Monday, February 28, 2011

Five best novelists on grief

Adam Haslett is the author of You Are Not A Stranger Here, a short story collection, which was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award, and won the PEN/Winship Award. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, Zoetrope, and Best American Short Stories as well as National Public Radio’s Selected Shorts.

His debut novel Union Atlantic was published last year.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of deathless accounts of mourning. One novel on the list:
The Good Soldier
by Ford Madox Ford (1915)

'This is the saddest story I have ever heard," says the narrator, John Dowell, at the beginning of Ford Madox Ford's masterpiece about the disintegration of two marriages. Written on the eve of World War I and set in the medicinal spas and hotels of a vanishing world of British and European aristocracy, the book has plenty of loss to go around. By the end, Dowell's wife is dead, along with another girl, but in this deeply elegiac book it turns out the real grief isn't for the deceased but for the lost love and innocence of the Ashburnhams, the couple that the narrator and his wife met nine years earlier, whose lives they imagined to be perfect. It is the unraveling of this illusion, uncannily presaging the larger unraveling of Europe, that gives this novel its force. "It is not unusual in human beings who have witnessed the sack of a city," Dowell says, "to set down what they have witnessed ... just to get the sight out of their heads."
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Good Soldier also appears on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best spas in literature, ten of the best failed couplings in literature, and ten great novels with terrible original titles, and on the Guardian's list of ten of the best unconsummated passions in fiction. One line from the novel appears among Stanley Fish's top five sentences.

The Page 99 Test: The Good Soldier.

Visit Adam Haslett's website.

The Page 69 Test: Union Atlantic.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ten of the best: birthday poems

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best birthday poems.

One title on the list:
"A Birthday Present" by Sylvia Plath

In Plath's poetic world, birthday gifts are not exactly cheering. "I will only take it and go aside quietly. / You will not even hear me opening it, no paper crackle, // No falling ribbons, no scream at the end. / I do not think you credit me with this discretion."
Read about the other poems on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Top 10 tales of metamorphosis

Thomas Bloor is the author of the three book series that begins with Worm in the Blood, continues with Beast Beneath the Skin, and concludes with Heart of the Serpent.

A few years ago he named a top ten list of tales of metamorphosis for the Guardian, including:
The Owl Service by Alan Garner

Mysterious and unsettling, Garner's classic novel is based on the old Welsh myths found in The Mabinogion. The threat of enforced metamorphosis hangs in the air throughout. Set in an unspoilt Welsh valley, the story suggests an unbroken curse, an ancient conflict that has been allowed to seep into the land itself and will not fade away. A triangular relationship lies at the heart of the tale. The end is uncertain. Will the transformation be into owls or flowers?
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 25, 2011

Five best books: America's unsung war heroes

Robert Coram, a military historian, is the author of Brute: The Life of Victor Krulak, U.S. Marine.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of books about America's unsung war heroes.

One title on the list:
The Peasant Prince
by Alex Storozynski (2009)

Few foreign volunteers in American fights have been as consequential as Thaddeus Kosciuszko was during the Revolutionary War. The Polish officer designed the cannon firing positions at Saratoga and the fort at West Point. (It was Kosciuszko's design for the fort that Benedict Arnold tried to sell to the British.) As Alex Storozynski notes in his excellent biography, "The Peasant Prince," Kosciuszko was an impassioned idealist who yearned to see the end of slavery in America; later, when he returned to Poland, he undertook the protection of Jews and serfs. When Kosciuszko made his second trip to America in the 1790s, George Washington welcomed him "to the land whose liberties you had been so instrumental in establishing."
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see: Sandi Toksvig's top ten unsung heroines.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Top ten dirty old (literary) men

"Anyone who has taken English 101 knows that literature has its share of dirty old men — the lascivious, the leering, and the lewd, the men who concern themselves with the baser instincts and darker drives, the author equivalent of the creep in the corner, stroking his chin and staring at the rears of the teenagers," writes Nina MacLaughlin. Her top ten list of "some of the dirtiest, most salacious and scandalous men in letters" includes:
James Joyce

Ulysses has its share of gutter talk, but it’s in his letters to his wife Nora that Joyce proves himself scatologically inclined. “I think I would know Nora’s fart anywhere. I think I could pick hers out in a roomful of farting women. It is a rather girlish noise not like the wet windy fart I imagine fat wives have ... I hope Nora will let off no end of her farts in my face so that I may know their smell also.”
Read about another entry on the list. 

Ulysses appears on John Mullan's lists of the ten of the best parodies, ten of the best Hamlets in literature, 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

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The 19 best-read U.S. presidents

The Daily Beast "scoured biographies, presidential libraries, and available records to come up with [their] list of the presidents who were the most avid readers. The list is based on the size of their libraries, references to their reading habits, and what the types of books they read."

One president to make the top ten:
2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt

“A second-class intellect but a first-class temperament,” Oliver Wendell Holmes is supposed to have remarked about FDR, who was nevertheless among the best-read presidents. One of the wealthiest men to serve as president, FDR had ample means with which to build a 22,000-volume personal library—and a collection of 25,000 stamps. His tastes ran toward history and biographies though he wasn’t above the occasional detective novel. By size of library alone, he comes in second place.
Read about the other presidents on the list.

Also see: the five best biographies about FDR.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Reading list about revolutions

For the Independent, Alice-Azania Jarvis came up with a brief reading list on revolutions.

The novel on her list:
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

Dickens' epic work dwells the plight of the peasantry in pre-Revolutionary France – as well as the post-Revolutionary violence – drawing comparison with London's poor. He follows several protagonists, including Charles Darnay, a French aristocrat who, despite his virtue, falls victim to ill-treatment at the hands of the Republicans.
Read about the other entries on the list.

A Tale of Two Cities also appears on Paulette Jiles's list of her 12 favorite books and John Mullan's list of ten of the best doppelgängers in fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 21, 2011

David Ulin's six favorite books

David L. Ulin is book critic of the Los Angeles Times. He is the editor of the award-winning anthology Writing Los Angeles and author of The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time.

He named his six favorite books for The Week magazine.

One title on the list:
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Not just for adolescents, Salinger’s landmark novel is, among other things, a portrait of a teenager losing his grip. “You don’t like anything that’s happening,” Holden Caulfield’s sister, Phoebe, tells him, and as the book progresses, Holden, adrift in Manhattan with no idea of how to navigate the world, experiences the fallout of that alienation, as his possibilities get stripped from him one by one.
Read about the other entries on Ulin's list.

The Catcher In The Rye appears on Nicholas Royle's list of the top ten writers on the telephone, TIME magazine's list of the top ten books you were forced to read in school, Tony Parsons' list of the top ten troubled males in fiction, Dan Rhodes' top ten list of short books, and Sarah Ebner's top 25 list of boarding school books; it is one of Sophie Thompson's six best books. Upon rereading, the novel disappointed Khaled Hosseini, Mary Gordon, and Laura Lippman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ten of the best fictional poets

For the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best fictional poets.

One entry on the list:
Randolph Henry Ash

AS Byatt's Possession tells the story of two 19th-century poets: the imperious Ash and the elusively sexy Christabel LaMotte. Byatt also provides the poetry written by her two poet lovers. To Ash she gives imitations of Browning (with a stir of William Morris); to LaMotte she lends the cadences of Emily Dickinson with the imagery of Christina Rossetti.
Read about the rest of the list.

Possession also appears on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best locks of hair in fiction, ten of the best graveyard scenes in fiction, and ten of the best lawyers in literature, and on Christina Koning's top six romances critic's chart and Elizabeth Kostova's top ten list of books for winter nights.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Five political novels to change the world

Ellen Meeropol holds an MFA in creative writing from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine. Her stories have appeared in The Drum, Bridges, Portland Magazine, Pedestal, Patchwork Journal, and The Women’s Times.

House Arrest, her first novel, is out this month.

At Madam Mayo's blog, Meeropol named five political novels to change the world.

One novel on her list:
The Murder's Daughters
by Randy Susan Meyers

The Murder's Daughters finds its subject much closer than Cyprus or Nigeria; this novel of social injustice begins in the small Coney Island apartment of Merry and Lulu on the day their father kills their mother. These are two wonderfully complex characters, stubborn and determined to survive despite heavy odds. The prose is fresh and strong, the story compelling. Despite the shattering event that opens the novel, the narrative shimmers with healing, sisterly love, and hope.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 69 Test: The Murderer's Daughters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 18, 2011

20 mad scientists who turned against their creations

At io9, Charlie Jane Anders came up with a list of twenty mad scientists who turned against their creations.

One literary mad scientist on the list, which is dominated by movies and television shows:
Marisa Coulter (His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman)

Mrs. Coulter invents a method of controlling the "Dust" that attaches to people — unfortunately, this requires severing children from their Daemons, or basically their souls. When Mrs. Coulter realizes her daughter Lyra is in danger, she dedicates herself to protecting Lyra.
Read about the other mad scientists on the list.

His Dark Materials appears among Amanda Donohoe's six best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Five works of contemporary Egyptian fiction

Humphrey Davies is one of the foremost contemporary Arabic-English literary translators, and has translated a wide variety of Arabic works. He has lived in Cairo for the past 35 years. He is a two-time winner of the Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation. Days before the revolution ousted long-time Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from power, Davies recommended five works of contemporary Egyptian fiction to Sophie Roell of FiveBooks, including:
On Being Abbas El Abd
Ahmed Alaidy

Next you’ve chosen On Being Abbas El Abd, by Ahmed Alaydi.

This book is totally different, conceptually and in style, from [The Yacoubian Building]. It’s a wickedly complex tale. People debate what actually takes place in the book. It’s about a terminally grumpy twenty-something negotiating Cairo’s shopping malls and high-rises. The book as a whole reflects a culture that will be familiar to anybody in Egypt, who sits, as so many here do, at that meeting point between global culture — the internet and the cellphone and so on — and Egyptian street life, the general craziness (and, in the case of this book, the literal craziness) of Cairo. I’ll use a word that will only reveal my age and total squareness when I say it’s very hip. I’m sure there are better words than that now. It’s funny and very smart and fairly weird.

Is it all about madness? What’s the opening line?

The introduction is entitled, ‘An Introduction You Can Suck or Shove’, and it starts off with: ‘She wasn’t a corpse yet.’ But yes: the main protagonist, Abbas El Abd, meets somebody at a psychodrama therapy session that he is attending for reasons that are gradually revealed during the book. (They have something to do with his uncle, who was an experimental psychiatrist who rather overstepped the bounds when he raised his nephew.) So madness is very much at the heart of the book, and there’s a wonderful, several page long list of phobias at one point - most of which, it would seem, the protagonist suffers from himself.

How does the protagonist fit with the stereotype that seems to feature in every newspaper article about Egypt - the disgruntled youth?

I wouldn’t go too far down that route, because the hero, or the anti-hero, is not exactly suffering from serious socio-economic problems. He’s not poor; he’s not unemployed. He works in a video store — which is, of course, slightly dated already. He’s disgruntled, but more in the sense of an underlying anger, which is dealt with in a very non-didactic, non-stereotyped way. But there’s a very strong tension running through the book, which perhaps reflects precisely the class to whom the mobilisation of people today is attributed. This is the class of young people who are savvy with the internet, with global communications, and who are totally disenchanted with almost everything about the system in which they’ve grown up. However, you could never call this, on the face of it, a political book. This is a very personal book, though the politics is there in the texture of it.
Read about the other books recommended by Humphrey Davies at The Browser.

Also see: Eight of the best articles on the upheaval in Egypt.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Top 10 books in second languages

Dan Vyleta is the son of Czech refugees who emigrated to Germany in the late 1960s. After growing up in Germany, he left to attend university in the UK where he completed a Ph.D. in History at King’s College, University of Cambridge. He now calls Canada his home.

His debut novel Pavel & I has gathered international acclaim and has been published in thirteen countries, and translated into eight languages.

His second novel, The Quiet Twin, was published by Bloomsbury and Harper Collins in February 2011.

At the Guardian he named a top ten list of books written a second language. One novel on the list:
The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

Conrad, aka Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, is the patron saint of exophonic authors. A latecomer to English – he only mastered it in his 20s – Conrad reads like he taught Greene and Maugham how to write. The Secret Agent is perhaps his funniest book, a wonderful exposé of the interdependency of the intelligence community and domestic terrorists which surely must have left its stamp on Le Carré.
Read about the other titles on Vyleta's list.

The Secret Agent
also appears among Jessica Stern's five best books on who terrorists are, Adam Thorpe's top ten satires, and on John Mullan's list of ten of the best professors in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The ten best love stories in fiction

At the Observer, Kate Kellaway named the ten best love stories in fiction.

One romance on her list:
Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

All the best love stories involve at least one obstacle. But Jane Eyre’s love for Mr Rochester seems fated not to be. The man is taciturn. He is, at one stage, her boss. He seems to be entirely smitten with another woman. He keeps a savagely mad wife in the attic. What’s more, Jane does not appear, superficially, to be a strong candidate for romance - a plain governess with no obvious sex appeal. No wonder nobody ever forgets the victorious economy of the line: “Reader, I married him.”
Read about the other love stories on the list.

Jane Eyre
also made the Guardian's top 10 lists of "outsider books" and "romantic fiction;" it appears on Lorraine Kelly's six best books list, Esther Freud's top ten list of love stories, and Jessica Duchen's top ten list of literary Gypsies, and on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best weddings in literature, ten of the best pianos in literature, ten of the best breakfasts in literature, and ten of the best smokes in fiction.

The Page 99 Test: Jane Eyre.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 14, 2011

The fifty most essential works of Jewish fiction

At Jewcy, Jason Diamond named "The 50 Most Essential Works Of Jewish Fiction Of The Last 100 Years."

The Franz Kafka stories to make the list:
1. The Metamorphosis (1915)

It’s really impossible to rate anything– especially the ultimate “Kafkaesque” work—any higher. The Prague-born writer’s ultimate work about poor Gregor Samsa is one of the most seminal works of Jewish fiction in the last century.

6. The Trial (1925)

We recognize that we should have just said “Everything Kafka did” at the #1 position, but that wouldn’t have been fair, now would it?
Read the entire list.

The Metamorphosis is one of Thomas Bloor's top ten tales of metamorphosis; Avi Steinberg says it is one of six books every prison should stock.

The Trial appears among Pascal Bruckner's five best books about guilt and Sam Taylor's top ten books about forgetting.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Five best books on remarkable Hollywood lives

Stefan Kanfer is the author, most recently, of Tough Without a Gun: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of Humphrey Bogart.

For the Wall Street Journal he named a list of the five best books chronicling remarkable Hollywood lives.

One title on the list:
Elia Kazan: A Life
by Elia Kazan (1988)

For a period in the 1940s and 1950s, Elia Kazan towered over New York and Hollywood. He co-founded the influential Actors Studio and launched the careers of Tennessee Williams and Marlon Brando by guiding "A Streetcar Named Desire" to Broadway. In Hollywood, Kazan showed an equal facility for directing feel-good productions like "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" and critical and commercial blockbusters such as "On the Waterfront" and "East of Eden." Yet when Kazan was given an honorary Oscar for life-time achievement, the heavily liberal Hollywood crowd booed. For Kazan had briefly been a communist in his youth, and in 1952, when the House Un-American Activities Committee investigated Hollywood "subversion," he furnished it with the names of his "fellow Reds." In his autobiography, Kazan addressed all that and more. The man who emerges is not particularly admirable (he was a world-class seducer of actors, women, journalists—anyone he could use); still his story remains as compelling as any of his productions. It's impossible to fully understand 20th-century theater or movies without reading this pugnacious self-defense.
Read about the other books on Kanfer's list.

Elia Kazan: A Life
is among Richard Schickel's five best show-biz biographies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ten of the best cases of seasickness

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

One novel on the list:
Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey

Sailing to America, aristocratic Olivier is hopeful and exhilarated, but his servant Parrot is having a hard time. "I felt the first big wave break and I saw the great wash of beef and brandy erupt from the dreadful Parrot's gorge . . . I was very pleased to note I was not afraid."
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 11, 2011

Alex Berenson's five favorite books about Americans abroad

Alex Berenson is the author of five John Wells novels, including the recently released The Secret Soldier, and one work of non-fiction, The Number.

In 2007 he applied the Page 69 Test to The Faithful Spy.

At The Daily Beast, Berenson named his five favorite books about Americans abroad.

One novel on his list:
The Talented Mr. Ripley

Patricia Highsmith's 1955 masterpiece builds tension page by page, as Thomas Ripley turns from a minor-league thief in New York into a full-scale sociopath in Italy, a man who realizes that he is able to kill without consequence. And her depiction of languid life on the Italian coast will have you booking a flight to Rome this summer. Too bad the euro is so high.
Read about the other books on Berenson's list.

The Talented Mr Ripley is on John Mullan's list of ten of the best examples of rowing in literature, Tana French's top ten maverick mysteries list, the Guardian's list of the 50 best summer reads ever, the Telegraph's ultimate reading list, and Francesca Simon's top ten list of antiheroes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Five books on the World Wide Web

Lev Grossman is Time magazine's book critic as well as one of its lead technology writers. The New York Times says he's “among this country's smartest and most reliable critics.”

He spoke with Roland Chambers of FiveBooks about notable books on the World Wide Web.

Part of their dialogue:
[Chambers:] This brings us to Here Comes Everybody: The Power Of Organizing Without Organizations by Clay Shirky. A book which appears to be about decentralisation and the empowering of hitherto marginal groups – which seems to be quite positive about the Net’s ability to afford a kind of benign anarchy perhaps?

[Grossman:] Yes, a benign anarchy. But a benign anarchy which oddly also resolves itself on other levels as very orderly and purposeful. A lot of ink has been spilled, much of it by me, about the Web 2.0 revolution, and how it changes the way business and art and socialising and political organisation get done. Shirky is simply the best person at articulating what’s very weird and new about what’s going on.

Shirky talks about revolutionaries in Belarus, blogging their way to mass public demonstrations. Is that something you could talk about?

The Net’s power to facilitate popular political organisation?

Because everybody has access to an equally powerful means of communication.

Well, I think that’s very real. Certainly there are authoritarian governments working very hard to restrict that aspect of the Internet, with limited success. We haven’t seen an authentic Internet revolution. The effect, I think, isn’t that dramatic. But, even in this country, the way Obama used the Internet to raise funds was quite extraordinary. There’s a level on which the Internet is also a mass tool for pacification. I think it allows people to play out their lives in a fantasy context, which is very politically unthreatening. So the effect goes both ways, certainly.
Visit The Browser to read about the other books on Grossman's list.

Here Comes Everybody also appeared on a critic's chart of books with big ideas; it is one of George Brock's favorite books about the media.

See: the Page 69 Test: The Magicians by Lev Grossman.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Top 10 love poems

John Stammers is a poet and creative writing teacher.

With Valentine's Day looming, he came up with a list of the top ten love poems for the Guardian.

One title on the list:
"The Flea" by John Donne

If there are a number of great conceits in the Marvell, then there is a single one in this, at first sight tasteless masterpiece. Almost, one feels, as an exercise in virtuosity, Donne turns a human flea into a persuasive romantic symbol. Said flea has just bitten both himself and the object of his attentions and so becomes an improbable erotic crucible: Donne argues disingenuously that, as the two of them are now conjoined in the flea, they might just as well get on with the grosser physical details.
Read about the other poems on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Five books on the Mafia

For the Independent, Alice-Azania Jarvis came up with a reading list on the Mafia.

Most of the titles are non-fiction, but one novel made the list:
The Godfather by Mario Puzo

The archetypal Mafia novel, Puzo's classic chronicles the evolution of a Sicilian Mafia family based in New York, under the stewardship of the title's "Godfather", Don Vito Corleone. Immortalised on the big screen in Francis Ford Coppola's famous trilogy, it remains the most recognised, and most significant, account of gangster life in popular culture.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Godfather is one of Jackie Collins' six best books and five best literary guilty pleasures.

-Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 7, 2011

Five best books on John F. Kennedy

Thurston Clarke's books include Ask Not: The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Speech That Changed America.

For the Wall Street Journal he named a five best list of books on John F. Kennedy, including:
Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived
by James G. Blight, Janet M. Lang, David A. Welch (2009)

It is a vexing historical what-if: If JFK had not been assassinated, would he have escalated the Vietnam War? James Blight, Janet Lang and David Welch consult a wide spectrum of Vietnam War experts in a quest for the answer. The authors believe that any prediction needs to take into account how Kennedy felt about the Cold War, the military and Third World nationalism, so the spirited discussions often slide into biography, with illuminating results. The Kennedy who emerges is a Cold Warrior, but a nonviolent one whose refusal to commit U.S. combat forces to Laos, Vietnam and Cuba belie his saber-rattling "pay any price" and "bear any burden" talk. By examining the Vietnam what-if so thoroughly, the authors bring us closer to solving the greatest Kennedy mystery of all: not who killed him but who he truly was on that tragic day.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ten of the best twice-told tales

For the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best updates--novels that retell a story previously told in a classic work of literature.

One book on the list:
A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

Set on a prairie farm in Iowa, Smiley's novel tells how the three daughters of Larry Cook struggle over the control of the land and of their family memories. It is the plot of King Lear moved to the mid-West, with the added twist that it is narrated by the sister who has taken the role of Goneril.
Read about the other entries on the list.

For another take on updated novels, see: Twice-told tales.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 5, 2011

John Sayles' six favorite books

Filmmaker John Sayles is the author of two short-story collections and several novels, including Union Dues, a National Book Award nominee, and the forthcoming A Moment in the Sun.

One of his six favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
Havana World Series by José Latour

The noir tradition goes Latin. In a classic of the genre, Latour mixes American and Cuban tipos duros (tough guys) in just-pre-Fidel Havana. The rare author who can write terrific stuff in two languages.
Read about the other books on Sayles' list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 4, 2011

Top ten stories of old age

Paul Bailey's novels include At The Jerusalem (1967), which won the Somerset Maugham award; Peter Smart's Confessions (1977) and Gabriel's Lament (1986), both shortlisted for the Booker prize; Sugar Cane (1993), a sequel to Gabriel's Lament; and Chapman's Odyssey.

He named his top ten stories of old age for the Guardian, including:
Memento Mori by Muriel Spark

Spark's masterpiece, with its echoing reminders that we must all die, is horrifically funny from beginning to end. The dialogue throughout is a joy.
Read about the other stories on Bailey's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Thirteen great books out of the Midwest

Anna Clark is a 2010 fellow with the Peter Jennings Center for Journalists and the Constitution. Her writing has appeared in The American Prospect, Salon, The Nation, UTNE Reader, among many others.

For The Daily Beast she named 13 essential works of fiction to come out of the Midwest. One title on the list:
Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson

With its heels dug deep into small-town life, Winesburg, Ohio, is buoyed by an eclectic cast of characters—among them an agnostic, a drunkard, a reverend, a spinster, and a schoolteacher. Anderson’s story cycle centers the life of George Willard, with the narration becoming more complex as Willard himself evolves from childhood into independence. Writers ranging from Ray Bradbury to Eudora Welty to Amos Oz have credited this classic text as an influence. Anderson grew up in Clyde, Ohio, and later lived in Chicago, where he joined a literary community anchored by Carl Sandburg and Theodore Dreiser.
Read about the other books on Clark's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rats: a reading list

For the Independent, Alice-Azania Jarvis came up with a reading list on rats. She named a non-fiction book, a work of poetry, a manual for rat-keeping, a short story, a children's book, and this novel:
The Rats by James Herbert

Inspired while watching Tod Browning's Dracula, Herbert pulls no punches in this gruesome horror classic. The tale opens with a tramp being eaten alive; things don't get much more pleasant. Able to communicate telepathically, the rats of Herbert's imagining are truly frightening.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Also see John Mullan's list of ten of the best rats in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ten of the best walled gardens in literature

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

One book on the list:
Paradise Lost by John Milton

God surrounds "delicious Paradise" with a "verdurous wall", enclosing his blessed but vulnerable human couple. From the outside Satan can see "higher than that wall a circling row / Of goodliest trees loaden with fairest fruit". There is only one gate, but the "arch-felon" jumps over the highest part of the wall, ready to begin his bad work.
Read about the other walled gardens on the list.

Satan from Paradise Lost is among the 50 greatest villains in literature according to the (London) Telegraph and appears on Mullan's list ten of the best devils in literature.

Paradise Lost also appears on Mullan's lists of ten of the best pieces of fruit in literature, ten of the best visions of hell in literature, ten of the best angels in literature, and ten of the best visions of heaven in literature. It is also on Diane Purkiss' critic's chart of the best books on the English Civil War and Peter Stanford's list of the ten best devils in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue