Category Archives: Books









(Greenblatt’s article appeared in The New York Times, 4/21; via Pam Green.)

Two Years, 190,000 Miles, 197 Countries, One Play 
By Dominic Dromgoole 
Illustrated. 390 pp. Grove Press. $27.

It began, we are told, as a whim lubricated by strong drink. In 2012 the management of Shakespeare’s Globe — the splendid replica of the Elizabethan open-air playhouse, built on the bankside of the Thames in London — was considering possible eye-catching new initiatives. In the midst of the merry collective buzz, the theater’s artistic director, Dominic Dromgoole, impulsively said, “Let’s take ‘Hamlet’ to every country in the world.” No doubt even crazier cultural ideas have been proposed, but this one is crazy enough to rank near the top of anyone’s list. Yet it came to pass. An intrepid company of 12 actors and four stage managers, backed up by a London-based staff that undertook the formidable task of organizing the venues, obtaining the visas and booking the frenetic travel, set out in April 2014, the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. They did not quite succeed in bringing the tragedy to every country — North Korea, Syria and a small handful of others eluded them — but they came pretty close. One hundred ninety countries and a series of refugee camps later, the tour reached its end in April 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

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Wayne Allensworth worked as an analyst for the Foreign Broadcast Information Service from 1991 to 2002.  He is the author of The Russian Question: Nationalism, Modernization, and Post-Communist Russia, published by Rowman & Littlefield in 1998.  He is a Corresponding Editor of Chronicles magazine.  His short story, Man of the West, was nominated for a Western Writers of America Spur award. He has contributed to the following collections: Exploring American History (Marshall Cavendish, 2008); Peace in the Promised Land: A Realist Scenario (Chronicles Books, 2006); Immigration and the American Identity (Chronicles Books, 2008); and Russian Nationalism and the National Reassertion of Russia, edited by Marlene Laruelle (Johns Hopkins University). He lives in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Wayne Allensworth saddles up with SV’s Bob Shuman to talk about writing the epic, the poetic, and the tragic in a two-part interview—Part 2 will be published 4/25.   Read the prologue to FIELD OF BLOOD at the end of this post.

Wayne, tell us about your new book—would it be fair to call it a “Western”?

 The themes and setting make Field of Blood what some might call a “modern Western.” I think of the book as taking place in an imagined present— a small Texas town is transformed as the American Southwest gradually melds with Mexico.  America is merging with Latin America, with all the dislocations, conflicts, and moral dilemmas that arise out of a clash of cultures.  We aren’t quite there yet, but are headed in that direction at a rapid pace. If the elite of both countries had their way, that’s where we would be now. That was my starting point.

I tried to imagine what that would look like. It’s very much a frontier situation.  The rule of law is breaking down where the old America is passing away, the globalized world bringing with it chaos and disorientation.  The corruption and frenzied violence of today’s Mexico are crossing the border.  That’s what’s coming. You might say that the drug cartels and their accomplices are a criminal counterpart to trans-national corporations, both out to take advantage of the erosion of borders and national institutions.  They share an interest in dissolving boundaries, doing away with the old institutions, and exploiting the situation for profit, no matter what the cost to ordinary people. 

My characters are struggling with the new reality and their own sense of identity, as well as a sense of loss.  I tried to get at the surrealism of globalization, and the bizarre situations it creates.  America is being forcibly merged with Latin America, but it doesn’t stop there, not for us or them. It’s really an anti-human and anti-humane world, one without reference points, that benefits the most ruthless among us the most.

In this setting, I set up a situation that forces people to take sides in a way that is especially pronounced on a frontier.  It’s the kind of dilemma that leads to an inevitable showdown. That’s very much like a traditional Western, but in a modern, or post-modern, setting.

How did you become interested in Westerns–and what is it about them that made you want to write them?

My grandfather told me stories about the Old West when I was a boy.  I heard stories about Quanah Parker, the range wars, about his meeting Frank James, and seeing Geronimo.  Westerns are uniquely American, they are elemental, dealing with fundamental issues—survival, identity, loyalty—and they are about us, about our people and how we came to be what and who we are.

I read Westerns my grandfather would pass along to me after he had read them, books by writers like Louis L’Amour, Ernest Haycox, Jack Schaefer, and Alan LeMay.  Later on in life, I read Larry McMurtry, Charles Portis, and Cormac McCarthy.  McMurtry wrote his great epic Western, Lonesome Dove, in an urbanized, technological era when Westerns had fallen out of fashion.  I think he revived the Western.  McCarthy wrote his masterpiece, Blood Meridian, as a metaphysical Western, one that drew on authors like Melville and Conrad, but the violence and stylistics of the novel were from a later period. McCarthy took the Western to places it hadn’t been before.  You might call some of these books “modern Westerns,” books like McMurtry’s Horseman Pass By, McCarthy’s border trilogy, and his No Country for Old Men.  Modern Westerns, especially, have an elegiac quality about them; they are stories chronicling the passing of an era, the passing of the old America, its values and way of life.  But that sense of something dying out, that something we’ll miss, the good and the bad, is part of a lot of Westerns.

Westerns were once a very important genre in America cinema, and movie Westerns and Western books drew on each other. It was a two-way street, the books, dating back to the dime novels of the 19th century, to the authors I’ve mentioned.  They provided much of the raw material for movie Westerns, and the films provided a lot of the imagery used in subsequent Western stories. The great movie Westerns, films like StagecoachRed RiverShaneHigh NoonThe Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, gave the genre its stock of characters and themes, and the imagery of a mythical West.  Directors like John Ford and Howard Hawks set the standard for movie Westerns and made them art. Movie stars like John Wayne and Gary Cooper became the face of American Westerns. John Wayne, in particular, became a symbol of the American Western.  Clint Eastwood took up Wayne’s mantle to a certain degree. He was in Westerns on TV and in the movies, and, together with director Don Siegel, made modern Westerns like Coogan’s Bluff and, some would say, Dirty Harry, which I’ve heard called an “urban Western.” 

I think films like Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country and his best movie, The Wild Bunch, drew on the somber tone and texture of elegiac Westerns.  The Wild Bunch took Western films into some of the places Cormac McCarthy would take the literary Western.  Peckinpah made modern Westerns like Junior Bonner and The Getaway, while films based on McMurtry’s books, Hud and The Last Picture Show, contrasted the Old West with the new one, the ideal of the West as we like to think of it, and the realities of modern life.  That kind of movie is still with us—just look at the success of Hell or High Water.

Thank you so much.  Looking forward to next week.

Read the prologue to FIELD OF BLOOD: Field of Blood Prologue

Read Part II of this interview:

Wayne Allensworth photo (c) 2017 by Elizabeth Allensworth Merino.  All rights reserved.

(c) 2017 by Wayne Allensworth (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved. 


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Published when the National Theatre turned 50 in 2013, Philip Ziegler’s biography, based on previously unseen letters and diaries, tells the story of Laurence Olivier as he developed his craft, focusing on his career path from early school days through rep theatre to Hollywood, before returning to triumph in his greatest role ever, as the first director of the National Theatre.

Episode 1:
Born at a time when theatre was at a low ebb in Britain, and after a rather unpromising start in life, the young Laurence Olivier enters the acting profession and begins to shine.

Reader: Toby Jones

Producer: Clive Brill
A Pacificus production for BBC Radio 4.



Robi Ludwig, Psy.D. is a nationally known psychotherapist, award-winning reporter, and author. She is a relationship contributor for Investigation Discovery Network’s Scorned, and has hosted TLC’s reality show One Week to Save Your Marriage and GSN’s Without Prejudice? Dr. Ludwig is a regular guest on CNN, Fox News, and Headline News, discussing psychological and lifestyle issues as well as the criminal mind. She has appeared on Today, Entertainment Tonight, 20/20, World News Tonight, Nightline, The View, Fox and Friends, Steve Harvey, The Wendy Williams Show, and is on the medical board and a contributor for BELLA Magazine. She also writes for the Huffington Post. Dr. Ludwig lives in New York City.

Dr. Robi Ludwig helps Bob Shuman through the golden years, in the final part of her Stage Voices interview.  

One quality a survivor in the aging wars must cultivate?  

I see two qualities being crucial:  cultivating a little bit of moxie–and resiliency!

What are people missing about themselves, people who do feel that age is creeping up on them? 

I’m not sure that people are missing anything, but there is a culturally induced fear about aging—somehow we believe we will become less in some way: less relevant, less wanted, less noticed.

This is what I address in Your Best Age Is Now, that we are improving in so many ways as we age. We continue to make new brain cells, showing that we are not “losing it”; many midlifers describe feeling more confident. We are able to problem-solve better; we become wiser and better able to plug into what’s important. We know what we want out of life and from the people in our lives. Many even describe themselves as getting better with age: having a better body, and looking better. Our personalities continue to change all the way into our 60s. We become more conscientious and agreeable. Due to the changes going on in our brains, we become more likely to see the world and the people in our world through a more optimistic lens.

How would you advise a woman who wants to–or has to–change careers after age 50 and is scared?

Don’t follow your fear, follow your plan.

It’s important to do some preliminary research about the field you’d like to go into.

Reach out to any connections you’ve made over the years who might be able to help you. Sometimes it’s our acquaintances who are the most helpful when it comes to providing new connections.

Don’t give up your day job before you fully explore what opportunities are available.

And be willing to get some experience via exploring this new career, as a hobby or via an internship. Sometimes volunteering one’s time can lead to the perfect opportunity for that new career transition.

Are women’s concerns about aging differently than men’s?

I think women in the past had it harder than men. Society was certainly tougher on the aging woman than the aging man. But things have changed. Men can be just as hard on themselves about the aging process

What do you recommend to your clients—or what do you see as first steps that they are taking—to break the cycle of being defined by age?

First, I advise them to get acquainted with the new science about midlife. It’s a lot more positive than what we’ve been led to believe. Then, it’s important to get in touch with your teen energy, since there are similarities between midlife and adolescence:

-Learn how to say “Yes” to life

-Get in touch with your inner moxie

-Find both older and younger role models

-Live with a “You Only Live Once” attitude

-And surround yourself with supportive friends and family

We really do lead more with our essence than our age. I think this is an important point for all of us to keep in mind.

How do you beat feelings of age, should they come up?

I follow the advice in my book Your Best Age is Now, and I continue to follow my passions and the fun in life.

Who did you give a copy of your book to at the holidays?

I gave a copy to some of my closest friends: mother and sister, and they were both very appreciative.

Thank you so much for talking with us.

View Your Best Age Is Now, from HarperOne, on Amazon:

Visit Dr. Ludwig’s Web site:

Read Part 1 of the Dr. Ludwig interview:

(c) 2017 by Robi Ludwig, Psy.D (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.



(William Daniels’s article appeared on Vulture, 3/10; via Pam Green.)

William Daniels has had a long career as an actor that included performances in The GraduateTwo for the Road, and 1776, but what convinced him to join the cast of a kid’s show on ABC? As Daniels explains in his new memoir, There I Go Again: How I Came to Be Mr. Feeny, John Adams, Dr. Craig, KITT, and Many Others, it was the Shakespeare references. Michael Jacobs, who created the show, based Feeny on his high-school drama teacher, and convinced Daniels to join the cast by writing a speech about Romeo and Juliet that he would deliver to the show’s titular boy, Cory. Most of the Shakespeare references ended up being cut, Daniels explains in the excerpt below, but the character remained a powerful presence on the show, and in the lives of millions of viewers. 

Over the years you fine-tune your acting ability. It doesn’t mean you’re not capable of giving a lousy performance now and again, but on the whole you reach a point where you’ve increased your level of achievement. And it’s at that point, assuming that you are financially secure, that you have to protect your reputation by choosing carefully the roles you commit to. It was with that in mind that I expressed my doubts about taking on the role of George Feeny in a half-hour sitcom called Boy Meets World. At a meeting with the show’s author and executive producer, Michael Jacobs, already an established playwright and sitcom creator, as well as a movie producer, I told him I didn’t want to play a high school teacher who’s made to look foolish for the sake of some cheap laughs. I had too much respect for the underpaid, underappreciated teachers of this country to portray one of them as a fool. Michael told me about Bob Stevens, a Shakespeare-loving high school drama teacher he had had back in New Jersey who was his mentor and a man he greatly respected. With this teacher as his inspiration, he created George Feeny. Michael was very persuasive and assured me that he would never have me play an idiot, so I came on board.

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View There I Go Again on Amazon:


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Inspired by the Oscar-nominated TV documentary, Alan Light’s biography draws on Nina Simone’s early diaries, rare interviews, childhood journals and input from her daughter Lisa Simone Kelly to paint a picture of the classically-trained pianist who became a soul legend, a leading civil rights activist and one of the most influential artists of our time.

Episode One
“I was born a child prodigy darling. I was born a genius.” Nina Simone

Music journalist Alan Light is the author of The Holy of the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the Unlikely Ascent of Hallelujah, and Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain, among others. He was editor-in-chief of the music magazines Vibe and Spin, and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times.

Writer: Alan Light
Abridger: Pete Nichols
Reader: Alibe Parsons
Producer: Karen Rose

A Sweet Talk production for BBC Radio 4.

Photo: Respect Magazine.


(from Publishers Lunch, 2/10.)

Pussy Riot founding member and human rights activist Maria Alekhina’s memoir of her time in the Russian prison system, to Riva Hocherman and Sara Bershtel at Metropolitan, in a pre-empt, by Melissa Flashman at Janklow & Nesbit on behalf of Claire Conrad at Janklow & Nesbit UK.
UK rights previously to Helen Conford at Allen Lane, by Claire Conrad.
French rights to Adrien Bosc at Seuil, in a pre-empt, by Rebecca Folland at Janklow & Nesbit.
Translation: Rebecca Folland at Janklow & Nesbit



Michael Anthony is the author of Civilianized, “an intense memoir” (Kirkus) about his return to the U.S. from a combat tour in Iraq. He is also the author of Mass Casualties: A Young Medic’s True Story of Death, Deception, and Dishonor in Iraq, which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. He has written for the Washington Post blog, the Business Insider blog, as well as several others, including a year-long stint as a feature writer and the editor of the “War and Veterans” section of the Good Men Project. He lives in Boston and can be contacted through is website:

Michael Anthony Gives Part II of an Interview, regarding his new book, with SV’s Bob Shuman.  (Read part 1: )

Back at it:

Name two books on war, other than your own, that you would put in a time capsule.

All Quiet on the Western Front and Catch-22. Both of those books are the most amazing books on war I’ve ever read. They’re novels, but they capture the heart and essence of war better than any other books, memoirs, or novels, that I’ve ever come across.

I’ve given Catch-22 to many people to read, veterans and civilians, and it’s interesting because I’ve had a handful of civilians all say something similar to me about Catch-22, which was something along the lines of “I wasn’t too crazy about the book; it was too absurd, not realistic enough.” And on the reverse, all the veterans I’ve given a copy of Catch-22 to all comment that it’s “Hilarious, and such an accurate portrayal of the ridiculousness of the military and war…” Both books show the true reality and absurdity of war:

Do you worry about the U.S. becoming involved in another war—and have you become a pacifist?

I’ve come to believe, unfortunately, that war is a part of human nature. The bible talks of wars against good and evil, and Jane Goodall, the famed primatologist, speaks of our cousin chimps and apes fighting wars over territory and supplies. On both sides of this issue, creationists, religious people, scientists, and evolutionists seem to believe that we’re here to fight. Whether it’s in our DNA, through evolution or part of our souls, it seems like it’s something that’s here to stay. I think that at the end of the day all we can do is hope that we’re on the right side of the war and that history will be kind to our version of things.

What is the best way to support someone coming back from deployment?

I think the best way to approach someone isn’t in a veteran vs. civilian conversation, but more as just two people having a conversation.

Asking questions such as “Seen anyone die?” and “Almost die yourself?” are very personal questions.  They could be the equivalent of asking, in a sense, “When’s the last time you masturbated?” or “How much money do you make?” and so on. War, and the feelings and experiences that comes with it, are very personal. We’ve glorified it and pacified it, though, in movies and TV shows, so it makes it seem okay to just go up to a vet, just back from the war, and ask these questions.  Maybe he or she did see someone die and maybe it was a friend, or maybe someone was killed and the death is still haunting him or her. My suggestion would be just to have a normal, caring, honest conversation, but don’t push the boundaries unless it seems as though the veteran is the one looking to talk about those things. 

What’s the best review you ever received from someone who was sent to Iraq or Afghanistan? 

The best reviews and notes I receive from veterans are always when they say that my writing has helped him or her in some way. That’s it. Clear and simple. Whether they’re saying I inspired them to write a story about their experiences, or whether my writing helped them make sense of their own experiences, or whether it helped them to reach out to friends/family, or anything in-between, that’s what matters. The best notes that writers get are just those that let them hear that their work moved and inspired a person, and when I hear that my work has inspired a veteran to go seek help, to reach back out to a friend, to think more deeply about things, or even to write a story themselves, those are always the notes that make it all worthwhile.

How do you stay involved in veteran affairs?

 Throughout the years I’ve volunteered and worked with and reached out to many different veterans and groups so that there’s always a contact who’s looking for help in some way. Whether it’s to help fundraise for a veteran group or charity, help build a house for a disabled vet, or just meeting up to talk, there’s no shortages of ways to help out veterans.  Unfortunately, there’s also no shortage of veterans in need of help, so instead of sticking with one charity and helping in one way, I’ve gone the route of volunteering at dozens of different types of veterans charities. I think the novelty of volunteering with different groups has kept me from burning out after all these years. 

Thank you, Michael.  Good luck with your book.

View Civilianized on Amazon: Civilianized

(c) 2017 by Michael Anthony (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.


Michael Anthony is the author of Civilianized, “an intense memoir” (Kirkus) about his return to the U.S. from a combat tour in Iraq. He is also the author of Mass Casualties: A Young Medic’s True Story of Death, Deception, and Dishonor in Iraq, which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. He has written for the Washington Post blog, the Business Insider blog, as well as several others, including a year-long stint as a feature writer and the editor of the “War and Veterans” section of the Good Men Project. He lives in Boston and can be contacted through is website:

Michael Anthony Gives Part I of an Interview, regarding his new book, with SV’s Bob Shuman.  Part II will be published February 14.

Do you think your experience reintegrating into American life, as told in Civilianized, is fairly representative?  

I think there are parts that will be universal to some or most veterans and other parts that won’t be as universal. I think what’s universal is that all veterans, who return from war, have a reintegration process, whether it’s two days, two weeks, or two years–that’s the big difference. The process is smoother for some, rougher for others. Over 20 percent of returning veterans are diagnosed with PTSD; between 20 and 22 veterans kill themselves every day in the United States; and veterans represent the largest minority group in the homeless population. There’s definitely something that’s “happening,” for veterans, as they’re making the transition from “war,” to “peace,” Civilianized is just the beginning of a conversation of what that might be.

Tell us about the book—and how it was harder and easier to write than your first memoir, set in Iraq, Mass Casualties.

For both books I had journals from the time period to utilize, which made it a lot easier. But with my second book, I also have the benefit of having an MFA from Lesley University, which I didn’t have with my first. So I think writing the second one came a little bit easier (though it took a longer time) than my first one. In general though, I think memoir is the easiest prose to write. All it really takes, in my opinion, is to close your eyes and try in the best way possible, to describe what you see/feel/remember. The hardest part, I think, in memoir, isn’t in the actual writing; it’s in finding the strength to be honest with yourself about what the story really is, and what needs to be told.

What don’t non-military U.S. citizens understand about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars?

I think the biggest thing people don’t understand is that these are real people fighting these wars (on both sides). We often demonize our enemies and put our own soldiers on a pedestal and, after a while, it no longer reflects the true human reality of war. When veterans come home from wars it’s hard to understand why they’re struggling so much when our only experience of them is as manly, stoic heroes in movies and TV shows. I worked with one woman in Iraq who held a job at a strip club before we were deployed.  Another woman was a police officer and one guy was a cashier at a grocery store–one was a firefighter, another was a tax accountant, another was a cab driver, and another was an English teacher. Real people fight wars and then real people come home from wars, and I think that’s what people don’t really grasp: the person who’s risking his or her life for you isn’t some romanticized, idealized person. It’s your brother, your sister, your neighbor, your coworker.  He or she can be that annoying kid from next door, your high school crush, that guy who dated your sister, that girl who dumped your brother.

I think that once we see that returning soldiers are real people again, with real problems and issues, which are and can be compounded by the stress and trauma of war, that it becomes easier to understand and empathize with what they went through–and are going through–on their return from war.

What did serving in Iraq give to you that you would never give back?

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with someone, and she asked if “the military/war changes you?”–and she was implying in her question that military service and war change a person.

I, on the other hand, told her that I actually believe the opposite: That the military/war doesn’t change a person; rather, it shows him or her who they really are.  In war you get to see who you “truly are.” Not just who you are as a regular Joe Schmo, working forty hours a week, who gets eight hours of sleep a night, three meals a day, and spends his weekends golfing. I’m talking about who you are when the tides are turned against you. Who you are when you’ve only had four hours of sleep a night for two weeks straight, when you haven’t had a day off in months, haven’t had a good meal in just as long, and you’ve got someone dying in your hands. I fully believe that it’s only in those moments that a person realizes who he or she really is. Joe Schmo may have the makings of a badass hero inside him, but he’ll never know it because he’s never been tested in that way.

So I think what Iraq and fighting in a war has given me is a perspective of who I really am, as a person, and what people are really capable of when pushed to their limits.

Knowing what you now know, would you have enlisted?  Would you have become a writer if you had not served?

I would’ve absolutely done it all again. I worked in a hospital over there, helped save hundreds of lives, and was there looking out for my friends. Although my deployment wasn’t perfect, and there was a lot of crap that went along with it, there’s an allure to the power and purpose and passion that war offers.

Towards the end of my deployment, I volunteered to stay another six months, but I was the only one in my unit who had done a year straight, and the commanders wouldn’t let me do an additional six months. A year after returning from Iraq, too, I volunteered for a six-month deployment to Afghanistan, but a friend of mine got his packet in before me so he went instead.

If I had never gone to Iraq I probably still would have been a writer, since I’ve written since I was a kid. But I definitely wouldn’t be published, or as good, or as successful, and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to afford to get an MFA without a little help from my Uncle Sam.

What person, on the national scene, do you think should read Civilized and Mass Casualties—and why?

Anyone who works in the VA system, I think, should check out Civilianized. So many veterans are out there, hurting, and there are so many amazing, caring people who work in the VA, but they’re being thwarted by the politics and bureaucracy involved. So, I think, that if we can get some of the people at the top to read stories of our veterans, it will remind them that veterans are real people.  They’re people who served their country and are not just numbers or dollar bills, and, I think, that would have the potential to help the system.

View Civilianized on Amazon: Civilianized

(c) 2017 by Michael Anthony (answers) and Bob Shuman (questions). All rights reserved.


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David Bellos explores why Les Miserables is “France’s greatest gift”. He reveals its inspirations and its resonance now, while describing Victor Hugo’s life as he penned his epic.

There has never been a book like it. War and Peace, Great Expectations, Crime and Punishment were all published in the same decade, yet only Les Misérables can stand as the novel of the nineteenth century. How did Victor Hugo’s epic work come to be the most widely read and frequently adapted story of all time? And why is its message just as important for our century as it was for his own?

Photo: The Times.