Tuesday, December 30, 2014

David Krugler

David F. Krugler is Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, Platteville. His new book is 1919, The Year of Racial Violence: How African Americans Fought Back.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Krugler's reply:
I’m just finishing reading two books, a novel and a work of nonfiction. The novel is a World War II spy thriller by the British author David Downing. Stettin Station (Soho Press, 2009) is part of a series featuring John Russell, a jaded but morally centered journalist. An American by birth, Russell considers himself British—he grew up in Great Britain—but he now lives in Berlin. The novel is set in November and December 1941. The Soviet Army has halted the German advance in the east, the Japanese are preparing for an attack on U.S. naval forces at Pearl Harbor. A combat veteran of the First World War, Russell abhors war, yet he cheers for U.S. entry into this global conflict so that the Nazis can be defeated all the sooner. Russell must tread a dangerous path. He loathes the Nazis, but he must report Joseph Goebbels’ ceaseless hokum in order to keep his credentials as a journalist. As a U.S. citizen, he can leave Germany, but what about his lover Effi, a German film star who shares his anti-Nazism, and his German-born teenage son Paul? Russell increases the risks by meeting secretly with German communists to find out what is happening to Germany’s Jews. What I really like about Stettin Station, and Downing’s other John Russell novels, is that his characters traverse a treacherous landscape in which all actions require constant compromise and the calibration of ‘lesser evils.’ To bond with his son, for example, Russell attends a Nazi military rally. It’s a testament to Downing’s skill as a novelist that we don’t condemn Russell for doing this but rather cheer his efforts to be a good, decent man in a place and time where so few good, decent people can be found.

The other book is by historian and journalist Jill Lepore: The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle over American History (Princeton University Press, 2010). I’ve long been a fan of Lepore’s historical scholarship and her work for The New Yorker, so I picked up the book to see how she did in blending the two. Very well, it turns out. The Whites of Their Eyes follows Lepore as she attends and reports on numerous Tea Party rallies held in Boston starting in 2009. Lepore describes the grievances and concerns shared by the rally attendees and speakers, but her primary interest is in what was said about American history at these events. The Founding Founders were popular topics, as was the American Revolution. What concerns Lepore, as a historian, is inattention to historical context and the multiple, changing ways in which the United States has worked to create a more perfect union based on the principles of the Revolution. With that in mind, she frequently takes diversions from the present-day to the past to tell us how Americans since the Revolution have understood (and argued about) what it means to be an American and what a democracy should look like. Her historical review of voting practices and methods, for example, is especially insightful, as is her comparison of enduring myths about the Revolution with historical evidence and accounts. “What was the Revolution about? What is history for?” she muses in her epilogue. If you thought the answers to both questions were permanently fixed, by the end of the book you’ll likely think differently. But you’ll also believe the answers are worth finding.
Learn more about 1919, The Year of Racial Violence at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Andrew Hadfield

Andrew Hadfield is Professor of English at the University of Sussex. He is author of a number of works on early modern literature, including Edmund Spenser: A Life.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Hadfield's reply:
I like to make a clear distinction between books that I read for work – where I try to be as systematic as possible – and pleasure, where I read as wide and random a mixture as I can manage. I’ve been working on English perceptions of Rome and I found David Karmon’s The Ruin of the Eternal City: Antiquity and Preservation in Renaissance Rome (2011) a fascinating and extremely useful account of Renaissance Rome’s dilemma about what to do with its recent past. Charles Nicholl’s Traces Remain (2013) collects the writer’s essays and reviews over the last twenty-five years. Not only does it contain a lively and diverse range of reflections on how the past is preserved, from the last sad journey of the seventeenth-century travel writer, Thomas Coryat to a new candidate for Jack the Ripper, but it is elegantly written and full of reflections about what is always left behind.

I read mainly literature, history, and, sometimes, biographies. I’ve really enjoyed the sharp wit, poignant insights and precise style of Elizabeth Taylor (1912-75), who is finally getting her due as a disturbing and brilliant novelist alongside Muriel Spark and Barbara Pym. Blaming, her last book, which was published posthumously, is a magnificent, often hilarious work about bereavement, which alternately comforts and shocks the reader. I’m looking forward to reading many more of her novels.

I quite enjoyed Helen Macdonald’s H Is For Hawk (2014), an account of one woman’s determined battle to rear a goshawk, Mabel. I read it because I have a long-standing interest in T. H. White, whose own account of his attempts to train a hawk, The Goshawk (1951), serves to anchor Helen Macdonald’s own experiences. McDonald’s book is fascinating and moving at times as she struggles to subdue the iron will of the bird of prey, overcome her grief after the premature death of her beloved father, and forge her own style. She is least successful in the last of these aims and the book is sometimes marred by poor writing.
Learn more about Edmund Spenser: A Life at the Oxford University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Edmund Spenser: A Life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 26, 2014

Casey Walker

Casey Walker has a PhD in English Literature from Princeton University. His essays and short fiction have appeared in The Believer, Esquire, Narrative, Boston Review and The Los Angeles Review of Books. He lives in Iowa with his wife, novelist Karen Thompson Walker. Several trips he’s made to China, including one accompanying a delegation of officials from a small California city, laid some of the groundwork for his new novel, Last Days in Shanghai.

Earlier this month I asked Walker about what he was reading. His reply:
The most recent book I read with total purposelessness—that is, not Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, which I re-read for the course I’m teaching; not Assembling California, by John McPhee, which I started as research for a new novel; and not Goodnight, Moon or The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which I read daily to my wide-eyed daughter—is Jenny Offill’s fractured and beautifully broken novel Dept. of Speculation. Offill assembles the novel from riveting moments of attention, often no more than a paragraph or a few lines long. Her style reminds me a little bit of Mary Robison, gem-like sentences in an arrangement always on the cusp of disorder. The narrator of Offill’s book is a new mother and the novel has the most brilliant way of rendering the dizzy, sleepless, animal world that newborns and their parents inhabit: “The baby’s eyes were dark, almost black, and when I nursed her in the middle of the night, she’d stare at me with a stunned, shipwrecked look as if my body were the island she’d washed up on.” Careful observations like this are stitched together with language in a different, more philosophical register: “A thought experiment courtesy of the Stoics. If you are tired of everything you possess, imagine that you have lost all these things.” It’s a compelling, exciting alternation, and it makes haunting and lovely reading.
Follow Casey Walker on Twitter.

Learn more about Last Days in Shanghai at the Counterpoint Press website.

The Page 69 Test: Last Days in Shanghai.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Greg Garrett

Greg Garrett, the 2013 Centennial Professor at Baylor University, is the author of twenty books of nonfiction, memoir, and fiction. His latest book is Entertaining Judgment: The Afterlife in Popular Imagination, which explores the stories we tell about death and the afterlife--and why we tell them. BBC Radio has called Garrett "one of America's leading voices on religion and culture," and he has also written on such topics as spirituality and suffering, film, U2, Harry Potter, and the boom in superhero narratives.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Garrett's reply:
I was in France and the UK this summer as everyone was commemorating the centennial of World War One, and since then, I have been thinking about war and wartime literature. I’m a novelist, cultural critic, and pop culture theologian, and as writer and as reader I’m particularly interested in the ways that literature and culture help us make meaning of big questions. So here are some imaginative works I’ve been reading or re-reading lately about war:

Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology (edited by Tim Kendall) represents the wide range of poems produced by the truly gifted poets of the era (Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, and others). These writers wrote during the era, and many of them lived through (or died in) the trenches of that horrible war. I’m particularly drawn to Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est,” perhaps the best-known poem of the war, and certainly one of its finest. It describes the horrifying death of one of the speaker’s comrades during a chlorine gas attack, and rebukes the old saying that it is glorious to die for one’s country.

Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried has more than combat on its mind—it also wrestles with questions of memory, story-telling, and the value of art—but it remains the best work on Vietnam from the Texas writer acclaimed as our best chronicler of the Vietnam War. From its opening title story, which introduces us to the characters with whom we’ll journey through the book (including the narrator, “Tim O’Brien”) to the closing story, “The Lives of the Dead,” which talks about how stories can save us, O’Brien is demonstrating how to tell a true war story—and teaching us that maybe war stories have more in common with our ordinary stories than we imagine.

Phil Klay’s Deployment deservedly won the National Book Award for Fiction this year. I taught it in my fiction class early in the fall, and we all felt, smugly, as if we were prophets at the announcement. Like the World War One poets, like O’Brien, he’s telling us about the experience of battle and about trying to reconcile it with the experience of the home front—two things that are not meant to be meshed. The title story is a masterpiece of the “soldiers’ return” story written by other great American writers including Hemingway and Fitzgerald. The narrator’s family can’t hope to understand what the narrator has gone through. Words cannot convey the experience. And yet words are all we have. And when they are good words, hard, and beautiful like these, there is a grace and beauty even to the harsh and horrid truth.
Learn more about Entertaining Judgment at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 22, 2014

Nina Darnton

A journalist for thirty years, Nina Darnton wrote her first novel, An African Affair three years ago.

Her new novel is The Perfect Mother.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Darnton's reply:
I often have two books going at the same time. But when I started reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, I knew that strategy wouldn’t work. I simply couldn’t put it down and, when life intervened and I was forced to, I returned to it in any spare moment I had. It is a rare combination of a page turner that is also brilliantly written and conceived with believable characters about whom I came to care.

There are a few other books I’ve read recently that I have to mention: The Circle by Dave Eggers, which chilled me by its presentation of the dystopian society we may be headed for where privacy is no longer a cherished concept. I also loved Rainy Royal, by Dylan Landis, a book of short stories that hang together to produce a study, an examination, a presentation of a compelling character, cruel and kind, artistic and wounded.

Finally, I love everything by Robert Harris, most recently An Officer and a Spy a retelling of the Dreyfus case. It is one of my favorite forms of fiction – using real life events (in this case the railroading, trial, punishment and final exoneration of an innocent man) and subjecting them to a novelist’s powers of analysis and imagination. Sometimes one can reach a deeper truth, or at least a fuller understanding of historical facts by way of fiction. This is one such time.
Visit Nina Darnton's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Perfect Mother.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 20, 2014

K.V. Johansen

K. V. Johansen is the author of The Leopard (Marakand, Volume One) and Blackdog and numerous works for children, teens, and adults.

Her latest novel is The Lady (Marakand, Volume Two).

Recently I asked Johansen about what she was reading. Her reply:
I tend to always be reading a bunch of things at once, switching between them as the mood takes me.

Just finished Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

Read it at one sitting as soon as I wrested it from the Spouse’s hands. (He got it first because he’s the one that paid for it, house rule.) I love this series. Very well-conceived ‘magic-in-the-real-world’ fantasy, very good mysteries, great characters. I enjoy the way that the landscape, human-made and natural, carries weight and reality and becomes essential to the story.

The Thousand Names by Django Wexler

I’m enjoying this and wondering where the larger plot of the series is going. I like his battle scenes; they’re very well done, both technically and emotionally. I’ll definitely be reading The Shadow Throne afterwards.

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (audiobook)

I like to listen to audiobooks while I’m cooking; it keeps me from suddenly thinking of a good line and rushing off to my computer, leaving things to burn. I find it has to be books I’ve read before, though; I don’t like listening to something new nearly so much, but listening to something I’ve already read seems to come at it from a different angle and enrich the reading. With Rothfuss, it draws extra attention to his prose, which is quite beautiful. As a story, Wise Man’s Fear works really well in this format, since aside from the framing narrative, it’s written to be an oral tale. I do wonder how Kvothe managed to tell all that in a single day, with interruptions, though, because it certainly can’t be read aloud in that time! I suspect Chronicler must actually be accused of embellishing it extensively later, if not of making it all up in the first place. (Okay, not really. Probably not really ....) I want to know more about Bast; he’s definitely becoming the most intriguing character in this for me.

Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

I’d read The City and the City a while ago and found it interesting, though it demanded a conscious “let’s pretend” about basic human nature (whereas I find it’s far easier for literary belief to allow the impossible when it’s about almost anything else), but a friend’s interest in Miéville got me to pick up this one. I’ve only just begun it, but I’m finding that the characters and world are really working well together and pulling me in without reservation. Beautiful prose, too.

The Soldier-Son Trilogy by Robin Hobb

I’ve liked some Hobb more than others. I haven’t quite made up my mind about this one yet. Lately I’ve been finding myself more irritated than interested in child-protagonists in adult books, but that’s probably just a phase I’m going through -- and he’s bound to grow up soon. That aside, which really is just the reading mood I’m in, Hobb always writes well. It’s what I think of as American-frontier fantasy.

Strathclyde and the Anglo-Saxons in the Viking Age by Tim Clarkson

This is a period and a place that I’ve always been very interested in. A very well-rounded history so far.

Roots and Branches by Tom Shippey (rereading)

I’ve been re-reading this collection of essays on Tolkien lately, for the third time, I think it is. I always find Shippey very enjoyable and thought-stimulating.

I’ve also been reading Colin Cotterill’s Dr. Siri Paiboun mysteries. They’re set in Laos in the seventies; in addition to the setting, which is a look at place and time I didn’t know that much about, they have what I most look for in a mystery, which is good writing, a complex problem that has its origins in ordinary human drives (I’m not a fan of the sadistic serial killer mystery mode), and main characters with some integrity and intelligence.
Visit K. V. Johansen's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Leopard.

Coffee with a Canine: K.V. Johansen & Ivan.

The Page 69 Test: The Lady.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Stacy Henrie

Stacy Henrie has always had an avid appetite for history, fiction and chocolate. She earned her B.A. in public relations from Brigham Young University and worked in communications before turning her attentions to raising a family and writing inspirational historical romances.

Henrie's new novel is Hope Rising.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Though historical romance is what I write and read the most, every so often I crave a funny contemporary romance. I also like Jane Austen adaptation novels. So Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits by Mary Jane Hathaway, a story of two people whose pride nearly keeps them apart like Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, fit the bill. I love the premise of these two college professors and writers with a mutual passion for the Civil War who began their acquaintance on very rocky ground. Ransom Fielding gave Shelby Roswell a scathing review of her Civil War book in a national magazine before the two of them end up teaching at the same college. The story is a fun blend of humor, romance, and Southern charm.
Visit Stacy Henrie's website.

My Book, The Movie: Hope Rising.

The Page 69 Test: Hope Rising.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

David Niose

David Niose has spent the last decade immersed in secular-progressive politics and the culture wars. He has served as president of two Washington-based advocacy groups—the American Humanist Association and the Secular Coalition for America—and litigated cases across the country on behalf of church-state separation and equal rights. He is the author of Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans, as well as the popular Psychology Today blog "Our Humanity, Naturally," and has been featured on Fox News, MSNBC, the Associated Press, The National Journal, Christian Science Monitor, BBC, and many other media outlets. He is currently Legal Director of the American Humanist Association.

Niose's new book is Fighting Back the Right: Reclaiming America from the Attack on Reason.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m currently reading The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith – the updated fortieth anniversary edition that was released in 1998. This book is recognized as a classic, but I still don’t think it gets the attention it deserves. In fact it is particularly relevant today as a refutation of conservative economics.

Galbraith was everything you’d want a public intellectual to be, and this book was his masterwork for the general reader. He took a complex subject, economics, and presented it from a unique standpoint that broke with traditional thinking. And importantly, he conveyed his new ideas with a lucid style of writing that was easy for the non-economist to understand. He was also very witty.

Many people don’t know that Galbraith invented the term “conventional wisdom,” and presented the concept in this book. He was critical of the herd mentality and obviously admired and practiced independent thinking. One of my favorite quotes from the book is, “It is much safer to have a firm anchor in nonsense than to put out on the troubled seas of thought.”

Next on my reading list will be Living the Secular Life by Phil Zuckerman, who is one of America’s great scholars on secularism. His academic work is among the most frequently cited on the subject, and I’m expecting that this book will be another important contribution.
Visit David Niose's blog, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 15, 2014

Kelly Bowen

Kelly Bowen grew up in Manitoba, Canada. She worked her way through her teenage years as a back country trail guide and ranch hand and spent a year working on a cattle station in Australia. She attended the University of Manitoba and earned a Master of Science degree in veterinary physiology and endocrinology.

But it was Bowen's infatuation with history and a weakness for a good love story that led her down the path of historical romance. When she is not writing, she seizes every opportunity to explore ruins and battlefields.

Currently, Bowen lives in Winnipeg with her husband and two boys, all of whom are wonderfully patient with the writing process. Except, that is, when they need a goalie for street hockey.

Bowen's new novel is I've Got My Duke to Keep Me Warm.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
City of Women – David R. Gillham

This was an exceedingly well written novel set in Berlin, 1943. It is, essentially, the story of ordinary women who do extraordinary things for reasons that are not always black and white. Every once in awhile you come across a book that you can’t help but insert yourself into the plot and then ask, ‘what would I have done under those circumstances’? And if you can’t answer right away, and find yourself still thinking about it months later, then the author has truly achieved something special. This is one of those books.
Visit Kelly Bowen's website.

The Page 69 Test: I've Got My Duke to Keep Me Warm.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Lee A. Farrow

Lee A. Farrow is professor of history and distinguished teaching professor at Auburn University–Montgomery. Her new book is Alexis in America: A Russian Grand Duke's Tour, 1871-1872.

Recently I asked author about what she was reading. Farrow's reply:
I read a lot and I read across genres. I teach Russian and World History, so I read a lot of history. Recently, I read and enjoyed Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic about the assassination of President Garfield and Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power by Andrew Nagorski.

In the spring, I’ll be teaching a course on Russia’s path to revolution, so I’m getting ready to reread Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls, "The Overcoat" and "The Nose"; Alexander Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin; and Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons.

I belong to two book clubs, one of which focuses on one author at a time. Last year, we read all Jane Austen; this year, we are reading Henry James, so I am currently reading Portrait of a Lady.

I am also the co-chair of our university’s common reading committee, so in that capacity I have recently read and enjoyed Lucky by Alice Sebold and Ghost Map by Stephen Johnson.

I also like to read popular fiction (Gone Girl, 11/22/63) and foreign fiction (Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie) for fun, and I enjoy books on art theft and forgery and science and forensics.

Finally, in my new job as the Director for my university’s Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, I am reading books on student engagement and teaching.

Some of my all-time favorite novels are Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev, Confederacy of Dunces by Kennedy O’Toole, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Animal Farm by George Orwell.
Learn more about Alexis in America at the LSU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Elizabeth Speller

Elizabeth Speller studied Classics at Cambridge University. She is the author of The Return of Captain John Emmett and The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton, both of which received stellar critical acclaim. She lives in England.

Speller's latest novel is The First of July.

Not so long ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve just finished two very different non-fiction books: but there’s a sort of connection. At the centre of both is a powerful connection with place.

John Huth is a Harvard professor. His web page begins with a quotation from Kipling and explains his areas of study as being Experimental Particle Physics and Cultures of Navigation. It seems appropriate to the topic of his book that I’m lost immediately.

In The Lost Art of Finding our Way Huth explores a fascinating question: before signposts and early maps, and millennia before SatNav, how did human beings find their way, often accurately, across great distances? I read facts from his account out aloud to everybody: snakes measure distances in paces (yes, improbable, I know) and am delightedly smug when I find I already know one of Huth’s tips for orientation (lichen grows on the north side of trees). But perhaps most fun (and, in an emergency, most useful) is the suggestion for experimenting with navigation using these features of topography and nature. Riveting for the armchair walker or the real adventurer.

I came to re-read some of the Austrian author Stefan Zweig’s novellas after seeing Wes Anderson’s movie The Grand Budapest Hotel; Anderson explained that his delicious, fantasy middle-European setting was inspired by Zweig’s early twentieth-century fiction.

At the heart of this biography of Zweig - The Impossible Exile, by George Prochnik - is an attachment to the idea of a place. The biography is not sentimental but it draws on all the senses in depicting the sugar-dusted exterior of sophisticated pre-war Vienna and the chilly darkness within. A darkness only exceeded by exile.

This is not just a chronology of a life – in fact Prochnik seems fairly uninterested in the most successful parts of Zweig’s career. It is a recreation of the world represented by this hugely successful author (although one looked on with a degree of contempt by his more serious literary contemporaries) and how this world was lost.

I think this is an exceptional work because of two central themes. Zweig is not a man of great nobility, though with some eccentric charm, and probably not a Great Novelist (whatever that may be). He was born into a wealthy secular Jewish family, his books sold on a vast scale, but his tragedy was an experience shared by many Jewish Europeans in the 1930’s and 40’s, and the dismantling of his world was the permanent dismantling of Vienna’s rich cultural and intellectual society.

I have wrestled all my life with homesickness so ached as I read Prochnik’s profound contemplation on exile. Zweig’s forced departure from Austria – in the face of the malignity of Nazism (which he greatly underestimated at first) is a poignant and increasingly desperate Odyssey. Even German - the words that are Zweig’s trade – are now the language of tyranny.

But there can be no homecoming; instead there are Zweig’s efforts to carry with him a home, a culture that has already vanished. Prochnik makes Zweig’s Vienna so real that the disillusionment, loneliness and fear felt by the author and his young wife, Lotte, as they move from place to place are utterly persuasive (How far might the Nazis get? Where might the couple finally belong?). Mouth-watering Viennese food is described in the early part of the book and as the Zweigs settle and unsettle in London, Bath, New York and, finally, Brazil, Lotte attempts to find ingredients for the food they once loved in Austria.

When Zweig and Lotte finally decide they have reached the only possible end of their journey - in Brazil’s Petrópolis - their decision is as moving as any carefully contrived fiction. The photograph of the couple, dead from a barbiturate overdose, might seem gratuitously morbid but, with her body curled into his, her hand protectively covering his fingers, the image speaks only of love, togetherness, and escape from the intolerable.
Visit Elizabeth Speller's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Elizabeth Speller and Erwin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Sebastian Rotella

Sebastian Rotella is the author of Triple Crossing, which the New York Times Book Review named its favorite debut crime novel and action thriller of 2011, and the nonfiction book Twilight on the Line. He is a senior reporter for ProPublica, a newsroom dedicated to investigative journalism in the public interest.

His new novel is The Convert's Song.

Last week I asked the author about what he was reading. Rotella's reply:
I alternate among English-language and foreign authors. I try to maintain the foreign languages I speak by reading in the original, even if it induces a headache. There’s a lot of treacherous translation out there. Here are some recent travels in fiction.

A while back I was invited to Festival America, a wonderful literary event in Vincennes outside Paris. I picked up a French book called Arab Jazz, by Karim Miske. It’s a crime novel that takes place in a neighborhood of northeast Paris I know from my work as a foreign correspondent. Fascinating turf: a mix of yuppies, bohemians and immigrants, tough housing projects and hip cafes. In the book, a wild-eyed crew of Islamic extremists, Orthodox Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses get tangled up in a ritualistic murder, police corruption and the trafficking of a designer super-drug. The main protagonist is a troubled young Moroccan immigrant who reads crime novels all day. I enjoyed Miske’s command of sub-cultures and slang. This subject matter, the new France-in-the-making, is more interesting to me than truffles and quaint villages and whatnot.

Then I read The Drop, by Dennis Lehane. It’s now my favorite Lehane, surpassing Shutter Island on my list. I thought this novel was particularly tight and focused. It has a beautifully constructed sense of place: the lonely protagonist wanders his bedraggled Boston neighborhood. He works at its mafia-connected bar. He prays at its empty church. The landscape swirls with ghosts and secrets; you know they are going to rise up and engulf everybody. I need to see the movie; the late great Jim Gandolfini seems perfect for this.

My wife and I like to read short stories aloud in Spanish. We just read Cuento Para Tahures y otros Relatos Policiales (Gambler’s Tale and Other Police Stories) by Rodolfo Walsh. He was a politically-engaged Argentine author and investigative journalist. He died young at the hands of the military dictatorship in the 1970s. When a death squad tried to “disappear” him, he pulled a gun and went down shooting. This book’s recurring hero is a burly, weary detective captain named Comisario Laurenzi. In some of the stories, he sits in a cafe and reminisces. In others, he works cases accompanied by a police reporter. The prose is spare and honed; every word counts. The tone is hard-boiled, compassionate and funny. The locales vary from tenements in Buenos Aires to dusty provincial towns. These stories are gems.

I must confess to a guilty pleasure: the Jeeves series by P.G. Wodehouse. My daughter just gave me Thank You, Jeeves to add to my collection. The world of upper-class British fops of the 1930s and ‘40s is far from my life experience and what I write about. But that’s what I like: it is pure escapism. It makes me laugh out loud. The strength resides largely in the voice. Bertie Wooster’s narration is like a virtuoso musical performance: the goofy obtuse nonchalance, the half-remembered literary quotes, the idle days dedicated to avoiding aunts, nursing hangovers, frequenting the Drones Club. Thank You, Jeeves is about how Wooster moves to a country cottage, and Jeeves quits over Wooster’s incessant banjo playing, and Wooster’s ex-fiancee wants to marry his old chum from school days…the usual silliness. My favorite part is when the new butler gets drunk and chases Wooster around with a knife saying he wants to ascertain the color of his insides.

I recently did a two-man panel with Michael Connelly at the Bouchercon mystery writers convention. We reminisced about our reporter days at the Los Angeles Times and talked books and writing. Mike, who is the hardest working man in show business, just published his 19th Harry Bosch novel, The Burning Room. It gave me another chance to appreciate what a craftsman Mike is. The construction is precise and the momentum is relentless. The plot weaves together two investigations. This is a nice realistic touch, because only fictional cops get unlimited time and resources to work a lone case. Yet it’s presented in a way that the reader can keep track of everything all the way through. The Burning Room has a wistful quality. It shows Bosch—driven and talented and morose as ever--nearing the end of his LAPD career. A new young detective character, Lucia Soto, adds to the sense of a torch being passed.
Learn more about The Convert's Song at the Mulholland Books website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Jonathan Petropoulos

Jonathan Petropoulos is John V. Croul Professor of European History, Claremont McKenna College, and author of several books on culture in the Third Reich. He is former Research Director for Art and Cultural Property, Presidential Commission on Holocaust Assets in the United States.

His new book is Artists Under Hitler: Collaboration and Survival in Nazi Germany.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Petropoulos's reply:
I just finished one book, Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam, and am half way through Anne Sinclair’s My Grandfather’s Gallery. The former is by my favorite writer, whom I admire for his nuanced prose, his character development, and perhaps most of all, for his ability to master specific professions. In Amsterdam, he puts himself inside the heads of a musician (a composer) and a journalist. McEwan has brilliant things to say about the creative process—how artists push themselves and sacrifice in order to achieve something great—and his journalist character also takes up the issue of balancing professional accomplishment with the pressures of the “real world.” McEwan is also always good for an astonishing ending. In this case, he ties together many loose threads. I should have seen it coming, but he still got me.

Anne Sinclair has written an elegant and engaging memoir about her grandfather, the hugely important Parisian art dealer Paul Rosenberg (who was also a victim of Nazi plundering). I like the way she takes a first person approach and writes herself into the story (which includes one of discovery, as she tries to understand her grandfather). She does a masterful job evoking life on the rue La Boétie—with Picasso living next door for a while—and I found her comments about contemporary France (including the issues regarding xenophobia and anti-Semitism) to be insightful. She gets some of the cultural history of Nazi Germany wrong (there were no works by French artists in the Degenerate Art Exhibition and, as I show in Artists Under Hitler, modern artists continued to work in the Third Reich), but her portrait of one of the twentieth century’s most important art dealers is both illuminating and touching.
Learn more about Artists Under Hitler at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 5, 2014

Jenna Black

Jenna Black is your typical writer. Which means she's an "experience junkie." She got her BA in physical anthropology and French from Duke University.

Once upon a time, she dreamed she would be the next Jane Goodall, camping in the bush making fabulous discoveries about primate behavior. Then, during her senior year at Duke, she did some actual research in the field and made this shocking discovery: primates spend something like 80% of their time doing such exciting things as sleeping and eating.

Concluding that this discovery was her life's work in the field of primatology, she then moved on to such varied pastimes as grooming dogs and writing technical documentation.

Black's new book is Revolution, the third installment in the Replica Trilogy Series.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
In September, I went to the Writer's Police Academy (my third time!), and went to a presentation by thriller writer and explosives expert John Gilstrap. He was such an entertaining presenter that I just had to read one of his books. At the autographing at the end of the weekend, I picked up Threat Warning, which was a middle book in his Jonathan Graves thriller series. I read it and became completely addicted, so I've been working my way through the entire series as well as a couple of his standalone thrillers. The one I finished most recently was Hostage Zero. A couple of kids are kidnapped, and hostage rescue specialist Jonathan Graves sets out to find the kids and rescue them. Gilstrap's thrillers are great page-turners, and I'm having to teach myself not to start reading too close to bedtime, because if I do I'll never get to bed.
Visit Jenna Black's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Andrew Denning

Andrew Denning is a postdoctoral fellow in history at the University of British Columbia.

His new book is Skiing into Modernity: A Cultural and Environmental History.

Recently I asked Denning about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m currently plowing through Guy Delisle’s fantastic Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City — an absolute joy to read! Delisle, a graphic novelist, accompanied his partner to Israel for a year while she worked for Doctors Without Borders in the West Bank. The author cared for the couple’s two children as his partner went to work each day, and his observations of daily life are rendered in an engaging visual style and with a wry sense of humor. He offers occasional descriptions of the political situation and ethnic conflicts in this city celebrated by Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike, but his work is most revelatory in its study of the routines, frustrations, and surprises of everyday life in this ancient city. Traffic jams, border waits, and security checks are commonplace, and Delisle’s fish-out-of-water record — equal parts travelogue, diary, and journalistic reportage — offers fresh new insight into the joys and struggles of daily life in this city wracked by conflict.
Learn more about Skiing into Modernity at the University of California Press website and Andrew Denning's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 1, 2014

Louisa Treger

Born in London, Louisa Treger began her career as a classical violinist. She studied at the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music, and worked as a freelance orchestral player and teacher.

Treger subsequently turned to literature, gaining a First Class degree and a PhD in English at University College London, where she focused on early twentieth century women’s writing. Married with three children, she lives in London.

Treger's new book, her first novel, is The Lodger.

Last month I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have two books on the go at the moment, both completely different and both brilliant.

The first is We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. This novel is best read without any prior knowledge of the plot, so I’ll just say that it begins when Rosemary Cooke, the narrator, is 22, and gets arrested for throwing a glass of milk in her college canteen. Her sister vanished when she was 5, and she hasn’t seen her brother for 11 years, but she knows he is wanted by the FBI. The narrative keeps turning back on itself, disclosing through Rosemary’s memories the traumatic events that led to these absences. It is continually surprising, funny, tragic, complex and unsettling, exploring what it means to be human - and humane. I am nearly at the end, and I love it so much that I keep putting it away because I can’t bear to finish it – I know I’m going to feel utterly bereft when I do.

The second book is Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf: A Public of Two, by Angela Smith, an examination of the relationship between these fascinating authors. I knew they were rivals: Virginia Woolf once said that Katherine Mansfield’s was ‘the only writing I have ever been jealous of’. What I didn’t realise is that they had an intense friendship as well, sharing ‘a queer sense of being like’. Their writerly preoccupations mirrored each other’s, and they felt able discuss their ideas together in a way they couldn’t with anyone else. After Katherine died, Virginia wrote: ‘Still there are things about writing I think of & want to tell Katherine … I have the feeling that I shall think of her at intervals all through life. Probably we had something in common which I shall never find in anyone else.’

This intelligent and incisive book is full of lovely quotes from their fiction, letters and diaries. I particularly enjoyed those about writing, finding echoes of my own thoughts and ideas in them, only they expressed with great eloquence the things that I fumble to say. Such as: 'The English language is damned difficult but it’s also damned rich & so clear & bright that you can search out the darkest places with it’ Katherine Mansfield.
Visit Louisa Treger's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Lodger.

My Book, The Movie: The Lodger.

--Marshal Zeringue