Sunday, January 4, 2015

Donna Jo Napoli

Donna Jo Napoli is the acclaimed and award-winning author of many novels, both fantasies and contemporary stories. She won the Golden Kite Award for Stones in Water in 1997. Her novel Zel was named an American Bookseller Pick of the Lists, a Publishers Weekly Best Book, a Bulletin Blue Ribbon, and a School Library Journal Best Book, and a number of her novels have been selected as ALA Best Books. She is a professor of linguistics at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania.

Napoli's new book is Hidden.

Late last year I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
The last three books I've read are: The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatrice Williams, Jack of Spies by David Downing, and This Is the Water by Yannick Murphy.

Williams' book is marvelous in its organization. We are in the heads of two main characters where one is in the 1960s and one is decades earlier. The character in the pre-WWI period winds up united with the one in the 1960s through the shear tenacity of the younger woman. I loved the two points of view -- they gave insights into the sexual and social politics of their time as well as into the particular characters.

Downing's book is a heartbreaker. The setting is just prior to the outbreak of WWI, and the main character is a spy for the Brits. He's a rather ordinary guy -- reasonably intelligent, working hard to be decent. But he makes errors that lead to personal misery. I love that, because we all do that. It's reassuring to see a person struggle with his own needs, and lose, and then have to find a way to keep on going. The reassuring part is that you know he will -- because we must, we have no choice but to pick ourselves up and try harder the next time. I get very tired of reading only about heroes.

I'm actually in the middle of Murphy's book right now. This one I picked up because the presentation of information is so different. I opened it up, read a paragraph and knew I had to have this book. I plan to finish it on my next plane right (tonight -- I've just been visiting grandchildren -- but I have to go now). At this point I feel like it's a story where the suspense comes from knowing so many characters are doomed but not knowing exactly how bad it will get and not knowing if they will make things worse for themselves. This prospect, also, I find reassuring: we often are our own worst enemies. The author has a tight grip on the psyches of her characters... and I ache for them even as I wish they'd change.
Visit Donna Jo Napoli's website.

--Marshal Zeringue