Monday, September 29, 2014

S. Craig Zahler

S. Craig Zahler's s debut western novel, A Congregation of Jackals was nominated for both the Peacemaker and the Spur awards, and his western screenplay, The Brigands of Rattleborge, garnered him a three-picture deal at Warner Brothers, topped the prestigious Black List and is now moving forward with Park Chan Wook (Old Boy) attached to direct, while Michael Mann (Heat & Collateral) develops his nasty crime script, The Big Stone Grid at Sony Pictures. In 2011, a horror movie that he wrote in college called Asylum Blackout (aka The Incident) was made and picked up by IFC Films after a couple of people fainted at its Toronto premiere. In 2013, his brutal western novel, Wraiths of the Broken Land was published by Raw Dog Screaming Press. Currently, Zahler navigates preproduction on his directorial debut, Bone Tomahawk.

His new novel is Mean Business on North Ganson Street.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Zahler's reply:
Brittle paper life forms from the earlier part of the previous century are filling up my apartment.

Reading pulp magazines has changed from a growing interest to an outright addiction.

During my explorations of the pulpwood vastness, I read the May 1st 1931 issue of the Adventure pulp magazine, which will be the subject for this article. This highly-regarded publication is loaded with tales that were written by actual adventurers and well-traveled, worldly experts of that era. So yes, this publication is less "pulpy" than my favorite pulp magazines—The Spider, Operator #5, Dime Detective, Weird Tales, and Terror Tales—but I do not use the term "pulpy" in a pejorative sense, though many do. Melodrama and implausibility often cause something to feel "pulpy," but for me, creativity and passion regularly trump realism, so I enjoy reading fiction with a “pulpy” approach. (Norvell W. Page, C.A. Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, Max Brand, Donald Wandrei, Bruno Fischer, Carroll John Daly, and David Goodis are some of my favorite authors.)

This May 1, 1931 issue was my first experience with Adventure, though I have read two good books culled from this magazine, one by Harold Lamb (Durandal) and the other other by J. Allan Dunn (Barehanded Castaways). I had only finished a fraction of this pulp issue before I had ordered another: the verisimilitude does make some of these tales very vivid and the breadth of the publication is quite impressive.

Of course, the stories vary in quality, though there is no bad or even mediocre material (excepting perhaps the one incomplete serial, which I did not read). There are some light trifles (eg. "What No Sound?"), some short and informative nonfiction pieces, some more substantial stories that detail an event or two ("The Laughing Fox," about seal hunters, and "Two Rounds," about military frugality), and then the two much bigger tales ("Jiggers" and "Bush Devils"), which prove to be the unquestionable highlights.

The few negative comments I have for the magazine (which is 192 double column pages in small type, so around 400 trade paperback pages) have to do with the quantity of okay or unadventurous material that lie between the glossy ends. The few trifling stories do not enhance the reading experience overall, though the letter column and short nonfiction articles do. Additionally, some of the stories lack adventure—Georges Surdez's very, very predictable French Legion tale and Ganpat's "Two Rounds" are really just an event or two in a remote location and are not especially transporting. Both could have been in a war magazine and lack the spirit of adventure.

The highly-regarded author Talbot Mundy provides a decent pirate story called "Black Flag," but the tale seems like the condensed version of a much more substantial story and is awkwardly paced (and contains a surfeit of nautical terms). As is, the frequent switches in perspective and the oddly summarized incidents make it feel like the retelling of a longer tale and somewhat incomplete, though it has its moments and a couple of laughs.

The two best stories in the issue wholly validate reading all of the other decent, albeit unexceptional, material.

Arthur O. Friel, who was admired by many (including Robert E. Howard), delivers a big novelette adventure called "Bush Devils," wherein an explorer and a troubled guide hunt diamonds in the jungle while cowing some indigenous folks. This is very vivid adventuring, written by a man who lived this sort of thing, and the questions about the characters’ motives are also quite compelling. I've been a fan of R.E. Howard for 30 years, but his stories seem simple and sparse compared to something like "Bush Devils." (I imagine all REH fans would like this story, even though it does not have a fantasy element.)

Then there is "Jiggers" by L. Patrick Greene. Why isn't this terrific English author much better known? The narrative of this African treasure hunt is interestingly arranged and has a great trajectory and works very well as an allegory without being pedantic. And like the other material of LPG that I've read (his wonderful, funny, and well-plotted stories of The Major), "Jiggers" displays a good sense of humor and an interesting exploration of race relations as well as some fine ruminations about the adventurer's psyche. There are surprises at every plot point, and the author puts the reader on the front line of this fast moving and obliquely told tale of greed and providence. Like "Bush Devils," "Jiggers" is a complete and transporting success, and another reason that I will read more issues of Adventure.

Currently, I’m reading The Pathless Trail by Arthur O. Friel, a rich story that also came from the pulpwood pages of this justly acclaimed publication.
Visit S. Craig Zahler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Lynn Hunt

Lynn Hunt is Distinguished Research Professor at UCLA, former president of the American Historical Association, and author of numerous works, including Inventing Human Rights and Telling the Truth about History.

Her new book is Writing History in the Global Era, which "offers an inspiring declaration of interdependence for historians—to understand the global present collaboratively, using all our tools to unscramble the entangled past” (David Armitage, author of Foundations of Modern International Thought).

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Hunt's reply:
I always read more than one book at a time. I recently finished a novel by one of my favorite authors, the Malaysian novelist Tan Twan Eng. The Gift of Rain is about the Japanese occupation of Malaysia and its effect in particular on a half English, half Chinese young man. I read it because I loved the author's novel The Garden of the Evening Mists, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. I count it as one of the most beautiful and compelling novels I have ever read, and I've read a ton of them!

Now I am reading Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, which frankly I resisted because I didn't think I would like it when I read the reviews. But one of my close friends had really liked it so I started it and found it surprisingly engaging. I can hardly put it down and that's a problem because it's very long.

I am also reading a book by Alice Conklin, In the Museum of Man, about French anthropology and the problem of race. I've long been interested in the history of anthropology — maybe because anthropologists tends to be more interesting people than us historians.

I am about to begin the latest by Louise Penny in her Inspector Gamache series, set in Quebec. I think I've read them all. I read a lot of detective novels, though other than Louise Penny, who is just too good to ignore, I tend to prefer those set in the past.

And last but far from least, I am reading The Book of Life by my friend and fellow historian Deborah Harkness. How could I not? I read the first two in the trilogy and witches and vampires so I have to find out what happens to Matthew and Diana.
Learn more about Writing History in the Global Era at the W. W. Norton website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Stephanie Feldman

Stephanie Feldman studied writing at the University of Pennsylvania and Barnard College. NPR calls her first novel, The Angel of Losses, "a breathtakingly accomplished debut" and The Washington Post describes it as "a journey of fantastic tales, stormy family ties and a tragic discovery of redemption that will break your heart." Barnes & Noble has named the book a Discover Great New Writers selection for fall 2014. Feldman lives outside Philadelphia with her family and is at work on a new novel.

Early this month I asked Feldman about what she was reading. Her reply:
I read lots of contemporary fiction. This summer I read and loved Rene Denfeld's The Enchanted, Alexi Zentner's The Lobster Kings, and J.M. Ledgard's Submergence, and I'm excited to finally have my copy of David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks. But I’ll tell you about a few books I discovered this summer that are not literary novels.

I just finished Brain on Fire, Susannah Cahalan's memoir about the rare neurological disease that struck her when she was 24. I love popular science, and I'm fascinated by medical culture, but beyond that, the book is a harrowing and very human account of disease and identity. It's a bestseller for a reason.

