Monday, April 30, 2012

Five best novels about women in search of themselves

Anna Quindlen's most recent book is Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake: A Memoir.

For the Wall Street Journal she named a five best list of novels about women in search of themselves, including:
The House of Mirth
by Edith Wharton (1905)

There may be no female protagonist in literature as tragic as Lily Bart—and, yes, I include Anna Karenina when I say that. Beautiful, intelligent, "horribly poor—and very expensive," she knows what the upper echelons of 19th-century New York society demand of her: an advantageous marriage, a bargain in which she will provide the gilding and her husband the gold. And yet she twists in the net, resenting the bargain, knowing how to calculate what she needs to do but not calculating enough to seal the deal. ("For always getting what she wants in the long run, commend me to a nasty woman," says a friend who knows Lily is never nasty.) She dismisses the man she loves because he has no fortune, dismisses the man with the fortune because choosing him would compromise her principles, and finds herself finally with neither, nothing. Undone by envy, gossip and her own credulity, she slides down the mahogany banister of position and respectability. Wharton's first novel is like science fiction in reverse, a horrifying look back to an almost other-worldly time, in which a heroine of insight and sensitivity can cry, "What a miserable thing it is to be a woman."
Read about the other novels on the list.

The House of Mirth is one of Jay McInerney's five essential New York novels, Megan Wasson's five novels that explore the dark side in New York City, Rachel Cusk's five best books on disgrace and Kate Christensen's six books that she rereads all the time; it appears on Robert McCrum's top ten list of books for Obama officials.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ten of the most memorable court scenes in literature

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

One entry on the list:
A Passage to India by EM Forster

Something happened to Adela Quested in the Marabar Caves, and Dr Aziz, the idealistic young Muslim doctor, is accused of sexual assault. The trial sets the British and the Indians against each other. At its climax Adela takes the stand and, to the horror of the British spectators, changes her testimony, admitting she was discombobulated by the mysterious echo in the caves.
Read about the other trials on the list.

A Passage to India also appears among Mullan's ten best caves in literature and Antonya Nelson's five most essential books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Five best books on newspaper owners

Amanda Smith is the author of Newspaper Titan: The Infamous Life and Monumental Times of Cissy Patterson.

At the Wall Street Journal, she named a five best list of books about newspaper owners.

One title on the list:
by James McGrath Morris (2010)

A novel or miniseries chronicling the rags-to-riches saga of an Eastern European Jewish immigrant who becomes a crusading press baron, inaugurates the modern media age and dies a blind, embittered reactionary would likely be dismissed as implausible. Drawing deeply on previously untapped sources, James McGrath Morris creates a nuanced, captivating account of Joseph Pulitzer's life that is meticulous in its research but is also—inevitably, given the subject—a potboiler replete with scandal, murder, greed and conspiracy. Morris's fresh sources include Pulitzer's love letters and an unpublished memoir written by his brother, who committed suicide in 1909. "Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power" vividly illuminates the figure so often overshadowed by the prizes that bear his name.
Read about the other books on the list.

Pulitzer is one of T.J. Stiles's five best books on American moguls.

The Page 99 Test: Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 27, 2012

Ten great books about zippers

Christian Science Monitor contributor Molly Driscoll assembled a list of ten great books about zippers, including:
The Evolution of Useful Things by Henry Petroski

The zipper takes its place among other items we couldn't get along without such as the paper clip and Scotch tape in Petroski's book. The author discusses the answers to questions about inventions we may have never thought to wonder about, like why a fork has a fourth tine.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 69 Test: Henry Petroski's The Toothpick.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Top ten books about shopping malls

Ewan Morrison is the author of the novels Distance, Swung, and Ménage as well as the collection of short stories, The Last Book You Read.

For the Guardian, he named a top ten list of books about shopping malls in literature, including:
Kingdom Come by JG Ballard

Ballard's final novel before his death in 2009 depicts a dystopia with rioting football mobs, deluded shoppers and fascist youth fighting to the death for the only thing left to believe in – shopping at the Metro-Centre, a cathedral-like super mall off the M25. "Consumerism is running out of road, and it's trying to mutate. It's tried fascism, but even that isn't primitive enough. The only thing left is out-and-out madness." The plot hangs on one man's attempts to solve the murder of his father by a lone gunman. But unlike the great number of pulp novels about lone gunmen in malls, Ballard goes deeper to answer the underlying question – why in the popular subconscious are the pristine, benign spaces of retail associated with violence and death? The middle classes are behind it all, and their desire for conformism is the true founding act of violence. As with all great Ballard, it is how close his fantasy is to contemporary reality that's truly chilling.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Top ten vampires in fiction and popular culture

Will Hill is a former publishing professional who lives in London. His books include Department Nineteen and The Rising.

For the Guardian, he named his top ten vampires in fiction and popular culture.

One bloodsucker on the list:
Eric Northman (The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris)

One of the endlessly compelling things about vampires is the idea of living, if not forever, for longer than any human being ever could. Eric Northman embodies this, having lived for more than a thousand years by the time he is introduced in Dead Until Dark. Born a Viking in 11th century northern Europe, he is incredibly handsome, arrogant, flirtatious, dangerous, untrustworthy and has quite literally seen it all before. Eric rules over area five of Louisiana (in Harris's books, the vampire society in the US is run as a collection of feudal states) a position that brings the series heroine Sookie Stackhouse to his attention time and again throughout the series.
Read about the other vampires on the list.

The Stackhouse family is one of Jennifer Lynn Barnes's top 10 supernatural families.

Also see: Ten vampire stories more romantic than "Twilight", Kevin Jackson's top 10 vampire novels, and Lisa Tuttle's critic's chart of top vampire books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Five notable books on the 18th century sexual revolution

Faramerz Dabhoiwala is lecturer, tutor, and Senior Fellow in Modern History at Exeter College, University of Oxford, and is a member of the Royal Historical Society. His new book is The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution.

With Toby Ash at The Browser, he discussed five top book on the 18th century sexual revolution, including:
by Samuel Richardson

Onto your third book, which is one of the longest novels ever written in English. Before we discuss the book’s importance, can you give us a brief outline of the plot?

The plot is essentially very simple. There’s a heroine called Clarissa Harlowe, the daughter of a gentleman. The anti-hero is a libertine called Lovelace. Lovelace is the archetypal rake, a man who lives primarily to seduce women. He seduces women, humiliates them sexually, takes his pleasure and then abandons them. He sets his sights on Clarissa, who is initially attracted to him because – like all rakes – he is attractive, dangerous, witty and seductive. But because she is a true Christian and a virtuous woman, she won’t have sex with him before marriage, which is really what he wants. So she gradually changes her view of him, pushes him away and tries to keep him at bay. But she’s no match for him ultimately. He tricks her and traps her in London, far away from all her friends and relations. He keeps her imprisoned in what is actually a brothel, although she doesn’t know it, and then ultimately when she refuses to give way, he drugs her, rapes her and takes her chastity.

That’s the climax of the book, although not the end. Because the author, Samuel Richardson, wants to show that even a woman who is raped in these horrible circumstances – and he portrays it in such a way that is heartbreaking – still transcends Lovelace by refusing to stoop to his level. She takes to her bed and basically dies in order to maintain her moral integrity. She dies a true Christian and the implication is that even though she’s been raped, she maintains her virtue. But she has to die, because it’s a terrible fact of the double standards of the times that she would have been deemed unchaste even after a rape. On her death bed she forgives him, but of course he comes to a horrible end in the final pages, and gets his comeuppance.

That’s a terrific overview. Now, why did you choose it?

It’s probably the most influential novel of the 18th century. The mid-18th century is when the novel was invented, so it’s possibly the most influential novel ever written in English, because it influences everyone who comes afterwards, from Henry Fielding to Jane Austen onwards. And it is particularly influential in cementing this new presumption that men are dangerous seducers and women are, at heart, morally superior and more chaste. That’s the message of Richardson’s fiction, and that’s why it’s an important book. Even though Richardson himself is a man, it’s one of the earliest works to show the female point of view in courtship, in love, in sex and indeed in rape. Richardson did this under the influence of previous female writers, and lots of female admirers and friends who helped him in the writing and talked to him about these things from a female perspective.

One of the themes of my book is that the 18th century was one of the first periods in which women’s voices were heard in the public sphere in a big way, and that influenced the more general outlook in the culture on courtship, love and sex. Before the 18th century, women didn’t really publish their ideas in any sphere easily, but this changed with the growing numbers of journals and newspapers in which women’s voices were heard.

The other reason why I chose Clarissa is that it’s a fantastic read. I say this with conviction because I never read it until I wrote my own book. I had known about it – it was a looming presence in the background – and I knew that if I was going to talk about courtship, seduction and sex, I would have to read it. I really wasn’t looking forward to it because, as you say, it’s so long. I bought it and I had it sitting on my desk. I didn’t want to read it from cover to cover as it would take me forever, I just wanted to get the gist of it. But, in a wonderful lesson of the power of great fiction, I started dipping into it and was just hooked. It’s such a powerful read. In what is a great innovation of 18th century literature, it gives you the same story from the point of view of lots of different actors, through a series of letters between the major characters. You see all the same episodes through the evil eyes of Lovelace but also through the eyes of his victim Clarissa Harlowe and all the ancillary characters. It’s a fantastic kaleidoscope and a real page-turner.
Read about the other books discussed at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 23, 2012

Top ten "on the move" books

Segun Afolabi was born in Nigeria and brought up in the Congo, Canada and Japan. His stories have been published in various literary journals including Granta, the London Magazine, Wasafiri and the Edinburgh Review. He was awarded the Caine Prize for African Writing 2005 for his short story, 'Monday Morning'. His collection of stories, A Life Elsewhere, including the prize-winning story, was published in 2006. Afolabi's novel, Goodbye Lucille, followed in 2007.

In 2005 he named his top ten "on the move" books for the Guardian. One title on the list:
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

1959. American missionary Nathan Price brings his wife and four daughters to the Belgian Congo, a country emerging from the blight of colonial occupation. Blind to the needs of his family and the Africans he has come to "save", he seems unable to halt his inevitable downfall. Told from the point of view of his wife and daughters, Price's voice remains absent, yet the power of the narrative is undiminished.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Poisonwood Bible appears on John Mullan's list of ten of the best snakes in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ten of the best babies in literature

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

One entry on the list:
Mother's Milk by Edward St Aubyn

Boozy Patrick has a powerful rival for the attention of his wife Mary: his baby son Thomas. Mary seems determined to make up for the deficiencies of her own mother by making maternity a full-time commitment, which leaves Patrick "split between admiration and abandonment" – and sex-starved.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Mother's Milk was John Sutherland's bad Booker beat of 2006.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Joseph Olshan's six favorite books

Joseph Olshan is the award-winning author of ten novels including Nightswimmer and The Conversion. He spends most of the year in Vermont.

His latest novel is Cloudland.

One of his six favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal

A novel of political intrigue that tells the life story of a 19th-century Italian nobleman as he goes to war, falls in love, and becomes enmeshed in internecine conflicts of church and state. The great scenes set at the Battle of Waterloo clearly were an inspiration to Tolstoy, whose novel was published 30 years later.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Charterhouse of Parma is on John Mullan's list of ten of the best battles in literature; La Chartreuse de Parme is one of Claire Tomalin's five most important books.

Visit Joseph Olshan's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Conversion.

The Page 69 Test: Cloudland.

Writers Read: Joseph Olshan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 20, 2012

Top ten present tense books

Nicola Morgan is the award-winning author of around 90 books for all ages, including Wasted, Deathwatch, Fleshmarket, and Blame My Brain – The Amazing Teenage Brain Revealed.

For the Guardian, Morgan named her ten favorite present tense novels for children or teenagers.

One title on the list:
Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson

One of my favourite teenage authors, and I could also have chosen her earlier novel, Speak. Both books are raw portrayals of the anguish that some teenagers suffer on their way from the protection of childhood to the independence of adulthood. Something about being in the moment, in pain, self-focused and now-focused makes the present work so well for this type of story and for this age.
Read about the other titles on the list.

Writers Read: Nicola Morgan (September 2009).

Read Coffee with a Canine: Nicola Morgan & Amber.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Top ten graphic memoirs

Mary Talbot is the author of the graphic novel Dotter of her Father's Eyes, illustrated by her husband, award winning comic artist Bryan Talbot. She is an internationally acclaimed scholar who has published widely on language, gender and power, particularly in relation to media and consumer culture. Dotter is the first work she has undertaken in the graphic novel format.

For the Guardian, the Talbots named their top ten graphic memoirs, including:
Maus by Art Spiegelman

Maus is both the biography of Spiegelman's father, Vladek, and an autobiographical account of Art's troubled relationship with him as he gets the old man to recount his experiences during the second world war in Poland and his harrowing time as a prisoner in Auschwitz. As well as documenting his father's terrifying experiences under the fascist regime, Spiegelman paints a vivid portrait of his holocaust survivor father, an irascible, stingy and, surprisingly, bigoted curmudgeon, sending the clear message "suffering does not ennoble, it merely causes suffering". Maus is a chilling and thought-provoking read and was rightly a bestseller, remaining the only graphic novel to win a Pulitzer prize.
Read about the other memoirs on the list.

Maus also appears on Lev Grossman's top ten list of graphic novels, Danny Fingeroth's top 10 list of graphic novels, Meg Rosoff's top 10 list of adult books for teenagers, and Malorie Blackman's top ten list of graphic novels for teenagers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Five top books on Putin and Russian history

Edward Lucas is international editor for The Economist. He has written two books about Russia, The New Cold War and Deception: Spies, Lies and How Russia Dupes the West.

With Toby Ash at The Browser, he discussed five top books on Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin and Russian history, including:
It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway
by David Satter

[Y]our first book choice ... talks about this question of Russia coming to terms with its past. Please tell us more about It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway.

I think David Satter has really captured the role of the past in the present in Russia. He’s a very experienced correspondent from the Soviet era who has maintained his interest in post-Soviet Russia. He’s a really energetic, gumption reporter – he just goes to places that foreign correspondents don’t often go to in the provinces and follows up stories he first reported in the 1970s. Also, he’s unashamedly interested in morality. He feels that the Soviet Union hollowed out both public and private morality and left people without a moral compass when it collapsed. He highlights some of the extraordinary instances of casual, amoral treatment of people by the system and by other people in the book. It’s quite a pessimistic book. He feels Russia has been poisoned by the Soviet past and until that poison is out of the system it is going to be sickened by it.

His reportage is based on real life things. He has a gripping, haunting story of this guy who’s got drunk and ended up in a rubbish bin. The bin is then emptied into a garbage truck. The man wakes up and has his mobile phone on him. He phones from the back of the garbage truck and gets through to the police and tells them that he’s about to be crushed to death by the crusher. He tells them the part of Moscow he thinks he’s in and asks them to do something. And the police react with such casual boredom to this – the whole conversation is recorded – and you can hear the man becoming more and more desperate. You just think, when you have such a vivid human tragedy here, what kind of person would be a police dispatcher answering these emergency calls who wouldn’t sympathise with this person’s plight?

The title of his book is the quintessence of the Putinist attitude to the past. On the one hand, it’s a long time ago, so it’s irrelevant. On the other, if you say it is relevant, it wasn’t like that anyway – Stalin wasn’t such a bad man and his crimes really weren’t committed. It’s a classic Russian contradiction and an excellent title. Another thing he’s touching on is the role of the secret police in Russian thinking. The current regime is a corrupt secret police state and the role of the FSB [Federal Security Service] as an enforcement agent for the Kremlin is absolutely vital and Satter touches on that too and illuminates it.

Does he give any cause for optimism?

I think what he feels is that you’ve got to have a change at the top and you’ve got to have a government that tells the truth to its citizens about the past and deals with it and until that happens you’re always going to be navigating with a wonky compass. He doesn’t really write so much about the current political situation, which I think gives an opening at the moment. Putin’s looking quite weak and it’s unclear that he will last the full six years. It’s at least possible that out of that weakness will come a change in the regime or even a change of the regime. But it could also go wrong. It could be that the regime chucks Putin overboard and survives in some other form. It’s a stealing machine based on tens of billions of dollars, which the people in charge aren’t going to give up lightly.

Satter talks about how the rights and desires of individuals were subjugated in the Soviet era. This tradition has continued under Putin, hasn’t it?

Yes, and this touches on one of the other books I have chosen, Alexander Etkind’s Internal Colonization, where he says the relationship between the rulers and the ruled in Russia has always been a colonial one ever since the first Russian state came into existence. It has really followed the same pattern since. Russian rulers treat Russia the way that other countries’ rulers treat their colonies. It’s a callous, exploitative way where the quick win based on grabbing something someone else has got, or getting something out of the ground and selling it, is far more important than the long-term development of the economy. I don’t think that’s a complete explanation of Russia, as the Soviet Union did invest heavily in education, the space race, the arms race and other things, but I think the basic model of Russia as a quasi-feudal, quasi-piratical state is a very good one.
Read about the other books Lucas discussed at The Browser.

The Page 99 Test: David Satter's It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Five best books about adventurers

Richard Mason was born in South Africa in 1978 and lives in New York City. His first novel, The Drowning People, published when he was twenty-one and still a student at Oxford, sold more than a million copies worldwide and won Italy’s Grinzane Cavour Prize for Best First Novel. He is also the author of Natural Elements, which was chosen by the Washington Post as one of the best books of 2009 and longlisted for the IMPAC Prize and the Sunday Times Literary Award. History of a Pleasure Seeker is his fourth novel.

For the Wall Street Journal, Mason named a five best list of books about adventurers, including:
Fanny Hill
by John Cleland (1748)

John Cleland's novel about a young woman's erotic adventures, first published 2½ centuries ago, was banned in Britain until the 1960s. Deservedly so, if you believe in obscenity laws. And the book certainly ignores the darker side of prostitution in 18th-century London. But as a candid study of human sexuality in its infinite variety, "Fanny Hill" can't be beaten. Fanny, who tells her story in a series of letters, begins as a virtuous young woman and ends up, through no fault of her own, in a London brothel that doubles as a hat shop. Her career, though lurid by any measure, is nevertheless recounted in prose that captures the rhythms of 18th-century spoken English as well as the riotous permissiveness of the age. She vows "to paint situations as they actually arose to me in nature, careless of violating those laws of decency, that were never made for such unreserved intimacies as ours." This book will incense some readers, but Fanny's character is so human, and her attitude to her experiences so essentially sane (and, yes, pleasure-loving), that perhaps Cleland should be forgiven his effrontery in creating her.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 16, 2012

Ten of the best Aprils in literature

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

One entry on the list:
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

The month is important to one of fiction's most resonant opening sentences. "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." This spring brings no returning warmth or new life, just a "vile wind". Big Brother has even done for the seasons.
Read about the other entries on the list.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Five notable books on the early history of astronomy

Dava Sobel is the bestselling author of Longitude, Galileo’s Daughter, and The Planets, coauthor of The Illustrated Longitude, and editor of Letters to Father. Her latest book is A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos.

One of five books on the early history of astronomy she discussed with Daisy Banks at The Browser:
The Book Nobody Read
by Owen Gingerich

So this was very much the explosive century where lots of big minds came along to prove otherwise. One of the people at the forefront of that is Nicolaus Copernicus who is at the centre of Owen Gingerich’s book, The Book Nobody Read. Before we discuss the book can you explain who Copernicus was.

This is someone who really changed the world because he turned our perception of the universe inside out. He dared to suggest that the earth was in motion – that it rotated and revolved – which was an insane idea at the time.

How did people react to his ideas?

He put his ideas in a book called On the Revolution. But he didn’t want to publish it for a long time because he was worried he would be laughed at. So by the time his book came out he was dying and he never really heard any of the reaction to it. And for a while there was no explosive reaction because the book is a great big dense difficult mathematical text written in Latin! So it was only the educated few who could really appreciate its intent.

And that is why the 20th century author and journalist Arthur Koestler dismissed it as “the book that nobody read”, which is something that Owen Gingerich is at pains to correct with this book.

Yes, he is referring to Koestler’s comment with his title. This was the insult hurled at Copernicus’s book because it is so long and mathematical. What is interesting about Gingerich’s book is that he writes about his own study of On the Revolution. Over a period of 30 years, wherever he travelled he sought out all the extant copies of it, examining more than 600 surviving copies from the 16th century, and while he was doing that he noticed that the book hadn’t only been read but properly studied. He knew this because the margins of the copies were full of notes. So he was able to prove that it was, in fact, an extremely important book. It was also a very expensive book. It cost about the equivalent of a term’s tuition at university. So people who bought it were likely to take very good care of it.

What kind of people were buying it?

Galileo owned a copy. [Johannes] Kepler owned a copy. In fact any astronomer or mathematician from that period would have owned that book.
Read about the other books Sobel discussed at The Browser.

Read about Sobel's heroine from outside literature.

See Sobel's five best list of books which record extraordinary journeys of discovery.

The Page 99 Test: A More Perfect Heaven.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Six top books about science and tech

Jon Gertner grew up in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey—just a few hundred yards away from Bell Labs. He has been a writer for the New York Times Magazine since 2004 and is currently an editor at Fast Company magazine.

His new book is The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation.

One of Gertner's six favorite books about science and technology, as told to The Week magazine:
Collapse by Jared Diamond

Mayan culture, Easter Island, the Soviet Union. Diamond ranges far and wide across global history in this profoundly sobering book about what happens when societies enter periods of rapid decline — and how some have averted disaster by making wise choices.
Read about the other books on the list.

Collapse appears on a list of nine books Bill Gates thinks you should read, Andrew Ellson's critic's chart of "cash crashes", and the Guardian's list of the best books on global warming.

Gertner's The Idea Factory is one of the Barnes & Noble Review's five top books on innovation.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 13, 2012

Robson Green's six best books

Robson Green is best known in the U.S. for his portrayal of Dr. Tony Hill in the television series Wire In The Blood.

One of his six favorite books, as told to the Daily Express:
Animal Farm
by George Orwell

I loved this as a child and the character Boxer really reminds me of the life my dad had.

He worked down the mines for 40 years and was in essence a slave to those in power, the same as Boxer. It resonates with my father’s demise.

Animal Farm was my first insight into politics as a child, that the pursuit of power will always end in corruption.
Read about the other books on Green's list.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

The ten best Shakespeare characters

For the Guardian, Robert McCrum came up with a list of the ten best Shakespeare characters, including:
Lear: King Lear

Hamlet is the young actor’s supreme test, but Lear is the one part to which every leading man aspires. The British stage has seen recent landmark performances from Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi, for my money the greatest Lear of his generation. Madness, bloodshed and stage nudity: it’s a physically daunting role, occupying 22% of the script (Hamlet accounts for a massive 37%). In Act III, Scene I, the storm (“Blow winds, and crack your cheeks”) leads to one of the most extraordinary moments of western theatre – a high point in a play rich in astounding scenes. Shakespeare’s vision of humanity is bleak but strangely uplifting
Read about the other characters on the list.

King Lear is among the top twenty works of literature according to the contributors to The Top Ten: Writers Pick their Favourite Books. It appears on Gillian Orr's reading list on fatherhood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Top ten philosophers' novels

Seán McGrady was raised in Belfast, immersed in the religious and political ideas that defined the Irish Troubles. A former university lecturer in philosophy, he lives in York, England. His latest novel is The Backslider.

"The philosophical novel is the continuation of philosophical reflection by other means," he wrote in the Guardian. "To do justice to the nature of ontological concepts, Plato required a mythological approach in order to illuminate the distinction between essences and existence, which resisted conceptualisation. To do justice to the totality of human experience, existentialism denied objectifying knowledge. Justice was eminently done in some cases, their place in history of philosophical ideas assured and their literary merit lauded. Others failed to hit their desired target but were nonetheless notable for daring to articulate the philosophical idea in this form, and being popularly successful, if not philosophically original."

One of McGrady's top ten philosophers' novels:
Candide by Voltaire

Candide is perversion. Voltaire the perverter. Ill-informed about profound religious ideas, he proceeds with caricature. In the history of ideas, that line of "common sense philosophy" leads straight from Voltaire to the modern preachers and prophets of this perversion. Dawkins is an heir of Voltaire. In the name of enlightenment the Frenchman concocts a literary argument against an enlightened metaphysics. Here literature is cowardly. It is journalistic. The enemy of truth that Plato saw in certain literary forms. Voltaire failed to understand rationalist metaphysics and so gave to the world a distortion. The curse of "common sense".
Read about the other novels on the list.

Candide is a book Rolling Stone political columnist Matt Taibbi reads every couple of years. It is on Shalom Auslander's top ten list of comic tragedies, 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

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Five of the best books about animals

Delia Ephron, author and screenwriter, has written many books for children and adults, including the recently released The Lion is In.

One of her five best books on animals, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
Merle's Door
by Ted Kerasote (2007)

In a dog owner's memoir, the dog usually dies. That's the thing about dogs. We love them and lose them—they go through the life cycle on fast-forward, loving and adorable at every stage, even as teenagers. When I'm reading one of these books, I always know I'm headed for a gigantic sobfest. "Merle's Door," no exception, is the story of a Labrador/golden retriever/hound mix that Ted Kerasote finds on a river-rafting trip. Kerasote, an outdoorsman and nature writer, names the dog Merle and takes him home to Kelly, Wyo., a village of 90 or so people whose collective backyard is the Grand Teton National Park. Merle becomes his own boss, as much as a dog can, going and coming at will. If your dog has only walked on cement and frolicked in a dog park—and never tumbled down a snowy mountain, braved rapids, tangled with an elk or outsmarted a coyote—you may find this book the most romantic possible account of someone else's life with a dog. Kerasote weaves into his narrative all sorts of behavioral, historic and scientific facts about dogs. You can skip those sections or not, the way you can read simply the peace parts of "War and Peace." For a time in the memoir, Kerasote has a girlfriend and Merle finds happiness with a female pooch, but the love of their lives is clearly each other.
Read about the other books on Ephron's list.

The Page 69 Test: Merle's Door.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Six notable stories of addiction

Dan Barden is the author of the novels John Wayne and The Next Right Thing.

A native of Southern California, he teaches at Butler University, and lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, with his wife, Elizabeth Barden, owner of Indianapolis’s Big Hat Books.

One of his six favorite stories of addiction, as told to The Week magazine:
Jamesland by Michelle Huneven

A novel about a group of friends who are growing, together, in hipster Los Angeles. The issues here are so completely the issues of recovery: how to live in community, how to love unselfishly, how to find your right livelihood. As one character keeps asking himself, "How do people live in this world?" Huneven's book even features the ghost of William James, the godfather of the recovery movement.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 9, 2012

Ten of the best emperors in literature

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

One entry on the list:
Robert Graves's Claudius

Graves gives us a gallery of emperors: wise Augustus, who is a fool when it comes to the scheming of his own wife, Livia; corrupt and sensual Tiberius; bonkers Caligula. The ruling presence is the narrator, stammering Claudius, saved from being murdered by the fact that he seems a dolt. In the end, he too will be laid low by the woman he loves.
Read about the other emperors on the list.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Thirteen of the best baseball books

Jimmy So is Deputy Books Editor at Newsweek/The Daily Beast.

One of his thirteen best baseball books:
The Natural by Bernard Malamud

The most divisive book on this list isn’t so much a baseball novel as it is a novel by a man who didn’t consider a book to be a book unless it can be used to procure a Pulitzer. There’s something about baseball that mesmerized post-war immigrants, and Malamud nailed it with the mythical tale of Roy Hobbs, a “natural” of such star magnetism that he gets shot by a woman for mysterious reasons, and then must climb out of the recovery abyss. One swing of his bat (the Excalibur-like “Wonderboy”) could mean redemption—or ruin. Baseball purists find this allegory dark and over-the-top. But Malamud, who didn’t let so much as a fly buzz by without writing about it as long as it passed through Brooklyn, showed us what Jews living blocks away from Ebbets Field must have felt: awe and hope in the shadow of an ugly new world.
Read about the other baseball books So tagged at The Daily Beast.

Also see Will Dean's list of five books on baseball, Allen Barra's five best works of fiction about baseball, Marjorie Kehe's ten best list of baseball books, Doug Glanville's best books on baseball, Richard J. Tofel's list of the five best books on baseball as a business, Tom Werner's six favorite baseball books, Fay Vincent's five best list of baseball books, Tim McCarver's five best list of baseball books, and Nicholas Dawidoff's five best list of baseball novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Five notable books on castaways

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on castaways:
Life of Pi
by Yann Martel

Heard the one about a 16-year-old zookeeper's son who finds himself adrift on a lifeboat in the Atlantic Ocean with a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger? As his fellow shipmates are consumed one-by-one by the jungle cat, the only thing that saves young Pi from becoming dinner is his understanding of animal behavior. Martel spins a transcendent yarn in this award-winning, international bestseller that braids deep questions about human nature and faith into a tale that celebrates the lifesaving power of stories themselves.
Read about the other books on the list.

Life of Pi is on John Mullan's list of ten of the best zoos in literature and among Sara Gruen's six favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 6, 2012

Anthony Horowitz's six favorite books for teens

Anthony Horowitz has published more than 50 books and written for television, film and the theatre. His books include the Alex Rider series of spy novels for teenagers, as well as The Killing Joke and The Magpie Murders. He created the TV drama series Foyle’s War and is collaborated with Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg on the sequel to The Adventures of Tintin. Horowitz was commissioned by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle to write a new Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk.

One of his six favorite books for teens, as told to The Week magazine:
The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

Only a few great books came out of World War II, but this Pulitzer Prize winner is definitely among them. Captain Queeg is one of fiction's most intriguing characters. Is he a monster or the hero of the novel? This is a book you have to read twice.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Caine Mutiny also appears among Richard Snow's five best books on World War II.

"Each time I revisit [The Caine Mutiny] I’m more awed than the last," writes Dawn Shamp. "The manner in which he develops the character of Willie Keith is nothing short of brilliant. Wouk’s style is spare yet complex. Every word counts."

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Top ten literary feuds

Poet and novelist Michael Crummey is from Newfoundland, the setting for much of his writing. His first book of poems, Arguments with Gravity, was awarded the Writer's Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador Book Award for Poetry. Crummey's novels include River Thieves, The Wreckage, and the award-winning Galore.

For the Guardian, he named his top ten literary feuds.

One title on the list:
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Set on the Texas-Mexico border in the 1850s, McCarthy's novel follows the fortunes of the Glanton gang, a clan of misfits and psychopaths hired to clear the west of its indigenous inhabitants. It's an unrelenting chronicle of violence and degradation that refuses to take sides or moralise. The thin line between victim and perpetrator disappears early in the story, and the Glanton gang descend into a hell of their own making. As in all blood feuds, violence begets violence until it becomes the end itself. McCarthy fashions a perversely lyrical ballet of the carnage.
Read about the other entries on the list.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lionel Shriver’s four favorite novels about terrorism

Novelist and journalist Lionel Shriver won the coveted Orange Prize in 2005 for We Need to Talk about Kevin, a gripping literary page-turner that delves into the tragic possibilities of motherhood gone awry. Her features, op-eds, and reviews have appeared in such publications as The Guardian, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and the Economist.

Her latest novel is The New Republic.

One of Shriver’s four favorite novels on terrorism, as told to The Daily Beast:
American Pastoral
by Philip Roth

The daughter of an American paragon, Merry Levov bombs a U.S. post office to protest against the war in Vietnam and then goes on the run. Roth paints a stunning portrait of Patty-Hearst-style terrorist wannabe going off the deep end. What always leaps out in my mind when I remember this novel is the image of Merry when she has decided she will no longer hurt any living thing, including plants: she will not eat, she will not wash, she will not cut her own hair or nails. She looks revolting, and she talks drivel. She somehow resonates with the case of the wayward Californian John Walker Lindh, also discovered filthy with long matted hair, and speaking mysteriously with an Arabic accent.
Read about the other books on Shriver's list.

American Pastoral is on Justin Cartwright's top ten list of novels about societies under stress, Sheila Hancock's list of her six best books, Maria Semple's list of her six best books, and among Ward Just's five favorite novels about the pursuit of money. It appears on John Mullan's list of ten of the best riots in literature and Jason Diamond's list of "The 50 Most Essential Works Of Jewish Fiction Of The Last 100 Years."

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Top ten father and son stories

Tony Bradman is a children's author who has written poetry, picture book texts and fiction. His latest book, co-written with his son Tom Bradman, is Titanic: Death on the Water, a short novel for children about one boy's experience on the most famous ship in history.

For the Guardian, he named his top ten father and son stories. One book on the list:
The Road by Cormac McCarthy

My son thinks I'm a total wimp as I can only watch things like The Walking Dead and 28 Days Later from between my fingers, especially if any children are in danger. So you can imagine just how difficult I found The Road, Cormac McCarthy's vision of a devastated, post-apocalyptic future in which a father is utterly determined to save his nine-year-old son from a fate much worse than anything Tiny Tim might encounter, the options being starvation or ending up as kebabs for some particularly nasty cannibals. The writing is extraordinary, and although it's clearly a fable, the characters are so clearly drawn they stay with you long after you finish the book. I've got the DVD of the film version, and one of these days I'll get around to watching it. But not just yet.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Road appears on Ramin Karimloo's six favorite books list, 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

Monday, April 2, 2012

Five notable books on innovation

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on innovation:
The Genius Factory
by David Plotz

Want your baby to be smart? Why not use the sperm of a Nobel Prize winner? This was eccentric millionaire Robert Graham's big idea back in 1980: to amass a donor network of recognized geniuses and sell their genetic material to the highest bidder. Plotz doggedly tracks down some of the children and families involved in this completely audacious breeding experiment, dubbed The Repository for Germinal Choice, which closed in 1999.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 69 Test: David Plotz's The Genius Factory.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Ten of the best wines in literature

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

One entry on the list:
A Long Finish by Michael Dibdin

Detective Aurelio Zen is sent to northern Italy to investigate the murder of a leading wine maker. The vineyard owner's son has been jailed for the murder and a rich film director (who is a wine connoisseur) wants him exonerated so that he can supply the next year's special vintage. Zen usually quaffs Venetian plonk, but now discovers the subtler delights of Piedmontese wine – and solves the crime.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue