Category Archives: Authors

Talking Steinbeck with Biographer William Souder

If you’re a fan of John Steinbeck, or just love great biography, trust me on this: you’re gonna wanna pick up William Souder’s Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck, which arrives in bookstores on October 13. It’s the first biography of the great American writer in . . . well, a long time. It’s getting great reviews — like this one from The Washington Post — and typical of everything Souder writes, it’s deeply researched, thoughtfully contextual, and beautifully written. In short, I loved it, and I’m pretty sure you will, too.

It probably goes without saying that I’m a fan of both Souder and Steinbeck–and that’s why it was such an honor to be asked to be a part of Bill’s hometown book launch –virtually, of course — hosted by Next Chapter Booksellers in Minnesota. I’ll be interviewing Bill Inside the Actor’s Studio-style to talk all about John Steinbeck and Mad at the World, as well as the nuts and bolts of researching and writing literary biography, and anything else we can think of.

It all takes place this Wednesday, October 14, starting at 7 p.m. Central Time. To register for the event, go here. And did I mention it’s free? It’s free!

If there’s a bright side to the bizarre new normal that’s sent us all to our laptops for remote interaction, it’s that events like this–or any number of wonderful presentations from, say, the Museum of the Moving Image, or even the Mads from MST3K–have become much more widely available to the public. Before, you had to be there; now, you can be there from anywhere.

So wherever your anywhere may be, I hope you’ll join us.

Stephen King vs. Stephenie Meyer

The dither continues over comments Stephen King made late last week regarding the writing skills of several other writers, including Erle Stanley Gardner, Dean Koontz, and James Patterson.  But it was his comments on Twilight author and phenom Stephenie Meyer that created the greatest uproar.  Here’s King on Meyer:

“…when [Richard] Matheson started to write about ordinary people and stuff, that was something that I wanted to do. I said, ‘This is the way to do it. He’s showing the way.’ I think that I serve that purpose for some writers, and that’s a good thing.  Both [Harry Potter author J.K.] Rowling and [Stephenie] Meyer, they’re speaking directly to young people. … The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good.”

I read those comments to my daughter Madi — whose 12-year-old wheelhouse is the target at which Meyer is aiming — and she politely harummphed in disagreement.  And knowing I’m a devoted Stephen King fan, she encouraged me to read the Twilight series and decide for myself, rather than taking Stephen King’s word for it.  “I know you like him,” she told me rather flatly, “but I don’t want you thinking Stephenie Meyer is a bad writer just because he says so.”

The irony in Stephen King’s remarks, of course, is that many people have said the same of him — that he’s a great storyteller but a terrible writer.  Me, I love Stephen King.  Ever since a ninth grade English teacher of mine babbled effusively on about The Shining and encouraged me to read it — which I did, in the form of a dog-eared paperback I checked out of the library — I’ve been a fan.  But really, I don’t care if he’s considered a good writer or a bad writer.  He entertains me enormously and, at times, touches me. I consider that enough.

And that’s why I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with his opinion of Stephenie Meyer — who I’ve never read and, despite Madi’s suggestion, don’t know that I will.  But Madi reads her faithfully — and once she finished the Twilight series, she moved on to Meyer’s more adult novel, The Host, which she’s been devouring for the past week.

On Saturday night, as we were driving back from a volleyball tournment in one of the more rural parts of Maryland (Madi’s team placed third, thank you very much), Madi was sitting quietly in the back seat, reading The Host with the help of her booklight.  Thirty minutes into the drive, over the sounds of the radio, I heard her softly sniffling.

“Did your book just get sad?” I asked her.

Chin quivering, she informed me [***SPOILER ALERT**] that a character she really liked had just died, then put her head down and kept reading.  Moments later, she began choking back sobs and smearing away tears with her palms. 

She took the tissue Barb offered her and dabbed at her eyes, explaining what had happened and still crying, but also laughing at her own deep emotion.  It was, I think, one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen.

And that’s why I can’t come down on Stephen King’s side on this one.  Say what you will about Stephenie Meyer, but she entertained my Madi.  She genuinely touched her and moved her to tears. And regardless of whether I ever read Meyer or not, that moment was enough to make me a fan.

Authors! Authors!

When it comes to games in our household, we’re decidedly analog. We like dice games like Yahtzee, word games like Quiddler, board games like Sorry!, and we love card games. One of our favorites — especially when we’ve got only a short amount of time — has always been a game called Authors.

The object of Authors is a simple one: using Go Fish-type rules — where you ask other players for specific cards — you want to collect all four books by each of thirteen different authors. Each Ace, for example, represents Mark Twain, and each suit names a different book — such as the Ace of Spades shown below at the far right, which features Tom Sawyer:

When it’s your turn, simply ask another player if he (or she) has (for example) Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stranger and work to complete your set of four. If you come up empty, go to the draw pile and see if you luck into drawing it. If not, your turn’s over. Simple. It’s basically Go Fish for book lovers.

I played and loved this game as a kid — it’s actually been around since 1850 — and it made a permanent impression on me. For one thing, beginning at grade two, I always remembered that Sir Walter Scott (whose face appears on each ten) was the author of Ivanhoe, and that Dickens (number two) wrote The Pickwick Papers. (Oddly, I did not remember that Washington Irving was one of the featured authors, scowling with heartburn from the face of each seven.) Now my own daughter has William Makepeace Thackeray’s bookish face burned into her memory (along with his book Pendennis, which seems to be the card she’s always missing), while my wife, who seems always to be stuck with James Fenimore Cooper, now refuses on principle to read The Last of the Mohicans.

If you’re a parent who’s looking for a fun, easy-to-learn — and, yes, even (*gasp!*) educational — game to play with your child, give Authors a try. Not only will you have fun, but you might even instill in your child a love of literature, and may inspire your young one — or yourself — to seek out some of the books featured on the cards. Our daughter is well beyond playing Go Fish-type games, yet this is still one we return to again and again, discussing the books and writers while we play, and sometimes doing funny voices for the authors pictured on the cards (I like to do a drugged-out Edgar Allan Poe, while Madi does an overly-excited Shakespeare.)

You can order Authors here. It’s the best six bucks you’ll ever spend.