A friend gave me a copy of This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki, a graphic novel about two young friends, Rose and Windy, who spend every summer together at the beach. I'm not a big YA reader, and the premise seemed a little too familiar—but I'm so glad I read this fantastic book. (My friends have good taste.) So many little moments and details that perfectly capture teenage longing, shifts in female friendships, and dawning perceptions of parents' private lives. Windy Forever!

Finally, let me recommend Brian Gresko's When I First Held You, a collection of 22 essays by acclaimed authors that grapple with fatherhood. Each piece tackles a different experience, but they share a raw honesty and emotional intensity. It's a moving book, and a welcome counterpart to the wealth of writing on motherhood.
Visit Stephanie Feldman's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Angel of Losses made Nicole Hill's list of five of the best new girl-powered sci-fi and fantasy novels.

The Page 69 Test: The Angel of Losses.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Annie Barrows

In 2006, the first book in Annie Barrows's children’s series, Ivy + Bean was published. This title, an ALA Notable Book for 2007, was followed by nine others. The Ivy + Bean series appears with some regularity on the New York Times best-seller list and a number of other national best-seller lists. The Ivy + Bean books have been translated into fourteen languages; in 2013 Ivy + Bean: The Musical premiered in the San Francisco Bay Area. A novel for older children, The Magic Half, was published by BloomsburyUSA in 2008. Its sequel, Magic in the Mix, came out in 2014.

In addition to her children’s books, Barrows is the co-author, with her aunt Mary Ann Shaffer, of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which was published in 2008. A New York Times best-seller, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society has been published in thirty-seven countries and thirty-two languages.

Recently I asked Barrows about what she was reading. Her reply:
I am currently reading Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant, which is the fifth of the twelve volumes that make up Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. Everyone always compares Dance to Proust, specifically to The Guermantes Way, but I came to it via Knausgaard’s Struggle, with which it shares a preoccupation with loss and recurrence, as well as an instinct for social titration. Also, like Knausgaard, Powell is extremely funny, which you can’t say about Proust. “Proust—good for a few yuks!” That’s something you just never hear.

Even though I am perfectly happy reading Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant, I have to give it up on Monday. On Monday, I begin a tour for my new book, and Dance to the Music of Time is no good for touring. Selecting a book to read on tour is a delicate operation, with many conflicting criteria. It must be long, but it must be light. It must distract from the horrors of multiple airplane flights, but it can’t distract from the job at hand. It has to look respectable enough for a children’s book author to carry around (no boobs on the cover) and it has to be respectable enough to sustain my contention that I am, I really am, an author. (Nobody ever believes me.) (It’s because I’m short.)

Dance fails on both the weight and distraction criteria, but I’m not bereaved, because I have Lonesome Dove, a rare bird that fulfills all of them. My copy is an old mass market paperback—light!—and it’s 945 pages—long! I read the first ten pages to make sure it was distracting, and I got to page 25, so it must have been. There are no boobs on the cover; instead, there is a tasteful announcement of its Pulitzer Prize, establishing its and my literary cred. Check, check, check!

Unfortunately, there’s a chance that 945 pages will not be enough. One missed flight equals about 200 pages, more if it occurs at Chicago-O’Hare. My backup book is Misery by Stephen King. Mass-market paperback again, but only 338 pages—you can’t have everything in this world. Definitely distracting, and offering me the added pleasure of seeing how long King can go without using an adverb.

I’m also currently reading Brave Potatoes, by Toby Speed and Barry Root. I’ve read it about a hundred times, but I don’t care. I love it. It’s a revolutionary manifesto, pro-potato and anti-grownup, and it includes a line that has, through years of chanting during catastrophes, become our family motto: “We will never be pot-pie! We will never be pot-luck!”
Visit Annie Barrows' website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 22, 2014

Emily Liebert

Emily Liebert is an award-​winning author, New York Times bestselling editor, and TV personality. Her books Facebook Fairytales and You Knew Me When are available across the globe. Liebert is a graduate of Smith College and lives in Connecticut with her husband and their two sons.

Her new novel is When We Fall.

Recently I asked Liebert about what she was reading. Her reply:
Since I’m currently working on three books in different stages and have two young kids, it’s not always easy to find time to read for pleasure! That said, I try to sneak it in whenever I can. Right now, I have three books on my nightstand:

All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner. I’ve been a longtime fan of Jennifer’s. I think she’s a masterful storyteller with a vivid imagination. She creates true-to-life characters who are flawed, yet you still end up rooting for them. I’ve never read a novel of hers I didn’t like, so I’m really looking forward to digging in.

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarity. I’ve also read all of Liane’s book. She has such a unique voice and style, which are refreshing. And, from what I understand, this was a real breakout novel for her. Unfortunately, because of all the hype, I already know the “secret,” but I don’t care! After this one, I’ll read her most recent book, Big Little Lies.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. This is, hands down, my favorite book of all time and—right now—I’m reading it chapter-by-chapter with my four and five-year-old sons. It’s one of the greatest love stories—though not a romantic one—between Charlotte and Wilbur. I cry every single time.
Visit Emily Liebert's website.

The Page 69 Test: When We Fall.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Mary Miley

Mary Miley is the winner of the 2012 Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Novel Competition. She grew up in Pennsylvania, Illinois, and France, and worked her way through the College of William and Mary in Virginia as a costumed tour guide at Colonial Williamsburg. After completing her masters in history, she worked at the museum and taught American history at Virginia Commonwealth University. As Mary Miley Theobald, she has published numerous nonfiction books and articles on history, travel, and business topics.

In 2013 Miley introduced her Roaring Twenties series with The Impersonator. Her latest novel, Silent Murders, is the second book in the series.

Not so long ago I asked the author about what she was reading. Miley's reply:
The books I read for fun are quite different from the ones I read for work-related research. During the day, I’m generally reading for work—not that that’s torture, mind you; I usually enjoy those books very much. But I’m also usually taking notes, so it feels like homework. After dinner, I like to go early to bed and read for pleasure, mostly historical novels. I probably average two books a week.

So, in the past month, my bedtime reading has included Endless Night, a book that a friend told me was her favorite Agatha Christie. I enjoy Christie’s books and found this one quite different from her usual Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot fare. Any comment I make will spoil the ending, so I won’t. After that, I read The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard, a gripping historical mystery set at the military academy at West Point, where I was born—although it was set in 1830, a few years before I made my appearance. Coincidentally, that had a shocker of an ending not unlike the Christie book I’d just finished. I belong to two book clubs, largely to push myself to read outside my preferred parameters. I’ve just finished Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 for one of those clubs and found it more compelling than I expected ... as usual!

For work, I often read biographies of people who lived in the 1920s. I’ve just finished The Astaires by Kathleen Riley, a new book about Fred and Adele, the toast of Broadway and London in the 1920s. Adele plays a cameo role as one of Jessie’s friends from vaudeville days in an upcoming Roaring Twenties mystery, so I need to bone up as much as possible on this lesser-known Astaire. I particularly enjoyed the photos of young Freddie and his big sister Adele. Probably the most helpful book I’ve read this month—this year, for that matter—is Deborah Blum’s The Poisoner’s Handbook, which tells about murder and the birth of forensic medicine in 1920s New York. I soaked up gallons of information about poisons and how they were (or weren’t) detected in those years. Readers can expect to read more along those lines in my upcoming Roaring Twenties mysteries!
Visit Mary Miley's website, blog, and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Mary Miley (September 2013).

The Page 69 Test: The Impersonator.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wayne Harrison

Before working as a corrections officer in Rutland, Vermont, Wayne Harrison was an auto mechanic for six years in Waterbury, Connecticut. A first-generation college student, he began in his mid twenties as a criminal justice major before getting turned on to creative writing by mentor and friend Jeffrey Greene. He later received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Harrison's fiction has been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. His short stories appear in Best American Short Stories 2010, The Atlantic, Narrative Magazine, McSweeney’s, Ploughshares, Crazyhorse, The Sun, Columbia: A Journal of Literature and Art, FiveChapters, New Letters and other magazines. His fiction has earned a Maytag fellowship, an Oregon Literary fellowship and a Fishtrap Writing Fellowship. He teaches writing at Oregon State University.

Harrison's debut novel is The Spark and the Drive.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Harrison's reply:
Like many authors, or at least authors I know, I'm reading a couple of books at once. I like to juxtapose first person and third person point of views, as voice is what I pay most attention to in my own writing. I'm currently reading my friend and former fiction teacher Tim Parrish's evocative memoir Fear and What Follows, which describes his hardscrabble upbringing in working class Louisiana in the 1970s. It's a powerful and fascinating book that intelligently captures the persisting violence and racism of the south at that time. I love memoirs that, like Wolff's masterpiece This Boy's Life, make me feel astounded that the writer ever escaped his own childhood, and this is certainly one of those.

I'm also reading Téa Obreht's brilliant debut novel The Tiger's Wife, about life and death in the Balkans after years of war. A young doctor is trying to puzzle out the mysterious circumstances of her grandfather's death and embarks upon an astonishing journey. The people and circumstances are extraordinary, but perhaps most remarkable is that so much heartfelt wisdom was penned by someone in her twenties. I know it's received widespread praise, but I'll add my own two cents: It's really an exquisite book.

I've also just finished Denis Johnson's gorgeous novella Train Dreams. I've been a fan of Johnson's visionary prose since grad school, when I used to carry Jesus' Son around like a bible in my pocket. I would have been very happy to see this book take the Pulitzer the year it was a finalist, when they didn't give the award in fiction. I'm astounded, as always, by Johnson's tight, perilous sentences that reveal the poet he started off as, before turning to fiction. It's a story of a long, difficult and very modest life riddled with sadness and brief rapture. But the language and perspective are stunning, as is the compassion they evoke from the reader. The dialogue alone is exact and convincing enough to keep you constantly wondering how it could be that Johnson didn't actually live in this time period. It's a book I'll certainly read again and again.
Visit Wayne Harrison's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Spark and the Drive.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Julia Keller

Julia Keller was born and raised in West Virginia, and now lives in Chicago and Ohio. In her career as a journalist, she won the Pulitzer Prize for a three-part series she wrote for the Chicago Tribune about a small town in Illinois rocked by a deadly tornado.

Her new novel, Summer of the Dead, is the third book in the Bell Elkins Series; it follows A Killing in the Hills and Bitter River.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what she was reading.  Keller's reply:
It’s a sickness. Really, it is. I can’t seem to read only one book at a time. I well know how philandering spouses feel: What’s right in front of me just can’t measure up to what’s across the room, batting its eyelashes and giving me a lascivious, come-hither glance. I’ve tried, but I simply can’t be a one-book woman.

Spying the motley stack of reading matter that follows me from room to room—almost of its own volition, I swear—friends often ask, “How do you decide which book to read at which time?” I have no rational answer. I am guided by some mysterious, ineffable force that wills the hand toward one book and not another, and later, toward yet another. My religious-minded friends often attest to hearing a “still, small voice within” that directs their moral choices; I hear it, too, only the voice says, “No, you chucklehead! Not the mystery right now—the Tennyson biography!”

And speaking of Tennyson biographies, I’m reading a dandy: Tennyson (1993) by Peter Levi. It’s not new, but I so love the late Levi’s voice as he undertakes the daunting task of writing about an oft-written-about writer: “I think having written this book that I do now understand this great poet,” he says in the introduction. “The long series of problems solved has left him much clearer, and yet because of his genuine greatness just as mysterious as before.”

I’m also reading another book with some high numbers on the odometer: Julian (1965) by Gore Vidal. No one does historical fiction the way Vidal did; I’d argue that any American history course worth its tricorn hat ought to have Burr, Lincoln and Empire on the syllabus, just for starters, if only to provide a counterpoint to the narratives that make the outcomes of history seem inevitable. History, as Vidal tells it, is a combination of selfishness and coincidence, with a finishing sauce of hypocrisy and self-delusion. And yet cynicism is too cheap and easy a tone, hence Vidal mostly avoids it. For some reason I’d missed Julian, a faux-memoir of the deeply learned Roman emperor who resisted the surge of Christianity, and now am relishing it. Among the gems: “Never offend an enemy in a small way”; “In a good cause hypocrisy becomes virtue”; “The folly of the clever is always greater than that of the dull.” And this: “History is idle gossip about a happening whose truth is lost the instant it has taken place.”

I’m also reading The Buffalo Creek Disaster (1976) by Gerald M. Stern, a non-fiction account of the aftermath of the terrible 1972 flood that decimated a small West Virginia mining community. It’s an essential part of my research for my next novel.

Among the more recently published books on my dance card are Big Brother (2013) by the clever, inimitable Lionel Shriver and Poppet (2013) by Mo Hayder. Hayder is my guilty pleasure. Her mystery novels are extremely creepy, and there are times when you want nothing more than to have the bejesus scared out of you. (Opening the gas bill can accomplish the same thing, of course, but without the captivating characters.)

Also here at my elbow is the 1984 Penguin Classics edition of A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland and The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides by Samuel Johnson and James Boswell, respectively—with an introduction by our old friend Peter Levi of Tennyson fame. These travel chronicles may have been written and published in the eighteenth century, but they have a droll freshness to them that somehow dissolves the intervening centuries. “That which is strange is delightful,” Johnson writes, and who can argue?
Learn more about the book and author at Julia Keller's website.

Writers Read: Julia Keller (September 2012).

Writers Read: Julia Keller (September 2013).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

David Barnett

David Barnett is an award-winning journalist, currently multimedia content manager of the Telegraph & Argus, cultural reviewer for The Guardian and the Independent on Sunday, and he has done features for The Independent and Wired. He is the author of Angelglass (described by The Guardian as “stunning”), Hinterland, and popCULT!

Barnett's new book is Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon, the second Gideon Smith novel.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Barnett's reply:
Because I do some reviewing for newspapers in the UK, I’m lucky enough to get quite a few books sent to me, and while some of the writers I’m familiar with, others I haven’t come across before, or are making their debuts.

One of my favourite writers currently is Nick Harkaway, and his latest novel Tigerman is an absolute joy. It’s about a British soldier nearing the end of his working life who is given a retirement slot on a distant island. He strikes up a friendship with a young boy who is obsessed with popular culture, particularly comic books. Harkaway is the author of two previous novels, The Gone-Away World and Angelmaker, both of which have at their heart apocalyptic motifs. The Gone-Away World is pure post-apocalypse, where humanity lives in a thin belt girdling the earth, the rest of the planet uninhabitable thanks to a series of man-made ecological disasters. Angelmaker is about the threat of apocalypse and the unwitting setting-in-motion of a doomsday device.

Harkaway continues the theme in Tigerman, but the apocalypse is more localised – the island is to be destroyed by the international community because a series of experiments there have created a bio-hazard threat that could jeopardise the rest of the world if left unchecked. It’s a very subtle apocalypse, and the inhabitants of the island are waiting patiently for the end, just as the washed-up soldier, Lester Ferris, is marking time to his own retirement.

Tigerman is quirky – this is a Nick Harkaway novel, after all – but it’s warm and tender and gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling about humanity, even as you despair at what we’re capable of.

Other than that, I’ve been re-reading a lot of RA Lafferty for a feature I’ve been writing. Lafferty is criminally under-appreciated and his novel Fourth Mansions – nominally about rival conspiracies vying to control humanity, but so much more than that – is an absolute classic that everyone should read. He’s funny and scary and thought-provoking all at once.
Visit David Barnett's website.

The Page 69 Test: Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Elisabeth Wolf

Elisabeth Wolf lives in Los Angeles where she grows fruits, vegetables, and native flowers. Her first two books are Lulu in La La Land and Lulu in Honolulu.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Wolf's reply:
My current reading is inspired by islands. Writing my middle reader fiction book, Lulu in Honolulu, I became fascinated by what it really means to live surrounded by water. For months, I have been reading Hawaii by James Michener. Having about one hundred pages left, however, has made me slow down and savor each paragraph of this massive book. Michener writes like my friend, Seana, needlepoints. He colors and weaves a complex picture but never drops a stitch. I wanted to write a story about a girl spending summer in Honolulu and, at the same time, I wanted the richness and depth of Hawaii and Hawaiian culture to seep into the book. I didn’t want the book to feel like a two-dimensional travel poster. Michener’s Hawaii sets the standard for blending detail (everything from food to history) into stories in which my heart throbs and sinks for the characters. Reading Hawaii, I have traveled to Bora Bora, China, and Japan and spent time with 19th Century American Missionaries.

The other two books I am reading (and re-reading) are Recipes From A Very Small Island by Linda and Martha Greenlaw, a cookbook about family, friendships, nature, seasons, and the rhythms of life, and The Little Island by Margaret Wise Brown, a picture book about nature, seasons, relationships and the rhythms of life. Both books are feasts for the eyes and imagination. The cookbook brims with photographs of Ise au Haut just off the rocky Maine coast. My favorite part of the Foggy Morning Blueberry Muffin recipe is staring at the picture on the next page: a huge golden autumnal field ending at a strip of gray blue water. The Little Island, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard, dazzles with pictures that are simple and complex at the same time. My favorite is sailboats sailing away from the island under a half shrouded moon. Anchored in my mind, both books ground me to my values … unencumbered recognition and admiration for the power, beauty and constant of nature and the diversity and depth of relationships.
Visit Elisabeth Wolf's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 12, 2014

Laird Hunt

Laird Hunt is the award-winning author of a book of short stories, mock parables and histories, The Paris Stories (2000), and five novels from Coffee House Press: The Impossibly (2001), Indiana, Indiana (2003), The Exquisite (2006) Ray of the Star (2009) and Kind One (2012), which was a finalist for both the 2013 Pen/Faulkner award and the 2013 Pen USA Literary Award in Fiction and the winner of a 2013 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction.

Hunt's new novel is Neverhome.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Hunt's reply:
On a family trip with my sister to the Baltimore area my sister and I slipped off to the marvelous indie store Atomic Books where I bought an album of Hot Stuff comics for my daughter and a copy of In the Woods by Tana French for me. French’s name has come up a number of times in recent months and I can see why. The novel is wise, gripping, dark, full of good (rather than drearily expedient) sentences and is just generally very difficult to put down. Exactly the right book for the imaginary free time I have at end of summer. I travelled too with David Mitchell’s Bone Clocks, which is excellent, and quite intricate, and suitably long, as one might expect, though it remains to be seen if it wins me over as emphatically as Cloud Atlas: jury is still out. Last though not least is All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld, which is haunting and pleasingly unpredictable. It is by turns strangely soothing and at others like a punch in the eye: my kind of book!
Visit Laird Hunt's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Neverhome.

My Book, The Movie: Neverhome.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Kathryn Erskine

Kathryn Erskine is the acclaimed author of many distinguished novels for young readers, including Mockingbird, winner of the National Book Award; The Absolute Value of Mike, an Amazon Best Book and ALA Notable Book; and Quaking, an ALA Top Ten Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.

Erskine's new novel is The Badger Knight.

Last month I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Since I was a kid I've read multiple books at a time. Here's what's on my bedside table or by my reading chair:

New News Out of Africa, Charlayne Hunter-Gault

I love this author and respect her successful career as a journalist. Since she has actually lived in Africa for almost 20 years, she's able to relate the changes there from the inside out. Being American, she can put it in terms that we can understand. Having lived in South Africa as a kid, I'm always curious about the social changes there, and a large part of the book focuses on South Africa. The book is, admittedly, several years old, and I'd love to see an updated version.

Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery, Don Richard Riso

It's always fun to pull out this book and see how much (or little) I've really changed. It's also great for a writer to get ideas or better understand our characters. It's fascinating to see the characters on your page, or in your life, so well described.

Connecting with the Cosmos, Donald Goldsmith

For stargazers. Did you know you could tell time, not just direction, from the Big Dipper? This book is part research but as I'm still exploring this project I can't really give any more information.

The Martian, Andy Weir

My husband doesn't usually read fiction (except mine!) so when he recommended this, I knew I had to read it. I've just started but I'm enjoying the engaging voice and fascinating subject matter.

Elegy for Eddie, Jacqueline Winspear

This is one of the Maisie Dobbs mysteries and I'm loving them because they're period (1930's) British mysteries with a strong female investigator protagonist. They're well researched and fun to read. And it doesn't hurt that my maiden name was Dobbs.

The Lightning Dreamer, Margarita Engle

To be honest, I've read this many times. I'm soaking in the style of this and other novels in verse in an effort to write my own. All of Margarita Engle's books are fabulous -- beautiful, spare, poignant, clear, strong... well, you just have to read one to see what I mean!
Visit Kathryn Erskine's website.

Check out Erskine's top 10 first person narratives.

Coffee with a Canine: Kathryn Erskine & Fletcher.

The Page 69 Test: The Badger Knight.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Madeleine Kuderick

Madeleine Kuderick writes for anthologies and magazines and has spoken at conferences including the International Reading Association, where she's an advocate for reluctant readers and the teachers who touch their lives. She has a bachelor's degree from the University of South Florida and an MBA from Saint Leo University.

Madeleine grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, a community with a rich literary tradition, where she was editor in chief of the same high school newspaper that Ernest Hemingway wrote for as a teen. She now lives on Florida's Gulf Coast with her husband and two children.

Her new novel is Kiss of Broken Glass.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Kuderick's reply:
I’ve recently read three books that all deal with tough issues and would make great discussion starters in the classroom.

Knockout Games, by award winning author G. Neri, presents an unflinching inside look at the random acts of violence that have surfaced in St. Louis and other cities. In the book, as in real life, teens attempt to knock out strangers with a single punch. The characters have no real motivation to play One Hit or Quit, other than to escape their boring lives and prove their manhood. They think it’s funny and don’t expect anything serious to come of it, until one of their games goes too far. This is a relentless and riveting read that exposes the risk of following the crowd instead of your conscience.

These Gentle Wounds is a beautiful debut by Helene Dunbar that follows Gordie Allen, a fifteen year old boy suffering from PTSD after surviving an unspeakable tragedy and facing continued abuse at the hands of his father. Gordie’s path to healing is realistically faltering and subtle. But his strong connection to his brother and one influential teacher illustrate the importance of having someone to talk to as a step in recovery. This is a powerful story told with sensitivity and heart.

Linda Vigen Phillips debuts with Crazy, her compelling novel in verse that paints a portrait of growing up with a family secret in a time when conditions like bipolar disorder were not well understood. Set in the 1960’s, no one in Laura’s family will talk about her mother’s hospitalizations and Laura is left to navigate her increasingly erratic world alone. Still very relevant today, this is a beautifully written, intimate story that would foster classroom discussions about the hushed subject of mental illness.
Visit Madeleine Kuderick's website.

--Marshal Zeringue