Saturday, March 29, 2008

Five best books about the search for Eden

Jonathan Rosen, the editorial director of Nextbook and author, most recently, of The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature, picked the five best books about the search for Eden for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on his list:

The Malay Archipelago
By Alfred Russel Wallace

Alfred Russel Wallace sailed to what is today Indonesia in 1852, looking for the origin of species. Astonishingly, he found it, scribbling in a sort of fever dream the same theory that Darwin had been nursing for more than a decade. But Wallace, one of the 19th century's great field biologists, was also looking for the rare and beautiful bird of paradise, almost as if he sought the metaphorical antidote to the shattering theory he had just devised. His exquisite account of the Malay archipelago -- the natives, the animals, the birdlife, the topography -- makes his book a classic of scientific travel writing. Joseph Conrad kept it on his nightstand and drew on it for "Lord Jim," the story of a man who is himself seeking an island paradise to escape the burdens of his own history.

Read about all five titles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 24, 2008

Critic's chart: books about Ulster

George Brock, the Saturday Editor of the (London) Times, has reported from Northern Ireland for the Times and the Observer.

He named six top books on Ulster, including:
A Secret History of the IRA by Ed Moloney

If an author discovered the full truth, they'd have to kill him. In the meantime, this is the best version available.
Read about all six books on Brock's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Five best books about chess

Gabriel Schoenfeld, the managing editor of Commentary and a chess columnist for the New York Sun, named his five best books about chess for the Wall Street Journal.

One book on the list:
Garry Kasparov on My Great Predecessors
By Garry Kasparov
Everyman, 2003-06

Before Garry Kasparov ended his playing career in 2005 to battle for democracy in Russia, he was rightly considered to be the greatest grandmaster of all time. But here he humbles himself charmingly before giants such as world champions Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900) and José Raúl Capablanca (1888-1942). In this comprehensive study of grandmaster play -- from the "Italian school" of the 16th century to our current postmodern synthesis -- Kasparov aims to connect his forebears' playing style with "the values of the society in which they lived and worked" and the "geopolitical reality" of their respective eras. The result is a work of unparalleled depth, spirit and ambition -- it already stretches into five volumes, and a sixth is on the way.

Read the full list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 21, 2008

100 best last lines from novels

American Book Review picked the 100 best last lines from novels. The top 5:
1. …you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on. –Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable (1953; trans. Samuel Beckett)

2. Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you? –Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

3. So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. –F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)

4. …I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. –James Joyce, Ulysses (1922)

5. But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before. –Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)
Read the full list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Top 10 books about boredom

Lee Rourke, the editor of the literary magazine Scarecrow and co-editor at 3AM Magazine, is the author of a debut collection of short stories, Everyday, published by Social Disease Publishing.

He named his top 10 books about boredom for the Guardian. Here is his introduction, followed by one item on his list:
"Boredom has always fascinated me. I suppose it is the Heideggerian sense of 'profound boredom' that intrigues me the most. What he called a 'muffling fog' that swathes everything - including boredom itself - in apathy. Revealing 'being as a whole': that moment when we realise everything is truly meaningless, when everything is pared down and all we are confronted with is a prolonged, agonising nothingness. Obviously, we cannot handle this conclusion; it suspends us in constant dread. In my fictions I am concerned with two archetypes only, both of them suspended in this same dread: those who embrace boredom and those who try to fight it. The quotidian tension, the violence that this suspension and friction creates naturally filters itself into my work."
* * * *
The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

For me this simply has to be the definitive book on boredom. I sometimes forget I am breathing when I find myself lost in passages from it, so engrossingly beautiful are they to read. Pessoa realised that beauty can be found in the everyday, the non-spaces of work and the naked moments we spend sitting in cafés looking out onto the street at passers-by. Those perfectly empty moments when we find ourselves waiting for absolutely nothing, until it's time to walk back to work or back to our homes for the evening. Pessoa's entire philosophical study of boredom is possibly the greatest poem ever written.
Read the full list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Critic's Chart: ship books

Naval historian David Cordingly, author of Cochrane the Dauntless: The Life and Adventures of Thomas Cochrane and other books, named a "critic's chart" of ship books for the London Times.

One book to make the list:
Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum

The building of the yacht Spray and the lone mariner's epic voyage.
Read about the other books on Cordingly's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 17, 2008

Most important books: Alice Waters

Alice Waters is the founder of Chez Panisse and author or co-author of several books, including Chez Panisse Vegetables, Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook, Fanny at Chez Panisse, a storybook and cookbook for children, and most recently, The Art of Simple Food.

Chez Panisse restaurant was named Best Restaurant in America by Gourmet magazine in 2001. Alice has received numerous awards, including the Bon Appetit magazine's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000 and the James Beard Humanitarian Award in 1997. She was named Best Chef in America by the James Beard Foundation in 1992 and Cuisine et Vins de France listed her as one of the ten best chefs in the world in 1986.

She told Newsweek about her five most important books. One title to make the list:
Second Nature by Michael Pollan.

A funny, wonderful teacher who takes your hand and introduces you to Mother Nature.
Read more about Alice Waters' most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Five best books about ambition

Warren Adler is a novelist, short story writer and playwright. His novels include The War of the Roses and Random Hearts, which have been made into popular movies.

His new novel, Funny Boys, is due out this month.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named five "favorite works about ambition, political and otherwise."

The oldest title on Adler's list:
The Red and the Black
by Stendhal

One has to work hard and long to find a novel more perceptive about the complex nature of ambition than this book by the French author Henri Beyle, writing under the nom de plume Stendhal. Julien Sorel, of peasant origins, burning with post-Napoleonic hero worship, reaches for upward mobility through the favors of his two formidable mistresses, who help propel him to great heights of power and influence. When one of the women, obsessed with Sorel and inflamed with unrequited love, tries to topple him from his perch, he plots her murder. Like any great novel, "The Red and the Black" echoes down the years -- especially today, when political ambition rages among the red and the blue.
Read about the other books that Adler tagged.

Visit Warren Adler's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 14, 2008

Top 10 books about civil war

In compiling his list of books about civil war for the Guardian, Michael Symmons Roberts "was looking for books that addressed the unique terror of 'neighbour against neighbour' conflicts, but also books that explored the particular challenge of peace in the aftermath of civil war. How do you go back to living with these people, nodding in the street, sharing trains, buses, schools, hospitals?"

Number One on his list:
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

The Spanish Civil War drew many writers in, and produced striking work in fiction and poetry as a result. Orwell's is one of the great memoirs, though. A novelist and journalist recounting his own experience
Read about the other nine titles on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Critic's chart: rock music in fiction

Mark Hodkinson, author of The Last Mad Surge of Youth, a forthcoming book about the music industry, named a critic's chart of rock music in fiction for the (London) Times.

Number One on the list:
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

He got there first, spotting all of us blokes who judge our fellow man by his record collection. And rightly so.
Read about all six titles on Hodkinson's list.

--Marhshal Zeringue

Monday, March 10, 2008

Russell Banks' most important books

Russell Banks is the founding president of Cities of Refuge North America and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His work has been translated into twenty languages and has received numerous international prizes and awards.

His many books include the novels Continental Drift, Rule of the Bone, Cloudsplitter, The Sweet Hereafter, and Affliction.

Banks' latest novel is The Reserve.

He recently told Newsweek about his five most important books.

One book on his list:
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville.

A masterpiece about our need to conquer nature even as we worship it.
Read about the other four books on Banks' list.

From the Guardian's mini-profile of Melville:
In his lifetime Melville was best known for Typee, his fictional account of Polynesian life; Moby-Dick sold poorly and was berated for its "mad" English and its "ravings" - as Melville put it, "a Polar wind blows through it, and birds of prey hover over it. Warn all gentle fastidious people from so much as peeping into the book - on risk of a lumbago and sciatics." Joseph Conrad later described it as "a rather strained rhapsody with whaling for a subject and not a single sincere line in the three volumes of it". But its mixture of action, symbolism and philosophy coupled with stylistic innovation and sheer volume had an enormous influence on the American novel. His sexuality has also been much discussed; the posthumously published Billy Budd came in at 13 on a list of the best 100 gay books.
--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Five best books about gambling

Sports Illustrated's Richard Hoffer is the author of Jackpot Nation: Rambling and Gambling Across Our Landscape of Luck.

For the Wall Street Journal, he tagged five "books about gambling [that] hit the jackpot."

Number One on Hoffer's list:
Positively Fifth Street
By James McManus
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003

"Positively Fifth Street" didn't single-handedly precipitate the recent poker boom (the card-cam may have been the clincher), but let's agree that it contributed mightily. James McManus, sent by Harper's magazine to cover the 2000 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, ended up producing a classic of participatory journalism. His interlaced account of a sensational murder trial -- the victim had been the poker competition's longtime host -- probably gives the book more drama than required, and the author's ruminations on his own dueling egos (Bad Jim and Good Jim) can be annoying. But all you really need to know is that a professor from the Midwest boned up on Texas Hold 'Em and, in the most capricious and cutthroat tournament known to man, made it to the final table, took fifth place and beat the pros out of a quarter-million bucks.

Read about the other books on Hoffer's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Julia Alvarez: 5 most important books

Julia Alvarez grew up in the Dominican Republic before emigrating to the United States at the age of 10.

She is the award-winning author of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, ¡Yo!, Once Upon a Quinceañera, and the National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, In the Time of the Butterflies.

For Newsweek, she named her five most important books, choosing the one book that mattered most in each decade of her life.

From her twenties, she selected:
The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston.

A beautiful, lyrical memoir about coming from somewhere else and reinventing yourself, while still bearing the burden of the past.
Read about the other four books on Alvarez's list.

Learn more about "The book that inspired the young Julia Alvarez."

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Five books with a 14-year-old girl's BFFs

Brooklyn native Rachel Cline lived in Los Angeles from 1990 to 1999. During that time she wrote screenplays and teleplays, designed interactive media, and taught screenwriting at USC. Her first novel, What to Keep, was published in 2004. Her newly-released second novel is My Liar.

At The Happy Booker in December 2007, she recommended a few books for the young teenage reader. Here is her introduction and the first book on the list:

When a young girl stars showing signs of bookishness, friends and relatives can be relied upon to introduce her to Pippi, Harriet, Nancy, the Judy Blume gang, and maybe even Lyra Bellacqua. But as girl readers turn the corner into teenagerdom, there are many fewer fictional oddballs on offer and many more sylphs with perfect hair hanging around. (And one should not have to suffer sylphs in the privacy of the fictional world!) So, here's a list of five books containing the kind of BFFs I was always looking for at around age fourteen. Admittedly, most are old chestnuts, but there can be something very encouraging about a character who's held her ground for as long as these girls have!

1.Cress Delahanty by Jessamyn West
An unusually dry-witted and restrained portrait of a Californian with a mind of her own. Episodically told, the novel has the vividness and awkwardness of real life and none of the dull parts. Cress dances around naked, suffers a mortifying pimple, adopts a ridiculous hat, survives a crush on a boy, a crush on an older girl, and an uncomfortable encounter with a male piano teacher.

Read the full list.

Read an excerpt from My Liar and learn more the author and her work at Rachel Cline's website.

The Page 69 Test: My Liar.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 3, 2008

Five best books about composers' lives

James Penrose writes about music for The New Criterion.

For the Wall Street Journal, he tagged a five best list of books about composers' lives.

One title on Penrose's list:
W.A. Mozart
By Hermann Abert
1920 (Yale, 2007)

Modern Mozart scholarship is indebted to Hermann Abert's groundbreaking biography, and little wonder. When it appeared in German almost 90 years ago, this engaging work was the last word on Mozart's life (1756-91) and music, offering penetrating analysis and wonderful accounts of his travails and triumphs and of his operas, concertos, church music and symphonies. But until last year, the book had never been translated into English. Stewart Spencer admirably executed the task for Yale University Press, and editor Cliff Eisen, a distinguished Mozart scholar, updated the text with scrupulous and marvelously perceptive annotations. Abert's study is a model of musical biography.

Read about the other books on Penrose's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Russell Celyn Jones's favorite books on Wales

Russell Celyn Jones, who grew up in Swansea, is the author of Ten Seconds from the Sun.

For the (London) Times, he named a critic's chart of his favorite books on Wales.

Two titles on the list:
Selected Poems 1946-68 by R.S. Thomas
An Anglican vicar and isolate who preached in Welsh verse.

Selected Poems 1934-1952 by Dylan Thomas
The other Thomas wrote about his lost childhood while the whole of Europe was in flames.
Read about all six books to make Russell Celyn Jones's list.

--Marshal Zeringue