Dominick Dunne, Too Much Money Jonathan Dee, The Privileges Adam Haslett, Union Atlantic Elif Shafak, The Forty Rules of Love T. C. Boyle, Wild Child
We do try to stick to three books, but it is hard. Especially when we get gifts like the gift of money. Or rather, books about money. I called up Alan Cheuse, with the intention of covering just four books — only one over our usual goal. But naturally, the literary world has some different ideas.
We started by drowning ourselves in the rich-ass world of the late Dominick Dunne, whose all-too-juicy 'Too Much Money' (Crown / Random House ; December 15, 2009 ; $26), which brings back Augustus "Gus" Bailey as Dunne's alter-ego to dish the goods. And they are good, even if those of us who are not so rich might hope for trucks to fall from the sky on these sorts of people in real life.
Then we moved on to the slightly-less insanely rich world of Jonathan Dee's 'The Privileges,' (Random House ; January 15, 2010 ; $25), where good intentions and bad decisions result in money that's not exactly earned. Dee focuses on the giddy sense of risk, and the addictive nature thereof. Readers may or may not like this family, but these people do seem like the sort who lead a life off the page.
Then there's 'Union Atlantic,' (Nan A. Talese / Random House ; February 9, 2010 ; $26), by Adam Haslett, who managed the difficult feaat of getting a Pulitzer Prize nomination and becoming a National Book Award finalist for his collection of short stories, 'You Are Not a Stranger Here.' Suffice it to say the well-to-do are not quite so appealing in this novel. As they deserve, often.
Elif Shafak's first novel was 'The Bastard of Istanbul,' and she returns with the nicely-twisty 'The Forty Rules of Love' (Viking / Penguin Putnam ; February 18, 2010 ; $25.95). You get the bored suburban housewife who finds herself immersed in the novel she's reading for a literary agent, The novel-within-a-novel, "Sweet Blasphemy" a novel of Rumi, explores the life of the Sufi mystic and creates a nice hall-of-mirrors effect. It's a device I particularly enjoy.
And finally, just because we needed to go way over the speed limit, so to speak, we talked about the latest from T. C. Boyle, 'Wild Child' (Viking / Penguin Putnam ; January 21, 2010 ; $25.95). Cheuse pointed out that it was not so long ago that a 'Collected Stories' by Boyle came out; and yet this is his fourth collection since. He may be prolific, but he manages to be evergreen in terms of quality.
"It was a really amazing testament to the power of small-town America and to the power of organized religion at its best." —Josh Sundquist
I had my doubts.
Tamera at the Capitola Book Café told me that I was going to be amazed at the kind of show that Josh Sundquist would be able to throw when he appeared. She's seen a You Tube video and I had just come of a day that could best be called "challenging." I was tired and not in the mood to interview anyone. But it took about 30 seconds for me to catch a very different mood once I sat down with Sundquist. He gives the occupation of "motivational speaker" a good name.
Josh Sundquist got his start in motivational speaking early — in high school. At the age of nine he was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer, but he was skiing before he even finished chemotherapy — after his left leg was amputated. He talked about not just the personal aspects of this, but also the financial costs of disease.
But mostly what Josh Sundquist brought to the tiny back-office of Capitola Book Café was enthusiasm, and you can sure as heck hear it in every answer. It's the sort of enthusiasm that actually motivates and inspires listeners to get up and do something about their lives.
I get bees in my bonnet sometimes and let them drive me — sometimes literally — to do strange things. For example, apropos of nothing, last summer, I decided that I would take a spin down to Pismo, spend a couple of days in a hotel reading and justify the whole thing by seeing if I could get an interview with Kage Baker. It was a glorious day; a slight wind, but the sun was warm and Pacific Ocean was a suitable backdrop to my exploration of Baker's life and writing.
Now, I don't often do this sort of thing, but this time I'm making an exception, because the interview with Baker seems like ... such a perfect way for those who have not read her work, or those who have, but have not heard her speak, to get to know this wonderful writer.
She left us behind on Sunday morning, but left us, the readers, her readers, books that we can read — and re-read. The re- is incredibly important. Baker created characters we really loved to read about, even if we didn't always love the characters. In fact, one of the reasons that her books are re-readable is that her characters have that prickly feeling of real people. They inhabit our worlds and our minds as surely as memories. We can add Baker to their legion in our memories. Hear her speak; read her books; celebrate her life and work..
02-02-10: SF in SF, January 16, 2010 :
A Panel Discussion with Terry Bisson, Jeff Carlson and Nancy Etchemendy
Having heard, I hope, the interviews and reading that lead up to this panel discussion; Jeff Carlson's reading and interview, and Nancy Etchemendy's reading and interview, I trust my listeners can imagine that things got lively when they sat down to talk. But even I was surprised how well this particular discussion lived up to Terry Bisson's oft-promised "bitch and moan." It was well-informed, but science fiction and literature were pretty-well wrung out and hung out to dry.
"The prospect of things becoming deeply unhinged seemed very, very immediate" Charlie Huston
Charlie Huston's new novel is not an attempt to predict the future, even if it is set in a future that has the feel of tomorrow's headlines. Suicidal Christians blowing themselves up in an America that is (still) descending into chaos, a prion plague that turns its victims into shambling insomniacs, traffic nightmares — not a place to bring up a baby. But then, a couple of years ago, the outlook didn't seem much better. And things have not improved, though we haven't gone over the cliff edge. Yet.
I drove down to the Los Angeles of 2010 to talk with Huston about his novel 'Sleepless,' and to tell the truth, found it to be a pretty pleasant drive. When you live in a city like Los Angeles, it's hard to remember that most of coastal California at least, is still pretty damn beautiful. And LA itself didn't seem quite so dystopian as I expected it to be in comparison. Of course, I don't live there any more, and Huston does.
It shows in the gritty, complex structure of 'Sleepless,' which is an impressive science fiction genre debut; if you want to call it science fiction, and even Huston agrees that it is certainly set in the future and does involve some, to my mind, well researched and entertainingly-imagined speculative elements. But I think any of Huston's mystery fans could enjoy this novel, as well as a lot of science fiction readers. To my mind, it is a book best experienced cold, no prep, just dive in. Sort of like time itself. It's not like you can read a review of the year 2012 and then decide whether or not go to there. You just go, no review required. You can hear Huston talk about 'Sleepless' by following this link to the MP3 audio file.
New to the Agony Column
09-18-15: Commentary : William T. Vollman Amidst 'The Dying Grass' : An Epic Exploration of Simultaneity
08-21-15: Agony Column Podcast News Report : Senator Claire McCaskill is 'Plenty Ladylike' : Internalizing Determination to Overcome Sexism [Incudes Time to Read EP 211: Claire McCaskill, Plenty Ladylike, plus A 2015 Interview with Senator Claire McCaskill]
Agony Column Podcast News Report : Emily Schultz Unleashes 'The Blondes' : A Cure by Color [Incudes Time to Read EP 210: Emily Schultz, The Blondes, plus A 2015 Interview with Emily Schultz]