Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Five best revolutionaries in novels

Joseph Epstein is the author, most recently, of The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff: And Other Stories.

For the Wall Street Journal he named a five best list of novels featuring revolutionaries, including:
Darkness at Noon
by Arthur Koestler (1941)

'Darkness at Noon' chiefly takes place in a prison cell in the Moscow prison known as the Lubyanka. It is a tour de force, recounting the inner thoughts of Rubashov, a Nikolai Bukharin-like character, once a central Bolshevik figure, being interrogated by Stalinist henchmen who prepare the way for his false confession of treason at the famous Moscow Trials of the late 1930s. Arthur Koestler brilliantly sets out the entrapment of a man who feels himself locked into the "logic of history" and squeezed by the pincers of Marxist dialectic. After 40 years living in strict adherence to the party line, Rubashov finds himself accused of being "a counter-revolutionary and a traitor to the Fatherland," destined never to see the Promised Land of the completed revolution to which he gave his life. The novel ends with a pistol shot, not in Stendhal's metaphorical theater but to the back of Rubashov's head.
Read about the other books on the list.

Darkness at Noon is one of Ernest Lefever's five best Cold War classics.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 30, 2011

Five great books that worked as films

At The Daily Beast, Jane Ciabattari named "five masterpieces of fiction that also worked as films, with varying degrees of tinkering by the filmmakers," including:

Ian McEwan has said of Briony Tallis, the writer at the center of his 2001 novel Atonement, “I think she is perhaps my fullest invention, as a person—deeply flawed and yet I hope still sympathetic.”

He describes Briony’s yearnings and dissemblings in sinuous prose in the languid and impressionistic first section of the novel, which takes place during a summer heat wave in 1935 in the English country home of the Tallis family in Surrey. Papa is away in London. Mum is in bed. Briony, a precociously orderly 13-year-old, has written a play to celebrate her brother Leon’s homecoming. He’s brought along a doltish but wealthy classmate for sister Cecily. But Cecily is smitten with Robbie, the housekeeper’s son (they’ve both just graduated from Cambridge, Robbie with help from the Tallis family). Also on hand: coquettish cousin Lola, 15, and her twin younger brothers. By the end of the day, the twins have been lost, Lola raped, and Briony has pointed the finger at Robbie.

Joe Wright’s 2007 film version (with a screenplay by the playwright Christopher Hampton) follows the novel’s structure. Keira Knightley and James McAvoy sizzle as the young lovers in summer; Saoirse Ronan is eerily controlling as young Briony, watching their sexual explorations with a mixture of confusion, envy, and manipulative resolve.

Both novel and film give a spectacularly intricate rendering of the shattering 1940 British retreat and evacuation at Dunkirk and the experiences of young women nursing the wounded. The last scene finds Briony at 77, an accomplished novelist now, facing dementia, still haunted by her actions, as unreliable a narrator as ever. The novel describes a family reunion in the country for Briony’s birthday. The film simply focuses on Vanessa Redgrave, who brings to Briony’s final devastating monologue a subtlety and raw power to match McEwan’s remarkable novelistic skills.
Read about the other adaptations on the list.

Atonement also appears on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best scenes on London Underground, ten of the best breakages in literature, ten of the best weddings in literature, and ten of the best identical twins in fiction. It is one of Stephanie Beacham's six best books.

Also see: Best book to film adaptations.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Jonathan Evison's six favorite books

Jonathan Evison is the author of All About Lulu, which won the Washington State Book Award. In 2009, he was the recipient of a Richard Buckley Fellowship from the Christopher Isherwood Foundation.

His new novel is West of Here.

For The Week magazine, Evison named his six favorite books.

One novel on his list:
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Melville’s shorter novels find him at the top of his game as a pure craftsman, but Moby-Dick is something else, something rarer. Moby-Dick is unfettered genius, furious, unhinged, and at times frustrating. A work so powerful it can barely sustain the force of its own invention, containing every narrative mode you can think of.
Read about the other books on Evison's list.

Moby-Dick also appears among Bella Bathurst's top 10 books on the sea, John Mullan's list of ten of the best tattoos in literature, Susan Cheever's five best books about obsession, Christopher Buckley's best books, Jane Yolen's five most important books, Chris Dodd's best books, Augusten Burroughs' five most important books, Norman Mailer's top ten works of literature, David Wroblewski's five most important books, Russell Banks' five most important books, and Philip Hoare's top ten books about whales.

The Page 99 Test: All About Lulu.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Antonio Carluccio's six favorite books

Antonio Carluccio became the manager of Terence Conran's Neal Street Restaurant in Covent Garden in 1981, and became its owner in 1989. (Jamie Oliver, the celebrity chef, got his professional start under Carluccio at the restaurant, which is now closed.)

Carluccio has written over a dozen books on Italian cuisine and mushrooms, and appeared on television in the BBC's Food and Drink Programme, and in his own series Antonio Carluccio's Italian Feasts in 1996. In 2011 his travels around Italy were filmed for the BBC series Two Greedy Italians.

For The Daily Express he named his six favorite books.

One title on his list:
Italian Cuisine: A Cultural History
by Alberto Capatti and Massimo Montanari

This was recommended to me by a friend, and it really does tell you everything you could possibly want to known about Italian cooking, from a historical viewpoint. The sort of book to dip in and out of, it’s a must-buy if you love Italian cuisine.
Read about the other books on Carluccio's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 27, 2011

Five best books on World War II

Richard Snow, the former editor of American Heritage magazine, is the author, most recently, of A Measureless Peril: America in the Fight for the Atlantic, the Longest Battle of World War II.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named five essential books on World War II, including:
The Caine Mutiny
by Herman Wouk (1951)

Growing tensions aboard a decaying World War I-era destroyer, a terrifying storm at sea, a spellbinding court martial, good jokes and a nice little 1940s Manhattan love story thrown in too. "The Caine Mutiny" is not considered a serious piece of war literature. It should be. The novel contains a powerful meditation on the obligations of military command and obedience, and in its appealing hero, Willie Keith, it charts the trajectory from college twerp to capable officer that so many thousands of Americans followed in those years. The book conveys the universals of what at first might seem a narrow naval existence: Anyone who has spent time in the close quarters of an office (or, for that matter, a book group) will recognize the rub and chafe of life in the Caine's wardroom. My father saw very different sea duty (Atlantic submarine-hunting as opposed to the Caine's Pacific minesweeping), but he believed that this book summoned his experience of the war at sea more precisely than any other.
Read about the other books on the list.

"Each time I revisit [The Caine Mutiny] I’m more awed than the last," writes Dawn Shamp. "The manner in which he develops the character of Willie Keith is nothing short of brilliant. Wouk’s style is spare yet complex. Every word counts."

Also see: Five best works of fiction about World War Two.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Top ten outsiders' stories

Stephen Kelman grew up in the housing projects of Luton. He's worked variously as a careworker, a warehouse operative, and in marketing and local government administration.

Pigeon English, his first novel, will be available in the U.S. in July.
[T]he outsider [Kelman writes]... is an endlessly fascinating creature: he can be a benign commentator on his adoptive society, or a harsh critic; he can be the underdog or the agitator; his fish-out-of-water status can lend itself equally to comedy and tragedy. The entire spectrum of human experience can be captured within his detached or awed gaze. For both reader and writer, the outsider is an instrument that allows us to see the world in an unfamiliar way, and that for me is one of the prime aspirations of literature.
One of Kelman's top ten outsiders' books, as told to the Guardian:
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Balram Halwai, the narrator of this spry jaunt through modern India, is an economic migrant lured to the big city in search of the wealth his country's embrace of capitalism has promised him. He finds that the material world is a corrupting place. A look at how aspirations, even at their most prosaic, can untether us from our moral selves, and how the globalised world has made us all outsiders in one form or another.
Read about the other titles on the list.

The White Tiger is one of The Freakonomics guys' six best books.

The Page 69 Test: The White Tiger.

Also see: Neil Griffiths's top 10 books about outsiders.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ten works of science fiction that are really fantasy

There is a difference between science fiction and fantasy. "The boundaries ... have always been permeable," writes Annalee Newitz at io9, "but sometimes there's a story that feels just like scifi - until you think about it a little bit. And you realize it's pure fantasy."

One top contender from her list of SF that's really fantasy:
Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

It may be set on another planet and involve some of the most outrageously awesome depictions in literature of the scientific process - as well as hyper-realistic space travel - but Anathem's central premise is metaphysical rather than scientific. The "aliens" in the novel are not from another part of the universe, but instead from a dimension which is "less perfect" than those of the main characters. Stephenson tips his hat to many Western metaphysical theories in explaining this conundrum, which is a big hint to the reader that lurking beneath the hard science fictional armor of this plot is a story of cultural progress that relies more on philosophical principles than scientific ones.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Neal Stephenson made Charlie Jane Anders's list of the 20 biggest science fiction movers-and-shakers of 2008.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Five books on U.S. intervention abroad

Lawrence F. Kaplan is editor of Entanglements. Previously, he was editor of World Affairs, executive editor of The National Interest, and senior editor at The New Republic, for which he reported from Iraq during 2005-2007. Kaplan is also a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the U.S. Army War College. He is a graduate of Columbia University, Oxford, and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

With Eve Gerber at The Browser, Kaplan discussed five books on American intervention abroad, including:
by Michael Herr

Next is Dispatches, a memoir of Michael Herr’s time reporting for Esquire from the Vietnam War. Reading this book is a scarring rite of passage for students of American entanglements.

Dispatches came out in 1977, soon after the fall of Saigon. It’s delivered in the voice of the New Journalism of the era. Herr takes us up close, on patrol with American troops. It’s so vivid that it reads like fiction. Herr’s book shows us the dark side of America’s foreign policy and the consequences of ideas hatched in air-conditioned conference rooms in Washington DC. American foreign policymakers and foreign policy watchers, including myself, do not always fully appreciate that their ideas trickle down. Ideas are enshrined in official policy and official policy trickles down. And then the next thing you know, you have 19-year-old kids out there at the sharp end of these policies. Herr’s book is essential reading until we come up with a worthy heir for the Iraq war. It drives home how careful we must be with the ideas put on the table. It’s the most worn cliché in the world, but ideas really do have consequences, particularly in American foreign policy.

How should the personal cost to American combatants be factored into the decisions of US policymakers?

The military is an instrument of American foreign policy; it is a servant of the state. Today we have an all-volunteer army whose job it is to fight the nation’s wars. That said, the military is not a machine – it is made up of human beings, mostly people in their late teens and early twenties who join the services for a variety of reasons. There is no need to place them on a pedestal or regard them as victims, that is not the way they regard themselves. But one has to be cognisant that decisions impact and cost lives, the lives of our forces, enemy forces and civilians caught in the middle.

Given the full extent of American power, there is always a temptation to deploy force casually, without adequate reflection. Every president goes through his own cost-benefit analysis before giving the green light to the use of force. Obama, more than other presidents, certainly more than his predecessor, has made a public display of running through the costs and the benefits of the surge in Afghanistan and intervention in Libya. Obama took a lot of hits, including from me, for agonising like Hamlet before coming to a decision in both cases. But I give him credit for carefully considering every side of the argument and there are about a dozen sides to these arguments. The president has to sign condolence letters every time a service member is killed. This practice is more than a deserved courtesy – it is a form of discipline that keeps the costs of war in front of the mind of the commander-in-chief.
Read about the other books on Kaplan's list.

Dispatches appears on Gail Caldwell's five best list of memoirs and Judith Paterson's list of the 10 best books of social concern by journalists.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 23, 2011

Chika Unigwe's six favorite books

Chika Unigwe was born in Nigeria and now lives in Belgium. She was a 2008 UNESCO-Aschberg fellow and a 2009 Rockefeller Foundation fellow (at the Bellagio Center), and she holds a Ph.D. from the University of Leiden. She is the recipient of several awards for her writing, including first prize in the 2003 BBC Short Story Competition and a Commonwealth Short Story Competition award. In 2004 she was shortlisted for the Caine prize for African Writing. Her stories have been on BBC World Service and Radio Nigeria. Her second novel, On Black Sisters' Street, is now available in the U.S.

One of her six favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

A great introduction to literature that takes in all the great themes: love and lust, commitment and betrayal, life and death. The writing is beautiful. I have never read a more elegant account of a woman throwing herself into the path of a train.
Read about the other books on the list.

Anna Karenina also appears on Eleanor Birne's top ten list of books on motherhood, Esther Freud's list top ten list of love stories, Elizabeth Kostova's list of favorite books, James Gray's list of best books, Marie Arana's list of the best books about love, Ha Jin's most important books list, Tom Perrotta's ten favorite books list, Claire Messud's list of her five most important books, Alexander McCall Smith's list of his five most important books, Mohsin Hamid's list of his ten favorite books, Louis Begley's list of favorite novels about cheating lovers, and among the top ten works of literature according to Peter Carey and Norman Mailer. John Mullan put it on his lists of ten of the best births in literature, ten of the best ice-skating episodes in literature, and ten of the best balls in literature.

Chika Unigwe's On Black Sisters' Street is one of E. C. Osondu's top ten immigrants' tales.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ten of the best bicycles in literature

For the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best bicycles in literature.

One title on the list:
Five Red Herrings, by Dorothy L Sayers

Only a really strong cyclist can be the murderer ... Sayers's whodunit is solved by Lord Peter Wimsey, who works out that though the suspect boarded a train that left the scene before the crime was committed, he could return to do the deed by cycling across country faster than Chris Hoy to another station where the train stops later.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Also see Marjorie Kehe's list of ten great books about cycling, Matt Seaton's top 10 books about cycling, and William Fotherham's top ten cycling novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Five best stories of fathers and daughters

Alexandra Styron is the author of the novel All the Finest Girls. A graduate of Barnard College and the MFA program at Columbia University, she has contributed to several anthologies as well as The New Yorker, the New York Times, Avenue, Real Simple, and Interview, among other publications.

She is the youngest daughter of William Styron, author of Sophie’s Choice, Lie Down in Darkness, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Confessions of Nat Turner.

Alexandra Styron's new book is Reading My Father: A Memoir.

One title on her list of the five best stories of fathers and daughters, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee (1960)

In 1966, the year I was born, the school board for Hanover County in Virginia banned Harper Lee's best-selling novel from the school libraries after one member, Mr. W.C. Bosher, saw his son's copy and pronounced the story of a black man wrongly accused of raping a white woman "immoral literature." (The following year, another racially tinged controversy erupted after the publication of my own father's novel, "The Confessions of Nat Turner.") Perhaps it was the familiar Southern-ness of Harper Lee's tale, but no novel of my childhood left a deeper mark than "To Kill a Mockingbird." I was one of a doubtless large club of girl readers who fancied themselves as plucky and charming as the book's inimitable narrator, Scout. We were girls who also unconsciously set our gauge of a man's character to that impossibly perfect polestar, Atticus Finch. The sine qua non in round-ups of father-daughter stories, "Mockingbird" is also a primer on the essentials of humanity, humor and good story-telling. And, begging Mr. Bosher's pardon, it is the most exquisitely "moral" American novel since Huck and Jim set off down the mighty Mississippi.
Read about the other books on the list.

To Kill a Mockingbird also made TIME magazine's top 10 list of books you were forced to read in school, John Mullan's list of ten of the best lawyers in literature, Lisa Scottoline's top ten list of books about justice, and Luke Leitch's list of ten literary one-hit wonders. It is one of Sanjeev Bhaskar's six best books.

In Reading My Father "there’s a lot of territory, emotional and literary, that [Styron]... quite skillfully covers," says Kate Feiffer, who grew up with Alexandra Styron.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 20, 2011

George Vecsey's six favorite books

New York Times sports columnist George Vecsey is the author of Stan Musial: An American Life.

One of his six favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe

My parents introduced me to Wolfe at 15, and soon I was staying up past midnight to join Wolfe’s family in Asheville, N.C. Wolfe felt like such an observer, an outsider—a writer—that he filled my teenage heart with a major dose of angst and ambition.
Read about the other books on Vecsey's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Top ten jazz books

Blood Count, Reggie Nadelson's ninth Artie Cohen novel, "finds the Russian-born NYPD detective investigating the death of an ailing Russian woman, one of the few white occupants of a once-grand apartment block in Harlem. Cohen is alerted to the death by an ex-girlfriend who lives there, but when he arrives there's a strange air of something having been covered up."

At the Guardian, Nadelson named her top ten jazz books.

One book on her list:
Jazz by Toni Morrison

Set in Harlem during the Jazz Age, this is the story of interlocking characters in New York and how they made the journey north—tragic, ecstatic, terrible, thrilling. Morrison is one of the few authors who can really make her prose swing, can make you feel what jazz music meant, felt like, did to people, in its first great era.
Read about the other books on the list.

Toni Morrison's Jazz is Mohsin Hamid's most influential book.

Also see: John Edward Hasse's five best books on jazz.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Five novels on the spirit and history of London

Iain Sinclair, the author of London: City of Disappearances, discussed "five novels that capture the spirit and rich history of London" with Emma Mustich at The Browser, including:
The Secret Agent
by Joseph Conrad

Your last choice, The Secret Agent, is a book I read in high school in the States, before I had really spent any time in London. At the time, I didn’t think about the way it was describing the city – but as soon as I saw it on your list, vivid images started recurring to me. Why did you choose it?

There are lots of reasons I’m very fond of Conrad as a writer. I like visions of London that come translated or diffused or refracted through other cultures. In that way, I suppose, I like this book in the same way I like my first choice, the Céline. Coming here out of his Polish background, Conrad picked up on the elements you were talking about in terms of Dickens -- the city as a labyrinth of conspiracies and overloads. In The Secret Agent, you go from a shop in Soho into a space like Greenwich Park, where the bomb incident takes place – quite an interesting journey in itself – and then, at the end, there’s an extraordinary marching-away into the suburbs of one of the characters who walks through endless anonymous, curious areas. So it’s another navigation of London, but this time it’s the London of conspiracy and paranoia, the London of imported terror groups or anarchist groups who come from other places but enact their dramas here.

I like the way the doubling-up of the protagonist’s shop – with its almost Dickensian sense of eccentricity, a shop selling porn in a sort of mild way, as a secret – relates to things like Jekyll and Hyde, where you get a single house with a respectable doctor living in front, and a savage underworld out the back door. This splitting, the idea of two things coexisting in one city, has always been one of London’s major themes. All London writing, or at least the best kind, has had this conceit of the double place -- the respectable and the savage.
Read about the other books Sinclair tagged.

The Secret Agent
also appears among Dan Vyleta's top ten books in second languages, Jessica Stern's five best books on who terrorists are, Adam Thorpe's top ten satires, and on John Mullan's list of ten of the best professors in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The ten best travel books

At the Independent, Samuel Muston complied a list of the ten best travel books.

One title on the list:

'Good prose is like a window pane,' wrote Orwell. He is at his most insightful in his portrait of Spain during its civil war.
Read about the other books on the list.

Homage to Catalonia also appears among Harold Evans's five best books on reporting and Michael Symmons Roberts' ten best books on civil war.

Also see: Tony Hiss's six favorite travel reads, Don George's top 10 travel books of the last century, Peter Mayle's 6 favorite travel books, Laura Landro's five best books about travel, and Paul Collins'a 10 oddest travel guides.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 16, 2011

Ten of the best thrillers

In August 2008 at the Independent Rebecca Armstrong named ten of the best thrillers.

One novel on the list:
Sweetheart - Chelsea Cain

The second of the "Gretchen Lowell series", named after the villain rather than the sleuth, explores the complex relationship between Lowell and cop Archie Sheridan. Eerie but gripping.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 99 Test: Sweetheart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Ten of the best aliens in science fiction

For the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best aliens in science fiction.

One entry on the list:

In Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse-Five, Billy Pilgrim is kidnapped by these inquisitive and fairly benign aliens, who put him in a zoo. They look like green toilet plungers. "Their suction cups were on the ground, and ... at the top of each shaft was a little hand with a green eye in its palm. The creatures were friendly, and they could see in four dimensions".
Read about the other aliens on the list.

also made Charlie Jane Anders and Michael Ann Dobbs's list of twelve great stories to help you to cope with mortality, Sebastian Beaumont's top 10 list of books about psychological journeys, and Tiffany Murray's top ten list of black comedies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Andrea Wulf's six favorite books

Andrea Wulf was born in India and moved to Germany as a child. She lives in Britain where she trained as a design historian at the Royal College of Art. Her book Founding Gardeners was published in spring 2011 and went to number 32 on the New York Times Best Seller List. Wulf is the author of The Brother Gardeners. Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession and the co-author of This Other Eden: Seven Great Gardens and 300 Years of English History.

One of her six favorite books, as told to the The Week magazine:
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

One of my favorite novels of all time. Stegner tells the story of a retired professor, Lyman Ward, who struggles to write an account of his grandparents’ journey to the Western frontier. No author has ever evoked the American West as vividly.
Read about the other books on Wulf's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 13, 2011

Tiger Mom's 5 best books on being a Mother

Amy Chua is a professor at Yale Law School and a former editor of Harvard Law Review. Her latest book is Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

At The Browser, she spoke with Eve Gerber about five books on being a mother, including:
The Good Earth by Pearl Buck

Let’s move to the Mainland of Chinese mothering. You’ve chosen The Good Earth by Pearl Buck, a Pulitzer Prize winning 1931 novel about a rural Chinese couple who pull themselves out of poverty while raising a family. Tell us about it.

I read this book when I was about nine years old. It just made such an impact on me. O-Lan, the mother in this book, gives birth to two sons and two daughters, one of whom she strangles in infancy because there is not enough food to sustain the family. She’s born a slave. She’s plain and coarse. She toils silently and stoically all her life to provide for her family and is basically never rewarded. When her husband gets a little wealthier, virtually the first thing he does is take in a concubine. O-Lan has stuck with me for all these years.

Until you came along, O-Lan was certainly the most famous Chinese mother in Western literature. But not the sort of mother immortalised on greeting cards, at least in the West. She committed theft and, as you mentioned, infanticide. Was she a role model?

The story is about such a different time and different context. It’s not that I aspire to be an unrewarded, self-sacrificing, silenced woman. But O-Lan has some impressive qualities: stoicism, and a deeply internalised sense of commitment to her family. She is definitely not a role model, but there are aspects of her character that I do admire.
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see: Top ten books on motherhood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Top ten alternative realities

Sam Leith is the author of two acclaimed non-fiction books, Dead Pets and Sod's Law, and the new novel, The Coincidence Engine, in which he "play[s] with the idea that only in a multiverse where every possibility had been exhausted could anything as improbable as our reality exist."

For the Guardian he named a top ten list of fiction's alternative realities, including:
The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman

The opening of the second book in Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy pulls off one of the great literary ta-dah moments. You've spent the whole first novel in what appeared to be a fantasy world of armoured bears and magic dust: a different universe altogether from what we recognise as reality. But the first few pages of the second make clear that the novel is taking place in a multiverse that includes our reality. Book one, in other words, was only part of a much much bigger picture. It's a spectacular coup de théatre.
Read about the other titles on the list.

Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy appears among Amanda Donohoe's six best books, Charlie Jane Anders's 20 mad scientists who turned against their creations, and Salman Rushdie's five best fantasy novels not just for the young.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ten of the best songbirds in poetry

At the Guardian John Mullan named ten of the best songbirds in poetry.

One songbird on the list:
Sterne's starling

On his visit to Paris in A Sentimental Journey, Yorick is musing on French tyranny when he hears a starling in a cage, not singing but complaining. "'I can't get out – I can't get out,' said the starling". Yorick tries unsuccessfully to release the bird. "I vow I never had my affections more tenderly awakened; nor do I remember an incident in my life, where the dissipated spirits, to which my reason had been a bubble, were so suddenly call'd home".
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Woody Allen's top five books

Eve Gerber of The Browser interviewed Woody Allen about his top five books and the Guardian summarized the list.

One title on the list:
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (1951)

The Catcher in the Rye has always had special meaning for me because I read it when I was young – 18 or so. It resonated with my fantasies about Manhattan, the Upper East Side, and New York City in general. It was such a relief from all the other books I was reading at the time, which all had a quality of homework about them. For me, reading Middlemarch or Sentimental Education is work, whereas The Catcher in the Rye is pure pleasure. The burden of entertainment was on the author. Salinger fulfilled that obligation from the first sentence on.

When I was younger reading was something you did for school, something you did for obligation, something you did if you wanted to take out a certain kind of woman. It wasn't something I did for fun. But Catcher in the Rye was different. It was amusing, it was in my vernacular, and the atmosphere held great emotional resonance for me. I reread it on a few occasions and I always get a kick out of it.
Read about the other books on Allen's list.

The Catcher In The Rye appears on Patrick Ness's top 10 list of "unsuitable" books for teenagers, David Ulin's six favorite books list, Nicholas Royle's list of the top ten writers on the telephone, TIME magazine's list of the top ten books you were forced to read in school, Tony Parsons' list of the top ten troubled males in fiction, Dan Rhodes' top ten list of short books, and Sarah Ebner's top 25 list of boarding school books; it is one of Sophie Thompson's six best books. Upon rereading, the novel disappointed Khaled Hosseini, Mary Gordon, and Laura Lippman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 9, 2011

Top 5 manhunt tales

Hampton Sides is the author of Ghost Soldiers, Blood and Thunder, and other bestselling works of narrative history. His most recent book, Hellhound On His Trail, is about the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. and the international manhunt for assassin James Earl Ray.

For the Wall Street Journal he named a five best list of manhunt books, including:
Lone Wolf
by Maryanne Vollers (2006)

Eric Rudolph, the cunning neo-Nazi nutjob behind such crimes as the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing, became something of a folk hero when he eluded an extensive, years-long manhunt by scavenging in the mountain fastnesses of North Carolina. In this engrossing true-crime narrative, Maryanne Vollers carefully unsnarls the mysteries of one of America's most notorious homegrown terrorists and shows how Rudolph was able to stay just ahead of the authorities for so long. (Among Rudolph's weirder survival tips: poisoning dogs with stolen antifreeze before they could reveal his whereabouts.) Although he fits into a larger American tradition of disaffected loners that includes Ted Kaczynski and Timothy McVeigh, Rudolph ultimately proves as hard to fathom as the fugitive was hard to catch.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Five best German views of World War II

Konrad Jarausch, a Lurcy Professor of ­European Civilization at the University of North Carolina and the editor of ­Reluctant Accomplice: A Wehrmacht Soldier's Letters From the Eastern Front, named a five best list of books about German views of World War II for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on his list:
My Father's Country
by Wibke Bruhns (2008)

Decades after Nazi armies began their march of conquest and genocide, the German "children of the war" ­have begun to confront their parents' pasts. The liberal journalist Wibke Bruhns did not want to have anything to do with the memory of her late father, Hans Georg Klamroth, because she had been told he was an early admirer of Hitler and an SS volunteer. When ­returning from an assignment in Israel, she was startled to see his picture in a TV documentary on the­ conspiracy among German military brass to kill Hitler. (Klamroth was among those ­executed.) To resolve this contradiction, Bruhns delved into family diaries and letters, where she found that her father, like some other members of the elite, had gradually developed into a critic of the Third Reich. In "My ­Father's Country," she presents German history as a stark family saga.
Read about the other titles on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Reading list: firefighting

At the Independent Alice-Azania Jarvis came up with a reading list on firefighting which included one novel:
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Bradbury's classic imagines a world where firemen don't put out fires – they start them, holding regular book burnings. In a world where independent thought and creativity are frowned upon, the superficial signs – the songs and rituals – of contentment are prized. Amid the forced optimism is fireman Guy Montag, whose own doubts about the system are reinforced when his well-read neighbour, Clarisse, disappears.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 6, 2011

Top ten H.G. Wells books

H.G. Wells published over 100 books in his lifetime, including several classic science fiction stories.

David Lodge, whose latest novel A Man of Parts, a fictionalized account of H.G. Wells's life and career, releases in the U.S. in September, named a top ten list of Wells's novels for the Guardian, including:
The Time Machine (1895)

This was the book that made Wells instantly famous when it was first published, and it has never been out of print since. The machine itself quaintly resembles a bicycle, on which the time-traveller ventures further and further towards the death of the Earth as the sun cools. On the way he stops in the year 802,000 to discover a disturbing reversal of the Victorian class-system. Unforgettable.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Time Machine is one of Linda Buckley-Archer's top ten time-travelling stories.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Seven books about Osama bin Laden

The staff of the Christian Science Monitor came up with a list of books that offer insight into Osama bin Laden and his actions.

One book on the list:
"The Looming Tower," by Lawrence Wright

New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright's Pulitzer Prize-winning book does not focus exclusively on Osama bin Laden, but no list of books about bin Laden would be complete without reference to Wright's excellent work. In reviewing "The Looming Tower" for the Monitor, Monitor reviewer Erik Spanberg wrote, "It is hard to imagine a better portrait of 9/11 and its causes emerging anytime soon." When it comes to the book's examination of various Al Qaeda leaders, including bin Laden, Spanberg says that Wright's book "strips away much of the mystery."
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Five best books on looking at war from many angles

David Mamet, a playwright, screenwriter and film director, is the author of Theatre, recently published in paperback, and coming in June, The Secret Knowledge.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of books about looking at war from many angles.

One title on the list:
The Mint
by T.E. Lawrence (1955)

"A day-book of the R.A.F. Depot between August and December 1922 with later notes by 352087 A/c Ross." Who was this Aircraftman Ross with the "daybook"? T.E. Lawrence, who, in 1922—having had enough of fame as the British army's Lawrence of Arabia—sought privacy but also adventure by changing his name to John Hume Ross and enlisting in the Royal Air Force. His identity was rather an open secret in the barracks, but he nonetheless endured a great deal of the bashing that greeted new recruits. He kept a record of his experiences but barred the book from being published during his lifetime because of its raw depiction of military life. Mourning the "self-pity which debilitates," he wrote: "While my body has toughened here in the depot, and budded muscles in all sorts of unused places, my stoicism and silence of mouth gradually fade. I begin to blab to the fellows what I feel. Just like any other chap."
Read about the other books on Mamet's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Five best books on Buddhism

Donald S. Lopez Jr. is the Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. He is the author or editor of a number of books, including Prisoners of Shangri-La, The Madman’s Middle Way, Critical Terms for the Study of Buddhism, and Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed.

His latest book is The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography.

Lopez discussed five books on Buddhism with Daisy Banks at The Browser, including:
Journey to the West
by Anthony C Yu

Your last choice, Journey to the West, translated by Anthony Yu, is one of the most popular classics of Chinese literature.

In 629, a Chinese monk named Xuanzang set out for India in order to retrieve Buddhist scriptures, returning in 645. He was welcomed as a hero by the emperor and received the title ‘Master of the Tripitaka’, the Buddhist canon. Xuanzang wrote a detailed account of his travels, entitled Great Tang Records on the Western Regions – if I could choose six books, it would be the sixth. His long journey to India and back, much of it alone, is considered one of the most remarkable feats in the history of Chinese Buddhism, taking on legendary proportions. In the 16th century, Wu Cheng’en wrote a comic novel about it, entitled Journey to the West.

It is interesting that outside Buddhist literature itself, when we read Indian dramas or Chinese novels or Japanese fables, Buddhist monks are often portrayed as lecherous or avaricious or simply foolish. In Journey to the West, the protagonist, a monk named Tripitaka, is well meaning but weak, pious and learned, but inexperienced in the ways of the world, dissolving in tears at the slightest difficulty. He would never have been able to make it to India alone. Fortunately, he is protected by the bodhisattva of compassion, who provides him with a bodyguard, a mischievous monkey endowed with all manner of magical powers. Although not intended for children, the novel, and certain chapters in particular, is among the most famous children’s story in East Asia, depicted in comic books and cartoons. Journey to the West, in four volumes, is one of the great picaresque novels in world literature, often uproariously funny and filled with all manner of magical derring-do – even better than Harry Potter.
Read about the other books on Lopez's list.

The Page 99 Test: Donald S. Lopez, Jr's Buddhism and Science.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 2, 2011

Five best books about labor

Arch Puddington, the director of research at Freedom House, is the author of Lane Kirkland: Champion of American Labor.

For the Wall Street Journal he named a five best list of books about labor, including:
A. Philip Randolph
by Jervis Anderson (1973)

Once called the "most dangerous Negro in America" by a congressman, A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979) evolved from socialist radical to respected labor leader and civil-rights statesman. His most noteworthy achievement: the decade-long drive to organize the porters for Pullman railroad sleeping cars. Randolph had to overcome a powerful corporation, politicians, communists who distrusted his democratic instincts and even some of the country's black leadership. Biographer Jervis Anderson presents an absorbing portrait of the era and of Randolph's implacable organizing work, beginning in the late 1920s, when porters would pass the hat Linkfor funds to get him to his next city. Finally, in 1937, the Pullman company signed a contract with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Randolph's life is a study in moral clarity: He believed in integration, nonviolence, working-class values and the proposition that "the first condition to being worthy of help from others is for an individual, race, or nation to do something for itself."
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Ten of the best castles in literature

For the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best castles in literature.

One castle on the list:
Wemmick's Castle

Jaggers's clerk in Great Expectations proves that an Englishman's home can be a castle. His cottage in Walworth has been turned into such – with gothic windows, a gun battery and a flagstaff. He proudly shows Pip how you enter via a drawbridge over a moat.
Read about the other castles on the list.

Great Expectations appears on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best Hamlets, ten of the best card games in literature, and ten best list of fights in fiction. It also made Tony Parsons' list of the top ten troubled males in fiction, David Nicholls' top ten list of literary tear jerkers, and numbers among Kurt Anderson's five most essential books. The novel is #1 on Melissa Katsoulis' list of "twenty-five films that made it from the book shelf to the box office with credibility intact."

--Marshal Zeringue