Friday, August 31, 2012

Five top books on gang crime

Gavin Knight is a journalist who has written for The Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, Prospect, Newsweek, New Statesman, Esquire, Monocle and many other publications. He has also appeared on CNN, ITN, BBC, Channel Four news and Sky News.

Over the two years prior to the publication of Hood Rat he was regularly embedded with frontline police units in London, Manchester and Glasgow as well as spending time with dozens of violent criminals involved in gun and gang crime.

With Toby Ash at The Browser, Knight named five top books on gang crime, including:
Lush Life
by Richard Price

Let’s take a look at your books now. We’re starting off with a novel set in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, which I believe was inspired by a true story. Tell us more about Lush Life.

I love this book. Richard Price is famous for his detailed research and you can see that here in his descriptions of the cops and the kids. There’s a wonderful description of one kid growing up with his abusive stepfather and reaching the age that he can start to fight back. This is something I encountered a lot when I talked to boys in the inner cities. You have an abusive father or stepfather who beats them and their mothers, and then they reach the age of about 14 and they are big enough to fight back – this is a key moment in their life.

Lush Life is about this character Eric Cash, who is out with a charismatic colleague from the restaurant they work in called Ike Marcus. Two street kids come up to them and pull a gun. Ike Marcus says to them: “Not tonight, my man”. He is then shot dead. The following police investigation is a narrative engine that allows you to deeply examine Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The book is very textured, pacey and has fantastically layered characters.

If you compare it to great New York novels like Bonfire of the Vanities, it does touch on similar themes. There are some great scenes when the lead detective finds sweatshops and apartments overcrowded with illegal immigrants. There are great metaphors in the book for the ant-hill, termite-type living that goes on in New York.
Read about the other books Knight tagged at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Top ten books about the darker side of adolescence

Sam Mill's books include A Nicer Way to Die, The Boys Who Saved the World, and Blackout.

In 2006 he named a top ten list of books about the darker side of adolescence, including:
Boy Kills Man by Matt Whyman

Many of the best teen books highlight real problems happening in the world today and Boy Kills Man is a perfect example. Inspired by the true story of child assassins in Colombia, it tells the tale of Sonny, aka Shorty, who is hired by the crime lord El Fantasma to become a assassin on the streets of Medellin. It is a powerful and moving book that swings between tenderness and brutality. Whyman takes care not to moralise or offer easy answers - Sonny is a complex character who does the wrong things for what he believes are the right reasons.
Read about the other books Mills tagged at the Guardian.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Top 10 psychedelic non-fiction books

John Higgs is the author of I Have America Surrounded: The Life of Timothy Leary, published in America by Barricade Books; it is the first full biography of the pioneer of psychedelic drugs.

Winona Ryder, Leary's goddaughter, wrote the introduction.

In 2006 Higgs came up with a top ten list of psychedelic non-fiction books for the Guardian. (Of course, the list has 11 titles.)

One title on the list:
The Electric Kool-aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

This is Wolfe's account of life with Ken Kesey, the Merry Pranksters and the birth of the American west coast psychedelic movement. Wolfe knew that a detached, even-handed journalistic approach could never really explain what was happening, so he gave his book the same psychedelic viewpoint as his characters. The result is a wonderful piece of writing. For those of us who weren't born in the 60s, this is probably the closest we can get to experiencing it.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Five top books about pulp fiction

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on the glorious age of pulp fiction storytelling, collected, revisited, and re-imagined:
The Astounding, The Amazing, and the Unknown
by Paul Malmont

Returning to the fertile genre excavation that made The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril such a delight, Malmont mixes fact and fiction in this new Word War II-era yarn, which begins as the U.S. Government gathers together America's finest science-fiction writers, including Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein. Their mission: aid the war effort and defeat Hitler's hoardes by making such sci-fi staples as invisibility, force fields, and death rays into reality. This charge will take the assembled authors from the Philadelphia Naval Yard to the far reaches of the Pacific, with a cameo from L. Ron Hubbard along the way, in an adventure reminiscent of Alan Moore's comic-book classic The League of Extraordinary Gentleman.
Read about the other books on the list.

See My Book, The Movie: The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 27, 2012

Five top books about the decline of England

John Sutherland is Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College London and a former long-time faculty member at the California Institute of Technology. He is author of over 20 books, editor of 30 more, and a regular columnist and critic on radio and television.

His books include Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives.

One of Sutherland's five favorite novels about the decline of England, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
England, England
by Julian Barnes (1998)

Here is a work of virtuosic Anglophobic satire. A financier cum newspaper tycoon, Sir Jack Pitman (transparently based on the seven-years-dead Sir Robert Maxwell), resolves to create a theme-park England on the Isle of Wight (in the English Channel). It is called, in Disney-esque fashion, "Englandland." Old England can't compete. The novel is based on the conceit than the country has nothing left but its "heritage." And Pitman's replica will be more real, more sanitary—above all more salable—than the real thing. Ironists will note that, to celebrate Queen Elizabeth's diamond jubilee earlier this year, the nation did a bit of ersatz staging itself, mounting a replica of the Thames flotilla pageant of 1662.
Read about the other novels on Sutherland's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The 25 greatest rock memoirs

One title on Rolling Stone's list of the 25 greatest rock memoirs of all time:
Ronnie Spector: Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts, and Madness (1989)

The New York doll of the Ronettes had one of rock & roll's biggest voices. She also had one of rock & roll's most famously nightmarish marriages, as she was practically kept captive by Phil Spector for years. But if you're looking for self-pity, you'll be disappointed, because her book, like her voice, is full of cocky, smart, self-aware humor. And yes, in case you were wondering, it totally sucked to be married to Phil Spector.
Read about the other titles on the list.

Also see: Greil Marcus's list of five of the best books on rock music, Samuel Muston's ten best music memoirs, Kitty Empire's best rock autobiographies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Five top books on seafood

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on seafood:
The Story of Sushi
by Trevor Corson

The definitive work on the complex history of what seems like a simple cuisine: raw fish and rice. Trevor Corson, author of The Zen of Fish and The Secret Life of Lobsters, unveils the surprising origins of sushi and takes readers behind the scenes to observe what goes into a sushi chef's training. Assembled with the care and attention to detail of a great sushi creation.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 24, 2012

Top ten books on heroes

Don Mullan is the author of Eyewitness Bloody Sunday, a book critical in reopening the British government's inquiry (over 25 years later) into what became known as Bloody Sunday. Bloody Sunday was January 30, 1972, a day when thirteen civilians were killed by British soldiers during a civil rights march in North Ireland.

Paul Greengrass, perhaps better known to Americans as the director of The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and United 93 (2006), made a film (co-produced by Mullan) titled Bloody Sunday (2002) about those events.

In 2006 Mullan named his top ten books on heroes for The Guardian, including:
Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

On May 10 1994, together with a friend from Ireland, I was swept along by a tidal wave of humanity into the grounds of Union Buildings, Pretoria, for Nelson Mandela's inauguration as President of the Democratic Republic of South Africa. His autobiography tells the story of the institutional racist brutality that failed to break the spirit of a nation. Amazingly, a man who during the Thatcher/Regan era was officially considered a terrorist presided over a miraculously peaceful transition of power. Mandela is, and will forever remain, the beacon of all Africa and a source of inspiration for the earth's most abused and exploited continent.
Read about the other titles on the list.

Long Walk to Freedom is one of Sammy Perlmutter's five best books from Nobel winners who didn't win their medal for literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Top ten books that entertain and inspire

Sara Grant was born and raised in Washington, Indiana, a small town in the Midwestern United States. She graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, with degrees in journalism and psychology, and later she earned a master’s degree in creative and life writing Goldsmiths College, University of London.

Grant is senior commissioning editor for Working Partners, a London-based company creating series fiction for children. She has worked on ten different series and edited more than 75 books.

About Dark Parties, her first young adult novel: Booklist noted that "it's really the heart-pounding rush of twists that will induce extreme page turning."

For the Guardian, Grant named her ten favorite books that dare their readers to think for themselves, including:
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher

The voice of narrator 10-year-old Jamie leaps off the page. I loved his quirky way of looking at life. His family has been devastated by a terrorist act. The book tackles many issues – racism, injustice, and bullying to name a few – but at its heart is a wonderful story of friendship and acceptance.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Visit Sara Grant's website and Facebook page.

My Book, The Movie: Dark Parties.

Writers Read: Sara Grant.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Six beach reads where big characters live big stories

Jeffrey Robinson's new novel is Trump Tower. For The Daily Beast he tagged "his favorite throwback beach reads, those classic big summer books where big characters lived big stories," including:
The Valley Of The Dolls (1966)
by Jacqueline Susann

Just as The Best of Everything set the stage for this book, The Valley of the Dolls set the stage for Sex In The City. Three women discover the insides of show business—the tinsel, the corruption, the lies and the egos—as tinseled, corrupt, lying ego maniacal men discover the insides of these three women. Often listed as one of the best-selling American novels of all time, Susann told stories from her own experience. She was married to a press agent and, supposedly, had an affair with Ethel Merman. Go figure that one. Despite Truman Capote’s opinion, “She doesn’t write, she types,” what she did here was type a really great summer beach read.
Read about the other books Robinson tagged at The Daily Beast.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Five top books on Dreyfus and the Belle Epoque

Ruth Harris is the author of Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age. A fellow and tutor at Oxford University, she has written widely on topics in French history, cultural history, women’s history, and the history of medicine.

Her latest book is Dreyfus: Politics, Emotion, and the Scandal of the Century.

With Toby Ash at The Browser, Harris discussed five books on Dreyfus and the Belle Epoque, including:
The Guns of August
by Barbara W Tuchman

This book marks the end of the Belle Epoque, charting the outbreak of World War I. Please tell us more.

This is a very strange book for me to choose. For many people, it is the ultimate old-fashioned diplomatic history. But it enthuses me for several reasons. First of all, it’s an extraordinary narrative. It reads magnificently and is a breathtaking horizon of events and people. Secondly, like me, she is obsessed with people. In the first chapter we have the funeral of Edward VII in 1910, which is attended by 10 European kings. She uses this funeral as a way of demonstrating the fundamental contradiction of pre-war Europe, in which increasingly bourgeois, urban, sophisticated industrial societies remained none the less monarchical, with only France as a major Republican power. Militarism and court cultures intermingled to an extraordinary extent.

What Tuchman does so well is to document the kind of thought patterns that pervaded the many national rivalries, which was all to do with imperialism, social Darwinism, but, above all, military planning and strategy. Again, what I love about this book, and in this way there’s an affinity between Tuchman and me, is that it describes the importance of irrational forces and charts their implications. She tries to look at why the war took the course that it did and discovers the many miscalculations of the leaders at the same time as describing their utter inability to shift course. Like the soldiers in the trenches that lined the Western Front after the Battle of the Marne, decision-makers simply dug in and a generation of men were lost. Leaders, for example, couldn’t grasp that free trade wouldn’t make a short war and peace inevitable. The Germans didn’t realise that by invading Belgium they actually invited the British into the war.

I also love the book because it is a history within a history. It became an immediate bestseller when it came out in 1962 and was the bible of key Cold War politicians, particularly US President Kennedy. What interested them was how to learn not to make the same mistakes. Apparently Kennedy kept citing it during the Cuban missile crisis where he resisted the advice of the military top brass. The shadow of World War I and the terrible mistakes and miscalculations of that war were constantly on his mind. His handling of the Cuban missile crisis was probably his finest achievement in an otherwise lacklustre presidency. Rarely are there lessons in history in an obvious or reductive sense, but in this instance this book seems to have had an important influence on how a president faced a terrible crisis.
Read about the other books Harris tagged at The Browser.

The Page 99 Test: Ruth Harris's Dreyfus.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 20, 2012

Top ten books about maverick women

Mary Watson won the 2006 Caine prize for African writing for her short story "Jungfrau" from her 2004 collection, Moss.

In 2006 she named her top ten books about maverick women, including:
Tracks by Louise Erdrich

This book begins with my favourite opening line ever: "We started dying before the winter and, like the snow, we continued to fall." I stumbled upon this book in the early days of writing my collection of interlinking stories, and was happy to find a writer who did it so well. Louise Erdrich links stories of dispossessed people amongst the Chippewa and her maverick woman character, Fleur, has remained vivid in my memory these last 10 years.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Five of the best books on sin

Paula Fredriksen is an historian of ancient Christianity who works as well on the social relations between pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Roman Empire. Among her books are From Jesus to Christ; Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews; Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism; and, most recently, Sin: The Early History of an Idea.

One of her five best books with an original way of approaching the subject of sin, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
Angle of Repose
by Wallace Stegner (1971)

'Angle of repose' is a technical term, from mining; but it describes the course of two marriages in this lyrical, emotionally complex novel. The contemporary American West provides the time frame for one marriage; the settling of the West, in the later 19th century, the other. What links them is the 20th-century grandson-narrator's attempt to piece together the story of his grandparents' relationship. His research leads him to uncover an awful and heartbreaking moment of marital betrayal and its terrible consequences: sustained loss, aching guilt and remorseless, relentless punishment. The grandson's own marriage is similarly afflicted. Listening to the westward train as he lies awake at night "in this not-quite-quiet darkness, while the diesel breaks its heart more and more faintly on the mountain grade," the narrator wonders whether "I am man enough to be a bigger man than my grandfather." The only life-sustaining response to sin, he realizes, is forgiveness.
Read about the other books on the list.

Angle of Repose is one of Andrea Wulf's six favorite books.

The Page 99 Test: Sin: The Early History of an Idea.

Writers Read: Paula Fredriksen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Molly Ringwald's six favorite books

Molly Ringwald's movies include The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. Her debut novel, When It Happens To You, is now out from It Books/HarperCollins.

One of Ringwald's six favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
Mating by Norman Rush

Rush, who spent time in Botswana with the Peace Corps, used that experience to craft this National Book Award winner about a female anthropologist who treks through the Kalahari Desert and falls for the visionary founder of a secret utopia. Mating is both a brilliant novel of ideas and a stunning story of what happens when love becomes tangled with obsession.
Read about the other books on Ringwald's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 17, 2012

Top ten literary murderers

Nick Brooks is the author of The Good Death and My Name is Denise Forrester.

In 2006 at the Guardian, he named a top ten list of literary murderers, including:
George Harvey Bone, Hangover Square, Patrick Hamilton

Lumbering drunk George comes undone though his love for Netta in the Earl's Court of 1939, with the added help of a brain that is inclined to "click!" out of kilter. A study in psychosis, Hamilton's novel has surely one of the finest closing lines in all of literature.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Five must reads on the writing life

Thomas H. Cook is the author of over two dozen novels. He has been nominated for the Edgar Award seven times in five different categories. He is the recipient of the Edgar Award for Best Novel for The Chatham School Affair and the Barry Award for Best Novel for Red Leaves, among other awards. His new novel is The Crime of Julian Wells.

One of Cook's five must reads on the writing life, as told to The Daily Beast:
A Sport and a Pastime
by James Salter

The best books about writing are books that are well written, so what could be better than a passionate and sensual love story that is also a blueprint for how to pace and control a novel?
Read about the other titles on the list.

A Sport and a Pastime is one of Adam Ross's favorite books under 200 pages.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Five top books on Elvis

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on Elvis:
Last Train to Memphis
by Peter Guralnick

The first half of Guralnick's compelling two-part biography follows Elvis from his birth in Mississippi to his drafting by the Army in 1958, encompassing the years of his rocket-ride to stardom. Relying on hundreds of interviews, Guralnick stitches myriad everyday details into a vital, revealing portrait of the young musician. But the good times are short-lived. The author's second volume of the King's life story, Careless Love, is ominously subtitled "The Unmaking of Elvis Presley".
Read about the other books on the list.

Last Train to Memphis is among Patrick Humphries' 6 favorite books about rock 'n' roll, Daisy Alioto's five worthy Elvis biographies and Sanjeev Bhaskar's six best books; it also appears on Robert Fontenot, Jr.'s top ten list of Elvis Presley books and Bob Stanley's critic's chart of top books about Elvis.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Eight must-read college novels

Sam Munson's writing has appeared in the New York Times and the Times Literary Supplement, among other venues. He is the former online editor of Commentary magazine. Munson graduated from the University of Chicago in 2003, and he lives in New York City.

The November Criminals, his first novel, came out in 2010.

One of Munson's eight must-read college novels, as told to The Daily Beast:
by Penelope Fitzgerald

Novels about scientists tend to be ponderous. But Penelope Fitzgerald, a brilliant and still-underappreciated British writer of mercurial wit, athletic intellectual versatility, and a psychological acumen that well bespeaks her brilliant and eccentric roots (daughter of Punch editor Edmund Knox; niece of theologian/crime writer Ronald and math genius/cryptographer Dillwyn) never wrote anything ponderous in her life. The Gate of Angels tells the strange, eventful story of Fred Fairly, a physicist and recent atheist, and Daisy Saunders, a nurse with an uncommonly strong character and mind. Fairly studies at the fictional Cambridge college of St. Angelicus, from whose grounds all females are forever banned; Daisy has just lost her job at a hospital. They meet in a violent rainstorm. The year is 1912. Physics—and, indeed, the rest of the world—stands at the cusp of an epochal change. Fairy tale, philosophical text, love story, work of perfect artifice: all of these terms (happily) apply.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Gate of Angels appears on John Mullan's list of ten of the best angels in literature.

The Page 69 Test: Sam Munson's The November Criminals.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 13, 2012

Five of the best books on boredom

Peter Toohey is a professor in the Department of Greek and Roman Studies at the University of Calgary. His books include Melancholy, Love and Time: Boundaries of the Self in Ancient Literature and Boredom: A Lively History.

One of his five best books on boredom, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
The Untouchable
by John Banville (1997)

In this ravishing novel, the predatory, frosty and utterly engaging lead character, Victor Maskell, recounts how, as a young man at Cambridge in the 1930s, he sought an extreme cure for boredom: becoming a Soviet agent. The novel is based on the infamous Cambridge spy ring—in particular, on the life of Anthony Blunt, whose treachery, like Maskell's in the story, was not revealed until old age, when he was working as an art expert for the queen. Maskell divulges more or less grandiose motives for his betrayal through the course of the novel. But the most fundamental reason is simple. Maskell recalls his reply to someone who asked him why he would betray his country, " 'I said. 'Oh, cowboys and Indians, my dear; cowboys and Indians.' The need for amusement, the fear of boredom: was the whole thing much more than that, really, despite all the grand theorising?"
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 99 Test: Peter Toohey's Boredom: A Lively History.

The Untouchable is one of Foyles's top ten contemporary Irish novels.

Also see: Top 10 books about boredom.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Top ten books with wolves

Emma Barnes was born and raised in Edinburgh. At one time she lived in a house that a lot of people thought was the childhood home of author Robert Louis Stevenson – they used to come and take pictures of it – only it wasn’t.

Her books for children include Wolfie, the exciting tale of one girl and her wolf, How (Not) to Make Bad Children Good, and Jessica Haggerthwaite: Witch Dispatcher.

For the Guardian, she named her ten top books with wolves, including:
White Fang by Jack London

This classic book was maybe the first to really try and enter the mind of a wolf (in fact a hybrid half-wolf, half-dog) in its own terrain. Jack London is wonderful at creating a feel for the wilderness, in its beauty and harshness, and the violence of both animal and human worlds. A compelling read – but not an easy or comforting one.
Read about the other entries on the list.

White Fang is one of Marcus Sedgwick's top ten books from cold climes.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Sue Townsend's six best books

Sue Townsend is the creator of Britain's best loved and bestselling diarist, Adrian Mole. The first book in the series is The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 ¾ (1982), followed by its sequel, The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole (1984). Together these books made Townsend the bestselling author of the 1980s. There have been six further books in the Adrian Mole series, which have sold over eight million copies and have been adapted for radio, television and theatre.

One of Townsend's six best books, as told to the Daily Express:
by John Updike

Updike is a wonderful stylist and much of his prose is poetic. He has the talent to write about everyday people, those quietly desperate and this is no exception.
Read about the other books on the list.

Rabbit, Run figures among Julian Barnes' best books to travel with, William Sutcliffe's top 10 relationship novels, and Aifric Campbell's top ten list of favorite jobs in fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 10, 2012

Top 10 books to comfort & console during a divorce

Elizabeth Buchan is the author of several highly acclaimed and bestselling books of fiction, including the bestselling Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman, The Good Wife Strikes Back, Everything She Thought She Wanted, Consider the Lily, and Separate Beds.

In 2006 at the Guardian, she named a top ten list of books to comfort and console during a divorce. One title on the list:
Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

Mayes struck gold with her account of buying and restoring a Tuscan villa when it was first published. It is a book that plugs into the contemporary fantasy of giving it all up to live out an idyll in a sun-kissed foreign spot. I confess I'm a sucker for it, and to read of her patient and loving restoration of Bramsole, the house she bought near Cortona, is to indulge in a ridiculous, but highly potent, daydream. She neglects nothing in the confection of the fairy tale that hangs around the beautiful, neglected house longing for the restorative touch. There are funny, and occasionally almost disastrous, battles to make the house habitable again, luscious descriptions of meals, a fascination with the local topography, history and landscape, and a selection of authentic recipes. All in all, it offers irresistible escapism - a necessary pleasure at a difficult time.
Read about the other books on the list.

Visit Elizabeth Buchan's website.

The Page 69 Test: Separate Beds.

Writers Read: Elizabeth Buchan (March 2011).

My Book, The Movie: Separate Beds.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Five top books on Mars and beyond

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on Mars and beyond:
Space Chronicles
by Neil deGrasse Tyson

As Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History, Neil deGrasse Tyson knows how to make the great complexities of astronomy surprisingly easy to understand -- and unexpectedly humorous. With the future of manned American space travel hotly debated, the insights he offers in this new collection of essays are timelier than ever. Tyson assesses where the space program currently stands, traces the recent history of a NASA agency buffeted by partisan politics, and imagines how other intelligent life forms in the universe might go about discovering us.
Read about the other books on the list.

See--Kim Stanley Robinson's 10 favorite Mars novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Five top books on the history of reading

Leah Price is professor of English at Harvard University. Her books include The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel and the edited volume Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books.

Her latest book is How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain.

One of the top books on the history of reading she discussed with Jane Rudloff at The Browser:
Too Much To Know
by Ann Blair

In the 21st century many of us suffer from information overload, but Ann Blair’s new book Too Much to Know shows that the invention of the printing press in the 16th century led to similar feelings of stress.

One of the interesting things about this book is that it forces us to question the self-pitying sense in which we think we are more deluged by information than anyone was ever before. Ann Blair shows that every generation has felt just like this. The book pushes our sense of information overload backward to the period between around 1500 and 1700, and it describes solutions people found to that sense of panic in the face of too many books.

What kind of solutions do they come up with?

Ironically it shows this was a case of fighting fire with fire. Readers’ response to having too many books to deal with was to produce more books, in particular reference books which served as an index to or digest of other books. For example, you would read a dictionary as a way of avoiding having to read all the books on which it was based. The reference books that she describes were the ancestors of Cliffs Notes or Reader's Digest.

So what can we do about information overload in our own times?

One of the things that I enjoy about being an historian of this field is that you pick up some of the tricks that were used in the past to combat this problem. For example, Ann Blair talks about kinds of furniture that were used to deal with information overload. A “bookwheel” was like a miniature Ferris wheel where each book rides in a kind of platform. Each of them is lying open at the page you want and if you want to move from one book to another, you just give the wheel a spin and it’s right in front of you at the appropriate page. I would love to have something like that.

She also talks about the history of the written slip, which is the ancestor to the index cards invented in the 19th century. Scholars would have something like a clothes line hanging up, with slips of paper strung along it. It is so helpful to think about information in spatial terms. I still print documents out and arrange them on my desk as if I were playing solitaire.
Read about the other books Price tagged at The Browser.

The Page 99 Test: Ann Blair's Too Much to Know.

The Page 99 Test: Leah Price's How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

David Vann's six favorite books

David Vann's new novel, Dirt, is a dark tale about the troubled relationship between a young man and his mother.

One of the author's six favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

Proulx is a master stylist. Much of The Shipping News is constructed in sentence fragments and lists that cut away everything grammatical, everything unnecessary, which is appropriate for a story about a protagonist learning to be a reporter. Quoyle is a fabulous creation, unloved in a novel that finally is a love story.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Shipping News appears on Rachel Seiffert's top ten list of books about troubled families, RJ Ellory's five best list of human dramas, Elise Valmorbida's list of top ten books with a happy ending, and John Mullan's list of ten of the best fishing trips.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, August 6, 2012

Ten fantastic novels with disappointing endings

At Flavorpill, Judy Berman rounded up ten fantastic novels with disappointing endings, including:
In the Woods by Tana French

Tana French’s 2007 debut novel begins with two mysteries: In the ’80s, three children set out to play in the woods, two disappear, and the other is found shocked and trembling, his shoes filled with blood and his memory blank. Twenty years later, the boy who survived is a detective sent to investigate the possibly related murder of a 12-year-old girl in those same woods. By the end of the book, the author provides a solution for only the latter homicide, leaving us to speculate about the original, and frankly more interesting, disappearance. Although it’s clear the author intends to riff a bit on the traditional murder mystery, getting to the bottom of the detective’s case but reminding us that an easy answer isn’t always possible, it’s hard not to come away from the novel feeling as unsatisfied as its troubled protagonist.
Read about the other books on the list.

See the Page 69 Test: Tana French's In the Woods.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Five best novels with vengeful women

Louise Doughty is the author of the novels Crazy Paving, Dance with Me, Honey-Dew, Fires in the Dark, Stone Cradle, and Whatever You Love, as well as the nonfiction book A Novel in a Year.

One of her five favorite tales of vengeful women, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
Dirty Weekend
by Helen Zahavi (1991)

I can still remember the visceral shock I felt as a young single woman reading Helen Zahavi's first novel, which burst upon a rather staid early-1990s U.K. literary scene like a firework. Every woman who has ever had a fantasy about taking revenge on a man can identify with its heroine. "This is the story of Bella," it begins, "who woke up one morning and realised she'd had enough." Bella is a young woman living alone in a basement flat in the seaside town of Brighton, where a serial killer is stalking the streets. Zahavi gives Bella's voice a cool, ironic tone with a great deal of underlying humor, but the lightness of the prose style is deceptive—beneath the clean and readable surface lurks a deeply transgressive story with a twist in its tail. The novel is, as one reviewer described it, everything that Bret Easton Ellis's "American Psycho" "wants to be and isn't." Eleven years after I first picked up "Dirty Weekend," its portrait of a victimized woman who turns to violence has lost none of its power.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Six top books about, or by, liars

Dan Ariely's latest book is The Honest Truth about Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone--Especially Ourselves.

One of his six top books about, or by, liars, as told to The Week magazine:
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Huck begins his narrative with the nature of lying and authorship: “There was things which [Mark Twain] stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another.” We can learn a lot watching Huck navigate the tricky nature of truth and deception as he navigates the Mississippi, which is, incidentally, an adventure he inaugurates by faking his own death.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Huckleberry Finn is among Josh Lacey's top ten pseudonymous books, Katie Couric's favorite books, James Gray's six best books, and John Mullan's lists of ten of the best literary men dressed as women, ten of the best vendettas in literature and ten of the best child narrators in literature. It is one of Stephen King's top ten works of literature. Director Spike Jonze and the Where the Wild Things Are film team tagged Huckleberry Finn on their list of the top 10 rascals in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, August 3, 2012

Five top books about the Olympics

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on the Olympics:
Off Balance
by Dominique Moceanu

Dubbed the Magnificent Seven, the 1996 U.S. Women's Olympic Gymnastics team was the first and only American women's team to take gold. The youngest member of the team, fourteen-year-old Dominique Moceanu, was also its public face, combining a pixie-ish appearance with an indomitable competitive drive. Her memoir captures the glory of her accomplishments -- but also reveals tensions behind the scenes between her mercurial coach, Bela Karolyi, her Romanian immigrant parents, and a young girl who grew up too quickly. Further 1990s Olympic nostalgia can be found in Jack McCallum's Dream Team, which revists the arrival of Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan and a squad of roundball immortals in Barcelona.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Also see Jeremy Schaap's five best list of books on the Olympics.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Ten recent science fiction novels about big ideas

Charlie Jane Anders, editor at io9, named ten "great science fiction novels, published since 2000, that raise huge, important questions"

One entry on the list:
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (2010)

We were kind of surprised to see people mention this one — but it really fits, once you think about it. At first blush, Shteyngart's acclaimed novel is just what it sounds like: an unhappy love story between a man and a woman, set in the near future. But the dystopian near future that Shteyngart creates is detailed enough to become immersive — and when he gets around to depicting the collapse of the U.S. economy and the resulting chaos, then his main characters are faced with impossible choices. Which do, in the end, bring up some huge questions about the nature of love, among other things.
Read about the other titles on the list.

Super Sad True Love Story appears on Nicholas Carr's list of five notable books on the impact of the Information Age and Charlie Jane Anders's list of ten satirical novels that could teach you to survive the future.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Five otherworldly reads set in London

Deborah Harkness named her five favorite otherworldly reads for The Daily Beast. One title on the list:
The Rook
by Daniel O’Malley

Join up with her majesty’s supernatural secret service as they save the world from certain destruction. But our heroine, Myfanwy (“rhymes with Tiffany”) Thomas has her own problems: she woke up with no memory of who she is in a room full of corpses and has a colleague named Gestalt with a four-body problem. This is whimsical and smart storytelling, perfect for summertime or any time.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Writers Read: Daniel O'Malley.

The Page 69 Test: The Rook.

--Marshal Zeringue