Thursday, February 24, 2022

Emilya Naymark

Emilya Naymark was born in a country that no longer exists, escaped with her parents, lived in Italy for a bit, and ended up in New York, which promptly became a love and a muse.

She studied art and was lucky enough to illustrate numerous publications before transitioning to the digital world.

She has a particular fascination with psychological thrillers, crime, and suspense. All the dark stuff. So that’s what she writes.

Naymark's new novel is Behind the Lie.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Frankly, I’m beginning to think my reading has reached pathological quantities. At any given moment I have either a hardcover book, something on my Kindle, or an audiobook going. The other night I cleaned the house top to bottom because I wanted to listen to an audiobook, and I needed something else to do while listening.

In no particular order, these are the books that have had an extreme effect on me in the past year or so.

The Beastie Boys Book – I listened to this one as an audiobook, and it was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. It’s written partly by the surviving Beasties, but also by such luminaries as Colson Whitehead, and is read by actors, musicians, friends, DJs, chefs, and more. Listening to it made me miss the New York of my youth, made me remember places, clubs, and people I haven’t thought of in years. It’s funny as hell, quirky, and kaleidoscopic in breadth. My favorite chapter is The Oral History of Cookie Puss, written by Colson Whitehead and read by probably thirty different personalities.

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz – This novel was so well written, I got sucked in and didn’t emerge until two days later. My friend was reading it at the same time as I was, and nearly set her house on fire because she became so caught up in the story that she forgot she’d put something on the stove until she smelled smoke. The genius in this book is that Korelitz created an extremely relatable character who faces an extremely relatable problem. The prose is sharp and very witty. I can’t say enough good things about it.

Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner – This was another book that consumed me and wouldn’t let go until I finished. On the surface it’s a story about a man whose marriage comes apart, but it’s also crazy funny, while being a searing observation of modern life and the need to connect in an increasingly digitized and unhumanized society.

Normal People by Sally Rooney – I listened to this one while tooling around on my bicycle at the Jersey Shore. I immediately fell in love with the audio narrator’s voice and then became so involved with the story of the two star-crossed lovers that I ended up getting a lot of exercise on that bike. The book is well written, but its draw for me was how real the characters seemed and how stupid. They made the worst decisions. Like, ever. I loved that.
Visit Emilya Naymark's website.

The Page 69 Test: Hide in Place.

My Book, The Movie: Hide in Place.

Q&A with Emilya Naymark.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Michael Mammay

Michael Mammay is a science fiction writer and a retired army officer. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and is a veteran of Desert Storm, Somalia, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His debut novel, Planetside came out in July, 2018, and was selected as a Library Journal best book of 2018. The audio book, narrated by RC Bray, was nominated for an Audie award. The sequels, Spaceside and Colonyside are available now.

Mammay's new novel is The Misfit Soldier.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Mammay's reply:
It probably won’t come as a surprise that I read a lot of science fiction. I should probably say consume, rather than read, since I always have an audio book going as well as the one I’m reading. I generally try to read stuff in the year that it’s published or right after, but I will work in a few classics that I’ve missed out on each year as well. So far this year, a lot of my reading includes books that aren’t out yet. One of the coolest secrets that nobody tells you about being a published author is that publishers will send you all the books you want before they even publish them.

I just finished reading Braking Day by Adam Oyebanji. I’m a sucker for a generation fleet story, and this one is a good one. The crew is over a century into the mission, and the world-building delves a lot into the internal politics of the ship and how it keeps things under control, and I love that kind of thing. It comes out in April from DAW.

Right before that I read Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchings, which is a cool space opera with a lot of found family vibes and a whole cast of characters that I just loved. The basic premise of the story is that two ships meet in space, except they’re from different centuries—one of them has unwittingly travelled through time—and the two crews together have to figure out what’s happening and save the galaxy. I don’t want to say too much more than that, as there would be a lot of spoilers for this one, and I think readers are going to want to experience it for themselves. This one is from Rebellion Publishing, and comes out in May.

And right now I’m reading and almost finished with Wake of War, by Zac Topping. This one is near-future military SF set in the US after a series of events has split the country. This is a fast read, filled with intense combat action and shows the toll that the combat takes on its three point of view characters. Topping is a veteran, and that comes through the page strongly as this book is exceptionally realistic in its depictions. It comes out in July from Tor.

On the audio side, I recently finished listening to Chaos Vector, which is the second book in Megan O’Keefe’s series, and I’m just getting ready to start the third. This is great space opera, and probably the closest thing I’ve found to the vibe of The Expanse series. These are big, chunky books with a ton of inter-galactic politics and action combined with strong mystery elements. There’s even a sentient spaceship, which is another thing I can’t get enough of in SF books.
Visit Michael Mammay's website.

Q&A with Michael Mammay.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 7, 2022

D.W. Buffa

D.W. Buffa's recent novel is The Privilege, the ninth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. The tenth, Lunatic Carnival, will be published in the spring. He has also published a series that attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and, most recently, America in the Twentieth Century in Neumann's Last Concert.

Here is Buffa's take on Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina:
In one of the few things written about writing worth reading, Edith Wharton insisted that the story of a novel should be implicit on the very first page. In Anna Karenina the story is implicit in the very first sentence: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Leo Tolstoy, one of the greatest novelists who ever wrote, tries to describe, and by describing explain, what makes the “happy family” the standard by which to measure all the other marriages that are, each of them, unhappy in their own way. He begins with the unhappy family of Prince Stepan Arkadyich, known as Oblonsky.

Oblonsky holds a high position in the Tsar’s government because his sister, Anna Karenina, is married to Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin who occupies one of the most important government offices. Oblonsky’s wife, Princess Darya Alexandrovna, known as Dolly, is the older sister of the eighteen-year-old Princess Ekaterina Alexandrovna Shcherbatsky, whom everyone calls Kitty. Oblonsky, we should note right at the beginning, does not have a mind of his own - and this is the genius of Tolstoy - neither do most of the others. Oblonsky holds the same views on important subjects “as the majority and his newspaper did, and changed them only when the majority did or, rather, he did not change them, but they themselves changed imperceptibly in him.” He was a liberal because, among other reasons, the liberal party said marriage was an obsolete institution and in need of reform, “and indeed family life gave Stepan Arkadyich little pleasure and forced him to lie and pretend.” Like nearly everyone else he knew, Oblonsky believed that it was the “aim of civilization to make everything an enjoyment.”

Because they come to define the essential difference between a happy and an unhappy family, the two most important characters in the novel are Oblonsky’s sister, Anna Karenina, and his sister-in-law, Kitty, both of whom are in love with Count Alexei Kirillovich. Because Kitty is in love with him, she turns down the proposal of a friend of Oblonsky’s, Konstantin Levin. Vronsky is very rich, very well-born, very intelligent, with a brilliant military and court career ahead of him, all of which means that he can give himself “to every passion without blushing and laughs at everything else.” He does not want to marry Kitty or anyone else.

It is important to remember that this is a Russian novel. Everyone, everyone except Vronsky, is really quite miserable. Oblonsky is miserable because of too many women and too many debts. His wife, Dolly, is miserable because of his many infidelities. Kitty is miserable because Vronsky does not want her, and Levin is miserable because Kitty does not want him. The winters in Moscow and Petersburg are very long and very cold. And then Vronsky meets Anna Karenina and, forget the season, the summer heat has arrived.

The moment Vronsky meets Anna he cannot take his eyes off her. He immediately begins his pursuit, a pursuit that is the “very thing her soul desired but that her reason feared.” Everything changes. She begins to notice, more than she had before, how much she dislikes her husband’s looks, and she becomes aware, more aware than she had been before, of her feelings of dissatisfaction with herself. She even begins to find something like disappointment in her young son. It is an unhappy marriage: a much older husband, physically unattractive, every minute of his life “occupied and scheduled,” and a wife, more beautiful than any woman in Petersburg, falling in love with one of the most handsome and charming men in Russia.

Anna Karenina is not a story that would be a story today, when many marriages end in divorce, and divorce is almost never the source of scandal, but in 19th century Russia when government and society were both organized in a strict hierarchy, the relations between men and women were guided and controlled by a clear and unbreakable set of rules, all of them supported by the time-honored teachings of the Orthodox Church. The rules, however, had certain well-understood exceptions, and society was more interested in the appearance than in the reality of propriety. Vronsky understood that, far from shock and disapproval, society would see that “a man who attached himself to a married woman and devoted his life to involving her in adultery at all costs, had something beautiful and grand about it.” The reaction of Anna’s husband to her infidelity almost proved his point.

The first time Karenin asked if the rumors of a liaison with Vronsky were true, Anna denied it, but when she becomes pregnant with Vronsky’s child, she admits that she has fallen in love with Vronsky and become his mistress. She also tells her husband that she cannot stand him, that she hates him, and that he should “Do what you like with me.”

Whatever Karenin would like to do, there is one thing he will not do: he will not even think about divorce.

“So be it!” he exclaims. “But I demand that the outward conventions of propriety be observed until…I take measures to secure my honor….”

Karenin does not want a divorce because divorce will lead to the scandal of a court trial, but neither does he want his wife to be united with Vronsky. He wants to pay her back for her crime. “She should be unhappy, but I am not guilty, and therefore cannot be unhappy.” His mind, full of logic, thinks like a textbook on ethics. Vronsky, on the other hand, thinks like a man of action, or rather what the thinks a man of action would think like. When Anna tells him what she has done, he is so caught up in imagining how he will handle himself in a duel, a duel Karenin himself will never think of, that he does not realize that if he had asked Anna, then and there, to run away with him, she would have done so without a moment’s hesitation.

The decisive moment in the unhappy marriage of Anna Karenina occurs when she falls ill and is expected to die. Something happens now that shows what Tolstoy, and not just Tolstoy but someone like Dostoevsky, understood by the Russian soul and the power of the Christian religion. Anna tells her husband that he is a saint, that her infidelity is unforgivable and begs for his forgiveness. Experiencing a religious conversion in which “the joyful feeling of love’s forgiveness of his enemies filled his soul,” Karenin reconciles with his wife’s lover. Vronsky does not understand this feeling, but sensing that is “something lofty and even inaccessible to him,” he realizes that he has dishonored himself, compared to the way Anna’s husband had behaved. There is only one honorable thing to do. He shoots himself, but misses his heart. 

Anna recovers, but instead of seeing her husband as a saint, she again looks at him “with that painful feeling of physical revulsion.” When Vronsky recovers from his suicide attempt he and Anna run off to Italy where Anna gives birth to their daughter. The child, however, does not have anything like the same importance to her as the son she has left behind. Anna and her husband and their son were an unhappy family and, as Tolstoy insisted in the very first sentence, Anna and Vronsky and their daughter become an unhappy family in their own way, so unhappy that Anna, certain she is losing Vronsky, throws herself under a train.

Obolonsky and his wife, Anna and her husband, Anna and Vronsky, studies in human unhappiness, but, as is fitting, Kitty and Levin, who had both suffered their own unhappiness because Kitty had wanted Vronsky and Levin had wanted her, now find each other again, and not more than three months after they marry are so happy that Levin “no longer knew where she ended and he began.” This was possible only because, as had happened, if only briefly, between Anna and her husband, the sudden presence of death put everything in a new perspective. This time it is Levin’s brother. Kitty takes care of him and Levin learns that women, far more than men, know what to do around the dying. Later, when Kitty gives birth, Tolstoy makes the connection between the two events that not only mark the limit of human life but the very meaning of existence. Both were “outside all ordinary life, through which something higher showed. And just as painful, as tormenting in the coming, was what was now being accomplished; and just as inconceivably, in contemplating this higher thing, the soul rose to such heights as it had never known before, where reason was no longer able to overtake it.”

The ordinary world is changed, changed for Levin into such happiness that he almost can not bear it. The child, a human being “who had never existed before,” would live its own life, “would live and produce its own kind.” But happy though he is in family life, Levin needs more. He needs to know what he is and why he is here. Without that “‘it is impossible for me to live.’”

Levin, who has always kept his distance from those who live their lives in and for society, has noticed that the good people around him all have a deep belief in religion. He does not have that belief, but neither does he believe what the materialists have to say, which means what modern science, what Darwin, have to say. Searching for answers, he reads or re-reads Plato, Spinoza, Kant, Schelling, Hegel and Schopenhauer, but does not find what he is looking for.

“Reasoning led him into doubt and kept him from seeing what he should and should not do. Yet when he did not think, but lived, he constantly felt in his soul the presence of an infallible judge who decided which of two possible actions was better and which was worse; and whenever he did not act as he should, he felt it at once.” From this Levin concludes “that he was able to live only thanks to the beliefs in which he had been brought up.” He believed what he had been taught as a child “because they told me what was in my soul.”

All happy families are alike, one is tempted to say, because all happy families are made up of a man and a woman who have been brought up the right way, brought up to understand the difference between right and wrong. And because, such is the mystery of existence, they were born with the kind of good natures that made that teaching responsive to what, somehow, they already knew. All unhappy families are unhappy in their own way because the passions, the desires, of men and women are infinite in their variety, and, if the truth be told, make much more interesting stories, as any reader of Anna Karenina can tell you.
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

Third Reading: The Idiot.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

Third Reading: Justine.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 3, 2022

S.J. Rozan

S.J. Rozan has won multiple awards for her fiction, including the Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero, and Macavity, the Japanese Maltese Falcon, and the Private Eye Writers of America Lifetime Achievement Award.

Her latest Lydia Chin/Bill Smith mystery is Family Business.

Recently I asked Rozan about what she was reading. Her reply:
My next book will be set in, and in many ways will be about, New York City, my home town. I've been using that fact as an excuse to read NYC books and city books in general.

NK Jemisin, The City We Became

Jemisin, writing urban fantasy here, blew me away. Setting up a situation where NYC as a whole, and each borough individually, chooses a human avatar to do battle with a powerful evil force, she absolutely nails the personality of the city and its constituent parts. Glad to know this is the first volume of a new trilogy.

Geoff Manaugh, A Burglar's Guide to the City

A non-fiction journey through streets and buildings as a burglar would look at them, written by an architectural/urban space journalist with a fascination for the ways the built environment can help, hinder, or even suggest crimes.

Craig Taylor, New Yorkers: A City and Its People in Our Time

A series of interviews with people who make up the fabric of the city. Taylor picks his subjects unerringly: a novel could be written about each one.

China MiƩville, The City & the City

Okay, this is a re-read, but I loved it when I first read it and it fits right in with my current, er, research. Two cities exist within co-terminus boundaries, but buildings in one, even if next door to a building in the other, are not "seen" by the residents of the other -- I can't do it, you'll have to read it. It's absolutely worth the effort.

James Russell, The Agile City

Russell, an architect and journalist, makes the case that a building-by-building approach to climate change isn't enough, but change on the level of the metropolis is not only necessary, it's possible. For my purposes, a good overview of how a city actually works.

Naomi Hirahara, Clark and Division

A different city, a different time, but a great story of a seldom-visited dimension of history, and I can read what I want, right?
Visit S.J. Rozan's website.

The Page 69 Test: Paper Son.

The Page 69 Test: The Art of Violence.

Q&A with S. J. Rozan.

--Marshal Zeringue