Saturday, April 30, 2011

Richard Schickel's five favorite books

Richard Schickel is a film historian, filmmaker, and film critic. He is the author of 37 books and the director-writer-producer of dozens of film and television documentaries largely about film makers and about movie history.

Among his best known books are: The Disney Version; D.W. Griffith: An American Life; Intimate Strangers: The Culture of Celebrity; Clint Eastwood: A Biography; and, Good Morning, Mr. Zip Zip Zip (a memoir).

Schickel's most recent title is Conversations with Scorsese.

One of his five favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg

I guess a movie guy must include a Hollywood novel among his choices. It’s hard to do, since most of them are so awful. But Schulberg’s book, the rags-to-riches tale of screenwriter Sammy Glick, remains an unpretentious, persistent delight. It’s hard for a novel to be both lovable and mordant, but Schulberg’s manages with authentic panache.
Read about the other books on Schickel's list.

Also see: Richard Schickel's 5 best show-biz biographies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 29, 2011

Ten works of fiction that might change the way you look at nature

At io9 Annalee Newitz named ten works of fiction that might change the way you look at nature, including:
Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood

Together, these biotech apocalypse novels tell the story of what happens when two mad scientists decide to save the planet by replacing humanity with a more environmentally-friendly intelligent species. Set in a future where genetic engineering is commonplace, and the super rich extend their lives with spa treatments, the two novels show us how a horrific, humanity-destroying plague affects both the rich as well as a commune of radical environmentalists.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Oryx and Crake is one of Liz Jensen's top 10 environmental disaster stories; Year of the Flood is on the Guardian's list of books to change the climate.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Five best books on the Kennedys

David Nasaw is Arthur M Schlesinger, Jr. Professor of History at CUNY’s Graduate Center. His biography of William Randolph Hearst, The Chief, won the Bancroft Prize, and his acclaimed biography of Andrew Carnegie was shortlisted for the Pulitzer. He is currently working on a biography of Joseph P. Kennedy.

One book about the Kennedy family that Nasaw discussed with Emma Mustich at FiveBooks:
Conversations with Kennedy
by Benjamin C. Bradlee

...Let’s move on to Ben Bradlee’s book, Conversations with Kennedy.

I chose Bradlee for two reasons. One, you see Bradlee struggling to be a journalist and a friend at the same time; two, you see Jack Kennedy struggling to have a journalist as a friend. Given that, Bradlee – who only writes this book after Kennedy’s death – is privy to secrets and situations that no one else could have experienced, seen or heard. And you really get a sense of the Kennedy administration and of Kennedy’s personality that you don’t get anywhere else. You get a sense that this is the real Kennedy.

The book is warm, the book is personable; you see a Kennedy who has a temper, who uses language he shouldn’t, who is struggling with an impossible job, and who’s smart as can be in attempting to manage his job and his public image.

So the Bradlee-Kennedy friendship offers more advantages than disadvantages when it comes to the composition of the book?

I think it offers both. One of the reasons I like the book is that Bradlee is very clear, right from the beginning, that the two of them are great friends, and they’re both using each other. And each knows that the other is using him. There are times when you feel that you’re almost in a Pinter play, with web of suspicion built on web of suspicion. Nonetheless, given the fact that they both recognise that they’re using each other, Bradlee writes with a degree of intimacy and is granted a view of Kennedy that is not available anywhere else, and I think both men knew that this book would not be written until the Kennedy political career was over. And I don’t think it was written until ‘75.
Read about the other books Nasaw discussed at FiveBooks.

Also see: Thurston Clarke's five best books about John F. Kennedy.

The Page 69 Test: David Nasaw's Andrew Carnegie.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Five books that helped shape Ian McEwan's novels

Ian McEwan's works have earned him worldwide critical acclaim. He won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1976 for his first collection of short stories First Love, Last Rites; the Whitbread Novel Award (1987) and the Prix Fémina Etranger (1993) for The Child in Time; and Germany's Shakespeare Prize in 1999. He has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction numerous times, winning the award for Amsterdam in 1998. His novel Atonement received the WH Smith Literary Award (2002), National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award (2003), Los Angeles Times Prize for Fiction (2003), and the Santiago Prize for the European Novel (2004). He was awarded a CBE in 2000. In 2006, he won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel Saturday, and his novel On Chesil Beach was named Galaxy Book of the Year at the 2008 British Book Awards. McEwan has been named the Reader's Digest Author of the Year for 2008, the 2010 Peggy V. Helmerich Distinguished Author Award, and in 2011 was awarded the Jerusalem Prize. His most recent novel is Solar.

From McEwan's discussion about books that have helped shape his novels, with Alec Ash at FiveBooks:
Rabbit at Rest
by John Updike

Would you go to Updike for sex, if not Larkin?

I think some of the descriptions of sex in Updike are extraordinary. I could never follow him down his route because his gift is one I’ve never hoped to emulate, which is the visual. In a sense he almost debunks or destroys the thing he’s describing, because of his clinical eye, but it does take my breath away. In this realm he’s a master of the hyper-real.

Talk a little about John Updike if you will, who died not long ago, in 2009. Your third book is Rabbit at Rest, the fourth of his ‘Rabbit’ novels.

Updike has been a very important writer for me, the one I’ve admired most, read most, and returned to most often. I was deeply touched by his death. I felt that we had conversations unfulfilled – we got to know each other a little in the last six or seven years of his life, and we had a correspondence.

What was he like, his character?

He was impenetrably courteous. At first, quite difficult to get beyond his very gentlemanly, polite and considerate shell. He protected himself. Behind this shell was all of his work. It was easier to get a more intimate Updike by writing letters. If I wrote, I’d get a response by return of post, apologising for being so quick, just as I would be apologising for my delayed replies. He said it was the only way he could keep his desk clear. But of course it was not that at all. This was a highly organised mind with boundless creative energy. He could turn in 1200 words of fiction in a day, write a review or an essay, and still address his correspondence.

You’ve called him ‘the greatest novelist writing in English at the time of his death’. What is it about Updike that deserves that praise?

Great sentence-maker; extraordinary noticer; wonderful eye for detail; great fondler of details, to use Nabokov’s phrase. Huge comic gift, finding its supreme expression in the Bech trilogy. A great chronicler, in the Rabbit tetralogy, of American social change in the 40 years spanned by those books. Ruthless about women, ruthless about men. (Feminists are wrong to complain. There’s a hilarious streak of misanthropy in Updike). He reminds us that all good writing, good observation contains a seed of comedy. A wonderful maker of similes. His gift was to render for us the fine print, the minute detail of consciousness, of what it’s like in a certain moment to be another person, to inhabit another mind. In that respect, Angstrom will be his monument.

You say feminists are wrong to criticise him, but there is that criticism – that he has a ‘male gaze’. Do you face the same challenges when you write female characters?

I have done occasionally. It means nothing to me. This is a visual form. Remember Conrad’s exhortations in the preface to The Nigger of the Narcissus: ‘I am trying…by the power of the written word…to make you see.’

Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom was, I gather, an inspiration for Michael Beard, the protagonist of Solar?

I crouched in Updike’s shadow. I set myself the problem of having an unsympathetic hero, and enticing a reader to stay in his company for the length of a novel. With Rabbit, Updike showed us how this is achieved. Rabbit is not the nicest of men, his is a narrow consciousness, he’s of limited education, deeply ungenerous in the private life – remember how he makes love to his son’s wife? Grumpy, irritable, bigoted in some respects, and yet somehow Updike succeeds in making him the prism through which 40 years of American social change is observed, and 40 years of close shifts within family relations, adulterous affairs and the tragedy of a lost child.

How does he do this? Well, he invents an altered or heightened realism. He gives Rabbit his own – Updike’s – thoughts, and yet somehow he makes them plausibly Rabbit’s. Rabbit has reflections on mortality that could only be, in any realistic frame, Updike’s. But he makes them Rabbit’s; he shoehorns them into this limited mental space. It’s a rhetorical trick. In short, what Updike succeeds in doing is to make Rabbit interesting. He might not be good, but he’s interesting, and we travel with him for that reason alone. I can’t claim for a moment to have come anywhere near this with Michael Beard, but that was the example at my side.

When I feel my faith flagging in the whole enterprise of fiction – and all writers experience this – a few pages of Updike will restore my energies and optimism.
Read about the other books McEwan mentioned.

Rabbit at Rest is one of six books that made a difference to Samantha Bee. Updike's Rabbit, Run figures among Julian Barnes' best books to travel with, William Sutcliffe's top 10 relationship novels, and Aifric Campbell's top ten list of favorite jobs in fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Colin Thubron's six favorite books about Asia

Colin Thubron is an acknowledged master of travel writing. His first books were about the Middle East—Damascus, Lebanon, and Cyprus. In 1982 he traveled in the Soviet Union, pursued by the KGB. From these early experiences developed his great travel books on the landmass that makes up Russia and Asia: Among the Russians; Behind the Wall: A Journey through China; The Lost Heart of Asia; In Siberia; Shadow of the Silk Road; and most recently, To a Mountain in Tibet.

One of his six favorite books about Asia, as told to The Week magazine:
Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian

Part memoir and part novel, this haunting journey through inland China is at once a voyage into myth and history, and a journey into the author’s fragmented selves. In 2000, Gao became the first Chinese writer to win the Nobel Prize.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ten of the best honeymoons in literature

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

One honeymoon on the list:
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

As disastrous as a honeymoon gets. The description of the terrible food at the Dorset hotel where Edward and Florence spend their first night together is almost as painful as the description of their first attempt at sex.
Read about the other honeymoons on Mullan's list.

On Chesil Beach also appears among Eli Gottlieb's top 10 scenes from the battle of the sexes, and on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best beaches in literature, ten best marital arguments in literature, and ten of the best failed couplings in fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Reading list: stand-up comedy

At the Independent, Will Dean named a reading list on stand-up comedy. One of five books on the list:
Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

A straight telling of Martin's career as a stadium-packing funnyman, Born Standing Up recounts Martin's transition from teenage wannabe magician to comic. Like [Stewart] Lee, Martin technically analysed every element of his work – he'd record, transcribe and refine sets – a perfectionism that, he explains, made his time at the top a depressing one.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Top five non-religious books on living a good life

One title on A.C. Grayling's top 5 list of non-religious books on living a good life:
Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1776-1789

Although the whole of this gripping and majestic work is too much for most people in our hasty and hurried age, the (in)famous and important chapters 15 and 16 are an instructive read, for whose sake the whole is worth having. But the whole is worth having, too, for its salutary lessons regarding the fate of a great power, warning inheritors of its mantle what the future can hold.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is one of 110 books in the Telegraph's perfect library. Scott Turow hasn't read it, but he'd like to.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 22, 2011

The ten best new history books

At the Independent, Samuel Muston tagged the 10 best new history books.

One title on the list:
Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable

A prodigiously researched, elegantly written study of one of the 1960s' Americas most enigmatic figures, which takes a refreshing no-holds-barred approach to debunking the myths that surround the man.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Top ten quest narratives

Robert Irwin has published six novels including The Arabian Nightmare, The Mysteries of Algiers, Exquisite Corpse, and Satan Wants Me. He is the author of ten works of non-fiction including The Arabian Nights: A Companion, Night and Horses and the Desert: The Penguin Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature and For Lust of Knowing. His latest book, Memoirs of a Dervish: Sufis, Mystics and the Sixties, is out this month in the UK.

For the Guardian he named a top ten list of quest narratives. One book on the list:
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Underlying all the satire, snobbery, nostalgia and hedonism, a strong spiritual theme provides Waugh's novel with both its structure and its underlying meaning. Brideshead Revisited is really a platonic, Roman Catholic allegory. From the moment he encountered Sebastian Flyte in 1920s Oxford, Charles Ryder, without realising it, had embarked on a quest that would bring him to God (though this is only implied, for the novel ends before the inevitable culmination). The beauty of Sebastian and Julia Flyte, as well as of Brideshead, are only foreshadowings of the ultimate source of all beauty.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Brideshead Revisited is one of Val McDermid's top ten Oxford novels and Christopher Buckley's best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ten best fictional mothers

The Observer came up with a list of the ten best fictional mothers, including:
Sophie Zawistowski
Sophie’s Choice

The unhappy life of Sophie Zawistowski is uncovered in flashback in William Styron’s bestselling 1979 novel. The story emerges piecemeal from Sophie, an alcoholic Polish immigrant who gradually tells the novel’s narrator about her horrific wartime experiences in Warsaw after her father and husband are murdered and she is incarcerated in Auschwitz. There she is forced by a doctor to choose which of her two children will be gassed. Sophie (played by Oscar-winning Meryl Streep in the 1982 movie) has never forgiven herself for leaving her seven-year-old daughter behind - a guilt that will destroy her.
Read about the other mothers on the list.

Also see a list of the ten worst mothers in fiction, Kate Saunders' critic's chart of mothers and daughters in literature, and Eleanor Birne's top ten books on motherhood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ten of the best visits to Brighton in literature

For the Guardian, John Mullan tagged a list of ten of the best visits to Brighton in literature.

One title on the list:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Lydia Bennet begs to be allowed to go to Brighton with her friend Mrs Forster. There she will flirt with the officers of the militia, encamped on the edge of town. Mr Bennet gives his permission – disastrously. For in Brighton she will meet Mr Wickham and fall into sin.
Read about the other books on the list.

Pride and Prejudice also appears on Catghy Cassidy top ten list of stories about sisters, Paul Murray's top ten list of wicked clerics, John Mullan's list of ten great novels with terrible original titles, Luke Leitch's top ten list of the most successful literary sequels ever, and is one of the top ten works of literature according to Norman Mailer. Richard Price has never read it, but it is the book Mary Gordon cares most about sharing with her children.

The Page 99 Test: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 18, 2011

6 hugely popular books that accidentally screwed the world

At Cracked Jacopo della Quercia tagged six hugely popular books that accidentally screwed the world.

One title on the list:
Jaws, by Peter Benchley

It's the book that made the entire planet collectively shit their pants, go swimming, and then shit their pants all over again once the movie came out.

Together, the Benchley-Spielberg tag team established Robert Shaw as a badass, Richard Dreyfuss as Richard Dreyfuss, the Jaws theme as the last thing you hear before you die, and the fact that the great white shark proves Mother Nature only wants to murder us.

The Ugly Aftermath:

You'd think the world's oceans would be safer now that books and movies like Jaws have inspired countless angry fishermen to kill sharks 'round the clock. Well, they are. In fact, things are now so safe that one-third of the world's sharks are facing extinction, thanks in part to a little phenomenon called "The 'Jaws' effect."

Once it became clear that sharks were suddenly and rapidly going the way of the dodo, Peter Benchley dedicated the remainder of his life to promoting awareness that sharks aren't as bad as he claimed: "We knew so little back then, and have learned so much since, that I couldn't possibly write the same story today."

Sharks have since been added to the endangered species list, thanks in part to what Benchley described as "popular ignorance about sharks." You know, like the idea that they'll kill you if you don't blow them up with an oxygen tank first.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Jaws by Antonia Quirke is one of David Thomson's five best books about making movies. The Jaws Log by Carl Gottlieb, with an ­introduction by Peter Benchley, is one of John Krasinski's best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The 11 best books about the Civil War

Malcolm Jones writes about books, music, and photography for The Daily Beast and Newsweek. He is the author of a memoir, Little Boy Blues, and collaborated with the songwriter and composer Van Dyke Parks and the illustrator Barry Moser on Jump!, a retelling of Brer Rabbit stories.

For The Daily Beast, he named the eleven best books on the Civil War, including:
Battle Cry of Freedom
by James McPherson

The Confederates don’t open fire on Ft. Sumter until page 273, and if that doesn’t tell you that this historian is all about context, then nothing will. But if ever a conflict wanted context to be understood, this is the war. McPherson begins with a brief look at the Mexican war of 1847, where many of the men who would determine the course of the Civil War first saw combat or held commands. He then moves through Bloody Kansas, Dred Scott, and the various compromises that came and went as an ever more fractured nation sought ever more patchwork ways to hold together. The lesson is clear: battles are fine, but you have to understand the why—the arguments and assumptions and predispositions that led to the battles and in many cases affected their outcome. If any of this sounds dry, it isn’t. McPherson is a skillful writer and a discriminating historian. There are very good reasons why this book is so often called the best single-volume history of the war, and to find out why, all you have to do is open it and read a few pages. After that, it’s mighty hard to stop.
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see: Ten best novels about the American Civil War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bettany Hughes's 6 best books

Bettany Hughes is an author, historian and chair of judges for the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction. Her new book is The Hemlock Cup.

One of her six best books, as told to the Scottish Sunday Express:
The Iliad
by Homer

This might sound obvious or marginally pretentious but this epic and its companion volume The Odyssey sing with passion and timeless insights into the human condition. And he comes up with remarkably sensitive phrases: children are a “welcome burden” in the lap, Athena brushes away an arrow from a warrior as gently as “a mother shooing a fly from her sleeping child”.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Iliad also appears on James Anderson Winn's five best list of works of war poetry and John Mullan's lists of ten of the best funerals in literature and ten of the best examples of ekphrasis. It is one of Karl Marlantes's top ten war stories.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 15, 2011

Top 10 "unsuitable" books for teenagers

Patrick Ness has written two books for adults, (the novel The Crash of Hennington and a short story collection titled Topics About Which I Know Nothing). He published The Knife of Never Letting Go, his first young adult book, in 2008. It won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize and the Booktrust Teenage Prize. The sequel, The Ask and the Answer, won the Costa children's fiction prize, and was followed by the final book in the trilogy, Monsters of Men. His new novel, A Monster Calls, will be published next month in Britain.

For the Guardian, he named a top ten list of "unsuitable" books--that is, books best read when people tell you you're too young for them--for teenagers, including:
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger

The obvious first choice, but not necessarily because of its literary reputation. It needs to be read when you're young. If you first meet Holden Caulfield when you're too old, the desire to give him a good slap might impede your enjoyment.
Read about the other titles on the list.

The Catcher In The Rye appears on David Ulin's six favorite books list, 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

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ten best novels about the US Civil War

The staff of the Christian Science Monitor came up with a list of the ten best novels of the U.S. Civil War.

One title on the list:
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

This 1975 Pulitzer Prize winner tells the story of the horrendous four-day Gettysburg Battle from the perspective of various protagonists on both sides of the divide. This is the book that Civil War documentarian Ken Burns says "changed my life."
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Top ten books with teens behaving badly

At the Guardian, Cat Clarke, author of the YA novel Entangled, named a top ten list of books with teens behaving badly.

One title on the list:
Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

The ever-amazing Courtney Summers shows just how terrifying teenage girls can be with the Fearsome Fivesome, a Heathers-style gang of girls who rule the school and turn against one of their own with a viciousness that makes you wince. This book will catapult you straight back to your school years, and might even make you wonder whether you should have been a little nicer...
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 69 Test: Courtney Summers's Some Girls Are.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A reading list of unfinished novels

At the Independent, Gillian Orr came up with a brief reading list of unfinished novels with one title for the categories postmodernism, crime, modernism, autobiographical, and satire.

The crime novel on the list:
2666 by Roberto Bolaño

The Chilean had spent five years on the epic 2666 when he died in 2003. Having completed four-and-a-half of the five parts, his publisher went ahead and printed the unfinished manuscript. In 2008, Bolaño was posthumously awarded the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction for 2666, which depicts the serial murders of women in Cuidad Juárez, Mexico.
Read about the other unfinished books on the list.

2666 was #1 in one tabulation of the critics' consensus book of the year for 2008.

Also see John Mullan's list of ten of the best unfinished literary works.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 11, 2011

Top ten deranged characters

Edward Docx is the author of The Calligrapher, Self Help, and The Devil's Garden.

For the Guardian, he named a list of literature's top ten deranged characters. One novel on the list:
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

Nabokov is the undisputed king of the charming, demented narrator. In Pale Fire, Charles Kinbote is ostensibly an academic ostensibly commentating on what is ostensibly his best friend's poem. But it becomes slowly apparent that Kinbote actually believes himself to be Charles the Beloved, the exiled king of Zembla, a fairytale kingdom. And yet, Kinbote may not be Kinbote at all but an alter-ego of the insane Professor V Botkin, to whose delusions the ostensible poet, Shade, and his campus colleagues apparently pander.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Pale Fire's John Shade is among John Mullan's ten best fictional poets. It is one of Tracy Kidder's six best books as well as the novel Charles Storch would save for last. It is one of "Six Memorable Books About Writers Writing" yet it disappointed Ha Jin upon rereading.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ten of the best journalists in literature

For the Guardian, John Mullan named a list of ten of the best journalists in literature.

One entry on the list:
Thomas Fowler

In Graham Greene's The Quiet American, Fowler is a British foreign correspondent covering the French military campaign in Vietnam. His work has made him (naturally) weary and cynical. In between visiting the frontline and filing his reports, he pursues a love-hate relationship with Alden Pyle, the American of the title.
Read about the other journalists on the list.

The Quiet American is among Charles Glass's five best books on Americans abroad, Robert McCrum's books to inspire busy public figures, Malcolm Pryce's top ten expatriate tales, Catherine Sampson's top ten Asian crime fiction, and Pauline Melville's top 10 revolutionary tales.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Paul McEuen's six favorite books

Paul McEuen is a professor of physics at Cornell University and author of the debut sci-fi thriller, Spiral. He named his six favorite books for The Week magazine.

One book on the list:
Marathon Man by William Goldman

When I was in the 9th grade, my English teacher slipped me this classic about runner Babe Levy and his mysterious brother, Doc, setting off a lifetime of thriller reading. Goldman's versatility is amazing — how do you write Marathon Man and The Princess Bride in the space of a year?
Read about the other books on McEuen's list.

Marathon Man is on Howard Gordon's list of the five best thriller plots with terror themes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 8, 2011

A reading list on depression

At the Independent Alice-Azania Jarvis came up with a reading list on depression.

The memoir on the list:
Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression

Founding editor of Elle, Sally Brampton had a lot to be happy about: a high-flying career, a family and home. But a string of events – a divorce, a move and a thyroid problem – saw her mood plummet. In this lucid account of 21st-century depression, she recalls how she attempted suicide and how she recovers her health thanks to therapy and support from friends.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Five books to help aspiring writers

Andrew Cowan is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing and Convenor of the MA in Creative Writing (Prose Fiction) at the University of East Anglia. He is a graduate of the MA and was for some years the Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow at UEA. He is the author of four novels: Pig, which won several literary prizes including the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award and was longlisted for the Booker Prize, Common Ground, Crustaceans, and most recently What I Know, which received an Arts Council Writer’s Award. His Creative Writing guidebook is The Art of Writing Fiction.

Cowan recommended a handful of books to help aspiring writers to Daisy Banks of FiveBooks, including:
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
by Stephen King

I never would have expected the master of terror Stephen King to write a book about writing. But your next choice, On Writing, is more of an autobiography.

Yes. It is a surprise to a lot of people that this book is so widely read on university campuses and so widely recommended by teachers of writing. Students love it. It’s bracing: there’s no nonsense. He says somewhere in the foreword or preface that it is a short book because most books are filled with bullshit and he is determined not to offer bullshit but to tell it like it is.

It is autobiographical. It describes his struggle to emerge from his addictions – to alcohol and drugs – and he talks about how he managed to pull himself and his family out of poverty and the dead end into which he had taken them. He comes from a very disadvantaged background and through sheer hard work and determination he becomes this worldwide bestselling author. This is partly because of his idea of the creative muse. Most people think of this as some sprite or fairy that is usually feminine and flutters about your head offering inspiration. His idea of the muse is ‘a basement guy’, as he calls him, who is grumpy and turns up smoking a cigar. You have to be down in the basement every day clocking in to do your shift if you want to meet the basement guy.

Stephen King has this attitude that if you are going to be a writer you need to keep going and accept that quite a lot of what you produce is going to be rubbish and then you are going to revise it and keep working at it.

Do you agree with him?

Yes, I do. I think he talks an awful lot of sense. There is this question which continues to be asked of people who teach creative writing, even though it has been taught in the States for over 100 years and in the UK for over 40 years. We keep being asked, ‘Can writing be taught?’ And King says it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, but what is possible, with lots of hard work and dedication and timely help, is to make a good writer out of a merely competent one. And his book is partly intended to address that, to help competent writers to become good ones. It is inspirational because he had no sense of entitlement. He is not a bookish person and yet he becomes this figurehead.
Read about the other books Cowan recommends.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Five best books on evil

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.

With Daisy Banks at FiveBooks, Haslett recommended five books on evil, including:
Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil
Peter Maass

Your next choice is very pertinent – this is Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil by Peter Maass.

Yes, this was written before the spill in the gulf but it is a very well-written and detailed account of how countries have been affected and infected by the oil industry and how their politics have been distorted. It covers places like Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, New Guinea and Ecuador.

They are all places where, particularly with those last three, the power of the corporations is larger and more organised than the structure of governance. It shows the way in which business of that scale, even if practised under what passes for law in those countries, ends up as corruption. So there is this evil of greed and disequilibrium of one substance taking over an entire economy and the effects that has on the possibility of any other kind of development.

What is interesting to me is how different countries deal with this situation. It is so different in Africa to, say, in the United Arab Emirates or in other places where populations are less dense and the existing clan structure means the wealth is spread through a somewhat larger network of people; of course, those people then hire millions of guest workers to perform the labour of their budding service economies, and that creates a different, more nominally legal form of exploitation and neglect.

Do you think the reaction to the BP oil spill is very different because it has happened in the US rather than in a country like Nigeria?

It is certainly true that press coverage changes everything so that the amount of attention it gets is a function of how much media the US has to spend on it. But I think the quantities are so high at the moment that it’s difficult to overestimate the long-term consequences of this event.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Page 69 Test: Adam Haslett's Union Atlantic.

The Page 99 Test: Peter Maass's Crude World.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Five best books on the won't-grow-up modern male

Kay S. Hymowitz, author of Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys, named a five best list of books on the modern male who won't grow up for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on her list:
About a Boy
by Nick Hornby (1998)

Nick Hornby is the most prolific chronicler, and possibly even the literary discoverer, of the child-man, the post-adolescent but pre-adult male whose life is measured by indie-rock bands and fleeting relationships with women. In this novel, 36-year-old Will Freeman (note the name) drifts through singles London's cafés and music stores on a steady stream of royalty checks from his dead father's hit Christmas song. He joins a single-parents group to meet women who, he figures, are desperate for the sensitive, child-loving man he pretends to be. Along the way Will actually takes pity on 12-year-old Marcus, the socially clueless son of a depressed single mother. Growth ensues. Hornby is not an especially subtle writer, and his work rarely surprises or enchants, but he is a sharp observer of how the media shape the young-male sensibility, in particular its celebration of hip, cool detachment.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 4, 2011

Jonathan Kellerman's six favorite books

Jonathan Kellerman, author of the Alex Delaware novels, named his six favorite books for The Week magazine.

One title on the list:
The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

James and I were hanging out when he wrote this novel, and I think it’s among his finest. Dark, down, and dirty, meticulously plotted, an intriguing spin on an unsolved murder that has fascinated true-crime buffs for decades.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Black Dahlia also appears on David Bowman's list of five great noir novels from the post-Chandler generations.

Also see Kellerman's top 10 LA noir novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ten of the best teeth in literature

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

One entry on the list:
Dracula by Bram Stoker

Jonathan Harker, a guest of the Count, cannot help noticing those incisors. "The mouth ... was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth. These protruded over the lips". As he smiled, "his lips ran back over his gums, the long, sharp, canine teeth showed out strangely".
Read about the other entries on the list.

Dracula is on Rowan Somerville's top ten list of good sex in fiction, Arthur Phillips' list of six favorite books set in places that their authors never visited, and Anthony Browne's six best books list. It is one of the books on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best wolves in literature and ten of the best mirrors in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The 10 best photobooks

For the Independent, Samuel Muston named a list of the ten best photobooks.

One title on the list:
Rose, c'est Paris, by Bettina Rheims

Surrealism, confused identity and obsession colour this survey of the seamy side of the French capital. Not one for your granny.
Read about the other photobooks on the list.

Also see John Buckle's ten best photography books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 1, 2011

Reading list: Scientology

In March 2011 at the Independent Gillian Orr came up with a brief reading list about Scientology.

One title on the list:
Battlefield Earth by L Ron Hubbard

Before Scientology, Hubbard was a celebrated pulp sci-fi author, publishing dozens of novels. He mainly gave up writing in the Fifties, but in 1982, he published Battlefield Earth. Set 1,000 years in the future, when Earth is ruled by an alien race, a film adaptation starring Hollywood Scientologist John Travolta was made in 2000 and is widely considered to be one of the worst films ever made.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue