Saturday, August 31, 2013

Five books of adventure and lust

Louisa Ermelino named five recent "rugged, kick-ass, leg breaking, can’t get them out of your head" good books for PWxyz, the news blog of Publishers Weekly, including:
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, about twin boys born to an Indian nun from Kerala who’s come to work in a clinic in Addis Abbaba and dies in childbirth. The saga follows the brothers thorough political upheaval, revolution and time spent in the U.S. for 560 ever more thrilling pages. (Verghese is a doctor born of Indian parents who immigrated to Ethiopia under the Emperor Haile Selassie.)
Read about the other books on Ermelino's list.

Writers Read: Abraham Verghese (March 2009).

--Marshal Zeringue

Five top laid-back pregnancy books

Claire Zulkey is a writer who lives in Chicago.  Her books include the novel An Off Year. She also edits the aptly named website,

At The Barnes & Noble Book Blog Zulkey tagged five top books for "the type of pregnant woman who wants information, minus the finger-wagging or tantric herbal perineal massage," including:
Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born, by Tina Cassidy

I did not attend a birthing class. I was signed up for one ($120 for a seven-hour class on a weekend? UGH), but then my cousin, after taking hers, told me that I’d learn the same things from the reading material she received in the class, which she then loaned to me. However, thanks to Cassidy’s book, I wasn’t completely ignorant as to the ways birth operates. While definitely cringeworthy, and sad at times (until fairly recently, it was hard out there for both a newly pregnant woman and a new baby), it’s a fascinating glimpse at the human body and the history of obstetrics, and will definitely—definitely—make you think twice before wishing you’d been born in an earlier era.
Read about the other books on the list.

Visit Claire Zulkey's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 30, 2013

James McBride's six favorite books

James McBride is an author, musician and screenwriter. His landmark memoir, The Color of Water, rested on the New York Times bestseller list for two years. It is considered an American classic and is read in schools and universities across the United States. His debut novel, Miracle at St. Anna was translated into a major motion picture directed by Spike Lee. It was released by Disney/Touchstone in September 2008. McBride wrote the script for Miracle at St. Anna and co-wrote Spike Lee's 2012 Red Hook Summer.

McBride's latest novel, The Good Lord Bird, is about American revolutionary John Brown.

One of the author's six favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

There's no book that better captures the frustrations, hopes, dreams, and disappointments of black American girls. This book was written before Ms. Morrison outgrew the storytelling form that most writers must adhere to. She's a genius. She can fly. The rest of us have to wait for the subway.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Bluest Eye is among Susheila Nasta's top ten cultural journeys.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five top books on tennis

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on tennis:
A Terrible Splendor: Three Extraordinary Men, a World Poised for War, and the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played
by Marshall Jon Fisher

Sports and politics collided when American Don Budge and German Gottfried von Cramm faced off at Wimbledon in 1937. Von Cramm disdained the ruling Nazi Party—and therefore his own survival depended on winning match after match. A Terrible Splendor unfolds the dire consequences that followed when the ace finally stumbled on the court.
Read about the other books on the list.

Writers Read: Marshall Jon Fisher (April 2010).

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Three of the best books on Kenya

At the Guardian, Pushpinder Khaneka named three of the best books on Kenya. One title on the list:
It's Our Turn to Eat by Michela Wrong

Wrong's book on the rise and fall of Kenya's anti-corruption tsar is part Le Carré political thriller, part tale of serious moral failure. At its heart is the practice of competing ethnic (or tribal) elites taking turns at grabbing power and "eating" – as Kenyans dub the gorging of state resources by the well-connected.

John Githongo, a bright, idealistic young Kenyan, is appointed by the government to root out sleaze. But within two years he flees the country in fear for his life after discovering that the administration and its friends are brazenly looting public funds. He turns up at Wrong's flat in London.

Githongo blows the whistle, backing his allegations with secretly taped conversations, but it changes little. Even western agencies are complicit, with most donors turning a blind eye to the revelations.

The book ends just after the horrific ethnic violence surrounding the 2007 elections, which Wrong argues was caused by the tribal-based, winner-takes-all politics.

British author and journalist Wrong has reported from across Africa for many years. When local shops refused to stock It's Our Turn to Eat because of Kenya's draconian libel laws, it briefly became the most pirated text in the country's history.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top ten mold-breaking fantasy novels

The science fiction, fantasy, and horror author Lisa Tuttle won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1974, received the 1982 Nebula Award for Best Short Story for "The Bone Flute", which she refused, and the 1989 BSFA Award for Short Fiction for "In Translation."

For the Guardian, she named her top ten mold-breaking fantasy novels.  One entry on the list:
Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand

Pre-Raphaelite painters, fairy lore, a narrative that spans the Victorian age to the present, with settings in England and America, intriguing characters, tricks with time, vivid writing … I was smitten, and as the plot – including so many of my own obsessions – unwound, I began to suspect the author must be my secret twin. Which twin was spirited away?
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Five great, underrated books

Gabe Habash named five recent "great books with sales that don’t represent their worth" for PWxyz, the news blog of Publishers Weekly, including:
You Think That’s Bad by Jim Shepard

The first thing anyone mentions about Jim Shepard is how versatile (and how deeply researched) his stories are (see here and here). This is true: he can actually write about anything, whether it’s the guy who made Godzilla, mountaineers, astronauts, soldiers, government agents, etc. etc. There’s a rare thrill every time you start a Shepard story–you never know what to expect, something that can’t be said about most story collections, which tend to blur together. But really, what makes Shepard so special is writing like this:
They say whatever your worst memory is, you see it again most often right before sleep. I climb because once I go back down, the world while I recover is easier for me. Agnieszka’s eyes and mouth become again my garden and our entangled sleep my chair in the sun.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five top literary escapes to American cities

At The Barnes & Noble Book Blog Dell Villa tagged five top literary escapes to American cities, including:
The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson.

This is a nightmarish, enthralling account of actual events surrounding the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. In his trademark journalistic style, Larson deftly intertwines multiple perspectives, focusing chiefly on Daniel H. Burnham, the mastermind of the Great Columbian Exhibition—dubbed “The White City” for its dazzling nighttime glow—and Dr. H.H. Holmes, whose thoughtfully constructed hotel lured a ghastly number of people (primarily single women) to their untimely deaths in the basement torture chambers. While visiting a “Murder Castle” may not be on your bucket list, this trip into two brilliant minds—one focused on reshaping America’s perception of Chicago, and reinforcing Fair attendees’ belief in magic, the other cunning and diabolical—is the nonfiction trip of a lifetime.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Devil in the White City is one of Randy Dotinga's five favorite historical true-crime books from the last decade.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Five of the most dangerous mentors in fiction

Megan Abbott's latest novel is Dare Me.

Dare Me was named: One of Entertainment Weekly's Best Books of 2012, one of Salon's Ultimate Book Guide Choices for 2012, one of The Millions's Best Books of 2012, and NBC's The Today Show's Holiday Book Picks: Gillian Flynn's selection.

One of Abbott's five most dangerous mentors in fiction, as told to The Daily Beast:
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
by Muriel Spark

“Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life.” For any writer tackling the theme of dangerous mentors, it begins with Spark’s novel, and so it was for me. For the six pupils under the tutelage of the seductive, witty and poisonous Miss Brodie in 1930s Edinburgh, the risks extend well beyond the classroom, culminating in disillusionment and ultimately betrayal for some and far worse for her most devoted disciple, the lamentable Mary Macgregor. But Miss Brodie’s hold on her power is hard to shake. “If the authorities wanted to get rid of her,” Spark’s narrator tells us, “she would have to be assassinated.”
Read about the other books on Abbott's list.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is among the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on teaching and learning and Ian Rankin's six best books. Miss Jean Brodie is one of John Mullan's ten best teachers in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 26, 2013

Five books that are basically country and western songs

At The Barnes & Noble Book Blog Nicole Hill suggested five books that, like country and western songs, tell "stories of agony and ecstasy, soaring highs and mighty powerful lows, heartache and hard living," including:
The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain

Based on the romance and marriage of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, there’s no way this sordid tale could end up as anything but ache, passion, booze, and more and bigger ache. It may be set in Paris, but this window into the disintegration of a burning love is just a jukebox shy of a honky-tonk tearjerker straight out the mouth of Tammy Wynette.

Oh, it ain’t always glamourous to be the first wife/Especially when the man is Hemingway/He drinks all night and day/What is happiness anyway?/Who’s that woman in my bed—is this my life?
Learn about the other entries on the list.

The Paris Wife is also one of Wai Chee Dimock's five top books on Hemingway in Paris and made Kirkus Reviews list of the best historical fiction titles of 2011.

The Page 69 Test: The Paris Wife.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five top books with Western perspectives of the East

Ian Buruma is the Luce Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College. His books include The China Lover, Murder in Amsterdam, Occidentalism, God's Dust, Behind the Mask, The Wages of Guilt, Bad Elements, Taming the Gods, and the forthcoming Year Zero: A History of 1945.

With Alec Ash of Five Books, Buruma tagged five top books with Western perspectives of Asia, including:
Moving to India, will you introduce EM Forster’s 1924 novel A Passage to India for us?

It’s about the friendship – in the end thwarted by the colonial situation – between an English teacher living in India and his Indian friend. Friendship is about relating to one another as equals, and as long as colonial rule existed, an Indian and an Englishman could not do that, so their friendship was impossible. That’s the underlying theme. Its description of India – not only of the landscape but of the relations between Indians and Europeans – makes it one of the great colonial novels. There are also subplots with ladies discovering their own sexuality, playing off the theme of the sensuousness of the East.

What portrait does it paint of Britain’s influence on India?

One of the novel’s strengths is that it’s not polemical. It’s very clear that Forster disapproved of colonial rule, but he doesn’t paint a caricature of brutal Brits and Indian victims. It’s much more subtle than that. The character of Cyril Fielding, the young Englishman full of goodwill, is true to life in that a lot of British people in India at the time did a lot of good – but in the end it was the system that was the problem.

Do you feel Britain still has a special connection to India today? Or is the star of Korea, Japan and China rising faster?

Yes, I think it is. Those other countries are much more plugged into a global youth culture than India is. I think people in their twenties have probably been much more exposed to Chinese, Japanese and Korean popular culture than to Indian culture. The closest most people in Britain get to India today is having a curry or watching the cricket. Japanese anime or Korean pop music is better known even than Bollywood films.
Read about the other books Buruma tagged at Five Books. 

A Passage to India also appears among John Mullan's ten most memorable court scenes in literature and ten best caves in literature, and Antonya Nelson's five most essential books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Three of Ali Khamenei's favorite novels

Ali Khamenei is Iran’s Supreme Leader.

The Iranian journalist and writer Akbar Ganji has an essay in the current Foreign Affairs (Sept/Oct 2013),  "Who Is Ali Khamenei?".

"As a young man, Khamenei loved novels," Ganji writes. "He read such Iranian writers as Muhammad Ali Jamalzadah, Sadeq Chubak, and Sadeq Hedayat but came to feel that they paled before classic Western writers from France, Russia, and the United Kingdom."

Three of Khamenei's favorite Western novels according to Ganji:
Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables

"In my opinion, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is the best novel that has been written in history. I have not read all the novels written throughout history, no doubt, but I have read many that relate to the events of various centuries.... [But] Les Misérables is a miracle in the world of novel writing.... I have said over and over again, go read Les Misérables once. This Les Misérables is a book of sociology, a book of history, a book of criticism, a divine book, a book of love and feeling."
--Khamenei, to some officials of Iran’s state-run television network in 2004

John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath

"Read the famous book The Grapes of Wrath, written by John Steinbeck, ... and see what it says about the situation of the left and how the capitalists of the so-called center of democracy treated them."
--Khamenei, to an audience of writers and artists in 1996

Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom’s Cabin

"Isn’t this the government that massacred the original native inhabitants of the land of America? That wiped out the American Indians? Wasn’t it this system and its agents who seized millions of Africans from their houses and carried them off into slavery and kidnapped their young sons and daughters to become slaves and inflicted on them for long years the most severe tragedies? Today, one of the most tragic works of art is Uncle Tom’s Cabin.... This book still lives after almost 200 years."
--Khamenei, in March 2002 to high-level state managers
Read Akbar Ganji's essay, "Who Is Ali Khamenei?" at Foreign Affairs and view Fareed Zakaria's commentary on the subject at CNN's Global Public Square website. Zakaria notes:
The books Khamenei likes are all critiques of Western society, for the way it has treated the poor or African Americans or native Americans. He does not, incidentally, seem to recognize the strength of a culture that criticizes itself – all these critiques of the West are by Westerners, who often gain great fame for these efforts.
--Marshal Zeringue

Seven timeless coming-of-age novels

Janice Clark is a writer and designer living in Chicago. She grew up in Mystic, Connecticut, land of whaling and pizza. She received her MFA from New York University.

Clark's new novel is The Rathbones.

For Publishers Weekly she named seven of her favorite coming-of-age novels. One title on the list:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

In the time-honored throwdown of Wuthering Heights vs. Jane Eyre, I bet on Jane every time. Cathy, incomplete and suffering without her Heathcliff (or with him), can’t hope to hold up against fierce Jane, who struggles through a painful, loveless childhood and past a foiled marriage—a madwoman in the attic having long since beat her to the altar—to preserve her independent spirit, only returning to Rochester when she can feel herself an equal partner to him.
Read about the other books on Clark's list.

Jane Eyre also made Lauren Passell's list of 20 peanut butter & jelly reads, Rebecca Jane Stokes's list of the ten hottest men in required reading, Honeysuckle Weeks's six best books list, Kathryn Harrison's list of six favorite books with parentless protagonists, Megan Abbott's top ten list of novels of teenage friendship, a list of Bettany Hughes's six best books, the Guardian's top 10 lists of "outsider books" and "romantic fiction;" it appears on Lorraine Kelly's six best books list, Esther Freud's top ten list of love stories, and Jessica Duchen's top ten list of literary Gypsies, and on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best governesses in literature, ten of the best men dressed as women, ten of the best weddings in literature, ten of the best locked rooms in literature, ten of the best pianos in literature, ten of the best breakfasts in literature, ten of the best smokes in fiction, and ten of the best cases of blindness in literature. It is one of Kate Kellaway's ten best love stories in fiction.

The Page 99 Test: Jane Eyre.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Five essential Elmore Leonard books

Tony Parsons's books include the international bestsellers, Man and Boy and Man and Wife. A former music journalist and television personality, he lives in England.

For the U.K. edition of GQ he named five of his favorite Elmore Leonard books, including:
Out Of Sight (1996)

They once said that Elmore books could not be made into films. That once said that George Clooney was a TV star who would never make it to the big screen. Out Of Sight proved them wrong on both counts. A typically brilliant Elmore set-up - a prison break in South Florida that throws together a female federal marshal and a legendary bank robber when they are locked in the boot of a car together.
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see--Ten top Elmore Leonard film adaptations; Ten top Elmore Leonard film adaptations; Elmore Leonard's ten favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Seven bad boy writers of nonfiction

At The Barnes & Noble Book Blog Alexandra Silverman tagged seven bad boy writers of nonfiction, including:
Stephen Colbert, America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t

He’s from the school of fake journalism, but the issues he tackles are real. That he published a book with such a syntactically (ahem) unique title speaks to Colbert’s bad boy-ness. Actor, writer, comedian, rock singer, and TV host Colbert uses hyperbole and absurdity to ask questions about politics and society, galvanizing us to, as he might say, re-become the informed, opinionated Americans we never weren’t.
Read about the other bad boys on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 23, 2013

Five books to get you through a breakup

At The Barnes & Noble Book Blog Bailey Swilley tagged five books to get you through a breakup and back in the game, including:
How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

Once you’re over the hump of your heartbreak, it’s time for some real laughs… and reality. Hilarious Brit Caitlin Moran is witty, honest, and raw in her writing. This step-by-step guide to “being a woman” will make you sit back, chuckle a bit, and then think, “Yeah, life is tough, but I’m going to head back out there again.” Good luck, champ!
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see: Three of the best breakup books and 8 books to read with a broken heart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five top books by humorists

Whitney Collins is the author of The Hamster Won't Die: A Treasury of Feral Humor and the creator and editor of two humor sites -- errant parent and The Yellow Ham.

At The Barnes & Noble Book Blog she tagged five books to read when you need a good laugh, including:
Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, by Steve Martin

This is a tender, funny, achingly honest autobiography about Steve Martin’s standup years. Wait, you say. That doesn’t sound off-the-wall. Well, brace yourself, because Steve Martin’s approach to comedy, way back in the 1970s, was utterly groundbreaking. Weird? Arguably. Genius? Absolutely.

Born Standing Up details how Martin got his start at age 10 at Disneyland, selling guidebooks and eventually perfecting old-school magic tricks. From there, we learn about his philosophical pursuits in college, his tendency toward hypochondria and anxiety, and ultimately, his methodical, disciplined approach to writing the wackiest comedy shows anyone had ever seen. This highly intelligent book isn’t necessarily oddball in and of itself, but it’s about one of the wildest and craziest guys the comedy world has ever known.
Read about the other books on the list.

Born Standing Up made Will Dean's reading list on stand-up comedy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Top ten Elmore Leonard film adaptations

One of the Telegraph's top ten Elmore Leonard film adaptations:
Get Shorty (1995)

Leonard’s 1990 bestseller became, five years later, his highest grossing film adaptation. John Travolta, hot from his Pulp Fiction renaissance, played a Miami loan shark who segues to the movie industry – with instant success.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Get Shorty made Justin Peters's list of five of the dumbest bad guys Elmore Leonard created.

--Marshal Zeringue

Matthew Berry's six favorite books

Matthew Berry is the host of ESPN's Emmy Award–winning show Fantasy Football Now. His first book, Fantasy Life, profiles several hard-core devotees of fantasy sports.

One of Berry's six favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
The Princess Bride by William Goldman

My all-time favorite book has something for everyone: romance, action, danger, revenge, justice, comedy. Goldman's novel transports you to a completely different world, but you totally buy in because he's exploring such universal themes.
Read about the other books on Berry's list.

The Princess Bride is one of Jamie Thomson's top seven funny books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Ten top books about women in peril…who fought back

At The Barnes & Noble Book Blog, Rebecca Jane Stokes tagged ten top books about women in peril…who fought back, including:
Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris

The very definition of peril is probably “dating a vampire”—something Sookie Stackhouse knows all about. This is the first in Harris’s Southern Vampires series (which inspired the HBO hit True Blood), which introduces us to Sookie, Bill, and the tiny town of Bon Temps, Louisiana.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Eric Northman of the Southern Vampire series is among Will Hill's top ten vampires in fiction and popular culture. The Stackhouse family is one of Jennifer Lynn Barnes's top 10 supernatural families.

See--Coffee with a Canine: Charlaine Harris & Scrunch, Rocky, and Oscar.

--Marshal Zeringue

The 5 dumbest of Elmore Leonard’s many, many dumb criminals

The great Elmore Leonard specialized in dumb criminals who thought they were smart.

At Slate, Justin Peters came up with five of the dumbest baddies Leonard created, including:
Richie Nix, Killshot. This tremendously stupid fellow, who wears a T-shirt reading “It’s Nice to be Nice” and harbors ambitions of robbing a bank in every state (except Alaska), is a motormouth psychopath who kills for no reason. But he shows his stupidity by underestimating his partner, a laconic crook whom he insists on calling “the Bird.” “The Bird was Indian and they were a weird bunch anyway, believing you could get turned into a fucking owl,” Leonard writes from Richie’s perspective. “Donna didn’t know what kind of bird she’d be. Richie believed he’d be an eagle. Shit, be the best.” But when the Bird finally shoots Nix in the face as he’s blowing a gigantic bubble with his chewing gum, the talkative gunman doesn’t turn into a bird. He just dies.
Read about the other criminals on the list.

Killshot is on the Telegraph's 110 best books list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Five top books on the American West

Ivan Doig was born in Montana and grew up along the Rocky Mountain Front, the dramatic landscape that has inspired much of his writing. A former ranch hand, newspaperman, and magazine editor, with a Ph.D. in history, Doig's novels include The Whistling Season, The Eleventh Man, and the newly released Sweet Thunder. His nonfiction includes his classic first book, the memoir This House of Sky. He has been a National Book Award finalist and has received the Wallace Stegner Award, a Distinguished Achievement Award from the Western Literature Association, and multiple PNBA and MPBA Book Awards, among other honors.

At The Daily Beast, Doig named five of his favorite books on the American West, including:
The American West as Living Space
by Wallace Stegner

Once when I asked a prominent historian what he thought of the many writings by Stegner, novelist and English department star at Harvard and Stanford, about the background and the West, he didn’t hesitate: “He hits the nail on the head every time, damn him.” This trio of essays, a mere 86 pages of text delivered as a set of university lectures, is a marvel—composed nearly 30 years before fracking, pine beetle kill of forests from Colorado to British Columbia, unprecedented fire seasons with suburbs on the front line—of exploring his great theme of the country west of the rain-halting 98th Meridian, the clash of its ecologies and its cultures.
Read about the other books on Doig's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 19, 2013

Nine books on the rise and fall of creepy cults

At The Barnes & Noble Book Blog Jess Dukes tagged nine books on the rise and fall of creepy cults, including:
My Life in Orange: Growing Up with the Guru, Tim Guest

At age six, Guest and his mother went to live with Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Tim, renamed Yogesh, saw less and less of his mother—he was raised by his new family on a series of communes as they traveled around the world. Tax evasion and murder charges finally toppled the guru, freeing Tim of his orange robes for good.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

More than eight notable fictional misfits

At The Barnes & Noble Book Blog Melissa Albert tagged more than eight of her favorite fictional misfits, including:
Ignatius J. Reilly (A Confederacy of Dunces).

An oversized, wildly eccentric hothouse flower, Ignatius isn’t fit to live in this world. He refuses to ditch his highly comforting, hideous hunting hat, requires an extensive daily dose of Dr. Nut soda, and considers himself a tormented genius in a world of idiots. When his search for gainful employment leads to one disaster too many, he finds that even his long-suffering mother is ready to throw him in the coop.
Read about the other entries on the list.

A Confederacy of Dunces is among Ken Jennings's eight notable books about parents and kids, Sarah Stodol's top ten lost-then-found novels, Hallie Ephron's top ten books for a good laugh, Stephen Kelman's top 10 outsiders' stories, John Mullan's ten best moustaches in literature, Michael Lewis's five favorite books, and Cracked magazine's classic funny novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Six top books on utopia and dystopia

Chan Koonchung is a novelist, journalist, and screenwriter. Born in Shanghai and raised and educated in Hong Kong, he studied at the University of Hong Kong and Boston University. He has published more than a dozen Chinese-language books and in 1976 founded the monthly magazine City in Hong Kong, of which he was the chief editor and then publisher for twenty-three years. He has been a producer on more than thirteen films. Chan Koonchung now lives in Beijing.

His book The Fat Years, begun in 2008 and published in the US in 2011, has been described as being both a utopian and a dystopian novel. The author prefers "the term heterotopia, a term coined by the French philosopher Michel Foucault and recently reintroduced into Chinese by Professor David Wang of Harvard University. It’s not exactly a utopia: it’s a realm you can have a glimpse of, but it’s very difficult to talk about or to see the whole picture because it’s almost beyond our comprehension."

With Katrina Hamlin at Five Books, Chan Koonchung tagged six top novels that are utopian or dystopian or heterotopian, including:
Swastika Night by Katherine Burdekin

The book was written in the mid 1930s, before the Second World War. The author is warning that the Nazi state will win a major war and then rule for seven centuries. It’s very possible that the Nazis and the fascists could have won, so it’s a kind of alternative history. The book was read by many socialist book clubs in the UK at the time, but after the war it was forgotten, because fascism was defeated in many people’s minds and it wasn’t relevant anymore.

A recent revival of interest in the novel is mostly from a feminist angle, because in this ruthless state people are discriminated against and women are considered inferior – fascism emphasises masculinity and makes a myth of fraternal feeling. But I was interested in its description of a sustainable fascist state. In the book, there could be no end to a fascist state. I see it as a cautionary tale of how a new type of Chinese state could stay in power.
Read about the other books on the list at Five Books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Three of the best breakup books

At Slate Katie Roiphe shared her list of the three all-time best breakup books. One title on the list:
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

In this classic of the genre, Greene captures the mood of natural malice that occurs post-love: “This is a record of hate far more than of love,” he writes. His main character, Bendrix, is not afraid to express his untrammeled rage for his ex-flame: “Nothing would have delighted me more than to hear that she was sick, unhappy, dying.”

The novel, like all of Greene’s, mingles a perfectly crafted story with existential musing. His mistress writes in her journal: “Sometimes after a day when we have made love many times, I wonder whether it isn’t possible to come to an end of sex, and know that he is wondering too and is afraid of that point where the desert begins. What do we do in the desert if we lose each other? How does one go on living after that?”

Here as elsewhere, Greene takes as his subject the mysteries of sexual involvement: “The act of sex may be nothing, but when you reach my age you learn that at any time it may prove to be everything.”
Read about the other books on the list.

The End of the Affair also appears on Newsweek's list of love-charmed novels from bomb-blitzed London, Alex Preston's top 10 list of fictional characters struggling with faith, John Mullan's lists of ten of the best explosions in literature, 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. It is one of Pico Iyer's four essential Graham Greene novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Thirteen top big-picture books about food

Danielle Nierenberg and Ellen Gustafson of Food Tank tagged thirteen of the best big-picture books about the food industry for the Christian Science Monitor, including:
The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change

Roger Thurow spent a year with four women smallholder farmers in western Kenya to document their struggles in supporting and feeding themselves and their families. He evaluates the extent to which the work of initiatives like the One Acre Fund can help these farmers pull themselves up and defeat hunger and poverty.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 99 Test: The Last Hunger Season.

--Marshal Zeringue

Seven books you won’t believe are nonfiction

At The Barnes & Noble Book Blog Scott Greenstone tagged seven books you won’t believe are nonfiction, including:
Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, by Jillian Lauren.

It might seem stupid to listen to somebody who promises you $20,000 for “spicing up” parties in Singapore, but New Yorker Jillian Lauren was desperate. She realized her mistake only when she arrived in Borneo and found herself press-ganged into the harem of Prince Jefri Bolkiah, a brother of the Sultan of Brunei. She wrote this book about the nearly three years she spent amidst the decadence of the prince’s harem.
Read about the other books on the list.

Learn more about Some Girls and its author at Jillian Lauren's website and blog.

The Page 99 Test: Some Girls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 16, 2013

Five top war novels

Simon Mawer is the author of the New York Times best-selling novel The Glass Room, which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. His previous novels include The Fall (winner of the Boardman Tasker Prize), The Gospel of Judas, and Mendel’s Dwarf (long-listed for the Man Booker Prize). English by birth, he has made Italy his home for more than thirty years.

His latest novel is the widely acclaimed Trapeze [UK title: The Girl Who Fell From The Sky].

Mawer named five of his favorite war novels for the Telegraph.  One title on the list:
Every one of these writers [on the list] experienced war at first hand and, amid the misery of death and destruction, each managed to find humour of a kind.

The tradition continues among living writers: The Things They Carried (1990) is a remarkable collection of intertwined narratives in which Tim O’Brien explores the boundaries between truth and fiction while telling stories drawn directly from his own experience in Vietnam. So it goes.
Read about the other novels on the list.

The Things They Carried is among Olen Steinhauer's six favorite books and one of Roger “R.J.” Ellory's five favorite human dramas. Melinda L. Pash, author of In the Shadow of the Greatest Generation: The Americans Who Fought the Korean War, says The Things They Carried changed her life.

Visit Simon Mawer's website.

The Page 69 Test: Trapeze.

My Book, The Movie: Trapeze.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five graphic novels for beginners

At The Barnes & Noble Book Blog Nicole Hill suggested five graphic novels for readers unfamiliar with the genre yet willing to give it a try. One title on the list:
The Sandman

Sometimes the easiest way to try something new is to do it with an old friend by your side. Who better to fill that role than everyone’s favorite master of macabre myth, Neil Gaiman? The Sandman series, centering on Morpheus, Lord of Dreams, essentially made the DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint, which has built its bread and butter on stories that step out of the superhero vein. Gaiman’s story of the dream king mixes mythology, fairy tales, and legends (allusions, allusions as far as the eye can see!) in the masterful way he has in any format, except this time he has the help of some truly, well, graphic imagery. (And if you start plowing through the stories now, you’ll be all caught up in time for the release of the new prequel series, The Sandman: Overture, in October.)
Read about the other entries on the list.

Also see: Jimmy So's eleven must read graphic novels, Mary Talbot's top ten graphic memoirs, Rachel Cooke's list of the ten best graphic novels, Lev Grossman's top ten graphic novels, Malorie Blackman's top ten graphic novels for teenagers, Danny Fingeroth's top ten graphic novels, and Andre Arnold's top ten graphic novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Eleven top books about dogs

At The Barnes & Noble Book Blog Becky Ferreira tagged 11 of the best books about dogs, including:
The Chet and Bernie Series, by Spencer Quinn

Told from the perspective of the sleuthing dog Chet, this riveting series is a New York Times best-seller for a lot of reasons. There’s the heartwarming relationship between Chet and his human/partner Bernie Little, which will strike a chord with any dog owner. There’s the subtle humor resulting from Chet’s misunderstanding of certain words and situations. Oh yeah, and there’s adventure, action, intrigue—all that good stuff you want out of a mystery. If you haven’t read the series, start now, so you can catch up in time for the 6th installment, The Sound and The Furry (due out September 10).
Read about the other books on the list.

Visit Chet the Dog's blog and Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: Spencer Quinn's The Dog Who Knew Too Much.

Read--Coffee with a Canine: Peter Abrahams and Pearl.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five of the best books about pasta

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books about pasta:
by Bill Buford

An accomplished writer and editor puts down his pen and picks up a knife in the kitchen at Mario Batali's acclaimed NYC restaurant Babbo. After that first trial by fire, Buford travels to Italy to study the art of pasta-making under the old masters. Funny, fascinating, and -- of course -- elegantly composed, his adventures in the world of fine dining are a delight to savor.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Top ten novels about priests

Clerical characters figure in several of Michael Arditti's novels, including an English missionary priest who fights oppression in Marcos's Philippines in The Breath of Night.

For the Guardian the novelist named a ten best list of fictional clerics, including:
The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

The phrase "whisky priest" is routinely attached to several of Graham Greene's characters, but he himself coined it to describe the unnamed protagonist of The Power and the Glory. In contrast to some of his later works where he uses exotic settings as little more than backdrops for western love triangles, Greene here enters fully into the struggle between church and state in 1930s Mexico and his hero's spiritual journey is deeply affecting.
Read about the other clerics on the list.

The Power and the Glory also appears on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best nameless protagonists and ten of the best episodes of drunkenness in literature. It is one of seven books that made a difference to Colin Firth.

--Marshal Zeringue

Seven fictional characters with awful jobs

At The Barnes & Noble Book Blog Allegra Frazier tagged seven characters whose jobs are worse than yours, including:
Turn-of-the-century sweatshop seamstress (Esther Gottsfeld in Triangle, Katherine Weber)

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire really happened, and nearly 150 workers (almost all immigrant women), trapped by ineffective fire escapes and locked doors, really did either perish in the flames or in leaping from the windows. In this novel about American’s fourth deadliest industrial disaster, the court testimony provided by Esther, the oldest living survivor, is scrutinized by a nosy academic, much to the distress of Esther’s granddaughter. But the flashback scenes of the sweatshop environment itself, and the tragic oversights that trapped most of the workers (including Esther’s sister and fiancé) inside, really give you the workplace willies—to say the very, very least.
Read about the other awful jobs on the list.

The Page 99 Test: Katherine Weber's Triangle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Five top books that explain America

Philipp Meyer is the author of the novels American Rust and The Son.

One of Meyer's five favorite books about America, as told to the Telegraph:
If you want to understand America’s continuing race problem, you have to start where it all began: slavery, an institution that half the country went to war to defend. The Known World (2003) by Edward P Jones is a brilliant novel about an African-American slave owner in rural Virginia, just before the start of the Civil War.
Read about the other novels Meyer tagged.

Visit Philipp Meyer's website.

The Page 69 Test: American Rust.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five must-read werewolf novels

At The Barnes & Noble Book Blog Paul Goat Allen tagged five must-read werewolf novels, including:
The Wolfman, by Nicholas Pekearo (2008)

I first read and reviewed Pekearo’s debut novel for The Chicago Tribune back in 2008, and to say that I was blown away would be an understatement. Every time I write about this novel, it saddens me deeply. Pekearo was such an extraordinarily gifted writer, and The Wolfman could’ve been the first installment in a series that had the potential to help redefine crime fiction and urban fantasy. His murder was a tragedy: not only for his family and friends, but for the millions of readers who never got a chance to read all of the Marlowe Higgins novels that Pekearo could’ve—and should’ve—written.
Read about the other novels on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 12, 2013

The eleven best political books of all time

The Christian Science Monitor published a list of the eleven best political books of all time as determined by the staff of the venerable Washington bookstore, Politics & Prose.

One title on the list:
"I, Claudius," by Robert Graves

British writer Robert Graves penned this 1934 classic as though he were writing the autobiography of Roman Emperor Tiberius Claudius. Set in 1st-century Rome, this novel is packed with enough intrigue, murder, greed, and lust to make contemporary Washington, D.C., look tame.
Read about the other books on the list.

I, Claudius also appears on David Chase's six favorite books list, Andrew Miller's top ten list of historical novels, Mark Malloch-Brown's list of his six favorite novels of empire, Annabel Lyon's top ten list of books on the ancient world, Lindsey Davis' top ten list of Roman books, and John Mullan's lists of ten of the best emperors in literature and ten of the best poisonings in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Seven top allegorical novels

At The Barnes & Noble Book Blog Scott Greenstone tagged seven great books with secret agendas. The message and one book on the list:
The Universe Sucks

The Book: Moby-Dick, about a captain of a whaling ship who is freaking obsessed with killing this one specific white whale.

The Author: Herman Melville, a guy who wasn’t super stoked on existence.

The Allegory: Every character in Moby Dick sees the great white whale as symbolizing something. To Ahab he symbolizes pure evil; to most others he’s a manifestation of their anxieties; to someone analyzing the novel he could symbolize an unknowable God…but none of it matters, because Moby kills them all in the end. This means that, alternately, he could symbolize an indifferent universe. In the end, he’s pretty much pure depression wrapped in whale blubber.
Read about the other books on the list.

Moby-Dick also appears among Paul Wilson's top ten books about disability, Lynn Shepherd's ten top fictional drownings, Peter Murphy's top ten literary preachers, Penn Jillette's six favorite books, Peter F. Stevens's top ten nautical books, Katharine Quarmby's top ten disability stories, Jonathan Evison's six favorite books, Bella Bathurst's top 10 books on the sea, John Mullan's lists of ten of the best nightmares in literature and 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.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Six top travel books

Philip Caputo is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of many works of fiction and nonfiction, including the acclaimed A Rumor of War. His novels include Acts of Faith, The Voyage, Horn of Africa, and Crossers.

His latest book is The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, from Key West to the Arctic Ocean.

One of Caputo's six favorite travel books, as told to The Week magazine:
Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck.

Steinbeck's chronicle of an epic 1960 road trip with his poodle is a traveler's tale, a self-portrait, and a portrait of America at the advent of a tumultuous decade. The chapter portraying "the Cheerleaders" — a band of racist white women protesting a New Orleans school's integration — is devastating in its understatement.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five of the best books about elephants

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books about elephants:
The Elephant's Secret Sense
by Caitlin O'Connell

In her compelling account of scientific discovery Caitlin O'Connell chronicles her dawning realization that a herd of elephants she was observing used their feet to "listen" to the seismic communication of other herds, allowing them to converge accross great distances. It's also a clear-eyed catalog of the frustrating realities of conducting research in war-ravaged Namibia, and the myriad difficulties faced by those trying to ensure the survival of these majestic creatures.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 99 Test: The Elephant’s Secret Sense.

--Marshal Zeringue