Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Antonya Nelson: 5 most essential books

Antonya Nelson is the author of the newly published short story collection Nothing Right (Bloomsbury, 2009).

Her books include the short story collections Some Fun and In The Land Of Men, and three novels: Talking in Bed, Nobody’s Girl, and Living to Tell; and her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Esquire, Harper's, Redbook and many other magazines, as well as in anthologies.

She told Newsweek about her five most essential books. One title on the list:
A Passage to India by E. M. Forster.

Given a chance to speak with the dead, he'd be my choice. His heart is large and always vividly present in his work.
Read about the other four books on Nelson's list.

Writers Read: Antonya Nelson.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 30, 2009

Ten of the best examples of scars in fiction

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best examples of scars in fiction.

One scar on the list:
Every Man for Himself by Beryl Bainbridge

On board the Titanic, Bainbridge's protagonist and narrator, Morgan, discovers that a fellow passenger, Scurra, seems to know everyone's secrets. Scurra is marked for power by a strange scar, his bottom lip "scored through as though by a slash from a knife". He claims to have been attacked by a macaw in a Cape Town department store.
Read about all ten scars on Mullan's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ten best valets in literature

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

One valet on the list:

We know there is something deeply wrong with Steerforth, the object of the hero's devotion in Dickens's David Copperfield, when we encounter his manservant. Everything about him is "respectable". "Such a self-contained man I never saw. But in that quality, as in every other he possessed, he only seemed to be the more respectable." He helps Steerforth seduce Little Em'ly, and is ready to take possession of her when his master gets bored.
Read about the other nine valets on Mullan's list.

See also: Ten of the best butlers in literature.

David Copperfield appears among Elizabeth Gilbert's six favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Five best: books about the rise of conservatism

At the Wall Street Journal, David Frum, author of Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again, named a five best list of books about the rise of conservatism.

Number One on his list:
The Age of Federalism
by Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick
Oxford, 1993

In their scholarly but lively account of the period from 1786 to 1801, Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick vividly detail the achievements of the Federalists -- who shaped and formed the new United States -- and the process by which their coalition eventually disintegrated and collapsed. James Madison, a co-author of the Federalist Papers, defected from the Federalist coalition to join his friend Thomas Jefferson in opposition. Alexander Hamilton split from John Adams over policy differences in a feud that wrecked both their careers. The Federalist program was simply too ambitious for the early U.S. It crashed and shattered, opening the way to the more decentralized, more demotic and more turbulent ascendancy of the Jeffersonians and Jacksonians.
Read about the other four books on Frum's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 27, 2009

Eric Kraft's 5 most important books

Eric Kraft is the author of a series of novels chronicling the life of fictional character Peter Leroy. His latest title is Flying.

He told Newsweek about his five most important books.

One title on the list:
"One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel García Márquez.

It plays elegant games that came to be called magical realism, but may be better called realism in the service of romance.
Read about all five books on Kraft's list.

One Hundred Years of Solitude also appears on James Patterson's five most important books list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Top 10 fictional coffee scenes

Benjamin Obler's debut novel Javascotia is out now in the UK and coming soon to North America.

For the Guardian, he named "his favourite significant appearances of coffee in literature."

One title on the list:
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Janie went down and the landlady made her drink some coffee with her because she said her husband was dead and it was bad to be having your morning coffee by yourself.

So clearly coffee is about companionship, and promotes healing. Coffee has a chameleon-like nature: though it's the consummate non-prescription upper, it's also a balm, a salve. It fosters community and the repair of sorrow. It is a bridge between the despairing and the hopeful. (This scene also contains, later on the page, the brilliant "sankled", a combination of ambled and sank: "Janie sankled back to her room.")
Read about the other nine work's on Obler's list.

Visit Benjamin Obler's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ten of the best visits to the lavatory in literature

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best visits to the lavatory in literature.

One book on the list:
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

For Kundera, a visit to a nasty lav is emblematic of existential torment. The loo that Tereza visits in a Prague tower block is "broad, squat, and pitiful ... the enlarged end of a sewer pipe". Perching on the cold enamel rim she knows true humiliation. "As she voided her bowels, Tereza was overcome by a feeling of infinite grief and loneliness."
Read about the other entries on Mullan's list.

Lee Child called The Unbearable Lightness of Being "his private pick for the 20th–century novel that will live the longest."

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The 10 most successul literary sequels ever

At the (London) Times Luke Leitch named "the most successful literary sequels ever."

Number One on his list:
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

Recently ranked Britain's second most loved book (after The Lord of The Rings) Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813, two years after Sense and Sensibility. Its original title was First Impressions.
Read about all ten titles on Leitch's list.

The Page 99 Test: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

Related: ten literary one-hit wonders and ten cursed second novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 23, 2009

Top 20 most issued books in Norwegian libraries, 2008

Of the 20 most loaned books in Norway's libraries last year, 5 were Jo Nesbø novels.

One of the other fifteen:
Ut og stjæle hester [Out Stealing Horses] (Per Petterson)
Read about all 20 titles.

Read Ray Taras' review of Out Stealing Horses.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Top 10 cursed second novels

At the (London) Times Luke Leitch named ten "writers who couldn't quite match their initial success."

Number One on the list:
Something Happened- Joseph Heller

Thirteen years after Catch-22, Something Happened won critical acclaim but failed to capture the public imagination as its predecessor had.
Read about all ten authors on the list.

Related: 10 literary one-hit wonders.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Five best novels about the Great Depression

Peter Conn is Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. His publications include The Divided Mind: Ideology and Imagination in America, 1898-1917 (Cambridge University Press, 1983; paperback editions, 1988 and 2008), and Literature in America (Cambridge University Press, 1989), which was a main selection of Associated Book Clubs (UK). Pearl S. Buck: A Cultural Biography (Cambridge, 1996; Paperback 1998), was chosen as a "New York Times Notable Book," was included among the five finalists for the National Book Critics Circle award in biography, and received the Athenaeum Award. His new book is The American 1930s: A Literary History.

Conn named a five best list of novels about the Great Depression for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on his list:
Now in November
by Josephine Winslow Johnson
Simon & Schuster, 1934

A fictional account of one family's experience on the land, Josephine Winslow Johnson's best-selling novel won the Pulitzer Prize before sinking into undeserved obscurity. The Haldmarnes leave an unnamed city for the countryside when Father loses a good job in a lumber mill and with it any hope of financial security for his wife and their three daughters. The mortgaged farm to which the family moves yields little: The novel's central section is a day-by-day reckoning of the land's collapse into baked and cracking clay during the killing drought in the Great Plains of the 1930s. "Now in November" is one of the most convincing and hair-raising depictions of the Dust Bowl in the literature of the Depression. Unfortunately, history would find room for only one Dust Bowl novel, John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath."
Read about all five titles on Conn's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 20, 2009

Laura Lippman's top 10 memorable memoirs

Since the publication of her first novel, Baltimore Blues, in 1997, Laura Lippman has won virtually every major award given to U.S. crime writings, including the Edgar Award, Anthony Award, Agatha Award, Nero Wolfe Award, Shamus Award, and the Quill Award. What the Dead Know, published in 2007, was a New York Times bestseller and was chosen as one of the best books of the year by critics at the New York Times, Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, People magazine, Village Voice, and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Her latest novel is Life Sentences.

For the Guardian, she named her top ten memoirs. Her prefatory remarks and one title from her list:
I love memoirs, although I have promised my family members that I will never try my hand at one. ("Can I get that in writing?" my sister asked.) However, I'm generally not drawn to the addiction/dysfunction stories that have been popular of late; I wanted no part of A Million Little Pieces even when it was masquerading as nonfiction. As a former reporter, I have a pesky allegiance to fact, although I recognize that the fragile nature of memory makes it difficult for most writers to produce uncontestable versions of their lives. I am drawn to stories about the quotidian – marriage, friendship, childhood, work, life, death.
* * *
Great With Child by Beth Ann Fennelly

When Fennelly, an award-winning poet, was pregnant with her first child and about to move to a new, remote town, she made an interesting promise to a friend. She would write her letters, actual letters, about her experiences as a mother and a wife, to the novelist Tom Franklin. Given that I have profound doubts about writers marrying, I particularly enjoyed this passage about the day Fennelly and Franklin decided to combine their book collections: "About two years into our relationship, Tommy and I made one of the biggest commitment two writers can make... We were sitting on the floor in front of the couch, figuring out how to make the rent. It had been another night of lentils and rice. All around us were bookcases – our separate bookcases. We hadn't merged our books, on the silent assumption that when we'd split up we'd both want our books back. But gradually we were realising that there would be no splitting up."
Read about all ten titles on Lippman's list.

The Page 69 Test: Great With Child.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Ten literary one-hit wonders

At the (London) Times Luke Leitch "looks at those authors for whom one novel proved quite enough."

Number One on his list:
Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird

“I never expected any sort of success with [To Kill a] Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of reviewers, but at the same time I hoped that maybe someone would like it enough to give me encouragement - public encouragement. I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected.”
Read about all ten titles on Leitch's list.

To Kill a Mockingbird also made Lisa Scottoline's top 10 list of books about justice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Five best books on money

Jane Kamensky, a history professor at Brandeis University and the author of The Exchange Artist: A Tale of High-Flying Speculation and America's First Banking Collapse, named a five best list of books on money for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on the list:
by Lawrence Weschler
University of Chicago, 1999

Lawrence Weschler plunges headlong into the world of the conceptual artist J.S.G. Boggs with this dizzying, dazzling portrait. Born in New Jersey in 1955, Boggs lived, at the time of Weschler's writing, in London, where the Bank of England had accused him of counterfeiting (he was acquitted). The complaint made some sense: Boggs draws paper currency so accurately that his bills might enter the marketplace undetected. But he doesn't quietly pass them off; he spends them at face value, after providing a full explanation, with any shopkeeper who will agree to play along. Many do. Weschler chased the money artist across Europe and through the looking glass of value, taking detours into history, law, economics and philosophy. Big questions arise on the nature of art and money. What makes a dollar a dollar? Reader, check your wallet.
Read about all five titles on Kamensky's list.

Also see: ten of the best misers in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Top 10 contemporary Irish novels

From Foyles' top 10 list of contemporary Irish novels:
Amongst Women
by John McGahern

Description: Moran is an old Republican whose life was forever transformed by his days of glory as a guerrilla leader in the War of Independence. Now, in old age, living out in the country, Moran is still fighting - with his family, his friends, even himself - in a poignant struggle to come to terms with the past.
Read about all ten titles.

Amongst Women also appears on Frank Delaney's top ten Irish novels list.

Check out Declan Burke's top 10 list of Irish crime fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 16, 2009

Top 10 Irish novels

Frank Delaney is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel Ireland as well as Shannon, Tipperary and Simple Courage: A True Story of Peril on the Sea. A former judge for the Man Booker Prize, Delaney enjoyed a prominent career in BBC broadcasting before becoming a full-time writer.

In 2004 he named his top 10 Irish novels for the Guardian.

Number One on Delaney's list:
Ulysses by James Joyce

Obviously Ulysses has to be first. On another day in another room in another town my top 10 Irish novels might be different - but there are 'given' novels, the bibles of the country, without which no reader worthy of the nationality 'Irish' can proceed. Joyce hammered a job on the novel so complete that he became a category unto himself. Every literary style was mist to his grill, as he might have said, and his plotting, if such it can be called - two men who take all day to meet each other - paved the way for, among others, Samuel Beckett. Above all he taught every writer the importance of naturalistic dialogue; with his fine tenor voice Joyce knew better than most that we read not with the eye but with the ear.
Read about all ten titles on the list.

Ulysses also made John Mullan's list of the ten of the best parodies in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Six great works about justice and injustice

Thomas Cahill is the author of the best-selling books, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels, Desire of the Everlasting Hills: The World Before and After Jesus, Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, and Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World.

His new book is A Saint on Death Row: The Story of Dominique Green.

For The Week magazine, he named "six great works about justice and injustice."

One title on the list:
Letter From Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr. (Tale Blazers, $3.50).

Inspired partly by Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent protests, partly by his own Judeo-Christian tradition, King restates for our time the classical articulation by Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas of why we are under no obligation to obey unjust laws.
Read about the other five works on Cahill's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 13, 2009

Top 10 Swedish crime novels

Camilla Läckberg graduated from Gothenburg University of Economics‚ before moving to Stockholm where she worked for a few years as an economist. A course in creative crime writing became the trigger to a drastic change of career.

Her latest novel in English translation is The Preacher.

For the Guardian, she named a top ten list of Swedish crime novels.

Her preface:
Scandinavian crime fiction has become a great success all across the world and rightfully so. Sjöwall & Wahlöö ushered in a whole generation of Swedish crime writers, many of whom are now available in English. I think ours is a tradition that has much in common with English crime writing: there's a very similar care for setting, characters, and psychology.
One title on the list:
The Mind's Eye by Håkan Nesser

Nesser sets his stories in a fictional country that's not quite Sweden, but the people in them are very, very real. He used to be a school teacher before becoming a writer, and it shows in the meticulous way he handles his texts. But yet his writing never feels cold or static – there's heart in everything he writes and you find yourself understanding and sympathising with some real villains.
Read about all ten books on Läckberg's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Roger Smith's top 10 crime novels

Roger Smith is an accomplished screenwriter, director, and producer. His new novel is Mixed Blood.

Read two chapters of the book, watch a video, and see photographs of the world of Mixed Blood at Roger Smith's website.

The Page 69 Test: Mixed Blood.

At the South African crime writing blog Crime Beat, he named his top ten crime novels.

One book to make the grade:
Glitz, Elmore Leonard

This is when Elmore Leonard really hit his stride, doing what he does best: a multi-viewpoint narrative that moves like hell. Great dialogue (of course), a tough-but-vulnerable hero, a sick and nasty villain, with a good-looking woman thrown in. Is there anybody out there who wouldn’t kill to be able to write as effortlessly as this?
Read about the other nine titles on Smith's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Top 10 books about Paris & London lesbians in the early 20th century

Diana Souhami was shortlisted for the James Tait Black Prize for her biography of Radclyffe Hall, and won the 2001 Whitbread Biography Award for Selkirk's Island, the story of Scotsman Alexander Selkirk, the "real-life Robinson Crusoe."

A few years ago she named a top ten list of "books about Paris and London lesbians in the early 20th century" for the Guardian.

One title on her list:
A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway

A classic memoir, intriguing and light, in which Hemingway gives a haunting anecdote about Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas, who were intrinsic to Paris and modernism and supposedly the happiest of married couples. Hemingway writes of calling at their home in Rue de Fleurus and overhearing Alice speak to Gertrude as he'd never heard one person speak to another, "never anywhere, ever. Then Miss Stein's voice came pleading and begging saying, 'Don't pussy. Don't. Don't, please don't. I'll do anything pussy but please don't do it.'" We'll never know what was going on.
Read about all ten titles on on Souhami's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ten best misers in literature

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

One miser on the list:
Silas Marner

Like Scrooge, the protagonist of George Eliot's novel learns to abandon his avarice. A former Methodist zealot unjustly accused of theft, Silas becomes a misanthrope and accumulates a hoard of gold in lieu of human affections. His gold is stolen, but he gets instead a golden-haired foundling child, Eppie, who teaches him humanity.
Read about the other nine misers on Mullan's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 9, 2009

Five best books on the brilliantly disturbed

Joshua Kendall is the author of The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget's Thesaurus, now available in paperback.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of "books on the brilliantly disturbed."

Number One on the list:
A Beautiful Mind
by Sylvia Nasar
Simon & Schuster, 1998

To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, there are no second acts in the lives of schizophrenics. Once entrenched, paranoia rarely lifts. Thus the resurrection of mathematician and economist John Nash is a tale for the ages. While Nash's conversation as a young man had "always mixed mathematics and myth," by the late 1950s the MIT professor was going far beyond eccentricity. He talked of becoming the emperor of Antarctica; he also insisted that aliens were communicating to him through the New York Times. Nash spent the next three and a half decades as a revolving-door psychiatric in-patient and aimless wanderer. But after receiving the 1994 Nobel Prize for his long-ago dissertation on game theory, the former boy wonder miraculously regained his appetite for scientific study. Sylvia Nasar's "A Beautiful Mind" is less schmaltzy and tidy than the Oscar-winning movie based on it. The Hollywood version suggests that Nash benefited from new medications, but as Nasar reports, Nash actually stopped taking antipsychotics in 1970 and relied solely on his potent mind. "Gradually," Nash recalled, "I began to reject some of the delusionally influenced lines of thinking.
Read about the other four titles on Kendall's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Elizabeth Gilbert's best books

Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love, about the year she spent traveling the world alone after a difficult divorce.

Her first book, a collection of short stories called Pilgrims, was a New York Times Notable Book, received the Pushcart Prize, and was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award. It was followed by Stern Men, a novel which was also a New York Times Notable book, and The Last American Man, her biography of Eustace Conway that was a finalist in 2002 for both The National Book Award and The National Book Critic’s Circle Award.

For The Week she named her six favorite books. The volume of poetry on her list:
Refusing Heaven by Jack Gilbert (Knopf, $16).

Gilbert (no relation to me, though I wish he were) is my favorite poet, and Refusing Heaven is his greatest volume. If you’ve never read Jack Gilbert, find him. He is timeless, bold, sly, magical, fearless.
Read about the other five books on Gilbert's list.

Among the many readers of Eat, Pray, Love: Minnie Driver and Suzanne Vega.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 6, 2009

Top 10 Cuban novels

Leonardo Padura, author of short-story collections and literary essays yet best known for his Havana Quartet of novels featuring Inspector Mario Conde, named his top 10 Cuban novels for the Guardian.

His preface:
Cuba is a country of poets. It would almost be too easy to select 10 poets or books of poetry that play a key role in the short history of Cuban literature. But there are excellent – and diverse – Cuban novelists, too few of whom are available in English translation. The 10 I've picked here will hopefully give some idea of both the country's literary tradition, and its imaginative life.
Number One on his list:
Explosion in a Cathedral (El siglo de las luces) by Alejo Carpentier (1962, trans. John Sturrock)

I am convinced that this is the highpoint of the Cuban novel, the perfect fiction and supreme expression of stylistic and conceptual ambition in narrative prose. In this account of the impact of the French Revolution in the Caribbean, the theme is the tragic destiny that awaits all revolutions: the failure of their grand aims and the perversion of their beautiful ideals.
Read about all ten novels on Padura's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ten best rock biographies

At the Independent, Simon Jablonski named the ten best rock biographies.

One title on the list:
When Giants Walked the Earth
Mick Wall

Imaginatively laid out, Mick Wall's thorough account of Led Zeppelin's rise. As well as a guts-and-all account of the band's antics -- with appreciated attention paid to their infamous manager, Peter Grant -- it examines each band member's individual struggle and inspiration covering feuds, booze, women and the occult.
Read about all ten titles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ten of the best nuns in literature

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

One nun on the list:
Denis Diderot's Suzanne Simonin

Diderot's The Nun presents the fictional letters of a young woman forced into a convent by her parents. Suzanne tries to be a good Christian, but is tortured by her fellow nuns and finds herself the object of attention for a sexually predatory mother superior. No way out!
Read about the other nine nuns on Mullan's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Ten best history books

At the Independent, Jamie Merrill named ten history books capable of "improv[ing] your general knowledge."

One title on the list:
Necropolis: London and Its Dead
by Catharine Arnold

From burial mounds to charnel houses, the capital's first crematorium to the black crepe and floral tributes of East End memorials, Catharine Arnold's account of death in London is by turns fascinating, stomach churning and poignant. She is especially good on the endlessly over-the-top Victorian funeral business.
Read about the other nine books on Merrill's list.

Check out Gordon Wood's 5 best books on American history.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 2, 2009

Ten of the best funerals in literature

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

One funeral on the list:
Middlemarch by George Eliot

Everyone has been waiting for Peter Featherstone's death, to see where all his money will go. The miser, "who would drive a bargain with his undertaker beforehand", leaves strict instructions about his funeral. He has derived a dying satisfaction from arranging a grand ceremony, and one that is as inconvenient as possible to his relatives.
Read about the other nine funerals on Mullan's list.

Are you a little unsettled for not having read Middlemarch? So are John Banville and Nick Hornby.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Five best books on American history

Gordon Wood, a professor of history emeritus at Brown University and the author, most recently, of The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History, named a five best list of books on American history for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on his list:
The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It
by Richard Hofstadter
Knopf, 1948

Although Richard Hofstadter's "The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It" is more than 60 years old, it still has special significance for me. I was in high school when it came out, and I read it with mounting wonder and excitement. For the first time, I became aware that a history book could be more than nostalgic story-telling. Each of Hofstadter's essays on the great men of our past -- from the Founding Fathers to FDR -- challenged the conventional wisdom of the time and offered what were to me fresh and stimulating interpretations of these major figures. That the essays were often ironic and even cynical in places was especially appealing to an ornery teenager. Although some of the essays are dated now, most are so well-written and so well-argued that they continue to make compelling reading.
Read about the other four books on Wood's list.

--Marshal Zeringue