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Brendan Dowling Author Archive


Email: bdowling@ala.org  


Book Cover of Correctional by Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar on His Revelatory Memoir and The Embrace of The Totality of The Experience

Ravi Shankar is a Pushcart Prize-winning poet and editor of more than fifteen books and chapbooks of poetry, whose work has been featured in the New York Times, NPR, and PBS NewsHour. In 2008, he had a thriving career in academia when he was pulled over by a New York City police officer for a supposed traffic violation. The police officer promptly arrested Shankar, who is of South Indian descent and weighs 200 pounds, on a warrant for a 150-pound white man. A judge eventually dismissed the case, but not before Shankar had to spend seventy-two hours in jail. That experience (which also involved the arresting officer using racist language) understandably traumatized Shankar. Shankar had a later run-in with the law a few years later when he received a DUI after having some celebratory beers with members of his soccer team. In 2013, he violated his probation for his DUI by driving with a suspended license. This infraction caused him to be sentenced to a 90-day pretrial detention at Hartford Correctional Center, a level four facility for adult males. While incarcerated, Shankar was promoted to full professor, an event that the local media sensationalized in their coverage and politicians used to score points during a contentious election. Shankar ultimately chose to resign amidst the media and political pressure placed upon him, and his marriage ended during this experience as well. In his elegantly wrought and emotionally transparent memoir, Correctional, Shankar recounts his own experience with the criminal justice system, exploring how race, class, and privilege shaped his time in the correctional facility.

Tim O'Brien Author Photo

“Memoir is a Strange Word When you Don’t Remember a Whole Lot” – Tim O’Brien on How Memory, History, and Literature Inform his Joyous New Book

Tim O’Brien’s vividly wrought Dad’s Maybe Book is equal parts a love letter to his children, a thoughtful analysis on war’s lifelong effect on those who serve, and a joyful celebration of the written life. Told in thoughtfully crafted letters to his young sons, O’Brien ruminates on becoming a father later in life, American history, his relationship with his own father, and his approach to writing. The result is an incredibly moving summation of a life, one where O’Brien brilliantly articulates his well-considered philosophy on a variety of subjects. O’Brien is perhaps best known for his story collection Things They Carried, and his other books include the National Book Award -winning Going After Cacciato and In the Lake of the Woods. Critics have been equally enthusiastic about Dad’s Maybe Book as O’Brien’s earlier work, with Time Magazine hailing it as “a work that’s the spiritual inheritor of John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley and Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country.”

Lynne Truss Author Photo

“Anything That Strikes You As Very Different From Now Is A Very Good Place to Start” – Lynne Truss On Creating The Delightfully Funny World Of Constable Twitten

In Psycho By The Sea, the fourth installment of Lynn Truss’ hilarious Constable Twitten series, the Brighton detective squad squares off against their most confounding case yet. A renowned American sociologist is found murdered in the music section of Brighton’s high-end department store at the same time a local criminal (and valued police station informant) disappears from his local spot. To top it off, a serial killer intent on beheading police detectives has recently escaped from Broadmoor Hospital and is rumored to be heading to Brighton. As always, Truss nimbly balances an intricately plotted crime story with the comic workings of the officers’ personal lives. Inspector Steine contends with his newfound fame (and over-efficient secretary) after his success in a previous high-profile case, Officer Brunswick agonizes over a budding romance, and the redoubtable Constable Twitten continues his struggle for power with Mrs. Groynes, the police station’s charwoman whose true identity as Brighton’s criminal mastermind is only known to Twitten. Critics have raved over the series, with Publisher’s Weekly noting, “In her ability to blend crime and farce, Truss is in a class of her own.” The latest book is no exception, having already been long-listed for the Crime Writer’s Association Historical Dagger Award. Truss talked to us about fleshing out her characters from her radio series that inspired the books, getting inspired by her research, and placing her characters in stressful situations.

Jeffrey Lewis Author Photo

“My Process is Usually One of Necessity and Escaping Disaster” — Jeffrey Lewis On His Haunting New Novel

In Jeffrey Lewis’ emotionally resonant Land of Cockaigne, an older couple find themselves unexpectedly battling their community when an outreach program based on their late son’s dream sparks an unexpected controversy in their small town. Walter and Charley Rath have taken their windfall from savvy financial investments to support a life in Sneeds Harbor, an idyllic community in coastal Maine. There they buy not only a beautiful home, but also a neglected 220-acre camp that Charley uses as studio space. Although outsiders, they have spent over two decades there, raising their son Stephen and forging deep connections with their neighbors. As they head towards late middle age, their lives are upended when Stephen dies in a random act of violence. Struggling to carve meaning out of his death, they decide to put in motion one of his last goals, to create a program where teenagers from the Bronx would be able to spend two weeks in Maine. Walter and Charley’s opening up their home, and thus Sneeds Harbor, to young people predictably provokes huge reactions from their fellow community members, resulting in a shocking act the last night of the young men’s visit. Lewis plunges the reader into the rich interior lives of his characters, including not only Walter and Charley but also Stephen’s grieving girlfriend Sharon, various townspeople who oppose their action, and the visiting young men themselves. The result is an extraordinarily compassionate look at race, class, and community.

Kevin Young Author Photo

Kevin Young on the Poets in Conversation in His Extraordinary New Anthology

Kevin Young’s African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Strong represents an extraordinary contribution to our understanding of American poetry, creating an anthology where readers can see poets in conversation with each other as well as the time in which they lived. Young, who currently serves as the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, assembled the collection with extraordinary care and compassion, bringing lesser-known poets to the forefront and highlighting the critical work African American poets have played in both the country’s culture and history. The result is a thrilling collection that will allow readers to discover new writers as well as celebrate beloved favorites.

Jo Hamya Author Photo

Jo Hamya on Virginia Woolf, The Worst Bits of Twitter, and The Smell of Library Hand Soap

Jo Hamya’s perceptive and acidic Three Rooms springs from Virginia Woolf’s observation, “A woman must have money and a room of her own,” chronicling the year in the life of an unnamed British scholar as she shuttles among three rooms while attempting to launch her career. From the room in Oxford where she finishes up her academic career, to renting space on a couch while she ekes out a precarious existence as a copywriter at a society magazine, to a room in her childhood home, Hamya charts her protagonist’s attempt at financial independence with wit, compassion, and uncompromising insight. The result is a rich exploration of a character’s inner life as well as a sharp social critique of early twenty-first century Britain. Critics have met Hamya’s debut novel with universal acclaim, with The New York Times Book Review saying it “invokes the reality of living in a world where a reasonable demand is resolutely categorized as unreasonable” and The Boston Globe calling it “an excellent evisceration of contemporary life.” She spoke to us about Woolf’s influence, treating the internet as a physical space, and how poetry helped shape her narrator’s voice.

Elinor Lipman Author Photo

Elinor Lipman On How The Secret Service, An Optometrist, and Shirley Maclaine Helped Craft Her Delightful New Comedy of Manners

In Rachel to the Rescue, Elinor Lipman’s effervescent new novel, the astute and observant Rachel finds herself in a dead end job in the White House Office of Records Management, archiving the various paperwork President Trump rips up by painstakingly taping them back together. One night, made over-confident by too much alcohol, Rachel inadvertently sends an all-staff email eviscerating her job’s pointlessness and tediousness. The next morning, Rachel is promptly fired. Yet when she crosses the street she’s hit by a car, the driver of which is a mysterious figure en route to a clandestine meeting with the President. Recovering from her concussion, Rachel finds herself thrust into a new world, working for an inept investigative journalist, fending off overprotective parents, and navigating a new relationship with the charming proprietor of the wine store near her apartment. The result is a delightful comedy of manners that mixes political intrigue with deeply felt relationships.

Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi on Intense Friendships, Memory, and the Alchemical Quality of Language

As a teenager, Arezu, an Iranian American teenager, visited Marbella in an attempt to reconnect with her estranged father. Her father failed to materialize, however, instead sending Arezu money via his new wife’s nephew, Omar, a forty-year-old Lebanese man. Two decades later, Arezu still grapples with the aftershocks of her complicated relationship with Omar that summer, one which shadows every other aspect of her life. When she inherits her father’s apartment, she returns to Marbella with her best friend, Ellie, an Israeli American professor. Confronted with the physical space of her most traumatic experiences, Arezu attempts to reconstruct the events of that summer from an adult perspective, in hopes that she can finally give words to a relationship that she has never been able to describe. In Savage Tongues, Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi plumbs the depths of a character’s psyche, while giving the reader a thrilling glimpse of the political, religious, and philosophical components of women’s friendship. Critics have heaped praise on Savage Tongues, with Vulture calling it a “a love story of the most fevered, brutal order,” and Refinery29 hailing it as “a hauntingly beautiful depiction of the way past traumas grip at our insides, threatening to tear us apart years after we’ve experienced them.”

Nicole Glover Author Photo

Nicole Glover on Pocket Diaries, Floating Books, and Creating the Fantastical World of her Debut Novel

With The Conductors, Nicole Glover creates a fascinating alternate reality—a Reconstruction-era Philadelphia where magic exists and is regulated by the government—in which readers will want to get lost. Hettie Rhodes, a former conductor on the Underground Railroad, spends her days working as an in-demand seamstress and her nights as a detective, tackling the cases that the white police force ignore. Hettie is aided in her pursuits by her husband, Benjy, a former Conductor like Hettie but now a gifted blacksmith. When an acquaintance is murdered, Hettie and Benjy dive into an investigation that causes them to explore the many facets of Black Philadelphia, while also confronting dormant issues in their relationship and events from their past. In her debut novel, Glover confidently creates a complex world rooted in real-life history, as well as a gift for empathetically delving into the interior lives of her characters. She talked with us about filling in the lives of her supporting characters, her research process, and what the future holds for Hettie and Benjy.

Author photo of Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman

Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman on Co-Writing a Novel, Google Doc Etiquette, and Creating the Most Unexpected Relationship of the Summer

Ava Simon has insulated herself from the trauma of the death of her girlfriend by throwing herself into her job at STÄDA, a minimalist Scandinavian design company in Brooklyn. Her ordered world, however, is thrown into tumult when her charismatic new boss, Mat Putnam, wiggles his way into her personal life. Overconfident and gregarious, Mat appears to be everything Ava is not, a Golden Retriever in human form. The two strike up a surprising relationship, and for the first time since her girlfriend’s death, Ava surprises herself by developing romantic feelings for another person. Yet Mat contains secrets of his own, and as Ava begins to pull at the threads of his facade she threatens to unravel her hard-won happiness. Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman’s A Very Nice Box is a gleeful satire of relationships and start-up culture, as well as an incisive examination of grief and male entitlement, one that has earned plaudits from critics. The New York Times Book Review raved about the book, stating “the book’s authors, Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman, are linguistic magicians, and their sparkling debut manages to expose the hollowness of well-being jargon while exploring, with tender care and precision, how we dare to move on after unspeakable loss.” Blackett and Gleichman talked to us about their unconventional writing process, creating the richly detailed world of their novel, and creating one of the most unanticipated relationships of the summer.

Michael Blanding Author Photo

Michael Blanding on Researching the Fascinating Mystery Behind Shakespeare’s Plays

When Dennis McCarthy approached Michael Blanding after an author event for Blanding’s last book, the journalist little knew that he was about to embark on a research project that would take him all over Britain and Italy in pursuit of an unconventional theory about the source material for Shakespeare’s plays. McCarthy, a charismatic independent Shakespearean scholar, was eager to investigate the life of Thomas North, a sixteenth century courtier and scholar who McCarthy believed wrote a series of plays that Shakespeare later used as the basis for his own work. An initially reluctant Blanding was persuaded to follow McCarthy when part of McCarthy’s prodigious research was published in a book he co-wrote with Shakespearean scholar June Schlueter. Blanding and McCarthy found themselves in England and Italy, retracing different trips North took that McCarthy believed influenced the plays he wrote and investigating firsthand documents in libraries. The resulting book, North by Shakespeare: A Rogue Scholar’s Quest for the Truth Behind the Bard’s Work, is a wildly entertaining read that illuminates a forgotten figure in British history and brings the political intrigue of sixteenth century England to rip-roaring life. Critics have been equally enthusiastic over North by Shakespeare as they were with Blanding’s last book, the NPR Book of the Year The Map Thief: The Gripping Story of an Esteemed Rare-Map Dealer Who Made Millions Stealing Priceless Maps. The Christian Science Monitor raved, “The book likewise does a virtuoso job of evoking both the realities of Shakespeare’s world and the twists and turns of the whole Shakespeare question” and Publishers Weekly praised it, saying, “Shakespeare fans and readers who enjoy the thrill of a good bibliographic treasure hunt will want to check this out.”

Author Photo of Jonathan Parks-Ramage

Jonathan Parks-Ramage on Subverting the Expectations of Genre and the ‘Fever Dream’ of His New Novel

Jonathan Parks-Ramage’s debut novel Yes, Daddy is an unnerving examination of the relationship between Jonah, a young writer struggling in New York City, and Richard, an incredibly wealthy, much-lauded middle-aged playwright. Jonah, who is barely able to make ends meet working at a restaurant for an abusive boss, is initially swept away by Richard’s lavish lifestyle and career full of accolades. Their idyllic romance turns dark, however, when Richard invites Jonah to his opulent compound in the Hamptons. Jonah, awed by the cultural glitterati who pop by for Richard’s wild weekend parties, overlooks several ominous signs, including the compound’s forbidding iron gates and the bruises that appear on the bodies of the handsome young men who serve as Richard’s staff. Yet after a fallout with Richard, Jonah finds himself plunged into a terrifying situation, one that forces him to confront some of the darkest moments from his past. In Yes, Daddy, Parks-Ramage deftly hops among multiple genres to spin an unsettling tale of abuse, betrayal, and atonement, crafting a story that will enthrall critics and readers alike.

Brian Broome Author Photo

Brian Broome on Gwendolyn Brooks, Giving Everybody the Benefit of the Doubt, and Why He Loves Writing on the Bus

Brian Broome’s triumphant memoir Punch Me Up to the Gods heralds the arrival of an extraordinary new writer. In essays of searing wit and compassion, Broome leads the reader through growing up Black and gay in rural Ohio, examining his relationship with his pragmatic mother and defeated father. As a young adult, he moves to Pittsburgh. The city affords him the community he had long sought growing up, but also causes him to confront his issues with addiction and past traumas. In every essay, Broome’s joyful empathy shines through, as he unflinchingly recollects the darkest moments of his life with sensitivity and good humor. Broome’s book has been met with glowing praise by fellow writers and critics. The New York Times Book Review stated, “Punch Me Up to the Gods feels like a gift,” and Kiese Laymon said, “Punch Me Up to the Gods obliterates what we thought were the limitations of not just the American memoir, but the possibilities of the American paragraph. I’m not sure a book has ever had me sobbing, punching the air, dying of laughter, and needing to write as much as Brian Broome’s staggering debut.” 

Norman Ohler Author Photo

Norman Ohler on the Forgotten Members of the Resistance Movement in World War II

Norman Ohler’s The Bohemians: The Lovers Who Led Germany’s Resistance Against the Nazis brings to light two fascinating figures in Germany’s anti-Nazi resistance movement, Harro Schulze-Boysen and Libertas Haas-Heye. The two lovers began a passionate courtship in 1934 that soon led to a very unconventional marriage. As a student activist, Harro had long been a vocal critic of the Nazi party, and his outspoken dissent had caused him to be imprisoned and tortured by the Nazis for a brief time. Undeterred by his horrific treatment, he resolved to bring the Nazi Party down. As a member of Germany’s Air Force ministry, he funneled air strike plans to the Allies, and later was a key source of information surrounding Nazi atrocities to the Allies. He and Libertas quickly became key figures in the resistance movement, strategizing methods of amplifying the message of the resistance movement and bolstering support among their myriad networks, chiefly in the Bohemian community. Ohler’s The Bohemians is a rigorously researched account of Harro and Libetras’ dazzling lifestyle, transporting the reader from glittering cocktail parties in Berlin to clandestine Resistance meetings. Ohler’s work has been showered with praise, with The New York Times Book Review calling The Bohemians “a detailed and meticulously researched tale… that reads like a thriller.”

Author Photo of Jamal Greene

“I Want Ordinary Americans to Feel Like They Have a Stake in How the Constitution is Interpreted and Developed” – Jamal Greene on the Role Rights Play in the U.S. Legal System

Rights have always been an integral part of the American identity. In his compelling new book, How Rights Went Wrong: Why Our Obsession with Rights Is Tearing America Apart, legal scholar Jamal Greene examines the evolving role rights have played in U.S. legal history. Commencing with how the Framers of the Constitution originally viewed the role of rights in the judicial process, Greene guides the reader through key moments in U.S. legal history to study the increasingly divisive status rights have assumed over time. In considering key cases and historical figures, Greene studies the polarizing effect rights have had on the country’s culture, and posits the changes necessary in order to move away from the current binary definition of rights. Greene, the Dwight Professor of Law at Columbia University’s Law School, has earned high praise for his first book. Of How Rights Went Wrong, Publishers Weekly raved, “Greene delves deeply into the legal, cultural, and political matters behind rights conflicts, and laces his account with feisty legal opinions and colorful character sketches” and past president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen hailed it as “fastidiously researched and immensely readable.”