Friday, August 31, 2018

Blanche McCrary Boyd

Blanche McCrary Boyd (born 1945) is an American novelist, journalist, essayist, and professor. She is the author of five novels and a collection of autobiographical journalism, The Redneck Way of Knowledge, 1981). Her newest novel, Tomb of the Unknown Racist (2018), completes The Blacklock Trilogy. Tomb of the Unknown Racist is narrated by the same character as The Revolution of Little Girls (1991) and Terminal Velocity (1997), although the three novels function independently.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I want to stop strangers on the street to say how good Jesmyn Ward’s novel Sing, Unburied, Sing is. Ward’s novel is so good I feel something past admiration, more like relief, that a voice this strong has entered American literature. I’m getting old (73 this summer) and it’s good to leave the future of American literature in the hands of writers like Ward or Kiese Laymon.

I just reread James Baldwin’s Another Country, a book that bowled me over when I was 17. I had the same reaction now, but it’s the first part of the book, in Rufus’ point of view, that is so brilliant. The rest: Baldwin doesn’t really understand or love the other characters, not the same way. The lyricism and beauty he brought to Rufus is absent. The Rufus section remains one of the most powerful things I’ve ever read.

I listen to a lot of books. I like listening to books because I’m a captive audience in the car and can’t easily put down work I might not finish otherwise. I listened to Joseph Conrad’s Victory because Joan Didion said she reread it every time she was going to write a novel. (I see what interested her technically, but it wasn’t a book I cared about.) I’ve listened to Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Adam Bede, which were a lot better than I thought.

I’ve listened to My Name Is Lucy Barton twice because I’m still trying to figure out what makes it so wonderful. I’ve listened to Americanah, Heart Berries, and right now I’m listening to You Don't Have to Say You Love Me. (I don’t think Alexie should have read this book himself; his voice somehow interferes with the text, at least for this listener. Same with Lorrie Moore on Bark.) I tried to wade through an Elizabeth Gaskell novel, but even in the car I couldn’t tolerate it. Same with What Maisie Knew. But Wuthering Heights was great out loud, as was Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. And I really enjoyed Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings, because it’s about slavery in Charleston , where I’m from, and the Grimke sisters, early champions of abolition. The ending is, however, just wishful thinking.

When I can’t think about literature any more, I listen to Val McDermid, a Scottish mystery writer, and to Louise Penny, a Canadian one. McDermid is a lesbian (like me!) and her work is extraordinarily violent and imaginative and impossible to stop listening to. I’ve been listening to Penny because Hillary Clinton said Penny’s novels were comforting to her after the election loss, and I couldn’t imagine what about a mystery series would cause that. But hey, Louise Penny’s novels are a delight, and they’re about much more than their surface narratives.
Visit Blanche McCrary Boyd's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Kit Frick

Kit Frick is a novelist, poet, and MacDowell Colony fellow. Originally from Pittsburgh, PA, she studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA from Syracuse University. When she isn’t putting complicated characters in impossible situations, Frick edits poetry and literary fiction for a small press, edits for private clients, and mentors emerging writers through Pitch Wars. Her newly released debut young adult novel is See All the Stars, and her debut full-length poetry collection is A Small Rising Up in the Lungs (New American Press, fall 2018).

Recently I asked Frick about what she was reading. Her reply:
As a writer of young adult suspense, I am an avid reader of mysteries, thrillers, and suspense for both teen and adult audiences. I find myself reading to keep up with the market, but also for pleasure, as I have a long-standing love for a great mystery and thrilling psychological suspense.

I’ll highlight three recent YA reads that had me entirely riveted.

I tore through The Window by Amelia Brunskill. Following her twin's sudden death, everyone wants Jess to grieve, and then move on. But it's not that simple. While her parents, the police, and her community readily accept the easiest explanation for Anna's death, Jess alone can see that all the pieces don't quite fit, and she is driven by a hunger to solve the mystery behind why her twin really died. I'm such a sucker for sibling relationships, teens who take control when the adults in their lives don't step up, lovely writing, and dark twists, and Brunskill delivers on all fronts! This is a truly gripping debut.

I recently finished Monday’s Not Coming, the second novel by Allegedly author Tiffany D. Jackson. Written in multiple interwoven timelines, this jigsaw puzzle of a thriller with a truly horrific twist will keep you on your toes. Come for the page-turning mystery, stay for the charming, poignant, and absolutely fierce friendship between Claudia and Monday. When Washington D. C. middle schooler Monday Charles goes missing, Claudia won’t rest until she finds out what happened to her best friend—even when no one else takes her concerns seriously. And they should really listen.

Last but definitely not least, I highly recommend The Cheerleaders, the third stand-alone novel from thriller ace Kara Thomas. As a grim five-year anniversary approaches in a small NY town—five cheerleaders dead in three separate incidents—the sister of one of the dead girls finds that questions beget more questions, and danger is very much alive. There's a multi-layered mystery that spans two timelines, teens making hard and sometimes bad choices and growing as people, great character relationships, cheerleading and dance team (obv!), and a "ripped from the headlines" premise that drew me right in. After spending two years myself in the next town over from Dryden, NY—the real-life town whose string of grim murders and crime had a hand in inspiring Thomas's Sunnybrook, NY—I knew I needed to dive right into this world. The Cheerleaders rocked me in the best way, and I'm still reeling.
Visit Kit Frick's website.

The Page 69 Test: See All the Stars.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Janice Erlbaum

Janice Erlbaum is the author of two books for tweens, Lucky Little Things, and Let Me Fix That For You (coming in 2019), the memoirs Girlbomb and Have You Found Her, and the novel for adults I, Liar.

Recently I asked Erlbaum about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m currently reading Megan Abbott’s newest thriller, Give Me Your Hand, about a frenemy-ship between two female lab researchers that leads to some dead bodies. Like the other books of hers I’ve read, this one centers around a screwed-up dynamic between women, which is a subject I adore. Abbott’s plots aren’t about women fighting over men – her women (and her girls) fight each other for reasons I recognize from my own fraught relationships with women – reasons like power, envy, resentment, or boredom.

In Give Me Your Hand, there’s a professional rivalry at play, and one woman wants to renew an old bond forged in school, while the other woman wants to avoid it. In Dare Me, a cheerleader battles with her coach for dominance over the other girls. In The End of Everything, sisters compete in an unspoken rivalry for a father’s attention. Abbott writes about these very specific kinds of power struggles between women, these overlooked outlets for female aggression. It’s refreshing. And, in another subversion of the thriller trope, the corpses in her books are usually male.
Visit Janice Erlbaum's website.

The Page 69 Test: Lucky Little Things.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Mark Cheathem

Mark R. Cheathem is a professor of history at Cumberland University, where he also directs the Papers of Martin Van Buren. He is the author of The Coming of Democracy: Presidential Campaigning in the Age of Jackson and several other books on the Jacksonian era, including Andrew Jackson and the Rise of the Democratic Party and Andrew Jackson, Southerner.

Recently I asked Cheathem about what he was reading. His reply:
I am currently reading John Fea’s Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. As someone who grew up in the fundamentalist/evangelical Christianity, I have struggled to understand Trump’s appeal to people in my faith community. I still can’t say that I truly understand the appeal, but Fea does a good job of explaining the ways in which Trump’s ideas, policies, and rhetoric mesh with those of many evangelical Christians.

I also recently finished Matt Haig’s How to Stop Time, a novel about a man who ages so slowly that he has lived for centuries, yet still looks young. Whether intentional or not, Haig does a good job of highlighting the ordinariness of history. For example, the main character notes how terrible things smelled in centuries past. That fact is something that I point out to the students in my history courses who talk wistfully about wanting to live in past eras: you might think you want to live in eighteenth-century Boston, but I’m willing to bet your nose would tell you differently!
Learn more about The Coming of Democracy at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 27, 2018

J. B. Shank

J. B. Shank is Distinguished University Teaching Professor of history and director of the Center for Early Modern History and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Consortium for the Study of the Premodern World at the University of Minnesota.

His new book is Before Voltaire: The French Origins of “Newtonian” Mechanics, 1680-1715.

Recently I asked Shank about what he was reading. His reply:
Ten years have passed since Marshal last asked me to do this because that’s how long it has taken me to publish a second book. The delay was not entirely my fault. I had to fight for years with the anonymous philosophers of science chosen to approve my book for publication, readers who simply could not fathom publishing a completely contingent cultural history of calculus-based mathematical physics. This delayed publication in frustrating ways, but I persisted, and in the end my editor and the press allowed me to publish the book I wanted to write. Seeing it in print now after all those struggles is extra sweet, and I am looking forward to my sabbatical, which began on June 15, for some much needed post-publication refreshment and rejuvenation.

I have said everything that I have to say about Isaac Newton’s mathematical physics, but the history of mathematics continues to attract my interest. Lately I have been reading in the meta-literature about mathematics as a science and its relationship to human thought overall. Ian Hacking’s Why is there philosophy of mathematics at all? (Cambridge University Press, 2014) was the perfect antidote to my peer-review struggles with the philosophers of the “exact sciences” since, like many of Hacking’s books, it is a very smart, wry, and often irreverent interrogation of the unthought thoughts guiding our thinking about mathematics. Hacking pursues his title on two equally important levels. On the one hand, he wittily deflates the self-satisfied confidence of certain academic philosophers of mathematics, but on a more profound level, he also asks the question of his title in a deeply serious way, producing as a result a searching inquiry into what it is that gives mathematics its peculiar universal power and epistemological appeal. In this second vein, Hacking’s book intersects with Michel Serres’s “Third Book of Foundations” titled Geometry (the first two are Statue and Rome) translated by Randolph Burks and published in 2017 by Bloomsbury. In it, Serres unfolds a half century of thinking about the nature of mathematics and mathematical rationality – he’ll celebrate his 88th birthday this September – in search of the peculiar qualities that make geometry the perceived universal foundation that it is widely taken to be. What Hacking and Serres share is an appreciation for the peculiar difficulty of treating mathematics historically given its exceptional, and perhaps unique, claim to exist outside of time, space, and human being. In my work, I have generally treated mathematics as a human-made science like any other, and other works by Hacking and Serres have each served as models for me in this humanizing historical project. Their reflections here on why and how mathematics often resists such cultural understandings have therefore been very stimulating. In this same meta-mathematical spirit, I am also looking forward to finally reading David Foster Wallace’s essay-like book on the nature of mathematical infinity, A Compact History of Everything and More (W.W. Norton, 2004). Before Voltaire is precisely about the historical conundrums posed by the new infinitesimal calculus, and since I am a huge fan of DFW’s non-fiction – Infinite Jest and his shorter fiction are another topic – I am excited to follow his obsessively attentive and brilliantly precise and discerning mind into what Leibniz once called the labyrinth of the infinite.

My interest in mathematical thinking also led me to Michael Lewis’s The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds (W.W. Norton, 2016). I have read many other books and articles by Lewis, all of them terrific, and as with many of them – The New New Thing, The Big Short, and Moneyball all come to mind – The Undoing Project is compelling on both an intellectual and a biographical-historical level. It tells the story of two exceptional Israeli psychologists who formed a partnership in the 1960s that led to a complete transformation in how scientists understand human cognition and decision making. The book offers a compelling personal story of their transformative collaboration amidst tumultuous academic careers in Israel and the post-war West, but Lewis is also very good at illuminating the complex scientific work accomplished by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, much of it involving the human capacity (or not) for logical mathematical reasoning. I was particularly drawn to Lewis’s account of Kahneman and Tversky’s work since it resonates with the work of Nassim Nicholas Taleb as articulated in his trilogy of books: Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets (Random House, 2001), The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (Random House, 2007), and Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder (Random House, 2012). What Tversky and Kahneman share with Taleb is an appreciation for the widespread overstatement of human rational capacities, and the hubris of thought leaders and experts in failing to incorporate this more pessimistic understanding in their assessments of the human capacity to comprehend and control cause-effect relations in the world. They also understand well, and expose for view, the all too human reasoning at work in what on the surface often look like examples of human irrationality. All three challenge wonderfully the pervasive overconfidence regarding the possibility for statistical analysis to serve as a predictive tool for managing human life. In Thinking, Fast and Slow (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2011), Kahneman extends this project by accessibly summarizing his and other research – he explicitly cites Taleb – in an introductory overview of the fundamentals of human cognition and judgement. Read together, these highly compelling books about the nature and limitations of human rationality, and the proper use of stochastic mathematical reasoning, offer insights useful for more informed modern living.

I first encountered Taleb’s work thanks to my book group, which meets every few months, and includes a team of published writers and poets, one an English professor by day and the other a conservation ecologist employed by an environmental design company. Their collaboration, Nature, Culture, and Two Friends Talking: 1985-2013 was published in 2015 by North Star Press of St. Cloud. Also active with me in what we have come to call the Etoile du Nord Society for Practical and Theoretical Magic is a forester recently retired from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. He now resides mostly in his cabin on Leo Lake off the Gunflint Trail in northern Minnesota adjacent to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, and many a meeting of our society has occurred in that spectacular natural setting. The name of our group is adapted from Susanna Clarke’s fantasy masterpiece, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which remains an absolute favorite and one of the most amazingly realized works of literature I have ever read. Think of a grown-up Harry Potter book that turns the entire modern history of the European Enlightenment, especially as it relates to technology and culture, fantastically upside down in a work of uncannily insightful imaginative impact. Our group is often drawn to scientific/magical works of supernatural and fantasy fiction like this, and we recently read and enjoyed Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad, which adapts and transports Mary Shelley’s nightmare to twenty-first century Iraq. Taleb became a focus for us because of our ongoing interest in critical science studies, and what unites many of our discussions is the nature-culture divide as it relates to modern society and the environment. Our assignment for the coming months is Richard Powers’s novel The Overstory (W.W. Norton, 2018), which also touches on another frequent focus of our discussions: the relation between the imagined two cultures divide of the natural sciences and the arts and humanities. Our interest in these relations led us years ago to the holistic literature-science of Alexander von Humboldt, and since we all found perceptive Laura Dassow Walls’s The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander von Humboldt and the Shaping of America (University of Chicago Press, 2011), many of us, including me, are interested in reading her Henry David Thoreau; A Life (University of Chicago Press, 2017), in which she returns to the subject of her first two books on Thoreau, Emerson, and the art-science of early nineteenth-century American Transcendentalism.

I still try to keep a philosophical-historical novel going as part of my quotidian reading, but recently I have struggled to find content to fill this channel. I continue to feel the absence left by the death of the great W.G. Sebald, but recently I found a very satisfying substitute in Zia Haider Rahman’s In the Light of What We Know (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2014). Salman Rushdie calls it “an everything book,” and it is indeed a masterful performance of storytelling and philosophical reflection, all set in the historical-psychic space of South Asia and the post-9/11 West, especially Britain and its former colonies of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. In this brilliantly conceived and written first novel, the struggle to sustain post-colonial identity meets the British class system, the U.S. war against Al Qaeda, the housing bubble and 2008 financial crisis, and abstract mathematical philosophy, including Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. It is not to be missed. In the same vein, my fellow Etoile du Nord magicians and I are proud to have discovered Marlon James’s epic postcolonial novel A Brief History of Seven Killings (Riverhead Books, 2014) before it won the Man Booker Prize, and this novel also filled the Sebald hole for me. We were helped in our discovery by the fact that James teaches at nearby Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, my hometown, but the fact that he lives in the neighborhood didn’t make his complex account of contemporary Jamaica, with its brilliantly rendered characters and complex interconnecting storylines, any less harrowing artful, or historically insightful. I thought Michiko Kakutani’s captured the work perfectly when she described it as, “like a Quentin Tarantino remake of The Harder They Come, but with a soundtrack by Bob Marley and a script by William Faulkner, with maybe a little creative boost from some primo ganja. It’s epic in every sense of that word.” I have also loved all the Friedrich Kittler and media studies inspired novels of Tom McCarthy, but I have not seen anything from him since Satin Island (Knopf, 2015). Maybe I’ll fill the hole by finally reading Orhan Pamuk, which I have been meaning to do for years. Or maybe you have some suggestions?
Learn more about Before Voltaire at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Gina Wohlsdorf

Gina Wohlsdorf’s first novel, Security, was chosen as an Amazon Best Book of 2016.

Her new novel is Blood Highway.

Recently I asked Wohlsdorf about what she was reading. Her reply:
The other day I finished The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. I was recently saying to my friend Keiko that I found the Tao Te Ching frustrating, since all its assertions seemed to proudly negate themselves. She said, “You should read The Tao of Pooh. Then the Tao Te Ching will make total sense.” She was right.

Before that I read Remind Me Again What Happened by Joanna Luloff, a pal of mine here in Denver. We recently did a signing together in Boulder, and we carpooled, so of course I unearthed an eighties mix cd for us to enjoy on the ride. Fun fact: she and I do a mean duet of “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin. Another fun fact: we have very similar opinions about the love scene in Top Gun that that particular song soundtracks, i.e., How did they get from the middle of the street to Kelly McGillis’s bedroom? Did they take separate vehicles? Did they shamble there, making out the whole time, stumbling down sidewalks in love-drunk fashion? I don’t need a play-by-play of how we arrived at her house, but the action transitions from rage-kissing on a busy thoroughfare to naked and doing it amidst a bunch of gauzy drapes. So confusing.

Next up is the Juniper Song series by Steph Cha. I’m doing an event with her in LA in a couple of weeks, and I’m really excited to read another hard-boiled mystery, since I’ve completely run out of Tana French novels and I’m jonesing.
Visit Gina Wohlsdorf's website.

My Book, The Movie: Blood Highway.

The Page 69 Test: Blood Highway.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Jay Schiffman

Jay Schiffman is an award-winning writer and creator of games, animations, apps, and web experiences. He was a practicing attorney for several years and has been involved in a number of successful businesses in the digital, educational, and technology spaces. He lives in New Jersey with his wife and children.

Schiffman's debut novel is Game of the Gods.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
The last book I read—actually reread—was Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s a classic dystopian novel, up there with George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and Ray Bradury’s Fahrenheit 451. The Handmaid’s Tale is the story of woman who is forced by a near-future government to bear children for powerful leaders. Atwood masterfully addresses complex issues of gender, sexuality, and oppression, while weaving a simply written, yet elaborately told tale. Because of the unpretentious, but riveting prose, and the piercing moral questions it yields, The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my all-time favorite books.

I just started John Scalzi’s new book Head On. My debut novel, Game of the Gods, bends the sci-fi genre a bit, but it is very much in the sci-fi tradition of a dark future filled with lots of gizmos. For my next novel, I am considering writing a piece of speculative fiction that is less “science-y” and less futuristic. I have an idea brewing that is more of a procedural police story mixed with political thriller. Scalzi’s book checks many of these same boxes. It’s a near-future thriller about an investigation into the death of a professional athlete who plays a violent sports game called Hilketa. Scalzi follows FBI agents as they try to uncover the truth about whether the death was an accident or murder. I’m only a few chapters in, but I’m really enjoying it.
Visit Jay Schiffman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Game of the Gods.

The Page 69 Test: Game of the Gods.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 24, 2018

Carrie Jones

Carrie Jones is the The New York Times bestseller author of the Need series, Time Stoppers series, Flying series, Girl, Hero, Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend, and Love (and other uses for duct tape).

Her new book is Escape from the Badlands (Time Stoppers).

Recently I asked Jones about what she was reading. Her reply:
I am currently at a campground on the coast of Maine and the campground has no Wi-Fi and barely any data, which is causing a lot of gasping among the other campers.

But there are three tiny bookcases in the campground’s laundry room. All the books are old, musty-smelling. The pages have yellowed and smell as if they’ve been in the woods for a long time. Some of the covers are curling back from humid days. Almost all of the books are paperbacks with curling fonts and are romances or thrillers. They are books you’d buy at the library book sale for 25 cents and still sort of wonder about why you bought them. Was it just to support the library?

They are all the over-the-top romance and thriller and pulp that my Aunt Rosie used to read in her bedroom after her kids were asleep. And I’ve got to tell you, they are like candy. Easy, hysterical, amusing in unintentional ways and I’m reading one a night. Sometimes two a night, actually. It’s like an addiction. I even secret them out of the laundry-library because I feel guilty about it.

And, no… I can’t tell you the names. I will never tell you the names.

But, yes, it is the best part of the campground.
Visit Carrie Jones's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Carrie Jones & Tala.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Amy Mason Doan

Amy Mason Doan grew up in Danville, California and now lives in Portland, Oregon.

She’s written for The Oregonian, San Francisco Chronicle, Wired, Forbes, The Orange County Register and other publications. Doan has an M.A. in Journalism from Stanford University and a B.A. in English from U.C. Berkeley.

Her debut novel is The Summer List.

Recently I asked Doan about what she was reading. Her reply:
I haven’t had a lot of reading time this year because I’ve been working on my summer 2019 book, Summer Hours. My TBR stacks are tall, teetering, and in nearly every room of my house. But luckily, the books I’ve made time for this year have been phenomenal. I read Tayari Jones’s An American Marriage and it just shattered me. It’s a beautiful, powerful love story.

Emily Strelow’s The Wild Birds has a lot of buzz, especially here in Portland, and deservedly so. It’s an intricate braided narrative that spans centuries, and includes some of the most gorgeous nature writing I’ve ever come across. Emily has a style all her own, but her descriptions of Pacific Northwest animals and landscape remind me of one of my favorite writers, the late Brian Doyle.

I recently re-read an old favorite, the memoir Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell, about her friendship with the writer Caroline Knapp. It’s extraordinarily moving and funny and honest, and my all-time favorite book about friendship. Years ago, I sent a fan email to Gail Caldwell to say that her writing was “lyrical yet bullshit-free” and she sent me a kind response. I really appreciated that.

I’ve just started Boardwalk Summer by Meredith Jaeger and I’m enjoying it so much. I have fond memories of the Santa Cruz Beach boardwalk in California, where it’s set. It’s first-rate historical fiction and hooked me immediately.
Visit Amy Mason Doan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Leah Franqui

Leah Franqui is a graduate of Yale University and received an MFA at NYU-Tisch. She is a playwright and the recipient of the 2013 Goldberg Playwriting Award, and also wrote a web series for which she received the Alfred Sloan Foundation Screenwriting award. A Puerto Rican-Jewish Philadelphia native, Franqui lives with her Kolkata-born husband in Mumbai.

Her debut novel is America for Beginners.

Recently I asked Franqui about what she was reading. Her reply:
Right now, I’m reading a novel called The Essex Serpent, which is not really in my normal style of things I love, but I am totally in love with it. It’s about a widow who is thrilled about her widowhood in late Victorian England, who hears about this mysterious animal, a serpent, terrorizing a small fishing village in Sussex, and so she takes her little household with her to investigate. Once there, she meets a preacher who she recognizes as, on some level, her soul’s true companion, and what follows is a fascinating study in love, in all its forms, and belief, in all its madness.

I think what I really like about this novel is the way it is both lush and spare in its description. The pieces of people that it gives its reader are so rich and complete but contained, and while I wanted more, I always want more, I also understood these people in a way that felt so fundamental. When thinking about her painful marriage, Cora, the widow, talks about how her husband told her about a form of Japanese pottery in which you break the piece, and then weld it back together in gold, and that’s what he wants to do to her, and you know, from that alone, what kind of person he was, what kind of hell their marriage was. The deftness which which the writer picks out the details that give you a whole world underneath, that’s a kind of restraint that I envy.

A lot of people talked about this book saying that it really sounds like it was written in another age but I honestly think it’s one of the most modern things I’ve read because it looks at history through this like, modern cheesecloth, straining out certain things, showing us the things that make sense to us and upset us here and now. It’s moving through all these lenses of time and commentary and it challenges so many of the ideas we have about Victorian life as this thing divorced from earthiness, from wildness, and from folklore and superstition. It’s a novel with mystery, and even menace, but it’s so rich in humanity and the workings of the human mind as well. There is something intoxicating about it, and I love it.
Visit Leah Franqui's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Susan Elia MacNeal

Susan Elia MacNeal is the author of The New York Times, Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today-bestselling Maggie Hope mystery series, starting with the Edgar Award-nominated and Barry Award-winning Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, which is now in its 22nd printing.

Her latest book is The Prisoner in the Castle, the eighth novel in the series.

Recently I asked MacNeal about what she was reading. Her reply:
Oh, I’m always trying to make more time to read fiction, which is hard because I’m already a working mom and also reading so much non-fiction to research whatever Maggie Hope novel I’m working on at the moment.

However, here’s a little reading hack I like to use—because I’m always on the go and don’t want to miss a subway or train stop, I like to read shorter things, on an e-reader for convenience. But I love print books and support independent booksellers. So what I’ll do is download a bazillion of the sample chapters to my e-reader, that I go through on the subway, at the dentist office, waiting for the PTA meeting to start, on airplanes—you name it. But, when I find something I really, really love, that’s when I head to the local bookstore!

Right now I’m reading for research (but it’s also fascinating) Agent M: The Lives and Spies of MI5's Maxwell Knight by Henry Hemming. How’s this for a tag line? Spying is the art of knowing who to trust—and who to betray. I read the sample snippet on a train from London to Scotland and picked up the book itself at Waterstones in Glasgow. It kept me company all the way home and I’m still riveted!

Other books I’ve read the introductory chapters for, missed my subways stop because of, and will definitely pick up this summer are: Megan Abbott’s Give Me Your Hand, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson, and Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams.

Happy summer reading!
Visit Susan Elia MacNeal's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Prisoner in the Castle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 20, 2018

Michael J. Sullivan

Michael J. Sullivan's books include the Riyria Revelations series: Theft of Swords, Rise of Empire, and Heir of Novron.

His new book is Age of War.

Recently I asked Sullivan about what he was reading. His reply:
Fact is, I’m not a fast reader. On average, I get through about ten books a year. I also don’t read much contemporary fantasy. That’s the genre I write in, which makes me hyper-critical and kills the enjoyment of reading. I tend to focus on non-fiction, or out of genre novels both for enjoyment and as a source of new ideas. Living in an echo chamber is no way to be creative.

This spring I happened to see the PBS show The Great American Read, listing America’s 100 Favorite Novels that will be voted on all summer and the number one choice revealed in October. There are a lot of books on that list I haven’t read. Quite a few that I find very interesting. As a result, I have been reading them.

Presently I am reading, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. Published in 1943, her style is very different from more modern works with a greater emphasis on narrative, less on dialog, and a floating PoV that drifts around from close personal third to distant omniscient. There also isn’t really a story, but merely an accounting of a person’s life that jumps around to include her mother and grandmother’s story as well. Nevertheless, it is enchantingly wonderful, emotional, and the best book I’ve read this year.

Prior to it I read Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Also a good enjoyable read that takes you back to an earlier age of quaint, atmospheric murder mysteries. The comfortable, leather chair before a fire on a chilly night, sort of read.
Visit Michael J. Sullivan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Katharine Weber

Katharine Weber grew up in New York City and has lived in rural Connecticut since 1976, when she married the cultural historian Nicholas Fox Weber. (They have two daughters and a grandson.) She spends parts of the year in West Cork, Ireland, and in London. She also spends spring semesters at Kenyon College in Ohio, where she is in her seventh year as the Visiting Richard L. Thomas Professor of Creative Writing. Weber is the author of the new novel Still Life With Monkey and five previous novels, as well as a memoir.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Weber's reply:
I am very excited to be reading the opening chapter of R.O. Kwon’s debut novel The Incendiaries. The New York Times calls her writing radiant, and almost every review I have seen—and the book has had tremendous attention (including a lengthy appraisal in The New Yorker) even before publication day—uses the word “dark.” I am confident that this will be an extraordinary and important novel. I have been looking forward to this occasion for a very long time. Reese (as she was then known) was a student of mine more than fifteen years ago, when I taught creative writing at Yale, where she got her undergraduate degree in economics, and she will be visiting Kenyon College in November. I know my students will be dazzled.

At this moment, the book I have read most recently and also most frequently is Caps For Sale, by Esphyr Slobodkina, the new favorite of my three-year-old grandson Wilder. I loved this book, which was first published in 1938, in my own childhood, I read it to my daughters when they were little, and now I am delighted to find that it still holds up, even on the on the tenth consecutive reading. There is something very satisfying in the shape and rhythm of the story about a peddler whose caps are stolen by monkeys when he falls asleep under their tree. (Is it a happy coincidence that my new novel has a naughty monkey at the heart of the story, or is this book the origin of my monkey interest?)

Over the next few weeks I will be re-reading The Aspern Papers and Other Tales by Henry James, and Roman Fever and Other Stories by Edith Wharton, in preparation for the new advanced fiction writing seminar I will be teaching this semester: Writing Short Stories in the Company of Henry James and Edith Wharton. Reading as writers is an essential part of any creative writing workshop, and I am hopeful that my students, even as they write their own inevitably contemporary stories, will benefit from the close investigations of these stories that we will undertake from week to week, making their own discoveries about voice and pace and language in the work of those two masters of situation and interiority.

And I am saving Anne Tyler’s newest novel, Clock Dance, for my flight to Ireland in a few days. I thought her previous novel, A Spool of Blue Thread, was one of her very best, and if this novel falls short of that, I am confident I will nevertheless find much to admire. Anne Tyler on a slow day writes rings around most other living novelists at their best.
Visit Katharine Weber's website.

The Page 99 Test: Triangle.

The Page 69 Test: True Confections.

The Page 99 Test: The Memory of All That.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Ellison Cooper

Ellison Cooper has a Ph.D. in anthropology from UCLA, with a background in archaeology, cultural neuroscience, ancient religion, colonialism, and human rights. She has conducted fieldwork in Central America, West Africa, Micronesia, and Western Europe. She has worked as a murder investigator in Washington DC, and is a certified K9 Search and Rescue Federal Disaster Worker. She now lives in the Bay Area with her husband and son.

Ellison's new novel is Caged.

Recently I asked her about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just recently finished Scream and Scream Again, a Mystery Writers of America anthology featuring RL Stine. I picked this one up to read with my son -- some of the stories were surprisingly funny while also being quite scary. We had a hilarious time reading it out loud!
Visit Ellison Cooper's website.

My Book, The Movie: Caged.

The Page 69 Test: Caged.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 17, 2018

Martha Wells

Martha Wells has written many fantasy novels, including The Books of the Raksura series (beginning with The Cloud Roads), the Ile-Rien series (including The Death of the Necromancer) as well as YA fantasy novels, short stories, media tie-ins (for Star Wars and Stargate: Atlantis), and non-fiction. Her more recent fantasy novels include The Edge of Worlds in 2016 and The Harbors of the Sun in 2017, the final novel in The Books of the Raksura series. Her series of SF novellas, The Murderbot Diaries, from, includes Artificial Condition and Rogue Protocol.

Recently I asked Wells about what she was reading. Her reply:
I recently finished Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse, which I really enjoyed. It's a post-apocalyptic fantasy about a monster-hunter in a reborn Navajo nation with supernatural monsters, heroes, and mythic figures. It's an intense, gripping story in a very original and exciting world.

Next up I want to start A Study in Honor by Claire O'Dell, which is a near-future thriller/mystery Sherlock Holmes story, where Holmes and Watson are both African-American women. I also want to read Witchmark, by C.L. Polk, which is a secondary world fantasy loosely based on Edwardian England.
Visit Martha Wells's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Harbors of the Sun.

--Marshal Zeringue