Occasionally our interviewers give us a peek behind the scenes of their chats with authors. Today, longtime BookPage contributor Alden Mudge shares Sally Mann's secrets to physical and creative longevity, in honor of her birthday.
Today, May 1, is photographer Sally Mann’s 64th birthday. In the conversation that led to this month’s BookPage interview about her fearless, provocative memoir, Hold Still, Mann told me that she didn’t “want to die until I’m ready to die.”
Morbid? Maybe a little. But Mann’s remarks came at a point when we were touching on issues of artistic longevity. Most writers I interview tell me that they have some form of regular exercise to counteract the sedentary nature of writing. Gone are the days of hanging out in a bar after a day at the desk. Now it’s onto the treadmill for a 30-minute jog.
Mann says she considered buying a treadmill desk because she couldn’t stand the idea of sitting all day. “I think sitting is the new smoking,” she says. Mann eventually opted for simply “taking a beer cooler and raising my computer on it” so she could work standing up.
Mann says she didn’t exercise much at all until she was in her mid-30s. “Twiggy was my ideal of the perfect female,” she says, laughing. “I’d never run a step before I turned 38.” Of course, hauling around a big format view camera gave her a pretty good workout on a regular basis. But then as she approached 40 the exercise bug bit her.
“Being a little obsessive the way I am I have pretty much thrown myself into it. Every morning I do all kinds of exercise, rowing machines, ellipticals, I lift weights.” Mann is also a longtime horse rider. “When I get on a horse all my quotidian concerns just fly out of my head. I don’t think about anything other that listening to my body and listening to the horse. It’s control-alt-delete for my brain.” Mann is certain that exercise “helps the brain work better,” and hopes it will enable her to remain creative for a long time.
Mann’s 20-year friendship with the artist Cy Twombly (1928-2011) gave her a model of creative longevity. Twombly grew up in Lexington, Virginia, where Mann has lived all her life. In his later years, Twombly divided his time between Lexington and Rome, Italy. Twombly was a friend of her parents before Mann got to know him well.
“He went to Italy and didn’t come back for a while,” Mann remembers. “Funnily enough the first time I came out to have tea with Cy at my parents’ house I rode my bicycle. It was at the beginning of my exercise obsession.”
Mann by then was working as a photographer, but still struggling to gain recognition from New York art galleries. “I had so many disappointments. I could wallpaper my entire house with the rejections I had. It was so painful. I wasn’t making good work at the time, so I understand it. But the reason I wasn’t making good work was to some extent because I didn’t have any exposure.”
Mann found some solace in what she knew of Twombly’s early struggles. “What I remember about Cy, and this is an interesting aspect of Cy, is that there was a period when he was not popular. He wasn’t the art hero that he came to be. He was sort of an underdog. Even at the very end, he still had mixed feelings about the way he was treated in certain museums. So I took some consolation as I watched Cy’s star begin to re-ascend. I mean he got that last laugh there.”
Mann writes warmly and in detail of her long friendship with Cy Twombly in Hold Still. His picture hangs on the wall in her office, not far from her computer.
Alden Mudge has been interviewing authors for BookPage for more than 25 years. He lives in Northern California.
The 2015 Edgar Awards, honoring the best mysteries and thrillers and presented every year by the Mystery Writers of America, have been announced! Several of our favorites earned nods:
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King (Scribner)
BEST FIRST NOVEL:
Dry Bones in the Valley by Tom Bouman (Norton)
BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL:
The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani (Penguin)
BEST FACT CRIME:
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood
by William J. Mann (Harper)
Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe by J.W. Ocker (Countryman)
Greenglass House by Kate Milford (Clarion)
BEST YOUNG ADULT:
The Art of Secrets by James Klise (Algonquin)
MARY HIGGINS CLARK AWARD:
The Stranger You Know by Jane Casey (Minotaur)
Did your favorites win?
Chef Rick Bayless has won international acclaim for his lifelong devotion to Mexican cusine. He's back with a new cookbook, More Mexican Everyday, filled with, you guessed it, more fantastic Mexican recipes like this Grilled Salmon in Toasty Peanut Salsa.
Grilled Salmon in Toasty Peanut Salsa
Salmón a la Parilla con Salsa de Cacahuate Tostado
When the wild salmon start showing up in the late spring, this is the dish I dream of making. It’s simplicity come to life in the best possible way, one that focuses on the stunning flavor and buttery texture of the salmon, the smoky and elemental draw of the grill and the perfect, rich gilding from a spoonful of red chile–peanut deliciousness.
*If you don’t have guajillo chiles, you can substitute New Mexicos or 2 anchos
On one side of a large (10-inch) dry skillet, roast the garlic over medium heat, turning regularly, until soft and blackened in spots, 10 to 15 minutes. On the other side, toast the guajillo chiles. Use a metal spatula to press the chile pieces flat against the hot surface of the pan. When they release their aroma and change color slightly (maybe even give off a faint wisp of smoke), about 10 seconds, flip them over and press down again to toast the other side. Scoop into a bowl and cover with ¾ cup very hot tap water to rehydrate, 10 to 15 minutes.
Cool the garlic until handleable, peel it and place it in a blender, along with the
guajillo chiles (including their soaking liquid), the chipotles and the peanuts. Blend until nearly smooth, then scrape into a small bowl. Stir in a little more water if necessary to give the salsa an easily spoonable consistency. Taste and season with salt,
usually about ½ teaspoon.
Heat a gas grill to medium-high or light a charcoal fire and let the coals burn until covered with white ash and very hot. Smear the salmon fillets and green onions (or ramps) with a little oil and sprinkle with salt. On the coolest part of your grill (usually toward an edge), grill the onions (or ramps), turning regularly, doing your best to keep the green parts farthest from the heat, until soft, about 15 minutes. Lay the salmon fillets on the hottest part of the grill, placing what had been their skin side down. When the grill grate has deeply seared marks into the salmon and the salmon has begun to release itself from the grate, about 3 minutes, depending on the heat of your fire, flip the fillets and cook to your desired degree of doneness, usually a couple of minutes
longer for 1-inch-thick fillets to reach medium. Transfer to warm dinner plates.
Chop the green onions (or ramps) into small pieces. Spoon some salsa over each fillet, sprinkle with chopped onion (or ramps) and serve right away.
Copyright © 2015 by Rick Bayless. Excerped from More Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless published by Norton. Read our review of this book.
Sydney Padua's impeccably researched, yet playfully imagined graphic biography is a treat for history buffs and graphic novel lovers alike. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage brings us into the heart of London's intellectual society in 1842. There, Ada Lovelace—young mathematician and the daughter of famed poet Lord Byron—meets Charles Babbage at a party. Here is where historical accuracy takes a backseat, and Padua presents a rip-roaring adventure story in which the pair build the famed Difference Engine, known as the world's first computer, and take the Victorian era by storm. With fantastically detailed art, footnotes and diagrams of Babbage's steam-powered computer, this is a whimsical graphic account like no other.
What are you reading today?
For so many BookPage readers, the library is a very special place, and summer reading is something we look forward to as much as a vacation itself. Not all young readers feel the same way about summer reading—but fortunately, this year there's a hero to fight summer reading blues. The Collaborative Summer Library Program (CSLP), the largest summer reading organization in the country, has tapped their first-ever National Summer Reading Champion, and the honor goes to none other than Kate DiCamillo.
We contacted DiCamillo, who is a two-time Newbery Medal winner and now both the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature AND the National Summer Reading Champion, to talk about summer reading and just how awesome it is:
BookPage: Congratulations on being the FIRST EVER National Summer Reading Champion! What does this position mean to you?
DiCamillo: It means I get to champion books! And libraries! And reading! It means that I get to promote the idea of reading books that you want to read. I was a kid who went to my public library’s summer reading program every summer. I loved it. It mattered to me.
What will be your greatest challenge as CSLP’s National Summer Reading Champion?
The biggest challenge is to make sure that I don’t use too many exclamation marks when I am writing (and talking) about CSLP and their programs. This is something that I believe in so much because it connects directly to the joy of reading.
The 2015 theme is “Every Hero Has a Story.” How do you define a “hero”?
A hero, for me, is the person who hands you a book. Librarians are heroes.
What do you consider to be the most important reason to encourage kids and teens to read all summer long?
Reading expands our universe. It enlarges our hearts. It entertains us and educates us and illuminates the world we occupy. Summer reading does that and winter reading does that. Lifetime reading does that.
What books (or kinds of books) do you most often recommend for summer reading?
Oh, I’ve got a list of classics that I love (The Borrowers, Paddington the Bear, Ribsy, Harriet the Spy, Island of the Blue Dolphins) and new books that I adore (Cody and the Fountain of Happiness, Circus Mirandus, The Great Good Summer), but I am, mostly, a big fan of standing back and letting a kid pick the book they want to read.
If you don’t mind me saying, I would define YOU as a hero for giving us so many marvelous stories! Speaking of . . . can you give us a sneak peek of your next book?
It’s a book about three friends. It takes place in Florida . . . in the summer time . . .
Learn more in DiCamillo's video address below, and read more here.
Out in paperback this week: a journalist's exposé, novels by two best-selling authors and a book of advice for new graduates. Cue "Pomp and Circumstance."
No Place to Hide
By Glenn Greenwald
Picador • $16 • ISBN 9781250062581
Two years after he broke the story of Edward Snowden and NSA spying, Greenwald's account of the scoop that shook the world is now available in paperback. The relentless investigative reporter details his earliest contacts and first meetings with Snowden, his clashes with authorities and his disdain for mainstream media outlets that, in his view, failed to question government surveillance programs.
The Children Act
By Ian McEwan
Anchor • $15 • ISBN 9781101872871
In the latest novel from the author of Atonement, a judge in London's High Court finds that difficulties in her marriage coincide with one of the most difficult cases of her career: the plight of a teenage boy whose parents refuse to allow a lifesaving blood transfusion.
By Jodi Picoult
Ballantine • $16 • ISBN 9780345544940
The 13-year-old daughter of an elephant researcher investigates the mystery of her mother's disappearance in Picoult's captivating and suspenseful novel. The paperback edition includes a reader's guide and an intriguing prequel: a 50-page story featuring the characters from the novel.
You Are Not Special
By David McCullough Jr.
Ecco • $16.99 • ISBN 9780062393340
Despite the somewhat disparaging tone of the title, McCullough's graduation book is anything but a downer. The high school English teacher (and son of the noted historian) expands on his viral commencement address with words of encouragement: Do what you love, don't be afraid to make mistakes and remember—we're all in the same boat.
In British author Nina Stibbe's latest novel, Man at the Helm, the children of an unconventional single mother do their best to find her a new husband. Our reviewer writes, "Man at the Helm is a beguiling, often wickedly funny look at an unusual family trying to find its place in a conventional world." (Read the review here.)
We asked Stibbe to tell us about three books she's enjoyed reading lately.
H is for Hawk is by historian and naturalist Helen MacDonald (who, by the way, begins writing about nature for the New York Times Magazine any minute now), and while I knew I’d like this book, I had no idea I’d love it so much. It begins when the author's father, acclaimed photographer Alisdair Macdonald, dies suddenly from a heart attack. Macdonald descends into a kind of grief-stricken madness in the midst of which she buys a captive-bred female goshawk called Mabel and takes her home. She stocks up on hawk food and begins the gruelling task of training her. Along the way we come to know of similar endeavours, notably, T.H. White's 1951 memoir The Goshawk. But mostly we share Macdonald's extraordinary quest, and though it’s sad and sometimes brutal, it is utterly beautiful and unforgettable.
Shortly after I read H is for Hawk, MacDonald wrote a piece for The Guardian about books that had influenced her. One of them was My Side of the Mountain, the story of Sam Gribley, a boy who runs away from his family in New York City to the Catskill mountains, taking only an axe, a flint-and-steel, $40 and a ball of string. It’s a book I was completely captivated by as a child. It’s relatively unknown in the UK—though, looking it up now, I notice it has almost 700 reviews on Amazon.com (compared with 21 on Amazon UK)—so, I guess you don’t need me to tell you about it. I reread it in the ‘80s with the children I was nanny to and then, more recently, with my own children. I’d probably over-egged it, because they were slightly underwhelmed. Still, it remains one of my favourite books of all time.
This is a wartime romance told through real letters discovered recently and bequeathed to a British national archive. In September 1943, Chris Barker was serving as a signalman in North Africa when he wrote to a former work colleague, Bessie Moore. Bessie’s warm and enthusiastic reply changed both their lives forever. You might expect (as I did) much humorous British reserve, silliness and jingoism—But not at all, these letters are incredibly candid, loving and sensitive. And, they’re a lovely reminder of the power of a good letter.
Thank you, Nina! See anything you'd like to pick up, readers?
(Author photo by Rebecca Dawe)
Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide during World War I, when approximately 1.5 million Armenians were killed from 1915 to 1923. YA author Dana Walrath is the granddaughter of survivors of the Armenian genocide—which, as she writes in a guest blog post below, is "a genocide that continues through denial." Her powerful novel-in-verse, Like Water on Stone (2014), uses alternating voices to tell of three siblings’ flight from these atrocities. To commemorate this anniversary, Walrath draws us into her research and heritage, and offers more reading suggestions for those who wish to bring this bit of history to the surface.
Place is always a character in a novel: It has a look, a history, a fragrance, distinct sounds. Places carry the memories and beliefs of their inhabitants. In Like Water on Stone, my verse novel about genocide and survival, the reader gets to know one of the world’s oldest places: Armenia.
I am the granddaughter of survivors of the Armenian genocide, a genocide that continues through denial, and so turns 100 this year. Growing up in New York, I never knew my Armenian mother’s parents, their language or the land that they called home. As a kid I once asked my mother about the childhood of her mother, Oghidar Troshagirian. I got the bare bones: Oghidar’s parents ran a mill in Palu; after her parents were killed she and Uncle Benny and Aunt Alice hid during the day and ran at night to an orphanage in Aleppo. Like Water on Stone put flesh on those bones, adding in a guardian spirit—an eagle—who protects the young ones on their journey. I wrote this story to find my grandmother, to find the Armenia in me.
In 1977, I traveled to Soviet Armenia with my parents and younger sister. There we met our cousins, descendants of Oghidar’s older brother, living on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Though by look and manner I seemed the average American, this trip woke up the Armenia in me.
In 1984, I traveled to the land where my grandparents were born, where 2 million other Armenians lived before the genocide—Eastern Turkey. Finding Palu, along the eastern branch of the Euphrates River, I traced my way to a mill. I did not know that this mill would eventually become the setting for Like Water on Stone. It took a dissertation’s worth of words in anthropology, complete with a social theory of genocide and its consequences, for me to start discovering the storyteller in me.
I returned to Armenia in 2012 as a Fulbright Scholar working on the anthropology of aging. My fieldwork gave me a score of grandparents who cheered for me when Random House acquired Like Water on Stone. Their stories, the meals we shared, the songs we sang and danced all found their place in the book.
This spring I’ve returned again to Armenia for the premiere of an animation of Like Water on Stone, created by a team of young people at Yerevan’s Tumo Center under the direction of my cousin Shushanik Droshakiryan, Oghidar’s great-grand-niece. I’m grateful to know my story will reach so many young people via this film.
I am also deeply grateful for my writer “cousins,” fellow Armenian Americans who also strive to reckon Armenia’s place in history, to tally the complexity and resilience of genocide survivors:
Dana Walrath in eastern Turkey, 1984
Eastern Turkey, 1984
Images from raw drawings that will be included in the animated film based on Like Water on Stone, created by two teen students at the Tumo center in Armenia.
Dana Walrath, writer, poet, artist, Fulbright Scholar and second generation Armenian, is committed to the movement for reconciliation between Turkey and Armenia. She believes an honest reckoning of history, apology and forgiveness is essential for healing and will help bring about peace in the future. Like Water on Stone is her first book for young readers. She lives in Vermont. For more information, visit her website: danawalrath.com