The Agony Column

Author Interview: Karen Joy Fowler


fowler_w_coverRick Kleffel is joined by national bestselling writer and Man Booker Award nominee Karen Joy Fowler to discuss Black Glass, her collection of short stories.

Author Interview: Dan Buettner


In 2007, National Geographic explorer Dan Buettner set out to find the places where people lived the longest, healthiest lives.

Rick Kleffel talks to Buettner about the places and the people he discovered, and his new efforts to reverse engineer those conditions. Live long and prosper with Dan Buettner and The Bue Zones Solution.

Author Dan Simmons



Having it Every Way

Reading can provide many delights; you can immerse yourself in a detailed world not your own, you can be led to laughter, engaged by a tense story, endeared to well-drawn characters, enlightened by fiction that draws from history. In ‘The Fifth heart,’ Dan Simmons does all of these, pretty much at once, with an ease that makes it all deceptively fun.

The setup is smart and fast. We meet Henry James in 1893, considering suicide as he stands on the bank of the Seine River. He’s joined by a tall fellow with an aquiline profile who advises him to reconsider. This man introduces himself as Sherlock Holmes, and he confides in James that he too was considering suicide because, after the incident at Reichenbach Falls, he’s come to the conclusion that he’s a fictional character. The best cure for this, he suggests, is that James help him unravel a murder that seems to have been a suicide.

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Dr. Michael Gazzaniga



Neuroscience legend Michael Gazzaniga who as a student, discovered the split between the left and right halves of the human brain, discuss his science memoir, Tales from Both Sides of the Brain.

Plus, National Geogrpahic’s Dan Buettner on The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People.

Interview with John Waters: Going His Way

John Waters at KUSP. Photo: Rick Kleffel

John Waters at KUSP. Photo: Rick Kleffel

Interview From the first sentence on, John Waters shares his excitement as well as the pitch for ‘Carsick.’ You know it well before reading this review. At the age of 66, John Waters decided he would hitchhike from his doorstep in Baltimore to his doorstep in San Francisco, and share his adventures with readers. That alone is reason enopugh to makie this book worth reading.

There’s more than a bit of non-fiction. Before he tells us what really happened on his journey, Waters offers us two fictional versions; a best-case scenario and a worst-case scenario. Some readers may have trouble distinguishing between the two, though both are markedly different from reality. What remains the same is Waters’ lust or life, his joyful celebration of everything that is human. This is a fun, funny book that offers a potent, often-poignant glimpse of America. It’s quite irreverent but never irrelevant.

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Interviews with Google’s Laszlo Bock and ‘Yoga Girl’ Rachel Brathen


yoga-girlThis week on The Agony Column Literary Magazine, host Rick Kleffel talks with Laszlo Bock, Google’s head of People Operations, about creating one of the best places to work in the world.

Then, Rachel Brathen, A-K-A Instagram sensation Yoga Girl, contrasts her inner life teaching yoga, and her digital life in social media.

Interview with Barney Frank

Rick Kleffel with Barney Frank

Rick Kleffel with Barney Frank

Humor, power and politics — inside the sausage factory.  Representative Barney Frank discusses his book, Frank.

Then, author Jon Ronson on the horror of Internet embarrassment in his new book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.

Author Erik Larson


dead-wake-680x440Erik Larson, author of The Devil in the White City, about his latest book, Dead Wake, which tells the story of the sinking of the Lusitania. It’s currently the number one bestselling non-fiction title.

And then on the program, Lazslo Bock, Google’s Director of People Operations, reveals why work should be fun.


From Rick Kleffels ‘‘ website:

Countdown to Destiny

We know, or think we know, what is going to happen. The Cunard liner Lusitania will be hit by a torpedo and sink; most of the passengers will die. What more can be said, and to what aim? Erik Larson answers that question with ‘Dead Wake,’ a tightly written historical thriller that for all its meticulous documentation, creates character and suspense as well as any novel. Readers will find themselves in the peculiar position of rooting for the impossible.

It’s important to note that Larson is a stickler for accuracy. Everything in the book is sourced. I mention this up front because the reading experience is so immersive and novelistic that it’s easy to forget you’re reading a work of non-fiction. Using the sinking of the Lusitania as the centerpiece, Larson has very carefully crafted a work that offers a striking and sweeping vision of the world descending into chaos as the war that will eventually be called World War One begins.

‘Dead Wake’ itself begins at pier 54 on the Hudson River, on May 1, 1915, as Captain William Thomas Turner readies the Lusitania. Larson puts us effectively in the place and time of his work with sparse, effective world-building. He knows the precise level of detail required to envelop readers in the perceptions of those whop were there. And in doing so, he immediately crafts an intense sense of suspense; will these passengers survive?

On the other side of the equation, he lets us meet Captain Walther Schwieger of U-20, the German sub fated to sink the Lusitania. Here, Larson finds a disarmingly likable figure, a man who runs the “happy U-boat” with a managerial ruthlessness devoted to sinking the biggest ships he can bring down. But U-boat tech is seriously cutting edge, which in this case means that it barely and rarely works as advertised. Torpedoes are more miss than hit, and the flimsy confines of a steel tube in the ocean are prone to leaks and lack sonar.

The plot is simple and tense; soon enough, the Lusitania will meet U-20, be torpedoed and sink in 18 minutes. Getting there is the key and Larson takes us from Washington DC, where we meet a depressed and love-struck President Woodrow Wilson, to Room 40 in the UK< where Winston Churchill is angling to get the Yanks dragged into this European War, to the war front itself, where soldiers jump and die to advance a battle line on the nightmarish landscape that would inspire J. R. R. Tolkien’s Mordor. Larson makes all this seem relevant, seamless and crisply engaging.

‘Dead Wake’ offers all the involving thrills of a novel; great characters, complicated ethics and morals, tense situations, romance, and the world literally hanging in the balance, with the impact of non-fiction, to wit — it’s all mind-bogglingly true. Larson assuredly fills in a lot of details about the sinking of the Lusitania that will be shockingly new to most readers, but the real appeal here is not simply the great facts, or even the great stories. ‘Dead Wake’ weaves facts in a manner that is equally artful and entertaining. Larson re-builds the past with his own personal style of prose, story and spectacle. For his readers, Erik Larson makes the past present.

Kazuo Ishiguro and ‘The Buried Giant’


buried-giantKazuo Ishiguro, the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go, discusses his latest novel The Buried Giant.

Also on the program, Dean Sluyter on Natural Meditation: A Guide to Effortless Meditative Practice. And Dan Simmons describes the moment when Sherlock Holmes deduces that he is a fictional character.

Interviews with Authors Patrice Vecchione and Daniel Handler


book-step-into-natureAuthor of Step Into Nature: Nurturing Imagination and Spirit in Everyday Life, Patrice Vecchione joins Rick to discuss her new book.

Rick also spoke with Daniel Handler AKA Lemony Snicket, about his new book We Are Pirates.

Then, Geoff Dyer has Another Great Day At Sea: Life Aboard the George HWW Bush.