Monday, May 21, 2018

Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan's latest book is How To Change Your Mind: What The New Science Of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, And Transcendence. From the transcript of his Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross:

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Michael Pollan. You probably know him from his books about food, like "The Omnivore's Dilemma," and "The Botany Of Desire," which is also about how plants can influence the mind. And his new book takes that a step further. It's a history of psychedelic drugs, including how they're being used today in research settings. And the book is called, "How To Change Your Mind: What The New Science Of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, And Transcendence."

So I want to ask you how all of this has affected your food life.

POLLAN: (Laughter).

GROSS: Seriously. 'Cause you've written about eating plants, you've written about eating animals. Are you eating any differently than you were before using psychedelics? Because you also talk about feeling that the plants in your garden have a spirit. I don't know how that translates to eating them.

POLLAN: (Laughter). Well, one of the really interesting things that happens to some people on psychedelics is that their sense of nature changes. And nature becomes more alive. They're almost animistic. And so I've always had this sense that plants have their own point of view or subjectivity, and that we're not the only perceiving subject on the planet and that's our arrogance to think so. And that was for me an intellectual conceit, but it became real on this psilocybin trip I had, a different psilocybin trip, where I was outdoors for most of it. And I had a sense of that there were spirits in all the plants, and that they were looking back at me in some sense.

I know how wacky that sounds. But they were benign. I was in my garden, and I felt part of it. I felt like another creature among other creatures - you know, that there were many spirits here and I was one of them, and they were others and they were communicating to me. But I still eat them. (Laughter). I mean, you have to eat plants, you know? You can give up on animals. And I've never thought plants...

GROSS: Have you given up on animals?

POLLAN: Almost. I'm a kind of a very reluctant carnivore. I...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Rebekah Frumkin

Rebekah Frumkin's new novel is The Comedown. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Comedown, and for the two families you write about?

A: I came up with the idea for something that would become this book when I was 21 and feeling sort of hungover after a night spent in what we'll call "high spirits."

I was sitting on my bed in my dorm room and reading over a scene I'd written about a type-A project manager at a hedge fund who puts on his high-tech performance wear and goes for a run.

How hilarious would it be, I thought, if this guy were my brother? He'd be so angry about my collegiate debauchery. That project manager became Leland Jr. and the college-aged recipient of his animus Lee. That was the origin of the Bloom-Mittwoch family.

The Marshall family came when Reggie, cornered into selling coke, emerged as more than a foil to Leland Sr.'s madness. Natasha had always been around as the arch academic and would-be widow of Reggie, so it only made sense that...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Alex Segura

Alex Segura is a novelist and comic book writer. He is the author of the Pete Fernandez Miami Mystery novels, all via Polis Books.

Segura's new novel is Blackout.

From the author's Q&A with A. J. Frost at The Beat:

AJ FROST: Hi Alex! So nice to chat with you. Your new mystery novel, Blackout, I would argue, is your most ambitious yet. There are more dips and dabs between time periods and emotions. Where did the story and emotional tone for this new book come from?

ALEX SEGURA: Hi AJ! Well, first off, thanks for saying that. It means a lot. The story was a byproduct of the stuff I was reading—partially for “research” but mostly because I was interested in the topics. Stuff like cults, politics, Miami cold cases, and so on. Once I was through some of that, the kernel of the plot or mystery cropped up, and it dovetailed nicely with the emotional arc I wanted to give our detective, Pete Fernandez. I knew I wanted this to be a turning point for him, a chance to look back on his past and come to terms with it, so he could finally start living, as opposed to just wallowing in this “middle” state, feeling bad about his past mistakes and not feeling like he deserved to be part of the world.

FROST: This is our fourth go-around with Pete and, while he’s gotten better, he still travels around with a multitude of inner demons. As a writer—let alone a writer of hard-boiled crime yarns—what’s the most alluring and most demanding aspect of creating a flawed hero like Pete?

SEGURA: I think it is grist for the mill. I’m not interested in writing about the iconic hero, the perfect man or woman. Complex, flawed characters interest me as a reader; those are the books I gravitate toward. I’m keen to show Pete’s progression from passed out drunk when we meet him in my first novel, SILENT CITY, to now. And the journey isn’t over. In BLACKOUT, Pete’s better: he doesn’t drink and he’s working as private investigator. But he’s still...[read on]
Visit Alex Segura's website.

The Page 69 Test: Blackout.

Writers Read: Alex Segura.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 18, 2018

Anshel Pfeffer

Anshel Pfeffer, a senior correspondent and columnist for Haaretz, is the author of the new book Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu. From his Q&A with Slate's Isaac Chotiner:

What do you think [Netanyahu']s long-term plan is for the region, both in regard to the Palestinians and the Iranians? Is it anything other than the status quo, which looks to many liberals in America like a deteriorating one?

Netanyahu would disagree with the word deterioration. He sees the situation as Israel’s standing in the region improving. He sees its military advantage over its neighbors increasing, and it has increased partly because Israel is continuing to improve its military technology and partly because the countries around Israel have been consumed by chaos. So there is no real military rival to Israel in the immediately surrounding Middle East, not including Iran. And its economy is growing at a record pace, and the prosperity of Israelis has increased. So he is not seeing a deterioration. And at the same time, he is seeing the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the two main Arab nations, getting closer to Israel over their joint enmity and rivalry with Iran, and the fact that the Saudis and Egyptians are much more prepared to openly disregard the Palestinian issue. So as far as he is concerned, the status quo is improving, and all us liberals and leftists who have been saying for 51 years that the occupation was unsustainable are being proved wrong because it is eminently sustainable. He doesn’t address the situation of Palestinian rights or the issue of what it is doing to Israeli society and democracy being a nation that holds another nation in subjugation. Those matters don’t really concern him.

Occasionally he has to deal with something that happens in Gaza, but he believes they are passing episodes where the world will be angry for a few days and then go on to other things.

His long-term plan is to get peace through deterrence, not a peace through compromise, and he believes the Palestinians will...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Ava Dellaira

Ava Dellaira's latest young adult novel is In Search of Us. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:
Q: How did you come up with the idea for In Search of Us, and for your characters Angie and Marilyn?

A: The initial idea to write a story that goes back and forth between a mom and a daughter when they are each 17 popped into my head while I was sitting in LA traffic (which seems to be serving me well as an author so far!).

I think in part the concept came out of my connection to my own mom, and my longing to know things about her that I would never be able to ask (she had died several years before), as well an interest in exploring the ways in which echoes of the past reach into the present.

A few weeks later, I happened to stumble on a BBC article on someone’s Twitter feed called “Do the Dead Outnumber the Living,” about population growth and the number of people living on earth now, versus the number of people who have ever lived.

Just after the reading the article, while I was taking a walk on the beach, I began to hear...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Michael Sfard

Michael Sfard, an Israeli human rights lawyer, is the author of The Wall and the Gate: Israel, Palestine, and the Legal Battle for Human Rights.

From his Q&A with Slate's Isaac Chotiner:

Do you think this Israeli government is particularly dismissive of human rights concerns compared to its predecessors?

There is no question about it, yes. The current Israeli government, given the uncritical backing of the American administration, feels that it can do anything. The prime minister can oversee the killing of [58] people and still call it a good day for peace, as he did at the opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem. The current government is the most right-wing, nationalistic government Israel has ever had in 70 years of its existence. Some of its coalition members hold views, a worldview that I would even call racist and definitely undemocratic and illiberal, and I don’t think there has been any other government in the past that was as dismissive of the human rights of Palestinians and of dissenting voices in Israeli society as this government.

In this government, the process of peeling off democratic principles has accelerated to the degree that it is difficult to say today that Israel is an open and democratic society.

Such as? What principles?

Such as official incitement, governmental incitement against individuals and NGOs who are critical of governmental policy; legislation that is meant to curb political freedom of speech and impose sanctions on political rivals; the attempt to shut down the ability of dissenting elements to find funding; and most viciously, the incitement against the Arab minority in Israel, which was not something done by some peripheral member of Parliament, but by the prime minister himself and the minister of defense, who are both engaging in...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Elissa Brent Weissman

Elissa Brent Weissman's new middle grade novel for kids is The Length of a String.

From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you come up with the idea for The Length of a String and for your character Imani?

A: The inspiration for The Length of a String came from three different places.

Growing up, one of my closest friends had been adopted from Mexico. She and her sister, who was adopted from within the U.S., were raised Jewish, like me. Thinking about their experience—especially what it might be like to look different from everyone else at Hebrew school—gave me the idea for Imani.

The second idea came from an episode of “The Diane Rehm Show” on NPR in which many people were calling in and sharing their stories about being children of Holocaust survivors.

One caller said that her grandparents had saved up money to send their children to America, but they could only afford to send two. When they got to the boat, the smuggler said, “Sorry, price just doubled.” Now they could only afford to send one.

I heard that and immediately began thinking about...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 14, 2018

Michael McFaul

A former U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul is currently a professor of political science at Stanford University, the director of Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and the Peter and Helen Bing Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. His new book is From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia.

From McFaul's Q&A with NPR's Rachel Martin:

MARTIN: So let's talk about what that ended up looking like [when you arrived in Moscow in 2012 as the U.S. ambassador] because you are almost immediately painted as someone trying to unseat the current political system and to bring some kind of American-style democracy to Russia. Explain what kind of pressure you and your family were under.

MCFAUL: Yeah, it was unpleasant. I don't want to sugarcoat it in any way. I loved being ambassador for so many different reasons. It was the honor of a lifetime, but Putin had a story he wanted to tell the Russians - that we were out to get them, that we were giving money to the opposition and that we were the enemy. And that was a way to mobilize his electoral base. Remember, he's running for president in the spring of 2012. And I, therefore, became a poster child of some of these attacks on the opposition. The night that a video went viral accusing me of being a pedophile - that was probably a low point in my time as ambassador. And to this day - if you Google my name and pedophile on a Russian search engine - Yandex - 4 million hits still come up. And I tell you that story because it's a story about disinformation, right? It's a story about distortion and using technology to frame debates in different ways. And I've got to say, honestly, we struggled with how to respond with it. We did not have a game plan for how to combat those kinds of very personal, horrible, ugly stories.

MARTIN: So setting aside the smear campaign against you, which I understand was a difficult thing to live through, but the substance of the critique that you were there as a representative of the American government which would prefer there to be some kind of democratic government in Russia - I mean, that's not crazy...


MARTIN: ...For Putin and Russian officials to think that you would prefer that, especially in light...


MARTIN: ...Of your activism in your younger years.

MCFAUL: I think that's...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Joan DeJean

Joan DeJean's new book is The Queen's Embroiderer: A True Story of Paris, Lovers, Swindlers, and the First Stock Market Crisis. From her Q&A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: How did you learn about the story of the Magoulet and Chevrot families, and at what point did you decide you’d write a book about them?

A: I began one day—I was doing something that I thought would be a tiny project on the first luxury shops in Paris. I went to the archives—I imagined it would be an afternoon.

Instead, I found two documents. The first was [Jean Magoulet’s] appointment as Royal Embroiderer, and then the second was a woman’s name, with the same last name. The woman with the same last name was shipped to Louisiana in 1719. That meant she was declared undesirable.

I found a police file on the young women’s address and deportation, so the outline of the story was there. It was incredible that the daughter of such a high-ranking person would end up like this. I knew [the story] would be wonderful, but it seemed so hard. I walked away.

The next time I showed up at the front desk [of the archives, a woman who worked there] said, What are you doing? I said, I’m leaving it. She said, You can’t!

I knew how hard it would be. But...[read on]
The Page 99 Test: How Paris Became Paris.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Rumaan Alam

Rumaan Alam's new novel is That Kind of Mother.

From the transcript of his interview with NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro:

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST: Rumaan Alam writes women well. His first acclaimed novel, "Rich And Pretty," followed two young women, best friends who grow up and then part. His new second novel, "That Kind Of Mother," begins as another story about a female relationship - this one between Rebecca, a white poet and first-time mom, and Priscilla, a black woman who works as her nanny.

RUMAAN ALAM: I think it is an inherently complex relationship and one that is not often discussed. I am somebody who has two children of my own. And my husband and I have had three different child care providers. And they were our employees, but we relied on them with the only thing that matters in our lives, which is our children. And so the level of trust and intimacy that is an important part of that relationship elevates it from a traditional understanding of what it is to have an employee or what it is to have an employer, I think.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So these two characters - their relationship is actually transformed when, suddenly, the families truly become a family. Rebecca adopts Priscilla's child. Can you talk a little bit about that? Because, obviously, there is not only the issue of their relationship, but there is a race issue and a class issue here, too.

ALAM: Absolutely. I think that the way that we talk about complicated political issues now is...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue