Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Liese O’Halloran Schwarz

Liese O'Halloran Schwarz grew up in Washington, DC after an early childhood overseas. She attended Harvard University and then medical school at University of Virginia. While in medical school, she won the Henfield/Transatlantic Review Prize and also published her first novel, Near Canaan.

She specialized in emergency medicine and like most doctors, she can thoroughly ruin dinner parties with tales of medical believe-it-or-not. But she won't do that, because she knows how hard you worked to make a nice meal.

Schwarz's new book, The Possible World, is her second novel.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
In the last year or so, I've taken up a habit of reading a few books at a time, one or two in audio and the others in print format. I occasionally read a digital book, but not too often — I really like the feel of a physical book in my hands. I used to read almost purely nonfiction (I am an information junkie), but have been mixing more fiction in lately.

Standouts in my recent reading include:

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje, a pristine, recursive and atmospheric narrative looking back on a young man’s coming of age in wartime London. I found the warlight (the dimmed light to avoid drawing enemy bombs) to be a perfect metaphor for both nostalgia and youthful ignorance; as the story goes on, the metaphorical light is slowly turned up, until we understand what actually happened and why. I loved every bit of that quiet, powerful book.

Circe by Madeline Miller was just as wonderful, in a totally opposite way: it’s a heroine’s tale, vigorously told, in prose so glorious (yet effortless!) that at times I felt almost breathless while listening to the audio. Basically a perfect book.

All the Ever Afters by Danielle Teller was another satisfying recent read — it’s a gorgeously-written work of historical fiction offering the “untold story" of Cinderella’s stepmother. An immersive read: I was thoroughly absorbed, from the first to the last word.

I also enjoyed Rough Beauty by Karen Auvinen, a memoir from a woman who lost everything in a house fire (a nightmare for many of us!). It’s an homage to solitude, to the wild mountains where she has made her home, to community as well as self-reliance, and to finding one's way through the (literal and metaphorical) landscape of loss.

I read Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi a few months ago, and it really stayed with me -- it's a compelling journey through the generations of a West African family, exploring the slave trade and its legacy in a fresh way. Quite an undertaking, affectingly done.

West by Carys Davies was an absolutely beautiful little book. Not an extra syllable to it, and yet it managed to be a rich adventure story with fully realized characters; how did she do that? I think that one will be a classic of literature, destined for student backpacks everywhere.

David Sedaris’ newest book, Calypso, was a brilliant and entertaining read. Of course. His ability to render humor and pathos equally from any situation is astonishing. I re-read Sedaris books to an almost pathological degree. To me, he's the literary equivalent of the television show The Office: one can revisit his work endlessly and always enjoy, and always see something new. Pro tip: If you listen to enough of his audio, then you can hear his voice in your head when you read him in print.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick was journalism that read like good fiction-- unrelentingly bleak fiction. Brutal but worth the read. I’ve been seeking out nonfiction about North Korea after reading The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson a couple of years ago. I was bowled over by Johnson’s phenomenal writing and storytelling, but also skeptical because Johnson is not himself Korean. However, every bit of nonfiction I have read about North Korea validates Orphan Master, and makes me admire that book even more. It’s a tour de force, and if you can bear its grimness in the context of current events, I heartily recommend it.

Speaking of grimness, Less by Andrew Sean Greer is a good antidote, while not being silly; it’s beautifully written, and I found it an absolute delight.

The Beginning of Everything by Andrea J. Buchanan was a fascinating medical mystery-memoir from a musician stricken with a sudden, poorly understood illness. The narrative gives eloquent voice to the profound, demoralizing effect of constant pain; I think all doctors should read it. Some of the passages (about pain, about music, about both at once) are quite lovely.

Jar of Hearts, a thriller by Jennifer Hillier, was somewhat of a departure from my typical reading; I enjoyed its twisty plot, and the suspense was irresistible.

I have just finished The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, a very good book about the second "lost generation” (gay men in the eighties) and what the AIDS crisis stole from the world. She did a creditable job of depicting that time, which of course I remember quite well. It’s a bit of a milestone, isn't it, when an author needs to do massive research in order to write a story set in one’s own youth? Le sigh. However, one must consider the alternative to growing older — Makkai’s book certainly provides perspective about that.

Currently I’m reading There There by Tommy Orange in audio, and in print A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult and The Bradshaw Variations by Rachel Cusk. Trembling on the top of the TBR stack is a precious early copy of Transcription by Kate Atkinson. I’m always waiting for the next sure-to-be-magnificent Laura Hillenbrand book.
Visit Liese O'Halloran Schwarz's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Possible World.

--Marshal Zeringue