Thursday, June 30, 2011

Top ten historical novels

Andrew Miller was born in Bristol in 1960. His first novel, Ingenious Pain, was published in 1997 and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Grinzane Cavour prize in Italy. He has since written five novels: Casanova, Oxygen, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel Award and the Booker Prize in 2001, The Optimists, One Morning like a Bird, and Pure.

One of his top ten historical novels, as told to the Guardian:
I, Claudius by Robert Graves

I'm told that Graves wrote the Claudius novels in order to raise a little money. Whatever the motive – and writers should never be entirely believed when they speak of such things – the Claudius novels are insanely readable tales of violence, incest and family life in the days of the Roman Imperial high noon. Everyone knows the brilliant TV adaption with Blessed and Jacobi and Sian Phillips but perhaps not everyone has read the novels. They should.
Read about the other novels on the list.

I, Claudius also appears on Mark Malloch-Brown's list of his six favorite novels of empire, Annabel Lyon's top ten list of books on the ancient world, Lindsey Davis' top ten list of Roman books, and John Mullan's list of ten of the best poisonings in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A reading list on labor strikes

At the Independent Alice-Azania Jarvis compiled a brief reading list on strikes, including one classic novel:
In Dubious Battle by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck's novel about politics and labour in the United States, In Dubious Battle, is set in California apple farming country, where a strike by migrant workers spirals out of control, becoming a bloody clash of ideologies.

Events are seen through the eyes of Jim Nolan, a disillusioned young man who joins the Communists and – at least initially – stokes the strike's furnaces.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

8 books every college-bound student should read

At Flavorwire, Colette McIntyre tagged eight books every college-bound student should read, including:
Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

Salinger’s appearance on this list should come as no surprise — his writing best depicts adolescent alienation and longing. While a high-school graduate would undoubtedly be familiar with Holden Caulfield and his hatred of phonies, graduation merits introduction to the Glasses. Composed of a short story and a novella, Franny and Zooey introduces us to the two youngest members of the Glass family as they try to survive in a seemingly inauthentic world. In those dark, late-night, “what-am-I-doing-here?” moments that are an inevitable part of any college experience, Franny and Zooey’s rhapsodizing on egotism and the importance of education will provide much-needed comfort and camaraderie.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 27, 2011

The greatest Shakespeare homages & cover versions in SF

At io9, Charlie Jane Anders and Lauren Davis developed a list of the greatest Shakespeare homages and cover versions in science fiction and fantasy.

One novel on the list (which includes many television shows and movies):
Harry Turtledove, Ruled Britannia:

Shakespeare also finds his way into Turtledove's alternate history novel about the Spanish occupation of England during the Elizabethan period. English revolutionaries tap Shakespeare to compose a play about Boudicca, an ancient queen who led a rebellion against occupying Roman forces, hoping to stir up similar revolutionary attitudes. This leaves Turtledove to try his hand at composing lines in the style of Shakespeare.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Ten of the best foundlings in literature

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

One entry on the list:

A dark-skinned child is found on the streets of Liverpool by Mr Earnshaw, who takes him back to his Yorkshire home (adoption laws being looser in those days). The home is Wuthering Heights and the child is named Heathcliff. Earnshaw's son, Hindley, grows to hate the interloper; his daughter Catherine to love him. In Emily Brontë's novel, the introduction of this foundling stirs a brew of terrible passions.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Wuthering Heights appears on Valerie Martin's list of novels about doomed marriages, Susan Cheever's list of the five best books about obsession, and Melissa Katsoulis' top 25 list of book to film adaptations. It is one of John Inverdale's six best books and Sheila Hancock's six best books.

The Page 99 Test: Wuthering Heights.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Five best books with novel approaches to kindness

Linda Grant is a novelist and journalist. She won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2000 and the Lettre Ulysses Prize for the Art of Reportage in 2006. Her novels include The Clothes on Their Backs, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2008, and the recently released We Had It So Good.

At the Wall Street Journal she named a five best list of books with novel approaches to kindness, including:
Brighton Rock
by Graham Greene (1938)

It was bold of the Catholic convert Graham Greene to make the atheist in "Brighton Rock" the one who understands kindness. The two Catholic devotees in Greene's thriller, the psychopath Pinkie and his love-struck girlfriend, Rose, are so consumed with excitement over their sinful transgressions that they have lost touch with reality. Ida Arnold, the nonbeliever, with her dyed hair, her plump bosom and her lipstick, hunts down Pinkie to save Rose from him, driven simply by empathy for the girl's vulnerability. In the 1947 film version, Greene enthusiastically agreed to a rewrite of the ending in which there appears to be a miracle and the chance of redemption for Rose. Poor Ida, cheated of the unsought moral high ground.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 24, 2011

Five books on unexpected economics

Tim Harford is the author of The Undercover Economist and The Logic of Life.

His new book is Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.

At The Browser, he discussed with Sophie Roell five unexpected economics books, including:
Normal Accidents
by Charles Perrow

[Y]our first choice is seemingly not about economics at all. It’s called Normal Accidents and is by Charles Perrow. He is, I believe, an expert on the safety of systems and, in this book, argues that as technology gets more complex, the odds of tragic accidents occurring are increasing.

Yes. Charles Perrow is still going strong: I think he is now in his eighties. He is a sociologist, but got very interested in unintended consequences, and from looking at those, got very interested in technological disasters. For him, at the time he published the first edition of this book, Three Mile Island [the nuclear core meltdown in Pennsylvania in 1979] was the definitive one. It prefigured Chernobyl. And then he revisits the subject at the end of the 1990s. The book goes through awful accidents in complex systems and explores why they happened – the human failings that go into them, the systemic consequences, the fact you could have a very small error that propagates and propagates. It’s quite a technical book, but it’s wonderful and completely compelling.

I originally read the book because I wanted to write about a particular accident. My sister is a qualified safety engineer, and she gave me a bunch of safety engineering books. But as I read Perrow’s book, I realised that it could have been written about the financial crisis. That was really shocking to me – this realisation that these banks and their interconnections were, in many ways, the same kind of system as a nuclear reactor, or at least had very important similarities.

And is there any way of avoiding this kind of disaster in future? Does the book shed any light on that?

Perrow is, in many ways, a pessimist. He says that if the system is too complicated, you will have accidents. There’s nothing you can do about it. Looking back at the history of financial crises, that’s probably appropriate. But one thing that comes out of the book is the idea that we tend to make systems more complex by adding safety systems on top of them, and that the safety systems themselves create new ways for things to go wrong. That was a key problem in the financial crisis. A lot of banks were taking bets and then insuring themselves with credit default swaps (CDS). Credit default swaps were, basically, insurance contracts that banks wrote, often with [the big insurance company] AIG. Or banks were repackaging sub-prime mortgages into vehicles that were supposed to make risky loans safe. These two innovations – the packages of sub-prime loans and the credit default swaps – were both safety systems. But they were both absolutely crucial in explaining why the system blew up. I think that’s a central and really useful idea, that these safety systems are probably not helpful – and even when they are helpful, they will have unintended consequences.

Is that because they lull us into a false sense of security?

That is one of the things they do. In the case of credit default swaps, they were specifically designed to allow banks to take more risks, with the approval of regulators. The entire point was to allow more risks to be taken. So yes, absolutely, that is part of the problem. But also, just by virtue of making the system more complex, they introduce new ways for things to go wrong. That was very much the case with Three Mile Island. Three Mile Island was a nuclear accident triggered by a safety system. In the case of the financial crisis, credit default swaps introduced unexpected links in the financial system. You have small banks with what appear to be perfectly safe packages of loans, insured with credit default swaps. But those insurance contracts turned out to be links to risks elsewhere in the system.

It’s a bit like climbing a mountain. You’re roped together, and you think the rope is making you all safer. Then, suddenly, a couple of people fall off. You realise that it’s the rope that’s dragging you all off the cliff – even people who were never in trouble themselves.
Read about the other books Harford tagged.

Visit Tim Harford's website.

Tim Harford: top 10 undercover economics books.

The Page 69 Test: The Undercover Economist.

The Page 69 Test:The Logic of Life.

The Page 99 Test: Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Top ten island stories

Sjón (Sigurjón B. Sigurðsson) was born in Reykjavik on the 27th of August, 1962. He started his writing career early, publishing his first book of poetry, Sýnir (Visions), in 1978. He won the Nordic Council's Literature prize for The Blue Fox, which was also longlisted for the Independent foreign fiction prize in 2009.

His new novel is From the Mouth of the Whale, which A.S. Byatt praised as the work of an "extraordinary and original writer."

Sjón named his top ten island stories for the Guardian.

One title on the list:
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Christie's crime novel is the original "island mystery" much imitated in other novels and films. A group of 10 people who all have at one point in their lives been involved in a murder and got away with it, are invited to an island where, one by one, they are murdered in ways relating to the nursery rhyme "Ten Little Soldiers". The murders are never explained as the killer is one of the 10 and kills himself in the end. It is surprisingly nasty book that turns a whole island into a nihilistic, murderous music box.
Read about the other books on the list.

And Then There Were None is one of Pascal Bruckner's five best books on guilt.

Also see Romesh Gunesekera's top ten island books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Five best books on betrayals of love

Tessa Hadley is the author of The Master Bedroom, Sunstroke and Other Stories, Everything Will Be All Right, Accidents in the Home, and The London Train.

For the Wall Street Journal she named her five best books on betrayals of love.

One title on the list:
Broken Lives
by Lawrence Stone (1993)

This book of case studies accompanies Lawrence Stone's magisterial history, "Road to Divorce: England, 1530-1987." Until the early 19th century, all divorces were transacted in the ecclesiastical courts, where witness statements were taken down verbatim, in private. The resulting material is a vivid and poignant record of the sorrows and adulteries of England's upper and middle classes. Servants were bribed not to tell about the stains on the bed linen. Thomas Turst beat his wife and kept her a naked prisoner in the attic. The Duchess of Beaufort dared not take her lover into her bed, so they -coupled clumsily on chairs in the dining room or in the bushes outdoors. Emily Westmeath, cut off from her children after her adultery, broke into her daughter's dancing lesson; the girl announced that she knew what kind of woman her mother was and never wanted to see her face again. These are enthralling, sometimes heart-rending, glimpses into the history of private lives.
Read about the other titles on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Reading list: scandals

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

The contemporary novel to make the list:
Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller [US title: What Was She Thinking?]

A murky tale of middle-class scandal from Zoë Heller.

When Sheba, an art teacher, begins an affair with a 15-year-old pupil, she confides in Barbara, an older colleague and friend. But Barbara's intentions are flawed; she uses her position to render Sheba entirely dependent, a solution to her own loneliness and obsessions. It is also the subject of an excellent film adaptation starring Cate Blanchett.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Also see Henry E. Scott's five best books about scandals.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 20, 2011

A reading list for Natalie Portman: 5 new mom books

At the LA Times' blog Jacket Copy, Deborah Netburn recommended five books to Natalie Portman, Oscar-winning actor and new mother: her son was born on June 14, 2011.

One book on the list:
"Bossypants": It takes a while for Tina Fey to get to the mothering stuff in her recent memoir, but when she does, it's so good. Fey, like many modern moms, had trouble breastfeeding and rails against those moms with freezers full of breast milk who make women who can't nurse feel really bad about themselves. At one point she challenges a self-satisfied breastfeeding mom to a contest 13 years in the future to see whose child is smarter. Totally inappropriate and totally awesome. Bonus: It's available as an audiobook, so you can listen to it and feed your baby (by breast or by bottle) at the same time.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ten of the best drug experiences in literature

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

One title on the list:
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

Plenty of degradation in Welsh's tale of an Edinburgh heroin addict, but also an unconscionable observation of pleasure. "Sick Boy's are innocent and full ay wonder, his expression like a bairn thit's come through oan Christmas morning tae a pile ay gift-wrapped presents under a tree".
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Five best Civil War diaries

Harold Holzer, editor of Hearts Touched by Fire: The Best Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, named a five best list of Civil War diaries for the Wall Street Journal, including:
Mary Chesnut's Civil War
Edited by C. Vann Woodward (1981)

One hundred and Fifty years after the Civil War's outbreak, diaries of the conflict still have the power to grip us. One of the most compelling memoirists of the war was an unapologetic child of the privileged Southern slave-ocracy: her father a plantation-owning South Carolina governor, her husband a pro-slavery U.S. senator from Virginia, later a military aide to Jefferson Davis. Combining unbridled access with literary flair, Mary Chesnut filled 48 notebooks with commentary that is often shrewd, tart and realistic—though it should be noted that years after the war, she rewrote the entries. Soon after the South's early victory at Bull Run, she recorded a friend saying that the success "sent us off in a fool's paradise of conceit at our superior valor." Edmund Wilson called the diary "a masterpiece." For a glimpse into the intrigues plaguing the shaky Confederate government, Southern privations and a privileged circle's chilling indifference to slavery, the book is peerless.
Read about the other titles on the list.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ann Patchett's favorite books

Ann Patchett's books include the new novel, State of Wonder.

One of her six favorite books from her reading over the last year, as told to The Daily Beast:
A Perfect Spy
by John le Carré

I read this book after every person at a large dinner party claimed it was his or her all-time favorite novel. They told me I had to read it immediately. Excellent advice.
Read about the other books on the list.

A Perfect Spy is one of Jonathan Miles's five best books on the secrets of espionage and one of Philip Pullman's forty favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Top 10 disability stories

Katharine Quarmby is a writer, journalist and film-maker specializing in social affairs, education, foreign affairs and politics, with an investigative and campaigning edge. She has spent most of her working life as a journalist and has made many films for the BBC, as well as working as a correspondent for The Economist, contributing to British broadsheets, including the Guardian, Sunday Times and the Telegraph. She is now an associate editor at Prospect magazine.

Scapegoat, her first non-fiction book on disability hate crime for adults, is now available in the UK.

One of Quarmby's top ten disability stories, as told to the Guardian:
Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville (1851)

Herman Melville's Captain Ahab, who hunts the Great White whale that tore off his leg, is an unforgettable character – a physically disabled character that is quite clearly not unmanned by his impairment. He is, instead described as standing firm on his ivory leg, with an "infinity of firmest fortitude, a determinate, unsurrendable wilfulness" to hunt down Moby-Dick. On the other hand, his obsession with killing the animal that disabled him is disturbing, to say the least.
Read about the other stories on the list.

Moby-Dick also appears among Jonathan Evison's six favorite books, Bella Bathurst's top 10 books on the sea, John Mullan's list of ten of the best tattoos in literature, Susan Cheever's five best books about obsession, Christopher Buckley's best books, Jane Yolen's five most important books, Chris Dodd's best books, Augusten Burroughs' five most important books, Norman Mailer's top ten works of literature, David Wroblewski's five most important books, Russell Banks' five most important books, and Philip Hoare's top ten books about whales.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Reading list: fatherhood

At the Independent Gillian Orr came up with a reading list on fatherhood. Her choice of memoir:
Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama

Written in 1995, when the future President was preparing to launch his political career, this memoir is a striking account of coming to terms with one's identity. The son of a black African father and a white American mother, Obama's parents split up when he was two years old. Obama Sr returned to Africa and his son only saw him once again. With the help of tales from his family and an emotional trip to Kenya, Obama is able to form an image of his father.
Read about the other books on Orr's list.

Dreams from My Father
also appears on Sammy Perlmutter's list of the five best books from Nobel winners who didn't win their medal for literature and Iain Finlayson's critic's chart of six books on young leaders.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Five best history books that tell unexpected tales

Harry Stein's books include How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (and Found Inner Peace) and I Can’t Believe I’m Sitting Next to a Republican.

For the Wall Street Journal he named a five best list of works of history that tell an unexpected tale, including:
Destined to Witness
by Hans J. Massaquoi (1999)

The very existence of this startling memoir—about growing up black in Nazi Germany—challenges our ingrained sense of the historically plausible. The child of a German mother and a Liberian diplomat father, Hans Massaquoi is 7 when Hitler assumes power, so proudly German that he actually tries to join the Hitler Youth. But he soon begins to grasp the monstrous truth. He's a precocious student but treated by his teachers as subhuman. Strangers feel free to abuse him in public. When, as a teenager, he begins secretly seeing a German girl, his mother—terrified but prim—takes to leaving newspapers open to reports on the executions of those caught in forbidden liaisons. At war's end there's one last twist: Making it to the States, Massaquoi winds up as a top editor at Ebony magazine.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 13, 2011

Julia Donaldson's six best books

Julia Donaldson has written more than 120 books for children and teenagers, including The Gruffalo (the animation of which was nominated for an Oscar and a BAFTA), Room on the Broom, Stick Man, Cave Baby, Freddie and the Fairy and What the Ladybird Heard, as well as the award-winning teenage novel Running on the Cracks.

In 2010, Donaldson was the most borrowed children’s author from UK libraries.

She has just been named Britain's seventh Children's Laureate.

Donaldson named her six best books for the Scottish Sunday Express.

One title on the list:
To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee

What can I say? This is a perfect book which is moving, utterly convincing and beautifully written. No wonder Harper Lee never wrote anything else.
Read about the other books on Donaldson's list.

To Kill a Mockingbird also made TIME magazine's top 10 list of books you were forced to read in school, John Mullan's list of ten of the best lawyers in literature, John Cusack's list of books that made a difference to him, Lisa Scottoline's top ten list of books about justice, and Luke Leitch's list of ten literary one-hit wonders. It is one of Sanjeev Bhaskar's six best books and one of Alexandra Styron's five best stories of fathers and daughters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Six books about military disasters

James Fergusson started out in journalism in 1989. His books include: Kandahar Cockney: A Tale of Two Worlds, The Vitamin Murders: Who Killed Healthy Eating in Britain?, and A Million Bullets: The Real Story of the British Army in Afghanistan.

His latest book is Taliban: The Unknown Enemy.

One of Fergusson's top six books about military disasters, as told to The Week magazine:
Good-bye to All That: An Autobiography by Robert Graves

The most moving account of trench warfare that I know. Before he became a successful poet and novelist, Graves survived the Battle of Loos during World War I, which saw the first mass deployment of British Field Marshal Herbert Kitchener’s army of civilian volunteers. Some 50,000 Britons were killed or wounded, for no territorial gain.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Ten of the best bows and arrows in literature

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best bows and arrows in literature.

One title on the list:
The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien

The archer is the leg-spin bowler of any fictional company. In Tolkien's narrative it is the elf, Legolas. His longbow has been given him by Galadriel, its bowstring made of elvish hair, and with his extra-sharp eyesight he is a deadly marksman. His top achievement is shooting one of the Nazgûl out of the sky – at night.
Read about the other entries on the list.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ten fantasy sagas wronger than "Twilight"

"[H]ard as it is to believe, Twilight's conclusion isn't the wrongest thing a fantasy writer has ever committed to paper," write Charlie Jane Anders and Michael Ann Dobbs at io9. Here is one of their "10 other fantasy or paranormal romance sagas that go to places that would make even Stephenie Meyer say, 'Wait. You went there?':"
The Cat's Fancy by Julie Kenner

Nick is an attorney who's engaged to marry the uber-bitchy daughter of his boss. His black cat, Maggie, is totally devoted to him and hates Nick's fiancee — so she decides to do whatever it takes to keep Nick for herself. She somehow convinces the magical Old Tom to transform her, so that she appears as a naked woman on Nick's doorstep. By day, she's a cat. By night, she's a naked lady stalking Nick. She has one week to get him to say he loves her, or she loses. But she still sort of has the mind of a cat. Read here for an excerpt, including the great scene where she crawls around on all fours, still naked. Later in the book, she forgets she's supposed to be human and starts eating kitty treats. By all accounts, this is a fun paranormal romance... as long as you don't think too much about a guy and his pet cat hooking up.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Geraldine Brooks's favorite historical fiction

Australian-born Geraldine Brooks is an author and journalist who grew up in the Western suburbs of Sydney, and attended Bethlehem College Ashfield and the University of Sydney. She worked as a reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald for three years as a feature writer with a special interest in environmental issues, and later for The Wall Street Journal, where she covered crises in the the Middle East, Africa, and the Balkans. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 2006 for her novel March. Her first novel, Year of Wonders, is an international bestseller, and People of the Book is a New York Times bestseller translated into 20 languages.

Her latest novel is Caleb’s Crossing.

One of her favorite works of historical fiction, as told to The Daily Beast:
Wolf Hall
by Hilary Mantel

A justly lauded masterpiece. The Tudor period is well-trodden ground in historical fiction and I admit I picked this book up wearily, thinking I knew it all. From the first pages it was clear that Mantel had sidestepped the ruts and blazed her own highly original path through the intrigues of Henry's court. Her Thomas Cromwell truly is a man in full; perhaps the most completely realized character study in the fiction of this or any other era.
Read about the other books on the list.

Wolf Hall made Lev Grossman's list of the top ten fiction books of 2009; Matt Beynon Rees called it "[s]imply the best historical novel for many, many years."

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Five books on global power

Joseph S Nye Jr. is Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor, and former Dean of the Kennedy School. He has served as Assistant Secretary of Defence for International Security Affairs, Chair of the National Intelligence Council and Deputy Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, Science and Technology. His books on international relations include Soft Power, The Power Game, The Powers to Lead, and The Future of Power.

One book from his dialogue about books on global power with Anna Blundy at The Browser:
Rivals: How the power struggle between China, India and Japan will shape our next decade
by Bill Emmott

That brings us to Bill Emmott’s book.

Yes, Rivals. Emmott notes that as we look at the rise of China, and the question of whether China will present the kind of challenge to the US that Athens did to Sparta or Germany did to Britain in the 20th century, we have to ask whether fear of the rise of China in the US will create that kind of reaction in the 21st century.

And what does he conclude?

He says that if you look more carefully, you see that Asia has its own internal balance of power. Asia is not just one country. As China’s power grows, the Japanese, Indians, not to mention the Vietnamese, South Koreans and so on become worried and ask themselves – how can we balance that power? That makes them actually welcome America’s presence, so you find that the situation in East Asia is an internal balance of power which may play to America’s favour. For example, these countries want an American alliance or close relationship. If one took an analogy, Mexico might be looking for a Chinese alliance to balance American power in North America. That means the US does not have to be so fearful. Are we about to fall into Thucydides’s trap of creating a great conflagration out of unnecessary fear of a rising power? No. For one thing, the historical analogy of Britain, Germany and World War II doesn’t fit East Asia because Germany had passed Britain by 1900 whereas China is not going to pass the US in terms of overall power for decades.

But who in the US is actually afraid of China? Presumably ordinary Americans aren’t wandering around afraid of being outdone by China?

Well, there is a growing concern about China in the US. In the last election campaign in 2010, several hundred million dollars were spent on advertisements which dramatised the rise of China. There is one that portrays a set of Chinese leaders and generals sitting around 10 years from now saying: “Look how foolish the Americans were to let us get ahead like this.”

That must be Republican!

They’re sometimes Republican but they can also include Democrats who are worried about the loss of jobs, and the trade unions who feel jobs are being stolen.
Read about the other books on Nye's list.

The Page 99 Test: Bill Emmott's Rivals.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Five best new ways of portraying lives

Lyndall Gordon's most recent book Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds is now available in paperback.

For the Wall Street Journal Gordon named a five best list of books with new ways of portraying lives, including:
Jane's Fame
by Claire Harman (2010)

'Jane's Fame' is a delightfully amusing history of Jane Austen's afterlife. Claire Harman's ironic voice is worthy of Austen herself, as she relates how the novelist was remodeled as inoffensive "dabbler" and then mounted on a pedestal as "Divine Jane." Families are wary of genius. Once fame is on the way, they strive to control it. So the Austen family alters an "ugly" portrait of the novelist to promote an image of pretty, modest, retiring lady. Harman undercuts this with a teasing denial from Austen herself: "I write only for Fame." Delving between the lines, Harman brings out the witty girl "hungry" for attention; the rejected novelist who perseveres to the point of "bloody-mindedness"; later an "assertive businesswoman" who finds her publisher a civil "Rogue." This writer is alive enough to counter the descendants of her family as they fight for possession of a genius they are too conventional to understand.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 6, 2011

Ten works of fantasy that are really science fiction

"Sometimes you're immersed to your eyeballs in a story about supernatural monsters, or medieval lands full of eldrich gods - when suddenly, you realize the whole damn story is really about science or an alien planet full of advanced technology," writes Annalee Newitz at io9. "You thought you were in the realm of fantasy, but instead you found yourself suddenly in the realm of science fiction."

One title on Newitz's list of "stories that seem like fantasy at first, but the science fiction creeps up on you:"
The Steel Remains, by Richard K. Morgan

This hard-hitting fantasy tale of a man and his seriously badass sword-fighting abilities seems like your standard fantasy fare. It's full of castles and kings and different "races" of elves and humans and such. Until you start to realize that those elf-like guys are actually connected to something that isn't so much a magical place as it is a crashed spaceship. This novel is of the most satisfying genre-benders out there, and luckily for us the sequel (The Cold Commands) comes out this summer.
Read about the other stories on the list.

The Page 69 Test: The Steel Remains.

Also see: 10 works of science fiction that are really fantasy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Ten of the best battles in literature

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

One title on the list:
War and Peace, by Tolstoy

Prince Andrei Bolkonsky is badly wounded fighting with the Russian army at the Battle of Austerlitz. As he lies injured he gazes up at the sky and begins to understand the pointlessness of the struggle in which he is involved.
Read about the other books on the list.

War and Peace also appears among Ann Shevchenko's top ten novels set in Moscow, Karl Marlantes' top ten war stories, Niall Ferguson's five most important books, Norman Mailer's top ten works of literature, and John Mullan's lists of ten of the best floggings in fiction and ten of the best literary explosions.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Elaine Sciolino's six favorite books

Elaine Sciolino is the author of the award-winning book Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran. She is a Paris correspondent and former Paris bureau chief for The New York Times, having previously served as the newspaper’s chief diplomatic correspondent and UN bureau chief. In 2010, she was decorated a chevalier of the Legion of Honor. She has also been a foreign correspondent for Newsweek, based in Paris and Rome. She lives in Paris with her husband.

Her new book is La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life.

One of her six favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Wharton, the leading American female writer of the early 20th century, experienced her first, and most likely only, passionate love affair in the city of Paris. This novel explores the anticipation, longing, concealment, reserve, and deception of a deep love, never consummated.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Age of Innocence also appears on Frances Kiernan's five best list of books that helped her understand the ways of New York society and David Kamp's list of six books that are notable for their food prose, and is among Mika Brzezinski's 6 best books and Honor Blackman's 6 best books.

Learn more about Sciolino's La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 3, 2011

Five best forgotten Cold War thrillers

Jeremy Duns is the author of the Paul Dark trilogy of spy thrillers set in the Cold War. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden.

He named five of the best forgotten Cold War thrillers for Sophie Roell at The Browser, including:
The Private Sector by Joseph Hone.

Hone is pretty much completely forgotten now, but I think he rates with le Carré, and he’s quite similar to le Carré in prose style. The difference is that it has a lot more suspense than le Carré, quite a lot more melodrama, a lot more twists and turns in the action. But it’s beautifully described. It’s like reading Graham Greene or Eric Ambler – but yet it has quite a modern, twisty-turny feel to it as well.

I discovered this book by pure chance in a second-hand bookshop in Brussels years ago and I have read all of the novels Hone has written – I think there are five. But this is probably the best one. It’s set in 1967 mainly, in Egypt, and it’s to do with double agents, and also triple agents. It’s just brilliant characterisation but also an incredibly bleak picture. I quite like bleak novels about espionage and this one is very much of the old school: very cynical, hard-hitting spies betraying each other the entire time. But also the depiction of Egypt is fantastically atmospheric; it’s a brilliant book.

It’s also about the run-up to the Suez crisis?

It alternates between two different times. It’s about Suez, and it’s also about the Israel-Egypt stuff that went on 1967. It alternates between the two. At the centre of it is a classic mole hunt, which was very common in all of those British spy thrillers of the day, with a kind of Philby-esque character in it. But it’s about a guy who is an English teacher at a small English school in Cairo, which is based on an English boarding school, and he gets dragged reluctantly into this spy ring. It’s just brilliantly done.
Read about the other books on Duns's list.

Visit the official Jeremy Duns website.

Writers Read: Jeremy Duns.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Top ten childhood memoirs

Adopted at eighteen months, Caradoc King was brought up in a large and growing family. His adoptive mother, a complex woman, was unable to bond with her newly adopted son and treated him with a harshness bordering on cruelty. At the age of six, he was sent to a boarding school run by two brilliantly eccentric brothers. But this happy time ended abruptly when his adoptive mother became a passionate Catholic and removed him from the school.

From the age of eleven, Caradoc was shuttled from one school to the next, later failing to fulfil his mother's wish that he should join a seminary. When he was fifteen, he was informed that he had been adopted and, a year later, his parents ejected him from the family. Two years later, he scraped into Oxford and there, on his first day, he met Philip Pullman who was to become his first client when he set up as a literary agent. Thirty years later, Caradoc went in search of his natural family and began to make sense of the mystery of his two absent mothers.

His new memoir is Problem Child.

King named a top ten list of childhood memoirs for the Guardian, including:
Little House on The Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1935)

An American classic of happy family life and the third in the Little House series. Although written as third-person fiction it is directly about the Ingalls family, using real names, and their pioneering life in the 1870s. This book is about the problems and danger of squatting and finally having to abandon a little house on an Indian reservation in Kansas.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ten of the best lakes in literature

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

One title on the list:
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

Humbert Humbert has married Lolita's mother Charlotte Haze. One hot week in July, they take a dip in Hourglass Lake. Swimming out with his spouse "into the shimmer of the lake", Humbert has a thought: "The setting was really perfect for a brisk bubbling murder."
Read about the other entries on the list.

Lolita appears among Dan Vyleta's top ten books in second languages, Rowan Somerville's top ten books of good sex in fiction, Henry Sutton's top ten unreliable narrators, Adam Leith Gollner's top ten fruit scenes in literature, Laura Hird's literary top ten, Monica Ali's ten favorite books, Laura Lippman's 5 most important books, Mohsin Hamid's 10 favorite books, and Dani Shapiro's 10 favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue