Sunday, September 30, 2018

Simon Levis Sullam

Simon Levis Sullam’s new history is The Italian Executioners: The Genocide of the Jews of Italy. From his Q&A at the Princeton University Press blog:

How does your book supersede previous historiography on the fate of the Jews of Italy during the Holocaust?

Historians have long represented Italy during the Holocaust as a safe place for Jews, due to the many rescues of Jews by Italians, in particular by members of the Catholic clergy. Some of the founders of Holocaust historiography, such as Léon Poliakov or Raul Hilberg, viewed the Italians’ benevolent national character as antithetical to violence and genocide. But following a new stream of research starting with the work of Michele Sarfatti and Liliana Picciotto, The Italian Executioners claims that Italians—including ordinary Italians—were accomplices in the genocide of the Jews. Over 8,000 Jews, about 20% of the Italian Jewish population, were arrested and deported from Italy. Nearly half of these arrests were carried out by Italians.

Why do you prefer the category of genocide to those of Holocaust or Shoah? How do you apply it?

In the book, I use “genocide” as it was coined by...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Jason Stanley

Jason Stanley's new book is How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them.

From his Q&A with Isaac Chotiner at Slate:

Isaac Chotiner: There have been several books about fascism recently. What is it that you thought you could bring to the table that is new?

Jason Stanley: My book is about fascist politics. Not fascism as a system of government, but rather fascism as a set of rhetorical tropes to run for office to gain power. What I’ve been working on in this past almost decade now is propaganda and rhetoric. So I’m drawing on my expertise in the domains of propaganda and rhetoric and the history of political philosophy, because the history of political philosophy tells us that, in certain moments, democracy is a very vulnerable system and it’s vulnerable in particular to a high degree of inequality. Plato’s Republic and Rousseau are very clear about this: that in moments of terrible inequalities, resentment is easy to create.

Secondly, I think people make a mistake by not distinguishing the very particular kind of rhetoric that goes with fascist politics from other kinds of authoritarianism. There are lots of bad things. And fascism is just one kind of bad thing.

How is it different?

Well, fascism is one kind of authoritarianism. There’s also communism and systems that threaten our freedom by holding out the possibility of radical class equality. And that’s a very different rhetorical structure than with fascism. For instance, in fascist politics, you always have a return to a mythic past. Fascist politics involve this idea of purity, and the idea is that somehow this wonderful, incredible, glorious path of the pure nation has been ruined by liberalism, by foreign invasion, by feminism, by the tarnishing of the traditional family. That is completely different than the kind of thing you get in communist authoritarianism, where the idea is...[read on]
Visit Jason Stanley's website.

The Page 99 Test: How Propaganda Works.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 28, 2018

Eric Jay Dolin

Eric Jay Dolin is the best-selling author of Leviathan and Brilliant Beacons. His new book is Black Flags, Blue Waters: The Epic History of America's Most Notorious Pirates. Dolin and his family live in Marblehead, Massachusetts, from which the pirate John Quelch departed in 1703, and returned to in 1704, only to be hanged in Boston.

From Dolin's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you choose pirates as the subject of your new book, and what do you think accounts for the ongoing fascination with them?

A: This book’s origin story begins with my kids. After I finished Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse, I began searching for a new book topic. I asked Lily and Harry, who were then in their teens, what I should write about.

When I raised the possibility of pirates, their eyes lit up, both of them saying, “That’s it, you have to write about pirates.” Lily even threw out two possible titles for the book: “Swords, Sails, and Swashbucklers;” and “Argh”—or, perhaps more emphatically, “Arrrgh”—which, I had to tell Lily, much to her chagrin, is a word that probably was never uttered by a Golden Age pirate, and is more likely a creation of movies in which pirates dispense arghs with relish.

My children’s strong support is, of course, not the only reason I wrote this book. But the fact that they were early adopters of the pirate idea, was encouraging. Great credit is also due to my editor and the sales director at Liveright (part of W. W. Norton), who loved the idea, and picked it from a list of eight book ideas I had generated.

The many fictional representations of pirates, both in print, in plays, and on the silver screen has probably had the greatest impact in getting the general public interested in pirates, even though...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Eric Jay Dolin's website.

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

The Page 99 Test: When America First Met China.

The Page 69 Test: Brilliant Beacons.

The Page 99 Test: Brilliant Beacons.

Writers Read: Eric Jay Dolin.

The Page 99 Test: Black Flags, Blue Waters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Jonathan Zimmerman

Jonathan Zimmerman is the author of Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education.

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

Why did you write this book?

My mother spent her career in international family planning and sex education. So she imbued me with the standard liberal American view of the subject: the United States was "behind" other Western democracies, which provide much more extensive, honest, and effective sex education than we do. And that's why their teen pregnancy and STD rates are so much lower, or so the story goes.

So was your Mom correct?

Not exactly. First of all, it turns out that the USA was the global pioneer of sex education rather than a laggard. Eventually, countries like Sweden and the Netherlands did develop more detailed sex education than the USA, especially on the subject of contraception. But sex education is limited in those countries by citizen and teacher resistance, just as it is here. And, more interestingly, it has a different set of goals.

How so?

In Scandinavia and Continental Europe, the stated goal of sex education is not to limit negative social consequences, but rather to help each individual determine and develop her or his own sexuality. I didn't understand the difference until I found an exchange in the Swedish archives between an educator in Ireland (where sex education was much more like the American version) and the leader of the RFSU, Sweden's national sex education organization. The Irish educator wanted to know how Swedish sex educators kept teen pregnancy and STD rates so low. The RFSU guy replies with a kind note that says he doesn't know whether sex education actually influences those outcomes, because there are so many other factors that affect young people's behavior. And then he says, that's not the point anyway! It's to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

J.A. Jance

J.A. Jance's newest suspense novel is Field of Bones, the latest in her series about Sheriff Joanna Brady. From the author's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How do you think your character Joanna Brady has changed over the course of the books you've been writing about her?

A: In the beginning she was a young married woman who is about to be left a 20-something widow, raising a single child. In Field of Bones she has married for the second time and has just given birth to her third child.

In the beginning she was in the insurance business and had no idea that she would go into law enforcement. At the beginning of Field of Bones, she has just won her third four-year term as sheriff.

As she has matured, she’s learned to understand that both her parents were flawed but loving in their own individual ways. And now, in Field of Bones, with both of her parents gone she’s now...[read on]
Learn more about the author and her work at J.A. Jance's website.

The Page 69 Test: Damage Control.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Don Winslow

Don Winslow's The Border (forthcoming, February 2019) is a follow-up to his 2005 novel The Power of the Dog and 2015’s The Cartel. From the author's Entertainment Weekly Q&A:

[T]he title of the book — The Border — is a politically loaded phrase. And the cover shows a wall topped with razor wire. Why did you choose that for the name?

I chose that title because that’s what the story is about. Drug trafficking is about the border, immigration is about the border, the political conflict is about the border.

That’s the physical border, an external border, but the book is also about how every character confronts moral and emotional borders inside themselves, whether they choose to cross them or not, and, if they do, whether they can make it back.

Are you concerned about anyone misinterpreting your intention?

I understand that it’s a politically loaded phrase. But loaded phrases, like loaded guns, are more interesting, aren’t they? They certainly contain more threat. I never worry about anyone misinterpreting my intentions. My intentions in this book are pretty clear, but I think that each reader has a perfect right to his or her interpretation.

I know this book is going to make some people angry. I can...[read on]
Learn about Winslow's hero from outside literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 24, 2018

Tilar J. Mazzeo

Tilar J. Mazzeo's new book is Eliza Hamilton: The Extraordinary Life and Times of the Wife of Alexander Hamilton.

From Mazzeo's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write a biography of Eliza Hamilton?

A: I had just finished writing Irena's Children, about one inspiring woman who helped the children of other people, and I was interested in the story of how Eliza Hamilton also did pioneering work and helped to found the first private orphanage in New York (which is still around today as Graham Windham).

Q: How would you describe the relationship between Alexander and Eliza?

A: Eliza was stoic and deeply loyal, and for Alexander that meant...[read on]
Visit Tilar J. Mazzeo's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Esi Edugyan

Esi Edugyan’s new novel is Washington Black. From her Q&A with Slate's Isaac Chotiner:

Isaac Chotiner: What are the particular challenges of constructing a book around a central character whose humanity and personhood are constantly being assaulted?

Esi Edugyan: I guess maybe the challenge is to remember to show that not all is darkness for him. He is somebody who has been denied every human right up until the time of his escape. He’s somebody who is searching for a sense of himself and is becoming a fully real human being, and that’s his journey.

There’s so much research that one does about the history of slavery and the legacy of slavery, and it’s important to depict the brutality of that. But what I really wanted to do with this novel is to show the transition from leaving the brutality of that kind of a life behind into regeneration, into trying to construct a new life. The challenge is to balance the light and the dark, I guess.

Novelists have different ideas on how much research they should do, but this seems like a subject that a novelist would want to do a significant amount of research on.

Yeah. The novel took about three years to write all told, but I started researching shortly before I started writing it. I’m somebody who will do research throughout the whole process almost until the very end. I was reading a lot about slavery and then found a few sources on how slavery manifested itself in Barbados specifically. I read deeply about that as well as reading about slave forts on the coast of West Africa. My parents came from Ghana, so 10 years or so ago we made a journey so we could visit our extended family. We visited Elmina and we visited Cape Coast Castle.

But I also did some research into things like historical science. How people went about collecting marine specimens and how they cataloged them. That was really fascinating. Of course, the invention of the first aquarium...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Catherine Reef

Catherine Reef is the author of more than 40 nonfiction books, including Noah Webster: Man of Many Words, Frida & Diego: Art, Love, Life, Florence Nightingale: The Courageous Life of the Legendary Nurse, Victoria: Portrait of a Queen, and other highly acclaimed biographies for young people. Her new book is Mary Shelley: The Strange True Tale of Frankenstein's Creator.

From Reef's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to focus on Mary Shelley in your new young adult biography?

A: I had so many good reasons to write about Mary Shelley. First, Frankenstein, her most famous book, continues to be widely read by people in a broad age range. Young adults study it in high school and college English classes, and some even seek it out on their own.

Second, 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein, which means that a biography of Mary Shelley published this year is especially timely.

And third, and perhaps most important in terms of creating an absorbing narrative, Shelley’s life story is such a compelling one. Think of it: she eloped with the married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley when she was 16 years old and began writing her classic horror novel two years later. She had to cope with children born and lost, suicides, drownings, and early widowhood.

In my book I write that if an author were to pack all this melodrama into a novel, readers would complain that the goings-on were too wild to be believed. But...[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.

The Page 99 Test: Florence Nightingale.

My Book, The Movie: Victoria: Portrait of a Queen.

The Page 99 Test: Victoria: Portrait of a Queen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 21, 2018

Bandy Lee

Bandy Lee is an internationally recognized expert on violence. Trained in medicine and psychiatry at Yale and Harvard Universities, and in medical anthropology as a fellow of the National Institute of Mental Health, she is currently on the faculty of Yale School of Medicine’s Law and Psychiatry Division.

Lee is the organizer of A Duty to Warn and editor of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President.

From her Q&A with Slate's Isaac Chotiner:

What was the response from people in your profession to your book, and what is the state of the debate on some of the issues you were trying to raise?

The book actually incurred an enormous response. It was an instant New York Times best-seller. For a multi-authored specialized knowledge book, this was rather surprising.

For those within our field, within mental health, we had garnered a lot of respect after the book came out. Those who have specialized knowledge will know that we kept the standard quite high, to, you might say, peer-reviewed standards, while still making the language accessible. And we removed all financial conflicts of interest. In other words, none of us are taking any profit from the book. And all of the income is being donated for the service of public mental health.

What was the main thing you were trying to get across in the book?

The initial impression for those who don’t read the book is that we’re diagnosing and we’re violating ethics. But people who have read the book would come back to us and state that they were really astonished by the ethical rigor and just how accurate and rigorous our assessment was.

The message is basically that we wanted the public to know of the dangers we saw. Dangerousness is different from diagnosis, so we tried to explain that. But the main crux is that the situation is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 20, 2018

S.K. Perry

S.K. Perry is the author of the new novel Let Me Be Like Water. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Let Me Be Like Water, and for your character Holly?

A: I started writing the book in 2012, when I'd just finished university and was working in a call centre.

I was writing on my journey to and from work and on my breaks, and the scraps of writing ever so slowly became a novel; it wasn't something I initially set out to do, and up til that point I had kept most of my writing very private.

Then I started performing spoken word poetry and so experimenting with work that is written to be heard out loud, and the book started to grow into that; I was trying to shape Holly's voice - speaking as she does to Sam - as an auditory one.

Holly was someone I got to know slowly. It was my first novel and I really enjoyed discovering this about all the characters, how they take over and do their own thing, showing you who they are themselves.

I guess one thing I did deliberately with Holly was make her as young as she is, partly because I had not encountered many depictions of women in their early 20s experiencing such an intimate...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Sam Wineburg

Sam Wineburg is the author of Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone).

From his Q&A with Rebecca Onion for Slate:

Rebecca Onion: How does the kind of education we need in order to be smart about the internet differ from the critical thinking module I took in eighth grade, back in 1991?

Sam Wineburg: It irks me to no end [when people say,] “Well, [the education we need] is just critical thinking. We don’t need ‘21st-century skills.’ ” And my response is that if we could get a necromancer to bring Socrates back to life, and sit him in front of a computer, he wouldn’t know about keywords and he wouldn’t know about search engine optimization, and he wouldn’t know how to put words in quotation marks in Google, so that Google searches for them contiguously. And I’ve watched really intelligent people, Ph.D. historians with incredible pedigrees, spin themselves in circles because they lack some basic skills in search.

Think of it as a Venn diagram. So hopefully in 1991, you were taught to not decouple information from its source, and to think of the motivation and intention behind a particular document, that it wasn’t self-evident information presenting itself de novo, but it came with a purpose and it was written down or said to achieve a particular aim. And that had to be taken into account when evaluating that information. And that’s what I learned when I took AP history and had to wrestle with a DBQ [document-based question] for the first time. A good history teacher takes away your innocence about information.

But you didn’t learn about SEO, which is not a skill, it’s an awareness and an orientation—[the idea] that Google is not a being of celestial intelligence that cannot be gamed. You find naïveté about Google in a lot of different venues. Most recently a researcher at Data & Society [Francesca Tripodi] did a report about evangelicals that found that they think Google is a neutral source. They think Wikipedia is biased against conservatives, but Google is just straight information. Without realizing that, you know, Google is in a never-ending cat-and-mouse game with the people who try to game it. So that’s a piece of knowledge that’s important for people using the internet to fact-check or to...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Mark R. Cheathem

Mark R. Cheathem is a professor of history at Cumberland University, where he also directs the Papers of Martin Van Buren. He is the author of The Coming of Democracy: Presidential Campaigning in the Age of Jackson and several other books on the Jacksonian era, including Andrew Jackson and the Rise of the Democratic Party and Andrew Jackson, Southerner.

From Cheathem's Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to focus on the 1824-1840 period in your new book?

A: My main interest is in Jacksonian-era politics, and I wanted to write about one of the key elections during that period. Originally, I intended to write specifically about the 1840 presidential election, which historians often hail as the first modern presidential campaign.

As I researched, however, it became apparent that while 1840 was a pivotal year, it was the culmination of developments stretching over several presidential campaigns.

So, I started at what I considered the beginning of the story rather than the end. The Log Cabin and Hard Cider Campaign of 1840 is still prominent, but I think readers will have a better understanding of how the U.S. arrived at the campaign than if I had stuck with my original idea.

Q: What do you see as some of the most important changes in presidential campaigning during those years, and what led to those changes?

A: The most obvious changes to me are...[read on]
Learn more about The Coming of Democracy at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

Writers Read: Mark R. Cheathem.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 17, 2018

Lydia Kiesling

Lydia Kiesling's new novel is The Golden State.

From her Q&A with Lili Loofbourow for Slate:

Lili Loofbourow: How were you thinking about plot while you were writing this book?

Lydia Kiesling: When I started writing, all I knew about the book was that it was about a woman with a baby in her grandparents’ mobile home in the far northeast of California. That was what felt urgent and important for me to get down on paper. As I started writing, plot hung over me as a problem that needed to be solved. I have fairly staid literary tastes and it’s always somewhat irritating to read a book that feels plotless, so it was odd to find myself writing one, and I had to think about the nips and tucks that would give shape to the thing. I love novels that are full of interiority but still have a wonderful story—The Last Samurai is a wonderful example.

I knew that we needed a “why” for Daphne. Why was she alone with the baby? And, crucially, why would she get up from her desk one day, walk out of her office, collect her child and all of their things, and head north in the Buick? I think many people will recognize the impulse, but ...[read on]
Visit Lydia Kiesling's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Mary Kubica

Mary Kubica's new novel is When the Lights Go Out.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for When the Lights Go Out, and for your characters Jessie and Eden?

A: My initial spark of an idea was the twist itself – I won’t say much about that for obvious reasons!

That said, I always try to dig deeply into the psychology of my characters, which was a tactic I employed quite a bit with this book. I loved getting inside Jessie and Eden’s minds and discovering how they were transformed by such things as love, loss, grief and unfulfilled dreams.

I thought up Jessie first – a young woman who has just lost her mother to breast cancer - and from her story created that of Eden: a woman so desperate to become a mother she’s willing to...[read on]
Visit Mary Kubica's website.

The Page 69 Test: Every Last Lie.

The Page 69 Test: When the Lights Go Out.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Sandeep Jauhar

Sandeep Jauhar's new book is Heart: A History.

From his Q&A with Marion Winik at Newsday:

In "Heart," you tell us that the doctor who contributed most to the invention of the heart-lung machine — a pump used during heart procedures — had been thinking of quitting med school to pursue a career in writing, until his family dissuaded him. "That advice sounded very familiar," you say. Yet now you have a successful career in both fields. How did you manage it?

To my father, a top geneticist, "nonscience is nonsense." To him, a career in writing was anathema. When I was in medical school in St. Louis and was offered an internship at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he didn't think I could do both at once. My brother, on the other hand, pointed out that there's a lot of time in each day, and much of it actually goes to waste. If I took the job, I would have to catch up with all the lectures I missed at school by reading written transcripts. Still, I thought I could do it. That internship taught me to write on deadline and gave me a strong set of clips. Those clips landed me an assignment from The New York Times.

The idea of not wasting time stands me in good stead now. I write at night, after the kids are in bed; I'll steal a few minutes in between patients, or if one cancels; I do a lot of writing while driving, by dictating scenes into a tape recorder. I'm doing what I enjoy.

What do you consider the most surprising revelation in your book?

The heart for millennia was considered the locus of our feelings, and while this is incorrect, we have now learned that...[read on]
Learn more about the author and his work at Sandeep Jauhar's website.

The Page 69 Test: Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation.

The Page 99 Test: Doctored.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 14, 2018

Michele Campbell

Michele Campbell's new novel is She Was the Quiet One.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for She Was the Quiet One, and for your twin characters, Bel and Rose?

A: I knew I wanted to keep writing about [the] intense relationships between women [I’d written about in my first novel] and dig even deeper.

I read a gripping profile of Lee Radziwill that talked about her fraught, competitive relationship with her sister Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and the light bulb went off. I thought – sisters!

In the first draft of the book, Rose and Bel were not twins; they were sisters, one year apart in age, with Rose being the elder. But the age difference unfortunately caused logistical complications in the plot.

My brilliant editor, Jennifer Enderlin, suggested making them twins so they would be the same year in school. I’m so glad she suggested that, because it led to...[read on]
Visit Michele Campbell's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Mara Einstein

Mara Einstein is a Professor of Media Studies at Queens College, City University of New York. She brings more than twenty-five years of marketing and advertising experience to this work. She has worked as a senior marketing executive in both broadcast (NBC) and cable (MTV Networks) television as well as at major advertising agencies working on such accounts as Miller Lite, Uncle Ben's, and Dole Foods. Einstein's books include Compassion, Inc.: How Corporate America Blurs the Line between What We Buy, Who We Are, and Those We Help and Advertising: What Everyone Needs to Know.

From her Q&A at the OUP blog:

How come ads seem to follow me around the Internet?

This is what is known as retargeting. In the sales funnel paradigm, marketers want to interact with you as far down the funnel as possible, the best place being the point of sale. Online, that means the shopping cart. If you put an item into the cart— say, a pair of jeans or the latest bestseller— and then decide you don’t have time to buy it right away, an ad for that product will begin to follow you around the Internet. And it will go from your computer to your cell phone to your iPad or other tablets. The same holds true if you are doing research for something to buy. You begin looking into vacations on Cape Cod or a bicycle trip to Ireland and you can be sure that competitive advertising will follow—even after you book your trip.

When I am being tracked, do marketers really know that it is me by name?

Marketers claim they do not know who is connected to an IP address, nor do they care—at least not beyond the behavior that occurs on the computer, particularly as it relates to prod­uct purchases.

While this rings true and, from my discussions with people in the industry, I think it is, this does not mean that the infor­mation connected to our computer is anonymous. A number of books, and certainly Edward Snowden, have proved this point.

Two New York Times reporters were able to identify a sixty-two-year-old Georgia woman using anonymous search data from AOL. University of Texas researchers have “de-anonymized” information from Netflix’s database, including information about political preferences. One particularly concerning fact...[read on]
Learn more about Advertising: What Everyone Needs to Know at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Compassion, Inc.

The Page 99 Test: Advertising: What Everyone Needs to Know.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

John Lingan

John Lingan is the author of Homeplace: A Southern Town, a Country Legend, and the Last Days of a Mountaintop Honky-Tonk.

From his Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What first interested you about singer Patsy Cline and her hometown of Winchester, Virginia?

A: I tend to write a lot about music, particularly mid-century American music, so I just happened to be listening to Patsy one night and thought she might be fun to write about.

Then I was surprised to learn that she grew up quite close to my home near D.C. The proximity and the incredible timeless aura of her music made me want to find out more, and it ended up being a much bigger story than I ever expected.

Q: How did you learn about the Troubadour Bar & Lounge, and its owner, Jim McCoy?

A: Jim is a key figure in Patsy's life and career, the first person to ever put her on the radio. They were both teenagers at the time, and he was the sole country DJ at WINC in Winchester.

Everyone who cares about Patsy in Winchester told me to visit him, so I did, purely out of respect. I then learned about his own life and career, which is much...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Jason Stanley

Jason Stanley's new book is How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them.

From his Q&A with Scott Jaschik at Inside Higher Ed:

Q: Anti-intellectualism has been present throughout much of American history. How is the kind of anti-intellectualism linked to fascist ideas different? Or is it the same?

A: Our suspicion of elites and what could be seen as anti-intellectualism can be healthy at times; we can see the American philosophical traditions of pragmatism and empiricism in this light, which can in fact serve as counterweights to the grandiose myths of fascist politics. But even this version has proven to be a weakness, one that makes us more susceptible to being manipulated politically. We have seen this play out in the case of climate change, where essentially apolitical scientists were successfully demonized as ideologues. We also have a history of what I think of as more classically fascist anti-intellectualism.

Fascist anti-intellectualism sets the traditions of the chosen nation, its dominant group, above all other traditions. It represents more complex narratives as corrupting and dangerous. It prizes mythologizing about the nation’s past, and erasing any of its problematic features (as we see all too often in histories of the Confederacy and the Reconstruction period, or of the treatment in history books of our indigenous communities). It seeks to replace truth with myth, transforming education systems into methods of glorifying the ideologies and heritage of the members of the traditional ruling class. In fascist politics, universities, which present a more complex and accurate version of history and current reality, are attacked for being places where dominant traditions or practices are critiqued. Fascist ideology centers loyalty to power rather than truth. In fascist thinking, the university is...[read on]
Visit Jason Stanley's website.

The Page 99 Test: How Propaganda Works.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 10, 2018

Suzanne Matson

Suzanne Matson's new novel is Ultraviolet.

From her Q&A with Caroline Leavitt:

I always always ask every writer—because I believe this is true—what was haunting you into writing this particular book? What was the question that you wanted answered? And did the answer surprise you?

Family histories from both my father and my mother always struck me as powerful source material for writing, and yet for a long time I wasn’t sure how to use this legacy. I first wrote two novel drafts from the Finnish immigrant, coal-mining side of the family (my dad’s). Then I set those aside to begin a story that imagined my mother’s young life in India as the daughter of Mennonite missionaries. It occurred to me that what I really wanted to write was the story of a marriage, because the fact that my mother and father had ended up together had always seemed like one of life’s great mysteries. I sometimes think that my childhood spent trying to get to the bottom of that strange match is what prompted me to become a writer. It got me into the habit of asking questions about people’s inner lives and what drives them to their actions. My mother was the more verbal and self-examining person of the two, often speculating about her mother’s situation as a missionary wife, as well as the constraints she felt born into, so that’s where the eventual book came from: women’s lives threaded down across decades, and how the woman in the middle generation—Kathryn—negotiated her choices, limits, and consequences. It’s Kathryn we follow from...[read on]
Visit Suzanne Matson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Leah Franqui

Leah Franqui's new novel is America for Beginners.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

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

A: The idea for this book really came from the tour of the United States that my now in-laws took in 2014.

They had come to the United States for the first time to celebrate the graduation of their son, my now husband, from NYU-Tisch, and because it was their first time in the United States, and, for my father-in-law and sister-in-law, their first time outside of India, they wanted to see as much of the country as possible, but they also, all three of them, reacted to being outside of India in really fascinating ways.

They reacted to me in fascinating ways. They were extremely warm and welcoming and great, but they felt so fragile, so helpless, in really interesting ways. They didn’t go places alone. They depended on my husband for everything. They took this tour, which my husband went on with them, and he just loathed it deeply, but even though it exhausted them, they sort of liked it.

They covered six cities across the States in 11 days, and the trip guaranteed 11 Indian dinners. The places the tour company picked for them, most of them were places I’ve never gone, or would go, like Niagara, and Vegas. But for my new Indian family, that is America, and that’s so interesting to me.

My mother-in-law came back and stayed with my husband and me for a month when we got married a few months later. This is typical for Indians, although I found it insane and a bit of an imposition. But it did give us a chance to get to know each other better, and for me to learn more about her.

She was unlike my parents; uncomfortable with people of different backgrounds, horrified by homosexuality, but also she was like my parents, she was and is adaptive, so smart, empathic when she has context. All those things living in one person fascinated me. I was...[read on]
Visit Leah Franqui's website.

Writers Read: Leah Franqui.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Andreas Schleicher

Andreas Schleicher is the Division Head and coordinator of the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment and the OECD Indicators of Education Systems program. His book is World Class: How to Build a 21st-Century School System.

From the transcript of his interview with Fareed Zakaria:

ZAKARIA: And in America, as I recall from one of your reports, America is almost unique in the rich countries in the world in that it spends less money on poorer school districts and more money on rich ones. Everywhere else, it's the other way around, you assume that the poorer districts need more money. But because in America we fund education through local property taxes, you actually have the opposite.

SCHLEICHER: Yes, that's actually an outlier. Now most countries have, you know, put more money into disadvantaged. But more importantly, they also try to get the better resources. It's not so much in the number of teachers, it's do you really make sure that every student benefits from excellent learning.

ZAKARIA: The places that do really well, I mean, in China, as you say, is extraordinary because it's still a middle income country, in many places a poor country, and its educational outcomes have shot up. Singapore has done fantastically, South Korea. What I'm struck by is, they all have some version of what we would do in America, called the common core. There are national standards, you have to meet them. Does that strike you as important?

SCHLEICHER: It is very important that we have a clear vision of what good performance really looks like in a way that students understand what they are studying for, the teachers have an idea of what could student learning really looks like. And that's very hard to do at a very local level. So most countries have a clear vision of what good performance. There is sort of the real belief that every student can learn even if it takes students different paths to get there.

And that's what we see in the outcomes. And actually in the highest performing education systems, neither social background nor context makes much of a difference.

ZAKARIA: The poor kids can move very quickly.

SCHLEICHER: Think about it this way. The 10 percent most disadvantaged children in Shanghai, China, do as well as the 10 percent wealthiest Americans at...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 7, 2018

John Kerry

John Kerry is a decorated Vietnam veteran, five-term United States senator, 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, and US Secretary of State for four years. His new memoir is Every Day Is Extra.

From the transcript of Kerry's Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross:

TERRY GROSS: John Kerry, welcome to FRESH AIR. I want to start with the swift boat campaign against you, which you write about in your memoir. And I want to start here because it's a turning point in how lies, falsehoods that are demonstrably untrue can be used effectively against a candidate. So before we talk about the falsehoods, let's talk about the reality of what happened on your swift boat, the mission that people were talking about when they were trying to call you a liar.

JOHN KERRY: In the early spring of 2004, a book came out by Doug Brinkley called "Tour Of Duty," which was a book about my service in Vietnam. And a small group of veterans who disagreed with some of the characterizations by Doug Brinkley, not me, rebelled against it and attacked me for it. He used it as a vehicle to try to attack me. It was led by a guy who had actually appeared in my life way back in the antiwar days - 1971 - who had acted on behalf of the White House - the Nixon White House - and attacked back then. But this time they did it by major distortions in the record.

And initially our campaign pushed back against it and corrected the record. My military record spoke very directly to what had happened. The people who were actually on the boats involved in these ambushes in Vietnam in these attacks and incidents spoke to it. But that didn't stop them. They had a strategy. Their strategy was simply to provide alternative facts, to make them up much in the vernacular that we see today. And we answered that as forcefully as we could. We released my military records. We had people speak who were there. And the major media of the nation carried it.

So in the campaign, our advisers believed we had adequately, quote, "answered." The problem was that the right wing got behind this with major funding from some of the very same names who are doing major right-wing funding in the country today. And they started to pick up on these alternative facts and pushed them out there in...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Katherine J. Chen

Katherine J. Chen is the author of Mary B: A Novel: An untold story of Pride and Prejudice. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to focus on Pride and Prejudice's Mary Bennet in your novel Mary B?

A: It happened organically. Just like you may discover one morning that you can’t really relate to the cartoon heroes of your youth anymore, I found myself growing more and more distant from the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet.

My eye began to wander to the corners of the screen and of the page, and I was intrigued by the sister who lived in the shadows.

People are quick to cast Mary off as a bookworm or as a sermonizing, pseudo-intellectual fool. Austen herself describes Mary as, “the only plain one in the family,” yet she “worked hard for knowledge and accomplishments [and] was always impatient for display.”

Pride and Prejudice, being a cornerstone of English literature, is a book you can return to again and again. You’ll find new gems within the text each time.

So, on one of the occasions I re-read Pride and Prejudice, and in the state of mind I was in at the time, I began to develop a curiosity for Mary.

It interested me that she is singled out as being physically deficient, even defective. A daughter who can’t be married off (unless she is independently wealthy) is more or less a life-long burden to her family.

It interested me that, as a result of being aware of her own faults, she...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Laura Lippman

Laura Lippman was a reporter for twenty years, including twelve years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working full-time and published seven books about “accidental PI” Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001.

Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe and Barry awards.

Lippman's latest novel is Sunburn.

From her Q&A with Martha Greengrass at the Waterstones blog:

Your book plays very inventively with stereotypes, particularly the trope of so-called ‘bad girls’ in fiction. Were those stereotypes something you were keen on interrogating and subverting from the outset?

I definitely wanted to invert much of the classic set-up, in which an attractive stranger comes to town, only to be distracted by someone. That’s how The Postman Always Rings Twice begins. But Postman is also a story about a wanderer versus someone who yearns for domesticity/rootedness, and I didn’t try to flip that script. Polly wants a home, something she’s never really had.

The novel begins with a woman, Polly, making the decision to walk out on her husband and child. Why you think the censure levelled at women who leave their families is one of the most entrenched social taboos? Did you set out to write a story that would encounter the different ways in which men and women are held to account about their family responsibilities?

I was always very interested in the sly way women spoke about Ladder of Years when it came out. Anne Tyler’s novel is warm and comic, her character is pretty much justified in bolting - but all the women I knew at the time, especially those with families, spoke...[read on]
Visit Laura Lippman's website.

The Page 69 Test: Another Thing to Fall.

The Page 69 Test: What the Dead Know.

The Page 69 Test/Page 99 Test: Life Sentences.

The Page 69 Test: I'd Know You Anywhere.

The Page 69 Test: The Most Dangerous Thing.

The Page 69 Test: Hush Hush.

The Page 69 Test: Wilde Lake.

My Book, the Movie: Wilde Lake.

The Page 69 Test: Sunburn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Crystal Hana Kim

Crystal Hana Kim is the author of If You Leave Me.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: You note that in writing this novel, you “wanted to skew from the traditional male-centered war narrative and focus on what happened to the women left behind.” How did you come up with your character Haemi?

A: All four of my grandparents survived the Korean War, so I grew up learning bits and pieces about this terrible history.

I’m particularly close with my maternal grandmother, who had to flee her home with her widowed mother at the start of the war. I always loved how loud, independent, and unrelenting she was, so when I began writing, I wanted to have a similarly fierce heroine as the central figure of my novel.

I’m also deeply interested in gender, femininity, and society, so I wanted to investigate these constructs while also considering the trauma of war for...[read on]
Visit Crystal Hana Kim's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 3, 2018

Pat Barker

Pat Barker's new novel is The Silence of the Girls. From her Q&A with FiveDials:

I read your first book right after I read your most recent. I felt a tether between...

You’ve a tidy mind, haven’t you?

I grabbed it off the shelf. Thankfully they were all lined up. I could go straight to the beginning. It felt like there was a line connecting the women in Union Street to the Trojan women. When did your interest in the Greeks begin?

Much later. I would’ve said about five years ago. Actually, somebody pointed out that there’s a passage in Life Class where Elinor Brooke is describing the Café Royale and the way the atmosphere had changed in the first days of the First World War. She says the old men were all panicking because they thought their day was over and the young men were spouting things they had read in the newspapers. And the women had gone absolutely silent. She said it was like the beginning of The Iliad. When Agamemnon and Achilles are making these fantastic speeches and the girls they are talking about say nothing at all.

Behind those great figures are other voices...

That are not being heard, yes.

When did you find your way to these voices?

I had just read The Iliad and was astonished by that silence. The eloquence of the men, the absolute silence of the women they’re quarrelling about.

It’s interesting. Obviously by chance...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Fiona Davis

Fiona Davis began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in regional theater. After getting a master's degree at Columbia Journalism School, she fell in love with writing, leapfrogging from editor to freelance journalist before finally settling down as an author of historical fiction. She's a graduate of the College of William & Mary and is based in New York City.

Davis's new novel is The Masterpiece.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: What inspired you to center your new novel on New York’s Grand Central Terminal?

A: A reader, actually. I was giving an author talk for The Address and an audience member suggested I look into the Terminal for my next book. Later, she mentioned she could arrange for a behind-the-scenes tour. I couldn’t resist.

Yet even after the tour, I still wasn’t sure it would work as a setting. The space is massive, and there are so many possibilities, I was quite overwhelmed.

But then I read about the Grand Central School of Art, which was co-founded by John Singer Sargent in the 1920s and located on one of the top floors. I realized if I focused on that as a setting, it might work.

I love the fact that my first book, The Dollhouse, dealt with jazz, the second with architecture, and this one with art. The...[read on]
Visit Fiona Davis's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Address.

My Book, The Movie: The Masterpiece.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Laura van den Berg

From Jill Radsken's Harvard Gazette Q&A with Laura van den Berg about her latest novel, The Third Hotel:

GAZETTE: When did your interest in horror films develop?

VAN DEN BERG: I started watching in college. There were all these slasher films — the “Scream” movies, “I Know What You Did Last Summer” — and this, to my mind, was around the time when the “final girl” trope — the last female character alive to confront the killer — entered into the popular lexicon. Being scared by a movie offers a safe catharsis, because the terror is confined to the screen. It’s an adrenalin spike, and when I come back down, I feel a bit more leveled. And the best horror has a way of distilling really potent human questions, by using extreme dislocations of reality to explore human questions that are fundamental and central: instability around trust and intimacy; the idea that your secrets will undo you; our inability to reckon with history and the cost of that looking away; the peculiar doors that transformative experiences, from grief to parenthood to trauma, might swing open. As a writer who naturally veers toward the strange and the disorienting, the genre...[read on]
Visit Laura van den Berg's website.

Learn about Laura van den Berg's 6 favorite unconventional mystery novels.

Writers Read: Laura van den Berg.

--Marshal Zeringue