Friday, September 30, 2011

Top ten classical books

Madeline Miller was born in Boston and grew up in New York City and Philadelphia. She attended Brown University, where she earned her BA and MA in Classics. For the last ten years she has been teaching and tutoring Latin, Greek and Shakespeare to high school students. She has also studied at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, and in the Dramaturgy department at Yale School of Drama, where she focused on the adaptation of classical texts to modern forms. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA, where she teaches and writes. The Song of Achilles is her first novel.

From her list of ten favorite classical works, as told to the Guardian:
The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer

Is it cheating to include them both? The first is Homer's action-packed and psychologically acute paean to a single man's rage. The second is the tumultuous journey of a war veteran struggling to get home to his family. Both are bursting with incident, poetry and amazing characters that grab the attention. When I began writing my own novel, I found myself constantly having to rein in digressions trying to include them all.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Iliad also appears on Bettany Hughes's six best books list, 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.

The Odyssey also made John Mullan's lists ten of the best shipwrecks in literature, ten of the best monsters in literature, ten of the best examples of rowing in literature, and ten of the best caves in literature, as well as Justin Somper's top ten list of pirate books and Carsten Jensen's list of the top ten seafaring tales.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Top ten fantasy books for children

Charlie Higson is a comedian as well as the bestselling author of the Young Bond series of novels and adult crime novels including King of the Ants. His new novel is The Fear.

For the Guardian, he named a top ten list of fantasy books for children.

One title on the list:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The feeling I got reading this book was similar to the one I got when I first read Darren Shan – we're not in Oz any more. The Hunger Games doesn't pull any punches. There are echoes of Greek mythology – the innocent young being sent off to ritually die in order to atone for the sins of the fathers. In a distant future (I know, I know…) the poorer provinces of North America are punished for daring to rise up (vainly) against the ruling elite by having to send children to compete in the annual hunger games. You keep thinking, oh well, I'm sure no one will actually get hurt, but the games are a fully armed fight to the death – and deaths there are a-plenty. A strong heroine, a well-realised society (with parallels to our own reality TV and celebrity-obsessed culture) unflinching violence… Fantastic.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Hunger Games also appears on Megan Wasson's list of five fantasy series geared towards teens that adults will love too.

Also see Charlie Higson's top ten horror books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ten best songs based on books

At The Observer, Mark O'Connell came up with ten of the best songs based on books.

One entry on the list:
Jefferson Airplane

White Rabbit

Drawing heavily on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, this 1967 psychedelic anthem fairly reeks of acid. Just as listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Fortunate Son makes the most mundane tasks – cleaning the oven, filing tax returns – feel like you’re being choppered in for a tour of duty in ’Nam, hearing Grace Slick sing White Rabbit makes you feel as though you’ve taken some psychotropic substance and are about to follow Alice down the rabbit hole. It’s difficult to think of a song more representative of late 1960s freak culture
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ten of the best books about Germany & Germans

Steve Kettmann, an American living in Berlin since 1999, is the author, co-author or editor of eight books, including four New York Times best-sellers. He has written a weekly column for East Berlin's Berliner Zeitung and is now at work on a memoir about German-American and German identity.

One of his recommended books about Germany and Germans--"in which neither the word 'Third' nor 'Reich' figures prominently and one finds nary a reference to that failed artist from Linz, Austria"--as told to The Daily Beast:
King, Queen, Knave, by Vladimir Nabokov

It’s often said that Vladimir Nabokov wrote Lolita in his second language, an astonishing fact given the dexterous word play and masterful command of English on display in that most writerly of novels, and this is true enough. Less widely known, though, is that after leaving Russia, Nabokov lived in Berlin for some 15 years starting in 1922 and was quite obstinate, even proud, about not bothering to learn more than fledgling German. The result is a period in his work, the Berlin novels, that provide a fascinating snapshot both of the man and the city. King, Queen, Knave, somewhat mawkish in plot with its classic love triangle of woman, husband, and woman’s lover/husband’s protégé, opens with a dazzling set piece and evokes the Berlin of its day with nonpareil vividness. Sample: “Berlin! In that very name of the still unfamiliar metropolis, in the lumber and rumble of the first syllable and in the light ring of the second there was something that excited him like the romantic names of good wines and bad women.”
Read about the other books on Kettmann's list.

