Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Catherine McKenzie

Catherine McKenzie is an internationally bestselling author of four novels, most recently Hidden. She is a full-time attorney and regular contributor to The Huffington Post.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. McKenzie's reply:
I recently raced through Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys, his take on high-frequency trading and its effect on Wall Street. I’m a big fan of Lewis’, having read Liar’s Poker, Moneyball and The Big Short. I feel like he’s the Bill Bryson of financial journalism—someone who can take big, complicated ideas (like Bryson did in A Short History of Nearly Everything) and break them down into compelling, digestible (and often funny) pieces. This book was no exception, though I did find that Lewis took a more extreme point of view than I’ve noticed in his previous books—there are clearly those wearing the “white hats” and those wearing the “black hats”. I’m also not sure that his overall thesis—that the stock market is rigged—is true, but I say that while knowing I can never put in the hours to look into this so that I could say this with any authority. That being said: highly entertaining and I read it in two days.
Visit Catherine McKenzie's website.

The Page 69 Test: Hidden.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 28, 2014

Russel D. McLean

Russel D McLean is the author of several novels featuring Dundonian PI J McNee. Born in Fife, McLean studied Philosophy at the University of Dundee before falling into bad company and entering the booktrade. He has been a reviewer, a freelance reader, a roving chair, a bookseller and an ezine editor.

McLean's latest novel is Mothers of the Disappeared.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. McLean's reply:
I’m at that stage now where I’m reading very little as I finish the next book. But I recently finished John Connolly’s magnificent, The Wolf in Winter in preparation for interviewing the man for a Scottish newspaper. The book is, as ever, absolutely magnificent. Connolly makes me weep with jealousy the way he slings sentences around, and his mood is always spot on. His particular take on American Gothic seethes with atmosphere, and more than anything I appreciate the way he breaks just about every rule dictated by genre. That and he takes some massive risks with established characters that really do pay off.

I also loved Louise Welsh’s take on the apocalypse in A Lovely Way to Burn, which takes place in a London over-run with a modern plague. It’s a thriller, a mystery, a speculative novel for people who don’t read speculative fiction (and those who do) and above all, a true pageturner. But there’s depth beneath the thrills, and Louise is one of the masters of saying a lot with a little; her prose remaining simple and yet communicating complex ideas.

Finally, I read Sally Cline’s recent biography of Dashiell Hammett which was absolutely fascinating but over far too soon. His life reads like a noir novel in and of itself…
Visit Russel McLean's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Good Son.

My Book, The Movie: The Lost Sister.

The Page 69 Test: Mothers of the Disappeared.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 25, 2014

Heather Brittain Bergstrom

Heather Brittain Bergstrom has won fiction awards from The Atlantic Monthly, The Chicago Tribune, Narrative Magazine, and others, and a story was named a distinguished and notable story for The Best American Short Stories in 2010. Her short fiction has been published in several literary journals and anthologies. She holds an MFA in creative writing.

Bergstrom's new book is Steal the North, her debut novel.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I recently read and greatly enjoyed The Ruins of Us by Keija Parssinen. It’s the story of an American woman who marries a Saudi Arabian man. After living for twenty years in his country, she finds out he has taken a second wife. The political, cultural and natural settings mix to create a world so rich and complex and yet so tangible. What Parssinen does even better than setting, and she does that superbly well, is relationships. She covers the muck and beauty of marriage, the sharp and dull pain of divorce, the scorching and tender love between parents and children. The chapters are narrated by one of four different narrators, until the final chapter when their thoughts and actions merge painfully, beautifully, desperately. But can the characters remain intertwined? Or must truth be sought individually? The Ruins of Us is a compelling love story, an epic tale of a country, and the intimate story of a family. I can’t wait to read her next book. Two other contemporary books I’ve recently read and admired: Rise the Euphrates by Carol Edgarian and Is This Tomorrow by Caroline Leavitt.

Last month I reread The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath: The Collected Poems. I wrote poems for nearly a decade before switching to fiction. It was my first love. Emily Dickinson is arguably the greatest American poet of all time. It’s a close call between her and Walt Whitman. She astounds me: her insights into love, loss, longing, nature, and death. And then there is Sylvia Plath. Her poems are brilliant and horrifying (they frightened me more with each rereading), but there are also such profound moments of grace and beauty. Like Dickinson, Plath is a keen observer of nature and love. She can also write metaphorical poems on inanimate objects like no one else: her poems “Mirror” and “Candles,” for example, are stunning.

I read a lot of nonfiction books on rivers and salmon. It’s a hobby of mine. I recently reread Salmon Without Rivers: A History of the Pacific Salmon Crisis. Quick review: fascinating study, smart reportage, topnotch writing, never dry, even occasionally poetic.
Visit Heather Brittain Bergstrom's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Steal the North.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Daryl Gregory

Daryl Gregory was the 2009 winner of IAFA William L. Crawford Fantasy Award for his first novel Pandemonium. His second novel, The Devil's Alphabet, was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award and was named one of the best books of 2009 by Publishers Weekly. His short fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and The Year’s Best SF.

Gregory's new novel is Afterparty.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
When I’m in the early days of writing a novel, my reading is mostly non-fiction, and mostly predatory: Can this book feed my book? When I was writing Afterparty, the stack was all neuroscience and pharmacology books, and a few about religious experiences.

Now I’ve started a new book, and I’m reading a lot about psychics—remote-viewers, palm readers, spoonbenders, psychokinetics—and the goofy government-funded programs to study and weaponize them.

The two books I’m reading right now (alternating between them based on my mood) are opposite sides of the paranormal coin. First is Reading the Enemy’s Mind: Inside Star Gate: America’s Psychic Espionage Program by Paul Smith. You know it’s serious, because it has two colons in the title. The book is a first-person account of an intelligence officer who was recruited in the 1980s for one of the army’s remote-viewer programs. (That’s right. I said “one of.” )

Smith’s story bogs down in jargon, acronyms, and endless details about government bureaucracy—which are exactly the delicious tidbits a fiction writer needs when he’s looking to add verisimilitude. I’m halfway through Smith’s book, but so far no one has read any minds, enemy or not. Or accomplished much of anything. And I already know how the story ends: with no actionable intelligence, and the eventual cutting of the program. The incredible thing is that Smith’s program, Star Gate, was funded by Congress until 1995.

Smith is a true believer, though, and he makes it clear that he thinks America has missed a great opportunity, thanks to close-minded politicians and lying skeptics--chief among them James Randi, AKA the Amazing Randi.

The second book is Randi’s The Truth About Uri Geller. It’s a thorough debunking of the Israeli psychic, written shortly after his 70’s heyday. Some of the same scientists and psychics show up in both books, but where Smith is worshipful, Randi is scathing. He’s particularly hard on the scientists who “verified” Geller’s abilities. The appalling thing is not that they were fooled by tricks you could pick up in a beginner’s magic book, but that they used methods that were so sloppy, and then were deliberately vague about those methods in print.

All this gullibility would be hard to understand, if it wasn’t still so prevalent. (John Edward, of “Crossing Over” fame, is still on TV and making bank on grieving audience members.) The James Randi Educational Foundation is still offering the Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge for anyone who can demonstrate psychic abilities. The challenge started with a $1,000 version in 1964. No one’s yet picked up the check.
Visit Daryl Gregory's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Afterparty.

The Page 69 Test: Afterparty.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 21, 2014

Colin Cotterill

Born in London, Colin Cotterill has worked as teacher in Israel, Australia, the U.S. and Japan before he started training teachers in Thailand. Cotterill and his wife live in a small fishing village on the Gulf of Siam in Southern Thailand. He’s won the Dilys and a CWA Dagger, and has been a finalist for several other awards.

His new novel is The Axe Factor, the third novel in the Jimm Juree series.

Recently I asked Cotterill about what he was reading. His reply:
A little shockaroo in this edition of Writers Read. Invariably I’m forced to admit to reading non-fiction or to have the Mad Magazine Christmas edition open on my bedside table. But, surprise, I am reading fiction and I haven’t given up before the end of chapter one as I usually do. There is a tag to this story. A few months ago I was sent a newspaper item in which a famous author; in this case, Isabel Allende, was asked what she’d been reading lately (not unlike this column except I’m not a famous author and hardly anybody cares). She openly admitted - not to reading a Colin Cotterill - but to have gone through the entire series. Not one to miss an opportunity for a blurb I wrote to Ms Allende and thanked her for the kind words. She replied and we became sort of pen friends. Then, woe betide, her books started to arrive at my post office. I hadn’t had a chance to tell her that the reading of fiction wasn’t my strongest point and I was afraid I’d have to lie or divert her with glowing comments about the cover design. The first to arrive was Ripper, her latest, and a murder mystery to boot. We were on our way to Australia at the time and the book was half my luggage allowance but I took it anyway. And I’m still reading it.

I doubt I’ve read any crime fiction that goes into such great detail of every character, including barely visible extras and domestic animals. The army of potential antagonists is vast. Even the dog’s a suspect. But I guess the whole point of writing a whodunit is that you have the reader hanging on to the bitter end for a denouement of the mystery. Isabel (notice the elevated formality) is a master story teller and a beautiful painter of people. She’s married to a mystery writer and unashamedly gives him a plug in the book. But it appears, in return, he’s given her all the background knowledge she needed to write a fascinating murder story.

Not only was the book free it’s also signed so if I ever get around to producing kids, it will be an heirloom of sorts.
Visit Colin Cotterill's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Axe Factor.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ken Baker

Ken Baker is an E! Entertainment Television News Correspondent. He is the author of Fangirl, and his memoir, Man Made: A Memoir of My Body, is the inspiration for the upcoming film The Late Bloomer. He lives (and writes) in Hermosa Beach, California.

His new novel is How I Got Skinny, Famous, and Fell Madly in Love.

Recently I asked Baker about what he was reading. His reply:
I have a reading list normally as eclectic as the collection of randomness (drum set, sports gear, earthquake kit) in my garage. And my current list conforms to this trend.

I am reading the novel The Circle by Dave Eggers. I’ve been a fan of Dave’s work going back to A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. His latest book is scary in how spot-on he is about how we are living the Big Brother future in the present! All you Facebookers must read this book before you next “like” anything.

I’m also reading a nice little paperback that was given to me as a gift titled, How to Read a Novelist, a collection of conversations with some of the world’s most accomplished contemporary novelists. The author, John Freeman, writes, “I have always felt there is something electrifying about meeting novelists.” I couldn’t agree more – and I’m not talking about myself! But I really feel that, as someone whose day job is to interview movie, TV and music stars, authors are true celebrities to me.

And, being a YA writer, I like to have regular contact with the genre as a reader, and as such I am just getting into the classic A Wrinkle in Time. The heroine is someone I can relate to because she feels very much alone in the world, a state of being that defines a lot of my young adulthood. And the prose is beautifully simple and descriptive and the story so imaginative.
Visit Ken Baker's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Brian Doyle

Brian Doyle edits Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, in Oregon. He is the author of over one dozen books, including six collections of essays, two nonfiction books, two collections of “proems,” the short story collection Bin Laden’s Bald Spot, the novella Cat’s Foot, and the novel Mink River. He is also the editor of several anthologies, most recently Ho`olaule`a, a collection of writing about the Pacific islands.

His new novel is The Plover.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Doyle's reply:
The usual motley chaos and hubbub, as always featuring the startling new (Alice McDermott’s superb Someone), the relatively obscure old (the nature stories of Charles Roberts, and Farley Mowat’s People of the Deer), and the terrific half-known-in-America (the very fine essays of Helen Garner of Australia). Also maritime adventures, mostly Alexander Kent’s series now that I finally finished Patrick O’Brian, and John le CarrĂ©’s unbelievably good The Secret Pilgrim. Q: Why do we not list le CarrĂ© when we talk about the finest writers of our time? To me he’s as good as Coetzee or Naipaul, and far better as a novelist than Roth and Updike. Also this morning with real reverence and respect I ran my fingers over my Peter Matthiessen books, and thought again that he wrote at least three masterpieces (The Tree Where Man Was Born, The Snow Leopard, and Men’s Lives, about fishermen off the island first called Paumonok, long before it was unimaginatively renamed Long Island). I like his fiction but do not love it as much as Peter did; he said many times he was a novelist first, but I think he was among the best articulate eloquent attentive passionate witnesses to What Is ever hatched in this nation. If you have never read Peter, read The Tree Where Man Was Born first maybe, and then wander freely through the rest of his many books.

Q: Why are you reading McDermott, Mr Doyle?

A: Because she is the finest Catholic fiction writer in America since Andre Dubus, who was the heir of J.F. Powers, who was the heir of Flannery O’Connor, who knew God personally.

Q: What is with you and stories about animals, and Farley Mowat, who looks like a bedraggled badger?

A: I just love them, and Farley is a hell of a fine writer, and me personally with great respect for Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood, I adore Mowat and Robertson Davies, who both had beards bigger than Manitoba.

Q: Australian literature?

A: Read the Flanagan brothers Richard and Martin; Garner; David Malouf; and Tim Winton, and you too will be amazed.

Q: Maritime novels?

A: I just wrote one!!!! The Plover!!! and I think I still have salt in my nose and it feels great.
Learn more about The Plover.

My Book, The Movie: Doyle's Bin Laden’s Bald Spot.

Writers Read: Brian Doyle (October 2011).

The Page 69 Test: Mink River.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Elizabeth Haynes

Elizabeth Haynes is a police intelligence analyst, a civilian role that involves determining patterns in offending and criminal behavior. Her novels include: Human Remains, Dark Tide, and Into the Darkest Corner, which was selected as Amazon UK's Best Book of 2011. She lives in a village near Maidstone, Kent, with her husband and son.

Her latest novel is Under a Silent Moon.

Recently I asked Haynes about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve just finished reading The Book of You, by Claire Kendal, which is being published in the UK in April and in the US in May. This is the story of Clarissa, who is being stalked by Rafe, a colleague. Through Clarissa’s careful documenting of Rafe’s harassment of her, we feel something of the terror of being constantly watched. There is so much truth in this fictional account, so much that happens to real people every single day, making it even more frightening. This could happen to me, or to you, or to any one of us.

From a loved one, Rafe’s level of adoration would be a precious thing – from someone odious, it becomes creepy and terrifying. What makes it worse is that there is very little that can be done to stop it. The police need evidence, which is up to the individual to collect; friends and family can be dismissive, disbelieving, and even sympathetic to the stalker, used by him as a means to isolate his target further.

These are all themes I explored in my debut novel, Into the Darkest Corner, and so The Book of You feels especially close to home. Here in the UK, new legislation making stalking a criminal offence was introduced in November 2012, and yet recent news reports suggest that victims are being let down by the system.

The Book of You made me think: what would I do? Clarissa battles to maintain a normal life – she goes out of her house when I think I would stay indoors, but then she is braver than I am, and determined not to let Rafe win. As a result, Clarissa’s bravery and Rafe’s obsession both escalate to the point where the book is so petrifying it made me fidgety and breathless.

Last week, I had the privilege of meeting some high school students in France who were busy writing. One of them, Genny, had at the age of sixteen recently completed her first National Novel Writing Month challenge and had been working on her manuscript, called Dark Chocolate and Summer Grass. I asked her if she’d send me her novel to read, and she did that. I was blown away by it, especially the prologue and the first two chapters which brought me to tears - not just because of the subject matter, a ten year old boy who is trying to be grown up for his hard-working mom, and missing his absent father – but because of the beauty of the writing, and the immense talent on display from someone so young. I’m honoured to be asked to comment on other people’s writing, whatever the circumstances, but this one is particularly special. I’m looking forward to seeing Genny’s writing career develop, because she has such an exciting future ahead of her.
Visit the official Elizabeth Haynes website and blog.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Elizabeth Haynes & Bea.

The Page 69 Test: Under a Silent Moon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sandra Gulland

Sandra Gulland is the author of the Josephine B. Trilogy, internationally best-selling novels about Josephine Bonaparte which have been published in over seventeen countries. Her fourth novel, Mistress of the Sun (also published internationally) and her new novel, The Shadow Queen, are set in the 17th-century French Court of Louis XIV, the Sun King.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Gulland's reply:
I am very slowly reading Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life by Hermione Lee.

Fitzgerald, if you're not familiar with her work, was a Booker Prize–winning English novelist, poet, essayist and biographer. Many of her novels are historical, and yet they are all amazingly slim, often under 200 pages. I admire Fitzgerald's novels for their spare yet rich quality. (They are also playfully funny.) She was short-listed for the Booker for The Bookshop, won the Booker for Offshore, and her final book, The Blue Flower—considered her masterpiece—won the National Book Critics Circle Award. The Blue Flower was named one of "the ten best historical novels" by The Observer, and The Times included Fitzgerald in a list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945." What's astonishing to me—and no doubt to any writer—is that she was first published at the age of 58.

The biography of Fitzgerald details her life, but Hermione Lee also goes into detail about each book, the process of writing and then publishing it. Fitzgerald kept notebooks, and these are an excellent source of her wisdom. "One of the privileges of dialogue is silence," for example.

Of course the biography inspires me to read her novels. I'm reading one of her early works now, At Freddie's. As always, the voice is wry and witty—very enjoyable. I've read The Blue Flower twice before, and I will no doubt read it again. Offshore is also tempting to reread, but before I do that, I have several other Fitzgerald novels to explore. She is a writer from whom a writer may learn a very great deal.
Visit Sandra Gulland's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Shadow Queen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Leah Hager Cohen

Leah Hager Cohen is the author of five novels, most recently No Book but the World, and The Grief of Others, which was long-listed for the Orange Prize, selected as a New York Times Notable Book, and named one of the best books of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle, Kirkus Reviews, and The Globe and Mail. She is also the author of five nonfiction titles, including Train Go Sorry and I Don’t Know. She is a frequent contributor to The New York Times Book Review.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Cohen's reply:
At this point in the semester, should anyone ask what I’m reading, I’m liable to go sort of panicky-blank. “Golly, what have I been reading?” I think, trying to visualize a book, any book, I’ve been reading, to little avail. Then it hits me: student papers. My reading life has been flooded by April showers of my college students’ work.

I actually love this time. Any grumpiness over having to defer other kinds of reading -- awaiting me at this moment: Holding on Upside Down, the new Marianne Moore biography; Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World); and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s Thirty-Six Arguments for the Existence of God -- is tempered by the distinct pleasure of learning what my students are exploring in their own creative prose.

A few recent papers that stand out: A young man who’s seriously into culinary arts (he cures his own meat) profiles the much older neighbor who inspired him. A young woman writes hauntingly and lovingly about her and her sisters’ practice of tweezing the white hairs from their mother’s dark brown locks. Another describes her memory of transitioning, as a child, from baths to showers, and what she only now realizes to be the freighted meaning inherent in this shift. One student manages to evoke both pathos and humor as he maps his passage through puberty onto a Ramones album, track by track.

It’s not that the writing is uniformly great – although it’s often good, and there are flashes of excellence. It’s not that the content is always gripping – although many of these writers, while still just on the cusp of adulthood, do have intrinsically interesting stories to tell. What moves me is witnessing their discoveries, their epiphanies. These may be craft-based (look how much more I reveal, not to mention how much more I involve my reader, when I put this into scene rather than state it as exposition!) or profoundly spiritual. Students have moved me to tears and laughter with their writing, including those who are rough stylists or still-developing grammarians. But even better is when a student tells me she moved herself to tears, or uncovered a truth she’d never quite accessed before, in the act of setting down a story.

All good writing catalogs growth. Rarely am I more stirred by evidence of this truth than when I am reading my students’ work.
Visit Leah Hager Cohen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 11, 2014

Clea Simon

Clea Simon is the award-winning author of three feline-centric mystery series, the Theda Krakow mysteries, Dulcie Schwartz feline mysteries, and Pru Marlowe pet noirs, the last two of which are ongoing. (She is also the author of three nonfiction books, including The Feline Mystique: On the Mysteries Connection Between Women and Cats [St. Martin's]). Simon's latest books are Grey Howl, the eighth Dulcie mystery (for Severn House), and Panthers Play for Keeps, the fourth Pru Marlowe, which was just released by Poisoned Pen Press.

Last week I asked Simon about what she was reading. Her reply:
Because I have several TBR piles next to my desk and my bed, it's always a bit of a tossup what I'll read at any given time. Most recently, I finished Laura Lippman's The Most Dangerous Thing, which I picked up from Murder By the Beach, a great indie bookseller, because I heard Laura speak at Sleuthfest, a mystery conference in Orlando. She was so inspiring, talking about how we have to be proud of our genre – crime fiction – and how hard our work is, that I couldn't resist. And it was worth it – moody, atmospheric, and downright chilling, with great characters and a resolution that I did not see coming. After that, I was tempted by the new Robert Harris, An Officer and Spy, because I love him, but I think I'm now turning to Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings. It's gotten great reviews and my brother-in-law loaned me his copy, so I shouldn't hang onto it forever. Plus, when I Tweeted that I was torn between the two, Laura Lippman responded, pointing out that, like her TMDT, The Interestings deals with the intense friendship between a group of five teens. I started it last night, and I'm hooked. The fact that the protagonist is a shy redhead from LI who is a teen in the 1970s may have been a factor...
Visit Clea Simon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Pauline Rowson

Pauline Rowson is the author of the DI Andy Horton Series and of two stand-alone thrillers. Shroud of Evil, the eleventh in the Horton series, is published by Severn House in April 2014.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Rowson's reply:
Crime, of course, but while I find it difficult to read my contemporaries' crime novels because I don’t want to be influenced by them or find myself comparing my writing with theirs, reading crime novels of the past is a great pleasure.

I’m re-reading for the nth time the stack of Georges Simenon Maigret novels that I have in my collection (by no means all of them). I’ve just finished reading Maigret Takes A Room and Maigret and the Idle Burglar. I love the atmospheric writing, the quick dialogue and the fact that you follow the story through Maigret’s eyes. I also like to count up the number of alcoholic drinks Maigret consumes in a day, it makes me feel far less guilty at taking that glass or two of wine in the evening.

I’m just taking a short break from Maigret and re-reading Dangerous by Moonlight by the wonderfully talented Leslie Thomas. It features an unlikely hero, Detective Constable Dangerous Davies, and his cantankerous dog, Kitty, ‘an animal of great size and unsteady temper.’ The novel is funny, eccentric and poignant and is set not far from where my own DI Andy Horton novels are based which is on the South Coast of England.
For more information about Pauline Rowson, visit her website, Twitter perch, and the DI Andy Horton Marine Mystery Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Yvette Manessis Corporon

Yvette Manessis Corporon is an Emmy Award-winning writer, producer, and author. She is currently a senior producer with the syndicated entertainment news show Extra. In addition to her Emmy Award, Yvette has received a Silurian Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the New York City Comptroller and City Council's Award for Greek Heritage and Culture. She is married to award-winning photojournalist David Corporon.

Her debut novel is When the Cypress Whispers.

A week ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Corporon's reply:
You know that incredible feeling when you fall deeply and madly in love with a book? When you feel you are in the room with the characters, when your chest is so full of emotion that you can’t breathe and the tears spill down your cheeks and wet the page? Yeah, that’s how I feel about Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto.

Bel Canto has been on my “to read” list for quite some time and I finally pulled it out and read it on a recent vacation in Mexico. There I was, sitting on the sand in Cancun, surrounded by my friends and husband, but Ann Patchett managed to transport me to that ballroom in that unnamed South American country. It was as if I could actually hear Roxanne Coss singing and feel the gentle touch of love’s first kiss. For me Bel Canto is the perfect book. It’s evocative, beautiful, it made me think and it brought me to tears. I finished it about a week ago and I have not stopped thinking about it. Now that’s the sign of a great book.
Visit Yvette Corporon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 7, 2014

Zachary Lazar

Zachary Lazar, author of Sway, is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University. He lives in New Orleans, where he is on the creative writing faculty at Tulane University.

His new novel is I Pity the Poor Immigrant.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Lazar's reply:
As it happens, just as my own Jewish-themed novel is about to be published, I have been teaching Philip Roth's The Ghost Writer, which has long been a favorite of mine, to my students at Tulane. I told my class that certain books, when you read them at a young enough age, kind of work their way into your writerly DNA and influence just about everything you write thereafter, whether you're aware of it or not. In this case, the influence of The Ghost Writer on my novel I Pity the Poor Immigrant is very obvious to me now, though I didn't realize it until rather late in the game.

The Ghost Writer, of course, appropriates the all but sacred figure of Anne Frank as a way to think about how a Jew can possibly write anything at all worth reading in the wake of the Holocaust. My new book takes the demonized figure of Meyer Lansky, the real-life Jewish gangster, and looks at his life for a larger theme concerning Jews and violence--not just as victims of violence, but also as perpetrators. Like Roth's book, mine is partly about writing itself. It also plays some intricate games with "reality" and, perhaps, says some things about Jews that not everyone is going to like hearing.

I don't mean to equate myself with the great master--only to give him a shoutout for making me the writer I am. I've read The Ghost Writer four or five times now, and I still see new things in it every time.
Read more about I Pity the Poor Immigrant at the Little, Brown and Company website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 4, 2014

Lindsay Smith

Lindsay Smith is an ex-Oklahoman and an unapologetic Washingtonian. She has an unhealthy fascination with foreign affairs–Russia in particular–which fortunately pays for her voracious reading habit.

When not reading or writing, Smith can be found nerding out over food, board games, modern history, the Science channel, and all things cheesetacular.

She writes historicals and fantasies, sometimes in the same book.

Smith's new book is the YA historical thriller, Sekret.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Right now I’m held captive by Rene Denfeld’s The Enchanted, a gorgeous and lush prison tale (if you can reconcile that) told from the perspective of an inmate whose carefully constructed fantasy keeps him alive through incredible darkness. There are secrets aplenty and so many fascinating ways of reexamining prison tropes.

I’ve also just started The Fire Wish by Amber Lough, which won’t be out until this summer, but is a delightful Middle Eastern-inspired fantasy that includes some of my favorite things—tough heroines, moral grayness, and a wonderfully inventive fantasy take on spy rings. Definitely one to watch for!
Visit Lindsay Smith's website and Twitter perch..

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ayelet Waldman

Ayelet Waldman is the author of Love and Treasure, Red Hook Road and the New York Times bestseller Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace. Her novel Love and Other Impossible Pursuits was adapted into a film called The Other Woman starring Natalie Portman. Her personal essays and profiles of such public figures as Hillary Clinton have been published in a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times, Vogue, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. Her radio commentaries have appeared on “All Things Considered” and “The California Report.”

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Waldman's reply:
I just reread Philip Roth's The Ghost Writer, because my husband, Michael Chabon and I were invited to participate in a book club hosted by Tobias Wolff at Stanford. The idea behind the book club is genius – Wolff invites writers to talk about the books of other writers. We get so tired of the (solipsistic) exercise of pontificating about our own work. It's a real pleasure to talk about the work of another, and to remember that it's because we love reading that we're in this business to begin with.

The Ghost Writer is among my favorite of Roth's novels (the other is Operation Shylock) though his memoir Patrimony is the one of his books that I most enjoy rereading, especially now that my parents are older). It's in this novel that the things about Roth that I love are most evident, and the elements that make me uncomfortable (while present) are less on display. The sentences, from the very first page, just sing. (And I mean that literally. There's a rhythm to his words that feels like it worms its way into your limbic system the way a great melody does). The characters are complicated and stripped bare. And the whole concept – the great Fuck You to the Jewish establishment of marrying Anne Frank (try berating him for insufficient Jewish fealty with her on his arm!) – is stupendously satisfying.

Yes, we have a novel in which a young lovely girl flings herself at the feet (or cock) of an unattractive older man (would it be Roth without that?), but it seems more understandable and sympathetic in this instance (after all she's been through (or not), and because of how desperately she misses her father (or doesn't.)).

To top it all off is the great comfort of rereading. There's so little risk when you pick up a book that you know is great. You can lie back, assured that the chances of disappointment are at least reduced.
Learn more about the author and her work at Ayelet Waldman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue