Wednesday, March 30, 2016

James Anderson

James Anderson was born in Seattle and raised in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. He is a graduate of Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and received his Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Pine Manor College in Boston. For many years he worked in book publishing. Other jobs have included logging, commercial fishing and, briefly, truck driver. He currently divides his time between Ashland, Oregon, and the Four Corners region of the American Southwest.

Anderson's new novel is The Never-Open Desert Diner.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I am constantly reading and my choices are varied, not only authors, but fiction and nonfiction, poetry, sciences. Recently I was pleased to read that Andre Dubus, a truly fine writer, begins his writing sessions by reading poetry. The depth of an image and a truly original metaphor, along with syntactical invention and attention to rhythm (musicality) of language is something I appreciate and informs my prose.

Recently I read Tijuana Book of the Dead, poems by Luis Alberto Urrea, who is a triple threat in that he writes fiction, nonfiction and poetry equally well. In this new collection of poems the conversational can suddenly bloom into a lyrical rose where even plain language, everyday speech, is marshaled into service of a metaphor. Urrea leads the reader into dangerous human territory with humor and compassion.

Georgia, the new novel by Dawn Tripp, is a tour de force, at once ambitious stylistically and in terms of scope. The novel is a fictional autobiography of Georgia O’Keeffe that recounts in historically accurate narrative, O’Keeffe’s life. To compose a stirring internal narrative by one of the great artists of the 20th Century had to be daunting, and yet Tripp’s novel is daring and reads like narrative poetry that drives the reader forward in the story.

Other recent read includes Descent, a novel by Tim Johnston. This is a mystery/thriller that is brilliantly and thoughtfully written.

I do not put much stock in labels or genres. Damn fine writing cuts across genres. Descent does that. So does the debut novel by Idra Novey, Ways to Disappear, which often induces laughter and thought-provoking adventure in the same sentence.
Visit James Anderson's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Never-Open Desert Diner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 28, 2016

Glen Weldon

Glen Weldon is the author of Superman: The Unauthorized Biography and the new book, The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Weldon's reply:
Right now I'm blissfully sternum-deep in Helene Wecker's debut novel, 2013's The Golem and the Jinni. And let's go ahead and slap a big ol' asterisk on the end of that last sentence right now, because technically I'm re-reading it.

That's not something I do a lot, but I'm doing it for this book, because the damn thing works so well, so unshowily, and with such assured grace that I wanted to go back, get a look under its hood and root around a bit.

To back up: The Golem and the Jinni is set in the Lower East Side of Manhattan at the turn of the 20th century. A golem -- the legendary creature of Jewish folklore -- arrives in America from the old country utterly lost. She's been made in the shape of a woman, see, and like any golem, she is imbued with the driving need to serve a master. That master died in passage, however, and she must somehow make a life for herself without anyone know her secret.

Meanwhile, a proud jinni -- a desert spirit of fire -- trapped in the body of a man by dark magic, finds himself in Manhattan, and is forced to make a life for himself despite the loss of his powers.

That's the plot, but this book is about its language, its complicated and hugely satisfying exploration of the immigrant experience, and its empathy. Its fantasy elements nestle quietly inside its rich and grounded sense of place, and its characters. It's a book that feels lived-in, roomy. The immigrant metaphor that drives it (creatures who live by ancient laws of magic forced to abide by new laws of the modern world) never feels ham-handed or overdetermined; it emerges gently as the story goes forward.

Anyway: I kind of love it? It was the first novel I read after finishing my last book (I don't read much while writing; it's a thing), and it reminded me how much I missed everything that fiction can do that nothing else can.

Last week someone told me Wecker's next book will be a sequel, which made me feel 17 different emotions at once, because I want more of her writing, and I love this world, but I know with an adamant certainty that this novel ended precisely when and how it should.
Learn more about the book and author at Glen Weldon's website and follow him on Twitter.

The Page 99 Test: Superman: The Unauthorized Biography.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 26, 2016

J.T. Ellison

New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison writes dark psychological thrillers starring Nashville Homicide Lt. Taylor Jackson and medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens, and pens the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter.

Ellison's new novel, her first standalone, is No One Knows.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have a few books going on right now. I’m finishing the divine Lisa Gardner’s latest, Find Her, which continued to surprise me, page and page, revelation after revelation. I think I know what’s going on, but every scene brings something new. Gardner is one of my favorites—she had a unique voice, a unique style, and a twisted sense of humor.

On audio, I’m listening to The Cartel by Don Winslow. It is excellently read by Ray Porter, who has pulled me into this incredibly complex novel. I listen to audiobooks while I work out, and I’ve been ramping up my exercise schedule to plow through.

On the non-fiction side, I’m reading Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
by Greg McKeown. I am a big fan of the idea less is more, and this is a great book to help find that path.
Visit J.T. Ellison's website, or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 25, 2016

Marilynn Richtarik

Marilynn Richtarik is a Professor of English at Georgia State University and the author of two books on Northern Irish history and literature—Acting Between the Lines: The Field Day Theatre Company and Irish Cultural Politics 1980-1984 and Stewart Parker: A Life, a biography of the late, great Belfast playwright. Next spring she will be a Fulbright Scholar at Queen’s University Belfast, researching a new book about literary reactions and contributions to the ongoing peace process in Northern Ireland.

Not so long ago I asked Richtarik about what she was reading. Her reply:
This spring, as Ireland commemorates the centenary of its 1916 Easter Rising, an event comparable in national importance to the U.S. Bicentennial, I am reading and thinking about the periods of cultural ferment and struggle that precede milestone events like the Rising or the social revolution represented by last May’s marriage equality referendum, when Ireland became the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage by popular vote.

Certainly no one could have predicted such a result in 1995, when Emma Donoghue first published Hood, a novel about a young lesbian woman in Dublin who loses her partner suddenly and must learn to negotiate widowhood without ever having enjoyed the privileges of a wife. Set in 1992, the novel depicts an Ireland before the Celtic Tiger boom and later economic crash, and most definitely before sexual liberation—homosexuality was not decriminalized there until 1993, and divorce only barely became legal in 1995. Donoghue tells a universal story of love and loss to help readers who might imagine they have never met a gay person understand the human cost of enforced secrecy.

Marriage equality still seemed a distant dream when Jamie O’Neill’s novel At Swim, Two Boys first arrived in bookstores in 2001. O’Neill depicts a romance between two adolescent boys, set against the backdrop of the Irish nationalist agitation that would culminate in the Rising—which is, itself, memorably depicted in the novel, in all its chaos and confusion. Joycean in its sweep and generosity of spirit, the book might seem at first to result from an attempt to emulate Joyce’s style as well. The going gets easier as the plot develops, however, and the occasional prolixity of the prose only reinforces the period feel. Reading this book is an immersive experience that brings Ireland’s revolutionary era to life.

Readers desiring facts instead of, or in addition to, fiction will enjoy Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890-1923, published in 2014 by Roy Foster, Oxford University’s Carroll Professor of Irish History. This group biography explores the pre-history of the Rising, the interconnected networks of avant-garde thinking and cultural activity in which often unlikely middle-class young people were radicalized in the years leading up to 1916. These included, in addition to Irish nationalist groups such as the Gaelic League, elements not always associated with physical force Irish republicanism, including feminists, socialists, vegetarians, and secularists. This diversity of sources informing the radical thought of the revolutionary generation is worth remembering in the multicultural Ireland of today, Foster suggests, because “The mature revolution was far more monocultural, and more ethnically defined, than the pre-revolution.” His book should appeal to anyone with an interest in Ireland, politics, history, literature, biography, and the process by which cultural agitation can lead to outright revolution—and revolutionary movements can become reactionary ones.
Learn more about Stewart Parker: A Life at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Kathi Appelt

Kathi Appelt is the author of the Newbery Honoree, National Book Award finalist, PEN USA Literary Award–winning, and bestselling The Underneath as well as the National Book Award finalist The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp, Keeper, and many picture books including Counting Crows. Her latest novel, co-wriiten with Alison McGhee, is Maybe a Fox.

Recently I asked Appelt about what she was reading. Her reply:
I recently blew through The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield. I say “blew through” because it’s a quick read. However, my intention is to re-read it in a more deliberative way.

This book was recommended to me by my sister Patti who is a painter. We recently lost our mother, and ever since I’ve had a difficult time facing my work. I’ve had to figure out who I am again, as a person, and how I fit into the world in this new way.

So, here is Steven Pressfield’s book. He takes a very unsentimental approach to getting your work done, and in some ways he’s basically telling the reader, “Hey, get off your duff and get busy.”

I needed to hear that, to be reminded that what is most important is to simply show up. It’s not rocket science.

But I also needed to hear about the angels.

So, thank you Steven Pressfield. You came along at just the right moment.
Visit Kathi Appelt's website.

The Page 69 Test: Maybe a Fox.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Elizabeth Marro

Elizabeth Marro is former journalist and the author of Casualties, the first novel to explore the homecoming of an Iraq-war veteran from the perspective of a mother and a civilian whose successful business career depends entirely on the defense industry. Marro wrote the novel in San Diego where she has lived since March 2002.

