Thursday, May 31, 2012

Five top books for graduates that will last a lifetime

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books for graduates that will last a lifetime:
How to Live
by Sarah Bakewell

Montaigne's essential discovery, still startling today, was that the self is not a problem, not even a subject, but rather a finely calibrated instrument whose purpose is to pay attention to the world. Here Sarah Bakewell collects twenty "attempts" by Montaigne to answer the titular question: How to live? Suggestions include "Don't worry about death"; "Pay attention"; and "Read a lot, forget most of what you read". Pair this with the provoking essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who remarked upon reading Montaigne's work: "It seemed to me as if I had myself written the book, in some former life."
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 99 Test: Sarah Bakewell's How to Live.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Five best Holocaust memoirs

Elliot Perlman is the author of The Reasons I Won't Be Coming, Seven Types of Ambiguity, and The Street Sweeper. He also cowrote the award-winning screenplay for a film version of Three Dollars, his first novel.

For the Wall Street Journal he named a five best list of Holocaust memoirs.

One title on the list:
The Last Jew of Treblinka
by Chil Rajchman (2011)

This account comes from one of the very few surviving members of Treblinka's Sonderkommando—those Jews forced on pain of immediate execution to assist with cremating the corpses of their gassed brethren. Approximately 800,000 Jews were gassed at Treblinka. Only at Auschwitz were more killed, but at Auschwitz there was some small possibility that a Jew could be chosen for slave labor and thus delay the time of his or her killing. At Treblinka, a death camp with no slave-labor facilities, almost nobody survived. Chil Rajchman, a Polish Jew, begins his brief but almost unbearably painful account on the day in 1942 that he and his sister arrive at Treblinka station. Within 48 hours, he sees his sister's distinctive dress in a heap that he has been assigned to sort through. He secretly tears off a square of cloth and keeps it with him for the rest of the war. Rajchman escaped along with hundreds of other prisoners during the uprising of 1943 and remained in hiding until the war's end. In 1945, he set down in Yiddish the story of what he had seen at Treblinka, but it was not translated for six decades. His stark, unadorned prose bears harrowing witness to the beatings, torture and pointless humiliations to which the Sonderkommando were subject.
Read about the other titles on the list.

Also see Robert Rozett's list of five essential books to keep in mind for Holocaust Remembrance Day.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Top ten sexy French books

Helena Frith Powell is the author of All You Need to Be Impossibly French: A Witty Investigation Into the Lives, Lusts, and Little Secrets of French Women and other books.

Back in 2005 she named a top ten list of "sexy French books" for the Guardian.

Her argument for the list and one title from it:
Why are French women so sexy? Ever since 1066, we've been enthralled by the innate superiority of the French female. Never mind Larkin and 1963; the French were at it well before that. French women are beautiful, stylish and chic - but they have something else that many English women lack. One of their tools, every bit as potent as their matching underwear, is their knowledge of literature. They see being well-read as important as being well-groomed. In order to outwit our French female foes across the Channel, here is a list of the top 10 sexy French books, guaranteed to land you a date with Thierry Henry.

* * *
Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos

"It's beyond my control." Is there a more brutal line in literature? This is the book that justifies any amount of appalling behaviour. It turns seduction into a game and an art form. While the Anglo Saxons were reading Pride and Prejudice by candle-light, this book was teaching French society how to frolic and seduce.
Read about all ten titles on Frith Powell's list.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses also appears on H.M. Castor's top ten list of dark and haunted heroes and heroines and John Mullan's list of ten of the best lotharios in literature.

Writers Read: Helena Frith Powell (February 2009).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 28, 2012

Five top books on due dates and deadlines

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on due dates and deadlines:
Uncommon Carriers
by John McPhee

Over eight years, McPhee traveled with freight deliverers around the world. He sought not only to get the lowdown on how the industry works but also to understand what their lives are like as they drive hazardous materials across continents, push barges up the Illinois River, or haul strange cargo by hand --all with an eye on clock and calendar.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Five top books on Southern California

Dennis McDougal is a former Los Angeles Times staff writer, who won more than forty awards for his hard-nosed coverage of the entertainment industry. He is the bestselling author of The Last Mogul: Lew Wasserman, MCA and the Hidden History of Hollywood and Privileged Son: Otis Chandler and the Rise and Fall of the L.A. Times Dynasty.

One of five top books on Southern California he discussed with Eve Gerber at The Browser:
Farewell, My Lovely
by Raymond Chandler

[Y]ou chose a classic Raymond Chandler novel from 1940, Farewell, My Lovely. Please give us a précis of the plot and explain why you picked this book.

It’s a hardboiled Raymond Chandler murder mystery that’s been made and remade into movies. It’s not only a great read filled with crackerjack characters but it really captures the essence of Southern California, even though it was published well over a half century ago, back when there was no freeway system at all.

I picked Farewell, My Lovely over The Big Sleep, which is another of my favourites, because it covers so much territory in terms of terrain and mythology. It opens at a bar in what is now known as South Central Los Angeles. A rough and tough guy is looking for his ladylove and hires private eye Philip Marlowe to track her down. Ultimately, of course, Marlowe finds the woman, but there’s any number of knocked heads and corrupt cops in between. The messiness of the plot, along with Marlowe’s patented patois, is what makes this novel so LA. Chandler captures the racism, class stratification and general Los Angeles phony baloney in a pulp fiction way. He captures what life in high society and what life for working-class stiffs was like in this disparate area where all these people come – from all over the country and all over the world – to remake themselves.

You’ve written several books about the dark side of the region. It seems like you have more than your share of psychotics. Are there really more serial killers out there? Is there something unique about the underbelly of sunny SoCal?

I’ve always felt that there has been. The quintessential Southern California crime was the Black Dahlia murder – a beautiful young woman was found cut in half in a Los Angeles park. It happened the year I was born so you can’t pin it on me. It was a precursor for dozens of mystifying murders and attendant media uproars that happened thereafter.

Why are such crimes one of the city’s hallmarks? I go back to the notion that people come to California to reinvent themselves. They may come and reinvent themselves as starlets or engineers or computer programmers but they never fully leave behind who they were. If they were disturbed, damaged or simply sociopaths who enjoyed inflicting harm on others, they bring that with them. Los Angeles is a great place to hide. The city is known as a fame factory but it’s easy to be anonymous.

My first book was about three serial killers – Patrick Kearney, William Bonin and Randy Kraft, who in total killed close to 150 people. They were able to kill with impunity for years in the late seventies because a) they hid in plain sight and b) they used the freeway system to get rid of their victims and distance themselves from the crime. These guys baffled the cops for years.

During my last visit to Los Angles, I felt fortunate to see the work of the serial arsonist whose career culminated with four New Year’s Eve fires. Witnessing one of a bizarre rash of crimes seems like as authentic an LA experience as hiking to the Hollywood sign.

So true. That was a classic Southern Californian-form crime. A guy who came to LA from abroad got a little attention for his first fires so he committed some more, concentrated in Hollywood. Then the media jumped on it and he started playing a hide-and-seek game with the police and getting international headlines.
Read about the other books McDougal tagged at The Browser.

Farewell, My Lovely features one of the fifty greatest villains in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ten of the best books inspired by Edgar Allan Poe

Matthew Pearl is the author of the novels The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow, The Last Dickens, and The Technologists. His books have been New York Times bestsellers and international bestsellers translated into more than 30 languages. His nonfiction writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, and He has been heard on shows including NPR's "All Things Considered" and "Weekend Edition Sunday," and his books have been featured on Good Morning America and CBS Sunday Morning.

In 2006 Pearl named a top ten list of books inspired by Edgar Allan Poe.

One title on the list:
The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard and The American Boy by Andrew Taylor

The Pale Blue Eye is a new novel from a talented Washington DC author who takes on Poe as a cadet at West Point military academy. Most people find it surprising that Poe was a military man (or quasi military man, since he never quite finished his training or service), and indeed he is the only major American writer to have attended West Point. Bayard cleverly matches up cadet Poe with a heinous outbreak of murders. To continue your fictional path through Poe's youth, read Taylor's American Boy, which treats Poe as a child living with his foster family in London, and there being mixed up in an appropriate amount of intrigue.
Read about the other books Pearl tagged at the Guardian.

Visit Matthew Pearl's website.

The Page 99 Test: The Poe Shadow.

The Page 99 Test: The Last Dickens.

The Page 69 Test: The Technologists.

--Marshal Zeringue

Steve Guttenberg's six favorite books

Steve Guttenberg starred in such films as Diner, The Boys From Brazil, Cocoon, Three Men and a Baby, Police Academy, and Short Circuit. His new memoir is The Guttenberg Bible.

One of Guttenberg's six favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
Conversations With Woody Allen by Eric Lax

I recently worked with Woody on his one-act play Honeymoon Motel, but I've been a fan of his movies for years. This book has just the most revealing interviews with him imaginable. His thoughts and insights about drama and structure, ideas and writing are immeasurably wise. A must for filmmakers.
Read about the other books on Guttenberg's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 25, 2012

Five top idiosyncratic philosophy books

At The Daily Beast Carlin Romano, author of the new book America the Philosophical, named five of his favorite idiosyncratic philosophy books.

One title on the list:
If You Can Read This: The Philosophy of Bumper Stickers by Jack Bowen (2010)

If you brake for big ideas, the flap copy declares, this is the paperback original for you. Bowen, a philosophy teacher at the Menlo School in California, has made an excellent case that when we’re stuck in traffic and the one-liner ahead sends our minds reeling—“Why Do Psychics Have to Ask For Your Name?” or “We Kill People to Show People That Killing People is Wrong”—we’re on the road to philosophy.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Five notable books on the equestrian life

Mary King, one of Britain's most successful equestrians, is the winner of two world championship gold medals and an Olympic silver medal. She has three horses qualified for the 2012 London Olympics.

With Daisy Banks of The Browser, King discussed five top books on the equestrian life, including:
by Dick Francis

Next on your list is a novel by Dick Francis. How would describe the type of book that he writes?

They are all based on the racing world. Dick Francis was a former jockey. Every book I have read of his is very exciting. They always begin with something that captures you right from the start. In this book, the main character is a young author called John Kendall who has agreed to write the biography of a famous horse trainer. When he arrives at the trainer’s house, one of the riders has just been acquitted of the murder of a young woman he had quarrelled with. But after spending time with the trainer and his team, Kendall discovers there is more to the stable girl’s murder than meets the eye.

Why do you think Dick Francis continues to be so popular?

I think it is because he is so knowledgeable about the world he is writing about. Also, the books are very easy to read. They are something you can pick up and you don’t have to concentrate too hard on. There is always lots of mystery and intrigue, and a bit of romance – which all makes for a good mix.
Read about the other books King discussed at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Five best books on the seamy side of long-ago New York

Geoffrey C. Ward is the coauthor of The Civil War (with Ken Burns and Ric Burns), and the author of A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt, which won the 1989 National Book Critics Circle Award for biography and the 1990 Francis Parkman Prize. His new book is A Disposition to Be Rich: How a Small-Town Pastor's Son Ruined an American President, Brought on a Wall Street Crash, and Made Himself the Best-Hated Man in the United States.

One of Ward's five best books that capture the seamy side of long-ago New York, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
Five Points
by Tyler Anbinder (2001)

The Five Points—named for the five-cornered intersection in Lower Manhattan of what are now Moscow, Baxter and Park Streets—was routinely denounced as the wickedest neighborhood anywhere, the home of "all that is loathsome, drooping and decayed," according to Charles Dickens. In this crisply written, clear-eyed and entertaining study, Tyler Anbinder separates myth from fact. "By the 1830s," he writes, the area "had become a concentration of vice, disease, crowding and bloody conflict unparalleled in American history." But it was always "far more than a collection of pathologies." Nativism and bigotry, he says, influenced outsiders' depictions of a place where blacks and whites and Asians lived next door to one another and sometimes even dared to intermarry and where working-class residents helped wrest political power from the old Knickerbocker families who thought the city would always be theirs to run. Most Five Pointers survived its squalor to build better lives for their families than they could ever have led in Ireland or Poland, Italy or China. The people of the Five Points were often portrayed as somehow alien, but Anbinder shows that their story is quintessentially American.
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see--Five best books on New York City history.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Top ten novels influenced by Shakespeare

Matt Haig is the author of the novels The Last Family in England, The Dead Fathers Club, The Possession of Mr Cave, and The Radleys, as well as numerous children's books.

In 2006 he named a top ten list of novels influenced by Shakespeare.  One title on the list:
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

The title of Huxley's classic dystopian novel comes from Miranda's words in The Tempest, and the book is full of Shakespearean references. In the novel, John the Savage quotes endlessly from Shakespeare as he has read nothing else. The point seems to be that Shakespeare's vision of humanity, with all its complex and messy emotions, can't fit into any utopian society.
Read about the other books Haig tagged at the Guardian.

Visit Matt Haig's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Dead Fathers Club.

My Book, The Movie: The Dead Fathers Club.

The Page 69 Test: The Labrador Pact.

The Page 69 Test: The Radleys.

Writers Read: Matt Haig (February 2011).

My Book, The Movie: The Radleys.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 21, 2012

Top ten books about tough stuff from out there

Elizabeth Laird was born in New Zealand of Scottish parents, but grew up in London. Before studying French and German at university, she taught at a girls’ school in Malaysia. During her twenties she lived and worked in Ethiopia, teaching and travelling, and was a disc jockey on a late night music show, broadcasting to Africa and India.

Laird is best known for her fiction for children and young adults. Novels include Red Sky in the Morning (1988), about a disabled child; Kiss the Dust (1991), about Kurdish asylum seekers in Iraq; Secret Friends (1996); Jay (1997), which has a drug theme; and Jake’s Tower (2001), in which a boy has to cope with a violent stepfather. The Garbage King (2003) is set in Addis Ababa, and is about Ethiopian street children. A Little Piece of Ground (2003) is set in Ramallah, Palestine, from the point of view of boys caught up in the intifada. Secrets of the Fearless (2006) is a historical adventure story set against the backdrop of Nelson's navy. Laird's latest book, The Prince Who Walked With Lions, is a historical epic, based on a true story, about an Ethiopian prince who is torn from his mountain home and must build a new life as an "English gentleman."

One of Laird's top ten books "showing teens tackling tough stuff and all their trials and triumphs along the way," as told to the Guardian:
The Other Side of Truth by Beverley Naidoo

This is a barnstormer of a book (it won the Carnegie Medal) and is imbued with Beverley Naidoo's passion for justice. It describes the experiences of a brother and sister who have to flee Nigeria at a moment's notice when their father is arrested. Abandoned at Victoria Station, they are picked up by the authorities and sent to foster homes. Their attempts to find their uncle, and save their father from a dreadful fate in Nigeria, make a thrilling story.
Read about the other books on Laird's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Five best books about the misadventures of expatriates

Born in London and educated there and in Glasgow, Paul French has lived and worked in Shanghai for many years. He is a widely published analyst and commentator on China and has written a number of books dealing with China’s pre-1949 history.

His new book is Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China.

One of French's five best books about the misadventures of expatriates, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
The Painted Veil
by W. Somerset Maugham (1925)

In Somerset Maugham's travels, he came across many seamy tales of colonial misbehavior. Some found their way into his fiction—the short story "Rain," set on a Pacific island, concerns an American prostitute corrupting a missionary; in another story, "The Letter," the wife of a rubber planter near Singapore shoots her lover. Maugham's penchant for writing up the gossip he heard won him a reputation as the man who was always welcome . . . once. He caused a scandal in 1920s Hong Kong society with "The Painted Veil," a novel that hewed with uncomfortable closeness to real-life events in describing an English couple in that city. A dedicated doctor, Walter, is married to Kitty, a shallow young woman who has an affair with "perfect" Charles Townsend, the assistant colonial secretary. When Walter finds out about the affair, he threatens to ruin Kitty with divorce unless she accompanies him on a mission to China's interior to help fight a cholera epidemic—an illness that claims his life. Then Townsend—the cad—reneges on his promise to divorce his wife and marry Kitty. Maugham shows Kitty in the novel as a woman with an awakening conscience, but she never really learns that, fun though colonial misbehavior might be, it rarely turns out well.
Read about the other books on French's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Julia Alvarez's six favorite books

Julia Alvarez grew up in the Dominican Republic before emigrating to the United States at the age of 10.

Her books include How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, ¡Yo!, Once Upon a Quinceañera, the National Book Critics Circle Award finalist In the Time of the Butterflies, and the newly released A Wedding in Haiti, a memoir about cross-cultural friends.

One of her six favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
The Heart of Haiti by Andrea Baldeck

I wrote my book in Vermont, and relied on this collection of haunting photographs to recall the faces of rural Haiti. Each of Baldeck's photos is captioned with a Haitian proverb, a distillation of the wisdom of the rural, oral culture. I considered a number as possible titles, among them "The eye has no boundary" and "God's pencil has no eraser."
Read about the other books on the list.

See Julia Alvarez's five most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 18, 2012

Five top books on the impact of the Information Age

Nicholas Carr writes about technology, culture, and economics. His most recent book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, wass a 2011 Pulitzer Prize nominee and a New York Times bestseller. Carr is also the author of two other influential books, The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google (2008) and Does IT Matter? (2004).

With Alec Ash of The Browser, Carr discussed five top books on the impact of the Information Age, including:
The Victorian Internet
by Tom Standage

Let’s get back to the history of the information age with your first book selection, The Victorian Internet. Will you tell us about this, and the origins of our modern technologies with the telegraph?

The reason why I start with Tom Standage’s book is because we tend to think of the information age as something entirely new. In fact, people have been wrestling with information for many centuries. If I was going to say when the information age started, I would probably say the 15th century with the invention of the mechanical clock, which turned time into a measurable flow, and the printing press, which expanded our ability to tap into other kinds of thinking. The information age has been building ever since then.

Standage covers one very important milestone in that story, which is the building of the telegraph system in the 19th century. The telegraph was the first really efficient system for long-distance, almost instantaneous communication. It’s a short book, a very lively read, and it shows how this ability to throw one’s thoughts across the world changed all aspects of society. It certainly changed the business world. Suddenly you could coordinate a business not just in a local area, but across the country or across oceans. It had a lot of social implications too, as people didn’t have to wait for letters to come over the course of days. And as Standage points out, it inspired a lot of the same hopes and concerns that we have today with the Internet.

He even thinks the telegraph led to the greater changes in our society, because it was a qualitative shift whereas the Internet is a quantitative shift.

I’m not sure I agree with him there, in fact. The telegraph was the first time that humanity had to struggle with the implications of instantaneous long-distance communications, so it set the precedent for a lot of things that we have gone through since – not only the Internet but also radio, television and so forth. But ultimately there were limits to the telegraph. It was quite expensive, so it tended to be limited to high-priority messages, and because it was expensive they were very short. Only particular kinds of information could be exchanged efficiently through the telegraph. Certainly the Internet is a much broader information technology, and is having ultimately a greater effect than the telegraph did.
Read about the other books Carr tagged at The Browser.

The Victorian Internet also appears on L. Gordon Crovitz's five best list of books on what the Internet means for business, Jason Kottke's best books list, and Evgeny Morozov's list of ten books to learn how technology shapes the world.

Also see: Writers Read: Tom Standage (July 2009).

The Page 99 Test: Nicholas Carr's The Big Switch.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Top ten books about the environment

Fred Pearce is an award-winning author and journalist based in London. He has reported on environment, science, and development issues from sixty-seven countries over the past twenty years. Environment consultant at New Scientist since 1992, he also writes regularly for the Guardian newspaper and Yale University’s prestigious e360 website. Pearce was voted UK Environment Journalist of the Year in 2001 and CGIAR agricultural research journalist of the year in 2002, and won a lifetime achievement award from the Association of British Science Writers in 2011. His many books include With Speed and Violence, Confessions of an Eco-Sinner, The Coming Population Crash, When the Rivers Run Dry, and the newly released The Land Grabbers: The New Fight over Who Owns the Earth.

One of his top ten eco-books, as told to the Guardian:
Waking the Giant by Bill McGuire

Just out, and dreadfully alarming. Bill McGuire, a distinguished geologist and brilliant science writer, charts how changing climate may trigger not just wild weather but also volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis. Perhaps it already is. The last time that ice caps were melting and sea levels were rising, geology was in overdrive. Faults shuddered, magma melted and mayhem followed. As McGuire persuasively shows, it could be kicking off again. This is science so scary that even the climate scientists widely dismissed as alarmists do not dare speak of it.
Read about the other entries on Pearce's list.

Also see John Mullan's list of ten of the best green stories in literature and Michelle Nijhuis's 2008 list of 15 green books to take to the beach.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ten of the best imaginary meetings in literature

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best imaginary meetings in literature.

One entry on the list:
Harry Houdini and Archduke Franz Ferdinand

This is but the cutest of many invented (but historically possible) encounters in EL Doctorow's Ragtime, set in New York in the early 20th century. An enthusiast for powered flight, Houdini is teaching German officers how to fly. One of his pupils is Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who seems to believe that Houdini is the inventor of the plane.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Top ten memoirs and autobiographies

Eve Claxton studied English and American Literature at Manchester University before moving to New York in 1995. She is the author of two guidebooks to New York, and the editor of The World’s Best Memoir Writing.

In 2006 she named her top ten memoirs and autobiographies for the Guardian.

One title on the list:
If This Is A Man (US title: Survival in Auschwitz) by Primo Levi (1947)

This is Levi's legendary account of his year in Auschwitz when he was 25 years old. The book first appeared in 1947 and it remains the most profoundly civilised description of profoundly uncivilised events. What's so extraordinary is Levi's tone, which is never one of simple outrage, but instead springs from a kind of principled curiosity; the astonishment of the scientist confronted with wholly foreign phenomena. "How is this possible?" Levi seems to be always asking us. If This Is A Man can make for extremely disconcerting reading, not only because of the systematic cruelty of the Nazis it describes, but because Levi doesn't let you dismiss the Holocaust as the work of monsters. This was the work of men.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Survival in Auschwitz is on Gail Caldwell's list of five groundbreaking memoirs.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 14, 2012

The ten best historical novels

The Observer books editor William Skidelsky came up with a list of the ten best historical novels, including:
The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald’s final novel - published in 1995, five years before her death - dramatises the life of 18th-century German aristocrat Friederich von Hardenberg, otherwise known as the Romantic poet Novalis. It centres on his love, in his early 20s, for Sophie von Kühn, who is only 12 when he falls for her. (They become engaged but she dies of tuberculosis two years later.) Like all Fitzgerald’s novels, The Blue Flower is slim, and is full of shifting perspectives and brief impressionistic scenes. It’s regarded by many as her finest work, but didn’t make the 1995 Booker shortlist - a decision some see as inexplicable.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Blue Flower is one of Andrew Miller's top ten historical novels, Diana Quick's six best books, Sebastian Faulks' forty recommended books, and appears on Kate Blackwell's list of five books distinguished by sheer originality of language and unique vision.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Top ten pseudonymous books

Josh Lacey is the author of several books for children, including The Island of Thieves, Bearkeeper and the Grk series (published under the name Joshua Doder). His new book, The Dragonsitter, is published in the UK this month.

At the Guardian he named his top ten pseudonymous books. One title on the list:
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Samuel Langhorne Clemens took his pseudonym from the call of sailors on the Mississippi, shouting out "mark twain", the depth of "two fathoms". I was forced to read the story of Huck Finn at school and hated it. I picked it up again as an adult and fell in love. What could be a better spur to a story than this: "The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn't stand it no longer I lit out." All the best children's adventure stories begin in the same way: I was bored at home, tired of domestic life, so I set out to find some excitement...
Read about the other entries on the list.

Huckleberry Finn is among Katie Couric's favorite books, James Gray's six best books, and John Mullan's lists of ten of the best literary men dressed as women, ten of the best vendettas in literature and ten of the best child narrators in literature. It is one of Stephen King's top ten works of literature. Director Spike Jonze and the Where the Wild Things Are film team tagged Huckleberry Finn on their list of the top 10 rascals in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Five best books on the golden age of radio

Anthony Rudel is the author of Hello, Everybody!: The Dawn of American Radio, the novel Imagining Don Giovanni, and two books on classical music.

In 2008 he named a list of the five best books about the golden age of radio for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on the list:
Sound and Fury
By Francis Chase Jr.
Harper, 1942

Francis Chase Jr. wrote his "informal history of broadcasting" at a time when broadcasting meant one thing: radio. With our lives now bombarded by television, satellite radio, the Internet and cellphones, it is difficult to imagine the technological breakthrough that radio represented and how it transfixed listeners. "Sound and Fury" beautifully captures the significance of radio's arrival and conveys a deep appreciation for the creative geniuses -- Fred Allen, Jack Benny and countless others -- whose radio shows were a watershed of American entertainment. Chase is astute in his appraisals of the earliest radio pioneers, and he wisely perceives that President Roosevelt's "fireside chats" in the 1930s heralded a serious new role for a medium that had once been thought strictly meant for diversion. The people Chase writes about, many of whom have been forgotten, and the conversational narrative style of the book, almost make it seem that you are listening to a great radio show.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 11, 2012

Five notable books about mothers

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on mothers:
The Florist's Daughter
by Patricia Hampl

Hampl (A Romantic Education, Virgin Time) is an accomplished memoirist, as this volume, a reflection on the matter and meaning of parental attachment inspired by a vigil at her mother's deathbed, proves beyond a doubt. Happy families may be all alike, but each deserves a distinction as telling as this book.
Read about the other books on the list.

"Hampl is our purest memoirist," declares Robert Wilder. "In [The Florist’s Daughter], she effortlessly (and associatively) weaves the story of her parents, herself, St Paul, Fitzgerald, her father’s sadly wonderful floral business and the deep heart of America. Her work is like a rich tapestry: one can barely find any threads of structure or shape yet all of her stories and ideas blend beautifully."

Also see lists of the ten best fictional mothers, the ten worst mothers in fiction, Kate Saunders' critic's chart of mothers and daughters in literature, and Eleanor Birne's top ten books on motherhood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Five top books of Chinese dissident literature

Ma Jian's novels include Beijing Coma, set during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and The Noodle Maker.

With Alec Ash of the The Browser, he discussed five notable examples of Chinese dissident literature, including:
One Man’s Bible
by Gao Xingjian

Gao Xingjian is a Chinese-born writer who lives in Paris and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2000. Please introduce One Man’s Bible for us.

Gao Xingjian finished One Man’s Bible in the nineties, in Hong Kong. We talked continuously while he was writing it. In this novel, we read about how an average man experienced the Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution had a huge impact on Gao Xingjian, and it’s an experience which speaks to many people in China. By reading One Man’s Bible, anyone can empathise with that experience. He combines reality, history and literature very well.

Gao Xingjian is also an exiled writer. If he was in China, he wouldn’t be able to write this book. Of course, [writers inside China such as] Yu Hua and Mo Yan can also write about the Cultural Revolution, but the Cultural Revolution they write about is not the Cultural Revolution Gao Xingjian writes about, because they are subject to state censorship.
Read about the other books on the list.

Ma Jian's Beijing Coma is among Colin Thubron's 6 favorite books about Asia and Catherine Sampson's top 10 books on Beijing; it made the Wall Street Journal's list of Asia's best books of 2008.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Seven top books on happiness

In 2011 at Brain Pickings, Maria Popova came up with seven must-read books on the art & science of happiness, including:
The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

The question of what makes us happy is likely as old as human cognition itself and has occupied the minds of philosophers, prophets and scientists for millennia. In The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, psychology professor Jonathan Haidt unearths ten great theories of happiness discovered by the thinkers of the past, from Plato to Jesus to Buddha, to reveal a surprising abundance of common tangents. (For example, from Shakespeare: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” From Buddha: “Our life is the creation of our mind.”)

Haidt takes this ambitious analysis of philosophical thought over the centuries and examines it through the prism of modern psychology research to extract a remarkably compelling blueprint for optimizing the human condition for happiness.
Read about the other books on Popova's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Five top books on the history of information

Ann M. Blair is Henry Charles Lea Professor of History, Harvard University.

Her latest book is Too Much to Know: Managing Scholarly Information before the Modern Age.

With Eve Gerber at The Browser, Blair discussed five top books on the history of information, including:
Paper Machines
by Markus Krajewski

Card catalogues is the subject explored in your final choice, German historian Markus Krajewski’s Paper Machines.

Paper Machines is a really fun book that’s just been translated into English. It explores the development of the movable slip as a tool of information management. In the 16th century a Swiss bibliographer named Conrad Gesner first recommended slips as a method for indexing books. He recommended collecting the material to index on separate slips, some actually cut out of books and others handwritten. The slips would be interfiled in alphabetical order, using a temporary glue (for which he provided a recipe) so they could be kept in place and moved around. When all the slips were properly alphabetised, they could be glued in place permanently on sheets and the index was done. Gesner’s is the first documented description of how to use slips.

Why are slips so important to the history of information?

Slips were valuable because they are mobile, but the mobility also posed the danger that wind or a mischievous cat would cause slips to become out of order and you’d end up with chaos. In the 17th century a special piece of furniture was devised called a “literary closet” that featured hooks associated with subject headings on to which you could stick your slips. The hooks would keep the slips from blowing away but you could still move a slip from one hook to another to reorder the material. Problem solved, except that this literary closet was an expensive piece of office furniture and did not have a lot of impact. It took until the late 18th century for library catalogues to use mobile slips as a permanent way of storing material. The movable card catalogue had a long career after that.
Read about the other books Blair tagged.

The Page 99 Test: Markus Krajewski's Paper Machines.

The Page 99 Test: Ann Blair's Too Much to Know.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 7, 2012

Ten of the best long walks in literature

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best long walks in literature.

One entry on the list:
The Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald

German academic Sebald turned a long, wandering walk through East Anglia into a sequence of visionary meditations. The odd things he sees inspire evocations of flooded towns, deserts and Chinese silk factories. The Suffolk coast becomes a landscape of existential emptiness. He communes with Shakespeare and Sir Thomas Browne and turns walking into a new kind of fiction.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Rings of Saturn is one of Rebecca Stott's five best historical novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Top ten books that take you travelling

Sita Brahmachari's first novel, Artichoke Hearts won the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize 2011, was chosen for The Book Trust's Booked Up scheme, and nominated for the Carnegie Prize 2012. Her second novel, Jasmine Skies was published in March 2012.

One of her top ten books that take you travelling, as told to the Guardian:
The Arrival by Shaun Tan

This wonderful graphic novel encapsulates the epic emotions that go into leaving the land of your birth behind. The man in the hat in The Arrival has to leave his family and migrate across the vast ocean and sky to find himself in a strange new city full of peculiar animals, a foreign language, food and culture. The extraordinary sepia images of flight, changing seasons, representations of fear and loneliness, as well as friendship, make this book of pictures speak louder than words.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Ten of the best books about cricket

Shehan Karunatilaka's novel Chinaman: the Legend of Pradeep Mathew won the 2012 DSC prize for South Asian Literature and is shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writer's Prize.

He named his top ten books on cricket for the Guardian. One title on the list:
The Meaning of Sport, by Simon Barnes

This may be cheating. It's not strictly a cricket book, but then neither was the enchanting Netherland, that was widely acclaimed to be one. If I had my way, Ed Smith's What Sport Tells Us About Life, Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch and George Plimpton's The Curious Case of Sid Finch would be cricket books, simply because they allowed me to write one.

Simon Barnes, the poet of British sports writing, suggests sport could be a glimpse into the soul of man, which of course it is. And there's sufficient gushing over the 2005 Ashes win to justify its inclusion. A brilliant read.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 4, 2012

Ten coolest fictional asteroids of all time

At io9, Charles Choi came up with a list of the ten coolest fictional asteroids of all time.

One entry on the list:
"The Dynamics of an Asteroid": Sherlock Holmes' nemesis Professor Moriarty was more than just the Napoleon of Crime — he was, well, a professor. In the short story "The Valley of Fear" from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, we find out Moriarty "is the celebrated author of The Dynamics of an Asteroid, a book which ascends to such rarefied heights of pure mathematics that it is said that there was no man in the scientific press capable of criticizing it." In a number of stories written by others, Moriarty's knowledge has nefarious ends — in "The Adventure of the Russian Grave," he even tries to assassinate Holmes with the Tunguska event.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Five top books in recent South Asian literature

Ahmede Hussain is a Bangladeshi author. His books include the acclaimed Notes on Islam, and the story anthology The New Anthem.

With Jessica Mudditt at The Browser, he discussed five notable books in recent South Asian literature, including:
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
by Mohsin Hamid

Why do you recommend The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid?

This is an amazing book, and it’s a shame that it didn’t win the Man Booker Prize [in 2007] – in my opinion it was the best of the bunch. I think it’s going to become a modern classic in five or 10 years’ time, if it’s not already regarded as one. This novel speaks for so many peoples’ experiences in the aftermath of 9/11. The prose is very tight and the title is also very clever.

The main character is a Pakistani man who had been living in the United States before 9/11. He sits with a stranger – who happens to be an American – in a café in Pakistan, and he describes how he felt harassed in the aftermath of the attack on the twin towers, to the point where he felt he had to leave. The entire book is narrated in the second person, and the listener is never heard from directly – it’s an approach that really draws the reader in. The ending is shrouded in mystery, as is the identity of the listener.

During interviews, Hamid has refused to expand on his novel any further. In a way, I think that’s good. He leaves the issues surrounding the concept of “reluctant fundamentalism” as an open-ended debate, and it’s a debate that demands a certain type of polemic.
Read about the other titles Hussain tagged at The Browser.

The Page 69 Test: Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Top ten books with secret signs

In 2008 Justin Scroggie named a top ten list of books with secret signs for the Guardian. One title on his list:
The Scarlet Pimpernel

In Baroness Orczy's play and novels, The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel is a secret society of English aristocrats, dedicated to rescuing French nobility from the guillotines of the French Revolution. The League is led by the mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel (aka arch-fop Sir Percy Blakeney) who signs his messages with a drawing of the little flower. The plant is itself a secret sign of bad weather, as its petals close up when atmospheric pressure drops.
Read about the other titles on his list.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of Peter Millar's six top spy books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Top ten opening lines of novels in the English language

At the Guardian, Robert McCrum came up with ten of the best opening lines of novels in the English language, including:
Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice (1813)

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” The one everyone knows (and quotes). Parodied, spoofed, and misremembered, Austen’s celebrated zinger remains the archetypal First Line for an archetypal tale. Only Dickens comes close, with the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light etc…”
Read about the other first lines on the list.

Pride and Prejudice also appears on a top ten list of literary lessons in love, Simon Mason's top ten list of fictional families, Cathy Cassidy's top ten list of stories about sisters, Paul Murray's top ten list of wicked clerics, John Mullan's lists of ten of the best housekeepers in fiction, ten great novels with terrible original titles, and ten of the best visits to Brighton in literature, Luke Leitch's top ten list of the most successful literary sequels ever, and is one of the top ten works of literature according to Norman Mailer. Richard Price has never read it, but it is the book Mary Gordon cares most about sharing with her children.

The Page 99 Test: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

--Marshal Zeringue