Friday, September 30, 2016

Meg Little Reilly

Meg Little Reilly is a writer, environmentalist, crafter, hiker of mountains, swimmer of lakes, and reader of everything.

Before she got serious about writing books, she worked for President Obama as Deputy Associate Director at the White House Office of Management and Budget; and prior to that, as Spokesperson at the U.S. Treasury. She has worked at the Environmental Defense Fund, a couple great consulting firms, and had more political internships than she can count.

Reilly's debut novel is We Are Unprepared.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
Novels are a constant in my life. I’m never not reading a novel. Sometimes they’re books that have been recommended or gifted, and other times they’re the only thing I could find at the airport bookstore in a pinch. I thoroughly enjoy the format and pacing of the contemporary novel, but the real test of a good novel for me is whether I’m still thinking about it months later.

A perfect example of this is Christopher Scotton’s The Secret Wisdom of the Earth, which I read several months ago and still can’t get out of my head. This breathtaking debut novel has all the things I love to read and aspire to write: a strong sense of place, a reverence for the natural world, and a consequential issue at its core. It’s a coming-of-age story set in a coal-mining town in Appalachia with a plot that gains momentum if you give it a chance. Best of all, the quirky and beautiful characters in this rural place are rendered with sophistication and respect. As a writer from a rural place who often writes about other rural places, that means a lot to me.

Unlike Scotton’s book, I grabbed Noah Hawley’s just-released Before the Fall at an airport kiosk moments before the doors were about to shut. Now, I won’t be spoiling anything for the reader to share that this is a truly terrible book to purchase as you’re about to board a plane because the plot is based on a horrific plane crash into the Atlantic Ocean. (I would have known this if I had time to read the jacket). However, it is a fantastic read! The writing is fast, the story twisty, and it’s packed with witty observations about contemporary America. Hawley, quite simply, knows how to write a smart page-turner, which I will always have a profound respect for.

In addition to my steady diet of novels, I read a lot of longform magazine writing, which generally includes: everything in The New Yorker each week, and good stuff from The Atlantic, The New Republic, Outside Magazine, Esquire, and more. I will always be a political animal with an interest in pressing issues. Knowing more about the world we live in is a large part of what informs and inspires my fiction writing. I think it’s imperative that fiction writers read the news.

Like anyone, my life is busy and my reading habits wax and wane. But I feel strongly that the only way to be a decent writer is to read more – and better – than I write.
Visit Meg Little Reilly's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Kenneth D. Ackerman

Kenneth D. Ackerman has made old New York a favorite subject in his writing, including his critically acclaimed biography Boss Tweed: The Corrupt Pol Who Conceived the Soul of Modern New York. Beyond his writing, Ackerman has served a long legal career in Washington, D.C. both inside and out of government, including as counsel to two U.S. Senate committees, regulatory posts in both the Reagan and Clinton administrations, and as administrator of the Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency. He continues to practice private law in Washington.

Ackerman's new book is Trotsky in New York, 1917: Portrait of a Radical on the Eve of Revolution.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading:
This summer, I have immersed myself in books about the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Call it research, or call it just a summer obsession, but a friend got me started with the new Larry Tye biography Bobby Kennedy: The Making of a Liberal Icon, and since then I have devoured, in rapid succession, the 1964 report of the Warren Commission, the 1976 reports of the House Special Committee on Assassinations and the Church Committee on abuses of the CIA, and classics like Edward Jay Epstein's Inquest: The Warren Commission and the Establishment of Truth, Dan Moldea’s The Hoffa Wars, Ronald Goldfarb’s Perfect Villains, Imperfect Heroes: Robert F. Kennedy’s War against Organized Crime, Larry Sabato’s The Kennedy Half-Century, Lamar Waldron’s Ultimate Sacrifice, and on from there.

It’s a fantastic story, a moment I remember well from my own life fifty-three years ago as a 12-year old, well worth the literally hundreds of books already written covering the topic from every angle. My question as a writer is a simple one: What possible unique angle is left? Any suggestions?
Visit Kenneth Ackerman's website.

My Book, The Movie: Trotsky in New York, 1917.

The Page 99 Test: Trotsky in New York, 1917.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Augusta Scattergood

Augusta Scattergood is a former librarian turned book reviewer turned middle-grade author. Her books include Glory Be and The Way to Stay in Destiny.

Her latest book is Making Friends with Billy Wong.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Scattergood's reply:
I always have more books halfway finished than I can even remember. But I just returned from a writing retreat at the Highlights Foundation. While there, I got to see Meg Medina receive her Artist-in-Residence award, and all of us were given her new novel, Burn Baby Burn.

True confessions- I don't read a lot of YA. I'm a middle-grade reader at heart. But this book- well, all I can say is that the National Book Award committee knew what they were doing when they listed this edgy, interesting, historically accurate, fabulous book.

I also just finished Moo by Sharon Creech. I'm a huge fan of Creech's books and this could be my favorite. I love the way the words dance on the pages. I love the story. I think it would make a great read-aloud.

Next up? Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White, by Melissa Sweet. I'm going to review this one soon, and the publisher sent me an Advanced Readers Copy this summer. But now I have the real deal. It's fabulous.
Visit Augusta Scattergood's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Way to Stay in Destiny.

The Page 69 Test: Making Friends with Billy Wong.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Brent Hartinger

Brent Hartinger is the award-winning author of a number of novels, mostly for and about teens, including Geography Club (2003) and five companion books, The Last Chance Texaco (2004); Grand & Humble (2006); Project Sweet Life (2008); and Shadow Walkers (2011).

His latest book is Three Truths and a Lie.

Recently I asked Hartinger about what he was reading:
I'm always juggling a combination of books. It's usually some books by friends of mine, soon to be published; books that I've read before and I know I'll love; and new books that intrigue me that I hope I'll like.

Lately, books by friends have included the 2017 YA novels Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg, and Deacon Locke Went to Prom by Brian Katcher. I don't always love books by my writer-friends, but I happened to love both of these. And do like reading advanced readers' copies, because they come with no preconceptions. There are no reviews yet, no "buzz," nothing to bias the jury, so I feel like my judgment is somehow a little more pure. Except, of course, the writers are my friends, so I'm probably never going to be too critical!

Books that I've read before that I'd thought I'd love include We Need to Talk About Kevin. While I really did like it when I read it years ago, this time I found it very heavy-handed and over-written. It was quite shocking how bad I thought it was, actually. But I also read Ursula le Guin's classic Earthsea Trilogy, and I really did love this.

Finally, in terms of new books, I recently finished Brother by Ania Ahlborn, which is the story of 19-year-old Michael Morrow, who was kidnapped at age four and is now being raised by a family of serial-killing sociopaths. Michael accepts the murders as inevitable, mostly because he’s never known anything different.

But now Michael is nineteen. If he was ten, he would be a victim of his circumstances. If he was thirty, he would be a villain — too old to continue participating in such brutality and not be somehow responsible. But at nineteen, he’s in between, not quite a victim, but maybe not yet a villain. Or is he a villain? That’s the whole point of the novel. He's the perfect literary character!

This might be the darkest novel I've ever read -- it's a lot darker than my latest book, a psychological thriller called Three Truths and a Lie, which is the darkest book I've ever written. Brother isn't for the faint of heart, but for those who can stand it, it's wonderful.
Visit Brent Hartinger's website.

The Page 69 Test: Three Truths and a Lie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 26, 2016

Judy Fogarty

Judy Fogarty lives, writes, reads, and runs on the historic Isle of Hope in her native Savannah, Georgia. She holds a master of music degree from the University of Illinois and has served as director of marketing for private golf and tennis communities in the Savannah/Hilton Head area. Breaking and Holding is her debut novel.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Fogarty's reply:
The Yellow Birds

I've just finished The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, a 2012 National Book Award finalist. At only 226 pages, I expected a quick read but didn't get it. The author is a poet. His prose is mesmerizing and begs to be read slowly. Every time I opened The Yellow Birds, I found myself rereading the opening paragraphs. Throughout the novel, the beauty of the language is juxtaposed against a raw, harrowing story of the friendship of two young men fighting in the Iraq war. Powers served in the US army in 2004-05, so the action rings true. Knowing from the opening pages that one of the two, Murphy, will meet a tragic death, I read with curiosity and increasing dread. I was moved and terrified, saddened and disturbed. How else could one feel when reading sentences like these: "While I slept that summer, the war came to me in my dreams and showed me its sole purpose: to go on, only to go on. And I knew the war would have its way."

The Goldfinch

I purchased a copy of The Goldfinch not long after it won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize and was immediately stricken with a serious case of procrastination. With "so many books, and so little time," I was hesitant to make the necessary investment in such a hefty novel. Friends in my writing group who liked it very much still suggested that sharper editing had been needed, and a few other readers and friends had found it slow in parts. Not me! Thirteen-year-old Theo Decker was as alive for me as any character I've known, and not one I could desert as he suffered through the loss of mother; tried to play the various bad hands he was dealt; struggled with secrets including his theft of a masterwork of art; felt the pain of unrequited love and addiction;and made mistakes that placed his life in danger in the novel's dark, suspenseful climax. The cast of supporting characters came to life just as vividly for me, particularly the colorful Boris and gentle, unassuming Hobie. From New York City to Las Vegas to Amsterdam, the settings were lush in detail, and the underworld of art was exposed and made accessible by a capable, knowledgeable novelist. The conclusion left me thinking deeply and for a long time about the intersection of art, truth, beauty, loss and life.

Right now, I'm trying to decide what to read next. Until recently, I proudly finished every book I started. But suddenly, plot alone can't hold me, no matter how compelling. I have to have prose and style that resonate. This week, sadly, I have started three books and closed every one, permanently. I'd love a recommendation.
Visit Judy Fogarty's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Angela Palm

Raised in the rural Midwest, Angela Palm earned a BA in English Literature and a BS in Criminal Justice at Saint Joseph's College. She is the editor of a book featuring work by Vermont writers, called Please Do Not Remove. Palm has taught creative writing at Champlain College, New England Young Writers' Conference, The Writers' Barn, and The Renegade Writers' Collective. She is a recipient of a Bread Loaf Fellowship in nonfiction.

Palm's new book is Riverine: A Memoir from Anywhere but Here, recipient of the 2014 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m usually reading a few books at once: one purely for pleasure, one that informs my writing in some way, and one that’s been personally recommended to me.

I just finished How to Start a Fire and Why by Jesse Ball. I bought this book because I’d read an article about Jesse Ball that painted him as unconventional, unpredictable. My impression of him is that he is one of those mad genius types who might give an off the cuff, potentially off putting answer in an interview. I liked that authenticity, the way it disrupts the expected course of literary publicity a little bit. Literature needs more punk. This book has it. It’s about a teenage anarchist whose father has died, leaving behind only his Zippo lighter. The precocious, if somewhat misguided, girl is shuffled to an impoverished aunt’s house and to an alternative school after being expelled for stabbing a boy with a pencil who threatens her last tie to her father—the lighter. The lighter and her attraction to fire gains her entry into what she believes may be an arson club. Written as a series of journal entries, we watch the girl’s fleeting opportunities to reroute her life slip away.

I also just finished an advance copy of Sarah Manguso’s new book, 300 Arguments. It’s tiny—just a bit bigger than my hand. It’s structured as a collage of self-contained thoughts that bite and turn where you least expect them to and gradually build into something more. Reading the arguments was soothing, meditative, thought-provoking. Little treasures and insights about life, art, self, desire, relationships. I love Manguso’s prose because it’s so completely different than mine. She can say in a sentence or two what takes me ten pages. I admire her minimalism and hope to learn something from it.

I’m halfway through Eros the Bittersweet by Anne Carson, which was recently recommended to me by David Shields. We’d been discussing a book he’s working on that is partly—I’m not sure exactly in what way—about his marriage. We got to talking about the intersections of life, art, marriage, and erotic love and he suggested I read Eros. I’m a fan of Anne Carson but had never heard of it. It details in a way that’s both lyric and academic the philosophical and literary history of romantic love. It’s structured as a progression of brief essays. As a whole, the book is esoteric, engrossing. I’ve highlighted the thing nearly to death.
Visit Angela Palm's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Teddy Wayne

Teddy Wayne is the author of the novels Loner, The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, and Kapitoil.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Wayne's reply:
I recently reread Rebecca Schiff's debut story collection, The Bed Moved. The stories are funny without being slapsticky, weird but not precious, moving yet not sentimental. They would be great models for how to write a contemporary short story if they weren't so original and inimitable.
Visit Teddy Wayne's website.

The Page 69 Test: Kapitoil.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 23, 2016

Amanda I. Seligman

Amanda I. Seligman is professor of history and urban studies at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. She is an editor of the Historical Studies of Urban America series. Her new book is Chicago's Block Clubs: How Neighbors Shape the City.

Recently I asked Seligman about what she was reading. Her reply:
When I was in graduate school in the mid-1990s, writing my dissertation, working two academic jobs, and abstaining from fiction, I dreamed of the day when I would have tenure and work on just one work of scholarship at a time, in an orderly, sequential, and logical fashion, without the constant sense that I was behind in everything. That fantasy was nothing more than an illusion, as I seem always to have several projects going at the same time. Two decades on, I have surrendered to my natural condition. The tendency to multitask turns out to infect my reading habits as well. The books I am pretty sure I am currently reading more or less actively include:

Robert C. Ellickson, Order without Law: How Neighbors Settle Disputes (1991): I have been poking around in legal research lately and stumbled across this book, which resonates very strongly Chicago’s Block Clubs’ emphasis on how urban dwellers cooperate with their neighbors. In the first few chapters, Ellickson argues that neighboring cattle ranchers resolve their disputes without resorting to legal remedies. I can’t decide yet whether this argument is completely banal or a brilliant execution of a foundational insight.

Anders Ericcson and Robert Pool, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise (2016): For a project on the history of educational provision for gifted children, I have been trying to understand genius and creativity, primarily by reading biographies and psychology. Ericcson and Pool report inter alia on how people teach themselves to memorize amazingly long sequences of numbers.

Robert Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (2005): Because music and history and genius. And because my 12-year-old wanted to read it.

Gary Nash, The Urban Crucible: Social Change, Political Consciousness, and the Origins of the American Revolution (1979): This classic work of urban history traces the social foundations of the American Revolution in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. I don’t usually spend this much time in the cognitive world of the 18th century, but the change of pace is illuminating.

Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963): I pull this extended essay off my shelf from time to time and have recently felt moved to driving it around in my car. More than five decades after its initial publication, Hofstadter’s distinction between intelligence and intellect feels like prophecy.

Max Brooks, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (2007): My current leisure read. I am a younger and/or more sensitive viewer and cannot watch action movies. But I adore dystopian fiction—especially post-apocalyptic novels—and I was captivated by the trailers for the movie version of this novel. Fortunately for me, Brooks focuses on the social and political effects of the zombie germ and minimizes the moaning and the gore. World War Z does not quite have the brilliant realism of Daniel H. Wilson’s meditation on what it means to be human in the Robopocalypse series, but it is a roaring good yarn that does not give me nightmares.
Learn more about Chicago's Block Clubs at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Craig Johnson

Craig Johnson is the author of the Walt Longmire mystery series, which has garnered popular and critical acclaim.The latest installment in the series is An Obvious Fact.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. Johnson's reply:
I’m catching up on a lot of things, but the top of the nightstand is Scott Phillips’s Rake, I like to check in with him periodically just because his books and voice are so damn funny. Then I’ve got Miracle Boy and Other Stories by Pinckney Benedict who wrote Dogs of God and who I consider to be one of the unsung godfathers of the current rural, tough-guy clan of authors out there like Donald Ray Pollock, Frank Bill, Benjamin Whitmer, and Jon Bassoff.

Then we hit a stratum of Alaska recommended literature since I was up there fishing and had a few of the guides give me some of their favorites such as Skeletons on the Zahara, the true story of these New England sailors who crashed on the coast of Africa and were sold into slavery and Ada Blackjack, this wonderful book by Jennifer Niven about the sole survivor of an Arctic expedition back in the twenties.
Learn more about the author and his work at Craig Johnson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

James R. Benn

James R. Benn is the author of the Billy Boyle World War II series, historical mysteries set within the Allied High Command during the Second World War. The series began with Billy Boyle, which takes place in England and Norway in 1942. Blue Madonna is the eleventh installment of the series.

Not so long ago I asked Benn about what he was reading. His reply:
I’m currently caught up in research reading, so my current stack is all non-fiction.

Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution, by Nathaniel Philbrick.

A terrific and well-written story of the early years of the American Revolution, when Benedict Arnold was one of our bravest and most gifted generals. Philbrick makes him come alive, and breaks through the image of the vile traitor (although that he was) to show a more rounded, and quite sad, view of the man for whom life’s bounties were never enough, and every slight was a mortal insult.

For Adam's Sake: A Family Saga in Colonial New England, by Allegra di Bonaventura.

A fascinating look at slavery and servitude in colonial New England, focusing on the intertwined lives of whites and blacks in New London, CT. The author creates real, living characters from records and archives. Superb for the historical enthusiast.

I’m working on a young adult book, with a recently freed slave as the protagonist – set in Revolutionary War Connecticut, during the summer in which Benedict Arnold raided New London and burned the city he knew very well to the ground.
Learn more about the Billy Boyle WWII Mystery Series at James R. Benn's website.

The Page 69 Test: Blue Madonna.

--Marshal Zeringue