The Agony Column

Authors: Laurie R. King; Mark Bittman


Laurie R. King discusses her new Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes novel, Dreaming Spies.

And in the second part of the program, food activist and cookbook author Mark Bittman talks about his books, Food Matters and How to Cook Everything Fast.

Author Nick Hornby


funny-girl2Nick Hornby, author of About a Boy and High Fidelity, talks about his new novel, Funny Girl, and his work for movies including Wild and Brooklyn, which recently premiered at Sundance.

Author William Ury


get-to-yesWilliam Ury is the co-author of the classic book on negotiations, Getting to Yes, the co-founder of the Harvard Negotiation Project and has supervised talks between Hugo Chavez and rebellious citizens, the United States and the Soviet Union during the cold war, and in the Middle east.

He spoke with host Rick Kleffel about his new book, Getting to Yes With Yourself and Other Worthy Opponents.

Authors Jennifer Senior and Stewart O’Nan




In a Health, Science and Spirit segment, Jennifer Senior looks at the effects of parenthood on the parents in her book, All Joy and No Fun.

And Stewart O’Nan discusses his novel about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Hollywood decline and fall, West of Sunset.


Christine Carter and Armistead Maupin

Christine Carter

Christine Carter

Armistead Maupin

Armistead Maupin

Rick Kleffel wrote: Armistead Maupin is every bit the gentleman you expect him to be. He’s crisp, smart and quite easily manages the paradox of being quietly outspoken. Sure, he’s not in the narrative, but he’s there in every one of the Tales of the City novels, especially the latest, ‘The Days of Anna Madrigal.’ He doesn’t need a Hitchcock-style cameo. He’s the embodiment of his books, and they are his literary twin.

To me it seems obvious that he is the Charles Dickens of San Francisco, and I am accordingly honored to speak with him. I’m inured to my own book-dweebishness, so I feel no shame toting my two omnibus editions of the Tales of the City series. Like anyone, I’d love to have a selection of the first edition hardcovers, but back when they were coming out, I was still buying Arkham House H. P. Lovecraft. Only after I moved up here did I chance on these in Logos Books. I think they are fine volumes to hold and read. If you’ve not twigged to Maupin, they’re the perfect place to start.

And Rick Kleffel wrote about Christine Carter: Giving advice is as easy as telling someone what to do, and generally as successful. Humans on the receiving end of just about anything meant to help them have a gratifying inclination to rebel against the best intentions. This is especially true when we are our own targets. Resolutions rarely survive to foment revolutions, as much as we would like this to be the case.

Lifestyle and happiness expert Christine Carter found herself in precisely this pickle. Because it was both her profession and her passion, she had a knack for guiding others to their goals. In contrast, her own life, which undeniably had many fine moments, was still not the sort of life she’d advise her clients to seek.

They Want Your Bad Debt



Author Jake Halperin

Author Jake Halperin

If you’ve ever received a phone call asking for payment on a credit card debt you thought had been forgotten, then you’ve been at the edges of the grey market for uncollected credit. This week, we spoke with author Jake Halpern about his new book, Bad Paper: Chasing Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld.

Listen to Jake Halpern for about a minute, and you’ll see where the incredible energy in ‘Bad Paper: Chasing Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld’ comes from. This is one of those interviews where you’ll hear his voice reading the book to you when you pick it up. If you wonder what exactly is meant by “coiled energy,” Halpern’s voice is a great definition.

Halpern combines that great voice with an equally great storytelling sensibility. His speaking and his prose voice are used to best advantage to take you on a journey to a world within our world that you might not ever have suspected could exist. I will warn readers that hearing this interview is very likely to make you want to buy and read the book. To me it has all the makings of a classic.

Jake and I talked about some of the nuts and bolts of the book, and some of the stories in the book, but as well we discussed the how and why of writing the book. In both cases, he’s a great storyteller, offering insights into his characters as his means of creating them.

The story behind the book is nearly as wild as the story within the book. While you’d think all this reportage is just a bit (or really, a LOT) of pounding the pavements and knocking on door (and there is plenty of that), there is also a wild card in there that, well, just reeks of how we’re doing crime in the 21st century. The Kinks have a good song about that; “Everybody’s a dreamer / and everybody’s a star /everybody’s in showbiz / it doesn’t matter who you are…”

Charles and Caroline Todd; Ray Russell and Rosalie Parker

Charles and Caroline Todd

Charles and Caroline Todd

Rosalie Parker and Ray Russell

Rosalie Parker and Ray Russell

On this program, Mother and son writing team Charles and Caroline Todd, who write historical mysteries as Charles Todd, join Rick.

Then, husband and wife writing and  publishing team Ray Russell and Rosalie Parker discuss their own fiction and their unique limited-edition work at Tartarus Press.

Plus, David Shields quarrels with Caleb Powell for a new James Franco movie and the book it is based on, I Think You’re Totally Wrong!

More at

Interview with Richard Ford

Richard Ford

Richard Fordford-let_me_be_frank_with_you-home

Human beings are a bickering species. But as much as we like to mix it up with one another, the majority of our arguments are entirely internal. We spend most of our lives interrogating and castigating ourselves, trying to find with certainty the answer to the question: who am I?

Richard Ford’s iconic character Frank Bascombe has an answer or two for you, and Ford spells them out delightfully in Ford’s latest book, ‘Let Me Be Frank With You.’ It’s a collection of four novellas that reads very much like an episodic novel. It is Ford at the top of his game. ‘Let Me Be Frank With You’ is hilariously funny, cuttingly insightful, chock-a-block with stunning psychological wisdom, all while being entirely engaging and entertaining.

The first story, “I’m Here,” finds Frank retired and spending his time puttering around, reading to veterans and writing for their newsletter. His wife, Sally, is throwing most of her time into helping the victims of Hurricane Sandy, which has devastated the New Jersey coastline. Frank’s managed to keep a bit of a distance, until a phone call brings back his past to haunt him. In “Everything Could Be Worse,” Frank gets a visit from the former occupant of the house he now lives in. In “The New Normal,” he goes to visit his first wife, who has just checked herself into a very expensive, upscale nursing home, having been recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s. And in “The Deaths of Others,” another phone call takes Frank to visit a friend he’d have preferred to have forgotten.

This is a short book, but it is pristine in execution. Every sentence feels both natural and richly evocative of character or place. Ford’s poetic prose rolls out lyrical descriptions of the American suburb laid to waste by the unstoppable power of nature. There is humor, high and low, the crisp clip of an everyday life turned into low-key and rip-snorting laughter. Ford’s an easygoing master of great writing.

Frank Bascombe himself is on a roll, having reached a new “period” in his life, that of the Default Self. In between acerbic observations that are deeply funny, expect to find insight into divining the self that has the ring of truth. Relationships between men and women, friends and ex-lovers feel familiar and warm but never fuzzy.

And even though the book consists of four stories, Ford provides poetic prose, plot and thematic hooks leading from one to the other, so that the effect of reading the book is unified and richly satisfying. Each novella could work as a standalone piece, but together they offer a whole that is truly greater than the sum of the considerable parts.

‘Let Me Be Frank with You’ sneaks up on you. It’s a fun, easy-to-read book that is incredibly substantial. Ford’s vision of America is true to life, and Frank Bascombe’s insights into life, the arguments he has with himself throughout the book, are quarrels that are ultimately won by and for the reader. And as much as we may be a bickering species, here’s one point we can agree on; ‘Let Me Be Frank With You’ is perfectly clear vision of a very flawed race.

Interview with Bessel van der Kolk MD



Interview with Kathy Freston


The self-improvement genre is ever bountiful. We are lucky if we’re somewhere between being profoundly unhappy with who we are or simply ever seeking to become better. Kathy Freston’s approach in ‘Quantum Wellness’ is holistic, which in itself is not new. Nor, to be certain, are many of the components she discusses.

What is new is her happy ability to combine brevity and variety in the service of not suggesting that there is any single solution to making our lives better. For all that the word “quantum” conjures up our most incomprehensible branch of physics, here the words has other connotations. To my mind, ‘Tipping Pont Wellness” might be a better description of what Freston is after. She is simply suggesting that the upshot of many, small, actually makeable change can be that much sought-after quantum leap.

Freston is nothing if not straightforward. She begins the book with a brief meditation on just what happiness might be, then follows up with suggestions on how to use the book. She then lists what for her are the “Eight Pillars of Wellness”: meditation, visualization, fun activities, conscious eating, self-work, spiritual practice, and service. RaEach of these very reasonable concepts gets a nice once-over. Then it’s on to “Clearing the Way,” “Laying the Groundwork,” “Overcoming Obstacles,” and “Making the Leap.” Tally-ho!

Freston takes herself seriously enough to offer sound advice, search for science to back up her suggestions, quote experts in the various fields early and often, and use everyday logic and arguments to back up her strategy of incremental change. She uses analogy and metaphor well, and does not overreach. This comes easily with the main thrust of her book, which is that small changes, easily made, can add up to big results. Stated in this review that may seem obvious, but as a reading experience, Freston knows how to lead a reader along a variety of paths that balance intelligence and simplicity.

Freston is also keen enough to realize that not everything works for everyone. She emphasizes trying what works best, coming back again to what does not, and in general, making and keeping your goals attainable. She makes a strong and important case for spiritual well-being, eating well, and quite importantly, and uniquely, having fun. If you like the idea that having fun is an important part of self-improvement and a happier lifestyle, then Kathy Freston’s ‘Quantum Wellness’ is definitely a book that you can work with. In fact, no matter what your mind set, ‘Quantum Wellness’ has something to say worth hearing, worth reading, and it does so with admirable succinctness.