Writers & Writing

Author interviews, poetry and storytelling.

This past summer, I made time to catch up on a book I'd missed when it was published two years ago. Ever since, I've been telling friends, students and random strangers on a train that they must read Daniel Mendelsohn's memoir called An Odyssey. In it, he recalls teaching a seminar on Homer's Odyssey that his then 81-year-old father sat in on as an auditor.

The title story of Mimi Lok's short story collection, Last of Her Name, opens with Karen, a 12-year-old British girl, lying battered on the floor of her bedroom. She's attempted to recreate a stunt from her favorite martial-arts television program, but failed to intuit the role that special effects played in the scene. "It seemed so effortless, so elegant," Lok writes. "How was Karen supposed to know that her slight, ninety-pound self would be enough to send the wardrobe crashing to the floor?"

By my count, Brittany Kaiser mentions the TV show Mad Men four times in her new memoir Targeted. But her story tracks closer to that of another big TV show — Breaking Bad.

By some measures, David Shulkin had a fairly typical experience for members of the Trump administration. He learned he was nominated to become secretary of veterans affairs while watching TV — and found out he was fired on Twitter.

In the 1960s, Janis Joplin was an icon of the counterculture, a female rock star at a time when rock was an all-boys' club.

"At that point in time there weren't too many women taking center stage," biographer Holly George-Warren says. "Janis created this incredible image that went along with her amazing vocal ability. ... [She] was very, very different than most of the women that came before."

In Cixin Liu's sprawling, Hugo Award-winning Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, the acclaimed Chinese author played a multidimensional mind game that was complex enough to boggle even the most astute science-fiction reader.

The magic of the romance genre is that the books reliably deliver a love story with a happy ending, yet the authors never run out of new, exciting, heartfelt ways to make the familiar formula seem fresh. This month's batch of romance novels is no exception — with heroines and heroes who show that defying traditional expectations is no obstacle to a great love story and of course, the happy-ever-after.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When Axton Betz was 12, her father stopped getting his issues of The Brayer.

She and her parents lived on an Indiana farm, distant from almost everything; her mother's passion was the home shopping network, and her father's passion was raising donkeys. Those magazines were his professional favorite. Axton pointed out that her pen-pal letters had also gone astray, and the family agreed how strange it was that someone would take that kind of thing.

But someone had definitely taken them. And for the next 20 years, they didn't stop.

'Curious Toys' Gets Itself Into Unnecessary Trouble

Oct 20, 2019

Editor's note: This review contains major spoilers about the plot.

Elizabeth Hand's historical thriller Curious Toys is chiefly compelling for its smart, streetwise, complicated protagonist, teenage Pin — and for the careful and vivid evocation of Pin's Chicago circa 1915, with all of its sordid glories: amusement parks, silent film studios, gangsters and the brutal poverty of the Brickworks district, where the bricks that rebuilt the city after the Great Fire were mass-produced in suffocating kiln-smoke.

Book: 'Free Cyntoia'

Oct 19, 2019

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(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "ME FACING LIFE: CYNTOIA'S STORY")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: He was reaching for something.

CYNTOIA BROWN LONG: Yeah. I thought he was reaching for a gun. So I'm, like, [expletive] and so that's what he's doing. He - murder me or rape me or something.

Yes, there are monkeys. There are Hollywood cowboys and antique toys in Kim Deitch's graphic novel Reincarnation Stories, as well as cartoon magpies Heckle and Jeckle, a storytelling robot and a crystal ball. Frank Sinatra, D.W. Griffith, Bozo the Clown and even Jesus make appearances. These pages overflow. Even the cover pushes at boundaries, with the iconic Waldo the cat zooming out at the reader in a fiery flying car. All this might make Reincarnation Stories seem like a release, a purging, a great unmediated yowl or yawp from the depths of the artistic soul.

George R.R. Martin has sold more than 90 million books around the world. He has written all kinds of things, but of course, he's best known for his epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire — which was adapted into HBO's Game of Thrones. His fans are impatient, even demanding, for him to finish the next installment. The most recent, A Dance with Dragons, appeared more than eight years ago.

Hate to disappoint, but John le Carré doesn't have any top-secret spy intel. "People approach me thinking I know amazing inside secrets. I truly don't," he says.

Le Carré's spy days are long behind him. Early in his writing career he worked for the British intelligence services MI5 and MI6. Drawing on that experience, le Carré — a pen name for David Cornwell — has spent more than 50 years writing some of the world's most acclaimed espionage novels, including The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Constant Gardner, and others.

When Mark Morris was a 6-year-old in Seattle, he'd stuff his feet into Tupperware juice cups so he could walk en pointe. In essence, it worked.

A publishing company plans to add an advisory note to future copies of a book written by White House adviser Peter Navarro, after it was revealed that Navarro fabricated one of the people he quoted.

The character Ron Vara appears in Navarro's 2011 book, Death By China, offering dire warnings about Chinese imports.

"Only the Chinese can turn a leather sofa into an acid bath, a baby crib into a lethal weapon, and a cellphone battery into heart-piercing shrapnel," Vara is quoted as saying.

In the 1990 showbiz send-up Soapdish, daytime-soap lifer Celeste Talbert (Sally Field) meets her secret daughter and stumbles through apologies for not raising her, finally sighing, "Hell, I'm not a genius, I'm just a working actress." It's honest, and for a moment, Laurie (Elisabeth Shue) softens. Celeste, sensing her moment, delivers a heart-wrenching speech...that Laurie recognizes from The Sun Also Sets: "It was the Thanksgiving show."

Gail Collins warns us upfront in her robust social history of America's changing attitudes toward women past the first blush of youth that "This is not going to be a tale of steady progress toward an age-indifferent tomorrow."

No Stopping Us Now makes clear, for example, that two particularly challenging times to be an older woman in America were the youth-obsessed 1920s and 1960s. Take heart, though: As its title indicates, the general trend chronicled in Collins' new book is encouraging.

When I first googled the term "Malabar Brodeur," what came up was not, as I'd expected, her many New York Times columns or cookbooks, but rather a marriage announcement from March 17, 1974:

Lupita Nyong'o On 'Sulwe'

Oct 17, 2019

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Every year, millions of people visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It holds thousands of years of art history: Egyptian temples, Renaissance sculptures, iconic 20th century paintings.

Admittedly, it's a little much.

"For the public this is one of those great and magnificent spaces that can be hugely intimidating," says Christine Coulson, standing in the museum's great hall. "But for me this feels like home."

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Novelist Attica Locke writes, quote, "My bloodline runs along Highway 59 in East Texas," unquote. Highway 59 is a north-south route many African Americans traveled during the Great Migration, seeking opportunity in northern cities. But Attica Locke's family stayed. So did the family of Darren Mathews, the main character of her last two novels. The latest one is called "Heaven, My Home."

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