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