Authors- They’re Just Like US! #1

One of the glossy magazines dedicated to celebrities (Us Weekly, I believe) has a regular feature showing famous people doing everyday things.  I like seeing rockstars picking up their drycleaning or box office sweethearts biting their nails.  I’m just a voyeur that way.  It’s interesting to see that in some ways they’re ordinary people, just like us. 

In writing this blog I’ve been able to correspond with authors, MY celebrities- MY rockstars, and I began to wonder about them.  Do they like the same books I like?  What do they recommend to their friends?  I don’t have the resources to hire the paparazzi to follow them around and peek into their bedrooms to see what’s on their nightstands, so I decided to pose the same 5 questions to a number of authors.  I got so many great responses that I’ve decided to tackle each question in a separate post.


Linda Merlino, author of Belly of the Whale:  Firehouse  by David Halberstam.

Jennie Shortridge , author of Love and Biology at the Center of the Universe: A rather odd juxtaposition of fiction and nonfiction:  The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, and Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach. 

Beth Fehlbaum, author of Courage in Patience:  When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

Megan Crane, author of Names My Sisters Call Me:  Careless in Red by Elizabeth George.  It’s the latest Lynley mystery, and now that I know George will, in fact, kill off longterm characters, I know that no one is safe! 

Jasmin Rosenberg, author of How the Other Half Hamptons:  The Divorce Party” by Laura Dave, after devouring her debut novel “London is the Best City in America”

Edward Hardy, author of Keeper and Kid:  A Voyage Long and Strange  by Tony Horwitz. 

Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Wednesday Sisters:   Dirty Words, edited by Ellen Sussman, which contains so many pieces that are funny, surprisingly sweet, and undeniably sexy.  And The Divorce Party, by Laura Dave, which is an incredibly moving story of two women sorting out how to go forward with or without the men in their lives.

Alan Cheuse, author of To Catch the Lightning:  Lost in Uttar Pradesh: New and Selected Stories  by Evan Connell, an old master, and stories by new Irish writer Claire Keegan, a real prodigy (Keegan’s book is titled Walk the Blue Fields).

Mathias Freese, author of Down to a Sunless Sea:  I’m about to begin reading Montaigne’s essays, in part, because Eric Hoffer claimed he learned about writing essays from this master. 

Joshua Henkin, author of Matrimony:  Netherland by Joseph O’Neill.  A terrific novel. 

Susan Woodring  , author of Springtime on Mars:  An Invisible Sign of My Own  by Aimee Bender (I’m on a Bender kick.)

Doreen Orion, author of Queen of the Road:  I’m currently reading a novel by Marisa De Los Santos, LOVE WALKED IN.  The last bookstore I did one of my reading/signing/royal shticks at, A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland, gives authors who do events a choice of any book in the store as a gift.  So, I asked what they particularly loved and this was it.  I started it on the plane back last night and I can see why. 

Don’t you just love knowing that Meg Clayton is reading Dirty Words, or that Doreen Orion is reading that Marisa de los Santos book you’ve been eyeing, or that Alan Cheuse is reading Walk the Blue Fields (which, by the way, has a stunning cover- I may have to get it just for that!)? 

Next time we’ll see what books authors couldn’t/didn’t finish reading, and why.  I’ve been known to abandon a book now and then, so I’m very curious to see what books authors let go of before the end.

So..what are YOU reading?  

Review and Giveaway: The Fires by Alan Cheuse

The Fires by Alan Cheuse of NPR Radio fame is an intense reading experience comprised of two novellas in which people set fire to something precious.  The stories have elements in common- love and memories, misery and grief, loss and transformation- but the characters are very different. 

In the first story, The Fires, Gina Morgan travels to Uzbekistan, where her husband Paul has perished in a car accident on a business trip after falling asleep at the wheel.  Procedures for cremation, her husband’s wish, are elaborate and difficult in the Soviet Union, but she is determined and enlists the help of the American embassy.  She is able to make it happen only through a Hindu ceremony, a surreal experience in which she, the grieving widow, is the one to light the funeral pyre, and lights up her skirt in the process.  Later she marvels at her feelings of freedom. 

In the second story, The Exorcism, Tom Swanson travels to an exclusive New England college to pick up his daughter Ceely after she has been expelled from school for setting fire to a piano.  Ceely’s mother, a famous American jazz pianist, has recently died of a drug overdose, and her daughter is filled with anger, rage, grief.   You could feel both the daughter and the father struggling to be understood.  In this story there were long sentences that became almost stream of consciousness and dreamlike.  For instance, in part of the story, Tom is driving Ceely home from college.  While she sleeps he is thinking of all the things he’d like to tell her.  Here he thinks back on why he and Ceely’s mother separated when their daughter was 3: 

“Sure, she’d be home every day she was playing in town, but she was sleeping a lot of the time we were awake, so even when she was with us she was apart, so we didn’t so much as actually separate as kind of erode, like a beach washed away after one heavy tide after another.” 

There were comic moments here, too.  The father is constantly forgiving others in an effort to cleanse his soul.  He forgives his father, his wife, his ex wife, his daughter, the dean at his daughter’s school; for various things, like being jealous, or being angry, or for just being human.  He even forgives the couple in the hotel room next to his for their wild sexcapades that kept him awake half the night, but the next day he calls their room repeatedly in retaliation.  So I guess he forgave but could not forget!

These stories are extremely well crafted and excellently told.  I would love to hear them in Cheuse’s smooth radio voice.  They are compelling, tragic, yet funny at times. I enjoyed the symbolism of fire and words like sacrifice, destruction, purification kept coming to mind while I was reading.  

Published by the Santa Fe Writer’s Project, I received The Fires from the Literary Ventures Fund.  For a chance to win my copy, leave a comment here by June 6th.