Saturday, March 31, 2018

Kelli Stanley

Kelli Stanley is a critically-acclaimed, multiple award-winning author of crime fiction (novels and short stories). She makes her home in Dashiell Hammett’s San Francisco, a city she loves to write about.

Stanley's latest Miranda Corbie Mystery is City of Sharks.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
When a novel is gestating, I rarely read fiction—I don’t want to be subconsciously influenced. While I sometimes make exceptions to this rule, I’m never without at least one history book on my nightstand.

Today, that book is the brilliant American Colonies, by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Alan Taylor.

The subtitle of this transcendental, urgent and at times transgressive work is “the settling of North America.” Not just the English-Pilgrim-Madison Avenue Americana history most of us over forty were saddled with in elementary school, but a wide view lens on Native American cultures and the various European powers who colonized, commodified and enslaved the land and the peoples of North America, the Caribbean and Africa.

Great non-fiction always gifts the reader with an “ah ha!” moment—that nano-second when your brain connects dots heretofore unthought and unexamined, and disparate threads knit together to make a whole. American Colonies is awash in such connective revelations … for example, you will understand how embedded racism is in this country and why it was (and still is) inculcated as a means of dividing lower economic classes into powerlessness. Though I was already familiar with this general premise, Taylor made me realize the depth and specific motivation for the cultivation of racism as the ultimate economic weapon.

Given the current and unprecedented conflict this country is in—fighting for independence not only from Russian interference and influence over our electoral process, but also for a cultural identity and political reality that does not espouse hatred or undermine human rights and democracy—American Colonies is a very timely read, and one I highly, highly recommend.
Visit Kelli Stanley's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Kelli Stanley & Bertie.

The Page 69 Test: City of Sharks.

My Book, The Movie: City of Sharks.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Damian Dibben

Damian Dibben is the creator of the internationally acclaimed children's book series the History Keepers, translated into 26 languages in over 40 countries. Previously, he worked as a screenwriter, and actor, on projects as diverse as The Phantom of the Opera and Puss in Boots and Young Indiana Jones. He lives, facing St Paul's Cathedral, on London's Southbank with his partner Ali and dog Dudley.

Dibben's new novel is Tomorrow.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
So I have finally got round to reading The Goldfinch. Often I fear picking up long books, worried I won't have the time - or possibly the patience - to finish them (I'm a ridiculously slow reader..) This book was an exception. It is long, yes it could have been shorter if it had to be, but crucially I didn't want it to be.

The hook is the thing, I've never know one to have such a hold on me, to keep me rapt for more than 700 pages. We fall for young Theo. We fall for his mother too. When visiting an exhibition of Dutch old masters at the Met, there's a bomb. She dies, he lives. In a vast city, she was the only person of meaning in his world. In the dreamy aftermath of the explosion - one of the best early scenes I have ever read in a novel - Theo comforts another man who also dies, before exiting the gallery with a tiny but indescribably rare painting: the Goldfinch. As Theo grows up into a man, dealing or not dealing with his grief, he keeps the painting hidden. His secret, no one else's. In the same way as his grief is only his too, but just as epic and priceless and eternal. The question of how he'll turn out, how he'll survive the catastrophe, is locked inextricably to the question of whether he'll ever reveal his secret - and this provides the tension of the book, and its motor.

Of course, there is so much more, the language is extraordinary, painted on the page in an almost impressionistic way. The conversation Theo had had with the dying man leads him into the fascinating sphere of that man's loved ones. Art itself is a presence, a character, and not always a kind one. Between the lines of the book, there is the sense of the sweep of history, of the power of art through time. There are brilliantly drawn characters, the 'gliding' Hobie, the tricksy Boris, - almost a medieval construct, a devilish counterpoint to Theo, his dark shadow - and the Barbours, the high society New York family that take Theo in, are fascinatingly detailed - most pointedly in their own demise. At one point, the story seems to take a strange turn and we find ourselves in brash, post-crash Vegas, but this - we realise perhaps later on - is vital and resonant: it's a key part of Theo's odyssey and sets off the jewel like world of Manhattan. Similarly it's fitting the denouement takes place in Amsterdam, the heart of the 'ancient world' of the story. It's right that as the story reaches its climax - as also do the battles in Theo's mind & soul - the genre shape-shifts to murderous thriller.

And finally, there's the Goldfinch itself: it is enigma in its own way, a painting, tiny & great, that connects the old world of art to the new. The bird is beautiful, but has a little chain prisoning it to a perch and we wonder too if it will ever find its freedom...

A book on the grandest scale, about loss, love money, art, demons & angels, crime & redemption - and the very history of the world.
Visit Damian Dibben's website.

My Book, The Movie: Tomorrow.

The Page 69 Test: Tomorrow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

John C. Hulsman

John C. Hulsman is president of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a prominent global political-risk consulting firm. His books include Ethical Realism: A Vision for America's Role in the World, The Godfather Doctrine: A Foreign Policy Parable, and To Begin the World Over Again: Lawrence of Arabia from Damascus to Baghdad.

His new book is To Dare More Boldly: The Audacious Story of Political Risk.

Recently I asked Hulsman about what he was reading. His reply:
I am blessedly immersed in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, having finished My Brilliant Friend and The Story of a New Name. While I make a living writing about history, international relations, and current events (and love reading good work on them), I find myself often drawn to fiction, in which the quality of the writing is often better and which says so much about the human condition. Both these attributes are often shockingly lacking in my discipline. For example, I make every intern I have read Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald, for the beauty and the brevity of the prose, and what they said about the Twentieth Century. It is an effort to cleanse them of the pernicious thinking too often prevalent in the academy, that poor impenetrable writing illustrates great thinking, which is almost never true. Instead, as Forster said, they must only connect. The best fiction does this.

And Ferrante certainly qualifies as the best fiction. Beautifully chronicling the life-long friendship between Lenu and Lina, it is a masterpiece of both language and psychology. My fiancé Sara (also from Naples) demanded that I read it, to understand something of where she came from and how it affects her. It did all this, taking me through exquisitely concocted pocket sketches of people and places to the perfectly constructed world of their neighbourhood. It is unflinching in pointing out the unseen and unspoken tragedies of both, the limitations of being clever women in a time and place that had little use for such people, and of the boisterous, violent, vibrant, and limiting place that they both loved and hated in equal measure. It is also masterful in illustrating both the love and more base feelings each harbors for the other, unflinching in its honesty.

I have devoured the first two novels and cannot wait to read the final pair. For joy and love unshared are wasted. In these books Ferrante has shared both. The result is marvellous.
Visit John C. Hulsman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Daniel Livesay

Daniel Livesay is associate professor of history at Claremont McKenna College.

His new book is Children of Uncertain Fortune: Mixed-Race Jamaicans in Britain and the Atlantic Family, 1733-1833.

Recently I asked Livesay about what he was reading. His reply:
I have been on something of an eclectic reading journey recently. I just finished Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life. I’ve always been a fan of Martin – The Jerk was my favorite movie as kid – and so I was interested in reading more about his meteoric rise to fame. In the memoir, Martin navigates the ups and downs of an early life in standup comedy. So much of that life was filled with rejection, isolation, and only temporary reprieves of audience appreciation. What stuck out so much to me was the degree of loneliness that Martin experienced while he was selling out arenas for multiple nights in a row. There were some brief moments of mild empathy that I shared with Martin – especially thinking about presentations and class sessions where I completely bombed, as well as ones that left me feeling exhilarated and on top of the world. At times, I think that teaching has elements of stand-up comedy, and it was interesting to see some of the other parallels around performing that Martin elucidates.

I’m currently finishing up an entirely different type of book: Njal's Saga. This is the longest, and perhaps most studied, of Iceland’s medieval saga literature. Written in the thirteenth century, it’s a combination of oral history, documented political history, and rousing fable. My wife and I visited Iceland a year ago, and we couldn’t go anywhere without hearing something about the sagas. I finally decided to curl up with one at night, and it’s been a wild journey. Most of Njal's Saga documents a series of blood feuds between chieftains, servants, and men on the make in Iceland. If you’re eager to read about men getting hacked through with axes, and you’ve already finished the Game of Thrones series, you should check out the sagas. What is perhaps more interesting, though, is the way in which the sagas document the regulation of honor and hierarchy in a society barely scraping by in the North Atlantic. It shows how central honor can be among humans, even as people fight for basic survival.
Learn more about Children of Uncertain Fortune at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: Children of Uncertain Fortune.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Dennis Palumbo

Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter, etc.), Dennis Palumbo is a licensed psychotherapist and author of Writing From the Inside Out. His mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Strand and elsewhere, and is collected in From Crime to Crime. His series of mystery thrillers (Mirror Image, Fever Dream, Night Terrors, Phantom Limb, and the latest, Head Wounds, feature psychologist Daniel Rinaldi, a trauma expert who consults with the Pittsburgh Police.

Recently I asked Palumbo about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m currently reading a terrific, sobering nonfiction book called The Revenge of Geography by Robert D. Kaplan. It’s a geopolitical analyst’s clear-eyed assessment of the roiling situation in the Middle East, and what thirty years of trying to create a democratic system in the region has wrought. The author’s understanding and explanation of how the very terrain of the region contributes to reinforcing an entrenched tribalism, and how this attitude is the antithesis of the kind of egalitarianism from which a democratic political system arises, seems---to me at least---right on the mark. It’s a book I wish all our elected officials would be compelled to read.
Visit Dennis Palumbo's website.

The Page 69 Test: Head Wounds.

My Book, The Movie: Head Wounds.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 23, 2018

Tessa Arlen

Tessa Arlen, the daughter of a British diplomat, had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Cairo, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. She lives in the American Southwest.

Arlen's new novel is Death of an Unsung Hero, the fourth book in her Lady Montfort mystery series.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have been absolutely riveted by Sonia Purnell’s biography of Clementine Churchill: First Lady: The Life And Wars Of Clementine Churchill. It is an engrossing account of a strong-willed and ambitious woman without whom – so Purnell argues with authority – Winston Churchill’s political career would have been a washout!

As much a character as her husband, Clementine wholly differed from him in every way: she supported women’s suffrage –Winston loudly did not; she was a Liberal at heart –he was as right wing as they made them then; she counted the pennies and he was frighteningly extravagant. She also loathed most of his best friends and had a notoriously high flashpoint: Winston fondly described an enraged Clemmie as “a jaguar dropping out of a tree.” But how she managed to survive her marriage to him was a constant question I found myself asking.

Clementine was married to Winston at a time when aristocratic women took a back seat in the world. They were expected to look beautiful, dress impeccably, sparkle as society hostesses and put up with whatever came their way with quiet, well-bred acceptance. But Winston rarely made a decision without her approval and however different they were the one thing that united them was their ambition. Their mutual goal, always, was the office of Prime Minister for Winston –a quest that required patience and diplomacy. Churchill possessed neither. His wife, fortunately, proved a genius both at patching up the wreckage caused by his bad decisions, and at offering good advice, the shrewdest of which was when, after the catastrophe at the Dardanelles in WW1 – for which Churchill carried most of the blame – she encouraged him to go to the Front. It would be good for his image, she told him, while she stayed at home running nine enormous workers’ canteens.

But the best of the book is where it relates to Clementine as the power behind her husband when he became Prime Minister during the Second World War. He consulted her over everything. She was his coach, his private adviser and his refuge. It was also revealing what a toll this took on her. Winston was a huge drama queen, swinging between morose silence if he was displeased to voluble tantrums. He was both demanding and neglectful and her health suffered so much that she often had to go away on ‘holidays’ without him for months at a time.

A tremendously fascinating read that reveals not only Clementine’s enduring strengths, but also her famous husband’s many weaknesses.
Visit Tessa Arlen's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Tessa Arlen & Daphne.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Nancy Kress

Nancy Kress's many books include over two dozen novels, four collections of short stories, and three books on writing. Her work has won six Nebulas, two Hugos, a Sturgeon, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Kress’s work has been translated into two dozen languages, including Klingon, none of which she can read.

Kress's new novel is If Tomorrow Comes: Book 2 of the Yesterday's Kin Trilogy.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Books get chosen for different reasons. Right now I am or have been reading:
Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari. This non-fiction was chosen by my science book club for this quarter’s meeting. A historian with an astonishing breadth of information discusses the paradigms and beliefs that have guided societies in the past (religions), that do guide us in the present (humanism and science), and will guide us in the future, when we achieve immortality and become as gods (hence the title). Interesting book, but he overstates. A lot.

Food Fight: GMOs and the Future of the American Diet, by McKay Jenkins. This is research for a novella. An unusually balanced view of a subject that can send both sides into flaming fury.

The Calculating Stars, science fiction by Mary Robinette Kowal. This is next up, after I finish reading about food fights. I will it read for pleasure, because it sounds intriguing. Meteor strike on Earth, climate change, the race to colonize space—it pushes a lot of my buttons. Just as soon as carrots and corn don’t occupy my brain…
Visit Nancy Kress's website, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Ruth Downie

Ruth Downie is the author of a series of mysteries featuring Roman Army medic and reluctant sleuth, Gaius Petreius Ruso: Medicus, Terra Incognita, Persona Non Grata, Caveat Emptor, Semper Fidelis, Tabula Rasa, Vita Brevis, and the newly released Memento Mori.

Recently I asked Downie about what she was reading. Her reply:
I usually have at least two books on the go at once: one on audio for the times when I can’t sit and read, and one for bedtime.

The latest bedtime reading is S.S. Mausoof’s thriller The Warehouse, in which Karachi-based insurance investigator Syed Qais travels to war-torn Waziristan to find out why a businessman is refusing to claim compensation after his warehouse is destroyed. By the time the reasons become clear, Qais is trapped in the bitter and violent struggle between the Taliban, the Pakistani military, and the American armed forces. Oh, and of course, there’s a woman involved. Several women in fact, including Qais’s mother and his teenage daughter, waiting for him to come home.

Waziristan is a terrific setting for a thriller – Mausoof paints a convincing picture of a province teeming with shrewd operators, violent thugs, fiercely loyal tribespeople, war-weary military officers, religious fanatics, religious people who aren’t fanatics, exhausted civilians and friends who may or may not be trustworthy. Often several of these combine in one character. There are no easy answers, either for Qais or for Waziristan, and that’s one of the reasons I’m very much enjoying this book.

Meanwhile on audio, parts of Victorian London are being devastated not by explosives, but by an outbreak of cholera. In The Ghost Map, Steven Johnson relates the story of the hunt to eliminate the source of a disease that wipes out whole families with terrifying speed.

I was vaguely aware of the tale of the notorious Broad Street water pump before now, but had no idea of the complexities behind “and when they turned the pump off, the epidemic stopped.”

It’s an encouraging tale because it demonstrates how real change happens: not with a sudden “eureka!” moment but with a combination of painstaking study, local knowledge and and sheer bloody persistence in the face of opposition and scorn.

The book is wider than the story of one epidemic: it’s about the growth of cities and the challenges they face. I was struck by the parallels with ancient Rome: firstly that the writer Frontinus may have been right when he claimed that Roman water engineering was a far greater achievement than the idle Pyramids or the “useless, though famous, creations of the Greeks”. Also, there’s a marked similarity in tone between the bold – and contradictory, and wrong – Victorian assertions of miracle cures for cholera, and the squabbling medics of Rome, where Pliny claims that memorials could be found bearing the words, “A gang of doctors killed me.”
Visit Ruth Downie's website.

The Page 69 Test: Memento Mori.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Beth Gutcheon

Beth Gutcheon is the critically acclaimed author of the novels The New Girls, Still Missing, Domestic Pleasures, Saying Grace, Five Fortunes, More Than You Know, Leeway Cottage, and Good-bye and Amen. She is the writer of several film scripts, including the Academy-Award nominee The Children of Theatre Street. She lives in New York City.

Gutcheon's new novel is The Affliction.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
The novel that completely knocked my socks off this year was Days Without End by Sebastian Barry. I reviewed the audio version for AudioFile Magazine, and am so glad I took the assignment; I almost didn’t, as it didn’t sound like my line of country. Forget that. It is gorgeously written, a rare quality in a book that also has a plot that moves like a train. When reading audiobooks I’m usually outdoors in earphones taking long walks to nowhere. Nearing the end of this one, I was so gripped that I didn’t even want the distraction of crossing a busy street so I kept walking around and around the same block in SoHo until I found out what had happened to … oh, just read it. Don’t read plot summaries, don’t worry what it’s about, it’s a marvel.

Last June a friend handed me a biography of Iris Origo. A writer with a beautiful style, Iris had been raised in Tuscany in the 20’s by her English mother, and had married a Florentine count. As World War II approached, she chose to stay in her adopted country rather than seek safety in Switzerland or return to friends in England. Her fascinating life story led me to her war diary, War in Val D’Orcia, which tells in her own voice what it was like on the ground in Italy during the incredible confusion of first Mussolini, then the partisans, then the Germans, as ordinary people sheltered refugee children, hid and fed escaped Allied prisoners of war, and resisted Fascism in ways that no one outside the country knew was happening. Amazing story, in an indelible voice.

My friend Vicky Bijur, who represents Laura Lippman, gave me an early copy of Sunburn. Nothing like setting the bar high: Lippman makes it no secret that she’s writing an homage to the great James M. Cain, another Maryland crime writer, and for me, she hits it out of the park. The plot is noir and tricky, she’s two steps ahead of you the whole time, and the ending is both satisfying and heart-wrenching.

My Christmas reading was Avedon, Something Personal, by Norma Stevens and Steven M.L.Aronson, a word portrait of the great photographic portraitist, Richard Avedon. It was flu season in Maine, and I was too sick to get out of bed and didn’t care because I didn’t want to stop reading anyway. (The only other time in my life that happened, it was a stomach bug and the book was I See You Everywhere, by Julia Glass, in case you feel two bouts of indisposition coming on.) The Avedon was on my Christmas list less because I knew much about Avedon, than because I’m a huge fan of Steven Aronson’s work in the oral history form. For me, nobody living does it better. To see even an ordinary human personality and life from so many points of view is an experience only art can give you and Avedon was anything but ordinary. A novelist can only marvel at the layers and subtle shifts of understanding woven together here as different kinds of people react to the same man in so many different ways. And Avedon’s pictures! Not that there are many in the book; you have to keep your device by your side the whole time so you can google the images being talked about. You’ll be amazed at what a vivid record his pictures made of the latter half of the American century and how many scores of them are already part of your memory bank.
Visit Beth Gutcheon's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Susan Goldman Rubin

Susan Goldman Rubin is the author of many biographies for young people, including Diego Rivera: An Artist for the People and Hot Pink: The Life and Fashions of Elsa Schiaparelli.

Her new book is Coco Chanel: Pearls, Perfume, and the Little Black Dress.

Recently I asked Goldman Rubin about what she was reading. Her reply:
I write biographies for young adults and middle-grade children, and struggle to bring my subjects to life. What events are the most important to include? How to dramatize those episodes as if I had been there? I look to other biographers as role models whether they write for adults or children. I found understanding and delight in The Shadow in the Garden: A Biographer’s Tale by James Atlas. I’ve devoured every chapter. Atlas, the celebrated biographer of poet Delmore Schwartz and writer Saul Bellow, is also a former editor at The New York Times. Despite his professional achievements, he confides how he struggles along as I do with each biography.

Atlas discusses his process of research and writing with humor, honesty, and brilliance. The reading, the trips to the library, the heaps and piles of endless notes, are, he says, “the pleasures and ordeals of archival research.” Atlas writes as though he’s talking directly to me! “Biography is a lonely trade,” he says. “It requires a capacity for sitting by yourself all day for years, sometimes decades.” In some chapters he presents his own heroes in the field: Richard Ellman, Leon Edel, and James Boswell. In others, he talks about his personal life as though it were a sidebar to his obsession with a work-in-progress. Finally, he questions the purpose of biography. How can a writer explain the genius, the talent, of someone worthy of a biography? You can’t. However, says Atlas, we can show other factors and influences that contributed to forming the person. “There is no such thing as Biography School,” he concludes. But his marvelous book reassures me.

Because I write nonfiction for young readers, I crave adult fiction at the end of the day. I especially love novels by English women writers. One of my favorites is Tessa Hadley. I’m currently reading her newest book, Bad Dreams and Other Stories. Hadley is masterful with imagery, surprise, and character development. Her writing is so exquisitely compact, that climactic moments come without warning and hit hard. With a few lines of dialogue, interspersed with the narrative, Hadley brings her characters to life. She knows exactly what to include and what to leave out. I finish a story and find myself going back to see how she packed such a wallop, and to linger over the beauty of her poetic language.
Visit Susan Goldman Rubin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Clarissa Harwood

Set in 1907 England, Clarissa Harwood’s debut historical novel Impossible Saints follows the competing ambitions and growing love between Lilia Brooke, an agnostic militant suffragette, and Paul Harris, a peace-loving Anglican clergyman.

Recently I asked Harwood about what she was reading. Her reply:
Lately I’ve read two works of fiction that are very different in genre and plot, yet similar in their masterful use of sensory details and setting. I’m always impressed by other writers’ abilities to transport me to a place so different from my own.

Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers, by Sara Ackerman, is a historical novel set in Hawaii during WWII. Violet’s husband has disappeared, and she senses that her troubled daughter Ella knows something about his disappearance. The uncertainty of not knowing whether her husband is alive or dead is amplified by the uncertainty of wartime. When the American soldiers they make friends with leave to fight abroad, Violet and Ella are again left in a suspended state.

Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers is much more than a war story. It is a story about many different kinds of love: maternal love, friendship, romance, love for animals, love for one’s neighbors: “in the islands, the Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Hawaiian, haole, all managed to coexist.” One of the ways Violet and her friends show their love is through food. The pies alone will make your mouth water: who wouldn’t want to try chocolate honeycomb pie or sweet potato and coconut pie? Ackerman’s writing is as fresh as a Hawaiian breeze, immersing the reader in the lives of women who try to make sense of their disrupted world.

Rachel McMillan’s Love in Three Quarter Time is a contemporary romance novella about Evelyn, an American woman whose crush on Rudy, the Austrian marketing director of her firm, leads her to accept his invitation to work with him in Vienna for a couple of months between Christmas and Valentine’s Day. During her time there, she falls in love with the city but realizes that her heart may be deceiving her with respect to Rudy. Although she ends up with the right man in the end, Evelyn’s main romance is with Vienna. I dare you to read this novella without being tempted to book a flight there to sample the Viennese coffee, music, and architecture!

Readers who need an escape and can’t afford the airline tickets to Austria or Hawaii could do worse than read these books. Please excuse me while I try to find some Viennese coffee to drink with my chocolate honeycomb pie…
Visit Clarissa Harwood's website.

The Page 69 Test: Impossible Saints.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Patricia Fara

Patricia Fara lectures in the history of science at Cambridge University, where she is a Fellow of Clare College. She is the President of the British Society for the History of Science (2016-18) and her prize-winning book, Science: A Four Thousand Year History, has been translated into nine languages. In addition to many academic publications, her popular works include Newton: The Making of Genius, An Entertainment for Angels, Sex, Botany and Empire, and more. An experienced public lecturer, Patricia Fara appears regularly in TV documentaries and radio programs such as In Our Time. She also contributes articles and reviews to many journals, including History Today, BBC History, New Scientist, Nature and the Times Literary Supplement.

Fara's latest book is A Lab of One's Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Fara's reply:
Bleak House, by Charles Dickens

Somebody I Used to Know, by Wendy Mitchell

Whenever I swim back up to reality after being absorbed in a book, I try to prolong the pleasure by reflecting on how the world I’ve been reading about relates to my own experiences. I’ve just reread Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, and although I’m living in Venice, Italy for a few weeks, I immediately picked up many resonances. No doubt the associations were heightened by seeing the narrow alleyways of the city blanketed in snow, and thronged with normally hyper-elegant Italians bundled up in bulky scarves and hats.

Paradoxically, the house of Dickens’ title is warm and welcoming, but Bleak House the narrative offers a bleak view of humanity, exposing over several hundred pages the melancholy fate of litigants so consumed by greed that the inheritance they are claiming disappears into the pockets of avaricious lawyers and petty bureaucrats. This plot line reminded me of the cruise ships that, by mooring in central Venice, are accelerating the apparently inexorable demise of their passengers’ favorite destination as the city slowly sinks into the lagoon.

Dickens’ novel is a savage indictment of cut-throat capitalism and its pernicious consequence: the yawning divide between rich and poor, which is nowadays reverting to Victorian dimensions. I thought back to Bleak House when I visited a 16th -century building near San Marco and the Doge’s palace, Venice’s medieval centres of power, and has been converted into a modern temple to wealth – a shopping-centre whose jaw-dropping prices make Harrods look like Walmart. Nearby, the artist Lorenzo Quinn has created a political statement as powerful as anything by Dickens: a giant pair of hands, two storeys high, which appear to be propping up an ancient mansion on the edge of the Grand Canal. Called ‘Support’, this sculpture evokes both the city’s fragility as it collapses, and the power of its administrators to halt the decline should they decide to do so. It made me remember that not all deterioration can be arrested by human will alone. In Somebody I Used to Know, Wendy Mitchell describes her own brain’s irreversible descent into chaos as she succumbs to early-onset Alzheimer’s.

Although supporting hands are provided by her two daughters and the medical system, it is Mitchell’s own determination to fight against the inevitable that makes this an inspiring rather than a depressing read. Her memoir is structured as a conversation between her present and former selves, and despite a tendency to cloying sentimentality (can bath bubbles really be filled with love?) it demonstrates how courage and initiative can help delay the slide into dependency. As well as practical tips – stick photographs of a cupboard’s contents on the door, set timers to tell you when it’s time for lunch – it includes painfully-won advice on what not to say when trying to help an
afflicted friend.

Horrifying as Mitchell’s story is, her resolute spirit offers laughter and hope, while the blackness of Bleak House is redeemed by the kindly Mr Jarndyce. Venice, the economy and the environment are still waiting for their saviours.
Learn more about A Lab of One's Own at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Erasmus Darwin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Gae Polisner

Gae Polisner's books include The Memory of Things, The Summer of Letting Go, and The Pull of Gravity. Her new novel is In Sight of Stars.

A family law attorney and mediator by trade, but a writer by calling, she lives on Long Island with her husband, two sons, and a suspiciously-fictional-looking small dog she swore she’d never own. When she’s not writing, she can be found in a pool, or better yet, in the open waters of the Long Island Sound where she swims upwards of two miles most days.

Recently I asked Polisner about what she was reading. Her reply:
Because I write YA, I am often reading YA (though my novels are now categorized as YA/crossover into adult), and right now that is no exception. Because I am a slow reader, and have too much I must, for various reasons, read, or simply want to read, I am often reading several books at one time. Now is no exception.

So, here you go! Given that my March release In Sight of Stars has a much to do with Vincent Van Gogh, I am in the middle of Deborah Heiligman’s Printz-honored tome, Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers. While the prose feels a bit simplistic for me at times, it is impressively chock full of fascinating facts and information, all gleaned from Van Gogh’s Letters to Theo and other such meticulous research. Additionally, I have just started my writer pal Amy Fellner Dominy’s April release, The Fall of Grace, about a girl whose family seems to be at the center of a Bernie Madoff type scandal, and was gripped from the first pages. I’ve long been a fan of Amy’s writing, and, per usual, she is an absolute pro at setting up a story in a few brief lines, thereby grabbing you from the get-go.

Last but not least, out of belated curiosity the other night, I decided to take ‘just a quick glimpse’ at my writer friend Tania Unsworth’s middle grade thriller, Brightwood, soon out in paperback. Now, more than 70 pages in and some lost sleep, I can’t put it down, and can’t wait to return to it. In the vein of Neil Gaiman or Jonathan Auixier stories, Brightwood is already a dark delight, and Tania incredible at creating both atmosphere and compelling, almost tongue-in-cheek story and characters. There are damaged people with damaged history, and a child who has suffered, who makes all around her come "alive. . . " If you have a reluctant reader, this is the type of story that will absolutely grip them and keep them turning pages long after you call lights out.
Visit Gae Polisner's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Summer of Letting Go.

The Page 69 Test: The Memory of Things.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 9, 2018

Phillip Margolin

Phillip Margolin has written over twenty novels, most of them New York Times bestsellers, including Gone But Not Forgotten, Lost Lake, and Violent Crimes. In addition to being a novelist, he was a long time criminal defense attorney with decades of trial experience, including a large number of capital cases. Margolin lives in Portland, Oregon.

His new novel is The Third Victim.

Recently I asked Margolin about what he was reading. His reply:
My favorite book I read recently is A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. It is magical and everything a novel should be.

I also finished Greg Iles' Natchez Burning trilogy while on vacation. This consists of three huge books – Natchez Burning, The Bone Tree and Mississippi Blood – which are really one very long but thoroughly engrossing novel set in the present that revolve around civil rights murders committed by a secret offshoot of the KKK in the 1960s that might have been involved in JFK’s assassination.
Visit Phillip Margolin's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Shoba Narayan

Shoba Narayan is an award-winning author and columnist. Her books include Return to India: an immigrant memoir, Monsoon Diary: a memoir with recipes, and the newly released The Milk Lady of Bangalore: An Unexpected Adventure.

Narayan graduated from the Columbia Journalism School which awarded her a Pulitzer Fellowship. She is an alumnus of Mount Holyoke College and Women’s Christian College.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Narayan's reply:
I know this gets asked a lot but I love this question. I think that it should be required asking for every blind date-- before every blind date in fact so that you can then decide whether or not you want to go out with someone who reads, say Alistair Maclean or Sophie Kinsella-- I have read both by the way.

I tend to go through phases with reading. Currently, I am reading a lot of natural history (because I am a birder/bird-watcher), a lot of humor and some novels.

I loved the avian bits of H is for Hawk. I loved her descriptions of how she trains the Norther Goshawk. As a memoir writer, I was looking to learn from her writing about grief, but somehow I found that less appealing than the compelling stuff about birds.

I am re-reading Jonathan Franzen's collection of essays, Farther Away. I love how he weaves in so many strands into his pieces. The title piece is about friendship, a quest, a novel, and solitude.

I am also re-reading David Sedaris's books. I love all of them but I am currently reading Holidays on Ice. The mixture of comedy and drama and how he walks the line so finely with both is what I envy about him, particularly when he writes about family.

Wendy Doniger's The Hindus. My book about cows showed me how central they are to Hinduism. Since then, I have been reading books about my faith. I like Doniger's irreverence. It got her into trouble in my homeland, but I love her writing.

Diana Eck's book, India: a sacred geography, is sweeping in its scale and yet written with a gripping pace. I have read most of Diana Eck's books: Darsan, the one on Varanasi. She knows a heck of a lot about Hinduism.

Amy Tan was in India recently, which drew me back to her novels. So the Joy Luck Club.

My father did his Ph.D. thesis on R.K. Narayan. He shares my last name but we aren't related. I love the gentle humor in his book, The Vendor of Sweets.

My daughter is reading Rupi Kaur's poetry so I am reading Milk and Honey too.

I am always reading Indian ornithologist, Salim Ali’s books all the time. They are open in pages that I use to reference and learn about bird sightings, range, and markings. The Book of Indian Birds is a classic.

Bianca Bosker’s Cork Dork, which follows in the tradition of Moonwalking with Einstein. I love quests and drink a lot of wine. Bosker’s insights about the world of wine made me nostalgic for New York, where I lived.
Visit Shoba Narayan's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Milk Lady of Bangalore.

The Page 99 Test: The Milk Lady of Bangalore.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Amy Bass

A professor of history in New York, Amy Bass lived in Lewiston, Maine for four years as a student at Bates College. Her writing has appeared in Slate, Salon, and CNN Opinion, and her work for NBC’s Olympics coverage earned her an Emmy in 2012 for Outstanding Live Event Turnaround.

Bass's new book is One Goal: A Coach, a Team, and the Game That Brought a Divided Town Together.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Over the last two years while writing One Goal, the book that has remained on my nightstand and I’ve picked up again and again is Elizabeth Strout’s The Burgess Boys. Like me, Strout went to Bates College, which is in Lewiston, where One Goal takes place. Her book is set in the fictional Shirley Falls, an economically-depressed Maine mill town fraught with racial and religious conflicts since the onset of thousands of Somali refugees. Sound familiar? The story is based on a ripped-from-the-headlines incident that took place in Lewiston years ago, and is detailed in One Goal. While I read mountains of pages to research One Goal, from the local Lewiston sports pages to UN documents on refugees and everything in between, Strout’s book was what I picked up every time I needed clarity. If I needed to hit the reset button on my thinking, on my writing, it was Strout.

In terms of reading for leisure – and it had been a while – I just finished Celeste Ng’s magical Little Fires Everywhere. I adored her first book, Everything I Never Told You, and taught it this past fall in my senior seminar. It was a joy to sit down with Little Fires Everywhere, a deceptively complicated story about a small town in Ohio festering with class and racial tensions. The way she frames a story – telling us, as with her first book, what the tragedy is upfront and then bringing us along as the narrative unfolds, meaning we focus on the why instead of the what – is something I am fascinated with. I am duly fascinated by her compelling female characters– complicated, not always likeable, and disturbingly authentic. We need more of that. I need more of that.
Visit Amy Bass's website.

The Page 99 Test: One Goal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 5, 2018

John Marrs

John Marrs is a freelance journalist based in London, England, who has spent the last twenty years interviewing celebrities from the world of television, film and music for national newspapers and magazines. His novels include The Wronged Sons, Welcome To Wherever You Are, and, newly released in the US, The One.

Recently I asked Marrs about what he was reading. His reply:
Sweet Pea by CJ Skuse

I like to think there is no one particular genre of book that I’m attracted to. That said, romance and paranormal aren’t high up on my checklist. But in the last few months, my choices have been more towards the dramatic. The Circle by Dave Eggers is the book I wish I could have written; Before The Fall by Noah Hawley had me guessing the whole way through and Lies by T M Logan was a completely unpredictable psychological thriller. This time around, I wanted something both light and dark in one novel. Through an online book club, I’d read about Sweet Pea, which has been pitched as American Psycho meets Bridget Jones. And that’s just what I wanted, a serial killer yarn with a comic twist. It follows Rhiannon Lewis, a girl-next-door with a dead end job and a cheating boyfriend. She hates her friends, compiles lists of everything and everyone that angers her, then decides to do something about it. Slowly she unravels as the book progresses and her desire to murder gets harder and harder to deny. And when the kills begin, she can’t stop herself. Not for the faint-hearted, it’s a frequently laugh-out-loud novel dripping in dark humour and with a sequel in the pipeline later this year. Having just finished it, I can honestly say I absolutely adored it.
Learn more about The One, visit John Marrs's website, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

--Marshal Zeringue