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