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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

03-01-15: Commentary : William Ury on Getting to Yes with Yourself: And Other Worthy Opponents : To the BATNA, Robin!

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with William Ury : ...he proceeded to shout at me for approximately 30 minutes..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 198: William Ury : Getting to Yes with Yourself: And Other Worthy Opponents

02-22-15: Commentary : Jennifer Senior Experiences 'All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood' : Reading Fun for the Whole Fambly!

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Jennifer Senior : "...it becomes a source of enormous tension once a baby comes along..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 197: Jennifer Senior : All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood

02-09-15: Commentary : Stewart O'Nan Looks 'West of Sunset' : Twilight of the Great

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Stewart O'Nan : "...we see him as a tragedian because is life is a tragedy..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 196: Stewart O'Nan : West of Sunset

02-04-15: Commentary : Armistead Maupin Maps 'The Days of Anna Madrigal' : Swiftly Flow the Years

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Armistead Maupin : "I could see what silliness was going on while it was happening..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 195: Armistead Maupin : The Days of Anna Madrigal

01-31-15: Commentary : Christine Carter's Path to 'The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work' : Neurohabits

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Christine Carter, Ph.D. : "...a real tipping point..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 194: Christine Carter, Ph.D. : The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work

01-23-15: Commentary : Jake Halpern Pushes 'Bad Paper: Chasing Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld' : Non-Fiction 21st Century Noir

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Jake Halpern : "...he goes to Las Vegas to this debt-buyers' convention..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 193: Jake Halpern : Bad Paper: Chasing Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld

01-19-15: Commentary : David Shields and Caleb Powell Assert 'I Think You're Totally Wrong' : The Power to Bicker

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with David Shields and Caleb Powell : "I read no book reviews any more; the level of discussion is really pedestrian." David Shields "I'm just saying it's a conflict of interest!" Caleb Powell

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 192: David Shields and Caleb Powell : I Think You're Totally Wrong

01-17-15: Commentary : Charles Todd Expects 'A Fine Summer's Day' : We Interrupt This Program...

Commentary : Charles Todd Engages In 'A Test of Wills' : The Politics of Passion and Policing

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Charles and Caroline Todd : "...let them be themselves and sort it out..." Caroline Todd "...it's more on a personal level..." Charles Todd

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 191: Charles Todd : A Fine Summer's Day

01-13-15: Commentary : Rosalie Parker Unearths 'The Old Knowledge' : The New Old World

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Ray Russell and Rosalie Parker : "I thought I'd write something for fun.." Ray Russell "..there was a side of me of that was interested in the strangeness..." Ros Parker

01-12-15: Commentary : Richard Ford 'Let Me Be Frank with You' : The Default Years

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Richard Ford : "...most of our politicians are morons..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 190: Richard Ford : Let Me Be Frank with You

01-06-15: Commentary : Bessel van der Kolk 'The Body Keeps the Score' : Human Trauma

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Bessel van der Kolk : "...being able to see what happens in the brain really helps us to understand certain things..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 189: Bessel van der Kolk : The Body Keeps the Score

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