Monday, April 30, 2007

Orville Schell's 5 most important books

Orville Schell, dean of the journalism school at the University of California, Berkeley, named his five most important books for Newsweek.

The oldest title among the five:
The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides.

It's the story of the destruction of a city. It's really the first piece of war reporting.
Read about all five books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Mohsin Hamid's 10 favorite books

Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, recently told Barnes & Noble's interviewer about his ten favorite books.

Here are the three that might be on my top ten list as well:
Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

A book I loved so much that I have never been able to bring myself to read it again. Romantic, glorious, and for me radiant with the possibilities of what a novel could be.

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Because no one has ever written in more masterful a voice, and no one has ever been so funny while treating subjects so painfully grim.

Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

For his understanding of human nature, the scope of his imagination, and his ability to tell a story that never lets you go.
Read about Hamid's top 10.

See the Page 69 Test: The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 28, 2007

5 best first-person man-versus-nature books

James M. Tabor, author of the forthcoming Forever on the Mountain: The Truth Behind One of Mountaineering's Most Mysterious and Controversial Tragedies, named the five best first-person man-versus-nature books for Opinion Journal.

The only story of the five that is set in the United States:

Minus 148° by Art Davidson (Norton, 1969).

In February 1967, Art Davidson, Ray Genet and Dave Johnston completed the first winter ascent of Mount McKinley in Alaska, but on descent a monster storm trapped them at 18,500 feet. For six days they survived -- barely -- in a coffin-size ice cave, enduring 150-mph winds and temperatures that reached minus 148 degrees -- hence the title of Davidson's subsequent account. This finely crafted adventure tale runs on adrenaline but also something else: brutal honesty. Given access to all seven expedition members' journals, Davidson revealed that every "men vs. nature" tale has another dimension: men vs. themselves. His story of extreme mountaineering's good, bad and ugly spares no one -- especially himself. At one desperate point he volunteers to descend alone to "send in help." But: "I knew my reasons for a solo descent were flimsily constructed excuses to conceal my desire to save Art Davidson above all else." Before "Minus 148°," mountain tales glowed with heroism and self-sacrifice. Davidson's was the first to show the darker aspects as well.

Read about the other four titles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 27, 2007

Philip Pullman's list

Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, named this week's list at The Week magazine.

The only children's book on the list:
The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay

This Australian children’s classic is the funniest children’s book ever written. Lindsay’s illustrations are marvelous — full of the same wicked energy that drives his prose. I’ve loved it for more than 50 years.
Read about the other titles on Pullman's list.

See a photograph of Norman Lindsay and read a brief excerpt from The Magic Pudding at "Matilda."

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Dani Shapiro's 10 favorite books

Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - Dani Shapiro, author of Black & White and other works, told Barnes & Noble about her ten favorite novels.

At the top of her list:
Daniel Deronda by George Eliot -- I read this in the same 19th Century literature class. It deals with ethnicity, with Jewishness, in a way that was highly unusual and risky for a female, English writer.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf -- I could really list any novel by Woolf. Reading her prose is like looking through calm, clear water. The language is so perfect. It does what great writing should: it illuminates, but it never gets in the way.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov -- Gorgeous, poetic, verging-on-mad prose. An orgy of prose, really. I read it for the first time at an artist's colony where I was visiting while writing my first novel, and I remember feeling sad, almost nostalgic while reading it because I'd never be able to read it for the first time ever again.
Read the entire list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 23, 2007

Five most important books: James Patterson

The prolific James Patterson -- he has six books coming out this year (including the third in a young-adult series) -- told Newsweek about his five most important books.

Number One on Patterson's list:
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.

The great American novel, which just happens to be from South America.
Read about the other four titles on Patterson's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Top six military books from a Falklands vet

Brigadier “Chip” Chapman was a platoon commander in the Falklands campaign. He named his top six military books for the London Times.

The only title on the list that was made into an Academy Award-winning film:

Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence

Panoramic and brilliant. Forget the film, read the book!

Read the entire list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Best "fictional tales rooted in history"

Anne Perry, who has just published We Shall Not Sleep, the fifth and final novel in her World War I series, named her five "favorite fictional tales rooted in history" for Opinion Journal.

Number One on her list:
I, Claudius by Robert Graves

One of the most extraordinary accomplishments in fiction based on history is Robert Graves's "I, Claudius." Graves wrote the "diaries" of the physically awkward and bookish Roman emperor Claudius in such a way that reading them is like spending the last hour of the evening listening to one's eccentric uncle talking candidly about how his day has been. Claudius speaks of the great figures of the Roman world 2,000 years ago as if we know them as well as he does. They are reduced from legend to humanity: immediate, vulnerable and very real. Claudius's forays into military tactics on the frontiers, political reform at home, and architecture and philosophy in general are the interests of an uncle we would never interrupt, for fear of hurting his feelings. Ultimately we become fascinated as well.
Read about the other four titles on Perry's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 20, 2007

Bill McKibben's best books picks

Bill McKibben, who recently put his new book Deep Economy to the Page 69 Test, chose a list of "best books" for The Week magazine.

One title from the list:
Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Any book by this Kentucky farmer-writer will do, but this recent novel is a particularly moving part of his ongoing project: showing the meaning of and need for real human community. Once you're finished with this, continue on to his collected essays.
Read the entire list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sam Taylor's top 10 books about forgetting

Sam Taylor is the former pop culture correspondent for the Observer. His first book, The Republic of Trees, was published in 2005. His second novel, The Amnesiac, tells the story of James Purdew, a man obsessed with uncovering the events of three years of his life about which he remembers nothing.

He named his top 10 books about forgetting for the Guardian.

Number One on his list:
The Trial by Franz Kafka

As far as I can remember, Kafka never once mentions the idea that his protagonist, Josef K, has forgotten anything of importance, but the possibility haunts every sentence in the novel. Why is he being persecuted for a crime he did not commit? Quite rightly one of the most influential novels of the 20th century.
Read the entire list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Michael Ondaatje's 5 most important books

In the April 23, 2007 issue of Newsweek, Booker Prize-winning novelist Michael Ondaatje named his five most important books ... after limiting "himself to 20th-century works and assum[ing] Faulkner, Cather and García Márquez went without saying."

Number One on his list:
The Radetzky March by Joseph Roth.

This is the great epic of the first half of the 20th century about three generations of an Austrian family. Intimate and visionary and stunningly written.
Read about the other four titles to make the list.

Ondaatje's new novel, Divisadero, is out this month.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Jerome Groopman's list

Last week at The Week, Jerome Groopman named "The List."

One title from Groopman's list:
He, She, and It by Marge Piercy

Written as science fiction, this narrative is prescient, portraying a time when the Earth has become toxic and life itself may be extinguished. Under such conditions, human beings are forced to make difficult ethical choices, many of which could eventually be at hand, given the pace of scientific technology.
Read about all six titles on Groopman's list.

Jerome Groopman is a cancer and AIDS researcher, a professor at Harvard Medical School, and a writer for The New Yorker. His latest book is How Doctors Think.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 16, 2007

Erica Wagner's literary top ten

Author and literary editor of the London Times Erica Wagner took the Pulp Net quiz.

A couple of her answers:
My favourite opening line of a novel
“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte.

My favourite novel that no one else seems to have heard of
Easy Travel to Other Planets by Ted Mooney.
Read the whole of Wagner's literary top ten.

Erica Wagner is the author of Seizure, a novel published in April 2007 by W.W. Norton. She is also the author of a book of short stories (Gravity) and a book about Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath (Ariel’s Gift,).

She was born in New York but lives in London, where she’s literary editor of the Times.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Books by or about music eccentrics

Bob Stanley of the pop band St Etienne wrote the "critic's chart" for books by or about "pop eccentrics" for the London Times.

One title on the chart:


Ray Davies

Less a memoir than a psychological thriller.

Read about the other titles on Bob Stanley's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Five best scientific works that are also literature

John Gribbin, a visiting fellow in astronomy at the University of Sussex and the author of The Fellowship -- a new book which deals with the 17th-century scientific revolution, named a "five best" list of "scientific works [that] are also literature of a high order" for Opinion Journal.

One title on the list:
Micrographia by Robert Hooke (1665).

"Micrographia" is the first great scientific book written in English, handsomely illustrated (many of the drawings were by Robert Hooke's friend Christopher Wren) and easily accessible to the layman. Samuel Pepys got an early copy and sat up reading it until 2 a.m., noting in his diary that it was "the most ingenious book that ever I read in my life." Hooke described not only the microscopic world but also astronomy, geology and the nature of light, setting out ideas that Isaac Newton later lifted and passed off as his own. For centuries in Newton's shadow, Hooke is now rightly regarded as Newton's equal in everything except mathematical prowess. He was the rock on which the early success of the Royal Society of London was built--and he wrote much more entertainingly than Newton.
Read about all five titles on Gribbin's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 13, 2007

Geraldine Brooks's 5 most important books

Earlier this year, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Geraldine Brooks named her five most important books for Newsweek.

Number One on her list:
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

The most exquisite rendering of a parent's love for a child.
Read the entire list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Dan Rhodes top 10 short books

Dan Rhodes is the author of Anthropology, Timoleon Vieta Come Home, and most recently, Gold, a tale of a Japanese woman finding her place in a small, Welsh seaside community. It is a short book and, according to the book's publisher, read it and "you'll laugh, probably cry and you'll be finished in time to go to the pub".

He named his top 10 short books for the Guardian. Here are the first three titles on the list:
1. The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe
This beauty is a handy cautionary tale for anybody experiencing the agony of unrequited love. It's a one-sitting life-saver.

2. The Bride Wore Black by Cornell Woolrich
His name makes him sound like a range of cardigans, but Cornell Woolrich was in fact a writer of highly-wrought suspense fiction, this one being a fine example. In his 1948 book Rendezvous In Black, the main character is called Johnny Marr, and at one point he has a fight with a man called Morrissey. A must-read for Smiths fans.

3. The Catcher In The Rye by JD Salinger
An obvious choice, but so what? It's a cracker. I wonder if prize panels these days would dismiss this as being 'somewhat slight'? I expect so.
Read the entire list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

David Hajdu's 5 most important books

David Hadju, critic and author of Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn and Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Farina and Richard Farina, recently named his five most important books for Newsweek.

Number One on the list:
The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

It's the first book I ever finished and then immediately started reading it again. I love the way it combines high and low elements.
Read the entire list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

John Freeman's 25 best reads

John Freeman, president of the National Book Critics Circle, writes in the Denver Post:
One of my recurring dreams involves selling all my possessions, shutting down my cellphone and e-mail, and setting off around the country - and then the world - by train with a small suitcase full of great books. If I ever do this, I'd take things I had already read. And if I had to narrow this group to a list of 25, here is what they would be. I'm not sure they would all fit in one suitcase, but they'd certainly be worth packing two.
Number One on his list:
1001 Nights | Anonymous (A.D. 850).

Scherezade marries the King of Persia, who until that night has executed every one of his brides the next morning. To save herself and her country, she tells him a tale that does not end - never has there been such pressure on a storyteller, and never has a yarn-spinner risen so well to the challenge.
Read the entire list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 9, 2007

Five classic funny novels

The staff at Cracked named five "of the funnier classics in the canon that'll get a chuckle out of you."

One title on their list:

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

A schizophrenic masterpiece of a novel, Confederacy of Dunces focuses on the pompous, bombastic Ignatius J. Reilly — a fat, flatulent blowhard who lives with his mother, masturbates frequently and considers himself the intellectual superior of pretty much everyone around him. (Think of him as the Godfather of Internet Nerds.) More a series of inter-connected stories than a single plot, Confederacy loosely chronicles Ignatius's botched, waddling attempts to find love, get a job and lead a violent one-man revolt against the Modern Age. Around him swirl a group of twisted supporting characters as flawed and unique as Ignatius himself.

A large cult following surrounds Confederacy, due partly to the strange, off-putting charisma of its lead character — you'll never know anybody quite like Ignatius, we promise you — but also because of the tragic life and death of the book's creator, John Kennedy Toole. Unable to find anyone interested in publishing his masterpiece, Toole committed suicide in the late ‘70s. Only after his death would his mother finally get someone to read Confederacy. It was published in 1980 and praised unanimously as a work of comedic genius. Toole would be posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981, and Confederacy would go on to sell more than 1.5 million copies in 18 languages.

Read about all five titles on Cracked's Wit List.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Best books on the English Civil War

Diane Purkiss, author of The English Civil War: A People’s History, wrote the (London) Times "Critic's Chart" for books on the English Civil War.

One title on her list:
Paradise Lost by John Milton

England’s only great epic, the war’s most beautiful consequence, and its strangest.

Read about all six titles named by Purkiss.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Eric Kandel's favorite books on memory

Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel, University Professor in the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and author of In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind, named his favorite books on memory for Opinion Journal.

The only work of fiction on the list:
Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges

Memory is the scaffold that holds our mental life together. One of its most remarkable characteristics is that it has no restraints on time and place. Memory allows you to sit in your living room while your mind wanders back to childhood, recalling a special event that pleased or pained you. This time-travel ability, often sparked by a sensory experience that opens the floodgates of memory, is central to much great fiction. It is described in the most detail in Marcel Proust's million-word classic, "Remembrance of Things Past," in which a madeleine dipped in tea famously prompts an onrush of images from the protagonist's childhood. But one of the most fascinating descriptions of memory in fiction can be found in Jorge Luis Borges's seminal short-story collection, "Ficciones," first published in 1945 in Spanish. Borges, who knew for much of his life that he was slowly going blind from a hereditary disease, had a deep sense of the central and sometimes paradoxical role of memory in human existence. This sense informs much of "Ficciones" but particularly the story "Funes, the Memorious," which concerns a man who suffers a modest head injury after falling off a horse and, as a result, cannot forget anything he has ever experienced, waking or dreaming. But his brain is filled only with detail, crowding out universal principles. He can't create because his head is filled with garbage! We know that an excessively weak memory is a handicap, but, as Borges shows, having too good a memory can be a handicap as well -- the capacity to forget is a blessing.
Read about all five books on Kandel's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 6, 2007

Ian Jack's list

At The Week this week, Ian Jack, editor of Granta, named "The List."

One of his titles:
The Collected Short Stories by Katherine Mansfield

These are a belated discovery for me: I read them for the first time only a year or two ago. Together with Chekhov’s I would put them among the finest stories ever written. As fresh and modern-seeming, especially about women, as when they were first published, around the time of the First World War.
Read about the entire list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Top 10 books set in Japan

Fiona Campbell, author of the forthcoming novel, Death of a Salaryman, named her top 10 books set in Japan for the Guardian.

Number One on her list:
The Tale of Genji by Shikibu Murasaki

Genji is the son of a Japanese emperor. Although beautiful and extraordinarily gifted, he is destined to be kept from the throne by virtue of his birth to a low-ranking woman. The Tale of Genji is the story of his life and loves (of which there are plenty). There are at least two reasons why this book deserves to be number one on this list. It is thought to be the first novel ever written - it was produced just after 1000 AD. And the author was a woman - an aristocrat who, unusually for the time, was raised and educated by her father.
Read Campbell's full list.

Why Japan?
"I fell in love with Japanese fiction after reading Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto," [Campbell] explains. "I was 21 at the time and immediately went on to read many more of her books. For me they were about the chance encounters between strangers that can touch lives, and the miraculous events scattered throughout daily existence. Next I discovered Haruki Murakami, where characters disappeared, questions went unanswered, the bizarre was commonplace. I was very much influenced by these two authors and tried to capture something of what they do in Death of a Salaryman."
--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Ten best wine books

Williamson Moore named the ten best wine books for The Independent (U.K.).

Number One on the list:

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson

An exhaustive lexicon of all things wine. It's written by renowned experts and marshalled by Jancis Robinson, a Master of Wine.

Read about the other nine titles on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Best P.G. Wodehouse books

Tony Ring named his six top P.G. Wodehouse books for the London Times.

Among the list:
Young Men in Spats

Uncle Fred Flits By is P. G. W.’s greatest short story; this collection also includes the mock sci-fi The Amazing Hat Mystery.
Read Ring's entire list.

--Marshal Zeringue