Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Five best books on theater

John Heilpern's books include Conference of the Birds: The Story of Peter Brook in Africa and How Good Is David Mamet, Anyway? Writings on Theater—and Why It Matters. He writes the "Out to Lunch" column for Vanity Fair.

One of his five best books on theater as told to the Wall Street Journal:
Shakespeare's Insults: Educating Your Wit
by Wayne F. Hill and Cynthia J. Ottchen (1995)

This collection of some 4,000 of the Bard's insults—4,000 of them!—was gleefully put together by two American students when they were studying at Cambridge University. The Hill & Ottchen team has never let me down. Shakespeare's insults, muscular abuse and common profanities enrich his plays like a lethally merry feast. They are a tonic in these indecorous times: "He is not the flower of courtesy" ("Romeo and Juliet"). They condemn with wit: "The tartness of his face sours ripe grapes" ("Coriolanus"). There's something for everyone. The stinging insult that offers sound advice: "Sell when you can, you are not for all markets" ("As You Like It"). The balefully dismissive: "All that is within him does condemn itself for being there" ("Macbeth"). Even the contemptuously prosaic: "You three-inch fool!" ("The Taming of the Shrew"). There are also abundant examples of insults that are so rude, and lewd, that they cannot be done justice to here. That is what the theater is for.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 30, 2012

Ten of the best nightmares in literature

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

One novel on the list:
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

"Ah, God! what trances of torments does that man endure who is consumed with one unachieved revengeful desire." Captain Ahab lies in his bunk, screaming in his sleep at the terrors that possess him. "A chasm seemed opening in him, from which forked flames and lightnings shot up, and accursed fiends beckoned him to leap down among them." And all because he wants to kill a whale.
Read about the other bad dreams on the list.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Five top books on dissent in Eastern Europe

Timothy Snyder is professor of history at Yale University. His books include Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.

One book tagged in his dialogue with Alec Ash at The Browser about books on the experience of dissent in Central and Eastern Europe:
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
by Milan Kundera

Why did you choose Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting?

Milan Kundera was of course not really a dissident, but this book gets across the heartfelt reality of Stalinist faith. Kundera was a young Stalinist, as were his friends. So he knows what it was like to be on the inside, to have certainty about the rest of the world and to believe that everyone who didn’t share that certainty was a fool. To know where things were going and what you wanted from society – that glowing, overwhelming sense that one is young and the world belongs to you. Kundera really gets that sense across, and I think that’s incredibly important.

When one thinks about the reality of dissidence, we in the West tend to look back and think there was bad communism and a bunch of nice liberals. But in fact most dissidents went through a pretty intense intellectual revolution themselves to get to where they were. The most important dissidents in Czechoslovakia were themselves Stalinists at one point. The point is not just that we all have original sin, but that if we don’t grasp the positive forces that attracted other people at one point then we grasp neither the human evolution of dissidence nor what they were really up against, which was a quite powerful ideology.

So was the history of Soviet dissidence written by the victors?

I think the history of dissidence has been written not so much by the victors as by observers of the victors. They played a supporting role in a larger drama about the neoliberal triumph. It’s only part of a larger story, whereas there’s a much more interesting smaller story about people's capacity to change themselves.

Interestingly, in 2008, documents were found that seemed to suggest that Kundera had turned in a spy to the communist authorities. Everyone was shocked. The Americans, the Czechs, everyone – including Kundera himself, who denies it. But we shouldn’t have been shocked. We have this delusion that everyone who we think of as resisting communism must have been a nice liberal their whole life. But of course when this allegedly happened, in 1952, Kundera was a Stalinist. So behaving irregularly was completely consistent with his worldview at the time. Everyone has together been wishfully dismissing that from history.
Read about the other books Snyder discussed at The Browser.

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting is on Colum McCann's top ten list of novels featuring poets.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Five best books by the homesick

Susan J. Matt is Presidential Distinguished Professor of History at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. She is the author of Keeping Up with the Joneses: Envy in American Consumer Society, 1890-1930 and Homesickness: An American History.

For the Wall Street Journal, she named a five best list of books by the homesick.

One title on the list:
Desert Exile
by Yoshiko Uchida (1982)

In 1942, Yoshiko Uchida's family left their home in Berkeley, Calif., where she was attending college, and took up residence in horse stall No. 40 at the Tanforan Race Track in San Bruno, on the other side of San Francisco Bay. They had been sent to the track along with thousands of other Japanese-Americans by the U.S. government in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor. When the Uchidas arrived at the racetrack, the young woman felt "degraded, humiliated, and overwhelmed with a longing for home," she wrote in this memoir. "And I saw the unutterable sadness on my mother's face." Yet the family tried so hard to make the rough surroundings comfortable that when they were again uprooted and sent to an internment camp in Utah, they found themselves missing Tanforan—at least it was familiar. In addition to recording her family's internment experience, Uchida recounts her parents' emigration to the U.S. a few decades earlier, their gradual assimilation during the 1920s and 1930s, and their postwar efforts to put down roots. "Desert Exile" is a portrait of a family for which a lasting sense of home proved elusive.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 99 Test: Susan J. Matt's Homesickness.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 27, 2012

Ten of the best seductions in literature

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

One novel on the list:
Moll Flanders, by Daniel Defoe

Moll looks back on her first steps in a career of sexual opportunism. It begins with the son of the woman for whom she works as a maidservant. He starts with mere flattery, throws in a few "earnest" kisses and then thrusts five guineas into her hand. "I was more confounded with the Money than I was before with the Love" – and so "I gave my self up to Ruin."
Read about the other entries on the list.

Moll Flanders appears on Freya North's top ten list of romantic fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Top ten books of the night

Ian Marchant's books include two acclaimed memoir/travel books, Parallel Lines and The Longest Crawl, and the recently released night-owl's guide to Britain, Something of the Night.

One of his top ten books of the night, as told to the Guardian:
Worst Journey in the World by Apsley Cherry-Garrard

This is an account of Scott's expedition of 1912, brilliantly written by one who was there. The title might lead you to suspect that the doomed attempt on the South Pole would be the eponymous journey. Not a bit of it. Compared to the so-called Winter Journey, going to the Pole was a bit of a spree. Apsley-Garrard, Edward Wilson and Birdie Bowers travelled 130 miles in temperatures as low as -60C to collect emperor penguin eggs. It was so cold that the pus in their frostbitten fingers froze. And all under cover of the Antarctic winter night. Astonishing, and never out of print since publication in 1922.
Read about the other books on the list.

Worst Journey in the World is one of the Barnes & Noble Review's five books on winter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Henry Alford's six favorite books

Henry Alford has written for the New York Times and Vanity Fair for over a decade. He has also written for the New Yorker. It is entirely possible that you have heard him on National Public Radio.

He is the author of a humor collection, Municipal Bondage, and of an account of his attempts to become a working actor, Big Kiss, which won a Thurber Prize. His book How to Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People (While They are Still on This Earth), which was named a Best Book of the Year by Publishers Weekly.

Alford's new book about manners, Would It Kill You To Stop Doing That?, was published earlier this month.

One of the author's six favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

You don't need to know this parody novel's antecedents — D.H. Lawrence and Thomas Hardy's rural melodramas­ — to weep with laughter at it: Backwoods yokelism is universal. Read it and "I saw something nasty in the woodshed" may become your new "grunions at their best," if not your new "Danskin crotch panel."
Read about the other books on Alford's list.

Cold Comfort Farm is among Belinda McKeon top ten farming novels, John Mullan's ten best parodies in literature, and Lisa Armstrong's top books on shoes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five top books about mountaineering

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books about mountaineering:
Into Thin Air
by Jon Krakauer

Krakauer's unforgettable and unflinching page-turner set the standard for modern accounts of hubris colliding with the elements. It tells the story of the May 1996 disaster on Mount Everest that left eight people dead. Krakauer was on the mountain that fateful morning, and he shares every last detail of one of Everest's darkest days, including doubts about his own behavior that may have cost a life. This edition is updated with a new postscript that addresses conflicting accounts of the tragedy, especially the bitter debate that arose between Krakauer and Everest guide Anatoli Boukree.
Read about the other books on the list.

Into Thin Air is one of Ed Douglas's ten best survival stories.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Five top science fiction classics

Adam Roberts received his MA (English and Classics Jt-Hons) from Aberdeen University and his PhD (Robert Browning and the Classics) from Cambridge University. He has worked in the English Department at Royal Holloway, University of London, since 1991, and he is currently Professor of Nineteenth Century Literature.

His books include The History of Science Fiction as well as numerous science fiction novels, eight parodies, two novellas, a collection of short stories and various other things.

One of five top science fiction classics he discussed with Alec Ash at The Browser:
by Mary Shelley

Let’s begin with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, published in 1818.

Frankenstein is called by some (but not by me) the first science fiction novel. In it, that futurity is materialised as Frankenstein’s monster, a weird symbolisation of “the child” filtered through the imaginarium of horror and terror. Shelley had miscarried her first pregnancy a year before writing the novel – the year after it was published, both her babies died of malaria – and her novel understands the relationship between creativity and morbidity, between birth and death.

I’m sure I don’t need to summarise the story for you [spoiler alert!]. A scientist called Victor Frankenstein constructs and animates an eight-foot-tall artificial man, but obscurely horrified by what he has done, abandons his creation and temporarily loses his memory. The creature – never named – comes into the world a mental tabula rasa to be written upon by experience – as it transpires, mostly the experience of others’ hostility towards its hideous appearance. It learns not only to speak but, improbably enough, to read and write by eavesdropping unnoticed on a peasant family. Thereafter it becomes murderous, a consequence not only of others’ hostility but also of reading Milton’s Paradise Lost and identifying with the outcast Satan. Lonely, it seeks out its maker demanding that he create a monstrous bride. Frankenstein agrees and builds a second, female creature, but belatedly alarmed at the implication of his two creations breeding and populating the world with monsters, he tears it to pieces. In revenge the monster kills Frankenstein’s own wife. Frankenstein pursues his creation to the arctic wastes, where he dies. The novel ends with the creature still alive, but promising to kill itself.

Summarised so baldly, this perhaps seems a little clumsily plotted – Shelley was 19 when she wrote it – and the novel does sometimes lapse into a rather melodramatic crudeness. But it also possesses remarkable imaginative power, not least in the embodiment, in both heart-wracked scientist and sublime monster, of two enduringly iconic archetypes of the genre.

Do we trace the beginnings of sci-fi back to Frankenstein, or earlier still?

Brian Aldiss has famously argued that science fiction starts with Mary Shelley’s novel, and many people have agreed with him. For Aldiss, writing in Billion Year Spree, Frankenstein encapsulates “the modern theme, touching not only on science but man’s dual nature, whose inherited ape curiosity has brought him both success and misery”. Indeed, in 1974 Aldiss wrote his own oblique fictional treatment of the same story, Frankenstein Unbound, in which a modern man, propelled by “timeslips” back to the Romantic era, meets not only Mary Shelley but Frankenstein and his monster too – the latter proving an eloquent commentator on man’s capacity for dialectically interconnected creation and destruction. As a description of the novel and an implicit characterisation of SF as a whole, this has persuaded many.

I once wrote a History of Science Fiction in which I argued that SF begins much earlier than Frankenstein. I’m not alone in thinking so. Some people suggest that it goes all the way back to Homer’s fantastical voyage or the Epic of Gilgamesh. Fantasy in the broadest sense is of great antiquity in human culture, I agree. But there seems some point to me in separating out science fiction from the broader category of fantasy, and I’d say we can’t really do that until we have “science” as a meaningful category. For me that means the Renaissance.

I argue that the first proper SF story is a book by Johannes Kepler, the German astronomer, called Somnium – written in 1600, though not published until the 1630s – in which he imagines what actual lunar life forms might look like. There are a great many voyages to planets in the 17th and 18th centuries. But that said, I’d agree that Frankenstein occupies a special place in the genre. Though a little clumsily put together, it is astonishingly powerful and dream-haunting. One reason for that is the way it realises, in dramatic form, the terror of generation – of what inherits us, what comes after.
Read about the other entries at The Browser.

Frankenstein is one of Andrew Crumey's top ten novels that predicted the future.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 23, 2012

Five top books on the gods of Olympus

One novel on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five books on the Olympians:
The Infinities
by John Banville

The Greek pantheon has been the inspiration for a wide variety of recent works of fiction. In The Messenger of Athens, Ann Zouroudi introduced readers to Hermes Diaktoros, a detective of possibly divine origin. Dan Simmons imagined a race of "Post-Humans" taking on the personae of Zeus & Co. in Ilium. And, of course, in Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series, a boy finds himself part of a hidden world of modern Olympians. In The Infinities, Man Booker Prize-winner John Banville surrounds a dying writer and his fractured family with the scheming of Greek divinities -- who display distinctly earthly appetites.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Five books about secret agents featured in series

Jeffrey T. Richelson is the author of several books on intelligence, including Defusing Armageddon: Inside NEST, America's Secret Nuclear Bomb Squad and Spying on the Bomb. He is currently a Senior Fellow with the National Security Archive.

In 2008 he named a five best list of books on secret agents featured in series for the Wall Street Journal, including:
Berlin Game
by Len Deighton

Intelligence officer Bernard Samson is languishing behind a desk in London when word arrives that one of Britain's most important sources behind the Iron Curtain wants out. Samson is sent into the field to bring "Brahms Four" home -- a mission he undertakes despite troubling evidence of an enemy mole in his department. Though Len Deighton is better known for "The Ipcress File" (1962), "Berlin Game" -- the first book in what would become a series of three Samson trilogies -- is his most absorbing work. It captures two preoccupations of Cold War intelligence battles: recruiting agents in the adversary's intelligence services and unmasking enemy penetrations. Deighton skillfully weaves suspense, but he also writes with an appealingly jaundiced view of the spy game, particularly of its top officials. Samson's boss, we're told, "the most stuffed shirt in the whole Department," locks up his elegant coffee cup and sugar bowl in a secure filing cabinet each night.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Five recommended books on the art of living

Roman Krznaric is a cultural thinker and founding faculty member of The School of Life in London, which offers instruction and inspiration on the important questions of everyday life. He advises organizations including Oxfam and the United Nations on using empathy and conversation to create social change, and has been named by the Observer as one of Britain’s leading lifestyle philosophers.

One of five notable books on the art of living he discussed with Alec Ash at The Browser:
Down and Out in Paris and London
by George Orwell

Another man who walked to the beat of his own drummer was George Orwell. Down and Out in Paris and London is your second choice. What does it teach us?

I think that Orwell was one of the great travel adventurers of the 20th century. The reason I think that is because in Down and Out in Paris and London he showed that empathy could become an extreme sport and the guideline for the art of living. It’s the second half of the book that I particularly like, in which he describes how he went tramping in east London. He would dress up as a tramp and go into the streets of London, fraternising with beggars and people living on the streets. He was trying to empathise with people who lived on the social margins.

One has to remember that Orwell had an incredibly privileged background. He went to Eton, he was an officer in the colonial police in Burma for five years. He realised that he didn’t know how everyday people lived, so his experiments in the late 1920s and 30s of tramping in London were a form of travel really, or experiential adventuring. He was trying to experience how other people lived, to get a taste of their lives. By doing so, he discovered that empathy isn’t something that makes you good but something that is good for you. So for me, Orwell is one of my great empathic heroes.

Tell us more about the crucial role of empathy, which I know is a great interest of yours. What should we all keep in mind about empathy?

I think we’ve been too obsessed with self-interest over the last century, and that’s limited the way that we pursue the good life. I think that empathy – the ability to try to imagine yourself into someone else’s life, to look through their eyes – can expand our lives enormously. Of course, if you see somebody begging under a bridge you might feel sorry for them or toss them a coin, but that’s not empathy, it’s sympathy or pity. Empathy is when you have a conversation with them, try to understand how they feel about life, what it’s like sleeping outside on a cold winter’s night – try to make a real human connection and see their individuality.

The benefit of this is not only that it widens your own moral universe, but that it engages you with other people and other ways of living. It expands your curiosity to new ideas of how to live. That’s what happened to Orwell. He expanded his moral universe by talking to beggars and people sleeping on the streets, but also he met incredible characters. He was energised for his literary work by everything that he saw. It was the great travel adventure of his life, and that’s ultimately what I think empathy can do for us.

The lessons which Orwell says he learned from this experience of poverty seem almost mundane – simply that he shall “never again think that all tramps are drunken scoundrels, nor expect a beggar to be grateful when I give him a penny”.

I think it’s anything but mundane. The traditional way to think about social change is about changing political institutions – new laws, new policies, overthrowing governments and so on. I think social change is actually about creating a revolution of human relationships. About changing the way people treat each other on an everyday basis. That’s what Orwell was learning about. He was talking to individuals – understanding the minutiae of their lives – and after his time living in the streets of London he went on to do journalistic work which was really about trying to connect with human lives.

For example, in his book The Road to Wigan Pier there’s a famous essay called “Down the Mine”, when he goes down a coal mine and tries to understand what it’s like to be a coal miner. These coal miners were powering British society at the time – coal created everything. Orwell said if you don’t understand their lives, you understand nothing.
Read about the other books Krznaric tagged at The Browser.

Down and Out in Paris and London is on Alice-Azania Jarvis's reading list about unemployment and Carmela Ciuraru's list of six favorite pseudonymous books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five best French noir novels

R.J. Ellory's novels include the bestselling A Quiet Belief in Angels, which was the Strand Magazine's Thriller of the Year, nominated for the Barry Award, and a finalist for the SIBA Award. His novel, A Simple Act of Violence, won the Theakston's Crime Novel of the Year Award.

He named his five best French noir novels for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on the list:
The Prone Gunman
by Jean-Patrick Manchette (1982)

The romanticism of anonymity, the banality of violence—here we have the life of the assassin Martin Terrier in "The Prone Gunman." Jean-Patrick Manchette's terse prose moves like the swift, almost automatic methods and mannerisms of his protagonist. The novel's opening establishes the pragmatic and unemotional attitude that Terrier applies to all his assignments: He follows a man named Dubofsky, waits for him to leave a movie theater, then stops him on a public sidewalk. "Dubofsky opened his mouth to shout. Terrier shot him once in his open mouth and again at the base of his nose." The victim was on his way to an assignation with a young woman; Terrier shoots her, too, "the silencer against the girl's heart." How can he do such things with such equanimity? Manchette said that the crime novel was 'the great moral literature of our time," but he left us with a punishing look into a brutal world. It is not easy reading, but then we do not read crime fiction for comfort.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 20, 2012

Top ten popular mathematics books

Ian Stewart is Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick. His many books include From Here to Infinity, Nature’s Numbers, Does God Play Dice?, The Problems of Mathematics, Letters to a Young Mathematician, and Why Beauty Is Truth. His writing has appeared in New Scientist, Discover, Scientific American, and many newspapers in the U.K. and U.S.

His new book is In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World.

One of Stewart's top ten popular mathematics books, as told to the Guardian:
Gödel, Escher, Bach by Douglas Hofstadter

One of the great cult books, a very original take on the logical paradoxes associated with self-reference, such as "this statement is false". Hofstadter combines the mathematical logic of Kurt Gödel, who proved that some questions in arithmetic can never be answered, with the etchings of Maurits Escher and the music of Bach. Frequent dramatic dialogues between Lewis Carroll's characters Achilles and the Tortoise motivate key topics in a highly original manner, along with their friend Crab who invents the tortoise-chomping record player. DNA and computers get extensive treatment too.
Read about the other books on the list.

Gödel, Escher, Bach is one of Dan Brown's six favorite books.

The Page 99 Test: Ian Stewart's Why Beauty Is Truth.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Six novels about grand passions

The Christian Science Monitor culled six novels about grand passions from Thomas Craughwell's Great Books for every Book Lover.

One title on the list:
Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel García Márquez

First published in Colombia, Marquez’s book takes place in an unidentified Caribbean port city. Young Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza carry out an adolescent love affair through letters and glances. Eventually the couple is separated by Fermina’s disapproving father, and later she decides to marry a financially secure Doctor. Florentino never loses his devoted passion for his young love, and though he conducts hundreds of sexual dalliances, he looks forward to their predestined union.
Read about the other books on the list.

Love in the Time of Cholera also made Ann Brashares' six favorite books list and Marie Arana's list of the best books about love ; it is one of Hugh Thomson’s top ten books on South American journeys.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Top ten dystopian novels for teenagers

In 2007 Gemma Malley complied a top 10 list of dystopian novels for teenagers for the Guardian.

One title on the list:
Lord of the Flies by William Golding

A must read for all teenagers (and their parents) - Lord of the Flies is as relevant now as it was when it was written in the 1950s. A plane crash leaves a group of schoolboys stranded on a desert island - and what starts as a survival tale soon turns into a gripping thriller and a compelling commentary on civilisation, competition, and the animal instincts that live within us all.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Lord of the Flies is on AbeBooks' list of 20 books of shattered childhoods and is one of the top ten works of literature according to Stephen King. It appears on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best pigs in literature, ten of the best pairs of glasses in literature, and ten of the best horrid children in literature, Katharine Quarmby's top ten list of disability stories, and William Skidelsky's list of ten of the best accounts of being marooned in literature. It is a book that made a difference to Isla Fisher and is one of Suzi Quatro's six best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Five notable books on Las Vegas

Matthew O'Brien is an author and journalist who's lived in Las Vegas since 1997. His first book, Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas, chronicles his adventures in the city's underground flood channels. His second book, My Week at the Blue Angel: And Other Stories from the Storm Drains, Strip Clubs, and Trailer Parks of Las Vegas, is a creative-nonfiction collection set in off-the-beaten-path Vegas.

One of five notable books about Las Vegas he discussed with Eve Gerber at The Browser:
Lay the Favorite
by Beth Raymer

Let’s talk about today’s Las Vegas as captured by Beth Raymer in her 2010 memoir, Lay the Favorite. What is it about?

It’s about a young girl who moves out here with her boyfriend. Then they break up and she’s in need of work and unsure what to do, and she comes across a job opportunity as an assistant to a sports bettor. It’s about her experiences in this male dominated sports betting world.

Is sports betting an important part of the overall gambling industry in Nevada? I know it’s one of the few American states where sports betting is legal.

It’s not considered one of the main types of gambling out here. A lot of money is made off baccarat, roulette, slots, craps, and blackjack. A sports book is a side attraction for tourists. People place bets but don’t drop a lot of money. The books do pretty well but not nearly as well as the slots and table games.

Raymer tells such a crackerjack of a story that her memoir has already been turned into a film by Stephen Frears. What recommends the written account over waiting to see the story in theatres?

You’re getting a female take on a male-dominated world. Raymer writes with a great sense of humour – there are tons of memorable one-liners.
Read about the other books O'Brien tagged at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five top books on the telephone

One book on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five books on the telephone:
America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940
by Claude S. Fischer

Now that phones go with us everywhere, it's hard to remember a time when we couldn't just call someone on a whim. Chronicling the early decades of telephone technology, Fischer, a sociology professor at UC-Berkeley, examines how its spread changed our collective way of life long before we all went mobile.
Read about the other books on the list.

Claude S. Fischer's latest book is Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character.

Also see Nicholas Royle's top ten writers on the telephone.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 16, 2012

Ten best books for a good cry

Hallie Ephron is an award-winning mystery reviewer for the Boston Globe. Her books include Come and Find Me, Never Tell a Lie, which was a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award and was made into the film And Baby Will Fall for the Lifetime Movie Network, and Writing and Selling Your Mystery, which was nominated for both an Edgar and an Anthony Award.

One of her ten best books for a good cry, as told to the Christian Science Monitor:
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Achebe’s story conveys themes of individual and cultural struggle. It narrates the experience of Okonkwo, a prosperous Nigerian farmer who is contending with personal insecurities and encroaching colonialism. The simultaneous external and internal forces tearing at the fabric of Okonkwo’s existence produce a tragic fate for this imperfect hero.
Read about the other books on the list.

Things Fall Apart is one of Helon Habila's three books to help understand Nigeria and Martin Meredith's ten books to read on Africa.

Also see: Top ten literary tear jerkers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ten good books on Martin Luther King, Jr.

The staff of the Christian Science Monitor came up with ten of the best books about Martin Luther King, Jr., including:
Bearing the Cross, by David Garrow

Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by David Garrow (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 800 pp.) is a raw glimpse of the man who led the Civil Rights Movement. The book does not idealize King, yet readers will come away better understanding of both his faults and his strengths.
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see: Five notable books on the civil rights movement.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Five top books on Austrian economics

Peter Boettke is professor of economics at George Mason University. His books include Why Perestroika Failed and, as editor, The Elgar Companion to Austrian Economics.

He discussed five books on Austrian economics with Sophie Roell at The Browser.

One title on the list:
After War
by Christopher Coyne

The last book you’ve recommended is After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy, by Christopher Coyne.

This book is amazing. Coyne took on the topic of how successful the US can be at exporting democracy and the free market in after-war situations. This became a big venture in the 20th century, when the US became much more aggressive about this idea that we could intervene to try to help make other countries better off. Part of it was for geopolitical reasons – after 9/11 we believed that one of the things we had to do was make the Middle East more conducive to free markets and democracy, because then it’s less likely to generate terrorists. So then the question is, is that an effective strategy? Coyne takes the strategy as stated by the officials, and then assesses whether the means employed are successful. He uses a very low threshold, which is, after the US intervention, after the country is supposedly settled, does it meet the standard on the Polity Index of modern day Iran? What he found was that in US-led efforts, basically somewhere between two-thirds and three-quarters of the efforts failed to meet even that minimum standard.

Yes, I’m looking down his list of 30 or so invasions that have taken place, and it’s not looking too good.

Right. Everybody points to Japan and Germany, but he points out that before the war, Japan and Germany had very high measures of civil society. In most of these other places, what you’re trying to do is create civil society, and at the point of a gun is not a very good way to do it. So I think Coyne really does show the futility of our efforts. All these efforts at war – the loss of lives, the billions of dollars spent – got us what?

If only this book had been around before the invasion of Iraq. It could have saved more than 100,000 Iraqi lives.

That’s what you think, right? In Coyne, there is not a lightness to his pen, in the same way there is with [Peter] Leeson [in The Invisible Hook]. Leeson is dealing with an entertaining topic. Coyne is dealing with a deadly serious topic. Both of them are bringing to bear the kind of economics that comes out of Mises and Hayek, to address why it is people should care about economics and why it is that their caring should not lead them to be sombre and boring, but actually fun and enjoyable, while talking about very sad subjects sometimes.

Thinking through the conclusions of After War, I’m thinking that if the US wants to invade a country successfully, France would be a good choice.

Chris’s point, if you think about what he’s saying, is that imagine you have to put two pieces of a puzzle together. You have a piece and you have to find a piece that fits exactly in it. Chris is arguing that that bedrock of institutions is there prior to our intervention. When we try to intervene and press on them puzzle pieces that don’t fit with their bedrock of institutions, we get distortions. It’s like putting a square peg into a round hole – you’d have to force it, it wouldn’t really look too good, and your puzzle wouldn’t get completed. Because of this issue of underlying institutions, Japan and Germany were able to accept the puzzle pieces. That’s why he ends by saying it’s not going to be about war and imposition, but about trade and development. That’s what’s going to allow that cultural piece, that bedrock piece, to morph into a piece accepting of other pieces. All we can do is give them the opportunity to benefit from free exchange with other individuals. If you give people the freedom to choose, they’ll move in that direction, but what you don’t have is the ability to put a gun to the back of someone’s head and make them engage in freedom.

So if you’re writing a serious book of Austrian economics, it won’t need to have equations in it?

No. Most standard economics assumes that the relationships we are trying to understand can be captured by a continuous function that’s smooth and twice differentiable. What the Austrian analytics suggests is that life is not actually a continuous and smooth function that’s twice differentiable, but instead a lumpy function, a discrete function, in which there are all kinds of difficulties in the ability for us to model them the way our standard approach does. So, instead, what we engage in is discursive reasoning. You use the logic of economic action, the logic of choice, you worry about opportunity cost and presume individuals are doing the best that they can, given their situation. But notice, even in that phrase, you have to spend a lot of time specifying what that situation is. That situation is full of historical context and institutional details. A lot of your story is made up of the specification of the context in which economics decisions are made.
Read about the other books Boettke tagged at The Browser.

The Page 99 Test: Christopher Coyne's After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 13, 2012

Four essential novels by Graham Greene

Pico Iyer's new memoir is The Man Within My Head.

He named his four favorite Graham Greene novels for The Daily Beast. One title on the list:
Our Man in Havana

Greene could be wickedly funny, and part of the power of his work comes from a sense of P.G. Wodehouse bumping into Kafka. This story of a mild-mannered English vacuum-cleaner salesman in louche, 1950s Havana who is somehow chosen to be an agent for British intelligence sets the scene for John le Carré’s The Tailor of Panama and innumerable other bittersweet thrillers about innocents caught in larger designs. It also gets Cuba, even as it is today, to perfection.
Read about the other novels on Iyer's list.

Our Man in Havana also made Alan Furst's five best list of spy books; it is one of Stella Rimington's six favorite secret agent novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Nine notable books on The Enlightenment

Sophie Gee is Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies in Princeton's English department.

In 2007 she published her first novel, The Scandal of the Season, a comedy of manners set in eighteenth-century London, and a retelling of "The Rape of the Lock." The novel was named one of the Best Books of 2007 by the Washington Post and the Economist and is published in 13 countries.

In 2009 Gee discussed some notable books on The Enlightenment with Roland Chambers at The Browser, including:
City of Laughter
by Vic Gatrell

So finally to City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth Century London, which a reviewer describes like this: ‘Great toppling pyramids of bottoms and bosoms decorate this book, nipples stipple it, and on every page chamber pots and tankards overflow.’

I wanted to put a book in that showed that the Enlightenment wasn’t just about people having big ideas. It was also about people having a good time. And I suppose that one of the consequences of political and social optimism was collective pleasure, and that’s really what this book’s about. It’s about people being libidinous and bawdy and sexually free in a big city. Feeling for the first time that they were living in a modern world. What’s coming across in this book is that the Enlightenment is a period of excess, of luxury, of feeling as though people have more than enough to go round – piles of bottoms and breasts – a celebration of life and plenty. And an acknowledgement as well of the other side of that which is a plenitude of filth and lewdness and disenchantment and poverty and vice. In other words the overflow of the other side of life.
Read about the other books Gee discussed at The Browser.

Visit Sophie Gee's website.

The Page 99 Test: Sophie Gee's The Scandal of the Season.

Writers Read: Sophie Gee (June 2009).

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Top ten books about the internet

John Naughton is Vice-President of Wolfson College, Cambridge and Emeritus Professor of the Public Understanding of Technology at the Open University. He is also an Observer columnist and a prominent blogger at memex.naughtons.org. His new book is From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: What You Really Need to Know About the Internet.

One of Naughton's top ten books about the internet, as told to the Guardian:
Republic.com by Cass Sunstein

Technological optimists see the internet as a prime enabler of a free market in ideas, a space in which anyone can have access to the best thinking and the best arguments. But sceptics like Cass Sunstein see the burgeoning technologies of "personalisation" – the software that enables Amazon to make recommendations specially tailored for you, or the filtering systems that enable you to construct the "Daily Me" from a set of RSS feeds from sites of which you approve – as a countervailing force heading in a different direction. They foresee an online world in which you see only what you want to see and hear only what you want to hear – in other words the fragmentation of the internet into a multitude of ideological echo-chambers, a development which would be dangerous for democracy. And if you think that's a far-fetched fear, just look at the Tea Party in the US.
Read about the other books on Naughton's list.

Also see Lev Grossman's list of five books about the World Wide Web.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Five books about the civil rights movement

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five books on the civil rights movement:
Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963
by Taylor Branch

The Civil Rights Movement was in many ways a grass-roots response to decades of oppression. But it was also the outcome of carefully orchestrated political actions and behind-the-scenes negotiations between leaders who collaborated -- and sometimes competed. Branch's magnificent three-part series, which begins with Parting the Waters, renders the epic story of the movement's march to legal triumph.
Read about the other books on the list. 

Parting the Waters is one of Gal Beckerman's six favorite books about political movements.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five top books on journalism

Toby Young is a British journalist and author of the memoir How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.

One of his five top books on journalism, as told to Alec Ash at The Browser:
Black Hawk Down
by Mark Bowden

As a journalist who rarely leaves my desk, I don’t get an opportunity to do much reportage – but I get a vicarious thrill from reading it. Some of my favourite journalism books are examples of sustained reporting about a single subject – The Studio by John Gregory Dunne, for instance, and American Ground by William Langewiesche – but I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a book of reportage more than Black Hawk Down.

What’s so great about it is that it describes a humiliating military defeat [the 1993 battle of Mogadishu in Somalia], and yet the American soldiers featured in its pages emerge as stone-cold heroes. It’s a familiar story – the lion-hearted fighting men let down by faulty equipment and incompetent generals. The Ridley Scott movie really doesn’t do it justice.
Read about the other books Young tagged at The Browser.

Also see Tom Rachman's top ten journalist's tales, Judith Paterson's list of the ten best books of social concern by journalists, Roger Mudd's five best books about journalism, and Scott Simon's five best journalism books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Five notable books on Venice

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five books on Venice:
Death at La Fenice
by Donna Leon

Leon's stylishly written, well-constructed, deliciously atmospheric mysteries--deftly set in modern Venice--offer sophisticated entertainment, with a detective, Commissario Guido Brunetti, who is the best of company (his wife Paola is a most engaging acquaintance as well). This is the first of the series' 20 books.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top ten books set in a wintry landscape

Megan Miranda was a scientist and high school teacher before writing her first novel Fracture, which came out of her fascination with scientific mysteries—especially those associated with the brain.

Miranda has a BS in biology from MIT and spent her post-college years either rocking a lab coat or reading books. She lives near Charlotte, North Carolina, where she volunteers as an MIT Educational Counselor.

One of Miranda's top ten books set in a wintry landscape, as told to the Guardian:
The Call of the Wild by Jack London

With the Klondike Gold Rush in full swing, there's a high price for sled dogs to guide men through the winter landscape. This is the timeless story of Buck, a dog who was stolen, sold, and beaten into submission in the Alaskan winter. But it is also the story of love, loyalty, and a new awakening as Buck feels the pull of both worlds: the bond between the man who saves him and the call of his roots, from the wild. This is a book that has stayed with me for nearly 20 years and will probably stay with me for another 20, at least.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Call of the Wild is one of Jill Hucklesby's top 10 books about running away, Charlie English's top ten snow books, and one of Thomas Bloor's top ten tales of metamorphosis. It appears on John Mullan's list of ten of the best wolves in literature and Alice-Azania Jarvis's reading list on dogs.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 9, 2012

Ten books for a good laugh

Hallie Ephron is an award-winning mystery reviewer for the Boston Globe. Her books include Come and Find Me, Never Tell a Lie, which was a finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award and was made into the film And Baby Will Fall for the Lifetime Movie Network, and Writing and Selling Your Mystery, which was nominated for both an Edgar and an Anthony Award.

One of her ten best books for a good laugh, as told to the Christian Science Monitor:
A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole

Toole’s corpulent protagonist has been compared to Falstaff and Quixote, but that’s not to say that Ignatius J. Reilly lacks his own comedic identity. After an unfortunate accident, the unemployed and unwise historian is launched into the working world – but not without a fight from his baser instincts. Both farcical and poignant, this Pulitzer Prize-winning book is unforgettable.
Read about the other books on the list.

A Confederacy of Dunces is among Stephen Kelman's top 10 outsiders' stories, John Mullan's ten best moustaches in literature, Michael Lewis's five favorite books, and Cracked magazine's classic funny novels.

Visit Hallie Ephron's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Hallie Ephron's Never Tell A Lie.

Writers Read: Hallie Ephron.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Ten of the best clocks in literature

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

One entry on the list:
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

How many A-level essays have been written about the stopped clock on Nick's mantelpiece? Gatsby and Daisy are meeting again, the former leaning on the mantelpiece. "Luckily the clock took this moment to tilt dangerously at the pressure of his head, whereupon he turned and caught it with trembling fingers, and set it back in place."
Read about the other clocks on the list.

The Great Gatsby appears among Jim Lehrer's six favorite 20th century novels, 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

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Five best books on Mormonism

Samuel Morris Brown is Assistant Professor of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Utah/Intermountain Medical Center and the translator of Aleksandr Men's Son of Man.

His new book is In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death.

For the Wall Street Journal, Brown named a five best list of books on Mormonism—its history, its meaning and its role in the modern world. One title on the list:
Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction
by Richard Bushman (2008)

This slender but informative volume is written by the dean of Mormon studies, Richard Bushman, an award-winning colonial historian and the premier biographer of Mormon founder Joseph Smith. Bushman deftly explores conflicts and currents within historic and contemporary Mormonism, including a brief exposition of early Mormon theology and a devotional highlight from a spiritual memoir by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen. This book—a Berlitz guide of sorts to the complex world of modern Mormonism—is probably the most efficient way to grasp what it means to be a Mormon today.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 99 Test: Richard Bushman's Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 6, 2012

Five books that inspired William Boyd

William Boyd is the author of several critically acclaimed novels, including A Good Man in Africa, winner of the Whitbread and Somerset Maugham awards, and Any Human Heart, winner of the Prix Jean Monnet.

With Toby Ash at The Browser, Boyd discussed five books and authors that inspired him, including:
The Heart of the Matter
by Graham Greene

Your next choice is The Heart of the Matter. This is the story of a British colonial police officer, Henry Scobie, set in Sierra Leone. Was this an inspiration for your book A Good Man in Africa?

Yes it was. Again, I have deliberately chosen a book that I read when I was young and thinking about becoming a writer. I was born and raised in West Africa and there is very little English literature that deals with that part of the world. If I had been born in Rhodesia, South Africa or Kenya I could find masses of novels that dealt with colonial life. So The Heart of the Matter, which is set in Sierra Leone – a country I had visited several times before I read the book – was revelatory in that I saw the place where I lived in a novel. Again, it’s one of those moments as a reader and a young writer that’s quite extraordinary. I would read Greene’s descriptions of sunset in the tropics or bars in slightly shambolic African towns, and then go out and see them with my own eyes. It’s quite extraordinary to have that experience of being able to authenticate the novelist’s imagination and vision. That’s why the book had a huge impact on me.

The story itself is about this policeman Scobie. The mortal sin he commits by having an affair and not confessing seems to me to be completely absurd and bogus, but the setting of the novel and its machinations – the corrupt Syrian, the spying – are great. But what’s wrong with it is this terrible super-structure of Catholic guilt and sin that Greene hammers onto a very good novel about colonial life. Nonetheless, I think it’s a fantastically atmospheric and powerful read, and it really does hold up over the decades as one of his great novels. Greene, like Evelyn Waugh, is one of those writers whom I have become hugely intrigued by, and I have read everything written about him at great length. But it all goes back to that first reading of The Heart of the Matter when I was in my late teens or early twenties.

There is the sense in the book of Scobie’s life being out of his control, much like some characters in your own books who are buffeted by good and bad luck and managing the best they can.

I agree. I think that would be fine, except that Scobie also happens to be a devout Roman Catholic. It’s something that Greene used to make his fiction resonate in a way that, to me, as a faithless reader, seems completely and utterly bogus. It got him discussed as a Catholic novelist, whereas what he’s interested in is the seedy machinations of a policeman in a small colonial town who is broke, unhappily married and meets a young girl. All that sort of stuff was real grist to Greene’s mill. If you look at any of his novels you’ll see that this is what gets his imagination going. But then he thinks he has to make it significant in some way. At that moment, for me, the novel goes wrong and I just don’t buy it. But it doesn’t detract from the novel’s almost tactile power, a brilliantly rendered version of a life I had experienced in my own slightly tangential way.

Greene did say a few years after he wrote it that it may have been better as a comedy than a tragedy.

Everything he said or wrote you have to re-read and read between the lines. He didn’t say or do anything unknowingly. He was a highly sophisticated, manipulative person who knew exactly what he was trying to achieve with his various interviews and pronouncements. There’s no way that The Heart of the Matter could have been a comedy in the Evelyn Waugh sense. I actually don’t think Greene was a particularly good comic writer. He gets the slightly desperate seediness of life so well and I think his best novels, for me, are the ones that are to do with people trapped in situations where they can’t get out.
Visit The Browser to learn about the other books that inspired Boyd.

Greene's The Heart of the Matter is among Cynthia Ozick's five best books on innocents and innocence lost, Jeff Gordinier's five books that will make you question the wisdom of ever falling in love, and Carol Drinkwater's six best books.

Boyd's Any Human Heart appears among Eoin Colfer's six favorite books and on John Mullan's list of ten of the best novels about novelists.

--Marshal Zeringue