Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Top ten Halloween books

In 2006 Book Sense came up with a top ten list of Halloween books. One title on the list:
THE MERCY OF THIN AIR: A Novel, by Ronlyn Domingue

"With a ghost who hangs around from 1920s New Orleans until today, Domingue's novel would make a great Halloween read for the gentler spirits whose interests run toward human inter-relationships."
Read about the other books on the list.

Visit Ronlyn Domingue's website; see The Mercy of Thin Air Page 69 Test.

Also see The Rap Sheet's suggested Halloween reading. "If any holiday seems perfectly paired to crime fiction, it’s Halloween," wrote editor J. Kingston Pierce in 2006.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Five top books on glamour

Helena Frith Powell is the author of All You Need to Be Impossibly French: A Witty Investigation Into the Lives, Lusts, and Little Secrets of French Women, Be Incredibly Sexy: A Crash Course in Getting Your Groove On--and Keeping It There, and other books. Her new novel, which is about first love and set in London, will be out in the spring of 2013.

With Sophie Roell at The Browser, she tagged five notable books on glamour, including:
Out of Africa
by Isak Dinesen

So onto your next book, “Out of Africa.” How does it relate to glamour?

I chose “Out of Africa” because I find Karen Blixen one of the most inspirational women that I’ve ever come across. And this again goes back to my theory that being glamorous is not just out about being beautiful. Karen Blixen wasn’t very beautiful, she was very striking, and the thing about her that made her so appealing was her imagination, and her brain, and her curiosity about life and other cultures, and her capacity for love and her very sympathetic character. I found the book itself inspirational, and I found the fact that a woman had written it doubly inspirational. It’s quite a manly topic, trying to make a living out of a coffee farm. In some senses she is very masculine, and she even wrote the book under a male pseudonym, Isak Dinesen. But she is also clearly very sexually appealing and lands the best boy on the block, Denys Finch Hatton. Who sadly then dies in an airplane crash.

The book doesn’t seem to bear much relation to the movie. It’s certainly not about her love affair with Denys Finch Hatton — the Robert Redford character. He barely gets a mention.

No, the book is much more about her love for Africa. I think it’s really one of the most lovely declarations of love for Africa ever written. I think if you go to Africa, there is something about it that really captures you, there is something very addictive about it, there is something so romantic about it. And for the English, that’s true of Kenya in particular — we have a romantic image of it because of our combined history and the White Mischief era.

And then the coffee plantation fails and she has to leave and go back to Denmark. And she writes that beautiful, nostalgic, line:

“If I know a song of Africa, of the Giraffe, and the African new moon lying on her back, of the ploughs in the fields, and the sweaty faces of the coffee-pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Would the air over the plain quiver with a colour that I had on, or the children invent a game in which my name was, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or would the eagles of Ngong look out for me?”

It is a beautifully written book — particularly amazing if you think that English was her second language, that she was not writing in her native tongue. Or maybe that’s exactly why it is so beautiful. Even just the opening line: “I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills…”

When I was in Kenya I visited her house. You can see the Ngong Hills in the distance. It’s still beautiful there even though the suburbs of Nairobi have slightly started to surround it. But yes, she twice nearly won the Nobel prize, but lost out to Ernest Hemingway and Albert Camus.
Read about the other books Helena Frith Powell tagged at The Browser.

Visit Helena Frith Powell's website, and read about her top ten list of "sexy French books."

Writers Read: Helena Frith Powell (February 2009).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ty Burr's six favorite movie-star biographies

Ty Burr has been a film critic at The Boston Globe since 2002. Prior to that he wrote about movies for Entertainment Weekly, and he began his career as an in-house movie analyst for HBO. His books include The Best Old Movies for Families: A Guide to Watching Together and the newly released Gods Like Us: On Movie Stardom and Modern Fame.

One of his six favorite movie-star biographies, as told to The Week magazine:
All the Available Light: A Marilyn Monroe Reader edited by Yona Zeldis McDonough

With contributions from Gloria Steinem, Joyce Carol Oates, Molly Haskell, Sir Laurence Olivier, and Clare Boothe Luce, this book comes at Marilyn from all sides — and still never gets to the bottom of her mystique.
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see: Five of the best Hollywood tell-alls.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Five top novels not about humans

Carol Birch is the author of Jamrach’s Menagerie and ten other novels. She has won the David Higham Prize for Life in the Palace, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for The Fog Line, and was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2003 for Turn Again Home.

For the Wall Street Journal she named five top novels not about humans, including:
The Labrador Pact
by Matt Haig (2004)

Narrated by Prince the Labrador, Matt Haig's reworking of "Henry IV, Part 1" is a heartbreaker with a minimum of sentiment and a huge dose of humor. Haig has said that he began this as a book about a family in crisis. The dog perspective imposed itself because the family pet was the ideal mute observer, listening in on all secrets. Haig's great imaginative stroke here is his portrait of Prince as a real dog, not just a human with fur—an ordinary dog in an ordinary family. No hero, no wolf under the skin, he's cozy and staid. His responsibilities lie heavy on him: It's his duty to protect the family and keep it together at all costs, even as it seems determined to pull itself apart. Equally complex is the power play working itself out in the parallel world of the local dogs, one of whom explains the Labrador code ("Duty Over All") and the history of the "Springer Uprising." Both a comedy about family life and a tragedy about the eternal conflict between duty and pleasure, "The Labrador Pact" is a moving tale—also a beautiful one in all its dark perceptions.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Page 69 Test: Matt Haig's The Labrador Pact.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Ten horror novels that are scarier than most movies

At io9 Amanda Yesilbas and Charlie Jane Anders came up with ten horror novels that are scarier than almost any movie.

One title on the list:
The Shining by Stephen King

The movie version of The Shining is a pop culture touchstone — but as usual, the book is even better than the movie. There's a reason King is considered a horror master: The tense atmosphere and freaky supernatural occurrences get into the reader's head and make you begin to doubt your own grip on sanity, along with that of the characters. Most people are probably familiar with the premise of the book: An alcoholic father takes a job as the off-season caretaker of an isolated mountain resort, in order to work on his writing and become closer to his family. The son is a psychic, a "shiner", who can see the hauntings in the hotel. Sure the book is chock full of supernatural visions — but equally disturbing is the human-on-human violence. The child's-eye view of his parents' deteriorating relationship — and sanity — is meant to dredge up uncomfortable memories of childhood's confusion and powerlessness.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Shining is among Charlie Higson's top ten horror books and Monica Ali's best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 26, 2012

Five top books of ghost stories

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books of ghost stories:

The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story
by Susan Hill

Set on an English moor in the not-too-distant yet suitably murky past, this chilling tale -- complete with fog, a long-buried secret, and, of course, a haunted house -- follows a young solicitor who comes from London to attend the funeral and settle the estate of Mrs. Alice Drablow. What he doesn't know...well, you get the picture.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Woman in Black is one of Kate Mosse's top 10 ghost stories.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Top 10 books with maps

Simon Garfield's acclaimed books of nonfiction include last year's Just My Type: A Book about Fonts.

His new book, On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks, is available now in the UK and hits the US in December 2012.

One of Garfield's top ten books with maps, as told to the Guardian:
The Rings of Saturn by WG Sebald

Disturbing and truly memorable, Sebald's ramble through the Suffolk ghostlands shows us how much we normally miss. The author weaves history, memory and erudite imaginings as he strolls, with a visit to McDonalds an eerie break in an otherworldly journey. In so doing he worms a map in your psyche, and I felt I was trespassing on secret and pagan land. It's not the cheeriest of reads or landscapes, but it's an utterly compelling one.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Rings of Saturn is on John Mullan's list of ten of the best long walks in literature.

The Page 99 Test: Simon Garfield's Just My Type.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Five best brief biographies

Paul Johnson's latest book is Darwin.

One of his five favorite brief biographies, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
Lincoln at Gettysburg
by Garry Wills (2006)

Of Grant's contemporary, Lincoln, there are over 1,000 biographies, many multivolume, with more appearing every year. There are few short ones, and none outstanding, but there is one that contrives to take a particular episode and use it to epitomize and illuminate the whole life. This is Garry Wills's "Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America." The main text is only 175 pages, but it shows how Lincoln in this short speech was able to ennoble the war, to explain why it was necessary, to show why it succeeded in its objects and to give Americans a key text about themselves. The book sums up Lincoln's qualities and makes good his claim to be the exemplar of the American virtues and the central figure in American history. This is a two-day read—with the appendices three—but time profitably spent.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Lincoln at Gettysburg is one of James Ledbetter's six notable books about speeches that changed U.S. politics.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Six notable books with overweight protagonists

Jami Attenberg's new novel is The Middlesteins.

