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The Avid Reader

The Avid Reader is a podcast for book lovers. Sam’s podcast includes a history of over 450 interviews over the past decade ... listen on iTunes, Podomatic, Spotify and Tunein.comBelow are a few of Sam's most recent interviews.  Enjoy!
Everything Inside: Stories Cover Image
ISBN: 9780525521273
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Published: Knopf - August 27th, 2019

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September 09, 2019 09:36 AM PDT

HIGHLIGHTED IN THE NEW YORK TIMES, read their take here.

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to another edition of The Avid Reader. Today our guest is Edwidge Danticat. Her collection of short stories, Everything Inside was released last month by Knopf. Edwidge has won the Pushcart Prize, the Pen/Faulkner award the American Book Award.

Her novels include The Art of Death, Claire of the Sea Light, Brother, I’m Dying, Breath, Eyes, Memory. The Farming of Bones, Behind the Mountain and the short story collection The Dew Breaker.

Her work has also appeared in the NYT, Time, the New Yorker Harpers and many others.

Everything Inside is a book of and about Haiti. Most of us in this country know little or nothing about this Caribbean country that was first populated by the Taino people, won independence through its slaves, was the first place Columbus set shore on—on his First Voyage in 1492, and it was the second Republic, after us in both North and South America. And the First to abolish slavery.

Edwidge is proud of her country and saddened by the disasters that have befallen it, from political upheaval, Hurricanes to a catastrophic earthquake on January 12, 2010. And even the United Nations has contributed to its grief.

Edwidge was born in Port-au-Prince and came to the US before she was a teenager.

These stories give us a great opportunity to learn more about both Haiti and at the same time allow us to understand more about families, sadness and resolve.

Welcome Edwidge and thanks so much for joining us today.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780399563058
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Published: Pamela Dorman Books - July 23rd, 2019

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September 09, 2019 08:58 AM PDT

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to another edition of The Avid Reader. Today our guest is J. Ryan Stradal, author of The Lager Queen Of Minnesota published by Pamela Dorman Books in July.

Ryan is the author of Kitchens Of The Great Midwest, which won numerous awards. He has written for the WSJ, Vanity Fair, McSweeney’s amongst many other publications.

The Lager Queen Of Minnesota is a novel about beer. I guess to a certain extent, beer is one of the protagonists of this story. But the heroine of the book is Edith Magnusson a mistress of pies, a hard worker, and a good person. But because bad things Do come to good people, she is widowed, underemployed and saddled (at first) with taking care of her teenaged granddaughter Beverly.

Edith’s sister is for most of the novel, the polar opposite of Edition. They are estranged because of an act that Helen chooses and Edith chooses to respond.

But once again and in closing this introduction, we learn a lot about beer, the good and bad of it, the making of it and how it can forge friendship, enmity and sometimes, love.

Welcome Ryan and thanks so much for joining us today.

Lost and Found Cover Image
ISBN: 9781982613419
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Published: Blackstone Publishing - September 10th, 2019

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September 09, 2019 08:47 AM PDT

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to another edition of The Avid Reader. Today our guest is Orson Scott Card, whose latest novel is Lost And Found to be released tomorrow by Blackstone.

Mr. Card needs no introduction but as is my wont, I will give one anyway.

Nobody had won the Hugo and Nebula awards for two novels two years ago until Orson did. For Ender’s Game and Speaker For The Dead and the third of the Enders book Xenocide was just as good as the others and I read each the day that they were released.

And of course Ender didn’t end there.

And so many other books, including the Homecoming Saga and The Tales of Alvin Maker

Lost And Found is a bit of a departure, at least to me, from the other books that I have read by Orson. Ezekiel, (not Zeke) Bliss or Blast (as he prefers) is not a thief. But he finds any number of things and knows who belongs to those things.

His good friend (and good in many senses) is Beth, who as Ezekiel does—-has a micro power, and we all may have micro powers. He has friends who also have varied micro-powers. Not X-men powers, but powers that at first blush seem to be parodies of powers. As we read on, we realize that those tiny powers can make the earth move, can solve crimes, can bring people together.
The book appeals to kids and adults alike as do many of Orson’s work and I mean that as a high compliment.

This book has a great sense of humor, of imagination and intrigue. I loved it and it will be displayed in a special place in my bookstore.

The Papaya King Cover Image
ISBN: 9781733258531
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Published: Jackson Heights Press - July 15th, 2019

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September 09, 2019 08:40 AM PDT

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to another edition of The Avid Reader. Today our guest is Adam Pelzman, an old friend of the show and of our bookshop. We last spoke after the publication of his last novel Troika after which he came to Philly and read and signed at the shop. All in all it’s been a pleasure working with Adam.
He is a lawyer, as am I, and has worked in the financial and private equity world for many years. None of which have anything to do with writing nor the fact that Adam has about 7 unpublished novels sitting in the bottom drawer of his dresser at home. That might not be quite accurate.

So, now we get to chat about his latest work, The Papaya King, published in July by Jackson Heights Press.

Don’t get me wrong here. Troika was a great book and we all loved it. But this one is incredible. It cannot be read in more than one sitting. And it deals with a subject so arcane, so zany, so weird and so germane that I doubt we will see its like again. The closest I can come is A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, my brother’s and my favorite book. Which is why he now has a copy of this one.
It is really a throwback in time to when decency and civility existed, kind of like the way Mark Helprin would like it to exist, although not in as a Republican a way (but don’t get me started on that).

Robert Walser is a conundrum, an enigma wrapped in a riddle. We respect him for his gravitas, his demeanor, his sartorial attention, his devotion as Dante to his Beatrice, as Kafka (in a way) to his Felice, Florentino and Fermina in Love In The Time Of Cholera. OK. I’ll stop there before I go off on one of my many tangled tangents.

But Robert is also a fop, a dilettante, a coward of sorts and a fool.

So basically, he is a little like most of us.

So why are we so attracted to him? Because of that similarity? Or is it because it harkens again back to Helprin and Winters Tale another favorite and one as in love with NYC as this book.

All of those things and before I start to explain them myself in an inherently incoherent fashion, let me introduce my friend, entrepreneur and author of tales of love, intrigue and imagination.

A Door in the Earth Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316451574
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Published: Little, Brown and Company - August 27th, 2019


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September 09, 2019 08:31 AM PDT

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to another edition of The Avid Reader. Today our guest is Amy Waldman, whose new novel A Door In The Earth was released by Little Brown in August of this year.

Amy is a national correspondent for Atlantic Monthly. She, at the NYT collaborated on the Pulitzer Prize winning series Portraits Of Grief, which chronicled the lives of every victim of 9/11.

Her novel, Submission (a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award) was published in 2001.

A Door In The Earth explores a country and a people that we as Americans are slightly aware of but only from skimming an article or watching a sound bite on CNN or listening to a politician spout some words about withdrawal or military victory.

And although, as most of you know I blame pretty much everything on Trump from solar eclipses to hurricanes in Alabama, in this case I have to make an exception

Beyond that superficial level I just mentioned we really know nothing (myself included) about the nation and its citizenry (and I don’t even know if those are the right terms).

But in A Door In The Earth, through the eyes of Pareen (a first generation American, born to Afghan parents) and her ears because she can speak Dari, she can converse with the villagers she meets, as she follows the trail of her idol Gideon Crane along a convoluted path of truth and lies, a tenuous peace and an orchestrated war, until she reaches a resolution of sorts, but key to all of these is she leads us along, so that in the end, the “through a glass darkly” that we all glance through is cleared a good bit and we leave with lots of questions and some answers.

The Most Fun We Ever Had: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385544252
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Published: Doubleday - June 25th, 2019

August 15, 2019 11:43 AM PDT
Good afternoon, everyone and welcome to another edition of The Avid Reader. Today our guest is Claire Lombardo, author of The Most Fun We Ever Had, Published in June by Doubleday.
This is Claire’s first novel and debuted on The NYT best seller list.
Her short fiction has appeared in Barrelhouse, Little Fiction and Longform amongst others.
She is not a woodwind musician. But then again, either am I.
She is working on her second novel.
So the cover is Gingko leaves and there are four of them.Wendy, Violet, Liza, Grace.

The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier Cover Image
ISBN: 9780451492944
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Published: Knopf - August 20th, 2019

August 15, 2019 11:34 AM PDT
Good afternoon everyone and welcome to another edition of The Avid Reader. Today our guest is Ian Urbina, author of The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across The Last Untamed Frontier, published this month by Knopf.
Ian is an investigative reporter who usually writes for the NYT and is also a contributing editor for The Atlantic and contributes to The National Geographic as well He has received the Pulitzer Prize.
Most of us ignore the ocean. Either we live “inland” so to speak, or our only experience with this resource that covers two-thirds of our planet, is when we go to the beach with our umbrellas and lounge chairs, building sandcastles. Or when we sail comfortably on Norwegian or Royal Caribbean cruise ships to the Bahamas
Ian takes us to a different place, a place where vast spaces are covered with water thousands of feet deep, are crisscrossed with vessels of all types. Illegal fisherman in old rusty ships, stowaways on all kinds of craft, illegal abortions performed at sea and repo men cruising the globe to “steal” or take back ships that have wandered astray or are financial treasures whose ownership is in question.
This view of our oceans, provider of 90% of our goods, much of our oxygen, and of course a good portion of our food supply, changes the outlook we have and helps us to recognize the beauty, the danger, the opportunities and also the fact that time is running out for all of us in so many ways.

The Need Cover Image
ISBN: 9781982113162
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Published: Simon & Schuster - July 9th, 2019

August 15, 2019 11:31 AM PDT
Good afternoon and welcome to another edition of The Avid Reader. Today our guest is Helen Phillips author of The Need published in July by Simon and Schuster.
The Need is Helen’s fifth book, preceded by her children’s book Here Where The Sunbeams are Green, And Yet They Were Happy, The Beautiful Bureaucrat and Some Possible Solutions
Each of which have received various awards. She has also received and it is my favorite award ever—-The Italo Calvino Prize in Fabulist Fiction. On my fabulist bucket list.
Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, NYT, Tin House and many other publications.
The Need is a scary book. It is a funny book, it is a sad book, a tragic book, an heroic book and a book that is really hard to put down.
Do we have an unreliable narrator? I don’t know. Do we have a parallel universe? Beats me. Do we have two matching pennies? I can’t say. Do we like someone or another? But when a book asks you these questions and you can’t answer them, you know someone is on to something.
The Need starts out being something then morphs into something else. funnels, tunnels and as it does our questions begin to rise as do the protagonists.
And our protagonists are two sides of the same coin.
It is a book I will not soon forget maybe with a beatific dream every once in a while with the odd, and I mean odd, nightmare thrown in for good measure.

Home Remedies: Stories Cover Image
ISBN: 9781984822741
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Published: Hogarth - May 14th, 2019


July 24, 2019 02:00 PM PDT

Good afternoon, everyone and welcome to another addition of the avid reader. Today our guest is Xuan Juliana Wang, Author of Home Remedies - her first collection of short stories, published in May by Hogarth. 
Xuan’s writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Plowshares, Pushcart, and The Best American Non-Required Reading Anthologies. She is a fiction editor at Fence. 
She moved to Los Angeles around 7 years old and teaches at UCLA. 
Home Remedies is a collection of stories that seem disparate but in many ways not, because they all tell Chinese stories, but because they are linked together in a way that I cant’t really articulate. 
At first they may seen totally alien to our lives, our culture, but upon reflection, or a second reading, the parallels in thought, emotion, empathy, or lack thereof, and action become exceedly familiar. 
Whether it’s abandoned children, Walnut, Pinetree and Lucy (see, alien at first) who may not really be abandoned 
Singers with Mohawks, rich kids who have nothing to do but cruise, do drugs, and pretend to make music videos (definitely not alien)
Hucksters/maybe not, who long for awe, wonder, and acceptance, allow these characters, ofttimes unhappy or uncertain to have an arc of space and time that sometimes is measured in milliseconds, sometimes in years.

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee Cover Image
ISBN: 9781101947869
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Knopf - May 7th, 2019


July 26, 2019 08:49 AM PDT

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to another edition of The Avid Reader. Today our guest is Casey Cep author of Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, published by Knopf in May, her first book.

Reverend Willie Maxwell was a man who loved life insurance. He loved it so much that in the 70s he took out, I guess, scores of policies inuring him to the benefits of the payouts, and then meticulously murdered and I guess allegedly, murdered five of his family members in order to collect on those policies.
Miraculously with the help of an amazing lawyer he escaped conviction for all and his life of largesse only ended when he was shot dead at the funeral of his last victim. I don’t know who collected on HIS policy.
Weirdly and incredibly, the same lawyer who defended Willie successfully obtained an acquital for the murderer of Willie.
Strange justice system we have.
But the crux of this book is really not about Willie. It is about Harper Lee, the author of one of the most beloved books in modern American literature.
She was going to write a book about Willie, even sat in the audience at Willie’s trial, but then, and we learn why, that never happened.
So in addition to being a fascinating look at a fascinating story, we also obtain a wealth of information and understanding of this elusive woman, Harper Lee.

A Memory Called Empire (Teixcalaan #1) Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250186430
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Published: Tor Books - March 26th, 2019


July 26, 2019 08:46 AM PDT

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to another edition of The Avid Reader. Today our guest is Arkady Martine, a speculative fiction writer and in her secret identity as Dr. Anna Linden Weller, she is an historian of the Byzantine Empire and a city planner. She writes about border politics, rhetoric, propaganda and the edges of the world, and coincidentally all of this is wrapped into her first novel, A Memory Called Empire, published in March by Tor. A great publishing house for SF for the past gazillion years.
A Memory Called Empire takes us on a journey in time and space to a place that is so far alien to our world (what should be worlds) and yet is also so familiar.
Politics, betrayal, trust and culture bind together this work in such a way, that we marvel at the labyrinthine texture of an empire that mirrors those that Arkady studies and even names the characters, many unpronounceable by me, in the same manner (or mirror) as ancient cultures on Earth.
The book opens doors to the reader that we didn’t even know existed but also draws on the legacies given us by so many other writers of the last two centuries

Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062338785
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Published: Ecco - May 14th, 2019


June 12, 2019 12:47 PM PDT

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to another edition of The Avid Reader. Today our guest is Katherine Eban author of Bottle Of Lies, The Inside Story Of The Generic Drug Boom, published in May by Ecco.

Katherine’s resume is too long to recite here, but I’ll give it a go. Katherine is an investigative journalist, a Fortune Magazine contributor and an Andrew Carnegie Fellow as well as a Rhodes scholar. She has also written for Vanity Fair, the NYT, The Nation, the Observer and many other publications.

Her previous work, almost a preface to this one, and just as explosive was Dangerous Doses: A True Story of Cops, Counterfeiters, and the Contamination of America’s Drug Supply.

She lectures frequently on the topic of pharmaceutical integrity—if there is such a thing.

Bottle of Lies is a book that strikes at the heart of the generic drug industry, a behemoth that supplies us formulations that may or may not be equivalent to say Lipitor or Klonopin or Flomax. And these companies control about 90% of our drug supply. Almost all of these companies hail from China or India.

This book is especially poignant for me, because for all of my adult life, when a pharmacist asks me if I would like to buy the generic rather than the branded drug, I always ask for the generic. Why? Because it is a lot cheaper!!

What I didn’t know, and now sadly do, is that the generic pills I buy may be less effective than the ones made by Glaxo or Smith Kline, or weaker, or tainted or made with tiny slivers of metal inside.

One of the many, actually the most egregious of these failures in ethical and FDA standards is Ranbaxy, a company that has failed its customers, has been admonished and fined and still follows nefarious practices.

We learn about whistle blowers, inspections that are primarily useless…even learn about Rod Rosenstein..and more incredulously…Mahatma Ghandi!

This book will change your life and also scare the crap out of you.

Bunny: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780525559733
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Viking - June 11th, 2019


June 12, 2019 12:43 PM PDT

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to another edition of The Avid Reader. Today our guest is Mona Awad author of Bunny, published June 11th by Viking.

Mona is also author of the acclaimed 13 Ways Of Looking At A Fat Girl. Her writing has appeared in Time, Vice, Electric Literature, McSweeney’s,The LA Times and other publications.

Bunny gives us the story of Samantha, a student at a prestigious University where she is a graduate seeking her MFA. From that point on things begin to go awry, to say the least. Samantha begins to abandon her closest friend as she is drawn magnetically to a group of fellow students named bunnies, bunnies because they call themselves that.

These bunnies have been described as “twee” by about a hundred publications. They are that—sugary sweet, treacly, fawning, and any other adjective you can come up which describes a bunch of women, who while adults, act like cliquey cheerleaders at a posh boarding school.

But behind their glittering and “My Little Pony exteriors”, lurks a horror that evolves in a real and perhaps, slightly less real, way that forces the reader, delightedly to read on, generally in one sitting.

Although I am a 67 year old white male that would probably sidle away from this work in my bookstore, I found myself as entranced as others will, notwithstanding the, sorry, chick lit title and premise of the book.

The climax and denouement of Bunny is something I can’t talk about here, but trust me, you will be aghast, delighted, perhaps a bit confused (in a good way) when you close the book hoping for more.

But dear reader, there will be more, as Bunny has been picked up by AMC as a TV series, in which Mona will be able to flesh out, as the screenwriter, some of the twists and turns of this remarkable work.

The Flight Portfolio: A novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307959409
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Knopf - May 7th, 2019


June 12, 2019 12:38 PM PDT

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to another edition of The Avid Reader. Today our guest is Julie Orringer. Her latest novel, if it is a novel, is The Flight Portfolio published on May 7th by Knopf.

Julie is the winner of many literary prizes to0 numerous to mention. Her stories have appeared in the Paris Review, McSweeneys, Ploughshare, the Pushcart Prize Anthology and tons others.

She’s has written the Invisible Bridge How to Breath Underwater. And now The Flight Portfolio.

The Flight Portfolio is a story that most of us may have never heard. Varian Fry, with 3000 dollars and 3 weeks with stretched to thirteen months and a list of Jewish writers and artists obtained amazing results in saving Jews form Nazis and the Vichy government, in marseilles.

He fought Cordell Hull, to an extent, Fullerton, the lackadaisical and anti-semitic American government as well as the French puppet government in obtaining visas, false and forged and surreptitiously spirited some of the best minds in Europe, to freedom.

The book gives us Varian Fry, as he was, and adds to his character, an inside look at what might have been, his psyche, his sexual orientation and his thoughts.

The book reminds us of what we must remember, and are rapidly losing.