Thursday, October 29, 2015

Shane White

Shane White is the Challis Professor of History and an Australian Professorial Fellow in the History Department at the University of Sydney specializing in African-American history. He has authored or co-authored several books, including Playing the Numbers, and collaborated in the construction of the website Digital Harlem.

White's latest book is Prince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street's First Black Millionaire.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
To tell the truth, leaving aside reading specifically related to my work, much of my “reading” is actually “listening.” Most days of the week, I spent 80-90 minutes walking around the shore of Sydney Harbor. Initially, as I walked, I used to write in my head, but I found that I’d write, or work, for 15 minutes and then drift off into dreams of how the New York Times would review my next book or what I would do if I won the lottery (a particularly futile exercise as I don’t buy tickets). Audible books transformed this part of my day. The first book I listened to, three or four years ago now, was Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. I’d never read it, but listening to it being read spoken was wonderful. Even though it bucketed down with rain for several days, I was so hooked, that I ignored the weather, and trudged off into the deluge. I had to get my 90 minute fix. Many people (my family for instance) thought I was insane.

The last book I listened to that bowled me over was John Lahr’s Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh (2014). Lahr’s writing is terrific. The opening long set piece of the Broadway first night of one of his plays is wonderful, drawing you in to the story of his life in a most effective fashion. You couldn’t get a book more distant from my Prince of Darkness. I had to try and exploit shards of evidence—a sentence here and a few words there. Lahr, on the other hand, had letters, diaries, interviews, oral histories and of course Williams’s magnificent plays themselves, providing him with reams of material that allowed him to know what Williams was thinking and feeling. Lahr gives the impression of being in total control of this blizzard of paper. For me, one of the perverse pleasures of this book, was walking around Sydney’s magnificent harbour, in the midst of thousands of other Balmain and Rozelle gentrifiers all nattering away about their precocious children’s educations, while I was listening to the rather steamy details of Williams’s sexual meanderings and philanderings.

I love reading crime/noir fiction. Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, the usual suspects are staples. Mostly though I only read them on my summer break in December and January when I go away up the coast. However, in the last couple of months I have flown 50,000 miles. My jetlag recovery book that I read (and I mean read, not listened to) at all sorts of odd hours of the night in Istanbul, Marseilles, Aix, Paris, London and New York was Don Winslow, The Cartel: A Novel (2014). He needed that postcolonic title—for much of it reads as if it is very closely based on fact. It and its prequel, are some one thousand gruesome pages about the misery the United States has visited upon Mexico over the last forty years in the war against drugs. The Cartel is hardly an enjoyable read, and you could not really laud it for character development etc etc. And you know from the start it is never going to have a happy ending. But once you get into the book, Winslow draws you in, in the most mesmerising of fashions. When I recommend the book, I do warn people only to start if they know they can cope with learning how much agony someone can inflict on a human being with a chain saw.
Learn more about Prince of Darkness at the St. Martin's Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Prince of Darkness.

--Marshal Zeringue