Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Blythe Woolston

Blythe Woolston’s first novel, The Freak Observer, won the William C. Morris debut fiction award.

Her new highly-acclaimed YA novel is Black Helicopters.

Earlier this month I asked Woolston about what she was reading.  Her reply:
From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón

I sought out this book because The Blue Fox enchanted me. I have not been disappointed; The Mouth of the Whale is luminous. The words, sentences, and puzzles of this story click together like the tumblers of a lock. It is that word- and sentence-level artistry that blows my circuits, especially since this is a work in translation. (I am adding more books translated by Victoria Cribb to my TBR list.) I anticipate the release of Sjón's The Whispering Muse at the end of April.

Hair Side, Flesh Side by Helen Marshall

I had previously read Marshall's poem cycle about Peter Pan, Skeleton Leaves, and found it astonishing. ("There was an Auschwitz in that little boy." ) Hair Side, Flesh Side combines precise craft, poetic sensibility, and a fearless imagination. The result is a collection of stories that will get under your skin. The long list for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award came out a couple days ago, and this book is on it. No wonder.

Rice Boy by Evan Dahm

My eleven-year old son recommended Rice Boy to me. I find it difficult to describe, but epic comic is a start. The story is satisfying, the pages beautiful, and my eyes loved it as much as my brain.

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis

My editor, Liz Bicknell, turned me on to this one. Where do I start with Timmy Failure? Well, I admire perfect executions of the passive voice, and that subtitle is a thing of beauty. You should read it just so you get to look at the drawing of Emily Dickinson, Crusher of Things with Her Fist. I can honestly say that this book changed the way I see things. Now everything looks like a monkey throwing a chicken.

Strike Three, You're Dead by Josh Berk

I have a dark and miserable soul. I care jack-squat about baseball. I am not a middle-grade boy. None of that mattered; I was just off on a murder mystery joy ride with Lenny and the Mikes. I picked this up because I'd read and enjoyed Berk's previous books. Josh may not convert me into a baseball fan, but I'm a fan of his writing.
Visit Blythe Woolston's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 29, 2013

Janice Steinberg

Janice Steinberg is an award-winning arts journalist who has published more than four hundred articles in The San Diego Union-Tribune, Dance Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere. She is also the author of five mystery novels, including the Shamus Award–nominated Death in a City of Mystics. She has taught novel writing at the University of California, San Diego extension, and dance criticism at San Diego State University.

Steinberg's latest novel is The Tin Horse.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading.  Steinberg's reply:
The Lotus Eaters is one of those books that makes me glad there are still at least a few bookstores where one can browse and touch. Somehow this novel by Tatjana Soli escaped my notice when it came out in 2010; I missed the raves in the New York Times and elsewhere. But I spotted it in Warwick’s in La Jolla and was drawn by the cover photograph: a limpid bay that, close in, is tightly packed with fishing boats, but further out loses definition; water and sky dissolve into a dreamlike mist. Similarly, Soli’s story offers both richly detailed everyday reality and the sense of entering a dream.

The Lotus Eaters takes place in Vietnam during the American military involvement there, from the mid-1960s through the fall of Saigon in 1975. Helen Adams goes there in 1965 as a freelance photojournalist, though she’s such a novice that initially she has to ask for help loading film into her fancy new camera. Shortly after she arrives, she gets involved with an older, experienced photographer, Sam Darrow. The attraction is sexual, but Helen is also interested because Sam is what she wants to be--a star war photographer.

Helen does achieve stardom. She forces herself past her fear and goes with soldiers on patrol in a countryside described in sensual prose: "They fanned out and moved quickly down the gentle grass slope, their long, loose strides stirring up hundreds of greenish yellow grasshoppers that jumped waist-high in their path." She learns her craft. Her work makes the cover of Life magazine.

She also bears witness, her photographs showing U.S. soldiers caught in a war in which they couldn't tell who was an enemy and who an ordinary villager; a corrupt South Vietnamese army; and the destruction of a land and a culture. The reader sees this not only through her eyes but from the viewpoint of Linh, a Vietnamese who is first Sam's and then Helen’s assistant--and later Helen's lover. There's a romantic triangle of sorts, but it's subtle, the mood set by Linh's reserve.

