Monday, September 29, 2008

Critic's chart: books on cash crashes

Andrew Ellson, Personal Finance Editor at the Times (London), named a critic's chart of books on "cash crashes."

One book on the list:
Collapse by Jared Diamond

Fascinating insight into the demise of former civilisations and the lessons for our future.
Read about the other books on Ellson's chart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tana French's top 10 maverick mysteries

Tana French's first novel, In the Woods, won a Mystery Writers of America Edgar award earlier this year, and her second, The Likeness, has just been published.

For the Guardian, she named a top ten list of "books that defy all the thriller's conventions - but remain thrilling."

One title from her list:
The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

Tom Ripley, broke and living by his wits, is sent to Italy to convince rich boy Dickie Greenleaf to come home. Instead, he kills Dickie and steals his identity. The book positions us with the murderer, not the investigator. We see the whole train of events through Tom Ripley's eyes, and we're seduced into being on his side. Usually the great payoff moment of a mystery book, the one you look forward to, is the moment when the killer is revealed. Highsmith turns that upside down: when Ripley is on the verge of getting caught, you're on the edge of your seat hoping that he'll escape, that that big payoff won't happen.
Read about all ten titles on French's list.

Read a brief excerpt from In the Woods, and learn more about the novel and author at Tana French's website.

The Page 69 Test: In the Woods.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Top 10 genre-defying novels

In 2006, author Kit Whitfield named a top ten list of "genre-defying novels" for the Guardian.

Whitfield's case for genre-defying novels and Number One on her list:
"Genre is all very well, but it's a cage as much as a support. Who knows how many books a person who won't touch women's fiction or only reads sci fi is missing out on that they'd otherwise love? But for a writer, the effect is more insidious. A work of art needs to be complete on its own terms: it needs to ring with internal rightness, never mind whether it makes sense in terms of genre. A writer who forces a trope in or leaves an idea out because they're worried about genre categories has mutilated their book. The best novels are those that are so effective in themselves that they let genre go hang: use what works, leave out what doesn't, and come up with whatever's fresh and vivid that serves the story you're trying to tell."

1. Beloved by Toni Morrison

One of those books that's worth including on almost any list because it's one of the best books in the world, and a book so strong that genre becomes irrelevant. It's a literary classic, but also, technically, a political fable, an historical novel, a ghost story, an allegory and even an anatomy of a murder - but none of that really matters, because Beloved is just Beloved. There's no other book like it; it's unique, individual, perfect. It doesn't contain a ghost because it's a ghost story, for instance: everything is there because it couldn't be any other way. It's the ideal of literature: a highly cultured and informed book, that in the end is still only answerable to itself.
Read about the other nine titles on the list.

Visit Kit Whitfield's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

George Pelecanos: five most important crime novels

George Pelecanos is the author of many crime novels set in and around Washington, D.C.: A Firing Offense, Nick's Trip, Shoedog, Down By the River Where the Dead Men Go, The Big Blowdown, King Suckerman, The Sweet Forever, Shame the Devil, Right as Rain, Hell to Pay, Soul Circus, Hard Revolution, Drama City, and The Night Gardener.

His latest novel is The Turnaround.

Pelecanos was also an Emmy nominee for HBO's The Wire.

For Newsweek, he named his five most important crime novels. One title on the list:
"Clockers" by Richard Price.

My generation's "Grapes of Wrath."
Read more about Pelecanos' most important crime novels.

Listen to an excerpt from The Turnaround.

Visit the official George Pelecanos website.

For more on Pelecanos and Price, read: A novel for fans of HBO's "The Wire."

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Five best examples of how to structure a novel

Invited by to "[r]ecommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise," Dave Boling came up with:
Five books that I think provide the best and simplest examples of how to structure a novel.

The Long Valley by Steinbeck

The Centaur by Updike

The Red Badge of Courage by Crane

The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway

The Fires of Spring by Michener
Read the interview from which this list is drawn.

Learn more about Boling's novel, Guernica.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 22, 2008

The 50 greatest villains in literature

A panel picked the 50 greatest villains in literature for the (London) Telegraph.

Number One on the list:
Satan from Paradise Lost, by John Milton

There's a school of thought that the villain of Paradise Lost is actually God. But Milton wouldn't, at least consciously, have subscribed. Satan is the rebel's rebel, the villain's villain - "Hell within him for within him Hell/ He brings..." Easily clinches the top spot in our evil-dude hit parade.
Read about all 50 villains.

Related: The Page 69 Test for Stanley Fish's How Milton Works.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Five best books about social class

David Lodge is the author of Changing Places, Nice Work, and other novels, including the newly released Deaf Sentence.

He named a five best list of books on the subject of social class for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on his list:
by H.G.Wells
Macmillan, 1905

No one knew the gradations of the English class system better than H.G. Wells, whose parents were servants in a great country house and who himself rose from an apprenticeship in a draper's shop to being one of the most famous men in the world. Arthur Kipps is another oppressed draper's apprentice who is released from wage-slavery -- in his case by an unexpected legacy -- but because of his deficiencies of character and education is unable to master the elaborate code of manners that regulated genteel society in Edwardian England. His total bafflement and humiliation as a guest in a luxury London hotel (at dinner, "a fork in his inexperienced hand was an instrument of chase rather than capture") is one of the comic peaks of English fiction.
Read about all five titles on Lodge's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 19, 2008

Top 25 boarding school books

At the London Times, Sarah Ebner named her top 25 boarding school books.

Two American novels from her list:
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

Curtis Sittenfeld's exceptional novel was turned down by 14 out of 15 publishers. They must have felt rather stupid when the book began climbing the New York Times best-seller list and was optioned by a major Hollywood studio. It's the story of scholarship girl, and misfit, Lee Fiora, and her time at an exclusive new England prep school. A fine coming of age tale.

* * *

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger

"Sleep tight, ya morons!" yells Holden Caulfield, as he leaves his prep school, and it's the start of one of the best books you will ever read. If you haven't read it for a while, do so again, as it just gets better with age!

If it's such a classic, you're probably asking, why this book only just squeezes onto the list. It's because, let's be honest, it's not really a boarding school book, is it?
Read about all 25 titles on Ebner's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Literary top ten: Nuala Ní Chonchúir

One entry from Nuala Ní Chonchúir's literary top ten list at Pulp Net:
My favourite novel that no-one else seems to have heard of:

The Rack, by AE Ellis. A post-war novel about TB. Don’t be put off by that, it’s great: gritty, funny and human.
Nuala Ní Chonchúir is the author of two collections of short fiction and two poetry collections.

Read Nuala Ní Chonchúir's literary top ten and visit her website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Critic's chart: religious poets

Angus Clarke, deputy editor of The Register and Letters at the Times (London), named a critic's chart of his favorite religious poets.

One poet on the list:
Jalal al-Din

Limpid self-observation as the 13th-century Sufi mystic known as Rumi searches for the “eternal orchard which abides in the hearts of the perfect man”.
Read about the other poets on Clarke's chart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Five best reference books for a home library

Donald Altschiller, a librarian at Boston University, named a five best list of "reference books [that] are essential for a home library" for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on the list:
Merck Manual of Medical Information
Merck, 2003 (second ed.)

For more than a century, the drug-maker Merck & Co. has published a standard textbook for physicians known as the Merck Manual, but in 1997 the publisher issued its first home edition -- to the delight and edification of many families. Written and edited mostly by physicians and other health-care experts, this expanded and revised second edition includes 25 sections, lucidly written and handsomely illustrated, covering diseases and disorders, symptoms, common medical tests, and many other health topics. "A person whose nose bleeds, hurts, and is swollen after a blunt injury may have a broken nose," reads a typically practical entry. "Applying ice packs every 2 hours for 15 minutes at a time and sleeping with the head elevated help limit pain and swelling; however, medical attention is needed."
Read about all five books on Altschiller's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 12, 2008

Top 10 birds in fact and fiction

Esther Woolfson's book on natural history, Corvus is published by Granta in August, 2008. Her novel Piano Angel is published by Two Ravens Press October 2008.

For the Guardian, she named her top 10 birds in fact and fiction.

She writes: "The books I most enjoy that feature birds aren't necessarily the ones in which birds are at the forefront. In the factual ones they are. But in fiction I like a hint of birds: a bird as subsidiary character, as metaphor or symbol. I also like nature writing that places itself in historical context, and touches on the parallel lives of birds, and creatures, and man."

Number One on Woolfson's list:
Spring in Washington by Louis J Halle

Halle was an extraordinary man, a naturalist and a member of the Policy Planning Staff at the State Department. His books on birds are profound and informative. Spring in Washington, written about the spring of 1945, is an appreciation of the minutiae of life after the end of war, what Halle describes as "snatching the passing moment and examining it for signs of eternity". Delightfully written, observant and wise, Halle places birds, his main preoccupation, magnificently in their settings.

"This again is fresh earth and fresh sky. Look up when you reach Washington's home at Mount Vernon and, like as not, you will see one or several American eagles soaring against the blue. They do duty for bronze eagles over Washington's tomb."

"Off East Potomac Park, two Bonaparte's gulls were flying away from me, flicking low over the water, showing the white flashes in their wings."

Reading this book makes me wonder what has changed in the natural landscape of Washington, what has been lost over the 60 odd years, what has diminished.
Read about the other nine titles on Woolfson's list.

Visit Esther Woolfson's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Critic's chart: sporting confessionals

Richard Whitehead, deputy editor, Books, at the London Times, named a "critic's chart" of top sporting confessionals.

One title on his list:
Full Time by Tony Cascarino

Ireland footballer - now brilliant Times pundit - admits that he wasn't qualified to play for the country he represented 88 times.
Learn about the other five books on Whitehead's chart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 8, 2008

Five best books about presidential administrations

Fred Siegel, a contributing editor of The City Journal and professor at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, named a five best list of books about presidential administrations for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on the list:
The Perils of Peace
by Thomas Fleming
Collins, 2007

The British might have been defeated at Yorktown in 1781, but America's success in the following years was hardly assured. As Thomas Fleming shows in his engaging "The Perils of Peace," the fledgling nation's future was imperiled in the 1780s by the absence of a strong executive. The exhausted and bankrupt U.S. government could have easily collapsed, not least because the series of men who served as "President of the United States in Congress Assembled" -- a nearly powerless leadership position created by the Articles of Confederation -- were unable to pay the country's increasingly mutinous army. Ben Franklin, facing outright hostility from his fellow Americans as he tried to negotiate a loan from France, warned that the British King George III, who saw Yorktown as only a minor setback, "hates us . . . and will be content with nothing short of our extirpation." Fortunately, Fleming explains, the British didn't realize how weak we were.
Read about all five books on Siegel's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Five books that improve on re-reading

Laura Dave is the author of the novels The Divorce Party and London is the Best City in America.

Invited by to "[r]ecommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise," she came up with:
Five Books That Get Better Every Time You Read Them:

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

The Feast of Love by Charles Baxter

Little Children by Tom Perrotta

Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion

Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson
Read the interview in which this list appears.

Visit Laura Dave's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Top ten books about children aimed at adults

Wesley Stace, a celebrated musician and songwriter who performs under the name John Wesley Harding, is the author of two novels, Misfortune and by George (which appeared at the Page 69 Test).

In 2005 he named a top 10 list of "books about children aimed at adults" for the Guardian.

Number One on his list:
A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

Children on their way back to England from Jamaica are kidnapped by pirates; this book is eerie, macabre, and unsettling in its depiction of the children's relationship with their kidnappers. Published in 1929, High Wind is Lord of The Flies before its time, or Moonfleet (see below) plus Freud. (It was also made into a film by Alexander MacKendrick, featuring the young Martin Amis in his only film appearance - he dies young.)
Read about all ten books on Stace's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Joshua Ferris: 5 most important books

Joshua Ferris's first novel, Then We Came to the End, has sold in 20 countries and was shortlisted for the National Book Award and longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award.

He told Newsweek about his five most important books. Number One on the list:
"Sylvester and the Magic Pebble" by William Steig.

My father read this to me until I was too old, around senior year of college.
Read more about Ferris' 5 most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 1, 2008

Forty favorite books: Philip Pullman

The bookstore Waterstone's invited His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman to select forty books for them to feature in-store.

He asked himself:
What should be my [selection] principle here?

Well, it had to be variety, of course. I also thought I should avoid too many obvious classics. Was there much point in recommending Middlemarch or Hamlet? I thought that people could be trusted to find their way to those without my help. Another constraint was that the books had to be in print, which ruled out any of the 16 novels of the, to my mind, inexplicably forgotten writer Macdonald Harris, an American who died in 1993, and whose The Balloonist, at least, should be available.[read on]
A couple of titles to make Pullman's list:
by John le Carré

A perfect blend of form, subject, sensibility and moral power. Le Carré's best book, and one of the finest English novels of the 20th century.

* * *

by Richard Dawkins

Dawkins at his very best: a beautiful clarity of exposition, and an unslaked sense of wonder at the grandeur, richness and complexity of nature.
Read about all forty titles.

--Marshal Zeringue