Thursday, January 31, 2013

Nine of the most memorable manors in literature

Elizabeth Wilhide is the author of the novel Ashenden, whose title "character" is also a house. Ashenden Park is based on Basildon Park, the Berkshire stately home that featured as Netherfield Hall in the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

For The Daily Beast, Wilhide came up with nine illustrious houses in fiction, including:
The Burrow

Higgledy-piggledy, several crooked stories high and seemingly held up by magic, the home of the Weasleys and their seven children is the polar opposite of sterile, mundane, suburban 4 Privet Drive, where Harry Potter has spent his childhood banished to a cupboard under the stairs. The cosy Burrow, cluttered with “rusty cauldrons and old Wellington boots,” introduces Harry to a family life where warmth, humor, and magic are part of everyday existence.
Learn about the other houses Wilhide tagged.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone also appears on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best owls in literature, ten of the best scars in fiction and ten of the best motorbikes in literature, and Charlie Higson's top 10 list of fantasy books for children, Justin Scroggie's top ten list of books with secret signs as well as Charlie Jane Anders and Michael Ann Dobbs's list of well-known and beloved science fiction and fantasy novels that publishers didn't want to touch. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire made John Mullan's list of ten best graveyard scenes in fiction.

The Harry Potter books made Alison Flood's list of the top 10 most frequently stolen books.

Dolores Umbridge is among Emerald Fennell's top ten villainesses in literature and Derek Landy's top 10 villains in children's books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Ten of the best football books

Christian Science Monitor contributor Ben Frederick came up with a list of ten of the best football books, including:
"When Pride Still Mattered," by David Maraniss

Vince Lombardi's impact on how the game of football is practiced and played are still being felt. This profile of the man considered by many to be the greatest coach of all time also offers insight into the state of the game today.
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see: five top books about the Super Bowl and five top books about football (and its dark side).

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Top 10 fictional best friends that would make good real best friends

Panayiota Kuvetakis is a student at UC Berkeley studying comparative literature and theater. For Writer's Bloq, she named a top ten list of fictional best friends we'd like to have as nonfictional best friends, including:
Horatio – Hamlet

Though Hamlet’s self-centered crisis puts him in the limelight, Horatio is always there to support him. He is there to support Hamlet when he:
  • Sees a terrifying ghost of his dad
  • Plots to prove Claudius’ guilt in the mousetrap play
  • Finds out his long time love who he is currently bickering is dead
  • Has a breakdown when he finds out that his childhood clown, Yorick, can’t tell
  • jokes anymore because he is dead
  • Is poisoned to death
And after all that, Horatio is compliant with only being referred to as “friend to Hamlet” throughout the whole play. He even offers to drink Hamlet’s poisoned goblet! Instead, Hamlet tells him to stay alive, and “put things right” in Denmark.

Well that’s a lot of pressure.
Read about the other entries at Writer's Bloq.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 28, 2013

Stanley McChrystal's six favorite books

Stanley McChrystal retired in July 2010 as a four-star general in the U.S. Army. His last assignment was as the commander of the International Security Assistance Force and as the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He had previously served as the direc­tor of the Joint Staff and as the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command. He is currently a senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and the cofounder of the McChrystal Group, a leadership consulting firm.

McChrystal's new book is My Share of the Task: A Memoir.

One of his six favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
The Face of Battle by John Keegan

In The Face of Battle — published the year I graduated from West Point — Keegan writes that military academy cadets' knowledge of war is "theoretical, anticipatory, and secondhand." His book is an antidote to this, putting the reader amid the clang of armor and putrid trench mud.
Read about the other books on McChrystal's list.

The Face of Battle is among Stephen Hunter's five best books about soldiers at war and Thomas C. Schelling's most influential books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Five top books about guerrillas

Max Boot is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. His latest book is Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present.

One of his five best books about guerrillas, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
Into the Land of Bones
by Frank L. Holt (2005)

This excellent accountof Alexander the Great's foray into Afghanistan in 329 B.C. is a reminder that guerrilla warfare is not a recent invention—it is in fact older than civilization itself. Fresh off his dismantling of the Persian Empire, Alexander found the obstreperous tribes of Central Asia harder to subdue. Entire Macedonian detachments were lost in ambushes, and Alexander himself was wounded twice. Frank Holt, a classicist at the University of Houston, narrates his struggle in clear prose that makes this ancient campaign come alive and gives greater appreciation for the challenges that confront all counterinsurgents in Afghanistan—including the U.S. troops still fighting there more than a decade after 9/11.
Read about the other books on Boot's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Six top works of nonfiction

At The Daily Beast, Pulitzer winner Tracy Kidder and his longtime editor Richard Todd named six of their favorite narratives, essays, and memoirs, including:
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
by Anne Fadiman

The beautifully observed story of a Hmong immigrant family in its encounter with Western doctors, as each community struggles to help an epileptic child. A reflective compassion, more powerful for its restraint, informs this account of tragic cultural misperceptions.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 25, 2013

Five top books on happiness

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on happiness:
Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life
By Winifred Gallagher

Might the fullest life be found by those with the ability to sharply "zoom in" on their passions? In Rapt, Winifred Gallagher posits that our mood is most directly in tune with that upon which we choose to focus our attention. Productivity clichés get deflated along the way, as when Gallagher cognitive scientist David Meyer states that "Einstein didn't invent the theory of relativity while multi-tasking at the Swiss patent office." Gallagher’s thesis -- that catharsis is found in clarifying our interests and devoting to them the emphasis they deserve -- brings pinpoint precision to a field often jumbled by generality.
Read about the other books on the list.

Also see: six books that examine the idea of happiness, five top books on happiness through negative thinking, and Maria Popova's seven top books on happiness.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Top ten books that began as speech

Sheila Heti latest novel, How Should a Person Be?, is structured on transcribed dialogues between her and her friends.

One of her top ten books that began as transcribed speech, as told to the Guardian:
Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do by Studs Terkel

Published in 1972, this groundbreaking book by the great American oral history genius documented America's relationship with work. Terkel spoke with prostitutes, housewives, gravediggers, everyone (many of the jobs included don't exist anymore, or don't exist in the same way). The monologues are crafted invisibly, and each voice is direct and distinct. "It's an automatic thing, waiting on people," says a washroom attendant. "It doesn't require any thought. It's almost a reflex action. I set my toilet articles up, towels – and I'm ready." Americans had never seen themselves quite so clearly before - and oral history became a more prominent form as a result.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Working is one of Daniel H. Pink's six favorite books about work.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The best picture books for children, 2012

At the Guardian, Kate Kellaway collected the best 2012 picture books for children.

One entry on the list:
The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau
by Michelle Markel, illustrated by Amanda Hall

Rousseau’s spirit has inspired Amanda Hall: this book is a captivating homage to a lavish, playful, painterly world. We see Henri, eyes shut, on a Parisian park bench, apparently inhaling the scent of outsize marigolds. Meanwhile, Markel tell his story, and lets us know how art eventually won out against establishment ridicule. She explains: ‘Sometimes Henri is so startled by what he paints that he has to open the window to let in some air.’ We have no need to do likewise – this book is the freshest of breezes. (5+)
Read about the other books on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five top books on essays

Alain de Botton is the author of essays on themes ranging from love and travel to architecture and philosophy. His best-selling books include How Proust Can Change Your Life, The Art of Travel, The Architecture of Happiness, and Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion.

One of five top books on essays he discussed with Jessica Mudditt for The Browser in 2009:
The Secret Power of Beauty
by John Armstrong

John Armstrong’s The Secret Power of Beauty has a tantalising title – why did you choose this collection?

I admit I know the author very well. I partly chose it because it reflects many ideas that I have discussed with him and I also think he writes very well.

His central argument is that beauty is linked with all kinds of values that we find encoded in objects, and that these values can excite and move us just as people can excite and move us. I had not heard discussions of beauty unfolding in this way.

Has the way we think about beauty changed over time?

The modern way of thinking about beauty is to consider it a diversion. People apologise for finding someone attractive because we think it’s superficial. Or if someone is interested in fashion, they’ll say: “I know it’s all a bit frivolous.” Armstrong goes back to a much earlier view held by Greek philosophers, which was that our connection to beauty is connected to deep things and it’s an interest in goodness more generally. It’s a good starting point for being a decent human being and that is not at all a modern day version of beauty.
Read about the other books de Botton tagged at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Top ten teen books featuring flashbacks

Lenore Appelhans has been blogging about books at Presenting Lenore since 2008. She is the author of the Memory Chronicles, which includes Level 2 and the forthcoming Level 3, and the forthcoming picture book Chick-o-Saurus Rex (under the name Lenore Jennewein) with her husband, illustrator Daniel Jennewein.

One of Appelhans's ten favorite teen books that deal with remembering, forgetting and flashbacks, as told to the Guardian:
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

When British spy Verity is captured by the Nazis in occupied France, she is forced to write down her secrets. She chooses to write about her best friend Maddie, a RAF pilot who flew the mission with her, pouring out her heart by flashing back to their joint history and detailing her current predicament. Not a moment goes by when we don't fear for Verity's life, but little do her interrogators know just how skilled Verity is in her spycraft. A thrilling, heartbreaking gem.
Read about the other titles on Appelhans's list.

Code Name Verity also appears on Lydia Syson's list of ten of the best historical novels for young readers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 21, 2013

Six top books on love, betrayal, and creative people who behave badly

Ben Schrank published his first novel, Miracle Man, in 1999. The New Yorker selected it as one of six debut novels in that year’s fiction issue, saying “As the ethical lines blur, Schrank makes New York seem sharp and new.” Time Magazine called it a “brilliantly observed story about the desire to live in an egalitarian world.” In 2002 Schrank published his second novel, Consent. Leonard Michaels wrote of Consent: “It is a very serious story, and, in places, it is hilarious. As for the woman at the center, she is unforgettable.”

Schrank has taught at the MFA program at Brooklyn college. He was for some years the voice of "Ben’s Life," a fictional column for Seventeen magazine.

His new novel is Love Is a Canoe.

One of Schrank's six favorite books on love, betrayal, and creative people who behave badly, as told to The Week magazine:
Sabbath's Theater by Philip Roth

The affair that Mickey Sabbath, gifted puppeteer, has with an innkeeper's wife catapults him into a journey backward. The novel is a debauched sexual roller coaster that ends with Roth's best closing line — a line about turning away from death: "How could he go? Everything he hated was here."
Read about the other books on Schrank's list.

Sabbath's Theater is among Edward Docx's top ten deranged characters and Howard Jacobson's five best novels on failure.

Visit Ben Schrank's website.

Writers Read: Ben Schrank.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Five top books on second terms

Tevi Troy is a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute and a writer and consultant on health care and domestic policy. His book, What Washington Read, Eisenhower Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White House, will be published in the fall of 2013.

One book on successful presidential second terms that he tagged for the Wall Street Journal:
April 1865
by Jay Winik (2001)

Abraham Lincoln's second term lasted only from his magisterial second inaugural address—"with malice toward none, with charity for all"—on March 4, 1865, to his tragic death on April 15, 1865. It was both the shortest and most famous second term in history. While not focused only on Lincoln, Jay Winik's book offers a gripping portrayal of Lincoln's last month in office, calling it the "month that saved America." Here are vivid, evocative portraits of some of that period's most memorable moments—Lincoln's visit to Richmond, Lee's surrender at Appomattox, and John Wilkes Booth's assassination of Lincoln at Ford's theater. The book closes with an epilogue that reflects Winik's sweeping command of history—and that previews the glorious era of political, economic and cultural expansion upon which America was about to embark. It was an era made possible, he avers, only because of men like Lincoln and Robert E. Lee, who, after a long and bloody struggle, were "determined to look ahead, not backward."
Read about the other books on Troy's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Seven quintessentially New York books

Adam Mansbach’s books include the number one international bestseller Go the Fuck to Sleep, the California Book Award– winning novel The End of the Jews, and the cult classic Angry Black White Boy. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, Esquire, and The Believer, and on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered.

His new novel is Rage Is Back.

One of Mansbach's favorite New York City books, as told to The Daily Beast:
Ladies’ Man
by Richard Price

Think you’ve got a bead on the hardboiled author of Clockers and Lush Life? Think again. This early effort, published in the late seventies, is a straight-up sex comedy, full of club-hopping and one-night stands and leavened with just enough existential angst to keep things interesting. As a portrait of New York after dark, it pairs incredibly well with … well, with Scorsese’s frenetic and hilarious After Dark.
Read about the other books on the list.

Visit Adam Mansbach's website.

My Book, The Movie: Rage Is Back.

The Page 69 Test: Rage Is Back.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 18, 2013

Eleven essential books for dog lovers

At the Christian Science Monitor Ben Frederick tagged 11 books that "succeed wonderfully in bringing the magic of dogs to the printed page," including:
"The Call of the Wild," by Jack London

Some will tell you that this is the best dog book ever written. "The Call of the Wild" follows Buck on a whirlwind journey to Alaska to become a sled-dog. Learning the hard lessons of life quickly, Buck loses the trappings of civilization and uncovers his own primitive nature. This 1903 classic is a must-read, not only for the quality of its prose but for its complexity of character. A great book for young readers facing transitional stages of life, it's also a story that gets better with multiple readings.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Call of the Wild is among Megan Miranda's top ten books set in a wintry landscape, Jill Hucklesby's top 10 books about running away, Charlie English's top ten snow books, and Thomas Bloor's top ten tales of metamorphosis. It appears on John Mullan's list of ten of the best wolves in literature and Alice-Azania Jarvis's reading list on dogs.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Top ten literary preachers

Peter Murphy is a writer from Enniscorthy in County Wexford, Ireland. His first novel John the Revelator was published in the UK and Ireland by Faber & Faber and in the US by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and was nominated for the 2011 IMPAC literary award, shortlisted for the 2009 Costa Book Awards and the Kerry Group Fiction prize. His second novel, Shall We Gather at the River, will be published by Faber in January 2013.

He named his ten baddest preachers for the Guardian, including:
Judge Holden from Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy's finest creation might not wear a cassock – or a magistrate's wig – but he can wield the Word. The Judge is a satyr, a gnostic devil, Colonel Kurtz on a horse. The scene in which he holds forth on the art of war is Satan's own sermon: "War is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one's will and the will of another within that larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god."
Read about the other preachers on Murphy's list.

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

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Top ten books for children with dyslexia

Severely dyslexic Sally Gardner couldn't read until she was 14. "A book without any illustration was as good as useless," the award-winning author writes in the Guardian: "My fantasy as a child hungry for stories was that I had a kind actor living in my wardrobe whom I could take out when I needed reading to."

One of Gardner's top ten books for children with dyslexia, as told to the Guardian:
Tintin: The Castafiore Emerald by Hergé

When I was little, I just loved these drawings more than the stories - the colours, the fine detail. Although some of the "adventures" were fairly unPC to say the least. I couldn't read the words, so I used to make up my own theatrical tales to go with them.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Castafiore Emerald is one of Rachel Cooke's ten best graphic novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Eight book adaptations that won 2013 Golden Globe awards

Book adaptations did very well at this year's Golden Globe awards. One winner on a list assembled by Ben Frederick at the Christian Science Monitor:
Silver Linings Playbook

Based on the novel of the same name by Matthew Quick, "Silver Linings Playbook" follows a former mental patient as he tries to win back his estranged wife. Don't worry, it's a lot sweeter than it sounds. Jennifer Lawrence won Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Read an excerpt from The Silver Linings Playbook, and learn more about the novel and author at Matthew Quick's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Silver Linings Playbook.

--Marshal Zeringue

Six books that examine the idea of happiness

Sonja Lyubomirsky's latest book is The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, But Doesn't, What Shouldn't Make You Happy, But Does.

One of her six favorite books that examine the idea of happiness, as told to The Week magazine:
Little Children by Tom Perrotta

Perrotta's comic novel about suburban parents caught in a set of loveless, passionless marriages points to an inescapable fact about romantic expectations: Marriage isn't what it's cracked up to be. Fortunately, there is a path forward.
Read about the other books on the list.

Sarah from Little Children is one of the ten worst mothers in fiction.

Sonja Lyubomirsky's The How of Happiness is one of Oliver Burkeman's ten best self-help gurus.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 14, 2013

Top ten secret society books

C. J. Daugherty is the author of Night School, which is set in an English boarding school and centers on an elite, secret society spinning out of control, threatening to take everyone down with it.

For the Guardian, Daugherty named her top ten secret society books, including:
Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman

Nora, a bookish girl from a damaged family, is the kind of teen who's thrilled when she receives a Latin dictionary for her birthday. She's trying to make a normal life for herself at a new school when suddenly everything she cares about is destroyed – two of her friends are murdered and her boyfriend is implicated. Determined to learn the truth about what happened, she sets out to find the culprit. Her journey takes her to the ancient streets of Prague where she finds herself in a shadowy world of secret religious societies and assassins who will stop at nothing.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Writers Read: Robin Wasserman.

My Book, The Movie: The Book of Blood and Shadow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Top 12 children's books of 2012

Meghan Cox Gurdon, who reviews children's books for the Wall Street Journal, named her favorite picture books and chapter books from 2012, including:
Katherine Marsh's Jepp, Who Defied the Stars

The young 16th-century hero of Katherine Marsh's "Jepp, Who Defied the Stars" has also been dealt a poor hand. Though educated and devout, Jepp is a dwarf whose "supple mind [is] concealed in an unlikely body." Invited to the palace of the Spanish Infanta, in Brussels, Jepp is appalled to find that he is expected to prance around for the court's amusement. His rebellion results in exile to the remote castle of the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, a place of unexpected good fortune.
Read about the other books Gurdon tagged.

For more about the book and author, check out Katherine Marsh's website or follow her on Twitter or on Facebook.

The Page 69 Test: Jepp, Who Defied the Stars.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five top books on political reform in China

Richard Baum was a distinguished professor in the political science department at UCLA. A specialist on Chinese and comparative politics and foreign relations and a past director of the UCLA Center for Chinese Studies, Baum was the founder and list manager of Chinapol, the world's largest dedicated listserv for professional China scholars, journalists, and policy analysts.

In October 2010 he and The Browser's Sophie Roell discussed top books on obstacles to political reform in China, including:
Out of Mao’s Shadow
by Philip Pan

Your fifth book is Philip Pan’s Out of Mao’s Shadow.

This is another book along the lines of Will the Boat Sink the Water? Its author, the Washington Post investigative reporter Philip Pan, presents moving portraits of several victims of China’s corruption-tainted economic growth. Pan also draws attention to the few brave souls – mostly journalists and lawyers – who at great personal risk to their careers, and occasionally to their lives, dared to unmask egregious wrongdoing by local officials and their underlings. Unlike Chen and Wu, whose case studies are drawn exclusively from rural China, Pan selects his vignettes from a broad array of contemporary Chinese settings, from the well-connected real estate tycoon who ordered the eviction of hundreds of Beijing residents in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics, to the unscrupulous township officials in East China who forced local women to undergo late-term abortions so they could meet their birth-control quotas, to the bravery of a lone army surgeon who dared to violate a government-imposed curtain of silence about the burgeoning 2003 Sars epidemic in China. In these and other vignettes, Pan catalogues typical abuses of official power in post-reform China, while calling attention to a handful of true Chinese heroes who bravely exposed these misdeeds. In doing so, he vividly illuminates the dark side of China’s developmental miracle, while at the same time helping us to rekindle our faith in the ultimate decency and humanity of those ordinary Chinese who dare to speak truth to power.

There does seem to be a general apathy toward politics among China’s young people, including college students. They say they’re not much interested in it.

That’s the comfortable thing to say. When pain is administered for asking inconvenient questions, most people learn to stop asking them. As I noted earlier, the party-state has been brilliant at buying off, co-opting, or, when all else fails, intimidating systemic opposition to its rule. After the disastrous Tiananmen debacle of 1989, for example, most Chinese college students retreated, shell-shocked, from politics. A few years later, in 1992, Deng Xiaoping offered them a tacit bargain: ‘We’ll give you undreamed of opportunities to pursue a rewarding career, a well-paying job, and all the good things in life; but in return you must agree not to challenge the authority of the party-state or its leaders.’ Not surprisingly, most Chinese students accepted Deng’s offer, opting to enjoy the benefits of this ‘get along, go along’ mentality. And there has been precious little student activism ever since.

What’s your sense of where the whole thing is headed?

I’m caught between these bookends that I described earlier. Some days I wake up and I think Minxin Pei has got it right, and other days I think Yang Dali has got it right. There’s simply no relevant precedent for what is happening in China. To date there has been no example of a successful, evolutionary post-Leninist transition. There have been a number of radical anti-Leninist overthrows and pro-Leninist backlashes, but nowhere else has there been a sustained effort to graft a modern, developed market economy on to the political framework of a one-party Leninist dictatorship. I’m just not sure it can be done.

I don’t want to sound too pessimistic. Maybe China does have a shot at emerging from all of this with a coherent political system that is not recognisably democratic in the Western sense. Maybe a kinder, gentler version of neo-Confucian paternalism can soften the iron fist of Leninism without forcing the party-state to relinquish its power monopoly. But I have my doubts that the current, corrupted relationship between political Leninism and bureaucratic capitalism is tenable in the long run.
Read about the other books Baum discussed at The Browser.

Out of Mao’s Shadow appears on Jeffrey Wasserstrom's list of "thematic pairs of [China] books that are particularly effective when read together."

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Five top books of narrative non-fiction

Catherine S. Manegold was a reporter for the New York Times, Newsweek and the Philadelphia Inquirer before turning her attention to longer works. Her books are Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North and In Glory’s Shadow: The Citadel, Shannon Faulkner and a Changing America.

She discussed five top books of narrative non-fiction with Daisy Banks at The Browser, including:
A Civil Action
by Jonathan Harr

Tell me about ... A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr.

This book incorporates less history. Instead, it is just a whiz-bang narrative about a lawyer who takes up the cause of a small New England town that is host to a mysterious rash of cancer deaths. The narrative revolves around Jan Schlichtmann, a Boston lawyer who uncovers an environmental crisis and traces culpability up the chain to several multinational corporations responsible for the mess. As the reader follows Schlichtmann in his crusade, Harr uses the case and Schlichtmann’s obsession with it, to educate us about chemistry, cancer clusters, illegal dumping, environmental degradation and the law. Here again, a seductive narrative yanks the reader in, then great research and reporting leave the reader wholly changed. No one reading this book could ever think about ground pollutants and illegal dumping the same way again. That’s the beauty of it: Who would ever go to a bookstore and say to the clerk: ‘Gee, today I’d really like to sink into a 500-page book on cancer clusters, dead children and irresponsible industry executives.’ In the hands of a writer like Jonathan Harr, however, the education is a treat.
Read about the other books on the list.

A Civil Action is one of trial lawyer John Quinn's five best list of books about trial lawyers at work.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 11, 2013

Top ten magical objects in fiction

Conrad Mason is the author of the children’s novel The Demon’s Watch, and other books.

One entry on his list of the top ten magical objects, as told to the Guardian:
Seven League Boots (Bartimaeus by Jonathan Stroud)

These handy boots turn up in a lot of stories, but I like them best in Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus trilogy. They're worn by the mercenary Verroq and have a magical djinni locked up in each boot, allowing the wearer to cover vast distances with every stride.
Read about the other entries on the list.

See Jonathan Stroud's favorite fantasy books.

Writers Read: Jonathan Stroud (July 2007).

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Top ten journeys across the Mediterranean and Caspian seas

James Marriott and Mika Minio-Paluello are the authors of The Oil Road – Journeys from the Caspian Sea to the City of London.

For the Guardian they named a top ten list of literary journeys that follow "crude oil from deep beneath the Caspian Sea as it is pumped through the Caucasus Mountains, over the Anatolian Plateau, across the Mediterranean and Adriatic to Trieste, and onwards over the Austrian Alps to Bavaria," including:
The Odyssey

The King of Ithaca's adventures remain vivid after 2,700 years. But for those Greek navigators who first read it, The Odyssey was already an ancient tale. Its world had come to a sudden end. Deforestation and agricultural methods had led to rapid soil erosion. A shifting climate produced harsh droughts in the Aegean. With the collapse of the Mycenaean Bronze Age went its trade arteries.

As the archaeologist Barry Cunliffe notes in Europe between the Oceans, these city-states relied on maintaining "a constant flow of the commodities used in diplomacy and trade". Climatic shift and environmental devastation destroyed the world that Homer described. The history of The Odyssey is a woeful lesson on the impact of climate change and the ecological limits of societies.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Odyssey also made Tony Bradman's top 10 list of father and son stories, John Mullan's lists ten of the best shipwrecks in literature, ten of the best monsters in literature, ten of the best examples of rowing in literature, and ten of the best caves in literature, as well as Madeline Miller's top ten list of classical books, Justin Somper's top ten list of pirate books, and Carsten Jensen's list of the top ten seafaring tales.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Ten songs inspired by books

At Publisher Weekly's PWxyz blog, Gabe Habash compiled a list of ten songs inspired by books, including:
1984 by George Orwell inspired “2+2=5″ by Radiohead

In addition to The Clash, Judas Priest, Stevie Wonder, Rage Against the Machine, Cheap Trick and many others, Orwell’s dystopia bible was a direct inspiration for Radiohead’s “2+2=5″ from Hail to the Thief. The song’s title is a reference to 1984‘s doublethink, in which logic does not matter as much as what authority tells you matters. Lyrics like “January has April’s showers” mirror the illogicality of Big Brother’s dictum. Bonus factoid: the alternate title for “2+2=5″ is “The Lukewarm,” a reference to the works of Dante, according to Thom Yorke.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Listen to “2+2=5″.

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

Also see: Ten best songs based on books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Five top books on spies, lies and foreign correspondents

Richard Beeston began his long and distinguished career as a foreign correspondent working for a clandestine Arabic radio station run by MI6 during the Suez War. From 1961 to 1986 he was the Daily Telegraph’s correspondent for Beirut, Nairobi, Moscow and Washington and in the late ‘80s the Daily Mail’s Washington correspondent. He has covered many significant world events, including the collapse of the Belgian Congo, East Africa’s post-independence upheavals, Middle East revolutions, the Vietnam War, Watergate and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Since 1990 he has worked as a freelance writer for The Times, Daily Telegraph and Saga Magazine.

In 2010 he discussed five top books on spies, lies and foreign correspondents with Alex Forsyth for The Browser, including:
The Master Spy
by Phillip Knightley

Finally we have The Master Spy, about the notorious third man, Kim Philby.

That’s a biography really. Knightley says he’s the only Western journalist to interview Philby in depth after his defection to the Soviet Union in 1963. He seems to have got closer to Philby than anyone else.

For the uninitiated, who was Philby?

Philby was probably the most successful spy the Soviet Union has ever had. Not only was he working for the Secret Intelligence Service, he was actually working for the section that dealt with operations against the Soviet Union. So he knew all the British spies and was able to communicate directly with the Soviets. When Burgess and Maclean, the Cambridge spies, defected to Russia the press came up with the allegation that Philby was the third man who tipped them off. So that’s how he got his title. He was the most formidable of the spies, perhaps in the Western world. The damage he did to British intelligence was amazing.

I knew Philby quite well. I was then the Middle East correspondent for the News Chronicle in Beirut. He arrived as The Observer correspondent after he had successfully denied the accusation that he was the third man.

Was he free of suspicion?

The SIS were not convinced he was a spy and were rather protective of him, but the CIA said if he remained in secret service they would not cooperate anymore with the British. So they were forced to sack him. But they themselves were not convinced that he was. So Philby was doing a little bit of espionage on the side. I think the men in charge of the station in Beirut suspected he was guilty.

You were close.

I became a good friend of his, our children went to the same school, we covered stories together.

After the first accusations fell, one dropped one’s suspicions about him and just accepted him as a friend and colleague. So when I was in Yemen and I heard the news that he had disappeared I couldn’t believe he’d gone off to Moscow – I thought someone had knocked him on the head.

Too close to see the whole picture?

Yes. I found him extraordinarily charming. After he defected, no one had heard of him for 15 years, and I happened to meet him at the Bolshoi, when I was the Moscow correspondent for the Telegraph. He was delighted to meet me and my wife because he wasn’t responsible for it, it was a chance meeting and he couldn’t get into any trouble. It was like meeting an old friend again.

Does Knightley give a fair and balanced account of Philby?

Yes, very. He goes through the Cambridge spy ring. I think quite a few of these Cambridge undergraduates were genuinely idealistic about things. The book describes him as ‘an establishment figure who betrayed the West, who decided to go against his class and his upbringing for what he believed to be the best and impeccable motives. And then spent most of his life cultivating two sides of his head.’ He had the most extraordinary double life. It’s a detailed account of his life and tries to explain his motives, which is hard to do.

How does Knightley go about painting those motives?

It was the political climate of the time; we were appeasing the fascists. He claimed in an interview: ‘I betrayed no one: I’ve always had the same employer (the Russians) and the same opinions, I was a straight penetration agent.’ I had a feeling he got a strange pleasure from betraying people, having a secret they didn’t know about. There was that element to him.
Read about the other books Beeston tagged at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, January 7, 2013

Five best books on the dark side of small towns

Stefan Kiesbye has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan. His stories and poems have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, and his first book, Next Door Lived a Girl, won the Low Fidelity Press Novella Award.

For the Wall Street Journal, Kiesbye named a list of five top books on the dark side of small towns, including:
Winesburg, Ohio
by Sherwood Anderson (1919)

Sherwood Anderson is a writer for whom the achingly mundane is a source of both cruelty and wonder. His "Winesburg, Ohio" is at once a love letter, an elegy and a disturbing portrait of 19th-century rural America. A work of singular eloquence, it is written in the sparest of prose—a style that inspired Hemingway. The protagonist, George Willard—a young reporter whom Anderson describes as "full of big words"—navigates the narrow streets and small ambitions of his hometown. He is earnest and ill-prepared for a world that requires more than his grand philosophical ideas, but he works and he absorbs. During his apprenticeship in Winesburg, he encounters heartbreak, seduction, shame and death. In the end, he says farewell to the town he has always known and to the daily presences in his life—like Butch Wheeler, "the lamp lighter of Winesburg, hurrying through the streets on a summer evening and holding a torch in his hand." Big-city life beckons. Willard understands that his own future, and his country's, lie elsewhere.
Read about the other books on the list.

Winesburg, Ohio is one of Anna Clark's 13 essential works of fiction to come out of the Midwest.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Publishers Weekly's 7 best SF/fantasy/horror titles of 2012

Publishers Weekly named its top science fiction/fantasy/horror titles of 2012.

One title on the list:
The Games
Ted Kosmatka (Del Rey)

Kosmatka's debut is a gripping and gory near-future thriller in which genetic engineering and jingoism prove to be a terrifying combination.
Read about the other titles to make Publishers Weekly's list.

Learn more about The Games and the author at Ted Kosmatka's website and blog.

Writers Read: Ted Kosmatka.

The Page 69 Test: The Games.

My Book, the Movie: The Games.

--Marshal Zeringue

The ten best Jane Austen characters

Paula Byrne's most recent book, published in January 2013 to mark the bicentenary of the first publication of Pride and Prejudice, is an innovative biography called The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things.

She named a list of the ten best Jane Austen characters for the Observer, including:
Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice

Elizabeth is Austen’s most beloved heroine and most modern girl, unfazed by wealth and status (she makes mincemeat of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in their stand-off), and frank and fearless in her opinions. Her ability to laugh at herself (and others) is one of her best traits. Her intelligence and wit make her a worthy mate for Mr Darcy. She is given some of the best one-liners in all of Austen, including this outrageous comment: “I expected at least that the pigs were got into the garden, and here is nothing but Lady Catherine and Her daughter.”
Read about the other Austen characters Byrne tagged.

Pride and Prejudice also appears on Robert McCrum's list of the top ten opening lines of novels in the English language, a top ten list of literary lessons in love, Simon Mason's top ten list of fictional families, Cathy Cassidy's top ten list of stories about sisters, Paul Murray's top ten list of wicked clerics, John Mullan's lists of ten of the best housekeepers in fiction, ten great novels with terrible original titles, and ten of the best visits to Brighton in literature, Luke Leitch's top ten list of the most successful literary sequels ever, and is one of the top ten works of literature according to Norman Mailer. Richard Price has never read it, but it is the book Mary Gordon cares most about sharing with her children.

The Page 99 Test: Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Five top memoirs

Calvin Trillin's books include Deciding the Next Decider, A Heckuva Job, Obliviously on He Sails, About Alice, and Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin.

One of his favorite memoirs, as told to Sophie Roell at The Browser:
The Liars’ Club
by Mary Karr

So your first pick is The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr. Why did you choose that to start with?

It’s one of my favourite memoirs. I think she manages to capture the city that she lived in, and its surroundings, beautifully – you can almost smell the oil refineries. I don’t believe she names the city, but it’s in that east Texas, Gulf Coast area where there are a lot of people who work on the rigs. So she captures that, and I felt it was an honest book. I give people a little leeway on memoirs. On regular non-fiction, I have orthodox views (or somewhere between Orthodox and Hasidic probably) – but when it comes to memoirs, I don’t really expect that the sentence that is being quoted from when the person was four years old, you can go to the bank with, but I feel it is their story. And I found hers essentially believable.

One of the reviews of Mary Karr’s book claimed it was the book that really kicked off the current vogue in memoirs

I’m not sure that’s true. There’s a book by one of the Mitford sisters, Jessica, called Hons and Rebels. That was written in the 1950s – so it’s a form that’s existed for a long time. What may be different about a lot of the recent memoirs is the writers are not necessarily well known. Mary Karr is a poet and poets in the United States, you don’t even have to say they are not well known because there aren’t any well-known poets. So I think that’s one difference between a memoir and an autobiography – the person doesn’t have to be a household name to write a memoir. Maybe Mary Karr’s book started that – the idea of somebody just having an interesting story.
Read about the other memoirs Trillin tagged at The Browser.

The Liars’ Club is one of Rebecca Ford's favorite five non-fiction books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, January 4, 2013

Top ten villainesses in literature

Emerald Fennell is a young British actor who recently appeared in Any Human Heart, the adaptation of William Boyd's bestselling novel. She plays Princess Merkalova alongside Keira Knightley and Jude Law in the film version of Anna Karenina. Shiverton Hall, her debut novel, began life as a television script.

Fennell named her top ten villainesses for the Guardian, including:
Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling

One of Hogwarts' many ill-chosen Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers, Dolores Umbridge is a kitten-loving sadist who thinks nothing of using cruel and unusual punishments to get results. This tiny tyrant is possibly my favourite character in the whole HP universe: there is nothing more terrifying than a torturer in a pink, fluffy cardigan.
Read about the other villainesses on the list.

Dolores Umbridge is one of Derek Landy's top 10 villains in children's books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Publishers Weekly's top children's fiction of 2012

Publishers Weekly named its top children's fiction of 2012.

One title on the list:
The Peculiar
Stefan Bachmann

Novels by teenage authors have become more common in recent years, but ones as dazzling as Bachmann's alternate history are rare. Fairies, steampunk mechanisms, and political subterfuge are the order of the day in Bachmann's version of Victorian England, which he describes in beguiling, detailed prose that establishes him as an author to be reckoned with—or at least thoroughly enjoyed.
Read about the other books on the list.

Visit Stefan Bachmann's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five great darknesses in literature

Stuart Kelly is the literary editor of Scotland on Sunday and a freelance critic and writer. He is the author of The Book of Lost Books and Scott-Land.

One of five great darknesses in literature he identified for the Guardian:

There's a dissertation to be done on Shakespeare and darkness. So many scenes depend upon it – from Henry V touring the troops incognito, to the Porter in Macbeth unwittingly realising his role in murkier deeds, to the "darkness" of the Dark Lady. Night in Shakespeare is different from darkness – night is where identities are confused, conflated and sometimes confiscated. The bed-trick in Measure for Measure or All's Well That Ends Well is predicated upon not being able to see whom you're shagging; A Midsummer's Night Dream doesn't work if they're all in a suburban dining room. The play where darkness is most frequently mentioned is one which would have been seen in full daylight: King Lear. Edgar, disguised as Poor Tom, can't keep darkness at bay: "did the act of darkness with her", "the prince of darkness is a gentleman", "an angler on the lake of darkness". But the profound Shakesperean darkness is in The Tempest, a play played indoors, like all the late plays, and like them, full of ambiguous reconciliation. "This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine" says Prospero to Caliban. Is this appropriation or reconciliation?
Read about the other darknesses Kelly identified.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

18 predictions for the year 2013 from science fiction

At io9 Lauren Davis looked at what science fiction books, television, comics, and movies say will happen in year 2013, including:
A Second Great Depression will trigger a massive crime wave in New York City (Rivers of Gold by Adam Dunn).

Dunn's 2010 novel also imagines an economically depressed near future for the United States, with the recession snowballing into the Second Great Depression. In New York, the results are devastating; 2013 sees the city's great restaurants, hotels, and theaters closed, a shantytown erected in Central Park, and many of the city's police officers laid off, leading to a massive spike in crime.
Read about the other predictions on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Five top novellas of unconsummated loves

André Aciman is the author of the novels Call Me by Your Name and Eight White Nights, the memoir Out of Egypt, and two books of essays.

He named his five favorite novellas of unconsummated loves for The Daily Beast. One title on the list:
White Nights
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

White Nights is also an elegy to a love that never was. A young man called “the dreamer” walks along the canals of St. Petersburg on one of those nights in June when the sun never sets, and meets the proverbial damsel in distress. She is waiting to meet a young man who had promised a year earlier to return from Moscow on that very night to marry her. It seems he has failed to show up, and the girl is weeping. The dreamer tries to help, and fends off a man who is about to accost her with lecherous intentions. The dreamer has no friends, lives alone, and leads the most superfluous life so brilliantly portrayed by so many Russian novelists. But faced with this girl, his hopeless life prospects are suddenly illuminated. When he comes back the next white night, there she is again. She tells him of her life, he of his, and the two are practically determined to spend the rest of their lives together. But on the fourth white night, her beau returns from Moscow and whisks her away, leaving our dreamer to dream away the tremulous romance that never was.
Read about the other titles on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue