Book bits

Carl Hiassen on his latest novel, three books about art, and readers' picks.

Carl Hiassen is a bestselling novelist and veteran Miami Herald columnist. His latest novel, "Nature Girl," was published by Knopf.

What inspired 'Nature Girl'?

I can never explain how these things germinate. I've always wanted to set a book in the 10,000 Islands (near Everglades City). It's a remarkable part of Florida. It really is a jungle. It's a mangrove jungle and has rivers and creeks, and I thought it would be a great place to set a book. I had some characters in mind. There are two little towns down there – places crawling with terrific real-life characters, so I didn't have to go too far to look for the inspiration for the ones I put in the book.... I really am fond of the main character: Her name is Honey Santana. I liked her more and more as the book went on.

Your work is funny, but it is also despairing in terms of greed and environmental depredation.

When I set out, it's to make people laugh. When you're writing satire, the trick is to make people laugh for the right reasons, to let them see the target of your humor. Satire always has a target. There is also a sense of outrage and anger about what is going on on the planet.

You've long chronicled the corruption and misdeeds in South Florida. Do you think the corruption there is worse than in other parts of the country?

Obviously, there's corruption everywhere. I will say that the concentration of it, the pervasiveness of it, in South Florida is unique. I get clippings from all over the country, and there is little corruption stuff all over. But I'll give you an example: The Justice Department released some statistics on corruption prosecutions – nowhere had more federal corruption cases prosecuted than Florida. It's not just in my imagination; it really is the most crooked place in the United States.

Why do you stay?

I was born here and raised here, and I've never lived anyplace else. I'm not qualified to write about anything else. Every day I wake up saying, why stay? [But t]hen to walk away from the fight is an unappetizing option for me. It's not in my nature. Going to these book-signings, there are so many people who feel like they need a voice. They're so grateful that I'm raising a little hell about it. I just can't walk away from the place, I care about the place too much.

What do you do for fun?

I used to live in the Keys, and I still have a place down there. I do a lot of bone-fishing. I've been doing that since I was a kid. You're piloting a skiff in water from 8 inches to 3 feet deep. You see the turtles and dolphins and everything out there. It's so tranquil; it's like church for me. It's very difficult, but it's a high that's pretty hard to beat. If you catch one fish, you've had a great day.

Eric Spanberg

Three books about art

What happens when two enormous talents live and work under the same small roof? In the case of Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, genius ensues. For nine turbulent weeks in the fall of 1888, the two shared a small yellow house in Arles, France, and churned out masterpieces. It was a period of great productivity and yet also much trauma, culminating in Van Gogh's excision of his own ear. Relying on Van Gogh's correspondence and public records, Martin Gaylord, chief art critic for Bloomberg Europe, chronicles this seminal moment in art history in The Yellow House. Gaylord's book is accessible and compelling enough to engage the general reader, but, at the same time, detailed enough to appeal to those more versed in art history.

She was only 26 years old, an immigrant, and a woman. But none of this stopped Edith Gregor Halpert from founding the Downtown Gallery in Greenwich Village in 1926 and becoming a visionary champion of the American avant-garde. In The Girl With the Gallery art journalist Lindsay Pollock tells how Halpert, who arrived in New York from Russia at the age of 6, went on to change – and some would say even shape – the American art scene of her time.

As former art critic of both The New York Times and the Nation and founder of New Criterion, Hilton Kramer has long been an imposing presence in art criticism. The Triumph of Modernism is the first collection of his work to be published in 20 years. Kramer's incisive essays, written over the past two decades, examine the work of modernists including Gauguin, Kandinsky, Matisse, and Warhol, and explore questions such as "Does Abstract Art Have a Future?"

Readers' picks

I am reading China Wakes by Nicholas Kristof and Cheryl Wudunn. They are New York Times correspondents. This book discusses life in China during their five years in Beijing. The writing is smooth and well paced. It was written about 10 years ago, but many of their observations are still pertinent and most interesting.

– Luise Landers, Redding, Calif.

I recently read Hermann Hesse's brief novel Siddhartha. It is a great read. The story revolves around a character seeking fulfillment and enrichment. 'Know thyself' is the novel's focus. I hope other readers will enjoy this gripping book.

– Junaid Bahadur Khan, Islamabad, Pakistan

What are you reading? write and tell us at Marjorie Kehe.

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