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06-03-10: Three Books with Alan Cheuse

The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, The Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer, The Passage by Justin Cronin


Even as I type the write-up of this podcast on my hopefully-working computer, I'm getting ready for another confab with Mr. Cheuse later this week. I trust that readers will understand that it will take me a few days to catch up with myself. The last time I caught up with NPR's Alan Cheuse, we were both reading a batch of thrillers that generally speaking, lived up to that description.

One of the most difficult things to admit as a reader, to experience as a reader, is the end.

The end of a great novel; the end of a great series; the end of an author's work. Knowing, that you can never read a book from an author whose work you enjoy for the first time again. This is the end.

In this, case, the end comes with more bangs than whimpers, but plenty of both in 'The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest' by Stieg Larsson. If you've been hiding under a rock, or more likely, swapping out one logic board after another in the faint hope of getting your computer to the point where you can once again return to your normal workflow, (only to find yourself up against a gnarly license manager that thinks your trying to steal the product you paid $600 for), then you might not have noticed that in your absence, the late Stieg Larsson slipped in and conquered the world of bestselling, intelligent thrillers. Alan and I first set our sights to discuss these books, so that the esteemed critic may suggest why they are more than worth your valuable time.

Worth your time as well is 'The Nearest Exit,' by Olen Steinhauer, his sequel to 'The Tourist,' featuring the return of Milo Weaver. For readers who like murky, grey-on-grey espionage novels with characters as complicated as the plots they are caught up in, this is a great way to vacation in Berlin. But please make sure you read 'The Tourist' first to fully enjoy your stay.

And speaking of extended vacations, Alan and I talk about 'The Passage,' which, as noted above is but the door-stopping first of a trilogy that starts with the end of the world, then works forward from there. There's a science fiction explanation to what happens here, but no, this isn't the giant grasshopper apocalypse of 'The Beginning of the End.' There's plenty of material to talk about here, and you can hear Cheuse and I discuss this week's Armageddon by following this link to the MP3 audio file.



06-02-10: The Agony Column Live


A Panel Discussion with Guy Gavriel Kay and Zachary Mason, March 8, 2010

The idea is sort of to build an avalanche. You plant the seeds of the snowball and sent it downhill, Pretty soon you don't have to do anything. It's a panel discussion and the authors are talking to one another as well as to the moderator — in this case, me.

Zachary Mason and Guy Gavriel Kay and I had a very entertaining conversation about how and why they write fiction that falls just a bit outside of every easily-defined genre.

It's not easy to set up an event that involves two authors. Even one can be a challenge; thus the May 22 appearance at the Capitola Book Café by Carlos Ruiz Zaf√≥n ends up getting postponed. But having managed to get Mason and Kay sitting at the table with me, it was not difficult to get them talking. As they did talk, I began to re-think the seating arrangement. Maybe the moderator shouldn't sit in the center. I'll certainly explore that possibility in upcoming events.


Moreover, I definitely want to get out into the audience when we take the break, just to get a sense of who comes to the events, and to find out what the audience wants to hear in the discussion. You can hear the first Agony Column Live panel discussion with Zachary Mason and Guy Gavriel Kay by following this link to the MP3 audio file.



06-01-10: A 2010 Interview with Karl Marlantes

"..these are common human foibles and failings, it's just that they get magnified in a combat, war situation..."
— Karl Marlantes

When you read Karl Marlantes' 'Matterhorn' you'll find an impeccably crafted and powerful novel — period. In a sense it's a historical novel, insomuch as it is set in Vietnam during our war, but it is so immersive, so engaging, and so foreign to our experiences now that it reads like a science fiction novel. For all the passion, power and strangeness in the novel, you'll find Marlantes himself to be quite a scholar. He's really quite down-to-earth.

I spoke with Marlantes at KQED bright and early at, what, 8:30 AM on a Monday morning? I had no idea what to expect, but I think listeners will find his story of writing the book and the stories behind the book nearly as amazing as the novel itself. You can understand why they put him in charge; he has the naturally powerful voice of a leader.

As an interviewer, in these sorts of situations, there are many temptations. One is to simply focus on Marlantes' own time in Vietnam, which is certainly germane, but only so much. I could easily have spent most of the interview talking about the thirty-year process of writing 'Matterhorn.' And I could simply focus on the wild events in the book itself, but I trust that at this point most listeners will understand that I eschew talking about the plot; I want to illuminate, not ruin the reading experience. The interview opens with four short readings to give a flavor of the novel, separated by bits of music from Jon Hassell. You can actually hear the gears grinding in my tiny little brain and Marlantes' entertaining responses by following this link to the MP3 audio file.



New to the Agony Column

12-16-14: Commentary : Christopher Hobbs and Leslie Gardner 'Grow It, Heal It' : Natural and Effective Herbal Remedies from Your Garden or Windowsill

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Christopher Hobbs : "I want to integrate both the traditional uses and the traditional wisdom and knowledge and experience with modern science.""

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 187: Christopher Hobbss : Grow It, Heal It

12-09-14: Commentary : Tad Williams Is Caught 'Sleeping Late on Judgment Day' : As Below, So Above

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Tad Williams : ...Heaven and Hell couldn't be an open, on-going dramatic conflict; it would be more like the Cold War."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 186: Tad Williams : Sleeping Late on Judgment Day

12-04-14: Commentary : Anne Rice Crowns 'Prince Lestat' : A Unified Theory of Vampires

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Anne Rice : "I have to woo him..."

12-03-14: Commentary : Andrew Michael Hurley Returns from 'The Loney' : A Matter of Faith

Agony Column Podcast News Report : Four Books With Alan Cheuse : : Maureen Corrigan So We Read On, Casey Walker Last Days in Shanghai, Ron Rash Something Rich and Strange, Nicholson Baker Traveling Sprinkler

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 185: Anne Rice : Prince Lestat

12-01-14: Commentary : Back to Darkness : Re-Visiting 'Darkscapes'

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Anne-Sylvie Salzman : "You really have to enter a world and it's not some kind of guided tour."

11-22-14: Commentary : William Gibson Connects 'The Peripheral' : Time Life Books

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with William Gibson : "...recalibrate my yardstick of weirdness..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 184: William Gibson : The Peripheral

11-19-14: Commentary : David Greene Catches 'Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia' : The Character(s) of a Country

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with David Greene : "It was very easy to literally just tell their stories..."

11-17-14: Commentary : Azar Nafisi Resides In 'The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books' : Choose Your World

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Azar Nafisi : "I wanted to show how close reality and fiction are..."

11-15-14: Commentary : Cary Elwes Delivers 'As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride' : Re-Reading and Re-Viewing

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Cary Elwes : "...an unwise decision on my part..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 183: Azar Nafisi : The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books

11-10-14: Commentary : Dana Cowin 'Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen' : Learning to Cook — and Live

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Dana Cowin : "...so I add a little more citrus..."

11-09-14:Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 182: Dana Cowin : Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen: Learning to Cook with 65 Great Chefs and Over 100 Delicious Recipes

11-06-14: Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Paolo Bacigalupi and A. S. King : "You're handing us all the problems..." Paolo Bacigalupi "That gray area is so important for readers..." A. S. King

11-05-14: Commentary : A. S. King Foresees 'Glory O'Brien's History of the Future' : Halls of Mirrorsr

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with A. S. King : "How much do we really change?"

11-04-14: Commentary : Paolo Bacigalupi Believes In 'The Doubt Factory' : Thrills Matter

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Paolo Bacigalupi : "...these are perfectly nice people..."

10-30-14: Commentary : Brian J. Showers Opens 'The Green Book, Issue 4' : 200 Years of Le Fanu

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 181: Paolo Bacigalupi : The Doubt Factory

10-27-14: Commentary : Jim Rockhill and Brian J. Showers Recall 'Dreams of Shadow and Smoke: Stories for J. S. Le Fanu' : New Stories for an Antiquary

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Brian J. Showers : "I have a lot reference materials on my desk..."

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