Special Guest Star: Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino
Back from anything remotely resembling slumming, this week, Alan Cheuse and I took up the latest novels from two literary superstars; Joyce Carol Oates, 'Little Bird of Heaven,' and Thomas Pynchon's 'Inherent Vice.' Then, just to mix it up a bit, we talked about David Eagleman's 'Sum: 40 Visions of the Afterlife' and Italo Calvino's 'Invisible Cities.'
We're working our way towards the fall, when the big books by the big literary authors are released, and we've already got a fine start, with Joyce Carol Oates, 'Little Bird of Heaven,' and Thomas Pynchon's 'Inherent Vice.' The former finds Oates moving away from Faulkner and edging in on Dostoyevsky's 'Crime and Punishment'. But this story unfolds in Oates' setting of Eden County, New York, in the town of Sparta, surely an evocative name. Our suburbs are nothing if not Spartan, and the lives of those who live there unfold in this novel with intense sexual passion and bloody violence. As for 'Crime and Punishment,' set in the suburbs, it is ever wise to recall Howard Devoto's immortal line "I could have been Raskolnikov/But Mother Nature ripped me off!" Music features in the language and the plot of 'Inherent Vice,' a novel that is quite uncharacteristic for Pynchon, who nails the late-sixties noir genre with ease, aplomb and lots of drugs — at least in the novel. And finally, we talked about 'Sum: 40 Visions of the Afterlife' by David Eagleman and Italo Calvino's 'Invisible Cities.' We covered the world in a mere twenty-something minutes as you can hear link to the MP3 audio file.
07-30-09: A 2009 Interview with Tony Broadbent — Book Passage Mystery Conference
"You cannot deny history — it's just that in the West, history ended last week" —Tony Broadbent
I have a vivid memory of when 'The Smoke' by Tony Broadbent first came out, as Terry D'Auray, our mystery reviewer, really enjoyed the novel. In fact, it sounded so good to me that had she not read it for the site, I would have. Here we are, boo! years later, and I find myself at the Book Passage Mystery Conference, in the humor and children's fiction section of Book Passage sitting down for a chat with Mr. Broadbent. He deserves the appellation. They told me to look for the gentleman in the sports jacket, and there he was, quite dapper.
You all can get out the guns and come shoot me now. You'll hear my first 33 or so minutes talking with Broadbent about his first two Jethro novels, 'The Smoke' (Felony & Mayhem ; October 15, 2006 ; $14.95) and 'Spectres in the Smoke' (Felony & Mayhem ; October 15, 2005 ; $14.95). But after I thought I'd finished the interview, well, we just kept on talking for like, another 45 minutes. Now to be fair, some of the stuff he told us about he followed up by saying, "Of course, if you told anybody I said that, I'd have to kill you," and yes, he is a gentleman and all that but still ... Better safe than sorry. Broadbent is a fascinating writer with a great sense of history and character. You'll love hearing what he has to say and I think it will make you run out and buy the books, which is what we did at the conference.
Now let's get to the conference component of the article, to wit, that Broadbent himself is a graduate of the conference. He attended twice, after/during which he managed to write and sell 'The Smoke.' That's a pretty damn impressive resume for a mystery conference. As for how he wrote this wonderful novel? You can hear him talk about it, and other subjects that will not require my demise, by following this link to the MP3 audio file.
07-29-09: SF in SF, July 25, 2009 — Madeleine Robins Reads Sarah Tolerance : Hard-Boiled Alternate Regency Mystery
I have to admit that when Madeline Robins described her books as "hard-boiled Regency mysteries," I just could not wrap my brain around what that might entail. Jane Austen with a pistol?
Jane Austen's down-and-out niece, maybe, though Robins explained that she wanted to explore the parts of Regency life that did not involve lush parties, silk gowns and fluffy pillows. What Robins read turned out to be a compelling and gritty slice of ugly life from the bottom of the barrel, reminding me of Elizabeth Redfern's 'The Music of the Spheres', but to my mind, with a nicer level of detail and more compellingly flawed characters. What I heard was certainly enough to send me to the local independent to see if I can scare up any of the frighteningly-covered mass-market paperbacks. You can get headed that way as well, and probably should go before rather than after hearing this reading from Madeline Robins.
07-28-09: SF in SF, July 25, 2009 — Kage Baker Reads from 'The Hotel in the Sand' : A Bedtime Story That Keeps You Awake
It's been less than twelve hours since I returned from the SF in SF gig of Saturday, July 25, 2009. Two great writers, two great readings; and we'll start with the first thing the audience heard, Kage Baker reading from 'The Hotel Under the Sand.'
Kage Baker is a writer who you can expect to deliver the unexpected; whether it's a new story set in the world of The Company, a new fantasy, or in this case, a gift to a niece that grew into a fine children's story. I'll let Baker herself perform all the introduction duties, along with Rina Weisman. Settle back in your car and get ready for a delightful tale of shipwrecked children and ghostly bellboys. Your room at 'The Hotel Under the Sand' awaits you as the linked MP3 audio file.
07-27-09: A 2009 Interview with Mary Roach
"...Masters and Johnson did a quite amazing experiment trying to find out whether upsuck was legitimate; they were upsuck skeptics..." — Mary Roach
Mary Roach is every bit as entertaining in person as she is in print. That's pretty much all you need to know about any interview with this wonderful writer. Well, that, and that she's not just willing to dish it out — she can take it as well. It's not immediately apparent, because she simply writes and speaks so well.
Mary Roach is in many ways a sleight-of-hand artist. As you listen to her speak about her book 'Bonk,' and talk about her research, and what it has unearthed, you're likely to think that she's hilariously funny, remarkably smart and has an ability to ferret out facts that nobody ever possibly thought about presenting to the public. And all of these things are true. What's more, she's doesn't just investigate, she participates. She enters into the spirit of the spirit and substance of the research she's researching. But it's not just this that takes her work to a new level.
Mary Roach is really engaged in a very sophisticated analysis not just of science, but of the intersection of science and culture. She lives in the interstices, where the two meet, and not often comfortably. Through her books and interviews, you can get her gestalt of what happens when hard-headed science meets a society unwilling to accommodate the truth. If you are willing to hear the uncompromising truth, follow this link to the MP3 audio file.