Thursday, January 31, 2008

Tim Butcher's top 10 books about Congo

Tim Butcher's first book, Blood River - A Journey To Africa's Broken Heart, uses his expedition across the Congo to tell the region's turbulent history.

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

One title on Butcher's list:
The Catastrophist, Ronan Bennett (1998)

A sexy, moody novel set around a defining moment in modern African history; the 1961 death of Patrice Lumumba, the man many Congolese view as their Nelson Mandela. Unlike the South African leader, Lumumba was not jailed but murdered. He was half beaten to death before being shot against a termite mound, buried, disinterred and dissolved in barrels of mining acid. Washington's fingerprints were all over a political assassination that condemned the Congo to decades of dictatorship.
Read about all ten of Tim Butcher's picks.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ha Jin's most important books

Ha Jin was awarded the PEN/Faulkner Award for Waiting and War Trash; Waiting also won the National Book Award. His other books include the novel The Crazed; three short story collections: The Bridegroom, which won the Asian American Literary Award, Under the Red Flag, which won the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, and Ocean of Words, which won the PEN/Hemingway Award; and three books of poetry. His latest book is A Free Life.

He recently told Newsweek about his five most important books.

One title to make the list:
"Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy. It helped me structure my novel "Waiting," opening it to both the city and the countryside.
Read about the other books on Ha Jin's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Christina Koning's top six romances

Christina Koning is a novelist and short story writer. Her novels include A Mild Suicide, Undiscovered Country, and Fabulous Time. She reviews paperback fiction for the (London) Times, and she named her top six romances for the newspaper.

Number One on her list:
Persuasion, by Jane Austen

Lovers separated by prejudice are reunited in Austen's last, heartfelt work.
Read about all six titles on Koning's list.

The Page 99 Test: Jane Austen's Persuasion.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Five best books about the challenges of living with illness

Laura Landro, an assistant managing editor at the Wall Street Journal and its Informed Patient columnist, is the author of Survivor: Taking Control of Your Fight Against Cancer (1998). She named a five best list of "books about the challenges of living with illness" for her newspaper.

Number One on the list:
Death Be Not Proud
By John Gunther
Harper & Row, 1949

Journalist and novelist John Gunther's account of his 17-year-old son's battle with a brain tumor that ultimately took his life is as relevant today as it was when Gunther wrote it more than a half-century ago as "a tribute to the power, the wealth, the unconquerable beauty of the human spirit, will and soul." Though the surgeon who delivered the bad news was blunt -- "Your son has a malignant glioma and it will kill him" -- young Johnny's will to survive remained undimmed, as did his parents' determination to save him, trying even experimental treatments that included mustard gas and a macrobiotic-style diet. "Johnny loved life desperately and we loved Johnny desperately, and it was our duty to try everything and keep him alive as long as possible," Gunther writes. Behind Johnny's brave, energetic front, he was all too conscious of how little time he had to ace his high-school classes, to get into Harvard, to pursue a budding romance. His courage touched everyone around him; as one of his doctors wrote in a condolence letter after his death, "for such there must be an immortality which we who tinker at the body may guess at but not understand."

Read about the other books on Landro's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 21, 2008

David Rakoff's most important books

David Rakoff is an essayist, journalist, and actor.

He has written for the New York Times Magazine, Outside, GQ, Vogue and Salon. He has also been a frequent contributor to the radio program This American Life on Public Radio International.

Rakoff's essays have been collected in the books Fraud and Don’t Get Too Comfortable.

He recently told Newsweek about his five most important books.

One title to make the list:
The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon. Aphorisms and observations from a lady of the court of Heian Japan, fully a thousand years ago. A perfect read-aloud book.
Read about the other books on Rakoff's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Five best books about fanaticism

Alan Charles Kors, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania and editor in chief of the recent Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment (Oxford), named a five best list of "works about fanaticism" for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on the list:
Son of the Revolution
By Liang Heng and Judith Shapiro
Knopf, 1983

There are many remarkable works, both scholarly and autobiographical, on the fanaticism of Mao's Cultural Revolution in China, a moment that casts its shadow to this day over the campaign's agents, its victims and those who were both. None of these books, however, has the simplicity, nuance, eye for detail, and focus on essentials of Liang Heng's "Son of the Revolution," written by Liang and Judith Shapiro (an American who taught him in China and whom he married). Liang and Shapiro describe with painful honesty, insight and wisdom his transition from "Chairman Mao's good little boy" to a young Red Guard locally acting out his hostilities; from a zealous participant in the nationwide horror of the Cultural Revolution to a victim and compassionate observer of what had befallen both his country and the individuals he loved. In particular, the authors show the shattering effect on the individual and on the human social fabric of a movement that declared no aspect of life to be outside of politics. They take you there, and you understand.
Read more about Kors' list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Five Good Short Books on China

Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom is 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.

Not so long ago he published an article in Outlook India about preparing for the forthcoming Beijing Games ... with a reading program.

Now he's come up with a list of "Five Good Short Books on China: A Guide for Readers with Limited Attention Spans."

One title to make the list:
The State of China Atlas

Cultural studies specialist Stephanie Donald and political scientist Robert Benewick’s map-filled and graph-packed overview of a wide range of features of contemporary Chinese society — a nice 128 page primer on what’s been going on in the PRC since Mao’s death.
Read about the other books on Wasserstrom's list.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 14, 2008

Most important books: Jon Scieszka

Jon Scieszka was recently named the inaugural "National Ambassador for Young People's Literature" by the Library of Congress.

He told Newsweek about his five most important books.

One title to make the list:
Go, Dog. Go! by P. D. Eastman. It sent me down the road to the absurd writing life. Dogs driving around in cars, and having a party in a tree! That's my kind of story.
Read about all five titles on Scieszka's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Five best books about the role of commander in chief

Thomas W. Evans, author of The Education of Ronald Reagan: The General Electric Years and the Untold Story of His Conversion to Conservatism, named a five best list of "exemplary books about the role of commander in chief" for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on his list:
Commander in Chief
By Eric Larrabee
Harper & Row, 1987

Eric Larrabee, who died in 1990 at age 68, is remembered as a man of culture and the arts. But before a career of deanships, editing jobs and administrative posts, he fought in World War II in an Army tank-destroyer battalion and in military intelligence. He was awarded a Bronze Star medal. This book about his commander in chief is subtitled "Franklin Delano Roosevelt, His Lieutenants, and Their War." Larrabee studies the president in wartime performing his constitutional duty to "command the commanders," to borrow a phrase from Edward Bates, Lincoln's attorney general. FDR's "lieutenants" are nine generals -- including Marshall, Eisenhower, MacArthur and Lemay -- who are each given chapter-length consideration. Clearly, the book was a labor of love. Larrabee once said, "I read for 30 years and wrote for three and a half," and it shows: In addition to displaying the results of deep research, "Commander in Chief" is gracefully written. One section begins: "For the Army, the water is forbidding barrier, for the Navy, a broad and inviting highway." It's no wonder that experts in the field -- John Keegan and Drew Middleton among them -- regard "Commander in Chief" so highly.

Read about the other books on Evans' list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Top 10 books by & about Simone de Beauvoir

Lisa Appignanesi is a writer, novelist and president of English PEN. Her new book, Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800 comes out this spring in the US. Among her other books is the acclaimed family memoir, Losing the Dead. Her Simone de Beauvoir was honored with a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French Ministry of Culture.

She named her "top 10 books by and about Simone de Beauvoir" for the Guardian.

Her introductory remarks, followed by Number One on the list:
"I think I must have been around 18 when I first dipped into the pages of The Second Sex and was mesmerised by Simone de Beauvoir's terrifyingly lucid account of how one is not so much born, but rather becomes, a woman. Her judicious presence and bold intelligence have been with me ever since, not only in her many books. In a sense the very arc of her life gave us all permission: we could think for ourselves, be actors in the public sphere, and write across the genres - fiction, non-fiction and memoir...."

1. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
This is the book that set the agenda for the women's movement in our times. It provides an encyclopaedic and sometimes shocking account of woman's condition as 'other' in a world dominated by male descriptions and power. Not for nothing did the book find its way onto the Papal black list. You can dip. My favourite sections describe the young girl, sexual initiation, marriage, the narcissist and the woman in love. De Beauvoir is particularly good at describing women's complicity in their state. At a time when religious hierarchies are once more on the ascendant, it's a salutary read.
Read more about Lisa Appignanesi's top 10 books by and about Simone de Beauvoir.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 7, 2008

Khaled Hosseini's most important books

Khaled Hosseini began writing his first novel, The Kite Runner, in March of 2001. In 2003, The Kite Runner was published and has since become an international bestseller, published in 38 countries. In 2006 he was named a goodwill envoy to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. His second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns was published in May of 2007.

He recently told Newsweek about his five most important books.

One book on the list:
Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings by Abolqasem Ferdowsi. This 11th-century epic is the jewel of Persian literature.
Read about all five titles on Hosseini's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Five best works that explore marriage

Edward Mendelson, a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University and author of books including Early Auden and The Things That Matter: What Seven Classic Novels Have to Say About the Stages of Life, named a five best list of "works [that] explore marriage with uncommon clarity" for Opinion Journal.

One title on his list:
The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (Century, 1918).

This brief and devastating novel explores the conflict between marital duty and romantic love but is startlingly different from the many hundreds of other novels on the same theme. Chris Baldry, a British officer in World War I, is sent home from the battlefield after suffering a psychological wound that has erased his memory of the past 15 years. He is puzzled by the expensive-looking stranger named Kitty who explains that he is married to her, and he longs for Margaret, an innkeeper's daughter whom Kitty had never heard of until now. For Chris, the sober reality of marriage (his and Kitty's only child died young) is an illusion, and the bright illusion of romance is a reality. Rebecca West's first novel is a masterpiece of surprise and inevitability, with an ending that evokes intense and unresolvable feelings.
Read about the other four titles on Mendelson's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Most Hugo and Nebula best novel wins

Larry Ketchersid, who blogs at Dusk Before the Dawn, has compiled a list of authors who have won the most Hugo and Nebula Awards for best SF/F novel.

The top 4 winners on the list:
1. Lois McMaster Bujold 6 (4H,2N)
  • 1989 - Falling Free (N)
  • 1991 - The Vor Game (H)
  • 1992 - Barrayar (H)
  • 1995 - Mirror Dance (H)
  • 2004 - Paladin of Souls (H,N)

2.Robert Heinlein 5 (5H)

  • 1951 - Farmer in the Sky (H)
  • 1956 - Double Star (H)
  • 1960 - Starship Troopers (H)
  • 1962 - Stranger in a Strange Land (H)
  • 1967 - The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (H)

2. Joe Haldeman 5 (2H, 3N)

  • 1976 - The Forever War (H,N)
  • 1998 - Forever Peace (H,N)
  • 2005 - Camouflage (N)
2. Ursula K. LeGuin 5 (2H, 3N)
  • 1970 - The Left Hand of Darkness (H,N)
  • 1975 - The Dispossessed (H,N)
  • 1990- Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea (N)
Read the entire list.

Ketchersid's list was inspired by similar list, assembled by John DeNardo of SF Signal, of authors with the most Hugo and Nebula Awards across all categories.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Five best Cold War classics

Ernest Lefever, author of The Irony of Virtue: Ethics and American Power (1998) and America's Imperial Burden (1999), named a five best list of "Cold War classics for an age of a resurgent Russia" for Opinion Journal.

Number One on his list:
The Twenty Years' Crisis: 1919-1939 by E.H. Carr (Macmillan, 1939).

Published in 1939 just before Hitler invaded Poland, "The Twenty Years' Crisis: 1919-1939" was one of the first modern books on world politics in the classic tradition of Thucydides and Machiavelli. During the long weekend between the two world wars, says British scholar E.H. Carr (1892-1982), there was in the English-speaking world an almost "total neglect of the factor of power." Like Reinhold Niebuhr, whom he often quotes, Carr believes that a balance of power among states is the starting point in foreign policy but that morality is an essential consideration. Utopian "superstructures such as the League of Nations," he said, were not the answer. Carr's critics point to his early pro-Nazi stance and his muddled thinking about communist Russia. He once wrote that "the Russian Revolution gave me a sense of history" and it "turned me into a historian." That said, this book remains a seminal work on the realism that instructed U.S. and British Cold War statesmen.
Read about the other titles on Lefever's list.

--Marshal Zeringue