Writers & Writing

Author interviews, poetry and storytelling.

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This week on the Code Switch podcast, we tried to settle a months-long debate we've been having on the team: Which kind of books are best to read during the pandemic? Ones that help you escape our current reality? Or ones that connect you to it on a deeper level? In doing so, we got a chance to catch up with the authors of some of our favorite pandemic reads. We'll be sharing interviews with those authors throughout the week.

Like the man at its center, We're Better Than This: My Fight for the Future of Our Democracy is impressive on multiple levels.

It is a compelling memoir, highlighting some of the formative experiences that shaped Elijah Cummings, a son of sharecroppers who would go on to become one of the most influential members of Congress. It is an urgent call to action, imploring us to defend our democracy as it is assailed by threats internal and external. And, perhaps above all, it is a poignant reminder of just how much the nation lost with his death.

Author Barbara Kingsolver knew when she started her writing career nearly three decades ago that it's tough to make a living as a poet.

"Writing novels has always been my day job, but poetry is the thing that I always did just because I loved it. So it feels more personal to me when I write a poem," she says. "I'm really not thinking about anyone reading it. I just kind of put it in a drawer."

But the author of The Poisonwood Bible and The Bean Trees published a book of poetry this week titled How to Fly (In Ten Thousand Easy Lessons).

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An authoritative history of post 9/11 America has not yet been written. We may be too close to the events of that day — and the weeks and years after — to see it clearly.

But that is, in part, the assignment celebrated novelist Laila Lalami gives herself in Conditional Citizens, a no-holds-barred non-fiction debut.

There's this one story, in a new book by comic artist Allie Brosh, where four guys dress a dog in a humiliating costume and parade him down Las Vegas Boulevard — all to celebrate some human's birthday. Needless to say, the dog is confused, and overwhelmed.

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Past occupants of the White House have placed their business holdings into a blind trust. Not President Trump.

Forbes magazine investigative journalist Dan Alexander has pored over business records, mortgage documents and government reports — and even staked out some Trump properties — to assemble a detailed picture of the president's business interests. He says the president has broken a number of pledges he made about how he would conduct business while in office.

Sometimes humans struggle to find the words to convey the sheer depth of their love for one another. Leave it to Sam McBratney's Little Nutbrown Hare and Big Nutbrown Hare in Guess How Much I Love You to show us the way.

They love each other as high as they can hop, they love each other across the river and over the hills, and finally, all the way up to the sky.

McBratney died at his home in County Antrim, Northern Ireland surrounded by family on September 18, according to his publisher, Walker Books. He was 77. No cause of death was given.

When big, important people die, it's easy to overuse the term "iconic," but the title fits Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Outside the halls of the Supreme Court, she had another life in pop culture as a symbol of both dissent and feminism. And maybe nothing has cemented her place there more than Saturday Night Live.

The culture writer Anne Helen Petersen's third book, Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, is, strictly speaking, the intellectual outgrowth of a much-discussed BuzzFeed essay that she released in January 2019.

The writer Laila Lalami is originally from Morocco. She moved to California as a grad student.

She thought when she finished school, she'd go home. But then she fell in love with — and married — an American. His parents were Cuban immigrants.

Lalami writes about what it means for her to be an American citizen in her new book, Conditional Citizens; by her definition those are citizens who are sometimes embraced by America, and sometimes rejected.

No state escapes unscathed in Colin Quinn's new book: Vermont is "The Old Hippie"; Florida is "The Hot Mess"; in Wisconsin, "The Diet Starts Tomorrow." Even Quinn's beloved home state of New York is "The quiet state with the city that never shuts up."

As a veteran stand-up comedian, Quinn has spent more than a couple of decades on the road, performing in 47 out of the 50 states he now affectionately eviscerates in Overstated: A Coast-to-Coast Roast of the 50 States.

American policy toward Russia for two decades has struggled under a mistaken belief that presidents or positions can break through with President Vladimir Putin, former national security adviser H.R. McMaster said Monday.

And actually, he argued, they probably can't.

McMaster told NPR's Rachel Martin that he sought to help President Trump recognize the need for a tougher suite of policies against Russia after its aggression in Eastern Europe and interference in the 2016 election.

Former national security adviser H.R. McMaster wants you to know he has not written the book you probably wanted to read — and he says it right up front.

"This is not the book that most people wanted me to write ... a tell-all about my experience in the White House to confirm their opinions of Donald Trump," the author warns in his preface.

That might have been "lucrative," he says, but it would not be "useful or satisfactory for most readers."

What is the nature of magic? What is the nature of reason? Must one cancel out the other? And which is cloaked in a greater illusion?

In her new novel Piranesi, British writer Susanna Clarke limns a magic far more intrinsic than the kind commanded through spells; a magic that is seemingly part of the fabric of the universe and as powerful as a cosmic engine — yet fragile nonetheless.

The head of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Michael Curry, preached love when he presided over the marriage of Meghan Markle to Prince Harry.

"When love is the way, we actually treat each other, well, like we are actually family," he said at the time.

His message of love resonated well beyond the hallowed halls of St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. Now, in his new book, titled Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times, he offers a road map on how to love one another.

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Let me start by saying I mean no disrespect to Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple. They are the lure, there is a reason they get top billing. (And while I have never fantasized about being Poirot, I have more than once wished I was Miss Marple.)

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An ancient story of love and loss finds new life amongst Afro-Latinx teens in Lilliam Rivera's new young adult novel, Never Look Back.

Pheus — short for Orpheus — has spent his whole life in the Bronx, charming everyone in the neighborhood with his charisma and his beautiful voice. He plans to spend an easy summer singing bachata and playing his guitar on the beach. But all of that changes when he meets Eury.

Terri Cheney did not expect she would be weathering the pandemic so well. The author of Modern Madness: An Owner's Manual has been living with mental illness her entire life. She realizes now, this has been good preparation for the impositions of 2020.

"With anxiety," she said, "you're used to feeling unpredictable and always being afraid of what's going to happen. With depression, there's that loss of interest in things, the lack of productivity, and the loss of hope for the future."

Perhaps you're an avid reader — or you're just stuck at home and suddenly have more time to read. Either way, if you're looking for reading recommendations, why not start with one of the 50 works contending for a National Book Award?

The National Book Foundation released its annual book award longlists over the past few days, ending with fiction on Friday, featuring work from seasoned and debut writers alike, as well as a collection of short stories from an author who died last month.

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