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11-18-12 UPDATE: Podcast Update:Time to Read Episode 74: Craig Childs 'Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth'

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Here's the seventy-fourth episode of my new series of podcasts, which I'm calling Time to Read. 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-fourth episode is a look at Craig Childs, ''Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth.'

Here's a link to the MP3 audio file of Time to Read, Episode 74: Craig Childs 'Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth.'

11-15-12: A 2003 Interview with Junot Díaz at Google

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" have to produce the world where your characters and conflicts are set."

—Junot Díaz

It was a gorgeous day in Mountain View when I drove over the hill to speak with Junot Díaz about his new book 'This is How You Lose Her' for Authors @ Google. My mission was simple and excellently defined; 20-25 minutes of interview, then about the same for moderated audience Q&A, then get the guest into the hallway so he could sign books.

Let me say at the outset that Google is an amazing place and company. The facilities are beyond first rate, and the folks I worked with were friendly, helpful and efficient. It was a perfect place to conduct a literary conversation in front of a live audience. I arrived a bit earlier than Junot, got wired up for sound, and discussed the format with the Impresario. Yes, you have to love a company that has such a position and enjoy working with the gentleman who fills it. It was a total kick.

Of course, challenges always abound. In this case, Junot was under a doctor's orders to to remain standing most of the time. This meant that I stood as well, and that provided a challenge in terms of not looking like a mannequin on the Carousel of Progress. Now that I think about it, I'd like to be on the Carousel of Progress, and looking like one of those mannequins, well OK!

Junot and I started with a quick reading of his book and he admitted in front of an audience that he had spent some time at this website, for which I was greatly thankful. Then we headed into a brief discussion about 'The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,' and it was great to see the teacher in Junot come out. It turns out that my interest in world building as a literary technique outside the science fiction genre is not unknown in the world of academia.

The audience at Google asked some great questions as well; this was a lively bunch of folks who were really engaged by Junot Díaz, who often had them laughing out loud. It was the kind of show where everyone went and bought the book afterwards; the line was huge. The pros at Google did a fantastic job with the audio and video and put together a superb work for YouTube.

You can find the YouTube Production of my appearance at Google with Junot Díaz here; please be sure to leave comments and email them to me if get a moment. And for your driving-to-work pleasure, here is a link to the MP3 audio file.

11-13-12: Andrew P. Mayer Reads from 'Hearts of Smoke and Steam' at SF in SF on October 12, 2012

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"...the weapon looked complicated..."

—Andrew P. Mayer

It was a busy night for SF in SF on October 12, 2012, as the science fiction reading series found itself amidst San Francisco's LitQuake. The Variety Preview Theater was so packed that fans had to be turned away. What struck me was that SF in SF does every month what LitQuake does once a year — turn reading into a social event. For Andrew P. Mayer, it was "The Society of Steam."

That's not the way reading and readers are generally portrayed, but to my mind reading is by definition a social event, because even though they're not in the same place at the same time, readers are together when they read a book. When we pick up "The Falling Machine," we are one of a crowd, and our reading experience is informed at the most basic level by this knowledge. As we read and peer into the weird world that Mayer has created for these books, we can, in a very real sense, see the other readers at the edges of our vision.

Everybody — readers, writers, publishers and even podcasters — was front and center on that chilly San Franscisco evening. The lineup was fantastic; Andrew P. Mayer, Tad Williams and Ken Scholes, moderated by Terry Bisson. The evening's theme was "EPIC! Fantasy Literature Is the Future," which given the sales of that genre and the current standing in movies, television and on the shelves, is not an understatement.

It's pretty well known that the fantasy genre, which until recently hasn't received much critical acclaim, actually outsells science fiction by a significant margin. But with the success of fantasy at the movies and on television, we're now in what almost seems like an alternate history, where the work of George R. R. Martin tops the bestseller lists. For those of us who cut our teeth on imported paperback copies of 'Nightflyers' back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, that seems positively surreal. Of course, we'd love to forget the movie based on that novella. It was one of those works that sets a genre back a few years.

Once Terry Bisson set the scene, Andrew Mayer started the readings in our alternate world, a world with a startling lack of dirigibles and an unhealthy plethora of politicians, that is supervillains, whose idea of sartorial supervillainy is a Saville Brothers suit. Where are the capes on Wall Street? In their absence, let Andrew P. Mayer's "Society of Steam" relieve the pressure. You'll get a great idea of what happens when big ideas meet big adventure by following this link to the MP3 audio file of the Andrew P. Mayer's reading from 'Hearts of Smoke and Steam.'

11-12-12: A 2012 Interview with Louise Erdrich

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"...there was nothing but assimilation."

— Louise Erdrich

I first met Louise Erdrich, whose new book is 'The Round House,' and her daughter, Aza, as they headed into KQED while I was heading out after having interviewed Charles Burns and Chris Ware. As I opened one door into the parking lot, the learned David Golia opened the other door to usher two lovely ladies, and asked if I was here to interview Louise Erdrich — his guest.

When I explained why I was there, Mr. Golia simply insisted that I speak with Ms. Erdrich when she came to Santa Cruz. I accepted — how could I not — mostly because it gave me the excuse to sit down and read 'The Round House,' and then talk with the acclaimed author about not just that book, but as well, the body of her work.

Erdrich has been busy crafting the entire world of an Ojibwe native American community for years now, with an astonishing prose multi-viewpoint style. Her work explores this world with a level of emotional, psychological and physical detail that makes for a superb and memorable reading experience. You can go back and take a vacation in your memories of he plots, people and places.

Cut to the next day; I arrived at Bookshop Santa Cruz, set up the portable studio, then went downstairs and waited for Ms. Erdrich and her daughter, arriving with aforementioned Mr. David Golia. Ms. Erdrich and I settled in upstairs with her daughter Aza who happily (and very quietly) enjoyed a complicated salad while we talked about 'The Round House.' Alas time was short, but we did get to discuss one aspect of the book that I was apparently (and shockingly, to me at least) the first to notice. But I was really quite intrigued by the legal aspects that Erdrich discusses as well as her ability to and penchant for the creation of those nostalgic adolescent male mindscapes.

Given the sort of American magic realism that permeates all of her books, I'm rather surprised that Erdrich has not heard the name Bradbury mentioned more often in reference to her writing. While I don't think for a second that she is influenced by Bradbury's writings, I do think that she is picking up on some of the same undercurrrents that he brought to life.

Erdrich started with a particularly long reading from the beginning of the novel — 6 minutes — to give readers a feel for what is to come. For some reason, it seemed that we were both speaking sort of hushed voices. Fortunately, the NPR-approved microphones (thank you Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr and Nova Safo!) have always worked spectacularly well. They endure and they are so reliable that they remove all worry from the recording process. You can hear Louise Erdrich read from and talk about 'The Round House' by following this link to the MP3 audio file.

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Agony Column Podcast News Report UPDATE: Time to Read Episode 190: Richard Ford : Let Me Be Frank with You

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