Friday, December 31, 2010

The top 10 nonfiction books of 2010

One title on Time magazine's list of the top ten nonfiction books of 2010:
Let's Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell

When they first met, Gail Caldwell was a book critic for the Boston Globe and Caroline Knapp had just published Drinking: A Love Story. They could have been competitors but instead became best friends. The recovering alcoholics, both devoted dog lovers, walked the Massachusetts woods together, rowed the rivers and talked. When Caldwell bought a house, Knapp carried her over the threshold. And then Knapp got cancer. Heartbreaking but never maudlin, Let's Take the Long Way Home is a testament to the power and beauty of mature friendship and the most powerful memoir about loss since Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking.
Read about the other books on the list.

See Gail Caldwell's list of the five groundbreaking memoirs and learn more Let's Take the Long Way Home.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Top ten books about books

John Sutherland is the Lord Northcliffe professor emeritus of Modern English Literature at UCL and author of the new book, 50 Literature Ideas You Really Need to Know.

For the Guardian, he named his top ten books about books, including:
Stanley Fish, Is there a Text in this Class? (1980)

Winner of the wittiest title ever coined for a book on lit-crit (the question was initially asked by an artless student in his seminar). Fish's simple/hard questions: what's the difference between a "text" and a "work of literature"? How, when the best seminars tend to finish with more disagreement than they started with, do we reach a consensus reading of any text? Is there any such thing?
Read about the other books on Sutherland's list.

Learn more about Sutherland's list of the best books about listing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The 10 best fictional hangovers

For the Guardian Sean O'Hagan named the ten best fictional hangovers in print, film and song.

One novel on the list:
Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

Women have, in general, been less specific about hangovers than men – but Bridget Jones, the voice of her generation, put an end to that. “11.45pm. Ugh. First day of New Year has been day of horror. Cannot quite believe I am once again starting the year in a single bed in my parents’ house. Having skulked at home all day, hoping hangover would clear, I eventually gave up and set off for the Turkey Curry Buffet far too late. When I got to the Alconburys’… I was still in a strange world of my own – nauseous, vile-headed, acidic… I leaned against the ornament shelf for support”
Read about the other entries on the list.

Bridget Jones's Diary also appears on Christina Koning's list of the best of chick-lit and a list of eight books for the broken-hearted.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top five health, wellness books of 2010

At the Wall Street Journal, Laura Landro named her top five health and wellness books of 2010.

One title on the list:
"After the Diagnosis: Transcending Chronic Illness," by Julian Seifter with Betsy Seifter

A kidney specialist, writing with his wife, combines his own experience as a diabetic with case studies from his patients to provide a road map for dealing with chronic disease. After coming to terms with a life-threatening diagnosis, the most important step is to have a flexible and evolving strategy for coping with illness, dealing with setbacks as they come along, but never letting the disease define the patient. In an information-crammed society, we're supposed to be on top of every detail of our health, Dr. Seifter notes. But he suggests forgetting about what ails us sometimes "in order to create a space that transcends the hard realities of illness and allows for moments of vitality and well-being."
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 27, 2010

Top ten Anglo-Asian books

Nikesh Shukla is a writer, performance poet and filmmaker. His first novel, Coconut Unlimited, is shortlisted for this year's Costa first novel award.

For the Guardian he named his top 10 Anglo-Asian books, including:
Hanif Kureishi - The Black Album

While The Buddha of Suburbia is a masterfully comic tale of rise and fall that loves its characters, there's something a lot more sinister about The Black Album, making it the oddball in his output. It seems to foreshadow works like Four Lions, City of Tiny Lights and even the forthcoming Ours Are the Streets by decades, and is written with the energy and exuberance of Kureishi's early work, embodied by the raw funk of Prince's eponymous album, and the dizzying chemical overload of the ecstasy that fills the rave scenes. It charts clean-cut Shahid's trip into hedonism and flirtations with fundamentalism with eerie prescience, and its take on the classic Anglo-Asian identity crisis tale throws a cleancut, sheltered lad in at the deep end of a naked rave party.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 26, 2010

10 great books about cycling

For the Christian Science Monitor, Marjorie Kehe came up with 10 great books about cycling, including:
"The Rider," by Tim Krabbé.

This classic in the field of biking literature can be described as a love letter to bike racing. It puts the reader inside the head of Dutch novelist and cyclist Tim Krabbé as he rides a 137-kilometer race through some of the toughest mountain terrain of the Tour de France. As he rides he meditates on his own attachment to the sport, as well as that of other cyclists.
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see Matt Seaton's top 10 books about cycling and William Fotherham's top ten cycling novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Best crime fiction of 2010: Part II

The editors of January Magazine came up with a list (in two parts) of the best crime fiction of 2010. One title to make the grade:
Print the Legend by Craig McDonald (Minotaur) 352 pages

The Hector Lassiter series took a significant step forward in 2010 when author Craig McDonald released his third book about the renegade hard-boiled writer, Print the Legend. Set in Ketchum, Idaho, in 1965, four years after Ernest Hemingway’s suicide, old Papa pal Lassiter finds himself the keynote speaker at a symposium about his drinking and writing rival and fellow spirit. Hemingway is on the verge of becoming the literary cottage industry that we know today with dissertations, journals, and academic jealousies. On top of it all, Mary Hemingway, the black widow herself, is still ensconced in the Ketchum home where she is said to be ready to release a posthumous memoir Hemingway wrote about his experiences in 1920s Paris, a book familiar to us today as A Moveable Feast. Yet all is clearly not right, since a rogue CIA agent named Donovan Creedy is lurking about the symposium, apparently hell-bent on destroying Papa’s reputation -- and take Lassiter out in the process. Meanwhile, Lassiter is trying to subdue the widow Hemingway, retrieve some long-lost papers, and keep Creedy from screwing Papa over once and for all. McDonald helps to keep this story timely by dovetailing it nicely into the recent controversy surrounding a re-editing of A Moveable Feast by one of the great author’s grandson, Sean Hemingway -- a “restored” version that received significant criticism from Hemingway loyalists. Like the previous entries in the Lassiter series, Head Games (2007) and Toros and Torsos (2008), in Print the Legend McDonald pulls from the archives of conspiracies and skullduggery to compose a rollicking yarn, taking no prisoners and never letting up on the adrenaline. One can’t help but be reminded, when reading several sections of this novel, of that old joke about why battles in academia are so vicious: because the stakes are so modest. -- Stephen Miller
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 69 Test: Print the Legend.

My Book, The Movie: Print the Legend.

--Marshal Zeringue

Best crime fiction of 2010: Part I

The editors of January Magazine came up with a list (in two parts) of the best crime fiction of 2010. One title to make the grade:
City of Dragons by Kelli Stanley (Minotaur) 352 pages

Kelli Stanley’s latest historical thriller is set against the backdrop of San Francisco in 1940. As Europe boils with war, Northern California’s largest city is enjoying its third world’s fair, a two-summer-long celebration called the Golden Gate International Exposition. But Stanley’s alter-ego, private eye Miranda Corbie, is paying more attention to the recent violent death of a Japanese teenager, Eddie Takahashi. It’s an investigation that will send the sexy, cynical and surprisingly resilient, 33-year-old Corbie trawling through the tensions of a segregated city, navigating the undercurrents of the Chinese and Japanese communities in order to discover why Takahashi’s life ended so soon. No one else seems to care about what happened to him, least of all the local cops, who are content to sweep the whole affair under the nearest Oriental rug. Corbie does, though. A former Spanish Civil War nurse and erstwhile female escort, the chain-smoking, tough-talking and romantic-despite-herself shamus does much to make City of Dragons a standout among this year’s crime novels. Her back-story is both exciting and eclectic, and rolls out in satisfying dribs as she combs her city’s venues high and low, straightening out the kinks that she uncovers as she unearths the sad truth and puts herself in danger. Stanley’s first P.I. escapade follows the conventions of the genre, especially as established by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Yet it’s much more than pastiche, with a rich political commentary, characters that come alive and descriptions of San Francisco between the two world wars that make it clear Stanley not only knows, but loves her town. City of Dragons is a choice treat in a crowded genre. There’s every reason to look forward to its planned sequel. -- Ali Karim
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 69 Test: City of Dragons.

