Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Allegra Huston

Allegra Huston is the author of the new novel Say My Name. She also has written the book Love Child. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Say My Name, and for your main character, Eve?

A: I wanted to write a love story, and I wanted to base it on my fantasy—that one of the great songs would have been written for me. It’s my first novel, and I wanted Eve to be somewhat similar to me, so I made her 48. I didn’t want an old rock-and-roller, but a guy on the verge of making it big. That led into the story of an older woman and a younger man.

Q: Do you think attitudes have changed over the years regarding relationships between older women and younger men?

A: I think they’ve changed to some extent, though not enough. It’s still, "Ooh, an older woman"--a programmed-in response that older women are more knowing and experienced. There’s something predatory, lubricious, forbidden, edgy about the whole deal, though certainly as you look around, there are more relationships between older women and younger men.

The cougar thing drives me mad. What is...[read on]
Visit Allegra Huston's website.

The Page 99 Test: Love Child.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Simon Sebag Montefiore

Simon Sebag Montefiore's latest work of non-fiction is The Romanovs. From the transcript of his December 2017 conversation with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: In your book about the Romanoffs, one is struck by the absolute brutality of the family. I mean, they-- you know, the way (ph) the father kills his son in front spectators. That kind of brutality and almost unimaginable barbarism is part of Russian history, and do you think that informs the present in any way?

SEBAG MONTEFIORE: It very much is part of Russian history, and you're right. You know, the Romanoff story is a story about how families and individuals are corroded and destroyed by power. Peter the Great tortured his own son to death, as you said, Catherine the Great overthrew her husband and he was strangled to death, Alexander I was downstairs while his father, Paul, was beaten to death, strangled, and had his head stomped on.

So, yes, this is a family story, but not a family as we know it. But it does inform the present, too. I wrote this book to explain "Why Russia?" "Why Putin?" (ph) "What is exceptional about Russia?" (ph)

And when you take away all the modernity and the facade of elections in Russia, and you look at how Putin runs Russia, you see this (ph) tiny group of people competing and jockeying for the attention of one man, and a tiny group of people making secret decisions, becoming vastly wealthy--

ZAKARIA: It's a court. (ph)

SEBAG MONTEFIORE: It's a court. It's definitely a court, and Russians often call him "the Tsar." (ph) They know that the key to power, just as it was in the Romanoffs, with favorites like Rasputin, who was the spiritual advisor to Nicholas Alexandra (ph), or Potemkin, who was sleeping with the tsarina, or Count Kutaissov, who was the barber of Emperor Paul, is access to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 15, 2018

Peter Manseau

Peter Manseau's newest book is The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln's Ghost. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you first learn about William Mumler [a "spirit photographer" in the 19th century], and what intrigued you about his story?

A: Each of my books has grown out of a lingering question from the one before. In this case, after my 2015 history One Nation Under Gods was published, I realized that though I had told the stories of many minority religious groups in America, I had somehow missed spiritualism.

The massive popularity of ideas concerning communication with the dead in the 19th century struck me as full of narrative potential, so it was just a matter of finding an individual in that world who had a story that cried out for telling. With that in mind I read spiritualist newspapers from the 1850s and 1860s and soon...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Samuel Moyn

Samuel Moyn's forthcoming book is Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World. From his December 2017 Q&A with Slate's Isaac Chotiner:

Since we disagree about how much of a threat Trump poses, I guess I’m curious about what in your mind would set off alarm bells for Americans to take to the streets about this administration being a threat to American democracy. Would it be firing Robert Mueller and closing down the Russia investigation?

That would be disturbing, and I’m not sure. I don’t think there’s rock-solid agreement that the president doesn’t have the power to fire Robert Mueller. He may have to do it through an intermediary. It’s within his constitutional power.

I think the investigation should be pursued to the end, and in the end, there’s the heavy weaponry of impeachment, which is the way you remove a president for suspicion of wrongdoing. I don’t know that two-thirds of the Republicans will ever think Trump needs to be removed, and if he is, it [would be] for someone potentially worse.

I guess I come back to the fact that Trump is in a box. We’ve shown our power with respect to his feints, which is largely what we’ve seen in the direction of policies that are truly beyond the pale. In that situation, we need to focus much more on beating him, first of all, in a congressional majority mounted against him, and in the long run to defeat him the next time around. I just think it’s shortsighted not to focus as soon as possible on what...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History.

The Page 99 Test: Christian Human Rights.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Martha Freeman

Martha Freeman's new novel is Zap!.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Zap?

A: My engineer friend Anthony mentioned a friend of his who was fascinated with the power grid. This made me realize how little I knew about the subject myself. There happened to be a new book about the grid by Ted Koppel, so I read that – and was alarmed by the dangerous scenarios he described. I wanted to know more, and writing a book is a good excuse to do research.

Q: You based your character Luis on a real-life person. What made you decide he would make a good fictional character?

A: As with all my books, there was more than one inspiration. For Zap, my friend Luis’s life story was another. Luis’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from Nicaragua. They worked very hard when they came to New Jersey, and young Luis – born in the USA -- was left to his own devices at times.

He grew up in a tough town and had some harrowing experiences, stuff I had a hard time even imagining. He told me once it was...[read on]
Visit Martha Freeman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Strudel's Forever Home.

Writers Read: Martha Freeman (November 2016).

The Page 69 Test: Strudel's Forever Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 12, 2018

Volker Kutscher

Volker Kutscher's thrilling historical noir novel is Babylon Berlin. From his Q&A with Martha Greengrass at the Waterstones blog:

Your protagonist, Detective Inspector Gereon Rath, is a fascinating and sometimes elusive character in these novels. Newly brought into the Berlin Vice squad, he’s both an establishment figure and an outsider. Why do you feel it is important that Rath should occupy that dual position? How crucial is it to giving the reader a way into the world you’re creating?

The most important thing to me is that the reader should view Weimar Berlin through the eyes of contemporary characters, people who don’t know what the future holds. For Gereon Rath who, of course, is the main character, I wanted a guy in Berlin who’s not a Berlin native, who doesn’t know his way around, to whom everything is new, and who is curious. Beside that probing curiosity, he is also kind of naïve. He is not interested in (or better: disgusted by) politics. Like too many Germans back then, he thought, ‘Why should I care about politics when the most important thing is to live a normal, everyday life?'

At one point, early on in Berlin Babylon, Rath states he wants ‘nothing to do with politics, only criminals’. How important was it for you to expose the complex cross-pollination between the political fracturing of society in Berlin, burgeoning criminality and a wider social picture? Did you want to create a sense that political impact was all-permeating?

The main thing is to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Meryl Gordon

Meryl Gordon is the author of the New York Times bestselling Mrs. Astor Regrets and Phantom of Fifth Avenue, a Wall Street Journal bestseller. She is an award-winning journalist and a regular contributor to Vanity Fair. She is on the graduate journalism faculty at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. She is considered an expert on “elder abuse” and has appeared on NPR, CNN and other outlets whenever there is a high-profile case.

Gordon's latest book is Bunny Mellon: The Life of an American Style Legend.

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

Q: Why did you decide to write a biography of Bunny Mellon?

A: I had done two previous biographies of women over [age] 100 in the Social Register with gazillions of dollars. I thought I was done with the genre.

I was asked to do a story on Bunny for Newsweek in 2011 and she agreed to speak to me. The sweep of American history involved in her life—it was so fascinating to relive the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s. Normally by the time someone reaches their 80s, you’re beginning to wind down, but she had more chapters! [It was interesting to see] how close she was to power.

Q: How did you research her long life, and did you learn anything that especially surprised you?

A: The first year you hit your head on the wall, and then things open up. The first year, I was talking to Bunny’s...[read on]
Visit Meryl Gordon's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Phantom of Fifth Avenue.

Writers Read: Meryl Gordon.

The Page 99 Test: Bunny Mellon.

My Book, The Movie: Bunny Mellon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith's novels include Swing Time. From her interview with Sally Campbell for the Waterstones blog:

The novel’s title, Swing Time, refers to the famous film (starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers) as well as swing dance more generally but it also seems to gesture towards the idea of the pendulum swing of time itself. To what extent do you think dance, in common with the act of writing or reading, is a mode of time-travel? A way of connecting with other people in another moment?

I think dance carries across time well. If you see a kid doing the shim sham in some early 20th century footage, you feel the echo in your own body, in contemporary pop videos, in the dancing people do in the club. It is perhaps the art form least imprinted by fashion: it takes a long time for a dance to look antique. And even when it is, some element is always recognizable.

Many of your novels focus on characters, often women although not exclusively, who have a particular presence, a captivating beauty, poise or power. Swing Time has several such characters, are you particularly drawn to characters with their own brand of magnetism?

I suppose I must be. You learn these things only by...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

William A. P. Childs

William A. P. Childs is the author of Greek Art and Aesthetics in the Fourth Century B.C.

From his Q&A at the Princeton University Press blog:

What is the character of the art of the fourth century?

On the surface there is little change from the high classical style of the fifth century—the subject of art is primarily religion in the form of votive reliefs and statues dedicated in sanctuaries. The art of vase-painting in Athens undergoes a slow decline in quality with notable exceptions, though it comes to an end as the century closes.

Though the function of art remains the same as previously, the physical appearance changes and changes again. At the end of the fifth century and into the first quarter of the fourth there is a nervous, linear style with strong erotic overtones. After about 370 the preference is for solidity and quiet poses. But what becomes apparent on closer examination is that there are multiple contemporary variations of the dominant stylistic structures. This has led to some difficulty in assigning convincing dates to individual works, though this is exaggerated. It is widely thought that the different stylistic variations are due to individual artists asserting their personal visions and interpretations of the human condition.

The literary sources, almost all of Roman date, do state that the famous artists, sculptors and painters, of the fourth century developed very individual styles that with training could be recognized in the works still extant. Since there are almost no original Greek statues preserved and no original panel paintings, it is difficult to evaluate these claims convincingly. But, since there are quite distinct groups of works that share broad stylistic similarities and these similarities agree to a large extent with the stylistic observations in the literary sources, it is at least possible to suggest that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 8, 2018

Bill Minutaglio

Bill Minutaglio is the author, along with Steven L. Davis, of The Most Dangerous Man In America: Timothy Leary, Richard Nixon And The Hunt For The Fugitive King Of LSD. From the transcript of his interview with NPR's Ari Shapiro:

SHAPIRO: Timothy Leary is best known for promoting psychedelic drugs. He was called the High Priest of LSD. His famous catch phrase was turn on, tune in, drop out. So why did Nixon view him as the most dangerous man in America?

MINUTAGLIO: You know, a lot of people had called Nixon that, so maybe he was doing some diversionary politics there.

SHAPIRO: Right.

MINUTAGLIO: (Laughter) Nixon needed a poster child, someone to vilify in his burgeoning war on drugs. But it really was a matter of misdirection. The war in Vietnam was still raging, and there was a lot of violence, aggressive activism on the streets of the country. And we stumbled across doing some research a tape where Nixon at the White House with many of his infamous colleagues, a lot of the Watergate-era folks, had gathered around and said, you know what?

To salvage your approval ratings, to misdirect attention away from this flagging war in Vietnam, a stagnant economy, your swooning poll numbers, we need to find a villain, a guy in a black hat. And why not choose Timothy Leary? He's sort of the godfather of the countercultural revolution. And we can make him...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Michele Campbell

Michele Campbell is the author of It's Always the Husband: A Novel.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for It's Always the Husband and for your three main characters?

A: I took inspiration from my own college days, and also from the fact that I was living in a college town at the time I began writing the book. I knew I wanted to write about female friendship gone very, very wrong.

I needed a setting that would explain why three extremely different women, who have little in common and are clearly bad influences on one another, might form an intense friendship.

I found the answer in memories of my own freshman year of college. You leave home for the first time and are suddenly surrounded by kids your own age, who may be smarter, prettier, richer, and, yes, nastier than you. That moment is incredibly intense, fraught with drama and peril as well as learning and growth. I think it...[read on]
Visit Michele Campbell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Emily Wilson

Emily Wilson is a professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania and translator of The Odyssey. From the transcript of her interview with NPR's Lauren Frayer:

FRAYER: Let's go to the text. In case our listeners didn't do well in their high school tests or simply don't remember, the plot of "The Odyssey" is actually right there in the first stanza. Here's what I read in high school. It's the Robert Fagles translation. (Reading) Sing to me of the man, muse, the man of twists and turns, driven time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy.

And, Emily, I wonder if in contrast you could read the first lines of your version there.


WILSON: Sure. So this is my version. "Book One - The Boy And The Goddess." (Reading) Tell me about a complicated man. Muse, tell me how he wandered and was lost when he had wrecked the holy town of Troy and where he went and who he met, the pain he suffered in the storms at sea and how he worked to save his life and bring his men back home.

FRAYER: You're a much better dramatist than I am.

(LAUGHTER)

WILSON: I ham it up.

FRAYER: You read it better. This is plain, contemporary language. This is not intimidating for the layperson. Can you explain how you translated those opening lines of "The Odyssey?"

WILSON: So - I mean, I spent many, many, many days and hours and weeks rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. I didn't sort of instantly have...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 5, 2018

Geoff Mulgan

Geoff Mulgan is the author of Big Mind: How Collective Intelligence Can Change Our World.

From his Q&A at the Princeton University Press blog:

So what is collective intelligence?

My interest is in how thought happens at a large scale, involving many people and often many machines. Over the last few years many experiments have shown how thousands of people can collaborate online analyzing data or solving problems, and there’s been an explosion of new technologies to sense, analyze and predict. My focus is on how we use these new kinds of collective intelligence to solve problems like climate change or disease—and what risks we need to avoid. My claim is that every organization can work more successfully if it taps into a bigger mind—mobilizing more brains and computers to help it.

How is it different from artificial intelligence?

Artificial intelligence is going through another boom, embedded in everyday things like mobile phones and achieving remarkable break throughs in medicine or games. But for most things that really matter we need human intelligence as well as AI, and an over reliance on algorithms can have horrible effects, whether in financial markets or in politics.

What’s the problem?

The problem is that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Sam Graham-Felsen

Sam Graham-Felsen's new novel is Green.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You write that the inspiration for Green came from the question, “Why are interracial friendships—lasting ones—so rare in this country?” How did that question lead to the novel?

A: This is my first novel, but in everything I’ve written, from short stories to essays, I usually find myself starting out with a question — something I’m curious about, feel confused by, and want to try to work my way towards understanding better.

So it’s true, I started out with that animating question, but, of course, I knew I couldn’t — nor did I want to try to — answer a question as sweeping and general as that, especially in the form of a novel.

All a novel can do is describe specific characters in a specific situation. The situation I was interested in was a friendship between a white kid named Dave from a privileged, middle class household, and a black kid named Marlon who lives in a housing project around the corner from Dave’s house.

I knew, heading into the novel, that I wanted to write about why the friendship built up so quickly, but also why it fizzled out so quickly.

How would the differences in the levels of privilege between Dave and Mar grate on their relationship? What kind of micro and macro-agressions might Mar face, including from Dave? How would...[read on]
Visit Sam Graham-Felsen's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Elliot Ackerman

Elliot Ackerman's latest novel is Dark at the Crossing.

From the transcript of his interview with Adam Linehan at Task & Purpose:

Are you suggesting in this book that the way American counterinsurgency was conducted in Iraq was counterproductive?

I hate writing that tells the reader what to think. I saw and have been a party to very heavy-handed raids in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I’ve sat around with Marines saying, “Wow, you know, I get why they don’t like us. I would be laying in IEDs and taking pot shots at us with sniper rifles, too, if they came to the U.S. and did what we’re doing.” But at the same time I don’t think that completely absolves the other side of culpability. I think everyone is to blame. That’s the point. Nobody has clean hands. That’s the nature of war.

Did you write this book with veterans in mind?

No. People oftentimes read my bio into the book, but I’m just trying to write a good book. I’m very glad if veterans read it and appreciate it. Oftentimes, particularly with international events, the events are so complex that it’s very difficult to understand them an...[read on]
Visit Elliot Ackerman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Green on Blue.

My Book, The Movie: Green on Blue.

My Book, The Movie: Dark at the Crossing.

The Page 69 Test: Dark at the Crossing.

Writers Read: Elliot Ackerman (February 2017).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Kate Manne

Kate Manne is the author of Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny.

From her Q&A with Isaac Chotiner at Slate:

Isaac Chotiner: What was it that made you want to write this book, or what made you feel that we were talking and thinking about misogyny in a way that needed a corrective?

Kate Manne: Do you remember the guy in California, Elliot Rodger, who uploaded those YouTube videos? One was called, “The Day of Retribution.” He was seeking revenge against the “hot, blonde sluts” who refused to have sex with him or to give him the love, and sex, and affection that he felt that he was entitled to.

Anyway, he did indeed go to this sorority house full of these representative women that he felt denied by. When he was turned away for knocking on the door too loudly and aggressively, he turned and shot three other young women. Those are the events that got me initially interested in misogyny because his crimes were so obviously misogynistic, but there was a lot of denialism in the media on the part of mainstream, as well as conservative, commentators that this could possibly be misogyny.

A lot of the reasons given why Elliot Rodger wasn’t in fact a misogynist seemed to be really off-point. There was the fact that he killed men as well as women on what became a killing spree that day. But we don’t expect other kinds of prejudice not to have accompanying comorbidities. The fact that Hitler was homophobic isn’t evidence that he wasn’t anti-Semitic. That would be a ridiculous thought, but people seem to be requiring of misogyny this unique kind of prejudice harbored in the heart of a man toward only women and toward all women. That just seemed really unlikely to be instantiated very widely because if women are being giving, and loving, and serving, then why...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 1, 2018

Éloi Laurent

Éloi Laurent is the author of Measuring Tomorrow Accounting for Well-Being, Resilience, and Sustainability in the Twenty-First Century.

From his Q&A at the Princeton University Press blog:
Why should we go “beyond growth” in the 21st century to pay attention, as you advocate, to well-being, resilience and sustainability?

Because “growth,” that is growth of Gross Domestic Product or GDP, captures only a tiny fraction of what goes on in complex human societies: it tracks some but not all of economic well-being (saying nothing about fundamental issues such as income inequality), it does not account for most dimensions of well-being (think about the importance of health, education, or happiness for your own quality of life), and does not account at all for sustainability, which basically means well-being not just today but also tomorrow (imagine your quality of life in a world where the temperature would be 6 degrees higher). My point is that because well-being (human flourishing), resilience (resisting to shocks) and sustainability (caring about the future) have been overlooked by mainstream economics in the last three decades, our economic world has been mismanaged and our prosperity is now threatened.

To put it differently, while policymakers govern with numbers and data, they are as well governed by them so they better be relevant and accurate. It turns out, and that’s a strong argument of the book, that GDP’s relevance is fast declining in the beginning of the twenty-first century for three major reasons. First, economic growth, so buoyant during the three decades following the Second World War, has gradually faded away in advanced and even developing economies and is therefore becoming an ever-more-elusive goal for policy. Second, both objective and subjective well-being—those things that make life worth living—are visibly more and more disconnected from economic growth. Finally, GDP and growth tell us nothing about...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue