Sunday, March 31, 2013

James Thompson

James Thompson, eastern Kentucky born and raised, has lived in Finland for more than a dozen years. His first novel, Snow Angels--which introduced the Inspector Vaara series--was nominated for the Edgar, the Anthony, and The Strand Magazine Critics Award. The newly released Helsinki Blood is the fourth novel in the Inspector Vaara series.

Earlier this month I asked Thompson about what he was reading.  His reply:
I’m researching my novel in progress, so these all get lumped together, a small library of tarot reading and magick. I’ll list them by level of difficulty:

Tarot for Beginners: A Practical Guide to Reading the Cards
Barbara Moore

Tarot Basics
Janet Boyer

The Pictorial Key to the Tarot
Arthur Edward Waite, Matthew Vossler, Pamela Colman Smith, Matthew Vossler, Pamela Colman Smith

The Golden Dawn: The Original Account of the Teachings, Rites & Ceremonies of the Hermetic Order (Llewellyn's Golden Dawn)
Israel Regardie

Grimoire of Aleister Crowley
Rodney Orpheus, Lon Milo Duquette, Cathryn Orchard

I began studying the occult a decade ago, from an academic standpoint, while working on my Master’s degree. As an academic, I’m a Yeatsian; William Butler Yeats was a member of the Golden Dawn, and so studying the Golden Dawn was necessary to gain an understanding of Yeats’s symbolism. Crowley was once a member of the Golden Dawn, but took a different path. I decided to put this knowledge to use in a novel, and so have had to change my way of approaching these occult studies from that of an academic to that of a practitioner. These five books could be considered a condensed journey from the initiate to the adept. At the moment, I’m trying to decide what is the most economical and necessary to bring that journey to life in the novel.

I also have two novels by Jo Nesbø and Cold Lonely Courage, by Soren Petrek loaded in my e-reader, waiting for when I need a break from my studies.
Visit James Thompson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Snow Angels.

The Page 69 Test: Helsinki White.

Writers Read: James Thompson (April 2012).

My Book, The Movie: Helsinki White.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Paula Champa

Paula Champa writes on design and the arts. Her short fiction has appeared in a number of literary journals and in the anthology The Way We Work. Her recently published first novel is The Afterlife of Emerson Tang.

Recently I asked her about what she was reading. Champa's reply:
When I’m working on a piece of writing, nearly everything I read is related to the current project. Now that I’ve finished a long work and am free to roam, I’m excited to turn to a waiting stack of both classic and contemporary fiction, from Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot to Alice Hoffman’s The Red Garden. First, though, I pushed everything aside to read musician Neil Young’s fascinating memoir, Waging Heavy Peace. The book was recommended to me by one of my sisters after she kept finding coincidental connections between some of the passion-projects Young is involved in —his ongoing work to develop an eco-friendly vehicle, the Linc-Volt, as well as an exhaustive effort to archive his artistic output in music and film — with the passions of the main character in my new novel (who is archiving a collection of modernist photography and is secretly involved in the development of a new, clean forms of transportation). I’m a child of the ‘60s and 70s and a fan of Young’s music, so I expected to be interested in what he had to say about his life as an artist. I did not expect to find so many other interesting observations about spirituality, creative perseverance, hopes and regrets. By the end, my copy of the book was fringed with dozens of slips of paper marking passages that resonated with the themes I’d been thinking and writing about myself. Some are devoted to Young’s conviction that advocating for clean transportation is desperately important. As a collector of classic cars, he also appreciates the personal histories that cars can represent: “Every car tells a story. They are all packed with good memories…. Cars all have stories to tell.” Other slips mark Young’s meditations on handling painful setbacks and grief, particularly the death of close friends. Young is known for his distinctive singing voice, and his writing voice is equally unique and honest. You come away with a sense of having sat with him for hours as he circles back on incidents and turning points, building a sense of his own journey with a charming disregard for chronological fidelity. His tale of a life fully and freely lived is tinged with affecting notes of bittersweet poetry, especially when he concludes: “So yes, there has been a lot of loss. It is important to remember the times when life is in full bloom. Those are the moments that give us the faith to move through the darkness when it falls.”
Visit Paula Champa's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 29, 2013

Amy Shearn

Amy Shearn's first novel, How Far Is the Ocean from Here, was published in 2008. Her new novel is The Mermaid of Brooklyn.

A few weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading.  Shearn's reply:
I’ve been reading a lot of novels to review for work lately, and I’m new to reviewing, and I’m not sure if I’m allowed to talk about how great and exciting these books are before the reviews are published on the site. Is that a thing? It seems like it might be a thing, so I’ll refrain and just say: check out my reviews on in the next few months because there are some wonderful novels coming out that I was lucky enough to read before you.

When I was revising my novel I was also in the process of moving and also, you know, rearing my two small and very time-consuming children, and I just got so busy and found myself so tired all the time that this terrible thing happened: I had a reading drought. I’ve always thought of myself as a reader first, maybe before even a human, so this was truly catastrophic. I felt miserable and too inside my head all the time. Then some friends and I started a slow-readers’ book group, giving ourselves forgiving windows of time in which to finish books, even though we all were formerly voracious readers and felt that it shouldn’t take us months to finish a novel but there you had it. This book group saved me, and jumpstarted my reading for pleasure again.

Our first book was Girl Reading, a lovely and unusual novel from British writer Katie Ward. It’s really more of a linked story collection (not to quibble), all about the imagined stories behind famous images of girls and women reading. It’s one of those books that reminds you of the particular magic of literature and art, how deeply nourishing they are. Ward writes of one of her reading girls, “The rhythms of the story fill her up.” I felt that way reading this; I love books that invite you to rethink what a book can be, and this is just such a work.

Then there was J. Robert Lennon’s latest, Familiar. Lennon is one of those writers who does something completely different with every book he writes, and I find that to be really encouraging and horizon-widening. This book is that greatest-of-all-things: the smart, literary page-turner. It’s about a woman who, without warning, finds herself in a slightly altered version of her old life; she has a different job, a changed marriage, and her dead son is alive. It’s unsettling and beautiful and thought-provoking on a what-is-this-life-level. And it also has one my favorite character descriptions in recent memory: “He appears so confused here, among these strange young people, and all the light and color. He belongs in a library, surrounded by brown things.” As do I.

The book on my nightstand right now – well, as a figure of speech, there’s really a slightly menacing tower over there, but the one I’m actually in the middle of right now – is The History of Us, by Leah Stewart. It’s a novel about three grown children who were reared by their slightly reluctant, not-that-maternal aunt, in the Cincinnati mansion in which the aunt grew up (and worked hard to escape). There are finely-drawn characters here, and an intricately woven family secret (gotta love those), but maybe what I love most is how the setting is this crucial piece of the story. As the aunt tells her girlfriend, “A lot of people see it as a failure to stay in the place where you’re from, especially if you’re from the Midwest. Like ambition is geographic.” Everyone in the book has complicated feelings about the gorgeous but ponderous house and the unglamorous city in a way that strikes home with me. Of course, I live in New York, which for all its annoyances and idiosyncrasies as one of the characters puts it perfectly, “is one of those places that is an idea,” and New York City is a big part of my novel, so of course I love reading about this other side of that coin.

Next up on my list: The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James. I haven’t read a good old musty classic in a while, and I just saw an opera version of this, and also have been thinking about the uncanny a lot lately, so it seems like a good way to go. As the tiredest reader in the world, I just hope I can stay awake for James. Wish me luck.
Visit Amy Shearn's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Deborah Cohen

Deborah Cohen was educated at Harvard (BA) and Berkeley (Ph.D.). She is Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Humanities and Professor of History at Northwestern University. She is the author of three books: The War Come Home (2001), Household Gods: The British and their Possessions (2006), and the newly released Family Secrets: Shame and Privacy in Modern Britain (2013).

Earlier this month I asked Cohen about what she was reading.  Her reply:
I’m on sabbatical and between books, so plumbing the depths of disorganized reading. I’m spending some part of the day idling in travelers’ accounts of the nineteenth-century Argentine and more of it re-reading Agatha Christie’s greatest hits in order to figure out what people in Peoria (or Bremen) loved about her.

Amidst it all, though, there’s one book I keep coming back to: Lisa Cohen (no relation!)’s All We Know: Three Lives, published by Farrar, Strauss & Giroux in 2012. It’s the sort of writerly foray that expands the bounds of what non-fiction can accomplish. The book comprises three intertwined biographical essays about women who lived modernism in the 1920s and 1930s: the New York intellectual, Esther Murphy; Mercedes de Acosta, fan among fans; and Madge Garland, style pioneer and for a time, fashion editor of British Vogue. All We Know is a book about the meanings of failure and success and about the lessons we take away when we tot up an existence. Most importantly, it is a stirring and very stylish salute to the profundity of style.
Visit Deborah Cohen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Jeanine Cummins

Jeanine Cummins is the author of A Rip in Heaven: A Memoir of Murder and Its Aftermath, published in 2004 and a surprise bestseller. The Outside Boy, published in 2010, was her first novel.

Her new novel is The Crooked Branch.

A few weeks ago I asked Cummins about what she was reading.  The author's reply:
I recently picked up Mary Beth Keane’s Fever, and it is a remarkable book – a thoughtful historical novel about the Irish American immigrant known as “Typhoid Mary.” Keane has done an astonishing job of recreating the detail and texture of New York City in the early nineteen hundreds, but even more impressive to me is how the author has managed to get inside the mind of Mary Mallon. In this telling, Mary Mallon is an entirely sympathetic figure, a woman who is intuitive and bright and undaunted by tremendous hardship. She is a woman who refuses despair. Keane has given Mary Mallon the great gift of humanity, and that character will haunt me long after I close this book.
Visit Jeanine Cummins's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Crooked Branch.

My Book, The Movie: The Crooked Branch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

James Conaway

James Conaway is a former Wallace Stegner writing fellow at Stanford University and an Alicia Patterson journalism fellow, and the author of three novels, The Big Easy, World’s End, and the newly-released Nose.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what he was reading. Conaway's reply:
I'm reading contemporary British fiction right now, probably because I'm working on a prequel to Nose, set in the late 'seventies, when the young wine critic, Clyde Craven-Jones, first comes to California and gets involved with a near-defunct wine-making family possibly bound for greatness, a kind of far-side of Downton Abbey. But I'm having serious trouble getting through Martin Amis's work, whose prose seems overly weighted with London low-life colloquialisms and is in no way elegant. Ian McEwan's Sweet Tooth starts well but the literary device doesn't work as well as the one in Atonement, I don't think. And the novels of St. Aubyn are pretty bleak but beautifully, tightly written and highly recommended.
Learn more about the book and author at James Conway's blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 25, 2013

Mary Beth Keane

Mary Beth Keane is the author of The Walking People (2009) and the newly released novel, Fever, about the life of Typhoid Mary. She attended Barnard College and the University of Virginia, where she received an MFA in Fiction. In 2011, she was named one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 under 35.

Recently I asked Keane about what she was reading. Her reply:
I am making an effort to read more non-fiction that has nothing to do with the research I’m doing for my own work. So, I just finished Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers, and it lived up to every glowing review I’ve read about it. I can’t begin imagine what it must have taken for her to have written this incredible book – to gain the trust of the community, to capture every personality so vividly.

As research for my third novel I’ve just begun Remembering Satan by Lawrence Wright. My third novel has nothing to do with Satan, sex abuse, or recovered memory – but it’s providing a glimpse into the psychology of group influence, panic in a community, the irrational and destructive ways even good, rational people behave from time to time.

For fiction, I’ve just finished an advance copy of Love All by Callie Wright, due out in June of this year. It’s a debut novel about a family in Cooperstown, New York that is beginning to unravel, told in alternating points of view by each member of the family. The prose is stunning and the story is so moving and felt so true that I could not put it down until I finished it. As my children were waiting for their breakfast one morning, I realized I was standing by the toaster waiting for their waffles to pop just so I could read one more page.
Visit Mary Beth Keane's website.

The Page 69 Test: Fever.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Becky Masterman

Becky Masterman is the acquisitions editor for a press specializing in medical textbooks for forensic examiners and law enforcement. She grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and received her MA in creative writing from Florida Atlantic University. She lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband.

Masterman's new novel is Rage Against the Dying, her first thriller. Early this month I asked her about what she reading. Her reply:
When I talk about what I'm reading I have to also think about what my husband is reading, because he reads different books and then tells me the plots. That way I get double the stories in the same amount of time. The reason we read different books is that he likes to read the same story over and over while I'm always hunting for the book I haven't read. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not being uppity and I love to see Jason Statham kick ass as The Transporter, I, II, III and so on. But when it comes to reading I'm waiting for the next John Burdett, the next Charlie Huston, the next Christopher Moore. Until then, I just was thrilled by a translation of a Japanese crime writer named Keigo Higashino, and the book was The Devotion of Suspect X. It's about a math professor who's crazy about his neighbor who's a single mother with a terrible secret--and there are genuine suprises that come straight from the characters. It was good enough so that I just ordered his new book, Salvation of a Saint, and am keeping my fingers crossed that it's as original as the other. Other than that I've started reading those shaggy baggy monsters that I missed when I was in school, or never appreciated. The trick is I only read four pages or so a day and don't care if it takes a year to finish. I just finished Middlemarch, by George Eliot, that way.
Learn more about Rage Against the Dying at the publisher's website.

My Book, The Movie: Rage Against the Dying.

The Page 69 Test: Rage Against the Dying.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mike McCormack

Mike McCormack has published four books of fiction, Getting it in the Head, Crowe's Requiem, Notes from a Coma, and Forensic Songs.

In 1996, McCormack was awarded the Rooney Prize for Literature and his collection of short stories was a New York Times Book of the Year.

Notes from a Coma was shortlisted for the Irish Novel of the Year. John Waters from the Irish Times described it as "the greatest Irish novel of the decade...."

Recently I asked McCormack about what he was reading. His reply:
The Death of Sweet Mister… Daniel Woodrell

I was in the mood recently for a sharp, sudden crime novel and a friend of mine handed me this with the caution that while it was indeed a crime novel, it plays to very different rules. Yes, there’s thieving and killing and dope smoking and loose gun play but these are peripheral concerns. The real horror was in the inevitable and bloodless destruction of a soul…. So I read on in an anxious twist, right down to the ashen dawn of the last lines and when I closed the book I put it back on my shelf and decided against passing it on to anyone else for fear their hearts would be broken also….

Daniel Woodrell is a having a bit of a moment here in Ireland - three times I’ve heard his name mentioned recently both as a special exemplar of the crime novel and also as a prose stylist. Both of these estimations are wrong. His prose has an idiomatic twist and jive to it which make it inimitable but useless as an exemplar. And there’s too much normal decency underscoring his drama – there is none of the sly infatuation with skank and violence which usurps most crime novels.

If I get over Sweet Mister I might chance another of his books. But that could be a while yet.
Read more about Notes from a Coma at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 22, 2013

Nancy Kricorian

Nancy Kricorian is the author of the novels Zabelle and Dreams of Bread and Fire. She grew up in the Armenian community of Watertown, Massachusetts, and earned her undergraduate degree in Comparative Literature at Dartmouth College; she spent the following year studying at the University of Paris – Jussieu. After completing a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry at Columbia University, Kricorian taught at Yale, Rutgers, Barnard and Queens Colleges.

Her new novel is All the Light There Was.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Kricorian's reply:
I discovered the work of Russian writer Vasily Grossman (1905-1964) a few years ago through his masterpiece, the World War II novel Life and Fate. At the time, I had steeped myself in the literature of World War II because of work on my own novel, All the Light There Was, which is set in Paris during the Nazi Occupation, and Grossman’s book was a stunning surprise. Just a few weeks ago I picked up the newly published An Armenian Sketchbook by Grossman. It is a memoir of the two months he spent in Soviet Armenia in late 1961, soon after Life and Fate was suppressed by the authorities because of its unflinching portrayal of life in Stalinist Russia. Rather than imprisoning the author, they buried his book. Life and Fate, which existed as a long-hidden typescript that Grossman had left with a friend, was finally published in the late 80’s, but Grossman died without knowing that his masterwork would see the light of day.

In An Armenian Sketchbook, Grossman manages a combination of reverence for nature and what is best in people with irreverence for the venality of corrupt officials and the baleful influence of nationalism. There is a beautiful and deeply humane scene at the end of the book when Grossman is a guest at an Armenian peasant wedding, and an old man rises to speak in Armenian; when his words are translated, Grossman is amazed to hear him speak of the connection between the terrible suffering of the Jews in World War II and the great catastrophe the Armenians endured in 1915. For Grossman, whose mother was killed in the Nazi massacres of Jews in Berdichev in September 1941, this was a profound moment of mutual recognition. Reading his work a half century later, I was privileged to share that recognition with him.
Visit Nancy Kricorian's website.

The Page 69 Test: All the Light There Was.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson is the cowriter, with Billy Bob Thornton, of A Family Thing (starring Robert Duvall and James Earl Jones), One False Move (named as one of the year’s best films by a number of top critics), and The Gift (directed by Sam Raimi, and starring Cate Blanchett, Keanu Reeves, and Hillary Swank). Epperson’s first book, The Kind One, was nominated for an Edgar and a Barry Award in 2009. His latest novel is Sailor.

Earlier this month I asked Epperson about what he was reading. His reply:
I finished reading Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam by Nick Turse about 20 minutes ago, and feel compelled to write about it. I was shocked and angered by it in equal measure. Turse convincingly shows that the Vietnam War was basically just one big war crime. As many as two million civilians were killed in South Vietnam during the war, and the vast majority were the victims of a brutal, racist, and out-of-control American military. Villages were burned, rice paddies were poisoned, domestic animals were killed, and old people, women, children, and babies were shot, stabbed, blown to pieces, beaten, drowned, tortured, and raped by savage soldiers and marauding marines.

The slaughter was the direct result of the American policy of measuring progress in the war by body count. Intense pressure was put on the troops in the field by their commanding officers to kill, kill, kill, and any dead body was considered to be a Viet Cong, be it that of an 80-year-old woman or a three-year-old boy. The one atrocity everyone knows, the massacre at My Lai, was exceptional only in its magnitude. Over 500 civilians were killed there by American soldiers, but smaller mass killings, ranging from a dozen or two up to over a hundred, were daily occurrences.

Virtually no one was punished for any of these crimes. There were a few court-martials of lower-ranking personnel, but defendants were either found not guilty or given very light sentences. The military did its best to hide the terrible truth about what it did in Vietnam, and for the most part succeeded. During the early 1970s, due to the efforts of some dedicated reporters and courageous servicemen who were trying to expose the horrors they had witnessed, the American people began to learn a little about what was actually happening in Vietnam, but when the war ended in ignominious defeat for the U.S. in 1975, Americans were more than ready to move on. "Buried in forgotten U.S. government archives," writes Turse, "locked away in the memories of atrocity survivors, the real American war in Vietnam has all but vanished from public consciousness."

And now we are at war again, in faraway foreign lands, whose impoverished dark-skinned people, we are told, represent some kind of existential threat to the "homeland." Every American concerned about the increasingly imperiled soul of his or her country should read Nick Turse's startling book.
Visit Tom Epperson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Annapurna Potluri

Annapurna Potluri was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and moved to New York to attend New York University where she studied comparative literature and linguistics and went on to earn an MPhil in theoretical linguistics from Cambridge University. She has lived in Italy and India and is currently working at the South Asia Institute at Columbia University.

Her debut novel is The Grammarian.

Not so long ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Potluri's reply:
I just yesterday finished reading David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. It is sort of six smaller books collapsed into one great tome, the sum of which is far greater than its constituent parts. It requires you to buy into the concept of reincarnation, at least for the time you are between its covers.

If for nothing else, Mitchell should be given a standing ovation from anyone who has ever tried to write something, because his writing is so bloody fearless. He’s a white British guy who takes on the voices of a Hispanic woman, of a native New Zealander slave, and on and on. That he pulls it off seamlessly and authentically is incredible. That he had the guts to attempt it at all is a triumph.

Mitchell touches on many things, among them the sort of genetic legacy of art, as a means more important than any other, by which humans connect with each other. There are themes of utopianism, of the questions that surround ideas of progress and evolution, he raises questions about the ethics of passivism and salvation.

The writing style varies so much it is hard to comment on that. The Robert Frobisher sections were my favorite: they are beautiful and funny and tragic. Reading Mitchell’s writing is like watching a magician—except one who sometimes pulls a rabbit out of a hat, and then the next time pulls an elephant out of it.
Visit Annapurna Potluri's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Grammarian.

The Page 69 Test: The Grammarian.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mohsin Hamid

Mohsin Hamid is the author of the novels Moth Smoke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. His fiction has been translated into over 30 languages, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, featured on bestseller lists, and adapted for the cinema. His short stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, and the Paris Review, and his essays in the Guardian, the New York Times, and the New York Review of Books. Born in 1971, he has lived about half his life, on and off, in Lahore. He also spent part of his early childhood in California, attended Princeton and Harvard, and worked for a decade as a management consultant in New York and London, mostly part-time.

Recently I asked Hamid about what he was reading. His reply:
I just finished Sheila Heti's How Should a Person Be? Fresh and interesting. I was drawn to it by a diary piece she wrote, I think for the Financial Times, where she said that after high-quality, character-driven realism's success on HBO (and its like) the contemporary novel was free to do other things, just as twentieth-century painting was freed by photography. I've said -- and believe -- something similar. So I was curious to see what she did formally in her own novel.

I've just begun Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt. It's too soon for me to say much, but I became aware of the novel because of an essay on the blog 3QuarksDaily that suggested Silicon Valley was shaping the way we read, and that this novel was an antidote. I've started tweeting more, much as I'm personally ambivalent about the medium, so I'm up for seeing what this novel has to teach.
Visit Mohsin Hamid's website and Facebook page.

Mohsin Hamid's most influential book.

Mohsin Hamid's 10 favorite books.

The Page 69 Test: The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 18, 2013

Zoë Sharp

Zoë Sharp’s crime thriller series features former British Special Forces soldier turned bodyguard heroine, Charlie Fox. Sharp’s work has been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, Barry, Benjamin Franklin, and Macavity Awards in the United States, as well as a CWA Short Story Dagger. The latest in the Charlie Fox series is Die Easy.

Last month I asked Sharp what she was reading. Her reply:
Raylan by Elmore Leonard

A Plague of Dreams by John Gregory Hancock

Hunted by Elizabeth Heiter

I’m reading a bit of everything at the moment, but these are the three main ones. First up is Raylan by Elmore Leonard, featuring Deputy US Marshal Raylan Givens. It’s weird to read elements of the same story as I’ve watched on TV in Justified, but all jumbled up and presented in a completely different order. Elmore Leonard’s pared-down style—so pared down that you don’t even get apostrophes for missing letters—gets straight to the heart of things. It has a distinctive rhythm all its own. The character of Raylan is as charismatic as Timothy Olyphant makes him on screen, and the story weaves a far more complex and intriguing tale. I’ll certainly be picking up the other two novels to feature Raylan—Pronto, and Riding The Rap—as well as the novella Fire In The Hole, on which the TV series was actually based.

Before that I had the pleasure to read a short story collection written and illustrated by John Gregory Hancock, called A Plague of Dreams, which was apparently inspired by the author’s own dreams. Hmm, if that’s the case he should probably stop eating cheese right before he goes to bed. A highly imaginative set of stories, often accompanied by beautiful original artwork. Hard to pick a favourite, although I particularly liked ‘Forked’, ‘Panic Tower’ and ‘The Veil’. Mr Hancock is definitely a multi-talented artist and I look forward to reading more of his weird dreams.

Lastly, is Hunted by Elizabeth Heiter. I was asked to read this one—which won’t actually be out until January 2014—with a view to giving it a blurb. Having been through the book in typescript form I ended up with loose pages all over the bedroom floor because I was turning them over so quickly. The female protagonist is troubled FBI profiler Evelyn Baine who is driven by ambition to succeed at a job for which she has an apparently natural talent, and a tragedy from her childhood. The story is meticulous and fascinating, as well as being a real page-turner. I look forward to seeing it hit the shelves.
Visit Zoë Sharp’s website, blog, or find her on Facebook or Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Third Strike.

The Page 69 Test: Fifth Victim.

Writers Read: Zoë Sharp.

My Book, The Movie: Fifth Victim.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Stephan Talty

Stephan Talty is the author of five non-fiction books: Mulatto America, about the mixing of black and white culture throughout American History; Empire of Blue Water, the story of the great pirate captain Henry Morgan; The Illustrious Dead, about Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and the typhus epidemic that doomed it; Escape from the Land of Snows, an account of the Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet in 1959; and Agent Garbo, the story of the greatest double agent of World War II, Juan Pujol.

His first work of fiction, a crime novel called Black Irish, introduces the Harvard-educated detective, Absalom Kearney, and marks the beginning of a new crime series. Talty is also the co-author of the New York Times bestselling account, A Captain’s Duty, with Captain Richard Phillips, the hero of the Maersk Alabama hijacking. The book is being made into a film starring Tom Hanks, to be released in late 2013.

A few weeks ago I asked Talty about what he was reading.  His reply:
I just finished Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest Everest, a sprawling, jolting epic about the men who survived WWI and how they turned their attention to the mountains of the Himalayas. The book is terrific, and the scenes of large-scale violence on the battlefield is painted with this delicate precision. It's not only a great book, it's a reminder that a hundred years ago we passed through one of the high periods of violence in Western civilization. It makes you wonder if men today could wade through the kind of bloodletting that those soldiers came through and still remain human - and not only that, to go out and seek some kind of purity in life that the WWI generation found in the Himalayas.

The contrast between the battlefields that are just packed with bodies and gore and the crisp white blanket of snow and ice that leads you to Everest is exquisite. I write about violence in my crime novels, and often in my nonfiction work, but World War I stands apart in that regard. You almost can't believe men walked out the other side and remained sane. So for me it was strangely a testament to how strong people are, and how much they can take without losing their humanity.
Visit Stephan Talty's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Black Irish.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Robin Burcell

Robin Burcell, an FBI-trained forensic artist, has worked in law enforcement for over two decades as a police officer, detective and hostage negotiator.  The latest books in her series featuring Special Agent Sydney Fitzpatrick are The Dark Hour and The Black List.

Recently I asked Burcell about what she was reading,  Her reply:
On my fiction list is The Boyfriend, by Thomas Perry, a thriller about a retired homicide detective-turned-PI investigating the murder of a high class call girl. Perry will be on a panel I will be moderating at Left Coast Crime which will be held this year in Colorado Springs, and I like to be current on the panelists. If you like reading mysteries, this is one great conference to attend!

On my non-fiction list is Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture by Mark Fenster. It’s an academic look into conspiracy theory, which I’m using as research for my next thriller, The Kill Order (due out at next January). Most of my books bring in a bit of real history intertwined with cultural conspiracy theory, so this book was right up my alley!
Visit Robin Burcell's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Black List.

The Page 69 Test: The Dark Hour.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 15, 2013

Tracy Thompson

Tracy Thompson is a reporter and essayist who has written about subjects ranging from psychiatry to law to the Civil War. She is the author of The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression and The Ghost in the House. Her new book is The New Mind of the South.

Late last month I asked Thompson about what she was reading.  Her reply:
At the moment, I am reading 1861, by Adam Goodheart, a book I picked up on a recent trip to Washington College on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, where the author teaches. I usually avoid Civil War books that focus on battles and politics and grand strategy; what I hunger to know about that time is what ordinary people were doing--what they wore, what they ate, what they read, how they perceived events, and how they lived through them. I am a sucker for diaries, old letters, memoirs and photos; I'm a would-be time traveler who wants to step through the frame of those old images and catch a glimpse of another reality. Goodheart's book is a great find in that respect: he's a storyteller as much as a historian, and his characters live. I am loving it.

Why the Civil War? As a person who grew up in the South in the 1960s, I am forever stamped with the Civil War as the defining event of American history. Some of the war happened just outside the bedroom window of the house where I grew up, just south of Atlanta. At the same time, I was always vaguely conscious of the fact that the version of history I grew up with didn't quite fit with reality I saw playing out all around me; if history had really happened the way white people in the South said it did back when I was a kid, the civil rights movement simply wouldn't have happened. But it did. White Southerners of my generation are like kids who grew up in a family with a lot of secrets; hence my fascination with history in general and the Civil War in particular.
Visit Tracy Thompson's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Susan Nance

Susan Nance is Associate Professor of US History at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada and affiliated faculty of the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare. Her new book is Entertaining Elephants: Animal Agency and the Business of the American Circus.

A few weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading.  Nance's reply:
Right now I'm reading things that I hope will make my next manuscript materialize as readable and intelligent as possible. My new project is a history of rodeos and the various myths of the North American West they perform/ed. So I'm plowing through all the canonical big surveys of Western history like Richard White's It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own: A New History of the American West, Patricia Limerick's Legacy of Conquest: The Unbroken History of the American West, Michael Johnson's Hunger for the Wild: America's Obsession with the Untamed West and Richard Slotkin's trilogy Gunfighter Nation, Regeneration Through Violence and The Fatal Environment, among others. These books are all monumental and very intimidating, thick books covering big time spans and diverse territories and peoples. Yet they all come up with a unified and profound argument that ties all that history together. Violence, poverty, hubris and inequality figure strongly in all their interpretations of the West, big themes I need to think long and hard about. They also remind me that we have known that our ideas of the West are myths for so long now that one must work very hard to add something new to this idea. So I have my work cut out for me.

I'm rereading Elizabeth Hess's book Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human. It's is a real page-turner and I am trying to understand how she achieves that by conveying interesting characters, especially human ones, in concise prose. I am not very good at that yet, and need to get better. (I just finished reading a bunch of turgid, prolix 19th-century horse racing magazines and my writing deteriorated accordingly -- so it's an emergency!) She also writes about a truly despicable episode in human-animal relations in a way that is very honest, but somehow not heavy handed or too depressing to bear. I've stopped reading more than one book (academic and trade books) because I could see how they were sewn together - nothing drives me crazier quicker than wading through a text whose construction is out in front. Hess's book is seamless, which is in part why it's so hard to put down, I think.

Lastly and for the same reasons, I'm also reading Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger's book, Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and the Marriage of the Century, which is beautifully written, gossipy, sympathetic, well-researched, insightful and all about celebrities -- basically everything I wish my own writing could be.
Visit Susan Nance's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Colin Cotterill

Colin Cotterill is a London-born teacher, crime writer and cartoonist. His latest novel is The Woman Who Wouldn't Die, the ninth book in the Dr. Siri Paiboun Series.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what he was reading. Cotterill's reply:
Those of you who have been fascinated and intrigued over the past few years by my entries to Master Zeringue’s potpourri will know that I have little patience with fiction. It is a rare storybook indeed that lassos my attention for longer than a chapter. Invariably, I’m engrossed in texts of stomach curdling forensic, political or modern historical data. But you have caught me on a good week. I am in the middle of a tome of particular brilliance. On Saturday we leave for Laos to do research for Siri 10 (And whoda thought we’d make it into double figures?). If memories are measured in gigs, mine would rank as a mere giggle. I have often been found to reanimate the departed and relocate entire cities. The only way that I can maintain any continuity is to go through my previous books and take notes. So I am reading The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die by Colin Cotterill, (me) which has only recently come out in the US. Modesty prevents me from describing it in any detail and only allows me to inform readers that this edition looks into the life of Madame Daeng, the good Dr. Siri’s wife. She had a dark, undercover life as a revolutionary spy and through her story we learn just what creeps the French colonists were. Thus, we can begin to see why Gérard Depardieu would prefer to be Russian.
Visit Colin Cotterill's website.

The Page 69 Test: Anarchy and Old Dogs.

My Book, The Movie: Curse of the Pogo Stick.

The Page 69 Test: Killed at the Whim of a Hat.

My Book, The Movie: Killed at the Whim of a Hat.

Writers Read: Colin Cotterill (August 2011).

The Page 69 Test: Slash and Burn.

Writers Read: Colin Cotterill (February 2012).

The Page 69 Test: The Woman Who Wouldn't Die.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Cara Black

Cara Black is the author of the best-selling Aimée Leduc series. Her new novel, Murder below Montparnasse, is the 13th book in the series.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading.  Black's reply:
I'm reading a galley of Phillip Kerr's upcoming A Man Without Breath. This is the latest in Kerr's Bernie Gunther novels - Bernie is a wise cracking former Berlin cop whose fortunes or lack of take him to Smolensk after the battle of Stalingrad in 1943 on a mission for Goebbels. Call me a fan: I've read all the Bernie Gunther novels and ordered this one via my local indie bookstore. But when the Galley Diva at my local offered me a chance to read this I panted yes, grabbed it and almost ran out of the store to read in my car. OK, I waited until I got home. So far it's amazing and Kerr pulls off this grey time in history with realism, pathos and understanding. This story makes me love Bernie Gunther even more. If, that is, it's possible to love a conflicted, complicated and smart mouthed fictional Berliner in 1943. Highly recommended.
Visit Cara Black's website.

The Page 69 Test: Murder at the Lanterne Rouge.

My Book, the Movie: Murder at the Lanterne Rouge.

The Page 69 Test: Murder below Montparnasse.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 11, 2013

William B. Irvine

William B. Irvine is Professor of Philosophy at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. His books include On Desire: Why We Want What We Want and A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy.

His new book is A Slap in the Face: Why Insults Hurt--And Why They Shouldn't, the sequel to A Guide to the Good Life.

Recently I asked Irvine about what he was reading.  His reply:
I am a curious fellow in both modern senses of the word: I feel driven to learn new things, and I am a cultural outlier. This is reflected in my reading.

I currently have bookmarks in perhaps a dozen books. The one closest to completion is Kauai’s Geologic History: A Simplified Guide, by geologists Chuck Blay and Robert Siemers. It is poorly edited and proofread; on page 75, for example, one finds the following sentence: “The”. Then why am I reading it? Because I don’t have the same literary standards for geologists as I do for, say, novelists, as long as they deliver the geological goods. Blay and Siemers do deliver: the book is dirt cheap, nicely illustrated, and chock full of information about the volcanoes, canyons, and beaches of Kauai. Great stuff, if you like that sort of thing—and I do.

Next closest to being finished is Lynn Margulis: The Life and Legacy of a Scientific Rebel, edited by Dorion Sagan (the son of Carl Sagan and Lynn Margulis). I am reading it as part of the research for a book I am writing, on moments of inspiration in science and elsewhere. The book contains a number of short essays about controversialist biologist Lynn Margulis. She was the leading advocate of the view that the mitochondria in cells are really the offspring of micro-organisms that in the distant past were engulfed by other micro-organisms. Her story is a wonderful profile in scientific courage.

Another book in my stack is Memoirs of my Nervous Illness by Daniel Paul Schreber. In the late nineteenth century, Schreber was a highly respected judge in Germany when he developed schizophrenia. I am reading this book because I have lately taken an interest in first-person accounts of mental illness. Such accounts are unusual, since mental illness can seriously undermine a person’s desire and ability to write them.

A book I just started reading—more precisely, started trying to reread—is Montaigne’s Essays, translated by J. M. Cohen. I attempted to read it in college, but without success. Recently, a reader of my books took me to task for not having quoted Montaigne enough in my writings. This made me feel a bit ashamed. It also left me wondering whether, by not having read the Essays, I had missed out on something important. Even now, though, I find that reading Montaigne is like climbing a sand dune—a difficult slog. Perhaps the translation (the same one as I used in college) is to blame?

I am reading another book—a manuscript, actually—as “reader” for an academic press. It is the job of a reader to decide whether a submitted work is worthy of publication. I can’t tell you anything about the work in question, since doing so would violate the “literary HIPAA rights” of those involved. I can tell you, though, that I am quite enjoying the book and am learning from it. I plan to recommend that it be published, in the expectation that others would share my enjoyment. (Okay, I can’t resist: in the book, one of the individuals interviewed, an eccentric, offers the following recommendation: “You ought to walk with a spring in your step and occasionally climb something.” Excellent advice!)
Visit William B. Irvine's website.

The Page 99 Test: A Guide to the Good Life.

--Marshal Zeringue