Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Five best books on the secrets of espionage

Jonathan Miles is the author, most recently, of The Dangerous Otto Katz: The Many Lives of a Soviet Spy.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of books on the secrets of espionage.

One title on the list:
A Perfect Spy by John le Carré (1986)

Although a novel, "A Perfect Spy" reveals some deep truths about espionage and betrayal. The book has some basis in the author's own experience—indeed, le Carré has described the writing of it as an act of self-psychotherapy. In passages devoted to the childhood of the book's hero, Magnus Pym, we witness the shaping of a future agent as the boy's loyalties are pulled between a flashy father and a victimized mother. Studying his father's skills as a con man, while eavesdropping on abuse and dereliction, the young Pym becomes the apparently perfect—yet tragically imperfect—spy. In his split narrative, le Carré gives us a gripping manhunt even as he offers a work of penetrating psychology in which the soul of the hero is the contested territory.
Read about the other books on Miles's list.

A Perfect Spy is one of Philip Pullman's forty favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 29, 2010

The 10 best illustrated children’s books

At the Observer, Kate Kellaway named the finest picture books for youngsters.

One title on the list:
The Cat in the Hat
Dr Seuss (1957)

Dr Seuss is the most successful American picture book illustrator of all time. His motto “fun is good” is worth remembering. But the cat in the hat is a complicated character. He enters with his eyes peculiarly closed. His hat bends as if it were alive. There is something sinister beneath the bonhomie – and the RSPCA should be on to him for the way he treats that fish. And as to Thing One and Thing Two, they may help with the housework but they are a creepy duo. The power of the book is that it exists on the edge of children’s panic. Extraordinary to discover it was originally written as a school reader, a “controlled vocabulary book.”
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see Jim Bob's top ten illustrated books for adults.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ten of the best fishing trips

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

One book on the list:
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

Quoyle flees to Newfoundland and comes to rest in Killick-Claw, a town on the edge of the Atlantic suffused with the tang of fish. He works for the local newspaper, whose editor calls in sick almost every day so that he can go fishing. Quoyle is slowly reborn, finding out all about love and cod fishing.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Shipping News appears among Elise Valmorbida's top ten books with a happy ending.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Five books on the rise and fall of America

Patrick Porter is a Senior Lecturer in the Defence Studies Department. His first book is Military Orientalism: Eastern War through Western Eyes.

With Daisy Banks at FiveBooks, he discussed his top books on the rise and fall of America. One of the titles:
The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present by Christopher Layne

Your last book is The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present by Christopher Layne.

This is a fascinating book, written in 2006 by an American political scientist, and he asks a simple but difficult question. If you look at the traditional metrics, whether geopolitical or military or economic, America should be and should know that it is one of the safest great powers the world has ever known. Since 1900 it has been one of the most secure great powers in history and yet why does it have this restless foreign policy? Why does it involve itself in entanglements and commitments abroad and avoidable wars?

He offers a very strong answer, and that is that America is driven by a liberal ideology – this notion that the world can be transformed in positive ways by American powers, and by doing so America can be made more secure. When I say liberal I don’t mean liberal in the way that a lot of people think of the word – anything which is desirable and good. I mean liberal as a deliberate ideology about progress and the role of America in the world and how it can be made safer, more prosperous, free and liberalised and emancipated by the positive application of American power. Liberalism can be a muscular and evangelical thing. In fact a liberal is often quite intolerant because they want to change things so they can be in line with liberal ideals, unlike, say, a realist, who can be much more tolerant and accommodating of a tyrannical regime than liberals. And it is this ideologically intense view of America’s interests that, Layne argues, powers its interventionist and expansionist urges, and explains a lot of America’s behaviour.

But then he goes on to argue that America doesn’t have to be this way and it can adopt other roles in the world, and in exchange for its role of global cop it can become an off-shore balancer – that is an off-shore power that has the ability to intervene occasionally in the world to protect itself but is much more restrained and keeps a ‘free hand’. And this actually shifts the burden of security on to other regional powers like India and the EU. This is an alternative vision for America’s place in the world.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 26, 2010

Six books every prison should stock

Avi Steinberg's memoir is Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian.

In The Week magazine he named six books every prison should stock.

One title on the list:
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Nobody understood captivity like Kafka. The Metamorphosis gets at the essence of imprisonment. The experience of waking up in a cell in a prison uniform for the first time is not at all dissimilar to Gregor Samsa’s waking to find himself transformed into a “gigantic insect.”
Read about the other titles on the list.

The Metamorphosis is one of Thomas Bloor's top 10 tales of metamorphosis.

See Avi Steinberg's list of what Lindsay Lohan should read in jail.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Elmore Leonard's ten favorite books

Elmore Leonard picked his ten favorite books for a special feature on the audible.com website called “A Life in Books: Authors & the Literature that Shaped Them.” He explains:
My ten favorite books represent a love and appreciation of reading, which goes back to when I read All Quiet on the Western Front when I was 10.When I decided to become a writer, Hemingway was my model, his spare prose and realistic dialogue. But he had no sense of humor and I discovered Richard Bissell who did. With Higgins it was, “Oh, that’s how you do it.” The rest of the works are by people who have given me the most pleasure and know how to write. Writers with such unique sounds that I better not read them when I’m writing, saving them for the time between books.
Three books on the list:
Bang the Drum Slowly By Mark Harris
For Whom the Bell Tolls By Ernest Hemingway
No Country for Old Men By Cormac McCarthy
Read about the other seven books to make the grade.

--Marshal Zeringue

Christopher Timothy's 6 best books

The actor Christopher Timothy is best known for starring as vet James Herriot in the hit TV drama All Creatures Great And Small.

He named his six best books for the Daily Express.

One title on the list:
The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth

I enjoyed the film, then read the book and loved it. Its clinical, detailed style takes us step by step to its (inevitable?) conclusion.

I’m not over enamoured with thrillers in general but this is truly exceptional.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ten of the best spas in literature

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

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

This Edwardian tragedy begins with the meeting of two apparently strait-laced couples, the Americans John and Florence Dowell, and English Edward and Leonora Ashburnham, in the German spa town of Nauheim. It is "a special heart cure place", where Dowell has travelled because of his wife's infirmity. But her relationship with Ashburnham will suggest that the waters have more than invigorated her.
Read about the other titles on the list.

The Good Soldier also appears on Mullan's lists of ten of the best failed couplings in literature and ten great novels with terrible original titles, and the Guardian's list of ten of the best unconsummated passions in fiction.

The Page 99 Test: The Good Soldier.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Five best fantasy novels not just for the young

Salman Rushdie's most recent novel is Luka and the Fire of Life.

He named a five best list of fantasy novels not just for the young. One entry on the list:
The Golden Compass
by Philip Pullman (1995)

Any book that begins with the death of God is OK by me. I love Philip Pullman's fabulist world of familiar spirits, "daemons" and magic "dust," his journey from a notably weird Oxford to flying cowboys, Nordic witches and giant, warrior polar bears. And under all the playfulness is a vision of a secular-humanist universe that has captured the imaginations of adult readers as well as youthful ones. This is an age polluted by much spiritualist and "holy" mumbo-jumbo and easy fanaticism; "The Golden Compass" and the rest of Pullman's "Dark Materials" trilogy are a powerful counterweight to all that claptrap and have the added benefit of really being fun to read.
Read about the other books on the list.

Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses is among Christopher Hitchens' six best books, Atul Gawande's favorite books, Karl O. Knausgaard's top ten angel books, and Diarmaid MacCulloch's five best books about blasphemy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pat Conroy's favorite contemporary Southern novelists

At The Daily Beast, novelist Pat Conroy (My Reading Life) tagged his six favorite contemporary Southern novelists.

One entry on his list:
Peachtree Road by Anne Rivers Siddons

In 1973, I met the dazzling Atlanta writer Anne Rivers Siddons at a party at the governor’s mansion, hosted by Jimmy Carter. Annie and I grew up together as writers and we have talked passionately about books since the night we met. At a dinner party at her house, she took me into her kitchen and told me she had started to write her Atlanta novel, Peachtree Road. The first line is, “The South killed Lucy Bondurant on the day she was born.” The book is magisterial because Anne has never written a sentence without music in it. To me, it is the defining book of a Southern city to come out of the 20th century. Our talks continue.
Read about the other novelists on Conroy's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Five best historical novels

Vanora Bennett is the author of two works of nonfiction, Crying Wolf: The Return of War to Chechnya and The Taste of Dreams: An Obsession with Russia and Caviar, and the novels Portrait of an Unknown Woman, Figures in Silk, and The Queen's Lover.

She discussed five favorite historical novels with Erin Yardley at FiveBooks, including:
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

I read this a few years ago and it was one of those books you always remember because it creates a whole new way of thinking. I had no idea at the time that the medieval mindset was any different to the modern one. It is about the adventure of a Franciscan friar and his novice in medieval Italy and it is part murder mystery, part game with semiotics and medieval knowledge. At university I read lots of French books referring to this medieval period where all knowledge was supposed to be classified, and re-classified and super-classified, and it became sort of idiotic, this academic approach that these monks had. Yet there was something amazing about this belief that you could classify knowledge. It’s also very good storytelling, but the part I remember was the sort of library filled with knowledge and these games, which teased you with knowing things and not knowing things. It’s just this very complex mindset that’s really different from our own and because I knew nothing about it, it was just terribly exciting to be taken off into this world.

This book seems to appeal to a very wide variety of people from mathematicians and science-fiction enthusiasts to linguists and literature professors…

I must say that I have tried to read a couple of other books by Umberto Eco and found them quite difficult, so I think he was reaching out to the world of fiction. There was an interesting book that I read recently by him about art and beauty in the Middle Ages, but it was so much more an academic book. I think The Name of the Rose crosses boundaries in a way that others don’t.
Read about the other books on Bennett's list.

Learn more about the author and her work at Vanora Bennett's website.

The Page 69 Test: Figures in Silk.

The Page 69 Test: The Queen's Lover.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The 50 best winter reads

The Independent lined up a panel to select the fifty best winter reads.

One title to make the grade:
The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor

'2010 is proving to be a vintage year for historical thrillers and this is a heady draught of skulduggery and the supernatural,' says Rebecca [Armstrong, deputy features editor of The Independent]. 'The author captures the superstitions and mores of 18th-century England with a wryly witty eye.'
Read about the other books on the list.

View the video trailer for The Anatomy of Ghosts, and learn more about the book and author at Andrew Taylor's website.

Writers Read: Andrew Taylor.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 19, 2010

Top ten crime locations

The crime fiction expert and novelist Maxim Jakubowski named his top ten crime locations for the Guardian.

One entry on the list:
New Orleans in James Lee Burke's The Neon Rain (1987)

This was the first novel in which Burke introduced his ex-Vietnam vet anti-hero Dave Robicheaux as he roamed ceaselessly through the humid streets of the French Quarter, the Garden District and the adjoining bayou country in search of justice while wrestling with his own demons. The shimmering prose catches the smells, colours and unique atmosphere of the Louisiana city. The decline of the Crescent City has been chronicled in his following books, all the way to hurricane Katrina.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Page 69 Test: James Lee Burke's The Tin Roof Blowdown.

Learn more about Following the Detectives: Real Locations in Crime Fiction, a volume of 21 essays about cities and other places in the world that are closely associated with famous fictional sleuths, edited by

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Five books on who terrorists are

Jessica Stern is the author of Denial: A Memoir of Terror, Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill, and The Ultimate Terrorists.

With Daisy Banks at FiveBooks, Stern discussed five books about who terrorists are, including:
The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

I am intrigued by your next choice, which was one of the three works of literature most cited in the American media two weeks after 9/11 and yet it is set in London in 1886. This is The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad.

Yes, I thought I was being clever and unique and didn’t realise so many other people had made the connection. The book is based on an incident that actually did occur when an anarchist tried to blow up the Royal Observatory. In the novel, a group of hapless anarchists are trying to incite a rebellion. Their main concern is that British society is too liberal and they want to demonstrate that this kind of thing can occur.

What I loved about this book is the cynicism that Conrad has in looking at the zealot. He makes clear that a person may start out as a true believer but over time they are doing work that they may or may not believe it. It is the silliness of zealotry that becomes really clear. Can bin Laden and his close circle of followers really believe that what they are doing is making the world a better place?

Where do you think al Qaeda has evolved to over all these years?

It’s ironic that the mission of this organisation shifts so regularly and is so highly dependent on the audience they are trying to reach that you do question the extent to which bin Laden believes his own rhetoric. Bin Laden started out with the goal of forcing Soviet troops out of Afghanistan. Next he aimed to force US troops out of Saudi Arabia. Next he claims to be representing the interests of all the world’s oppressed. At one point Zawahiri tried recruiting African-Americans with messages referring to Malcolm X. Now al Qaeda claims to be fighting global warming and is urging followers to help those suffering from the floods in Pakistan.

So you think al Qaeda has gone too far in trying to be all things to all people?

Yes, I do.
The Secret Agent also appears among Adam Thorpe's top ten satires and on John Mullan's list of ten of the best professors in literature.

Read about the other books on Stern's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Five best novels on friendship

Lan Samantha Chang is the director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her latest novel is All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost.

For the Wall Street Journal, she named a five best list of novels on friendship.

One title on the list:
Crossing to Safety
by Wallace Stegner (1987)

On a frosty night in Madison, Wis., in 1937, two young and hopeful couples form a bond that carries them through the next 34 years. Larry and Sally Morgan, talented but poor, are befriended by the wealthy and idealistic Sid and Charity Lang. After one memorable year in Madison, the couples and their children continue to meet in Vermont in the summers. Over time, their life expectations are tested again and again. Sid longs to be a poet but finds his dreams in conflict with those of his vivacious wife. Larry's own writing is put on hold when Sally is stricken with polio. In old age, the Morgans and Langs meet for a final time. The wilderness of Vermont, beautiful and threatening, suffuses their last, wrenching conversations, lending a natural mortality to this examination of human love and frailty. "I didn't know myself well, and still don't," Larry acknowledges. "But I did know, and know now, the few people I loved and trusted."
Read about the other novels on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Greil Marcus: 6 book recommendations

Greil Marcus is a rock critic and co-editor of A New Literary History of America. His new book is an anthology of writings on Bob Dylan.

He recommended six books to the readers of The Week magazine, including:
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

I don’t even like L.A., but for some reason it’s figuring heavily in this list. This 1939 novel is the Los Angeles of old buildings that have charm for a reader now, even if they had none for Chandler, and the beginning of the most indelible vernacular phrase-making in modern America.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Big Sleep also appears on Barry Forshaw's critic's chart of six American noir masters, David Nicholls' list of favorite film adaptations, and the Guardian's list of ten of the best smokes in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 15, 2010

Five first-rate tales of making movies

David Thomson is the author of The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, now in its fifth edition.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of books about making movies. One title on the list:
Final Cut
by Steven Bach (1985)

In 1981, Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate" opened in theaters—and closed down its studio, United Artists. This was a tragedy, but traditional Hollywood studios were doomed anyway. The picture cost too much, it went too far into the wilds of Wyoming, it cast a French actress no one had heard of (Isabelle Huppert!), and it was the Waterloo of the auteur theory—Cimino had been permitted to do nearly anything he could think of. What makes "Final Cut'' so rueful and readable is that Steven Bach was at the time a top executive at United Artists—one who was fired in the "Heaven's Gate" aftermath. In the book he is also a dry, funny, very smart writer who pulls no punches and gives a controlled portrait of how things spun out of control. "Final Cut" is also a book about professional vulnerability in status-obsessed Hollywood, where Cimino (the "genius" from "The Deer Hunter") has long been consigned to oblivion. Here's the kicker: More and more viewers now realize that "Heaven's Gate" is pretty good!
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ten of the best angels in literature

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

One title on the list:
The Gate of Angels by Penelope Fitzgerald

Fred Fairly is a scientist, an academic at St Angelicus ("Angel's") College, who can't help thinking of angels. "Fairly perhaps sees a bird flying over the fens, and he looks attentively at a young woman, and he combines the two of them, and imagines an angel. That is how the imagination works." He falls in love with Daisy, who is a kind of angel (a nurse, anyway).
Read about the other angels on the list.

Also see Karl O. Knausgaard's top ten angel books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The 10 best fashion books for students

At the Independent, Iain R. Webb, Professor of Fashion at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design in London, named the ten best fashion books for students.

One title on the list:
100 Years of Menswear by Cally Blackman, Laurence King

Blackman's photographic research is meticulous and often offbeat. This book is a great starting point for anyone interested in men's fashion.
Learn about the other books on Webb's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 12, 2010

Twelve great stories to help you to cope with mortality

At io9, Charlie Jane Anders and Michael Ann Dobbs came up with a list of science fiction and fantasy stories that can help you deal with death.

One title on the list:
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

The book that gave us all the stoic, and somehow soothing, mantra "So it goes" also provides this wonderful, alien, way of looking at death:
The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.

When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in bad condition in the particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this book is that this calm view of death is coupled with a fervent anti-war message.
Read about the other books on the list.

Slaughterhouse-5 also made Sebastian Beaumont's top 10 list of books about psychological journeys and Tiffany Murray's top ten list of black comedies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Top ten novels set in Moscow

A linguist and an international negotiator, Ann Shevchenko speaks seven languages and is the author of two books on cross-cultural communication.

Her debut novel is Bequest.

For the Guardian, she named her top ten novels set in Moscow. One novel on the list:
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (Moscow from 1810-1813)

The city of glamour and gambling, of superstition and appearances, relationships and glitzy balls.

"Moscow is about gossip, St Petersburg is about politics," says one of the characters.

It contrasts with the abandoned and burned city of 1813, Moscow after the Napoleonic invasion: the city of lost hopes, lost loves and lives.
Read about the other books on Shevchenko's list.

War and Peace also appears among Karl Marlantes' top ten war stories, Niall Ferguson's five most important books, Norman Mailer's top ten works of literature, and John Mullan's list of ten of the best floggings in fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ten of the best zoos in literature

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

One novel on the list:
Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Martel's narrator grew up observing closely the behaviour of animals in the zoo his parents ran in India. "Under such conditions of diplomatic peace, all animals are content and we can relax and have a look at each other." His observation of animal cohabitation becomes useful when he finds himself sharing a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.
Read about the other books on Mullan's list.

Life of Pi is one of Sara Gruen's six favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Dennis Lehane's five favorite short story collections

Dennis Lehane was born and raised in Dorchester, Massachusetts. His novels include A Drink Before the War; Darkness, Take My Hand; Sacred; Gone, Baby, Gone; Prayers for Rain; Mystic River; Shutter Island; The Given Day; and the newly released Moonlight Mile.

Mystic River was a finalist for the PEN/Winship Award, and it won both the Anthony Award and the Barry Award for Best Novel as well as the Massachusetts Book Award in Fiction given by the Massachusetts Center for the Book.

Before becoming a full-time writer, Lehane worked as a counselor with mentally handicapped and abused children, waited tables, parked cars, drove limos, worked in bookstores, and loaded tractor-trailers. His one regret is that no one ever gave him a chance to tend bar. He lives in the Boston, Massachusetts, area.

One title from his list of five favorite short story collections, as told to The Daily Beast:
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love introduced me to the modern short story. The first story “Why Don’t You Dance?” might be the densest “minimalist” story ever written, a seven-page masterpiece about a brokenhearted guy who puts all of his household possessions out on his front lawn, and a young couple wanders by and thinks it’s a yard sale. And it just gets better from there, story by story, building to the savage grace of the title story. In terms of short fiction in America, this book was an inarguable game changer.
Read about the other books on Lehane's list.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love appears on Ward Just's list of six books with an “autumnal” quality.

Read about Dennis Lehane's five most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 8, 2010

Five best books on Britain's Secret Service

Keith Jeffery is a professor of British history at Queen’s University, Belfast, and has written or edited thirteen books. His new book is The Secret History of MI6, the authorized history of the world's oldest and most storied foreign intelligence service, drawing extensively on hitherto secret documents.

At FiveBooks, he spokes with Daisy Banks about five books on MI-6, Britain's Secret Service. From their discussion of one book on the list:
From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming

There are so many James Bond books to choose from – what made you go for From Russia with Love?

The James Bond books represent the other end of the spectrum. These are cartoon characters in a way, but they produced the most famous single fictional spy who worked for MI6. Bond is very important. It is also quite difficult to extract the novels from the movies because we sort of visualise them. But From Russia with Love is on my list for two reasons. The first is it is the only one with an Irish angle and I am always looking for the Irish angle. And the second is there is a clear connection to Fleming’s work as an intelligence officer in the Second World War.

The Irish angle is Donovan or ‘Red’ Grant, a Smersh killer, who in the movie is a blond powerful figure who goes round killing people at the drop of a hat, which of course is one of those myths about the Secret Service that people are always killing each other just like that, and that everyone has a ‘licence to kill’…

According to the book, Grant, this Russian killer, is the son of an Irish mother and a German circus strongman. Now, in fact, a circus strongman really did exist. In April 1940 a German agent called Ernest Weber-Drohl landed in Southern Ireland, which was neutral during the Second World War, and he was captured by the Irish police and prosecuted in the Dublin district court for being a foreign agent. His defence was that he was a professional weightlifter who had appeared as ‘Atlas the Strong’ with a circus in Ireland before the war, and he had come back to Ireland to find his two illegitimate children.

And this was the kind of little news item which would have gone through to Britain because they were so worried about German spies in the Second World War. Ian Fleming was the personal assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence at the time, and it seems to me almost inconceivable the item didn’t pass across his desk, because the co-incidence of writing about it in From Russia with Love is just too strong.

What do you think it is about Ian Fleming which so encapsulates the British Secret Service in the public’s view?

It’s the combination of the debonair skill of the English gentleman, and his light-footed ability to move through the highest levels of society without any kind of problems, with fantastic technical expertise, backed up with the most improbable gismos of one sort or another. And although Bond gets wounded or into trouble, he always manages to come out on top in the end.

You have been doing some proper research into the British Secret Service: are the books complete fiction or do certain elements of this really exist?

It is not complete fiction. There was a man called Biffy Dunderdale whom Fleming knew and who was the MI6 Head of Station in Paris in the 1930s. He was a man of great sangfroid and style who liked fast cars and pretty women and was quite an important figure. He travelled under the name of John Green, and was a glamorous figure a bit like Bond. On the other hand, one of the reasons he was in the Service was because he spoke Russian like a native, as well as other languages, which was definitely something you needed – and still do – and something James Bond never seemed to be able to do.

And how do you think the Secret Service differs from something like the CIA?

They [the CIA] are just an enormously bigger organisation and have a lot more resources. They started from almost nothing in the Second World War. They are much better backed up in terms of technical back-up and resources. But they don’t operate in the same way as people like James Bond, who was a bit of a loner, relying on his native wit to get by. You do get some people like that on the American side but they don’t have that languid air of effortless superiority which certainly epitomises Bond and, by default, our perception of the Secret Service.
Read about the other books on the list.

From Russia with Love
also made John Mullan's lists of ten of the best chess games in fiction, ten of the best punch-ups in fiction, and ten of the best breakfasts in literature, and a list of eleven presidents' favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Robson Green's six best books

Robson Green is an actor best known for the TV dramas Wire In The Blood and Soldier, Soldier.

He told the Daily Express about his six best books. One title on his list:
by Ernest Hemingway

A short but beautiful novel about the relationship between a young boy and an old man and the old man's struggle to catch a giant marlin. I love the respect that the man has for his quarry. I also admire the novel for its economy of style.
Read about the other books on Green's list.

The Old Man and the Sea appears among Dave Boling's five best examples of how to structure a novel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Sara Gruen's six favorite books

Sara Gruen is the author of the #1 bestselling novel Water for Elephants, as well as the bestseller Riding Lessons and Flying Changes. She shares her North Carolina home with her own version of a blended family: a husband, three children, four cats, two dogs, two horses, and a goat. In order to write her latest novel, Ape House, Gruen studied linguistics and a system of lexigrams so that she could communicate directly with the bonobos living at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa. She now considers them to be part of her extended family, and, according to the bonobos, the feeling is mutual.

She named her six favorite books for The Week magazine.

One entry on the list:
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

I devoured this raucous novel, lengthy footnotes and all, in two days flat—and have been shoving it into the hands of everyone I know ever since. Containing everything from comic-book references and science fiction to Oscar Wilde and a family curse, this book breaks all the rules.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
also appears on Paste magazine's list of the ten best debut novels of the decade (2000-2009) and among The Millions' best books of fiction of the millenium. The novel is one of Matthew Kaminski's five favorite novels about immigrants in America and is a book that made a difference to Zoë Saldana.

See Junot Díaz's most important books and the Page 99 Test: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 5, 2010

Top ten supernatural families

Jennifer Lynn Barnes has been, in turn, a competitive cheerleader, a volleyball player, a dancer, a debutante, a primate cognition researcher, a teen model, a comic book geek, and a lemur aficionado. She graduated from Yale University with a degree in cognitive science and used her research to imagine the werewolf world in her first novel, Raised by Wolves.

For the Guardian, Barnes named her top 10 supernatural families.

One family on her list:
Paige, Lucas, and Savannah (Women of the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong)

I love that we've seen Savannah (part demon, part sorcerer, part witch and altogether unprecedented) grow over the course of the series from a 12-year-old kid to a 21-year-old striking out on her own – almost as much as I like the way inheriting custody of Savannah forced Paige, a temperamental young witch, to grow up overnight. Add in Paige's husband (sorcerer, lawyer, idealist) and this family is the neatest mix of light and dark, with their devotion to each other stronger than any of their supernatural ties.
Read about the other families on the list.

Learn more about the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong.

The Page 69 Test: Kelley Armstrong's No Humans Involved.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Scott Turow's 5 best legal novels

Scott Turow is the author of legal thriller Presumed Innocent and eight other bestselling works of fiction including, most recently, Innocent, the sequel to Presumed Innocent. His non-fiction writing includes Ultimate Punishment, a reflection on the death penalty.

At FiveBooks, he discussed five favorite legal novels with Christine Thomas. Their dialogue about one classic to make the list:
Why does the 1924 book Billy Budd top your list?

It’s Herman Melville and it’s kind of great. It’s a clear classic. It’s a pretty simple tale except for its clear gay subtext, which I think would be pretty obvious to contemporary readers but probably was not to Herman Melville. And it’s about the extraordinary divide that sometimes arises between law and justice.

How does it explore that best?

Well, there’s Captain Vere, and vere, of course, translates from the Latin as truth, and I think it’s his last journey. Billy Budd, who’s basically being, in today’s view, homosexually harassed by Claggart, the master-at-arms, strikes Claggart, and of course a seaman cannot strike an officer. And even though the provocation is clear to Vere, Billy is executed. But it absolutely breaks Vere’s spirit, and if I’m recalling – it’s been a while since I’ve read it – he dies with Billy Budd’s name on his lips.

So from an attorney’s perspective, it’s a great reminder that law and justice don’t always meet?

I read Billy Budd long before I went to law school; it stands on its own as simply a classic piece of literature about the war between duty and morality. It was the last thing Herman Melville wrote and he hadn’t written any fiction for quite some time. And the other thing that’s always interesting about Melville is he’s always had a noticeable fascination with the law. His father-in-law was Lemuel Shaw who was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts. Melville wrote about the law throughout his career but most famously in Billy Budd.
Read about the other books Turow touts.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Top six banking scandal books

Michael Hudson covers business and finance for the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit journalism organization. His new book is The Monster: How a Gang of Predatory Lenders and Wall Street Bankers Fleeced America--and Spawned a Global Crisis.

For The Week magazine, he pegged his top six banking-scandal books.

One title on the list:
Broke USA by Gary Rivlin

Eye-opening journey into the world of "fringe banks." Wanna loan? Wanna pay 400 percent interest and get trapped in a crushing cycle of debt? Done. (Back-scratching warning: Both Rivlin and McDonald, above, have praised my own book. But I stick with my story: Theirs are among the best books written about banking mischief.)
Read about the other books on Hudson's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Five beloved heroines to channel on an off day

Erin Blakemore's debut book, The Heroine’s Bookshelf, was released last month by HarperCollins.

For Flashlight Worthy, she named five beloved heroines to channel on an off day.

One book on her list:
Gone with the Wind
by Margaret Mitchell

Do you suspect you're not getting your due? Take a page out of Scarlett O'Hara's book and snatch up what's yours anyway. Sure, she's not exactly known for her tact or maturity, but Scarlett's got spunk to spare. Whether making an epic grab for her man or her land, Scarlett's got enough fight to enliven your struggles at work and at home.
Read about the other titles on Blakemore's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 1, 2010

Five best books on innocents and innocence lost

Cynthia Ozick's latest book, the novel Foreign Bodies, has just been published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

For the Wall Street Journal, she named a five best list of books on innocents and innocence lost.

One title on the list:
The Heart of the Matter
by Graham Greene (1948)

In the heart of this novel of war, smuggling, spying and illicit love, a ship carrying civilians is broken up at sea. After 40 days in open boats, the survivors are brought to an African colony presided over by British officialdom and a handful of humorless Catholic missionaries. Among the ailing passengers are young Mrs. Rolt, freshly widowed by her husband's drowning, and a boy suffering from fever. Maj. Henry Scobie, a police officer, is called on to read aloud to the child from the mission's collection of dry-as-dust pious uplift. In a rush of spontaneous invention and moral ingenuity, Scobie transforms "A Bishop Among the Bantus" into a suitably violent pirate yarn. But soon his fabrications accelerate: from the lie that comforts to the lie that deceives. In an excess of pity and love—moved to desire by the pathos of Mrs. Rolt, steeped in tenderness for his unsuspecting wife—Scobie plummets ever deeper into guilt-haunted sin. Yet if too much loving compassion makes a sinner, then how do we recognize an innocent?
Read about the other four books on Ozick's list.

--Marshal Zeringue