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Books, authors and all things bookish

Category: Susan Carpenter

Interview: Richelle Mead on 'The Golden Lily,' vampires and alchemists

Richelle Mead Photo Credit Malcolm Smith PhotographyWhen Richelle Mead wrapped up her bestselling "Vampire Academy" series in 2010, some die-hard fans wanted it to go on forever. But Mead decided on a different tack: She launched a spin-off that picked up where "Last Sacrifice" left off, centering a new series on an alchemist named Sydney who is tasked with protecting a vampire princess. We caught up with the 35-year-old author, and new mom, to talk about "The Golden Lily," the second installment in her six-book "Bloodlines" series, published Tuesday. Mead is currently on tour and will stop at Barnes & Noble in Santa Monica on June 18.

Jacket Copy: Did you worry about alienating "Vampire Academy" fans with a lead character in the new series who isn't especially fond of bloodsuckers?

GoldenLilyRichelle Mead: Sydney is interacting with vampires so much, it's hard to get away from them. But part of this series is looking at the human aspect of the supernatural. In the first series, the narrator was a half vampire, and you were looking at the vampire world from inside out. Sydney lets us look from outside in. To see it through human eyes gives you a different perspective. Things you thought were normal in the first series aren't.

J.C.: The way you kept the two series connected was to import minor characters from "Vampire Academy." What was it about the chemistry between Sydney, Jill, Eddie and Adrian that made you bring them together? And why, in "The Golden Lily," are you adding Dimitri and Angeline to the mix?

R.M.: The stories of these four characters were left incomplete at the end of the first series, by design. All four of them have something startling happen to them, and it was all directly or indirectly a result of Rose, the narrator of the first series. They had these big shocking life changes they're trying to cope with now, so that's how I put them together. As far as Angeline and Dimitri showing up, I knew they were fan favorites. I told people when I wrote the spinoff, I wasn't going to abandon old characters. We'll just see them in the periphery as opposed to the main focus.

BloodlinesJ.C.: You live in one of the rainiest cities in the U.S. -- Seattle -- so it's funny that you've set the new series in sunny Palm Springs, but there's another reason, too?

R.M.: The premise of the "Bloodlines" series is they're trying to hide this vampire princess, and they've pretty much chosen the last place anyone would look for a vampire because it's so sunny, so that is by design. It's tricky for her because it's not a particularly pleasant place for her to be. She's in high school, and trying to do mundane things like P.E. outside is strenuous because the sun makes her sick.

J.C.: Palm Springs also sets your vampires apart from the "Twilight" series in rainy Forks, Wash.

R.M.: There is that desire to stay away from that. All the vampire books out there are so different. It's good to throw in some different things.

LastsacrificeJ.C.: I'm sure you're asked this all the time, but why are vampires so popular?

R.M.: I do get asked this all the time, and I would think by now I would have an answer. I don't know. People have always had a fascination with the supernatural going back to the beginning of time and with vampires in particular. This phenomenon is not new. When I was in high school, it was Anne Rice. Go back farther, and it was Bela Lugosi and Bram Stoker. People like vampires because they're kind of human like, but they're still sort of dangerous and supernatural, so maybe it's a relatable mix. I'm not sure. It's something I would like the answer to as well.

J.C.: You started "Vampire Academy" well before Stephenie Meyer and "Twilight" became household names. Has the success of that series been a help or a hindrance?

R.M.: It's definitely helped. People really want to set up these rivalries because there's a lot of vampire books out there. People want to believe we're all fierce rivals, and really there's just so much camaraderie with authors. Everyone kind of boosts each other. If readers like one vampire book, they'll want to read more, so "Twilight" kicked it off, and it's really helped my series, but I like to think it's more than it being just a vampire book. I like to think it's the characters and stories that appeal to readers.

J.C.: How would you describe the new series' core story?

R.M.: It's a couple different things. One part is the love story. It's a slow burn, so we'll see things progress. Another part is about questioning what you're told. The people Sydney works for have a lot of rules. There's a lot of dogma, and they tell her: This is what vampires are like. This is what these people are like. There's this idea of overcoming prejudice to see things for yourself and ultimately making your own choices. Sydney's working to find her own voice in this series.

J.C.: As a reviewer, it's so great to see such strong female role models in teen fiction.

R.M.: You're absolutely right. It's a great thing to see in books. It's definitely something that's always been important to me. What's fun about "Bloodlines" is it's a different kind of strength we're seeing in a young woman. Rose was obviously strong physically and getting into fights and punching her enemies. She was literally a strong, fierce woman. Sydney is quieter. It's an intellectual strength, and I think that's important to show, too. There's a lot of ways to assert yourself and be a strong person.

J.C.: You're a new mother. How has that impacted your work and creativity?

R.M.: It certainly affects the 9 to 5 schedule. I've had to manage my time better. As far as writing style, I think I'm a little less dark. There's still plenty of that. Don't get me wrong. It hasn't all become rainbows and unicorns, but babies just make you hope for some better things in the world, so there's a little more optimism.

J.C.: Where does film interest stand in the "Vampire Academy" and "Bloodlines" series?

R.M.: There's a lot of rumors. Nothing with "Bloodlines" at all. There's a production company shopping "Vampire Academy" around, so I think that's where the confusion comes from because it sounds more promising than it is. They need to get a studio on board.


"Gilt" review

"Fated" review

"Devine Intervention" review

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Richelle Mead; "The Golden Lily," "Bloodlines" and "Last Sacrifice" book jackets. Credit: Malcolm Smith Photography; Penguin Group

Fug Girls get 'Messy' with young-adult follow-up [Updated]

FuggirlsJust in time for summer beach reading season, professional celebrity skewerers the Fug Girls are back with another young-adult sendup of Hollywood celebu-spawn. We caught up with Go Fug Yourself bloggers Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan to talk about their "Messy" new book.

Jacket Copy: In your young-adult debut, "Spoiled," a vacuous blond ladder climber goes Manolo a Manolo with her surprise half sister. In "Messy," she continues to spar but with a different female character. What is it about rivalry that appeals?

Heather Cocks: It isn't so much about rivalry as outsiderness. In "Spoiled," Molly was a geographic outsider. In "Messy," we get someone who’s emotionally an outsider. Those are the kinds of feelings that anyone can relate to. A lot of teen rivalry is feeling you’re different from someone else and being judged for being different. I don’t know any teenage girls who look back on that time and say, 'What a wonderful, magnificent time of personal growth.' Usually you're thinking of the girl who made you feel like an idiot.

MessyJC: Like "Spoiled," your new book is a takedown of celebrity culture. But, like your blog, it's a takedown that unfolds in the blogosphere. Why did you want the rivalry to center on a Hollywood insider blog?

Heather Cocks: There's definitely the idea that the Fug Girls are writing a book, so there’s a fun wink to how we met and got started. The reason these books even exist is because we have this blog. People often assume that we ourselves are anonymous because we don’t put our pictures on the website and we have facetious bios we put up. My picture is from Joan Collins when she was on "Dynasty" and Jessica’s is Shannon Doherty from "90210," so people see that and assume we’re trying to stay anonymous and sometimes disbelieve we’re women or that our names are really Heather and Jessica because they’re cheerleader names you would cherry-pick to write a blog like ours. That brings up the whole idea of whether you can believe what you see on the web. It was a fun way for us to deal with identity issues. [Updated June 6, 2012, 8:51 a.m.: The original version of this post said the Fug Girls don't put their fiction on their blog. They don't put their pictures.]

Spoiled_pbJacket Copy: How is writing young-adult fiction different from your blog, especially writing as a team?

Jessica: Heather and I are very comfortable writing together because we’ve been doing it for eight years. Our posts on Go Fug Yourself we write ourselves, but our work for New York magazine and other freelance we do together, so it feels like a natural extension. Logistically, we had a very detailed outline and then we traded.

JC: Why did you even want to write fiction for teens?

Heather: It’s such a different muscle from what we do on the blog because it’s creating something new as opposed to riffing on material. To have a picture that’s your base is different from creating the world yourself. We both watch a lot of CW and ABC Family. We're very soapy people. We read a lot of young-adult because there’s so much really well-written fiction for young adults. God knows the number of times we mention "Sweet Valley High" on our website. It felt like a really natural arena to step into.

JC: What's so great about your books is that the humor from your blog completely translates. What makes fashion and celebrity culture so fun to make fun of?

Jessica: We sort of see Go Fug Yourself as the online version of sitting around with your friends watching the Oscars. It's a virtual coffee klatsch to sit around and say, "What is she wearing? What is he thinking?" We intend it to be good-hearted, but I also think if I had all these resources -- all the money and the stylist and the trainer and the time -- I would look fantastic all the time. There’s something confounding when someone who has all the resources to look amazing all the time sometimes looks totally insane.

JC: Brick was such a narcissistic, movie-star dad in the first book. Without spoiling "Messy," does he step up in book two?

Heather: One of my favorite scenes is when Brooke achieves a measure of professional success early in the book and she tells Brick and they have a little moment together. Anyone who read "Spoiled" knows she’s very much driven by wanting his attention. Brick in this book becomes a little more involved in her life, so I think people will be happy to see him spending some time. But he just finished work on "Avalanche," his epic snow movie shot in Key West.


"Spoiled" review

Novelist James Patterson preaches the power of kids' books

"Fated" review

-- Susan Carpenter

Photos: Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan; book covers for "Messy" and "Spoiled." Credit: Kim Fox; Little, Brown and Company.


On Sunday: Bechdel's mom, Theroux's Africa and Mantel's Cromwell


Our book critic David L. Ulin can't say enough about Alison Bechdel’s 2006 family memoir “Fun House.” In his review of Bechdel’s latest foray into graphic novel memoir, “Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama," Ulin says that anyone who hasn’t read “Fun House” should “drop everything and get a copy right away.”  “Fun House” is on his short list along with “Maus,” “Persepolis,” “American Splendor” and "very few others of the greatest works of graphic literature.” “Fun House” dealt with the writer’s father and his untimely death: In her latest memoir, Bechdel turns her attention to her mother. But dealing with mom, Ulin writes, is a bit trickier. The reasons why make for a compelling read in this week's Sunday Arts & Books coverage.

After her wildly successful “Wolf Hall,” which was awarded the 2009 Man Booker Prize, Hilary Mantel is back with "Bring Up the Bodies," another novel about the Tudor dynasty in England and the diabolical Thomas Cromwell. “The good news,” writes our reviewer Martin Rubin, “is that it is more than the equal of its predecessor when it comes to intensity and drama.” Also, this week our YA review “Gilt” by Katherine Longshore has a distinct Henry VIII feel. Susan Carpenter says the book “reads like a more literary version of ‘Gossip Girl' overlaid onto 16th century England.”

Craig Claiborne’s name is largely forgotten in the world of food and, according to our Food Editor Russ Parsons, that’s a shame. While most people would recognize the names of his influential contemporaries James Beard and Julia Child, Clairborne, the longtime food editor and restaurant critic of the New York Times, has largely faded into obscurity. But Parsons notes “if any one person can be said to have created the modern American food world, it is he.” He reviews a new biography of Claiborne, “The Man Who Changed the Way We Eat” by Thomas McNamee.

Paul Theroux is widely traveled and deeply thoughtful about the intersection of the First World and the developing world in his novels and travel books. So it isn’t surprising that he would  journey back to Africa for his latest novel “The Lower River.” The book concerns Ellis Hock, a Massachusetts-based man of a certain age. His wife has just discovered warm, intimate messages written to other women on Hock’s phone, which brings an end to their 30-year marriage. So Hock chucks it all and disappears, not telling his family where he’s going. His destination is Africa, specifically Malawi, which is where he lived and worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960s. That’s the set-up, but our Carolyn Kellogg writes that the book about escapist fantasies is less than it might seem.

More after the jump.

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Interview: Veronica Roth on her book 'Insurgent' and feminism

InsurgentHCIn Veronica Roth's bestseller "Divergent," a young woman chooses to leave her family and align herself with a group that seems better suited to her true identity. "Insurgent," out Tuesday, sees Tris coming to a better understanding of what that decision really means in a book that is every bit as action-packed and questioning as the series kickoff. We caught up with the 23-year-old Chicago-based author to talk about her highly anticipated second book in the "Divergent" trilogy and strong female characters in dystopian young-adult fiction.

Jacket Copy: "The Hunger Games," "Divergent" and dozens of other titles in this burgeoning dystopian genre showcase strong female protagonists. Do you see a new shape of feminism emerging here?

Veronica Roth: That's a complicated question. What's interesting about these characters is that a lot of their strength is expressed in a physical way. Tris is physically weak but she learns how to be skilled in a physical way. Katniss isn't super buff, but she knows how to defend herself. I think that's something that needs to be explored more. Characters like Tris and Katniss, their worth and strength is not limited to their physical abilities. They're very much in control of their own destinies. In "Insurgent," Tris says, "Where I go, I go because I choose to." That element of "I can do it. I can control my life," that everything that happens, good or bad, happens because of the choice of the main character, that's sort of a new thing.

Jacket Copy: How would you describe your personal adolescent experience, and how did it inform "Divergent"?

Veronica Roth: As a teenager, I put a lot of pressure on myself, and a lot of that, for me, was about finding a moral high ground. As I've grown up, I've decided to abandon that because it made me judgmental and also stressed me out. There's really no way to be perfect. Perfectionism is a silly trait to have, so in a lot of ways that inspired the world of "Divergent," in which everyone is striving toward that ideal and falling short of it. Tris is a character who experiences that stress about, "Am I doing the right thing? I always have to do the right thing. If I don't, what am I worth?"

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This Sunday: Figment, Charles Dickens, Etgar Keret and more

FigmentIt’s been a busy week around The Times' book department as we get ready for the Festival of Books in just two weeks (April 21 and 22) at USC. We’ve been planning coverage leading up to the festival and thinking about the great writers, editors and publishing figures coming to town to talk about our favorite subject: books. If you haven’t had time to check the lineup of outstanding panels, conversations and other presentations, please check it here.

   Meanwhile, a relatively new communication platform and a decidedly old one highlight our book coverage on Sunday. The new one is Figment, the social networking site primarily for teens, where budding writers can critique their work and the work of others. The site’s slogan is “Write Yourself In,” and in just 15 months, more than 200,000 young people have done so and more than 350,000 individual pieces have been posted. According to Jacob Lewis, a former managing editor at the New Yorker and Portfolio who is in charge of the site’s day-to-day operation, they add 1,000 new pieces a day.

"It’s essential that our users feel a sense of ownership," Lewis told Times book critic David Ulin, who writes about Figment’s rapid rise for this Sunday's Arts & Book section. Currently on Figment, according to Ulin, is a mix that includes the first chapter of Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” as well as Rachel Hawkins’ third “Hex Hall” novel, “Spell Bound.”  “You’re as likely to find a reference to Tom Waits or William S. Burroughs as to ‘Harry Potter’ or ‘The Hunger Games,' ” Ulin writes.  “Its success, then, simply reaffirms what readers everywhere have always known: that literature and reading aren’t going anywhere.” The site’s founders, Lewis and New Yorker writer Dana Goodyear, will be honored on April 20 at the L.A. Times Book Prizes with the Innovator’s Award. 

The decidedly old platform is letter-writing, and this Sunday we look at 450 examples of Charles Dickens' masterful epistolary prose that have been gathered for “The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens,” edited by Jenny Hartley. Our reviewer novelist Nicholas Delbanco notes that “By the time he died, at 58, he was world-famous and besieged with mail; he answered correspondence promptly and received by his own attestation 'three or four score letters every day.' ”  That’s a lot of mail to keep up with. No wonder he died at 58. Think not? Try sitting down and writing a letter — snail mail, that is — to your Aunt Bruce in Cincinnati.  One of our favorite examples from Dickens, which Delbanco notes with pleasure, is this snippet he wrote, when 21, to Maria Beadnell, who had rejected his advances: “I have often said before and I say again I have borne more from you than I do believe any creature breathing ever bore from a woman before.”

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This Sunday: Innovation at Bell Labs, James Brown and Jack's juvenilia

More than half a century ago, long before Apple was a glint in anyone’s eye, the reigning champion of innovation in American business was Bell Labs, an arm of the original AT&T. Its staff of youthful scientists and engineers were assigned, notes our business columnist Michael Hiltzik in this Sunday's Arts & Books section, “to go where their intellects took them, not especially concerned about serving the corporate bottom line, picking up cartloads of Nobel Prizes along the way.” Much of this image, Hiltzik writes in his review of Jon Gertner's “The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation,” was more of a public relations invention than a reality. “The Idea Factory” explores this and more, Hiltzik says (though not without some issues).

James Brown had issues too, but, oh my, could he sing. He was, as staff writer Steve Zeitchik notes in his review of “The One: The Life and Music of James Brown,” “demanding, egotistical and prone to pulling a gun on those who disagreed with him.” All that aside, Brown’s biographer, R.J. Smith, offers a complete look at the singer’s life and concludes that he was a key social figure whose life intersected with significant racial trends.

Filed under the loose category of “lost” novels, Jack Kerouac’s early work “The Sea Is My Brother” is finally being published in its entirety, by Da Capo Press. It is, reports Times Book Critic David L. Ulin, not “entirely unreadable.” And while that may be faint praise, it does offer an interesting departure point for Ulin’s thoughtful larger question: “How did such a mannered young writer, self-indulgent and often woefully pretentious, become the purveyor of his own uniquely American idiom, jazz-infected, improvisational, a spontaneous bop prosody?” Ulin explores that issue and reflects on the scope of Kerouac’s early work, his “juvenilia,” on Sunday.  

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This Sunday: John Leonard, AIDS and Carl Hiaasen, too

He was once the literary editor of the Nation and editor of the New York Times Book Review, but John Leonard was perhaps the most important literary critic in the last half of the 20th century. Our book critic David L. Ulin examines Leonard’s collected work “Reading for My Life: Writings, 1958-2008” and finds that Leonard articulated “a worldview through his criticism, to refract his reading through a wider lens.” Ulin also notes that Leonard was “widely credited with bringing such writers as Toni Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Maxine Hong Kingston to the attention of an American readership…”

Ulin also describes his passionate commitment to writing in a passage in which Leonard describes the death threat, the fatwa, against Salman Rushdie. “It has been a disgraceful week. A maniac puts out a $5.2-million contract on one of the best writers in the English language, and how does the civilized world respond? France and Germany won’t publish 'The Satanic Verses'; Canada won’t sell it … and a brave new philistinism struts its stuff all over Mediapolis USA, telling us that Rushdie’s unreadable anyway.”

Strong stuff from a firm believer in a writer’s right to write. Ulin’s review leads our coverage in Sunday Arts & Books.

About 180 degrees away from Leonard’s work is the latest young-adult offering from Carl Hiaasen. The title is “Chomp” and the story is a sendup of reality television. In this story's case, the show is “Expedition Survival,” and its star is Derek Badger, a former Irish folk dancer, who can swallow a live salamander without actually vomiting. And while he may not throw up, he has other attributes that are a bit troublesome in a reality setting populated by cumbersome critters. He’s a klutz. And that’s how the story develops. Carpenter calls this “delightful” and “laugh out-loud” funny.

Also this week, Thomas H. Maugh, a former staffer who made science and medicine issues easily understandable for decades, turns his hand to  “Tinderbox: How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It,” a history of the pandemic by journalist Craig Timberg and Daniel Halperin, a medical anthropologist and epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health’s AIDS Prevention Research Project. Repeated analyses have shown, the authors argue, that AIDS became epidemic only in regions where the number of each person’s sexual activity was high. The authors' views on controlling the spread of the disease suggest that “the best solution is a change in sexual mores.” They cite the example of Uganda, where the biggest inroads against the disease were made in the 1980s and 1990s. Leaders in that country used a potent weapon: fear.

 “Thinking the Twentieth Century” is a fearless exploration of ideas from a great public intellectual, Tony Judt, while he lay dying of Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease). This is Judt’s swan song, and he's joined by Timothy Snyder, a Yale history professor. Our reviewer, Martin Rubin, writes that Judt’s focus is on Europe and takes the reader “on a wild ride through the ideological currents and shoals of 20th century thought.”

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Mad for 'Hunger Games' merch: nail polish, socks, crossbows


Danielle Pepers is such a fan of “The Hunger Games” that she had the book’s unofficial mascot -- a mockingjay -- tattooed on her right arm earlier this month. But her intrigue with the books, and upcoming movie, didn’t stop there. On a recent Wednesday, Pepers, 27, was shopping for T-shirts and jewelry at Hot Topic, a teen-oriented chain store at the Glendale Galleria that sells pop-culture ephemera. A mound of movie tie-in merchandise greeted her at the door.

There were knee socks, pillow cases and nail polish. Mini figures, sweat bands, even a watch. Still, that wasn’t all. Stepping over to the digital kiosk, there were dozens of other “The Hunger Games” items – 60 in total -- that could be special ordered into the store, including an $80 crossbow and ear buds for $19.50.

With “The Hunger Games” set to hit movie theaters next week, the publisher of the books it’s based upon is releasing four movie tie-in titles, including an illustrated movie companion, a tribute guide and, on March 23, the day of the film’s release, “The World of the Hunger Games,” a visual dictionary featuring pictures from the film. Other publishers are also hoping to cash in, with unofficial guidebooks, cookbooks and parodies, including Harvard Lampoon’s “The Hunger Pains.” It’s Lionsgate, however, that has unloosed the floodgates on a tidal wave of licensed merchandise –- most of it sold at Hot Topic and made by the National Entertainment Collectibles Assn. in New Jersey, one of the country’s largest providers of wholesale licensed movie merchandise.

Earlier this month the Los Angeles nail polish company, China Glaze, began selling Electrify (in orange glitter), Stone Cold (in metallic flake) and 10 other colors inspired by “The Hunger Games” 12 districts, where the action of the book unfolds.  Licensed through Lionsgate and available at Hot Topic and Sally Beauty, sales “have already exceeded our normal collection standards,” said China Glaze brand manager Rachel Schafer.

Huge as “The Hunger Games” is even before the film’s release, nothing says success like a Barbie. Mattel recently announced plans to introduce a collectible Katniss Everdeen doll to its Barbie Collector series before the end of the year.

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On Sunday: Luis J. Rodriguez's memory bank, and Dwight Eisenhower too

Luis J. Rodriguez talks about the process of memoir in the Los Angeles Times Arts & Books section
Luis J. Rodriguez has a vast and interesting resume: former gang-banger, literary icon of Chicano letters and now, as Times staff writer Reed Johnson notes in his interview with him, "distinguished-looking 57-year-old grandfather with a silvery goatee and a companionable paunch." But that's not all he has: He has memories, and they are the stuff of two books -- cautionary tales to a new generation of youths. Though his books often name names, he heaps the toughest criticism on himself for the life he lived before he knew a better life. His latest memoir, "It Calls You Back," was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award in the autobiography category. His story leads our coverage in Sunday's Arts & Books section.

At the other end of the spectrum is "Eisenhower In War and Peace," the massive biography of the key World War II general and two-term president by Jean Edward Smith. His book, writes reviewer Wendy Smith (no relation), is critical of Eisenhower as a war strategist but is also a "measured but fundamentally admiring account" of his long years of public service. In the end, our reviewer writes, "Eisenhower proved himself to be precisely the kind of leader America wanted and needed at the time."

Time is at the essence of Susan Carpenter's review of the hot new YA talent Lissa Price and her novel "Starters. Another foray into a dystopian world, this telling, by debut author Price, is about a genocide that kills everyone between the ages of 20 and 60, leaving only the very young and the very old. And the very old with means are able to rent the bodies of nubile teens and control them through a neurochip. You can imagine the consequences (or not). Carpenter calls this "dystopian sci-fi at its best."

"At its most challenging" may be the best words to describe the new novel by Hari Kunzru, "Gods Without Men," which our book critic David Ulin reviews this week. In this work involving several overlapping stories taking place across decades and centuries, the desert becomes a magnet for many hoping to piece together a fallen world. And the central dilemma of each is understanding what we can and cannot know.

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This Sunday: Mark Salzman, Geoff Dyer, Stephen Fry and more


Writer's block: It is the bane of anyone who makes a living putting words together. There you are, poised in front of a computer, and nothing comes and nothing comes and nothing comes. Mark Salzman felt that in the spring of 2009 when he was overdue to deliver a novel to his publisher. The project wasn’t going well: Then, with the sudden death of his sister, full-fledged panic set in. How he got through this ordeal and returned to work is the focus of David L. Ulin’s conversation with Salzman, who has published an e-book memoir on the subject.  Ulin's is the lead piece in our Sunday Arts & Books section.

Also Sunday is Geoff Dyer’s latest work, “Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room," reviewed by Chris Barton. In "Zona," Dyer attempts to summarize Andrei Tarkavsky’s 1979 film “Stalker” from its opening sequence to the end. The Russian art film is probably little known to American audiences and Barton writes “that undertaking an expansive, linear summation of a Russian art film, scene by scene by scene, flirts with madness.” But, Barton adds, “testifying to the greatness of an underappreciated work of art is the core purpose of criticism, and Dyer has delivered a loving example that is executed with as much care and craft as he finds in his subject.”

British humorist Stephen Fry, writes Times Theater Critic Charles McNulty, “would like you to know that he picks his nose and pees in the shower. He also can’t stand the sight of his naked body.” And that’s just for starters. His self-deprecating wit and humor enliven his new memoir of his school days and beyond when his pals were Hugh Laurie (“House”), Emma Thompson and Robbie Coltrane, among others. His book is "The Fry Chronicles: An Autobiography."

Carolyn Kellogg calls Ellen Ullman’s novel “By Blood” “a literary inquiry into identity and legacy" that is "a gripping mystery — remarkable, considering that little more happens than a man eavesdrops on  a woman’s therapy sessions.”  Kellogg notes that “Ullman is a careful stylist” and that "the storytelling here is compelling and propulsive.”

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