Recently I asked Marro about what she was reading. Her reply:
After years of reading about Kelly Link, I’m finally reading her stories. I’m deep into her collection, Get In Trouble and I don’t want to come out. Right now I’m half way through the story, “Secret Identity.” At the end of a paragraph which gives us a young woman waking up hungover, urine-soaked and utterly humiliated who seeks at least some relief shower. She goes for the scalding hot shower but quickly turns the faucet back to tepid which is “Better than she deserves.” The last line “What you deserve and what you can stand aren’t necessarily the same thing” struck me as so true on so many levels that I had to just stop and think about it before reading on.

Link’s imagination fearlessness when it comes to trying out voices and structure are thrilling. She understands how to evoke compassion and empathy in the reader without a shred of sentimentality.

I’m reading lots of short story collections right now. I love short stories. I struggle to write them so perhaps this is why I am so drawn to them. I want to understand how to make a short piece work. Every week I’ve been tearing the short stories or chapter excerpts from the New Yorker. Recent favorites have been “The Beach Boy” by Otessa Moshfegh, Alice McDermott’s “These Short, Dark Days,” “Jelly and Jack” by Dana Spiotta, and a re-read of Alice Munro’s “Lichen.” Other collections I’ve read in the past six months and loved:

Music for Wartime by Rebecca Makkai

Why The Devil Chose New England For His Work by Jason Brown

The Big Lonesome by Jim Ruland

Venus Drive by Sam Lipsyte

Although I am not easily drawn to memoir, I’ve just finished two that struck me to the core for very different reasons. Brian Turner’s My Life As a Foreign Country is more than a memoir, it is a meditation on war and on humanity rendered one piercing, beautiful sentence at a time. Tanya Ward Goodman’s Leaving Tinkertown, a beautifully written memoir of losing her artistic father to Alzheimer’s, helped me at a time when a dear friend may be facing the disease.
Visit Elizabeth Marro's website.

My Book, The Movie: Casualties.

The Page 69 Test: Casualties.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Wade Rouse/Viola Shipman

Viola Shipman is a pen name for Wade Rouse, a popular, award-winning memoirist. Rouse chose his grandmother’s name to honor the woman whose charm bracelet and family stories inspired him to write his debut novel, The Charm Bracelet, which is a tribute to all of our elders. Rouse lives in Michigan and writes regularly for People and Coastal Living, among other places, and is a contributor to All Things Considered. To date, The Charm Bracelet has been translated into nine languages. He is at work on his second “heirloom novel,” which will be published in 2017.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Rouse's reply:
I cannot read while I'm in the midst of writing a book: I find other voices and storylines distracting, as I'm so in my head in the midst of a book. But when I finish, I read anything and everything I can get my hands on, ranging from fiction to nonfiction. Some of it is for pleasure and some is business (asked by publishers to provide a blurb for another author). As a writer of nonfiction (four humorous memoirs) and fiction (my debut novel, The Charm Bracelet, now out in the world), I typically read a genre different from the book I just finished.

After just finishing edits on my second novel, I was recently asked to read an early galley of a memoir by Mark Woods entitled Lassoing the Sun, a book about a man's journey visiting our national parks over the course of a year. As an avid hiker, I thought the book sounded interesting, but I ended up being deeply moved, as it is part road trip, part eulogy, part educational guide and part spiritual guide. Five weeks into Woods' journey, he discovers his mother is dying, and his trips to our parks to connect with his family, recreate his childhood and pay tribute to our parks takes on greater meaning. The memoir is enlightening and educational, and it resonated in my soul. As I ended up writing about the book: "A love letter to family and our national parks that is as big as a son's heart, as beautiful as the night sky and as stunning as the American landscape." It's a lovely book from a new author.
Visit Viola Shipman's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Charm Bracelet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 21, 2016

Lyndsay Faye

Lyndsay Faye is the author of the critically acclaimed books: Dust and Shadow, The Gods of Gotham, which was nominated for an Edgar for Best Novel, Seven for a Secret, and The Fatal Flame. Her newest novel Jane Steele re-imagines Jane Eyre as a gutsy, heroic serial killer who battles for justice with methods inspired by Darkly Dreaming Dexter.

Recently I asked Faye about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m on a writer’s residency in Key West, Florida right now, very generously provided by the Key West Literary Society—many thanks to them! It’s marvelous here, powder-blue skies and skittering lizards on the gravel in the yard. So I have plenty of time to read, and to write, and here’s what I’m poring over.

The non-fiction book I’m devouring with great interest is A Force for Change: Beatrice Morrow Cannady and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Oregon, 1912-1936. Few people know about this, but the Jim Crow situation in Oregon during that time period was terrible, and the Ku Klux Klan was extremely active there especially from 1921-1925. Burning crosses, hooded parades, the works. Cannady’s legacy is somehow skipped when we talk about civil rights leaders. But she was the publisher of The Advocate, out of Portland, which was the largest African American newspaper in the state, and she used the paper as not only a way to keep the black community informed but as a pulpit from which to preach justice, tolerance, and desegregation. During this period, she introduced a fledgling African American studies class into an overwhelmingly white system, protested repeated runs of the inflammatory film The Birth of a Nation, and organized interracial teas so that blacks and whites could get to know each other as neighbors. She said in a speech, “That she may serve well, the Negro woman must first learn to believe in herself and her race—ridding herself always of any false notions of racial or self-inferiority. We must admit that this is often hard to do, hampered as she is by her sex in what we sometimes term a man’s world, and by her race in a white man’s world. But it can be done…The time demands real women.”

I’m also reading Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos. Reading it makes me wonder how on earth I never encountered this author previously, because in retrospect that makes no sense. He’s a standout from the Lost Generation, a disenfranchised illegitimate son with socialist ideals who translated those struggles into both fiction and art. Manhattan Transfer has everything I want from a certain kind of novel. It’s lyrical, raw, accessible, poetic, and gritty all at once. He uses some stream-of-consciousness techniques that were experimental at the time, in 1925, and the vignettes he delivers from the perspective of the laboring class in New York are something spectacular. “At the corner of Rivington the old man with the hempen beard who sleeps where nobody knows is putting out his picklestand. Tubs of gherkins, pimentos, melonrind, piccalilli give out twining vines and cold tendrils of dank pepperyfragrance that grow like a marshgarden out of the musky bedsmells and the rancid clangor of the cobbled awakening street.” That kind of passage is so outrageously wonderful because not only can you see, hear, smell, and taste everything, but you care about the old man with the hempen beard, because he sleeps where nobody knows. It’s breathtaking.

Finally, there has to be a mystery someplace in this bag, and when I arrived I found a Raymond Chandler collection on the bookshelf. Now, I adore Chandler, but I’ve only read his novels. This, it turns out, was a massive error. The Simple Art of Murder is a collection of eight of his short stories that were published in magazines like Black Mask and Dime Detective. They’re absolutely glorious, as I had no doubt whatsoever they would be, pure Chandler heaven, with their choppy, elegant sentences and their weathered, ironic detectives and their brittle, red-blooded women. I’m so delighted that somebody left it in here in the little library. But my favorite so far is “I’ll Be Waiting.” It begins as a simple scene in which the resident hotel detective on watch is irritated because a mysterious guest is using the radio room, and it devolves into intrigue, furtive messages, a damsel in distress, a subtle but tragic family drama, confrontation at gunpoint, escape, and of course murder, all in under twenty pages. I don’t know how the man did it, it’s maddening. I’ll leave you with one of his infuriatingly perfect word pictures. “He sat relaxed, a short, pale, paunchy, middle-aged man with long, delicate fingers clasped on the elk’s tooth on his watch chain; the long delicate fingers of a sleight-of-hand artist, fingers with shiny, molded nails and tapering joints, fingers a little spatulate at the ends. Handsome fingers.”
Learn more about the book and author at Lyndsay Faye's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Gods of Gotham.

The Page 69 Test: Seven for a Secret.

My Book, The Movie: The Fatal Flame.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Judy Sheehan

Judy Sheehan is one of the original cast members and creators of the long-running stage hit Tony ’n’ Tina’s Wedding. She was the playwright-in-residence at New York City’s prestigious Looking Glass Theatre and has had plays produced there and at regional theaters around the country.

Sheehan's new novel is I Woke Up Dead at the Mall.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m reading Lucia Berlin’s posthumous short story collection, A Manual for Cleaning Women. It’s mesmerizing, terrifying, depressing, and enlightening. At this point, it has instilled a deep fear of old age for me. Early death seems preferable to Berlin’s description of the despair and helpless confusion of those lost, late years. She has an eerie ability to pull an enormous amount of information into a small gaggle of words. It’s intimidating. She’s been dead for a dozen years, but I still imagine meeting her. She’d see right through me. She’d blow smoke in my general direction and dismiss me. But she would know who I am. She’d know something basic, fundamental, and true about me, and she’d take it with her. But she’d move on.

The book was a gift from a friend. We’re going to have a long talk.

My last book was Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night. Give this to everyone you know. The story is an enticing duvet, the prose is impossibly kind. It’s clearly an act of creation, if I believed in a Creator with a capital “C.” This is a masterwork that I’ll be revisiting in the near future, I’m certain.

My next book will have to be light and delicious, but not trivial. Think Dawn Powell. Stay tuned.
Visit Judy Sheehan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 18, 2016

Jacquelyn Mitchard

Jacquelyn Mitchard is the number one New York Times bestselling author of twelve novels for adults, including The Deep End of the Ocean, which was the inaugural selection of the Oprah Winfrey Book Club and also made into a major feature film.

Mitchard's new novel is Two If by Sea.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
There’s a method to the way I read books, and when I say it, it sounds just a little too tightly wrapped, and maybe I am, too. But it works for me.

I read about four books at a time, never less than three.

One’s for pure pleasure and admiration. That one right now is Sharon Guskin’s The Forgetting Time, which is about a little boy who may or may not have had a previous life. It’s skillfully written and the story is terrific, beguiling, heartbreaking and droll by turns. I’m listening to it on CD, and I’ve sat in the car for forty minutes, with ice cream melting in the grocery bags, so I didn’t have to leave its world.

And then I read a book I’m going to need in the future. Because of two books I’m working on, I’m re-reading the world’s most gorgeous scary novel, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, which I’ve read only about … twelve times. It has the two scariest scenes in any book ever, and Stephen King would agree with this, as well as the best opening and closing paragraph. The other book I’m reading because it’s good and good for me (and this also is a re-read, a many times re-read read) is Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, a gem of a book about an epic friendship that is battered by time.

And then I’m reading a non-fiction book, I always read a non-fiction book when I’m writing fiction to marvel at the rigorousness that a non-fiction writer brings to his or her work. One of my very favorite historians and writers is Daniel James Brown, who wrote The Boys in the Boat, about the United States rowing team during the so-called “Hitler” Olympics, but he doesn’t have a book out right now. I’m reading Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Cleopatra. I live just over an hour from Salem, and in Salem, you can feel how it was, when you are there. I’m also reading The Secret Lives of Bats: My Adventures with the World’s Most Misunderstood Mammal, by Merlin Tuttle. I love bats. And Merlin Tuttle has done more to save them than anyone around.
Visit Jacquelyn Mitchard's website.

My Book, the Movie: Two If by Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Reece Hirsch

Reece Hirsch is the Thriller Award-nominated author of four thrillers that draw upon his background as a privacy attorney, the latest of which is Surveillance.

Recently I asked Hirsch about what he was reading. His reply:
The Cartel by Don Winslow

Don Winslow is one of the very best crime writers working today and The Cartel is one of his most powerful books. Like Richard Price’s Clockers, The Cartel is an immersive and unforgettable reading experience that takes readers to places that they would never, ever – and I mean ever -- want to visit in real life -- the world of the powerful Mexican drug cartels and the U.S. and Mexican law enforcement operatives that combat those organizations.

The Cartel walks an uneasy line between fiction and reportage but ultimately succeeds on both counts. There can be no doubt that Winslow has an encyclopedic knowledge of the social, political and economic dynamics of the so-called War on Drugs, and there are portions of The Cartel that read like straight-up journalism, charting the shifting alliances and battles between the various cartels. At first I wasn’t certain that the mix worked but the cumulative power of the book is undeniable.

Winslow doesn’t draw upon some of his easiest strengths in The Cartel. There’s very little of the pyrotechnic literary style of Savages or The Dawn Patrol, and the humor that’s present is about as pitch-black as it gets. But that approach suits the material and the author’s seeming mission – to depict what’s happening in Mexico today as much more than a crime wave but rather a kind of war on civilization and humanity itself.

As in Winslow’s masterful The Power of the Dog, the book continues to follow the lifelong grudge match between DEA agent Art Keller and Sonora cartel kingpin Adan Barerra. The Cartel is a more than worthy follow-up to The Power of the Dog, and the books should ideally be read together. Taken together, they’re like a modern Godfather epic – if Coppola had started with Godfather Part 2 and then gone even darker with the sequel.

The parallels to the real-life “El Chapo” are obvious and that was one of the elements that interested me most about this book. The novel that I’m currently writing is based on some actual people and events, and in The Cartel Winslow provides a master class in how to write a book that is both rigorously researched and illuminating of the world that we live in, but still a fully realized work of fiction.

Yes, it’s bleak. And there are times when the repetitive, horrific violence is oppressive. But I think that may have been part of Winslow’s strategy. When the book reaches its violent, choreographed and elegantly fitting conclusion, you know you’ve read something that’s going to change the way that you look at the world. Don Winslow is a writer who I would follow anywhere – and that level of commitment is pretty much required to visit the soul-crushing, brutally violent world of The Cartel.
Visit Reece Hirsch's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Insider.

The Page 69 Test: Surveillance.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Sean Beaudoin

Sean Beaudoin is the author of seven novels--including Wise Young Fool--and the new short story collection, Welcome Thieves.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I am re-reading Don Carpenter's Hard Rain Falling, which I believe remains criminally out of print. His prose is of a very specific hard-boiled, 70s American vérité school that I find oddly reassuring.

When I'm done, I'll probably re-read something by Newton Thornburg or George V. Higgins as a chaser.
Visit Sean Beaudoin's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Welcome Thieves.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Nicholas Ostler

Nicholas Ostler is the author of The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel, Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin, and Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World. He is chairman of the Foundation for Endangered Languages, a charity that supports the efforts of small communities worldwide to know and use their languages more. A scholar with a working knowledge of twenty-six languages, Ostler has degrees from Oxford University in Greek, Latin, philosophy, and economics, and a Ph.D. in linguistics from M.I.T., where he studied under Noam Chomsky. He lives in England, in Roman Bath, on the hill where Ambrosius Aurelianus defeated the Saxons for a generation.

Ostler's latest book is Passwords to Paradise: How Languages Have Re-invented World Religions.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Having just moved to a new home in the town of Hungerford in Berkshire, I have been exploring new bookshops close at hand.

At the closest, a tiny shop just five minutes from my front door, I came across a book which I am amazed to have missed when it came out. This is Valerie Hansen's The Silk Road. It is on a popular theme in world history nowadays, but Hansen's account is based on data, a sort of literary archaeology using documents dug up from one and a half millennia ago. And the cover page mentions four largely unknown languages - Sogdian, Khotanese, Kuchean and Uighur - confident that that these will draw general readers in, not scare them off!

The book is distinctive in insisting that most trade on the Silk Road was not of the glamorous long-distance variety, but just local exchanges. Rather than private trade by entrepreneurial camel-driving Sogdians, she suggests that the key to long-distance Silk Road traffic was Chinese-government consignments of silk, often in defence contracts to pay for horses. The book is also exceedingly well illustrated for an academic book. It gives the reader an inkling of what the (predominantly dry) scenery was like, and how all the different language speakers were variously attired. It also seems to be well-informed by current research, with personal thanks to noted current scholars, and not excluding some works in more impervious modern languages as Russian and Chinese.

Visiting nearby Marlborough, for regular "runs to the dump" (they have an excellent recycling centre), but also to patronize a gourmet street market (featuring Iranian dates) held every Saturday, I discovered the White Horse bookshop. Here the first book I saw - and purchased - was Peter H. Wilson's The Holy Roman Empire, a snip at 942 pages for £35. It is a pity that the publisher skimped on the contents page - since when reading at such length, it would help a lot to see the pattern made by section and sub-section headings, without having to reconstruct it for myself (as I had to). The book is also rich in detailed historical maps, and vast family trees.

A specialist in German history, Wilson gives an account of this fabled state from the inside, and from a sympathetic point of view. He examines the empire from various points of view, religious, political, social - but sadly the linguistic complexity of this compendious whole - mitigated early on by the spread of Latin with Christianity, and latterly (and only partially) by German - is never brought into the foreground. As a concept, the empire lasted from the reign of Charlemagne at the end of the 8th century to the invasions of Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th, and although ineffably "greater" in some sense than the multitude of statelets which it embraced, it never seemed to get credit for the largely unoppressive stability - what Wilson sees as locally-defined liberty - which it gave to central Europe over most of 1100 years. (So Hitler's intended "thousand year Reich", if delivered, would not have been unprecedented for the region — but the politics, and indeed ethics, would have had to be played better than the Nazi party ever managed.)

A bit like the Ottoman empire, which lasted a mere 600 years, it seems much more attractive and liberal than the more ruthless states which succeeded them in the modern era. Voltaire tactlessly pointed out that it was neither holy, nor Roman nor an empire, but this is perhaps an occupational hazard for organization with tripartite name: the Latin American journalist Daniel Waksman later did the same to that guild of Protestant missionary translators, the Summer Institute of Linguistics: "ni instituto, ni lingüístico, ni del verano".
Visit Nicholas Ostler's website.

Writers Read: Nicholas Ostler (July 2009).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 14, 2016

Helen Lowe

Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, and sometime interviewer whose first novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. Her second, The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012. The sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter of Blood, (The Wall Of Night Series, Book Three), is recently published.

Recently I asked Lowe about what she was reading. Her reply:
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven pursues two distinct, but not entirely disconnected, storylines: between the immediate future and a period twenty years later when a ’flu virus has wiped out 99% of the world’s population. The story follows six central characters in either time period, but in the post-pandemic future the narrative focuses on a band of actors and musicians called the Travelling Symphony, who perform concerts and Shakespeare’s plays to scattered, remnant settlements.

As post-apocalyptic fiction, Station Eleven makes a reasonable fist of exploring what a world without electricity and mass transport—but possibly far more critically, modern medicine and public health engineering—could “look” like. More importantly, though, it is a book about people and the connections, sometimes curious and often fragile, that bind us together. Station Eleven traverses the emotional experience of survival, rather than the physical, examining what a statement like “Survival Is Insufficient” (the Star Trek-derived tagline of the Travelling Symphony) can mean for both individuals and society. As the story moves between present and future, pre- and post-apocalypse, the elements that make existence sufficient are explored in the context of both experiences—and that’s a big part of what makes this book so interesting.

Beyond that, I love the whole idea of the Travelling Symphony. And the way people and events in the book are connected, not least by “Station Eleven” itself—but not necessarily in a direct, or even tangential “cause and effect” way. (To illustrate what I mean, the most directly comparable storytelling I can think of is the 2004 film Crash.)

I also really like that Station Eleven is, despite the post-apocalyptic premise, essentially a hopeful book.
Visit Helen Lowe's website. She posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, occasionally on SF Signal, and is also on Twitter.

The Page 69 Test: Daughter of Blood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Jaleigh Johnson

Jaleigh Johnson is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel The Mark of the Dragonfly, and The Secrets of Solace. Her books for the Dungeons and Dragons Forgotten Realms fiction line include The Howling Delve, Mistshore, Unbroken Chain, The Darker Road, and Spider and Stone.

Recently I asked Johnson about what she was reading. Her reply:
I recently finished Anna-Marie McLemore’s beautiful debut novel The Weight of Feathers. First off, what a great title. I already know I’m in for something special. On the surface, the novel is a Romeo and Juliet story of the dangerous, bitter rivalry between two families of performers: the Palomas and their sworn enemies, the Corbeaus. But underneath it’s so much more. This is the kind of book where I’ll read a passage, catch my breath and go back and reread it just so I can soak up the beauty of the language. Star-crossed lovers Lace and Cluck are compelling characters with divided loyalties. I was caught up in their romance, and my heart broke as they struggled to remain true to their families and to each other. I want to give this book to everyone I know and tell them they’ll thank me later. What a great reading experience.
Visit Jaleigh Johnson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 11, 2016

Kurt Stenn

Kurt Stenn has over 30 years of expertise studying hair. He had a distinguished twenty-year academic career as a Professor of Pathology and Dermatology at the Yale University School of Medicine and was for ten years Director of Skin Biology at Johnson & Johnson. Most recently, he helped found and served as Chief Scientific Officer for a biotech startup focusing on hair follicle regeneration. He has lectured extensively on the biology of the hair follicle, written over 200 peer review scientific publications and served on the Adjunct Faculties of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, Drexel University, and Georgia Institute of Technology.

Stenn's new book is Hair: A Human History.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
My book reading falls into two categories: 1. General science and readings related to my current project, and 2. Readings that give me some insight into creative and disciplined writing.

During the last two months, readings in the first category (and relevant to my new book, Hair: A Human History) included Rebecca Herzig’s Plucked: A History of Hair Removal, which was published by New York University Press last year. It’s a detailed, well-documented, scholarly description of the human preoccupation with body hair, from the fastidious attention ancient Egyptians gave to facial hair to the modern obsession with pubic hair. Herzig asks evolutionary questions about why humans lost their body hair compared to other apes and what it is about hair which drives humans to remove it. I also read and liked Jacky Colliss Harvey’s Red: A History of the Redhead. Like Herzig, Colliss discusses the meaning of hair but she does it from the perspective of the redhead. Having red hair herself, Colliss describes the anguish, social prejudices, and challenges redheads have faced throughout history up to the present.

In the second category, I read a collection of essays by Alan Bennett entitled The Lady in the Van and Other Stories. (One of the stories serves as the foundation for the eponymous current movie.) I came to the book because I enjoyed two other books by Bennett: Uncommon Reader (a fictional, unlikely, and whimsical account of Queen Elizabeth II in which the queen suddenly becomes interested in reading great literature) and Smut, a collection of essays. The Lady in the Van describes the life of a bag lady whom Bennett befriended in London and who takes up residence in his backyard. I have not yet seen the movie but the essay is gripping in its descriptions. I also read Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell. Although an abridged edition (the original was published in 1791), I took away a good appreciation of the personality and brilliance of this great lexicographer, as well as his 18th century England and friends. While Johnson impressed me, I ended the book wishing to know more about his enthusiastic, adventuresome and inquisitive biographer, Boswell.

This spring, I hope to further indulge my interest in writers of the American South. Earlier this year, I read Flannery O’Connor’s The Complete Short Stories and William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice. Next, it is William Faulkner’s turn; I plan to read a few of his essays and novels, the first of which will be The Sound and the Fury.
Learn more about Hair: A Human History at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Michelle Gable

Michelle Gable is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling novel The Paris Apartment.

Her new novel is I'll See You in Paris.

Recently I asked Gable about what she was reading. Her reply:
Blurbing other books can be a tricky endeavor. I’m flattered anyone would consider my comments a worthy endorsement, and I love helping fellow authors, but it can sometimes feel like “work.” Plus there’s the nagging fear…what if I hate the book? Luckily that hasn’t happened yet (knock on wood)!

About a week ago, my agent asked me to blurb another client of hers. Despite a harried tour schedule, I agreed. First of all, my agent believed in me when no one else did, so she can ask me to do anything and I’ll say yes. Second, I’d read and loved Ashley Ream’s first novel, and so I agreed to blurb her second, The 100 Year Miracle. As it turns out, I wasn’t doing the author a favor, but the other way around.

I wanted to consume Ream’s story in one long gulp but airlines make you deplane at the gate. The novel begins with a unique set-up—a once-a-century natural phenomenon on a remote island. Then the reader plunges into the mystery of the protagonist’s past and the power of her current desperation. I was exhausted at the end, downright spent by the weight of the emotional journey. The story is uncomfortable in that gut-wrenching way found in the best of fiction.

I’m not sure how to describe this book. Mystery? Literary fiction? The 100 Year Miracle is in a category of its own. Mega-author Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame blurbed it before me. “Already one of my favorite novels of 2016,” she said. Regarding The 100 Year Miracle, “one of my favorite novels” is a category that works.
Visit Michelle Gable's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Paris Apartment.

My Book, The Movie: A Paris Apartment.

The Page 69 Test: I'll See You in Paris.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 7, 2016

Jeff Zentner

Jeff Zentner lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He came to writing through music, starting his creative life as a guitarist and eventually becoming a songwriter. He’s released five albums and appeared on recordings with Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Warren Ellis, Thurston Moore, Debbie Harry, Mark Lanegan, and Lydia Lunch, among others.

Now he writes novels for young adults. His new novel is The Serpent King.

Recently I asked Zentner about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m currently writing my third book, the main character is a young women from the Soviet Union who finds herself in New Mexico in the late 1940s. So much of my reading time lately has gone to research for that book. Three of those books I’m currently reading:

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

I’m reading this to see how a European teenager from the 1940s would have talked, joked around, and thought. I somehow graduated from a public American high school without ever having been assigned this book. And I’ve gone all this time without reading it on my own because the recalcitrant former high schooler in me has screamed “No! If they make kids read it in high school it must be boring!” Well, that was silly of me to think that because the other high school classics I only read in adulthood--To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye--are now among my favorite books. And The Diary of a Young Girl will join them. It’s harrowing, beautiful, heartbreaking, and even hilarious at times. It’s unquestionably the most important YA book that has ever existed and it is everything a coming-of-age book should be. I read it with a sickness in the pit of my stomach, knowing how this story ends. But I keep pressing forward, grateful for the chance to know this remarkable young woman, her words shining bright through the gloom of human cruelty and time.

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein.

I’m reading this because literal, physical hunger is an important aspect of my character’s upbringing, and I wanted insights on that. I’m almost finished with this memoir, and so far, the hunger referred to in the title is metaphorical. But that’s perfectly fine. I love Carrie Brownstein as a human being, so I require no arm twisting to read her memoir. This is another essential coming-of-age story. She’s brutally frank about the ups and downs of growing up and carrying through adulthood an insatiable hunger to create. She will dispel any notions you might have about the romance of being a moderately successful artist. Brownstein is an amazing writer with a witty, erudite voice, who has a lot of profound things to say.

...And Now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold

I’m only 37 pages into this stark, beautiful, quiet, Newbery-award-winning middle grade novel from 1953, but I’m already loving it. It reads like Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy if it was written for nine to fourteen-year-olds. It’s about a young boy in a Latino sheep ranching family in rural northern New Mexico who wants to go with the other men in his family to the Sangre De Cristo Mountains to help protect his family’s flock of sheep. Like the other two books I’ve talked about, this is a book that research compelled me to read, but I am profoundly grateful for that compulsion.
Visit Jeff Zentner's website.

--Marshal Zeringue