Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Lydia Pyne

Lydia Pyne is a writer and historian, interested in the history of science and material culture. She has degrees in history and anthropology and a PhD in history and philosophy of science from Arizona State University. Her field and archival work has ranged from South Africa, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, and Iran, as well as the American Southwest.

Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Nautilus, The Appendix, as well as The Public Domain Review; she is currently a visiting fellow at the Institute for Historical Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

Pyne lives in Austin, where she is an avid rock climber and mountain biker. Her new book is Seven Skeletons: The Evolution of the World's Most Famous Human Fossils.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I find that I read many books simultaneously, leaving them scattered around the house. Every place to sit and read has a book next to it. Overall, I enjoying reading a mix of fiction and nonfiction and, looking through the books on my bookshelves, I think that the list of what I’m currently reading definitely reflects my eclectic taste and reading habits.

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich

I recently finished Svetlana Alexievich’s brilliantly poignant oral history of post-Soviet society. This book is one of the most powerful that I’ve ever read – Alexievich’s unique style of weaving together multiple individual monologues creates an incredible oral history.

The Confidence Game: Why We Fall For It…Every Time by Maria Konnikova

The Confidence Game has been on my “to read” list for several months now and I’m excited to finally be diving into it. I love Konnikova’s synthesis of “the con” and the stories she uses – everything from Ponzi schemes to small-time frauds.

The Fox Was Ever the Hunter by Herta Müller

Müller’s most recent novel is set in the final part of the Ceausescu regime in Romania. It traces the story of four people going about their everyday lives, where one of them is informing on the others to the government. Müller’s use of allegory and metaphor make the short novel feel like one’s reading a matryoshka doll – that what one is really reading are just layer on layers of meaning.

Burning Bright and The Pearl by John Steinbeck

I’m a huge fan of Steinbeck and am currently rereading his novellas. (The Pearl is one of my favorite pieces of literature and one that I’ve reread many times.) Burning Bright feels like it’s a very different type of Steinbeck novella, since it was written to be a theatrical performance.

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

I think I’ve joined the rest of the world that saw Season 1 of The Expanse and, as I wait for Season 2 to come out, I am reading the books the series is based on.
Visit Lydia Pyne's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Last Lost World.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 22, 2016

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 newly released 23rd Dan Rhodes Mystery is Survivors Will Be Shot Again.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
What am I reading? I’m glad you asked. I’m reading the January 1958 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Why am I reading it? Because I was looking through a stack of paperbacks, and there it was. It’s a digest magazine, so I don’t know what it was doing in the stack.

The fact that it was there is not the only reason I’m reading it, though, or even the main one. The real reason is that I read the entire issue back in 1958 when I bought it off the rack in The Corner Book Store in Mexia, Texas, and I wanted to see if I remembered any of the stories and to see how they held up for me.

Let me tell you about two of them. The first is “Remembrance and Reflection” by Mark Clifton. I didn’t remember the story, but what I did remember is that it’s the fourth and final story in a group based on a couplet from Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man: “Remembrance and reflection how allied! / What thin partitions sense from thought divide!” The three previous stories had appeared in a different magazine, Astounding Science Fiction, and I don’t know why the fourth one turned up in F&SF. I’m sure that would be a good story in itself. What I do know is that while I wasn’t at all familiar with Alexander Pope when I started reading the stories, I did like the couplet. I memorized it at the time, and I’ve thought of it often in the years since. The story, like the others in the series, is about a personnel director who works for a company called Computer Research and who finds himself hiring people with psychic powers. In this final story he discovers that he can’t quite sort out his thinking about those powers and about science and fit his thoughts into new framework. His life is changed, and he suffers some considerable loss. He has two things left, however: remembrance and reflection, the things that can’t be taken away.

The other story is by Theodore Sturgeon. It’s “A Touch of Strange,” and it’s a somewhat famous story if only for the title, which fits so much of Sturgeon’s work and which became the title of one collection of his stories. It’s about love, a theme that’s typical of Sturgeon, too. And there are mer-people. Or maybe not. There’s never any doubt about where the story’s going, but the telling of it is sweet and evocative and more complicated than you might expect. It’s no wonder that the magazine’s editor, Anthony Boucher, says in his introduction that Sturgeon’s work is “about the best science-fantasy being written today.”

There are a good many other stories in the magazine, all of them of interest for various reasons. “The 24,000 Mile Field Goal,” for example, is about an interplanetary football bowl game between universities on Earth and Mars in which one of the coaches is a giant computer that’s fed information on punched tape. And the teams are running the single wing. I love stuff like that. I’m really glad I ran across this old magazine and decided to take a nostalgic trip back to my past.
Visit Bill Crider's website and blog.

Read the Page 69 Test entries for Crider's A Mammoth Murder, Murder Among the OWLS, Of All Sad Words, Murder in Four Parts, Murder in the Air, The Wild Hog Murders, Murder of a Beauty Shop Queen, Compound Murder, Half in Love with Artful Death, and Between the Living and the Dead.

Learn about Crider's choice of actors to portray Dan Rhodes and Seepy Benton on the big screen.

The Page 69 Test: Survivors Will Be Shot Again.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Kodi Scheer

Kodi Scheer teaches writing at the University of Michigan, where she earned her MFA. She was awarded the Dzanc Prize for Excellence in Literary Fiction and Community Service. As a fellow of the Sozopol Fiction Seminars, she traveled to Bulgaria to engage with an international community of writers, translators, and readers. Her stories have appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The Iowa Review, The Florida Review, Quarterly West, and Bellevue Literary Review.

Scheer's new novel is Midair.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm re-reading Tampa by Alissa Nutting. It contains so many elements that I love--dark humor, high stakes, and an interesting but deeply flawed narrator. You hate Celeste because she preys on young boys, yet you keep turning the pages because you see glimmers of her humanity. She doesn't have control over these abhorrent thoughts, nor can she control the constant arousal. In some ways, Celeste is the embodiment of that proverb, "There but for the grace of God (go I)." What would happen if we acted on our darkest thoughts? I shudder to think...
Visit Kodi Scheer's website.

My Book, The Movie: Midair by Kodi Scheer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Barry Hankins

Barry Hankins is Professor of History at Baylor University, as well as a Resident Scholar with the Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR). His publications include Baptists in America: A History and Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: A Documentary Reader. Hankins's biography Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America: Fundamentalist Warrior, Evangelical Prophet was awarded the 2009 John Pollock Award for Christian Biography.

Hankins's new book is Woodrow Wilson: Ruling Elder, Spiritual President.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
Well, it’s summer, so it’s novels, non-academic history, sports, and travel books. These are often oriented to the American southwest. Since I’ve been coming to northern New Mexico for almost four decades, I finally got around to reading John Nichols’s The Milagro Bean Field War. I saw the Robert Redford movie many years ago but never realized Nichols lives in Taos (I’m not even sure I knew it was a book). My stepson picked up a signed copy at a Taos bookstore when he and his wife were here in Taos with my wife and me in late June. I immediately moved it to the head of my summer reading list. (Last year it was Hampton Sides’s biography of Kit Carson, also set in and around Taos.)

I try to read a P.D. James novel every summer. So, the other day I started reading Devices and Desires, which I picked up at a used bookstore in Waco before we came west. My bad. I’ve already read it. There’s a Habitat for Humanity ReStore across the street here in Taos, so my wife and I are going there to see if I can find another used James that I haven’t read.

I’m a former college basketball player and high school coach (that’s how I funded my dissertation), so I like to read sports non-fiction. Michael Lewis (Moneyball, Blindside) is my favorite sports author (although he writes about non-sports subjects as well) and I also read his The Big Short right after I saw the movie. My son recently gave me a copy of David Halberstam’s Breaks of the Game about the Portland Trail Blazers of the late 1970s (Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas, Coach Dr. Jack Ramsey, etc.) I brought it with me along with a book about the University of Michigan’s football stadium (Forty Years in the Big House) that my mother in Flint, MI gave to me. But, I haven’t gotten to them yet. They got squeezed out by a beanfield.

Finally, my eldest stepson turned me on to Bill Bryson when he gave me Notes from a Small Island last Christmas—the one about Bryson’s hike across England. This summer I read his In a Sunburned Country about Australia. My former dissertation advisor, “Crocodile” Bob Linder, at Kansas State has been working on Australian Christianity for roughly 30 years. I’ve met some of his Australian colleagues, and I previously spent a few days in country while in college in the mid-1970s when I was traveling with a basketball team to New Guinea, of all places. Apparently, according to Bryson, Australia is as fascinating and inexplicable as my former advisor has always claimed.
Learn more about Woodrow Wilson: Ruling Elder, Spiritual President at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Mary Robinette Kowal

Hugo-award winning author, Mary Robinette Kowal is a novelist and professional puppeteer.

Her new novel is Ghost Talkers.

Recently I asked Kowal about what she was reading. Her reply:
I'm currently reading Carrying the Fire, which is the autobiography of Michael Collins. He flew the command module for the first lunar landing. I picked it up as research for my next novel (yes, it'll still be alternate history, just SF this time) and it is seriously compelling reading.

Collins is funny and at the same time can get across the terror and majesty of spaceflight. Even though I obviously know that they survive the moon landing, he still manages to have me on the edge of my seat. Plus, he has a beautiful grasp of language, so the entire book is effortless reading. Even when he gets deep into the technical stuff, he manages to make it comprehensible or pokes fun at how ridiculous the jargon is. It's the sort of book that makes you want to meet the author. I'm eating it the way I eat novels.

If you have any interest in spaceflight, or heck, just in how people react to extraordinary circumstances, pick it up.
Visit Mary Robinette Kowal's website, Facebook page, and Twitter perch.

My Book, The Movie: Glamour in Glass.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 15, 2016

Tom Bullough

Tom Bullough grew up on a hill farm in Wales, where he still lives. He has worked as a sawmiller, a music promotor in Zimbabwe, a tractor driver, and a contributor to various titles in the Rough Guides series. At present he is a Visiting Fellow at the University of South Wales. Addlands is his fourth novel, the first to be published in the United States.

Recently I asked Bullough about what he was reading. His reply:
I'm reading several books at once, as usual, but the last I opened – this morning, while waiting for an X-ray – was The Adventures and Vagaries of Twm Shon Catti by T. J. Llewelyn Prichard, said to be the first Welsh novel (or in any case the first written in the English language). Variously revised in the hope of an English readership, this is the original 1828 version: zesty, smutty, chaotic, with some of the satiric edge you might find in, say, James Hogg. I can't say I've read a lot of it yet, and I can't say I expect it to become a lot more coherent, but Twm himself ('the Welsh Robin Hood') seems a fine sort of trickster, and since Llewelyn Prichard was born in Trallong, just across the valley from where I live, I really have no excuse not to persist. Llewelyn Prichard was an itinerant alcoholic actor turned bookseller who lost his nose either in a duel or, more likely, due to syphilis, and instead wore a wax one attached to a pair of spectacles. In 1862 he passed out into his living room fire and was burnt to death.

The last book I finished, not counting The House Beneath the Water by Francis Brett Young (1884-1954), which I skimmed because it was rubbish, was Elizabeth Clarke's 1969 novel The Valley: a lovely, tender evocation of life in the mid-Wales mountains during the early parts of the 20th century. I have to have read it at least six times now and still, every time, I find something new to steal.
Visit Tom Bullough's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Joel Selvin

Joel Selvin is an award-winning journalist who has covered pop music for the San Francisco Chronicle since 1970. Selvin is the author of many books about popular music, including the bestselling Summer of Love and coauthor, with Sammy Hagar, of the number-one New York Times bestseller, Red. His new book is Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day.

Recently I asked Selvin about what he was reading. His reply:
I read tons of murder mysteries -- always have -- and it is said that the terse, harsh style of the genre sometimes influences my writing. I have re-discovered Donald Westlake, whose light touch belies the intensely plotted stories.

I am also quite taken these days with Don Winslow, who is one of the bravest makers of sentences I have run across in a long time.

As for music writers, I admire many, chief among them Nick Tosches, Peter Guralnick, Geoffrey O'Brien and David Ritz. I also find a lot of good writing in daily newspaper sports sections, although I hardly qualify as a sports fan.
Visit Joel Selvin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Lara Vapnyar

Lara Vapnyar emigrated from Russia to New York in 1994 and began publishing short stories in English in 2002. She lives on Staten Island and is pursuing a Ph.D. in comparative literature at CUNY Graduate Center.

Her new novel is Still Here.

Recently I asked Vapnyar about what she was reading. Her reply:
I recently reread Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, marveling at how modern it felt. It was written more than two hundred years ago! Some books just don’t get old. The novel is enjoyable on every level, but this time I had a special pleasure reading it from the perspective of a writer and a teacher of writing. Since this is one of Austen’s earlier work, it’s easier to see how she was shaping her method. One of her signature tools is to let her most idiotic or obnoxious characters (like Steele sisters or Robert Ferrars) talk forever with little or no reaction from the other characters so that we, readers, find ourselves right there in the scene and this unbearable character is addressing us directly, and we can’t escape his or hers obnoxiousness and start identifying with the main characters in a very powerful way.

Another signature Austen tool is her ability to ground romance in reality without making it less romantic. Here is how she describes the marital bliss of Elinor and Edward: “They had in fact nothing to wish for, but the marriage of Colonel Brandon and Marianne, and rather better pasturage for their cows.” Elinor and Edward are truly happy together, but that doesn’t mean that happiness will magically fix their financial situation. They live in the real world, and in the real world people are concerned with well-being of their cows. And the fact that they care about “better pasturage” doesn’t mean that they are any less in love.

Those cows at the end of Sense and Sensibility would always have a very special place in my heart.
Visit Lara Vapnyar's Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Eowyn Ivey

Eowyn Ivey's debut The Snow Child was a finalist for the Pulitzer and an international bestseller. Her new novel is To the Bright Edge of the World.

Recently I asked the author about what she was reading. Ivey's reply:
I'm always juggling a half dozen books and audio books at one time, especially right after I finish writing and editing my own novels. It feels so good to be able to read other people's stories without the distraction of my own work! I just recently finished The Vegetarian by Han Kang and Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra. Though they are two very different novels, told in very different ways, I found them both strange and haunting.

One of the perks of being an author is that publishers send me advanced reader copies to consider endorsing. My favorite debut coming out soon is The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach. To quote my own blurb, it's a "grittier, Eastern European, more grown-up The Fault in Our Stars" and features one of the most compelling narrators I've ever come across.

As if I can't find enough to read on my own, my 17-year-old daughter is always recommending books to me. She had me read Mrs. Dalloway recently, a Virginia Woolf I hadn't gotten to. And I read Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere at her insistence. I so enjoyed it! Now I'm listening to his View from the Cheap Seats, recording done by the author. It's a bit of a drive from our house to town, but I look forward to it because I can listen to the next chapters. It's fascinating, both as a reader and a writer, to hear how his stories and career have evolved.

Next up are novels by two of my favorite authors -- Barkskins by Annie Proulx and LaRose by Louise Erdrich.
Visit Eowyn Ivey's website and blog.

Writers Read: Eowyn Ivey (February 2012).

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Colin Cotterill

Born in London, Colin Cotterill has worked as teacher in Israel, Australia, the U.S. and Japan before he started training teachers in Thailand. Cotterill and his wife live in a small fishing village on the Gulf of Siam in Southern Thailand. He’s won the Dilys and a CWA Dagger, and has been a finalist for several other awards.

Cotterill's latest Dr. Siri Paiboun mystery is I Shot the Buddha.

Recently I asked the author about what he was reading. His reply:
By now, fans of this site will know that I don’t find a lot of time for novels. In fact I haven’t read anything intentionally fictional all year. I don’t dislike reading. I just lack the motivation to open a book and then the inspiration to get beyond the first paragraph. It has something to do with my upbringing.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t read. I’m still trying to make up for all those lost years of free education in England when I was too busy chasing balls and girls to take learning seriously. So, when I have time to read it’s invariably non-fiction and, more recently, relevant to research I’m doing for the Dr. Siri books.

The book currently on my bedside table is The Animal Connection which sounds like a Disney Christmas book but is actually a thoroughly depressing memoir of an ex-wild animal trafficker called Jean-Yves Domalain. I promise you when you get to the end of it you’ll never take the kids to a zoo again. It’s one of those remarkable “I can’t believe they got away with it” stories that tells you exactly how an exotic animal makes it to a pet shop in Paris and how many fall by the wayside.

It’s not something you’d read unless you really had to. And I had to. The next Siri will be looking at Laos as an open market for endangered animals. My challenge will be to write it in such a way that my readers don’t slash their wrists before the final chapter.
Visit Colin Cotterill's website.

The Page 69 Test: Killed at the Whim of a Hat.

My Book, The Movie: Killed at the Whim of a Hat.

The Page 69 Test: The Axe Factor.

The Page 69 Test: I Shot the Buddha.

--Marshal Zeringue