The Agony Column

Author Interview: Susan Casey


casey-voices_in_the_ocean-homeSusan Casey discusses her new book Voices in the Ocean: “A Journey Into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins”.

She talks about new developments since the book that show how dolphins heal themselves in an amazing and almost inexplicable manner.

Rick Kleffel writes about Susan Casey’s new book:

Science, Empathy and Self 

Science is an art; writing about science requires both literary skill and scientific acumen, as well as an inner source of interest. Susan Casey has a deep, intuitive connection to our planet’s oceans. Her ability to write so well about them comes from a personal connection that cannot and need not be explained.

This is the unspoken power underlying her latest book, ‘Voices in the Ocean: A Journey into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins.’ Casey merges scientific and emotional logic to craft books that are striking intellectually and spiritually, and her examination of our relationship with this selection of sentient beings who live in the ocean finds her at her finest. This is not a book about “what.” This is a book about “who.”


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.


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.

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.

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 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.


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