Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Rachel Starnes

Rachel Starnes's new book is The War at Home: A Wife’s Search for Peace (and Other Missions Impossible): A Memoir.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What do you think are some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about military spouses?

A: I’m so glad you asked that question because it’s been on my mind a lot lately. Less than one half of one percent of the population of the United States currently serves in the military. That means that many people don’t come into regular and sustained contact with someone currently serving.

Instead, much of our exposure to the military is through what we see on the news or in movies or on social media, and many of those outlets perpetuate certain stereotypes about who serves in the military, why they serve, how they vote, and what struggles they face.

And it’s been my experience that however narrow those assumptions are about service members, they get even narrower when the conversation turns to their spouses.

I think many of us are assumed to be entirely unconflicted about our roles, or patriotic and subservient to our husbands and the unique demands of their careers in a way that makes us seem like we’re from another era.

The fact of the matter is that military spouses are...[read on]
Visit Rachel Starnes's website.

The Page 99 Test: The War at Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Carol Birch

Carol Birch's newest novel is Orphans of the Carnival.

From her Q&A with Caroline Leavitt:

I always imagine that writers are haunted by some inner question or need to write a certain novel. What sparked Orphans of the Carnival for you?

It’s true that something gets into the mind and then builds up until it reaches critical mass and demands to be written. In this case, I was haunted by Julia’s baby. Julia [actual 19th century freak show attraction, Julia Pastrana] is quite well known, her baby less so. I was very moved by his fate. It’s hard to say too much without giving away so much about the book, but because this book is more than just a simple life story, though Julia is at the heart of it, her story led me to consider such things as the meaning we invest in physical objects, particularly those that reach us from the past, laden with significance.

I love the character of Julia Pastrana. She’s a sideshow attraction who is undeniably exploited, yet she still believes in the dream of love. But the question is can she have it – and that is the wrenching heart of this novel. Who are we really to ourselves and to others. Can you talk about this please?

Julia believes in love. Famously (and this is apocryphal) she said on her deathbed that she knew she had been loved for herself alone. Most people who’ve commented on Julia and her life seem firmly convinced that this was...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 28, 2016

Rae Meadows

Rae Meadows is the author of Calling Out, which received the 2006 Utah Book Award for fiction, No One Tells Everything, a Poets & Writers Notable Novel, and the widely praised novel, Mercy Train (released in hardback as Mothers and Daughters).

Meadows's new novel is I Will Send Rain.

From her Q&A with Adriana Delgado at Blogcritics Magazine:

You’re not a stranger to writing about difficult topics like the one portrayed in your novel, Calling Out. What made you delve into the realm of historical fiction, and the Dust Bowl in particular?

I started writing a novel fictionalizing the photographer Dorothea Lange, but it wasn’t working for me, and I found myself returning again and again to one particular photograph of hers of a young woman nursing her son. They sit in a makeshift shelter, a tarp overhead, the California sun a fierce glare behind them. They are Dust Bowl refugees from Oklahoma. The woman’s gaze is a live wire of determination, anger, and shame. She made me wonder about the life she left behind. We’re familiar with the migrant story from Steinbeck, but I wanted to know what life was like for those who stayed. I also felt that the Dust Bowl was actually quite relevant, given the effects of global warming.

Was your portrayal of the Bells inspired by a real “okie” family during the Dust Bowl era?

The Bell family was entirely fictional, but I did spend countless hours immersed in the photography archive of the Library of Congress. The photographs taken in the 1930s for the Farm Securities Administration—Dorothea Lange was among the photographers—were a source of inspiration, particularly those of...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Rae Meadows's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mothers and Daughters.

The Page 69 Test: I Will Send Rain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Douglas Smith

Douglas Smith's new book is Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What are some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about Rasputin?

A: One of the most common is that he was evil incarnate, Satan personified. That’s so utterly wrong, it’s [surprising] this myth took hold.

He was very much a man of peace. During the Balkan Wars before World War I, he came out against Russian involvement, and on the eve of World War I—I reproduce a letter where he was begging Nicholas II not to listen to the warmongers; if you are a true Christian, killing is wrong. That’s important about Rasputin and is misunderstood.

The idea that he was an orgiastic sex machine like in the Boney M song—he was an adulterer, no doubt, and he probably [was involved with] prostitutes, but if he was a sex maniac, there would have been illegitimate children, and there isn’t a mention of that anywhere.

His influence over policy and the Czar is...[read on]
Visit Douglas Smith's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Pearl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Benjamin Bergen

Benjamin K. Bergen is a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego, where he directs the Language and Cognition Laboratory. He writes for the Huffington Post and Psychology Today and appears on NPR's Morning Edition, the Brain Science Podcast, and elsewhere.

Bergen's new book is What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves.

From the author's Q&A with Scott Timberg at Salon:

Let’s start with the word most of us learned early on was the biggest, scariest, nastiest, dirty word of them all, the one your title turns on: the F-word. I’ve heard all kinds of theories as to where it came from. What are its origins, and has it always been such a forbidden, dangerous term? Was it ever an acceptable word?

So the word, as far as we can tell, is very, very old. It’s thousands of years old and comes from a root that means something like to strike or rub. For most of its history, it has not had any profane meaning at all. The first time we know it starts to have the meaning “to copulate,” as it now does, is as early as the 14th century, A.D. It comes from some legal proceedings, in which there was a defendant who had that as part of his last name. His name was Roger Fuckebythenavel. It appears to have been his real name.

But through Shakespeare’s time, it didn’t seem to have been as profane as it became in the 20th century. That only started to be the case around three centuries ago. In Shakespeare’s day the equivalent term was “swive,” which was far stronger.

And like a lot of words in English, this came from Germanic roots or Anglo-Saxon or something?

That’s right. This comes from the Germanic line. And there are therefore similar words you see in Norwegian and German, where there’s a similar word — “ficken” — that has a similar meaning but is far less profane than the English word.

The interesting thing about the F-word is that according to survey data, it’s...[read on]
Learn more about What the F at the publisher's website.

The Page 99 Test: What the F.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 25, 2016

Meera Syal

Meera Syal is an British comedian, writer, playwright, singer, journalist, producer and actress. Her latest novel is The House of Hidden Mothers. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You have several female protagonists in your new novel. How did you come up with these characters?

A: All my novels have focused on the lives of South Asian women, whether in Britain or in India, quite simply because we are ripe and bursting with untold stories, why would I need to look further than my own front step for inspiration?

And of course much of the inspiration comes from the lives of women around me, Priya and Lydia encapsulate any of the women I know in their complex life choices about relationships, children, ageing.

I wanted to try and create a snapshot of women in their late 40s/early 50s, an age where many of us are judged to be invisible by society but ironically it is the period where we are as women full of life experience, know and like ourselves, have suffered the highs and lows of life and gained wisdom from this journey, and yet because we are passing from fertile women into what used to be the wise old witch phase, suddenly we are...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Alexandra Zapruder

Alexandra Zapruder's new book is Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You note that your family really didn’t talk much about the film as you were growing up. What made you decide to write about it, and do you think writing the book changed any of your beliefs about the film?

A: I decided to write about the film because I realized in the aftermath of my father’s death that our family’s relationship to the film was a very significant one, and that this part of the film’s life had not been told, and that without it, the whole story of the film and its impact on American society and culture was incomplete.

Once I realized that, I felt it was important – and meaningful for me as a writer and a person – to really look at the film’s history in all its dimensions and try to understand its meaning, legacy, and significance not only for us as a family but for American society as a whole.

I’m not sure I could say that writing about the film changed my beliefs, because...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Dawn Lerman

Dawn Lerman is a board-certified nutrition expert and a contributor to the New York Times Well Blog. Her company, Magnificent Mommies, provides nutrition education to students, teachers, and corporations. She lives in New York City with her two children, Dylan and Sofia.

Lerman's 2015 book is My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love and Family, with Recipes.

From her Q & A with Caroline Leavitt:

I love how you figured out that food was equated with love, and that what we eat really does make a difference in how we feel. How did you learn to understand this (My mother-in-law still believes that food has nothing to do with health.)

I grew up with a 450 dad who was always one diet away from the perfect weight loss miracle. Every week he would rotate to a new fad diet, and my family ended up eating whatever freeze-dried, saccharin-loaded concoction he was trying at that moment. By the time I was 9, I was an expert on Atkins, Weight Watchers and even prayed beside him after he read, I Prayed Myself Slim.

My mother, on the other hand, never understood what the big deal with food was and ate only one small meal a day while standing up and chatting on the phone. Most weekday meals consisted of my dad’s diet foods, a meal replacement shake, or a bagel or pizza in the car. What I remember most about those early years, is that I was always hungry — hungry for food, hungry for nice clean clothes, hungry for someone to notice when I ran away from home or hid in the closet for hours. I was just hungry — hungry for someone to care for me because I was a child and I yearned to be cared for.

But on Friday nights, my maternal grandfather would pick me up and when we arrived at my grandparents’ home, the table was always set with beautiful china. There was always a pot of chicken soup cooking on the stove, a freshly drawn bath, and a fluffy, lavender-smelling nightgown waiting for me. It was at my grandmother Beauty’s house where I learned what true nourishment was. It was the only place I can remember feeling happy, safe and nourished. It was what I craved. Her famous mantra was...[read on]
Visit Dawn Lerman's New York Times blog and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Dawn Lerman.

The Page 99 Test: My Fat Dad.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Sonya Chung

Sonya Chung's new novel is The Loved Ones. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Loved Ones, and for the two Lee families?

A: The Loved Ones—like many ultimately successful creative projects, I'm learning and realizing—was actually born of failure and lack of confidence.

I'd been working on another novel for about three years, and in the summer of 2012, it became clear to me that the project was dead in the water. I was anxious and very low after that, wondering if I'd be able to move forward as a novelist.

Later that summer I resolved to "just show up"—at my desk, to the blank page. In baby steps, I started working in territory that felt both familiar and interesting, which turned out to be an awkward, lonely Korean American girl's adolescence in the D.C. area in the mid-1980s. The rest grew from there.

The two Lee families—Hannah's Korean immigrant family, and Charles and Alice Lee, who are an interracial couple (African American and white) with two biracial children—are ostensibly different in every way and "shouldn't" converge or collide. But they do—a series of unusual circumstances bring them together—and that...[read on]
Visit Sonya Chung's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Sonya Chung and Pax.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 21, 2016

Chris Holm

Chris Holm is the author of the Collector trilogy, which blends crime and fantasy, and the Michael Hendricks thrillers. His first Hendricks novel, The Killing Kind, was nominated for an Anthony, a Barry, a Lefty, and a Macavity Award and named a New York Times Editors’ Choice, a Boston Globe Best Book of 2015, and Strand Magazine’s #1 Book of 2015.

Holm's latest novel is Red Right Hand, the second Hendricks novel.

From his Q&A with Rob Hart at Lit Reactor:

In The Killing Kind, Hendricks is at the top of his game. In this one he's hobbled—injured, without ideal weapons, frequently planning on the fly. What inspired that choice, and how early in the process did you plan on doing that to him?

When we meet Hendricks in The Killing Kind, he has a partner in crime, a buddy, a support structure. Then (uh, spoiler) Hendricks loses him in grand fashion.

Hendricks isn’t a guy who fares well when he’s left to his own devices. He’s angry and full of self-loathing, which makes him reckless. I realized very early on that I wanted his recklessness in Red Right Hand to have serious consequences, in part because it sends the audience the message that no one in the book—not even my protagonist—is truly safe, and in part because I needed him to realize that—even though he’s terrified of putting those he cares about in harm’s way—he’s incapable of going it alone.

There was also some sequel-y one-upmanship involved. In The Killing Kind, we found out what a healthy Hendricks could do when faced with a cunning, sadistic antagonist. In Red Right Hand, I thought, “Let’s see how well ...[read on]
Visit Chris Holm's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Killing Kind.

The Page 69 Test: Red Right Hand.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Margaret Dilloway

Margaret Dilloway has been a writer ever since she learned how to write. In high school she was a California Arts Scholar in creative writing and she won a National Council of Teachers of English writing award. She practiced writing in a variety of forms, such as being a theater critic and a contributing editor for two weekly newspapers, doing technical writing, and writing plays, before publishing three critically acclaimed books for adults: How to Be an American Housewife, The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns, and Sisters of Heart and Snow. Her research for Momotaro: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters included a trip to Japan and a samurai sword-fighting class. Dilloway lives in southern California with her husband, three children, and a goldendoodle named Gatsby.

From Dilloway's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with your character Xander and with the idea for retelling the story of Momotaro?

A: I'm half Japanese and my mom would read me this Momotaro picture book when I was little. The book only skimmed the story and I thought it could go much more in-depth and be relevant to today's events and a Western audience.

I wanted to create my own legend based on the story, using a character who would be half-Japanese, like me, because I never saw ...[read on]
Visit Margaret Dilloway's website and blog.

Coffee with a Canine: Margaret Dilloway and Gatsby.

The Page 69 Test: Momotaro: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters.

My Book, The Movie: Momotaro: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 19, 2016

David Oshinsky

David Oshinsky's latest book is Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied Hospital. From the transcript of his interview with NPR's Robert Siegel:

SIEGEL: And first you have to explain that as Bellevue evolved, the very definition of what a hospital is was evolving with it. Describe what Bellevue was when it began in the 18th century and what it became.

OSHINSKY: Bellevue in the 18th century was really both a poorhouse and a pesthouse. It was a place you came to die. It really began with the great yellow fever epidemics of the 1790s. And at that time, the great Bellevue estate, which became the hospital, was on the East River about two miles away from where most of New York was located. And you would send people who really had no chance of recovering.

SIEGEL: A defining relationship that you return to often in your book about Bellevue is between the hospital and the poor. Historically, well-to-do New Yorkers wouldn't have wanted to be in the same building as most of Bellevue's patients. What drove that sense of mission not just to get them out of the way, but what drove the sense of mission to treat the poor of New York?

OSHINSKY: There had always been a kind of group of physicians who believed it was their Christian duty to treat the poor. They also believed that if they wanted to do surgery or other kinds of medicine, it would be very easy to do it on uncomplaining bodies.

SIEGEL: There is that dark side - that the poor are often considered useful subjects for experiment.

OSHINSKY: That is true, and that is part of our medical history. On the other hand, it did push the needle forward. Medical reform and great medical discoveries also came with what you would consider today to be sort of outlandish assaults upon...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 18, 2016

Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith's latest novel is Swing Time. From the transcript of her conversation with Isaac Chotiner at Slate:

I came across a quote where you talked about the “essential hubris of criticism” and how protected a position the critic is in compared with novel writing. Do you still feel that way?

Yeah, but I don’t mind that. I think it’s just different stages of life, like the kind of young angry man criticism that you write when you’re straight out of college and a young man. [Laughs.] It’s good that that stuff happens. Somebody has to walk in and say, “This is absolute shit.” Separating wheat from chaff with that kind of venom is completely appropriate for the young boy with a pen who wants to make a name for himself. I guess as I’ve got older, and with the more novels I write, I’ve gone soft from that boy’s opinion because I know what it takes to write a novel. There are plenty of novels I absolutely hate, but it’s no longer of interest to me to publicly destroy them. I know how much it hurts, and I just can’t do it.

I still think of criticism as a beautiful and intelligent way of describing the lay of the land. When I write criticism now, I do tend to write about things I love just because I’m more motivated by that. Hate is not enough for me anymore. It doesn’t give me the requisite energy to write 5,000 words. It really has to be adoration, I guess. But I do feel when I am writing criticism that I am much more defended, sure. I can be cool in criticism, and I can be right, which is a great joy, whereas in fiction you can only be variously vulnerable. There’s no such thing as a perfect novel, and you’ll always look the fool in some proportion, and also you’ll always reveal yourself in a way that is kind of horrifying. I can tell from somebody’s sentence the type of person they are and that’s the risk with a novel. With criticism it’s...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Marilyn Roosinck

Marilyn Roosinck is the author of Virus: An Illustrated Guide to 101 Incredible Microbes. From her Q&A with Debra Liese at the Princeton University Press blog:

Why 101 viruses?

MR: The original plan was to include 100 viruses, a nice round number and enough to allow a broad range of viruses, including those infecting all the major host groups, from bacteria to humans. Near press time the Zika virus outbreak in Brazil was attracting a lot of attention in the press, so we felt it was important to include Zika. We did not really want to remove one of the viruses that were already in the book, because these were chosen carefully, and each entry seemed important for the complete picture, so, borrowing from Hollywood, we decided 101 would also have a nice ring.

How did you choose the viruses described in the book?

MR: Making up the list of viruses to include in the book took a lot of thought. I wanted to cover every type of virus and every type of host. I also wanted to include some viruses that people would be very aware of, like influenza and Ebola. There are more human viruses in the book than those that infect any other host, because they are more thoroughly studied, and most of them are familiar to people. I also wanted to include viruses that were...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Catherine Fletcher

Catherine Fletcher is the author of The Black Prince of Florence: The Spectacular Life and Treacherous World of Alessandro de' Medici.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write a book about Alessandro de' Medici?

A: I came across Alessandro’s story when I was writing my first book, about Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. The pope who turned down Henry’s divorce was Clement VII, head of the Medici family, and he refused Henry in part because he wanted the support of Catherine’s relatives to get Alessandro into power in Florence.

A few years later, thinking about what to write next, I came back to it. It’s a fascinating piece of history, and the stories about Alessandro’s race (he was illegitimate, said to be the son of a Medici duke and a “half-Negro” woman) help lead into a different perspective on the Italian Renaissance from the traditional image of “dead white men.”

Q: You write, "For centuries after Alessandro's assassination, it suited both former allies and enemies to make a villain of him." Why was this, and what are some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about him?

A: Alessandro was the first of the Medici family to rule the city of Florence as its duke rather than as “first among equals” in a republican government.

That was a controversial change of regime, achieved with the support of foreign troops, and not surprisingly it made him enemies. Some of them made very personalized accusations about Alessandro’s own behavior – that he was...[read on]
Visit Catherine Fletcher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

David Bianculli

David Bianculli is the author of The Platinum Age Of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific. From the transcript of hit Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross:

GROSS: If you're just joining us my guest is our TV critic David Bianculli. And he has a new book called "The platinum Age Of Television From I Love Lucy To The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific." What role did TV have in your life when you were growing up?

BIANCULLI: Jeez, everything. And I sort of had to confront that and discover it in the book. I'd never really been introspective in that way before. But I watched a lot of TV when I was a kid because I was alone a lot as a kid. It's also why I read a lot when I was young. And because my father, after my mom died, was working so many hours a week, I was...

GROSS: Doing what?

BIANCULLI: He was a pharmacist at the time and then a pharmaceutical chemist. But I got to watch a lot of TV and have control of it early. And so I was choosing what it was I wanted to watch, and that was kind of important. And then it ended up being - opening up a world to me that I responded to. I can remember watching things like - did you see Lee J. Cobb in "Death Of A Salesman" when it was on TV?

GROSS: I don't think so.

BIANCULLI: It was - it was a transformative moment to me. I'd never been to New York. I'd never been to a Broadway show. And that meant it was such a powerful performance and play. And I hadn't read "Death Of A Salesman" before, and TV gave me that. And TV made me laugh and TV entertained me, and I ended up going to college to want to be a TV critic at a time when film studies were...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 13, 2016

James Preller

James Preller's new novel for kids is The Courage Test. From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You wrote that you were inspired by Roald Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World to focus on a father-son dynamic in The Courage Test. How would you describe the relationship between your character Will and his father?

A: Yes, I came late to the Dahl classic and was struck that here was a loving book about a boy’s relationship with his father -- not the kind of thing I’ve seen in many middle-grade children’s books. I found it liberating, as if Dahl had given me a written note of permission.

In The Courage Test, William Meriwether Miller is a 12-year-old with recently divorced parents. His father has moved out and moved on. So there’s tension there, and awkwardness; William feels abandoned, and he also feels love, of course, because it’s natural for us to...[read on]
Visit James Preller's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Fall.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Donald Lopez

Donald S. Lopez, Jr. is the author of The Lotus Sutra: A Biography. From his Q&A with Jessica Ganga for the Princeton University Press blog:

What is the Lotus Sutra?

DL: The Lotus Sutra is arguably the most famous of all Buddhist texts. It is one of only three Buddhist works, among a vast canon, that is well known in the West by its English title (the other two being the Heart Sutra and the Diamond Sutra). The Lotus Sutra was composed in India, and in the Sanskrit language, where its title is Saddharmapuṇḍarīka Sūtra. This might be translated as the Discourse on the White Lotus of the True Doctrine. As I explain in the book, this title is rather “loaded” from a Buddhist perspective. It is not just a lotus (the traditional flower of Buddhism), but the white lotus, the best of lotuses. It does not just teach the dharma, the doctrine, but the true doctrine. As a sutra, or “discourse,” it is traditionally attributed to the Buddha himself.

Why is it so famous?

DL: Although composed in India, the Lotus Sutra became particularly important in China and Japan. In terms of Buddhist doctrine, it is renowned for two powerful proclamations by the Buddha. The first is that there are not three vehicles to enlightenment but one, that all beings in the universe will one day become buddhas. The second is that the Buddha did not die and pass into nirvana; in fact, his...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 11, 2016

Kathryn Lasky

Kathryn Lasky is the author of books for young readers include the Guardians of Ga'Hoole and Wolves of the Beyond series. Her new novel for kids is More Than Magic.

From Lasky's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for More Than Magic and your characters Ryder and Rory?

A: I have to admit that I was inspired by the animated character Merida in the enormously popular Pixar Disney movie Brave. My granddaughter loved that movie. I bought her one of those Merida wigs for Christmas and she was running all over our house in it.

Then it wasn’t six months later that I read about this outcry from some of the original artists who created the animated character. Merida was undergoing a makeover because she was going to become part of the pantheon of Disney Princess collection. There would be a myriad of products from backpacks to dolls.

They were changing her appearance drastically to make her look older, more sophisticated and more sexual for the teen demographic. Merida was no longer the...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Kathryn Lasky's website.

Writers Read: Kathryn Lasky (August 2013).

My Book, The Movie: The Rise of a Legend.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Michèle Lamont

Michèle Lamont is Robert I. Goldman Professor of European Studies and Professor of Sociology and African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Her books include How Professors Think: Inside the Curious World of Academic Judgment and the recently released Getting Respect: Responding to Stigma and Discrimination in the United States, Brazil, and Israel. From her Q&A with Michelle Nicholasen for the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs' blog:

Q: What inspired you and your colleagues to write Getting Respect, and how does it connect to your past scholarship?

A: Back in 2000, I published a book called The Dignity of Working Men: Morality and the Boundaries of Race, Class, and Immigration. It was based on interviews with African American and white workers in New York, and native white workers and North African workers in France. I asked questions about what makes people equal and was surprised to discover that in France workers never talked about money making people equal, whereas many white and black American workers believe that “if I can buy a house, and you can buy a house, we're equal.” There is very little in the literature about “everyday” conceptions of racial inequality. We wanted to get at how people in different parts of the world understand similarities and differences and to learn about what kind of thinking racism is based on.

Q: In writing Getting Respect, what new insights have you learned about racism in the United States?

A: One of the main findings is that African Americans use confrontation (speaking up or calling out someone’s behavior) in response to...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: How Professors Think.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Catherine Reef

Catherine Reef's new young adult biography is Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse. Her other books include Noah Webster: Man of Many Words; Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life; and Leonard Bernstein and American Music.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write about Florence Nightingale, and what are some of the most common perceptions and misperceptions about her?

A: I can sum up why I wrote this book in three words: what a story! A privileged daughter in Victorian England feels compelled to go against the expectations of her parents and society to pursue a life in nursing.

Then, within a few years of embarking on her hard-won working life, she is placed in charge of nursing in British military hospitals throughout the Crimean War zone. Once there, she turns around a wretched situation, saves hundreds of lives, and goes on to elevate the profession of nursing.

Many, many books about Nightingale had been written for young children, but I saw that very little was available for adolescents and teens.

This was a shame, because there is so much in Nightingale’s story that will speak directly to them. What young person hasn’t felt misunderstood by his or her family or society? Who, while growing up, has not felt chosen for an uncommon destiny?

The image of Florence Nightingale that comes to mind for most people today is the one that was...[read on]
Visit Catherine Reef's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Catherine Reef & Nandi.

The Page 69 Test: Frida & Diego.

My Book, The Movie: Noah Webster.

Writers Read: Catherine Reef (September 2015).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout's books include Olive Kitteridge and My Name Is Lucy Barton. From her Q&A with Alex Clark at the Guardian:

My Name Is Lucy Barton is simple on the surface: a woman in hospital. But it grows and grows. What was the germ of it?

I usually start by writing little pieces of scenes that come to me. But they have to have some sort of urgency beneath them and then they’ll stay on my desk. If they don’t have any urgency, then they just get pushed right off. So I was working on different things, and I kept coming back to this woman in bed, with her mother at the foot of the bed, and then I finally realised that Lucy’s voice was so particular that I was going to have to pay attention to it. So I said, OK then, let’s go.

Lucy reveals a very harsh background – extreme poverty, isolation, shame. But in adulthood, she’s escaped to New York, and is starting to have some success as a writer. What did you want to explore?

I came from a very rural background myself, in two different places, and I was aware even as a child that there’s always a family who is so poor, and so strange, that they’re ostracised by the community. And that was very interesting to me, increasingly, and I’m sure that’s even more so with the state of everything in this country, particularly. I was very interested in taking a member of that family and...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 7, 2016

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan is the author of the novel Sarong Party Girls. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for your novel and for your main character, Jazzy?

A: “Sarong Party Girls” is a -- slightly derogatory -- term that refers to a type of woman in Singapore whose main goal in life is to meet, date and perhaps marry an expat Caucasian man.

As Jazzy and her cohorts explain in this book, the ultimate goal is to have a “Chanel baby” -- a half expat, half Singaporean child that is such a status symbol it is the “Chanel of babies.”

I find that term -- which I actually heard from a girlfriend in Singapore, though spoken in jest at the time -- hilarious and think it says a lot about hyper materialism you can sometimes see in modern Asia, and perhaps, how race and class fits into all of that.

This is a book I've probably had in the back of my mind for years because I've always found Sarong Party Girls and the culture around SPGs completely fascinating -- this little subculture in Singapore, to me, says something possibly significant about the ​country and the gender and racial politics of the place.

Why is it that there exists a certain type of woman who sees status and material value in having a Caucasian husband or boyfriend? What are the forces of our history -- colonial or otherwise -- that have shaped this desire and belief in the value of Caucasian-ness?

Seeing SPGs and peering in at SPG bars in Singapore when I was a teenager always made me...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Tama Janowitz

Tama Janowitz's latest book is Scream: A Memoir of Glamour and Dysfunction. From her Q&A with Alex Clark for the Guardian:

You’ve been publishing books for 35 years, but nearly always fiction. Why a memoir now?

My mom retired from Cornell, where she was professor of English, in 2010 and about one year later she began to fall, so I went back to her house in upstate New York, thinking I could get things organised and she’d be OK, but her physical condition deteriorated so rapidly I had to move up there. I thought, I should just start taking some notes, because I don’t really have the psychological calmness to start writing a novel… And then she got worse and I got more depressed and I had to put her in a home. So I was visiting her every day and still I was trying to take some notes. No matter how bleak things were, life in the nursing home was on many, many days incredibly hilarious.

That mixture of painful experience and comedy is very typical of your writing, isn’t it?

I think if you don’t get my sense of humour, which is pretty much New York bleak, black humour, and in many ways also English humour, then...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Barbara Claypole White

Barbara Claypole White's latest novel is Echoes of Family. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with your character Marianne and with the idea to focus your new novel around someone with bipolar disorder?

A: That’s a great question because my other novels have come from dark what if moments related to my life. Not this one. I’d already abandoned a novel about a single dad with a teenage daughter who has undiagnosed bipolar disorder, when I was visiting my mother in rural England.

A random scene, which had nothing to do with anything I was working on, started playing in my head. It was set in my childhood church, a place that celebrated its 1,000th birthday—yes, three zeroes—when I was a teenager.

An elegant American woman was sitting in the back pew wearing sunglasses while the church ladies did the flowers. They became increasingly concerned about this stranger, until one of them ran off to find the vicar. (He was whacking weeds in the rectory garden wearing ripped jeans and a U2 T-shirt.)

When he crouched down to talk with the woman, he recognized her as...[read on]
Visit Barbara Claypole White's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: The In-Between Hour.

The Page 69 Test: The Perfect Son.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 4, 2016

Debbie Levy

Debbie Levy's latest children's picture book is I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark. Her other books include Imperfect Spiral, We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song, and The Year of Goodbyes.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write a children's book about Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

A: I think RBG is such a great role model for kids! She’s been dissenting from creaky old ideas and objecting to unfairness since she was a kid herself, and she’s been a change-maker and a path-breaker through her disagreements.

Of course, there’s disagreeing and there’s disagreeing, as we’ve been made way too aware in this political season. There’s flailing, insulting, divisive disagreeing. Not to mention willfully uninformed disagreeing.

And there’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose approach to the proper, productive way to disagree and make change in our society is...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Debbie Levy's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: Imperfect Spiral.

Coffee with a Canine: Debbie Levy and Toby.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Lionel Shriver

Lionel Shriver's novels include We Need to Talk About Kevin, Big Brother, and her most recent, The Mandibles. From her Q&A with Alex Clark for the Observer:

You are a seasoned night owl. What’s the story?

I gravitate to a schedule whereby I end up going to sleep at about 4am, and I don’t know why exactly. I used to identify Newsnight being broadcast at 10.30pm as the source of all my ills, but even when I’m away from Newsnight in the United States I end up keeping to the same schedule. I don’t think it’s exotic. It’s the same thing that everybody does: I get tired and go to sleep and get up, just later in the day.

Is there something about the solitude and quiet that fits with writing?

Yes. When I’ve got a book on the boil, and especially when my husband’s out of the country, which he often is, and in the winter when the sun goes down at three o’clock, I have a segment of time until 10pm when I can get work done. There is something about the lighting, with the desk lamp on, and it’s dark outside; it creates a little...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Margarita Engle

Margarita Engle is the Cuban-American author of many verse novels, including The Surrender Tree, a Newbery Honor winner, and The Lightning Dreamer, a PEN USA Award winner. Her verse memoir, Enchanted Air, received the Pura Belpré Award, Golden Kite Award, Walter Dean Myers Honor, and Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, among others. Her other books have received multiple Pura Belpré, Américas, and Jane Addams Awards and Honors, as well as a Claudia Lewis Poetry Award, and International Reading Association Award. Her most recent picture book, Drum Dream Girl, received the Charlotte Zolotow Award for best picture book text.

Engle lives in central California, where she enjoys helping her husband train his wilderness search and rescue dog.

Her new novel is Lion Island: Cuba's Warrior of Words.

From Engle's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you learn about the story of Antonio Chuffat, which you tell in Lion Island, and why did you decide to write about him?

A: I read everything I can find about Cuba, so when I discovered Antonio Chuffat’s memoir about the nonviolent freedom struggle of indentured Cantonese laborers during the 1860s and ‘70s, I felt inspired to honor his efforts to document their petitions to the Emperor of China.

I am convinced that it was one of the largest mass uses of the petition format in history, and many of the petitions were written in verse.

Q: Your book combines historical and fictional characters. What did you see as the right blend of the two as you were writing?

A: When I read Chuffat’s memoir, I learned that while Chinese indentured laborers were struggling for freedom in Cuba, five thousand Chinese-Californians arrived on the island as refugees, fleeing anti-Asian riots in Los Angeles and...[read on]
Visit Margarita Engle's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Margarita Engle & Maggi and Chance.

My Book, The Movie: The Lightning Dreamer.

My Book, The Movie: Mountain Dog.

The Page 69 Test: Silver People.

The Page 99 Test: Enchanted Air.

The Page 69 Test: Lion Island.

Writers Read: Margarita Engle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Javier Marías

Javier Marías's new novel is Thus Bad Begins.

From his Q&A with Jonathan Lee at Literary Hub:

Jonathan Lee: You once said that “one of the best possible perspectives from which to tell a story is that of a ghost, someone who is dead but can still witness.” Do you see Juan, the narrator of Thus Bad Begins, as another kind of ghost—a “silent witness” in the life of the movie director he assists?

Javier Marías: I would not say that I see Juan de Vere as a ghost—or, at least, I see him less as a ghost than others in some of my novels. This young man—he tells the story when he is much older, but he is only 23 when the action takes place, in 1980—does finally intervene, unlike, for example, the narrator of A Heart So White. He is not a mere, silent witness, or at least not throughout the whole novel. His doings have an influence on other characters, even on their fates. In the end, you might say he is not more “innocent” than the rest of them. But in a way, yes, you could also say he shares some of the ghost features, in the sense that he tells the story when he is a very different man from the one he was. As if the man he was then is somehow dead when, perhaps in his fifties or so, he tells us the story. The goodness of ghosts as narrators is that they are people—of course, I am referring to “literary ghosts”—to whom nothing else can happen, but they still care for what they left behind, they are not yet indifferent to it, and somehow they try to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue