Thursday, June 21, 2018

Kathleen George

Kathleen George is the author of The Johnstown Girls, a novel about the famous Johnstown flood. She has also written seven mysteries set in Pittsburgh: A Measure of Blood, Simple, The Odds, which was nominated for the Edgar® Award from the Mystery Writers of America, Hideout, Afterimage, Fallen, and Taken. George is also the author of the short story collection The Man in the Buick and editor of another collection, Pittsburgh Noir. She is a professor of theater arts and creative writing at the University of Pittsburgh.

From a Q&A with George about her new novel, The Blues Walked In:

You wrote JOHNSTOWN GIRLS, a novel about the Johnstown flood, and seven mysteries set in Pittsburgh. Your new book, THE BLUES WALKED IN, explores Pittsburgh's Hill District, with Lena Horne at the center of the story. Why is Pittsburgh the backdrop for so much of your work? Do you remember the first time you wrote a story with Pittsburgh as the setting?

KG. I did write those things! You might say I'm geographically challenged so I stick to what I know or can investigate by driving around. I've been in Pittsburgh got most of my life so I keep using it.

I don't remember the first time I imagined a story set in Pittsburgh, but I'm pretty sure it was early on—when I was writing short fiction and before I jumped into novel writing. I didn't name streets at that point but I felt the setting was local.

I DO remember the thrill of setting my first novel, TAKEN, in Pittsburgh. There was something totally exciting about naming real places—even the ones that had disappeared a year before my project, like Ralph's discount City downtown. I kept thinking, "I can do this? It makes it feel so real!" It felt like bravery as a writer. I was saying, "Believe this. Trust me."

One really funny thing happened early on that jolted me though...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Kathleen George's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Blues Walked In.

Writers Read: Kathleen George.

My Book, The Movie: The Blues Walked In.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Joanna Cantor

Joanna Cantor's new novel is Alternative Remedies for Loss.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What was the inspiration for Alternative Remedies for Loss, and how did you come up with your main character, Olivia?

A: I began Alternative Remedies for Loss as a short story, inspired by “Safari,” a chapter of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. I love family dramas and set myself the goal of writing a story similar to “Safari” but about a family traveling to India. After I completed the story, I didn’t feel finished with the characters, and I thought maybe the story could become a novel. So I kept writing.

When I came up with the character of Olivia, I was fairly new to writing fiction and just learned how to let my characters mess up. It felt liberating to create a female protagonist who was constantly stepping into action, rather than sitting around overthinking every email and conversation (which is more the way I am!) So from the start, she was...[read on]
Visit Joanna Cantor's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Jenna Blum

Jenna Blum's new novel is The Lost Family.

From her Q&A with Caroline Leavitt:

I always think writers are haunted into writing their books. What was haunting you?

Recently on Twitter there was the hashtag #WhyIWrite. My answer was simple: because I have people in my head who won’t leave me alone. I had worked with the hero of The Lost Family, Peter Rashkin, before in my novella for the post-WW2 anthology Grand Central, and I was gratified and humbled by readers demanding to know what happened to him beyond the cliffhanger I left him on. So I was preoccupied by that question and kept throwing it up to the Universe—but the answer always returned to me in the form of Peter’s daughter, Elsbeth, and her unsuitable crush Julian, the photographer. I was consistently presented by the image of the two of them on Elsbeth’s nominal grandparents’ terrace in Larchmont, New York, both outsiders—Julian because he is the flavor du jour photographer who’s making a sensation shooting naked pre-teens; Elsbeth because she’s a teenager. They’re both synesthestic, meaning they assign colors to letters and numbers, and I saw them over and over again comparing notes. They were as persistent as...[read on]
Visit Jenna Blum's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Lost Family.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 18, 2018

Erin Duffy

Erin Duffy's latest novel is Regrets Only.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Regrets Only and for your character Claire?

A: I was getting ready to make my own transition from the city to the suburbs, and I wasn’t all that thrilled with the idea of giving up the city life and the independence that it afforded me, and moving out to the burbs.

Like a lot of women, I had a lot of anxiety, and struggled with the “is what’s best for my family what’s best for me” debate that has driven women crazy for hundreds of years.

After one particularly bad panic attack, my husband reminded me that moving wasn’t that big of a deal, and that if I really hated it, we’d move back.

It made me feel so much better to think of it that way, and then I had a horrifying thought: what if I wanted to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Maxine Kaplan

Maxine Kaplan is the author of The Accidental Bad Girl.

From her Q&A with Katya de Becerra:

You are a Brooklyn local and THE ACCIDENTAL BAD GIRL is set in a Brooklyn school. What was it like to write your hometown setting into a fictional reality of your book?

Honestly, at least at the beginning, that was purely for logistical purposes. I wanted to use layouts that I was familiar with. And I’ve never been a teenager in a small town or suburb, and don’t know firsthand how a girl like my MC would move in that environment, or really any environment other than a city with a highly developed public transit system. But I’m very happy with the decision for dramatic reasons, too, since it allowed me to touch on issues of privilege in ways that resonate with my own lived experiences. I don’t know if I always want to write about Brooklyn, but it was good to have the details of it readily accessible in my brain for my first book.

I love books with complex, compelling protagonists who have to navigate their way out of difficult circumstances. Kendall, the protagonist of THE ACCIDENTAL BAD GIRL, sounds like exactly my kind of protagonist – how did Kendall come to be the leading girl of your debut?

Thank you! I love Kendall. Kendall is the reason I wanted to write this book. I’m a big fan of noir and all things noir-adjacent, including James Bond and Hitchcock. But the characters that always struck my imagination the most were the femme fatales—and I never got enough information about them to satisfy me. I wanted to depict these dangerous women/girls as real people. Basically, Kendall is...[read on]
Visit Maxine Kaplan's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Accidental Bad Girl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai's new novel is The Great Believers.

From her Q&A with Caroline Leavitt:

I always want to know what the “why now” moment is for an author in writing a novel. What was haunting you and propelling you to write?

When I started, I really just wanted to write about the Paris art world of the 1920s. It felt romantic and tragic. As I planned, though, that stuff turned into a subplot and the book became about the AIDS epidemic in Chicago in the 1980s. The research I did, especially the interviews I conducted and the photos I found, became my motivation. So much about what I learned made me angry and broke my heart, and those are great reasons to write.

I first came to NYC during the AIDS crisis of the 80s. I remember the silence=death icons all over the sidewalk and the horror of friends dying. What was your research like?

I’m a bit too young to remember the height of the crisis personally, and didn’t want to rely on secondary sources, so I did a lot of primary source reading (gay weeklies on archive from the ‘80s, online personal accounts) and a ton of in-person interviews. I interviewed survivors, doctors, nurses, journalists, historians, activists, lawyers, basically everyone who was willing to talk to me. And then, after I’d written the book, I gave it to three of those people to read—people who I knew would call me on every little thing that felt even slightly off. I was terrified of getting things wrong, both factually and emotionally, and I think that terror was...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at Rebecca Makkai's website, Facebook page and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: The Borrower.

The Page 69 Test: The Hundred-Year House.

My Book, The Movie: The Hundred-Year House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 15, 2018

Catherine McKenzie

Catherine McKenzie's latest novel is The Good Liar.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You tell the story from different perspectives, including some sections in the form of interviews. Why did you decide to structure the novel that way?

A: This wasn’t the story of one woman, but three, which always presents challenges in terms of voice and presentation. Because there is a documentary film being made, I thought using the interviews would be a good way of showing a different voice and I liked the challenge of having even less to work with than usual and yet still conveying someone’s personality.

Q: Did you know the ending before you started writing, or did you make any changes along the way?

A: I do always know the ending before I start writing. There was one change though – the...[read on]
Visit Catherine McKenzie's website.

The Page 69 Test: Hidden.

Writers Read: Catherine McKenzie (April 2014).

My Book, The Movie: Hidden.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Michael McFaul

A former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul is currently a professor of political science at Stanford University, the director of Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. His new book is From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia.

From the transcript of McFaul's Q&A with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: What -- what was it like? You're in a dictatorship. You are -- yes, you're the American ambassador, but you have the full resources of this dictatorship directed against you personally.

MCFAUL: Yeah.

ZAKARIA: Did you -- I mean, did you feel unnerved?

MCFAUL: Yes, in two respects. One, on the disinformation stuff, sometimes we could laugh about it, but sometimes it got pretty nasty. In fact, the low point without question was when a video circulated suggesting I was a pedophile.

And what do you do about that, Fareed? What do you say -- you get on Twitter and say "I'm not a pedophile"? And to this day, if you search my name and "pedophile" on the Russian search engine, Yandex, 3 million hits come up.

And then, second, you know, you've been to Russia. We used to meet in Russia when I was ambassador. And you should know. You know, but everybody should know that, if the FSB, successor organization to the KGB, wants to follow you and everything you do, they have tremendous capability to do that -- your e-mail, your phone, your house. I had to assume that every single movement I made in Spaso House -- beautiful place, by the way; I was delighted to live there -- but every single movement I made was monitored.

So they have that capacity. And I learned to live with that. But that's one thing. Then there's another thing. And this was -- got dicey sometimes. They can follow you without you knowing. They're great at that. But sometimes they want to follow you because they want you to know you're being followed. And every now and then that would tick up. We would see these guys at my son's soccer game; we would see them tailing me. And the worst was when...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Abdi Nor Iftin

Abdi Nor Iftin's new book is Call Me American: A Memoir.

From the transcript of his interview with NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro:

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to take you back to the beginning where this book begins and your family's story, your parents, who were nomads. And they describe a sort of Somali life that I've really never heard about, of lush fields and a peaceful pastoral life.

IFTIN: It is. It is. My mother had - you know, her entire world was just her nomadic life - you know? - the animals, her family. And she had no idea that the country that she was living in was called Somalia. She had always told me, you know, Abdi, there's only two days - the day that you're born and then the day that you die. Everything else in the middle is just grazing and hanging out with the animals. And, you know, how easy life had been to my parents before the disaster had hit and wiped out all their animals.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that disaster, of course, was the famine and the drought. And your life was marked very early on by war. What was your earliest memory of the conflict?

IFTIN: I was 6 years old when the civil war started, militias started, you know, pouring into the city and death and killings and torture. And I described the smell of Mogadishu. It was just, you know, the smell of gunpowder. And that had been...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer's new book is She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What was the inspiration for your new book?

A: I was looking back over some of the articles I’ve written, and I noticed a pattern of writing about different aspects of heredity. I asked myself why I was so interested in it---I have two teenage kids, and maybe it’s something growing on my mind.

I decided to do broader research on the history of heredity. I decided it would be my next book. It’s so fascinating. It’s important for our identity, our culture, and scientists are delving into heredity more and more deeply.

Q: What did you learn about your own genetic makeup from working on the book?

A: I learned that I probably have a genome a lot like other people’s genome, and that’s fine. There’s nothing that makes it exceptional. But if you prowl around in your genome, you will find something. I have a variant that protects me from various autoimmune diseases. Scientists have developed a drug to treat these autoimmune diseases.

I was able to pinpoint my Neanderthal genes. It’s fascinating but perplexing. It’s hard to tell what they mean for you. I have one that’s associated with nosebleeds—I never thought of myself as someone with many nosebleeds. And why would Neanderthals be prone to nosebleeds?

A lot is still mysterious about our genome. We have...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 11, 2018

Todd S. Purdum

Todd S. Purdum's new book is Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway Revolution. From his Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross:

GROSS: What was the relationship like - the friendship between Rodgers and Hammerstein?

PURDUM: I think the thing that was most interest to me in doing the research for the book was to come to realize how they had tremendous professional respect for each other. They had terrific artistic collaboration and commercial success. But they weren't personally close. And I found it very sad to learn that each went to his grave not knowing whether the other really had liked him. And they had a kind of a distant - a very formal relationship.

The one documentary example that survives is some letters they exchanged during the writing of the special television program of "Cinderella," written for Julie Andrews in 1957. And they'd been working together for 14, 13 years by that point. And the tone of their letters is - they sign each other love. But it's really - it's a very formal - well, Mr. Hammerstein, well, Mr. Rodgers. They're so correct with each other you might think they just met.

GROSS: Do you think one of the reasons why each didn't know if they were liked by the other was that they worked long distance - with Hammerstein in Pennsylvania and Rodgers in New York? They weren't in the same room composing. They weren't even in the same state. So they didn't have that kind of direct partnership where, you know, every day or every week they're together in the same room working something out together - collaborating in real time.

PURDUM: Yeah, no. It definitely wasn't the cinematic ideal of, you know, sitting around the piano and cranking something out together, you know. But...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Toni Morrison

From Toni Morrison's 1993 Paris Review interview with Elissa Schappell:

INTERVIEWER

You have said that you begin to write before dawn. Did this habit begin for practical reasons, or was the early morning an especially fruitful time for you?


TONI MORRISON

Writing before dawn began as a necessity—I had small children when I first began to write and I needed to use the time before they said, Mama—and that was always around five in the morning. Many years later, after I stopped working at Random House, I just stayed at home for a couple of years. I discovered things about myself I had never thought about before. At first I didn’t know when I wanted to eat, because I had always eaten when it was lunchtime or dinnertime or breakfast time. Work and the children had driven all of my habits ... I didn’t know the weekday sounds of my own house; it all made me feel a little giddy.

I was involved in writing Beloved at that time—this was in 1983—and eventually I realized that I was clearer-headed, more confident and generally more intelligent in the morning. The habit of getting up early, which I had formed when the children were young, now became my choice. I am not very bright or very witty or very inventive after the sun goes down.

Recently I was talking to a writer who described something she did whenever she moved to her writing table. I don’t remember exactly what the gesture was—there is something on her desk that she touches before she hits the computer keyboard—but we began to talk about little rituals that one goes through before beginning to write. I, at first, thought I didn’t have a ritual, but then I remembered that I always get up and make a cup of coffee while it is still dark—it must be dark—and then I drink the coffee and watch the light come. And she said, Well, that’s a ritual. And I realized that for me this ritual comprises my preparation to enter a space that I can only call nonsecular . . . Writers all devise ways to approach that place where they expect to make the contact, where they become the conduit, or where they engage in this mysterious process. For me, light is the signal in the transition. It’s not being in the light, it’s being there before it arrives. It enables me, in some sense.

I tell my students one of the most important things they need to know is ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 9, 2018

David Rapp

David Rapp's new book is Tinker to Evers to Chance: The Chicago Cubs and the Dawn of Modern America.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write this book about the Chicago Cubs of the early 20th century, and their star trio of Tinker, Evers, and Chance?

A: I’m a lifelong Cubs fan myself. I began rooting for the Cubs when I was 10. Up to the point when I decided to write this book, they had never won. About six years ago they were in one of their frequent troughs of despair, and I asked myself, why do I still care?

I started reading about the team, and I arrived at this period from 1906-1910 when they were a dynasty and won four pennants and two World Series, and they were led by three guys, Tinker, Evers, and Chance. I didn’t know too much about them, and I started reading, and there wasn’t a lot. Their stories got more and more complicated, and I decided I had to do it myself.

I did research, and one thing led to another, and I was hooked. There’s the grip the team has had on me and on so many Cubs fans. It’s a morality tale of America—sports fanaticism was embedded in this decade. [I got] to see...[read on]
Visit David Rapp's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 8, 2018

Meg Wolitzer

Meg Wolitzer's new novel is The Female Persuasion. From her Q&A with Caroline Leavitt:

So much of the brilliant The Female Persuasion is about how we can redefine what it means to be a woman, how other women can help—or hurt us in our careers and in our lives. Faith, an older mentor, makes the younger Greer’s head “crack open in college.” She changed her—and they changed each other. But as Greer ages, she comes to reexamine what has gone on with them, and to realize that what women must do is pass on what they’ve learned to other women, to be better people, to tell the truth. Can you talk about this please?

This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time: the ways we help one another, and influence one another, and, for better or worse, change one another. It can often be intergenerational, or of course intragenerational. Early in life, being helped, or being taken up by someone, is particularly exciting, and can feel like the natural course of events. But it’s interesting--I was talking to a performer in her 50s who noted that sometimes younger women in her field assumed that older women would behave maternally toward them simply because of the age disparity. It’s best, of course, when there’s a real affection and a sense of connection.

Have you had mentors of your own and what was that like? (I think you have because of your wonderful dedication… ) Have you mentored anyone and found your own ideas challenged because of it? There’s an idea in your novel that as we grow, we sometimes grow out of our mentor. Or maybe we just don’t need the mentor, anymore.

Yes, the women on...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Lawrence Wright

Lawrence Wright's latest book is God Save Texas: A Journey Into The Soul Of The Lone Star State. From his Fresh Air interview with Dave Davies:

DAVIES: You have a chapter called "Culture." Explain. You say there's level one of Texas culture and a level two. What's the distinction you're drawing?

WRIGHT: Well, I say there are three levels of culture. And level one is the basic, primitive stuff that we think of in the case of Texas, like barbecue and cowboy hats and boots and belt buckles and rodeos. And that's all, you know, very characteristic of the state. And it's that kind of thing, you know, that people think of when they think of Texas. And, you know, that was true of Texas in its formative days, and it's - it continues in a form of nostalgia.

Level two is when money comes into the picture. And people begin to explore outside of their native culture, and they get educated. They travel. They learn about different cuisines. They start collecting art and building museums and theater companies and dance companies, and all of the world rushes in. And that is - you know, it's an important stage, but there's a - it's a bit neurotic, and it is full of envy. It's casting its eye on other cultures and what they have to offer. And there's a deep sense of insecurity about that level. And that really...

DAVIES: And you see this in the big museums and performance venues in - what? - Dallas and Houston and other places, right?

WRIGHT: Sure. And in, you know, the - and in the education that we get, you know, sending your children abroad and so on. You go out in the world, and you learn about it. And that's very important. But it creates a sense of estrangement and, some ways, a sense of embarrassment about level one, the primitive stuff that goes together, that makes your culture unique. And then, you know, I postulate a third level, when you...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Gloria Chao

Gloria Chao is an MIT grad turned dentist turned writer. She currently lives in Chicago with her ever-supportive husband, for whom she became a nine-hole golfer (sometimes seven). She is always up for cooperative board games, Dance Dance Revolution, or soup dumplings. She was also once a black belt in kung-fu and a competitive dancer, but that side of her was drilled and suctioned out.

Chao's debut novel is American Panda.

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

Q: How did you come up with the idea for American Panda, and for your main character, Mei?

A: I wanted to write the book I needed as a teen, and a book that would help Asian Americans feels seen. I hoped American Panda would show readers that they aren’t alone, that it’s okay to not feel wholly one thing or another, and that cultural gaps can be difficult.

For Mei, I wanted a conflicted, awkward teen struggling with her identity, and who loved her parents and culture even though she also had a hard time with them. She needed to be someone who was relatable to many in feeling out of place, but also specific enough to show a window into another experience.

Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?

A: When I...[read on]
Visit Gloria Chao's website and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: American Panda.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Laurence Tribe

Laurence Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor and professor of constitutional law at Harvard and the co-author of To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment. From the transcript of his Q&A with Slate's Dahlia Lithwick:

Dahlia Lithwick: I want to ask a question about magical thinking. Is the corollary to Democrats saying “impeachment, 25th Amendment, Mueller, impeachment, 25th Amendment, Mueller” for the Trump team to keep saying “collusion, collusion, collusion” as though there’s something magical about the term collusion? As a purely factual legal matter, collusion isn’t actually a thing. Whenever Trump or Giuliani says there’s been proven no collusion, that’s not the totality of the Mueller brief in the first instance. So why hang on to the notion that we’ve been cleared of collusion, and therefore everything is gone? Is that a deliberate distortion, or am I misapprehending something?

Laurence Tribe: No, I think it is a deliberate distortion, but I think which C-word one uses, whether it’s collusion, conspiracy, cooperation, co-optation, really doesn’t matter as much as the fundamental question of whether this guy abused the system in order to become president, the way James Clapper argues in a recent book, Facts and Fears. Clapper makes a strong case that but for Kremlin-directed intervention, ordered specifically by Putin, Donald Trump would not be president. And the fact is it wasn’t a passive Donald Trump. There were people around him, and maybe Trump himself, who were facilitating that. It doesn’t really matter what little label you put on it. That is clearly an abuse.

We should remember that the question about Trump is not simply the question of whether he’s committed a technical violation of an anti-conspiracy statute or of the obstruction provisions of 18 USC. The real question of abuse of power is not limited to criminality. The president didn’t commit a crime when he pardoned Joe Arpaio, but it was a clear abuse of the pardon power. He...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 4, 2018

Marti Green

Marti Green's new psychological suspense novel is The Good Twin.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Good Twin, and for your identical twin characters, Mallory and Charly?

A: I've always been fascinated by stories of identical twins separated at birth, who know nothing about the other, and find each other by accident (actually, the first time I read about such a case was with identical triplets).

Since I write mysteries and thrillers, I thought, "What if the reunion wasn't a happy one?" The story flowed from that concept.

Q: You tell the story from different perspectives. Did you write it in the order in which it appears, or did you focus on one character first and then another?

A: I wrote the story...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Tom Perrotta

Tom Perrotta's latest novel is Mrs. Fletcher.

From the transcript of his Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross:

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is writer Tom Perrotta. His new novel is called "Mrs. Fletcher." He also wrote the novels "Election" and "Little Children," which were made into films, and the novel "The Leftovers," which was adapted into the HBO series of the same name.

The son in this novel - the boy who is going to college and is in college for a good deal of the book - he's oblivious to girls as equals, to girls as, like, full human beings, to girls as sexual partners, as opposed to truly, like, sexual objects or appliances. And he just - really, he's oblivious.


PERROTTA: (Laughter) Yeah, and I, you know, it - when you read stories about sexual assault on campus, and frat parties and every - you just sort of - it does seem that there's some kind of stubborn culture of male entitlement that is somehow resistant to all of these pushes to change it. And, you know, as a writer, I just thought that was - it would be really interesting to try and get into the mind of a kid like this.

And, you know, I will say he's oblivious, but he does find himself attracted to a young woman who is very much on the other side of the divide. She's an activist. She sees herself as being very involved in social justice. They connect because they have autistic siblings. And he goes to a group that she leads to talk about the challenges of people with autistic siblings. But he goes there, mainly, because he's interested in her.

And I will say, over the course of the book, in some ways, she illuminates him. I don't know that she brings him into full consciousness. He's a very flawed and oblivious guy throughout. But...[read on]
Learn about Tom Perrotta's ten favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Gary Krist

Gary Krist's latest book is The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination, and the Invention of Los Angeles. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you choose to focus on early 20th-century Los Angeles in your new book?

A: I see The Mirage Factory as the third in a trilogy of city books I’ve written for Crown, after City of Scoundrels (about Chicago) and Empire of Sin (about New Orleans).

It’s been fascinating to explore how each city has grown and developed over time, each one coping with similar issues but in different ways, depending on the particular people and circumstances in each place.

What intrigued me most about Los Angeles was the fact that this remarkable urban entity grew up in a place where no city should logically be.

The site was too dry, too far from natural resources and potential markets; it was also isolated by deserts and mountain ranges and without a good deep-water port. And yet it grew from a largely agricultural town of 100,000 in 1900 to a major metropolis of 1.2 million by 1930.

That feat required imagination, not to mention some really unorthodox tactics (including plenty of deceptive advertising), and...[read on]
The Page 69 Test: The White Cascade.

Writers Read: Gary Krist (May 2012).

The Page 99 Test: City of Scoundrels.

The Page 99 Test: Empire of Sin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 1, 2018

Sebastian Edwards

Sebastian Edwards's latest book is American Default: The Untold Story of FDR, the Supreme Court, and the Battle over Gold.

From his Q&A at the Princeton University Press blog:
Americans believe that the Federal government has never defaulted on its debt. Yet in your book, you tell the story of a massive debt restructuring that happened only eight decades ago, in 1933. A debt restructuring that changed contracts unilaterally and retroactively, and imposed losses of 61% on investors. Why do you think that this episode is so little known?

This is a case of “collective amnesia.” Americans think of themselves as law-abiding citizens. We think of the United States as a country where institutions work and where contracts are sacred; a country where the rule of law prevails at all times. Reneging on contracts is not something this nation does. And, certainly, we don’t change contracts retroactively. It is something that “banana republics” do. And when they do it, we scold them and denounce them. We also demand compensation for damages.

When the Supreme Court heard the gold clause cases in 1935, most analysts thought that these were among the most important cases ever considered by the Court. Today, however, they are not even taught in most law schools. We have forgotten the episode because it is convenient, because it helps us maintain the view we have about our nation: a nation that always pays its debts. But, as I show in this book, this is not the case.

Your book is about the annulment of the gold clauses in 1933, and the Supreme Court decisions that ruled that it was legal to change debt contracts retroactively. What were the gold clauses, exactly? And what was their role?

Historically, most long-term debt contracts in the United States were written in terms of gold. That is, the borrower committed himself to paying back an amount of gold (or gold equivalent) equal to the amount borrowed, plus interest. This practice started during the Civil War to protect lenders from possible inflation.

In 1933, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt took the U.S. off the gold standard, all public debt included the gold clause. In addition, most railway and public utility bonds had gold clauses, as did most mortgages. Overall, debt equivalent to approximately 120% of GDP was subject to these escalation riders. That is a huge number. To put things in perspective, it is ...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue