As many of you have already surmised, today’s visitor is reviewer and writer Alan Cheuse. ( Special props to the intuitive Sam Jones at Golden Rule Jones, who guessed right off the bat; and a respectful nod to Dr. Luker from the History News Network for correctly identifying Molly Goldberg.)
For over twenty years Alan Cheuse has been reviewing books on NPR. He is the author of three novels, including The Grandmothers’ Club and The Light Possessed, three collections of short stories, a memoir (Fall Out of Heaven)—and his most recent book is a collection of essays titled Listening to the Page: Adventures in Reading and Writing. His most recent fiction is a novella titled “Paradise, or, Eat Your Face” in the current issue of The Idaho Review and his short fiction can be found in the latest issue of Southern California Anthology and the Land-Grant College Review. His essay, “A Brief History of Dialogue”, will appear next month in The Antioch Review. Alan will be teaching a fiction workshop this summer at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley.
And yes, dinner was lovely. Thanks.
Alan, in his own words
My reading habits probably aren't much different than most fiction addicts. I have a stash at my bedside, on the table in the livingroom, in piles in my office and, of course, in the bathroom. Because I review weekly for NPR and monthly for a number of newspapers around the country I take the most methodical approach with the books in my office.
Right now I've just finished writing late March and early April reviews--of the new Ian McEwan, the new Jonathan Safran Foer (both rather wonderful novels each of course in its own way), a first novel by Tash Aw, a Malaysian writer educated in London (that's called "The Harmony Silk Factory" and I recommend it), the latest work from the prodigious William Vollman (this one is "Europe Central"), in which he writes what he calls "fables" out of the historical clash between the Nazis and the USSR, all of it based in large amounts of research, much of it fascinating and horrifying (the material on the Nazi death camps and the siege of Leningrad and the battle of Stalingrad, some of it playful in a remorseful way about the ordeal of Shostakovich under Stalin's rule....), a new story collection by maestro James Salter. My immediate reading for May is going to be the new Isabel Allende novel, Zorro, new spy novel from master Robert Littell, and a novel by a writer whose work I don't know--Jane Alison, a book called "Natives and Exotics"--and a new novel by Amitav Ghosh, "The Hungry Tide." And I'm beginning to think about what to include in the summer reading roundup we do in early June on "All Things Considered".
I'm also teaching a workshop in nonfiction narrative and a seminar in the evolution of realistic fiction. For the former I'm reading—at the moment—"In Cold Blood" and for the latter I'm working my way through a series of Steinbeck novels—from "To a God Unknown," one of his early books, to "In Dubious Battle", "Cannery Row" and then "East of Eden", hoping to notice the evolution of his own mode of realism as he grows as a writer.
For my own work—history sometimes feeds my stories. I've recently read a biography of the Anglo-Jewish painter Mark Gertler (1891-1939), have spent time with his work, and completed a brief (1900 word) short story about his suicide, just before Hitler's invasion of Poland. It's called "A Little Death," title from a phrase in a letter from Gertler's friend D.H. Lawrence.
By my bedside, I have a copy of a first collection of stories by Scott Wolven, reading my way through that. In the bathroom, galleys of forthcoming fiction by a number of writers, including Bebe Moore Campbell, and novels by writers whom I read over thirty years ago while writing a doctoral dissertation on the Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier, fiction by Carpentier himself (his wonderful "Lost Steps") and "Pedro Paramo" by the late, and vastly underappreciated Mexican novelist Juan Rulfo. In the summer months I usually do at least one NPR piece on a classic work of fiction and I'm thinking that one of these Latin American novels might do it. In this vein, I'm also going to reread some work by Clarice Lispector.
At night I usually watch a movie, to free my mind from language for a while. Not that nightly dreaming doesn't do that, in an even better way. Last night's fare was "Stage Beauty" with Billy Crudup and Clare Danes. Enjoyable historical film. Tonight? Going to look for some comedies to help the family relax after a hard work week and such a wonderful dinner.