Thursday, February 28, 2013

Roger Hobbs

Roger Hobbs graduated from Reed College in Portland, Oregon in 2011, where he majored in English. He studied film noir, literary theory, and ancient languages.

His first book, Ghostman, was written during the summer between his junior and senior years at Reed. He spent the school year rewriting it and editing. The manuscript was sent off on the day he graduated​. A few weeks later it caused an uproar at the 2011 Frankfurt Book Fair, and has since sold in more than fifteen countries around the world.

A couple of weeks ago I asked Hobbs about what he was reading. His reply:
I have a complicated relationship with reading. Most of the books I read aren't really for entertainment, but for research. I enjoy taking a book apart. I like to examine the elements of its construction, the merits and demerits of the prose, and quality of the plot twists that drive it forward. I read everything at a snail's speed for this reason. For me the real pleasure is in the study, not the story. So here are three I've been studying recently.

Hit Man, by Laurence Block. I've recently been on something of a Laurence Block kick. It is almost shameful that I've never read him before, because he's not only a legendary writer in my genre but also Hit Man is truly magnificent. It features Block's awesome protagonist, Keller, who is a professional assassin. Block uses simple phrases to reveal his character's inner emotions. Even when Keller is doing something simple, like watching TV or going out to eat at a restaurant, Block can write the scene in such a way that it becomes instantly intriguing, deeply emotional, and powerfully resonant. I'm studying it for its elegantly simple prose.

Kiss Her Goodbye, by Micky Spillane and Max Allan Collins. They don't make 'em like this anymore! This hardboiled crime novel reads like it came out of a time machine-- the very definition of old school. It has this tough, honest, spot-on voice and a classic plot lifted right from film noir. Spillane was always a favorite of mine, and Collins takes over for him perfectly, without missing a beat. When I first became a writer, this is what I wanted to write. I'm studying it for its dark, masculine voice.

The Inquisitor, by Mark Allen Smith. The Inquisitor is one of those novels that is so precisely what I like that it feels like it was written especially for me. It focuses on Geiger, a man who is an expert at "information retrieval," or, put another way, a professional torturer. He never physically hurts his subjects-- he uses a myriad of mental techniques to get them to talk instead. He is the sort of character you could read about for hours, mesmerized by his many sides. I'm studying this book for its fascinating and terrifying characters.
Learn more about the book and author at Roger Hobbs's website.

The Page 69 Test: Ghostman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

CJ Lyons

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of eighteen novels, former pediatric ER doctor CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart.

Lyons has been called a "master within the genre" (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as "breathtakingly fast-paced" and "riveting" (Publishers Weekly) with "characters with beating hearts and three dimensions" (Newsday).

Her new novel is Black Sheep.

Recently I asked Lyons about what she was reading.  Her reply:
The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success, by Kevin Dutton

In my 17 years of practicing pediatrics and pediatric ER medicine, I dealt with a lot of sociopaths (aka Psychopaths). Gangbangers, fellow physicians, parents on power trips, law enforcement officers, charge nurses…really no occupation or segment of society was immune.

This ubiquitous nature of a personality disorder that was supposed to have a prevalence of only 1-4% of the population outside of the ER, always bothered me. Especially the fact that these people at first glance seemed so damn normal.

As a thriller author I also write a lot of sociopath characters—most of whom are not the villains. Instead they reflect the spectrum of our society, just like the sociopaths I met in the ER. Including a fair number who are covert operatives, law enforcement officers, physicians, nurses, lawyers, and politicians.

So of course when I saw the title of Kevin Dutton's latest book and read an excerpt, I realized this was a must read for any thriller/suspense author.

The Wisdom of Psychopaths was a fascinating read. Especially as it confirmed my belief that a little sociopathy is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you're a brain surgeon, CIA officer, SWAT sniper, or the like.

(It also explained why I fled several relationships with "great guys" and reaffirmed my natural instincts to run when things didn't feel right. Unfortunately I have friends who didn't listen to my intuitions and ended up in disastrous relationships of their own.)

If you want to know what a serial killer has in common with James Bond, grab The Wisdom of Psychopaths and check it out.
Visit CJ Lyons' website.

The Page 69 Test: Black Sheep.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 25, 2013

Gail Carriger

New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger writes to cope with being raised in obscurity by an expatriate Brit and an incurable curmudgeon. She escaped small town life and inadvertently acquired several degrees in Higher Learning. Carriger then traveled the historic cities of Europe, subsisting entirely on biscuits secreted in her handbag. She resides in the Colonies, surrounded by fantastic shoes, where she insists on tea imported from London.

Her Parasol Protectorate books are: Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, Heartless, and Timeless. Soulless won the ALA's Alex Award and has been turned into a graphic novel. Carriger's young adult Finishing School series begins with Etiquette & Espionage and follows the exploits of Sophronia who discovers her dreaded lady's seminary is a great deal more than anyone realizes.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what she was reading. Carriger's reply:
A friend came across a beat up old copy of Godey's Lady's Book and Magazine Vol. LXXV From July to December, 1872 in her grandmother's attic and mailed it to me. (Not all that uncommon, actually, when on writes books set in the Victorian Era one suddenly becomes the recipient of primary sources ~ it's marvelous). Despite the fact that I'm supposed to be immersed in the 1850s working on the next Finishing School book, I'm enjoying Godey's far too much to put down. It's a bound journal collection of several issues of a woman's fashion magazine. It has everything a young lady might want: from bursts of romantic and sentimental fiction like "Fannie's Fourth of July"; to a Works Department wherein one can learn to DIY such useful items as a Case for Holding Tatting Work; to Fashion plates with the latest dresses, hats, and drawers; to cooking tips such as the Management of Hot Indian Pickles. I travel a lot and have a weakness for reading modern fashion and gossip magazines on planes. This is like just such a magazine, only 140 years old. It's hypnotic. Some of the advice is spot on, and then other tips are totally awful; it's uncomfortably similar to Cosmopolitan. I'm left each evening with a list of silly notes for my various blogs, oddball recipes I'm dying to try (you wouldn't believe how many eggs these people ate), to weird terms I now must look up.

There are even book reviews. For example, My Hero by Mrs. Forrester is described as "autobiographical in form, pleasing in character, possesses vivid interest, and will doubtless prove satisfactory to all who read it." How amusing would it be if modern book reviews were similarly verbosely damning?
Visit Gail Carriger's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Soulless.

The Page 69 Test: Changeless.

Writers Read: Gail Carriger (November 2010).

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Teddy Wayne

Teddy Wayne, the author of Kapitoil, is the winner of a 2011 Whiting Writers’ Award and a finalist for the Young Lions Fiction Award, PEN/Bingham Prize, and Dayton Literary Peace Prize. He writes regularly for The New Yorker, the New York Times, Vanity Fair, McSweeney’s, and elsewhere. His new novel is The Love Song of Jonny Valentine.

Earlier this month I asked Wayne about what he was reading.  His reply:
I'm reading two forthcoming books, The Night Gwen Stacy Died, by Sarah Bruni (out in July), and The Facades, by Eric Lundgren (for September). Both are smart and funny and moving, linguistically and formally inventive, and the product of singular minds. And they tell the oldest story around--a love story--in fresh ways that strip away all sentimentality but are powerful nonetheless.
Visit Teddy Wayne's website.

The Page 69 Test: Kapitoil.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Alison Gaylin

Alison Gaylin is the author of And She Was, the Edgar®-nominated thriller Hide Your Eyes, as well as its sequel, You Kill Me, and two stand-alone novels, Trashed and Heartless.

Her new novel is Into the Dark.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading.  Gaylin's reply:
Ever since Fifth Grade, when I picked up Helter Skelter thinking it was a book about The Beatles, I’ve been a huge fan of true crime – and I just finished reading one that ranks among my favorites. People Who Eat Darkness, by Richard Lloyd Parry, is a harrowing, fascinating account of Lucie Blackman, the young British girl who traveled to Japan to work as a hostess – and wound up brutally murdered. In extraordinary detail, Parry takes the reader into the shadowy world of the foreign hostess circuit in Japan – something I was utterly unfamiliar with before reading the book, but now feel as though I know completely. He also tells the story in an almost Rashamon-like way, repeating the story from Lucie’s point of view, then her family members, then the police, Lucie’s friends and even the suspect, each point of view bringing us closer to the truth. It’s a fantastic structure with which to tell this labyrinthine, sometimes terrifying tale. And Parry is not only a great journalist, he’s a wonderful, empathetic writer.
Visit Alison Gaylin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Into the Dark.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 22, 2013

Ray Taras

Ray Taras is a New Orleans author who directed Tulane University's World Literature Program until Hurricane Katrina forced its closure. Comparative literature and world cinema have been teaching and research interests of his for many years. His latest books include Xenophobia and Islamophobia in Europe and, as editor, Challenging Multiculturalism: European Models of Diversity.

Earlier this month I asked him about what he was reading.  Taras's reply:
I’m still curious why a couple of years ago, at the height of the Eurozone crisis, so many disparaging attacks were leveled at Greece that went well beyond its alleged economic mismanagement. I trust novelists more than political economists to provide truthful accounts of harsh realities, so I turned to one of Greece’s foremost writers, Rhea Galanaki, for a narrative illuminating its recent past.

Eleni, or Nobody tells us about the dual lives – one as a woman artist, the other as a woman in male disguise – lived by nineteenth-century painter Eleni Altamura-Boukoura. Through Eleni’s schizophrenic behavior we can follow Greece’s own struggle for national identity and how transnational encounters, in this case with Italy, can be both constructive and harmful.

A very well-written and well-translated novel, it raises two other important subjects. One is the humiliations, private and public, that an over-achieving woman had to endure. Counter intuitively, these occurred more frequently in Florence, the cradle of the Italian Renaissance, than they did on the Greek island of Spetses where Eleni lived for much of her life. The other is the attention given to the unglamorous unromantic part of a life, let’s say the 25 years after reaching a professional peak. The consolation for Eleni is, as her niece vows, that “this inheritance, whether of power or foolishness, should pass down from woman to woman and be kept from the corresponding power and foolishness of men” (p.180).

In many respects Galanaki has written a Maritime novel which includes seafaring accounts, including of Eleni’s son’s voyage to study art in Denmark. In considering Europe’s north-south cultural divide, I wish I could compare it to a recent novel by Carsten Jensen, Sidste Rejse (“The Last Voyage”), about Carl Rasmussen, a late nineteenth-century Danish Maritime painter. Unfortunately it hasn’t been translated into a language I read with fluency. Credit goes to Northwestern University Press, which published Eleni, or Nobody, whose catalog is an El Dorado of less known literature in translation.

Tan Twan Eng will surely win the Man Booker Prize one of these years. The Garden of Evening Mists which I am currently reading was shortlisted for the 2012 award and his first book, The Gift of Rain, made the Booker long list. Yugiri (“evening mists” in Japanese) is the lush tropical setting, a secluded garden in the highlands of Malaya.

The two main characters come from such contrasting backgrounds that, the reader would think, any cross-cultural encounter between them would be doomed. Aritomo is a master Japanese gardener having served the Emperor no less. By way of his noble occupation he appears to have avoided taking part in Japan’s brutal wartime occupation of Malaya.

Yun Ling is a retired Cambridge-educated Malaysian Supreme Court judge who assisted in the prosecution of Japanese war criminals. The only survivor of a Japanese internment camp where her sister died, Yun Ling reluctantly agrees to serve as Aritomo’s apprentice in the design of a garden dedicated to the memory of her sister, who had once been overcome by the beauty of a garden she had seen in Kyoto. Failing health and memory make Yun Ling’s gardening work urgent – and surreal – as a brutal communist insurgency rages in the tropical forests.

It is coincidence that I am reading my second “Asian highlands novel” of 2013. Anuradha Roy’s The Folded Earth is set on India’s side of the Himalayan foothills and also tells a spellbinding story of people escaping their past. Place in novels appeals, and may even lessen our carbon footprint when we are glued reading them at home.
Learn more about Xenophobia and Islamophobia in Europe and Challenging Multiculturalism: European Models of Diversity at the Columbia University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Xenophobia and Islamophobia in Europe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Paula Brackston

Paula Brackston is the author of a travel book, The Dragon's Trail and the novels The Witch's Daughter and The Winter Witch. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University in the UK, and her autobiographical writing has been published in several anthologies.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Brackston's reply:
I’ve been thinking about the expectations I have of books, and how I take different things from different types of novels. I don’t anticipate that I will get everything I desire from one book. It does happen, but rarely.

Some books I read for the colour and intensity of the story – perhaps a sweeping setting (The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penny) or a dramatic plot (The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell). With these I want to experience something and somewhere way outside myself, beyond my own experience (either past or likely future).

Some books I read for the power of the characters, whether good (Merivel by Rose Tremain), or bad (As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann). Now I want to go somewhere deep inside myself. I don’t want to merely empathise with these characters, while I’m reading the story I want to become them.

Some books I read for tone and mood; for the way they move and stimulate me. Paul Torday and Sue Townsend to make me laugh, for instance, Sebastian Faulks to make me cry, George RR Martin to fire my imagination. All will keep me reading way after silly o’clock at night.

Then there are the books where language reigns. The books where you come across a sentence so exquisitely formed, an idea so succinctly expressed, a sentiment so ably shown, you have to read and re-read it. And each time the thrill remains undiminished. These are the phrases I wish I had coined. The sentences I wish I had written. And yet I can overcome my envy, because the pleasure I get from such writing is mine to keep.

As I said, it is rare to find all these qualities in one book, but it does happen. And when it does, well, how gifted the writer and how fortunate the reader. I offer you two examples of this rare bird.

The first is Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I worry about the upcoming film. Will the language be there? Can it be? I urge you to read the book before you watch the movie.

The second is A Room With A View by EM Forster. Can there be a more perfect depiction of the absurdity of society, the allure of ‘abroad’, and the complex nature of the human psyche? My favourite ever lines are:

“Miss Barlett was unequal to the bath. All her barbed civilities came forth wrong end first.”

Read in context, it is sublime.
Visit Paula Brackston's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Leighton Gage

Leighton Gage’s books are crime novels set in Brazil. The author has lived in Australia, Europe, and South America and traveled widely in Asia and Africa. He visited Spain in the time of Franco, Portugal in the time of Salazar, South Africa in the time of apartheid, Chile in the time of Pinochet, Argentina in the time of the junta, Prague, East Germany, and Yugoslavia under the Communist yoke. He and his wife spend much of the year in a small town near São Paulo, and the rest in Europe and the United States, where they have children and grandchildren.

His new novel, Perfect Hatred, is the sixth book in the series featuring Chief Inspector Mario Silva.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what he was reading. Gage's reply:
I’m re-reading Erskine Childer’s The Riddle of the Sands.

It’s dated, of course, but that doesn’t bother me. I’m a sucker for espionage stories, I still like to re-read Maugham’s Ashenden, and I remain a committed fan of everything Eric Ambler ever wrote. (Speaking of Ambler, you might like to read this review of The Light of Day that I wrote back in February of 2010, for The Rap Sheet.

So what’s special about The Riddle of the Sands?

Firstly, the book itself.

Some say it was the first espionage novel. (It wasn’t. Kipling’s Kim preceded it by a couple of years.)

But The Riddle of the Sands was a tremendously influential book in its day (Winston Churchill later credited it as a major reason for the British Admiralty to establish a naval base at Scapa Flow) – and has enjoyed a longevity given to few genre novels in the history of publishing.

Childers completed it well-over a century ago – and it has never gone out of print.

And then there was the author.

If you’ve never heard of Robert Erskine Childers, then you might want to look him up.

Talk about a gentleman of the old school.

At his execution, he made a point of shaking the hand of every man on the firing squad – and even joked that they might find their task easier if they were to take a few steps forward.

Childers was a scholar, a soldier, an intellectual, a smuggler and a sailor.

I’ve always had a certain admiration for all of those professions (yes, even smuggling – having done a bit of it myself in a small way).

So my admiration goes out to the man as well as the book.

And I think he got a bum rap when they shot him.
Learn more about the book and author at Leighton Gage's website and the Murder is Everywhere blog.

The Page 69 Test: Perfect Hatred.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Molly Cochran

Molly Cochran has written and ghostwritten over 25 novels and nonfiction books, including the Edgar-winning bestseller Grandmaster and The Forever King, recipient of the New York Public Library award for Books of the Teen Age, both co-written with Warren Murphy, and the nonfiction bestseller Dressing Thin. Her most recent novels are the YA titles, Legacy and Poison.

Not so long ago I asked Cochran about what she was reading.  Her reply:
I read extensively, compulsively. At the moment, I'm writing a book about Tokyo during the early years of the 20th century, so I'm reading a lot of reference material about that. In fiction, after reading A Visit From the Goon Squad, I've fallen in love with Jennifer Egan's dry, tricky novels that examine the differences between appearance and reality. I also really enjoyed Ally Condie's third Matched novel, Reached.

The best new work I've read lately--just finished it, in fact--is an as-yet unpublished manuscript that I was asked to write a blurb for. Written by Jennifer Murgia, author of Angel Star and Lemniscate, this untitled novel is set in 17th century Germany at the height of the witch burnings and the Black Plague. It tells the story of a real, if unseasoned, 16-year-old witch who is forced to run from her home after watching her beloved guardian tortured for being a healer, then put through myriad trials and horrors before she can learn the stunning truth about herself and her heritage.

Finally, I'm reading Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell's stunning exploration of being, reincarnation, and eternity. I loved the movie so much that I had to get the book. Every page leaves me breathless.
Visit Molly Cochran's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Legacy.

The Page 69 Test: Poison.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 18, 2013

Jim Cullen

Jim Cullen teaches history at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in New York City. He is the author of The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea that Shaped a Nation, Born in the U.S.A.: Bruce Springsteen and the American Tradition, and other books. Cullen is also a book review editor at the History News Network.

His latest book is Sensing the Past: Hollywood Stars and Historical Visions.

Recently I asked Cullen about what he was reading. His reply:
Sometimes you choose books; other times they choose you. Right now I’m reading T.J. Stiles’s The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt. I backed into the book, which I’ve just started, in a funny way. Aware of its good reviews, I made a mental note of it at the time of its publication in 2009, though I never got around to it. A couple of years ago, I was at the book exhibit at an Organization of American Historians meeting, where the publisher of the paperback edition (Vintage) was giving away copies. But I was put off by the size of the book—it clocks in over 700 rather large pages – and the limits of what I could lug as carry-on baggage for my flight home the next day. I finally did buy The First Tycoon a few months ago, at a time when I was planning to write a book on the myth of the self-made man. Because that project is now in doubt, it fell in rank among my reading priorities and I contemplated giving it away.

Last week I found myself with a sliver of time on my hands and picked it up. In one sense I almost instantly regretted it, because of pressing other reading commitments: I was in the middle of reviewing David Shambaugh’s new book China Goes Global: The Partial Power (Oxford University Press) and about to begin re-reading Harlem Renaissance novelist Nella Larsen’s 1928 novella Passing for a class I’m teaching (Larsen’s book was even better than I remembered). But once I made room for Stiles’s Vanderbilt, he wouldn’t let me go. I realized very quickly why Stiles won the Pulitzer Prize for this biography: it isn’t simply a portrait of a man, but a world. I was riveted by his evocation of Vanderbilt’s early 19th century metropolitan New York, which still consists of overgrown Dutch hamlets. I was also amazed to learn that of young Vanderbilt’s role in the landmark Supreme Court decision Gibbons v. Ogden (1817), which proved formative in the emergence of a truly national U.S. economy. Vanderbilt always seemed the most remote and least interesting of the 19th century Robber Barons. I’m happy I’m going to learn otherwise.
Learn more about Sensing the Past at the Oxford University Press website, and visit Jim Cullen's American History Now blog.

The Page 99 Test: Sensing the Past.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Katherine Howe

Katherine Howe was born in Houston, Texas, and holds degrees in art history and philosophy from Columbia and in American and New England Studies from Boston University. She is the author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, which debuted at #2 on the New York Times bestseller list, and which has been translated into more than twenty languages.

Howe's latest novel is The House of Velvet and Glass.

Not so long ago I asked the author about what she was reading.  Her reply:
Maybe it's because so much of The House of Velvet and Glass concerns ocean-going, between scenes set on the last night of Titanic and one character's adventure set on a clipper ship bound for Shanghai, but lately I've been reading a lot of nonfiction books about sailing. I've been particularly drawn to A World of my Own, by Robin Knox-Johnston, a gripping memoir by the first man to circumnavigate the globe in a single-handed sailboat, and to The Long Way by Bernard Moitessier. Moitessier was competing against Knox-Johnston for the Golden Globe, one of two prizes offered by the Sunday Times in 1968: one for first solo circumnavigation in a sailboat, and another for fastest solo circumnavigation. Knox-Johnston came in first, and Moitessier seemed certain to win for fastest. But instead of returning to port to claim his prize, at the last minute Moitessier decided to keep going. He turned south to round the Cape again and continued halfway around the world alone, on his own, leaving behind his family and friends, because he felt compelled to. Both of these men and the other seven competitors in the Golden Globe appear in Peter Nichols' breathtaking A Voyage for Madmen, the classic account of the Golden Globe race, in which nine men set out to circle the world alone, but only one returned. Nichols' book illuminates the particular personalities of men who, like my character Lan Allston, are drawn to seek their fortunes on the sea, even though it could destroy them.

While it's true I'm attracted to these true tales of ocean adventure in part because I'm an amateur weekend sailor myself, I think I'm also drawn to them because the experience of setting forth alone in a boat doesn't seem all that different, metaphorically speaking, from writing a book. You might think you know where you're going, that you are prepared for what you're about to do, but there will be surprises and challenges ahead. You might not end up where you expect. You must pay constant attention. The risks are all yours, but so is the authority. There must be rigor brought to the enterprise, or all will be lost.
Visit Katherine Howe's website.

The Page 69 Test: The House of Velvet and Glass.

My Book, The Movie: The House of Velvet and Glass.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 15, 2013

Dina Nayeri

Dina Nayeri was born in the middle of a revolution in Iran and moved to Oklahoma at ten-years-old. Her debut novel, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, was released in 2013 by Riverhead Books (Penguin), translated to 13 foreign languages, and selected as a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers book. Her work is published or scheduled for publication in over 20 countries and has appeared in Granta New Voices, The Southern Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Salon, Glamour, and elsewhere. She holds an MBA and a Master of Education, both from Harvard, and a BA from Princeton. She has worked in high fashion, management consulting, university admissions, investment banking, and once as a grumpy lifeguard. Now Nayeri is at work on her second novel (also about an Iranian family) at the Iowa Writers Workshop where she is a Truman Capote Fellow and Teaching Writing Fellow.

A couple of weeks ago I asked he author about what she was reading. Nayeri's reply:
I recently picked up a book by the Dutch writer "Nescio" called Amsterdam Stories in a pile of books outside Strand bookstore in New York City. I've only just moved back to the states after four years of living in Amsterdam, and the title struck me and filled me with nostalgia. I almost put the book back, thinking that reading about Amsterdam would make me sad, but I love fiction from the decades surrounding the two world wars, and so I took it home. I'm not very far into the book, but I've done some research on this fascinating writer with the strange pseudonym (Latin for "I don't know") and I can't wait to dig into these stories. I already have a favorite quote: “The devil always has a good time with adorable, unaffected young women who love their lawfully wedded husbands very much.”
Visit Dina Nayeri's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea.

My Book, The Movie: A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Julie Kibler

Julie Kibler began writing Calling Me Home after learning a bit of family lore: as a young woman, her grandmother fell in love with a young black man in an era and locale that made the relationship impossible. When not writing, Kibler enjoys travel, independent films, music, photography, and corralling her teenagers and rescue dogs.

Last month I asked the author about what she was reading. Kibler's reply:
The first book I finished reading in 2013 was an advance readers’ edition of The Promise, a novel by Ann Weisgarber, who wrote The Personal History of Rachel Dupree. I was sucked in from beginning to end of this harrowing tale of a woman who flees to Galveston to marry the man who worshipped her from afar when they were young. The historic 1900 Galveston storm—the worst natural disaster in 20th century American history—figures largely in this haunting second novel, due March 15 from Pan Macmillan, the publisher Weisgarber and I share in the UK. I hope it releases soon here in the U.S.

I’m currently reading J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. I haven’t read a single Harry Potter story, which some of my friends think is ridiculous. I’ve never been much on fantasy. But I do like stories about English villages, and I’m fascinated by small-town scuttlebutt. I’m about halfway through the book, which I began reading for a local book club. I’d heard such varied reactions—some vehemently upset with Rowling for this strong departure from the Harry Potter books—I thought it would be a fun experiment. I like it so far, which doesn’t surprise me at all.
Visit Julie Kibler's website.

The Page 69 Test: Calling Me Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ted Kerasote

Ted Kerasote is the author of several books, including the national bestseller Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog and Out There, which won the National Outdoor Book Award. His essays and photographs have appeared in Audubon, Outside, and the New York Times, among others. He lives in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Kerasote's new book is Pukka's Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs.

Recently I asked him about what he was reading.  His reply:
I recently finished Winter of the World by Ken Follett. As usual, Follett creates memorable characters, many of them as good as the ones Dickens created. He then places them in plots that are not only fraught with tension and drama, but also filled with the agonies and joys of the human condition.

Another book I’ve enjoyed is Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan. Whereas as Follett creates his fictional world with simple declarative sentences, McEwan builds his with prose that is rich, complex, and precise. But like Follett, McEwan constantly delves into the murkiness of the human heart and psyche.
Learn more about Pukka's Promise: The Quest for Longer-Lived Dogs.

Visit Ted Kerasote's website and follow him on Facebook.

The Page 69 Test: Merle's Door.

The Page 99 Test: Pukka's Promise.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Marci Shore

Marci Shore, an associate professor of intellectual history at Yale, has spent much of her adult life in central and eastern Europe. She is the author of Caviar and Ashes: A Warsaw Generation's Life and Death in Marxism, which won eight prizes, including a National Jewish Book Award. She is also the translator of Michał Głowiński's Holocaust memoir The Black Seasons.

Shore's latest book is The Taste of Ashes: The Afterlife of Totalitarianism in Eastern Europe.

Last month I asked the author about what she was reading.  Shore's reply:
Alina Bronsky, The Hottest Dishes of the Tatar Cuisine. Bronsky’s writing is fresh. Rosa, the vibrant and unreliable narrator, embodies both an acceptance of fate that is deeply Russian and a joie de vivre that embraces both the tragic and the ironic. Rosa is not only an alternatively darkly and lightly comical (anti-)heroine, but also a prism through which the reader observes the fine line between delusion and stamina, between narcissistic self-indulgence and an indomitable will to endure.

Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending. The tone is gently melancholic, but never macabre. This is a tightly crafted story that illuminates Hegel’s message in The Phenomenology of Spirit: namely, that actions inevitably have consequences in excess of their intent, and that any determinate meaning can only ever be retrospective.

Hannah Arendt, The Jewish Writings. I find Hannah Arendt’s lucidity as mesmerizing now as I did when I first read her in college over twenty years ago. Her sharp writing is at moments disconcerting, at moments beautiful, and at moments both at once. Her devotion to understanding in the deepest possible sense remains for me a model of what the writer can do, and who the writer should be.
Visit Marci Shore's faculty webpage and read more about The Taste of Ashes.

Writers Read: Marci Shore (February 2009).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 11, 2013

Anne Zouroudi

Anne Zouroudi was born in England and has lived in the Greek islands. She conceived The Mysteries of the Greek Detective as a series of seven novels, each based on one of the Deadly Sins. Six of the books are now available in the UK; the third novel in the series, The Doctor of Thessaly, was released in the US at the end of 2012.

Not so long ago I asked Zouroudi about what she was reading.  Her reply:
Though I've come very late to this particular party, I'm reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall. It's a book I've considered reading for some time, but whilst the subject matter (political intrigue at the court of Henry VIII) interests me, I've suffered disappointment many times from books so heavily hyped, especially, I'm sorry to say, when it comes to winners of the Booker Prize. But when the sequel Bring up the Bodies also won the Booker, I began to feel more and more I might be missing out, so - still reluctant to pay out hard cash for what I feared might turn out to be another Booker turkey - I borrowed Wolf Hall from the local library.

And you know what? I think it's a triumph. Many of the players, of course, are hard-wired into that tumultuous period of 16th-century English history, and their names have been known to me since my schooldays. But in Wolf Hall, it's like having a spot-light shone onto a dark stage. Thomas Cromwell, Cardinal Wolsey, the spoilt, capricious king - these historical figures live and breathe through the minutiae of their imagined lives.

The writing is beautiful, too. The prose is elegant but not stuffy, descriptive but not flowery, and that's a difficult trick to pull off. It's a lengthy novel, but of such excellent quality, I pick it up with anticipation, rather than with that feeling of dutifulness which too often accompanies the reading of 'big' books.

The ultimate compliment from me is that it's one of those relatively rare books I wish I'd written myself. And I'm looking forward to the sequel, for which I shall very happily pay cash.
Visit Anne Zouroudi's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Thomas Maltman

Thomas Maltman’s essays, poetry, and fiction have been published in many literary journals. He has an MFA from Minnesota State University, Mankato. His first novel, The Night Birds, won an Alex Award, a Spur Award, and the Friends of American Writers Literary Award. In 2009 the American Library Association chose The Night Birds as an “Outstanding Book for the College Bound.” He’s taught for five years at Normandale Community College and lives in the Twin Cities area. Little Wolves, his second novel, made the January 2013 Indie Next List and is an Amazon Book of the Month.

Late last month I asked Maltman about what he was reading.  His reply:
I come to writing as a reader first. It’s a love of reading that brings me to the blank page. In high school I sometimes devoured entire novels in a single afternoon and I daydreamed one day about writing a book of my own. A love of books and language is what brings me here and sustains me.

I like to keep a number of books from different genres on my nightstand, from poetry to fiction, and my tastes roam a broad territory. I tend to have mix popular fiction, literary, and classics going all at once.

This means that right now I’m rereading Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. I remember loving this in high school. Dickens is master at setting up scenes like a cinematographer, his omniscient style sweeping over courtrooms or rioting city streets to illumine a single subject. I’m also reading this a second time because my next book is about The Last Dauphin, the son of Louis-Charles XVII and Marie Antoinette who were both executed during the French Revolution. As part of my research I read heavily from the period, absorbing historic details and a feel for the time I’ll hope to later use when I write.

The book from the “popular” genre that I just finished was George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones. Yes, it’s pure melodrama, but also absolutely riveting. What I admire is the strong sense of place, from those faces carved in the weirwoods where the Stark family stays true to the old gods to the dire wolves and forest beyond the Wall haunted by the Others. It’s been a long time since a book has so completely transported me to another place. “In real life the monsters win,” one of the characters observes and that’s true of this story world, which gets praised and criticized for its grit and the sometimes random deaths of favorite characters. There are some books out there that became popular for terrible reasons. Isn’t it rotten that as I write this all three Fifty Shades of Grey books are in the top ten of the NYT bestseller list? Bleh. And yet, sometimes a book becomes popular for all the right reasons. Even for non-fantasy readers (and I will read any genre I get my hands on so long that the story is well-crafted), George RR Martin is a must-read.

Two literary books by Minnesota writers I recently finished are Peter Geye’s The Lighthouse Road, a masterful novel about birth and death, family loyalties and belonging, set in the 19th century north woods community of Gunflint, and Nick Healy’s collection of short stories, It Takes You Over. In our age of shortened attention spans, I don’t understand why more people don’t read short stories. If you are reading this right now take twenty minutes of your time and go listen to him read one of the award-winning stories on this podcast. Those twenty minutes may be the best you spend today! Reading between classics, popular, and literary helps me to see that a great book is one that crosses the artificial genre boundaries we set up.

In case this isn’t clear yet, I read everything I can. Since I teach young adult literature and children’s literature, I am always on the lookout for good books. You can learn so much about pacing and pathos from reading Roald Dahl! Nicole Helget and Nate LeBoutillier have written this wise and funny book for kids, Horse Camp, which started as a story they were making up for their own children at bedtime.

Poetry and nonfiction also occupy key places on my reading stand. I follow Ray Bradbury’s advice from The Zen of Writing that it’s wise for prose writers to drink in good poetry because it helps us create more shapely sentences and lyrical prose. I read Wendell Berry before journaling (a spiritual journal) and I’m also reading Kris Bigalk’s beautiful book, Repeat the Flesh in Numbers.

In short, I finish each day wishing there were more hours I had for reading. It’s a good life, so long as there are books to sustain us.
Visit Thomas Maltman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Little Wolves.

--Marshal Zeringue