Transcript: Walter Mosley and Doree Shafrir

This is a transcript of Recommended Season 2 Episode 9.

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JENN:

This is Recommended, where we talk to interesting people about their favorite books. Today, Walter Mosley recommends Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny and Doree Shafrir recommends When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri.

JENN:

Walter Mosley is the author of more than 43 critically acclaimed books, including the bestselling mystery series featuring Easy Rawlins. His work has been translated into 23 languages and includes literary fiction, science fiction, political monographs, and a young adult novel. His short fiction has been widely published, and his nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times Magazine and The Nation, among other publications. He is the winner of numerous awards, including an O. Henry Award, a Grammy and PEN America’s Lifetime Achievement Award. His newest novel, Down the River Unto the Sea, follows NYPD cop turned private investigator Joe King Oliver as he seeks to solve the case of his own framing a decade earlier.

WALTER MOSLEY:

My name is Walter Mosley and Nine Princes in Amber is my recommended.

Nine Princes in Amber is kind of a difficult book to pin down. It’s certainly science fiction and fantasy. And also it’s speculative fiction. It’s kind of be thinking. But it has a noire feel to it. It’s very much like Raymond Chandler. Or even more so like Ross McDonald when you start reading it. It’s kind of a mystery.

There’s a guy. He’s been in a terrible accident. He’s in a sanatorium. The people in the sanatorium are keeping him drugged and they don’t want him to get up. He can’t remember who he is or what he is, or where he’s going, what’s happened to him. But finally after getting through all that, you realize that he’s actually the center … A member of a family that’s the center of the universe basically. And it turns out that anything that he can imagine, he can go there.

So it becomes a question. Do all possible places exist, or do I create those places by imagining them? And the family, there’s a war with the family. That’s the nine princes. There’s also three or four princesses. But you get to that place, and that’s what I’m talking about, the kind of wild science fiction place, so slowly, that it’s really kind of wonderful.

I first read it, I must have been 20 something. 22 or 23. I was going to college in Vermont. I don’t even know where I found that book.

And I was just kind of stunned that it could start in one genre. Beautiful writing by the way. Roger Zelazny’s writing is really gorgeous. But it started in one genre and built to another, and then another, and then another. And it’s, began a whole bunch of his books. I think there’s 10 of his books. The first three are really good.

Back then Zelazny … I mean the people in the heart of science fiction knew who he was. But you know. This was a time you’d read a book and someone say, “Well who wrote it?” And you’d go, “I don’t remember. I think it started with an S.” You know, like not even the Z. So he wasn’t a big famous guy back then.

I wasn’t writing back then. I didn’t start writing until the mid 80’s. So it was another 10 years before I even really thought about writing. But I was just amazed that he could do such interesting things. I felt like I was reading Raymond Chandler, but I was also reading Ray Bradbury you know? But I was also reading Delaney. It was really kind of amazing how, what a powerful writer Zelazny was. He really was. He really, he’s you know … Because a lot of people have a lot of fame for things that are kind of I don’t even understand it. But this guy had real, real ability as a writer. And as a thinker.

The great thing about writing is Franz Kafka, well who else is he like.

And I think, Franz Kafka. And I’m not joking. I’m happy about him on that level. Kafka or Camus, someone like that. I like Zelazny on that level. I’m like, wow reading these books. They’re books that I actually read again and again.

That’s really reading right?

I go back to it. Actually suggesting it to you. ‘Cause I was sitting around thinking that oh, let me think of something, a book that’s about black people and it’s a history. And maybe I should do Octavia Butler. Blah, blah, blah. And I’m going, no. A book that’s important to me. It’s this book.
Now there are a lot of other books that are important to me too. You know about politics, about history, about race. But this, I just found him … And it’s not actually his best book. I think there are others. There’s a book called The Lord of Life, which is really I think in ways his masterpiece. Then there’s another one, Creatures of Light and Darkness. It’s just the way that he uses his brain to bend the universe to do what he wants it to do. And that sounds a lot easier in writing than it really is. It’s really a difficult thing to free yourself up creatively in order to create a world.

He’s unique and he’s the best at what he does.

I don’t know if I have a favorite scene. I think the one I explained to you I really have liked, because there were hints. You know, he wakes up, he’s in this bed, he’s all bandaged, he’s kind of drugged, these people are trying to keep him down. But you have hints that everything isn’t as normal as it seems.
And from there, I really kind of love that. I love the subtlety of it.

I re-read books because … There are two things. I re-read books because I had a great experience reading it the first time. You know, just feel what it’s like. And sometimes I stop halfway through a book or something. But this one, I read through it at least four times.

And the other thing that’s always interesting is you find things in books that are worth re-reading. You find things that you didn’t see the first time.

When I come to a book, and I read that book and I have an extraordinary experience reading that book, the feeling I almost always have is like when I was a child reading a book and it took over all of my senses and consciousness. So it’s not an intellectual experience. But more a sensual and extremely imaginative experience.

I’ve read lots of books that I like, and I like in the same way. There’s another science fiction writer, Michael Moorcock, and The Stranger by Albert Camus. There’s The Simple Tales by what’s his name? Langston Hughes.
There’s a lot of books that I’ve read. I think The Color Purple, when I read it the first time, I felt kind of like that. Because it brings you into a world that’s completely new to you, but that you feel you know, or you have a sympathy with the language, with the characters, with the place. I think that whenever you really love something … I felt like that when I read Winnie The Pooh when I was a kid, and then later on Treasure Island.

That’s the thing. Some people want to read thing because that’s life, or because it’s smart, or because everybody else reads it. But the thing is, if you’re in the best possible place, you’re reading things because you love it.

I always hesitate telling people what I think they should or could or will discover. But I’ll say this. If you were to pick up this book Nine Princes in Amber or maybe one of its cousins like Lord of Light, I think in reading it, you would discover a unique talent, which has great strengths at creating and depicting, populating, and continuing the existence of a world that you had no idea was there.

JENN:

Thanks again to Walter Mosley for recommending Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny. His novel Down the River Unto the Sea, published by Mulholland Books, is now available wherever books are sold.

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JENN:

Doree Shafrir is the author of the novel Startup, and the co-host of the podcasts Forever35, a podcast about self-care, and Matt & Doree’s Eggcellent Adventure, a podcast about infertility. Doree worked at BuzzFeed News for six years in a number of editorial positions, including Executive Editor, Senior Culture Writer, and Senior Tech Writer. She has also worked as an editor or staff writer at Rolling Stone, the New York Observer, Gawker, and Philadelphia Weekly, and has contributed to publications including the New York Times, The New Yorker, Slate, The Awl, Daily Beast, Marie Claire, and Wired. Her novel Startup is a story of youth, ambition, love, money and technology’s inability to hack human nature.

DOREE SHAFRIR:

My name is Doree Shafrir and When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri is my Recommended.

So this book is about when a woman named Katie meets a woman named Cassidy. The title is very self explanatory. No, it’s a romance novel I would say about a woman named Katie who has identified as straight her whole life and she meets a woman named Cassidy who has identified as gay her whole life. They meet in a boardroom, in a very charged environment, they are literally on opposites sides of the table negotiating and but there’s an electric connection between them, but neither of them really knows what to do with it and then they just happen to run into each other on the street and events unfold from there. And it’s told in alternating perspectives chapter by chapter. One chapter is Katie, one chapter is Cassidy.

I loved Camille’s first book, The Assistance, which if you haven’t read and you like books about young people and careers in New York City you should read it. It’s a really great book, everyone should read it, but I think especially if you have ever lived in New York and you’ve ever worked in media you should definitely read it. And Camille was kind enough to blurb Startup, so we had that connection and then when she was putting together her galley list for When Katie Met Cassidy she emailed and asked if I wanted a galley and I said, “Of course I want a galley.” So yeah, so the author recommended it to me.

It is so fun, it’s such a delight. I read it in 24 hours essentially, it’s a perfect just fun summer … I mean you can really read it any time of the year, but I think it’s an especially fun book to take on vacation or read on the beach and it’s so delightful.

My reading time is generally in bed, so I started it in bed, before I went to sleep and I would say 75 to 85 percent of the books I read in bed, within ten pages I’ve fallen asleep.

It’s not to say these books are boring, but it’s just they don’t keep me awake, whereas When Katie Met Cassidy I was voraciously reading it and realized I was a hundred pages in and was like, “Oh God, I have to go to bed.” And so yeah, so you know, consider yourselves warned, this book might keep you up.

I mean the same thing sort of happened with The Wedding Date, Jasmine Guillory’s book. And actually there are some similarities between these two books, I would say they’re in a new romance genre. The Wedding Date is similar in that it’s told in alternating perspectives and it’s also about a relationship that I think has historically not been written about in mainstream publishing. You know, it’s an interracial relationship, and the When Katie Met Cassidy is obviously a lesbian relationship.

I should say When Katie Met Cassidy is not especially … It’s certainly not x-rated. I would call it PG-13. You know, they have sex but … Spoiler-

Yeah, I know shocking. But it’s not described in great and graphic detail. But it’s sexy.

She also does a really good job of … Well, I’ve no way of knowing whether this is accurate, but she seems to do a really good job kind of lightly poking fun at the conventions of the lesbian world of New York City and the characters in it. There’s a few lesbian chefs and she’s kind of poking fun at the stereotypes I think of lesbian culture and I found that amusing, and interesting, it’s a world that I don’t feel personally super familiar with, but it’s always fun to get a glimpse into another world that is adjacent to a world that you are in.

Yeah, you know it’s funny, I left my full time job in February and I feel like since then I’ve been reading just stuff that is not what is my typical fare, but I read many of the Maisie Dobbs books which I don’t think I … I’d never even heard of them before, and just devoured them. So I’m branching out. I think that … I don’t know, I think the world is so horrible right now that there is something nice about being able to read these books that have a nice resolution, like you go into them knowing that they’re going to have a nice resolution, probably no one’s going to get … nothing truly terrible is going to happen and it’s kind of a nice escape.

I think I will give it to Kate my cohost, because we’ve been talking about having Camille on Forever 35, the podcast that I do about self care, because this book seems very self carey.

You know, it is kind of reminding me that you don’t have to over complicate it, like your book can be a love story. You know what I mean? This is a book about two women who meet and fall in love. And there’s a world that she … A very interesting world that she builds around that story, but ultimately it’s a book about two women who meet and fall in love and that’s it. As I was reading it I was like, “Oh, this is what this book is about, that’s it.” And I’m like, “Oh okay right, a book can be just about this.” So yeah, so that was like a, “Huh, oh yeah, okay.” You know?

Because I think I’m kind of struggling with working on my next book, in the interests of full transparency, and I think part of the problem is that I’m over complicating it and trying to come up with some idea that has a gajillion interlocking stories and etc, etc. and it’s like, well actually it could just be about two people who meet and fall in love, or some other version of that. You know what I mean? So I don’t know, so that was like a little, “Huh, okay.”

And so I don’t know, maybe I don’t see myself writing even a romantic comedy, but that being said I think there is something about the plot of this book and books like it that I can take with me.

JENN:

Thanks again to Doree Shafrir for joining us and recommending When Katie Met Cassidy by Camille Perri. Her novel Startup, published by Little Brown and Company, is available in paperback wherever books are sold. You can follow her on Twitter at doree; that’s doree.

JENN:

Next week on Recommended, one author talks about discovering a way to overlap fact and fiction:

UNNAMED AUTHOR:

What he did, really inspires my own writing, and inspires my novels. It was the first time I read a book where I saw how he wrote his real story, his personal story, and interwove that with fiction, with facts, famous scandals and gossip that are well known, make it into his stories and the way that they do into my stories. I didn’t know that you could do that with books.

JENN:

Thanks again to our sponsors for making today’s episode possible. If you like what you heard, please take a moment to review and rate us on Apple Podcasts. We love to hear your feedback and it helps other folks to find the show. You can find shownotes at Bookriot.com/recommended, and you can email us at recommended@bookriot.com.