Book bits

An interview with Gregory Maguire

Gregory Maguire is the author of "Wicked" (1995), "Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister"(1999),"Mirror, Mirror," (2003), and "Son of a Witch" (2005), He makes his home in both Massachusetts and Vermont.

What are your current projects?

I'm working on two books: a children's novel, "What the Dickens, The Story of a Rogue Tooth-fairy" and "Deposition of an Oracle," which takes place roughly 15 years after the death of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West ( "Wicked"). "Deposition" is about the Cowardly Lion as an investigative reporter for the courts and the oracle, Yackle. He's trying to find out whether Elphaba had a son. (Lir is the leading character in "Son of a Witch"). It's kind of a "Scooter" Libby story.

Are you inventing an entire civilization, starting with "Wicked," as J.R.R. Tolkien did with "Lord of The Rings"?

It seems to keep going on in my head. I have "Deposition" in mind and a final book, about the little green-skinned girl, born to Lir's wife at the end of "Son of a Witch."

What was your reaction to the stage version of "Wicked"?

I thought I'd be lucky if I had an underground buzz for "Wicked," the novel. I've gotten over being surprised about the musical. It was nothing that I expected. For it to go as far as it's gone – it's still in the growth mode, with companies No. 5 and 6 about to go on tour (and the Broadway production selling out after three years) – and to look at me, you wouldn't think that I was a person to be attached to anything that was going to be successful. I look like the guy who was on his way to bag groceries. But I have no interest in being a celebrity writer.

When did you start writing?

I'm from upstate New York. My father was a journalist with seven children. His second wife raised us. I began writing at age 8, and wrote all through school. I wrote with no need of an audience. I saved all my work. I had this imaginative energy that I needed to explore. I kept notes in journals all through childhood. I'm now on journal No. 54. In fourth grade I wrote my first chapter book, "The Hotel Bomb." I published my first book when I was 24.

Did you have a mentor?

I went to Catholic schools for 12 years. The teachers were fabulous nuns. They gave me pencils and paper, and permission to write. It meant something to me that they cared.
– Iris Fanger

Three books about the Irish

Ah, what could be sweeter than a trip to a sleepy Irish village packed with robust native characters? That's exactly what Maeve Binchy ("Tara Road") offers in her latest novel Whitethorn Woods. In the tiny hamlet of Rossmore, a proposed highway is threatening to destroy St. Ann's Well, a shrine that offers much-needed hope (and tourism dollars) to Rossmore residents. Love, longing, and rich scenes of daily life intertwine in this neatly constructed story.

It's Ireland, 1951, and the last traveling storyteller has just turned up at 9-year-old Ronan O'Mara's house. Most of what follows in Ireland by Frank Delaney is an excuse to spin wistful tales of Irish lore and history, framed by the coming-of-age tale of young Ronan.

A different kind of Irish is under examination here, but Michael Patrick MacDonald's memoir Easter Rising: An Irish American Coming Up from Under serves up a vibrant albeit tough and even tragic account of growing up in "Southie," Boston's scrappy Irish-American ghetto. MacDonald eventually drifts far from home and then several times (including once with his tough, irrepressible "Ma") travels to Ireland itself.
– Marjorie Kehe

By a Monitor writer

When he writes of Kenya, he draws on knowledge obtained firsthand. Robert M. Press was the Monitor's Africa correspondent, based in Kenya for eight years (1987-1995), during which time he and his wife, Betty, a photographer, traveled widely throughout East and West Africa.

Press, who now teaches at the University of Southern Mississippi, is the author of a new study of contemporary Kenya called Peaceful Resistance: Advancing Human Rights and Democratic Freedoms (Ashgate Press.) Press uses events in Kenya to illustrate the growth of a resistance movement and to demonstrate the impact of individual activism and peaceful resistance. He argues persuasively for the potential of domestic pressure to force positive change upon an underdeveloped, authoritarian state.

Press is also the author of "The New Africa: Dispatches From a Changing World."

Readers' Picks

Next Season by Michael Blakemore is a fascinating study of a distinguished theatrical "Rep" company in northern England in the late 1950s. Published in the early 60s, it was passed around backstage under plain cover at Britain's National Theatre, since it was thought to contain less than flattering portraits based on living theatrical eminences. (Is it Stratford? Is that Sir L...?) It can be enjoyed by any reader who likes a good yarn of backstage shenanigans.
– Montgomery Davis, Milwaukee, Wis.

The Good Good Pig by Sy Montgomery tells how the author and her husband took in the runt of a litter of piglets and got much more than they bargained for. The inspiring story that unfolds shows how Christopher Hogwood (as he was dubbed) not only taught them to love, but showed that "We have the power to transform a story of sorrow into a story of healing."
– Marsha Fitzhugh, Tulsa, Okla

Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals. I'm thoroughly enjoying its description of Lincoln's rivals for the presidency and his incredible ability to blend them into his subsequent cabinet. Lincoln got beyond personal differences to politically embrace his rivals and coopt them into working with him.
– Doug Bratt, Silver Spring, Md.

Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World, a novel about the history of philosophy, moves from earliest Greek philosophy to the present – a little bit fantasy, a little bit sci-fi, a little bit mystery, and always educating!
– Jacqueline Mayo, San Diego

The Turning by Tim Winton. If you want local color, Aussie style, these stories will not disappoint.
– Ed Gallagher, Albany, Ore.

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

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