Thursday, February 27, 2014

J.T. Ellison

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling author of eleven critically acclaimed novels, including The Final Cut with Catherine Coulter, When Shadows Fall, Edge of Black and A Deeper Darkness. Her work has been published in over twenty countries. Her novel The Cold Room won the ITW Thriller Award for Best Paperback Original and Where All The Dead Lie was a RITA® Nominee for Best Romantic Suspense. She lives in Nashville with her husband.

Recently I asked Ellison about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m on deadline, so I’m looking to read books similar in tone and setting to my own, so I can be swept up in the pace and story and excitement and intensity of a thriller. I’ve just finished The English Girl by Daniel Silva, who is one of my favorite writers. I adore his Gabriel Allon books, love the depth of the characters, and I’m always fascinated by Silva’s omniscient narrative. I normally write in close third, so it’s very helpful to step into a different structure and see how easily the story unfolds.

I’ve moved on now to a deep, dense, exciting World War II thriller by Gary Kriss, The Zodiac Deception, and next up is Lisa Gardner’s Fear Nothing. It has a fascinating premise, one character in extreme pain, one who can’t feel pain. Lisa’s work is always thought-provoking; I am already contemplating the conflict ahead.
Visit J.T. Ellison's website, or follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Writers Read: J.T. Ellison (November 2012).

The Page 69 Test: Edge of Black.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Alan de Queiroz

Alan de Queiroz is an evolutionary biologist and adjunct faculty at the University of Nevada, Reno. He has written widely-cited research articles on topics ranging from biogeography to the evolution of behavior to the origins of parasites. He lives in Reno, Nevada.

His new book is The Monkey's Voyage: How Improbable Journeys Shaped the History of Life.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Like many people, when browsing for something to read, I often choose a book based on its first lines. I suppose what I’m hoping to find is some immediate connection, either in subject matter or, more often, in the author’s “voice.” It doesn’t always work out, of course; sometimes those first lines are misleading, and the hoped-for connection isn’t actually there.

On the other hand, sometimes it works the other way around.

For the past couple of years, my wife, Tara, has been raving about Animal, Mineral, Radical, a collection of essays by B. K. Loren. As a result, several times I’ve picked up the book and read its opening lines: “Writing is listening,” Loren proclaims. “I have never believed writing has anything to do with having something to say.” And I’ve thought to myself, “That is really not me. I wrote a book precisely because I did have something to say.” And then I’ve put the book down.

But Tara kept raving about Loren’s book, so eventually I read on…and got hooked. As I began reading, it occurred to me that I ought to relate to the author at some level because, like me, she’s into nature, and she lives in a place I once lived in, the Front Range area of Colorado. And, to some extent, those connections did materialize. Her descriptions of transcendent encounters with coyotes and mountain lions reminded me of my own meetings with wild animals, and an essay in which she describes living downwind of the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons facility, where radioactive and pesticide-laden dust drifted like fine snow, made me wish I had never lived anywhere near the place. Ultimately, though, what made me love this book was how it so clearly and poetically expressed the author’s humanity—her sense of mortality, and sadness, and rejuvenation, and connection, to the world and to other people. If that makes Animal, Mineral, Radical sound heavy, well, it is heavy, but it’s also funny and hopeful. One of my favorite essays in the book, called “Snapshots of my red-neck brother, and other undeveloped negatives,” begins with scenes that make the author and her brother seem like products of different worlds, but ultimately reveals a complex and touching relationship.

In the movie Shadowlands, Anthony Hopkins, playing C. S. Lewis, says, “We read to know we are not alone.” That’s exactly what I felt many times while reading Loren’s book, in ways that were unanticipated and deeper than I had expected. I might even have to go back to those opening lines and try to figure out what I was missing before.

Two other books I’ve read recently also surprised me with unexpected connections. One of these, I have to admit, I read because the author, Thor Hanson, wrote a nice blurb for the back of my own book. But I don’t think that’s what made me like his book, Feathers. As with Animal, Mineral, Radical, I started Feathers thinking I would relate to it for one reason—because I’m a birder and the book is all about the most obvious feature of birds—but ended up enjoying it for an entirely different reason as well. Basically, I felt a kinship to the author—he comes across as an inquisitive and modest naturalist and scientist, things that I at least aspire to be. Hanson’s book is sprinkled with entertaining personal anecdotes, but they’re all in service to explorations of the natural and cultural history of feathers; he never seemed to be writing about himself to satisfy his ego. By the time I finished the book I felt like I had been listening to stories—fascinating stories at that—told by a trusted friend. (The anticipated bird connection ultimately came through strongly for me too. For instance, I recently discovered the remains of a dove in our backyard, probably the leftovers from a hawk’s meal, and found myself sifting through the pile, picking out all the anatomically distinct kinds of feathers, and contemplating what Hanson wrote about their evolution.)

The third book on my list is one of the hundreds of children’s picture books that my wife and I have read to our daughter and son. Many kids’ books are truly painful for adults to read—the awful, abbreviated book versions of Disney movies should be avoided like the plague—but we’ve also come across dozens of real treasures. One of my favorites is Tea With Milk by Allen Say, whose books often tell some sort of Asian/American cross-cultural story. My heritage is mostly Japanese, and that alone might make me especially receptive to Say’s books, but Tea With Milk also brings up a specific topic that I’ve become aware of through my family’s history. Specifically, many Japanese who immigrated to the U.S. later returned to Japan, some of them staying for good, others eventually moving back to the States, as my mother’s family did after living in Japan for a year. Tea With Milk deals with this little-known aspect of immigrant history. The book is about a Japanese-American girl named Masako whose family, living in California, decides to return to Japan and remains there. It turns out to be a story of displacement and disconnection, because Masako is culturally more American than Japanese and is discriminated against in Japan. (My mother’s experience immediately came to mind here; she told me that, when her family lived in Japan, the other kids made fun of the way she and her sisters talked, and would throw stones at them on the way to school.) Masako feels both constrained by Japanese culture, especially as it applies to women, and alienated from everyone around her, but she eventually finds a connection with another displaced person, a Chinese businessman. This couple, it turns out, are Allen Say’s parents, who, despite their initial alienation, stayed in Japan, where Say was raised. (He now lives in the U.S., to add another layer to the story.)

For me, as an adult who reads great piles of children’s books, one of the pleasures of reading Tea With Milk and other books by Say is that, despite their straightforward form, they manage to delve into profound issues and to avoid simple, stereotypical stories. Toss the words “Japanese,” “American,” and “prejudice” together and many people will conjure up images of white Americans sending Japanese-Americans to World War II internment camps, or other forms of racial prejudice. Tea With Milk tells a less obvious story of discrimination and disconnection, and gains strength from its novelty. I should also mention that Say illustrates his books with beautifully composed watercolors. Oh, and, crucially, our kids like these books too (even if some of the subtleties fly over our three-year-old’s head).
Visit The Monkey's Voyage website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Claire Cameron

Claire Cameron's first novel, The Line Painter, was nominated for an Arthur Ellis Award for best crime first novel and won the Northern Lit Award from the Ontario Library Service. Cameron's work has appeared in the New York Times, the Globe & Mail, and The Millions. She worked as a wilderness instructor in Ontario's Algonquin Park and for Outward Bound. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two children.

Her new novel is The Bear.

Recently I asked Cameron about what she was reading. Her reply:
These are five books I recently read and loved.

Perfect by Rachel Joyce

This book is perfect in how it marries form and function. The author tells two alternating stories, one about Bryon and James who are two English school boys in 1972 and one about a fifty something year old man named Jim with obsessive compulsive disorder in the current day. Though the are some things in common between the stories, much of the fun for the reader comes from trying to guess why the two stories are connected.

Pilgrim's Wilderness by Tom Kizzia

A work of non-fiction described by the publisher as Into the Wild meets Helter Skelter. This is exactly right. This is the true story of the Pilgrim family, a Papa, his wife and fifteen children, who ended up in McCarthy, Alaska, near where Kizzia has a cabin. It's the author's balanced approach to the story and his role in it that makes for such a great read.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

This is an epic tale about art thievery, friends and finding a place in the world. The novel is long at just under 800 pages, so reading it feels more like living with it. When I finished, it left a huge gap in my life.

All The Broken Things by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer

A beautiful novel that is about many things including agent orange, a carnival and bear wrestling, but focused around the relationship between a boy and a bear. The author roots the story in both myth and reality at once. Reading it feels like lucid dreaming. Does that make sense? You should read it and see what I mean.

Swing Low by Miriam Toews

I am a huge fan of Toews' work, but hadn't read this novel until recently. It is now my favorite. The topic is heavy--told in first person, it's the life story of her father, who had committed suicide after a lifetime struggle with bipolar disorder. But, her writing always holds a beautifully judged humor that reminds a reader that the dark and light are two sides of life that come together.
Visit Claire Cameron's website, blog, and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: The Line Painter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 21, 2014

Michelle Wildgen

Michelle Wildgen is the author of the novels Bread and Butter, You’re Not You, and But Not For Long. The film adaptation of You’re Not You, a New York Times’ Editor’s Choice and one of People Magazine’s Top Ten Books of 2006, stars Hilary Swank and Emmy Rossum. Wildgen’s work includes fiction, essays, reviews, and food writing. She is a freelance writer, editor, and teacher, and an executive editor at the literary magazine Tin House. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

Recently I asked Wildgen about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m prepping for a food writing class I’ll teach in a couple of months, which means I’m reading a lot of delicious stuff like Jeffrey Steingarten’s The Man Who Ate Everything and It Must Have Been Something I Ate. Steingarten is one of my great favorites for his incredible erudition, laugh-out-loud wit, and wide range of interests. He’s witnessed pig slaughters in France, immersed himself (almost literally, one suspects) in choucroute garnie in Alsace, and tortured a series of assistants with a never-ending series of exacting cooking experiments.

I’ll tell you what food books I’m not reading, though, and wish I were: Wasn’t Ruth Reichl scheduled to write a memoir about her time at the helm of Gourmet? I’ve been waiting for that with bated breath and hadn’t heard a word about it in years, so I asked on Twitter and discovered she has a contract for the memoir but has been sidetracked by novels and plans to write it next year. So I am holding on another year or two.

I’m also re-reading Lev Grossman’s The Magician King in anticipation of his third installment later this year—I like to convince myself that in order to appreciate a series I’m required to reread the others each time a new one appears. Really, I just love rereading books and this belief makes me feel I am accomplishing something instead of indulging myself. But I am, because one of my sharpest childhood memories is the creeping sensation of pure let-down that accompanied the realization that I would never learn to fly, be invisible, or see a leprechaun or fairy. As an adult I’ve reconciled myself to this, but at 6 or 7? Man, it stung.
Visit Michelle Wildgen's website.

The Page 99 Test: You’re Not You.

The Page 69 Test: But Not for Long.

The Page 69 Test: Bread and Butter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Mignon F. Ballard

Mignon Franklin Ballard, an accomplished mystery writer, lives in Calhoun, Georgia.

She is the author of several acclaimed mysteries, including her series featuring revered first grade teacher, Miss Dimple Kilpatrick, set during the years of World War II. Miss Dimple Picks a Peck of Trouble is the latest novel in the series.

Not so long ago I asked Ballard about what she was reading. Her reply:
For Christmas my daughter gave me a copy of Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and I enjoyed it so much I’m recommending it for my book club. Set in England in the present, the story follows the peculiar adventure of a lackluster man in his early retirement years who sets off to mail a letter one early summer morning and decides to deliver it in person. The fact that the recipient of the letter is some 600 miles away is the carrot of the story that leads the reader into an amazing and thought-provoking journey. A friend he has not seen for twenty years is dying in a hospice, and Harold feels that as long as he continues to walk, she will continue to live. And walk, he does, wearing the same yachting shoes and light jacket, while absorbing and experiencing facets of life far beyond his imagination.
Visit Mignon Ballard's website.

My Book, The Movie: Miss Dimple Rallies to the Cause.

The Page 69 Test: Miss Dimple Picks a Peck of Trouble.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 17, 2014

Gregory Spatz

Gregory Spatz is the author of the novels Inukshuk, Fiddler’s Dream, and No One But Us, and the short fiction collections Wonderful Tricks and Half as Happy. He has also written for the Oxford American and Poets and Writers and his stories have appeared in many publications, including The New Yorker. He is the recipient of a Washington State Book Award, Spokane Arts Commission Individual Artist of the Year Award, and National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he teaches in the MFA program at the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University.

A few weeks ago I asked Spatz about what he was reading. His reply:
The past couple of weeks I’ve had the opportunity to re-read two of my all-time favorite books for a graduate novel writing workshop that I’m teaching: So Long See You Tomorrow, by William Maxwell and Stoner, by John Williams.

So Long See You Tomorrow has one of the most interesting hybrid forms I’ve encountered—half meditative essay/memoir exploring the death of Maxwell’s mother and the period of time immediately following, told in a dispassionate but heartrending first-person retrospective; part third-person omniscient story of adultery, murder and suicide. Through all of it, Maxwell’s transparent and understated style of narration, his patient and capacious voice, works like magic. The scenes and paragraphs seem to digress and dissolve sideways but always land you exactly where you need to be for the story to progress. The viewpoint shifts fluidly from murderer, to estranged lover, to child, to great aunt, to the farm dog, and back again, with no whiplash or confusion. Like the Alberto Giacometti sculpture, The Palace at 4 AM, which evidently inspired some of the book’s writing or conception, So Long See You Tomorrow seems to imply a form beyond its outlines, and then to transcend that form.

I used to worry that if I described Stoner by saying what it’s about and providing a plot synopsis, people would be put off from reading it. The book had few enough fans, I didn’t see a reason to scare away any more. So instead I’d say, “It’s good,” or “Hard to describe,” or “Just read it.”

Fact is, Stoner is not an easy book, and not a book to read for plot—tale of an obscure academic and his lifelong love of books and of teaching—it’s a book to read for its sheer mastery of language. Lines with a stone-like certainty and ring of truth, and insights and observations so perfectly mitered you want to read them over and over. And for the precisely detailed depictions of all the odds and obstacles in the main character William Stoner’s path—an extremely rural and unprivileged upbringing; a loveless marriage to a tyrannical woman; a capricious, even demonic department chair; two world wars; a love affair which ends in alienation and isolation—but ultimately for Stoner’s private triumph over all these odds. As John Williams says in the book’s introduction, William Stoner is a “real hero.” His love of teaching and of books, his unflagging dedication and integrity, these sustain him through it all; he gets to spend his life doing what he loves and what he does best. His quiet, profound persistence speaks to us across the generations.

I used to worry about underselling Stoner because until a year or two ago the book was largely unknown. Luckily, thanks to wild sales surges throughout Europe, and subsequent rave NPR and New York Times articles (and elsewhere), the book is suddenly gaining the attention it’s long deserved. It is one of the finest and most perfect things I’ve ever read.
Visit Gregory Spatz's website.

The Page 69 Test: Half as Happy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Peter Mountford

Peter Mountford’s debut novel, A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism, won the 2012 Washington State Book Award and was a finalist in the 2012 VCU Cabell First Novelist Prize. In its full-page review, The Seattle Times wrote: “Debut novels don't come much savvier, punchier, or more entertaining...the work of an extraordinary talent.”

Mountford's new novel is The Dismal Science.

Recently I asked the author what he was reading. His reply:
I’m reading Bob Shacochis’s The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, and it’s just remarkably baroque and capacious. And I’m reading Claire Messud’s glorious The Woman Upstairs, which is quivering with powerful emotion. Both books’ titles start with the phrase “The Woman,” I notice, which I could see an overenthusiastic psychotherapist trying to trampoline into a thing. Last year, I was showered in so much student writing for a year or so, that I read nothing else, and I started to feel very creatively emaciated, in a way. Not that my students aren’t all geniuses, of course they are all geniuses. But, yeah, it’s nice to get lost in these two books. Messud’s voice is so deft, so dangerous and smart and alive—the character is seething perfectly. Shacochis is very different. He’s writing a symphony. There’s just no other way to describe it. And he writes about politics better than anyone I can think of—there are layers and layers and every time you think you have a grasp on the thing, like you get the “point,” then something else opens up, and you find that you’re still just getting acquainted with the book.

In the last six months I read Peter Orner’s new collection, and Laura Van Den Berg’s new collection, and I read Jodi Angel’s debut collection, all published last year. Three superb collections of stories in a fairly short spurt. I haven’t been writing short stories, so it’s nice to read these great books without that old anguish of self-laceration, that nagging ego response of Why can’t I do this? I’m going to read Antonya Nelson’s forthcoming collection pretty soon, too, and I’m looking forward to that. Reading some great essays, as well. Been just reading incredibly good fiction and nonfiction recently, such an abundance of incredible work. And Samantha Irby’s blog, Bitches Gotta Eat. I love the living shit out of that blog. I need to read her book Meaty. Mostly, I’m loving being in love with reading again, after getting kind of tangled up and smothered by endless workshop homework.
Visit Peter Mountford's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism.

My Book, The Movie: A Young Man's Guide to Late Capitalism.

The Page 69 Test: The Dismal Science.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 14, 2014

Catherine Zuromskis

Catherine Zuromskis is Assistant Professor of Art History at UNM with a focus on photography, contemporary art, and twentieth-century American visual culture. Her latest book is Snapshot Photography: The Lives of Images.

Recently I asked Zuromskis about what she was reading. Her reply:
As a university professor, I rarely get to focus my attention on a single book from start to finish. I am usually juggling a number of books for class and for research, and if there is time at the end of the day, I may squeeze in a few pages of reading for pleasure. Right now, I’m pleased to be reading a number of different books, all of which are delighting and engaging me in different ways.

I’ve just finished Jennifer Doyle’s fantastic new study Hold it Against Me: Emotion and Difficulty in Contemporary Art (Duke University Press, 2013) and will be writing a review of it for the journal Postmodern Culture. The book deftly examines the difficult topic of emotion in contemporary art through a series of artists who have often been relegated to the margins of art history. Though many critics have been quick to dismiss the works of artists like Ron Athey, an HIV positive gay man whose performances involve self-wounding and painful endurance, Doyle’s book reveals the immense complexity of emotional responses to such works. In the process, she offers a profound critique of art history and its relationship to affect, difficulty, and what is too often oversimplified as the “literalness” of works by queer and female artists and artists of color. I found Doyle’s book inspiring as well for the way she tackles a problem I have often faced in my own scholarship: how to write substantive critical scholarship about feelings. Doyle’s book manages to be both insightful and heartfelt without ever seeming self-indulgent. At the same time, she made me think hard about my own resistance to self-indulgence itself in scholarly writing.

I’m also just beginning the latest book by Shawn Michelle Smith, to my mind one of the best scholars of photo history working today. Her first book American Archives: Gender, Race and Class in Visual Culture (Princeton University Press, 1999) was foundational in conceiving and writing my own book, Snapshot Photography: The Lives of Images, and taught me just how political and complex a simple family photograph could be. Her latest book, At the Edge of Sight: Photography and the Unseen (Duke University Press, 2013) deals with the provocative notion of what we cannot see in the photographic image. She begins with the fascinating example of what is commonly known as the “first photograph,” Nic├ęphore Ni├ępce’s “View from the Window at Le Gras” from 1826. Part of what is so interesting about this image, Smith suggests, is how little it actually shows us. The polished silver plate displays an image so faint it is nearly impossible to see, and yet as the “first photograph” what it (barely) shows us is also of immense historical and symbolic importance. From this first photograph, Smith begins an exploration of the limitations of photographic seeing touching on such idiosyncratic figures as the spirit photographer William Mumler, the inventor of stop motion photography, Eadweard Muybridge, and the pictorialist photographer F. Holland Day. Though I am only a few pages in, I am already enthralled by the clarity and complexity of Smith's argument and the necessary relation she posits between, on the one hand, a medium ontologically grounded in the idea of making the world visible and, on the other, that medium’s persistent failure to fully reveal what it represents.

Over winter break, I was able to turn my attention to some reading “just for fun” and I am nearly three quarters of the way through Lawrence Wright’s fascinating Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013). Though I picked it up as a vacation read, I have found it to be a fascinating compliment to my scholarly interests in art and culture in twentieth century America. Wright’s account of L. Ron Hubbard’s life and the founding and growth of the Church of Scientology is not only a riveting and astounding page-turner, but also an impeccably researched and written testament to the strange and unique function of belief in twentieth century American culture.

Last but not least are the books with more pictures than words. I am addicted to Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ weird and wonderful new comic book Saga (Image Comics, Inc.). This sci-fi series comments on class, race, gender, parenting, and the subversive political potential of mass culture. Plus it features star-crossed lovers, a lying cat, a race of aristocratic overlords with televisions for heads, and a nightmare-inducing yet sexy spider-like female bounty hunter called “The Stalk.” What’s not to love?

And, as the mother of a two year old, I am rapidly becoming reacquainted with the some of the best (and worst) of children’s picture books. Our latest discovery is the wordless yet flawlessly told Flotsam by David Wiesner (Clarion Books, 2006). This beautiful book folds a richly drawn portrait of a fantastical undersea world populated by giant starfish, tiny aliens, and clockwork fish into a narrative of a boy who finds a vintage Melville underwater box camera washed up at the beach. It is a whimsical little masterpiece!
Learn more about Catherine Zuromskis' Snapshot Photography: The Lives of Images at the MIT Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Tim Harford

Tim Harford is an economist, journalist and broadcaster. He is the author of The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run-or Ruin-an Economy and the million-selling The Undercover Economist, a senior columnist at the Financial Times, and the presenter of Radio 4′s “More or Less” and “Pop Up Ideas”. Harford has spoken at TED, PopTech and the Sydney Opera House and is a visiting fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Harford's reply:
I've recently been having fun looking at business and economic history.

Over Christmas I read The Idea Factory, a well-researched and fascinating account of how Bell Labs developed the building-block of modern computing - the transistor - as well as numerous other important innovations. Jon Gertner does a great job of bringing some remarkable characters such as William Shockley and Claude Shannon to life; he also explains the unique circumstances that made Bell Labs possible. He hints at lessons for innovation policy today without drawing fanciful or facile conclusions. A very good book.

Now I am half way through Walter Friedman's Fortune Tellers, which is also carefully researched and colourful. It's an account of the personalities who pioneered the idea of economic forecasting - what they did, how they did it, and how their forecasts fared. Some were charlatans, some were academics, and some were both. Like any good nonfiction book it's sparking plenty of ideas.

Next up: John Wasik's book on John Maynard Keynes's investment strategies. I know quite a bit about this already - Keynes's record as an investor was one of crazy risk-taking, failure, a sharp change of direction, and then sustained success. He's an endlessly fascinating character and I can't wait to find out more.
Visit Tim Harford's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The Undercover Economist.

The Page 99 Test: The Undercover Economist Strikes Back.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 10, 2014

Patience Bloom

Patience Bloom is a senior editor at Harlequin Books and focuses specifically on Harlequin Romantic Suspense, which gives her full license to indulge in her love of the thriller genre and all things suspense.

Her new book is Romance Is My Day Job: A Memoir of Finding Love at Last.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Bloom's reply:
Finding Colin Firth by Mia March: I’m close to finishing this charming story about three women whose lives intersect in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Of course, any title mentioning Colin Firth compels a purchase, but I got swept up in the characters’ journeys through romance, pregnancy, pie-making, marriage, adoption, and starting over. This is a comfort read for the soul.

On the Island by Tracey Garvis Graves: This book is utterly haunting, exploring gritty realities of “if you lived on a desert island…” The author’s straightforward style grabbed me and led me through a day-to-day struggle to survive. A very special book that stays with you long after you’ve finished.

Running with the Mind of Meditation by Sakyong Mipham Ripoche: I love to run and am trying to meditate every day. Turns out, you can do both! A friend recommended this book, which will help any runner rediscover his/her groove. I love how the author stresses mindfulness while running, appreciating each step, where you are, and how you’re running.
Visit Patience Bloom's website.

The Page 99 Test: Romance Is My Day Job.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Alecia Whitaker

Alecia Whitaker is the author of The Queen of Kentucky and the forthcoming Wildflower.

Recently I asked the writer about what she was reading. Whitaker's reply:
I don't get a whole lot of time to read these days. The schedule for the three-book series I'm working on now (called Wildflower) is brutal. But in between deadlines, I've managed to devour Matthew Quick's novel Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock and as usual when it comes to his writing, I loved it. Matthew Quick writes with such honesty and is gifted with the incredible talent of marrying deeply disturbing topics with reality and humor. I really love his work. He is one of my favorite authors of all time and he is so consistent.

Right now I'm reading Just Like Fate by Suzanne Young and my good friend Cat Patrick. It's been a good read so far and I keep wondering which author wrote which sections. The main character has to choose whether to Go or to Stay and so the book seems to be showing how either decision would affect her life and/or which would have been the better choice. I'm only halfway through, but it's an interesting idea for sure.

And in July, the first book of my series Wildflower comes out and I'll be reading that–a lot–at signings and author visits. It's weird knowing that people are already reading advanced copies. It's out there... in the world. I hope my readers enjoy it!
Visit Alecia Whitaker's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Carol Berkin

Carol Berkin, Presidential Professor of History, Emerita at Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, is the author of A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution, First Generations, and Jonathan Sewall.

Her new book is Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Berkin's reply:
So… when I put my work aside, or take a break from it, I indulge in mystery and spy novels. I have high standards: the book has to be well written and the hero or heroine has to be fascinating. My favorites? The remarkable Agent Pendergast, the creation of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and Daniel Silva’s intense and intellectual hero, Gabriel Allon. Pendergast and I share a Gulf Coast background, as he is from New Orleans and I am from Mobile, Alabama, but there, I assure you, the similarity ends. And Allon—all his assignments have rich historical contexts that appeal deeply to me. Alas, I have now read all of the novels with these two characters, and I have had to branch out. Currently, I am curling up with the Scotland Yard mysteries of Alex Grecian. They are eerie and beautifully written. Lest I sound too lowbrow, I guess I should add that I eagerly await any new book by Penelope Lively who I think is the premier novelist of our era. She writes with a grace and subtlety that anyone who picks up a pen [or taps a computer key] must surely envy—I know I do. I urge everyone to read Moon Tiger and According to Mark—and you will understand my devotion to her.
Read more about Wondrous Beauty at the publisher's website.

My Book, The Movie: Wondrous Beauty.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Chris Marie Green

Chris Marie Green is the author of Only the Good Die Young, the first book in the Jensen Murphy, Ghost for Hire series from Penguin/Roc, which features a fun-loving spirit from the ’80s. She also wrote the urban fantasy Vampire Babylon series from Ace Books as well as The She Code, a “geek lit”/chick lit/new adult hybrid with comic book art work by Billy Martinez of Neko Press Comics.

Last month I asked the author about what she was reading. Green's reply:
It seems I went through a bit of a dark time lately.

I went on a Gillian Flynn jag. I had read Gone Girl last year and loved Flynn’s wordsmithing abilities. She knows how to use details to paint a picture, and she often turns everyday things into something else entirely. She also has the guts to give us characters we won’t necessarily like as people—even the main characters! Since I do write a series that involves darkness and murder (Jensen Murphy, Ghost for Hire), I’m always looking for an author who can nail the atmosphere of a crime novel, and Flynn never disappoints.

Having said that, I bought the audio version of Dark Places, which is about a woman whose family was slaughtered when she was a girl. She identified her brother as the culprit, but when she gets involved with a hobbyist “murder club” that likes to review details of crimes, she realizes that maybe big brother wasn’t so guilty. If I’d been holding an actual book, I would call this a page-turner, but as I was listening to the audio version, I kept finding excuses to go out and take a walk, just so I could finish. This book is not for the faint of heart, though…

Neither is Sharp Objects, which I just had to read soon afterward. (Flynn has written three books, and this is the first. They are not a series.) Talk about dark—oh, boy. This book is the lovechild of V.C. Andrews and Harper Lee, complete with gothic family dynamics and a small town with many secrets. And let’s not forget the beyond messed-up heroine. In a word: LovedIt.

A girl certainly needs to wash away all that Flynn-induced darkness at some point, though, so I bought the audio for a really excellent analysis of television shows. The Revolution Was Televised, by Alan Sepinwall, was a fantastic palette cleanser. It’s also a nerd’s fantasy, lovingly breaking down some shows that most critics consider to be part of TV’s modern golden age. Everything from The Sopranos to Friday Night Lights to Breaking Bad is talked about in an accessible, enjoyable manner; this is a keeper for sure!
Visit Chris Marie Green's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Kyle Minor

Kyle Minor is the author of two collections of stories: In the Devil’s Territory (2008) and Praying Drunk (2014). He is the winner of the 2012 Iowa Review Prize for Short Fiction and the Tara M. Kroger Prize for Short Fiction, one of Random House’s Best New Voices of 2006, and a three-time honoree in the Atlantic Monthly contest. His work has appeared online at Esquire and Tin House, and in print in The Southern Review, The Iowa Review, Best American Mystery Stories 2008, Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers, Forty Stories: New Voices from Harper Perennial, and Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Minor's reply:
I just finished reading The Acme Novelty Date Book, Volume One: 1986-1995, by Chris Ware. It's an extraordinary document of ten years of a graphic novelist's daily struggles, drafting processes, notes, studies, and stray thoughts. I was struck first by the beauty of the drawings and watercolor paintings, second by the thoughtfulness of the author as he tries with all his effort to nail down the subjects he's circling, and third by how hard Ware can be on himself, an occupational hazard, I suppose. Above a beautifully drawn graphite streetscape, Ware writes, in red pen: "You're a fucking slouch!" Beneath a miraculously free-handed ink tree, he writes: "You're not looking!" Beside a quick study of a middle-aged woman in a grocery store, he writes: "don't know about this kind of 'shading' under ears."

Never in a million years will I ever make anything as beautiful as Ware's daily workmanship, but I can tell you this: He's no slouch, he was looking all along, and the ears reflected the resignation of the woman so well that for a moment I thought I might have felt what she felt, and what he felt, looking at her.
Learn more about Kyle Minor and his work at his website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue