Monday, January 31, 2011

Eight of the best articles on the turmoil in Egypt

The Daily Beast has tagged eight essential pieces of longform journalism about the political upheaval in Egypt.

One article on the list:
"America's Islam Anxiety in Egypt and Beyond"
Esquire, Juan Cole; June 4, 2009

In an excerpt from his 2009 book, Engaging the Muslim World, Juan Cole shows how American politicians misunderstand the Muslim Brotherhood, now a peaceful, democratic movement that opposes radical Islam yet still wants to achieve moderate Islamic states. The Brotherhood has mostly abandoned its violent beginnings, and despite being banned in Egypt continues to work within the political system to move the country toward an Islamic republic. But U.S. politicians continue to lump it in with terrorist groups, while supporting Muslim groups who actually oppose democracy in Egypt.
Read about the other recommended articles.

The Page 99 Test: Engaging the Muslim World by Juan Cole.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Five books on America at war, 1812

Born and raised in Maine, Alan Taylor teaches American and Canadian history at the University of California, Davis. His books include The Divided Ground, Writing Early American History, American Colonies, and William Cooper’s Town, which won the Bancroft and Pulitzer prizes for American history.

His latest book is The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, & Indian Allies.

For the Wall Street Journal, Taylor named a five best list of books about America at war in 1812. One title on the list:
The War of 1812
by Donald R. Hickey (1989)

Most Americans know little about this war, save for a few patriotic icons: the national anthem written about the British bombardment of a Baltimore fort; the naval victories of the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides); the dastardly British burning of the White House; and the revenge taken at New Orleans by Andrew Jackson and his Tennessee riflemen. That selective memory casts the war as a heroic defense of the homeland from British invaders. Donald R. Hickey shows that this "forgotten conflict," as his subtitle has it, began as an American invasion of Canada—which went badly from beginning to end. Canadians, take heart, for Hickey knows that you won the war. But he also knows that you lost the peace treaty, which gave the U.S. a free hand to conquer Canada's Indian allies and protectors. That conquest enabled the Americans to dominate the continent.
Read about the other books on Taylor's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Six books about speeches that changed American politics

James Ledbetter is the author of Unwarranted Influence: Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Military-Industrial Complex.

For The Week magazine, he named six books about speeches that changed U.S. politics.

One title on the list:
King’s Dream by Eric J. Sundquist

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is probably the most celebrated American speech not given by an elected official. Sundquist’s masterful research ties King’s 1963 address to Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Frederick Douglass, and teases out the extensive connections between King’s ideas and the culture and politics of his time.
Read about the other books on Ledbetter's list.

The Page 99 Test: Eric Sundquist's King's Dream.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 28, 2011

Stanley Fish's top five sentences

Stanley Fish is the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor and a professor of law at Florida International University. He has previously taught at the University of California at Berkeley, Johns Hopkins University, Duke University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he was dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

One of the world's foremost authorities on John Milton, in 2006 Fish applied the "Page 69 Test" to his book, How Milton Works.

His new book is How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One.

One of Fish's top five sentences, as told to Slate:
Ford Madox Ford (from The Good Soldier, 1915): "And I shall go on talking in a low voice while the sea sounds in the distance and overhead the great black flood of wind polishes the bright stars."

In this sentence, the personal voice of the narrator is absorbed by the sea sounds (a deliberate pun) that began as background and end by taking over the scene of writing.
Read about Fish's other favorite sentences.

The Good Soldier
also appears on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best spas in literature, ten of the best failed couplings in literature, and ten great novels with terrible original titles, and on the Guardian's list of ten of the best unconsummated passions in fiction.

The Page 99 Test: The Good Soldier.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Top ten immigrants' tales

E. C. Osondu was born in Nigeria. He won the 2009 Caine Prize for African Writing, and his fiction has appeared in The Atlantic. He received his MFA from Syracuse University and currently teaches at Providence College in Rhode Island.

His debut story collection Voice of America was published by HarperCollins late last year.

At the Guardian he named his top 10 immigrants' tales.

One title on the list:
On Black Sisters' Street by Chika Unigwe

Someone once pointed out to me some really splendid buildings in Nigeria and proudly announced that they were built by hardworking Nigerian girls who were working really hard in Italy. I would have liked to have given him this novel, which chronicles the harrowing lives of young African prostitutes in Europe and what they have to sacrifice and suffer to put up that huge mansion that this fellow was ever so proud to point out to me.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Also see Matthew Kaminski's five best novels about immigrants in America.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Six books that draw visitors to their authors' home towns

Oberlin professor Anne Trubek's new book, A Skeptic’s Guide to Writers' Houses, has been hailed as "a remarkable book: part travelogue, part rant, part memoir, part literary analysis and urban history."

At The Week magazine she tagged six books that draw visitors to their authors' home towns.

One title on her list:
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

“If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles,” Whitman writes. At his house museum in Camden, N.J., visitors go to see Whitman’s boot soles, to see his stuff. Whitman’s poetry tries to bridge the divide between the material and spiritual worlds. Writers’ houses, monuments to the imagination, do the same.
Read about the other books on Trubek's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Six of the best three-word-title books

Deborah Batterman is the author of the short story collection, Shoes Hair Nails.

At Flashlight Worthy, she came up with a list of quality books with three word titles. Her pitch for these titles:
Book titles that cut to the chase with three simple words are easy to remember, not just for their brevity; they have an archetypal undercurrent reminding us of beginning, middle end; dawn, noon, and dusk; the three phases of the moon.
The last book on Batterman's list:
Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia
by Elizabeth Gilbert

There's some symmetry here, I admit, in opening and closing the list with books by women who found themselves falling off a cliff, so to speak, into a life more spiritual. It's never an easy, straightforward path, and Gilbert underscores the triad of her title with an explanation, in the introduction, of the number three as representing 'supreme balance'; within the threefold structure she has deliberately incorporated 108 tales (36 times 3), symbolic of the traditional Indian japa mala necklace, strung with 108 beads.

Gilbert's memoir, of course, became a runaway best seller and movie, which speaks to the appeal of stories that manage to incorporate romance and spirit. Those critical of the book want more, I daresay, of the kind of wisdom issuing from Miller's book. Those who admit to loving it clearly understand that the courage it takes to see things for what they, rather than what we'd like them to be. One clear message echoing through both books: when the student is ready, the teacher appears.
Read about the other books on Batterman's list.

Visit Deborah Batterman's blog.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Deborah Batterman & Maggie.

Writers Read: Deborah Batterman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 24, 2011

Five best books on Americans abroad

Charles Glass is a broadcaster, journalist and writer, who began his journalistic career in 1973 at the ABC News Beirut bureau with Peter Jennings. He covered the October Arab-Israeli War on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts. He also covered civil war in Lebanon, where artillery fire wounded him in 1976. He was ABC News Chief Middle East correspondent from 1983 to 1993. Since 1993, he has been a freelance writer in Paris, Tuscany, Venice and London, regularly covering the Middle East, the Balkans, southeast Asia and the Mediterranean region. He has also published books, short stories, essays and articles in the United States and Europe.

With Marina Jankovic at FiveBooks, he discussed some favorite books about his countrymen in other countries, including:
The Quiet American by Graham Greene

This is your only book written by a non-American about an Englishman and an American in Vietnam as the French colonialists are leaving. Let’s talk about the American character, Pyle. He starts off as an idealist and ends up a murderer. Was America’s presence in Vietnam motivated by idealism?

In the case of Pyle, he was Ivy League, innocent, believed that America was a force for good and should go out and do good in the world. As the French were reluctantly leaving Vietnam, he felt that someone had to go and pick up the white man’s burden and that could only be America as only America was pure and good. He then takes part in an assassination and a devious plot to plant bombs on bicycles whilst blaming the Vietminh.

This was written before the American war in Vietnam. Graham Greene saw it coming. And it was the idealism of liberals in America that led to the invasion of Vietnam by the armed forces. They should have read the book first and realised what they were doing. I think many of them did know what they were doing but they thought it was worth it. They were clearly wrong, for America and certainly for Vietnam.

What about the love triangle in the book, involving the Englishman Fowler, Pyle and a local Vietnamese girl, Phuong?

It’s a very well-told story and it’s also the old empire and the new empire wooing the non-aligned, soon to be colonialist, world. The new empire seems at first to be more attractive than the old, but turns out to be every bit as vicious.

Does the English character realise his empire is coming to an end?

Very much so. The character’s only pleasure in life is no longer sex, it’s his opium pipe and going into oblivion, denying his existence and surviving on that. This is very much a view of England at that time. A country that had lost its empire and had to find a new mission. Now, unfortunately, it has found that mission in being the Ghurkas of the United States, but at that time it wasn’t clear where it was going. He very well represents what England was going through as it withdrew, as it turned over to an empire, a new American one which was consciously taking over from the French and British empires. The French and British very much looked down on them and felt they wouldn’t do as good a job as they had done. But, in fact, they did pretty much exactly what they had done, as all of them were very destructive.

So what is the fundamental error of colonialism?

That’s another subject and not really literary but I suppose its fundamental flaw lies in telling other people what to do in their own countries.
Read about the other books tagged by Glass at The Browser.

The Quiet American
is among 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

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ten of the best moustaches in literature

At the Guardian, John Mullan named a list of ten of the best moustaches in literature.

One entry on the list:
Ignatius J Reilly

A moustache is one element in the eccentric appearance of the protagonist of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces. "Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs". Ignatius claims that his sometimes "sneering moustache" filters out the stench of the world around him.
Read about the other moustaches on the list.

A Confederacy of Dunces also appears among Michael Lewis' five favorite books and on Cracked magazine's list of classic funny novels.

Also see: Ten of the best beards in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Five best thrillers with terror themes

Howard Gordon—the longtime executive producer of the hit TV series 24—is the author of Gideon's War.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of thriller plots with terror themes.

One novel on the list:
Black Sunday
by Thomas Harris (1975)

I tend not to re-read books, but somehow this one draws me back again and again. One reason may be that Michael Lander, who pilots the TV blimp hovering above football stadiums, is Thomas Harris's most terrifying monster. Like Hannibal Lecter, another of the author's creations, Lander is brilliant, although instead of applying his considerable talents to serial murder and gourmet cannibalism, Lander devotes his genius to a simple yet eerily plausible plan to turn the blimp into a giant bomb that will kill tens of thousands, including the president, at the Super Bowl. For Lander, committing mass murder would be the final, desperate, seemingly inevitable act of a man whose pathology and biography Harris describes in detail; first, as an abused child, then as a cuckolded husband, and finally as a disfigured prisoner of war shunned by the military for cooperating with his North Vietnamese captors. Lander works in league with Palestinian terrorists, a conspiracy tracked by the book's hero, the formidable Mossad agent David Kabakov. That this exquisitely plotted novel's geopolitical context is the Arab-Israeli conflict gives it an unsettling relevance even now, 35 years after its publication.
Read about the other books on the list.

Black Sunday appears on Gerald Seymour's list of five riveting novels about terrorism.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 21, 2011

5 essential books that explain the myths & facts about China

Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom is a Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine, and a co-founder of The China Beat blog. His books include Global Shanghai, China's Brave New World, and Twentieth-Century China.

His latest book is China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know.

For The Daily Beast, Wasserstrom came up with five essential books that will explain the myths and facts about China, including:
Richard McGregor’s The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers. Published last June, this is the newest book on my list. Its author is a former Financial Times Beijing bureau chief who has just relocated to Washington, D.C.


Its argument that the events of 1989-1991 (the Berlin Wall tumbling, the Soviet Union imploding) may have strengthened rather than weakened the position of the Chinese Communist Party. The fall of communist leaders in other parts of the world provided those in Beijing with a very special diagnostic opportunity—a chance to figure out (with the help of official think tanks that worked overtime on the subject) why their counterparts in other settings had lost control, so they could avoid making the same mistake. What emerged was a focus on raising living standards, efforts to co-opt entrepreneurs and members of the newly emerging middle class, and find new ways to stir up and guide popular nationalism that has proved, so far, a very effective strategy.


One of the most informative chapters is on connections between the party and the military, a subject that made headlines while Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Beijing last week.
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see Wasserstrom's list of five good short books on China.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Julie Christie's seven favorite books

Julie Christie, the British movie legend whom Al Pacino called "the most poetic of all actresses," was born in Chukua, Assam, India.

Among the directors she worked with more than once: Robert Altman in McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971) and Nashville (1975); John Schlesinger in Billy Liar (1963), Darling (1965), Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) and Separate Tables (1983) (TV); and Warren Beatty in Shampoo (1975) and Heaven Can Wait (1978).

She named her seven favorite books for The Week magazine. Two novels on her list:
Look at Me and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

This American writer dazzled with Look at Me, which describes, among other things, the manipulation of images by the increasingly abstract versions of capitalism that have replaced manufacturing industries. Egan’s books cover an astonishing range of themes, all inter-related, global as well as personal. Written before 9/11, Look at Me reveals an extraordinarily prescient vision. A Visit from the Goon Squad follows a group of diverse characters across several decades, going back and forth across time. We’re always conscious of their future lives, so different from anything they could have imagined. Only a writer with Egan’s gift for intricate structuring could have pulled this off.
Read about the other books on her list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Top ten dead bodies in literature

Jon McGregor is the author of the critically acclaimed If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things and So Many Ways to Begin. He is the winner of the Betty Trask Prize and the Somerset Maugham Award, and has been twice longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He was born in Bermuda in 1976. He grew up in Norfolk and now lives in Nottingham.

His latest novel is Even the Dogs.

For the Guardian, he named his top ten dead bodies in literature--"stories of lost lives that coalesce around a 'central absence.'"

One entry on the list:
As I Lay Dying William Faulkner

From the opening image of the son building his mother's coffin outside the room where she lies dying, it's clear that this is the work of an uncompromising visionary. Brutal and bleak and tender, full of dark moments and astounding images and basically just as good as everyone says.
Read about the other entries on the list.

As I Lay Dying is one of Roy Blount Jr.'s five favorite books of Southern humor and one of James Franco's six best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The 10 most ludicrous depictions of evolution in science fiction history

At io9, Alasdair Wilkins came up with a list of the most ludicrous depictions of evolution in science fiction history.

One short story on the list, which is dominated by movies and television:
"The Man Who Evolved" by Edmond Hamilton

A lot of stories deal with the idea of individuals "evolving" themselves, which is pretty much just nonsense. Evolution is a species-wide phenomenon, not something an individual does. An individual can mutate yes - indeed, everybody features some genetic mutation or another, but most are so minor and unimportant that nobody actually recognizes their particular little mutation. We are all, in our way, mutants, and humans, as a species, are constantly evolving, but that doesn't mean a human can evolve.

Still, the notion of a person mutating him or herself along humanity's supposed evolutionary path is a great premise for a science fiction story, even it's pretty much nonsense. Edmond Hamilton's 1931 short story is one of the first and most famous tales to use this idea, as mad scientist Dr. John Pollard claims he's focused cosmic rays to accelerate an individual's evolution at a rate of 50 million years every fifteen minutes.

Pollard then undergoes many blasts of evolution, each time emerging with a more advanced mind and a frailer body. Eventually, he becomes nothing more than a free-floating, telepathic brain that consumes pure energy. One last evolutionary blast turns him back into a protoplasm, Earth's original life-form, suggesting that evolution is somehow cyclical. It's a clever twist, and no less than Isaac Asimov said it was the first science fiction short story that really stuck with him, but the idea of cyclical evolution is almost as silly as a person hyper-evolving himself with focused cosmic rays.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ten of the best beards in literature

At the Guardian, John Mullan named a list of ten of the best beards in literature.

One entry on the list:
Bertrand Welch

The most obnoxious character in Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim is Professor Welch's son Bertrand. He is first encountered "wearing a lemon-yellow sports-coat, all three buttons of which were fastened, and displaying a large beard which came down further on one side than the other". Say no more.
Read about the other beards on Mullan's list.

Lucky Jim also appears on Sean O'Hagan's list of the ten best fictional hangovers, Roger Rosenblatt's list of the five best satires of academic life, and John Mullan's list of ten of the best professors in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Five best books about fury & terror on the high seas

Geoffrey Wolff's nonfiction books include Black Sun (Random House, 1976), on the short-lived avant-garde poet Harry Crosby; The Art of Burning Bridges: A Life of John O’Hara (Knopf, 2003), a literary biography of the American fiction writer; The Duke of Deception (Random House, 1979), a memoir that was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize; The Edge of Maine (National Geographic, 2005), a rich portrayal of the salty, sea-pounded, and seasonally gentrified Maine coast; and The Hard Way Around: The Passages of Joshua Slocum (Knopf 2010), a biography of the legendary icon of adventure.

For the Wall Street Journal he named a five best list of books about fury and terror on the high seas. One title on the list:
Sailing Alone Around the World
by Joshua Slocum (1900)

Here is the best book I know about sailing, not to mention danger, solitude, fear and forbearance. Joshua Slocum's three-year journey undertaken in 1895 was the first solo circumnavigation of the globe, but that achievement is incidental to the thrill of this story. Slocum had been at sea for 35 years as an ordinary seaman, mate and master before embarking on his adventure. In his life, he had suffered shipwreck and mutiny and been tried for murder. Alone in the Strait of Magellan, battered for weeks, he experienced an epiphany and came to appreciate nature's blank indifference. He learned, in a way he makes his readers experience, to accept with equanimity—relish, even—freak waves, foul currents and being blown back after inching forward, only to inch forward again.
Read about the other books on the list.

Sailing Alone Around the World is on Naval historian David Cordingly's critic's chart of ship books and among Simon Winchester's six favorite books about sailing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sophie Ward's six best books

Sophie Ward is an English actress perhaps best known in Britain for her long-running roles in Heartbeat and Holby City.

One of her six favorite books, as told to the Daily Express:
by Alice Walker

This was a revelation. Set in the southern United States it’s about a black woman’s development during the Thirties. I remember feeling devastated, having to put the book down every now and again because I was sobbing. It’s written in the first person in dialect and diary form but the voice is so strong.
Read about the other books on Ward's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tony Hiss' six favorite travel books

In Motion marks Tony Hiss’s thirteenth book and follows the award-winning The Experience of Place. His books have explored subjects as varied as train travel, Hunanese cooking, giant pandas, the story of his family, and the future of New York City. He was a staff writer at The New Yorker for more than thirty years.

For The Week magazine, Hiss named "his top 'travel' tales — books that have taken him everywhere from Greece to a dystopian future." One title on the list:
Roumeli by Patrick Leigh Fermor

It’s impossible to create a list of great travel books without at least one by Fermor, the best of the best. Wherever life takes him, Fermor is the quintessential Deep Traveler, eagerly awaiting whatever will unfold during the day ahead. This book, set in northern Greece, is beautifully crafted, like all of Fermor’s books.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Five works on espionage

Charles Cumming's novels include A Spy By Nature, The Spanish Game, Typhoon, and The Trinity Six.

He told Caroline Flyn at FiveBooks about five favorite works on espionage, including:
A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler

Eric Ambler is the grandfather of the serious spy novel.

By which you mean no martinis, no gadgets?

Exactly. Broadly speaking, there are two schools of spy novel: the Ian Fleming, Robert Ludlum school, which is purely escapist and highly entertaining, full of guns and gadgets and fast women; and then there’s the more serious, literary strand, which is interested in character and behaviour as much as in story.

Ambler was the same generation as Graham Greene, and he was, like a lot of educated people at that time, a kind of proto-Marxist, a socialist. He believed that he could use the thriller not only to entertain but also as a political tool, to say something about the state of the nation.
Read about Cumming's other picks.

Visit Charles Cumming's website.

The Page 69 Test: A Spy By Nature.

My Book, The Movie: The Spanish Game.

The Page 69 Test: Typhoon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Top ten New York books

Edmund White's novels include Fanny: A Fiction, A Boy's Own Story, The Farewell Symphony, and A Married Man. He is also the author of a biography of Jean Genet, a study of Marcel Proust, The Flâneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris, and, most recently, his memoir, My Lives.

His latest novel is Hotel de Dream.

For the Guardian, White named his top ten New York books.

One title on the list:
A Walker in the City by Alfred Kazin

Another great document of New York, about growing up poor and Jewish in the Brooklyn of the 1930s. "The Kitchen" chapter is an affectionate look at the whole family's life getting lived in the largest room of the apartment. His mother, a dressmaker, worked in it all day long with her sewing machine and her customers sitting around in their robes. The family ate all their meals there. "I did my homework and first writing at the kitchen table, and in winter I often had a bed made up for me on three kitchen chairs near the stove..." On Friday evening, of course, no one could work at all or even cook but friends and neighbours came in to partake of the already prepared meals.
Read about the other books on White's list.

The Page 99 Test: Edmund White's Hotel de Dream.

Also see: The Great New York City Novel; Frances Kiernan's five best books about New York society; Russell Shorto's five best books on the history of New York City; and Joanna Smith Rakoff's five favorite books of New York stories.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Five notable Elvis biographies

January 8, 2011, marked the 76th birthday of Elvis Presley. To honor the occasion at the Christian Science Monitor, Daisy Alioto named five worthy Elvis biographies, including:
Last Train to Memphis, by Peter Guralnick

"Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley" by Peter Guralnick (Back Bay Books, pp. 576) details Elvis's early years and tells the rags-to-riches story of his spectacular rise to success. The book's sequel, "Careless Love" follows the singer from his US Army service to his last days, offering a lucid yet sympathetic chronicle of his downfall.
Read about the other books on the list.

Last Train to Memphis is one of Sanjeev Bhaskar's 6 best books; it also appears on Robert Fontenot, Jr.'s top ten list of Elvis Presley books and Bob Stanley's "critic's chart" of top books about Elvis.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ten of the best explosions in literature

At the Guardian, John Mullan named a list of ten of the best explosions in literature.

One book on the list:
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

There's a big bang at the heart of Greene's tale of adultery in wartime Clapham when a tryst between Bendrix and his lover Sarah is interrupted by a flying bomb. Bendrix disappears under the masonry and Sarah tells God that, if her boyfriend is spared, she will give up sex for religion. Bendrix is fine – so Sarah dumps him in favour of God.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The End of the Affair
also appears on Mullan's lists of ten of the best umbrellas in literature, ten of the best novels about novelists, and ten of the best priests in literature, and Douglas Kennedy's top ten list of books about grief.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Five best books about how to cook & how to live

Jason Epstein, the author of Eating: A Memoir, was for many years the editorial director of Random House.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of books about how to cook, and how to live, including:
How to Cook and Eat in Chinese
by Buwei Yang Chao (1945)

I learned the basics of Chinese cooking from this book by Buwei Yang Chao, translated by her husband, Yuen Ren Chao. She was a doctor, he a distinguished comparative linguist; they moved to the U.S. in the late 1930s. The mostly Cantonese recipes are simple, authentic and easy to follow, but what makes "How to Cook and Eat in Chinese" especially interesting is its discussion of Chinese culinary terms—snacks, for instance, are called tien-hsien, meaning "dot hearts," or something to touch the heart, now transliterated as dim sum. The term ch'ao, "with its aspiration, low rising tone and all cannot be translated into English," we're told. "Roughly speaking ch'ao may be defined as big fire-shallow-fat-continual-stirring-quick-frying-of-cut-up-material-with-wet-seasoning. So we shall call it stir fry." We call it chow. The book was originally published in 1945; Random House published a paperback in 1963, which is now also out of print. Enterprising publishers take note.
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see Raymond Sokolov's five best list of books about food and cooking.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Lorraine Kelly's six best books

Lorraine Kelly is a Scottish television presenter and journalist, best known in the UK for her work on GMTV. She is a judge for this year’s Costa Book Awards.

One of her six best books, as told to the Daily Express:
Crime and Punishment
by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Possibly the greatest book ever written and one I read as a 13-year-old studying Russian at secondary school. It’s a brilliant psychological thriller as well as a detective story and the tortured Raskolnikov will haunt you for ever.
Read about the other books on Kelly's list.

Crime and Punishment is one of the top ten works of literature according to Norman Mailer and one of Gerald Scarfe's six best books; it appears on Andrew Klavan's five best list of psychological crime novels. Elmore Leonard has never read beyond page fifty of the tome.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 7, 2011

Top 10 talking animals in literature

Cornelius Medvei's debut novel Mr. Thundermug features an ape who acquires the art of speech. In his second book, Caroline: A Mystery, a man's life is turned upside down when he meets a donkey called Caroline.

At the Guardian Medvei named his top ten talking animals in literature. One entry on the list:
Eeyore (Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by AA Milne)

Like many of the other characters in these two books, Eeyore is a slightly dysfunctional human adult masquerading as an animal. I always enjoy his relentless pessimism and heavy sarcasm: he is so extravagantly gloomy that even as a child, encountering him for the first time, you know not to take him seriously.
Read about the other talking animals on the list.

is a book that Walter Mosley hopes parents will read to their children.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The ten best self-help gurus

At the Guardian, Oliver Burkeman named the ten best self-help gurus.

One thinker on the list:
Seneca the Stoic

If you think your life is hard, pity Seneca, the Roman philosopher forced to commit ritual suicide by bleeding himself to death. Before that, though, he formulated many of the basic ideas of Stoicism, which bears little resemblance to the stiff-upper-lippery with which the word has come to be associated. One piece of advice: "Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while, 'Is this the condition that I feared?'" A splendid antidote to positive thinking: focus not on the best possible outcome but on the worst-case scenario and it loses much of its sting.
Read about the other gurus on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ten of the best noses in literature

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

One novel on the list:
Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne

Tristram's dad is a nose-obsessive: "he collected every book and treatise which had been systematically wrote upon noses". He comes to believe that a man's greatness is announced by his nose and is naturally disconsolate when his son's nose is crushed during birth by Dr Slop. The worst start in life.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Tristram Shandy
also appears among Peter Carey's top ten works of literature, Thomas C. Schelling's influential books, Bamber Gascoigne's six best books, and John Mullan's lists of ten of the best deathbed scenes in literature and ten of the best handkerchiefs in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Best five books on writing a screenplay

UCLA’s Professor Richard Walter is the author of Escape From Film School, Screenwriting: The Art, Craft and Business of Film and Television Writing, and Essentials of Screenwriting.

With Anna Blundy at FiveBooks, he discussed the best five books on writing a blockbusting screenplay, including:
Plots and Characters by Millard Kaufman

So, what does Millard Kaufman say in his book?

Kaufman is underappreciated. His book is called Plots and Characters and plots come first. Story is first. There are many dilettantes who think it’s about characters because it’s easy to come up with some zany character. Everyone has a ditsy spinster aunt, but it’s the colourful adventures that count. It is our actions that define us as characters and not the other way round.

What kind of character am I? Well, I was coming of age during the Vietnam war and I believe that what America did in Vietnam was a terrible mistake. But I was a good German. I exploited being a moneyed white guy and I went to film school and the government thought that what I was doing was so important that I didn’t have to go to Vietnam and they sent one of my darker brothers instead. This tells me about my character that I am a bit of a coward and I’m not sure that I’ve grown more courageous as I’ve grown older.

Too many writers think: ‘Gee, let me define this character.’ Creating these character biographies like, What would my character be if she was a tree? What kind of candy bar would my character eat even though she doesn’t eat a candy bar in this movie? This is worse than useless – it's destructive. It suggests that the character can live outside the context but, in fact, the context defines the character. Don’t wonder how they’d act – just have them act. See what they do and that will tell you what kind of character they represent.

I had Neil Simon (writer of The Odd Couple and a zillion Broadway hit plays) visit our class and I asked him: ‘Do you laugh at your own jokes?’ He said: ‘The first time I hear them I do.’

I don’t know of a writer who hasn’t had his characters do and say unexpected things. You have to stop intellectualising and see how it unfolds. Let them be and don’t drag them back to your preconceptions. Stay open to surprises! It’s good advice for life too. Shut up your mind and get into the flow of things. It’s hard to do.

Putting words down on a page can be a way of distancing yourself from the emotion. The psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion says that to be a good analyst you have to listen without memory or desire.

That’s perfect. When I lecture I tell people not to take notes. Just listen.
Read about the other books on Walter's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 3, 2011

Five best human dramas

Roger “R.J.” Ellory is the recent winner of the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year Award and author of The Anniversary Man. His latest novel is Saints of New York.

He discussed five of his favorite human dramas with Daisy Banks at FiveBooks, including:
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx.

I think fundamentally there are three types of novel. There is your commercial page-turning pot boiler which presents you with a question in chapter one and you have to read through the novel to get the answer to the question. And there is this satisfying denouement or unsatisfying denouement at the end and two or three weeks later you have pretty much forgotten the book. It is not the sort of book that you read for the scintillating turn of phrase. It is mechanically written, it is very clever and crafted but it is ultimately sort of Chinese takeaway, and I am not saying that in any way, shape or form as a negative critical thing. It just is what it is. With those types of books, you know the titles, you know the writers. They do what they say on the tin. Then you get literary fiction, which is often criticised for style over substance, where the author has taken as much time over how they are going to say something as opposed to what they are going to say.

The Shipping News is an extraordinary book. I mean, take the plot: stupid guy marries promiscuous girl, they have a couple of kids, she dies in a car crash and he moves house – that’s it. It is a vignette of somebody’s life. But, for 350 pages, she does the most extraordinary thing with language – things which break all the rules. W Somerset Maugham said there are only three rules for writing and no one ever agrees what they are. Well, she takes what rules anyone may have and breaks all of them.

She takes human characteristics and ascribes them to inanimate objects and takes the characteristics of an inanimate object and ascribes them to humans in such as way as you recognise that human being. I was asked in Dubai how I would define a classic and I said, for me a classic is the kind of book which presents you with a narrative so compelling you can’t read it fast enough, yet it is written so beautifully you can’t read it slow enough. And it leaves you in that limbo of, you have to finish it but you don’t want it to finish. And I am not necessarily saying The Shipping News is one of those books because I don’t think it presents you with a narrative which is so compelling.

But I think it is the third kind of book, which is how I would define a classic. The thing about The Shipping News is that she has created these four or five characters like Quoyle and Bunny and Sunshine, the kids, and the Aunt and the girl he falls in love with and the people he works at the newspaper with, and they are such rich involved characters that you so engage with them on almost every level. You see their fears, their anxieties and their tribulations. And I think it is just extraordinary the way she does it. If you have a range of human dramas with, on the far left something like In Cold Blood, on the far right you would have something like The Shipping News because it is a gentle lilting story.
Read about the other books Ellory tagged.

The Shipping News appears on Elise Valmorbida's list of top ten books with a happy ending and John Mullan's list of ten of the best fishing trips.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Books that made a difference to Gillian Anderson

Gillian Anderson is an award-winning film, television, and theatre actress whose credits include the roles of Special Agent Dana Scully in the long-running and critically-acclaimed drama series, The X-Files, ill-fated socialite Lily Bart in Terence Davies' masterpiece The House of Mirth, and Lady Dedlock in the BBC production of Charles Dickens' Bleak House.

One book that made a difference to her, as told to O, The Oprah Magazine:
The Speed of Light
by Elizabeth Rosner

A brother and sister, children of a Holocaust survivor, live in the same building. He's essentially an agoraphobic who has internalized the grief and pain of his parents; his sister has escaped it, or she thinks she has. When she has to go to Europe, she asks her housekeeper to check in on her sibling. You see a relationship develop between the brother and this South American woman, who has witnessed the massacre of her family. At one point, she leaves him a paper bag full of lemons. On each one, she's written a word or two to help him through the day. The gift of these succulent-smelling fruits is a wonderful image of a hidden man being led out of his skin through her beautiful gestures. I decided that I was going to option the book, adapt it, and direct it. That's still my goal.
Read about the other books that made a difference to Anderson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Stephanie Beacham's six best books

Stephanie Beacham, the English actor who played Sable Colby in Dynasty and Iris McKay in Beverly Hills, 90120, named her six best books for the Daily Express.

One title on the list:

I’m a big Ian McEwan fan. I’m reading his latest novel Solar at the moment but the book which really turned me on to him was Atonement. I love being transported to a different era and this masterly novel succeeds at every level.
Read about the other books on Beacham's list.

Last year Stephanie Beacham's list of best books was a little different.

Atonement also appears on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best breakages in literature, ten of the best weddings in literature, and ten of the best identical twins in fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue