Saturday, June 30, 2012

Five top books on sex and society

Eric Berkowitz is a writer, lawyer and journalist. He has a degree in print journalism from University of Southern California and has published in The Los Angeles Times and The Los Angeles Weekly, and for the Associated Press.

His new book is Sex and Punishment: Four Thousand Years of Judging Desire.

One of Berkowitz's five top books on sex and society, as discussed with Lindsey Ford of The Browser:
To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee

...To Kill a Mockingbird, also deals with themes of rape and violent retribution.

This is another standard that everybody read when they were 14. What I think it really shows is the myth, at least in white America, of the black man as sexual predator – which still exists. The defendant in the case, Tom Robinson, is essentially a cripple. The case, which we tend to forget, was about the rape of a poor white woman. It turns out she was probably raped by her own father. Most rape cases in the United States, for a very long period of time, were against black men. Something like eight out of 10 of those cases ended up in convictions. Quite often, castration was the punishment.

In this case it’s critical to bring up the notion that permeated To Kill a Mockingbird of any black man being a potential sexual predator. As one court put it, any sexual encounter between a white woman and a black man had to be rape, because “no black man could assume that a white woman would consent to his lustful embraces”. We’ve come a long way from that, but I think that is really at the bottom of the case. Let’s not forget that for most of American history there was no such thing as rape of a black woman – especially black women who were owned by their masters. Part of the benefits of slave ownership was to take sexual advantage of your slaves. There was clearly a double standard.

So the case is about racism, but it’s also about white sexual fear of the black man, and the failed effort of white America to stop intermixing. I think the notion of the scary black man still permeates the American justice system today. Some people are rethinking this book, saying it’s a racist novel, it’s patronising, et cetera. I don’t think To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the greatest pieces of literature ever. I think it’s been overrated over the years. But it is a very good window into the ingrained sexual fear that permeated at least the southern American justice system.
Read about the other books Berkowitz tagged at The Browser.

To Kill a Mockingbird made Sissy Spacek's six favorite books list, Kathryn Erskine's top ten list of first person narratives, Julia Donaldson's six best books list, TIME magazine's top 10 list of books you were forced to read in school, John Mullan's list of ten of the best lawyers in literature, John Cusack's list of books that made a difference to him, Lisa Scottoline's top ten list of books about justice, and Luke Leitch's list of ten literary one-hit wonders. It is one of Sanjeev Bhaskar's six best books and one of Alexandra Styron's five best stories of fathers and daughters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 29, 2012

Ten of the best horse races in literature

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

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

A novel dedicated to the workings of chance features a godly protagonist who is inducted into the delights of the races while an undergraduate at Oxford. Oscar appears an innocent, but has a gift for predicting winners. At every racecourse in the south of England he discovers that Providence is at work.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Oscar and Lucinda also appears on Mullan's lists of ten of the best fossils in literature, 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

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Top ten fairy fictions

Graham Joyce, a winner of the O. Henry Award, the British Fantasy Award, and the World Fantasy Award, lives in Leicester, England, with his family. His books include The Silent Land, Smoking Poppy, Indigo (a New York Times Notable Book of 2000), The Tooth Fairy (a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1998), and Requiem, among others.

Joyce's new novel is Some Kind of Fairy Tale.

For the Guardian, he named his ten "favourite books in which the Fair Folk find themselves in fresh landscapes," including:
The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

This is a novel that draws on the great tradition of European fairytales but which offers us a shimmering romance for our modern world. A luminous work, about a girl's transformation into glass.
Read about the other entries on Joyce's list.

The Page 69 Test: Ali Shaw's The Girl with Glass Feet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Top ten bedtime stories

Jasper Fforde has been writing in the comedy/fantasy genre since 2001 when his novel The Eyre Affair debuted on the New York Times bestseller list. Since then he has published more books, several of them bestsellers, and counts his sales in millions. He lives and works in Wales.

One of his top ten bedtime stories, as told to the Guardian:
Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl

Almost anything by Roald Dahl would be the last of my choices, and it's difficult to pick out a book that defines an oeuvre that is at all times charming, mildly seditious, full of wicked adults, savvy kids and fools getting their comeuppance – a winning combination if ever there was one. Fantastic Mr Fox is as good a place to start as any. The wonderful things about Dahl books is the simplicity of the prose, the ease of reading aloud (not always as easy a task as one might imagine) and their dark humour. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory would be a good follow-up, followed by The BFG and eventually, when your teenagers are reading on their own, a copy of Tales of the Unexpected left in clear view by their bedside. It will be devoured as eagerly as Matilda.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Robert Goolrick's six favorite books about childhood

In addition to the novel A Reliable Wife, Robert Goolrick is the author of the acclaimed memoir The End of the World as We Know It. He lives in a small Virginia town.

His new novel is Heading Out to Wonderful.

One of Goolrick's six favorite books about childhood, as told to The Week magazine:
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

No one has spun more gold out of the dross of a dubious childhood than Sedaris, and he has done it hilariously. Overweight, gay, odd — he once asked for a vacuum cleaner for Christmas — here Sedaris writes masterfully about the fact that it's okay just to be who you are.
Read about the other books on the list.

Visit Robert Goolrick's website.

The Page 69 Test: Heading Out to Wonderful.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Joss Ackland's six favorite books

Joss Ackland, distinguished English actor who has appeared in over 100 movies, played Andrei Lysenko in The Hunt for Red October and Arjen Rudd in Lethal Weapon 2.

One of his six favorite books, as told to the Daily Express:
by John Le Carré

My favourite novel of John le Carré’s and his most moving. There’s a touch of Graham Greene about his writing.

I did Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy on television and we were going to make this about the character I’d played but they couldn’t afford to. It involved going to seven countries.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Honourable Schoolboy appears among Jeffrey Archer's top ten romans-fleuves.

--Marshal Zeringue

Ten top books about hurricanes

In 2011 the writers at The Daily Beast came up with a list of "good book[s] about people enduring hurricanes and other aquatic misadventures," including:
by Joseph Conrad

Sure, he could find the moral or ethical dilemma in a bowline or a sheepshank, but Conrad was a seaman before he was a novelist, and his descriptions of life on the water are unmatched. In this novella, he describes a South Seas steamer, the Nan Shan, surviving a storm and does it so well you’ll swear the pages are wet. A bonus: the best name for a ship’s commander ever: Capt. MacWhirr.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 25, 2012

Ten of the best museums in literature

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

One entry on the list:
The Murder Room by PD James

A perfect, suitably gothic, scene for murder, the Dupayne is small, family-owned museum on the edge of Hampstead Heath, threatened with closure. It is devoted to memorabilia of England between the wars. Its "murder room" is devoted to the most famous murders of the period, and soon characters are being bumped off in ways that echo some of these cases.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Top ten passionate women writers

In 2006 Pamela Norris published Words of Love: Passionate Women from Heloise to Sylvia Plath...and named her ten favorite women from the book.

One writer on the list:
Christine de Pizan (1364-1430)

Christine de Pizan was one of the first women to live by her pen in medieval Europe. Widowed early, she was left with a family of young children, a niece and a mother to support. She began by writing enchanting love poems, perhaps inspired by memories of her own happy courtship and marriage. Always passionate about women's abilities, Christine celebrated their talents and achievements in The Book of the City of Ladies, dreamed up in her study while her mother was preparing supper downstairs.

As her confidence grew, she even dared to challenge the courtly code which favoured clandestine affairs between married women and gallants anxious to win their spurs in the bedroom as well as on the battlefield. Her verse-novel, The Book of the Duke of True Lovers, is a bold exposé of a young wife's unhappiness when she agrees to a secret affair with a pressing suitor. Christine's sympathy with her heroine reveals her sensitivity to the temptations and torments of woman's desire.
Read about the other writers Norris tagged for the Guardian.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Five best books on religion and politics

Stephen Prothero is a professor in the Department of Religion at Boston University and the author of numerous books, including God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter, the New York Times bestseller Religious Literacy: What Americans Need to Know, and, most recently The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation.

One of his five best books on religion and politics, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
The Politics of American Religious Identity
by Kathleen Flake (2003)

Between 1904 and 1907, the U.S. Senate held hearings on whether to oust Reed Smoot, a newly elected senator from Utah and a leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But Mormonism and its practice of polygamy were the real defendants. Kathleen Flake, a civil-rights attorney turned church historian, tells this story in clear, persuasive prose. The book's real virtue, however, is its close historical examination of a perennial challenge for all religious organizations (and political candidates): how to change while remaining true to yourself. In this high-stakes game of political poker, at the end of which Smoot was narrowly allowed to keep his seat, Mormons took home some hard-earned respectability. Prompted by Smoot's ordeal, they gave up in deed the sacrament—polygamy—that they had previously abandoned in words only. They also exchanged communalism for capitalism and theocracy for republicanism, and learned in the process to locate their distinctiveness in more self-evidently "religious" arenas, such as their founder's early revelations. "Gentiles" (as Mormons used to call the rest of us) did some compromising too, expanding the scope of religious liberty to include a faith then widely considered to be beyond the pale.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 22, 2012

88 books that shaped America

The "Books That Shaped America" exhibition at the Library of Congress opens on June 25.

About the exhibition, from Librarian of Congress James H. Billington:
This list of ‘Books That Shaped America’ is a starting point. It is not a register of the ‘best’ American books--although many of them fit that description. Rather, the list is intended to spark a national conversation on books written by Americans that have influenced our lives, whether they appear on this initial list or not. We hope people will view the list and then nominate other titles. Finally, we hope people will choose to read and discuss some of the books on this list, reflecting our nation’s unique and extraordinary literary heritage, which the Library of Congress makes available to the world.
One title on the list:
Red Harvest

Dashiell Hammett’s first novel introduced a wide audience to the so-called “hard-boiled” detective thriller with its depiction of crime and violence without any hint of sentimentality. The creator of classics such as “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Thin Man,” shocked readers with such dialogue as “We bumped over dead Hank O’Meara’s legs and headed for home.”
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five best books featuring pariahs

Richard Zimler's novels include The Seventh Gate and The Warsaw Anagrams.

One of his five best books featuring pariahs, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
I Married a Communist
by Philip Roth (1998)

Starting in the 1990s, Philip Roth began to shed his standard plot—centered on a sexually adventurous and maddeningly witty, bookish Jewish-American protagonist—and to explore instead the fall from grace of protagonists who run afoul of American mores and politics. In "I Married a Communist," he brilliantly explores the chilling effect of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's anticommunist crusade on America's insecure Jewish community and others. The story focuses on radio star Ira Ringold, who is accused of inserting pinko propaganda into the scripts of his dramatic series. Every time we think we've reached the truth about Ringold's alleged anti-American conspiring—and about his tumultuous relationship with his wife, an actress who ends up betraying him and sealing his doom—Roth peels away another layer of the story and shows us that we've been mistaken. The sleight-of-hand plotting is deft, and the author's newfound confidence in his reader—we don't need to be entertained by sexual acrobatics or clever banter to keep us reading insightful prose—gives this work memorable force.
Read about the other books on the list.

Writers Read: Richard Zimler (August 2007).

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The ten best office dramas

Jonathan Lee's new novel Joy is set in an office in the City of London.

For the Observer, Lee named the ten best office dramas in print and on screen, including:
Then We Came to the End
by Joshua Ferris (2007)

Ferris’s novel is a hilarious ode to ergonomic chairs, watercooler gossip and “the great unsung pastime of American corporate life, the wadded paper toss”. By telling the story in the first person plural, the author slyly asks whether modern corporate culture leaves any room for the individual: “We liked wasting time, but almost nothing was more annoying than having our wasted time wasted on something not worth wasting it on…” The collective narrator is withering: “A small, angry book about work... Now there was a fun read on the beach.”
Read about the other books, movies, and television shows on the list.

Then We Came to the End is on Alice-Azania Jarvis's reading list on unemployment.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Top ten books on film

Michael Wood is Charles Barnwell Start Professor of English and Professor of Comparative Literature, Princeton University. His books include Film: A Very Short Introduction.

For the Guardian, Wood named his top ten books on film.

One title on the list:
I Lost It at the Movies by Pauline Kael (1965)

Surely the greatest of all regular film critics,Kael loved the movies with unflagging passion, and wrote especially well about the films that let her passion down. She was always funny. This is the first collection of her work, but there are many others, all wonderful.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Five top books on presidential rhetoric

Elvin T. Lim is Associate Professor of Government at Wesleyan University and author of The Anti-intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush.

In 2008 he named a five best list of books on presidential rhetoric for the Wall Street Journal. One title on the list:
The Sound of Leadership
by Roderick P. Hart

Keen insights abound in Roderick P. Hart's study of presidential communications in this deceptively prosaic account of "who said what to whom, when, and where" between 1948 and 1987. He describes the ways that words have now come to serve as substitutes for presidential action, and how the aura of leadership has come to take the place of the real thing. Our obsession with charisma obscures the truth that effective communication is not the be-all and end-all of leadership. Rhetoric is only the beginning, not the end, of leadership. Hart explains, in an energetic, artful style, how drastically our conception of statesmanship has changed because we now equate leading almost entirely with speaking. With the recently concluded presidential campaign behind us, it will be interesting to observe whether the historical conflation of words and deeds, promises and their delivery, persists in Barack Obama's administration.
Read about all five titles on Lim's list.

The Page 99 Test: Elvin T. Lim's The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W. Bush.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ten of the best highwaymen in literature

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

One entry on the list:
Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

Moll has separated from dodgy but charming Jemy, her "Gentleman" husband, but sees him again in the company of two other men. That night there is "a hue-and-cry after three highwaymen that had robbed two coaches and some other travellers near Dunstable Hill". Inevitably, they meet once more – in Newgate.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Moll Flanders also appears on Mullan's list of ten of the best seductions in literature and Freya North's top ten list of romantic fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Five top books on the origins of curiosity

Philip Ball is a science writer, with a degree in chemistry from Oxford and a doctorate in physics from Bristol University. He was an editor for the journal Nature for over 10 years, and now writes a regular column in Chemistry World. Ball's books include Critical Mass: How One Things Leads to Another, which won the 2005 Aventis Prize for science books, and the recently published Curiosity: How Science Became Interested in Everything.

At The Browser, Ball discussed five top books on the origins of curiosity with Alec Ash, including:
The Age of Wonder
by Richard Holmes

The Age of Wonder takes us forward to the scientific enlightenment of the Romantic period, in the late 18th century.

This comes directly after the period I looked at myself. Daston and Park argued that there was an age of wonder in medieval times, when wonder was regarded as a virtue and curiosity was a vice. Medieval wonder was all about being awed and dumbstruck at what God could create, and your questions stopped there. Whereas the wonder that Richard Holmes is thinking about in this book was an emergent appreciation of the awesomeness of nature – the romantic notion of the sublime. This was almost a backlash to the strict rationalism that eventually emerged from the so-called scientific revolution during the Enlightenment.

I found Richard’s book inspirational not only because it’s so beautifully written, and deeply informed about the cultural currents of those times, but also because of what it says about how to think and write about science. He says we have to find a more inclusive and generous way of writing about science, that no longer separates science from the rest of culture.

Do you think we are achieving that today?

We have some fantastic writing about science today, and the best science writers do a great job of making complex scientific ideas seem very lucid. But it is still difficult for us to get away from presenting it as a dollop of science separated from everything else, such as culture. I’ve increasingly tried to avoid that – to show how science is embedded in culture, feeds into culture, and is affected by it. And that is what Richard does in this book too, for the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Read about the other books Ball tagged at The Browser.

Learn more about Philip Ball and his work at his website and blog.

Writers Read: Philip Ball.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Five top books on foreigners in Afghanistan

Sandy Gall is a British journalist, author, and former news presenter. He has written several books about Afghanistan and made three documentaries about the country during the Soviet War. Sandy Gall and his wife also set up the Sandy Gall Afghanistan Appeal charity, which provides support to people who have lost limbs in combat.  His latest book is War Against the Taliban: Why It All Went Wrong in Afghanistan.

With Toby Ash at The Browser, Gall discussed five notable books on foreigners in Afghanistan, including:
A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush
by Eric Newby

.... Why A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush?

Well, it’s terribly funny. I think Eric Newby is one of the best travel writers Britain has ever produced. I love reading this book. I’ve read it two or three times, and each time I fell about laughing. He writes terribly well. Evelyn Waugh actually wrote the preface to this book thinking it was by another Eric Newby, and ended up admiring this one. The book is about Newby and his young diplomat friend who went off on an expedition to Afghanistan [in the 1950s] with the intention of climbing Mir Samir – the highest mountain there – although neither had any experience of mountaineering or had even used a rope before. But they were young, fit and enthusiastic and they very nearly got to the top.

I think it’s one of the funniest books in the English language. It’s also about a breathtaking expedition – they were terribly brave. Newby wrote some marvellous books, but I think this one is his best.

There’s a wonderful episode in it when he bumps into the rather more serious explorer Wilfred Thesiger. At one point Thesiger turns to Newby and says: “England’s going to pot. Look at this shirt, I’ve only had it for three years, now it’s splitting.”

The whole Thesiger meeting is very, very funny. When Newby and his friend blow up their inflatable mattresses, Thesiger says: “You must be a pair of pansies.” It’s a wonderful end to the book – Thesiger striding up the path towards them and then they all camp out together. I’ll defy anyone to read this book and not find it both enchanting and hugely funny. Several laughs a page and beautifully written.

How much has this part of Afghanistan changed since the 1950s, when this book was written?

It’s still much the same. They went up the Panjshir Valley, which I know very well because that was where Ahmad Shah Massoud was and we filmed him there. So I would say it has changed very little since Newby wrote his book. There is a nice new tarmac road running through the valley that the Americans have built, but basically the people are the same.
Read about the other books on Gall's list.

A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush is one of Don George's top ten travel books of the 20th century.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sissy Spacek's six favorite books

Sissy Spacek was raised in Quitman, Texas, the daughter of an agriculturalist and a homemaker. From her Oscar-nominated performance in Carrie, based on Stephen King’s book, to her Academy-Award-winning portrayal of country singer Loretta Lynn in Coal Miner’s Daughter, in which she sang all of Lynn’s songs and earned a Grammy nomination, her acclaimed guest role on HBO’s Big Love, and her uproarious turn in The Help, she has enjoyed an enduring career in movies and television. Her new memoir is My Extraordinary Ordinary Life.

One of Spacek's six favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Lee's novel is filled with details and characters so familiar to me that, when I first read it, I felt like it was speaking to me in my own voice. I loved that Atticus Finch gave Scout the space to be the little hellion she was — not unlike how my father treated me.
Read about the other books on the list.

To Kill a Mockingbird made Kathryn Erskine's top ten list of first person narratives, Julia Donaldson's six best books list, TIME magazine's top 10 list of books you were forced to read in school, John Mullan's list of ten of the best lawyers in literature, John Cusack's list of books that made a difference to him, Lisa Scottoline's top ten list of books about justice, and Luke Leitch's list of ten literary one-hit wonders. It is one of Sanjeev Bhaskar's six best books and one of Alexandra Styron's five best stories of fathers and daughters.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 15, 2012

The 11 most mind-blowing surprise endings in science fiction

At io9, Jennifer Griffith Delgado tagged eleven of the most mind-blowing surprise endings in science fiction and fantasy literature.

One title on the list:
Ender's Game (by Orson Scott Card)

This one caught us totally off guard the first time we read it. Ender's in Battle School training to fight the Buggers for most of the book. After he gets promoted to Command School, Ender starts a new set of training simulations to test his ability to lead fleets in war. During his final simulation, Ender sacrifices an entire fleet to defeat the enemy and destroy the alien homeworld. He thinks he'll be expelled for breaking the rules of the game, but it turns out that no one cares. In fact, his teachers are all celebrating his victory because it was not really a simulation. Ender was really commanding an army, and he really committed xenocide.
Read about the other titles on the list.

See Orson Scott Card's list of five science fiction books sure to hook new readers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Five notable books on the music of New Orleans

Keith Spera writes about music for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. In 2006, he was a member of the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Hurricane Katrina coverage team. He has also contributed to Rolling Stone, Vibe, Blender, LA Weekly, Garden & Gun and numerous documentaries. He lives in his native New Orleans. His latest book is Groove Interrupted: Loss, Renewal, and the Music of New Orleans.

With Daisy Banks of The Browser, Spera discussed five top books about the music of New Orleans, including:
The Brothers
by Art, Aaron, Charles and Cyril Neville and David Ritz

[W]hat about your final book choice, The Brothers, which is an autobiography by the Neville brothers?

This is the autobiography of Art, Cyril, Charles and Aaron who are the four brothers who make up the Neville Brothers band. It was co-written with David Ritz. The Neville Brothers for many years were the standard bearer of New Orleans music. They were a classic story of a family up from the streets. They had some early success individually. Art Neville, the oldest brother, did a song called "Mardi Gras Mambo" back in the fifties that is still one of the songs that you hear every year at carnival time. It is one of the four or five songs that will be played at Mardi Gras forever.

Aaron Neville is famous for his high fluttering voice and he had a hit in the early sixties called "Tell It Like It Is." And then he fell on hard times, so the brothers came together in the late seventies and the early eighties and came to define New Orleans funk and rhythm and blues. They did a record called Yellow Moon, which is a beautiful evocative spooky record that really broke them on a national level. For over 15 years they have played at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. They didn’t do it for a couple of years after Katrina, which is why Fats Domino was booked for that spot. For many people, when they think of a band from New Orleans the Neville Brothers are the ones that spring to mind.
Read about the other books Spera tagged at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Top 10 books on the English language

David Crystal is Honorary Professor of Linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor. In 1995, he was awarded the Order of the British Empire for services to the English language. His latest book is The Story of English in 100 Words.

In 2006 Crystal named his top ten books on the English language for the Guardian, including:
Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson

I have the greatest of admiration for non-specialists who take an interest in a subject and explore it with respect and accuracy, adding a level of accessibility and an individual slant that academics would do well to emulate. Few have succeeded; and none have succeeded so well as Bill Bryson in this book. It's a delightful, easy-to-read survey - though with its good humour, wealth of anecdote, and boyish enthusiasm, "romp" would be a better word.
Read about the other entries on Crystal's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Robert Olmstead's six favorite books

Robert Olmstead's novels include Far Bright Star and the award-winning Coal Black Horse. His latest book is The Coldest Night, a soldier's love story, set against the backdrop of the Korean War.

One of his six favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy is our very own Shakespeare. He remembers the people we would choose to forget. He reminds us of the awes of life, and of how fragile the experience we call civilization is. Into each narrative comes a strange stirring of the heart. And the words he writes — they are as if sewn into the page: a kind of needlework or embroidery.
Read about the other entries on Olmstead's list.

Blood Meridian is one authority's pick for the Great Texas novel and is among Michael Crummey's top ten literary feuds, 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

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ten of the best dates in titles

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

One entry on the list:
Nineteen Seventy-Four by David Peace

Set during the year in question, the first part of Peace's Red Riding quartet follows a crime reporter on the Yorkshire Post as he investigates the bizarre murder of a young girl. He begins to discover that God's Own County is a seething pit of corruption, lust and perverse violence. Welcome to the 70s.
Learn about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 11, 2012

Five top books on The Cold War

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on The Cold War:

Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Krushchev, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth
by Frederick Kempe

The tension was palpable: American and Soviet troops stood poised to engage. A young President Kennedy, the Bay of Pigs debacle still fresh in his mind, dared a beleaguered Krushchev to blink. These were the perilous days of Berlin in 1961, when the world was poised on the brink of nuclear war. Kempe, a former Wall Street Journal Berlin bureau chief, paints nuanced portraits of both leaders, chronicles the events that led to the construction of the Berlin Wall, and comes to some surprising conclusions about who won this early Cold War skirmish.
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see--Five best forgotten Cold War thrillers, Five best windows on the Cold War, Five best books about Cold War culture, and Five best Cold War classics.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Ten of the best plays within plays

At the Guardian, John Mullan named ten of the best plays within plays.

One entry on the list:
The Seagull by Anton Chekhov

The guests at Sorin's country estate gather to watch an experimental new play by his nephew, Konstantin. The young playwright's neighbour Nina stars in this symbolist hokum and takes the stage to perform a long and rambling monologue about the nature of a universal soul. After several interruptions from Arkadina, his actress mother, he abandons the play in a huff.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Six notable books about artists

Adriana Trigiani is an award-winning playwright, television writer, and documentary filmmaker. The author of the bestselling Big Stone Gap series, Very Valentine; Brava, Valentine; Lucia, Lucia; The Queen of the Big Time; and Rococo, she has also written the best-selling memoir Don't Sing at the Table as well as the young adult novels Viola in Reel Life and Viola in the Spotlight.

Her latest novel is The Shoemaker's Wife.

One of Trigiani's six favorite books about artists, as told to The Week magazine:
I, Fellini by Charlotte Chandler

If you want to know what it would have been like to know director Federico Fellini and share a long al fresco lunch with him, read Charlotte Chandler's delicious biography of the Italian master.
Read about the other books on Trigiani's list.

Visit Adriana Trigiani's website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 8, 2012

Five top books on political satire

Lee Camp is an American comedian, writer and activist. His latest book is Moment of Clarity.

With Eve Gerber of The Browser, he discussed five top books on political satire, including:
Love All the People
by Bill Hicks

A collection of writing by Bill Hicks, a comic you’re frequently compared to, is your next selection. One poll of contemporary comedians ranked him as one of the top comics ever. Please tell us about Hicks and Love All the People: Letters, Lyrics, Routines.

He was a brilliant comedian. Although he was only moderately known in the US when he died, he’s become a cult figure and he was always better known in the UK, where they still worship him as one of the best comedians who ever lived and who did a lot of great satire and political comedy – very cutting stuff about war and America and commercialism.

Like Catch 22, some of his stuff seems so prophetic. If you watch the clips of the bits he did on the first Iraq war, they apply equally to the second Iraq war. He died before the second Iraq war but he was making jokes about the military or the US saying that we need to attack Saddam because he had weapons of mass destruction. “How do you know?” “Well, we have the receipts.” You feel like if people watched more Bill Hicks maybe it could have kept us out of the second Iraq war. But instead the things he was ranting about in 1990 just got worse. The book is largely his routines written down. It’s great stuff, dark and equally, if not more, applicable today.

John Lahr, who wrote a profile of Hicks for The New Yorker, called him “a disturber of the peace, a bringer of insight”. Are those two key to successful political comedy?

Yeah, I like those two. I think that’s important. Some might argue you don’t want to disturb the peace just to wreak havoc but when everyone accepts the way things are, when people unquestionably go with the flow, it’s usually not good. I think that being disruptive is useful – it can shock people into seeing the world the way it really is.
Read about the other books Camp tagged at The Browser.

Love All the People is on Will Dean's reading list on stand-up comedy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Top ten wartime animal books

Megan Rix was born in London and lived in America, Singapore and New Zealand before marrying and moving to the East of England. Her new book is The Great Escape.

For the Guardian she named a top ten list of books about animal heroes of wars through the ages, including:
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

Michael Morpurgo rightly deserves his place at the top of this list as he is undoubtedly our best-known writer of animal books set during wartime. I read War Horse for the first time in 2011 and initially thought I wouldn't be able to get past the first chapter, where Joey is treated cruelly as a frightened colt. But I did carry on, telling myself that the truth of what happens to animals is far more harrowing than anything we read, and I loved it. Morpurgo has written many stories about animals set during wartime. I'm now reading An Elephant in the Garden which is set in Dresden during the second world war and is about an elephant called Marlene who is saved from being put down at the zoo and goes on a journey with her new family. It's inspired by a lady from Belfast who really did have an elephant in her garden during the war.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Five top books on astronomers

Stuart Clark is a widely read astronomy journalist. His latest books are novels set around the times of greatest change in mankind's understanding of the Universe. The first book in the trilogy, The Sky's Dark Labyrinth, tells the stories of the lives and work of Galileo and Kepler against the backdrop of the extraordinary times in which they lived. The second book is The Sensorium of God, published in the UK in 2012.

With Daisy Banks of The Browser, he discussed five top books on astronomers, including:
Galileo’s Daughter
by Dava Sobel

You mentioned Galileo, which leads on to your next choice, Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel. This book is more about Galileo’s relationship with his daughter, so what did it show you about astronomy?

What I think Dava did utterly brilliantly was ostensibly to write a book about Galileo’s relationship with his daughter but actually to reveal a lot about Galileo and science along the way. This story doesn’t show the greatest side of Galileo because Galileo put his two daughters into a convent, essentially because he couldn’t find husbands for them. And the reason he couldn’t find husbands for them was because he was a fairly poor astronomer, with expectations of grandeur, if you like, and he couldn’t raise a dowry sufficient to attract the kind of men he thought his daughters should be married to, which would lead to the correct social standing for his family.

But, to be fair to him, that was a fairly typical thing to do in those days – send your daughters off to the convent if you couldn’t marry them off – and from the letters he does seem to have got on with at least one of them.

Yes, they had an extraordinary relationship. In many ways I think it was the closest relationship he ever had with a female. Eventually they were living very close to one another and he would go and see her. I think what Dava did so brilliantly was show how, in his correspondence, they talked about his astronomy. They talked about his work and the trouble he was getting into with the church. The science does come through but in the most beautifully understated way.

What particular problem was he having with the church?

This is a fascinating story because it has been mythologised almost out of all recognition with reality. The traditional view is that Galileo proved that the earth went around the sun. The Vatican theologians thought this was impossible because of the way they interpreted the Bible so they tried Galileo for heresy. But the truth is much more subtle than that. It is much more intrigue-led and much more about power struggles and the nature of power.

Essentially, what Galileo’s observation was missing was that killer piece of evidence that the earth moves. He thought he had it in the tides. He thought the tides were the inertia of the ocean as the earth rushed through space. And the Vatican priests were open to talking about this and they were always open to reinterpreting the Bible so long as you could prove what you were saying. But no one would stand up for Galileo and say, “Yes, we believe the tides prove it as well.” And in fact they don’t. Galileo was mistaken and he was wrong.

Despite being wrong he still remains a massively important figure in astronomy.

Astronomy is fascinating in the way that it makes heroes of people who make discoveries. There are unexpected moments in which things can change completely. You suddenly get a deluge of new information.
Read about the other books Clark tagged at The Browser.

See Dava Sobel's list of five notable books on the early history of astronomy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Five of the best books that debunk pseudohistory

Damian Thompson is Editor of Telegraph Blogs, a columnist for the Daily Telegraph, and the author of Counterknowledge: How We Surrendered to Conspiracy Theories, Quack Medicine, Bogus Science and Fake History.

He was once described by The Church Times as a "blood-crazed ferret." He is on Twitter as HolySmoke.

In 2008 Thompson named a five best list of books for the Wall Street Journal. His subject: books that "emphatically debunk pseudohistory and spurious 'knowledge.'" One title from the list:
by Elaine Showalter
Columbia University, 1997

This is one of the truly indispensable books in my library, its dust jacket worn to tatters by frequent perusal. Elaine Showalter, a feminist literary scholar, rebuts disturbing reports of alien abduction, satanic abuse and even chronic-fatigue syndrome, describing them as "hysterical epidemics" rooted in the imagination and the disorientation of modernity. For this she became a hate figure of the pressure groups advancing particular causes. More than a decade later, though, most of the panics have subsided and Showalter's case looks stronger than ever. Crucially, she does not dismiss the real suffering that lies behind lurid claims. People will need true courage to face the "hidden fantasies, myths and anxieties" of what troubles them, she writes. "We must look into our own psyches rather than to invisible enemies, devils and alien invaders for the answers.... Our human dignity demands that we face the truth." Well said. But, alas, there are fortunes to be made from junk history and science, just as there are from junk food.
Read about all five titles on Thompson's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 4, 2012

Ten of the best books on witch persecutions

James Morrow is the Nebula award-winning author of stories and novels, including The Last Witchfinder and The Philosopher’s Apprentice.

In 2006 he named a top ten list of books on witch persecutions for the Guardian. One title on the list:
Thinking with Demons by Stuart Clark (1997)

Stuart Clark's monumental tome defies easy categorisation, but if forced to apply a label, I would call it a social constructivist account of the "witch universe". The author cheerily deprives the reader of any cosy post-Enlightenment notions that the ascent of science automatically spelled the doom of demonology. Cartesian mechanical philosophy not only allowed that evil spirits might exist, it practically required the world to harbor such entities. Clark clarifies that witchcraft was never regarded as "miraculous" phenomenon. An enchantress was simply somebody who had successfully petitioned Satan to manipulate the laws of nature on her behalf.
Read about the other entries on Morrow's list.

Visit James Morrow's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: The Philosopher’s Apprentice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Seven top books on optimism

In 2011 at Brain Pickings, Maria Popova named seven essential books on optimism, including:
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, one of our must-read children’s books with philosophy for grown-ups, is among the most poetic and hopeful reflections on human existence ever penned. Lyrical, charmingly written and beautifully illustrated, it sweeps you into a whirlwind of childhood imagination to peel away at the deepest truths about the world and our place in it.

Published in 1943, translated into 180 languages since and adapted to just about every medium, Exupéry’s famous novella is one of the best-selling books of all time. More importantly, it’s one of the most important handbooks to being a thoughtful, introspective and, yes, hopeful human being.
Read about the other books on Popova's list.

The Little Prince is one of Dalia Sofer's most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue