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10-26-12 UPDATE: Podcast Update: Time to Read Episode 71: Debra Dean, 'The Mirrored World'
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Here's the seventy-first episode of my new series of podcasts, which I'm calling Time to Read. Hitting the one-year mark, I'm going to make an effort to get ahead, so that podcast listeners can get the same sort of "sneak preview" effect that radio listeners get each Friday morning. And yes, I know this means I have one more to go this week — and here it is!

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 seventy-first episode is a look at Debra Dean, and 'The Mirrored World.'

Here's a link to the MP3 audio file of Time to Read, Episode 71: Debra Dean, 'The Mirrored World.'

10-25-12: Three Books With Alan Cheuse

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Joyce Carol Oates, 'Black Dahlia, White Rose,' Gregory Benford and Larry Niven, 'Bowl of Heaven,' Charles Cumming, 'A Foreign Country'

One of the great delights in my reading life is to be able to ring up Alan Cheuse on the phone and talk to him about good books. We don't always have exactly the same take on what's good about them, but we both know them when we see them. In conversation about the books, the two of us manage to wrangle out a perception that actually comes pretty damn close to getting at what makes them good.

This time around, Alan and I chatted about three very different books. We started out with Joyce Carol Oates' latest collection of stories, 'Black Dahlia, White Rose.' Oates is an American Literary Institution, but finding a way to explain why while letting the stories keep their air of mystery was almost as much fun as reading the book. Of course, while you may be unsurprisingly tempted to think that Oates is not a life-affirming writer, the fact of the matter is that any artistic vision this strong is an affirmation. Perhaps with a chaser of unhappiness, but affirming nonetheless.

With 'Bowl of Heaven,' Gregory Benford and Larry Niven are doing what they do best, taking the humans we know and sending them places we cannot imagine — at least not until we read the book. I find it especially delightful to talk about science fiction with Cheuse, as he's so well-known for his literary work. But he both knows and loves good science fiction, as do I. Still, we approach the genre from different directions, and meet right in the middle of a good book.

In 'A Foreign Country,' Charles Cumming offers readers a tour of yet another world — this one, but seen through the eyes of Tom Kell, a disgraced SIS agent who finds himself unable to leave behind the life he did not like. Cumming writes the sort of detailed story that you'll think of as an "espionage novel" rather than a "spy novel." It's a subtle difference that was fun to explore in conversation with Cheuse.

You can hear our conversation by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

10-24-12: A 2012 Interview with Malinda Lo

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"I found that describing the way a scene was lit actually helped a lot."

—Malinda Lo

Malinda Lo has the kind of enthusiasm that makes you want to pick up her books and read them immediately, even when she's talking about the challenges she had to overcome to write them. I spoke with her after hearing her read from 'Adaptation,' so perhaps I was already won over by what she read. But the interview we did afterwards certainly sealed the deal.

'Adaptation' is a rocking, intense work of science-fiction horror that is apparently a "YA" novel because the heroine is a young adult. But to my mind the intensity of any great SF horror novel was present in the scenes I heard; there was certainly a sense of Michael Crichton's work.

For all the smooth and seamless nature of what we heard, Malinda Lo was willing to talk about the many obstacles she had to overcome to get there. Ideas left by the wayside like so many dead birds, the Internet proving to be both friend and foe — you can really hear the voice of a working writer.

But for all the work Lo need to bring the novel to the point of publication, she has the kind of enthusiasm that is necessary. In the often-noisy environment of the live readings at SF in SF, she had no problem making herself heard. This was the perfect setting to hear about such a novel, because after hearing the reading, or the panel, you can just walk out into the lobby and buy it from Borderlands Books. It's the sort of instant gratification that we're told you can only get from the Internet.

That, however, is absolutely untrue. These live readings allow readers to get out and mingle with one another, share titles, hear authors and then buy a book on the spot. It's the perfect way to begin a reading experience — hear the author read the book, then buying it. It puts a real face and voice and presence in the mix. Better still, even if you were not there, you can follow this link to the MP3 audio file of our interview.

10-22-12: A 2012 Interview with Jeffrey Toobin
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"..they were Republicans, who left the Supreme Court, totally alienated from the modern Republican party..."

— Jeffrey Toobin

Jeffrey Toobin is probably most familiar to watchers of CNN for his work as a legal commentator. But to those of us who spend our time reading books, his most recent works, 'The Nine,' and 'The Oath,' offer the reading equivalent of CNN, but written with an eye towards history.

I sat down with Toobin at KQED to talk about his latest book, 'The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court,' though to be honest, sitting down is rather a misleading way to describe any conversation with Toobin. I should not have been surprised, but I was. Toobin can summon an encyclopedias' worth of current events to his command, then synthesize and analyze them before your very eyes.

Toobin was following our interview with an ISDN gig to another station, and prepping as well for work with CNN. He was logging in and answering email from the moment we entered the studio. Once we started talking, I kept the focus on the subjects within and the creation of his two last books, 'The Oath' and 'The Nine,' which I read back to back. How could I not? These are utterly compelling, page-turning legal thrillers, and as I wrote the reviews and even the interviews, I had to ratchet back and make sure I didn't call them novels, because they read like novels.

Toobin is clearly well-schooled by his work for CNN, and KQED is a great setting in which to speak with him. For me, 'The Nine' and 'The Oath' form a continuum, and we moved back and forth over the longer timeline of the court that the two books cover. In his work at CNN, Toobin is often called to predict the outcome of cases while the justices are deliberating them. Rather than have Toobin talk about cases currently in the news, I asked him about writing a book in which his work itself is a part of the history he is chronicling. To my mind both the book and his answer to that question offer a perfect explanation as to why the books are so compelling. While current events are no doubt of import in the moment, reading books like this about current history, written for a longer view, is a means of stepping back and seeing a bigger picture.

As an interviewer, I found it rather tough to keep up with Toobin's razor-sharp, lightning-fast responses. I tried to shy away from the plot, as it were, of both books, and to pry my way into the architecture of how they were created. You can hear my conversation with Jeffrey Toobin by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

New to the Agony Column

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 "'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

01-03-15: Commentary : Rebecca Lloyd 'Mercy and other Stories' : "You humans are practiced executioners." Zanti Leader, The Outer Limits

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2015 Audio Review of Rebecca Lloyd 'Mercy and other Stories' : "Our knives and monsters are ever ready, and as real as we need them to be."

12-30-14: Commentary : Kathy Freston 'Quantum Wellness' : : Tipping Points

12-29-14: Commentary : Kathy Freston Embraces 'The Lean' : Series of Successive Approximations

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Kathy Freston : "...visualize how you'd like your life to look..."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 188: Kathy Freston : Quantum Wellness, Veganist and The Lean

12-19-14: Commentary : Mark Samuels 'Written in Darkness' : Sinkholes of Despair

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Audio Review of Mark Samuels 'Written in Darkness' : "This is an abyss that is not content to merely gaze back."

12-16-14: Commentary : Christopher Hobbs and Leslie Gardner 'Grow It, Heal It' : Natural and Effective Herbal Remedies from Your Garden or Windowsill

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Christopher Hobbs : "I want to integrate both the traditional uses and the traditional wisdom and knowledge and experience with modern science."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 187: Christopher Hobbs : Grow It, Heal It

12-09-14: Commentary : Tad Williams Is Caught 'Sleeping Late on Judgment Day' : As Below, So Above

Agony Column Podcast News Report : A 2014 Interview with Tad Williams : ...Heaven and Hell couldn't be an open, on-going dramatic conflict; it would be more like the Cold War."

Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 186: Tad Williams : Sleeping Late on Judgment Day

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