Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Diane Coyle's "The Soulful Science"

Diane Coyle is a writer and Harvard economics Ph.D. whose books include Sex, Drugs and Economics: An Unconventional Introduction to Economics and The Weightless World: Strategies for Managing the Digital Economy.

A few days ago she put her new book, The Soulful Science: What Economists Really Do and Why It Matters, to the Page 69 Test.

Read the introduction to The Soulful Science.

Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist (read the results of his Page 69 Test), wrote a fine review of The Soulful Science for the Financial Times:
Those who were not paying attention could be forgiven for thinking that popular economics writing began in 2005 with the publication of the wildly successful Freakonomics. At one stage last year, Freakonomics and my own offering were exchanging first and second place on the ratings. Nobody, I think, was more surprised than I and the "freakonomists" Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.

Diane Coyle did not think much of Freakonomics, which she attacked for its sensationalism, and The Soulful Science is not interested in making economics sexy. Dr Coyle has a very different ambition: she wants to make economics likeable.

Dr Coyle's previous book, Sex, Drugs and Economics, was excellent on the economics but the title was misleading: this reader never got the sense that her heart was in the sex and drugs. In The Soulful Science, she is on more comfortable territory. Duly liberated from the need to hype up a subject that she feels needs no hyperbole, she has produced a better, more confident book.
Do read on.

Among the early endorsements for The Soulful Science:

"At long last, economists have received credit where credit is due. Diane Coyle's authoritative, punchy, lucid, and provocative case for the vitality of today's economics and economists is like a breath of fresh air. This science is a long way from dismal and has been broadening its scope and deepening its insights for a long time. Too few people outside the discipline have noticed what has been going on. A great read, Diane Coyle's The Soulful Science will remedy that shortcoming."
--Peter L. Bernstein, author of Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk

"This book will show everybody what modern economics has to offer, and might even make economists rethink the relationship between their research and the big questions in economics. The Soulful Science is very well written, impressive in its grasp of a wide range of topics, and engaging in its enthusiasm."
--Paul Seabright, author of The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life

"Easy and pleasant reading, this informed and informative book shows convincingly that economics is not the dismal science it is reputed to be. It should be required reading for all who have no training in the field but are nevertheless convinced that they are qualified to speak out on important economic issues. Students who are puzzled by their economics courses will also find the book invaluable."
--William J. Baumol, author of The Free-Market Innovation Machine

"Economics has indeed been changing in exciting ways and Diane Coyle's new book will be essential reading for anyone who wants to know what has been going on and what has been achieved so far."
--Paul Ormerod, author of The Death of Economics and Why Most Things Fail

Of Sex, Drugs and Economics, Paul Krugman wrote: "Diane Coyle has done the best job yet of showing how economic thinking can be applied to life...."

Krugman again, on The Weightless World:
"This is a wonderfully refreshing read. You've heard the standard stories -- the gee-whiz optimism of the technophiles, the pessimism of the neo-luddites. Coyle offers something completely different. Each chapter offers a novel, often unsettling perspective about the future. For sure she will turn out to be wrong about some things -- but no matter. This is one of those rare books that force your thoughts out of their usual grooves."
Read more about Diane Coyle's work at her official website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Dr. Seuss and Raymond Chandler

Linda L. Richards posted a a January Magazine item about Dr. Seuss earlier today, then shared a gem of an out-take from her research at The Rap Sheet. The find:
It seems that Dr. Seuss (aka Theodor Seuss Geisel) and seminal mystery author Raymond Chandler were friends and drinking buddies when both authors lived in La Jolla, California.
After speculating about what advice Chandler may have offered his friend, she turns it around and suggests a line of imagined dialogue that made me chuckle:
On the flipside, of course, there’s the possibility that Seuss offered up some tips for Chandler: telling him how he could brighten up his stark prose with the addition of a few carefully chosen rhymes. (“You could knock him over the head, and kill him in his bed.”)
There's more -- including the post title -- where that came from; read the whole thing.

--Marshal Zeringue

Edward Humes' "Monkey Girl"

Edward Humes recently put his latest book, Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul, to the Page 69 Test.

Read--or listen to--a synopsis of the book.

Among the praise for Monkey Girl:
“Inherit the Wind collides with the Woodstock Generation and true believers out of Babbitt, with strange — and highly readable — results… Wondrously titled chapters such as ‘Paleozoic Roadkill, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Bad Frog Beer” provide plenty of sound and fury as they show some very angry people arguing the merits and necessity of science. An illuminating blend of science, religion and politics.”
Kirkus Reviews

Monkey Girl is compelling and unsettling — and a Rosetta Stone for understanding the frightened and oftentimes frightening subculture of Darwin Deniers.”
— Patt Morrison, Los Angeles Times columnist, NPR host, and author of Rio LA

“A compelling, page-turning narrative…. A must read for anyone who cares about science, education, and liberty. ”
— Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine and author of Why Darwin Matters

“A riveting account of the modern ‘Holy War’ being waged by American fundamentalists in the schoolyard battle over Darwin's dangerous idea. Humes brings this modern American story to life through the richly-drawn portrayals of the citizen-members of the Dover Township school board, as their battle over what our children should be taught moves from one small Pennsylvania town to the country at large.”
— Lee M. Silver, Professor of Molecular Biology & Public Affairs, Princeton University

“Ed Humes' remarkable and balanced narrative has captured the essence of this complex and emotional dispute. When discussing the trial I have frequently found myself saying that to truly understand it, you had to be there. Humes' compelling book accomplishes just that, in that it explains this controversy to the reader in detail. In the face of the many inaccuracies and distortions promulgated by the punditry and others, we happily now have a definitive and thorough account of what really happened both before and during the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial.”
— US District Judge John E. Jones III, who presided over the Intelligent Design vs. Evolution ‘Scopes II’ trial

“Unusually deft analysis ... extensive behind-the-scenes interviews ... well-illuminated by this skilled writer... highly recommended read.”
— Eugenie Scott, executive director, National Center for Science Education and author of Evolution Vs. Creationism: An Introduction
“Gripping... a talent for narrative and an eye for detail... As Edward Humes describes in this lively and thoughtful book, Dover — like Dayton, Tenn., during the 1925 Scopes "Monkey Trial" — became a proving ground for clashing beliefs about the origins of life and constitutional questions about the separation of church and state."
Washington Post

“This book reads like a novel. Even though I knew how it would turn out, I had to keep going... I knew there was a first-rate dramatic story in the Dover trial, and Edward Humes has written it. Now I'm just waiting for the movie.”
— PZ Myers, Pharyngula
Read an excerpt from Monkey Girl. There is another excerpt at

Earlier this month Humes published an Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times, "Dumbing down evolution to kill it."

Listen to a Humes interview with Larry Mantle on KPCC's Airtalk about the issues raised in Monkey Girl.

Ed is the author nine critically-acclaimed books and a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for specialized reporting. There is much more about his writing at the Edward Humes website and the Monkey Girl blog.

--Marshal Zeringue

Camel Book Drive

Masha Hamilton is heading up a worthy project.

Recently, from Buzz, Balls & Hype:
20 More Authors Needed

Two weeks ago I blogged about author Masha Hamilton's (THE CAMEL BOOKMOBILE - APRIL '07 Harper Collins) drive for authors to donate boxes of books to Kenya after her trip walking through the bush with a real camel bookmobile that operates in isolated Northeastern Kenya near the unstable border with Somalia.

To date 80 authors have volunteered to send a box of book and are all listed on her webiste along with their bookcovers.

She needs 20 more authors to reach the magic number of 100 author donors.

Won't you please visit the Authors For African Literacy site that Masha set up, read about the effort and then pass on the information about this worthwhile effort via your blogs, writers groups, agents and publishers and see if we can't get just 20 more authors to help.
You can find out about the drive here:
Camel Book Drive
If you are a reader and booklover and would like to join in the effort, please see the Community Support page for ways to help.

See the complete list of authors to date who have pledged their support.

--Marshal Zeringue

Philip Kitcher's "Living With Darwin"

Philip Kitcher's latest book is Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith.

Read the Page 69 Test results for Living with Darwin.

Among the praise for the book:
"How glad I am that a philosopher of Philip Kitcher's distinction should write such a comprehensive destruction of the argument for Intelligent Design. The attempts to demote Darwin by plausible and clever writers are exposed as shallow and, in the end, scientifically vacuous. Despite attempts to disguise the fact, the motivation for Intelligent Design has been religious, rather than scientific. Unlike some other critics of those who see Darwin as a threat to their beliefs, however, Kitcher writes sensitively about the comfort and inspiration that religion can bring to many people. I greatly admire the good sense and compassion exhibited in this book."
--Sir Patrick Bateson, Emeritus Professor of Ethology, University of Cambridge

"A powerful and provocative analysis of the historical conflict between Darwin and Western Christianity. Kitcher's book raises the questions with which Christians must wrestle: Can there be a Christianity without supernaturalism? God without Theism? A Christ who is not the incarnation of the supernatural, theistic deity? I think there can be and so I welcome this book with enthusiasm."
--John Shelby Spong, author of A New Christianity for a New World

"Kitcher has just the combination of philosophical talent, biological insight, and wonderfully lucid writing needed to address the thorny problem of creationism. In Living With Darwin, he clearly shows that the persistent battle between evolution and creationism in America is part of a wider war--one between superstition and rationality. His analysis of this conflict, and suggestions for its resolution, should be read by everyone concerned with the relationship between faith and science."
--Jerry Coyne, University of Chicago

Read an excerpt from Living with Darwin.

Kitcher has a related essay at the OUP blog. A brief excerpt:

Like many academics and research scientists, I have an optimistic view about the possibilities for human progress. I tend to think that, as more is discovered about the world in which we live and about our place in it, exciting new pieces of knowledge should be spread widely and used to make everyone’s lives better. So, when some people resist the established claims of science, a natural first response is irritation: why are they being so stubborn, clinging to bits of exploded superstition?

The answer [read on]

Harry Brighouse shared his views on Living with Darwin over at Crooked Timber and sparked 105 comments (so far).

Philip Kitcher is the John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. An eminent philosopher, he is the author of many books on science, literature, and music, including Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism; The Lives to Come: The Genetic Revolution and Human Possibilities; Vaulting Ambition: Sociobiology and the Quest for Human Knowledge; Science, Truth, and Democracy; and In Mendel's Mirror.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"Gracefully Insane," the movie

Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam's Gracefully Insane: The Rise and Fall of America's Premier Mental Hospital is "[a]n entertaining and poignant social history of McLean Hospital -- temporary home to many of the troubled geniuses of our age -- and of the evolution of the treatment of mental illness from the early 19th century to today."

Could this work of non-fiction ever find its way to Hollywood?

You bet.

--Marshal Zeringue

Escapegrace on "The Road"

Chris of escapegrace runs this cool recurring feature, "52 books in 52 weeks." If you're looking for suggested reading -- and somehow can't find a book you like here at the CftAR -- 52b/52w is a good place to check for a smart reader's quick and clean reaction to some interesting books.

From the first entry in Chris' 2007 52b/52w edition, on Cormac McCarthy's The Road:
I was so invested in these characters that I would worry about them at work and then come home and be afraid to pick the book up because I was scared to see what was going to happen to them but then be unable to resist.
I felt the same way.

--Marshal Zeringue

Questions, questions

Question one from another tough literary quiz from the London Times:


Authors please? a. “In baiting a mouse-trap with cheese, always leave room for the mouse.” b. “Dust inbreathed was a house ––/ The wall, the wainscot and the mouse.” c. “Fancy being remembered around the world for the invention of a mouse.”

Read all four questions.

Check your answers against the key.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, February 26, 2007

"Petropolis," the movie

Anya Ulinich offered some thoughts about the hypothetical film version of her new book, Petropolis.

Before clicking over, trying thinking of the actor who should play Anya's protagonist:
Sasha Goldberg is a biracial, Jewish, socially maladjusted "child of the intelligentsia" from the Siberian town Asbestos 2. Sasha's father takes off for the U.S., leaving Sasha to navigate adolescence under the shadow of her overbearing mother. At fourteen, Sasha falls in love with an art school dropout who lives in a concrete half-pipe in the town's dump. When following her heart gets her into trouble at home, Sasha leaves Russia as a mail-order bride and, with the help of the Kupid's Korner Agency, lands in suburban Arizona. Soon, she escapes her Red Lobster- loving fiance and embarks on a misadventure-filled journey across America in search of her father.
Check out the story over at the My Book, The Movie site.

--Marshal Zeringue

Dick Adler's "Men’s Adventure"

I've done a poor job of reminding crime fiction fans about the serialized novel running over at The Rap Sheet. The story is already through Chapter 4, but there's a minor hiccup and this week's post is slightly delayed. Which gives slackers a chance to catch up.

Here's the latest word and the necessary links:
Due to some technical and creative difficulties, Chapter 5 of Dick Adler’s serialized novel, Men’s Adventure, will not appear today, but will instead be posted later this week. In the meantime, if you’ve missed any of the previous four installments, go here to catch up.
--Marshal Zeringue

Peter Ho Davies' "The Welsh Girl"

This weekend I posted the Page 69 Test results for Peter Ho Davies' The Welsh Girl.

Here's a sample of the early praise for this debut novel:
"Skilled, beautifully empathetic ... Peter Ho Davies is a wonderful writer."
--Andrea Barrett

"The Welsh Girl is a beautiful, ambitious novel.... Emotionally resonant and perfectly rendered."
--Ann Patchett

"This is a deeply felt, deeply imagined novel, and its characters remain a presence after the book is closed."
--Stuart Dybek

"Deeply compelling and utterly uncompromising ... each sentence is a pleasure. This book is a rare gem."
--Claire Messud

"A memorable writer of sinewy intelligence."
--David Mitchell

"An ambitious, layered meditation on what it means to be from a particular place...eloquent.... Davies's achievement is significant."
--Jennifer Egan
Read a description of the novel.

--Marshal Zeringue

Peter Beinart and "The Good Fight"

Peter Beinart, editor-at-large at The New Republic and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is the author of The Good Fight: Why Liberals -- and Only Liberals -- Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again, which was published May, 2006.

After 9/11 he was one of a number of leading liberal voices arguing for a strong response to what he calls the totalitarian spirit of radical Islam, and he supported the invasion of Iraq.

He has just penned an article that opens:
"Why, exactly, did you support this war?" asked my wife the other day.
His response, in part:
I was willing to gamble, too -- partly, I suppose, because, in the era of the all-volunteer military, I wasn't gambling with my own life. And partly because I didn't think I was gambling many of my countrymen's. I had come of age in that surreal period between Panama and Afghanistan, when the United States won wars easily and those wars benefited the people on whose soil they were fought. It's a truism that American intellectuals have long been seduced by revolution. In the 1930s, some grew intoxicated with the revolutionary potential of the Soviet Union. In the 1960s, some felt the same way about Cuba. In the 1990s, I grew intoxicated with the revolutionary potential of the United States.
Read Beinart's essay (free registration required).

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Susan Cheever's "American Bloomsbury"

Susan Cheever's new book is American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work.

Cheever is the author of eleven previous books, including five novels and the memoirs Note Found in a Bottle and Home Before Dark. Her work has been nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the Boston Globe Winship Medal. She is a Guggenheim Fellow, a member of the Corporation of Yaddo, and a member of the Author's Guild Council.

Among the praise for American Bloomsbury:
"Beguiling ... lively and insightful introduction to the personalities and achievements of the men and women who were seminal figures in America's literary renaissance.... [Cheever] keenly analyzes the positive and negative ways they influenced one another's ideas and beliefs and the literature that came out of "this sudden outbreak of genius."
-- Publishers Weekly

"[Cheever] explores the interpersonal relationships linking the prospectively famous writers Emerson drew in. In the transcendentalist florescence of the 1840s and 1850s, the aspirant writers tried out their ideas and idealism in conversation at Emerson's house, alongside Concord's roads, or afloat on its creeks. Moving among descriptions of such haunts, Cheever constructs a many-layered contemplation of this distinctive collection of American literary icons in their formative periods, and encompasses day-to-day events and the character of their attractions, as between a married Emerson and Margaret Fuller, whom Emerson lodged in his house. Emotionally warm and critically engaged, Cheever's history successfully evokes the incubation of Concord's literary glory."
-- Booklist

" having a Christmas present arrive early.... [Cheever] brings these icons to life as men and women who fell in painful love, lived in crowded quarters, tramped on muddy roads, and 'walked arm in arm under Concord's great elms.' She also does a wonderful job of resurrecting the 19th century itself, and reminding us of how often her subjects were cold, hungry - well, the Alcotts, anyway - uncomfortable, and at the mercy of unenlightened doctors who harmed at least as often as they healed."
-- Marjorie Kehe, Christian Science Monitor
Read an excerpt from American Bloomsbury and check out Susan Cheever's favorite books.

Visit Susan Cheever's Amazon blog, her official website, and the Page 69 Test results for American Bloomsbury.

--Marshal Zeringue

"The only way to read"

I was lucky – there was a whole wall in Accrington Public Library in the 1960s called “Literature”, so I just worked my way through it, in tandem with the wall called “History”. After that, I began to follow my own eccentricities, which is really the only way to read. I have a few simple rules – buy new poetry and plays, skim them and immediately donate the flotsam to Oxfam. Stand in the bookshop and check the new novels: if they have no language skills or ambition for the form, leave them for somebody else to waste money on.

Then – and this is the fun bit – proceed to a section of the bookshop in which you think you have no interest, and buy something that catches your eye. I have just been reading Captain Cook’s Journals, which made me read Robinson Crusoe again, which made me think about island narratives, and has run me towards Boswell and Johnson in the Hebrides, Marianne Wiggins’s wonderful novel John Dollar and to Diana Souhami’s award-winning Selkirk’s Island, which made me order Coconut Chaos, her new book on Pitcairn.

For me, this is the way to read and reread books. I don’t want to be told that if I liked XI could read Y, or that people who bought A also bought B.Reading is not a place to be one of a crowd, it is the place to be yourself.

Read the entire column.

Learn more about Jeanette Winterson's books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Michael Kun's "Corrections to My Memoirs"

Michael Kun's new book is Corrections to My Memoirs: Collected Stories.

Among the early reviews for the collection:
"The cover's spoof of A Million Little Pieces sets the tone for this comic collection of writerly kvetching and obvious corporate parody. Kun (A Thousand Benjamins) is a trial lawyer in L.A.; many of the 22 rifflike pieces satirize forms of legal communication, including the companywide e-mail. There's a weirdly threatening notification of the death of one "Iris Magruder of Albany, New York" (whose "intellectual property" includes sayings like "maybe next time you'll like your mother more"); the lame corporate award: "When I was first informed that I'd been nominated in the category of Best Interoffice Email (Nonviolent) (Nonsexual), I was touched"; and an instruction manual for a paper shredder: "Remember, the Whisper Shred 1600 is not a toy, it just looks like one." Sandwiched between each of the pieces are "Publisher's Notes," the kind of encomium-like letters that sometimes are tacked to the front of galleys: "You can certainly understand why we'd pay $50,000 for that one. Or why the Bloobedy-Bloodbedy Society would award Michael the Blah-Blah-Blabbedy-Blah Prize for it." The Corrections this certainly isn't, and many pieces aren't really stories, either. But there are chuckles to be had as Kun hits huge targets with a birdshot-spraying air rifle."
Publishers Weekly

“…the delightful absurdity of the experience, along with Kun’s bellyache-inducing wit, makes it a rewarding pursuit.”
Seattle Times

“…captivating, annoying, fascinating, frustrating, messy, laugh-out-loud tragedy…. [Kun] serves up a character we can sink our literary teeth into. A fine, fun read.”
Baltimore Sun

Most of the 22 stories found in Michael Kun's Corrections to My Memoirs explore the large divide between the reality of his characters' lives and the ways they wish things could be. In doing so, the author forces readers into the uncomfortable position of alternately laughing at the often-desperate people who populate his stories while uneasily and perhaps begrudgingly relating to them. With many references to disgraced writer James Frey (not the least of which is the book's cover, a blatant parody of Frey's trade paperback jacket depicting a candy-coated hand on a blue-green background), Kun's stories manage to be both amusing and depressing.
Marc Haeringer, The L Magazine
Read the title story to the collection and another excerpt from Corrections to My Memoirs.

Kun's other books include: A Thousand Benjamins, The Locklear Letters, My Wife and My Dead Wife, You Poor Monster, and The Baseball Uncyclopedia.

Visit Mike Kun's official website and check out the Page 69 Test results for Corrections to My Memoirs.

--Marshal Zeringue

Matt Beynon Rees' "The Collaborator of Bethlehem"

Matt Beynon Rees' debut detective novel, The Collaborator of Bethlehem, has been raking in the accolades.

Marilyn Stasio called it "an astonishing first novel" in today's New York Times Book Review.

TIME Magazine Cairo correspondent Scott MacLeod wrote:
"[Rees] uncovers the gritty, often disturbing human realities of life in Palestinian society. In fiction or non-fiction that topic can make discouraging reading, but Matt gives his characters heart as he gives his readers a thrill. Fiction is certainly a means of probing the deeper truths in a way that usually eludes daily or weekly journalism -- a reason why many hacks aspire to become novelists, and an excellent reason for picking up Matt's mystery yarn."
Patrick Anderson wrote in his Washington Post review:
"Rees tells this grim story with skill, specificity and richly detailed descriptions of people and places.... The Collaborator of Bethlehem is readable and literate, and offers a vivid portrait of Palestinian life today."
There are links to more reviews at Matt's blog and there is more early praise at his website.

Terri Gross
interviewed him on "Fresh Air" earlier this month.

The Boston Globe's Jerusalem bureau chief Thanassis Cambanis recently profiled Rees.

Watch a brief video of Matt introducing the world of Omar Yussef from the streets of Bethlehem and read a synopsis of the novel.

Read the Page 69 Test results for The Collaborator of Bethlehem.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The case for Bill Bryson

I'm a fan of Bill Bryson's books and I'm not afraid to say so.

Nevertheless, I can imagine that a certain type of person looks down on the writings of the author of a book titled A Short History of Nearly Everything. Sam Jordison admits to being that kind of person, at least at some time in his past; I probably should own up as well.

But, as The Whitlams put it so well, "It's not the people in the suburbs; it's we who've got it wrong."

Jordison's well-argued case for "How I learned to stop worrying and love Bill Bryson" opens:

I realise that what I'm about to say may strike some readers as the literary equivalent of being entranced by Status Quo or nursing a passion for Jacob's Creek wine. Certainly (and shamefully) it's only recently that I have stopped sneering every time I hear this writer's name. But that's all changed now and I'm proud to state it openly: I like Bill Bryson.

Not only that, I respect and admire his work and have a strong suspicion that he may be one of the finest literary practitioners - by any standard - around today.

First of all, though, the sneering. The large (and foolish) part of me that still thinks I'm a punkish adolescent rebel dismissed Bill Bryson out of hand as "safe", middle-aged and middle-brow, admired by Daily Mail readers and the kind of people who regard reading as an occasional distraction rather than the source of all that is most vital in the world. My prejudice was compounded by the belief that he was probably fond of the feel of a well-cut corduroy jacket, and that it wouldn't be at all unlikely to find him wiping nut-brown ale from his well-trimmed beard. I thought he was, in short, uncool.

I'm sure I'm not alone in this belief. [read on]
--Marshal Zeringue

The best of law in literature

John Mortimer, British playwright, former practicing barrister, and author -- most recently of the novel Rumpole and the Reign of Terror -- picked the five best books about law and literature for Opinion Journal.

One of his selections:

A Certain Justice by P.D. James

P.D. James has created a super-efficient, highly professional Queen's Counsel named Venetia Aldridge. Unfortunately, when she rises to cross-examine a prosecution witness at the Old Bailey, she has only four weeks, four hours and 50 minutes left to live before she is discovered brutally murdered in her locked room in chambers. Has she been killed by the criminal riffraff she defends? The plot is developed with all the author's ingenuity, and great questions of justice are dramatized. But the book might act as a warning to all defense barristers.

Read about his other selections.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, February 23, 2007

My book, the movie

I've started a new website. It's called My Book, The Movie. (No, I couldn't come up with a better title; Variety was already taken.)

I'll be asking authors to tackle a simple thesis: If Hollywood makes my book into a film, here's who I'd like to play the lead role(s).

As with The Page 69 Test, the writers will have considerable freedom in approaching the issue. They may suggest an actor from days gone by or talk about who they'd like to see direct the picture, or they may even rail against the whole idea of adapting books for the screen.

Allison Burnett was kind enough to pen the inaugural post. He's a successful screenwriter as well as a novelist, and there's a better than usual chance that his book will actually hit the big screen. And he's asking for casting ideas.

Read the post and, if you have an idea for the lead as Allison describes him, click on the link to his website. There's contact information for Allison there: he'd love to hear your suggestion.

Also, read the Page 69 treatment for The House Beautiful.

--Marshal Zeringue

Writers pick their top 10 books

According to the London Times:

Leading writers from Britain, America and Australia have been asked to list their top ten works of literature, and the results will be published in a book next month.

The top-rated work was Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. His other great epic, War and Peace, came third. Two other Russians also made the top ten. Vladimir Nabokov’s infamous novel Lolita came fourth and the stories of Anton Chekov ninth.

Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary came second. Shakespeare was the highest rated British author, coming sixth with Hamlet. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain was voted the greatest American novel. The only woman to make the top ten was George Eliot with Middlemarch.

Read the article to find out: how McEwan, Amis, and Rushdie fared; Peter Carey's favorite book; Stephen King's singular choice for the top spot; Sven Birkerts claim for what unifying notion defines the list.

In a companion piece, Eric Wagner has a few choice observations:
I’m not shocked to learn that Hiassen’s top novel is Joseph Heller’s Catch22; nor that Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five and Martin Amis’s Money also appear on his list. I adore Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda; of course he chose Gabriel García Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera and Great Expectations, too ... the flip side of his own novel, Jack Maggs.
David Mitchell chooses Chekhov’s novella The Duel, saying that he would save it “from a burning house before everything else I’ve read”, while the American novelist A.M. Homes ranks Nabokov’s Lolita below the children’s book Flat Stanley.
Better yet:
Annie Proulx, author of The Shipping News, provides her list (which begins with Homer’s Odyssey and ends with the haiku of Basho) with this qualification: “I find this list-of-ten-books project to be difficult, pointless and wrongheaded.” Hard to figure why she bothered to contribute, then.
Why, indeed?

Read on:
--Marshal Zeringue

Writers reading

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jane Smiley just released her new novel, Ten Days in the Hills.

She recently talked to the Christian Science Monitor about what she's been reading, watching, and listening to.

Learn more about what Jane Smiley is reading.

Also at the Writers Read site, learn more about what Tom Lutz is reading.

--Marshal Zeringue

Lists of books of lists

Shindler's List didn't make John Sutherland's list of books of lists but it did make Tara Ison's.

Ison is the author of the forthcoming The List. From the official website:

For anyone who has ever broken up with someone...a smart, sophisticated, and darkly comic novel about a dysfunctional couple who make a list of 10 things to do before they break up.

Isabel is finishing medical school and destined to become a brilliant heart surgeon. Al is a video store clerk, a one-hit-wonder director whose first and only film became a cult classic. They have a sisyphean relationship - endlessly coming together and breaking up until they decide to make a list of 10 things they want to do together before they really break up. But after a few perfect dates - clams on the Santa Monica Pier, sleeping under the stars on the roof of a Sunset Boulevard hotel - the list takes a dark turn, and their plan spirals out of control, until they realize they would rather destroy each other than let go....

Read about Ison's list of books that make the most of lists at Lit Lists.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Sam Reaves' "Homicide 69"

Sam Reaves put his most recent novel, Homicide 69, to The Page 69 Test.

Among the early praise for Homicide 69:
This is the best journey into a cop's life I've read in a long time. Homicide 69 is so real you'll swear you've got a ringside seat inside the soul of the Chicago PD. The pace is heart-pounding, the story is heart-rending. Absolutely wonderful.
--Ed Dee retired NYPD Lt, author of The Con Man's Daughter

Homicide 69 is broad-shouldered and ambitious, the big Chicago crime novel we’ve been waiting for. A remarkable piece of work from Sam Reaves.
--George Pelecanos

Homicide 69 is a terrific novel, very well-written.
--Gloria Feit, Mystery Morgue
Sam was president of the Midwest Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America from 2001 to 2003. He has published eight novels prior to Homicide 69, five as Sam Reaves and three as Dominic Martell.

Visit Sam Reaves' official website.

Check out how well the Page 69 Test served Homicide 69.

--Marshal Zeringue

Happy endings in literature

A year ago, Ben Macintyre wrote an interesting essay about happy endings in literature.

Apparently, most readers would rather read a novel that ends happily ever after. To Kill a Mockingbird was voted the second happiest ending in all of literature -- and it inspired the sardonic title to Macintyre's article, "To Cuddle a Mockingbird."

I had my say about all that and even dug up a quote from the author of the novel voted to have the happiest ending in all literature for this blog post.

All that came to mind recently when I saw this list of the top 10 books with a happy ending.

--Marshal Zeringue.

Are writers good people?

My answer to the title question: some are, some aren't.

Tania Kindersley raised a related question on the Guardian books blog, and came up with a different answer. She suggests that good writing absolves bad behavior:
Everyone is talking about Auden this week; we are reminded of his naughty dash to America at the first hint of war. I forgive him that just for the first verse of Lullaby. I slightly wish that TS Eliot had not skirted the edges of anti-Semitism, had not been unkind to his wife, but he left us Prufrock; the mermaids singing are absolution enough. I even forgive Hemingway the misogynism, because he invented Lady Brett Ashley.
Kindersley's reflections are thoughtful but, I think, wrong-headed. Why can't we give great writers their due as artists and still judge their moral behavior by the same standards to which we are held?

If you are reading this page you probably don't think that great athletes or celebrated actors should get a pass for churlish or illegal behavior; so why should writers?

I also don't think we should judge or dismiss great writing because of its creator's bad behavior.

Writing and living are different realms: judge each by the appropriate standard.

--Marshal Zeringue

David Ebershoff's "Pasadena"

David Ebershoff's latest novel, Pasadena is featured today over at The Page 69 Test.

Among the praise for Pasadena:
Wuthering Heights meets East of Eden.”
Wall Street Journal

Pasadena is like a grand opera.... [David] Ebershoff must be applauded for the grandness of his design, for grand characters, For grand setting, and... for his grand vision of Pasadena as the center of ‘real history.’”
Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Both a triumph of historical re-creation and a full-bodied romance.... You feel that, if you were transported back to Pasadena in 1925, Ebershoff’s book would enable you to find your way around perfectly.”
Baltimore Sun

“Ebershoff’s crafting of characters is so sharp, so perfect, that we ache for most of them.... [He] has us in thrall, and every word he writes counts."
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“Full of detail and unerring language... magically evokes the rich and varied landscape of Southern California.’”
Boston Sunday Globe

“A luxurious tragedy... gorgeous, full of romance and disaster.... Pasadena is a novel to get lost in.”
Christian Science Monitor
Read an excerpt from the novel as well as David's brief essay, "The Novel Born in a Traffic Jam."

David Ebershoff is also author of the short story collection, The Rose City, and the bestselling novel, The Danish Girl.

Check out how well the Page 69 Test served Pasadena.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Rick Mofina's "Every Fear"

Rick Mofina's latest novel is featured today over at The Page 69 Test.

After five novels in his acclaimed Reed-Sydowski series, Rick started another series in 2005. The Dying Hour was the first novel featuring Jason Wade, a rookie crime reporter based in Seattle.

Every Fear is the second installment in the Jason Wade series. The forthcoming third book in the series is A Perfect Grave.

Among the praise for Every Fear:
"Pushes crackling suspense to the breaking point and beyond... a must read!"
--Kay Hooper, New York Times Bestselling Author

"Mofina does a terrific job with suspense and pacing. The characters are well-drawn and the Seattle-Tacoma setting works well. Don't read this one if your kids aren't safe at home in bed."
--Margaret Cannon, Globe and Mail

With some truly unexpected twists thrown in to keep the reader guessing, this was a book that had my turning pages furiously to find out what happened next. An engaging read. I look forward to reading more from Mofina in the future.
--Sandra Ruttan, Spinetingler

"Mofina shows his strength at creating gripping plots enhanced by realistic characters and social awareness in Every Fear."
--Oline H. Cogdill, mystery columnist South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Visit Rick Mofina's official website and read some of his stories, articles, and interviews.

Find out how well the Page 69 Test served Every Fear.

--Marshal Zeringue

Jesse Kellerman's "Trouble"

Jesse Kellerman's new novel, Trouble, was featured yesterday over at The Page 69 Test.

Among the praise for Trouble:
[M]any perverse diversions and delights... unnerving... psychologically complex.... That Kellerman maintains such a grimly hilarious perspective on his subject is its own twisted tribute to the survival instincts of writers who go down to the depths to entertain their readers.
-New York Times Book Review

With a nerve-jangling creepiness rising out of well-drawn, absorbing characters, "Trouble" has a lot to say to 21st century readers about the gray zone where heroes become villains, victims turn aggressive and love and violence are different sides of the same coin. That these issues are being raised by a young writer more than a little familiar with mysteries... only adds to the fun of watching him deconstruct the myths and stereotypes of the genre and serve them up as something disturbingly and deliciously different, altogether perfect for our times.
-Los Angeles Times

Kellerman...shows that his impressive debut, Sunstroke, was no fluke with this gripping psychological page-turner that echoes the best of Hitchcock.... Kellerman artfully conveys [a] descent into near madness, making the step-by-step degradation of a decent man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time plausible and chilling.
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)

A shivery psychological thriller...the talented Kellerman travels to Ruth Rendell country, and the bet here is that you won't have read a more nightmarish novel all year.
-Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Read an excerpt from Trouble.

Visit Jesse's official website.

--Marshal Zeringue


It seems like half the cool things I learn about in the world of new books I learn from J. Kingston Pierce and his associates at The Rap Sheet.

On Monday Pierce ran a brief note about the Backstory site, of which I was previously unaware.

Backstory is one of those clever ideas from writer M.J. Rose, who runs the site with Jessica Keener.

The concept behind the site is simple: "authors share their secrets, truths, logical and illogical moments that sparked their fiction."

I've only just skimmed the full contents of the site, and there are many entries that I'll go back to and read.

My first stops will be at the entries by authors who have contributed to the Page 69 series. They include:
--Marshal Zeringue

Travel reading

Friend of the Blog Cary Federman recently pointed me to Jay Parini's essay on the importance of selecting the right book for a journey. It opens:
Weeks before any journey, I begin to worry about what books I'll bring. It doesn't matter whether it's a short hop for the night or something more adventurous, I wonder what I'll read en route (if I'm going by plane or train) and what I'll read while I'm there, perhaps sleepless in a hotel room. There's nothing worse than being without the right book in those situations. Yet — given the restrictions and demands of travel — one has to be selective.
Further on, he discusses one book from a past holiday:
We all have a long, imaginary shelf of masterpieces we have not read. For years I was embarrassed by my ignorance of War and Peace, and Tolstoy's massive novel had sat on the shelf, glaring at me. Not until the mid-80s, when I passed a lovely spring on the Amalfi Coast of Italy in a tiny rented house, did I find myself ready to tackle it. I would rise at dawn (we had two babies then) and take my coffee to the terrace. There was a grove of lemon trees behind me, and I could look all the way down the coast from Amalfi to Salerno, the sunlight on the sea like scattered coins. I was absorbed for two months in that astonishing novel, making my first acquaintance with Pierre, Natasha, Bolkonsky, and the rest of Petersburg society. Forever I will associate that story with that place, and that time in my life.
Read the entire essay. Parini is a fine writer and a perceptive reader.

Last month, Neal Hoskins pondered the best books to read when traveling by train. He had a few of his own picks, and commenters on his piece suggested many more.

--Marshal Zeringue

W.H. Auden's centenary

Michelle Pauli, deputy editor of Guardian Unlimited Books, writes:

It may not have failed to escape your notice that today is the centenary of WH Auden's birth. But when you've got up to speed with the poet by reading our author page, tested your knowledge with a quiz, joined in praise of Auden and admired James Fenton's 40-year-long fidelity to the poet, why not go back to first principles and enjoy a piece of the poet's ... poetry?

To make it even easier - and mellifluous - we've got a recording of Ralph Fiennes declaiming one of Auden's most memorable verses: As I Walked Out One Morning.

The quote-of-honor at Auden's Guardian author page:

"'Why do you want to write poetry?' If the young man answers, 'I have important things I want to say,' then he is not a poet. If he answers, 'I like hanging around words listening to what they say,' then maybe he is going to be a poet."

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"Killing Johnny Fry"

Over at January Magazine, Tracy Quan reviews the latest Walter Mosley novel (unfortunately, it's not in the Easy Rawlins series), Killing Johnny Fry: A Sexistential Novel, which she tags as "Mosley’s most controversial novel yet."

Quan writes:
When a national treasure like Walter Mosley decides to publish a dirty novel, snippy reactions are inevitable. Does a journey of sexual discovery have to be quite this filthy? But if Killing Johnny Fry were a novel one could read over lunch, it wouldn't be authentic porn. Fans of Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series might be put off by the surreal absurdity, but perhaps the author is reaching out to new readers.
Read Quan's review.

--Marshal Zeringue

"The Power of Nice"

Coming up on The Page 69 Series: The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval.

From the publisher:
Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval have moved to the top of the advertising industry by following a simple but powerful philosophy: it pays to be nice. Where so many companies encourage a dog eat dog mentality, the Kaplan Thaler Group has succeeded through chocolate and flowers. In The Power of Nice, through their own experiences and the stories of other people and businesses, they demonstrate why, contrary to conventional wisdom, nice people finish first. [read more about the book]
Read an excerpt from The Power of Nice.

Among the endorsements for the book:
“This little book will show you why women should run most corporations in America, and maybe the entire country. Reading Nice will improve just about everything in your life, and that’s a promise.”
—James Patterson, bestselling author, former CEO of J. Walter Thompson North America

The Power of Nice is a wonder drug! It could literally save your career and your life…. And let me suggest a first act of kindness: buy some extra copies for your enemies. I’ll bet they need The Power of Nice more than you do.”
—Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone

“Leo Durocher was wrong! Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval’s The Power of Nice is the antidote to our increasingly mean-spirited culture. I’m going to send a copy to every political campaign consultant I know.”
—Arianna Huffington

“In negotiation, the cheapest concession you can make is to be nice. And the returns can be high, as Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval show in this delightfully readable primer packed with practical advice and entertaining stories. I recommend it with pleasure!”
—William Ury, co-author of Getting to Yes and author of The Power of a Positive No

“For my money, I would always rather make a deal with people I like who treat me well. If you want to discover the surprising power of nice, read this book. Memorize it. Use it. You’ll be glad you did.”
—Donald Trump
Visit the official The Power of Nice website, and check the book's entry in The Page 69 Series tomorrow.

--Marshal Zeringue

Influential books: Thomas C. Schelling

Twenty years ago I got interested in a book called The Harvard Guide to Influential Books. Looking through it recently, I re-discovered Thomas C. Schelling's entry.

He wrote: "These books give readers a taste of the best in natural science, social science, classical and modern history and literary style," and went on to cite Darwin's The Origin of Species, Thucydides' History, Erving Goffman's Interaction Ritual, Sterne's Tristram Shandy, and John Keegan's The Face of Battle.

A lot has happened since Schelling mentioned those books -- for one thing, he won the 2005 Nobel Prize in Economics -- and I wondered if he would name the same books today.

So I asked him if would he stick with those titles or, if not striking any, at least like to add a title or two to his list of influential books.

Here is what he replied:
My recommendations covered more than two millennia. In the twenty years since I compiled my list, only one hundredth of that time span has elapsed. I cannot think of anything in the last twenty years that matches the entries I provided two decades ago. You were kind to inquire; I think I'll stick with my original proposal.
--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: "Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain"

This morning's feature at The Page 69 Test is Sharon Begley's Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.

From the publisher:
Is it really possible to change the structure and function of the brain, and in so doing alter how we think and feel? The answer is a resounding yes. In late 2004, leading Western scientists joined the Dalai Lama at his home in Dharamsala, India, to address this very question–and in the process brought about a revolution in our understanding of the human mind. In this fascinating and far-reaching book, Wall Street Journal science writer Sharon Begley reports on how cutting-edge science and the ancient wisdom of Buddhism have come together to show how we all have the power to literally change our brains by changing our minds. These findings hold exciting implications for personal transformation. [read more about the book]
Among the praise for Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain:
“There are two great things about this book. One is that it shows us how nothing about our brains is set in stone. The other is that it is written by Sharon Begley, one of the best science writers around. Begley is superb at framing the latest facts within the larger context of the field. She also gives us the back stories that reveal how human the process of science research is. This is a terrific book.”
—Robert Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers

“Reading this book is like opening doors in the mind. Sharon Begley brings the reader right to the intersection of scientific and meditative understanding, a place of exciting potential for personal and global transformation. And she does it so skillfully as to seem effortless.”
—Sharon Salzberg, author of Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience

“It is very seldom that a science in its infancy is so skillfully unpacked that it reads like a detective novel. The fact that this science includes collaborative efforts of neuroscientists, psychologists, contemplatives, philosophers, and the full engagement of the genius of the Dalai Lama is not only fascinating, but uplifting and inspiring. This book lets you know that how you pay attention to your experience can change your entire way of being.”
—Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Coming to Our Senses
Read an excerpt from Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain and check out how the page 69 test served the book.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: "The Immortal Game"

David Shenk's The Immortal Game: A History of Chess, or How 32 Carved Pieces on a Board Illuminated Our Understanding of War, Art, Science and the Human Brain was featured yesterday at The Page 69 Test.

From the publisher's synopsis:
A surprising, charming, and ever-fascinating history of the seemingly simple game that has had a profound effect on societies the world over.

Why has one game, alone among the thousands of games invented and played throughout human history, not only survived but thrived within every culture it has touched? What is it about its thirty-two figurative pieces, moving about its sixty-four black and white squares according to very simple rules, that has captivated people for nearly 1,500 years? Why has it driven some of its greatest players into paranoia and madness, and yet is hailed as a remarkably powerful intellectual tool? [read more of the synopsis]

Here is a sample of the considerable praise the author is enjoying:

"A thrilling tour... an engaging, colorful look at a world that blissfully remains black-and-white."
Entertainment Weekly

"Shenk, a spry writer... [offers] a strong case for the game's bewitching power."
The New York Times

"Fresh and fascinating... a world-spanning story [Shenk] relates with skill and verve."
Chicago Sun-Times

"Before reading David Shenk's wonderful new book, I had at best a casual interest in chess. It seemed too ancient to untangle, too complex to decipher with any real appreciation. But Shenk, in a book filled with daring moves and cunning patience, has made a believer out of me."
—Stephen J. Dubner, coauthor of Freakonomics

"I loved this book. Full of burning enthusiasm for the greatest intellectual game in the world, it shows just what can happen when an accomplished author, full of fire and passion, tackles a most wonderful and intricate story. Like a great chess game, this is an achievement that will be talked about for many years to come."
—Simon Winchester, author of A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 and The Professor and the Madman

Read an excerpt and check out how the page 69 test served the book.

David Shenk's most recent article for Slate is "The Survivalist Returns: What's wrong with the CDC's new pandemic planning guide."

--Marshal Zeringue

"What is Patrick Thaddeus Jackson reading?"

Patrick Thaddeus Jackson is the author of Civilizing the Enemy: German Reconstruction and the Invention of the West.

I asked him what he has been reading. His reply:

I'm on sabbatical at the moment, so for the first time in a while I am getting to read books that are not directly related to the courses that I am teaching at any given time! I tend to read in "channels" when I can, simultaneously reading books in different genres at different times during the day or week. I am presently in the middle of four books:

1) in the philosophy channel, Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. A classic, and one that I have to admit that I've never read cover-to-cover before. I'm extremely interested in the relationship between knowledge and experience, and Kant is a seminal thinker of this relationship. Since one of my sabbatical goals is to eventually spend some time wallowing in American pragmatism (Dewey, James, Rorty), I thought it was best to go back to some of the traditional works first; after Kant I plan some Hegel, Vico, Durkheim, and Weber.

2) in the historical channel, David McCullough's John Adams. I started this book some years ago when it first came out, but had to put it aside half-finished because other things (like working to get tenure, and having kids!) intervened. Now at last I have been able to pick it up again, and am enjoying McCullough's ability to spin an engrossing narrative of the American founding. Next up on this channel: Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton.

3) in the spirituality channel, Parker Palmer's To Know as We Are Known. It's a fascinating book in which the author presents a re-visioning of higher education in terms of the practices of a truth-seeking community, using the monastic tradition as a kind of inspirational guide. My favorite line this far: "Objectivist education is a strategy for avoiding our own conversion. If we can keep reality 'out there,' we can avoid, for a while, the truth that lays the claim of community on our individual and collective lives." Next up: Rudolf Otto's The Idea of the Holy.

4) finally in the fiction channel, I just finished Iain M. Banks' Feersum Endjinn. Banks is my favorite currently-working science fiction author, and this book -- although not part of his "Culture" series -- is an intriguing tale of a future earth in which people live their lives mostly or completely online as part of the "cryptosphere." A quarter of the book is written from the perspective of a character who can only spell phonetically, and those portions of the book basically need to be read out loud in order to make sense. Fascinating stuff, and Banks is brilliant as always. (His Excession and Look to Windward should be on everyone's reading-list, as they are both marvelous tales about the arrogance of a dominant society intervening in the affairs of less-powerful societies so as to "improve" them.) Next up: either Justin Lieber's Beyond Rejection or Stephen Baxter's Coalescent.
Visit Patrick's teaching blog and faculty homepage.

About Civilizing The Enemy: page 69 test.

--Marshal Zeringue

(This post first appeared on Writers Read.)