Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Top ten books about cities

Leo Hollis was born in London in 1972, was educated at Stoneyhurst College and studied history at university. He is the author of number books on London including London Rising: The Men Who Made Modern London and Cities Are Good for You: The Genius of the Metropolis.

For the Guardian he tagged ten top books about cities, including:
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

A brilliant and tireless work of journalism set in the slums close to Mumbai airport. Katherine Boo spent time talking to and observing the many characters who are given such full life in her pages. She does not come up with easy solutions, nor does she turn away from horrors – yet she allows individual lives to have their own dignity. There has been so much debate about the informal city and the economic potential of slums that it is worthwhile recalling the people who live there and the challenges they face.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Learn about Hollis's list of five notable books on why cities are good for you.

Also see: The top 10 cities in literature, Simon Jenkins's five best books on cities, and Pete Hamill's five best books about cities.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 29, 2013

David Chase's six favorite books

David Chase is the creator of The Sopranos and the writer-director of the 2012 feature film Not Fade Away.

One of his six favorite books, as told to The Week magazine:
I, Claudius by Robert Graves

Graves's novel about Rome in the 1st century B.C. is a real trip back in time. When you're reading it, you want to go there every day. You want to follow events there, instead of the ones in your own life, because they're so startling.
Read about the other books on Chase's list.

I, Claudius also appears on Andrew Miller's top ten list of historical novels, Mark Malloch-Brown's list of his six favorite novels of empire, Annabel Lyon's top ten list of books on the ancient world, Lindsey Davis' top ten list of Roman books, and John Mullan's lists of ten of the best emperors in literature and ten of the best poisonings in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Danny Wallace's six best books

Danny Wallace is a writer, producer, and award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines. He has written a weekly column in the U.K. magazine ShortList since 2007, and his past books include Join Me and Yes Man, which was made into a feature film starring Jim Carrey.

Wallace's novel Charlotte Street was the third bestselling debut novel of 2012 in the U.K.

One of his six favorite books, as told to the Daily Express:
CASINO ROYALE by Ian Fleming

Where it all began, for Bond… and it's fascinating to see how far away the real James Bond is from the majority of the films. He's a thug, brutal, non-cerebral and pretty much just a human weapon. There's a lot of Ian Fleming in the spare prose, too.
Read about the other books on Wallace's list.

Casino Royale also made Mary Horlock's list of the five best psychos in fiction, John Mullan's list of ten of the best floggings in fiction, Meg Rosoff's top 10 adult books for teenagers list, and Peter Millar's critic's chart of top spy books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Five top books on artists who've captivated our culture

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on artists who have captivated our culture:
The Painted Girls
by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Who had a better eyewitness view of French master Edgar Degas than one of his ballerina muses, Marie van Boethem? Cathy Marie Buchanan imagines what adolescence may have been like for young Boethem during La Belle Époque, when she was immortalized in a number of Degas's renowned paintings and his only exhibited sculpture, Little Girl Aged Fourteen. Within, we are treated to glimpses of Degas at work, and of his subject's impressions of the Impressionist: "These girls, Monsieur Degas is saying, do not be tricked by the grace of their backs. These girls are of common stock."
Read about the other books on the list.

The Page 69 Test: The Painted Girls.

My Book, The Movie: The Painted Girls.

Writers Read: Cathy Marie Buchanan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 26, 2013

Top ten books about being different

Gillian Cross won the 1990 Carnegie Medal for Wolf and the 1992 Whitbread Children's Book Award for The Great Elephant Chase.

For the Guardian she named her top ten books that throw everything you think you know upside down, including:
River Town by Peter Hessler

Peter Hessler spent two years in China, teaching in a small town on the Yangtze, around fifteen years ago. He describes his day to day life and how he gradually came to feel at home in the town and make friends with local people. There are many more up-to-date books about China, but when I was in Beijing last month, this is the book everyone told me to read, to understand what life was like beyond the big cities.
Read about the other books on the list.

River Town also appears among Hilary Spurling's top ten Chinese books, Rory Stewart's favorite travel books, and Oliver August's five best guides to China and its history.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The ten greatest prison breaks in sci-fi & fantasy

Charlie Jane Anders, editor at io9, named the ten greatest prison breaks in science fiction and fantasy. Most are from film and television, but literary escapes include:
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Azkaban is the ultimate escape-proof wizard prison — guarded by Dementors and surrounded by the North Sea. Sirius Black is locked up there for years, trying over and over to break out, until finally he becomes the first wizard to get out. He finally manages to turn himself into his canine Animagus form, which is emaciated enough to slip through the bars and sneak past the Dementors undetected. Then he swims across the North Sea, nearly dying in the attempt. At last, he catches up with Harry Potter — only to be suspected of wanting to kill him.
Read about the other prison breaks.

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 Katharine Trendacosta and Charlie Jane Anders's list of the ten greatest personality tests in sci-fi & fantasy, 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 Cressida Cowell's list of ten notable mythical creatures and 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. The Burrow is one of Elizabeth Wilhide's nine most memorable manors in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ten of the best books set in Barcelona

Malcolm Burgess is the publisher of Oxygen Books' City-Lit series, featuring writing on cities including Berlin, Paris, London, Amsterdam, Venice and Dublin.

For the Guardian, in 2011 he named ten of the best books set in Barcelona, including:
Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind, 2001

The marvellous gothic literary thriller, set in the aftermath of the Spanish civil war, that leaves no Barcelonan carrer or plaça unvisited!

"Els Quatre Gats was just a five-minute walk from our house and one of my favourite haunts … Inside, voices seemed to echo with shadows of other times. Accountants, dreamers, and would-be geniuses shared tables with the spectres of Pablo Picasso, Isaac Albéniz, Federico García Lorca and Salvador Dalí."
Carrer Montsió
Read about the other books on the list.

Learn about Carlos Ruiz Zafón's top 10 20th-century gothic novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ten of the best Shakespeare characters

Today is Shakespeare's birthday. For the Guardian, in 2012 Robert McCrum came up with a list of the ten best Shakespeare characters, including:
The Nurse: Romeo and Juliet

Juliet’s nurse is a character who seems to have stepped straight off the high street in Stratford. It’s quite a small role, only 9% of the text, according to the RSC Shakespeare, but it gives the obsessive, all-consuming passion of the star-cross’d lovers a vital human counterpoint. The nurse is as garrulous as Polonius but grounded in everyday life, with a heart of gold. A wonderful crowd-pleaser, she provides, for Shakespeare, a point of contact with the audience for whom this tragic version of Pyramus and Thisbe might seem, in Romeo’s own words, “too flattering-sweet to be substantial.”
Read about the other characters on the list.

Also see: Ten notable Romeo and Juliet stories.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 22, 2013

Five top books on growing up in the Anthropocene

"The essential idea behind [the term "Anthropocene"]," writes Caspar Henderson, author of The Book of Barely Imagined Beings, "is that the impact of humanity as a whole on the Earth system – notably through destruction of natural habitats and a rapid increase in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases – is now so great as to mark a new epoch in the history of life."

At The Browser, Henderson tagged five top books on growing up in the Anthropocene, including:
Storms of My Grandchildren by James Hansen.

Henderson: There are many good books for the general reader about the science, the politics, the economics and the psychology of climate change, and it is invidious to single out one or even a few. The Discovery of Global Warming by Spencer Weart, Field Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert, Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air by David McKay, Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, and Eaarth by Bill McKibben are among those worth attention. Greg Craven, a high school science teacher in the US, developed his excellent talks on YouTube into a book called What's the Worst that Can Happen?, and I'd also recommend that.

But if I had to recommend just one book it would be James Hansen's Storms of My Grandchildren because it is, simultaneously, a good introduction to the science, a first-hand account of what it's like to be on the receiving end of attempted sabotage by political operatives who know nothing about the science, and a very human call for action. The book is dedicated to his grandchildren, Sophie and Connor, for whose future he fears in a rapidly warming world.  It also contains a manifesto for  how to address the challenges which, whether or not one agrees with every detail, is as good as any of the necessarily brief outlines you can find in books of this kind.

Hansen, who has just announced that he is stepping down as Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, is a distinguished climate scientist, but one of the things that really marks him out is his passionate commitment to making change happen. Hansen has been unusually outspoken among scientists for a long time. He first came to prominence in 1988, when he testified to the US Senate that he was “99% confident” that the Earth was warming because of human-made greenhouse gases.  He stood up to the administration of George W. Bush when it tried to censor him. And he's put himself on the line, being arrested for demonstrating against mountain top removal mining.  He has been a clear and authoritative voice against the Keystone pipeline, which would bring oil from the highly polluting Athabasca tar sands in Canada to US refineries.  It is precisely because he wants to commit himself full time to activism that he has stood down from his scientific work.

Hansen has been criticised for giving undue stress to the more extreme scenarios within the range of probability if we fail to drastically reduce emissions greenhouse gases. He fears an extinction event comparable to the “great dying” at the end of the Permian period 252 million years ago is a real risk. He's also criticised for being unrealistic in calling for emissions of greenhouse gases to be limited such that atmospheric concentrations do not exceed 350 parts per million – a goal adopted by the campaign group 350.org. These criticisms are worth entertaining but in an unreasonable world, where the functional stupidity of our societies and governments with regard to climate and environment is greater even than the dysfunction embedded in regulation of financial systems before the crash of 2007, a little unreasonableness may be the most reasonable thing.  Hansen has earned the right to speak. We should listen.
Read about the other books Henderson tagged at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Five top autobiographical works putatively devoted to other subjects

Sarah Manguso's memoir is The Guardians: An Elegy for a Friend.

One of her five favorite examples of autobiographical writing putatively devoted to other subjects, as told to The Daily Beast:
Monster in a Box by Spalding Gray

Monster is a dramatic monologue, in Gray’s own words “a monologue about a man who can’t write a book about a man who can’t take a vacation.” Plagued by his unfinished 1,800-page novel, the eponymous Monster, Gray seeks to escape it through constant travel. Yet wherever he goes—as it is said—there he is, contained in a Protestant halo of exquisite self-awareness.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Five best books on lovers touching hands

André Aciman is the author of Out of Egypt (1995) and, most recently, Harvard Square, a novel.

One of his five best books on lovers touching hands, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
The Red and the Black
by Stendhal (1830)

The story of a young man's rise in 19th-century Paris would proceed along predictable lines if it weren't layered with Stendhal's piercing genius. He takes Julien Sorel, a naïve carpenter's son from the provinces, and hurls him into a universe of treachery and double-dealing. Torn between the army and the church, Julien, who has no less kindness than gumption in his heart, settles for seduction. One evening he reaches for the hand of his employer's wife. Shocked but unwilling to cause an uproar, she withdraws it. The next evening, he vows to try holding her hand again or else blow his brains out. When they are both sitting out in the garden, he reaches for it, and again she pulls away. Undaunted, he seizes her hand and holds it with "convulsive strength." This is not an amorous pass but a martial siege. Stendhal never says outright that she yields; rather he says something that only the passive voice conveys in English: "A final effort was made to withdraw it, but in the end, this hand remained in his." It turns out the lady was more in love with Julien than he ever dreamed. As for his feelings, the jury is still out.
Read about the other books on the list.

The Red and the Black is among John Banville's five best books on early love and the flush of infatuation, Warren Adler's five best books about ambition, and Norman Mailer's top ten works of literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 19, 2013

Ten picture books that would make great puppet shows

Polly Dunbar is co-founder of the UK-based puppet company Long Nose News. She and Katherine Morton have adapted four picture books into stage shows.

For the Guardian, Dunbar named ten other picture books that would make great puppet shows, including:
In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

This is a dark and twinkly book, and transports the reader in a theatrical, almost dreamlike way. The kitchen/cityscape evokes a stage set, the menacing bakers have a "Laurel and Hardy" air about them; I like that they might eat Mickey – the boy hero who finds himself in their cookery – at any moment. The whole audience would chant "Milk in the batter, milk in the batter, we bake cake and nothing's the matter" like a spell. Baking smells would waft out over the audience; everybody would be given a freshly-baked cake as they emerged from the dark theatre out in to the daylight. "And that's why thanks to Mickey we have cake every morning."
Read about the other stories on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Ten novels featuring mythical countries

In Partial Disgrace, a novel by the late Charles Newman more than twenty years in the writing, is being published by Dalkey Archive this spring. The book concerns an imaginary Central European nation, Cannonia. Its editor, Ben Ryder Howe, came up with a list of ten novels featuring mythical countries for Publishers Weekly. One entry on the list:

The setting of Nostromo, Joseph Conrad’s acid 1904 political novel about a revolution-torn, resource-cursed country plagued by the meddling of cynical and idealistic Westerners. Since it combines aspects of Colombia, Peru and most of all Panama (none of which Conrad ever visited, interestingly), its location is thought to be somewhere along the coastline of northern South America.
Read about the other mythical countries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ten top book endings

Jessica Soffer earned her MFA at Hunter College. Her work has appeared in Granta, the New York Times, and Vogue, among other publications. She teaches fiction at Connecticut College and lives in New York City.

Her new novel--her debut--is Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots.

For Publishers Weekly Soffer shared ten of her favorite endings in books, including:
Atonement by Ian McEwan

All’s fair in love and postscripts and novel writing about novel writing. Or isn’t it? The jury is still out. McEwan’s novelist narrator gives us a version of things, and then takes that version away when she reveals having imagined the series of events she’s just put forth as true. “WTF,” you might say. Or else, “Really? She (the narrator) can do that? He (McEwan) can do that?” Did it. Done. So whether you feel duped or vindictive or gullible or disappointed, it is certain that McEwan’s ending will make you reconsider the novel’s first 300 pages, how you read them, how you maybe should have, how you trusted the narrator, and how you trust the people you trust. You won’t fall so easily next time, or maybe—in McEwan’s hands—you will.
Read about the other entries on Soffer's list.

Atonement also appears on Jane Ciabattari's list of five masterpieces of fiction that also worked as films, and on John Mullan's lists of ten of the best birthday parties in literature, ten of the best misdirected messages in literature, ten of the best scenes on London Underground, ten of the best breakages in literature, ten of the best weddings in literature, and ten of the best identical twins in fiction. It is one of Stephanie Beacham's six best books.

Visit Jessica Soffer's website.

Writers Read: Jessica Soffer.

My Book, The Movie: Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Top ten worst sex scenes in modern literature

One title on the Telegraph's list of the ten worst sex scenes in modern literature:
I Am Charlotte Simmons, by Tom Wolfe (2004)

“Slither slither slither slither went the tongue, but the hand that was what she tried to concentrate on, the hand, since it has the entire terrain of her torso to explore and not just the otorhinolaryngological caverns.”
Learn about the other titles on the list.

I Am Charlotte Simmons is on Panayiota Kuvetakis's list of ten of the best wild parties in literature.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 15, 2013

Five top Hollywood biographies

Carl Rollyson, Professor of Journalism at Baruch College, has published more than forty books ranging in subject matter from biographies of Marilyn Monroe, Lillian Hellman, Martha Gellhorn, Norman Mailer, Rebecca West, Susan Sontag, and Jill Craigie to studies of American culture, genealogy, children’s biography, film, and literary criticism. He has authored more than 500 articles on American and European literature and history. His latest books are Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews, a biography of Dana Andrews published in September 2012, and the biography American Isis: The Life and Death of Sylvia Plath, released in January 2013.

One of Rollyson's favorite Hollywood biographies, as told to the Wall Street Journal:
The Unruly Life of Woody Allen
by Marion Meade (2010)

It is hard to pull off an unauthorized biography of a living figure, but Marion Meade does so with aplomb. Her painstaking research results in a concise and penetrating account (originally published in 2000 and recently revised) of Woody Allen's career and working habits. We learn, for example, about the different drafts of his masterpiece, "Annie Hall," which Allen wanted to title "Anhedonia"—until test audiences reacted with "blank stares." The book argues that, after "parading his insecurities, phobias, and deep self-deprecation," the filmmaker came ever closer to his audience, who could see themselves or parts of themselves in this endearing character or, more precisely, in his problems. Meade views "Hannah and Her Sisters" as the best of his achievements, with its beautifully crafted screenplay that shrewdly maintains its focus on character while exploring the heart of family relationships. She doesn't flinch from describing the scandal that erupted when he was discovered in an affair with Mia Farrow's 19-year-old adopted daughter—but this biography concentrates on this distinguished filmmaker's tireless pursuit of his art.
Read about the other books on Rollyson's list.

Visit Carl Rollyson's website, blog, and Facebook page.

The Page 99 Test: American Isis.

My Book, The Movie: American Isis.

The Page 99 Test: Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ten great stories of epic power struggles

At io9, Katharine Trendacosta and Charlie Jane Anders came up with a list of ten great tales of epic power struggles.

One entry on the list:
The Plot Against America by Phillip Roth

Another alt-history novel, Roth's book envisions a world where Charles Lindbergh defeats FDR for re-election and may or may not be a Nazi puppet (but is definitely a Nazi sympathizer). It also features Walter Winchell leading an anti-Lindbergh movement and being assassinated by a possible American Nazi, with KKK help. Then there's a coup by the Vice President and history righting itself at Pearl Harbor. And then there's the German propaganda blaming a Jewish conspiracy for Lindbergh's disappearance and the Lindbergh baby kidnapping -- versus the reigning conspiracy theory that the Nazis were behind everything.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Plot Against America appears on Steven Amsterdam's list of five top books on worry, Stephen L. Carter's list of five top presidential thrillers, and David Daw's list of five American presidents in alternate history.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Maya Angelou's six favorite books

For The Week magazine, poet and memoirist Maya Angelou named six works that influenced her in her life and career, including:
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Early on, I was so impressed with Charles Dickens. I grew up in the South, in a little village in Arkansas, and the whites in my town were really mean, and rude. Dickens, I could tell, wouldn't be a man who would curse me out and talk to me rudely.
Read about the other books on Angelou's list.

A Tale of Two Cities also appears on Alice-Azania Jarvis's reading list on revolutions, Paulette Jiles's list of her 12 favorite books, and John Mullan's list of ten of the best doppelgängers in fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 12, 2013

Top ten heroes in disguise

Laura Powell spent most of her childhood with her nose in a book, studied classics at University and then worked at a publishing company. Her books for young adults include the highly acclaimed Burn Mark and its sequel Witch Fire, forthcoming in the US early this summer.

"Heroes have a tendency to hide from the world," Powell writes in the Guardian. "They often have to conceal a secret power or identity; sometimes it's their true nature that's disguised, sometimes just their appearance."

One of Powell's ten favorite heroes in hiding:
Sir Percy Blakeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

Sir Percy is the Bruce Wayne of the French Revolution: a rich playboy with a double life spent rescuing people from the guillotine. He's a master of disguise, a dashing swordsman, schemer and escape artist. But to the world at large, he's just another posh nincompoop. Swashbuckle-tastic!
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is among Justin Scroggie's top ten books with secret signs and Peter Millar's six top spy books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Top ten books on grieving

Helen Humphreys is the author of four books of poetry, six novels, and two works of creative non-fiction. Her most recent work of non-fiction is Nocturne (2013), a memoir about the life and death of her brother, Martin.

One entry from her top ten list of "writing that best reflects, and consoles, the experience of loss," as told to the Guardian:
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

This novel tells the story of the adult Bundren children, on their way, by horse and cart, to bury their mother, Addie, in Jefferson, a town 40 miles away from where she has died. The family travel with the body of their mother in a coffin built by the carpenter son, Cash, and each of the children narrates a part of the journey. It is a beautiful and lyrical look at grief, told by a chorus of mourners.
Read about the other entries on the list.

As I Lay Dying is on John Mullan's list of ten of the best teeth in literature, Jon McGregor's list of the top ten dead bodies in literature, Roy Blount Jr.'s list of five favorite books of Southern humor, and James Franco's six best books list.

The “My mother is a fish.” chapter in As I Lay Dying is among the ten most notorious parts of famous books according to Gabe Habash.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Five top lectures on writing

Gish Jen, author of Tiger Writing: Art, Culture, and the Interdependent Self, is the author of four novels, including Typical American, Mona in the Promised Land, and World and Town.

For The Daily Beast she named her favorite lectures on writing, including:
Lectures on Literature
by Vladimir Nabokov

Take, for example, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature. Insisting that “Style and structure are the essence of a book; great ideas are hogwash,” he flies with serene ecstasy in the face of academic dogma, caressing instead the details of a work: the routes of Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom through Dublin in James Joyce’s Ulysses, the wax on the dancing slippers of the eponymous heroine in Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. “There is no such thing as real life for an author of genius,” he maintains, there is only “the pleasurable shock of artistic truth.” As for whether we agree, exactly, never mind. The lectures and their argument are themselves such a pleasurable shock, we can only be charmed and enlightened.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The ten best small towns in books

Brad Tyer's new nonfiction book, Opportunity, Montana: Big Copper, Bad Water, and the Burial of an American Landscape, is about restored rivers, familial disappointment, and sacrificial landscapes.

For Publishers Weekly, Tyer tagged “'10 [Small Towns in Books] That Made An Impression On Me,' whether they treat a town where I’ve lived, a town I barely recognize from the off-ramp, or a town that exists nowhere but the map of some reader’s imagination," including:
The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry

Part 1 of what came to be a trilogy—with Texasville and Duane’s Depressed—centered on the fictional but thoroughly precedented town of Thalia, Texas. That’s not the suburban Texas I grew up in, but if I’ve seen that one-block town square and imagined that movie-house open for business once, I’ve seen and imagined it a thousand times. And it’s more alive today in McMurtry’s book than it will ever be again on actual Texas soil.
Read about the other entries on Tyer's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 8, 2013

Ten influential authors who came to the US as immigrants

At the Christian Science Monitor Ben Frederick came up with a list of ten influential authors who came to the US as immigrants, including:
Vladimir Nabokov

Vladimir Nabokov was born in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, but his family was forced to leave during the Bolshevik revolution. They lived in France and Germany until 1940, when fear of the advancing German troops drove them to the United States. In the US, Nabokov taught at Harvard and Cornell Universities and at Wellesley College. In 1955 he published "Lolita," his most famous novel, about a man in love with a 12-year-old girl. "Lolita" is considered by many scholars to be one of the best English-language novels of the 20th century. The list of authors influenced by Nabokov's work is longer than one of his books.
Read about the other authors on the list.

Nabokov's Pnin made Matthew Kaminski's list of the five best novels about immigrants in America.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Top ten John le Carré novels

John le Carré has published over twenty novels. In October 2008 on BBC Four he told Mark Lawson that his best novels were The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Tailor of Panama, and The Constant Gardener.

For the Telegraph, Jon Stock named his ten favorite le Carré novels, including:
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1963)

The plot of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold is assembled with more precision than a Swiss watch. The heartless way in which Alec Leamas is manipulated; Control's ruthless playing of Mundt and Fiedler; and of course the dramatic ending on the Berlin Wall, immortalised in the film starring Richard Burton. My favourite le Carré, it gets better with each re-read.
Read about the other novels on Stock's list.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is among the Barnes & Noble Review's list of five top books on The Cold War, Charles Cumming's best books, and Keith Jeffery's five best books about Britain's Secret Service.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Five best books on scientists in World War II

Stephen Budiansky is the author of fourteen books about military history, intelligence and espionage, science, and the natural world. His most recent book is Blackett’s War, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 2013.

For the Wall Street Journal he named a list of the five best books on scientists in World War II, including:
The Making of the Atomic Bomb
by Richard Rhodes (1986)

In this epic history of the Manhattan Project, Richard Rhodes seamlessly weaves perceptive and very human portraits of J. Robert Oppenheimer and other key scientists together with a thorough understanding of the technical challenges they faced and the political and military context in which they operated. Rhodes does the almost impossible—not only making nuclear physics clear (and exciting!) but reconstructing the story as it unfolded to those who lived through it. His finely wrought chapter recounting the first test of the bomb makes clear that the scientists themselves were never entirely sure until the very end that their audacious undertaking would succeed. In the awed moments after the blast, physicist Kenneth Bainbridge congratulated Oppenheimer and the other Los Alamos leaders—then observed, "Now we are all sons of bitches."
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb is on Jon Gertner's list of six notable books about science and tech, William Rosen's five best list of books about inventions, and Michael Evans's list of six top books on nuclear war.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, April 5, 2013

Top ten books featuring grandparents

Sarah Moore Fitzgerald's debut novel Back to Blackbrick features a boy who lives with his grandparents. Published in the UK in February by Orion, Back to Blackbrick will be released in the US in September 2013 by Simon & Schuster. An academic and associate vice president at the University of Limerick by day, Fitzgerald writes novels late at night under cover of darkness.

One of the author's top ten books featuring grandparents, as told to the Guardian:
Holes by Louis Sachar

There's lots in this brilliantly told story, including the very unlucky Stanley Yelnats's "no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing" great great grandfather, along with entertaining and clever lessons about character, karma and family curses.
Read about the other entries on Fitzgerald's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The ten greatest personality tests in sci-fi & fantasy

At io9 Katharine Trendacosta and Charlie Jane Anders came up with the ten greatest personality tests in science fiction and fantasy.

One entry on the list:
Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick

Unlike the Turing Test, which tries to distinguish between machine intelligence and human intelligence, the Voight-Kampff test looks for emotional acuity. Using a device to measure autonomic responses, like a sort of lie detector, the tester then asks the suspected Replicant a series of questions designed to test for empathy. In the movie, they involve a poor turtle on its back in the desert, who needs Leon's help.
Read about the other entries on the list.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? also appears on John Mullan's list of ten of the best titles in the form of questions, Charlie Jane Anders and Michael Ann Dobbs's list of ten classic sci-fi books that were originally considered failures and Robert Collins's top ten list of dystopian novels.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Five memorable dystopias in fiction

Lawrence Norfolk is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Lemprière’s Dictionary, The Pope’s Rhinoceros, In the Shape of a Boar, and John Saturnall's Feast. He lives in London.

One of five memorable dystopias in fiction Norfolk tagged for the Daily Telegraph:
Neal Stephenson’s Anathem (2008) details the adventures of a young monk-scholar who exchanges monastic seclusion to plumb the mysteries of his thrice-devastated world. The denouement is an outrageous piece of plot-trickery but Stephenson pulls it off.
Read about the other books on Norfolk's list.

Anathem made Annalee Newitz's list of ten top works of science fiction that are really fantasy.

Also see Annalee Newitz's list of ten great American dystopias, Robert Collins' top ten list of dystopian novels, and Gemma Malley's top 10 list of dystopian novels for teenagers.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ten top novels for newcomers to crime fiction

At Kirkus Reviews, J. Kingston Pierce named ten top novels for readers looking for an introduction to the glories of crime fiction, including:
The Gods of Gotham, by Lyndsay Faye (2012)

[T]o represent the burgeoning subgenre of historical mysteries, I recommended this quick-stepping thriller about a fire-disfigured bartender, Timothy Wilde, who in 1845 joins the embryonic New York Police Department. Right away, Wilde gets mixed up with a young girl who’s fled one of the town’s higher-end brothels, covered in blood and claiming to know the whereabouts of a concealed graveyard for abused children.
Read about the other books on Pierce's list, and follow his insights into crime fiction at The Rap Sheet.

Learn more about The Gods of Gotham at Lyndsay Faye's website.

Writers Read: Lyndsay Faye (April 2012).

The Page 69 Test: The Gods of Gotham.

--Marshal Zeringue

Six top books on gardening

One title on the Barnes & Noble Review's list of six top books on gardening:
American Grown: The Story of the White House Garden and Gardens Across America
by Michelle Obama

A book born from the First Lady's planting of her own kitchen garden in 2009, American Grown proves a multifaceted conversation-starter about the satisfactions of growing one's own food, as well an inquiry into good health and nutrition worldwide, citing instances of gardening as community outreach through the United States. Despite an address at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Obama proves a humble and determined guide, walking readers through her own botanical trials and errors -- and unique recipes -- with an admirable ardor for all things arbor.
Read about the other entries on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, April 1, 2013

Top ten books on Afghanistan

William Dalrymple's books include several works of history and travel, including City of Djinns, which won the Young British Writer of the Year Prize and the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; the best-selling From the Holy Mountain; White Mughals, which won Britain’s most prestigious history prize, the Wolfson; and The Last Mughal, which won the Duff Cooper Prize for History and Biography. His new book is Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42.

One of Dalrymple's top ten books on Afghanistan, as told to the Guardian:
The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright

Wright's acclaimed book contains by far the most rounded biographical portrait of the central figures of al-Qaida, and how they took root in Afghanistan. It is also a beautifully written and wonderfully compelling narrative. Wright is especially revealing about Bin Laden's own personality: his naivety, egalitarianism and surprising austerity — a rare example of a Saudi billionaire prepared to move to the rigours of Afghanistan and undertake hard manual labour and to live in comfortless, rigorous poverty. Still the best of the many books on 9/11.
Read about the other entries on the list.

The Looming Tower also made Marjorie Kehe's list of eight worthy 9/11 books and the Christian Science Monitor's list of seven books about Osama bin Laden.

Also see: Five top books on foreigners in Afghanistan; Five books on Afghanistan; and Five best books about Afghanistan.

--Marshal Zeringue