Wednesday, August 27, 2014

M. P. Cooley

A native of upstate New York, M.P. Cooley currently lives in Campbell, California.

Her first novel is Ice Shear.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Cooley's reply:
My reading right now is split between pleasure and research for book two. First, the pleasure reading. I just finished Chris Holm’s Dead Harvest, which was a joy ride. It’s main character, Sam Thornton, is a collector of souls, and when I picked it up I think I had expected meditations on death and redemption with some suspense thrown in. Instead I got meditation and death and redemption in the middle of an all out demon war. With tight prose and world building that was organic and interesting, this novel had a life-and-death pace that made it unputdownable.

I’m in the last stages of refining my second book, which involves characters who were born 70 years ago in the Ukraine. I just finished Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder, which I was using for background research for several characters. Usually scholarly works are bloodless, filled with statistics and theories that are removed from real people and real conflict. As first Stalin and then Hitler destroy the Jews, Ukrainians, Poles, etc., the statistics in this book add to a sense of mounting horror: “In February 1933, 746,932 people died from starvation in the Ukraine,” or “57,345 people were killed in Warsaw in September 1944”. The book has a broad scope, but the stories from those that died and those that survived manage to turn the Nazi and Soviets “numbers” back into real people.
Visit M. P. Cooley's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Ice Shear.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Nomi Eve

Nomi Eve is the author of Henna House and The Family Orchard, which was a Book-of-the-Month Club main selection and was nominated for a National Jewish Book Award.

She has an MFA in fiction writing from Brown University and has worked as a freelance book reviewer for The Village Voice and New York Newsday.

Her stories have appeared in Glimmer Train Stories, The Voice Literary Supplement, Conjunctions, and The International Quarterly.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Eve's reply:
I just finished The Girl with All the Gifts. I am an eclectic reader, and devour zombie books and thrillers side by sides with literary classics. I couldn’t put The Girl down. The fast-paced plot along with devastatingly precise descriptions of a doomed world and its inhabitants had me from the first word to the last. I am a firm believer that a good book offers up something new to the world. This book certainly does that – with a vision of zombie-hood that is utterly different than any I’d read before.

Before The Girl with all the Gifts, I read A Separate Peace, which I hadn’t read since high school. A few times a year I dip back into my old high school syllabus. Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, Call of the Wild, Lord of the Flies, these books remind me why I became a writer, and a reader. I am a big fan of first person narration, and also of elegies. Something about the intimacy of elegies always gets me – I’m a sucker for love songs to lost friends and lovers (think Brideshead, The Virgin Suicides, A River Runs through It, My Antonia). A Separate Peace certainly fits the bill. The narrator, Gene Forester prays to the heavy-hitting thematic trinity of love, jealousy and guilt. His friend Finny’s fate is the fate of an entire generation whose lives were sacrificed during WWII, for a much greater cause than the boyhood games that play across the pages of this book.
Visit Nomi Eve's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Henna House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 25, 2014

Courtney Miller Santo

Courtney Miller Santo teaches creative writing at the University of Memphis, where she earned her MFA. She is the author of the novels The Roots of the Olive Tree and the newly released Three Story House.

Early this month I asked Santo about what she was reading. Her reply:
A few months ago, I decided that I didn’t have enough variety in the books I picked out. So to challenge myself, I try to read one popular fiction, one classic, one poetry and one nonfiction book each month. I stash them all over the place so I’m always reading different ones at different times. The poetry book is always in my purse and the classic by my bed.

I’ve already finished Townie, which was my nonfiction pick for the month. I took it with me to my twenty-year high school reunion and had devoured it by the time I returned home. Andre Dubus wrote one of my all time favorite short stories (“Fat Girl”) and I’d loved Andre Dubus III’s House of Sand and Fog when I read it in college. Townie is a memoir about growing up with a father who is a writer and also about the intersection of poverty and violence. I read some of the boxing chapters through my fingers, but in him I recognized so much of my brothers (I have four) and so much of my own childhood. A compelling read.

Earlier this summer I had a chance to visit Taormina, Italy and learned that many writers including DH Lawrence spent time there. In fact it turns out he based Constance Chatterley on an English woman he met in the Sicilian resort town. Since the last time I read Lady Chatterley’s Lover was purely for the shock value, I’ve been revisiting the novel and looking at it as a compelling read about class divisions. However it is dense! It will definitely take me the whole month of August to finish.

I’ve had Orphan Train sitting around for months and had intended to read it, but hadn’t gotten to it. I love books that braid two stories together and move around in time in surprising ways. I also love authors like Christina Baker Kline who work quietly for years without getting much notice and then write a book that resonates and sort of moves across the interconnected circles of readers. And of course, given my own novel, The Roots of the Olive Tree, I loved Vivian. I hope this is the beginning of a trend of having more older women in novels.

Poetry is something I always read because I’m supposed to, but I also find that it speaks to part of me that I can’t reach by reading narratives. I have no system for choosing the poetry books. But I really enjoy reading a whole book of one person’s verse. So often we encounter poems by themselves and they seem lovely but also lost. In being able to read an entire book, like Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris is to feel a deep connection to the center of the poems. I’m at a point where these poems, so many of which are about spiritual issues, are necessary in the same way that water is.
Visit Courtney Miller Santo's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Roots of the Olive Tree.

Writers Read: Courtney Miller Santo (November 2012).

My Book, The Movie: The Roots of the Olive Tree.

My Book, The Movie: Three Story House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Justin Taylor

Justin Taylor is the author of the story collection Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever and the novel The Gospel of Anarchy. He lives in Brooklyn.

His new book is Flings: Stories.

A couple of weeks ago I asked the author about what he was reading. Taylor's reply:
This has been a good summer for getting to stuff I should have gotten to a long time ago. Up until recently, I was the last person I knew who hadn't read a Roberto Bolaño book. Not like I had anything against the guy; I just missed the bandwagon when it left. But then this whole Knausgaard thing hit, and in the course of ignoring that I wound up picking up a copy of The Savage Detectives, while on vacation in Norway, no less! Take that Knausgaard! Not that I have anything against him, by the way, it's just that I like to keep myself two steps behind the cultural zeitgeist whenever possible--which unfortunately means no Elena Ferrante for me until 2017 or '18, probably. Anyway, I liked Savage Detectives, particularly the sections with Quim Font, Amadeo Salvatierra, and Xóchitl García, and of course the sword duel on the beach with the literary critic. When I finished the Savage Detectives I turned to Mavis Gallant's collection Varieties of Exile (NYRB, selected by Russell Banks); another legendary figure who was to me an almost total unknown--I think I'd read some of her journals excerpted in the New Yorker but that was it. Anyway Varieties turned out to be the ideal palette follow-up to Bolaño: dry instead of humid, controlled and astringent instead of boisterous and insane. Stories instead of a novel. Very calming, Gallant's cool sentences and crisp images; though she's not without her severity too. It was a good book to read while traveling, on trains and planes.

Anyway we got home from the trip. One ancillary benefit of having read The Savage Detectives was that it made me feel properly prepared--and curious--to read Advice From 1 Disciple of Marx To 1 Heidegger Fanatic (Wave Books, 2013), a longish poem by Mario Santiago Papasquairo, who is credited as the main model for Bolaño's Ulises Lima. So I'm reading that now.

Another poet I recently read for the first time is the poet Frank Stanford, though in typical-for-me fashion I started with a collection of his "tales" called Conditions Uncertain and Likely To Pass Away. Incredibly bizarre and dreamy and feral. I loved it, and so picked up the first collection of his poetry I could get my hands on, a thin little volume called You that my friends at Berl's Poetry Shop happened to have in stock.

Speaking of story collections--and of friends, and of the dreamy and bizarre--I'm reading a galley of Shelly Oria's New York 1, Tel Aviv 0, which is coming out from FSG in November. It's a hard book to describe. The language is very precise but there's a kind of bright haze that permeates it, like all the characters are walking slowly through some luminous fog, which, come to think of it, is itself an image bootlegged from one of the stories, which I guess in a way is the best case-in-point for what I'm trying to put across here, which is that the stories have great collective energy, a strikingly original and slightly hypnotizing sense of mood. Shades of Rebecca Curtis and Richard Brautigan, a kind of gentle insistence (like waves lapping a boat hull, but insistently) that identity and being and sexuality and self--and, too, degrees of so-called realism in fiction--are, or ought to be, or desire to be, fluid.
Visit Justin Taylor's website and Twitter perch.

The Page 69 Test: Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever: Stories.

Writers Read: Justin Taylor (March 2011).

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Chris Ewan

Chris Ewan is the award-winning, bestselling author of seven novels: The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam, The Good Thief’s Guide to Paris, The Good Thief’s Guide to Vegas, The Good Thief’s Guide to Venice, The Good Thief’s Guide to Berlin, and the standalone thrillers Safe House, which was a number one bestseller in the UK, and the recently released Dead Line.

Recently I asked Ewan about what he was reading. His reply:
Some titles I finished reading not long ago, and would recommend highly, include:

Letters to my Daughter’s Killer by Cath Staincliffe. This moving and powerful novel is told exclusively in letter form by a mother writing to the person responsible for her daughter’s murder. Sometimes books are published that have interesting or unusual structural conceits and it can be at the expense of story. Not here. Staincliffe has written a page-turning, beguiling and haunting novel about grief, guilt and the complex dynamics of forgiveness.

The Hunter’s Oath by Jason Dean. An addictive action thriller with a strong hook and a cleverly constructed mystery at its heart. James Bishop’s sister has been attacked and left for dead in New York City. Bishop vows to bring the people responsible to justice, unaware of the lengths he’ll be required to go or the challenges he’ll face. Bishop is an emotionally conflicted yet highly capable and dangerous hero, and someone you’ll want to hang out with time and again.

Meanwhile, I’m in the process of reading another couple of crime novels.

Anya Lipska’s Where The Devil Can’t Go is shrewd, witty and compelling; cleverly combining elements of the police procedural novel with the maverick PI sub-genre in a London-based mystery that explores secrets and lies at the heart of the city’s Polish community. Police detective Natalie Kershaw and Polish fixer Janusz Kiszka make for a fascinating and potentially explosive team.

I wish I’d read Tom Franklin’s wonderful Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter years ago. Franklin’s descriptive writing is spectacular and he conjures his Mississippi backdrop with real flair and a distinctive style. I’m fifty pages in and can already tell this will be one of the finest novels I’ve read in quite some time.

As for the future, next up I’ll be moving on to Stav Sherez’s The Devil’s Playground and Claire McGowan’s The Dead Ground, both of which I’m looking forward to enormously.
Visit Chris Ewan's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Good Thief's Guide to Paris.

The Page 69 Test: The Good Thief's Guide to Vegas.

The Page 69 Test: The Good Thief's Guide to Venice.

The Page 69 Test: Safe House.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 22, 2014

Ruth Downie

Ruth Downie is the author of a series of mysteries featuring Roman Army medic and reluctant sleuth, Gaius Petreius Ruso: Medicus, Terra Incognita, Persona Non Grata, Caveat Emptor, Semper Fidelis, and the newly released Tabula Rasa.

Late last month I asked the author about what she was reading. Downie's reply:
I’ve just listened to the audiobook of The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly – a title that was recommended by an Indian reviewer, written by a Korean, and read with an American accent, so it’s truly international. It’s a deceptively simple tale about life, death, love, loyalty, prejudice… that kind of thing. Clearly it’s never going to have the traditional happy ending, but the place it reaches feels absolutely right, and it’s beautifully done.

On paper, I’ve just read Donna Leon’s A Sea of Troubles. Venetian detective Commissario Brunetti investigates the death of two men in a traditional fishing community, and is very nearly compelled to face his feelings for the elegant Signorina Elettra. Donna Leon tells a great story while offering her readers the chance to visit Venice without the trouble of leaving home.

The ebook I’ve just finished is The Colosseum by Keith Hopkins and Mary Beard. It was the ideal preparation for a recent trip, because it’s not only a refreshing discussion of the evidence, the structure and the subsequent history, but it also tells you how to avoid the enormous queues to get in. Definitely worth reading!
Visit Ruth Downie's website.

The Page 69 Test: Caveat Emptor.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Stephen Eric Bronner

Stephen Eric Bronner is a noted political theorist and Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Comparative Literature, and German Studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. He is also Director of Global Relations for its Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights and on the Executive Committee of UNESCO Chair for Genocide Prevention. His books include Modernism at the Barricades: Aesthetics, Politics, Utopia and the newly released The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists.

Recently I asked Bronner about what he was reading. His reply:
Writers Read caught me at the right time. Although most won’t admit it, writers do not read much while they are writing and, if they do, it is usually related to the project in which they are engaged. Following the publication of The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists (Yale University Press) and the new 2nd edition of Moments of Decision: Political History and the Crises of Radicalism (Bloomsbury) I now have some time. And it’s been put to good use.

I have always liked to read a few books simultaneously and that is the case now. The best is a magisterial interdisciplinary work in German with the title Terror and Dream: Moscow 1937 by Karl Schlögel. It recreates the cultural social and political circumstances in which Stalin’s greatest purge took place. In this 900 page work, the author provides a constellation of intersecting facts, stories, and social scientific studies that range from an investigation of the Moscow phone book to an interpretation of Mikhal Bulgakov’s classic The Master and Margarita to a portrayal of the geographic shifts to a host of other pregnant depictions in demonstrating the modernizing process in action and the communist attempts to intensify it whatever the costs. This is one of the great books that I have read in the last twenty-five years and it has provided me with numerous insights that I might just be able to employ down the road in what I hope will become a work on genocide.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, which won the prestigious Booker Prize, is a novel set in the 16th century that focuses on Thomas Cromwell and the strategies employed by rival interests concerning the matrimonial woes of Henry VIII. I’m reading it now. Elegantly written, it captures the spirit of the time, and it offers provocative and unsentimental descriptions of figures like Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsey. Interesting is the way in which the real issues like the spreading influence of Protestantism, the decadence of the Catholic Church, the burgeoning liberalism and the looming civil wars seem to creep in through the back door without much comment. It's almost self-consciously serious tone is in marked contrast to the bubbly style of Janet Evanovich whose Stephanie Plum crime novels take place in the Chambersburg section of Trenton where my wife, Anne Burns, grew up. She has now written over 20 of them—I am currently on number 4 – and they make great plane reading material.

So that is where I am at the moment: each of these books provides me with a break from the political reports and documents that take up another part of my life – much less provocative, much less elegant, and much less fun.
Learn more about The Bigot at the Yale University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Modernism at the Barricades.

The Page 99 Test: The Bigot: Why Prejudice Persists.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Martha Woodroof

Martha Woodroof was born in the South, went to boarding school and college in New England, ran away to Texas for a while, then fetched up in Virginia. She has written for NPR, npr.org, Marketplace and Weekend America, and for the Virginia Foundation for Humanities Radio Feature Bureau. Her print essays have appeared in such newspapers as the New York Times, The Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Woodroof's newly released Small Blessings is her debut novel.

Early this month I asked the author about what she was reading. Woodroof's reply:
At this moment, I'm reading J.K. Rowling's second Cormoran Strike novel, The Silkworm. As I live to lunch, this is my favorite quotation, so far: "They love their bloody lunches, book people," Strike said.

I recently read The Son by Philipp Meyer (cracking good story, recommended by a gym buddy) and Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose, because I make a habit of reading anything Ms. Prose writes.

As a late-blooming first novelist (I'm 67) I also recently read MFA vs. NYC, edited by Chad Harbach, with great interest, as I spring from neither literary culture.

I think my greatest reading treat this year has been Ian Rankin's Saints of the Shadow Bible. Wow, are Inspector Rebus and Siobhan Clarke good company. Plus, when I tweet Ian Rankin, he tweets me back. Although I am careful not to abuse the honor.
Visit Martha Woodroof's website.

My Book, The Movie: Small Blessings.

The Page 69 Test: Small Blessings.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

April Genevieve Tucholke

April Genevieve Tucholke digs classic movies, red-headed villains, big kitchens, and discussing murder at the dinner table. She and her husband Nate Pedersen live in Oregon at the edge of a forest.

Tucholke's new novel is Between the Spark and the Burn, the sequel to Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and I’m currently listening to Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog, which is a delightful comic science fiction classic, styled after Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men In a Boat (with a bit of time travel thrown in). It’s a purely pleasant summer read, clever and droll, no drama, no tragedy. I’m also listening to Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (for the fourth time). It’s one of my absolute favorite books, and the narrator, Simon Prebble, is stunning. Susanna Clarke’s writing is very dark and very deadpan. Is there a better combination?

I just started reading The Quick by Lauren Owen as well—I love gothic horror. I also try to reread a few childhood favorites every summer--I’m rereading On Fortune’s Wheel by Cynthia Voigt and The Ghost Belonged to Me by Richard Peck. They are both excellent and well written. Voigt's book is thoughtful and wise, and Peck's is genuinely scary in parts. Perfect summer fare.
Learn more about the book and author at April Genevieve Tucholke's website.

My Book, The Movie: Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bill Crider

Bill Crider is the winner of two Anthony Awards and an Edgar Award finalist. An English college professor for many years, he’s published more than seventy-five crime, Western, and horror novels, as well as a number of children’s books.

Crider's latest novel is Half in Love with Artful Death, the 21st Dan Rhodes Mystery.

Not so long ago I asked the author about what he was reading. Crider's reply:
At the moment I’m about halfway through The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marj Mills. Mills, a reporter, got to know Harper Lee and her sister, Alice, while working on a story for a Chicago newspaper. She and the sisters became friends, and Mills eventually moved to Monroeville, Alabama, and lived near them for a time. Her book tells as much about herself as it does them, as she learned a lot about life in the south and the people in small towns there. Before the book was even published, Lee disavowed it, claiming to be hurt and upset by its publication. Mills says that both Lee and her sister were aware that Mills was writing it and that they were her friends both during and after its composition. Whatever the case, it’s an interesting and engaging account, and while it doesn’t solve any mysteries or answer any big questions, it’s a charming look at the daily life of a revered author and the place she wrote about so well.

On an entirely different note, I just finished re-reading The Real Cool Killers by Chester Himes. More than fifty years after its first publication, it’s a crime novel that’s as vivid and shocking as ever. It features Himes’ series characters Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones, two Harlem cops who are dealing with the killing of a white man in Harlem. The furious action occupies only one night, but it covers a lot of ground. The story is grotesque, hilarious, and grotesquely hilarious. There’s satire, too, and it’s directed not just at social conditions but at just about everybody involved. Himes’ books in this series were relegated to paperback publication when they first appeared, but this one is now enshrined in an edition from the Library of America. Sometimes recognition comes along a little too late.
Visit Bill Crider's website and blog.

Learn about Crider's choice of actors to portray Dan Rhodes et al on the big screen.

The Page 69 Test: Half in Love with Artful Death.

--Marshal Zeringue