The Agony Column

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.

Interviews with Authors Patrice Vecchione and Daniel Handler

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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.

They Want Your Bad Debt

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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

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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 bookotron.com.

Interview with Kathy Freston

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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.

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.

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

Maureen Corrigan and the Power of Re-Reading

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Maureen Corrigan. Photo: Nina Subin

Maureen Corrigan. Photo: Nina Subin

There’s an important implicit assumption at the heart of Maureen Corrigan’s So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures. It is presumed that readers of her book have read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby sometime in the past, and probably not too recently. The title and the book invite us to re-read Fitzgerald, and I’m going to suggest that readers follow my cue, and (re-)read Fitzgerald before reading Corrigan’s work.

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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.

chinadollsChina Dolls
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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