Also see, Steve Ozment's five best books about Germany & Germans.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 26, 2011

Five best books on religious cults in antiquity

Mary Beard is a classics professor at the University of Cambridge and author of The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found and The Roman Triumph.

For the Wall Street Journal, she named a five best list of books on religious cults in antiquity.

One title on the list:
A World Full of Gods
by Keith Hopkins (1999)

The religious world of the Roman Empire, with its melting pot of cults, from Cybele (an import from the East that came complete with a retinue of self-castrated priests) to Christianity, is very distant. What did it feel like to offer sacrifice, to watch the wild dances or to join in religious ecstasy? After a lifetime of work on the politics and economy of the Roman world, Keith Hopkins in "A World Full of Gods" shares his puzzlement at the sheer strangeness of ancient religions. The book is written in an intentionally subversive style, with the first chapter following a pair of modern time-travelers to ancient Pompeii as they try (not very successfully) to make some sense of the religious world they find there. The next chapter features a group of filmmakers trying to recapture religious debates between pagans, Jews and early Christians. The whole book is interspersed with spoof letters from imaginary colleagues objecting to Hopkins's approach. Not a book for those who like their history "straight"; but a brilliant postmodern experiment.
Read about the other books on Beard's list.

The Page 99 Test: The Roman Triumph.

The Page 99 Test: The Fires of Vesuvius.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ten of the best thin men in literature

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

One entry on the list:
Clyde Wynant

Who he? Wynant is, or was, an inventor and is the eponymous thin man of Dashiell Hammett's hardboiled murder mystery The Thin Man. A skeleton is assumed to have belonged to a portly man because of the size of the clothes, but boozy investigators Nick and Nora Charles work out that the togs have been swapped. He was thin all along!
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Gal Beckerman's six favorite books about political movements

Gal Beckerman is the opinion editor at The Forward. He was a longtime editor and staff writer at the Columbia Journalism Review and has also written for the New York Times, Boston Globe, and The Wall Street Journal, among other publications. He was a Fellow at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Berlin and the recipient of a Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. His first book, When They Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone, a history of the Soviet Jewry movement, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in September 2010. It was named was one of the best books of the year by The New Yorker and the Washington Post, as well as winning the 2010 National Jewish Book Award.

One of Beckerman's six favorite books about political movements, as told to The Week magazine:
The Last Utopia by Samuel Moyn

Moyn's revisionist history is an argument for looking at the concept of human rights as a fairly new phenomenon, dating to the 1970s. While discounting the idea's role in shaping society in earlier centuries, he provides a great primer on the evolution of a revolutionary idea.
Read about the other books on Beckerman's list.

The Page 99 Test: Samuel Moyn's The Last Utopia.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 23, 2011

Five best film directors in fictional form

Award winning film historian Patrick McGilligan's new book is Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director.

One of McGilligan's five best film directors in fictional form, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
The New Confessions
by William Boyd (1988)

In William Boyd's grand pastiche of a novel, a Scotsman named John James Todd learns to handle a camera while making battlefield propaganda films during World War I. He moves in the Berlin of the 1920s, where F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang are turning silent-filmmaking into an art form. Todd has his own movie-making dream: a three-part epic of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's "The Confessions." He makes fitful efforts to film the story over the coming years, but romantic and professional complications intervene. Todd ends up in Hollywood making inferior westerns and honing his tennis game while still dreaming of his Rousseau project. During the postwar Hollywood blacklisting period, Todd's movie work dries up—his fellow-traveling during the 1920s is his undoing—and retreats to a Mediterranean villa to write his memoirs. "The New Confessions" may be the best of all novels involving a movie director, because it perfectly captures the monomaniacal quality common to filmmakers. I wonder why this darkly comic tour de force isn't more widely known; perhaps because, fortunately or not, nobody has made it into a movie.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Five books on the art of observation

Alexandra Horowitz holds degrees in philosophy and cognitive science, and teaches in the Department of Psychology at Barnard.

She is the author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know.

With Daisy Banks at The Browser, she discussed five books on the art of observation, including:
Manhole Covers
by Mimi Melnick (photos by Robert A Melnick)

I am intrigued to find out more about how Manhole Covers by Mimi Melnick fits in with your theme of looking at the world.

This covers the part of the world which is underfoot, and might be the way that a lot of people find most immediately rewarding – to start to look at an ordinary block in a way they haven’t before. For the most part, even in New York where a lot of old manholes have been replaced and covered with resin, there are still many, many beautiful examples of 19th century ironwork that we drive or walk over. And this book is a picture history of a number of these covers. The Melnicks were some of the first to publish images of metal covers as though they were art. I think the covers really are beautiful and it is surprising that there will still be millions of people walking around in cities who haven’t bothered to look at these covers, which have things on them like a radiating sun pattern, or to wonder about the initials that represent the iron forger or the company which commissioned the making of the manhole. And so from this book you can remember to walk down your block, gaze at what’s underfoot and enjoy that.

And it talks about all the different types as well, including coalholes, grates, lamp-holes, storm drains, steam covers and meter lids.

Yes, which are easily identifiable as soon as you have an eye for it. The phone lines and the electrical lines are all going to be represented by different covers.

It sounds a little bit like trainspotting.

There probably are collectors of these covers, too. And there was a point at which, unlike trainspotting, people were often stealing these manholes and taking them away to have at home or be sold as scrap.
Read about the other books Horowitz tagged.

The Page 99 Test: Inside of a Dog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Five best books on inamoratas and other women

Elizabeth Abbott is a writer and historian with a special interest in women's issues, social justice for all and sugarcane-cutters in particular, the treatment and lives of animals, and the environment. She has a doctorate from McGill University in 19th century history. She is the author of several books, including A History of Marriage, which completes her trilogy about human relationships with A History of Celibacy and A History of Mistresses.

One of Abbott's five best books about inamoratas and other women, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
Greek Fire
by Nicholas Gage (2000)

Greek-born American journalist Nicholas Gage gives us a splendid portrait of opera star Maria Callas's life as the mistress of Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. Their love ignited in the summer of 1959, on Onassis's yacht. Though unlikely lovers—Onassis derided opera as "Italian chefs shouting risotto recipes at each other"—Maria "flooded [him] with her love, surrendered totally." He divorced his first wife, Athina, a year after the affair began but then didn't marry Callas—and did embark, eight years later, on an unhappy marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy. Callas might have been a tempestuous diva, but she remained his closest friend and confidante. "Greek Fire" confirms, as many suspected, that in her heart-rending interpretation of "Tosca," Callas was also singing about her own life: "Vissi d'arte, Vissi d'amore." I lived for art, I lived for love.
Read about the other entries on Abbott's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Five books on torture

Juan E. Méndez is a visiting professor of law at the American University, Washington College of Law, and the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. A native of Argentina, Mr Méndez has dedicated his legal career to the defence of human rights and has a long and distinguished record of advocacy throughout the Americas. As a result of his involvement in representing political prisoners, the Argentinean military dictatorship arrested him and subjected him to torture and administrative detention for more than a year.

At The Browser, he discussed five books on torture with Daisy Banks, including:
by George Orwell

Finally you have chosen a classic, 1984 by George Orwell.

I think torture is not just the physical torture that we all associate with the word. It is also several forms of psychological and mental torture that can happen even on a massive scale.

Of course 1984 came and went and we didn’t have the kind of dramatic tyranny George Orwell predicted. But, perhaps we didn’t have it in 1984 because of his book 35 years earlier. I think it does alert us to the danger of unfettered state power, which under any circumstance always ends up committing violations against individuals and particularly the kind of violation that we associate with the word torture.
Read about the other books on the list.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ten of the best birthday parties in literature

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

One entry on the list:
Atonement, by Ian McEwan

In the surprising coda to this novel, most of which is set in the 1930s and 1940s, some of the characters meet again in 1999 to celebrate Briony Tallis's 77th birthday. The play she wrote as a child in the first chapter will at last be performed. But Briony knows that she is dying, and has to tell us the truth about those events long ago.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Atonement also appears on Jane Ciabattari's list of five masterpieces of fiction that also worked as films, and on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best misdirected messages in literature, ten of the best scenes on London Underground, 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: Ten of the best birthday poems.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Suzi Quatro's six best books

Suzi Quatro is a rock ‘n’ roll musician and actress whose biggest hits include "Can The Can" and "Devil Gate Drive."

One of her six best books, as told to the Daily Express:
Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

If you’re going to write one book in your life what a book to write. I like the way she goes into all the subplots. They don’t do that in the film; I guess it’s long enough. I read it again and again and can quote the dialogue from the film. It’s really embarrassing.
Read about the other books on the list.

Gone With the Wind was a book that made a difference to Pat Conroy. It is on the Christian Science Monitor's list of the ten best novels of the U.S. Civil War.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Jim Lehrer's six favorite 20th century novels

Jim Lehrer’s new book, Tension City, is a history of televised presidential debates, 11 of which he has moderated. Lehrer's many books include the novel, The Phony Marine.

For The Week magazine, he named his six favorite 20th century novels, including:
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby works on every one of the multitude of levels required of superior, serious fiction. And it is absolutely dazzling from its beginning to its famous last line: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
Read about the other books on Lehrer's list.

The Great Gatsby appears among John Mullan's list of ten of the best misdirected messages, Tad Friend's seven best novels about WASPs, Kate Atkinson's top ten novels, Garrett Peck's best books about Prohibition, Robert McCrum's top ten books for Obama officials, Jackie Collins' six best books, and John Krasinski's six best books, and is on the American Book Review's list of the 100 best last lines from novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top eight books about horses

Christian Science Monitor contributor Megan Wasson came up with a list of eight great books about horses.

One title on the list:
Horse Heaven, by Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley describes the world of horse-racing in almost anthropological detail. She sheds light on a world full of intrigue, danger, risk, and gambling, and while the people may be fascinating enough, it is her loving description of the horses that makes this book a keeper. You'll be cheering for every horse and will never watch a horse race in the same way again.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 16, 2011

Five worthy books on ancient Rome

Tom Holland's novels, most of which have a strong supernatural element, are set in various periods of history, ranging from ancient Egypt to 1880s London. He is also the author of highly praised works of history, including Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic, Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West, and Millennium: The End of the World and the Forging of Christendom.

With Daisy Banks at The Browser, Holland discussed five notable books on ancient Rome, including:
The Roman Triumph
by Mary Beard

Moving away from some of the great characters in Roman history, Mary Beard’s The Roman Triumph is a radical re-examination of one of Rome’s ancient ceremonies.

I have chosen this because a lot of books on Ancient Rome, my own included, generally like to tell stories that take fragments of evidence and piece them together to make a coherent narrative. But there is also a deep pleasure in looking at some of the things that we think we know about Rome, or the myths that we know are not actually true, taking the mystery to pieces and examining the works and seeing what is there. This is what Mary Beard does in her book. She looks at a “triumph”, which is a parade through the streets of Rome by a victorious general, where he parades the loot and the captives that he has taken on his campaign and he is being cheered by the people of Rome. This is the stuff that informs virtually every sword and sandal epic which has been made, it is there is Asterix and it is there in our English word triumph, and she looks at it and says, “Are the ideas that we have of it true? Are the ideas of the Romans who wrote about it true?” It is like paint stripping – she strips layer after layer after layer away and the mystery and the excitement of the book is wondering what will be left at the end.

And what is left?

I think it would spoil the excitement because that is the point of the book!

But how does she manage to go back so far and genuinely know that what she is revealing is right rather than what there was before?

Well, you have to trust her. It is like in any detective novel you have to trust the detective. She is such a scholarly yet wittily sceptical guide that as you read it you feel that you can trust her to lead you through the labyrinth that she is exploring and point out what is true and what is not, so by the time you get to her ultimate conclusion you are perfectly content to take her word for it.

She is very good at giving a fresh view on Roman history.

Yes, she probably wouldn’t like to be described as this but she is almost the Miss Marple of Roman history because she sees to the heart of a mystery and how it works. She is a scholar and there is a feeling that scholarship is somehow intimidating or frightening or unapproachable, but it isn’t. At base it is about questioning and exploring things that anyone can be guided through. That is what she does so well. She is not dumbing down but she is making accessible what is incredibly interesting.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 99 Test: Mary Beard's The Roman Triumph.

Also see: Harry Sidebottom's five best books on Rome, Lindsey Davis's top ten Roman books, and Annabel Lyon's top ten books on the ancient world.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Patrick Humphries' 6 favorite books about rock 'n' roll

Music journalist and biographer Patrick Humphries recently co-edited a new edition of Robert Shelton's landmark Bob Dylan biography, No Direction Home.

For The Week, he named his six favorite books about rock 'n' roll, including:
Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick

Elvis Presley lived the American dream, going from shack to mansion in only a few short years. It's a familiar story, but Guralnick astonishes us with his comprehensive account of the polite young truck driver who would become the king of rock 'n' roll.
Read about the other books on the list.

Last Train to Memphis is among Daisy Alioto's five worthy Elvis biographies and Sanjeev Bhaskar's six best books; it also appears on Robert Fontenot, Jr.'s top ten list of Elvis Presley books and Bob Stanley's critic's chart of top books about Elvis.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Five essential New York novels

Jay McInerney is the author of ten books, including Bright Lights, Big City.

With Eve Gerber at The Browser, he named five essential New York novels, including:
The Catcher in the Rye
by J D Salinger

Let’s move forward to the New York of 1949. You’ve said that our cultural landscape would have been different had JD Salinger not come along. Please explain.

Catcher in the Rye injected a fresh idiom into American literature. This happened several times in our literary history. Mark Twain in Huckleberry Finn and Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises did the same – they brought the contemporary spoken language into literature. When Salinger invented Holden Caulfield he gave his voice such freshness and vibrancy. Salinger also almost invented the concept of teenage angst – Salinger’s was the first voice of the youthquake that transformed our society in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Woody Allen told me that he occasionally reread The Catcher in the Rye because it “resonated” with his fantasies about the city. What does the novel capture about mid-century Manhattan that makes it so memorable for so many?

That makes perfect sense to me, because it often seems that in Woody Allen’s movies he’s trying to preserve the New York of the immediate post-war years. Reading Catcher in the Rye made me want to live in New York City and go to the bars where Holden went and walk in his fictional steps through Central Park. For all of its satire, Catcher in the Rye is a very romantic portrait of New York.
Read about the other books McInerney tagged.

The Catcher In The Rye appears on Woody Allen's top five books list, Patrick Ness's top 10 list of "unsuitable" books for teenagers, 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.

Also see five novels that explore the dark side in New York City, Edmund White's top 10 New York books, The Great New York City Novel, Frances Kiernan's five best books about New York society, Russell Shorto's five best books on the history of New York City, and Joanna Smith Rakoff's five favorite books of New York stories.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Five books on architecture

For the Independent, Will Coldwell came up with a reading list on architecture.

One novel on the list:
Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd

Acclaimed historical writer Peter Ackroyd spins a dark mystery around the life of the great architect Christopher Wren. Flipping from the 1800s to the 1980s, a murky secret is uncovered by a London detective investigating a series of gruesome murders on the sites of seven London churches.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Classic family sagas

Recently at the Wall Street Journal, Cynthia Crossen tagged several worthy family sagas, including:
West of Here
by Jonathan Evison

"West of Here" by Jonathan Evison is an engaging family saga that illustrates my theory that the older generations usually seem more heroic than contemporary ones. The novel begins with the planned destruction of a dam in Washington state in 2006, but within a few pages you're thrown back to the late 19th century. There, the ancestors of the dam destroyers are risking their lives to carve the dam out of hostile rock and forest so the settlers of the Olympic Peninsula can switch on some lights at night. The men and women who created a massive dam from wilderness seem so much more heroic than their Kentucky Fried Chicken-loving descendants.
Read about the other family sagas Crossen recommends.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 12, 2011

Five best books on outdoor adventures

Michael J. Ybarra is the Wall Street Journal's extreme-sports correspondent.

One title on his five best list of books on outdoor adventures:
Ways to the Sky
by Andy Selters (2004)

In the early 1970s British expat Chris Jones wrote a superb book called "Climbing in North America," the first history to trace mountain climbing's development in the New World. It was the kind of book that made you want to get out and try many of the dramatic climbs it described. Three decades later, Selters wrote a sort of sequel that brought the story of North American climbing up to date—including a final chapter about alpine-style ascents in Alaska, where climbers pushed themselves to the edge of human endurance on technically difficult peaks with a minimum of equipment and a maximum of commitment. "Mountaineering's strongest quality," Selters writes, "is to write great terrain into our souls."
Read about the other titles on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten of the best housekeepers in literature

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

One housekeeper on the list:
May Maxwell

After a hard stint of killing and womanising, James Bond can return to his Chelsea pad to be tended by his elderly, soft-spoken housekeeper. In Ian Fleming's From Russia With Love we find out all about the delicious breakfasts she prepares for him, complete with "speckled brown eggs from French Marans hens" supplied by a friend.
Read about the other entries on the list.

From Russia with Love also made John Mullan's lists of ten of the best chess games in fiction, ten of the best punch-ups in fiction, and ten of the best breakfasts in literature, and a list of eleven presidents' favorite books. It is on Keith Jeffery's five best list of books on Britain's Secret Service and Samuel Muston's ten best list of spy novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Five best works of literature about 9/11

Amy Waldman was a reporter for The New York Times for eight years. She spent three years as co-chief of the South Asia bureau after covering Harlem, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and the aftermath of 9/11. She was also a national correspondent for the Atlantic.

She has been a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and at the American Academy in Berlin. Her fiction has appeared in the Boston Review and the Atlantic, and was anthologized in The Best American Non-Required Reading 2010.

The Financial Times called The Submission, her first novel, “the best 9/11 novel to date.”

In an interview with Eve Gerber for The Browser, Waldman talked about five of the best works of literature about 9/11, including:
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
by Mohsin Hamid

Let’s talk about your next selection, which also concerns how life changed for Muslims in post-9/11 America. But the protagonist of Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist starts his American life in Princeton, instead of in Boston Harbor.

You’re right – the protagonist has a completely different profile from the humble one in [Lorraine Adams's] Harbor. Changez is from a prestigious Pakistani family, but one without a lot of money. He comes to the United States to attend Princeton on a scholarship and then is recruited into the corporate world. The whole novel is a monologue. This character, in a café in Lahore, is talking to an unidentified American, telling his story about the life he led in the United States. How he was enamoured of New York, yet smiled as the Towers fell and grew even more embittered toward America in the wake of the attacks. The structure is original and well executed.

It’s a window on the conflicted feelings that I encountered in reporting about America, at home and aboard – and what they grow out of. At the same time, it raises questions in the reader’s mind about who should be suspicious of whom and why.

The author of this book recently told the BBC, “Fiction re-complicates what politicians wish to oversimplify.” Do you agree, and is that why you were drawn to fiction?

Definitely. A lot of political discourse is designed to force simple answers where there are none, or force people to take stark positions. In The Submission I wanted to re-complicate reactions to 9/11 so that even if you think you know what you think you still might find yourself switching your point of view.
Read about the other books Waldman tagged at The Browser.

The Page 69 Test: The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 9, 2011

Eight worthy 9/11 books

At the Christian Science Monitor, Marjorie Kehe came up with eight worthy 9/11 books.

One title on the list:
Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11
by Lawrence Wright

This Pulitzer Prize-winning work by New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright remains the best 9/11 backgrounder available.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Looming Tower also made the Monitor's list of seven books about Osama bin Laden.

Also see: Five of the best new 9/11 books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Top ten novels of teenage friendship

Megan Abbott is the Edgar®-winning author of six books, including Die a Little, The Song Is You, Queenpin, and Bury Me Deep. She has been nominated for many awards, including three Edgar® Award nominations, Hammett Prize, the Macavity, Anthony and Barry Awards and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Abbott won the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award in 2008 for Queenpin. She was also nominated in 2010 for Bury Me Deep for Best Paperback Original and in 2006 for Best First Novel for Die A Little. In 2008, she won the Barry Award (Deadly Pleasures and Mystery News award) and has been nominated three times for the Anthony Award (Bouchercon World Mystery Convention award).

Her new novel is The End of Everything.

One of Abbott's top ten novels of teenage friendship, as told to the Guardian:
To the Power of Three by Laura Lippman

On the surface a thriller about an act of school violence in a serene American suburb, Lippman's 2005 novel keenly probes the incendiary nature of teen-girl triads.
Read about the other books on Abbott's list.

Visit Megan Abbott's website.

The Page 69 Test: The End of Everything.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Five best introductions to Philosophy

Nigel Warburton has taught philosophy at the Open University since 1994. He was previously a lecturer at Nottingham University. His latest book is A Little History of Philosophy.

With David Wolf at The Browser, Warburton discussed five of the best introductions to philosophy, including:
The Life You Can Save
by Peter Singer

The next book is The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer, who is perhaps the most famous living philosopher.

I was thinking, “How would you introduce philosophy to someone who didn't know anything about it?” I think the central question in philosophy is, “How should we live?” And that's a question about which Peter Singer has a lot to say.

What is the central message of the book?

The book focuses on the terrible poverty and disease found around the world, and how we in the West are living in a luxury that we could adjust just a little bit in order to alleviate that misery. He suggests that we give maybe 5% of our wages to charity. He's not saying you have to live in a sackcloth and give away all your possessions. Even a small gift of 5% would make a tremendous difference to other people's lives. It's not just him preaching, he gives arguments for his positions. And even if you disagree with him, the process of reading his work makes you think, “Why do I disagree?” He is in the tradition of Socrates – somebody who challenges your preconceptions and asks you to respond.

How does the book begin?

Singer starts with a compelling thought experiment. Imagine you're passing a pond. There's a young child drowning in the pond and his head's just about to go underwater. You're on your way to work, you're nicely dressed. But you'd surely jump in the pond and try to save the child, wouldn't you? Almost anyone would do that unthinkingly, even though it would ruin their expensive clothes and make them late for work. Yet in our everyday lives, we know that through inaction we are allowing children to die of poverty who could otherwise be saved by a minimal contribution – less than the price of an expensive pair of shoes.

What's the difference between the situation described in the thought experiment and our inaction in everyday life? Singer thinks that there isn't an important moral difference. He says there are ways in which we could act that would be the equivalent of saving the drowning child's life – giving to charities that tackle poverty, disease and so on. He believes most of us could be much more generous at very little cost to our own lives, and that the result of this would be of huge measurable benefit to mankind.

That sounds like a persuasive argument in theory. What are the objections?

Singer is brilliant because you don't have to agree with him, but he goes through all the standard objections to his view and presents counterarguments. Someone might say, “The difference is that if I save the child myself I know the child is going to be saved, but if I give my money to a charity it might be wasted.” Well, there's a website that has been set up which analyses the comparative effects of money sent to different charities. It comes up with charities where the effect your donation is most likely to save lives. So Singer has second-guessed you, and come up with a counterargument and a practical way of implementing the conclusion he'd like you to embrace.

What do you think of Singer's work more generally?

Singer is incredibly consistent in his positions. He used to be a chess player, but he believes that the point of philosophy is not to solve chess-like problems but actually to make a difference. If you really believe, as he does, in a form of utilitarianism – the view that the consequences of our actions determine their rightness or wrongness – then that's not just an intellectual position, it should affect how you live. Singer is a counter-example to the stereotype of the philosopher in an ivory tower, whose life makes no difference, who leaves everything as it is.
Read about the other books on Warburton's list.

The Page 99 Test: The Life You Can Save.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ten of the best misdirected messages in literature

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

One novel on the list:
Atonement by Ian McEwan

In sweltering heat, Robbie sits at his desk and tries out notes to the delicious Cecilia. One of them expresses his carnal desires in the most basic language. He sends this one instead of the more conventional missive he intends. It certainly breaks through Cecilia's reserves, but has disastrous consequences when it is read by her sister Briony.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Atonement also appears on Jane Ciabattari's list of five masterpieces of fiction that also worked as films, and on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best scenes on London Underground, 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.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, September 5, 2011

Ten real life "memoirs" that read like scifi & fantasy

At io9, Esther Inglis-Arkell came up with ten real life "memoirs" that read like scifi and fantasy stories.

One title on the list:
Jay's Journal, by Beatrice Sparks

What fake memoir collection is complete without a little Satanism? Jay's Journal is the journal of a depressed youth who falls in with a Satanic cult. While some memoirs only delve into the depravity of the cult, this one brings in a full-on demon. 'Jay' is haunted by Raul, a demon he believes he called up, and eventually kills himself. This false memoir is based on real events. There are very strong allegations that Sparks took the diary of a teen who committed suicide because he was depressed, and who happened to have friends who dabbled (in a teenage way) in the occult, and spun it into a story about a kid involved with real Satanism. Sparks wrote another 'memoir,' Go Ask Alice, about a girl who died after she got into drugs. Each book starts out with a clean cut teenager encountering hippie-dippie philosophy. In one case it leads to a sort of Woodstock-hellscape of drug addiction and prostitution. In another, there is animal sacrifice, out-of-body experiences, and eventual hauntings. Both are considered to be more the author's version of a scared-straight story than based on actual fact. Unfortunately, the teenager that Jay's Journal was 'based on' was easily identified, and his family has been protesting the book ever since. This is one 'memoir' that the author should have published as fiction immediately.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Top ten books about running away

Jill Hucklesby is a children’s author and screenwriter. Her books include If I Could Fly and Samphire Song.

For the Guardian, she named her top ten books about running away, including:
Peter Pan by JM Barrie

Who doesn't dream of flying out of a window at one time or another? This wonderful, exciting adventure makes the idea seem possible and takes readers on an unforgettable journey. It's a true classic, with fantastic characters. The ticking crocodile is my favourite. I think Peter Pan is the perfect story, with something for everyone, and a poignant proviso – that proceeds go to Great Ormond Street Hospital in perpetuity.
Read about the other stories on the list.

Peter Pan is on John Mullan's list of ten of the best pirates in fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Five best books about one term presidents

John Steele Gordon is the author of Hamilton's Blessing: The Extraordinary Life and Times of Our National Debt (revised edition, 2010).

For the Wall Street Journal he named a five best list of books about one term presidents, including:
A Country of Vast Designs
by Robert W. Merry (2009)

No one-term presidency was as successful or as significant as James K. Polk's. During his tenure in office (1845-49), the country almost doubled in size and became established as a Pacific power. Texas was annexed; the Oregon Territory was peacefully divided with Britain; and Mexico, defeated in war, was forced to cede what is now the American Southwest. None of it would have happened without Polk's singular determination and great political talents. With his health failing, Polk declined to run for re-election; he died three months after leaving office, at age 53. In "A Country of Vast Designs," biographer Robert W. Merry gives us Polk in full but also details the tangled politics of the 1840s—an era that is a historical black hole for many people, illuminated here by an expert light.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, September 2, 2011

Books to get you ready for the economic apocalypse

At io9 Annalee Newitz tagged a list of books to prepare you for the economic apocalypse, including:
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi

This now-classic novel about a world after peak oil offers us a vision of what happens when Big Genomics replaces Big Oil. Agribusiness rules the world, and people struggle to survive on GMO grains made vulnerable to diseases while the government of Thailand guards its main source of wealth - a library of heirloom genes - jealously. If you want a glimpse of post-oil economics, this book is the place to start.
Read about the other books on the list.

Writers Read: Paolo Bacigalupi.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Nine books Bill Gates thinks you should read

The Christian Science Monitor published a list of the nine books Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates told the folks at TED that you should read, including:
Collapse, by Jared Diamond

In "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed" Pulitzer Prize-winner Jared Diamond explains why some societies – from the Anasazi of the American Southwest to the Viking colonies of Greenland to present-day Rwanda – have collapsed.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Collapse appears on Andrew Ellson's critic's chart of "cash crashes" and the Guardian's list of the best books on global warming.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top ten books on Turkey

Jason Goodwin's Edgar Award–winning series set in Istanbul at the end of the Ottoman Empire--The Janissary Tree, The Snake Stone, The Bellini Card, and An Evil Eye--features Investigator Yashim: detective, polyglot, chef, eunuch.

For the Guardian, he named a top ten list of books on Turkey.

One title on the list:
Snow by Orhan Pamuk

Complex, fragmentary, unreliable and poetic, this thoroughly postmodern novel abounds with puns, ironies, double-takes and imponderable conflicts of love, faith and social justice, reflecting not only aspects of the human condition but also of 20th-century Turkey's preoccupations with secularism, religious freedom and revolution. In the city of Kars, a young journalist, Ka, comes to investigate a spate of suicides relating to the wearing of headscarves – and opens up a kaleidoscopic world of claims, counter-claims and conflicting priorities.
Read about the other books on the list.

Learn more about Jason Goodwin and his work at his website.

The Page 69 Test: The Snake Stone.

The Page 69 Test: The Bellini Card.

My Book, The Movie: An Evil Eye.

--Marshal Zeringue