Keith Ryan Cartwright

Dan-el Padilla Peralta’s new memoir does more than chronicle his contrasting lives in the two very different worlds he simultaneously occupied. Undocumented gives the Dominican-born, American-raised Peralta a voice and, perhaps, more importantly, it gives readers a figure they can understand and empathize with.

Peralta became a face in the immigration debate nine years ago when The Wall Street Journal published a long-form profile a month before he graduated from Princeton University. The article recounted Peralta’s arrival in the U.S. at the age of 4, his childhood in New York City homeless shelters and a love of learning that took him all the way from a public school in Chinatown to the Ivy League. When the article was published in 2006, Peralta was seeking a waiver of his status as an illegal immigrant so he could accept a two-year scholarship at Oxford and return safely to the U.S.

In the book, Peralta’s storytelling is often raw and emotional—“all the shit going down in my life, and now I had to deal with the trials and tribulations of the aggrieved younger brother”—while also being direct and powerful. “[E]very day,” he writes, “I feel grateful to this country for the education it has given and continues to give me and my brother.”

Peralta describes seemingly basic acts like opening a personal bank account or accepting financial aid that were made difficult by the lack of a social security number. Readers of Undocumented will find themselves growing increasingly frustrated with a system that nearly failed Peralta had it not been for the help of those who didn’t see an illegal immigrant, but rather a bright boy with a promising future.

Whatever your stance on immigration reform, you’re likely to be moved by Peralta’s plight as he recalls the tumultuous obstacles he and his family have faced.

Dan-el Padilla Peralta’s new memoir does more than chronicle his contrasting lives in the two very different worlds he simultaneously occupied. Undocumented gives the Dominican-born, American-raised Peralta a voice and, perhaps, more importantly, it gives readers a figure they can understand and empathize with.

After 11 years, seven national best-selling books and a hit television series that became something of a pop culture phenomenon, author and Dexter series creator Jeff Lindsay closes out the series with his eighth and aptly titled final novel, Dexter Is Dead.

Unlike the star of the iconic television series for Showtime and later CBS, which was loosely based on the first two novels, the literary version of Dexter has far less redeeming qualities than the likable character portrayed by actor Michael C. Hall. In this suspenseful final installment, Dexter has lost everything and faces a murder charge—ironically, for a slaying he’s not responsible for.

Lindsay talks candidly about Dexter’s surprising success, his decade-long relationship with the iconic character and his uncertain future as a novelist and playwright.

It’s been more than a decade since you wrote Darkly Dreaming Dexter. Did you have any idea then that you were just beginning to explore a character and storylines that would still be here eight books later?
No, and it’s kind of weird. All my life I’d wanted to write a series. I’d started one (Tropical Depression and Red Tide, coming soon as eBooks from Diversion Books), and the publisher, Don Fine, promised me he was going to build it up and make it work. But he died, and nobody else jumped out to grab it. I started to wonder if it was going to happen for me, and in kind of a dark, angry place, I thought, “I’ll show them. . .” And I wrote Darkly Dreaming Dexter. I never in a million years thought it would be a series, nor intended it to be one. I mean, I told the story, it ended—how could it go on?

"I thought it would be easier. But when I was done, my wife pointed out to me that my behavior was showing all the classic signs of grieving."

After living with this ongoing series of stories for so long, how do you go about bringing it to a close?
Well, I hope I go about it the right way. It took a lot of thought and a lot of work, and you can never be sure, but I think I did it in a way that won’t let my readers down. You know, that’s what I live for—at heart, I’m an entertainer, and I want people to leave the theater satisfied.

Because it’s been eight books and more than a decade, is it easy to finally say, “I’m done with it”? Or does that investment make it harder to and, perhaps, scarier to close that chapter of your creative life?
You know, I thought it would be easier. But when I was done, my wife pointed out to me that my behavior was showing all the classic signs of grieving. I didn’t even know. So I guess I miss him. But I had always promised that, if I ever started phoning it in, I would quit. I wasn’t there yet, but I could feel it around the corner, so—is it scary? Hell, yes. I’m terrified. I secretly believe that nobody really likes me—they like him—and without him I’m scared that nobody will want to read me anymore.

The title Dexter Is Dead is fairly definitive, but there’s a previous interview where you noted there being a little ambiguity. Could you bring the series back? Would you want to?
I hope there’s always ambiguity. They taught me in college that ambiguity is good. It’s very powerful and moving—I saw Gone Girl recently, and the ambiguous ending was fantastic. It keeps you thinking about it; what’s going to happen? Who will do what to whom? I love that. I always try for that quality. But the series, the character Himself—I have no plans to bring it back.

What would it take to revisit this series?
It would take three things to bring the series, and the character, back. First, there would have to a groundswell of support for the idea. I would have to feel the love. Second, I would have to feel that I could do it justice—as I said before, I don’t ever want to phone it in. And third, it would have to be worth my while, and not just financially, although, you know, this is how I make my living.

You had incredible success with Dexter as a series. Will you look to create another series or look to write some stories that are independent of one another?
I think I would very happily launch another series—but I’d also like to try some one-shot stuff. I mean, Dexter was never intended as a series. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanted to read even ONE book about a lovable serial killer. But a new series would be fun, now that I practiced. And I want to get back to some theater, too—I’ve been working on a few new plays, dusting off some old ones. I have a little time right now, and there’s a giddy sense of freedom, of unlimited possibility. But it’s also like jumping off a cliff. On the one hand, it’s “Damn! I’m flying!” And on the other, I know the ground is coming up at me fast. But I think I’ll let people know pretty soon what happens next. I just hope they care.

 

Author photo credit Hilary Hemingway.

After 11 years, seven national best-selling books and a hit television series that became something of a pop culture phenomenon, author and Dexter series creator Jeff Lindsay closes out the series with his eighth and aptly titled final novel, Dexter Is Dead. Lindsay talks candidly about Dexter’s surprising success, ending his own decade-long relationship with the iconic character and his own uncertain future as a novelist and playwright.

The appeal of A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life ultimately has as much to with who Brian Grazer isn’t as with who he is.

Grazer isn’t a psychologist or a scholar, and he never formally studied curiosity. He’s an Academy Award-winning movie and television producer (Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, "24," "Empire") and a first-time author who spent the past two years trying to personally define his own curiosity.

The result is as conversational as the 30-plus years of “curiosity conversations” the book is based on—making it anything but a prototypical Hollywood memoir.

Instead Grazer, 63, who credits his grandmother with fostering his curiosity as a young boy, worked with journalist Charles Fishman to craft a consistent narrative about where his curious mind has led him. Their effort is less a depiction of Grazer’s career achievements—though the book is filled with moviemaking anecdotes—and more “a working portrait of curiosity itself.”

Fishman succeeds in capturing the eagerness and excitement of Grazer’s voice, especially when he talks about the “different shades and different intensities” of curiosity.

From Andy Warhol and LeBron James to Henry Kissinger and Fidel Castro, Grazer recalls his conversations with philosophers, bankers, Pulitzer Prize winners, archaeologists, neurologists, architects, seismologists and Fortune 500 executives.

He met with technology experts—Steve Jobs and later Tim Cook, who is currently the CEO of Apple Inc.—but understands that the knowledge afforded him through his curiosity extends beyond smart phones and tablets.

In fact, Grazer wryly states, “You can’t Google a new idea.”

Curiosity is free, but it can also be risky. His conversation with Edward Teller, a theoretical physicist, who helped develop the first atomic bomb, didn’t go particularly well. It lasted all of 45 minutes.

There was also the time he flew cross-country to meet with science fiction author Isaac Asimov only to be left sitting alone when, 10 minutes into the conversation, Asimov’s wife Janet proclaimed, “You clearly don’t know my husband’s work well enough to have this conversation.”

Curiosity is a learning process. It’s also a means of overcoming fear, and Grazer writes, “It never lets you down.” In fact, according to Grazer, curiosity motivates discovery.

His son Riley was only 7 years old when he was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and, in the nearly two decades since, Grazer has worked continuously to “connect him to the world.” That effort combined with his curiosity indirectly led him to produce the Academy Award-winning film A Beautiful Mind.

The essence of the book is captured by Grazer in his introduction: “Life isn’t about finding the answers, it’s about asking the questions.” This thought-provoking salute to the power of curiosity is likely to motivate readers to begin asking more questions of their own.

The appeal of A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life ultimately has as much to with who Brian Grazer isn’t as with who he is.

The truth is no one is ever likely to know exactly why two brothers—Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev—decided to set off two homemade bombs, on Monday, April 15, 2013, near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

However, Masha Gessen’s latest book, The Brothers: Road to an American Tragedy, serves as a painstakingly detailed chronicle of how, after more than a decade of living in Boston, the Chechen brothers detonated two pressure cookers, killed three people, injured 264 others, cost Tamerlan his life and quite possibly—depending on the outcome of Dzhokar’s current trial—could cost his younger brother his life as well.

The most important aspect of The Brothers is that Gessen, a Russian-American journalist and activist, takes readers to scenes from the backstory of the Tsarnaev family to which no other writer has had access.

She shares firsthand knowledge of the countries involved and speaks with everyone from Tamerlan’s grade school teacher—“he was afraid of fireworks, presumably because he had been terrified by the bombing of Chechnya”—to the boys’ uncle Jamal Tsarnaev, who confirms that, despite claims to the contrary, his brother Anzor (father of the two bombers) never worked for the prosecutor’s office in the Kyrgyzstan capital of Bishkek—a fact even the FBI was unable to unearth.

Gessen gives her narrative emotional power, from the opening description of the parents’ Dagestani hometown—the smooth surface leading into town “gives way to potholes that can cost you your tire or your life”—to the “slow-motion disaster” that brought a record amount of snowfall to Boston just as defense lawyers were desperately working to spare Dzhokhar’s life.

This is a complex story that is, at times, daunting to get through, even as readers are ultimately aware of where it's leading and what's going to happen. Learning more about the cultural and religious influences of the Tsarnaev brothers provides context and offers a readers a path toward understanding how these young men could commit such a horrifying crime.

The truth is no one is ever likely to know exactly why two brothers—Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev—decided to set off two homemade bombs, on Monday, April 15, 2013, near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

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