Saturday, January 31, 2015

Kathryn Casey

Kathryn Casey is an award-winning journalist, who has written for Rolling Stone, TV Guide, Reader's Digest, Texas Monthly, and many other publications. She's the author of several previous true crime books and the creator of the highly acclaimed Sarah Armstrong mystery series. Casey has appeared on Oprah, Oprah Winfrey's Oxygen network, Biography, Nancy Grace, E! network, truTV, Investigation Discovery, the Travel Channel, and A&E.

Her new book is Deliver Us: Three Decades of Murder and Redemption in the Infamous I-45/Texas Killing Fields.

Recently I asked Casey about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m currently reading All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, and enjoying it. Regrettably, I’m not far enough into it to comment. I’m researching two books, and it’s hard to find time for more than a few pages a night. So I’ve decided to write on the most recent book I finished, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

Since The Goldfinch won a Pulitzer for fiction, obviously it’s excellent. What I’d like to explore is the theme of destiny in the novel. It’s not giving away any of the plot, since it happens early, to reveal that the main character, Theo Decker, and his mother are in an art museum when there’s an explosion. Unable to find his mother, Theo flees, but not before making a fateful decision. This action colors Theo’s future, influencing other choices, eventually leading him to his life’s career and to people who become vital to his survival. In addition, fate is played out as an essential element in Theo’s relationship with his father, a gambler, who talks at length about the role of luck.

That early action, the one Theo makes shortly after we first meet him, also becomes integral to the denouement.

Perhaps the reason I particularly enjoyed this aspect of the book is that I document the important role of chance in my most recent book, Deliver Us: Three Decades of Murder and Redemption in the Infamous I-45/Texas Killing Fields. This is a true crime book, and the cases it contains are real, the murders of nineteen teenage girls and young women south of Houston, along the I-45 corridor. It’s believed that these were all crimes of opportunity, the types of situations we often refer to as “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” On those crucial days, if each of the victims had varied one simple choice, taken slightly different paths, it’s probable that they wouldn’t have died.
Learn more about the book and author at Kathryn Casey's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Deliver Us.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 30, 2015

Corina Vacco

Corina Vacco trespassed on toxic land and wrote the first draft of her debut novel, My Chemical Mountain, while parked in her car at the foot of a radioactive landfill—this book went on to win the Delacorte Prize for a First Young Adult Novel, was a Bank Street Best Book of the Year, and made the shortlist for the 2014 Green Earth Book Award.

Recently I asked Vacco about what she was reading. Her reply:
I read in threes—a first-thing-in-the-morning book; a whenever-I-can-steal-a-few-minutes-in-the-afternoon book; and a last-thing-I-read-before-falling-asleep book. Here’s what’s on the menu for this week:

First-thing-in-the-morning book:

The Golden Compass by Philip C. Pullman

What a book to wake up to! Armored bears. The North. Flying machines. Children whisked away by gobblers. This book is an imaginative flight, but it’s also deeply layered thematically. It serves up beauty and terror and everything in between. I love waking up to a book that gets my creative juices flowing (and sense of wonder stirring) for the whole rest of the day, so this is a great morning choice for me.

Whenever-I-can-steal-a-few-minutes-in-the-afternoon book:

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller

This book makes me smile, which is mandatory in the middle of a hectic afternoon. Imagine you walk to a NYC park, climb down a hole, and into a Shadow City, where you meet Kiki Strike and her entertaining crew of Irregulars: Luz Lopes, a genius de mechanique; Oona Wong, a master hacker and forger; DeeDee Morlock, the chemistry genius who specializes in poison; and Luz Lopez, the tinkerer. Now imagine how these young girls might go about investigating (and stopping) a series of robberies while navigating a network of strange tunnels beneath Manhattan, and when I say tunnels, I’m not talking about the subway system. I’m talking about the Shadow City, which is one of the coolest things ever! This book is easy to put down and pick back up again many times in a day, because it’s so engaging and completely unusual, so it’s a great selection for the busiest part of my day, when I’m stealing time to read a chapter on the street car here, a few pages while running to an appointment there. I even read while I’m walking my dog! You know how it is.


Al Capone Does My Shirts by Ginnifer Choldenko

Before bed, I love a good mystery. This book is a special one for me because it’s set in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is where I used to live not even a year ago, and I’m still homesick for the chilly fog and wild Pacific Ocean. This book was a Newbery Honor book, and the voice, oh man, it pulls you in. It’s set on Alcatraz in 1935, where the protagonist lives on account of his father being employed there. And let me tell you, trouble is brewing. If you want a historical fiction read that packs emotional punch and weaves a gripping mystery, this is a great one. I love falling asleep thinking about it.
Visit Corina Vacco's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: My Chemical Mountain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Eric Smith

Eric Smith is an author, blogger, gamer, and publishing geek living and writing in Philadelphia.

His 2013 book, The Geek’s Guide to Dating, was an Amazon Best Book of the Year selection in Humor. He still can’t believe that happened.

Smith's first Young Adult novel, Inked, is now out from Bloomsbury Spark.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Smith's reply:
Lately I’ve been reading a lot of Andrew Smith.

If you haven’t heard of him, he’s an amazing Young Adult writer that I only started picking up last year. He writes really fantastic young characters and tackles really hard issues in all of his books. Last year I read his novels Grasshopper Jungle and Winger, and I recently started 100 Sideways Miles.

Winger was one of those books that made me laugh to the point of tears and then cry to the point that I felt utterly gutted. So I’m really looking forward to diving in to Miles this month.

I’ve also been reading my way through Nova Ren Suma’s back catalog. I got to read an early copy of her upcoming YA novel The Walls Around Us (due out in March), and started picking up her other books immediately after. I devoured Imaginary Girls, I’m in the middle of 17 & Gone. Like Smith, she writes really great characters, with twisting, heart-wrenching plots.
Visit Eric Smith's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Don H. Doyle

Don H. Doyle is the McCausland Professor of History at the University of South Carolina. The author of several books, including Faulkner's County and Nations Divided, he lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

His latest book is The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Doyle's reply:
After working intensively on the Civil War and its international dimensions, one might guess I had enough, but I find myself immersed in some big new books that bear on the subject.

Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton: A Global History is a book we have all been waiting for. This is a sweeping history of cotton as a commodity and how it helped give birth to modern capitalism, Beckert’s book is a bracing antidote to the glib celebrations of “creative destruction” we hear so much of these days. I like it also because he reclaims economic history, which is much too important to be left to economists.

Edward Baptist, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, is another gloomy exploration of the entangled histories of capitalism and slavery. It leaves any claims for the benign paternalistic nature of American slavery pretty much in shreds, but it is also an indictment of capitalism, which many people are accustomed to seeing as the opposite of slavery—free labor, free men.

Research for my book plunged me into a lot of French history and left me enthralled by Paris. My Parisian friend, who teaches history at the Sorbonne, introduced me to his parents who were teenagers in Paris when the American GI’s liberated the city, and I wanted to learn more about that remarkable moment. Ronald Rosbottom, When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944, is a fascinating and very French story of how Parisians endured, accommodated, collaborated, and resisted the Nazi occupation. “Practice elegant indifference,” one French pamphlet advised. “Light their cigarettes for them but do not volunteer directions.”
Visit The Cause of All Nations Facebook page, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Cause of All Nations.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

William C. Dietz

New York Times bestselling author William C. Dietz has published more than forty novels some of which have been translated into German, French, Russian, Korean and Japanese. He also wrote the script for the Legion of the Damned game (i-Phone, i-Touch, & i-Pad) based on his book of the same name--and co-wrote SONY's Resistance: Burning Skies game for the PS Vita.

His new book is The Mutant Files; Deadeye.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Dietz's reply:
I have a strong interest in military history—and write military science fiction novels. That, plus the fact that I know one of the editors, is why I chose to read The Battle of Mogadishu, which was edited by Matt Eversmann and Dan Schilling.

The book is about the battle made famous in the film Blackhawk Down. The movie, which was released in 2001, was based on the true story of what occurred in the city of Mogadishu, Somalia on October 3, 1993. A U.S. Army force consisting of U.S. Army Rangers, members of Delta Force, Navy SEALS, and Air Force personnel tried to capture two of Mohamed Farrah Aidid's high-ranking lieutenants.

Shortly after the assault began, Somali militia and armed civilian fighters shot down two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. The subsequent operation to secure and recover the crews of both helicopters turned a raid that was supposed to last for no more than an hour into a bloody standoff that lasted all night. As a result 18 Americans were killed and 80 wounded.

In spite of the fact that I generally like war movies, and watch most of them when they come out, I didn’t go to see Blackhawk Down for the same reason I haven’t been to Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. I wasn’t sure I could handle it.

So it was with a considerable sense of misgiving that I read The Battle of Mogadishu. The book consists of six firsthand accounts of what happened all told by men who were there and played various roles in what turned out to be a botched raid.

Now, with 20/20 hindsight, it’s easy to see that the planning effort was tragically flawed. The officers in charge should have sent tanks into the city, the men should have carried night vision gear just in case, and they should have entered Mogadishu with a more realistic understanding of Somali capabilities.

But in spite of the sadness attendant to the battle what I came away with was a deep and abiding respect for the intelligence and valor with which servicemen from all of the various branches conducted themselves. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in history, the military, or the profound sacrifices that have been made on behalf of our country.
Visit William C. Dietz's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Andromeda's Fall.

My Book, The Movie: Andromeda's Fall.

The Page 69 Test: Andromeda's Choice.

The Page 69 Test: Deadeye.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 26, 2015

Alyssa Brugman

Alyssa Brugman was born in Rathmines, Lake Macquarie, Australia in May 1974. She attended five public schools before completing a Marketing Degree at the University of Newcastle. In 2014 she was awarded a PhD in Communication from Canberra University.

Brugman has worked as an after-school tutor for Aboriginal children. She taught management, accounting and marketing at a business college, worked for a home improvements company and then worked in Public Relations before becoming a full-time writer. She currently runs a small business providing hoofcare, equine rehabilitation and producing nutritional supplements for horses.

Brugman's new novel is Alex as Well.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I have a few books on the go at the moment.

The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers is a memoir about a family who own a backpacker lodge in Zimbabwe during the time Robert Mugabe was reclaiming white farms. Books about Africa generally have the drama of landscape, as do books set in Outback Australia, or Newfoundland, or Alaska, or anywhere that being a human in that landscape is its own contest. I can identify with that, coming from a place that is pretty comfortable for most of the time, but can be devastated in a heartbeat by the elements. We are also a British colony, and we have racial tension here too, so there is a lot that feels familiar to me, while at the same time being completely foreign. This book has that, but also political tension, family tension and a protagonist not sure of his own path either. He has a really beautiful flow to his writing, and makes astute observations about character, which must be difficult to do when the people are real.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh is a novelisation of a very successful blog. I’m interested in how blogs and social media are changing writing and publishing, since it’s my business! There is a lot of debate about whether online publishing, which is essentially free for the reader, will kill mainstream publishing. My opinion is that good story tellers will find an audience irrespective of the form, and frankly the majority of writers basically write for free anyway. I wish it were not so, but that’s the reality. We need to adapt. I started reading this book on the plane and openly guffawed like a mad woman, irritating all the passengers who were attempting to sleep. Brosh talks about mental illness in a way I found refreshing and insightful.

In the Dust of this Planet: Horror of Philosophy Volume 1 by Eugene Thacker. I heard a story about this book on Radio Lab. It’s a book about nihilism, and then, ironically, all these strange coincidences and connections started to happen around it. That question - do events happen for a reason, or is it all just arbitrary and purposeless – plagues us to varying degrees. I think it’s the question that most art or academic pursuit attempts to answer. Philosophy and books are wonderful for that reason. We can read philosophers as far back as we have notated our thoughts, and as a species we have always pondered these ideas. It connects us through time. I love an existentialist hurdy gurdy.
Visit Alyssa Brugman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Alex as Well.

The Page 69 Test: Alex as Well.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Becky Masterman

Becky Masterman grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and received her MA in creative writing from Florida Atlantic University. She lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband.

Her new novel is Fear the Darkness, the second book in the Brigid Quinn Series.

Recently I asked Masterman about what she was reading. Her reply:
For an introvert, the holidays are the best time of the year to have a head cold. You have a good excuse to opt out, drink hot tea, enjoy your ladder turned bookcase turned tree, and binge read a nice long book so you don’t even have to make decisions about what to read next. For me, it was Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things. I’ve been a Faber fan since reading his The Crimson Petal and the White, and being his fan isn’t hard work since he only writes a novel every seven years.

This book was a special treat for me because I’m a mystery/thriller writer and therefore read a ton in my own genre. It’s bliss to step into other genres, and boy, did I ever step into it this time. Science fiction, apocalyptic, metaphysical. . .and a love story!

The extraordinary thing is, I can’t recommend it. I can’t say oh you’ll love it if you loved blah blah blah. Faber writes novels that can’t be compared to any other. Each novel can’t even be compared to anything he has written before. And I can’t say that much happens in the way of explosions or homicide in this story about a missionary who leaves his wife in England to travel a billion miles to bring The Gospel to an alien planet. Yet there I was, utterly gripped for five hundred pages, up to the last line not able to predict what would become of this man--of these aliens--for whom I cared desperately. Then I wept, and my nose got all stuffy. I’m not promising anything, mind you. You’re on your own.
Learn more about Fear the Darkness at Becky Masterman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Rage Against the Dying.

The Page 69 Test: Rage Against the Dying.

My Book, The Movie: Fear the Darkness.

The Page 69 Test: Fear the Darkness.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Peter Hancock

Peter Hancock is Provost Distinguished Research Professor, Pegasus Professor, and Trustee Chair in the Department of Psychology and the Institute for Simulation and Training at the University of Central Florida.

His new book is Hoax Springs Eternal: The Psychology of Cognitive Deception.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
This is a great time for a blog on what writers read since the holiday break is when professors like me store up all the books they wanted to read during the semester but didn’t get time to. The first book I read served to put my academic cortex on park and just revel in the joy of reading fiction; I chose Anthony Horowitz’s Moriarty. I have enjoyed previous books by Horowitz and also like the Foyle’s War series on PBS and fie on the reader who doesn’t revel in Sherlock Holmes. But Horowitz extends the domain beyond the usual pastiche and indeed neither Holmes nor Watson feature in this novel. Let me say that I enjoyed the book which kept my attention, if not my rapt attention. We begin again at the pesky Reichenbach Falls where apparently nobody died and tumbling end over end into the chasm below puts an end to no one.

The introduced interlocutors are Athelney Jones from the Holmes stories and an American detective from the Pinkerton’s, one Frederick Chase in pursuit of his own arch-enemy. While the game’s afoot I shall refrain from giving it away. However, I have to say that given the title of the work the twist had me fooled for essentially zero pages which left the ensuing plot rather pallid; I hope other readers will be more surprised and thus enjoy it, perhaps as it deserves.

Fiction over, I proceeded to a book I had picked up in England on the corpse of St. Cuthbert (David Willem: St Cuthbert's Corpse: A Life After Death), actually from Durham Cathedral which houses his remains to this day. Willem’s short but concise account records the wonder at the purported incorruptibility of the corpse of the Saint and the faith, wonder, and posthumous fame that is generated. That such faith alone could create the miracle of Durham Cathedral seduces even the unwilling with the transcendental temptation. Perhaps even sadly, I am not so tempted. Cuthbert’s coffin has been opened on a number of occasions for religious and political purposes and what Willem demonstrates is an expected degradation of such a corporeal body, albeit a well-revered one. The sad (and perhaps even illegal) desecration of the early 1800’s left the remains in tatters, as shown by the re-evaluation at the very end of the nineteenth century. Today, there is no incorruptible body to sway either believer or non-believer and Willem’s book confirms the old adage that for those who believe no proof is necessary and for those who disbelieve no proof is possible. Human life, even extraordinary ones such as that of St. Cuthbert’s must lie somewhere between these stark towers of dogmatic certainty.

Finally, I am now into The Shakespeare Conspiracy by Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman. It is one of an industry of books which derive from the sadly impoverished information that we possess about the most famous playwright in the English language and arguably ever in world history. Even a cursory look at the question shows just how little we actually know about Shakespeare when, presumably, we ought to know a lot more. Into this vacuum of fact steps any number of speculators willing to spin gossamer webs of hypotheses, mysteries, and conspiracies (as well as whole TV series replete with evocative landscapes to gloss over the dearth of fact). The list of these Shakespeare-identity inspired narratives is almost endless (Including the relative recent movie Anonymous). The Phillips and Keatman book is (to a degree) typical of the genre. (If you want something more substantive I recommend Shakespeare’s Wife by Germaine Greer). Never letting the absence of fact delay or derail a good story one loves the rollicking irresponsibility of unbound speculation. I read such things not simply for content but as exercises in mental discipline to distinguish the line between the probable and the possible; between the potential and the provable. It is a threshold that changes with the times and even the blog form of communication!
Learn more about Hoax Springs Eternal at the Cambridge University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Hoax Springs Eternal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 23, 2015

Colleen Oakley

Colleen Oakley is an Atlanta-based writer. Her articles, essays, and interviews have been featured in the New York Times, Ladies’ Home Journal, Marie Claire, Women’s Health, Redbook, Parade, and Martha Stewart Weddings. Before she was a freelance writer, Colleen was editor-in-chief of Women’s Health & Fitness and senior editor at Marie Claire.

Before I Go is her debut novel.

Recently I asked Oakley about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. I loved The Husband’s Secret, but I think I liked this one even more. Moriarty has a real gift for her wry observation of human nature in current society. As a parent, I completely related, cringing and laughing in turns, at the various parents I recognized from my own social circle. But the best part about her writing is that she never slips into stereotypes— each character is fully realized as a three-dimensional person that you can empathize with — they’re never just heroes or villains. Oh, and her plotting! Genius. Always keeps you guessing and flying through the pages. Can’t wait for her next one.

I just started The Good Girl by Mary Kubica. It’s everything I look for in a good mystery so far— engrossing, puzzling, intriguing. In fact, I’m looking for snippets of time throughout my day (kids, don’t you want to watch Sesame Street?) to sneak in some reading. When a book turns you into a bad parent — that’s when you know it’s got you hooked.
Visit Colleen Oakley's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Before I Go.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Peter Toohey

Peter Toohey, the author of Boredom: A Lively History and Melancholy, Love and Time, is professor of classics in the Department of Classics and Religion at the University of Calgary with a special interest in the nature and history of the emotions.

His latest book is Jealousy.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Toohey's reply:
I’m rereading Ingmar Bergman’s The Magic Lantern. I try to read his autobiography every year. Sometimes it’s more than once. This helps make sense of his films. But that’s not the main reason I keep on reading the book. The Magic Lantern is such an uncompromisingly honest and inspiring vision of a great creative mind. Bergman is very hard on himself (he calls his The Serpents Egg “an embarrassing failure”). But he never gave up (“I do not regret for a moment making The Serpent’s Egg; it was a healthy learning experience”; he was 59 when the film came out and he was still learning). All of the themes from his movies are there in the vivid fragments of his autobiography: the indifference of the artist to their family and friends (Ingrid Bergman in Autumn Sonata or the knight at the beginning of The Seventh Seal), the love of childhood (Fanny and Alexander) and families (Wild Strawberries), marriage, its difficulties, its solace (Smiles of a Summer Night or much later in the mesmeric TV of Scenes from a Marriage), and of course the silence of God (the best is Through a Glass Darkly: the schizophrenic Bibi Anderssen sees God – a spider crawling through a crack in the wall paper). But there are also the wrenching portraits of women. Do you recall Ingrid Thulin’s six-minute soliloquy to the camera on her love of the indifferent pastor, Tomas, in Winter Light? Bergman’s mother and grandmother, everywhere in The Magic Lantern, seem to be behind these performances. Was Ingrid Thulin playing his mother in this scene from Winter Light? Was Tomas his father? The biography is not sequential. It highlights, in an order important for Bergman, key moments and events in his life. This is the logic of the narrative in the 1972 film Cries and Whispers. For most of my unsequential life whenever anything unexpectedly fortunate has happened to me, someone has been quick to say: “why you of all people”? I don’t believe this happened much to Ingmar Bergman. He wasn’t like us, though he tried hard to be. Who’d have dared to ask him that question but a tax agent? He said in his autobiography that he felt that he had a volcano inside himself. To keep it in check he had to be, in his life and behaviour, as orderly as possible. He doesn’t really seem to have succeeded well in many areas of his life, especially when it involved money and love and his family. But he did with cinema and with its prism-like revocation of his childhood. He was 85 when his last film, Saraband, appeared. “Why you of all people?” Read The Magic Lantern, inhale a little of its nourishing brimstone, and you can answer why for Ingmar Bergman. Then think of Märta’s soliloquy in Winter Light and you will gain the confidence to answer – “why not me?”
Learn more about Jealousy at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Boredom: A Lively History.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Jennifer Robson

Jennifer Robson is the international bestselling author of Somewhere in France.

She holds a doctorate in British economic and social history from Saint Antony’s College, University of Oxford, where she was a Commonwealth Scholar and an SSHRC Doctoral Fellow.

Robson's new novel is After the War is Over.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I tend to have a number of books on the go at the same time, a mix of things I’m reading for research, for pleasure and for general brain-stretching purposes. At the moment I have four books on my nightstand.

I’m actually re-reading Living Well is the Best Revenge by Calvin Tomkins, an extended, novella-length version of a New Yorker profile of Sara and Gerald Murphy that was first published in 1962. Tomkins was friends with the Murphys, who had been at the center of literary and artistic life in France in the early 1920s, and his portrayal of them is so fascinating and appealing that I’ve added them to my work-in-progress as secondary characters.

I just finished Memoirs of Montparnasse by John Glassco, although I bought it months and months ago. Glassco, a Canadian poet who landed in Paris in the late 1920s, had an almost Zelig-like ability to be at the center of things. At times, reading his memoir, it seems as if he went absolutely everywhere and met everyone worth knowing. I have to admit I’m a little envious!

I’ve had A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell sitting on my nightstand for more than a year; I save it for those evenings when I’m too tired to read anything lengthy but still want a few minutes of quiet time before I turn off the light. Its format is perfect for short forays: one hundred shorts essays on foods or dishes that have shaped our world and its history. I’m getting close to the end, though – up next is a World War II-era recipe for Elderberry and Apple Jam.

Last of all is Hazel Gaynor’s forthcoming novel, A Memory of Violets, which she was kind enough to send to me a few months before it lands in bookstores. I am loving it. Hazel has a remarkably perceptive eye for historical detail; as with her previous book, The Girl Who Came Home, this novel is amazingly immersive. I am counting the hours until my kids are asleep tonight and I can steal an hour of “me” time to get back to it!
Visit Jennifer Robson's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Jennifer Robson & Ellie.

My Book, The Movie: After the War Is Over.

The Page 69 Test: After the War Is Over.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Brian Staveley

Brian Staveley is the author of The Emperor’s Blades, first book of the epic fantasy trilogy, Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne.

Staveley has taught literature, religion, history, and philosophy, all subjects that influence his novels, and holds an MA in Creative Writing from Boston University. He works as an editor for Antilever Press, and has published poetry and essays, both in print and on-line. He lives in Vermont with his wife and young son, and divides his time between running trails, splitting wood, writing, and baby-wrangling.

His new novel is The Providence of Fire, volume 2 in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne trilogy.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Staveley's reply:
I just devoured Leviathan Wakes, the first novel in the Expanse series by James S. A. Corey. Part political thriller, part hard-boiled detective story, part old-school shoot-em-up space battle, the book has a little of everything, including an alien menace of unknown ability and intention. Endings are tough to do well but this book nailed the landing; I thought I saw where it was headed, and I was wrong. I’ll definitely be churning through the sequels.

I’m also rereading Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai. The book bears no relation to the dismal Tom Cruise movie. This story is about a single mother in London trying to raise a super-genius young child, and about that child’s search for a father. If it’s not obvious from that description, the book isn’t SF or fantasy, but “literary fiction” (whatever the hell that is). By turns hysterically funny, heart-wrenching, and utterly surprising, this has to be one of my top ten novels. I’ve read it four or five times, and taught it to high school kids, who loved it. Looking back at my one-sentence synopsis, it sounds sorta dull. It is not. It’s wonderful. Everyone should read it. Twice.
Visit Brian Staveley's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Providence of Fire.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 19, 2015

Andrea Jain

Andrea R. Jain is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

Her new book is Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture.

Late last year I asked the author about what she was reading. Jain's reply:
Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010)

Today there are over two million incarcerated people in the United States. Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness provides a responsible and necessary assessment of the intersections of the American criminal justice system and racial caste, concluding that the justice system targets black men. She also shows that the criminal justice system in combination with social stigma serve to relegate incarcerated people to the status of second-class citizens and confine them, not only in the prison industrial complex, but also in a marginalized subculture where they are denied access to mainstream society and its economy. Alexander convincingly argues that, despite claims that the justice system is “colorblind,” it actually functions as a system of racial control and oppression.

I am reading The New Jim Crow because my research interests include the use of yoga among incarcerated and formerly incarcerated populations as a rehabilitative method and as an initiative to empower this socially- and economically-marginalized and disenfranchised subculture. My project builds on my previous research, which evaluated how postural yoga became a part of popular culture and brand-name yoga commodities became easily accessible among privileged populations in many urban locations around the world, where yoga is almost de rigueur in practice (see Andrea R. Jain, Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture, Oxford University Press 2014). For many yoga proponents, the claim to possess knowledge of yoga is closely related to their quest for power, status, or money. However, my research showed that there is much more to the yoga industry than who profits. I found that the meaning of yoga is conveyed not only through what products and services consumers choose to purchase, but also through what they choose not to purchase. Many people, in fact, bi-pass the commodification of yoga by attending non-profit yoga studios or rejecting certain yoga products. My research also resulted in a vision of yoga in both profitable and non-profit contexts among privileged populations as a body of practice that is often profoundly religious.

Alexander’s The New Jim Crow has been a key source on both the system that perpetuates racial caste in the United States and the consequent disenfranchised subculture, composed largely of black men, so that I can evaluate the use of yoga among certain members of that subculture and understand how yoga might undermine the criminal justice system when it serves as a source of empowerment and healing for those the system oppresses.
Learn more about Selling Yoga at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Selling Yoga.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Kristyn Kusek Lewis

Kristyn Kusek Lewis is the author of the novels Save Me (2014) and How Lucky You Are (2012), both from Grand Central. A former magazine editor, she has been writing for national publications for nearly twenty years.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m happiest as a reader when I’m reading a diverse selection of material and I think that the two books currently on my nightstand are indicative of that. I’m finally reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, which I bought several years ago but somehow never got around to, and it has grabbed me from page one because the characters are so beautifully drawn. The minor characters in the story are as compelling as the subject of the book. I also just started Beezus and Ramona, the classic Beverly Cleary book, because I gave my daughter a collection of the Ramona books for Christmas and I want to relive them as she reads them. I’m not at all loyal to a certain genre with my reading. While I certainly read a ton of modern fiction, I think that it serves me well to read widely, so I’m as apt to pick up Anna Karenina as I am a paperback murder mystery, a book of poetry, or a pop psychology book.
Visit Kristyn Kusek Lewis's website.

The Page 69 Test: Save Me.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places is Jennifer Niven’s first book for young adult readers, but she has written four novels for adults—American Blonde, Becoming Clementine, Velva Jean Learns to Fly, and Velva Jean Learns to Drive—as well as three nonfiction books—The Ice Master, Ada Blackjack, and The Aqua-Net Diaries, a memoir about her high school experiences.

A couple of weeks ago I asked Niven about what she was reading. Her reply:
I need to start by saying that, as a rule, I’m not a huge fan of dystopian, post-apocalyptic fiction. But I’m reading two books right now that have world-ending settings, and I cannot read them fast enough. Station Eleven (by Emily St. John Mandel) was a 2014 National Book Award Finalist, something that isn’t usually part of my criteria when choosing what to read. What hooked my interest was that the story is about artists at the end of the world. In this case, a nomadic group of musicians and actors—the Traveling Symphony—who roam the country in the wake of civilization’s ruin performing Shakespeare. That’s all I needed to know, but the novel is so much more than that. Mandel’s writing is taut and lovely, and the story builds in this very steady, slow-burning way, which has me hypnotized. There’s mystery to it as well, and I find the whole thing horrific and beautiful at the same time, kind of brutally lovely, like the best of the Brontë sisters.

The other title I’m reading is Vivian Apple at the End of the World, a YA novel from Katie Coyle. This one is about a terrified America that’s been largely taken over by an evangelical church and a charismatic minister/cult leader. It’s also about a seventeen-year-old girl who finds herself orphaned after the Rapture (the only signs of her mom and dad are two holes in the roof above their bed). With her best friend and a mysterious boy, Vivian sets off across America in search of clues to her parents’ disappearance. The book is bright, quirky, and unnerving. While a lighter read than Station Eleven, it packs a punch just the same.

I should probably mention the third book on my nightstand—Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. I’m not reading it cover to cover right now, but it’s a wonderfully cheery, laugh-out-loud thing to spot-read whenever the doom and gloom of the other two—gripping as they are— gets to be too much.
Visit Jennifer Niven's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 16, 2015

Seana Valentine Shiffrin

Seana Valentine Shiffrin is professor of philosophy and the Pete Kameron Professor of Law and Social Justice at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Her new book is Speech Matters: On Lying, Morality, and the Law.

Late last year I asked Shiffrin about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just finished Alice Goffman’s On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City and Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams. On the Run is a fascinating ethnography of a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Philadelphia in which Goffman lived for about six years as a student. Goffman, now a professor of sociology at University of Wisconsin-Madison, focuses on the daily trials of its young male residents. Many of the men she befriends have had early legal troubles, often as children, some of which are quite minor, that transmogrify into disproportionately life-defining events that seem almost impossible to move beyond. Missed court dates, unpaid court fees, being out past an early curfew, or riding in the wrong car with the wrong drug-possessing passenger may all constitute parole violations that generate arrest warrants and may result in longer jail time. Employment is difficult to get with outstanding warrants and looming court dates, so many young men either remain unemployed or sell drugs to stay afloat; their economic instability makes it difficult to pay court fees, failures which then generate further legal difficulties. Their precarious legal status may also make them vulnerable to theft or violence, because they cannot call the police for help or to report crimes against them without risking arrest themselves; this vulnerability, in turn, makes them more likely to resort to dangerous forms of self-protection that may also worsen their legal position.

Most affecting is the book’s description of how their perpetual compromised legal status strains relationships. The police hunt for men with warrants out, looking for them on the street and at their parents’, their children’s, and their friends’ homes. Police searches often involve tearing homes apart in the middle of the night, handcuffing residents, and delivering serious threats to friends, parents, and lovers if they don’t turn in their loved ones. Hence, men with outstanding warrants not only avoid their homes, they must also avoid funerals and even hospitals where the police troll the waiting rooms; men in danger therefore do not get necessary medical treatment, miss their children’s births, and can only supply needed support to friends and family from a distance. They learn literally to run to evade the police and, for extended periods, to hide in their own neighborhoods.

On the Run is an arresting and compassionate book informed by much close observation, exposing another facet of the misdirected war on drugs and the ongoing legacies of discrimination and economic inequality faced by many African-American communities. Unlike many non-fiction books, it remains gripping throughout, especially the final methodological note.

Jamison’s The Empathy Exams explores case-studies, many autobiographical, in the phenomenology of physical and emotional suffering. Jamison showcases the radiating temporal and mental effects of suffering and the labor involved in experiencing and showing compassion for others. Jamison is at her most powerful in demonstrating that empathy is not an emotional reflex that overtakes you if you happen to be susceptible to it. Empathy involves work -- offering careful, sustained attention, asking probing but sensitive questions, remaining available for open-minded listening to often repetitive complaints, and supplying honest but sometimes restrained responses.

The essays are compelling reading -- sufficiently moreish that I read the collection in a day. The first two chapters are particularly fine. The first meditates on Jamison’s experience as a ‘medical actor’ who helps to train medical students to diagnose conditions and demonstrate empathy. The other reports on a set of patients who suffer from ‘Morgellons disease’, – an excruciating skin condition whose medical status is contested (is it predominantly a physical condition caused by parasites or predominantly a mental condition giving rise to physical symptoms?) and the strains that this uncertainty places patients and their supporters.

Finally, I’ve recently begun Joshua Ferris’ To Rise Again At A Decent Hour. I read a lot of fiction – partly as an absorbing escape, partly to expose myself to the material and interior worlds of others, and partly from the hope that reading good writing will improve my ear, and ultimately, my own writing. My book group chose this book when I wasn’t present, so I’m unsure why it was chosen. That may sound sharper than I mean to be. True - I’m not sure I would have chosen the book, but that’s part of the reason to belong to a group. You read things you wouldn’t otherwise read. Even when you don’t enjoy the choice, you learn about your friends and about writing through reflecting on an unexpected, shared experience. I am about a third into Ferris’ book. The writing is intelligent and polished. It’s full of clever, McSweeney’s-style observations and detours. So far, it’s an introspective first-personal account of a New York dentist, who although lonely and needy is also cocky and obnoxious. The book is starting to turn into a mystery about who set up an unsolicited and unwanted website for his dental practice that contains provocative and esoteric religious proclamations. I am mildly intrigued by the mystery, but also somewhat weary of the constant exposure to the main character’s personality, delivered at an unrelenting pace.
Learn more about Speech Matters at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sonia Hirt

Sonia A. Hirt is Professor and Associate Dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech. She publishes on the history and theory of cities. She is the author of Iron Curtains: Gates, Suburbs and Privatization of Space in the Post-socialist City and coeditor most recently of The Urban Wisdom of Jane Jacobs.

Her new book is Zoned in the USA: The Origins and Implications of American Land-Use Regulation.

Recently I asked Hirt about what she was reading. Her reply:
I love reading history books, mostly European history ranging from ancient to modern. Because of my specialization in urban history, I am always reading something on this topic. However, I often learn more about the history of cities from books that are technically not on cities because they usually provide a wider context that specialists are missing. I love books that surprise me and also those that make me laugh.

Recently, I finished a delightful monograph by the young scholar Brigitte Le Normand called Designing Tito's: Capital: Urban Planning: Modernism, and Socialism in Belgrade. As anyone can tell from the title, the book is about architecture and modernity and the complex intellectual currents that flowed between East and West during the Cold War, especially in Yugoslavia. Having grown up in an Eastern-bloc country, I have always been rather skeptical as to whether the Iron Curtain, to use Churchill’s expression, ever existed (this did not prevent me from using it as a book title). From what I could tell, intellectual exchanges never got really interrupted and the Iron Curtain was more of a fixture in the imagination of Western elites than anything else. Most importantly, Eastern-bloc kids listened to the same pop music as did their brethren in the West—I rest my case here. Jokes aside, Yugoslavia was in all likelihood the most fascinating case for post-World War II cultural historians because it was the true meeting place of Eastern and Western ideas, as Le Normand book wonderfully illustrates. I confess I am big fan of the old Yugoslavia (although I was not raised there) and to this very day I cannot understand how what was once a socio-economic miracle could unravel so brutally in a few short years.

I also re-read an old favorite, History of Ancient Greece, by André Aymard and Jean Hatzfeld. This 1960s classic is really a must-read for anyone who does not get tired of Greek history. As we all know from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, there are two and only two kinds of people: those who are Greek and those who want to be (I am in the second category). This book reminds me why. Plus it highlights so beautifully what in my view is the most eternal and elusive question for cultural historians of all times: what makes common identity? What makes people think of themselves as “us”? The Hellenes spent a good chunk of a millennium in warring each other. During the brief intermissions, they fight against a common enemy: mostly Persia, then briefly Macedon (but wait, are the Macedons Greeks?). They do not appear to have grasped a need for unity in the face of Roman expansion (true for many cultures facing invasion: e.g., the Byzantines and their neighbors during the Ottoman invasion, the Native Americans during the European invasion). At some rare points, a sense of shared heritage seem to have briefly dawned upon some of the Hellenes to then quickly vanish, so that they could go back to their regular warring business and to thinking of themselves as Spartans, Thebans, etc., and members of various ever-changing leagues. This brings me back to Le Normand’s book, which too made me think how quickly a story of “us” can appear and disappear in history.

Finally, I read Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men on a Bummel. To my great embarrassment, in my younger days I had only read Three Men on a Boat. Jerome’s brilliant sense of humor is in full display in this late Victorian classic, in which three magnificent and utterly English fellows embark on a journey through the German countryside. You can read the book as a full-blown sociological thesis on the English and the German character. Really, few things can be funnier…
Learn more about Zoned in the USA at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue