Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Jehanne Dubrow

Jehanne Dubrow is a professor of creative writing at the University of North Texas. She is the author of nine poetry collections, including most recently Wild Kingdom (2021), and a book of creative nonfiction, throughsmoke: an essay in notes (2019). Her poems and essays have appeared in Poetry, New England Review, Colorado Review, and the Southern Review.

Dubrow's new book is Taste: A Book of Small Bites.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
My reading is often shaped by my writing. So, for instance, I’m currently working on a biblio-memoir about my long-term love affair with Anne Carson’s novel in verse, Autobiography of Red. I’ve spent the last two decades reading and rereading Red. The book has molded who I am as a reader, as a teacher, and as a writer. Over the past twelve months, I have pretty much read everything Carson has ever written. For a newcomer to Carson’s oeuvre, I recommend her scholarly book about desire, Eros the Bittersweet, her fascinating collaged elegy for her brother, Nox, and of course Autobiography of Red. Carson is a poet, a scholar, a translator, and a maker of unclassifiable texts. This deep immersion in her work has encouraged me to be more playful in my own writing, to experiment with blending or ignoring genre, and to write about experiences I’ve been afraid to tackle in the past.

I’ve also just begun to work on a proposal for a book I’m tentatively calling Frivolity: A Defense. In trying to figure out how and why I should defend frivolous things, I’ve been reading about high fashion, light-as-air desserts, fluffy dogs, and other things that might be called frivolities. Right now, I’m working my way through Sianne Ngai’s Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting, a really engaging scholarly examination of how certain contemporary aesthetic experiences have more value, meaning, and weight than we might initially imagine.

Finally, I’m finishing up a book of poems, Civilians, which is about the experience of watching my husband retire from the military after a twenty-year career in the Navy. This manuscript considers what happens to a military marriage when one spouse is no longer uniformed and the other no longer carries the label of “dependent.” Because Civilians focuses on physical and emotional transformations, the book is very much informed by Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I’ve been reading the Charles Martin translation, which is very accessible but beautiful too.
Visit Jehanne Dubrow's website and learn more about Taste: A Book of Small Bites.

Coffee with a Canine: Jehanne Dubrow and Argos.

Coffee with a Canine: Jehanne Dubrow & Lola and Bandit.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Marty Wingate

USA Today best-selling author Marty Wingate writes The First Edition Library series set in Bath, England, about the curator of a collection of books from the Golden Age of Mystery. Book one, The Bodies in the Library, concerns murder among an Agatha Christie fan-fiction writing group, and in book two, Murder Is a Must, an exhibition manager is found dead at the bottom of a spiral staircase. Wingate also writes historical fiction: Glamour Girls follows Spitfire pilot Rosalie Wright through both the physical and emotional dangers of the Second World War. Wingate writes two further mystery series: the Potting Shed books feature Pru Parke, a middle-aged American gardener transplanted from Texas to England, and the Birds of a Feather series follows Julia Lanchester, bird lover, who runs a tourist office in a Suffolk village.

Wingate prefers on-the-ground research whenever possible, and so she and her husband regularly travel to England and Scotland, where she can be found tracing the steps of her characters, stopping for tea and a slice of Victoria sponge in a café, or enjoying a swift half in a pub.

Wingate's new novel is The Orphans of Mersea House.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I find myself immersed in historical fiction lately—not the distant past of medieval battles and Viking invasions, but of the more recent past within the last century or so.

Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym (1953)

Barbara Pym excelled at writing about the lives of the women in the 1950s—what they want to do, what they are allowed to do, and what they do anyway. Jane and Prudence is about two friends from university, one married to a vicar and living in the country where she isn’t sure just what she should be doing, and one single, working and living in London and falling in love regularly with unsuitable men. Jane, the vicar’s wife, is determined to do the right thing, often fails, but stays mostly in good spirits regardless. Meanwhile, in town, Prudence imagines a love affair with her quite ordinary boss, because he once called her by her first name. The story meanders along, but it’s never boring. There is a gentle satire afoot as there is in most of Pym’s books. I’ve read four by her now, and will read more.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson (1938)

Miss Pettigrew is on the verge—perhaps already over the edge?—of complete destitution. She can’t hold any sort of job. She’s rubbish at being a governess or nanny, but nonetheless replies to a request from the temp agency as a desperate last resort. What follows is twenty-four hours of frenetic silliness during which Miss Pettigrew is mistaken for someone who knows how to live and soon, she begins to act like it. The chapters are divided up into time (Chapter Eleven: 8.28 p.m.-12.16 a.m.) so that we can clock Miss Pettigrew’s progress. It’s huge fun and an entertaining look at London nightlife.

The Fortnight in September by R. C. Sheriff (1931)

A family goes on their annual holiday to Bognor Regis where they have stayed in the same lodgings for twenty years. The family comprises a father, mother, and their two adult children (the daughter a bit younger than her brother) who still live at home. Their holidays have had a comforting sameness from year to year, and nothing changes this time. Or does it? This book was reprinted in 2021. I saw a mention of it on Facebook and thought it looked interesting. When I found it at my local bookstore, I saw that the cover blurb was written by Kazuo Ishiguro, and so I bought it. (Note to authors: cover blurbs work!) I’ll be reading this one again.
Visit Marty Wingate's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Librarian Always Rings Twice.

The Page 69 Test: The Librarian Always Rings Twice.

Q&A with Marty Wingate.

The Page 69 Test: The Orphans of Mersea House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 26, 2022

Jillian Medoff

Jillian Medoff is the author of four acclaimed novels: This Could Hurt, I Couldn't Love You More, Good Girls Gone Bad, and Hunger Point. Hunger Point was made into an original cable movie starring Christina Hendricks and Barbara Hershey and directed by Joan Micklin Silver (Lifetime TV, 2003).

Medoff's new novel is When We Were Bright and Beautiful.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m a voracious reader, and always carry at least one book wherever I go. Recently, I recently went on a non-fiction binge and read three books in a row: Dopesick (Beth Macy) about the opioid epidemic, Bad Blood (John Carreyrou) about Elizabeth Holmes and the Theranos scandal, and The Premonition (Michael Lewis) about the COVID-19 pandemic.

I love non-fiction books that read like novels, and all three of these were terrific. To be honest, though, I wasn't reading these particular books for pleasure; I was studying them to see how they worked. In each case, the author had to deal with a vast amount of material: years of their own research, public information, media reports and scientific data. Plus, they all delved into the inner lives and mindsets of the people at the heart of each story. The books were compulsively readable, but I also learned so much about each subject. My next novel is about medical ethics, and I want it to read as seamlessly as these do. Of course, these three authors are giants, but I figured I may as well learn from the best!
Visit Jillian Medoff's website.

My Book, The Movie: This Could Hurt.

The Page 69 Test: When We Were Bright and Beautiful.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Ally Malinenko

Ally Malinenko is the author of Ghost Girl and This Appearing House.

She lives and writes in Brooklyn.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Malinenko's reply:
I’m currently reading Kelly Barnhill’s The Witch's Boy which I am loving. She has such an incredible talent for crafting what feels like a grounded dark fairy tale. I’m currently working on a witch book and Kelly’s is really keeping me excited about the project.

It’s the story of Ned, the titular Witch’s Boy. When his twin dies in an accident at the start of the book the villagers all think the “wrong boy lived.” His mother, Sister Witch, responsible for saving the Queen, is called away. When Ned learns how to wield her magic and gets kidnapped by bandits, it is only through the help of Aine, the Bandit King’s daughter, that they can stop a coming war.

I am also reading Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s Echo which is utterly terrifying. I’m only 100 pages in but the opening chapter had my heart racing by page 11. It’s the story about a man named Nick who is involved in a mountaineering accident. His climbing partner is dead and when he wakes in the ambulance his face wrapped in bandages, he claims amnesia. But he does remember what called them to that
particular mountain and everything that happened there.

It is absolutely chilling and now I'm afraid of the woods! I cannot wait to read his other one, Hex.
Visit Ally Malinenko's website.

Q&A with Ally Malinenko.

The Page 69 Test: This Appearing House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Joanna Schaffhausen

Joanna Schaffhausen wields a mean scalpel, skills she developed in her years studying neuroscience. She has a doctorate in psychology, which reflects her long-standing interest in the brain―how it develops and the many ways it can go wrong. Previously, she worked as a scientific editor in the field of drug development. Prior to that, she was an editorial producer for ABC News, writing for programs such as World News Tonight, Good Morning America, and 20/20. She lives in the Boston area with her husband, daughter, and an obstreperous basset hound named Winston.

Schaffhausen's new book is Long Gone: A Detective Annalisa Vega Novel.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
My most recent read is The Disinvited Guest by Carol Goodman. Goodman is madly talented, and her gifts are on full display here. The book is tense, atmospheric, compelling and just a tad otherworldly. It’s also the first fiction I’ve read that bravely tackles the pandemic head-on, as this book is set ten years down the road during the onset of another pandemic. The characters are isolated together on a remote island in Maine, so when the bodies start dropping—from murder, not a virus!—they are already on edge. Read this one with the lights on.

Confession time: I am part of a mystery book club in which all the participants are also mystery authors. It is doubly fun to tackle the books from a reader and writer point-of-view. One of our recent reads was All Her Little Secrets by Wanda Morris, and we all heartily enjoyed it. The book centers on a lawyer, Ellice Littlejohn, who finds her boss dead in his office. She’d been having an affair with him and now risks winding up the prime suspect in his murder. One aspect we all loved about this novel were the flashbacks to Ellice’s childhood, which are lovingly drawn and harrowing at the same time.

I also really enjoyed Edwin Hill’s first standalone, The Secrets We Share. The first chapter made me gasp at the end of it, it was so good. There are twists and surprises galore in this story about two sisters, Glenn the food blogger and Natalie the cop. Their lives were upended by the death of their father when they were young and a fresh murder in the present brings back all sorts of family secrets. Fast-moving and fun.

Another mystery I’ve enjoyed recently is Dead Wind by Tessa Wegert. It’s third in her terrific Shana Merchant series, and while you can read it as a stand-alone, it’s richer if you start with Death in the Family to get Shana’s full history. In this story, Shana is tackling the murder of a woman on Wolfe Island that may be related to local environmental and political battles…or it could be connected to serial killer Blake Bram who hovers menacingly at the edge of this twisted tale. Part psychological thriller, part procedural, total badass female detective.
Visit Joanna Schaffhausen's website.

The Page 69 Test: All the Best Lies.

Q&A with Joanna Schaffhausen.

My Book, The Movie: Gone for Good.

The Page 69 Test: Gone for Good.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 8, 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 later this summer. 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 Paul Valéry's “The Crisis of the Mind” and Robert Musil's A Man Without Qualities:
At the end of the l9th century, Friedrich Nietzsche, according to one of his most profound students, “sought, by a new beginning, to retrieve antiquity from the emptiness of modernity and, with this experiment, vanished into the darkness of insanity.” Only a few years later, the First World War - The Great War, as it was called at the time - made it obvious to two of the greatest writers of the time that, with “the emptiness of modernity,” Europe itself had descended into madness.

Paul Valéry, one of the most famous French writers, understood that beyond the millions of men slain, something had broken, something fundamental had changed.

“The illusion of a European culture has been lost,” he wrote in his l9l9 essay, “The Crisis of the Mind.” Instead of a culture, there was nothing but disorder in the mind of Europe. What made this disorder? “The free co-existence, in all its cultivated minds, of the most dissimilar ideas, the most contradictory principles of life and learning.” In l914, just before the war broke out, “Every mind of any scope was a crossroads for all shades of opinion; every thinker was an international exposition of thought.”

In the absence of a culture, a way of life that believed in itself, the mechanical and technological forces let loose by modern science had been building a world of its own. Valéry believed that in a very short time - and remember, this was written in l919, just after the Russian Revolution - we might see a “strictly animal society, a perfect and final anthill,” which would turn man into nothing more than a replaceable part of the social machine, instead of a complete individual with a mind of his own.

Three years after Valéry wrote his essay, Robert Musil, who came from a country defeated in the war, and whose classic work, A Man Without Qualities, is still being read, described the same thing, a Europe gone mad, in a way that bears a remarkable resemblance to life in America today.

“It’s a Babylonian madhouse: a thousand disparate voices, ideas, and tunes assault the wanderer’s ear from a thousand windows at once, and it is clear that the individual is turned into the playground of anarchic forces, and morality and the intellect disintegrate.”

And then The Great War came, and with it a lesson in what the emptiness of modernity had done, a lesson in how easily, and how quickly, a civilization can commit suicide. The war revealed that humanity is “astonishingly more malleable than we had been accustomed to assume.” The war had demonstrated “in one monstrous mass experiment how easily human beings can move to the most radical extreme and back again without experiencing any basic changes.”

What was left of the belief, the belief that everyone had once shared, in the unique worth of every human being? Vanquished by science. Statistics, machines, mathematics, numbers - “this sandhill of facts and anthill mold of humanity,” wrote Musil, using the same metaphor as Valéry, “had today won out…. Never again will a homogeneous ideology, a ‘culture’ arise in our western society as our own.”

Paul Valéry and Robert Musil were trying to describe the breakdown of belief, of standards, of culture, traditions that had been built up over centuries, millennia. The old traditions had become questionable; there were no standards left. The idea of better and worse, good and evil, the difference between what is higher and what is lower, the distinction between what was art and what was trash, between what is noble and what is base, had disappeared. Everyone was now free to judge everything for themselves. The world, and everything in it, had become provisional.

Valery and Musil described better than anyone then writing the “emptiness of modernity,” and the catastrophe it caused, but neither of them even attempted to discover the cause of what they had both witnessed: the fragmentation, the multiplicity of conflicting thoughts, the “international exposition of thought” in everyone’s mind, the “Babylonian madhouse” Europe had become.

There were those who did not need The Great War to tell them the world had gone mad. There were a few who saw it coming; who, because of their knowledge of the past, the ancient past, understood what was about to happen; how the world, or, more precisely, the West, had lost its reason. In l825, at the beginning of the industrial age, Goethe not only foretold the coming barbarism, but insisted that “we are already in the midst of it.” He explained that, “Wealth and alacrity are what the world admires and what everyone strives for. Railroads, express mail services, steam ships, and every possible way of facilitating communications are what the educated world wants in order to overeducate itself, though as a result it persists in its mediocrity. Of course it is also the result of universality that an average culture becomes base.” The 19th century would be characterized by “quick-witted people who, equipped with a certain adroitness, feel their superiority over the masses even if they themselves are not capable of what is highest…. We will, together with perhaps just a few, be the last of an epoch which will not return very soon.”

What Goethe thought barbarism, others like Hegel and, after Hegel, Marx, thought nothing more than the necessary stages by which history, now written with a capital H, moved toward its inevitable end. All the wars and revolutions, all the blood and hatred, all the short lived ambitions of vain politicians and selfish men of business, were really nothing but steps on mankind’s journey toward human freedom. Through the wonders of the new science, and an instinct for acquisition that was no longer regarded as a sin, everyone would have the equal right to live in whatever way they wished.

Rousseau, who more than anyone was responsible for the French Revolution, thought this the worst thing that could have happened, the loss of what was most important in the interest of what was easiest to obtain. “Ancient politicians invariably talked about morals and virtue, those of our own time talk only of business and money.” And then he added, “With money one has everything, except morals and citizens.” The “emptiness of modernity,” as it turns out, began five hundred years ago.

It began with the new, now the old science, in the l7th century when the belief in an ordered universe was replaced by the belief that the world as we know it is the result of forces that are themselves not rational. It started with the attempt to find the end of things in the origins of things, the attempt to find the meaning of things in the meaningless motion of matter; a return, as it were, to the principles of the pre-Socratics, atomists like Democritus: random chance that somehow leads to a grand design, an infinity of minuscule parts forming and reforming themselves into an intelligible whole, guided by something unknown, the many gods of Hesiod and Homer, or the one god of Christianity. It is the higher mathematics, the world converted into the handmade work of numbers, numbers by which nature is not so much discovered as forced into the useful, and usable, patterns of human design. Nothing has a nature; there are no unchanging and unchangeable beings. There is no human nature, only a drive to change, to become different than we are. The nature of the human being has become endlessly perfectible. History has a meaning after all.

The new, now the old science, changed everything. It changed physics, and the principles of the new physics changed the principles of the new politics. It changed who we are, and, more importantly, it changed who we thought we should be.
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.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

Third reading: The Charterhouse of Parma.

Third Reading: Emile.

Third Reading: War and Peace.

Third Reading: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Third Reading: Bread and Wine.

--Marshal Zeringue