Saturday, December 29, 2007

10 things you didn’t know about Arthur Conan Doyle

Andrew Lycett, author of The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes: The Life and Times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, complied a list of "ten things you didn’t know about Conan Doyle" for the (London) Times.

The top two items from the list:

1. As one of the handful of writers to play first class cricket, he was so proud of getting the legendary batsman W.G. Grace out (caught by the wicket-keeper off his bowling) that he composed a celebratory poem called ‘A Reminiscence of Cricket’ which began:

‘Once in my heyday of cricket,
Oh, day I shall ever recall!
I captured that glorious wicket,
The greatest, the grandest of all.’

2. He tested drugs on himself. He wasn’t a cocaine addict like his creation, Sherlock Holmes, but, as a student doctor, he was fascinated by the effects of alkaloids as drugs. As a locum in Birmingham he tested the effect of the potentially poisonous plant gelseminum on himself, gradually increasing the amount well past the fatal dose. The wife of the doctor he was working for threatened to tell his mother. But he wrote up the experiment for the British Medical Journal.

Read Lycett's full list.

The Page 69 Test: The Man Who Created Sherlock Holmes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Five best Christmas stories

Michael Dirda, a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic at the Washington Post and author of several books about books including the recent essay collection Classics for Pleasure, named a five best list of Christmas stories for Opinion Journal.

Number One on the list:
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Late 14th century).

Full of make-believe and festivity, this wonderful narrative poem possesses a Mozartean lightness and wit. Luckily, several modern versions, particularly those by W.S. Merwin and Simon Armitage, deftly replicate much of the feel and rhythm of the Middle English original. On New Year's Day an eerie Green Knight challenges a champion from King Arthur's court to exchange ax blows. Sir Gawain duly slices through the stranger's neck, only to see the decapitated torso pick up the head, which then speaks: Remember, the Green Knight says, to meet me in a year and a day at the Green Chapel. But where is that? The following winter, riding to what must be certain death, Gawain finds himself alone and desolate on Christmas Eve. Miraculously, a castle hoves into view. There the famous knight is welcomed by a red-bearded lord, the man's beautiful lady and a hideous bent-backed old woman. For the next three days Gawain savors all the sumptuous delights of the Christmas season -- while each morning in his bedchamber the seductive wife tempts him to surrender to more sinful pleasures. There are, however, mysteries about this castle -- and they are not resolved until Gawain fearfully bows his head to receive the promised ax stroke from the Green Knight.
Read about the other titles on Dirda's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Garrison Keillor: most important books

Garrison Keillor is the author, most recently, of Pontoon, his fifth Lake Wobegon novel.

He recently told Newsweek about his five most important books.

One title on the list:

The Folksinger's Wordbook by Irwin Silber.

Hymns, blues, murder ballads, miners' laments — the whole culture.

Read about the other four books on Keillor's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 17, 2007

Critic's chart: books with bears

Lewis Smith, the environment reporter for the London Times, picked six books with bears.

One novel to the make the list:
Post Captain by Patrick O'Brian

Royal Navy captain is disguised as a dancing bear in the unputdownable Aubrey-Maturin series.
Read about the rest of Smith's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Five best: coming-of-age tales

A.E. Hotchner, author of Papa Hemingway (1966), The Boyhood Memoirs of A.E. Hotchner (2007), and the forthcoming The Good Life According to Hemingway, named a five best list of books about "coming of age" for Opinion Journal.

Number One on the list:

The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (Scribner, 1938).

Ernest Hemingway's autobiographically inspired tales of Nick Adams are, for me, the finest evocation of the coming-of-age experience, Tom and Huck included. The interlocking Nick Adams stories carry him from boyhood to an embattled manhood, beginning with a portrayal of his oppressive mother and oppressed father ("The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife"). Nick eventually renounces his Midwestern life ("The Three-Day Blow") and enlists in the Italian army during World War I--his severe wounding and tragic love affair with a nurse are depicted in "A Very Short Story." The odyssey's capstone is "Fathers and Sons," wherein the 38-year-old Nick reflects, during a quail hunt, about his boyhood and his father, whom he adored. Nick's yearning for his father, who committed suicide, is so poignant, so awash with painful nostalgia, that you pause from paragraph to paragraph to settle your emotions.
Read about the other books on Hotchner's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Dennis Lehane: most important books

Dennis Lehane is the author of Mystic River and other fine novels.

He recently told Newsweek about his five most important books.

One title on the list:

The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley.

The great American crime novel. As beautiful as about anything in American lit.

Read about the other four books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Five best books about dogs

Stanley Coren, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia and the author of several books on dogs, including Why Does My Dog Act That Way?, named a five best list of books about "man's best friend" for Opinion Journal.

Number One on the list:
For the Love of a Dog by Patricia B. McConnell (Ballantine, 2006).

Patricia McConnell has a doctorate in zoology, but this work about dog behavior is hardly a dry textbook. "For the Love of a Dog" is about emotions, the emotions of dogs and of the people who interact with them. She presents plenty of personal stories, especially about her sheep-herding border collie, Luke ("I love Luke so much it almost hurts"), weaving the anecdotes into a discussion of how dogs view the world and what guides their behavior. "Without language as a bridge," McConnell writes, we can't "ever know what it is like to be a dog; some argue we shouldn't even try. But many of us try to understand the mental lives of our dogs every day, and we're not going to give up just because the task is difficult." She believes that dogs have all of the basic emotions -- anger, happiness, fear, love -- but finds that more complex emotions, such as guilt or grief, are harder to discern.
Read about the other books on Coren's list.

The Page 99 Test: Stanley Coren's Why Does My Dog Act That Way?.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 7, 2007

5 novels that should have won the Hugo Award

George R. R. Martin, author of the epic fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, was invited by to recommend "five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise."

He proposed "5 Novels That Should Have Won the Hugo Award."

One title on the list:

Replay by Ken Grimwood

About Replay, from the publisher:

Jeff Winston, forty-three, didn't know he was a replayer until he died and woke up twenty-five years younger in his college dorm room; he lived another life. And died again. And lived again and died again -- in a continuous twenty-five-year cycle -- each time starting from scratch at the age of eighteen to reclaim lost loves, remedy past mistakes, or make a fortune in the stock market. A novel of gripping adventure, romance, and fascinating speculation on the nature of time, Replay asks the question: "What if you could live your life over again?"
Read about the other titles to make the list in Martin's interview at

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Five best books: Brokaw on journalism

Tom Brokaw, a former anchorman of NBC Nightly News and the author, most recently, of Boom! Voices of the Sixties, named a five best list of books which "reflect my own attitudes about the craft I've practiced for 45 years now" for Opinion Journal.

Number One on the list:
The Boys on the Bus by Timothy Crouse (Random House, 1973).

The five books I've chosen to write about reflect my own attitudes about the craft I've practiced for 45 years now. They're a mix of the triumphs of journalism, the absurdities, the vanities and the importance of a free press in any society. For its revelations in the absurdities and vanities category, "The Boys on the Bus" has yet to be equaled. Timothy Crouse's breakthrough book about the press pack covering the 1972 presidential campaigns of Richard Nixon and George McGovern was the journalistic equivalent of Jim Bouton's locker-room view of major league baseball in "Ball Four," published two years earlier. Crouse punctured reporters' big egos and stripped away the self-righteous cover of objectivity. He also skewered the "womblike conditions" of pack journalism -- operating, in this case, from the blinkered perspective of life on campaign planes and buses, in airport press conferences and at restaurants in the company of spin doctors.
Read about the other books on Brokaw's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Augusten Burroughs: most important books

Augusten Burroughs is the author of Running with Scissors, Dry, and Magical Thinking, all of which have been New York Times bestsellers and are published around the world. A film version of Running with Scissors starring Annette Bening and Gwyneth Paltrow was adapted for the screen by Ryan Murphy. Burroughs has been named one of the fifteen funniest people in America by Entertainment Weekly.

He recently told Newsweek about his five most important books.

One title on the list:
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.

When I read the first page I had to ask, "Wait. Is this as cool as I think it is?" It is.
Read about the other four books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 26, 2007

Six American noir masters

Barry Forshaw, author of The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction, named a "critic's chart" of "six American noir masters" for the London Times.

The top two writers on his list:
Dashiell Hammett
The hard-drinking pulpmaster's streetwise Marxism informed the blistering Red Harvest.

Raymond Chandler
Chandler refined the form; The Big Sleep is a sardonic, coruscating diamond of a novel.
Read the full list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Five best books: the spirit of Scotland

Alex Salmond, a former economist for the Royal Bank of Scotland and the leader of the Scottish National Party, named a five best list of books "that reflect the spirit of his native land" for Opinion Journal.

Number One on the list:
The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (1776).

With its espousal of freedom, industry and self-determination, "The Wealth of Nations" is considered a founding document of the Scottish Enlightenment, which deeply influenced the great political and philosophical movements of the modern era. I prefer to think of Adam Smith's seminal work as an economist's treasure trove. I have spent countless hours delving into its arguments about taxation, trade, public works and the division of labor, pausing for classic passages such as: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."
Read Salmond's full list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ali Smith's literary top ten

From Ali Smith's literary top ten at Pulp Net:
My favourite opening line of a novel:

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” First line of Plath’s The Bell Jar, a novel whose political sharpness and fictional adeptness is so often reduced or misunderstood to accommodate Plath’s own fate.
From Pulp Net:
Ali Smith was born in Inverness in 1962 and lives in Cambridge. Her first book, Free Love, won the Saltire First Book Award. She is also the author of Like (1997); Other Stories And Other Stories (1999); Hotel World (2001); The Whole Stories and Other Stories (2003) and The Accidental, which won the 2005 Whitbread novel award . Ali Smith’s new book Girl Meets Boy: The Myth of Iphis is published in November 2007 by Canongate.
Read the entire entry, Ali Smith's literary top ten.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ray French's top 10 black comedies

Ray French is a novelist and short story writer. He named his top 10 black comedies for the Guardian.

Number Two on French's list:
Eleven by David Llewellyn

A compulsive read, written entirely in the form of emails sent by the characters over the course of one day. Martin and his friends work in the offices and call centres of Cardiff; and in its hilarious depiction of the grim hypocrisy of modern working life, Eleven is on a par with The Office. But Martin also writes a series of soul-searching emails to himself, which he then saves in Drafts, which form a moving contrast to the razor sharp comedy. Though it takes place on 9/11, most of the characters are too drunk or stoned to grasp what's happening.
Read about all ten titles on French's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 19, 2007

Kate DiCamillo: most important books

Kate DiCamillo is the author of kid-lit hits such as Because of Winn-Dixie and the newly released picture book Great Joy.

She recently told Newsweek about her five most important books.

One title on the list:
Maus by Art Spiegelman. A masterpiece of art and storytelling. I get some new nuance from it every year.
Read about the other books on DiCamillo's list.

Visit Kate DiCamillo's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Five best books about journeys of discovery

Dava Sobel, author of The Planets (2005), Galileo's Daughter (1999) and Longitude (1995), named a five best list of books which "record extraordinary journeys of discovery" for Opinion Journal.

Number One on the list:
The Accidental Indies by Robert Finley (McGill-Queen's, 2000).

In the just under 100 pages of "The Accidental Indies," Robert Finley uses the tools of poetry to describe Columbus's trip westward -- perhaps the most familiar of all journeys of discovery -- and thereby cracks open the nature of wanderlust and destiny. Finley's Columbus is a man "immune to distances," who thrives on "that greatest of opiates, the here, here, here in there." The moment the ships set sail, Finley invokes the second person to thrust the reader aboard, to feel "the first gentle lift and fall of the dark hull under your feet. And with it the world falls away from you ... like a word you have spoken," while "a lightness and a loneliness gather under your heart." All the way across the ocean, the compass rose flowers on the page.
Read about all five titles on Sobel's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Five best books with sensational murder trials

Harold Schechter, author of the recently published The Devil's Gentleman: Privilege, Poison, and the Trial That Ushered in the Twentieth Century, named a five best list of books in which "sensational murder trials are at their most transfixing" for Opinion Journal.

Number One on his list:
The Murder of Helen Jewett by Patricia Cline Cohen (Knopf, 1998).

On the night of April 9, 1836, a young prostitute named Helen Jewett was hacked to death in an upscale Manhattan brothel. Within hours, a suspect was arrested for the crime: a dry-goods clerk named Richard Robinson, scion of an old-line Connecticut family and one of Jewett's regulars. In Patricia Cline Cohen's impeccably researched and elegantly written "The Murder of Helen Jewett," we see how the case, with its titillating mix of sex, scandal and savagery, became a media sensation -- the O.J. Simpson affair of the 19th century. Thousands of New Yorkers -- their prurience piqued by lurid accounts in the "penny papers" (the progenitors of today's tabloid press) -- descended on City Hall for Robinson's dramatic five-day trial. Despite overwhelming circumstantial evidence against him, he was acquitted after less than 10 minutes of jury deliberation.
Read about the other books on Schechter's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Six books on the American Deep South

Sarah Churchwell, a writer and academic who has lectured in the School of American Studies at the University of East Anglia since 1999, named the latest critic's chart for the London Times. Her theme: "Six on the American Deep South."

Number One on the list:
Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

A dazzling meditation on memory, history, destiny, race, miscegenation, class, and — of course — incest.
Read about Churchwell's other picks.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Alison MacLeod's top 10 short stories

Novelist and short story writer Alison MacLeod named her top 10 short stories for the Guardian.

Her criteria and Number One on her list:
Writing a short story is a high-wire act, sentence by sentence, foot by foot. Very few story writers work with the safety net of a plot conceived in advance. They trust in the humming tension of a single opening line or in an image that rises in their mind, or in a fragment of a character's voice. They might have a sense of where they want their characters to go; they rarely know how they'll get them there. At times it's unnerving work. Lose your concentration or the line of tension in the story and both you and it fall. The best short stories have a breathless, in-motion quality to them, a quality that makes them ideal for adaptation into film, as directors are increasingly realising. A great story ending resonates far beyond its final word. It's a hit to the brain. I read stories and love them for that hit. As the writer Elizabeth Taylor commented, the short story gives the reader the feeling of "being lifted into another world, instead of sinking into it, as one does with longer fiction". The best stories leave you exhilarated.

1. "The Nose" by Nikolai Gogol

On March 25 the barber Ivan wakes to find a nose in his morning bread roll. He is alarmed and confounded. He tries to abandon it in a gutter, then tries to throw it from a bridge but his plans are scuppered. Meanwhile, Kovalev has woken without his nose. Is it a terrible dream? No. The absence grows into an outrage. Then "a door of the carriage opened, and there leapt thence, huddling himself up, a uniformed gentleman... And oh, Kovalev's horror and astonishment to perceive that the gentleman before him was none other than - his own nose!" This story is delicious. It always makes me smile even though I now know well the exploits of said Nose, the eponymous hero. Gogol's story says the imagination, like the Nose, can go absolutely anywhere. He shows us that dream-realities have their own kind of logic. I love Hanif Kureishi's homage, Rhe Penis. Lord knows it was crying out to be done. After all, isn't the Nose sometimes referred to by Gogol as the member? I also love the fact that a statue erected in St Petersburg to honour Gogol and the story of The Nose disappeared from the face of the city in 2002 - another fitting tribute.
Read the entire top 10.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Walter Mosley: most important books

Walter Mosley is the author, most recently, of Blonde Faith, the latest installment in his Easy Rawlins series of detective fiction.

He recently told Newsweek about his five most important books.

Number One on the list:
The Theory of Relativity by Albert Einstein. His sense of human rights makes it the 20th century's foremost writing.
Read more about Mosley's most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Five best: books on exploration

Laurence Bergreen, author of the recently published Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu, named a five best list of books on exploration for Opinion Journal.

Number One on his list:

Through the Dark Continent by Henry M. Stanley (1878).

"Dr. Livingstone, I presume." Welsh-born American journalist Henry M. Stanley (1841-1904) uttered those words, or so he claimed, upon tracking down the Scottish missionary and long-missing explorer Stanley Livingstone beside Lake Tanganyika in central Africa in 1871. Stanley continued to investigate Africa on a series of expeditions that he described in "Through the Dark Continent" -- journeys that later drew criticism for Stanley's harsh dealings with the tribesmen he encountered. But there was no question of his courage and energy in the face of extreme hardship. This book's subtitle alone -- "The Sources of the Nile, Around the Great Lakes of Equatorial Africa, and Down the Livingstone River to the Atlantic Ocean" -- is enough to quicken the pulse.

Read about all five titles on Bergreen's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Five best: how to succeed in business

Cathie Black, author of the recently published Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life), named a five best list of books for how to succeed in business for Opinion Journal.

Number One on her list:

Personal History by Katharine Graham (Knopf, 1997).

Kay Graham's story is the gold standard for anyone in politics, business or the public arena who wants to recount life's lessons in autobiographical form. Though she was born into privilege and achieved renown on her own, she recounts her youth, her family life and her days running the Washington Post in a modest, at times even humble, manner. She is bracingly candid about the suicide in 1963 of her husband, Philip, who had been in charge of her family's paper, and about her resulting struggle to embark on a late career in the male-dominated realm of newspapering. And she is fascinating when describing the decisions that went into publishing the Pentagon Papers and investigating Watergate. "Personal History" is essential reading for anyone who loves a life story wonderfully told, particularly one as consequential in the culture and politics of our times as this one.

Read about all five titles on Black's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Top 10 ventriloquism books

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

He selected a "top 10 ventriloquism books" list for the Guardian. One title to make the list:
True History of The Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

In the New York Times, Janet Maslin called Carey's 2000 masterpiece "a spectacular feat of literary ventriloquism". The concept has since caught on in reviews, blurbs and flap copy: it's such a good way to think of fiction. It was this review excerpt, from the back of the Kelly Gang paperback, that made me wonder why there wasn't a novel where ventriloquism spoke for itself.
Read about the other titles on Stace's list.

Check out an excerpt from by George and more about the novel at Wesley Stace's website and his MySpace page.

The Page 69 Test: by George.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Martin Edwards' top 10 books about crime fiction

Martin Edwards is a prolific crime novelist and story writer. His many books and stories include the Lake District mysteries featuring DCI Hannah Scarlett and historian Daniel Kind.

In July 2007 he contributed to the Page 99 Test: The Arsenic Labyrinth.

At his website he accurately notes "a continuing appetite for information about" crime fiction and has posted a list of "10 fascinating books about crime fiction."

Two titles, and Edwards' argument for them, from the list:
Julian Symons – Bloody Murder

Robert Adey – Locked Room Murders

Symons’ book is an enduring masterpiece of literary criticism in the field of popular fiction. You may disagree with his judgments – no matter: he welcomed ‘reasoned contradiction’. Bob Adey’s niche book is sheer, unadulterated pleasure for fans of the impossible crime.
Check out the other eight titles on the list.

Visit Martin Edwards' new crime writing blog: 'Do You Write Under Your Own Name?'

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 22, 2007

Top 10 unusual cookbooks

In her new book Taste: The Story of Britain through Its Food, Kate Colquhoun apparently "asks and answers a fascinating range of questions from the weighty to the lighthearted. Did the Romans use pepper? How did the Black Death lead to the beginning of rural baking? Why was the sale of fruit banned in 1569? What linked roasted meats and morality in the 1790s? When did we move from serving everything at once to the succession of courses we know today?"

The author recently named her top 10 unusual cookbooks for the Guardian.

One title to make her list:
Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson

This 2004 novel by the award-winning author of Gerontius and Loving Monsters follows the life of Gerald Samper, a snobbish ghost writer and aspiring gourmet. It's a marvellous comic bad dream of a book, set in Italy and stuffed with appalling recipes all using the ghastly bitter aperitif Fernet Branca. Famously, there are mussels in chocolate, garlic ice cream and smoked cat. I've never wanted to cook any of it, but it has had me laughing at the supermarket checkout weeks after I finished reading it.
Read about the other titles on Colquhoun's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Brian Williams' favorite "portraits of Americans"

NBC News anchor Brian Williams named his five favorite portraits of Americans for Opinion Journal.

One title on the list:

When Trumpets Call by Patricia O'Toole (Simon & Schuster, 2005).

"When Trumpets Call" is a superb, almost tactile examination of the journey that began on the day Theodore Roosevelt left the presidency in 1909, at age 50, and ended with his death in 1919. Patricia O'Toole beautifully chronicles the physical and intellectual restlessness that fueled the last decade of TR's life. His first project as a private citizen was to embark on an African safari. It was meant to be a low-key getaway from his clamorous public life, but it quickly turned into an expedition "of biblical proportions," O'Toole writes. TR's break from presidential politics was also short-lived: He campaigned as a third-party candidate in 1912, burnishing his legend by insisting on giving a speech in Milwaukee even though he was bleeding from a gunshot wound in the chest after a failed assassination attempt. TR's life was "one of the longest-running, most colorful serials in American history," O'Toole says, a story "by turns exhilarating, exasperating, amusing, and inspiring."
Read about all five titles on Williams' list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 19, 2007

Books for the 2008 Olympic Games

Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine and author, most recently, of China's Brave New World — And Other Tales for Global Times, has an interesting article in Outlook India about preparing for the forthcoming Beijing Games ... with a reading program.

One mystery novel to make Wasserstrom's reading program:
[M]y favored in-flight books tend to be mysteries, so I’m recommending [Catherine] Sampson’s The Pool of Unease (Macmillan, 2007) — and slipping it in here to also nicely bring the total number of books up to an even dozen. Some readers may feel that, at a few points, loose ends either get tied up a bit too quickly or are left dangling too long, but the writing is lively throughout, the characters memorable, and Sampson has created a storyline that allows her to deal with several important issues — and deal with them deftly.

While never forgetting the goal of entertaining her readers, for example, she gives them a valuable sense of the complicated nature of police corruption in the PRC, the tensions caused by the growing divide between those being raised swiftly and those being left behind by China’s economic boom, and the ethical dilemmas faced by foreign reporters who are protected in ways that their sources are not in a one-party state. And the book’s main narrative device — alternating between first-person chapters by British reporter Robyn Ballantyne, heroine of two previous crime novels, and third-person chapters that focus on a Chinese private eye, whom readers may hope shows up in future mysteries in the series—works wonderfully. There are evocative descriptions of both gritty parts of Beijing that most tourists won’t see and Chinese luxury hotels and villas, which can seem surreal located as they are in what is in many ways still a developing country. A final plus — or minus — is that, for those about to be jet-lagged, the book conveys all too well the difficulty that the heroine has adjusting to the time change during her first trip to China.
Read Wasserstrom's article.

The Page 69 Test: China's Brave New World.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Most important books: Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby told Newsweek about his five most important books.

One title to make the list:

Mystery Train by Greil Marcus.

The first book about music I'd ever read that wasn't ephemeral. Very inspiring.
Hornby is the author of the novels How to Be Good, High Fidelity, About a Boy, and A Long Way Down, as well as the memoir Fever Pitch. He is also the author of Songbook, a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award, and the editor of the short story collection Speaking with the Angel.

His new book, Slam, is his first YA novel.

Read about all five of Hornby's most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 15, 2007

Tom Perrotta's ten favorite books

Tom Perrotta's latest novel, The Abstinence Teacher, is out this month from St. Martin's Press.

In a 2004 interview with Perrotta conducted by Barnes & Noble, the author named his ten favorite books and what makes them special to him. Three of the ten:
# Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy -- A book that is crammed so full of amazing observations about everyday life that it is sometimes overwhelming in its profundity. Tolstoy has the courage to show not just the ecstatic passion of romantic love but the emptiness and despair that can come when it fades.

# This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff -- The best coming-of-age book I know, a contemporary work that deserves to stand alongside Huckleberry Finn. It's hilariously funny and deeply sad at the same time -- my favorite combination.

# Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self by Claire Tomalin -- A highly readable and illuminating biography of the great English diarist and naval bureaucrat, who turns out to have been quite a character -- randy, grasping, opportunistic, charming, politically astute, and endlessly fascinated by his own behavior. Tomalin makes a convincing case for him as a man way ahead of his time, possibly the first modern "self" in our literature. Read it for the hilarious sexual shorthand Pepys invented, if nothing else.
Read about the other seven titles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Five best books: the Anglo-American relationship

Michael Barone, a senior writer at U.S. News & World Report, named a five best list of books about "the shared heritage of America and Britain" for Opinion Journal.

The more recently-published title on the list:

A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900 by Andrew Roberts (HarperCollins, 2007).

Andrew Roberts has written excellent biographies of the Marquis of Salisbury (1830-1903) and the Earl of Halifax (1881-1959), but after 9/11 he decided to take up the task of completing the multivolume history of the English-speaking peoples where Winston Churchill left off, at the beginning of the 20th century. The result is an idiosyncratic history reflecting Roberts's interests -- and his opinions. He excoriates Lord Mountbatten, the viceroy of India, whose partition of India led to the deaths of millions and produced a new country, Pakistan, that has proved troublesome to this day. But Roberts remains optimistic. The English-speaking peoples, after dithering, met the challenges of Kaiserism, Nazism and communism -- and he predicts that they will, even if now dithering, meet the challenge of Islamist terrorism too.

Read about all five titles on Barone's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The best of Philip Roth

Erica Wagner, literary editor of the Times (London) and author, most recently, of Seizure, named "the best of Philip Roth" for her newspaper.

One title to make the list, albeit a little lower than I would have ranked it:
The Counterlife (1987)

Zuckerman again; family life, impotence, dentistry ... vintage Roth.
Read Wagner's complete list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Top 10 books about troubled families

Rachel Seiffert is the author of the Booker-shortlisted novel The Dark Room and an acclaimed collection of short stories, Field Study. She was named one of Granta's Best of Young British writers, and one of 25 "women writers to watch" in the Orange Futures promotion. Her most recent novel is Afterwards.

She named a "top 10 books about troubled families" list for the Guardian.

Her prefatory remarks, followed by one title on the list:
All of my books so far have dealt with families, most of them less than ideal. Families are endlessly fascinating: the basic unit of most human societies, we often want to escape our own, create a new, better version, or maybe crave an earlier, lost time when the unit we were in made us happy in a way it just doesn't anymore.... The [listed] books mine this rich seam of humour and pain. All of humanity is here, in miniature...:

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

Asher is a gifted artist, born into a Hasidic family in 1940s Brooklyn. His father, Aryeh, works tirelessly for the Rebbe, often travelling into the Soviet Union to aid Jews persecuted by Stalin; while his wife supports this work, she also fears terribly for his safety. Father and son love one another deeply, but their worlds are incompatible. It's a very moving book about how we cannot help but hurt one another.
Read about all ten titles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Most important books: Mollie Katzen

Mollie Katzen is listed by the New York Times as one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all time. A 2007 inductee into the prestigious James Beard Cookbook Hall of Fame, and largely credited with moving healthful vegetarian food from the "fringe" to the center of the American dinner plate, Ms. Katzen has been named by Health Magazine as one of "The Five Women Who Changed the Way We Eat." Her latest book is The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without.

She told Newsweek about her five most important books.

One title to make the list:

Honey From a Weed by Patience Gray.

Autobiography, travelogue and recipe collection, all woven together. It transports like a novel.
Read about all five titles on Katzen's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Michael Ledeen's 5 best books about Iran

Michael Ledeen, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of the newly-released The Iranian Time Bomb, selected a five best list of "masterly works" about Iran for Opinion Journal.

One title on the list:

The Persian Puzzle by Kenneth M. Pollack (Random House, 2004).

Kenneth M. Pollack spent years at the CIA, then migrated to the National Security Council during Bill Clinton's presidency. Like every other government official who has tried to normalize relations between Iran and the U.S., he came to grief. And like most such failed dreamers, he continued to believe that there must be a way. His odyssey is the best account we have of recent Iranian history and U.S.-Iranian relations. "The Persian Puzzle" is remarkably candid about the illusions and failures of the men and women for whom Mr. Pollack worked -- people he often admired.

Read about the other titles on Ledeen's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Todd Gitlin's most important books

Todd Gitlin is the author, most recently, of The Bulldozer and the Big Tent: Blind Republicans, Lame Democrats, and the Recovery of American Ideals.

He told Newsweek about his five most important books.

One title to make the list:

The Philosophy of Money by Georg Simmel.

Lays bare the anatomy of Western life turned blasé from overstimulation.
Read about all five titles on Gitlin's list.

Todd Gitlin is the author of 13 books and articles in numerous periodicals. A regular contributor to, he is currently a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 1, 2007

Lipsky's favorite books about newspapering

Veteran reporter and editor Seth Lipsky selected a five best list of his "favorite books about newspapering" for Opinion Journal.

One title on the list:

The Paris Edition by Waverley Root (North Point, 1987).

Between 1927 and 1934, the Chicago Tribune published an edition in Paris, a small sophisticated daily in a big city with a raging newspaper war. Never in the history of journalism, it was said, have so many men had such a wonderful time on so little money. In "The Paris Edition," Tribune reporter Waverley Root memorably evokes the era, not least with his classic account of Charles Lindbergh's Paris landing in 1927. The United Press hired goons to monopolize the phone booths at Le Bourget Airport, where Lindbergh was set to land; the Associated Press hired bruisers to attack them; all six phone booths were destroyed in the melee and reporters had to run their copy into town on foot. In this memoir, we also meet the Tribune's proprietor, Col. Robert McCormick, who, in a fit of pique, assigned his best correspondent, Floyd Gibbons, to a new beat: the Sahara. Gibbons set out to become the first person to cross the desert's expanse while carrying a fully unfurled American flag, which resulted not only in a newspaper series that gripped the world but also in an epic expense account.

Read about the other titles on Lipsky's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Edmund White's most important books

Edmund White is the author, most recently, of Hotel de Dream. He told Newsweek about his five most important books.

One title to make the list:

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño.

The living heart of this book is the knowledge of what it would be like to be young and poor, and in love with art and sex.
Read about all five titles on White's list.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Thomas Mallon's list

Novelist and critic Thomas Mallon is the author of Henry and Clara, Dewey Defeats Truman, and Bandbox. His latest novel, Fellow Travelers, is set in McCarthy-era Washington, D.C.

He contributed "The List" to The Week magazine last week.

One title on his list:
The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen

What Keats would have produced had life substituted poison gas and hand grenades for urns and nightingales. Owen’s stirring combination of lyric and narrative, of gentleness and brutality, still has the power to harrow the emotions.
Read more of Mallon's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Essential works about Judaism

Ruth Wisse, whose Jews and Power has just been published by Schocken, teaches Yiddish literature and comparative literature at Harvard. She selected a five best list of essential works about Judaism for Opinion Journal.

One title on the list:
Daniel Deronda by George Eliot (1876)

One of the finest books about Jewish experience was written by an Englishwoman. George Eliot studied Judaism for years before writing this novel, her last, and her hero's gradual discovery of his Jewish origins seems to reproduce her own evolving appreciation of what Jews were about. Daniel Deronda's mother despised being Jewish, and when he was born she arranged for him to be raised as the ward of a wealthy English gentleman. But Deronda is pleased as his self-discovery unfolds, and he dreams of helping Jews find their own land "such as the English have"--in effect becoming a Zionist more than two decades before Theodor Herzl founded the Zionist movement. The novel has its painful side. Deronda's Jewish path thwarts his potential romance with the lovely Gwendolen Harleth, and well-meaning Christians who want to envelop Deronda in their embrace must learn from him the art of "separateness with communication."
Read about the other titles on Wisse's list.

--Marshal Zeringue