Friday, August 31, 2012

Moira Crone

Moira Crone is the author of several novels and story collections including What Gets Into Us and A Period of Confinement; her works have appeared in Oxford American, The New Yorker, Image, Mademoiselle, and over forty other journals and twelve anthologies. She has won prizes for her stories and novellas, and in 2009 she was given the Robert Penn Warren Award from the Fellowship of Southern Writers for the entire body of her work.

Her latest novel is The Not Yet.

A couple of weeks ago I asked Crone what she was reading.  Her reply:
Born with the Dead by Robert Silverberg, 1974.

I found the collection in a used bookstore in Carrboro, N.C. I was visiting my very aged parents who have been in assisted living for many years now. I was thinking about the unintended costs and consequences of the current commonplace longevity. My parents complain of the “limbo” they have entered in their nineties. They continue on life extending drugs, and have many procedures. Science is keeping them alive—they find this depressing, even agonizing, far beyond boring. Yet there is no way out.

Two of the three novellas in Born with the Dead are explorations of the consequences of cheating death. They are subtle, intense, psychological and mysterious.

I especially loved the portrayal of Jorge Klein in the title story. His wife Sybille has died, but she has been “rekindled” ---brought back to a kind of “life.” A very elegant zombie, Sybille likes to be with her own kind and refuses to have anything to do with her former husband. She lacks desire, or ordinary emotions. She’s called a “cold.” It’s a very ironic version of “retirement,” a very dark in-between she’s entered.

The story is also a great parable about Jorge’s grief, and love.

Another novella in the book, “Going,” looks at the 135th year of a brilliant composer. He lives in a world where people must will themselves to die, for no diseases will kill them anymore. Silverberg’s waiting centers, where citizens go to die, are reminiscent of today’s assisted living homes. But, unlike 2012 residents, this hero has the benefit of counseling, life review, and autonomy. He is encouraged to choose, and celebrate his exit when he is finally ready.

I read the book, in part, because Silverberg was referenced in a review of my recent novel The Not Yet, in the British Science Fiction magazine, Interzone. My novel explores the consequences---emotional, material, societal, spiritual---of extreme longevity. Though Silverberg’s characters have circumstances of plenty, mine know a world where the rich go on for centuries, while the rest barely survive.

But what I share with Silverberg book is that I’m interested in science fiction about the spirit. He asks: what have medical advances done to the way we conceive of life? And therefore, how we shall live it it now?
Visit Moira Crone's website and the Facebook page for The Not Yet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Linda Grimes

Linda Grimes is a former English teacher and ex-actress now channeling her love of words and drama into writing. She grew up in Texas and currently resides in northern Virginia with her husband.

Her new novel is In a Fix.

Not so long ago I asked Grimes what she was reading. Her reply:
Right now, in the lead-up to the release of In a Fix, I haven't been able to read for pleasure nearly as much as I'd like. I think I'm in withdrawal. (Hmm. That would explain the twitching.)

There are a few books I managed to sneak in, mainly because I took a little peek and then couldn't stop reading:

Whispers in Autumn by Trisha Leigh. It's a YA dystopian set on an earth that's been taken over by mind-controlling aliens, and it's totally gripping. It's an indie book—one of the best I've ever read—and the first of a trilogy. All I can say is, I can't wait for the next installment.

Pivot Point by Kasie West. I feel a bit guilty mentioning this one, since it won't officially be released until February 2013. I was lucky enough to get hold of an advance reader copy, and man, was it ever good!

Here's how it's described on GoodReads:
Reminiscent of the movie Sliding Doors, Pivot Point is about a girl who has the power to Search alternate futures. When faced with a life changing decision, she lives out six weeks of two different lives (in alternating chapters), both holding the potential for love and loss, and must ultimately choose which path she is willing to live through.
Doesn't that sound great? Trust me, you should put it in your TBR pile.

Both of those are YA books, which might seem odd for an adult to read, especially one who doesn't write YA books herself. But I do have a lot of friends who write it, and they've kind of sucked me into giving the genre a chance. I'm so glad they did! Let's face it—conflict is conflict, whether it revolves around a seventeen-year-old or an adult, and good characterization is good characterization. If a story latches on to me, I'm not going to quibble over age.

Now, if only I had time to dive back into my TBR pile. *sighs* Maybe next month...
Visit Linda Grimes's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bill Crider

Bill Crider's new novel, Murder of a Beauty Shop Queen, is his 19th Sheriff Dan Rhodes Mystery.  In his review of the novel, Ed Gorman praised Crider's "skills with characterization and milieu" and called the author "a master plotter."

A few weeks ago I asked the author what he was reading.  His reply:
I just finished an ARC of Max Allan Collins’ new Nate Heller novel, Target Lancer, in which Heller helps prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Chicago in November 1963. Not much has been written about that particular plot, and Collins does a great job of shining some light on it. The book is fiction, of course, but it’s based on real events. I’m not much of a conspiracy buff, but I really enjoyed the book.

Older books are always a part of my reading, and I write about one on my blog each week for Friday’s Forgotten Books, a meme started by Patti Abbott. Recently I’ve read and commented on Manhattan is my Beat, and early novel by Jeffery Deaver, published by Bantam back in 1989 when he was using Jeffrey Wilds Deaver as his by-line. The protagonist is a young woman named Rune who works in a video store that rents VHS tapes (anybody remember those?). When one of her customers is murdered, she becomes an amateur sleuth and appears to be in way over her head. Several good twists in this one. Before that one I talked about a fine collection of Robert Sheckley’s SF short stories from the 1950s, Citizen in Space.

I’ve now started reading David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, having gotten interested after seeing the trailer for the movie version. I’ve read the first two sections, and I still don’t know where it’s going. The trip looks like a lot of fun, however.
Learn more about the book and author at Bill Crider's website and blog.

Read the Page 69 Test entries for Crider's A Mammoth Murder, Murder Among the OWLS, Of All Sad Words, Murder in Four Parts, Murder in the Air, and The Wild Hog Murders.

Writers Read: Bill Crider (July 2011).

My Book, The Movie: The Wild Hog Murders.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Kathryn Miller Haines

Kathryn Miller Haines is an actor, mystery writer, and award-winning playwright. Her debut YA novel, The Girl Is Murder, received an Edgar Award nomination and a starred review from School Library Journal as well as from Booklist, who called the book a "smart offering that gives both mysteries and historical fiction a good name." The sequel, The Girl is Trouble, was released last month.

A couple of weeks ago I asked Haines what she was reading.  Her reply:
I’ve been on a non-fiction kick lately. Both of these books are, in their own ways, true historical crime, which is my weakness as a reader. Neither is the standard recounting of a historical murder, rather more what the horrible price of hubris can be.

I just finished Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin, his non-fiction examination of life in Berlin during Hitler’s rise from the point of view of our ill-equipped Ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd, and his daughter Martha. Given my obsession with World War II (I’ve written two mystery series during that time period) and my love of Larson (I think Devil in the White City is such an extraordinary book) this was a natural match for me. While Hitler is the evil at the center of the book, what’s almost more discomforting than reading about what life in Berlin was like for the citizenry under his hold, is the naiveté with which the American public and its government was viewing his rise to power and how we turned a blind eye to the early signs of his madness, violence, and desire for greater domination. There’s no greater symbol for this deliberate ignorance than in Martha Dodd, a young woman (with a voracious sexual appetite) who defends the Nazis over and over again in her correspondence, perhaps because she’s romantically involved with so many of them (including the married head of the SS). The bumbling Ambassador Dodd, in contrast to his daughter, seems profoundly aware of the evil afoot and the great tragedy at the center of the narrative is how no one seems to listen to him back in the U.S. government. When war finally happens there’s no solace for him in knowing he was right all along. Instead, he dies just when the world is most fractured, never knowing that the “good guys” win.

I’m currently flying through Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case, Debbie Nathan’s detailed accounting of how the tale of the multiple personality case was largely fabricated by three women: the psychiatrist, her patient, and the woman who authored the bestselling “non-fiction” book. Nathan was able to write the book after the Sybil archives held at John Jay College of Criminal College were finally unsealed following the deaths of the major players in the case. After reading about the atrocities committed by the Nazis, it’s a sad reminder that what passed for psychiatry in the first half of this century was in many ways equally barbarous. The psychiatrist at the center of the tale, Dr. Connie Wilbur, is so determined to prove herself in a male-dominated profession that she’ll go to any lengths, including over medicating and regularly providing electro-shock therapy to her emotionally fragile patient, the real Sybil. And Sybil allows herself to be dominated, giving her doctor what she desperately wants, including inventing personalities to prove her diagnoses. Worst of all is Flora Schreiber, the writer desperate for fame who finds sign after sign that the story is fabricated yet because of the lure of money and fame, still agrees to write Sybil’s story and adds further fabrications in the name of creating a more interesting book, damaging many lives and legacies in her thinly veiled account in the process.
Visit Kathryn Miller Haines's website and blog.

Writers Read: Kathryn Miller Haines (August 2011).

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Kathryn Miller Haines & Mr. Rizzo and Sadie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 24, 2012

Padgett Powell

In Padgett Powell's new novel, You & Me, "two loquacious gents on a porch discuss all manner of subjects, from the mundane to the spiritual to the downright ridiculous."

Earlier this month I asked the author what he was reading.  His reply:
I have completed in the last several weeks Peter Guralnick’s Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, which I picked up in Kevin Canty’s house. Kevin said it’s sad and he is not incorrect. Poor Elvis is about the best I can hazard. It is a frightening long march of mismanagement and silliness and it will scare you if you see in it-–the Presley life, the person-- even small facets of your own dispositions and inclinations. I am on to a book by Thompson and Cole that Guralnick refers to as authoritative called The Death of Elvis. Might have to look at superbitch Goldman’s second Elvis book too (the first, because he can write, is a hoot). It’s all bracingly sad.

I have finished chapter one of Under The Volcano, a book on my list since about 1969 probably. I had to start the chapter twice to get to the end and even now do not feel the undertow I wish I’d start feeling. (I am in approximately the same position vis-a-vis Ulysses, for approximately the same time period.) I like one of the sentences in this chapter well enough that I used it as an epigraph for You & Me: “He felt rather like someone lying in a bath after all the water has run out, witless, almost dead.” That aptly describes me and my fellows in the book, so we shoe-horned it in. Malcolm Lowery is spelled Malcom Lowery in the first edition, so if you want the error, step lively and buy now.
Learn more about Padgett Powell's You & Me at the HarperCollins website.

My Book, The Movie: You & Me.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Douglas Corleone

Douglas Corleone is a former New York City defense attorney and winner of the Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel Competition for One Man's Paradise. His second novel, Night on Fire, came out in 2011, and Last Lawyer Standing, his latest book featuring criminal defense attorney Kevin Corvelli, is now out from Minotaur Books.

Recently I asked Corleone what he was reading.  His reply:
Like most of the American reading public, I’m currently enjoying Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. And I’m so glad I am. After weeks of watching 50 Shades crowding the bestseller lists, it’s wonderful and heartening that we have a literary phenomenon that’s worthy of being a literary phenomenon. What’s even greater is that this is a book that can’t be placed in a box – it’s dark, it’s literary, it’s suspenseful, there’s a mystery, and at its heart, it’s an incredible character-driven psychological thriller. I’m just blown away.
Visit Douglas Corleone's website.

The Page 69 Test: One Man's Paradise.

The Page 69 Test: Night on Fire.

My Book, The Movie: Night on Fire.

The Page 69 Test: Last Lawyer Standing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Stephen Miller

North Carolina born and raised, Stephen Miller is an actor on stage, film, and television as well as the author of plays, screenplays, and novels. Unforgettable moments in his acting career include swimming with Hume Cronyn, improvising for a day with Robert De Niro, carrying Bette Davis down a flight of concrete stairs, stunt-driving with Burt Reynolds, and delivering Laura Dern’s child, as well as three appearances on The X-Files.

His latest novel is The Messenger.

A few weeks ago I asked Miller what he was reading. His reply:
When I get into the research phase of a novel, I really put my head down and move into the library and all I read is stuff related to the novel I'm working on. I'm right at the cusp of that at the's like immersing oneself in a whole new world and I find it highly addictive. It's the learning I like and when I am doing that kind of reading, what I write is just a by-product.

A few weeks ago I was still wool gathering and I hadn't settled on the idea. I was free to read all sorts of things. I read Dan Simmons' Hyperion which I much admired for its extremely detailed and fully imagined universe.

Not only did I go into the future, I went into the past with Annabel Lyon's The Golden Mean. Beautiful book.

A close friend gave me John Grisham's Calico Joe which is a great gift for any baseball fan on your list.

I picked up The Hunger Games to read on the plane and devoured it. That's what I read when I was free.

Now I'm starting work on a Western (that's a much-simplified label...) and I recently finished the fantastic account by Isabella Bird, A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains, published in 1879.

Now I am starting Hear That Lonesome Whistle Blow by Dee Brown, which I own, for the second time. Mostly this book is for research for the next novel I am working on. It is a history of the tells the story of the rise of transcontinental railroads in North America. Brown's other famous book is Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Both are excellent.

Beside the bed, when I am tired of the research, I go back to the second of Philip Kerr's Berlin Noir trilogy, The Pale Criminal. I love the characters, the period and the place. Lots of complicated and moral issues.
Visit Stephen Miller's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Messenger.

The Page 69 Test: The Messenger.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Kathleen George

Kathleen George is the editor of Pittsburgh Noir and the author of Taken, Fallen, Afterimage, The Odds (Edgar finalist, best novel), Hideout, and the newly released Simple. The novels are set in Pittsburgh. The author teaches theatre and writing at Pitt.

Last month I asked George what she was reading.  Her reply:
I write thrillers, but “thoughtful” ones the reviewers say, and they often call them literary thrillers. So I have one foot in the chills and thrills category and the other in complex characterization. My writing is matched by my reading patterns which include about half mainstream novels and about half crime novels. So, I recently finished The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger and Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead on the non-crime side of my night table and I also finished Gone by Mo Hayder and Bent Road by Lori Roy for my crime fix.

The Newlyweds arrives at a truth of character, I believe, by allowing those people contradictions aplenty. A young Bangladeshi woman wants to come to America and wants to bring her parents, too, and so she refuses a young Bangladeshi man’s proposal to make herself available on an internet site where she attracts the attention of an American man disillusioned with American women. Their relationship and their secrets give the feeling of being extremely real. Everybody is interesting in this book in a way that makes you think about your own relationships. The novel has won tons of praise all around.

I love a good manners comedy and Seating Arrangements catches about-to-be-weds at the point of an elongated wedding weekend with several events. There are the usual traumas and many more. The bride is seven months pregnant, her sister who has recently aborted a child is in the throes of deep mourning over the man she lost, and the bride’s father lusts uncontrollably for his daughter’s bridesmaid. These are only a few of the complications. The characters are beautifully drawn and, as in The Newlyweds, there is no prettifying the situations or the ending.

Gone kept me reading as thrillers do when you’re made to care about the characters. This one had many classic ingredients, but it also had something new. One of the main characters is a policewoman who heads the underwater and caving unit. The specificity of her work is informative, not to mention totally gripping—and she’s a good tough cookie to be reading about. I also liked the characterizations of the other police.

Bent Road is a frightening book. There is so much mystery and tension from page one and it doesn’t explode or let up. Instead it makes us get used to the life on the American prairie as the transplanted protagonist family must. One of the fascinating aspects of the family drama is the way the children gradually become accustomed to the ideas of danger and evil.

I feel awfully lucky when four in a row fascinate me. I just had that luck.
Visit Kathleen George's website.

The Page 69 Test: Simple.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 20, 2012

Tom Young

Novelist Tom Young is a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and a former writer and editor with the broadcast division of the Associated Press. His latest novel, The Renegades, was released last month.

Not so long ago I asked the author what he was reading. His reply:
From time to time I try to fill the gaps in my education by reading authors I neglected in younger days. Not long ago I pulled down from a library shelf a volume of Walt Whitman. I hadn't read Whitman since taking a college freshman course in American Literature.

Back then, I read--or skimmed, more likely--a few Whitman poems only because the syllabus required it. What possible relevance could this long-dead nineteenth century poet have to my life? His verses seemed mere relics, like rusting sabres from the Civil War. That long-ago conflict inspired much of his writing, and when I first read Whitman, his poetry did not speak to me. With apathy, I completed the assignment, and then I forgot about Whitman.

In the years that followed, I pursued a career in journalism. I got married. I took an interest in flying and joined the Air National Guard.

I went to war.

And the next time I opened a collection of Whitman poetry, his images lifted off the page with the vividness of tracer fire. If I hadn't known the poet was dead and gone, I might have taken him for a present-day embedded reporter. His poetry speaks of the torments of delayed stress, the sufferings of the wounded, the vigils for the dead.

Whitman witnessed (and perhaps suffered) post-traumatic stress disorder long before anyone coined the phrase. In his day, they called it "soldier's heart" or "nostalgia." In "The Veteran's Vision," Whitman describes the night haunts of PTSD:

There in the room, as I wake from sleep, this vision presses upon me:

The engagement opens there and then, in my busy brain unreal;

The skirmishers begin...

We're still wrestling with how to deal with PTSD. But these verses remind us that we've known about the phenomenon for a long time.

Another phenomenon as old as battle is the painful aftermath of combat, the ministrations of doctors, the struggles of the wounded. Whitman served as an attendant in military hospitals, and his descriptions in "The Wound-Dresser" would ring true to any medic serving in Afghanistan.

The crush'd head I dress (poor crazed hand, tear not the bandage away);

The neck of the cavalry-man, with the bullet through and through,

          I examine;

Hard the breathing rattles, quite glazed already the eye,

          yet life struggles hard.

I have seen Critical Care Air Transport teams offer the same tender attention to victims of roadside bombs. The CCATs fly with patients who travel while still under intensive care. Sometimes those patients fight minute-by-minute battles for life at thirty thousand feet.

At about that altitude, aboard a home-bound C-5 Galaxy over the middle of the Atlantic, I experienced a moment much like one Whitman described in his poem "Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night."

Vigil of silence, love and death--vigil for you, my son and my soldier,

As onward silently stars aloft, eastward new ones upward stole;

When I read these lines, I recalled that I flew on that mission as a scanner, a flight engineer tasked with keeping an eye on the condition of the airplane. To make my rounds, I opened the avionics compartment doors, sniffed for any hint of electrical fire. I descended the ladder to the cargo compartment. Downstairs, I checked hydraulic reservoirs for quantity. I took off a glove and felt the battery case for thermal runaway. I peered outside at what little I could see of the engines. I played a flashlight beam across tubes and hoses to check for leaks.

Duties complete, I sat on the catwalk and looked at our cargo: six transfer cases, each draped with an American flag.

So many questions came to mind. What had been these soldiers' hopes and dreams? What shattered families awaited their return? Why did I get to sit there, perfectly healthy and probably twice their age, when their lives had ended so soon?

A vigil strange, indeed, and it brought no answers.

The war Whitman wrote about touched every American then alive. We cannot say the same about our modern-day conflicts, fought by volunteers who make up less than one percent of the population. The troops don't necessarily ask that you join them, only that you pay attention, that you have at least some idea of how and where they fight and why.

You can do that by following the news, by reading the papers and watching the broadcasts. By reading the memoirs of veterans. And by revisiting the timeless words of Whitman--with the knowledge that as you read them, someone somewhere is experiencing them all over again.
Visit Thomas W. Young's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: The Mullah's Storm.

Writers Read: Thomas W. Young (August 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Larry D. Sweazy

Larry D. Sweazy's Josiah Wolfe, Texas Ranger western novels include The Rattlesnake Season, The Scorpion TrailThe Badger's Revenge, The Cougar's Prey, and The Coyote Tracker.

A few weeks ago I asked him what he was reading.  His reply:
I have been singing the praises of Bruce Holbert’s debut novel, Lonesome Animals, since I put it down a few weeks ago. Before, actually. I was telling every reader I came into contact with to check this book out. It’s that good. Better than good. Holbert manages to do quite a lot in his first novel that hardened veterans have tried at and failed miserably. First off, he makes his main character, Russell Strawl, a violent, angry man—likeable. Heck, I didn’t just like him, I respected him. Strawl is a fully developed character, along with the rest of the characters—none of them are stock; all of them have their quirks and defining moments. This novel also bends the rules of genre, which I admire greatly. It’s a thriller, a whodunit, a serial killer novel, a western, all rolled up in beautifully written prose that leans toward literary. There should be no labels, but I know that’s impossible in today’s world. Simply put: Find it. Buy it. Read it. Regardless of which of the genres I mentioned that you read or don’t read.

So after the experience I had with that book, I figured it would be difficult to find something that I would be enthusiastic about. After all, books like Lonesome Animals only come along so often. And then I stumbled onto Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. Sounds like a great title for a mystery novel, but it’s not, it’s a memoir of New York City chef and restaurant owner. It’s a coming of age story, a cautionary tale, a love letter to food and a city, and so much more. Hamilton is a really good writer, but she is a better storyteller. She has a wonderful way of pulling you into a scene with all four senses (without beating you over the head with her perfectly crafted prose), and whispering into your ear so you don’t miss any of the details, the notes of every flavor. I’m savoring this book like a fine meal. It’s unflinching in its honesty, and beautiful because of it… I love good food as much as I do good books, and Blood, Bones, and Butter is a rich serving of both. I’m not looking forward to finishing it…
Visit Larry D. Sweazy's website and blog.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Larry D. Sweazy and Brodi and Sunny.

The Page 69 Test: The Coyote Tracker.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Nancy Martin

Like her heroines, the Blackbird Sisters, Nancy Martin comes from a distinguished Pennsylvania family whose ancestors include Betsy Ross and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. She has written numerous novels, directed a few Shakespeare plays, and raised two delightful daughters.

Martin's latest novel is No Way to Kill a Lady (Blackbird Sisters Series #8).

Late last month I asked the author what she was reading.  Her reply:
This summer I have been under the gun and writing like mad. To take the pressure off, I climb into bed every night with an advance copy of the marvelous new biography of Julia Child. Dearie, by Bob Spitz, is a sweet homage, and---please excuse the pun---I am savoring every page. Bob is better known for his career in rock and roll, and his detailed book about the Beatles. I also enjoyed his memoir, The Saucier's Apprentice, about fleeing the stress of the real world and going to Europe to learn to cook at the great cooking schools. But his bio of Julia is a loving portrait of one of America's great personalities. Her work transformed home cooking as we know it in this country, but this portrait is intimate and affectionate, and it's marvelous summer reading. I will confess now that Bob is my brother-in-law, and I was privy to his journey into the research for the Julia Child book. At Christmas, he made omelets for us while telling some of the anecdotes he writes about in Dearie. His joyous esteem for Julia Child sparkles on every page.
Visit Nancy Martin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Our Lady of Immaculate Deception.

The Page 69 Test: Sticky Fingers.

Writers Read: Nancy Martin (March 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 17, 2012

Laurie Frankel

Laurie Frankel was recently named one of ten women to watch in 2012. She is a proud core member of the Seattle7Writers. Her first novel, The Atlas of Love, came out in August 2010.

Frankel's new novel is Goodbye for Now.

A few weeks ago I asked her what she was reading.  Her reply:
Right now, I’m just finishing Maria Semple’s new novel, Where’d You Go, Bernadette. It’s awesome -- funny and smart with really great characters (which is always my favorite part of books), and really, really weird (which I mean as the absolute highest of compliments). I’m doing a couple readings with her later in the month, and I can’t wait.

I’m also reading Rob Lowe’s memoir, Stories I Only Tell My Friends. (Great title!) This is for work because I’m participating in a celebrity memoirs event later this month, and we’re looking for ridiculous passages. Alas, Rob Lowe isn’t quite ridiculous enough. His memoir’s a little too cool to lend itself to drinking games. On the other hand, I have a soft spot for the man because his character on Parks and Recreation represents the best casting I have ever seen. I love that show, and I love him on it, so he could write almost anything and I’d give him a pass.

A couple weeks ago, I had the flu. I always think it’s no fair being sick in the summer. I felt so awful I couldn’t even watch TV, but I couldn’t sleep either because every time I lay down, I started to drown in snot. All I could do was sit propped up on pillows and blow my nose and read for hours and hours on end, so I needed something compelling, not too hard on the brain, and looooooong. I chose Justin Cronin’s The Passage which is just shy of 800 pages. Ordinarily, I don’t read books that long unless they’re Russian, but this was the perfect flu book. The Passage is a vampire book that’s not really a vampire book. It’s well written. It’s compelling as hell. It’s thoroughly, exhaustively, epically imagined. But centrally, it’s about a virus. Which turns you into a vampire. Which is a really scary thing to read while you’re stuck in bed with a virus.

Next up: David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, which I’ve read before and adored, in order to be ready for the movie in October.
Learn more about the book and author at Laurie Frankel's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Atlas of Love.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Laurie Frankel and Calli.

My Book, The Movie: Goodbye for Now.

The Page 69 Test: Goodbye for Now.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Stephen Dau

Stephen Dau is originally from western Pennsylvania. He worked for ten years in postwar reconstruction and international development before studying creative writing at Johns Hopkins University and Bennington College, where he received an MFA. His work has appeared in McSweeney’s and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, on MSNBC, and elsewhere. Dau lives in Brussels, Belgium, with his family.

His new novel is The Book of Jonas.

Recently I asked the author what he was reading.  His reply:
With a three-year-old to look after, I basically have the choice to either read or write, and for now, writing feels like the more productive option. That said, I have managed to read two novels during the past couple of months, both of which I loved.

I will read anything Michael Ondaatje writes. If he took a job writing lists of ingredients on boxed cereals, I would read them. And reading The Cat's Table is far, far better than reading cereal ingredients. He has described it as a novel with "the colouring and locations of memoir and autobiography." It has sort of a long, slow plot arc that describes an ocean voyage the protagonist, Michael, makes from Sri Lanka to England in the nineteen fifties, and that voyage's impact on him and his fellow passengers. It features Ondaatje's typically gorgeous language and some deft humor (one passenger is overheard asking another, "But how can it be both a laxative and an aphrodisiac?") and some wonderfully rendered coming-of-age sections that stand out poignantly in a contemporary literary scene that is jam-packed with them.

Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending has been stuck in my head for a month. It starts out as a sort of meditation on time and memory and then comes around by the end to implicate the reader in its moral quandaries: to what extent are we responsible for the impact of our past actions on others? Where is the dividing line between their responsibility and our own? And how does memory (or lack of it) play into these questions? How you respond to these queries will color your reading of the book, which is an almost perfectly executed exploration of memory and culpability.
Visit Stephen Dau's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Book of Jonas.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Matthew Parker

Matthew Parker recently earned an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University and has been drug- and crime-free since 2002. Born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, he now lives in New York City.

His new book is Larceny in My Blood: A Memoir of Heroin, Handcuffs, and Higher Education.

A few weeks ago I asked Parker what he was reading.  His reply:
I just finished reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. The book asks hard questions, like why has our incarceration rate quadrupled over the last 30 years? And why is the vast majority of our exploded prison population made up mostly of minorities? The answers to these questions is the main thesis of the book: that the prison industrial complex is just a redo of the Jim Crow laws that kept African Americans oppressed for the better part of a century following the Civil War. She further contends that the current War on Drugs is just an extension of the Southern Strategy, a well-known conservative tactic that sought to drive a wedge between poor whites and poor blacks and other minorities—to in fact portray the latter as a threat (existential or otherwise) to the former in an effort to win the votes of the former.

I’ve seen mini versions of the southern strategy played out in numerous jails and prisons. Being a white male, I was constantly subject to the politics of Aryan prison gangs no matter how hard I tried to avoid both the gangs and the hate-laced rhetoric they espouse. Their main talking point is that the threat posed by the other races (especially Jews and blacks) to white America can only end one way; in a new civil war based on race. These scare tactics work surprisingly well in recruiting new gang members, particularly on fresh, young inmates. What’s pertinent is that many of the gang leaders at the very top could care less about race, but only exploit racial fear in order to shore up their power base.

But over one million American’s doing time for nonviolent drug offenses is one thing, dealing with the approximately five million felons on probation or parole is another. Alexander terms this the “prison label,” and is at pains to highlight how hard it is for convicted felons to make it on the outside: “A criminal record today authorizes precisely the forms of discrimination we supposedly left behind [with Jim Crow]—discrimination in employment, housing, education, public benefits, and jury service. Those labeled criminals can even be denied the right to vote.” I know from personal experience exactly what she’s talking about. In Arizona, where I did the vast majority of my prison time, I can neither vote nor rent an apartment in a decent neighborhood. Even living in liberal New York City I often feel the sting of the prison label despite the fact that I’ve been out of prison and off parole for close to 10 years. They don’t discriminate openly in New York, but I get the feeling that, when it comes to good-paying jobs, I’ll often be bypassed. Granted it is just a feeling—I have no concrete proof of employment discrimination—but it’s an all too familiar feeling; one that’s shared by literally millions of ex-felons who have paid there debt in full only to have society turn their backs on them.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of the book, however, is the death grip the War on Drugs has on modern American jurisprudence. Even I, a veteran prisoner of the War on Drugs who has served 10 odd years on five separate sentences, was shocked and saddened by the sheer scope of it all; millions of lives ruined; hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars spent, and tens of thousands murdered by the criminals strung out on the unseemly profits that are there for the taking. The many arguments for the War on Drugs are well known, and as irksome as the same old junkie standing on the same old corner day in and day out, panhandling for a fix. The New Jim Crow, however, is a fresh argument against this decades-old war, and hinges more on our yearning for equal rights for all. And it is that dream of basic civil rights, inherent in every American, which The New Jim Crow demands.
Learn more about Matthew Parker's Larceny in My Blood at the publisher's website, and visit the Larceny in My Blood Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Larceny in My Blood.

My Book, The Movie: Larceny in My Blood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pauline A. Chen

Pauline A. Chen earned her B.A. in classics from Harvard, her J.D. from Yale Law School, and her Ph.D. in East Asian studies from Princeton. She has taught Chinese language, literature, and film at the University of Minnesota and Oberlin College.

Chen's new novel is The Red Chamber.

Last month I asked the author what she was reading.  Her reply:
I recently finished Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table. For many years, I read only classic novels, but I fell in love with Ondaatje’s writing after seeing the film The English Patient, and then reading the novel on which it was based. Ondaatje is the heir of Virginia Woolf’s shifting multipersonal narration, but while her prose is gnarled and dense, each of his sentences is beautifully spare and balanced. Also an accomplished poet, Ondaatje’s precision in language and ear for rhythm are exceptional. He has the talent of choosing the perfect detail to make a scene or character seem specific and real: Hana playing hopscotch by candlelight, Marie-Neige “gathering her senses into almost clarity” after falling asleep over a book. In China this is called “painting the pupil of the dragon,” that is, the adding the final detail that brings a painting to life. (Interestingly, Ondaatje alludes to a related tradition, Netra Mangala, the painting of the Buddha’s eyes, in Anil’s Ghost.)

The Cat’s Table shows the originality of vision and imagination that distinguishes all of his novels, but it was not one of my favorites of his books. Despite the beauty of the language, the emotions feel slightly muted. Many of his novels intertwine the stories of individuals with larger historic events: World War II, the civil war in Sri Lanka, the growth of Toronto as an immigrant city. Perhaps because the scope of this book was more narrowly personal, I felt that it lacked the expansiveness and resonance of his best work.
Visit Pauline A. Chen's website.

Also see: Alternate opening lines: The Red Chamber.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Jessica Brody

Jessica Brody graduated from Smith College in 2001 with a double major in Economics and French and a minor in Japanese. She went to work for MGM Studios as a Manager of Acquisitions and Business Development, and then, in 2005, she quit her job to follow her dream of becoming a published author.

Brody is the author of two novels for adults--The Fidelity Files and Love Under Cover--and the young adult novels The Karma Club, My Life Undecided, and 52 Reasons to Hate My Father.

A few weeks ago I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I normally read young adult. Not just because I write in that genre, but also because I think young adult has some of the best stories these days. (And also because I’m secretly still 15 and always will be!) But recently I participated in an event with the author, Laura Moriarty who just released a new book called The Chaperone. I received a complimentary copy of the book and decided to read a few pages that night to see what it was about. Well, fast forward 24 hours and I couldn’t put the darn thing down! I just finished it last week and it was such a delightful read. The book is historical fiction (which I have a soft spot for) that takes place in the 1920s. It’s about the 30-something woman who chaperoned the famous silent film star, Louise Brooks, on her first trip to New York (before she became famous). I’ll admit when I heard the concept I didn’t think it would make for a very engaging story. But oh was I wrong! Not only is the story completely engaging but the writing is wonderful and the characters are so well done. I’ll definitely be checking out Laura’s other books soon!
Visit Jessica Brody's website and blog.

Writers Read: Jessica Brody (October 2009).

My Book, The Movie: 52 Reasons to Hate My Father.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 11, 2012

David Hagberg

David Hagberg is a former Air Force cryptographer who has traveled extensively in Europe, the Arctic, and the Caribbean and has spoken at CIA functions. He has published more than twenty novels of suspense, including Allah's Scorpion, Dance With the Dragon, The Expediter, and Abyss.

His latest novel is Castro's Daughter.

Recently I asked Hagberg what he was reading. His reply:
My time over the past few years has never entirely been my own. Writers read, of course and one of the up sides is that I get a whole bunch of ARCs from publishers looking for blurbs—so I get a lot of brand new books many of which are quite good.

I don’t watch TV at night. I go to bed at seven and shut out the lights to go to sleep at ten, which (in my anal way) gives me five half hour reading segments. The problem is that I want to know everything and I’m running out of time.7:00-7:30 Spanish grammar or piano practice, depending on my mood. 7:30-8:00 I’m on volume two— of Will Durant’s Story of Civilization. 8:00-8:30 an ARC or if I have none then some science mostly physics and astrophysics—lots of really neat things are happening just now—including the discovery of the Higgs boson. 8:30-9:00, some real life adventure—just now Roald Amundsen’s trip to the South Pole. Then 9:30-10:00 pure entertainment. Just lately Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series. Weekends of course are for catching up with The New York Times, Scientific American, Jane's Defence Weekly—etc. I really do want to know everything, and I’m really running out of time!
Visit David Hagberg's website.

Writers Read: David Hagberg (July 2011).

My Book, The Movie: Abyss.

The Page 69 Test: Abyss.

The Page 69 Test: Castro's Daughter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 10, 2012

Chris Nickson

Chris Nickson has written since he was a boy growing up in Leeds, starting with a three-paragraph school essay telling a tale of bomb disposal. That brought the revelation that he enjoyed telling stories, and then more stories, teenage poetry, and music, as both a bassist and then a singer-songwriter-guitarist.

Nickson spent 30 years living in the US, playing in bands and writing. He's made a living as a writer since 1994. Much of his work has been music journalism, combining the twin passions of music and writing, specializing in world and roots music. He's the author of The NPR Casual Listener's Guide to World Music and dozens of other non-fiction books, most of them quickie biographies.

The latest of his Leeds novels featuring Richard Nottingham is The Constant Lovers.

Last month I asked Nickson what he was reading.  His reply:
I’m currently reading Robin Blake’s novel A Dark Anatomy, a mystery set in Preston in the 1740s. I was on a panel with him on Saturday at Bodies in the Bookshop in Cambridge. As my books are set in Leeds in the 1730s we mine very similar territory, so I was curious to see how he approached things. His style is completely different to mine (a good thing for both of us!) and I’m curious to see where he goes with the tale. There’s a second in the series out, too.
Visit Chris Nickson's website, and view the book trailer for The Constant Lovers.

My Book, The Movie: The Constant Lovers.

The Page 69 Test: The Constant Lovers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Will Brooker

Will Brooker is Reader and Director of Research in Film and Television at Kingston University, London. He is a leading expert on the Dark Knight, and author of the cultural history of Batman, Batman Unmasked. His other books include Using the Force and Alice’s Adventures. He edited the Audience Studies Reader and The Blade Runner Experience, and wrote the BFI Film Classics volume on Star Wars.

Brooker's latest book is Hunting the Dark Knight: Twenty-First Century Batman.

A few weeks ago I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
The truth is that for relaxation, I mainly grab my iPad these days, and browse blogs, Reddit and Twitter links – I have a shelf of beautiful hardback books which are waiting for some point in the future when I hope I’ll be able to enjoy them properly. Immersing yourself in a proper book and giving it the attention it deserves – sinking into its language and its world – takes time, space and energy, and too often this year, I’m too wiped out by work to do much more than check out bite-size articles and post 140 character comments in return.

I have reached a point where I can read Batman comics almost entirely for pleasure again, after eighteen months (during the preparation of my book) where they were more like research and analysis. I enjoyed Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s The Court of Owls story-arc in hardback; the first Batman narrative of DC Comics’ ‘New 52’ reboot, which was announced – I’m not sure if this was horribly inconvenient or quite fitting – the day I finished writing the conclusion to Hunting the Dark Knight. The New 52 changes all the internal history and back-story of the DC Universe, so Snyder is making a fresh start after Grant Morrison dominated the Batman titles from 2006 to 2011. It feels appropriately different. Batman has a new voice: educated, self-taught and almost pedantically informed about the history of Gotham, its founding families and its architecture. Snyder recognises that Batman is the city, on one level, which is why the underlying twist of his story is so unsettling; we learn, as Batman does, that a hidden cabal of privileged citizens, the Court of Owls, has been roosting in Gotham (on the thirteenth floor of key landmarks, in a literally hidden storey) for over a century. You don’t mess with Batman by bringing muscle and weapons against him; you mess with him by revealing that he doesn’t know who he is, and who Robin is, and who his parents were, and who’s really been running his city for 150 years.

As it became clear to me from the viral marketing and trailers that Nolan’s new movie The Dark Knight Rises was going to essentially be ‘about’ Occupy, the Arab Spring, Twitter, Anonymous, the hivemind and the collective – in the same way that his previous installment, The Dark Knight, was ‘about’ 9/11 and terrorism; that is, not officially, but inherently – I turned to Gustav Le Bon’s The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. Some of Le Bon’s pronouncements now seem absurdly offensive – he refers to the incapacity to reason evident in ‘inferior forms of evolution – in women, savages and children, for instance’ – but most of his ideas are eerily prescient. ‘An isolated individual knows well enough that alone he cannot set fire to a place or loot a shop... making part of a crowd, he is conscious of the power given him by number, and... an unexpected obstacle will be destroyed with frenzied rage.’ As Le Bon notes, a crowd can be heroic, or destructive: it can overturn governments, or, as it did in London during the summer of 2011, it can take out its anger on personal property, and burn out small businesses.

I always make time for a new addition to Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, and the latest episode, Century 2009, was published recently. Moore’s epic story has run into unusual territory here; it started as a world where all literary characters co-existed, focusing first on late Victorian heroes and villains, but as it entered the 20th century, it ran increasingly into copyright and was obliged to use analogues for characters like James Bond, Emma Peel and, in this book, Harry Potter. The strangeness is compounded by the fact that this isn’t any 2009 we would recognise – of course, it’s a fictional alternate universe, but Moore clearly takes no enthusiastic interest in contemporary society, and his ‘present day’ is an odd mixture of TV satire, half-understood street culture and out-of-date fashions. Not as immediately satisfying as earlier instalments, it may ultimately be more haunting.
Learn more about Will Brooker's Hunting the Dark Knight at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: Hunting the Dark Knight.

--Marshal Zeringue