Saturday, March 17, 2018

Michael Isikoff and David Corn

Michael Isikoff and David Corn are co-authors of Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump. From their Q&A with Slate's Isaac Chotiner:

You write, “What could possibly explain Trump’s unwavering sympathy for the Russian strongman. His refusal to acknowledge Putin’s repressive tactics, his whitewashing of Putin’s abuses in Ukraine and Syria. His dismissal of the murders of Putin’s critics. His blind eye to Putin’s cyber-attacks and disinformation campaigns aimed at subverting Western democracy. Trump’s brief trip to Moscow held clues to this mystery.” Because of the Steele dossier and other things, there has been speculation that he’d sort of been compromised on that 2013 Miss Universe trip, which would explain his love for Putin. But one of the things that your book points out is that Trump was already a huge Putin admirer before he arrived in Moscow, perhaps because he wanted to do business deals there.

Isikoff: First of all, you’ve got to go back five months to Las Vegas where the plans for Miss Universe in Moscow are hatched. That’s the Miss USA pageant, the feeder for Miss Universe. That’s when he meets Aras Agalarov, the billionaire oligarch who’s known as “Putin’s Builder” because of all the construction projects he’s done for the Kremlin. That’s where you first meet Emin Agalarov, the pop-singer son of Aras, and Rob Goldstone, the British publicist. I have called Emin and Goldstone the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of this story because they are always there. They always keep popping up. It was at that moment when you see Trump’s eyes light up at the prospect of forming a business partnership with an oligarch who is close to Putin. This is how I can get my business deal, the Trump tower in Moscow that I’ve always wanted, actually built. I think that’s when you really start to see the fawning comments and tweets and public statements about Putin that Trump starts to make. It fits right in to the point we were trying to make in that passage about the Miss Universe pageant being the stepping stone for Trump to get...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 16, 2018

Taylor Brown

Taylor Brown's new novel is Gods of Howl Mountain.

From his LitReactor Q&A with Steph Post:

From the very first page of Gods of Howl Mountain I knew I would find a kinship in this book. One of your epigraphs is the ‘signs following’ passage from the Book of Mark, and that alone told me I was entering into a story I would find darkly comforting and familiar. As you know, I’ve written quite a bit about charismatic religion in my own books, as have other Southern writers, including Wiley Cash, of whom we both are fans. What do you think is this fascination writers have for religions on the fringe? And why was this an element you chose to explore in your novel?

Well, honestly, I first started on this book back in 2012, when I hadn’t read any novels that brought snake-handling to the fore. To be honest, I remember being a little crestfallen when I realized that Wiley Cash—who is now a great friend of mine—had written about serpent-handling and glossolalia in his incredible novel A Land More Kind than Home, which I waited for years to read, until I’d finished a couple drafts of Gods of Howl Mountain.

I grew up as a Catholic minority in South Georgia, where charismatic religion was quite prevalent. I knew of people holding multi-day prayer vigils over dead relatives, hoping to revive them before calling the authorities or coroner, and I had coworkers who spoke quite casually about their visions and visitations from Christ. Growing up Catholic, I was just enough of an outsider to find these stories fascinating.

But for me, the true fascination began with my great friend and editor Jason Frye, who grew up in Logan, West Virginia. His own grandfather had made a profit from capturing rattlesnakes to sell to local churches. Jason has a photograph of this one-armed snake-handling preacher on his office wall, and he directed me to Dennis Covington's incredible book Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia.

I think we find such religious practices so fascinating because...[read on]
Visit Taylor Brown's website.

My Book, The Movie: The River of Kings.

The Page 69 Test: The River of Kings.

Writers Read: Taylor Brown (April 2017).

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Shashi Tharoor

Shashi Tharoor is the author of Inglorious Empire: What the British did to India. From his Q&A with Sonali Campion for the British Politics and Policy blog at the LSE:

Are there any positive legacies in British rule?

Unwittingly yes, in other words things that were brought into India to further British interests, ensure British control or add to British profit have since independence been converted by the Indians to things that benefit India. But to give the British credit for something that was never intended to benefit India in the first place is a bit much. So, you see for example that the railways are so indispensable, the lifeblood in many ways of India today, but you forget that they were only intended to extract resources from the heartland to the ports in order to ship them off to England, and send troops out to keep the peace or British order. That’s what they were for.

The railways were also built at colossal expense to India, paid for entirely by the Indians while the British investors made huge profits. It was the single most profitable investment you can make in the London Stock Exchange from about 1850 to 1875 because they guaranteed returns of twice what the British government stocks was offering at that time. They did that because the Indian taxpayer was paying for it. What is more, one mile of Indian railway in India cost 9 times what the same mile would have cost in the US at that time. It was a rip off from start to finish.

When they finally added passenger carriages for Indians, wooden slats for benches deeply unpleasant conditions, they charged the Indian passengers the highest passenger rates in the world. At the same time they were charging British companies the lowest freight rates in the world. It was only after 1947 that the Free Indian Government reversed that set of priorities, made human traffic cheaper. Today it is one of the cheapest in the world railway travel, if not the cheapest, whereas freight got progressively more and more expensive. Of course now, Indian companies are bearing the brunt of these price rises so it may not be a good thing from their point of view. But the key thing is that turning the railways around to benefit the Indians was only something that happened after the independence.

One can go on...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Maud Casey

Maud Casey is the author of the novels, The Shape of Things to Come, a New York Times Notable Book, Genealogy, and The Man Who Walked Away; and a collection of stories, Drastic. She is the recipient of the Calvino Prize and has received fellowships from the Fundación Valparaiso, Hawthornden International Writers Retreat, Château de Lavigny, Dora Maar, and the Passa Porta residency at Villa Hellebosch. Casey teaches at the University of Maryland and lives in Washington, D.C.

Her new book is The Art of Mystery.

From Casey's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What inspired The Art of Mystery, and how did you decide which authors to write about?

A: I’ve long been an admirer of Graywolf’s Art of series—meditative wanders by authors on various subjects related to poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. I use them when I teach fiction (The Art of Intimacy, Time, Perspective, Daring, among others) and I read and reread them on my own.

Criticism is as deeply personal as writing. What moves us? What should art be and do? The Art of books are intimate glimpses into a reading and, so, a writing life and, so, a life.

Mystery was a subject I’d been thinking about for a long time without fully realizing it. There’s a long history of people much wiser than I am who have thought about this elusive literary quality.

I’m sure Aristotle had something to say about it, Flannery O’Connor wrote a book about it (Mystery & Manners), but it’s James Baldwin who provided the line that guided me as I wrote. “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions hidden by the answers.” If mystery, the genre, is about finding answers, then mystery, the elusive literary quality, is about finding questions.

As for how I decided which authors to write about, it’s a bibliophilic mixtape. They are books that affected me, and continue to affect me, on a profound level because of their abiding interest in laying bare the questions.

This laying bare of questions is...[read on]
Visit Maud Casey's website.

The Page 99 Test: Genealogy.

The Page 69 Test: The Man Who Walked Away.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Martin Dempsey

Martin Dempsey was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest-ranking U.S. military officer, from 2011 to 2015. In that role, he was the top military adviser to President Barack Obama. His book is Radical Inclusion: What the Post-9/11 World Should Have Taught Us About Leadership.

From the transcript of his interview with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: You know, what's interesting to me about your book is that you're a military man, and people think of military men, general, you know, it's about hierarchy; it's about commands, and the whole book is actually about the importance of radical inclusion, of almost a kind of flat organization, of consensus, of trying to share both the decision-making and the responsibility.

Do you think we understand the armed forces wrong, that we don't understand how you actually -- that you actually are persuading a lot more than you're commanding?

DEMPSEY: Absolutely. And think it's because, if you think about how we've -- we as a nation have constructed our national security apparatus, it's through allies and partners, since the '50s. And in fact, we have 53 allies and partners around the globe, 28 of them in Europe in the organization called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and that's how we've built our security.

Well, as a result, military leaders who have come through that system have learned that, to achieve particular outcomes, it's not just about achieving them yourself; if you want them to last, it's about achieving them through allies and partners, which can take longer and can, you know, create frictions, but you're more likely to gain the knowledge you need to find optimal solutions. You're more likely to share the burden so solutions are affordable. And if you find optimal solutions that are affordable, they actually have a chance of enduring.

ZAKARIA: Let me ask you a question about civil military relations...


ZAKARIA: ... right now. As you know, one of the things that the American military has striven very hard to do is to be independent of the civilian authority but to also be subordinate to it.

DEMPSEY: Absolutely.

ZAKARIA: We now have a situation where you have generals running core parts of the American government. The secretary of defense is a former general; the chief of staff is a former general; and the national security adviser is a sitting in-uniform general.


ZAKARIA: Is that -- is that smart? I mean...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 12, 2018

Edward Dolnick

Edward Dolnick is the former chief science writer for The Boston Globe and is the author of, among others, The Rush and The Clockwork Universe.

Dolnick's latest book is The Seeds of Life: From Aristotle to da Vinci, from Sharks' Teeth to Frogs' Pants, the Long and Strange Quest to Discover Where Babies Come From.

From the author's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your new book?

A: It is a curious one. I had written a previous book, The Clockwork Universe, about planets and stars and such. It dawned on me that people figured out those questions before they figured out life on earth.

This should be easy, but it came 200 years later! How come the hard questions were the easy ones and the easy questions were the hard ones? How come Newton was before Darwin?

Q: How did you research the book, and what did you learn that especially surprised you?

A: It was lots of research, and to my surprise, mostly unfamiliar territory, not just to me but to general readers. There was a lot in textbooks on embryology, but it had seldom been told as a story. The research was odd, esoteric, in bits and pieces. I was probably on some watch list for sex manuals from the...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Edward Dolnick's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Forger's Spell.

The Page 99 Test: The Clockwork Universe.

The Page 99 Test: The Rush.

The Page 99 Test: The Seeds of Life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Tarfia Faizullah

Bangladeshi American poet Tarfia Faizullah grew up in Midland, Texas. She earned an MFA from the Virginia Commonwealth University program in creative writing. Her first book, Seam (2014), won the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Focused around a long sequence “Interview with a Birangona,” the book explores the ethics of interviewing as well as the history of the birangona, Bangladeshi women raped by Pakistani soldiers during the Liberation War of 1971. Her second book is Registers of Illuminated Villages (Graywolf Press, 2018).

From Faizullah's Q&A with Kathleen Rooney for the Poetry Foundation:

The title of your second book is Registers of Illuminated Villages, and its title poem is "Register of Eliminated Villages," named after 397 villages destroyed during the war in northern Iraq. The wordplay is clever but not funny per se or at least not in any but the darkest way. How did you settle on that set of titles? And how do you determine what emotional registers to use in your poems? What’s the place of somberness, and what's the place of play?

Not long ago, I was hanging out with my friend and her daughter, a five-year-old at the time, and we were playing with Play-Doh. She had just spent the better part of an hour fashioning the perfect pile of orange spaghetti and neon green meatballs. And then she brought her small, strong fist down like a hammer and smushed the whole thing to smithereens. Her mom asked, “Why do you destroy what you make?” and she answered, “To play.”

I love it so much. I’m really drawn to that kind of, I dunno, exquisite dissonance—like when my sister died and two of her friends played house and set a place for her at the play dinner table. Play is a really neat expression of humans’ ability to cope with whatever comes our way. By the way, the book title actually started out as Eliminated Villages because I thought I was writing to forget, but...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Linda Gordon

Linda Gordon, winner of two Bancroft Prizes and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, is the author of The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition, Dorothea Lange and Impounded, and the coauthor of Feminism Unfinished. She is the Florence Kelley Professor of History at New York University and lives in New York and Madison, Wisconsin.

From Gordon's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What accounted for the Klan’s rise in the 1920s, and how strong was its influence during that decade?

A: There are two factors. First is the rise in the volume of immigration starting in the 1880s. They were not mainly Protestants—you have all these Catholics, Jews, Greek and Russian Orthodox people, who were made to seem like a threat.

The second happened directly after World War I—a real rise in prosecution and persecution of dissenters with many deportations. It set a precedent for the idea that dissent should be repressed. That is a lot of what the Klan is about—the notion that we should all be alike. It was very uncomfortable with diversity….

Q: How does it compare with other movements of the time?

A: The film Birth of a Nation premiered in 1915. The Klan used that as an enormous tool in recruitment…It was oriented toward the South and toward scurrilous stigmatizing of African Americans. One of the things I felt from writing about this was that one kind of bigotry...[read on]
Visit Linda Gordon's website.

Writers Read: Linda Gordon.

The Page 99 Test: The Second Coming of the KKK.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 9, 2018

Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker's latest book is Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. From his Q&A with Slate's Isaac Chotiner:
Isaac Chotiner: What is it that you think we misunderstand about our current moment in relation to our past?

Steven Pinker: The heart of the book is a set of graphs showing that measures of human well-being have improved over time. Contrary to the impression that you might get from the newspapers—that we’re living in a time of epidemics and war and crime—the curves show that humanity has been getting better, that we’re living longer, we are fighting fewer wars, and fewer people are being killed in the wars. Our rate of homicide is down. Violence against women is down. More children are going to school, girls included. More of the world is literate. We have more leisure time than our ancestors did. Diseases are being decimated. Famines are becoming rarer, so virtually anything that you could measure that you’d want to call human well-being has improved over the last two centuries, but also over the last couple of decades.

What do you want to get across other than, “Things are better”? Are you just trying to set the record straight, or are you trying to get us to think differently about the way things are now?

No, I’m absolutely trying to get people to think differently.

I put the facts of progress in the context of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Alison Gaylin

Alison Gaylin's new novel is If I Die Tonight.

From the author's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for If I Die Tonight?

A: Two events involving social media inspired me. The first happened a few years ago, when my daughter was 13. There was a hit-and-run incident in a nearby town, involving two teenage boys from rival high schools.

What I found so remarkable about the incident was the way in which the story got spun, particularly by the kids, into something that it wasn't. Through small-town gossip and the use of social media, the narrative became something completely removed from the real story, something much bigger and elaborate and clear-cut.

One of the boys also had a 13-year-old brother, and I found myself wondering what he was going through...

The other thing that inspired me was when Sinead O'Connor posted a suicide note on Facebook. She was obviously very troubled, and being an old fan of her music I found it heartbreaking.

But the thing that I noticed most about her suicide note was that...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Alison Gaylin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Into the Dark.

The Page 69 Test: What Remains of Me.

--Marshal Zeringue