Thursday, September 30, 2010

Top 10 books on the ancient world

Annabel Lyon is a Vancouver fiction writer and teacher. Her books include Oxygen (stories), The Best Thing for You (novellas), All-Season Edie (juvenile novel), and The Golden Mean, her first novel for adults.

At the Guardian, she named her top ten books on the ancient world.

One book on the list:
I, Claudius by Robert Graves (1934)

Violent, dirty, shocking, funny, erudite, utterly compelling – Graves's account of the Julio-Claudian emperors of Rome has become a classic, immortalised in the great 1973 BBC series of the same name. The novel is supposedly the autobiography of the emperor Claudius, who survived to adulthood only by pretending to be an idiot. Graves himself is supposed to have claimed to dislike the books, and wrote them only out of financial need.
Read about the other entries on the list.

I, Claudius also appears on Lindsey Davis' top ten list of Roman books and John Mullan's list of ten of the best poisonings in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Five best books about obscure presidents

At the Christian Science Monitor, Randy Dotinga named five great books about obscure presidents.

One title on the list:
Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy by David O. Stewart (2009)

Andrew Johnson's brief term as vice president of the US began poorly. Very poorly.

He had too much "medicinal" liquor before his inauguration and ended up giving a gloriously addled speech, including the immortal sentence, "What's the name of the secretary of the Navy?"

Within weeks, the humorless and stubborn Johnson was president. To put it mildly, he was not the ideal man to extend the legacy of the assassinated Abraham Lincoln, and it didn't take long for a severely divided Congress to decide he needed to get the heave-ho.

The suspenseful "Impeached" brims with fascinating characters, although profiles in courage – or honor – are hard to find.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 99 Test: David O. Stewart's Impeached.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The 10 must-read novels of the fall

At The Daily Beast, Janice Kaplan named the ten must-read novels of the fall.

One book to make the grade:
Exley by Brock Clarke

In this oddly brilliant book , a young boy believes his father has gone to Iraq and now lies dying in the local VA hospital. He tries to find Frederick Exley, his father’s favorite author, believing Exley’s bedside presence will save the wounded man. The boy and his psychiatrist alternate as narrators—neither is terribly reliable—and the luminously engaging plot reveals the deceptions we cling to in order to survive. “I’m telling you the truth,” the mother tells her son at the end, to which he replies, “Please don’t.” The long-dead Exley appears, though everyone understands he’s not real, and Clarke’s breathtaking creativity gives unexpected power to his quirky, touching story.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 99 Test: Brock Clarke's An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ten of the best disguises in literature

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

One book on the list:
Madame Doubtfire, by Anne Fine

Unemployed actor Daniel Hilliard dresses up as a woman and applies for the job as nanny to his children, who live with his estranged wife Miranda. The elder two of his three children recognise him immediately, though his wife is completely fooled. When she discovers his ruse, she agrees to give him more access.
Read about the other titles on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Val McDermid's top ten Oxford novels

Val McDermid won the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger Award for The Mermaids Singing (1995).

Her latest novel released in the US is Fever of the Bone.

For the Guardian, she named her top ten Oxford novels. One title on the list:
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

I was instantly seduced by Waugh's portrait of the collision between a decent middle-class chap and a dysfunctional bunch of Catholic toffs. Although superficially I had nothing in common with his characters apart from studying at Oxford, I couldn't avoid all sorts of emotional identification with them. This is the quintessential novel of Oxford gilded youth flying too close to the sun.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Learn about the fictional character who McDermid think she most resembles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Five best memoirs

Gail Caldwell is the author of Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship. The former chief book critic of the Boston Globe, she was in 2001 awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Criticism.

For the Wall Street Journal, she named a five best list of memoirs. One book on the list:
by Michael Herr (1977)

Every war has its Stephen Crane, its Robert Graves—and Vietnam had Michael Herr. He spent a year in-country in 1967, then nearly a decade turning what he saw there into a surreal narrative of the war's geography, from its napalmed landscape to the craters of a soldier's mind. Soldiers talked to Herr—told him things they hadn't said before or maybe even known. "I should have had 'Born to Listen' written on my helmet," he told me in London in 1988. What Herr dared to write about was war's primal allure: "the death space and the life you found inside it." That he created this gunmetal narrative with a blend of fact and creative memory was acknowledged from the first; his netherland of "truth" mirrored the dream-like quality of the war and influenced its literature for a decade to come.
Read about the other memoirs on the list.

Dispatches appears on Judith Paterson's list of the 10 best books of social concern by journalists.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 24, 2010

Five best books on globalization

Stephen King is HSBC’s Group Chief Economist and the global head of economics and asset allocation research at the bank, where he has worked since 1988. He is the author of Losing Control: The Emerging Threats to Western Prosperity, and since 2001 has written a weekly column in The Independent.

For FiveBooks, he discussed five books on globalization with Tom Dannet. One title he mentioned:
The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor by David Landes

The Wealth and Poverty of Nations. Another huge historical sweep on economic development and, perhaps controversially, this time more a view of why the West has been particularly successful and why other countries have not. I think there’s a danger that recent events may begin to question some of those assumptions, but as a tentative exploration of the issue of economic progress and culture, it’s fascinating.

One of the stories here is about clocks, and how the Europeans would bring their clocks along when it came to trading with China. Europeans used clocks as a coordinating mechanism: what time you arrived for work, and what time you went home in the evening. Whereas the Chinese initially regarded clocks as being almost a decorative toy, so you’d end up with this weird situation throughout China with extremely long hours being worked in the summer and extremely short hours in the winter, which were all determined by the lack of understanding of this particular technology.

I think what’s clever about the book in one sense is that it points out that it’s not just the technology that’s important but how you use it. If you invest in lots of computers, unless you can do something with them and work out how you can become more productive, the computers in themselves are utterly useless. There are lots of examples of this in the world: you have to work out how best to use a technology before investing in it.

Landes believes the Western world has been well placed to exploit new technologies?

Yes, there’s a lot of Enlightenment thinking going on in this particular book. I’m not 100 per cent sure that this still stacks up, because one big challenge to the whole Enlightenment process is the rise of Asia over the last 50-60 years. It has proved to have been successful for a number of decades now, so it does raise some big questions as to whether it’s either the same model and we haven’t understood it, or a different model, in which case it’s a challenge to Western assumptions about liberal democracy, and so on.

New technology can cause tremendous upsets. I think often people forget that the technologies partly explain why it is that some countries have become rich or some others have remained poor or become poor. What of course we don’t know is whether countries that are currently wealthy might subsequently become poor in the future, and I think this is a big question for the West, actually. If China and Brazil and India trade increasingly with each other, and the demographics of the world’s population continue to change in a way that makes the West increasingly unimportant, there are some big questions as to whether the West itself, having unleashed this wonderful new information technology, will go the same way as, say, Islam in the 14th and 15th centuries: of having a technology that has been so disruptive that it makes life much more difficult for the West than it assumed 20 or 30 years ago.

Historically speaking, all empires lose it at some stage.

They do. The one thing you could say is that countries which have recently lost it, like say the UK, or maybe Austria, have remained relatively wealthy. But it may be like the demise of the Roman Empire: it took hundreds of years to fall flat on its face, and maybe we’re seeing the same kind of process in the West. Landes wouldn’t support that view: he’d say there’s a particular model that’s worked well and here are the reasons why. But the lessons from history seem to be that those who think they’re going to be powerful suddenly find that their power has gone. I’m not sure I agree with all of it but it’s a fascinating book, particularly for these examples of how technologies were used in different parts of the world with completely different conclusions.
Read about the other books on King's list.

Also see Moisés Naím's top ten books on globalization.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Top 5 historical true-crime books of the last decade

For the Christian Science Monitor, Randy Dotinga named five favorite historical true-crime books from the last decade.

One title on his list:
"The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America," by Erik Larson (2003)

One of the best-selling true-crime books of all time, this is a two-headed tale of the glory of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair – stunningly, an estimated 27.5 million people flocked to it – and the misery sown by one of America's first known serial murderers.

In his next true-crime book, "Thunderstruck," Larson tried too hard to blend two disparate topics together. But his approach works perfectly here, with both the World Fair and the murders serving to open the curtain on a new age and a new century, for both better and worse.

If you're ever in Chicago, by the way, you can take tours based on the book and visit the fairgrounds that captured the country's attention.
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see Ann Rule's five best true-crime books and Sarah Weinman's seven best true crime books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Top 10 stories about sisters

Bestselling children's author Cathy Cassidy's books include Dizzy, Driftwood, Indigo Blue, Scarlett, Sundae Girl, Lucky Star, Gingersnaps, and Angel Cake. Her latest novel available in the UK is Cherry Crush, about five very different sisters.

For the Guardian, she named a ten best list of stories about sisters.

One title on the list:
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

The story of five teenage sisters in 1970s Michigan … five sisters who each kill themselves as their family disintegrates around them. Narrated by anonymous neighbourhood boys, this is a fascinating, mysterious story that intrigues and confuses.
Read about the other stories on the list.

Also see Zoë Heller's five best list of literary portraits of sisters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Seven new books for the spiritually starved

For The Daily Beast, Spencer Bailey tagged seven new books for the spiritually starved.

One title on the list:
God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter by Stephen Prothero

God is Not One is 2010’s must-read for anyone religiously illiterate. (Perhaps not surprisingly, the author Stephen Prothero, a religion professor at Boston University, also wrote the 2007 bestseller Religious Literacy.) Here Prothero outlines clichéd American stereotypes (“Buddhism conjures up the Dali Lama and his Nobel Peace Prize, but Islam conjures up Osama bin Laden and his assault rifle”), then puts these ignorant, usually misguided beliefs to rest. More than an educational guide, Prothero’s book is a lively retrospective of today’s major religions: Islam (“the path of submission”); Christianity (“so elastic that it seems a stretch to use this term to cover the beliefs and behaviors of Pentecostals in Brazil, Mormons in Utah, Roman Catholics in Italy, and the Orthodox in Moscow”); Confucianism (“a philosophy, ethic, or way of life”); Hinduism (“an over-the-top religion of big ideas, bright colors, soulful mantras, spicy foods, complex rituals, and wild stories”); Buddhism (“more about experience than doctrine”); Yoruba religion (“a system of communication and exchange between human beings and the divine”); Judaism (“unusually cacophonous”); Daoism (“a tradition of sacred mountains and pilgrimages and festivals and wine and incense and hymns and sexual practices and alternative medicine and martial arts and meandering conversations”)—and, for good measure, atheism (“a postreligious utopia”). Don’t know much about the world’s faiths? Get a copy now.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ten of the best umbrellas in literature

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

One book on the list:
Amerika, by Franz Kafka

Young Karl Rossmann is on a ship arriving in New York. As it docks he realises that he has left his precious umbrella below deck. He goes below to find it, and soon gets lost. The umbrella search becomes duly Kafkaesque, leading to encounters with a series of odd individuals who will shape his fate.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Amerika is one of Arthur Phillips' six favorite books set in places that their authors never visited.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Five best World War II memoirs

Andrew Roberts is the author of Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941-1945.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of World War II memoirs.

One title on the list:
Quartered Safe Out Here
by George MacDonald Fraser

George MacDonald Fraser, British author of the Flashman series of novels, fought in the 17th (Black Cat) Indian Division of the 14th Army during the siege of Meiktila and the battle of Pyawbwe in Burma. He believed, probably correctly, that soldiering in Burma rivaled flying in the RAF's Bomber Command as "the worst ticket you could draw in the lottery of active service." This was so not just because of the Japanese enemy; there were also 15-inch poisonous centipedes, malaria, "spiders the size of plates," typhus, jungle sores on the wrists and ankles, dysentery, and leeches. In terse, unsentimental language, Fraser's superb war memoir, "Quartered Safe Out Here," relates how the soldiers in his close-knit company fought their battles, mourned their friends and simply tried to survive from day to day.
Read about the other titles on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Lorin Stein's 6 "Paris Review" book picks

Lorin Stein is the new editor of The Paris Review.

He named six books associated with the magazine's past. One title on the list.
Goodbye, Columbus: And Five Short Stories by Philip Roth

Roth sometimes pooh-poohs his first book. Nobody else does. Its magic is undiminished. The title story appeared in the Review in 1958. So did “The Conversion of the Jews,” without a cover line—who knew from Philip Roth?
Read about the other books on Stein's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 17, 2010

Five books on the safety of America's food supply

For the Christian Science Monitor, Rebekah Denn named five books that help to place the salmonella scare and egg recall in context.

One item on her list:
“What to Eat” or “Safe Food,” by Marion Nestle

Nestle, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, clearly explains the intersection between policy, politics, and the plate, delivering practical advice on every corner of the grocery store. (The sort of sweetened yogurt most of us eat? It’s a dessert, she alerts us, not a health food.) She speaks her mind, always backing it with solid evidence.

On her blog, Nestle has been tracking the recent egg recalls, writing tartly, “Preventing Salmonella should not be difficult. The rules require producers to take precautions to prevent transmission, control pests and rodents, test for Salmonella, clean and disinfect poultry houses that test positive, divert eggs from positive-testing flocks, refrigerate the eggs right away, and keep records. These sound reasonable to me, but I care about not making people sick.”
Read about the other books on Denn's list.

The Page 99 Test: Marion Nestle's Pet Food Politics.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Five best books: 1989, the end of the Cold War

Mary Elise Sarotte is Professor of International Relations at the University of Southern California. Her books include 1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe, which was named one of the best books of 2009 by the Financial Times.

At FiveBooks, she told Daisy Banks about her five best books about the end of the Cold War in Europe in 1989. One book they discussed:
After the Wall by Jana Hensel

Your next choice is one of the many personal accounts that have come out of 1989, After the Wall by Jana Hensel.

This is an English translation of a memoir that came out in Germany. The title in German is much more evocative; it is called Children of the Zone, a reference to the fact that East Germany started life as the Soviet zone of occupation in divided Germany.

The book was a bestseller in Germany but also a very controversial one. The author was a teenager and living in East Germany at the time the wall came down. She was old enough to know her world was ending but not old enough to know why. Neither she nor her family had been particularly political before the wall came down. This is a story about how she tries to come to terms with seeing her world collapse. All her expectations change and the values that she grew up with are thrown into question.

It’s a controversial book because she decided to use the pronoun ‘we’ throughout the book, even though she is talking about herself. Her critics say that she shouldn’t speak for an entire generation. Other people had different experiences. There was another book that came out from another young woman who was a child of dissidents. She jokes that until she was an adult, she thought that the word ‘cockroaches’ meant the Stasi agents who spied on her parents.

I find Hensel’s book to be a very interesting account of the time. There is a powerful moment towards the end where, many years later, she is talking about the Nazi era with some friends who grew up in West Germany. In East Germany state rhetoric declared that West Germany was the heir to fascism and East Germany was not. She realises when she is having this conversation that actually all Germans are heirs to the legacy of Nazism whether they like it or not. It is part of their shared past and they are all linked to it.

It is also interesting to read about her relationship with her parents. She is jealous of her West German friends’ easy relations with their parents, because they share similar values. She, in contrast, feels alienated from hers. So, I found this book interesting because of all the internal mental discussions that she has with herself.
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see Ernest Lefever's five best Cold War classics.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Seven books that made a difference to Ellen Gilchrist

Back in 2002, O, The Oprah Magazine published a list of books that made a difference to author Ellen Gilchrist.

One title on the list:
The World As I See It
by Albert Einstein

A collection of brilliant, gentle essays by one of the great minds of the past century. The writing is so perfect one can only quote it: "A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labours of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving."
Read about the other books on Gilchrist's bookshelf.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Top ten children's books by Roald Dahl

Children's author Philip Ardagh won the upper age category in last year's Roald Dahl Funny Prize for the first of his Grubtown Tales, and his Eddie Dickens adventures have been translated into 34 languages. This year, he is a judge for the Roald Dahl Funny prize.

For the Guardian, he named his top ten children's books by Roald Dahl.

One title on the list:
James and the Giant Peach

An everyday story of evil aunts (Sponge and Spiker), a giant, flying fruit (the peach of the title) inhabited by characterful, giant insects (including the Old-Green-Grasshopper) and, of course, James himself. Lots of funny policemen, too.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Visit Philip Ardagh's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 13, 2010

A progressive's five best books on conservatism

Progressive author and political commentator E. J. Dionne is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, columnist for the Washington Post, professor at Georgetown University, and author of Why Americans Hate Politics and Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right.

Jonathan Rauch interviewed him about books on conservatism. One book on Dionne's list:
The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America by George H Nash

[Rauch]: Let’s talk about George Nash first. This is a book you’ve often said is seminal. Why?

[Dionne]: I think everyone on every side of politics should read George Nash’s book. I don’t think you can understand the rise of conservatism, the appeal of conservatism, conservative ideas or have a good sense of how they fit together unless you read George Nash. It may be the first serious look at that rise of postwar conservatism that anyone has written. It is written with the seriousness of a scholar and the accessibility of a journalistic account. He makes very clear who’s who, how Hayek fits in with Russell Kirk and how Russell Kirk fits in and debated with someone like Frank Meyer. Bill Buckley’s role is very important, I think, in the history of the right. He gives Buckley his due. You come away from Nash – even if you’re a liberal like I am or a social democrat, or whatever you want to call me – with a proper respect for this set of ideas and why the rise of the right was a kind of intellectual breakthrough.

Does Nash go back before World War II?

He starts his story in 1945, but you have to see the rise of these ideas and the right’s long-term sense of embattlement against the background of a dominant New Deal. When you think about the Roosevelt years, you really had the triumph of a kind of American-style, soft social democracy. Richard Hofstadter said the New Deal gave our politics a social democratic tinge. So people like Russell Kirk came to political awareness at a time when people such as him – and there were many others – felt fundamentally embattled within American society. The core assumptions of American society were New Deal liberal. Lionel Trilling wrote famously that the only serious ideas in America are liberal ideas. In one sense they were the dominant ideas, but reading Nash you realise that when Trilling wrote those words there was a vibrant intellectual movement trying to change those assumptions.

Does he see conservatism as a backlash movement?

He doesn’t see it as a backlash. Nash himself is a conservative so he writes from the inside, with respect. He sees it as embattled, which is different from a backlash. It’s not purely a reactive or reactionary movement, though it has a strong, reactive element…

It’s not just about revoking the New Deal.

Right, and indeed as we watch the development of neoconservatism later, one of the important changes and one of the reasons I put Peter Steinfels’s book on my list is that many conservatives had to be dragged into making their peace with the New Deal. But ultimately many of them did. Ronald Reagan ratified that when he abandoned efforts to privatise social security.

Some might argue that the Tea Party movement, which is 34 years after Nash, takes us back to a pre-Reagan backlash conservatism…

I do view the Tea Party movement as more akin to a backlash movement. I think that what we’ve seen is the rise of a staunchly, some might say harshly, anti-statist right when a certain side of liberalism is in power. You saw, and the Phillips-Fein book gets at this, a kind of backlash like this against the New Deal and you certainly saw a kind of angry conservatism rally against Bill Clinton. I don’t see the Tea Party movement as unique; I see it as much more in line with a lot of other movements on the right through our history. What makes it different is more access to means of communication. The right always had its own underground network – in the 60s books such as Phyllis Schlafly’s A Choice not an Echo, and another book called None Dare Call it Conspiracy. These were seen as marginal books in mainstream politics, but they circulated in the millions among conservatives. What you have now is media, Fox News and all the blogs that give access to fairly extreme pronouncements and they bring those pronouncements into the mainstream. So the uniqueness of the Tea Party is only in the means of communication, not in what it’s conveying and not as an unusual historic phenomenon.
Read about the other books on E. J. Dionne's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Ten of the best professors in literature

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

One entry on the list:
The Professor

The most frightening member of the anarchist cell in Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent is known only by his academic title. "The Professor" is their cerebral bomb-maker – a man of intellectual brilliance who despises "weak" human beings. He always travels with a bomb inside his coat and his finger on the button that will detonate it.
Read about the other professors on the list.

The Secret Agent also appears among Adam Thorpe's top ten satires.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Five best books on gambling

Joseph Mazur is the author of What's Luck Got to Do With It?: The History, Mathematics, and Psychology of the Gambler's Illusion and professor emeritus of mathematics at Marlboro College.

For the Wall Street Journal he named a five best list of books on gambling.

One title on the list:
Roll the Bones
by David G. Schwartz

With "Roll the Bones," David Schwartz, the director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, produced more than just a history of gambling. It is an account of how gambling has affected society ever since our primordial ancestors had to decide whether it was safe to leave the cave when the gambling edge lay with the hungry tigers lurking outside. Gauging risk was a survival tool. The book is a bountiful guide to the origins of dice, playing cards, lotteries and other gambling pastimes. It's filled as well with colorful vignettes of the famous at their gaming—among them Voltaire, outsmarting an 18th-century lottery and winning nine million francs, and Dostoevsky at the German resort in Baden-Baden, going broke at the casino.
Read about the other books on Mazur's list.

Learn more about Joseph Mazur's What's Luck Got to Do With It?.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cerys Matthews' six best books

Cerys Matthews was the lead singer with the Nineties band Catatonia. She is on the judging panel of a new category of this year’s Dylan Thomas Prize, the Sony Reader Award For Unpublished Writers.

She named her six best books for the Daily Express. One title on the list:
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

This series was a favourite of mine when I was growing up. I picked up a copy of one of the books recently and it was interesting to look at them again through an adult’s eyes. She was quite a character and I think she would appeal just as much to children today.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Jonathan Franzen: 4 new novels you shouldn’t miss

At The Daily Beast, Jonathan Franzen tagged four new novels you shouldn’t miss.

One of Franzen's recommendations:
How to Sell by Clancy Martin

Martin, who in his other life teaches philosophy and writes lucid essays on Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, here channels the voice of a young cokehead selling jewelry for various shady outfits in Fort Worth in the early 1980s. The book has pretty much every strength I could ask for in an American novel: a distinctive and original tone; a first-person voice that’s fully invented, not merely borrowed from the writer’s own voice; great sophistication and authority and daring in its management of narrative chronology and point of view; but, at the same time, a lovely loose feel of riff and improvisation; a subtle but clear engagement with mainstream philosophical debates (e.g., Kierkegaard vs. Nietzsche); but, here again, an admirable lightness in its wearing of its erudition and its wedding of it to a street-wise modern tone; head-on engagement with vital American questions and preoccupations; powerful atmospherics of place and weather and era; vivid thumbnail portraits of eccentric minor characters; fascinating volumes of inside dope about a little-known subculture; great stories-within-stories; an impressive capacity to revel in dirtiness without losing sight of the larger moral picture; a toughness that feels real (i.e., born of pain and hard truth, not donned for an effect); lots and lots of laugh-out-loud gags and throwaway lines; good old-fashioned page-turning urgency, with casually shocking reversals and revelations; and an ending so harrowing it gave me nightmares.
Read about the other books on Franzen's list.

Learn more about the book and author at the Farrar, Straus and Giroux website and at Clancy Martin's Facebook page.

The Page 69 Test: How to Sell.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Top 10 horror books

Charlie Higson is a comedian and author.

For the Guardian, he named a top ten list of horror books.

One novel on the list:
The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson

There has been a lot of fuss recently about the film of this book. But the book – which is every bit as extreme and upsetting as the film – has been around since as long ago as 1952. Amazing how you can get away with so much more in books without people really noticing. "Oh, it's a book, it must be good for you." Well, this book is certainly not good for you. I remember reading it and thinking – should I be reading this, should anyone read this? It is a horrific trip inside the mind of a cold-blooded psychopathic sadist, who is nevertheless good company and at times unnervingly funny. Not in a flip, post-Tarantino way; this is very disturbing and upsetting stuff. There is never any question as to where Thompson stands – the narrator is a monster. We watch his destructive relations unfold and discover the reasons for his condition from the reading equivalent of "behind the sofa". Unlike a lot of modern writers who go into this area in a sort of gleefully voyeuristic adolescent way that is entirely fake (stand up Brett Easton Ellis). Jim Thompson lived the life. He understood these people and fought many demons of his own. He is my favourite author by a long chalk, and this is an extraordinary book, but it's also certainly one of the most extreme (and extremely upsetting) things I've ever read.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Killer Inside Me also appears among Alex Barclay's top ten psychological thrillers and Henry Sutton's top ten unreliable narrators.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The 10 best crime novels of the last decade

Earlier this year at the (London) Times, crime fiction experts Barry Forshaw and Laura Wilson picked the essential reading list of crime novels from the past decade.

One title on their list:
2001 Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

Lehane’s reputation was built on such galvanic and ambitious novels as Darkness, Take my Hand and Gone, Baby, Gone, noted for their taut yet complex story lines and richly drawn protagonists. Mystic River consolidated his status as a major American talent. Childhood friends Sean, Jimmy and Dave have their destinies transformed when a car arrives in their street. One boy gets into the car and a terrible event follows that ruptures their friendship and changes their lives. Twenty-five years later, Sean has become a homicide detective, while Jimmy has turned to crime. When Jimmy’s daughter is found brutally murdered, Sean is assigned to the case and is obliged to travel back to a life he thought he had left behind. As a complex psychological thriller and a state-of-the-nation novel, this is exemplary stuff.
Read about the other books on the list.

Mystic River appears on Tana French's top ten list of maverick mysteries.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 6, 2010

Five best books on the Progressive Era

Louise (Lucy) W. Knight's first book, Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy (University of Chicago Press, 2005), is about the first half of the life of Jane Addams.

Her second book, a full life biography of Addams entitled Jane Addams: Spirit in Action, is released by W. W. Norton this month.

For the Wall Street Journal, she named a five best list of first-person accounts of the Progressive Era. One title on the list:
All in the Day's Work
by Ida M. Tarbell, 1939

Remarkably, the first widely respected investigative journalist in the U.S., and the person credited with inventing the paper-trail school of journalism, was a woman. Ida Tarbell launched the approach with her 19 investigative articles (later expanded and published as "The History of Standard Oil Company") that helped to end John D. Rockefeller's oil-industry monopoly. Her passion stemmed from growing up in northwestern Pennsylvania: She writes of witnessing firsthand the suffering that Standard Oil brought to small businessmen, like her father, who worked in the oil business. The book is best at revealing her fair but dogged methods of "getting the facts."
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ten of the best religious zealots in literature

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

One entry on the list:
Arthur Dimmesdale

The apparent victim in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter is the young woman ostracised by her Puritan community for having a child outside wedlock. The true victim is the devout religious minister who is her secret lover who seems to have burnt an "A" (for "Adulterer") into his own chest. Eventually he publicly confesses his faults and falls dead.
Read about the other zealots on the list.

The Scarlet Letter appears on Mullan's list of ten of the best reformations in literature. It is one of Paul Auster's five most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ellen MacArthur's six best books

Ellen MacArthur broke the record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the world in 2005.

In 2003, she established The Ellen MacArthur Trust to take young people aged between 8-18 sailing to help them regain their confidence, on their way to recovery from cancer, leukemia and other serious illness. Her new book is Full Circle.

MacArthur named her six best books for the Daily Express. One title on her list:
by Redmond O'Hanlon

Having spent so much of my life at sea I thoroughly enjoyed this book about the lives of deep-sea trawlermen. It's an extremely dangerous job and it gave me a really valuable insight into a very different life lived on the ocean wave.
Read about the other books on her list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 3, 2010

Six best books on the Iraq war

The Daily Beast compiled a list of the best books and movies on the Iraq war.

One book on the list:
The Good Soldiers by David Finkel

While Washington bickered over the merits of George W. Bush’s surge, Washington Post correspondent David Finkel headed off to Iraq to see what was actually happening there by following one American infantry battalion on their 15-month deployment. The result, The Good Soldiers, is one of the most compelling books on war since Michael Herr’s Dispatches, says The Daily Beast’s Lucas Wittmann. There is no better example of why great journalists matter than to be taken into Finkel’s devastating, harrowing, and moving account of one battalion’s efforts to turn the tide in their bloody section of Baghdad. It takes spirit and an admittedly slightly perverse sense of self-preservation to do what he did and he should be justly celebrated for it.
Read about the other books and movies on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Five books about New Orleans

Tom Piazza writes for Treme, the new HBO show from The Wire creator David Simon. He is the author of nine books, including the novel City Of Refuge and the post-Katrina book Why New Orleans Matters.

He discussed books on New Orleans with Daisy Banks for FiveBooks. One book on his list:
Spirit World by Michael P Smith

Smith was a very important figure in New Orleans; he died in 2009. He was a photographer who made a pioneering effort to understand the traditions of the Mardi Gras Indians, the spiritualist churches of New Orleans and the Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs – in other words, the tap roots of African-American and Creole culture in New Orleans. He referred to these traditions as ‘cultural wetlands’ – places that hadn’t yet been ruined by commercial exploitation.

All these different elements of New Orleans culture have a kind of umbilical relationship, one to another. Smith was from a blue-blood uptown family in New Orleans, so it was in no way automatic that he would have had an interest in these traditions of black New Orleans. He didn’t just photograph the churches, the Mardi Gras Indians and the Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs, although he did that brilliantly; he also interviewed people and contributed crucial information to our understanding of those traditions.
Read about the other books on the list at FiveBooks.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Top ten books about UFOs

Mark Pilkington is the author of Mirage Men: A Journey into Disinformation, Paranoia and UFOs: The Weird Truth Behind UFOs.

He named his top ten books about UFOs for the Guardian.

One title on the list:
The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects by Edward J Ruppelt

An insider's account of the crucial, early days of the UFO story, by the man who headed the US Air Force's official UFO investigation from 1951 to 1953. Ruppelt documents shifting Air Force attitudes to the phenomenon, which ranged from aggressive denial to apparent endorsement of alien visitation in an infamous 1952 Life magazine article. In a revised edition, published in 1960, Ruppelt was more dismissive of the subject. He died the same year, aged 37.
Read about the other books on Pilkington's list.

--Marshal Zeringue