Diversity Takes a Hit at MSU’s English Department

In 2011 I returned from a successful book tour in Germany where some of my audiences had been college students and I found myself missing the classroom intensely. Three days later, I received an email from the chairman of Michigan State University’s English Department asking if I’d consider teaching there.

Of course I said yes. When we met for coffee, I told him about the serendipity. He said that he’d reached out to me because I had published more books than the entire creative writing faculty put together and I had unique experience in publishing that the academic writers didn’t.

I remembered the department’s home in Morrill Hall fondly–it was where I did my PhD–a 19th century building that was down-at-heels but spacious and full of character.

(Lansing City Pulse photo)

I was only back there again for a semester before we moved to offices in another building on campus. These offices were cramped and utterly soulless. The conference room was brightened for me, however, by large framed posters of writers featured in the Library of America series. There are hundreds of books put out by this nonprofit organization whose aim is “to celebrate the words that have shaped America” and their publications cover several centuries of American writers of all kinds: poets, essayists, novelists, playwrights, historians.

The framed posters in that conference room happened to be of a diverse group of writers who had all inspired me in my career as an author and teacher: James Baldwin, Gertrude Stein, Willa Cather, Richard Wright, William Faulkner, Zora Neale Hurston, Mark Twain.

(Los Angeles Times photo)

Baldwin, for example, changed my life when I discovered Another Country in high school because that bestselling novel spoke openly about sexuality and race in the 1960s the way that none of my assigned readings did, and in prose that was sometimes breathtaking. I’ve since read it novel many times, always finding new wisdom.

“I think you’ve got to be truthful about the life you have. Otherwise, there’s no possibility of achieving the life you want.”
― James Baldwin, Another Country

The conference room itself was grim and shabby around the edges. But the posters reminded me of the joy of seeing the world through completely different eyes, the fascination of watching students discover new viewpoints and revel in or wrestle with them, and how powerful authors motivated me as an author myself to keep working at my craft.

Returning to the classroom was exhilarating, and I felt as inspired by those writers as by my college mentor whose own teaching was witty, compassionate, and incisive.

I’m not at MSU anymore (I teach online at writewithoutborders.com), but I was still surprised and disappointed when several friends in the department recently told me that the Library of America posters were coming down. None of them could offer a compelling explanation. Or explain why when the removal was first announced at a faculty meeting, some professors were enthusiastic and practically cheered, as I was told.

That’s a very disturbing response at a time when universities around the country are focused on diversity and inclusion. More than half the writers in the group are Black, gay, lesbian or both. Why would anyone be happy to see them disappear? And why would the department want to symbolically cut itself off from a rich, diverse American literary heritage? What kind of message does that send to students and the university as a whole? What kind of statement does it make about the department’s priorities? And really, what on earth does anyone have against James Baldwin, one of America’s greatest post-World War II writers?

The department’s web site states that should the Internet ever collapse in some kind of apocalypse, books would still survive and “continue to galvanize readers.” I guess their authors won’t matter, though.

Lev Raphael is the author of 26 books in genres from memoir to mystery, most recently State University of Murder.  This piece originally appeared in the Lansing City Pulse.

Amy Klobuchar’s Nevada Meltdown: What Really Happened Last Week

Despite congratulations like Henry Olson’s in the Washington Post, Amy Klobuchar didn’t abandon “Minnesota Nice” at the Nevada Democratic Presidential Debate. What happened onstage wasn’t strategy or defiance, it was something very different. She was swept down into a shame spiral.

Shame is an innate emotion we experience irrespective of gender. It’s the feeling of being so intensely flawed and exposed that all we want to do is hide because the wound to our self-esteem is so acutely painful. But when we’re out there in public we can’t hide. So how do we cope? We lash out in anger or contempt, either pushing people away or trying to make ourselves feel better than, superior to, whoever has triggered our shame.

Klobuchar’s meltdown was a classic shame spiral as described by psychologist Gershen Kaufman, author of Shame: The Power of Caring. The audience watched her become engulfed by shame. No wonder Pete Buttigieg, standing only a few feet away, looked shocked.

Klobuchar’s shame spiral started when Vanessa Hauc of Telemundo asked her about the highly embarrassing Telemundo interview the previous week when she couldn’t respond with the name of the Mexican president. The Senator also couldn’t mention any of his policies, but she did say “I know that he was elected,” which made her sound even more unprepared, almost juvenile.

Hauc pressed her about saying the day before the debate that what happened “wasn’t Jeopardy!” Shouldn’t she know more about one of our largest trading partners? Klobuchar agreed, but dismissed what happened as momentary forgetfulness, and then proceeded to make herself look even worse by greeting President Lopez Obrador as if he were watching.

She looked down before saying his name, either because she was embarrassed (breaking eye contact by looking down or away is a key facial indicator of shame) or because she had to remind herself what his name was. She botched the pronunciation. Then she proceeded to trivialize her gaffes by reeling off how many members of the Israeli Knesset there were and what the name of the Honduran president was. Klobuchar was clearly rattled and defensive.

Hauc wouldn’t let her off the hook and followed up, saying that her colleague specifically asked the Senator if she could name the president of Mexico and she had said no. Klobuchar then bragged about being humble.

That’s when Pete Buttigieg pointed out all the relevant committees that Senator Klobuchar was on, which made her not being able to share any knowledge of Obrador’s policies even more surprising. This was clearly the tipping point for Klobuchar who immediately lashed out at Buttigieg. Her voice became shaky, she sounded tearful, and she said: “Are you saying that I’m dumb? Are you mocking me?”

This was a woman in the profound grip of shame, a presidential candidate suddenly and very publicly revealing deep wounds to her self-esteem, a woman who earlier in her life either felt dumb or was made to feel dumb, someone whose insecurities exploded onstage to stunning effect.

No wonder she sniped at Buttigieg with a sneer later on: “We can’t all be perfect like you.” That was her contempt speaking, her defense against public humiliation. But he wasn’t calling for perfection. He was merely questioning whether experience was the same thing as expertise and judgment.

Viewers and readers ought to take another look at that interchange and study how she reacted. It’s also worth comparing Senator Klobuchar to Senator Warren, for instance, and watching how both candidates respond to criticism, since both of them come from hardscrabble backgrounds.

Public scrutiny has the potential to trigger shame. But how anyone handles that scrutiny, especially a presidential candidate, is equally governed by their previous encounters with that most deeply disturbing of human emotions. And how they’ve coped with shame in the past all too often dictates how they’ll cope with shame in the future.  If Klobuchar crumpled so quickly in Nevada, imagine her dealing with the pressures of the Oval Office.

Lev Raphael is the author of 26 books in genres from memoir to mystery, including Edith Wharton’s Prisoners of Shame.

I Don’t Read English Novels–And Neither Should You!

Celebrity Irish writer Marian Keyes made headlines recently when she said she doesn’t read male writers because their lives aren’t as interesting as women’s lives–they were “limited.”  I totally get her frustration.

Because I don’t read English writers.  I mean I know that they write books, but if I can read books by American writers, why bother?  What could be more limited than an English novel?

I hear about all those English books when they get made into endless boring shows on PBS, but what’s the point?  English people’s lives are beyond limited.  Poldark?  Seriously?  I watched ten minutes and all they did was walk back and forth along cliffs with the wind blowing through their hair, though sometimes they rode back and forth along cliffs.  That says almost everything you need to know about England.  Oh yeah, there’s also Jane Austen.  Bonnets.

The English truly have such limited experience.  I mean, come on, they live on a crummy little island for God’s sake and nobody even gets voted off (well maybe immigrants down the road thanks to Boris Johnson)  And it’s not even their own island.  They have to share it with two other countries, Wales, whatever that is, and Scotland, which at least has whiskey.

You see all those goofy soldiers at Buckingham Palace marching back and forth like Poldark without cliffs and when’s the last time the English won a war on their own without American help?  That was against Napoleon, right?

Haven’t there been enough English novels been written already–can’t they just give it a rest? Don’t the English have better things?  Like figure out why they’re so brutal to people marrying into that hot mess royal family?  And why that whole Brexit thing was like they were the drunk-ass party guest who keeps saying he’s going but just won’t get the hell off your couch?

I admit I might read an occasional English novel if I’m crazy bored, but Americans, we really know how to live la vida loca.  I mean look at us now: D.C. drama 24/7, exciting tweets every few minutes.  We’re in the fast lane.  And driving on the right side of the road, too.

So English writers, just **** off, as Marian Keyes said about her male colleagues, without the asterisks, of course, bless her heart.

Should Writers Join A Critique Group Or Not?

Guest author: Betty Webb

Writers are an argumentative bunch, especially when it comes to the subject of critique groups.

Some writers advise newbies – but only newbies – to join a critique group, while other writers say never, never, not ever. Since my own critique group – the Sheridan Street Irregulars — just celebrated its 30-year anniversary, I’m definitely on the pro-group side. But with caution.

I had my first experience with critique groups around 35 years ago when living in New York and had just begun writing seriously. That group, which I’d learned about from a library flier, met monthly in a converted barn in Westchester County. We were all writing poetry, and we drank a lot. I’m not sure how much the group helped to hone my work (or my liver), but we sure had fun.

The second experience came about shortly after I’d moved to the Phoenix, AZ area. In that group, all genres were welcome, and the only rule was that alcohol wasn’t allowed. Ironically, I left that group after a fistfight broke out between a sober Western writer and a sober sci-fi writer after one of them had received a particularly nasty critique from the other.

At that point, I’d already had some of my poetry published in a literary magazine, seen one satirical novel published, had one play produced, and was writing three humor columns a week for newspaper syndication. Technically, I was no longer a newbie, but I still felt the need for other eyes on my work, so I spent a few months checking out more groups. Some I found too rigid, some too lax, and some were merely excuses for sitting around, drinking and discussing lofty views on “lit-er-a-ture.”

Disappointed with the local offerings, I decided to start my own critique group. The first thing I did was to take a hard look at the problems others groups had run into. To avoid them, I typed up a long list of rules, one of the rules being, “Never respond to the criticism of your work. Just say ‘Thank you,’ and move on.” Now, we all know that writers hate rules, but what was the alternative? Hurt feelings, fist fights and long, defensive monologues from inebriated writers who felt their manuscripts were being unfairly judged? (If you want to see the whole list, email me at webbscottsdale@aol.com and I’ll send you a copy.)

Then, in a daring move, I put an ad in the local newspaper, headlined WRITERS CRITIQUE GROUP FORMING.  As could be expected, the first meeting was a large one, and it was a mess. Just about everyone broke the rules I had passed out. And some people, miffed by others’ critiques of their work, simply got up and stalked out, leaving a few obscenities in their wake. But a core group remained.

And we persevered. Thirty years after that messy first meeting, I’ve retired from my full-time job as a journalist, retired from my part-time job as a creative writing adjunct at the local college, retired from writing my column for Mystery Scene Magazine, and seen 18 of my novels published. But I still value the Sheridan Street Irregular’s opinions of my works-in-progress. Because of the group – we’re all traditionally-published novelists now – my number of drafts on any given project has dwindled from 17 to four. The “Streeters” catch all my plot holes and are ever-alert for unwieldy phrasing. But the most help that I get from the group is the  reminder that Ernest Hemingway said “The first draft of anything is shit.”

Betty Webb is the author of the best-selling Lena Jones mysteries and the humorous Gunn Zoo mysteries. Before writing mysteries, she spent 20 years as a journalist, interviewing everyone from U.S. presidents to moon-walking astronauts, Nobel Prize-winners, and polygamy runaways. 

Review: Russian-born Producer Takes Readers Through The Looking Glass

Russia has been in the news for the last few years but mostly in terms of election interference, the war in Ukraine, or climate change.  Information about what the country is really like doesn’t seem to interest journalists or their editors.

Luckily for us, Russian-born TV producer Peter Pomerantsev has done a deep dive about his experience making documentaries there and meeting people from aspiring small town models to obscenely powerful oligarchs.  Nothing is True and Everything Is Possible examines a country that shifts like a kaleidoscope on steroids as its leaders stealthily fight for global supremacy and tens of billions of dollars illegally slosh through its economy in often unchartable ways.  A country that seems to have lost its mind in the rush to grab wealth wherever it can.

One thing you can count on with today’s Russia is insane impermanence, especially in Moscow. The city itself is in a perpetual paroxysm of building and rebuilding, and the author’s descriptions of those changes are so memorable. “Whole swathes of town are demolished in fits of self-destruction, wastelands abandoned for years and for no apparent reason, skyscrapers erupting before there are any roads leading to them and then left empty in the dirty snow.”

This re-invention frenzy dwarfs anything that Americans have experienced. People become wealthy there with the speed of light and for “its new heroes, life is just one glittering masquerade, where every role and any position or belief is mutable.”   The whole book captures the bizarre reality that has taken hold of Russia and squeezed it dry, while making some people so desperate to feel positive that they’re hypnotized by TV charlatans and self-help cult leaders.

Corruption and bribery rule in every sphere of life, whether getting a driver’s license or snagging exemptions from being drafted into the army.  That’s simply how things get done.  But one of the most egregious examples is the Sochi Olympics.  Those games cost tens of billions more than the previous Olympics–the extra money just drifted away.

That’s what seems to happen across the country with one venture after another, and much of that money has been buying real estate, soccer teams, fabulous art, and companies in London and all across Europe.  Rapacious, dangerously charming Russians seem to have colonized that city, appearing as brash arrivistes but slowly becoming “classy” and moving on from plush city addresses to country estates.

Deep Russian paranoia is stoked by state-controlled media that makes Fox TV seem as anodyne as a chirpy Hallmark greeting card. Against an apocalyptic backdrop, it constantly warns viewers against “Gay-Europa,” Western fascists and the CIA infesting Ukraine, Western plans for genocide against Russia, and “American-sponsored fascists crucifying Russian children on the squares of Ukrainian towns.”

That media machine has produced weeping women who testified to those appalling horrors.  Of course they were fake. It’s all fake news meant to keep the government in power and hide the reality of corruption so widespread that you can’t say it permeates the state. It is the state.

The author notes that the Kremlin “has finally mastered the art of fusing reality TV and authoritarianism to keep the great, 140-million-strong population entertained, distracted, constantly exposed to geopolitical nightmares, which if repeated enough times can become infectious.”

You have to wonder if this is a warning to readers that the same thing could happen in Western countries, perhaps with less drama and less notice–because who could imagine it possible?

Lev Raphael  has reviewed for The Washington Post, The Detroit Free Press and many other media outlets since the mid-1990s.

 

 

Writer’s View: Celebrity Irish Author Tells Her Male Peers To “**** Off”

That’s what The Daily Mail quotes superstar Irish novelist Marian Keyes as having recently said:

“I only read women. I know that men write books. But their lives are so limited. It’s such a small and narrow experience….Their literature just really can’t match anything written by a woman. I just think ‘**** off’.”

If you haven’t heard of her, she’s written thirteen novels, sold tens of millions of books, and seen her work translated into several dozen languages.

Her dismissal of male authors was seconded by journalist Suzanne Moore, who complained that woman authors aren’t taken seriously.  She also warned readers of The Guardian, where she made these comments, not to send her names of great male writers since she knew who they were because she’d had “an education.”

Those remarks made me think of my own education.

I was an English major in college.  Along with the usual male suspects we read Jane Austen, Ann Radcliffe, the Brontes, Mary Shelley, Emily Dickinson, Mrs. Gaskell, George Eliot, Edith Wharton, Kate Chopin, Virginia Woolf, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. In graduate school along with Conrad, James, Kingsley Amis, Graham Greene, Alan Sillitoe, Anthony Powell, and Phillip Roth, we read Toni Morrison, Elizabeth Bowen, Iris Murdoch, Gertrude Stein, Doris Lessing, Susan Hill, Margaret Drabble, Jean Rhys, Muriel Spark.

But more importantly than all of that, on my own I’ve read dozens of women writers including Agatha Christie, Ann Tyler, Elizabeth Taylor, Rebecca West,  Anais Nin, Elizabeth Gaskell, Daphne du Maurier Olivia Manning, Ruth Rendell, Francine Prose, Anita Brookner, Elizabeth Braddon, Val McDermid, Stella Gibbons, Alison Lurie, Anzia Yezierska, Penelope Fitzgerald, Laurie R. King, C.S. Harris, Lori Rader-Day, Janet Fitch, Mona Simpson.

Those are the names of women authors that come most quickly to  mind.  I could add many more if I took the time to scan my library shelves.  Should I have to?  Gender has never mattered to me.  I’ve always looked for fine writing and compelling stories.  I often went on to read more by each author, sometimes hunting down everything in print if a first book hypnotized me.

Education isn’t a passive thing.  It’s not just waiting for books to be assigned to you, it’s seeking out books that you think might change the way you see the world or at the very least, open the doors to a new one.

Marian Keyes  admits that she reads an occasional book by a man, but she seems strangely limited herself to dismiss an entire gender’s writing so readily.  Since she’s famous already, I’m sure what she’s said will gain her even more fans, because inflammatory remarks like hers are crowd pleasers and bound to go viral.

There may well be caps, t-shirts, and all sorts of swag. She might even get her own talk show.  With no male guests if they’re authors, of course.  Because what could they possibly have to say when their lives are so impoverished of experience?

Lev Raphael is the author of 26 books in genres from memoir to mystery, most recently State University of Murder.

Review: Why I’m Not Reading “American Dirt”

Given the national uproar swirling around the new novel about Mexican immigrants, American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, you’d think Congress might have launched an investigation. Or that the president might be moving some Pentagon funds to build a wall around the book.

Its part-Hispanic author is being pilloried far and wide for many things:  ignorance, stereotyping, shallowness, whitewashing, appropriation, trauma porn, inaccuracy and saviorism.  Oh, and what seems to infuriate some of her detractors most is Oprah Book Clubism, making-a-lot-of-moneyism, and movie dealism.

How dare this literary imposter tread on sacred Mexican/Mexican-American ground when apparently only someone of that ethnicity could handle that subject matter? Doesn’t she realize that her book must represent the entire rich reality of Mexican culture, not just some sordid aspects of it?

There’s apparently a Geneva Literary Convention that stipulates restrictions like these that I must have missed while I was publishing and teaching over the last few decades.

Some of the strongest protests attack her for daring to make money, lots of money, when there are apparently so many more deserving authors who are being ignored and should be doing better.  Maybe they deserve a telethon.

I’ve been a published author for a long time and guess what? The world of publishing is wildly unfair and complaints about who does well and who doesn’t reek of jealousy and childishness. Books have their own karma and whining about how a certain book hits a cultural sweet spot while others languish is a total waste of time. Likewise besieging an author because she happened to write a popular or noteworthy book at the right time.

All the furor made me sample the book on Amazon and I gave up at the end of the first chapter.  The writing bugged me in various ways, partly because it seemed too sophisticated in describing what a kid was feeling. But what truly turned me off were the closing lines after a scene of major gunfire:

Outside the window he hears Mami’s tentative footsteps, the soft scuff of her shoe through the remnants of something broken. A solitary gasp, too windy to be called a sob. Then a quickening of sound as she crosses the patio with purpose, depresses the keys on her phone.

This is a hot mess. How does this kid know that the steps are tentative? What are the remnants of something broken? Is that poetic or a reference to objects of some kind? Bodies? Something else? And why would she be scuffing through them, why wouldn’t she avoid them? How can he possibly know that his mother is crossing “with purpose”? And finally, if he’s inside, how can he see her depressing the keys of her phone?  Is he some kind of superhero?

Sloppy point of view kills a book for me because I lose faith in the author’s ability to tell a story deftly and clearly. In the many years I reviewed for the Detroit Free Press, The Washington Post and half a dozen other newspapers, magazines, and radio stations, I learned to trust those warning signs. Maybe the novel gets better, but I’d rather not continue when a book raises serious doubts in the very first chapter.

Lev Raphael is the author of 26 books in genres from memoir to mystery and teaches creative writing workshops online at writewithoutborders.com.

Author Profile: Jennifer Weiner’s Complaining Again….

So best-selling author Jennifer Weiner watched the Super Bowl halftime extravaganza, and the perfect looks and body of Jennifer Lopez made her feel inferior.

Talking about her Facebook friends, she wrote in the New York Times: “Some members of my social-media community were in awe. Others — myself included — were feeling personally judged.”

This is her very tired shtick as an author.  Not so long ago she was complaining in the New York Times about how the “snobs” in the literary world looked down on her novels. And she lamented her status as a writer of popular fiction.

Weiner’s professors were Joyce Carol Oates and Toni Morrison and she said she couldn’t ever have imagined them liking her published work. Did she ask them? And even if they thought her work was trash, so what?

Most authors are never mentioned by the Times, but she’s a contributing opinion author there. She was even the subject of a glowing profile in The New Yorker about—you guessed it—not being respected.  How many writers in America get that kind of exposure?

Don’t be fooled by all her happy-face publicity photos. It seems that whenever you read an opinion piece by Weiner or see her quoted, she’s got this humongous chip on her shoulder.

The last time I checked, her first novel was in its 57th printing. The New Yorker reported back then that “Weiner’s books have spent two hundred and forty-nine weeks on the Times best-seller list.” Over fourteen thousand readers on Goodreads had reviewed her latest novel. Weiner’s also made millions from her books, and more than one of them was turned into a movie.

How many writers in America enjoy that level of success?

Whatever people say about her books and however much she gripes about being dissed, Jennifer Weiner is in the publishing world’s 1%. She wealthy and famous, but she’s not satisfied. I guess she wants to be as honored as Toni Morrison and Joyce Carol Oates. Well, dream on.  Who wouldn’t?

Weiner’s consistent carping reminds me  of the author whose first novel sold half a million copies in hardcover and was ecstatically praised—but he bitched to a writer friend of mine that he didn’t get a Pulitzer nomination.

For some people, some authors, nothing is ever good enough.  If Weiner got the  Pulitzer, you can imagine her asking why it took so long.  And so of course Jennifer Lopez makes her feel like crap.  If she looked Like J-Lo, she’d feel inferior to Beyoncé, and the beat goes on….

Lev Raphael is the author of 26 books in genres from memoir to mystery, most recently State University of Murder.

Writer’s View: Washington Post Reviewer Puts Readers In Boxes

Michael Dirda at The Washington Post has your life in books all figured out.  He recently explained that whether you read fiction or re-read fiction is completely dependent on your age.

When you’re young, you love re-reading books or having the same books read to you. Later on you read series and then engage in competitive reading. In college required reading that takes up your time, and once you graduate and box up those books, you only read best sellers.

Finally, as a senior, you have no interest in new books, so you re-read old favorites.  Why?  Get ready for some cheesy prose:

Seen it all. Been there, done that. It’s then that people nearly always do return to the books they loved when young, hoping for a breath of springtime as the autumn winds blow.

Did you hear some melancholy violin music playing in the background?  I know I did.

There are no studies quoted in his musings, no statistics, just the writer making gross generalizations based on his idiosyncratic experience.

I’ll share my own experience as a reader and longtime reviewer for newspapers, radio stations, and online magazines.  See how it matches yours.

I’ve been re-reading books ever since elementary school.  It started with The Three Musketeers and I, Robot.  Then it moved on to various books by Henry James whom I discovered in junior high school and truly fell in love with in college along with Edith Wharton, D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Jane Austen, and George Eliot.  I’ve revisited all of them periodically over the years.  I didn’t wait to become an AARP member.

And I never competed with anyone. Reading was always private for me, an escape and a joy.  That’s unlike Dirda, for whom page count conferred “cachet.”  He writes that in “ninth grade, I doggedly worked my way through a two-volume history of English literature mainly to show off.”  Mine is bigger than yours surely had to be more interesting than that.

But I guess not.  Imagine having that kind of sterile competition to deal with along with all the other problems of mid-adolescence like acne, gossip, and embarrassing parents.  And what kind of brain-dead school did he go to that encouraged such a twisted view of reading?

While I had plenty of required reading in college as an English major,  I often went beyond those reading lists to read widely, especially books in translation by Russian and French authors: Turgenev, Gogol, Balzac, Zola. If that meant not finishing a required book in time for a class, my own choices usually won out.  But if we were assigned a novel by Henry Fielding, I wandered off and read several other books of his to get a better feel for his literary universe.

My detours were always fun. Assigned to read Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, I felt obliged to read Fielding’s hilarious parody Shamela.  The first book is all about a good servant girl beset by a lascivious lord and the triumph of virtue; the second is all about that servant girl conning the same lord into marriage.  Why isn’t Downtown Abbey’s Julian Fellowes sinking his teeth into that nasty little masterpiece?

As for being a slave to the best seller list, I feel sorry for Dirda if that’s how he lived his post-college years.  I haunted bookstores back in the day and usually looked at what was new and hot, but sales and publicity didn’t matter to me.  What counted was whether the subject or the writing grabbed me. Preferably it would be both.  And there’ve been dozens, maybe hundreds of best sellers over the years that friends and reviewers have raved about that have left me cold.  Sometimes nauseous (or nauseated if you prefer).

Starting in the 1990s, I spent many years as a book reviewer in print, on-air and online.  I sometimes re-read a book I was crazy about, like Terrill Lankford’s LA thriller Shooters and Charlie Huston’s vampire PI book Already Dead.

But my full initiation into reading a series has only come in my 50s with books by Bernard Cornwell, Martin Cruz Smith, and C.S. Harris. Nonetheless, I’m still always on the lookout for writers who’ll engage me and take me on a fresh voyage. Writers like the amazing Lori Rader-Day, Janet Fitch, and Penelope Fitzgerald.  The genre can be fiction, but I’m a big fan of biography and history too, as long as the prose is fine and the narrative engaging.

Michael Dirda may have his theory about how readers read, but it’s really just a theory until he can back it up with facts.  Though theory could be too elevated a term.  It’s more like a notion, and a fairly dubious and ageist one, too.

Maybe he’ll explain the use of slow cookers for various age groups next.

Lev Raphael is the author of 26 books in genres from memoir to mystery, most recently State University of Murder.  You can read his latest interview about it here.