Friday, September 28, 2012

Julia Keller

Julia Keller was born and raised in West Virginia, and now lives in Chicago and Ohio. In her career as a journalist, she won the Pulitzer Prize for a three-part series she wrote for the Chicago Tribune about a small town in Illinois rocked by a deadly tornado. A Killing in the Hills is her first mystery.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author what she was reading.  Keller's reply:
I’ve heard many writers say that they don’t like to read during the time period when they’re toiling away on their own books because they fear the dreaded incursion of style-creep: Their work may inadvertently pick up stray bits of inflection and random echoes of emphasis. (Willa Cather solved this by only reading the bible prior to a day of writing—not from an excess of piety, but because those solemn cadences are like scales on a piano.)

I seem to be impervious to style-creep. In fact, it’s the opposite for me: I think I write in ornery opposition to what I read. And frankly, if I had to give up one or the other—writing or reading—it would have to be the former. The latter is too crucial.

I read in frantic bunches and motley multitudes. Always have. And right now, the wobbly stack of books on the little table adjacent to my reading chair—a tower that always threatens collapse as a consequence of its ceiling-scraping plentitude—includes the following:

The Book in the Renaissance (2010) by Andrew Pettegree, is a marvelous survey of the first century and a half after Gutenberg did his thing. It’s written with style and wit, filled with fascinating tidbits—ever wonder how and why italic was invented?—as it reminds us that the book business has always been crazy-volatile and subject to the whims of rich people, the tastes of the marketplace and the vicissitudes of fate.

Bad Debts and Black Tide (2005) by Peter Temple. I discovered the tough, lyrical work of Temple on a rainy day in downtown Chicago; I was early for an appointment and ducked into a bookstore to pass the time. There I stumbled upon and snapped up The Broken Shore (2008), one of the Australian crime writer’s best books, filled as it is with violence and beauty, with a haunting laconic eloquence. Since then, I’ve been tracking down everything by Temple I can get my hands on. Bad Debts and Black Tide are the first two thrillers in his Jack Irish series. His prose is scrubbed clean of any la-de-dah nonsense. It’s as bracing as a quick toss of neat whiskey down a tenderly unsuspecting throat.
Visit Julia Keller's website.

--Marshal Zeringue