My Book, The Movie: City of Dragons.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 24, 2010

Books that made a difference to Pat Conroy

Pat Conroy's books include The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini, South of Broad, and the recently released memoir My Reading Life.

One book that made a difference to him, as told to O, The Oprah Magazine:
The Lord of the Rings
by J.R.R. Tolkien

"I love books about treks and journeys into the unknown," Conroy says—books like Tolkien's famous high-fantasy epic about a dark lord determined to conquer a magical land. "I was on a quest to be a writer that mattered, and a friend told me that I must read and remember everything. 'You cannot call yourself educated or literate,' he said, 'if you do not know the secrets of Middle-earth, if you have not trekked with the Hobbits.' I mark the time I spent reading these splendid books among the richest days of my life. They are like the elevation of the host to me, their presence transformed, their effect indelible and everlasting. What is the loss of a job or a bad review when you've followed Gandalf the Grey through the mines of Moria?"
Read about the other books that made a difference to the author.

The Lord of the Rings also made Charlie Jane Anders and Michael Ann Dobbs' list of ten classic SF books that were originally considered failures, Lev Grossman's list of the six greatest fantasy books of all time, and appears on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best towers in literature, ten of the best volcanoes in literature, ten of the best chases in literature, and ten of the best monsters in literature. It is one of Salman Rushdie's five best fantasy novels for all ages.

Also see: Pat Conroy's favorite contemporary Southern novelists.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The 10 best devils

For the Guardian, Peter Stanford, author of The Devil: A Biography, picked the most majestic Satans in film and literature.

One entry on his list:
Dante's Inferno

In this peerless early 14th-century description of life after death, the final one of the concentric spheres of hell is presided over by the devil. But he is impotent, encased up to chest height in ice, with one head but three faces, all of them weeping as he chews in each of his jaws a notorious sinner – Judas Iscariot, Jesus's betrayer, and Brutus and Cassius, conspirators against Caesar. In contrast to depictions of the devil in Dante's day as a cunning foe ready to prey on human weakness, his Lucifer is strikingly modern, a metaphor for nothingness, all hype and menace but no delivery.
Read about the other devils on the list.

Dante is one of Angus Clarke's favorite religious poets.

Inferno appears on John Mullan's list of ten of the best visions of hell in literature, and The Divine Comedy is one of George Weigel's five essential books for understanding Christianity.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

8 books to read with a broken heart

At O, The Oprah Magazine, Ashley Hamilton came up with a list of eight great books to read when you're going through a breakup.

One novel on the list:
High Fidelity
by Nick Hornby

Want to know what's going on in his head? Of course you do! You may remember John Cusack in the movie adaptation of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, a cynical breakup tale told from the male perspective. After being dumped yet again, music addict Rob looks back on his "all-time top five" breakups. Read along as he relives the losses, and then ask yourself, "Does this breakup really make my top five?"
Read about the other books on the list.

High Fidelity also made Tiffany Murray's top 10 list of rock'n'roll novels, Mark Hodkinson's critic's chart of rock music in fiction, and John Sutherland's list of the best books about listing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Five best novels on time and memory

Edmund Morris is the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award–winning author of The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex; the concluding book in the trilogy, Colonel Roosevelt, is now out from Random House.

For the Wall Street Journal, Morris named a five best list of novels on time and memory.

One title on the list:
One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Gabriel García Márquez (1967)

The title hints at the vast chronology of this novel, as do the first words of its unforgettable opening ("Many years later, as he stood facing the firing squad ..."). But although generation after generation of the Buendia family lives and dies in the story's course, there is no real sense of time passing. All is dimensionless dream. One does not finish the book so much as awaken from it, crying like Caliban to "dream again."
Read about the other books on the list.

One Hundred Years of Solitude
made Rebecca Stott's five best list of historical novels. It is on he lists of Lynda Bellingham's six best books, Walter Mosley's five favorite books, Eric Kraft's five most important books, and James Patterson's five most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tim Vine's six best books

Tim Vine is an actor, writer and comedian who won the prize for the funniest joke at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

He named his six best books for the Daily Express. One title on the list:
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

I love Ishiguro’s novels and this is perhaps his finest hour. It’s a story of lost love in a way but at the same time is romantic and terribly moving. The film of the book, starring Anthony Hopkins, is brilliant but the book is better.
Read about the other books on Vine's list.

The joke that won Vine the prize at the 2010 Edinburgh Fringe: "I've just been on a once-in-a-lifetime holiday. I'll tell you what, never again."

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ten of the best depictions of the Alps

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

One novel on the list:
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

Hans Castorp, scion of a Hamburg merchant family, arrives in Davos in the Swiss Alps to visit his cousin Joachim, who is a patient in a sanatorium. The cold, clear air dizzies and delights him, but he becomes ill himself and, convinced that he has TB, stays for seven years.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Magic Mountain also appears on Brian Dillon's list of the five best books on hypochondria, Arthur Phillips' list of five novels about life during the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire, and John Mullan's list of ten of the best visits to the cinema in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pat Conroy's 6 favorite books

Pat Conroy's books include The Prince of Tides, The Great Santini, South of Broad, and the recently released memoir My Reading Life.

He named his six favorite books for The Week magazine, including:
Deliverance by James Dickey

Let me now praise the American writer James Dickey. In 1970, his novel Deliverance was published. I found it to be 278 pages that approached perfection. Its tightness of construction and assuredness of style reminded me of The Great Gatsby. Every sentence sounded marvelous, distinct, and original, and it flowed as quickly as the river it celebrated.
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see: Pat Conroy's six favorite contemporary Southern novelists.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 17, 2010

Five books: Christmas

One of five books for Christmas selected by the Barnes & Noble Review:
The Physics of Christmas
by Roger Highfield

How does a snowflake form? Can reindeer fly? Was the Star of Bethlehem really a comet? Why is Rudolph's nose so red? Readers of all ages can learn the answers to these questions and more in this amusing volume in which a physicist imparts real scientific knowledge as he explores the festive lore of Christmas. Great fun.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 16, 2010

P. J. O’Rourke's 5 best political satires

P. J. O’Rourke's books include Parliament of Whores, Give War a Chance, Eat the Rich, The CEO of the Sofa, Peace Kills , and On the Wealth of Nations. His latest book is Don’t Vote – It Just Encourages the Bastards.

With Anna Blundy at FiveBooks, he discussed five of the best political satires, including:
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

That’s satire more in the Roman mode. The usual definition of satire is humour used to a moral end for a moral purpose, and there’s certainly a moral purpose to 1984 but it’s not funny really. I mean there is a certain dark humour to rewriting history and things going down a memory hole.

It’s funny in the Russian sense of the word.

I like that. Believe me, I’ll steal that phrase.

I’ll see you in court.

It’s sort of like being popular in Japan.


It’s eerily predictive of the sort of video camera surveillance world that we now live in. It would be interesting to update 1984 and make all of the things that Orwell foresaw more annoying than dangerous. Well, some of them do get pretty dangerous, but things like television that looks back at you turns out to be a real pain in the ass more than an instrument of government control. We’ve come into the world of 1984 but it turns out to be 1984-Lite.

There’s something surrealist about the absolutely unspeakable horror of somebody’s imagination being actually slightly banal.

Sad in a way. Sad, but at the same time quite a relief. Sad, but a relief.
Read about the other books O'Rourke tagged.

Nineteen Eighty-four is #7 on a list of the 100 best last lines from novels. The book made Daniel Johnson's five best list of books about Cold War culture, Robert Collins' top ten list of dystopian novels, Gemma Malley's top 10 list of dystopian novels for teenagers, is one of Norman Tebbit's six best books and one of the top ten works of literature according to Stephen King. It made a difference to Isla Fisher, and appears on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best rats in literature and ten of the best horrid children in fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Top 10 books of good sex in fiction

Rowan Somerville is the author of two novels, The End of Sleep and this year's The Shape of Her.

For the Guardian, he named a top ten list of the best fiction about sex.

One novel on the list:
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)

Although about a sociopath's utterly self-serving "love" for a minor this is also one of the greatest novels in the English language. The force of the writing is unparalleled. The balance of humour and horror, sex and satire, irony and delusion is extraordinary, and to me, without flaw. Just as the narrator and protagonist Humbert Humbert seduces Lolita through deceit and thus reveals himself, so we too are seduced, deceived and revealed to ourselves with an artistry and uncompromising cruelty that it an appropriate and profoundly moral commentary on society.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Lolita appears among Henry Sutton's top ten unreliable narrators, Adam Leith Gollner's top ten fruit scenes in literature, Laura Hird's literary top ten, Monica Ali's ten favorite books, Laura Lippman's 5 most important books, Mohsin Hamid's 10 favorite books, and Dani Shapiro's 10 favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Irvine Welsh's 5 best crime novels

Irvine Welsh is the author for Trainspotting and other works.

At FiveBooks, he discussed crime novels with Daisy Banks, including:
Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane

Next up is Dennis Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone, which is a classic detective novel.

Yes, a classic detective novel from a classic detective writer. And he brings so much to the table as a thriller writer. His sense of place with this novel, which is set in Boston, is pretty much unbeatable. He is one of the few classic thriller writers who really writes about contemporary social issues. The quality of the writing is absolutely superb and it moves you along.

And the book is about two private detectives, Kenzie and Gennaro, working with a drug dealer to track down a kidnapped four-year-old girl.

Yes. One of the things I like about Lehane is that he is very strong on character. I am often disappointed with a standard crime book because genre fiction is all about the plot and not about character. But I like really strong characters in a book. I am really interested in characters. I kind of feel short changed by a lot of genre fiction but I don’t get that with Lehane.
Read about the other books on Welsh's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 13, 2010

Ten of the best handkerchiefs in literature

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

One entry on the list:
Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne

Tristram's father gets himself in a tangle trying to extract "a striped India handkerchief from his right coat pocket, in order to rub his head". He has used his right hand to take off his wig so he tries to use his left. "In the latter end of Queen Anne's reign, and in the beginning of the reign of King George the first – 'Coat pockets were cut very low down in the skirt.' – I need say no more."
Read about the other entries on the list.

Tristram Shandy also appears among Peter Carey's top ten works of literature, Thomas C. Schelling's influential books, Bamber Gascoigne's six best books, and John Mullan's list of ten of the best deathbed scenes in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Five best novels about failure

Howard Jacobson's most recent novel, The Finkler Question, won this year's Man Booker Prize.

At the Wall Street Journal he named a five best list of novels on failure. One title on the list:
Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter
by Mario Vargas Llosa (1977)

'Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter" is a novel on a thousand errands, not the least of them a sort of spoofing of magic realism while reveling in its conventions. There is so much comic gusto in the spiraling decline of Pedro Camacho, a phenomenally successful writer of radio soap operas, that it is hard to remember that what we're watching is Camacho's mind "falling to pieces." The joy of the story lies in its brilliant confusion of Camacho's scripts, as overproduction (10 serials a day) leads him to forget which characters belong in which soap opera and each spills uncontrollably into the other. Camacho's hospitalization no more distresses us than his final demotion to the job of hack reporter. Call it callousness, but comic failure, too, must have its place. Especially when, in the telling, it has felt so much like creative success.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The 10 best books about college basketball

Majorie Kehe picked a list of the ten best books about college basketball.

One title on the list:
A Season on the Brink by John Feinstein.

Feinstein, a noted sportswriter, follows a year in the life of coach Bobby Knight and his 1985-86 Indiana Hoosiers. Some call it the best book ever written about basketball.
Read about the other titles on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 10, 2010

Top 10 female detectives

Anne Holt is one of Norway's most successful crime novelists.

For the Guardian, she named her top 10 female detectives. One character on her list:
Lisbeth Salander

In Lisbeth Salander, Stieg Larsson created the toughest nut in Sweden. Like Modesty [Blaise, the heroine of the cult comic strip created by writer Peter O'Donnell], she's also a relative orphan, abandoned and abused by a corrupt state. On the outside, she is a socially awkward diminutive gothic punk, but smouldering under the surface there's a tough, kick-boxing, Taser-wielding terror. She's as indifferent to physical pain as she is to people, a world-class computer hacker with a fierce intelligence and a photographic memory. A complete original.
Read about the other detectives on Holt's list.

See Adrian McKinty's list of the ten best lady detectives.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The 10 best survival stories

For the Observer, writer and mountaineer Ed Douglas named ten of the most courageous tales of survival and the books and films they have inspired.

One entry on his list:
Andes, 1972

Uruguayan rugby compadres Nando Parrado and Roberto Canessa not only survived when their plane crashed in the Andes in 1972, killing 29 of the 45 passengers on board, but then made an epic trek across the mountains to raise the alarm. The story of their fight for survival, resorting to cannibalism, became the 1974 bestseller Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivor by Piers Paul Read. Director Frank Marshall then made the film Alive, with Ethan Hawke starring as Parrado, who became a TV personality in Uruguay and wrote Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home.
Read about the other survival stories on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Five best portraits of women's lives

At the Wall Street Journal, author Stacy Schiff (Cleopatra) named a five best list of books about women's lives.

One book on the list:
Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn
Edited by Caroline Moorehead (2006)

'It is quite a job being a woman, isn't it?" Martha Gellhorn grumbled, in an April 1944 letter. She was at the time Mrs. Ernest Hemingway. Her correspondent was Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt. Gellhorn, a fine war correspondent, was in an unjolly state of mind; she believed that she was about to miss out on the Allied landings in France. (The U.S. Army did not allow women reporters at the front. Gellhorn smuggled herself to Normandy anyway, aboard a hospital ship.) A Bryn Mawr drop-out, she reported on the Spanish Civil War; saw and was changed forever by Dachau; covered the Eichmann trial; flew to Saigon in 1966. Always she wrestled with the competing demands of life and work. As for the rest, she was clear: "I knew what I wanted to do and went ahead doing it," she noted, casting a skeptical glance at feminism. What she wanted more than anything else was to be courageous, and she was, as graceful under pressure as on the page. She knew what she liked: laughter, words, honesty, men. She disliked tyranny, pretension, lies, sex. She couldn't cook, but oh could she write.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Five books on pain

David Biro has a medical degree from Columbia University and a doctorate in English Literature from Oxford University. He is an Associate Professor of Dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York. He also teaches in the medical humanities division there, directing a course on medicine and literature.

Biro’s first book, One Hundred Days: My Unexpected Journey from Doctor to Patient, chronicles his experience undergoing a bone marrow transplant. His second book is The Language of Pain: Finding Words, Compassion, and Relief. His articles have been published in various medical journals as well as the New York Times Magazine, Slate, and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

He shared a list of five books on pain with Daisy Banks at FiveBooks, including:
The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World by Elaine Scarry

Let’s move on to your next book, The Body in Pain by Elaine Scarry, which discusses people in pain and people who cause pain.

This book left a profound mark on me and actually inspired me to write about pain myself. I love its thoughtfulness and poetic style, its interdisciplinary nature and the fact that a scholar of literature has so much to say about the world outside the academy.

Scarry starts out with two main premises. Number one, that pain is not merely indescribable but that it actively destroys language, reducing the sufferer to a state before language, to primal screams. The second premise is that pain radically separates the sufferer from the observer of pain. For the sufferer, pain is the prototype of certainty – there’s no way to doubt that you have pain. But it is the exact opposite for those who observe a person in pain. How can we be really sure another person is in pain? Scarry then goes on to explore the far-reaching consequences of these two observations, in medicine, in torture, and in war.

So there is this idea that the people who are torturing have a licence to do it because they can easily choose not to see their victim’s pain?

Yes, and also because the victim is often voiceless. In torture and in war, there is an enormous toll of pain which goes unnoticed or misrepresented and which can then be used to substantiate the power of the torturer or the regime or the warring state. It’s probably not difficult to imagine how these two problems of pain – its inexpressibility and unverifiability – can also have a negative impact in the field of medicine.

You have written about this as well. Why do you think it is so important to be able to describe your pain as precisely as possible?

If patients can’t communicate their pain well and physicians harbour doubts just like other observers, then there’s a good chance medicine won’t always be so effective at alleviating pain. And unfortunately this is indeed the case – the under-treatment of pain is well-documented in medical literature, and a large part of this has to do with failures in communication.

On the other hand, if patients can provide good descriptions of their pain, and if doctors can help them do so and are willing to listen, those descriptions can be as useful in pinpointing the source of pain as an abnormality seen on a CAT scan or X-ray.

How would you encourage people to articulate their pain as successfully as possible?

Well this is the flipside of Scarry’s book. While she talks a lot about the world-destroying aspects of pain, she also talks about the world-building capacity which we might summon in response to pain. That capacity depends upon the imagination and metaphor.

Because pain is so blurry – perceptually and conceptually – there’s nothing to point to or grab on to. So the only way to go is to fill the blur with objects that we can see and describe. We are forced to speak of pain in terms of other, more visible objects, ie we are forced to speak metaphorically. The most common metaphor of pain is the weapon. We say, for example, that pain is shooting or stabbing or crushing.

When you think about it, these words are all being used metaphorically – since most of the time we haven’t been shot or stabbed or crushed but are just imagining that something like this must be happening. So one way of talking about pain is to talk about guns, knives, and hammers, or the damage those weapons can inflict on the human body. There are also other ways to represent pain metaphorically which I discuss in my book. The bottom line is that we have to be exceptionally imaginative when it comes to pain or else it will remain incommunicable and invisible, not only for the sufferer but also for friends and doctors trying to help.
Read about the other books on Biro's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, December 6, 2010

Simon Winchester's 6 favorite books about sailing

Simon Winchester is the author of Krakatoa and The Map That Changed the World. His new book is Atlantic, a history of the world’s second-largest ocean.

At The Week magazine he named his six favorite books about sailing. One title on the list:
In Hazard by Richard Hughes

Best known for his trilogy The Human Predicament, Hughes had decades earlier written this fictional account of a hurricane in the Caribbean. He tells the story from the perspective of the crew of a merchant ship called the Archimedes, and the writing is truly sensational: You huddle beneath the covers, relieved to be safe and dry.
Read about the other books on Winchester's list.

Also see Robin Knox-Johnson's five best books about sailing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ten of the best Hamlets in literature

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

One entry on the list:
Ulysses by James Joyce

In the "Scylla and Charybdis" section Stephen Dedalus opines about the Dane, hinting at Shakespeare's covert Catholicism. "Not for nothing was he a butcher's son wielding the sledded poleaxe and spitting in his palm. Nine lives are taken off for his father's one, Our Father who art in purgatory." He reckons the play was written out of Shakespeare's anger at being cuckolded.
Read about the other Hamlets on the list.

also made Mullan's lists of the ten of the best parodies, ten of the best visits to the lavatory, and ten of the best vegetables in literature. Unsurprisingly, it appears on Frank Delaney's top ten list of Irish novels and five best list of books about Ireland.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Alexei Sayle's six best books

Liverpudlian Alexei Sayle is a comedian, actor and author, who is more familiar to British viewers than American audiences even though he had a role in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and signed a 7 year deal for The Golden Girls spinoff The Golden Palace before quitting after only two weeks: "Those old ladies are horrible," he said.

He named his six best books for the Daily Express. One title on his list:
An Awfully Big Adventure
by Beryl Bainbridge

I’m a big fan of Beryl Bainbridge, a Liverpudlian like myself. This is a brilliant novel in its own right, which is set in a Liverpool theatre company but it’s also a brilliant evocation of Liverpool in the Fifties, a vanished Liverpool.

A wonderful novel that was adapted for the big screen.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, December 3, 2010

Five best books on film noir

Barry Forshaw's books include British Crime Writing: An Encyclopedia and The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction, along with books on Italian cinema, and a biography of Stieg Larsson, The Man Who Left Too Soon.

At FiveBooks he told Anna Blundy about the best books on film noir, including:
The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968 by Andrew Sarris.

This is the book that kick-started appreciation of film noir. It’s a massively influential book that introduced the ‘auteur’ theory into English writing. Sarris made us take the key directors seriously, as well as the genre itself. The French had already been taking popular genres seriously for years, but this was the book that ignited the touch paper here.

Before you start talking about this book, could you actually define film noir for me?

Film noir is a genre that had no definition in its own day other than ‘crime film’. All of those who were making films noirs, such as Robert Mitchum and similar great stars and directors of that era, wouldn’t have called what they were working on film noir. They were making crime movies and dramas. So, the title ‘film noir’ defines the moment when we started to take such films seriously and it was given a French moniker because that nation was the first to grant it serious academic attention.

The films were made largely in the 1940s, which is the defining period, and they’re steeped in all the imagery we know so well – crisp black and white photography, the glistening rain-swept streets, the femme fatale with the marcel wave smoking in a bar, and the hero who’s going to end up in a bad way if he’s seduced by her. It’s interesting that film noir has so many female followers, because it’s not a progressive genre when it comes to women. Either they’re the repository of all that’s good and they stay at home, or they are the dangerously attractive femme fatale and the hero ends up dead after having sex with them.

Tell me about the book now.

Sarris is a writer you will pick up if you have any love or appreciation for cinema. You will be inspired by the book – and you will also be throwing it across the room, because, along with the great enthusiasms and the famous pecking order of directors, he has some notable blind spots. There are directors like Hitchcock, of course, who are canonised, but Sarris writes off film-makers who are now held in very high esteem, such as Stanley Kubrick, who made one of the very best films noirs, The Killing. But the book takes the genre seriously and suggests we can look at these films in the same way as ‘art cinema’ directors such as Fellini and Bergman, who were automatically taken seriously. It was an incredibly influential book. People like me almost started writing film criticism because of this book.

Do you agree with him about Stanley Kubrick?

No, not at all, and I spend most of my time disagreeing with him when reading the book. Andrew Sarris was talking about people like Otto Preminger, who was basically considered to be a studio director, but for Sarris the director is the absolute king and this is now a contentious issue. If you look at Otto Preminger’s wonderful film Laura, the screenplay and the acting are vitally important. So there needed to be a redressing. Things needed to settle down, but Sarris started the ball rolling with this book.
Read about the other books on the list.

See Forshaw's critic's chart of six American noir masters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Susan Cheever's six favorite Massachusetts books

At The Week magazine, Susan Cheever — novelist, memoirist and author of a new biography of Louisa May Alcott — recommended her six favorite works produced by Alcott’s prolific Concord, Mass., circle.

One title on the list:
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Inspired by critic Margaret Fuller (a figure left out of many accounts of the Concord circle), Hawthorne wrote this thrilling story about a woman proudly raising her illegitimate child. Filled with false promises, predatory villains, and sexual aberration, Hawthorne’s story plumbs the depths of human perversity.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Scarlet Letter is on John Mullan's list of ten of the best reformations in literature and among Paul Auster's five most important books.

Read about Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography by Susan Cheever.

Check out Cheever's favorite books and her five best list of books about obsession.

Visit Susan Cheever's official website, and see the Page 69 Test results for American Bloomsbury.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Jess Walter's 5 favorite novels about job loss

Jess Walter is the author of five novels—including The Financial Lives of the Poets, which was just released in paperback, and The Zero, a 2006 National Book Award finalist—and one nonfiction book.

At the Daily Beast, he named five great novels about people losing their jobs. One title on the list:
The Ax
by Donald E. Westlake

After 25 years with the same paper company, Burke Devore lost his job following a merger. Two years later, he’s still looking for work and on the verge of desperation when the perfect position opens in New York. But 52-year-old middle managers aren’t especially sought-after, and so, in this dark and comic revenge fantasy, Devore decides to murder the other potential job candidates. Westlake’s straightedge humor keeps the unlikely plot running and a healthy dose of the mystery genre’s requisite plot twists and surprises keep the pages turning; the result is kind of like The Office meets Dexter. Westlake, the prolific author who died in 2008, wrote crisp, unassuming prose and reveals a CEO’s knack for streamlined efficiency himself by combining his protagonist and antagonist into a single position.
Read about the other novels on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue