Saturday, May 31, 2008

Whit Stillman's 5 essential books about Hollywood

Whit Stillman is the writer-director of The Last Days of Disco, Barcelona, and Metropolitan.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of books about Hollywood.

One title on his list:
When the Shooting Stops ... the Cutting Begins
by Ralph Rosenblum and Robert Karen
Viking, 1979

The dourest of men, Ralph Rosenblum was the editorial genius behind many of the great modern film comedies, including the first films of Woody Allen, Herb Gardiner and Mel Brooks. Rosenblum's account of the editing-room transformation of "The Producers," "Take the Money and Run" and "Annie Hall" is a film education in itself and a counterweight to the usual debate over the primacy of either script or direction. Rosenblum's bête noire is the cult of the film director. In his memoir only three directors -- Allen, Gardiner and Sidney Lumet (the first two also writers and so more tolerably "auteurs") -- come off well. "The myth that the director is the sole creator of his film is a burden on almost everyone in the movie business, including the director," he and co-author Robert Karen write. Particularly revealing is Rosenblum's description of how the beautiful ending to "Annie Hall" -- when Allen, as Alvy Singer, muses on the absurdity and necessity of romantic love -- was concocted in a taxi and recorded in a sound booth barely an hour before a key audience screening.
Read more about Stillman's five essential books about Hollywood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Chris Turney's "Ice, Mud and Blood"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Chris Turney's Ice, Mud and Blood: Lessons from Climates Past.

About the book, from the publisher:
Imagine a world of wildly escalating temperatures, apocalyptic flooding, devastating storms and catastrophic sea levels. This might sound like a prediction for the future or the storyline of a new Hollywood blockbuster but it’s actually what occurred on earth in the past. In a day and age when worrying forecasts for future climate change are the norm, it seems hard to believe that such things happened regularly over time. Can humankind decipher the past and learn from it?

As science gains new understanding of how the planet works, it’s becoming increasingly clear that no one place is disconnected from anywhere else. From the Alps to the Andes, seemingly unrelated parts of the world are connected in one way or another. By reading this book you’ll realize that we're facing challenges beyond anything our species has had to contend with before.
Among the acclaim for Ice, Mud and Blood:
"Chris Turney's 'Ice, Mud and Blood' is lively, well-researched, and up-to-date. A summary of key discoveries by scientists about past climate change, it ranges widely across time and all over the planet. Turney begins many of these stories with delightful anecdotes about people who centuries ago stumbled on confusing observations that in time came to be understood as the result of climate change."
--Prof. William F. Ruddiman, author of Plows, Plagues and Petroleum

Chris Turney has unveiled a climate crystal ball. It’s made of ice, covered in mud, and tells the past and likely future of life on Earth. Join him as he delves expertly into the layered depths of climatic history and exposes the stark warnings to all fossil-fuelled humanity that they hold."
--Dr Dave Reay, author of Climate Change Begins at Home

"A great read on a critically important subject. Turney's best book yet."
--Prof. Tim Flannery, author of The Weather Makers
Learn more about Ice, Mud and Blood and its author at Chris Turney's website.

Chris Turney is a Professor in Physical Geography at the University of Exeter. He did the radiocarbon dating on the "Hobbit" fossil of Flores, Indonesia, that hit the headlines worldwide. He also the author of Bones, Rocks and Stars: The Science of When Things Happened.

The Page 99 Test: Ice, Mud and Blood.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 30, 2008

What is Jane Yolen reading?

The current featured contributor to Writers Read: Jane Yolen, whose new book is Naming Liberty.

One book she mentioned:
Ellen Wittlinger's YA book Sandpiper, which has a bit too much sex for me to share with my 7th grade granddaughter, but is otherwise a well-written and smart book about a girl and boy who both have lived with unbearable secrets and who are both afraid that they now have no lives to live at all. [read on]
Jane Yolen is an author of children's books, fantasy, and science fiction, including Owl Moon and How do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?

She is also a poet, a teacher of writing and literature, and a reviewer of children's literature. She has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century.

Yolen may be best known for her Holocaust novella, The Devil's Arithmetic.

Visit Jane Yolen's website and her journal.

Read about Jane Yolen's five most important books.

Writers Read: Jane Yolen.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Ben Rehder’s "Holy Moly"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Ben Rehder’s Holy Moly.

About the book, from the publisher:
When televangelist Peter Boothe decides to build a megachurch on the banks of the Pedernales River, he thinks his biggest problem will be a few unhappy neighbors. However, when backhoe operator Hollis Farley unearths a rare fossil on the construction site---a discovery that could lead to plenty of embarrassing Darwinian publicity---the cover-up begins. Soon, Farley is dead, shot in the back with an arrow, and Game Warden John Marlin is asked to help with the case.

What he and the local deputies find is a suspect list of biblical proportions: Could it have been the bitter geology professor? The private fossil collector with a somewhat unusual fetish? The minister’s wife who takes the Commandments rather lightly? Or the geriatric environmentalist with a mean right hook? Nothing is sacred in Rehder’s most laughable satire yet, a twisted tale of greed, corruption, infidelity, and, yes, paleontology.
Among the early praise for Holy Moly:
"Rehder’s satirical take on greed, faith and foolishness moves at a swift clip, punctuated with dizzy twists and even bittersweet turns, like a good toe-tapping, country and western tune."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Wicked satire. Fast and funny. Ben Rehder is the wittiest writer working today.”
Mark Gimenez, author of The Abduction

"Ben Rehder in his hilarious Holy Moly places televangelists and the creationism vs. evolution debate under the microsope. [He] takes readers on an adventure into the multimillion-dollar realm of the televangelist on whose land the fossil was found, life in small-town Texas, and the inner workings of police investigation in the latest entry in this Edgar Award-nominated series. Combining sophisticated prose with down-home Texas crime, he leaves no part of Texas life untouched."
Library Journal

"A tale of lust, power and greed that unravels at breakneck speed...Rehder's characters are always memorable, as are his satirical plots. His style is entertaining and fun to read."
San Antonio Express-News

"Hook[s] the reader right from the start and keep[s] the action moving from page to page."
Abilene Reporter-News
Learn more about the author and his work at Ben Rehder's website and his blog.

Ben Rehder’s Blanco County mysteries, Buck Fever, Bone Dry, Flat Crazy, Guilt Trip, and Gun Shy, have made best-of-the-year lists in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Kirkus Reviews.

The Page 69 Test: Holy Moly.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Review: Aravind Adiga's "The White Tiger"

Ray Taras, who covers contemporary world literature for the blog, reviews Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger:
The lower castes are emaciated, drink cheap domestic whisky when they have pocket change, and frequent slant-eyed Nepali prostitutes. If they are lucky enough to be employed as a driver for a wealthy businessman, they'll be assigned the unsophisticated Maruti Suzuki. The emerging middle class proudly sport pot bellies, drink the best imported single malt Scotch, and search out blond blue-eyed prostitutes from Ukraine. They expect to be driven around in the elegant Honda City.

Aravind Adiga's first novel offers an exposé of an India breaking out into the world of late capitalism--aggressive, brash, cynical, driven. It tells the story of Balram, an otherwise nondescript young villager of lower caste--his jati is of pastry makers--who arrives in Delhi and is soon hired to be a chauffeur by two brothers who have recently become rich. In the economic pandemonium of present-day India with its call centers, high-tech areas, and sprawling shopping malls, Balram can aspire to even more upward social mobility. Picking up cues he is exposed to from the business class and the government officials tied in with it, Balram decides that crime and dishonesty pay handsome rewards. The rags-to-riches trajectory takes him to Bangalore, a metropolis of outsiders, with its Electronics City and time zone in synch with the business day in New York. A typical conversation there, perhaps overhead in the Cafe Coffee Day, might go like this: "An American today offered me four-hundred thousand dollars for my start-up and I told him, 'That's not enough!'" (p. 255).

Balram does become a successful entrepreneur in Bangalore, though not in the high tech field. The means he uses to be successful are feudal in nature--bribes, intimidation, chutzpah--this after committing a grisly homicide using a decidedly low tech tool. Is this Frankenstein-like creature in any way charismatic or endearing, as a couple of reviewers have suggested? His incessant scheming and insensitive view of humanity are not characteristics many readers would themselves embrace.

This novel weaves a fine line between parody and stereotyping. If the author's intent is to present a pastiche of the contradictions of contemporary India, it results in a devastating denunciation of the country. But there is an element, too, of Adiga adopting uncritical stereotypes: of the Indian businessman, policeman, government official, wealthy housewife. The result is far from a nuanced portrait of Indian society's fundamental complexity.

Few literary devices of interest can be found in the novel. There is no value added to its epistolary structure--Balram's ramblings addressed to the Chinese premier. The writing has the markings of a journalist publishing satirical pieces in Mad Magazine. While he hasn't written for Mad, Adiga has served as a correspondent for Time magazine, the Financial Times, and MSNBC. Like many Indian writers with a literary reputation in the West, he was born in India, worked and studied in a number of English-speaking countries--Australia, England, the U.S.--and has returned to live in the subcontinent. Adiga is not technically an "ABCD"--an American-born Confused Desi (or South Asian immigrant)--even if in spirit he may resemble one. If the low-caste Balram in any way represents Adiga's literary alter ego, then the problem of adjusting to a society rapidly navigating the change from traditional to late capitalist is one the author himself is facing. Condemning the pollution of the Ganges, the size of the Hindu pantheon, and the thug behavior of the "Great Socialist" party adds up to someone who has little affection for India's quirks.

The story of Balram is not really funny. For some readers, it will represent the arduous pathway traversed by a desperate lower caste villager who proves to be that exceptional white tiger--a rare sight to behold. For other readers, the account of Balram will not amuse because it is a blanket indictment of contemporary Indian society: the supposed inseparability of its predatory capitalism, rampant corruption and, in certain Indian states, their nominal communist norms.

We will agree with Adiga when he writes: "A rich man's body is like a premium cotton pillow, white and soft and blank.... The story of a poor man's life is written on his body, in a sharp pen," replete with "cuts and nicks and scars, like little whip marks in his flesh" (p. 22). This is not a particularly Indian story, however.
--Ray Taras
Read an excerpt from The White Tiger, and learn more about the novel at the publisher's website.

Aravind Adiga was born in India and raised partly in Australia. He attended Columbia and Oxford universities. A former correspondent for Time magazine, he has also been published in the Financial Times.

The Page 69 Test: The White Tiger.

Ray Taras, professor of political science at Tulane University and director of its World Literature program for the past three years, is the author of the forthcoming book, Old Europe and New: Transnationalism, Belonging, Xenophobia.

He has reviewed the following fiction for the blog:
Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses
M.G. Vassanji's The Assassin's Song
3 Works by Dorota Masłowska
Andreï Makine's L’amour humain
Michel Houellebecq's The Possibility of an Island
Emmanuel Dongala's Johnny Mad Dog
Amitav Ghosh's The Hungry Tide

Taras has also reviewed nonfiction on the blog:
Andreï Makine, Cette France qu’on oublie d’aimer
Andrei S. Markovits' Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Peter D. Norton's "Fighting Traffic"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Peter D. Norton's Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City.

About the book, from the publisher:
Before the advent of the automobile, users of city streets were diverse and included children at play and pedestrians at large. By 1930, most streets were primarily motor thoroughfares where children did not belong and where pedestrians were condemned as "jaywalkers." In Fighting Traffic, Peter Norton argues that to accommodate automobiles, the American city required not only a physical change but also a social one: before the city could be reconstructed for the sake of motorists, its streets had to be socially reconstructed as places where motorists belonged. It was not an evolution, he writes, but a bloody and sometimes violent revolution.

Norton describes how street users struggled to define and redefine what streets were for. He examines developments in the crucial transitional years from the 1910s to the 1930s, uncovering a broad anti-automobile campaign that reviled motorists as "road hogs" or "speed demons" and cars as "juggernauts" or "death cars." He considers the perspectives of all users--pedestrians, police (who had to become "traffic cops"), street railways, downtown businesses, traffic engineers (who often saw cars as the problem, not the solution), and automobile promoters. He finds that pedestrians and parents campaigned in moral terms, fighting for "justice." Cities and downtown businesses tried to regulate traffic in the name of "efficiency." Automotive interest groups, meanwhile, legitimized their claim to the streets by invoking "freedom"--a rhetorical stance of particular power in the United States.

Fighting Traffic offers a new look at both the origins of the automotive city in America and how social groups shape technological change.
Among the early acclaim for Fighting Traffic:
"We forget that the search for mobility in urban areas has also led to a massive increase in mortality. Fighting Traffic makes the linkage between mobility and mortality explicit. This is a cutting edge work in mobility history and a major contribution to urban history."
--Clay McShane, author of Down the Asphalt Path

"In this exquisitely researched book, Norton guides us through the complex and passionate debates that cleared the street to make way for the car. These decisions made decades ago still shape our cities, so they are vital to understanding the future of the automobile, as well as its past."
--Zachary M. Schrag, author of The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro

"This is rigorous scholarship the history of technology, and the history of the automobile in particular, will truly benefit from. Norton's fascinating, in-depth history shows the automotive revolution was fought in the streets, reshaping the use of public space and impacting perceptions for generations thereafter."
--Gijs Mom, author of The Electric Vehicle: Technology and Expectations in the Automobile Age

"[A] compelling history tracing how the automobile changed the American city...."
--Tom Vanderbilt, author of Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)
Read an excerpt from Fighting Traffic, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Visit Peter D. Norton's faculty webpage.

Norton is Assistant Professor in the Department of Science, Technology, and Society at the University of Virginia.

The Page 99 Test: Fighting Traffic.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Critic's chart: writing under communist rule

James Smith, who edits the Booktrust website, came up with six titles for a "critic's chart" of "writing under communist rule" for the Times (London).

One title to make the list:
Novel Without a Name by Duong Thu Huong

The author was imprisoned for her novel about a Vietnamese soldier's changing attitudes to the war he is fighting.
Read about another title on Smith's list.

Read Booktrust's "selection of translated novels we think you will like."

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69/99: Thomas Perry's "Fidelity"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Thomas Perry's Fidelity.

About the novel:
When Phil Kramer is shot dead on a deserted suburban street in the middle of the night, his wife, Emily, is left with an emptied bank account and a lot of questions. How could Phil leave her penniless? What was he going to do with the money? And, most of all, who was he if he wasn’t the man she thought she married?

Jerry Hobart has some questions of his own. It’s none of his business why he was hired to kill Phil Kramer. But now that he’s been ordered to take out Kramer’s widow, he figures there’s a bigger secret at work—and maybe a bigger payoff.

As they race to find the secret that Phil Kramer so masterfully hid, both Hobart and Emily must question where their true loyalties lie and how much they owe those who have been unfaithful to them. In Fidelity, Thomas Perry delivers another riveting thriller.
Among the early praise for Fidelity:
"Perry intrigues as always with spare, intelligent prose."
--Publishers Weekly

"In this high-energy thriller, Emily Kramer tries to find out why her husband, Phil, was shot dead and discovers he'd been keeping secrets from her. Jerry Hobart completed his contract killing of Phil Kramer, but now his employer wants Phil's wife dead as well; Jerry decides he can instead make more money finding out what his employer is hiding. And rich, successful Ted Forrest likes young women-really young women. This predisposition got him into trouble once before, and he's not going to let it happen again. A virtue of Edgar Award winner Perry's (Silence) novel is that the bad guy draws you in. You can't dismiss Jerry as simply evil-he kills ruthlessly but not needlessly; his heart aches for a lost past, and he admires the woman he's paid to kill. A spunky but believable heroine, an emotionally conflicted killer, a plot whose twists you will not anticipate-what more could a reader want from a piece of escapist fiction? Fidelity is a winner. But, then, Perry has never written a bad novel in his life."
--David Keymer, Library Journal (starred review)

"Fidelity… rivets attention, races fast and displays distinctive Perry hallmarks, especially in its standoffs. His characters are uncannily good at sizing one another up and anticipating what the next moves will be. Though he briefly equates Hobart's tactics to the ways a coyote slinks through a neighborhood, Mr. Perry need not even articulate this. It’s always built into his storytelling, and it's already on the page."
--Janet Maslin, New York Times

"Perry remains a kind of literary alchemist, able to mix often-incompatible elements, intricate plotting and subtle characterization, into crime-fiction gold. . . This is fine writing from one of crime fiction's grand masters."
--Bill Ott, Booklist (starred review)
Read an excerpt from Fidelity, and learn more about the author and his work at Thomas Perry's website.

Thomas Perry is the author of sixteen novels, including the Jane Whitefield series as well as the bestselling novels Nightlife, Death Benefits, and Pursuit. He is the first recipient of the Gumshoe Award for Best Novel, and he won an Edgar Award for The Butcher’s Boy.

The Page 69 Test: Silence.

The Page 99 Test: Nightlife.

Writers Read: Thomas Perry.

The Page 69/99 Test: Fidelity.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

What is Ken MacLeod reading?

The latest featured contributor at Writers Read: Ken MacLeod, author of many acclaimed SF novels, including The Stone Canal, The Cassini Division, Newton’s Wake, and Learning the World, which won the Prometheus Award (his third) and was a finalist for the Hugo Award.

His latest novel, The Execution Channel, has been shortlisted for the 2008 Prometheus Award. It is his ninth nomination for the award.

One book tagged in his entry:
The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing edited by Richard Dawkins (Oxford University Press, 2008) is pure undiluted reading pleasure and mental joy from beginning to end. (Not that I've got to the end, but I've taken a statistically significant sample of the book, and I'm betting the rest of it'll hold up.) This book's only drawback is that it may well incite you - I know it's inciting me - to rush out and read every book from which the extracts are taken. Which wouldn't leave much time for reading anything else, let alone writing. It's a risk I can live with, and so should you. Read this book! [read on]
Visit Ken MacLeod's blog.

The Page 99 Test: The Execution Channel.

Writers Read: Ken MacLeod.

--Marshal Zeringue

Julie Luongo's "The Hard Way," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: Julie Luongo's The Hard Way.

Luongo's write-up opens:
When I imagine The Hard Way based on the novel by Julie Luongo coming to a theater near you, I generally think of it as a rich romantic comedy with a who’s-who ensemble cast and a top director. And I’m no literary snob. I have no problems at all with the Hollywood elite.

But The Hard Way would also work as a dark and/or quirky indie film with soon-to-be famous actors. What I mean is that I could imagine—I do imagine—a lot of different directors handling the subject material well. Judd Apatow would make it young and light; Sofia Coppola brooding and layered; Wes Anderson quirky and beautiful; Ron Howard fun and Oscar-worthy.

However, if I were directing my movie, I’d probably go with a Robert Altman style a la Short Cuts to mimic my book’s novel-in-stories structure. (Incidentally, I think Richard Linklater would pull this off well.) I’d give each vignette its own cast, tone, and style.

Nooo, I haven’t wasted a ton of time on this fantasy. Nope, not much time at all.

The Hard Way takes place over the span of 30 years (1970-2000) and is about one woman’s journey toward self-awareness and personal fulfillment. Lucy has a long road though. Her childhood was spent as the reluctant subject of a painter her parents were supporting when she was born.

In the vignette of her childhood, I’d cast.... [read on]
Read more about The Hard Way at Julie Luongo's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Hard Way.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Brendan I. Koerner's "Now the Hell Will Start"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Brendan I. Koerner 's Now the Hell Will Start: One Soldier's Flight from the Greatest Manhunt of World War II.

About the book, from the publisher:
A true story of murder, love, and headhunters, Now the Hell Will Start tells the remarkable tale of Herman Perry, a budding Romeo from the streets of Washington, D.C., who wound up going native in the Indo-Burmese jungle—not because he yearned for adventure, but rather to escape the greatest manhunt conducted by the United States Army during World War II.

An African American G.I. assigned to a segregated labor battalion, Perry was shipped to South Asia in 1943, enduring unspeakable hardships while sailing around the globe. He was one of thousands of black soldiers dispatched to build the Ledo Road, a highway meant to appease China’s conniving dictator, Chiang Kai-shek. Stretching from the thickly forested mountains of northeast India across the tiger-infested vales of Burma, the road was a lethal nightmare, beset by monsoons, malaria, and insects that chewed men’s flesh to pulp.

Perry could not endure the jungle’s brutality, nor the racist treatment meted out by his white officers. He found solace in opium and marijuana, which further warped his fraying psyche. Finally, on March 5, 1944, he broke down—an emotional collapse that ended with him shooting an unarmed white lieutenant.

So began Perry’s flight through the Indo-Burmese wilderness, one of the planet’s most hostile realms. While the military police combed the brothels of Calcutta, Perry trekked through the jungle, eventually stumbling upon a village festooned with polished human skulls. It was here, amid a tribe of elaborately tattooed headhunters, that Herman Perry would find bliss—and would marry the chief ’s fourteen-year-old daughter.

Starting off with nothing more than a ten-word snippet culled from an obscure bibliography, Brendan I. Koerner spent nearly five years chasing Perry’s ghost—a pursuit that eventually led him to the remotest corners of India and Burma, where drug runners and ethnic militias now hold sway. Along the way, Koerner uncovered the forgotten story of the Ledo Road’s black G.I.s, for whom Jim Crow was as virulent an enemy as the Japanese. Many of these troops revered the elusive Perry as a folk hero—whom they named the Jungle King.

Sweeping from North Carolina’s Depression-era cotton fields all the way to the Himalayas, Now the Hell Will Start is an epic saga of hubris, cruelty, and redemption. Yet it is also an exhilarating thriller, a cat-and-mouse yarn that dazzles and haunts.
Among the early acclaim for Now the Hell Will Start:
"Now the Hell Will Start is a dazzling look at a heretofore unseen and untold drama of WWII. Koerner takes us inside the Burmese jungle, where tigers and headhunters roam, and into the mind of an American, marooned by injustice, who struggles to survive as a man without a country. As Koerner points out, the hero of his tale, the pursued Herman Perry, may have just been the world's first hippie, certainly a father to Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now. Koerner is a startling writer of great humanity and a driving sense of plot, and this tale of survival and race enlarges our sense of American history."
—Doug Stanton, author of In Harm’s Way

"Now the Hell will Start is a fascinating, untold story of the Second World War, an incendiary social document, and a thrilling, campfire tale adventure."
—George Pelecanos

"Koerner wandered into the jungles of Burma in search of a fugitive whose name indeed was buried in time. What he has come out with is a first-rate portrait of muscle and bone and soul."
—Charlie LeDuff, author of US Guys

"Brendan Koerner's Now the Hell Will Start rockets you from the WWII jungles of southeast Asia, to the streets of Washington DC, in a meticulously crafted narrative so wild it must be true. With a painstaking eye for detail, and the kind of prose that edges truth into art, Koerner's one of those journalists who nearly makes fiction irrelevant."
—David Matthews, author of Ace of Spades
Visit the Now the Hell Will Start website and Brendan I. Koerner's website.

The Page 99 Test: Now the Hell Will Start.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, May 26, 2008

Jane Yolen: most important books

Jane Yolen is an author of children's books, fantasy, and science fiction. She is also a poet, a teacher of writing and literature, and a reviewer of children's literature. Her new book is Naming Liberty.

She told Newsweek about her five most important books. And addressed two related issues:
A book you hope parents will read to their kids:

James Thurber's "The Thirteen Clocks." This perfect fairy tale will get inside you from your guggle to your zatch.

A classic you revisited with disappointment:

L. Frank Baum's "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." All I could see were the repetitions, the unvarying sentences and the paper-thin characters.
Read more about Jane Yolen's most important books.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Ellen Feldman's "Scottsboro"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Ellen Feldman's Scottsboro.

About the book, from the publisher:
A powerful novel about race, class, sex, and a lie that refused to die.

Alabama, 1931. A posse stops a freight train and arrests nine black youths. Their crime: fighting with white boys. Then two white girls emerge from another freight car, and fast as anyone can say Jim Crow, the cry of rape goes up. One of the girls sticks to her story. The other changes her tune, again and again. A young journalist, whose only connection to the incident is her overheated social conscience, fights to save the nine youths from the electric chair, redeem the girl who repents her lie, and make amends for her own past. Intertwining historical actors and fictional characters, stirring racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism into an explosive brew, Scottsboro is a novel of a shocking injustice that convulsed the nation and reverberated around the world, destroyed lives, forged careers, and brought out the worst and the best in the men and women who fought for the cause.
Among the praise for the novel:
"A riveting drama...inspired and inspiring.... Ruby is a gem of a character, and belongs with the best of William Faulkner's, or Alice Walker's, women."
San Francisco Chronicle

"Emotionally charged...a strong sense of dramatic tension.... Feldman gets her history right and...the fictional characters are rendered in artful service to the novel's larger project...a powerful tribute to the nine [Scottsboro] men.... Thanks to Feldman's scholarly research and her ability to imagine the interior lives of historical figures, more readers may hopefully learn about this significant moment in American history."
Atlanta Journal Constitution

"Spellbinding fiction.... Rich imagination, memorable characters and elegant but restrained prose.... On par with Feldman's characterizations is her subtle reflection of reality.... With a sure sense of storytelling, a deft hand at characterization and a stylish and sensitive use of language, Feldman has created another affecting portrait of the past. And in so doing, her tale of racism and poverty, lies and hopelessness, brings an American disgrace to life with eloquence, intelligence and passion."
Richmond Times Dispatch

"Feldman re-animates the drama in a novel that is based on archival records, court records, and first-person accounts but that succeeds overwhelmingly as a work of imagination...distilled with great subtlety and wit, into a story worth retelling and remembering."
Boston Globe

"A keen sense of drama...a raw sense of alienation and collision."
Publishers Weekly

"Feldman's simple, eloquent phrases and realistic representation of the human condition make her book gripping and demonstrate a masterful control.... Especially gripping is the painted humanity of Ruby Bates."
Library Journal
Learn more about the book and author at Ellen Feldman's website.

Feldman is the author of Scottsboro, The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank, and Lucy. She writes both historical fiction and social history, and has published articles on the history of divorce, plastic surgery, Halloween, the Normandie, and many other topics, as well as numerous book reviews.

Read Feldman's essay, "75 Years After Scottsboro," on the Huffington Post.

The Page 69 Test: Scottsboro.

--Marshal Zeringue

Sunday, May 25, 2008

What is Tom Zoellner reading?

The current featured contributor to Writers Read: Tom Zoellner.

One title from his entry:
the book of a friend, Dale Maharidge, whose And Their Children After Them is both an update and a tribute to the famous lyrical portrayal of three Alabama cotton-farming families, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans. Dale's book won the Pulitzer, and deserved it. [read on]
Tom Zoellner is the author of Homemade Biography: How to Collect, Record, and Tell the Life Story of Someone You Love and The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire.

He is also the co-author of An Ordinary Man, the autobiography of Paul Rusesabagina, whose actions during the 1994 Rwandan genocide were portrayed in the movie Hotel Rwanda.

Visit Tom Zoellner's website and read an excerpt from The Heartless Stone.

The Page 99 Test: The Heartless Stone.

Writers Read: Tom Zoellner.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Robert Zimmerman's "The Universe in a Mirror"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Robert Zimmerman's The Universe in a Mirror: The Saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It.

About the book, from the publisher:
The Hubble Space Telescope has produced the most stunning images of the cosmos humanity has ever seen. It has transformed our understanding of the universe around us, revealing new information about its age and evolution, the life cycle of stars, and the very existence of black holes, among other startling discoveries. The Universe in a Mirror tells the story of this telescope and the visionaries responsible for its extraordinary accomplishments.

Robert Zimmerman takes readers behind the scenes of one of the most ambitious scientific instruments ever sent into space. After World War II, astronomer Lyman Spitzer and a handful of scientists waged a fifty-year struggle to build the first space telescope capable of seeing beyond Earth's atmospheric veil. Zimmerman shows how many of the telescope's advocates sacrificed careers and family to get it launched, and how others devoted their lives to Hubble only to have their hopes and reputations shattered when its mirror was found to be flawed. This is the story of an idea that would not die--and of the dauntless human spirit. Illustrated with striking color images, The Universe in a Mirror describes the heated battles between scientists and bureaucrats, the perseverance of astronauts to repair and maintain the telescope, and much more. Hubble, and the men and women behind it, opened a rare window onto the universe, dazzling humanity with sights never before seen.

This book tells their remarkable story.
Among the early praise for the book:
"Spectacular images of the cosmos from the Hubble Space Telescope have become so routine that it's easy to forget the astronomical community's despair in 1990, when NASA discovered that the main mirror was improperly shaped. In The Universe in a Mirror, Robert Zimmerman brings the visionaries behind this most remarkable of instruments vividly to life, taking us artfully through the decades--long minefield of lobbying, funding, design, construction, delay after the Challenger explosion and launch--and then through the Hubble's near-death experience as astronomers realized to their horror that its mirror was ground to the wrong shape. His meticulously researched but engaging prose makes it clear how remarkable an achievement the telescope actually was, and how easily it might not have happened at all."
--Michael D. Lemonick, contributing writer to Time and lecturer at Princeton University

"For everyone who knows something of the story of the space telescope and its travails, this book provides a fascinating look behind the scenes. An excellent contribution to the history of technology."
--Robert P. Kirshner, author of The Extravagant Universe

"Quite a story. I really liked this book."
--John Huchra, Harvard University

"Zimmerman demonstrates the importance of vision, perseverance, politics, and good luck in getting this national telescope constructed, fixed, and operated. He also illustrates, somewhat poignantly at times, the human costs and disappointments that came up along the way."
--J. Michael Shull, University of Colorado at Boulder
Read an excerpt from The Universe in a Mirror, and learn more about the book and author at the Princeton University Press website and Robert Zimmerman's website.

Zimmerman is an award-winning science writer and historian whose work has appeared in Natural History, the Wall Street Journal, and Astronomy, among other leading publications. His books include Leaving Earth: Space Stations, Rival Superpowers, and the Quest for Interplanetary Travel and Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8.

The Page 99 Test: The Universe in a Mirror.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Pg. 69: Kate Mosse's "Sepulchre"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Kate Mosse's Sepulchre.

About the book, from the publisher:
In 1891, young Léonie Vernier and her brother Anatole arrive in the beautiful town of Rennes-les-Bains, in the Pyrenees of southwest France. Born and raised in Paris, they’ve come at the invitation of their widowed aunt, whose mountain estate, Domain de la Cade, is famous in the region. But it soon becomes clear that their aunt—and the Domain—are not what Leonie had imagined. For starters, Tante Isolde is no graying dowager—she is young, willowy, and beautiful, but with a melancholy air that suits the strange, slightly sinister Domain de la Cade. Leonie discovers that the house has long been the subject of local superstition. The villager claim that the Devil walks in the forests of the Domain, and that Isolde’s late husband died after summoning a demon from the old Visigoth sepulchre high on the mountainside. A book from the Domain’s cavernous library describes not only the spell used to bring forth the demon, but the strange Tarot pack that is part of the ritual, a set of cards that has mysteriously disappeared following the uncle’s death. But while Leonie delves deeper into the ancient mysteries of the Domain, a different evil stalks her family—one which may explain why Leonie and Anatole were invited to the Domain in the first place.

More than a century later, Meredith Martin, an American graduate student, arrives in France to study the life of Claude Debussy, a 19th century French composer. Meredith finds a letter by Debussy suggesting a connection with the town of Rennes-le-Bains and unable to find any information in Paris, Meredith heads south. In Rennes-le-Bain, she checks into a grand old hotel—the Domain de la Cade—built on the site of a famous mountain estate destroyed by fire in 1896. Something about the hotel feels eerily familiar, and strange dreams and visions begin to haunt Meredith’s waking hours. A chance encounter leads her to a piece of 19th century music known as "the Sepulchre" and pack of Tarot cards painted by Leonie Vernier, which may hold the key to this 21st century American’s fate…just as they did to the fate of Leonie Vernier more than a century earlier. What is the connection between Meredith and Leonie? Do demons really haunt the mountains of the Domain? All will be revealed when the Sepulchre is opened at last...
Among the early acclaim for the novel:
“Superior hugger-mugger from an impressive new mistress of the genre… Mosse again proves herself a demon researcher (so to speak), and her novel's rich brew of supernaturalism and intrigue is tasty indeed.”
--Kirkus (starred review)

“Mosse intertwines her literary influences and the story at hand as playfully, intricately and suspensefully as she melds the material and the supernatural, past and present. Everything intersects in a goose bump-inducing finale at the sepulchre, which bears an inscription warning all who enter: 'Fujhi, poudes; Escapa, non.' (Flee, you may; escape, you cannot.) But really, with a book this much fun, who would want to do either?”
--Washington Post

"Sepulchre is a compulsive, fantastical, historical yarn. Mosse’s skill lies in the precise nature of her storytelling."

"The Labyrinth author is back with another brilliantly absorbing story ... Richly evocative and full of compelling twists and turns."

"Mosse’s gifts for historical fiction are considerable ... Mosse does what good popular historical novelists do best – make the past enticingly otherworldly, while also claiming it as our own."

"[Mosse is] a powerful storyteller with an abundant imagination."
--Daily Telegraph

"Her narrative lyricism, beautifully drawn female characters and deft journey from the past to the present day, are also a cut above."
--Scotland on Sunday
Read an excerpt from Sepulchre, and learn more about the book and its author at the Sepulchre website and Kate Mosse's website and her blog. View the video trailer for Sepulchre.

The Page 69 Test: Sepulchre.

--Marshal Zeringue

Five best works of war poetry

Pulitzer Prize nominee James Anderson Winn is a Boston University professor of English and author of The Poetry of War.

For the Wall Street Journal, he named a five best list of works of war poetry. One title on his list:
John Brown's Body
by Steven Vincent Benét
Doubleday, Doran, 1928

Although sprawling and uneven, this 15,000-line narrative poem on the Civil War has moments of lyric beauty and effective irony. In my favorite passage, a teenage sentry remembers ancient poems while guarding the tent of Robert E. Lee: "The aide-de-camp knew certain lines of Greek / And other such unnecessary things / As birds and music, that are good for peace / But are not deemed so serviceable for war." Through the ironic use of the word "deemed," the speaker labels the belief that poetry is unnecessary for war as received opinion, not his own. With his "inquisitive mind" and his "falling for romance," the sentry is a fantasy version of the short-sighted poet, who repeatedly tried to enlist during World War I and once almost succeeded by memorizing the eye chart. It took just three days for the Army to detect his handicap and send him home.
See which book topped Winn's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, May 23, 2008

Introducing "Dining with Bacchus"

I've started a new wining and dining website called "Dining with Bacchus."

The first post up is about my recent dining experience--no wining on this occasion--with Chef Donald Link of Herbsaint and Cochon.

But this post is not only a shameless plug for the new website. We also talked books: cookbooks. Link just finished his first, with Cajun and rustic home cooking recipes, and there are more details about it in the new column.

I also asked him if there were any cookbooks which figure prominently in his development as a chef.

When he started cooking as a teenager, he said, he didn't realize people were writing such books. But he did come up with a few influential titles, including: Larousse Gastronomique, one of Paul Prudhomme's early cookbooks, and The Zuni Cafe Cookbook.

Donald Link's recipe book is due out in Spring 2009. I hope there's something especially exciting on Page 69.

Read about my interview with Donald Link.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 99: Benjamin Schiff’s "Building the International Criminal Court"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Benjamin N. Schiff’s Building the International Criminal Court.

About the book, from the publisher:
The ICC is the first and only standing international court capable of prosecuting humanity’s worst crimes: genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. It faces huge obstacles. It has no police force; it pursues investigations in areas of tremendous turmoil, conflict, and death; it is charged both with trying suspects and with aiding their victims; and it seeks to combine divergent legal traditions in an entirely new international legal mechanism.

International law advocates sought to establish a standing international criminal court for more than 150 years. Other, temporary, single-purpose criminal tribunals, truth commissions, and special courts have come and gone, but the ICC is the only permanent inheritor of the Nuremberg legacy.

In Building the International Criminal Court, Oberlin College Professor of Politics Ben Schiff analyzes the ICC, melding historical perspective, international relations theories, and observers’ insights to explain the Court’s origins, creation, innovations, dynamics, and operational challenges.
Among the early acclaim for the book:
“An insightful study of an unprecedented international institution. Ben Schiff, in a clear and flowing analysis, blends history, law and political science into a work of lasting significance.”
--M. Cherif Bassiouni, DePaul University

“Drawing from multiple strands of international relations theory, Benjamin Schiff examines the creation and operation of the International Criminal Court. He takes a hard look at the political past and future of this new international organization. This important book covers extensive ground and is essential reading for a public concerned - as it should be - with the interplay between law, politics, tragedy, and justice. It is only by studying the International Criminal Court that its work can be improved. By illuminating the path forward, Schiff has done us all a tremendous service.”
--Mark A. Drumbl, Washington and Lee University

“A superb systematic examination of the International Criminal Court - the ‘streams’ of ideas and actions that shaped it, the challenges of building a new, functioning organization; the handling of the first four situations referred to it; and the ongoing tensions between peace and justice and political and judicial choices it faces. Given its scope, Benjamin Schiff's book is invaluable for both scholars and practitioners; its clear prose also makes it an excellent choice for graduate and upper-level courses in human rights, international law, and international organization.”
--Margaret P. Karns, University of Dayton

“The tensions in the establishment and operations of the ICC are masterfully examined in this comprehensive work by Schiff. Particularly fascinating is the dilemma between justice and peace in the inaugural four African cases on the docket. Grounded in international relations theories, this book is a ‘must read’ for scholars and students of international law and organization and international human rights.”
--Karen Mingst, University of Kentucky

“A richly detailed, insightful, and engrossing account of the establishment and evolution of one of the world’s most important new institutions, this remarkable book is a historical document of major significance. A must read for scholars of international law and diplomacy, and anyone interested in the world-wide struggle against impunity.”
--Michael P. Scharf, Case Western Reserve University
Read an excerpt from Building the International Criminal Court, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

Benjamin N. Schiff is Professor of Politics, Oberlin College.

The Page 99 Test: Building the International Criminal Court.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What is Greg Mosse reading?

The latest contributor to Writers Read: Greg Mosse, author of Secrets of the Labyrinth, a non-fiction book written as a companion piece to his wife Kate Mosse's international best seller Labyrinth.

Mosse graduated in Drama and English from Goldsmiths College, University of London. He has published works of science fiction, children’s stories and commercial and literary translation and is an experienced editor and creative writing teacher.

His entry begins:
I'm currently reading a book on French folklore that I initially couldn't find in any shops that I knew in France. I looked round Paris, Toulouse and our patch in the southwest with no joy. So I fished around the resellers on the net and tracked it down. It's called Mysterious Locations and Legends of Our French Regions - Sites mystérieux et légendes de nos provinces françaises - and it's a cracker. Take a bow, Jean-Paul Ronecker.

The book is organized – as you would expect – regionally, so you can seek out places that you know. Many of the tales are similar – there are probably too many White Ladies and elusive dancing flames, but that is hardly the author's fault. That's what the people say they saw. And some of the mysterious tales are surprisingly contemporary. [read on]
Learn more about his Secrets of the Labyrinth at the publisher's website.

Writers Read: Greg Mosse.

--Marshal Zeringue

"The Rap Sheet" turns two

The Rap Sheet, the indispensable online source for crime fiction news and features, celebrates its second birthday today.

Instead of resting on their laurels and taking the day off, editor J. Kingston Pierce has helpfully listed links to some of the site's proudest posts of the past two years.

Click over and check out what all the fuss is about.

--Marshal Zeringue

Pg. 69: Cheryl Kaye Tardif's "Whale Song"

The current feature at the Page 69 Test: Cheryl Kaye Tardif's Whale Song.

About the book, from the author's website:
Thirteen years ago, Sarah Richardson’s life was shattered after the tragic assisted suicide of her mother. The shocking tragedy left a grief-stricken teen-aged Sarah with partial amnesia.

Some things are easier to forget.

But now a familiar voice from her past sends Sarah, a talented mid-twenties ad exec, back to her past. A past that she had thought was long buried.

Some things are meant to be buried.

Torn by nightmares and visions of a yellow-eyed wolf, yet aided by the creatures of the Earth and by the killer whales that call to her in the night, Sarah must face her fears and uncover the truth―even if it destroys her.

Some things are meant to be remembered―at all cost.
Among the praise for the novel:
"Tardif, already a big hit in Canada...a name to reckon with south of the border."

"Tardif again leaves a lasting mark on her readers...Moving and irresistible."
--Midwest Book Review

"Cheryl Kaye Tardif's novel, Whale Song, would be a tough act to follow for any written genre."
--Fresh Fiction

"Whale Song is deep and true, a compelling story of love and family and the mysteries of the human heart. Cheryl Kaye Tardif has written a beautiful, haunting novel."
--NY Times bestselling novelist Luanne Rice, author of Beach Girls and What Matters Most
Read an excerpt from Whale Song, and visit Cheryl Kaye Tardif's website and the official Whale Song site.

My Book, The Movie: Whale Song.

The Page 69 Test: Whale Song.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top six true-life spy stories

Ben Macintyre, columnist for the Times (London) and author of Agent Zigzag: Lover, Traitor, Hero, Spy, named his top six true-life spy stories for the Times.

One book on the list:
The Man Who Never Was by Ewen Montagu

Perhaps the greatest wartime deception ever carried out.
Read about another title on Macintyre's list.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pg. 99: Julie Salamon's "Hospital"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: Julie Salamon's Hospital: Man, Woman, Birth, Death, Infinity, Plus Red Tape, Bad Behavior, Money, God, and Diversity on Steroids.

About the book, from the Penguin Press catalogue, Summer 2008:
The hospital in Borough Park did not fit Gregorius’s blithe vision of work hard, play hard. His memories of his first foray into the Maimonides emergency room were vague: Crowded. Really crowded. Stretchers with patients were lined up two-and three-deep, with the lucky ones semi-secluded behind curtains that barely closed. He noticed that the melting-pot-mayhem--Hasids, Chinese, Pakistanis, Haitians, Russians, Bulgarians—did not seem to include anybody like him, a tall, skinny, white surfer-ski-boy from the Midwest. The visual overload was matched by the audio: Tower of Babel at top volume, accompanied by the constant beeping of monitors, pagers, telephones. The usual E.R. smells of antiseptic and bodily stink, but also strange spicy odors he couldn’t place.

Had he landed in the Third World, or a developing nation, whatever the correct terminology of the moment was? Before he could panic, he came across evidence that he was, indeed, firmly situated in the First World, 21st century: Maimonides had HealthmaticsED, a very cool, very tomorrow, computer system that, among other things, allowed doctors and nurses to track on a patient in real time. The computer monitors were stationed like beacons of sanity throughout the room. For Gregorius, they made the chaos seem almost comprehensible.

Overcrowding had become commonplace in American emergency rooms which had, for people without medical insurance, become the doctor’s office. In June, 2006, almost a year after Gregorius began his residency, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies would publish a report that warned: “A national crisis in emergency care has been brewing and is now beginning to come into full view.” The emergency department at Maimonides, which would process more than 84,000 patients in Gregorius’s first year, was not the busiest E.R. in the country or in New York City. But it was arguably the most intense.

Maimonides—make that Brooklyn, early 21st century—was an epicenter of the cultural forces that had been rocking and roiling the American experiment for a generation. The hospital, by necessity and tradition, remained a DMZ zone, where patients dragged in not just their wounds, fevers and malfunctions, but their accents and customs, their immigration and insurance problems, their feelings about being outsiders. Hope and heart-ache in 67 languages. Sick and scared, they yearned for kindness and prayed for competence from the doctors, nurses, floor cleaners, lab technicians, paper pushers and social workers, who had their own troubles, and were often newcomers themselves. At Maimonides, cross-cultural forces made for one big surf tide.
Among the early acclaim for Hospital:
“I've never had much interest in hospitals (or been able to sit through an episode of "ER"), but as Salamon expertly sucked me into the saga of Maimonides, I realized this was about more than white coats, scalpels and beeping consoles. This place was 21st century America in a microcosm.”
—Laura Miller, Salon

“The fine grain of Ms. Salamon's observations allows her to paint a compelling—and damning—portrait of a dysfunctional health-care system… Its careful documentation of financial crises, feuds, personality clashes and, most of all, life-and-death drama it feeds the same appetite for pathos, intrigue, tragedy and redemption…as the current plethora of medical programs.”

“[A] remarkable portrait ... Salamon succeeds in providing a completely unique, three-dimensional and compellingly human perspective of the demanding work — both frustrating and rewarding that is not always apparent to hospital patients and their families.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Reading HOSPITAL feels a little like watching one of those speeding-gurney sequences on ER — fast pasted, high stakes, and crowded with colorful characters all shouting at once. The difference is that Julie Salamon's book is more informative, more nuanced, and closer to reality.... Ultimately, HOSPITAL is immensely heartening. If there is hope for our overburdened healthcare system, Salamon's book suggests, we can thank the decent, thoughtful men and women laboring overtime to improve the quality of life — and death — in our gloriously lumpy American melting pot.”
—Francine Prose, O Magazine

“There's "ER," there's "Grey's Anatomy," and then there's this real, true-life drama of the barely controllable chaos that actually rules in a huge metropolitan hospital, by one of America's best fly-on-the-wall reporters, Julie Salamon.”
—Tom Wolfe, author of I Am Charlotte Simmons

“It would seem a fine time to burrow into the inner workings of an American hospital, which is what Julie Salamon has done...a solid piece of reportage. In the end, you come to admire the book's principal figures, as Ms. Salamon does, however flawed they might be. The physicians and administrators, she makes clear, 'tried to remember--against the odds posed by a greedy and corrupted health-care system and by institutional and human frailty--that healing was the heart of the matter.”
Wall Street Journal
Learn more about the book and author at Julie Salamon's website.

Julie Salamon, author of seven books, including The Devil's Candy and Rambam's Ladder, was a reporter and critic for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

The Page 99 Test: Hospital.

--Marshal Zeringue

Julie Klam's "Please Excuse My Daughter," the movie

Now showing at My Book, The Movie: Julie Klam's Please Excuse My Daughter.

Klam's write-up begins:
As a former NYU film student, I’m pathetically proficient at imagining my life as a movie. When I stand on the prescription line at Duane Reade, I think, “If Sean Penn was the pharmacist this wait would be so dramatic, so compelling.” That said, my book Please Excuse My Daughter (Riverhead) is a memoir, it’s about my life, a life that I think sounds very much like a movie (if you like the kind of movies where people wait on line at Duane Reade).

When I was on my book tour, my hands-down favorite question anyone asked me was “Who’d play you in the movie?” My response was always, “Is Ethel Merman dead?” But really? For real? Well….

The constellation of the plot of Please Excuse My Daughter revolves around six key figures; me, my mother, Marcia; my father, Paul; my therapist, Margot; my ex-convict/Mafioso ex-boyfriend, Joe; and my fabulous husband, Paul.

Here’s the cast as I wish it: [read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Julie Klam's website and her blog.

Klam graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and was an intern at Late Night with David Letterman. She went on to write for such publications as O, the Oprah Magazine, Rolling Stone, Harper’s Bazaar, and Glamour. She was also nominated for an Emmy as a writer for VH1’s Pop-Up Video.

My Book, The Movie: Please Excuse My Daughter.

--Marshal Zeringue

Top 10 island books

Romesh Gunesekera's books include Reef, which was short-listed in 1994 for both the Booker and the Guardian Fiction Prizes.

For the Guardian, he compiled a list of his "top 10 island books." One title on the list:
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

This book signals the birth of the novel in English, taking the reader from the known familiar world into a voyage of fiction. In the Preface, we are told that this is a found book: "no attempt has been made to polish the strong unstudied diction of the author, or to improve on his homely vigorous language." We are invited to believe this is the true account of a mariner from York, who becomes a castaway on a tropical island, and we do. Fiction works. Crusoe's life on the island tells us not only about survival and violence, but also society, religion and Europe's relationship with the rest of the world.
Read about what may be the funniest book on Gunesekera's list.

The Page 99 Test: Robinson Crusoe.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Pg. 99: W. Patrick McCray's "Keep Watching the Skies!"

The current feature at the Page 99 Test: W. Patrick McCray's Keep Watching the Skies!: The Story of Operation Moonwatch and the Dawn of the Space Age.

About the book, from the publisher:
When the Soviets launched Sputnik in 1957, thousands of ordinary people across the globe seized the opportunity to participate in the start of the Space Age. Known as the "Moonwatchers," these largely forgotten citizen-scientists helped professional astronomers by providing critical and otherwise unavailable information about the first satellites. In Keep Watching the Skies!, Patrick McCray tells the story of this network of pioneers who, fueled by civic pride and exhilarated by space exploration, took part in the twentieth century's biggest scientific endeavor.

Around the world, thousands of teenagers, homemakers, teachers, amateur astronomers, and other citizens joined Moonwatch teams. Despite their diverse backgrounds and nationalities, they shared a remarkable faith in the transformative power of science--a faith inspired by the Cold War culture in which they lived. Against the backdrop of the space race and technological advancement, ordinary people developed an unprecedented desire to contribute to scientific knowledge and to investigate their place in the cosmos. Using homemade telescopes and other gadgets, Moonwatchers witnessed firsthand the astonishing beginning of the Space Age. In the process, these amateur scientists organized themselves into a worldwide network of satellite spotters that still exists today.

Drawing on previously unexamined letters, photos, scrapbooks, and interviews, Keep Watching the Skies! recreates a pivotal event from a perspective never before examined--that of ordinary people who leaped at a chance to take part in the excitement of space exploration.
Among the early praise for Keep Watching the Skies!:
"At a time when very little was known about the ionosphere and upper atmosphere, armchair astronomers of all backgrounds turned out in the thousands to aid the scientific pursuit of knowledge; when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, it was the Moonwatchers who provided the first observations to astronomers. McCray's history is full of fascinating individuals. This pop science takes a fascinating look at a fundamental, and almost-forgotten, moment in Space Age history."
--Publishers Weekly

"Patrick McCray reconstructs an era when the world was taking its baby steps into the space age. He views it through the eyes of amateur star-gazers who experienced the excitement of those Sputnik days by joining Moonwatch, a worldwide effort to track satellites. McCray went beyond the official documents, ferreting out records from several of the most effective team leaders, and spotlights these throughout his well-illustrated presentation. McCray's account is an important contribution towards preserving the history of a fascinating episode at the dawn of the space age. [A] genuine page-turner."
--Owen Gingerich, Nature

"Patrick McCray's book tells the story of [the] devoted 'Moonwatchers' as they embarked upon Operation Moonwatch, to carefully study early satellite activity. McCray's text is meticulous, well written and follows the stories of the fabled Moonwatchers. If you want to explore the fascinating task that this diverse worldwide ensemble of amateurs and professionals undertook, this book would be an excellent place to start."
--Will Gater, BBC Focus Magazine
Read the Introduction to Keep Watching the Skies!, and learn more about the book and the author at W. Patrick McCray's website.

The Page 99 Test: Keep Watching the Skies!.

--Marshal Zeringue