Saturday, June 24, 2017

Elizabeth Anderson

Elizabeth Anderson is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and John Dewey Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies at the University of Michigan. She is the author of The Imperative of Integration and Value in Ethics and Economics. Her newest book is Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and Why We Don't Talk about It).

Recently I asked Anderson about what she was reading. Her reply:
Since the stunning result of the Presidential election, I have been reading books that help explain what happened. At the top of my list is Jan Werner-Müller's brilliant What is Populism? Everyone knows that populist politicians back "the people" against "the elites." While this rhetoric is common to all populists, it cannot distinguish them from non-populist politicians, because nearly all politicians in democratic regimes talk this way. The key to populism is rather that "the people" is always defined exclusively, as a subset of the citizens and permanent residents of a state, and in contrast with those who are not "real Poles" (because they are Jewish or liberal), not "true Finns" (because they are Muslim, or have immigrant ancestry), not "real Americans" (because they are coastal city dwellers, Black, Muslim, Latino/a, or liberal), etc.. Populist politicians gain support from the "real" people by telling them that they are being taken advantage of, humiliated, or threatened by enemies, both foreign and domestic (where the domestic enemies are those citizens and/or permanent residents who don't belong to the "real people"), and that elites are to blame for this. Populism is inherently authoritarian and anti-democratic, because it rejects a core constitutive feature of democracy, which is the legitimacy of opposition. The "real" people can never be legitimately opposed, since their will exclusively defines the nation. Hence, opposition parties and politicians are always "corrupt," an independent judiciary is always "unfair" when it checks the power of the populist politician, an independent press is always lying when it corrects the lies of the populist politician, elections must be rigged if the populist doesn't win, but are legitimate if he wins, and so forth. Werner-Müller shows in detail how Trump, far from being a new type of politician, campaigned straight out of the same populist playbook as Silvio Berlusconi, Marine Le Pen, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Viktor Orbán. I consider What is Populism? an absolute must-read for anyone who wants to understand not just what has happened in the U.S., but why populism is affecting many democracies across the world, and what can be done to stop it.

I have also been reading J. D. Vance's Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Vance narrates a critique of his own group--poor white Appalachians--through a compelling and sympathetically drawn account of his own dysfunctional family and of the similar families in his community. One way to interpret this book is as an application of the conventional conservative culture-of-poverty story to poor rural whites rather than blacks: he's saying that white Appalachians are lazy, welfare-dependent, alcoholic and drug-addicted, disdainful of education, prone to violence, domestic conflict, and divorce, with unstable family relationships, fathers who have sired and left multiple children with different mothers, and mothers who cast off one male partner after another. On this reading, government isn't the problem and can't help solve the problem; what's needed is for the community itself to reform its values, and for individuals to study and work hard and climb up through personal grit and determination. This certainly captures a strain in his book. But it's not the only one. Another way to read the book is to reflect on Vance's deep sympathy and love for those he criticizes. In the larger public discourse, conservative culture-of-poverty narratives are used to whip up white resentment against blacks, who are the public face of poverty, and who are depicted as wholly to blame for their own problems, and wholly deserving of scorn, rejection, and state neglect on that account. But Vance shows how resentment, scorn, rejection, and neglect are morally stunted and inhumane responses to distressed communities. People are complicated. They deserve sympathy for their problems even when they bring some of those problems on themselves. Moreover, the same people who behave badly also have powerful virtues that deserve recognition. His grandmother, who, like many in her community, regularly escalated conflict out of all proportion, in conformity with Appalachian honor culture (she once poured gasoline on her husband and lit him on fire to get the better of him in a domestic conflict), also loved Vance deeply, provided the key source of stability in his life, and insisted that he study hard. If only white America viewed poor blacks with comparable sympathy and admiration for their virtues, we would have a very different country. Vance, who draws explicit analogies between poor Appalachian whites and poor blacks, invites all Americans to view the latter in the same light with which he views his own community. A third way to read the book is to appreciate his sociological awareness. He shows through his own experience how the ability of children to overcome their disadvantages through personal striving can be severely undermined by domestic conflict and unstable relationships with adults. Childhood trauma is real, and it undermines agency, sometimes in ways that radically restrict the opportunities a child will have in adulthood. He also shows through his own experience how individual success is predicated on "social capital"--having access to networks of trusted others, outside one's own disadvantaged community, who can open doors of opportunity and teach one the informal norms of more advantaged social classes, mastery of which is needed to join them. No one succeeds wholly on his own. He thereby invites those who were born into functional families with great parents and lots of social connections to discount their own pride and appreciate how much they owe their success to good luck and the assistance of others. Definitely worth reading for insights into what a humane conservatism can look like.
Learn more about Private Government.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 23, 2017

Cynthia Eden

Award-winning author Cynthia Eden writes dark tales of paranormal romance and romantic suspense. She is a New York Times, USA Today, Digital Book World, and IndieReader best-seller, and a three-time finalist for the prestigious RITA® award. Since she began writing full-time in 2005, Eden has written over eighty novels and novellas.

Her new book is Wrecked (LOST Series #6).

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Eden's reply:
I’ve accidentally returned to required summer reading days… The very last book I read was The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin. My son had this title on his required reading list, and after reading the blurb… I was curious. I’ll confess—blurbs always hook me. I can’t turn away from a good blurb, and The Westing Game lured me in fast. Before I knew it, I’d just done some required summer reading—only it hadn’t exactly been required for me. But, sometimes, taking a walk with a book outside your genre can be fun.
Visit Cynthia Eden's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Tristan Donovan

Tristan Donovan is a British author and journalist. His books include Replay: The History of Video Games and Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World. His writing has appeared in BBC News Online, The Atlantic, The Times of London, Stuff, Wired, The Guardian, Eurogamer, and Kotaku, among other publications.

Donovan's newest book is It's All a Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Donovan's reply:
I’ve just finished reading Jonathan Taplin’s Move Fast and Break Things.

It’s a nonfiction book and examines how the web has gone from being this exciting, utopian beacon of hope to a nightmare of hate mobs, intrusive advertising, and domineering corporations like Google and Facebook invading our privacy.

Taplin does a good job of clearly charting how we ended up here. From the cynical attempts of tech companies to dismantle the protections of copyright law to how social media has undermined the quality and trustworthiness of news and empowered online hate mobs.

It’s familiar criticism, but no less powerful or important for that. However, Taplin’s remedies to the problems he identifies aren’t nearly as convincing - not least his call for the US to create a tax-funded broadcaster modelled on the BBC, which seems about as likely to catch on as chocolate teapots.

But sometimes it’s nice to read a book that reaffirms what you think is wrong with the world, right?
Visit Tristan Donovan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Gail Godwin

Gail Godwin is a three-time National Book Award finalist and the bestselling author of twelve critically acclaimed novels, including Violet Clay, Father Melancholy's Daughter, Evensong, The Good Husband and Evenings at Five. She is also the author of The Making of a Writer, her journal in two volumes (ed. Rob Neufeld). She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts grants for both fiction and libretto writing, and the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Godwin's new novel is Grief Cottage.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Jonathan Cott's There's a Mystery There: The Primal Vision of Maurice Sendak. I was going to take it on my book tour with me, but it's too beautiful. Mr. Cott takes us on a rare tour of the inner workings of a complicated and profound artist. It will be waiting for me when I return. So I am packing Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, which couldn't have come at a better time. To think that a person of humor and purpose and values is actually serving as a United States senator in this crazy sideshow of our history gives me more hope and delight than I can express.
Visit Gail Godwin's website.

My Book, The Movie: Grief Cottage.

The Page 69 Test: Grief Cottage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 18, 2017

David Housewright

David Housewright is the Edgar Award and three-time Minnesota Book Award-winning author of the Rushmore McKenzie and Holland Taylor novels as well as other tales of murder and mayhem in the Midwest.

His new novel is What the Dead Leave Behind.

Recently I asked Housewright about what he was reading. His reply:
I’ve been reading Your Oasis on Flame Lake by Lorna Landvik I’m embarrassed to say that like a lot of guys, I was very dismissive of what many called “chick lit” even though I have read very little of it. But I read Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen, and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and now realize that I have been missing out on some terrific writing. I’ll try to be less prejudiced in the future.
Visit David Housewright's website and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: What the Dead Leave Behind.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 16, 2017

April Henry

April Henry is the New York Times bestselling author of many acclaimed mysteries for adults and young adults, including the YA novels Girl, Stolen and The Night She Disappeared and the thriller Face of Betrayal, co-authored with Lis Wiehl. She lives in Oregon.

Henry's new novel is Count All Her Bones, the sequel to Girl, Stolen.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I just read a great book called Wildman by JC Geiger.

“Geiger” is German for violin, and JC Geiger plays the reader like an instrument in this marvelous first novel. The book is about Lance Hendricks, high school senior, who has a mantra he repeats any time he has doubts:
You are valedictorian.
You are the first-chair trumpet player.
You have a full-ride scholarship.
Miriam Seavers is in love with you.
Lance is driving 370 miles home to what promises to be the best night of his life, an epic graduation party where he will finally get to spend the night with Miriam. But then his ’93 Buick breaks down in the middle of nowhere, the kind of place Lance, who is a worrier, thinks probably has meth labs and Bigfoot. Not only does he end up missing the party, Lance ends up stranded, waiting for his beloved Buick, which once belonged to his dad, to be fixed. And in a tiny town, Lance find himself outgrowing than the labels he has pasted on himself. The locals call him Wildman, and a girl named Dakota opens Lance’s eyes to the wider world - and to the fact that he’s more than he ever thought.

The writing is really marvelous in this book. I underlined so many parts, such as:
“Tow, he said, tasting the word’s weight. Three letters full of lost time.

Waiting for Dakota felt like warming up in the orchestra pit on opening night. Everyone tuning up their instruments. That awful, giddy flutter before a show.

All these words he'd been tossing out like candy from a parade float.

Lance pictured Bend High School's football coach/guidance counselor hunching over his computer with bent little arms like a Tyrannosaurus rex on a tricycle.
And the most amazing description of a first kiss:
He's holding this glass, moving so slow, so careful-but now their foreheads are nearly touching. Frozen time thaws to a rush and they're running downhill, the ground tipping forward, still tipping, and Lance's feet pedal air, and his stomach drops and he loses the Earth and presses his lips to her. Their mouths open to receive each other and everything is spilling, everything, everywhere.
Wildman is Geiger's debut novel. It's just been released.
Visit April Henry's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Girl, Stolen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Sarah Creech

Sarah Creech is the author of two novels, Season of the Dragonflies and The Whole Way Home.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Just yesterday I cracked open Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan—I was a little late to the Kwan trend when he first published Crazy Rich Asians. Of course, I’d heard of his debut just like everyone else, but I hadn’t yet made that far down on my reading list. I took a trip to New York City to visit my agent. While I was sitting in her office before a sushi lunch, she swept her arm back to her bookcase and said, “Choose whichever title you want.” The kid in the candy store cliché fits here: I immediately spotted Kwan’s book and I held out my hands and gestured with “gimmee” fingers. I read the book on the plane ride home and I was an immediate fan. I appreciate any author who transports me to an unexpected, highly original world. In this case, Kwan forces the reader to acknowledge the massive amount of wealth in Asia, and consequently, gross inequality on a global scale. And it’s more entertaining than any tabloid you could pick up at the grocery store. In this way, Kwan delivers much needed medicine in a spoon of honey.
Visit Sarah Creech's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Whole Way Home.

The Page 69 Test: The Whole Way Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Elizabeth J. Duncan

Elizabeth J. Duncan has just won the Bloody Words Light Mystery Award for Murder On the Hour (2016), published by Minotaur. The next book in the Penny Brannigan mystery series set in North Wales, Murder Is for Keeps, has just been published. Duncan is also the author of a second series, Shakespeare in the Catskills mysteries (Crooked Lane Books).

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m reading two books at the moment: a police procedural, and an autobiography.

The Slaughter Man, by Tony Parsons is the second in the DC Max Wolfe series. It’s gritty, dark, and fast paced. While Wolfe investigates an unimaginably brutal crime involving the gruesome death of a well-to-do family, he’s raising his adorable five-year-old daughter, Scout. Parsons puts the reader at the heart of a serious crimes investigation, and in his protagonist has created a conflicted but dedicated detective whose love for his daughter rises above all else. They live in London’s Smithfield Market area, and Parsons captures the rhythm of the city beautifully.

Musicians in general, and rock stars in particular, lead interesting lives. They always seem to be in the right place at the right time. Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen is great reading – and I haven’t even got to the best bits. Springsteen’s honest yet sympathetic descriptions of his eccentric upbringing in a working class New Jersey family are engaging, and his recounting of the early gigs playing up and down the Jersey Shore are entertaining. He’s an excellent writer, as the lyrics of his songs demonstrate. The audio version of the book is narrated by Bruce himself, so I’ve ordered that from the library and I’ll switch over to that to learn about the glory days with the E Street Band. I like the idea of Bruce reading to me.
Visit Elizabeth J. Duncan's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Elizabeth J. Duncan and Dolly.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 12, 2017

Alison Taylor

Alison Taylor is a Teaching Fellow at Bond University. In 2014, she received the Dean's Award for Outstanding Research Higher Degree Theses at the University of Queensland.

Her new book is Troubled Everyday: The Aesthetics of Violence and the Everyday in European Art Cinema.

Recently I asked Taylor about what she is reading. Her reply:
I’m gradually working my way through Michel Surya’s astonishingly detailed account of the life and writings of Georges Bataille (Georges Bataille: An Intellectual Biography). It’s a fantastic insight into a thinker I’ve always found intriguing (anyone who was judged too surreal for the surrealists is inevitably intriguing) and is filling in the gaps between the bits and pieces of Bataille’s own work that I’ve read over the years. While fascinating, it is a monster of a book, and not really conducive to long commutes, so while Bataille remains by my bedside, I have a less cumbersome book on the go.

Currently, this is Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, a beautifully composed mixture of memory and fantasy about one man’s experience of the Second World War. Vonnegut’s approach is one of graceful simplicity; the book reads like the world-weary sigh of someone who has seen too much, while still maintaining a sense of humour and humanity.

And, forever open is Amy Hungerford’s wonderful study of American literature, Postmodern Belief. This work examines the centrality and importance of belief for its own sake, rather than specifically tied to any one doctrine, in the works of great writers including Cormac McCarthy, Toni Morrison, and Allen Ginsberg. McCarthy’s invocation of biblical prose across his works, and his imagery of the illiterate kid who carries a bible regardless towards the close of Blood Meridian are key examples. I say this book is forever open, because it’s the book I dip into before I write anything, and the book I return to when I have writer’s block. Beyond content, Hungerford possesses such a command over her material and argument that I hope such elegance will transmit to my own writing, even if only by osmosis.
Learn more about Troubled Everyday at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Kate Quinn

Kate Quinn is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance, before turning to the 20th century with The Alice Network. All have been translated into multiple languages.

Quinn and her husband now live in Maryland with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Piece of Cake by Derek Robinson. A real classic of wartime literature: a squadron of RAF fighter pilots making their way first through the idyllic boredom of the "Phony War," and then being plunged headlong into the Battle of Britain. Tragedy and humor and spine-tingling action run side by side; Robinson pulls helpless laughter out of you with the high-jinks of his adrenaline-junkie young heroes, then turns the pace on a dime and has you mopping your eyes as the cruel odds of aerial battles against enemy Messerschmitts sends the irrepressible fliers you've come to love spiraling one by one to their deaths. Just a heart-breaker.

Portrait of a Conspiracy by Donna Russo Morin. My good friend Donna's first installment in the "Da Vinci's Disciples" series takes you on an irresistible headlong adventure: a ruthless assassination rocks Renaissance Florence to its core, and a secret sisterhood of women artists band together to save one of their own from the bloody reprisals. Illicit plots, mysterious paintings, and a young Leonardo da Vinci all have their part to play; it's a deliciously heart-pounding tale with plenty of painterly details for an art-loving reader. I'm rereading this with huge pleasure, as her second in the series (The Competition) was just released.

The Conclave by Robert Harris. A sensationally gripping book covering the tense few days between the death of one pope and the election of another. Who will it be? Harris makes these quiet scenes of old men casting ballots in a locked room unbearably tense, and his hero--a thoughtful Italian cardinal with no desire to be Pope--is a humble, lovable Everyman we can all root for. Definitely making my year-end top-ten list.
Learn more about the book and author at Kate Quinn's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Kate Quinn and Caesar.

The Page 69 Test: The Alice Network.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 9, 2017

Alan Drew

Alan Drew’s critically acclaimed debut novel, Gardens of Water, has been translated into ten languages and published in nearly two-dozen countries. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was awarded a Teaching/Writing Fellowship. An Associate Professor of English at Villanova University where he directs the creative writing program, he lives near Philadelphia with his wife and two children.

Drew's new novel is Shadow Man.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I run the literary festival at Villanova University, so in the spring I start reading books from authors I admire and might like to bring to campus. I’m currently reading, Lesley Nneka Arimah’s What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky. This is a collection of short stories about Nigerian immigrants and their families, which is set both in America and Africa. There’s an element of magical realism here and stories which work as science fiction parables, but mostly these stories have moments of incredible emotional resonance and insight that often leave me incredibly moved.

I just finished teaching Jennifer Haigh’s Heat & Light, which is set in a central Pennsylvania town that is profoundly altered by natural gas fracking. Haigh is an incredible writer, with beautiful, richly nuanced sentences. But what really stands out here is her ability to enter into the points of view of 15+ characters, all with their own distinctive voice and narrative arc. A truly stunning feat of writing.

I’m doing some research for my next novel, which will be a follow up to Shadow Man. In the next book, I want to explore the intersection of a couple of developments in the Orange County of the 1980s: the growing Vietnamese refugee population and the rise of the skinhead neo-Nazi movement. I grew up next to the now closed El Toro marine air station. El Toro was the first landing point for many Vietnamese escaping the fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War. The story of how the first wave of refugees escaped Saigon is harrowing and little told. But a book titled, The Lucky Few by Jan K. Herman chronicles this escape, focusing on the amazing story of the USS Kirk, a destroyer on which escaping Vietnamese military pilots landed their helicopters far out in the Pacific Ocean, unloading their families on the ship in hopes of a better life elsewhere.

Dipping into the door-stopper text book Forensic Science, An Introduction to Scientific and Investigative Techniques 3rd Edition, edited by Stuart H. James and Jon J. Nordby. I need to understand how DNA evidence works, so it’s school for me.
Visit Alan Drew's website.

My Book, The Movie: Shadow Man.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Mark Powell

Mark Powell is the author of four previous novels, including The Sheltering. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Bread Loaf and Sewanee Writers’ Conferences, and in 2014 was a Fulbright Fellow to Slovakia. In 2009, he received the Chaffin Award for contributions to Appalachian literature. He holds degrees from Yale Divinity School, the University of South Carolina, and The Citadel.

Powell lives in the mountains of North Carolina, where he teaches at Appalachian State University.

His new novel is Small Treasons.

Recently I asked Powell about what he was reading. His reply:
I always seem to be reading too many books, piling them on the nightstand or the floor, forgetting one, picking it back up. My side of the bed is my wife’s waking nightmare.

Right now, I’m finishing up a novel set primarily in Eastern Europe so a lot of what I’m reading is background on the region. Anne Applebaum’s Iron Curtain, Peter Conradi’s Who Lost Russia?, Tim Judah’s In Wartime: Stories from Ukraine, Misha Glenny’s giant history of the Balkans titled—wait for it—The Balkans.

I’m also rereading Denis Johnson. Along with Robert Stone, no one’s work has meant more to me not only as a writer but as a struggling, often-disbelieving religious believer. My favorites—though it’s akin to picking a favorite child—are Resuscitation of a Hanged Man and The Name of the World.

Two more recent reads, one old and one new: Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus is a nineteenth century novel (in the best sense) written in the twentieth century—a gorgeous book. David Joy’s The Weight of This World is a book both brutal and tender—what more could you ask for than that?

I’m also in a long-standing tussle with John Caputo’s The Weakness of God.
Learn more about Small Treasons.

The Page 69 Test: The Sheltering.

My Book, The Movie: The Sheltering.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Greg Garrett

Greg Garrett is Professor of English at Baylor University, where he teaches classes in fiction and screenwriting, literature, film and popular culture, and theology. The author or co-author of twenty books of fiction, nonfiction, and memoir, Garrett is (according to BBC Radio), one of America's leading voices on religion and culture, and a frequent speaker and media guest on narrative, religion, politics, literature, and pop culture.

Garrett's new book is Living with the Living Dead: The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalypse.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Garrett's reply:
I’ve been reading a lot of works about race and prejudice for my next nonfiction book for Oxford University Press, and a lot of that has been compelling (James Baldwin rocks!), but the last thing I read purely for pleasure was Stephen King’s It, which I just finished. It kept me awake. As some of you may know, It is about a group of kids (later, their adult selves) who stand in the gap against a monster that long ago took over their Maine town and that kills people—especially kids and the helpless—every twenty-some years before hibernating. Or something.

I was prompted to return to the book by the super creepy trailer for the new film adaptation coming out soon, and I had originally read it decades ago when it was first published. I went through a stretch in my late teens and early twenties where I read a ton of Stephen King, thinking I might just be a horror writer, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how well this book held up on re-reading it. I’ve gone on since my first reading to write my own novels and to become a teacher and critic, but the things that are good about It are still really good. When people ask me if King is a talented writer, I tell them he has a lot of insight into character and point of view. In novels like It and The Stand, he can juggle a whole lot of characters, and we get a strong sense of their backstory and their brokenness, two things that make it possible for us to identify with characters from the get-go. In the opening chapters, he introduces us to a big cast, but they’re so well differentiated that it’s never a problem keeping them straight.

Now, the thing that troubled me originally—the reveal of the monster in the last section of the novel—is still really bad. H. P. Lovecraft instinctively knew that the less you show of the monster, the scarier it is (think of this, perhaps, as The Jaws Rule, after the long-delayed reveal of the shark in Steven Spielberg’s movie). When the monster It is appearing in different guises—especially as Pennywise the Clown—this book is drop-dead scary. At the end, when it’s revealed as a Cosmic Creature from Beyond the Stars, we keep reading because we love these characters, but the frisson that kept us turning pages is gone.

Ultimately, though, what I loved about reading It again was re-connecting with old friends. I’ve been through some rough weather myself in the years since I last saw these character, and I felt like I knew them better, knew myself better, and could appreciate their stories and their journeys more now than as a young man. Stephen King is not a great writer, but he is a compelling storyteller, and I really lost myself in this long book for a long time!
Learn more about Living with the Living Dead: The Wisdom of the Zombie Apocalypse at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Entertaining Judgment.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 5, 2017

Heather Gudenkauf

Heather Gudenkauf is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Weight of Silence and These Things Hidden.

Her new novel is Not A Sound.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Gudenkauf's reply:
Currently I’m reading Lisa Unger’s The Red Hunter. It’s an absolute page turner. It’s about two women, both victims of violent crimes. Claudia handles the aftermath by throwing herself into raising her daughter and renovating an old house while Zoey immerses herself in the martial arts as well as some darker past times. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

I’m also just started reading Eggshells by Caitriona Lally. Set in Dublin, Ireland, Vivian Lawlor grew up being told by her parents that she was left to them by fairies. Now all grown up, Vivian wanders through Dublin in search of the world she believes she came from. I’m only a few chapters in, but I’m already in love with Vivian’s quirky, engaging voice.
Visit Heather Gudenkauf's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Heather Gudenkauf and Maxine.

Coffee with a Canine: Heather Gudenkauf & Lolo.

My Book, The Movie: Not A Sound.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Kiera Stewart

Kiera Stewart is the author of three novels: Fetching, How to Break a Heart, and The Summer of Bad Ideas.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Stewart's reply:
I’m currently living in Granada, Nicaragua, and took a last minute trip to Leon, another city a few hours up the Pacific coast. I hadn’t put a lot of thought into the trip, so I soon found myself alone in a new city where I didn’t really know anyone. And with nothing to read.

Books in English aren’t incredibly plentiful in Nicaragua, but Leon is a college town. Luckily, there was a used bookstore a walkable distance away. My biggest surprise was the cost of the books. In the states, we take for granted that we can get a used paperback for under a dollar. Here, in this used book store in Leon, the loved-and-left Danielle Steel and James Patterson paperbacks were selling for the equivalent of $5/US! But still, I sorted through the stacks and was thrilled to find one of my favorite books, by one of my favorite authors: Open House by Elizabeth Berg.

I read this novel more than a decade ago, so while I’ve forgotten all the details, I remember really enjoying the experience. And I’m happy to report that I still do. Open House is a story about a woman who is adjusting to an unexpected post-divorce life, raising an eleven-year-old son (Travis), and taking on boarders to help pay the mortgage. Here’s one of my favorite excerpts so far, in which, although devastated about her husband’s leaving, she is daydreaming about having a more elegant, more sophisticated life without him:
I go into the family room…and turn the stereo on to the classical station. Ah, Mozart. Well, maybe not Mozart. But close enough. It’s one of those guys. I’ll take a music appreciation class. Somewhere. Then, getting ready to sit down to dinner with Travis some night I’ll say, “Some Verdi, perhaps?”

“That’s an idea,” he’ll answer. “But maybe Vivaldi would be better with lamb.”

“You know, you’re absolutely right,” I’ll say. I will have taught him this exquisite discrimination. As a famous man, Travis will say to the interviewer, “My mother changed wonderfully when my father left us. Our circumstances actually improved. Naturally I owe her everything.”
I love so many things about this book. I love the vulnerability and sincerity of her characters: I love the gentle and funny honesty in her writing. Somehow, every time I read one of her novels, my heart grows a little.

I guess that’s one of the great things about good writing, like Berg’s. It gives us the opportunity to experience a situation through someone else’s head and heart. Good writing makes it easy to feel things from the inside-out – via a character’s thoughts, beliefs, and emotions. And personally, I believe this leads to a deep sense of human connection and compassion in a way that no other medium can quite deliver.

If you haven’t read any of Elizabeth Berg’s novels*, you’re in luck because there’s a lot of great ones to choose from. You will probably laugh, you might possibly cry, and you’ll very likely end the book with the satisfying feeling that you’ve made a new friend.

*Available in new and used bookstores all over the world. And totally worth the Nicaraguan sticker shock.
Visit Kiera Stewart's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Kiera Stewart & Casper.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Wendy Webb

Wendy Webb's novels include The Vanishing, The Fate of Mercy Alban, and The Tale of Halcyon Crane.

Her new novel is The End of Temperance Dare.

Recently I asked Webb about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve recently finished two beautifully-written, spooky, suspenseful mysteries, the kind of books that completely transport me into the story, grab me from the very first page and don’t let go until the last. I’ve been a fan of both of these writers for years and now I’m proud to call them friends.

The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman is the story of Jess and Clare Martin, who move from Brooklyn to a quaint small town in the Hudson River valley to take a job as the caretaker for Riven House, a crumbling estate owned by their old college writing professor. But it’s not too long after they settle in that Clare begins to suspect that something is just not right there. She hears a baby crying in the middle of the night and sees strange figures in the fog outside — or does she? Jess is unconvinced. But Clare does some digging and finds out that Riven House had a dark and troubled past, that just might catch up with her in the present.

The Secret Language of Stones by M.J. Rose is the beautiful and haunting story of Opaline, a jeweler in Paris in 1918 who makes mourning jewelry for the mothers, wives and lovers for fallen soldiers. But Opaline isn’t just any jeweler and these aren’t ordinary talismans. She has inherited a gift from her mother Sandrine, a witch who practices the dark arts. A personal item of the soldier combined with certain gemstones unlocks a door to the other side that she would rather not open, and she begins to receive messages from beyond the grave. It’s a story of seduction and magic, wrapped in a love so powerful it extends from one world to the next.

I’m currently in the middle of The Trespasser, the latest by Tana French, who sets all of her crime procedurals in the same Irish precinct, but with different detectives and wildly different stories. In The Trespasser, homicide detectives Antoinette and Steve are investigating what, on the surface, seems to be a garden-variety domestic. A woman is found dead in her home, which was all decked out for what seems to be a date — dinner on the stove, a fire in the fireplace, wine at the ready. But as the partners dig into the case, they start to think it’s anything but ordinary, made even more strange because some of the other detectives on the squad are pressuring them to just arrest the victim’s boyfriend and be done with it. Antoinette and Steve begin to wonder why, and find more than they bargain for.
Learn more about the book and author at Wendy Webb's website.

My Book, The Movie: The End of Temperance Dare.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Courtney Maum

Courtney Maum is the author of the acclaimed novel I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You, the new novel Touch, and the chapbook Notes from Mexico. Her short fiction, book reviews, and essays on the writing life have been widely published in outlets such as The New York Times, O Magazine, Tin House, Electric Literature, and Buzzfeed, and she has co-written films that have debuted at Sundance and won awards at Cannes. At various points in her life, she has been a trend forecaster, a fashion publicist, and a party promoter for Corona Extra.

Recently I asked Maum about what she was reading. Her reply:
I appear to have a real thing for books by female authors whose protagonists are failed (or failing art students) with dead (or dying) fathers and supercharged (and non-discriminatory) libidos. Just today I finished All Grown Up, the latest novel by Jami Attenberg, which checks all these boxes. Other favorites in this vein are The Bed Moved by Rebecca Schiff and Paulina and Fran by Rachel B. Glaser. Dead dads aren’t present in all of these, but Amie Barrodale’s collection You Are Having a Good Time and Tama Janowitz’s Slaves of New York have dating foibles a go-go, as does Katherine Heiny’s collection, Single Carefree Mellow, in which most of the protagonists are single and carefree and none of them are mellow.

This summer, I will continue to seek out smart girls gone neurotic: I can’t wait to read Deb Olin Unferth’s new collection, Wait Till You See Me Dance, Otessa Moshfegh’s Homesick For Another World, and I’m going to tackle people to get my hands on Alissa Nutting’s Made for Love. Edan Lepucki’s latest, Woman No. 17 has a dysfunctional artist in it I’m sure I’ll love, and I’m waiting until I’m on book tour to pick up a copy of Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine because there aren’t any bookstores close to where I live—that’s one of the many perks of going on tour: I’ll be in independent bookstores all the time!
Visit Courtney Maum's website.

The Page 69 Test: I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Alan Smale

Alan Smale writes science fiction and fantasy, currently focusing on alternate history and historical fantasy. His novella of a Roman invasion of ancient America, "A Clash of Eagles," won the 2010 Sidewise Award for Alternate History. Clash of Eagles and Eagle in Exile are the first books in a trilogy set in the same universe.

Smale's new novel is Eagle and Empire, book three of the Clash of Eagles trilogy.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Smale's reply:
I’m generally reading several books at the same time, both fiction and non-fiction. Since most of what I write these days is alternate or twisted history I’m continuously reading for research, either central or tangential to the story I’m working on or about to start. I’m a knowledge junkie, so this is kind of fun, but it does mean that after five years of writing the Clash of Eagles series and focusing mostly on research, I faced a solid backlog of the fiction that I hadn’t gotten around to when it came out – some of it by my friends, which was particularly embarrassing. Plus, I’m now making a point of reading respected alternate history novels that I missed along the way.

Good examples of the latter are Lion’s Blood and Zulu Heart, an alternate history duology by Steven Barnes. Having just deconstructed North America and rebuilt it for myself, with a Roman invasion of the continent when the Mississippian Culture was at its height, I was interested to see someone else’s take. The Barnes novels postulate an America colonized by the nations of Africa rather than of Europe, and thus with switched racial roles: the big plantation homes are owned by a powerful Islamic African aristocracy, while the slaves in the fields are generally white Northern Europeans. It’s not a polemic, and there’s no winking at the reader: the books are a genuinely thoughtful and well-written exploration of a different world, and the characters of all backgrounds are all well drawn and very human. I loved the detail and the pacing, and found them thought-provoking.

Books by friends of mine that I finally got to and enjoyed recently included Myke Cole’s Shadow Ops: Control Point (military fantasy), C.A. Higgins’ Lightless (hard SF), Jason Hough’s Zero World (SF action-adventure), Fran Wilde’s Updraft (second world fantasy), and David Levine’s Arabella of Mars (interplanetary adventure). And then there’s The Devourers by Indra Das, set in Mughal India, which is one of the oddest and most visceral takes on the werewolf myth that I’ve ever read. I’d also recommend New Pompeii by Daniel Godfrey, whom I haven’t met yet but by now counts as an “internet friend.” It’s a time travel thriller with plot twists and turns and a strong Roman component, so it pushed all the right buttons for me.

On the non-fiction side, I’ve found the military history books from Osprey Publishing to be invaluable. I relied on their books throughout writing the Clash series for details of weaponry, clothing, battle tactics, siege equipment, ship technology, historical campaigns, and many other topics, for my Roman, Native American, Norse, and other characters. Their books are slim – generally 48, 64, or 96 pages long – but don’t be fooled: they’re so concentrated with critical information that they seem just the right length. Sure, their authors could have padded them out to 250 pages each, and I’ve read plenty of extended academic treatises as well, but the Osprey books bring the essentials with no fuss or fill. I always have an Osprey on the go.

Beyond those, there are three general-level historical books that I’ve enjoyed over the past couple of months. 1177 BC: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline is a great summary of the bronze age civilizations of the Mediterranean and Middle East in the thirteenth and twelfth centuries BC, and a study of how their economies all fell over like ninepins around 1177 BC. It shows well how interconnected the various empires and nations were by diplomacy and trade, even so long ago. Carthage Must be Destroyed by Richard Miles is the only book I’ve ever read that gets to the core of the Carthaginian culture and people, who ended up getting wiped from the face of the earth so convincingly by the Romans in the Punic Wars. It’s a deep look into a country that many people perceive as just a failed footnote in history. Finally, Gene Cernan’s death prompted me to read The Last Man on the Moon. I work at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, but even before that I was a space addict. I’ve read a large number of books about human spaceflight, especially through the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo eras, and Cernan’s was one of the most human and candid of all.

Audiobooks! I’m new to them, I’ll admit. I didn’t think audiobooks were my thing. I read much faster than spoken-word speed, and I don’t like to wait. But when I’m driving to work and back I can listen to music I’ve heard forty times before, depress myself with news, or learn something. Recently, I’ve been learning, and I’ve found the slow pace helps me to think more. While listening to Mary Beard’s SPQR, I focused in on some political details of ancient Rome that I’d probably have glossed over in book form, because a lot of the stories were already familiar to me. With an audiobook you also can’t skip the gory parts, and so A Short History of Modern Medicine by F. Gonzalez-Crussi was fascinating but occasionally wince-making. I got to grips with the details of how scientific thinking has changed from Isaac Newton by James Gleick, and with how scientific theories themselves evolve from listening to Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory by Edward J. Larson.

And, let’s be honest: I was never going to read A Tale of Two Cities in book form. I just wasn’t. Too many more current books higher in the pile. But when I had to make the long road trip from D.C. to Memphis and back for MidSouthCon, Dickens kept me company, and I enjoyed his flowing language, both in the long descriptive passages and dialog, the suspense, and the dark humor.
Visit Alan Smale's website.

The Page 69 Test: Clash of Eagles.

The Page 69 Test: Eagle in Exile.

The Page 69 Test: Eagle and Empire.

--Marshal Zeringue