Thursday, July 31, 2008

Pg. 99: Charles Barber's "Comfortably Numb"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Charles Barber's Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation.

About the book, from the publisher:
Public perceptions of mental health issues have changed dramatically over the last fifteen years, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the rampant overmedication of ordinary Americans. In 2006, 227 million antidepressant prescriptions were dispensed in the United States, more than any other class of medication; in that same year, the United States accounted for 66 percent of the global antidepressant market. In Comfortably Numb, Charles Barber provides a much-needed context for this disturbing phenomenon.

Barber explores the ways in which pharmaceutical companies first create the need for a drug and then rush to fill it, and he reveals that the increasing pressure Americans are under to medicate themselves (direct-to-consumer advertising, fewer nondrug therapeutic options, the promise of the quick fix, the blurring of distinction between mental illness and everyday problems). Most importantly, he convincingly argues that without an industry to promote them, non-pharmaceutical approaches that could have the potential to help millions are tragically overlooked by a nation that sees drugs as an instant cure for all emotional difficulties.

Here is an unprecedented account of the impact of psychiatric medications on American culture and on Americans themselves.
Among the praise for Comfortably Numb:
“In Charles Barber's compelling new book, "Comfortably Numb: How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation," the author contends that we underwent a major shift in attitudes toward mental illness and medications…Barber brings a street-smart perspective to all this…[and he] offers something several of the other books don't: practical, therapeutic alternatives to antidepressants.”

“A fine, informed writer on cultural history as well as neuroscience, psychotherapy, and economics, Barber convincingly argues against the overprescription of psychiatric drugs in the United States and sums up the history of U.S. psychiatry from the asylum to the community to glitzy but still elementary neuroscience. A blockbuster essential for all libraries.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“A sharply critical look at the way antidepressants are marketed and prescribed in the United States . . . Barber articulately and persuasively counsels that it’s time to abandon the quick-fix, pop-a-pill approach.”

Comfortably Numb chronicles the extraordinary psychopharmaceuticalization of everyday life that has arisen in recent years and appears to be growing apace. Barber marks out the inconvenient truths on our path to emotional climate change but also offers alternatives to readers who wish to avoid pharmageddon.”
—David Healy, author of Let Them Eat Prozac

“In this passionate yet fair-minded book, Charles Barber explores the disturbing medicalization and medication of unhappiness in America today. The author understands that while medication has an important role to play in the treatment of severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, Big Pharma has seduced Americans into believing they need drugs for the normal sorrows of life. Almost 70 percent of antidepressants worldwide are sold in the U.S. The author asks the critical question of whether Americans are crazier than the rest of the world or whether we have simply developed a crazy dependency on legal drugs.”
—Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason
Read an excerpt from Comfortably Numb, and learn more about the book and author at Charles Barber's website.

Charles Barber was educated at Harvard and Columbia and worked for ten years in New York City shelters for the homeless mentally ill. The title essay of his first book, Songs from the Black Chair, won a 2006 Pushcart Prize. His work has appeared in the New York Times and Scientific American Mind, among other publications, and on NPR. He is a senior administrator at The Connection, an innovative social services agency, and a lecturer in psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine.

The Page 99 Test: Comfortably Numb.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Jonathan Segura's "Occupational Hazards"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Occupational Hazards by Jonathan Segura.

About the book, from the publisher:
Bernard Cockburn is a beat reporter for the Omaha Weekly News-Telegraph. His boss has him chasing dead-end stories on real estate and county funding irregularities when he'd rather be working on that handful of neglected exposés in his bottom desk drawer -- or self-medicating in the apartment he shares with an on-again, off-again girlfriend.

Then Cockburn finds himself at a bloody crime scene in downtown Omaha and uncovers a lead in what soon becomes the only story worth pursuing, one that just might pull him down and keep him there for good. From street level to small-town bureaucracy, and even the staff at the paper, a vigilante league is intent on cleaning up the ghetto for profit, even if it means killing a few people to get it done -- an elaborate conspiracy too unbelievable for newsprint.

Like the detectives of all great noir, Cockburn's got a past that threatens to invade his present at any moment. Work has become a diversion from his personal life; but almost no one knew about his connection to the death of his best friend's little sister, and now he's begun receiving disconcerting blackmail threats.

Debut novelist Jonathan Segura has all the right instincts when it comes to plotting a relentless and tightly packed story. Darkly funny at times, and even wryly emotional, Occupational Hazards is a sharply observant, suspenseful read from a new and worthy writing talent.
Among the praise for Occupational Hazards:
"Bernard Cockburn, a beat reporter in his early 30s for the Omaha Weekly News-Telegraph, pounds the fearsome streets of Omaha, Neb., in Segura's crisp, raunchily amusing debut...With an emphasis on the protagonist's angst, Cockburn is the sort of dysfunctional dude-immature, posturing, hapless-that will keep readers intrigued and should appeal especially to fans of Chuck Palahniuk and Arthur Nersesian."
Publishers Weekly

"Twenty-something Bernard Cockburn is a dead-end guy in a dead-end job: a drug-fuddled, rather lazy burnout who works as a crime reporter for a weekly newspaper. Yet in the way of noir heroes, he has a doggedness that could be either a sneaky integrity or just another kind of self-destructiveness. [Segura] handles the hard-boiled conventions with unusual resourcefulness....Best of all, this hero stays stubbornly anti; there's no magical late-book, fast-paced, cleverly plotted and with a gritty and persuasive city setting -- an auspicious debut."
Kirkus Reviews

"[A] savagely funny first novel...The beauty of [Occupational Hazards] is Segura's ability to walk a line between the comedy and the horror of Burn's story. He's a true louse and a world-class cynic, but he's a better man than the corrupt officials and vice lords he's out to nail. Plus he's one hell of a funny narrator. For long stretches, the plot fades into the background and we simply enjoy (if we are so inclined) Burn's portrayal of his deplorable life and the toxic world he inhabits."
Washington Post

"Occupational Hazards boasts a punchy yet world-weary voice, a tight plot, and a seedily realistic depiction of rampant corruption in present-day Omaha—kind of like a shotgun wedding of Elmore Leonard and Chuck Palahniuk."

"[A] wildy little book that pops just often enough to make you think Jonathan Segura will do less deputy editing for Publishers Weekly and more novel writing."
New York Observer
Read an excerpt from Occupational Hazards, and learn more about the author and his work at Jonathan Segura's website.

Segura is the deputy reviews editor of Publishers Weekly and holds a master's degree in fiction writing from Columbia University.

The Page 69 Test: Occupational Hazards.

--Marshal Zeringue

Danny Fingeroth: top ten graphic novels

Danny Fingeroth is an American comic book writer and editor. His latest book is The Rough Guide to Graphic Novels.

For the Guardian, he selected his top ten graphic novels. Fingeroth's criteria, and one book from his list:
"[F]or my top 10, I decided to take the crème de la crème, the graphic novels that I most enjoyed. These are graphic novels, some famous, some less well-known, that do what all great literature does, in that they give you such a pleasurable experience while reading that you're simultaneously eager to uncover the ending, yet also dreading it, knowing that the experience will then be over."

* * *
Stop Forgetting to Remember by Peter Kuper

In Stop Forgetting to Remember, writer-artist Peter Kuper takes his own advice to heart, delving into memories as a means to understanding the present. The book is subtitled The Autobiography of Walter Kurtz, but it soon becomes apparent that this is really the thinly veiled autobiography of Kuper himself. Kuper's merging of a photo of himself with a drawing of Kurtz on the book's jacket is just one of many clues that this is the case.
Read about Number One on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What is Toni Jordan reading?

The current featured contributor to Writers Read: Toni Jordan, author of Addition.

About Addition, from the publisher:
Grace Lisa Vandenburg counts.
The letters in her name (19). The steps she takes every morning to the local café (920); the number of poppy seeds on her slice of orange cake, which dictates the number of bites she'll take to finish it. Grace counts everything, because numbers hold the world together. And she needs to keep an eye on how they're doing.

Seamus Joseph O'Reilly (also a 19, with the sexiest hands Grace has ever seen) thinks she might be better off without the counting. If she could hold down a job, say. Or open her kitchen cupboards without conducting an inventory, or make a sandwich containing an unknown number of sprouts.

Grace's problem is that Seamus doesn't count. Her other problem is...he does.

Addition is a fabulous debut novel. Grace is witty, flirtatious and headstrong. She's not a bit sentimental but even so, she may be about to lose track of the number of ways she can fall in love.
Addition was released at the start of the year in the U.K. and Australia. It will be published in the U.S. by Morrow in February 2009.

Find out what Toni Jordan has been reading.

Writers Read: Toni Jordan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Ed Lynskey's "Pelham Fell Here"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Ed Lynskey's Pelham Fell Here.

About the book, from the publisher:
Ex-MP and part-time gunsmith Frank Johnson finds his cousin Josh Chapman killed by a twelve-gauge shotgun. Enraged, Frank wants some answers, and fast. Was Josh involved in an arms smuggling scheme?

The mystery grows when a pair of murderous deputy sheriffs ambush Frank. Killing them in self-defense, Frank must take it on the lam while he continues his investigation.

Eventually he discovers a group of Neo-Nazis, holed up at a remote castle, who may be behind his cousin's murder. Luckily, a couple of bounty hunter pals throw in with Frank to even up the odds.
Among the praise for the novel:
"Ed Lynskey's new novel PELHAM FELL HERE is a delight. With a plot as complex as your grandmother's crocheted doilies, Mr. Lynskey creates a portrait of the rural hill country that rings as true as the clank of a Copenhagen can on a Pabst Blue Ribbon can, as does his handle on guns, love, and betrayal. This is a novel well worth the read and makes me want more."
—James Crumley, Hammett Award winning author of The Last Good Kiss

"Ed Lynskey's PELHAM FELL HERE is as hard-bitten and hard-boiled as they come. The dialogue crackles with such sharpness that you'd swear sparks were jumping off the pages. And P.I. Frank Johnson is a character cut from the Tarantino mold: tough, wounded, conflicted, and bad-ass. Pick up a copy today!"
—James Rollins, New York Times bestselling author of The Judas Strain

"PELHAM FELL HERE is a gritty, fascinating thriller with colorful characters, snappy dialogue and plenty of plot twists. Ed Lynskey has created an interesting hero with Frank Johnson, a man with a mission who becomes a man on the run after killing some crooked cops. PELHAM FELL HERE kept me guessing--and on the edge of my seat."
—Kevin O'Brien, New York Times bestselling author of One Last Scream

"Nobody captures rural America like Ed Lynskey . . . a thoroughly engrossing and satisfying read."
—Anne Frasier, USA Today bestselling author of Pale Immortal

"Ed Lynskey writes in a voice utterly unique to the crime genre. His language cracks like a whip. His dialogue pops like fireworks on the Fourth. In PELHAM FELL HERE, he's crafted a story Indiana Jones would kill for, full of humor, action, neo-Nazi thugs, and the marvelous countryside of rural Virginia. If you haven't read this guy, drop everything right now and do it. You'll be very happy you did."
—William Kent Krueger, Anthony Award winning author of Thunder Bay

"Ed Lynskey's followup to THE BLUE CHEER is another lean, tough slice of rural noir. Lynskey reminds us that for every mean street in the city, there's an equally mean dirt road out where the buses don't run. The writing is pure joy to read; he can evoke more powerful imagery with a single perfectly chosen phrase than most writers can with a half page of descriptive prose. Strong stuff, but always satisfying."
—J.D. Rhoades, author of Safe and Sound
Read an excerpt from Pelham Fell Here, and learn more about the book and author at the publisher's website.

Ed Lynskey is the author of Pelham Fell Here, The Dirt-Brown Derby, The Dirt-Brown Derby, Out of Town a Few Days, and A Clear Path To Cross (all detective mysteries). His work has also appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Washington Post, and New York Times.

Ed Lynskey's The Blue Cheer, the movie.

The Page 69 Test: The Dirt-Brown Derby.

The Page 99 Test: Pelham Fell Here.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pg. 69: Francie Lin's "The Foreigner"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Francie Lin's The Foreigner.

About the book, from the publisher:
Set against the Taiwanese criminal underworld,The Foreigner is Francie Lin's audacious debut novel. A noirish tale about family, fraternity, conscience, and the curious gulf between a man's culture and his deepest self

Emerson Chang is a mild mannered bachelor on the cusp of forty, a financial analyst in a neatly pressed suit, a child of Taiwanese immigrants who doesn't speak a word of Chinese, and, well, a virgin. His only real family is his mother, whose subtle manipulations have kept him close--all in the name of preserving an obscure idea of family and culture.

But when his mother suddenly dies, Emerson sets out for Taipei to scatter her ashes, and to convey a surprising inheritance to his younger brother, Little P. Now enmeshed in the Taiwanese criminal underworld, Little P seems to be running some very shady business out of his uncle's karaoke bar, and he conceals a secret--a crime that has not only severed him from his family, but may have annihilated his conscience. Hoping to appease both the living and the dead, Emerson isn’t about to give up the inheritance until he uncovers Little P's past, and saves what is left of his family.

The Foreigner is a darkly comic tale of crime and contrition, and a riveting story about what it means to be a foreigner--even in one's own family.
Among the praise for The Foreigner:
"Genre-wise, 'The Foreigner' is best described as a thriller, rife with murders, drugs, secrets and betrayals. But you won't find any of the cardboard characters, clunky writing or clichéd conventions that too often mar suspense fiction. Lin is equally attentive to description and plot. As Emerson walks down the street one day, he notes that the sky "moved above me with the threat of solemnity and grace. A bird sang two high notes in the black slate landscape." The executor of his mother's estate is a "tall, cadaverous man with a voice that rasped like a twig." It's that lovely, detailed writing that makes you care about what happens to these characters more than you might have otherwise."
--Carmela Ciuraru, Los Angeles Times

"In Lin's stunning debut, a crime novel set in Taiwan, Emerson Chang, a 40-year-old virgin who's a financial analyst, travels from San Francisco to Taipei on a quest to scatter his mother's ashes and re-establish contact with his shady younger brother, Little P, who's been bequeathed the family hotel. At a meeting with Little P, Chang encounters two peculiar cousins, Poison and Big One, as well as Little P's devious friend, Li An-Qing (aka Atticus), who's anxious to get Little P to sell the family hotel to him. Emerson soon finds himself mixed up in machinations involving Atticus and extortion due to Little P's unsavory dealings. In addition, Emerson loses his job back in California, and the property he's inherited in Taipei turns out to have its own mysteries. Chang's distinctive voice propels a strong and original plot, with horrifying revelations. Taut, smart and often funny, this novel will satisfy readers of thrillers and general fiction alike."
--Publishers Weekly

"Crime fiction that tells us about life in mainland China have become so common (such authors as Lisa See and Qiu Xiaolong are among the leading practitioners) that it comes as a surprise to realize how little we know about what goes on in the darker streets of Taiwan. Fortunately for us, Francie Lin -- a Harvard graduate and a former editor of The Threepenny Review -- spent two years in Taiwan on a Fulbright Fellowship, which doubtlessly planted in her mind the idea for her absolutely riveting debut thriller.... Lin catches the flavor of the Taiwanese world -- especially its underworld -- with great skill. But she is best at combining her action scenes with touching moments of memory...."
--Dick Adler

"[Francie Lin] demonstrates an admirable range and skill in "The Foreigner." She's capable of writing both marvelous humor and scenes of utter darkness in her tale of a naive man at a complete loss for dealing with the world."
--Irene Wanner, San Francisco Chronicle
Learn more about The Foreigner at the publisher's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Foreigner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Cristina García: most important books

Cristina Garcia was born in Havana and grew up in New York City. Her first novel, Dreaming in Cuban, was nominated for a National Book Award. Her other books include the recently released, A Handbook to Luck.

She told Newsweek about her five most important books, and addressed two related issues:
A book you always return to:

Juan Rulfo's "Pedro Paramo" grows more mysterious and miraculous with each reading, and reminds me the dead continue to live among us.

A book you hope parents will read to their kids:

Norton Juster and Jules Feiffer's "The Phantom Tollbooth." I missed this as a kid but read it to my daughter some years ago. We were both hooked.
Read about García's most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, July 28, 2008

What is Alexander Waugh reading?

The latest contributor to Writers Read: Alexander Waugh, whose books include Classical Music, A New Way of Listening (1995), Time (1999), God (2002), Fathers and Sons (2004), and the forthcoming The House of Wittgenstein: A Family at War.

He reviews books regularly for most of the major British newspapers and has contributed cartoons to the Literary Review and the Daily Telegraph. His biography Fathers and Sons, a portrait of the male relations in his own family, was made into 90-minute documentary film by BBC 4. In 2006 he presented another documentary called The Piano – a Love Affair also for BBC 4.

His theatre piece Bon Voyage! (co-written with his brother Nathaniel) won the 12th Vivian Ellis Award for Best New Musical. As a classical record producer he has been responsible for a host of prize-winning discs including five MRA Awards and a French Grand Prix du Disque. As a publisher of the innovative fold-up Travelman Short Stories he won the Design Council Millennium Award for 2000.

One book he tagged:
Boswell's Life of Johnson which I never read as a youth. There's a wonderful letter in it that Johnson wrote to a women seeking his assistance in getting her son a place to study at Winchester. She wants him to write to an archbishop whom he does not know, on behalf of her son whom he has yet to meet. Johnson writes to let her down: "Hope is itself a species of happiness and perhaps the chief happiness which this world affords; but like all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expatiated by pain; and expectations improperly indulged, must end in disappointment." I am not sure how much I like Johnson though I see he is admirably quick and intelligent. The most interesting aspect of this book is the fluctuating relationship between the subject and his obsessive, sometimes drooling, sometimes catty biographer. [read on]
Alexander Waugh is the grandson of Evelyn Waugh and the son of columnist Auberon Waugh and novelist Teresa Waugh. He has been the opera critic at the Mail on Sunday and the Evening Standard.

Related: Alexander Waugh: books on father-son relationships.

Visit Alexander Waugh's website.

Writers Read: Alexander Waugh.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Iain Gately's "Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Iain Gately's Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol.

About the book, from the publisher:
A spirited look at the history of alcohol from the dawn of civilization to the twenty first century

For better or worse, alcohol has helped shape our civilization. Throughout history, it has been consumed not just to quench our thirsts or nourish our bodies but also for cultural reasons. It has been associated since antiquity with celebration, creativity, friendship, and danger, for every drinking culture has acknowledged it possesses a dark side.

In Drink, Iain Gately traces the course of humanity’s 10,000 year old love affair with the substance which has been dubbed “the cause of—and solution to—all of life’s problems.” Along the way he scrutinises the drinking habits of presidents, prophets, and barbarian hordes, and features drinkers as diverse as Homer, Hemmingway, Shakespeare, Al Capone, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. Covering matters as varied as bacchanals in Imperial Rome, the gin craze in 17th century London, the rise and fall of the temperance movement, and drunk driving, Drink details the benefits and burdens alcohol has conveyed to the societies in which it is consumed. Gately’s lively and provocative style brings to life the controversies, past and present, that have raged over alcohol, and uses the authentic voices of drinkers and their detractors to explode myths and reveal truths about this most equivocal of fluids.

Drink further documents the contribution of alcohol to the birth and growth of the United States, taking in the war of Independence, the Pennsylvania Whiskey revolt, the slave trade, and the failed experiment of National Prohibition. Finally, it provides a history of the world’s best loved drinks. Enthusiasts of craft brews and fine wines will discover the origins of their favorite tipples, and what they have in common with Greek philosophers and medieval princes every time they raise a glass.

A rollicking tour through humanity’s love affair with alcohol, Drink is an intoxicating history of civilization.
Among the praise for Drink:
“A grand, always engaging survey of the role of booze in both cultural and social history.”

“The history of the Western world as seen through the prism of booze, glorious booze… A heady cocktail.”

“Ambitious… the author works in such far-flung cultural materials as the plays of Alfred Jarry and Budweiser’s ’80s mascot, Spuds McKenzie. In the end, Gately ranges so wide and deep that this may become a classic reference on the subject.”
Publishers Weekly

Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol, is thorough, informative, briskly readable and witty. It is likely to be enjoyed more by those who take the occasional (or more than occasional) drink than by those who do not, but a central theme should be of interest to all readers: Like it or not, alcohol has been and always will be with us, an important part of human history, culture and society.”
Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
Read more about Drink at the publisher's website.

Iain Gately's books include Tobacco: A Cultural History of How an Exotic Plant Seduced Civilization. Raised in Hong Kong, he studied law at Cambridge University and worked in the financial markets of London.

The Page 99 Test: Drink.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Ayelet Waldman's "Love and Other Impossible Pursuits"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Ayelet Waldman's Love and Other Impossible Pursuits.

About the book, from the publisher:
In this moving, wry, and candid novel, widely acclaimed novelist Ayelet Waldman takes us through one woman’s passage through love, loss, and the strange absurdities of modern life.

Emilia Greenleaf believed that she had found her soulmate, the man she was meant to spend her life with. But life seems a lot less rosy when Emilia has to deal with the most neurotic and sheltered five-year-old in New York City: her new stepson William. Now Emilia finds herself trying to flag down taxis with a giant, industrial-strength car seat, looking for perfect, strawberry-flavored, lactose-free cupcakes, receiving corrections on her French pronunciation from her supercilious stepson – and attempting to find balance in a new family that’s both larger, and smaller, than she bargained for. In Love and Other Impossible Pursuits Ayelet Waldman has created a novel rich with humor and truth, perfectly characterizing one woman’s search for answers in a crazily uncertain world.
Among the praise for the novel:
"How a five-year-old manages to make the adults in his life hew to the love he holds for them is the sweet treat in this honest, brutal, bitterly funny slice of life. When Emelia's day-old daughter, Isabel, succumbs to SIDS, her own life stalls. She can't work; she can't sleep; Central Park, once her personal secret garden, now is a minefield of happy mother-child dyads. Since Isabel's death, husband Jack's only solace for the guilt of breaking up his sexless marriage with Carolyn for Emelia's (now-absent) passion and love is joint custody of William, now five. What Emelia cannot bear most are Wednesdays, when she must cross the park to collect William at the 92nd Street Y preschool and take another shot at stepmotherhood. Carolyn, William's furious mother and a renowned Upper East Side OB/GYN, lives to nab Emelia for mistakes in handling him. Carolyn's indicting phone calls raise the already sky-high tension in Jack and Emelia's home, but they don't compare with Carolyn's announcement that, at age 42, she is pregnant. The news pushes Emelia to confess to Jack two things she shouldn't. William is charmingly realized, and Waldman (Daughter's Keeper) has upper bourgeois New York down cold. The result is a terrific adult story."
--Publishers Weekly

"Love and Other Impossible Pursuits is a beautiful novel...If you are not moved to tears, then your heart is carved from wood."
--Andrew Sean Greer, author of The Confessions of Max Tivoli

"I had a great time reading Love and Other Impossible Pursuits ...The heroine was a great accomplishment...and William (her stepson) is a triumph."
--Diane Johnson, author of Le Divorce

"I read this book in one sitting...Ayelet Waldman is that good."
--Sherman Alexie, author of Ten Little Indians

"One of the sweetest and smartest and most poignant novels I've read in a long time. It's also very funny."
--Chris Bohjalian, author of Midwives and Before You Know Kindness
Read an excerpt from Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, and learn more about the author and her work at Ayelet Waldman's website.

Ayelet Waldman is the author of Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, Daughter's Keeper, and the Mommy-Track Mysteries. Her personal essays have been published in a wide variety of periodicals, including the New York Times, Elle Magazine, and the Guardian.

The Page 69 Test: Love and Other Impossible Pursuits.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top 10 books on Beijing

Catherine Sampson, a crime novelist who lives in China, named her top 10 books on Beijing for the Guardian.

Her preface, and one book from the list:
"Beijing is about to become host to what will be one of the most fascinating Olympics ever. I first came to Beijing in 1981, more than a quarter of a century ago. It was a sleepy place, where you couldn't get a taxi and the streets were full of bicycles. Restaurants were staffed by snapping waitresses and closed at eight o'clock. Because of astounding economic growth and because of the Olympics, the city has been transformed - but with restrictions on visas, traffic and public gatherings, Beijing could look like the world's most over-built ghost town come August. Great swathes of old alleyway housing and street markets have been demolished to make way for some of the world's most audacious skyscrapers and stunning sports facilities. But the history of this city is one of sometimes murderous political struggles. These ten novels and collections of short stories are rich in satire, and in metaphors for political oppression. Most of the books below are written by Chinese writers who have chosen to live abroad in order to write freely about their country."
* * *
The Last Empress by Anchee Min

This is fictionalised history. Anchee Min has taken one of the most notorious women in Chinese history, the empress Dowager Cixi, and has turned her into a surprisingly accessible heroine. Drawn in by the first person narrative, the reader is taken into the heart of imperial life and witnesses first hand the life and death struggles between those who would open to the west and those who would turn China in on itself. It is a struggle that continues today in Zhongnanhai, the Communist party compound which occupies part of the old imperial palace. Anchee Min lives in California.
Read about the book that topped Sampson's list.

Read about Sampson's top 10 list of Asian crime fiction.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Jarad Henry's "Blood Sunset," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: Jarad Henry's Blood Sunset.

The entry opens:
My second crime novel is Blood Sunset, a hard boiled police procedural about a murdered street kid who was involved in recruiting other street kids for a child porn racket. The central character is Detective Sergent Rubens McCauley, attached to the Criminal Investigation Unit in St Kilda, Melbourne's bay side red light district and an area with one of the highest crime rates in Australia. The title refers to the sunsets that occur during the summer months, when crime and violence is especially high.[read on]
View the trailer for Blood Sunset.

Read an excerpt from Blood Sunset, and learn more about the author and his work at Jarad Henry's website.

Jarad Henry is an Australian crime writer. His first murder mystery, Head Shot, which was inspired by Melbourne’s gangland killings, was short listed in the 2006 Ned Kelly Awards for Best First Crime Novel. As a manuscript, it was also short listed in the 2004 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Blood Sunset, his second novel, was short listed in the 2006 Australian Vogel Awards and in the same year won the Fellowship of Australian Writers Jim Hamilton Award.

My Book, The Movie: Blood Sunset.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: John Darnton's "Black and White and Dead All Over"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: John Darnton's Black and White and Dead All Over.

About the book, from the publisher:
Bad news is brewing in the inner sanctum of the New York Globe, the city’s long-standing newspaper of note, whose back is to the wall. Readership, advertising, and circulation are plummeting—along with the paper’s vaunted standards—and the cost cutters have their knives out. But trouble of a wholly different kind begins one rainy September morning when a powerful editor is found murdered in the newsroom, with the spike that he’d wielded to kill stories hammered into his chest. The problem for Priscilla Bollingsworth, the young, ambitious female NYPD detective assigned to the case—besides the fact that the mayor is breathing down her neck—is that there are too many suspects to choose from.

She teams up with Jude Hurley, a clever, rebellious reporter, and together they navigate the ink-infested waters whose denizens include the paper’s resentful old guard, scheming careerists, a bumbling publisher, a steely executive editor, and a rival newspaper tycoon named Lester Moloch. But the waters thicken considerably when more bodies turn up, dead all over.

Armed with the firsthand knowledge he has acquired through forty years in journalism, John Darnton conjures up the cynicism and romanticism of the profession and gives us a cunning, pitch-perfect portrait of the declining—if not yet murderous—newspaper industry. Black and White and Dead All Over is a satirical mystery that entertains from first to last.
Among the early acclaim for the novel:
"Who killed the editor? A venerable New York newspaper becomes a crime scene in this multifaceted, gloriously entertaining thriller... Tingling suspense powered by Darnton's love for his battered profession."
Kirkus, starred review

"A rollicking newsroom farce."
–Keir Graff, Booklist

William Randolph Hearst meets Agatha Christie... Loaded with subtle social commentary and wry humor, this highly intelligent whodunit will keep readers guessing."
Publishers Weekly

"What a great ride. Think of Evelyn Waugh's Scoop and Ben Hecht's Front Page and add a murder thriller that gives insight into the workings of a great newspaper. It should be required reading for anyone who cares about news and what's happening to it."
–Nick Pileggi

"This may be the most entertaining novel about newspapers since Michael Frayn's The Tin Men."
–Joseph Lelyveld

"A mystery with as many heart-thumping twists and turns as a roller coaster."
–Ken Auletta
Read an excerpt from the novel, and learn more about the author and his work at John Darnton's website and his blog.

John Darnton has worked for forty years as a reporter, editor, and foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He was awarded two George Polk Awards for his coverage of Africa and Eastern Europe, and the Pulitzer Prize for his stories that were smuggled out of Poland during the period of martial law. He is a best-selling author whose previous novels include Neanderthal and The Darwin Conspiracy.

The Page 99 Test: Black and White and Dead All Over.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Stella Rimington's 5 best books about spies in Britain

For the Wall Street Journal, former MI5 director-general Stella Rimington named a five best list of books about spies in Britain.

One book on her list:
Elizabeth's Spymaster
By Robert Hutchinson
St. Martin's/Thomas Dunne, 2007

In 1570, when Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth for refusing to return England to the Roman Catholic fold, conditions ripe for intrigue soon developed. Elizabeth's Catholic subjects were feeling conflicted loyalties; the pope's action had made attacks on England by Catholic countries more likely; and some co-religionists of Elizabeth's Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, were conspiring to put her on the throne. As Robert Hutchinson relates in "Elizabeth's Spymaster," the English queen countered with Francis Walsingham, who for two decades operated what was effectively England's first counter-intelligence service, with tentacles stretching across Europe and agents throughout England. He ensnared Mary and forced her execution, and later provided intelligence that helped defeat the Spanish Armada. Walsingham was ruthless -- but as a spymaster deadly effective, smashing several conspiracies. He and his team were adept in the arts still essential to counter-intelligence: code breaking, surveillance, message interception and the "turning" of hostile agents.
Read about another book on Rimington's list.

Stella Rimington's latest novel, Illegal Action, is out this month from Knopf.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Steven Wingate reading?

The latest featured contributor to Writers Read: Steven Wingate, author of Wifeshopping (Houghton Mifflin, 2008) which won the 2007 Bakeless Prize in fiction from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

One book he tagged:
Allah Is Not Obliged by Ahmadou Kourouma (Random House, 2006). For those who found the hullaballoo surrounding Ishmael Beah’s memoir A Long Way Gone excessive, Allah Is Not Obliged is a brilliant fictional answer. In this novel we follow Birahima, a ten-year-old boy soldier, as he travels with an inept sorcerer named Yacouba through a variety of African civil wars. Traded from one side to another, threatened regularly with death, and routinely pumped full of drugs, Birahima somehow manages to retain some sense of his own humanity despite the madness that swirls about him. A phantasmogoric picaresque, this novel reads like a modern day version of Denis Diderot’s 18th century classic Jacques the Fatalist and His Master (which in itself is a perverted take on Don Quixote) or a very, very sordid Candide. Kourouma died before his work was translated from its original French into English, but mark my words: two decades from now, when we look back at the millennial literature of Africa, Allah Is Not Obliged and its author will stand tall. P.S.: This is a great airport novel, and only people who are serious about literature will strike up a conversation with you if they see it in your hands. [read on]
About Wingate's Wifeshopping, from the publisher:
An honest, absorbing debut fiction collection, Wifeshopping centers on the ultimate human quest: the search for companionship, love, and understanding. These captivating stories feature American men, love-starved and striving, who try and often fail to connect with the women they imagine could be their wives. Some of the women are fiancées, some are new girlfriends, some are strangers who cross the men’s paths for only a few hours or moments.

In “Beaching It,” an artist traveling on the summer circuit begins an affair with a rich, married local. In “Me and Paul,” a lonely traveler adopts an alter ego to help him impress a single mother. In “Bill,” a trip to a flea market highlights the essential differences between a man and his fiancée. Throughout this thoroughly entertaining read, Wingate’s sympathetic characterizations reveal both the hopefulness and the heartache behind our earnest but sometimes misguided attempts at intimacy.
Read more about Steven Wingate and his work at his website, his blog, his Facebook page, and his MySpace page.

Writers Read: Steven Wingate.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Phillip DePoy's "The Drifter's Wheel"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Phillip DePoy's The Drifter's Wheel.

About the book, from the publisher:
Fever Devilin, born and raised amongst the hill country folk of the Georgia Appalachians, left home a long time ago and pursued an education, then a career, in the wider outside world. A folklorist by inclination and profession, he left the strange world of academia behind to return to his family-home in the if-anything-stranger mountain town he grew up in. But oddness follows Fever wherever he goes and Blue Mountain, Georgia is no different.

When a man shows up at his house, claiming to be over a hundred years old even though he looks like he’s in his 30’s, Fever is pretty sure his guest is not right. When the man starts to wave a gun around, then falls suddenly asleep immediately afterward, Fever thinks he’s both "not right" and "dangerous" and slips out to call the sheriff. The sheriff, Fever’s childhood friend, has been hearing reports of this particular vagrant all day but before he can get out there, the man disappears.

In the early morning, the body of man that fits the description of the mysterious vagrant is found by the side of the road, shot to death. But, although the body is wearing the same clothes that the vagrant was, it isn’t the same person.
Among the early praise for the novel:
"Mountain folk taunt a folklorist by wandering down a corridor of eternity. Fever Devilin, who reluctantly returned to Blue Mountain, Ga., when his Atlanta university excised his folklore department (A Widow's Curse, 2007, etc.), is visited one night by a man claiming to have killed his own brother. Not recently, mind you, but in the Civil War era. Many stories later this same man claims to have killed his brother again during World War I. Now he's back again to have a third go at him. He sprints away before Devilin can grasp either him or his full story. The next Devilin hears of his visitor, Sheriff Skidmore Needle wants Devilin to identify the man's dead body. The victim, however, turns out not to be the confessed killer, but someone who looks enough like the killer to pass for his brother. Strangely, Hovis Daniels, an old-timer living in a shack on property belonging to the time traveler's kinfolk, and Devilin's fiancee Lucinda, a hospital nurse, have also been visited. Thus begins a race through revenant country, in which brothers smite each other, families pass down gold-in-these-hills legends and holding on to prisoners and sanity is complicated by apple brandy moonshine. Storytelling at its best: a beguiling mystery that's almost impossible to figure out or put down. And if you're looking for wit, check out the exchanges between Devilin and his pal Winton Andrews."
--Kirkus (starred review)

"At the start of DePoy's atmospheric fifth novel to feature folklorist Fever Devilin (after 2007's A Widow's Curse), an intense and nervous young man claiming to be 100 years old arrives at Devilin's home in the Georgia Appalachians. The visitor vividly recounts his time in the brothels in Chicago when the tango was new and his experiences in the trenches of WWI. But when the man starts waving a gun around just before slipping into a narcoleptic sleep, Devilin thinks it best to call in expert assistance. The stranger disappears before the sheriff arrives; several hours later, the body of a drifter turns up nearby wearing the same clothes as Devilin's visitor. Devilin is determined to solve the crime and uncover whether the murder victim and the peculiar storyteller are one and the same. Unsettling and engaging throughout, this solidly enjoyable tale will keep readers guessing until the end."
--Publishers Weekly

"The arrival of a young man at Fever Devilin's house in Blue Mountain, GA, upsets the folklorist's quiet life. The stranger ends up dead, but Fever is convinced that the deceased man is not the one who visited him. Investigating this puzzle leads Fever to unraveling the secrets held by a reclusive but influential family in the area and the possibility that the stranger is really a time traveler come back to murder again. As in his other outstanding mysteries (e.g., The Widow's Curse), DePoy's latest concocts a delicious brew of Southern culture laced with a dollop of the supernatural, topped by unexpected denouements leaving readers wanting more. Sure to appeal to patrons who enjoy Sharon McCrumb's Appalachian mysteries, this is highly recommended."
--Jo Ann Vicarel, Library Journal
Learn more about The Drifter's Wheel and its author at Phillip DePoy's website.

Phillip DePoy is the author of a number of mysteries, including the Shamus Award finalist Easy. He has published short fiction, poetry, and criticism in Story, The Southern Poetry Review, Xanadu, and Yankee, among other magazines. As a folklorist, he has worked with Joseph Campbell and John Burrison. Depoy is currently the director of the theatre program at Clayton State University.

The Page 69 Test: The Drifter's Wheel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, July 25, 2008

Pg. 99: Pat Willard's "America Eats!"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Pat Willard's America Eats!: On the Road with the WPA-The Fish Fries, Box Supper Socials, and Chitlin' Feasts that Define Real American Food.

About the book, from the publisher:
What the Sterns did for road food, Pat Willard does for festive American group eating in this exploration of our national cuisine, with a never-before-published WPA manuscript as her guide.

In America Eats! Pat Willard takes readers on a journey into the regional nooks and crannies of American cuisine where WPA writers—including Eudora Welty, Saul Bellow, Ralph Ellison, and Nelson Algren, among countless others—were dispatched in 1935 to document the roots of our diverse culinary cuisine. With the unpublished WPA manuscript as her guide, Willard visits the sites of American food’s past glory to rediscover the vibrant foundation of America’s traditional cuisine. She visits a booyah cook-off in Minnesota, a political feast in Mississippi, a watermelon festival in Oklahoma, and a sheepherders ball in Idaho, to name a few. Featuring recipes and never-before-seen photos, including those from the WPA by Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, and Marion Post Wolcott, America Eats! is a glowing celebration of American food, past and present.
Among the early praise for the book:
"America Eats! originated as a 1935 WPA project that sent out-of-work writers (mostly unknowns, but also some soon-to-be famous names like Eudora Welty and Ralph Ellison) to chronicle America's regional cuisine, focusing on the group-dining dynamic of church suppers, harvest festivals, state fairs, political rallies, lodge suppers, and any gathering where food took center stage--"In a nation inhabited by strangers, sharing a meal lessened the loneliness of wandering across unfamiliar landscapes." While bits and pieces of their work saw the light of day over the years, the project was never completed or published and was filed away in the Library of Congress like a culinary Ark of the Covenant until Brooklyn-based food writer Pat Willard used this national artifact as a roadmap for her own coast-to-coast tour to see if these traditions still exist (many, sadly, are long gone) and offer a contemporary update on the WPA's original observations. Sprinkled throughout with heirloom recipes (Root Beer, Pickled Watermelon Rinds, Chess Pie, Son-of-Gun Stew) and never-before-published vintage photos, America Eats! is a celebration of our nation's table and a welcome addition to the popular food lit genre. "It's nice to report that, when a community need arises, we're still inspired as a nation to pull out a big pot and start throwing into it a lot of ingredients, with the understanding that sharing a large batch of something delicious with neighbors and strangers alike is a fine and proper way to accomplish some good."
--Brad Thomas Parsons
, Amazon Best of the Month, July 2008

"The original America Eats! was written for the WPA by out-of-work writers during the Depression of the 1930s as an account of group eating as an important American social institution, the development of local, traditional cookery by churches and communities, fairs, festivals, rodeos, fund-raisers, rent parties and the like. It was never completed or published, but when food writer Willard (Secrets of Saffron) found the manuscript in the Library of Congress, she decided to follow the footsteps of the original writers to find what remained of these feasts, or a modern equivalent. The result is an interesting anthology of original WPA writing (most by unknowns, but often lively) and contemporary experience. Willard found Brunswick Stew (historically made with squirrel meat) in North Carolina and Virginia as well as versions of it in Minnesota (booya) and Kentucky (burgoo). Recipes (not always with squirrel) are given. There are still Melon Days in Colorado and Oklahoma, and an Apple Week in Washington State. Fewer homes have kitchen gardens now, and some fair food is distinctly modern (fried Twinkies), but Willard did find a wild-game dinner in Oregon and, of course, barbecue everywhere. Where there were once tobacco farms in traditionally dry Southern counties, Willard, in this engaging book, finds vineyards."
--Publishers Weekly

Willard "laments the differences between the WPA era and our own—the homogenization of our cities and the decline of home cooking—but her prose nonetheless rings with the poetry of American optimism. To the doomsayers who warn that the Golden Arches will soon erase the last vestiges of regional American cuisine, she says, 'I'm not a bubble-headed fool, I knew I'd encounter mountains of fried foodstuff and streams of rehydontrated, reconstituted, and carbonized concentrated something or other. But I was also dead certain I'd find plenty of goodness, too.' She did."
--Sarah Karnasiewicz, Saveur
Read an excerpt from America Eats!, and learn more about the author and her work at Pat Willard's website and her blog.

Pat Willard's books about food include: Pie Every Day, sited by Atlantic Monthly, Bon Appetit, and, as among the top ten cookbooks of 1997; A Soothing Broth (1999), about old recipes to feed the sick; and Secrets of Saffron, nominated as "Best Literary Cookbook in 2002" by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

The Page 99 Test: America Eats!.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top books about sporting rivalries

Richard Whitehead, the Deputy Editor of Books at the London Times, picked a critic's chart of the "top books about sporting rivalries."

One book on the list:
The Rivals by Johnette Howard

Chris Evert against Martina Navratilova had more sub-plots than Shakespeare at his most devious.
Read about another title on Whitehead's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: J.A. Jance's "Damage Control"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: J.A. Jance's Damage Control.

About the book, from the publisher:
On a beautiful sunny day in the Coronado National Monument, an elderly couple's car goes off the side of a mountain and into oblivion. The terrain is so rocky that a helicopter must be flown in to retrieve the bodies, and to make matters worse, a thunder-storm is looming on the horizon. Hours later and miles away, the subsiding rain reveals gruesome evidence: two trash bags containing human remains.

It's just another day in the life of Cochise County sheriff Joanna Brady.

Back at home, Joanna has a newborn baby, a teenage daughter, a writer husband, and a difficult mother to deal with. But in the field, it turns out that she has much more on her hands. The remains are those of a handicapped woman who had wandered away from a care facility with a suspicious track record. Another resident, with whom the woman may have been involved, has also been reported missing.

Meanwhile, a note is found in the glove compartment of the car lying twisted down the mountainside, stating that its occupants intended to take their own lives. Yet a contradictory autopsy report surfaces, and when the deceased's two daughters show up to feud over their inheritance, Joanna knows there is more to this case than just a suicide pact.

And she will go all out to find the truth—no matter where it leads.
Among the early praise for the novel:
"Sheriff Joanna Brady and her staff face a host of challenges while her husband, Butch, tends their infant son in bestseller Jance's solid 13th novel to feature the Cochise County, Ariz., cop (after Dead Wrong). A woman shoots a home intruder, an elderly couple drive their car off a cliff and a mysterious fire kills an older man and leaves three homeless. Were these accidents or something more sinister? When Det. Jaime Carbajal's nephew discovers a body in the desert, the investigation leads to a shady organization that operates halfway houses for troubled and disabled persons. Meanwhile, Joanna must deal with her interfering mother, who exhibits a sudden personality change, and the discovery of family secrets about her late father and late first husband. As usual, Jance beautifully evokes the desert and towns of her beloved southwest as well as the strong individuals who live there."
--Publishers Weekly
Browse inside Damage Control, and learn more about the author and her work at J.A. Jance's website and her blog.

The Page 69 Test: Damage Control.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pg. 99: Howard Jones' "The Bay of Pigs"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: The Bay of Pigs by Howard Jones.

About the book, from the publisher:
In January 1959, as Fidel Castro entered Havana in triumph, Americans hailed the revolutionary as a hero. Then came Castro's increasingly anti-American talk, the rise in his regime of the openly Marxist Che Guevara and Raul Castro, and seizures of American-owned assets. In little more than a year, President Dwight D. Eisenhower concluded that Castro must go.

In The Bay of Pigs, Howard Jones provides a concise, incisive, and dramatic account of the disastrous attempt to overthrow Castro. He deftly examines the train of missteps and self-deceptions that led to the invasion of U. S.-trained exiles at the Bay of Pigs. Ignoring warnings from the ambassador to Cuba, the Eisenhower administration put in motion an operation that proved nearly unstoppable even after the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. The CIA and Pentagon, meanwhile, both voiced confidence in the outcome of the invasion, especially after coordinating previous successful coups in Guatemala and Iran. As a vital part of the Cuban effort, the CIA sought to incite a popular insurrection by recruiting the Mafia's help in engineering Castro's assassination on the eve of the invasion. And so the Kennedy administration launched the exile force toward its doom in Cochinos Bay on April 17, 1961. Jones gives a riveting account of the battle--and the confusion in the White House--before moving on to explore its implications. The Bay of Pigs, he writes, set the course of Kennedy's foreign policy. It was a humiliation for the administration that fueled fears of Communist domination and pushed Kennedy toward a hardline cold warrior stance. But at the same time, the failed attack left him deeply skeptical of CIA and military advisers and influenced his later actions during the Cuban missile crisis.

Richly researched, vividly written, The Bay of Pigs offers an engaging and thoughtful account of the turning point in Kennedy's foreign policy and indeed in foreign policy for decades to come.
Among the praise for the book:
"A taut account of a dismal passage of the Cold War... With remarkable efficiency, Jones... examines all aspects of the debacle... May become the preferred single-source reference to an episode whose foreign policy and military implications continue to reverberate."
--Kirkus Reviews

"Extensively researched and cogently reasoned, Jones's update of this Cold War turning point for the Pivotal Moments in American History series is a cautionary account of a disastrous foray into regime change."
--Publishers Weekly

"The Bay of Pigs, based on deep research, is a hard-hitting history of the Cold War mentality that led American leaders not only to back a badly flawed invasion but also to plot all manner of attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro and others in his circle."
--James T. Patterson, author of Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore

"An unsparing portrait of an epic disaster, a tale of overreach, incompetence, hubris and self-delusion, of every level of American government at its worst. The Bay of Pigs had far-reaching consequences, and from Howard Jones' account it becomes clear why."
--James Galbraith, The University of Texas at Austin
Learn more about The Bay of Pigs and its author at the Oxford University Press website and Howard Jones' faculty webpage.

Howard Jones is University Research Professor of History at the University of Alabama. His books include Mutiny on the Amistad and Death of a Generation.

The Page 99 Test: The Bay of Pigs.

--Marshal Zeringue

What is Robert Gellately reading?

The current featured contributor to Writers Read: Robert Gellately, author of Lenin, Stalin and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe, The Gestapo and German Society: Enforcing Racial Policy, 19331945, and Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany.

One book he singles out:
Paul R. Gregory’s, Lenin’s Brain and other Tales from the Secret Soviet Archives (Stanford, CA., 2008). He is an American professor in charge of copying newly released Soviet documents and making them available for study at the Hoover Institution. His short book consists of 14 chapters, each a vignette illustrating what these documents can divulge. In “Relatives and Falsifying Death Certificates” he tells a unique story. In 1937 and 1938 during the Great Terror, countless thousands had been arrested and shot. Their loved ones were told nothing, but some found out the unfortunates had been given 10 years in prison “without right of correspondence.” Historians left the story there. What Gregory discovered in the secret archives was what happened in 1947, 1948, and later. Where were the prisoners once their sentences had been served in full? Letters and petitions began raining down on the authorities from the late ‘50s onward, and over the years they invented newer and bigger lies. Relatives of the persecuted were torn between hope and despair that dragged on until June 6, 1992 – a whole lifetime of heartache. Only then were the heirs officially allowed to dig for the truth, and even then it was an uphill battle. [read on]
Simon Sebag Montefiore's Washington Post review of Gellately's Lenin, Stalin and Hitler opens:
"The image of Lenin that emerges from the pages of this book, even the mere mention of him in the title alongside Stalin and Hitler," writes Robert Gellately in the introduction to his new study of the epoch of the great slaughterhouse in the 20th century, "will disturb some people." The author, a distinguished academic, adds that "a good friend of mine . . . said the very thought of putting Lenin next to Stalin and Hitler in the book's title would be enough to make her Russian grandmother turn in her grave." But let that Russian grandmother turn: It's time to rip up the accepted versions of this terrible period and analyze it on the evidence that we now have. Gellately has done just that in a book that is both sensible and sophisticated, scholarly and very readable. [read on]
Learn more about Robert Gellately's Lenin, Stalin and Hitler at the Knopf website.

Robert Gellately is the Earl Ray Beck Professor of History at Florida State University and was the Bertelsmann Visiting Professor of Twentieth-Century Jewish Politics and History at Oxford University in 2004–05.

Writers Read: Robert Gellately.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Pg. 69: Martin Clark's "The Legal Limit"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Martin Clark's The Legal Limit.

About the book, from the publisher:
Martin Clark’s most remarkable novel yet is the gripping, complex story of a murder cover-up that wreaks widespread havoc even as it redefines the concept of justice—a relentlessly entertaining saga that delves deeply into matters at once ambiguous and essential.

While Gates Hunt chose to fight his abusive father head-on, his younger brother, Mason, eventually escaped their bitter, impoverished circumstances by earning a free ride to college and law school. And while Gates became an intransigent, compulsive felon, Mason met and married the love of his life, had a spitfire daughter, and returned to his rural hometown as the commonwealth’s attorney. But Mason’s idyll is abruptly pierced by a wicked tragedy, and soon afterward his life further unravels when Gates, convinced that his brother’s legal influence should spring him from prison, attempts to force his cooperation by means of a secret they’d both sworn to take with them to the grave. And with his closest friend and staunch ally suddenly threatened by secrets of his own, Mason ultimately finds himself facing complete ruin and desperately defending everything and everyone he holds dear.

Intricately plotted and shot through with authenticity, The Legal Limit is a roller coaster of moral relevance. What should govern our actions when family loyalty challenges personal integrity, when the letter of the law defies its spirit, and when fate plays dice with our best endeavors?
Among the early acclaim for the novel:
“A masterful mix of legal arcana and white-knuckle suspense.”
--Kirkus, starred review

“Profound and moving … his most substantial and thought-provoking work to date.”
--Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Clark’s wise, knowing novel [is] a superb thriller that ponders family, fraternal loyalty, marital love, child rearing, loss, integrity, tolerance, the fault line between law and justice, and even the economic well-being of a community.”
--Booklist, starred review

"Clark has outdone himself again. His novels just keep getting better. I'm thinking Martin Clark is the new standard against which other works of legal fiction should be judged."
--Winston-Salem Journal

"Fun you can think about. An engrossingly realized novel."
--Los Angeles Times

"A model of how to write a literary legal thriller with a wry sense of humor. This is probably the best courtroom story I've ever heard or read: Compelling characters, surprising twists, rich details, all told in a knowing voice ... "
--The Oregonian

"The sharp dialogue and clockwork plotting that have become Clark's signature ... permeate every page. As they might say in Stuart, Virginia -- Clark's home and the setting of THE LEGAL LIMIT -- the boy has done good."
--Chicago Sun-Times

"Compelling ... Clark has struck a fine balance between down-home ambiance and high-octane plot. Skillfully weaving a plot that includes lie detectors, wiretaps and arcane legal principles, the author creates a world in which family ties can easily turn into nooses."
--Washington Post
Read an excerpt from The Legal Limit, and learn more about the book and author at Martin Clark's website.

Martin Clark’s first novel, The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living, was a New York Times Notable Book and a finalist for the Stephen Crane First Fiction Award. His second novel, Plain Heathen Mischief, prompted The Charlotte Observer to call him “a rising star in American Letters.”

The Page 69 Test: The Legal Limit.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Stephen V. Ash's "Firebrand of Liberty"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Stephen V. Ash's Firebrand of Liberty: The Story of Two Black Regiments That Changed the Course of the Civil War.

About the book, from the publisher:
A nearly forgotten Civil War episode is restored to history in this masterful account.

In March 1863, nine hundred black Union soldiers, led by white officers, invaded Florida and seized the town of Jacksonville. They were among the first African American troops in the Northern army, and their expedition into enemy territory was like no other in the Civil War. It was intended as an assault on slavery by which thousands would be freed.

At the center of the story is prominent abolitionist Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson, who led one of the regiments. After waging battle for three weeks, Higginson and his men were mysteriously ordered to withdraw, their mission a seeming failure. Yet their successes in resisting the Confederates and collaborating with white Union forces persuaded President Abraham Lincoln to begin full-scale recruitment of black troops, a momentous decision that helped turned the tide of the war.

Using long-neglected primary sources, historian Stephen V. Ash’s stirring narrative re-creates this event with insight, vivid characterizations, and a keen sense of drama.
Among the early praise for the book:
"Another inspiring history of black Civil War soldiers. Ash (History/Univ. of Tennessee; A Year in the South: Four Lives in 1865, 2002, etc.) reminds us that when the Civil War began no one wanted black soldiers except the abolitionists. But this minority made a great deal of noise, and they kept the subject in the public eye. After Union forces captured coastal areas of Georgia and the Carolinas, the commander of the Department of the South, General David Hunter, in April 1862 began supplementing his weak occupying forces by recruiting blacks in his jurisdiction. The War Department ordered him to disband the troops, but the groundwork had been laid. By autumn the Lincoln administration's opposition was softening, and Hunter's successor got approval for a request to enlist Negroes in the First Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers. The regiment's colonel was Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a prominent abolitionist and literary figure (discoverer of Emily Dickinson) who worked hard to prepare his men for battle and make their achievements known throughout the North. Superiors approved his plan to lead troops south in February 1863; together with the Second South Carolina Infantry, they captured Jacksonville, Fla., with little fighting. The goal was to hold the city, raid the surrounding countryside and recruit escaped slaves for additional black units. The regiments remained for three weeks, raiding and fighting off desultory Confederate attacks, until they were abruptly ordered home for reasons never adequately explained. Although other historians have paid little attention to the Jacksonville raid, Ash maintains that it was this watershed expedition, the first significant combat mission undertaken by black soldiers and as such widely reported in Northern newspapers, which persuaded the Lincoln administration to order full-scale black recruitment in March 1863. A well-constructed, readable account of a minor Civil War action that may or may not have had major consequences."
Learn more about Firebrand of Liberty and its author at the W.W. Norton website and Stephen V. Ash's faculty webpage.

Stephen V. Ash is a professor of history at the University of Tennessee and the author of several books on the Civil War, including A Year in the South: Four Lives in 1865.

The Page 99 Test: Firebrand of Liberty.

--Marshal Zeringue

Jane Brocket: top 10 food scenes in children's literature

Jane Brocket is the author of The Gentle Art of Domesticity and Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer.

For the Guardian, she named her top 10 food scenes in children's literature.

Her prefatory remarks and one title from the list:
"I spent my childhood revelling and luxuriating in lovely descriptions of meals and picnics and treats, and found that it was the taste memories that lingered on long after the details of plots had faded from my mind. Children's literature contains a feast, a banquet, a menu gastronomique of treats and delicious foodstuff; this is my top 10 evocative, mouth-watering and memorable food moments from the past."

* * *
Marilla's raspberry cordial in Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

I know I shouldn't laugh about under-age drinking, but the scene in which Anne unwittingly gets her new best friend (aged 11) drunk is hilarious. She and Diana observe all the rituals of a lady-like tea party acting out the parts of genteel, well-bred acquaintances, exchanging pleasantries and enjoying fruit cake and cherry preserve. After adjourning to play in orchard, Anne plies Diana with three glasses of Marilla's raspberry cordial, but doesn't drink any herself as she has eaten too many apples. A wise move, for it turns out the red drink is in fact Marilla's celebrated three-year-old currant wine, and poor Diana is soon the worse for wear. The locals are scandalised, but I'm with Marilla on this one and feel overcome by an "unholy tendency to laughter".
Read about Number One on Brocket's list.

--Marshal Zeringue