Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Bruce Feiler

Bruce Feiler's new book is The First Love Story: Adam, Eve, and Us. From the transcript of his Q&A with NPR's Michel Martin:

MARTIN: I could argue that this is, perhaps, the most challenging of the books that you have asked people to kind of reconsider the biblical story. But I'm really interested to know how people are responding to it and if they feel appreciative that you've given this new opportunity or are people just kind of, look, you know, you can't change my mind about this? This is one of the arguments that some people make about why they've walked away from organized religion because they feel that all it really does is kind of provide the warrant for suppressing certain people and particularly women.

FEILER: There's a fascinating paradox to me about religion that we don't talk about a lot. And that is that nothing has been more aggressively discriminatory against women than organized religion. And exactly the moment in the last whatever hundred years, 50 years, 15 years where religion has become voluntary, who could have blamed women for...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 27, 2017

Jessica Anya Blau

Jessica Anya Blau's books include The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, Drinking Closer to Home, and The Wonder Bread Summer.

Her latest novel is The Trouble with Lexie.

From Blau's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Trouble with Lexie, and for your main character?

A: The story started after I met a man who had just come out of prison. I asked him what he’d gone in for and he said he had been addicted, broke into someone’s house, and stole drugs from their medicine cabinet.

I said something dumb and simple, like, “Bummer.” And he said, “The problem wasn’t so much that I had stolen the drugs. The problem really was that I had fallen asleep on the bed of the owner of the drugs.”

Those two sentences stuck with me and I used versions of them in the opening scene of The Trouble with Lexie. From that moment on, I was asking myself, who is this person who was so desperate she took these drugs and crashed on this bed?

Essentially, I worked backwards. I found the place where she was (passed out on the bed) and wrote the whole book as a way of getting her to that bed.

The more I wrote, the more she became a version of me....[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Jessica Anya Blau's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

Coffee with a Canine: Jessica Anya Blau and Pippa.

The Page 69 Test: The Wonder Bread Summer.

My Book, The Movie: The Wonder Bread Summer.

The Page 69 Test: The Trouble with Lexie.

My Book, The Movie: The Trouble with Lexie.

Writers Read: Jessica Anya Blau.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 26, 2017

John Scalzi

John Scalzi's new novel is The Collapsing Empire.

From his interview with NPR's Petra Mayer:

You've said that the book — and its title — aren't a reference to any kind of current events in the U.S., but as I read it I kept thinking there had to be some kind of historical parallel, some great empire that fell when its trade routes failed or its ports silted up. What was your inspiration?

In fact I did think very generally about the "golden age" of European exploration, roughly corresponding to the 15th through 17th centuries, in the sense that the empires that rose out of that era were wholly dependent on natural forces (wind, ocean currents, rivers) to move their ships and shape their destinies with regard to trade and exploration. We're so used to having at least some mechanical control of our travel that it's hard to put oneself back into a mindset where travel took months, not hours, and was not always a safe and predictable thing.

So there was no one particular empire in our past I was borrowing from, but rather, a whole historical gestalt, and...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Sharon Begley

Sharon Begley's new book is Can't Just Stop: An Investigation of Compulsions.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write about compulsions, and what do you see as the best definition of the term?

A: It’s from casual observation, mostly in my work life. Just a few years ago, it was obvious nobody could go anywhere or do anything—a trip to the cafeteria or the ladies’ room—without their phone attached to them, as if it’s an oxygen tank.

I was watching that, and…asking why that is. Many of the things we do are because they’re fun, but this was very different. We’re attached to our phones, or hoarding, or [expressing] manifestations of OCD because if we didn’t do them, we would be puddles of anxiety. It’s all about keeping anxiety at bay.

I was trying to get experts to explain the difference between addictive and compulsive behaviors…When I got to people who did understand it, [the idea was that] compulsion arises from an anxiety…Addictive behavior arises because...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: Sharon Begley's Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 24, 2017

Timothy Snyder

Timothy Snyder is a professor of history at Yale University and the author of numerous books of European history, most recently, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. From the English version of an interview with Matthias Kolb published in Süddeutsche Zeitung on February 7, 2017:

You wrote an article for Slate in November, comparing the rise of Donald Trump with the rise of Adolf Hitler. Why did you feel the need to publish such a piece?

It’s very important that we use history to our advantage now, rather than finding in history taboos and ways to silence one another. The history of the 1930s is terribly important to Americans (and Europeans) right now, just as it is slipping from our memories. I was not trying to provoke one more fruitless series of conversations about comparability. I was trying to help Americans who were generally either shocked (people who voted against Trump) or surprised (people who voted for him, who generally thought he would lose) find their bearings in a new situation. The temptation in a new situation is to imagine that nothing has changed. That is a choice that has political consequences: self-delusion leads to half-conscious anticipatory obedience and then to regime change. Anyway, I didn’t actually compare Trump to Hitler, I didn’t use these two names. What I did was to write a very short history of the rise of Adolf Hitler to power without using his name, which might allow Americans to recognize certain similarities to the moment they themselves were living through. I know that these comparisons are a national taboo in Germany, but at the moment its rather important that Germans be generous with their history and help others to learn how republics collapse. Most Americans are exceptionalists, we think we live outside of history. Americans tend to think: “We have freedom because we love freedom, we love freedom because we are free.” It is a bit circular and doesn’t acknowledge the historical structures that can favor or weaken democratic republics. We don’t realize how...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cara Hoffman

Cara Hoffman's latest novel is Running.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You note that Running was inspired by your own time in Athens in the late 1980s. Did you plan for a long time to write a novel with that setting, and how did you come up with your three main characters?

A: Running is a novel that's gone through many drafts. I began taking notes for the novel when I was 19 years old living in a hotel in the red light district of Athens and working as a runner.

The three main characters are based on people I knew. Running is illegal work--basically hustling tourists to stay in low-end hotels in exchange for a free room and a small commission. It was a good way to live for free if you wanted to travel for long periods of time.

I love Athens--it's gorgeous, gritty, and complex and I always knew I would write about it. Athens is the city where I became...[read on]
Visit Cara Hoffman's website.

Writers Read: Cara Hoffman (March 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Peter Singer

Peter Singer's books include Ethics in the Real World: 82 Brief Essays on Things That Matter.

From his Q & A with Linch Zhang for the Huffington Post:

Linch: One of your largest focuses as a public figure is emphasizing the harms of climate change and the need to do something about it. I’m guessing this is probably not a question you ever get outside of effective altruism(EA) circles, but what is the rationale for emphasizing climate change? As a sanity check, depending on various estimates, climate change kills between 150,000 and 400,000 people a year, and is projected to approach 600,000 in 2030. This is no doubt extremely horrifying. But at the same time, roughly the same number of people die from malaria every year, while climate change gets far more attention, and seems harder to solve. At the margins, why should a concerned aspiring effective altruist or a HuffPost reader focus on mitigating climate change instead of malaria or other highly neglected problems?

Singer: The number of people dying from malaria is, fortunately, declining, while the number dying from climate change is, unfortunately, increasing. And it could get much worse after 2030, so that within decades, the numbers dying or becoming refugees could reach the tens or even hundreds of millions. That’s the most important reason to...[read on]
Peter Singer is Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. He is the author, co-author, or editor of more than thirty books, including Animal Liberation, widely considered to be the founding statement of the animal rights movement, Practical Ethics, and One World: Ethics and Globalization.

Visit The Life You Can Save website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 99 Test: The Life You Can Save.

The Page 99 Test: The Most Good You Can Do.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sara Blaedel

Sara Blaedel's latest novel is The Lost Woman. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Your new novel The Lost Woman focuses on the issue of assisted suicide. Why did you decide to look at that issue, and how is it viewed in Denmark?

A: As is the case in the USA, the subject of assisted suicide is hugely controversial in Denmark. There is a great and growing debate about legalization. Some 70 percent of the population are in favor, but the government is staunchly against passing laws to enable Danish citizens to legally assist the afflicted who wish to end their lives in their suicidal acts.

There is also a deeply personal element for me, with regard to my decision to explore assisted suicide in The Lost Woman. I lost my parents four years ago, which was crushing for me.

During my mother’s illness, she spoke frequently and at length about her desire to control when her life would end. She referred, constantly, to no longer feeling like or being herself.

Of course, the discussion was heartbreaking and unthinkable for me for quite some time. I couldn’t think about losing her, let alone being involved in any way with hastening her passing.

I tried...[read on]
Visit Sara Blaedel's website.

Writers Read: Sara Blaedel (February 2016).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 20, 2017

Kevin N. Laland

Kevin Laland is Professor of Behavioural and Evolutionary Biology at the University of St Andrews, U.K. His book is Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind.

From a Q&A with the author:

What does this book have to say about animal intelligence?

Our research into animal behavior has established that mammals, birds, fishes and insects all acquire knowledge and skills through social learning. Mostly animals copy useful things, such as how to find and process food, but social learning can generate extraordinary habits. For instance, capuchin monkeys possess habits of sucking of each other’s body parts, whilst some chickens have a taste for cannibalism. Animals can be highly innovative. For instance, apes have contrived clever means of extracting palm hearts from trees with vicious spines, whilst gulls have devised the habit of catching rabbits and killing them by dropping them onto rocks. From these foundations, human culture evolved through a runaway autocatalytic process in which innovation, social learning, tool use, and brain expansion fed back on each other.

Animals can be smart, but humans are clearly far more intelligent. Why is that?

Studies of how the brain evolved in primates suggests...[read on]
Visit the Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony website.

The Page 99 Test: Darwin's Unfinished Symphony.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Kathleen Rooney

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

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

From Rooney's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write that Lillian Boxfish is based on a real advertising woman and poet named Margaret Fishback. How did you decide to write a novel based on her life, and what did you see as the right balance between history and fiction?

A: [My friend Angela McClendon Ossar] happened upon Fishback's papers, she knew instantly that Fishback...would appeal to me as a person, and that her comedy in both her ads and her light verse would appeal to my sensibility.

Thanks to Angela, I got to be the first non-archivist to work with her materials. But it took me almost a decade to decide what form my work on Fishback would take.

The key that let me decide--and that also let me strike that balance between history and fiction--was my own love of flanerie: aimless walking through an urban environment. I knew that if I let my Lillian Boxfish be a city walker, I could free myself up to do the imaginative work necessary to make it a novel.

Q: What type of research did you need to do to recreate the decades you write about, and was there anything that especially surprised you?

A: I tried to follow the rule of...[read on]
Visit Kathleen Rooney's website.

The Page 99 Test: Live Nude Girl.

The Page 99 Test: For You, for You I Am Trilling These Songs.

My Book, The Movie: For You, for You I Am Trilling These Songs.

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

Writers Read: Kathleen Rooney.

--Marshal Zeringue