Thursday, July 30, 2015

Margaret Fortune

Margaret Fortune wrote her first story at the age of six and has been writing ever since.

Her new novel is Nova.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Fortune's reply:
My tastes in reading are quite eclectic and can probably be best described as “whatever happens to catch my fancy.” Fiction, non-fiction, children’s—I’ll read anything that looks interesting. Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of genre fiction. When I signed a deal with DAW Books in 2014 for my science fiction series, I decided I wanted to get to know my publishing house better by reading some DAW books. As such, I usually have at least one DAW book on hand these days, among other things.

Right now, I’m in the middle of Seanan McGuire’s Sparrow Hill Road. While I’m only partway through this ghost story, already I’m drawn in by the writing and atmosphere. The prose is truly lovely and used with great effect to build this fascinating twilight world where the living and dead collide. I’m a writer who cares deeply about not simply putting words on the page, but putting words on the page that are beautiful, so when I see another writer who does the same, I always get really excited.

Before that, I recently finished all four books of the Otherland series by Tad Williams. As a reader, I’ve never been a fan of long books or series. So the fact that I read this series consisting of 700-page tomes from start to finish says a lot. The scope and breadth of this virtual world Williams creates is, quite frankly amazing, but more than that, I really grew to care about the characters over the course of the series. Nothing endears me to a book the way characters I love can.

In between DAW books, I’ve read a variety of other things, including The Battle for Wondla, the third book in Tony DiTerlizzi’s awesome middle grade sci-fi trilogy. I am a sucker for non-picture books that have illustrations in them, but it’s not often I find them. Between the beautiful illustrations running throughout the book, the made-up alphabet, the incredible worldbuilding, and powerful story, this series exemplifies creativity at its best and shows just how great children’s fiction can be.
Visit Margaret Fortune's website.

The Page 69 Test: Nova.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Lee Robinson

Lee Robinson practiced law for over 20 years in Charleston, South Carolina, and was the first female president of the Charleston County Bar. She teaches at the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.

Robinson's new novel is Lawyer for the Dog.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’ve just finished two books which dazzled me for different reasons. Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See is so vividly rendered, so tactile, as we feel the world through the sensibility of the blind girl at its center. This is a book I’ll return to again. (The first read was for pleasure, the next time will be to study its structure.)

I like to alternate fiction with nonfiction, so after Doerr’s novel I picked up Jan Jarboe Russell’s The Train to Crystal City, a fascinating and well-researched account of the internment camp in South Texas, where during World War II secret trains carried thousands of Japanese, German and Italian immigrant and their American-born children.

Next on my bedside stack is another novel, Lila, by Marilynne Robinson. I was a latecomer to what has now become an American classic, her Housekeeping, and I want more of Robinson’s storytelling, with its fearless yet tender portrayal of family relationships.
Visit Lee Robinson's website.

My Book, The Movie: Lawyer for the Dog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

David Morgan

David Morgan is Professor of Religious Studies at Duke University, with a secondary appointment in the Department of Art, Art History, and Visual Studies. He is the author of The Embodied Eye: Religious Visual Culture and the Social Life of Feeling and The Sacred Gaze: Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice, and coeditor of the journal Material Religion.

Morgan's new book is The Forge of Vision: A Visual History of Modern Christianity.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
At the moment I am reading three deeply suggestive books, classics in their own right: Friedrich Schiller’s Aesthetic Education of Man (1795), Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens (1950), and Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment (1976). The three work together very well because at the heart of each is a rich appreciation of the nature of play. This is directly relevant for my current book project, whose title is Images at Work: The Material Culture of Enchantment. Schiller argued that human beings are most human when they are at play, and he understood art generally as a form of play. Huizinga took up this idea and came to regard play as fundamental to human culture. He produced a searching reflection that is broadly informed by the history of philosophy, poetry, myth, and language. Bettelheim brings to the examination of fairy tales his work as a psychoanalyst of children, arguing that fairy tales are powerful instruments for children to engage the welter of dark, inchoate forces of the psyche in creative interpretation, investing them in symbols children are able to manipulate and therefore use to resolve on their own terms the tensions that might otherwise haunt them.

All of these writers work with a deep understanding of the tradition of thought and art shaped by German Romanticism and Idealist philosophy. The irrational side of life gets attention in this tradition, whether it is the violence and horror of Grimm’s Fairy Tales or the seething, impetuous Id of Freudian psychoanalysis. That means that enchantment in my project is a way of resisting the temptation to insist that human experience be resolved in rationally coherent terms. Sometimes that works, but often it does not. Enchantment, a playful indulgence in the virtual space of different kinds of ritual absorption, is a pervasive set of strategies and material devices—from games to art to good luck charms to religious techniques of penance and devotion—that make life work in spite of its paradoxes and persistent incongruities.
Learn more about The Forge of Vision at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 27, 2015

Mary Kubica

Mary Kubica is the international bestselling author of The Good Girl (2014) and Pretty Baby (2015). She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children and enjoys photography, gardening, and caring for the animals at a local shelter.

Recently I asked Kubica about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m in the middle of two books right now, which are both quite different. Pam Jenoff’s The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach is the first one, a historical fiction novel about World War II, which releases this July. This is the second novel of Jenoff’s that I’ve read and I’m absolutely enamored with her authentic characters and riveting writing. She has this lush, evocative way of creating beautiful love stories within the ravages of war, juxtaposing the misery and deprivation of wartime Europe with the tender friendships and love stories of those who find themselves living in it.

The second book is Dog Crazy by Meg Donohue. I’m an animal fanatic, so I was at once drawn to the image of four Labrador retriever puppies on the cover. But more than this, I had the chance to meet Meg and pick up a signed copy of the novel at Chicago’s Printers Row Lit Fest, where I was able to listen as Meg described the novel: a book about a pet bereavement counselor who finds herself grieving for the loss of her own beloved dog and needs to rely on an also-grieving patient to help pull her through. Both touching and humorous, the novel is a must read for everyone, but especially those who love their animals as much as I do mine.
Visit Mary Kubica's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Peter A. Shulman

Peter A. Shulman is an associate professor of history at Case Western Reserve University. His new book is Coal and Empire: The Birth of Energy Security in Industrial America.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Shulman's reply:
As a historian, I'm fortunate that I get to read a lot of books for my research and teaching. Having just finished my first book, I'm starting a new project about the history of ideas about intelligence in America. For that, I'm reading Jamie Cohen-Cole's recent The Open Mind: Cold War Politics and the Sciences of Human Nature, a fascinating look at the intersection of cognitive science and American culture and politics after World War II. In the academy, in school curricula, and among public intellectuals, the idea of the open mind played a key role in how Americans thought about themselves, the practice of science, and human nature. It's a terrific read.

Before bed, I try to avoid works I'd feel compelled to take notes on. Instead, I tend to pick up other works of history that have nothing to do with what I work on myself, like Vikings or early Islam and stuff. Right now, I'm making my way through Empires and Encounters, a collection of essays on world history between 1350 and 1750 edited by Wolfgang Reinhard. This is the third volume in Harvard University Press's A History of the World, edited by Akira Iriye and J├╝rgen Osterhammel. These volumes are so huge that each contributor's essay is really a small book (and at least one of these essays from another volume, Charles S. Maier's Leviathan 2.0: Inventing Modern Statehood, has in fact appeared as a stand-alone work). I'm currently reading the essay on "Empires and Frontiers in Continental Eurasia" by Peter Perdue, who was a professor of mine in graduate school and a leading expert on early modern China.

I'm alternating that work with Andrew Hartman's terrific A War for the Soul of America, a history of the culture wars. Hartman situates the culture wars -- fought most aggressively in the 1980s and 1990s -- as an inevitable consequence of the social and cultural transformations of the 1960s. While these conflicts have often been represented as a kind of atheistic liberalism against a fundamentalist conservative Christianity, Hartman locates the earliest intellectual opposition to the social changes of the 60s in the group of writers and intellectuals who came to be called neoconservatives. His chapters on race, gender, and school curricula are fascinating.

I have two kids and this list wouldn't be complete without mentioning what I'm reading with them. The older one is about to turn eight, and he's a voracious reader on his own, but we still like to read some special books together a couple of times a week. He and I just finished Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and we're now making our way through a series of Sherlock Holmes short stories. He's also into math and we keep coming back to Raymond Smullyan's Alice in Puzzle-Land, a fantastic work of logic for kids (and grownups). We'd already read Lewis Carroll's original Alice in Wonderland, and while you don't need it to enjoy this book, it adds to the fun to remember where the ridiculous characters posing ridiculous puzzles came from.

With my five year old, who's just starting to read himself, I'm reading Isaac Bashevis Singer's marvelous Stories for Children. Singer has always been one of my favorite writers, and these stories are just magical. There are several about the lovable fools from Chelm (the one about Shlemiel and his boots is my favorite), and many more set in both Eastern Europe and America.
Learn more about Coal and Empire at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Paul Moses

Paul Moses is Professor of Journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY and former city editor of Newsday, where he was the lead writer for a team that won the Pulitzer Prize. His book The Saint and the Sultan won the 2010 Catholic Press Association award for best history book. His new book is An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians.

Recently I asked Moses about what he was reading. His reply:
In June, I traveled to southern Italy to see the tiny villages where my two Italian grandparents were born. Carlo Levi’s classic Christ Stopped at Eboli was the perfect book to read. The idea behind the title is that the south of Italy was so marginalized that Christ never got there, having stopped further north in Eboli. Levi gives a vivid picture of the poverty in rural Basilicata in the 1930s, but what comes through even more so is the peasants’ dignity, wisdom and sense of pride. It gave me a sense for my own roots in the region.

When I returned home, I read the bound galley for John Norris’s upcoming book Mary McGrory: The First Queen of Journalism. I found it to be an enjoyable read. McGrory was a Washington columnist for more than 50 years, so her life story gives an inside view of the worlds of politics and journalism, with many interesting anecdotes about powerful pols. More on that when my review appears in Commonweal.

Now, I am on to Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See. I’ve just started it, so the most I can say is that the writing is masterful.
Learn more about An Unlikely Union at the NYU Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 24, 2015

Spencer Quinn

Spencer Quinn is the author of the Chet and Bernie mystery novels: Dog on It, Thereby Hangs a Tail, To Fetch a Thief, The Dog Who Knew Too Much, A Fistful of Collars, The Sound and the Furry, and Paw and Order. He lives on Cape Cod with his dogs Audrey and Pearl. When not keeping them out of mischief, he is hard at work on the next Chet and Bernie mystery.

Quinn's latest novel, the eighth book in the Chet and Bernie series, is Scents and Sensibility.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
I just finished Days of Rage by Bryan Burrough. It's the story of six domestic terrorist groups - which is what we'd call them now - of the 1960's and 1970's. This is a fascinating, dumbfounding, and very well-reported book. It's telling to compare the history of the Weather Underground, led by upper-middle-class whites like Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers, with that of the other self-proclaimed revolutionary bands, who came from less-privileged backgrounds. Most of the latter ended up paying a heavy (and pretty much deserved) price. Dohrn and Ayers, who spent much of their time underground living in a California beach town, were able to pick up the threads of the comfortable lives they would have had anyway. It's amazing to me that the president of the United States could be friends with someone like Bill Ayers, at least as he's portrayed in Days of Rage.
Visit Chet the Dog's blog and Facebook page, and Spencer Quinn's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Peter Abrahams and Audrey (September 2011).

Coffee with a Canine: Peter Abrahams and Pearl (August 2012).

The Page 69 Test: The Dog Who Knew Too Much.

The Page 69 Test: Paw and Order.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Jane Lindskold

Jane Lindskold is the bestselling author of the Firekeeper series, which began with Through Wolf’s Eyes and concluded with Wolf’s Blood, as well as many other fantasy novels. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Lindskold's new novel is Artemis Invaded, the second book in the Artemis Awakening series.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I read a lot… Sometimes it’s not all in print, though. Audiobooks make it possible for me to turn chore time into “reading time.”

My current audiobook is City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett. So far, I’m enjoying it a great deal. The setting is richly detailed, so much so that it’s been easy to overlook that – at least to this point – the plot is comparatively skimpy, and the characters fall into very familiar types. It will be interesting to see if this changes once the setting is laid.

Before that, I listened to So You Want to be a Wizard and Deep Wizardry, both by Diane Duane. The first is solidly middle-grade, but Deep Wizardry begins to dip its toes into young adult concerns. I liked a great deal – especially that there’s a reason for wizardry, and for young wizards being at the heart of the action. Definitely a series I will continue.

I also took a very short side jaunt into the children’s book, The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale. Vividly illustrated in rich color, it’s a wonderful little story. I’d definitely buy it for children, especially new readers. Of special note: Delightful to see a princess depicted as a little girl, not a supermodel.

My main print reading has been the anthology The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth edited by S.M. Stirling. Set in Stirling’s Emberverse, this very long collection features stories from a wide variety of locations and times after the “Change.” My own “The Hermit and the Jackalopes,” set in the New Mexico malpais is included. I don’t always read anthologies in which I have a story but, in this case, many of the featured authors are from New Mexico, and so we keep doing panels together about this collection. I started out reading more or less as “homework,” but have come to sincerely enjoy.

Between post-apocalyptic disaster tales, I read the poetry collection Island Dreams by Gerald Hausman. It’s a vivid, highly personal selection of strongly imagistic poems – mostly free verse, but escaping the clunking “prose cut into chunks” of so much free verse. The brief “Zelazny’s Advice” perfectly caught Roger’s voice.

I’ve also been reading the Naruto manga. Just finished number 70. And, yes, I’ve been following this one pretty much from the start. Amazingly well-done characterization, especially for a story that covers so many years and so many lives.

Somewhere in there, I slipped in Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy by Wendlin Van Draanen. This is the third volume in a series of mysteries centered around junior high-aged Samantha “Sammy” Keyes, whose life is about as far from Nancy Drew-like perfection as possible. I have the next one on my bedside bookshelf….
Visit Jane Lindskold's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Thirteen Orphans.

The Page 69 Test: Five Odd Honors.

The Page 69 Test: Artemis Awakening.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Caroline B. Cooney

Caroline B. Cooney is the author of more than 90 suspense, mystery, and romance novels for teenagers, which have sold over 15,000,000 copies and are published in several languages. The Face on the Milk Carton has sold over 3,000,000 copies and was made into a television movie. Her books have won many state library awards and are on many booklists, such as the New York Public Library’s annual teen picks. Cooney grew up in Old Greenwich, Connecticut, and spent most of her life on the shoreline of that state but is now in South Carolina near her family. She is currently researching the exciting, terrifying, and completely unexpected story of the children who will one day sail on the Mayflower to the New World.

Cooney's latest novel is the YA thriller, No Such Person.

Recently I asked Cooney about what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm reading David McCullough's The Wright Brothers, a topic that did not interest me in the slightest, but I loved his other books, so I felt I owed it to him. Now I am completely into Orville and Wilbur. Of course they deserve such a fine author after all. Here's my favorite line so far: when asked for advice on how to get ahead in life, Wilbur remarked, "Pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio."

I read a mystery a few months ago, again with low expectations, by Felix Francis, who continued his father Dick Francis's series. Of course I can't tell you the title because mainly those books have one word titles, and who can remember whether the book you read was Gamble or Refusal. I loved it. Now I've read (I think) all the Felix ones. So now I have gone back into Dick’s books, which begin in the 1960s and continue into the 80s. Maybe even 90s. Anyway, enough to keep me busy for the summer. They're such fast reads, they're sort of one-a-day books.

Alongside, I am working my way (that’s the correct phrasing) through the annotated autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pioneer Girl. I ordered this probably a year ago when I read the review but somehow it was unavailable for months. Now it’s here. If you really, really loved the Little House series, you will love this, too, but otherwise, move on. A stunning amount of research went into this very long and thick book. I feel weak, just picturing it. I particularly like the references to one of the illustrators, Helen Sewell, because when I was very little, she briefly lived across the street from us.
Visit Caroline B. Cooney's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Kent Wascom

A native of the Gulf south, Kent Wascom attended Louisiana State University and received an MFA from Florida State University. He was awarded the 2012 Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival Prize for Fiction.

Wascom is the author of The Blood of Heaven (2013), and the newly released Secessia.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
My reading habits tend toward a certain stratigraphy, with fiction and poetry forming the base and research material mounting as the day wears into afternoon. In the evenings I read strictly horror and weird fiction, which relaxes and pleasantly warps me so that I wake up the next morning with just a touch of the otherworldly to my perceptions.

So, moving from the beginning of the day, I’m reading DeLillo’s Underworld, which is formidable and mysterious—think walking through the desert and stumbling on a succession of sphinxes, each informing you slightly more about the riddle of the next, and an advance copy of Fallen Land by Taylor Brown, who is a hell of a writer, and whose book is sating my need for thrumming southern prose and powdersmoke. I’m bopping between the poems of Robert Hayden and Derek Walcott and waiting eagerly for the release of the first comprehensive edition of Alejandra Pizarnik’s poems in English, which comes out later this summer (Bless you, New Directions).

The research reading varies according to what scenes I’m working on or towards. Recently I’ve been digging everything from the writings of Jose Marti to early twentieth-century newspapers to Thomas Belt’s The Naturalist in Nicaragua, which was a favorite of Charles Darwin’s and has been an invaluable source of information about the natural world of late 19th century Nicaragua. My nighttime weirdness has lately included the stories of Algernon Blackwood and the second volume of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, which complement each other quite well in terms of the unreal.
Visit Kent Wascom's website.

--Marshal Zeringue