Category Archives: Books


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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.


(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Observer, 1/28.)

One of Britain’s foremost playwrights has launched a forthright attack on European concept directors who camp up and distort classic plays in a way that is “beginning to infect” British theatre.

Sir David Hare’s damning criticisms of so-called “theatre makers” are included in a wide-ranging interview for a forthcoming book.

In one passage, Hare refers to “state of England” plays as “the strongest line in British theatre”. He recalls Jerusalem, Jez Butterworth’s award-winning playabout national identity, which opened at the Royal Court in 2009 with Mark Rylance as a roguish ne’er-do-well. Hare describes it as “the last surpassingly successful play in that tradition”.

(Read more)

Photo: The Telegraph.


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Frank Spencer-like moments at the births of his two daughters, as Michael Crawford begins the first of a five-part reading of his autobiography.

Celebrated for his roles as the hapless Frank Spencer in the BBC TV sitcom, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em – and as the man in the mask in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, The Phantom of the Opera – Michael Crawford is one of Britain’s best loved entertainers.

Abridged by Pat McLoughlin.

Producer: Penny Leicester

First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1999.


Antonio Di Benedetto

( Coetzee’s article appeared in the New York Review of Books, 1/19.)


by Antonio Di Benedetto, translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen

New York Review Books, 201 pp., $15.95 (paper)

The year is 1790, the place an unnamed outpost on the Paraguay River ruled from faraway Buenos Aires. Don Diego de Zama has been here for fourteen months, serving in the Spanish administration, separated from his wife and sons. Nostalgically Zama looks back to the days when he was a corregidor (chief administrator) with a district of his own to run:

Doctor Don Diego de Zama!… The forceful executive, the pacifier of Indians, the warrior who rendered justice without recourse to the sword…, who put down the native rebellion without wasting a drop of Spanish blood.

Now, under a new, centralized system of government meant to tighten Spain’s control over its colonies, chief administrators have to be Spanish-born. Zama serves as second-in-command to a Spanish gobernador: as a Creole, an americano born in the New World, he can aspire no higher. He is in his mid-thirties; his career is stagnating. He has applied for a transfer; he dreams of the letter from the viceroy that will whisk him away to Buenos Aires, but it does not come.

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Photo: Explicito


(Claire Messud’s article article appeared in the New York Review of Books, 12/8.)

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

Penguin, 453 pp., $27.00

“I feel dance has something to tell me about what I do,” Zadie Smith wrote in a recent article in The Guardian. She cites the dancer Martha Graham’s advice as useful for her writerly self:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique…. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

Her new novel, Swing Time, is both about dancers and, on some level, a dance itself, syncopated, unexpected, and vital. There is a moment late in the novel when the narrator (mysteriously unnamed, for well over four hundred pages) joins in a dance with a group of village women in Gambia:

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Nutshell by the acclaimed author Ian McEwan is read by the actor Tim McInnerny.

Ian McEwan’s latest novel updates the story of Hamlet to a townhouse in modern day London. As at Elsinore – betrayal and murder are rife. Trudy plans to poison her husband John and elope with her lover Claude. There is however a witness to the plot – Trudy’s as yet unborn child.

‘Bounded in the nutshell’ of Trudy’s womb, the foetus is forced to eavesdrop on his mother Ger(Trudy) and her lover, property-developer Claude, as they plan to murder his father, a hapless poet called John Cairncross. The ambitious but deeply banal Claude is of course brother to John and, consequently, villainous uncle to our unborn narrator. Claude and Trudy devise an elaborate facade involving anti-freeze and a great many props to cover their tracks and suggest that John’s death was suicide.

As witness to all these goings-ons, the nine-month old resident of Trudy’s womb keeps up a running commentary as he muses on his own future and decides how he can subvert their plan and avenge the murder. Nutshell’s Denmark is an elegant Georgian terraced house in London St. John’s Wood that has become shabby and dilapidated, but Claude has designs on it.

Tim McInnerny is known for his many roles on stage and screen appearing in films such Johnny English and TV such as Sherlock and the recent National Treasure. Early in his career he featured as Lord Percy Percy and Captain Darling in the Blackadder series.

Ian McEwan is a critically acclaimed author. His novels include The Child in Time, which won the 1987 Whitbread Novel of the Year, The Cement Garden, Enduring Love, Amsterdam which won the 1998 Booker Prize, Atonement, Saturday, On Chesil Beach, Solar and The Children Act.

Photo of Ian McEwan: Star Tribune