Monday, January 16, 2017

Kathleen Rooney

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, and a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She teaches English and Creative Writing at DePaul University and is the author of eight books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, including the novel O, Democracy! (Fifth Star Press, 2014) and the novel in poems Robinson Alone (Gold Wake Press, 2012). With Eric Plattner, she is the co-editor of René Magritte: Selected Writings (University of Minnesota Press, 2016 and Alma Books, 2016). A winner of a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from Poetry magazine, her reviews and criticism have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times Magazine, The Rumpus, The Nation, the Poetry Foundation website and elsewhere. She lives in Chicago with her spouse, the writer Martin Seay.

Rooney's new book, her second novel, is Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Rooney's reply:
My latest novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, takes place in New York City. The title character, Lillian, takes a 10-or-so-mile walk through the rundown Manhattan of New Year’s Eve 1984, and as she does so, she looks back on her life since she arrived there in 1926. I love New York, but I live and walk in Chicago.

I love my city and am always seeking ways to better understand it—the people who live here and why its neighborhoods are the way they are. Currently, I’m reading Natalie Y. Moore’s The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation, which is an immensely insightful examination of racism, disinvestment, and inequality and how these factors have historically shaped—and continue to shape—America’s third most-populous city. Walking through Chicago, it’s easy to see that the South and West Sides are vastly less resourced than downtown and the North Side. Moore’s book blends personal narrative, research, data and memoir to offer a smart, accessible look at how, as she says, “segregation amplifies racial inequalities” and how “the legacy of segregation and its ongoing policies keep Chicago divided.” So too does she offer remedies and solutions for how “Change is possible.”
Learn more about the book and author at Kathleen Rooney's website.

My Book, The Movie: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Christine Husom

Christine Husom is the national bestselling author of the Snow Globe Shop Mystery series, as well as the Winnebago County Mysteries, also set in central Minnesota. She served with the Wright County Sheriff’s Department and trained with the St. Paul Police Department, where she gained firsthand knowledge of law enforcement procedures.

Husom's latest Snow Globe Shop mystery is Frosty the Dead Man.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have stacks and stacks of to-be-read books on my shelves, and each one seems to cry out, “Pick me, it’s my turn,” when I’m perusing through them. I discovered Up Like Thunder by Colin T Nelson was a treat to read. I first met Colin at a Twin Cities Sisters in Crime some years ago. Besides being a wonderful storyteller, he’s also a great guy, all around.

Up Like Thunder follows Investigator Pete Chandler from Minneapolis to Myanmar, the former Burma. Myanmar, after years of maintaining closed borders, began allowing tourists and limited business interests in the country in 2011. When Bridget Holmes, a young American woman who is working in the country, goes missing, her influential father contacts Chandler, and implores him to find Bridget and bring her home safely. Although it’s about the last thing on earth he wants to do, Chandler reluctantly agrees. He soon finds himself in a dangerous world he knows little about, with few people he can trust.

Up Like Thunder is written with the right amount of detail to fully engage, and yet not bore, readers. Nelson’s descriptions of people, and most notably Chandler, are very well done. Places in Myanmar are vividly depicted and bring sights, smells, and sounds to life. I appreciated the way Nelson wove the country’s history into their modern day struggles with poverty and government corruption. At times I was in awe, other times I was on the edge of my seat wondering if the good guys would prevail after all. Two thumbs up for Colin T Nelson’s Up Like Thunder, a great read!
Visit Christine Husom's website.

My Book, The Movie: Frosty the Dead Man.

The Page 69 Test: Frosty the Dead Man.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 13, 2017

Brad Ricca

Brad Ricca is the author of Mrs. Sherlock Holmes and Super Boys, and winner of the Ohioana Book Award for Nonfiction and the Cleveland Arts Prize for Literature.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Ricca's reply:
I am reading The Complete Peanuts 1999-2000 by Charles Schulz that I just got for Christmas. Before you say are you twelve? I will politely respond that Peanuts has always been, for me, the best example of narrative storytelling there is. That, and I like stories about depressive kids with dogs. This is the last collection of Fantagraphics’ brilliant repackaging of the entire series so it’s a little bittersweet. Because though I don’t remember all the strips (though I read them all in the newspaper, more or less), I know the last one that waits for me at the end – that giant panel, full- shot of Snoopy waxing nostalgic over his typewriter as Schulz says goodbye. We knew he was sick, and he would sadly die soon after, but – to be totally knock-on-wood honest – it was still kind of a disappointing panel. I remember wanting more of an ending to it all – but what would that be? A date with the Little Red-Haired Girl? Kicking the ball out of Lucy’s hand? Or a kind of “Where Are They Now?” like the end of Fast Times at Ridgemont High where we find that Linus grew up to be a non-profit arts coordinator in Laguna Beach – who always wears a blue scarf? Sally would probably be in the F.B.I. special crimes unit. Rerun would have a gold record. And Charlie Brown? He might be head of a rotisserie baseball league where he somehow owned all the teams. And one of them would be named “Snoopy’s Sluggers.” Of course that is all nonsense. Schulz’s last panel was perfect, we soon figured out, because Peanuts never ends, it just loops around and around like that blue blanket, with no real end or beginning, just a big space in the middle to hold onto.
Visit Brad Ricca's website.

The Page 99 Test: Mrs. Sherlock Holmes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Jonathan W. Stokes

Jonathan Stokes has written screenplays on assignment for Fox, Paramount, Universal, Warner Brothers, New Line, Sony, and Indian Paintbrush, and for actors such as Will Smith, Jeremy Renner, and Hugh Jackman. Jonathan’s last four spec screenplays were all recognized on The Black List, an annual survey of Hollywood executives’ favorite screenplays. He is the author of Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas, part of a three-book deal at Philomel Books and a four-book deal at Viking Press, both published by Penguin Random House.

Recently I asked Stokes about what he was reading. His reply:
Here are five books I’ve recently read that I think are sensational.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. Extremely well written, keenly observed, often funny, often poignant, and without a single false note. The plot kept surprising me as well. It was a little experimental (an entire chapter without commas, for instance), but only in ways that served the narrative. Really terrific writing.

The North Water by Ian McGuire. Excellent writing. I mean it's extraordinarily dark, violent, and nihilistic, but ultimately the hero emerges with his morality intact. It's a really terrific depiction of the whaling trade. In tone, it reads like a deeply gritty and less dignified Patrick O'Brian.

A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. I thought it was extraordinary. Four strangers all meet on a rooftop with the intention of ending it all...and somehow develop a fascinating and unlikely friendship. Hornby rigorously prevents the narrative from becoming trite or sentimental. And with his usual mix of humor and pathos, he creates a uniquely enjoyable story.

Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain. Wonderful. Twain's travelog contains observations and insights on Europe and the Middle East that remain astonishingly modern. Through Twain's lens, Italy, Greece, and Turkey seem remarkably unchanged from 1869. A fantastically informative and entertaining window into the past.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo. Extremely well written portrait of a downtrodden man trying to take control of his life. This book affected my mood for weeks. Russo is like the Tolstoy of small town America, examining the locale from its wealthiest citizens all the way down to its poorest. And like Tolstoy, he seems to show that the drama of human existence - all the trials and tribulations - affect everyone equally. Every life has both triumphs and tragedies.
Visit Jonathan W. Stokes's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Ellie Alexander

Ellie Alexander is a Pacific Northwest native who spends ample time testing pastry recipes in her home kitchen or at one of the many famed coffeehouses nearby. When she’s not coated in flour, you’ll find her outside exploring hiking trails and trying to burn off calories consumed in the name of research.

Alexander's newest novel is Fudge and Jury.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. I picked it up at my favorite bookshop a few months ago because the title struck me as did this introduction: “Monsieur Perdu is a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs. Perdu mends broken hearts and souls.”

How could I not immediately fall in love with a novel centered around the power of books? There’s something magical about the concept of finding the perfect book to heal or transform. It’s as if each of us has a book soulmate. The right words destined to change our lives are floating out there waiting for us to discover them. So I snapped up a copy of The Little Paris Bookshop and couldn’t wait to dive in.

But before I could start reading I had a stack of other books that I had to finish. The Little Paris Bookshop kept calling, but I put it on hold while reviewing a friend’s debut and slogging through a pile of non-fiction research for a new project that I’m working on. In hindsight, I’m glad that I had to wait for the right time to read George’s novel because sometimes books find us exactly when we need them.

The Little Paris Bookshop isn’t a flashy read. In fact, it’s quite slow moving much like it’s protagonist Monsieur Perdu. He has spent his entire life tethered to a dock on the Seine. While he can easily prescribe a book that is guaranteed to change the course of a reader’s life, his own journey has been stagnant. His growth is slow and painful. Grief and loss have left him without a compass, and it’s not until he sets himself free—literally and figuratively—that he’s able to find a new direction.

I loved the quiet pace of this book, the evolution of growth, and the poetic prose. The writing was hauntingly beautiful which is always a feat, but even more so in this case because the original work was written in German and translated into English. I dog-eared several passages that resonated and brought me to tears. The Little Paris Bookshop is a universal story about brokenness and how sometimes a broken heart can crack us open in the best and most unexpected ways. It’s about human connections, a long-lasting love affair with words, and a book that I will return to again and again.
Visit Ellie Alexander's website.

My Book, The Movie: Fudge and Jury.

The Page 69 Test: Fudge and Jury.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 9, 2017

Andrew Stuhl

Andrew Stuhl is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Humanities at Bucknell University. He teaches environmental history, history of ecology, environmental humanities, and Arctic studies.

Stuhl's new book is Unfreezing the Arctic: Science, Colonialism, and the Transformation of Inuit Lands.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I just finished reading and teaching Chad Montrie's book, A People's History of Environmentalism in the United States. Montrie acknowledges that while most authors point to Rachel Carson and her 1962 book Silent Spring as the start of the environmental movement in America, environmental thought and action in the country have much deeper roots. He explores these roots back to the early 1800s, particularly in industrializing New England and the appreciation for nature made clear by workers in textile mills. He continues to reveal these roots through the early 1900s in the National Parks Movement, in urban sanitation reform, and in New Deal conservation programs. For those experts in the history of environmentalism, Montrie's book doesn't necessarily provide brand new insights; rather, it packages in an easily-accessible format much of the best scholarship on this topic from the last 20 years. I assigned this book in my course "Environmentalism and its Discontents," which tracks the development of environmental thought in the United States with particular attention to the ways race, class, and gender animate human relationships with nature. Montrie's text was a handy guide in this regard.
Visit Andrew Stuhl's website.

The Page 99 Test: Unfreezing the Arctic.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Keramet Reiter

Keramet Reiter, an assistant professor in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society and at the School of Law at the University of California, Irvine, has been an associate at Human Rights Watch and testified about the impacts of solitary confinement before state and federal legislators. She lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Reiter's new book is 23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long-Term Solitary Confinement.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
My current reading list reveals a slight propensity towards doing too many things at once. I am listening to an audio recording of Joan Didion’s book of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and I am in the middle of reading Evicted by Matthew Desmond and Bone Swans by C.S.E. Cooney. I love Joan Didion’s blend of personal narrative and cultural critique, and as someone who has lived on both the east and west coast and travels frequently between them, I especially appreciate her bi-coastal perspective. And Slouching Towards Bethlehem, now almost half a century old, is full of literary snapshots of another era, infused with Didion’s curiosity about and awareness of being on the cusp of drastic social change.

Evicted is from my professional reading list. As an educator in law and criminology, with a particular interest in public policy, I am committed to reading, supporting, and assigning academic work that prioritizes readability. Evicted, written by a Harvard sociology professor, is eminently readable. It chronicles life in the poorest neighborhoods in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is at once heartbreaking and infuriating, revealing how misplaced economic incentives and inadequate legal protections contribute to cycles of instability and poverty. Desmond’s human stories bring these cycles to vivid life – and raise fascinating questions about how society might set up better infrastructures to provide and regulate housing.

Bone Swans, a collection of science fiction stories with a feminist twist, has provided a welcome respite from Evicted. Bone Swans just won the world fantasy award, and I recently had the pleasure of meeting the author, as she narrated the audio version of my book 23/7. Cooney’s futuristic, alternative universes, dominated by female heroines, have been a little oasis to which I’ve looked forward to escaping, especially from political news of late.

Next up: Ted Conover’s Immersion and Mona Lynch’s Hard Bargains. I first encountered Ted Conover’s work in New Jack: Guarding Sing Sing, the story of his year working as a correctional officer in an upstate New York prison. I have been a fan ever since, reading and re-reading his books about being a prison guard, working as a migrant laborer, and riding trains as a hobo, too. I’m looking forward to reading about how he has thought about these immersive experiences over the years, and I suspect I will be assigning this book to future students interested in how to do truly in-depth fieldwork. Mona Lynch is a colleague of mine at U.C. Irvine, and Hard Bargains is her deep dive into how federal drug defendants negotiate plea deals behind the scenes, in districts across the United States.
Visit Keramet Reiter's website, and learn more about 23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long-Term Solitary Confinement at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: 23/7: Pelican Bay Prison and the Rise of Long-Term Solitary Confinement.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Molly MacRae

Molly MacRae spent twenty years in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Upper East Tennessee, where she managed The Book Place, an independent bookstore; may it rest in peace. Before the lure of books hooked her, she was curator of the history museum in Jonesborough, Tennessee’s oldest town.

MacRae lives with her family in Champaign, Illinois, where she connects children with books at the public library.

Her latest novel is Plaid and Plagiarism, book one in the Highland Bookshop Mystery series.

Recently I asked MacRae about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m writing this on my supper break at the library, so although I’m typing about books, I’m thinking about food. That’s appropriate, too, because here’s a smorgasbord of books. Some I’m reading and others I recently finished.

The quickest read is Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering, written by Ruth Spiro, illustrated by Irene Chan. This is one of those sturdy cardboard books meant for toddlers. It sets out to teach basic facts about flight—and succeeds. I have the enviable job of checking in the newest children’s books at a busy public library, and I came across this one last week. It’s an amazing book and cute, too. (So cute, I bought a copy for my two-year-old grandson.)

The School Ship Tobermory is another children’s book, this one a mystery suitable for third through fifth grade readers. It’s enjoyable for adults, too, because it’s written by the always charming and wonderful Alexander McCall Smith (The #1 Ladies Detective Agency). The story follows twins Fee and Ben MacTavish as they embark on the adventure of a new boarding school, which happens to be the sailing ship Tobermory. I’m only three or four chapters into the book, but its style is light and engaging, and McCall Smith is setting up intrigue with every quickly turning page. This is the first book in the series, released in October. The second book, The Sands of Shark Island, will be out in July.

Next there are two books by the poet Janice N. Harrington. The first, Catching a Storyfish, is another children’s book for third through fifth grade, this time a novel in verse. Through a variety of poetic styles, which she notes in a glossary at the end of the book, Harrington tells the story of Keet, a story-talking, story-making girl, whose grandpa tells her she could talk the whiskers off a catfish. But Keet’s family moves from Alabama to Illinois and things begin to go wrong. She has trouble making friends at her new school. Kid’s tease her because of her southern accent. She hardly dares to speak and doesn’t feel like herself anymore. Then tragedy strikes and Keet struggles to find herself, her words, and the words to save someone she can’t bear to lose. Harrington’s story is fresh, full of surprises, and an absolute joy.

The second book by Harrington is Primitive: The Art and Life of Horace H. Pippin. This is a book of poetry for adults. Harrington uses Pippin’s paintings and excerpts from his notebooks and letters to reflect on his life and work from his time fighting in the trenches of World War I to his death in 1946. Pippin is arguably the most important African American painter of the 20th Century, and Harrington’s book is part biography, part art history, part social critique, and entirely brilliant poetry.

The last book is one of my favorites of the year—Some Writer: The Story of E.B White, written and illustrated by Melissa Sweet. It’s a biography meant for kids, but it will appeal to anyone who loves White’s writing. Sweet’s text is bright and informative and her art makes the book a visual feast. The whole package is delightful.
Visit Molly MacRae's website.

My Book, The Movie: Plaid and Plagiarism.

The Page 69 Test: Plaid and Plagiarism.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Chris Nickson

Chris Nickson is the author of the highly-acclaimed Richard Nottingham series and is also a well-known music journalist. Born and raised in Leeds, he lived in the USA for thirty years and now makes his home in England.

Nickson's latest book in his Tom Harper mystery series is The Iron Water.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Nickson's reply:
I’ve recently been going back through some of Peter Guralnick’s books. As well as being a novelist, I’ve also been a music journalist for over 20 years, and Guralnick is one of the best at exploring American music. Sweet Soul Music digs expertly into the Southern soul scene that was such a powerful force in the 1960s and early ‘70s, with the twin beating hearts of Memphis (especially the Stax label) and Muscle Shoals, where so many great sides were recorded.

Guralnick’s epic, though, is his two-volume biography of Elvis Presley. Last Train to Memphis takes the reader up to Elvis being drafted in 1958, while Careless Love covers the rest of his life. It’s far from hagiography, but neither is it judgemental. Instead, it’s a fairly surgical, ludicrously detailed examination of the man’s life, an epic feat of research. By the end it’s difficult to have much liking for Elvis, but you do understand him and the forces that pushed him. And you do wonder about his manager, Col. Tom Parker, a man whose personality was formed by the carnival, who guided – and in many ways destroyed – his career.

I’m not an Elvis fan, not beyond the early Sun sessions and the sonic wonder of “Heartbreak Hotel.” But the cultural impact he had on America – and by extension, much of the world - in the 1950s is remarkable. I was born in England the year his first record appeared, so I was too young and too far away to understand what a change he made. And although I grew up with the Beatles’ music, I was still just too young to have properly lived the changes they wrought (and without Elvis there might never have been a Beatles).

Even though I lived in the US for 30 years, by then it was too late. I couldn’t share in the sorrow when Elvis died the year after I arrived on American soil. By then he’d become a figure of ridicule to those who took music seriously. Guralnick helps redress that balance. He’s doesn’t try to make Elvis into a tragedy (that would be impossible) but he does give you sympathy for someone who turned out to be at the mercy of the legend that had been created about him, and also of the great god, money. It’s probably 15 years since I read these books, and they’re as powerful now as the first time around.
Learn more about the book and author at Chris Nickson's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Iron Water.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 2, 2017

Thomas Perry

Thomas Perry's novels include the Jane Whitefield series (Vanishing Act, Dance for the Dead, Shadow Woman, The Face Changers, Blood Money, Runner, Poison Flower, and A String of Beads), Death Benefits, Pursuit, the first recipient of the Gumshoe Award for best novel, and The Butcher's Boy, which won the prestigious Edgar Award.

Perry's new novel is The Old Man.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
The reader will just have to trust me on this one in spite of the obvious connection: Jo Perry's Dead is Better is a terrific book, published by Fahrenheit Press. It's the first book of what is already a trilogy about a man named Charles who wakes up in the afterlife with bullets in his belly and accompanied by a scrawny dog he's never seen in life. He wonders about the afterlife--"Is this my dog? Does everybody get a dog?" He names the dog Rose, and the two of them go into the world of the living to figure out who killed him. In the second book, Dead is Best, it's a couple of earth years later and Charles and Rose discover that Cali, his stepdaughter from one of his several failed marriages, is in terrible trouble, near death from an overdose. Charlie and Rose again visit the living to find out how this came about and try to help her survive and deal with the series of dangers she now faces. Fahrenheit will publish the third book early next year. This time Charles deals with a crisis in the life of the only woman he ever really loved.

The reason I read these three books is that Jo Perry is my wife, and my former writing partner from television days. We've always been each other's first reader, and see it as a duty to be merciless. The books are full of funny, sarcastic, and insightful commentary by Charles, profound meditations on death, dying, and life taken from some of the best minds in history, and stories that move fast and provide lots of suspense.

My second favorite of the moment is a book called Every Man a Menace by Patrick Hoffman, published by Atlantic Monthly Press. Hoffman is a genuine private investigator who has worked in his native San Francisco and in Brooklyn. This is his second novel, but it's a brilliant mechanism that runs with smoothness and certainty. To oversimplify, it's about a disruption in a complex drug organization, described in its entirety from the product's beginning in Bangkok to its various sales outlets in San Francisco and Miami. A mistake is made, someone must pay, and at each link in the chain, there are consequences. People react with a combination of cowardice, ferocity, and self-interest, but always believably and vividly.

I read this book because a colleague working at the publishing house read it and sent it to me. She made it clear that I wasn't expected to write a blurb, but I couldn't help it. My blurb began with "Whatever you're reading, put it down and read this first."
Visit Thomas Perry's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue