Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mika Brzezinski's six best books

Mika Brzezinski is co-host, with Joe Scarborough, of the MSNBC program Morning Joe, and author of the new memoir, All Things at Once.

She told The Week magazine about her six best books. One title on the list:
America and the World by Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft

In a 2008 dialogue moderated by The Washington Post’s David Ignatius, two former national security advisors—my father and Brent Scowcroft—tell you what you need to know about America and its place in the world. Any administration should study this book.
Read about the other books on Brzezinski's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ten of the best pairs of glasses in literature

For the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best pairs of glasses in literature.

One novel on the list:
Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Perhaps the most famous pair of glasses in literature belongs to Piggy in Golding's novel. They are used as "burning glasses" to start a fire (physically impossible as Piggy is short-sighted). Then nasty Jack breaks one of the lenses. Later the specs are stolen, leaving Piggy almost sightless as a prelude to his murder.
Read about the other pairs of glasses on Mullan's list.

Lord of the Flies is on AbeBooks' list of 20 books of shattered childhoods and is one of the top ten works of literature according to Stephen King.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 29, 2010

Honor Blackman's 6 best books

Honor Blackman is best-known as Cathy Gale in The Avengers and Pussy Galore in the James Bond movie, Goldfinger.

For the Daily Express, she named her six best books. One title on the list:
The Age of Innocence
by Edith Wharton

I love Wharton’s writing and this book fully portrays the difficulties some women faced when conducting any kind of love life in the 19th century. Women had such a tough time because there were so many restrictions and Wharton highlights these difficulties so well in this sexy, powerful story set in 1870s New York.
Read about the other books on Blackman's list.

The Age of Innocence also appears on Frances Kiernan's five best list of books that helped her understand the ways of New York society and David Kamp's list of six books that are notable for their food prose.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Top 10 rock'n'roll novels

Tiffany Murray's first novel Happy Accidents was shortlisted for the Bollinger/Wodehouse prize for comic writing. Diamond Star Halo, her second, is now available in the UK.

For the Guardian, she named her top ten rock'n'roll novels. One title on the list:
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

Self-confessed "arsehole" and record-shop owner, Rob, shares his life of lists – girlfriends, break-ups, dream jobs, variously documented favourite songs – and tells us, "In Bruce Springsteen songs, you can either stay and rot, or you can escape and burn … but nobody ever writes about how it is possible to escape and rot … That's what happened to me; that's what happens to most people."
Read about the other books on the list.

High Fidelity also made Mark Hodkinson's critic's chart of rock music in fiction and John Sutherland's list of the best books about listing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Elizabeth Kostova's favorite books

Elizabeth Kostova is the author of The Historian and The Swan Thieves.

She recently told The Daily Beast about her favorite books. One novel on the list:
by George Eliot

Like Anna Karenina and The Portrait of a Lady, this book plays on the magnificent 19th-century theme of a woman trapped in unhappy marriage (a problem solved more easily by widowhood or even murder, in those days, than by divorce; see also Tess of the D’Ubervilles. Actually, this book is about money. I read it every 10 years because it is completely different each time. The heroine is so flawed and lovable and courageous that I wish she were one of my sisters.
Read about Elizabeth Kostova's other favorite books.

Middlemarch also made John Mullan's lists of ten of the best marital rows, ten of the best examples of unrequited love, ten of the best funerals in literature, and ten of the best deathbed scenes in literature, as well as Tina Brown's five best list of books on reputation. While it is one of Miss Manners' favorite novels, John Banville and Nick Hornby have not read it.

Also see: Elizabeth Kostova's top 10 books for winter nights.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Four books that made a difference to Vera Farmiga

Vera Farmiga is an actor who co-starred with George Clooney in Up in the Air.

She told O, The Oprah Magazine about a few books that made a difference to her. One title on the list:
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian
by Marina Lewycka

Why she chose it: Being the eldest daughter of Ukrainian immigrants, I was charmed by the title, but I'm also interested in family dynamics, particularly generational rivalry. Reading this, I had the sense that I'd moved in with this insane family—an extremely difficult old man and his combative daughters, who have to care for him, defend him, and help him. They reminded me a lot of my own family: Stories of the past are told and retold by people who had to build a new life, even though the old one never entirely disappeared.

How she found it: I think I was tipped off by a fellow nationalistic Ukrainian.

Memorable passage: In the first few sentences, I became totally smitten: "Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous blond Ukrainian divorcée. He was eighty-four and she was thirty-six. She exploded into our lives like a fluffy pink grenade, churning up the murky water, bringing to the surface a sludge of sloughed-off memories, giving the family ghosts a kick up the backside."
Read about the other books on Farmiga's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 25, 2010

Five best: Pete Dexter's favorite fiction about families

Pete Dexter, whose novel Paris Trout (1988) won the National Book Award, is the author, most recently, of Spooner.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named his five favorite works of fiction about families. One book on the list:
by Padgett Powell
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1984

Here's why—I imagine—J.D. Salinger has never come out of hiding. From the moment "Catcher In the Rye" was published in 1951, every novel written about a precocious kid found some critic erroneously calling it the best book about precocious youth since "Catcher in the Rye." Then one day in 1984 Salinger—again, I'm imagining—had the bad luck to pick up "Edisto," by a young man called Padgett Powell, who had never written a novel before, and the next day the old recluse woke up feeling like Floyd Patterson the morning after his first fight with Sonny Liston. What Salinger would have seen when he opened "Edisto" was what Patterson saw when he looked across the ring into Liston's baleful eyes: the real thing. It's not just anybody, after all, who can write a believable novel about youthful brilliance. "Edisto" is the story of a 12-year-old named Simons Everson Manigault, whose sophisticated-beyond-his-years tone can't disguise how unfathomable he finds the adult world. The mysteries begin with his mother—or "the Doctor," as he thinks of this haughty college teacher—and his father, or "the Progenitor," who is no longer with the family. A mysterious stranger soon becomes the boy's surrogate father, teaching him about life using "one ounce of suggestion and pounds of patience." Padgett Powell is a writer of strange and original gifts. I just can't get over how little attention he receives from the thumb-suckers who sit around bemoaning the state of the arts in America.
Read about the other books on Dexter's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ten of the best visits to Venice in literature

For the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best visits to Venice in literature.

One novel on the list:
The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan

Venice is an unnamed city of menace in McEwan's slow-building shocker. A dully contented English couple, Mary and Colin, get lost in the city and are rescued by Robert, an over-friendly type who takes them home to meet his wife. An invitation to a lovely Venetian apartment is an intro to a nasty game of domination and submission.
Read about the other literature on Mullan's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Five best books on finance during trouble

Duff McDonald is the author of Last Man Standing: The Ascent of Jamie Dimon and JPMorgan Chase (Simon & Schuster, 2009).

For the Wall Street Journal he named a five best list of books on finance during times of trouble.

One title on the list:
The House of Morgan
by Ron Chernow
Atlantic Monthly, 1990

Can a bank actually be heroic? Ron Chernow suggests as much in his exhaustive history of J.P. Morgan and its instrumental role in the development of the industrial Western economy from the late 19th century to the end of the 20th. But the clear-eyed Chernow does not ignore the less-than-heroic in this National Book Award-winning title, which is as much a social and political history as it is the story of the Morgan dynasty. Of the fallout from the Crash of 1873, Chernow writes: "Not for the last time, America turned against Wall Street with puritanical outrage and a sense of offended innocence." When World War I erupted: "Wall Street, which prided itself on its prescience, was once again caught napping by a historic event." Both tendencies remain in place today. What we do not have is a Wall Street king like John Pierpont Morgan, the man who built the banking dynasty and who had the power to intervene personally in the Panic of 1893 and save the U.S. Treasury by launching a syndicate to replenish the nation's gold supply.
Read about the other books on McDonald's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 22, 2010

Best 10 books on Haiti

Amy Wilentz is the author of several books, including The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier. She teaches journalism at UC Irvine in California. For Forbes, she named her best ten books on Haiti.

One title on the list:
The Comedians, by Graham Greene, (1966, Bodley Head, $37.95)

An evocative introduction to the Haiti of Papa Doc Duvalier and the Tontons Macoute, his secret police. Over time this book becomes more and more important and meaningful. It helps explain the fervor of expats who've chosen Haiti as a second homeland. Add to this Mark Kurlansky's wonderful short story, "The White Man in the Tree," and you'll understand a lot about the romance of this place, and why people are pouring their own money and energy into helping out at this moment of grave crisis.
Read about the other books on the list.

Visit Amy Wilentz's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Top 10 environmental books of 2009

At Mother Nature Network, Jessica Knoblauch came up with a list of the top ten environmental books of 2009.

One book on the list:
Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places by Bill Streever

This book may consist of tales of frostiness, but the author’s poetic storytelling style won’t leave you cold. After deciding to examine the world’s frozen places before it’s too late, the author begins his journey by plunging into Prudhoe Bay, an icy mass 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle and continues by masterfully linking the history, myth, geography and ecology of bone-chilling temperatures. Reading Cold is guaranteed to give you goose bumps — the good kind.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 99 Test: Cold.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The top ten food books of the last decade

The Guardian asked a group of food lovers and food writers about the best food books of the last decade.

One title on the list:
Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain

This was a favourite with the restaurant critics on our panel. "Rarely has a single book been seized upon by a profession as the true gospel in such a manner. Kitchen Confidential, with its shameless, no-bodily-fluid-spared approach to the slippery business of kitchen life, managed exactly that," said Jay Rayner, while Marina O'Loughlin wrote: "Like a bodice-ripper heroine, I don't know whether I love 'Tony' or want to smack him in the chops. Especially since this snake-blood drinking, pig-killing memoir [A Cook's Tour] launched a whole host of inferior, extreme-eating imitators. Drenched in testosterone, it may be, but it was the original and the best." For Fuchsia Dunlop, "this exposé of life in the 'culinary underbelly' of the restaurant industry is gruesome and hilarious."

Alex Renton was amazed "to think this sweltering account of life and death beyond the swing doors is only 9 years old - Bourdain put the rock (and the speed and the coke and the smack) into chefs' memoirs, and started a legend of knife-fighting, hard-drinking, Ramones-loving psycho-cooks that Gordon, Marco and co continue feebly to exploit. Brand me with a red-hot skillet, I still love this book."

"Reading Kitchen Confidential for the first time was an unalloyed joy," says Tim Hayward. "Bourdain spoke honestly about the kind of kitchens I'd grown up in - the visceral thrill, the camaraderie, the sheer rock and roll excitement, the fire and the knives. Nothing could have been further from the Elizabeth David books I was stuck with at the time and nothing could have been more appropriate. For me, Bourdain rescued food from the writing of women's magazines and made it muscular, tattooed and ripped to the gills on cheap speed."
Read about the other books on the list.

Read about my interview with one of the chefs in Bourdain's book: "The Life & Times of Jimmy Sears".

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Five books that made a difference to Jon Hamm

The actor Jon Hamm (of Mad Men) told O, The Oprah Magazine about a few books that made a difference to him.

One book on his list:
The Elegant Universe
by Brian Greene

This book is, essentially, a look at the universe and what sorts of laws govern it. For the past 80 years, there's been an attempt to unify all these laws into one theory. The problem is, the more scientists figure out, the more difficult it becomes. They've come up with incredibly futuristic solutions like string theory and alternate universes—ideas that 30 years ago you would have thought were strictly the domain of science fiction, like flying cars and thinking robots. Greene describes the theories in ways that make them more understandable. I think the fact that much of this is still a mystery to most people is pretty cool. It's why these scientists get up in the morning.
Read about the other books on Hamm's list.

Meg Gardiner sees a role for Hamm in an adaptation of her Evan Delaney series, and Margaret Fenton would cast him in the film version of Little Lamb Lost.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 18, 2010

Ten of the best poisonings in literature

For the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best poisonings in literature.

One poisoning on the list:
A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

In The Reptile Room (the second volume of this thoroughly Gothic children's roman fleuve) Uncle Monty, a keen herpetologist, appears to have been killed by a bite from one of his own snakes. In fact the benevolent guardian of the Baudelaire orphans has been poisoned by the fiendish Count Olaf, who is after the Baudelaire inheritance.
Read about the other poisonings on Mullan's list.

See what Lemony Snicket was reading a few years ago.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ian Rankin's six best books

Ian Rankin is a worldwide #1 bestselling writer, and has won an Edgar Award, a Gold Dagger for fiction, a Diamond Dagger for career excellence, and the Chandler-Fulbright Award.

His new novel is Doors Open.

Rankin named his six best books for the Daily Express magazine. One title on the list:
by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

This is a graphic novel but it is every bit as intricate in terms of theme and characterisation as any highbrow literary novel and a darned sight more enjoyable. Moore plots with care and Gibbons’ meticulous artwork adds nuance and depth. The whole thing is a triumph.
Read about the other books on Rankin's list.

Also see Rankin's six best books list for The Week magazine.

Learn about the best selling book Rankin wishes he'd written.

Watchmen also appears on Lev Grossman's top ten graphic novels list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Five best books on hypochondria

Brian Dillon was born in Dublin in 1969. His first book, the memoir In the Dark Room, won the 2006 Irish Book Award for nonfiction. The U.K. editor of Cabinet, a quarterly of art and culture based in New York, Dillon is a research fellow at the University of Kent. His new book, The Hypochondriacs: Nine Tormented Lives, is due out in February.

At the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of books about hypochondria. One title on the list:
The Magic Mountain
by Thomas Mann
Knopf, 1927

Tuberculosis was the modish ailment of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Its wide-eyed, pallid victims were romanticized as exquisite, attractive and, above all, interesting. Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain," first published in Germany in 1924, is a penetrating and ironic analysis of the TB craze and more broadly of the intellectual and class pretensions involved in hypochondriacal wish-fulfillment. The novel's hero, Hans Castorp, travels to a Swiss sanatorium to visit his tubercular cousin Joachim. Finding himself "in possession of a first-class cold," Hans is swiftly drawn into the culture of picturesque debility that prevails there. Examinations are scheduled, Hans is given precise instructions for taking his temperature and he eventually is told that he, too, has TB. Good health now seems an aberration of youth and sickness an aristocratic ritual, "a state almost amounting to beatification."
Read about the other books on the list.

According to Philip Roth, there are not many novels that take illness as their main subject.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 15, 2010

Best crime fiction of 2009

January Magazine's contributors found so many quality crime novels from 2009 that it published a two-part "best of list. One debut novel to make the grade:
Dope Thief by Dennis Tafoya (Minotaur) 304 pages

So many among the new breed of noir writers seem to have been weaned on pulp fiction cartoons and second-rate Jim Thompson-like fireworks, that’s it’s a real rush to discover newcomer Dennis Tafoya pays as much attention to character as he does to mayhem and glib nihilism. Not that his fierce debut, Dope Thief, is all Dr. Phil or anything, but Tafoya’s idea of action aims higher than a few “cool scenes” and some penny-ante existentialism. In these pages, loser buddies Ray and Manny pose as agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in order to rip off Philadelphia dealers even lower on the evolutionary scale than they are for their stash and cash. At first, it seems like a sweet gig, but Ray knows better: “It couldn’t go on forever ... Everyone was high. Everyone was stupid. Everyone had guns.” And sure enough, it’s not long before these two criminal masterminds inadvertently rip off someone smarter and far more deadly than they are: members of a ruthless biker gang who want more than just their pound of flesh. Forced to flee, the two friends split up, and the story takes a deliciously wicked hop, becoming a brooding, character-driven study with a peculiarly philosophical bent, as 30-something Ray tries to make sense of both a raw, hard-scraped world of “fucked-up people” and his own wasted life. Yeah, there’s a girl, and enough of the sort of rough, brutal nastiness you’d expect; but the real pleasure in Dope Thief lies in Tafoya’s willingness to dig into the lies and sorry justifications that Ray -- and by extension, all of us -- tell ourselves. Anyone can write about a character pulling the trigger, but it takes real chops to make us care not just about where the bullet’s going but about the man who’s holding the gun. Fans of the young man blues, as played by Richard Price or George Pelecanos, take heed -- there’s a new kid in town.
--Kevin Burton Smith
Read about the other novels from Part One and Part Two of January Magazine's best crime fiction of 2009.

The Page 69 Test: Dope Thief.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Garrett Peck's best books about Prohibition

Garrett Peck is a freelance journalist who has written mostly within the alcohol industry trade circles. Based in Washington, D.C., he also regularly conducts tours of historic sites that hold a significant place in the temperance movement in and around the district. His new book is The Prohibition Hangover: Alcohol in America from Demon Rum to Cult Cabernet.

Peck's best books about Prohibition:
Frederick Lewis Allen published Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920's in 1931, and many consider it the best book written about that decade. Chapter X is called "Alcohol and Al Capone," a great summary penned during Prohibition on why the "noble experiment" was such a colossal failure. Allen writes as a journalist, not an academic, and his prose is excellent.

Norman H. Clark, Deliver Us From Evil: An Interpretation of American Prohibition (1976) is regarded as one of the best studies on the anti-alcohol movement from colonial days to the end of Prohibition. It is more of an academic treatment than a popular read. Clark paints a coherent picture of middle class values that led to Prohibition, as well as a changing society that undermined it.

F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1924) is a novella based on an honest-to-gosh real bootlegger, George Remus, and probably the most well-known book from the 1920s. Every high school student reads it, and it's worth reading again and again.

K. Austin Kerr, Organized for Prohibition: A New History of the Anti-Saloon League (1985) is the quintessential history of the ASL, the organization that muscled in Prohibition. The ASL has gone extinct, but it was a powerful advocacy lobby, the National Rifle Association of its day.

Michael A. Lerner, Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City (2007) is really a great read while providing a significant scholarly addition to this fascinating era. Reading Lerner's book is like learning about Prohibition for the very first time: his story is fresh and insightful, and full of new research. I love this book!

Sinclair Lewis's Babbit (1922) is one of the best novels that emerged from the 1920s. It's a satirical roast of Midwestern middle class Protestants, ballyhoo, and bullyism. Grant Wood satirized these Americans in his 1930 painting American Gothic, but Sinclair Lewis beat him to the literary punch in Babbit. Written early in Prohibition, it captured the hypocritical stance of many people that Prohibition was a good thing for others to obey.

William J. Rorabaugh's The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition (1979) is the seminal work on Americans and alcohol in the 19th century, one that shows how the great American whiskey binge of the early 19th century led to a church-based response, the temperance movement. Rorabaugh laid the foundation upon which much subsequent alcohol social history is built. This is the grandfather of 'em all.

And one day I hope that my own book, The Prohibition Hangover: Alcohol in America from Demon Rum to Cult Cabernet (2009) will be added to this worthy cannon.
Visit Garrett Peck's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Matt Rees's top ten novels set in the Arab world

Matt Beynon Rees has lived in Jerusalem since 1996. He covered the Middle East for over a decade for the Scotsman, then Newsweek, and from 2000 until 2006 as Time magazine's Jerusalem bureau chief. He published his first novel featuring Palestinian detective Omar Yussef, The Collaborator of Bethlehem, in 2007, which won the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger award. A Grave in Gaza and The Samaritan's Secret followed in 2008 and 2009.

The Fourth Assassin, out in February, follows Omar to visit his son in New York's "Little Palestine" in Brooklyn.

For the Guardian, Rees named his top ten novels set in the Arab world. One book on his list:
Let It Come Down by Paul Bowles

Writers look for resonance. You might say Bowles has us with his title alone, which resonates with doom even before he writes his first sentence. It's drawn from Macbeth. When the murderers come upon Banquo, he says that it looks like there'll be rain. The murderer lifts his knife and says: "Let it come down." Then he kills him. Such doom impends throughout this book, yet the main character seems barely to want to avoid it. He's become fatalistic, as have so many of the Arabs around him in the face of political and social injustice. Bowles wrote as he travelled through North Africa. Each day, he incorporated something into his writing that had actually happened during the previous day's journey. I often use that technique, adding details from yesterday's stroll through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem or a refugee camp in Bethlehem.
Read about the other novels on Rees's list.

Visit Matt Beynon Rees' website and blog, and watch The Samaritan's Secret video.

The Page 69 Test: The Collaborator of Bethlehem.

My Book, The Movie: The Collaborator of Bethlehem.

The Page 69 Test: A Grave in Gaza.

The Page 69 Test: The Samaritan's Secret.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Elizabeth Kostova's top ten books for winter nights

Elizabeth Kostova is the author of The Historian and The Swan Thieves.

For the Guardian, in 2005 she named her top ten books for winter nights. One title on the list:
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, 1860

I know, I know - two by the same author. But what's a star-struck reader to do? The Woman in White is, if anything, an even more powerful story of human foibles than The Moonstone, although the mystery at its heart is less classic in shape - this is a tale of identity and legacy rather than a strict mystery. When nasty Sir Percival Glyde decides to get his wife's inheritance a little sooner than later, it's up to the carefully named Walter Hartright to clear the reputation of the woman he loves. Saying much more than that would give everything away. The figure of the woman in white, glimmering through all these pages, is alternately druid, muse, ghost, and bride. Hartright, as the novel's main narrator and assembler of the documents that make up the story, is so excessively honorable that he gets a little tiresome at moments, but the various women of the book - in white and otherwise - are wonderfully real. Not to be confused with a current musical production.
Read about the other books on Kostova's list.

The Woman in White is one of Philip Pullman's forty favorite books.

Also see Alan Cheuse's short list of books to warm a winter's night and the Independent's list of the fifty best winter reads.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 11, 2010

Daniel H. Pink's 6 favorite books about work

Daniel H. Pink is the author of A Whole New Mind, Free Agent Nation, and Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

For The Week magazine, he named his six favorite books about work.

One title on the list:
Working by Studs Terkel (New Press, $17).

My mother brought this book home from the library when I was 10, and I snatched it to read Terkel’s interview with a baseball player. To my surprise, I ended up staying for the bus drivers, strip miners, and schoolteachers. Hearing real grown-ups talk about what they did for a living was, for me, far more exciting than phantom tollbooths or Mrs. Frankweiler’s mixed-up files.
Read about the other books on Pink's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Five best books on presidential myths

Ronald Kessler is the author of In the President's Secret Service: Behind the Scenes With Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect and the chief Washington correspondent of

For the Wall Street Journal he named a five best list of books that explode presidential myths. One title on the list:
The Warren Commission Report

Only about one in 10 Americans believes that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in assassinating President Kennedy. That is largely due to conspiracy theorists, like movie director Oliver Stone, who have so confused the issue that most Americans say we will never know the truth about the terrible events in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. The widespread doubts amount to another sort of "presidential myth," and it is a tragic one. Over the years, experts have attempted to allay suspicions about JFK's assassination, but there is still no better answer to skeptics than the 888-page report of the Warren Commission. Based on the FBI's meticulous investigation, the report presents compelling evidence that Oswald did indeed act alone. Like the 9/11 Commission, the Warren Commission presented a richly detailed account as spellbinding as the best mystery novels. As the investigation found, Kennedy might have been spared if he had simply heeded warnings about possible violence in Dallas. The president told the Secret Service that he did not want agents standing on the small running boards at the rear of his limousine. If agents had been on the rear running boards, they almost certainly would have jumped on Kennedy after the first shot—which was not fatal—and probably would have saved his life.
Read about the other books on Kessler's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Ten of the best ice-skating episodes in literature

For the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best ice-skating episodes in literature.

One ice-skating episode on the list:
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Levin goes to the skating ground in the hope of finding Kitty. He is a bundle of nerves and watches as "All the skaters, it seemed, with perfect self-possession, skated towards her, skated by her, even spoke to her." But then . . . "Put on skates, and let us skate together," says the lovely Kitty. "They set off side by side, going faster and faster, and the more rapidly they moved the more tightly she grasped his hand." Ecstasy!
Read about the other nine entries on the list.

Anna Karenina also appears on James Gray's list of best books, Marie Arana's list of the best books about love, Ha Jin's most important books list, Tom Perrotta's ten favorite books list, Claire Messud's list of her five most important books, Alexander McCall Smith's list of his five most important books, Mohsin Hamid's list of his ten favorite books, Louis Begley's list of favorite novels about cheating lovers, and among the top ten works of literature according to Peter Carey and Norman Mailer. John Mullan put it on his list of ten of the best births in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 8, 2010

January Magazine: best books of 2009, fiction

January Magazine’s writers and editors chose their favorite fiction books of 2009.

One title on the list:
The Last Will of Moira Leahy by Therese Walsh (Shaye Areheart) 294 pages

One of the really delicious things about Therese Walsh’s debut novel is that it pushes through to new ground. And even while you are swept away in Walsh’s carefully crafted and constructed story of magic and acceptance and loss, you are aware that you’ve never traveled this way before. I hadn’t realized how rare that feeling could be in fiction until I read The Last Will of Moira Leahy. Are there conventions in fiction? A path you must take in order for people to say: this is this sort of book, shelve it over here. If so, Walsh has forged ahead with no regard for these whatsoever. The result is an intelligent, thoughtful, moving -- and again -- magical, book. Moira was the less bold of a set of twins. Less daring, less spirited, less of the world. When she died in their 16th year, Moira’s twin, Maeve, must come to terms both with the part she played in her sister’s death and with her own path through the world, alone. In adulthood, now a professor of languages, Maeve comes across an antique dagger that reminds her of her childhood. The dagger will open a new chapter in Maeve’s life and lead her to a place of acceptance and understanding. None of that brief description does justice to Walsh’s wonderful creation. It is difficult -- impossible -- to capture that magic in these few words. Nor is it possible to compare it to anything else: Walsh has found her way here alone. The Last Will of Moira Leahy is a wonderful book. Well crafted, beautifully told. A star is born. --Linda L. Richards
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 69 Test: The Last Will of Moira Leahy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Top 10 Victorian detective stories

James McCreet is the author of The Incendiary's Trail, a Victorian detective thriller influenced by the early works of Edgar Allan Poe and drawing on detailed historical research.

For the Guardian, he named a top ten list of Victorian detective stories. One title on the list:
On Murder by Thomas de Quincey

The old opium eater's series of articles about the real-life Ratcliff Highway murders pre-dated Poe and arguably have a claim to be the true origin of detective fiction. The Postscript in particular is a thrilling literary reconstruction of how the murders were committed, tracing how "the silent hieroglyphics of the case betray to us the whole process and movements of the bloody drama".
Read about the other stories on McCreet's list.

On Murder is also one of Theodore Dalrymple's favorite books on the criminal mind.

Visit James McCreet's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Five best travel books

Laura Landro writes the Wall Street Journal's Finicky Traveler column and is the author of Survivor: Taking Control of Your Fight Against Cancer (1998). She named a five best list of travel books for her newspaper.

One book to make the list:
Innocents Abroad
by Mark Twain

In 1867, Mark Twain embarked on an ambitious cruise to Europe, the Middle East and the Holy Land. His aim was to see Europe and the East with his own eyes rather than those of the guidebook writers who had gone before. The letters from the road that Twain wrote for publication back home—they are compiled in "Innocents Abroad"— presented one of the first unvarnished looks at the realities of travel. With scathing wit he mocks his fellow passengers ("We have a poet and a good-natured enterprising idiot onboard, and they do distress the company") and the drudgery of guided tours. Churlish after too many churches, Twain never feels so blessed as when he learns that Michelangelo is dead. After an arduous but fascinating journey on horseback through Lebanon and Syria, he is felled by cholera but recovers to swim in the Sea of Galilee, where a night sky "has no boundaries but the broad compass of the heavens." The curmudgeonly traveler becomes downright reverent by the time he reaches the Holy Land, "the genuine center of the earth."
Read about the other books on the list.

The Innocents Abroad also appears on Michael Oren's five best list of books that "vividly capture the long history of America's encounters with the Arab world."

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Ciarán Hinds' six best books

Ciarán Hinds is Aberforth Dumbledore in the forthcoming Harry Potter movies and has played many other film roles.

He named his six best books for the Daily Express. One title on his list:
by James Joyce

A deceptively simple but beautifully written collection of short stories depicting Irish middle-class life.

The way people behave seems quite ordinary but slowly and delicately Joyce reveals everyone’s private anguish. It touches you to your core.
Read about the other books on Hinds' list.

Louise Penney would like to see Hinds in the lead role in the film adaptation of her Three Pines mystery series.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 4, 2010

Ten of the best bad lawyers in fiction

For the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best bad lawyers in literature.

One lawyer on the list:
Sandor Himmelstein

In Herzog, the protagonist foolishly goes to stay with the lawyer who is managing his divorce. Himmelstein, like other Bellow lawyers, is a clever bully. He pours contempt on Herzog's unworldliness ("effing eggheads! It takes an ignorant bastard like me to fight liberal causes"), vouchsafes him slivers of his philosophy ("We're all whores") and smashes the dishes in his bitter fury at the world.
Read about the other lawyers on the list.

Herzog appears on Eli Gottlieb's list of the top 10 literary scenes from the battle of the sexes.

See Mullan's list of ten of the best lawyers in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dan Brown's six favorite books

Dan Brown is the author of The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, and The Lost Symbol.

He named his six favorite books for The Week magazine. One title on the list.
The Puzzle Palace by James Bamford. Although dated, this book is still one of the most captivating looks inside the cover world of America’s premier intelligence agency, the National Security Agency. Bamford’s description of the longstanding synergy between the U.S. and Britain, who brilliantly exploit a loophole in the law that enables them to spy legally on American and British civilians, is particularly fascinating.
Read about the other books on Brown's list.

The Wall Street Journal asked Brown if wealth has changed him. Check out his answer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The best five books to share with your friends

For NPR, Gwen Weldon came up with a list of the best five books to share with your friends.

One title on the list:
The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy and the History of Comic Book Heroines, by Mike Madrid, paperback, Exterminating Angel Press. List price: $16.95

A thoughtful, comprehensive history of women in comics is long overdue, and if Mike Madrid's Supergirls offered only this and nothing more, it'd still make a welcome addition to the growing canon of works exploring the cultural relevance of that singularly American creation, the superhero. Decade by decade, Madrid offers an encyclopedic overview of the origins and exploits of the few female crime fighters that have graced comic pages, pointedly calling out the reflexively sexist attitudes that have dominated the medium since its inception. (Read about Mike Madrid's first introduction to Supergirl when he was just 6 years old.)

But the book really comes alive in later chapters, when Madrid moves from precis to analysis, arguing that these characters must be understood as products of the times that birthed them, and that they — much more than their comparatively static male counterparts — continue to be shaped by shifting cultural attitudes in fashion, sexuality and, especially, pop music. But even as it delivers its clear-eyed critique of the way mainstream superhero comics have alternately eroticized or deified female characters, The Supergirls gleefully celebrates the medium itself, in all its goofy, glorious excess. One quibble: Given its subject, the book's lack of illustrations is disappointing.
Read about the other books on Weldon's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 1, 2010

Five books on the wild west

From the Barnes & Noble Review list of five books on the wild west:
Son of the Morning Star: Custer and The Little Big Horn
by Evan S. Connell

One of the most mythologized and contentious episodes in American History, Custer's Last Stand gets a detailed, engaging treatment here. Connell's fantastic book offers a fascinating history of Plains Indians culture, a welcome dose of military history, and close attention to each of the story's major players.
Read about the other four books on the list.

Son of the Morning Star also appears on Thomas E. Ricks' list of ten books anyone interested in U.S. military history should read.

--Marshal Zeringue