Jonathan Franzen (author of Freedom) says: “The Middlesteins had me from its very first pages, but it wasn’t until its final pages that I fully appreciated the range of Attenberg’s sympathy and the artistry of her storytelling.”

At The Week magazine Attenberg named her six favorite books with overweight protagonists.  One title on the list:
Heft by Liz Moore

There is so much humanity and honesty in this novel about a 550-pound man, housebound for a decade, now reconnecting with a woman from his past. I also love a character with an appreciation for food: It's fun to walk away from a book a little hungry.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Page 69 Test: Liz Moore's Heft.

Visit Jami Attenberg's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 22, 2012

Top ten "library" books

Adam Lancaster is the UK's SLA School Librarian of the Year 2012.

At the Guardian he named a top ten list of "books that are set in libraries or have set his library alight," including:
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

One book that is a must in any library. The style and the humour of the books is the key to turning some non-readers into avid readers. I also love using these books to show those very same people that were originally turned off to reading that Greg loves to write and draw. That's why he keeps journal, and that's why they are able to read about what he gets up to.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The ten best narrators in literature

Antoine Wilson is the author of the novels The Interloper and Panorama City.

One book (and an alternate, "a sort of spiritual cousin") on his ten best list of narrators in literature, as told to Publishers Weekly:
Ditie, I Served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabal

Hrabal is a modern master of the literature of the Fool. But unlike his forebears (cf Jasek's novel The Good Soldier Svejk), Hrabal lets his fools speak for themselves, giving them the microphone to narrate their own stories in all of their venal, occasionally insightful, narrow-minded glory. Ditie, a hotel waiter, likes to brag that he once served the Emperor of Ethiopia. A poor judge of seemingly everything, he marries a stern German athlete just as the Nazis are taking power. James Wood's review of Hrabal's work is a must-read. (Alternate: Stevens, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro)
Read about the other narrators on Wilson's list.

I Served the King of England is one of Jonathan Coe's 6 favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Top ten literary parodies

D.J. Taylor is the author of two acclaimed biographies, Thackerary (1999), and Orwell: The Life, which won the Whitbread Biography Prize in 2003. His novels include Derby Day (2011), At the Chime of a City Clock (2010), Ask Alice (2009) and Kept: A Victorian Mystery (2006).

His new book is What You Didn't Miss, "a hilarious collection of literary lampoons and an alternative history of modern English literature" culled from the popular Private Eye column of the same name.

One of Taylor's top ten literary parodies, as told to the Guardian:
David Lodge on Salman Rushdie

Ralph Messenger, the hero of Lodge's 2001 novel Thinks, is an expert in artificial intelligence and human consciousness whose students are encouraged to produce parodies of modern novelists. Hence What is it like to a be a Bat? by S*lm*n R*shd** ("What kind of question is that, sir? With all due respect, what you say if I asked you, 'What is it like to be a man?'") The bat in question turns out to be hanging from the coat hook of a toilet in the first-class cabin of an Air India jet. Read by Lodge with great attack at literary festivals.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 19, 2012

The ten most dysfunctional families in literature

Jami Attenberg's new novel is The Middlesteins.

At Publishers Weekly she named a top ten list of dysfunctional families in literature, including:
Arcadia/The Stone family.

Lauren Groff's touching and elegantly written book about life during the 1960s on a commune in upstate New York was my favorite book of 2012. Young Bit slowly watches his two families – both his biological parents, and those around him on the commune – fall apart due to pride, drugs, and circumstance.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Visit Jami Attenberg's website and blog.

The Page 69 Test: Lauren Groff's Arcadia.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Five top books on the World Series

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on the World Series:
Autumn Glory
by Louis P. Masur

The first World Series between the Pittsburg Pirates and the Boston Americans in 1903 revitalized the sport and showcased some of the storylines that would make the contest a perennial source of entertainment for the next century and beyond: established stars failed to perform, unknowns stole the show, and umpires barely escaped with their lives. Historian Louis P. Masur's dramatic retelling makes you feel like you're cheering in the stands. Cracker Jack not included.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Five top books about movies

David Thomson, one of the great living authorities on the movies, is the author of The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, now in its fifth edition. His books include a biography of Nicole Kidman, a biography of Orson Welles, and The Whole Equation: A History of Hollywood. His latest works are the acclaimed Have You Seen...?: A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films and The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies.

One of Thomson's five favorite books about film, as told to The Daily Beast:
The Deer Park
by Norman Mailer

I want books you would enjoy reading even if you knew next to nothing about the movies. In that spirit, I start with a novel—Norman Mailer’s The Deer Park (1955)—about an Air Force flier who goes to Hollywood. It’s a vivid description of the place, its talk and sex, and its compromises. Look for a director, Charles Eitel, a man of principle who will name names to keep working.
Read about the other entries on the list.

See David Thomson's five best books about making movies.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Five best books on US Supreme Court justices

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate.

She discussed five top books on US Supreme Court justices with Eve Gerber at The Browser, including:
Supreme Power
by Jeff Shesol

Let’s turn to books about the people beneath the black robes, beginning with Jeff Shesol’s history of Franklin Roosevelt’s 1937 Judicial Procedures Reform Bill.It provides plenty of personal background about the justices who sat on the Supreme Court when President Roosevelt tried to change the size of it, in what came to be known as the court-packing plan.

One of the reasons why I chose this book is that it evokes the same questions as with what is happening right now in American politics. It reminds you that everything you think is happening for the first time has happened before.

FDR, who was a very popular president, was elected presumably to get the country out of a horrendous recession. And he was faced, as Obama is, with a very conservative court. That court started striking down his New Deal [economic] programmes one after another. Although the bills were popular, the court said this is too much power to the executive branch [of the US government] or this is too much power to regulate interstate commerce. Stop me when this sounds familiar. It is exactly what’s happening right now.

So FDR proposed this sham plan that would allow him to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court to supplement every sitting justice who was over the age of 70. So the Court could go from nine to as many as 15 members. The pretext was that because the justices were old he wanted to lighten their workload. But it was clear that was not what was going on. He just wanted to pack the court with justices favorable to the New Deal, and he lost. He was faced with an astounding backlash, not just from Republicans but from the entire country. To me, it’s a really interesting book about the relationship between the president, Congress and the courts – which telegraphs so much about what we are seeing right now.

What do we learn about Supreme Court justices from reading this history?

One of the interesting things, which Shesol talks about a lot, is that Roosevelt lost the battle but won the war. Because the ultimate outcome of the court-packing plan was that several justices began to switch and vote with the liberal bloc to uphold New Deal legislation. This was known as the “switch in time that saved nine”. It was widely credited with saving the court and the Constitution.

This shows that the court is really responsive to public opinion and external threats. We have the notion that the court is completely cordoned-off from real life, and the justices are oracular beings who don’t care about what’s going on around them. But in this account of the court-packing episode, we can clearly see that the justices made the decision to preserve the institution by shifting when faced with external threats.

This was seen as the greatest misstep of FDR’s entire career. What fascinates me is that the country rallied around the idea that a nine-member court was inviolate – even though that number doesn’t appear anywhere in the Constitution. The number of justices had changed widely in earlier court history, up until 1869 when the number nine became fixed. The American people developed the quasi-religious notion that you don’t mess with the court. Even this incredibly popular president couldn’t get them to change their need to believe that what the court does transcends politics.
Read about the other books Lithwick tagged at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 15, 2012

Top ten 20th-century political novels

Tim Pears is the author of seven novels: In the Place of Fallen Leaves (which won the Hawthornden Prize and the Ruth Hadden Memorial Award), Blenheim Orchard, In a Land of Plenty, A Revolution of the Sun, Wake Up, Landed (shortlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2012 and the 2011 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize, winner of the MJA Open Book Awards 2011) and Disputed Land.

In 2003 he named his top ten 20th-century political novels for the Guardian.  One title on the list:
The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek (1923)

Shaggy-dog stories of beautiful incompetence, of effortless anarchy spread through the Austrian army in 1914 by our eponymous idiot hero. A comic handbook on how to undermine authority in the most enjoyable way possible, written by a notorious hoaxer, drinker and vagrant Bohemian.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ten must-read books about higher education in America

At the Christian Science Monitor, Kristin Rawls came up with a list of ten must-read books about higher education in America, including:
The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College, by Jacques Steinberg

This is another in-depth look at the college admissions process, written by a New York Times reporter who was given unprecedented access to admissions at Wesleyan University. For better or worse, the book explains what many universities value in college applications (e.g., high test scores) and what often gets overlooked, like essays and other supplementary materials.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Five best books on early love and the flush of infatuation

John Banville's novels include The Untouchable, The Sea, and the newly released Ancient Light.

One of his five best books on early love and the perilous flush of infatuation, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
The Red and the Black
by Stendhal (1839)

Julien Sorel must be one of the most caddish heroes of any 19th-century novel—how one wishes that he and Thackeray's Becky Sharp had got together, for what a pair they would have made! Stendhal was a great cynic, and his portrayal of the love affair between the young Julien, son of a humble carpenter, and Mme. Rênal, wife of the Mayor of Verrières, a provincial backwater, is a powerful evocation of carnal obsession and at the same time a sly parody of the romantic fictions of the day. One of the dark delights of the book is in following the stages by which a clever and ruthless young man makes his way up the social ladder, yet it is a mark of Stendhal's greatness that, for all Julien's beady-eyed ambition, his affair with Mme. Rênal convinces in its immediacy and erotic intensity. Black the book may be at its heart, but in its passion it is a burning shade of scarlet.
Read about the other books on Banville's list.

The Red and the Black is among Warren Adler's five best books about ambition and Norman Mailer's top ten works of literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 12, 2012

Five top books on trees

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on trees:
The Golden Spruce
by John Vaillant

There was only one giant golden spruce in the world, and it had survived for three centuries before an angry survivalist named Grant Hadwin took a chainsaw to it in 1997. John Vaillant delivers a compelling account of the unique tree, the Haida tribe who worshiped it as a deity, and the enigmatic man who destroyed it.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Top ten natural histories

Caspar Henderson is a writer and journalist whose work has appeared in the Financial Times, the Independent, and New Scientist. His The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Bestiary is due out in the US in 2013 from the University of Chicago Press.

One of his top ten natural histories, as told to the Guardian:
Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez (1984)

It's taken until the last slot to get to a book that is by most definitions "proper nature writing" in the sense of sustained descriptive writing about the natural world affectionately satirised by Evelyn Waugh in Scoop with "Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole". But Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape is the real McCoy: a work of tremendous ambition that combines description of natural forms and processes in an environment that is among the bleakest and richest on Earth with profound thought on human dwelling and alienation. Arctic Dreams is all the more remarkable in that, though published less than 30 years ago, the spectre of human made climate change is absent from its pages.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Five top books on presidential debates

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on presidential debate:
The Making of the President 1960
by Theodore H. White

In a book that redefined political journalism, Theodore H. White crafts an almost mythical account of the battle between Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice-President Richard M. Nixon for the presidency. No moment was more crucial to the outcome than the televised debates, the first of their kind. Kennedy, already a handsome man, had been working on his tan while prepping with his aides. Nixon, pale and underweight from a recent hospitalization, appeared sickly and sweaty. Though radio listeners thought Nixon had won, television viewers walked away with a far different opinion. The rest is history.
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Ric Burns's six favorite books

Ric Burns is a writer and documentary filmmaker best known for producing and writing the PBS series The Civil War. One of his favorite books that influenced the making of his new film, Death and the Civil War, as told to The Week magazine:
Mary Chesnut's Civil War by Mary Boykin Chesnut

An indelible, eloquent, and ferociously intelligent account of the war from an intrguing source: Chesnut was the daughter of a wealthy South Carolina plantation owner and the wife of a former U.S. senator who worked closely with the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis.
Read about the other books on Burns's list.

Mary Chesnut's Civil War is on Harold Holzer's five best list of Civil War diaries.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five top books on modern misery

Renata Salecl teaches law at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, her native country, and is also the Centennial Professor in the department of law at the London School of Economics and Visiting Professor of Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Her publications include The Tyranny of Choice.

One of five top books on modern misery that she discussed with Tom Dannet at The Browser:
by Tim Winton

Next book?

Tim Winton’s Breath. It’s a novel about a main character Bruce ‘Pikelet’, who as a teenager becomes obsessed with surfing, and who, with his friend ‘Loonie’, starts observing an old surfer, Sando, who used to be an ideal in their little town, and who knows how to catch the best wave. The whole story is really about the enjoyment one finds in transgressing the boundary between life and death, and coming close to death but not dying. It starts with the boys trying to be underwater as long as possible and afterwards it becomes an obsession of going to the edge in many ways. Loonie becomes more of a favourite of Sando, but Bruce finds other enjoyments by starting a sexual relationship with Eva, Sando’s partner. When Sando picks Loonie as his surfing partner, Bruce is left hanging around the house with Eva, and a seduction happens, so, at the age of 14, he is introduced into sexual pleasures which are also an unbelievable edge for him.

What’s interesting are the descriptions of the surfing. It’s the most wonderful description of coming to the edge, searching for ever new extremes, coming to the point of death, and then at the last second avoiding it. A lot of the scenes are when you almost think the two characters have drowned and somehow then they resurface.

I chose it because it picks apart our search for enjoyment in today’s society, and shows how that is often linked to near-death experiences. It’s really interesting how overwhelmingly present the search for extreme sports is now. In Slovenia, as a small country, we have an obsession with people climbing the Himalayas, so every year there’s usually one or more people who die there.

The idea with a lot of these extreme sportists is they’re searching the edge – what death looks like. There is an enjoyment, where again Freud was right: where Eros and Thanatos go hand in hand. Although we try to avoid death in today’s culture, with extreme sports we are actually endlessly testing it, trying to master it, to a point.

The book sounds fairly optimistic.

It is in the end, but it’s definitely about death drive and the search for the ultimate transgression of life, and the sexuality intertwined with it. The main character says that when a surfer finds the most extraordinary wave, that’s the only time he has lived; and you endlessly search for them to the point of killing yourself. You expect that you might lose your life but it’s worth it: that’s the ideology behind it.
Read about the other books Salecl tagged at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 8, 2012

Five best classic works of movie criticism

David Denby is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author, most recently, of Do the Movies Have a Future?

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of classic works of movie criticism, including:
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
by Pauline Kael (1968)

Most people know Pauline Kael's work from her 22-year stint at the New Yorker. But this early collection, consisting of magazine pieces from all over, has some of her funniest and most startling writing. The New Yorker gave her more space, and she became more descriptive, more detailed, richer in language, smoother. The early criticism, by contrast, is abrupt, enraged, staccato and fiercely contrarian. (Of the wholesomeness of "The Sound of Music": "Wasn't there perhaps one little Von Trapp who didn't want to sing his head off, or who screamed that he wouldn't act out little glockenspiel routines for papa's party guests, or who got nervous and threw up if had to get on a stage?") Kael enjoyed turning on what she took to be the complacencies of her audience. Not only did she attack "The Sound of Music" when she wrote for women's magazines, she attacked Antonioni's "Blow-Up" and other "art" movies (although she was a champion of the early Godard) when she wrote for the high-minded New Republic. Again and again, she cuts to the core of what a movie is about, questions its value, turns it inside out. She has a fondness for paradox, the rug-pulling punch-line, the bullying rhetorical question. Of Yves Montand's aging communist hero in Alain Resnais's "La Guerre Est Finie": "Can we go along with his glamorized melancholy (and the assumption that his political activity was once useful though now out of touch), or do we see it as a Frenchman's Hollywoodization of a lummox of a party hack?" It was a style that revolutionized movie reviewing.
Read about the other entries on Denby's list.

Also see Christopher Bray's five top books on film.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Top ten family dramas

Sara Zarr is the acclaimed author of four novels for young adults: Story of a Girl, Sweethearts, Once Was Lost, and How to Save a Life. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in Image, Hunger Mountain online, Response, and several anthologies.

How to Save a Life is about two girls trying to figure out who they are and what family means to them.

At the Guardian Zarr tagged the top 10 family dramas that inspired her story, including:
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

Ruth and Lucille are sisters who grow up without their mother, and are instead cared for by their grandmother and various other female relatives. We see them age from childhood to adulthood, change, suffer, and survive against the backdrop of their small town on a glacial lake. Robinson approaches these people and their strange, fragile lives with tenderness and extraordinarily beautiful writing.
Read about the other titles on the list.

Housekeeping is among Philip Connors's top 10 wilderness books, Kate Walbert's best books, and Aryn Kyle's favorite books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Eleven must read graphic novels

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

One of his eleven must read graphic novels:
Building Stories by Chris Ware

It’s already being hailed as a classic, and it was only released Tuesday [2 October 2012]. Building Stories features the stories of four people who live in one Chicago building. They lead quiet lives that we can all recognize, especially in the magnificent “Money” spread that so well captures financial desperation. But Ware’s artistry lies not in “recognition” but in complicating time and space—form—so much so that we can see these everyday, domestic lives as if for the first time. Building Stories gorgeously expands the graphic-novel form: it is a big box of treasures, consisting of 14 books, pamphlets, or posters of different sizes, and you can read them in any order. The narrative experience is fractured but strung together not by the act of reading one grid after another (although that happens as well) but by putting one book down and picking up another. He is “building stories” using new devices, and this allows us to experience the process of creativity.

This approach to art Ware shares with the best graphic novelists of the times—they help us see and feel objects for the first time.
Read about the other entries on So's list.

Also see Mary Talbot's top ten graphic memoirsRachel Cooke's ten best graphic novelsLev Grossman's top 10 graphic novels, and Malorie Blackman's top 10 graphic novels for teenagers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, October 5, 2012

Top ten apocalypse books

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

For the Guardian he named a top ten list of apocalypse books, including:
The Passage by Justin Cronin

I rather enjoyed this 2010 novel, which adds vampire-like monsters and a lethal virus to the apocalyptic mix. Starting with a top-secret military stronghold in Colorado, where prisoners are being injected with some sort of serum to turn them into super-soldiers, the book leaps 90 years forward to a colony of survivors in a suitably ravaged world. A bit confusing in places, but I'm looking forward to the sequel and to the film which is apparently on the way.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Passage is on Annalee Newitz's list of 10 works of science fiction that are really fantasy.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Five top contemporary short story collections

Lorin Stein is the editor of The Paris Review and co-editor of Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story.

He named five top contemporary short story collections for The Daily Beast.

One title on the list:
PU-239 and Other Russian Fantasies
by Ken Kalfus

Imagine Breaking Bad but with weapons-grade plutonium instead of meth. That’s the basic premise of the title story from Kalfus’s 1999 cult classic, which throws Soviet history into a centrifuge and hits “spin.” Other stories feature the cosmonaut Nikolai Gagarin, Jewish homesteaders in Mongolia, and a disgraced dissident writer forced to review a novel by Leonid Brezhnev. My favorite story in the collection, “Anzhelika, 13,” is about a lonely girl getting her period for the first time in the last days of Stalin’s reign. No one else writes historical fiction like this.
Read about the other titles on the list.

Also see Alison MacLeod's top ten short stories.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The ten best fictional architects

For the Observer, Rowan Moore came up with a list of the ten best fictional architects. One character on the list:
Otto Silenus, Decline and Fall

Otto Silenus, in Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall, is a modernist fanatic. “The problem of architecture,” he says, “is the elimination of the human element from the consideration of form… I do not think it is possible for domestic architecture to be beautiful, but I am doing my best.” That his name has echoes of Walter Gropius is not a coincidence. He is a brilliant creation – even though he encouraged decades of prejudice against modern architecture
Read about the other architects on Moore's list.

Decline and Fall is one of Douglas Hurd's six best books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Five top books on how Americans vote

Andrew Gelman is a professor in the Departments of Statistics and Political Science at Columbia University, director of the Applied Statistics Center, and also the founding director of the Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences program.

His books include Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do.

One of five top books on how Americans vote Gelman discussed with Sophie Roell at The Browser:
The 480
by Eugene Burdick

Let’s go on to your next book, The 480, by Eugene Burdick.

This is a novel that was written in 1964, by one of the authors of The Ugly American, which is a book you might not have ever heard of but you’ve heard the phrase. It was a cultural touchstone. It came out in the late 1950s, and it took place in a hypothetical, Vietnam-like country in Asia, and it’s about the Americans losing the war of hearts and minds to the Communists.

The 480 is about evil political consultants who are manipulating the American public to vote for an empty-suit type of character for president. The number 480 referred to an actual analysis that was done by some political scientists, including a political scientist named Sam Popkin, who is now at the University of California in San Diego. They divided the population into 480 demographic and geographic subgroups, based on things like religion, age, sex, what region of the country and so on. The idea was that they knew how many people were in each group and they would pitch their messages to those groups. It’s a classic work in political science. I think they also advised the Kennedy campaign. Back then it was very impressive, but we can do much more now in terms of data analysis, we can get estimates for all 50 states now which they couldn’t do back then.

But there was something funny about this book, about these backroom political consultants manipulating the election. It’s not at all realistic, though it’s much more realistic than a book like The Manchurian Candidate, which is a big joke. This book is a satire but it reflects serious concerns about politics.

Presumably, then, the implication is that there is something sinister about having all this information?

The idea is that these people know enough about us so that they can manipulate our vote. Realistically, political consultants nowadays know a lot about us, and they do try to convince us. There are two kinds of people they follow. One is people where they know who they’re going to vote for, but they’re not sure that they’re going to vote. The other is people who are very likely to vote, but you don’t know which way they’re going to vote. The first type of person they try to mobilise just to turn out and vote, and the second kind of person they try to persuade. They’re pretty good at knowing who people are. In fact, at this point, a lot of this is just a question of resources. To the extent they have resources they will go out to people and call you on the phone. If they think you’re already likely to vote for a certain candidate, they’ll try to find somebody to knock on your door and convince you that it’s an important election and it’s worth voting for. In some sense it’s not as mysterious or conspiratorial as it’s made out to be in that book.

It’s just a question of resources?

Yes, it’s expensive. It’s said to cost about $40 per vote. You have to get enthusiastic volunteers and really knock on people’s doors.

It’s not about sending out some subliminal message – it’s just about having someone enthusiastic on your doorstep?

They do play with the messages a lot. They do a lot of experimentation. I remember reading one paper that came out where they framed the same question in two different ways. They try to say things like, “Everybody votes, so you should vote too.” I don’t know how much I believe it, but from some experimental evidence they claim that certain phrasing is particularly effective. Of course both sides are doing it, which is what you’d want. It’s only fair for both sides to do it. A lot of the great inequalities arise before you get to the general election. Certain candidates just don’t have a chance in the primary because they don’t have the money. The two parties are more equally balanced. The other issues in unfairness come in what policies the parties consider. The actual election is not too far from a fair fight.

What do you mean by unfairness in the policies parties consider?

I mean that there are policies that get proposed and policies that don’t get proposed, and the lobbyists have an impact. When the election year comes up, we think a lot about elections. But if you think about what issues get raised in Congress and what things the president does and doesn’t do, a lot of those are going to be affected by campaign contributors.
Read about the other books Gelman discussed at The Browser.

Learn more about Andrew Gelman and his work at his website and blog.

Writers Read: Andrew Gelman (September 2008).

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, October 1, 2012

Five top books on evolution and human cooperation

Paul Seabright is the author of The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life. He is professor of economics at the Toulouse School of Economics and has been a fellow of All Souls College, University of Oxford, and Churchill College, University of Cambridge.

His latest book is The War of the Sexes: How Conflict and Cooperation Have Shaped Men and Women from Prehistory to the Present.

With The Browser's Toby Ash, Seabright discussed five top books on evolution and human cooperation, including:
A Cooperative Species
by Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis

On to your next pick now, which one reviewer has described as “a compelling and novel account of how humans come to be moral and cooperative”. Please tell us more.

For a long time the puzzle of cooperation in modern societies was posed as: How can selfish individuals come to cooperate? This book – which again is clearly in the tradition of Darwin’s The Descent of Man – says that this question is mis-posed because the evidence is overwhelming that human beings are not entirely selfish. They are motivated by lots of other things like sympathy, altruism and mutual affection, and also by envy, revenge and resentment. Bowles and Gintis argue that that puzzle is rather how natural selection came to make us not entirely selfish. How did these complicated humans – who certainly have selfish motives but also motives of sympathy, affection, resentment and envy and so forth – come to make it through the process of natural selection? So the book is largely about this question, which they argue is the really difficult one to answer.

This is a more academically rigorous book. By saying that I’m not signalling that it’s an impossible read – on the contrary it’s a very good read – but some of the chapters are rather technical. I would encourage readers who are worried about technicalities not to mind that, as you don’t have to read every chapter in the book in order to come out of it inspired and informed.
Read about the other books Seabright tagged at The Browser.

Visit Paul Seabright's website.

The Page 99 Test: The War of the Sexes.

Writers Read: Paul Seabright.

--Marshal Zeringue