Some time has certainly passed since the last post (work, writing, and weekly radio show are the usual culprits).
I have a few authors on a select list where I will read anything they write, regardless of subject matter. The sadly late Laurie Colwin was one of these; the biographer A. Scott Berg is another (and if you look at the C-Span tape of Berg's 2001 appearance at the National Book Festival, you'll see me in the audience). It is because of the sterling quality of their prose.
Mark Salzman is another author in my personal pantheon. His particular strength is memoir, with his most well-known work as Iron and Silk, his narrative about teaching English and learning martial arts in China, and the hilarious Lost in Place: Growing Up Absurd in Suburbia, which includes an irresistible account of the young Salzman running around in white pajamas and a Kung Fu wig as an aspiring martial arts master in tony suburban Connecticut.
So there would seem to be a huge jump to his novel Lying Awake, about a cloistered nun, which might make the brow wrinkle a bit as to the potential for conflict. But Salzman pulls it off, featuring an intriguing look at the inner workings of a religious community and the grappling of the main character with a profound choice between her life and her relationship with God.
I've recently finished True Notebooks, Salzman's return to memoir with his account of teaching writing in juvenile detention in LA, where the violent crimes of his students include murder. I thought, "How will Salzman be able to make me understand such people?" But he does, through relating classroom conversations, showing the point of view of guards and volunteers within juvenile hall, and reprinting the often astonishingly eloquent pieces that the students produce. The reader sees the remorse of some perpetrators and the more hardened attitude of others. He squarely addresses the Norman Mailer-Jack Henry Abbott issue (Mailer mentored the writing of Abbott, a convicted murderer, who went on to kill again), displays his own stumbles in handling his students, and deals honestly with the brutality of their crimes. All in all, this is an eye-opening look at life behind bars for young people, told in Salzman's crystal-clear prose.