Wednesday, December 31, 2008

January Magazine: best crime fiction, 2008, part II

One title from January Magazine's list of the best crime fiction of 2008, part II:
Trigger City by Sean Chercover (Morrow) 304 pages

“Facts are not truth. Listen carefully. This is important.” These are the first words to come from private eye Ray Dudgeon since he finished his first adventure, in Sean Chercover’s debut novel, Big City, Bad Blood (2007). In Trigger City, Ray’s still smarting as a result of his clash with The Outfit, losing his girlfriend and being tortured. Business isn’t going well, either. So when the late Joan Richmond’s father offers all the money Ray needs for exclusive use of his services, Ray can’t say no. There’s no question about who killed Joan Richmond; a former coworker rang her doorbell, shot her in the face, then went home and committed suicide to The Best of Abba. But things get hairy when Ray’s usual allies, Chicago police Lieutenant Mike Angelo and reporter Terry Green, are scared away from this case. Things become even more bizarre when Ray finds himself caught between two government organizations straight out of a Duane Swierczynski novel. Chercover achieved amazing results with a stock premise in Big City. He does even better with Trigger City, writing more tightly and never letting up on the pace. A pale copy of his first novel would have been an achievement in and of itself. Chercover goes far beyond that with his sophomore work, telling a good story better than most writes could do. -- Jim Winter
Read about every title to make the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

January Magazine: best crime fiction, 2008, part I

One title from January Magazine's list of the best crime fiction of 2008, part I:
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere by John McFetridge (Harcourt) 304 pages

Set in Toronto, John McFetridge’s sophomore offering (after Dirty Sweet) features an ensemble cast from both sides of the law, most of them spokes radiating out from Sharon, a single mother operating a low-level dope-growing operation. Gangs of Italians, South Asians and Angels, all grafting for a heavier slice of Toronto’s new prosperity; a Native American cop and his recently widowed partner investigating an apparent suicide while sitting on the powder keg of an internal affairs probe about to blow the Toronto force apart; Ray, a new face on the scene with an offer Sharon can’t refuse; Richard, the old flame now a power broker in the world of Canadian crime. A multi-character narrative, this story unfolds with a brevity, fluidity and power that is reminiscent of Elmore Leonard’s writing, in that it’s almost an abbreviation of style. One of its chief delights, however, is that McFetridge appears to be working on a more epic scale -- Toronto is here a microcosm of the contemporary world, where criminality is leading the charge towards globalization and leaving the local law-enforcement officers dazed with the speed and force of the onslaught. It’s also a tremendously fun read, the whole imbued with a deadpan wit, particularly in the sections where the supposedly dumb-ass criminals use the jargon of business executives to discuss their trade. Swaggeringly self-assured, it reads like the work of a master in mid-career; that it’s only McFetridge’s second novel only adds to the satisfaction. -- Declan Burke
Read about the other titles on the list.

The Page 69 Test: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 29, 2008

Critic's Chart: books on six American dramatists

Dominic Maxwell, stage editor and chief comedy critic for the Times (London), named a critic's chart on American dramatists.

One title on the list:
Getting to Know Him Hugh Fordin

The definitive biography of Oscar Hammerstein, the lyricist and playwright who, with Richard Rodgers, transformed musicals.
Read about all six books on Maxwell's chart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Best nonfiction, 2008: January Magazine

From January Magazine's compilation of the best nonfiction of 2008:
True Crime: An American Anthology edited by Harold Schechter (Library of America) 788 pages

The serial-killer porn and Mafiosi tell-alls that swamp today’s non-fiction crime shelves rarely light my fire, but I’m a sucker for more ambitious fare such as True Crime, edited by Harold Schechter. And for once the generic title is appropriate. The tell, though, is in the subtitle. Because in this ambitious collection, Schechter presents a very convincing argument that crime is about as American as apple pie, with a boffo selection of red, white and blue mayhem from a star-studded list of contributors, both contemporary and historical -- everyone from Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin to Dominick Dunne and Ann Rule. The book also contains narratives of murder and violence that stretch from homicidal pilgrims at Plymouth to the Menendez brothers of Southern California. There’s an excerpt from Herbert Asbury’s Gangs of New York, Mark Twain takes a few swipes at the myths of the “Wild West” and James Ellroy, in his unsettling “My Mother’s Killer,” lets slip his well-worn Mad Dog of Crime persona just enough to reveal a surprising glimpse of Sick Puppy. Cotton Mather, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Damon Runyon, Jim Thompson and Ambrose Bierce also chip in, and the newspaper and magazine articles, journal excerpts and public documents they and others are responsible for make this almost 800-page tome an unforgettable reading experience. It’s one hell of a reference source and a bruising and bloody social history of the United States. Hell, there’s even a collection of lyrics here from several murder ballads, so you can hum along. Nervously, perhaps, while you wonder if you remembered to lock the side door. -- Kevin Burton Smith
Read about all of the titles in the feature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Five Best: Secret agents featured in series

Jeffrey T. Richelson, author of A Century of Spies and Defusing Armageddon: Inside NEST, America's Secret Nuclear Bomb Squad, named a five best list of books for the Wall Street Journal. His subject: secret agents featured in series.

Number One on the list:
Murderers' Row
by Donald Hamilton
Fawcett, 1962

In the 27 paperbacks by Donald Hamilton featuring Matt Helm -- published between 1960 and 1993 -- there is an echo of Raymond Chandler, as when Helm says a character has "the smooth rich tan you get by working at that and not much else." But Helm is not paid to solve murders; he is paid to commit them -- as a professional assassin for a classified U.S. government agency. That puts Helm's work firmly in the realm of the fanciful, but other elements are rooted in the real world of Cold War intelligence activities. In "Murderers' Row" a key element is detecting enemy submarines. Helm's chief orders him to find a missing scientist who designed an aerial submarine-tracking system and either bring him back, secrets intact, or kill him. In a refreshing alternative to TV and movie heroes who worry more about "fair play" than completing their missions, Helm takes the no-nonsense approach: When he subdues a villain, there is no tying him up and hoping for the best; Helm dispatches the poor fellow with a single bullet.
Read about all five titles on Richelson's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 26, 2008

David Peace's Literary Top 10

David Peace is the author of GB84 and the Red Riding Quartet, which features the years Nineteen Seventy Four, Nineteen Seventy Seven, Nineteen Eighty, and Nineteen Eighty Three. His most recent books are The Damned Utd and Tokyo Year Zero, the first of a trilogy set in Tokyo in the aftermath of World War II.

From his Literary Top 10 at Pulp.Net:
My favourite novel that no one else seems to have heard of:

Dogura Magura (1935) by Yumeno Kyusaku
Read more of David Peace's Literary Top 10.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Top 10 books of 2008: Time Out Chicago

One of the titles that appeared on Time Out Chicago's top ten books of 2008 list:
Doctor Olaf van Schuler’s Brain, by Kirsten Menger-Anderson. Algonquin, $22.95.

The scope of Menger-Anderson’s debut story collection, combined with her intellectual curiosity when it comes to archaic medical procedures, is dizzying. Yet her prose is equally rich, which still has us baffled as to how she pulled it all off.
Read an excerpt from Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain, and learn more about the author and her work at Kirsten Menger-Anderson's website and the "Regarding Dr. Olaf" blog.

The Page 69 Test: Doctor Olaf van Schuler's Brain.

Read about the other nine titles on Time Out Chicago's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Books of the year: fiction

The Week tabulated the "best book" end-of-year choices of critics for The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, The Denver Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, New York, The New York Times, the Denver Rocky Mountain News,, Time, The Village Voice, and The Washington Post.

Number One on the list:
by Roberto Bolaño
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30)

“Reviewing Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 is like reviewing the ocean,” said Adam Mansbach in The Boston Globe. Split into five loosely connected parts that range in tone from “romantic farce” to the literary equivalent of a black hole, this is a novel of “devastating power” written by an artist as cannily indirect as “the great post-bop jazz drummers.” Bolaño, who died at age 50 in 2003, set most of the action in a Mexican border town. But it’s not until a chilling catalogue of unsolved rape and crime unfolds in the long fourth section that readers can see that he’s been circling an evil so grand in scale that it seems to challenge any belief in life’s meaning. The lingering question this new masterpiece raises, said the editors of, is whether humanity’s worst acts are “redeemed or ameliorated to the slightest degree by our most sublime achievements.”
A caveat: People shouldn’t use the term “masterpiece,” said The New Yorker, for a novel that doesn’t cohere.

Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 22, 2008

Critic's Chart: top Christmas reading

Margaret Reynolds, a broadcaster and academic who reviews classics for the (London) Times, named her top Christmas reading for the paper.

Number One on the chart:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane “cleans down” the house and makes mince pies, though St John disapproves of “household joys”.
Read about all six titles on Reynolds' list.

The Page 99 Test: Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre also made the Guardian's top 10 list of "outsider books," a top ten list of romantic fiction, and a top 25 list of boarding school books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Amazon's top ten of 2008: mystery & thrillers

One title to make the Amazon top ten mystery & thrillers of 2008 list:
Meg Gardiner's The Dirty Secrets Club
Read about all ten titles to make the Amazon editors' list.

Read an excerpt from The Dirty Secrets Club, and learn more about the author and her work at Meg Gardiner's website and blog.

Meg Gardiner has practiced law and taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Originally from Southern California, she now lives with her family in London.

The Page 69 Test: The Dirty Secrets Club.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Five best books on Christmas traditions

The Boston Sunday Globe called Penne L. Restad's Christmas in America: A History "a fine book of far greater than merely seasonal interest."

At the Wall Street Journal Restad named five books that "display a gift for exploring Christmas traditions."

One title on her list:
The Battle for Christmas
by Stephen Nissenbaum
Knopf, 1996

"The Battle for Christmas" explains how a rowdy public holiday -- one with lots of drinking, eating, mocking, begging and loud merry-making -- was tamed into a quiet family affair in the 19th century. Unsettled by the urban concentration of the lower classes during the Industrial Revolution, upper-class folks encouraged the celebration of a civilizing version of the holiday. Traditional year-end roistering gave way to rituals of gifts and good cheer. The promoters of the new Christmas offered a cleaned-up version of St. Nicholas (his religious cloak removed and censorious coal taken away), placed a candy-trimmed evergreen in the parlor and gathered the children 'round. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in history, "The Battle for Christmas" isn't about traditions; it's about the social tensions that newfound traditions helped resolve, if only for a few days each year.
Read about all five titles on Restad's five best list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 19, 2008

Top 10 Texas books of 2008

Glenn Dromgoole of the Abilene Reporter-News named his top ten Texas books of 2008.

One title to make the list:
Texas Wildlife Portraits by Greg Lasley

A retired Austin police officer and consummate wildlife photographer, Greg Lasley has produced a stunning coffee table book, featuring close-up portraits of snakes, owls, cardinals, bats, spiders, hummingbirds, beetles, caracas, turkeys, alligators, ducks, prairie chickens, armadillos, coyotes and jackrabbits, to mention just a few.
Read about the other nine titles on Dromgoole's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Salon's top 10 books of 2008

One book from Salon's top 10 of 2008 list:
The Likeness by Tana French

Ostensibly a detective novel, French's follow-up to her 2007 novel, "In the Woods," is, like that earlier book, willfully disobedient to the dictates of genre; French refuses to offer complete resolutions or strictly realistic scenarios. Cassie Maddox, the partner of the self-destructing detective who narrated "In the Woods," is drawn into a ménage à cinq of college students living a seeming charmed existence in an Irish country house. One of the five, a girl who is Cassie's doppelgänger and has been living under an alias Cassie once used as an undercover narcotics agent, turns up murdered in a ruined cottage. Cassie is given the unlikely task of pretending to be a woman who was pretending to be a woman whom Cassie once pretended to be. As you might expect, "The Likeness" wrestles with matters of identity and intimacy as its heroine comes to prefer this triply false life to her real one. The hypnotic prose and eerie atmosphere conspire to make this ostensible mystery novel much, much more than it appears to be.
Read about all ten titles on Salon's list.

Learn more about The Likeness.

The Page 69 Test: Tana French's In the Woods.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Best nonfiction of 2008: Christian Science Monitor

From the Christian Science Monitor's list of the best nonfiction of 2008:
The Forger’s Spell
By Edward Dolnick

Edward Dolnick tells the riveting story of a second-rate painter who fooled some very powerful Nazis with his Vermeer forgeries.
Read about all titles to make the Monitor's list.

Read an excerpt from The Forger's Spell, and learn more about the author and his work at Edward Dolnick's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Forger's Spell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Economist: best books of 2008

From The Economist's best books of 2008 list:
Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population.
By Matthew Connelly.

A vivid account of how the road to controlling population growth in the 20th century was paved with good intentions and unpleasant policies that did not work.
Read about all the books to make The Economist's list.

Read an excerpt from Fatal Misconception and learn more about the book at the Harvard University Press website.

Visit Matthew Connelly's website.

The Page 99 Test: Fatal Misconception.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Top 20 movers-and-shakers in science fiction

Charlie Jane Anders, news editor for io9, compiled a list of the 20 biggest science fiction movers-and-shakers of 2008.

Most of the individuals who made the list don't write books but Number 14 on the list does:
Michael Chabon, author of The Yiddish Policemen's Union. Not only did his literary work of alternate history win Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards, but the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay has championed the literary worth of science fiction with his book Maps And Legends and his two anthologies of science fiction by literary authors.
Up next: Supposedly the Coen Brothers are filming Yiddish.
Read about all 20 movers-and-shakers to make io9's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 12, 2008

Top five crime & mystery novels of 2008: NPR

For National Public Radio, Maureen Corrigan named a list of the "Top Five Crime And Mystery Novels Of 2008."

One title on the list:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson, translated from the Swedish by Reg Keeland

For the past decade or so, Sweden has been a popular pick for crime capital of the literary world, thanks to Henning Mankell and his fellow practitioners of noir on ice. The newest name in mystery to emerge out of the frozen north is that of the late journalist-turned-novelist Stieg Larsson. His debut novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, was a blockbuster when it was debuted in Europe; this past fall, an English-language version was published in the United States. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a super-smart amalgam of the corporate corruption tale, the legal thriller, the Agatha Christie-type "locked room" puzzle, and the dysfunctional family suspense story. Reporter Mikael Blomkvist is hired by an elderly mogul to solve the "cold case" disappearance of his niece, 40 years ago, from the family compound.

Blomkvist is aided in his investigation by a 24-year-old computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander. Salander is a pierced and tattooed Goth with major attitude problems. She's also one of the most invigorating women to come along in detective fiction since Miss Marple.
Read about all five titles on Corrigan's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Top ten angel books

Karl O. Knausgaard, author of A Time for Everything, named "his 10 favourite depictions of these not always divine creatures" for the Guardian.

His argument for the list and the top title:
Never having been interested in angels or religion, I suddenly stumbled across one in my writing. Mostly out of boredom with myself, really, and with the terrible, never-ending novel I was working on then, I thought I maybe should look into the subject. For the next year I was obsessed with angels, read everything I could find about them, and then I wrote a new novel.

Angels are connected with the divine, but also with men. Through this deeply archaic image, it's possible to see how the relations between those two have constantly changed, in a polarity that has kept producing meaning, and still does. I hope my selections give some sense of this rich and strange tradition.

The Satanic Verses
by Salman Rushdie

It may be hard to imagine now, but there was a time when Salman Rushdie was the best novelist in the world. In 1988, to be exact, when this novel was published. Every sentence is full of life, and the life described is everchanging, unstoppable, in constant metamorphosis and flux, in opposition to the religious longing for one god, one people, purity and control. The angel in this neo-baroque world, Gibreel, is an Indian film star. I can´t think of any novel that treats the problems of our time better and more accurately than this one.
Read about all ten titles on Knausgaard's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Best novels of 2008: Christian Science Monitor

From the Christian Science Monitor's list of the best novels of 2008:
When Will There Be Good News?
By Kate Atkinson

Scottish author Kate Atkinson earns kudos with this third and final installment of her mystery series focused on detective Jackson Brodie. Here, Brodie investigates the mysterious disappearance of an Edinburgh doctor and her baby.
Read about all of the books to make the Monitor's fiction list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Washington Post: 10 best books of 2008

The editors and reviewers at the Washington Post named their ten best list of books for 2008.

One title on the list:
The Eaves of Heaven: A Life in Three Wars by Andrew X. Pham

Chronicles the undoing of a vast and elaborate dynasty, the cataclysmic disintegration of a country, and the dramatic misfortunes that befell the descendant of a Vietnamese war hero.--Martha Sherill
Read about all ten titles on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Five best: books that debunk pseudohistory

Damian Thompson, author of the recently released Counterknowledge: How We Surrendered to Conspiracy Theories, Quack Medicine, Bogus Science and Fake History, named a five best list of books for the Wall Street Journal. His subject: books that "emphatically debunk pseudohistory and spurious 'knowledge.'"

One title from the list:
Speak of the Devil
by J.S. La Fontaine
Cambridge University, 1998

The subtitle of this book is "Tales of Satanic Abuse in Contemporary England," which gives the impression that the author, a leading anthropologist, is merely examining the phenomenon of the scare stories about satanism that swept Britain in the late 1980s, having migrated from America. In fact, Jean La Fontaine performed a vital role -- at some cost to herself -- in bringing this dreadful episode to an end. "Speak of the Devil" draws on her report, sponsored by the British government, into the allegations of unspeakable acts of degradation performed on small children by covens of devil worshipers. She found not only that there was no evidence that these covens existed but also that the accusations had been extracted from children by social workers and other "experts" who were determined to prove that the organized satanic abuse happened. The manipulation of children described by La Fontaine is shocking -- and deeply sad, because this modern witch hunt destroyed families, reputations and lives.
Read about all five titles on Thompson's list.

Damian Thompson is the editor in chief of The Catholic Herald. He also writes for The Daily Telegraph.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 5, 2008

David Wroblewski's 5 most important books

David Wroblewski is the author the acclaimed debut novel, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

He named his five most important books for Newsweek.

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

I love it because it is too long, and it goes on and on about whales.
Read about all five books on Wroblewski's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Five best books on presidential rhetoric

Elvin T. Lim is Assistant Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush.

He named a five best list of books on presidential rhetoric for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on his list:
Woodrow Wilson and the Lost World of the Oratorical Statesman
by Robert Kraig
Texas A&M, 2004

Historians have argued that Woodrow Wilson's decision in 1913 to deliver the State of the Union address in person rather than as a written statement to Congress signaled the beginning of the end of oratory. As the century progressed, and especially after the arrival of television, what had once been a carefully considered annual presentation of legislative proposals gradually turned into a laundry list of programmatic promises and vacuous applause lines. Robert Kraig argues that President Wilson was in fact the last of a dying breed of orator-statesmen who took words seriously enough to value them for their pedagogic as well as theatrical qualities. Kraig casts new light on that famous failure of rhetorical persuasion, Wilson's western tour of the nation in 1919, in which he tried unsuccessfully to win popular backing for the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles. It is a tragic story, in Kraig's telling, of an orator who would suffer a breakdown -- and, a week later, a permanently incapacitating stroke -- as a result of the strenuous 26-day speaking campaign. Wilson believed, perhaps to a fault, Kraig says, in his ability to mobilize and educate public opinion according to the "verdict of his conscience."
Read about all five titles on Lim's list.

The Page 99 Test: Elvin T. Lim's The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 1, 2008

Five best: books about doctors and patients

In 2006 Jerome Groopman named a five best list of books about doctors and patients for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on the list:
The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy (1886).

With fine brush strokes, Tolstoy paints the portrait of an ambitious and upwardly mobile magistrate, Ivan Ilyich, who suddenly comes down with a mysterious malady. The restrained prose works to amplify a chilling message: Severe illness strips away life's façade and forces us to examine our inner core. Ilyich, at the cusp of death, realizes that he has squandered his life by pursuing what is insubstantial. But Tolstoy affirms that while there may no longer be hope for the body, there is, until the last breath, hope for the soul. It is a lesson best learned while still healthy.
Read about all five titles on Groopman's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Top ten sexy French books

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

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

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

* * *
Emmanuelle by Emmanuelle Arsan

My husband's favourite French book. He says he reads it for the philosophy. It is the story of a woman getting laid. A lot. In just about every position and place imaginable, but mainly Thailand. This book has entertained French boys since publication. I fully expect to find it under my son's pillow in a few years' time.
Read about all ten titles on Frith Powell's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Six books with big ideas

Tom Whitwell, assistant editor at the (London) Times online, named a critic's chart of "books with big ideas."

One title on the list:
Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky

How message boards and blogs are dramatically changing the world.
Read about all six titles on Whitwell's chart.

Visit Clay Shirky's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Alex Ross: five most important books

Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker since 1996 and author of The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, recently told Newsweek about his five most important books.

One title to make the list:
We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live by Joan Didion.

An awe-inspiring nonfiction collection. Didion imposes her style on the world, yet records the world as it is.
Read about all five titles on Ross' list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Five best rare books on early America

Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, a former rare-books dealer, named a five best list of "rare books on early America" for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on the list:
Mourt's Relation
by William Bradford and Edward Winslow

For narrative suspense and visual detail, few accounts of the Plymouth colony's first year can match this report by the Mayflower passengers William Bradford and Edward Winslow. ("Mourt's Relation" refers to the Bradford family connection who published the work.) We see them wading ashore in the fall of 1620, wary of the unseen natives but obliged to seek them out to barter for food. For days they find only clues: a distant plume of smoke, the shallow grave of a child, abandoned huts, the head of a freshly killed deer. Finally, one evening: the cry "Indians! Indians!" and a hail of arrows. A year later, with the group of 102 nearly halved by frost and disease, the Pilgrims sit down to an autumn feast. The Indians, now friendly, join them.
Read about all five titles on da Fonseca-Wollheim's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 21, 2008

Five sports books that need to be on your shelf invited David Zirin to "[r]ecommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise."

He recommended:
Five Sports Books That Need to Be on Your Shelf

Sportsworld: An American Dreamland by Robert Lipsyte

Nike is a Goddess: The History of Women in Sports by Lissa Smith

Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete by William C. Rhoden

Out of Their League by Dave Meggyesy

Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties by Mike Marqusee
Read the interview in which this list appears.

David Zirin is the author of three books, including What's My Name, Fool? and Welcome to the Terrordome. He writes the popular weekly online sports column, "The Edge of Sports," and is a regular contributor to the Nation, SLAM, and the Los Angeles Times.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Top 10 snow books

At the Guardian, author and deputy editor of the Saturday Guardian Charlie English named his top ten snow books.

His introduction and Number One on the list:
I don't remember exactly when I saw my first snow, but I do recall thinking as a child that I could sense, some mornings – perhaps from the mineral scent of frozen water – that snow had fallen overnight. I remember how my heart lifted when I opened the bedroom curtains and found the world transformed. In literature, snow is often used to represent death, but it also brings beauty, romance, happiness and an empty white space in which to reflect upon ourselves. Here are my top 10 books that include snow, or are about snow.

1 The Call of the Wild by Jack London

I first read Jack London's novella as a child, without knowing the era he was describing or even really where it was, except it was in the far north, but the wild territory captured me nevertheless. Buck, the canine hero, is snatched from his soft life in California and put to work as a sled dog during the Klondike gold rush. Buck sees and eats his first snow ("it bit like fire") and learns to succeed in this hard-knock world, eventually finding his inner wolf. I have since seen this territory first-hand, and the immense levels of snow that the Klondike stampeders – of whom London was one – had to negotiate, and am full of admiration.
Read about all ten titles on English's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 17, 2008

Critic's Chart: six linguistic experiments

Chris Power, who reviews fiction for the Times (London), picked a "critic's chart" of six linguistic experiments.

One title on his list:
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Clever novel based around the pangram “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”.
Read about all six titles on Power's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Five milestones among poetry anthologies

John Hollander's books include A Draft of Light: Poems (2008) and Rhyme's Reason: A Guide to English Verse (2001). At the Wall Street Journal he named a five best list of "Milestones Among Poetry Anthologies."

One title on the list:
The Real Mother Goose
Illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright
Rand, McNally, 1916

This is the first poetry anthology I ever encountered, as a very young child. Titled and probably selected by its illustrator, Blanche Fisher Wright, the book offers several handsome full-page pictures. But more important, in my mind as a child, were the smaller ones scattered among the nursery rhymes about Little Bo-Peep, Georgy Porgy and Wee Willie Winkie, often causing an interesting confusion. Pictures can be harder for children to "read" than text because they may not have learned a particular set of pictorial conventions; the deciphering is half the fun. "Mother Goose" is the fictive cover-name for a wonderful anthologist -- her rhymes, many derived from mysterious sources, are still a scripture of childhood.
Read about all five titles on Hollander's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 14, 2008

Five books for Arabs

At Paper Cuts, the New York Times' blog for books, Barry Gewen named five works of nonfiction for the Kalima project, an initiative backed by the UAE to translate from English to Arabic "literature [which] best captures American dreams, opportunities and challenges" and "books [that] could help build mutual understanding between the United States and the Arab World."

One title on Gewen's list:
“A Peace to End All Peace,” by David Fromkin. First published in 1989 and scheduled to be reissued in a new edition next year, this remains the finest history of the modern Middle East. Anyone who wants to know why the region is in the shape it is has to read this book — and that includes English-language speakers.
Read about all five titles on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Top 10 dystopian novels

Back in 2005 Robert Collins, author of Soul Corporation, named a top ten list of dystopian novels for the Guardian.

His preface and Number One on the list:
"Fictional dystopias are almost always cautionary tales - warnings of where our political, cultural and social surroundings are taking us. The novels here all share common motifs: designer drugs, mass entertainment, brutality, technology, the suppression of the individual by an all-powerful state - classic preoccupations of dystopian fiction. These novels picture the worst because, as Swift demonstrated in his original cautionary tale, Gulliver's Travels, re-inventing the present is sometimes the only way to see how bad things already are."

1. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

The dystopia to end them all. It's no coincidence that Orwell's nightmare has become such an ingrained part of our consciousness. More than any book in this list, it feels as though it's not really an allegory at all, but instead a murky, half-experienced reality. From Newspeak to Big Brother to Winston's sojourn in Room 101, Orwell's last novel is a towering, sadistic, and tender portrait of humanity floundering in the ideological clutches of totalitarianism.
Read the complete list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Five best: books on advertising

A few years ago at the Wall Street Journal, advertising executive Jerry Della Femina named a five best list of books on advertising.

One title on the list:
Bill Bernbach's Book by Bob Levenson (Random House, 1987).

"Forget words like hard sell and soft sell. That will only confuse you. Just be sure your advertising is saying something with substance . . . like it's never been said before"--Bill Bernbach, addressing the troops at his agency, DDB. Bill was the father of advertising's creative revolution in the early 1950s. The graphics were clean and stopped the reader before a page could be turned. The copy was smart. Easy to understand. Products and clients came off the pedestal and became human. Many of the great ads that appear in this book (subtitled "A History of Advertising That Changed the History of Advertising") came from Bob Levenson, who writes lovingly of his friend and mentor--the man who changed the face of advertising.
Read about the other books on Della Femina's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Five best books about leaders paired by history

At the Wall Street Journal, Nicholas Wapshott named a five best list of books about "leaders paired by history."

One title on the list:
Nixon and Kissinger
by Robert Dallek
HarperCollins, 2007

The story of the egghead and the paranoid president is the stuff of Broadway comedy and Greek tragedy, and Robert Dallek captures both the high and low aspects of the tale. It is the incongruity of the arrangement that intrigues -- Kissinger finding that the prominence of his foreign-policy role seemed to confer on him the power of a co-president when Nixon's character flaws brought the Oval Office crashing down around him. Dallek not only deals brilliantly with the often bizarre interaction of the two men but carefully apportions credit for the administration's many foreign-policy successes. The result is a touching and telling revision of the vicious, self-serving partnership that emerged from the pens of Woodward and Bernstein in the 1970s. It is a haunting tale, too, not least in the dying days of the presidency, when Kissinger finds his cautious respect for Nixon turning to concerned affection.
Read about all five books on Wapshott's list.

Nicholas Wapshott is the author of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher: A Political Marriage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 7, 2008

Five books: works of art in form as well as in content invited Gregory Maguire to "[r]ecommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise." He came up with:
Five Books That Remind You That Individual Books Can Be Works of Art in Form as Well as in Content
Two books on the list:
A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers by Nancy Willard and Alice and Martin Provensen (Illustrators)

Books inspired by great writers often become a mishmash, a pastiche, but this book is informed by Blake and not cowed by his phenomenal achievements. You close it and say, "Now THAT is a book!" A series of linked poems that doubles as a kind of fantasy voyage.

The Life of Emily Dickinson by Richard Sewall

Because Emily Dickinson was so private, Sewall had to find a new way to talk about her. The arrangement of his material — exploring all the people around her as a way to see toward the space she must inevitably occupy, like positing the existence of an invisible moon due to the gravitational pull it appears to be exerting — was a revelation, and helped me figure out how to organize Wicked.
Read about all five titles on Maguire's list and the interview in which the list appears.

Gregory Maguire is the bestselling author of Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Lost, Mirror Mirror, and the Wicked Years series, which includes Wicked, Son of a Witch, and A Lion among Men.

Wicked, now a beloved classic, is the basis for the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical of the same name.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Michael Chabon's 12 favorite works of adventure fiction

Del Ray, paperback publisher of Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road, got the author to name his "favorite works of adventure fiction."

The list includes:
CAPTAIN BLOOD, Rafael Sabatini

The Kull Stories, Robert E. Howard

The Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories, Fritz Leiber

AGAINST THE DAY, Thomas Pynchon
Read more about Chabon's list.

About Gentlemen of the Road, from the publisher:
Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, sprang from an early passion for the derring-do and larger-than-life heroes of classic comic books. Now, once more mining the rich past, Chabon summons the rollicking spirit of legendary adventures–from The Arabian Nights to Alexandre Dumas to Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories–in a wonderful new novel brimming with breathless action, raucous humor, cliff-hanging suspense, and a cast of colorful characters worthy of Scheherazade’s most tantalizing tales.

They’re an odd pair, to be sure: pale, rail-thin, black-clad Zelikman, a moody, itinerant physician fond of jaunty headgear, and ex-soldier Amram, a gray-haired giant of a man as quick with a razor-tongued witticism as he is with a sharpened battle-ax. Brothers under the skin, comrades in arms, they make their rootless way through the Caucasus Mountains, circa A.D. 950, living as they please and surviving however they can–as blades and thieves for hire and as practiced bamboozlers, cheerfully separating the gullible from their money. No strangers to tight scrapes and close shaves, they’ve left many a fist shaking in their dust, tasted their share of enemy steel, and made good any number of hasty exits under hostile circumstances.

None of which has necessarily prepared them to be dragooned into service as escorts and defenders to a prince of the Khazar Empire. Usurped by his brutal uncle, the callow and decidedly ill-tempered young royal burns to reclaim his rightful throne. But doing so will demand wicked cunning, outrageous daring, and foolhardy bravado . . . not to mention an army. Zelikman and Amram can at least supply the former. But are these gentlemen of the road prepared to become generals in a full-scale revolution? The only certainty is that getting there–along a path paved with warriors and whores, evil emperors and extraordinary elephants, secrets, swordplay, and such stuff as the grandest adventures are made of–will be much more than half the fun.
--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Top 10 ghost stories

For the Guardian, Peter Washington named a top 10 list of ghost stories.

One entry on the list:
Nikolai Gogol The Nose and The Overcoat

These two stories are as far as one could get from the standard ghost story – not at all frightening but very, very disturbing: wild surreal satires of 19th century Russian bureaucracy in which a nose and an overcoat take on lives of their own and wreak havoc. Gogol's crazy comedy has a logic of its own which has never been bettered.
Read about the other nine entries on Washington's list.

Related: Brad Leithauser's five best ghost tales and James Hynes' 10 Halloween stories.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Five best: the golden age of radio

At the Wall Street Journal, Anthony Rudel named a five best list of books about the "Golden Age of Radio."

One title on his list:
Raised on Radio
by Gerald Nachman
Pantheon, 1998

Gerald Nachman was hooked on radio from an early age, and his love of the medium comes through on every page of "Raised on Radio." He describes the book as "a kind of memoir in that many of the shows within these pages were more real to me than my own life." Each chapter is devoted to a particular type of show -- the chapter called "Saddle Sore" discusses western dramas like "The Lone Ranger," while "Nesting Instincts" deals with domestic comedies. "Fibber McGee and Molly," he tells us, "seamlessly blended vaudeville high jinks with radio's cozier atmospherics." In addition to conjuring what it was like to sit at home and feel riveted by the stories emanating from the big box that dominated the living room, Nachman interviews many of the old radio writers and performers, who only enhance the sense that there was a certain magic in that vanished time.
Read about the other four books on Rudel's list.

Anthony Rudel is the author of the newly released Hello, Everybody! The Dawn of American Radio.

Visit Anthony Rudel's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 31, 2008

Top ten: books with secret signs

Justin Scroggie is the author of Tic-tac Teddy Bears and Teardrop Tattoos. For the Guardian, he named a top ten list of books with secret signs.

His introduction and one title from his list:
I'm an author (and television producer) with a passion for secret signs – all the ways that people in the know privately communicate with each other. I love books where something hinges on a sign or a symbol that the protagonist has to decipher. Authors are playful people, too, so I'm always on the lookout for any hidden messages they might have included, in a character's name, for example, or even on the cover.

* * *
Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone

At the start of the first book in the series, dark wizard Lord Voldemort kills Lily and James Potter, and then turns his attention to their one-year-old child, Harry. But thanks to Lily's self-sacrifice, the attack fails, leaving Voldemort's body destroyed and Harry with a lightning bolt scar on his forehead. The scar is both an indelible mark of Harry's past and a sign of how that past will catch up with him.
Read more about Scroggie's list.

--Marshal Zeringue