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07-09-10: Three Books With Alan Cheuse


Everything by Kevin Canty, The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson by Kim Stanley Robinson, and Glorious by Bernice McFadden

It's summer, and Alan Cheuse happens to be in town for a spell, so this week's edition of Three Books with Alan Cheuse is live, from a nice house in Santa Cruz, though the weather was not so nice. But the books, on the other hand, were all excellent, and that's what I presume my listeners are interested in. Moreover, we got to discuss the new Kim Stanley Robinson collection. Any reason to read KSR is always welcome and his latest from Night Shade Books — which received an NPR review is no exception.

For the record, my preface to our discussion of 'Everything' is one hundred percent true. I would not have given this novel the time of day had I not read his short story collection. But given the high quality of his short fiction, I was willing to give his novel of mid-American angst a shot, and I'm glad I did. It generated the kind of discussion with Cheuse that I hope makes these podcasts more than product buying guides, though I hope they work in this mode as well.


For me, Kim Stanley Robinson is such an interesting figure. My first readings of his work were The Mars trilogy, and from them I had the impression that he was an engineering-based writer. But of course, nothing could be farther from the truth; he simplyh an incredibly intelligent and astute observer of humans and their technology that he gets both utterly right. This collection of short stories offers ample evidence of that, and that the science fiction short story — also discussed in today's commentary — is going to in the long run, prove to be a vital part of the American literary continuum.

And finally, we went to 'Glorious,' the aptly titled superbly detailed, engaging history written by Bernice McFadden. Here's the Harlem you do not know, with the epic sweep of the entire south, characters whose lives you live ... and a lot more. You can hear a discussion of three books worth your valuable time — and why — by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

07-07-10: The Agony Column Live, June 26, 2010 : Mollie Katzen and Anna Thomas, Part Two

"'You should really write a cookbook,' and I thought, 'Yeah, that's a good idea...'"

— Anna Thomas

Of course, how many good ideas are brought to fruition, moreover with the sort of verve that we find in Anna Thomas' 'The New Vegetarian Epicure' and Mollie Katzen's 'Get Cooking'? Not so many, and not with so much success as these two writers. One of the things that was interesting to hear about was the process of writing cookbooks. Both Katzen and Thomas weighed in on this subject, with fascinating results.

Part two of the show includes lots of insights into the writing of cookbook and some great answers to questions. As a presenter of writers, one of my hopes is to stimulate conversation between the writers I bring together and between the audience and writers. And here's one more thing I hope to do; to stimulate sales of the books, that will keep the bookstore open, the writers writing, and give the readers who buy the books a signed copy to accompany their memories of both reading the book, and in this case cooking from the book!

You won't actually hear the books being sold, though you will hear some great thoughts on cooking, cleaning up after you cook and how to write a cookbook. Publishers may lament about the sales of books, but cookbooks seem to be doing quite well, and there is a reason. A cookbook can quickly and deliciously save you easily as much money as it might cost. Cookbooks are certainly a sound investment. You can hear two stellar cookbook authors talking to one another and the audience (and occasionally even me!) by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

07-06-10: The Agony Column Live, June 26, 2010 : Mollie Katzen and Anna Thomas, Part One : Time to Get Cooking Because You Love Soup

"It makes a huge difference really, really, it does, to completely clean up when you're done."

— Mollie Katzen

It was almost too easy. But I did have to change my ways, to be flexible. I had to in fact, so far as I was concerned, be revolutionary, or at least, willing to learn. So I changed the seating at the second iteration of The Agony Column Live. This time, I was not going to be a ping-pong ball, turning my head like a referee at a tennis match. I sat stage left, and let Anna Thomas and Mollie Katzen sit next to each other. But once we got started, I could have been hanging out in the audience. Mollie and Anna were really ready to roll.

I will say this about my first two live shows. Getting people to the show is a lot harder than I'd like. I had two of America's top cookbook writers, real stars. I almost think I could get more people were I to rent a hall and charge for the damn thing, but I'm averse to such tactics. If I were in this make a lot of money, then I'd have this website peppered with flashing ads, I'd be working Facebook full-time and collecting friends and user data that I could sell to whoever and however. I'd have almost all advertising, lots of uncurated user contributions and just a nubbin of content to hang it all on. But that's not the recipe I am comfortable with. I prefer, fresh smart writers, great books and free-flowing discussions with the writers to get to the heart of their, in this case, cookbooks.

I made a lot of changes this time around, so we just had Anna and Mollie read their manifestos and went directly into discussion. Mollie, who writes one hell of a manifesto, was so charmingly modest about her writing that I admit I had to intercede. Anna and Mollie both were made for the microphone, because once they got going, frankly, I could just sit back and listen.

To be honest, this is the way one hopes to moderate a discussion. In fact, we were all so entertained, I'm going to have to slice this into two parts. You can hear the first part of our discussion by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

07-05-10: A 2010 Interview with Abraham Verghese

"Literature has a wonderful ability to restore your imagination for the suffering of others."

— Abraham Verghese

Books — and authors — come to us from a variety of directions. If I were the destiny type, I'd say that destiny intervened to put me in Abraham Verghese's office in the summer of 2010. It all sounds so futuristic now. But, perhaps appropriately, the threads that led me there came from a variety of sources.

As a host for my own show on KUSP, I arrive while the previous host is still on-air. The hosts for KUSP's It Takes All Kinds — Jeff Grubb and Bruce Larsen — are both well aware that I interview authors. A few months back, as I prepared and Jeff Grubb packed up, he asked if I'd ever read a book called 'Cutting for Stone.' At the time, I hadn't, though I knew about the book, by title only, and that it had received good notices. I filed the name away in the to-be-read list, and went about my duties.

The next notice came when I was interviewing Blake Charlton at SF in SF. He mentioned that he was being mentored in Med School by Verghese, the author of two non-fiction works and a novel titled 'Cutting for Stone.' I added another star to the to-be-read entry, and notched the book further up the queue.

When Tamera, the events coordinator at Capitola Book Café asked if I could do an interview with this guy named Abraham Verghese, author of 'Cutting for Stone,' in advance of his appearance there, I jumped at the chance. Now I had two stars and an excuse to speak to Verghese. Now, the fun part began, and I ordered up the book. It's an exciting, immersive novel to read and lose yourself in, something I managed to do in short order. And fortunately, Stanford is closer than San Francisco. More fortunately, Verghese's colleagues were able to easily help me navigate my way to a payable parking place, just a short schlep from his office. And finally, there were enough books in the office (including some highly-desirable first editions of 'Cutting for Stone'), to ensure great sound. Verghese's just as talented in conversation as he is in his writing; for enough proof to send you out in search of your own first edition of 'Cutting for Stone,' you can follow this link to the MP3 file of our conversation.

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