Sunday, January 31, 2010

What is Matt Beynon Rees reading?

The current featured contributor to Writers Read: Matt Beynon Rees, author of the acclaimed series of novels featuring Palestinian detective Omar Yussef: The Collaborator of Bethlehem, which won the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger award, A Grave in Gaza, The Samaritan's Secret, and the newly released The Fourth Assassin.

His entry begins:
Wolf Hall—Hillary Mantel
Simply the best historical novel for many, many years. Mantel’s portrayal of Tudor England, through the self-made courtier Cromwell, is magnificent. It won the Booker Prize, which isn’t always such a recommendation. In many of the novels chosen for the prize, linguistic flash is chosen over characterization, leaving an emotional void for the reader. But in this case the prize committee got it right. Mantel’s characters breathe, even when they’re not central. One of the amazing things she pulls off in this book is to have a very broad range of characters who, without being central, manage to be rounded, returning here and there throughout the lengthy narrative with immediate life – they don’t need to be reintroduced; we already know...[read on]
Among the early praise for The Fourth Assassin:
"The relentless cycle of violence and retribution follows Palestinian detective Omar Yussef to New York City…in Rees’s excellent fourth mystery…Yussef remains reliably human and compassionate toward human fallibility, while raging openly at the corruption of his own leaders."
Publishers Weekly, starred review

"…Yussef himself never loses sight of what he calls ‘the life that remains when politics is sluiced away…’"

"Journalist Rees’s fourth Omar Yussef outing (after The Samaritan’s Secret) exposes the political struggle among various Palestinian factions and demonstrates why it is so difficult to find a solution in the troubled region. His sleuth might miss the ancient streets of Bethlehem, but the hatred and tension of the Middle East follow the Palestinian wherever he goes."
Library Journal
View the video trailer for The Fourth Assassin.

Matt Beynon Rees' website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Collaborator of Bethlehem.

My Book, The Movie: The Collaborator of Bethlehem.

The Page 69 Test: A Grave in Gaza.

The Page 69 Test: The Samaritan's Secret.

Writers Read: Matt Beynon Rees.

--Marshal Zeringue

Mika Brzezinski's 6 best books

Mika Brzezinski is co-host, with Joe Scarborough, of the MSNBC program Morning Joe, and author of the new memoir, All Things at Once.

She told The Week magazine about her six best books. One title on the list:
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

I read Edith Wharton to go back in time—to when I was studying at Williams as an English major. That was a period in my life when there wasn’t so much noise around me.
Read about another book on Brzezinski's list.

The Age of Innocence also appears on Frances Kiernan's five best list of books that helped her understand the ways of New York society and David Kamp's list of six books that are notable for their food prose, and is among Honor Blackman's 6 best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Kelli Stanley's "City of Dragons"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: City of Dragons by Kelli Stanley.

About the book, from the publisher:
February, 1940. In San Francisco's Chinatown, fireworks explode as the city celebrates Chinese New Year with a Rice Bowl Party, a three day-and-night carnival designed to raise money and support for China war relief. Miranda Corbie is a 33-year-old private investigator who stumbles upon the fatally shot body of Eddie Takahashi. The Chamber of Commerce wants it covered up. The cops acquiesce. All Miranda wants is justice--whatever it costs. From Chinatown tenements, to a tattered tailor's shop in Little Osaka, to a high-class bordello draped in Southern Gothic, she shakes down the city--her city--seeking the truth. An outstanding series debut.
Read an excerpt from City of Dragons, and learn more about the novel and author at Kelli Stanley's website and blog.

Read January Magazine's Author Snapshot: Kelli Stanley.

My Book, The Movie: Nox Dormienda.

The Page 69 Test: City of Dragons.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Pg. 99: Susan Klepp's "Revolutionary Conceptions"

This weekend's feature at the Page 99 Test: Revolutionary Conceptions: Women, Fertility, and Family Limitation in America, 1760-1820 by Susan E. Klepp.

About the book, from the publisher:
In the Age of Revolution, how did American women conceive their lives and marital obligations? By examining the attitudes and behaviors surrounding the contentious issues of family, contraception, abortion, sexuality, beauty, and identity, Susan E. Klepp demonstrates that many women--rural and urban, free and enslaved--began to radically redefine motherhood. They asserted, or attempted to assert, control over their bodies, their marriages, and their daughters' opportunities.

Late-eighteenth-century American women were among the first in the world to disavow the continual childbearing and large families that had long been considered ideal. Liberty, equality, and heartfelt religion led to new conceptions of virtuous, rational womanhood and responsible parenthood. These changes can be seen in falling birthrates, in advice to friends and kin, in portraits, and in a gradual, even reluctant, shift in men's opinions. Revolutionary-era women redefined femininity, fertility, family, and their futures by limiting births. Women might not have won the vote in the new Republic, they might not have gained formal rights in other spheres, but, Klepp argues, there was a women's revolution nonetheless.
Read an excerpt from Revolutionary Conceptions.

The Page 99 Test: Revolutionary Conceptions.

--Marshal Zeringue

Ten of the best pairs of glasses in literature

For the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best pairs of glasses in literature.

One novel on the list:
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré

Contrary to expectations born of Alec Guinness's wonderful embodiment, the master spy George Smiley of Le Carré's novels is a short, fat man in ill-chosen clothes. One feature, however, is constant in both books and TV adaptations: his thick glasses. He has a habit of cleaning these with the thick end of his tie, a habitual prelude to some laser-like interrogative.
Read about another pair of glasses on Mullan's list.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is one of Stella Rimington's six best books; Peter Millar includes it among John le Carré's best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Alexandra Diaz's "Of All the Stupid Things," the movie

Now showing at My Book, the Movie: Of All the Stupid Things by Alexandra Diaz.

The entry begins:
While writing my YA novel, Of All the Stupid Things, I always saw the character’s actions and expressions as if it was a fuzzy film. I know the individual’s physical characteristics, but with the exception of Tara, I didn’t have an actual picture in my head that adequately represented the characters.

Because of that, it was interesting and fun to go through my mental library of actors I had seen in films who might work to represent the characters from my book. Despite their blurry faces, they feel like real people. I can’t assure these actors are the best people for the task, but this is my fantasy movie world and the result of the assignment amused me nonetheless.

I once saw a teenage girl playing soccer, her short blond hair in a ponytail. As soon as I saw her I thought, that’s Tara! So from then on every time I visualized Tara, it was with this girl’s face. Ideally I would like that soccer girl to play Tara, but if I have to go with an actor, Keira Knightley in Bend it Like Beckham would work. She is...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Alexandra Diaz's website.

My Book, the Movie: Of All the Stupid Things.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 29, 2010

Pg. 69: Leslie Larson's "Breaking Out of Bedlam"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Breaking Out of Bedlam by Leslie Larson.

About the book, from the publisher:
Cora Sledge is horrified when her children, who doubt her ability to take care of herself, plot to remove her from her home. So what if her house is a shambles? Who cares when she last changed her clothes? If an eighty-two-year-old widow wants to live on junk food, pills, and cigarettes, hasn’t she earned the right? When her kids force her into The Palisades, an assisted living facility, Cora takes to her bed, planning to die as soon as possible. But life isn’t finished with her yet, not by a long shot.

Deciding that truth is the best revenge, Cora begins to write a tell-all journal that reveals once and for all the secret she has guarded since she was a young woman. In entries that are profane, profound, and gossipy, she chronicles her childhood in rural Missouri, her shotgun wedding, and the terrible event that changed the course of her life. Intermingled with her reminiscences is an account of the day-to-day dramas at The Palisades—her budding romance with a suave new resident, feuds with her tablemates, her rollicking camaraderie with the man who oversees her health care, and the sinister cloud of suspicion that descends as a series of petty crimes sets everyone on edge. The story builds to a powerful climax as Cora’s revelations about her past mesh with the unraveling intrigue in the present.

Cora is by turns outrageous, irreverent, and wickedly funny. Despite a life with more than its share of disappointment and struggle, she refuses to go gently into her twilight years, remaining intensely curious, disinclined to play it safe, and willing to start over. Breaking Out of Bedlam captures the loneliness and secrets that lurk within families, the hardscrabble reality facing women with limited resources, and the resilience of a woman who survives, despite all the odds, through an unlikely combination of passion, humor, and faith.
Read an excerpt from Breaking Out of Bedlam, and learn more about the book and author at Leslie Larson's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Breaking Out of Bedlam.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Carol Graham's "Happiness Around the World"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Happiness around the World: The Paradox of Happy Peasants and Miserable Millionaires by Carol Graham.

About the book, from the publisher:
For centuries the pursuit of happiness was the preserve of either the philosopher or the voluptuary and took second place to the basic need to survive on the one hand, and the pressure to conform to social conventions and morality on the other. More recently there is a burgeoning interest in the study of happiness, in the social sciences and in the media. Can we really answer the question what makes people happy? Is it really grounded in credible methods and data? Is there consistency in the determinants of happiness across countries and cultures? Are happiness levels innate to individuals or can policy and the environment make a difference? How is happiness affected by poverty? By economic progress? Is happiness a viable objective for policy? This book is an attempt to answer these questions, based on research on the determinants of happiness in countries around the world, ranging from Peru and Russia to the U.S. and Afghanistan.

The book reviews the theory and concepts of happiness, explaining how these concepts underpin a line of research which is both an attempt to understand the determinants of happiness and a tool for understanding the effects of a host of phenomena on human well being. The research finds surprising consistency in the determinants of happiness across levels of development. Yet there is still much debate over the relationship between happiness and income. The book explores the effects of many mediating factors in that relationship, ranging from macroeconomic trends and democracy to inequality and crime. It also reviews what we know about happiness and health and how that relationship varies according to income levels and health status. It concludes by discussing the potential--and the potential pitfalls--of using happiness surveys to contribute to better public policy.
Learn more about Happiness Around the World at the Oxford University Press website, and read Carol Graham's brief essay, "Happy Talk: The Economics of Happiness."

The Page 99 Test: Happiness Around the World.

--Marshal Zeringue

Honor Blackman's six best books

Honor Blackman is best-known as Cathy Gale in The Avengers and Pussy Galore in the James Bond movie, Goldfinger.

For the Daily Express, she named her six best books. One title on the list:
The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck

This is one of those stories which moves your heart and stays in your mind forever. Steinbeck is one of the best-loved American authors of the 20th century and this book, about a family forced to head west in search of the promised land, is wonderful.
Read about another book on Blackman's list.

The Grapes of Wrath also appears on John Mullan's list of ten of the best pieces of fruit in literature.

See the opening title from The Avengers at The Rap Sheet.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Kris Neri reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Kris Neri, author of High Crimes on the Magical Plane, a funny urban fantasy, and other mysteries, thrillers and short stories.

Part of her entry:
I don't read many historical novels. I don't know why — I did enjoy history classes in school. I suppose I convince myself I'm simply too contemporary a person, but it takes an exceptional historical novel to hold me. Jeri Westerson's historical mysteries, Veil of Lies and Serpent in the Thorns, engaged me well enough that, after reading the first book in the series, I had to read the second. Both books feature Crispin Guest, a nobleman who found himself on the wrong side of the King Richard debacle, and who was stripped of his rank and wealth and tossed out onto unforgiving medieval mean streets. He makes his living now as a Middle Ages private investigator, solving sticky problems for those who can pay him the meager sums he earns. Often hungry, always dressed in rags, Crispin still operates according to an unflinching moral code, even if it seems a luxury he can no longer afford. The best historicals depict characters who typify their time and place, yet still reflect a...[read on]
Among the praise for High Crimes on the Magical Plane:
"HIGH CRIMES is delicious; a funny, pell-mell romp of an adventure rife with psychics, FBI agents and clowns."
--Diana Gabaldon, NYT Bestselling author of the Outlander and Lord John series

"...Ms. Neri's latest effort is a swirl of fantasy. From the little household gnomes to humans who turn out to be the opposite of first glance, her tale is chock full of fun. She's taken ordinary, mundane things and transformed them into a parallel universe that one would love to revel in forever. Her imagination is without bounds; her characters are weird in a scintillating way; and her plot is one exciting adventure after another. Samantha is the typical Valley Girl with a twist, and Ms. Neri has transformed a tired genre into a new and refreshing experience. Who would have thought that debauchery could become the new ethic? But under Ms. Neri's able hand, her reality turns into a new counter culture. This reviewer will anxiously await MAGICAL ALIENATION, her next Samantha Brennan and Annabelle Haggerty installment."
--Shelley Glodowski, Senior Reviewer - Midwest Book Reviews

“HIGH CRIMES ON THE MAGICAL PLANE is a lighthearted but perceptive story of what happens when a fake psychic with panache meets a genuine goddess with no flair whatsoever. That goddess is, moreover, an FBI agent. They’re united in the attempt to locate actress Molly Claire, who’s apparently been abducted by clowns. You’ll enjoy the unlikely twists and turns in this novel, and both characters are delightful.”
--Charlaine Harris, NYT Bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse series
Visit Kris Neri's website and read her blog posts at Femmes Fatales.

Writers Read: Kris Neri.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Pg. 99: Kathleen Gerson's "The Unfinished Revolution"

Today's feature at the Page 99 Test: The Unfinished Revolution: How a New Generation is Reshaping Family, Work, and Gender in America by Kathleen Gerson.

About the book, from the publisher:
The vast changes in family life--the rise of single, same-sex, and two-paycheck parents--have often been blamed for declining morality and unhappy children. Drawing upon pioneering research with the children of the gender revolution, Kathleen Gerson reveals that it is not a lack of "family values," but rigid social and economic forces that make it difficult to live out those values.

In the controversial public debate over modern American families, The Unfinished Revolution takes a measured approach, looking at the young adults who grew up in the tumultuous post-feminist period. Despite the entrance of women into the workforce and the blurring of once clearly defined gender boundaries, men and women live in a world where the demands of balancing parenting and work, autonomy and commitment, time and money are left largely unresolved. Gerson finds that while an overwhelming majority of young men and women see an egalitarian balance within committed relationships as the ideal, today's social and economic realities remain based on traditional--and now obsolete--distinctions between breadwinning and caretaking. In this equity vacuum, men and women develop conflicting strategies, with women stressing self-reliance and men seeking a new traditionalism.

With compassion for all perspectives, Gerson argues that whether one decides to give in to traditionally imbalanced relationships or to avoid marriage completely, these approaches are second-best responses, not personal preferences or inherent attributes, and they will shift if new options can be created to help people achieve their egalitarian aspirations. The Unfinished Revolution makes clear recommendations for the kinds of workplace and community changes that would best bring about a more egalitarian family life--a new flexibility at work and at home that benefits families, encourages a thriving economy, and helps women and men integrate love and work.
Learn more about The Unfinished Revolution at the Oxford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: The Unfinished Revolution.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top ten rock'n'roll novels

Tiffany Murray's first novel Happy Accidents was shortlisted for the Bollinger/Wodehouse prize for comic writing. Diamond Star Halo, her second, is now available in the UK.

For the Guardian, she named her top ten rock'n'roll novels. One title on the list:
The Commitments by Roddy Doyle

"The Labour Party doesn't have soul. Fianna fuckin' Fail doesn't have soul. The Workers' Party ain't got soul … The people o' Dublin, Our people, remember, need soul. We've got soul." So says Jimmy Rabbitte, with the help of Joey The Lips Fagan. Jimmy knows his music. Jimmy knows his preaching, too, and when the Commitments are formed, for one sparkling drip of time, history is made. A brilliant debut from Doyle back in 1987, (and a brilliant film from Alan Parker, too).
Read about another book on the list.

Also see: the ten best rock biographies, the four greatest rock ’n’ roll books, and the LA Times' 46 essential rock reads.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Amy Greene's "Bloodroot"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Bloodroot by Amy Greene.

About the book, from the publisher:
Named for a flower whose blood-red sap possesses the power both to heal and poison, Bloodroot is a stunning fiction debut about the legacies—of magic and madness, faith and secrets, passion and loss—that haunt one family across the generations, from the Great Depression to today.

The novel is told in a kaleidoscope of seamlessly woven voices and centers around an incendiary romance that consumes everyone in its path: Myra Lamb, a wild young girl with mysterious, haint blue eyes who grows up on remote Bloodroot Mountain; her grandmother Byrdie Lamb, who protects Myra fiercely and passes down “the touch” that bewitches people and animals alike; the neighbor boy who longs for Myra yet is destined never to have her; the twin children Myra is forced to abandon but who never forget their mother’s deep love; and John Odom, the man who tries to tame Myra and meets with shocking, violent disaster. Against the backdrop of a beautiful but often unforgiving country, these lives come together—only to be torn apart—as a dark, riveting mystery unfolds.

With grace and unflinching verisimilitude, Amy Greene brings her native Appalachia—and the faith and fury of its people—to rich and vivid life. Here is a spellbinding tour de force that announces a dazzlingly fresh, natural-born storyteller in our midst.
Read an excerpt from Bloodroot, and learn more about the book and author at Amy Greene's website.

The Page 69 Test: Bloodroot.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What is Kathryn Allamong Jacob reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Kathryn Allamong Jacob, author of the recently published King of the Lobby: The Life and Times of Sam Ward, Man—About—Washington in the Gilded Age.

Her entry begins:
Several years ago, when I began working on the biography of Sam Ward, whose main years of influence placed him squarely in the Gilded Age, I read Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner’s The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today (1873) and Henry Adams’ Democracy: An American Novel (1880), which he published anonymously, leading to wild speculation as to the author’s identity. Recently, when the book was finished, I read them again. The Gilded Age is still laugh-out-loud hilarious in places; Democracy still so cynical. Both novels seem so fresh, probably because corrupt politicians, enormous egos, conniving social climbers, and venal lobbyists didn’t disappear when the Gilded Age ended. They all had their real-life, non-fiction counterparts in the late 1800s and...[read on]
Kathryn Allamong Jacob is curator of manuscripts at the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. She is the author of Testament to Union: Civil War Monuments in Washington, D.C. and Capital Elites: High Society in Washington, D.C., after the Civil War.

Among the praise for King of the Lobby:
"A wonderful book. The author explores a protean figure with much to tell us about the evolving nature of politics and government in the age of the Civil War. The author's great accomplishment here is to make Sam Ward come alive."
--Michael McGerr, Indiana University

"Jacob's trim and surprising biography of Sam Ward... will not change most people's view of what is essentially a hustler's profession. But she brilliantly shows how, in the hands of a master, lobbying can be lifted to the level of art."
--Fergus M. Bordewich, Wall Street Journal

"Jacob enthralls readers with anecdotes of Ward beguiling a skeptical press and demonstrating persuasiveness to members of Congress... a crisply written study, making excellent use of new sources and providing historical perspective through sprightly stories enlarging our understanding of the phenomenon of the lobbyist. Sure to please both serious researchers and general readers."
--Library Journal

"In the delectable biography, King of the Lobby, Kathryn Allamong Jacob serves up the life and times of this protean character."
--Drew Bratcher, Washingtonian
Read more about King of the Lobby at the official website.

Writers Read: Kathryn Allamong Jacob.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Alexandra Natapoff's "Snitching"

Today's feature at the Page 99 Test: Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice by Alexandra Natapoff.

About the book, from the publisher:
Albert Burrell spent thirteen years on death row for a murder he did not commit. Atlanta police killed 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston during a misguided raid on her home. After being released by Chicago prosecutors, Darryl Moore—drug dealer, hit man, and rapist—returned home to rape an eleven-year-old girl.

Such tragedies are consequences of snitching—police and prosecutors offering deals to criminal offenders in exchange for information. Although it is nearly invisible to the public, criminal snitching has invaded the American legal system in risky and sometimes shocking ways. Snitching is the first comprehensive analysis of this powerful and problematic practice, in which informant deals generate unreliable evidence, allow criminals to escape punishment, endanger the innocent, compromise the integrity of police work, and exacerbate tension between police and poor urban residents. Driven by dozens of real-life stories and debacles, the book exposes the social destruction that snitching can cause in high-crime African American neighborhoods, and how using criminal informants renders our entire penal process more secretive and less fair. Natapoff also uncovers the farreaching legal, political, and cultural significance of snitching: from the war on drugs to hip hop music, from the FBI’s mishandling of its murderous mafia informants to the new surge in white collar and terrorism informing. She explains how existing law functions and proposes new reforms. By delving into the secretive world of criminal informants, Snitching reveals deep and often disturbing truths about the way American justice really works.
Read an excerpt from Snitching, and learn more about the book at the official Snitching blog.

Alexandra Natapoff is Professor of Law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a nationally recognized expert on criminal snitching.

The Page 99 Test: Snitching.

--Marshal Zeringue

Elizabeth Kostova: favorite books

Elizabeth Kostova is the author of The Historian and The Swan Thieves.

She recently told The Daily Beast about her favorite books. One novel on the list:
Anna Karenina
by Leo (Lev) Tolstoy (Tolstoi)

Happy families are all alike. Girl meets boy. Girl is previously married to bureaucratic dud. Boy is dashing officer. Not a good combination. With two other major plots thrown in; 25 percent more free. Hundreds of pages later, the reader has learned everything there is to know about the downward spiral of illicit love, but also (if the reader happens to be a writer, or interested in the craft of the novel) how a large cast can be handled with a natural, realistic, sweeping brush—if, of course, one is Tolstoy or Tolstoi.
Read about another book on Kostova's list.

Anna Karenina also appears on James Gray's list of best books, Marie Arana's list of the best books about love, Ha Jin's most important books list, Tom Perrotta's ten favorite books list, Claire Messud's list of her five most important books, Alexander McCall Smith's list of his five most important books, Mohsin Hamid's list of his ten favorite books, Louis Begley's list of favorite novels about cheating lovers, and among the top ten works of literature according to Peter Carey and Norman Mailer. John Mullan put it on his lists of ten of the best births in literature and ten of the best ice-skating episodes in literature.

Also see: Elizabeth Kostova's top ten books for winter night.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Julie Hyzy's White House Chef mysteries, the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: the White House Chef mysteries by Julie Hyzy.

The entry begins:
Wherever I go, readers ask when my White House Chef books will be turned into a movie. My answer is always “Soon, I hope!” but so far Hollywood hasn’t come calling. But when it does, I know there won’t be any difficulty casting it. Readers always ask me who I would choose if I had the final say. Although I know I would definitely not have the final say if my WHChef books ever made it to the big screen, the question is so much fun that I can’t resist participating.

First of all, a little intro: The White House Chef Mysteries feature Olivia (Ollie) Paras who feeds the First Family and saves the world in her spare time See, Hollywood? I already have my tagline!

In the opening scene of State of the Onion, Ollie is returning to the White House with a commemorative frying pan meant to be a gift for Henry, her boss who’s retiring. Just as she makes it through security at the front gate, she spies a man running across the north lawn. Secret Service agents are in hot pursuit and snipers on the roof are taking aim. When the intruder manages to dodge the agents, he veers in Ollie’s direction. She does what any red-blooded American would do in that situation: She conks him in the head with the frying pan. That act of bravery (which angers the Secret Service to no end) thrusts Ollie into the midst of an international conspiracy and gets her “noticed” by an assassin known as The Chameleon.

In order to get this movie up and running, I first need to cast Ollie. She’s petite (very short) and dark haired. From the start I’ve envisioned...[read on]
Julie Hyzy's White House Chef mysteries include Eggsecutive Orders (January 2010), Hail to the Chef (December 2008), and State of the Onion (January 2008).

Learn more about the author and her work at Julie Hyzy's website and blog.

My Book, The Movie: the White House Chef mysteries.

--Marshal Zeringue

Books that made a difference to Vera Farmiga

Vera Farmiga is an actor who co-starred with George Clooney in Up in the Air.

She told O, The Oprah Magazine about a few books that made a difference to her. One title on the list:
by Milan Kundera

Setting the scene: Near the beginning of the story, two lovers are in a hotel room: The woman is upset, blurting out, "Men don't turn to look at me anymore." The man begins to send her anonymous love letters. The messages are intended to encourage their love, but the gesture backfires.

Why she chose it: I read this in my 20s, when I was in a relationship with a man who turned to me after suffering the shock of a drastic haircut—14 inches off!—and yelped, "Women don't look at me anymore." His words knocked the living daylights out of me. After all, I had just been staring at his lovely haircut. It's amazing how, like magnets, books come my way when I need them.

Memorable passage: "They went out, and only after a while did he see her again as the Chantal he had known. It is always that way: between the moment he meets her again and the moment he recognizes her for the woman he loves, he has some distance to go."
Read about another book on Farmiga's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Catherine Lutz & Anne Lutz Fernandez's "Carjacked"

Today's feature at the Page 99 Test: Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and Its Effect on Our Lives by Catherine Lutz and Anne Lutz Fernandez.

About the book, from the publisher:
Carjacked is an in-depth look at our obsession with cars. While the automobile’s contribution to global warming and the effects of volatile gas prices is widely known, the problems we face every day because of our cars are much more widespread and yet much less known -- from the surprising $14,000 that the average family pays each year for the vehicles it owns, to the increase in rates of obesity and asthma to which cars contribute, to the 40,000 deaths and 2.5 million crash injuries each and every year.

Carjacked details the complex impact of the automobile on modern society and shows us how to develop a healthier, cheaper, and greener relationship with cars.
Read excerpts and learn more about the book and authors at the official Carjacked website.

The Page 99 Test: Carjacked.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Leighton Gage's "Dying Gasp"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Dying Gasp by Leighton Gage.

About the book, from the publisher:
The granddaughter of a prominent politician is missing. Silva and his team find her in Manaus, a jungle hellhole on the Amazon where an evil female doctor is making gory snuff films. Silva must overcome his own department's indifference and the corrupt local cops before he can obtain a semblance of justice for the victims.
Leighton Gage has been a copywriter, an advertising creative director, a magazine editor, and a writer/producer/director of documentary films and industrial videos.

Read an excerpt from Dying Gasp, and learn more about the author and his work at Leighton Gage's website and the Murder is Everywhere blog.

The Page 69 Test: Blood of the Wicked.

My Book, The Movie: Buried Strangers.

The Page 69 Test: Dying Gasp.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 25, 2010

What is Daniel Nester reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Daniel Nester, author of the recently published How to Be Inappropriate, a collection of humorous nonfiction.

His entry begins:
I usually have a stack of books next to my bed, and I switch back and forth among them depending on mood and how sleepy I am. I just finished reading Michael Martone's Racing in Place: Collages, Fragments, Postcards, Ruins, and it's super. To me, it strikes an artful balance between what Aldous Huxley calls the "three-poled frame of reference" of great essays: the objective/factual/concrete-particular, the abstract-universal, and the personal/autobiographical.

Then there's...[read on]
Daniel Nester is a journalist, essayist, poet, editor, and teacher.

His first two books, God Save My Queen (Soft Skull Press, 2003) and God Save My Queen II (2004), are collections on his obsession with the rock band Queen. His third, The History of My World Tonight (BlazeVOX, 2006), is a collection of poems.

Nester's latest book, How to Be Inappropriate, a collection of humorous nonfiction, was recently published by Soft Skull Press.

Among the praise for How to Be Inappropriate:
A "deeply funny new collection of booger-flecked nonfiction"
--Time Out New York

"His stories are, as the title suggests, inappropriate, and they often engender squeamishness, discomfort, and laughter. But they are fresh and, at times, touching, qualities that make this an enjoyable read."
--Library Journal

"One of the year's funniest books."
--Largehearted Boy
Visit Daniel Nester's website.

Writers Read: Daniel Nester.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pete Dexter's favorite works of fiction about families

Pete Dexter, whose novel Paris Trout (1988) won the National Book Award, is the author, most recently, of Spooner.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named his five favorite works of fiction about families. One book on the list:
Straight Man
by Richard Russo
Random House, 1997

The story of William Henry Devereaux, Richard Russo's middle-age university professor, begins with a remembrance of how, as a boy, he had begged his parents for a dog for years and then he finally got one. Devereaux's father, a well-known literary critic not interested in dogs or kids or, in the end, his wife, shows up one afternoon with an ancient Irish setter, who limps into the kitchen five minutes after arriving and dies. As his father buries the dog, Devereaux suggests naming it Red. His father looks at him in disbelief—name a dead dog? "It's not an easy time for any parent," muses Devereaux, "this moment when the realization dawns that you've given birth to something that will never see things the way you do, despite the fact that it is your living legacy, that it bears your name." Russo's access to the pulse of family attachments can make it all too easy to overlook the power of his great comic novels, like the hugely entertaining "Straight Man."
Read about another novel on Dexter's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Janet Poppendieck's "Free for All"

Today's feature at the Page 99 Test: Free for All: Fixing School Food in America by Janet Poppendieck.

About the book, from the publisher:
How did our children end up eating nachos, pizza, and Tater Tots for lunch? Taking us on an eye-opening journey into the nation's school kitchens, this superbly researched book is the first to provide a comprehensive assessment of school food in the United States. Janet Poppendieck explores the deep politics of food provision from multiple perspectives--history, policy, nutrition, environmental sustainability, taste, and more. How did we get into the absurd situation in which nutritionally regulated meals compete with fast food items and snack foods loaded with sugar, salt, and fat? What is the nutritional profile of the federal meals? How well are they reaching students who need them? Opening a window onto our culture as a whole, Poppendieck reveals the forces--the financial troubles of schools, the commercialization of childhood, the reliance on market models--that are determining how lunch is served. She concludes with a sweeping vision for change: fresh, healthy food for all children as a regular part of their school day.
Learn more about Free for All at the publisher's website.

Janet Poppendieck is Professor of Sociology at Hunter College, City University of New York. She is the author of Sweet Charity? Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement and Breadlines Knee Deep in Wheat: Food Assistance in the Great Depression.

The Page 99 Test: Free for All.

--Marshal Zeringue

Coffee with a canine: Cindi Myers & Snoopy and Katie

Today's featured trio at Coffee with a Canine: Cindi Myers & Snoopy and Katie.

Katie, on how she was united with Cindi Myers and Snoopy:
I'm a little shy. I have a tragic past I don't really like to talk about. Let's just say my puppy years were not all good times. I ended up at an animal shelter, where I stayed for a month. I was really depressed, beginning to think I'd never find my forever home. Then one day, Mom and Dad and Snoopy came in. They seemed like really nice people. Snoopy said if I threw my lot in with them I wouldn't be sorry. He'd been living with two older lady dogs who passed away and he was lonely. So, even though I have issues about trusting people, I decided to trust Mom and Dad. And boy am I glad I did. I've been with them over two years now and life is good! I'm even learning to deal with some of my trust issues, thanks to them. And Snoopy has taught me a lot of things, like how to catch squirrels and how to do a...[read on]
Cindi Myers worked as a newspaper reporter, travel agent and medical clinic manager before turning to writing full time. She's written both historical and contemporary romance, as well as dozens of short stories and nonfiction articles.

Her latest books are
Her Christmas Wish, Harlequin American Romance (December 2009), and A Father For Her Son, Harlequin Superromance (January 2010).

Cindi Myers' website.

Coffee with a Canine: Cindi Myers & Snoopy and Katie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pg. 69: John Burdett's "The Godfather of Kathmandu"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: The Godfather of Kathmandu by John Burdett.

About the book, from the publisher:
Sonchai Jitpleecheep—John Burdett’s inimitable Royal Thai Police detective with the hard-bitten demeanor and the Buddhist soul—is summoned to the most shocking and intriguing crime scene of his career. Solving the murder could mean a promotion, but Sonchai, reeling from a personal tragedy, is more interested in Tietsin, an exiled Tibetan lama based in Kathmandu who has become his guru.

There are, however, obstacles in Sonchai’s path to nirvana. Police Colonel Vikorn has just named Sonchai his consigliere (he’s been studying The Godfather on DVD): to troubleshoot, babysit, defuse, procure, reconnoiter—do whatever needs to be done in Vikorn’s ongoing battle with Army General Zinna for control of Bangkok’s network of illegal enterprises. And though Tietsin is enlightened and (eerily) charismatic, he also has forty million dollars’ worth of heroin for sale. If Sonchai truly wants to be an initiate into Tietsin’s “apocalyptic Buddhism,” he has to pull off a deal that will bring Vikorn and Zinna to the same side of the table. Further complicating the challenge is Tara: a Tantric practitioner who captivates Sonchai with her remarkable otherworldly techniques.

Here is Sonchai put to the extreme test—as a cop, as a Buddhist, as an impossibly earthbound man—in John Burdett’s most wildly inventive, darkly comic, and wickedly entertaining novel yet.
Read an excerpt from The Godfather of Kathmandu, and learn more about the book and author at John Burdett's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Godfather of Kathmandu.

--Marshal Zeringue

Ten of the best visits to Venice in fiction

For the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best visits to Venice in literature.

One title on the list:
Candide by Voltaire

Voltaire's satire whisks its naive hero around the known world to witness human folly and savagery. In Venice Candide keeps thinking he sees happiness, but then being disabused. The women are mostly whores and the richest man in the city is a jaded epicure. Even the singing gondoliers, he discovers, are faking contentment for tips.
Read about another entry on Mullan's list.

Candide is a book Rolling Stone political columnist Matt Taibbi reads every couple of years.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Paul C. Rosier's "Serving Their Country"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Serving Their Country: American Indian Politics and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century by Paul C. Rosier.

About the book, from the publisher:
Over the twentieth century, American Indians fought for their right to be both American and Indian. In an illuminating book, Paul C. Rosier traces how Indians defined democracy, citizenship, and patriotism in both domestic and international contexts.

Battles over the place of Indians in the fabric of American life took place on reservations, in wartime service, in cold war rhetoric, and in the courtroom. The Society of American Indians, founded in 1911, asserted that America needed Indian cultural and spiritual values. In World War II, Indians fought for their ancestral homelands and for the United States. The domestic struggle of Indian nations to defend their cultures intersected with the international cold war stand against termination—the attempt by the federal government to end the reservation system. Native Americans seized on the ideals of freedom and self-determination to convince the government to preserve reservations as places of cultural strength. Red Power activists in the 1960s and 1970s drew on Third World independence movements to assert an ethnic nationalism that erupted in a series of protests—in Iroquois country, in the Pacific Northwest, during the occupation of Alcatraz Island, and at Wounded Knee.

Believing in an empire of liberty for all, Native Americans pressed the United States to honor its obligations at home and abroad. Like African Americans, twentieth-century Native Americans served as a visible symbol of an America searching for rights and justice. American history is incomplete without their story.
Read an excerpt from Serving Their Country, and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

Paul C. Rosier is Associate Professor of History, Villanova University.

The Page 99 Test: Serving Their Country.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What is Marilyn Chin reading?

This weekend's featured contributor at Writers Read: Marilyn Chin, award-winning poet and the author of Rhapsody in Plain Yellow and Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen.

Her entry begins:
I am a poet who is cross-dressing into writing fiction. Therefore, my reading shelf is, to say the least, eclectic:

At this moment, I am re-reading favorite books. Here are three important books on my shelf that I revisit often:

First of all, I am rereading Cane by Jean Toomer, Liveright edition, with Darwin Turner's introduction. The book is a compilation of poetic prose vignettes, mixed with poetry and spirituals. A good example of a hybrid esthetics. This Harlem Renaissance gem was rediscovered in the 60s. I want to give a shout out to this book and encourage all poets and fiction writers to...[read on]
Among the praise for Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen:
“Wildly profane and funny riffs on folklore, chronicling the adventures of two very modern Chinese-American sisters…. A fresh, chaotic and sexy updating of the cross-cultural experience.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Based on classical Chinese mythology, ghost stories, and legends, Chin’s unconventional coming-of-age novel is a frothy and tart exploration of the Asian immigrant experience.”
—Carol Haggas, Booklist
Chin's other books include Rhapsody in Plain Yellow (Paterson Book Prize, 2003), The Phoenix Gone, the Terrace Empty (P.E.N. Josephine Miles Award, 1994) and Dwarf Bamboo (nominated for the Bay Area Book Reviewer's Award in 1987). Her books have become Asian American classics and are taught in numerous classrooms nationally. She also co-edited Dissident Song, a Contemporary Asian American Anthology (1991) and co-translated The Selected Poems of Ai Qing, Indiana University Press, 1985. Her poetry has been anthologized in The Oxford Anthology of Modern American Poetry, the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, the Norton Introduction to Literature, and The Best American Poetry 1996, edited by Adrienne Rich, among others.

Writers Read: Marilyn Chin.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five best: finance books on troubled times

Duff McDonald is the author of Last Man Standing: The Ascent of Jamie Dimon and JPMorgan Chase (Simon & Schuster, 2009).

For the Wall Street Journal he named a five best list of books on finance during times of trouble. One title on the list:
The Go-Go Years
by John Brooks
Weybright & Talley, 1973

Just as the stock market moves in cycles, even though each new generation seems to think each new high and low is happening for the first time, so, too, do market players often imagine that they're breaking new ground when most are not. Today's high-flyers are pretty much the same as those depicted by John Brooks in "The Go-Go Years," his account of how the stock market changed during the 1960s. At the very moment when stocks were truly going mainstream in America, Brooks produced one of the most enjoyable and insightful books ever written about the tribes and tactics of the stock market. Chronicling the escapades of almost-forgotten swashbucklers such as Gerald Tsai and Saul Steinberg, he produced incomparable observations about Wall Street's merry-go-round of triumph and tragedy. He describes 1968 as the year "Wall Street had become a mindless glutton methodically eating itself to paralysis and death," something that happened again in the period 2004-07. And what of our capacity to learn from our mistakes? "Reform is a frail flower that languishes in the hot glare of prosperity," he observes. Given that prosperity still looks a while off at this point in 2010, maybe reform will actually bloom.
Read about another book on McDonald's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Melanie Benjamin's "Alice I Have Been"

This weekend's feature at the Page 69 Test: Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin.

About the book, from the publisher:
Few works of literature are as universally beloved as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Now, in this spellbinding historical novel, we meet the young girl whose bright spirit sent her on an unforgettable trip down the rabbit hole–and the grown woman whose story is no less enthralling.

But oh my dear, I am tired of being Alice in Wonderland. Does it sound ungrateful?

Alice Liddell Hargreaves’s life has been a richly woven tapestry: As a young woman, wife, mother, and widow, she’s experienced intense passion, great privilege, and greater tragedy. But as she nears her eighty-first birthday, she knows that, to the world around her, she is and will always be only “Alice.” Her life was permanently dog-eared at one fateful moment in her tenth year–the golden summer day she urged a grown-up friend to write down one of his fanciful stories.

That story, a wild tale of rabbits, queens, and a precocious young child, becomes a sensation the world over. Its author, a shy, stuttering Oxford professor, does more than immortalize Alice–he changes her life forever. But even he cannot stop time, as much as he might like to. And as Alice’s childhood slips away, a peacetime of glittering balls and royal romances gives way to the urgent tide of war.

For Alice, the stakes could not be higher, for she is the mother of three grown sons, soldiers all. Yet even as she stands to lose everything she treasures, one part of her will always be the determined, undaunted Alice of the story, who discovered that life beyond the rabbit hole was an astonishing journey.

A love story and a literary mystery, Alice I Have Been brilliantly blends fact and fiction to capture the passionate spirit of a woman who was truly worthy of her fictional alter ego, in a world as captivating as the Wonderland only she could inspire.
Read an excerpt from Alice I Have Been, and learn about the book and author at Melanie Benjamin's website.

The Page 69 Test: Alice I Have Been.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 22, 2010

Eileen Cook's "Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood by Eileen Cook.

The entry begins:
I’ve been asked before who I would like to star in a movie based on my book and I stink at it. I come up with one name and then change my mind and then spend hours on IMDb trying to figure out a better plan B. I base my problem on casting my movie/book on three issues:
1. As I write, I don’t have specific actors in mind. I suspect this is because the characters are unformed when I start the project. I am one of those people who writes my way into a story.

2. When I think of teen movies I get stuck in the movies I knew growing up so I end up wanting to cast Molly Ringwald, who has to be in her 40’s now and likely isn’t doing a lot of teen revenge movies.

3. I start thinking of actors I would like to meet rather than who would be good for a particular role/character. For example, I want to meet...[read on]
Watch the Getting Revenge trailer, and learn more about the author and her books at Eileen Cook’s website.

My Book, The Movie: Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Ten best books on Haiti

Amy Wilentz is the author of several books, including The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier. She teaches journalism at UC Irvine in California.

For Forbes, she named her best ten books on Haiti.

One title on the list:
Avengers of the New World, by Laurent Dubois, (2004, Harvard University Press, $ 15.12)

Explains the Haitian revolution of 1791, why it happened and who its major protagonists were.
Read about another book on the list.

Visit Amy Wilentz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Coffee with a canine: Matthew Dicks & Kaleigh

This weekend's featured friends at Coffee with a Canine: Matthew Dicks and his seven-year-old Lhasa Apso and best friend, Kaleigh.

Dicks, on Kaleigh's proudest moment:
About four years ago we discovered that Kaleigh suffers from a degenerative spinal condition that required surgery. It was expensive and life-threatening, and if she survived, we were told that Kaleigh would only have a 50/50 chance of ever walking again. As Kaleigh went under the knife, my wife and I began investigating doggy wheelchairs and envisioning a lifetime of catheterizing our dog. Kaleigh survived the surgery, remained in the hospital for about a week, and was finally ready to come home. She had yet to walk when we left the hospital, but about fifteen minutes after arriving home, she struggled to her feet and ambled across the dining floor, bringing...[read on]
Matthew Dicks is the author of the novels Something Missing and the forthcoming Unexpectedly, Milo. An elementary school teacher, he was named West Hartford’s Teacher of the Year in 2005 and was a finalist for Connecticut’s Teacher of the Year.

Visit Matthew Dicks' website and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Matthew Dicks.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Matthew Dicks & Kaleigh.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Michael Paris' "Framing Equal Opportunity"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Framing Equal Opportunity: Law and the Politics of School Finance Reform by Michael Paris.

About the book, from the publisher:
In the struggle to ensure that schools receive their fair share of financial and educational resources, reformers translate policy goals into legal claims in a number of different ways. This enlightening new work uncovers the options reformers have in framing legal challenges and how the choices they make affect politics and policy beyond the courtroom.

Focusing on two of the most controversial and far-reaching court decisions in the nation in school finance and education reform, Framing Equal Opportunity follows lawyers and activists in New Jersey and Kentucky as they negotiate the complicated political terrain of educational change in their respective states. Unlike other books on law and reform, this work emphasizes the importance of legal translation—the process through which reformers transform their visions and goals into plausible legal claims. As it reveals, the kinds of arguments lawyers choose to make matter not only to their success in the courtroom, but also to the nature of the political fights they face in the community at large.
Read more about Framing Equal Opportunity at the Stanford University Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Framing Equal Opportunity.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 21, 2010

What is Garrett Peck reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Garrett Peck, author of the recently released The Prohibition Hangover: Alcohol in America from Demon Rum to Cult Cabernet.

His entry begins:
Helen Thomas and Craig Crawford, Listen Up, Mr. President: Everything You Always Wanted Your President to Know and Do. I picked this book up at a book fair and got both authors to sign it. Helen Thomas is the dean of the White House press corps, having served as a reporter there since the Kennedy administration. It's an easy read and well-written, serving as a civics lesson and history guide to presidential behavior (both good and bad). They take an especially harsh view of George W. Bush, calling him the worst president of the post-World War II era, a judgment that I personally agree with. At times, the book strays into direct advice for the president himself, such as to work on...[read on]
Garrett Peck is a freelance journalist who has written mostly within the alcohol industry trade circles. Based in Washington, D.C., he also regularly conducts tours of historic sites that hold a significant place in the temperance movement in and around the district.

Among the praise for The Prohibition Hangover:
"The culture of prohibition promotes irresponsible drinking, putting health and even life at greater risk. Kudos to Garrett Peck for advancing this unpleasant yet unassailable truth with a convincing combination of fact and verve. Impeccably researched and written in a most engaging style, The Prohibition Hangover brings us face-to-face with those who would have us continue down the path of righteousness, and shows us how, far too often, that path can lead to treacherous results."
--John M. McCardell, Jr., President Emeritus, Middlebury College, founder and president of Choose Responsibility

"The Prohibition Hangover is an excellent book in every way: it is well researched, thoughtful, and entertaining to read. From discussions of policies since Prohibition to Americans' tastes for drinks throughout the decades, this book will be of interest to anyone interested in alcohol."
--Edward Stringham, Trinity College, and author of "No Booze? You May Lose"

"Garrett Peck effectively captures the essence of America's love/hate relationship with alcoholic beverages. While some of his conclusions are controversial, his book is well-written and comprehensive."
--Dan Tearno, industry executive
Visit Garrett Peck's website.

Garrett Peck's best books about Prohibition.

Writers Read: Garrett Peck.

--Marshal Zeringue