Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro has been nominated for the Edgar, the World Fantasy, and the Bram Stoker Awards. She has been named a Grand Master of the World Horror Convention and a Living Legend by the International Horror Guild. Author of many novels of horror, dark fantasy, mystery, and more, Yarbro lives in Berkeley, California.

Her latest novel is Night Pilgrims, the 26th Saint-Germain novel.

Earlier this month I asked Yarbro about what she was reading.  Her reply:
David Crystal's The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language in trade paperback, looking for shifts in English in the early 17th century; yesterday, Dr. Ben Green's The Color of Horses, just because I love horses and I miss riding; last week, a copy of the score of J. S. Bach's "Brandenburg Concerti." I like Bach, and it keeps my hand in for my own compositions; last week's bathtub reading was Georgette Heyer's A Convenient Marriage, which is entertainingly written and nothing like what I'm working on right now; I'm rereading Robert Sheckley and Roger Zelazny's A Farce to be Reackoned With, with the great Don Maitz cover, because I liked the trilogy and I liked both men, and it almost nothing to do with what I'm working on now; Pounds' An Historical Geogaphy of Europe 450BC-AD1330, for research for Saint-Gemain #29, which proposal will go to Tor this coming month --- I often consult this text when I start putting together a new Saint-Germain if it falls in the years and region in question; I haven't picked out a bathtub read for this week yet, but something frothy and clever would be nice, since I'm heading into the end game of Sustenance, which is neither frothy nor socially clever.
Visit Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's website.

My Book, The Movie: Saint-Germain Chronicles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Dale M. Kushner

Dale M. Kushner is the founder and director of The Writer’s Place, a literary center in Madison, Wisconsin. She is a recipient of a Wisconsin Arts Board Grant in the Literary Arts and has been honored by a fellowship to the Wurlitzer Foundation, The Ragdale Foundation, and the Fetzer Institute as a participant of their first writers’ conference on compassion and forgiveness. Her work has been widely published in literary journals including IMAGE, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, Salmagundi, Witness, Fifth Wednesday and elsewhere. Her most recent poetry collection More Alive Than Lions Roaring was a finalist for the May Swenson Poetry Award at Utah State Press, The Prairie Schooner Book Competition, the Agha Shahid Ali Prize at University of Utah Press and The Tupelo Prize. Her story “When You Open the Door, Where Are You?” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She will assume the position of Poetry Editor for The Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling in September.

Kushner's new book, The Conditions of Love, is her first novel.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading.  Kushner's reply:
Here’s my idea of heaven: a cabin in the woods, pine-scented wind, a lake full of sky. Time dissolved and I can read uninterrupted!

For now, I’ve just finished Alexander Chee’s Edinburgh. Chee is a writer who knows about the sacred, about moments of love and beauty that save us from being swallowed by a dark cosmos. In prose both muscular and hauntingly lyrical, Chee reveals the story of Fee, a sensitive Korean-American boy growing up in small town Maine. Early on, Fee is told a family legend by his Korean grandfather: they are descended from The Lady Tammamo, a demon fox spirit who assumed the form of a beautiful woman to marry a human—a shape-shifter. Fee embraces the legend, and Chee astutely weaves the image of the fox into his narrative to underscore the mythic quality of Fee’s life. The fox represents a touchstone for Fee’s sense of otherness as a soulful gay man of mixed descent and the blaze of passion that will dominate his life.

There is plenty of suffering in this book—pedophilia, AIDs, suicide—but these scourges are counterbalanced by moments of great tenderness and compassion for our vulnerable human souls.

Since I like to read widely, I’m halfway through two other books. One is a compilation of essays by Adrienne Rich: A Human Eye: Essays on Art in Society, 1997-2008. Rich’s book includes pieces on writers who, sadly, have almost faded from our literary consciousness including Muriel Rukeyser, James Baldwin, Denise Levertov and Amiri Baraka among others. Rich has always been interested in the intersection of the artist with social change and in this book she brings to the page her usual eloquent intelligence and empathic vision. In writing about the poems of Thomas Avena, she states what I take to be her own credo “… art’s critical resilience wherever human extremity seems to have crushed all responses…art is the projection of that in us which does go on responding, and also that to which our sealed consciousness opens in response.”

The second book I have open is a scholarly work to be read slowly. The Ability to Mourn: Disillusionment and the Social Origins of Psychoanalysis by Peter Homans, which takes up the issue of cultural renewal. I’m looking to Homans to help me understand what undergrids our current zeitgeist of anxiety and despair besides the obvious economic and political woes. Homans writes with homage and discernment about the origins of psychoanalysis, about Freud and his theory of culture, about Jung, Otto Rank, and Ernest Jones and their relationship to the great man and his Movement. But what I’m most interested in is the section called “Mourning, Individuation, and the Creation of Meaning in Today’s Psychological Society.” It seems, as Freud said in one of his lectures, we suffer from reminiscences, stuck in a past we haven’t fully mourned and searching for ways to regenerate our future.

Next in line to read are the following: The King in The Tree by Steven Millhauser; Until the Dawn’s Light by Aharon Appelfeld; Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle.
Visit Dale Kushner's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 29, 2013

Andrew Sean Greer

Andrew Sean Greer is the author of The Story of a Marriage, The Confessions of Max Tivoli, and the newly released The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells.

Earlier this month I asked him about what he was reading.  His reply:
I am reading a book of Japanese Poetry translated by Kenneth Rexroth. While not particularly a fan of his school of poetry, I have found that his translations are eye-popping, perhaps precisely because he has no interest in antiquity, or in much literal meaning, only in sound and sense. Thus, his ancient Greek poetry collection knocked my socks off. Similarly this collection took me out of a very bad mood last week in Seattle. A poem I have known for a long time—Ariwara no Narihara's Moon poem—I always read in Gatten's translation:
This is not that moon!
Nor is this spring the spring that was.
In those days bygone!
My being the single thing.
Remaining as it ever was... (Gatten, 1986)
But I sat there eating a grouchy lunch and read Rexroth's:
This is not the moon,
Nor is this the spring,
Of other springs,
And I alone
Am still the same.
No flourishes, no romance, no eastern mystery to it—here, at last, is a poem. And its freshness and honesty moved me.
Visit Andrew Sean Greer's website and follow him on Facebook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sarah Butler

Sarah Butler lives in London. She runs Urban Words, a consultancy which develops literature and arts projects that explore and question our relationship to place. Ten Things I've Learnt About Love is her first novel.

Not so long ago I asked the author about what she was reading.  Butler's reply:
As a child I used to always have more than one book on the go and would pick and choose which to read depending on my mood. It’s a habit I lost after University, probably because I was so busy working and writing and studying that I didn’t have enough head space to hold all those storylines in my head at the same time. However, in the last year I’ve fallen back into the habit – and it feels good!

I’m currently half way through Love by Toni Morrison. It’s a signed copy that I bought ten years ago, whilst doing an MA in Creative Writing at UEA in Norwich, England, and it’s sat on my shelf waiting for me all this time! I often do that – buy a book but don’t read it for years. And then a time comes when I want to sit down with it. I picked up Love because I was reading another book that I didn’t like – I wanted to get to the end because I was interested in how the writer dealt with their subject matter, but the writing was pretty terrible. I knew Love would be brilliant and so I started it to satisfy my craving for seriously good writing. Morrison is just mind-blowingly brilliant. I’m savouring every sentence.

Another book that had a big effect on me recently was Jeannette Winterson’s memoir Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? I don’t usually read memoir, but a friend of mine recommended it to me and I was hooked from the word go. It’s a brave, moving, and I think important, book. She really lays herself bare, but there’s no self-indulgence there. Her passion for life and love and literature, and for finding a way to be true in the world, is genuinely inspiring.

I’ve had a collection of Nancy Mitford’s novels sat on my bedside table for a few months now. The novels are pretty short, and I read them when I’m feeling a bit blue or tired. They are frivolous and fun, full of decadence and gossip. Plus the writing is great.

I’ve started reading more non-fiction than usual. Most recently I read Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class by Owen Jones. A very intelligent, well-written, searing book which examines how public perception and representation of the working class in Britain has changed for the worse, and the political consequences of such ‘demonisation’.
Learn more about the book and author at Sarah Butler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 26, 2013

Katherine Hill

Katherine Hill is the author of The Violet Hour, a novel first published by Scribner in July 2013.

Her short fiction has been published by AGNI, Colorado Review, The Common, n+1, Philadelphia Stories, and Word Riot, and has been honored with the Nelligan Prize, the Marguerite McGlinn Prize, and fellowships at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, including The Believer, Bookforum, The Paris Review Daily, Philadelphia City Paper, Poets & Writers, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Currently an assistant editor at Barrelhouse, she is a former speechwriter at the University of Pennsylvania, and has taught writing at Philadelphia University, Mighty Writers in South Philadelphia, and the PEN Prison Writing Program in New England. She holds a BA from Yale and an MFA from Bennington College.

A couple of weeks ago I asked Hill about what she was reading. Her reply:
As a writer, reading is both a hobby and a job for me, and I’m sort of obsessive about both. I keep an endless and motley list of books I need to read because the writer does something interesting with language or plot or setting, or because the subject matter relates to something I’m writing, or because enough people have mentioned the book to me this week that I just absolutely have to read it right this minute. I’m also constantly trying to fill holes—the books I really should have read already, sometime before I was born.

My current read, Zadie Smith’s NW, satisfies just about every one of those higgledy piggledy categories. (It even uses the phrase “higgledy piggledy,” and gets away with it.) I’ve been a Smith fan since White Teeth. She’s like this great young athlete whose moves are so recklessly controlled that I’m always rooting for her even when she makes an error. Except she’s not exactly a rookie anymore. More like a first-round draft pick and future Hall of Famer finally entering her prime. She’s always been razor-sharp on the compromises of our blended yet stratified social world, but the Caldwell council estate of NW is her best canvas yet. Together with her recent personal essays in the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books—on topics like joy and Joni Mitchell that I wouldn’t otherwise have known were so necessary to my life—NW offers a long glimpse of a great moral mind at work. It is poetic and immediate, evocative of place and time and class, and so well-versed in the lyrics of The Kinks and the slang of London streets it might as well have invented them. I would call it brave, except it hardly seems risky to share perceptions as brilliant as this: “This story, once rationed, offered a few times a year, now bursts through every phone call…Time is compressing for the mother, she has a short distance left to go. She means to squeeze the past into a thing small enough to take with her.”

I’d been saving the book for myself since it was published last fall, and reading it now is the very best kind of summer reward. I’m savoring every page.
Visit Katherine Hill's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Lisa Stampnitzky

Lisa Stampnitzky is Lecturer in Social Studies at Harvard University. She earned her PhD in Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and has also held fellowships at Harvard, the University of Oxford, Ohio State University and the European University Institute.

Her new book is Disciplining Terror: How Experts Invented "Terrorism".

Earlier this month I asked the author about what she was reading. Stampnitzky's reply:
Right now, I'm reading a number of books on human rights and the laws of war, as I dive into a new research project on the politics of human rights and the 'legalization' of torture in the U.S. after 9/11.

Political scientist Kathryn Sikkink's The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions Are Changing World Politics (W.W. Norton, 2011), describes the rise of a new mechanism for enforcing human rights: the prosecution of individual officials for state crimes, perhaps most famously illustrated by the 1998 extradition of former Chilean dictator Pinochet. Most intriguingly, Sikkink suggests that this development can help us to understand one of the most puzzling shifts in the recent history of human rights: why the U.S. government not only engaged in torture and other violations of human rights after 9/11, but documented and defended these practices in a series of official legal documents. While state officials in earlier periods might have relied upon secrecy and denial to cover up human rights violations, the "justice cascade" has, somewhat paradoxically, pushed officials to engage in a mixture of secrecy and openness about such practices as they seek to preemptively defend themselves against prosecution.

Israeli architect/ social critic Eyal Weizman's The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence From Arendt to Gaza (Verso, 2011) puts forth an argument that appears, at first glance, rather mind-bending. Where Sikkink tells a largely optimistic story of rising respect for and enforcement of human rights, resulting in a narrowing of the ability of states to act with impunity against civilians, Weizman takes a more pessimistic view, arguing that the rise of the logics of humanitarianism and human rights have enabled a new logic of state power. Through a series of examples, such as the practice of giving warnings before dropping bombs on populated areas (which enables militaries to argue that those who choose to remain on the scene are "human shields" and not "civilians"), he shows how states have harnessed the very language of humanitarianism in order to justify their acts of violence.

Next up on my reading list are Jeremy Scahill's Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield (Nation Books, 2013), an investigation into the covert side of the war on terror, and Jeffrey Kahn's Mrs. Shipley's Ghost: The Right to Travel and Terrorist Watchlists (Michigan, 2013), which traces the pre-history of today's "no-fly lists" through the story of the woman who developed America's first comprehensive travel watchlists in the mid-twentieth century.
Learn more about Disciplining Terror at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Joy Castro

Born in Miami, Joy Castro is the author of The Truth Book: A Memoir (University of Nebraska), the literary thriller Hell or High Water (St. Martin’s), and the essay collection Island of Bones (University of Nebraska). Her new novel, Nearer Home, is a sequel to Hell or High Water.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading.  Castro's reply:
Simone Weil’s classic 1939 essay The Iliad or the Poem of Force is a short book, but it’s been taking me a long time to read, because I’ve been going very slowly, taking notes, asking questions, and paraphrasing Weil’s key ideas for myself.

Weil was a French philosopher and mystic, and The Iliad or the Poem of Force is her meditation on how violence functions. It dovetails well with Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain and Jonathan Glover’s Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century, two brilliant and painful books.

The edition I have includes the text in its original French, as well as the original passages from Homer in Greek, as well as an English translation by editor James Holoka. I don’t read French or Greek, but it’s interesting to look at the originals and wonder.

I’d seen many allusions to Weil’s essay over the years and finally decided to read it for myself. I’d like to have it underpin the views of a character I’m developing for the third Nola C├ęspedes novel. I want this character—a villain—to have a coherent, sophisticated philosophy of violence rather than to just be motivated by simple brutality or greed, so I hope to absorb Weil’s meditations deeply into myself and then have the character speak from those insights.

I should clarify that Weil is not advocating violence—not at all. She is analyzing it. There is a strange combination of coolness and heartbrokenness about the text. I’d like to learn from that complexity. Very smart, very cool antagonists have always seemed far scarier to me than those who commit violent but simple crimes of passion or greed, so I want to bring that intellectual creepiness to the next Nola novel.
Visit Joy Castro’s website and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Hell or High Water.

Writers Read: Joy Castro (July 2012).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

David Gordon

David Gordon was born in New York City. He attended Sarah Lawrence College and holds an MA in English and Comparative Literature and an MFA in Writing, both from Columbia University, and has worked in film, fashion, publishing, and pornography. His first novel, The Serialist, won the VCU/Cabell First Novel Award and was a finalist for an Edgar Award. His work has also appeared in The Paris Review, Purple, and Fence among other publications.

Gordon's new novel is Mystery Girl.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what he was reading. Gordon's reply:
My reading lists tend to be very odd, since they are usually determined by my own work, eccentric interests or the enthusiasms of equally eccentric friends and only occasionally overlap with what is newly published or being talked about in the wider world. During the school year I am pretty much reading whatever I am teaching that week, plus Proust – since I lead a discussion group at The Proust Society here in New York. Right now it’s summer though so here’s what I’ve got going on:

PG Wodehouse: I’ve been obsessively devouring the Wooster and Jeeves novels. So funny and so perfectly made, like watching a great magician. He has the best blurbs I’ve ever seen, endless lists of writers paying homage to his “genius.”

Richard Stark (Donald Westlake)/ The Parker novels: my summer crime spree. I literally cannot stop once I start one of these, so I have to pace myself and measure out the dose.

Never Any End to Paris by Enrique Vila-Matas: A fascinating Spanish writer whose work is finally appearing more widely in English. This book is like a long ramble through Paris with a brilliant friend, talking about books.

Where Europe Ends by Yoko Tawada: Beautiful and disturbing stories recommended by a friend.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell: More beautiful and disturbing stories, written by a friend.
Visit David Gordon's blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Serialist.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 22, 2013

Jeff Abbott

Jeff Abbott is the New York Times bestselling author of Adrenaline, The Last Minute, and the newly released Downfall. All three books feature Sam Capra, former CIA agent turned owner of bars around the world.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Abbott's reply:
It may seem an unusual choice for a suspense author, but I'm reading Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith. I love Van Gogh's art, but I'm reading more out of an interest in his creative process and how he became the painter he was destined to be. You would think his road to his particular take on art was all conscious choices, but so much of what Vincent does seems illogical—he is an extreme introvert who longs for people, a man who turns every favor into an argument, every slight into a vendetta, and is contrary in the extreme. It's tragic to watch, but it is how this artist was made. The book is stunning in its detail, and it reads like a well-crafted novel.
Visit Jeff Abbott's website.

The Page 69 Test: Trust Me.

The Page 69 Test: Adrenaline.

Writers Read: Jeff Abbott (July 2011).

Writers Read: Jeff Abbott (August 2012).

The Page 69 Test: Downfall.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Robert Wuthnow

Robert Wuthnow reads widely about American history and religion, as well as in the social sciences, mostly in conjunction with his own research and teaching. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Kansas and his PhD in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley. At Princeton University, he teaches in the sociology department and directs the Center for the Study of Religion. The author of several hundred articles and more than two dozen books, his most recent works are Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America's Heartland and Small-Town America: Finding Community, Shaping the Future.

Some time ago I asked the author about what he was reading. Wuthnow’s reply:
Most of my days are filled with reading students’ and colleagues’ manuscripts, scanning old newspapers for some project I’m working on, or looking at numbers from surveys and polls. When I’m finished, more reading is the last thing I want to do. But at the Center for the Study of Religion, we annually select one or two particularly important new books and host a panel discussion with the authors. In that connection, I recently had the opportunity to read two terrific new books.

Paging God: Religion in the Halls of Medicine by Wendy Cadge, who teaches sociology at Brandeis University, presents the results of more than five years of research during which she spent time visiting hospitals, followed chaplains on rounds, and interviewed dozens of nurses, doctors, and chaplains. Cadge is a brilliant ethnographer who previously wrote a book about immigrant and native-born American Buddhists. In this new work, she shows how challenging it has become for hospitals and health practitioners to deal with the growing ethnic and religious diversity of the US population. The book richly describes what people do (or do not) pray about, how hospital chapels are organized, and what the respective roles are of nurses, doctors, and chaplains.

Living Faith: Everyday Religion and Mothers in Poverty, by Susan Crawford Sullivan, a sociologist at the College of the Holy Cross, is another impressive book about religion that takes us outside the usual venues. Crawford spent several years interviewing and getting to know dozens of mothers who had been or were currently on welfare. Some were homeless and living in shelters. Hardly any were active participants in a religious congregation, even though most had been raised in a religious tradition and still prayed, believed in God, and considered spirituality important in their lives. The reason they were not actively involved was chilling. When they ventured near a congregation, they felt shunned. Congregations seemed incapable of embracing them with understanding and respect. Fortunately, Sullivan did find a few exceptions, from which she draws valuable ideas about how to do better.
Read more about Small-Town America at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 19, 2013

Andrea Lochen

Andrea Lochen earned her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan. While there, she won a Hopwood Novel Award for a draft of The Repeat Year, her first novel. She currently lives in suburban Milwaukee with her husband and teaches Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Lochen's reply:
Ah, summer break! As a college professor who is busy reading and grading student essays and stories nine months out of the year, I like to indulge in fun, decadent page-turners the other three months.

Sometimes I just want a book that makes me feel like I’m on a white-sand beach drinking strawberry daiquiris, and Sophie Kinsella’s novels definitely accomplish that. Her most recent novel Wedding Night is a frolic through the Greek Isles (love!) and the kind of book that makes you snort aloud to yourself, prompting others around you to question your sanity. After a bad breakup, flighty younger sister Lottie does some serious rebounding, and her older sister Fliss is determined to break up the ill-advised marriage and protect Lottie from heartbreak.

Other times, I want a darker suspense novel, like Kimberly McCreight’s Reconstructing Amelia, which chronicles a mother’s attempt to untangle the mysterious web of circumstances surrounding the supposed suicide of her fifteen-year-old daughter. The novel is told through the alternating perspectives of mother and daughter (in the past and present) and also uses Facebook posts, text messages, and the school gossip newsletter to piece together what really happened to Amelia. I loved the ominous, fast-paced nature of this one.

Lastly I always enjoy magical realism and books with fantastic premises and odd twists like David Levithan’s Every Day or Amy Shearn’s The Mermaid of Brooklyn. Next on my list is Andrew Sean Greer’s new one, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, which tells the story of a woman living in the 1980s and the alternate lives she would have had had she been born in different time periods (the 1910s and 1940s). Since I’m a writer who uses a magical, time-bending premise as well, I’m really looking forward to reading this one!
Visit Andrea Lochen's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Gillian Bagwell

Gillian Bagwell united her life-long love of books, British history, and theater to write her first novel, The Darling Strumpet, based on the life of Nell Gwynn. She has lived in London, now lives in Northern California, and enjoys returning to England to conduct research for her books.

Her latest novel is Venus in Winter.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading.  Bagwell's reply:
I've been reading a lot of historical fiction, which is probably not a great surprise. Just before attending the Historical Novel Society Conference June 21-22 in Florida, I read books by a couple of authors with whom I was going to be on panels.

Deborah Swift's The Gilded Lily is set in seventeenth-century England, largely in London, the same setting for my first novel, The Darling Strumpet. The two books contain some similar themes, of young girls from working class backgrounds struggling to make their way in a tough and brutal society in which women didn't have a lot of options for supporting themselves or taking control of their own lives. Deborah's book has two main characters, sisters who flee to London from the country after robbing the man that one of them worked for. I really enjoyed a slightly different perspective on the same London in which my Nell Gwynn would just have been getting introduced to the theatre, which got her on the road to success.

I also read Nancy Bilyeau's The Crown, which opens in 1537 with the protagonist Joanna Stafford arriving in London as her cousin is to be burned at the stake. This is also a very familiar time and place for me, as the early scenes of my most recent novel, Venus in Winter, involve young Bess of Hardwick's arrival at the court of Henry VIII just a couple of years later. Nancy's book involves strong elements of mystery or crime fiction, as Joanna sets out on a quest, and it was interesting to see some of the same people who appear in my book presented in a different way.

At the HNS conference, I received a copy of Elizabeth Fremantle's Queen's Gambit, a novel about Katherine Parr. Once again, it involves some of the same people and events who are central to Venus in Winter, but from the point of view of Katherine Parr, Henry VIII's last wife. She was the only wife to survive him, and hasn't been written about as much as the others, and I very much enjoyed the story.

Sometimes writers are concerned about someone "stealing" their idea, or that others are writing about the same character, but reading these books reinforces my opinion that even if two people set out to write a novel about the same person, the resulting books would be very different, as an author naturally brings her own perspective and life experience to whatever story she tells. Even with historical figures as well known as Henry VIII and his wives and courtiers, even when we know how the story comes out, we still enjoy reading well-written novels.
Visit Gillian Bagwell's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Venus in Winter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

J. M. Sidorova

J.M. Sidorova was born in Moscow when it was the capital of the USSR, to the family of an official of the Ministry of Foreign Trade. She attended Moscow State University and the graduate school of the Russian Academy of Sciences. She moved to Seattle, Washington, in 1990 and works as a research professor at the University of Washington, where she studies cellular biology of aging and carcinogenesis.

Sidorova's new novel is The Age of Ice.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading.  Her reply:
My reading list is comprised of catching up with the fiction that was published years ago, and of a lot of nonfiction that I read as research for my own writing — books, articles, fragments, oddities. (You won’t believe how entertaining can be a diary of an early nineteenth century Englishman traveling to Paris!) Of nonfiction books, I recently read Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova and Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks. Both books are popular science treatises on the ways our brain perceives and manipulates reality (something every writer of magic realism should study). Konnikova’s well-crafted book combines examples of recent advances in neuroscience with a practical guide on how to pay more and better attention, activating what she calls a brain “system Holmes” instead of our default, lazy “system Watson.” Consider just one of the memorable observations found in the book: a sad or depressed brain notices less and forms fewer, less detailed memories. The times spent in gloom do not just feel empty in the now —they will appear even emptier looking back.

I picked up Sacks’s Hallucinations for its facts, and found the book even more useful and enjoyable than I expected. It is a skillfully put together compendium of the various types of “sensing things that are not there,” compiled by the author from his patients’ cases as well as from his own experience. Above and beyond that — it is a sympathetic, earnest, remarkably personal account. Not to mention the reader’s recognition factor: I am not alone! Now I am sure that everybody has at least one little hallucination under their belt, or should get one.

Of fiction, I am currently reading John Crowley’s Love and Sleep, Book Two of his Aegypt cycle, originally published in 1987 and reissued in 2008. Picking up this book, I had a vague recollection that I had read Book One of the cycle decades ago, when I had been in so many ways unqualified to appreciate the finesse of Crowley’s work. The vague recollection soon turned into certainty, and now I am wondering whether my cycling back to Aegypt is a coincidence or not. I am half-way through Love and Sleep now, enchanted, and savoring treats like this one (describing one Italian man’s trick for learning English whereby he transformed each word and its translation into dancing couples, Italian men and English ladies):

“…so that whenever he summoned an Italian word in his mind (tradutto, all in black, with a poison-ring on his finger) there would come along his partner (treachery, her gown sewn with eyes and tongues).”
Visit J.M. Sidorova's website, blog and the Scribner website.

The Page 69 Test: The Age of Ice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Taylor Jenkins Reid

Taylor Jenkins Reid is from Acton, Massachusetts. She graduated from Emerson College in Boston in 2005. She worked in entertainment and education before becoming a writerand now lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Alex, and their dog, Rabbit.

Reid's first novel is Forever, Interrupted.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan. I was excited to read it because I absolutely loved Atonement. I remember reading it years ago and taking a while to really get into the story but by the end being positively riveted and wishing I had more to read. Sweet Tooth felt the exact same way for me. By the time the end had arrived, I was so reluctant to put it down that I re-read the last chapter before the closing the book. The last chapter, incidentally, is positively stunning.

Now, I’m reading Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss. I picked it up unsure if I would finish it because it seemed so scientifically dense and yet, yesterday, I read 100 pages. I kept putting off doing other things so I could continue to learn more about how processed food companies have come to manipulate consumers using these three ingredients. I was also worried all the talk of candy bars and potato chips would make me hungry but Moss does such a good job illustrating the science behind it that you find yourself thinking, “Wait a minute! The only reason I like Cinnamon Toast Crunch is because it’s over 50 percent sugar?” It takes some of the magic out. Which is good for me. I could use a reason to stop eating so much Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

The book I am really looking forward to this summer is The First Affair by Nanny Diaries authors Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. First of all, every book they write is fun. They write the sort of stuff you pick up and don’t put down until it’s over. But I’m even more excited because they are bringing that storytelling style to the world of the White House! I’m suffering from Scandal withdrawal since the show is on hiatus and I’m eagerly awaiting The First Affair to arrive on my doorstep.

Lastly, the book I come back to time and again, the one that breaks my heart and fills my soul, is All There Is: Love Stories from StoryCorps. A collection of true life love stories from people all across the country, the compilation proves time and again that the most beautiful stories are the ones that happen right before our eyes. Whenever I forget how fragile and valuable the love in our life truly is, I open that book to any page and just start reading.
Visit Taylor Jenkins Reid's website.

The Page 69 Test: Forever, Interrupted.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 15, 2013

Ann Bonwill

Ann Bonwill's books include When Mermaids Sleep, Bug and Bear, Naughty Toes, Pocket's Christmas Wish, and I Don't Want to Be a Pea. She lives in Virginia with her husband, their young son, and a crazy Welsh corgi dog named Arthur.

Earlier this month I asked Bonwill about what she was reading.  Her reply:
I am an eclectic and voracious reader. Right now my library bag contains a middle grade adventure novel, a cozy mystery, and a cookbook, all waiting to be devoured. Books are food for the soul, and my soul enjoys a varied menu.

When it comes to fiction reading, the common core of my favorite books is a fully realized world. Whether it's the fantastic and wholly imagined world of Hogwarts or the Irish friend next door world of Maeve Binchy, if a book transports me to a new place or allows me to see a familiar place in a new way, then I am a happy reader. For this reason I find myself drawn to books with strong settings. There's nothing like feeling the chill of the Alaskan frontier with Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child or the heat of Hell in Laini Taylor's Lips Touch: Three Times. I can picture the stark white hives of the afterlife in Lenore Appelhans's Level Two and could probably build the cereal box garden in Joan Aiken's Armitage family stories. In each of these books I'm not just reading about a place - I am there.

This summer I have read several such books, and coincidentally they all involve islands. Perhaps my sub-consious book chooser is recalling my childhood summers in Maine, where islands were just a low tide away. Though I can't be there in person this year, these books have led me there all the same.

I just finished The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater. Although her latest book, The Raven Boys, is one of my favorite YA reads (love the blend of magic and real world), I had hesitated to pick up this earlier novel. I didn't think killer sea horses were my thing. Apparently, they are. What I loved most about this book was the setting - the island of Thisby is a fully realized character alongside Sean and Puck. And despite its brutal depiction I found myself wanting to move right in - the mark of excellent world building.

I'm currently reading The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson. This one has been on my to-be-read list for awhile, the first adult book I've tried from the author of my all time favorite Moonintroll series. The story of a six year old girl and her grandmother, it explores the true nature of life, death, and love through the lens of the every day mundane. Though it depicts an island in Finland, it evokes Maine for me, just as it evokes the depth of feeling and quiet reflection that Jansson's books always bring to my heart.

Read-alouds with my son have gone to the islands too. One of our favorites is Counting Our Way to Maine, by Maggie Smith, which perfectly captures the family vacation in all its sticky glory. A new favorite (though one I remember from a childhood of Reading Rainbow) is My Little Island, by Frane Lessac. In this book the island is Caribbean, and I can smell the frangipani and taste the guava ice cream. Yum!

Hope you enjoy some yummy books of your own this summer. No better time to dive in.
Visit Ann Bonwill's website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Ann Bonwill and Arthur.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Jessica Brockmole

Jessica Brockmole's new novel is Letters from Skye. When she's not writing, Brockmole can be found reviewing historical fiction as part of the Historical Novels Review's editorial team.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Brockmole's reply:
When I’m writing (which, really, is always), I rarely read much beyond research books, usually historical nonfiction, memoir, and some fiction contemporary to the era. Lately I’ve been reading a lot about France in the era before and during WWI, about wartime artists, about rehabilitation of wounded soldiers. I try to immerse myself in the period I’m writing and all of its details.

One that I read recently—begun as research and finished because I couldn’t not—is Humphrey Cobb’s stark, heartbreaking 1935 novel Paths of Glory. After a botched attack on a hopeless section of trench, the general is looking to salvage his dignity (but none of the blame) and orders an execution. The order, given in fury, but received down through the ranks in silence, causes the men, from the officers carrying it out to the innocent soldiers waiting in prison, to rethink what it means to be brave and what it means to be unlucky in battle. A powerful story of courage, culpability, and the futility of war.

When I am able to evade the stacks of research books on my desk in favor of fiction, I read it in guilty, stolen snatches. I picked up Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name: Verity recently because I’d heard so many great things about it, then could scarcely put it down. On the surface, it’s a story about WW2 spies and prisoners in occupied France, but at its heart it’s a celebration of friendship, told by an unreliable, yet irresistible narrator. Read it once to see where Wein lays each careful bit of plot, and a second time to appreciate the artistry.

Two very different books, but both about finding and holding tight to courage within war. As a writer, I sometimes have to remind myself that fears can be gotten past, as long as one reaches as far as they can.
Visit Jessica Brockmole's website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Letters from Skye.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 12, 2013

Elizabeth L. Silver

Elizabeth L. Silver grew up in New Orleans and Dallas and currently lives in Los Angeles. She holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania, an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia in England, and a JD from Temple University Beasley School of Law. She has taught ESL in Costa Rica, writing and literature at several universities in Philadelphia, and worked as a research attorney for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Silver's new novel is The Execution of Noa P. Singleton.

A few weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Although I finished it a while back, I can’t help but gush about The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud. Admittedly, I have a literary crush on her and have since The Emperor’s Children, but her new novel has not only captured an even wider audience, but it has initiated (or, as some others would argue, continued) a necessary dialogue regarding the likeability of characters – specifically the likeability of female characters, which is a conversation I think is essential. If people are reading The Woman Upstairs because of this debate or because it’s a brilliant novel, that is fine. The novel is twisty and exquisitely written, and dives into a tortured artistic soul with honesty and wit so ferociously that I could not recommend it highly enough.

I’m also reading The Son by Philipp Meyer, a sprawling, gorgeous epic of Texas history, gluttony of wealth, and frontier conflict. I’ve long been a fan of Meyer’s following his sharp debut with American Rust, and as someone who lived in Texas for many years, I was drawn to the novel not only because of its topic, but also because of Meyer’s intense and widely publicized research on frontier life and hunting. (Evidently, he learned to hunt and drank buffalo blood as part of this research).

On my nightstand queue is Transatlantic by Colum McCann and I always have an audiobook on hand. I live in Los Angeles and am in the car far more than I desire, and the only way I can survive is by listening to a great book along the way. I’m going through older books at the moment—ones that I’d read in paper form, but want to revisit (something I do rarely). Right now, I’ve got Geek Love by Katherine Dunn waiting for me when I get back to my car. The engine’s running now. I should probably go out there and hit “play” now.
Visit Elizabeth L. Silver's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton.

My Book, The Movie: The Execution of Noa P. Singleton.

--Marshal Zeringue