Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ten of the best balloon flights

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

One title on the list:
Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

The best-known ballooning sequence in British fiction. Joe Rose is having a picnic in the Chilterns with his girlfriend and watching a hot-air balloon being prepared for an ascent. Suddenly it lifts free of its moorings with only a small boy in the basket. Joe and four others try to hold on to the balloon as it begins to lift. One of them holds on too long.
Read about all ten balloon flights on Mullan's list.

Enduring Love
also appears on Mullan's list of ten of the best examples of unrequited love in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Five best books about the immigrant life

Lynn Freed, author of the newly released novel The Servants’ Quarters, named "her favorite books evoking the immigrant life" for the Wall Street Journal.

One book on the list:
Lost in Translation
by Eva Hoffman
Dutton, 1989

Eva Hoffman divides her splendid memoir into three parts: Paradise (the Krakow of her childhood: “the wonder is what you can make a paradise out of ... a lumpen apartment ... squeezed into three rudimentary rooms with four other people”); Exile (Vancouver, to which her family emigrated when she was 13: “no solid wood here, no ­accretion either of age or dust”); and The New World (America: “Much of the time I’m in a rage. Immigrant rage, I call it”). Hers is a story suffused by nostalgia and rage. But also by meditations on culture and language and identity. And then one day, while teaching T.S. Eliot to American college students, she finds herself, at last, actually able to feel within the ­English language. She has arrived.
Read about all five books on Freed's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 29, 2009

Five of the best books on the recent financial crash

Tim Bennett, a deputy editor at MoneyWeek, named five of the best books on the latest financial crash.

One title on the list:
False Economy by Alan Beattie

Beattie, says The Economist, uses "extraordinary stories of economic triumph and disaster" to distill lessons from history to show what many readers may already suspect: most economic successes and failures take us by surprise. The book is laced with case studies (such as why Peru, not California, dominates the US asparagus market), but is short on answers, making it a "fascinating", yet "maddening" read, says the FT.
Read about the other four books on Bennett's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Top 10 relationship novels

William Sutcliffe is the author of New Boy, Are You Experienced?, The Love Hexagon, and Whatever Makes You Happy.

Back in November 2000 he named his top 10 relationship novels for the Guardian. One title on the list:
Rabbit, Run by John Updike

No marriage can have faced a sterner examination than that of the Angstroms. Rabbit, Run seems like a stunning dissection of everything that can possibly go wrong in a marriage, until you read the rest of the tetralogy and discover that things can get worse, decade by decade. No one else so brilliantly reveals the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Read about all ten books on the list.

Rabbit, Run figures among Julian Barnes' best books to travel with.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Books that will change the way you look at robots

io9 editor Annalee Newitz compiled a list of "Thirteen Books That Will Change The Way You Look At Robots."

One title on the list:
Neuromancer, by William Gibson

Though this classic cyberpunk novel is mostly about humans and their augmentations, one of the most interesting characters to emerge from it is the AI Neuromancer. Unlike the childish HARLIE or the crazy robots in Asimov, Neuromancer is not constrained by human rules. He has the ability to run downloaded human personalities in RAM, so that they are capable of evolving within his own consciousness. Neuromancer is a kind of mage, capable of resurrecting the dead and motivated by issues that humans don't really understand. He's being pursued by his sibling AI Wintermute, who wants to merge with him. Eventually the two do merge, and disappear into outer space seeking more of their kind.
Read about all 13 books on Newitz's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ten of the best breakages in literature

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

One title on the list:
Pnin, by Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov's expatriate Russian prof prizes above all a lovely aquamarine bowl, a gift from his son. He places it in the sink after a party and hears a terrible sound of breaking glass. Moaning, he dips his hand into the foam and cuts himself – but on a broken goblet. The bowl is intact ; fate is not cruel after all.
Read about all ten works on Mullan's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lisa See: best books

Lisa See is the author of Peony in Love and the best-selling Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Her new novel is Shanghai Girls.

She named a best books list for The Week. One title on the list:
The Age of Dreaming by Nina Revoyr (Akashic, $16).

A literary novel ­masquerading as noir fiction. An older Japanese man, a movie star during the Silent Era, goes back in time to tell the story of his career in Hollywood and the murder that drove him from the business.
Read about all six books on See's list.

The Page 99 Test: Lisa See's Peony in Love.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Thirteen hot summer reads

Sara Nelson, a critic for The Daily Beast, former editor in chief of Publishers Weekly, and author of the bestselling So Many Books, So Little Time, named her "13 hottest summer reads" for The Daily Beast.

One book on her list:
Between the Assassinations
by Aravind Adiga

The stories in his collection—written before his Man Booker-winning debut The White Tiger—again exhibit the author’s characteristic subversive sensibility and pointed prose and again address the power, corruption, and seething despair among India’s underclass.
Read about the other 12 titles on Nelson's list.

The Page 69 Test: Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Five best: books on financial schemes

Frank Partnoy is the author of F.I.A.S.C.O.: The Inside Story of a Wall Street Trader and Infectious Greed: How Deceit and Greed Corrupted the Financial Markets. He has worked as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley and a corporate lawyer, and has testified as an expert before both the United States Senate and House of Representatives. A graduate of Yale Law School, he currently teaches law at the University of San Diego. His new book is The Match King: Ivar Kreuger, The Financial Genius Behind a Century of Wall Street Scandals.

For the Wall Street Journal, Partnoy named a five best list of books on financial schemes.

One title on the list:
Manias, Panics, and Crashes

Throughout his long career as a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Charles P. Kindleberger battled the dominant thinking in finance. His multi-stage theory, presented in “Manias, Panics, and Crashes,” about “the instability of expectations, speculation, and credit and the role of leveraged speculation in various assets,” was simple but radical. More important, it worked, and still does. First, financial innovation and technology create new opportunity (think subprime lending and derivatives, particularly credit-default swaps). Then profits are fueled by increasing credit and expanding money supply (thank you, Mr. Greenspan). People overestimate expected returns and borrow too much (ah, those AAA credit ratings). Speculation spreads until there is financial distress, and news about a bankruptcy or financial fraud leads to a panicked rush for liquidity (take your pick: Bear Stearns, Lehman, Citigroup, AIG). Regulators should heed Kindleberger’s moral-hazard warning: A lender of last resort should exist, but its “presence should be doubted.”
Read about all five books on Partnoy's list.

Manias, Panics, and Crashes also appears on Martin Mayer's list of the five best books on financial meltdowns.

The Page 99 Test: The Match King.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 22, 2009

Ten best debut crime novels: 2009

Bill Ott named his ten best list of 2009 debut crime novels (defined as books reviewed in Booklist between May 1, 2008, and April 15, 2009).

One title on Ott's list:
Singularity. By Kathryn Casey. 2008. St. Martin’s/Minotaur, $24.95 (9780312379506).

A criminal profiler with the Texas Rangers, Sarah Armstrong catches a psychiatrist’s dream case: a serial killer who poses his victims as if in rapture, with bloody crosses painted on the wall above the bed—clearly the work of someone on a twisted moral mission. This impressive fictional debut from an established true-crime author introduces a memorable heroine with brains, moxie, and heart.
Read about all ten books on Ott's list.

The Page 69 Test: Singularity.

Also see: Ten best crime novels: 2009.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Top 10 fruit scenes in literature

Adam Leith Gollner is the author of The Fruit Hunters : A Story of Nature, Adventure, Commerce and Obsession.

For the Guardian, he named his top 10 fruit scenes in literature.

One title on his list:
The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh

"This rendition comes to you by courtesy of Kaiser's Stoneless Peaches. Remember no other peach now marketed is perfect and completely stoneless. When you buy Kaiser's Stoneless Peach you are buying full weight of succulent peach flesh and nothing else."

Fruit as existential crisis. This radio advertisement precipitates the suicide of Aimee Thanatogenos, the triangulated loved one in Waugh's California tragicomedy. Aimee, a cosmetic mortician, is overwhelmed by the futility of modern life. Spurning the advances of a Dennis Barlow, a young poet admirer, she has agreed to marry the dour embalmer Mr Joyboy, an Oedipal wreck in thrall to his mother. As empty as a Kaiser's Stoneless Peach, Aimee kills herself. Waugh's cynical notion of a stoneless peach's putative perfection also foreshadowed the empty promises of today's fruit marketing – from unripe, puckeringly bitter cranberries sold as "all natural, fully ripened, white cranberries" to apples dunked in artificial-grape-flavored bird repellent and branded as "Grapples."
Read about the other nine titles on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Best crime novels: 2009

Bill Ott named his ten best list of 2009 crime novels (defined as books reviewed in Booklist between May 1, 2008, and April 15, 2009).

One title on Ott's list:
A Rule against Murder. By Louise Penny. 2009. St. Martin’s/Minotaur, $24.95 (9780312377021).

Penny’s Armand Gamache novels, starring an intrepid Canadian police inspector in the Quebec village of Three Pines, have quickly established themselves as some of the best traditional mysteries being published today. This fourth entry finds the inspector traveling to a remote resort to celebrate his wedding anniversary; naturally, murder is on the guest list. Despite similarities to Poirot and Maigret, Gamache is a complete original.
Read about all ten books on the list.

The Page 99 Test: A Rule Against Murder.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Seven fascinating books about our parenting culture

Lenore Skenazy is a syndicated columnist, founder of, and author of Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry.

Here is her list of fascinating books about our parenting culture:
The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn’t – and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger by Daniel Gardner

This book explains why some of the least likely scenarios – from plane crashes to child abductions – dominate our brains and make us worse than irrational. They make us paranoid. Gardner points out that with over 6 billion people on the planet, something horrible is happening somewhere every day. And thanks to non-stop media, we will be shown it. The fight-or-flight part of our brains can’t distinguish between likely and unlikely, or even between fact and fiction (like what we see on Law & Order, or CSI). So once a scary image gets lodged in the noggin, it ends up affecting our perception of risk. Especially the risks to our kids! Great stuff – and fun to read, too. Even, amazingly enough, the part about our fears of what could cause cancer. (Namely: Everything.)

Parenting, Inc. How We Are Sold on $800 Strollers, Fetal Education, Baby Sign Language, Sleeping Coaches, Toddler Couture, and Diaper Wipe Warmers – and What It Means for Our Children by Pamela Paul

I can tell you what all this means for our children: nothing good. If we think that kids should not experience even the trauma of a room-temperature wipe, we are forgetting that little kids need to deal with little adversities so that as they grow up they can deal with bigger ones. This book not only details all the wacky items marketed to gobsmacked parents, it asks the bigger questions: Do we WANT to raise children this pampered? What are we NOT giving them when we give them the very “best” of everything? And, by the way, who can afford all this junk?

The Nurture Assumption by Judith Rich Harris

What a reassuring book. It is the perfect antidote to rows and rows of books in the “parenting” section that tell us exactly what to do, say, eat and buy to raise a perfect kid. “Guess what?” says Harris (who used to write those other books about parental influence on child development until one day she realized -- she didn’t believe them!): We don’t “create” our kids anyway. Our kids come out genetically pre-programmed to be pretty much who they will end up being, barring huge traumas or deprivation along the way. Then they are shaped, to a certain extent, by their friends, siblings AND us – but we are just part of the equation, not God with a hammer and chisel and a boulder that is Baby. This is good news for those of us worried about that one time last year when we said, “You can do better,” when we think we should have said, “You did a great job!” Our kids are not solely shaped by our input – good OR bad. And certainly not by every little thing we say and do, “right” or “wrong.”

The Case for Make Believe by Susan Linn

Linn is one of the founders of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood – the Harvard group that successfully sued Baby Einstein to take the word “educational” off its web site, and has campaigned against commercial TV in the schools, commercial radio on school buses, and stupid products (like Hannah Montana nail polish) in the Scholastic Book flyers kids get in their classrooms. (Did you know that up to a third of Scholastic’s items aren’t even reading material anymore?) In this book she gathers all the research on how important just plain PLAYING is – how it stimulates everything from creativity to communication skills to leadership – and why we have to leave time for our kids to do some of it. Even if that means letting Junior drop out of Mandarin, at least on Wednesdays.

Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting by Carl Honore

Honore became famous in England a few years back for his bestseller, ‘In Praise of Slowness.” This book looks at the same issue – our crazed, pressured lives – from the point of view of parenting, and asks why we think our kids should all be overachievers. The book grew out of his own frank dismay at himself. One day he was at parent-teacher conferences at his son’s school and the teacher mentioned that his boy had some artistic ability. Immediately Carl started thinking he’d better put his son in special art classes to nurture this astounding talent. His son grumbled something like, “Why do grown-ups have to take over everything?” And here, Honore asks the same question.

A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting by Hara Estroff Marano

When people ask me, “What do kids lose if we don’t let them go Free-Range?” I usually answer something like, “The joy of childhood! The exhilaration of shouting, ‘I DID IT MYSELF!!’” But in this book, Marano, an editor at Psychology Today, actually visits campuses to see how overprotected kids do once they are out on their own. She is troubled by what she finds: A lot of young adults unable to function, and even breaking down in record numbers. When parents try to do too much for their kids, she says, they end up hurting more than helping. Hers is a cautionary tale.

How To Live Dangerously: Why We Should All Stop Worrying and Start Living by Warwick Cairns

Sort of the happy-go-lucky flip side of “A Nation of Wimps.” Cairns is also in favor of letting kids take more risks. Not nasty, pointless ones (though it sure does sound like he took some himself), but the kind that most kids have always taken, until recently. He rails against creepy laws in his country – Britain – that have, for instance, outlawed an age-old tradition of pre-school plays wherein the witch on stage throws candy into the audience. Now this is considered “too dangerous.” He also makes one of my very favorite points in ANY parenting book (which is why I quote it in my own): If, for some reason, you actually WANTED your child to be abducted by a stranger, do you know how many years you would have to leave him outside, unattended, for this to be statistically LIKELY to happen? Answer: 600,000 years. I think of his book as the British version of “Free-Range Kids”: A fun and funny plea for us to remember we are living in safe times. Our children deserve a chance to enjoy them – and gain some lovely self-confidence – by us letting go of the handlebars. (But they can still wear helmets. I love helmets.)
Learn more about Lenore Skenazy and her work at

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ten best femmes fatales in literature

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

One femme on the list:

Sheridan Le Fanu's tale of a female vampire predates Dracula and established the character of the supernaturally beautiful young woman who is after your blood – literally. Living in a castle with her father, lonely Laura is befriended by the moody, mysterious Carmilla, who seems to sleep most of the day. Bad dreams and bite marks follow. Will Laura discover her lovely companion's true identity in time?
Read about all ten femmes fatales on Mullan's list.

Carmilla also made Lisa Tuttle's critic's chart of top vampire books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Five best books about art thefts

R.A. Scotti, author of Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa (Knopf, 2009), named her five best books about art thefts for the Wall Street Journal.

One book on her list:
The Gardner Heist
by Ulrich Boser
Smithsonian/Collins, 2008

It remains the world's biggest unsolved art theft: On St. Patrick's Day night in 1990, 13 works worth more than $500 million, including three Rembrandts and a Vermeer, were cut from their frames in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. For the next 15 years, recovering the art obsessed a relentless insurance-claims adjuster and art sleuth named Harold Smith. When Smith died in 2005, journalist Ulrich Boser inherited his research. "The Gardner Heist" is Boser's account of how, joining the hunt, he was drawn into the art-crime underworld and into the orbit of notorious Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger. As Boser follows each lead, he develops a tantalizing theory about who committed the crime.
Read about all five books on Scotti's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Rory Stewart: best books

Rory Stewart, author of the best-selling Afghanistan memoir The Places in Between, is director of Harvard University’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.

He named his favorite travel books for The Week. One title on the list:
River Town by Peter Hessler (HarperCollins, $15).

A Peace Corps volunteer describes two years teaching in a Chinese city on the Yangtze. Hessler’s 2006 book is open to the comedy of the everyday; it’s self-deprecating, respectful, and funny. It captures the provincialism, the modernity, the xenophobia, and the energy of modern China.
Read about the other books on Stewart's list.

River Town also made Oliver August's five best list of "guides to China and its history."

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 15, 2009

Top 10 books on nuclear weapons and arms control

Michael Krepon is co-founder of the Stimson Center, Diplomat Scholar at the University of Virginia, and author or editor of thirteen books, most recently, Better Safe than Sorry, The Ironies of Living with the Bomb (Stanford University Press, 2009).

He named his top ten books on nuclear weapons and arms control for Foreign Policy. One book on his list:
McGeorge Bundy, Danger and Survival, Choices About the Bomb in the First Fifty Years (1988).

Bundy's mind worked like a jeweler examining all facets of the policy dilemmas associated with the Bomb. An elegant writer, he came to the subject honestly: His father was Henry L. Stimson's assistant at the War Department, and he helped Stimson write his memoirs.
Read about all ten books on Krepon's list.

Also see the Page 99 Test: Better Safe Than Sorry: The Ironies of Living with the Bomb by Michael Krepon.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Top 10 subterranean books

Stephen Smith, a writer, journalist, broadcaster, and the culture correspondent for BBC Newsnight, is the author of several books, including Cuba: Land of Miracles, Underground London, and the newly released Underground England, which "travels the length, breadth and depth of the country in search of wonders both natural and man-made, from smugglers' tunnels to Knights Templar chapels."

For the Guardian, he named his top 10 subterranean books. One title on the list:
Moonfleet by J Meade Falkner

Smuggling was practised not only on the Spanish Main but around our sceptr'd Isle. At New Brighton, Merseyside, where my family is from, the privateers salted their booty away beneath the butter-soft sandstone. Moonfleet contains my cri de coeur: "I believe there never was a boy yet who saw a hole in the ground, or a cave in a hill, or much more an underground passage, but longed incontinently to be into it and discover whither it led."
Read about all ten books on Smith's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Top 10 crime fiction for youth: 2009

One title from Booklist's 2009 top ten list of crime fiction for youth, as complied by Ian Chipman:
Masterpiece. By Elise Broach. Illus. by Kelly Murphy. 2008. Holt, $16.95 (9780805082708). Gr. 3–6.

The involving world of art history and the miniature world of arthropods meet in this story of two fast friends, a boy and a beetle, who get caught up in a plot to heist a Dürer masterpiece from the Metropolitan Museum.
Read about all ten titles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Critic's chart: the best biblical fiction

In 2005 Ruth Gledhill, the (London) Times religion correspondent, picked a critic's chart of the best biblical fiction.

One title on her list:
THE RED TENT Anita Diamant

Dinah, a midwife, tells of the sexual passions and religious devotions of her father Jacob’s several wives.
Read about the other books on Gledhill's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ten of the best disastrous performances in literature

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

One novel on the list:
Right Ho, Jeeves by P G Wodehouse

Gussie Fink-Nottle is tight as a tick when honouring the scholars of Market Snodsbury Grammar School, ending with Bertie, who won the scripture prize. "He succeeded in scrounging that Scripture-knowledge trophy over the heads of better men by means of some of the rawest and most brazen swindling methods ever witnessed even at a school where such things were common". Exit Bertie.
Read about the other disastrous performances on Mullan's list.

Related: Tony Ring's top six P.G. Wodehouse books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Five best books about Germany's occupation of France

Frederic Spotts, author of The Shameful Peace: How French Artists and Intellectuals Survived the Occupation, named a five best list of books about France under Nazi Occupation for the Wall Street Journal.

One book on his list:
by Ian Ousby
St. Martin's Press, 1997

Nothing can be more degrading for a nation than to be occupied. In the case of France, the German Occupation even extended to the ancient practice of hauling people off to be slaves -- in this case as forced laborers in German factories. Ian Ousby's "Occupation" is an outstanding introduction to this horrible-fascinating subject. The author's apparent disqualifications -- not a historian and not a scholar of French history -- are the very qualities that make him an excellent guide for the general reader who knows nothing about the subject and wants lucid answers to the simple questions: What really happened, what was heroic, what was shameful, and in what proportions did they flourish in the same soil and why?
Read about the other four books on Spotts' list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Top 10 books for students of international relations

Stephen M. Walt, the Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Relations at Harvard University, named his "'top ten' books every student of International Relations should read" for Foreign Policy.

Number One on his list:
Kenneth Waltz, Man, the State, and War.

An all-time classic, which I first read as a college sophomore. Not only did M, S & W provide an enduring typology of different theories of war (i.e., locating them either in the nature of man, the characteristics of states, or the anarchic international system), but Waltz offers incisive critiques of these three "images" (aka "levels of analysis.") Finding out that this book began life as Waltz's doctoral dissertation was a humbling moment in my own graduate career.
Read about the other nine titles on Walt's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 8, 2009

Michael J. Fox: best books

Actor/activist/writer Michael J. Fox is the best-selling author of Always Looking Up, a memoir about how his life was changed by Parkinson’s disease.

He named a best books list for The Week.

One title on the list:
The Bird Artist by Howard Norman (Picador, $14).

This is a book I wanted to option for a film. The narrator is a young man in early 20th-century Newfoundland who has killed an evil lighthouse keeper. He’s such a gentle soul that he never participated in the local custom of hunting birds, but instead chose to paint them. His story is one of redemption through art, and it’s helped get me through some tough periods. Norman’s hero, faced with a difficult situation, reacts badly, but it gives him the opportunity to evolve in ways he otherwise wouldn’t.
Read about all six books on Fox's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Top 10 expatriate tales

Malcolm Pryce, author of a series of comic private detective novels set in Aberystwyth, compiled a top ten list of expatriate tales for the Guardian.

Number One on his list:
The Quiet American by Graham Greene

Ostensibly it is about the eponymous quiet American – a naive and idealistic CIA agent in Saigon during the French colonial war of the 50s. But what lingers is the relationship between the world-weary newspaper correspondent, Fowler, and his beautiful girl Phuong. Greene perfectly skewers the superfluity of western notions of love that invariably inform such situations. Undermining the idyll is the mercenary elder sister, painfully aware of the need to use Phuong's beauty to secure a provider for the family while her beauty still has currency.
Read about the other nine tales on Pryce's list.

The Quiet American also made novelist Catherine Sampson's top ten list of Asian crime fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Critic's chart: boarding school classics

In 2005 Amanda Craig picked a critic's chart of boarding school classics for the (London) Times.

One book on her list:

Mildred is hopeless at spells but she triumphs by luck and goodness.
Read about the other five books on Craig's list.

More recently at the Times, Sarah Ebner named her top 25 boarding school books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Ten of the best doppelgängers

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

One novel on the list:
Despair by Vladimir Nabokov

Hermann Karlovich, a Russian businessman, tells how, in Prague, he meets a tramp called Felix who looks exactly like him. Hermann suggests a switch of identities - and then murders the gullible Felix for his own life insurance. The perfect crime. Except that the exact resemblance of the two men may be in Hermann's mind only.
Read about the other doppelgängers on Mullan's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 4, 2009

Best books: Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk is the best-selling author of Fight Club, Choke, Invisible Monsters, and other books.

He named a best books list for The Week. One title on the list:
Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock (Anchor, $14).

Every decade, we get a stunning collection of dynamic, heartbreaking short stories. In the past, those collections came from Barry Hannah, Mark Richard, and Thom Jones. For the next 10 years, Pollock’s work will be tough for any writer to beat.
Read about the other five books on Palahniuk's list.

Learn more about Knockemstiff at Donald Ray Pollock's website.

The Page 69 Test: Knockemstiff.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Richard Ford's 5 most essential books

Richard Ford, author of the Frank Bascombe trilogy and other works, told Newsweek about his five most essential books.

One title on the list:
"The Moviegoer" by Walker Percy.

A seriocomic masterpiece that exploits the human connection between bliss and bale.
Read about the other titles on Ford's list.

Learn more about the echoes of Walker Percy's The Moviegoer in Richard Ford's The Sportswriter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Five best: books on reputation

For the Wall Street Journal, Tina Brown named a five best list of books on reputation.

Number One on her list:
The Portrait of a Lady
by Henry James

Reputation is a timely subject, now that nobody has one. Whether you are erstwhile financial wizard Bernard Madoff or former Federal Reserve chairman and no-longer-sacred-monster Alan Greenspan, it's not a good time to imagine that your legacy is a done deal. A trio of reputations lie at the heart of Henry James's "The Portrait of a Lady." There is, of course, the reputation of our protagonist, the bright, independent-minded American heiress Isabel Archer. Then we have her suitor and eventual husband, Gilbert Osmond -- a vile American expat in Florence who has a completely unearned reputation for being gifted and special. In fact, he is a vain and cruel narcissist. Finally we have the scheming but sociable Madame Merle, who is reputed to be the most intelligent woman in Europe but who ends (in James's unforgettable dismissal) as "almost as universally 'liked' as some new volume of smooth twaddle." Only Isabel manages to live up to her advance publicity.
Read about all five titles on Brown's list.

The Portrait of a Lady was among the six best books named for The Week by Elizabeth Edwards, a lawyer who also happens to be the wife of former vice presidential candidate John Edwards.

--Marshal Zeringue