Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ten vampire stories more romantic than "Twilight: Breaking Dawn"

At io9, Charlie Jane Anders tagged ten vampire stories that are more romantic than Breaking Dawn.

One book on her list:
Interview with the Vampire

What it's about: Louis is fascinated by the beautiful, angelic Lestat — until Lestat turns Louis into a vampire, and Louis has to come to terms with an eternity of feeding off blood. Louis and Lestat are inseparable companions, until Louis eventually escapes and finds a new companion, Armand.
Why it's romantic: The bond between Louis and Lestat is complex and often ugly — but also quite beautiful. Lestat teaches Louis to take life, but also to realize that existence is meaningless without a reverence for life.
Read about the other vampire stories on the list.

Interview with the Vampire is one of Lynda Resnick's best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Top ten books about tiny people

Conn Iggulden is a bestselling author of historical fiction for adults and co-author with his brother Hal of The Dangerous Book for Boys. His Tollins books, about the adventures of tiny creatures with wings who aren't fairies and are about as fragile as a house brick, are his first foray into children's fiction.

One of his top ten books about tiny people, as told to the Guardian:
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift

Yes, you will hear that it's all a clever satire on politics, but this readable classic is a great story as well. Classic books for children are not often read in the original any longer, because what was once considered normal vocabulary is now surprisingly difficult. Thank you, education experts. Yet somehow, old Gulliver survives. Swift gave us the word "Lilliputian" and another I like even more: "Brobdingnagian".
Read about the other entries on the list.

Gulliver's Travels appears on Antonio Carluccio's list of his six favorite books and John Mullan's list of ten of the best vegetables in literature; it is one of Neil deGrasse Tyson's 5 most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ten of the most memorable libraries in literature

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

One entry on the list:
Possession by AS Byatt

This story of the secrets of long-dead writers opens in the London Library, where Roland Michell discovers (in an edition of Vico) the manuscript drafts of a letter from the famous poet Randolph Ash to an unknown woman. He decides to smuggle the papers out past the library's indifferent security and sets the adventure in motion.
Read about the other titles on the list.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Five best books about Soviet espionage

Allen M. Hornblum has been executive director of Americans for Democratic Action, chief of staff of the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office, and a college lecturer. His books include Sentenced to Science, Acres of Skin, Confessions of a Second Story Man, and The Invisible Harry Gold: The Man Who Gave the Soviets the Atom Bomb.

One of his five best books on Soviet espionage, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America
by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr and Alexander Vassiliev (2009)

This huge tome is the best catalog yet of Americans who spied for the Soviet Union and the information that they may have passed on. For decades, ideological combatants have argued bitterly over the complicity of players like Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White and J. Robert Oppenheimer. "Spies" sheds much helpful light, thanks to the collaboration of John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr—Cold War espionage scholars of the first rank—with Alexander Vassiliev, a former KGB agent who walked out of his agency's secret archives with thousands of pages of notes and transcriptions. Curious readers can now discover exactly who Julius Rosenberg recruited, who turned the Soviets down (Oppenheimer) and who, to the surprise of many, worked as a courier passing information: the American writer I.F. Stone, whose KGB code name was "Pancakje."
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see Jonathan Miles's five best books about the secrets of espionage.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Six top books about immigrants

Brooke Hauser has written for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Allure, and Premiere, among other publications.

For several years, she covered the film industry as Writer-at-Large at Premiere, where she was also an editor. In 2005, her interest in profiling characters not usually featured in the mainstream media led her to the City section of the New York Times. For her first story, which was later optioned for a movie, she spent weeks chronicling the misadventures of a clique of Staten Island girls looking for love.

Since then, she has tried to dig deep and tread lightly in many different worlds, from New York’s juvenile justice system to Harlem’s spirited Baptist community.

The recently released The New Kids: Big Dreams Brave Journeys at a High School for Immigrant Teens is Hauser's first book.

One of her six favorite books about immigrants, as told to The Week magazine:
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Oscar Wao, a Dominican-American "ghetto nerd," hails from New Jersey, but he is haunted by fukú, a curse that has followed his family from Santo Domingo. Díaz's shatteringly original novel proves that sometimes, home is the strangest of strange lands.
Read about the other books on Hauser's list.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao also appears among Sara Gruen's six favorite books, Paste magazine's list of the ten best debut novels of the decade (2000-2009), and The Millions' best books of fiction of the millenium. The novel is one of Matthew Kaminski's five favorite novels about immigrants in America and is a book that made a difference to Zoë Saldana.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five books about dogs

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five books on dogs:
Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend
by Susan Orlean

Corporal Lee Duncan, once an orphan, discovered fellow castoff Rin Tin Tin on a World War I battlefield in 1918 and brought him back to America, where he made the dog a Hollywood icon that still resonates deeply. Blending comprehensive research with penetrating thought into the meanings of the myths we create, Susan Orlean (The Orchid Thief) expertly expounds on the German shepherd's rise as well as the ascendance of entertainment and celebrity in American culture.
Read about the other books on the list.

Learn more about Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 25, 2011

Top ten music books

In the 1970s and 1980s, Nile Rodgers wrote and produced the songs that defined that era and everything that came after: “Le Freak,” “Good Times,” “We Are Family,” “Like a Virgin,” “Modern Love,” “I’m Coming Out,” “The Reflex,” “Rapper’s Delight.” Aside from his own band, Chic, he worked with everyone from Diana Ross and Madonna to David Bowie and Duran Duran (not to mention Mick Jagger, Debbie Harry, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Michael Jackson, Prince, Rod Stewart, Robert Plant, Depeche Mode, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Grace Jones, Bryan Ferry, INXS, and the B-52’s), transforming their music, selling millions of records, and redefining what a pop song could be.

Rodgers's new memoir is Le Freak.

One of his top ten music books, as told to the Guardian:
Miles by Miles Davis and Quincy Troupe

This is the all-time heavyweight champ of musician biographies for me. Having known Miles and his no-nonsense inability to edit himself, I can see the man, the child and the innovator in every paragraph. Miles takes you on an in-your-face journey more outrageous than any you've ever travelled. Before I read this book, I worshipped his musical genius. This bold and revealing book validated my eternal devotion to the man himself.
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see: Samuel Muston's list of the ten best music memoirs and Kitty Empire's ten best rock autobiographies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Five top books on American Indians and colonizers

Colin Calloway is Professor of Native American Studies at Dartmouth.

With Eve Gerber at The Browser, he discussed five books on Native Americans and colonizers, including:
Custer Died for Your Sins
by Vine Deloria Jr

Let’s take a detour from straight history to discuss Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto from 1969 by Vine Deloria Jr. What is this book about and why is it so important to demythologising the story of Indians in America?

Custer Died for Your Sins is not primarily about early American history – it’s a groundbreaking collection of essays in which Vine Deloria, a Lakota writer, scholar and activist, takes a series of pot shots at federal Indian policies and Anglo academics who made their careers as so-called “Indian experts”. Vine Deloria, who died in 2005, was in many ways the most influential Native American intellectual for the 20th century.

What this collection did was alter the way we think about and discuss Native American history. His writings in Custer Died for Your Sins put non-Indians on the defensive. He made us think twice about the kind of work that we do and how we should do it. There’s also a powerful articulation of tribal sovereignty and self-determination. He puts Indian concerns, Indian rights, the continuing injustices that native people suffer and the continuing hypocrisies in American society about Indians, in plain view at a time when American society, by and large, still misunderstands Native American experiences, frustrations and aspirations. It’s a reminder that even though we’re working on the 17th or 18th century, what we do has an impact on contemporary native communities. Native people have clear views on their history and we’d better consider those views if we want our work to be relevant.

The word manifesto sounds awfully serious but this book seems quite funny.

There are certain passages that are quite funny. He makes fun of anthropologists who arrive in Indian country and take notes and have an assistant with them and leave to write up their findings and become recognised as experts on the subject, when the people in the community that they’ve visited, if they ever read those things, would often think: “That doesn’t sound like us, this is ludicrous.” A scenario like that continues to be a caution in the back of the minds of people who are trying to work responsibly in Native American history. So it’s not only funny, we can recognise that what he’s talking about is partially true. Non-native people working on Native American history don’t want to be like those people Vine Deloria made fun of. So I think, even though there’s humour in all of Vine Deloria’s writing, some of it quite rapier-like, there are also important points behind it. That’s why I wanted to include Custer Died for Your Sins on this list.
Read about the other books Calloway tagged at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five notable books on leaderless revolution

Carne Ross, a former British diplomat, is currently on Occupy Wall Street’s general assembly. His latest book, The Leaderless Revolution, explores alternative systems of organizing world affairs, in particular anarchism.

He discussed five books on leaderless revolution with Eve Gerber at The Browser, including:
Homage to Catalonia
by George Orwell

Let’s turn to George Orwell’s account of what he saw while volunteering for various factions against fascism in the Spanish Civil War. Tell us the story of Homage to Catalonia.

This is just a wonderful book. Like all of Orwell's work it's incredibly well written. It's a very powerful piece of prose. Usually this book is seen as a picturesque account of an ultimately failed attempt to fight fascism, but what made a big impression on me was the fact that people like Orwell and 30,000 other foreign volunteers went to fight fascism in Spain at all. It's in such contrast to the way we think politics works now. In those days people realised that to fight fascism you had to go risk your own life. Thousands of foreign volunteers didn't return from Spain. These days, we're led to believe that signing our name on an internet petition is really going to end genocide in Darfur. That was the contrast that really hit home to me in that book.

The other thing that's interesting about it – and the reason why it's one of the books that led to The Leaderless Revolution – is that in Republican Spain, before Franco's victory, anarchist society came into being. There were organisations of peasants and workers, intercollectives and self-managing groups. And it worked. So it's actually one of the few examples of anarchism in practice. Orwell writes about it beautifully and clearly he found it very compelling. He later admitted that where in the book he joined a communist group in Spain called POUM, if he had his choice again he would have joined the anarchists – which is a very little noted fact about Orwell.

He gives great narrative detail about his journey through this war, from seeing those anarchist symbols and early organisation to his injury when he is shot through the neck.

It's wonderful to read, and a great book in its own right of a man going to fight in a foreign war.
Read about the other books Ross tagged.

Homage to Catalonia also appears among Samuel Muston's ten best travel books, Harold Evans's five best books on reporting, and Michael Symmons Roberts' ten best books on civil war.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Stella Tillyard's four favorite historical novels

Stella Tillyard, author of the novel Tides of War, named her four favorite historical novels at The Daily Beast, including:
War and Peace
by Leo Tolstoy

Well, I can’t not have it. Still the greatest novel ever written; still, for me, full of undiscovered treasures after five readings. Another characteristic of great historical novels is that they transcend not only their ostensible subject matter—in this case the disastrous French invasion of Russia in 1812, and the triumph of the Russian historical will—but also their era. In War and Peace Tolstoy asks the granddaddy of historical questions: is history made by remarkable individuals who impose their will upon it, or does it represent the flowering of the spirit and will of the people? Ideologically Tolstoy inclines to the latter, but temperamentally, and as a novelist, his genius and interest all flows towards the concrete and specific. In the end War and Peace is a great novel because Tolstoy creates characters of such human virtues and flaws—all mediocrities, as Henry James pointed out—that they live forever. As an adolescent I devoured this book for its love story between Natasha and Prince Andre. As a young mother I read it again and found its depiction of family life moving and true. As a historian I read it a third time and ploughed through all Tolstoy’s musing on history with pleasure; and recently, living through the death of one parent and the old age of another, I was moved to tears by the death of the monstrous old Prince, and Tolstoy’s intense insight, which can turn on a single word, and immense sympathy for every single one of his characters.
Read about the other novels 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 battles in literature, ten of the best floggings in fiction, and ten of the best literary explosions.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Six alternate-history novels

For the Christian Science Monitor, Molly Driscoll named "six novels that explore a slightly alternate version of very familiar events," including:
11/22/63, by Stephen King

The horror author's new novel tells the story of Jake Epping, who is let in on the secret of a time-travel portal inside a local diner by its dying owner. The owner, Al, asks Epping to go back in time and complete one very important task – stop President Kennedy from being shot.
Read about the other titles on the list.

Discover why King ventured into this sub-genre.

Also see David Daw's list of five American presidents in alternate history.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 21, 2011

Larry McMurtry's five best travel books

Larry McMurtry is the author of twenty-nine novels, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lonesome Dove. His other works include two collections of essays, three memoirs, and more than thirty screenplays, including the coauthorship of Brokeback Mountain, for which he received an Academy Award.

His new novel is The Berrybender Narratives.

One of McMurtry's five best travel books, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
Slowly Down the Ganges
by Eric Newby (1966)

I have chosen Eric Newby's "Slowly Down the Ganges" rather than his justly acclaimed "A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush" (blurbed by E. Waugh) because the latter book doesn't have much of Newby's best character: his wife, Wanda. She is in the Ganges book on practically every page, and her endearing, illusion-puncturing pessimism is justified throughout. In professional life, Newby worked for many years in the rag trade—couture may be too elevated a word—but now and then, when he got fed up with fashion, he would set off with Wanda on a really arduous trip, such as this much-interrupted 1,200-mile journey down the Ganges in 1963. There is a lot of comedy—the boat runs aground 63 times in the first week—but the couple's deep and subtly expressed love of India often breaks through.
Read about the other books on McMurtry's list.

Also see: Samuel Muston's ten best travel books, Tony Hiss's six favorite travel reads, Don George's top 10 travel books of the last century, Peter Mayle's 6 favorite travel books, Laura Landro's five best books about travel, and Paul Collins'a 10 oddest travel guides.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ten of the best titles in the form of questions

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best titles in the form of questions.

One entry on the list:
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick

In a world after nuclear war, humans and animals are poisoned by fallout. Humans have made android animals to remind them of life on Earth before the cataclysm. Synthetic humans, lacking only the capacity for empathy, labour on Mars, but some escape and bounty hunter Rick Deckard (who is the owner of an electric sheep) is given the task of "retiring" them.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? also appears on Charlie Jane Anders and Michael Ann Dobbs's list of ten classic sci-fi books that were originally considered failures and Robert Collins's top ten list of dystopian novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Ann Beattie's six favorite books

Ann Beattie's new book is Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life.

One of Beattie's six favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
Not-Knowing by Donald Barthelme

A somewhat abashed sensualist who could be very, very skeptical, Barthelme was a brilliant thinker — probing, with the tool of words, for the meaning of visual things. He approached the world through all his senses.
Read about the other books on Beattie's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 18, 2011

Five essential works about fanaticism

Alan Charles Kors is a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania and editor in chief of the Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment (Oxford). In 2008 he named five essential works about fanaticism for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on the list:
The Education of a True Believer
by Lev Kopelev

By the 20th century, in Europe at least, it was political, not religious, superstition that led to new terrors. What sort of political fanaticism would lead a bright, idealistic, sensitive young man to join in the immeasurable cruelties of the Bolsheviks' murderous grain requisitions and their deliberate mass starvation of millions of peasants unsympathetic to the future that the Communists desired? Lev Kopelev's autobiographical work puts us inside the fanatical thought and callousness that led to and was indifferent to the suffering of whole peoples. In his chapter titled "The Last Grain Collections (1933)," we see this lover of literature and philosophy taunting a terrified and weeping peasant woman on the verge of death: "Your children will be left hungry, without a mother." He was aware of the human cost but "persuaded" himself not to "give in to debilitating pity." Kopelev and his comrades, after all, were "realizing historical necessity ... our revolutionary duty." That "duty" slew more in a decade than any witch-hunter ever could have imagined possible.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Top ten books about Marilyn Monroe

Michel Schneider has written on psychoanalysis, Baudelaire, Proust, Schumann and Glenn Gould. His latest novel is Marilyn's Last Sessions.

For the Guardian he selected a top ten list of books on Marilyn Monroe, including:
Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

Guess who Blonde is? She has no name in this compelling 700-plus-page novel based on Monroe's life. Only great writers have the talent to let us imagine we understand Marilyn's enigma. Murder, plot, suicide, hallucination, reality? Maybe all of these at once: great novelists being those that leave you with more questions than answers.
Read about the other books on the list.

Blonde also appears among Ron Hansen's five best literary tales of real-life crimes and Janet Fitch's book list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Five books on genocide

Norman M. Naimark presently holds the Robert and Florence McDonnell Chair in East European History at Stanford University.

His books include a major study of the Soviet occupation of Germany, The Russians in Germany (Harvard 1995), a comparative study of ethnic cleansing and genocide in 20th Century Europe, Fires of Hatred (Harvard 2001), and Stalin's Genocides (Princeton, 2010).

One of five books on genocide he discussed with Alec Ash at The Browser:
Blood and Soil
by Ben Kiernan

Please introduce Ben Kiernan's book for us, and the genocides it covers.

Blood and Soil is an important and courageous attempt to write a world history of genocide "from Sparta to Darfur". Many historians have argued that genocide is a form of mass killing that began only in the 20th century with the advent of the modernist state, extreme nationalist ideologies, mass media and experiences of industrial killing during the world wars. I think Kiernan is right to call this analysis into question, and to describe some episodes of mass killing in earlier centuries as genocide. He also broadens our excessively eurocentric focus on the history of genocide to include Asia in particular, as well as South America and Africa.

What was the earliest genocide we know about?

From Kiernan's point of view – and I agree with him – there is plenty of evidence from the study of prehistoric remains that mass killing was part of human history from the time people first began living together in groups. It's hard to know, of course, whether this would fit a reasonable historical definition of genocide. But certainly some of the episodes described in the Bible or from Homer in ancient Greece can be called genocidal.

Are there features and patterns that all genocides have in common? Or signs that can help us predict and prevent future genocides?

The characteristics of genocide are fairly consistent over time. War is an important precondition, though not a necessary one. Highly controlled authoritarian states, whether modern or pre-modern, have the capacity – one could even say the inclination – to carry out mass murder of a genocidal nature. The tendency of human societies to stereotype groups within or outside those societies as inferior “others”, and then blame their problems on those "others", creates groups of potential victims that political elites can seek to isolate and destroy for their own purposes. Racism and national exclusivity, which are not exclusively modern phenomena, also breed genocidal ideas and actions. If societies stayed out of wars, protected the rights of groups of "others" through the rule of law, refused to tolerate racism and extreme nationalism and maintained democratic checks and balances on their political elites, one could imagine a world without genocide.

How likely is it that human society can achieve this?

Alas, very unlikely indeed!
Read about the other books Naimark tagged at The Browser.

See--The Page 69 Test: Ben Kiernan's Blood and Soil.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mark Whitaker's six favorite memoirs

Mark Whitaker is Executive Vice President and Managing Editor of CNN Worldwide, in charge of directing reporting and editorial content for America's largest global television network. He was previously the Washington Bureau Chief for NBC News and a reporter and editor at Newsweek, where he rose to become the first African-American leader of a national newsweekly.

His new book is My Long Trip Home: A Family Memoir.

One of his six favorite memoirs, as told to The Week magazine:
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

When I was working for my college paper in the 1970s, Joan Didion was the kind of hip and observant "new journalist" we all wanted to be. Yet nothing she ever wrote about the outside world was more memorable than this dispatch from the interior land of grief, following the sudden death of her husband, fellow writer John Gregory Dunne.
Read about the other memoirs on Whitaker's list.

The Year of Magical Thinking is one of Douglas Kennedy's top ten books about grief and Norris Church Mailer's five best memoirs. It is a book that made a difference to Samantha Bee.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 14, 2011

Five best books with love triangles

Anne Enright is a Booker Prize-winning Irish author. She has published essays, short stories, a non-fiction book and four novels. Before her novel The Gathering won the 2007 Man Booker Prize, Enright had a low profile in Ireland and the United Kingdom, although her books were favorably reviewed and widely praised.

Her latest novel is The Forgotten Waltz.

One of her five best books with a love triangle, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
by Sándor Márai (1942)

For a love triangle to really sing, all three people must love each other, gender notwithstanding. The classic configuration involves two male friends who fall for the same woman. In "Embers," the great Hungarian writer Sándor Márai shakes out this old standard, writing a book that reads like a psychological thriller, though it is written, quite simply, as a conversation between old friends. Two men sit at a table where they last ate together 41 years before. One is a general, the other a soldier. In the story the general tells, the high ideal of male friendship is undone by the even higher ideal of true romantic love. And yet they remain friends. The woman is something of a cipher. As a modern reader, living in the age of crass, you might wonder why guys in this situation don't just pair off. If so, this book is too good for you.
Read about the other books on the list.

Embers is on Arthur Phillips's list of Five Novels That Make You Feel Like You Might Know Something about Life During the Collapse of the Hapsburg Empire.

Also see: a top ten list of literary ménages à trois.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Ten of the best sentences as titles

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best sentences as book titles.

One novel on the list:
Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

You cannot guess the meaning of Ishiguro's title until you read the book. Kathy H recalls her days at a very special school, whose pupils have been selected by criteria that slowly become clear. The title is the refrain of an old pop song with which the narrator becomes obsessed.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Top ten funny books with pictures

Liz Pichon is an award-winning children's book author and illustrator. Her illustrations for Twilight Verses and Moonlight Rhymes won a National Parenting Association Award. Her first illustrated story for older readers, The Brilliant World of Tom Gates, won the 2011 Roald Dahl funny prize. Pichon has also written and illustrated Square Eyed Pat and My Big Brother Boris, a Smarties Book Prize Silver Award-winner. Other recent titles include Penguins, The Very Ugly Bug, Bored Bill and A Tale of Two Kitties.

At the Guardian, she named a top ten list of funny books with pictures.

One title on the list:
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smit

These are traditional fairytales with quirky slightly dark twists. The brilliantly combined text and illustrations use all the pages of the book in wonderfully imaginative ways. The whole feel of the book is slightly weird and unexpected, with lots of details and odd-looking characters throughout. The Very Ugly Duckling that just grows up to be….a very ugly duck, made me laugh out loud when I first turned the page.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Stinky Cheese Man also appears on James Patterson's list of the best children's books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 11, 2011

Top ten short books

Dan Rhodes is the author of Little Hands Clapping, Anthropology, Timoleon Vieta Come Home, and Gold, a tale of a Japanese woman finding her place in a small, Welsh seaside community. It is a short book and, according to the book's publisher, read it and "you'll laugh, probably cry and you'll be finished in time to go to the pub."

In 2007, Rhodes named his top 10 short books for the Guardian. One title on the list:
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote

The book is sadder and funnier than the film, and it doesn't end with a rom-com-cop-out. Holly is more vulnerable and hopeless - still very sexy though. Would this be a good time to mention that I loathe the word novella? It's so frilly and twee. Slim volume, short novel - anything but novella.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Five books on holding power to account

Heather Brooke is a journalist and freedom of information campaigner. Her books include The Revolution Will Be Digitalised.

One of her top five books on holding power to account, as told to Daisy Banks at The Browser:
Animal Farm
by George Orwell

Your first choice is George Orwell’s allegorical Animal Farm.

It was a toss-up between Animal Farm and 1984. I picked Animal Farm because it is an allegory about power and its seductive and corruptive influence on people regardless of their initial good intentions. As one moves up the ladder and accrues power, the tendency is to forget principles – instead the ends come to justify the means. Once principles are cast aside, however, it is a short way towards becoming exactly the thing one fought against. What you see in Animal Farm is an imaginative depiction of exactly how this happens.

There are two main characters – the pigs Napoleon and Snowball – and they lead an animal-liberation revolution on the farm: “Two legs bad, four legs good”. They write a declaration of rights on a wall and the main tenet is equality, but soon a power struggle develops and Napoleon ditches these principles to focus on concentrating power in himself. He does so primarily through the manipulation and control of information. By the end of the story, the pigs are no better than the humans they deposed.

I have seen this in politics quite often. In my latest book I looked at Wikileaks, and the dynamics of that organisation offered a living example of this book. It was bizarre to see how Julian Assange, a supposed campaigner for truth, manipulated information to build up a cult of personality around himself – and also to see how many people fell for it. It seems a lot of us are looking for a saviour, someone who will do the hard work of making society just. We want to outsource the hard graft of democracy and then we wonder why that person fails to live up to our expectations. It’s because they are fallible human beings, as everyone is.

The main problem is they start to believe their own hype. If you look at any dictator, most started out from a position of powerlessness. They desperately crave power, but even when they have it they can’t shake that internal feeling of powerlessness, which is why they covet more power and will do whatever it takes to keep it. It is that kind of dynamic which makes power so seductive and dangerous.

How can we hold people like that to account?

The main point is that power – when concentrated – is dangerous, and the only way to counter that danger is to build into a political system a series of checks and balances that are constantly monitored. For that monitoring to be effective, there need to be robust laws on freedom of speech and of information.
Read about the other books Brooke tagged.

Animal Farm is one of Chuck Klosterman's most important books; it appears on John Mullan's list of ten of the best pigs in literature and Charlie Jane Anders and Michael Ann Dobbs's list of well-known and beloved science fiction and fantasy novels that were rejected over and over.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ten of the best cathedrals in literature

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

One novel on the list:
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Housewife Emma Bovary has an assignation with student Léon Dupuis in Rouen cathedral. "In the choir a silver lamp was burning, and from the side chapels and dark places of the church sometimes rose sounds like sighs, with the clang of a closing grating …" For Léon, the religious solemnity is fitting: he is a devotee of love. Emma arrives, tries to pray, but is overwhelmed by "the tumult of her heart".
Read about the other cathedrals on the list.

Madame Bovary is on Mullan's lists of ten of the best balls in literature, ten of the best bad lawyers in literature, ten of the best lotharios in literature, and ten of the best bad doctors in fiction, Valerie Martin's list of six novels about doomed marriages, and Louis Begley's list of favorite novels about cheating lovers. It tops Peter Carey's list of the top ten works of literature and was second on a top ten works of literature list selected by leading writers from Britain, America and Australia in 2007. It is one of John Bowe's six favorite books on love.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Top ten scary short stories

Chris Priestley is the author of the Tales of Terror series which won the Dracula Society's Children of the Night Award for best book with a Gothic horror theme.

His most recent books are Mister Creecher and The Dead of Winter.

Priestly is also an illustrator, painter and cartoonist.

For the Guardian, he named a top ten list of scary short stories. One title on the list:
"A Little Place Off the Edgware Road" by Graham Greene

This is a superbly creepy and grotesque short story by the great Graham Greene. It has more than a little Edgar Allan Poe about it, scuttling among the shadows at the edge of madness. A trip to the cinema proves to be a nightmarish experience for Craven as he finds himself seated next to someone very disturbing indeed in the darkness. Horrible. And I mean that in a good way.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, November 7, 2011

Five best battlefield memoirs

Max Hastings's latest book is Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945.

One of his five best eyewitness accounts from the battlefield, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
A Writer at War
by Vasily Grossman (2005)

Vasily Grossman was a celebrated Russian war correspondent, but his dispatches about the Red Army's experience during World War II were rigorously censored. By contrast, Grossman's notebooks, published as "A Writer at War," frankly depict the chaos, anguish, incompetence, heroism, cowardice and ultimate triumph of Russia's struggle. "I thought I'd seen retreat," he wrote during the disastrous early campaigns of 1941, "but I've never seen anything like what I'm seeing now. . . . Exodus! Biblical exodus! Vehicles are moving in eight columns, there's the violent roaring of dozens of trucks trying simultaneously to tear their wheels out of the mud. Huge herds of sheep and cows are driven through the fields. . . . There are also crowds of pedestrians with sacks, bundles, suitcases. This isn't a flood, this isn't a river, it's the slow movement of a flowing ocean." Grossman was a worthy chronicler of historic catastrophe.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ten of the best literary men dressed as women

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best men dressed as women in literature.

One book on his list:
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

On the run, Huck and escaped slave Jim find some women's clothes on an abandoned houseboat, and Jim persuades Huck to go ashore disguised as a girl, to find out if people are still searching for them. As "Sarah Williams" he is admitted to a lady's house, but she sees through his disguise when he begins to forget his own supposed name.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Huckleberry Finn is among Katie Couric's favorite books, James Gray's six best books, and John Mullan's lists of ten of the best vendettas in literature and ten of the best child narrators in literature. It is one of Stephen King's top ten works of literature. Director Spike Jonze and the Where the Wild Things Are film team tagged Huckleberry Finn on their list of the top 10 rascals in literature.

Also see: Ten of the best literary women dressed as men.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Howard Jacobson's five favorite literary heroines

Howard Jacobson's novels include The Finkler Question, which last year won Britain's Man Booker Prize.

One of his five favorite literary heroines, as told to The Week magazine:
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

The great novel of the senses and the heart that no other 19th-century novelist quite managed to write. That Tolstoy himself set out to write a moral tract warning against adultery only goes to prove D.H. Lawrence's dictum: Never trust the teller, trust the tale. Or, to put it another way, if it's truth you want, then go to art, not religion or ideology.
Read about the other entries on the list.

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

Also see Howard Jacobson's lists of the five best novels on failure and the top ten novels of sexual jealousy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, November 4, 2011

The ten best graphic novels

For The Observer, Rachel Cooke came up with a list of the ten best graphic novels, including:
The Castafiore Emerald
Hergé (1963)

This is Tintin’s 21st adventure, and one of only two in which he doesn’t travel abroad (Hergé, his creator, was by now tiring of his boy reporter and wished to experiment with a narrative low on villains and guns but high on misunderstandings and red herrings). Not a great deal happens: a soprano’s jewels are stolen and then recovered. No rocket to the moon, no spooky sarcophagi, no choppy seas. It’s my favourite Tintin story. I love the claustrophobia, our cast carefully gathered at Marlinspike Hall, as if in some Hercule Poirot mystery; and I love Bianca Castafiore herself – a diva to end all divas
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see Lev Grossman's top ten graphic novels list, Danny Fingeroth's top 10 list of graphic novels, and Malorie Blackman's top ten list of graphic novels for teenagers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Top ten wilderness books

Philip Connors was born in Iowa and grew up on a farm in southwest Minnesota. He attended the University of Montana, and then worked for several years at the Wall Street Journal, mostly as an editor on the Leisure & Arts page. In 2002, he left the paper for a seasonal job with the U.S. Forest Service in New Mexico. His writing has appeared in n+1, Harper's, the London Review of Books, The Nation, and elsewhere.

His "Diary of a Fire Lookout," which first appeared in the Paris Review, was selected for inclusion in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2009 and became the basis for his first book, Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout.

"Wilderness in its purest sense may be gone," he wrote in the Guardian, "but wild remnants remain, and many of my favourite books in the genre celebrate a particular place (often in America), cherishing what is native and mourning what's been lost."

One of Connors's top ten wilderness books:
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Based on real-life events along the Mexican-American border in the 1840s, McCarthy's novel about a group of bounty hunters reminds us that the European encounter with untamed frontiers in America was a very bloody business. The leader of the group, very learned but wholly barbarous, sums it up this way: "If war is not holy man is nothing but antic clay."
Read about the other entries on the list.

Blood Meridian is one authority's pick for the Great Texas novel and is among six books that made a difference to Kazuo Ishiguro, Clive Sinclair's top 10 westerns, Maile Meloy's six best books, and David Foster Wallace's five direly underappreciated post-1960 U.S. novels. It appears on the New York Times list of the best American fiction of the last 25 years and among the top ten works of literature according to Stephen King.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chuck Klosterman's five favorite books

Chuck Klosterman is the author of several books, including Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, Killing Yourself to Live, and Downtown Owl.

One of his five favorite books, as told to The Daily Beast:
Preston Falls
by David Gates

I’d loved Gates’s brilliant first novel (Jernigan) because it was so grim. Then I read this one, which makes his first book seem like Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. The author’s darkness has no bottom.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Fifty best cookbooks

At the Independent, Kate Watson-Smyth tagged the tastiest titles for your table.

One entry on the list:
India: Cookbook by Pushpesh Pant

Written by a culinary academic, who lives and works in Delhi, this beautiful book with its rice-sack-inspired cover is the Indian Silver Spoon. There are 1,000 family recipes that have been collected from all over the subcontinent and carefully edited to ensure they are easy to follow and achievable in Western kitchens.
Read about the other cookbooks on the list.

Also see: Kate Colquhoun's top 10 unusual cookbooks; the ten best children's cookbooks; the 10 best cookbooks of 2009; and Alton Brown's five best cookbooks.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Five must-reads by and about Nabokov

Maxim D. Shrayer's publications on Nabokov include The World of Nabokov’s Stories and Nabokov: Themes and Variations (in Russian). His recent books are the literary memoir Waiting for America: A Story of Emigration and the collection of stories Yom Kippur in Amsterdam.

One of his five must-reads by--and about--the Russian-American writer Vladimir Nabokov, from Shrayer's 2010 dialogue with Anna Blundy at The Browser:
Vladimir Nabokov
by Brian Boyd

Now we have Brian Boyd’s biography of Nabokov.

Note that I’m deliberately choosing English-language books on Nabokov that are in print and are likely to remain in print for the years to come. There are a number of wonderful books by other Nabokov scholars, some of these books no longer available in print. So, Boyd’s biography… It’s huge. Two enormous volumes. Monumental. It still remains the single most important book on Nabokov, having eclipsed a lot of things when it was published. It is reliable and readable. Boyd had access to Nabokov family materials. The field has changed in the past 20 years and there have been other biographies, including two Russian-language ones, neither one particularly outstanding. If I’m asked which biography is the best, I’d say the Boyd, even though I do have some reservations about it. I think in a way it’s almost too perfect, and in places it perfects and corrects Nabokov himself. That’s not to say that Boyd is avoiding contention or does not ask the hard questions, but you wonder if the story isn’t told almost exclusively through the Nabokovian lens. But we could not have done without Boyd’s work in the field.

What are some of the specific things one might have done differently?

It’s hard to write a biography in English of a person who is equally important to Russian, European and American cultures without getting bogged down in various cultural or ideological contexts.

For example, Nabokov’s great personal tragedy was that he wasn’t a great Russian poet. It had always been his ambition and it continued to be his ambition, but by the early-1930s he was writing less poetry, and when he resumed, off and on, he seemed to sense his limitations. Not that as a poet he wasn’t an accomplished craftsman, but Nabokov’s poetry lacked genius, a unique intonation. If you read a poem by Blok or Akhmatova, you would know it was written by them. With Nabokov’s poetry you probably wouldn’t know. This was a huge source of dissatisfaction to him as an artist, and in the story of his life it deserves more attention.

I suppose it would probably be a cavil to say that in Boyd’s biography the map of 20th-century Russian literature has one principal edifice. Some of the Russian works and authors, both Soviet and émigré, who had influenced Nabokov in profound and various ways, appear as hillocks and mounds, not literary mountains. It’s a bit like a map Nabokov himself might have drawn.

Another underappreciated matter would be the importance to Nabokov of his marriage to a Jewish woman and the effect that had on his life and career. I think it changed him as a person. Nabokov had to negotiate Jewish questions in his marriage, his son was halachically Jewish, he stayed in Nazi Germany until 1937 with a Jewish wife and son… but also it affected his writing and vision. I think there is a web of Jewish references and a significant trace of Judaism that we are only beginning to come to terms with in Nabokov’s writing. The late Véra Nabokov and Dmitri Nabokov participated in the creation of Boyd’s biography as advisers and readers, and they have both been reticent on this and other matters.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue