Thursday, October 31, 2013

Robert Klara

Robert Klara is the author of the critically acclaimed 2010 book FDR's Funeral Train, which historian and author Douglas Brinkley called “a major new contribution to U.S. history.” Klara has been a staff editor for several magazines including Adweek, Town & Country and Architecture. His freelance work has appeared in the New York Times, the New York Daily News, American Heritage, and The Christian Science Monitor, among other publications.

His new book is The Hidden White House: Harry Truman and the Reconstruction of America's Most Famous Residence.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what he was reading. Klara's reply:
Before I finished The Hidden White House, I tried to count the number of books I’d consulted about the famed mansion and gave up somewhere around 150. Having digested about as much as anyone can stand about that fine old pile on Pennsylvania Avenue, I’m happy to report that my leisure-reading list has nothing to do with the White House or Washington, D.C. A few of my favorites from the last few months:

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown (Viking, 2013) is one of those rare books about a sport that actually appeals to readers who don’t much care about sports at all. Taking advantage of a rare and fleeting chance to interview an ailing Joe Rantz, lone surviving member of the American crew team to take gold in the 1936 Olympics, Brown conjures Great Depression-era Seattle, where eight very poor and very remarkable young men managed to become the greatest crew team in American history. Brown’s writing is rich in anecdote and his treatment of prewar Berlin is chilling. Best of all, he conjures the spiritual, almost transcendent, quality of rowing in open water.

City in the Sky: The Rise and Fall of the World Trade Center by James Glanz and Eric Lipton (Times Books, 2003) is a work I had to wait 10 years before I could read. I’m a New Yorker: I not only stood on lower Broadway and watched the towers fall on 9/11, I lost someone I loved in one of them. Any authors who take on the subject of these buildings, then, had better do a superlative job on the topic (to keep these eyeballs, at least), while also sparing the reader from excessive emotionality and flag-waving. Glanz and Lipton have done it in spades with this engrossing, comprehensive look at the physical rise and symbolic import of these bombastic but momentous buildings, electing (refreshingly) to focus on the long history that preceded that September day, which goes a long way to explaining why the towers stood, and ultimately why they didn’t.

When the Dancing Stopped: The Real Story of the Morro Castle Disaster and Its Deadly Wake by Brian Hicks (2006) is a book I picked up from a used-book shop because, for whatever reason, I’m an unapologetic sucker for Naval-disaster stories. The S.S. Morro Castle—a Ward Line “Whoopie Cruise” liner that plied the gin-soaked route from New York to Havana at the height of prohibition—is a paragon of doomed ships: It caught fire in the open sea in the predawn hours of 1934, burning so thoroughly that passengers jumped overboard (134 of them would die) while the ship’s blackened, smoldering hull beached itself astride the Asbury Park Convention Hall. There a number of books about the Morro Castle out there, and in varying degrees they all grapple with the fact that the fire’s cause was never determined. But Hicks has written what I—and many—consider the definitive account by locating and interviewing the last living survivor (a teenage purser from the crew) and pouring over a mountain of FBI and other investigative documents. This is historical investigation at its best—and narrative storytelling at is most affecting. Hick’s prose is vivid, engrossing, and rich as the plush carpets in the first-class lounge.

Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, by Dana Thomas (Penguin, 2008) is a book I nearly didn’t read because, as a reporter for Adweek, I write about luxury brands all day. But I couldn’t be happier that I gave this book my time, because Thomas—a seasoned reporter from the old school—deconstructs and explains a curious phenomenon that few consumers consider: How “luxury” goods can possibly be considered as such when they are, almost without exception, marketed to mass audiences and made in Third-World factories. As it turns out, owning a luxury item (usually a handbag) has far more to do with shoppers engaging in a willful game of self-deception, convincing themselves that they are leading glamorous lives by virtue of owning a tiny piece of the glamorous world constructed by marketers and fashion magazines. How else can you explain the bizarre dichotomy of grocery-store cashiers spritzing on Vera Wang Princess in the morning? Orwell wrote that the drug Soma would lull the masses into accepting their disenfranchised lives; obviously, he never felt the rush of buying a fake Louis Vuitton bag.
Visit Robert Klara's website and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Hidden White House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sandra Dallas

Award-winning author Sandra Dallas was dubbed “a quintessential American voice” by Jane Smiley, in Vogue. She is the author of The Bride’s House, Whiter Than Snow, Prayers for Sale and Tallgrass, among others. Her novels have been translated into a dozen languages and optioned for films. She is a three-time recipient of the Women Writing the West Willa Award and a two-time winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award.

Her new novel is Fallen Women.

A couple of weeks ago I asked Dallas about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m half-way through Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard, the story of the murder of President James Garfield by the madman Charles Guiteau. It’s my husband’s book, and I picked it up by default. My sister said once that hell for us is being someplace without a book. Since there was nothing else in the house to take with me on a trip, I chose this book. Besides, I’d heard that Guiteau’s former wife had a Colorado connection and was curious about that. Destiny of the Republic is a superb history/biography of Garfield and of the delusional Guiteau, who thought he’d be hailed as a hero for ridding the country of the President. I knew as much about Garfield as I did about Millard Fillmore and was surprised to learn that Garfield was a brilliant but modest man who tried to rid the republic of the spoils system. I can only wonder what America would be like if he had lived.
Visit Sandra Dallas's website and follow her on Facebook.

Writers Read: Sandra Dallas (May 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Trudy Ludwig

Trudy Ludwig is an award-winning author who specializes in writing children's books that explore the colorful and sometimes confusing world of children's social interactions. She has received rave reviews nationwide from educators, experts, organizations, and parents for her passion and compassion in addressing relational aggression – the use of relationships to manipulate and hurt others. Ludwig wrote her first book, My Secret Bully, after her own daughter was bullied by some friends. Since then, she has become a sought-after speaker, presenting at schools and conferences around the country and educating students, parents, and teachers on the topic.

Ludwig's latest book is The Invisible Boy.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what she was reading. Ludwig's reply:
I thought I’d start off by letting you know what I’ve recently read: Rosalind Wiseman’s Masterminds & Wingmen: Helping Your Son Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Test, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World. As a mother of a 15-year-oId son, I found Wiseman’s advice both practical and helpful. In her book, Wiseman shares the opinions and viewpoints of boys in upper elementary, middle school, and high school with whom she has collaborated to help readers recognize, appreciate, and understand the challenges boys face in their offline and online social world. It also challenges adults with respect to how our own assumptions and emotional baggage can build up or break down our relationships with boys.

I also thoroughly enjoyed Paperboy, Vince Vawter’s debut novel set in the segregated South in 1959. It’s a powerful coming-of-age story about an 11-year-old boy with a debilitating stutter who discovers new friendships and faces danger when he temporarily takes over his best friend’s paper route for the month of July. I loved the protagonist’s voice in this book! Vawter also did an amazing job putting the reader in the heart and mind of the stuttering boy. It really is a beautiful story that drew me in from page one.

Right now, I’m reading Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I’m intrigued by this book because I consider myself to be an introvert, even though I’m publicly out there in the world, presenting at schools and conferences. This is the kind of book that I like to savor, one chapter at a time, so I can really take in what Cain has to share about how our extrovert-focused society undervalues and underappreciates introverts and why it’s important for introverts to embrace who we are in order to do what we need to do.

Also on my nightstand is Whistle in the Dark, by Susan Hill Long. It’s a middle grade novel set in the 1920’s about a boy named Clem who, at the age of thirteen, has to leave school and join his father and brother in the lead mines of the Ozarks. I’m now about one-third of the way into the story and love it! Long has the knack of transporting me to a bygone era and the harsh realities of a child lead miner. A few weeks ago, I went to hear the author speak about her novel at a local bookstore, and I was so intrigued by why she wrote it. Long got the idea for her story when she heard Garrison Keillor talk on NPR about a group of mine workers who were working deep underground, unaware of the fact that their town was being completely destroyed by the great Tri-State Tornado of 1925! What a great premise for a story, don’t you think?

Next up on my nightstand to read are The Second Life of Abigail Walker and The One and Only Ivan.
Visit Trudy Ludwig's websiteFacebook page, and Twitter perch.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Trudy Ludwig and Hannah.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 28, 2013

Don Waters

Don Waters is the author of Sunland, a novel, and the story collection Desert Gothic, which won the Iowa Short Fiction Award. His fiction has been anthologized in the Pushcart Prize, Best of the West, and New Stories from the Southwest.

A frequent contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle, he’s also written for the New York Times Book Review, Outside, The Believer, and Slate, among other magazines. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was an Iowa Arts Fellow.

A couple of weeks ago I asked Waters about what he was reading. His reply:
Lately I’ve been reading an equal amount of nonfiction and fiction. Usually when I’m writing a short story, or a longer piece, I try to limit my fiction reading because, as nearly every writer always says, it can tinker with your own voice—but really, I just prefer spending time in one fictional universe at a time. I’ve been steadily working on a longer nonfiction piece, so these days I find I’m reading more short stories, and novels.

One of those novels is Beautiful Fools, written by my pal R. Clifton Spargo. Clifton manages to bring to life the last adventures of Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s a reimagining of a real event—the couple’s final trip to Cuba. And the novel is such a wondrous surprise. Not only does he give Scott and Zelda a pulse, he shows us their love, anxieties, thoughts, dreams, and fears. Beautiful Fools is also a great way to travel to Cuba alongside two mesmerizing companions.

Another novel I recently read, and loved, is The Dinner by Herman Koch, which walloped me. Two couples sit down at a restaurant for dinner. Simple enough, right? But slowly, mischievously, Koch teases out a story of family tragedy, and mistrust, and scheming. Underneath the subtext is more subtext, and when you’re in, you’re in until the final page. You actually wait for and want the digressions in the text, because each digression adds more layers. It’s a skillfully plotted novel and a guilty pleasure.

Of the nonfiction books on my plate right now are The Pulp Jungle by Frank Gruber and The World in the Curl by Peter Westwick and Peter Neushul. I’m reading both for the book I’m currently writing, and thankfully both are informative and entertaining. The Pulp Jungle is Gruber’s memoir as a writer through the pulp circuit of the 20s, 30s, and 40s. It’s an older book, published in 1967, and I found it at Reading Frenzy, a boutique indie bookstore in downtown Portland. Gruber details the rise and fall of the early pulp magazine industry and his experience breaking in. He relates countless anecdotes about his ups and downs as a pulp operator. What’s most fascinating are the tales about writers who appeared in pulps and who would later become cultural cornerstones—like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. And there are many others like them on the list. Tennessee Williams’s first story, for example, first appeared in the pulp Weird Tales. I love coming across information like that.

The World in the Curl, the other nonfiction book on my bed stand, tracks the history of the surfing movement, from the Polynesians and Hawaiians to today’s corporate boardrooms. It’s a fascinating read, especially the book’s first-hand accounts of Jack London and Mark Twain. I know the story—and stories—about the rise of surfing in the modern era, so I’m enjoying the book for the early history, and also as a way to keep my toes in the water, even though I’m reading the book late at night, in bed.
Visit Don Waters' website.

Writers Read: Don Waters (October 2009).

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Susann Cokal

Susann Cokal is a historical novelist, a pop-culture essayist, book critic, magazine editor, and professor of creative writing and modern literature. Her new magnum opus is The Kingdom of Little Wounds, set in the Scandinavian Renaissance; it received starred reviews in Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, and an ALAN citation from the National Council of Teachers of English.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Cokal's reply:
Like many people with jittery minds, I always have a few books going at once. A novel for every mood, a book or two for classes, some history, some vintage magazines for research ... I may sound a bit ADHD, but I'm also OCD, so I have to finish them all at some point. Sometimes a book that was just fine in the first half (say, Keith Donohue's The Lost Child) really grabs me after a hiatus--I devoured that second half and am his devoted fan for life.

So. Right now. For my class on the Modern Novel, I'm reading Woolf's Between the Acts. It's my favorite of her novels--all that dreamy oscillation between memory and "current" life that is her signature, along with wonderful character sketches, patterns of imagery, and commentary on English history via a play-within-the-novel. It's her last book; she killed herself before she made the final fiddly edits, and I love it partly because I think of it as a pebble thrown into the great unknown.

Discussion with student the other day:
Student: "Professor, I have a question ... It's kind of embarrassing ... I'm almost done with this book and I love it, I mean I really love it, but..."
I: "You're wondering why."
She: "Yes!!"
I: "You're asking yourself, What's the point?"
She: "Yes! Yes!!"
I: "That is the point. And now we're going to talk about points..."

We had a great class meeting afterward.

For historical fun I'm reading The Devil in the White City, a history of the Chicago World's Fair of 1892-1893 and the man billed as America's first serial killer, who used to dismember innocent fairgoers in his elaborately labyrinthine hotel basement. Right now I'm looking at houses to accommodate a stepfamily, and some of the basements and root cellars of the older places bring that book to life--one former mansion (which also had a life as a rooming house) has a big room with a dirt floor and three old boilers: a sort of museum of boilers through the ages. It looks perfect for dismembering. Oddly enough, though, what's most fascinating to me in that book is the debates over landscape architecture and how the Midwest should be represented. Somebody needs to write a novel about Frederick Law Olmsted.

Since I'm working on novels set in the 1920s (at revision stage) and the 1890s (planning stage), I like to leaf through magazines from the eras. You find out so much about how people lived their lives and thought about themselves from, say, The Ladies' Home Journal. The ads are fascinating. Sometimes I buy the products on eBay; I like to hold the relics and channel the spirit of the woman who wore those fake curls from Sears or the man who had the erotic pin tray.

For fun, right now, one side of my bed is choked with a number of novels: After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell, a new favorite author who somehow makes oblique prose reveal shattering psychological truths. I just love her. And a YA called The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky, which is a semi-magical twist on The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie--what will a class full of girls do when their teacher disappears during a forbidden field trip? It's wonderfully sophisticated and pared down to essentials. Another YA, this one by Meg Medina, called Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass; I was picked on a lot in junior high, so this one is a natural (there are also some asses I'd like to kick, so the very title makes me feel empowered, though probably in a bad way). And Nancy Drew's The Spider Sapphire Mystery--why? Why not? I've always loved it, and I want to go to Kenya and solve The Mystery of My Life.
Visit Susann Cokal's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 25, 2013

Jane Tesh

Jane Tesh is a retired media specialist and pianist for the Andy Griffith Playhouse in Mt. Airy, NC. She is the author of the Madeline Maclin Mysteries, A Case of Imagination, A Hard Bargain, and A Little Learning, featuring an ex-beauty queen turned detective and her con man husband, and the Grace Street Mysteries, Stolen Hearts, Mixed Signals, and the latest, Now You See It, featuring PI David Randall and the many Southern characters who live at 302 Grace Street.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Tesh's reply:
In the Ununited Kingdom, magic is running out, and young foundling Jennifer Strange is in charge of the Kazam Mystical Arts Management, a hotel/employment agency for all the wizards and sorceresses who are gradually losing work. When Jennifer finds out she’s the last Dragonslayer and must kill the last dragon, which will release the beautiful unspoiled Dragonlands to a greedy population and start a war between two kingdoms, Jennifer, along with her faithful, hideous Quarkbeast, must solve all these problems, plus one more: Big Magic is coming, and no one has any idea what this means.

The Last Dragonslayer, the first in the Chronicles of Kazam, like all of Jasper Fforde’s work, has his trademark inventiveness, humor, and plot twists you never see coming. I have book #2, The Song of the Quarkbeast, to read next. Readers who enjoy literary wordplay and wildly imaginative plots will enjoy the Thursday Next series. Thursday, an intrepid young detective, finds she has the ability to Book Jump into the Book World, where all fictional characters are real. In Thursday’s first adventure, The Eyre Affair, someone has kidnapped Jane Eyre from her book, which can’t go on until she’s found. Fforde’s Nursery Crime series features detectives Jack Spratt and Mary Mary. My favorite is The Big Over Easy. Did Humpty Dumpty fall—or was he pushed? And perhaps Fforde’s most intriguing series begins with Shades of Grey, in which your status in life is determined by what color you can see. Eddie Russet, a Red, gets in trouble when he meets the intriguing Jane Grey, a member of the lowest class.

I had the opportunity to hear Jasper Fforde speak at a local bookstore, and he is just as entertaining a speaker as he is a writer. The only problem I have with him is he doesn’t write fast enough to suit me. I can’t wait for his next book!
Visit Jane Tesh's website.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Jane Tesh and Winkie.

The Page 69 Test: Now You See It.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Tina Connolly

Tina Connolly lives with her family in Portland, Oregon, in a house that came with a dragon in the basement and blackberry vines in the attic. Her stories have appeared all over, including in Strange Horizons, Lightspeed, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Connolly new novel is Copperhead, the sequel to her Nebula-nominated historical fantasy debut, Ironskin.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Connolly's reply:
Well, I just turned in Ironskin #3 to my editor, and I'm about 2 weeks from my due date for our baby #2 [ed: it's a girl!], so I'm indulging in some comfort reading. I'm currently re-reading all the Anne McCaffreys on my shelf. Just started in on Pern, and I went ahead and picked up the ones written by her son Todd McCaffrey as well, since I'd never read those.

It's fun immersing yourself in a long series. I was actually just thinking about how much scope the worldbuilding in the Pern series gives you to play around with. I recently read a blog post by Daniel Abraham (whose work I really enjoy) about building lots of secrets into the first book of a series, so you have plenty of room to pull them out in later volumes.

Similarly, the first book in the Pern series (Dragonflight, 1968) looks rather like a standard fantasy world at first glance, with humans bonding telepathically to dragons and fighting the dangerous organism Thread. But since McCaffrey's world is actually science fiction based, there ended up being a lot of stories to tell over the years about the origins of the world, and the difficulties as humans slowly lose their futuristic technology, and regress to the level of tech seen in the very first book. Plus, since time travel is possible in the books, there are a number of stories where people later in the timeline are able to access valuable information from people earlier on.

Comfort reading it may be, but it's also given me lots of thought for how to make a world with enough scope to tell 25 different novels!
Visit Tina Connolly's website, blog, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Copperhead.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Gina Linko

Gina Linko has a graduate degree in creative writing from DePaul University and lives outside Chicago with her husband and three children. Linko teaches college English part-time, but her real passion is sitting down at a blank computer screen and asking herself the question, "What if...?"

Linko's new novel is Indigo.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Linko's reply:
Doll Bones by Holly Black

So spooky. This book totally creeped me out. The mystery at the core of this story is pitch-perfect. So well written. The reader plays this guessing game: Is it real? Is it not real? It's spectacular! There were a few moments in this book -- referencing the "blond one" -- when I literally got goose bumps. Just read it. Then you'll know what I'm talking about. This is seriously a near-perfect middle-grade book.

One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

Another middle-grade book, but this is realistic, contemporary fiction, about a young girl winding up in a foster home after a terrible domestic violence incident. This book easily could've been preachy and overdone. But the handling of this subject was so spot-on. Never sappy or too touchy-feely. I credit the author with taking such a difficult subject and handling it so well, so realistically, yet finding hope. That's something I always want there to be in children's lit: hope.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Literary fiction at its best. I loved the cast of characters in this novel. The switching back and forth between past and present could've been cumbersome in another author's hands, but it worked very well here. I love novels that delve deep into characters' motivations, and Wolitzer is so good at this. We can love/hate some of the characters and their actions, but no matter what, we understand them.
Visit Gina Linko's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Indigo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Paul Conroy

Paul Conroy, author of Under the Wire: Marie Colvin's Final Assignment, is a former British soldier. As a photographer and filmmaker whose work spans 15 years, he has reported on the conflicts in Iraq, Congo, Kosovo, Libya, and Syria.

Recently I asked Conroy about what he was reading. His reply:
After the injuries I received in Syria I have been unable to get out and take any meaningful photographs. This has posed me with a dilemma, what to do next with my life?

Conflict reporting may be a tough one to continue with, at least on the very frontline. I never again want anyone to have to stop and have to help me, to put their lives on the line for me and be killed or injured in doing so.

My agents and publishers are convinced I can write, so I have turned to books for inspiration. One book in particular combines all of the traits I look for in a good read, P.J. O'Rourke's, Holidays in Hell. It offers an incredibly open, honest and hilarious insight into the world of journalism which, despite offending some of the more aloof members of the journalistic community, is a world I instantly recognise and immediately connect with.

O'Rourke's approach to life tallies very closely to my own: there is humour in just about everything and everywhere you go, including war zones. If you can't find humour in many of the dark places, which as journalists we often find ourselves in, then you are in for a very rocky ride indeed.

Next on my to read list is Tony Wheeler's Dark Lands. The book is continually pointed out to me, "You just have to read this," is a common cry, "It's exactly what you been doing for years," I'm told. So I now have a copy ready to start. Any book which has the opening line of 'My first thought when George Bush announced his axis of evil was, I want to go there,' is a must read for me. Why? Because I too remember that speech and my first reaction was, 'I want to go there.' Where can such a book fail?
© 2013 Paul Conroy
Learn more about Under the Wire, and follow Paul Conroy on Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: Under the Wire.

The Page 99 Test: Under the Wire.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 21, 2013

Graeme Simsion

Graeme Simsion is a former IT consultant with an international reputation. His screen adaptation of The Rosie Project won the Australian Writers Guild/Inscription Award for Best Romantic Comedy Script. Simsion lives in Australia with his wife, Anne, and their two children, and is currently working on a sequel to The Rosie Project.

A few weeks ago I asked the author about what he was reading. Simsion's reply:
I read a mixture of non-fiction and fiction. Probably half of my non-fiction reading is about writing in all its forms, from drama to songwriting. There’s always something new to learn or an idea that helps a problem I’m working on. Right now: The Cheeky Monkey by Tim Ferguson, who taught me comedy writing. My other non-fiction reading is very broad, with a good dose of science – I once wanted to be a theoretical physicist. Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee started me on a jag of reading about evolutionary psychology and provided material for The Rosie Project.

My fiction reading is driven by my wife, a voracious reader who knows what I will like, and publishers who send me advance copies to review. And occasionally I choose a book myself, based on reviews and recommendations. I read an advance reader copy of Matthew Quick’s Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock and enjoyed it so much I grabbed Silver Linings Playbook. As a screenwriter-novelist, I’m always interested in the craft of adaptation – and this one is a really interesting case study, as well as a totally recommendable book.

Writing has made me a critical reader: it’s hard to relax and just enjoy the story. Reading Ben Schrank’s Love is a Canoe (an advance copy for the Australian edition), I couldn’t help focusing on craft as he interwove his stories of past and present (I was reminded, just a little, of A.S. Byatt’s Possession). But in the end, content triumphed over form and I settled back and enjoyed an insightful take on relationships with a good dose of humor.
Visit Graeme Simsion's website and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Rosie Project.

The Page 69 Test: The Rosie Project.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Linda J. Seligmann

Linda Seligmann is Professor of Anthropology and Director of Graduate Programs in Anthropology at George Mason University. Her research and analysis has appeared in national newspapers and journals, including The Washington Post and on National Public Radio. She is the author of Between Reform and Revolution: Political Struggles in the Peruvian Andes, 1969-1991 (1995) and Women Traders in Cross-Cultural Perspective: Mediating Identities, Marketing Wares (2001).

Seligmann's latest book is Broken Links, Enduring Ties: American Adoption across Race, Class, and Nation.

A few weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Seligmann's reply:
I’m a browser. I’m reading Fred Myer’s edited volume, The Empire of Things. I find myself thrilled to be pushed to think in new ways about material culture and to pay renewed attention to how the simple transactions of people giving gifts, and trading, and buying and selling things carry with them all sorts of complex economic, political, and symbolic values.

I’m also reading Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed. It’s hard to put down and it’s equally hard to keep reading it because it is so full of pain and beauty that wrench me from my comfortable surroundings.

In between, I’m reading Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. I’m reading it on my iPad so I’m wondering what that is doing to my brain. It’s an elegant argument about the systematic yet subtle ways in which major technological breakthroughs historically transform all aspects of our lives for better or for worse. Carr thinks the Internet is making us unable to focus, to carry through with anything or to gain deep understanding, even as it proves astounding in all sorts of “thin” ways.

And early in the morning, especially, I read a few poems from one of my poetry anthologies. This morning, I read one by Walt Whitman and another by Seamus Heaney. When I’m working very hard doing research and writing, I find myself thirsty for fiction. When my brain is tired but I am seeking simple clarity, I often read about the workings of the brain. And when I want to return to my roots, I turn to poetry.
Learn more about Broken Links, Enduring Ties at the Stanford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Broken Links, Enduring Ties.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tim O’Mara

Tim O’Mara has been teaching math and special education in the New York City public schools since 1987. Sacrifice Fly, his top-selling debut mystery introduced the series hero Raymond Donne, a Brooklyn public schoolteacher who was once an up-and-coming police officer until a tragic accident destroyed his knees and the future he envisioned on the force.

Crooked Numbers, the second book in the Raymond Donne series, has just been released.

Recently I asked O’Mara about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m almost through with Otto Penzler’s latest anthology, Kwik Krimes. Otto got over 80 writers, none of whom were me, to submit crime stories no longer than 1,000 words in length. Sounds gimmicky, I know, but it is a lesson in the economical use of words. Some of my new friends in the mystery world have entries: Lyndsay Faye, Jim Fusilli, Chris Grabenstein, and one by Reed Farrell Coleman that reads like a punch in the face. (In a good way.)

Were I to blurb this book, it would go something like this: “For every mystery reader who’s ever wanted a good story they could start—and finish—in the smallest room of the house and for every mystery writer who suffers from verbal diarrhea. The perfect book for those looking to poop and get off the pot!”
Visit Tim O'Mara's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Crooked Numbers.

The Page 69 Test: Crooked Numbers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 18, 2013

Nate Kenyon

Nate Kenyon is the author of Bloodstone, a Bram Stoker Award finalist and winner of the P&E Horror Novel of the Year, The Reach, also a Stoker Award Finalist, The Bone Factory, Sparrow Rock, StarCraft: Ghost Spectres, and Diablo: The Order.

Kenyon's new novel is Day One.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Joylandby Stephen King

I used to be a strict "one book at a time" reader. It felt like cheating when I would pick up one before I was done with another, and I would insist on finishing everything--even if I didn't like it. I don't think I left a single book before the end until I was in my mid-thirties.

That's changed now. I read samples of many books, and even after I commit to one I sometimes leave it in the middle. Ebooks have something to do with it--it's just easier to sample novels now on a whim. My available time is far less these days too, so I don't feel like forcing myself to get through something that isn't working for me.

I won't have that problem with Joyland. This is the most fun I've had with a King novel in years. I didn't know what to expect going in, since I'd heard from friends it was not his usual style. They were right--and wrong, too. It's not horror, at least not so far. It's a coming of age story with a protagonist I like a great deal. It's sweet and slightly heartbreaking and thoughtful. I'm only a third of the way through and I don't know what direction it might take, but so far, so very good. And yet it's still quite clearly his unique voice. King's strength has always been story, and his ability to make readers connect with characters like no other. That's all here in spades.

So I'm definitely going to finish this one. That said, I'm cheating on King with…King. I swore I would wait for Doctor Sleep until I'd completed Joyland, and then promptly downloaded it in a moment of weakness to iBooks and read the first chapter. I've been nervous about this one, because The Shining is one of my favorite books of all time, and I want to love the sequel so badly. But I'm afraid. Afraid the magic isn't there anymore. Afraid of tainting the memory of that book. So far, though, I'm interested. We shall see.

Before Joyland I read Our Final Invention by James Barrat, a brilliant non-fiction book about the dangers of artificial intelligence. Scary stuff, and so well done. And before that, I read Pessl's Night Film. Although I thought there were some flaws with the novel overall, particularly the ending, it had such a compelling voice and atmosphere and it was just so much fun, I would recommend it highly. It's one of those novels that just forces you to turn pages, and one you can't stop thinking about when you're not reading it.
Visit Nate Kenyon's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Day One.

The Page 69 Test: Day One.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Daniel Kalla

Daniel Kalla's latest novels, The Far Side Of The Sky and Rising Sun, Falling Shadow, weave together intrigue, medical drama and romance to bring to life the extraordinary and little-known chapter of the Second World War, when the cultures of Europe and Asia converged.

Late last month I asked the author about what he was reading. Kalla's reply:
I am just finishing The Crook Factory by Dan Simmons. I stumbled across this book in a tiny book store in rural Nova Scotia. I’d never read anything by the author, but when I scanned the flap and learned that it was a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway’s true life dabble into Nazi counter-espionage during 1942, I was hooked.

And I wasn’t disappointed. This novel packs in historical intrigue, pop culture and a veritable who’s who of mid Twentieth Century celebrities, including Ingrid Bergman, Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, J. Edgar Hoover and Ian Fleming (the James Bond writer who was apparently quite the dapper spy himself!) In a nutshell, the novel tells the story from the perspective of a fearless, yet troubled, loner of an FBI agent who is sent by Hoover to spy on the true-life, amateur U boat-hunting activities of Ernest Hemingway and his motley crew, “the crook factory”, in and around Cuba. Simmons does a masterful job of bringing to life the larger-than-life man who was Ernest Hemingway, with all his contradictions and complexities. He doesn’t necessarily succeed as well with all his secondary characters, both fictional and real-life (for example, Hemingway’s then-wife, Martha Gellman, comes across a one-dimensional, humorless shrew.) But the main characters are compelling and the dialogue often sizzles.

As an author who has relatively recently turned to historical fiction, I’m humbled by the depth and detail of Simmons’ research. He makes the period come alive. Apparently, Simmons delved into declassified FBI documents to piece together a complicated absorbing story that stuck painstakingly close to actual events. If the book has one major weakness, it’s Simmons over-enthusiasm for sharing the most minute of period details. He spends pages on the specific of World War II code breaking to the point that I suspect that even Dan Brown would be frustrated.

But all in, The Crook Factory is still a gem of a book. I’m happy I uncovered it in the wilds of Nova Scotia. Highly recommended to World War II or Hemingway buffs.
Visit Daniel Kalla's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

John Mosier

John Mosier is a professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, where he teaches courses in film, modern European literature, and the eighteenth-century novel. His books include The Myth of the Great War (nominated for a Pulitzer Prize), The Blitzkrieg Myth, The Generalship of U. S. Grant, and Cross of Iron.

His latest book is Verdun: The Lost History of the Most Important Battle of World War I, 1914-1918.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading.  Mosier reply:
Putting myself at risk of being accused of boasting, I must say that I’ve always been both a voracious reader, and a very fast one, at least in English. Either as a result, or because I have a short attention span, I’ve always been involved in a dozen or so books at the same time. Nor is there any particular logic to my choice.

The appearance of ebooks and readers has only worsened an already bad habit, since I can carry around a hundred or so at once. So, simply to give a feeble attempt at organization, I’ve categorized what I’m reading.

Dr. Johnson observed that most readers prefer biographies (or something like that), and I’ve just finished an autobiography by an exceedingly curious fellow: Hans Christian Andersen, The True Story of My Life. I haven’t found it gives me the slightest clue as to his tale telling, but the narrator is, frankly, just plain weird; you start reading to find the answer to one puzzle and instead find more.

I started reading Thomas Wright’s The Life of Sir Richard Burton after wading through Burton’s own accounts. I can’t say I enjoyed them. As Macaulay once remarked, “Compared with the labor of reading these volumes, all other labor, the labor of thieves on the treadmill, the labor of children in the mines, the labor of slaves on the plantation, is but a pleasant recreation.”

But this biography is excellent. I would say it’s one of those perfectly balanced works in terms of achieving a critical appreciation. It’s also unexpectedly funny. Here’s Wright talking about Burton’s mother’s attempts to learn French. She studied diligently, “and with such success that in less than six months she was able to speak several words, though she could never get hold of the correct pronunciation.”

Having managed to get a doctorate in English without reading much American literature, in a guilty fit, I have taken up Frank Preston Stearns's biography, The Life and Genius of Nathaniel Hawthorne, which, at the risk of being lynched by Hawthornians everywhere, I must say is a considerably more fascinating work than any of his novels, written by man who was a devoted fan and immersed in the to me musty superficialities of New England intellectualism.

By the same token, I’m about two thirds of the way through Ferdinand Christian Wilhelm Praeger’s Wagner as I Knew Him, an 1892 adoration of the great musical genius. The music’s not to my taste (although very much to my wife’s), but Wagner comes across as an engaging fellow. Hard to dislike a man who carries on conversations with his dog. And the accounts of Wagner’s directing are impressive: Beethoven’s Ninth from memory!

As far as fiction goes, I’m exploring and re-reading. In the latter category, I’m about halfway through Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons, which I last read in college, where I wasn’t much impressed. I suppose now that I’m a grandfather it makes more sense; at any rate, it’s a lot better than I remember. Surrounded by professors who seem to think Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is the greatest thing ever written, I’ve always taken a perverse pleasure in The Secret Agent.

Rereading it once again, I’m even more taken with it as the first and greatest of all the novels of intrigue and spying. I think anyone who’s ever worked in a bureaucracy, much less in higher education, can sympathize with Mr. Verloc’s consternation at hearing Mr. Vladimir’s wonderful oration. He developed “his ideas from on high, with scorn and condescension, displaying at the same time an amount of ignorance as to the real aims, thoughts, and methods of the revolutionary world which filled the silent Mr. Verloc with inward consternation. He confounded causes with effects more than was excusable ... assumed organization where in the nature of things it could not exist....”

As a Pole, Conrad didn’t have much use for Russians, and I don’t know he would have thought of a Russian novel I’d never even heard of, Mikhail Petrovich Artzybashev’s Sanine. In its day it caused quite a scandal, and Sanine, the chief character, is the sort of man both Turgenev and Dostoevsky liked to write about. But it’s a remarkable novel, not as bitter as The Devils and without the tragic pathos of Turgenev.

I would say that a good deal of my reading is travel literature, and there are real gems lying around. I’ve been spending times in Provence for thirty years, but as I’ve been reading Francis Miltoun’s 1906 account, Rambles on the Riviera, I hardly recognized the place. I plan to take it with me on my next trip, use it as a guide. It’s always sobering to discover how little you know of a place you regard as being familiar.

I’m wading through two really formidable multi-volumed works. Jules Verne’s Celebrated Travels and Travellers (yes, that Jules Verne) is three massive volumes that starts with what he ingenuously calls “The Exploration of the World,” and then continues with two volumes on the “Great Navigators” of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The English translation is apparently a very rare work, as I haven’t been able to find it after a search of all the major libraries, courtesy of WorldCat. I’m glad I found it, as it is difficult to believe there’s any navigator Verne doesn’t discuss in exhaustive detail.

But Verne, as a marvelously prolific novelist, has a great eye for story telling, which is more than I can say for Henry Yule’s extensively annotated edition of Marco Polo’s travels, an 1870 work updated in 1920. This is a ponderous work: the introductory biographical sketch of Henry Yule, written by his daughter, is a book in itself. But then Yule was a fascinating Englishman who spent most of his life in India. His scholarly productions were a sort of hobby, as he spent most of his time modernizing the sub continent. Among other things, he developed the extensive railroad system, which gives an idea of his significance.

Unfortunately, his literary skills were nonexistent; but then Polo was, at least for me, one of those men whose exciting life is hardly matched by his prose, so it’s a perfect match.

One of the unexpected discoveries is the enormous numbers of travel accounts written by women. They went to all sorts of strange places, from Burma to Patagonia and everywhere in between. Beth Ellis went to visit her sister in Burma in 1890, and An English Girl's First Impressions of Burmah is a marvelously comic tale about her non-adventures there. Her account of trying to make traditional English pastries is related in a deadpan way that puts Mark Twain to shame.

On a more serious note I’ve just finished Lady Barker’s account of a lengthy sojourn on a sheep ranch in New Zealand. I don’t know anything about this woman, or why she and her husband were there, but she was an admirable person. She was apparently enceinte when she made the lengthy voyage, gave birth in a new country. A few pages later, she records, without any obvious emotion, that the baby took sick and died. The lack of any of the emotionalism we usually associate with Victorian tragedies makes the passage deeply moving.

As a sometime military historian, I do read history on occasion. When I was younger, I though that C. V. Wedgwood’s The Thirty Years War was one of the best books of its kind, and I referred to it in one of my own books, contrasting her description of the devastation it caused with the more recent studies—much to their advantage.

So I’ve been both surprised and impressed to find a much earlier work, written by Samuel Rawson Gardiner way back in 1874. With all due respect to Ms. Wedgewood, as a work of history Gardiner is far superior, and, again to my surprise, I’m finding it to be a much more lucid and comprehensive explanation.

But then as we work backwards, it does seem that these older histories are much better than their successors. I’m in volume two of John Fiske’s The American Revolution, published in 1891, a work in my view hardly surpassed by anything written since, both for the clarity of the prose and the depth of the research.

It was Voltaire who made sarcastic remarks about entrusting the writing of history to intellectuals. He knew whereof he spoke, since he was, among other things, no mean historian himself. I’m reading his History of Peter the Great, Emperor of Russia, which, to be blunt, is a considerably less turgid account than the recent one by Massie. Voltaire, like Verne, has a genius for compressing complex events into a succinct narrative. He gives you the forest, doesn’t stop to count the acorns.

And of course he had a considerable advantage, since he had extensive personal knowledge of the subject. A few ounces of Voltaire is weightier than several pounds of anyone else.

I think we sometimes forget these giants of the past. If we see further it is because we’re standing on their shoulders. The subject of a delightful book by Thomas Merton, which I’m currently rereading. Interestingly, it’s the only physical book of the lot.

Our ancestors were a lot smarter than we sometimes give them credit for. I’m plowing through William Osler’s The Evolution of Modern Medicine in 1913. It’s astonishing how much of the human body was mapped by the Greeks and the Romans, while at the same time, how many of their assumptions were wrong. In that regard Osler has a refreshing comment that’s a useful counter to much of what passes for science today: “I believe it was Hegel who said that progress is a series of negations— the denial today of what was accepted yesterday, the contradiction by each generation of some part at least of the philosophy of the last; but all is not lost, the germ plasm remains, a nucleus of truth to be fertilized by men often ignorant even of the body from which it has come. Knowledge evolves, but in such a way that its possessors are never in sure possession. ‘It is because science is sure of nothing that it is always advancing’ (Duclaux).”

Learn more about John Mosier's Verdun at the publisher's website, and visit John Mosier's faculty webpage.

The Page 99 Test: Verdun.

--Marshal Zeringue