Saturday, May 31, 2008

Five best: books about Hollywood

Whit Stillman is the writer-director of The Last Days of Disco, Barcelona, and Metropolitan.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of books about Hollywood.

One title on his list:
Between Flops
by James Curtis
Harcourt, 1982

Film directors are generally duds as biographical subjects, but the great exception is Preston Sturges. As James Curtis relates in "Between Flops," Sturges was a wastrel of an inventor and man about many towns when he wrote his first play out of pique at an actress girlfriend. His second play, "Strictly Dishonorable" (his reply to a young woman who questioned his intentions), became a major Broadway hit of the 1920s. Later, as a screenwriter at Paramount, he found a sympathetic studio executive in William LeBaron. Sturges offered to sell the studio his script for "The Great McGinty" for a dollar -- he was then getting upwards of $30,000 -- if they would allow him to direct it. The result was one of the great winning streaks in film comedy, including such classics as "The Lady Eve" and "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek." But LeBaron was followed as production head by songwriter-producer B.G. "Buddy" DeSylva -- "a small, abrasive Italian with a production sense limited primarily to musicals," Curtis writes -- who proceeded to drive out the studio's most valuable asset.
Read more about Stillman's five essential books about Hollywood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Writing under communist rule: a critic's chart

James Smith, who edits the Booktrust website, came up with six titles for a "critic's chart" of "writing under communist rule" for the Times (London).

One title to make the list:
Havana Gold by Leonardo Padura

The latest crime novel to feature the Cuban police lieutentant Conde is critical of the failings of Castro's regime.
Read about all six titles on Smith's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 26, 2008

Jane Yolen's most important books

Jane Yolen is an author of children's books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon, Devil's Arithmetic, and How do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? She is also a poet, a teacher of writing and literature, and a reviewer of children's literature. She has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century.

Her new book is Naming Liberty.

Yolen told Newsweek about her five most important books. Number One on the list:
"Moby-Dick" by Herman Melville.

It's a book I reread every 10 years, which is coming up again. I even love the whale parts.
Read about all five books on Yolen's list.

Visit Jane Yolen's website and her journal.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Five best: works of war poetry

Pulitzer Prize nominee James Anderson Winn is a Boston University College of Arts and Sciences professor of English and author of The Poetry of War.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of works of war poetry. Number One on his list:
The Iliad
Translated by Robert Fagles
Viking, 1990

For sheer, unblinking realism, no war poem can surpass Homer's "Iliad." When a man is "skewered . . . straight through the mouth," Homer unsparingly describes "teeth shattered out . . . both nostrils spurting, / mouth gaping, blowing convulsive sprays of blood." Homer's brutal honesty about warfare is apparent not only in these physical details but also in his treatment of the elaborate code of conduct that ancient Greek culture built upon the power of shame. "The Iliad" reveals the rules of that system and exposes its limitations. As Homer shows, the fear of being ridiculed or dishonored lurks beneath our clich├ęs about glory and honor. Princeton classics professor Robert Fagles, who died on March 26, gave us an "Iliad" that comes close to capturing the speed, intensity and stark horror of the Greek original.
Read about all five titles on Winn's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Critic's chart: true-life spy stories

Ben Macintyre, columnist for the Times (London) and author of Agent Zigzag: Lover, Traitor, Hero, Spy, named his top six true-life spy stories for the Times.

One book on the list:
Garbo: The Spy Who Saved D-Day by Mark Seaman

Juan Pujol, a Spanish anti-fascist codenamed “Garbo” by MI5, was a highly effective double agent.
Read about the other titles on Macintyre's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Romesh Gunesekera: top 10 island books

Romesh Gunesekera's books include Reef, which was short-listed in 1994 for both the Booker and the Guardian Fiction Prizes.

For the Guardian, he compiled a list of his "top 10 island books." One title on the list:
Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

For me this is an uncharacteristic Greene novel: light and funny, sometimes almost whimsical despite the satire on bureaucracy, the Cold War and organisational cover-ups. Not as powerful as his best, but like all his fiction it is vivid, memorable and the story moves effortlessly between Cuba and England.
Read about all ten titles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 19, 2008

Louise Erdrich: five most important books

Louise Erdrich is the author of twelve novels as well as volumes of poetry, children's books, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her Love Medicine won the National Book Critics Circle Award and The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her latest book is The Plague of Doves.

She shared with Newsweek a list of her five most important books. One title on the list:
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman.

The most shattering and consoling book I read this year.
Read about all five books on Erdrich's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Five best: books about the modern American West

Alexandra Fuller is the author of Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight and the recently published The Legend of Colton H. Bryant, a true story about a young man coming of age in the Wyoming oil fields.

For the Wall Street Journal, she named a five best list of books that "brilliantly evoke the modern American West." Number One on her list:
What You See in Clear Water
by Geoffrey O'Gara
Knopf, 2000

This timely work sheds light on the conflict over water rights in the American West, but it also describes the history of the Arapaho and Shoshone tribes who now live on the enormous and gorgeous Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, and it explores their relations with white settlers and their descendants. Geoffrey O'Gara's writing, though informed by careful research, is rooted in the land. He writes of Indian Inspector James McLaughlin's trek to the Wind River Canyon a century ago: "On the long trip north, he rarely looked up at the tall skidding clouds, or down at the sudden draws that dropped through the floor of the plains. It was spring, but barely spring, and scalloped ridges of snow still snugged against the lee sides of the hills." It's all there in "What You See in Clear Water" -- a tragedy in the making but overlaid with such tender beauty that you can't tear your eyes away from the page.
Read about all five titles on Fuller's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Ten best: film books

Tim Walker of the Independent came up with a "ten best" list of film books.

Number One on the list:
Bambi vs Godzilla by David Mamet

David Mamet turns his poison pen on the film industry, from the perspective of a rebel in the ranks. Entertaining and shocking, it's a great addition to the Hollywood-insider genre.
Read about all ten titles on Walker's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 12, 2008

Claire Tomalin: five most important books

At Newsweek, Claire Tomalin named her "five most important books."

At the top of her list:
"La Chartreuse de Parme" by Stendhal.

Conjures the post-Napoleonic period, from the battlefield of Waterloo to the intrigues at an Italian court where politics conflict with love.
Read about all five books on the list.

Tomalin is best known for her award-winning biographies of subjects including Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys and, more recently, Thomas Hardy.

View Claire Tomalin's writing room.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Ten best architecture books

Beatrice Galilee, an editor at Icon magazine, named "the ten best architecture books" for the Independent.

Number One on her list:
Delirious New York by Rem Koolhaas

Koolhaas is known around the world for his pioneering designs, such as Beijing's CCTV building, and this tome is one of the most insightful and intelligent books on cities.
Read about all ten titles on Galilee's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Sebastian Faulks: 40 recommended books

The bookstore Waterstone's invited Sebastian Faulks to select forty books for them to feature in-store; the headline writer for the Times (London) tarted-up the theme as "Sebastian Faulks reveals the 40 books he can't live without."

A couple of titles to make Faulks' list:
THE BLUE FLOWER by Penelope Fitzgerald

A short novel of mysterious power about the poet Novalis (1772-1801) and his love for a plain 12-year-old girl. Art of such refinement that it defies attempts to explain how it works.


I remember the exhilaration with which I read this novel for review when it came out. I had never before seen big ideas so excitingly integrated into human lives.
Read about all 40 books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 5, 2008

Randall Kennedy's most important books

Randall Kennedy is Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. His latest book is Sellout: The Politics of Racial Betrayal.

He named his five most important books for Newsweek. One title on the list:
Our Undemocratic Constitution by Sanford Levinson.

A fearless examination of the Constitution by one of the most adventurous (and overlooked) U.S. intellectuals.
Read about all five titles on Kennedy's list.

Levinson is not overlooked by CftAR sites: in September 2007, he responded to a few questions about Torture: A Collection which were put to him by the political scientist Cary Federman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Five best: baseball fiction

Nicholas Dawidoff's books include The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg and the newly released The Crowd Sounds Happy: A Story of Love, Madness, and Baseball.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of "Baseball Fiction For the Prose Hall of Fame." Number One on his list:
You Know Me Al
by Ring Lardner
Scribner, 1916

Ring Lardner's story of the ambitious young man from the sticks who comes to the big city to make his fortune became the seminal literary baseball narrative. Most baseball fiction veers toward the maudlin, but Lardner had a horror of sentimentality. This mordant book is as deft and shrewd as the protagonist, a hay-in-the-hair pitcher from the Indiana heartland named Jack Keefe, is boastful and self-deluded. It takes the form of a series of letters home from Keefe to his "Friend Al" Blanchard, side-splitting, semi-literate epistles in which Lardner, a former Chicago sportswriter, makes use of his matchless ear for translating the vernacular of early-day ballplayers into timeless prose.
Read about all five titles on Dawidoff's list.

Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections, on Dawidoff's The Crowd Sounds Happy:
I've never read a memoir whose author has remained truer to his boyhood self. The young Dawidoff who loved Ted Williams, Elvis Costello, and Samuel Johnson has grown up to write like an original amalgam of all three, and the result is an intricately recollected, uncommonly frank self-portrait with something terrific on page after page.
Read an excerpt from The Crowd Sounds Happy and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Top 10: books on Alpinism

Andy Cave is a world-class Alpinist and the author of Learning to Breathe and Thin White Line.

For the Guardian, he named a top 10 list of books on Alpinism. His criteria, followed by Number One on the list:
For me, the best books on Alpinism describe those who have genuinely pushed the boundaries of what is possible. Successful mountaineering literature, however, must do more than just transport the reader to an alien, frozen world through evocative prose and original metaphor. The best have emotional depth, allowing the reader to engage with the protagonists' internal thoughts and motives. Done well, the common theme of courage overcoming adversity can inspire us to seek new challenges in our own lives.

Touching the Void by Joe Simpson

After pioneering a difficult new route up Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes, Joe Simpson breaks his leg. Simon Yates, his partner, begins lowering him down the immense face. Almost on the glacier, in a raging storm, Yates' belay begins to disintegrate and in a moment of utter desperation he cuts the rope between them. What follows is astonishing. One of the greatest survival stories ever written, this compelling narrative forces the reader to wonder how they might have acted in the same circumstances.
Read about all ten titles on Cave's list.

Visit Andy Cave's website.

--Marshal Zeringue