Unlike Helen and Sam, Linh has no choice about living in the midst of war. His losses are enormous, and among the many things that make The Lotus Eaters an important book is the telling of Linh's story--initially in nightmarish fragments in his memory and spoken, for the first time, to Helen.

As Soli says in a reading guide interview, only a handful of women photographers covered the Vietnam War, and she gives the marvelously imagined Helen a web of motivations that push her toward the battlefield. Helen yearns for a "bigger, more important" life than she could have in her Southern California suburb. There's a thrill-seeker in her who comes to feel most alive when she's in-country. Her late father was a career military man, and her brother was an early Vietnam casualty--though these family building blocks struck me as a bit obligatory.

What most convincingly drives Helen is her ravenous ambition. She wants to be a star, and the way to do that is by photographing war. Her craving for personal glory--even as she recognizes the "ghoulishness of pouncing on tragedy with hungry eyes"--is revealed so nakedly and honestly that I want to place garlands on Soli’s brow, one novelist to another, in admiration.
Learn more about the book and author at Janice Steinberg's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Tin Horse.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Patricia Bracewell

Patricia Bracewell grew up in California where she taught literature and composition before embarking upon a writing career.

Her recently released first novel, Shadow on the Crown, is the start of a trilogy.

Not so long ago I asked the author about what she was reading.  Bracewell's reply:
I recently finished reading Robert Low’s Viking novel Crowbone. The 10th century world that Low creates in this book is harsh and unforgiving – as are the men who inhabit it. Even the women of that world, and there are very few of them in this book, have little in the way of softness or warmth. Witches and women warriors are the order of the day. What struck and impressed me the most about this book, though, was the language. Robert Low writes like a modern day skald, mimicking in English something akin to the kennings that were so popular with the Anglo-Saxons and the Norse. Dogs are ‘fur bundles with a mouthful of filthy blades’, a frightened face is ‘a great rune of terror’, and a man’s mind is his ‘thought cage’. It is like nothing I’ve ever read before, except in Anglo-Saxon poetry. I found something to surprise and delight me on every page. Filled with adventure, war and bloody murder, not unlike the ancient sagas, it is a fierce ride with the Viking crew of a snake-boat.

I’ve always been fascinated by maps, and recently I picked up On the Map by Simon Garfield. I suppose you could call it a kind of history of cartography, but that would not do it justice. It’s a compendium of knowledge, yes, but it is filled with stories and anecdotes that are always fascinating and sometimes thrilling. The chapter on mapping Antarctica with its list of place names like Despair Rocks and Destruction Bay tells a horrific tale. Another chapter describes how a map stopped the spread of cholera in London, and there’s a chapter, too, on the Vinland Map, which is still something of a mystery. The book is compelling, and I haven’t even made it yet to the section with the intriguing title Women Can’t Read Maps. Oh Really?
Learn more about the book and author at Patricia Bracewell's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Shadow on the Crown.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 26, 2013

Laura DiSilverio

Laura DiSilverio spent twenty years as an Air Force intelligence officer, serving as a squadron commander, with the National Reconnaissance Office, and at a fighter wing, before retiring to parent and write full time.

Her new novel is Malled to Death.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what she was reading. DiSilverio's reply:
In thinking about the books I’ve read the past couple of weeks, I notice there’s more variety than usual. Don’t take the below list as being indicative of my usual habits; I tend to read far more mystery/suspense fiction than anything else, although lately I’ve been branching into women’s fiction, historical fiction, and more literary works. I find that I expand my writing sensibilities and toolbox when I read outside my comfort zone, in addition to opening myself to new views of the world. Reading continues to be exhilarating and I am grateful, as always, for books and stories.

Suspect, by Robert Crais

I have long admired and enjoyed Crais’ books, but this is the first one I’ve loved. It tells the story of a German shepherd, Maggie, who was injured in the line of duty, and a young cop, Scott—ditto. They both suffer from PTSD and the relationship they build is hugely affecting as they try to track down the killers who shot Scott and killed his partner (human). Maggie is a POV character and Crais does a wonderful job putting us inside her head. (She thinks exactly the way I always imagine my dog thinks.) [Don’t worry that this is one of those sappy books where the cat or the dog or the hamster solves the case, because it’s not. Crais doesn’t do sappy.]

Nerve, by Dick Francis

I’ve been going through a Dick Francis phase lately. I’ve already read most of his books (up until the mid-1990s when I think they started going downhill), and I’ve been re-reading them. There’s something so very satisfying in his formula of a hero who is usually underestimated by those around him (and sometimes by himself), triumphing over the bad guys by a combination of do-the-right-thing ethics, co-opting great allies, resourcefulness, and use of his own brand of expertise, be it glassblowing, toy making or horse riding. They’re wonderfully paced novels, full of suspense, and most mystery authors (moi included) could learn a lot from them.

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, by Anna Quindlen

I almost always have a book of essays going, and this is the one I’m journeying through now. I think I’m attracted to Quindlen’s voice in this because she’s talking about issues I’m living through, giving them a humorous and poignant spin. We’re both women “of a certain age,” coping with empty nests (or, in my case, an empty nest on the horizon); aging; changing relationships with self, spouse, and friends; and other issues. As Quindlen says in the introduction, “There comes a moment when we finally know what matters and, perhaps more important, what doesn’t, when we see that all the life lessons came not from what we had but from who we loved, and from the failures perhaps more than the successes.”

The Sand Castle Girls, by Chris Bohjalian

I had never read a Bohjalian book before picking his up on a whim because I was feeling literary. I’m not usually drawn to historical fiction, but this captured me from the first page and I found myself learning about the massacre of the Armenians by the Turks during World War I without feeling like I was sitting through a history lecture. The book is framed and interspersed with a modern day story, as well, and the dual narrative structure adds a lot of tension. I got caught up in the humanity of the characters living through these dark times, and found myself as fascinated by the small details of their lives and relationships as by the larger story unfolding on the world stage.
Visit Laura DiSilverio's website and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Laura DiSilverio (December 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Selena Coppock

A natural blonde who is (now) more faithful to her colorist than she has ever been to any boyfriend, Selena Coppock is a standup comedian, storyteller, and writer based in New York City. When not pushing her pro-blonde agenda, Coppock can usually be found in a dive bar lamenting the breakup of Guns N' Roses and putting Bob Seger's "Night Moves" on the jukebox.

Her new book is The New Rules for Blondes: Highlights from a Fair-Haired Life.

A few weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Coppock's reply:
My Appetite for Destruction: Sex & Drugs & Guns 'N Roses by Steven Adler with Lawrence J. Spagnola

From my life, you'll quickly learn that I'm a bit of a pop culture junkie, plus a nonfiction lover. And I'm a lifelong Guns 'N Roses fan, so when I heard that Steven Adler (the original drummer of GnR) was writing a memoir, I was thrilled. I find artist/performer memoirs so interesting--knowing how long and hard they were grinding it out at crummy clubs or back rooms. It's very inspiring to me, as a standup comedian.

While Adler shares crazy stories of touring, performing, and hard partying, he also comes off as such a kind-hearted, likeable guy in this book. His drumming on "Appetite for Destruction" is so brilliant and unique that I was eager to learn more about him. A fun read for sure.

Nasty by Simon Doonan

Another fun read and one I'm in the middle of reading. Simon takes us back to his hilarious childhood and coming-of-age, when he and his best friend Biddie left their depressing hometown of Reading, England in search of the Beautiful People. My favorite part so far is Doonan's discussion of his mother Betty's hair (of course). As a gal who loves good height at the crown and volume, I cracked up at the part about how Doonan's mother left home and changed the direction of her hair--from a dowdy bob to a pompadour updo that added inches to her frame. Hilarious and a fun warm weather read.

We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy by Yael Kohen

I had my eye on this book for a while and I'm working my way through it right now. I had the pleasure of meeting the author and sitting on a writer's panel with her at the Women in Comedy Festival in Boston back in March and she's fantastic. The debate over whether or not women can be funny (ridiculously enough, yes, it's a subject for debate) has been recycled many times in recent years and this collection of thoughts, experiences, and opinions by comedians, industry execs, club owners, and more is enthralling. Kohen has done her homework, interviewing female comedy pioneers such as Joan Rivers, Mary Tyler Moore, Carol Burnett and current, rising stars such as Whitney Cummings, Anjelah Johnson, Aubrey Plaza and more. Wildly interesting
Visit Selena Coppock's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Amy Brill

Amy Brill is a writer and producer who has worked for PBS and MTV, and has been awarded fellowships by the Edward F. Albee Foundation, the Millay Colony, and the American Antiquarian Society, among others. She lives in Brooklyn.

Brill's new novel is The Movement of Stars.

Earlier the month I asked the author about what she was reading.  Her reply:
I always have a towering pile of books to be read—but since I have two kids under five, my time for actual reading is pathetically slim. That said, I’m involved in a few great books right now. First and foremost is Matt Bell’s incredible new novel, In the House Upon the Dirt by The Lake in the Woods, which will be out in June. It’s a wild and powerful fable that on its surface is about a couple trying to begin a family in an odd, desolate setting. The writing is so spare and magnificent and the events therein so profoundly strange that reading it is just exhilarating.

I’m also finishing up Leigh Newman’s wonderful memoir about growing up in Alaska, Still Points North. It’s a vivid, poignant book about fish and bears and tiny planes, but really it is about how childhood events can reverberate throughout a person’s life.

Finally, I just began The Cartographer of No Man’s Land, a debut novel coming out in October. It’s about a Nova Scotia family divided by World War I, and so far it is as beautiful and gripping as its title suggests.
Learn more about the book and author at Amy Brill's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Movement of Stars.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Barbara J. King

Barbara J. King has taught Anthropology at the College of William and Mary  since 1988.  Originally focused on primate studies through her observations of wild monkeys in Kenya and captive apes, she now takes up intelligence and emotion in a wide variety of animals. Her books include Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion and the recently released How Animals Grieve.

Recently I asked King about what she was reading.  Her reply:
I’ve just finished reading two grief memoirs. In The Guardians: Elegy For a Friend, Sarah Manguso conveys, in a narrative of fragments and patches, the searing loss of her friend Harris. It was so sudden: Harris walked out (was allowed to walk out) of a psychiatric hospital and later that day jumped in front of a train. Sometimes, the fragments and patches flow along; occasionally one stops my heart. Manguso tells of the habit she fell into after Harris’s death: “I pictured my parents dead, my husband, my best friends, my relatives, everyone I knew, one by one. I started grieving good and early, so that when the deaths happened, I’d have a head start.”

Sonali Deraniyagala’s Wave punched right through me in its entirety. On Christmas holiday with her family in Sri Lanka where she was born, Deraniyagala watched from her hotel room as “a white foamy wave” advanced unnaturally far up the beach. When the wave didn’t recede, but became “charging, churning,” Deraniyagala fled with her husband Steve, and their two young sons Vik and Malli. Of the four, only Deraniyagala survived; her parents died in the tsunami as well. Her story is not one of recovery (although over time she no longer vows to kill herself soon), but rather of memory. Gradually, in a process that let her feel “less fractured,” she lets back into her mind and heart the times with Steve and the boys, watching Sri Lankan wildlife or just playing around at home in London.

These books resonate with me because I’ve spent so much time over the last two years researching and writing about grief expressed, in some cases quite deeply, by dolphins, chimpanzees, horses, cats, dogs, and other animals. It's work rooted in the sure knowledge that animals love as well as mourn. While of course I do feel sad reading the grief memoirs, I’m also moved to joy at life and love, and hold my family and friends just that bit closer as a result.

I also read a lot of accessible science, as I cast about for material for my weekly posts at NPR’s 13.7 Cosmos and Culture blog. I got quite caught up, for example, in the anthropological controversy around Jared Diamond's The World Until Yesterday and, after reading the book, wrote about that for NPR.

Still, I read novels mostly. After a day writing and reading science, I crave immersion in fictional worlds. Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer just soars and I’m pressing it on everyone I know who loves the natural world. Set in southern Appalachia, the alternating and interlocking chapters about two women and one man are as much about the thrumming life of the forest as about the questing human characters. I’ll never look at “the spiraling flights of moths” the same way again.

And Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend made my teeth ache with a yearning to get back to Italy. Ferrante sets her story in a Naples neighborhood of the 1950s and 60s. Two girlfriends, Elena and Lila, both fiercely smart, different from those around them but in heartbreakingly vulnerable ways, anchor the narrative and I came to feel they were of flesh and blood in the room with me. It’s the first of a trilogy. The two girls, Vesuvius, and the sea remain lodged in my head, and I know that Ferrante can’t write fast enough for me.
Learn more about How Animals Grieve at the University of Chicago Press website and visit Barbara J. King's website.

The Page 69 Test: Evolving God.

My Book, The Movie: Evolving God.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 22, 2013

Alan Brennert

Alan Brennert is the author of Honolulu and Moloka’i, which was a 2006-2007 BookSense Reading Group Pick and won the 2006 Bookies Award, sponsored by the Contra Costa Library, for the Book Club Book of the Year. In addition to novels, he has written short stories, teleplays, screenplays, and the libretto of a stage musical, Weird Romance. He won an Emmy Award and a People’s Choice Award for his work as a writer-producer on the television series L.A. Law, and he has been nominated for a Golden Globe Award and for the Writers Guild of America Award for Outstanding Teleplay of the Year. His story “MaQui” won a Nebula Award. His new novel is Palisades Park.

Not so long ago I asked Brennert about what he was reading.  His reply:
I read a lot of nonfiction as research for my books, but when I want to read nonfiction for pleasure I am never disappointed by the work of Marion Meade. Her most recent book is Lonelyhearts: The Screwball World of Nathanael West and Eileen McKenney, which as a longtime fan of West’s work I devoured in several sittings. I think it’s the best biography of West I’ve read, and McKenney’s life (she inspired her sister’s book and play My Sister Eileen) is equally fascinating; their tragic end was a heartbreaking loss of talent. Meade is also the author of the fine biography Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell is This? and the wonderful multi-subject biography Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties, which expertly interweaves the burgeoning careers of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Zelda Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, and Edna Ferber in the 1920s. As a writer I’m always fascinated by the lives of other writers, and no one conveys the writer’s life better than Meade.
Visit Alan Brennert's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Peter Rock

Peter Rock was born and raised in Salt Lake City. His most recent book is The Shelter Cycle, which concerns the end of the world in Montana in 1990, among other things.  His previous novel, My Abandonment, has won an Alex Award, the Utah Book Award, and been published in Germany, Turkey and France. He is also the author of the novels The Bewildered, The Ambidextrist, This Is the Place, and Carnival Wolves, and a story collection, The Unsettling.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading.  Rock's reply:
Rather than dream up some titles that would impress people, I’ll just ‘fess up to some of the books on my bedside table, ones I’ve been reading in the last week:

My Education, by Susan Choi

This is a great and terrifying novel. I believe it comes out in July, but I got an early copy because Susan’s an old friend of mine. In fact, we had a two-person independent study about our writing when we were college students. And then we hung out all the time when she was a graduate student at Cornell and this novel is loosely based on those years, so it was eerie. More eerie, though, was how amazing Susan’s prose is. No one writes better sentences and keeps them moving, looping, twisting. What’s so amazing here is the tension is created not only by what will happen next but the mystery of how the graduate school heroine—prone to bad choices and behavior, often quite immature—is going to become the sophisticated narrator who describes her.

The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana: The Ultimate Guide to Physical Sex

Unexpurgated and still shocking after 15 centuries! Actually, it is kind of disappointing. My brother-in-law gave this to me and my wife for Christmas; he is prone to giving us gifts like this (e.g. Sensual Massage, where at least the pictures are shocking). It’s been on my bedside table and every now and then I read a passage aloud, usually about how wives should behave, and then my wife disagrees.

The Bloody Chamber, by Angela Carter

Come on, now. “Puss-in-Boots” and “Bluebeard” and all manner of the fairytales taken on, here, couldn’t be more terrifying. Angela Carter is so incredibly sharp; she turns our expectations inside out! Also, as a writer who has long striven toward sparseness, reading these stories showed me again the power of lyricism and density, how words could make colors and change temperatures. An amazing book.

The Boxcar Children: The Yellow House Mystery, by Gertrude Chandler Warner

My girls are 3 and 5, and devoted to the Boxcar Children. I have learned a lot from Gertrude Chandler Warner (she wrote the first 19; after her death the quality trails off), she of the sharp sentences and the bold, unapologetic plot turns. Her characterization is right on, and her use of “quite” and “fine,” the constant hunger of Benny—all fantastic. She’s one of my favorite authors, right now. This is the third book, where she really finds her stride, I think. The canoeing, the camping trip, the silent hermit, the helpful Indian girl: it’s all here.

Something Bright, Then Holes, by Maggie Nelson

This is a great collection of poems. I came to reading Maggie’s work through the excellent Bluets, and this may be the only book I haven’t completely read, yet. I’m especially taken by the long “Canal Diaries,” where the narrator sits by the polluted and ever-changing Gowanus Canal. Broken-down desks, silent pens, and “The green canoe still humps the red canoe.”—what a great description of a static world that’s always full of potential, late at night.
Visit Peter Rock's website.

The Page 69 Test: My Abandonment.

The Page 69 Test: The Shelter Cycle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Steven Nadler

Steven Nadler is the William H. Hay II Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin--Madison. His books include Rembrandt's Jews, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; Spinoza: A Life, which won the Koret Jewish Book Award; The Best of All Possible Worlds: A Story of Philosophers, God, and Evil, and A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age.

His new book is The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter: A Portrait of Descartes.

Early this month I asked Nadler about what he was reading.  His reply:
I just finished reading The Vatican Diaries, by John Thavis. I've long been fascinated by and curious about what goes on in the Vatican, and in the Catholic Church generally, and Thavis (a journalist who has been covering Vatican affairs for a while) provides a real insider's view of the machinations, personalities, ceremonies, and missteps of life inside the Curia.

I also finally got a copy of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, which I look forward to reading; and the latest Commissario Guido Brunetti novel by Donna Leon -- it's a terrific police procedural series set in Venice, very addictive. Also on my night-table are two recently published biographies of artists: Bernini: His Life and His Rome, by Franco Mormando; and Raphael: A Passionate Life, by Antonio Forcellino.
Visit Steven Nadler's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Best of All Possible Worlds.

The Page 99 Test: A Book Forged in Hell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 19, 2013

Peter Bowler

Peter J. Bowler is professor emeritus of the history of science at Queen’s University, Belfast. He has written several books on the development and impact of evolutionism and on science and religion, including Evolution: The History of an Idea, The Eclipse of Darwinism, The Non-Darwinian Revolution, Charles Darwin: The Man and His Influence, and Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons.

His latest book is Darwin Deleted: Imagining a World without Darwin.

Recently I asked Bowler about what he was reading.  His reply:
As a child I read the English translation of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea with enthusiasm and loved the Walt Disney movie with James Mason as Captain Nemo. Now we have a house in France and I’ve been reading Verne in the original French to improve my language skills, including of course Vingt milles lieues sous les mers (interesting that in French it’s under the seas, plural). I’d always been a bit concerned about the nationality of the ship that the submarine Nautilus sinks toward the end of the book, and Nemo’s hostility to the nation which sent it to hunt him down. But I hadn’t realized that another of Verne’s novels, L’isle mystérieuse (The Mysterious Island) turns into a sequel which explains Nemo’s origins.

I’ve now read this in the original French and my childhood illusions have been shattered. The American colonists of the island (escapees by balloon from a Confederate prison camp toward the end of the Civil War) eventually meet their mysterious benefactor, and he turns out to be the aged Captain Nemo. Before dying and being entombed in the sunken Nautilus he reveals that he is an Indian prince dispossessed by the British after the revolution (‘mutiny’ the British called it) of 1857. Now I’m a historian with an interest in 19th-century imperialism, so the revelation oughtn’t to be a shock, but I know that as a child growing up in the Britain of the 1950s I would have found it hard to cope with the idea that the Empire had these darker consequences.

Still, I have at least learnt a lot of French technical terms, ideal for a historian of science dealing with that period – and I have acquired a very thick French dictionary.
Learn more about Bowler's Darwin Deleted at the University of Chicago Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Darwin Deleted.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Ted Kosmatka

Ted Kosmatka is the author of the novels The Games and the recently released Prophet of Bones. His short fiction has been nominated for both the Nebula Award and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and appeared in numerous Year's Best collections.

A few weeks ago I asked the author about what he was reading. Kosmatka's reply:
I’ve actually gotten my hands on several good books recently. I just finished Mark Teppo’s Earth Thirst, which I greatly enjoyed and recommend to anyone who loves gritty, well-written future-noir. I also recently read Robert Sawyer’s Calculating God, which I picked up at the Rainforest Writers’ Retreat about a month ago. The premise alone made the book impossible to put down.

Quintessence, by David Walton, is another recent read which I was very impressed by. It’s a vivid, imaginative, ambitious novel that I plowed through very quickly. I bumped into Erin M. Evans at Norwescon, and we traded some books, so I now have Brimstone Angels in my possession, and I’ll be starting that one next. Loved the first paragraph, which hooked me right into the story, so now I’m looking forward to diving in to read the rest.
Visit Ted Kosmatka's website.

Writers Read: Ted Kosmatka (March 2012).

The Page 69 Test: The Games.

My Book, the Movie: The Games.

My Book, the Movie: Prophet of Bones.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tara Conklin

Tara Conklin is a writer and lawyer currently living with her family in Seattle, WA. Most recently, she worked as a litigator in the New York and London offices of a corporate law firm but now devotes herself full-time to writing fiction.

About The House Girl, Conklin's new, debut novel, Margot Livesey said:
“There’s so much to admire in The House Girl -- two richly imagined heroines, two fully realized worlds, a deeply satisfying plot -- but what made me stand up and cheer was the moral complexity of these characters and the situations they face. I’m grateful for this transporting novel.”
Recently I asked Conklin about what she was reading.  Her reply:
I’m currently in the midst of promotion for my debut novel, The House Girl, which leaves precious little time for reading. I have found that in particularly busy periods, it’s hard for me to focus on a novel so I turn to short story collections. Lucky for me, there are a host of great ones out there these days so I’m dabbling in a few, depending on my mood and whatever is closest to hand. I picked up Jess Walter’s new collection, We Live in Water, at the ALA Conference in Seattle and it’s fantastic. Beautiful Ruins was one of my favorite novels of 2012, so I was eager to read his shorter fiction and I have not been disappointed. The characters here are certainly less glamorous than Beautiful Ruins, but equally human and compelling. The title story, "We Live in Water," is particularly a doozy: time and mind bending, gritty, lovely.

I recently saw Stephanie Powell Watts read from her collection We Are Taking Only What We Need and have been making my slow way through its ten wonderful stories ever since. This is her first collection, and some of the pieces are not as polished as others, but I love the way she throws all these disparate family details and asides into a story and yet, by the end, she’s created a cohesive, compelling whole. I’ll definitely be watching for more of her work.

And finally, I’ve got George Saunders’ Tenth of December on my nightstand, as I suspect most of the reading public does this season. I’d already read some of these stories in The New Yorker and elsewhere in past years, but seeing them all collected in one place casts them in a different light. It’s illuminating to see (or rather, I think I see) the development of certain themes and ideas. His shifting points of view and the dark worlds he creates make this a wild ride, and highly educational from a writing-as-craft perspective. I’ve been underlining passages and taking notes like crazy.
Visit Tara Conklin's website.

The Page 69 Test: The House Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Stefan Bachmann

Stefan Bachmann is a writer and musician. He was born in Colorado and now lives with his family in Zurich, Switzerland, where he attends the Zurich Conservatory. He began writing his acclaimed novel The Peculiar in 2010, when he was sixteen years old.

Last month I asked the author about what he was reading. Bachmann's reply:
I recently read a book called The Feathered Man by Jeremy de Quidt. So good. It looks like a children's book, but I'm not sure it really is. More like a Victorian thriller with fantasy elements. In other words, my favorite kind of book ever. The writing is really atmospheric without ever being flowery, and some scenes are just ridiculously scary. So don't be fooled by the illustrated cover. Don't not read it because it's shelved in the children's section (as if that's ever a reason not to read a book...). This one's frightening and original and really, really well-written.
Visit Stefan Bachmann's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: The Peculiar.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 15, 2013

Steph Cha

Steph Cha is a graduate of Stanford University and Yale Law School. She lives in her native city of Los Angeles, California.

Follow Her Home, Cha's first novel, is now out from Minotaur/Thomas Dunne Books.

Last month I asked the author about what she was reading.  Her reply:
I read a book or two a week, and about 99% of this non-Internet reading is made up of fiction. I alternate between male and female authors and have done so for the past several years. It was a conscious decision, and one that I’m glad to have made – the quality of my reading has not suffered, and I’ve expanded my horizons since my college days of Roth and Murakami. I’ve been on a roll with good books for the last couple weeks, so I’ll share my most recent reads.

Southland by Nina Revoyr

I bought this book after a panel at Skylight Books on “How to Tell an L.A. Story.” I wish I’d read it years ago. It’s a sweeping history of Japanese and black families in Los Angeles, revealed through a slow-burning mystery. There’s a lot of heartbreak and sickening injustice, and the writing is consistently evocative and lovely. Southland reminds me of The Surrendered by Chang-rae Lee, which is another one of my favorites from the last few years. If you like your fiction exhaustingly sad, I’d put both of these on your list.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

There are a couple things I don’t like about The Art of Fielding. The novel revolves around five main characters, and the one female character is a total Jessa, which, ugh, whatever. I also don’t buy one of the main storylines, which starts with a 60-year-old man exploring his homosexual feelings for the first time, for a boy a third of his age. But everything else – beautiful. Harbach’s prose is as thoughtful and eloquent as it is accessible, and I understand why his debut has done so well. The novel is about baseball and baseball players, but you don’t need to care about sports to care about Henry Skrimshander and Mike Schwartz. The Art of Fielding is about life and artistry, struggle, failure, victory, and the pursuit of perfection. It’s a very human novel.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

I don’t read too many funny novels, and Where’d You Go, Bernadette makes me wonder why. This is a fast read, vivid and entertaining, and I’d like to read more like it. The epistolary style is unrealistic, sure, but it’s clever in the best sense of the word. The story is compelling, and each of its legs filled with feeling and sometimes biting humor. Seattle gets a neat, good-natured thrashing.

Paradise Lost by John Milton

I majored in English, but I graduated with some significant holes in my education. I’ve been trying to fill these in ever since, reading at least a handful of canonical works a year. Paradise Lost is a particularly big hole. I started it four days ago, and since I’m reading a book a day, I should be done in another week. I’m not sure why I thought I might not enjoy it, because it is a stunning masterpiece that everyone should read for the sheer fun of it. I’m reading out loud so I don’t miss a sound. Maybe it’s enriching my dog.

Summer of the Big Bachi by Naomi Hirahara

I started this list with Nina Revoyr, and I’m ending it with Naomi Hirahara. Revoyr is half-Japanese, and Southland’s protagonist is a gay Japanese-American woman. Hirahara is a Japanese-American woman, and her protagonist Mas Arai is an aging male Hiroshima survivor. Revoyr and Hirahara are writing in the same universe – Japanese-American communities in Los Angeles, squirming under the weight of history – and I’m happy to be reading them almost back to back. Summer of the Big Bachi is a mystery, and like all great mysteries, it uses suspense and secrets to reveal a darkened part of the world. I’m not done with this one yet, but I will probably tear through the rest of it today or tomorrow.
Visit Steph Cha's website and Twitter perch.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Steph Cha and Duke.

My Book, The Movie: Follow Her Home.

The Page 69 Test: Follow Her Home.

--Marshal Zeringue