Saturday, May 27, 2017

The forty greatest villains in literature

One title on ShortList's roundup of literature's forty greatest villains:
Uriah Heep (David Copperfield) by Charles Dickens (1850)

Another of Dickens' dastardly villains, Uriah Heep is perhaps the most cloying of all of them, being patronising and insincere whilst using manipulation to hide his true motivation: pure greed. Employing blackmail, fraud and treachery to gain control of the Wickfield Fortune, Heep's character is so ubiquitous that paragons of virtue such as Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson have been compared to him. A vile villain from the master of vile villains.
Read about the other entries on the list.

David Copperfield is among Siri Hustvedt's six favorite books, Janet Davey’s top ten schoolchildren in fiction, Frank Rich's top ten books, John Boyne's top ten child narrators, Lynn Shepherd's top ten fictional drownings and Elizabeth Gilbert's six favorite books. It appears on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best seductions in literature, ten of the best trips to Canterbury in literature and ten of the best valets in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 26, 2017

Lucy Worsley's 6 best books

Lucy Worsley's latest book is Jane Austen at Home: A Biography. One of her six best books, as shared at the Daily Express:
EMMA by Jane Austen

My favourite Austen novel because it’s got a prickly, difficult heroine. It has elements of a detective story in it and also the nicest hero in Mr Knightley who is kind and wise. My new book is dedicated to my husband who I name as my own Mr Knightley.
Read about the other books on the list.

Emma is on John Mullan's list of ten of the best wines in literature, and among Sophie Kinsella's six best books, Tanya Byron's six best books, Judith Martin's five favorite novels, and Monica Ali's ten favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five of the best books on modern Germany history

Hester Vaizey is a lecturer in Modern European History, and a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge. Her books include Surviving Hitler's War, Keep Britain Tidy and other posters from the Nanny State, and Born in the GDR: Living in the Shadow of the Wall. One of her five best books on modern Germany history, as discussed with Sophie Roell at Five Books:
Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men (1992)

It’s horrendously difficult reading because it takes you through the psychological transformation from ordinary, middle-aged men into killing machines, almost. I remember, when I studied history at university, that it was one of the books—out of all the hundreds of thousands of history books out there—that really stayed with me. It was so vividly written.

We know a lot about the Holocaust and how it happened but less about what the killers themselves felt about what they were doing. And understandably it has been quite a taboo topic. In the book, there are descriptions of these men shooting people at close quarters. They end up with brains and blood on their faces. 20% of their battalion drop out because they found it too distressing, but 80% percent carry on.

Browning talks about how they drank a lot of alcohol to keep going. There’s some comfort to be had in knowing that this behaviour didn’t come naturally in some way. Alcohol was a crutch that they needed to get through.

It’s one of those things we wonder about the Nazis and the Holocaust—are these people other from us or are they just humans too? And Christopher Browning gives them a very human face.

I had a student who was quite disengaged and wasn’t sure whether he’d made the right choice studying history. He did an essay on the Holocaust and he read this book. It was a defining moment. He wrote me a letter, at the end of his degree, to say thank you. He cited this book as the reason that he carried on doing history.
Read about the other books on Vaizey's list at the Five Books website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Five top novels in which music is a character

At B&N Reads Jeff Somers tagged five novels in which music is a character, including:
Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami

Using an orchestral version of the Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” in much the same way Proust used his madeleine, Murakami’s protagonist Toru Watanabe is moved to sink into a reverie about his past. The song is repeatedly referenced throughout the text, as Toru remembers his love affair with beautiful, delicate Naoko. The song becomes a Greek chorus of regret and loss, rising up like a ghost at key moments, altering the tone of the story in unexpectedly powerful ways. You can easily imagine Murakami listening to Rubber Soul on repeat as he wrote; listening to it yourself while reading it creates an incredible sense of looping time and interconnectedness.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Norwegian Wood is among Matthew Carl Strecher's ten best Haruki Murakami books, Melissa Albert's five best books that inspire great mix tapes and Julith Jedamus' top ten Japanese novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Top ten unlikely romantic heroes in fiction

Jenny Colgan is a novelist, journalist and occasional radio pundit. One of her top ten weird romantic heroes, as shared at the Guardian:
Amit Chatterji in A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

Amit shouldn’t be an unusual love interest. He’s a handsome, well-connected lawyer/poet who writes Lata beautiful verses. Lata, on the other hand, disappointed by already losing Kabir, the real love of her life – SPOILER ALERT – unapologetically blows him off for some pushy upstart who wears two-tone shoes. Sigh.
Read about the other entries on the list.

A Suitable Boy is among David Haig's six best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Five top books about space-faring history

Jeffrey Kluger's latest book is Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon. One of his five favorite books that make epic drama out of space-faring history, as shared at Tor.com:
A Man on the Moon by Andrew Chaikin

The great sweep of all of the Apollo lunar missions is included in Chaikin’s landmark book. It’s not just Apollos 8, 11 and 13; it’s Apollo 15—one of history’s greatest scientific field expeditions; it’s Apollo 12, with its improbably precise landing within walking distance of the Surveyor 3 spacecraft, which had landed on the moon two and a half years earlier; it’s Apollo 17, the capstone—and the poignant end—of the Apollo lunar program. Chaikin’s book served as the basis of the HBO series From the Earth to the Moon, but even without that spectacular TV treatment, it would be a triumph of powerful history masterfully told.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Paul Theroux's six favorite books

Paul Theroux's latest novel is Mother Land. One of his six favorite books, as shared at The Week magazine:
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Emma Bovary, married to a good-hearted drudge, has a healthy libido, a shopping addiction, and an unhealthy sense of romance. Flaubert's landmark work is both a romantic novel and a critique of romantic novels, and in its writing and observation it is modern and memorable.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Madame Bovary is on Peter Brooks's list of favorite Flaubert's works (at #1), Ed Sikov's list of eight great books that got slammed by critics, BBC.com Culture's list of the three of the worst mothers in literature, Alex Preston's top ten list of sex scenes from film, TV and literature, Rachel Holmes's top ten list of books on the struggle against gender-based inequality, Jill Boyd's list of six memorable marriage proposals in literature, Julia Sawalha's six best books list, Jennifer Gilmore's list of the ten worst mothers in books, Amy Sohn's list of six favorite books, Sue Townsend's 6 best books list, Helena Frith Powell's list of ten of the best sexy French books, the Christian Science Monitor's list of six novels about grand passions, John Mullan's lists of ten landmark coach rides in literature, ten of the best cathedrals in literature, ten of the best balls in literature, ten of the best bad lawyers in literature, ten of the best lotharios in literature, and ten of the best bad doctors in fiction, Valerie Martin's list of six novels about doomed marriages, and Louis Begley's list of favorite novels about cheating lovers. It tops Peter Carey's list of the top ten works of literature and was second on a top ten works of literature list selected by leading writers from Britain, America and Australia in 2007. It is one of John Bowe's six favorite books on love.

Learn about Theroux's five top travel books about an intense experience of a particular place.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 22, 2017

Six YA stories about life-changing summers

At the BN Teen blog Natalie Zutter tagged six YA books about life-changing summers, including:
Proof of Forever, by Lexa Hillyer

Hillyer’s debut has been called “The Sisterhood of the (Time) Traveling Pants for a new generation,” because instead of a magical pair of formfitting jeans, you’ve got a photo booth that transports four former best friends back to a summer camp session two years prior. Joy, Tali, Luce, and Zoe must mine the past two years to discover where they went wrong, and what made Joy walk away from their friendships with no explanation. As they retrace their steps during the week they spent at Camp Okahatchee, taking care not to change the past, they stumble upon the dark secret that divided them.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Five of the best books on Southeast Asian travel literature

Cat Barton is a correspondent for the Agence France Presse in Hong Kong. At Five Books she tagged five top titles on Southeast Asian travel literature, including:
The Quiet American by Graham Greene

It’s a fantastic novel, which is set in Saigon in the early 1950s and foreshadows the Vietnam War. It’s particularly nice to read when you’re in Ho Chi Minh now because Greene describes the city extraordinarily well. It’s obviously set in a very different time, but many of the buildings he writes about can still be seen today.

The plot involves an embittered British journalist, Fowler, who is living in Saigon. Fowler, an opium addict, is in love with a young, beautiful Vietnamese woman called Phuong. Fowler then meets Pyle, ‘a quiet American’, and he initially feels an almost paternal instinct towards him. Later he realises that Pyle has fallen in love with Phuong and steals her away from him. Phuong wanted to marry Fowler but he couldn’t get a divorce from his Catholic wife. When Pyle makes all sorts of promises to marry Phuong and take her to the United States, Phuong accepts – before everything then changes. Fowler gradually realises that Pyle is in Vietnam as a passionate advocate of a ‘third force’, which then stirs up a local uprising to win the war. This involves tactics such as planting bombs in public places, which kills innocent people.

Fowler’s relationship with Phuong in particular is beautifully described and it’s a very careful and insightful portrait of the nature of some relationships between Western men and young Southeast Asian women, which still has much resonance today.
Read about the other entries at Five Books.

The Quiet American is among Richard Haass's six top books for understanding global politics, Sara Jonsson's seven best literary treatments of envy, Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones's top ten classic spy novels, Tom Rachman's top ten journalist's tales, John Mullan's ten best journalists in literature, Charles Glass's five best books on Americans abroad, Robert McCrum's books to inspire busy public figures, Malcolm Pryce's top ten expatriate tales, Catherine Sampson's top ten Asian crime fiction, and Pauline Melville's top 10 revolutionary tales.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Ten of the best true crime books

Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich is the author of The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir. One of her ten favorite true crime books, as shared at Publishers Weekly:
Killings by Calvin Trillin

How many ways does murder occur? Killings—an odd, addictive little book that was recently reissued—lives up to its title with a collection of brief, strange, brilliantly written murder vignettes, all originally published in The New Yorker. Follow this one up with Reporting at Wit’s End: Tales from the New Yorker, a collection of St. Clair McKelway’s crime beat reporting for the magazine through the 1930s and 1940s, that features witty and drily delivered portraits of murderous gangsters and clever counterfeiters.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 19, 2017

Five great YA novels about dangerous games

At the BN Teen Blog Eric Smith tagged five top YA novels about dangerous games, including:
The Gauntlet, by Karuna Riazi

Though The Gauntlet is middle grade, it has major crossover appeal, as with The Night Circus. In Riazi’s debut, three friends find themselves trapped inside a board game they have to take apart, to get themselves, and everyone else who has been trapped inside, out. If this sounds a bit like Jumanji, well, you’re spot on. Because it’s very much like that, with a steampunk/Middle Eastern twist. It’s a diverse read that’s exciting and full of thrills, with wildly imaginative monsters and magic.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five books about bad girls

Ellen Klages's books include The Green Glass Sea and White Sands, Red Menace. One of her five books about bad girls who dance where they want to, as shared at Tor.com:
Point of Honour
Madeleine E. Robins
2002

Madeleine and I roomed together at Interaction, the Glasgow WorldCon in 2005. Afterwards we rented a car (my credit card, her other-side-of-the-road driving skills), and motored down to London. It was a two-day journey that took us through Yorkshire, and the Moors, and to Whitby, places that, as far as I was concerned, were fictional, and were from books that I had not read, even in high school, when I was supposed to.

I have zero knowledge of classic English literature, and Mad has lots, and adores it. I asked questions, she told fascinating stories, and it was one of the great road trips of all time. We finally managed to give back the car at Enterprise’s tiny, hidden office in a mews near Hyde Park—we had no GPS and the petrol was down to fumes—breathed a great sigh of relief, and became gloriously pedestrian for another three days. Mad was researching her next book, set in London 200 years earlier, and we explored nooks and crannies and history—and pubs—as she pointed out the early-19th-century bits that lurked below and betwixt and between the rest of the 21st-century world.

Then she flew back home to kids and family, and I stayed on by myself for another few days. I’d known Mad for a couple of years, and had read a few of her short stories, but not her novels. So she left me with a paperback edition of Point of Honour, the first in the series of adventures of one Miss Sarah Tolerance.

I did not think it would be my cup of tea, really. I’m very much a 20th-century reader, have never read Jane Austen or any of the other Regency writers. But there I was, in London, with a book about the very long-ago London that the author had just been giving me a lovely guided tour of. Serendipity. Simply magic.

The premise of the book is, it seems to me, to deny its opening statement:
It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a fallen woman of good family must, sooner or later, descend to whoredom.
Miss Tolerance is a woman of a good family who fell in love and lost her virginity outside the sanctity of marriage and is therefore disgraced. But rather than become a whore, she becomes an agent of inquiry, an 1810 private eye. She is quick-witted, quite adept with a sword (or, if the occasion demands, a pistol), and dresses as a man when the laws of propriety and society hinder any forays she might make in the guise of her own gender. She rights wrongs, solves dilemmas, and when all has been settled, retires to her cottage for a meal and a refreshing cup of tea.

I’m still not wholly converted to the glories of Regency literature, but I do look forward to the continuing adventures of Miss Tolerance with great anticipation. (There are currently three books in the series, with a fourth still a WIP.)
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue