Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ian Rankin's five favorite literary crime novels

Ian Rankin is a worldwide #1 bestselling writer, and has won an Edgar Award, a Gold Dagger for fiction, a Diamond Dagger for career excellence, and the Chandler-Fulbright Award.

He named his five favorite literary crime novels for The Daily Beast. One title on the list:
The Name of the Rose
by Umberto Eco

Eco’s brilliant deconstruction of the traditional crime novel wasn’t actually published in English until 1983 (in a superb translation by William Weaver), but literature students knew it was coming. Some us wondered if the literary theorist’s first novel might turn out to be a bit dry, a bit too serious. We shouldn’t have worried. The Name of the Rose is a playful homage to Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Agatha Christie and many others. It also manages to be an engrossing mystery in its own right and a fascinating historical re-enactment. The action takes place in a Benedictine monastery in northern Italy. The year is 1327 and a Franciscan friar by the name of William of Baskerville arrives with a young novice called Adso. They are there for spirited debate, but a series of gruesome murders takes place and William must use his intellect, learning and intuition in order to solveLink the crime.
Read about the other books on Rankin's list.

The Name of the Rose is one of Vanora Bennett's five favorite historical novels.

Also see Rankin's six best books list.

Learn about the best selling book Rankin wishes he'd written.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Top ten books on motherhood

Eleanor Birne works as an editor and has written reviews for various publications. She lives in London with her husband and son. Her first book is When Will I Sleep Through the Night?.

At the Guardian she named a top ten list of books on motherhood.

One title on the list:
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1873-77)

Anna Karenina is a complicated, ambiguous mother. She cares deeply about her young son, Seryozha, but feels that her life has only properly begun when she meets the glamorous Count Vronsky. She leaves her passionless marriage and therefore her son in order to be with Vronsky, but misses Seryozha desperately. There is a moving scene when she returns to her son's bedside on his birthday after a long absence. She has a daughter by Vronsky but can't feel the same way about the baby as she does about Seryozha. Things, famously, don't end well for her.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Anna Karenina
also appears on Esther Freud's list top ten list of love stories, Elizabeth Kostova's list of favorite books, James Gray's list of best books, Marie Arana's list of the best books about love, Ha Jin's most important books list, Tom Perrotta's ten favorite books list, Claire Messud's list of her five most important books, Alexander McCall Smith's list of his five most important books, Mohsin Hamid's list of his ten favorite books, Louis Begley's list of favorite novels about cheating lovers, and among the top ten works of literature according to Peter Carey and Norman Mailer. John Mullan put it on his lists of ten of the best births in literature, ten of the best ice-skating episodes in literature, and ten of the best balls in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Top ten books about psychological journeys

Novelist, literary journalist, and psychotherapeutic counsellor Sebastian Beaumont is the author of Thirteen and The Juggler.

A few years ago he named a top 10 list of books about psychological journeys for the Guardian, including:
2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C Clarke

This is a hypnotic voyage into the terrifying darkness of both external and internal space. The interface between man and technology and the question of what it means to be human will always be the stuff of nightmare, but Clarke also sees the possibility of transformation and redemption. A compelling masterpiece.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 28, 2011

Chelsea Cain's six favorite detective stories

Chelsea Cain's novels featuring Detective Archie Sheridan include Heartsick, Sweetheart, Evil at Heart, and The Night Season.

For The Week magazine she named her six favorite detective stories.

One title on the list:
Trouble Is My Business by Raymond Chandler

All the stories in this collection are great, but “Red Wind” is my favorite. It’s hard-boiled and romantic, which is hard to pull off. The story originally featured another detective, but when Chandler compiled this book, he changed the protagonist to his mainstay P.I., Philip Marlowe.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Novelist Gregg Hurwitz calls Trouble Is My Business "typically brilliant" and backs his assessment with Chandler's simile, “He had an idea and he was holding it like a sick baby.”

The Page 99 Test: Sweetheart.

The Page 69 Test: Evil at Heart.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ten of the best locked rooms in literature

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

One novel on the list:
The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde

Cruel and narcissistic Dorian stays youthfully beautiful, but in his portrait we can see the price that is being paid for this cosmetic miracle. He has it moved to a locked room, where the image turns uglier and more raddled by the month. "No one would ever look on the horrible thing. No eye but his would ever see his shame." You wish!
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Picture of Dorian Gray also appears on Mullan's lists of ten of the best mirrors in literature, ten of the best disastrous performances in fiction, and ten of the best examples of ekphrasis in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Five best windows on the Cold War

Charles Cumming's latest novel is The Trinity Six, which William Boyd, author of Ordinary Thunderstorms, called "Utterly absorbing and compelling. A brilliant re-imagining of events surrounding the notorious Cambridge spy-ring."

For the Wall Street Journal, Cumming named a five best list of books on the Cold War.

One title on the list:
My Five Cambridge Friends
by Yuri Modin (1994)

While studying at Cambridge University in the 1930s, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Kim Philby, John Cairncross and Anthony Blunt were recruited as spies by the Soviet Union. Over the course of the next 50 years, they were gradually exposed, but not before they had reached positions of eminence in the diplomatic and intelligence services and handed vast amounts of classified information to Moscow. Yuri Modin was their KGB "controller" in London until 1955. His memoir, "My Five Cambridge Friends," offers fascinating details about KGB countersurveillance techniques as well as compelling insights into the personalities of the Cambridge Five. We learn that Blunt hated to be looked directly in the eyes. Burgess "could be an unmitigated bastard if he thought he was being treated without the respect he felt was due him." Cairncross had "a sizeable chip on his shoulder." Maclean "gathered the political, economic and scientific intelligence that guided the strategy of our leaders for over ten years." On Philby, Modin is curiously ambivalent. "In the end," he writes, "I suspect that [Philby] made a mockery of everyone, particularly ourselves."
Read about the other books on the list.

Learn more about Charles Cumming's novels A Spy By Nature, The Spanish GameTyphoon, and The Trinity Six.

Read about Cumming's five favorite works of espionage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 25, 2011

Mark Malloch-Brown's six favorite novels of empire

Mark Malloch-Brown is a former United Nations deputy secretary-general and a former British Foreign Office minister. His new book is The Unfinished Global Revolution: The Pursuit of a New International Politics.

He named his six favorite novels of empire for The Week magazine.

One book on his list:
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

The ultimate chronicle of occupation and the effect on the colonialist of untrammeled power. For the ivory collector Kurtz, wrestling with his demons up the mighty Congo River, it spurs delusions and madness.
Read about the other titles on Malloch-Brown's list.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The ten best bad fairies

The 13 Treasures, Michelle Harrison's first novel for children, won the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize and has been sold in the UK, USA and fourteen other countries.

Its sequel, The 13 Curses was published in January 2010, and was followed by a third book, The 13 Secrets, in February 2011.

For the Guardian, Harrison came up with a ten best list of bad fairies--fairies "that were deceitful, malicious – even deadly."

One title on the list:
A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare's witty and charming play tells of four young lovers who blunder into the crossfire of the warring fairy king and queen, Oberon and Titania. With the mischievous Puck administering love potions galore, the humans' lives and emotions are manipulated beyond their control. Though the play ends well for all, for me there's a sense of unease surrounding one of the couples, whose love is manufactured by the fairies rather than genuine. The version with Arthur Rackham's gorgeous illustrations is my favourite.
Read about the other titles on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Five best: tales of dislocation

Jerome Charyn is the author of Johnny One-Eye, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, and The Seventh Babe, a novel about a white third baseman on the Red Sox who also played in the Negro Leagues.

His latest book is Joe DiMaggio: The Long Vigil.

For the Wall Street Journal, Charyn came up with a list of the five best tales of dislocation. One title on the list:
The Big Knockover
by Dashiell Hammett (1966)

The character known as the Continental Op is Dashiell Hammett's most startling creation, even if we are never told his name. Like Sam Spade and Nick Charles, he's a private detective, but he has none of their allure. He appears in Hammett's earliest short stories, collected by Lillian Hellman in "The Big Knockover." The Op is "a nervous little fat man," relentless and alone. His boss sends him out "to be crucified on suicidal jobs." But the Op doesn't really solve cases—he stirs up trouble. Raymond Chandler once said that Hammett, starting with the Continental Op, took murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the gutter. But Hammett also had a Venetian vase, and that was the relentless poetry of his prose, where bullets rip through walls "with the sound of hail tapping on leaves" and a man lies dead-still, "a thin worm of blood" crawling out of his hair.
Read about the other titles on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Five best books about college basketball

Joshua Robinson is a freelance writer based in Manhattan. He has written over 400 stories for The New York Times across the sports, metro, foreign, and obituary sections since his sophomore year of college. His work has also appeared in The Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, the New York Daily News, The International Herald Tribune, The Sunday Times, and Dow Jones News Wires.

For The Daily Beast he named a list of the five best books on college basketball, including:
A Sense of Where You Are
by John McPhee

A Sense of Where You Are, McPhee’s first book, is a sublimely crafted 144-page profile of Bradley during his college days. It paints a picture of a student-athlete devoting his time to practice and his studies with monastic discipline, long before his career with the Knicks or in the U.S. Senate. Throughout the book, Bradley speaks with intelligence about life and basketball to balance out McPhee’s own impressionistic analysis. But above all, McPhee is constantly struck by the purity in Bradley’s approach. “He did all kinds of things he didn’t have to do,” McPhee writes, “simply because those were the dimensions of the game.”
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see Marjorie Kehe's ten best books about college basketball.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 21, 2011

Reza Aslan's five favorite foreign novels

Reza Aslan is author of No god but God and Beyond Fundamentalism.

For The Week magazine he named five favorite foreign novels.

One title on the list:
The Day the Leader Was Killed by Naguib Mahfouz

The Nobel Prize–winning novelist has written dozens of internationally renowned books. But this compact novella, which chronicles the lives of a middle-class family in Cairo in the years leading up to the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, remains as timely a story today as it was when Mahfouz wrote it in 1985.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ten of the best cases of blindness in literature

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

One title on the list:
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Jim Hawkins sees a strangely threatening figure approach the Admiral Benbow inn. "He was plainly blind, for he tapped before him with a stick and wore a great green shade over his eyes and nose". It is Blind Pew, bringing a message to Billy Bones that will make him die of an apoplexy. No one will forget the tap-tap of Pew's stick.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Treasure Island also appears on Mullan's list of ten of the best pirates in fiction, and among Philip Pullman's six best books and Eoin Colfer's six favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Five crime novelists who almost never disappoint

J. Kingston Pierce is both the editor of the award-winning crime-fiction blog The Rap Sheet and the senior editor of January Magazine.

For his debut column as Kirkus Reviews’ lead blogger in the Mysteries and Thrillers category, he came up with of a list of “'old reliables'—novelists who almost never disappoint," including:
Max Allan Collins: Collins has demonstrated proficiency in multiple arenas—writing original novels, penning film novelizations, composing comic books, scripting audio dramas and completing the late Mickey Spillane’s unfinished fiction. I favor Collins’ series starring Nate Heller, who began as a petty peeper confronting gangsters in 1920s Chicago, but has somehow lived long enough to own a prosperous investigative agency. These well-researched yarns place Heller in the muddled middle of famous historical cases, from the Lindbergh baby kidnapping (Stolen Away, 1991) to the disappearance of Amelia Earhart (Flying Blind, 1998) and Los Angeles’ notorious Black Dahlia murder (Angel in Black, 2001). The series’ 13th installment—Bye Bye, Baby, in which Heller probes Marilyn Monroe’s 1962 “suicide”—is scheduled for release in August.
Read about the other novelists on Pierce's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 18, 2011

Five best: novelists on illness

Lionel Shriver's books include Orange Prize–winner We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Post-Birthday World, A Perfectly Good Family, Game Control, Double Fault, The Female of the Species, Checker and the Derailleurs, Ordinary Decent Criminals, and So Much for That.

For the Wall Street Journal, she named a five best list of novelists on illness.

One entry on the list:
by Philip Roth (2006)

A novel about an elderly man within spitting distance of his grave inevitably has to address mortality, but in "Everyman" death is a reflecting pool. This elegant novel shimmers with the mysteries and regrets of a whole life. Philip Roth's unnamed protagonist has the usual broken marriage and difficulties with his kids, but his central failed relationship is the one with his own body. He has had six cardiac surgeries in as many years; a seventh would probably kill him. Meanwhile, friends drop like flies: "Old age isn't a battle; old age is a massacre." Prolonged illness's "deadliest trap," Roth writes, is "the contortion of one's character." Thus the protagonist loathes his once adored older brother simply because the schmuck is so enragingly healthy. Unexpectedly moving, "Everyman" is about a treachery that awaits us all. Spouses may stay true, but bodies are universally faithless.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Top ten books on color

Peter Forbes is a UK-based science writer. The Gecko’s Foot (2006) explored the new world of bio-inspiration: engineering solutions taken from nature. He writes for many magazines and newspapers including The Guardian, The Independent, The Times and Scientific American.

His latest book is Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and Camouflage.

"Colours are a natural meeting place of art and science," he explains in a preface to ten top list of books on color he named for the Guardian. "Their allure has powered exploration, trade routes and scientific innovation: from the mauve dye that gave birth to the modern chemical industry, through the cadmium pigments that gave the Impressionist and Post-Impressionists a new, more vibrant, palette, to the blue lasers that allow vastly more visual imagery to be packed onto a Blu-ray disc. Colour is challenging for writers: like music it appeals directly to the senses, bypassing language. But you can't keep words out of anything, and for some writers words come bathed in colours."

One book on Forbes's list:
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

In one of the great novels of black consciousness, Ellison, writing in the early 1950s, renders black as "invisible". From this humiliated/privileged vantage point he restlessly prowls his neighbourhood, becoming a passionate street activist. Every scene is vivid to the point of hyper-reality and for a man who feels invisible, Ellison has a palette as bright as that of any writer: "I looked towards the window to see an eruption of colour, as though a gale had whipped up a bundle of brightly coloured rags. It was an aviary of tropical birds ... I watched the surge and flutter of the birds as their colours flared for an instant like an unfurled oriental fan".
Read about the other books on the list.

Invisible Man comes in second on the list of the 100 best last lines from novels; it appears among Joyce Hackett's top ten musical novels, Sam Munson's six best stoner novels, and John Mullan's list of ten of the best nameless protagonists in literature.

The Page 99 Test: Peter Forbes' Dazzled and Deceived.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The ten best American poems

At the Guardian, Jay Parini named the ten best American poems.

One poem on his list:
"Because I could not stop for death" by Emily Dickinson

A perfect poem, and one of Dickinson's most compressed and chilling attempts to come to terms with mortality. Once read, it stays in the head forever, in part because of the ballad stanza, so weirdly fresh in her capable hands.
Read about the other poems on Parini's list.

Emily Dickinson is one of Ruth Padel's top 10 women poets. "I Watched the Moon Around the House" by Emily Dickinson made John Mullan's list of ten of the best examples of Moon poetry.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The 10 best modern European crime writers

Observer Sports Editor Brian Oliver named the ten best modern European crime writers.

One entry on his list:
Arnaldur Indridason

Meet Inspector Erlendur. Lugubrious, lonely and brilliant at his job. He tries to patch up failed relationships, most notably with his drug-addict daughter and estranged son, but mostly fails, and sits at home reading about death and desolation. His problems date to his childhood, when his brother disappeared in a blizzard, and Erlendur survived. Decades later, he is still looking for the body – and solving crimes in a country vividly brought to life. Or perhaps vivid is not the best adjective: there is plenty of gloom, harsh living, and bad, bad weather. Wonderful
Read about the other writers on the list.

Read Indridason's answer to the question, "What do you think American readers would be most surprised to learn about Icelandic people or society?"

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 14, 2011

Ten of the best lectures in literature

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

One title on the list:
The Constant Gardener by John le Carré

Old-school British diplomat Justin Quayle is married to Tessa, a campaigner against the shady activities of pharmaceuticals companies in Africa. They meet when the fiery Tessa attends a lecture Quayle gives on Britain's role in the third world. She berates him afterwards, and he naturally falls for her.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Constant Gardener also appears among Charles Cumming's five best works on espionage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Top ten books about troubled families

Rachel Seiffert is the author of the Booker-shortlisted novel The Dark Room and an acclaimed collection of short stories, Field Study.

She was named one of Granta's Best of Young British writers, and one of 25 "women writers to watch" in the Orange Futures promotion. Her most recent novel is Afterwards.

A few years ago she named a list of the top 10 books about troubled families for the Guardian.

One title on the list:
Disgrace by JM Coetzee

David Lurie, a professor of literature, disgraces himself in middle age by sleeping with one of his students. To escape the repercussions, he goes to stay on his daughter's farm, but once there has to cope with a further, far more profound disgrace, as the farm is attacked, and his daughter is raped. It's a searing look at the racial politics of post-apartheid South Africa, but the emotional strength of the book lies in this struggle between father and daughter.
Read about the other books on the list.

Disgrace also appears on Ian Holding's top ten list of books that teach us about southern Africa; it is one of Vendela Vida's favorite books of the last ten years, one of Yann Martel's five favorite books, and one of T.C. Boyle's four favorite books to turn to for comfort.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Reading list: the Beat poets

For the Independent, Gillian Orr came up with a brief reading list on the Beat poets.

One book on the list:
Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg

A landmark portrayal of a “generation destroyed by madness” and the downtrodden lives of Ginsberg and his fellow “angelheaded hipsters”, ‘Howl’ is one of the most important poems of the post-war period. The story of the obscenity trial that followed its 1956 publication forms the basis of the new film, Howl, starring James Franco.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 11, 2011

Five best Chinese life stories

Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom is a Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine, and a co-founder of The China Beat blog. His books include Global Shanghai, China's Brave New World, Twentieth-Century China, and China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know.

He recommended some choice "Chinese Life Stories" with Alec Ash at FiveBooks, including:
Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China
Leslie T Chang

Your fifth pick is Leslie Chang’s Factory Girls, which tells, in wonderful detail, the stories of young women who leave their families across China’s countryside to work in the factories of southern China. What do you love about this book?

I love the way it’s written, and the way that Chang blends her own life story in with it. She pairs the story of her family’s migration out of China to the United States, where she grew up, to the movement of young women from rural China to urban China today. And she sets up a parallel between the way that American cities were transformed by overseas immigrants who fuelled the American industrial rise, with the enormous migration today – that doesn’t involve crossing an ocean or leaving one country for another – of rural dwellers to the world of Chinese cities.

I also love the way she brings to our attention the distinctive personalities of young Chinese women. She describes them as working in very difficult conditions, but often experiencing them as liberating, because they have so much more freedom and control over their private life than they had in their villages, where male-dominated family structures remain powerful.

For a Western journalist and author – even if she is ethnically Chinese – do you think it’s hard to uncover the real personality of someone natively Chinese?

Absolutely, but actually you put your finger on something very significant. I think the fact that Leslie Chang is ethnically Chinese did make a difference in her ability to tell certain kinds of story, and she’s fairly upfront about that. At one point she goes back to visit the village of one of the girls who she’s got to know, and she’s told she’ll be sleeping in the bed with the other females of the family. It’s hard to imagine that kind of entrĂ©e into local family life if she hadn’t been ethnically Chinese.

But I think there’s a challenge for any ethnographer – and this book is in ways very much like an ethnography – to get at people’s real opinions and feelings. You have to invest a lot of time into it, and she spent a lot of time, over an extended period, getting to know these people, and getting them to share things with her that they wouldn’t have in a more casual interview setting.

Her husband is Peter Hessler, who’s written a fair few Chinese life stories himself.

It’s quite amazing to think of two members of a couple who have written books that are very different from one another, but share skilful writing and deep empathy for the people that they’re describing.

I also loved being able to end with this book, having begun with Susan Mann’s. Mann’s book is an effort to bring to life the experience of privileged women who were ignored in the historical record; whereas Chang’s is about less privileged women a century later who, in the specificity of their experience, are also ignored.

Before I let you go, I’ll cave in and allow you a sixth recommendation – what would you suggest to a China novice as their first book about the country?

For China as it is now, Peter Hessler’s Country Driving is a wonderful place to start. It gives you a sense of the sheer speed at which the country is being transformed, and how at a human level people are experiencing and dealing with that.
Read about the other books Wasserstrom recommended.

In 2010 Timothy Hallinan called "Factory Girls ... the best nonfiction book I've read all year, and hands down the best in a long chain of books about modern China."

See Wasserstrom's list of five books that explain the myths & facts about China.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Five best chefs' memoirs

At The Daily Beast, Tien Nguyen recommended five addictive books by cooks, including:
Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

In what may be the complete antithesis to Jacques Pepin, Anthony Bourdain writes unabashedly about the hostile, cutthroat competition in the kitchen, complete with expletives, rampant drug use, and sex in the back of the house. Underneath all that testosterone, though, split-second glimpses of Bourdain's vulnerabilities seep through, and transform the book from a hedonistic action-adventure to poignant character study. Threaded between the anecdotes are fascinating insights into the economics of running a restaurant. A book that Bourdain probably thought would deter earnest would-be chefs only fueled a new generation ready to battle for the toque.
Check out the other books on the list.

Read an interview with John Tesar, a chef who appears in Kitchen Confidential under the pseudonym "Jimmy Sears."

Kitchen Confidential is among the Guardian's top ten food books of the last decade, David Kamp's six books notable for their food prose, and Trevor White's ten notable books about dining.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Top ten novels about societies under stress

Justin Cartwright's novels include the Booker-shortlisted In Every Face I Meet, the Whitbread Novel Award-winner Leading the Cheers and the acclaimed White Lightning, shortlisted for the 2002 Whitbread Novel Award, The Promise of Happiness, winner of the 2005 Hawthorden Prize and the acclaimed The Song Before It Is Sung. Cartwright was born in South Africa and lives in London. Other People’s Money, his latest novel, is both a subtle thriller and an acutely delineated portrait of a world and a class.

For the Guardian, he named his top ten state of the nation novels. "When nations are undergoing some form of stress, be it financial or ethical or even military, state of the nation novels tend to be more numerous," he writes; "they come in many guises, but they have one thing in particular, that they provide a commentary or a judgment on the times."

One title on his list:
American Pastoral by Philip Roth

The best of Roth's state of Jewish America novels. It has a maturity and a lyricism and was perhaps a necessary journey away from his staple character, Nathan Zuckerman, who has only a small part in this book.
Read about the other novels on Cartwright's list.

American Pastoral is on Sheila Hancock's list of her six best books Maria Semple's list of her six best books, and among Ward Just's five favorite novels about the pursuit of money. It appears on John Mullan's list of ten of the best riots in literature and Jason Diamond's list of "The 50 Most Essential Works Of Jewish Fiction Of The Last 100 Years."

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Five best books on anti-revolutionary British loyalists

Maya Jasanoff teaches history at Harvard University and is the author of Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (2011).

For the Wall Street Journal, she named a five best list of books on anti-revolutionary British loyalists.

One title on her list:
The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson
by Bernard Bailyn (1974)

Bernard Bailyn had already published his seminal "The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution" (1967) when he turned his attention to the "losers," hoping to understand "why any sensible, well-informed, right-minded American with a modicum of imagination and common sense could possibly have opposed the Revolution." The result is an elegant, penetrating profile of Thomas Hutchinson, royal governor of Massachusetts. "It is hard to imagine anyone less disposed by background or heritage to betray his countrymen," writes Bailyn. Yet as tensions escalated between Britain and the colonies, the "rational, circumspect and cool" Hutchinson consistently upheld British sovereignty—only to see his "high hopes and eager expectations" descend into "disillusionment, a search for understanding, bewilderment, and finally despair." The governor's house was savagely vandalized in the Stamp Act riots of 1765; he was vilified, burned in effigy and eventually driven into exile. He died in England in 1780, feeling betrayed by both sides in a war he had fervently sought to avoid.
Read about the other books on Jasanoff's list.

The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson also appears among Jay Winik's five best portraits of the era of America's founding.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 7, 2011

Five best books on labor unions

Richard B. Freeman holds the Herbert Ascherman Chair in Economics at Harvard University.

He recommended a few books on labor unions to Eve Gerber at FiveBooks, including:
Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States
Albert O. Hirschman

[Gerber:] Your work seems greatly influenced by that of economist Albert O Hirschman. Can you please expound on the theory put forth in Hirschman’s treatise, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, and explain how you applied it to unions?

[Freeman:] Albert Hirschman is one of the most creative thinkers we have in economics. Exit, Voice, and Loyalty was picked by the Times Literary Supplement as one of the most influential books of the last century.

They key idea is that when things are going wrong in democratic societies and market economies, people have two options: exit and voice. Now, what did Hirschman mean by exit and voice? Say you are in a restaurant and your soup is too salty. One option is too storm out. That’s exit. The other option is to call the waiter over and say, ‘Please bring the soup back and ask the chef to make it less salty.’ That’s voice.

His book inspired me to look at unions through somewhat different eyes than most economists. People too often think that workers have only one choice in the competitive market: if you don’t like your job, get another. But there is another choice – you can go to the employer, individually or as a group, and say, ‘let’s change what’s not working’. That’s what unions do.

This simple notion of voice runs through Hirschman’s work. Voice is what democracy is all about. When we don’t like how things are going in America, we don’t exit or expatriate. We vote – we voice our concerns to our elected representatives; we try to effect change to make our country better.

I took the key insight of Hirschman’s analysis and applied it to unions, pointing out that unions give workers a mechanism for voice as a group. They help resolve workplace grievances; bring helpful suggestions to the attention of management; and lower turnover, which benefits firms. These hypotheses were strongly backed up by the all the data we and other people have looked at. Giving voice to workers is one of the key benefits that unions bring, to society, to the economy and to the individual firms where they are organised. There is one other element. Organised labour represents workers’ voices in our broader democracy. Of course, when they support one party, the other party doesn’t like them too much. I think that’s what we are seeing now.
Read about the other books on Freeman's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 6, 2011

T.C. Boyle's four favorite books to turn to for comfort

T. C. Boyle's many novels include World's End (winner of the PEN/FaulknerAward), Drop City (a New York Times bestseller and finalist for the National Book Award), and the newly released When the Killing's Done.

One of his four favorite books to turn to for comfort, as told to The Daily Beast:
by J.M. Coetzee

To my mind, perhaps the greatest novel of our era, and one, like his Age of Iron, that rends your soul. David Lurie, Coetzee's protagonist, is disgraced for a fling with a student, but then, in the countryside of post-apartheid South Africa, discovers what true disgrace and humiliation are—and what the human soul requires above all. Read it with a martini in hand and maybe a cigarette and an oozing steak. I sob every time I reach that grueling and beautiful final scene
Read about the other books Boyle tagged.

also appears on Ian Holding's top ten list of books that teach us about southern Africa and among Yann Martel's five favorite books; it is one of Vendela Vida's favorite books of the last ten years.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Ten of the best scenes on London Underground

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best scenes on London Underground.

One title on the list:
Atonement, by Ian McEwan

Briony seems to be about to redeem herself when she parts from Cecilia and Robbie at Balham tube station. But it is Balham station "which in three months' time would achieve its terrible form of fame in the Blitz". German bombs break a water main, drowning those sheltering on the platforms – including one of the novel's characters.
Read about the other entries on the list.

also appears on Mullan's lists of ten of the best breakages in literature, ten of the best weddings in literature, and ten of the best identical twins in fiction. It is one of Stephanie Beacham's six best books.

Also see: Stephen Smith's top ten subterranean books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 4, 2011

Reading list: flooding

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

One book on the list:
After the Flood by Robert Polidori

Between September 2005 and April 2006, renowned architectural photographer Robert Polidori made a series of visits to New Orleans to photograph the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

The result is After the Flood, a collection of images – equally poignant and beautiful – of the ghost town that was left behind.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Simon Kernick's five favorite thrillers

British thriller writer Simon Kernick talked to Daisy Banks of FiveBooks about a few favorite thrillers, including:
Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane

Your final book is Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane.

I love this book; this really is a thriller, and a beautifully written one. For me, Dennis Lehane is one of the best American thriller writers alive today. This is one of his early books from his Kenzie and Gennaro series – a male and female partnership of private investigators based in Boston. He wrote five books featuring them in the 1990s.

They are very much fast paced books with a lot of action. Gone Baby Gone is the fourth in the series and to me the best. They made it into a film which had great reviews. It’s about the disappearance of a four-year-old girl who’s abducted from a house without a trace. After the police search reveals nothing her uncle and aunt hire Kenzie and Gennaro to try and find the little girl. It all takes place over about a year but the tension is really built up. Another child goes missing in similar circumstances a few months later, and after this things move very rapidly.

Kenzie and Gennaro end up uncovering both worrying police corruption, and a ruthless nest of paedophiles. What Lehane does well is move the plot along but not always in a straight line. Kenzie and Gennaro end up involved in very different investigations as part of their search for the little girl. There is one superb action scene which is the best action scene I have ever read. I won’t go into too much detail but it takes place in the middle of the book and the tension and the way it is put together is amazing. You have a heart-stopping 25-page scene in this old dark house, and you just have to read the book to appreciate how good it is.

It’s also a very moving book. I won’t say what happens, but at the end, Patrick Kenzie has to make a huge decision, and as a reader you are desperate for him to make the right one – so much so that I actually found myself shouting at the book! This is what Lehane can do; he can drag you into the book so it feels almost like a true story, and you are desperate for justice to be done. For me, Gone Baby Gone ticks all the boxes. It’s brilliantly written, with a brilliant, twisting plot, and superb characterisation. I have read it about three times, and it is probably due another outing.
Read about the other books on Kernick's list.

Gone, Baby, Gone is one of Irvine Welsh's 5 best crime novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Top ten eccentrics in literature

For the Guardian, David McKie, author of Bright Particular Stars: A Gallery of Glorious British Eccentrics, named a top ten list of eccentrics in literature.

One character on his list:
Sairey Gamp, in Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens

In the novels of Dickens it's the non-eccentrics who are in the minority, but Mrs Gamp is one of the richest among the majority with her unquenchable flow of proverbs, her inventive relationship with her friend Mrs Harris, and the fragrance she carries with her, as her creator says, "borne upon the breeze, as if a passing fairy had hiccoughed and had previously been to a wine-vault."
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The 10 best neglected literary classics

For The Observer, Rachel Cooke came up with a list of the ten best neglected literary classics.

One novel on the list:
The Blank Wall
Elisabeth Sanxay Holding (1947)

The Blank Wall has been filmed twice – as The Reckless Moment in 1949, and as The Deep End in 2001 – and its author was admired by Raymond Chandler. But does it hold up today? Oh, yes. Lucia Holley is a suburban housewife coping alone while her husband serves in the Pacific. Then, one morning, she finds the body of her teenage daughter’s dubious lover and, desperate to protect her family, rapidly becomes implicated in his murder. Will she keep her cool? Atmospheric and difficult to put down, Sanxay Holding is as clinical and as clever as Patricia Highsmith.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue