Friday, August 31, 2007

Hari Kunzru

Adrienne Wong interviewed Hari Kunzru for the Financial Times.

A few of the questions and answers:

What is the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?

Bouvard and Pecuchet by Flaubert.

* * *

What book do you wish you’d written?

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon – but then I’d be chased around by grad students ... so probably Crime and Punishment.

What novel would you give your own child to introduce them to literature?

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Read the entire Q & A.

Hari Kunzru's first novel, The Impressionist, was awarded the Betty Trask Prize 2002 and shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Whitbread First Novel Award. In 2003, he was named one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. His third novel, My Revolutions, is out this month in the U.K. and due in the U.S. in early 2008.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Paul Collier

Paul Collier is Professor of Economics and Director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies at Oxford University. Former director of Development Research at the World Bank and advisor to the British government's Commission on Africa, he is one of the world's leading experts on African economies and is the author of Breaking the Conflict Trap, among other books.

His new book is The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It.

J. Tyler Dickovick, an Assistant Professor of Politics at Washington and Lee University, specializes in the politics in developing countries with a focus on Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. Read more about his research and publications at his faculty webpage.

In this illuminating interview, Collier responds to a set of questions expertly prepared by Dickovick:

Dickovick: You argue that the poorest countries where the world’s bottom billion live are caught on one of four traps: the conflict trap, the natural resource trap, the “landlocked with bad neighbors” trap, and the “bad governance in a small country” trap. While the traps share features in common, some seem more driven than others by exogenous factors or natural endowments, such as geography. Do the different traps demand different responses from policymakers, and how so?

Collier: Yes, very much so. Indeed, the point of diagnosing these four very different traps is precisely that they will require very different remedies. People have been saying for years that a 'one size fits all' approach does not work, but I am specific in why it won't, and why on the other hand we don't have to go to the other extreme of every country being utterly unique. To give you one example, the trap of resource riches cannot be solved by 'downsizing' the state because it should indeed tax the resource revenues, the key focus needs to be on accountable government spending. In contrast, in some other situations, small and lean government might be a very effective approach to harnessing opportunities.

Dickovick: The book combines a wide-ranging review of evidence on the causes of failure with much discussion of possibilities for improving conditions the poorest countries. You have several specific proposals, including reforms in the areas of trade and market access, international law, and foreign aid. Are there key examples that show such proposals have worked in the past to help countries overcome traps? Where can we look for evidence of success in breaking traps? Do other post-war developments (such as the reconstruction of Europe or the rapid development of East Asian economies) serve as useful models?

Collier: Yes, there are examples of past success. On trade policy, Mauritius benefited considerably from its temporary privileged access to rich-country textiles markets thanks to its MFA quota. That temporary advantage was enough to get Mauritius permanently out of poverty. Currently, the US trade scheme AGOA is working a whole lot better than the European scheme, EBA, because of detailed differences in design that have had large consequences for jobs in Africa.

The reconstruction of Europe after 1945 is an excellent example of what success requires - and of what the US does when it really gets serious. In addition to its aid program, the US reversed its trade policy, opening its markets to Europe through the formation of the GATT, it addressed European security concerns through NATO and a huge presence of its troops in Europe, and it got involved in European governance through the OECD and the encouragement of what became the EU. That range of four policies is the waterfront that we have to repeat for the harder task of getting the bottom billion to catch up.

Dickovick: You have a brief chapter on military intervention, which you say was difficult for you to write, and the proposal here is one of your most provocative. Under what conditions are international commitments to military intervention appropriate?

Collier: Even democratic governments in small, impoverished societies are menaced by threats of coups and rebellions. They are in great difficulty and commonly try to secure their position by increasing their military spending - buying coups off. In these conditions an external security guarantee - the sort that Britain is currently providing to Sierra Leone - is welcome, legitimate, without other clear substitutes, complements other assistance and is highly cost-effective. It would be nice to believe that if a government of a small, poor country is democratic that would make it safe, but the evidence is solidly against this cosy belief. These countries need our robust help.

Dickovick: You say in the book that “[t]rade policy is the area of economics least well understood by the NGO world,” and use the example of Christian Aid as a well-intentioned organization whose advocacy on trade issues can be detrimental to the bottom billion. What should NGOs and international aid organizations advocate for in the arena of trade policy?

Collier: There are some obvious things - our agricultural subsidies are often detrimental to existing exports from the bottom billion. But my main concern is to get beyond these paltry existing exports to encourage diversification, especially into light manufactures such as garments. The Africa Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA) provides a model here, though it is already under threat in Congress from proposals to extend it way beyond Africa which would inadvertently kill its beneficial effect where it is most needed. NGOs should be lobbying for AGOA to be matched by Europe, Japan and the rest of the OECD in a common and generous preference scheme.

Dickovick: The dialogue over foreign aid has moved towards the forefront of popular discourse. One visible instance is the public debate between Jeffrey Sachs and William Easterly, with Sachs a proponent of major increases in aid to the poorest countries caught in “poverty traps” and Easterly more skeptical about the aid industry. Where do you situate your book in this debate? Do you feel your argument reconciles points made by aid advocates and aid skeptics, or do you consider it to fit in one or the other camp?

Collier: I regard it as a reconciliation. Jeff Sachs has kindly written to the New York Times supporting the main tenets of The Bottom Billion, and I will be sharing a platform with Bill Easterly next week. I think that aid can be very useful, and so should be scaled up in ways that would make it much more effective, but that alone it is not enough for development. Change must come primarily from within the societies of the bottom billion, but there are many brave people in these societies who need our effective support, both through aid, which has been very prominent, and through the other approaches which have been badly neglected. Domestically-led change and our external support are jointly necessary, and together will prove to be sufficient to achieve the transformation that is so vital.

Dickovick: Your synthesis suggests the development aid “industry” and the academic study of development have both made false steps and learned major lessons in the last 60 years. What do you deem to be the key policy lessons we have learned from our past mistakes, when it comes to improving life prospects for the worst-off?

Paul Collier: That's a big question to end on. I could write a book on it - perhaps I will, (perhaps I did!). I would say there are two key lessons. One is that 'we' can't do it for 'them': societies must be instrumental to their own salvation. The second is that these societies are not going to be floated up to our level by automatic economic forces of globalization. Most of the world is, but not the countries stuck in the traps. That is why they can't do it on their own. They have to try, but we have to help. And we have to help far, far more intelligently, 'seriously' I think is the word, than we have done to date.
Visit the Oxford University Press website to learn more about The Bottom Billion, and read more about Paul Collier's research at his faculty webpage.

The Page 99 Test: The Bottom Billion.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Jane Fallon

From a Q & A with Jane Fallon, author of Getting Rid of Matthew:

Which newspaper do you read?

I skim read the Guardian, Metro and the Telegraph every morning and then spend the rest of the day trying to do the Telegraph crossword. I can never resist reading all the tabloids online especially at the weekend. My favourite day of the month is the day Vanity Fair drops through my letterbox.

Who / what is your biggest influence?

Undoubtedly discovering Praxis by Fay Weldon when I was 16 had a major effect on how I viewed literature.

Which literary character would you most like to meet?

Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.

Read more of the Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: Getting Rid of Matthew.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Neal Thompson

Neal Thompson is a veteran journalist who has worked for the Baltimore Sun, Philadelphia Inquirer, and St. Petersburg Times, and whose magazine stories have appeared in Outside, Esquire, Backpacker, Men's Health, and the Washington Post Magazine. Already the author of two critically acclaimed books, Light This Candle: The Life and Times of Alan Shepard, America's First Spaceman and Driving with the Devil: Southern Moonshine, Detroit Wheels and the Birth of NASCAR, he has just published Hurricane Season: A Coach, His Team, and Their Triumph in the Time of Katrina.

Hurricane Season is a full-access account of the Patriots of John Curtis Christian School, who played in their final pre-season football game just days before Katrina hit, and their quest for a record twentieth Louisiana state football championship in the 2005 season.

Thompson graciously replied to my questions about the book and his work:

Q: What do you think readers would be most surprised to learn from Hurricane Season?

A: I'm hoping readers will be surprised by two things... First, at how Katrina affected so many lives on so many levels. It wasn't just those whose homes got entirely swept away who suffered ... even those who got an inch or two of water in their homes were rendered homeless, because that water sat baking in the house for two weeks, causing mold to crawl throughout the entire home. The students I write about literally, in many cases, lost everything they owned. Secondly, I think people will be surprised at how such a small school, and a football coach with such a simple gameplan, have created a powerhouse of a football team. That success says a lot about how unique and special Coach JT is, as both a mentor to these kids and as a human being.

Q: How much responsibility do you feel toward the people you're writing about? Do you worry about pleasing them, when at the same time you have to please your editor, your readers, and live up to the standards of journalism?

A: I've always felt an enormous sense of responsibility, but not so much toward pleasing my subjects but toward getting it right. I never expect the people I write about to be entirely happy with the results, but I also never want them to say, "You got it wrong." My responsibility is more toward being a journalist than being "nice." But you raise a good point about the readers.... I do feel a sense of responsibility toward them, since the onus is on me, the writer, to entertain or inform or intrigue the reader. They're spending the money, so I always feel strongly that I owe them a good story, a good book. As for my editor, Emily Loose at Free Press, we were very much a team on this book, and I think we both felt mutually responsible for telling this important story, and telling it well.

Q: Is Hurricane Season more or less the book you thought you'd wind up writing when you started?

A: This was the rare book in which the story was all right there for the telling, and it was up to me to not screw it up. So, yes, this turned out to be the book I had hoped and planned to write. The most difficult part was cutting out stories (about people affected by the story, and parts of the back story of the school's founder), that were important but just didn't fit.

Q: In the course of writing your book, you must have come across people and events that, for whatever reason, didn't wind up in the book. What is the most interesting thing you left out of the book?

A: During my research, I asked the teachers at the school to give students an assignment... to write an essay about their Katrina experience. These papers were amazing, and often heart-breaking, but there just wasn't enough room to tell everyone's story. Here are two (#1 and #2) of many examples of stories that were painful for me to cut:

#1. One boy, who lost family photo albums, the TV, and a huge movie and video game collection (including his favorite movie, "You Got Served"), also temporarily lost his parents. His father got transferred to Chicago and his mother stayed to work in Texas, while he stayed with grandparents. He stayed in touch with his parents by phone and swapped letters and pictures. His mother finally came back to New Orleans, and they moved into a trailer park, where they spent their evenings washing and drying the flood-soaked clothes of their extended family. But the boy's his father stayed in Chicago. "I'm sad and worried I'll never see him again," he told a teacher.

#2. Taylor Schwab was looking forward to cheerleading tryouts and the start of her freshman year at Andrew Jackson High in Chalmette. After evacuating to Alabama and then Lafayette, Louisiana, she heard from a friend that her house was under fifteen feet of water. She and her mom logged onto Google Earth, the website that offers satellite views of the earth. Sure enough, they found the roof of her house, now an island surrounded by a fetid lake. She started crying, " My house, my room, my everything, and it's all gone in one day and there's nothing I can do about it!" She wouldn't return home for two months, and again broke into uncontrollable sobs at the sight of her house. "Everything I knew and depended on had been lost and would never be the same," she told her teacher at John Curtis, where she transferred. "I want my life back."

Q: I grew up in the metropolitan New Orleans area and know well the high school football milieu you describe so vividly in the book. I like sports, but my own view is that too many schools -- and too many people in the community -- care significantly more about the quality of their high school's football team than they do about how well students fare academically. How well do you think John Curtis Christian School balances academics and athletics? Or, to put it another way, if you lived in New Orleans and had a child who was a pretty good football player (but clearly not destined for a football scholarship at USC) as well as pretty good student (but probably not destined for an academic scholarship at Harvard), would you send him to John Curtis or to, say, Newman High School, which despite graduating a couple of NFL quarterbacks is better known locally for the quality of its academic program?

A: It's a good, and valid, question, and as the father of two sons, it's an issue I was keenly aware of during my research. And in the book I tried to address this issue that John Curtis gets accused of, i.e. being a football factory that devalues academics. The truth is, John Curtis has created the perfect environment for the hypothetical student you describe, and has developed a nice balance between academics and athletics. They don't over-obsess about academics, and instead provide a nurturing environment where kids are taught to think for themselves, to write well, to work on projects as a team, and to care about the world around them, rather than simply learning how to do well on standardized tests, which might produce better grades but not necessarily better people. As for athletics, they're clearly very good at that, but again, I feel they have the right balance... for example, there are no try-outs, and no one gets cut from JT's team. That's a concept that's almost unheard of at most US high schools. As a journalist - and a former education writer, no less - I'm trained to be skeptical. But nothing I saw at John Curtis triggered my inner skeptic.

Q: A friend from Paris recently asked me about the novels being read in American high schools. From my youth, I could only remember To Kill A Mockingbird and Lord of the Flies. What are the students at John Curtis reading? What books, fiction or nonfiction, would you encourage them to read?

A: Another good question... I can't tell you what the Curtis kids are reading these days. I just didn't come across that information. But I do think that they should be reading novels, and especially classics. Currently, I read almost exclusively non-fiction books, in my ongoing efforts to become a better non-fiction writer. But my best experiences as a reader (indeed, some of my best experiences ever) were getting lost in Victor Hugo (Les Miserables is one of my favorites), Cervantes, Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving, and, more recently, Haruki Murakami. I miss those moments of pure joy and discovery, and envy those (like my sons) who will discover their own favorite, life-changing novels - as long as their parents and teachers do their job and expose them to the right books. I think, in this digital age, it's VERY important for educators to convey the value of literature.

Q: What was the book that most influenced your career as a writer?

A: The authors listed above had a big influence early on, but I always knew I wasn't smart or talented enough to become a novelist (a conclusion reached after two failed novels). So it took books like Buzz Bissinger's Friday Night Lights (an absolute classic of the genre) and Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm and the work of David Halberstam and Elizabeth Gilbert and New Yorker writers to teach me how to use my journalistic skills to write books that, at their best, read like novels.

Q: You've written about NASA, NASCAR, and now a high school football team. What's next?

A: I wish I knew... I have a dozen ideas I'm considering, but after NASA, NASCAR, and New Orleans, I feel I need to stick with the 'N' theme in this niche I've carved out. Any suggestions? Feel free to send your ideas (and have your readers send ideas) to me via the 'contact' link on my website, All I need is a vivid, important story with lively characters, lots of emotion and a somewhat inspiring theme. That's all.
Learn more about Hurricane Season and Neal Thompson's other books at his website and his MySpace page.

The Page 69 Test: Driving with the Devil.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 27, 2007

Amy Bloom

Adrienne Wong interviewed Amy Bloom for the Financial Times.

A couple of the questions and answers:

What books are currently on your bedside table?

Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier, a Val McDermid mystery, and my friend Mark Doty’s Dog Years.

* * *

What book changed your life?

Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, which I read as a girl and so identified with Sydney Carton.

Read the entire Q & A.

Amy Bloom is the author of two collections of short stories and two novels. She has been nominated for a National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award.

Her third novel, Away, is released this month.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 26, 2007

David Mitchell

David Pilling of the Financial Times interviewed the novelist David Mitchell over lunch in Hagi, Japan.

An excerpt from Pilling's account of the encounter:

We follow a matronly woman in a kimono through switchback corridors to a private room overlooking another garden. We order two bottles of beer - a Kirin for me, an Asahi for him - and chat politely until the matron returns with starters. In Japanese fashion we pour each other's beer. As I'm in the presence of an author, I ask him to describe the meal before us.

"Oh blimey, now I'm in trouble," he says. His voice reminds me of David Brent in The Office. "Well, we have the usual array of... [he backtracks, to be more gracious], a superior, but not uncommon, array of sashimi, probably out of the sea this morning, I'm guessing, and a variant of a tofu. And some things in here," he says, pointing to mysterious delicacies in two little glass cases, "that, quite frankly, I couldn't say what they are. I don't normally come to places this gorgeous." Then, leaning into my tape recorder, he puts on a sports commentator's voice and reads out a mock headline: "David Mitchell. Doesn't Know His Way Around Japanese Cuisine. Shocker."

Read the entire article.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 24, 2007

Anthony Holden

Anthony Holden’s book Big Deal: One Year as a Professional Poker Player has become a cult classic, enjoying no fewer than six editions since its first publication in 1990, with worldwide sales now well into six figures.

Holden recently published Big Deal's long-awaited sequel, Bigger Deal: A Year on the New Poker Circuit.

Stephen Bartley interviewed Holden about the new book for Gutshot.

Part of the interview:

Stephen Bartley: The first book Big Deal seemed so much fun, is that what prompted the second?

Anthony Holden: The first book was terrific fun; I look back on it probably as the happiest year of my life 15 years ago.

SB: It reads like that.

TH: Well that’s nice that you say, I think the fun I had living it comes across in the writing of it. There were big difficulties with the structure as a writer. One was to keep the reader on your side, because a lot of people to this day say to me, ‘you bastard, you’ve done what I always wanted to do - give up everything and go play poker for a year. I was really jealous and I wanted you to fail! But, by the time I’d finished it I was rooting for you’. Which I tried to pull off, and which was quite difficult with this famously self-deprecating humour. But it’s not difficult if you’re as bad a poker player as I am!

The other thing of course, and it’s the same problem with Bigger Deal, is making it work for people who know poker inside out, and at the same time making it work for people who haven’t got a clue. The nicest compliment I got after Big Deal, and this was 15 years ago when very few people played poker, was a lot of wives bought it for their poker playing husbands for Christmas and then after Christmas their husbands tossed it to their wives and said ‘you might enjoy this’. That’s what I’ve got to try for. But Bigger Deal will be more interest to poker players than non-poker players.
Read the entire interview.

Check out some of Holden's favorite poker books.

The Page 99 Test: Bigger Deal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Peter Spiegelman

From a Q & A with novelist Peter Spiegelman, editor of Wall Street Noir:

Q: You say in the introduction to Wall Street Noir that Wall Street has long been a crime scene. Why do you think that is?

A: In this day and age — post-Enron, post-Adelphia, post endless insider-trading and conflict of interest cases — it's hardly breaking news that there's crime on Wall Street. Financial wrongdoing didn't start there, of course, but it found fertile ground on the Street, and its roots run pretty deep. As to why — I'm not sure Wall Street criminals are ultimately so different from other varieties: they're some combination of greedy, scared, desperate, and reckless. And of course there's the fact that (to paraphrase Willie Sutton) Wall Street is where the money is. But I think there's more to the story than inclination and proximity.

Pressure is certainly a part of the Wall Street equation. People with P&L responsibility on the Street are under enormous pressure to generate revenue. Success can bring immense wealth, and failure can end careers. For some of these people, more than just run-of-the-mill avarice is at work. For them, money is merely a proxy for larger, more existential stakes. Failure doesn't only put big bonuses at risk, but their sense of self as well.

Corporate culture is another factor. Crime doesn't occur in a vacuum — it's encouraged (on Wall Street or any place else) when supervision is lax, and enforcement and penalties are perceived to be mild. Firms with slipshod controls, or whose managements focus on the generation of revenue to the exclusion of all else, often send ambiguous don't ask, don't tell signals to their employees, and tacit messages about what kind of behavior is and isn't acceptable in the pursuit of profit.

Read the entire Q & A.

Visit Peter Spiegelman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ann Patchett

Adrienne Wong interviewed Ann Patchett for the Financial Times.

A couple of the questions and answers:

What’s the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?

Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish. I've bought 12 copies in the past two weeks.

* * *

Which book changed your life?

One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Read the entire Q & A.

Ann Patchett has won numerous fiction prizes, including the PEN/Faulkner Award and Orange Prize in 2002 for her fourth novel, Bel Canto. Her memoir of her friendship with fellow writer Lucy Grealy, Truth & Beauty, was named one of the Best Books of the Year by the Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, and Entertainment Weekly. Patchett's latest novel, Run, is due out in September.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Richard A. Posner

Richard A. Posner is Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago Law School and a a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency (Oxford University Press, 2006) is among the more recent of Judge Posner's many publications.

The political scientist Cary Federman, author of The Body and the State: Habeas Corpus and American Jurisprudence and a professor in the Department of Justice Studies at Montclair State University, developed a few questions about the book to which Judge Posner replied:

Federman: Does it matter for civil liberties whether the US classifies those who flew the planes into the World Trade Center as terrorists or criminals?

Posner: These aren't mutually exclusive categories. Terrorists are criminals. The issue is whether to classify them as criminals, as enemy soldiers, or as illegal combatants. If they are put in the last box, their civil liberties would be substantially curtailed. Their civil liberties would be at the highest level if they were treated as criminals, but if they were treated as ordinary soldiers they would be entitled to substantial protections, for example against punishment and mistreatment, including coercive interrogation.

Federman: Persons who have been labeled as threats to national security have historically been tried in federal courts – this is the central meaning of Ex parte Milligan. As long as federal courts are open, why is there a need to try anyone in a military tribunal?

Posner: I discuss this at some length in my book, and also in a newer book, Countering Terrorism: Blurred Focus, Halting Steps, which will be published by Rowman & Littlefield and the Hoover Institution next month). The criminal justice system has been designed to deal with ordinary crime, and is not well adapted to dealing with international terrorism.

Federman: As a practical matter, does a heightened concern over national security necessarily demote the role of the judiciary?

Posner: No, because the judiciary has the last word on determining the constitutional balance between liberty and security. But I think what you're asking is whether judicially enforced rights are diminished when concern for national security increases, and the answer to that question is yes.

Federman: If the war on terror is endless, or no end in sight is foreseeable, what practical measures should Americans undertake to understand the limits and extent of civil liberties? Should we watch what we say?

Posner: As a matter of prudence, yes, because the laws against terrorist crime are very broad, and loose talk about terrorism could result in a prosecution.

Federman: One can make a principled case for torture, even a legal one, as you do. But should something like Alan Dershowitz's warrant for torture – authorities would have to get a judge to approve the use of torture just as they must get a warrant to search someone's home – be used to limit torture's appeal?

Posner: I don't make a legal case for torture. I argue that it should continue to be illegal and I criticize Professor Dershowitz's proposal.
Read more about Posner's Not a Suicide Pact: The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency and about his forthcoming Countering Terrorism: Blurred Focus, Halting Steps.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 17, 2007

Callum Roberts

Callum Roberts, author of The Unnatural History of the Sea, fielded questions and comments about his work and the endangered state of our planet on the Washington Post's Book World online chat, July 31, 2007. A couple of the exchanges:

Washington, D.C.: Professor Roberts, I'm curious about the research you did for the book. What sort of sources did you use to paint such a complex picture of the past? And how long did the research process take before you began writing?

Callum Roberts: That's a very good question. When I thought of the idea for the book in 2001, I expected it to take a couple of years to research and write. But the more I read, the more I realized I needed to know, so the more I read. In the end, it took five years. In that time, I read an awful lot of old books and reports, many bought from Ebay (you'd be amazed what you can find). So many people today believe that because a document is old, it is out of date and not worth reading. But I found out so much by reading history, including of course that there is nothing new under the sun. Many of the problems we see in the oceans today were recognized 100 years ago, as were many of the solutions. The difference is that there was so much more in the sea then, and people felt they didn't need to act, but could just fish somewhere else or for something else. We no longer have that choice. Today, we must act to bring depleted species back, because we have nearly run out of alternatives (unless you like jellyfish).

* * * *

Washington, D.C.: Prof. Roberts -- I work for Oceana, an international environmental group dedicated to the restoration and protection of our oceans. Like you, we believe that it's not too late to save the oceans. We have our methods of outreach, but I'm curious to know what you think needs to be done to ensure the viability of our oceans for generations to come. Thank you!

Callum Roberts: I wrote this book as one response to that question. Scientists spend much of their time talking to each other and the messages from their research take a long time to filter through to the general public or those who need to act on the findings. The field of historical ecology is somewhat specialized but learning about history has immense popular appeal. In the book, I wanted to breathe new life into the oceans of old by revealing them through the eyes of people who witnessed their untrammeled bounty. I hope that these visions will inspire people to fight for the resurrection of these ecosystems by working to recover at least some of what has been lost. I think old photographs of the size of past catches (both numbers of fish and the sizes of animals caught) have the power to astonish us and capture the imagination. We need to use them much more in communicating what has happened to the sea and what we must do to bring marine life back.
Read the full transcript of the book chat.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 16, 2007

David Anthony Durham

John Scalzi recently interviewed David Anthony Durham, the award-winning author of the novels Gabriel's Story, Walk Through Darkness, Pride of Carthage, and Acacia.

One of the exchanges:

Acacia is your debut into the world of fantasy, but before this you wrote well-received historical novels, including Pride of Carthage. What advantages did writing historical novels provide you when it came time to create your own world, with its own history? What things did you have to unlearn?

I think I would’ve struggled with the world building a lot more if I hadn’t already done it a few times in my historical novels. Each of them required that I portray a realistic and detailed world that is very different than our modern one. Gabriel’s Story was set in the American West of the 1870’s. Writing it I had to research cowboy lifestyle, the lives of African-Americans on the Plains, cattle markets, horseshoeing, sod house construction, rifle mechanics – not to mention relearning the geography of the Western States. With Walk Through Darkness I had to become a temporary expert on fugitive slaves, plantation practices, Annapolis history, the Scottish Highland Clearances, Yellow Fever. And writing Pride of Carthage – in addition to requiring research into ancient warfare, Carthage, Rome, mythology, Mediterranean geography – was also a lesson in the convoluted intricacies that plague grand endeavors. It was bloody complicated, and nothing ever proceeded entirely to plan.

It was great to have had those experiences to use when approaching a fantasy world. I loved having the freedom to make things up, but I still had a framework of things I knew I needed to deal with because I’d dealt with them in those earlier books. It’s part – I hope – of what makes the Known World feel real. The intricacies of the economy, the mythology the nations use to explain themselves to themselves, the difficulties in communicating across cultural barriers, the unfortunate tendency to turn idealism toward self-interest: all these things and more emerged in my fantasy world just as strongly as they had in my historical fiction. I think that’s a good thing.

I don’t think I had to unlearn anything, except I had to get more and more comfortable with letting my imagination roam, with letting the fantastic in. That was a great pleasure.

Read the entire interview.

The Page 69 Test: Acacia.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Linwood Barclay

Ali Karim recently interviewed Linwood Barclay, author of the forthcoming No Time for Goodbye, for The Rap Sheet.

Part of their dialogue:

AK: No Time for Goodbye is an excellent novel, built on an extraordinary premise. Where did that premise come from?

LB: The idea for No Time came to me around 5 a.m., which seems to be when all good ideas show up. I had been thinking about a very tragic case about a young girl who’d been abducted from her home in the dead of night. When her parents got up in the morning, she was gone. And it was like a switch got flipped. What if you turned that incident around? What if the girl woke up at home, and the family was gone?

AK: Did you know how this story would end before you began writing, or did you get some welcome surprises en route?

LB: I need to know where I’m going to end up when I start, but there are surprises on the way -- a lot of them. In all, it took a little over two months [to write]. (The last day I was working on the first draft, I wrote 9,000 words.) But there was some tinkering after that.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Laura Moriarty

In the summer of 2003, Laura Moriarty talked with Barnes & Noble about her favorite books, authors, and interests.

Part of the interview:

What was the book that most influenced your life -- and why?

It's difficult to pick just one, of course. But I will say that while I was writing The Center of Everything, I read Carl Sagan's The Demon Haunted World, and it made a strong impression on me. I only knew about Sagan from watching the Nova Channel when I was a kid, but I happened upon an essay he'd written before he died. I was so impressed I went to the library and checked out some of his books. In The Demon Haunted World, Sagan stresses the importance of skepticism and rational reasoning when considering the mysteries of the universe. It's easy for us today to see the insanity of the witchcraft trials, but Sagan gives a sympathetic account of how frightening the world must have seemed in those times, and how quickly our ability to reason can be dismissed in the face of fear and superstition. Today, Sagan points out, we have crop circles, alien abductions, and religious fundamentalism; the book has a great chapter called "The Baloney Detection Kit," an important tool for any open-minded skeptic. What I like most about Sagan is that he seems skeptical without coming across as cynical. He looks at the vastness of the universe and the intricacy of the natural world with so much wonder and awe, and he's able to translate it to a reader who isn't a scientist, such as myself. I also noticed how he refrains from making fun or putting down his opponents; there's such a generosity of spirit in his writing. I tried to put a bit of Sagan in Evelyn, the narrator of The Center of Everything.
Read the entire interview.

Visit Laura Moriarty's website and learn more about her new novel, The Rest of Her Life.

The Page 99 Test: The Rest of Her Life

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 13, 2007

Kimberlee Auerbach

Kimberlee Auerbach was the subject of an "Ink Q & A" at

A couple of exchanges from the interview:

What fictional character would you like to date, and why?

Howard Roark in the The Fountainhead. His independence and fearlessness are beyond sexy to me.

* * *

Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.

"I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded, not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night."
—Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Ted Kerasote

Ted Kerasote's writing has appeared in dozens of periodicals and anthologies, including Audubon, National Geographic Traveler, Outside, Salon, and the New York Times. He is also the author and editor of six books, one of which, Out There: In the Wild in a Wired Age, won the National Outdoor Book Award.

From a Q & A about his latest book, Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog:

Q: Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog distinguishes itself from the rest of the pack of dog memoirs by offering readers fascinating facts about canine genealogy and the evolution of human-dog interaction. How long did it take you to research the book?

A: One of my aims in writing Merle’s Door was not only to tell the story of a remarkable dog who was one of my best friends, but also to give readers accurate information about the origins of dogs, the dog-human partnership, and how dogs think. My hope is that readers can then apply this information to their relationships with their own dogs. For this information to be both accurate and current, I went to the latest primary sources. Reading scientific papers, interviewing some of the scientists who wrote them, and reading widely in the dog literature took me two years.

Q: Most people subscribe to the commonly held belief that they should dominate their dogs. You suggest a different approach — essentially one that lets dogs be dogs. Why do you think that many owners have a hard time accepting this theory? Do you think they would change the way they treat their dogs if they were aware of this model and the potential it has to improve their relationship with their four-legged friends?

A: This is a complex issue — and one of the major themes of Merle’s Door — so please forgive me if my answer is a bit long. I think that a lot of dog owners have a hard time letting their dogs be dogs — in other words, diminishing their authority over them—because, frankly, authority is addictive. In our western democratic society, dogs offer us one of the very few relationships in which we can exert unlimited authority and even physical punishment with almost no legal or moral constraints. In return, we’re obeyed—not merely obeyed, but also loved, or at least fawned upon. This one-sided relationship is psychologically soothing; it transports us back to our infancy when we can demand anything of our parents, and usually get it. Not many of us—unless we’re CEOs or the rulers of countries—can get away with this sort of behavior as adults except in our relationships with dogs. Sit, stay, lie down, be quiet, see you in eight hours when I come home from work—this kind of authority is heady and hard to relinquish.

Such power is also hard to relinquish because dog trainers constantly advise us to be strong alphas to our dogs. After all, that’s how alpha wolves treat their subordinates—they keep the pack in order and everything running smoothly, right? The problem with this reasoning is that it’s been derived from observing captive wolf packs, and they’re dysfunctional. As eminent wolf biologist David Mech has pointed out, “Such an approach is analogous to trying to draw inferences about human family dynamics by studying humans in refugee camps.”

It wasn’t until researchers began watching wild, unmolested wolf packs at the end of the twentieth century that they discovered that wolf society is a lot more egalitarian than anyone had imagined. The so-called alpha wolves, the breeding adults, actually share leadership with their maturing pups, letting them decide whom to hunt, when to hunt, and where to move the pack. The parent wolves don’t always have to be obeyed by their teenage wolves—meaning there’s free will in wolf society. Yet parent wolves are frequently listened to because, just as in human society, it’s the elders who have wisdom to impart.

Since dogs are wolves — genetically and psychologically — they, too, want some say in conducting their lives as they grow up. They want some authentic freedoms while also listening to those who are their elders, their human partners. Keeping one’s dog a perpetual child and quashing this natural maturation process by not giving the dog some leeway in conducting its own affairs — especially providing it off-leash time in which to socialize with other dogs — often leads to what this heavy-handed approach does in child rearing: the dog acts out or becomes a yes-dog, obeying mindlessly and not realizing its full mental capabilities.

Merle sidestepped many of these pitfalls through some bad fortune. He began life on his own — abused, shot at, and having to catch his own food to survive. But there was a silver lining to these hardships; they made him resourceful, self-reliant, and self-actualized. When we found each other and I gave him his own dog door so he could come and go as he wished, I simply fostered his innate curiosity and ability to solve problems on his own. The result was a dog who was my peer in many ways — who taught me rather than the other way around. I’ve hoped that in writing his biography I might convey the value of loosening the leash, in all aspects of our dogs’ lives, and by so doing mentoring them to become freer thinkers and equal partners.

Read the entire Q & A.

Read an excerpt from Merle's Door, and learn more about the book at Ted Kerasote's website.

The Page 69 Test: Merle's Door.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Ben Okri

Whitney Kisling interviewed Ben Okri for the Financial Times.

A couple of the questions and answers:

What was the last book you couldn't finish?

Finnegan's Wake, by James Joyce. But I'm going to have another go soon.

* * *

Which work would you most like to review?

Don Quixote. It'll keep turning me round and round, which I like. I've read it three times.

Read the entire Q & A.

Ben Okri won the Booker Prize with his third novel, The Famished Road, a magical realism tale narrated by an African spirit-child. Okri received an OBE in 2001. His latest novel, Starbook, is out this month in Britain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Charles Cumming

From a BookBrowse interview with Charles Cumming:

(BookBrowse Note: A Spy by Nature was published in the UK in 2001 but not released in the USA until 2007. The Hidden Man was published in the UK in 2003 but is not yet released in the US.)

Your first novel, A Spy By Nature, was written by a first person narrator in the continuous present tense. The Hidden Man is a more traditional novel told by a 3rd person narrator in the past tense. Was that a conscious decision?

Very much so, but it cost me a lot of hard work. I’d become so familiar with Alec Milius, the hero of A Spy By Nature, that I began to think that I wouldn’t be able to write any other kind of story, in any other kind of style. The first person allows you into a character’s thoughts and can create an extraordinary sense of intimacy with the reader. At the same time, I found descriptive prose much easier to write when looked at from Alec’s point-of-view. So it was a challenge that I set myself, as much as anything else, to write a book in what you describe as the more “traditional style”; that is to say, from several different points of view, with many different characters, each carrying equal weight in the story. The third person also makes it easier to create suspense, through the use of dramatic irony and so on. But the project started badly. I couldn’t find my voice and had to scrap about 20,000 words of the first draft. The Hidden Man also became extremely complicated in plot terms. Trying to tie it all up was like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube with a blindfold on.
Read the entire interview.

Learn more about A Spy By Nature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Cullen Murphy

Paul Comstock interviewed Cullen Murphy, author of Are We Rome?, for California Literary Review.

The interview opens:

I’d like to throw out topics that are of concern to Americans and get your thoughts on how we are similar or dissimilar to ancient Rome. Let’s start with our status as scientific and financial innovators.

You might think that a state that was as economically sprawling as Rome (its currency unified the known world; Europe wouldn’t have a common currency again until the modern Euro), and as technologically proficient (that highway system, as big as America’s!), would almost necessarily possess the same innovative streak that the United States has. But it didn’t. In the economic realm Rome was a relatively primitive agrarian society. It was born in the Iron Age and died in the Iron Age. It didn’t have deficit spending: when it needed money, it acquired it the old-fashioned way, by actually minting coins. Of course, it was able to stretch its finances by debasing the currency — governments learned that trick very early — but Rome didn’t have a sense of “economic policy” the way we do or the British Empire did.

As for technology: the Romans loved it, and were masters at its application, but they were not creative geniuses. Rome didn’t foster anything analogous to a Silicon Valley culture. Most of the technologies they used (and improved on) were known to other peoples, and they failed to employ some technologies that were right in front of their eyes. Water power is the classic example — the Romans knew how to put flowing water to work, but did so mainly in trivial ways. The military realm is one technological area where the Romans excelled creatively, which makes for rather lopsided development. There’s a warning there for America.

You have to wonder: with all of its technological prowess, why weren’t the Romans better on the front end — on the creative side of things? One factor was almost certainly slavery. You don’t need to invent labor-saving devices if you don’t need to save labor. Of course, there would come a point when the Romans very much needed to save labor, but by then a mindset of dependence on the sweat of other people’s brows had existed for many centuries. Some of the barbarians, in contrast, were highly inventive. To the barbarians we owe such things as trousers, barrels, the heavy plough, and the stirrup.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Philippe Legrain

From Bryce Bauer's interview with Philippe Legrain in Roll Call:

"I think the only way to square the circle is that people who believe in a free market also tend to be nationalistic," he said, while "it is a paradox [that] at the same time you see people who are generally suspicious of globalization" support immigration.

Legrain supports both.

"I used to be called a right-wing bastard," he said, referring to the time after he released his pro-globalization book "Open World: The Truth About Globalization" in 2004. "Now I get e-mails calling me a commie."
Read the entire interview.

Learn more about Legrain's new book, Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 6, 2007

Brett Battles

From a Q & A at the website of Brett Battles, author of The Cleaner:

Tell us about your influences, and how you came to be a writer?

I'm not sure exactly when the idea came to me that I wanted to be a writer, but I do remember that as early as fifth grade I would tell people that's what I was going to do. (Little did I know how much work it would take and how long it would be before I fulfilled that dream.)

But I guess the inspiration to be a writer came from my love of reading. I can thank my parents for that. They are both huge readers. I can remember that every night after my dad came home from work, he would read for an hour or so, while the chaos of our household unfolded around him.

He was a huge sci-fi fan, so, naturally, I also became one. I read as much as I could by masters of the genre like Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and Isaac Asimov, and works by lesser known, but equally talented writers, like James White.

As I grew older, my tastes expanded. I didn't completely quit reading sci-fi, but I did branch out. I think I read almost everything by Alistair MacLean, and Jack Higgins. And I also read a little book called BLACK SUNDAY by Thomas Harris several times. While science fiction stories were often thrillers, MacLean, Higgins, and Harris exposed me to a different kind of thriller — those set in our world, in our time.

Those weren't the only authors who influenced me, but they were some of the most important. Still, it would be a mistake to leave out two other authors who have been huge effect on me. The first is Stephen King. THE STAND is a book I've read over half a dozen times. And THE DARK TOWER series is simply brilliant.

The second is the late Graham Greene. There is a sadness to Greene's work that grips me and pulls me in. And he does it all with a simple, sparse style that I admire. If you haven't read Graham Greene before, you should give him a shot. Try THE QUIET AMERICAN, or THE HEART OF THE MATTER, or OUR MAN IN HAVANA.
Read the entire Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: The Cleaner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Ruth Rendell

Adrienne Wong interviewed Ruth Rendell for the Financial Times.

A couple of the questions and answers:

What’s the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?

Rereading P.G. Wodehouse’s Life at Blandings.

* * *

What book do you wish you had written?

I sometimes wish I had the ideas that other people have had. The plots for Donna Tartt’s The Secret History or Zoe Heller’s Notes on a Scandal.

Read the entire Q & A.

Ruth Rendell has written more than 50 bestselling crime novels under her own name and the pseudonym Barbara Vine. Not in the Flesh, the latest installment in the Inspector Wexford series, is out this month in the U.K., and The Water's Lovely was released last month in America.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 5, 2007

S. J. Rozan

From S.J. Rozan's website, part of a Q & A about her latest novel In this Rain:

Q: You were an architect in New York City for years. Do your experiences in that field find their way into In this Rain?

A: Absolutely. The physical fabric of the city is important to me, and endlessly fascinating. I tried to make In this Rain as rich in New York's sensory impressions as I could.

Q: Well, it's very rich. Anything specific?

A: Yes: an astounding encounter I had with members of the local community when my firm was working on an addition to a school in Bedford-Stuyvesant, years ago. The original building was a red-brick classical structure of the kind New York built for schools at the turn of the last century. We thought it was a handsome building, though it needed repair, and we planned a harmonious addition, respectful of the original and of the surrounding built context -- also red brick, tall windows, sloped roof, that sort of thing. The public agency client had us present the proposed design to community representatives.

They hated it.

They told us they thought the original building was a witch's castle and they didn't want any more of that: they wanted glass, steel, openness, a building that would tell their kids they were welcome in the 21st century. I was blown away: these people -- bus drivers and nurse's aides -- were reading architecture. They were taking meaning from design without any education in how that's done. And the meaning they were taking was different from what we'd intended. That taught me that one of the things we'd been told in architecture school was true: buildings speak in very powerful voices. And that another wasn't: a person has to be taught the language they speak in order to understand them.
Read the entire Q & A.

The Page 69 Test: In this Rain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Jilliane Hoffman

Ali Karim recently interviewed legal-thriller novelist Jilliane Hoffman for The Rap Sheet.

Part of the interview:

AK: There was a little gap in what had become your usual schedule, before your third novel, , Plea of Insanity, was released this summer. What were you up to?

JH: Plea of Insanity was another nasty plot that had been brewing in my head for years. It was inspired in part by a friend whose brother was diagnosed [as being] paranoid schizophrenic, back when we were in law school. Researching it took many months and included visits to a maximum-security insane asylum and face-to-face interviews with schizophrenics and psychopaths, not to mention devouring a few dozen books on mental illness and debriefing a couple of forensic psychiatrists over cocktails and coffee Then it was time to write, which took me almost two years. It was a labor of love.

AK: Can you tell us more about how that long-ago incident with your friend’s brother inspired this book?

JH: As I said before, Plea of Insanity was inspired by a friend whose brother was diagnosed schizophrenic when we were in law school. Right after we graduated, “Mark” unfortunately stopped taking his meds and, acting under a bizarre delusion, he drowned his infant son and tried to kill himself. He was pled not guilty by reason of insanity by the state and spent many years in a maximum-security forensic hospital. “Tina” and I were very close when this happened and so, as a friend, I watched as she struggled to come to terms with this devastating illness that had seemingly ravaged her family. Like most people, I knew nothing about schizophrenia at the time, but when I began to do some research, I was absolutely terrified. I didn’t know that it affects 1 percent of the world’s population. I didn’t know that there is no known cause and that there is no cure. And I didn’t know that although there is no “schizophrenia gene” that’s been isolated yet, the disease tends to run in families. I couldn’t think of anything more frightening for my friend than having to face the real-life possibility of going insane.

That was the first seed for Plea of Insanity. From there it grew into a courtroom thriller, because you write what you know and I wanted to take the reader on the roller-coaster ride that is an insanity plea. Ultimately, though, what I wanted to accomplish was to write a thriller that would thrill and scare and terrify, but that in the end would also demonstrate compassion towards those who suffer from this devastating illness and their families. Not an easy task.

Tina and Mark were definitely inspirations, but the plot is definitely fiction.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 3, 2007

Joseph S. Nye

In 2004, Newsweek's Jennifer Barrett interviewed Harvard professor Joseph S. Nye about his book Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics.

A couple of exchanges from the interview:

NEWSWEEK: Could you define soft power for our readers?

Joseph S. Nye:
It’s the ability to get what you want by attracting others rather than coercing them. If power is the ability to influence others to get what you want, there are three ways to do it: with threats (or sticks), with payments (or carrots) or by attraction and co-option — and that is soft power.

* * * *
In your book, you write that “it would be a mistake to dismiss the recent decline in our attractiveness so lightly.”

Yes, anti-Americanism has risen quite sharply over the last year or two. When people are asked why, they say it is because of American foreign policy not American culture. We lost on average 30 points per country in attractiveness among European countries, but the situation was even worse in the Islamic world. For example, in Indonesia, in 2000, three quarters of the people thought the United States was attractive and by May of 2003 that had dropped to 15 percent. And this is the largest Islamic country in the world and one where we need help in combating Jemaah Islamiah, which is an offshoot of Al Qaeda.
Read the entire interview.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Lisa Jean Moore

Lisa Jean Moore is Coordinator of Gender Studies and Associate Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies at Purchase College, SUNY.

Thomas Rogers interviewed about her new book, Sperm Counts: Overcome by Man's Most Precious Fluid, for

The start of the interview:

Why do you think that semen is a substance worth studying?

Initially, like most people, I thought it was basically just a substance that was necessary for human reproduction. Then I started to think about it as an erotic substance, and as criminal evidence. What I do in the book is look at how people make sperm meaningful and what that says about men and boys and their relationship with their sperm.

What do you think is wrong with the ways in which kids are taught about sperm in children's books?

Secular children's books want to anthropomorphize these little sperm cells and make them interesting, heroic and exciting, people we would identify with -- kind of like Dr. Seuss characters. They have very masculine personalities, of purpose, competition and aggression. They give sperm qualities that we would want our fathers to have. Just like "Daddy did this for you, the sperm did this for the egg cell." But sperm carries the X or the Y, so technically it's not really he or she.

The narrative is so monolithic. It doesn't say, wow, most sperm cells are in a shape that isn't healthy and most don't swim right, and most don't have tails, and it's actually sort of miraculous that people get pregnant because semen is a highly unpredictable substance. Children's books also create this narrative of children always being wanted, always being planned, always being predicted, and of the sperm cell having some cognition of that. It never bangs into a diaphragm or the back of a condom. It never comes out in the air because the guy is jerking off.

Read the entire interview.

The Page 69 Test: Sperm Counts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Michael Tolkin

Adrienne Wong interviewed Michael Tolkin for the Financial Times.

A few of the questions and answers:

What book changed your life?

The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.

* * *

What’s your favourite word?


* * *

Which author would you most like to review the work of?

Chris Kraus.

Read the entire Q & A.

Michael Tolkin (born 1950) is an American filmmaker and novelist. He has written numerous screenplays, including The Player (1992), which he adapted from his book, and for which he received the 1993 Edgar Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay.

--Marshal Zeringue