Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Top ten visual art books

One of Michael Bracewell's ten indispensable visual art works, as told to the Guardian:
Edie: An American Biography by Jean Stein and George Plimpton

A biography created entirely out of interviews with those who knew the socialite, actress and one-time Warhol "superstar" Edie Sedgwick, this non-fiction novel seems to say more about the shadow of Warhol's obsession with glamour and money than any other treatise on the artist. Once read, you can never look at Warhol's work in the same way again. The ultimate tragedy of the tale is that Edie herself – so hopelessly desirous of a role and so unequipped to deal with life – remains eclipsed in death by Warhol's achievements as an artist.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 30, 2012

Ten of the best closing lines in literature

At the Observer, Robert McCrum came up with ten of the best closing lines of novels, including:
The Great Gatsby
by F Scott Fitzgerald

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” Nick Carraway’s signing off after the death of Gatsby is my favourite last line in the Anglo-American tradition – resonant, memorable and profound. It is the magnificent chord, in a minor key, which brings this 20th-century masterpiece to a close. Somehow, it sums up the novel completely, while giving the reader a way out into the drabber, duller world of everyday reality.
Learn about the other entries on the list.

The Great Gatsby appears among Molly Driscoll's ten best literary lessons about love, Jim Lehrer's six favorite 20th century novels, John Mullan's lists of ten of the best clocks in literature and ten of the best misdirected messages, Tad Friend's seven best novels about WASPs, Kate Atkinson's top ten novels, Garrett Peck's best books about Prohibition, Robert McCrum's top ten books for Obama officials, Jackie Collins' six best books, and John Krasinski's six best books, and is on the American Book Review's list of the 100 best last lines from novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Rob Reid's six favorite books

Rob Reid is the founder of the digital music service Rhapsody. His debut novel is Year Zero.

One of his six favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

As a British slacker grudgingly exits a very protracted adolescence, he sublimates his frustrations by bludgeoning bystanders with rapier displays of musical erudition. Certain nuances are meant mainly for music lovers. But this witty gem has much to offer anyone who has struggled with issues of commitment and adult identity.
Read about the other books on Reid's list.

High Fidelity also made Ashley Hamilton's list of 8 books to read with a broken heart, Tiffany Murray's top 10 list of rock'n'roll novels, Mark Hodkinson's critic's chart of rock music in fiction, and John Sutherland's list of the best books about listing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Five best mystery stories

John Lanchester's novels include the widely translated The Debt to Pleasure and the newly released Capital. He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker and was awarded the 2008 E.M. Forster Award. He lives in London.

For the Wall Street Journal he named a five best list of mystery stories that don't get old. One title on the list:
The Broken Shore
by Peter Temple (2005)

An Australian literary editor told me that when American thriller-writers get off the plane, the first thing they say to him is: "Do you know Peter Temple?" That's because of this book, one of the most admired thrillers in recent memory, set in the countryside of Victoria state and in Melbourne, a civilized city with a lively criminal underworld. Something interesting has happened to thrillers in the past couple of decades: As the audience for the genre has become more and more global, the books that have done best are those with the strongest and most particular sense of place. "The Broken Shore" exemplifies the trend; you might not know or care about rural Victoria, but after reading this, you feel as if you do. The story and the central character are unglamorized and have the unusual quality of feeling completely true.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 27, 2012

Five top books on clouds

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on clouds:
The Invention of Clouds
by Richard Hamblyn

A fascinating study of the shy Quaker and amateur meteorologist who, in the early 19th century, "forged the language of the skies." Drawing on his extensive knowledge of Latin, Luke Howard created the classifications -- cirrus, stratus, cumulus, nimbus -- which are used by scientists to this day. Along the way he inspired countless artists and authors, including Goethe, Coleridge, and J. K. Rowling, with his vision of the aerial landscape.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Five best works that explore marriage

Edward Mendelson is a professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University and author of books including Early Auden and The Things That Matter: What Seven Classic Novels Have to Say About the Stages of Life. In 2008 he named a five best list of "works [that] explore marriage with uncommon clarity" for the Wall Street Journal.

One title on his list:
Love in the Western World (1940)
by Denis de Rougemont

This swift and sweeping history of eight centuries of romantic passion, from "Tristan and Iseult" to the modern novel of adultery, is more thrilling than most novels, and it is memorably clarifying about the emotional and erotic turmoil of entering adulthood. The book shows how romantic passion, in its most extreme form, can be satisfied only by the death of the lovers: Romeo and Juliet, like all their literary ancestors and heirs, prefer the intense purity of sudden death to the long, humdrum ordinariness of marriage. De Rougemont argues that marriages fail when the partners want a romance that can continue through a lifetime but succeed when the partners recognize that marriage can be more complex, more satisfying and more intense than even the brightest sudden flare of romance. Among the many surprises in this book, written a few months before the start of World War II, is its argument that modern warfare, with its unrelenting goal of total victory, emerged from the same frame of mind that produced the ideal of modern romance.
Read about the other works on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Top ten comic book-classic mashups

Will Brooker is Reader and Director of Research in Film and Television at Kingston University, London. He is a leading expert on the Dark Knight, author of the cultural history of Batman, Batman Unmasked. His other books include Using the Force and Alice’s Adventures. He edited the Audience Studies Reader and The Blade Runner Experience, and wrote the BFI Film Classics volume on Star Wars.

Brooker's new book is Hunting the Dark Knight: Twenty-First Century Batman.

For the Guardian, he named his top 10 comic book-classic mashups--examples that "demonstrate the criss-crossing, intertextual relationship between comic books and more traditionally literary texts." One entry on his list:
Haunted Knight by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale

Loeb and Sale are now most celebrated for The Long Halloween and its sequel Dark Victory, both of which inspired Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight; but prior to those graphic novels, they worked together on three Halloween tales for the monthly title Legends of the Dark Knight. In the third, Ghosts, a sleepless Bruce Wayne is visited first by his father, in Marley-like chains, then by Poison Ivy, and finally by a spectral Joker, who takes Batman to his own grave. Like Scrooge, Wayne learns a new appreciation of life from his encounter with death, and starts a charitable foundation next morning.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Kurt Andersen’s five favorite ’60s books

Kurt Andersen is the author of the novels Heyday and Turn of the Century, among other books. He writes for television, film, and the stage, contributes to Vanity Fair, and hosts the public radio program Studio 360. He has previously been a columnist for New York, The New Yorker, and Time, editor in chief of New York, and co-founder of Spy.

His new novel is True Believers.

One of Andersen’s favorite ’60s books, as told to The Daily Beast:
Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)
by Joan Didion

At age 33, Didion was astonishingly clear-eyed about the discombobulated culture going on around her. Everything was in flux, it seemed, except her unflinching, even-keeled powers of observation and moral analysis. So much written then seems so dated today. But not these essays:

“One of the mixed blessings of being 20 and 21 and even 23 is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened before.”

"[W]hen we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something, not that it is a pragmatic necessity for us to have it, but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen, and then is when the thin whine of hysteria is heard in the land, and then is when we are in bad trouble. And I suspect we are already there.”
Read about the other books on the list.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem is a book David Rakoff keeps returning to.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 23, 2012

Five top books on London

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on London:
by China MiƩville

The high priest of the "New Weird" delivers a marvelous comic thriller that tips a British Museum researcher into a shadow reality where London's accreted mythology and occult legacies take on a menacing life. What starts with the theft of a giant squid gets infinitely stranger and as sprawlingly entertaining as the city it's set in. (MiƩville also penned the enchanting Un Lun Dun, a vision of London's doppelganger seen through an Alice in Wonderland-like looking glass.)
Read about the other entries on the list.

Kraken also appears on John Mullan's list of ten of the best museums in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Five best books about war by authors who served

Anthony Swofford served in a U.S. Marine Corps Surveillance and Target Acquisition/Scout-Sniper platoon during the Gulf War. After the war, he was educated at American River College; the University of California, Davis; and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. He has taught at the University of Iowa and Lewis and Clark College. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in the New York Times, Harper's, Men's Journal, The Iowa Review, and other publications; his memoir Jarhead was a major New York Times bestseller, and the basis for the movie of the same name.

Swofford's new book is Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails.

One of his five best books about war, written by authors who served, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
Going After Cacciato
by Tim O'Brien (1978)

It happens a number of times a year: I'm going about my day, grocery shopping, walking the dog, and—blam—suddenly I'm inside this masterly Vietnam novel, sitting in the observation post with Paul Berlin, fantasizing about the chase to bring back Cacciato, a fellow soldier who has gone AWOL with the aim of walking all the way to Paris. This is the constant fantasy of every grunt, to walk out of the war toward a place that just might be better, possibly European, with wine and with women. The book has been labeled surrealist, but I would assert that it is a work of clinical and heartbreaking realism. The clarity and luminosity of the prose is uncompromising, and the war, after all, happened, and it happened to soldiers just like Paul Berlin and Cacciato. Paul dreams of what he will do after the war, a plan that includes touring Europe, learning French and going to Paris, where he will "drink red wine in Cacciato's honor," but the reader may be inclined to tip a glass in honor of both men.
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see Karl Marlantes's top ten war stories.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Eight great books about books

Michele Filgate is an independent bookseller at Community Bookstore in Brooklyn. She is also a writer and critic, and has written for O, The Oprah Magazine, The Star Tribune, Bookslut, The Quarterly Conversation, The Brooklyn Rail, The Book Studio, Identity Theory, and other publications.

At The Daily Beast she tagged eight great books about books, including:
Phantoms On the Bookshelves
by Jacques Bonnet

Bonnet owns more than 40,000 books. It’s not the Library of Congress, but for a private collection, it’s pretty solid. In this slim ode to books, the author muses on the life of a serious reader—with Bonnet himself being the ultimate example. In only nine chapters, he talks about many aspects of book collecting: how to organize them, where to acquire them, and the idea of owning a working library rather than just collecting books. Bonnet brings an infectious enthusiasm to the genre. The written word is as important to his identity as his own memories: “To lose one’s books is to lose one’s past,” he says. His love of books is something serious readers can relate to: “I sometimes have the impression that I have really only existed through reading, and I would hope to die…with a book in my hand.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Also see John Sutherland's top 10 books about books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 20, 2012

The fourteen best books on The Rolling Stones

In honor of the 50th anniversary of The Rolling Stone’s first concert--on 12 July 1962 the Rolling Stones went on stage for the first time at the Marquee Club in London’s Oxford Street--Brian H. Bookman picked out the best 14 books on the legendary band for The Daily Beast.

One title on the list:
The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones
by Stanley Booth

Stanley Booth chronicles his experience as a member of the Stones touring family that unleashed itself upon America in 1969, following the release of Let It Bleed. Booth’s exquisite recounting of how the Altamont Free Concert, a show that had been dubbed “Woodstock West,” descended into madness and violence stands out as the book’s great contribution to Stones literature. Best when coupled with Ethan A. Russell’s Let It Bleed: The Rolling Stones, Altamont, and the End of the Sixties—a photographic bonanza from the ’69 tour.
Read about the other books on the list.

The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones is on Patrick Humphries's list of his 6 favorite rock 'n' roll books and Jim DeRogatis's list of the four greatest rock ’n’ roll books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Top ten homes in literature

Stuart Evers's debut novel If This is Home now available in the UK from Picador books.  Ben East, in his review of the book for The Observer, called the "excellent, multilayered debut novel...a quiet triumph."

One of Evers's top ten homes in literature, as told to the Guardian:
Dr Jekyll's house in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Only at home do Jekyll and Hyde coexist; segregated between the front, where Jekyll presents his public persona, and the back, where his laboratory has created Hyde. It is a home in turmoil – something brilliantly exploited by Valerie Martin in Mary Reilly – and yet it is the only place where Jekyll can truly be himself.
Read about the other entries on the list. 

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde also appears on H.M. Castor's top ten list of dark and haunted heroes and heroines and John Mullan's list of ten of the best butlers in literature, and among Yann Martel's six favorite books. It is one of Ali Shaw's top ten transformation stories and Nicholas Frankel's five best pieces of decadent writing from the nineteenth century.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Five top books on happiness through negative thinking

Oliver Burkeman is a writer for The Guardian based in Brooklyn, New York. His new book, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking, explores the upsides of negativity, uncertainty, failure and imperfection. Each week in "This Column Will Change Your Life" he writes about social psychology, self-help culture, productivity and the science of happiness, and makes unprovoked attacks on The Secret.

With Jane Rudloff at The Browser, Burkeman discussed five top books on happiness through negative thinking, including:
Smile or Die
by Barbara Ehrenreich

Your first choice, Barbara Ehrenreich’s Smile or Die, explores further the tyranny of positive thinking.

This is a brilliant political polemic and a critique of the problematic effects of positive thinking. Ehrenreich argues, among other things, that the idea that nothing can go wrong is a terrible philosophy to adopt in the world of business. To some degree she directly attributes the current financial crisis to how positive thinking affected the culture of American business. If you’re a banker, constructing complex financial instruments, the idea that nothing could go wrong is obviously highly problematic. On the consumer level the same goes for homebuyers, thinking that if they want the house of their dreams all they need to do is convince themselves that they can go out and get it, whatever their financial circumstances.

Why does she think this way of thinking came to be so dominant in the US?

Ehrenreich shows that positive thinking came to be a useful ideology for corporate America to instill in its employees and in the population at large. The classic example here is the book Who Moved My Cheese?, a very badly written story about some mice and how they adapt to changes in their environment. The moral is that change happens, you just have to soldier on and look on the bright side. Various companies distributed huge numbers of copies to their employees as a motivational tool. You can see how useful that might be for a company planning huge and often detrimental upheavals for its staff – how helpful it would be if the staff took a compliant stance towards change.

The other powerful part of Smile or Die concerns Ehrenreich’s involuntary immersion in the positive-thinking culture of breast cancer sufferers. In that situation, the pressure to maintain a positive outlook can be felt as an oppressive, aggressive force. When she goes on online discussion forums for people having treatment for breast cancer, and admits to feeling bad about what is happening to her – as you might expect she would – she is jumped on by people who don’t want to let her feel like that. She thinks the message of positive thinking is often there to enable other people to not have to face up to a situation. If someone suffering from cancer is told to be positive at all times, then other people don’t have to confront what is really happening – they don’t have to feel awkward and embarrassed in their company.
Read about the other books Burkeman tagged at The Browser.

Visit Oliver Burkeman's website.

The Page 99 Test:  The Antidote.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Don Winslow's top five crime novels

Don Winslow's novels include The Dawn Patrol, The Winter of Frankie Machine, The Power of the Dog, California Fire and Life, The Death and Life of Bobby Z, Savages, and The Kings of Cool.

One of his top five crime novels, as told to Publishers Weekly:
The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George Higgins

The Friends of Eddie Coyle is the most realistic crime novel ever written, perfectly catching the world of small-time New England criminals without ever lapsing into either romanticism or bathos. The dialogue is perfect, the characters are spot on, the locations are so specific and beautifully rendered.

This was a groundbreaking novel - showing us the inside life of crime through the eyes of the criminal. (The Godfather, of course, came out in 1969 and did the same thing, but in a much more romantic, neo-Shakespearian way.) There’s nothing romantic about Eddie Coyle. You really get to know Eddie and the guys he does business with. (The ‘Friends’ in the title becomes bitterly ironic at the end.) You see how brutally the Feds deal with a snitch they have in a headlock. This novel shows you how it works.

I’m a New England guy myself so I could relate to the culture. I remember reading the book when it came out in 1971 and thinking, ‘Wow – this is the real deal.’ Its one of the books that inspired me to become a ‘crime writer’, although Higgins himself rejected that term.
Read about the other novels Winslow tagged.

The Friends of Eddie Coyleis one of Elmore Leonard's five most important books.

Learn about Don Winslow's hero from outside literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 16, 2012

Five top books on film

Christopher Bray has written on movies, books, music, and art for the Daily Telegraph, the Times Literary Supplement, the Literary Review, the New York Times, and The New Statesman. His books include Sean Connery: A Biography and Michael Caine: A Class Act.

One of his five favorite books on film, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
Who the Hell's in It?
by Peter Bogdanovich (2004)

Director Peter Bodganovich's essays on 25 Hollywood stars, from Lillian Gish to River Phoenix, are so full of insight that the "portraits and conversations" make you appreciate all the more the subtleties of his on-camera work in "The Sopranos." Bogdanovich likes to claim that the actors who become stars are those who have a gift for standing in front of a camera and doing nothing, but he knows that an awful lot goes into that seeming inertness. There are joyously good pieces on the luminescent power of Marilyn Monroe ("a poor bastard angel child"), Humphrey Bogart ("when he smiled only the lower lip moved") and John Wayne ("America's twentieth century Hercules moving across a world of illusion he had more than conquered"). The best reason to read the book, though, is the chapter on Marlon Brando, which sees into the black hole that lies beyond stardom. "He challenged himself never to be the same ... refusing to become the kind of film star the studio system had invented," Bogdanovich writes, before teasing out the curious way that Brando's desire to disappear into his roles made his fans even more determined to find him.
Read about the other books on the list.

Learn about Michael Wood's top ten books on film.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ten of the best bridges in literature

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

One entry on the list:
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

Robert Jordan, fighting on the Republican side in the Spanish civil war, is skilled with explosives and is given the job of blowing up a bridge during the assault on Segovia. He knows the mission will kill him, but succeeds despite one of his own comrades' making off with the detonators.
Read about the other entries on the list.

For Whom the Bell Tolls is among Elmore Leonard's ten favorite books and John McCain's five best books about men in battle.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Gigi Levangie Grazer's six favorite books that became movies

Gigi Levangie Grazer's new novel, The After Wife, is about the crack-up of a female movie producer who is widowed at 44.

One of her six favorite books that became movies, as told to The Week magazine:
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

Chandler's dialogue and description are sharp, masculine, unrelenting, and absolutely delicious. No one evokes L.A.'s seamy side like Chandler, and his first Philip Marlowe remains a classic. In the 1946 movie version, Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart practically invented sexual tension.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Big Sleep also appears on Megan Wasson's list of five top books on Los Angeles, Greil Marcus's six recommended books list, Barry Forshaw's critic's chart of six American noir masters, David Nicholls' list of favorite film adaptations, and the Guardian's list of ten of the best smokes in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 13, 2012

Top ten stylish reads

Sophia Bennett won first place is the second annual (London) Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition with her debut novel Sequins, Secrets, and Silver Linings, which is the first title in a trilogy that combines her long-standing obsession with fashion with her keen desire to write for young readers. Her latest novel, The Look, is the story of a girl who is spotted by a model agency at the same time as her sister is diagnosed with a serious illness.

For the Guardian, Bennett named her favorite writing about the fashion world.  One entry on the list:
The Jeeves stories by PG Wodehouse

I discovered Wodehouse in my teens, when I was busy with exams and needed some light relief. The stories of Bertie Wooster and his butler, Jeeves, were at least 50 years old by then and are now practically historic, but I would still recommend them as an antidote to teenage stress. And from a style perspective, the well-meaning, well-funded Bertie is probably one of the best-dressed young men to have lived in comic fiction.

'"Jeeves,' I said coldly. "How many suits of evening clothes have we?"
"We have three suits of full evening dress, sir; two dinner jackets –"
"For practical purposes two only, sir. If you remember, we cannot wear the third. We also have seven white waistcoats."
"And shirts?"
"Four dozen, sir."
"And white ties?"
"The first two shallow shelves in the chest of drawers are completely filled with our white ties, sir."
--Carry on, Jeeves, 1926

Many of the stories revolve around Jeeves's disapproval of Bertie's more adventurous choice of hat, suit stripe or dress shirt collar. But given the extent of Bertie's wardrobe, peace is usually, if not always, restored.
Read about the other entries on Bennett's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ten science fiction novels you pretend to have read

Charlie Jane Anders, editor at io9, checked in with some favorite writers and came up with a list of "10 science fiction and fantasy books that everybody pretends to have read — and the reasons why you should read them for real."

One entry on the list:
Dune by Frank Herbert

The classic novel about a desert planet and the power of the Spice Melange.
It's hard to believe that people haven't actually read this book — but Pat Cadigan, author of Synners, Dervish is Digital and many other books, says she believes a lot of people "probably think they've had the Dune experience from either the movie or the Syfy miniseries." Also, a lot of people probably "read around" Dune, reading the prequels and the sequels, but never actually dive into the original book. "It's not an easy read," says Cadigan, because it's both dense and complex. But if you've only read the other books or seen the adaptations of this masterwork, you haven't had the proper Dune experience. This is a "full-immersion experience that has to be read to be fully appreciated," says Cadigan.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Dune is also on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best vendettas in literature and ten of the best deserts in literature, and among the best and worst childbirth scenes in sci-fi & fantasy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Five top presidential thrillers

Stephen L. Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale University, where he has taught since 1982. He is the author of eight books of nonfiction, writes a column for Bloomberg View, and is a frequent contributor to The Daily Beast and Newsweek.

The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln, his new alternative-history novel, is now out from Knopf.

One of Carter's five favorite presidential thrillers, as told to The Daily Beast:
The Plot Against America (2004)
by Philip Roth

In the years leading up to the Second World War, it is not the pro-British Franklin Roosevelt but the pro-Nazi Charles Lindbergh, elected on a peace platform, who occupies the White House. As Hitler rises, President Lindbergh insists that he will not allow “the Jews” to goad him into war, and praises the German leader as a bulwark against Bolshevism. At the same time, anti-Semitic policies are slowly and subtly introduced in the United States. Although the action is plentiful—there are sinister federal agents, mysterious disappearances, anti-Jewish riots—the most poignant part of the story involves the Roth family itself, as the author imagines how debates over the best way to survive in this alternative America might have torn the Jewish community apart. One of Roth’s very best.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Plot Against America appears on David Daw's list of five American presidents in alternate history.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Top ten global adventures

Anthony McGowan is the author of highly acclaimed and multi-award-winning novels and children’s stories.

For the Guardian, he named his top ten global adventure stories.

One title on the list:
South Sea Tales by Jack London

As a child I was entranced by the sharks and volcanoes, the hula skirts and the cannibals of the South Pacific. Jack London's South Sea tales are full of desperate characters forced into heroism, told in a prose that is vigorous and poetic by turns. Two of the stories in this collection - The House of Mapui and The Seed of McCoy - are among the finest short stories in the language.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 9, 2012

Olivia Williams's six best books

Olivia Williams made her film debut in 1997's The Postman, then later won the lead role of Rosemary Cross in Wes Anderson's Rushmore (1998). She played Bruce Willis's wife in The Sixth Sense (1999). In 2010, she won acclaim for her performance as Ruth Lang in The Ghost Writer.

On television Williams portrayed Jane Austen in Miss Austen Regrets (2008) and Adelle DeWitt in Dollhouse.

One of her six best books, as told to the Daily Express:
by DBC Pierre

Unputdownable. The descriptions of American society are so physical. It’s about the motivations of children, ruthless media people, paedophiles, policemen. It gets in there and gets dirty. On holiday a friend was laughing out loud. I started reading it over her shoulder and in the end we tore the book in half.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five best books about writers' lives

Peter Collier's new book is Political Woman: The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick.

One of his five best books about writers' lives, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
My Dark Places
by James Ellroy (1996)

Every memoir is a private investigation, but James Ellroy makes the connection explicit in this amped-up exploration of the brutal murder of his mother, Geneva, in 1958 when he was 10 years old. The first part of the book, a coming-of-age story as if imagined by Poe on meth, tells of Ellroy's teenage years in Los Angeles, living in the blowback of the crime. He was a schoolboy Nazi who doodled swastikas; a compulsive thief and porn addict; a homeless drug addict and "kiddie noir" jailbird obsessed with murders such as that of Betty Short, the Black Dahlia in 1947. ("My brain was a police blotter. . . . Dead women owned me.") The book's second part is an account of how Ellroy, having somehow miraculously pulled out of this anarchic free-fall and embarked on a successful career as a crime-fiction writer ("L.A. Confidential"), revisits his mother's murder 35 years later. He hires a former police detective, and they thoroughly re-imagine the crime, investigating the dark aspects of Geneva's life as well. Ellroy doesn't find the perpetrator, but the writer achieves an unforgettable ecstatic communion with his dead mother.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ten of the best wills in literature

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

One entry on the list:
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

John Harmon's rich father makes a weird will requiring him to marry Bella Wilfer, whom he has never met. His wealth comes from London's rubbish heaps, and when the son appears drowned the will devolves the money on to the working-class Mr and Mrs Boffin, who seem corrupted by their sudden affluence. Meanwhile, villainous Silas Wegg discovers an alternative will.
Read about the other titles on the list.

Our Mutual Friend appears on Iain Sinclair's list of five top novels on the spirit and history of London, Richard Francis' list of the top 10 pubs in literature, and Sophie Ward's six best books list.

In the season two finale of Lost, the character Desmond says he carries around Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend because he wants that to be the last book he reads before dying.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Five top "What If?" books

Karen Thompson Walker is author of the debut novel The Age of Miracles.

For The Daily Beast, she tagged her five favorite "What If?" books -- "books that envision our world having undergone a great change."

One title on her list:
Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro

Sad, lovely and layered, this book about young people doomed to brief lives is made all the more moving because of the restrained, stoic style of the narrator’s voice.

First sentence: “My name is Kathy H.”
Read about the other books on the list.

Never Let Me Go is on Lloyd Shepherd's top ten list of weird histories and John Mullan's list of ten of the best sentences as titles.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 6, 2012

Top ten cozy catastrophes

Jane Rogers's books include Her Living Image (winner of the Somerset Maugham Award), Mr. Wroe’s Virgins (a Guardian Fiction Prize runner-up), Promised Lands (winner of the Writers’ Guild Award for Best Fiction Book), Island (longlisted for the Orange Prize), The Voyage Home, and The Testament of Jessie Lamb.

For the Guardian, she named a top ten list of books "where the safe, happy world as we know it comes to grief." One title on the list:
The Death of Grass by John Christopher, 1956

An ecological catastrophe: grass dies. All the grasses – not just fields and lawns, but rice, wheat, barley and so on. The novel opens with this problem safely remote, in the far east, causing starvation among the Chinese. But soon enough the virus spreads to Britain, and society starts cracking up. John Custance and his family and friends – a cosily middle-class group – receive inside information and decide to head for Cumbria, where his brother has a farm in a defensible valley and they can grow potatoes. The brother is the one who understands man's responsibility for the disaster: "For years now, we've treated the land as through it were a piggy bank, to be raided, and the land, after all, is life itself."

The veneer of civilisation falls away very fast. Custance starts by murdering a soldier at a roadblock, and kills numerous others en route, including an innocent farmer's wife, shot at point blank range, and his own brother, who has offered him shelter. In their rapid descent into murderousness, Christopher's characters are a lot less cosy than Wyndham's. This novel feels very rooted in war, demonstrating with chilling forthrightness that decency and moral scruples are swiftly dispensed with in a struggle for survival. If someone stands in your way, kill him. Our hero does survive, with his wife and daughter, and at the end they are about to try to start living in the old, decent way again. But Christopher has painted a bleak enough picture of their fall from grace to suggest that no happy ending is likely.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Michael Palin's six best books

Michael Palin is an English comedian, actor, writer and television presenter best known for being one of the members of the comedy group Monty Python and for his travel documentaries. His second novel, The Truth, is out next week in the UK.

One of his six best books, as told to the Daily Express:
Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance
by Robert Pirsig

Certain books surprise you completely, and this one did. It’s not just about philosophy but motorcycles too. I learned a lot about machines and it made me understand things I thought were beyond me.

I felt more competent when I had finished. It made a great impression.
Read about the other books on the list.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance also appears on John Mullan's list of ten of the best motorbikes in literature and Sebastian Beaumont's top ten list of books about psychological journeys.

--Marshal Zeringue

Fourteen great books for food lovers

The James Beard Foundation, an organization committed to culinary education and achievement, selected 14 books for food lovers to explore this summer.

The Christian Science Monitor has an online feature on the collection, which includes:
"The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food," by Jennifer 8 Lee

Does the fortune cookie actually come from China? Absolutely not. That's just one tidbit Jennifer 8 Lee learns as she travels across the US to discover what most of us already suspected: American Chinese food is not Chinese. But Lee goes on to delve deeper here, exploring the history of Chinese food in the US and its impact on American life and the immigrant experience.
Read about the other books on the list.

Writers Read: Jennifer 8. Lee (June 2007).

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Five top books on Hemingway in Paris

Wai Chee Dimock is William Lampson Professor of English & American Studies at Yale University. Her books include Through Other Continents: American Literature Across Deep Time.

Dimock argues that "Hemingway is a very good example of someone who can show us the rest of the world, because he has travelled so widely and because he is on the minds of so many people. He really is the American author."

With Jane Rudloff at The Browser, she discussed five top books on Hemingway in Paris, including:
The Paris Wife
by Paula Mclain

...[Y]ou have chosen The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, which is about Hemingway's first wife Hadley Richardson.

This book is told in the first person, in the voice of Hadley. In that way it's a good complement to Monique Truong's [The Book of Salt], which is told in the voice of the cook. Paula McLain did a good job in terms of historical research, and in fleshing out Hadley's psychology.

How close to reality do you think the book gets?

I think it is quite close. It's interesting to cross-reference this book with the two Hemingway books we discussed earlier, because they cover much of the same terrain. McLain has stuck close to those sources and repeats some of Hemingway's lines, such as the one about writing one true sentence. What is more intensely imagined in this novel is the long drawn-out breakup, with Hemingway slowly drifting away from Hadley and going over to Pauline. That is much more shadowy in A Moveable Feast. There are just a few references to Pauline, and then the apology to Hadley. There isn't much detail about the breakup itself.

But in The Paris Wife you see in vivid detail how Pauline was physically there, with both of them, while the breakup was going on, and how Hadley finally drifted into asking for a divorce. It was very painful, because Pauline insisted during all that time that she was Hadley's friend as well. I'm persuaded by that imagined sequence, although we will never know exactly what happened, and whether Hemingway was as passive as is suggested in this book. But his unwillingness to make any decision seems right, as well as his strong tie to Hadley up to the very end.

The book is a good corrective to the image Hemingway liked to portray of himself as a supreme writer who knew exactly what he was doing, always on top of things. It is also a good portrait of Hadley, and shows her as lacking in ruthlessness – someone who wouldn't fight to keep her man at all costs. That is what makes her so attractive to Hemingway to begin with.

How do you think their time in Paris shaped Hemingway and Stein as writers?

There were all these different writers in Paris, like Joyce and Pound, so they were aware of what other people were doing. That was a tremendous spur, especially to Hemingway. There was also experimentation in the visual arts. Gertrude Stein, in many ways, was trying to produce in language what Picasso and Matisse were trying to do structurally in painting. Hemingway would also write, and then look at paintings by Cezanne and others. James Mellow, one of Hemingway’s biographers, thinks he was trying to do with words what Cezanne had already done with brush strokes. So I would say that both the practice and the personalities of other writers, and the challenge coming from the art world, combined to produce Hemingway and Stein’s writings.
Read about the other books Dimock tagged at The Browser.

See--The Page 69 Test: The Paris Wife.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Miriam Margolyes's six best books

Miriam Margolyes played Professor Pomona Sprout in a couple of the Harry Potter movies.

One of her six best books, as told to the Daily Express:
Sea of Poppies
by Amitav Ghosh

My partner recommended this story of a 19th-century voyage across the Indian Ocean with storm-tossed people working out their destinies against a background of colonial struggle.

Bursting with vivid characters, adventure and a fire-cracking use of words it’s part one of a trilogy.
Read about the other books on the list.

Sea of Poppies appears on Janice Y. K. Lee's list of five best novels set in the British-colonial East.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five top fictional portraits of idleness and lassitude

Francine du Plessix Gray is the author of numerous books of fiction and nonfiction, including Simone Weil, At Home with the Marquis de Sade: A Life, Rage and Fire, Lovers and Tyrants, and Soviet Women. Her new novel is The Queen's Lover.

One of her five favorite fictional portraits of idleness and lassitude, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
by Ivan Goncharov (1859)

Ilya Illyich Oblomov is a kind young Russian nobleman who since early adulthood has rarely left his bed, restricting himself to a single room of his apartment in St. Petersburg. Set in the mid-19th century, Ivan Goncharov's novel portrays a man who is incapable of making any important decisions or undertaking any significant actions. Oblomov does have a regressive dream life, which centers on his nostalgic longing for the family's provincial estate, Oblomovka, where he spent his childhood and where "rivers run with milk and honey" and "no one does anything the whole year round." Abetted by two faithful servants, he dwells in the timeless Arcadia of his childhood, resisting friends' attempts to draw him back into the routine of social life and the brash careerism of government service. Oblomov eventually sinks peacefully into death, leaving the reader to wonder whether his demise was caused by his submission to the world of his dreams or by his resistance to corrupt real-life events. I have always preferred the latter alternative: The integrity of Oblomov's vision, and his refusal to follow the dictates of St. Petersburg society, have led me to expand the novel's title: "Oblomov: The Sloth as Saint."
Read about the other entries on the list.

Oblomov is one of Emrys Westacott's five best books on bad habits.

The Page 69 Test: Ivan Goncharov's Oblomov.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 2, 2012

Ten of the best conflagrations in literature

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

One entry on the list:
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

At the beginning of the novel, we find out that Manderley has burned down; the explanation comes at the novel's end. Having discovered Rebecca's evil schemes, Maxim drives his wife, the heroine, back to Cornwall, through the night. The housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, has disappeared and, as they come over the hill above Manderley, they see why: the house is ablaze.
Read about the other great fires on the list.

Rebecca appears on Tess Gerritsen's list of five favorite thrillers, Mary Horlock's list of the five best psychos in literature, and Derwent May's critic's chart of top country house books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Dave Eggers's six favorite books

Dave Eggers is the bestselling author of Zeitoun, winner of the American Book Award and Dayton Literary Peace Prize. His novel What Is the What was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won France’s Prix Medici.

His new novel is A Hologram for the King.

One of Eggers's six favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
Dangling Man by Saul Bellow

Bellow explores the psyche of a young man waiting to hear if he's been drafted. I don't know if anyone's ever better represented the workings of the mind in crisis, or the mental state of a human whose life might change, permanently, based on forces far beyond his control.
Read about the other books on Eggers's list.

--Marshal Zeringue