Saturday, January 31, 2009

Books about Scotland Yard: 5 best

Arthur Herman, author most recently of Gandhi and Churchill: The Epic Rivalry That Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age, named a five best list of books about Scotland Yard for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on his list:
The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher
by Kate Summerscale
Walker, 2008

Long ago Scottish monarchs visiting Whitehall Palace in London stayed in rooms overlooking a parcel of land known as Great Scotland Yard. When England's first police force made the same address its headquarters, a public entrance was built facing the vacant ground. In June 1842, the Criminal Investigation Department was set up, consisting of eight plainclothes detectives. Scotland Yard has been a byword for the detection of crime ever since. One of the original eight was Jonathan Whicher, the best detective of his age. In "The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher," Kate Summerscale reconstructs his investigation into the baffling and brutal Road Hill House murder of a 4-year-old boy in 1860. She recounts how the case not only became the sensation of mid-Victorian London but also set the mold for fictional whodunits from Willkie Collins and Sherlock Holmes to "Law & Order" and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."
Read about all five titles on Herman's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 30, 2009

Ten best lost manuscripts

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best lost manuscripts.

Number One on the list:
TE Lawrence: Seven Pillars of Wisdom

TE Lawrence left Seven Pillars of Wisdom in the cafe at Reading station. He telephoned the station from Oxford when he arrived, but the case with the manuscript had gone and was never found. The version we read is an earlier, "inferior" one.
Read about all ten items on Mullan's list.

Lawrence's book also made the critics chart: six books on irregular war.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mysteries for political progressives

J. Kingston Pierce, editor of The Rap Sheet, has posted, along with additional commentary, "a fairly interesting baker’s-dozen list of mysteries that Philip Green [in the extensive new resource book, The Nation Guide to the Nation] says belong on the shelves of political progressives."

Two books on the list:
Blood Shot (1988) and Burn Marks (1990), by Sara Paretsky: “Between them, the two novels take on the seamy side of American society in the Reagan era.”
Read about the other 11 books on the list.

Unlike Green, Pierce is "not so convinced that the detective story is inherently conservative." Read why at The Rap Sheet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Best China books of 2008

Jeffrey Wasserstrom took an interesting approach to naming 2008's best China books for the Far Eastern Economic Review: he created "thematic pairs of books that are particularly effective when read together."

One such pair:
China Noir. Philip Pan’s "Out of Mao’s Shadow" grew out of the stories he filed while covering China for the Washington Post (he’s since moved on to the Moscow bureau), and it is a carefully researched work of political journalism. The obvious thing to pair with it would be another nonfiction study of Chinese politics. I’ll suggest here, though, that it goes very nicely with the British-born and now Beijing-based Catherine Sampson's "Slaughter Pavilion," a crime novel, albeit one whose author used to cover China for the BBC. There is much that differentiates the books from one another, beyond genre. Philip Pan offers up set of only loosely connected tales, for example, while Sampson’s narrative threads end up tied together.

Still, there are important intersections between the books. Each draws on a deep familiarity with the PRC. Corruption and repression figure in both. And though Philip Pan insists that he remains hopeful about China’s future (due to the faith he has that brave individuals, like several he profiles, can make a difference even when the odds are stacked against them), each author stresses the dark side of recent trends. Read together, they make a powerful brief for a bleak view of the PRC.
Read about all of the books on Wasserstrom's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ten best: identical twins in fiction

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best identical twins in fiction.

One entry on Mullan's list:
Claude and Eustace Wooster

Perhaps the Weasley twins owe their love of practical jokes to Bertie Wooster's tormenting twin cousins. They pitch up at Bertie's place having been sent down from Oxford for pouring lemonade over the junior dean. When they fall in love with the same girl, Jeeves tells them she has sailed for South Africa, and they set off in pursuit.
Read about all ten sets of identical twins on Mullan's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 26, 2009

Top ten "other" Scottish poems

For the Times (London), Gerard Carruthers, editor of a new collection of Scottish Poems, selected his top ten Scottish poems not by the famous Robert Burns.

One poem on his list:
Tom Leonard, "A Summer’s Day"

The great Glasgow love poem where the speaker has difficulty expressing his feeling but the emotion says it all.

Yir eyes ur


a mean yir

pirrit this wey

ah a thingk yir

byewtifl like ehm


fact a thingk yir

ach a luvyi that’s


jist thi wey it iz like

thahts ehm

aw ther iz ti say
Read about all 10 selected Scottish poems not by Robert Burns.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Five best books on irrational decision-making

For the Wall Street Journal, Jonah Lehrer, author of Proust Was a Neuroscientist and the forthcoming How We Decide, named a five best list of books on irrational decision-making.

One title on the list:
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds
by Charles Mackay

There is nothing modern about financial bubbles. In this classic work, Charles Mackay compiled an exhaustive list of the "schemes, projects and phantasies" that are a recurring theme of economic history. From the tulip mania of 17th-century Holland, in which 12 acres of valuable land were offered for a single bulb, to the South Sea Bubble of 18th-century England, in which a cheerleading press spurred a dramatic spike in the value of a debt-ridden slave-trading company, Mackay demonstrates that "every age has its peculiar folly." He notes that even the most intelligent investors are vulnerable to these frenzies of irrational exuberance: Isaac Newton is reported to have lost a small fortune after the South Sea Co. went bust.
Read about all five books on Lehrer's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Charles Cumming: best books

Charles Cumming is a British spy novelist who has been hailed as the heir apparent to John le Carré.

For The Week, he named his favorite thrillers.

One title to make the list:
The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John le Carré (Scribner, $16).

Written in the early 1960s, while le Carré was working for MI6 in West Germany, The Spy Who Came In From the Cold was described by Graham Greene as the finest spy novel he had ever read. Le Carré may have gone on to write denser, more emotionally complex novels, but none as powerful, nor as beautifully engineered, as this classic of the Cold War.
Read about all six titles on Cumming's list.

Learn more about the author and his work at Charles Cumming's website.

His most recent novel, Typhoon, was published in the UK to huge critical acclaim.

Cumming’s first novel, A Spy By Nature, was released in 2008 in the US in paperback. The sequel, The Spanish Game, is available in hardcover from St. Martin’s Press.

The Page 69 Test: A Spy By Nature.

My Book, The Movie: The Spanish Game.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 23, 2009

Top ten butlers in literature

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best butlers in literature.

Number One on his list:

In Shakespeare's The Tempest, Stephano is a butler (to the household of the shipwrecked Alonso) who is also a murderous rebel. A comic drunk himself, he plies Caliban with booze in order to recruit him to the murder of Prospero, magician lord of the island. He and Trinculo, the court jester, think that they can become rulers, but are returned to service by Prospero's "art".
Read about the other nine butlers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Best books: William H. Macy

The actor William H. Macy named a "best books" list for The Week.

One title to make the list:
Electric Universe by David Bodanis.

I’ve been on a war and technology kick lately. My wife’s sister sent me his amazing book, which I have since given to many people. It traces the history of electricity—from primitive man wondering about those flashes in the sky to computers. Believe it or not, it’s a page-turner.
Read about all six books on Macy's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Top 10 rejected titles

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten great novels with terrible original titles.

The top two titles on the list:
First Impressions

Jane Austen's father submitted an early version of Pride and Prejudice to a publisher under this title. The publisher rejected it by return of post.

All's Well that Ends Well

Tolstoy's incongruously cheerful projected title for War and Peace, which was actually first published under the title 1805.
Read about all ten books on Mullan's list.

The Page 99 Test: Pride and Prejudice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 19, 2009

Best books: Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker contributor and author of The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers: The Story of Success, named a "best books" list for The Week.

One title to make the grade:
Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt.

One of the heirs to the Freakonomics legacy. A very clever young writer tells us all sorts of things about what driving says about us. I kept waiting for the moment when my interest in congestion and roads would run its course. It never did.
Read about all six books on Gladwell's list.

Read more about Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) at the Knopf website, and learn more about Tom Vanderbilt's work.

Writers Read: Tom Vanderbilt.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Six top how-to books

Book reviewer Melissa Katsoulis named six top how-to books for the (London) Times.

One book to make the chart:
How to Talk to Girls by Alec Greven and Kei Acedera

Greven is 8. Probably the only correct use of the word “girls” in the whole dating-book genre, then.
Read about all six titles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 16, 2009

Best books about Chinese women in 2008

From The China Beat's list of the "10 Best Books about Chinese Women in 2008:"
Lijia Zhang, Socialism is Great! Atlas and Co.

Journalist and freelance writer Zhang narrates the boredom and hilarity of her life as a munitions factory worker in Nanjing, where she becomes infatuated with an aloof young man partly as a means to escape her boredom, and her eventual leadership of worker protests in 1989.
Read about all 10 books on the list.

Writers Read: Lijia Zhang.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Top ten smelly books

In 2006 Lara Feigel, a Lecturer at King's College London and author of A Nosegay: A Literary Journey from the Fragrant to the Fetid, named her top 10 smelly books for the Guardian.

Number One on the list:
Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust

Still the last word in smell literature. Not only does he render a plethora of particular smells (hawthorns in bloom, petrol, the perfume of a beautiful woman), he also makes a convincing case for smell as the most evocative and memorable of human senses: "'When from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more immaterial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like souls." Don't be scared by the size of Proust's tome: start with volume one and you won't look back.
Read about all ten books on Feigel's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 12, 2009

Critic's chart: top 6 vampire books

Lisa Tuttle, a novelist and science fiction and fantasy reviewer for the Times (London), named her top six vampire books.

Number One on the chart:
Carmilla by J.S. LeFanu

Early Victorian female vampire: she kissed a girl and she liked it.
Read about the other five books on Tuttle's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Books about high society: five best

Meryl Gordon, author of Mrs. Astor Regrets: The Hidden Betrayals of a Family Beyond Reproach, compiled a list of the five best "chronicles of high society" for the Wall Street Journal.

One book on her list:
Frankie's Place
by Jim Sterba
Grove, 2003
In 1982, when New York Times reporter Jim Sterba (now with The Wall Street Journal) fell for journalist Frances FitzGerald, he was initially daunted by her patrician New England background. Sterba was the product of a lonely childhood on a Michigan farm; she was the daughter of the swashbuckling deputy director of the CIA, Desmond FitzGerald, and the socially connected Marietta Peabody. Frankie, as Frances was known, had always summered at Northeast Harbor, an elite retreat in Maine (though the "Frankie's place" of the title is a decidedly non-luxurious uninsulated cabin). Reporting with wit and affection his experiences as a new spouse adjusting to this privileged patch of Maine, Sterba paints a memorable portrait of the village's local characters but also of the vacationing aristocracy, whose number included Brooke Astor.
Read about all five books on Gordon's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 9, 2009

Bill Maher's best books:

In October 2008 The Week ran a best books list from the host of HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher.

One book on his list:
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

My all-time favorite, even before Francis Ford Coppola turned it into Apocalypse Now. The ultimate topic, the ultimate metaphor. What great book couldn’t have been called Heart of Darkness?
Read about all six books on Maher's list.

Heart of Darkness has appeared in a few CftAR blog items including Best last lines from novels, Top 10 books about Congo, and Thomas Perry's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Critic's chart: books about the media

George Brock, International Editor of the Times (London), named six favorite books about the media.

One title on his list:
My Trade by Andrew Marr

Affectionate romp around political journalism and its history.
Read about the other five books on Brock's chart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

January Magazine: best books of 2008

One title from January Magazine's best books of 2008 list:
Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan (Viking) 320 pages

A teenage girl goes missing. Search parties are formed. Pale-faced parents speak to television cameras in quavering voices. Rewards are offered, flyers are taped to store windows, hopes rise and fall. By now, we’re sadly all too familiar with the unique cadence of events that follow an abduction. Most of us can pinpoint the exact moment when our optimistic faith turns to grim certainty the victim is not only missing, but murdered. In one of the best novels of his varied career, Stewart O’Nan charts the case of one family whose college-bound daughter vanishes into thin air while driving to work in a small Ohio town. With an almost forensic efficiency, O’Nan examines the effect of the mystery on the family, friends and the entire town. What happened to 18-year-old Kim Larsen is less important than how her parents and sister deal with the emotional aftershocks. -- David Abrams
Read about every title to make January Magazine's list of the best books of 2008.

The Page 69 Test: Songs for the Missing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 5, 2009

Best collections of literary letters, 2008

For National Public Radio, Troy Patterson selected 2008's best collections of literary letters, genuine and otherwise.

One title on his list:
Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger, by Lee Israel

The title comes from a note a contrite Dorothy Parker banged out in the early 1960s, except that it doesn't. The title comes from a Dorothy Parker note counterfeited by the rather unrepentant Lee Israel in the early 1990s. Once a best-selling biographer, Israel had slid headlong into hard times — food stamps, liquid lunches — when a chance discovery in a research library sparked a criminal epiphany. Over roughly 15 months, she painstakingly forged 400 letters "by" famous authors and showbiz notables, paying her Manhattan rent by selling them to autograph dealers. A writer with the talent to fake the voices of Noel Coward and Lillian Hellman is a real writer, and Israel's slender self-portrait as a literary low-life — a woman with vintage typewriters stacked in a mildewed storage locker, with a jug of scotch at her mouth after the FBI finally comes calling — is an absorbing hybrid of barstool yarn and brisk thriller.
Read about the other collections to make the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Books about Cold War culture: 5 best

Daniel Johnson, the editor of Standpoint and author of White King and Red Queen: How the Cold War Was Fought on the Chessboard, named a five best list of books about Cold War culture for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on his list:
Nineteen Eighty-Four
By George Orwell
Harcourt, Brace, 1949

It is easier to say when the Cold War ended than when it began. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union happened within two action-packed years, 1989-1991. But the ideological conflict between the Soviets and the West started immediately after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, well before the post-World War II battle for geopolitical supremacy. George Orwell seems to have coined the phrase "cold war" in 1945, in a newspaper article written while he was at work on "Nineteen Eighty-Four," the novel that defined the era more than any other. Rereading it today, one is struck by how prescient Orwell was in his evocation of a dictatorship under which truth and morality have been turned into "thoughtcrime." For Orwell, and for Winston Smith, the beleaguered central character of "Nineteen Eighty-Four," "freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows." The Cold War was won by insisting that the values of Western civilization were non-negotiable. Is that still our position today?
Read about all five books on Johnson's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 2, 2009

WSJ: Asia's best books, 2008

John Krich compiled the Wall Street Journal's list of Asia's best books of 2008.

One book on the list:
Aravind Adiga

Naturalism, this ain't. Nor is it some schoolboy's tale out of Rudyard Kipling. This comic novel was the winner of the 2008 prestigious Man Booker Prize, more often than not awarded to the most audacious literary work out of the old British Empire (former colonials not merely included but encouraged).

Told in the form of confessional letters to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, "The White Tiger" fairly reeks with claims to show the "real" and decidedly unspiritual India; the self-proclaimed tiger of the title is meant to symbolize the hard-charging and morally unhinged predators driving India's technology boom. (He writes to Mr. Wen because he's about to visit India to examine its high-tech industry.)

Of course, it's brought to you by a graduate of Columbia and Oxford who left India for Australia as a teenager (now 34, he's since moved back).What could be more real than that these days? The prose of the former Time magazine reporter is disciplined and vivid, though hardly up to the gushing poetics of a Salman Rushdie. Still, Aravind Adiga's caustic eye may be just what's needed to capture the cutthroat development of Bangalore and Gurgaon, at least until a local Dickens comes along. And his is one "tiger" worth sighting.
Read about all the books on the Journal's list.

--Marshal Zeringue