedom, and the ache that grows from needing people, but also knowing they often let you down.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Okay, John Green. You got me. Yes, I needed Kleenix. Yes, you’re so funny and sweet and quirky and the best of what’s being written in YA right now. I bow at the feet of your YA-ness. Read this book. This book made me want to smell my daughter’s hair and line up all her shoes in the entryway.

“Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson and American Transcendentalism by Philip F. Gura

I just finished a short Transcendentalism unit in the high school English class I teach. Perhaps one of my student’s summed it up best when he lined his notes with this, “Emerson, Emerson – yes. Right. Love this. Love this guy.” Me too.

Ex Vivo: out of the living body (poems) by Kirsten Casey

Kirsten is in my writing group, a diligent mother of three, and, oh yeah – one of the most interesting, vivid poets I’ve read in a long time. A sample: “Every word is a vital organ.”

Entertainment Weekly

While it’s true the novel I’m currently working on is about celebrity so this technically counts as research, who am I kidding? I’d be reading EW anyway. And Vanity Fair. Damn, I love me some Vanity Fair. A good afternoon is filtered light through the window, a latte, and a few-days-old Vanity Fair (it takes a few days for that perfume smell to dwindle).
Visit Kim Culbertson's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 28, 2012

Jenny Smith

Jenny Smith was born in Glasgow. A freelance copywriter and grants and trusts fundraiser, Smith lives and works in a small village in south Oxfordshire with her husband, sons and her West Highland terrier, Angus.

Diary of a Parent Trainer and My Big Fat Teen Crisis are Smith’s first two comic teen novels, published in the United Kingdom by Scholastic.

Diary of a Parent Trainer is to be published in the States on June 12th. Smith is hoping that it will do well, so she has an excuse to visit the USA!

Recently I asked Smith what she was reading.  Her reply:
I’ve been the member of a local book group for the past ten years, and we’ve read our way through a wide variety of writers and genres.

We recently read Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson which was absolutely gripping. It’s about a woman who loses her memory each night and has to learn about her life all over again every morning. However as she begins to make notes in a diary, she wonders if she can really trust the man she is living with, her husband. Although I found the story slightly unlikely at times, I didn’t mind because it was such an entertaining page turner. An ideal holiday read.

I very much enjoyed The Help by Kathryn Stockett, we had a book group DVD night and followed up reading the book with watching the film, which I also loved. The book is beautifully, lyrically written and deeply moving.

I am in the middle of The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. It is written from the point of view of a concierge in an apartment block in Paris. But she is no ordinary concierge. I am finding this book a challenging read, because the voice of the central character is so formal and intellectual. But it is proving to be funny and full of insights. I love a story, and a ‘voice’ which makes you look at the world differently, and this one certainly does.

I am currently working my way through a book of short stories called Missing Kissinger by Etgar Keret.

I enjoy reading short stories before I go to bed, as I can go to sleep thinking about the endings. These stories are black comedy, often very bleak and violent and tragic. They are transporting me, from my sleepy little village in Oxfordshire, to a completely different world. That is the magic of fiction.
Visit Jenny Smith's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Jessie Knadler

Jessie Knadler is a writer whose articles and stories have appeared in publications ranging from the Wall Street Journal to Glamour. She is the coauthor of the preserving cookbook Tart and Sweet.

Her blog has been featured in Newsweek and French Elle and on She lives with her husband, her daughter, and a bunch of chickens in Lexington, Virginia.

Knadler's new book is Rurally Screwed: My Life Off the Grid with the Cowboy I Love.

Not so long ago I asked her what she was reading.  Knadler's reply:
I’m reading a book recommended to me by my father, The Dog of the South by Charles Portis (of True Grit fame), published in 1979. I make a point of reading every book my dad suggests because he’s the most avid reader I know and has never steered me wrong even though half the books he recommends aren’t ones I’d think to pick up on my own. What I love most about Portis’s underappreciated “redneck quest novel” is the utterly ludicrous but weirdly spot-on dialogue. He has an unparalleled ear for voices that is somehow not self conscious or showy or “watch the writer try to be funny” in the slightest. I found myself gasping in wonder on numerous occasions.
Visit Jessie Knadler's blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Paul Seabright

Paul Seabright is the author of The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life. He is professor of economics at the Toulouse School of Economics and has been a fellow of All Souls College, University of Oxford, and Churchill College, University of Cambridge.

His latest book is The War of the Sexes: How Conflict and Cooperation Have Shaped Men and Women from Prehistory to the Present.

Recently I asked Seabright what he was reading.  His reply:
When I was younger I used to read four works of fiction for every work of non-fiction, but now it’s the other way round. I’ve just finished Tyler Cowen’s An Economist Gets Lunch, which is like most of Tyler’s books in being fantastically informative, written as though dictated at breakneck speed, and utterly original. He annoys foodies by telling them that the best food is often available in the scruffiest restaurants, makes us all feel inadequate for knowing so little about all the planet’s ethnic foods (even waxing lyrical about North Korean cuisine!), and should make it impossible for you ever to eat a quiet meal again without finding yourself doing some surreptitious economics at the same time. All in all, a terrible book for your peace of mind, which is one of the highest compliments I can pay.

Another awful book for your peace of mind, but in a quite different way, is Anna Reid’s Leningrad. Using letters and diaries, it tells the story of the siege of that city by the German Army from 1941 to early 1944, in which over half a million people starved to death. I hardly want to say any more about it, because I urge you to read it – but be warned that certain passages will return to trouble you, and you can hardly fail to reflect on the fragility of our human solidarity under extreme pressure.

I’ve recently finished Laurent Dubois’ Haiti: The Aftershocks of History – a superb history of that troubled country, excellently written, balanced, full of insights and unexpected information on almost every page. What outsiders know about Haiti has so often been reported by those with an axe to grind – from early plantation owners to American colonists to the makers of zombie movies to aid agencies after the earthquake – that it’s a relief to read something about the very ordinary struggles of its population to construct ordinary lives against powerful odds.

I also recently read a wonderful French novel called Le Club des Incorrigibles Optimistes, by Jean-Michel Guenassia, about a chess club for political refugees from the Eastern Bloc in Paris in the early 1960s. It is sad, evocative and sometimes side-splittingly funny. I particularly loved the description of a supercilious Air France employee refusing to help a Russian pilot who has been diverted to Orly because of fog (I could just see that single raised eyebrow the Air France staff have been trained to deploy so deftly). The hero, a 12-year old boy who walks around the streets of Paris reading, insists he is in no danger of running into a car or another pedestrian because he can rely on everyone else’s interest in avoiding him. Until the day when he crashes into a teenage girl who is also holding a book in front of her nose. It turns out to be a great way to meet girls who share his literary passions. All readers of this blog should try it.
Visit Paul Seabright's website.

The Page 99 Test: The War of the Sexes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Katie Ganshert

Katie Ganshert was born and raised in the Midwest, where she writes stories about finding faith and falling in love. When she’s not busy plotting her next novel, she enjoys watching movies with her husband, playing make-believe with her wild-child of a son, and chatting with her girlfriends over bagels.

Her recently released debut novel is Wildflowers from Winter.

Late last month I asked Ganshert what she was reading. Her reply:
Reading is one of my favorite things to do. Whether I’m sitting on my porch swing out in the sun while my son runs around the backyard or curled up under the covers in bed, there’s nothing quite like getting lost in a good book.

I prefer reading two books at once. One that I listen to on audio (usually while cleaning), another that I read.

I recently finished Submerged, a romantic suspense by debut novelist, Dani Pettrey. I believe this is the first romantic suspense I’ve ever read, and I have to say, it was a great introduction to the genre. I really enjoyed the characters, the fast-paced storyline, and the great romantic set up for book two.

Right now, the book I’m reading is called Wish You Were Here, a debut novel by Beth Vogt. Between the cover and the hook, I couldn’t resist opening this one up. The story is about Allison Denman, who realizes five days before her wedding that everything is all wrong. The huge wedding. The frothy dress. And the groom. After an unexpected kiss from her brother-in-law, Allison turns into a runaway bride. She finds herself staying with her llama-rescuing, quirky aunt while she tries to fix the giant mess she left behind. This has definitely been a fun read, one that keeps me turning the pages.

The book I’m listening to on audio is called The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. It’s set in Nazi Germany and follows a young girl named Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside Munich. According to the back cover, it’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery...

Oh yeah. The narrator is death. Yep, you heard that correctly. Death tells the story. And wow….talk about an incredibly unique twist. With multi-faceted characters, beautiful prose, and a seductive voice, this one has me captivated. It would be a perfect book club selection.

Next on the docket is The Pursuit of Lucy Banning by Olivia Newport. This one is a historical set in high-society Chicago during the late 1800s. I’ve been hearing really great things about this one, so I’m eager to dive in.
Visit Katie Ganshert's website and blog.

See--Coffee with a Canine: Katie Ganshert & Bubba.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 21, 2012

Duncan Barrett

Duncan Barrett studied English at Cambridge and now works as writer and editor, specializing in biography and memoir. He edited The Reluctant Tommy (Macmillan, 2010) a First World War memoir.  His new book, with Nuala Calvi, is The Sugar Girls: Tales of Hardship, Love and Happiness in Tate & Lyle's East End Factories.

Not so long ago I asked Barrett what he was reading. His reply:
I am rather hopeless at finishing one book before I start another – so, as is often the case, I currently have three on the go. Melanie McGrath’s wonderful book Hopping is a sequel of sorts to her bestseller Silvertown, and describes the annual East Enders’ ‘holiday’ to the hop-fields of Kent, based on a true story she came across in correspondence with a reader. It was on my to-read list when I was working on my book The Sugar Girls, about women factory workers in the East End, but my co-author and I ended up dividing up the books we had bought between us to save time, and I’ve only just got around to it now. It’s a beautifully written, captivating glimpse at a lost way of life, as well as a very engaging story.

The second book I’m reading is also non-fiction, although the setting could hardly be more different. The Cloud Garden is the true story of two English backpackers who were kidnapped by FARC rebels in the Columbian rainforest around the turn of the millennium, and spent nine months as hostages. When I’m not writing, I work as an actor, and next month I will be playing one of the men – Paul Winder – in a docu-drama for the National Geographic channel, so I’m reading the book for research. It’s a remarkable story, and just goes to show the extent to which truth is often stranger than fiction: at one point, having finally been released rather than executed, the two men get lost in the jungle trying to find their way out and have to return to their kidnappers for directions, aware that the rebels may change their minds and simply murder them. It’s a detail you simply couldn’t make up.

The final book I’m reading is fiction, but historical and clearly well researched: Anthony Horowitz’s new Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk. At first I was worried that it might be more of a pastiche than a genuine continuation of the Holmes/Watson story, with cameos from quite an array of well-known characters, but Horowitz has crafted a clever – and rather shocking – tale, which manages to make Holmes feel very modern while keeping him firmly in his own time, thanks to a plethora of period details. It made me think that there is actually a lot of overlap between the narrative non-fiction I write and this kind of historical fiction – in both cases your research throws up many wonderful little nuggets, and weaving them into a good story is what really makes the book feel real.
Visit the official blog of The Sugar Girls for pictures, excerpts, reviews and more.

The Page 99 Test: The Sugar Girls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 19, 2012

S.G. Browne

S.G. Browne worked in Hollywood for several years before moving to Santa Cruz to be a writer. He currently lives and writes in San Francisco. His novels include Breathers: A Zombie's Lament.

His latest novel is Lucky Bastard.

Recently I asked Browne what he was reading.  His reply:
I recently finished The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt—a first-person POV tale narrated by Eli Sisters, one of a pair of gunslinger brothers who are hired to kill a prospector during the California gold rush.

I don’t tend to read a lot of historical fiction or have any on my to-be-read pile, but this one came highly recommended and it didn’t disappoint. Solid writing and great characters with a voice that was pitch-perfect. Plus I have a soft spot for stories told by flawed characters or stories with an antagonist as protagonist, so this one landed right in my wheelhouse.
Visit S.G. Browne's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Breathers: A Zombie's Lament.

The Page 69 Test: Lucky Bastard.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Alex Adams

Alex Adams was born in New Zealand, raised in Greece and Australia, and currently lives in Oregon–which is a whole lot like New Zealand, minus those freaky-looking wetas.

Her new novel is White Horse, the first volume in a debut trilogy.

Not so long ago I asked Adams what she was reading.  Her reply:
Ours is a two-writer household, so there are books piled everywhere—even the kitchen island holds a "his" and 'hers" stack. I find rooms without books to be strange and lacking in character--a bit like a house without pets or a bit of dust.

At any given time I'm working my way through at least two books—often more. I have upstairs books and downstairs books, books for reading during the day (hard copies), books for reading at night if my fiance is playing a video game in the dark (I love my iPad). And they're always a mix of genres. I'm a very promiscuous reader: if the premise interests me I'll read it, regardless of where the bookstore shelves it.

It's been an intense couple of weeks, with my debut novel hitting the shelves, so Claire Gillian's The P.U.R.E is exactly what I need right now: smart, funny, and fast-paced. And lo and behold this wonderful surprise: the love interests actually like each other as people from the beginning. That's a romance I can believe in.

I've barely cracked the spine on The Age of Miracles, but Karen Thompson Walker's prose is sigh-worthy. The premise trapped me from the get-go: the earth's rotation is slowing and as a result the days are growing longer, gravity is failing, and the world begins to fall apart.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is my bedroom book at the moment. I'm reading it in tiny mouthfuls because I don't want it to be over. It's like a video game, but it's a book!

Rounding out my list is Devon Monk's Allie Beckstrom series. I can't even tell you which one I'm reading right now, because by the time you read it I'll be onto the next one, or the one after that. Her books are like potato chips and I want to read them all.
Visit Alex Adams's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: White Horse.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Ann Pearlman

Ann Pearlman is a writer of both fiction, and non-fiction books and has been passionate about writing since eighth grade. Getting Free: Women and Psychotherapy was written with two colleagues and used as both a consciousness-raising book in the woman’s movement as well as college textbook.  Keep the Home Fires Burning: How to Have an Affair With Your Spouse, garnered the attention of the Oprah Winfrey Show and many other TV talk shows. Her memoir, Infidelity, was nominated for National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize, and made into a Lifetime movie by Lionsgate. Inside the Crips, with a foreword by Ice T, took readers into the life of a Crip gang member and the California Prison system. The Christmas Cookie Club became an international bestseller, spawning cookie exchanges and donations to charity.

Her new novel is A Gift for My Sister.

Recently I asked Pearlman what she was reading.  Her reply:
I’m a promiscuous reader, enjoying non-fiction and fiction in all genres. Recently, at the behest of my daughter, I read Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, and was enveloped by the page turning plot, the heroine’s personality, and the description of the dismal world of the future. Each chapter (and indeed each book) ended with a cliffhanger, which induced me (an easily led reader) to read on, spending hours entertained.

Several months ago, I read David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Yes, I was entertained, each of the six entwined stories in the novel are riveting. But more than that, his brilliant language and encompassing knowledge, his ability to change voice into six different personas, and the overarching themes zipping through centuries of humanity stay with me. The translit novel allows the writer to explore flashbacks as well as foretell consequences centuries and continents distant. And it provides a profound and fascinating way to explore overarching themes.

As I write this, I realize these two books have several things in common. Both writers love their characters and thus wrote fully rounded people who do surprising things. They both focus on the effects of the will to power with the resulting oppression and malevolence of one group over another. As Mitchell says, the warning implicit in both plots is: In an individual selfishness uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction.
Visit Ann Pearlman's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: A Gift for My Sister.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 14, 2012

Jon Talton

Jon Talton's novels include the thriller, Deadline Man, several David Mapstone mysteries, and The Pain Nurse, the first of The Cincinnati Casebooks series.

His new novel is Powers of Arrest, a Cincinnati Casebook.

Recently I asked Talton what he was reading.  His reply:
I just finished Don Winslow’s Savages. To say that it is a tour de force doesn’t do it justice. This book is the most original work I’ve read in years. Winslow is one of our best noir writers. I first discovered him when we shared a table at a charity signing years ago, and was impressed by his work. This book, set in the drug trade of Orange County and Baja, raises the bar considerably.

Savages will either change the way mysteries are written, or make anyone who would try to mimic it seem like the worst kind of thief. Read it. Without giving anything away: His use of language, ability to sketch memorable characters in a quick brush stroke, knowledge of the subject matter and story are all towering achievements. It’s a short book. But to really enjoy it, read slow. Savor every line.
Visit Jon Talton's website.

The Page 69 Test: South Phoenix Rules.

Writers Read: Jon Talton (January 2011).

My Book, The Movie: Jon Talton's David Mapstone mysteries.

The Page 69 Test: Powers of Arrest.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tony Eprile

Tony Eprile is the author of The Persistence of Memory, a novel about South Africa’s turbulent history at the end of the 20th century. It won the Koret Jewish Book Prize and appeared on many best books lists. His collection of stories Temporary Sojourner, which was also a New York Times Notable Book, was recently reissued by PFP/Ajar Contemporaries.

Late last month I asked Eprile what he was reading.  His reply:
My reading tends to be eclectic and international in scope. While I’ll read the latest topics in American literature—such as Nathan Englander’s new collection of stories—I’m just as likely to pick up an Israeli, Japanese, or African novel or memoir.

Right now, I’m reading Israeli author Meir Shalev’s Four Meals (1994), beautifully translated by Barbara Harshav. It’s the story of a boy whose mother had three lovers, each of whom has some claim on him as their son:
From Moshe Rabinovitch, I inherited a farm and a cowshed and yellow hair.

From Jacob Sheinfeld I inherited a fine house, fine furnishings, empty canary cages, and drooping shoulders.

And from Globerman the cattle dealer, I inherited a knipele of money and my gigantic feet. (p.7)
There is a great deal that’s out of the ordinary in each of these fathers, and the reader is quickly caught up in a world where the unusual happens without being remarked as strange. The boy is named Zayde—grandfather—which so disgusts and disturbs the Angel of Death, that the boy cannot die…even if he falls out of a high tree or is shot at during one of Israel’s conflicts. I love the easy magic of this novel, and particularly the lessons it imparts on observing the world around us. When Zayde asks his mother for a watch, she points out how many watches are all around him in the rural village where he lives.
She showed me the shadow of the eucalyptus that said nine in the morning with its size, its direction, and its chill, the little red leaves of the pomegranate that said mid-March, the tooth that wriggled in my mouth and said six years, and the small wrinkle in the corners of her eyes that capered and said forty.

“You see, Zayde, this way you’re inside time. If they bought you a watch, you’d only be next to it.”
Shalev has constructed a whole world inside a small village in Israel, but he also teaches the reader what it means to see the world around us.

The basic—and often, boring—way writers construct a memoir is to begin at childhood and continue to the present, a straightforward chronological account. A number of South African writers have recently produced memoirs that follow their own idiosyncratic structure. One of my favorites, recently returned to, is Michael Cope’s Intricacy (subtitled: A Meditation on Memory). Cope is a jeweler—and the son of a well-known South African writer—and he has constructed his recollections the way one might construct a beautiful, intricate necklace. Each of the ten sections of the book is comprised of short meditations on such subjects as art, karate, childhood events, the author’s difficult and artistic mother (a Communist who was friends with a number of significant artists and political figures), and other seemingly random but intricately connected ideas. Cope might begin with a detail about a Van den Graaf generator (plus a picture of someone experimenting with one), then subtly segue to the day lightning struck a favorite tree next to his house, and finally to learning how his father’s twin brother was killed by lightning at age twenty. The book is not only about what memories the author holds, but also on the changing, intricate nature of memory itself. (For a sample of his writing, check out some selections from Intricacy).

Cope’s lovely book is a reminder that our memories seize on seemingly random details and then move outward by association, that our lives are made from small moments and slight apercus, just as much as from the larger events.
Learn more about Tony Eprile's collection Temporary Sojourner: South African Stories.

The Page 99 Test: The Persistence of Memory.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 11, 2012

Anne Berry

Anne Berry was born in London and moved to Hong Kong at the age of six, where she was educated. She founded a small drama school, writing and directing more than thirty plays in ten years, and now lives in Surrey with her husband and four children. Her first novel, The Hungry Ghosts, was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.

Her latest novel is The Water Children.

Recently I asked Berry what she was reading.  Her reply:
Every so often you read a book that you know will stay with you for the rest of your life, a book of more worth than any treasure trove, a book that makes you breathless it is so full of light and life. For me that book is How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn, published in 1939, which I finished with immeasurable sadness a fortnight ago. You know that you have an exceptional read in your hand when, like an ecstatic audience you scream for an encore. Set in a mining community in South Wales during the reign of Queen Victoria, it is the story of Huw Morgan and his large mining family, told in his own voice, with infinite love and sensual tender pleasure. This amazing writer is a paint box, an orchestra, a gourmet and a heartbeat in a single sentence. There is such music in his voice, the music of the Welsh valleys and of a people who work hard, live hard and play hard. I shall never forget this novel, and an author can ask for no higher acclaim than that.

Now my tastes are eclectic, and I relish the challenge of something different. So from the sublime to the visceral, bloodcurdling history, Caligula by Douglas Jackson. This is a gripping read although, as if I was watching an outstanding horror film, I sometimes had to skip a few sentences. It is the story of Rufus, a young slave, his friendship with the brave gladiator Cupido, trying to survive in the imperial palace of the infamous sadist, Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, the third Roman Emperor, better known as the unhinged sadist Caligula. The narrative sped along, and this well-built thoroughly researched frame supported some of the richest descriptive writing I have ever read. His dialogue was superb. Jackson brought Rome alive for me, chilling, deadly and magnetic. A wonder filled novel from a master of his trade.
Visit Anne Berry's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Water Children.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ceri Radford

Ceri Radford grew up in Swansea, studied English literature and French at Cambridge and started her career with Reuters. She has since written about books, TV, culture, society, male strippers and many other things besides for publications including The Daily Telegraph, the Times Literary Supplement, and Red Magazine. She currently lives, confusingly, very close to Geneva, but in France.

Her first novel, A Surrey State of Affairs, is now available in the US.

Recently I asked Radford what she was reading.  Her reply:
I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but I’m currently rereading Mansfield Park for, oh, about the 87th time. I have a bit of a Jane Austen obsession. Not only is she a beautiful, timeless writer, but there is also something so soothing about her novels – that elegant sweep towards a well- ordered ending - that I reach for them a little as if they were comfort food. I always notice something new on each rereading. This time it was the brilliantly waspish way she managed to pin down a character (Mr Rushworth) in half a sentence: “He was a heavy young man, with not more than common sense...”) – a salutary lesson on the power of brevity. I did find, as usual, that I was cheering on the villains of the piece (the witty, lively, amoral Mr Crawford and his sister) while despairing at her supine goody goody of a heroine, Fanny Price. In this novel, it almost feels as though Austen is arguing against herself, painting liveliness as a dangerous quality and championing a docile, downtrodden girl who could not be further from her usual strong-minded protagonists. Elizabeth Bennett seems like a much more instinctively written, and likeable, heroine (yes, I must have read Pride and Prejudice 192 times). I’m still enjoying Mansfield Park, though – there is something so irresistible about the “triumph of the underdog” narrative running through it that I’m sure this will be far from my last rereading.

Before that, I read José Saramago’s Death with Interruptions, a lightly ironic and very moving thought experiment on what would happen if people stopped dying. I’m also midway through JP Donleavy’s 1955 classic The Ginger Man and am torn between admiration for his prose and repugnance at his wife-battering narrator.
Visit Ceri Radford's website and like her Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: A Surrey State of Affairs.

My Book, The Movie: A Surrey State of Affairs.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Yvvette Edwards

Yvvette Edwards is the author of A Cupboard Full of Coats, her highly acclaimed first novel.

Last month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I should probably start by confessing I am something of a latecomer to the love of short stories. It started about a year ago, with Courttia Newland’s A Book of Blues, an eclectic collection of stories inspired by love and music, which danced a journey across pages that swept from London’s Portobello Road to the beaches of Nairobi, through the hot bush of Malindi via packed Miami bars. I discovered there is something quite lovely about the form, that it is a genuine skill to be able to conjure authentic characters, to evoke a vivid landscape, to capture a complete world in a limited number of words. It’s a discipline that I, as a novelist, have never had to concern myself with, but recently I have found myself thankful there are writers who do.

Chinua Achebe, one of my favourite writers, has said it is the writer's duty ‘to explore in depth the human condition.’ I like to think this is something I have brought to my own novel, A Cupboard Full of Coats, a story about the transgenerational impact of domestic violence. In my opinion, if a story does nothing for every reader, if there is no gain to be had from the reading, no lesson gleaned or learned, no preconception challenged or shifted, I can hardly see the point in the writing at all. Uwem Akpan understands this, and his collection of short stories, Say You’re One of Them, is at once one of the most powerful, challenging, perception-changing books I have ever read.

In Say You’re One of Them, Akpan gives voice to Africa’s children in horrifying circumstances, whose plight, their daily struggle for life on any terms, is virtually inconceivable to most. His five stories encompass child prostitution and trafficking, genocide, and poverty on a scale that would make most inhabitants of the Western World ashamed to ever complain again about being broke. These are emotive subjects anyway, but seen through the eyes of Akpan’s child narrators, they are heart-breaking. In his first story, "An Ex-Mas Feast," we meet Maisha, a girl still too young for breasts, who has elected prostitution so her family can eat, to raise money for her brother’s school fees - the only hope they have of ever escaping poverty. Here in England, glue-sniffing is something people do to get high. In Maisha’s world, glue is a valuable commodity, proffered by loving parents to their children when there is no food available because it staves off hunger. This is a powerful book which introduces Africa’s children with an intimacy no documentary or commentary I have ever seen comes close to, a compassionately crafted work that opens the gateway to a scarcely perceived world.

I have seen famine-stricken children on the news then gone on to watch and enjoy the following programme. I struggle as I write this to identify which single one impacted on me the most. But to read Akpan is to do more than watch from a safe distance. He takes the reader on a journey. He is a gifted writer, and so the journey is an interesting one, but it is far from comfortable. The final story, "My Parents’ Bedroom," narrated from a village in Rwanda, left me reeling and will never be forgotten.

On every level the writing is authentic, the voices clear and articulate, the backdrops vividly rendered. I am bedazzled by Akpan’s clarity, the cool and disciplined control he exerts in the crafting of this passionate and hugely empathic work. I challenge anyone to read it and remain indifferent to the world recorded here.

I have a bookcase at home, upstairs, private, separate from the shelves my visitors see, specifically because often, following discussions of books on my shelves, they have been borrowed and sometimes never returned. I need to own the books I love. As a result, there are books I love that I have loaned out, then gone on to repurchase three, four, five times. My private shelves house the books I do not lend out, and having read Say You’re One of Them, it now occupies a rightly earned space on those shelves.
Learn more about A Cupboard Full of Coats, and visit Yvvette Edwards's Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 7, 2012

Gary Krist

Before turning to narrative nonfiction with The White Cascade and the newly released City of Scoundrels, Gary Krist wrote three novels--Bad Chemistry, Chaos Theory, and Extravagance--and two short-story collections--The Garden State and Bone by Bone.

A couple of weeks ago I asked him what he was reading.  His reply:
Right now I’m reading Stanley Karnow’s Paris in the Fifties. Karnow is a legendary journalist whose works on Vietnam, the Philippines, and China are monuments of historical reportage. In this memoir about his early days as a TIME correspondent in France, he’s in a lighter, more personal mode, as he reports on everything from the Parisian literary scene to the city’s demimonde of prostitutes, exotic dancers, and strip-tease artists (not to mention the frequent overlaps between those two worlds). I once had dinner with Karnow at a Chinese restaurant in DC, and it was the charming raconteur of this book whose company I enjoyed that night.

I’m also reading Normal People Don’t Live Like This, a collection of short stories by Dylan Landis, whom I met at a party recently. (This is not to imply that I read only books by people I’ve eaten with, but the message for writers should be clear—if you want to sell a few extra copies of your latest opus, chat up the person next to you at dinner.) I started my career as a short story writer, and I still try to keep up with the genre when I can. And Landis’s stories offer a fascinating glimpse into the truly strange minds of adolescent girls, in prose that’s sharp and often surprising.
Visit Gary Krist's website.

The Page 69 Test: The White Cascade.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Mariah Fredericks

Mariah Fredericks is the author of the bestselling novel The True Meaning of Cleavage, which Meg Cabot called "laugh-out-loud funny and way twisted!" She is also the author of Head Games, Crunch Time, and the In the Cards series.

Her new novel is The Girl in the Park.

Last month I asked Fredericks what she was reading.  Her reply:
Like a lot of readers, I usually have a fiction and a nonfiction book going at the same time. I'm both a history nut and a celebrity junkie; I tend to like books about Big Lives.

I was drawn to Manning Marable's Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention because Malcolm X is an iconic figure in American history. And like other iconic figures—Washington, Lincoln—he can feel remote, almost mythological. I knew his face, I knew his quotes, I didn't really feel I knew him, and I wanted to. Marable's book is a triumph of reporting. He really digs into the facts behind the public personas—both the one Malcolm created for himself and the one his detractors created for him. I was fascinated by the history of Malcolm X's parents, who were Garveyite activists in their own right. The book also shows you the inner workings of the Nation of Islam, revealing how an organization with lofty ambitions can fall prey to cronyism and corruption. The account of the final weeks of Malcolm X's life is particularly gripping. It raises a lot of questions. Professor Marable hoped to provoke a new investigation into the assassination and has provided substantive evidence to support one.

Professor Marable is scrupulous about the facts; he does not make assumptions as to what Malcolm was thinking or feeling that he cannot back up. As suggested by the subtitle, Malcolm Little reinvented himself several times. Perhaps for those reasons, I finished the book with a stronger sense of Malcolm X as a man of history than anything else. But that's a minor quibble with a major book.

I'm nearly at the end of Margaret George's novel, Elizabeth I. As a novelist, George isn't subject to a biographer's rules, but she's also pretty scrupulous about the facts. Everybody walks through these pages—Raleigh, the Cecils, Shakespeare, John Donne. Some of them get into bed with each other. But George doesn't stretch the truth too far—at least for my taste. Her portrait of an aging Elizabeth, prone to all the pains of getting old, is superb. Any time I thought I was having a bad day, I thought, At least I'm not dealing with the Armada. Or Essex. Or Ireland. Or famine. Or Mary Queen of Scots…
Visit Mariah Fredericks's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Girl in the Park.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Jen Calonita

As a Senior Editor at the former Teen People and a journalist for Entertainment Weekly, Glamour, and Marie Claire, Jen Calonita has interviewed everyone from Vanessa Hudgens to Justin Timberlake.

She lives in New York with her family and the chihuahua, Captain Jack Sparrow.

Calonita's new novel is Belles.

Recently I asked her what she was reading.  Her reply:
I have to admit--I tend to go for lighter books. I recently finished Sophie Kinsella's latest, I've Got Your Number, and it was just as adorable and cheeky as her other books. I'm a huge fan of the Shopaholic series and love Becky Bloomwood, and her latest herione, Poppy, did not disappoint. I love how Sophie's characters are always getting into embarrassing situations that they can't get out of. That real, human quality is so appealing to me, especially since I slip up or do something silly on a daily basis (like...almost leaving the house yesterday in my leopard print slippers because I was in such a rush. If my son hadn't pointed out Mommy's Crazy Shoes, I probably would have been at Target in them!). In Number, Poppy's lost engagement ring sparks a series of events that leads her to taking a cell phone that isn't hers and using it to track down her ring. Too bad the sort of owner of the phone--workaholic Sam Roxton--doesn't appreciate Poppy holding on to the phone and intruding on his life and work. I love how Sam and Poppy's lives intersect in the most hilarious ways. I would put Sophie's latest at the top of my Kinsella Favorites list.

Going from something as light as Kinsella to something as heavy as Jodi Picolt's Lone Wolf was definitely a challenge. Maybe that's why I had such trouble getting into it at first. Lone Wolf is my first book club read for a new book group I joined, so I picked it up because I had to read it, not because I wanted to so maybe I wasn't in the right mindset to start this one. I am a fan of Jodi's books and My Sister's Keeper still haunts me, but this time I had trouble digging in. I couldn't quite wrap my head around a story about a man (Luke Warren) who lived and worked with wolves that was set against a hospital battle between his two grown children, Edward and Cara, who are contemplating the best course of treatment for their father who has been in a terrible accident. But I was wrong. Once the story got going, I couldn't put it down. Lone Wolf was definitely a story about family and the ties that bind us and unravel us. The wolf theme--being part of a pact and doing what it takes to help that pack survive or move on--wound up tying in nicely. The book is thought-provoking: who should determine what another person wants for their life when they can't speak for themselves?--and the story has haunted me for a while after I finished.

But now? I'm back to my more comfortable fun stuff! Ally Carter's Out of Sight, Out of Time was my favorite in the Gallagher Girl series so far and put me back in that light, fast-paced state of mind so now I'm turning toward Elizabeth Eulberg's Take a Bow. We head out on tour together in a few weeks so I feel lucky that I'll get to talk to her about her story shortly!
Visit Jen Calonita's website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Jen Calonita and Captain Jack Sparrow.

--Marshal Zeringue