Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ten of the best unconsummated passions in fiction

Someone at the Guardian named ten of the best unconsummated passions in fiction.

One novel on the list:
The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

Another that ends in suicide. Edward Ashburnham, the "good soldier" of the title, is a beautifully mannered serial adulterer. His inclinations catch up with him, however, when he falls for the teenage Nancy, who is his ward. This girl is unattainable, so she gets sent to India and he gets the shotgun out of its case.
Read about the other nine unconsummated passions on the Guardian's list.

The Good Soldier also appears on the list of 10 great novels with terrible original titles and Most important books: Mary Gordon.

Read Ford Madox Ford and the page 99 test.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Top ten black comedies

Back in 2005 the novelist Tiffany Murray named her top ten "books that deal in the murky and contrary depths of dark humour" for the Guardian.

One item on the list:
Slaughterhouse-5 by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut's semi-autobiographical classic was 24 years in the making: "So it goes". The unspeakablility of war where all that follows Dresden's destruction is the 'Poo-tee-weet' of a bird. Like his protagonist Billy Pilgrim, Vonnegut was a prisoner of war inside a meat-locker beneath a slaughterhouse as Dresden was fireballed and bombed. It is unknown whether he, like Billy, was also abducted by aliens.
Read about all ten titles on Murray's list.

Slaughterhouse-5 also made Sebastian Beaumont's top 10 list of books about psychological journeys.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ten of the best floggings

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

One novel on the list:
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Corporal punishment commonly epitomises the collapse of humanity in Tolstoy's fiction. Kind, peaceable Pierre comes upon a flogging of a French cook in a Moscow square. Accused of being a spy, the Frenchman is flogged. A crowd of "officials, burghers, shopkeepers, peasants and women in cloaks and in pelisses" looks on in satisfaction.
Read about all ten floggings on Mullan's list.

War and Peace also appears on Niall Ferguson's 5 most important books list and Norman Mailer's top ten works of literature list.

Michael Jubien had some quality insights on War and Peace at Writers Read.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 27, 2009

Andre Dubus III: five most essential books

Andre Dubus III, a National Book Award finalist for his novel House of Sand and Fog, is the author of most recently of The Garden of Last Days, a story of terrorists in Florida.

He told Newsweek about his five most essential books.

One title on the list:
Selected Stories by Alice Munro.

Her characters are more alive than some living human beings!
Read about all five books on Dubus' list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Five best books with characters on the edge

For the Wall Street Journal, Lynne Sharon Schwartz named her favorite novels featuring characters on the edge.

Number One on her list:
I'm Not Stiller
by Max Frisch
Abelard-Schuman, 1958

Can a person erase his unsatisfactory past by an act of will? Can an invented self feel more authentic than the life cast aside? Those are the questions posed by the Swiss writer Max Frisch (1911-91) in his novel "I'm Not Stiller," a brilliant look at the nature of identity. Arrested after a scuffle with a customs officer in a train station, Anatol Stiller insists that the police have the wrong man, despite ample evidence to the contrary. Instead he claims to be Jim White, an American with a colorful history of adventure and derring-do -- a far cry from the actual Stiller, a tormented Swiss sculptor alienated from his work, his wife and his native land. Stiller's story (first published in German in 1954), with digressions on art, politics and marriage, makes fascinating reading for anyone who has ever wished to start over as someone new.
Read about all five books on Schwartz's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 24, 2009

Best books: James Toback

Award-winning screenwriter and director James Toback named a best books list of six favorite literary works that have figured into his films.

One title on the list:
Complete Tales & Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (Vintage, $18)

In When Will I Be Loved, I have an actor read “The Bells” out loud in the background as Neve Campbell walks through the courtyard of New York’s Museum of Natural History. Poe’s rhythms reign! No poem in the English language comes closer to fusing literature and music.
Read about all six works on Toback's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Top ten modern Irish crime novels

At the Guardian, novelist Brian McGilloway named his top ten modern Irish crime novels.

Number One on the list:
The Wrong Kind of Blood by Declan Hughes

Declan Hughes has crafted a superb series based on his PI, Ed Loy, winning the Shamus Award and being shortlisted for this year's Edgar in the US. The debut novel in the series, The Wrong Kind of Blood, has, among many other things, a corking first line and an unforgettable scene involving a shed, some gardening implements and a psychotic hoodlum called Podge that showcases Hughes's skill in handling dialogue.
Read about all ten titles on McGilloway's list.

The Page 69 Test: The Price of Blood (the 3d Ed Loy novel).

Related: see Declan Burke's top ten list of Irish crime fiction at The Rap Sheet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Top 10 US out of print books of 2008's research came up with "the top 10 most sought-after out of print books in America in 2008."

One book on the list:
Promise Me Tomorrow (1984) by Nora Roberts

An early novel that the bestselling romance novelist refuses to reprint, describing it as “mediocre”
Check out the complete list.

Read about a few titles on the 2006 list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ten best locks of hair in fiction

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best locks of hair in fiction.

One novel on the list:
The Woodlanders, by Thomas Hardy

Marty South has only her beautiful hair to qualify her for anyone's attention. A rich lady sees her in church and wants some of it to attach to her own. Initially Marty resists the offers of Mr Percomb the barber, but eventually poverty forces her to his shop, with "the chestnut locks" wrapped in "a brown-paper packet". Humiliation is complete.
Read about all ten locks of hair on Mullan's list.

The Page 99 Test: Thomas Hardy's The Woodlanders.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 20, 2009

Top 10 most frequently stolen books

For the Guardian, Alison Flood compiled a list of the top 10 most frequently stolen books.

One book on the chart:
Abbie Hoffman: Steal This Book

This 1970 US counter-cultural classic does what it says on the tin: a training manual containing advice on the way to steal credit cards, grow marijuana and, among other things, obtain a free buffalo from the US Department of the Interior. In a 1971 article in Rolling Stone, Izak Haber claimed that Hoffman had in fact stolen his idea for the book.
Read about all ten titles on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ten of the best deserts in literature

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

One novel on the list:
Dune by Frank Herbert

This sci-fi epic is set on the planet of Arrakis and realises a whole desert world. Herbert's characters may be unconvincing, but his sandy planet, with its sandtrout, sandplankton and giant sandworms , is vividly imagined.
Read about all ten deserts on Mullan's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Five best books on language

Michael Quinion, author of Gallimaufry: A Hodgepodge of Our Vanishing Vocabulary, named a five best list of books on language for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on his list:
The Stories of English
by David Crystal
Overlook, 2004

This richly textured, nontechnical account of the evolution of English is fascinating because it interweaves multiple narratives. In parallel with the standard language, David Crystal discusses varieties usually considered nonstandard -- dialect, slang and the speech of ethnic minorities -- which previously hadn't received the same level of attention. Traditionalist speakers and grammarians deplore such varieties as inferior or corrupt, but they are increasingly becoming accepted as legitimate, not least because only one in three speakers of English now has it as a mother tongue. With a cornucopia of examples that range from "The Canterbury Tales" to "The Lord of the Rings," and from the correspondence of medieval kings to Internet chatroom gossip, Crystal's exposition is a delight.
Read about the other books on Quinion's list.

Also read about David Crystal's top 10 books on the English language and five best books on the history and use of English.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 17, 2009

Jay McInerney: favorite story collections

Jay McInerney is the author of Bright Lights, Big City and other books. His How It Ended, a volume of new and collected short stories, has just been published.

He named his favorite story collections for The Week. One title on the list:
The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $17).

If Hemingway was influential, O’Connor was inimitable. She writes like an Old Testament prophet transplanted to South Georgia. The atmospherics are hot and humid, but her vision is ice-cold, the violence leavened with black humor and occasional glimpses of grace.
Read about the other five books on McInerney's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Best books: Steven Johnson

At The Week, author Steven Johnson recommended six other books about scientific breakthroughs.

One title on the list:
The Scientists by John Gribbin (Random House, $18).

A sprawling, delightful history of science, from the Renaissance on, that emphasizes the people, not the paradigm shifts. Gribbin is most illuminating in the book’s first half, which explores the emergence of the scientific method itself.
Read about the other five books on Johnson's list.

The Page 69 Test: John Gribbin's The Fellowship.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Top 10 books about brothers

James Runcie is an award-winning documentary film-maker and the author of four novels. East Fortune, his new novel, is out now in the UK and coming soon to North America.

For the Guardian, he named his top ten books about brothers. His introduction:
A long time ago, a friend at a publishing house told me to stop "mucking about" and write about family life. 'It's the only real subject. BIG TIP.'

So I've followed her advice and written East Fortune, a novel about three brothers. I did think I was doing something a bit different until I realised there were hundreds of novels about, ahem, brothers and family life. You can't beat it as a subject: submerged emotions, intense rivalries, unrealistic expectations, differing levels of secrecy, betrayals both major and minor, and the genetic identity we can never escape. And if you then factor in the male ego, and tell a story of brotherly love and resentment then surely you can't go too far wrong?
Number One on the list:
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The ultimate tale of three competitive brothers and a hopeless father involves love, hate, faith, nihilsm, despair and patricide. Dmitri, the sensualist, Vanya the rationalist, Alyosha the hero priest may be archetypes for pleasure, reason and faith but each character is much more than an allegorical symbol. An intense interrogation of God, human purpose and the nature of suffering, the book is hardly known for its jokes but Freud called it "the most magnificent novel ever written". Frankly, I'm with Anna Karenina, but this is the gold standard for fraternal fiction.
Read about the other nine titles on Runcie's list.

The Brothers Karamazov also appears on: Top 10 works of literature: Norman Mailer.

Visit James Runcie's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ten best episodes of drunkenness in fiction

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

One novel on the list:
The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene

This is boozing as a heroic sign of humanity. Greene's "whisky priest" needs brandy to keep himself brave. He is drunk for much of the novel. "A little drink will work wonders in a cowardly man. With a little brandy, why I'd defy the devil."
Read about all ten episodes of drunkenness on Mullan's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 13, 2009

Kurt Andersen's 5 most essential books

Kurt Andersen is the author of Turn of the Century, a national bestseller and a New York Times Notable Book. He was a co-founder of Spy magazine and has been a columnist and critic for The New Yorker and Time. His new novel is Heydey.

He named his five most essential books for Newsweek. One title on the list:
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

A "great book" that's actually great.
Read about all five books on Andersen's list.

Great Expectations also made John Mullan's ten best fights in fiction list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Ten of the best floods in literature

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

One flood on the list:
The Epic of Gilgamesh

No self-respecting ancient religion can be without its deluge. This one tells how its eponymous hero meets the immortal Utnapishtim. He tells Gilgamesh how the gods intended to drown mankind. He was warned to build a giant boat in which he was able save his family and his animals. Familiar?
Read about all ten floods on Mullan's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Five best: books of Southern humor

Roy Blount Jr.'s books include Alphabet Juice (2008) and Long Time Leaving: Dispatches From Up South (2007).

He named his five favorite books of Southern humor for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on the list:
As I Lay Dying
by William Faulkner
Cape & Smith, 1930

People may think of Southern humor in terms of missing teeth and outhouse accidents, but the best of it is a rich vein running through the best of Southern literature. When I assembled an anthology of Southern humor, in 1994, I included selections from 114 writers. Fewer than 20 of them would ever be described as humorists. The best of Southern humor is inextricable from the blues, desperation, alligators, lust, irrational politics, whiskey and all the other basics of life. In William Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying," the members of a drastically dysfunctional family are trying to get their freshly deceased matriarch to the burial ground of her side of the family, through raging flood waters, before her body gets too unfresh. The impressionistic, disjointed story is told, dizzyingly, from the viewpoints of each family member including the corpse. It is horrifying, lyrical, intermittently comic; and it is the only modernist masterpiece I know of that ends in a jolting but altogether fitting, quietly uproarious, punchline.
Read about all five books on Blount's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 10, 2009

Tom Werner's best baseball books

Tom Werner is the chairman of the Boston Red Sox and an award-winning TV producer whose credits include That ’70s Show, The Cosby Show, and Roseanne.

For The Week magazine, he named his six favorite baseball books. One title on the list:
Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris (Bison, $15).

A classic film but an even better novel. The story chronicles the raucous shenanigans of a fictional group of New York ballplayers. The only time I have ever cried more at an ending was when I watched Red Sox lefty Jon Lester, a cancer survivor, complete his 2008 no-hitter.
Read about the other five books on Werner's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Top ten grimoires

Owen Davies is Reader in Social History at the University of Hertfordshire. He has written extensively on the history of popular magic, witchcraft, and ghosts.

His new book is Grimoires: A History of Magic Books.

Among the praise for the book:
"An amazing achievement, not just for its depth of research but its breadth, from Massachusetts to Martinique to Mauritius. It must become the classic work on the subject."
--Ronald Hutton, author of The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Pagan Witchcraft
Davies named his top ten grimoires for the Guardian.

One title on the list:
The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses

Although one of the more recent grimoires, first circulating in manuscript in the 18th century, this has to be number one for the breadth of its influence. From Germany it spread to America via the Pennsylvania Dutch, and once in cheap print was subsequently adopted by African Americans. With its pseudo-Hebraic mystical symbols, spirit conjurations and psalms, this book of the secret wisdom of Moses was a founding text of Rastafarianism and various religious movements in west Africa, as well as a cause célèbre in post-war Germany.
Read about all ten books on Davies' list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ten of the best examples of unrequited love

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best examples of unrequited love in literature.

One book on the list:
Middlemarch by George Eliot

All sorts of love problems in this book, but the most poignant is almost hidden. The wise and liberal local vicar, Mr Farebrother, loves blunt, strong-minded Mary Garth. Yet, inexplicably (but just like life) she loves feckless Fred Vincy. Like Roger Carbury, Farebrother is condemned to help his competitor gain his beloveds hand.
Read about the other nine examples of unrequited love on Mullan's list.

Middlemarch also made Mullan's list of the ten best funerals in literature.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ten of the best punch-ups in fiction

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best punch-ups in fiction.

One book on the list:
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

As Hollywood knows, there's nothing like a good fight to cement a bond between two men. The young Pip encounters a "pale young gentleman" at Miss Havisham's who invites him to fight. Despite "squaring at me with every demonstration of mechanical nicety" he is useless and falls over each time he is hit. He is Herbert Pocket and is destined to be Pip's best friend.
Read about all ten titles on the list.

Read an 1861 review of Great Expectations.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 6, 2009

Richard Price: five most essential books

Richard Price's novels include the national best-sellers Freedomland, Clockers, which was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and 2008's brilliant Lush Life.

He has also written numerous screenplays, including Sea of Love, Ransom and The Color of Money.

He told Newsweek about his five most essential books. One title on the list:
"Last Exit to Brooklyn" by Hubert Selby Jr. The marriage of brutal street life and gorgeous bebop prose.
Read about the other four books on Price's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Five best: books about India

Sudhir Kakar, whose books include The Indians: Portrait of a People and the forthcoming Mad and Divine: Spirit and Psyche in the Modern World, named a five best books about India list for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on his list:
by Roberto Calasso
Knopf, 1998

"Suddenly an eagle darkened the sky," begins "Ka," Roberto Calasso's vivid retelling of Indian myths. Calasso brings ancient stories as alive for a non-Indian reader as they continue to be for most Indians. For in India, tales about the origins of the world, of man and sex and death, are not cadavers on the dissecting table of mythologists. The stories are worked and reworked into modern forms -- never more captivatingly than by Calasso in "Ka" -- and they continue to be the preferred medium for the expression of metaphysical and social thought.
Read about all five books on Kakar's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Top ten books about grief

Douglas Kennedy, author of The Pursuit of Happiness and other books, named his ten books about grief for the Guardian.

One title on the list:
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Didion's now-classic account of the sudden death of her husband and (latterly) of her daughter. It brilliantly essays the way the unimaginable enters quotidian life with happenstantial abruptness.
Read about all ten titles on Kennedy's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 3, 2009

Best books: Neil LaBute

The playwright and film director Neil LaBute named his six best books for The Week magazine.

One novel on the list:
Blue Angel by Francine Prose (Harper Perennial, $15).

A writer of extraordinary gifts, Prose is one of those authors you buy the second you see a new book out on the shelves. Her take on Heinrich Mann’s Professor Unrat is a serious and simultaneously hilarious swipe at PC campus politics and the very idea of sexual harassment.
Read about all six books on LaBute's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Ten best pirates in fiction

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

One book on the list:
Peter Pan, by JM Barrie

Equally absurd and sinister, Captain Hook was a creature nastily risen from infant nightmares. In Neverland, the lost boys have to share an island with him and his fellow pirates. But Peter Pan makes Hook walk the plank, and the crocodile is waiting...
Read about all ten pirates on Mullan's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Walter Mosley's five favorite books

Walter Mosley’s bestselling mystery novels include the Easy Rawlins series. His new novel is The Long Fall.

At The Daily Beast he named five of his favorite books.

One title on the list:
The City & The City by China Miéville

This book could be called a science-fiction novel but it is so much more than that. It’s a book about alienation, isolation, and the inability to see the world in which we live. It is a parable of modern-day life…and a warning. When I started reading China’s book I felt displaced, as if I didn’t belong on those pages or in that world. I soon realized that this was the feeling the author intended. He had gotten inside this text the true feeling of estrangement that the modern world enforces on its people.
Read about all five books on Mosley's list.

--Marshal Zeringue