Saturday, August 30, 2008

Firoozeh Dumas' 5 best funny books

Firoozeh Dumas, author of Laughing Without an Accent and Funny in Farsi, named a five best list of funny books the Wall Street Journal.

One title on her list:
Portuguese Irregular Verbs
by Alexander McCall Smith
Anchor, 2003

British author Alexander McCall Smith, best known for his No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency mystery series, reliably brings a light touch to his work, but he gives his comedic instincts full rein in the series named for its first entry, "Portuguese Irregular Verbs." Smith was a longtime law professor at the University of Edinburgh, and here he follows the adventures of Prof. Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, an expert in the Portuguese language who feels that he hasn't been accorded the sort of professional respect he deserves. His attempts to correct that shortfall invariably end in priceless indignities -- as when von Igelfeld, on a visit to Fayetteville, Ark., is mistaken for a German veterinarian and finds himself about to operate on a dog.
Read about all five books on Dumas' list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Critic's chart: exchanges of letters

Derwent May, a writer and reviewer for the London Times, named a "critic's chart" of top books of exchanges of letters.

The book at the top of his list:
The Mitfords, ed Charlotte Mosley

Vivid letters between six remarkable aristocratic sisters.
Learn about the other five books on May's list.

The title of the New York Times review of The Mitfords: ‘Heil Hitler! Love, Bobo’.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Most important books: Thomas Frank

Thomas Frank is the author of What' s the Matter With Kansas?, which examined why people seem to vote against their economic interests, and the recently published The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule.

He told Newsweek about his five most important books. One title on the list:
"Anti-Intellectualism in American Life" by Richard Hofstadter.

Every battle of our culture wars is just a footnote to this book.
Read more about Frank's 5 most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Five best: books on political conventions

CBS's Jeff Greenfield named a five best list of books about political conventions for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on his list:
Five Days in Philadelphia
by Charles Peters
PublicAffairs, 2005

"Five Days in Philadelphia" may trigger a feeling of nostalgia for the days of brokered conventions with multiple ballots. Certain readers may even be led to skip the upcoming conventions and watch C-SPAN's newsreel footage of the Good Old Days. Wendell Willkie -- a small-town Indiana boy turned utility-company executive -- seemed an unlikely possibility for the 1940 GOP nomination compared with Sens. Robert Taft and Arthur Vandenberg and the New York prosecutor Thomas Dewey. But with the assistance of Republican media outlets such as the New York Herald-Tribune and Time magazine, and with chants of "We Want Willkie!" echoing through the Philadelphia convention galleries, the internationalist-minded Willkie took the nomination on the sixth ballot. Charles Peters, the founding editor of the Washington Monthly, describes the GOP convention in compelling detail and, along the way, provides a fine account of the Democratic convention too, where an ostensibly reluctant FDR -- who "wanted it made clear that he was not actively seeking a third term" -- was nominated over the strong opposition of many in his party.
Read about all five books on Greenfield's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 22, 2008

Six top theatre biographies

Benedict Nightingale, chief theatre critic of The Times (London), picked a "critic's chart" of the top theatre biographies.

Number One on his list:
Bernard Shaw by Michael Holroyd

Long, magisterial but hugely readable account of how a nervous, weedy Dublin boy transformed himself into GBS.
Read about all six titles on Nightingale's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Top 10 literary scenes from the battle of the sexes

Eli Gottlieb has worked as a Senior Editor of Elle Magazine and taught American Literature as a Lecturer at the University of Padova, Italy. His first novel, The Boy Who Went Away, won the prestigious Rome Prize, the 1998 McKitterick Prize from the British Society of Authors, and was a New York Times Notable book. He is a contributing editor for 5280 magazine.

His latest novel is Now You See Him.

For the Guardian, he named his "top 10 scenes from the battle of the sexes." One novel on the list:
Herzog by Saul Bellow

Arguably his most perfectly achieved book (Auden told him it's only fault was it was too well-written) it's also a novel of paybacks for real-world slights. That may account for the prussic acid nastiness with which the adulterous lovers at the heart of the book are depicted. Bellow stands quite justly accused of writing somewhat one-dimensional female characters, but the dialogues between the power-mad bluestocking wife and the thwarted professor-husband, are fabulously, irresistibly mean-spirited.
Read about the other items on Gottlieb's list.

Read an excerpt from Now You See Him, and learn more about the book and author at Eli Gottlieb's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Eli Gottlieb's Now You See Him.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 18, 2008

Best books written by classical musicians

Neil Fisher, classical, opera and dance editor of The Times (London), compiled a critic's chart of "the best books written by classical musicians."

One title on his list:
Mozart in the Jungle by Blair Tindall

A disgruntled oboeist lifts the lid on the seamy side of modern orchestral life.
Read about all six books Fisher's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Five best books about historical conquest

David Day, author of Conquest: How Societies Overwhelm Others, named a five best list of books about historical conquest for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on his list:
History of the Conquest of Mexico
by William Prescott

History can be understood in many ways, but one of the most compelling is to track the movement of peoples and their later attempts to put their stamp on newly conquered lands. Spain's conquest of Mexico in the 16th century is a dramatic example. A rousing narrative of that conquest was written in the early 1840s by the partially blind American historian William Prescott, who combined admiration for the Spanish conqueror Cortés with a relatively sensitive portrayal of the vanquished Aztecs. "It is but justice to the Conquerors of Mexico," Prescott writes, "to say that the very brilliancy and importance of their exploits have given a melancholy celebrity to their misdeeds." This hugely influential book was based on research in Spanish archives and was published as Americans were completing a sweep across land that they had claimed as their own.
Read about all five books on Day's list.

The Page 99 Test: David Day's Conquest.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Top 10 literary Gypsies

Jessica Duchen's most recent novel is Hungarian Dances.

For the Guardian, she named her top 10 literary Gypsies.

She writes: "It's fascinating that century after century, Gypsies are both the most romanticised people on earth and the most vilified: this is almost as much the case now as it was two centuries ago. Writers, of course, have been milking the situation for donkey's years. My second novel, Hungarian Dances, tells the story of a British-born violinist, Karina, whose discovery of hidden truths about her Hungarian family history and her formidable grandmother Mimi's Roma background challenges her own sense of identity."

One title on Duchen's list:
Mr Rochester (in disguise) in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre

Mr Rochester takes advantage of the much-caricatured superstition that Gypsies are clairvoyant, and with good reason: when he disguises himself as a Gypsy fortune-teller, it gives him the power over Jane and Blanche to see beyond the superficial niceties that the women present to his usual incarnation. Jane is terrified by the fortune-teller's aspect – afraid of "her" dark skin, and of something or someone different from herself. Simultaneously, of course, she's transfixed.
Read about the other nine titles.

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

Jane Eyre also made the Guardian's top 10 list of "outsider books" and its top 10 list of romantic fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Jonathan Kozol's 5 most important books

Jonathan Kozol is an activist and National Book Award winner best known for his works on public education. His latest book is Letters to a Young Teacher.

He told Newsweek about his five most important books. One book on the list:
"The Souls of Black Folk" by W.E.B. Du Bois.

Unlike most political books, it is also a work of artistry and beauty. It captured my soul.
Read about the other books on Kozol's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 11, 2008

Nonfiction books with brilliant opening chapters

Edward Dolnick is the author of Down the Great Unknown, The Rescue Artist, Madness on the Couch, and The Forger's Spell.

A former chief science writer at the Boston Globe, he has written for the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times Magazine, and many other publications.

Invited by to "[r]ecommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise," he came up with:
Five Nonfiction Books with Brilliant Opening Chapters:

The Path to Power: The Years of Lyndon B. Johnson, Vol. 1 by Robert A. Caro

Freedom at Midnight by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins

Maximum City by Suketu Mehta

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory by William Manchester

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
Read the interview from which this list is drawn.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Five best: books on the Olympics

ESPN's Jeremy Schaap named a five best list of books on the Olympics for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on the list:
You Can't Go Home Again
By Thomas Wolfe
Harper, 1940

"You Can't Go Home Again" isn't really about the Olympics, but its protagonist, George Webber, spends the summer of 1936 in Berlin, where he cheers for Jesse Owens and bears witness to the passion of the German masses as they embrace their Führer. The Games of the 11th Olympiad were the most significant Olympics of the modern era, and Thomas Wolfe -- who was himself there -- captures the atmosphere with, well, a novelist's eye. Here he describes the scene when Hitler approached the Olympic stadium: "At last he came, and something like a wind across a field of grass was shaken through that crowd, and from afar the tide rolled up with him, and in it was the voice, the hope, the prayer of the land." Published posthumously (Wolfe died of tuberculosis in 1938, at age 37), after the German invasion of Poland but before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, "You Can't Go Home Again" makes it clear that Americans, and everyone else, could ignore Hitler's Germany only at their peril. "There seemed to be something ominous about it," Wolfe writes about the prevailing mood in Berlin as the opening ceremony approaches. "One sensed a stupendous concentration of effort, a tremendous drawing together and ordering in the vast collective power of the whole land. And the thing that made it seem ominous was that it so evidently went beyond what the games themselves demanded."
Read about the other four books on Schaap's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Top ten westerns

Clive Sinclair is the author of several novels and short stories, including True Tales of the Wild West.

For the Guardian, he selected his top ten westerns.

His account of what goes into a good western opens: "I can't go to bed with John Wayne, so I do the next best thing: I go to bed with my girlfriend, who once met the great man. That's how much I love westerns." [read on]

Number One on Sinclair's list:
The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains by Owen Wister

In the 1880s a weedy Easterner named Owen Wister had something like a nervous breakdown. Wyoming, with its wide-open spaces and healthy pursuits, was prescribed as a cure. Wister was immediately smitten by the taciturn cowboys and the rules imposed upon them by the cattle barons. Collecting his notes he produced the novel that is the western's sine qua non. It was Gary Cooper, I think, who first spoke the immortal line on camera: "When you call me that, smile!" Researching for my own book I came upon the Occidental Hotel in Buffalo, Wyoming, where I was shown the very room in which Wister composed a part of his masterpiece. Some claim it was the very room whither the Virginian repaired to claim his Molly after his climactic shoot-out with Trampas. A good corrective to Wister's world view - in which the cattle barons (the "quality") were born justified - is Michael Cimino's unfairly vilified Heaven's Gate.
Read about the other nine titles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Critic's chart: best faked memoirs

Iain Finlayson, who reviews non-fiction for the London Times, named a critic's chart of the best faked memoirs.

Number One on the list:
Col Crockett's Exploits by Davy Crockett

Pseudo-autobiography based on faked journal, claimed to have been found at the Alamo.
Read about all six titles on Finlayson's chart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The 10 oddest travel guides

For Slate, Paul Collins named the "10 [travel guidebooks] that are so transfixingly odd that they've remained readable long beyond their original itineraries."

Number One on the list:
The Truth About Hunting in Today's Africa, and How To Go on Safari for $690.00, by George Leonard Herter (1963)

Equal parts Hemingway and Cliff Clavin, mail-order hunting goods retailer George Herter was one of America's great oddball writers. His self-published guide—bound in tiger-print cloth—is a malarial fever of anecdotes, family safari photos, and horrifying advice: "Baboons are simply too small for leopard bait. ... A live dog is one of the best leopard baits." Hunting with a phonograph of distressed goat calls is encouraged; so is the importation of animals: "Leopard farming would be far more profitable than mink farming," he proposes. As the corpses of rhinos, lions, elephants—and one of their guides—pile up for more than 300 pages, Herter never misses a chance to sell his sporting goods with such photo captions as: "A Masai warrior admires a pair of Hudson Bay two point shoes."
Read about the other nine titles on Collins' list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 4, 2008

Critic's chart: top Olympics books

For the Times (London), Calvin Shulman named a critic's chart of six top Olympic books.

One book on his list:
The Marathon Makers by John Bryant

Why is the marathon distance 26 miles and 385 yards?
Read about the other books on Shulman's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Five best: psychological crime novels

For the Wall Street Journal, novelist Andrew Klavan named a five best list of psychological crime novels.

Number One on his list:
Crime and Punishment
by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Destitute and depressed in St. Petersburg, the former student Raskolnikov conceives the idea that an "extraordinary man" should be free of socially constructed moral constraints. Working off that theory, he brutally ax-murders a pawnbroker and her sister -- and discovers, to his horror, that he has violated not a mere social construct but the unfathomable Moral Law Within. His escape from the crime scene is as suspenseful as anything in Hitchcock. The scenes of his psychological duel with the canny police detective Porfiry Petrovich have been imitated endlessly yet never matched. But if Dostoevsky had written only the heart-wrenching scene in which the prostitute Sonya reads to the murderer from the Gospels, he could have retired after a life's work well done.
Read about the other four titles on Klavan's list.

Klavan's latest novel, Empire of Lies (Harcourt), has just been published..

--Marshal Zeringue