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