Monday, December 31, 2012

Adam C. English

Adam C. English is Associate Professor of Religion at Campbell University where he teaches on the philosophy of religion, constructive theology, and the history of Christian thought. His new book is The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of Nicholas of Myra.

From his Q & A with Randy Dotinga at The Christian Science Monitor:

Q: Who was Saint Nicholas in real life?

A: The historical Saint Nicholas was born around the late third century or early fourth century. He lived his life in what is now the southwest shores of Turkey. He served as a bishop, a Christian pastor of the church in Myra, doing good works of gift-giving and generosity, serving the people as a true civil servant. There are stories of him bartering with grain ships to get grain to save the starving people of Myra, going to the capitol to appeal for lower taxes, interfering in court cases and saving three men from beheading.

As a young man, he inherits gold from his parents, and he hears of a man in town who's become desperately poor and is thinking about selling off his own daughters. Nicholas bags up some of that gold and throws it through his window. It's used as a dowry for one of the daughters. He returns two times so the other daughters might be able to marry.

Q: What did it mean then to sell off one's daughters?

A: Prostitution. We have decrees dating back to the early days of the Roman empire trying to curb that activity and try to prevent parents from selling daughters into prostitution and children into slavery.

While it seems inhumane, those options become very live and real when...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Jeffrey Eugenides

Jeffrey Eugenides's first novel, The Virgin Suicides, was published in 1993.

From his 2009 interview with Guy Raz for NPR:

RAZ: Where were you in life when you wrote "The Virgin Suicides"? What was going on?

Mr. EUGENIDES: I was working at the Academy of American Poets as an executive secretary and earning a very small salary and living out in distant Brooklyn. And I, you know, I decided to become a writer when I was fairly young, 16, 17 years old. And by this time, I was almost 30 with only one publication to my name. So, I was in a state of increasing anxiety as I began to get older with nothing to show for myself and began writing "The Virgin Suicides" some time in that period. And I had started other novels before, but for some reason, this one was the one I was able to finish.

RAZ: How long did it take you to write?

Mr. EUGENIDES: It took about three years. And I used to - I had a nine-to-five job, so I worked at night, two hours every night and four hours on the weekends in a pretty regimented way, and about three years. I was also - I got fired in the midst of writing it. So, I had to publish it because I was collecting unemployment. Otherwise, I probably would still be working on it.

RAZ: And of course, it's about 10 years since the film of your book by Sofia Coppola came out, a film that really - it's really loyal to the book. It's almost as if you wrote that book in a way where it could very easily be translated onto film.

Mr. EUGENIDES: I certainly...[read on]
Learn about the book that the author says changed his life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ben Mattlin

Ben Mattlin is the author of Miracle Boy Grows Up: How the Disability Rights Revolution Saved My Sanity.

From his Q & A at The Daily Beast with Jay McInerney:

What’s the genesis of Miracle Boy? Didn’t you first try an autobiographical fiction approach?

You’re exactly right! I was afraid to tell my story directly, wanted to couch it in a fanciful (and imitative) yarn of sex and intrigue. That was doomed to failure for several reasons. First, I was in my 20s and didn’t really have sufficient perspective on my life to tell it right. Second, it was the 1980s, and the world wasn’t ready for the kind of disability story I had in mind. The Americans With Disabilities Act hadn’t even passed yet. People like me just weren’t on people’s radar. We weren’t recognized as a minority group, let alone an interesting, diverse minority group with something to say.

Also, I wasn’t prepared to be honest then. Not until I was in my 40s did I realize that I no longer worried if people thought I was cool. I didn’t have to coat my story in a hip sheen. There was no need to pretend, to fashion myself as something other than what I was and am. I could write about and from my own perspective—write truthfully, authentically—and perhaps establish something new.

But still, I had a block. I just didn’t believe my life was as interesting as people kept telling me.

It was only when I saw my life through someone else’s eyes that I began to get the idea. I had hired a young man from UCLA as my part-time “PA,” as we say. That’s “personal assistant” or “personal-care attendant.” He got me washed and dressed and in my wheelchair in the morning. To me he was a particularly impressive young man—from Africa, with a thirst to better himself and then better his nation. I was as inspired by him as he was by me.

I was no stranger to being called inspiring. Most disabled people are, and we grow tired of it. So I didn’t take it personally. But what he actually said was, “How do you stay so positive?” Apparently, most men he knew were practically drowning in anger.

Which got me thinking about my relationship with anger and...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 28, 2012

Ken Jennings

Ken Jennings broke game show records in 2004 with his unprecedented seventy-four game, $2.52 million victory streak on Jeopardy!. Jennings’s book Brainiac, about his Jeopardy! adventures, was a critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller, as was his follow-up, Maphead. He is also the author of Ken Jennings’s Trivia Almanac.

Jennings’s new book is Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids.

From the author's Q & A with Matthew DeLuca at The Daily Beast:

What surprised you more, the myths you debunked or the ones that turned out to be true?

I was surprised both ways. Lots of things I would have supposed were right were wrong, just things you would absolutely take as gospel are not true. Like that sugar makes kids hyperactive. When you think about it, why would it be right? We just assume sugar makes kids nuts because we’ve always assumed it makes kids nuts, and parents want to believe it. I think because it’s flattering for them to say, ‘Yeah, my kids had too much cake at the birthday party,’ and not just, ‘Yeah, my kid was a terror at your birthday party.’ A lot of these myths exist because the behaviors they’re forbidding are annoying.

You made a YouTube trailer for Because I Said So! in which a little girl runs on a treadmill holding a pair of scissors. For a nice guy, you seem to have a wicked sense of humor. Where does that come from?

It came from me thinking it was funny. I remember my wife and I were driving back on a car trip from a family vacation, and we thought, wouldn’t it be good if there was a book trailer for this book. And yeah, I don’t know, you don’t get a lot of chances on Jeopardy! to be funny, but I just love the idea of kids with those suction cups on. That was my daughter holding the scissors. They were...[read on]
See Ken Jennings's eight top books about parents and kids.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Richard Russo

Richard Russo's new memoir is Elsewhere.

From his Q & A with Irene Lacher at The Los Angeles Times:

Why your first memoir now?

In a sense I would have preferred that it be never. I'm a perfectly happy novelist. I love to invent things. But in the months after my mother's death, which was about five years ago, she was very much on my mind and also visiting my dreams as well, which made it feel to me like maybe there was unfinished business there.

I think that this book is in a way connected to my novels, especially the last couple, because "Empire Falls" and "Bridge of Sighs" are both about people who are pushing 60 pretty hard and wondering, how in the world did I come to be here? [In "Empire Falls,] Miles Roby has this profound sense of his mother's dream for him, and he imagines this other life where he is a learned man if only he had finished college the way she wanted him to and become some sort of teacher or professor, that he would have fulfilled her dream. In "Bridge of Sighs," Lucy Lynch, who never leaves his hometown, wonders, how is it that life turned out this way? What was it in my genetic makeup, what were the choices that I made?

And in the months after my mother's death, I found myself...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Alexander Rose

Alexander Rose, a New York historian, is the author of American Rifle: A Biography (2008).

From his Q & A with Randy Dotinga at The Christian Science Monitor:

Q: When did the rifle first appear?

A: The rifle made its first appearance in Europe in the early-modern era, around the 16th century, but there were exceedingly few of them. German immigrants to Pennsylvania in the early 18th century brought their gunsmithing skills and blended English-style muskets with German rifle technology to create a specifically American hybrid, popularly known as a "Kentucky rifle."

At that time, the distinctive difference between a rifle and the standard musket was that the former's barrel was grooved and the latter's was smooth. Among other things, the grooves imparted spin and stability to a bullet as it hurtled through the barrel, allowing it to fly farther and truer than a musket's.The downside was that it took much, much longer to load a rifle than a musket, so it was really a question of quality versus quantity.

Q: Was the rifle initially used for hunting or for military uses?

A: Paradoxically for a gun so closely identified with the military, the rifle began life as a weapon...[read on]
Learn more about the author and his work at Alexander Rose's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: American Rifle: A Biography.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon's latest novel is Telegraph Avenue.

From his Q & A with Irene Lacher at the Los Angeles Times:

I know that you always strive to entertain. Do you think "entertainment" has become a dirty word among purveyors of high culture?

Sure, and with good reason, in the sense that most of what gets labeled "entertainment" is really terrible. We get the entertainment we deserve. To me, being entertained is having your mind engaged with the work of art on multiple levels. So I think a lot of what gets passed off as entertainment really does not qualify for that definition. It's merely diverting at most.

To be entertained by something is in turn to entertain it, like you entertain ideas, a kind of mutuality there that I think is part of my definition of "entertainment," that you're giving back to the work at the same time the work is giving to you.

Another book that I just loved is the last in Edward St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels sequence ["At Last"]. They conveniently published the first four in one volume in paperback and then the fifth one, so I was able to read them all from the start to the finish, which is how I think they ought to be read. It was just one of the most amazing reading experiences I've had in a decade.

The sequence begins when the protagonist, Patrick Melrose, is about 5 years old and continues up to the present day when he's well into his mid-40s. After all the suffering and torment and despair that Patrick Melrose has been through over the years, [Aubyn] leaves him in a very interesting place, and he does it all with his incredible examination of the sweep of time and the way our understanding of people changes over decades. All of that is done with this incredible, biting, witty, hilarious prose style, the elegant, classic English sentences that he writes and these amazing put-downs, and he's great at...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 24, 2012

Caroline Kennedy

Caroline Kennedy, the only living child of JFK and Jacqueline Kennedy, wrote the foreword to Listening In: The Secret White House Recordings of John F. Kennedy.

From her Q & A with Irene Lacher at the Los Angeles Times:

Why did your father start taping? He wasn't making tapes at the beginning of his administration.

Right. They don't really start until almost halfway through — July '62. So no one's quite sure, and there isn't a really accurate explanation. I was always told it was a combination of things, one, that especially after the Bay of Pigs he had gotten what he considered poor advice from the military and then there was a lot of debate about who had said what. And I think he wanted an accurate record of things going forward, but they weren't installed until quite a while after that. So it rings true to me that he was interested in history, he wrote a historical bestseller, he loved reading history, he loved reading diaries. So he was probably thinking that he wanted a historical record; he would write his own book one day, his memoir. He was interested in new technology; he was interested in innovative uses for technology, so this was technology that was just becoming available at the time.

Speaking of the Cuban missile crisis, it was interesting to hear how much bad advice he was given.

I know.

And his strength to resist it. Was it known that he thought he could have been impeached for resisting the military's calls to invade Cuba?

He certainly was walking a tightrope. It's incredible when you listen to the generals. It gives you such a vivid, visceral sense of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Karen Thompson Walker

Karen Thompson Walker is author of the debut novel The Age of Miracles. In the novel, an 11-year-old girl wakes up one morning to the news that the earth’s rotation is slowing.

From her Q & A with Liesl Schwabe at Publishers Weekly:

Did you always know that Julia, an adolescent girl, would be your narrator?

I did. I always had a sense of her voice. She has an adult perspective on her childhood, and her character grew out of that voice. She’s an observer and the quality that makes her shy and more on the sidelines also gives her interesting access to what’s going on.

It’s stranger for me to imagine having a sibling (I’m an only child) than it is to imagine this change to the planet. Being an only child is part of who Julia is and how she observes her parents. She’s outnumbered by them.

What sparked the idea for “the slowing”?

After the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, I read...[read on]
Learn about Karen Thompson Walker's five favorite "What If?" books -- "books that envision our world having undergone a great change."

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Jonathan Odell

Jonathan Odell is the author of the acclaimed novel The View from Delphi, which deals with the struggle for equality in pre-civil rights Mississippi, his home state. His novel The Healing (Nan A. Talese/Doubleday) explores the subversive role that story plays in the healing of an oppressed people.

From Odell's Q & A with Lois Alter Mark:

Lois Alter Mark: I loved everything about The Healing -- the story, the characters, the writing. What inspired you to write this?

Jonathan Odell: While doing research for my first novel, The View from Delphi, I kept hearing stories about how crucial the midwife was to the community. People held her memory in great reverence. When I interviewed the first black mayor of Laurel, Miss., I asked what he was proudest of, expecting him to talk about the racism he had overcome, the threats to his life, his struggle to get an education. He thought for a moment and said, "I was one of Miss Kate's babies." Miss Kate had midwifed his mother. These women were saints in their communities.

Secondly, while doing research on black midwives, I discovered that my great-grandmother was a midwife, and was responsible for the death of her daughter -- my father's mother -- through a botched abortion. My dad did not learn about this until he was in his 70's. He had been raised by his grandmother midwife, but never knew about the hand she played in his mother's death. This intrigued me. What was it like for that woman to raise the child of the woman she was responsible for killing?

LAM: You were born in Mississippi, where black people were being lynched and the soon-to-be KKK's Imperial Wizard was working as a respected businessman. When did you realize this was not okay?

JO: I sold books door-to-door in college. One of the publications was...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Jonathan Odell's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Healing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 21, 2012

Oliver Sacks

The famed neurologist and author Oliver Sacks's new book is Hallucinations.

From his Q & A with Noah Charney at The Daily Beast:

Please recommend a book that makes science accessible to trade readers, and that has influenced your own work.

One book that was very influential for me was published in English in 1968, and it’s called The Mind of a Mnemonist, by A. R. Luria. When I started to read the book, I thought it was a novel. Then after a few pages I realized it was a case history, the most detailed I ever read, but so beautifully written, and so full of feeling and pathos and characterization and richness … For me, that combined science and art ideally. That’s my model.

For readers coming to your books for the first time, which would you recommend as a starting point, and why?

I think maybe The Island of the Colorblind. I have a sort of soft spot for it, because it combines different sorts of writing. It has medical writing, but it also has travel writing: going to Micronesia to see this island of colorblind people. I think it’s broader and more colorful than my purely medical books.

You have researched a wide variety of neurological phenomena, including Tourette’s syndrome and migraines. What about when a condition or phenomena speaks to you, and prompts your desire to study it in detail?

Tourette’s syndrome is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Kim Barnes

Kim Barnes's books include two memoirs, In the Wilderness: Coming of Age in Unknown Country—a finalist for the 1997 Pulitzer Prize—Hungry for the World, and the novels Finding Caruso and A Country Called Home.

Her latest novel is In the Kingdom of Men. It is the story of a young American woman who follows her husband to the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. In the American compound she meets women who drink alcohol, wear fancy dresses, and have stylish hairdos. But life outside the compound is far more restrictive.

From the transcript of Barnes's Q & A with Diane Rehm:

REHM Thanks, Kim. I know that members of your own family went to work for Aramco in Saudi Arabia.

BARNES Mm-hmm.

REHM Tell us a little about that history.

BARNES My aunt and uncle in the early '60s, he was a roughneck, for Halliburton actually, and was recruited by Aramco to job out and move to Arabia and the compound of Abqaiq, and they lived there for a couple of years until their two sons were old enough to have to go to boarding school, and they made the decision then to move back to Oklahoma where my family's all from.

REHM So you talked to them extensively about their life there?

BARNES I didn't. At first, I was raised in the very isolated logging camps of north central Idaho. My father was never a gypo logger, which comes from the words gypsy. And I didn't really know my aunt and uncle because they were living in Oklahoma and then in Arabia. But what I knew came to me at Christmas when they came home for a visit because with them they brought gifts for me, little camel-hide purses embossed with caravans, and little Aladdin slippers with the little turned-up toe, and they were so exotic, and they still smelled like...[read on]
Listen to the interview.

The Page 69 Test: In the Kingdom of Men.

Writers Read: Kim Barnes.

My Book, The Movie: In the Kingdom of Men.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Junot Díaz

Junot Díaz's fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and The Best American Short Stories. His debut story collection, Drown was a national bestseller and won numerous awards. Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times called Díaz's novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao “a book that decisively establishes him as one of contemporary fiction's most distinctive and irresistible new voices.” Díaz's latest book is This Is How You Lose Her.

From his Q & A with Ross Scarano in Complex:

Let’s talk about the work. When did you write your first Yunior story?

Yunior first appears in 1991. And it was a miserable story, but it was the story with which I applied to my MFA program. It was the first attempt to make a pass at this character. I didn’t have much of him down, but there was a sense of possibility. So you chip away from the stone, and you’re looking at the stone, and say, “Maybe if I work on this for a couple years, it will come out.” There was this sense that I was leaning toward this very particular kind of complexity that had not yet shown itself. I felt that I had to push his honesty more; I had to push how smart he is, and how he hides it; I had to push his inability to have real intimacy. All of these things were in my head, and they eventually started to come together over the next four years.

Are you still chiseling away at him?

I think I have him locked down in an okay way. My idea, ever since Drown, was to write six or seven books about him that would form one big novel. You connect This is How You Lose Her to Drown to The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and you can read this thing.

This Is How You Lose Her feels like a novel.

Thank you. I planned for it to.

It has an arc. And by the time that I got to the last story, "The Cheater's Guide to Love," which I had read as a one-off in The New Yorker, it had so much more gravitas, coming at the end of the collection instead of in a magazine.

It’s supposed to be a jolt of information. When you read them together, that’s...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: Junot Díaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

James Lee Burke

In James Lee Burke’s Creole Belle, the New Iberia, La., deputy sheriff Dave Robicheaux and his best friend, Clete Purcel, take on corrupt politicians, oil men, and a possible Nazi war criminal.

From the author's Q & A with Patrick Millikin for Publishers Weekly:

Many of your books have had classical antecedents. Was there a particular classical model for Creole Belle?

I made use of some Greek myths, as is my habit, I'm afraid: Proteus rising from the sea, Charon at the River Styx, the legend of Prometheus. I'm also guilty often of stealing from the Bible.

Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcel have been through a lot together, and are feeling the ravages of age. How has your own attitude toward them evolved over the years?

Here's the big joke that Dave discovers about age: any wisdom you acquire you cannot pass on to others. Everybody gets to the barn, but that's a hard conclusion to reach as you're entering the corral. They are both complicated men, but one is not complete without the other. Dave is the idealist, the quixotic figure breaking his lance on windmills, and of course Clete is the Merry Prankster, the trickster out of folk mythology. But...[read on]
Visit James Lee Burke's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 17, 2012

Jessica Fellowes

Jessica Fellowes is the author of The World of Downton Abbey and The Chronicles of Downton Abbey: A New Era.

From her Q & A with Molly Driscoll at the Christian Science Monitor:

Q: During the process of writing the two books, how often were you on the set when the seasons were being filmed?

A: When I was doing the first book, I wasn't writing it until after the first series wrapped, because obviously when the first series was being filmed, nobody had a clue [of its future success]. For the second series, I went on the set... not a huge amount, to be honest, because I was on such a tight deadline to write the book. I was at my kitchen table, typing, most of the time. I didn't really go for the third series – I had a researcher help me that time because I had to do two books in the first six months of this year.

I mean, I've been to Highclere [Castle, where the "upstairs" world is filmed]. It's a real privilege to go and see it, and Highclere is impressive, but I really like going to Ealing Studios [where the servants' rooms are filmed], because there's something amazing about the fact that they've built it all completely from scratch. They had to imagine, think and source every tiny bit that's on there, and it's so beautifully done, like Mrs. Patmore's kitchen.

There was a really funny thing about the cookbook – in those days, obviously, when you owned a copy of "Mrs. Beaton's Household Recipes," you owned a new copy. But...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Ben H. Winters

Ben H. Winters is the author of several novels, including the New York Times bestseller Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and the middle-grade novel The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman, an Edgar Award nominee and a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of 2011. Winters’ other books include the science-fiction Tolstoy parody Android Karenina, the Finkleman sequel The Mystery of the Missing Everything, and the supernatural thriller Bedbugs, which has been optioned for the screen by Warner Brothers. Winters also wrote the book and lyrics for three musicals for young audiences: The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, A (Tooth) Fairy Tale, and Uncle Pirate, based on the award-winning children’s book by Douglas Rees.

His latest novel is The Last Policeman.  From the author's Q & A at Needle In The Hay:

Ed: Last meal before the asteroid strikes. What do you eat?

BHW: My wife and I have decided to stop eating meat at the turn of the year, and my only major reservation has to do with her delicious recipe for a slow-roasted pork butt, based on one by the celebrity chef David Chang. I am already mourning the looming disappearance of this incredible dish from my life, so if the world was really about to die by fire, I’d want to eat that one more time.

Tell us a little about how you got your start. Was Sense, Sensibility and Sea Monsters your first attempt at a novel? Do you think these kind of contemporary mash ups are a good place for an author to cut her teeth?

No, I can’t in good conscience advise anyone to write a “mash-up” novel. It turned out great for me, but I fear the vogue for these zany pastiche novels (which started with my book, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and its predecessor, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, both the brain children of Jason Rekulak at Quirk Books) has passed, and I wouldn’t want any aspiring writers wasting time carefully crafting Dr. Zhivago and Mr. Hyde, or whatever, only to have a bunch of publishing-house marketing departments saying, “That’s so 2010.”

Having said that, writing Sea Monsters (and my second stab at the genre, Android Karenina) was a very useful experience for me, as a budding novelist. To write an effective book-length parody, I had to get deeply familiar with...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at the official Ben H. Winters website.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Policeman.

The Page 69 Test: The Last Policeman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey

Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey are the authors of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America.

From their Q & A at the University of North Carolina Press website:

Q: Why does Jesus's race matter in America?

A: Race matters in every facet of American life. And religion matters deeply in American life, as well. The two collide when we think about Jesus's race. There, race and religion have formed a tight knot and the historical outcomes of picturing Jesus as white or black, brown or red have been at times horrific and at other times heavenly. When slaves and slave masters battled over the morality of bondage, they paid attention to Christ's race. When Native Americans struggled with whites over land rights and sexual interactions, they zeroed in on the race of Jesus. When visionaries sent letters to Abraham Lincoln saying that Jesus had come back to save the Union, they emphasized that Jesus was a white warrior setting out to destroy black slavery. When Klansmen dressed in white and burned crosses in their opposition to blacks, Jews, Catholics, and socialists, they did it all in the name and supposed race of Jesus. When civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr. tried to undermine the social system of segregation, they struggled over the race of Jesus. And when Barack Obama ran for the presidency in 2008, comments about the race of Jesus almost cost him the Democratic nomination. Today, as Americans watch The Passion of the Christ, laugh at displays of Jesus on South Park, read with wonder Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, sing with The Killers that "he doesn't look a thing like Jesus, but he talks like a gentleman," or pray softly in churches with Jesus imagery above them, they cannot avoid the links between race and religion in the form of Jesus. Put simply, to understand the history of race and religion throughout American history and in today's politics and culture, there is no better way than through...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 14, 2012

Eric Jay Dolin

Eric Jay Dolin is the author of Leviathan: The History of Whaling In America, which was chosen as one of the best nonfiction books of 2007 by the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe, and also won the 2007 John Lyman Award for U. S. Maritime History; and Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America. A graduate of Brown, Yale, and MIT, where he received his Ph.D. in environmental policy, he lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts.

His latest book is When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail.

From Dolin's Q & A with Patrick Brzeski at the Wall Street Journal:

The Wall Street Journal: What can be learned about the contemporary U.S.-China relationship by studying its starting point?

Mr. Dolin: It’s first interesting to note how many things essentially haven’t changed. At the very outset, the United States had a keen interest in China, but it was all a question of import and export and how much money could be made. Today, although there are much broader relationships, at its base, most Americans and policymakers look at China through the lens of trade. Related to this are parallel concerns over the deficit. From the very start of the China trade, America was running a trade deficit, and it’s something we’re still dealing with now. To some extent, the dream that Americans have held from the beginning—of China becoming an almost unlimited market for American goods—to this day remains unrealized.

The book is filled with colorful characters—merchants, pirates and sea dogs. Did you have any favorite discoveries?

Because of the period, a lot of this story revolves around men, but I really liked Harriet Lowe. Harriet was a relative of a well-known American trader, so she was able to accompany him to Macau with her aunt. She was young, single, and she kept a diary of her experiences, which is full of amusing and insightful observations of the world around her. What bugged her most was how men had the approval of society to go around the world seeking fortune and adventure, while women were closeted and lived much more constrained lives. She rebelled in a kind of proto-feminist way. One of her big dreams was to...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Eric Jay Dolin's website.

Dolin is the author of Leviathan: The History of Whaling In America and Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America.

The Page 99 Test: Fur, Fortune, and Empire.

The Page 99 Test: When America First Met China.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich's The Round House, her 14th novel, won the coveted National Book Award for Fiction.

From her Q & A with Sara Nelson:

What is the most important book you never read?

There are so many but one would be Ulysses. I've never been able to forge all the way through it. It's one of those that I've got on a shelf and it stares at me. It says, "You're going to pick me up." Maybe someday.

Is there a book that changed your life?

There are actually three:
The Bible. As for so many writers, its language informed my earliest speech, writing, thoughts.
Second was Animal Farm; I thought it was about pigs. I knew about pigs because my grandparents had a butcher shop. Then it got me.
The third book is my father. He's a book. He's the most intelligent, literary, funny and tender human being I know. He's the main reason I became a writer. He wouldn't say he was a writer, but he is. He writes still, has volumes of his letter. He has written memoirs because he wants to. Poetry, reams of poetry. He has...[read on]
Learn more about Erdrich's five most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

David Nasaw

David Nasaw's new book is The Patriarch: The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy.

From the author's Q & A with Randy Dotinga at The Christian Science Monitor:

Q: What drew to you to the story of this man whose children include a president, an attorney general, an ambassador and one of the most storied senators of all time?

The family asked me to do it.

I met with Senator Ted Kennedy to talk it over. We met in the Senate office building, and we had lunch with his two Portuguese water dogs, who came to the Senate on Mondays.

I spent a good long time trying to convince the senator I shouldn't write the book. I'm a crazy obsessive researcher, and I was bound to turn up something that wouldn't make the family happy. And I said it wasn't unlikely that by the time it ran, some Kennedy would be running for office.

He said all the bad stuff is out there, like Gloria Swanson [with whom Joseph Kennedy had an affair]. Everybody knows the dirt, but if a historian writes this book, he is going to come up with a much more credible portrait of his father than what's out there.

My conditions were firm, and I said, I'm not going to budge. I want full access to everything, including all the papers that are closed to researchers and stored at the Kennedy library. You and your family and your lawyers...[read on]
See Nasaw's five best books about the Kennedys.

The Page 69 Test: David Nasaw's Andrew Carnegie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Andrew Solomon

Andrew Solomon is the author of The Irony Tower: Soviet Artists in a Time of Glasnost, A Stone Boat, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, winner of fourteen national awards, including the 2001 National Book Award, and Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity.

From his Q & A with David Daley at Salon:

Each chapter in [Far From the Tree] presents a very unique kind of difference. What ties them together, and should we tie them together?

All of these people that I’ve been talking to are dealing with very specific kinds of difference and feeling, in most instances, isolated by the condition they had. There aren’t that many people with schizophrenia; there aren’t that many people with dwarfism; there aren’t that many people in any of these categories. And I found out that there is so much that their experiences have in common — that process of accommodating, accepting, loving, even celebrating a child who had a marked difference from what the parents had in mind was really quite consistent from group to group. It didn’t really matter whether we were looking at what the child did, as we were in the crime chapter; or how the child was born, in the Down Syndrome chapter. That was consistent. And it had a lot in common, in my view, with the experience I had negotiated as the gay child of straight parents. And so I think that sense of difference is actually something that almost everyone has in common, rather than something that isolates people. I didn’t know that’s what I was working on in the beginning.

The other theme that runs through the book is the very complex relationship between illness and identity — that what some people see as something which needs to be cured is, to others, a defining characteristic and community. And that the culture shifts, and sometimes what was once viewed as an illness, becomes seen as identity.

Right. When, I was born being gay was an illness and in my adult life it’s an identity. And I don’t know which of the categories I’ve written about will make that switch to what degree at what time. There’s no crystal ball. But I do have the feeling, very strongly, that these are...[read on]
See Andrew Solomon five top books about family love.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 10, 2012

Marc Myers

Marc Myers is the author of Why Jazz Happened.

From his Q & A with Scott Timberg:

Part of me wonders why it took so long for someone to do this. But: What made you want to write this kind of atypical, outside-in musical history? Did you have a specific historian or historical school in mind as a model?

Most jazz histories have been written from the inside out—meaning the writer’s perspective and conclusions were based largely on the artists and the albums they recorded. Such books don’t often account for external forces or the economic, business, cultural and technological events that took place and had an impact on artists and how they thought and created.

When I was studying history in Columbia University’s graduate program in the 1980s, social history was hot. “What” was important but so was “why,” and “why” was often much more interesting in explaining timelines and outcomes. So whether you were researching the Civil War, Imperialism or the Depression, the facts themselves were essential but so were the socio-economic issues that enabled such events to take place when they did.

I wanted to approach jazz the same way. Instead of treating it as a string of musicians and recordings, I wanted to see what forces outside of jazz caused jazz styles to change so rapidly between 1942 and 1972. By forces, I mean the opportunities that musicians faced and he pressures they faced. What I discovered is that the 10 major styles that surfaced between 1942 and 1972 did so for reasons that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Ayana Mathis

Ayana Mathis's debut novel is The Twelve Tribes of Hattie. From Mathis's Q & A with Miwa Messer of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program:

What was your inspiration for the novel, why did you want to write about these people?

I grew up in unusual family circumstances: I had lots of aunts and uncles, but my mother and I had very little contact with them after I was ten or so. My mother was always telling stories about the 1940s and '50s, the years of her childhood and adolescence, and about her siblings. It's as though I grew up with family ghosts, vague figures that weren’t quite real. It didn’t help that my mother’s stories were just the barest of snippets. As I got older, those stories expanded in my imagination until they grew to mythic proportion. In many ways the novel is my attempt to imagine my way into family and to understand where I came from, to give myself grounding and a context. The characters in the novel are also a part of my family's wider historical context. Hattie's children are the first generation of Great Migration children born in the North.

What is the Great Migration, and what does it have to do with the book?

The Great Migration is one of the most enormously impactful migratory movements of the twentieth century. From 1910 to 1970 some 6 million blacks left the terrors of the Jim Crow South, often with nothing -- a few dollars or just enough food for their journey -- for the cities of the North, West, and Midwest. Their movement...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Timothy Ferriss

Tim Ferriss' latest book is The 4-Hour Workweek.

From his Q & A with Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog:

Speakeasy: Why is there is a chapter on guns in what is essentially a cooking skills cookbook?

Mr. Ferriss: ‘The Wild’ section of the book is about reconnecting with ingredients, including foraging and hunting. I wanted a clean kill for my first deer, which led me to study ballistics, which led me down the rabbit hole of guns in general. I actually had another 50 pages on material related to self reliance, not just guns, but my editor said, Tim, we can’t add 50 pages on this.

Speakeasy: Are you in favor of hunting?

Mr. Ferriss: I had a very strong aversion to hunting, but that has changed. I find that there is such a thing as responsible hunting, and I never thought I’d say such a thing.

Speakeasy: What are your thoughts on reduction cooking?

Mr. Ferriss: I think reduction and removal can concentrate flavor and texture in foods. That’s certainly true with music, and poetry would be a good example in the realm of language. Improving food, as in improving life, is often about removing things and not...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 7, 2012

Orhan Pamuk

Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2006. His latest novel is Silent House.

From the author's Q & A with Anna Metcalfe at the Financial Times:

Who would you most like to sit next to at a dinner party?

García Márquez or Borges or Dostoevsky – and the most charming or intellectual woman in the world.

* * *

What keeps you awake at night?

I have the legacy of my father and his nocturnal automatic waking up. But I like those periods. I immediately have a different vision of humanity and my life.

* * *

What book do you wish you’d written?

I’m happy with my books. Wishing I’d written other ones is like wishing you had a different faith, language,....[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Debra Dean

From a Q & A with Debra Dean about her latest novel, The Mirrored World:

Q: Your new novel, The Mirrored World, involves the story of St. Xenia, a Russian holy figure. How did you learn about her, and why did you decide to write a novel based on her life?

A: When I finished The Madonnas of Leningrad I thought I was going to follow it with a novel set in my hometown of Seattle. Best laid plans. It was a good idea, but that's where it stayed -- an idea -- and it just wouldn't come to life. You can usually tell by about page 50 if you've got a dead book on the table. I had signed a contract and taken an advance and I was panicked.

And what kept returning to my thoughts was an intriguing little historical footnote I had come across in my research for Madonnas about an 18th century Russian saint. A wealthy young woman on the periphery of the Court, after the death of her husband she renounced material possessions and went to live on the streets of the city's worst slum. I'm not Russian Orthodox or Catholic, I was raised Presbyterian, so I've tended to view saints as being like superheroes. But something about her got under my skin. It was said she went mad with grief, and I kept thinking of Joan Didion's remarkable memoir The Year of Magical Thinking where she talks about...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Debra Dean's website and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Debra Dean.

The Page 69 Test: The Mirrored World.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

John and Colleen Marzluff

John M. Marzluff is a highly regarded scientist known for his work on the ecology and behavioral biology of jays, crows, ravens, and their relatives. He is professor of wildlife science, College of the Environment, University of Washington, and the author of four books, including In the Company of Crows and Ravens and Gifts of the Crow. Colleen Marzluff trained in wildlife biology, worked as a research technician, and is an expert in the raising and training of sled dogs and herding dogs.

From a Q & A at Yale University Press about their book, Dog Days, Raven Nights:

Yale University Press: Your book strongly advocates that students pursue what they love to do. Even doing what you love, there are always…unfavorable conditions. What were the best and worst parts about the long, sometimes fruitless days, in the observation hut [studying ravens]?

Colleen Marzluff: It was “Torture in the Hut”, as the title of the chapter says… Boredom, stiffness, frustration—they were all there. Sometimes you would think, “I got up before dawn for this!?” We couldn’t talk, let alone argue, or the ravens would hear us. We sometimes wrote notes to each other, but for the most part, it was a lot of waiting for something to happen. We couldn’t really read a book or play cards because we might have missed something. A real lesson in patience—sometimes like watching paint dry—solitary confinement with a silent partner.

The best was when an experiment yielded results, expected or unexpected; when other critters visited and helped break up the tedium; when we would imagine the birds behaving more like primates we could laugh (silently). Best part is that we survived it. I suppose that could have been a very difficult thing to do for most couples, but we made it!

John Marzluff: Because we had to be quiet, Colleen couldn’t argue with me : ) . Actually, to me once I was in the hut it was always good. The birds were constantly doing something, either the juvenile flock or the adult pair kept me engaged because you never knew WHAT they might do. One day they would catch a mouse, the next they would play with a toy, or they would utter a vocalization never yet heard. Their activity was constantly amazing to me. Of course the very best times were when an experiment actually worked. For example, when we were investigating the meanings of various vocalizations we would put a loudspeaker into the aviary and broadcast the call of interest. Begs by juveniles under attack, for instance, we believed did two things: cooled down aggressive adults and recruited additional hungry juveniles. With this hypothesis in mind we played begs and other control sounds throughout the aviary expecting to lure our captive juveniles toward the speaker. Sure enough, as soon as the begging began it was as if a dinner bell was rung; the juvenile horde hopped, ran, and flew toward the speaker. If only we could have ...[read on]
Read--Coffee with a Canine: Colleen and John Marzluff & Reese, Digit and Bellatrix.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Linda Geddes interviewed Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Antifragile: How To Live in a World We Don't Understand, for Slate. Part of their dialogue:

Linda Geddes: In your new book you talk about things being "antifragile." What do you mean exactly?

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: When you ask people what is the opposite of fragile, they mostly answer something that is resilient or unbreakable—an unbreakable package would be robust. However, the opposite of fragile is something that actually gains from disorder. In the book, I classify things into fragile, robust, or antifragile.

LG: Can you give me some examples?

NNT: Nature builds things that are antifragile. In the case of evolution, nature uses disorder to grow stronger. Occasional starvation or going to the gym also makes you stronger, because you subject your body to stressors and gain from them. Another example is the restaurant industry. It benefits from the fact that individual restaurants are fragile by exploiting their mistakes as it tries to figure out why a particular restaurant went bust. Trial and error is an antifragile activity.

LG: How is antifragility different from the saying "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger"?

NNT: I look at it in terms of systems: Situations where what kills me makes others stronger, how the fragility of some parts of the system brings overall benefits. There are good and bad systems organized in terms of whether the system gets stronger or weaker from errors made by an individual part. Every plane crash makes...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 3, 2012

Matthew Quick

Matthew Quick is the author of The Silver Linings Playbook, now a major feayure film starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. From Quick's Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

The Silver Linings Playbook is that rare bird that is not only an extraordinary book but a fabulous movie as well. Were you anxious about how they were going to transform the book?

Thank you! So glad you enjoyed both.

I asked if I could write the screenplay and was told they were looking for an established name. It was a moment when I learned David O. Russell was going to adapt my novel. I’m a huge fan of DOR.

I read an early version of the screenplay, but wasn't involved in the adaptation process. When I visited the movie set, David was friendly, but made it clear that the film was his and the book was mine. I got it. I wouldn’t want anyone looking over my shoulder when I write fiction, and David had to do his thing as a filmmaker.

Before they screened SILVER LININGS for me in Tribeca, David called me on the phone. It was the first time we had a conversation. I was surprised to learn that he really really wanted me to like the film. In fact, I’d even say he was nervous about my reaction.

When I watched the film, my hands were clenched into fists, my chest was tight, and I felt like I was experiencing David’s adaptation as several different people—the writer of the very personal source material, a fan of David O. Russell, a fan of movies, a storyteller, someone who had a financial stake in the success of the film, etc. About twenty or so minutes in, I forgot about all of that and gave myself over completely to the story. That’s when I knew we really had something.

I called David that night and we had a very happy conversation. He and I have gotten to know each other a little while promoting the film. He cares deeply about mental health awareness, like I do. And I really...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Matthew Quick's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Silver Linings Playbook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Jenny White

Jenny White's new book is Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks. From her Q & A with Today's Zaman:

What does Islam mean in Turkey?

There are so many different ways of expressing that. There is a female sheikh [Cemalnur Sargut] on Bağdat Caddesi in İstanbul who does not cover her head and attracts a lot of professional women who are secular. The question is why? I think it's because if you don't know what it is to be a Muslim, if you don't know what it means to be Turkish anymore, then this happens. For a lot of youth, it is important to get ahead; they are not interested in sacrificing themselves for the state. Now, the state is mixed in with the government; it used to be separate. Despite the polarizing rhetoric, identities are less clear. You still want to be Turkish, but what does that mean? People are searching for authenticity. This female sheikh may be catering to this search for Turkish authenticity because I am told that she emphasizes that Islam is something Turkish and it appeals to people who are lost among international logos in malls. People feel unsettled and seek their roots. Where are their roots? Are they in the blood, in the flag? Maybe not so much anymore. Are they in Islam? Are they in possessions?

In your book “Muslim Nationalism and the New Turks,” you deal with issues related to Turkey's national identity and if the identity has been redefined?

Yes, in fact, the whole book is about that. Kemalism was very much based on race, blood and lineage -- you hear the word “soy” [lineage] used all the time. A year or so ago, a minister spoke at a university to a group of scientists to encourage them to improve the standard of Turkish science. In his speech, he said that this was important so that we can be aware of dangers like importing tomato seeds from Israel -- if you grow tomatoes from these seed and people eat them, it could negatively affect Turks' genetic lineage. This statement led to an explanation by the minister of agriculture that Turkey imports only 4 percent of its tomato seeds from Israel. Another example is that during the 1999 earthquake, one of the ministers rejected blood donations from Greece because he did not want to mix blood. This relates also to liberals who can be perceived as mixing everything and having no boundaries. They have no single group that they belong to. That's one reason why liberals are not so powerful. Who listens to the liberals here? The power is in the hands of...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Christine Schutt

Christine Schutt's new novel is Prosperous Friends.

From her Q & A with Michelle Y. Burke at HTMLGiant:

Burke: One of the things I admire most about your writing is how it sounds. Your sentences are so rich and lyrical. To what extent are you thinking about sound when you’re writing?

Schutt: I do think about sound. What I want to do is wed sound to scene. What comes first is a picture. I’m thinking of the way my new book, Prosperous Friends, begins. I had this idea that there would be a couple in their mid-thirties outside of London, maybe in the Fens, near a priory or a church. I was remembering my own experience at that age, being in those sorts of churches, and the stones, and the moss on the stones, and the coldness of it. I thought about that a lot, and I thought about what the couple was doing. They’re alone. He wants to surprise her and be sexually risky. I wanted to get a sound that would call up or be right for those stones and that place.

Burke: Is that how you start a new novel or story—an image catches your attention and you find the sound from there?

Schutt: Sometimes there’s an image, yes, and the language comes so fast on it. I look at something for a long time and roll over words right to the occasion.

Burke: Is that also true when you’re creating a character? Does the character come from an imagined scene or image?

Schutt: When I was creating one of the characters in Prosperous Friends, I looked at a postcard picture of...[read on]
Visit Christine Schutt's website.

The Page 69 Test: Prosperous Friends.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 30, 2012

C. Joseph Genetin-Pilawa

C. Joseph Genetin-Pilawa is assistant professor of history at Illinois College.

His new book is Crooked Paths to Allotment: The Fight over Federal Indian Policy after the Civil War.

From his Q & A at the publisher's website:

How did you arrive at this research project?

Originally, I imagined writing a book that focused solely on the National Indian Defense Association and its efforts in the 1880s to block the passage of forced allotment legislation. I became fascinated with Thomas and Cora Bland, the founders of the organization, and their campaign against the “Friends of the Indian,” a story that had been glossed over in the existing literature.

As these things go, however, the questions I was asking encouraged me to move backwards chronologically. Where did the Blands’ radicalism come from? Were there other individuals working within federal governance that actively questioned the trajectory, pace, and goals of the policies directed at Native communities, and offered viable alternatives? If so, what could we learn from their stories? This led me to ask similar questions of Ely Parker, a Tonawanda Seneca condoled chief and the first Indigenous commissioner of Indian Affairs, and his efforts to shape federal policy in the years surrounding the Civil War.

What inspired you to center your research on Ely Parker and Thomas Bland over other individuals?

There are several reasons why I find these individuals to be so compelling. I discussed the Blands above, but Parker’s life was so immensely interesting as well. He had many careers (interpreter for Seneca diplomats, condoled chief, engineer, military bureaucrat, policymaker, clerk). He lived and studied with other Haudenosaunee people in Ontario, worked on the Erie Canal, studied law in western New York, oversaw the building of customs houses and other federal buildings in Iowa, Illinois, Michigan, and Virginia, fought in the Civil War, lived in Washington, D.C. at several different moments and then later in New York City, working for the NYPD and spending time with Jacob Riis.

Parker and Bland were also controversial figures—even their historical legacies are contested. They...[read on]
Learn more about Crooked Paths to Allotment at the University of North Carolina Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Crooked Paths to Allotment.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jami Attenberg

Jami Attenberg's new novel The Middlesteins follows a Midwest family that is forced to face or ignore its problems when its matriarch, Edie Middlestein, begins to eat herself to death.

Jonathan Franzen (author of Freedom) says: “The Middlesteins had me from its very first pages, but it wasn’t until its final pages that I fully appreciated the range of Attenberg’s sympathy and the artistry of her storytelling.”

From Attenberg's Q & A with The Rumpus Book Club:

Brian S: There was a lot of discussion in the group about the role addiction played in the book. Seemed like there was some strong disagreement among members because of that, especially since you were writing about a fat person. How did you decide on food as the addiction?

Jami Attenberg: Well…so I have a few responses. One, being from the Midwest and of a certain community of people, it is just something that people struggle with, their weight. So it felt very true, and something I knew about.

Brian S: We have that problem in the Deep South, too.

Jami Attenberg: Two, I have my own food issues. Three, it could maybe have been something else—booze or drugs or whatever—but the fascinating thing about food is that if you have issues with it, you have to face it every single day. Like you can quit smoking, and never have to have a cigarette again to survive. But with food, it is a daily challenge. It is just very rich source material.

Megan: I thought it was sad but realistic that Edie’s life’s chapters were delineated by her weight at the time.

Candy: I think choosing food as the addiction allows...[read on]
Visit Jami Attenberg's website and blog.

See Attenberg's list of six top books with overweight protagonists.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Karen Engelmann

Karen Engelmann's new novel is The Stockholm Octavo.

From her Q & A with Hilary Williamson:

Q: You chose a fascinating period in Swedish history for The Stockholm Octavo, one little known to Westerners aside from those of us who have read Annemarie Selinko's Désirée. What drew you to this era?

A: Living in Sweden for nine years, it was impossible to avoid the Gustavian age — even for an American illustrator with no interest in history. The drama, culture and controversy of Gustav III captivate people still, and the city of Stockholm is infused with his spirit. It was not until many years later, writing The Stockholm Octavo, that I immersed myself in this history and had a genuine “Now I get it!” moment. Gustav III and his era are juicy subjects that rival any others in European history and deserve much more attention. TSO is a start; even if its narrative is more fiction than history, the details of Gustav's reign are real.

Q: Do you find it ironic that, at a time when other rulers were brought down by not listening to the masses, King Gustav III was assassinated for trying to do too much, perhaps too fast?

A: Yes, it is an irony, but the desire to maintain political control is as powerful as trying to gain it. The aristocracy in Sweden was gunning for Gustav from the time he came to power in 1772. He staged a bloodless coup, replacing a constitution heavily favoring the nobility (which was terribly corrupt and dangerously influenced by foreign powers.) From that point on, a significant portion of the aristocracy wanted Gustav out. Eventually, they succeeded. On the other hand, the commoners adored their King (even when he made himself a near absolute monarch) and his death only inflamed their animosity toward the aristocracy and fervor for reform. Gustav's political reforms may have helped the nation avoid a violent struggle, but...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Karen Engelmann's website.

Writers Read: Karen Engelmann.

The Page 69 Test: The Stockholm Octavo.

My Book, The Movie: The Stockholm Octavo.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

J. Robert Lennon

J. Robert Lennon's books include the novels Castle and Mailman, and a story collection, Pieces for the Left Hand. His latest novel is Familiar.

From his Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

I love books that cast you in this eerie, unsettling world where reality and non-reality blur. Elisa could be in a strange new world, or she could be suffering delusions, and the whole novel juggles this uneasy balance. How difficult was it to keep the reader off-centered?

Not too difficult, because I was off-centered while writing it! I honestly didn't know whether I was going to come down on the side of making it a "real" parallel world, a psychotic break, or something else. In the end, I enjoyed the uncertainty and decided that this was part of what the book was about. So I committed myself to not knowing.

As someone who loves anything that even vaguely smacks of quantum physics, I have to ask you about the parallel universe theory that crops up in the novel. What was your research like? Do you think such a thing is possible scientifically?

Well, Brian Greene not only believes it's possible, he believes all the possible universes exist, and are out there. I initially heard him talk about this on the radio show Radiolab, then I read his book on the multiverse. I read a few other books, too, and grabbed some more fanciful stuff from the internet. The science here is wonky, but based in present research--for instance, the vibrating flange experiment at Caltech which Elisa encounters is a real thing.

I also wanted to ask about the gaming details in the book, which were fascinating. You play or did you research? And what was the research like on that?

I'm interested in gaming, but...[read on]
Visit J. Robert Lennon's website.

The Page 69 Test: Castle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 26, 2012

Pallavi Aiyar

Award winning journalist and author Pallavi Aiyar spent six years living in a hutong home in the heart of the old imperial city of Beijing. She reported from across China for The Hindu and Indian Express in addition to teaching English at the Beijing Broadcasting Institute. She is the winner of the 2007 Prem Bhatia Memorial Award for excellence in political reporting and analysis for her dispatches from China.

Her book Smoke and Mirrors: An Experience of China won the Vodafone-Crossword Popular Book Award for 2008.

Her first novel is Chinese Whiskers.

From Aiyar's Q & A with Maura Elizabeth Cunningham at The China Beat:

MEC: How did you come to write a book that views Beijing from a cats’-eye perspective?

PA: I spent five years living in Beijing’s hutongs. These were neighbourhoods that reflected many of the tensions generated by the intersection of China’s almost remorseless embrace of modernity with persisting forms of a more traditional, communal way of life.

Animals were an intrinsic part of the hutongscape. At twilight you could sometimes spot the elongated silhouette of huang shu lang (黄鼠狼 the yellow weasel), the Beijing equivalent of the city fox, tip toeing across the roofs of courtyard houses sniffing for prey. Regardless of the season old men in patched up Mao suits would sit around corner stores on low stools, their caged song birds proudly on display next to them.

And then there were the dogs. The hutongs were disproportionately peopled with retirees and their pet dogs; the ever dwindling younger generation having taken off for swankier addresses. The aural backdrop to life in these alleyways was therefore punctuated by the yapping of Pekinese dogs who were as pampered and loved by their elderly owners as a favoured grandchild.

This was an environment where people and animals lived cheek to jowl, the cramped spaces of the living quarters forcing everyone out on the street.

In my previous book, Smoke and Mirrors, I wrote extensively about my life in the hutongs and this was one aspect of the book that people across the world, be it in India, China or the US, seemed fascinated by. It seemed natural therefore to situate my novel in this geography and the cats just seemed an intuitive and interesting way to gain entry into this world.

Especially since...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers’ books include, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000), You Shall Know Our Velocity (2002), Zeitoun (2009), and A Hologram For The King.

From his June 2012 Q & A with Stephen Elliott at The Rumpus:

The Rumpus: A Hologram for The King is your first imagined-from-scratch book in a while. In a lot of ways it seems like a real departure from the last book we talked about, Zeitoun. So I guess the question would be, Why a novel set in Saudi Arabia?

Dave Eggers: Well, about four years ago I had one of those moments where you think, Huh, that’s an interesting framework for a novel. My brother-in-law had just been to Saudi Arabia with his company, and he told me about these cities that King Abdullah is trying to construct from scratch, these centers of education and manufacturing and other catalysts for a post-oil economy. I was fascinated by the idea of American businesspeople coming to these nascent cities in the desert, trying to get in on the ground floor. That was the start of it at least, and it gelled with some ideas I was having about this aging businessman who’s painted himself into a corner.

Rumpus: That’s your protagonist, Alan Clay. He’s middle-aged, with a background in sales, management and cost cutting, but he’s been downsized himself, and is having a hard time getting work. He’s fifty-four years old and believes that no one is interested in his services anymore. Though he also presents himself as an optimist.

Eggers: I think he presents himself as an optimist because optimism is...[read on]
Read about the book Eggers wishes he'd written.

--Marshal Zeringue