Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Top ten LA noir novels

Jonathan Kellerman is the author of the Alex Delaware novels. He named a top ten list of LA noir novels for the Guardian.

Two books on his list:
The Black Dahlia and The Big Nowhere by James Ellroy

Thirty years on, James Ellroy's early books remain fresh: he was writing about the monstrous psychopaths who later became familiarised as serial killers back when no else could even imagine people like that existed. (I'll take some partial credit here: my fourth novel, The Butcher's Theatre, covered the same grisly ground because my background in psychology led me to explore the darkest aspects of human behaviour. I set the book in Jerusalem, but there are some LA scenes. Butcher was written in 1985; Ellroy and I were hanging out regularly back then and I've come to realize that the gore level of Butcher may be related to some of our more "interesting" conversations.) Ellroy's first works — Brown's Requiem, Clandestine, Blood on the Moon and the other Lloyd Hopkins police procedurals — are great reads; The Black Dahlia and The Big Nowhere stand out to me as masterpieces. The first uses a famous unsolved true crime as a springboard for beautiful writing and the best type of social commentary — that which masquerades as entertainment. The second is, literally and figuratively, a bigger book, and is, in my opinion, Ellroy's magnum opus.
Read about the other 8 books on Kellerman's list.

The Black Dahlia also appears on David Bowman's list of five great noir novels from the post-Chandler generations.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Four unjustly overlooked Irish writers

Max McGuinness, a columnist at The Dubliner, named four of the greatest alternative Irish writers for The Daily Beast.

One author on the list:
Flann O’Brien

It has long been fashionable for aficionados of post-structuralism to question the parameters of authorial control, to explore the fragmented nature of identity, and to assess the diverse “gender claims” inherent within “texts.”

But dipsomaniac civil servant, Flann O’Brien, was streets ahead of the lot of them. His anarchic 1939 début, At Swim Two Birds, introduced us to novels-within-novels, characters revolting against their author, and men born fully formed at the age of 25. Derrida, Deleuze, and Foucault were still in short trousers at the time. O’Brien (which was just one of many pseudonyms—his real name was Brian O’Nualláin) also had the advantage over these rather po-faced Frenchmen of telling terrific jokes.

His next novel, The Third Policeman, was even stranger. Featuring men who become bicycles and bicycles which become men (thanks to the vagaries of quantum mechanics) along with endless footnotes quoting a deranged fictive philosopher called De Selby, it proved too much for his London publisher, who declined the manuscript. A dejected O’Brien abandoned fiction for over 20 years, devoting himself instead to a regular newspaper column, often written in a surreal mixture of Irish and English, but, most of all, to whiskey. The Irish Department of Local Government, of which O’Brien was theoretically in charge, somehow survived. Today, his U.S. sales have abruptly rocketed due to an unexpected appearance of a copy of The Third Policemen in an episode of the TV series Lost.
Read about the other writers on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 29, 2010

Five memorable portraits of sisters

Zoë Heller named a five best list of literary portraits of sisters for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on the list:
Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott

It is faintly astonishing to me that as a godless tween growing up in the 1970s I should have found so much to interest and inspire me in the mawkish, homily-filled chronicles of the March sisters. (Like many readers before me, I wanted badly to be clever, dashing Jo but fretted that my true kinship was with vain, shallow Amy.) Louisa May Alcott's novel may not be a great work of literature, but it has proved an enormously influential and salutary text for generations of young girls—as important in its way as "Jane Eyre" or "The Golden Notebook" in shaping ideas about womanhood. Its appeal, however, may be on the wane: When I tried reading the book to my 10-year-old recently, she balked after only 20 pages, citing as her chief objections the "goody-goodyness" of the Marches and "the lame way they go on about their gloves."
Read about the other books on Heller's list.

Little Women also appears on Kate Saunders' critic's chart of mothers and daughters in literature. It is a book that disappointed Geraldine Brooks on re-reading.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ten of the best priests in fiction

At the Guardian, John Mullan named a list of ten of the best priests in literature.

One priest on the list:
Villette by Charlotte Brontë

Working as a teacher in Villette (Brussels), Lucy Snowe is revolted but fascinated by all the trappings of Catholicism. Père Silas, a clever, threatening local priest, rescues her when she collapses in the street, but when she resists his religious blandishments he begins plotting against her.
Read about the other priests on the list.

Villette also appears on Mullan's list of ten of the best teachers in literature.

Also see Paul Murray's ten best list of fictional wicked priests.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sanjeev Bhaskar's 6 best books

Sanjeev Bhaskar, a British actor who appears in Notting Hill and the forthcoming adaptation of Ken Bruen's London Boulevard, named his six best books for the Daily Express.

One book on the list:
To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee

This was probably the first book I ever read. It touched upon racism in such a powerful way so it naturally left a huge imprint on me. It’s a beautifully written book and while it’s the author’s only novel of any note as far as I know, it’s a modern classic.
Read about the other books on Bhaskar's list.

To Kill a Mockingbird
also made John Mullan's list of ten of the best lawyers in literature, Lisa Scottoline's top 10 list of books about justice, and Luke Leitch's list of ten literary one-hit wonders.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 26, 2010

Five terrific novels overshadowed by their film versions

One title from Jonathan Lethem's 1999 list of five terrific novels overshadowed by their film versions:
The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon

An abundance of weaker work has blotted out Condon's few best novels, which have a prescient paranoiac verve that holds up nicely -- he's sort of a pop Don Delillo. "Winter Kills," another splendid novel, was also made into a lesser-known but excellent film. Oddly, in the 1950s and '60s, Frank Sinatra made a habit of starring in films made from underrated novels: Both James Jones' "Some Came Running" and Roderick Thorp's "The Detective" are worth a closer look.
Read about the other books on Lethem's list.

The Manchurian Candidate also appears among Barry Forshaw's top political thrillers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Kate White's 6 favorite books

Kate White is the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine and the best-selling author behind the new thriller Hush. She listed the books that affected her the most for The Week magazine.

One book on the list:
Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson

Utterly riveting. You are right there. This 2006 nonfiction best-seller totally jump-started my ­fascination with the Civil War.
Read about the other books on White's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Top ten books about the Spanish inquisition

Theresa Breslin is an award winning librarian and writer with a special interest in children's literature. Her new novel is Prisoner of the inquisition.

For the Guardian, she named a top ten list of books on the Spanish Inquisition. One title on the list:
Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition by Rafael Sabatini

If you're looking for factual background to the subject of the Spanish inquisition, Sabatini would be a good first port of call. This is a colourful and dramatic biography of the monk who became the first Grand Inquisitor of Spain, and whose name has come down to us through the ages associated with torture and terror.
Read about the other books on the list.

Visit Theresa Breslin's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Five great post-Chandler noir novels

A decade ago David Bowman picked a list of five great noir novels from the post-Chandler generations.

One title on the list:
Children of Light by Robert Stone

The most unloved child of all Stone's work (even editor Robert Gottlieb hated it), this novel contains the psychic framework of a good noir while simultaneously being the burnout death of the genre (despite noble attempts at resurrection by Jonathan Lethem ("Gun With Occasional Music") and Charlie Smith ("Chimney Rock"). Stone dispenses the crime elements offstage, and then wallows in drugs, suicide, madness, Oedipal failures and Mexico -- the traditional dumping ground for noir.
Read about the other books on the list.

Children of Light is one of Jane Ciabattari's five best novels on Hollywood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 22, 2010

Joseph Fiennes' six best books

Joseph Fiennes is an actor best known for his roles as William Shakespeare in Shakespeare In Love and Robert Dudley in Elizabeth.

He named his six best books for the Daily Express. One novel on the list:
The Master and Margarita
by Mikhail Bulgakov

I read this when I was 18 and dressing at the National. The writer’s imagination is vivid and enthralling.
The Master and Margarita is one of Daniel Johnson's five best books about Cold War culture. It's also a book that English actor and writer Stephen Fry tries to read as often as he can.

Read about the other books on Fiennes' list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Five best books on scandals

Henry E. Scott's Shocking True Story: The Rise and Fall of Confidential, "America's Scandalous Scandal Magazine" was recently published by Pantheon.

He named his five favorite books on scandals for the Wall Street Journal. One book on the list:
A Gospel of Shame
by Frank Bruni and Elinor Burkett

"A Gospel of Shame" is a disturbing account of religious scandal. New York Times reporter Frank Bruni and magazine writer Elinor Burkett put the reader in parochial-school classrooms and vividly conjure the terror felt by children subjected to gropings and worse by the priests who were supposed to be their moral shepherds. Bruni and Burkett also document the now well-known conspiracy by the Catholic Church hierarchy to cover up the child-abuse scandals. "Shame" opens with the story of 40-year-old Frank Fitzpatrick's 1990 telephone call to Father James Porter, his childhood priest at St. Mary's Church in North Attleboro, Mass. Fitzpatrick confronts him: Why did Porter molest Fitzpatrick and other children? The priest replies: "Who knows?"—and laughs.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Ten of the best women writing as men

At the Guardian, John Mullan named a list of ten of the best women writing as men in literature.

One book on the list:
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Wharton's story is told by a nameless young man, who has been sent by his employers to the small town of Starkfield in wintry New England. He is intrigued by the mysterious Ethan, whom he hires as his driver. Thus we get access to the tale of Ethan's passion for Mattie, his wife's cousin. It all ends in a very nasty sledging accident.
Read about the other books on the list.

Ethan Frome is one of Lynda Resnick's best books.

See Mullan's list of ten of the best men writing as women in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 19, 2010

Lorraine Adams' six best books

Lorraine Adams was educated at Princeton University and was a graduate fellow at Columbia University, where she received a master’s degree in literature. A staff writer for the Washington Post for 11 years, she won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. Her new novel is The Room and the Chair.

Adams named her six best books for The Week magazine. One book on her list:
The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh

Bao Ninh was a North Vietnamese soldier. His novel follows the story of a young conscript assigned to a unit that recovers soldiers’ corpses from the combat zone. Neither pro–North Vietnam nor anti-American, Ninh writes about the possibility of humanity in a man-made hell.
Read about the other books on Adams' list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Top ten wicked priests in fiction

Paul Murray's first novel, An Evening of Long Goodbyes, was shortlisted for the Whitbread prize in 2003. The Irish writer has just published his second novel, Skippy Dies.

For the Guardian, he named a ten best list of the worst fictional clergymen. One priest on the list:
The Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

This "unwritten poem", which nihilistic Ivan Karamazov relates to his saintly brother Alyosha, is set in 16th-century Seville at the height of the Inquisition. Christ has made a brief reappearance to boost the flagging faith of his people. Witnessing him resurrect a little girl, the Grand Inquisitor has him arrested, and that night in his cell reveals that the church has long abandoned his teachings. Christ's insistence on man's freedom led to moral and social chaos, the Inquisitor argues. Man is weak; freedom makes him unhappy; he not only needs but actively wants to be ruled by force, and the church has made a pact with the devil to do just that. Dostoevsky's depiction of the totalitarian state in which the oppressed people effectively collude proved chillingly prophetic.
Read about the other clerics on the list.

The Brothers Karamazov made James Runcie's top ten list of books about brothers, and is one of the top ten works of literature according to Norman Mailer.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Top 10 books on Percy Bysshe Shelley

A few years ago Julian Roach named a top list of books on Percy Bysshe Shelley for the Guardian.

One title on the list:
The Making of The English Working Class, by EP Thompson

It was the worst of times. In Castlereagh's England, to be poor - and almost everybody was - was to understand one great dismal economic truth: you could work yourself to death and earn enough to be merely hungry, or be thrown out of work and starve directly instead. To protest was treason, earning the lash, the Yeoman's sabre, transportation or the gallows.

Shelley's response was not only an angry call for radical change but also a profound insight into the economic and political machinery of injustice. As Shelley wrote, "a genius does not invent, he perceives." Thompson's eye-line and Shelley's are the same, and this great dissection of England's diseased body politic during, almost exactly, the years of Shelley's life, is the soundest basis available for understanding what made Shelley think like Shelley.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Making of the English Working Class is also one of Billy Bragg's ten favorite books on the subject of Englishness.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Five best books on Ireland

Frank Delaney's novel Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show was recently published by Random House.

For the Wall Street Journal he named a five best list of books on Ireland. One title on the list:
How the Irish Saved Civilization
by Thomas Cahill
Doubleday, 1995

Dreadful title, outstanding book. This is the work that most assists a deeper understanding of Ireland's spirit. If the question is "How did an island of 33,000 square miles daub such a wide green stripe across the globe?," Thomas Cahill has the answer. His learning matches the depth of field, and his powers of overview and summary can settle eons of debate. "Whether insoluble political realities or inner spiritual sickness is more to blame for the fall of classical civilization is, finally, beside the point," he writes. The point, he says, is that Irish monks, drinking deep from the Latin and Greek of what was called "civilization," gave it out to the world from their scriptoria in the Middle Ages and thus prevented its death. The book is in itself an illuminated manuscript.
Read about the other books on Delaney's list.

Read an excerpt from Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 15, 2010

Lynda Bellingham's 6 best books

Lynda Bellingham is best-known for roles in All Creatures Great And Small and At Home With The Braithwaites. Her memoir Lost And Found: My Story is out now in Britain.

She told the Daily Express about her six best books. One title on the list:
One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel García Márquez

I love books evocative of a place or culture and this book is so poetic. It’s about life in South America and expresses everyday things from a not everyday perspective. It took over my life and when I finally finished it I was bereft. Off-the-wall and unique.
Read about the other books on Bellingham's list.

One Hundred Years of Solitude
made Rebecca Stott's five best list of historical novels. It is one of Walter Mosley's 5 favorite books, one of Eric Kraft's 5 most important books, and one of James Patterson's five most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ten of the best men writing as women in literature

At the Guardian, John Mullan named a list of ten of the best men writing as women in literature.

One book on the list:
Charles Dickens

In Bleak House modest, virtuous Esther Summerson tells the story of her involvement in the tortuous lawsuit of Jarndyce vs Jarndyce. The heartstrings are tugged when she tells us of losing her bloom after catching smallpox, but we know that her author will pair her up with the handsome young doctor.
Read about the other books on the list.

Bleak House is one of James McCreet's top ten Victorian detective stories and one of Rebecca Ford's favorite five fiction books. It is on John Mortimer's list of the five best books about law and literature and among the top ten works of literature according to Stephen King.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The 5 best novels on Hollywood

Jane Ciabattari is the author of the critically acclaimed short-story collection, Stealing the Fire.

For The Daily Beast, she named a five best list of novels on Hollywood. One title on the list:
The Day of the Locust
by Nathanael West

The fourth and last novel by this acerbic American original is a mashup of grotesques, sketched from his experience as a Hollywood scriptwriter during the 1930s.

West’s ingénue narrator in the novel is Tod Hackett, a young artist from the East who is secretly painting “The Burning of Los Angeles” while learning costume design and set work. Tod’s first impression of L.A. sets the tone: “Few things are sadder than the truly monstrous.” Among the strange creatures he encounters as neighbors in the down-at-the-heels San Bernardino Arms: Abe, a dwarf and depraved bookie; Faye Greener, a callous Hollywood starlet; her father Harry, a would-be comic who peddles Miracle Polish to support his impossible dreams; and Homer Simpson, a retired businessman who looks like he came to California to die (his “fever eyes and unruly hands” were rendered indelibly by Donald Sutherland in the 1975 film).

The explosive finale, when demonic fans run amok at a movie premiere, is hair-raising in its viciousness. Alfred Kazin dubbed West “the most despairing of Hollywood novelists.” The assessment still fits.

Nathanael West and his wife, Eileen McKenney, who inspired My Sister Eileen, died in a car crash on December 22, 1940, while driving back to Hollywood from Mexico for their friend F. Scott Fitzgerald’s funeral.
Read about the other novels on Ciabattari's list.

The Day of the Locust also figures among Jonathan Evison's list of books about the Spirit of California and is one of Peter Conn's five best novels from the Great Depression.

Also see Whit Stillman's five best list of books about Hollywood and Robert Osborne's five best list of books about Hollywood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 12, 2010

Five favorite books of Appalachia

Katie Pickard Fawcett, who grew up in the hills of eastern Kentucky, is the author of a newly released novel for young readers, To Come and Go Like Magic; it's about 12 year-old Chili Mahoney, who has never been outside of her small Appalachian town.

She named her five favorite books of Appalachia for C.M. Mayo's "Madam Mayo" blog. One title on the list:
Hunter's Horn by Harriette Arnow

A bestselling novel about a Kentucky hill farmer and his efforts to catch a sly red fox he calls King Devil. (Many people are familiar with Ms. Arnow's most popular novel -- The Dollmaker. Made into a TV movie in 1983 starring Jane Fonda, it told the story of a Kentucky family's difficult move from their farm to a Detroit housing project.) It was Hunter's Horn, however, that first brought Ms. Arnow national fame, and the book finished that year close to William Faulkner's A Fable for the Pulitzer Prize. Joyce Carol Oates has called this novel "our most unpretentious American masterpiece."
Read about the other books on the list.

Visit Katie Pickard Fawcett's blog, Kite Dreams.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Seven best novels about WASPs

Tad Friend, author of Cheerful Money, named a "7 Best Novels About WASPs" list for Flashlight Worthy.

One novel on the list:
The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald was a wistful snob, ever anxious about his place in the firmament: as a youth, finding his father listed in the St. Paul Social Register as a “grocer,” he penciled in the word “wholesale” before it. And in this book he transmutes that anxiety into Jay Gatsby's poignantly ardent social climbing. The self-made Gatsby longs, tragically, for the approval of those who — as Ann Richards once said of George H.W. Bush — were born on third base and thought they hit a triple.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Great Gatsby appears among Kate Atkinson's top ten novels, Garrett Peck's best books about Prohibition, Robert McCrum's top ten books for Obama officials, Jackie Collins' six best books, and John Krasinski's six best books, and is on the American Book Review's list of the 100 best last lines from novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Top 10 talkative novels

Frederic Raphael is probably best known as the author of Glittering Prizes and its sequel Fame and Fortune. This month, he publishes a third volume in this series, Final Demands. He also collaborated on Stanley Kubrick's final film, Eyes Wide Shut.

"Dialogue in a novel is like stained glass, the surrounding prose is there to frame and support it," he tells the Guardian in the prefatory remarks to his top ten list of talkative novels.

One novel on the list:
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

When I first opened Steinbeck's great novel about "the Okies" – migrant sharecroppers from the 1930s dust-bowl of Oklahoma – I found their dialogue, phonetically reproduced on the page, quite incomprehensible. But read it aloud and the voices of the Joad family come out fighting, as it were. The family's trek to golden California has plenty of cruel incident, but when I think of Rose of Sharon, for instance, I hear her name "Rosa-sharn" the way Tom Joad said it, and says it.
Read about the other novels on Raphael's list.

The Grapes of Wrath
also appears on John Mullan's list of ten of the best pieces of fruit in literature and among Honor Blackman's six best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Three memoir accounts of poverty

Leslie Jamison grew up in Los Angeles. Educated at Harvard College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she has also worked as an innkeeper in California, a schoolteacher in Nicaragua, and an office temp in Manhattan. She is currently a PhD candidate at Yale University, where she is writing a dissertation on poverty and degradation in twentieth-century American writing.

The Gin Closet, her debut novel, was published by Free Press last month.

For NPR, she named "three memoirs whose accounts of poverty do justice to both the integrity of their subjects and the extremity of their suffering."

One of the memoirs:
Salvador, by Joan Didion

Joan Didion's Salvador is a slim volume that documents her 1982 visit to a country deeply enmeshed in a devastating civil war. The daily terror of life in El Salvador, and the brutal poverty at the roots of this unrest, become something palpable and close in Didion's sharp prose: a fear marked by suffocated anger in the streets and heart palpitations in the night. Didion's merciless matter-of-fact descriptions of body dumps and daily violence refuse to console readers with the sentimental delusion that awareness is sufficient. Instead, she implicates everyone — herself and readers alike — in the devastation she finds.
Read about the other books on Jamison's list.

The Page 69 Test: The Gin Closet by Leslie Jamison.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 8, 2010

Five best novels of ideas

Rebecca Goldstein's new book is 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction. For the Wall Street Journal she named a five best list of novels of ideas.

One book on the list:
by Saul Bellow
Viking, 1964

The hilarious tack that Saul Bellow takes in "Herzog" is to address immortal thinkers in grave earnestness, demanding of them relevance to his own very mortal predicament, to wit: his discovery that he is being cuckolded by his best friend. The book is veined by unsent missives, howling with outrage against reality and its learned mediators. "Dear Doktor Professor Heidegger, I should like to know what you mean by the expression 'the fall into the quotidian.' When did this fall occur? Where were we standing when it happened?" Herzog has been betrayed not only by his beautiful young neurotic of a wife but also by the entire Western canon, not to speak of God, to whom he also dashes off a few choice lines. The blend of high-mindedness and low farce yields a rare form of tragic comedy, "King Lear" as filtered through Milton Berle.
Read about the other books on Goldstein's list.

Herzog also appears on Eli Gottlieb's list of the top 10 literary scenes from the battle of the sexes and John Mullan's list of ten of the best bad lawyers in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Ten of the best bells in literature

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

One novel on the list:
Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo

Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer, lives in the belfry of Notre Dame and has been made deaf by the bells. He loves ringing them, "long morning serenades, which lasted from prime to compline; peals from the belfry for a high mass, rich scales drawn over the smaller bells for a wedding". But when he encounters the beautiful Esmerelda, he abandons the bells for a greater love.
Read about the other bells on the list.

Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of Jessica Duchen's top ten literary Gypsies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Diana Quick's six best books

Diana Quick has acted on stage and screen yet is best known for playing Julia Flyte in the TV drama Brideshead Revisited. Her memoir is A Tug On The Thread: From The British Raj To The British Stage.

She told the Daily Express about her six best books, including:
by Marilynne Robinson

By an amazing American author of 65 who’s written only three books to date, this is about a small community in Ohio and a family of pastors. In essence it’s about the returning prodigal son and the good daughter who’s come home to look after the father. A real gem.
Read about the other books on Quick's list.

Learn more about Marilynne Robinson's Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 5, 2010

The 16 best dystopian books of all time

One title from PopCrunch's list of the sixteen best dystopian books of all time:
Wow, can you get more polar opposite of CS Lewis than Margaret Atwood? Despite her protestations of not writing science fiction, her story of a dystopian future where almost all women are infertile is most assuredly of the genre. Set in a future where disease and radiation have reduced fertility to a minimum, and a fascist military theocracy has taken over America (or at least part of it). Brutal in its critique of evangelist Christianity and their view on women, Handmaid’s Tale is a harrowing read at the best of times. In it, women have essentially been reduced to chattels, and the few fertile ones assigned to high-ranking military men in order to give them children.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Handmaid's Tale made Lisa Tuttle's critic's chart of the top Arthur C. Clarke Award winners.

Also see Robert Collins' top ten list of dystopian novels and Gemma Malley's top 10 list of dystopian novels for teenagers.

--Marshal Zeringue

(h/t to Bill Crider)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Peter Mayle's six favorite travel books

The Vintage Caper, Peter Mayle's latest novel, "begins high above Los Angeles, at the extravagant home and equally impressive wine cellar of entertainment lawyer Danny Roth. Unfortunately, after inviting the Los Angeles Times to write an extensive profile extolling the liquid treasures of his collection, Roth finds himself the victim of a world-class wine heist."

Mayle told The Week magazine about his six favorite travel books. One title on the list:
West With the Night by Beryl Markham

Beryl Markham was the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west, but her life and adventurous times in East Africa—as a child in the wilderness, as a racehorse trainer, and as an intrepid flying explorer—are even more exciting. A reminder, in epic fashion, of the good old days.
Read about the other books on Mayle's list.

West With the Night also appears on Midge Gillies' top six list of books on pilot pioneers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Top ten picture book characters

Shirley Hughes is one of the best-loved and most innovative creators of books for young children. She has written and illustrated over 50 books, sold more than eleven million copies, won major awards and created some of the most enduring characters in children's literature, including including Dogger, Alfie, and Lucy and Tom.

For the Guardian, she named her top 10 picture book characters.

One character on the list:
The Bear with Sticky Paws – Clara Vulliamy

When The Bear with Sticky Paws arrives at Pearl's house, chaos of one kind or another ensues. Clara Vulliamy can draw real children as convincingly as she can invent anthropomorphic animals, a rare quality in contemporary picture books. (I have to declare an interest here, as she is my daughter!) These stories explore Pearl's changing reactions to the engagingly maverick bear, who tears through the action with delicious abandon.
Read about the other picture books on Hughes' list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The top ten books on grand strategy

Will Inboden named his top 10 books on grand strategy for Foreign Policy.

One title on his list:
Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History.

The beginning of wisdom in approaching grand strategy is to appreciate the limits of power and human insight. Almost six decades since its writing, Niebuhr still speaks with prescience today:
"Modern man's confidence in his power over historical destiny prompted the rejection of every older conception of an overruling providence in history. Modern man's confidence in his virtue caused an equally unequivocal rejection of the Christian idea of the ambiguity of human virtue... We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization. We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect disinterestedness in its exercise, nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimatized."
Perhaps nothing better illustrates Niebuhr's complexity than the fact that (in an irony he would no doubt appreciate) he is today both embraced and argued over by leading voices on the political left, right, and center.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 1, 2010

Ten of the best fogs in literature

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

One fog on the list:
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Marlowe and some mad pilgrims travel up-river in search of Kurtz and, as they get beyond the reach of colonialism, they see something strange. "When the sun rose there was a white fog, very warm and clammy, and more blinding than the night. It did not shift or drive; it was just there, standing all round you like something solid". From its heart they hear a cry "of infinite desolation". They are entering another world.
Read about the other fogs on Mullan's list.

Heart of Darkness
also appears on Tim Butcher's list of the top 10 books about Congo, Martin Meredith's list of ten books to read on Africa, Thomas Perry's best books list, and is #9 on the 100 best last lines from novels list.

--Marshal Zeringue