Saturday, March 31, 2012

Top ten Belfast books

Glenn Patterson is the author of several novels and a memoir, Once Upon a Hill: Love in Troubled Times. He has written plays for Radio 3 and Radio 4 and is the co-writer of Good Vibrations (BBC Films), based on the life of Belfast punk impresario Terri Hooley, which is due for release in 2012. A collection of his journalism, for among others the Guardian, Sunday Times and Irish Times, was published in 2006 as Lapsed Protestant. His latest novel is The Mill for Grinding Old People Young. Patterson lives in Belfast.

For the Guardian, he named a top ten list of Belfast books. One title on the list:
The Emperor of Ice Cream by Brian Moore

Moore by almost any measure is Belfast's most successful novelist. He spent his entire writing life in Montreal and California, but returned regularly to his native city in his novels, in this particular novel very close to his own experience as a youthful ARP warden in north Belfast. War for Gavin Burke is "freedom from futures" – an opportunity for licence, or as much licence as the local girls ("nuns in mufti") will afford him. And then the Luftwaffe come.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 30, 2012

Five top books on why cities are good for you

Leo Hollis was born in London in 1972, was educated at Stoneyhurst College and studied history at university. He is the author of number books on London including London Rising: The Men Who Made Modern London and the forthcoming Why Cities are Good For You.

With Alec Ash at The Browser, Hollis discussed five top books on why cities are good for you, including:
The Death and Life of Great American Cities
by Jane Jacobs

Let’s get into those books, as a way to explore just why cities are good for you. Beginning with The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Jane Jacobs was an architectural writer, not an academic, and she was in many ways an engaged member of the public. She was involved in the 1950s and early 1960s with campaigns to preserve Greenwich Village [in New York], which is where she lived. And out of this came the idea of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, in which she creates the fulcrum on which this new urban thinking is fixed. This book sums up these new ideas of putting people first – that the city is complex but not a place that needs to be rationalised. That you should look at life on the street, rather than the motorways, as a sign of what urban life really is.

She writes very simply about Hudson Street, where she lives, and various other parts of New York, and she gives the city a human face. She looks at people right at the heart of the city, and shows that a neighbourhood can be chaotic and rundown and still have more life in it than a gated community of millionaires.

Presumably, to understand cities today we have to understand their history. When did cities begin?

We’ve been experimenting in urban forms for about 9,000 years. The first cities were created in what one historian, Ian Morris, calls the “happy latitudes”. In other words, the latitudes around the equator which were the first to come back to life after the ice age, and around which the first communities were formed.

We normally assume that the origins of cities began with a farm, then a village, then a town – that they grew incrementally. In fact, archaeologists have shown us that the very first cities were moments of extraordinary revolution. We assume that agriculture came before cities, but what has been shown is that there was a moment – lasting about 300 years – in which everything one thinks the city is was spontaneously created, and agriculture was part of that. The city created the technology to sustain it, rather than the other way around. So cities are completely different to anything that has come before.

Since those 9,000-year-old origins, we’ve been experimenting with different forms of the city depending on climate and population. Technology has always been part of the mix of how a city works. Today, two of the technologies that drive us most – the Internet and the airplane – mean that we don’t need to be physically close to each other, and that we are spending more and more time travelling from city to city, respectively.
Read about the other books Hollis discussed at The Browser.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities is among Simon Jenkins's five best books about cities and Tim Harford's top 10 undercover economics books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Five top books on Russian short stories

Rosamund Bartlett's books include Wagner and Russia and the acclaimed Chekhov: Scenes from a Life. An authority on Russian cultural history, she has also achieved renown as a translator of Chekhov.

Her latest book is Tolstoy: A Russian Life.

One collection of Russian short fiction she discussed with Daisy Banks at The Browser:
Master and Man and Other Stories
by Leo Tolstoy

What kind of world does your next author, Leo Tolstoy, write about in his short story “What Men Live By”, in the collection Master and Man?

With this story we jump forward to the 1880s, and into the world of the peasantry as imagined by an aristocrat who went rather further than Turgenev in trying to atone for his guilt before Russia’s oppressed underclass. As well as the great novels, Tolstoy also wrote some very fine short stories. Many people would regard The Death of Ivan Ilych or Hadji Murad as his best short prose work, or maybe even Strider, an extraordinary tale narrated by a horse. I am very fond of this story though, because it is charming, the moral is worn lightly and I know what it meant to Tolstoy.

Rather like the Valkyrie Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Ring [cycle of operas], who is punished by Wotan for refusing to bring Siegmund to Valhalla, the main character in Tolstoy’s story is an angel, Mikhail, punished by God for refusing to take a woman’s life. Mikhail is sent to earth to discover what men live by. A humble peasant shoemaker takes pity on the naked man he stumbles across, slumped up against a chapel wall one cold autumn afternoon, and brings him home. After Mikhail has worked for a while as a cobbler and discovered that men live by love, he springs new wings and is allowed to return to heaven.

This story appeared in a children’s journal in 1881. It was Tolstoy’s first piece of published fiction after Anna Karenina, which he had finished four years earlier. In the years in between, Tolstoy underwent a spiritual crisis which led to him rejecting the Russian Orthodox Church. He ended up producing his own translation of the Gospels which threw out all the miracles and concentrated on Christ’s ethical message. Although there is continuity with everything Tolstoy had written before, “What Men Live By” is his first conscious attempt at expressing his new faith in fictional form. It is prefaced by no fewer than eight epigraphs about love taken from St John in his new translation.

So how does it differ from a work like Anna Karenina?

Anna Karenina is a novel written about upper-class society in which peasants are part of the background. But Tolstoy’s conscience was already troubled, and when he finished it he renounced writing fiction for an educated audience. The main characters in “What Men Live By” are peasants. The story is a model of clarity, but with Tolstoy it is always the art which conceals the art. He had wanted to simplify his literary language ever since working on his ABC [educational] book in the early 1870s, just before he began Anna Karenina, but he was an inveterate craftsman. It is quite moving to discover that he produced 33 drafts of “What Men Live By” before he was happy with it.

It is not actually a story Tolstoy thought up himself. He had been entranced by the rhythms and cadences of the Russian language since putting together medieval epics for his ABC book, and would often go out to the main highway near Yasnaya Polyana [his home in western Russia] to chat to the pilgrims and write down some of their sayings. When he learned that in the remote far north of Russia there were still a few peasants who maintained the oral tradition of reciting epic poems and fables by heart, he invited one of them to stay with him. “What Men Live By” is based on a fable told him by this peasant reciter, originally about fishermen from northern Russia.
Read about the other collections Bartlett discussed at The Browser.

Visit Rosamund Bartlett's website and learn more about Tolstoy: A Russian Life.

Writers Read: Rosamund Bartlett.

My Book, The Movie: Tolstoy: A Russian Life.

The Page 99 Test: Tolstoy: A Russian Life.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Five notable books on navigators

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on navigators:
Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time
by Dava Sobel

The stars could tell early mariners how far they were from the equator, but longitude--the key second component to mapping one's position on the globe--remained out of reach for thousands of years. Sailors were literally lost at sea, navigating by wit and hard-earned knowledge in what they hoped was their intended direction. In response to a reward offered by Parliament, inventor John Harrison defied the established scientific community and imagined a clock that would withstand pitch and roll, temperature and humidity, and keep precise time at sea. This device, in concert with celestial observation, allowed sailors to accurately pinpoint their location on maps and explore the world with a heretofore unprecedented precision. An enthralling read about the courage to pursue your inspiration and change the world.
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see Dava Sobel's five best list of books which record extraordinary journeys of discovery.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Five notable books on the gender trap

Peggy Orenstein's books include the New York Times best-selling memoir, Waiting for Daisy; Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Kids, Love and Life in a Half-Changed World; and the best-selling SchoolGirls: Young Women, Self-Esteem and the Confidence Gap. Her latest book is Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture.

At The Browser, Orenstein and Eve Gerber discuss how, "from an early age, girls learn to be pretty in pink while boys are marketed a prepackaged masculinity." And Orenstein suggests five books that may help parents "give their children a broader, more imaginative outlook," including:
Odd Girl Out
by Rachel Simmons

Let’s get to Odd Girl Out. Rhodes scholar Rachael Simmons’s book about adolescent girls is based on her observations at 30 schools and interviews with more than 300 girls. What is this book about?

Odd Girl Out looks at relational aggression with girls, which is bullying, basically. It breaks down how adolescent girls relate to one another and why it matters – the mean girl stuff that gets dismissed. Simmons takes seriously the issues that girls have with one another. She doesn’t just expose the problem. Simmons helps parents, educators and kids see how to build respective, supportive communities. The new edition includes a whole lot on how to navigate social media. It’s a great resource.

Simmons faults the cultural taboo against girls overtly expressing aggression. How do you see gender norms influencing the emotional lives of adolescents?

There are few cultural outlets for girls to be overtly aggressive so they tend to talk behind backs and that sort of thing instead. Simmons talks about why that happens and what to do about it both in and out of school. There can be difficult dynamics in relationships among girls. If you have a daughter who’s older than three you’ve probably run into these issues. I don’t know a parent who doesn’t need help with how to advise their child.

How can parents help?

What we can do is help girls identify feelings. A lot of times girls don’t identify their feelings. They believe they’re supposed to be nice, polite and pleasant so they end up angry, anxious or unhappy. Just allowing a girl to express the normal range of human emotions helps. Allowing a girl to not be so nice can help release the frustration that leads to relational aggression or depression. Girls need help navigating through anger and disappointment and they need to know that their parents can help.
Read about the other books Orenstein discusses at The Browser.

See--Writers Read: Rachel Simmons (February 2010).

Visit Peggy Orenstein's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Waiting for Daisy.

The Page 99 Test: Cinderella Ate My Daughter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ten of the best fraternal hatreds in literature

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

One entry on the list:
Hank and Lee Stamper

Narrated in self-obsessed first-person monologues, Ken Kesey's family saga Sometimes a Great Notion features an Oregon logging clan aptly called the Stampers. Old Henry's two sons loathe each other. Hank is a tough guy; Lee is bookish. Lee leaves for his education, but then returns, bent on revenging himself by seducing his brother's wife.
Read about the other brothers on the list.

Sometimes a Great Notion may be The Great Oregon Novel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Five best novels with complex characters

Jane Harris is the author of the award-winning novel The Observations and, more recently, Gillespie and I.

For the Wall Street Journal, she named a five best list of "tales that invite the reader to puzzle over complex characters," including:
Notes on a Scandal
by Zoë Heller (2003)

There is something particularly compelling about novels, like this one, that anatomize loneliness and obsession. When beautiful, bohemian Sheba Hart joins the staff of St. George's school, narrator Barbara hopes that they'll become friends. Barbara is in her late 50s: a single history teacher devoted to her cat. Initially, Sheba brings a touch of glamour and excitement into her life. Barbara relishes her role as her new friend's confidante. How disappointing, therefore, for Barbara to learn that Sheba—without telling her—has embarked on an affair with a 15-year-old schoolboy. Recovering swiftly from this shock, Barbara finds herself trying to protect her friend as Sheba's world begins to disintegrate. But things are more complicated than they seem in this disquieting novel, and the narrator is revealed to be a more complex character than we might have imagined. "This isn't a story about me," she insists, prompting us to wonder whether she might protest too much.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Notes on a Scandal appears on Alice-Azania Jarvis's reading list on scandals.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Ten notable lost-then-found novels

At The Daily Beast, Sarah Stodol tagged ten "novels that were lost to the world, along with the fascinating stories behind their journey back into the light," including:
A Confederacy of Dunces
by John Kennedy Toole

Perhaps the lost novel with the saddest back story, the manuscript for this one was discovered by the author’s mother after his suicide at age 31, in 1969. Before that, the novel, about a bombastic, unemployed anti-hero living in New Orleans, made it into the hands of Robert Gottlieb, then at Simon & Schuster, who took interest in the manuscript but eventually shelved it. Toole reportedly took these and other rejections hard. After his suicide in Biloxi, Miss., his mother eventually got the manuscript into the hands of Walker Percy, who convinced the Louisiana State University Press to publish it.
Read about the other books on the list.

A Confederacy of Dunces is among Hallie Ephron's top ten books for a good laugh, 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.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 23, 2012

Five top books on Gilded Age New York

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on Gilded Age New York:
The Age of Innocence
by Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton, who once said that "the air of ideas is the only air worth breathing," explores what happens when Newland Archer, a New York gentleman engaged to marry his sweet-but-conventional upper-class fianceé, falls for a scandal-plagued woman he's just met, Countess Ellen Olenska. The first Pulitzer Prize-winning work of fiction by a woman, this novel brilliantly memorializes the social life of Gilded Age Manhattan, as it weaves a timeless tragedy out of the tensions between duty and passion.
Read about the other books on the list.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Five YA novels in which environmental catastrophe leads to a dystopia

At Slate, Torie Bosch has an interesting essay about how dystopian young-adult fiction is tackling the social consequences of global warming. Her starting point is The Hunger Games story, and she tags a few other similarly themed novels, including:

Birthmarked by Caragh O’Brien. About the novel:
After climate change, on the north shore of Unlake Superior, a dystopian world is divided between those who live inside the wall, and those, like sixteen-year-old midwife Gaia Stone, who live outside. It’s Gaia’s job to “advance” a quota of infants from poverty into the walled Enclave, until the night one agonized mother objects, and Gaia’s parents disappear.

As Gaia’s efforts to save her parents take her within the wall, she faces the brutal injustice of the Enclave and discovers she alone holds the key to a secret code, a code of “birthmarked” babies and genetic merit.

Fraught with difficult moral choices and rich with intricate layers of codes, Birthmarked explores a colorful, cruel, eerily familiar world where a criminal is defined by her genes, and one girl can make all the difference.

Read--Caragh O'Brien's Birthmarked, the movie.
Learn about four other novels Bosch mentioned.

Read Bosch's essay.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Five best books on hysteria

Asti Hustvedt is the author of Medical Muses: Hysteria in Nineteenth-Century Paris. An independent scholar who has written extensively on hysteria and literature, she has a Ph.D in French literature from New York University, is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including a Phi Betta Kapa Fellowship. Hustvedt is the editor of The Decadent Reader: Fiction, Fantasy and Perversion from Fin-de-Siècle France and has published many translations. She lives in New York City.

For the Wall Street Journal, she named a five best list of books on hysteria. One title on the list:
Mad, Bad and Sad
by Lisa Appignanesi (2008)

Lisa Appignanesi's ambitious and fascinating book explores two centuries of "mad, bad and sad" women and the mind doctors who treated them. While the author's scope extends well beyond hysteria proper, the disorder in its myriad forms appears throughout the text. Some of her subjects are women who became famous patients, such as a young woman named Augustine, whose hysteria made her a medical celebrity in 19th-century Paris; and some are famous women who became patients, including Zelda Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe. Appignanesi reminds us that medical history is made up of human stories and that unhappiness, especially of the female variety, tends to be adapted to fit current diagnostic categories. These days, the tendency is to locate mental illness in biology—in "chemical imbalances" in the brain, for example. Appignanesi counters, with ample evidence, that illness is not stable but shifts according to the needs of the time.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 99 Test: Lisa Appignanesi's Mad, Bad, and Sad.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ten canonical, super-weird science fiction novels

At io9, MaryKate Jasper and Charlie Jane Anders came up with a list of ten super-weird science fiction novels that are considered part of the canon.

One entry on the list:
Dreamsnake by Vonda McIntyre

Why It's Weird: The novel follows a healer through a post-apocalyptic, desert-like landscape, as she looks for a replacement "dreamsnake." Dreamsnake bites produce hallucinations similar to acid trips. So in a sense, what we're looking at here is one long roadtrip dedicated to the pursuit of LSD.

Why It's Required: Dreamsnake swept the awards when it was first published, winning the 1979 Hugo Award, the 1978 Nebula Award, and the 1979 Locus Award. It was also nominated for the 1979 Ditmar Award in International Fiction.
Read about the other entries on the list.

My Book, The Movie: Dreamsnake.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 19, 2012

Ten of the best thunderstorms in literature

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

One novel on the list:
Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Esther is out walking in the woods with Mr Jarndyce and Ada after a spell of sultry weather when the storm suddenly breaks on them. They take shelter in a keeper's cottage, which they think is empty. But as they sit and listen to the storm, Lady Dedlock's voice comes from the darkness. Fatefully, she and Esther have met.
Read about the other storms on the list.

Bleak House is one of Ian Rankin's 5 favorite literary crime novels, Tim Pigott-Smith's six best books, James McCreet's top ten Victorian detective stories and one of Rebecca Ford's favorite five fiction books. It is on John Mortimer's list of the five best books about law and literature and John Mullan's list of ten of the best men writing as women, and is among the top ten works of literature according to Stephen King.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Olen Steinhauer's six favorite books

Olen Steinhauer’s widely acclaimed Eastern European crime series, which he was inspired to write while on a Fulbright fellowship, is a two-time Edgar Award finalist and has been shortlisted for the Anthony, the Macavity, the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger, and the Barry awards. The series includes The Bridge of Sighs, The Confession, 36 Yalta Boulevard, Liberation Movements, and Victory Square. Steinhauer is also the author of the bestselling Milo Weaver series, including The Nearest Exit, The Tourist, and An American Spy.

One of the author's six favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

How is it possible to write such a philosophically challenging work that is this entertaining and wildly funny? I still don't know, though I've read the novel innumerable times. Everything builds from a simple dilemma — Tomas must choose between domestication and sexual freedom — and snowballs into a celebration of the rich and bountiful breadth of living. I want to be Kundera when I grow up.
Read about the other books on Steinhauer's list.

Lee Child called The Unbearable Lightness of Being "his private pick for the 20th–century novel that will live the longest." John Mullan includes it among ten of the best visits to the lavatory in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Five notable books on Ireland in America

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on Ireland in America:
The Emerald Diamond
by Charley Rosen

Baseball may be America's national pastime, but Rosen recounts the pervasive influence of Irish players, managers and fans on the game. An Irish pitcher tossed the first curveball. Irish players, taking cues from their forebearers' successes in organizing labor, were vital in the formation of the first players' union. Equipment such as batting helmets, catcher's shin guards, and even the little broom used by umpires to clean home plate, as well as early stars like home run king Dan Brouthers and a slew of successful managers, testify to a Hibernian impact on baseball that cannot be overemphasized. A fun, fact-filled case that the outfield is really Kelly green.
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see: Frank Delaney's five best books on Ireland and top ten Irish novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 16, 2012

Five top comic novels

Andy Borowitz is a writer and a comedian whose work appears in The New Yorker and at his satirical website,, which has millions of readers around the world. The author of six books, he is the first-ever winner of the National Press Club's humor award, a two-time finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor, and a two-time host of the National Book Awards. He has been called a "Swiftian satirist" (The Wall Street Journal), "America's satire king" (The Daily Beast) and "one of the funniest people in America" (CBS News Sunday Morning).

With Eve Gerber at The Browser, Borowitz discussed five of his favorite comic novels.  One title on the list:
True Grit
by Charles Portis

Last, Charles Portis’s 1968 novel about a late 19th century girl’s quest to avenge her father’s death in the old West. Tell us about the strange characters that inhabit True Grit, why you picked it and what makes it so funny?

The narrative voice of that girl, Mattie Ross, is what makes this book such a standout, and the characterisation of “Rooster” Cogburn, her drunken yet surprisingly effective partner in her quest. As before, I have to demur by saying that describing why something is funny is a pretty good way of making it seem not funny. But I urge everyone who wants a good laugh to read it. Plus it’s very short – a good quality in a comic novel.

The critic Ron Rosenbaum called the author of True Grit “the most original, indescribable sui generis talent overlooked by literary culture in America”. Can you characterise Portis’s place in the pantheon of American comic writers?

In the introduction to the anthology I edited last year, The 50 Funniest American Writers, I pointed out the futility, as it seemed to me, of ranking comic writers – or any artists for that matter – in any pantheon of any kind. The title of the anthology was a joke, something that people who skipped the introduction may have missed. So I’m going to stick with that and plead the Fifth here. I will say that Portis is becoming less and less overlooked as people discover his books. He’s wonderful.

According to Time magazine – and me – there is no one funnier in 140 characters than you. Is comedy in the Twittersphere different from being funny in other forums? What is Twitter doing for and to comedy?

On Twitter, it helps to be timely and concise. But that's nothing new. Mark Twain would have been great at Twitter. But if he had had Twitter he might never have gotten around to writing Huckleberry Finn. Maybe that's what Twitter is doing to comedy – diverting our attention from longer forms into short bursts of funniness. Only time will tell whether this is a net gain or loss. I try not to think too much about it. It's a lot of fun right now.

Finally, what's the funniest thing about reading?

Definitely the typos.
Read about the other novels Borowitz tagged at The Browser.

True Grit also appears on Tad Friend's five best list of novels on success, Willy Vlautin's list of five great books set in the West, and Jonathan Lethem's list of five terrific novels overshadowed by their film versions.

--Marshal Zeringue

Brian Selznick's six favorite children's books

Brian Selznick has written and illustrated several award-winning children's books, including The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which inspired the multi-Oscar-winning film Hugo.

On of his six favorite children's books, as told to The Week magazine:
The Juniper Tree translated by Lore Segal and Randall Jarrell

The definitive edition of the Grimms' fairy tales, accompanied by some of Maurice Sendak's most brilliant and haunting images. Each picture is filled with strange allusions and unforgettable characters. You'll feel like you've never heard (or seen) these stories before.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Top ten romans-fleuves

"Roman-fleuve sounds a very French sort of thing," writes Jeffrey Archer at the Guardian. "Britannica defines it as 'a series of novels, each one complete in itself, that deals with an era of national life, or successive generations of a family'."

Archer, who is the author of his own five-book series, The Clifton Chronicles, named his top ten romans-fleuves, including:
The Smiley trilogy by John le Carré

In Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley's People, Le Carré achieves a perfect blend between the novel of manners and the sophisticated spy story. Future generations will be able to learn all they need to know about the attitudes and obsessions of a certain part of British society in the 1960s and 1970s from these novels. At the centre stands the unforgettable character of George Smiley – decent, intelligent, thoughtful, relentless, self-questioning – who uncovers a mole in the secret service, attempts to restore the service's prestige and takes on the great Soviet spymaster Karla. When it comes to spies, Le Carré has no equal.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is on John Mullan's list of ten of the best pairs of glasses in literature and among Robert Baer's five best books on being a spy and Stella Rimington's six favorite secret agent novels; Peter Millar includes it among John le Carré's best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Five top books on March Madness

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on March Madness:
When March Went Mad
by Seth Davis

National interest in college basketball (and, subsequently, the NBA) was reborn in 1979 when Larry Bird's Indiana State Sycamores battled Earvin "Magic" Johnson's Michigan State Spartans for a media-hyped national championship in what is still basketball's highest-rated televised game of all time. Davis shows how the nation's fascination with this game, heightened by tensions over race and class, reshaped American sport culture and created the modern multi-billion dollar concept of "March Madness". Though this was the only game the two star athletes played against each other during their collegiate careers, it produced one of the greatest rivalries ever in professional sports, as Byrd's Celtics and Magic's Lakers would vie for NBA dominace throughout the ensuing decade.
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see--The 10 best books about college basketball.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Five of the best books on the Israeli intelligence service

Gordon Thomas is a political and investigative journalist and the author of over 50 books, published in more than 30 countries and in dozens of languages. The total sales of his works exceed 45 million copies. A revised and updated edition of his Gideon's Spies: The Secret History of the Mossad has just been released.

One of Thomas's five best books on the Israeli intelligence service, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
Man in the Shadows
by Efraim Halevy (2006)

Efraim Halevy was the director-general of Mossad from 1998 to 2002, a period of crisis that saw five Israeli prime ministers come and go, even as the threat of Islamic terror rose. He writes with surprising candor about his work and mounts a determined defense of the service against accusations that it has a dangerous degree of autonomy: "There must be an intimacy that is constantly nurtured between the intelligence leader and his political leader." Halevy came to office in the aftermath of two Mossad failures. The first was the attempt to assassinate Khalid Mishal, the spiritual leader of Hamas. The second was a failed operation in Switzerland, when a Mossad officer was arrested trying to wiretap the phone of a suspected terrorist. "Much scorn and ridicule was poured on the service," shaking the confidence of those serving in the ranks. Halevy shows how he worked to rebuild confidence. Perhaps most striking is his description of the complex interplay between intelligence and policy making, offering insights worth keeping in mind as Israel faces new threats and challenges today.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, March 12, 2012

Five notable books for would-be space travelers

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on the high frontier:
Red Mars
by Kim Stanley Robinson

After the moon, Mars represents the next feasible opportunity for manned space exploration. In the kickoff to one of the most celebrated of science-fiction trilogies, Robinson provides an intoxicating vision of how we might settle and transform our planetary neighbor. A cast of intrepid colonists are swept up in a truly epic-scale adventure, with a dash of utopian dreams balanced by the author's integration of deeply researched science about everything from how to thicken a world's atmosphere to new drugs and treatments for aging. Red Mars is a mind-bending journey into a possible future, with implications that touch on ecology, politics, and every aspect of human society.
Read about the other books on the list.

See--Kim Stanley Robinson's ten favorite Mars novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ten of the best fossils in literature

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

One novel on the list:
Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

The first part of this novel draws on Gosse's Father and Son, depicting Oscar and his father Theophilus as members of a fundamentalist sect in Devon, and also devoted naturalists. Oscar's father collects and classifies fossils, determined to use them to disprove the Darwinian account of evolution. He thinks God has put fossils into the rocks to show his own power.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Oscar and Lucinda also appears on Mullan's lists of ten of the best thin men in literature and ten of the best card games in literature, the Guardian's list of ten of the best unconsummated passions in fiction, and Elise Valmorbida's top ten list of books on the migrant experience.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Kathryn Harrison's 6 favorite books with parentless protagonists

Kathryn Harrison's latest novel is Enchantments.

One of her six favorite books with parentless protagonists, as told to The Week magazine:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

A plucky orphan determined to find the love her childhood lacked, a brooding Byronic suitor, a mad woman locked in an attic, dark secrets, vengeance, just desserts: This is a Gothic romance with a feminist twist. Jane may not be beautiful or wellborn, but she stands in the company of literature's greatest heroines.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Jane Eyre also made Megan Abbott's top ten list of novels of teenage friendship, a list of Bettany Hughes's six best books, the Guardian's top 10 lists of "outsider books" and "romantic fiction;" it appears on Lorraine Kelly's six best books list, Esther Freud's top ten list of love stories, and Jessica Duchen's top ten list of literary Gypsies, and on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best governesses in literature, ten of the best men dressed as women, ten of the best weddings in literature, ten of the best locked rooms in literature, ten of the best pianos in literature, ten of the best breakfasts in literature, ten of the best smokes in fiction, and ten of the best cases of blindness in literature. It is one of Kate Kellaway's ten best love stories in fiction.

The Page 99 Test: Jane Eyre.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 9, 2012

Five of the best books on trust

Bruce Schneier is an internationally renowned security technologist who studies the human side of security. A prolific author, he has written hundreds of articles, essays, and academic papers, as well as eleven books that together have sold more than 400,000 copies. He has testified before Congress, is a frequent guest on television and radio, and is regularly quoted in the press.

His new book is Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive.

He discussed five books on trust with Alec Ash at The Browser, including:
by Patricia S Churchland

Braintrust, by the neuroscientist Patricia Churchland. This book is about the neuroscience of morality. It's brand new – published in 2011 – which is good because this is a brand new field of science, and new discoveries are happening all the time. Morality is the most basic of societal pressures, and Churchland explains how it works.

This book tries to understand the neuroscience behind trust and trustworthiness. In her own words:

“The hypothesis on offer is that what we humans call ethics or morality is a four dimensional scheme for social behavior that is shaped by interlocking brain processes: (1) caring (rooted in attachment to kin and kith and care for their well-being), (2) recognition of other’s psychological states (rooted in the benefits of predicting the behavior of others) (3) problem-solving in a social context (e.g., how we should distribute scarce goods, settle land disputes; how we should punish the miscreants) and (4) learning social practices (by positive and negative reinforcement, by imitation, by trial and error, by various kinds of conditioning, and by analogy).”

Those are our innate human societal pressures. They are the security systems that keep us mostly trustworthy most of the time – enough for most of us to be trusting enough for society to survive.
Read about the other books on the list at The Browser.

The Page 99 Test: Patricia Churchland's Braintrust.

The Page 99 Test: Bruce Schneier's Liars and Outliers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Top ten weird histories

Lloyd Shepherd's first novel, The English Monster, is published by Simon and Schuster in the UK on March 1 2012, and by Washington Square Press in the US in May.

For the Guardian, he came up with a top ten list of weird histories, books that follow from the central idea "that history is a fantasy which can be reestablished by the author - and takes it in all sorts of directions." One title on his list:
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro is the master of small things beautifully described, and in Never Let Me Go he takes a well-established archetype - a boarding school in the English countryside - and slowly subverts it. His characters live in a world which is quintessentially English and yet somehow exquisitely different. The location of this difference gradually becomes apparent, and allows Ishiguro to ask a simple question: what would a world look like in which a major biological breakthrough had happened in the recent past? His world is one reeling from an ethical explosion which works its way out, beautifully and very, very sadly.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Never Let Me Go is on John Mullan's list of ten of the best sentences as titles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Five notable memoirs of Communism

A columnist for the Washington Post, Anne Applebaum is the author of Gulag: A History, an acclaimed historical account of the Soviet concentration camp system that won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.

One of the five top memoirs of Communism she discussed with Alec Ash at The Browser:
The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz

Tell us about Miłosz’s book The Captive Mind, to begin with.

The Captive Mind isn’t a straight memoir. Although Milosz is writing about his own life and his past, he is also grappling with a larger subject: How his generation of liberal intellectuals came to collaborate with, and work alongside, the Communist party. And he is trying to understand his own behaviour: Why did I act that way?

To explain, he uses an extended metaphor: “It’s as if we all took a magic pill, became temporarily enchanted and went along with this ridiculous thing.” Then he goes through some “case studies” of individuals’ behaviour – even though they’re not named in the book, we know who he was writing about – and tries to explain why people collaborated or opposed the regime. In essence, the book is about the mentality of collaboration with communism.

In a nutshell, what is that mentality? Why did people go along with it?

He gives a lot of reasons. He explains the shattering effect of the war in that part of the world, where the fighting was far more brutal than anything in Western Europe. Between 1939 and 1945, it was normal, in Warsaw, to see a corpse lying in the street. Moral norms were shattered, as all sorts of illegal activity became normal too. Good people robbed banks and planted bombs, on behalf of the Underground.

After the war, many people felt they couldn’t just go back to the way things were before. They couldn’t just reconstruct 1920s or 1930s Poland, many felt: everything has been changed by this war and we need to start from scratch. Miłosz also talks about people who wanted their books published or their careers advance, people who collaborated in order to get ahead and join the new literary establishment.

He is important to read because he’s simultaneously critical of his characters and sympathetic to them. It’s very difficult, now, to think back into that time, when people had very limited choices. If you chose to oppose the regime, that might mean you couldn’t get medicine for your sick mother, your children couldn’t go to school and you might get kicked out of your apartment. We don’t have to face those choices. Miłosz is very good at explaining them.
Read about the other books Applebaum tagged at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Five best books about mothers of many sorts

Elizabeth Lowry has worked as an editor of the Oxford English Dictionary and as the deputy headmistress of a girls’ school. She contributes frequently to the London Review of Books and The Times Literary Supplement, and has also written for Harper’s Magazine and Granta.

Her debut novel is The Bellini Madonna.

For the Wall Street Journal, she named a five best list of books about mothers of many sorts. including:
The Fifth Child
by Doris Lessing (1988)

Maternal love is tested to its limit in Doris Lessing's tough fable about suburban parenthood gone wrong. Harriet and David Lovatt create an Edenic family home for their growing brood of children, but their idyll is disrupted by the birth of Ben, the Lovatts' fifth child. Violently active in the womb, troll-like and viciously antisocial once born, Ben is "absolutely not ordinary," the result of "a chance gene" afloat in the human matrix. He strangles the family dog and terrorizes his siblings, who fear for their lives. David presses Harriet to institutionalize Ben, and when she refuses, the family collapses: The other children choose to live with relatives, and David avoids the house, leaving Harriet alone with her increasingly feral son. This chill book concludes with Harriet unable to abandon Ben yet hoping that he will simply drift away, freeing her to move on. Not so much a case of maternal love, then, as of maternal endurance.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeingue

Monday, March 5, 2012

Top ten villains in children's books

Derek Landy spends his time complaining about blogs and writing the Skulduggery Pleasant series- which includes Skulduggery Pleasant, known as Scepter of the Ancients in the US, Playing With Fire, The Faceless Ones, Dark Days and Mortal Coil. He doesn’t like to brag about all the awards he’s won, such as the Irish Book of the Decade, or the Red House in the UK, or all the other awards that he humbly displays on his mantelpiece. He is also far too modest to mention things like the first book being a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year and a selection of Oprah’s Book Club Kids Reading List.

For the Guardian, he named a top ten list of "the most dastardly and devious villains in children's books," including:
Sauron (The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien)

I'm not entirely sure that The Lord of the Rings could be classed as children's literature, but The Hobbit certainly was, so Sauron gets his place. You all know him by now. Big guy. Wears armour. Turned into an eye. The Monocled One lusts after power for power's sake, and will crush anyone and anything who stands in his way. There's a whole lot of allegory going on here that impresses people who like allegories, but I just like the crushing bits.
Read about the other villains on the list.

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

The Hobbit is a book Niall Ferguson hopes parents will read to their kids. It appears on John Mullan's list of ten of the best riddles in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Five best books on failed presidential candidates

Scott Farris is the author of Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race But Changed the Nation.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best books list on candidates whose White House bids failed but whose stories have much to tell us about politics and ambition. One title on the list:
The Liberals' Moment
by Bruce Miroff (2007)

Modern conservatives still mark Goldwater's landslide loss in 1964 as the birth of their movement. Bruce Miroff's penetrating study shows that today's Democrats ought to feel the same way about George McGovern's similarly overwhelming defeat of 1972. Yet Democrats regard McGovern's campaign less as the birth of something new than as the death of something dear. McGovern saw that the old New Deal coalition of urban ethnic groups, organized labor and Southern white populists was fading, and so he created a "new politics" coalition focused on minorities, women, the young and educated issue activists—the same coalition that Barack Obama rode to victory in 2008. McGovern also changed the way we choose our presidents by opening up the process by which national convention delegates are selected. Republicans, too, have adopted this democratized process, generally replacing winner-take-all primaries with proportional delegate allocation that benefits insurgent campaigns. If the 2012 Republican nomination remains unsettled for months, it will be partly due to the legacy of a liberal Democratic nominee.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Ramin Karimloo's six favorite books

Ramin Karimloo is the musical star best known as the Phantom in The Phantom of The Opera and its sequel Love Never Dies.

One of his six favorite books, as told to the Daily Express:
by Cormac McCarthy

I just loved the relationship between father and son and what the dad was trying to teach the boy on this post-apocalyptic journey.

I love slow-burners and this book takes time to get to know the characters, you become invested in their lives.
Read about the other books on Karimloo's list.

The Road appears on Jon Krakauer's five best list of books about mortality and existential angst, William Skidelsky's list of the top ten most vivid accounts of being marooned in literature, Liz Jensen's top 10 list of environmental disaster stories, the Guardian's list of books to change the climate, David Nicholls' top ten list of literary tear jerkers, and the Times (of London) list of the 100 best books of the decade. Sam Anderson of New York magazine claims "that we'll still be talking about [The Road] in ten years."

--Marshal Zeringue

Top ten angel books

Karl O. Knausgaard was born in Norway in 1968 and is the author of Out of This World (Ute av verden) and A Time for Everything, which was nominated for the Nordic Council Prize. The first volume of his Min Kamp (My Struggle) was the winner of Norway's 2009 Brage Prize.

In 2008 at the Guardian, he named his top ten angel books. One entry on the list:
The Divine Comedy by Dante

Even though no author has given a richer and more complex picture of the angels in heaven than Dante, it is of course his fallen ones that are most memorable. The angels are connected with light and movement - everything in heaven is moving - in contrast to hell, where each circle restricts movement further. At the bottom of the universe, Lucifer himself reigns over a frozen lake. Hell is immobility, and in the intensity and concentration of this evil, where only the heads of the sinners are above the ice, heaven seems endlessly remote. Which it is.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Inferno appears on Jon McGregor's list of the top 10 dead bodies in literature, John Mullan's list of ten of the best visions of hell in literature, and Peter Stanford's list of the ten best devils in film and literature; The Divine Comedy is one of George Weigel's five essential books for understanding Christianity.

Also see: Ten of the best angels in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, March 2, 2012

Tom McCarthy's six favorite books about nothing

Tom McCarthy is the author of Remainder, C, and Men in Space, the last of which has just been published in the U.S.

One of his six favorite books about nothing, as told to The Week magazine:
Ulysses by James Joyce

A man buys offal for his breakfast, visits a newspaper office, a restaurant, a brothel; another man paces a beach; a woman gets her period; a scrap of paper floats downriver. And at the same time, Odysseus is reunited with Penelope, all of history is compressed into a single day, and Western literature surges toward its apotheosis.
Read about the other books on the list.

Ulysses is on Alice-Azania Jarvis's reading list on grammar, George Vecsey's list of six favorite books, Nina MacLaughlin's top ten list of dirty old (literary) men, John Mullan's lists of the ten of the best parodies, ten of the best Hamlets in literature, ten of the best visits to the lavatory, and ten of the best vegetables in literature. It appears on Frank Delaney's top ten list of Irish novels and five best list of books about Ireland.

Also see Tom McCarthy's top 10 European modernists and Tom McCarthy's literary top 10.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Top ten comic tragedies

Shalom Auslander was raised as an Orthodox Jew in Spring Valley, New York. Nominated for the Koret Award for writers under thirty-five, he has published stories and articles in Esquire, The New Yorker, and the New York Times Magazine, as well as on and He is a regular contributor to PRI’s “This American Life.” His first book, the short story collection Beware of God, was published to critical acclaim in 2005. Auslander's new novel is Hope: A Tragedy.

One of his top ten comic tragedies, as told to the Guardian:
Candide by Voltaire

A young couple dreaming of an idyllic future get chased from their home into a dark, forbidding, well, planet: everything sucks, everywhere. They are separated from each other, beaten, robbed, raped. There are wars, conflicts, disasters of every kind, and by the time the once-happy couple reunites at the end, his naive optimism is all but gone, and she is but a haggard, broken shadow of her former self. The End. Hilarious.
Read about the other books on the list.

Candide is a book Rolling Stone political columnist Matt Taibbi reads every couple of years. It is on John Mullan's list of ten of the best visits to Venice in literature and Dan Rhodes's top 10 list of short books.

--Marshal Zeringue