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04-17-15: A 2015 Interview with Eerik Larson

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"...said to have been found in the arms of a dead German sailor..."
— Erik Larson

Erik Larson admitted that he was a bit nervous at the prospect of writing about the sinking of the Lusitania for his latest book, 'Dead Wake.' It's a well-known incident, though I have to say that "sinking of the Lusitania" probably summarized the extent of what I knew about it before reading the book.

But what Larson does is much more than historical non-fiction. To this reader, he epitomizes the way history should be taught; through story. He has an amazing ability to put readers into the worldview of his non-fictional characters, to the extent that we find ourselves rooting against the history we know happened.

I spent some time exploring this notion with Larson, which becomes even more complicated in this book. In Captain Walther Schwieger, Larson has found a character to whom our reaction is very conflicted. We like this man, and by all accounts he ran a nice U-boat. I found myself (Larson told me I was not alone in this) wanting him to sink something big — just not the Lusitania. We even admire his ambitiousness at going for the big game.

In spite of his own conflicts about writing a book on such a well-known incident, Larson went ahead, because, he told me, "I wanted to write a historical maritime thriller." In that he has admirably succeeded. Again, as readers, our reactions to this book are themselves interesting. For me this book about well-known history was probably more exciting than a fictional novel in the same setting.

The tension that Larson creates as we wait for the inevitable is intense but well earned. You do not want to (or need to) skip ahead to find out what happens. You want to read every word, carefully, and savor the book as it unfolds.

Larson and I discussed some of the archival materials he found in the process of writing the book, and his visual means of putting it all together. The history of this book may for readers rival the history in the book. You can hear our conversation by following this link to the MP3 audio file.




04-17-15 UPDATE: Podcast Update: Time to Read Episode 201: Erik Larson, Dead Wake

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Here's the two-hundred and first episode of my series of podcasts, which I'm calling Time to Read, or when I warn the writer in advance, the lightning round. This is turning out to be really fun, and especially since I get to take on my game show host persona.

This week, I'm way behind, but who knows what the hell might happen. I am hoping to get back up and stumbling. I have lots of great books in the hopper to review and lots of great interviews to podcast.

The podcasts/radio broadcasts will be of books worth your valuable reading time. I'll try to keep the reports under four minutes, for a radio-friendly format. If you want to run them on your show or podcast, let me know.

My hope is that in under four minutes I can offer readers a concise review and an opportunity to hear the author read from or speak about the work. I'm hoping to offer a new one every week.

The two-hundred and first episode is a look at Erik Larson and 'Dead Wake.'

Here's a link to the MP3 audio file of Time to Read, Episode 201: Erik Larson, 'Dead Wake.'




04-15-15: A 2014 Interview with Peter Bell

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"...I looked up some of the old books..."
— Peter Bell

I met Peter Bell at a lonely pub in the midst of the wilds of Yorkshire; the Lamb Inn. It was overcast, cool and breezy. We were the only customers, sitting in a cozy booth looking out onto the dour day and discussing his stories of life, death and life after death. The Lamb Inn served Black Sheep ale. It could not have been a better setting.

It won't surprise anyone to learn that Bell is a quiet man with a strong sense of story. When he gets going, there's a bit of melody in his voice, a sort of distant tune from a place in the wild. We sat, sipped and chatted about his stories, and the landscapes that inspire them. There's landscape to spare in Yorkshire, none of it conventionally pretty, but with a raw appeal that has an undeniable draw. It wants you to walk out into it and never return.

We talked about both of his collections; 'Strange Epiphanies' and 'A Certain Slant of Light.' It turns out that Bell, for all that he writes of being indebted to M. R. James, is also a fan of a more recent writer of the strange, that is, Ramsey Campbell. 'Conservation' from 'A Certain Slant of Light' is set in Campbell territory. But again, he's more than his admitted influences; to me Bell is a true original. And he hits a high mark for quality with every story.

For this reader, the ghost story offers perhaps the greatest potential of any genre trope, and Peter Bell is a master of the ghost story. But these aren't just the shades of the dead. Peter Bell's protagonists may be buried in ancient books, landscape and architectures, but it is their own doubts that haunt them.

Peter Bell and I talked for 45 minutes, and then for another seven in a "lightning round" interview. We sipped ales and let the silence of the pub ring through us. Then he bid me good-bye, and told me that he was going for a walk. He struck out across a trackless field and disappeared. Clouds, sun, old barns and houses in the fields.

You can hear Peter Bell discuss his approach to the world and the netherworld by following this link to the MP3 audio file.




04-15-15 UPDATE: Podcast Update: Time to Read Episode 200: Peter Bell 'A Certain Slant of Light' and 'Strange Epiphanies'

Click image for audio link.

Here's the two-hundredth episode of my series of podcasts, which I'm calling Time to Read, or when I warn the writer in advance, the lightning round. This is turning out to be really fun, and especially since I get to take on my game show host persona.

This week, I'm way behind, but who knows what the hell might happen. I am hoping to get back up and stumbling. I have lots of great books in the hopper to review and lots of great interviews to podcast.

The podcasts/radio broadcasts will be of books worth your valuable reading time. I'll try to keep the reports under four minutes, for a radio-friendly format. If you want to run them on your show or podcast, let me know.

My hope is that in under four minutes I can offer readers a concise review and an opportunity to hear the author read from or speak about the work. I'm hoping to offer a new one every week.

The two-hundredth episode is a look at Peter Bell and 'A Certain Slant of Light' and 'Strange Epiphanies.'

Here's a link to the MP3 audio file of Time to Read, Episode 200: Peter Bell, 'A Certain Slant of Light' and 'Strange Epiphanies'



New to the Agony Column

04-17-15: Commentary : Erik Larson Follows a 'Dead Wake' : Countdown to Destiny

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Erik Larson : " "...said to have been found in the arms of a dead German sailor..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 201: Erik Larson : Dead Wake

04-15-15: Commentary : Peter Bell Reflects 'A Certain Slant of Light' : Strange Stories of Modern Scholars

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Peter Bell : "...I looked up some of the old books..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 200: Peter Bell : Strange Epiphanies and A Certain Slant of Light

03-14-15: Commentary : Marc Goodman Foresees 'Future Crimes' : Exponential Potential

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Marc Goodman : "...every physical object around us is being transformed, one way or another, into an information technology..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 199: Marc Goodman : Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It

03-01-15: Commentary : William Ury on Getting to Yes with Yourself: And Other Worthy Opponents : To the BATNA, Robin!

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with William Ury : ...he proceeded to shout at me for approximately 30 minutes..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 198: William Ury : Getting to Yes with Yourself: And Other Worthy Opponents

02-22-15: Commentary : Jennifer Senior Experiences 'All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood' : Reading Fun for the Whole Fambly!

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Jennifer Senior : "...it becomes a source of enormous tension once a baby comes along..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 197: Jennifer Senior : All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood

02-09-15: Commentary : Stewart O'Nan Looks 'West of Sunset' : Twilight of the Great

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Stewart O'Nan : "...we see him as a tragedian because is life is a tragedy..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 196: Stewart O'Nan : West of Sunset

02-04-15: Commentary : Armistead Maupin Maps 'The Days of Anna Madrigal' : Swiftly Flow the Years

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Armistead Maupin : "I could see what silliness was going on while it was happening..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 195: Armistead Maupin : The Days of Anna Madrigal

01-31-15: Commentary : Christine Carter's Path to 'The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work' : Neurohabits

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Christine Carter, Ph.D. : "...a real tipping point..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 194: Christine Carter, Ph.D. : The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work

01-23-15: Commentary : Jake Halpern Pushes 'Bad Paper: Chasing Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld' : Non-Fiction 21st Century Noir

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with Jake Halpern : "...he goes to Las Vegas to this debt-buyers' convention..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 193: Jake Halpern : Bad Paper: Chasing Debt from Wall Street to the Underworld

01-19-15: Commentary : David Shields and Caleb Powell Assert 'I Think You're Totally Wrong' : The Power to Bicker

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Interview with David Shields and Caleb Powell : "I read no book reviews any more; the level of discussion is really pedestrian." David Shields "I'm just saying it's a conflict of interest!" Caleb Powell

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 192: David Shields and Caleb Powell : I Think You're Totally Wrong

01-17-15: Commentary : Charles Todd Expects 'A Fine Summer's Day' : We Interrupt This Program...

Commentary : Charles Todd Engages In 'A Test of Wills' : The Politics of Passion and Policing

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Charles and Caroline Todd : "...let them be themselves and sort it out..." Caroline Todd "...it's more on a personal level..." Charles Todd

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 191: Charles Todd : A Fine Summer's Day

01-13-15: Commentary : Rosalie Parker Unearths 'The Old Knowledge' : The New Old World

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Ray Russell and Rosalie Parker : "I thought I'd write something for fun.." Ray Russell "..there was a side of me of that was interested in the strangeness..." Ros Parker

01-12-15: Commentary : Richard Ford 'Let Me Be Frank with You' : The Default Years

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Richard Ford : "...most of our politicians are morons..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 190: Richard Ford : Let Me Be Frank with You

01-06-15: Commentary : Bessel van der Kolk 'The Body Keeps the Score' : Human Trauma

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Bessel van der Kolk : "...being able to see what happens in the brain really helps us to understand certain things..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 189: Bessel van der Kolk : The Body Keeps the Score

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