Saturday, February 28, 2009

James Gray: best books

James Gray's films include Two Lovers, starring Joaquin Phoenix and ­Gwyneth Paltrow, and Little Odessa and We Own the Night.

He named his six best books for The Week.

One book on the list:
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Signet, $7).

In my view, Anna Karenina is simply the best novel ever written. A book of authentic emotion, acutely observed and brilliantly executed, with astonishing sweep and power. My personal favorite moment is when Levin goes to the men’s club.
Read about all six titles on Gray's list.

Anna Karenina also made Louis Begley's list of favorite novels about cheating lovers, the most important books lists of Ha Jin, Claire Messud, and Alexander McCall Smith, and Marie Arana's list of the best books about love.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Top 10 "eccentric" Middle East books

Patrick Tyler is a journalist and author whose career in newspapers includes 12 years at The Washington Post, and 14 years at The New York Times, where he was chief correspondent from 2002-2004. He anchored The Times coverage of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and established its Baghdad Bureau after the fall of Saddam Hussein. His latest book is A World of Trouble: The White House and the Middle East--from the Cold War to the War on Terror.

For the Guardian, he named a top ten list of "eccentric" Middle East books -- books that "come at the essential conflict in the region from an obtuse angle, casting surprising light on a situation that often seems all too familiar."

One title on the list:
A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz

An epic story of the author's life intertwined with that of Israel. This book was given to me by the family I stay with in Tel Aviv. "If you read this, you will understand everything about us," said my host. Oz's journey touches on growing up in Palestine, his richly varied extended family, his mother's long descent toward suicide and the perseverance of an irrepressibly curious intellect. As a boy, he thought "that soon, in a few years, the Jews would be the majority here, and as soon as that happened we'd show the whole world how to treat a minority ... It was a pretty dream."
Read about all ten books on Tyler's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ten of the best parodies in literature

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

One book on the list:
Ulysses by James Joyce

Bloom meets the drunken Stephen Dedalus at Dublin's National Maternity Hospital, where Mina Purefroy is giving birth, and the narrative runs through English literary styles from Anglo-Saxon onwards. The Dickensian account of the post-natal mother ("Reverently look at her as she reclines there with the motherlight in her eyes") is especially delectable.
Read about all ten parodies on Mullan's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lindsey Davis' top 10 Roman books

Lindsey Davis is the author of 19 novels featuring Marcus Didius Falco (born AD41) as well as other works. The first Falco novel, The Silver Pigs, won the Authors' Club Best First Novel award in 1989; Davis has since won the Crimewriters' Association Dagger in the Library and Ellis Peters Historical Dagger, while Falco has won the Sherlock Award for Best Comic Detective.

The 19th Falco novel, Alexandria, has just been published in UK and will be out in the US this spring.

For the Guardian, Davis named her top 10 Roman books. One title on the list:
The Colosseum by Keith Hopkins and Mary Beard

Narrowing the focus, Rome's most famous monument was built by the Emperor Vespasian to win the hearts of the people, who had no football but loved a good spectacle. This engagingly written account tells of its long history as a venue for bloodthirsty sports and other uses (cattle pasture, glue factory ...) and how it has inspired artists, authors and even botanists. The Colosseum is a must for tourists; you will find here all you need about the complex archaeology – but first read the sound advice on making a visit.
Read about all ten books on Davis' list.

Read the Page 99 Test for the 18th Falco novel, Saturnalia.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 23, 2009

Lynda Resnick's best books

Lynda Resnick, author (with Francis Wilkinson) of a new book on branding, Rubies in the Orchard, named a best books list for The Week.

One title on her list:
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (Dover, $1.50).

Karma on a sled. Wharton’s tale is a riveting page-turner. I first read it in high school. It taught me that fate has a nasty sense of humor—and that you shouldn’t fool around with your cousin’s husband.
Read about all six books on Resnick's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Five best: autobiographies by actresses

Molly Haskell is a writer and film critic. She has lectured widely on the role of women in film and is the author of From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies.

Her new book, Frankly, My Dear: "Gone with the Wind" Revisited, is out this month.

For the Wall Street Journal, she named a five best of autobiographies by actresses. One title on Haskell's list:
by Katharine Hepburn
Random House, 1991

Katharine Hepburn, equal to Bette Davis in ambition, seems in this memoir also to share her sense of solitary pursuit: "People who want to be famous are really loners. Or they should be." Like Davis, Hepburn put career first; unlike Davis, she never really fantasized the perfect marriage and the little white house. Until she fell for Spencer Tracy, she kept her lovers -- Howard Hughes, Leland Hayward -- at arm's length and was a shrewd businesswoman from the start. Her writing style consists of a slapdash series of jottings to self and fans, as if she were dictating while striding over a golf course. Yet "Me" captures beautifully that signal Hepburn combination of presumption and insecurity, self-love and abject humility. Should I have done this, done that? Wasn't I a bitch! And, yes, she was, often, but also an enchantress, and she is unstinting in showing us both. A superhuman resiliency allows her (like Davis) to suffer the most humiliating setbacks -- she was once famously declared "box-office poison" -- and continue going forward. Her flinty New England upbringing was both inspiration and protection: At her parents' urging, she was diving off cliffs, wrestling and competing from an early age, turning fear into something she feared so much that it made her fearless.
Read about all five books on the list.

Read an excerpt from Frankly, My Dear, and learn more about the book at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 20, 2009

The 10 best weddings in literature

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

One wedding on the list:
Mr Rochester and Jane Eyre

They do get married in the end, of course, but we all remember the wedding that gets interrupted. Jane has got her man to the altar. "Speak now or forever hold your peace!" And Mr Briggs does speak: "I declare the existence of an impediment." Happiness is snatched away.
Read about the other nine weddings on Mullan's list.

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

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Top ten books: South American journeys

Hugh Thomson’s first book, The White Rock, was the result of a twenty-year long quest to explore and understand the Peruvian Andes in the area beyond Machu Picchu. His most recent book, Nanda Devi: A Journey to the Last Sanctuary is about the celebrated Nanda Devi Sanctuary in the Himalaya, on the border between Tibet and India, long closed to all visitors by the Indian government, but briefly re-opened to the outside world for an international expedition of which he was a part.

He also has had a long career as a director and producer of documentaries.

For the Guardian, he named his top ten books of South American journeys.

One title on his list:
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

No novelist since Proust has had a more acute sense of smell than Márquez. Penguin should reissue his books with sprayed strips of paper interspersed between the leaves. The hot still air of his un-named Caribbean port , the "city of the Viceroys", is enveloped by "the tender breath of human shit, warm and sad", against which his protagonists wear imported cologne from Farina Gegenuber and the houses are filled with pots of heliotrope to perfume the dusk. The steamboat journey that the finally reunited lovers make into the interior of Colombia is one of literature's most compelling.
Read about all ten books on Thomson's list.

Love in the Time of Cholera also made Marie Arana's list of the best books about love.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Marie Arana's best books about love

Marie Arana, the former editor of the Washington Post’s Book World and author of the newly released novel Lima Nights, named her six favorite books about love for The Week.

One title on the list:
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Penguin, $17).

It was panned as “a trifling romance” when it was released over the course of five years in a Russian periodical. But Dostoyevsky declared this novel flawless. It centers on the doomed love between a married woman and a dashing count, and it’s as urgent as a potboiler. I’d even call it the greatest novel of all time.
Read about the other books on Arana's list.

Anna Karenina also made Louis Begley's list of favorite novels about cheating lovers and the most important books lists of Ha Jin, Claire Messud, and Alexander McCall Smith.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Chuck Klosterman's most important books

Chuck Klosterman, Esquire columnist and author of the novel Downtown Owl, named his most important books for Newsweek.

One book on his list:
"Animal Farm" by George Orwell.

The perfect book. It takes complex ideas and makes them entertaining and lucid and childlike.
Read about all five titles on Chuck Klosterman's list of his most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Five best books about musical theater

Ethan Mordden, author of Ziegfeld: The Man Who Invented Show Business, named a five best list of books about musical theater for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on his list:
Broadway Musicals
by Ken Bloom and Frank Vlastnik
Black Dog & Leventhal, 2004

This lavish coffee-table book can actually be used as a reference work. Its entries on each title provide a lengthy introductory essay, a concise synopsis and sidebars on everything from stars, writers and directors to backstage antics. "You don't give awards to the show," Zero Mostel cries when "Fiddler on the Roof" (1964) wins the Drama Critics Circle prize. "You give the awards to me!" The book's best element is its photographs, most of them never seen before. There is also an amazing amount of color, considering that the first show in the book, Victor Herbert's "Babes in Toyland," takes us back to 1903. The "Babes" entry includes the volume's only uncaptioned photo, presumably because it was mistakenly sitting in the "Babes" folder and the authors couldn't place it. It's from "The Wizard of Oz" (which also premiered in 1903), the first of several musicals based on the children's classic. The man in the 80-pound lion costume is Arthur Hill, beloved by a generation of kids whose first show this was.
Read about all five books on Mordden's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Ten of the most curious novel-writing politicians

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the most curious novel-writing politicians.

A couple of wannabe-presidents made the list, as did one actual president:
Jimmy Carter

As you might expect, the ex-President's foray into fiction - The Hornet's Nest - is a serious and hugely self-serious undertaking, a big historical novel set in Georgia and the Carolinas during America's revolutionary war.
Read about the other politician-novelists on Mullan's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 13, 2009

David Hare's best books

Playwright and director David Hare, whose screenplay for The Reader has just been nominated for an Academy Award, named a best books list for The Week.

One title on his list:
Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth by Gitta Sereny (Vintage, $25).

I think this is one of the most important books ever written, and certainly on one of the greatest themes: a Mephistophelean account of how Speer was flattered and corrupted into collaboration in Hitler’s crimes—and how he later denied it.
Read about all six titles on Hare's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Best books: Valerie Martin

Valerie Martin is the author of eight novels, including the Orange Prize winner Property and 2007’s Trespass. In October 2008 she recommended "six novels about doomed marriages" for The Week.

One book on her list:
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Penguin, $9).

In this testament to the dangers of a romantic education, Emma Rouault imagines love as “a great rosy-plumaged bird soaring in the splendors of poetic skies,” but husband Charles Bovary’s conversation is “flat as a sidewalk.” One day Rodolphe Boulanger, a local aristocrat, whispers to Emma, “Ah, but there are two moralities.”
Read about the other five titles on Martin's list.

Madame Bovary also made Louis Begley's list of favorite novels about cheating lovers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Top ten potato books

John Reader is a writer and photojournalist who holds an honorary research fellowship in the Department of Anthropology at University College London.

His new book, from Yale University Press, is Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent.

For the Guardian, he named his top 10 potato books.

Number One on the list:
History and Social Influence of the Potato by Redcliffe Salaman

Initially published by in 1949, but reissued in 1985, Salaman's book has to be first choice. He was nothing if not unrelenting in the breadth of his research, firing off letters to any institution or individual who might add something (or anything) to his study. The result is a deep and thorough book that amazes (in its detail) and exasperates (in its poor structural organisation) by turn. Indispensable.
See all ten titles on Reader's list.

Read an excerpt from John Reader's Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ten of the best prime ministers in fiction

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best prime ministers in fiction.

One title on the list:
Saturday, by Ian McEwan

Henry Perowne, McEwan's neurosurgeon protagonist, attends the opening of Tate Modern, where he is introduced to Tony Blair. "To Perownes surprise, Blair was looking at him with recognition and interest." The PM expresses admiration for his work. "In fact, we've got two of your paintings hanging in Downing Street." The episode is said to be autobiographical: Blair once mistook McEwan for a painter.
Read about the other nine PMs to pop up in stories.

Quite a few readers thought Mrs. Dalloway was a model for Ian McEwan's Saturday. Were they on to something?

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 9, 2009

Books about Charles Darwin: 5 best

James A. Secord, the editor of Darwin's Evolutionary Writings (Oxford, 2008), is the director of the Darwin Correspondence Project and professor of the history and philosophy of science at Cambridge University.

Number One on his list of the five best books about Charles Darwin:
The Tree of Life
by Peter Sís
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003

It might seem surprising to begin a column on books about Charles Darwin with a children's title (age 8 and up), but this delightful volume is a superior introduction for all readers to the great naturalist. The delicate drawings and diagrams -- displaying animals, plants, instruments, portraits, maps -- lend to the book the flavor of a gorgeously illuminated medieval manuscript. Peter Sís's images, like Darwin's own writings, invite the reader to observe carefully and make connections. The emphasis on detail comes across best in a cross-section of the Beagle, the ship that took Darwin around the world. This is a book to think with and an ideal way to escape the mindless polemics (and hero worship) that will inevitably crop up during the 2009 bicentenary of Darwin's birth on Feb. 12. Give it to your kids, if you can stop looking at it long enough yourself.
Read about the other four titles on Secord's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Bryan Burrough: best books

Bryan Burrough, a Vanity Fair correspondent, has just published his fourth book, The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes.

For The Week, he named his six best books. One title on his list:
The Polish Officer by Alan Furst (Random House, $14).

Furst’s spy novels are fiction for people who don’t read fiction. This one tells the story of a refugee finding his way through the shadowy intrigues of prewar Europe before emerging into the bullets and bombs of the Nazi onslaught. You will believe every word.
Read about the other five titles on Bryan Burrough's list.

The Polish Officer is also one of Charles McCarry's favorite tales of espionage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 6, 2009

Ten of the best chess games in fiction

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best chess games in fiction.

One title on the list:
The Royal Game by Stefan Zweig

One of the passengers on a ship is the world chess champion. Another, Dr B, tells the narrator of his incarceration by the Nazis, during which he tried to stay sane by playing mental chess against himself, dividing his mind into two contesting characters. With this training, he easily beats the world champion. In a return match, the champion plays as slowly as he can, driving Dr B to distraction and madness.
Read about the other nine chess games on Mullan's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Maria Semple's best books

Maria Semple has written for television shows including Arrested Development, Mad About You, and Ellen. This One Is Mine is her new novel.

For The Week, she named her six best books. One title on her list:
Last Night by James Salter (Vintage, $13).

I start every writing day by copying a few pages from Salter, one of the masters. Sometimes, I get to a sentence in this story collection that’s so gorgeous and devastating and short that I have to put my pen down and do what I feel is more my destiny, like troll the mall for sales.
See what other titles made her best books list.

Among the praise for This One Is Mine:
Maria Semple's remarkable first novel isn't just a witty, sharp-edged satire about adultery, social climbing, and the absurdities of L.A. On a deeper level, THIS ONE IS MINE is a complex, unexpectedly moving story about the risks and rewards of love, in all its irrational glory.
—Tom Perrotta, Little Children, Election
Read the CftAR interview with Maria Semple.

Learn more about the book and author at Maria Semple's website.

The Page 69 Test: This One Is Mine.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Five most important books: Paul Auster

Paul Auster's latest book is Man in the Dark.

He named his five most important books for Newsweek.

Number One on the list:
"The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

This is where American literature begins.
Read about all five books on Auster's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 2, 2009

Top ten books about justice

"I write novels about justice, a rich and compelling subject because it always involves the great themes - the struggle between right and wrong, good and evil, and love and hate," wrote Lisa Scottoline in 2006 in the prefatory remarks to a list in the Guardian of her top 10 books about justice.

One title on the list:
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

Dame Agatha's brilliant and innovative mystery - and her first bestseller - celebrates its 80th birthday this year and breaks the rules even as it makes them. For mystery freaks like me, it's the Holy Grail.
Read about all ten titles on Scottoline's list.

--Marshal Zeringue