The Agony Column

Interview with Lawrence Wright

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Author Lawrence Wright

Author Lawrence Wright

You can understand how Lawrence Wright gets the sort of inside stories he tells in ‘Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David’ when you sit down to talk with him. He carries a masterful knowledge of his subject with a disarming ease. And he’s willing to explore not just the histories he’s learned, but his own writing experience.

“…peace is possible…”

Lawrence Wright

Wright is a natural storyteller, and it’s hard not to just let him unravel the complicated set of facts he’s able to make almost absurdly clear. It was fun to ask about the origins of the book, of course, but just as fun to hear him talk with such authority about what he found out. The mark of a great storyteller is that you forget he is present; only the story is there. Wright has the ability to put his stories front and center.

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Rebecca Alexander, on ‘Not Fade Away: A Memoir of Senses Lost and Found’

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Rebecca Alexander

Rebecca Alexander

At the age of 12, Rebecca Alexander was diagnosed with Retinitis pigmentosa; at the age of nineteen, she was told that she had Usher Sydrome type 3, and that she’d be blind and deaf by the age of thirty; now she’s 34, a psychotherapist and a spin instructor with a cochlear implant and a ten-degree visual range. KUSP’s Rick Kleffel spoke with Alexander about her new book, Not Fade Away: A Memoir of Senses Lost and Found.

“… like your hands are, and their arms are, engaged in this poetic dance…”

— Rebecca Alexander

Rebecca Alexander is dressed for the radio when I meet her in the lobby at KQED. She’s wearing a great shirt (Lettuce Turnip the Beet), and looks like she’s ready to teach spin to a class of bicyclists who can’t possibly be in as good shape as she is. With her are her aunt, who drove, and her 97 year-old grandmother from Capitola. With a crew like this, it’s clear that ‘Not Fade Away’ will live up to its title.

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Lisa See “China Dolls” and Lawrence Wright “13 Days in September”

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On this week’s Agony Column, the legendary Walter Mosely on his latest story whose protagonist is a former porn star. And Lisa See, the renowned author of novels and nonfiction centering on the lives of Chinese and Chinese American characters discusses her new novel about performers in San Francisco’s night clubs in the middle of the last century.

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Lisa See’s books include the best selling crime novel “Flower Net” and the personal family history “On golden Mountain: The 100 Year Odyssey of My Chinese American Family.”

From Lisa See’s Web site: “It’s 1938 in San Francisco: a world’s fair is preparing to open on Treasure Island, a war is brewing overseas, and the city is alive with possibilities. Grace, Helen, and Ruby, three young women from very different backgrounds, meet by chance at the exclusive and glamorous Forbidden City nightclub. Grace Lee, an American-born Chinese girl, has fled the Midwest with nothing but heartache, talent, and a pair of dancing shoes. Helen Fong lives with her extended family in Chinatown, where her traditional parents insist that she guard her reputation like a piece of jade. The stunning Ruby Tom challenges the boundaries of convention at every turn with her defiant attitude and no-holds-barred ambition.”

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Author Nick Harkaway Discusses the Impact of Parenthood

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Nick Harkaway

Nick Harkaway

Nick Harkaway is as delightful in person as he is on the page. We sat down in London to talk about his latest book, ‘Tigerman,’ and how he managed to craft a novel that reads like a big-screen adaptation of a great comic book. If you like the voice you hear in the interview, then you’ll love the book.

“…we do a lot of policy-based evidence making here…”
—Nick Harkaway

For a novel that might well and accurately be described as a comic-book novel or a crime thriller, there’s actually quite a bit to discuss in ‘Tigerman.’ Harkaway has crafted an ingenious setting in Mancreu Island, one that had me trying to look it up to see if it existed. He manages to crank up the atmosphere to the point where most readers will eel that the setting is a character, and his means of doing so make for a fun discussion.

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Jane Pauley Talks About Her Book: Reimaging the Rest of Your Life

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This program was originally broadcast on February 9, 2014.

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Jane Pauley.

From Rick Kleffel:

Pauley’s book is a step aside from what you might expect. She weaves in her own post-career experiences with those of the people she’s interviewed for her segment on Today. She teaches by story, not sermon, embracing mutually exclusive notions. What works for one person might not work for another. ‘Your Life Calling’ does not offer all of the answers; but it does offer examples of answers that worked.

Pauley’s book is anything but simple, though it’s quite easy to read. She starts out with the story of Meg, a woman stricken with cancer, who recovers and then asks the pertinent question; “What am I going to do for the next 40 years?” Pauley is part of all that question implies, and she follows up with a variety of answers, including her own.

As ‘Your Life Calling’ unfolds, readers will find a mixture of Pauley’s colorful life, played lightly, and mixed with the stories she’s found for her TV series. The prose trends to the reportorial, and she’s clearly influenced by the styles required for TV. She works fast, and cuts time to suit the story and the point. Readers will be surprised by both her interest in and perspective on the future. In one segment, she offers visionary prose as she imagines how she might live some years down the road. Her grounded, low-key style keeps it all together.

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An Interview with Ex-CIA Attorney John Rizzo

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Note: This program was originally broadcast February 2, 2014.

Rick Kleffel speaks with the man who was once the CIA’s top lawyer – John Rizzo, about the torture tapes, enhanced Interrogation techniques, dirty assets, drone strikes and about his new book, Company Man.

“Even inside the bubble, you find yourself fairly alone…” — John Rizzo

Rick Kleffel wrote:
I was most interested in the historical aspects of the story, and that’s where I took much of our conversation. There’s a very nice JFK connection in the book, and a scene that is impeccably described. We talked about Iran-Contra, and the part he would have willingly played had he been in the wrong place at the right time. All through the conversation, I have to say that John Rizzo was right there. I think that he was relieved to talk with someone who had read the book, and he was clearly happy to discuss events in the book that were not the focus of recent media attention.

Fantasy Writer Tad Williams

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Tad Williams’ newest books are hard-boiled detective stories with a fantasy twist; the detective is angel Bobby Dollar.

By Rick Kleffel

Attitude is everything in the Bobby Dollar books by Tad Williams. The Angel Doloriel, aka Bobby Dollar, tells the story in some of the most enjoyable, hilarious, smartest prose you can find in this particular veil of tears. Following hot on the heels of ‘The Dirty Streets of Heaven,’ ‘Happy Hour in Hell’ follows the narrative model of the first book. We start in the middle, in this case as Bobby crosses a bridge into hell, then whip back to the beginning and take the story straight up, no chasers.

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Author Roz Chast, “The Beginning of the End” to “The End”

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By Rick Kleffel

Roz Chast Asks ‘Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?’

No.

You’d think that living here in the 21st century, we’d be comfortable with death. It’s not as if we haven’t seen enough of it. But everyday, natural, he-lived-a-long-life-and-then-dropped-dead death gives us the heebies to the point where we’ve let ourselves be convinced that anything is better. Plus, there’s a healthy profit in tending to those who might otherwise have died but can be kept alive long enough to cash out every penny they had ever scrimped, saved and hidden away for that rainy day. If only it were just a day.

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Interview with Alan Furst

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While Alan Furst’s current novel is ‘Midnight in Europe,’ at this point in his career, you can’t really talk about a single novel. Make no mistake. You can read ‘Midnight in Europe’ by itself, having never read anything else by the man, cold, and it will knock you out. It’s a superb novel. But Furst is working on a unique literary form, a multi-volume version of a story in the style of a huge Russian novel.

“..but it was as nothing compared to the noise of planes landing…”
—Alan Furst

In conversation about his latest, I definitely wanted to open it up, to explore how Furst builds this detailed world, novel by novel. He told me some very interesting secrets that took me back to my time as a child, reading the Compton’s Encyclopedia. In retrospect, it seems that the hardbound encyclopedia has much more worth than one might presume, as it captures the world in a moment. It may give you some valuable information about the world, to be sure, but is certain to offer invaluable and un-reproducible information about the moment.

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Writer Sarah Lotz

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Read a review of Sarah Lutz’s The Three, by Rick Kleffel.

Author Sarah Lutz

Author Sarah Lutz

Sarah Lotz is something of a contradiction in terms. Here’s her first novel, by my reckoning, ‘The Three.’ Bu there are three in the “Also By” list, and I come to understand she’s part of three other “writers,” that is single names on the cover that prove to be collaborations, including one with her daughter.

“…people need answers…”

— Sarah Lotz

To be honest, she looks far too young to have a daughter with whom she could collaborate, but she tells me that this is the case. The point being, if ‘The Three’ seems like a remarkably accomplished first novel, then that’s because like most “first” novels, it’s actually, well, pretty far down the line.

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