The Agony Column

Herbalist, Doctor Christopher Hobbs

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Christopher Hobbs

Christopher Hobbs

“I want to integrate both the traditional uses and the traditional wisdom and knowledge and experience with modern science.”
—Christopher Hobbs

Christopher Hobbs is easygoing and relaxed as we sit down to discuss his book ‘Grow It, Heal It’ — more so than I’ll ever be. After all, here’s a man who has spent his life in the world of natural health, mining ancient medicine with modern science. The continuity implied has got to give him the level of peace and intelligence that he brings to the conversation.

I have always tended to be quite skeptical of any writing in this genre. It’s very easy to make claims that you cannot back up and slather them with graphics that are impressive and entertaining. But Hobbs is first and foremost a scientist who understands the technical aspects of the practice. That said, his work and his presence on the page and in-person, are far more humane than are typically associated with the words “research scientist.”

For me, the striking aspect of ‘Grow It, Heal It’ was the cookbook slant. It’s not really in the text, but I love cookbooks, and the idea of being able to create your own medicinal herbs at home, with the recipes you find here is very appealing. It’s also nice that the work in the book does not involve a lot of high-tech, high-maintenance gardening stuff. I’m edging my way into growing my own herbs, as I have some nice places in the front yard to do so.

Chris and I talked about his work, and his take on how growing your own herbs (and yes, he does mention that herb as well, only very briefly) can save you money and cure your headaches — literally, in this case. If you’re interested in growing herb, matters of mind, body and spiritual health, or just want to hear something you can easily do in your own home, then Christopher Hobbs is your man.

Author Interview: Tad Williams

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Tad williams

Tad Williams

After Tad Williams and I sat down at the dining room table in my house to talk about his latest novel, ‘Sleeping Late on Judgment Day,’ I was once again struck by his amazing ability to get to the heart of any question, and his willingness to rip apart his own assumptions. Williams is an eloquent spokesman for what he calls ‘hard fantasy.’

This might seem like a contradiction-in-terms. Fantasy is all about imagining a world which is not ours. Urban fantasy, currently overflowing at the seams, simply puts characters, critters and powers from a fantasy novel on mean streets, real or imagined. What Williams shoots for, he says, is a sort of hybrid of fantasy written with the same rigorous rule-following extrapolations that define hard science fiction.

williams-sleeping_late_on_judgement_day-homeWhen you listen to this conversation, you’ll quickly see why the Bobby Dollar books are so much fun. It’s because Williams himself is having fun, writing them on a very serious goof. That said, the big money these days is in the sort of thick-as-a-brick fantasies that are bringing new fans to the genre by virtue of their big and small screen adaptations. Williams cut his teeth writing foundational works in this genre when many of the current crop of readers (and more than a few writers) were wondering about school dances. and happily for his readers, he has something to say on that front.

Interviews with Anne Rice

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Anne Rice

Anne Rice

Anne Rice – Anne Rice is having more fun than ever. As we sit down to talk about her latest novel, ‘Prince Lestat,’ it seems clear that she’s driven to explore new and uncharted territory. All she needs is a word processor and the worlds that she has created.

To be honest, I love talking to Anne Rice because she’s just as enthusiastic as I am. She knows and loves her books and thinks deeply about what she does and how she does it. Of course, part of what she does is unthinking. She’s one of the masters of reaching into her own vat of swirling emotions and sensibilities and pulling out a story, writing it up from nothing. She’s summoning.

One of the themes we followed this time around is Anne’s own changing sensibilities. When she got into the horror fiction business, she managed a neat trick. She turned her own grief and horror into novels that partook of the fantastic but didn’t seem to.

Now, she’s come to the point where she’s mastered the fantasy and even the science fiction elements behind her novels. She doesn’t go so far as to turn them into “hard SF,” but she’s pretty hard-headed in crafting plots that would play out in the real world. Her so-called supernatural vampires embrace science, and they need to.

Laughing with Humorist Dave Barry

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Dave Barry’s new book is ‘You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty’.

This program was originally broadcast March 23, 2014.

In this episode, Rick explores Dave Barry’s new book “You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty”, with it’s author. And on the “Time to Read” segment, Carol Cassella discusses her new novel of medical suspense, “Gemini”.

By Rick Kleffel

I thought, I seriously, seriously thought that having read ‘You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty’ would somehow inoculate me from laughing during my interview Dave Barry. I should have sold myself the Brooklyn Bridge while I was at it.

So, here’s the deal. You will hear me, throughout this interview trying, almost always without success, to avoid laughing. My attempts might themselves be laughable, were their humor not dwarfed by Barry’s genial ease. I’ve spoken with Barry before about5 his fiction. but this was the first time we got to speak about his essays, which he can just reel off again and again, every time making you laugh.

We did get to talk a bit about how he does what he does, which is sort of like a live autopsy. Barry is a skilled enough patient / doctor in this equation that we did in one very memorable exchange get to the heart of his skills with language. Barry brings a lot of pertinent experience to the table, and not from a source you’d necessarily expect.

Interview: William Gibson Connects ‘The Peripheral’

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Author William Gibson

Author William Gibson

Readers are advised not to read the dust jacket, which gives away a big part of the story, as do many reviews.. This is a novel best experienced on its own, immersive terms. Gibson has proven that he’s a writer we can trust and that pays off here in so many ways. Plunging us into a vision of crime and caper complicated by an intricately devised future, ‘The Peripheral’ is perhaps Gibson’s best novel yet.

One the most enjoyable aspects of ‘The Peripheral’ is Gibson’s bone-dry sense of humor. This is a very funny book, with nary a laugh line in sight. Gibson’s smart use of the crime genre and science fiction genre give him the perfect excuse to zip up and down the income scale in a manner that speaks intimately to the income gap permeating our lives that nonetheless is somehow unspeakable.

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All that is readily apparent in our world starts out invisible in ‘The Peripheral.’ By the time the novel ends, we can look back, and sense our own history, remade and re-mystified. Gibson paints a portrait of the future that highlights the weirdness of the present. He writes superbly about technology; how it changes us as we change it. But he needs no tech to re-wire our minds. Words will do just fine.

Author Azar Nafisi and Actor Cary Elwes

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Azar Nafisi

Azar Nafisi discusses her book The Republic of Imagination.

And then actor Cary Elwes talks about the making of the movie The Princess Bride and his book As You Wish. Elwes’ portrait of the production adds another Escher-like layer to the proceedings.

Cary Elwes

Cary Elwes

Food & Wine Editor Dana Cowin & NPR’s David Greene

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Dana Cowin

Dana Cowin

Audio Interview Part 1: Dana Cowin / Part 2: David Greene (41:45)

Dana Cowin is every bit as unpretentious as her book, Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen: Learning to Cook with 65 Great Chefs and Over 100 Delicious Recipes. The book lives up to the title, as does the author. This is smart advice from someone who can help you learn to cook because she had to learn herself.

And this proves much more difficult than you can imagine. The individual recipes are a treat; they are easy, but it’s the state of min that Cowin captures in her open9ing passages that really matters. Keep an open mind; pay attention; read the recipes. It seems so basic that it is easy to mess up. But once you get the basics down, you can have a blast with Cowin. I certainly did.

Just put two people who like to cook, but know the pitfalls (having pit-fallen into them) and that’s a recipe for a fun conversation. Cowin and I talked about her Brussels Sprouts phase, and my version of garlic stuffed Brussels Sprouts. And it was from her that I gleaned that what i thought was my overly-browned Pear + Brown Sugar Upside-Down Cake was in fact just extra deliciously caramelized.

I had my eternal question about bending pastry sheets answered both in person and in the book. This was one of those chats that I made certain was going to bring back some useful, practical information. And yes, that’s the main vibe I get from Cowin. She’s practical, down-to-earth, and funny.

The unwritten rule is often “Don’t ask questions unless you pretty much know the answers.” The idea is, I guess, that the interviewer should control the interview. It’s not without merit, but here especially, I was going to ask for all sorts of geeky tips.

David Greene’s new book is Midnight in SiberiaMore.

Paolo Bacighalupi and Brian J. Showers

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paolo-bacigalupi

Listen to an interview with author Paolo Baccigalupi, and then Rick speaks with Brian J. Showers.

Editor Brian J. Showers

Editor Brian J. Showers

Interview with Authors William T. Vollmann and Azar Nafisi

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In this episode, William T. Vollmann talks about his dark atlas of the afterlife, Last Stories and Other Stories. And Azar Nafisi brings a call to arms for readers and residents of the Republic of Imagination.

William T. Vollmann

William T. Vollmann

Azar Nafisi

Azar Nafisi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read more on the interviews with: William T Vollmann | Azar Nafisi

Alix Christie

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Alix Christie

Alix Christie

Alix Christie is the author of Gutenberg’s Apprentice.

As I read Christie’s gripping tale of technological innovation and invention, I had to constantly wonder if the author intended for me to be thinking of all the current start-ups as she wrote about Gutenberg and company. As the quote indicates, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” But in spite of this, there’s not a hint of anachronism in the novel. It’s a great historical reading experience that just happens to ring true for modern times as well.

“It creates disruption in the status quo,” she observes. “For me the challenge was to ask, ‘How did it come to be?’” Part of what she talks about in this interview and does in the book is to refute the “Great Man” vision of the invention of the printing press. The whole shebang did not as she observes, “..spring forth.” This is the story of a team effort over three years, filled with trials, lots of trial, and a fair amount of error as well.